more on harmful theology

October 5, 2006

Just finished reading the Church of England’s domestic abuse document in full and I’m mightily impressed.  The best thing I’ve read since the letter form the Inland Revenue enclosing my tax rebate. You can download it here:
It’s written in clear, forceful language with hardly a trace of obfuscation or jargon (they must have kept the Archbishop of  Canterbury well away from it.) and it spells out a lot of home truths. An example:
“In many traditions the portrayal of the Virgin Mary as the archetypal woman has often functioned to reinforce norms of female passivity and obedience to men, to restrict the social role of women to the bearing and nurturing of children, and to contrast the affirmation of female sexuality unfavourably with the ideal of virginal purity.” It’s tough on the perpetrators of violence (even if they happen to be priests) and makes the point that “Harmful theology affects the response of churches when domestic abuse comes to light or reaches a critical point. A spirituality of self-denial is often linked to a theology in which the survivor is urged to forgive the perpetrator and not to take remedial action against him.”
Appendix 1 (Harmful theology) had me glued to the edge of my seat as the authors carefully demolish so much of the theological detritus that has cluttered up the church. Predictably, the fudge comes when they try and salvage an interepretation of God from the wreckage: “There are particular problems in the attribution of violent actions and attitudes to God, chiefly but not solely in the Old Testament, which require careful interpretation with reference to the historical and theological context.”  “Require careful interpretation with reference to the historical and theological context” is, I think Anglicanese for “total crap”. When it comes to the crunch, however, I wonder whether it isn’t just a bit of face-saving on the part of the church. It might deter a few clergymen from indulging in wife beating but how many other potential aggressors and victims will be affected by it? Are victims suddenly going to avoid oppression by rushing into the arms of a ‘living-theologically’ armed parson? Still, it’s a great read and saves me having to go out and buy Harry Potter.

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