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