WTFWJD? Well, he’d neither swear nor ordain women
From Mr Alexander Boot:
The Rev Alice Goodman drives around Cambridgeshire with this acronym on her car sticker.
In case you’re wondering, the initials represent a popular Christian slogan ‘What would Jesus do?’
In this instance the slogan is spiced up with an intensifier that features prominently in the speech of the few English footballers still remaining in the Premier League.
The concept of using one’s car as a message board is peculiarly American, which is what the Rev Goodman is, though it’s catching on here, along with Coke, baseball caps and verbs made out of nouns. Even in America this custom is socially and culturally suspect, unless of course the message is witty.
For example, an American reader of mine has a bumper sticker saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted Chalcedonian.” I can live with that.
On the less theological end of the spectrum I quite liked the sticker made popular during Watergate, just after Richard Nixon had fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. The message said “Impeach the Cox sacker”, but then I don’t expect the refined readers of this blog to understand the double entendre.
In response to a stream of complaints, the Rev Goodman made a fine stylistic point, explaining that the intensifier in question “is not a blasphemy, it’s a vulgarity, an Old English word.”
That’s God’s own truth. However, the question isn’t the precise linguistic classification of the obscenity qua obscenity. It’s whether it belongs in the same sentence with ‘Jesus’.
Since the Rev Goodman insists on precise lexicographic definitions, the problem here isn’t denotation but connotation.
I’d suggest that in this context not even an atheist with a modicum of taste, never mind a believer, and especially a clergyman, would ever use this “vulgarity”.
I hope the Rev Goodman won’t take offence at the word ‘clergyman’. Should it be ‘clergyperson’? Possibly. What the neologism loses in phonetic sonority it gains in political correctness, though perhaps we should stop short of replacing ‘parson’ with ‘parchild’ or, in the Rev Goodman’s native idiom, ‘parkid’.
Perhaps she doesn’t realise this, but the principal threat to Christianity these days isn’t aggressive atheism from without. It’s vulgarisation and irreverence from within.
The Irrev Goodman therefore constitutes a factor of danger greater than strident atheists in the Dawkins mould. But if she insists on an answer to her offensive question, one possibility would be “Well, He certainly wouldn’t accept female priests.”
Why suddenly, after 2,000 years of Christianity, has this idea popped up at all? Jesus Christ, after all, didn’t ordain women, even though He clearly venerated them.
A woman carried Him in her womb, three Marys witnessed His crucifixion, two of them saw His burial, and it was to one of them that He first presented Himself after His resurrection. And yet, because He Himself was a man, not a woman, Jesus wanted His priests to be not women but men.
This tradition matters. For a priest is only an ontological entity when he is outside his church. When he performs his liturgical duties, he is truly “neither male nor female”.
At the altar a priest isn’t a person – he is a medium through which Jesus Christ makes his presence known; he’s but a synapse carrying the living memory of God, a transmitter of Church tradition.
Because Jesus was a man, theologically this function can be performed only by a man. Otherwise parishioners with dirty minds may misunderstand the statement “this is my body…”
In any case, the issue of women’s ordination, consecration as bishops or indeed any other matter of theological import should only ever be discussed in the context of Christian anthropology as laid down by the Scripture and Church tradition – not that of human rights, ‘sexism’, equality and other harebrained modern shibboleths.
These are at best meaningless even in their natural, secular habitat. In any ecclesiastical environment they are simply alien and unintelligible.
The Church is there to be the Bride of Christ, not to respond to transient fads. One such fad is the ‘liberation’ of women from their supposed erstwhile bondage.
The Church, now rapidly becoming a parallel structure in the conglomerate of social services, feels called upon to mimic this secular trend. Never mind that 2,000 years of Christian theology are thereby cast adrift – the Church has to move with the times. If modern times impose new pieties, the modern Church will respond with new theologies.
This doesn’t mean that the Church must remain ossified – only that it should remember at times that Christ’s kingdom “is not of this world”.
This isn’t the only possible answer to the question the Irrev Goodman displays on her car. But the likes of her make it the first one that springs to mind.
Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes