Canon Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Church of England’s Bishop of Buckingham (cue the limerick) has joined Rachel Treweek in an intemperate attack on the language of scripture:
‘At the deepest level we have chosen to create an image of God which colludes with the toxicity of male dominance. So much religious language is violent. It is about heroic leadership, Kingship, subjection, dominance. It’s about who wins and who looses. It’s about punishment and reward. There are wars, physical and spiritual. Every level of oppressive patriarchy is right there in our holy text…This is about so much more than making a few women bishops. This asks us all if there is a way in which Christianity can be so counter-cultural that inhabits a universe that is free form gender war at every level…To even begin to make that happen we need to talk about pronouns. While God goes on being caricatured as ‘he’ the conversation cannot even begin.’
All this, of course, is vieux jeu, and rather 70s; but it demands an answer, nevertheless.
What, one is obliged to ask, does Rosie want? And what does she think will be left when the Bible and the Tradition has been cleansed of all that she finds toxic and offensive?
A gang rape by Roman soldiers of the daughter of a divine mother is perfectly imaginable. But it would be a very different story from that contained in the gospels. And it would be totally lacking in credible historical context and resonance. It would be an adventitious mythology fabricated for ideological purposes. In short it would constitute a different religion.
Rosie is, of course, entitled to invent a religion of her own, with its own distinctive moral compass and social structure – with abortion, euthanasia and all the other things about which she is enthusiastic. She might even be able, for all I know, to call it Anglicanism. What she cannot do is to claim that it is Christianity. Change the basic imagery of a story, and you change the story itself.
And that is true of everything, from Genesis to Paddington Bear.