Religions don’t exist outside of society or in spite of society. They are society. What troubles one troubles the other. While my church has made all the necessary provisions to allow gender equality in the faith, it suffers from the same deep, unspoken, often subconscious bias that we all have in our daily secular lives.
They call it the Stained Glass Ceiling. Despite equal numbers in lay participation and ever growing numbers in clergy, women still make up a noticeably small percentage of bishops. Of the approximately 300 members of the House of Bishops (which include both current and retired bishops), less than 20 are women. Almost 27 years after the ordination of pioneer and confirmed badass Barbara Harris as the first female bishop in the Anglican communion, we haven’t even hit 10%.
The same internalized sexism that keeps people in strict gender roles in secular society also works in the church. Women don’t feel pushed or encouraged to go after positions of leadership and authority. When they become clergy, they are less likely to be called to a large congregation, which would be the kind of experience many are looking for when electing a bishop. So while few Episcopalians would suggest that there is anything wrong or different about women that make them unfit for the role of bishop, somewhere in the back of all our minds is a nagging voice that thinks the man is a more logical choice.
The Church of England only started allowing female bishops in 2015, but there is a real and legitimate concern that they will quickly outpace the Episcopal Church. Why? Because in the Church of England bishops are appointed, not elected. It is easy to notice how many women you’ve chosen when you’re picking every bishop. But when individual dioceses are voting for their own leadership, no single diocese is to blame for once again choosing one of the male candidates over the female candidate.
In theory, it is not the job of humans to pick bishops. Rather, we are supposed to recognize who God is calling and confirm that call. That’s why announcements for ordination say that the service will take place “God willing and the people consenting.” God does not, I assume, purposely call more men than women to the office of the bishop. Which means that we, unknowingly and unintentionally, are obstructing the will of God.
Thanks, Katrina. Insightful as always. And just to emphasize, it’s not so much that women seek the position of bishop and lose the vote, but that not many women even become a candidate. Like you say, there is not consistent, strong encouragement to do so.
Interestingly, the position of Canon to the Ordinary (the staff person in charge of deployment of clergy within a diocese, along with other significant tasks) is quite often a woman. Certainly in our diocese. And that position is often considered the next-in-line authority-wise to the bishop.