Religions can discriminate for religious reasons

The Synod needed a two-thirds majority to allow the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England. The Synod has 467 members divided into three houses. Each of the three Houses – bishops, other clergy, and laity, needed to agree by 2 to 1 that women can be bishops.

Given that for twenty years women have been ordained priests of the Church of England, you might ask what the special issue is about bishops? The answer is, if you’re flatly of the belief that God just doesn’t approve of women becoming priests, then you can easily avoid a woman priest. (Well, more or less.) But bishops ordain priests. If you believe God holds women inferior and unable to be priests, then it follows that women can’t be bishops: that priests ordained by a bishop who’s a woman aren’t proper priests. But as those priests will be both women and men, you won’t know for sure if the priest with whom you are dealing is a real priest, validly ordained by a man, or invalidly ordained by a woman.

Andrew Brown wrote

Again and again, opponents claimed they longed to see women bishops accepted by the whole church. Each time this happened, I had to pinch myself to remember that they were the bit of the church that didn’t and don’t accept women as bishops. If they want to see women bishops accepted by the whole church, all they need do is accept them.

This was the reality. Everyone in the chamber understood it very well. But no one would admit to it. The synod was bound within invisible pews, sitting in circles, gazing only at itself.

One speaker said, as if it mattered: “I don’t believe that this is legislation that will allow the world to look at the church tonight and see Jesus Christ”; and no one pointed out that back on planet earth, the world will look at the church today and say: “Jesus Christ!”

It is the law that a religious body can discriminate in religious appointments according to the terms of its faith. The Catholic Church can refuse to ordain women as priests: the Church of England can refuse to ordain women as bishops: these are religious, not secular appointments, and therefore not subject to ordinary discrimination law.

The House of Bishops is the 44 Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England: also the Bishop of Dover (whose additional title is “Bishop in Canterbury” and who is the acting diocesan bishop of Canterbury) and seven representatives from the suffragan or assistant bishops. The House of Bishops voted 44 in favour, three against and two recorded abstentions.

The House of Clergy is about two hundred ordained clergy who are either elected, appointed, or otherwise chosen for the Synod from the clergy of the Church of England who are not bishops. The House of Clergy voted 148 in favour, 45 against, no abstentions.

The House of Laity is church members from each diocese who are elected by members of the deanery synods or who are chosen by and from the lay members of religious communities (that is, groups of “companions and associates” who are attached to a traditional religious community and who follow “a simplified monastic rule of life in their everyday lives in the world”). In the House of Laity, women bishops did not achieve a two-third majority: 74 voted against, 132 in favour, with no abstentions.

Women Bishops – an honest reflection

So the overall vote in the Synod was over two-thirds in favour – 324 votes in favour, only 122 against – the vote in two out of three Houses was overwhelmingly in favour: and the vote in the House of Laity was close, but missed by six votes being a two-thirds majority.

Because of those six votes, there will be no women ordained as bishops at least until the next Synod.

John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor at the Telegraph, claims:

There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s special exemption from equality legislation – effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops – to be taken away.

That would open the way for women to bring a legal challenge to their exclusion.

If successful, it could lead to women to becoming bishops without any of the carefully arranged safeguards for traditionalists agreed by Synod.

I doubt this will happen, and I certainly hope it doesn’t. Religions have a right to discriminate according to the terms of their faith. The Synod of the Church of England, it is agreed, makes the decisions for the Church of England. According to their own rules of who is elected and who can vote, and how changes are made, the Church of England has voted to continue upholding the belief that their God regards women as inferior vessels, unable to receive or transmit ordination.

That’s fine. They’re allowed. It’s religion.

But the bishops shouldn’t be in the House of Lords. The idea that the “Lords Spiritual” are allowed to vote and debate on Acts of Parliament is an absurd anachronism highlighted by today’s vote: the idea that a body which holds itself exempt from basic equality and human rights legislation ought to be empowered to vote on legislation in Parliament is grossly wrong.

No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords

Update: You’d never know that according to the gospels, Jesus wasn’t too keen on hypocrisy:

Jemima Thackray, 12th October 2012:

These days, almost all executive teams or job shortlists will include at least one woman. Amongst the six Metropolitan police commissioners there is one woman; four out of 22 cabinet ministers are female; and even the committee tasked with selecting the new Anglican leader (the Crown Nominations Commission) has ensured that three of the 16 voting individuals are women. Let’s hope this is more than mere tokenism.

Yet the line-up of potential candidates to become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of this year comprises of men, men and more men. Nor is this something that’s about to change either; without such thing as a female bishop (the rung below) there won’t be an Arch one any time soon.

Jemima Thackray “Women bishops: Did feminism undermine the campaign?” 21 November 2012:

Uncomfortably, I had to agree. Too many of those in favour of women bishops just sounded too… well… worldly. My reasons for thinking this differed wildly from the evangelicals who think that the church needs to be set apart, not conforming to a society which no longer sees man as the head of the woman. My main concern was that some arguments for women bishops just sounded too much like a contrived government initiative to get women into the boardroom.

There were endless comparisons between the church and the secular workplace and pleas for the church to ‘get with the times’. The speakers in favour of the motion wanted women to be treated equally and demanded recognition for the hard work of female clergy. But, as worthy and useful as these objectives may be for getting things done in the world, they bear little resemblance to how the one who is truly head of the Church went about things…
But I’m tired of a feminism that demands that women be just as obsessed by status as men in history have been.

Note that Jemima Thackray is so obsessed by status that she herself is training to be a chaplain – a position she could not have aspired to twenty years ago, that feminism won for her.

Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury, quoted by

“So often when we get into these discussions we end up saying not only is my opponent wrong but they’re subhuman in some way, and that is absolutely unacceptable in every possible way. We have to hold on to the essential dignity of every human being because they are made in the image of God. The Bible basically says love your enemies and love one another […] there aren’t a lot of people left who we shouldn’t be loving and we haven’t been very good at that.”

Unless of course those people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, in which case Justin Welby is firmly on the “God hates you and wants you unhappy and discriminated against” team.

And again – that’s fine. He’s allowed. It’s his religion and he can make out that God wants whatever Welby thinks he should want.

But neither Welby nor any other religious spokesperson should have the right to pronounce on whether same-sex couples can marry outside their gay-hating religion or according to secular law.

Update, 22nd November

There’s a term, hypercorrection, which I think applies in this situation. The Ministry of Truth has declared it impossible for Parliament to legislate for lifting the ban on women as bishops in the Anglican church in England, because, forsooth:

there are some pieces of legislation that I would expect MPs to be pretty well versed in, particularly those precious few statutes which make up the written portion of our largely unwritten constitutional settlement, statutes which certainly include the Bill of Rights 1680 and Magna Carta, the extant version of which dates to 1297 and the reign of Edward I.

In truth, and although Magna Carta has not yet died in vain, there is not much left that is still in force – barely three clauses in fact, the first of which has a particular bearing on the suggestion that a 10-minute rule bill with a simple clause might somehow speed up the process of ratifying the ordination of female Bishops in the Church of England.

The clause referred to is the one about “the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable”.

The difficulty with claiming this 1297 clause means that Parliament cannot legislate for the Church of England is rather horrifyingly simple: If it were true, the current head of the Church of England would not be Queen Elizabeth but Pope Benedict XVI. Elizabeth became Head of the Church of England by Acts of Parliament in 1534 and 1559. Further, paradoxically, if Parliament cannot legislate for the Church of England, then the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 does not apply, which means the Synod has no secular power at all. In effect, should the Church of England claim that Parliament may not legislate, the Church would be demanding disestablishment: which is, of course, the right conclusion. Henry VIII has caused enough trouble already.


Filed under Equality, Religion, Women

4 responses to “Religions can discriminate for religious reasons

  1. Doubting Thomas

    As far as I am concerned the sooner the English state dis-establishes the Anglican church the better and if the posturing over woem bishops is the causus belli then fine. As an aside what is it about most of these religions that make their male governors wish to dress themselves up in long flowing robes and exotic headgear – multi coloured for the Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox; black for muslims and doubtless any other form of absurd, often mediaeval garb, that suits their fancy?

  2. Doubting Thomas

    Apologies for the typo – woem should be women.

  3. The difficulty with claiming this 1297 clause means that Parliament cannot legislate for the Church of England is rather horrifyingly simple:

    Not really.

    The constitutional position of the Church of England is an odd one, a legislative Mexican stand-off in which the Church cannot legislate for itself without the assent of the Crown, which effectively means Parliament these days, due to Henry’s Acts but Parliament cannot legislate for the Church of England without its consent, due to clause 1 of Magna Carta.

    Therein lies the problem, unless the Church consents to the imposition of women bishops, Parliament cannot legislate for women bishops without provoking a constitutional crisis.

    As such, the 1919 Act is lawful because it was passed by Parliament with the consent of the Church.

    • Therein lies the problem, unless the Church consents to the imposition of women bishops, Parliament cannot legislate for women bishops without provoking a constitutional crisis.

      I doubt it. But either way, it would go in the right direction, dis-establishing the Church of England and removing the bishops from the House of Lords. Excellent!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.