Are Women Really Human?

Almost a week has passed since I was sitting, nervous, jittery and hopeful on the edge of my seat, in the public gallery in Church House, Westminster.  Waiting for the voting figures to be called, first the bishops, then the clergy, and finally the laity.

Since that moment it has been all at once interesting - in a way that a disinterested observer might watch a newly discovered tribe order themselves by strange alien customs, and painful - so that the grief cycle of disbelief, anger, sadness is completed a number of times every day.

The most surprising emotion that I experienced this week was the sense of shame that rested upon me on the Wednesday morning.  I felt that I simply did not exist at the same level of priestliness as my male colleagues. I have heard a lot about 'second-class' citizens in this debate - whether it is in defence of making sure that women bishops are equally bishops, or, distastefully in my opinion, the cries of 'second-class' status that those who are 'anti' claim.  However, I had not expected to feel like a second-class priest.  After all, isn't this about bishops?  Not priests.

So, why this is not just about 'Woman Bishops'?

Some of the conversation that I have heard over the last week has been a bit puzzled why women priests are quite so upset - not just angry because of the injustice, the unbiblical decision, the disgraceful way the process was mitigated against - but upset, gut-punchingly, heartachingly, tear-jerkingly, upset!

Is it puzzling though? Is it?  Or is it that what is, now blindingly obviously, a structurally male organisation, is simply incapable of dealing with this kind of pain?  So it is then easy to be puzzled, and it is easy to think that this is an overreaction to simply not being allowed to progress up the career ladder - after all the majority of us will not be headed in that direction anyway.

Why be quite so upset, when it is not going to make a difference to your life anyway?

You can almost see the cogs turning.

Firstly, I want to say something about the 'career ladder' language that has surrounded some of the responses to the images and stories of women's pain linked with this issue.  The idea that women enter the priesthood in order to progress up a career ladder is not only offensive in the extreme, but ridiculous too.  Do those who suggest such twaddle really think that if women were choosing their day job on the basis of progression, there might not be something rather better that we could do?!  I simply think that there is deep ineptitude in understanding the connections that women priests (and of course other men and women in the church) are making regarding this vote, that this is the only thing that some people can think is 'wrong with us'.

Well, what is 'wrong with us' is that we feel 'rubbed out', as if we are a strange anomaly in the fabric of the priesthood, an anomaly that can simply be unpicked at any moment.  For those of us who were at Synod, listening to the speeches, we were under no illusion that the discussion was really a time-shift back to 1992.  Arguing again the case against women being priests. And the case against women being priests is, in itself, really about the particular humanity of women - is the particular humanity of women sufficient to represent authoritatively the humanity of Christ?  If the answer to this is 'no', then the reality is that a woman's humanity is fundamentally different to a man's humanity and when there is a difference like that, then it follows that one type of humanity *must* be the most authentic representation of humanity that there is.  In this case the male is the most human human and women are....well not.

So yes, we are upset.

For those of us who are priests, we recognise that our orders have been called into question yet again.  Called into question because of a voice which speaks of us as the 'not-quite authentically human' human and expects us to be okay with that.  And when that voice speaks with the authority of the institution (regardless of the fact we know that most within the institution did not want this...), it causes a disintegration between the inner and outer person of the woman priest.

Ecclesiologically, I am supposed to rest on my orders - given me by an institution which officially says I'm not the truest representation of Jesus' humanity.

Spiritually, I am supposed to 'hang the Synod' and rest on my calling from and identity in God - a calling and identity which seems unrecognised fully by the church to which I am called.

Emotionally, I am supposed to show resilience - so as not to disturb the church with my tears, and if I do cry it will be because I am a woman and show me lacking in strength.

Do not underestimate the strength and resilience it took for many women priests to get up on Wednesday morning and do their job, without this dissonance causing a fatal crack in their psyche.

So yes, we are upset.

