Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Table manners

When I was keeping kosher, and seriously considering conversion to Judaism, hospitality was important.

It was also difficult. Despite my best efforts, despite being committed to the laws of kashruth, there were some people -- kind people, good people, caring people -- who would not eat at my table because it was not kosher enough for them, not because they doubt the earnestness and diligence of my efforts or their correctness according to halacha, but because I was not Jewish.

Eventually I learned not to take this too personally.

The thing is, though, that nobody would have accused me of being prejudiced against Jews, or of purposely making them unwelcome. There was nothing I could do differently (save actual conversion, which in Orthodox Judaism is a lengthy and arduous process) which would have changed things.

Something I never experienced was people refusing to eat at someone else's home because I was also there, or because our mutual hosts might be willing to eat at my table. It simply didn't happen. In the community where I lived there were various interpretations of what "kosher" means, but the overarching rule of hospitality meant that if someone was Jewish you accepted their interpretation when dining in their home and you didn't refuse an invitation. Even if that had been the case, nobody would have claimed they were being persecuted because someone invited us both.

But that's what I see happening with groups wishing to leave the Church of England.

It isn't just that people won't take Communion from a woman, or don't want to deal with a female bishop. I don't agree with that response -- it smacks of the law rather than of grace -- but I understand it on some level, and I respect that for some people it might be the only way to move forward with any integrity, just as I respect that some Jews could not in good conscience eat food I had prepared.

But being invited not only to dine in someone's home, but also to help with the preparation of the meal, and then recoiling in horror when you find out who else is invited? And then claiming that those other guests are "persecuting" you for not sharing your interpretation of the law? What are we to make of that? If you invited people to dinner and they behaved like that, how would it make you feel? Lord, have mercy!

I have huge amounts of sympathy for anyone who feels they don't fit or are no longer welcome in a religious group with which they once identified strongly. I grew up in a Christian church and my family of origin was very much still involved in that church, and I walked away from that; I was fortunate, blessed even, that my family were understanding and even supportive, but it was still not easy.

And then, the reason I did not convert to Judaism all those years ago was not because my beliefs were incompatible (though they probably are now!) but because I did not think I could bend to some of the other requirements and maintain my own integrity. Not only did I end up leaving a faith community I had grown to love, but I had to admit that I had been wrong -- about myself, about Judaism, about how to live.

I have pretty big issues with the C of E, too, much as I am growing to love it; the structural changes which would make me feel truly accepted and welcomed are unlikely to even be discussed in my lifetime. (As an aside -- yes, I know I am complicit in these issues not getting discussed because I am not open about them ... I am still frightened, and with good reason. Lord, have mercy on on those who make the world unsafe for people like me, and on my cowardliness!) I respect anyone who takes a decision to walk apart. I know it is not an easy decision.

However, I don't think saying "Women are welcome" is persecution of those who are too frightened to extend that welcome to women. Nobody is forcing opponents of women's ordination to do anything. Synod has said, the majority of the church has said, "We are going to share this work more widely than before," not in order to chase away or hurt or persecute or reject anyone, but to finally include some of those who have been turned away and rejected for many centuries.

1 comment:

UKViewer said...


Well said. Interesting debate on being welcomed unconditionally.

I know that I walked away from the RC Church from pure lack of belief at the time, along with a strong disagreement with their doctrines.

When I came to the CofE, I was made welcome and felt thoroughly at home. To the extent that I am now active in ministry and a possible vocation to ordained ministry is being tested as I write.

But I do feel pain for those who were included but now feel that they are being excluded. Their traditions and beliefs have always been accommodated within the Church, now that the Church is to some extent becoming inclusive the penalty is the exclusion of traditionalists.

I just hope that they can come to see with grace that their objections while made in conscience and integrity and not the obstacle to continuing membership that they believe.

Compromise is the requirement, and I feel that there is still room for it. The Code of Practice being developed by the House of Bishops, if framed carefully and appropriately may well provide the hoped for security that they seek.

But if not, perhaps some (not all) will leave. Others will remain as it is just to hard a leap to swim the Tiber to Rome or to another perhaps Evangelical Church which might be a little to extreme for their taste.

I just don't know the answer - only God does. And his will appeared to have been made clear at the Synod.