CofE’s first female Bishop and what business is it of yours?

It cannot have escaped your notice that the Church of England have just appointed their first female bishop. Details can be found herehere or at any other newspaper you prefer. Rev’d Libby Lane has been promoted to the vacant post in the See of Stockport. Greater Manchester will no doubt see this as something of a coup, maintaining it’s reputation as a liberal, progressive region. Two comments from opposite ends of the spectrum can be found here (by the Archbishop Cranmer blog) and here (from Reformation 21).

As I commented here, quite the cause of the hoopla is beyond me. Irrespective of my own position on the matter, I can entirely understand the internal machinations of Anglicanism determining this as “a time for change”. I can fully comprehend those within the church wishing to see their own personal views worked out within the church itself. I can also understand the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate and the difficulties this will cause to those currently within Anglicanism who do not share the view this marks a momentous step forward. I can even grasp why those Christians outside the Anglican church would take an interest on the basis that which affects Anglicanism will affect the rest of Christendom. The idea that the little Independent Evangelical Church will in no way be affected by the decisions from within the Anglican communion is nonsense.

However, what I cannot get my head around is the desire of people outside the Anglican church – those who have no attachment to Anglicanism, involvement in other denominations who will face knock-on effects, nor even identify as Christian – who insist upon a say in church matters. It seems such people believe a church to which they don’t belong, which they deemed an irrelevance long ago and for whom their decisions will have not the slightest effect on their life, ought to do what they want. It is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Spaniard, who has never left Spain and has no link to the UK, insisting on the right to determine Home Office policy in Britain. They neither suffer nor benefit from the decision, they have no right to make that decision and yet they insist their voice must be heard in the decision-making process and, more than that, should prevail above all. Maybe I am missing something but, to me at least, it seems totally crackers!

I have no doubt there are strong, and probably majority, voices pressing for such changes within Anglicanism. Such are entitled to their position. For those less inclined to the new direction, they too are entitled to voice their views and (certainly now) face a decision as to whether to remain within the communion or to jump ship. But, of course, the predominant fanfare has come from neither of these quarters. Much has come from the mainstream media and those with little to no connection to the church, or Christianity, at all. 

At last, those underrepresented voices – the many who neither identify as Anglican, have any love for the church nor belong to other denominations for whom such decisions have knock-on effects – can rest safe in the knowledge that an institution for which they ordinarily care not one jot has finally come into line with their views. What a relief this news will be for them!

4 comments

  1. I think it's fairly straightforward why people feel strongly about it despite not belonging to the Anglican church. Whereas more conservative and evangelical Christians see it as a difference over doctrine and interpretation, the public at large see women in church leadership simply as an equality issue, and equality as a moral and social good.

    For a major organisation like the Church of England to ordain women bishops is a step away from the outdated sexist attitude to the past and towards a more equal society. There are some issues that our society isn't at all relativistic about!

    For Christians who take a different view, the challenge is not just to present an alternative interpretation of the Bible, but also an alternative cultural narrative.

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  2. I get why they think it their business. But, that is (a) different from it actually being their business and (b) from it having any effect on them in practice. Even if we concede the equality as a social good argument; how is equality within an organisation for people totally unconnected to that organisation a good (or otherwise) for them?

    How many ethnic minorities do you think make it a priority to call for equality within the ranks of the BNP? The party evidently doesn't model equality and, if equality is such a vital good, why not campaign for the active recognition of ethnic minorities within their ranks. The obvious answer is because intrinsic to the BNP position is ethnic inequality. Rather than campaign for change within an organisation they are never going to join, they take the eminently more sensible (and consistent) position of simply campaigning against the group altogether.

    It seems those outside the Anglican church want it both ways – they don't want to join but they want their say on how it is governed. They are quite happy to campaign against it as a church altogether but they also, simultaneously, campaign for it to make changes within itself according to the cultural zeitgeist. It is a thoroughly inconsistent position.

