Religion & Beliefs

Gay Rabbis, Women Imams

Generally speaking, I try to avoid discussing the specifics of other people’s religions. As long as they do not impinge on anybody but those who voluntarily adhere to them, the nature of religious practices and the doctrinal content of those … Read More

By / October 27, 2008

Generally speaking, I try to avoid discussing the specifics of other people’s religions. As long as they do not impinge on anybody but those who voluntarily adhere to them, the nature of religious practices and the doctrinal content of those religions, is absolutely none of my business. I do think that it is nice that there are women clerics in all three Abrahamic faiths, and I do think that it is a pity that Orthodox Jews don’t let women conduct readings of the Torah in synagogues, but how people choose to organise their religious life is a matter entirely for them. I do not walk into my neighbour’s house and criticise them on the way they seat guests at their dinner parties, after all. Similarly I try not to express my view on this blog, on how people ought to pray.

I’m going to break that rule, here, however.

I find events like this bizarre:

A rector who conducted what amounted to a marriage service for two gay priests has apologised for the ceremony.

Traditionalists were angered in particular by the way in which the blessing of the couple’s civil partnership followed so closely the order of service contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

The couple exchanged rings, and made vows including the words, “With my body I thee worship.”

As it happens, I do think that people in committed relationships ought to ‘worship’ each other with their bodies: that is, we should cherish our partners in all ways, including physically. However, this is evidently not a view shared by the God of the three main Abrahamic religions, at least if the scripture through which He is said to impart his plan for the world is to be believed. Instead of wanting gays to worship each other with their bodies, this God wants gays to be killed.

There’s a discussion going on, on another blog, about the MECO organised event, at which Amina Wadud led Friday prayers. This is what I said in that discussion:

I don’t believe in God, and although I hugely enjoy religious services, and will happily attend those of pretty much any faith, I don’t participate in them as a believer.

One of the difficulties I have had with the Abrahamic religions is that their position on gender equality is pretty shoddy. This is not to say that all manifestations of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are bigots charters. They’re clearly not. However, all three religions deny complete equality to men and women. That is a problem, and it should be acknowledged.

It is often said that Islam was an improvement, in terms of womens’ rights, on what came before. In any case, there are in all these religions, traditions which are better, in terms of gender equality, than others. And, when I think of the way that the people I know practice their religions, very few of them put the worst bits into practice. I have female family members, for example, who are very religious, and are very happy in their faith, despite the fact that their religion does not allow them to participate in religious services on equal terms to men, even though they are perfectly capable, in terms of knowledge and ability, in doing so. Nevertheless, these family members are hugely successful in their professional life. The religion hasn’t kept them down.

The reason that women are not actively disenfranchised in their political, commercial, and social life by religion in Britain is that we are fortunate enough to live in a country that is secular. Religion does not seep into the public sphere. It is something that we voluntarily choose: not something that is forced on us by the State. I have no doubt that a political system based on a religion that discriminates against women, will also discriminate against women. In fact, we can see this by looking at states that are constituted in this manner.

What does surprise me, though, is why gays and women who find that the plain message of their religion is offensive, bother trying to reconcile orthodoxy with contemporary attitudes to women and sexual minorities.

The whole ‘magic’ of the Abrahamic faiths is that they’re ‘revealed’ religions: that God laid down the law, once and for all (or twice, or three times…) for mankind to follow.

Now, obviously, you can do a little bit of tinkering around the edges. Perhaps God doesn’t want gays to be killed just for being gay: but only for corrupting public morals. Perhaps women don’t get to lead prayers, but of course they’re special in some other separate but equal way, and so on.

However, what you’re never going to be able to do, convincingly, is to establish full equality for women, gays, and very often members of other religions. To try to read that sort of full equality into the text, turns it from God given law, to man made law.

That’s not a problem for me: but it should be a fatal issue for gay vicars and women Imams.

Perhaps there isn’t a particularly strong doctrinal objection to women priests, imams or rabbis, and the objection really comes from the dead hand of tradition. However, it is very hard to see how gays can reconcile their faith with what Christian, Jewish and Muslim scripture has to say about them.

What do you think?