Thursday, 15 June 2017

Inconsistencies Here and There

There were a number of reasons why poor Tim Farron (sad that the phrase 'poor Tim Farron' trips so easily off the keyboard) should have resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems' election strategy of trumpeting themselves as the Voice of the EU-Remainers got them nowhere, or next to nowhere. Mr Farron barely held on to his own constituency, and the former leader Mr Clegg was chucked out of his Sheffield seat. The resignation of a front-bench spokesman could have turned into a stream of similar events, explaining why the announcement was made when there were, well, other news stories ongoing. But Mr Farron himself put his decision to go down mainly to the difficulty he found combining leading a political party ('especially a progressive, liberal party') with his Christian faith.

Over the course of the last couple of years Mr Farron has been questioned repeatedly about his attitude to homosexuality and has never been able to come up with a clear enough answer to stop the question being asked again. 'A better, wiser person than me might have been able to deal with this more successfully', he admitted in his resignation statement, but humble though that is the rest of his announcement makes it clear that he thinks virtually any liberal-minded Christian faces an almost impossible task. He can't reconcile political leadership with 'holding faithfully to the Bible's teaching', and has found himself 'the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in'; from which, he concludes, 'we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society'. 

Sad though Tim Farron's statement is, I don't agree with him. What his experience perhaps shows is that, indeed, someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of the UK can't believe that a whole segment of the population is morally repugnant when this is not what the country at large thinks. I'm not sure this is a sign of intolerance: a government and the person who (potentially) leads it should, to some degree, represent the way the polity conceives itself. It'd be a bit like arguing that it's OK to be a racist if you're not going to do anything about it. And in any case, not all Christians accept that 'the Bible's teaching' points inexorably in one direction, the direction that does indeed demonise a segment of the population. We do not all think this, and the calamitous aspect of Mr Farron's departure is that it reinforces the impression the general public already has that we do

Yesterday our Deanery Chapter met and the Area Dean related some of the matters that had come up in a recent meeting with the Bishop. Our Bishop is apparently scared that the decision of the Anglican Church in Scotland to endorse same-sex marriage will embolden his own clergy to bless same-sex relationships and he's made it clear that anyone who does so will be disciplined. We can, as has been stated before, 'say prayers with' same-sex couples, but not bless them. So what might be the tone of those prayers that we can say? 'Dear Lord, your servants Ellie and Isla come before you here today. We just bring them before you, Lord, and we just ask that you will draw them away from the vile and unnatural path that they have taken. We just hold them before you, Lord, we just, we just, we just ...' And if that's not what you pray, but your prayers are in some sense positive and generous, then how does that differ from 'pronouncing a blessing'? I have sworn an oath of canonical obedience to my Bishop, and so I have to do as I am told, but I don't have to like it, and I don't have to pretend otherwise.

The other day I looked up the Naval Military and Air Force Bible Society's Cadets Prayer Book to see whether it might be of any help to me with the ATC. In its pages it includes 'a prayer for accepting my sexuality' which is a non-committal enough bit of text but whose mere existence indicates the ambiguous position in which Christian clergy find themselves. Anyone who works with secular organisations of any kind now finds themselves in a world which is absolutely and unshakeably committed to equality between different forms of sexual expression and, if they are so inclined, has to go through hoops and convolutions in order to toe the party line against it. The whole exercise disgusts me, and I hope to God that sooner rather than later the bishops will damn well get over themselves. 

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