‘A Grim Day’ was the headline on the front page of this week’s Church of England newspaper. A grim day indeed – if not a grim week – when the seemingly benign, wooly CofE, well loved for its hymn books and flower arrangements, provoked cries for an overturning of our country’s entire setup – separation of the Church and the State. All week the three words, ‘Church of England’ have been raising ire, anguish, anger and rejection from people who haven’t even thought about church since the last wedding or funeral they attended. I know I have been spitting blood all week.
Now, my dad is a Church of England vicar. I spent much of my former years being ferried from church to church, seeing how many pews my sister and I could crawl under before we got told off during the sermon, and how many biscuits we could steal from the obligatory tea and chat post service. Whilst I no longer attend church, those formative years spent running up and down aisles and singing songs taught me a lot I’m sure, if not only how to make a cracking paper aeroplane from the weekly notice sheets.
One thing the ‘Church Years’ definitely taught me is that, not only does my dad look great in drag; he also knows an awful lot, and can speak with authority. It was thus, for one of the first times in my research life that I first turned to him for info, and not to Wikipedia. Boy was that an eye-opening decision. I promised to tell you what actually happened in the General Synod’s vote on Monday, well here it is:
The General Synod did not vote against women bishops. That vote happened several years ago when they voted YES.
I know. I was shocked too. I have now moved from anger about the whole story, to feeling rather foolish and to eating humble pie for just hoovering up what the papers have thrown my way without properly investigated it. It says a lot about the state of our mainstream media that this story has become so skewed and misrepresented.
In order to get our heads around this then, let’s backtrack together and try to work out what this was really all about. Just before we start though – a disclaimer. I am no apologist for the Church. I’m thankful for the opportunities it gave me as a child, but as I grew up and was able to think for myself some more, I constantly battled with narrowness and dogmatism that I found around me, particularly with regards to the question of women in leadership and religion’s generally appalling attitude towards homosexuality. I battled for years, and then I read Foucault. Needless to say I’ve not been to a service since.
However, in the name of fair and balanced journalism, I think it’s important to look at this story.
As I said, a few years ago, in July 2006 the General Synod passed the following motion:
That this Synod welcomes and affirms the view of the majority of the House of Bishops that admitting women to the episcopate in the Church of England is consonant with the faith of the Church as the Church of England has received it and would be a proper development in proclaiming afresh in this generation the grace and truth of Christ.
Wordy, but essentially the girls are alright. So, the principle of having women as bishops was established years ago. However, the reason we do not, as yet, have women bishops is because there is a small but vocal section of the Church for whom the 20th and 21st centuries seem to have passed by, who cannot countenance the notion of having (God forbid) a bird in charge. Instead of enforcing the decision to ordain women bishops, the CofE, in their ‘good old Anglican fudgery’ (my dad there) have decided to hold off on any ordinations until provision can be made for those who don’t agree with it (scroll down to July 2008 (b). That was what the vote on Monday was about and it was the latest provisions that were voted against, not the principle of having women bishops per se.
Instead of enforcing the ‘yes’ vote on its diocese and ordaining women bishops, the CofE, with its commitment to love and grace (and to moving with a speed that would make a sloth look pacey), is trying to hold all these things in tension and work out a solution that can please everyone. Less a silver lining – more a grim, murky grey one. ‘Yes, there are those in our ranks who believe possession of a penis is the key to being a great leader. But we shan’t challenge their shortsightedness. Instead I’m sure we’ll find a way to keep everyone smiling!’ Admirable, but doomed to failure.
So, mainstream media, talk to my dad if you want the real scoop on this story which in fact was not a story at all, just a well meaning but rather spineless organisation tussling with one another in a war of attrition that won’t be won until the archbish says, ‘you know what? The 21st century is getting on. I’m washing this woman’s feet, giving her a mad hat, a purple dress and a stick, and getting on with life.’
A final word to those who can’t abide the thought of a woman being the focal point of leadership for the Church of England: the head of the Church of England is the Queen.
Anna Malzy is on a Masters in Gender, Media and Culture, which is finally allowing her to pursue her passion for looking at how gender is perceived and created within society, particularly on the stage. She is a Shakespeare nut, is happiest by the sea and wants a pet tortoise.