I knew a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her for'ead

...and when she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was 'orrid.

ah, now this little girl has had many forms throughout history, she is Eve, she is Lilith, she is the blonde (having more fun obviously), she is the brunette (the blushing bride), she is Juliette, she is Lady Macbeth, she is innocent, she is witch, she is virgin, she is whore.

the dichotomy is well known, well at least it is in literature, and what about in the Church, I hear you ask?

yes, what about in the Church? what do we do with the woman of Proverbs 4 and 5 - the wise woman and the adultress? for those of us worried about what the bible says about such things, this is a class and a world away from the virgin/whore dichotomy that the world throws at us.

but I didn't ask what scripture does with this woman, I asked what the Church does with her.

Lis Goddard has just written an article about evangelical women in leadership here. in it she says that experience is showing that a good proportion of women are not given curacies in evangelical churches because of the risk of adultery and/or the belief that a female curate is surplus to requirements because the vicar's wife has got the 'women's stuff' covered.

ugleyvicar's response to this article can be found here. and he thinks we're just not made for the job. why? because the inner workings of human nature and the society that outworks from that is resistant to change - exhibited by the way that our structures are still inarguably oppressive to women despite the liberation movement.

leaving aside the fact that ugleyvicar would undoubtedly be less eager to bow to the mores of society when it comes to issues of sexuality, let's have a little look at the discomfort that a good proportion of men seem to feel when a woman upsets the delicate hormonal balance of the brotherhood priesthood of all believers. my question is 'it it really just about sex?' - the world's literature would tell us that it is, that the general category of 'men' would like to somehow fit each woman into one or other category (virgin, whore, virgin, whore - woman know thy place), which in one way would make sense as to why some Christian men seem to spontaneously combust when confronted with a woman who just doesn't fit either category satisfactorily (for virgin read 'good Christian woman' and all the stereotype which goes with that)

my experience of this type of conditioning is that if you don't fit the category of 'good Christian woman' (and I definitely don't, but you get that) then either you become very good at pretending (and actually I did see that happen, it's a bit grim to watch) or you find yourself in the 'other' category.

on the surface, it would be easier just to leave it at that, but God calls me back to my woman of Proverbs 4 and 5. she is wisdom - more than simply the innocent and somewhat insipid virgin of literature, she is life, full and true, leading others in her way. her opposite is the adulteress, the corruption of her beautiful nature: if life with wisdom is full and true, then life with this woman is smoke and mirrors, her leadership is perverted and the end is death.

scripture introduces us to another image of womanhood than is found in literature - the opposite to the adulteress is not virgin, but wisdom. and you know what used to happen to the wise women of a town? they were called witches.

perhaps the challenge of the woman in the 'boys territory' is not that of sexual chemistry after all, perhaps it is more to do with something much deeper in our DNA. perhaps it's fear. what are we afraid of? well that is the million pound question isn't it? perhaps we're afraid of our potential, a potential which will only be reached together. which will only be reached if we allow a bit of ourselves to be donated to the 'other', much in the same way that our God lives in the eternal dance of mutual self-donation. we won't lose ourselves, in fact we will be much more than the sum of our parts.

so, I swap you - one part of my femaleness, for one part of your maleness - and I promise, I won't corrupt you.


Revd John P Richardson said...

Jody, I think you've missed my point, which is not that women are "just not made for the job" of leadership. Rather, it is that in the 'secular' world, where there has been an enormous push to get women into leadership positions, including quotas, 'positive action', etc, the situation is still such as to cause Polly Toynbee considerable grief (have you read her article?).

My point is that before the church starts a programme of encouraging "women in leadership" it might look at what has been happening in the rest of the world for the last forty years and ask the very important questions Toynbee raises.

There is a real opportunity to do some useful work here - and I don't mean throwing brickbats at Conservative Evangelicals, who are clearly not the source sole of the problems Elisabeth Goddard is seeking to address.

jody said...

Hi John

yes, actually I agree that the problem does not lie with CEs at its root, I don't think I particularly suggested that did I? I believe that your stance on gender perpetuates the problem, but I think it is much deeper than this one point in our history, indicated by my references to the ambivalence with which literature has treated women and which is found within the heart of us all.

Revd John P Richardson said...

Hi Jody. The brickbats are being thrown on the Fulcrum website (no change there, then), so my mistake for switching from there to here.

Incidentally, you might find it interesting to read Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain, which he attributes to the predominance of an nineteenth century (evangelical) literary narrative of 'saintly' women rescuing 'ungodly' men.

In his view, the real damage in the first instance was not the view of women this perpetuated, but the view of men. Women became responsible for maintaining the godly home, but the advent of women's liberation in the 1960s led to the rejection of this role, which society had long since deemed did not belong to men. Hence, after the 1970s, no one was taking on this task.

As a clergyman, I would certainly say I have found over the years a constant aversion by men to taking spiritual responsibility in the 'average' home. It is typically the woman I am expect to talk to about baptisms and marriage, and I have to make a real effort to involve the often deeply embarrassed man who clearly thinks this is 'not his job'.

Revd John P Richardson said...

PS I'm also asking the question whether there is a 'problem' here at all. So women don't become Presidents or Prime Ministers or 'captains of industry' or university professors as often as men. It is worth asking whether this really matters. After all, very few people ever get to 'the top' - so most of us must find our fulfilment elsewhere.

inpursuitofhappiness said...

I think it is a big, no HUGE problem in church and in society, which, as long as people in leadership such as yourself continue to fuel, will never be dealt with.

