Sometimes it’s just too much effort

If I could have summoned up the energy, I might have had a go at fisking Judith Maltby’s latest pretensions in the Guardian, but to be honest, it’s just more of the same. Here instead is a summary of what she says:

  1. It’s an outrage that it’s legal to discriminate against women in the Church
  2. Ann Widdecombe is neither “serious or intelligent” (I do believe that’s ad hominem)
  3. Providing for those who agree with the vast majority of world-wide Christians (Romans and Eastern Orthodox) that women can’t be priests would be “institutionalised intolerance” and “creepy McCarthyite”
  4. It’s not about ‘surrendering to “secularism” and “the world”‘, because if that were so we should withdraw from all forms of chaplaincy and the like. (This is of course a non sequitur, but let’s not stop that getting in the way of an argument)
  5. And finally, it’s her second Guardian column on the subject this year, and she still hasn’t actually addressed any of the  theology involved…

14 Comments on “Sometimes it’s just too much effort

  1. Renaming myself to distinguish myself from the other Sarah who has been posting here lately.

    Hi Peter. Hope all is well. I just wanted to respond to your reading of Judith Maltby’s piece in the Guardian, which I didn’t recognise. To reply to some of your points,
    1. Her argument, as far as I can see, is that the privileged position the established Church of England enjoys in terms of its access to schools, hospitals, prisons etc. comes with accountability to the law of the land. You may or may not agree with the Church’s established status, but if you want it to retain that status in the community there has to be an engagement with its core values. It is a huge anomaly for sexual discrimination in the workplace to be enshrined in statute law. 
    2.  She actually said that Ann Widdecombe’s remark (that having a female at the altar would be like a boy playing Mary in a nativity play) was neither serious nor intelligent. 
    3.  The creepy McCarthyites are those who refuse to be sacramentally associated with those implicated in women’s ordination, not the opponents of women’s ordination per se.
    5. Maltby has written extensively elsewhere about the theological issues at stake. Does every article on the subject have to rehearse, ad nauseum, the minutiae of the debate?

  2. I’ve read Judith Maltby’s comments too.  Isn’t it just an attempt to polarise opinion when she writes that: “Before Synod is the prospect of even greater institutionalised intolerance than we have already” and when she suggests that synod are acting as if “the minority opposed to women … appear to be the only members of the Church of England with “consciences” or “feelings””?
    Her argument seems to be that any compromise with those unable to accept in conscience the ministry of women is a complete and utter defeat.  “My feelings or their feelings”.  Polarising, somewhat demonising and no attempt to respect the “other”; hardly a Christian approach.
    Although I *do* support consecration of women to the episcopate, I do hope that no-one is considering The Revd Canon Dr. Judith Maltby as a potential bishop.
    Anyone who has written in this highly divisive way has shown themself to be completely unsuitable!

  3. Peter,
    I wholeheartedly agree that we need more theology and less PC language. The problem, it seems to me, is that people don’t understand that all of these discussions stem from one’s view on Holy Scripture. Either Holy Scripture is in fact the revealed Word of God or it isn’t. If one believes that it isn’t then they don’t remotely meet the Orthodox definition of Christian, can’t say the creeds with a clear conscience, and ultimately have no business criticizing the Church’s interpretation on Scripture. This is because those who are members of the Church Corporate are not trying to find favor with man but with God and therefore are going to interpret Scripture with the aid of the Holy Spirit (hopefully using Christian tradition as a guide) to the best of their abilities. Therefore, for a Christian, the discussion is not “what do we think about this?” but “what does God think about this?” Our own sinful desires often get in the way of our readings of Scripture so it is important not only to read on our own but to look at all of Church Tradition in understanding how Christians have been lead to read Scripture before. 
    I personally would like to find Godly justification for women in the priesthood, but I’m not going to allow my personal feelings to get in the way of true readings of Scripture. One major misunderstanding in this discussion is the idea of gender. The secular world has, in recent memory, come to the notion that gender is merely a (possibly unfortunate) biological difference and that underneath these male and female bodies we are exactly the same. Many Christians have since wholly bought into this notion, but it is not remotely biblical. We are, in fact, created differently–Genesis tells us “male and female He created them.” One is not subordinate to the other, one is not lesser than the other, but we are–at least sometimes–given separate tasks. In light of this it shouldn’t be seen as discrimination that women are not ordained, but that the office of Bishop could possibly be a task that is relegated by God to men only, and this is okay. 
    Before I get too many people angry, let me interject this: I am not making a judgement call as to whether women can be bishops. I personally am not sure. What I want to point out, however, is that we can’t look at what society thinks, or what we think, but we need to look at what God thinks. When we do this there are some very difficult passages (Timothy comes to mind) to wrestle with before we can allow female bishops. We can’t just explain these away, we need to understand them in terms of good theology and a clear understanding of God’s purpose. It may be that their is sufficient basis for women bishops but that basis can’t come from arguments about discrimination in the workplace (because if it is a task given only to men it isn’t discrimination anyway), or our own desires, or what the public thinks about it. We also shouldn’t be surprised to find that sometimes there are tasks that are given purely to women or purely to men because we are not fundamentally the same but different. We need to be clear on what the order of a bishop is, why it was instated by God (again, not by us), and how it fits into sacramental theology before we can make a judgement call about this and forget anyone who is not willing to talk theology but instead wants to talk social justice.
    May our desires always align with God’s desire and when they don’t may we always prefer God’s over our own.

