Opinion

John Lloyd

A church married to the wrong side of history

John Lloyd
Jan 4, 2013 20:01 UTC

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.

Multiculturalism: A blasphemy or a blessing?

John Lloyd
Jan 31, 2012 14:42 UTC

Multiculturalism is a Western ideal, amounting to a secular faith. Every Western government at least mouths its mantras – that a mix of peoples in one nation is a social good, that it enriches what had been a tediously monolithic culture, that it improves (especially for the Anglo-Saxons) our cuisine, our dress sense and our love lives. Besides, we need these immigrants: In Europe at least, where demographic decline is still the order of the day in most states, where else will the labor come from? Who else replenishes the state pension fund? Even where leaders criticize multiculturalism’s tendency to shield communities from justified criticism – Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of the UK have both spoken out on this – they touch only on its more obvious failings. As a process, they agree it is welcome.

Forgotten, or at least suppressed, in this narrative is religion and the animating force it still gives to many groups. Animating – and also divisive. To believe deeply in a religion had been, in the West as well as elsewhere, to believe deeply in the error of those not of the same faith, and to shun them. It has been one of the remarkable transformations of the past century that in the West, those of religious faith, or none, should accommodate the faiths of others. Indeed, they should even honor them. Those societies where that did not happen — say, until very recently, Ireland — the culture was seen as aberrant.

The reverse is true in many strongly Islamic societies. And that’s causing a problem for the Christians still living in them.

  •