But we will not stay so upset forever.  Do not, however, mistake this for it 'going away'.  This conversation will not go away and women priests will not go away.  We find in our pain the very reason to stay - it is ironic that the very thing that hurts us will be the thing that gives us the strength to remain in the CofE.  Our humanity is inextricably identified with Jesus' humanity in this.  We came to our own and have been rejected. We were told 'how dare you' and asked 'by which authority'?  We were denied again and again.

Our humanity is Jesus' humanity and it is by *this* authority that we dare to stand where we stand and say what we say, behind the altar and in the pulpit.


Anonymous said...

YES! Thank you for writing this Jody. Off to retweet and share! Kate x

Anonymous said...

Amen - this is brilliant - thank you.

ani said...

Very helpful, many thanks, ani.

Kristen said...

If it's any consolation to you, I'm from a church where this question still has not, and will not in any foreseeable future, even come to the table to be voted on. Women are not to be church leaders. Full stop.

I'm thankful that you are a step or two further down the road we still must travel, and that even if you have received another setback-- at least you have come as far as being able to receive this setback.

Please do fight on. We in the rear will not give up either.

MikeCamel said...

I was privileged to attend the first communion of a newly-ordained (female) priest friend a while ago, and during the Prayer of Consecration was powerfully struck by how fully human, and therefore how authentically Christlike she was. To have that called into question is exactly what the vote did, and why it is so damaging.

ffewsh said...

Thanks for this. Personally I think that this time round many more people get that this is a kick in the teeth for women pure and simple, and women priests in particular (though there are women, including young professional women, who oppose the ordination of women, for reasons I can't fathom - Riazat Butt interviewed two of them earlier this year).

I'm very grateful indeed for the ministry of women in the church throughout my adult life, including deaconesses, deacons, priests, and RC laywomen and religious.

I wonder in the end if this is about relational versus hierarchical models of being human, being church, and being God?

Anonymous said...

thanks Jody -its good to have it written from other people too -just resonates so much - I'm collecting other people's blogs to get family & friends to read -mine never carried the same weight ;)!!


Kathryn said...

Thank you...that expresses where I find myself better than anything I've yet read. Bless you. We WILL get there....

Anne said...

Amen, amen. It was so good to hear someone putting into words what I have been feeling for this last week.

Suse said...

Hi Jody.
Thanks for your thoughts. I've also been quite surprised by the strength of emotion I've felt as well as many other women (and some men) I know. I appreciated your comment about the church's ability (or lack thereof) to cope with tears.

However, I still stand by my position that I think this really isn't about humanity.

If I follow you correctly, you boil the issue down to whether the particular humanity of women is enough to represent authoritatively the humanity of Christ. Those against are arguing no, and this dehumanises women because it says that men are ‘more’ authentically representative of humanity. I simply don't think this is true.
#1. Conservatives do not argue that women's humanity isn't ‘enough’ to represent authoritatively the humanity of Christ (by which I think you mean in the priestly sense). Their view of priesthood is not a representative one (a la Anglo-Catholics) but one of gifts and roles.
#2. Even if it were the case that our humanity is distributed differently, diversity does not mean hierarchy (i.e. just because we particularise humanity differently doesn't mean one is better than another). As potential for motherhood, only women can experience the profound suffering that brings about new life in the way labour does. That is a particular and unique to women. In a sense it echoes Christ's suffering for our redeemed new life in a way no man can know. That does not make men less like Christ than women. We each express our humanity differently, just because the scope of one's authoritative representation is ecclesial, and another's is not, does not necessarily follow the latter are any less. Unless someone buys into secular notions of public authority and power as the means to human fulfilment. The church is not the only place to represent Christ. I may need to ask you to clarify: why *must* a man's particular humanity be more authentic than a woman's?

I'm very aware that the language here can be very fluid, and a single word can mean a variety of different things, so I hope I've not done your post an injustice.

Also, while the institution is delaying in consecrating women bishops, it has no theological opposition to them. It is a matter of time. Thus to speak of the church as an institution "which officially says I'm not the truest representation of Jesus' humanity" is simply untrue.


