the gender agenda

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So, yesterday was a big day for women in the UK. The Church of England General Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of appointing women bishops (never mind that our BUGB ‘Archbishop’ (aka General Secretary) is the brilliant Lynn Green and we have had women in national and regional leadership for many years). And David Cameron has done a cabinet reshuffle that went something like this (with apologies to my magician friends).

**Prime Minister shows 4 playing cards – all kings**

**Prime Minister shuffles the cards (perhaps using some sneaky moves)**

**Prime Minister drops the kings**

**Prime Minister picks up the cards and reveals them to be 4 queens.**

**Prime Minister takes a bow.**

Now I have a problem here. You see I don’t think we should be rejoicing about the fact that the Church of England has agreed that it can appoint women bishops and I don’t think we should be rejoicing about the fact that the Prime Minister has reshuffled his cabinet and appointed more women. Before you brand me a bigot let me explain.

I don’t think we should be rejoicing because it should not be an issue. It should be a given that women have an equal role in society. It should not be unusual that women are appointed to leadership roles. It should not be headline news. It should be a given. A person’s gender should not matter at all. It should not be a factor in making decisions of the sort that were made yesterday.

And yet I also want to shout a loud ‘Woohoo!’ because these are two more steps in the right direction. These are two more public bricks being knocked out of the wall of prejudice and discrimination. These are two more examples of gender justice.

And, if I am confessing to the cage of confused hamsters that are spinning the wheels in my head at the moment, I also want to say that it does matter immensely. Because while gender should never be an issue and we should never discriminate on the basis of someone’s gender (or other factors either) at the same time a person’s gender is inherently part of who they are. I am a male human. It is part of what makes me me. I would not want to erase my masculine attributes or deny them because that would be to erase or deny part of my identity.

So when I say that “a person’s gender should not matter at all” at the same time I want to say that it matters completely. It is part of who we are. It is part of our identity. Reclaiming our gender identity and refusing to be conformed by stereotypes and prejudice is an essential part of being human and being a follower of Jesus.

And while the hamsters are still spinning those wheels let me try to make some sense of all of the above. I think it is possible to hold all of that in creative tension.

I think we can say wholeheartedly that gender should never make a difference by way of prejudice and discrimination. And we can say wholeheartedly that gender does make a difference as part of who we are. And we can say that until gender is not a cause for discrimination we must fight for gender justice and celebrate every step in the right direction.

When God looks at us he does not see our gender as an issue: he does not discriminate on the basis of gender. And when God looks at us he sees our gender and affirms us in it, celebrating who we are. And when God looks at us and simultaneously celebrates and ignores our gender he sets us the task of doing the same.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The heart of the matter

I’ve been contemplating the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod. Personally, I was saddened and disappointed that they were unable to agree to have women as bishops. Part of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and sound exasperated.

But I keep seeing a man writing in dirt and asking those without discrimination to cast the first stone.

It is true that our denomination has ordained women for much longer than the Church of England, and we have women in National / Regional positions that are the closest equivalent we have to Bishops. But there are still far more men than women who are ordained Ministers in our denomination. And there are still churches that will not consider calling a woman to be their Minister, albeit on theological grounds (with which I disagree).

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the non church sector of society. The media has portrayed this as the Church* being out of touch with society, but I reckon that there is a bloke writing in the dirt of our culture asking those who are without discrimination to cast the first stone. The problem is that society is out of touch with God. Human beings have allowed (or deliberately introduced) discrimination to tarnish and taint all aspects of our lives. When we see differences of any sort between ourselves and others and allow them to influence us we are out of touch with God. He is the one who created human beings, male and female.

Our society is riven with discrimination. If you doubt me, look at the profile of the highest earners in our country. How many are women? How many are of non-white ethnic origin? How do the proportions relate to the actual proportions in the country as a whole?

How many Director Generals of the BBC have not been white men? How many editors and journalists are not white men? How come women earn less than men for the same jobs? What proportion of MPs and Lords at Parliament are not white men?

There may be “Yes, but…” answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the reality at the heart of our society, that human beings are selfish at heart and those who have power will not easily surrender it. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act became law. Yet while there has been progress, I do not think a change in the law can change society. Laws will be necessary, but they work best when they reflect society rather than trying to shape society.

So what can we do?

We need to recognise that while culture and society seem to have a life of their own, in fact they are the products of a collection of individual human beings. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching and be honest with ourselves. We are all subject to selfish bias. We all look out for ourselves first and foremost, and I think we allow prejudice to self-justify that (consciously or sub-consciously).

The antidote is godly selflessness motivated by godly love. When we are able to see all people as those who are loved by God, all people as those for whom Jesus made the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it is more difficult to elevate ourselves at the cost of others, or to suppress or oppress others because we consider them to be less than us. God does not discriminate. He does not even reject those who reject him, rather he respects our free will so much that reluctantly he accepts the decision of those who don’t want anything to do with him: yet he will always welcome them with open arms if they change their mind.

And while we may be able to do some things about this ourselves, actually we need God’s Spirit within us to change us, to make us more godly, more selfless, more loving, more like Jesus. We need him to bear more fruit within us. And I’m afraid that until more people in our society acknowledge their need of him, we will not eradicate the evil of discrimination from our society.

But surely those who are followers of Jesus can set an example? It can start with me and you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Once again the media have carelessly talked about ‘the church’ in their reporting, lumping all churches under the umbrella of the Church of England.