Moderator blows trumpet for 'monstrous regiment of women'

What would John Knox think if he knew women hold a number of prominent positions within in the Church of Scotland? "Not very impressed," is the view of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood.

In an interview which appears on the BBC History website today, Mrs Hood 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 – only the third woman to become Moderator of the General Assembly of The Church of Scotland in over 400 years - questions his views of women.

In 1558 Knox decried what he called a "monstrous regiment of women" when he published 'The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women' in Geneva. Arguing that it was wrong for a woman to rule over a country, 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 him passport 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 Mrs Hood 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."

Since the days of Knox the Church and society have moved away from his views that a woman leader is subversive and repugnant to nature. The Church of Scotland has seen women ordained 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 of Scotland that women should be ordained to the ministry.

In 1963 she petitioned the General Assembly for ordination but it wasn't until 1977 that 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!"

The Church of Scotland has had three female Moderators of the General Assembly. They are Dr. Alison Elliot, an elder and session clerk at Greyfriars Tollbooth and Highland Kirk in Edinburgh (2004) and was also the first non-minister to hold the post since George Buchanan in 1567; the Very Rev Dr. Sheilagh Kesting, (2007), born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, and graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BA and BD. Miss Kesting was the first female minister to be nominated to the post and was ordained in 1980; Right Rev Lorna Hood, (2013), who graduated from the University of Glasgow with MA and BD Honours and was ordained in 1977. Mrs Hood is the first woman parish minister to hold the post of Moderator. She was also appointed one of ten Queen's Chaplains in Scotland in 2008.