UKIP, homophobia and the real sin behind the floods

Symon Hill

UKIP councillor David Silvester believes that Britain’s recent floods are the results of sin. You may be surprised to learn that I agree with him. There the agreement ends, for we have very different ideas about what the sin is and how it has affected the weather.

In a letter to a local paper in Oxfordshire, Silvester has blamed the foods on the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

I respect the fact that many people interpret the Bible differently to me, but Silvester’s statements about the Bible are simply untrue.

In his letter, he writes “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.”

This is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. The scriptures make no reference at all to a “Christian nation”. They have no concept of a “Christian nation”. At no point in the New Testament is there any suggestion that Jesus’ followers should build a nation-state founded on their principles or expect any nation to prioritise them and their religion. There is certainly no suggestion anywhere in the Bible of a Christian coronation oath.

What Silvester is doing, like many before him, is rejecting the grassroots radicalism of the New Testament in order to pick bits from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that refer to ancient Israel. The people who use the Bible in this way then decided that the Bible’s comments on ancient Israel (or at least, the ones they’ve chosen to pick out) somehow apply directly to Britain as a “Christian nation” today. This simplistic approach manages to insult and misrepresent both Christianity and Judaism at the same time.

I don’t know if David Silvester sees any tension between the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus and the policies of UKIP (including even bigger welfare cuts than the Tories, withdrawal from the UN Convention on Refugees, a forty percent increase in military spending and denying the reality of climate change). I don’t know if he thinks that the UK was a “Christian nation” when Britain was engaged in the slave trade or when Britain’s rulers were committing genocide in Tasmania or suppressing religious liberty in Britain. But I do know that Silvester’s comments will attract more amusement than anger, at least in the mainstream media. Sadly, they will also serve to give people a skewed impression of Christianity. People who have never read the Bible may well assume that Silvester’s description of its contents are accurate.

That’s why other Christians need to speak up. Let no-one misrepresent us as being “less” Christian than Silvester and his allies, watering down the Bible or compromising the Gospel. We too should speak about sin. Sin is all that separates us from God, from each other and from creation. And sin has played a major role in these floods.

It is not sensible to say that any particular flood was caused solely by climate change. What we can say with confidence is that the frequency of floods and erratic weather conditions is a result of climate change. That change has been brought about by human beings pursuing the goals of capitalism led by politicians worshipping the idols of “growth” and corporations pursuing short-term profit and in denial about the destruction they are causing.

Jesus’ solidarity with the poor is central to his teachings. It is at the heart of the Gospel. It is already obvious that the poorest people and the poorest countries are suffering, and will suffer, the most as a result of climate change. Christians need to work alongside people of other religions and none in working for new economic systems in which resources are shared rather than hoarded or destroyed.

I don’t claim to live up to Jesus’ teachings. I’m not a better Christian than David Silvester. But I can see that sin is present in destruction, poverty and inequality, not in the love between two people who happen to be the same gender.

Why I’m not cheering the Pilling Report

Symon Hill

Two and a half years ago, I was walking through north London when I received a phone call from Ruth Gledhill of the Times. The Church of England’s House of Bishops had just announced a two-year consultation process on homosexuality. Ruth wanted to know my view on it.

It was a strange moment. I had just walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia. I had the privilege to meet some fascinating people on the walk and had learnt a lot from them. Some of them told me of difficult, uplifting or harrowing experiences. I found it hard to believe that many of these people were likely to be affected by another long-winded church consultation process into sexuality.

I told Ruth Gledhill that I did not doubt the bishops’ sincerity, but that I believed change in the church would come from below, not from above. Good change virtually always does.

Now the consultation process has ended, resulting in the Pilling Report. It was published last week, resulting in a flurry of excitement in the world of religious media, and widespread indifference elsewhere.

The Pilling Report recommends continued church discrimination against same-sex couples. I am sorry to say that some advocates of LGBT inclusion in the church have enthusiastically welcomed the report as a major step forward. This is because it suggests that churches should be allowed to bless same-sex relationships.

I am glad that this recommendation has been included, but I can’t get too excited about it. I have seen the devastating effects of church-based heterosexism too often to cheer gratefully when church leaders throw us a few extra crumbs from the table.

The report suggests that churches should be allowed to bless same-sex relationships but that no national liturgy should be produced for this (the implication is that this would suggest too much endorsement). Nor, according to Pilling, should they carry out same-sex marriages.

I don’t think I have ever felt so alienated by an official church report. It is full of comments about how the Church should be welcoming, accompanied by policies that say the opposite.

I’ve read the report’s “findings and recommendations” and skimmed through the rest but I have yet to read the whole thing. Reading part of it is depressing enough to put me off, but I am determined the read the full report before too long.

The report’s credibility – let alone the notion that pro-equality Christians should welcome it – is undermined right at the beginning of its “findings and recommendations” .The first point reads:

“We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.”

No-one seems to have told the report’s authors that the quickest way to alienate a bisexual person is often to tell them that you’re really inclusive because gays and lesbians are welcome. In 2013, after two years of consultation, the House of Bishops have produced a report so removed from the everyday life of members of sexual minorities that this does not seem to have occurred to them.

I accept that there are some good aspects. Pilling acknowledges that Christians sincerely hold different views on same-sex relationships and that there are different ways of interpreting the Bible when it comes to this issue.

The report’s fifth finding is that:

“The Church should repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and should stand firmly against it [homophobia] whenever and wherever it is to be found”.

I’m glad to see this but I would be a lot more pleased to see it put into practice. The phrase “sometimes failed to rebuke” is such a laughable understatement that it gives me little confidence that this will happen.

Perhaps the most significant of the “findings and recommendations” is Number 3. It’s perhaps the funniest, and simultaneously the saddest, part of the whole document. It declares:

“Consultation on this report should be conducted without undue haste but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two years.”

So there’s been a two-year consultation process and what does it recommend? Another two-year consultation process! And this is “a sense of urgency”! The authors’ sense of irony is either richly developed or non-existent.

I am not against consultations in themselves. I am all in favour of people with different views listening to each other and learning together. During my pilgrimage, I met interesting and helpful people with a variety of perspectives. I sat in a Quaker Meeting House with members of five local churches, discussing our varied attitudes to marriage, gender and the Bible. I stayed overnight with a Methodist minister who objected to same-sex relationships and we listened to each other’s views over breakfast. I was congratulated in a coffee-shop and berated by a taxi driver, thanked by a Muslim for promoting equality and criticised by a Quaker for talking too much about sin.

In all these experiences, I was privileged to participate in grassroots explorations of God’s will for human sexuality. These explorations are going on all the time. They do not need official church consultation processes in order to take place.

My fear, confirmed by the Pilling Report’s recommendations, is that consultations take the place of action and service. As Benny Hazlehurst of Accepting Evangelicals rightly points out, Jesus’ ministry had little to do with religious institutions. Jesus seems more concerned with people outside them.

Let’s remember the people affected by what really happens in certain church contexts. I can think of the people I have met and spoken with: a disabled woman told that her impairment was God’s punishment for her lesbianism, a man told by his minister that he would not be welcome at church again because he thought he might be transgender; a priest abused in the street by other church members because he was gay; a woman pressurised by a vicar into burning her fetish clothes; a man whose boyfriend broke of the relationship because he had been convinced it was unchristian.

I can also think of the enthusiastic Christian teenager who came out as gay at the age of fourteen. Condemned and insulted at church, driven to drugs, he jumped in front of a train four years later.

The job of the church, the imperfect gathering of Jesus’ disciples, is to serve people. These individuals, and countless others like them, were abused rather than served. We can choose to do something about this situation, or we can put it off for longer. I do not like to think how many more teenagers will have jumped in front of trains by the time another two-year consultation process has run its course.

No doubt the new consultation process will soon be inviting people to make known their views by sending in formal submissions. I will not be submitting anything to it.

They lost the marriage vote, but they’re still determined to derail equality

By Sam Somewhere

In an attempt to re-write their recent major defeat as a call to arms, the anti-same sex marriage camp have put out a slew of different statements over the last weeks. These are not empty threats; some of them represent organised groups who will stop at nothing to delay and derail the ongoing transition to a more equal institution of marriage. Here are three such statements, but please link to any others that you’ve spotted in the comments.

