Rod McPhee: Holy row discredits ‘minority concerns’

Dr Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, after draft legislation introducing the first women bishops in the Church of England failed to receive final approval. PIC: PA
Dr Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, after draft legislation introducing the first women bishops in the Church of England failed to receive final approval. PIC: PA
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Go on, say it. Just say the word ‘minority’ to someone – in a suitable context, of course – and gauge their reaction. Because nothing tends to polarise people quite so much as introducing The M Word into any dialogue.

Sceptics roll their eyes at the connotations of unconventional groups trying to secure preferential treatment.

Sympathisers clutch their bosom as their hearts bleed for a section of society seemingly oppressed by the masses.

Whether that manifests itself in discrimination, positive or negative, they focus on difference. But it’s also based on the fact that those who are different are comparatively small in number.

Not anymore.

This week’s rejection of female bishops by the Church of England exposes the absurdity of any politics which revolves around the idea of ‘minorities’.

The General Synod’s shunning of women showed that, when it comes to discrimination, size doesn’t matter. You might be the only Peruvian immigrant living in Britain, or you might represent half the population of the globe, but you’re still, ultimately, second class.

That’s because, in this country there’s only really one minority and that’s the white, middle-aged, middle-class men who still run the show. Unfortunately you pretty much have to tick all of the boxes – and that, obviously, still includes gender.

Those who tick them all are afforded preferential treatment, and their only protection against the erosion of their privilege is to claim that everyone else is actually after preferential treatment.

The truth is that everyone else on the ‘minorities’ list: gay people, black people, immigrants, people with mental health issues, poor people, people with disabilities and now, apparently, women, really do just want equality. But, sometimes gaining equality means giving certain sections of society – big or small – the chance to catch up a little.

Even a little movement, however, scares the hell out of the Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual, bourgeoisie patriarchy because it requires compromise, concession and the surrender of certain traditions.

And it’s then, right at the crossroads of change, that they tend to wheel out The M Word, because they know its use leads to divide and rule. They know that the ordinary man or woman on the street will have conflicting emotions and what you end up with is stalemate rather than progress.

Except they can’t play that card in the case of rejecting women bishops and, as a result, it exposes them for what they are: a reactionary, powerful few who are actually trying to keep everyone else subservient.

I just hope that more women take the events of this week and realise what they are up against, what we are all up against. Because many of them probably thought they were a huge, powerful block of society, one with little or no connection to a lesbian or an asylum seeker or someone with schizophrenia. They probably thought that they were ‘normal’, well, apparently not normal enough to warrant ascending to the highest levels of the Church of England.

Let this be a salient lesson to everyone out there: when it comes to discrimination it’s not about who you are it’s about who you aren’t – and there’s certainly no safety in numbers.

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