A week after Sheik Hilaly, the highest-ranking cleric in Australia, called unveiled women "uncovered meat" and suggested they were inviting rape, an Anglican archbishop has swan-dived headlong into the bottomless debate about women's rights and religious authority.
But this time, instead of focusing on fundamentalist Islam's bass-ackwards attitudes toward women, it's a whack at the Christian status quo.
Last week Sydney's Anglican Diocese invoked "scriptural authority" to block a debate on whether women should be ordained. Sydney remains one of the only dioceses left in Australia that continues to bar women from the priesthood. Today the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Roger Herft, the archbishop of Perth and country's leading liberal Anglican, asserted that the Sydney diocese's interpretation of the Bible sprung from the same logic as Sheik Hilaly's in relegating women to submission based on divine texts.
"The thought forms that treat women as second-class human beings have foundational elements that are similar in many repressive religious traditions," Herft said in a statement. "The divinely sanctioned world view authenticated by the selective use of scripture keeps women in subjection."
Not surprisingly, the Sydney diocese dismissed any comparisons with Sheik Hilaly: "We are prepared to be criticized, but we utterly reject any moral equivalence with Sheikh Hilali," spokesman Bishop Robert Forsyth told the Age.
Though Herft's commentary was obviously a political joust in a long local debate, his comments raise universal questions. Critiquing veils obfuscates the point that other religious institutions rely on the same chowder-headed rationales to keep women less than equal. And as long as Christians use religious texts to explain their bigotry, why shouldn't Muslims?