Henry’s heritage: practise what you preach.

I was brought up to avoid the conversational “hot potatoes” of sex, religion and politics. Well, today I’m going to break that golden rule, because something within those three categories has come up which has really got my goat. I am obviously not alone, and recommend this article on “mixedbabygreens”, which is real food for thought.

Anyone who could have sworn that they had heard bellicose laughter echoing within the walls of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle this week probably either pinched themselves or took an appointment with their local shrink.  Yet it would not have surprised me at all. There’s a man buried there who would no doubt have done a victory dance if he’d still been alive to hear the news this week. This man is no other than the initiator of the Church of England, a certain Henry VIII.

Portrait of Henry VIII, c. 1536. Oil and tempe...

Little Henry was probably a nice lad to begin with, but he rapidly became obsessed with the need for a male descendant, which happily coincided with what appears to be an insatiable appetite for women. When he decided that his wife Catherine was no longer fit for the job, he decided to ask for his money back in view of an immediate exchange. Unfortunately for him, the Catholic church drew the line at issuing an annulment for his marriage, so clever Henry got his thinking cap on and rapidly sent the Pope packing.

He immediately reformed the church on his own terms, and was hence able to get shot of Catherine of Aragon for the hopefully fertile and beautiful Anne Boleyn, the sister of one of his many mistresses. Unfortunately, she didn’t produce the male heir either, and got the chop within a few years – both literally and figuratively.

Henry’s appetite for women made modern-day France’s Dominique Strauss Kahn look like a hung-up choir boy as he fell madly in and out of love with women. He got through six wives faster than Bigfoot demolishes a Super-size menu, and died at the age of 55. Two of his four deceased wives were executed, and the last happily survived him along with Anne of Cleves, no doubt taking the time to drink a toast as the coffin lid was nailed down.

The Church of England has gone a long way since. They opened the doors to female priests in 1992. At that time I applauded them for their open-mindedness and their conviction, and really thought that this church was going somewhere.

But this week, my position changed. For those who missed the news this week, the Church of England’s General Synod voted against giving women access to the Bishopry. The great glass ceiling, which most evolved societies have strived to eliminate for women, is apparently still firmly in place in the C of E. It is even more concerning to see that the “against” camp got the last word despite 72.6% of votes being cast in favour of the movement. My reasoning may be a little simplistic, but for me this means that the voting procedure used is in need of severe reform. When the opinion of a majority is consciously ignored, the official body concerned is in the firing line. I can’t see elections working that way anywhere else in society without resulting in riots.

The decision that has just been taken takes us back to medieval times in a country which proudly touts equal opportunities across the board. I presume that the Church of England  preaches tolerance, and abhors discrimination. The opposite would be concerning. The bible says that we are all equal before God, but apparently not before the possibility of preaching His word….. Much as I try, I cannot help thinking of George Orwell, who said in his novel “Animal Farm” that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

Society is evolving fast, and the word “evolution” now has its place in the church dictionary, after the Church of England revised its position on Darwin and his works with a written apology in 2008. Within this document, called Good Religion Needs Good Science, the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown proffers the following words of wisdom:

“People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it’s easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights”.

He’s right, although in this context I consider equality to be a fundamental right, not a new idea. General Synod, for the moment you are not only behind on schedule, you are back-pedalling in a world where clinging on to the debris of the comfortingly familiar is no longer possible. All the women who have played a role in their Church and their parish have been slapped across the face and put in their places: apparently, well below men. I’m not sure that they are happy to limit their contributions to wearing a broad-brimmed flowery hat and making cakes for tea time at the vicarage. In any case, I hope not.

Which brings me back to our old Henry, buried in St Georges chapel.  He can rest in peace: although the Church he created no longer tolerates that anyone cuts off women’s heads, it still apparently maintains the right to axe their future in the clergy.

I’ll leave you with this charming little ditty, written by CBBC for children….

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