Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The church is too slow

It took 20 years for the Church of England to agree to ordain women, from the point where it was first raised. That is quite extraordinary, in modern society. At the start of this time, the ordination would have been a radical and groundbreaking step, identifying the church as a leader in equality politics.

By the time it actually happened, it was playing a game of catch-up, trying not to be one of the last bastions of male privilege. While it was great for those who could then be ordained, it indicated far bigger problems in the church.

It then took another 20 years to propose making women bishops, which is ridiculous. If anything, it highlighted the gender inequality even more, because it quite simply denied certain top positions to them, irrespective of their qualification for the role. The fact that the first vote rejected the idea was quite unbelievable. 40 years after it had been established that there was no theological reason to deny women positions within the clergy, some within the church had still not got the message.

The whole farce has, without question, lost the church many people who are tired at the slow pace of change.

I should make it clear that, while the Church of England is very much the focus of this, most other churches show the same type of slowness in dealing with other issues, or even this one. There are churches who will not let women into leadership still (not just the Roman Catholics, who have a far bigger mountain to climb).

And today, the church is still struggling with homosexuality. Having congratulated itself on allowing women to be bishops, as if this is a radical move, it then turns on alternative sexualities and rejects them, flying totally in the face of the rest of society.

I don't mean that the church should be mirroring society. I don't think this is the biggest danger at the moment. Rather, the church should be leading society in terms of acceptance. They should not be accepting gays because society is - they should have been accepting of gays way before society did, and seeking to encourage them into stable, long-term relationships, rather than promiscuity, which was, at one time, rather more common (before AIDS made this far too risky). The church should be ahead of the curve, rather than objecting to conforming after the fact.

And this worries me because the church is liable to spend many years tearing itself apart over homosexuality (and then many more years over bisexuality, asexuality and all sort of other alternative sexualities) before finally being forced to catch up, having lost many more people. To be clear, the church still seems to consider sexuality in a binary sense (Homosexuality vs Heterosexuality), and hasn't really started to understand the breadth of sexuality that people express.

In this time, it should be accepting people irrespective of their sexuality, and looking at issues of gender fluidity. This will become accepted within our society in the next few years, way before the church has even acknowledged that it is a question that needs consideration. People should - of course - be accepted irrespective of their gender definition, but more than this, the church should be helping people acknowledge and understand their gender in far more fluid terms than a simple binary.

I am sure that there will be those who say "We never had gender fluidity when I was young. It's just a fad." I disagree. In fact, it has always been around and an issue, but you may not have met it for two reasons:

1. So many who could not resolve their gender in a way that society would accept either hid it or took their own lives. Both of these involve a life lived in pain and denial.

2. People who have gender questions would probably not come to you or to the church, knowing that they would be condemned.

The church is too slow. By the time it comes to ask important questions, most people have moved on. By the time it comes to answer them, they are seen as a dinosaur. While this is bad for the church, I am more concerned at the many people who are condemned, hurt, rejected and damaged while this process goes on. It is not acceptable.

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