Gavin Ashenden looks at the claims of the Bishop of Gloucester and finds: “the ordination of women assaults the credal integrity of the Church theologically.”
The newly appointed bishop of Gloucester, has had to ask the Queen not to write to her as a Reverend Father in God. She returned the document addressed to her. The scribes have not caught up yet. She is not a father. This has been the time-honoured way of addressing Christian bishops down the ages, but it stops now for the Church of England.
But Rachel of Gloucester has gone further and said it is not just her gender that is in the frame after her appointment, but God’s. She does not choose to address God as ‘He’
“Instead of using either “He” or “She” to describe God, Bishop Treweek said she prefers simply to use the word “God”.
“Sometimes I lapse, but I try not to,” she told The Observer, reigniting a long-running debate in the Church of England about inclusion and gender equality. She added: “I am not in the business of wanting to offend anyone, but I do want to gently challenge people.”
Does this matter?
If you are a Christian who says the creed, this will matter beyond measure.
In the creed we believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
The movement to ordain women as bishops and priests takes its inspiration from feminism and from a piece of cultural Marxism that has infused Western culture, egalitarianism. What happens to the faith and the Church when you impose this secular creed on it?
Firstly, the Church breaks – it fragments even further and becomes less ‘one’ than ever before. This movement has divided the Church across the world.
It has become less holy. This movement sees itself driven by its own concept of justice. Purity has morphed into justice
It has become less catholic. What was true at all times and in all places is no longer so. This movement does not spring from the lived tradition of the world wide church; rather it confronts and subverts it.
It makes the Church less apostolic. This is not the teaching or the practice of the Apostles.
So the ordination of women assaults the credal integrity of the Church theologically.
But does it have any other spiritual implications other than confronting Christian tradition and breaking the Church of England and Anglicans who accept it, from their apostolic roots?
There has not been very much theological argument over the last forty years. Assuming the notion of equality to be a given, the argument has been simplistic: ‘if men can be ordained why can’t women?’
Part of the incoherence of the Church of England is that some parts of it believe in the practice of the apostolic Church in the office of bishops, successors to the Apostles, who presided over the Eucharist in the place of the risen Christ, and some don’t. This lack of coherence in a theology of episcopacy, priesthood and ministry has made discussion more obtuse and complex. The ‘why can’t women’ argument finds its most comfortable home in the protestant context of ministry involving doing things. But episcopacy and its derivative priesthood are more about ontology than they are about doing, though they comprise both.
The office of bishop and priest has been understood from the earliest roots of the Church as acting in ‘imago Christi’, the image of Christ. This played a part in the chain of revelation where Christ told he has had come to reveal the Father to us.
Inevitably we are then faced with asking theological questions about gender and whether the fatherhood of God is an intrinsic part of the nature of God.
Bishop Rachel reminds us that men and women together are made in the image of God. This is certainly true. But can one simply stop theologically there, or is there more to be said?
She goes further herself. She wants us to stop addressing God as ‘He’. This has the effect of placing her in conflict with Christ. He tells us that we both can and should address God as ‘He’ and in particular as our father.
So the consecration of bishop Rachel and other women as bishops assaults the creeds, and the teaching of bishop Rachel contradicts Christ.
Was any of this theological development taken in conjunction with the historic branches of apostolic Christianity, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches? No. They were ignored. When they begged those parts of Anglicanism that pursued this course to think again, and beware of the consequences of driving irremediable wedges into the body of Christ, they were still ignored.
For many faithful Christians that would settle the integrity of the matter. But there are other questions to be asked as part of the task of discernment. These questions are not only theological, in the conceptual sense, but also requires discernment, to help us work out what the spiritual dynamics are. Test the spirits, advises St John.
It is no great surprise that the progressives who have pushed this change on the Church are more comfortable with a socialist view of the world than a scriptural view. The socialist view carries it with the hope the earth can be modified so that with some improvements in the human condition and human nature, it becomes more like heaven.
Scripture, and in particular the Gospel of John, see the world as primarily being under the influence of the evil one, and being engaged in a permanent assault on the church, the kingdom of heaven and those who follow Christ. It is the aim of evil to assault and break down the paradigms and patterns of God’s creation.
Christians should be particularly wary then when they adopt values that the world and secularity. But as well as testing the spirits, we can test the fruit.
If we fast-forward a little to the conflict over gay marriage, what we find is that the weapon of equality that was used to change the church’s practice over ordination, has been used to change the way in which men and women relate in marriage.
The interdependence of men and women, and their coming together to act as co-creators with God of humanity, is one of the basic building blocks of God’s creation on earth. But under the influence of equality, husbands and wives have been replaced and reduced by the more functional de-gnedered category of ‘partners’.
