Wednesday, July 09, 2008

the bishops' tale

It amazed me how three men – one presenter, one liberal pro-female-bishops (Dean of Southwark) and one conservative anti-female-bishops (Bishop of Fulham) – could sit in the BBC Radio 4 studio (on Monday morning) and discuss the legitimacy of ordaining women as bishops and never once observe that they were discussing the lives and future prospects of a particular demographic of women, without any representative from that demographic, or indeed any woman, present at all!

In fact, the Bishop of Fulham did at one point accuse the Dean of Southwark of attempting to silence and repress the voice of the conservative traditionalists. Well what about the voices of the people this whole debate actually centres on? Where were they? If anyone is being silenced, it’s the women who want to become bishops. You can hear their debate (and not hear the prospective female bishops debate!) here, if you scroll down to 0810. (Actually, at 0709, there is a 4-minute piece from a woman dean ((as opposed to the 11 minutes given to the male bishop and dean an hour later!)))

Not that any of this surprises me. Various parties of men sit around and discuss the rights and freedoms of women all the time: in parliament, in justice systems, in brothels… in any structured social system where the hierarchy is male dominated. For the church, of course, especially the Catholic Church, this is one of their favourite pastimes!

John Bell on the radio today said something like: ‘the church has been concerned with playing catch-up with the rest of society… but if it only understood the role women play in community and society, it wouldn’t be having to catch up with society; it would be leading it’. You can hear it properly here.

I don’t want the church, or any other organised religion, leading society, but it’s staggering that any large body of people, especially in the West, can really, genuinely, still be arguing – eight years into the so-called New Millenia – that there is any doubt surrounding the equal legitimacy of women to do any humanly-constructed activity if they so want to. It’s absolutely amazing. And it was reassuring to hear at least one Christian voice of reason.

And what is equally amazing is how little notice the rest of secular society takes of the church’s internal bickering. We pass them off as obsolete, inoffensive and non-threatening. They have their own (not so) little world that they operate in and they leave the rest of us alone. Except they don’t. And they are not inoffensive. Aside from its religious significance, a Bishop position is professional, paid employment. Sexual discrimination is supposed to be illegal in this country… and yet, the Church still finds immunity.

And they are not obsolete. How do you think the 24-week abortion act suddenly got pushed into the public, and parliamentary, arena once again? Guess who the advocates for the changing of the law to a lower limit were… Catholic cabinet ministers who’d been requisitioned by conservative Christian activists with parliamentary connections.

Considering the demise of organised Christianity in this country, what remains is a fairly hardcore conservative force to be reckoned with! Fortunately, reason prevailed in both the abortion act and the Synod’s decision to ordain women bishops. It just amazes me that either should need debating in the first place.

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Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


jennifletzet said...

Thank you Joyce! As you can see, my blog has been a tad neglected of late. But you have filled me with new enthusiasm, so I might try to write something new on it soon!