Book review - The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women

Monday, 23 May 2011

"It's time to listen to Jesus..."

"In our churches, let's challenge the structures that are based on faulty translations and poor exegesis..."

"Let's celebrate the true concept and reality of marriage..."

"Let's change our mind about the things that limit God's work in us..."

"Let's demand the fair treatment of women and girls around the globe..."

The Liberating Truth continually exhorts us to do something about injustice.

Danielle Strickland's new book, which focuses on why the church should work to combat gender inequality - and how it can do this - comes with glowing recommendations from well-known faces representing Tearfund, Soul Survivor, Stop the Traffik and Spring Harvest among others. But does it live up to the hype?

Actually, it does. It's a slim volume and as someone who likes really in-depth analysis I wondered just how much it would communicate about something which is such a major issue, a divisive issue, a painful issue. The impact of the book is strengthened by how straightforward its message is. It's divided into two sections - the first exploring the problems caused by gender inequality and the different ways this is manifested, whether that means poverty, stifling marriages, male-dominated religion, prostitution and trafficking, negative stereotyping or violence against women and girls. The second lays out a Biblical response, looking at the so-called 'difficult' passages of scripture and encouraging an egalitarian approach to gender issues and a call to Christians to stand up and speak out against the oppression of women as well as a commitment to encouraging readers not to limit what women can do.

Being a woman who's gifted in an area of leadership can be incredibly difficult, as songwriter and worship leader Vicky Beeching tells in her foreword to the book. She writes of leading worship at a meeting then being asked to leave the room immediately afterwards - because the (male) attendees felt her gender should bar her from sitting in on a 'leadership' event. Vicky was shocked and upset. She writes of how she's felt hen working with churches which don't allow women to teach, preach or lead, saying:

"Some people don't ever feel aware of their gender in relation to their calling, but I can say I've felt extremely aware of it in all the twelve years I've been in ministry."

This is a key point. It's not something which everyone will feel bothered about, because they might not have the inclination and the calling. But this doesn't mean that it's a non-issue. Vicky mentions the "many women across the globe" who have poured out their hearts to her about struggling with being treated like second-class citizens within God's family. This is an issue for everyone. It's an issue which Jesus Himself confronted head-on. Rather than ignoring those groups which chose to oppress and branding them as extremists, or 'just culturally different', He worked in opposition to them to challenge societal convention.

Danielle kicks off her first chapter with a few musings on one of my least-favourite aspects of Western Christian culture: the books and resources which tell us that all Christian women long to be a pretty princess with a Prince Charming to complete their life, focusing on appearance, on strict gender roles and stereotypes as the be-all and end-all of being a Christian woman. She feels the same way as me - that in the real world, we are all different and neither men nor women have to fit into restrictive stereotypes.

"So this book is a celebration of the diversity of God's calling to all people," she writes.

One of the things I loved about The Liberating Truth was the number of times a line just jumped off the page and impacted me, usually just through its simplicity and truth. Danielle tackles what gender inequality looks like across the world today, making it exactly clear how she feels about what you'll see lampooned as 'fun feminism' or 'empowerfulment' in the blogosphere, what I feel when I think about how materialism and exploitation have become tied up with the notion of 'empowerment' in a late capitalist nightmare.

"The problem is that no matter how you dress up oppression, it will never lead to freedom."

Danielle pulls no punches She addresses the enormous and also incredibly difficult issue of domestic violence and abuse within the church - and the irresponsible and dangerous answers women seeking help are often given. She expounds on prostitution and the 'Nordic model' before moving into discussion of the acceptance of patriarchy, subservience and oppression in the church, drawing on the example of Catherine Booth as a pioneer of egalitarianism and calling readers to 'finish what she started', giving women the freedom to pursue God's best for them, whether that means preaching, teaching, leading, stepping out, fighting injustice or making changes in their marriages.

But what's the reasoning behind this? Danielle starts with one of the most important things you should know and one of the most important things which has impacted me as a woman and also as a wife. The story of creation in Genesis and its lack of hierarchical order, contrasted with the effects of the Fall and its obvious deviation from God's design for relationships. The precedent this sets for God's view of gender equality.

And she urges us to question the way we see and talk about relationships and marriages in today's world - where one person must always be 'in control', 'wearing the trousers', 'under the thumb', 'having the final word' and 'emotionally blackmailing'. To focus on relationships as they were meant to be, not on how they came to be.

