Lucy Winkett: We must address poverty, wars – and female bishops

The Anglican Communion is not a multinational with a board and a chief executive

Related Topics

"A church by law established but from law exempt". So a leading Free Church commentator described the Church of England this week. In the week when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act, giving women the vote in Britain, how is it that the Established Church, exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act, is still debating on what basis it can admit women to its leadership?

Put more acutely, given that most people live their lives without reference to organised religion, does it really matter if the Church of England decides to consecrate women bishops or not? What does it matter either if a group of conservative Anglicans meet in Jerusalem and call themselves Gafcon or Foca and issue a declaration that excites journalists, depresses many Christians and mystifies everyone else?

While acute suffering continues for ordinary people in conflict zones around the globe, what greater humiliation could there be for the Church than groups of Christians gathering to argue over one another's identity or lifestyle? Fiddling while Rome's burning, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; pick your metaphor and weep.

I was ordained in the Church of England 13 years ago this week. As a priest whose vocation is to pray, to proclaim the gospel of Christ and to serve others, I am embarrassed by the public preoccupation of Anglicans with sex, and, on one level, I want to argue that these current arguments don't matter at all. But the truth is, they also matter immensely.

Today the doctrines of Christianity take their place not only alongside other world religions, but also an almost infinite number of beliefs mediated by the not-so-holy-trinity of Yahoo, Google and Wikipedia. The modern Church of England is drawing on ancient principles of prayer and service in shaping its mission in a complex society. While it's true that in community projects, prisons, hospitals and schools, pioneering work is being done by Church people standing alongside those who are on the margins of society, I think it's also true that some of the current arguments over gender and sexuality are a kind of displacement activity.

The fact is, it is extremely difficult for the Church to make effective, large-scale contributions to the huge questions of late modernity; that, for example, more people were killed in wars in the last 90 years than in the previous 500; that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen; that Westerners are scandalously inattentive to the ecological consequences of over-consumption. To really make an impact on this huge agenda is extremely challenging, so we Christians find ourselves retreating to familiar territory: attempts to regulate private sexual behaviour and the public role of women.

In this last week, our two archbishops have spoken out about credit unions for the poorest in society and about civil rights in Zimbabwe. They are wise and prophetic but, despite many serious frustrations, it is not wrong for the Church also to discuss the place of men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, in a society that believes mistakenly that these issues have been resolved. The Fawcett Society reminded us recently that eight out of 10 votes cast in the House of Commons are cast by men, and nine out of 10 decisions in UK boardrooms are taken by men. Homophobic bullying is also a serious issue for schools. Human identity and role are not irrelevant topics for theological debate by serious people in the context of a society where these questions, addressed by legislation, are not resolved in reality.

I believe passionately that women and men should represent Christ in sacramental ministry and I hope that today the General Synod will remove the barriers that prevent women from becoming bishops. I hope it is done decisively and with generosity towards those of a different opinion. I hope too that FOCA, newly constituted, will be very careful about its rhetoric in a volatile world.

To disagree is not wrong, and we should not be afraid of it, because ultimately, whatever is decided at conferences and meetings, the Anglican Communion is not a multinational with a board and a chief executive; it is part of the body of Christ, and I am bound by my baptism to every other Christian, whatever their views about me or anyone else. Every soul in these islands has someone to pray for them, and it is here that the Church of England lives and breathes; in the deep and genuine desire of people with differing theological views, and in different circumstances, to live lives marked by compassion, forgiveness and love. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

Lucy Winkett is canon of St Paul's Cathedral

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

When a small amount of desk space means the world

Rebecca Armstrong
It’s all in the detail; Ed Miliband with ‘Britain Can Be Better’ (AFP/Getty)  

General Election 2015: Parties must remember the 50-plus vote

Stefano Hatfield
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own