I can’t bear to be wrong. My Mum often said “I’m never wrong”, and she wasn’t, she just wasn’t always right. (Sorry Mum.) It takes me ages to get off the fence on some issues, and it means when I do finally launch myself off the fence, I land with a resounding thud, sink into the ground and stick there. (There is somewhere here an analogy with the kind of walking I enjoy). So, I am still to an extent ‘stuck’ yelling “Theology misused to justify discrimination against women, discrimination reinforced down the ages by a Graeco-Roman based culture”. If I am rightly stuck in the mud, the only answer is to redraw the map.
Then I read Kneewax’s post on marriage (no, this isn’t a marriage post) and I was struck that he ended up at the same place I always do…
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Luke 10:27
What does it look like if someone who fundamentally believes I am not a priest loves me as much as they love themselves? What does it look like if I love them as much as I love myself? You see, that’s the bit I have forgotten. I try to love those who disagree with me, God knows I try (here’s one of the toughest hours of my priestly life). What does being loved by them look like? It doesn’t particularly feel like being told “I’m praying that you find your real vocation one day” – although that was said to me well before I was ordained. And it was well meant, I understand that. Being loved might feel like being told, I understand that our church, God’s church has ordained you priest, I understand that being a priest is a fundamental part of your identity, but I don’t want Sacraments from you, because I can’t accept them.” I don’t know. That’s the position I am in with some people in this benefice, some of them more centrally part of the church community than others. And I don’t feel loved when they stay in their seats, or ring me to check where I’ll be so they can avoid me.
BUT am I forgetting the second half of the second commandment? As I know only too well, the pain cuts both ways. They can’t feel loved staying in the pew while others receive the Blessed Sacrament (although I suppose they would argue that they aren’t missing anything because what I am distributing is not consecrated). But they don’t come to church to sit there, they come to share, and are in effect excluded. It can’t feel great ringing someone to be sure you will avoid them. Love your neighbour as yourself. Avoiding someone may be one form of loving I guess, but it doesn’t feel as positive as loving does in my experience.
It was pointed out to me yesterday that
- until we even understand what a bishop is, putting gender issues on top will give a multiplicity of matrices that will stretch the church to breaking point.
- ordaining women as priests, and as bishops, takes us ever further from being in Communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches (although my counter to that is that we’re in communion with them, they aren’t with us, and that a matter of gender is the least of our differences, so we might as well be prophetic).
- a church rests on being in communion with its bishop (where does that leave the churches where our Bishop is not accepted because he has ordained women?)
- the ordination of women is still in a period of conditional reception (not something anyone has recently reminded me about, but of course that is why we have Resolutions A&B – which yesterday autocorrected to A&E, which made me laugh at an inappropriate moment), so in theory it could be undone (don’t ask, I have no idea how you unpriest a priest. Deprive them of a licence yes, but unpriest? Defrock???? )
Unity is important, but even more important to my mind is unity in God’s love – that we all love, echoing the dance of the Trinity. Because if we truly do that, I won’t be stuck, and there won’t be fences to worry about. All I need is the vision and the imagination. But maybe, just maybe, I should consider how I love myself, and how I hope others will love me. If I can envision and articulate that, along with how I will love them, then the reframing of the debate can start.