"The real point is not that there is no difference, but that there is no equality distinction and no limitation in using our gifts..."

Danielle admits that there is a lot of confusion in the church about gender issues and that many people aren't sure what to think; they hear reactionary responses or cultural tradition being held up as Biblical truth and as a result women are existing with their potential being limited by their gender. In the second half of the book, she addresses common areas of scriptural confusion in a really helpful and enlightening way, drawing on the work of theologians such as Gilbert Bilezikian and N T Wright and emphasizing the focus on 'oneness in Christ' in the New Testament while tackling difficult issues such as Paul on women in the church, the 'Junia question', headship doctrine and that troublesome verb - 'authentein'.

These chapters went over much of what I already feel is important about Jesus and his relationships with women, but are a valuable resource and also really made me think about certain passages in a way I hadn't before - the focus on men having to have certain credentials in order to lead, which put me in mind of the way people often question the validity of a woman in a position of power within the church as if it's something to worry about, while paying little attention to the credentials of men in leadership, sometimes until it's too late.

The significance of Jesus's appearing first to Mary Magdalene and commanding her to inform his other disciples of what had happened is discussed at length and I found this fantastic and definite food for thought. This at a time when a woman's testimony was not permitted as evidence in either a Roman or Jewish court of law.

"Mary's commission was not limited to 'women's ministry'..."

As part of her final chapter focusing on scripture, Danielle discusses marriage and the oft-repeated fallacy that problems within marriages are simply down to a refusal on either the part of the man or the woman to accept their specific 'role' in the relationship. She issues a call to readers to consider the impact of an egalitarian approach to marriage, how freeing it could be and how much it could reflect what God is like to both the church community and 'the world'. This is vital. I know from first-hand experience the freedom she's talking about and I loved her final words on the subject - that through this the world might see past the negative stereotypes of Christian marriages.

"...they'll see a sacrificial and loving empowerment. A love that wants the best for each other, regardless of cultural norms."

The Liberating Truth is truth for everyone. It's powerful and affecting yet concise and straightforward. And I think it offers a lot of answers to the difficult issues affecting at least 50% - and more if you take into account the reports of a female-dominated church - of Christians in some way, difficult issues which have hurt many and are continuing to cause pain.

Nadine Dorries, abstinence and abuse

Thursday, 19 May 2011

She's known for being the politician who's teamed up with self-described religious fundamentalists and used fabricated statistics to push her completely anti-choice agenda. She's had very public fall-outs with bloggers and threatened journalists. She's the woman who admitted, when questioned about her expenses and second home, that:

"My blog is 70 per cent fiction and 30 per cent fact. I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another."

No wonder it's been said that she's Britain's answer to Sarah Palin. I'm talking, of course, about the car crash that is Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, who's hitting the headlines afresh this month - not because of friendships with fundamentalists and bust-ups with bloggers, but because of her latest agenda: abstinence education.

Earlier this month Dorries proposed a bill which would mean girls - and only girls - between the ages of 13 and 16 would receive abstinence education. Somewhat worryingly, despite being founded on yet more fabricated information it passed its first reading.

As those of you well-versed in the major issues surrounding teaching of abstinence-only sex education in the US will know, the attitudes involved in this sort of 'education' need to be combated. I think we all agree that it did major damage in the years it was implemented Stateside and although Dorries isn't advocating an abstinence-only approach, the hallmarks are all there. Only teaching girls about it, for a start. Saying things like:

"Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations."

It's plain to see that her approach to young people and sex is incredibly one-sided, as well as that she seems to be ignoring the fact that teens are already most definitely taught that it's okay to 'say no' and that they definitely should if they have any doubts about the situation.

This week, however, Dorries has gone one step further. Appearing as a guest on Channel 5's The Vanessa Show on Monday, host Vanessa Feltz suggested that teaching children they can 'say no' already happens and that it already happens in an appropriate and sensitive way. The MP replied:

"Well do you know that’s really interesting because...if a stronger just say no message was given to children in school that there might be an impact on sex abuse."

Not content with putting the onus completely on girls to take responsibility for sexual activity, she now appears to be saying they should also be taking responsibility to prevent being abused.

