A church married to the wrong side of history

January 4, 2013

After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell took some time to tell his fellow Americans that homosexuals (along with abortionists, feminists and pagans) were at least in part to blame. “I point my finger in their face,” he said, “and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

Later, in a “did I say that?” moment, he apologized.

It was a low moment, but not an unusual one. Falwell is in the hate-filled corner of the religious spectrum. But even those religious leaders at the mild and inclusive end must, more in sorrow than in anger, generally tell gay men and women that as much as they respect them, they can’t officiate at their marriages. That’s a bridge over too-troubled waters.

This past Christmas time has been an active one for those in the Catholic Church concerned that legislation in both France and the UK to permit gay marriage will hollow out their faith. In a pre-Christmas address to fellow Vatican officials, Benedict XVI called for all faiths to come together against a practice that would cancel out the “authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint for human existence.”

Picking up, more mildly, the theme from his Holy Father, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said that creativity lay in the bond between husband and wife, and claimed in a BBC interview that the Conservative-led government had no mandate for legislation permitting gay marriage, now being brought forward. In Scotland, Nichols’ brother in Christ, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, argued that same-sex marriage was “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.”

They don’t hold a candle, however, to the viciousness of their brethren elsewhere – both in Christ and out of him. Victor Tonye Bakot, the Catholic Archbishop of Yaounde, in the central African state of Cameroon, put a harder spin on the Pope’s message on Christmas Day, arguing at a mass that homosexual marriage was “a serious crime against humanity.” In a reporting trip to Uganda some years ago to write about the rapid spread of evangelical churches, I found that many of the pastors were consumed with what they saw as a pervasive, deadly threat – and have put strong pressure on President Yoweri Museveni, whose wife is an evangelical Christian, to pass stronger laws against the “plague.” The pressure worked: A law that includes life imprisonment in some cases (and had initially included the death penalty) is in front of the parliament now. Discovery of a gay relationship can be – and has been – the subject of a death sentence in Iran; in Egypt, where there are no laws explicitly banning homosexuality, those who are open, or are discovered, can face charges like “debauchery” and are imprisoned for years.

But there’s more movement forward than back now. More and more countries, and states within federal countries, are legalizing same-sex marriage. They include the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, South Africa and nine U.S. states plus Washington DC. In China, gay activists gather larger constituencies, and the argument for permitting marriage is heard even in the National Peoples’ Congress, from the prominent sociologist Li Yinhe. There is much prejudice in Russia, but no criminal sanctions, and as in China, the gay lobbies are strengthening, if often in adversity. The Indian law criminalizing homosexual relations was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. When the country’s Supreme Court heard a series of appeals against the law’s decriminalization last February, its judgment was, to put it succinctly, live with it.

Even in Uganda, rights are inching forward. A New Yorker profile of the Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha showed a man much harassed by politicians and the press (in October 2010, a local tabloid called Rolling Stone outed him and “100 of Uganda’s top homos,” with the helpful injunction: “Hang them”) but able to work, to proselytize, and able even to get an apology from the chief of police in the capital, Kampala, for wrongful arrests at a Gay Pride march.

In 2012, Gene Robinson, the gay U.S. Episcopalian bishop who more than any other in the religious world put the issue of gay marriage at the center of religious controversy, published his book God Believes in Love. It concluded that “being gay was no better and no worse than being straight. … I was a child of God.” In the same year, Justin Lee, founder and director of the Gay Christian Network, published Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate. Both books are notable for their confidence and their calm acceptance of both their own natures, and the need for the Christian churches to follow them in their acceptance.

Robinson is retiring this month. His insistence on being openly gay and a bishop was endorsed by the U.S. Episcopalian church – though not by the Anglican communion worldwide, and it caused many in the United States to align themselves with a conservative current in Anglicanism, most common in Africa. His credo – that God’s love encompasses all forms of sexuality – chimes with increasing numbers of the religious everywhere, especially the young. Through polemics and with courage, he has made a difference.

Two problems remain. The churches have defined marriage unambiguously as the union of a man and a woman, with the large purpose of procreation. In the Anglican marriage service, the priest says something like “it is given, that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they should be united with one another in mind, body and heart as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.” To alter a rite that puts a human union in such a divine frame is not just to “modernize,” but to dynamite a structure of belief and custom. In that sense, the chaste old men are right: This is a siege, and they must be on the ramparts with the boiling oil.

