MOTO readers not interested in things churchy or civil, feel free to wait for the next post – won’t be long, I promise 🙂
OK. So I have been struggling with the exoteric church a little bit recently. Not being, for assorted reasons, able to get there much may have contributed – or perhaps lessened – the struggle. You see, for those not in the know, the Church of England has, in a classic example of ‘compromise’, put off any decision on potential women Bishops until July. This makes me a sad Panda. I mean really, all the nay-sayers have to do is visit Perth and watch Kay Goldsworthy in action to know women are just as wonderful in this role as men. Or read this post on MOTO 🙂
Seriously, I was hoping for something better from the Mother church of the Anglican Communion. I still find it hard to accept the rancour and invective this issue raises. But there you go…
And then there is gay marriage. As I have explained elsewhere, out of all the many social change issues I support, I am particularly focused on this issue, as I actually think this is one we are going to win 🙂 And personally, I could use a win in feeling the world is getting better …
It is not that I am unsympathetic, from a spiritual viewpoint, to those who argue for the sanctity of marriage. I love me a good sanctity. I shocked some liberal colleagues the other day when I said I could see the reasoning behind the Archbishop of York’s recent statement against gay marriage. Rather than simply hoisting the flag of Christian homophobia, I realized my friends and Most Rev Sentamu were actually talking about two different things with the same name – marriage.
To the good Bish marriage is a spiritual blessing which is also legitimized by the state under secular law due to the historic presence of the Christian religion within the British government. To secular liberals, marriage is just the last part of that equation. Therefore questions of who can and cannot marry are secular concerns, needing no spiritual input at all. To folk like Most Rev Sentamu, what we have traditionally called marriage was within a Christian context and only involved a man and a woman. From this perspective we can certainly do something like marriage, a civil union, but with folk of the same gender it cannot be marriage, cos it does not fulfill basic criteria.
Naturally, I always see things from an esoteric perspective and while acknowledging the spiritual and inner dimension a marriage within a church can provide, the fact that there are legally equivalent secular marriages blows a big hole in this argument. The horse has well and truly bolted and marriage is now more defined by its secular aspects than past religious traditions. Therefore I think the word and concept of marriage is now more secular than spiritual and as some commentators have remarked, it may be the Christian resistance to gay marriage is more a reaction to the lessening of Christianity’s influence in society than actual homophobia.
Not that there is an absence of homophobia in the Christian churches and Christians. It’s there aplenty. I am not talking about the stupid, nasty fear mongers like Pat Robertson subtly equating homosexuality with bestiality (see below for the brilliant rebuttal from Garfunkel and Oates). We expect all that. I am talking about the more subtle homophobia from the nice Christians. People who agree gay folk should not be persecuted, but should not be priests. Or should not get married. Or say things like, “I met one of them the other day” or support clergy systems were Priests can be gay but their partners are not recognized. Or a million other ways in which gay folk are “othered”.
The biggest form of subtle homophobia I have encountered though is that which seeks not to ‘upset’ or ‘distress’ existing parishioners. I have read and heard this argument a lot – we should introduce such radical change as gay acceptance (let alone marriage) slowly so as not to offend folk. We should understand they were raised with different cultural values where being gay was seen as evil. We should not try and force them to change, but slowly show the way.
To this argument I say simply, bollocks. Sorry, but in terms of real discrimination, real pain, real suffering asking old granny Simpkins to sit next to an openly gay man at church occasionally is nothing to compared to what gay people face every day. Simply look at the continual trickle of teen gay suicides, bashings and abuse. Also, and most importantly from spiritual perspective, Christianity has some of the most profound myths and motifs of changing the heart towards greater compassion we can think of. Look at Saul/Paul on the way to Damascus. If people are coming to church, if they are being Christian, they have no excuse not to partake and be inspired by these myths – no excuse not to be constantly walking their own Damascus road seeking to change from persecutor to lover.
And if we allow nice but homophobic granny Simpkins or anyone to remain in their state of fear and prejudice because we do not want to upset them, change them too quickly, then we are clearly on the side of the persecutor not the victim, not the dispossessed, the outcasts. We then are not living the Christian vision which if it has any message at all, it is to see the world from the victim’s eyes.
OK. Rant over, back to magic next post 🙂