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Religion and the patriarchy

(17 Posts)

This has been troubling me lately. I guess it's been simmering away in my mind following the women bishops vote a while back, but it's not just the CofE - although I know more about that having been raised CofE and being an occasional churchgoer.

I feel like religion gets hijacked by the patriarchy. In the history of the Church it seems to me to start from the Council of Nicaea where male bishops created a male hierarchy of what had been a predominantly female religion with many well-born Roman women adherents, (including the Emperor Constantine's mother - possibly a trigger for his conversion). Right through to the Church of England's opposition to the Suffragettes, and now women bishops. Of course it's not just women - in history the Church of England was involved with the slave trade, and there is still homophobia in the Church of England. And it's not just Christianity - but I'm not really qualified to talk about other religions.

I have a very strong sense that this isn't what God wants, that this is the very opposite of what God wants. Some might disagree of course. But if this troubles you in the same way it troubles me, how do you square that with the practise of your religion, whatever it is? I find it really difficult to get my head around it - I believe in God, but I'm wary of organised religion for these reasons - it's really difficult to express how I feel in words, but it's something like feeling that religion isn't being true to God, that it has been twisted to fit a bigoted agenda - and how do I get to God through that? I don't know if I've expressed it properly. What do others think - is this something that anyone else struggles with?

MadHairDay Thu 31-Jan-13 18:39:50

I do agree that down the ages the church has twisted Christianity to suit its agenda - and societal agendas - of patriarchy and male dominance.

I also think that we have come into a much more enlightened time where we are able to study the biblical texts objectively and much more consistently and accurately, and are thus able to observe how liberating both Jesus and, actually, Paul were to women in their day.

I guess how I square it is by studying for myself and forming my own opinions and knowledge. This includes looking at church history and seeing how gradually attitudes towards women became more and more repressive. I also square it by attending churches which fully support women in ministry and in general moving in such circles. I also have friends who fervently believe that the biblical texts prohibit women from leadership (and talking at all, in some cases) and I try to respect their views but like to argue with them

I do think we need to look at the fact that the vote was not in any sense a majority view of the CofE. 2/3 of the house of bishops, house of clergy voted for women to be able to be bishops. About 6 votes in the house of laity swung the vote against iirc, and it seems some hardline fundamentalists made sure they got onto Synod for such a vote. I'm encouraged by the reality that the CofE is not really very patriarchal at all. Some of these votes were votes of conscience because they felt the measures in place to protect those who were opposed were not enough, so they abstained/voted against. Women bishops will go through Synod, hopefully soon - it slowed it down but by no means was a fait accompli.

I also think that God made us equal - in God's image. I have no problem with squaring it with God because of who God is. I might have more problem squaring it if I attended a more fundamentalist type of church. but I couldn't be doing with that

KayHarker Thu 31-Jan-13 19:34:31

Welcome to my world! Have just jumped ship from the patriarchy and am slowly trying to find my way through the things of faith from a feminist perspective. I've found some lovely people along the way who have really helped me to see that Christianity doesn't have to be repressive and patriarchal, but it's a very hard road to travel, the journey out of it and into something joyful and life-affirming.

MadHairDay has it right on the women bishops issue. Two minority viewpoints played a good political game in stacking the relelvant committtes with their supporters. Forty two out of forty four dioceses voted for the measure yet it was defeated by a handful of votes.

I think what we forget in today's society is that until very recently it was ok to discriminate against women and of course it still happens in more subtle ways. It is only in the last 100 years that women could vote, work when married and enter the professions. Patriarchy is waning but it isn't dead.

In the C of E about 1/3 of the clergy are female. I don't know the percentages but I suspect it is similar in Methodism. Women and men in the C of E who support the equality of women are working very hard from the inside to change things, but it takes time and it is frustratingly slow at times, but it will change.

HolofernesesHead Fri 01-Feb-13 08:42:03

I agree with Madhairday and Greenheart. I'm in the C of E (in quite a liberal-thinking, traditional worship type of church; there are gay people in my church and it's a complete non-issue). I have done much the same as Madhairday - thought through what on earth Paul meant when he said women aren't to talk in church (just after he told them how to deport themselves -good word, deport - when they stand up in church to pray or prophesy).

I challenge sexism where I find it, and, tbh, I've got to say that even with the church's patriarchal set-up and its sexist past, I find considerably less sexism in my church than I do in the world at large, and a much greater awareness of the effect that words can have on people, a much more thoughtful and genuinely loving desire to honour all people.

