Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Women Bishops, etc and so on.

So, the Church of England (mostly, their house of laity) have voted against having female Bishops. In advance of the vote, some asked for calm - in the aftermath, there was anger, reflectionjokes, and some apparent point-scoring. I got in on the last, I'll admit.

But that wasn't really point-scoring; it was more a long sigh. I was brought up in Methodism - my father went to Wesley College in Bristol in 1980 (I think - I was young) and was ordained in 1982. We were posted to Marlow then, and then to Cheltenham in 1987, then Finchley in 1992 - and I took an interest in what was going on, administratively as well as spiritually, because, well, when you get shifted around every couple of years, you kinda want to know why.

So I was told, when I met my first Deaconness, that women had been ordained in Methodism since the early 1970s, which, as it was before I was born, was 'forever'. And Kathleen Richardson was installed in 1993 as the first female President of Conference (aka top dog), and that was just normal because women had been installed as District Chairs (aka bishops-ish) for ages, so it was nothing strange at all.

And while there is an evangelical wing of the Church which has some 'issues' with some 'people' (and the lovely acronym VOMet - not sure they hold much sway any more) there was, also in 1993, the statement that:

"Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality" 

'Recognises, affirms, and celebrates' - sounds a heck of a lot better than 'tolerates'. Sounds - despite the cautious language elsewhere about marriage and avoiding promiscuity - like they actually mean it. I know, from the experiences of some gay Methodist clergy, that the path for them has not always been smooth; but they have not been fighting the dogma of their own denomination. 

Because - a little like a ban on gays in the military - it always seemed odd (meaning, counter-productive, and not a little rude) to reject those who actually wanted to serve; who felt a vocation for that. Because it always seemed to me that if somebody said they were prepared to die for their country that said country should say 'thank you, thank you' - and treat them with respect. 

And that that respect would not be limited to NCOs, but to all ranks. That it would not stop at a defined point like - well, a stained glass ceiling.

Because - as a girl then a woman, a feminist, concerned with the place of women in the world, and as a gay person, growing up...we all have to deal with the judgment of strangers, and sometimes the thoughtlessness of those close to us...but I never heard anyone I respect calling me bad, or wrong, or ill. That made a difficult journey easier. I am thankful for that.

I like the approach of the Quakers - the silence appeals to me, the quietly activist principles, the lack - ironically, as this is largely an argument about 'levels' - of hierarchy. Sometimes I would think, "well, if I hadn't been brought up in Methodism, I would be a Quaker" - but then the reality is that if I hadn't been brought up in Methodism, but in a more strident and stringent Church, I probably would have sacked the whole thing off, and rejected 'the Church' entirely.

So, no point-scoring, just a sigh. A sigh for people like me, kids like I was, trying to square what their Church is saying to them about what is acceptable with what they feel, what they believe, is more than acceptable.  A sigh for those oppressed, depressed by it - and a sigh for those who get the hell out, when they might not really want to do that.  And a really big sigh for those who don't get that saying 'OK, you can do this job but we're watching you and you'll never get promoted' doesn't exactly score high on the affirm/celebrate scale.

And it is genuinely very cool that Stockholm has a lesbian bishop. God moves in mysterious etc and so on.