Parliament’s part in the C of E’s rifts on equality for women and gay people | Letters

Westminster interference over women priests left a legacy that is still felt today, says April Alexander, while Andy Foster says equality for LGBTQ+ people in the church must become law

MPs may “raise concerns” about the fact that the Church of England appears not to be willing to offer marriage in church to same-sex couples (Welby ‘would rather see C of E disestablished than split over same-sex marriage’, 1 February), but parliament has something to answer for in relation to the church and its attitude on such matters.

In 1992, the General Synod passed a relatively simple measure to allow women to become priests, but not to impose them where a parish wanted to maintain the then position of appointing only male priests. That did not satisfy the ecclesiastical committee of the time (a joint committee of MPs and peers) and they demanded “protection” and “safeguarding” against women priests by means of an Act of Synod. The church had no alternative but to oblige – and complicated arrangements were agreed whereby evangelical and, broadly, Anglo-Catholic parishes could opt out of the new regime and elect not to appoint women priests or to consider them for posts.

Worse than this, they were to be served by two special breeds of bishop, one for evangelicals and another for Anglo-Catholics. One such Anglo-Catholic was consecrated bishop last week separately from his three colleagues (one of whom was female). The two services took place at different times on 2 February.

These divisions within the C of E have not only survived but grown in strength. That was the reason why legislating for women as bishops took so long and was so difficult – and the reason why we have so few women bishops today (25% of newly appointed diocesan bishops after seven years).

Similar but not identical fissures are also evident today with regard to same-sex marriage; emboldened dissenters can, in effect, dictate that single-sex marriage cannot take place in church. This is despite the fact that it exists in the Anglican churches of Scotland and Wales. These dissenters are largely on the evangelical wing and have huge support from some churches in the Anglican communion worldwide, although by no means all.

Had parliamentarians left the church to its own devices in 1992, it would probably be in a very different position now.
April Alexander
Member of the General Synod 2000-21; church commissioner 2008-18

• Archbishop Welby’s suggestion of disestablishing the Church of England will not help gay Anglicans, or those of us who feel completely shut out from the church of our upbringing by its insistent homophobia. It is nearly 20 years since the defenestration of Jeffrey John showed how much power a well-organised lobby of alien, homophobic neo-evangelicals have gained in the church. The feeling of hopelessness grows with every year and every pronouncement from the House of Bishops.

Parliament must not disestablish the church. That would entrench the power of these homophobes, probably for good. It can legislate for the Church of England. It should pass an act to enshrine equality for LGBTQ+ people: an amendment to the existing Equality Act, to bring the church within its scope, might do the job. It would need a strong conscience clause, because there are genuine conservatives who would not feel able to perform same-sex marriages. But after the latest decision of the bishops, after so many years, such a law is absolutely essential.
Andy Foster

The GuardianTramp

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