Screamed the Telegraph story, and I smelt a rat. Is this our old friend “Rape is really the Victim’s fault?” I wondered. When I worked in a prison, I noticed it was the story rapists used to tell themselves, anyway. I never did believe it, myself.
Said the Leicester University press release. Notice, and ponder, the difference. Now you know how the subs at the Telegraph view this subject.
But what of the story itself? As explained by Dr Ben Goldacre, this is what happened. Sophia Shaw, MSc student, conducted some research for a dissertation. The point of making trainee scientists write such things is to learn how to turn tentative preliminary research into disciplined scientific conclusions. She hasn’t yet done this for her, as yet unfinished, dissertation. Turned into a press release, à la Flat Earth News, her work became the germ of the Telegraph story. Not surprisingly, she objects to her work being manipulated and turned into rubbish by the Telegraph for its own idiotic purposes.
Looking at hot button issues, let’s turn to the grand-daddy of them all, the gay issue in Church. I turned not to the Telegraph, but to Cranmer, for a genuinely perceptive, intelligent Conservative take:
...dear readers and communicants, homosexuality is not an issue worthy of schism: it is simply not of the order of the sort of debate that used to divide the Church: the divinity of Christ, for example, or the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325 – or even over liturgy or the transforming nature of infant baptism. The issue of homosexuality affects only a tiny minority of its adherents: it is of distinctly secondary, even peripheral, scriptural importance.If, as is suggested here, we do indeed live in a society which has a basically gormless, obsessional, and corrupt over-sexualised self-image, playing along with its assumptions about how these things work is less than the best we can do. Church has to position itself somewhere other than as the thrower of custard pies from the midst of the fray, whether from right to left or left to right. Rather it exists to bear witness to the Scriptures and our tradition — a deeper, richer, more ancient and meaningful wisdom. We offer it as a resource to our society, which it may care to take more seriously when it has had enough of its current obsessions and becomes seriously interested in human beings — a truer, more humane vision of what we could be than simply whizzing down the slide, as Philip Larkin used to say “like free bloody birds.”
The role of the Bible in addressing the modern question of the place of the homosexual in the church is complex, not least because where it is mentioned in Scripture, the authors give little sustained consideration of the issue as it manifests in the modern world. The nature of a biblical perspective will invariably be affected by the questions posed of the Bible, by the particular hermeneutic employed, and by the unavoidable perspective which each scholar brings to his or her reading of the Bible. While some may have an instant negative reaction, others seek to understand the debate in the different and changing circumstances in which we now live. Still others, who may identify themselves as homosexual Christians, struggle to express either their feelings or their thoughts on the issue. They are themselves divided into those who acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin and therefore a call to celibacy, and those who assert that they also are made in God’s image and therefore seek to express their sexual desires in an intimate, monogamous relationship.
That God established an objective, moral order in creation, and continues a work of re-creation through Jesus, is a source and standard of all that it beautiful, good and true. If such a moral order means anything, there may be no via media on the issue of homosexuality. Accepting theological diversity is not the same as tolerating all beliefs and practices, because ultimately the Church is called to be holy because God is holy (Lev. 19:2; Mt. 5:48). We cannot as Christians just give way to ‘you believe this, I believe that’ approach to being together, or moving apart, in the Church. Nor even can we be content with the rather cheap model of ‘reconciled diversity’, meaning benign tolerance, which many Christians find an easier option to the costlier pursuit of real, ‘visible’ unity. We need to continue to struggle together for the truth, to find the right and godly balance between the call to solidarity and the recognition of difference. Presently, nowhere is this more important – especially in the Anglican Communion – than in the area of sexuality.
But Cranmer is persuaded that the whole issue may really be a non-issue because the wrong question is being asked. His Grace posited a few days ago that the modern era is sex-obsessed: we live in a consumer society, and there is little that is marketed without a glance, a wink, a flirt, a breast, or allusions to sexual intercourse, because ‘sex sells’. If one were to judge by the media (which is more frequently a mirror to society than a catalyst for change), the fascination with people’s sex lives is now more important than politics, religion, philosophy or even Mammon. Jesus may have had to address the latter as the dominating idol of his era; his judgement was that one may not serve both God and Mammon (Mt. 6:24). But he did not enter into discussion on the fiscal minutiae of cash, credit, bonds, shares, loans or interest; a macro-warning not to be obsessed with Mammon was sufficient. If one were to apply the same principle to the modern idol – ‘Eros’ – it is doubtful that Jesus would address its sub-divisions (gay, bi, straight, oral, anal, tantric); he would most likely directly challenge society’s obsessive fixation with Eros, and by so doing confront both those who prioritise issues of sexuality and those in the church who presume to judge them.
By devoting so much time and effort to the ‘gay issue’, instead of challenging society by deconstructing the question or focusing on poverty and wealth (for example), the church is simply showing itself to share the same obsessions as the world. Paul allowed no compromise on the restriction of sexual activity to heterosexual, monogamous marriage. But such an ethic seems almost utopian to our sex-besotted age, in which it appears at times that one’s identity is made to reside in one’s sexual organs and their untrammeled exercise. The issue for the Church of England is that this debate has been blown out of all proportion; it is neither a battle for the soul of the church, nor an issue worthy of schism. It is a question utterly peculiar to this era, and those on both sides of the divide – both politicians and theologians – might consider toning down the rhetoric and the apologetics, and instead preaching a message that, contrary to society’s thinking, sexual expression is neither a necessary line of inquiry in every human interaction, nor an essential component in human fulfilment.
I have also been chortling over the Archbishop’s recent run in with Facebook, who took a dim view of His Grace’s ecclesiastical title, whilst simultaneously allowing that old scoundrel Cardinal Wolsey to keep his. After a surreal correspondence with various cheery FB Sockpuppets, in the best traditions of cussed Englishness, His Grace refused to take the sleight lying down and set himself up with a new account in the magnificent name of “Ayatollah Cranmer.” Right wing, but fun. Inexplicably, he was allowed his new moniker. Draw your own concusions...