The test for gay marriage is how those who disagree with it are treated

After all the build up to today’s vote in the House of Lords, the result was more one-sided than many were expecting.  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed easily by 390 votes to 148.  And so same-sex marriage draws another step closer and ‘traditional’ marriage is consigned to history in this country.

It’s a sad state of affairs that when you hear someone trying to defend the traditional understanding of marriage at the moment they so often start by explaining that they are not in any way criticising gay people, usually justifying the statement by letting you know that they have several gay friends who are lovely people, whom they have a deep respect for. It’s disappointing at a number of levels.  It reveals the shallowness of the same-sex marriage debate that discussing what marriage is and should be is seen by many as a personal attack on gay people, which at its core it most definitely isn’t.  It also reflects on the way that gay people have been treated so badly in the past by the state, the church and the majority of the public, that arguing that marriage should be exclusively for heterosexuals is seen to be continuing in the attitude of previous times when gay people have been institutionally harassed and oppressed.  Even as I write this I’m wondering whether my language is coming over as homophobic.  There is so much baggage being carried by us all that publicly discussing the nature of what marriage should be objectively is near impossible.  Many people feel unable to voice their opinions openly because of the reaction they fear they will receive.  This is especially true if you bring religion or God into the conversation.

I’ve heard from a reliable source that this has been the case with some MPs during the progression of the Marriage Bill, but judging by the speeches yesterday in the House of Lords, some of the Peers don’t seem to have been too worried by this fear.  Maybe it’s an older generation (the average age of the House of Lords is 69) being more comfortable about expressing their opinions or maybe it’s the lack of concern over what voters might think, but the debate prompted this observation from Baroness Berridge:

She is correct on this point.  Justin Welby did not mention God explicitly during his creditable speech.  He did however apologise that church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should.  He also gave a damning critique of the current failures of the Bill as it stands, holding little back in his defence of marriage as it currently stands:

“The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society – as we’ve already heard – is weakened.”

Maybe the reason for Welby’s failure to give God a mention was explained at the end his speech where he explained that marriage is not, at heart, a faith issue; it is about the general social good.  He is of course right.  It is not owned by any religion or faith group or any institution for that matter.  It is, as the Pope describes it, Natural Law – something that is intrinsically part of our human make-up for the stability of relationships and the common good.

Even though marriage is not a faith issue, for each one of us, our view on whether it is a man-made construct or the creation of God is likely to profoundly affect how we approach it.  If it has been formed apart from God then it would be perfectly acceptable to see it evolving in a similar way to the development of equality between men and women over previous decades and centuries.  This should still be on the proviso that benefits of such a move could be established and those drafting the necessary legislation don’t make a hash of it.  In the Lords today for example Baroness Stowell who is an equalities spokeswoman for the Government said that extending the concept of adultery to same-sex marriages would not make sense, which goes to show that trying to make marriage fully equal is never going to happen.

One the other hand, if we believe that marriage is a gift from God and part of the Creator’s design for the world then we should be treading very carefully when any change to its fundamental structure is proposed.  It’s no wonder that the majority of Christians and also those of other faiths are deeply worried by what the Government has been trying to achieve.  To tell these people that they are out of touch, or backward is to completely misunderstand how having a religious faith guides your approach to life and thinking.  If anyone expects those who for religious reasons believe marriage should stay as it is to get over it and move on if and when the Marriage Bill comes into effect, they are guaranteed to be disappointed.  A faith that can be swayed that easily isn’t worth holding on to.

For those who hold religious views on marriage, this episode has caused a lot of soul-searching, deep thinking and prayer to happen.  The church has mostly become much more positive in its language towards gay people.  The value of civil partnerships has by-and-large been affirmed, many people have realised just how much marriage means to them and our political leaders received a huge amount of prayer.  Much of this has happened with a good deal of grace despite the labels of ‘Bigot’ repeatedly being thrown around.

I heard someone recently explaining that by creating this bill, the Government had effectively put God in the dock, by explicitly forcing those voting on the issue to choose between God’s ways and man’s.  There is an element of truth in this, but maybe more so we have put our nation in the dock.  In doing so we are finding out if as a society we are capable of allowing  freedom of speech where those with views from all sides of the argument are listened to with respect and allowed to voice legitimate beliefs and views without fear.

Assuming the current Marriage Bill will go through, there is still plenty to do to see it moulded into a form that is not going to leave many people fearful that their views will be respected if they do not agree with the changes.  There are far more who fit into that category than those who will benefit from a redefinition of marriage.  If those who feel unable to support this move, especially because of their beliefs run the risk of being marginalised or even persecuted then this whole endeavour will have been a disaster.  Those who are overseeing this bill have an important responsibility towards all of society to make it work effectively.  They owe it to us all and the institution of marriage not to treat any aspect of it with contempt.