First off, we have Anglican Mainstream (who brought us the “Gay Marriage No Thanks” newspaper ad campaign) and their jaw-dropping choice of quotations. Not only did they post a certain quote, but they decided to respond to criticism by adding an explanation of it. Accompanied by a picture of Pastor Niemoller and his famous quote (“First/then they came for… and I did not speak out because I was not a…”), we get this line:

Many leaders who hold traditional marriage views and would not like to see others victimized for holding similar views, nonetheless, keep quiet because that is the safe thing to do.”

The appropriation of the Jewish, Socialist, Traveller and even Gay experience of the holocaust to whip up images of anti-same sex marriage advocates being led to death camps is sickening. They claim to understand that SSM legislation is on a different level, but that only reinforces the fact that they are using a lived experience to feed their hysteria. They know what they hope their readers will feel: Its all about their victimization.

Anglican Mainstream also provide this fuller response, including some choice phrases:

Of course the entire social fabric will not collapse overnight. Social mores do not function like that.”

Legitimate and vital concerns for human rights have been hijacked to become vehicles for a pan-sexual revolution which everyone in the public domain must either collude with or approve.”

They’ve obviously figured out that they can use a few examples from Canada completely out of context, throw in something about human rights and make themselves look like the victim here. The labelling of Christians who back SSM as colluders is painful.

Legitimate and vital” – unchallenged, this sounds persuasive, but who has determined the legitimacy? This bill is littered with protections purporting to prevent religious ministers from being obliged to carry out SSM ceremonies, to the extent that many will be unable to carry out the ceremonies that they wish to officiate. But we are told to understand, in no uncertain terms, that the social fabric of society is going to collapse.

The next example I shall give will be familiar to many: Christian Concern (For Our Nation, but they dropped that bit). These folks cover just about every base in the knee-jerk right-wing litany, as the right-hand of their site shows. Their statement is breathless (“bulldozed”) and a clear sign of a lack of interest in admitting defeat – it announces that Coalition 4 Marriage have an election strategy, focused on marginal seats. They believe that having 700,000 signatures on a petition gives them more clout than the Conservative Party, with their 200,000+ members. I sort of wish this were true – but if C4M have backers to the tune of Lord Ashcroft’s cheque book, we should have a right to know.

Christian Concern worry me more than Anglican Mainstream. Despite their name, Anglican Mainstream are a tiny group with low profile and don’t get taken terribly serious. Yet I’ve had no end of Christian friends forwarding Christian Concern emails to me, often because they give undue credibility to the existence of threats made by Christian Concern. What the Christian Concern statement lacks in naked hyperbole, it gains in its apparent credibility.

If Christian Concern make Anglican Mainstream look like a fringe pressure group, then the Evangelical Alliance, which claims to unite over two million people in the UK, dwarfs both organisations. Whether the two million people who they claim to unite, and even to speak on behalf of, accept this is another matter. But their statement is certainly the most dangerous I have seen so far. This isn’t because it calls for violence, or greater ostracism of gays in society, or even for a higher sense indignation at what has transpired in Parliament. In fact, its pretty much for the opposite reason: its the calmest of all the statements. Perhaps its the most reasonable?

Parliament has decided that marriage should be something other than what it has been throughout history and different from its natural and biblical meaning.

Now it is the task of the Church to model marriage to a society that has forgotten what it is. This contentious social change may well grieve God’s heart, but He is certainly not fazed by it, and nor should we be. In all challenges there are opportunities, and in the light of pressures that Christians and others will no doubt face in coming years, this new legal fiction offers a chance to model and teach what marriage really is.”

There are some obvious ways to pick this apart. For starters, their idea of marriage as an unchangeable construct throughout history is plainly ludicrous. If Parliament had just decided to make payments between husband and father of the bride, maybe they’d be on to something, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Its nice to think that their God is unflappable, more given to sorrow than rage, but its clear that what they’re saying is “we’re very sorry that you feel you can’t live up to our standards”. There’s an assuredness that ultimately, once this passing phase is out of the way, we’ll get back to a world where everyone marries nice and young and has kids (and a mortgage and car?) and lets face it, its probably quite a comforting viewpoint for the writers.

