A twitter conversation yesterday started like this:
@SallyHitchiner: Antje Jackelen elected Sweden's first woman archbishop - Come on England: the Swedes are decades ahead again! http://t.co/cKj4GIhtGl
@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner Are you not slightly concerned she denies parts of the Creed? Is that OK because she's XX?
...... And a few tweets later:
@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner @MirandaTHolmes You're celebrating an XX archbish who won't affirm Creeds. This does CofE pro XX bish position no favours.
@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner @MirandaTHolmes It plays very nicely into the hands of those who think we are wrong for wanting women bishops.
Typical women, eh? When one of them says something we disagree with, it just goes to show that women shouldn't be allowed a platform or voice. See, we told you they couldn't be trusted with it. Leave this to the chaps, girls.
This is why gender is still an issue, even where it isn't meant to be an issue anymore. If a man screws up, he is an individual who is bad at his job. If a woman screws up, it seems to show that women shouldn't do that job.
Please note that I am not discussing the new Archbishop of Sweden elect's views here, or her suitability or otherwise for the post. I know nothing about her except what has been written in a couple of English language reports of her appointment, and I would not presume to criticise another church's choice of leader on such flimsy evidence.
My beef is more straightforward. Why on earth does the appointment of a female archbishop who has views which may be controversial, 'play very nicely into the hands of those who think we are wrong for wanting women bishops'? Does her gender determine her theology? Do all women think the same?
Lets take a male example for comparison. How about David Jenkins, a previous Bishop of Durham? He was notoriously controversial in his theological views. Partly this was because he was genuinely questioning and de-mythologising, partly because the complexity of his views were often misquoted and misunderstood. (The Resurrection, for example, he said was 'not just a conjuring trick with bones', but somehow the 'not' seemed to get lost along the way.) Many people said he shouldn't be a bishop, even suggested that God had struck York Minster with lightening in retaliation for his consecration there a few days earlier. But no one, as far as I am aware, suggested that it just went to show that men shouldn't be bishops.
Or how about Richard Holloway, a previous Bishop of Edinburgh? I heard him speak very movingly at the Hexham Book Festival last year, about his new book 'Leaving Alexandria'. In the questions afterwards, he thought aloud about resigning from his see, saying that he had done so because he came to think that those who said he shouldn't be a bishop due to his unorthodox views were probably right. But again, I have never heard anyone suggest that his radical take on Christianity casts doubt on men's suitability for the episcopate.
I am an academic by training, so in fairness, I shall acknowledge that there is some research to suggest that, on average and broadly speaking, female clergy tend to be more theologically liberal than male clergy. Personally, I think this is a good thing and am proud to be one of them!
But it is nonsensical to suggest that all women think the same, or that the fact that some of us are more liberal than the average clergyman means that women shouldn't be ordained, or become bishops. Even if you genuinely think that only conservative thinkers with no capacity or inclination to question the received wisdom should be ordained, to argue that since the average woman is more 'liberal' than the average man, no woman should be ordained would be specious nonsense.
We will know we have achieved genuine gender equality when a woman can mess up, or be controversial, or do something unpopular, and be criticised for her actions rather than as a representative of her sex.