Categories: Government, Justice, Party politics

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74 replies

  1. Oh please, Gillan – “‘traditional’ marriage is consigned to history in this country”

    You know that ain’t so. Allowing gay people to marry makes not one iota of difference to heterosexual marriage. Not one of us in a hetero relationship is suddenly going to turn to our spouse and say, “Aw, gee, honey, I could’ve married my best man / bridesmaid instead of you” because of this development.

    Please, brother: don’t hype it up. Marriage is not undermined; but I daresay, by God’s grace, it may be strengthened and reinforced.

    • Maybe I should have written that the definition of marriage will be changed permanently. I’m trying not to hype things up deliberately, but to express what I see in those around me as well as my own thoughts. My marriage is not going to be changed by this as far as I can see, but there is still a sense of unease as we find our paradigms shifting and facing the prospect of civil partnerships for all and some unanswered questions over how this legislation will work out for faith groups. There is a lot of fear around this that is not entirely unjustified.

    • I don’t give a darn what the gays think. They are not the majority and Nature has decided that not me.

  2. I think one of the challenges of this debate is that depending on ones point of view it is a stand alone item or part of a wider piece. By this I mean that those opposed to Same Sex Marriage see it as stand alone battle to fight, but those who are fighting for what they see as equality, it is a step on a longer journey. That is not the rather irrational sense of aggressive gays as suggested by some out of touch legislators (although of course some gay people are very angry) but rather that having been opposed by the same people over Homosexual Decriminalisation, Section 28 and Civil Partnerships and now same sex marriage, that apologies for the way in which gay people have been treated previously appear incredibly shallow and possibly even tactical. Had the Church as a whole spoken out in a positive manner over some of these changes at the time rather being largely on the side of the opponents, Justin Welby might have been heard more effectively today. My real concern even at this stage is that the intelligent parts of the groups supporting traditional marriage have not engaged effectively with those who they are arguing against. Sadly they do not even appear to have spoken to people like them who are working in areas such as Brighton & Hove where the understanding of the LGBT community might be seen through different eyes than in some communities where Gay people remain hidden and possibly lack the confidence to express their views in a wider context.

    • Thanks Ian. You make some very important points. When there has been a wrong that has been committed in the past, how do we correct that and make amends? For example Justin Welby is only responsible for what he has said and done himself. He can apologise for what has gone on in the past, but something is wrong if he feels unable to speak up because of the failures of others before him. It is a difficult balancing act. You are right to about the lack of engagement. When this began, it quickly descended into trench warfare and from that point it has been extremely difficult to get beyond that.

      • I think Justin has nowhere to go in terms of the public debate, but if we are serious about wanting to apologise for the past and wanting the best for those who self identify as LGBTI as well as those don’t the steps to finding that out are not hard to make, and the first steps need to be taken now. Justin has already shown he is willing to listen and engage, but there is a long way to go and he is not the only actor. We need to see CARE and EA leading by example along with leaders of many of the other networks. Getting out of the trenches won’t be easy but its time to end the war!

        • You’re right that churches and Christian organisations could be doing more and being more proactive in trying to heal the wounds. Justin Welby has made some positive moves such as inviting Peter Tatchell to Lambeth Palace. We need to be seeing more of this sort of thing.

      • Agreed. The trouble is some on both sides prefer trench warfare, as they find it easier to shut down debate! If you shut down debate you do not have to think and therefore you don’t have to see where you could be wrong or behaving in an undignified manner! I was outside last night and managed to interview Peter Tatchell, but it would have been nice to get hold of an Official Spokesperson against in interests of balance, but no one really stood out

        • No-one on the anti-gay marriage side stood out?? – Probably because they WERE behaving in a dignified manner!!! (And have always done so, so not identified a cause celebre as spokesperson!)

        • Hi Paul, I would suggest that Dave Landrum of the Evangelical Alliance is as good person on this. I think his role is at least as official as Peter’s. If you need contact details please email me (IanPChisnall@aol.com)

        • It’s a huge mistake to think activists have any great influence on the debate. The acceptance of gay marriage by straight allies has more to do with changing or changed assumptions about the purpose of marriage. Gay people are benefiting from a reformulation that the straight majority designed for themselves. The rise of sexual individualism in the 1960/70s (which allowed gay people to step out of the shadows) and the subsequent loss of all economic and social penalties for breaking marriage vows or having children out of wedlock are the reasons we are now talking about “gay marriage”.

          A lot of Christians want to retain the male/female definition but also live comfortably in a society that gives them an escape route if the marriage “doesn’t work out”. When my (working class) was pregnant with her first child in 1959 she had no other option but to get married. Not get married meant perpetual vilification and economic suicide. When she gave birth to her fifth child in 1973, she could just about ‘afford’ to be a single mum. From that point on marriage was a lifestyle choice for her. She now doesn’t understand why anyone would deny gay couples the right to a “big day” wedding or the opportunity to live the life they want to live.

