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Thursday, November 15, 2012

A little bit of discrimination?

Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England?

That's the question asked by journalist Riazat Butt for the British newspaper, The Telegraph, in a recent article entitled, "Women bishops will have to accept discrimination to exist."

Here's the back story for those of you who aren't either feminists or Anglophiles.

The Church of England authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1992 and began ordaining them in 1994.  In the 20 years since the decision was made, the debate about women in the episcopacy has been raging.

In 2008, draft legislation which would allow women in the episcopacy was finally proposed to General Synod which has been the subject of many angry debates, failed deals, fudges and great turmoil and angst.

In July of this year, a resolution - intended to reassure opponents of the ordination of women - was passed unanimously by the House of Bishops but it failed to achieve consensus among clergy and laity and was defeated.

In September of this year, the resolution was further tinkered with and clause 5 (1) (c) was proposed to the House of Bishops by Synod member, the Rev'd Janet Appleby. Depending on who's talking, the clause is either a brilliantly nuanced compromise which will allow women - finally! - to be "appointed" to the episcopacy - OR - another bad batch of Anglican fudge.

What is clause 5 (1) (c)?
Section 5 of the the draft measure on women bishops states that the House of Bishops must draw up a code of practice on implementing the measure.

In May, the House of Bishops inserted a new clause 5 (1) (c):

It says male bishops or priests looking after objecting parishes should exercise their ministry consistently with "the theological convictions as to the consecration and ordination of women" of the parishes.

The redraft agreed on 12 September says male bishops and priests should be selected "in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3."
The House of Bishops overwhelmingly approved of the Appleby Amendment which now comes before a specially convened meeting of General Synod on November 19th - four days from now.

I'm sure the bishops were quite relieved that a woman who is a priest proposed it, hoping to put an end to the matter and getting back to doing.....well, whatever it is CofE bishops do. I'm quite sure they want this issue off their plate before Justin Welby, bishop of Durham and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, takes over for the beleaguered Rowan Williams.

If the Appleby Amendment passes, they'll soon enough be onto the next contentious issue: The blessing of LGBT covenants and marraige and ordination of LGBT people - which, I think, will make the 20 year battle for the full inclusion of women in the church seem like a day eating oysters at the beach at Whitstable.

Sally Barnes, from the campaign group Women and the Church (WATCH), says that, at the July Synod, people were “so angry”, when stronger legal safeguards were suggested for traditionalists, that it took the bishops and archbishops by surprise. “They couldn't see what they had done and we had to spell it out.”

Some laity are thrilled because it also means that, for the first time in recent memory, the laity have had enormous influence on the decision-making of the institutional (male, clerical dominated) church hierarchy. The hierarchical paradigm, they say - at least on this issue - has been inverted.

Not so fast, say the "traditionalists".  Forward in Faith, a group that wants greater accommodation for traditionalists than is currently being offered, has dismissed the Appleby Amendment. Members of the Catholic Group in Synod, Reform and the Church of England Evangelical Council have already said they will vote against the legislation.

Justin Welby, new ABC
Sally Barnes, from WATCH, said:
“The House of Bishops needs to have women in it. Some people have had enough - it's not a ringing endorsement- but we've had 20 years debate and it's essential. A two-thirds majority is needed – the bar is very high – and I am resigned to whatever happens. People are very weary. We want women bishops very much and it's not credible or tenable that there aren't any. If it [the legislation] falls then we will have to keep on until there are women bishops.” 
It's important to note that the ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Anglican Communion for a long, long time.  It's the one place where Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics find common cause.

Time does march on - even in England where it always seems to be 1950. By 2012, 28 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests and 17 have removed all barriers to women becoming bishops.

So, back to the question:  Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England?

It sounds to me that folks are leaning toward answering that question in the affirmative.

Is that a good thing?

You ask that as if you believed that having women in the House of Bishops will completely eradicate sexism in the church.

You know, like the fact that Barbara Clementine Harris was the first woman to be bishop in the Anglican Communion, and Katharine Jefferts Schori is the first woman to be Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, means that there's not even "a little bit of discrimination" in the church.

Or, like the fact that Barack Obama is the President of the United States means that there's not even "a little bit of discrimination" in terms of racism in this country any more.

Even if General Synod rejects the Appleby Amendment in favor of full, unequivocal, flat out inclusion of women in all orders of ordination, discrimination will continue to persist - in the church and in the world.

With the Appleby Amendment, discrimination will most certainly persist BUT with women in the House of Bishops in the Church of England - who have voice - and, vote - on issues that come before that governing body.

Which means that discussions in the House of Bishops about - and votes on - issues of reproductive justice, human sexuality, ordination and marriage equality will take on a very different tone and texture.

Not immediately, of course, but over time, there's bound to be an impact. It's completely unavoidable.

Do you really think the laity would have had an impact on the last Synod vote if there hadn't been women ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England for the last 20 years?

Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England? 

Is sexism a greater evil than misogyny? 

A little bit of discrimination?

Women have been dealing with discrimination since the beginning of time. With one hand tied behind our backs.  Six times before breakfast.

