Tuesday 26 March 2013

Taking offence...

I have been struck recently by the number of offensive comments which are being made by conservative evangelical Christians against LGB&T people.
In a long and painful thread on my Facebook page recently, the ‘sin’ of homosexuality was placed alongside murder, adultery, theft, violence, & paedophilia by one well known church leader.

And in a recent survey by Evangelical Alliance participants were asked how the church should respond when sinful behaviour comes to light in the church.  Almost inevitably, one of the ‘sinful’ scenarios outlined was "An openly gay or lesbian couple wanting to be involved in church life." This was immediately followed by, "A convicted sex offender wanting to be involved in church life".
It is hard to underestimate how offensive this is to LGB&T people.

Even when conservative evangelicals try to be conciliatory, they often fail to see how offensive their statements are.  In response to Steve Chalke’s recent statements in support of same-sex partnerships, Evangelical Alliance have taken the step of making their guidance on “Biblical and  Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” available as a free download – previously it had to be purchased from them.
It tries to be reasonable and balanced, reminding us that we are all sinners and should not look down our noses at other people’s sins.  One of the editors is Andrew Goddard with whom I have worked and for whom I have the greatest respect.  Yet even so, most gay and lesbian people will find its contents highly offensive.  Perhaps conservative evangelicals genuinely do not realise how offensive their statements are?

So I have decided to turn things upside down.  I have done this not out of malice or a sense of getting even, but rather in the hope that it might help conservative evangelicals to understand how it feels to be portrayed in a way which they will probably find offensive.  

At the heart of EA’s “Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” are ‘10 Affirmations’ which form the backbone of the book.  I have rephrased each of them to represent they way in which many gay and lesbian people will hear their carefully crafted statements.

I have called the re-written version “The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance” and I hope that they will cause some conservative evangelicals to think twice before making fine sounding but offensive statements against gay people.

I apologise in advance if you read this and take offence – causing offense is not my intention – as I am sure it is not your intention either.

The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance

1.      Thou shalt focus, first and foremost, on sin - and not love.  All expressions of ‘love’ shall only be based on our foundational concept of ‘sin’, and not on the character of God, or the quality of relationship.  Above all, 1John 4:16 shall not apply when we talk about homosexuals.

2.      Thou shalt attempt to be loving towards homosexuals, recognising that we have often failed to do so in the past and present.  Thou shalt also pretend that our continual focus on sin and our highly conditional and restrictive acceptance of homosexuals does not victimise or diminish people who are attracted to the same sex.

3.      Thou shalt pretend that marriage is, and has always been between one man and one woman entered into for life, contrary to the majority of marriages in the Bible.  Recognising our superior moral high ground, thou shalt focus all your indignation on homoerotic sexual practice as incompatible with God’s will, as revealed in the way we tell you to interpret the few bits of Scripture which appear to say something on the subject.  Thou shalt not listen to anyone else’s interpretation of Scripture.  In doing this we reject any suggestion that we are being narrow minded.

4.      Churches shall only offer an unconditional welcome to those homosexuals who agree with what we say – except for the condition that if they change their minds, we will change our attitude towards them too.  Thou shalt not let these people call themselves ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’, but instead encourage them to minimise their sexuality by referring to themselves as ‘those who suffer from same-sex attraction’.

5.      Thou shalt not accept or endorse the fact that other Christians, including evangelicals understand sexuality differently.  Thou shalt only support churches whose Biblical interpretation is impervious to change.

6.      Thou shalt fight as hard as possible against Christians and Churches who seek to encourage life-long, faithful, committed partnerships, while doing comparatively little to encourage heterosexuals to live out their marriage vows faithfully and permanently.

7.      Thou shalt hold up as iconic examples, all homosexuals who have successfully emasculated (or efeminated) their same-sex attraction, while ignoring all examples of same-sex couples who have lived faithfully together in life-giving partnerships for many years.

8.      Thou shalt support and encourage individuals and organisations which seek to change, heal, re-orientate, and deny those who suffer same-sex attraction any possibility of finding fulfilment in a loving, life-giving, exclusive relationship with someone of the same sex.  Thou shalt do this in spite of evidence of damage or coercion from those who have suffered from such ministries.  Thou shalt also ignore the overwhelming majority of professionals in psychology, psychiatry, and mental health.  They are not Biblical and do not know what they are talking about.

9.      Thou shalt expel from church membership and ministry all those who take a different Christian view on sexuality.  Such relational consequences in church membership are a natural response to anyone who disagrees with us and their blood shall be on their own heads.

10.  Thou may offer a highly conditional welcome to any actively LGBorT person who is brave enough to walk through our arches (although we never mention Bi or Trans people as we clearly don’t know what to think about them).  They are welcome as long as they accept that we have the right to preach at them, make them feel uncomfortable, and restrict their membership and participation.  They shall be left in no doubt that the only way to the Kingdom of God is by renouncing their sexuality and embracing our values, prejudice, and the version of God we present, made in our own image.


If you want to read the real book from Evangelical Alliance, you can download it from this link – alternatively, Andrew Goddard (one of the authors) has posted an admirably brief summary of the “10 Affirmations” which are at the heart of the book.

