I think that the answer to this is quite simply that women bishops are destroyers of worlds.
Let me explain.
I’m not naive. I understand that women in ministry is a hot topic, but what is it that makes it such a button-pusher? I don’t believe that it is really about the Bible, or ethics, or doctrine.
This became clear to me on a retreat I went on that was for ordained people. On this retreat there were people from all different backgrounds; some disagreed with women’s ordination and some were for it. However, from the pool of people against women’s ordination, there were different responses to the women present.
Some were able to have polite, even warm conversation with me. On the other hand there was a little posse of people who, quite literally, couldn’t bear to share air space with me, it seemed. It was all they could do to answer questions that I asked them in an effort to start a conversation.
So I have come to the conclusion that this is not about theology: it’s pathology, it’s psychology….and it is just damn rude….but it is NOT theology.
When I was at training college, I really began to wonder if I was so fragile that I couldn’t be in the space of these people at all. I was seriously worried about myself, because I knew that I was going into the Church of England and that this was an institution where I was going to have to be able to cope with all manner of points of view on my presence. But at college it felt like I wasn’t resilient enough.
However, I began to ask the question as to how resilient any human being should be expected to be? Anyone, no matter how robust they are, needs to have a safe space where they know they will be affirmed, from which they can face the things and people that will threaten to dehumanise them. If someone is constantly being given the message, by implication as well as explication, that they aren’t quite acceptable, then, in the end, that message will be imbibed. No matter how resilient.
In the end, it was the being treated as ‘less than’ that caused the damage, not whether they agreed with my call to ordination.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It never feels ‘ok’ that someone thinks God doesn’t call me simply because I have a vagina rather than a penis. No matter how good they treat me, there will always be a reserve to a friendship over that barrier. However, I think we should, firstly, learn to call the difference between theology and rudeness.
But why so rude?
I think that it is more to do with the rocking of a worldview. That is why it generates rudeness, or fear, to the degree it does. Worlds are being shattered and that is threatening and genuinely frightening for the people who hold the power in those worlds. Or whose identity is caught up in them knowing their place (which is above you). Even for those who are insistent that the proscription on women in ministry is not about value or worth or – this one always makes me laugh – equality, their view of women puts men in some way ‘above’ women, ‘in charge’ of women. And if your own sense of worth is, in any sense, based on this worldview, then a removal of this system is going to impact your own identity to its very core.
When identity or self is threatened, then people get rude and aggressive, they really believe that they are fighting for survival. If they see any thread of hope that they could re-establish the old order, then they will fight to the death to hold onto that.
We have to understand that people are fighting for their very self.
And people are scared of women bishops because they really will rock your world.
This article is part of a special series commissioned by guest editor Claire Rush to celebrate and remember International Women’s Day on 8 March.