But these are people who share the pews with millions every Sunday. This is an enormous organisation that, whilst unable to set the outcome of the national debate, sets the tone as much as the outcome for much of the church debate. There’s no call to arms to reverse the decision, but rather a call to rub other people’s noses in just how wrong their lives are. The logical is to make people feel like they’re hurting God (is that possible?) by doing something they should feel guilty about. That’s why I think this is the most dangerous of the statements I’ve mentioned: its more about infiltration and close quarters bullying than about standing on a pedestal and shouting.

You can make lots of cool internet memes about how stupid Westborough Baptist Church are (just google God Hates Signs), but a group like the Evangelical Alliance is much harder to deal with. Its not very far away from the definition of Concern Troll: we’re you’re friends, and we think you should do this thing for what we think is your own benefit.

One interesting note: the changes have apparently marginalised adultery and consummation. It might as well say “Dear Asexual and/or Polyamorous Reader: you’re doing it wrong. But we love you anyway”, just in case you thought this was purely about nicely behaved monogamous cis-gay couples.

Lastly, the effect the Evangelical Alliance has on its member organisations should not be underestimated. Any such organisation that is moving towards a more open view of Queerness will lose not just the esteem, but the financial and practical support of the Alliance. Take a member organisation like Soul Survivor, with its massive festival-conferences attracting tens of thousands of young people each year. It would lose the goodwill of church leaders whose young people attend the events along with many of its biggest speakers if it was seen to deviate from the Alliance’s party line.

In the struggle for equal esteem amongst Christians for people of differing sexualities, it will be the Evangelical Alliances, and not the Christian Concerns or Anglican Mainstreams, that make the journey longer and harder.

Answering the advert in the Times

by Symon Hill

I wrote yesterday about “Gay Marriage, No Thanks”, the oddly named new group campaigning against same-sex marriage, supposedly in the interests of children.

The organisation yesterday carried a half-page advert in the Times (a costly business), giving a list of ten arguments against same-sex marriage. Here is my response to each of them:

1   “Intact biological families provide the gold standard for the wellbeing of children”.

We can all name intact biological families that are abusive and violent, as well as loving and healthy homes in which children have been raised by single or adoptive parents. The notion of a nuclear biological family is a fairly recent invention; families have differed across time and culture – a truth that the anti-equality campaigners seem keen for us to forget.

2 “Children have a human right to be nurtured by both their biological parents.”

I would be interested to know how far the “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” group would take this argument. What if one or both of the parents is violent, abusive or unable to raise them?

3 “Gay parenting by definition denies the child from having one or both biological parents”.

This is not a different argument, but a repetition of the one above by different wording. But what is “gay parenting”? Gay people do not generally do gay cooking, gay working or gay praying. There are many family structures that are being overlooked. I know a family in which the children were raised by three parents (living together in a relationship with each other), two of whom were their biological parents. The children in question are some of the most well-balanced, emotionally healthy and considerate teenagers that I have encountered.

4 “Popular support for the bill is based on the unfounded theory that people are ‘born gay’.”

I for one don’t believe that people are born gay and I strongly support equal marriage. It’s true that many supporters of the bill do believe that people are born gay; it’s a view that many gay campaigners promote. But saying that you’re not born with a sexual orientation does not mean that your sexuality is a choice. Even if it were a choice, it is far from clear why this would make it wrong. What matters is that a same-sex marriage can be healthy and fulfilling for those involved and for society; not whether people were born gay. Incidentally, this argument contradicts Argument 8 (see below).

5 “All school children will taught that as adults they can have marriage relationships with men or women.”

I’m sure they will be able to work that out whatever they’re taught. I hope that school lessons will continue to encourage discussion of a range of views on the subject. This will be a vast improvement on my own schooling when Section 28 prevented me learning anything about dealing with my bisexual feelings.

6 “Adolescents commonly experience temporary same-sex attraction; this does not mean they are gay.”

Indeed it doesn’t. Why is this an argument against same-sex marriage? I wouldn’t advise people of any gender or sexuality to enter a marriage without being very sure about it, very much in love and very committed. I look forward to the day when people can fall in love with each other and enter loving, honest, mutually fulfilling relationships without worrying about gender.