Very helpful to hear your perspectives, and interesting to hear a bit of background on the women bishops vote. It's good to know that I'm not the only one who thinks about it this way. I'm planning to go to a new church this Sunday (still CofE but less old-fashioned than the one nearest to us). I feel like I need more connection to faith in my life, but I'm a bit wary, having seethed silently through a few sermons in the past. I don't like going to church and coming out angry, that's surely not right!!

msrisotto Fri 01-Feb-13 12:59:25

I don't think it is a coincidence that I came to Feminism and lost my religion at the same time. They simply weren't compatible.

worldgonecrazy Fri 01-Feb-13 13:25:07

I guess you could say that "religion gets hijacked by anyone wanting to use it to gain power". In our society, unfortunately that means the patriarchal attitudes are used by those men who want to cling to power. In Islam, religion is twisted and used as a weapon against women too. Even in my own religion (paganism) there are those who have used it to gain power over other people. It is a human failing, but thankfully one that is not seen in all people.

If you read the bible Genesis 1 is quite interesting, and I'm sure most people would say that God made Adam and then made Eve from a rib, whereas Genesis 1 says "and the Gods said let us make man in our own image, ....So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

So the first creation story says that both sexes were created at the same time. But the story has become twisted and most people aren't aware of this first creation story even though it's there in black and white in most bibles.

Does anyone else find it really really hard to understand why anyone could truly have an issue with female ministers of religion though? I know people do have these feelings but to me it is seems such an alien point of view I cannot understand how anyone intelligent or rational could possibly feel that way.

That's what concerns me msrisotto - I believe in God, my faith is important to me, but I'm also a feminist, and also believe strongly that gay marriage ceremonies should be celebrated in any church I'd want to belong to. When I first studied the history of the early Christian church (at university, not just by googling grin!) I actually lost my faith for a while. I found the difference between the accounts that I'd been too in Church and the historical evidence too difficult to reconcile. I'm a bit older now and able to cope with a more complex understanding of religion but I'm still trying to find my way in it.

Yes worldgonecrazy I can't relate to people who think a woman couldn't fulfil the same role in the church that a man could. Just don't get it. It sounds exactly like my bosses blustering many years ago when I found out that my male colleague was being paid a lot more than me to achieve a lot less. "Ah, well, you see, my dear, these things are very complicated..." No they're not. These things are very simple.

msrisotto Fri 01-Feb-13 14:01:45

You don't need religion to be a Theist bec.
I decided I was an atheist in the end, but for a while I was a Theist who didn't believe in religion if that makes sense.

There are two arguments used by the people in the C of E who don't think that women should not become bishops.

1. If the C of E ordains women as priests and bishops it is not possible for the C of E to rejoin with Rome (Roman Catholicism.) The key organisation in this is called 'Forward in Faith' and some, but by no means all have now gone over to Rome in what is called the Ordinariate. This view is has recently been described as traditionalist.

2. If the C of E ordains women as bishops then they will have authority over male clergy. The key organisation here is Reform although other churches share this view and they are generally referred to as the conservative grouping. Usually these churches see the Bible as inerrant ie the literal word of God. They point to various passages in scripture that seem to point to submissive and quiet women. However these parts of scripture are from the apostle Paul's letters to new and struggling churches and need to be read in their cultural context. Those of us who see scripture as inspired, but not inerrant, have no problem in reading these passages as applying to a different cultural context eg Corinth 2000 years ago and not for today.

Both these views are minority ones, but they were given equal time with the pro women bishop postion at the recent synod debate making them seem as if they were half of the membership of the C of E, which they are not.

Some women like men to be in charge. Look at the popularity of the Shades of Grey books shock Maybe it is a cultural thing and reaction to just how complicated and challenging the post modern world is.

Change takes time in the church as it is sometimes a place of refuge for those who want it to be a safe place where change doesn't happen and/or there are lots of rules so they know where they stand. It can be like turning a supertanker which takes for ever, but my hope is that the legislation to allow women to be bishops will happen very soon.

Yes thegreenheartofmanyroundabouts - Paul's letters need to be seen in the context that at that time there were an excess of Christian women to a deficiency of Christian men. And many Christian women were well-born Roman women (often with pagan husbands - Tertullian wrote critically of Christian women who preferred marriage to pagans rather than humble Christian men - because the Christian men tended to be lower ranking socially to Christian women up until Constantine's conversion). So within churches often back then those with real worldly power were women - contrary to most groups within Rome. I think there was a perceived threat of Christianity becoming a matriarchy.

