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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Prestidigitation

There was more magic in The Royal Wedding than the magical notions behind the fairy tale wedding of Catherine and William last Friday.

Take, for example, the moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury asked, "Who gives this woman to this man?"

If you watched carefully, as I did, you saw Michael Middleton, Catherine's father, take her hand and place it in the hand of the Archbishop, who then took her hand and placed it in the hand of the charming Prince William.

Now you see it, now you don't.

It was a deft sleight of hand which magically evaporated decades of struggle by feminist and other enlightened men and women who have worked tirelessly for the equality of women everywhere.

Well, at least, that's what the illusion was designed to convey.

So much for the "modern face" of the "New Royals"

There stood a young woman - well educated, bright, independent - who was being "given away" like so much property.

Presto-chango!

Oh, I didn't mind the white dress or the veil, even though the lack of her virginal status is not discussed in polite company - especially and obviously in the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury who steadfastly upholds the 'teachings of the church' with regards to sex outside of marriage.

If I were given only a mere quid for every non-virginal bride who walked down the aisle in a white gown and veil I'd still be quite wealthy.

When I preside at weddings, I always ask, "Who presents these two people for the Sacrament of Marriage?" And, I have asked the parents of the bride and groom - or, the best man and maid or matron of honor - to stand and say, "We do."

To me, that is consistent with what we do in the Sacrament of Baptism and, in those places where there is a "First Holy Communion" as well as the Sacramental Rites of Confirmation and Ordination.

The person or persons to receive the Sacrament or Sacramental Rites are "presented" or "sponsored" or have "Godparents" for this important moment of grace.

I have always found the "giving away" of the bride to be an odious throwback to the days when "traditional marriage" was, in actuality, a contract between two men - the father and the husband of the bride.

Catherine did not wish to include the word "obey" in her marriage vows. Good on her, as they say in Australia. But, she might as well have.

I was curious, as well, that there was only one ring at the ceremony. Hers. William, apparently, chose not to have a wedding ring. Apparently, this was okay with Catherine. Odd, I thought, but their choice.

This is not to question what Catherine chose to do. I may not like what she chooses but I would absolutely defend her right to choose what is right and good for her and her marriage.

My question, rather, is why does the Church choose to continue this arcane, odious, offensive practice?

I understand, from my friends Across the Pond, that this little ritual is in their prayer book - the 1662 version as well as the newer 'supplemental' books.

In my answer to my question 'Does that always happen in CofE weddings?', one British friend wrote.
The short answer is No.

This page from Common Worship: Pastoral Services contains the Note (6. "Giving Away') which provides for it on an optional basis.

Please remember that although this 1928 Proposed Book rite is still authorised, as shown here it is quite rare for it to be used nowadays. The vast majority of CofE weddings use this form.
When I complained that an estimated two billion people around the world saw this ritual and will assume, as I did, that this is the way it is 'always' done in the Church of England - indeed, in the Anglican Communion - some seemed absolutely befuddled by my annoyance at the sexism of the ritual act.

One wrote:
"The custom of the father handing over the bride's hand certainly arises from a more patriarchal time when women were chattel. But the custom is to hand over the bride, not to the groom, but to the Church. In this respect, it was incipient women's lib, in that it gave the bride a notional moment of freedom, when she belonged to neither father or husband. Admittedly, the moment of freedom was more notional than real, given that it practically meant the choice to become a religious, but still . . ."
But still??? Still, what? Still a "notional moment of freedom"? Is she not free, anyway? Are a woman's only two choices in life to become a nun or a wife?

Are you kidding me?  Hello! Welcome to the Year of our Lord, 2011.

This was not 'women's lib' - incipient or otherwise.

It is sexism. Flat-out.

However, this . .  THIS. . . is the response that really pulled my last, poor, tired nerve, and, in truth, prompted this blog/rant. Another otherwise intelligent, well educated man who also works for the cause of justice in the church wrote:
"I never thought of this loving gesture as "sexist".
"Most brides I have worked with love it."
My stomach still wretches, just reading those words again.

This 'loving gesture'???? Most brides 'love it'????

Yes, I suppose the way slaves love it when you stop beating them.

The future of my work in this justice group is under serious consideration precisely because of these two statements.

I simply don't know how anyone can work for justice in the church and not see the injustice of this church ritual.

I mean, why isn't this 'loving gesture' extended to the groom, as well? Might not men come to 'love it', too? If not, why not? Really.

Ask yourself those questions and you might get at the root of my problem and annoyance.

