Tutus and Tiaras. Rev Dr Michael Banner - 14/11/2017
Thought for the Day
Let little boys wear tiaras’ screamed a headline in one of the more easily shocked newspapers yesterday morning. The headline was drawing attention to the Church of England’s updated guidance aimed at preventing bullying in the nearly 5000 schools for which it is responsible – and the idea of letting little boys choose tiaras or tutus from the dressing up box, just as little girls might choose toolbelts and superhero capes, is to make the point that our gender stereotypes are just that, stereotypes – preconceived and limiting ideas about how boys and girls should dress and behave, which, if unchallenged, can lead to teasing and bullying of those who don’t readily identify with the traditional expectations.
As someone who is required by the church in the course of my Sunday duties to wear what my dad would have referred to as a frock, I personally think the guidance is long overdue. But of course, the guidance has always been there in a manner of speaking, even if the church has not always followed it. What I am getting at is that the books of the Bible, from which the church takes its inspiration and teaching, themselves challenge the stereotypes and negative attitudes which have led us to exclude from fellowship those whom we judge outsiders.
Take, for example, a story from the book of Acts, which tells of the very earliest days of the church, and which deserves to be better known. A certain Philip – one of seven who were chosen by the apostles to take care of the poor in Jerusalem – is told by an angel to go south out of the city on a desert road which leads to Gaza. And on that road he meets an Ethiopian, the treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia no less, and a eunuch. Philip joins him in his chariot, interprets for him the scriptures he has been reading, and tells him the story of Jesus. And when, further along the road, they come to some water, the Ethiopian declares ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptised?’
What indeed? Well – pick your reason. He is a foreigner, for starters. He is a treasurer, so a man who handles filthy lucre on a daily basis. And surely worst of all, he is a eunuch – and of eunuchs, the book of Deuteronomy decrees, ‘they may not enter the assembly of the Lord’. As to what he was wearing, the book of Acts is silent, but it could have been a tutu and a tiara since none of this bothers Philip – and Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
According to the same newspaper I mentioned at the beginning, the Church of England’s latest guidance amounts to ‘Risible, politically correct posturing’ – or it could just be true to the message of Philip’s action in the Book of Acts. For his baptizing a foreign financier of uncertain gender status, holds out to us an inclusive vision of community – a vision to which schools, Christian schools above all, should surely aspire.