Sunday, January 29, 2012

pride & prejudice

The wonderfully exuberant Archbishop of York has a couple of pieces in today's Telegraph. I was alerted to them by his twitter feed:
Gave Telegraph a wide ranging interview & Hope people read full interview not just the headlines.

One of them is about the church's response to the government's proposals for gay marriage, & the other is about his current trip to the West Indies. In the second there is a comment which I feel reflects on the first, though they are not ostensibly linked.
Let's do this bit by bit. The first piece tells us that the Archbishop is against changing the law on marriage; it isn't the State's job to interfere here. Marriage is between a man and a woman. For a prime minister to think he can alter this is for that man to become like a moral dictator. Not that he's against change - he points out that the bishops in the House of Lords did not try to stop Labour introducing civil partnerships in 2004, giving homosexual couples improved legal rights, and adds that his stance on marriage doesn't mean he wishes to "diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships because that is not what the debate is about".
In the other article we read: 
The Archbishop said he never encountered racism from fellow clergy in his rise through the ranks of the Church of England. 
Here's my reflection.
I am quite astounded Dr Sentamu never experienced open racism from clergy in the C of E. I'm sure it exists. I'm sure of this not because I think clergy are evil, but because bad attitudes are carried by good people. We fail unexpectedly. Without realising what we just said. That he never suffered from such prejudice is amazing. Wonderful.
Unfortunately, I worry that his article & the views he expresses within it means that any gay clergy reading it couldn't offer the same life story "I've never experienced any homophobia from clergy in the C of E". Not because I think the Archbishop is evil or bad, but because bad attitudes are carried by good people. We fail unexpectedly. Without realising what we just said. 
You see: I have to differ with Dr Sentamu - it is absolutely the State's job to set the rules around what constitutes marriage. It always has been. For us in Britain, this has been confused by a remarkably strong Christian heritage and a remarkably strong National Established Church. But the State sets the rules. The current rules around marriage are set by Parliament, and have been for - well, pretty much for ever. Even the bits that reflect what we do in church, including the C of E are set by Parliament, though the exact liturgies are brought through denominational committees. Still, they have very strict rules surrounding them. C of E (and bizarrely Church in Wales, disestablished Anglican ministers!) are public registrars for the purposes of marriage, according to law as established not just by Synod but by Parliament. This has always led to tensions: for example, when the church doesn't know how to deal with divorced people, but the State says they may re-marry, what do we do? Answer - eventually go the State's way. In flat contradiction to the plain reading of the Bible & hundreds of years of history, to which the Archbishop appeals in the Telegraph.
Marriage may well be ordained by God. But it is governed by the State, and if he doesn't understand that, he needs to go back to college. This is a compromise situation, and always has been for the C of E. If you don't like it - tough.
Given that, I'm afraid the next step in the argument is frighteningly simple. Are gay people people? Are they as human as straight people? Or do we live in Nazi Germany and have second class humans wandering around after all? Because if everyone is actually human, then everyone gets the same deal whether we like it or not. The same rights, the same taxes, the same vote. And, actually, this is FUNDAMENTALLY CHRISTIAN. God loves people. Sinners as much as saints. Jews as much as Gentiles. Women as much as men. Slaves as much as free. Straight as much as gay. There are no second class human beings.
Christians should be at the front of any queue where there are human rights of equality being fought for. Even if we don't like what the results of that fight will bring. We do it because we love people, because Jesus died for all. Even for me. To do anything less is to fail in the great command - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself. 
To read "the bishops in the House of Lords did not try to stop Labour introducing civil partnerships in 2004, giving homosexual couples improved legal rights" as a positive should stick in any Christian's heart as total failure. If people have poor rights, we don't STOP THEM BEING IMPROVED. We fight for them until they have everything they could possibly want, until they are truly equal - even if we don't like the results of the fight. We do it because we are called to love. Presenting the sentence at the top of this paragraph as a positive is, I am afraid, being guilty of casual, unintentional, but definite homophobia. It is precisely to "diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships" and that is exactly what the current proposed change in legislation is looking at putting right - because the status quo fails to take seriously that here are people not being treated as equal people. As less-than. 
I don't care if the church has gay bishops. Couldn't be less bothered. But I do care that her leadership understand that all people are people, all are loved by God, and that whatever our doctrine and standards are, we have a God who loves all and who has charged us to do the same. Offhand remarks that build cast-iron policies which confirm the reduction of some people to a less-than status when placed next to their neighbours will not do. Will not do
I am sure the Archbishop will never read this, but here's what I would say to him: genuinely I am thrilled you were spared being subjected to racist prejudice as you worked through the C of E. Now, please understand there are others who suffer prejudice and are treated as second rate in our churches and in our land because of their sexuality, and for many other reasons, and please don't merely 'not stop them' having a better lot. Please, with your history, please be at the forefront of fighting for their equality, even if you don't always understand them, just because they are people. 
I can't help feeling that if we truly do this as a church, we will make so many friends that our doors will be beaten down by people wanting to know why we care so much.


rpg said...

Well said, Marcus.

albaniana said...

Right after reading your post, I came across this quote from Desmond Tutu:

"If you are neutral on situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

the_exile said...

Well said - and said well.