Jody Stowell said...

Hi Suse

thanks for responding - it was good to meet you a few weeks ago too, so good to continue conversations in this way.

You have valid points and of course there are varying ways of seeing this argument, which is of course why it becomes a point to argue.

I think that CEs as well as ACs do understand the priesthood argument in terms of Jesus' particular humanity either in itself, or in exercising authority. The headship argument rests in the parallel between Jesus/Church and Male/Female.

So I do think this is a CE thing as well as an AC.

I am only saying that the male 'must' represent the most authentic human because that's what I am seeing the argument to be - ie I believe that my humanity can represent Jesus', but neither CEs or ACs think that to be the case.

I am saying that this is what traditionalists are logically saying.

So if being a priest (and thus bishop) is about representing Jesus' humanity and CEs/ACs are saying that I cannot, then it is about humanity and it is about saying that female humanity is not as authentically human as male humanity.

sorry have to go to deanery synod, so have responded quickly! thanks for the thought provocation though :)

Suse said...

Hi Jody,

Quick thoughts in response (very tired... long day):
I know what you mean about the CEs parallel as in Eph. 5, but I've more often heard the argument as per 1 Cor. 11 and that the submission of women is therefore actually paralleling Christ in his eternal subordination to the Father.

Thanks for the clarification on the 'must'! To follow your assessment of CEs/ACs, I think I'd still ask why representing Christ's authority is any better than representing Christ's submission (or whatever other trait)? I would have thought (and myself would argue if I was CE/AC) that even if men represent part of Christ's humanity more in one way, that does not preclude women representing him in another. In other words, a vocation to priesthood is one manifestation of the particularisation of Christ's humanity, not the only, nor indeed the primary/most authentic.
I hope deanery synod went well...


Suse said...

Hi Jody,

Quick thoughts in response (very tired... long day):
I know what you mean about the CEs parallel as in Eph. 5, but I've more often heard the argument as per 1 Cor. 11 and that the submission of women is therefore actually paralleling Christ in his eternal subordination to the Father.

Thanks for the clarification on the 'must'! To follow your assessment of CEs/ACs, I think I'd still ask why representing Christ's authority is any better than representing Christ's submission (or whatever other trait)? I would have thought (and myself would argue if I was CE/AC) that even if men represent part of Christ's humanity more in one way, that does not preclude women representing him in another. In other words, a vocation to priesthood is one manifestation of the particularisation of Christ's humanity, not the only, nor indeed the primary/most authentic.
I hope deanery synod went well...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I am not a priest but a Reader - so I have still had my authority to represent Christ through the word challenged by people who walked out when I got up to preach, or refuse to take communion from me. I hope the response to this vote will make those in authority in the C of E realise just how deep this goes.

Rosalind R said...

Thank you for this - it really does say exactly how it is and why those who have said"why can't you compromise a bit more to get women bishops" don't really get it - from where I am trying to be a priest. The time when I realised how much I had not been "whole" in my Christian journey was when, in 1994, I was first present at a eucharist celebratd by a woman priest. It ws not until I experienced that, and the enormous sense of wholeness that filled me, that I realised how excluded I had felt for all the years leading up to that point. A similar feeling when in 20o4, in ChristChurch cathedral in Oxford, at at service to celebrate 10 years of women ordained as priests, the Bishop Of Oxford gave his pastoral staff to Bishop Jane Dixon who had preached for her to give the final blessing. Once more, a sudden feeling that I was included and valued. I didn't expect either of these feelings to be so strong. Bishop Jane also told us later, what a huge act of grace it was for Bp Richard to have asked her to do this in "his" cathedral. Grace and generosity can and do exist. it is about our identity as priests. I've struggled myself with seeing priesthood as "ontological", but it is at times like this that I rlasie it is more than having a job to do. it is part of who I am, and the provisions are being asked for those who don't believe that this is who I am...and now for 20 year the church has said that I am a priest and share the cure of souls...until it is kinder of me to not be a priest for the sake of someone who doesn't believe it. I can cope with people not believing I am a priest -after all I live and minister in a world of agnostics and atheists; and I know that ther are plenty in the church who don;t believe it. But I find it excrutiating to listen to those who represent the church in which I try to serve Christ telling me that if it is easier for someone then it's OK to cast doubt on whether or not I am truly ordained. so interestingly, the times I felt as though I had been kicked in the solar plexus were in 2010 when the Archbishops created their notorious "amendment" and then last May when the House of Bishops produced amendment 5.1.c because those who gave me priestly authority were now saying it was negotiable if it offended someone else. The response to the vote last week, in contrast, showed me that the ordination of women really is "received" by both the church and our society. But I also still felt bad at the altar on Sunday

