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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Voice of Authority

Meet Helen-Ann Hartley, a thrity-six year old priest in the Church of England assigned to the parish of Littlemore, near Oxford, and featured in the April 26, 2010 issue of The New Yorker Magazine in an article entitled "A Canterbury Tale: The battle within the Church of England to allow women to be bishops" by Jane Kramer.

Like many women, Mother Hartley patches together several jobs just to keep non-Eucharistic bread on the table. In addition to preaching at the church in Littlemore (famous as the last church built for the conservative priest and theologian John Henry Newman before he converted to Rome, in 1845, and eventually became Cardinal Newman), she teaches at the the mainstream Anglican seminary Ripon College Cuddesdon, and often broadcasts from BBC Oxford.

She can also often be found at St. John's College Chapel Choir where her husband plays the organ, when she isn't studying for her doctorate in New Testament at Oxford.

Clearly this is a bright young woman who stands head and shoulders over most of her male clergy colleagues. Were she a thirty-six year old male with such talent and credentials and five years of ordained experience under her cincture, she'd be on the professional fast track to being Dean of a Cathedral so she might be positioned for an "appointment" (as they do in the C of E) as bishop.

So, I was not surprised but unprepared to read the following quote:
"I have had to learn to negotiate the voice of my authority," is how she describes her trip down the nave. "Everyone thinks I'm 'nice,' and I guess I am, but I really don't need that label."

She also learned to negotiate her presence. When she visits her Catholic counterparts in Littlemore - two priests who became Roman Catholics after the ordination of women, and with whom she is friendly - she wears a skirt and blouse or a pair of jeans, but in meetings with conservative Anglicans who are known to be dismissive or condescending to clergywomen, she wears her dog collar "to show I'm a priest."
I should be used to that by now. Indeed, it still describes most of the days of my professional life. But, reading those words again, just now, something still gets caught somewhere in my throat and causes me to gasp before my stomach begins to feel a bit queasy.

Some of you, like me, have been at this for some time. Some of the rest of you are new to the struggle. So new, perhaps, you aren't even aware that there is a struggle.

Let me assure you: There most assuredly is. And, it's not going away any time soon.

Kramer's article gives a very cogent summation of the legal, scriptural and societal arguments for and against the ordination of women in England:
. . . given the Church’s special status, priests are functionaries of the state, and, because of this, its claim to a “religious exemption” in regard to women in the episcopate violates both Britain’s and Europe’s anti-discrimination laws.

The Scriptural argument, in brief, is this: there is nothing in the Gospels that precludes women from priestly service; Christ called men and women “equal in my hands,” and when conservatives in the Church counter that if Christ had wanted women bishops he would not have made all his apostles men, the women ask them why, then, did Christ choose two women to witness and announce the Resurrection.

But the most obvious argument is that England has done quite well by women with power, whether real or symbolic. Elizabeth II, who will be eighty-four this month, has reigned for fifty-eight years and managed to preserve the creaky institution of the British monarchy, despite the indulgences of a family at least as heedless and exasperating as Geraldine’s (note: 'The Vicar of Dibly') sitcom parish. During those years, Britain elected its first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who broke the back of British unionism, rationalized the country’s economy, and — despite the attrition involved — was reĆ«lected twice. Mrs. Thatcher took office fifteen years before women were ordained in the Church of England. Those women are demanding their own turn now.
I don't want to dwell on the arguments for or against the ordination of women. That time has, thankfully, past. I'm amazed, in fact, that it still gets any "air time" anywhere in the church.

I want to get back to this idea of 'negotiating your voice of authority'.

Kramer makes an interesting observation:
Rowan Williams, a theologian of huge distinction and, perhaps because of his almost paralytic reticence, has been trying to broker a peace between his warring priests while Pope Benedict XVI, in Rome, a theologian of less distinction but far steelier entitlement, has seized the chance to publicly invite Anglican clergymen, single and married, and their parishes into the sheltering misogyny of the magisterium.
I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a direct link between Hartley's negotiation of her voice of authority and Williams' 'almost paralytic reticence'.

I know. I know. The arc of history is long but it always bends toward justice. MLK, Jr. taught us that years ago, and it's an important lesson worth remembering in the midst of the struggle for justice.

I also know that I'm supposed to age gracefully, gaining in wisdom and patience.

Well, I'm not.

Rowan's paralytic reticence may well cost us the Anglican Communion - not women, not LGBT people, not apostacy, not disobedience from scripture, not rebellion from the 'faith first delivered to the saints.'

The Archbishop of Canterbury. +++Himself.

To wit - while Rowan is trying to broker peace among his clergy, Benedict is eating Rowan's lunch in the backyard of Lambeth Palace.

"Papal poaching" the British press called it. Indeed. And, it can only happen when the leadership concerns itself, not with the business of being leaders, but rather with being martyrs to the unrealistic belief in the power of reason to turn your enemies into allies.

Neville Chamberlain . . paging Neville Chamberlain to the white courtesy phone to teach us an important lesson in the history of negotiating with tyrants.
To be more philosophically accurate, it's Hegel. Rowan thinks that truth comes out of conflict, and sometimes, it does. Other times, as Giles Fraser, "our" canon at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, recently said, "You take the two poles and bring them together and the little guy gets crushed between them.”

Or, in this case, "the little woman."