Immediately and understandably, there was uproar. Supporting abstinence-based sex ed is one thing, blaming girls for being abused because they should have "just said no" is another. She moved on to linking the whole thing with high street shops selling bikinis to seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds learning the facts of life.

I don't really want people like Nadine Dorries dictating how things get done in this country. In addition to the list of embarrassments surrounding her, we now know she's the sort of person who holds these really quite damaging views about sexual abuse, its victims and its perpetrators. The idea that young people should be able to prevent sexual abuse from happening simply by saying "no" is ignorant. It's an attack on people who might already feel very much at fault for what happened to them and it lets abusers off the hook.

Since she made these comments I've seen tweets and posts from survivors of abuse, appalled at her insinuation that "saying no" could have stopped it from happening, that their abusers would have listened or that they were at fault for "letting" it happen. Posts like this one at Nightmares & Boners, entitled "Nadine Dorries Thinks I Was Asking For It", where Vanessa tells her own personal story and says:

"To say I am insulted that someone would insinuate that I caused my own abuse is an understatement. But this isn’t just about me, this is about everyone who isn’t able to live with the memory of what happened to them. It’s about children who even now are being abused and being blamed for their abuse: by their parents, by their abusers, by Nadine Dorries."

Vanessa ends by encouraging people to contact Dorries and express their feelings about her remarks and I think that's a good idea. It probably won't make her change her mind; she seems fairly set on promoting her unpleasant agenda no matter what. But maybe it'll give her food for thought.

At present, when she's criticised, she doesn't take it well. A recent interview in the Sunday Times had her ranting about those who don't agree with her, saying she "makes no apologies" for being sexist and lashing out at her critics on Twitter, calling the site a "sewer" full of "Trots" and the "socialist elite".

It's probably asking far too much to expect anything resembling an apology. But we can make more people aware that people like her are in government and they're out to cause nothing but damage.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via Juliette Culver's Flickr.

Looking at the arguments surrounding Slutwalk

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Slutwalk: everyone's talking about it. And I'm not just saying that - every time I read my timeline on Twitter there's another news story, another planned march, another blog post debating the movement which has taken several nations by storm.

What started out as outrage at a remark made by a police officer back in January has resulted in over 3,000 marching on Toronto last month and around 2,000 marching on Boston last weekend. Upwards of 5,000 people currently plan to attend the London march, to be held on June 11th. And there are more marches planned - from Argentina to Australia, the Netherlands to New Zealand.

Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti got a lot more than he bargained for when he told a group of Osgoode Hall Law School students:

"I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

He later apologised, but the damage was done. United in anger at a persisting, damaging culture of victim-blaming and police forces refusing to take allegations seriously, thousands of women marched to Toronto's police headquarters on April 3rd. Their goal: to raise awareness about sexual violence and to shift police, media and public focus on to its perpetrators, not its victims.

Cue celebratory blog posts, excitement that thousands of women feel moved to march against deplorable attitudes and praise that the Slutwalkers are invoking the spirit of riot grrrl.

" harks back to the dawn of the 1990s when musician Kathleen Hanna, unwilling figurehead for the riot grrrl movement and lead singer for Bikini Kill, went on stage with the word "slut" scrawled across her body. In doing this, she made a visceral, powerful statement about her sexuality. Her message was not 'yes, I am a slut'. It was this: 'by reclaiming the derogatory terms that you use to silence my sexual expression, I dilute your power'," wrote Ray Filar in the Guardian this week.

But nothing is ever simple and the Slutwalk movement has found itself coming in for plenty of criticism too. Filar's column was a response to another Guardian comment piece by Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy, in which they argued that a focus on reclaiming the word 'slut' is problematic.

"The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal "madonna/whore" view of women's sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources," they wrote.

And they're not the only ones. Just today I've read several posts coming to the same conclusion: fighting against victim-blaming and rape culture: good. Using the word 'slut' to do so: bad. There's concern that it's going to be impossible to extricate the word from its unpleasant connotations and that this is going to be picked up on as yet another excuse for misogynists and victim-blamers alike to have a field day.

A BBC News piece discussing the power of the word, posted on Monday, has already attracted hundreds of comments and they range from the supportive to the predictable. Some people commented that any double standard surrounding men, women and sex is absolutely fine because 'that's just the way it is'.

