Women in charge of Kirk? Not if Knox had his way

HE infamously dismissed a female in authority as “the monstrous regiment of women”.

John Knox would be birling, says female Moderator. Picture: Michael Hughes
John Knox would be birling, says female Moderator. Picture: Michael Hughes

Now, more than 400 years later, John Knox, the founder of the Church of Scotland has been taken to task by the Kirk’s female Moderator.

The Very Reverend Lorna Hood said Knox, who decried female leadership as against God’s will, would be spinning in his grave if he saw how the Church of Scotland had embraced and elevated women to positions of authority.

The Moderator acknowledges the important legacy of the man widely thought of as a founding father of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and of the Church of Scotland.

But Mrs Hood, who is only the third woman to become Moderator of the Church’s General Assembly in more than 400 years, questions his views of women.

In 1558 Knox published The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women in Geneva.

The text argued that it was wrong for a woman to rule over a country, and his treatise was directed principally against England’s Queen Mary, but it did not endear Knox to Mary’s sister and successor, Elizabeth I.

When Knox sought to return to Scotland from Geneva, his journey was delayed as Elizabeth refused to allow him to pass through England.

Mrs Hoods says of Knox: “I think he was hugely important to the Church of Scotland; in fact there are those who would say that he was the founder of the Church of Scotland but not in fact of Presbyterianism which was developed by Andrew Melville some years after the death of John Knox, with the Second Book of Discipline. As we go into the Assembly Hall each year at the General Assembly there’s a huge statue of Knox so you can’t fail to see him on the way past and realise how important he is within the Church.”

Despite the debt of gratitude the Church owes him and for all he did in the cause of Protestantism in Scotland, his thoughts against women jar with Mrs Hood.

When she and her chaplain, Rev Eleanor MacMahon, walked past Knox’s statue on their way into the Assembly Hall for the General Assembly, she joked: “He’ll be birling.”

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, Mrs Hood said: “He was very much against women in any kind of leadership rule.

“I don’t think he worried too much about women in his private life. He certainly wasn’t against them and there was no evidence of any abusive behaviour or anything like that, but his views were coloured by the queens at the time who were Mary and Elizabeth and their views against Presbyterians and so it was difficult to extract him from that role in history. But I don’t think he would be chuffed at what is happening today.

“Every woman who knows Knox and his story about the ‘monstrous regiment’ and passes his statue does give a wee wry smile on the way past. The Church has moved a tremendous amount in the last 15 years.”

The Kirk has seen women ordained as ministers since the 1960s. Rev Catherine McConnachie was ordained by the Presbytery of Aberdeen in 1969.

However, it was the Rev Dr Mary Levison – or Lusk as she was then – who was responsible more than any other for persuading the Church that women should be ordained.

In 1963 she petitioned the General Assembly for ordination. She herself had to wait until 1977 before she was finally ordained as assistant minister at St Andrew’s and St George’s in Edinburgh.

She subsequently became the first woman to be appointed a chaplain to the Queen in Scotland and was Moderator of the Presbytery of Edinburgh.

Mrs Hood said: “It’s only 50 years since women have been ordained within the Church of Scotland. We’ve moved a long way from Knox’s view of seeing women leaders as being repugnant and subversive to having equal opportunities. Would Knox approve? Probably not.”