Elaine Storkey

Vive la difference!

(A Review by Christopher Laurence)

Congratulations to the Lincoln Theological Society! There was a full house in the Robert Hardy lecture room to hear Dr. Elaine Storkey speak on the subject, “Gender, the debate so far”.

She was late. Her train had been delayed. But having finally arrived, the microphone was not working. A gathering of mystified hopefuls fiddled with the works, joined even by the Principal herself. Eventually the problem was (half) solved. Dr. Storkey absorbed all these hindrances with relaxed good humour and then set off on a brilliant lecture, full of clarity, kindness and great cartoons.

One could forget that her subject is presently tearing the Church apart, painfully divided over the issues of women bishops and gay marriage. It’s here that we can feel the force of the text: “Indeed the word of God is living and active, piercing until it divided soul from spirit, joints from marrow…” Many debaters speak from their gut-feelings, so here it was a joy to hear the subject treated with academic lucidity but also with great warmth and understanding of the human condition. This condition includes a number of ancient theologians and contemporary bishops whose cringe-making animadversions Dr. Storkey quoted with wry good humour.

One of the problems, she explained, was “essentialism”, the assertion that some differences are universal, into which we are programmed (“hardwired”) whereas they are in fact purely cultural, arising from different treatments of gender, not from the truly universal biological facts of sexual difference.

“Equality” is a difficult concept, for male and female are simply different, complementary rather than equal. Nevertheless we still have a long way to go before gender difference is no longer used to privilege the male in our society – and in our Church. The Bible is about our relationships, with God, with one another and with creation. We still have much to explore – and to discover.

So brief a report of a great, richly detailed lecture seems like butchery. But no doubt those who heard it will view the debate on gender with greater understanding of the complex issues involved, so clearly distinguished for us by Dr.Storkey.

Christopher Laurence