7 “There is no evidence that same-sex marriage strengthens marriage. In Spain, marriage rates fell precipitously.”

Is the strength of marriage dependent on numbers? The statistics can say nothing about the quality and love of the marriages concerned.

8 “Behind the bill is a militant move to deny gender difference.”

On the group’s website, this statement is followed by the assertion that “queer theory, which developed in the 1990s, has been a driving force”. I would love to think that queer theory had been a driving force, although in reality, mainstream LGBT groups such as Stonewall seem quite averse to queer theory, often opting instead for suggestions that people are “born gay”. Radical queers, on the other hand, tend to talk of the social construction of gender and sexuality. Argument 8 thus seems to contradict Argument 4 (see above).

9 “Equal love leads to unequal marriage.”

The group point out that there will be different legal definitions of adultery for mixed-sex and same-sex couples. This is because the definition for mixed-sex couples is so narrow, based as it is on a very narrow understanding of sex. I would be happy to amend the legislation to broaden it out. Bizarrely, this statement on the group’s website includes a link to a Guardian article by Peter Tatchell, arguing that the bill as it stands does not go far enough for equality. I agree – but I doubt the group behind this advert will join me in pushing for more radical change.

10 “Civil partnerships already provide all the legal and financial benefits of marriage for gay people”.

Many of those behind the anti-equal marriage campaigns also campaigned against civil partnerships. They seem to have very short memories. Legal and financial benefits do not seem to be a very good reason to get married. Marriage is about love, commitment and mutuality. For religious people, it is usually about seeking God’s blessing on a life-long relationships. That’s why we want equal language.

Children’s needs and a new campaign against same-sex marriage

by Symon Hill

As if there weren’t enough groups already campaigning against same-sex marriage – such as the Coalition for Marriage and Keep Marriage Special – today sees the launch of another one. It’s called “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” (yes, really; that’s the organisation’s name).

In a press release that they sent out yesterday, they describe themselves as “an informal group of professionals and parents”. However, the two names given for further information are Alan Craig and Chris Sugden, both of whom are already prominent campaigners against equal rights for gay and bisexual people (in Alan Craig’s case, this makes me particularly sad, given that I have campaigned alongside him against the arms trade).

They say they want to “take some of the emotion out of the debate and help people engage with the actual evidence that shows how disruptive and damaging these changes will be for children and young people”.

The group’s focus is on the needs of children, although it remains to be seen whether it will include anyone who has not already been active in other anti-equality groups.

I agree with them about one thing: the needs of children are not often discussed in debates on same-sex marriage. But this is because adoption by same-sex couples is already legal; same-sex marriage won’t change this. Several countries have legalised same-sex marriage before, or at the same time as, legislating for equal adoption rights. Britain has done it the other way around.

This does not mean we shouldn’t talk about children’s needs. I agree with Craig, Sugden and their gang that the rights of children should be discussed and are very, very important. It is precisely because of my passion for the rights of children that I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt.

The website of “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” includes ten reasons to reject the legalisation of same-sex marriage. What it fails to do is to answer a very obvious and very important question: What do they think should happen to the children who would otherwise be adopted by same-sex couples?

They may well argue that they would like to reduce the circumstances that give rise to adoption, although you rarely see anti-equal marriage groups campaigning about poverty, sexual abuse or domestic violence. They may also say they would be happy for them to be adopted by mixed-sex couples. But what if there are none available?

To argue that same-sex couples should never adopt children is to argue that it is better for a child to grow up in an institution, or to be passed around foster carers, than to grow up in a loving, caring, healthy family home – because you think the people in that home are the wrong gender.

And no-one who advocates such a view is in any position to claim that they are championing the needs of children. 

 

Making the pastoral plea

 

by Eva Tejon

Whilst I was visiting my family home recently, I attended church with my parents. It was a big party weekend, so lots of other family members were about too. There was talk of all going to the service together, but – in retrospect thankfully – the service coincided with a gripping sports final, and my family have never been foolish enough to neglect an exciting match for expressing their religious convictions, so many did not.

The church in question are going through a period of interregnum, and face a long line of retired and roaming priests to plug the gap.

That week, it was a bumbling and elderly chap – let’s call him Daniel – who looked like every Rural Dean that Agatha Christie ever caricatured.

