Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Is The Church Obsessed with Sex?

No, though sometimes yes.

A substantial batch of paperwork has been released by the CofE in advance of February's General Synod meeting. Apart from some proposals to end so-called 'paupers funerals', most of them have been ignored by the main media outlets. It is only on the comparatively rare occasions when the CofE mention sex that the media beast wakes up and howls at the moon. .

So, inevitably, one document has generated more electronic newsprint than all the rest put together. And you can guess what it's about.  It's a so-called 'Pastoral Statement' about civil partnerships. I say so-called, because the general opinion is that it's not very pastoral, and because it's actually more of a clarification of the status of civil partnerships vis a vis marriage. Civil partnerships are now almost legally indistinguishable from marriage, so the statement addresses how far church teaching on marriage applies to civil partnerships. It's quite clear from the introduction to the document that this is its purpose.

What has caused most of the upset, as far as I can see, is that the document restates the traditional teaching of the church on marriage, in pretty much the same terms as it stated it 15 years ago. So whilst CofE leaders are talking about 'radical inclusion' and the church as a whole is following a 'listening process', the document strikes a different tone to all of that. It's not hard to see how that creates a dissonance, it looks to those who want the church to change its teaching that all this chat about inclusion and listening is just smoke and mirrors, and that nothing has changed, or will change.

There's plenty about this going on elsewhere - see Ian Pauls comments section for example - but for what it's worth....

1. The media is obsessed with sex, not the church. Westboro Baptist Church has a membership of 50, and yet is the subject of countless articles, documentaries, TV programmes, chat show discussions etc. Why? Because of their attitude to sex and how they express it. Don't give them the oxygen of publicity. My two churches have a combined membership 3x the size of Westboro, we have no placards, and we're still waiting for that call from Louis Theroux.

2. This is what happens when a body trying to communicate with its own members ends up speaking to everyone.

Christian discipleship includes a form of discipline (the clue's in the noun), just like commitment to any other path, be it losing weight, learning a skill or doing a paid job. What applies to Christians doesn't apply to people who aren't Christians. I don't follow the rules or practices of Weight Watchers, or the Labour Party, but members of both have certain rules and values they're supposed to abide by.  I shouldn't be scandalised if Weight Watches raises its weight loss target by 50%, or cancels the membership of people who don't turn up to meetings - I'm not a member of the group, it's nothing to do with me. It may be wise for me to act a bit more like a member of Weight Watchers (no comment), but that's as far as it goes. It may be wise for people to act a bit more like some of the things the church commends (forgiveness, generosity etc.) but that's as far as it goes. The rules, teaching and values of a group apply in full to group members only. But the rules, teaching and values of the CofE seem to be everyone's property. The signatories to the letter of protest at the Bishops statement go way beyond church members.

3. As someone who didn't have sex before I got married - and have never regretted that - I'm not sure how I would feel if my church declared that that was all a mistake, and I needn't have bothered with all that restraint nonsense. It was challenging, difficult,, and went against the flow of the culture I was raised in - raise that by a factor of 10 for the present day. I'm glad I did it, and would encourage others to do the same, even though most of the couples I do weddings for already have kids, and nearly all of them are living together. I pray God would bless them and give them fantastic marriages, and am delighted for all of them that they've found love in each other. Yet it would still be a massive kick in the guts if the CofE decided that (somehow) sex and marriage didn't belong together, and decoupled the ultimate act of commitment and the ultimate act of loving vulnerability. There are those of us for whom the CofE's 'definition of marriage' is how we have faithfully tried to live out our following of Jesus, it isn't something we need to apologise for.

