The Church of Ireland recently published its own documents on the issues we’re discussing in the Shared Conversations. I’ve started to work my way through them, but there’ll need to be a pause in this process because I’m going to be absorbed in inspecting a theological institution – not a Church of England one! – for a few days. But I’ve seen enough to know that there’s much useful material from our sisters and brothers in Ireland. One of the documents has a useful timeline of the various Anglican statements on sexuality up to 2015 (Appendix A) and a handy checklist (Appendix E) of the differences between Debate (in which the aim is to win, aka what I do in the day job) and Dialogue (where the aim is to understand, aka what Shared Conversations are about). Echoing something I was discussing in Fruit or Chocolate?, the checklist includes the importance of finding out ‘why people believe what they believe’.
Healthy dialogue, on this checklist, includes willingness to ‘express emotions when they convey the intensity of a belief or experience’.
Ah, emotions. An interesting area for any consideration of gender. Big boys don’t cry, right? And if they do, we’re supposed to take it very, very seriously, whereas if women cry, that’s OK, they’re just women, and it’s probably because they aren’t getting their own way. And, as anyone who’s watched a child crying by the ice cream van or the sweet shop knows, tears can be manipulative. In 2008, during a General Synod debate on what provision should be made for opponents if legislation to allow women bishops were to be passed, the Suffragan Bishop of Dover cried. This was sufficiently shocking that it was reported in the media. He was apparently comforted by other members of Synod.
My dad was a man who cried, particularly in movies. We would sit together on the sofa, howling, while my mum – who doesn’t have much interest in anything fictional – would occasionally look in and shake her head incredulously. Like my dad, I still cry at the solo treble singing the first verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s city’ at the start of midnight mass. And at much else. I’ve never had much difficulty with Romans 12:15, ‘Mourn with those who mourn’. Just try and stop me.
There does appear to be a difference between men and women in terms of how many times a year they cry, and how long each episode lasts. Is there a scientific explanation for this? Hormones, in particular prolactin, have been implicated. But historians argue that this absence of manly tears is not biological, but cultural. In Homer, men cry floods of tears. Jesus wept. It’s been suggested that industrialization is to blame for the repression of tears, as our natural empathy makes it difficult to get on with work if the next man down on the assembly line is crying.
I rather hope nobody at our Shared Conversations cries. Even more, I hope I don’t. But we’ll be tapping into some intensely felt experiences and some intensely held beliefs. Whatever happens, I hope we keep our dialogue honest, open and healthy.