David Justin Lynch said...

Please know that at least one American, I, a lawyer from Palm Springs, California, supports you fully. One of the advantages you Brits have is that Parliament can, if it wants to do so, can step in and legislate to right this wrong, as well it should, sooner, not later. Yes, there would be fallout from that, but nothing compared to this ongoing injustice.

Georges said...

Indeed! You are right! The "women & LGBT" issues are christology. Or, I would rather say that: Church misogyny-and-homophobia is a postmodern Christological heresy.

Steve said...

Dear Jody,

Thanks for your post. I'd be interested in knowing how you see the relation of the discrimination in the church at the moment against women, compared to that against gay people. If denying women access to all parts of the church's life questions their true humanity, do you think that the way the church also denies gay people in active loving relationships access to those same roles is also to question their true humanity?

Jody Stowell said...

Thanks to all commenting.

A reply to Suse - I do think that if a part of Jesus' humanity is cut off to women,then we have to question whether a woman's humanity has enough identification with Jesus' humanity to make it equally human.

So to say that it is about distinctiveness doesn't quite cut it, because it is a distinctiveness shared by Jesus and men, but not Jesus and women (apparently) and what is not assumed, is not healed...

We must *fundamentally* share Jesus' humanity, or we must ask questions about our salvation.

Interestingly, I didn't say that submission or authority were better or worse than each other? But the argument from CEs is about the authority carried by women being not sufficient for leadership, so that is what I mentioned because that's where the focus is. Of course I believe Jesus' priesthood is so much more than that, but I recognise the need to speak the language of those to who I'm speaking :).

And because I believe that both AC/CEs are really speaking about particular elements of Jesus' humanity, I picked up on those specific elements.

Of course the argument is really about whether women share Jesus' humanity - which is much deeper than roles, but is expressed in those things.


Jody Stowell said...

Argh - accidentally deleted my own comment.

Hi Steve

I guess I wanted to say that I don't understand our sexuality to be a 'type' humanity. I understand it to be part of all our humanity, spanning the sexes.

It is an important part and I'm beginning to think further about how our sexed humanity becomes our gendered humanity, but that's for another post.

I also am not into the kind of 'backward' eschatology which has as its foundation a sense of us going back to the garden of Eden, where all was well and neatly boundaried.

We are going forward to a new humanity, transformed. I'm not sure exactly what that will look like, but I know that we are doing it in a world where chromosomes are not tightly ordered anymore (those with Klinefelter's Syndrome among others), and those of us with XX/XY chromosomes are finding that our definition is not so tightly boundaried either.

We are moving forward in a world where all of this will be embraced and affirmed and redeemed.

That is as far as I have got for the moment. It doesn't answer your question, apologies, I think it desires another post and deeper thinking from me...

Anglocat said...

I just wanted to say (also from an American male persecutive) that I support you, but more, I admire your devotion to God and your calling, and your patience (however frayed it may feel it to be) in writing such an honest post, without rage.

Bless you.

Alan Birt said...

Jody Stowell has made a good exposition about the unfortunate position in which the Church of England now finds itself. However, I cannot comprehend why there can be any opposition at all to the concept of women becoming bishops.