I was enjoying the sermon. Lots of good stuff about the way Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, setting the captive free and bringing good news to the poor. And that as inheritors of this tradition, it was the job of the church to take on these roles. He then said that, Jesus faced persecution, just as it was prophesisedhe would – and that the church, if it was doing its’ job, could also expect to face this persecution.

For example, Daniel continued, just recently, British Christians had been scandalously told by the European Court of Human Rights that they could not “conscientiously object” to allowing same-sex couples to stay in their guest houses, or to officiating at civil partnerships.

Oh dear, thought I.

This annoyed me on a number of levels. It wasn’t the view itself – we’ve probably all heard that from a number of voices in various churches, and sadly I’d learn to expect it. It was the casual, flippant way it was expressed. I’d have almost preferred it if he’d devoted the whole half hour to expressing his views on human sexuality – at least that way we could have had a decent argument about it afterwards. But the ‘after-thought’ way this was included made me realise that he thought there wasn’t an argument to have: he assumed we’d all agree.

More importantly, it pissed me off that he had absolutely no idea who he was talking to. The congregation – for all he knew – may have all, just the day before, been celebrating one of their members’ civil partnerships. Or someone could have had a gay child who had recently taken their own life because of homophobic bullying. Actually, I don’t think there was anyone in that situation present. But there was someone there who identifies as gay, and who was deeply depressed, and who had already been concerned that he might not be valued in the church family. This was hardly going to help.

Moreover, since I follow the site Forum 18 regularly, I was surprised that the perceived persecution followers face in Britain was the example that was used, rather than say, Sharofat Allamova, a Protestant from Urgench in north-western Uzbekistan, who has recently been sentenced to one and half years of corrective labour, after being convicted under criminal charges brought for the “illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature”. I felt it was insensitive to people facing situations such as these.

Finally, it’s my belief that Daniel was confusing experiencing persecution with a gradual loss of privilege – those privileges that have been allotted to Christians in the UK over many centuries, in the age of Christendom.

So, yes, a lot of aspects of this irked me!

I inwardly boiled throughout the service, foregoing communion because of not-very-holy thoughts that were plaguing me, and plucked up my courage to go and button-hole the preacher after the service.

Mainly because I thought I didn’t have the time, and because I thought it might have a better chance of ‘going in’, I decided to focus the pastoral issues I thought this words raised, rather than political or theological disagreements.

After all, I thought, you are entitled to your opinion. What you’re not entitled to is making anyone in this church family feel unwanted.

The conversation went a bit like this:

My cousin was going to come to church today with her civil partner. They didn’t, and I’m really glad they didn’t – because they wouldn’t have felt welcome.”

They would have been most welcome.”

What in the service would have made them feel welcome?”

Silence.

OK, I don’t feel welcome”, I said (thinking that making it even more personal might be more potent).

Well, you are.”

I doesn’t feel like it. I’m sad that you’ve made me feel that I’m glad someone didn’t come to church today – don’t you think that’s rubbish?

Look, I have to preach the truth. If someone came in here and punched you in the face, I’d have to tell them that was wrong.”

I’d like to tell you that at this point I said “Are you equating a life-long, committed relationship to an act of unprovoked violence?!” – but I didn’t. I sort of spluttered.

When I found my voice again, I said “You realise that not all Christians think it is wrong, don’t you?”

He said he did.

I left it there. He squeezed my hand to say thank you, and I went to have a coffee and cool down. In conversations later, it transpired that I was not the only person in the room to feel angry and concerned. I don’t know whether or not I was the only person to question him about it.

A few weeks on, I’m still not sure I tried the right tack by taking the pastoral approach. But I’m glad that I did challenge such behaviour.

Telling this story to my cousin later, she made it clear that she would have walked out of the service had she been there. In a way, perhaps it would have been better if this had happened. It would have been disrupting, upsetting, and dramatic – but maybe thats exactly what the situation demanded.

Our most harmful opponents are not going away

by Sam Somewhere

The recent announcement that Rob Bell has joined Steve Chalke in ‘crossing the chasm’ and coming out in favour of same-sex relationships should be seen as evidence that a damn-break moment is slowly coming upon us, especially amongst the Evangelical wing of Western Anglophone Christianity. We live in exciting times, and announcements like Chalke’s and Bell’s open up room for a debate. But they are not a sign of impending all-out victory, and those hoping for such a moment need to be vigilant.