        • That should say “When my (working class) mother was pregnant” above

        • I know it’s a typical sensationalist Daily Mail piece but this story tells you all you need know about the state of marriage today…

          Angie walked out on her children to put HER happiness first

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2336560/Angie-walked-children-HER-happiness-And-shred-remorse.html

          It’s now all about finding a soul mate, organising a big event wedding and living the dream (“as long as you’re happy luv”). Which is something a gay couple can do as easily a straight couple. Gay people didn’t redefine marriage. Straights gutted the old meaning and gays took advantage of what was left (consumer led lifestyle options).

        • Thanks for all your comments Joe. They’ve been very helpful and perceptive. In some ways this whole debate has been more about the differences between a secular and religious understanding of marriage than sexuality. You’ve highlighted that well. From this perspective society on the whole has rejected the religious understanding and connotations of marriage so it’s not really surprising we’ve reached this point in the journey.

        • But this is – as you point out – a bit of sensationalism from the Daily Mail about one woman. (And they seem as outraged that she’s walked out on a six bedroom mansion as that she’s left her children). Quote statistics by all means, but pulling the example of one person out of a hat proves exactly nothing.

          Anyway, the implication of your story is that you think that because heterosexuals have set up a paradigm of faithlessness and short term marriage, consequently gay people (who, by your implication, have relationships that are all faithless and short term) think they should be seeing a bit of the action. They want short term, faithless marriages too.

          I can’t say this is what I see in my gay male friends. Sure, a few people are cruising for Britain well into their 40s, but then they show little sign of wanting to get married — the gay men who have coupled up have been with their partners for *yeeeaaars* and I’ve no more reason to think they are being chronically unfaithful than any of the hetties I know. And in any case adultery in marriage goes back at least as far as Guinevere – it’s not some recent import to our newly corrupted gay friendly society.

          So rather than rudely and inaccurately assuming that all gay relationships are temporary ones, why not simply set a Christian standard for gay marriage? Hmmm – you could even get a short book written about it, and call it – just off the top of my head – ‘Permanent, Faithful, Stable’. Armed with such a code, Christian gay couples could act as a shining example to people like Angie from Basildon (or wherever: I suspect her of being from Essex) and make them think more carefully about their marital choices.

          Actually, I can think of plenty of Christian gay couples who are shining examples already: the antipathy to seeing that on this discussion thread makes me all the more glad that society is about to affirm their relationships, even if the Church may take a while yet.

        • I didn’t mean to say anything about any particular couple and their level of commitment to each other. All relationships/marriages (gay or straight) start with best of intentions and very few people break up with a long term partner on a whim. I wanted to point out that duties have been supplanted by choices. My mother had a duty to get married when she got pregnant in 1959 (I don’t think she really wanted to marry my father!) 15 years later she had the option of not marrying the guy who was the father of her youngest child. Life still wasn’t easy for her because the stigma of being a single mother didn’t disappear until much later. Also, when I was a young gay man in the 1980s *nobody* moaned about a lack of marriage equality. There were just as many faithful stable gay relationships back then as there are today but everyone assumed that “marriage” was something that only a man and woman could do.

          There are indeed “gay men who have coupled up have been with their partners for years” and there are silly selfish straight women who walk out on their families. My point is that all now exist in a culture of sexual individualism and consumer choice. When conservative Christians say a marriage can only be between one man and one women (with an oath “for life”) they are referring to the old definition and it’s God honouring context. Non-Christians (and to some extent gay affirming churches) have no beef with individuals making conservative lifestyle choices so long as nobody upsets anyone else with “judgemental” comments about roles and responsibilities.

          BTW, I don’t necessarily oppose secular marriage equality. My (non-Christian) gay sister is talking about getting married next year and refusing to attend her wedding doesn’t feel right to me.

        • @Joe

          Well thanks for a thoughtful response, but I think what makes me suspicious of this sort of narrative is that we always end up with gay relationships being somehow the apotheosis of everything else conservative Christians don’t like. The level of premarital sex among Evangelicals is practically the same as the rest of the population (one e.g. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/how-many-evangelical-young-adults-have-sex-before-marriage-study-almost-everyone/12113.htm. ). Andrew Carey seems to be very, very comfortable with being divorced himself (and married again) but pursuing a regular campaign in the Church newspaper against truly permanent gay relationships. The number of remarriages among US conservative Christians is the stuff of comedy. Sure, you could probably get a good number of them to say ‘Ahhh, we’ve sinned’ (though the survey above seems to indicate not the odd slip, but a culture of premarital sex). And it’s from these same groups that you hear that they are the guardians of the seriousness of marriage, and that gay relationships are a uniquely terrible threat. I can only say that I just don’t buy it: they are far, far too often trying to bind a burden on others that most don’t carry themselves – and what underpins it is too often just plain distaste for gay people disguised as godliness. Secular society understands perfectly well the narrative that conservatives seek to sell. It just no longer believes it, and sees the hypocrisy in their failure to get very upset about acres of fornicating young Christians. Meanwhile you’ve got the Dean of St Albans championing and actually living a pretty conservative sexual ethic, which he advocates for everyone: seems to me conservatives do their best to pretend that’s not there.

