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Gender – The Inclusive Church Resource – Rosemary Lain-Priestley

July 26, 2017

GenderIt took me a long time to address the ‘issue’ of trans people. My gut feeling was of revulsion while my head was informed by listening to their various testimonies.

I particularly enjoyed the piece by David Monteith, I’d heard him speak at a conference about something which wouldn’t normally interest me but which had me hooked.

If women are better at networking than men, then they are prime bishop-material as isn’t that what a bishop is supposed to do – building bridges and all that?


I thought forgiveness meant wiping the slate clean. From then on I also experienced abuse from neighbours for being married to a registered sex offender. I tried to maintain my faith in God but maintaining a relationship with an abuser and with God proved impossible.

I often hear women approvingly describe themselves or other women as feisty. Feisty, I feel, has sexist implications, as if standing up for yourself was exceptional in a woman. It sounds like a word that a raffish Lothario would use about a difficult conquest.

When I was at art college in the late 0 Seventies/early Eighties, one of the slogans the feminists used was: ‘Objectivity is Male Subjectivity.’

‘Normal,’ as Carl Jung said, ‘is the ideal aim for the unsuccessful.’

Sex has not always been understood as clearly binary. Hippocrates (c460-c370 BCE) saw male and female as being on a continuum, with hermaphrodites in the middle; Galen (AD 129­c216) thought that there was one single sex: women being a version of men with inverse reproductive organs. The writings of some of the Early Church Fathers, perhaps especially Tertullian and Augustine, reflect this latter perspective: they seem to consider woman to he an incomplete form of man!

God forms Adam (adam) from the dust of the ground and breathes life into him, then decides that he should not be alone, and forms Eve from Adam’s side. The two are of exactly the same substance, differentiated at this point as iss and issa. Their task of nurturing the earth is to be shared, with no apportioning of different roles.

This is not a view shared by those who complain about the `feminisation of the church’. This is the idea that men are being put off church by a pastoral and liturgical style that is too feminine for their liking because, it is sometimes argued, it is more relational and less intellectual: as though those things are mutually exclusive. William Lane Craig therefore argues that men need to see Jesus as tough and smart.

Lucy Winkett refers to the ‘religious reductionism’ tradition, poetry, gospels (a very particular form of biography), letters to early church which sees the Eucharist as simply a memorial of something that happened in the past.2° When a woman presides, simply because she is a woman she signals something other than the repetition and remembering of the Last Supper and a male Jesus. She is reflecting the worship of heaven and of the future.

A second argument suggesting that Eve is in some way subordinate is that in Genesis 2:18 she is described as Adam’s ‘helper’. However the word used is ezer, which in other places is also used of God, which would rule out any sense of subordination (Genesis 49:25 and Exodus 18:4).

The sociologist Andrew Greeley found that belief in a maternal God made Americans less- likely to support capital puniAhment and more likely to favour government help for minority populations and reject the idea that women should remain at home.

Richard Rohr goes so far as to suggest that Jesus shows a markedly different approach in his encounters with the two sexes, and specifically that he is often trying to lift women up and to ‘call males downward’ if they seem to be a little over-confident in their status.” Joanna Collicutt McGrath says something very similar, agreeing that Jesus’s actions towards women are often designed literally, figuratively or emotionally to lift them up, whereas there are instances of him challenging men towards greater service and consideration of others.

So Jairus’s adolescent daughter is raised, lifted up, from death; the woman bent double is straightened, regaining her dignity and hope, designated a daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:10-17); Mary of Bethany is commended for making the better choice of sitting with Jesus’s male listeners, which for her as a woman was something of a promotion,

theologies of the cross which emphasise God as a punishing father, exacting revenge, or a merciless judge, will be deeply negative for those who have suffered abuse or inappropriate punishment of any kind.

At first glance this seems absolutely clear: women are subordinate to men in church and must dress modestly. But the word authentein, translated as ‘have authority over’ is rare, and generally conveys an oppressive authority, even coercive or violent. In Ephesus, where the cult of Artemis assured women of equality with men at the very least, Paul may have been warning them against domineering behaviour. Furthermore women did not tend to be educated, and certainly Jewish women were not permitted to study. This may well have caused Paul’s concern that until they had learned sound doctrine they were not ready to teach. Reading this passage through our own cultural lens we miss the radical nature of Paul’s injunction to let women learn.

Adam was present when God gave the injunction not to touch the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Eve was not: she only had the instruction second-hand, so if anyone was more culpable surely it was Adam.

the church’s institutional roles were increasingly occupied by men whilst women focussed on the nurture and networking which equally enabled the spread of the Gospel caused women’s recorded influence in the church gradually to wane.

The lives of female saints and martyrs often model what it is to grapple with faith in our daily lives and the politics of our time, and are hugely varied: Marcello the biblical scholar, Paula the linguist who helped Jerome translate the Bible, Hildegard of Bingen with her music, medicine, geology, theology and institutional influence, Julian of Norwich’s powerful imagery and intensity of contemplation, Hilda of Whitby with her ability to organise an institution and encourage the gifts of all, including Caedmon whose poetry enriches our tradition. Women are not absent from Christian history, far from it.

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