Lessons My Mother Taught Me…Like When Best to Say Nothing

by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Former Chair of the General Synod’s Human Sexuality Group and member of the co-ordinating group for the Living in Love and Faith project

Giles Goddard

My mother was quite stern with me, when I was a child. She used, quite often, to say to me ; ‘Giles, if you have nothing constructive to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.’

I was reminded of that advice as I read Martin Davie’s new book, produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council, Glorify God in your body. I read it with a mounting sense of missed opportunity, and when I reached the conclusion, I was dismayed by the hubris the book seemed to demonstrate.

Much has been written about the clumsy and desperately inappropriate analogical comparison between same-sex marriage and penguins and elephants. To me, that sentence undermines the entire argument of the book. Dr Davie calls on Christians to approach with generosity and care ‘those who are same sex attracted’: and yet he uses terms which caricature and dismiss relationships of deep love, grace and fidelity. I wonder what he thought he was adding to the conversation by using such comparisons.

More profoundly, Dr Davie cites the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the end of his book, comparing the witness of conservative evangelical Christians opposed to same sex relationships and those who transition to the witness of Bonhoeffer against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was a great theologian, a tremendous thinker, a wise man and a martyr. He has been an example to thousands, in desperate circumstances, who have been inspired by his profound faith to discover a deeper, wiser and more creative Christianity. To cite him in defence of the conservative evangelical stance on sexuality and gender makes me think of Lloyd Bensen’s words to Dan Quayle in the 1988 US election campaign: ‘Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.

My school reports were as stern as my mother. I was regularly told I ‘could do better.’ My disappointment in the CEECs’ book is that it, too, could do better. It is a sadly missed opportunity to engage constructively and creatively in the conversations which the Living in Love and Faith initiative is seeking to develop.

The CEEC would have done better to have used its time and resources to genuinely engage with the theology, experience and knowledge of LGBTI+ Christians and trans people and to demonstrate that it is taking seriously the Lambeth 1.10 exhortation to ‘listen to the experience of homosexual persons.’

The book is a classic example of the dangers of ‘talking about us without us’. I am glad to be part of the LLF process, however challenging and difficult it is, with the sense of engagement across theological boundaries which is emerging. I am looking forward to continued discussions, on and off the floor of General Synod next week. I am developing my understanding of the conservative position. I welcome any signs that my developing understanding is being reciprocated. I see none in Dr Davie’s book.

 

 

 

 

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Dear Church – A Valentine Lesson in Love

by Sara Gillingham, lay member of Guildford Diocese who raises awareness of issues faced by people born with intersex traits.

Sara Gillingham

Despite the notable absence of Valentine’s Cards falling through my letter box, my thoughts nevertheless turn to Love. In particular I wish to reflect on what it all means to someone like me who was born intersex.

But rather than explore what C.S. Lewis termed Eros, the sense of “being in love” or “loving” someone, I want to go in another direction. I wish to examine other types of love he identified in his book ‘The Four Loves’, namely Storge (empathy bond) and Philia (friendship bond).

To explain intersex further, I was born with variations in sex characteristics. This means that I do not fit in to the typical understanding of what it is to be male or female. I am talking about biological characteristics, in my case genitals, and not about gender identity. Another term you may hear in more clinical settings is differences in sex development. Intersex is an umbrella term that covers a number of traits, be it in genitals, chromosomes or gonads, and can be found in c1.7% of the population. Some of these variations are obvious at birth, whilst others may be discovered during puberty or early adulthood, and in some cases not at all.

I did not have an easy start in life. Storge, understood as the ‘natural love’ and affection between parent and child is not a given. Being born intersex puts strains on family relationships due to the continuing secrecy and stigmatisation. Whilst I was aged one I underwent irreversible surgery at Sheffield Children’s Hospital that was largely cosmetic. Later on I was referred to Great Ormond Street where I was examined in front of medical students, and underwent further cosmetic surgery at 11 years old in a tiny hospital in London’s West End, Shaftesbury Hospital.

No one told me what was happening. I was told I was born premature with complications, and my parents were told to bring me up as a “typical” little girl. It was then thought all would be well. However, the theory was not bedded in reality. I was bullied, as children knew I was “different”. I had little resilience and was traumatised, as the secrecy that surrounded me led me to believe I was something to be ashamed of. I grew up a “tom boy” that caused my parents additional heart ache.

