Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 18/03/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

All of us will have been shocked and saddened by the recent kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard.  An innocent young woman simply walking home, snatched away.  Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. As with the murder of George Floyd last year, which prompted the Black Lives Matter movement, this feels like one of those watershed moments: a moment where people say enough is enough. Unfortunately, the actions of Sarah’s attacker are the tip of a particularly unpleasant iceberg.  I think its fair to say there is a crisis in masculinity in the western world. It has various aspects to it. One is of course violence and disrespect.  Its intolerable that young women walk the streets in fear after dark.  Its intolerable that their personal space is violated by the verbal violence of cat calling, and lewd and suggestive shouting.  The thuggish and menacing behaviour, that marked Hereford city centre pre-COVID on a Friday and Saturday is typical of most UK towns and cities.  Frequently, that violence is turned inward, with suicide one of the main causes of death in young men.  Writing it off as boys will be boys simply colludes with it.  The tensions of COVID lockdown has also exposed significant domestic violence and coercive control. Statistics tell us that when a woman reports such experiences, on average they have had 39 other incidents preceding it.

Diagnosis is easy.  Causal factors and potential remedies are more difficult to discern. I’m sure the instability and fleetingness of many contemporary relationships, with a corresponding lack of healthy male role models plays a part. The easy availability of pornography (which intrinsically degrades and dehumanises women) can’t help, especially as young men are accessing it from an earlier and earlier age. A culture of individualism and corresponding loss of some of the key social skills to deal with conflict can’t help either.

Unfortunately, conversations about these issues from a Christian perspective slip easily into ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus caricatures’.  We have long history of legitimising patriarchy, appealing to (in my view erroneous) interpretations of key texts. These have even been used to suggest that women in abusive relationships should disregard their own and their children’s safety in order to be a good submissive wife. Jesus’ ministry was marked by a radical egalitarianism.  Women were amongst his first disciples. In a culture that undervalued women’s testimony in court proceedings, Mary was consciously chosen as the first witness to the resurrection.  Despite arguments to the contrary, the Junia Paul in Romans 16: 7 described as one ‘outstanding among the apostles’ is a woman’s name. Such radical inclusion became difficult very early on in the life of the church. There is significant textual evidence that the passage in 1 Corinthians 14: 34 commanding women to be silent in church wasn’t in fact in Paul’s original text, but was added in later versions. 

I say those things to reassure of my commitment to the inclusion of women at all levels in church leadership, recognising we still have work to do in that area.  However, I feel we have to have a conversation about men ourselves.  The issues of domestic violence are real for us too. But the main question I ask about men as I go around churches is, “Where are they?” In so many cases the female partner is there but the man isn’t. I don’t think this is entirely explicable by our older demographic either. In virtually every Alpha course I’ve led women outnumber men 2 or 3:1. I see a lot of young peoples’ work that is almost entirely female.  It sometimes feels like the elephant in the room. What is it about church and the way we are presenting the gospel that seems much less attractive to men than it does to women? Is the crisis in masculinity in our culture related to it? I watched young men describing their mental health issues on TV last night, often related to a crisis of identity, and want to scream – this is what the gospel is about.  It’s a relationship with Jesus Christ that provides precisely the significance, self- worth and purpose so many seem to be misguidedly seeking through the toxic exercise of power.

I’m not going to finish this video with a neat conclusion, because I honestly don’t know the answer.  I’m raising the question to get some feedback.  You can do that in the comments section on Facebook.  I’d love to hear from men in particular. What are your hurdles when it comes to considering Christian faith? What is it that puts you off the church? What helps you engage with God? For women whose spouses and partners aren’t interested – what would help? By all means, do it anonymously if that helps an honest response.

I think this is a conversation we need to have and like all the best conversations it starts with that sort of listening, if we are to avoid slipping into easy caricature and simplistic solutions.  I look forward to hearing from you.