Friday, 21 March 2014

More from Mike Higton on Marriage and Gender

Updated Tuesday evening

There is an article in today’s Church Times by Mike Higton titled Gay-marriage debate: it’s all about gender. This is available only to subscribers, but his two earlier blog articles were linked in one of our many posts here about responses to the recent Bishops’ statement on same-sex marriage.
For convenience here again are those earlier links:

More recently, Mike has started writing about the earlier CofE document Men and Women in Marriage.

Here are the links to his next two articles:

Men and Women in Marriage

…The report is explicitly presented as a follow-up to the 2012 document. In the Foreword, the Archbishops say that it aims to provide a ‘short summary of the Church of England’s understanding of marriage’ and, more fully, that

It sets out to explain the continued importance of and rationale for the doctrine of the Church of England on marriage as set out in The Book of Common Prayer, Canon B30, the Common Worship Marriage Service and the teaching document issued by the House in September 1999 [The reference is to Marriage: a Teaching Document from the House of Bishops of the Church of England, Church House Publishing]

That description could be misconstrued, however. Our report did not provide an evenly balanced summary of all the main things that the Church of England has wanted to say about the nature and purpose of marriage, but was an attempt to set out more fully the background in the Church of England’s thinking to the specific arguments made in the debate about same-sex marriage. So nearly everything in the report is (as the title says) about the necessity of marriage taking place between a man and a woman – and about ‘how the sexual differentiation of men and women is a gift of God’ (§3). Other topics (including such central topics as faithfulness and public commitment) appear only briefly, and only insofar as they relate to that central topic.

Like the original response to the government consultation, then, this is a report about gender – specifically about the importance of gender difference to marriage, but also more broadly about the wider importance of gender in society. And that’s where my analysis, spread over the next two or three posts, is going to focus.

Gender, Nature, Culture

…I said in the previous post that I ask was going to take seriously the Archbishops commendation of this report for study, and ask what agenda it suggests for further deliberation. In this post, I am going to point to a central facet of the report that I think should provide some shared ground between those who accept and those who reject its conclusions – before turning to a range of questions that the report’s detailed arguments have raised for me, which I think provide an agenda for further deliberation.

I am very aware that saying ‘We need to discuss x!’ can be a way of saying ‘You all need to agree with me about x, and if you thought just a little more clearly, you would do!’ It can also be a way of saying ‘None of you have been thinking about x. I am the first person to whom these ideas have occurred. Bow before me and my brilliance!’ So let me say right away that I know that good, rich, complex and interesting work has been done on all the questions I am about to raise – and that some of it has been done elsewhere by people involved in the writing of this report. And let me say that I do not think that further deliberation will lead to agreement, or even that it will lead to a general drift towards more liberal (or less liberal) conclusions. I have thoughtful, intelligent, well-read friends who occupy all sorts of different positions on these matters, and many of them know a very great deal more about them than I do.

Here, as elsewhere, my hope is not for consensus, but for a better quality of disagreement – and for more helpful public expressions of those disagreements…

Update

The third article in this series is now available: Desire and Discipline. It’s long, but worth reading through. It concludes:

…I am writing these posts not because I’m an expert in this area (I’m not), but because I happen to find myself standing on the overlap between two worlds – an academic world in which these questions and insights in relation to gender have rightly become unavoidable, and a world of church report writing in which they barely appear on the agenda. All I’m doing, in effect, is saying to the latter world, ‘Hey, you should talk to these other people, because they taught me everything I know about this, and they’re really worth listening to!’ So if you’ve got this far, and want to find the good stuff – well, go and read Susannah Cornwall, Rachel Muers, Sarah Coakley, Steve Holmes, Eugene Rogers, Christopher Roberts, Rowan Williams, Beth Felker Jones, James Brownson, for starters. They don’t all agree (to say the least), and they won’t all back up what I’ve said above, but they’ll certainly change how you approach these questions.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 6:00pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Mike Higton makes an important point. The failure of 'Men and women in marriage' to address concerns about gender inequality is particularly disappointing given that, as I noted in my own response, 'Responding to domestic abuse:
Guidelines for those with pastoral responsibilities' was produced by the Archbishops’ Council in 2006. This warned that 'Over the centuries questionable
assumptions about the relation between men and women, which were supposed to reflect the will of God, have influenced the Church’s interpretation of the Bible, its moral teaching and pastoral practice' and discusses this in some detail.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 9:21am GMT

Totally agree with Mike Higton - and indeed I have been saying for a long time to anybody who would listen that the whole question of the freedom of women to act as autonomous people and the true equals of men is at root the same issue as the marriage of same sex partners.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 3:54pm GMT
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