It would be wrong to think that the willingness of many amongst the younger generation to rethink theological and political positions on gay marriage will eventually result in a total absence of opposition. In fact, it could be quite dangerous: there’s no guarantee that the current watershed will be in anyway permanent, as proven by a long view of history.

But for those on the far fringes, even an Evangelical like Steve Chalke is immediately dismiss-able. In fact, someone like Chalke, seen by many as being on the soft edge of the Evangelical wing, will cause as many reactions of visceral hatred as he does openings for debate.

I want to share a metaphor I came up with whilst discussing my concerns with a friend who also writes for this blog. I used the idea of support or opposition ‘evaporating’. As heat rises, so liquids evaporate, thus reducing the volume of what’s left. We’re seeing that now, as support for the ‘traditional Evangelical position’ appears to be evaporating. The problem is, we focus on the reduction in volume at our peril. What we’re left with is a thick and nasty sludge.

As those who hold views about same-sex marriage that are rationalised as loving ‘evaporate’, the effect they were having ceases. We could describe that effect as diluting the more caustic opinions. With no one on their side to ensure that they don’t come across as unloving, and with an impending sense of their own isolation, we can expect to see what’s left in the bottom of the test tube get darker, more concentrated and more overtly harmful.

So I’m worried that, in searching for a universal victory, what happens is that we dismiss the most hardened, and most dangerous characters in the opposition. Sadly, isolated people have a habit of doing unspeakable things out of fear that the world around them is against them. We should at no point dismiss them.

Carey, Cameron, money and marriage

Symon Hill

Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the resurrection of someone executed by a brutal empire; a radical persecuted by an unholy alliance of political oppressors and religious hypocrites; a prophet who challenged the social, economic, religious and sexual conventions of his day and pointed the way to love, equality and the Kingdom of God.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

As the Catholic peace activist Chris Cole puts it, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate act of civil disobedience. When you’re executed by the state, you’re supposed to stay dead.

People who are likely to disagree with this view include George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has swung rapidly to the right since “retiring” eleven years ago. Yesterday, Holy Saturday, the Daily Mail published an interview in which Carey accused David Cameron of betraying Christians. British Christians, he said, had been left feeling like a “persecuted minority”.

Carey can, on almost any day he wishes, rise from his seat of privilege in the House of Lords (he’s now a life peer) to complain about the treatment of Christians in the UK. He can complain about anti-Christian persecution in the only country in the world that allows Christian bishops to sit unelected in its legislature and vote on legislation. He can rush off to powerful and wealthy media corporations to run sympathetic interviews with him in their newspapers. And he can visit the third of state-funded primary schools that are explicitly Christian. 

Christians have of course been persecuted in Britain for centuries – by other Christians. Catholics persecuting Protestants, Protestants persecuting Catholics, Anglicans persecuting dissenters, pro-war church leaders persecuting Quakers – the list goes on.

When people talk about Christians being persecuted in the UK today, they usually move very quickly to talk about sexuality. Carey defends the “right” of Christians to deny equal civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is not equality he seeks, but inequality.

Thankfully, other Christians, including many Anglicans, have better reasons to challenge David Cameron today. The Baptist Union, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church have issued a joint statement slamming the cuts to social security benefits that will come into force tomorrow (1 April). A number of Christians in other denominations have spoken up on the same issue.

David Cameron has used Easter Day to speak of “Jesus’ legacy of generosity” – the day before slashing benefits for the poorest people in the UK, while leaving the rich untouched. Billions are thrown into military spending, the rich siphon off their wealth to tax havens and the poor are punished for the sins of the rich. In a society of massive inequality two thousand years ago, Jesus took the side of the poor and marginalised, challenging the rich and powerful to change. 

I am delighted that these denominations have taken this stand and that the media have noticed it. I would be even more pleased if they would follow through their commitment to equality by backing equal marriage. Jesus demonstrated relationships based on equality and love, not convention or control. The same principle is true in both marriage and the economy. But they’ve spoken out at a crucial moment and I won’t be stingy in my praise.

