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Saturday, September 29, 2007

In the company of women

A dear friend wrote to me this morning with an important question.

She was reflecting on the Statement of the House of Bishops which attempted to respond to the Primates Dar es Salaam Communique earlier this year. She wondered, "Do you think this statement would have been different if there had been more women in the House of Bishops?"

To which, always poetic and ever articulate, I responded, "BINGO!"

It has been pointed out by many on all points of the theological-political spectrum in our church and the Anglican Communion, that the issues with which we are struggling are not about sexual orientation or scriptural interpretation.

We are struggling with issues of power and control, authority and autonomy in the community of faith and the Household of God.

That includes some of the more "progressive" of the bishops as well as those who are "conservative" - and everyone in between. From all reports, there's an awful lot of "Savior-behavior" coming from white men in purple shirts on both sides of the church aisle.

Some want to "save" The Episcopal Church and/or The Anglican Communion.

Others, bless their hearts, want to "rescue" those poor, suffering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the Big Bad neo-Puritan Evangelical wolves.

Still others want to save themselves the difficulty of dissension and angst in The House. These are the "Rodney Kings" in purple shirts, asking plaintively, "Can't we all just get along?"

No matter how you look at it, whether you want it or are repulsed by it, it's all about power and control, authority and autonomy.

Am I saying that women are somehow "above" the nature of this fight? By no means! I think we're just more honest about it most of the time.

If the the issue of power and authority were being framed by the majority of women in the House of Bishops, it would not be about gender and sexual orientation. That's because, at least in my experience and with some notable exceptions, most women are not as influenced by the "ick" factor as most men are. The "ick" factor, of course, has been defined as the visceral reaction some have in response to thoughts about oral sex in general and anal sex in particular.

You can hear the "ick factor" in statements such as that which good Roman Catholic William F. Buckley once said to his equally Roman Catholic gay brother, Andrew Sullivan: "It's not who you are that's a problem, it's what you do."

The "ick" factor also extends, in lesser degree, to the position held by the bishops of Ft. Worth and San Joaquin that women are "ontologically insufficient" to be ordained priests in the church.

Why? Well, for starters, they will throw "thousands of years of church history" at you before they begin to point out that Jesus did not appoint a woman among The Twelve, and Saint Paul had some pretty strong things to say to the church about the submission of women - like, covering their hair and keeping silence.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. How convenient to forget that Luke's gospel is filled with examples of the high, positive regard Jesus had for women. Or, that Paul is always mentioning how deeply grateful he is for the generous ministry of women.

But, we also know, good bishops like Iker and Schofield, are also deeply concerned about the "ick factor" in women. Oh, they talk about "ontology" but what they really mean is that women bleed once a month! Ewwwww! Gross! Can't have that! The only acceptable blood in the church is that of the Blood of the Lamb who was slain for us.

Yes, the House of Bishops needs much more diversity in terms of gender, race, age, class, and sexual orientation. That is quite obvious the first time you see them all together in the same room.

Not to worry. The hour of schism has come and now is. I'm betting that the House of Deputies will look remarkably different when we gather for General Convention in June of 2009 in Anaheim.

I hope we commit ourselves, by formal resolution, to a process of electing bishops that reflect more accurately the whole state of God's church.

Then, and only then, will we make real progress on the important social, cultural and religious concerns of our day.

When we begin to elect more women into the House of Bishops, things will begin to change. It's absolutely amazing what can happen in the company of women.


Hiram said...

"No matter how you look at it, whether you want it or are repulsed by it, it's all about power and control, authority and autonomy."

Nothing like trumping theology with psychology.

Martha said...

Could it be that the HoB 'Response' used the same boilerplate as the all too familiar:

Thank you for choosing our (bank) (phone company) (church) (whatever). We value your business and are happy to be of service.

Unfortunately we are not able to (e.g., provide justice) at this time.

Is there anything else we can do to help you? Well, have a great day!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And you would recognize this, Hiram, because. . . .?

Marie said...

There are some scary things going on at Stand Firm that need some feminist commentary. Perhaps you would be the one to do it, since I'm just befuddled. I don't know how to link here, but if you email me at loudbrashdramatic AT, I can send you the links. Suffice it to say that they've sunk to a new low of misogyny and I find it disturbing.

Tere said...

Not much way to comment when the argument is couched in any terms but biblical/theological/
traditional Christian.

The only arguments here are what the Church (universal, not Episcopal or Anglican) has taught at all times in all places and what is in the Word of God from the beginning of time. Anything beyond that is irrelevant.

No 'ick' factor here and certainly no anti-women feelings either (half of the priests at my ordination were women and 25% or more gay [or both] (mostly celebate). This is about the Bible and the tradition.