In a Church context there is no pastoral guidance to nurture Storge for intersex children, in fact there are elements of the Church’s teaching that positively undermine it. Church has largely unwittingly ‘othered’ people from birth just because they do not fit normative assumptions about what is to be made in God’s image. This image is built up around assumptions about how we are embodied, fixed mental & physical traits, any deviance from which may be considered impure or in need of healing. I remind you at this point that Jesus did not heal the Ethiopian Eunuch by making his genitals grow back, but by bringing him back into relationship with others, as an equal.

So what of Philia, does the Church of England foster this? Yes and no. I could not be more blessed than by the friendships I have formed in my local parish. On the other hand “the Church” sees people like me as “problematic”. If they did not, why else would we be included in the ‘Living in Love & Faith’ process (LLF)? I am still judged by some to be ‘disordered’, someone created as a result of the Fall, someone in need of being corrected or in need of those surgeries that research shows has such detrimental outcomes for both my and countless others’ mental & physical health.

In 2015 I was invited to the Regional Shared Conversations on Human Sexuality. My first reaction was “What has being intersex got to do with sexuality?”. The reason for my invitation was that intersex was, and still is, seen as important when examining people’s understanding of the building blocks of gender, complementarity and human sexuality. In contrast, I myself start with disability theology to understand my experience of intersex embodiment.

I have now been invited by LLF Project to answer some questions by email. They ask what questions I have that would “help me understand my own relationships, sexuality, gender and family”. I am also asked “what resources I would like to help me think and learn more deeply about my own human identity as someone born intersex?”. I then understand that if I am lucky, excerpts of my email will then be selected and shared amongst members of the various working groups.

My response to the Bishops and members involved in these working groups is this :

–   What questions do you have about intersex, and what resources would help you think and learn about my experience and those of other people who are born with variations of sex characteristics ? I would be happy to sit down with you as an equal, as I deeply want the process to be a positive experience – for all concerned.

–   Where I do not know the answer, I will say so. Where I can, I will signpost you to someone who can answer your questions based on lived experience and research evidence. Be aware that an increasing number of theological reflections are being written by people who have never sat down with anyone intersex, from which others hope to write “learning materials”. Surely, we must work together and journey alongside one another – after all, we have received assurances that there will be “no discussions about us without us”.

–   Let us ensure this conversation is not about something else other than the needs of people born with variations in sex characteristics, namely “human sexuality”. Intersex people must not be instrumentalised, but be valued for being ourselves.

–  My fear is that this will be another lost opportunity to learn from one another. A fear that the process will leave me feeling ‘othered’, through the lack of awareness or unloving theology ?

My hope is that LLF will help others born like me to find that light, Agape, the unconditional love of God.

It is a shame some of us have to periodically move away from Church to experience this.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE If you would like to understand more about intersex traits and intersex people, you may want to watch this short video

 

 

 

 

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A Special Place in Hell….and the Road to Heaven

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

In perhaps the most metaphysical intervention of the Brexit debate thus far, suddenly Hell has become part of the debate. It arrived with the suggestion from one European leader that it contains a special place for those who advocate solutions without sufficient planning. Maybe the next stage of the negotiations will be to determine whether the infernal realm can simultaneously have a frictionless border with both the EU and UK. But, at least, it got me thinking about Hell.

Contrary to the famous quote from Jean-Paul Sartre, Hell is not, as far as I would see it, other people. Hell is the absence of others, the absence of friends and companions, and of God. Hell is to be isolated, alone, cut adrift from the rest of eternity, with only ones own demons for company. Heaven, by contrast, is the place of intimacy, of being known as one truly is, and yet accepted and loved by both God and our companions. In Heaven we shall nurse no shameful secrets, all shall be understood and forgiven.

Apologies if that all sounds a bit abstract, but it’s something that affects how I behave here and now. I need it to maintain my Christian values in the teeth of a culture of individualism that tries to make everything about “me”. The more I submit to that societal norm, viewing everything from the perspective of my rights, my aspirations, and my ability to choose and enforce my understanding of myself over against any other, the more it feels I am preparing myself for the loneliness of Hell rather than the intimacy of Heaven. In Hell, mine is the only and unchallengeable perspective.

