In the University where I work there is a constant concern to ensure that the appointment processes for all jobs are fair. We discuss the best ways to minimise unconscious bias and how to help all candidates to perform at their best in an interview. This is especially important for people whose gender, ethnicity or other characteristic is under represented in the community. In the Church of England, the senior appointment process does not show the same concern.
The new Crown Nominations Committee central members are elected by synod and issues of equality and bias seem built in to our current system. As with the previous members some of those elected have a conscious bias. These individuals hold publicly to the view that woman should not be bishops in the Church of England. They hold this position due to different theological reasons and they are entitled to have these views about gender and certain roles in the church under the 2014 House of Bishop’s Declaration.
The questions for the church are:
Can those who do not believe that women should be bishops fairly interview men and women who are being considered for the position of a diocesan bishop?
If the diocese is open to an appointment of the best candidate, regardless of gender, can they trust these members to disregard their theological convictions in assessing the candidates?
If they abstain in the decision making, how does that affect the process of voting for a candidate?
If they vote against a candidate because they are a woman, how is that upholding the first of the five guiding principles and listening to the wishes of the diocese?
If a woman candidate knows that individuals on the panel do not fully recognise her calling because of her sex, does that make her less confident in the interview?
Do women under perform because they are aware that this is not a level playing field?
It is 8 years since synod past legislation that opened all orders of ministry to women. Since then only 6 women have been appointed to the role of diocesan Bishop. One of those has now retired, so we have 5 women out of 44 diocesan bishops. WATCH is concerned that the appointment process is not fair for women. If a diocese says that they would like the best candidate regardless of gender then the appointment should be made by those who accept that God could be calling either a man or woman to this key senior role. If a diocese has made it clear that they wish their next bishop to be someone who fully supports the sacramental and leadership ministry of ordained women then the whole of the interviewing panel should be able to concur with that vision.
It is hard to work for a church which does not consider fair recruitment of its senior leaders to be important. It is hard to be a woman in such a church.
Chair of WATCH