Why is sexism still tolerated within the church?
In a hard-hitting article in The Guardian, Theo Hobson takes the Church of England to task for its ‘wet clerics’ and their failure to carry through a reformation of the church in relation women. He laments the fact that division and injustice are being perpetuated because of liberal woolly-mindedness.
In 1992, the Anglican church finally agreed to ordain women but allowed those who disagreed and who wished to teach against this to keep their jobs. In 2005, the church agreed that women could, in theory, become bishops and finally break through one glass ceiling so firmly trodden on by men. However, in a recent report, the church is still arguing that the toleration of dissent should still be encouraged. As Hobson argues:
Imagine if Parliament had voted for female suffrage, but also allowed conservatives who disagreed with the development to form a parallel parliament untainted by women’s votes.
Either it is right to remove the cultural abuse of women by denying them an equal voice and opportunities, or it is not. If it is right to do so, why continue to fudge the issue and promote abuse and the teaching of abuse?
I find myself angry about this failure to reform for at least three reasons. First, as a humanist it grieves me that women in the church are clearly being disenfranchised in some way. Although I have never been an Anglican, when I was a Christian and in church leadership, I remember thinking how my wife (who is much more gifted in lots of ways than I am) and my talented daughter would never be allowed to have the freedom to use their teaching and leadership abilities in the way that I was. Women and the church are suffering because of their underdevelopment.
Secondly, as one who likes to point out gaps between theory and practice, shouldn’t an organisation concerned with morality and compassion to people be concerned about the immorality of the injustice being done to its women? This is an organisation that ought to be at the forefront of those who speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is failing spectacularly.
Thirdly, it’s about the bible. Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t particularly have much time for the fallilbly human injunctions from ancient civilizations these days. However, people inside the church claim to take these seriously. I am angry because if they claim to take the bible seriously, why aren’t they doing the serious exegesis of the text and showing that far from keeping women in their place (as some mistakenly argue) the bible actually supports the case for female equality.
Although much male imagery for god exists in the bible, god is also described as a mother (Isaiah 49:13-15; 66:13), a pregnant woman (Isaiah 42:14), a midwife (Psalm 22:9). It is difficult to see how the so-called ’silence’ texts which seem to prohibit women teaching and making spiritual judgements affecting men are valid when other passages are taken into account. Joel had predicted that his sons and daughters would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29), and clearly female prophets existed (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9). There was also a female judge (Judges 4:4), and Junia an apostle (Romans 16:7). Priscilla was involved in teaching Apollos (Acts 18:26). 1 Corinthians 14:34 seems to be in conflict with verse 29 in the same chapter, where the whole church (not just the men) is called on to evaluate the prophets, and with 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 where Paul is concerned with uncovered female heads during prophecy, not women prophets. In 1 Corinthians 14 the issue is more likely about chattering and interruption than with women teaching. In 2 Timothy 2:2 the word ‘men’ should be translated as ‘people’.
According to the biblical narrative which these people claim to believe and take as their rule book, god chose women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection and gave his son to break down barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women.