No going back
In the mid-1960s a country pub in Wiltshire made the national news headlines by installing a horse hitching rail outside its main entrance. This was in the days when the new drink driving laws were very contentious. Many rural pubs thought they were going to go out of business if customers could no longer drive to and from their ‘local.’ The landlord concerned said he was offering an alternative so his customers could ride rather than drive for their pint or two. He was unaware that a much earlier law – the 1872 Licensing Act – made it an offence to be drunk in charge of a horse (or a cow or a steam engine!). So, his efforts were to no avail.
The story is a reminder that what is assumed as dangerous behaviour these years later – that drinking and driving don’t mix – was for a long period tolerated. Legal changes introduced in 1925, 1930, and 1965, had failed to stem an inexorable rise in road deaths involving intoxicated drivers. It wasn’t until the Breathalyser was introduced by the Road Safety Act of 1967 that deaths and injuries began to fall. In the first year of its implementation well over a thousand fewer deaths were recorded than the previous year, although many still argued that the law was an infringement of civil liberties.
How different are current attitudes: to assert that an individual has the right to drive while intoxicated is something most people would now think ridiculous. Just how that change of thought came about is arguable. The breathalyser played its part, as did adverts, changed transport options, police vigilance, greater awareness of road deaths, the increase in eating-out, changed social sensibilities, and numerous other factors, no doubt. Whatever the relationship of those factors to one another, behaviour and its justifying thought has irrevocably changed. To go back isn’t a tolerable thought.
I wonder whether coming to the recognition of just how androcentric the use of scripture in the Church has traditionally been, and often remains, isn’t similar. How often have I assumed that the male perspective is THE perspective? Have I ignored or downplayed or stereotyped women’s voices within the biblical text? Have I reduced the possibilities of salvation by always tempering my account of Jesus’ encounters with women in distinctively male ways? What are the gendered prejudices that I haven’t even noticed? And these questions are but the tip of the iceberg. Once you’ve seen the issue, there is no going back – I hope.
A couple of generations ago, recognition of Jesus’ preferential option for the poor was contentious. Am I naïve to feel that it is no longer anything other than obvious that that was the stance of the One who had ‘nowhere to lay his head?’ To reduce the Gospel to abstract principles devoid of association with the actual life circumstances of God’s people is just that – an unacceptable reduction. I believe that preaching must always strive against all such reductions. And that means hearing with fresh commitment and vigour what women say about, and say in, scripture. The inclusive Gospel requires that of all of us – women and men – made in the image of God. On that there must be no going back.
Christopher Burkett, Editor