Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women Bishops: Why The Church of England Has Messed Up Here

The general synod of the Church of England has voted against the appointment of women as bishops. Three things are evident; firstly, it won’t be too much longer before the balance is tipped; secondly this vote doesn’t reflect the views of the majority of Christians in the UK; thirdly, many have asserted that this compounds the view that we live in a patriarchy, which obviously isn't true. I will address all three points. 

Let me start by repudiating the hasty assumption so many people make, that we live in some kind of oppressive patriarchy. People who peddle the patriarchy-narrative are confused about how complex the world is, how multifaceted and diverse human behaviour is, and how to properly analyse an epistemologically intractable social environment. To cherry pick a few isolated examples of where men have the edge in society, and ignore all the contra-indicators and declare 'patriarchy', is a bit like surveying people in their 40s inside a job centre and claiming that most of the people in their 40s in the UK are unemployed. Most people in their 40s in the UK are not unemployed, but if you cherry pick that sample group from only inside a job centre, it's going to look like they are.
The UK may look like a patriarchy if you only look at the Catholic and Anglican churches, or if you only look at male CEOs, or if you only sample garage mechanics, or if you fall for the bogus 'unfair gender pay gap' canard (by the way, on this one: men and women earn equal pay for equal work - it's illegal for employers to contravene this - and the statistics you often see that proclaim women earn less than men are based on statistical averages, which does not point to unfair discrimination).
But the UK doesn't look very much like a patriarchy if you only sample primary school teachers, or if you look at the number of male suicides compared to females, or if you look at the ratio of men to women who have died fighting in wars or doing risky jobs.

Society as a whole is not accurately represented when seen through cherry-picked data analyses that are sought to corroborate the bogus arguments of people trying to prove a point. Society is much more complex than that, and the reality is, there are many ways in which men have the comparative advantage over women, many ways in which women have the comparative advantage over men, but where in most cases of human living, men and women cooperate together to work, to survive, to love, to have friendships, to pay their taxes, to bring up children, to run a house together, to fight against nature's hardships, and to make each other's lives better (either directly or indirectly).

The church probably is, in several ways, too patriarchal in its ethos - failing to capitalise on the immense benefits and diverse duality of perspective within the two sexes. But to claim the whole of society is an oppressive patriarch is to be guilty of misrepresenting the reality of how men and women really operate in a relationship symbiosis, in mutually beneficial synergies, and in reciprocal encouragement against the vicissitudes of nature's hardships and challenges.

Let me say why I do favour women bishops, and why I think the C of E has got it wrong. I have two reasons; one is to do with a well known principle in moral philosophy, and the other is to do a well known principle in economics. The moral philosophy principle is this; I strongly support women’s rights to be ordained in ministry and leadership – be they vicars, chaplains, or bishops, or any other position, based primarily on a fixed view I have about humans not discriminating against other humans based on race, creed, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or any other congenital component of being human. 

The economic principle is to do with utilisation of skills, and this is an area that both the feminists and the overly-masculine influences in the church have got entirely wrong.  This is not an immutable rule, but for maximum efficiency you are best to optimise the specialised skills people bring to the table.  In a partnership, if two people have similar skills there is less to be gained from sharing them – all you’re doing is reassigning jobs from one equally suitable person to another.  For maximum efficiency, if two people have similar skills concerning task A, then you’re best to separate roles, where one does task A and the other does task B.  But if two partners have very different skills it is best to share both task A and task B because both sets of specialist skills can be brought into both tasks. 

For example, suppose we have a town planning project - I don’t think are many people who would deny that an economist and a building surveyor partnership would be a more efficient partnership than two economists or two building surveyors. Suppose we have a committee assigned to draw up a document that maximises good parenting; I don’t think there are many people who would deny that a group of five men and five women would be more efficient than a group of ten women or ten men.  And I cannot imagine there are many people who would deny that a partnership consisting of a livestock specialist and an agronomy specialist would make a better farming partnership than two livestock specialists or two agronomy specialists.

This is where the feminists and the overly-masculine influences in the church do not understand maximum efficiency.  Feminists, in trying to make women and men as similar as possible, say that task A should be shared equally.  That’s wrong – if they are similar they would achieve maximum efficiency by specialising.  Overly-masculine church men, in trying to make men and women as different as possible, say that women should specialise in task A and men in task B.  That’s also wrong – if they are different they would achieve maximum efficiency by sharing and bringing to bear both sets of specialties and talents.

Now let me make one thing quite clear; there are situations in which this sort of logic would not be maximally beneficial.  For example, in a marriage, there are all sorts of good reasons why housework, driving, entertaining, gardening, etc are better shared (respect, closeness, togetherness, kindness, consideration, relationship equality, to name but five) – but this issue is about women bishops, and hence on grounds of moral philosophy and economic principles the church is making a mistake in not appointing women bishops. 

In both cases, appointing women bishops is the right thing to do.  Given that women are equal in every sense of rights and respect, both women and men should be allowed to be bishops on grounds that sex discrimination is ugly. And conversely, given that women have very different skills to men (as well as many similar skills), both women and men should be allowed to be bishops on grounds that church leadership (be they vicars, chaplains, or bishops) will benefit from both sets of specialised skills being brought to bear on the running of the church.  Whichever way you cut the cloth, the church is throwing away one of its golden pearls by failing to maximise the talents of both men and women.