early day motion proposed by Frank Fields asking that, if Synod does not approve women bishops, Parliament will revoke the Church of England's exemption from the Equality Bill . Last July I picked up on some rumblings about the possibility that there might be a best before date on the Church of England's privilege to discriminate. I listened in Synod to Robert Key's speech giving us some insight into the likely response of Parliament to the discrimination inherent in the legislation around women bishops and was amazed that so few people seemed alert to the potential ramifications (see post). I will not reiterate my points, but do want to gloat a little that we keep up with things around here! I also suspect that, if Key is right, Field's early day motion may stand a fighting chance of success.
Nevertheless, this motion has caused consternation and anger from some quarters, even from many who are wholeheartedly in support of women bishops and my own feelings about it are mixed. If the exemption from the Equality Bill is withdrawn, this could have serious ramifications for the Church of England in its struggles over the ordination of gay bishops. Commentators are right to suggest it is a slippery slope, because once Parliament prevents the Church from discriminating against women how can the way in which the Church discriminates against those in openly gay relationships possibly be justified? Some have also asked whether it will then also be unlawful for the Roman Catholic Church to exclude women from the priesthood and whether the same laws will apply to Muslims as well?
I actually do think that the objection to allowing the Church of England to legally discriminate against women could be justified on the grounds that the Church, as the state church, has a particular duty to uphold the law of the land and, given that Synod overwhelmingly supports the consecration of women bishops, for this to be blocked by a minority is unconscionable - as indeed it is.
But... it I do suspect that it is a slippery slope. I do not know how anyone could claim otherwise. It may be that the law may force us to grant women - and then gay people - full rights within the church. The law may compel us to move forward on human rights in spite of our procrastinations and divisions. I would dearly love to see the Church treat all human beings as equals in the eyes of God, but I would rather it walked there in grace (although that may be a tall order) than was compelled in fear and anger.
I am currently trying to decide whether to respond to a WATCH request to petition my MP to support Frank Field's motion and would welcome any views. Now you may be in favour of women and gay bishops or you may not, that is not really the question. The question is more whether compliance by law is desirable, and whether the fall out at this present moment would be more than we could handle?