Church · Church of England · Leadership · Ministry

Uneven Ground

I recently posted about my changing views, understanding of the theology of human sexuality. I deliberatly did not enter directly into the question of marriage. This is partly because, despite nearly 15 years of experience as a married man, I still don’t really feel equipped to comment directly on the nature of marriage.

While I would also caution against drawing any parallels between issues of sexuality and the ongoing debates on the consecration of female bishops there is one common denominator I think I have observed in both discussions.

It is an issue of ‘uneven ground’. As we watch, read and participate in these polarised arguments we can so easily assume our starting points are similar, if diametrically opposed. But actually as I’ve stood on the sidelines of these debates, ocassionally lobbing my tuppence worth into the mix, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a misapprehension.

It is too easy to assume we know and understand the same things of a word like ‘marriage’ or ‘priest’, when in actual fact our relative understanding of those words is crucial to the debate.
I recently had a long discussion on twitter about women bishops only to realise our basic understanding of the word ‘priest’ was so significantly different that we would never, ever agree.

The issue in these debates is that we assume we are, if you’ll excuse the militaristic metaphor, fighting the battle from opposite ends of the theological battle ground. The reality of the situation though is that often we’re not in the same field, we’re in different counties.

I am not sure how we would proceed to agree what definitions we are using for the key words in our discussions, or even if that woukd help – it would probably only extend the argument.  But it might help if we can agree at the outset that we don’t share the same understanding of the word we’re using in the debate.  At least then, we have a better chance of moving forward in action and understanding.

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One thought on “Uneven Ground

  1. “It is too easy to assume we know and understand the same things of a word like ‘marriage’ or ‘priest’, when in actual fact our relative understanding of those words is crucial to the debate.”

    I think this is exactly the point, and exactly the reason why it’s important to have a liberal but firm definition of marriage in law. If a couple’s relationship is “marriage” to them and fits the basic framework of a marriage in our culture (two people, of a certain age, committed to each other, intending to stay together for life), then why should you, or I or the church try to see it any differently? Equally I don’t see why any particular religious leader should have to perform a wedding for two people if they don’t want to. This is the important differentiation of the difference between a marriage and a wedding: a marriage being a state allowed by law, a wedding being a ceremony which a particular couple may or may not be able to have in the place and/or at the time that they want it.

    [I’m obviously talking here about mutual and consensual relationships between human beings. It upsets me that lots of the arguments against marriage equality have been the “thin end of the wedge” type where people claim to imagine all kinds of weird things that might be allowed to happen in the future if we relax the current definition slightly. ]

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