        • I agree with every word you say. The conservative Christian pastoral response to divorcees etc is very different. I think Christians get the balance right (or are simply more gracious) with straight sinners. I don’t shy away from switching my allegiance back to the “gay lobby” when gay people are vilified (and the conservative Christian preoccupation with a “gay agenda” is a major part of that vilification process).

          There are plenty of gay men and women in conservative churches but they are discouraged from speaking out as *gay* people – even when they adhere to a traditional Christian sexual ethic. More and more younger Christians will walk away from “homophobic” churches because they have out gay friends and family. White middle-class churches will then adapt to the situation by adopting a Steve Chalke strategy of inclusivity with a don’t-ask-too-many-difficult-questions nod towards revisionist theology. The small town and ethnic minority churches may hold out a bit longer.

      • I would help if Christians started talking to gay people. Vilifying gay people hasn’t been a losing strategy (in terms of church numbers) until very recently. It will continue in the churches dominated by older congregations but more and more younger Christians who have out gay friends and family are becoming restless with the “hateful” culture-war rhetoric.

    • I’ve not heard anyone arguing against traditional marriage, Ian; on the contrary, all the equal marriage supporters I know, myself included, are all for it! Long live traditional, hetero marriage — and alongside it, not challenging it, here’s to same-sex marriage!

      • Having same-sex marriage alongside heterosexual marriage with their own distinct statutes that reflect the differences makes sense and I don’t have a problem with that. The main point of contention for me is the label ‘equal marriage’ where everyone is shoe-horned into the same format, which as Baroness Stowell pointed out is creates anomalies that cannot be easily reconciled.

        • Gillan, do you agree that the Bible says homosexual relations are wrong, Yes or No? (Not being aggressive; want to know your view.)

        • Are there any easy (culture-war neutral) answers to that question?

          I’m gay and I will answer your question with a “Yes” knowing that someone will lambaste me for saying/believing it. They certainly wouldn’t be any kinder to a straight guy who stated/believed the same thing.

        • I can find no evidence in the Bible that explicitly supports gay relationships so a very simplified answer would be yes. I understand that some interpretations of scripture would suggest that in the context of love and faithfulness permanent active gay relationships are acceptable, but I’m not won over by these interpretations sufficiently to make them my primary stance. I’m very aware of the need to be gracious towards everyone and not judge. I therefore cannot condemn others who are in such relationships and I’m certainly not going to treat them any differently to or with less respect than those in a heterosexual relationship.

    • Ian, you say the antis have not engaged with the pros; implying an entrenched position from which they (we!) have no intention of shifting; and that unwillingness to engage & understand adds to this entrenched position. I argue that if our anti stance is based on the biblical ban on gay sex, then there is no point in engaging with the other side, as we are not going to compromise the biblical position, nor should we. Yes, we can understand the other’s point of view (and I do), but the fact that people are hurt is no reason to compromise on moral principles. A compulsive shop-lifter may perceive a psychological need to continue to shop-lift; that does not make it right.

      • Helen, the reason why all sides (this is not a straightforward pro-anti situation) need to engage with one another has nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of the debate, and everything to do with the reasons why the debate is taking place and what the final outcome looks like. You are pretty clear about your views and I know many others who disagree with you who are equally strong in their position, I don’t expect you to change any more than I think they will. However you claim to be a Christian and I do too. My understanding is that it is our responsibility to embrace the world in its entirety in order that all of its inhabitants get a chance to meet with Jesus. I am not sure how that will happen if we choose to do what the Pharisees and Saducees did which was to separate themselves from the parts of the world they judged to be unclean (or disagreeable).

  3. I think it’s certainly worth picking over what rights employees should have who have conservative views on the marriage thing, though I suspect I might draw lines in a different place to you. But it seems to me that the church in particular is asking for a graciousness that it’s been very unwilling to give. Quite recently John Sentamu said ( this is nearly verbatim) that the “church supports civil partnership because it wants everybody to have friends!” Which is of course pretty much a way of pointedly ignoring what a civil partnership actually consists of. It’s going to be harder for the church to deny the nature of gay marriage, and serves it right too.

  4. I think traditional marriage is undermined to some degree by the new measure because if you take the creation of new life to be profound and special because we all owe our life to it and you want to see the union that makes it possible somehow set apart.as something of Gods purpose as revealed in scripture,you have definitely lost a sense of something today. It is true that it does not affect your own individual marriage but for me its not about the personal choice thing but the idea of what marriage is. The same feeling applies for Gay people who have gained a sense of something today ( that is feeling equal and not second class ) but have gained no material benefit that they did not enjoy in a civil partnership. In reality same sex couples will probably be no more committed to one another in marriage than they were in a civil partnership. Today alters how marriage is perceived rather than how relationships are conducted.

  5. The battle has never been lost has it? Any brief reading of the Bible will show traditional marriage is the only type of marriage that is ever acceptable. So, the move away from Judaeo – Christian principles has moved ever further ”onwards”. Simply Christian values have been further eroded. If this is what society wants, they will have it. Of course in the days of the Biblical prophets the kingdom of Israel abandoned God’s ways and this was followed by inevitable disaster. The equality lobby is highly selective for what group they parade equality. The right of unborn children matters not a jot, and now I think the equality for those who hold orthodox Christian views, will also matter not a jot. The ”equality fascists” have their day; but it will be ultimately damaging to our nation

    • WELL SAID DAVE!

      A friend from church has recently posted this pertinent quotation from the great Reformer, Martin Luther on his own blog: “If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God EXCEPT PRECISELY THAT LITTLE POINT WHICH THE WORLD AND THE DEVIL ARE AT THAT MOMENT ATTACKING, I AM NOT CONFESSING CHRIST, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

      • Yes, it is disgraceful that having rightly gone on about awful effect of Tory legislation on the poor, the bishops couldn’t be bothered to turn up in the House of Lords to vote against it. That really does look like ‘not confessing Christ’.

    • The Marriage Act 1836 cleared the way for civil authorities to conduct marriage without any reference to religious teaching. At that point the Church lost nothing but the state gained something which has served many people well for nearly 200 years (not the same people clearly as they would be dead). As I understand it Civil Marriage was only defined as being between a man and women in the 1960’s. The focus on equalities has emerged in good part because the Judao – Christian principles were abandoned in favour of prejudice and discrimination (in some cases going back Centuries). Sadly the Church has rarely been at the forefront of challenging this prejudice (although there have been many Godly men and women who have challenged the status quo. There are certainly some on all sides who display fascist tendencies. However many of the people involved in all sides on this lack of debate are very lovely, and all are created in Gods image.

  6. Brilliant article. So right about people becoming afraid to have an opinion because of “homophobia” label. Britain becoming less tolerant of opposing views which are not aimed at individuals but at the Bill.

  7. It’s no good all this intellectual argument really. In the end I ask myself ‘ What would Jesus do?’

    If you replace the word gay with sodomite, the Bible is quite clear about it. God is not mocked.

    • I think Jesus would begin by spending time with people who want to see change so he could show he understood their pain (I don’t mean the politicians who have created a great deal of the problems associated with this). He would also know that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with sexual behaviour and so wouldn’t contemplate using that term. What he would do next is harder to discern, but the church is not even at first base is it!

      • Nonsense Ian. Maybe you haven’t got a Bible? Here’s what my Amplified version has about Sodom:

        ‘But before they lay down, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, all the men from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said, Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know (be intimate with) them.’ [Genesis 19:4-5] The next verses confirm the explicit sexual situation!!

        • I was not suggesting that there was no sexual sin in Sodom (the most graphic of which is clearly not about a loving consensual relationship), merely that this was not the Sin of Sodom. My own Bible includes Ezekiel 16 49 ‘“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. The easy thing for all of us to do is focus on sexual sin yet that is not the focus of the Prophet. We may not agree but I don’t think this is nonsense.

        • May I discharge my Ezekiel 3 responsibility out of brotherly love and concern for you Ian? Please don’t be offended but it would be wiser, and safer, to follow the Lord closely rather than risk the prowling deceiver …

          Both replies are mincing scripture to suit yourself. You may like to correct the explicit letters from those who were close to Jesus (ie. Peter & Jude) about Sodom’s sin – as well as the Lord Himself !! Prophet Ezekiel merely adds other forms of sin before the sexual ones at verse 16:50, which he disdains mentioning.

          After Steve Hill’s funeral had to be cancelled (yes, you read it right), he gets downloads of revelations from, “the One who wrote those words…” (from the books you quote) every time he teaches about our living in Sodom today. So he speaks with authority and insight.

          Therefore, I’d advise to beware because these replies remind me of, “Did God really say?…(NO) you certainly will not die!” So I’d suggest refraining from guessing and assuming what Jesus would do. I know 3 men in their 30’s who stress the need for personal purity and holiness. Thus each preaches the Gospel with signs and wonders following, as did Jesus! Isn’t that the sort of relationship to desire?