In this sense, a lot of what currently passes for political discourse in Britain, including Brexit, is pretty hellish. And sadly, many religious debates are conducted in a tone not much better. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I was recently in a small meeting, dealing with a conflicted issue, where we laughed and cried, shared pain and hurt and hope, and emerged with a way forward that none of us could have imagined an hour and a half earlier. That was truly heavenly. Nor was it unique. Again and again, I find that when I, and others, move away from defensive positions, and try to see things through other eyes, something marvellous happens.

Especially as a person of privilege, I am having to learn that the pathway to Heaven is not found by seeking my own rights and flourishing, let alone the interests of my own tribes and factions, but by attending to the needs and nurture of those who are deeply different from me. To do so is not to abandon the belongings and affiliations that sustain me and my kind, but to enrich them, and me, through a wider empathy.

Thirty years ago, I began my journey into Franciscan community. We’re a mixed bunch, one that cuts across age, class, gender, background and personality, as well as most of the major divisions in churchmanship and theological stance. My vows commit me not merely to follow the example of Francis in my own private fashion, but to journey alongside my brothers and sisters within the Order. The fact that perhaps the only common characteristic of Franciscans is a never articulated belief that being well organised is a sin, simply adds to the challenge of rubbing along together.

The original disciples whom Jesus gathered around himself were a similarly unlikely group, diverse and prone to dispute. Yet I wonder whether the fact that we have only partial and contradictory lists of their names, men and women, is because it is what they are together that matters far more than their individuality. Modern minds want to distinguish Peter from Thomas, James from John, in ways perhaps inimical to the gospel. Jesus, after all, sent them out in pairs, never alone.

It wasn’t of course Sartre who said that Hell was other people, it was one of the three main characters in his play, No Exit. Sentenced to share eternity in a room, it is their inability to move beyond their own self centred perspectives, and to see their companions as anything beyond instruments for their own use, that makes each other’s presence torture. The self obsession that has been at the heart of their earthly lives has become their condemnation.

The life long Christian process of sanctification is about rejecting that road to Hell and instead finding our belonging, our true identity, through the intimacy of membership in the Body of Christ. That is the road to Heaven.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Human Sexuality, Politics | 3 Comments

Elephants, Penguins, Procreation & Japanese Knotweed

by Dr Meg Warner, Old Testament Theologian, Member of General Synod and author of Abraham

Meg Warner

Last week’s edition of the Church Times (1/2/2019) ‘balanced’ a report of Dr Christina Beardsley’s decision to leave the Church of England’s sexuality project (‘Living in Love and Faith’) with a report on a new book by Dr Martin Davie, theological consultant to the Church of England Evangelical Council, Glorify God in your Body. Dr Davie is a senior and respected evangelical commentator, having been theological consultant to the House of Bishops and co-author of A Companion to Some issues in human sexuality.

Davie writes:

“As something created by God, marriage is not subject to change until his eternal kingdom comes. This means that, in spite of prevailing contemporary feeling, a relationship between two people of the same sex, intrinsically closed to procreation, cannot be a marriage any more than a triangle can have a fourth corner, a truth can be a lie, or an elephant can be a penguin.” (Italics added, p. 154)

As an Australian, Davie’s use of ‘intrinsically’ inevitably, and depressingly, reminds me of the infamous comment of a Sydney priest that one could “no more consecrate a woman than a meat pie”.

A Facebook comment about the article described these views as ‘tragically misguided but pernicious’ and suggested that they ‘should be taken seriously in the same way that a gardener would take an outbreak of Japanese knotweed seriously’.

Davie impliedly asserts that procreation is an essential element of marriage, thereby apparently excluding not only same-sex couples, but also the medically infertile and those over a certain age (like my husband and me) from marriage. (Elsewhere in his book [Page 74] he does distinguish between these categories, describing age and infertility as ‘accidental factors’ that do not invalidate marriage and contrasting them with sex, that does. He unfortunately does not offer any justification for making this distinction.)

