I RECEIVED an email from my
daughter, with a link to an article on the vote against the draft
Measure for consecrating women to the episcopate in the Church of
England. Were there women bishops in the Episcopal Church in the
United States, she asked.
I was happy to say that
there were, because I believe that the essence of the Christian
message is liberation from the body: from nature and natural
affiliations, and from race, gender, and kinship. Jesus had no use
for family values: he advised his followers to leave their kin, and
to let the dead bury their dead.
This is not a respectable
line to take, nowadays. We are supposed to love the body, and to
affirm tribal affiliations in the interest of multiculturalism.
I disagree. Race, ethnicity,
and gender constrain us. Ethnicity is all very well if your
ancestry is Scottish or Scandinavian. Such identities are strictly
voluntary: you can ignore them, or take them up as hobbies. You
wear a kilt, or eat lutfisk once a year. No one expects you to make
a fuss about ethnicity, or condemns you as "self-hating" if you
But, if you are dark, a
person of Italian, Greek, or Jewish descent, you are pressed to
affirm ethnic identity. And if you are very dark -
African-American, Hispanic, or otherwise visibly brown - you are
hit with innumerable burdensome obligations and expectations.
imagines populations of dark people aching to preserve their
ancestral cultures, but forced to assimilate. In fact, many of us
want nothing more than to assimilate, but are excluded by our
genetic make-up, and pressed to affirm our ethnic heritage. We want
to be liberated from the body.
As a woman, I want to be
liberated from the body, too. Rejecting the body, dismissing gender
and sexuality as inconsequential and external to who we are,
Some opponents of women's
ordination imagine that supporters of it are concerned with
equality, and so assure us that women are "complementary", not
inferior. This misses the mark; it is difference as such that is
Differences in expectations,
and options determined by the unchosen accident of gender constrain
us and force many of us - both men and women - into moulds that we
cannot fit comfortably. Women are expected to be nurturing,
empathetic, and patient, and do "caring" work in the home and in
the labour force. I cannot meet these expectations, and I would not
do caring work, no matter how highly valued or highly paid it was.
Equality - in dignity or respect, prestige, power, or pay - is not
When it comes to strictly
theological doctrines, I can put up with a lot. Trinity? Real
Presence? No problem. But I cannot live with a Church committed to
the doctrine that unchosen "natural" characteristics, such as
gender, are theologically significant.
The course of civilisation,
and of the Christian story, is one of liberation from nature. The
Hebrews freed God from the land: wherever the tribe went, Yahweh,
in his portable tabernacle, went along. Christianity liberated God
from the tribe.
Nature in and of itself is
morally neutral. It is good for us when it gives us what we want
-sexual pleasure, aesthetic experience, and all the good things of
our incarnate lives. It is bad for us when it thwarts us - in
particular, when it boxes us into race, ethnicity, and gender.
Christianity liberates us
from nature. This is the radically countercultural message of
Dr Harriet Baber is
Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego,