Saturday, 12 September 2015

"Top" Woman Priest "Is a Woman"

I was interested by this little piece from Christian Today on the abuse received by Rev Emma Percy, for saying that we should call God - "she". Not all the time, just some of the time.

I guess the main meat of the article - that there are gormless people who write nasty letters to people who disagree with them - isn't much of a surprise. Nor are Emma Percy's views particularly radical. I'm all in favour of recognising that, as the source of both men and image - who are both and collectively created in God's Image - there's no harm in using female language about God. I should say that calling Jesus "she" seems a bit odd, and calling the Holy Spirit and only the Spirit by female names could, in those of an Aryan tendency, just tend reinforce subordination. So you've got to think through this stuff. But God as our mother, Jesus as the mother hen that gathers her chicks - it all makes good sense.

But no. What worries me is, in what sense is Rev Emma Percy a "Top woman priest"? Is the headline (and the text, which says she is a "leading" woman priest) - saying that she is a "top priest" for a woman? Is Christianity Today saying that the ranks of priests are basically like the pop charts, where Country & Western has to have its own chart because it's not good enough to get into the real bestsellers?  Do women have to have their own "top priests" still because none of them would get into the real list of "top priests", in other words? Only surely one or two of the bishops would get into the charts these days, if nobody else?

Or is Christianity Today actually saying "a top priest who is also a woman"? In which case I have two issues - firstly, Emma Percy is the chaplain of an Oxford college. Which is, strictly speaking, a fairly mid-table kind of a position. When Jeffrey John was chaplain of my college, long and merry ago, he was a fresh-faced young man who was a long way from getting to the position of being a "leading Welsh gay cleric".  I presume that the Welsh Gay Cleric chart is really niche. The equivalent of the Folk Music album chart, I reckon. Sorry. I digress. My point is, there was never any suggestion that just being an Oxford college chaplain made you a "leading priest". And my other issue is - when will we stop saying "woman priest" the whole time? Women in the Church of England have been priests now for 20 or so years. There's even bishops.

I realise that if Christian Today took my issues seriously, the headline would be "Priest Abused for Calling God "She"". I guess that's slightly less sexy as a headline than their original. But we've got beyond saying "Top Woman Politician Yvette Cooper resigns from Shadow Cabinet".  Maybe the Church will get there on day. Maybe it'll just take time. Quite a long time.


  1. Indeed calling Our Lord Jesus Christ "she" seems a bit odd to me, too, in view of the fact that He was circumcised according to Jewish Law (Luke, 2:21), περιτεμεῖν in the original Greek, which is quite unequivocal.

    As to calling the Holy Spirit "she", I suspect I have cited this source before, but I find it to the point: Alice Thomas Ellis remarking that if she were a child hearing this, she would immediately assume that the Holy Spirit was Mrs God, sent round to keep an eye on things whenever God was otherwise occupied.

    Since when was the ancient grammatical rule rescinded, that "the male embraces the female"?

    Actually, ArchDruid, pedantry aside I am on your team as regards the main thrust of your post. Women in all walks of life, not just the CofE, are subject to this curiously fascist mindset in which any evidence that they have broken out of the Kinder, Kirche Kuche environment is greeted with disbelief and accompanied by remarks on their appearance, marital situation, and what the main male authority figure in their lives (partner, father, brother) thinks about it all.

    And many of these women are in roles which have admitted women since well into the last century - doctors, MPs and lawyers, for example. Scratch a media Person and you find a Neanderthal (if that isn't doing an injustice to Neanderthals), perhaps.

    1. Your ancient grammatical rule was informally rescinded for real life a way back.

      Our Lord was clearly, as you say, male. And yet the Hebrew equivalent of Logos, Wisdom, is feminine. I think Alice E's point is sound, and reinforces my view that it is doubly subordinationist to ascribe feminine attributes only to the Spirit.

    2. Now you've lost me, as I have a tin ear for theology. Okay, so the Hebrew for wisdom is chokmah, which is feminine, so far so good. But how do you get an equivalence with logos? This is a serious question, I'm not trolling.

  2. Please note that the article is actually in 'Christian Today' (a British magazine) and not 'Christianity Today' (an American mainstream evangelical magazine).

  3. I think that anyone who has written a book which has been bought by someone other than their mum gets called a "top priest." Or at least they are a person who thinks they have something to say and that others should listen - so maybe they aspire to be a top priest???

  4. Leaving aside any analogy between the Trinity and quarks, it is clear that topness is a flavour of priesthood. I look forward to Eileen's analysis of priestly botomness, charm, strangeness, and of course spin.


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