In attempting to research and write about the process and arguments in the development of women’s ordination in the Anglican Church of Ireland (which I first wrote about here on Feminism and Religion), I am frustrated by the polarization of language. While “objectivity” is fruitless, I strive for what Warren Nord calls philosophical fairness: when teaching about contested religious territory, to characterize each position in the terms they would choose for themselves.
How do I fairly label an historical debate on whether or not to admit women to the diaconate and priesthood? Using the phrase “women’s ordination” in my current Kickstarter campaign already puts me in a particular camp. The constraints of the medium require brevity. I have to make a choice.
I fret about using dualistic gendered language because of my increasing concern for the marginalization of people who do not easily fit gendered categories. I attempt to overcome some of my language difficulties through code-switching and using different words in multiple contexts.
This is easy to do as I have individual conversations with friends and family, explaining my intent and asking for their support. In one conversation, we discuss the leadership skills we use as mothers. In another we focus on whether I plan to remain a Catholic in good standing. Some want to discuss ecclesiology and others are more curious about the details of crowdfunding.
But what will I do when the time comes to craft a holistic narrative into one written document intelligible for my diverse supporters? Is this story just a collection of glass fragments, broken meanings and uprooted identities? Will my emotional and personal admiration shine through as a triumphalist historian, lauding the victors who became pioneering women religious leaders? Or by seeking to maintain my communion with Rome, will I privilege positions that are now marginalized in Ireland, but still dominate in other setting?
This is the kind of struggle, on a small scale, that I imagine must challenge any person or community attempting to codify a religious, historical narrative. Scripture can at times appear fragmented and contradictory, yet narrative aids us to become conscious of the Divine Presence in our own lives as we remember stories of past revelatory encounters. In order to write, we have to make choices.
So I am praying now to keep my various identity commitments in tension and not let the conflict tear apart my sense of self. I am praying to unlearn, to look beyond the polarities of language, to tap into the relational and connecting spirit that kept the Anglican Church of Ireland whole through this season of change.
I have to ask: Was the “stained glass ceiling” broken, or merely moved? Or can we use narrative to preserve the stained glass ceiling in some way intact, a reminder of a shared and imperfect past, without using it to bar others from encountering God?
Meagen Farrell is an author, educational consultant, and parent in Cleveland, Ohio. She is collecting pledges for her current book True Story: How Women Became Priests in Ireland until 11:53am on April 18, 2013. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress.