Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thought for the Day

This was on Radio 4 yesterday. If you want to hear rather than read (and if you are a sucker for a Scottish accent, I would recommend it) listen Here

Rev John Bell

In the wake of the Church of England's decision to proceed with the consecration of women as bishops, there has been both pain and rejoicing. The jubilant have predictably commented that this shows how the Church is catching up with society. That may be the case, but I don't think it has yet caught up with Jesus.

Let me explain... or rather let me allude to a conference I was recently working at in Canada. I divided participants into two groups. The first was asked to name Jesus' 12 male disciples and state three things we knew about each. The other was asked to identify 12 women who followed Jesus and state three things we knew about them….all from memory.

I'd never done this before so I was as surprised at the outcome as anyone else.

None of those looking at the male disciples could remember any more than eight. Names like Nathaniel, Thaddeus, Simon Zealotes were not quoted. Of those identified, most people could only remember three things about Peter, John, Andrew and Judas. Yet, with the exception of Judas, the other eleven are men after whom churches throughout the world are named.

The group looking at the female disciples had no difficulty in identifying twelve women and were able to remember three things about the majority of them….and that not because they were 'fallen.'

Most surprising of all, we discovered that the woman whom Jesus met at a well, is the only person in the four Gospels to whom a whole chapter is devoted: she's the first evangelist. Andrew brings his brother, a young boy and some Greeks to Jesus, for which he is made patron saint of Scotland. The woman at the well brings a whole village to Jesus, but no nation has so honoured her.

If you look further you see that it's women who give Jesus his declared models of faith, love and generosity. It's women who regularly provide food and lodgings for him and his male companions. It's the women, who followed him, who accompany his body to the grave, and a woman who first sees him after the resurrection.

Is there another male figure in world history who has so clearly engaged with, depended on, and encouraged women without the familiar accompaniments of seduction or exploitation?

Has there been a major Western politician who has been so explicitly trusting? A captain of British industry who has been so reliant? A top ranking male academic who has been so collegial with women?

I suggest that the consecrating of female bishops is not the major issue. For both liberals and traditionalists the bigger issue is the feminisation of communities of faith until they are as representative and nurturing of the giftedness of women as Jesus was.

Now if churches became like that they wouldn't be catching up with society, they would be leading it.