Sunday 2 December 2012

Christianity as 'Male' and Women Clergy

The new attender brought her friend, and this Sunday (in contrast to my service) the emphasis was 'Christian plus' with Advent receiving a substantive treatment. In fact it was one of the best sermons I've heard in a Unitarian setting and that sentiment was widely felt (and indeed about the whole service). Our service taker is both Christian (in Anglicanism) and Pagan herself. But I was worried in that one of these new attenders is Pagan through and through and the other has a strong female perspective. The 'other' thinks Unitarians must just argue if it contains all these different viewpoints. This is not to forget that the most recent new attender before these two is liberal Jewish in outlook.

Indeed, the latest to visit said of Christianity that it is a "male religion" and I agreed. I do agree and it is what puzzles me as I read comments, particularly from women clergy in Anglicanism.

Comments seem to be on the lines of we achieve our full humanity in Christ in which there is no male or female. Thus derives a Christian sourced theology of feminism. We hear that Jesus treated women equally, and that he arranged them to be the first witnesses at his resurrection

It is so easy to unpick this wishful thinking. First of all, he did not arrange anything, regarding the nonsense supernaturalism of his apparent resurrection. No dead human comes back to life beyond a very short time span. No one 'fully human' has that ability, let alone "arranging" who will witness anything. It is not history: history cannot reach it and it is a later tradition of story of resurrection beyond the apparent visions that Paul 'began'. If a person of the same consciousness as Jesus of Nazaeth went about in a renewed body then he was not fully human but something rather odd. The issue of women as the newscasters of the resurrection is probably about why the tradition was not well known earlier - being told not to tell anyone (etc.) goes the story - but central to the story is the lesser status of women as witnesses.

Now, I am as fully human as my next door neighbours and they are as fully human as me. We do not derive our humanity from Jesus Christ but from being evolved humans; and so did he. His full humanity, in his case, in religious and cultural terms, was being a man, and being a Jew. Indeed, his concern was for Jews and the coming Kingdom of God in that belief system. So his Judaism matters, as does being a man. He chose a man to head each tribe of Israel in their own transformation into the Kingdom. Mary Magdalene had no such portfolio. Only Paul turns this into a plus-Gentiles universalism, with women of importance in running some congregations along with cultural reservations. Some of the Pauline writings limiting the ministry of women do not come from Paul but from those later writers claiming to be Paul (yes the Bible does 'lie' about its authors along with some other well invented matters). The tradition then turned against whatever were its equalitarian turns in its revolutionary phase under Paul, once post the Temple's destruction and the ending of Jewish Christianity.

On top of that restatement of male hierarchy is the standard language of Christianity as male and monarchic. Now of course women should be bishops as well as clergy, in that the Pauline religion made orthodox has greater equalitarian origins - and one does not have to go off to the Gnostics (selectively) to get female equality hundreds of years later. Indeed, women do and should inherit the earth in all its sacred muckiness, and Gnostic spiritual purity is hardly a better road to travel.

So the religion is male biased through and through. I just find it bizarre to hear a woman say that a full humanity comes from Christ, when he is a bloke. Of course we are all fully human and does not depend on which sex, or ethnicity, we know, but it's not derived from him either but from our species.

Meanwhile the House of Laity might remove its Chair and other Conservative Evangelical gatekeepers, and try to be prepared for a different thrust to get women bishops before a re-election. Trouble is, the bishops may try to offer more 'reassurance' to the blocking minority, but who will surely go on blocking until they get what amounts to a Church within a Church - their own flying bishops, permanently. These bishops might even be the GAFCON ones. Some now say only a single clause equality transformation is acceptable now, so any further concessions would achieve resistance from the pro side. It all looks a bit stuck.

More than this, if it does take until the next set of elections, the big congegations are going to organise the representatives to the House of Laity even more. They know it works - it has worked. The Church of England is becoming more not less sectarian, and I have argued already that the Church of England has just had its best chance at achieving women bishops. I predict that in any new election the blockers will be stronger not weaker. They have the numbers and the money and the organisation.

Probably the solution is in an adjustment back towards the offending clause but not quite, and try to persuade those who seek actual equality to hold their noses and just establish the reality of bishops female as well as male. That way the territory is trod, even if imperfectly, and perhaps will be enough to liberalise the Church towards more equality to then, later, have more chance to enforce actual equality. The alternative is a more obvious male-headed sectarianism and a strengthening of the opposition in the future.But even getting a messy outcome in the shorter term might not be achievable.

Unitarians in England had their first female minister in 1904, and it was a lot easier then. And she was German.

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