Fear and loathing in the ’sphere

by Richard on March 2, 2012

Three articles have caught my eye in the last day or two that, though they’re about different subjects, have something of a common thread. First, there’s Benny’s Blog: Same Sex Marriage - who will it really hurt?

The striking thing about including same-sex couples in marriage is that it does exactly that – it includes people who have been excluded before. Nothing more – nothing less.

So the only hurt which might be involved is the hurt feelings of those who want to exclude others.

There is one thing which Lord Carey and I agree on, however. In his words, “Marriage is the glue that binds our country together. When a couple marries, they are not just joining with one individual, but connecting two families – and in doing so creating a support network far better than anything the state can supply.”

I have to say that I couldn’t agree more – which is why I firmly believe that marriage should be available to same-sex couples who want to make that life-long and life-giving commitment to each other – just like heterosexuals.

Then Bishop Alan comes along with a call for “red letter” Christians

When the Church acts out its institutional anxiety, hypocrisy and self pity, embarrassed people switch off. Turn it onto Jesus, immerse ourselves in his spoken and lived teaching, and ears prick up. It also leads people to expect we will be genuinely aligned. I increasingly think I need to be a “Red Letter” Christian. My college tutors were horrified by red letter bibles’ apparent certainty about who was speaking when, but the principle increasingly makes sense to me.

If the Church prioritizes being a delivery vehicle for the Kingdom it cannot take itself too seriously, and will stay clear of fruitless culture wars about semi-irrelevancies.
The only credible strategy has to be II Corinthians 4:

We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Finally, Leonard Pitts Jnr responds to an Indiana state legislator’s attack on American Girl Scouts

Fear has long been the sine qua non of social conservatism, the fundament of an “us against them” ethos that simultaneously binds social conservatives together in common cause and separates them from the rest of the world. Like the mental patient who is emperor of a self-created universe invisible to sane people, they believe themselves the guardians and defenders of a moral North Star from which the rest of the world has deviated — and to which they are determined to return us.

Strong stuff, but there is a lot of truth here. So much that drives the debate in politics and the church these days is simply fear. Fear of them, fear of change, fear of difference. We need to own up to the truth that the instinct which prevents churches being welcoming to homosexuals is the same instinct which kept black immigrants out of churches in the 1960’s. The same fear which resists change to marriage law today is the fear that kept generations of women trapped in violent and abusive marriages. Alan is right: we need to set aside all our moralising about stuff which is marginal at best and focus our attention more closely on those things which we can be sure Jesus cared about.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 03.02.12 at 7:10 pm

Take a look at actual church weddings and what do you see (and not just hear from the minister — pictures are worth a thousand words here)? What you do not see is any enfleshed marriage theology; what you see is rather a service colonised by the mass market sub-Christian consumerist etiquette of such fashionable wedding Bibles — oops, magazines! — as Brides and Wedding. And the real officiant is, of course, not the visible minister but that invisible high priest known as the Wedding Planner.

Personally, I think it is both substantively confusing and strategically unwise to refer to the blessing of a civil partnership as a “wedding”, and to a same-sex union as a “marriage”. Indeed I am puzzled why any sane gay or lesbian would want to ape the mess that is the contemporary wedding/marriage. They should surely be more aspirational than that! But if Christians deny that same-sex relations are “intrinsically disordered” or “inherently sinful” — and indeed with theological rigour affirm that they may indeed be holy — then for the church to bless them — (it’s a no-brainer) nihil obstat. And perhaps such blessings can have a theologically serious joy to them so dis-gracefully lacking in so many modern weddings.


Richard 03.02.12 at 11:27 pm

Got to admit, I find weddings to be mostly pretty tricky occasions. I’d far rather conduct a funeral.


Pam 03.03.12 at 1:24 am

@Kim: I would guess that same-sex couples would want the same ‘rights’ as heterosexuals as far as recognition of their partnership is concerned. If it’s called ‘marriage’ between two heterosexuals, then that’s what it should be for gay people. Mind you, I note Rumpole of the Bailey’s take on marriage: “Matrimony and murder both carry a mandatory life sentence.” :)
I did like your last sentence too - I hope that “blessings” meant “full acceptance”.

@Richard: Do you find weddings ‘tricky’ because two people turn up wanting to be married in your church who are not ‘church-goers’? If this is so, maybe some inarticulate feelings are there for the church or faith, or something. And they want to be embraced.


Kim 03.03.12 at 7:55 am

@Pam –

the same rights: absolutely– but as Rowan Williams has observed just this week, rights understood “against a background not of individual claims” — which is a quite secular-liberal notion — “but of the question of what is involved in mutual recognition between human beings…. This is not to make the obvious (and slightly tired) point about rights and responsibilities. It is to see the world of ‘rights’ as anchored in habits of empathy and identification with the other.”

And full acceptance — of course. Indeed one of the motivating factors of gay/lesbian Christian couples seeking the church’s blessing is precisely the desire for public ecclesial recognition and embrace.


Pam 03.03.12 at 8:20 am

Can’t argue with that answer Kim.
In Sydney tonight (in the pouring rain I might add) the Mardi Gras is in full swing. And I believe the Wayside Chapel has a float in the parade. Good on you, Wayside.


Anon 03.03.12 at 10:31 am

The Telegraph a week ago said: There seems to be little Christian love for Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in some sections of the Church these days.
The Rev George Pitcher, the former secretary for public affairs to Dr Rowan Williams, the present archbishop, says he was taken to one side by a bishop outside the House of Lords when he was on the way to see Carey the other day.
‘Do us a favour and drop a cayanide pill in his coffee,’the Lord Spiritual told Pitcher. ‘What does he think he is doing?’

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