Although in the quote above Davie appeals to natural law, elsewhere he cites the Bible extensively.  What does the Bible, then, have to say about marriage and procreation? And to what extent does it mandate that marriage is ‘for’ the begetting of children?

The short, and surprising, answer is that the Bible doesn’t link the two explicitly at all. Nowhere does the Bible say that procreation is an integral element of marriage.

The link between marriage and procreation is often traced back to the beginning of Genesis. Procreation is a theme of Genesis 1 and marriage of Genesis 2. However, as has often been observed, Genesis 1 doesn’t mention marriage and Genesis 2 doesn’t mention procreation. True, Jesus alluded to both Genesis 1 and 2 in his discussion of marriage and divorce (Matt 19:4-6; Mk 10:7-9), but he didn’t link marriage and procreation either.

Procreation is foregrounded strongly in Genesis 1. In verse 28 God blesses the first humans and says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…’. This is God’s first instruction and first blessing. It is tempting to interpret it as a special, central, divine imperative for humans. It is, however, made also to animals and birds (verse 22) and there is no requirement for humans to marry first, any more that there is a requirement for animals or birds to marry.

A quite different divine imperative, or ‘vocation’, is introduced in Genesis 2. We tend to think of Genesis 2 as a story about the creation of women and men, but human beings are not its primary focus. The primary focus of Genesis 2 is the earth, and the problem that drives the narrative in Genesis 2 concerns it; on the day when God began to create, there was nothing growing in the earth (ha-adamah in Hebrew). This problem had two causes. The first was that God hadn’t yet made it rain, and the second was that there was nobody to ‘till’ or ‘serve’ the earth. So God made a garden, with a stream to irrigate it, and a human being or ‘earth creature’ (ha-adam) to be its gardener.

Then God, surprisingly, noticed that something in the garden was ‘not good’. I say ‘surprisingly’, because in Genesis 1 God had pronounced everything in creation to be ‘good’ or ‘very good’. The ‘not good’ thing in Genesis 2 was that the human being was alone (Gen 2:18). So, after some initial false starts, God made another human being, a woman (ishshah), to be a ‘helper’ with the adam. Note that she was not created primarily to bring the adam (who only now is identified as a male human [ish], signifying the beginnings of gender) companionship or to have his children, but to ‘help’ him in his vocation of serving the earth. (Note, too, that the Hebrew word ezer [‘helper’] doesn’t imply subordination – it is often used to describe God as our helper, eg. Psalms 10:14, 30:10, 54:4.)[See Footnote]

Even if Genesis 2 tells us something about marriage, it does not tell us that marriage is for having children. The first responsibility of men and women, says Genesis 2, is to care for God’s creation. We (anthropocentric creatures that we are) think the story is all about us. It is not. It is about the earth first.

Dr Davie’s assertion that procreative capacity is an essential element of marriage is not only misguided – it is against the ‘plain meaning of Scripture’. It does not ‘rightly explain the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15), but is pernicious in that it, like knotweed, restricts and stifles growth of the other. By insisting that Genesis 2 means what it does not say – that marriage can only be between a man and a woman for the procreation of children (pp. 52-56) – Davie ignores precisely the thing that the Scriptures do say – that it is not good for humans to be alone – and so proceeds, determined to make ‘aloneness’ – the very thing that God says is not good – the lot of same-sex couples.

Japanese knotweed does terrible things to gardens and needs rooting out. We are all called to be gardeners.

[FOOTNOTE] In Davie’s argument he makes much of English translations of Gen 2:18, such as the NIV, that have God say that he will make a ‘fit’ partner for the first human being. This is not a good translation of the Hebrew, which doesn’t include any kind of qualitative qualifier. The Hebrew phrase that I have translated ‘helper’ is structured on two Hebrew roots, ezer (help) and neged (in front of, or opposite). This second root, neged, has become central to tensions between interpretations of Gen 2:18 by readers from different traditions. Evangelical commentators are more likely to assert that the word has a sense of complementarity about it (therefore mandating opposite-sex marriage), while others are likely to argue that neged more often has a simple spacial meaning (in other words, that it means ‘opposite’ in the sense that two people standing face-to-face are opposite, or in front of, one another but does not imply anything necessarily complementary about the people themselves).

