The Rt Rev’d Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, posed the question of whether the phrases we use to describe biblical exposition are “too macho”. The Rt Rev’d Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield, responded:
Setting aside that you might think there are far more pressing matters with which bishops ought to be presently concerned (and so which this blog ought to be commenting on today, such as… Spanish brutality it Catalonia, Islamist throat slicing in Marseille, a mass shooting in Las Vegas, or the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury Cathedral)… etc., etc.), Bishop Paul’s question actually goes to the heart of so much of the contemporary gender-identity obsession that it merits some unpacking – machismo or meek.
Wrestling is undoubtedly a macho pursuit: even combative women need a high charge of testosterone. So wrestling with Scripture (or breaking open the word) is an expressively masculine kind of exertion. The Bishop of Liverpool prefers a gentler approach – “formation, reception, wisdom” – which are qualities more associated with the feminine (indeed, wisdom in both Greek [sophia) and Hebrew [chokmah] is a feminine noun).
Virility is fast losing ground in the Church of England: priests and bishops aren’t encouraged to be macho, because to be so is crass and crude. Far better to kiss and cry, which is love and compassion. Virile men have a tendency to shoot and leave; women carry babies in their own bodies, and then nurture them with their own milk. This is their biology and physiology, if not their psychology and destiny. Reception and formation are positive things: ejaculatory grappling is a necessary thing. The greater wisdom comes from the deeper understanding of the cycles of fertility and the consequent responsibility.
Wrestling with Scripture is what the patriarchs did and do: the era of male domination in the Church of England is over, or at least drawing to an end. There aren’t many women bishops who wrestle, so perhaps the new non-patriarchal culture should be reflected by non-macho vocabulary. Isn’t life-giving reception preferable to wrestling? Isn’t life-sustaining formation preferable to breaking? Are the ‘feminine’ qualities of caring, compassion and non-violence preferable to the ‘masculine’ pursuits of combat, conquest and domination?
So, as we study Scripture as the source of salvation and enlightenment, let us meditate upon motherhood and wisdom, rejecting the gods of thunderbolts and swords. The male God – the Father God – isn’t too helpful, either. Neither is God the Son, come to that. Nor is talk of women listening to serpents or enticing men to eat apples. Let us henceforth do our theology with womb-like intimacy rather than by wrestling, because the time is transgender, and Yahweh looks better in a skirt.