Ringing out for common sense
I always like to listen to this guy – John Bell from the Iona Community – on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day.” He has a very balanced approach and oozes that most uncommon of characteristics – common sense.
Here he is this morning talking about gay marriage. If you can and it’s still there, listen to it. There is a lot of meaning conveyed by his delivery. Particularly the line:
There is hardly a Christian church in the West which has not found itself riven over the issue of what to do with gay people whom God continues to bring into the world in significant numbers.
It’s very refreshing to hear a Christian speaker prepared to raise an issue related to homosexuality – in my experience, Christians who have a less rigid view on the subject than the “official line” will at best try to avoid discussing the issue.
I read this week that Thought for the Day divides opinion amongst past and current Today presenters, with some feeling that it may have had its day. According to the article I read (in the Culture section of the Sunday Times), the main criticism is that the content is highly varied in quality. That may well be so, and I do sometimes struggle to recall what was said minutes after listening to it on my way to work, but John Bell always catches my attention.
He is based on the island of Iona, off the tip of the Isle of Mull in Scotland. This is surely one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I hope that the photographs on this page (taken on a couple of trips over the last few years) give some small impression of its wonder. Iona itself was described as a “thin place” by George MacLeod, because so little separates the spiritual from the material.
In case the link disappears, here is the full text of what John Bell said:
There’s a bit of a stooshie in Scotland at the moment, which could become a stramash if it spreads further south. It’s about marriage, or more specifically gay marriage.
Last week the Roman Catholic Bishop of Paisley took issue with Alex Salmond, the first minister over the SNP Government’s intentions to have a consultation on the issue, and implicitly suggested that if the SNP favoured gay marriage, 800,000 Roman Catholic voters might be advised to think carefully about their political preferences.
Things got worse at the weekend when the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats publicly upbraided Bishop Tartaglia.. And when we consider that last week at the Tory party conference, the Prime Minister said that he supported gay marriage, it seems that the range of clerically approvable parties is rapidly diminishing. Perhaps Scottish catholics will end up voting for the D.U.P..
The issue is neither confined to one nation or denomination. There is hardly a Christian church in the West which has not found itself riven over the issue of what to do with gay people whom God continues to bring into the world in significant numbers.
The Biblical arguments over a diminishing number of texts which allegedly prohibit intimate same-sex behaviour have been defended and refuted ad nauseam. Psychiatrists have long given up calling homosexuality a disease, and researchers studying the brain increasingly suggest that sexual orientation far from being a matter of choice or the result protective parenting , may well be determined by genetics.
The argument expounded by some is that gay marriage is against the natural order. You could similarly claim that having two eyes of different colours or an IQ of 190 are against the natural order. The natural order has always produced exceptions.
Others would argue that far from undermining marriage, holy wedlock between same-sex couples could enhance the significance of marriage as a publicly recognised relationship which encourages fidelity and commitment. This is the position taken by Professor David Myers, an internationally renowned academic psychologist and practising Christian whose own Reformed Church of America is hardly a trendy liberal institution.
Whether or not we agree or disagree on religious or moral grounds about the rights and wrongs of same-sex relationships, as citizens of our nations, I believe we have a responsibility to enable same sex couples who are deeply convinced of their mutual love to celebrate and safeguard that commitment with public and legal significance. A civil partnership can take care of the business side, but marriage is the true endorsement of love.