I really hoped this wouldn't be my first blog post. I was hoping to kick off my 'official' Vicar of Borstal blog with a happy 'run-up-to-Advent' post, including a 'by-the-way-isn't-it-great-about-women-bishops?' But no, we are where we are. All around us women clergy, and plenty of other people, are reeling from the decision that women are not going to be bishops in the Church of England. South Africa - fine. New Zealand - fine. USA - fine. But not, apparently, in the Church of England (though I love the idea that Wales might push ahead and do it anyway). Apologies for using 'Church' as shorthand for 'Church on England' in the remainder of this post.
There's so much that's wrong about this. The clear democratic majority that wasn't enough. The unholy alliance between extreme conservative evangelicals and extreme Anglo-Catholics. The way we didn't stand up and say 'This is wrong, discrimination is wrong, sexism is just as bad as racism and it must be stopped,' instead indulging in text-throwing and fudge.
I think that's where I see a glimmer of hope. The Church was so caught up in trying to please everyone, in trying to square the circle, that this truth had been lost. Now, in the glare of the world's media, suddenly it is embarrassing. Defining someone in terms of their chromosomes first and their gifts second denies their human rights. The Church is shown up as an oppressive, reactionary institution which does not treat everyone as made in God's image, as special and equal before God.
I see further hope in the way that the Church has, belatedly, realised that women are hurting. Being constantly discussed as though we were a separate species, being denigrated both subtly and blatantly, hurts. Finally our tears are visible. We see highly gifted women who will not now become bishops because they will be too old by the time we get around to it, and my heart goes out to them, but denying women's gifts denigrates all women, whether or not they are called to the episcopate.
My twelve-year-old daughter is refusing to go to church, as of this week, because the Church is 'being an idiot'. I can't force her to go, nor would I want to. I completely see her point. Those who worry that a few people might leave the Church over women bishops would do better to worry about those who are so repulsed by this blatant sexism they will never darken our doors again.
In the days of the Reformation, women were not allowed to read the bible for themselves. People argued against it with passion and sincerity. Those people were wrong. Reading the bible for ourselves has liberated women, has shown us that we are loved equally, has shown us that women were respected by Jesus and chosen to be missionaries to whole communities. Fast forward a few hundred years and the leadership of women priests has shown that we are gifted and capable and have valid vocations. Some may argue against this with passion and sincerity, but they are still wrong. It is time for change.