Part Two: How to Solve the Problem?
In the previous post, I began to describe what I have called the Church’s ‘women problem’. I closed the post with these words:
‘The difficulty in trying to respond to the problem is knowing and agreeing on what should be the basis on which we come to an opinion. How, as Christians, are we to determine what it means to be male or female in today’s world?
The Church, in the past, has sought to answer this question and questions like it by appealing to Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The difficulty for many is that both the Bible and Tradition are seen as irredeemably patriarchal and biased against women. For those who wish to appeal to the Bible to support men and women being treated the same, with all roles equally open to all, the Bible, at the very least, has to be interpreted creatively.
There is nothing wrong with this in principle. Interpreting the Bible for today is a challenge at the best of times, but it does mean that it leaves room for legitimate differences in interpretation and approach.
Church Tradition, however, leaves little room for differences in opinion. Church Tradition is quite unambiguous in its attitude to the roles men and women, which is precisely the problem that feminists are seeking to address. Feminists argue that that Church Tradition is this way because the Church in the past, like the society of which it has been a part, has been largely patriarchal and biased against women. The Church, they argue, must free itself from the patriarchal culture that has blinded it to the truth of the Gospel, which reason and a commitment to justice can help us to see.
This sounds great in theory. It is certainly a popular approach and one that creates the least problems in today’s world. But before enthusiastically adopting this approach and privileging Reason above the Church’s Tradition and, as some believe, the Bible itself, it is worth reminding ourselves that feminism is itself a cultural phenomenon. This does not necessarily mean it is wrong, but rather that Christians should be cautious of following any path just because it is popular. It was, after all, popular opinion that got our Lord crucified.
Feminists in the Church will respond to this by arguing that what they are demanding is not for the Church to follow popular opinion or adopt the culture of the world, but justice and what is right. This means treating all people equally and recognizing that men and women are both created in the image of God.
I personally would respond to this by saying that this is not in dispute. What is in dispute is what this means in practice. Does the fact that men and women are both equally in the image of God mean that they must have the same roles? For feminists the answer to this is obvious and men and women must be allowed the same rights, roles, and opportunities. For others, this is not something that automatically follows – or, at the least, it doesn’t follow logically.
So what, you may ask, has all this to do with St Mary Magdalene, who has prompted these posts? Well, quite simply, St Mary has been adopted by many as the role model for those who are campaigning against what they see as bias against women and for men and women to be treated the same. She is the person seen as best suited for the role of Patron Saint of the #metoomovement and all it represents.
Whether she fits this role will be the subject of the next post!