Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Play the ball - not the man

It has been good to see the debate which my article "Towards a theology of Gay Marriage?" has prompted in recent weeks - both in favour and against the approach I put forward.  The Church of England Newspaper has had a flood of responses, and over the last few weeks has been printing many of them.
On the first week, they were all negative. 
On the second week, almost all were positive. 
But then on week three, I noticed a change.  There were two letters published which were less than gracious in their treatment of the issue.  In fact they were not so much reacting to the ideas being discussed, as resorting to personal attack.  And the attacks were not against me,  but against some of those who had written in to support a more accepting approach toward gay relationships.
The letters they were reacting to, were both 'in favour' of examining a new approach to same-sex relationships, one from a gay Christian in a long term partnership, the other from an ordinand in training. Whilst these positive letters were measured and did not seek to attack anyone, the same cannot be said for the response.
The openness and honesty of the gay Christian was met by a one sentence dismissal of her faith, sexuality and partnership. Her courage to declare publically  her sexuality and faith were simply put-down as being too ridiculous to listen to.
The ordinand was also dismissed in a rather disparaging way as someone who "no longer believes what the Bible says" - something which he did not say - while his evangelical theological college was blamed for "the sorry state of our church and nation."
Sadly, the reasons for this reaction are all too clear.  This is an issue where feelings run so high that those who do not agree can so easily dehumanize those who think differently.
 As another letter writer put it, "Unnatural relationships are constantly being discussed in your paper and horrible pictures of two men on a wedding cake give many people real revulsion." She had stopped seeing people - just visceral anger.
In such a climate, it is all too easy to (in the words of the footballing metaphor) play the man, not the ball.
For those not from the UK, this is saying which comes from soccer.  It the temptation which a player faces when someone with the ball is about to get past him.  Should he continue (probably in vain) to go for the ball?  Or should he abandon the rules and hack down the player?
It is sad that all too often the debate over sexuality descends into this kind of dismissive and damaging exchange.  It is not Christ-like.  It does not reflect the Gospel of grace.  It does not help us to fulfil Jesus command to love one another as he has loved us.
If Jesus had been talking to footballers, I am sure where he would have come down -  "Play the ball, not the man!"

(With apologies to all female footballers for this terribly non-inclusive language)


  1. As a football fan, I definitely like and approve of the football analogy :)

  2. It is true that the debate can often be dissmissive and damaging, or sometimes worse! It can also be difficult then not to respond with anger or fear, but rather to carry on showing a human face - but that is the only real way to bring barriers down.

  3. Thank you both - I was pleased the the Church of England Newspaper printed a letter from me asking for restraint. I hope that it is heard - and that I also ensure I head that call!