Wednesday, 3 November 2010

What's the real question?

There are some questions it is difficult to answer because of a wrong set of assumptions behind them. When the issue was newsworthy, I was asked whether I was in favour of the ordination of women. It was assumed that the problem at issue was the women part of the question. For me, though, the question was about the baggage that accompanied the idea of ordination. I am not in favour of men or women being ordained if it is seen, for example, as conferring power and privilege over other Christians. There are what I would consider to be unhealthy view of ordination among the churches. The concept, implications and content of ordination need to be thought through. Women should be equal in aspiration and opportunity in their vocations. It is how the churches often package those vocations that’s the problem for me. So a question about whether women should be bishops would raise the same problems.

I feel a similar response to the current challenges in England to a legal framework that allows civil partnerships but prohibits marriage to same sex couples. Am I in favour of same sex marriage? I cannot just say yes or no - which is fortunately really because as a minister of the Baptist Union of Great Britain I am not supposed to advocate such things. Such a question almost certainly assumes that the problem is the same sex bit and the marriage bit is unproblematical. There are many views of marriage in the churches and in society and some of them are downright unhealthy for women and men or for same sex couples. A trend for marriage to be seen as lovey-dovey happy-ever-after needs to be examined if relationships are to survive. Older traditional views of marriage as being about property and control are equally in need of examination. Husband and wife are not neutral words that just happen to be applied to a man and a woman. They each carry with them unspoken sets of assumptions about the nature of the relationship. These are just examples of the need to be clear what we think marriage means. Until we are clear what we mean by marriage, questions about who should get married are unanswerable.

That God’s love is inclusive and that healthy community requires equal opportunities to participate seem to me to be unexceptionable. It is how we package our roles and relationships that we need to think through.

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