The central characteristic of men and women making babies together has been distorted so that in the context of gay partnerships, it requires three people to make them. There is the surrogate and then either two men or two women. The child no longer knows where it has come from. One of its natural parents is excluded. It’s identity is hidden from it in order to shore up the non-fertile gay partner’s place in the family.
Equality has gone further and acted as fuel for the movement to transition one’s gender. In the face of the given biology of birth, a new idea has taken root, that sexuality is fluid. It is not binary at all, but simply on a scale that stretches out between two poles, and one can occupy whatever part of that scale one identifies with. This is the next summit in the project that it is we who choose what we want to be by an act gender identification. What in the past would have raised suspicions of mental adjustment in the face of biological reality, has now become a victim to raw wish-fulfillment. If this is what or who you want to be, no one can or should stop or contradict you. In the scales of pride on one side and humility on the other, this fails the tests of spiritual integrity.
The patterns of God’s creation, his making of humanity into men and women has been attacked and diluted by an assault on gender and identity that goes to the roots of the paradigms we are given in Genesis.
At what point does the Church wake up and say ‘an enemy has done this’ as the farmer said when he found weeds planted where there should have been fruitful crops? (Matt 13.28).
Gay ‘marriage’ becomes the celebration and institution of the biologically sterile and the psychologically narcissistic. It is the celebration of sameness rather than difference. It takes the patterns of humanity that revelation celebrates, and muddles them beyond recognition. Who suffers? Those who refuse to accept these revisionist categories in the face of an increasingly fascist body politic, but also the children who have an experience of their natural parents denied to them.
But also, of course, there is the issue of the integrity of the Scriptures.
The implications of equality are far reaching.
THE INTEGRITY OF JESUS AS THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON.
If Jesus was wrong about God being our Father, as bishop Rachel of Gloucester tells her flock and her public, then he may have been wrong about other things. If he was culturally limited in a way that bishop Rachel has risen above, then his limitations may show in other areas.
In TEC, the Episcopal Church in America, these implications have been allowed to run their course for the last forty years or so. If equality is the key concept, it is hard not to apply it to other matters. It is not easy to maintain that Jesus was unique, that Scripture is unique if in every other sphere of life you bow down to the idol of equality. Soon the implication of relativity comes to the surface and works its way through the whole conceptual system. Jesus becomes one teacher among many; the Church one agency among many; salvation eroded as a concept. After all, if Jesus is not the unique Son of God come to save the world from its sins and a broken relationship with the Father, then what does he become?
The concept of the equality erupts from a new Arianism. Its Jesus is less than the only begotten Son of God; he is a ‘creature with insights’. Salvation becomes meaningless; heaven and hell no longer pertain. There is no hell or judgement to be saved from. The ordination of women, the raising up of equality as the new divine principle, the breaking of the apostolic patterns, takes us to a place which the Church has been before.
Athanasius was the bishop who spent his life fighting with the first outbreak of Arianism. Arius’ Jesus was a Jesus who was less than the incarnate Word; less than the unique only begotten Son of God; made rather than begotten. Athanasius saw that if this change in the nature of Christ that the new heresy proposed succeeded, the whole structure of the faith and the integrity of the Gospels would collapse.
We face the same threat today with the ordination of women, the muddling of gender and the elevation of ‘equality’ over the teaching of Jesus.
THE REVELATION OF GOD AS FATHER.
Does the fatherhood of God matter anyway?
We have been lured into the misapprehension of looking at the universe through the eyes of Feuerbach and others like him. It was Feuerbach who persuaded European public opinion that by means of projection, we take our longing for God and project it onto a black cosmic canvass, and by means of this psychological self-delusion claim to have found a god created in our image/
CS Lewis offers us the antidote to this. He reminds us that all other religions outside the Judaeo-Christian experience are ‘made up’ religions. That is, they were invented by their practitioners. To that extent Feuerbach’s critique may have some resonance.
But the unique aspect of the Judaeo-Christian revelation is that it comes from the outside and happens to people. It originates from the outside, not the inside. The experience of the transcendent God burst upon the prophets, as they in turn burst upon the people, saying “thus saith the Lord.”
The implications of this for projection are that they reverse the whole process. Instead of us projecting our identity onto God as a blank cosmic canvass, he projects his identity onto us, turning us from the blank canvass of the animal into his children.
Gender is not theologically neutral at this point. Masculinity plays a role.
Unlike all the religions of the world, there were within Judaism no goddesses.
Nor were there any hermaphrodite deities; nor were there any priestesses. So one has to ask why not? Why was Judaism marked out from all the other religious narratives of the world in this way? The answer appears to be that masculinity was an essential element of revelation.
Unlike all the other religions, God the Father – “Yahweh- I am that I am” was wholly transcendent. He did not emerge from within the universe, but was utterly distinct from it. The universe, the earth, all creation emerged from nothing – and was completely dependent on him. Masculinity connects to this too.
