Saturday, October 13, 2012

173 congregations?

I got my directory in the mail today.

As always I use this as one of the ways to keep an eye on the overall health of the denomination. This is not always an easy thing to do, but it's still worth trying.

The preface says that there are 173 Unitarian congregations in Great Britain, which is one up on last year (172). But I can't work out where the new congregation has come from. The breakdown in the preface suggests that the growth is in England (146 congregations compared to last year's 145). When I counted the recognised congregations and unofficial fellowships I also counted 146, but none of those are new, so perhaps last year's numbers were wrong? I'm confused.

However, going through the directory, I can see that one congregation has closed in England and one fellowship has been formed in Scotland. Gloucester Unitarians, listed as worshipping with the Quakers once a month in 2011, has disappeared in 2012. Gloucester is a city with a population of 121,000. 

Forth Valley Unitarian Fellowship is new. They are meeting in members homes, but do have a decent website.

So, overall numbers of congregation are steady or steadily declining. I do wonder though, how long numbers of members can continue to decline before we see numbers of congregations declining rapidly. I wouldn't be surprised if one year we see ten congregations dying. But some research does suggest that small congregations can be surprisingly resilient.

Monday, October 01, 2012

"Redefining" marriage

OK, let's deal with this idea, presented by the critics of marriage equality, and defenders of "traditional" marriage that same sex marriage "redefines"  marriage.

Is this true? What is the nature of this "redefinition"?

I think we gain an important insight into this from an interesting story that has just emerged from Australia. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney has added the word "submit" to the vows a wife makes to her husband in the marriage ceremony. In the proposed new wording the minister will ask the woman "Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?'

This is justified by the very conservative bishop by explicitly saying that equality between sexes is wrong. Clearly women need to submit to men, according to this bishop.

This is the argument for "traditional" marriage. It is about one woman (or more) submitting to a man. It's about women becoming, in some sense, the property of men.

In this understanding of marriage obviously same sex marriage makes no sense, because there can be no submission. In same sex marriage there cannot be a power differences between sexes, so there cannot be "traditional" marriage.

So when people talk about the "redefinition" of marriage I say, yes, we are talking about a redefinition, but for most of us, this redefinition has already happened. The redefinition is about understanding marriage as a partnership between equals. The redefinition happens when we consider women equal to men.

So the redefinition happens when we consider marriage a partnership of equals.

If you understand marriage as being a partnership between equals, then same sex marriage makes sense. Two men and two women can be just as much a partnership of equals as a woman and a man.

But if you consider marriage to be about men having authority over women, then same sex marriage will never make sense, because there can be no power differential between the two people based on sex.

This is why I believe same sex marriage as the potential to redeem and renew marriage, by confirming it as a partnership of equals, by purging it of its sexist undertones for everyone.

I once heard someone, I think it was Gene Robinson, say these words, and I believe they really apply here:

"Homophobia is just one small room in the mansion of sexism."