Want to know why there is such a hullabaloo about the ordination of women and LGBT people to the priesthood and consecration to the episcopacy in the Church of England?

Indeed, would you like to know why there is an Anglican Covenant and why most Synods in The Church of England will support it?

It is due, in part, this 'loving gesture' which, 'most brides love' which is 'quite rare' and 'optional'  in use in the Church of England, except, of course, where it is not - and, especially when it is broadcast 'round the world for all to see.

No, I'm not exaggerating to make a point.

At Lambeth 2008, I was part of a consortium of justice groups working together to raise awareness, educate and yes, lobby, the bishops about issues concerning women, LGBT people and justice issues in the church.

Every morning, we gathered for prayer, conducted by one of the LGBT justice groups that was working for full inclusion in the church.

By the third day, I could no longer tolerate the 'exclusive' language of the prayer service and stopped attending. That night, at our debriefing session, I asked the group to please, please, please consider 'cleaning up' the language of prayer. Several other (American) women in the group said, "Hear, hear!"

The guys 'got it' - well, they got that the American women were pissed off and they desperately wanted not to do that. It was the women - the British women - however, who looked at me as if I had two heads and one was flopping.

They didn't understand, really, what the fuss was all about. It was 'their' prayer book. This is how 'we' pray, here. You Americans don't understand the British. We've been praying like this for centuries. It is 'our' language.

'We' understand that 'mankind' is not an 'exclusive' term - 'humankind' is cumbersome and odd and does not slip off the English tongue well. 'We' understand that the use of the male pronoun for God is neither descriptive or proscriptive but rather the way 'we' talk about God.

It made me angry, when it didn't make me feel very, very sad.

It taught me more than I wanted to know, really, about assumed, unexamined male privilege and internalized oppression.

I was reminded of a woman who had sat, for three long years, on the vestry of an Episcopal Church whose rector was undoubtedly a champion of many social justice issues - especially for LGBT people.

She could be described as a rather 'dykey'-looking lesbian - a quiet, gentle woman who fits right in with the rest of the folks in the computer/IT department where she is very successful - and not the 'type' of lesbian favored by her rector.

For three long years, she had endured being cut off in mid-sentence or her ideas being flat out ignored by her rector. During her tenure, she had regularly insisted that the parish newsletter be handled by a professional printing company, arguing that producing it on the church's Xerox machine did not reproduce the words or pictures in a crisp, clear way that did anyone any justice and did not present a 'good face' to the community as the evangelism tool it was meant to be.

When her term expired, the man who was replacing her on the Vestry said, at the very first meeting, "You know, I've been thinking. We really should do something about the parish newsletter. It really needs to be more professionally done."

"Great idea!" said the rector, "Let's figure that amount in the next budget."

My friend did a slow burn and seriously considered leaving the parish, taking her substantial pledge with her. I encouraged her to speak with the rector about the situation, which she did.

And, do you know what he said? He said, "I had no idea! I wish you would have said something sooner."

Right.

Language is a powerful tool. Words are the pack mules of language. Words shape and form and carry images and inform actions which are, in and of themselves, sometimes even more powerful than the words of any language.

This was my experience of the 'loving gesture' of the ritual of the giving of hands at Catherine and William's wedding.

It was not 'loving'. It carried with it the sexism and misogyny that is inherent in some parts of the church from the ancient to the modern.

I am absolutely convinced that, at the root of all homophobia and heterosexism is a deep and abiding sexism and misogyny that have been with us since The Garden.

Beyond the 'ick' factor of homosexuality lies the belief that gay men are men who want to be women, and who on earth would want THAT, for God's sake! And, women who are lesbians really only want to be men, and that's ... well, that's 'disordered'.

Neither of those two things are true, of course, but when your world - and mind - is small, it has a logic all its own.

Sexism, mysogyny, homophobia and heterosexism are the very present, unexamined assumptions which are deeply embedded in the words of the Anglican Covenant about the 'proper order' of the world and God's Anglican people.

It is no mistake that the question of the authority of women to function as priests and bishops is closely tied to the same questions about LGBT people and their role and function in the church.

"Lex orandi, lex credendi" - the law of prayer is the law of belief - was never more evident in the otherwise beautiful Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey last Friday.

Oh, how I wish I had a magic wand and - 'Abracadabra!' -  change that particular scene to make it more representative of the Sacramental nature of that wedding.

Alas, I can not.

I take some comfort in the fact that soon and very soon, Catherine will figure it all out. She's very bright. She'll understand that her supposed low estate as a 'commoner' who is a woman in this marriage is just a sad, pathetic illusion to prop up the sense of the importance of the monarchy.