4. Just as the 'settled results of modern scholarship' look like laughable guff a couple of generations later, we have not reached a settled shared morality on sexuality as a society. Far from it. Would you look at our rates of porn use (especially among children) sexual violence, relationship breakup, gender confusion (the Tavistock centre is now being sued for its gender transition practices by someone who experienced them as a child), the high pitched tone of all debates around gender sex and ethics, rising incidence of STDs, etc and think: 'they've really got all this sussed, if any society has got a mature and well considered take on sexuality its the UK in 2020'? That doesn't mean coming to no conclusions at all, but it does mean we need to hold our conclusions in a proper spirit of liberalism, rather than absolute conviction that we are right, and everyone else is wicked.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tim Farron, Voice of Reason

Very good piece by Tim Farron in the Express, on Parliamentary prayers, Christian faith and liberalism. Here's a clip:
Whilst I don’t believe that my Christian faith is simply a matter of personal preference but rather a belief in something that is true, I also believe it is my duty as an MP, a Christian and a Liberal Democrat to be utterly committed to the freedom of others who hold different positions. To impose my faith on someone else does no good.  Christianity is, I would argue, an unequalled force for good, but when it becomes deployed as a political tool it can be the source of much that is far from good.
However, many Christians that I speak to feel absolutely no sense of privilege in their position. Rather than having the biggest platform and a rubber-stamped loud hailer, many Christians today feel marginalised. In reality the UK establishment acts as though the state religion is Atheism.  The default position when it comes to decision making in government circles, in the media and in our wider culture, is to assume that the absence of faith is the neutral and agreed position. Of course, it is *sort of* OK to have a religious faith and to think something different to the mainstream, but the assumption is that this makes you at best a bit whacky, and at worst downright unpleasant.  
and he concludes
...true diversity is about accepting that others are different to you, not by seeking to enforce a sanitised assimilation. If we are going to exist alongside one another with our hodgepodge of backgrounds and opinions it is not going to be neat. It is going to be messy and uncomfortable, and to need compromise and understanding.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

If I shout loud enough, I can't hear you

Given how far back they have fallen, the current Labour party leadership contest may be the most pointless exercise in democracy since the last Russian election. (I hope it isn't, Boris Johnson is as slippery as an eel thats been soaped, oiled and taken a PhD in slipperiness.) It's also proving to be yet another illustration of how the British left does dog whistle politics. Tolerance and inclusivity yay, but as Tim Farron discovered, woe betide you if your personal views diverge from the current progressive orthodoxy.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is now discovering the same thing, for having the independence of mind to question the law which currently allows terminating a pregnancy at 38 weeks (or ending the life of an unborn baby - we don't have a way of describing this that isn't already morally loaded) for reasons of serious disability. The pushback includes a campaign (successful) to get every leadership candidate signed up to a pledge to deregulate abortion still further, which categorises attempts to present alternative views as misogyny and hate crime.

Maybe I'm a conservative dinosaur, but I'd be deeply uncomfortable with any political context which treated the ending of human life, at whatever stage, as a settled issue. If we're going to wave around phrases like 'right to choose', lets at least look deeply into what we mean by them. If the right to choose is a fundamental principle, rather than just a slogan, then it can bear investigation and robust debate. Indeed, investigation and robust debate might succeed in carrying more people with it, and creating more of a consensus, than using it to shut debate down.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

I Agree With Harry

On page 48 of the Conservative Manifesto, is a pledge to discontinue the Leveson process. Along with the governments sabre-rattling about the BBC, it's a very clear signal of how the land lies with a Johnson majority. The press are off the leash.

If I had seen my own mother hounded, smeared and finally driven to her death by the tabloid press, and had witnessed the same thing now starting to happen to my wife, the Tory pledge would set alarm bells ringing all over the house. Johnson's clear majority means that we will have 5 years of whatever press regime this government chooses to champion. Given that, now would be a great time to emigrate, and to find a way to take myself and my family out of the frontline.

I don't think Harry had a choice. It's clear that the media see shredding Megan as both their right and their cash cow, and it's equally clear that the government (strangely silent n this whole episode) aren't going to lift a finger to stop them. If you had a choice, why would you willingly put up with that?

Taking the longer view, the whole royal family needs to rally round and support them. After all, if the tabloid press can't pursue one royal, you can bet your life they'll go looking for another target.

Zelo Street offers a valuable factchecking service on all those so called 'stories', with the help of Byline Investigates. Remember, you can't believe everything  anything you read in the Daily Mail.

update: Buzzfeed have helpfully compiled 20 examples of the medias drip drip character assasination