As a man who is totally at peace about uniting with, and serving in, a religious movement founded by a woman, my initial reaction to the vote in favour of a woman’s right to be ordained as a Bishop in the Anglican church was a wholehearted “Yes!” And the best way to describe the sorrow I felt at reading that the Vatican has proclaimed the ordination of women as priests “a crime against the faith” is to confess that it took me some time of prayer to regain my spiritual poise.
On close scrutiny, though, this could be seen as taking sides in a battle in which I don’t actually belong. The church I belong to, the Church of Christ, Scientist – commonly referred to as the Christian Science church – doesn’t have hierarchical leadership, male or female. It is a lay church in which two books – the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures – are referred to as the “pastor” of the church. This “dual pastor” is accessible by anyone, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and it is read at branch churches on Sundays by two church members (a woman and a man) elected democratically from the congregation. So isn’t it a contradiction for me to get excited about the victory of women climbing up a ladder I am actually glad doesn’t exist in my own faith?
Well, yes and no.
The “yes”? A favourite Bible line says that we are to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling”. I take this to mean that we are to work out our salvation with reverence for God and in humility before God, and I feel this applies to denominations too. I respect the rights of each faith to work out, in communion with God and with respect to its own traditions, the journey and destination appropriate for them, according to their highest light at the time. It is not my role to even want to interfere with another church’s internal deliberations.
And the “no”? At the end of the day, true religion is less about the structure and workings of an organisation and more about how a better understanding of God makes a difference to the way each individual lives in relation to others. This is where I feel that the struggle to recognise the role of women in traditional religion speaks of a need for shared progress across the spectrum of faiths. It suggests a deeper and broader resistance to the recognition of God’s complete nature as Mother as well as Father.
The latter idea is one of the theological points I most appreciate in the teachings of Christian Science that are laid out in Science and Health. It is consistent in its references to the one God being equally Mother and Father in terms of His/Her attributes. This idea is firmly rooted in scriptural descriptions of God’s mother-love, even if the term Mother is not explicitly used in the Bible.
I find tender evidences of this understanding of God gaining ground. A colleague of mine recently attended an event in Yorkshire facilitated by an Anglican who led the mixed male and female audience in an exercise of rocking back and forth as if holding a a baby. He explained that this was to show the motherhood of God “because to many of us God is Father and Mother, one Parent caring and loving each and every one of us.” At a recent meeting a Baptist talking about God deliberately said “He…or She!” with a sense of stating something dear to her heart that would be challenging and provocative to fellow Christians. It needn’t be. To anyone who has ever felt God’s love, it seems to me that this is stating the obvious.
To the Christian Scientist this understanding of God’s complete nature empowers both men and women to better understand their own inherent ability to express the full palate of good qualities sourced in God, including those commonly ascribed to “the other sex” according to “Venus and Mars” generlisations. This helps men and women become more fully rounded human beings.
So, yes, even as a sidelines observer I can’t help but cheer every success in women’s efforts to have their right to an equal place on the platform of spiritual leadership honoured, and I can’t help but mourn every setback, because I feel this reflects Christ’s own cheers and tears in regards to humanity’s progress in knowing and honouring God’s mother-love.