It does make you wonder how effective any attempt at reclaiming the word is going to be if people refuse to look past its traditional use as a degrading insult and choose to hate on the Slutwalkers even more for the clothing choices many of them have made for the marches.

Some women participating have chosen to march wearing miniskirts, heels, bikinis and underwear in an attempt to get the message out that whatever they wear and whenever they wear it, it is not an invitation to sexual assault. This message is one which is crucial to Slutwalk, to Reclaim the Night, to all the charities out there working to change public perception of victims of harassment, assault and rape.

But it's becoming clear that some of Slutwalk's critics don't see it this way. One representative from a conservative group has spoken out to say that the marches have a 'negative connotation' and should be more 'family friendly'. Just yesterday some particularly winsome callers to a UK radio phone-in said that they believe women who dress in a certain way 'should face the consequences'.

"If you dressed as a pork-chop to feed lions, you'd get eaten," said one caller on the Jeremy Vine show.

There has been further criticism from the feminist camp at the way some people are treating and discussing the marches.

Meghan Murphy at Canadian website The F Word is happy that so many women are proclaiming they've 'had enough' of double standards and victim-blaming, but also has concerns about some of the sentiments expressed on the main Slutwalk Facebook group. by both men and women.

"...what I found, over and over again was, not only a refusal to align with feminism, but often, an outright aversion to it. I saw numerous attacks on radical feminism and radical feminists and I witnessed the reinforcement of negative and untrue stereotypes about feminism (you know the ones: man-hating, misandrist, no-fun, sex-negative, etc)," she said in a great post, published on Saturday.

One of Murphy's concerns is that she's seeing too much of the 'every choice I make is empowerful and has nothing to do with anyone else' school of thought surrounding discussions about women, equality and Slutwalk. It's certainly not good when debate starts going down this route and I would agree with her that we should be wary of it. The original aim and focus of the march shouldn't be diluted.

It's obvious that no-one's going to agree on the myriad issues surrounding Slutwalk. A good thing? A bad thing? Futile? Offensive? Revolutionary? You decide.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image of Toronto Slutwalk via Anton Bielousov's Flickr.

Thoughts on Nadine Dorries' abstinence crusade

Saturday, 7 May 2011

This week, Nadine Dorries tabled her Ten Minute Rule Bill, entitled 'Sex Education (Required Content). 67 MPs voted in favour of the proposal, with 61 voting against. A narrow victory, but it meant that the bill passed its first reading. I don't think there's much need for us to go into all-out panic mode. The level of interest shown by MPs on Wednesday was low and it doesn't have much chance of becoming law. Dorries herself is spectacularly untrustworthy as an MP. But you can't deny she's on a bit of a mission and that she's not going to give up.

There's her connections with self-described Christian fundamentalist Andrea Minichiello Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre who wants to see abortion made completely illegal and is somewhat partial to hate speech. There's her ongoing attempts to limit access to abortion services using dodgy 'research' and promotion of so-called 'non-aligned' advice services which have turned out be anything but.

And now, she's pushing the intriguing view that it's teenage girls - not boys - who need to be given abstinence education. There's no point in me rehashing other blog posts from earlier this week, so here's a link to a post explaining exactly what her plans are. And here's one debunking the 'facts' which Dorries detailed in the Commons this week. It's laughable, really that she's in the business of believing that seven-year-olds are learning about STIs and using condoms as part of the school curriculum. There may have been a lot of noise, in recent years, from certain tabloids about what sort of sex education children are getting, but the fact is that seven-year olds are being taught about the differences between male and female bodies, families and self esteem. No-one's teaching them how to use contraception or how to avoid chlamydia and she should know better than to believe Daily Mail scaremongering.

When people hear the word 'abstinence', they think of the deplorable state of affairs which emerged in schools across the US during the 90s, continuing during George W Bush's presidency. Schools banned from giving students any information about safe sex, STIs, what to do if they found themselves pregnant. Around a third of schools using 'abstinence-only' education. A focus on shaming young people, outdated gender roles and misinformation. Promoting victim-blaming, likening young people who have been sexually active to half-eaten cakes or used and discarded chewing gum. As I mention in my post on the subject, a 2004 report from Representative Henry Waxman found that over 80 per cent of federally funded abstinence programs contained false or misleading information about sex and reproductive health.