  4. Thanks John,

    I think you make one absolutely brilliant point:

    I personally would like to find Godly justification for women in the priesthood, but I’m not going to allow my personal feelings to get in the way of true readings of Scripture.

    This is entirely equivalent to my position. I would LOVE to find a good Scriptural argument to allow women to be priests (let alone bishops) and if I could find one I would endorse it whole heartedly. But I keep on coming along passages like 1 Tim 2:12 and I simply can’t dismiss them because my heart says they make me deeply uncomfortable. What I would give to not have that verse in the Bible, but it is there and I need to deal with it.

  5.  John, I think you very much *can* believe that Scriptures are the revealed Word of God without believing in (for example) biblical inerrancy.   

  6. Ryan, I totally agree. I don’t believe that Scripture is a history book or a science book or that it should be. In fact, I recently heard a great quote that Revealed Scripture was not revealed to us to teach us what we can find out on our own, but to teach us what we can never find out on our own. The problem is, when it comes to spiritual matters there has to be an ultimate authority. Some would have us believe that the Spirit speaking directly to believers is that ultimate authority. I would reply, how do we know that what we believe is from the Holy Spirit or from our own sinful nature? The answer: by weighing our beliefs against the Truth as it is revealed in Scripture. It is the only possible standard–it is God’s will revealed to us. Scripture is the narrative of God’s work in redeeming a fallen world to Himself and reconciling that world to His perfect will. It isn’t trying to tell us about merely events that occurred but what it means for us to be reconciled to God, and in those points it is never incorrect. It could be incorrect about historical details, but when it comes to how creation relates to its creator and how creation relates to the rest of creation, it isn’t ever wrong.

    I’m slightly long winded–sorry. I suppose my point could be summed up as this: Scripture can be wrong when it is talking about those things which it isn’t concerned about (the biggest that come to mind are scientific and historical details that don’t necessarily relate to the greater narrative) but it is never wrong about what it says about our relationship and reconciliation to God. So again I’ll say, if you want to defend something, like women bishops, the wrong place to look for this defense is in the modern secular culture but in God’s will as revealed to us in Scripture and Scripture interpreted through the lens not of our current sensibilities but through the lens of church tradition and history.

  7. Peter, John,

    I don’t think 1 Tim 2:12 is talking about women leaders in church.  1 Tim 3:1-13 is the section where Paul is giving unstructions about church leaders.

    Don’t forget that in Greek the words for man and woman are the same as husband and wife… If you look at the whole section 1 Tim 2:8-15 you can see that it is talking about Christians’ personal holiness and relationships, and it ends by refering to “they” in 2:15 – talking about the wife and her husband.  (“Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” ESV)

    So 1 Tim 2:12 is about husband and wife, not church leadership.

    Paul wrote similar sections in Titus too.  Titus 1:5-9 is about leaders and resembles 1 Tim 3:1-7.   Titus 2:1-8 is about Christians’ personal holiness and relationships; it resembles 1 Tim 2:8-15 and is talking about wives/husbands not women/men!

    What do you think?

  8. David, you mention 1 Tim 3:1-7. What is your interpretation of it (I’m not using the best translation for study–NKJV, but it talks about a bishop being the husband of one wife)? Also, part of my current view stems from my belief that a priest is an icon of Christ to the Church especially during the consecration of the Eucharist and as such it is necessarily a male role. I think that is what the comment about Mary being played by a boy in the Christmas pageant was about in the linked article. 

    Also, I think male and female are different expressions and reflections of God’s image and I don’t fully understand why it makes people so uncomfortable that certain parts of God’s image are reflected more in one and other parts are reflected more in the other. It seems natural to me that because we are reflecting different aspects of God’s character we would be given different roles in the Church.

    And as a N.B. I am fully open to rebuke and correction and am not claiming in the slightest to have this all or even partially figured out. I hope that I’ve been able to keep a tone of humility, but I love to argue and sometimes that tone gets a little overwhelmed so I just wanted to be explicit: I don’t think I’m definitely right or even have most of the facts… just enjoying the discussion :-D. 

  9.   I think you should admit that Maltby said Widdecombe’s *comment* wasn’t serious and intelligent, Peter, not that she said this about Widdecombe generally, although I don’t doubt that conservatives may often find that they are very unfairly called names by their oppononents on this issue.

  10. What do they do about nativity plays in single-sex schools, I wonder? I believe there is a long tradition of cross-acting (if that’s the right word) in such circumstances. Not that it affects women in holy orders, but it might affect how sensible one regards Ms Widdecombe’s remark to be. (By the way, I thought she was quite good – within certain limits – and certainly very even-handed, on her TV programme about the reformation the other week; I was pleasantly surprised – did anyone else see that?)

  11. Oh, and just to be clear, Richard, I was agreeing with you, not saying your argument wasn’t smart. I re-read my comment and was a bit worried it came out wrong. :-)

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