To be a human being is to be in conflict! It may not be how the Creator intended but again and again we human beings define ourselves by what we are not. From our very beginnings we have set ourselves up as distinct and above the rest of Creation, a fallacy that is only now beginning to dawn on us as we see the result of our arrogance towards the Environment made manifest in catastrophic global warming and climate change.
And yet despite all this we continue to reinforce our own status by undermining the status of others. Sadly the Christian tradition is no exception and may even be seen as a driving force in this perversion. This is a culture of ‘winners and losers’ and it cannot conceive of God’s approval of one group without a simultaneous divine condemnation of another. This attitude is typified in the recent response of the Roman Catholic Bishops to the proposed Civil Partnership legislation where the concern is expressed that the extension of rights and protections normally associated with marriage to same sex couples will undermine the institution of marriage. To be fair, the Roman Catholic hierarchy are not alone in putting forward this argument – it is also very prevalent within our own Anglican tradition and symptomatic of the current division in worldwide Anglicanism over human sexuality.
As a married man and a father I really don’t understand this argument. I don’t see the prospect of same sex couples being afforded the right to register their partnerships and seek legal protection for their rights therein as any threat to my marriage! Without getting into the minutiae of biblical interpretation it does seem to paint God into a very narrow corner with little room left for the generosity of Grace. On the contrary the Bill does not provide legal recognition for same-sex couples who are co-parenting children. Children in these families are seriously disadvantaged by being ignored in the proposed legislation.
I recall the same argument regarding the threat of same sex unions to Christian marriage being used when my good friend Bishop Gene Robinson (an openly gay man in a long term monogamous relationship) was consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire, and he quite validly pointed out that Brittney Spears heterosexual behaviour was far more undermining of the institution of marriage than his own exclusive and committed same sex relationship with his partner of many years.
The bishops and others will argue ‘but what about same sex parents’?
Nobody answers this question better than Spencer Burke, a contemporary American theologian who in his ‘A heretics guide to eternity’ comments: ‘If you’re a child, is it better to live in a home with a single dad-or even two dads-who really love you than with a mum and a dad who abuse you? Really, what’s more important: that your family “fits” or that it functions?’
This same winners and loosers mentality was evident in the depressing response of Gregory Campbell, a DUP Westminster MP to the recent Saville report on the Bloody Sunday killings, declaring it a waste of money and creating a hierarchy of victims. The implication of his statement was that the justice finally afforded to the innocent victims of Bloody Sunday undermined and threatened justice for those who had been killed by republican paramilitaries in
Derry. In what parallel universe is the recognition of the truth of a grave injustice to one group of people an obstacle to the uncovering of further truths for others?
So where do we go from here? Surely we have to rediscover a new openness to the truth that will set us free from the tyranny of former ages. Our world does not have to be about winners and loosers! God’s Grace does not conform to our mathematical formulae but rather a Spencer Burke puts it: “God’s Kingdom was made up not of one particular group of people but rather of all peoples who will gladly respond in mercy and compassion to the strangers they meet. Jesus established the the idea that God, not God’s people, determines who is of God and who is not.”