Entrails and other body parts

In his final blog Evangelical Christian Alex Monro explains how he sees priesthood

Medieval Europe’s clergy were a powerful bunch with little to hold them in check – except the Pope and the king. I sympathise with Denis Diderot, who wrote in the eighteenth century that "man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest".

For England, it was a return to biblical theology that helped achieve the beginnings of such a liberation, at least from the clergy’s long-standing monopoly on truth. The bible had been kept out of lay hands and parents were expected to teach their children the Lord’s Prayer in Latin (or were burned to death for doing so in English), while the established church presented itself as the only means to salvation. The distribution of the scriptures in English made it possible for ordinary English people to read and interpret God’s word for themselves, and to see which teachings of the established church were at variance with scripture.

The difference of these two approaches to God’s word underpins how an evangelical church is built. Evangelicals can be found in many denominations in this country and around the world, such as the Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, United Reformed and house church movements. An evangelical church can vary somewhat in its structure according to denomination and culture.

But all such churches will share a belief that the word of God is their ultimate authority, not man. Moreover, all evangelicals believe that God has chosen Jesus to be the only go-between for man and God. There is no other priest who can act as mediator – all believers have direct access to God through Jesus.

Jesus himself appointed twelve apostles as the founders of the church and the apostles appointed leaders in the churches they founded. Bishops provide valuable help as overseers, but power rests with the local churches (the people, not the places), the nerve centre of God’s family and of gospel work. Within the individual church, the pastor is charged with teaching the word of God, but the congregation must test his teaching against the words of scripture and dismiss him if he refuses to teach faithfully. The pastor is also charged with care for the congregation, particularly for their spiritual welfare, though this should be shared with others.

The bible describes the church as a body, with Christ as the head and each person having a function within the body. The emphasis is on the different individual roles contributing to the successful working of the body, rather than on any hierarchy of believers. This is because all are sinners, all are under Christ and all are part of Christ’s body. One biblical writer imagines a hand that wishes it were a foot and an ear that wishes it were an eye, as he tries to encourage his readers to serve God with the gifts they have. If the whole body were an ear, how would it hear, he asks?

There is but one body of Christ and it is made up of many parts – elders, teachers, encouragers, the exceptionally prayerful, musicians, administrators, those skilled in hospitality and many others besides. Over them all, even the pastor, is the word of God.

Alex studied French, then Chinese before pursuing a career in journalism. He now works for Trusted Sources, a political and economic risk consultancy, where he is a China analyst
Photo: ASA
Show Hide image

Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA