Try (not) to Blend in image

Try (not) to Blend in

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There’s a great scene at the climax of the movie Sister Act in which the nuns, dressed in full regalia, arrive in a Reno casino in search of one of their number, Sister Mary Clarence. The Mother Superior, played by Maggie Smith, instructs the nuns to split up and urges them – with that actress’ masterful sense of despairing futility as she glances around at the skimpily-clad occupants of the bars and gaudy slot machines – “Try to blend in”.

Last weekend, Gen Sir Peter Wall, the British Army’s chief of general staff, said that the Army ‘must consider’ allowing women to serve in close combat roles.

According to a BBC report, the last review of MoD policy, in 2010, acknowledged that women “would be able to meet the physical and psychological demands of [such] roles”, but “raised concerns that having men and women in small units for months at a time could undermine ‘team cohesion’”(!).

The report continues:

There has been debate within the armed forces about whether women should be allowed in close combat roles.

Brigadier Nicky Moffat - who became one of the most senior female army officers - said in January 2013 that it was wrong to dismiss people just on gender.

She said she was “deeply uncomfortable” with the idea of excluding a whole group of potentially capable soldiers, just because they were women.

But responding at the time Major Judith Webb, who became the first woman to command an all-male field squadron, said that women might not meet the standards required for combat duty.

She said that opening it up to women might be self-defeating because they were not going to meet those standards.

So was Gen Sir Peter Wall engaging with these arguments? Was he saying that women ought to be allowed to apply for all roles because there is no difference between women and men, and the current laws are arbitrary and thus discriminatory? Was he saying that allowing women to kill people in all the same ways men can is the right thing to do?

No, his argument, slightly bizarrely, is: “Allowing them to be combat troops would make us look more normal to society.”

Since when was ‘looking normal’ the highest ideal for us and our institutions?

Well, since forever.

We don’t like to be different. We don’t like to stand out. Yet as believers that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.

Israel caused itself big problems by asking for a king “such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5), but we are told time and time again in the New Testament “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,” and “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do”.

As we seek to contextualise our message, and to ensure we are not interpreting the Scriptures through our 21st century Western blinders (as Matt warned us earlier this week), we must remain alert to the danger of trying to blend in. There’s a fine line between making our systems and processes accessible to all and watering down our core beliefs in order to be more appealing. Changes in style are one thing, but if we’re making a change to the substance of our teaching contrary to what we believe to be true and right, simply because it will make us look ‘more normal’, then I think we’ve got a problem – as does the British army.

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