I’ve been at a meeting of the Women’s Chapter this evening. I’m always startled to find myself in a room of highly intelligent, articulate, gentle, generous, strong, vibrant, creative, faith-filled, prayerful women at these things because – despite being all woman myself – one could easily be led to believe that some shady, ropey, mumsy do-gooders were doing their very best, over a cup of tea and a knitting pattern, to undermine the profoundly serious business of consecrated priesthood – let alone the bishopric – within the Anglican Church.
I use those similes advisedly because it is that image and belief that women are good for nothing but chatting and tame domesticity in line with the capacity of their poor, frail, Pooh-like brains that underlie some of the ‘traditions’ some would see as being as set in stone as the ten commandments. Not forgetting procreation, of course; we are ovens, no doubt more Aga than than Argos in the Anglican Church, but ovens nonetheless. But I digress…
Synod is about to take yet another vote on whether or not women should be consecrated as Bishops, this time to include the (Bishops) Measure that would forever enshrine blatant inequality into Canon (Church) Law. In short, special Bishops would be available for those who cannot subscribe to a woman as their head, Bishop, leader, priest for whatever reason.
I am supposing that through the countless generations of ordinary women of faith working tirelessly, selflessly and without reward for male priests, some of whom have been less than ideal, we too, might have declared that we demand the oversight of a woman who thinks like us, behaves like us, and agrees with us, but we haven’t. I’ll leave you to decide upon the merits and demerits of that line of reasoning.
The Bishops meeting the special needs of men who do so behave, will have to accept the ‘delegated authority’ of a female Diocesan (Regional) Bishop, within a Code of Conduct yet to be agreed upon. That’s right, we are being called to vote upon a Measure with inconclusive ramifications not just for the first Women Bishops, but for generations to come. Given the logic of the argument against Women Bishops in the first place, how does one receive delegated authority if one doesn’t believe that the delegator holds any? Just a thought…
Such provision would also give the Flying (special) Bishops, unwarranted access into any female Bishop’s term and running of office enabling an insidious opportunity for the undermining so many of us have endured as priests, let alone those in more senior posts, by those who would that they weren’t there at all. Harmonious working relationships? True authority over one’s Diocese? Politicking? I’ll leave you to decide how that little waltz will end, but I won’t be buying a new hat anytime soon.
We also need to be clear about why some men are having such problems. Now I know that I can’t give the most nuanced or explicit forms of the arguments which will follow, here in a short blog, and yes, I do understand them inside out and back to front. They have been not only rehearsed but experienced as one on the receiving end of all manner of reaction from embarrassment, to hostility, to deceitful friendship, to open disdain. Much to my surprise, I have not only lived through such things, but I have flourished through the surviving of them. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Never a truer word said, although God alone knows how painful, destructive, and shocking at times, that little journey has been.
The reasoning behind the resistance:
1) Taint: women taint the altar: they mustn’t touch it nor items pertaining to the Eucharist or priestly robes (some are more fastidious than others, and I guess if you like having your linens ironed for you it can tip the balance somewhat). There is no sound theology behind this, turn your Bible inside out and read it backwards, and still you will find not one word that can be manipulated into taint. Anything pertaining to women’s ability to menstruate as somehow ‘unclean’ is beyond scripture, tradition or reason.
2) The laying on of hands has been passed down the Apostolic (12 disciples) line and must not be broken as the gift of the priesthood passes from one generation to the next. Obviously a woman is incapable of becoming a receptacle of anything divine, except babies, let alone passing anything sacred on. Given that we are in the Anglican (Church of England) Church, the fact that the Roman Catholics claim this unbroken Apostolic succession for themselves, believing even our male ordinations to be invalid, scuppers that little theory.
3) Tradition. We’ve always had slaves. They’re mentioned in the Bible. We’ve always beaten children, it’s mentioned in the Bible. We’ve always killed people who don’t think/live/worship like us, it’s mentioned in the Bible. Locust, anyone?
4) Last but not least, we have the theology (at least it’s an attempt at scriptural reasoning) of the headship of men over woman ‘as Christ is head over the Church’ which is never quite quoted as far as the bit where He loves it sooo much He lays down His life for it – so not quite the headship that equates with power, authority, control, always being in charge and making all he decisions but something a little more empowering *sucks cheeks in at dangerous word waiting for axis to tilt*
I’m wondering if, like me, you are rather puzzled by a Church who will take the view of a very small minority, working in an organisation that does uphold the priesthood of women and yet persists in insisting those who do not subscribe to its own legislation are welcomed, accommodated and allowed to undermine the unity of the very Church they claim to love so dearly, even to the extent of bamboozling parishioners into bringing back Resolutions A, B, C in a parish (preventing the appointment of female clergy) without fully explaining the implications of their vote. Serving the laity as a shepherd, or imposing one’s own will subversively?
Change is painful, particularly when it reduces one’s own power, privilege, popularity, status quo or rocks the hard-wired belief system that was imprinted upon one’s brain in black and white at Sunday school. We are only human, after all. But we have to mature to a faith where God’s magic wand becomes the companion up a mountain too tough to conceive climbing, to a mountaintop where we are so high up in the clouds, the clear landscape and arterial roads of our faith become a lot fuzzier than we had imposed upon ourselves, let alone others, as we begin to see that we have mistaken our narrow-mindedness for the narrow gate, having to learn to walk a lot more carefully with a lot less clarity, and a lot more faith with a much less pocket-sized God who we don’t really understand and certainly haven’t got His/Her number on speed-dial with an automated never-changing response (usually ‘yes, you’re right and they are wrong, cue rage.’)
It is an irony to me that those who most understand the numinous, ethereal, other-ness of divinity, a divinity that reached out to us in human form, like the universe in a grain of sand, could so limit God’s priesthood to what I understand as the original sin: making God (and Jesus as our High Priest) in our own image, when we are called to come ever closer to ‘sharing in Christ’s divinity as [He] shared in our humanity’ (a prayer said by priests as we pour the drop of water into the wine as we prepare the elements (bread and wine) for the Eucharistic prayer reminding, us of the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side when the guard pierced Him with a spear to check that He was dead.)
Mary, Mother of Jesus, birthed our Christ through the blood, sweat and tears of a homeless young woman amidst the stench of a working stable, her bemused betrothed beside her. Having chosen such an entry into this world, I doubt very much He is quite as precious about blood, and femininity and clean linen as we dare to suppose Him to be.