But the larger problem is for the church. If tolerance is now the largest civic good in an increasing number of societies, intolerance – no matter how well founded in scripture – seems at best an irrelevance, and more often bigotry. All religions aspire to a monopoly of morality; none can now achieve it except, in some societies and through violence, Islamists.

In secular societies of the Christian tradition, the churches have had to adapt to a series of rearguard actions against the habits and pleasures of consumer societies. This one is a major battle. Losing this – as presently they are – means what (considerable) influence they still have over the most intimate part of human life is dramatically reduced. This past Christmas saw a Catholic counterattack. But the siege hasn’t been lifted, and there are ever more barbarians at the gate.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI conducts a Eucharist service in the southwest German town of Freiburg, September 25, 2011.  Pope Benedict said on Saturday the Catholic Church could not accept gay marriage and urged young people to root out evil in society and shun a “lukewarm” faith that damages their Church.   REUTERS/Max Rossi 


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“Many are Called, but Few are Chosen”.

Posted by PrairieHouse | Report as abusive

Marriage is simply a concept that was designed to prevent infidelity, which can taint bloodlines, and throw succession lines into disarray. It really has little place in this day and age of DNA test. It shouldn’t even be recognized by the state. If people wish to follow the rite in the name of tradition and symbolism, that’s fine, but to pervert that tradition into something it has never been to placate a small segment of the society seems wrong.

Posted by Jameson4Lunch | Report as abusive

Churches are married to the wrong side of reality. They promote superstition, lulling people into magical thinking, reducing their inclination and ability to act to improve their own circumstances or to take responsibility for participating in societal efforts at advancing the larger community’s wellbeing.

Posted by bcrawf | Report as abusive

Those of you who support the gay agenda don’t get it. We have a right to disagree with you. But truthfully liberals are not liberal when it comes to opinions. If you don’t agree with them you are ostracized, the same behavior they accuse those who don’t agree with them of. Live and let live, as long as you respect my opinion to disagree with you. I don’t support your immoral agenda.

Posted by Trachonitis | Report as abusive

So many spooked people in the world. A marriage license is nothing more than a legal document to be used in court to settle disputes. Does anyone really think, if they really even believe in god, that he’s going to ask them for their state issued marriage license when they die? It is nothing more than a means of control used first by the Church and second by the State. Outgrow the superstition.

Posted by LysanderTucker | Report as abusive

Why did people think that Christian Church MUST approve of behaviour that was sin for all our religion’s history? Fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is a powerful symbol in Bible after all.

Also ’bout this “gay bishop” – didn’t in most churches high clergy should be CELIBATE? I.e. no matter – women, men (or goats) attracts the person, it all left behind moment the vows are accepted. For majority of christians if hierarch of some church is married/sexually active it is the sign that this church is disgraced.

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

To be clear, people who judge and or condemn another is not acting as Christ commanded and therefore sinning.

At the same time, both the old and new testament clearly defines same sex relationships as sin.

The difficult challenge for Jews and Christians is to neither condone nor condemn same sex relationships. The balance requires not recognizing or sanctifying same sex marriage while still loving gays and lesbians.

Posted by GSH10 | Report as abusive

Since the bible is openly anti-gay male. No organization based on the bible can support male homo-sexuality. Male homos are called dogs in in ancient Hebrew and are under the death sentence.

For a church to be pro-gay it means breaking with the bible.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

The Church must be on the right side, since it offers something desirable, that gives a deeper meaning to sex. The gay proponents can try to appropriate it, but they will never succeed, however jealous they are for the word.

Posted by Radek.kow1 | Report as abusive

If would be a great breakthrough if the Catholic Church would also stop teaching that birth control is a sin.

