Pricks, Jocks and Princes: A case for gender equality in ministry

May 16, 2013


This is not a book review: this is blog-therapy for post-Iectio-iratus.

I finally forced myself to read Michael Bird’s little book on gender in ministry, the title of which I’m not even going to repeat. (But if you can imagine a girl-version of ‘Pricks, Jocks and Princes: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry’ you’d be close.) I hope my point there isn’t too subtle; Bird’s isn’t.

Bird can be described as an emergent equivocating qualified egalitarian…a voice which sounds in practical terms the same as ‘it’s ok fellas, we can *let* the ladies have a turn without losing our power’. He arrives at this place having taken, what for him no doubt seems like a very long journey, from a baseline as a thorough-going “patriarchal, androcentric, chauvinistic, mysogynist” (by his own admission).

For the ‘radical feminist’ (which Bird posits as ‘explicitly opposed to Christian values’) he deftly presents a number of arguments that provide grounds for reimagining the whole grammar of the conversation, but frustratingly works them in the same orders that will produce the same conclusions. His prose is at once witty but stained with male-privilege. Let the reader understand, there is more happening here than exegesis.

The socio-historical and exegetical material he presents as he narrates this is marked  by clarity and accessibility. If you aren’t across the issues of main flagship texts that fuel the gendered ministry constructs, this is a good a place to harvest them.

I thought I would read that first before torturing myself with John Dickson (‘Hearing her voice’), which from the reviews I figure is going to be a greater labour of love to get through. Dickson is (geographically at least) closer to the repressive core of Sydney Anglicanism, in which complementarianism is a political make or break issue. He has even greater obstacles to navigate, big philosophical rocks that must be left in place. It will be a tough read, for sure.

I’m trying to reading this stuff because it represents some of the local australian currents – and I want there to be some local australian currents, not just pointing across the Pacific and Atlantic ponds on either side of us where powerful cultural battles rage – in the UK, the defeat of Bishops with boobs, and in the US, the aggressive cyber influence of the Centre for Biblical manhood and womanhood.

A follower of Jesus without a penis needs to be pretty patient and resilient to stay in this conversation. Even when a scholar like Bird comes to an inclusive conviction – the terms are still male oriented and male dominated. There is an overwhelming sense that women are being ‘given permission’ in a way that men never need. Or maybe men do – and that is even worse.

Deep down, Bird knows that men own the game – and for all our talk of the kingdom of God, a work of Grace unmerited, identity in Christ, it is a game of power. This is my great lament. That we are talking so much about power and authority, when I signed up with Jesus thinking this question (who is Lord?) is settled by the ultimate act of God in self-giving love.

Despite my tone here, borne of frustration and grief and recurrent hurt, I admire and appreciate Michael Bird for offering his journey. I recognise that it has cost him (another indication that the discussion is riddled with the currency of power.) The position he feels he now occupies (neither one camp or the other), the liminal space is not an easy space. The camp he has abandoned will rightly see his departure as betrayal of what they know to be important. And I admit, the radical feminists like myself will only be buying him a beer with reservations at how many rounds we will be able to go.

At my worst, I secretly wish for the institutional church to die. I am full of faith in the vibrant, redemptive, active life of God in the world. I think what is important (love) is enduring. I think we can lose it all and lose nothing.

At my best…well, I am struggling to find my best: as a woman, a teacher, a big bible fan, a follower of Jesus, an anticipator of a new creation flooded with Justice and Peace*

*phrase borrowed loosely from N.T. Wright, Virtue Reborn.


  1. […] Beth Barnett offers what is one of the most polemical and oddest reviews of my ebook Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Hair-Cuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry over at her blog under the title Pricks, Jocks, and Princes. […]

  2. This is exactly right, thank you. If the church cannot contribute to the full flourishing (not just the inclusion) of all those who bear the imago dei, then it deserves to die, and by God’s grace, it will.

  3. 1 Tim. 3:15: The church is “the pillar and foundation of truth”.

    Consistent NT teaching: the church is the body of Christ and his people members of Christ’s body.

    We must love the church. Love her enough to reform her, not abandon her.

    God bless you!

  4. […] I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with The Feminist Scholarship who also refuse to name the book […]

  5. Wow, a new creation FLOODED with justice and peace. How good would that be? And sadly, how difficult to imagine what it would REALLY be like.

  6. Beth: “My little blog”? Really? Give me a break. I’m glad I found you through Michael. Keep challenging all of us.

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