In the light of the UK Equality Act of 2010 there are some serious questions for the Church of England to be addressing over the next months as it collectively ruminates on the trauma it delivered, to itself and the waiting public who still care what the institution makes of itself in third millennium Britain. By 6 votes the legislation which would have been put in play to ordain women as Bishops into the Church of England failed. Ironically the vote failed to reach the required two thirds majority in the House of Laity. Testimony claimed some that this was not about systemic misogyny or sexism, but a matter of deeply held theological difference, which must be honoured.
First female Bishop in Africa
At the same time as the Church of England Synod was failing to legitimise the
equality of women across its organisational remit, one of her African sisters was on the move. African christians, so frequently lassooed into conversation to add ballast to the argument of conservative forces against opening up the Church to yet another equality, whether that of recognising the right for persons with the protected characteristic of sexual orientation to be ordained, or of the challenges around gay marriage, were welcoming the first female Bishop of Swaziland – Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya into their midst. A clear reversal of fortunes and dynamics, of which the Church of England and its leadership should take clear note. The newspaper headlines calling out from billboards in the streets made clear the opinions of some of the press and general public about what had been holding up such an appointment over the last decades of political and civil society change.
160 years of male domination in the Anglican (colonially planted) church ends today, calls out the billboard. For the Anglican church in England it will be interesting to see which year is set for the timeline to be adjusted to by the editors responsible for the sales strap-line. For change is coming, and will come – and other churches on the move are not simply the churches of our former ‘colonial’ cousins, in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Canada, but emerging from across Africa. At present the signs are smaller than a child’s fist, but they will undoubtedly grow. As confidence builds, old shibboleths are overcome, and the onward march of civil entitlement and equality is understood, this renewal of the Anglican church will emerge in India, South America and even have a presence in China and the far East, alongside other minority churches seeking to express the equality which has been ‘in captivity’ within the founding mission statement of the churches for so many generations.
The Equality Act of 2010 has a history rooted in the evolution of the declaration of Human Rights which emerged on the 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the horrific experiences of the second world war and was the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. Unfortunately the male ascription of sibling affinity, somewhat undermined its ability to transform immediately the gender inequalities which were endemic across European polity at that time. The first article announces in the same tone adopted by so much of the liturgy of the Anglican church, references to brotherhood, and the assumption of the male is the referent for all ascriptions of humanity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 1 of the Universal declaration announces: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. And Article 7 declares that : All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Protection from discrimination
This is the deep political and civil entitlement context out of which the Equality Act 2010 eventually emerged into our legal landscape. The 2010 single Equality Act which outlines 9 protected characteristics which public authorities have a duty to protect and to actively promote inclusion are as follows:
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
Equality Act Section 149 para 7
This public duty applies to all public bodies, though there is some form of exemption which operates for the General Synod buried deep in its inner legal workings – which has left the Church of England free to evolve its own decisions about how authority, power and talent acquisition and development can be managed in a manner which clearly privileges certain types of male. These days of being let off the hook though may soon be ending after yesterday’s shocking result. A result which visibly shook Archbishop Rowan Williams, and his heir apparent the Rt Revd Justin Welby – and the majority of General Synod members in all three houses.
The church needs a prod
In Prime Minister’s Question Time this afternoon UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked to comment on the no vote at General Synod and mentioned that the Church of England might be in need of ‘a sharp prod’ (@cllrbpiper). There will undoubtedly be numerous prods being poked through the railings surrounding Lambeth Palace, across the desks of church bureaucrats and into the meetings of Bishops and the Archbishop’s council in the coming weeks, to provoke the Church of England’s corporate imagination and ingenuity to finally realise the aspirations of 42 out of its 45 dioceses, and overwhelming 70% of its representation at General Synod.
What could be of great assistance as Synod says goodbye to Archbishop Rowan and prepares itself to welcome in his stead the Rt Revd Justin Welby when it convenes some time during the coming year, is to consider the public duty which all citizens in the UK are asked to be mindful of. This is the duty which every public authority in the UK is tasked to actively promote and attend to within its own organisation and is announced in the Equality Act of 2010 – which I attach below.
Love thy neighbour
Although a statement of well sculpted legal text, it spells out clearly a late modern vision of non-discrimination, the preconditions for a flourishing meritocracy, and the sort of world in which God might be pleased to dwell in. That final clause is not one detailed in the Equality Act itself. But it is one on which the Established Church of England might like to ponder, and post across its churches, as a contemporary intention for mission. It may not make as good spiritual poetry as the ancient Aramaic of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, but it might just spell out some of the consequences of trying to work out the consequences of its founder’s central brand statement for the church today.
Equality Act 2010
Section 149 Public sector equality duty
(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—
(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
(c)foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
(2)A person who is not a public authority but who exercises public functions must, in the exercise of those functions, have due regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;
(b) take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
(c) encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low.
(4)The steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that are different from the needs of persons who are not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.
(5) Having due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a) tackle prejudice, and
(b) promote understanding.
(6) Compliance with the duties in this section may involve treating some persons more favourably than others; but that is not to be taken as permitting conduct that would otherwise be prohibited by or under this Act.
(7) The relevant protected characteristics are—
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
(8) A reference to conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act includes a reference to—
(a)a breach of an equality clause or rule;
(b)a breach of a non-discrimination rule.
(9) Schedule 18 (exceptions) has effect.