Magazine article Anglican Journal

Balancing Competing Values at Heart of `Open Table'

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Balancing Competing Values at Heart of `Open Table'

Article excerpt

DAVID HARRIS

IT'S NO SECRET that as the village becomes more global, the more people ponder what values mark their house from the one next door or across the street. Competing values are at the heart of many of the disputes between nations, between provinces, between political parties, churches and interest groups.

Two areas of interest to Canadian Anglicans in this regard have been in the news recently. The Anglican Journal's stories about the Diocese of Toronto's struggle over whether to allow unbaptized people to receive communion (termed "open table") have been picked up in several daily newspapers. At the heart of the issue are the competing values of welcoming strangers into the church family and maintaining the integrity of the church's practices, which date back virtually to its foundation.

Another story is how new immigrants and their practices from places other than northern Europe are to be accommodated in a country like Canada.

A recent New York Times article raised a number of questions about values that immigrants bring that initially clash with existing North American culture. As the Times writer put it: "How do democratic, pluralistic societies, based on religious and cultural tolerance, respond to customs and rituals that may be repellent to the majority?"

The article raised a number of difficult issues, including "the common African ritual that opponents call female genital mutilation." Proponents of such practices - it's known to happen in Canada although it's illegal - say this is no worse than male genital mutilation - circumcision - which is permitted. Such arguments ignore the fact that male circumcision, which at least physicians are recognizing needs serious pain management, is otherwise relatively harmless and is not done to control the male baby's future sexual urges. Female mutilation, on the other hand, tries to destroy part of a female baby's anatomy in the misplaced belief it will control her sexuality. That runs counter to our North American values about women's equal rights, not to mention our knowledge about the body and sexuality.

But are all foreign practices unacceptable? Some years ago, there was furore in Canada over whether Sikh Mounted Police could wear turbans. Opponents were wedded to the current American-derived Rangers hat. It had somehow become an inviolable part of the Mounted Police uniform. Sikhs, who served the British Empire with distinction and with a turban, were hurt and perplexed. Fortunately, the issue was resolved sensibly, allowing Sikhs to retain their turban, but not without considerable turmoil. …

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