21 February 2007


Just a musing after having looked at a blog of someone who has been to a theology conference. The blog is filled with photo after photo of the speakers at that conference. All male. The pictures of all male speakers made me depressed and even angry (even though I know that in my egalitarian branch of Christianity that there are in fact very few female theologians).

Reflecting on it, I think that the reason I had those feelings was because it seemed like a pictoral collage of what it means to be a female Christian in such an environment: it means literally having no voice. It means censoring the voices of any human being who shares one of the most important things about my humanity: my gender. "Male only" Christianity is depressing not because men are awful or because they are depressing, but because it means that there is something "not quite 100%" about being female. Whatever is said about "all are equal", not allowing one category of person to speak makes that category of person unequal - whether the reason be gender, race, class or sexual orientation.

I honestly believe that there is a connection between silencing a category of person and violence. It probably would not be accurate to call this way of thinking "violent", but in Girardian theory, violence begins when individuals strive for (what I'd call) radical individuality at any cost. I must be an individual; I must not be like you and I must not believe that I am imitating you. At the extreme end of this behaviour, I will make a scape-goat of you and I will murder you. Less dramatically, I might bully you. Less dramatically than bullying, I construct a theory that you are not to speak and I get you to agree with my theory; if I do not have to hear your perspective, then I do not have any worry about being like you.

Just a theory. I wonder what others think?


Turbulent Cleric said...

Thanks for that Pam.

You are quite right. Why does the church of the inclusive Christ so often exclude re gender, sexuality etc?

We must be most trying to God.

And you are right that Methodism for all its good acts in this field, has further to travel.

Sandalstraps said...

I honestly believe that there is a connection between silencing a category of person and violence.

My seminary advisor is a woman, and several of her collegues are also women. This, of course, does not disprove your broader point - a point painfully borne out by experience.

I mention her because in our meeting yesterday she made a very similar point. She said that she thinks that there is a relationship between domestic violence against women and theological language which denies women participation in the image of God. She sees the global church, insofar as it participates in the perpetuation is decidedly less than inclusive language, as complicit in violence against women.

Sally said...

Interesting Pam- I was musing about similar things following the Ash Weds. service at Ely Cathedral yesterdy- men dominated and the language was all exclusive- rendering women to voiceless participants- even though the preacher was a woman- this is sadly the impression that came over- her role seemed submereged in the masculine and her language exclusive, making her in a sense a conspirator against herself! Odd but true...

PamBG said...

Sandalstraps and Sally, thank you for your comments.

Sandalstraps, I agree with your advisor; I'm not really certain how much I can elaborate on my agreement as it seems totally obvious to me.

Sally, I understand what you're saying about the female preacher seeming to be a conspirator against herself.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for this post Pam,
Sorry to be so ill-informed, but could you please define "complimentarianism" for me? Is it the same thing as sexism? Thanks,

PamBG said...

could you please define "complimentarianism" for me? Is it the same thing as sexism?

Hah! I can only answer this fairly cynically. Maybe a "complimentarian" might pop in and answer this from their own point of view.

To me, "complimentarianism" is the new politically-correct version of male-headship. It says that women are "functionally" but not "ontologically" subordinate to men in God's economy. A sort of human version of "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

An additional theological danger I've recently become aware of with "complimentarianism" is that some people are re-writing a theology of the Trinity. They are saying that Jesus was "functionally but not ontologically" subordinate to the Father and the Spirit and that Jesus functional subordination is the model for how women should be subordinate to men.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think you are right that there is a connection between violence and silencing categories of persons. I don't think this has to do with Girard or individuality, however, helpful as Girardian theory is to explain many dimensions of violence.
Silencing groups of people, in this case women, isn't about scapegoating or individuality. It is about the need for one GROUP to feel superior to another. One way to do that is, of course, to make sure one only hears voices from the "superior group."

Even though feminist/egalitarian theology has been fighting against this since the late '60s, your post shows how very little progress has yet been made. Here in the states, women are over 50%--sometimes as much as 60%--of many mainline seminaries. But I don't know of a single denomination where women are even 10% of pastors. As the husband of a minister who hasn't had a church in almost a decade, I take this personally. It IS violent.

PamBG said...

Michael - A question and a comment.

Question (with preamble!): I never thought Girardian theory caused anything; I only see it as explaining things. I accept that groups behave differently than individuals but they are also made up of individuals. Given that Girardian theory is anthropological, I don't understsand why you apparently think it doesn't have to do with groups? Or have I got you wrong?

Comment: My denomination - The British Methodist Church (which is in communion with but is independent of the UMC) assigns all ministers centrally. There is a sort of "match-making" session every year where all the free ministers and all the free posts are "matched up" - hopefully on the basis of gifts and callings. In this way, all the women coming out of theology college are matched up. But there still can be problems with circuits that don't want a woman. We have a non-discrimination policy on the basis of gender, but a friend of mine was told by the man who was to be her superintendent that he refused to supervise her or work with her. I think we're making a bit of progress, but it's slow (being very short of ministers doesn't hurt the cause of women, either!)

I was in "industry" prior to becoming a minister and I have to say that the church does have a long way to go on this matter. In the job and the business community I was in (so I'm talking clients and other people outside my own company), no-one ever questioned my ability to do the job or made comments about "we'll need to get a man in if things get difficult".