Thursday, 14 April 2011

Accepting homosexuality - a retrograde motion?

This is my response, published today in the Letters column of the Church of England Newspaper, to Benny Hazelhurst's own letter picking up my critique of his original article in the CEN:

Sir, Benny Hazlehurst’s argument that the Christian acceptance of gay marriage would be like the overthrow of slavery or the realization that the earth goes round the sun (Letters, April 8) might be more persuasive if the ‘arrow of history’ were going the same way in each case.

Christianity was, of course, born into a world where slavery was normal (and very unlike the ‘plantation slavery’ of 18th and 19th century religious disputes). And the arguments for the earth going round the sun were once thought to be scientifically very weak, not least from the evidence of our senses.

The Graeco-Roman world, however, regarded what we now call ‘homosexuality’ with a mixture of general acceptance and mild disdain — an attitude very much like that which has prevailed in the West in recent decades. Commenting on the Warren Cup, an artefact from somewhere near Jerusalem in AD 5-15 depicting homosexual acts and previously kept in a private collection, the British Museum website significantly observes that, “Only with changing attitudes in the 1980s was the cup exhibited to the public.”

The spread of Christianity, however, brought with it a change in the prevailing morality — not just regarding homosexuality, of course, but certainly including that. It was thus ‘traditional’ Christian morality which was the equivalent of the abolition of slavery or the recognition of heliocentrism, not the other way round.

We must therefore ask why, given the willingness to adopt a more ‘liberal’ attitude on other matters affecting the Gentiles, the New Testament lacks any hint of adaptation at this point and why the spread of the gospel brought about the social changes it did.

As to my own arguments, I think Benny confuses matters by suggesting that in order to work, the paradigm of Ephesians 5 must ‘supersede’ that of Genesis 2, when of course the former rests on the latter (compare Eph 5:31 with Gen 2:24). Certainly the biblical narrative of marriage begins in Genesis 2, but the underlying ‘mystery’, hinted at in the rest of the Old Testament, is fully revealed in Ephesians 5.

The point to grasp is that human marriage is an ‘incarnation’ of a spiritual reality — something which our Anglican tradition insists is taught in Scripture. As the BCP says, marriage is “an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his

Far from being ‘genderless’, however, this mystical union undergirds the very notion of gender — including the basis on which we call God ‘he’. As CS Lewis once put it, “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.” (That Hideous Strength). Male and female are shadows of that. The reality, however, is not less but more.

The Rev John Richardson,
Bishop’s Stortford

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  1. Rt Rev Dominic Stockford15 April 2011 at 17:15

    The pressures of the 'modern world' and its 'liberal' views has a lot to do with the way some have decided to renegotiate what Christian truth is. It is 'interesting' that today the BBC chose to remove my following comment from a web discussion.

    "After thinking for a few more minutes, I think this is almost certainly another set-up by lobbyists for so-called 'gay rights'."

    Now, whilst some might not like what I wrote because it is implied criticism of homosexual behaviour and those who promote it, it isn't an abusive comment, it isn't an offensive comment, and it isn't an insulting comment. Despite that it has clearly been complained about and then removed. The discussion itself was on a pre-moderated site, so the BBC moderators had themselves previously allowed it to stand.