ACT News


Sorry for the interruption, God, but are women a problem for You?


First of all, I apologise for troubling You. I know there's a fair bit going on at the moment, what with the Middle East firing up again (an ancient exchange in which You seem ceaselessly to be invoked in Your many and mysterious forms, despite what I can only imagine must be an escalating weariness with the antics of Your earthly emissaries in that region).

And I know it's not the biggest item on Your agenda, but I imagine the proposed Australian royal commission into child sex abuse is probably occupying a small but significant proportion of Your omniscience, too. Like I said, I'm sorry to bother You.

But what I wanted to ask is this: Do we have a problem?

We, as in ladies, I mean? Do we have a problem with You?

I ask because in the past week, the Church of England's Synod voted to block the ordination of women as bishops.


This seemed a bit of a surprising result, given the Church of England has had women priests for about 20 years now, and in fact ordained more ladies than men in 2010 - a development that led at the time to small-scale panic that the Church was suffering from a ''testosterone deficit''.

And of course, who's counting, and gender isn't important and everything, but of the past 200 years, the Church of England has spent 124 with a chick as Supreme Governor - Queen Victoria for 64 years, and Queen Elizabeth, at the moment 60 not out.

Odd to think that these CofE women are qualified to provide tea in the vestry, to become priests, and even to serve at the apex of the organisation, but not to be bishops, after all this time. When put to the vote, the proposal for women bishops to be allowed within the Church of England narrowly failed to attract enough votes from the church's laity, even though it was retrofitted with a ''Grumpy Old Men'' clause allowing conservative parishes to ignore their lady-bishop and demand a bloke substitute instead.

God: As a being with the distinct strategic advantage of all-knowingness, You will doubtless understand all this. But for those of us not similarly endowed, it seems a bit rum, to be honest.

I mean, in Australia, as You would know, the Anglican church has appointed three lady bishops, and the sun still struggles up most mornings. Swaziland's Anglican church got one last weekend, for crying in a bucket.

Opponents argue this whole thing isn't about entitlements, or rights, or privileges; it's not a human rights or equal opportunity or - Heaven forbid - a workplace issue.

But in this case, the battle to defend theological tradition against the rights agenda is almost indistinguishable from, ''My right to stick my fingers in my ears and not be bossed about by a beastly woman.'' And how is that any different?

Opponents also argue the church is the church; it's not supposed to be a mirror of society.

But how can you remove a church from society, and expect to have anything left?

The more we hear about exemptions for churches - from property laws, from the criminal codes, from the presumptions of equality that have advanced inexorably over the past century and continue to advance - the less one is surprised by congregation shrinkage.

At present, there are 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for Church of England bishops; last week's Synod vote confirms these 26 seats will continue formally to be open only to men.

The church has a legislative exemption for this democratically unorthodox instance of discrimination, but one wonders whether it will last.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Vatican has sent a flying squad of male bishops to bring its American nuns under control.

The nuns - organised as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious - stand accused by Rome of spending too much time on poverty alleviation and not enough time advocating against abortion and homosexuality.

They are further suspected of subscribing to ''radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith''; the nuns are now in formal mediation discussions to see if they can sort it out.

Now, just what the Vatican deems to be ''radical feminism'' might be another curly one best left to Your omniscience, Lord.

But of all the problems confronting the Catholic Church internationally, is a bunch of American nuns being too nice to the gays really the one to pick for urgent action? Churches change, of course they do.

After all, it's not even 500 years since translating the Bible into English was viewed as a heresy; William Tyndale did it, and was strangled and burnt for his trouble in 1536.

You can't stop progress, can you? And I'm sure you have a plan for all these contemporary challenges too. Just wanted to check that everyone was invited.