Core message of Christianity is one of love and forbearance
Message received and understood.
No? So why is the church in Scotland continuing to charge into a battle that is already lost?
In March Cardinal O’Brien told us gay marriage was “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. On Sunday, in a letter read from pulpits in 500 Catholic churches, he said he would establish “a nationwide commission to challenge the Scottish Government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage”.
And what is happening in the real world? The legislation is quietly chugging closer with the approval of two-thirds of the population (according to opinion polls).
The Cardinal seems to see his position as that of David against Goliath or perhaps Daniel in the lions’ den. The difference is that they won against all the odds. He won’t. He won’t win because the tide of history is against him. He won’t win because the voting public regard his position as narrow-minded and unjust. To the rest of us he more closely resembles Don Quixote tilting at windmills or King Canute with the water lapping around his ankles.
The puzzle is this: why is he continuing a battle he knows he has already lost? I am not questioning the sincerity of the Cardinal’s belief that gay marriage is an “abomination” in the eyes of God and detrimental to society. But he is a sophisticated man with an understanding of political positioning. So why is he so publicly pursuing a hopeless cause? What is the strategy? Why these tactics?
His stance is, if anything, further alienating liberal members of the church. Following the open wound of the paedophile scandal the church lost credibility on matters of sexuality. Many of us think it is holed below the water line.
We need a great deal more reassurance that the evil has been rooted out, the guilty punished and victims compensated. Until all is transparent many of us will fear for children in countries in Africa and South America where the church is strong and obedience remains a given.
Until then we will continue to think phrases such as “an abomination of a universally accepted human right” are more appropriately attached to the abuse of children and the historic protection of their abusers than to the marital union of two consenting adults, albeit of the same gender.
Surely establishing the right of gay couples to marry is simply a levelling of civil rights – of equality for all, and that, too, is a high moral principle.
When the changes come into effect in 2015, the Cardinal may be underwhelmed by the assault on his values. The point is not that huge numbers of gay and lesbian people are clamouring to marry – merely that they will be able to wed if and when they decide to. It would be a quiet adjustment to the law without his headline-grabbing interventions.
The church won’t be obliged to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. So what is the Cardinal’s motivation?
Months ago he made his position known in fire and brimstone. Why not leave it at that? Why does he keep pumping the bellows?
It could be a means of positioning himself before the next Pope is elected. Popes are not generally chosen from the radical end of the College of Cardinals. By fighting – though with no expectation of success – he will be seen by any incoming Pope as defending the tenets of the faith against encroaching secularism.
But if he wants to strengthen the church in Scotland, is he really going about it the most effective way? His letter on Sunday said the church would pray that the Scottish Government would “sustain rather than subvert marriage”.
On the same morning at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth was preaching a humbler Christian message. He said: “All the churches have some repenting to do for they seem to have conveyed the message that not everyone was equal, not everyone was welcome.
“The good news is that no form of injustice will win out in the end. The good news is that we can beat back bigotry wherever we find it, even when it comes from the pulpit.”
He welcomed gay Christians to the service and discovered, not surprisingly, that his congregation had increased.
A senior Catholic source reportedly accused him of “incendiary and uncharitable language” when he issued his invitation last Friday. Mr Holdsworth said: “I think people get weary of hearing a negative message from church people. What they want to hear is positive – about changing the world for the better, about justice, about love.” Amen to that.
Look at what the Olympics did for the national mood. Wait for the uplift from the Paralympics.
Life is challenging at the moment. We’re all short of cash. Jobs are tenuous at best. People are nervous. They’re feeling a bit lost. We made a God out of materialism and it has proved false. Now, stripped of easy credit and budget holidays abroad, threatened with benefit cuts, many are wondering, what it is all about?
The Olympians reminded us that there is more to life than materialism in an uplifting way. They led by example. They showed us the joy of using our bodies to greatest effect.
Is there a parallel for the churches? Could they show us how to raise our game by focusing on the goodness in human nature for a change? Could they give us a positive steer to developing our spirituality? After all, the core message of Christianity is one of love and forbearance. It is positive and inclusive. It is attractive.
Compared to most of the world we still have so much to be grateful for. We need reminded of that. We need leadership to help us to celebrate the good things life has given us.
And when I say us I mean all of us: gay and straight.
This article, from the Scottish ‘Sunday Herald’, provides a typical response, in Scotland, to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s assault on the Scottish Parliament’s intention to legalise the Marriage of Same-Sex Partners in Scotland.
She compares the eirenic message of the Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal cathedral in Glasgow – the Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth – with that of the Roman Catholic Cardinal ; in which Fr. Kelvin expressed this sentiment: “I think people get weary of hearing a negative message from church people. What they want to hear is positive – about changing the world for the better, about justice, about love.”.
There can be little doubt that the Roman Catholic hierarchy around the world is up in arms about what they see as a ‘falling away’ from the Roman Catholic understanding of marriage – as the exclusive union of one man with one woman, destined to produce more children, in a world that can hardly sustain the growing population we already have. This attitude – together with the Roman Catholic ban against contraception – is one of the reasons people in the pews of the Church today take little notice of hierarchical proscriptions on any liberal understanding of family relationships in the modern world.
To believe that allowing same-sex couples the privilege of a legal marriage partnership, which would secure their intention of faithfulness to one another in the bonds of love, would in any ways inhibit heterosexual couples from entering into marriage seems unbelievable, to say the very least.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand