LIKE all religious institutions the Church of Scotland is inherently patriarchal.
There are doubtless good scriptural reasons for this because the Bible is nothing if not sexist. In it, women fetch and carry, bear and bring up children, and run after their menfolk as if they're rajahs. This of course was no more than women deserved, Eve - the ultimate temptress - having set the whole of her gender the worst of examples.
It has taken two millennia and more for this to be questioned. But in some quarters old attitudes prevail and women still struggle to have their voices heard. In this regard at least, the Kirk is enlightened.
When I was growing up and accruing a perfect attendance record on Sunday mornings it would have been unthinkable for there to be a woman in the pulpit. Now no-one - save a few myopic dinosaurs - bats an eyelid at the sight of a woman delivering a sermon or conducting a funeral. It is as natural as seeing a new father change a nappy or his wife changing a tyre.
But that is not to suggest that all is hunky-dory. As Lorna Hood, the present Moderator, told the Church's Guild, she has been "taken aback and saddened" at the sexism that continues to exist in the Kirk. "The women experiencing discrimination are very much the minority in our Church," added Ms Hood, "but I am moved by their pain."
What evidence she has for declaring that women victims of sexism are "very much the minority" I know not. But it sounds to me like one of those statements Moderators must make in order not to frighten the horses. Ms Hood herself is the third female Moderator and may therefore feel she is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.
I hope she is right. Certainly, her performance - if one can put it so crudely - at the General Assembly in May was generally believed to be exemplary. She has also, unlike so many of her timorous male predecessors, demonstrated a refreshing desire to speak out on issues over which, in previous years, the Kirk opted to remain cravenly silent.
It is a good basis on which to build but her words require to be backed up by action. Take, by way of example, journalism, which was indubitably one of the most sexist professions. Perhaps in some regards - remuneration, promotion, kudos - it still is. But it is unrecognisable from the one I encountered several decades ago.
Then, women were confined to the softer and sweeter smelling end of the trade. If a woman wanted to get on she had often to take things off. I do not think I am being overly optimistic when I say that it is not the case today. Moreover few female journalists are likely to allow themselves to be subjected to sexism.
This, I fear, is not so in the Kirk. I do not intend here to rehearse the appalling discrimination suffered by Helen Percy when she was a minister in Angus and accused of having an affair with a married elder. Though presented with evidence that this most certainly was not true, the Kirk hounded Ms Percy out and did nothing to prevent her being vilified in the national press.
Despite repeated demands for an apology none has yet been forthcoming. Instead the Kirk fought Ms Percy tooth and nail, wantonly using its parishioners' contributions to thwart this deeply committed and talented minister's attempts to seek justice.
Nor is Ms Percy alone. Over the past few years I have been contacted by several ministers' wives who, at worst, believe they have been persecuted by the Kirk and, at best, neglected. One, whose husband had an affair, was effectively made redundant and homeless while he, after being given a couple of years to mend his ways, was welcomed back with open arms.
This is sexism in practice, and it needs to be tackled head on. But will it? Forgive the scepticism but I am reminded of the experience of one female employee of the Kirk who fell foul of its panjandrums. She was told - by another woman - that if she did not do as she was told, the General Assembly would insist she was tied to a stake by the sea, where in due course she would be drowned by the in-rushing tide.
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