“It is worth asking whether this really matters”
To the women who have a calling to be in leadership and have to work twice as hard as men just to do what God has asked of them, yea it matters a heck of a lot.
It must be very easy for you as a white, middle aged, male (some things may never change) vicar to sit from your position, where you have fulfilled your calling, and look down on those still trying to reach that position and judge whether they should be allowed or not. If you had been born a women with the same heart for leadership, you would probably have the opposite stance on this subject, why does anatomy change everything? If your calling is to be a vicar then surely if you were born a female then you'd be fighting to be a vicar still.

“After all, very few people ever get to 'the top'”
But of course, if you are a woman then you may as well not bother trying?? Just settle for halfway, and leave the few positions which are at the top for the special, leadership made men.

“Where we disagree is over what might be done about this. Toynbee she seems to think that different early ‘conditioning’ might produce the desired ‘end product’, namely adults who are interchangeable in the structures of society.”

I agree with Toynbee. We came across this issue in our bible study group and I was told (by someone with your point of view) that women should not be in leadership. I just so happen to be the sort of person who will fight against things I don’t agree with (particularly inequality between men and women) however, to the other teenagers, they take this on board, accept it as what they believe also and so is bred a whole new generation in which people hold these views. We are, quite literally, conditioned to believe in this point of view. If both interpretations of the verses about women in leadership were presented to people in the first place, allowing them to choose which to believe without conditioning, then there is a chance that women will be more accepted by people who haven’t been told from a young age that women can not lead.
There is no denying that we are conditioned (not just deliberately through preaching but also inadvertently through media stereotypes) and that this does affect our beliefs and if we were to be conditioned from a young age that equality rules then yes, women would be interchangeable with men for the ‘top’ positions.

“And is the change being attempted actually worth the effort?”
I presume this refers to the change in views of women in leadership/ statistics of women reaching the top?
Again, only a man could say that. Of course it is worth the effort. If you could tell me that no woman at any point in history ever, has ever made a change, from the position of being in leadership, then yes it’s not worth the effort. But for even one woman who has made a change shows that it is worth the effort. And we don’t have to look further than the bible for an example. Take Deborah. I say it is worth the effort for all the Deborahs of this world.

You may find me slightly rude in my manner of addressing you, but as you seem to like your stereotypes, I guess it follows that as a teenager I should be rude and disrespectful.

Revd John P Richardson said...

Dear inpursuitofhappiness, this isn't my blog, so I won't pursue a lengthy reply. What I will say is that your own contribution is so full of stereotypes and assumptions about me that it would take a lengthy post just to deal with them.

So ... my suggestion is you take a deep breath (now you've got it all off your chest) and consider, given that 'chief end of "man"' (according to the Westminster Catechism) is to glorify and enjoy God, how career, getting to 'the top', etc, fits into that, if at all.

BTW, I'm not a vicar, as you'll see if you read my profile. After 31 years in full-time ministry, I've climbed to the heady heights of being an assistant minister. If I have an unfulfilled ambition, it is to be able to play the drums - something which has nothing to do with gender or hierarchical structures.

jody said...

John, stop being patronising - 'take a deep breath' - really!

inpursuitofhappiness - as a young woman who feels called into leadership, can I really encourage you to say 'yes' to any leadership role you are offered and to just enjoy exploring what God may have for you - don't let all this stuff put you off and grind you down...

jody said...

Hi John

so to answer your question of does it really matter....

it obviously matters if one believes, as I do, that women and men can be called into leadership. If this is not representative then it shows a prejudice and injustice - something that we should want to do something about.

I guess if, as you do, you believe that the call of leadership in all its fulness is the remit of men, then it doesn't matter.

my point is that you are using the structures and mores of society to say 'see we are right', when I think that if anyone tried to do that regarding sexuality you would be in uproar.

my point is also that I see this as a sinful corruption of the relationship between male and female and so for me it is not a case of each being a valid interpretation of scripture. I guess that is the same for you? which is why we must keep having these discussions - it will not end, I know, til kingdom come in all its fulness, but the worry is that there will be a complete split.

as frustrating as I may find all this, to simply be left with 'me and mine' is not healthy for the body of Christ.

lastly, inpursuitofhappiness may be a teenager, but her point of view is valid, tut tut for being patronising John!

x Jody

Revd John P Richardson said...

Hi Jody. There's a lot of stereotyping and 'ad hominem' argument going on here.

You wrote, "my point is that you are using the structures and mores of society to say 'see we are right'." No, I'm not. I am looking at what is happening on the ground, in the world, and asking why does this happen in the world, and what does this mean for discussions in the church?

The Goddard line seems to be (simplifying a lot), that it is the structures and prejudices of the church. However, those structures and prejudices are not shared by the world as addressed by Toynbee. Her line seems to be that it is motherhood and early conditioning of girls, plus, if you read her article, the behaviour of women themselves: "We need United Sisters in every school to liberate girls from the torments they often impose on one another."

This raises serious questions. It is not clear to me, however, that prejudice and injustice address the causes. What about, for example, Toynbee's 'motherhood penalty'? Does 'inpursuit' really agree with this? Is this the best way of looking at things? How does this affect the church? These are important questions, inviting more than the usual answers.

jody said...

Hi John

for me the problem is rooted in the heart of humanity, so it disappointing, to say the least, that the Church perpetuates it - but it is a problem of all humanity so the issues of church structures are not really where it's at for me.


Chris said...

Thanks for pointing out this duality. I like to think I don't do this, but now that I think about it, I guess at some level I do. I'll try to be a good deal more conscious in the future about avoiding these ready-made stereotypes.

jody said...

Hi Chris

yes, I think that we all do this kind of polarisation both in our thinking about women and in our thinking about men - I obviously have a prejudice towards thinking how this has affected women, but actually if we don't get together on this one and recover the image of both sexes/genders then it is going to be hard to build the kingdom together.