We are all equal in God's sight.

The real magic of that wedding will be the transformation of Catherine Middleton to Catherine Mountbatten Windsor, Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen of England, who will become her own person in that marriage - despite the delusions purported by that not-so 'lovely ritual'.

I'm betting solid money that the girl-child Princess of Catherine and William will not be having any of that at her wedding.

At that same time, thirty or so years from now, I'm betting that the Anglican Covenant will be but a sad footnote in the history of the Anglican Communion.

That is not prestidigitation. That is my hopeful prognostication.

Now you see it. Then, you won't.

26 comments:

Peggy Blanchard said...

I agree completely! It has been so long since I've attended a wedding in which this form was used that I was actually shocked to see it. I don't give couples the option of "giving" in marriage--people are not property, and people who are marrying should be adults. I give couples the option of a "presentation" like you mention--who presents these persons to be married to one another? with both sets of parents -or- both families responding "We do." Many couples elect to skip that part altogether. My guess would be that Abp. Rowan wanted it in there--I don't think either William or Catherine are familiar enough with the liturgy to have any opinion, especially if the "giving" liturgy was presented as a fait d'accompli. My other thought was that perhaps they had seen it in friends' weddings, and so took it for granted. Whatever--I am both saddened and angered that this example was put forth as Anglican liturgy. It does all Anglicans everywhere a grave disservice.

SCG said...

I haven't said much on the Royal Wedding because I did not watch it. I needed the sleep more than to be a spectator. And I have been reading the threads from both sides of the pond on this issue at the Royal Wedding. I did find the comment about that to have her hand passed from the father to the Church was somehow a feminist statement was very odd and off-putting. I agree that brides are not the property of the father, or the husband, and certainly not the Church!
I also think you are onto something in seeing the breakdown of why the CoE has its knickers in knots over women and gays... and thus believing that the Anglican Covenant is "the only way forward." If they can not see the inherent lack of real personhood for women in their sacramental practices of marriage, then they won't see it anywhere else in the Church. They really are a good half-century or more behind where we've gone in the States. And that's wiggy because it's not like things are all peachy keen in all parts of this country, either!
As a notary public, I have only performed one wedding, and there was no one giving anybody away... and an opportunity for all the family and friends present to affirm and acknowledge the commitment this couple was making. I don't know why it can't be that simple for everybody.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Peggy, I'm glad to know that you don't 'give' couples the option of 'giving' in marriage. Gladdens the heart to know. And, I do believe your speculation is correct about the ABC wanting it in there. I'm sure Catherine and William didn't give it a second thought, believing that this was simply the way it's done.

I did find something about the reason William isn't wearing a wedding ring: http://royalworldjl.blogspot.com/2011/04/no-wedding-ring-for-prince-william.html

Battersea Boy said...

I, too, was disappointed at the use of the 1928 book of common prayer by the Royal couple. But that wasn't the point I wished to make.

It's difficult to convey adequately how otherwise-ardent British feminists, and the most inclusive of clergy, can go on the defensive when the historical form of their language is criticised by those "damned colonials" who "live on the other side of the pond". I suspect that's why we British will stand up and fight for the right for all mankind to be sons of God when challenged by some stroppy American woman.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SCG - Liturgy and ritual are such powerful messengers of meaning. I hope there is a movement amongst CofE clergy to put an end to this arcane and ultimately damaging practice. It's really the best way to bring about the rest of the change that is so badly needed.

Erika Baker said...

I was born in the early 60s, I took feminism for granted. I thought there were no battles left to fight. My ex-husband and I had a perfectly equal marriage. There was no question of ownership, submission or anything like that when we got married.

But I LOVED tradition, I loved the idea of giving my father a greater role than the German Lutheran rite would have given him.

My husband had taken my Dad to the pub for a drink to "ask for my hand in marriage". It was tosh, of course, we'd travelled to Germany to get engaged, after all, everyone knew. But it was a lovely custom. And they came back joking about the number of camels they'd agreed as a bride price (none! I was gutted!).

I still cherish the moment my father walked me up the aisle and gave me away. It was my way of telling him I loved him and that I really appreciated everything he had done for me.
Had we followed the German custom, my fiancé and I would have walked down the aisle together and presented ourselves as a couple to the priest.

I prefer the couple theology. But the traditional British way had SO much emotional content that I loved.

Would I do it again? If the law had been different and religious ceremonies possible, I would have loved my beloved mother-in-law to give her daughter to me the second time round. It would have been a public sign of honouring what she stood for. It meant an awful lot that she truly accepted our love and our marriage – although she was well into her 70s at that time.

Sometimes, it pays to look behind the words, behind the obvious.

it's margaret said...

I don't suggest it being done, but we do discuss it's historicity --and I'm alright doing it for both members --as a statement that a new family is being made, and the obligations and cultures of the old are done with... on that note --of the recognition that there is new allegiance, a new covenant, a new family --I find more women jump at the chance to make the statement --and I make sure the parents know what is being intended in the gesture too....

Josephine+ said...

I am getting married in a week (eeek! must go get something done!) and looked at their bulletin to see if I could crib anything. Needless to say I didn't.

No one is giving US away. And furthermore WE, as the ministers of the ceremony, are walking together at the end of the procession. We're equal adults and that's how we'll start this thing. Without ANYONE presenting ANYONE for marriage there is still an opportunity in the liturgy for those present to affirm their support for the couple.

At least in the Episcopal prayer book the whole "giving away" is just an optional rubric, and one I think that needs to be dropped entirely in the next revision.

Our wedding with seem odd to many of our non-churched guests, but we'll be saying some very important things with the WAY we do things.

Jo+

Father Bob Cowperthwaite said...

It is not just the "who gives this woman" thing. The whole service, with the men coming in from a side door, waiting at the front, while the Bride is brought down the aisle by her father, preceeded by her various "supporters" still reeks of a "change of posession."
I would prefer weddings begin with a procession down the aisle, with the bride and groom coming in together, to have their marriage (already certified by the state in whatever form) blessed, and sealed with a eucharistic celebration of thanksgiving of new life and all that makes us one with Christ and one another.
Bob Cowperthwaite

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I absolutely agree with you. Separation of church and state. It's what's right and good.

Magdalene6127 said...

Perhaps a Calvinist could weigh in?

Elizabeth, I cringed when I saw that moment of handing from father to church to husband in the ceremony, and I knew exactly what it meant. No question.

In our Book of Common Worship we Presbys have a suggested order (everything is "suggested"; that's the way of the semi-liturgical world we inhabit). In that order of worship, we ask the question this way:

To the families, friends, and loved ones of ____ and ___: Do you give them your blessing, and promise to do everything in your power to uphold them in their marriage?

This, to me, seems the only acceptable option for this moment in a wedding. I never asks who "gives" anyone in a marriage. I have already asked them, do they give themselves freely to one another. That is the only answer that is important.

Keep preaching it, my sister.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Magdalene - I think that's a good alternative, too. Did you notice how often the ABC said, "these two persons" vs. "this man and this woman"? I think that was his attempt at being "inclusive". Poor dear.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the groom (generally speaking, here) not having a ring, many times there are very specific reasons *not* to have one - such as those who work with active machinery (jewelry can get caught), electrical line-workers (a ring can actually wear a hole in the rubber protective glove and provide a path for a lethal jolt of electricity. In my case, one of the many hats I wear is servicing radio transmitters. My Faire Wyfe *insists* that I take the ring off before sticking my hands into a cabinet that only moments before had thousands of volts buzzing through it... When possible, I wear it, but also acknowlege the realities...

Just my .00017465....

Malcolm+ said...

Now I get the level of annoyance in our email chain the other day. I thought we were just talking about the handing on of hands. I didn't realize the "who giveth" had been there too.

(I didn't watch the Battenburg - Middleton wedding. In my head I'm a republican. In my heart I'm a Jacobite.)

In our Canadian Book of Alternative Services, there is no giving away. Instead, the families of both bride and groom are asked if they give their blessing to the marriage.

Perpetua said...

"These two persons" is part of the particular liturgy used and definitely NOT something that Archbishop Rowan chose to insert! I find your use of the term "poor dear" offensively patrronising to one of the kindest, gentlest and most un-sexist men I have the privilge to know (he was a bishop in Wales where I live before becoming Archbishop and I knew him quite well then) You only have to meet his wife to see why the idea of Archbishop Rowan as sexist is completely laughable,

I understand from the media that the liturgy used was the choice of the bride and groom and not the church. The modern Church of England liturgy has no mention of giving away and could have just as easily have been used if the couple had wanted it, but my guess is that they prefer traditional language and aren't stupid enough to get all het-up about a symbolic gesture.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Well, I don't think HRH William is going to be sticking his hands in any electrical closet any time soon, but I get it. Himself has the right to choose. I just found it an odd choice. Being American, and all, much of what happens in UK is rather odd to me. I suppose the reverse of that is true, as well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - what does it matter, really? Whether the words 'who giveth' were there or not, the symbolism is simply horrid. I'm glad for what happens in Canada, but I don't understand why you didn't 'get it'.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Perpetua. Your note reminded me of the old story of the abused wife who said, "My husband is a good man. He only beats me on Friday nights when he's drunk."