Update (26 March 2013)

I appears that Evangelical Alliance has today removed the optoin to downlaod the book from their website for free - the links above now go a page which simply lists the '12 Affirmations' as the authentic mainstream evangelical view, and invites you to buy the book.  I find it strange that last month they wanted as many people as possible to read it, but now they seem to have suddenly changed their minds.....

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Setting the record straight on Civil Partnerships...

“There was a 30% breakup of Partnerships with gays last year - and it only became law recently!!!”   Gerald Coates, 19th March 2013.
This direct quote comes from my Facebook page yesterday where Charismatic church leader Gerald Coates launched an unnuanced attack on anyone who would dare to suggest that same-sex partnerships can be anything but sinful.

His views and opinions on same-sex relationships are of course his own - and he has a right to hold them – but what particularly disturbed me was the blatant untruth of this statistical claim.
It is not just Gerald Coates who makes such claims.  I have heard similar ones from a number of traditionalist Evangelical clergy and ministers.  For some people who hear them, they have been repeated so often that they must be true!  And it doesn’t help when well known Evangelical church leaders like Gerald Coates repeat them with such force.

So what is the truth about Civil Partnerships and rates of dissolution?
Below is a summary of the available statistics from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) who provide official government statistics on a whole host of areas of public life.  Please feel free to follow the links to see the source documents.

Untruth Number 1:

Contrary to Gerald Coates claim – the statistics for 2012 have not yet been released.  The latest available statistics for Civil Partnerships are for 2011.

Untruth Number 2:

The ONS statistics for 2011 show that there were 6,795 new Civil Partnerships registered during the year.  It also shows that the number of dissolutions (the equivalent of divorce) was 672 – which is less than 10% of the number of new Civil Partnerships.
That does not mean, of course, that 10% of those new Civil Partnerships were dissolved, merely that  672 of the total number of registered Civil Partnerships (over 48,500) were dissolved in 2011.

Untruth Number 3:

So perhaps the year on year statistics show a higher rate of break-up?  Not atall.
In the period 2005-2010 (the first 5 years of Civil Partnerships) 42,778 Civil Partnerships were registered.  But during this same period only 1,007 ended in dissolution.  That is a break up rate over 5 years of 2.35%, making Civil Partnerships much more successful than marriage where long term statistics indicate that 42% of marriages are expected to end in divorce.

If we add the 2011 figures to this, we find that by the end of 2011, 49,572 Civil Partnerships had been registered and 1,679 had ended in dissolution.  That makes a cumulative break-up rate of 3.38% - a long way short of the 30% that Gerald Coates and others have claimed.
All of the above shows that in the short time since Civil Partnerships have been lawful in England and Wales, rates of dissolution are far below the rate of divorce.

But what of the longer term? 

Divorce rates are measured over much longer time period and the rate of Civil Partnerships which end in dissolution is increasing.  Perhaps in the longer term, that will show that Civil Partnerships are less stable than married relationships?
Or perhaps not…

The ONS have spent a lot of time analysing marriage and divorce trends and have concluded that just over 15% of marriages end in divorce during the first 6 years – compared with 3.38% of Civil Partnerships during the first 6 years – again showing that CP’s have been much more successful than marriage at keeping people together in their first 6 years. (Population Trends - The proportion of marriages ending in divorce  - Table 3)
Furthermore, there are countries which have had the equivalent of Civil Partnerships for much longer that the UK.  What do their statistics show?

Denmark was the first country to introduce registration for same-sex partnerships – back in 1989 – providing over 20 years of statistical data to analyse.
Their experience has been that Civil Partnerships are much more robust and long lasting than heterosexual marriages.  I am grateful to Dr John Pike in Bristol for researching this and for the following conclusions:

"Data for registered same-sex partnerships in Denmark[i] are particularly interesting since it is the country with the longest experience of official same-sex unions, since 1989. The cumulative number of partnerships rose steadily from 1400 male and 491 female partnerships by 1992 to 4347 male and 4732 female partnerships by 2012. Numbers of partnerships which had been dissolved were 26 male and 22 female by 1992 and 981 male and 1231 female by 2012. Allowing for partnerships where one partner had died, the cumulative dissolution rate is 17% male partnerships and 20% female partnerships. Directly comparable data for heterosexual marriages and divorces are not available, but over the same period 1992 to 2011, the divorce rate in Denmark varied between 38.6 and 43.6 percent.”


So whichever way we look at it, Gerald Coates’ claim of a 30% break-up rate is a blatant untruth.  Not only that, but the evidence from this country and others with far longer experience, is that Civil Partnerships are much more successful that heterosexual Marriages in helping two people to stay together.
Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ – that is my prayer for Gerald Coates today.


Gerald Coates has clarified/retracted his claim yesterday about Civil Partnerships.

He has written on my Fb page today commenting, "My 30% was taken out of context - it came from an article in the press at the end of last year - noting that 'last year' [ 2011] there had been a 30% rise in dissilusions. (The eqiuvalent of divorce as I am sure you know.) I wasn't making a big deal of it."

So everyone can see if it was taken out of context, I include a screen clipping below of his Fb comment from yesterday... and I will leave others to judge whether the 3 exclamation marks he used are making a big deal of it or not.

[i] Data from “Danmarks Statistik”. Publication “Befolkningens udvikling” 2011 at http://www.dst.dk/Pubomtale/16600. Table 7.1 (p. 89) is on registered partnerships.

Monday 4 March 2013

The Cardinal Sin...

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.