Conferences and Catholicity

Many thanks for the welcome everyone has extended!  Hannah raises a really knotty issue, and one which I’m by no means equipped to answer satisfactorily. But a couple of issues spring to mind, which I thought I could use to help me think through the implications: conferences and catholicity.

Whose panels do you speak on? For the last few years, I’ve been hearing the idea that leftish men ought to make it a point of principle that we don’t accept speaking invitations where women wouldn’t be welcome on the platform. If memory serves, I’ve seen Nick Cohen and John Scalzi take this position, amongst others. It has had to be formulated as a principle, not because gender is such an inherent part of discussing science-fiction writing or the history of censorship, but because it’s so easy for men to just remain comfortably in old patterns of male domination.

From experiments on how soon a mixed group is perceived as “mostly women” (way before 50%) to the recent statement read at the Renaissance Society of America, we have plenty of evidence that no-one needs to be prejudiced. We only need to go along with the flow, and men will end up disproportionately represented and powerful under the current system. So appearing at an event where women would explicitly not be able to speak with authority would make me profoundly uncomfortable. It would also, frankly, make me feel slightly that my contribution was being valued more because of my chromosomes than my thoughts. Obviously preaching isn’t quite the same as speaking at a conference or political meeting, but that’s the direction my knee jerks in this case.

Set against that is the awareness that every week I confess my belief in a catholic church. It feels faintly disingenuous to make this profession, and to hum Thou, Who At Thy Eucharist Didst Pray, whilst maintaining that I wouldn’t organise with other Christians. One of the many uncomfortable paradoxes of the Anglo-Catholic tradition is the way our history accidentally produced something like a party within our own national church as a result of our belief in the catholicity of the faith. Another is the way our devotion to the Eucharist brings us closer to our brothers and sisters in Roman Catholicism, whilst it makes us more aware of the official ecclesial divisions between us, because we find ourselves sometimes unable to celebrate the sacraments together. I am certainly happy to worship, study and organize with friends from over the Tiber, so having a reservation about complementarian groups seems inconsistent.

However, it seems less inconsistent when considered in terms of social justice, and this is where I eventually land. The operations of gender and power in our society don’t seem simply something on which I have a certain opinion, and other people have different opinions. They are a system which places me in a position of relative power, and in doing so makes me less able to appreciate the lived reality of others. I do not know what it is like to have a vocation which is denied because of my gender (or indeed because of my sexuality.) There are other people who can tell me what it’s like, but they can only do so if I’m quiet for a while and let them speak. This doesn’t mean that I think men’s ministries or complementarian groups should be banned or disallowed. But it does mean that my decision to participate is made under an awareness that I don’t have all the information necessary.

And to actually answer Hannah’s questions:

Do you allow for liberty of practice for those who are more/less conservative than you are?

Luckily for me (and others!) I’m not in a position to allow or disallow.

Would you participate in an organization that restricted/supported female ordination because you believed something greater was at stake?

It sounds quite weaselly to say “depends what the greater something was”, but without knowing, I would say probably not. I would worry that the principles behind that restriction would have other effects.

What is more important to you personally—differences in application or differences in core beliefs?

Probably the latter, though the further we get away from application, the more core beliefs seem to converge in the far horizon of parenthood and fruit-based pies. We can all agree that men and women are made in the image of God, after all…