        • Richard, at what stage did it occur to you that telling people that they were speaking nonsense or mincing scripture to suit themselves, might be offensive? Thank you for your ‘brotherly’ advice and I am grateful that you have discharged any responsibility you felt you had towards me. I won’t attempt to respond to your comments further.

        • Ian, I think Richard has discharged his responsibilities very well.(Although I personally am a cessationist!) The Bible tells us “Iron sharpens iron” (Prov.27:17), And the NT tells us everywhere to encourage correct & rebuke (eg 2 Tim 4:2)

        • Kindly bear with me Ian. Without any choice on my part I get a deep internal reaction to this topic (eg. a couple of Gillan’s usually excellent images were most distasteful to my spirit). So, in fact, I was the offended one. It’s a matter of sensitivity to Holy Spirit and His discernment. (Be assured, the religious spirit got ‘booted out’ of me years ago – hence my trans-denominational bias.)

          Actually, my first thoughts about mishandling the Word were sterner because of God’s opinion about it – and who we are to be in Him. (The words I had in mind were confirmed by a stranger at the weekend – possibly outside your ‘grid’! So maybe I should have used them anyway!) Thank you Helen – as in any good school all disciples will require reproving at some time; even the first leader of the church got it from Jesus! So we shouldn’t lose heart for, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Rev3:19). I also find Proverbs 3, 4, 8 and especially 9:9 are helpful – and if you’re still with me, see my reply to Phil.

        • I’d be very, very wary of anyone who claims to receive “downloads” direct from any heavenly authority, especially when such so-called “downloads” simply espouse conservative Christian preconceived notions of morality…

        • I’m sure you would be wary Phil, but surely it’s wiser to honour a servant of the Lord who’s brought many thousands into salvation – now on a mission to terrorists! Once again this may be beyond your ‘ken’: a Baptist preacher I know tells of when he taught from a book maligning a modern healer. He says Jesus confronted and rebuked him, “You lied about my servant ‘X’!” The preacher objected, “No Lord I didn’t lie (because there’s evidence)”. But Jesus’ responded, “When you stand before me in heaven you’re going to find out that….”. The preacher told of what he was shown about the man’s death. Let’s pray we’ll be similarly blessed upon encountering our Lord, for none of us have the holes in our hands.

    • Amen Hazel. Very significant closing words, which I found myself adding to what I’d blogged yesterday! That was to be a brief refc to Capitol Hill and current scandals, but closed about Obama’s proclamations and I found myself referring to Gal 1:6 – then a reader advised how she’d been led to the very same from a respected intercessor. So the Lord is definitely stressing something very important, BUT far too many have ‘cloth ears’ and spiritually dull minds!

      As Jesus is the same yesterday and today, He’d love, listen, heal and deliver. Then He’d advise to, “Sin no more…Leave your life of sin…Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin…unless you repent you will perish” (John 5 & 8 and Luke 13).

      It’s not peculiar many don’t comprehend and follow that loving instruction and the simple message of the Gospel. Perhaps it’s too hard?

  8. I think we should all discern the word equality from equity. Equity is what people really mean when they say equality. All having the exact same thing is equality. Being able to have what you need is equity. The so called Gay Lobby and other lobbyists all talk about equality when in truth it is equity they should be looking at. I want my children to get a good education, for instance. I do not have the equal access to send them to Harvard or Eton. MONEY. But I do have the option of finding them a college or university I either can afford or get grants/loans to afford. Thats EQUITY. Thus we are all equal to send our children anywhere we want but it is not equality status that stops us but our means and lifestyles. Not fair I know but that’s life.

    • So in your analogy, straight marriage is Eton and gay relationships are Feltham comprehensive. But now things are changing, and the reality is that we’re all going to get the same institution. You might not like it, but there’s no reason why liberals shouldn’t reply to you with just the same reply as you’ve given them “life’s not fair, get over it”. There doesn’t seem any reason in your post for gay people to accept ‘equity not equality’ except that that’s what you want. These slightly aggressive ‘we don’t like it and are accustomed to the upper hand” arguments simply not going to stop the juggernaut, especially in a society barely has a Christian majority any more, even in theory on census paper.

  9. To Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; to God that which belongs to God. I think Jesus’ wisdom on paying taxes applies just as well to making legislation for the nation: let the state run marriages as the state sees fit; let the churches (note the plural) run marriages as they see fit. Some churches will opt — or rather, would opt if they were allowed the choice! — for inclusivity and go along with the state; others will opt for exclusivity. What’s needed — and is one of God’s greatest gifts if only we would open our eyes to see it — is freedom of choice, not coercion. Our God does not coerce; neither should the church. Those who seek to impose their religious convictions upon the state tread a path that Christ himself did not walk: he who was power did not assume power but freely gave himself, even to the point of death — who dares to follow?

  10. Here’s a superb observation from Stephen Hough in the Telegraph:

    The churches should be working tirelessly to make same-sex partnerships holy, faithful and generous; indeed, such pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of “the general social good” and even the survival of a national Church of England.

    Amen and amen!

    » Equal marriage: could Justin Welby’s support save the Church of England?

  11. I don’t really know what I think about the news that the Lords has accepted that the Bill will be passed. I don’t like dooming and glooming, to be honest it would be much nicer to be able to keep my thoughts to myself. I feel compelled to respond though, so I will. The departure from Christian foundations for public morality and societal practice will bring judgement from God against our nation, if I have understood the Scriptures correctly. The passing of this Bill is a significant step in a long story, which includes terrifying disregard for the poor and vulnerable as well as issues of sexual morality. I am concerned for the church, that it would witness well and that there would be space enough in the public square for the gospel to be heard, but I am also concerned for the people in our nation who do not know Jesus. If God does not stay his hand, but punishes us as he has precedent of doing so through war and famine (so I understand from the prophets), many will die without even hearing Jesus’ name other than as a swear word. I hope I am horribly mistaken. If I am not, things are more serious than I had ever previously realised.

    Yours in Christ,

    Kiran

    • Yes indeed they are Kirian. I, too, want to be reticent but cannot. Ever since 2004 I’ve seen what’s coming and now getting confirmations concerning the consequences.

  12. These type of topics are always very hard to agree and disagree on but always great to raise. Great post

  13. I’m glad that we’ve had so much debate here, but please can we be careful with our language and remember to be gracious. I wouldn’t want people to stop commenting because they don’t feel able to air their opinions without being jumped on.

  14. @Joe

    Well thanks for a thoughtful response, but I think what makes me suspicious of this sort of narrative is that we always end up with gay relationships being somehow the apotheosis of everything else conservative Christians don’t like. The level of premarital sex among Evangelicals is practically the same as the rest of the population (one e.g. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/how-many-evangelical-young-adults-have-sex-before-marriage-study-almost-everyone/12113.htm. ). Andrew Carey seems to be very, very comfortable with being divorced himself (and married again) but pursuing a regular campaign in the Church newspaper against truly permanent gay relationships. The number of remarriages among US conservative Christians is the stuff of comedy. Sure, you could probably get a good number of them to say ‘Ahhh, we’ve sinned’ (though the survey above seems to indicate not the odd slip, but a culture of premarital sex). And it’s from these same groups that you hear that they are the guardians of the seriousness of marriage, and that gay relationships are a uniquely terrible threat. I can only say that I just don’t buy it: they are far, far too often trying to bind a burden on others that most don’t carry themselves – and what underpins it is too often just plain distaste for gay people disguised as godliness. Secular society understands perfectly well the narrative that conservatives seek to sell. It just no longer believes it, and sees the hypocrisy in their failure to get very upset about acres of fornicating young Christians. Meanwhile you’ve got the Dean of St Albans championing and actually living a pretty conservative sexual ethic, which he advocates for everyone: seems to me conservatives do their best to pretend that’s not there.

    • Well said, herbal. Have been discussing Stephen Hough’s Telegraph piece in a parallel conversation on fb. One of the people there has made the spurious claim that LGBT people are “inherently more promiscuous” than straights; but were it so, it would be hardly surprising given the way that the straight majority have denigrated them and consistently sought ways to slam any doors to faithful, committed relationships in their faces!

      What we’re dealing with here is an outrageous level of hypocrisy from straight people pointing the finger at specks in the eyes of LGBT people whilst ignoring the planks in their own. The Church at large (but by no means the entire Church) condemns LGBT relationships on the basis that the right and proper place for sex is within marriage, and indeed it is; but when the opportunity to bring LGBT people into such an arrangement arises, the Church rejects it, stomps its feet like teenagers who can’t get their own way, and says, No, no, no, we will not have these people as equals!

      Faithless hypocrites! Blind guides! Whitewashed tombs! This is the message of Jesus to the straight majority in their wilful obstinacy.

      In truth, I am astonished that LGBT people wish to have anything to do with an institution that has been so devalued by the very people who claim it to be so precious.

      • Hello Phil – flattered to be quoted and see that Bishop Alan Wilson is giving it some well informed welly over there as well.

        @Joe – you might find the conversation going on over there useful as well: https://www.facebook.com/philgroom/posts/10151635964039645 . I’m now wondering where you find a good fit in the pantheon that is the C of E, if you think that the liberals are wandering from what you regard as the true path, and the conservatives have an A in hypocrisy. In the end, I suspect that in these sorts of conversations the intellectual arguments (or theological arguments) are often just a patina for deeper gut reactions, and people can’t easily be argued in or out of things. Even so, Alan Wilson’s doing a good job of pointing out that the conservative case doesn’t hang together all that well.

