Transphobic Letters, Mansplaining & Male Violence.

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod.

Rosie Haarper

How many more ways can some Christians find to express their bigotry and judgementalism?

I spent last Saturday morning on a study day, working at the development of the Oxford Diocesan Vision trying to find ways of communicating the love of God to this generation. I then open the paper on Sunday morning to see the nation being treated to an open letter to the Bishops which is a  hopeless expression of transphobia. How long can I go on telling people that I’m ‘not that kind of Christian’?

Of course, as with all religious sexism and homophobia the denial is total.

It’s renamed as being faithful to God’s word. Frankly I’m done with colluding with that game. Let’s simply name it. And let’s not spiritualise it. In our society there is plenty of pernicious prejudice, so of course it will be in the Church too.

The letter in The Times, signed by over 1500 people however led me to a darker place. A place that we really must not talk about. In essence it was a violent document. I guess I wasn’t that surprised because it had all the classic trademarks – soapy Christian words of pseudo acceptance and compassion masking the fact that they were using their power to try and force the Bishops, who had gently and pastorally reached a good place, to backtrack. Assuming rights over other people’s conscience is both cruel, and, when it takes away people’s identity a form of violation – or violence. As I scrolled down the list of signatories I saw that the vast majority were male. I did a rough trawl through the names and it seems that between 3- 4% of the clergy were women.

So yes, the letter was a trigger. We need to talk about male violence. We are just not allowed to talk about it.

One of my Christmas break reads was Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit. In the opening essay she does a sparkling romp through ‘mansplaining’. Ha! So true, so very true.  The guts of the book is the the essay The Longest War. She is very clear: ‘Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.’ She goes on to look at the horrifying level of violence in the world; rape, murder, and of course warfare. She then examines the ways in which we try to understand what is going on. We talk about growing up in poverty, but women are poor too. We talk about exposure to tobacco in the womb, but the girl babies don’t grow up to be rapists. In the US we talk about the availability of guns, but they are available to everyone and  90% of murder is committed by men. We search for reasons and many might be valid enough, but none address the simple fact that almost all the violence in the world is male.

Whenever I go near this subject the first response I get is ‘but men suffer from  violence too. Not all domestic violence is on women.’ This is true. Although most of the violence men experience is by other men, in domestic violence there are appalling examples of violence by women. On the whole however, the relatively small number of cases tend to result in less severe injuries, or, very occasionally in murder after years and years of abuse by the male partner.

Thankfully most men are not violent in an extreme way. I know, love and admire many men that I feel safe with. Even they however would mostly buy into the suggestion for example, that football is a healthy way for men and boys to subjugate their latent violence.

I think what I want to say is that if we think we have a gospel that is worth preaching then it has to face this most fundamental issue and have something transformative to say about it. If we imagine we are going to change to world by working out if God wants gay people to sleep with one another we are seriously down a blind alley. Ask any decent human being ‘what is their deepest wish for this world?’ and it always has to be peace. An end to violence; between individuals, between tribes, between nations.

That is exactly what the cross is about. Jesus was taken to the place of the utmost violence and made the choice of sacrifice and love. The potential for transforming the world lies in that choice. It is there, and maybe only there that hope can be found.

I used to wonder why God didn’t enter the world as a woman, but now I see. Jesus had to be male. As a man, hanging on the cross, forgiving those who visited violence on God he was truly able to embody a different way.

I wish I knew how to inject some urgency into this matter. Elaine Storkey, in her tough and timely book Scars across Humanity points to the source of hope: ‘the Christian faith offers a biblical framework for understanding it (male violence)  and the power of God’s love to combat it’ (although the word combat is itself a violent word) and she ends her book with book with this plea: ‘Ending the violence is urgent. The scars across humanity are deep. It is time to join the healing and the work of restorative justice.’

Amen sister!

This entry was posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Sexism, Transgender. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Transphobic Letters, Mansplaining & Male Violence.

  1. David Baker says:

    Hi Rosie

    I’m intrigued by your article!

    As one of the 1,000+ members of the clergy who have already signed, I wonder whether you might like to engage with some of the specific factual and theological points raised within the letter, perhaps highlighting what things you agree with, what you disagree with, and why.

    It’s good to keep fact-based and discuss specifics, it seems to me. Else everyone just ends up labelling and “othering” those they disagree with!

    Grace and peace

    David Baker

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Edmund Weiner says:

    I’m sorry to say that men haven’t even got to square one in realizing, let alone admitting, the depth of the evil inclination within their psyche. Unregenerate men, and many who think they are regenerate, are fundamentally violent, as well as too cowardly to look into themselves. ‘The fragile male ego’ is only too true. I speak as one of the bastards.


  3. len says:

    I think the Church is suffering from Godphobia, and has invented a PC’ christian ‘religion entirely of its own devising.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. llanfach says:

    Excellent, thanks Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. E F says:

    As a young, female, lay signatory of the discussed letter, I call hogwash.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Cat Meakin says:

    It is certainly true that many awful acts of violence are done by men and the world is in a terrible mess. However I have met quite a number of the male clergy who have signed this letter and I have never experienced violence of any kind from any of them. In fact among the signatories I see some of the kindest and most thoughtful men I know, most of them are gentler and kinder than me (though I am trying).
    I am sad to see their names connected in this article with some seriously offensive crimes when I have never seen any of the men listed do anything violence or degrading to a woman and I know they are as heartbroken as anyone over the wrong and violent things men do to women and each other (and the many ways we women harm each other and men too).

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Joe Mongala says:

    I hope you consider the idea of traveling to Morocco to spread your message in person.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Emoprincess says:

    So sad to hear these man categories in comments like “factual and theological points,” that hurts women and LGBT people.

