The Christian message has been lost in the gay marriage debate

12 03 2012

If Christians want to be heard in a debate about Gay marriage, they must think more carefully before they speak.

The church should never feel obliged to follow fashions, and keep in step with popular opinion. We forget at our peril that Christ made himself deeply unpopular – his message was so controversial that our ancestors were moved to crucify him.

Far from feeling intimidated when it seems the masses disagree, Christians should step up to the public platform and use the gospel to present challenging questions about the nature of our society.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Charles Moore and all the many other recent contributors to the debate about gay marriage may feel that this is what they are doing. Unfortunately their words are not only misplaced and ill-conceived, they are a gross misrepresentation of the Christian message.

Let us be clear about two things:

1) The church cannot speak with one voice on the issue of gay marriage – many many faithful and committed Christians support it, and believe in it passionately.

2) Over the course of the Twentieth Century marriage moved a long way from the institution described by ‘traditional church teaching’. The horse, one might say, has already bolted. Fiddling with the stable door is now simply an embarrassment.

I believe in gay marriage because I am confident that God loves all his creation, and celebrates the commitment of two people in a lifelong, sincere and loving relationship. The Church (of England, at least) must waste no time in preparing a service for blessing same-sex unions.

Using the word marriage is, I concede, a more complex affair for some Christians and we need to have a debate within church communities about how we move forward. There are arguments, subtle and nuanced, that suggest we should be cautious as we do so.

But these are not the arguments I see being bellowed across the pages of my newspaper. I am appalled and ashamed by the arguments being put forward by Christian leaders in recent weeks. These are not stupid people and yet they make their case with all the elegance of a drunken bigot.

It is simply not sufficient to rely on tradition if that tradition is based on ignorance, prejudice and injustice. What a disappointing faith Christianity would be if we could not come up with a more sophisticated reason for holding a belief than simply “that’s what we’ve always done.”

If it is so important that we restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, then surely we could take the time to think of some decent reasons for doing so.

In any case, before we get too excited about gay marriage, we need to remember where we are with straight marriage. Given that we extend the privileged nomenclature of ‘marriage’ not only to Christians, but to Muslims, divorcees and even atheists, it is difficult to stand in the way of the state extending it to another group unrelated to the church.

Most importantly, though, we must think carefully about the role of the Christian voice in the public sphere. We have the honour of being Christ’s presence on earth, and when we speak that must be clear both in what we say and the tone in which we say it.

Christ’s message has always been controversial. He was never tempted to abandon his principles in the interests of momentary popularity – and yet he never spoke of anybody in terms of ‘grotesque subversion’.

There are many Christians who oppose gay marriage. They deserve to be heard, and represented at the table of public discourse. But they should not be surprised when bigotry and woolly thinking are dismissed.

 

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2 responses

13 03 2012
evensongjunkie

Bravo. Failing to do so will just cause the church to fail further and become more irrelevant. And that’s not how to spread the Gospel.

20 03 2012
Andrew Bennison

Brilliant article James! Just discovered your blog – like you, I’m passionately interested in both education and the church. I shall be a keen reader from now on!

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