Posted in Human Sexuality, Meg Warner, Transgender | 7 Comments

Living in Love & Faith – The Challenge of Getting Heard

by the Revd Marcus Green, Rector of Steeple Aston, author of The Possibility of Difference and Member of the Living in Love and Faith Project.

Marcus Green

It was with enormous sadness that I read of the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley’s decision to leave the House of Bishops’ Living in Love and Faith project in her comment piece in last Friday’s Church Times.

Sadness, but understanding, and gratitude especially for her challenge over the roles of power, the parish and practical theology.

This month is LGBT History Month. The church school next door to my rectory has a display about it in the entrance hall to the school. LGBT History is an interesting phenomenon: there are people and movements that have affected us all, and there are moments in our personal histories that our entirely ours, and yet remarkably common to most of us.

One time, I was invited to take part in a conversation with my bishop about the situation of gay people in our diocese. At the last minute, arrangements were changed, and I’m afraid I sent a pretty bad-tempered email off to the bishop because of the way it all happened. The problem, I said, was that accepting the invitation in the first place was hard: we’ve all heard so many words before, and so few of those words have actually meant anything. When more words are spoken, we don’t hear the new ones in a vacuum and take them as if on their own merit: we hear a lot of history. And so I said to my bishop that when an invitation gets taken back at the last minute, that’s not a small thing that happens without context. Such a decision happens in the midst of a whole load of other noise – noise which makes any kind of understanding really hard.

I told you I was bad-tempered! Fortunately I have a very generous bishop…

One gay friend of mine asked me, why do you endlessly put yourself through these things? We know that in the end the value our lives is going to be decided by a bunch of straight folk anyway.

It’s like we all get locked into the endless cycle of Steve Turner’s poem, ‘History Lesson’:

History repeats itself.

Has to.

No-one listens.

Every LGBT+ person I know has felt both the the black humour and the painful truth of this little gem. Regularly.

And yet…

And yet, when it comes to LGBT History – as for Christina and Living in Love and Faith – we all have to decide for ourselves where the line gets drawn on how many times we can personally cope with the endless repetition of hurt and opportunity and hope and disappointment that comes our way.

Because the truth is, that every now and then there are moments of change.

Every now and then the cycle is disrupted and all the pain was worthwhile.

Just occasionally LGBT History shows us that laws get re-written, lives get re-evaluated, prejudice gets punctured and people win – even if just for a moment.

I’m a recent addition to the membership of the Living in Love & Faith Project; I have no crystal ball, so I can’t say how it will all work out. I do know that for those of us who love the Church and want to see things change for the blessing of people and the glory of God, we’re unlikely to see everything we want by 2020. There’s a lot of straight folk still making decisions about the value of our lives!

But every voice that has been in the room, and every voice that has had to struggle to find a hearing, and every person that has risked yet another wound has played a vital part in creating the possibility that this too might just be such a moment of change. And if not, that others might build on it, and from it create something else.

Every voice in every parish, on every PCC, in every rectory, at every diocesan synod, calling for recognition and fairness and equality plays its part in a story that will end in all God’s people being seen to be gloriously, truly, wonderfully and fully human together. I want my friends’ kids to grow up in a different world and a different Church than I grew up in. So I fully understand why Christina has ended her involvement in Living in Love and Faith, but I am carrying on just in case this is something where I can help add a crack to a mould that needs to break. And if I and others need to leave at some point too, I guess we’ll join Christina in whatever else we can do so that at some point History doesn’t have to repeat itself because someone does listen.

And something wonderful happens.

Now, as I said, I don’t have a crystal ball, so I have no idea when that will be. But in Jesus we worship a rising kind of God, so though I don’t know when it will be, one thing I am sure of is –

It will be.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Marcus Green, Transgender | Leave a comment

A Trans Priest’s Response to the “Harmful” Open Letter

by the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, retired healthcare Chaplain, researcher and co-author of This is My Body and Transfaith

tinabeardsley

As I write this I’m on my way to Basingstoke to give an after-dinner talk to the Southern Federation of the National Association of Funeral Directors. They’ve invited me to address how to ensure a deceased trans person has the funeral they would have wanted. The reason for the invitation, sadly, is that some trans people don’t.

