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Radio and TV

A sort of thought for the day

A short reflection on the Church of England’s refusal to allow women bishops “in the spirit of thought for the day”, for Radio Four’s PM programme, broadcast yesterday, 21 November. Listen again here for one week (at 48:05).

Many people, including it seems most British Anglicans, find the refusal of the Church of England to allow women bishops bizarrely out of touch and misogynistic. Still, there does seem to be something odd about hearing atheists telling religious believers how they should run their churches. After all, we non-believers may disagree with the patriarchy of most Christianity but we also disagree that Christ was divine, that the Bible is the word of God, or that we are saved by God’s grace. To say people ought not to believe such things is to say they ought not to be Christians at all. But we have to accept those who remain unconvinced of the errors of their ways – as we see it at east – have the right to run their churches in accordance to beliefs we might find bizarre.

But that is not to say only Anglicans can have an opinion about the church’s stance on women bishops. First and foremost, it is perfectly reasonable to point to the latest defeat for equality as a sign that the church is not as rational, modern and liberal as many of its defenders claim. Members are free to remain in a club with medieval rules, but they should  understand that membership does entail fundamental conflict with contemporary, secular values.

Second, we have to remember that this is the established church, officially tied to the state. Therefore all citizens have the right to question whether an institution that is so discriminatory should retain its special status. Why give bishops seats in the House of Lords, for example, if by doing so we are excluding women?

People should be free to believe what they like, no matter how silly it seems to others, as long as it doesn’t harm those who exercise their right to believe otherwise. But as long as the Church of England is an established church, it cannot meet that condition. As our national church, what it does affects us all. If Anglicans want to be free to manage things their own way, free from the interference of politicians, then they need to free themselves from the state. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. and if caesar demands equality, you may have to choose which you serve the most.

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