Bishop Libby: "It diminishes God to diminish women"


Bishop Libby Lane and Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen have held an open dialogue as part of events to mark the centenary of women being given the right to vote and stand for election in the UK.

They shared their experiences as women leaders in their respective faith communities and reflected together on women’s rights and the issues raised by the anniversary of partial suffrage which came to pass 100 years ago. 

The conversation took place at the Manchester Jewish Museum on Wednesday 05 December and is available to listen to as a podcast as part of the Diocese of Chester’s Big #Freeto Conversation, a season of conversation about women’s rights.

During the conversation, Bishop Libby recounted how her episcopal ministry had been marked by conversations in which people of faith and of none had expressed a sense of “hope, encouragement and affirmation” that she held the role of bishop.

However, Bishop Libby and Rabbi Robyn both said that they are undermined by unconscious sexism. 

Bishop Libby says: “What is much more destabilising is the stuff that’s insidious and diminishing, even when it’s not meant to be. There is still that sense that we still need protecting. For us to do things on an equal basis with our male peers is something more to comment on. Often that is meant to be encouraging, but I receive it on the inside, deep down, honestly, as undermining and diminishing.”

The event took place at the Manchester Jewish Museum

Their conversation explored some of the theological discussions surrounding women in leadership roles. Bishop Libby said that it was her belief that men and women were made in the image of God. Addressing Rabbi Robyn during the event, Bishop Libby said: “Our scriptures, and yours, are very clear in the creation narratives; that God made us male and female in the image of God, not as a supplement, but equally reflecting God’s glory. My worth is fundamentally because God counts me worthy… if we are diminished, God is diminished.”

Rabbi Robyn reflected on her own position and the power that she holds in her role. She said: “I like the definition of power as ‘the ability to act’. I get asked a lot about my opinion of things or to give a rabbinic decree. I will often try to reply in a way that is not giving them the answer that they need because I am interested in a conversation, I am interested in that person being empowered and that my power is shared. I am aware of how my position can be abused and how it can become a bit of a cult and a charisma. I don’t want to be a sage on the stage, I want to be a guide on the side. I want to be someone who is in relationship and is friendly and open and vulnerable and weak and gets it wrong a lot of the time.”

Bishop Libby agreed that power can be seductive but reflected that there is a real opportunity for female faith leaders to model leadership differently. She said: “We are given more opportunity than our brothers to speak it differently and to model it differently because there is some expectation that it might be different. And if our being here opens up those possibilities – not just for us, but for our brothers too - then that, I think, is a good thing.”

Rabbi Robyn was the first woman to be appointed a Rabbi in a Manchester synagogue when she became Associate Rabbi of Manchester Reform Congregation in Jackson's Row. Bishop Libby was the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the Church of England when she became the Bishop of Stockport in the Diocese of Chester.

The dialogue formed this year’s Maurice Brunner Memorial Lecture, an annual lecture series hosted by the Manchester Council of Christians and Jews. 

In November, Bishop Libby launched The Big #Freeto Conversation, a season of conversation about women’s rights.

The campaign invites men women and men from all backgrounds, ages, and stages in life, to consider two questions:

1. What is it that we are free to do today, thanks to the women that have gone before us? 
2. What do you hope women may be free to do in the future, so we all may live life to the full?

Bishop Libby adds: "The Big #Freeto Conversation is an exciting opportunity for women from all walks of life to hold conversations with others and to listen to and share stories of success and joy, as well as regret and disappointment. Life can be difficult, for men and women, but together through our conversations, I hope we can learn from one another and look to a hopeful future when all people live life in all its fullness, the way God intended for them.” 

Taking part in The Big #Freeto Conversation is easy. Simply complete the survey below or share your comments on the Diocese of Chester's Facebook page using the hashtag #Freeto. 

Page last updated: 12th Dec 2018 8:44 AM