Female Bishops in Church of England is a Good Step… But it’s Just a Step

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, said that Monday’s decision to permit female bishops in the Church of England was “a moment of joy,” but that:

there will be those within our body who will be hurting as a result of this decision. Our answer to the hurting [should be] ‘we will not let go until you have blessed us.’ We move slowly because we move together.

He seems not to realize how many people are already hurting by Church policies and mores that actively oppress them. Perhaps it’s time to find better ways to earn their blessing, and to move with them, rather than fret about the sensitivities of those who would uphold the status quo. Of course women can be talented and capable religious leaders, but the current push for women’s ordination or appointment to the bishophric doesn’t erase prejudices that have thrived in, and because of, Christian churches. Allowing them to join the boys’ club is a small gesture to placate progressives, and distracts from other archaic policies.

A Church that gives women more power gets points for liberality, but it seldom has to address deeper issues of patriarchy, like male language for God, permissive attitudes toward gendered violence, and expectations that women must prevent men from lusting. Nor does such a Church necessarily affirm LGBT lives, or welcome non-white people.

The solution to institutional bigotry isn’t some kind of “lean-in feminism” where the women who are best at politics move up the ranks and marginalize others. What’s needed is a more democratic Church. The real “moment of joy” will come when we’re more concerned about what’s taught from the pulpit, rather than who’s preaching from it.

jacquelinemsmall11@gmail.com'

Jacqueline Small, a graduate of Swarthmore College and an M.Div. student at Princeton Theological Seminary, is an intern at the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual.

  • Harry Underwood

    “Allowing them to join the boys’ club is a small gesture to placate progressives, and distracts from other archaic policies. A Church that gives women more power gets points for liberality, but it seldom has to address deeper issues of patriarchy…”

    Yes, very much this. This applies to Abrahamic religion in general, that just because you’ve removed the block against achieving rank or allowed for a same-sex couple be wedded does not mean that you’ve dismantled the patriarchy and bigotry that has long been embedded in your religion.

    “The real “moment of joy” will come when we’re more concerned about what’s taught from the pulpit”

    Not just that, but what sorts of rituals constitute religious practice and, if they are necessitated for “literal” purposes, what scriptures are used to teach from the pulpit.

  • https://www.facebook.com/etseq97 etseq

    Semantu is a reactionary along the lines of Nazir-Ali. They are both products of the evangelical missionary movements of the 19th & 20th century and they have never fully accepted a pluralistic, liberal society. They thrived under George Carey if that tells you anything about their politics…

  • Athelstane

    “He seems not to realize how many people are already hurting by Church policies and mores that actively oppress them. ”

    Aside from Anglo-Catholic and evangelical traditionalists (the few that remain), exactly who is the Church of England and its counterpart churches in North America “actively oppressing” at this point?

    It’s hard to think of a denomination, save possibly the Unitarians, more aggressively in support of all the positions Jacqueline Small lists than the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

  • Jim Reed

    Perhaps the Unitarians don’t look to the magic of the first few centuries the same way that other Christian churches do. That might be the downfall of Christianity. Eventually the modern world will have to overwhelm those ancient religious concepts, although certainly that process will take some generations to complete.