Imagine what we'll be able to do in the Church of England with both hands free.

And, after breakfast.

12 comments:

Marthe said...

It's a little thing, some will say, but the word discrimination in these discussions bothers me ... because I think many of those doing the discriminating think of it not as the bigotry or misogyny that its victims mean, but as in "discriminating taste", a form of careful discernment and "higher" standards of thinking. The ones keeping women out of leadership roles really believe that they are resisting some slide into populist, uninformed, lowest-common-denominator deterioration of "standards", really believe they are protecting the purity of the faith. They are not hearing discrimination as a bad thing, but as a refined defense of "truth" as they understand it. How about we begin calling it what it is: patriarchal insecurity in denial of God's love for all.

DavidJustinLynch said...

Discrimination of any kind based on either gender or sexual orientation is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere and must be eliminated by all necessary means. I take offense, however, at the statement identifying all Anglo-Catholics with such discrimination. One cannot stereotype Anglo-Catholics. Some of us, like me, are progressive and inclusive, while others have yet to be enlightened and forgiven.

Marthe said...

Comment part the second (now that I've had a shower and the coffee has kicked in): This whole CofE debate sounds to me like pre-school siblings arguing about who daddy loves the mostest, and whoever daddy loves the mostest gets the best stuff and gets to boss everybody else.
I've heard many discussions of "mature" faith and what that means to the health of both the individual and the Church - is it unreasonable to expect that Bishops demonstrate a mature faith? If so, then the boys have just got to let go of the "daddy loves me best" justification in their own minds for why they get to set the rules. They have to stop saying God loves all while knowing in their own minds that that really means, but God loves me just a little more than all the rest of you, so I get to be in charge. The preference and privilege of the first born son, the heir apparent begun with the God made Adam firsters is NOT a mature understanding of Judeo-Christian belief, it is a male ego accomodating myth that damages everyone, not just women, because it sets an exclusionary precedent, a model for a pecking order that undermines every other declaration of belief in God's love and mercy for all ... some can not be a little more loved, a little more equal than others if credibility is to be maintained. Is it too much to hope that the Bsihops, two thousand plus years later, can desist from the Apostles arguing about who Jesus loved the most? Isn't it time to mature past that behavior?
For the good of the Church, for the good to be spread to all, I say yes, yes it is time, past time, necessary.

Ann said...

I think TEC learned that allowing this little bit of discrimination will come back to bite - so I think they should go for full inclusion with no "conscience clause" but not my church so whatever.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I like your new definition of discrimination. Works for me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - I don't believe I was stereotyping. The fact remains that it is the Anglo-Catholics and the Evangelicals who have formed organizations to defeat the appointment of women to the episcopacy. Sure, not ALL ACs and Es are members of these organizations and not all of them would vote against women in the episcopacy, but I assure you, in CofE, the vast majority of the members of these two groups are sexists and misogynists.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - Part II - You know, I think it was time for these boys to mature about 40 years ago. They haven't. What's your bet they won't?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann - The "consciousness clause" was never part of our canon or constitution. It was a gentlemen's agreement. No one voted on it but those present in the HOB at Port St. Lucie. I guess the CofE will have to learn, as we did, just how pernicious discrimination is - and who it hurts, ultimately.

Ann said...

Yes - I know it was not canonical nor ever approved by GC but it was that "little bit of discrimination" that became a wedge for all sorts of mischief.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

As will the Appleby Amendment. But, it will get women in the HOB. As you say, not my church, just part of my communion. And, yet another example that "boys will be boys".

Matthew said...

Why does this need to be spelled out in writing? Sounds like insecurity to me. A while back I was reading a lengthy article, sort of a biography and interview of the Bishop of Rhode Island, Geralyn Wolf. In the article/interview she mentioned that one of the parishes in RI was opposed to women's ordination when she was consecrated bishop. She mentioned two things that struck me. First, she said that for her annual visits, she did not celebrate the eucharist. She either came for evensong or compline or even Sunday morning Morning Prayer rather than Holy Eucharist so as to not ruffle feathers. Second, because she lived nearby and RI is a tiny state, on the Sundays she had off without visits, she chose to worship there and also on weekdays making it her "home parish." By the time of her retirement, she had become such a part of the parish that they no longer had a problem with her or women bishops. Gay people have been doing this since we came out. I was less aggressive about public displays of affection/voting republican/ gay rights/ when I first came out than I am now because I wanted my family to be part of the journey. That is not to say that if people are not willing to move forward at all that you capitulate and be a doormat but you test the waters and see if you can find common ground to move forward and grow together. A boycott is appropriate in some circumstances. Toning it down is appropriate in others in order to grow together and make people comfortable. I don't see why this has to be spelled out in writing. ITs common sense in terms of how relationships work. Jesus got that. Sometimes he said, get behind me Satan and at other times merely, go and sin no more.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It IS a balancing act, Matthew, but they've been at this for 20 years. The resistance is incredible. Some people would rather limp than admit they have a problem.