Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Even our own churches show little faith in women

Does it really matter that the Church of England has voted to block the ordination of women bishops, after two decades of agonising about it?

Spelling it out: T-shirt wearing campaigner for women bishops outside Church House, London

In my opinion it does, because the decision demeans women, and this is outrageous in our modern society where women on merit occupy some of the most important positions in the land.

The decision by the Church of England not to ordain women bishops passed by only six votes, but because of the arcane nature of the election, the outcome is binding, for the foreseeable future.

Some commentators believe that the subject cannot be debated again for seven to 10 years, but one of the first tasks of the Archbishop of Canterbury-elect, Dr Justin Welby, will be to use his clout to make sure that it comes back on the agenda pretty soon.

There is no way that the Church of England can expect to have any credibility while it denies its women members full access to the same equality as men.

The decision has greatly saddened many people, including outgoing Archbishop Roman Williams whose term of office is ending on such a melancholic note.

The onus is now on the Church of England to move heaven and earth to right this wrong, and whatever the misguided Scripture traditionalists say, I cannot believe it is God's will that women in His church are treated as second-class citizens.

There is nothing positive to say about the Church of England's block on women bishops, except to hope that the adverse reaction has been so bad that the reformers will work even harder to knock some sense into an ancient institution that is consistently failing to remain relevant to the modern age.

In case you are feeling holier-than-thou over here, two of the main Protestant Churches in Ireland have still much to achieve on the equality of women.

The Church of Ireland made provision for the ordination of women deacons, ministers and bishops in 1991.

The trouble is that this Church has not appointed a woman bishop in the past 21 years, nor does it seem likely to do so.

Perhaps not enough women are coming forward for ordination, so that there is less choice for the top posts.

Whatever the reason, the Church of Ireland stands guilty of paying only lip-service to one of the most important measures passed in its history.

The Presbyterian Church is even worse.

Commendably, it was well ahead of all the other churches in its ordination of women, but male clergy can still bar their female colleagues from preaching in their church simply because they are women.

This is a disgrace, which continues to cast a shadow over the entire church.

A minority of courageous women ministers have spoken out about this, but unfortunately this is another case of the fundamentalists holding the rest to ransom. There is therefore little chance of a Presbyterian woman minister being allowed to preach in a fundamentalist pulpit, and a slim possibility of a woman becoming Moderator.

The last time an excellent female candidate stood for election, she received zero votes out of 21. That, too, was an absolute disgrace.

It is no wonder that some Churches get the bad press they deserve, and often the places where I least find God are the rule-making Church bodies which are sometimes anti-women, and where humility, toleration and Christian love are so often demonstrably absent.

The Church at large has still a lot to learn.

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