I've met +++Rowan. He's lovely, in a social situation. Erudite. Scholarly. A gentle sort, really. Until he gets into Lambeth Palace.

This 'gentle' man has done so much ecclesiastical violence to women and LGBT people that it is simply breathtaking. Underneath that very polished exterior beats the heart of the man who would be Pope - doing violence all in the name of God.

I have absolutely no doubt that Catherine and William have absolutely no sophisticated understanding of liturgy or ritual. The 'gesture' had all the markings of the ecclesiastical hierarchy trying to make a point and send out a message. We can disagree on that, but I'm pretty clear on this point.

Oh, and about being "stupid enough to get all het up about a symbolic gesture"?

You're kidding me, right? The church is ALL about 'symbolic gesture'. It is not 'stupid' for any person to get 'all het up' about the powerful message that is being conveyed in said 'symbolic gesture'. It's exactly what 'symbolic gestures' are supposed to do - touch something deep in us that surpasses words or understanding.

I'm sorry if I made you defensive about what is an otherwise beautiful liturgy, done well. That being said, my dear, I know what I saw. I got the message. 'Dear, Gentle Rowan' made absolutely certain of that.

Perpetua said...

Well we shall just have to agree to differ, Elizabeth. I certainly don't see it as my role to steer couples to any particular liturgy for their marriage and I doubt Aerchbishop Rowan does either. The simple fact is that in the UK the liturgy used is legal and available and was chosen.

On the subject of the wedding ring I would imagine that Prince William isn't wearing one as much because of his his work as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot as for any other reason. My brother-in-law chose not to wear one for a very similar reason and I know other young men who also don't. Again it's not a big deal on this side of the Atlantic.

IT said...

It's all of a piece with the attitude that the gays are welcome if they would just shut up and stay in the closet and not "rub our noses in it". The couple may indeed have chosen that ritual and not been the least offended by it themselves. But it does send a signal, and the implication that those who are offended by that signal are stupid or wrong is also offensive. Yeah Americans may not "get it" but it's just as valid to say that the Brits don't either. Of course to a certain type of Brit, "American" is always synonymous with "wrong."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Perpetua - Well, we disagree again. I do believe it is the role of the clergy to steer congregants onto the right path by offering information and education. I have even gone so far, in the earlier days, as to say, "If you really want someone to 'give away the bride' you don't want me to preside. You can certainly use the church and I'll take full responsibility to find you another priest, but I simply can't participate in this part of the ritual." I only had to do that once. The couple understood completely and, once I explained my objections, the case, as they say, was closed.

As priests, we are symbol-bearers. It's an enormous responsibility - one I do not choose to shirk or hand over to to unsuspecting laity in the name of individual 'taste' or 'style'.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - In my experience, the CofE - especially the clergy - are a singularly defensive lot. They are always looking to find offense in whatever Americans say or do. A simple albeit uncomfortable question is seen as an attack on all that is sacred or holy. Many of them can barely contain their contempt for us. It's a puzzle to me.

Now, of course, I have good friends who are very dear to me who happen to be CofE and/or clergy. I can ask questions of them and they of me and no offense or defense is taken.

For whatever it's worth - they tend to be mostly in the middle and north. Hmmm . . . never thought of that connection before. How interesting. +++Rowan seemed perfectly fine when he lived in Wales. Is it the drinking water in London, do you suppose?

IT said...

Elizabeth, I am an academic who lived in the UK for a number of years. I assure you that the mixture of defensiveness and superiority to all things Yank is characteristic of a certain typeof academic as well. At a point of time I realized that I was entitled to stop apologizing for being American.

Hutch said...

I heard a news cast that said that the ABP had said that Catherine could not wear white - but off white - as she and William had been living together and she clearly was not virgin. Don't know if that is true or not but if so - how absolutely rude, Rowan. Good grief.

Double Ax said...

Just another hetero orgy of self-congratulation--- a woman given away as property yet again to the royal family. The whole thing was disgusting patriarchal propaganda, and what woman in her right mind would marry into that dreadful family, after what royal men have done to women throughout the ages. The Church of England was born when Henry VIII decided to kill one of his wives, and it's been downhill ever since.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

In a bad mood tonight, Double Ax?