    So happy to have a woman emosplain. We need more emosplaining because ppl rationalize things and then that’s violence. Facts are weaponized. Only with the proper way of emosplaining like this can we realize that men are horrible thugs and only women and LGBT people with the right emowords and emosplaining can help deal in the right way with all the thugs and keep them down with love and charity.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. June says:

    I’m wondering where the conflation with violence comes in?

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Nick says:

    I’m sorry to say Rosie, but you are absolutely right.


  11. D Shepherd says:

    You wrote: “if we think we have a gospel that is worth preaching then it has to face this most fundamental issue and have something transformative to say about it”.

    So, how does that gospel speak to victims of lesbian intimate partner violence (IPV)?
    Does it empower and encourage victims to be forthright>? Or declare that IPV among lesbian couples is either. by and large, instigated by the perpetrator’s experience of male violence? Or belittle the issue by saying that, compared to gay or straight IPV, “the relatively small number of cases tend to result in less severe injuries”?

    Also, if “the Christian faith offers a biblical framework for understanding it (male violence) and the power of God’s love to combat it’ “, does that include just those who are natively male, or those ‘psychological’ males who transition from female?

    If (as LGBT advocacy groups assert) gender is a continuum, instead of dimorphic categories, why do you resort to the latter dimorphism in fixing responsibility for most violence?


  12. Donald says:

    As a Christian man, this article has truly offended me. It feels like a direct attack tarring all men with the same brush. I’m supposed to be your brother in Christ but here I’m guilty of violence, rape, oppression, and more – all because of my gender? How can you think like this? I have never done any of those things. How deeply sad. And why try to make out this is all about Jesus and his cross when really it’s just having a go at one gender? I honestly can’t understand this and feel quite hurt and victimised given that you are senior clergy in the church of which I am a part.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. unholyjoe says:

    I was utterly bewildered by this article. In particular I could not fathom the leap of logic from a letter which I recalled to be calm, reasonable, rational and understanding, to its dismissal as “a violent document”. And then the leap of logic to the portrayal of 50% of humanity as violent, even the ones with whom the writer feels “safe” (because they like watching football matches) and the ones who are beaten up by their wives (because – obviously – they started it). So I went back and reread the letter, and I am still bewildered.
    Except that I am not really.


    Liked by 1 person

  14. TJL says:

    Over half of all murder in the US is committed by black men who account for less than 6 percent of the population

    Liked by 1 person

    • janiskf says:

      You might be more inclined to shoot, too, if your grandparents had been lynched, or more likely, people assumed you would be an employment or housing problem rendering you without employment or housing, with a picture of a world that quite practically has it in for you.

      This is a loop. I suggest you see that you’re a member of the party in power and use that power for the good. Stop the assumptions, and certainly stop propagating them. Support black women, maybe. Help interrupt the loop. Your comment is anything but help.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Nicholas Elder says:

    I think that a majority of the responses to your carefully considered and nuanced article demonstrate the proof of what you are saying! Sadly.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This may seem a little irreverent, but sometimes that’s the point. We may never be able to beat down the seemingly intractable problem of the male inclination to dominate, to the point of death. I’m honestly not sure if we as women should try. We might be able to redirect it, though that’s exactly the strength and the passive nature of the feminine. It’s a catch 22. I do fully support and appreciate your willingness to paint the picture, or simply act as the seemingly unkind mirror to masculinity. That’s a dangerous place. Women are repeatedly represented as the fairer sex, and then necessarily in service. It’s time for that to stop, but the boys keep making messes. Violent ones. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could focus on solving other problems, like disease?

    Thank you, so much, for this.


  17. janiskf says:

    Guys, this isn’t about *you.* Get over yourselves. In being offended, you’re doing exactly what she’s trying to point out. Step back, look at the big picture of what’s going on, and man up, or rather, woman up. Wash a few feet. Release the need to dominate. .#SorryNotSorry #NotExactlyNuanced

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Duncan says:

    Dear Rosie
    As a signatory to the letter i strongly object to a rather lazy use of language in the article as violence means “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” its is a later 13c term means , “physical force used to inflict injury or damage,” from Anglo-French and Old French violence (13c.), from Latin violentia “vehemence, impetuosity,” from violentus “vehement, forcible,” probably related to violare (see violation). By using it in the terms you have you have engaged people with an image that creates images of Domestic violence. Having spent many year prior to ordination as a family lawyer dealing with domestic violence your comment cheapen the pain of the victims. This isn’t about how people feel in the snowflake generational way this is a serious theological issue. I am sorry to say but the tone of the article is unhelpful and the use of language misleading.
    In Christ
    The Revd Duncan Beet

    Liked by 1 person

  19. David says:

    The article was raw and impassioned. It also made quite clear that not every man was being accused of violence. But if we men are really not aware of these issues and are unwilling to hear it from those who know it to their own cost – well we are part of the problem and no amount of linguistic analysis of the word ‘violence’ will solve that.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for a excellent article. Very disappointed to read the responses but this is what we expect and what happened when Monroe said “all white people are racist” and the response we see to the #metoo campaign. I guess people are generally looking so hard at the perceived splinter in your eye while ignoring the log in their own! If the gospel teaches anything it’s about love – and pretty much nothing about trans issues! I am guessing God would rather we get the love right judging by the number of times Christ mentions it!


  21. Pingback: Transphobic Letters, Mansplaining & Male Violence. | Kiwianglo's Blog

  22. Snowy says:

    1. Is this senior diocesan and synodical priest writing a letter using words violently against those she disagrees with?

    2. Which is more violent – the unknown parish priest who respectfully asks Bishops to rethink on theological and pastoral grounds a response to transgender persons or the senior cleric who uses her high and wide platform to advocate for euthanasia?

    Liked by 1 person

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