Equality at the mercy of a vote

Artwork by Rowan Abbott

Artwork by Rowan Abbott

I was recently asked “Why should we care what the Church does?” in response to my criticism of the General Synod’s failure to pass a motion allowing women to become Bishops in the Church of England. As a male atheist it seems that what I was being asked was really this: ‘Why get so worked up about something that doesn’t affect you?’. My aspirations to become a female Bishop certainly haven’t been thwarted by the Church’s actions, that much is true. But as a feminist (and reasonable human being) I think that no group should be allowed to practice sexism. So although the Church’s actions might not appear to directly affect me, their actions do indirectly affect me, in the sense that they are a universal affront to gender equality, which is something I strongly believe in.

This is not all though. The Church’s actions do directly affect me, and every other British person, by forcing us to exist within an inherently sexist political system. My reasoning is as so:

For better or for worse the Lords Spiritual exist. For those of you who are unaware, because the Church of England is England’s established Church (hint: it’s in the name), 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for the Church’s Bishops who are known as the ‘Lords Spiritual’ or ‘Spiritual Peers’. This means that because the Church refuses to allow women to become Bishops, 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for men and men only. As such, the House of Lords is constitutionally sexist all because of the Church’s refusal to enter the 21st Century.

The sad truth is that the General Synod’s refusal to allow female Bishops does not only make the Church of England a sexist institution, but the upper chamber one too. Our Government continues to be implicitly sexist, in part, because of the Church’s behaviour. It’s one thing to drag your feet in the quick sands of bigotry, it’s another thing to pull everyone else down with you too.

N.B This entry has been reposted from my old blog.

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