Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Misogyny in the Church - the votes for women bishops

 It is extremely positive to hear that the deaneries and dioceses are voting so overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation for women bishops. Having said that, there are disturbing reports from some areas of the level of animosity being expressed at some meetings and some concerns at lack of due process, or lack of clarity about the process. The following is  guest post written by someone who comments from time to time on this blog.

Ever felt like a leper? You know, those poor individuals with a serious
infectious disease, who used to be compelled to walk through the streets
shouting ʻUnclean! Unclean!ʼ This way of treating lepers was supposed to
have died out several hundred years ago. But guess what? The Church of
England can still provide you with a taste of that experience. Sorry fellas, this
one is for women only.

The CofE is currently debating the female bishops legislation through local
and regional levels (parishes, deaneries, and dioceses). As a veteran of the
debates about ordaining women to the diaconate and priesthood, I thought I
was pretty inured to the rough and tumble of it. I was wrong.

In my area the subject was on the agenda for 2 successive Deanery Synod
meetings. At the first we had 2 speakers. The first spoke for the Measure (to
ordain women as bishops) and against the Following Motion (legalising
discrimination against female bishops). He was followed by a speaker, R,
who argued strongly for the Following Motion. R used the most extreme
arguments I had heard for many years. The gist was that women are unclean
('nasty, dirty little things, ugh!' is how one woman present summarised it), and
that any man who ordains one or is ordained by one will transmit the taint on
down the line in perpetuity. His talk contained a number of errors in fact.

A time for questions followed, and I made an attempt to correct some of these
errors. I was silenced by the Rural Dean, who said that only questions were
being allowed, and the debate would follow at the next meeting. Following the
meeting it was clear that a number of women were upset and angry at the
way it was conducted. I spoke to two who had had no idea that it was still
legal for such hatred of women to be expressed publicly without challenge,
and entertained as a valid opinion. Itʼs tragic that their only experience of it
should be within their own Church.

Some of us were looking forward to the opportunity to correct the balance
and counter the misinformation at the next meeting, and I had prepared fairly
carefully for the debate. However, in the event no debate or discussion was
allowed. I challenged the Rural Dean pretty strongly on this but he denied
ever having promised a debate. He said the first meeting had been to provide
PCC's with information for their own discussion and decision, and the second
meeting was simply for the Deanery to vote. We were then not given an
opportunity to vote on the Following Motion. We were told that no deaneries
were voting on it, but he Diocesan Synod could add its own Following Motion
if it wants to. The meeting duly voted to approve the ordination of women to
the episcopate.

After the meeting several people thanked me for speaking up, since their
recollection of the previous meeting and the process that had been promised
was similar to mine. They too were disturbed that at no time had a reply to
the extreme misogyny of the speakerʼs views been possible. PCCs had been
expected to vote on the basis of very limited information, and without ever
hearing the views of people in their own deanery.

I am not sure if the Rural Dean was right in saying that the procedure
followed in our deanery is the one being followed throughout the diocese, but
it raises some serious questions about the integrity of the process.

1) If deaneries were not to vote on the Following Motion, why was so much
time and attention given to it during the first Deanery Synod meeting?

2) Are the votes of parishes being recorded and passed up the line? If not,
weʼve wasted the time of our PCC, and the views of many ʻordinaryʼ
churchgoers are not being heard.

3) If the usual Following Motion, or a new one (as has just happened in
Manchester), is introduced at Diocesan Synod, how much weight does the
vote carry when there has been no opportunity to test opinion in the

4) Finally, I am left deeply disturbed that at an official meeting of the
Established Church feelings of such deep revulsion against women priests
should be allowed to be put without being challenged at all. These views
were so extreme that they shocked many of those present, and many of
those who heard of the meeting afterward. In a joint presentation someone
always has to speak last, but their views inevitably have more impact than
those who speak first. This is usually balanced by opening the subject up
for debate, or allowing each speaker a few moments' summary at the end.
In our Deanery Synod this did not happen.

Iʼve been left assuring women to stick with the CofE, there is still a place for
them in it. But how can I encourage lay people to get involved in the Church
of Englandʼs structures, if this is the effect it will have?


  1. This is a very depressing account - sounds like a truly dreadful meeting. Yes, sadly, misogyny is alive and well in the C. of E. and all the more difficult to cope with when it is dressed up in theological language. I think it is the case that deaneries were not required to vote on this matter, but to pass on views and comments for the appropriate Diocesan Synod where voting would happen. The decision to ordain women to the episcopate was taken some years back now - the current debates are about how to do this in a way that preserves an honoured place for those who cannot accept the authority of a bishop who happens to be female.

  2. Our PCC looked at all the papers but when we realised that our views would not be taken into account by anyone we dismissed this as a simple PR exercise in pretend involvement and moved to the next agenda item.

  3. I put the points a few friends who are more conversant with synodical stuff. These were some thoughts on the four points:
    1.Because voting at PCC and deanery level never "counts" in terms of legislation, the decision whether to discuss/ vote or both, or either will vary. Discussion and voting are both simply means of gauging the groundswell of opinion. As to what was expected in this particular deanery, you'd have to see the instructions sent out by the diocese as to how matters were to be managed.
    2. If there is a vote, that should be recorded, but it does not "count" other than as an indication of opinion.
    3. Regarding the following motion the discussion would be the means of canvassing opinion - but it does sound as if "discussion" was managed her to be rather one sided.
    4. Welcome to the Church of England! But yes, it it is shocking that such extreme views can be expressed and not challenged. Yes, equal ops would have their guts for garters in a secular workplace. I suppose you could claim for harrassment under existing legislation if you had proof, then again the Church of England is exempt from certain sections of the Equality Act (although the remit is fairly narrow and is supposed to just involve ministers of religion.)

  4. We were given a great deal of papers, really informative about the current status of the debate and the various positions people hold. And we were specifically asked to discuss the item. But there was no feedback mechanism, not even to Deanery Synod. No-one was actually interested in what we thought. It really was a complete waste of time.