Friday, January 28, 2011

signs of the times?

As some of you are not football fans, and some not from these shores, I'll begin with a brief run down of what has been a major - though strange - news story here this week. Andy Gray & Richard Keys, both in their mid-fifties, main presenters of Sky Sports football coverage for twenty years (ever since it began) have lost their jobs in the last seven days over off-camera sexist remarks they made about a female match offical not being able to understand the basic rules of the game simply because she was a woman. (There's a lot more - click here for a BBC version of it all.)

Almost no-one has defended them. Newspapers condemned them for prehistoric attitudes. Footballers (who you would have considered fairly neanderthal in their approach to life) issued tweet after tweet in support of Sian Massey, the official in question, and saying that the kind of locker room banter that Gray & Keys engaged in was unacceptable. Here's Robbie Savage (in the twighlight of his career, plying his trade at Derby County in the Championship) from his twitter feed:
"You have to judge the person on ability and decision making and having played in games where she has officiated she was excellent !"
Again he wrote,
"I spoke to miss Massey the same I did to a male Lino it's irrelevant the gender !"

A discussion on Radio 5 was the only place I heard anyone begin to suggest it wasn't all bad. And this was from Lawrie Sanchez, former manager of the Northern Ireland national side. He wanted to make sure there wasn't a crime of thinking impure thoughts, and that people were allowed to have different opinions, and he pointed out that there was a generational shift. No-one was much convinced, though it was accepted there had been a generational shift, and attitudes to women in sport that had been prevalent and acceptable twenty years ago were not acceptable now. In the same way that almost no professional sports person would smoke today.

It reminded me of a press conference a few weeks ago about the succesful Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup, when a journalist asked Sepp Blatter (in his seventies), President of FIFA, about gay football fans going to a country where homosexuality is illegal. Blatter sniggered (along with others in the room) and then said: "I'd say they should refrain from any sexual activities."

There was a moderate outburst against this from some gay rights groups, and in some western footballing countries (including here in the UK), but Blatter (unlike Gray & Keys) remains in post.

The world is changing. Old men of a previous generation are finding that attitudes that have been safe forever are no longer universally acceptable. Good thing too. It is not just boys who can travel first class. It is not just those in the safe majority who can treat everybody else how they please, and speak about others without respect or regard. This change is long and slow in coming. It is happening in so many areas of life. We should seek it out and foster it.

This is a Christian imperative. In Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female. Jesus dines with sinners and tax collectors - because they are human. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.

The problem is that we are human too, and we live in a culture, and we are more shaped by it than we know. Those older than us for whom expecting women to do the dishes was the norm (rather than officiating at top flight football matches) or for whom homosexuality was instinctively wrong are not evil for having these attitudes - they are of their generation. But we are not. We do not need to read the Scriptures with the lens of the past, no matter how long that lens has been in place. Culture shapes how we read the words God has given us - we must understand this humbly, so that we can use the lens we have to find the purest light. And understanding this humbly, as we seek to change the lens for a better one, we must do so carefully. Heaven help us - those coming after us may be left with what we choose for as long as we have suffered the attitudes that have gone before us.

Churches today are beginning to work out that women and men are both human. That the Creation story places a remarkable equivalence upon us, as does the Resurrection narrative. Because we in the Church have worked (frankly) with the superiority of men for so long, this change is harder for us than for Sky Sports. It is not done with in a week. We are not submitting to "the spirit of the age" as we take this equivalence on board, but rather freeing ourselves from the spirit of too-long ages past so that we better reflect the truth of God as revealed in his word, liberated from a cultural prison whereby some people are worth less than others - a state of being that can never, never be Gospel.

I have enjoyed Andy Gray & Richard Keys as they have brought football match after football match into my front room over the years. But if their departing is a symbol of the world losing something awful, much as I have loved them, in their going, we have gained much.

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