The Secular Charter and women bishops

According to the information provided by the National Secular Society, secularism is primarily defined as ‘… the strict separation of the state from religious institutions’, with equality before the law following therefrom.

Consequently, conditions b to j of ‘The Secular Charter’ (as adopted at the 2011 AGM; as I commence scratching, this year’s AGM is underway, and, as I’m not in attendance, any adjustment to the Charter may render what I write here outdated) cannot follow without the first:

a) There is no established state religion.

But, there is; hence the (lay component of the) General Synod of the Church of England can continue unconcerned by:

b) There is one law for all and its application is not hindered or replaced by religious codes or processes.

In other words, whilst there remains an ‘established state religion’, the Church is legally entitled to continue unhindered its flouting of the laws on sexual discrimination. Which I read as meaning that, were church to be dis-established, then it would no longer be permitted to bar women from promotion to high office.

But wait – ‘The Secular Charter’ also stipulates that, without an established religion:

j) The state does not intervene in the setting of religious doctrine or the running of religious organisations.

Do I correctly spot a paradox here? This seems to read that, in a secular society, the Anglican church’s continued barring of women bishops is perfectly acceptable, because it is run according to the (voting) rules and regulations of any discriminating private members club.

It would seem, then, that secularism is (would be) pretty ineffectual here. As is, the church is allied to the state as the established state church, but is not bound by the laws of the state. But then, in a fully, religion-dis-established, secular state, it would still (according to condition j of ‘The Secular Charter’) be free to bar women from promotion to the bishopric.

It is reasonable to predict that the Synod will come round (the majority already has; just not a sufficiently large enough majority of the House of Laity), and we will see women bishops before too long. Meanwhile, some of the casuistry at work is fascinating. How women can endorse traditional discrimination against women; or those who claim to want to see women bishops nevertheless defend the outcome because it is not for the church to turn away those who vote according to their conscience. What, pray, is a vote for? Is this skewed system so designed in order to limit the possibility of politically embarrassing schism? (This is not a rhetorical, but a genuine question.) Meanwhile, minority conservative adherence to cherry-picked Biblical literalism carries the day over the ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) majority, and effects the continued overriding of the employment law of the land with impunity.

Although this cringing episode is further argument for dis-establishment, condition j of the National Secular Society’s Charter would here seem to endorse the status quo.

One response to “The Secular Charter and women bishops

  1. Pingback: The Secular Charter and women (as) bishops « Lee Turnpenny·


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