Monthly Archives: March 2013

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.