Justifying Gender Inequality in the Church of England

An Examination of Theologically Conservative Male Clergy Attitudes towards Women’s Ordination


  • Alex D. J. Fry London School of Economics




gender, sexism, benevolent sexism, Church of England, system justification, evangelicalism


Despite being a national institution, the Church of England is legally permitted to discriminate against its ordained female clergy in a number of ways, a phenomenon that is at odds with wider societal values in England. It is argued that this makes the gender values of this institution’s representatives worthy of examination. This article explores the gender attitudes of theologically conservative male clergy and the psychological processes that shape these attitudes. In order to do so, semi-structured interviews were conducted with fourteen evangelical priests in one diocese within the Church of England. A thematic narrative analysis was employed to interpret the data using descriptive, focused, and pattern coding. Three themes in particular emerged from the data, namely: “Theological parallel between the Church and the family”, “Created order of male headship and female submission”, and “Separation between Church and society”. The content of these themes reveals significant overlap with the contents of system justification theory, and so this was used to interpret the themes further. In light of this it is concluded that a perceived loss of social privilege and control shape participants’ traditionalist gender values.


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Author Biography

Alex D. J. Fry, London School of Economics

Alex Fry teaches interdisciplinary social science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has also recently completed a PhD in the Sociology of Religion in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, and is a post-doctoral research fellow at St. John’s College, Durham. While his doctoral research focused on the gender values held by male clergy in the Church of England, his postdoctoral research explores the relationship between religiosity and psychological wellbeing in areas of socio-economic deprivation in the north of England.


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How to Cite

Fry, A. D. J. (2019). Justifying Gender Inequality in the Church of England: An Examination of Theologically Conservative Male Clergy Attitudes towards Women’s Ordination. Fieldwork in Religion, 14(1), 8–32. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.39231