Christ is risen indeed. Happy Easter! 

O’Brien, abuse and the gift of celibacy

by Jemima

In the aftermath of revelations by priests and now Cardinal O’Brien’s admission of “sexual misconduct”, the issue of whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry has raised its head again. It seems to be the default reaction of many, as if no married man has ever committed a sexual offence, no gay or queer man tried to hide from his own desires behind the facade of a loving wife and doting children.

It is a disturbing idea that people commit acts of what could be most charitably described as a predatory nature because they have no other outlet for their sexuality. Yet this is put forward again and again. The child abuse allegations, the cover-ups, the abuse of power, are explained as men (and on occasion women) who only act this way due to their vow of celibacy.

This ignores almost all of what we know about rape and sexual abuse, removing it from the sphere of power and into the sexual. It seems when it comes to Catholic clergy we are back in the 1950s, with men being rampant beasts at the mercy of their sexual urges.

When we look at St Paul he does clearly see celibacy as a desired state (1st Corinthians 7.7 particularly). However, Christianity is not unique in understanding that if one is to reach the deepest of spiritual understandings the distractions of the flesh should be given up. The monastic and celibate traditions have been found in many different cultures, with those who are able to live without sex seen as holy men and women.

St Paul, who is often condemned as anti-sex and anti the flesh understood though that this is an ideal:

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

Celibacy is seen as a desired state, and indeed who could argue that if we all gave up all our worldly concerns and dedicated our lives to the service of God then the Kingdom would be that much closer. However, St Paul understood that his gift was not the gift of others.

This may seem as if I am agreeing with those who believe if only priests could marry then so much pain would have been avoided, but I am not. By pointing out that celibacy is as normal and natural for some as sex then you move away from the idea that it is merely celibacy that leads to abuse.

There seems to be a lot of conflation of different issues going on. But in a space accepting of alternative sexualities, I think it is important to say that this includes asexuality and celibacy. Being celibate does not make one an abuser, nor does it excuse the abuse when it happens. Choosing to prey on those weaker than you, in any situation, is a choice. It is a choice the unmarried, the married, celibate or not, consciously make. We are in danger of rushing towards the idea of married priests without actually looking at why so many believed it was ok to make that choice.

Perhaps that is because in the modern world, choosing not to have sex is itself seen to be deviant, and so we believe that all deviancy springs from that choice. Yes, celibacy is not for all, but it should not be blamed for the sexual behaviour of some.

Queer Christians give thanks for success of same-sex marriage bill

Although Queers for Jesus is mainly a blog and discussion site, we’re very keen on ensuring that queer, radical and Christian voices are heard in the media. Today we have issued the following news release:

Queer Christians are celebrating a vote in the House of Commons in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales. But they warned that anti-equality comments during the debate show that the battle is far from over and that Christians need to speak up clearly for equality.

Queers for Jesus – who run a collective blog site exploring gender, sexuality and religion – said that the issue should not be presented as a dispute between religion and gay rights. Many of them demonstrated outside Parliament, singing hymns and praying as well as displaying banners alongside people of other religions and none. They thanked several Christian MPs for backing equal marriage.

They welcomed the fact that several faith leaders had spoken at an event in Parliament today calling for radical changes to the world’s financial systems. Queers for Jesus see the campaign for equal marriage rights as part of the same struggle for a more just and less sinful world.

Emma Anthony, a Christian youthworker in a same-sex relationship, joined the demonstration outside Parliament. Afterwards she said:

“It’s a very good day for equality. For some people, a life-changing decision has been made. I think there is no possible way that Jesus would have voted against this bill. We have to do what Jesus would do if Jesus still had an earthly body.”

Other demonstrators included Symon Hill, a Christian writer who in 2011 walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. He said:

“This is great news for all supporters of equality, including many Christians. Opponents of equal marriage must not be allowed to hide behind the claim that they are defending Christianity. Jesus modelled relationships based on love and justice – much harder than following a set of rules. Jesus motivates many people to work for a more just and less sinful world – campaigning against inequality, war and government cuts. We’ve heard lots from anti-equality Christians. It’s vital that pro-equality Christians speak up just as clearly.”

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