Just occasionally, the deceased’s family refuses to honour their loved one’s transition. At the funeral the deceased is referred to by the name they were given when they were born, not the name they adopted at transition. This is known as “dead-naming” but can happen to trans people in life as well of course.

At these funerals the deceased is referred to by the pronouns applicable to their birth-assigned gender, not the pronouns appropriate to their transition. This is called “mis-gendering” and again that doesn’t just happen at funerals. It can happen to trans people in life. Like dead-naming it’s considered extremely disrespectful.

Trans people can take steps when alive to prevent this from happening. Should it happen, a memorial service can be arranged at a later date when the person can be remembered in their integrity. What pleases me is that funeral staff, like many professionals, are keen to be informed about trans people and our needs.

Trans awareness training, usually led by trans people, is standard nowadays in most educational and professional settings. Would that it were a higher priority in clergy training. Reading the recent Response to the Church of England’s House of Bishops’ Guidance on using the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith it seems that many clergy have much to learn.

I wonder if readers of the Response have noticed that it never once speaks of trans people – the term that trans people themselves usually prefer. Instead, it begins with the term ‘gender dysphoria’, a medical diagnosis that describes the distress that some but not all trans people experience. The medicalisation of trans people, which began in the early twentieth century, made hormonal and surgical transition possible.

But the therapeutic consensus today is that being trans is a human variation, not a pathology. This is the position of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care (Version 7). This document is the gold standard in the field, but again never mentioned in this Response. The recent UK consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 took place precisely because the medical model – which often stigmatised trans people, as if they had a mental health problem – is no longer considered appropriate.

It is simply untrue, as the Response claims, that ‘the evidence [about gender dysphoria] from the medical and social sciences is often conflicting’. If it were, the NHS would not have been enabling trans people to transition for the past half century. Nor would the UK therapeutic bodies have signed the Memorandum of Understanding (Version 2), opposing conversion therapy (which advises trans people not to transition or, if they have, to de-transition) for trans people.

Signatories to the Response need to be aware that such advice is proposed or implied in some of the resources appended to the Response, and that the majority of healthcare professionals consider it not just ineffective, but potentially harmful.

The Response then refers to ‘controversial new theories about the relationship between biological sex and gender and the social meaning of gender’ and their links to gender dysphoria, but since it doesn’t define these theories it’s hard to grasp the point being made here.

The next paragraph says that ‘many ordinary parents and teachers’ are expressing concern about these new theories. No evidence is provided that this is the case, nor is it any clearer what the theories might be and whether they are relevant to the spiritual care of trans people, which was the subject of the Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance.

The Response then raises the spectre of the premature introduction of under-researched interventions but presumably is not referring to the care of trans people: Magnus Hirschfeld’s magisterial study of trans people appeared in 1910; Harry Benjamin’s pioneering use of cross-gender hormones began in the late 1940s; surgery has been available in the UK’s NHS from the early 1970s.

Astonishingly, the Response states that, ‘our guiding principle should be “first do no harm’’’, when the uncertainty it is promoting about trans people’s experience and treatment would itself be regarded as harmful by professionals in the field. I’m presuming that the Response was not discussed with the senior gender identity specialists at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

The House of Bishops are then described as ‘well-intentioned’ in issuing Guidance that is said to lack ‘serious theological analysis to address the philosophical, anthropological and social issues in public discourse.’ Here and elsewhere there is a problematising of trans people, contrary to the spirit of the Blackburn Motion which led to the Guidance and passed in General Synod with a huge majority.

At Point 4 the drafters are keen to uphold what they refer to as ‘sexual dimorphism’. Leaving aside their claim that this is ‘an almost universal biological reality’ I’m struck by the sentence which precedes it: ‘the possibility of celebrating gender transition appears to be based on the rejection of physical differentiation between male and female’. Trans people who transition are not rejecting the differences between male and female. It’s simply that our experience is different from people – the majority – whose gender identity and birth sex align. Trans people’s experience should not be construed as undermining other people’s reality simply because it’s different.

Last Sunday I joined my ninety-two year old mother at her church where the vicar, who is Evangelical, was the preacher. His theme was unity not uniformity. He reminded us how the variety of nature and people shows God’s love for diversity. We, he observed, try to play down diversity and make everyone the same, whereas God rejoices in it. Then he added, very movingly I thought, that God’s love alone can hold all our rich variety together.

Photo by CHRISTAHOLKA2015@TWILIGHTPEOPLE.COM

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christina Beardsley, Human Sexuality, Transgender | 9 Comments

Transphobic Letters, Mansplaining & Male Violence.

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod.

Rosie Haarper

How many more ways can some Christians find to express their bigotry and judgementalism?

I spent last Saturday morning on a study day, working at the development of the Oxford Diocesan Vision trying to find ways of communicating the love of God to this generation. I then open the paper on Sunday morning to see the nation being treated to an open letter to the Bishops which is a  hopeless expression of transphobia. How long can I go on telling people that I’m ‘not that kind of Christian’?

Of course, as with all religious sexism and homophobia the denial is total.

It’s renamed as being faithful to God’s word. Frankly I’m done with colluding with that game. Let’s simply name it. And let’s not spiritualise it. In our society there is plenty of pernicious prejudice, so of course it will be in the Church too.

The letter in The Times, signed by over 1500 people however led me to a darker place. A place that we really must not talk about. In essence it was a violent document. I guess I wasn’t that surprised because it had all the classic trademarks – soapy Christian words of pseudo acceptance and compassion masking the fact that they were using their power to try and force the Bishops, who had gently and pastorally reached a good place, to backtrack. Assuming rights over other people’s conscience is both cruel, and, when it takes away people’s identity a form of violation – or violence. As I scrolled down the list of signatories I saw that the vast majority were male. I did a rough trawl through the names and it seems that between 3- 4% of the clergy were women.

So yes, the letter was a trigger. We need to talk about male violence. We are just not allowed to talk about it.

One of my Christmas break reads was Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit. In the opening essay she does a sparkling romp through ‘mansplaining’. Ha! So true, so very true.  The guts of the book is the the essay The Longest War. She is very clear: ‘Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.’ She goes on to look at the horrifying level of violence in the world; rape, murder, and of course warfare. She then examines the ways in which we try to understand what is going on. We talk about growing up in poverty, but women are poor too. We talk about exposure to tobacco in the womb, but the girl babies don’t grow up to be rapists. In the US we talk about the availability of guns, but they are available to everyone and  90% of murder is committed by men. We search for reasons and many might be valid enough, but none address the simple fact that almost all the violence in the world is male.

Whenever I go near this subject the first response I get is ‘but men suffer from  violence too. Not all domestic violence is on women.’ This is true. Although most of the violence men experience is by other men, in domestic violence there are appalling examples of violence by women. On the whole however, the relatively small number of cases tend to result in less severe injuries, or, very occasionally in murder after years and years of abuse by the male partner.

Thankfully most men are not violent in an extreme way. I know, love and admire many men that I feel safe with. Even they however would mostly buy into the suggestion for example, that football is a healthy way for men and boys to subjugate their latent violence.

I think what I want to say is that if we think we have a gospel that is worth preaching then it has to face this most fundamental issue and have something transformative to say about it. If we imagine we are going to change to world by working out if God wants gay people to sleep with one another we are seriously down a blind alley. Ask any decent human being ‘what is their deepest wish for this world?’ and it always has to be peace. An end to violence; between individuals, between tribes, between nations.

That is exactly what the cross is about. Jesus was taken to the place of the utmost violence and made the choice of sacrifice and love. The potential for transforming the world lies in that choice. It is there, and maybe only there that hope can be found.

I used to wonder why God didn’t enter the world as a woman, but now I see. Jesus had to be male. As a man, hanging on the cross, forgiving those who visited violence on God he was truly able to embody a different way.

I wish I knew how to inject some urgency into this matter. Elaine Storkey, in her tough and timely book Scars across Humanity points to the source of hope: ‘the Christian faith offers a biblical framework for understanding it (male violence)  and the power of God’s love to combat it’ (although the word combat is itself a violent word) and she ends her book with book with this plea: ‘Ending the violence is urgent. The scars across humanity are deep. It is time to join the healing and the work of restorative justice.’

Amen sister!

Posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Sexism, Transgender | 25 Comments