    What is more, such people are often the very first to get inordinately upset when Christians wish to protest against [insert film/play/tv programme/art exhibition]. They (rightly) see it as none of the Christian's business what is shown in [insert non-txpayer, non-license fee payer funded organisation] and suggest, politely or otherwise, that if they don't like it they shouldn't go and watch the offensive thing. Yet, such views suddenly don't apply when it comes to the church.

    The consistent thing is to either campaign against the evils of the church you simply do not want to join (as, say, the British Humanist Association or the National Secular Society are wont to do) or to keep schtum and let the organisation of which you are not, and never will be, a part get on with doing whatever it wants to do without impinging upon you or your life.

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  3. To take a different example, if a company you don't buy from is using slave labour to produce its goods, you've no reason to object if it doesn't affect you?

    If you see sexism as immoral, then the imperative to treat men and women equally is binding on everyone and every institution, regardless of whether you're personally involved in them.

    People dismiss the BNP outright because they see it as inherently racist and intolerant. But for most organisations, they might display inequality or prejudice, but this is not essential to their purpose, and so any steps towards equality will be welcomed.

    People care about equality in the CofE because equality is one of the moral norms of our society, and because by and large they don't see the CofE as inherently sexist, just behind the times and able to progress. Given the starting assumptions, I don't see anything inconsistent about people seeing it as their business.

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  4. Your example is not really analogous. The reason folk typically campaign for anti-salve labour (even though it may not affect them personally) is because those forced into slave labour have no choice over the matter. Those campaigning on their behalf are advocates for those who cannot campaign themselves or who do not have the ability to fight for better conditions.

    I may be wrong but I don't think anybody is claiming those within the CofE are unable to fight their own corner. In fact, it is pretty clear given canon law has now changed, they fought quite successfully from within (and, indeed, had every right to!) It is also equally true that women are not forced – as in situations of slave labour – to remain in the CofE. Were the church to maintain its original bar on female bishoprics, women seeking office could readily leave Anglicanism and join any number of other denominational or free churches that don't stop them reaching the highest echelons.

    Further to that, in a free market we are all consumers. We are “members” like it or not. Therefore, as members, our power (and right) is to boycott and campaign against questionable business practices. Free markets encourage businesses to run with the cheapest costs and efficiencies only until they are put under business pressure to act differently. As members of the free market, we are entitled to seek to do that. The CofE, by contrast, does not deem everyone – irrespective of their involvement – as members. Those who actively eschew the CofE cannot in any way be considered linked to that church. They therefore have no right to a voice within it.

    I accept (as per my example) the BNP are inherently racist, that it is intrinsic to their party, thus to reform would be to disband. However, the BNP put themselves out as a voting option. We all have a necessary involvement in their fortunes. Anyone who votes for them, does not vote for my party of choice and thus endangers my preferred option. As we are all members of the UK, we all have a right to a voice in elections. Therefore, it is my right to make a positive case for one party and a more negative case for all the others (I want my option to win and therefore all others to lose).

    Unlike that, individuals are not inherently involved with the CofE. One is not automatically considered a member. One may be entitled to an outsiders opinion on the CofE but they are not entitled to insist their view prevail – whatever that may be – when they have no involvement nor vested interest in its outcome.

    Simply because something is cultural norm does not mean you have the right to determine ho each organisation ought to act. For example, racism being bad is a cultural norm. Yet, that cultural does not mean the BNP should not be allowed to exist. Yet, because I am a member of the UK and have a vested interest in the outcome of elections, I have every right (as a member) to work against the good of that party. I do not have the right to insist they act in any way other than their membership wish.

    Again, unless one is a member of the church, you have no right to a voice. Of course, as an outsider, you can form whatever views and opinions you please (as you already have done; certainly tot he extent you choose not to join!) Yet, what you have no right to do is insist upon courses of action or policies within the organisation for which you are not a member.

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