Conversations take place using language. The words we seek to use can need to be descriptive but have the right meaning. In the certain situations words are really important because they are loaded with meaning and have been the fuel of endless debate and argument. In seeking to move beyond those arguments and debates it would sometimes be useful if there were a different set of language entirely.
I am struggling with this at the moment because in having general conversations I have been stuck for language recently. We have the terms civil partnership and blessing in relation to what can happen if two people become legal partners and this is then recognised in a religious ceremony afterwards. That’s brilliant. For various reasons I am much happier with this language than “marriage” or “gay marriage” in relation to two people of the same gender making a commitment.
However, what about the period between the decision to make a commitment and the civil partnership itself? My preferred term would be that people are “formally committed” but as I have had pointed out the connection between the word “committed” and institutional mental health care is so strong in our culture it is not useful. Others prefer the term engaged, but that again is connected with traditional marriage. In order to move out of the polemics I really believe it would be useful if we had a similar term….I want to easily be able to explain the situation friends are in without automatically using the “marriage” language, (particularly if they are preferring to clearly talk in terms of civil partnership rather than marriage).
Then there are the issues of how we mark these “new” ceremonies? Do we seek to incorporate the symbols and practices that are associated with engagement and marriage or do we look to create new ones? How do we negotiate it when one person takes a particular position in the debate which another feels uncomfortable with? How do we find acceptable ways of doing things when not only the people involved but those around them appear to have conflicting expectations, partly through the loaded language? How do we step out of the box and away from the polemics without causing more problems? These are all questions I am pondering at the moment.
Additional questions relate to how do people with children show respect for their children in these things? How do they discuss with young people things we have no adequate language for? How do we help young people negotiate their feelings about these things and ensure respect is shown to them without turning into martyrs ourselves, and denying our own feelings?
Basically, as Christians how do we live out our beliefs and act in appropriate counter cultural ways which are based on our biblical understandings of love, respect, commitment, faithfulness and care in a way which is sensitive to the faithfully held differing opinions of others in the church and of others who may have issues with these things?
As they used to say on Swap Shop….answers on a postcard to the usual address.