It wasn't the right way to go about things and this has been proved. As everyone knows, a lot of teens will ignore the advice of abstinence-only sex ed. Unfortunately, it's left them without the knowledge they need of they are going to be sexually active. Or it's left them with the view that it's okay, it doesn't count as sex if it's 'just' oral or anal sex. Or it's left them with the view that they should feel ashamed of any sexual activity they do take part in. What happens if they later become the victim of rape or assault? This post over at Sociological Images shows where they are in the US with teen pregnancy, with STI rates, compared to some countries in Europe which are renowned for their more 'liberal' sex education policy. And it's not looking good.

Thankfully, Nadine Dorries hasn't used the term 'abstinence-only'. A lot of what she talked about on Wednesday seemed to be related to the fact she wants schools to tell girls it's 'okay to say no'. She mentioned this repeatedly. That girls should be 'empowered to say no'. And she talked about it as if it's something which doesn't already happen. Now I know sex education in schools is patchy and invariably dodgy. It desperately needs sorting out. But I do know that young people are, in general, given 'saying no' as an option that's open to them and an option which they absolutely should consider if they don't want to engage in sexual activity. It's also an option echoed by teen magazines and sexual health educators. As Lisa from Education for Choice said in a blog post last month:

"In my experience sex educators are always talking about: a) the fact that not having sex is the best way to guarantee you won’t get pregnant b)the importance of feeling ready for sex, c) how unacceptable it is to pressure someone into sex d) how eminently sensible and reasonable it can be to choose not to have sex...etc."

This has been backed up by teachers and I know it was also the case with the (limited, patchy and ineffective) sex education classes I had as a teenager. So Dorries to be primarily concerned with something which already happens - and preoccupied with only telling half of all young people about it.

Some people have pointed out that her focus on teaching girls about abstinence is down to the fact that it's girls who will be the ones who might end up pregnant. But there's very little point giving out particular messages to one gender - when boys, who will certainly be participating in any sexual activity with these girls, will receive different messages.

"Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations," she said on Wednesday.

In this case, shouldn't we also be telling boys that they should not 'insist on sexual relations'? It's not long since the publication of the landmark NSPCC report which documented the prevalence of violence and abuse in teen relationships. The report told of how a third of teenage girls have been forced into sexual acts by their boyfriends and that a quarter had faced violence. In recent months I've had several conversations with sexual health and sexual violence workers who have spoken of confusion and acceptance about this sort of behaviour from teens. They feel it's just a normal part of being in a relationship. Or that it 'shows that he cares'.

It's been said since that Dorries is focusing too much on making girls the 'gatekeepers' when it comes to relationships and this is an attitude which desperately needs to be confined to the past. When girls are the 'gatekeepers' they're the ones who get the blame for any consequences. They're the ones who get branded as 'dirty' or 'slags' or 'go and get themselves pregnant' while people shrug their shoulders and make noises about 'what boys are like'. The onus should be on boys as much as girls to show respect, not to pressurize or to force and not to see responsibility as lying with one partner. Whatever Dorries wants, this doesn't seem to come into it.

Abstinence is a completely valid choice and there's nothing wrong with telling young people that they can make this choice. But it needs to be taught as part of comprehensive sex education involving both boys and girls. I sometimes think, that as a Christian (and actually, as someone who has practiced abstinence), comprehensive sex education gets a really bad rap among 'people like me'. It's the worry that education is tantamount to encouragement and the fear of it being 'at odds' with Biblical teaching.

But when I look at what happened in the US and what the people who Nadine Dorries associates with want for this country, I'm very happy to not toe the party line. It's up to parents, youth leaders and churches it they want to promote a specific stance on sex and relationships, but a teacher's duty should be to educate accurately and responsibly. The majority of teenagers don't live in the 'church bubble', with the support of parents and youth leaders and they shouldn't have to suffer because of it. Dorries has spoken in the past of the fact she wants more church leaders and Christians to get behind her and give her support. Unless she's about to start acting with integrity as a politician, I really do think we shouldn't.

The questions journalists ask

Thursday, 5 May 2011

I've written a feature for The F Word, entitled 'The questions journalists ask' and discussing media coverage of feminist issues in 2010, the way it represented the movement and the implications it has.

You can read it here.

