Facing mysogyny

Anthony Saville continues his consideration of where we went wrong


Any movement is going to attract fellow travellers, some of whom will be unwelcome. It was surely inevitable that a movement that grew up from the crisis involving women’s ordination would attract, or at the very least be caught up with, those who are implicitly or explicitly misogynist.

True, New Directions began with a woman editor, Forward in Faith had a woman vice-chairman, and so on, but we should – it is now clear with hindsight – have taken a more explicit stand against misogyny.

‘Misogyny is a sin.’ Do you remember the rather thin response to Consecrated Women? I can no longer remember its title, but it was a collection of affirmations and feel-good essays by worthy bishops and women clergy, published at the same time and for the same price as FiF’s more serious work. It closed with the briefest of pieces from the Oxford Regius Professor of Divinity, Marilyn McCord Adams. Two thousand years of Christian ecclesiology were dismissed with the simple statement ‘Misogyny is a sin.’


Her argument may have been woefully lacking in depth, but her single assertion was and is entirely correct. Misogyny is a sin. Like all forms of prejudice, it may come with a host of psychological and sociological explanations, and with a wealth of history and cultural connotations and mitigations. For all that, it is wrong.

When women clergy complain of ill-treatment at the hands of their male colleagues, they should in general be believed (even if, as ‘The way we live now’ has shown, the spitting incident is a most curious urban myth, which casts doubts on other claims).

Women clerics have often been poorly treated by male colleagues who, as colleagues, will overwhelmingly be in the liberal camp. Traditionalists are not, in other words, the most obvious culprits. Where we went wrong was in never, formally and explicitly, distancing ourselves from misogynists. Would we have been believed by our opponents if we had done so? By those unconcerned with evidence and out to condemn us come what may, no. For all that, public markers, mission statements and PC grandstanding are part of the cultural context in which we live: failing to state the obvious is generally a mistake.

With this in mind I was involved in the spring of 2009, in one of the diocesan branches of FiF, in proposing this motion to be put before the National Assembly. It was just such a public marker, with all the banal pomposity such statements carry, but useful nevertheless, or so we believed. A member of FiF Council, however, was clever enough to prevent the motion being put, and it came to nothing. A mistake, I would contend.

Reasoning The proposed Code of Practice allows a parish to refuse the ministry of a woman bishop (duly ordained in the Church of England) on the grounds of gender, and not of Order. This rejects everything we believe in, and all that we have worked for in Forward in Faith: the issue for us is about Order and not gender. The Code, whether deliberately or not, tarnishes us with the sin of misogyny.

Clear and unequivocal

Motion That, in view of the implicit acceptance of misogyny in the General Synod’s proposed Code of Practice, this Assembly not only continues to reject it as wholly inadequate to our needs, but calls upon the Council to develop a policy statement that unequivocally rejects all forms of misogyny; in more specific terms, that it continues its complete rejection of any theology of ‘taint’, and continues to affirm that there are no theological reasons why the duly consecrated elements at the Mass cannot be received from the hands of a woman minister, lay or ordained.

Disagree with the wording if you like, but at least it was a clear and unequivocal statement. The more general statement that, for example, Forward in Faith cannot be misogynist because the majority of its members are women, will always (it seems to me) sound a little weak by comparison. As I recall, none of our institutions ever issued a statement formally distinguishing between the rejection of women priests and any rejection of women in the sanctuary per se.

The fact that we know what we mean does not prove that other people will do so. Any presenting issue, such as women priests and bishops, will be disparaged by the other side as a mere ‘single issue’. But worse, it will be simplified into an even clearer single prejudice, in this case misogyny. We have lived with this calumny for twenty years or more, but it would still have been helpful had we taken it more seriously.

We all know that the Code of Practice will be inadequate to our needs and is therefore unacceptable. But it would also have been good to state clearly that it is unacceptable for its institutionalizing of misogyny. Misogyny is a sin, and to convict the liberals of that sin matters. It would have helped our cause if we had been in a position to state that, even if a Code was what we needed, we should still have rejected it because of its implicit misogyny. It is a wickedness and a stain upon the Church, and we should have said so. ND

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