The Anglican Communion’s Director for Women in Church and Society, the Revd Terrie Robinson, argues that men must play as equal a part as women in the fight for gender-justice.
I’ve recently been introduced to Maude Royden and wonder how it’s possible that I have never come across her before. What a fascinating and courageous individual! And how interesting that good people were inclined to hold her back.
I was introduced to Maude by the Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, who spoke about her during his address at the recent Christians Aware “Just Empowerment of Women and Men” conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, UK. She was born in 1876 and died in 1956 and was remarkable for her patient but determined persistence in working for women’s suffrage (the right to vote in political elections) and for the inclusion of women as equals in the Church. Her passion derived from her Christian faith and biblical understanding of women and men as equally made in the image of God.
Maude became a council member of the Life and Liberty Movement, which was established in 1917 and influenced the shift towards the synodical structure in the Church of England. The council members included the Revd William Temple (later Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Revd Dick Sheppard who led a powerful social ministry at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, London, and whose BBC broadcasts were known worldwide.
On one occasion, the council went into retreat and conference at Cuddesdon Theological College. A rule at the college was that women couldn’t stay overnight. The group had a serious discussion about whether Maude should break the rule but, in the end, they decided she should stay in nearby Oxford. It is said that Maude took a taxi to London and sent the bill to the college!
Maude remained friends with the council members and later worked with them.
Bishop Redfern reflected that sometimes the bar to justice and empowerment is good people. Temple and Sheppard were towering figures for social justice but they, too, were no doubt subject to the pressures of systems that seemed sensible at the time. Through her work and campaigning, Maude made a different kind of statement. She rattled bars and chipped away at the status quo.
In 1919, the Vicar of St Botolph Church in London, the Revd Hudson Shaw – who was Maude’s long-term friend and later her husband – invited her to preach during the Three Hours Good Friday service. The Bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, even though he was in favour of women’s franchise, decided that he couldn’t give permission for her to speak. So the Vicar closed the church and Maude preached during the three-hour service for Good Friday in a hall. Hundreds of people came.
Maude remained a great friend of the Bishop of London.
At the top of the Christians Aware conference progamme was written, “In our world men and women are like the two wings of a bird, if one is unable to function properly the bird is unable to fly and may even perish”. Those are wise words. But there’s another way that the two-wingéd bird can serve as a symbol.
There are some notable and encouraging exceptions, but most activism to promote the equal, God-given dignity of women and men, continues to be delivered and given energy by women. A one-wingéd bird won’t work here. Men need to understand their role in this and get involved. If we really want to see the transformation of harmful attitudes and behaviours, there have to be two wings on the bird.
Gender equality – gender-just relationships – require the empowerment of women and the empowerment of men until we reach the point where we are willing and confident enough to make space for each other. In the great dance of life we need to move our feet constantly to make room for the feet of others so that they too can fully participate in God’s good creation.