The 21st Century Called…

The Church of England will vote today to decide whether to allow women to serve as bishops. This  decision point comes twenty years after women were allowed to become priests, and a full 84 years since women fully got the vote.

Anybody who knows anything about how a church functions will be aware that it basically can’t without volunteers, and a great many of these are women. Since they’re expected to give at least equally, shouldn’t they be able to participate equally too?

Why should any church be exempted from the decent rules and mores of the society its in? And why should we listen to it for moral guidance?

It’s clear the argument that the Church provides a moral compass to society is bunk: society provides the compass for the Church. Evidence of this is that the Church has changed doctrine over the years from supporting, and participating in, slavery, to not supporting or participating slavery. From opposing women’s suffrage, to accepting it (but not allowing full participation in its own halls). From opposing contraception, to accepting it.

I accept that some parts of the church were part of the abolitionist movement, but this is an organisation based on the divinely-inspired word of God: if you accept that as truth, then that compass needle should be pointing due North at all times, lest it be accused of the very moral relativism it decries in others. If it doesn’t, as Stephen Fry says here about the Catholic Church, what’s the point?

I know this is a pretty intractable problem for the Church of England, and I hope to see it survive the turmoil. Despite my reservations about the undue structural influence it has in politics (its representation in the House of Lords), nowadays it’s a pretty moderate actor in our society, usually moving with the times, and having little relevance when it digs its heels in (see these statistics).  The alternative could be a lot worse: a schism or a decision to go with the hard-liners resulting in the horrendous distortions we see in American politics.

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