Posted by skyraider254 | Report as abusive

God loves you and He has a wonderful plan for your life

Posted by justinolcb | Report as abusive

Right, the Church is on one side, the Enlightenment is on the other. This is not news.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

the article points the finger at the institutions

but avoids the problem of the underlying belief in the bible, the commandments, scripture, articles of faith etc

western jurisprudence is welded onto the traditions of
the 10 commandments

only samrch picked this up

inevitably the article is suggesting christians reform their bible into the Church of All Morals
nothing is questionable, ice cream and holidays forever
a rather pointless exercise from a religious perspective

marriage is only one step towards a bigger issue,
the mainstreaming of homosexual values through parenting rights

http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/fa mily/item/13411-children-seized-from-mot her-in-london-borough-awarded-to-homosex uals

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

Churches can be anti-gay. I have no problem with that, and if they want to refuse to perform same-sex marriages in a religious ceremony, that’s fine by me and most of the same-sex couples I’ve known.

The state, however, should (and will) take a different stance. Same-sex couples should enjoy all of the civil rights that traditional couples enjoy.

To scythe, saying that life will be “ice cream and holidays forever” if not guided by the morality of the Christian bible is ridiculous. As an atheist, the lack of “Christian Law” doesn’t inspire anyone I know (Christian or not) to run out committing crimes against my fellow man, or to stop questioning responsibility for personal behavior.

Shouldn’t Christians question divorce? Christian vows are pretty clear – “Till death do us part” and yet divorces are only slightly less common than marriage. Christians take full advantage of civil law in those circumstances, when the husband has been diddling his secretary perhaps.”Thou shalt not commit adultery” is tossed out the window in favor of civil options and the personal liberty of engaging in those same vows again – perhaps with the pretty secretary, or the buff cabana boy. So, sorry, Western jurisprudence is not entirely “welded onto the traditions of the 10 Commandments”. Two more examples: slavery and Red Lobster.

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage is a “sin” cherry-picked by Christianity as a target for gaining control and flexing their muscles. The author’s overall point is correct – they’ll lose.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

An entire political and cultural agenda driven by who one sleeps with? That has a lot of substance (sarcasm intended) And, explain to me how a continent where AIDS is pandemic (a disease resulting from indiscriminate male homosexual behavior) is a not “crime against humanity”. But it’s okay to spend billion of health care dollars to remedy a situation that could otherwise be addressed if your behavior involved just a little common sense. Then again, that would be infringing on some self-defined “right”.

Keep promoting the theology of actions without consequences. Me, me, me, me….it’s all about you and your feelings. I don’t hate you. In fact, I really don’t care who you sleep with, but don’t ask me to endorse the institutionalization of your behavior, and stop waving your proclivities in my face. I already know your gay–so what’s the big deal? I really don’t care! “Look at me, Look at me. I’m different than you. I have friends who think the same way I do. We have a parade every year where we can misbehave in public.”

Feeling is not thinking–but in your self-centered world it’s easier to demonize those who disagree with you than to have an informed conversation. Go ahead and continue to attack and demonize–as it serves to magnify the shallowness of your argument.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

Most priests and many conservatives have learned to suppress the urges within themselves (although occasionally they stray). This is why they don’t see what they are doing as wrong. They themselves have had to suppress this devil that lives inside them, and they see this as a victory of their will over that of satan. So, you see, they cannot have sympathy for the weak who cannot suppress their own predisposition. They have done it, so why can’t everyone else.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Homosexuality was widely practiced in ancient Greek and Roman times. It went away and has only now re-emerged.
This author seems to have a shallow point of reference and little regard for history and I believe his opinion is only wishful thinking. This current acceptance of the abnormal (abnormal it is compared to the vast majority) will be fleeting.

Posted by keebo | Report as abusive

How does one reconcile the basic passages in the Old and New Testament warning against sexual sin then?

Note that many other sins are lumped in with the sins of homosexuality so it’s not like it’s being highlighted or singled out as some worse sin but still the words and intent appear very clear it is a sin in both books of the Bible.

re: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1, Leviticus 20:13 or Leviticus 18:22

Posted by whirichardson | Report as abusive

No, the welfare state that forces already angry taxpayers to subsidizes immoral behavior to buy votes is on the wrong side of history my friend.

Posted by tx-peasant | Report as abusive

Is this a page from Gay Reuter News?

Posted by Ounbbl | Report as abusive

Sir: If you really believe that there are opposing sides of history, you leave little chance for reasoned discussion.

Posted by pCohee | Report as abusive