Rally to Restore Unity

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Rachel Held Evans is one of my New Favourite Bloggers. I can't believe it's taken me this long to find her writings about Christianity, life, womanhood and social justice but I'm really glad I did. I was excited to see her plans for a week-long Rally to Restore Unity - "Because our commonalities are more important than our differences…".

1 Corinthians 12 says: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body...But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

John 13:35 says: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And according to Paul in Ephesians 4:1-16: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

The theme of Christian unity is a really tricky one and the problems affecting it, the problems stopping it from being what it should be, are vast and wide-ranging and differ depending on where you live, what sort of church you attend. Your racial identity. Your gender.

One of the main reasons Rachel was inspired to launch the Rally to Restore Unity was the fall-out and the drama which the publication of Rob Bell's Love Wins has caused. Bookshops have stopped stocking his work. Pastors have been fired for reading it. I've deliberately refrained from reading the dearth of blog posts about the whole affair, but from the few paragraphs and comments I've skimmed over, I know that some of my fellow Christians have been displaying incredible levels of vitriol about the issues involved. This, of course, isn't anything new and I'm no stranger to it - as someone who is pretty invested in gender issues in the church I can't avoid it.

And there's always something. Gender issues are a major sticking point whether we're talking about bishops, birth control or everyone's favourite, those neverending 'head/source/helpmeet/partner' wrangles. There's the 'Which Bible translation do you use?' issue. Before the Love Wins controversy blew up, there was the Great Steve Chalke and Spring Harvest vs UCCF, Keswick and the Atonement Drama of 2007. Despite the language used in the verses above - the bits about love and honour and patience, one thing I've learned is that you should never underestimate the capacity of supposedly loving Christians to go all-out on the bullying, threats and insults. Particularly on the internet. Over issues, which fundamentally, should not affect the fact that we are all part of one body with common goals and purposes. We have a common bond which should go much further than it currently does towards uniting those at loggerheads over doctrinal differences.

I think disunity over these issues is toxic. When I've heard people say that they would walk out of a church if they saw communion being served by a woman, or that they wouldn't be going to a joint church event because the Catholics and the Methodists are involved (and believe me, I have heard people say these things) I think they probably need to sit back and think about how these words fit with Jesus's teachings about unity and the body of Christ. It's perfectly acceptable and natural to have disagreements, but I think it's vital we consider at what price these disagreements come.

Some months ago I read a blog post by a pastor who was most perturbed that the group of churches he is a part of had been criticised for not displaying more unity with other church groups and denominations. His response was that he saw no real point in getting all ecumenical with people whose doctrines and way of 'doing church' he had differences with, because such partnerships would only be unproductive and a waste of his time. I do agree that if there was going to be a situation where differences made it very hard to work together and caused major issues, then that would be unproductive. But as a way of taking a stand against ecumenism, it leaves a bad taste and I wondered why calls for unity had got him so riled.

Plenty of Christians aren't really in situations where doctrine causes such disunity and drama. But there are issues of unity close to home for most of us, as churchgoers, which could always do with examining. What does church, for us, look like? And how do we feel about those for whom church looks different? What level of respect and honour, as brothers and sisters, do we display towards:

- those who prefer a traditional church service when we prefer a contemporary one (and vice versa, of course)?
- those who incorporate charismatic gifts into services when we don't?
- those who wear smart clothes for church when we don't feel the need to 'dress up'?
- those who attend churches with predominantly working-class congregations when ours is a middle-class one?
- those who attend churches which are racially diverse when ours is predominantly white, or black?
- those who are big on community action and social justice when we feel we have different priorities?
- those who go to churches with pews, or altars, or raise their hands in the air when they worship, or experiment with alternative worship, or 'do' outreach, or run the Alpha Course or decide to use Christianity Explored instead?

Are we accepting and accommodating, or do we mock, roll our eyes and make comments about the right way to do things? Or God's way? It's not about agreeing with each other about everything or even enjoying and wanting to go to every type of church and service. It's about remembering what unites us and that God feels the same way about all of us, rather than making everything about calling out people for not being exactly the same as us, having the same priorities and looking like us.

Criticism has its place and in cases of abuse, of hate speech, of distorting God's message it is justified. There are many people who have been hurt by the church. But this week is all about Restoring Unity, so let's reflect on it and see where we can make changes in to further the cause.

Rally to Restore Unity resources
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#restoreunity on Twitter

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