I am not a woman. Though I occasionally dress as one, and did sport man-boobs briefly as a teenager, I am man. Not quite cave-man, for as much as I like making fire and chopping wood I also like good soft furnishings and goats cheese.
Being a man, especially a straight, able-bodied, middle-class white man can lend itself to living an uncomplicated life. Our society is historically designed around me and my type. I haven’t had to struggle against very much because my type is the dominant. When I did a dissertation on gender I discovered it’s called hegemony, this dominance of one type. Of course society has changed a lot in the last decades. But look around at who runs most stuff and makes most decisions. Straight, able-bodied, middle-class white men.
Perhaps this is why I didn’t realise the significance of opposition to women bishops until I saw the direct effect it could have on me. Typical, selfish, stupid white man, as Michael Moore would say. An female clergy colleague from Chichester Diocese once said to me, imagine if someone thought that you were just half a person. Imagine someone telling you God thought your ministry was only half as valid as everyone else’s. Or not valid at all. Imagine working alongside someone who thinks, with every fibre of their being, that you completely misheard God when you felt called into ministry. Imagine being undermined every time you preached as people hold their hands over their ears in case they hear you; imagine every time you take communion it being spat out and rejected.
Ok, I’m beginning to understand.
Imagine, she continued, that you were ordained by a female Bishop, and because of that people think you were not properly ordained. And therefore, every time you take communion it is not valid; every baptism you do is not valid; imagine (and this takes a lot of imagination) you become a Bishop yourself; but you were not properly ordained, so the people you ordain are not ordained. Your ministry is as invalid as mine. How does that make you feel, she said, because that is how I feel every day.
It was then that I realised we cannot have half-measures for women in ministry. Not because bishops are really important, but because God’s grace has no glass ceiling and doesn’t run out for women before men. I cannot think of one sensible reason why God would have a problem with women in leadership. It doesn’t fit with Jesus actions during his ministry, when he radically included those the religious people excluded, by accident or design. It doesn’t fit with the New Testament letters, in their tone of radical equality and extravagant grace and love, not rules and box-ticking and washing pots and having a penis with the foreskin lopped off.
God has no hierarchy of gender authority or gender roles. The notion is patently ridiculous. What God wants is for the kingdom of God to be known as it breaks into the world. He himself used peasant women and stinky shepherds and foreign travellers and rough fishermen and dodgy taxmen and fastidious Pharisees and armed insurgents and broken women to bring in his kingdom; he risked his son being known as a bastard and during his ministry Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and his actions so challenged the inward-looking purity-obsessive Pharisees that they had him killed. Why then would it matter so much to God that the kingdom is preached by a man or his death and resurrection in the Eucharist remembered by a man or the person who heads up endlessly dull meetings and encourages parishes and has an impossible task – a bishop – is a man? God has greater concerns in the world.
As long as women are not accepted fully as ministers in all areas of church life, then all of us must share in their pain of rejection, of half-acceptance, and all of us must do our utmost to affirm those women that we know in ministry. This is not a women’s issue any more than racism is a black issue. It is also not a human rights or equality issue. It is nothing to do with man boobs or lady boobs. It is theological issue, and the Church of England resolved it in the 1970’s (just) before I was born. It is not irrelevant. It is imperative.
Or we’re all boobs.
Other useful links on this subject:
What does the decision on women bishops mean? By Ian Paul
Women Bishops – An Honest Reflection. By GodandpoliticsUK
Get Real. By Bishop Nick Baines
It’s about the Bible, not fake ideas about progress – Tom Wright on Fulcrum’s site