An assortment of indigestible things

If the Church of England wants to be sexist, it should walk away from the Lords

The Lords Spiritual remain all male

Despite blanket coverage in the quality media, most of the British population did little more than raise a puzzled eyebrow at the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod to reject proposed legislation which would have allowed for the consecration of women as bishops. The majority of the population has little contact with the church, and it’s easy to dismiss the recent news as a curious anachronism: a decision which is plainly at odds with our progressive society, but only affects the Anglican church and its members. Most religions, after all, have sexism built into their doctrines at some level.

Unfortunately, this misguided decision affects us all.

In case you didn’t know (and a surprising number of people don’t), the Church of England occupies a bizarre place in British society. Readers from the USA will be particularly alarmed to learn that the Church and State are unified, with the Queen at the head of both. As such, the mention of ‘legislation’ above isn’t a reference to some bunch of internal church regulations. If approved by the General Synod, Church of England Measures are introduced and debated in Parliament, receive Royal Assent, and are entered on the statute books just like ‘real’ legislation.

These might seem like purely theoretical objections were it not for the fact that twenty-six bishops sit in the House of Lords. This means that the most senior representatives of the Church of England—which has just shown itself to be institutionally sexist in the clearest way possible—have the power of scrutiny over all UK legislation. To be fair, their influence is limited: the bishops account for around 3% of the upper house, and their attendance rate is much lower than the average. However, the bishops’ spiritual nature guarantees that they will have a disproportionate presence in, for example, debates on assisted dying.

I have long believed in the disestablishment of the Church of England, reducing it to the status of every other religious organisation in the country. It cannot be justified that an organisation counting only 2.7% of the UK population amongst its active members should have a unique entitlement to representation in the legislature. If any other group in the Lords—a political party, for example—banned women from its most senior positions, it would rightly face censure and ridicule. That the church has now demonstrated its own irrelevance by rejecting equality for women should raise serious questions about its privileged position. There is no place for institutionalised sexism in Parliament.

New Humanist’s blog beat me to it with a far superior article.


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  1. Weirdvole

    About the only good thing about the ‘no’ vote is the publicity it’s given to the Lords Spiritual. It might finally annoy enough people to agitate for reform of the House of Lords, which is long overdue.

  2. Dan W

    The right of Bishops to sit in the House of Lords is outdated. They want to ignore the law but retain the right to legislate. Time to have an enforced separation between Church and State.

  3. azievio

    Who cares about these churches? the reason no one go’s to these churches is because they are not of the lord. real Christians don’t need to go to these cursed churches. Woman or not who cares? it’s all idol worship and has nothing to do with Christianity that’s why no one raises an eyebrow to it. they don’t even worship on the Sabbath so who cares what laws it passes as it has nothing to do with the real Christian community. real Christians have their own circles all connected that the the state knows nothing about. real Christians are far too smart for the establishment to affect for now

    • flup

      I think you may have missed the point of my post: that senior figures of the Church of England have a place in the upper chamber of Parliament as of right. I think that’s wrong, and particularly so when they display such medieval attitudes to the rights of women.

      real Christians have their own circles all connected that the the state knows nothing about

      You make ‘real Christians’ sound awfully sinister.

  4. Jasons

    I think part of the advantage of the British system is that it balances common politics, privileged politics, and tradition preventing any of the above from being underrepresented and having pent-up frustration with the system. Take a look at what we’re experiencing in the US our current president and the people who elected him for an understanding of what happens when the anachronistic voices start to feel totally sidelined.

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