Why you should care about the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Even if you're not religious or don't go to church
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Kirsty
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Even if you're not religious or don't go to church

When I suggested to Rebecca that I'd like to write an article about the choosing of the new Archbishop of Canterbury and why that is something we womb-en should care about, I didn't really think it through.

Because now I have to write the flipping thing, and truth be told it is a long, long time since I have paid much attention to the church at all, and I have a bottle of wine in the fridge that is calling, siren-like to me. Get thee behind me Muscadet; I have lofty matters of the faith to attend to.

Many years ago, as a dewy-skinned, country-bred young’un I toddled off to university a super-keen Christian, eager to sign up to the Christian Union (the CU to us cool cats) and get stuck into all the God activities.

I was brought up in a Catholic household, and discovered evangelical Christianity around the age of 15, from which time I became enamoured with its thrilling youth culture, emotive new music and determination to be current and relevant.

Despite being an independent and stubborn person I tried very hard to be the person I believed Jesus wanted me to be - and the woman this particular brand of Christianity said I had to be.

Woo! Early Morning Prayer!

Woo! Bible-study group!

Woo! Chaste side-hugs so the boys can't feel your boobs and get confused and flustered!

This was all well and good for a while, but over the next three years, the inherent sexism that I encountered on a daily basis within the CU (amongst other things), eventually made myself and a group of friends leave.

While lots of these friends stayed in the church (albeit in different denominations) and still attend now, it's been many years since my buttocks have graced a wooden pew.

A modest, godly woman.....with a massive nose ring.

A modest, godly woman.....with a massive nose ring.

This exciting trip down memory lane aside, the news that Rowan Williams is standing down as Archbishop of Canterbury, and speculation over the appointment of his replacement is definitely something that interests me. And it should interest you too - not least to see what kind of cuddly toy they come up with for the newbie:

Seriously, the Rowan bear is actually one of the best things ever!

Seriously, the Rowan bear is actually one of the best things ever!

In case you missed it, the Church of England has been busy debating whether or not women should be ordained as bishops. The argument that is always dragged out and waved self-righteously and tediously about by the anti-women-bishops (and indeed anti-women-in-any-position-of-leadership) squad, is that Jesus didn't have any women disciples, and as such, there is no biblical precedent for female bishops.

There are also several passages in the new testament relating to women's subordination to men, and the imperative for them to be silent in church (theology degree, thank you very much), which are also used to support the anti-women-bishops argument.*

While it has recently been agreed that women will be allowed to become bishops going forward, there is a tasty little get-out clause for parishes that simply cannot stomach the idea of a woman donning a Mitre. The fantastically named “flying” bishops.

As far as I understand them flying bishops work much like substitute teachers, by standing in at parishes who won't accept a female bishop “as a matter of conscience”.

They were originally brought in with the advent of women priests, which is, of course, the other side of the same coin, and will continue to stick around for this new wave of female bishops.

It’s the phrase “matter of conscience” I find particularly galling, because it means the church is using religious morality to justify gender inequality, and that is not cool, yo.

Now, it goes without saying that within the broad spectrum of the church there are myriad views regarding this issue, and and plenty of liberal-minded Christians who are very much behind the ordination of women.

The problem isn't with the CofE as a whole, but with a vocal minority. And aint that always that way?

Regardless of whether or not you attend church, there is no denying that the Church of England is still a powerful and hugely influential organisation in the UK. As such it is in an arguably unrivalled position to bring issues such as this into the public eye.

The church’s involvement with service provision, such as CofE schools and volunteering within the community, is enormous – according to their website one in four primary schools and one in sixteen secondary schools in England are CofE.

Within these institutions young people are growing and forming the political and social views that will shape the directions their lives take; they are developing worldviews that will define the next generation.

Another huge reason to care about the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury is because there are no women in the running for the position – because there are no women bishops.

Not allowing women to even have the opportunity to lead within the church, deciding that women will make ineffectual leaders without even giving them the opportunity to prove otherwise is just plain wrong.

I say that as someone who as a person of faith who has heard all the arguments for banning women from the upper echelons of the church, and rejected them all.

The real issue, as I see it, is that the Church still provides a place for people to hold openly sexist, out-dated views and for these to be justified as “matters of conscience”.

Richard Chartres, who is the Bishop of London and one of the candidates in the running for the job of Archbishop, doesn't agree with the ordination of Women as priests, let alone bishops.

He doesn’t ordain any priests at all, for this reason (though he will ordain women as deacons, the pre-cursor to becoming priests, which is frankly baffling).

Most of the candidates up for the job are similarly conservative in their views, and none of them is as liberal as Rowan.  Lovely Rowan (where’s that bear got to?).

So, let me conclude with a Jerry Springer-style final thought:

Inequality between men and women still very much a universal issue, and whether or not you attend the Church of England, the wider social implications of the church’s decisions are global.

As long as violence against women is rife, as long as women are universally less likely to attend school and more likely to experience poverty, and as long as we are still debating issues such as whether or not a photo of a naked woman for no other purpose than objectification belongs in a daily newspaper, the need to fight against gender inequality, in all walks of life, is fierce. And that includes within the church.

*this is obviously a condensing down of the huge and convoluted theological argument