Well I can tell it’s another major Christian festival. I’ve woken up to another church leader banging on about gay people. This time it’s George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Last time it was Cardinal Keith O’Brien, whose career as Britain’s leading anti-gay ranter was cut short when he turned out to be, possibly, maybe, allegedly, well, er….
My point here is not to object to a reasoned debate on gay marriage, but on why the Church, time and time again, obsesses with homosexuality as if it’s the only thing that really matters. I’ve blogged before on my wider views on why this might be so I won’t trot round that field again here.
But George Carey’s comments betray a starting point that I believe is another major issue: siege mentality. There is a sad strand of Christians in the UK who feel they are being persecuted, and who would go so far as to actually use the word.
Research quoted by George Carey suggested that two-thirds of UK Christians now feel they are part of a persecuted minority. This is to misunderstand so much: not least, the nature of true persecution. Around the world, people are being killed for what they believe, or burnt out of their homes, or locked up, or having to meet in secret for fear of arrest or death.
That’s real persecution, not the “persecution light” suffered by siege mentality Christians in the UK and elsewhere in the West. Put simply, they seem to perceive it as persecution when their views no longer hold sway in wider society. They’re driven by fear: fear of gay people or Islam or Richard Dawkins or change or, as in this case, the particularly scary “aggressive secularism”. Or perhaps simply by the fear of insignificance.
This is particularly strange when Jesus himself issued frankly blood-curdling warnings about the type of persecution his followers would face. He foresaw death, betrayal, being ostracised from religious circles. In broad terms, he warned his followers to expect suffering – real, actual suffering, not waking up to find that your views are no longer mainstream. He told them to take up their crosses and follow him. Today’s battle seems to be about wearing the cross, not carrying it.
George Carey says David Cameron has fed Christian “anxieties” more than any other political leader in recent times. Jesus told his followers not to be anxious about anything. So if Christians are getting anxious, I might suggest the problem is with them, not with the government. The concept of “anxious Christians” ought to be an oxymoron.
Siege mentality Christians would believe that the 1950s spiritual map of the UK looked healthier than today’s. Yes, if you had colour-mapped churchgoers then, it would have looked a good solid block across the whole country. Today’s map would be a very patchy affair by contrast.
But if you painted it differently, say a coloured blob for each person who truly believed what they were doing, was committed to discipleship and, if necessary, death, I don’t think the 1950s map would look that different from today’s. I suspect that the blob-map is closer to the God’s eye view of the world. The blob-map would offer a glimpse of the spread of the kingdom of God, rather than the churchgoing public. The two are not the same.
I can’t help reflecting that some people in the Christian faith remain drawn by the desire for moral certainties – the people I call the Taliban Tendency, who broadly think that other people are the problem, and are likely to get their theology from the Daily Mail. Other Christians are drawn by the realisation that THEY are the problem, and are likely to get their theology from Philip Yancey’s fab book What’s So Amazing About Grace (or indeed, dare I say, from Jesus).
Going back to George Carey, I would have thought he might have found more to object to in the impact on the poor and vulnerable of current government policies. And going back to Keith O’Brien, I have actually started to feel a certain compassion for him, if what was driving him all along was the awfulness of not being able to be who you are.
Either way, this Easter, I hope someone in the Church decides to bang on about a man who thought he was the Messiah, was killed for it, and whom people say they saw again afterwards. Now that’s a much more intriguing story.