So now we know…
We know what drove Cardinal Keith O’Brien to be so dogmatic and so offensive to people in same-sex relationships.Last year the Cardinal was voted ‘Bigot of the Year’ by Stonewall after his outspoken campaign against same-sex marriage.
At various times he described same-sex marriage as a "grotesque subversion”, an "aberration" and he likened it to slavery.
In May 2005 he told members of the Scottish Parliament that homosexuals were "captives of sexual aberrations" and writing in the Scottish Catholic Observer, he said
“The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships…” http://www.sconews.co.uk/latest-edition/14858/scotland-fails-homosexual-people/So when allegations emerged from Catholic Priests of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ it must have been utterly devastating. The Cardinal resigned almost immediately, and now he has all but admitted that the allegations are true.
Such is tragedy of Cardinal Keith O’Brien.The Roman Catholic Church appears to be responding to this by saying that the church has always had both saints and sinners in its ranks, but this is a gross over-simplification. Speaking so strongly against same-sex relationships while all the time knowing the history of his own desires and sexual actions, reveals a man filled with self-loathing who learned to live with himself by transferring that anger and self-hatred onto others.
It is the classic vicious circle that almost always ends up in the kind of abusive words and actions which we have witnessed.At its root is a concept of ‘sin’ which is defined not by what damages people and society, but by the application of an arbitrary set of rules claiming some divine authority. For some, the authority for such arbitrary spiritual laws is the Church, for others it is the Bible, but the effect is the same - condemning people to live in this twilight world of secret shame and misdirected anger.
The approach is not just limited to Roman Catholics of course. Evangelical Alliance recently updated its guidance on responding to homosexuality. At its heart are ‘Ten Affirmations’ which should guide and direct evangelicals in their pastoral and theological attitudes to gay and lesbian people. The first one begins with the words, “We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only true hope for sinful people – whatever our sexuality – is in Jesus Christ.”
While the intention behind this opening is benign, encouraging all evangelicals to recognise their own sinfulness rather than just focusing on the ‘sinfulness’ of homosexuals, it reveals something much deeper in the mindset of the writers – that when we are talking about homosexuality, we can only be talking about sin.
For them, this is the non-negotiable bottom line, and everything which follows is based on that assumption. Their authority is a reading of the Bible which is just as selectively legalistic, arbitrary, and inconsistent as the Roman Catholic theology that led Cardinal O’Brien to the torture of his alleged double life.
But the God I serve is not arbitrary, legalistic or inconsistent.
When Jesus was asked about ‘The Law’, he consistently directed people to look at the Spirit behind the Law, rather than being limited to the legalism of the words themselves. And when the New Testament declares that love, not law, is at the heart of the Gospel it never says “unless you are gay”. God has been unfolding his plan for the redemption of human kind from the Garden of Eden onwards, and every generation has learned that this redemption continues to unfold as we seek to order our lives and society in a way which enables everyone to love God and their neighbour more fully.
The harm which Cardinal O’Brien spoke out against when he said,
“The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships…”
… is as misdirected as his own self-loathing.
What he should have said is,
“The empirical evidence is clear, religious or cultural repression of same-sex relationships is demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such repression…”
The cardinal sin in this affair is not that of ‘homosexuality’. It is the sin of a religious institution which created the toxic mixture of moral repression, secrecy, abuse of power, tortuous inner conflict and misdirected self-loathing – and then used it to oppose the aspirations of those in genuine, loving same-sex relationships.
This is this sin which both the Church and Keith O’Brien need to reflect on and repent of – not the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.