Thursday, 29 July 2010

Reclaiming the F Word

It's funny how times change!

That's a terrrible cliche, I know. But when I recieved an email telling me about the publication of a new book, Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement, I realised how I don't really use the word 'feminist' much any more. It took me back to the 1980s.

Then, I remember addressing 'The feminist case against God' at student missions - following the example of Kathy Keay, whom I mentioned in a previous blog. And talking with Christian friends who'd been asked questions like, 'How can you be a Christian, when God thinks that women are second class people?'

Now, do 'feminists' even care about God, or the church, enough to bother with such a discussion? I suspect not. While some Christians (in my view) allowed their feminist viewpoint to replace a Christian one, many saw everything associated with 'feminism' as a threat, and others ignored it.

Just another example of how the gap between the church and everyone else has got wider and wider.

I used to like the definition of feminism, 'Anyone who thinks that women are people.' Most people do think that these days - with the possible exception, sadly, of some inside the church.

So, having indulged in a little nostalgia, I'm looking forward to my copy of Reclaiming the F Word reaching my desk. I'm looking forward to seeing what Kristin Aune and Catherine Redfern have to say.

If you're intrigued, you can read more for yourself here. And I'll be reviewing the book when I've read it.

What has happened to feminism? What is the new feminist movement? And where is God in it all?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Women bishops and all that

All eyes were on General Synod (of the Church of England) last weekend as they met in York to discuss women bishops.

As the dust begins to settle, arguments abound as to whether the archbishops' amendment should have been passed, or whether what was passed was the best possible outcome.

And while some are saying, 'full steam ahead for women bishops' - it only has to go to dioceses and parishes and come back to Synod, and go before Parliament! - some of those opposed are warning that by not producing legislation with the protection they desire, General Synod is heading for a train crash.

I have deep sympathies with those who feel marginalised, particularly those who are evangelicals. It's their church which is changing, just as it is also my church which, in my view, is moving in a particular direction. I really liked a sentence in the pastoral letter written on 14th July by the Bishops of Oxford, as he reflects on the fact that the Body of Christ is both hurting and rejoicing: women priests should not feel blame, 'women priests have borne their cross of ambivalence and prejudice very graciously for a long time'. I can still remember back in 1992 when we were not allowed to rejoice too much over the vote for women priests.

What I find really frustrating is the way those on the side of 'bible' or 'tradition' treat their 'opponents', people like me. Beyond Equal Rights is a recently published booklet from the Reform stable. Well, some people might argue that this debate is about 'equal rights', but many would not.

According to the author, egalitarians stress Galatians 3:28 'and largely ignore the other passages or write them off as cultural'. So why do my bookshelves groan with scholarly egalitarian books which seek to understand those passages often called 'difficult'; they conclude that the evangelical scholarly consensus is that the Bible endorses the equal participation of men and women in leadership. I would not be writing this if that were not the case!

Nor do I think this debate about 'innovation'. I was equally frustrated by someone I was in conversation with recently who claimed that having women bishops (and priests) was a complete novelty in the church, an innovation after 2000 years of male-only leaders.

Is this true? There are plenty who see current moves as an attempt to restore the Church of England to the position of the early church. I remember writing an essay at theological college about the decline of women leaders in the first centuries of the Church. The recent work of Dorothy Irvin and others has uncovered archaelogical material including frescoes and tomb inscriptions attesting to women as prophets, stewards, deacons, presbyters and overseers, and other research points in a similar direction.

Let's keep the lines of communication open, and be accurate in the way we represent those who disagree. Then, perhaps, the train won't crash, but will take us into a better future.