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Friday, 16 October 2015

Synod, equality and anger…….

I haven't blogged in a long time but feel the need at this point in time as the recent General Synod results have stirred some emotions as well as the general reactions from some quarters.

Rachel has done some interesting research (link: http://www.noels.org.uk/general-synod-2015-elections-some-statistics/) into those who stood and the result of elections. This coupled with what's been stirring within my head for a while. 

A few years ago, in November 2012, I witnessed the dreadful debate in Synod and subsequent vote on moving toward consecrating women bishops. From the 'no' camp there was argument that measures to protect them hadn't gone far enough. Then, thankfully in July 2014 with a new set of proposals the vote passed with the required majority across the three houses. 

I think that many think that that's it now. The fight has been won and we can put our 'A women's place is in the House......of Bishops' tea towels in the bottom drawer. But that couldn't be further from the truth. 

How many dioceses have yet to appoint women to senior positions let alone appoint a woman bishop? How many dioceses have returned representatives that reflect any sort of equality? I think we can count on one hand those dioceses where one house has more women than men. I know that there are a good many dioceses that do have someone in a role that is there specifically to promote and encourage women's ministry but what real power do they have as long as nothing tangible happens?  

You see the problem is that for 2000 years the church (whatever 'church' it is doesn't matter) men have been at the top and been taking the decisions. It has been the norm to turn up to meetings and see very few women. The language the CofE (and I speak of the CofE because that's my tradition) uses legally is male. And that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon. The 'bible' for running a church; 'Church Representation Rules' uses wholly male language. Have any steps been taken to change since women have been ordained priests and therefore been incumbents? I suspect not.

And when women make a fuss about this sort of thing they're accused of being 'feminist' and 'argumentative' but actually it shouldn't be just women who are kicking off over this. It should be all of us. It's not about being a feminist or argumentative. It's about acknowledging that we are all equal in the sight of God and that should be reflected in absolutely everything we do. 

We all have to make a conscious effort to address the imbalance. I don't like 'quotas' or 'targets' but may be we need some. May be we need to be more explicit. May be we need some positive discrimination for a while. But to be honest, I’m not convinced by that particularly because it won’t be men taking the flack for it – it will be women, and the women I know don’t (quite rightly) want to be seen as ‘token’ women to fulfil some sort of quota somewhere. From the top down, more responsibility must be taken for talking about and taking action to ensure equality.

Before ordination I worked for an American Company that had a strong stance on the promotion of diversity. There were structures in place to help women gain promotion and senior roles, along with other sections of society - because it recognised that the industry wasn't equal and therefore it needed to be explicit in its intentions and be counter-cultural. People were in the roles through merit but everyone with ability was given an opportunity, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, colour of skin etc. Oh, how as a church do we shout that we need to be counter-cultural so often. But only when it suits us. 

As a church we need to wake up and smell the coffee. Equality didn't ride into town that July day with that Synod vote. Equality is miles away. And until we have parity and a fair gender balance we need to keep challenging and fighting. And it shouldn't be just up to those affected. It shouldn't just be up to the women. It's up to all of us; but particularly men because like it or not, we still hold more power and have a greater chance of being listened too, whether we like it or not (and I hate it). 


I will keep on shouting and fighting and asking the questions until I breathe my last. But I hope that before that last breathe we wake up and progress toward equality faster than we have done up until now. 

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