A number of theologians have made the link between our experience of our own biology and theological ideas. Where gods are feminine, they are linked with fertility and the earth. The feminine is the fertile. It is inextricably linked with creation.
In the Old Testament, the great religious apostasy that the prophets were sent to rescue the people of God from, was the worship and placating of the feminine in the form of fertility goddesses; the Canaanite high places.
Masculinity become linked with the Creator, transcendence rather than immanence.
Lewis continues to remind us that we use masculinity only because that is how God speaks of himself. In his paper ‘Priestesses (p 237) he writes
“Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses [or changes in biblical gender language] but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul”
Lewis’ point is that religious experience that places the feminine and the motherhood at the centre of its narrative looks very different from the Judaeo Christian revelation.
Lewis addresses both the issue of projection and those who can’t tell the difference between biology and gender.
“Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the world. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would simply be meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female or organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity” (Perilandra p.200)
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Jesus is indeed therefore masculine. He is beyond sex, but not beyond gender. He is more like a Father than he his like a mother, though Jesus, Mother Julian and St Anselm all felt free to use feminine and maternal imagery to augment and to amplify the kind of father he is.
St Paul tells us that those who experience the Holy Spirit find themselves calling out– Abba – father, dad. This leap of intimacy from the soul to the Father lies at the heart of the Christian experience. It is inconceivable that any person whose life is rooted in the Spirit would want to do anything but celebrate and amplify it. It is hard to know what to say to a bishop who wants to quench the experience of the Holy Spirit, and depersonalize this experience by replacing the intimacy, trust and love of “Abba” to the impersonal, vacuous and neutral concept of ‘God’. The drawing near of the Godhead to the soul takes place in a dynamic of increasing trust and love which is predicated on knowing the Creator as Father, the Saviour as Son, and the Spirit as the Comforter and strengthener who points to Jesus and Father. Strip out masculinity from this intimacy, and you are left with no Father, no Son and the Spirit whose promptings and leadings you refuse to recognise.
For many in the protestant compartment of the Church there is an obvious lack of the feminine. Turning their back on the third Council of Ephesus where St Mary was recognized as ‘theotokos’, the essential complementarity of the economy of salvation was diminished. In the refusal to recognise the role that Mary as Godbearer continus to play in the endless apparitions that stir the Church into fresh repentance and deeper prayer, there is of course the danger of evacuating the role of the feminine from the Church. But the answer to the quest for a better balance between the genders in the narrative of salvation is to balance Adam and Eve, made in the image of God, with Jesus the Saviour and Mary theotokos. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ first miracle takes place as a response to her intercession. If we have to chose between the intercessions of the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, whose obedience and humility are in proportion to the honour promised her by the angels, and the innovation of women bishops who take it upon themselves to diminish Jesus and his revelation of the Father, which should we choose?
From what source do we trace the denial of Jesus as Saviour and ikon of the Father? Scripture tells us “from the father of lies.” From what source do we find the authority and integrity of Scripture denied and belittled? The same place. From what source do we find the unity, the holiness, the catholicity and the apostolicity of the Church distorted and diminished. The same place.
The movement born in Marxism, idolizing equality, confusing gender, undermining marriage, depriving children of true parenthood through politicized surrogacy, rebuffing the Holy Trinity, quenching the Spirit, prioritizing the relative over the objectivity and sanctity of revelation, – comes from the wrong spiritual source.
There is one further test. When orthodox theology on gender is placed in the public sphere, it seems to immediately evoke bile and hatred from the progressive and the heterodox. In order to divert attention from their own hatred, anger and pride, the opposing spirits seem to clamour in their rage, accusing the orthodox of hate crime and bigotry.
St John advised us to “test the spirits to see if they are of God” (1 John 4.1.) Jesus said, by their fruits you shall know them. The fruits of this progressive diminished Christianity do not lead to a penitent, renewed and converting church, but rather pride, undiscriminating inclusivity, and a secular epistemology.
For some Anglicans it took the inevitable development of the idea of equality in the implementation of gay marriage before the implications of this new heresy was obvious. Others saw it earlier as the pro-women bishops lobbyists made concord with the gays rights lobby to help deliver gay marriage once some women had achieved the goal of women in the episcopate. Equality between the genders in the episcopate could not be separated conceptually or strategically from equality for gay partnerships with marriage.
It has now become obvious that the Anglican community has reached a parting of the ways. Bishop Rachel’s attempt to redirect the language of Jesus and the Holy Spirit help show us why.
There comes a point, and for many of us it is already here, where communion is breached by the assault on the integrity of Scripture and tradition in the name of the idols of egalitarianism, feminism, and relativism.
In the end, it is Scripture and the creeds that divide us. Bishop Rachel and those who appointed her and follow her are on one side of the divide; and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is on the other.