When Rowan talks to women about restraint and patience - about the fullness of time and the "positive side to Anglican diffuseness and slowness of decision-making" and his own 'anguish' "trying to counsel patience to people who are suffering more than you are" he sounds less and less like the voice of Jesus and more and more like the voice of a most anxious man presiding over a communion whose inherent patriarchal model of power and authority is in the throes of death.

He doesn't understand that this is not a bad thing.

If Archbishop Rowan used the voice of his authority for Gospel justice, Mother Helen-Ann wouldn't have to negotiate hers.

The 'fullness of time' is a fine philosophical and theological idea, but God's time - and our time - is now.

"As the great prophet Moses wrote,
"The commandment that I lay on you this day is not too difficult for you, it is not too remote. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross the sea for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?" It is a thing very near to you, upon your lips and in your heart ready to be kept." (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
These ancient words, among others, have always been in the fullness of time.  They have now entered the fullness of our time. The truth of God is very near to us.

It's time for us to stop worrying about being 'nice' or negotiating the authority we already have in Jesus. We have all the authority we need to take another step on the journey to bringing us closer to the Realm of God.


We are living in the now.

Would someone please tell Rowan?


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Sweet Baby Jesus, how I cannot stand the word "nice" as it applies to women. Forget competent, capable, clever, bright. We have to be "cute" and we have to be "nice." I won't even go into "soft," "gentle," etc.

I always remember something I read in one of Alan Jones' books (and I'm paraphrasing.) It was his assertation that he was glad it wasn't "nice" that would get him to Heaven, because his self-assessment was he was just not "nice."

I care that people try to be GOOD. Good doesn't always concurrently mean "nice." Sometimes being good means being tough, or uninvolved, or angry.

I care that people are REAL. Real is not always "nice." I want to believe when I connect with people, I can connect to what's real about them, and they can connect to what's real about me--and that we all can try to live in the reality of God's love.

I don't want God to be nice to me. I want God to LOVE me.

Sigh. I just get so tired that women have to be "nice" too.

IT said...

Most "nice" people aren't very.

OUTSTANDING commentary. Impatience is not a bad thing, not now. Not here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's especially important, IT because the issue of misogyny and heterosexism are closely linked. It's the same battle being waged by patriarchy on two different fronts. Problem is, the old boys think we're too stupid to figure out their game plan. And, we're not.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

We're also not very nice, either. But we clean up good when we need to.

IT said...

Yup, Elizabeth, and it's not far away from racism and other 'isms' either. It's about Us, with the Power, vs Them, without. It's dangerous, dangerous times, where demagoguery and violence are just under the surface as they fight a desperate rearguard action.

Episcopal Bear said...

Rowan's nonsense about restraint, patience and the fullness of time is best addressed by yet another MLK quite, this one from his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" ~

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."

(Emphasis added ...)

Janet Detter Margul said...

Two thoughts today, sort of unrelated.

First is when my daughter had a couple of the mothers from the FLDS (plural wife) compound near Eldorado, Texas, as clients (after the state raid), one thing she learned from both of them was that they had to "stay sweet" or "be sweet." I leave that one without comment.

My other thought is that I protested for justice today. Not last week when I felt better, and not tomorrow or next week when it would have been a lot more convenient. I went TODAY to work for justice. I want my justice NOW. No comment needed on that one.

Jane Priest said...

Very, very good post. I also hate it when people tell me, "Smile!" and then go on to tell me I look upset. No one would say that to a man when he is concentrating and being serious. It's a problem for a woman to be serious in many places.

June Butler said...

What sticks in my craw is the ABC, from his lofty position of privilege, counseling patience to those in his church who are much less privileged and seek only simple justice and equality.

I confess that I was taken aback by Hartley's statement about having to learn to negotiate the voice of her authority. But after I thought about it a bit, I realized that women are so accustomed to the practice that we're hardly aware when we do so.

babs meairs said...

Babs reporting here from a clergy seminar presented by the Church Pension Group. I am sharing in comments about how some of us women were not credited appropriately for our church staff positions, i.e. not having our paid work reported to the pension fund because we were not treated the same as other clergy when we were hired. When it comes to justice, are there other women out there who have not been fairly treated by churches that hired them? This is not limited to women, but it is interesting that so little information about the benefits and requirements for them seems to have been emphasized or reported...women still need to look after fairness in the workplace, including within our parishes and institutions and among our brothers and sisters. Let's not assume anything when it comes to accurate reporting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Babs. The church has no credibility when it comes to demanding justice for others. It's track record on ordained women is just one case it point.

NorthCountryVicar said...

What concerns me very much about the article in the New Yorker, is the suggestion that the invitation of the Bishop of Rome to cross the Tiber, may so decimate the ranks of the Anglo-Catholics, that the balance of power will shift sharply to the Hard Right Evangelicals. To which I say, where is Elizabeth I, Richard Hooker, even Archbishop Laud, who kept the Calvinists in line by cutting off the ears of recalcitrant Non-conformists when we need them? Why isn't Elizabeth I in our updated list of Saints...she is our Foundress and model of Comprehension. OK, I know I'm likely the only Socialist Monarchist in this discussion! As a Catholic Anglican which Judith Maltby claims is Rowan's leaning, why can't he join God who "fighteth for us" at least at Evensong? Just back from the UK, Evensong at Manchester Cathedral and also, the lovely cathedral in Ripon...St. Augustine warned against music as a spiritual distraction if not a demonic deceit...I'm guilty Lord and unrepentant! Ellie McLaughlin+