I'm not sure about some women liking men to be in charge, or the link to Shades of Grey. You could say that "some men like women to be in charge, and look at Max Mosely at that orgy" - but it wouldn't tell you much about how women wield power. I don't think it's cultural or because of the current time - because it's also present across Islam, and present in every country and there at every stage of the Church's history.

HolofernesesHead Fri 01-Feb-13 15:32:38

Bec, have you read Antionette Wire? That's pretty much her take on 1 Corinthians; that Paul felt threatened by charismatic female prophets.

I'm more inclined to read 1 Corinthians as an egalitarian letter that got redacted (clumsily) at a later stage.

GinandJag Fri 01-Feb-13 17:40:47

I don't think the Women Bishop measure failed because of patriarchy.

The house of Bishops and house of Clergy both voted in favour. It narrowly failed in the house of Laity. This was not because the Laity doesn't value women, but because some of the supporters of women bishops did not like the whole bill because it did not give adequate oversight for many Anglo-Catholic and (non-open) Evangelical parishes. Without something agreeable to all wings of the church, it would soon fracture. We don't want to go down the path of the Episcopalians in the USA.

I think most people at a parish level know that it is women who run the church.

I beg to differ on patriarchy but then I'm an ordained woman and I do have a pony in this race. I do have to deal with the patriarchy which most laity don't unless they are in a conservative or traditionalist church which is then not named but it is dressed up as tradition or Biblical.

One of the most helpful things that was said to me just after the vote was a very elderly gentleman who came up to me and said that he remembered the terrible fuss when women weren't allowed to be doctors and now look at how it is. It is less than 100 years since women got the vote so I found it helpful to put the measure into its historical context.

I think the supporters of women bishops who voted against the measure in November made a wrong call, but the vote failed back in 2010 when the current house of laity was elected. Reform and FinF played a good political game by getting their members into the house of synod which as a lobbying group you would expect them to do this. The majority were complacent and they shouldn't have been.

The majority of C of E churches are fully affirming of women in lay and ordained leadership. So are the methodists. The conservative and traditional groupings are a minority but they make a lot of noise.

HolofernesesHead No, I haven't read Antoinette Wire - I'll look into that. I'm not sure about the charismatic female prophets thing - I've never seen any source material on that. The historical evidence that I studied suggests that the women attending Christian churches were higher up socially and had more money/status than the men at that point in history, so they might have expected to 'call the shots'. Higher status men mostly stuck to the pagan gods until Constantine's conversion, but Christianity became quite fashionable amongst higher status women. There's contemporary written source and archaelogical evidence for this. I do suspect that Jesus' female disciples were written out and downgraded by the (mostly male) sources. And I suspect that Christian bishops worried that the women in their congregation were more in control than the men in the congregation, and that would upset the social norms of the time.

thegreenheartofmanyroundabouts thank you, that's a very interesting perspective and useful for me to think about in terms of the women bishops issue. You're quite right that conservative groups within any organisation often make the most noise (eurosceptics in the Tories, prolifers in the US evangelical movement...) and I'll bear that in mind. But for me the women bishops vote is just one moment in history. And I'm concerned about the broad sweep of the Church's history - eg from the set up of the early church to its opposition to the Suffragettes to the present day.

We used the Bible as a historical source rather than a holy book at university, and picked it apart for reliability comparing it with other contemporary sources. Now when I read it I don't get much comfort - I'm critical and appraising and frequently angry that it feels so distorted to me. (Funnily enough the professor who was my tutor in the history of the early church was a very devout Christian so he clearly dealt with finding inconsistencies in the Bible without losing his faith. He must have heard the difference between the account of the church's history given from the pulpit and the version which emerges from contemporary sources. This gives me hope that there is a way through this!)

I do believe in God. And when I go into a church and pray I get comfort from that. So I feel a bit lost - I feel a need for faith and for the practise of a religion, but my rational mind is very much at odds with it.

GinandJag Sat 02-Feb-13 12:23:53

We have a lay member in our church who is in General Synod.

He voted against the measure. AFAIK, he is not a member of any of the lobbying group, nor is our church. He has been our deanery member of Synod for many years, and so is concerned about the needs of the whol deanery which is very diverse. We have a FiF church at one end of the spectrum and a big player in EA at the other, we have plenty of female clergy.

He is personally in favour of women bishops but could not vote on the measure that was presented to Synod because of oversight issues, but looks forward to when these issues are resolved and a new vote can go ahead.

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