        • I real life I get along. I attend a conservative evangelical CoE parish church and occasionally drop in at places like All Souls and the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

          Our parish congregation is diverse on this issue. Last year an older guy in the congregation expected everyone to sign the anti gay marriage petition without discussing it and a younger key member of the congregation attended her best friend’s gay wedding (gay people already use marriage language for civil partnerships) and posted the pics on FB.

          Of course, I’m also single (it’s a faith thing). Gay couples have and do attend our services but our vicar would probably step down if the law (or social convention) forced him to hold same-sex weddings.

        • “In real life…” !! my typing skills and word blindness are getting worse

      • Phil

        “Are LGBT people inherently more promiscuous?” is something gay people have been debating for 50 years. The answers are always the same – a reluctant “Yes gay men are slightly more promiscuous because they are men” and a jokey “Gay women adopt a rescue cat and set-up home together after the first date”. Its a men and women thing.

        LGBT Christians are bringing a secular definition of marriage (based on consent) into churches. Nobody expects an affirming church to discipline a gay Christian who does have sex outside of marriage (they might be encouraged to be discreet about it). The gay men and women who attend MMC and Oasis do not behave any differently from secular gay men and women (see above).

        • It’s the use of the word “inherently” that concerns me: I can see no basis for a belief that promiscuity is somehow inherent to being gay. As far as I can see, a no-strings-attached approach to sex has nothing to do with being straight or gay: you have only to go clubbing at the weekend to see that…

        • By “inherently more promiscuous” maybe he means “inevitably more promiscuous” (which only applies to gay men)? It isn’t clear. Anyway it’s not a controversial observation when it’s made by gay men in the company of other gay men. It only becomes a politically loaded statement when it is discussed by ‘outsiders’. If it’s used to malign gay people (all too common in Christian circles) then obviously that abuse is wrong – but the statement isn’t necessarily untrue.

        • I’d also challenge the use of “inevitably” — upon what basis can anyone claim that promiscuity is either “inherent” or “inevitable” amongst gay men? The word “typically” might fit, but I am not aware of any grounds for arguing that such behaviour is either inherent or inevitable; consider yourself, Joe: do you regard yourself as inherently or inevitably promiscuous? Consider Jeffrey John, who is in a permanent, stable relationship with his partner.

          In this particular instance, the person making the statement is a Christian opposed to equal marriage, which does make it rather loaded.

        • I’m not referring to individuals – only the pattern.

        • There may be a pattern which we can say typifies the behaviour of many gay men; but to then say that such behaviour is inevitable or inherent is entirely spurious.

        • My view is that acknowledging this “pattern” is a concession that gay affirming churches need to make if there is going to be an honest debate. Just as conservatives need to be honest about their past and present attempts to vilify gay men because of it.

          The pattern itself is a product of the differences between men and women in the context a (secular) sexual morality based on consent. It has nothing to do with gay men being intrinsically more animalistic than straight men.

          If/when a couple of years down the road gay couples are getting married in churches, which of those affirming churches are going to teach them that all sex outside of marriage is sinful? Isn’t it more likely that the culture of inclusivity will be extended to all forms of consensual adult relationships?

          All of the affirming gay Christian men I know live their lives in accordance with the secular humanistic standard. They may *choose* to be in faithful, committed relationships. They may value/emphasise monogamy more than secular gay men. But nobody is telling them “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry…” And because they are men, nobody is this community is shocked/concerned when it turns out that a particular faithful, committed relationship is sexually open.

          Anyway – that’s the end of my 2 cents worth on this matter. I don’t believe a same sex marriage can ever be holy.

        • So tell me Joe, when did you last see a church tear a strip off their straight congregation for sexual morality?

        • Well some do promote a model of excellence (holiness). One that is balanced with a constant reminder to be humble “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

          It’s understandable that some might want to “tear a strip off” hypocrites but that unfortunately is also ruled out by the holiness model.

      • Might we be getting this the wrong way around? If heterosexuals were any good at faithfulness, what would they need marriage for?

  15. It is strange to see how those who are defending the cause for gay marriage seem to take such delight in the failure of christian marriages as a justification for their point of view. I hope they are not niave enough to think that this somehows brings God into line with their perpsective. We all stand in need of the forgiveness of God whatever our orientation because most have us have either been damaged or done damage to others in this area. However, make no mistake their is no free pass for homosexual acts before God. Don’t argue with me about it, look honestly and prayerfully at God’s word and seek his face about it. Don’t just read the opinions of people who agree with you about the matter, because when you stand before God, it will be of zero value to say another person said it was OK.
    There have been countless studies done on how same sex marriage has had a detrimental effect in countries that have adopted it, ranging from the weakening of traditional marriage, genderless sex education and health impacts. These have all been ignored in the interest of political expediency. One day’s research is quite enough to blow the popular myth that ‘No one will be hurt by gay marriage’. But will you look?

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