For over sixty years we have had a Monarch, and an excellent one at that, who is a WOMAN. She is a real and complete woman in that she has a husband, has produced four children, and has many grandchildren. In that she has also done a first-class job in being our Monarch I suggest no one can quibble.

As our Sovereign she is also “Defender of the Faith” and “Supreme Governor of the Church of England”. In the role of Supreme Governor she outranks even the Archbishop of Canterbury. Surely, if the person at the very top of the Church of England can be a woman, and is recognised as such (and not with the status as an ‘honorary’ man), why cannot women be appointed into any lower position below the Supreme Governor ? As the expression goes, “What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander” !

The current situation is complete nonsense.

Sqn Ldr Alan Birt

Sean Doherty said...

Hi Jody

Thanks so much for posting this. It is incredibly helpful for me because I am totally in favour of women bishops but I have found myself bewildered as to why so many women (not all) have felt so angry and hurt by the vote last week. It's just something I don't get but is undeniable and I really want to try to understand. I don't agree with all your analysis (quelle surprise) but I'm so grateful to you for working to explain how this feels.


Jody Stowell said...

Thanks Sean

I guess I would want to say that this is about how it feels - but I think it is how it feels, because this is the logical outworking of the position. We often intuit that we are being 'dealt' with on a less than human basis.


Suse said...

Dear Jody,

Having had a think, I have come to the following conclusion. I do not think that Jesus' exercising of authority, and the priestly function that is representative of that, is anything to do with Christ's humanity. Authority/ruling over, may have something to do with what it means to be human (as in Gen. 1-3), but to contain it within the one category of priesthood doesn't do justice to diversity of forms. Furthermore, Christ's authority and it's scope is a fair bit different from the Church of England ecclesial set-up. Just because women's scope of authority may be different (according to some), doesn't mean it's not there.

Not having women bishops (or priests) does not cut women off from part of humanity. It may be an example of what it looks like to exercise authority but it is not the only way authority can be expressed.

Furthermore, I don't think CE/ACs see women as any less human because of their views on priesthood. I'm sure there are some CE/ACs who may hold such a view for questionable reasons. But I still contest your basic assumption that those who say women should not be bishops therefore must genuinely believe that women are subhuman. I think it misrepresents their perspective.

From another angle, one could argue that women are most distinctively Christlike in submitting to men as Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father (ignoring that eternal subordination verges on early Church heresy...). If you reduce authority/submission to its lowest common denominator, or what it can mean if it is misused, then yes it may look disastrous, as with anything. However if it is construed in the way the best of ACs/CEs would want to, I think you discover a form of relationship marked by servant-hood, sacrifice and love of the other.

Please, can I reiterate, I DO want women bishops, I just equally want my theological understanding of it all to be rigorous and thorough and fair to the opposition. Just in case you're wondering... I have been known on more than one occasion to play devil's advocate just to see where the argument ends up...! :-D

Jody Stowell said...

Hi Suse

I'm really happy to have these conversations - please don't worry about teasing out these things, it's good :)

But alas, I suspect that we may soon come to an impasse anyway. I think that I see the authority of Christ's priestliness and therefore ours, as part of the particular humanity of Christ. It is of course a humanity that we all share, regardless of gender. I guess I am saying that I don't see 'authority' as a thing that is done, in the way you say.

But I am ontologically inclined - I know others are not.

If Christ's humanity is shared with us irrespective of gender, then so is that priestly authority. There is more to discuss here in terms of the priesthood of all believers and how we understand within this, a separated priestly ministry, but that is perhaps another discussion.

I know that AC/CEs would not subscribe to the idea that women are 'less human', but I think that it does comes to that in the end. For all humanity is derivative of Christ's.

But like I say, those who subscribe to a more functional understanding of priesthood are perhaps not going to make these connections in the same way.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

You all lack a patriarchal soul. All of Anglicanism needs to reverse this practice of women Clergy.