‘Stained-glass ceiling’

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You have to give the Roman Catholic Church credit for consistency. After all, on the question of allowing women into the ranks of the clergy, the answer is pretty simple: no.

It may be an archaic, patriarchal policy, but it’s the church’s policy and they’re sticking with it.

Over at the Church of England, however, things aren’t so straight forward.

This week, the general synod narrowly rejected a proposal to allow women to become bishops.

At face value, such a decision defies reason. A church that’s accepted the ordination of women has already purged primitive attitudes towards gender. Why in heaven’s name would it then institute what British Labour MP Diana Johnson dubbed a “stained-glass ceiling”?

What’s curious about this turn of events is that it was not, as some may assume, a top-down decision. It was not a defiant cabal of crusty old bishops fending off the wishes of enlightened parishioners.

Fully 94 per cent of Church of England bishops voted for the proposal, as did three-quarters of the general clergy.

But the measure needed the approval of two-thirds of three sectors of the church. And the third sector, known as the House of Laity, came in at 64 per cent approval.

Two ultra-conservative lay groups — Evangelical Reform and Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith — have been rallying forces within the church. It is these groups that brought the measure down by a mere six votes.

The outcome caused a stir in the British parliament, since the church is considered a national institution.

“The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve, looking outdated, irrelevant, and frankly eccentric by this decision,” said Johnson, as reported by the BBC.

“A broad church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds.”

Narrow, indeed, and reflective of the regressive fundamentalism that has surfaced in, among other places, the U.S. general election earlier this month — elected politicians who believe “true” rape victims can’t get pregnant.

In fact, the Church of England was a little late to the game of ordaining women compared to many of its offshoots. Canada’s Anglican Church and the U.S. Episcopal Church have been doing it since the mid-1970s. England didn’t approve it until the early 1990s.

Some Anglican sects — in Central Africa, Melanesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia and Tanzania — still refuse to allow female ordination.

With broad support for women bishops, one would think the Church of England general synod could simply hold another vote. But the process is so convoluted, it took about 12 years just to get to this week’s vote.

As well as joining the 21st century in terms of gender equality, then, the Church of England should take a long, hard look at its own democratic structure. With such an onerous demand for consent, it’s amazing anything gets done at all.

Organizations: Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, House of Laity BBC Anglican Church U.S. Episcopal Church

Geographic location: U.S., Canada, England Central Africa Melanesia Nigeria Papua New Guinea South East Asia Tanzania

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