By their petitions shall ye know them…
I’ve been hearing a lot about petitions doing the rounds over coffee after Church services lately. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. But the choice of petitions often leaves a lot to be asked of a church’s priorities and a recent article on the Guardian site showed that this trend is spreading into other church-run activities, like playgroups.
Their overall efficacy aside, I’m definitely of the belief that petitions going round after services is a good thing. Beforehand, and I get a bit sniffy about my pre-service peace. Afterwards, and I think its good for us to shift out focus outside the walls of the church. The pulpit should never be used for party politics, but to refuse to deal with the issues facing Britain today is a dereliction of the Church’s duty to speak out for those who are the victims of injustice.
On Sunday, I heard from two friends about petitions circling churches. The first was in support of “Forty Days 4 Life”, a Lenten surge in anti-abortion activism, which has involved filming and threatening clinic users and workers alike. In Britain. Not in America, where sadly this has become the tactic of choice for fundamentalist activists, and from where we see a clear link from this type of activism on to full blown terrorism, with shootings and arson a growing trend. There are groups out there who actually care about women but can’t, in conscience, condone abortion. This isn’t one of them.*
The next was for the same subject as the playgroup petition: same-sex marriage. Once more, its the British Church’s presumption that good government must create civil legislation on the basis of a theological objection, which shoves people out the door. Petitions are great for big social issues or where there is clear injustice involved. Petitions against individuals in society are a pretty good barometer for a rise in scape-goat politicking, not for people actually wanting a better society. Whilst I’m anti-paedophile, I’ve yet to see a petition from that ‘side’ which doesn’t make my skin crawl and make me wonder if the subtext isn’t a kind of lynch-mob recruitment.
Given that most of those pushing such a petition won’t actually know a single person who’s grown up in same-sex co-parenting environment says something about how flimsy the “think of the children argument” usually is. The effects shown in actual research are either negligible or easily connected to children being bullied, often on the basis of a religion-informed climate that says children who grow up in same-sex co-parenting environments must be weird and therefore worthy of bullying. Its hard to know who’s to blame: the church or the parents.
I’m very proud to say that there was a petition at St Lawrence’s on Sunday. I realise I’m about to blow my own trumpet here, but no one is going to write an article for the Guardian on the topic. It was the paper-equivalent of this Housing Benefit related petition. Its an issue I know is affecting people living in the parish, and far more personally that the risk that their LGBT neighbours might get married.
I really do wish the Church was known for these kinds of issues, where we actually clash with the values of the government who are happy to break up our communities and push poorer families into social dump-sites. And I know that I’m not the only one in the British Church who feels that way – far from it, in fact. I’m beginning to sense a sort of long, drawn-out drone of desperation rumbling somewhere beneath the surface, punctuated by occasional shouts every time some new ‘initiative’ to make the church look like the “Public Prayers, Abortions and Gays” club bursts out.
As a friend kindly shared from their journal today:
“While the Church is busy arguing of who it’s allowable to love, children are living in squalor, people are being denied their rights, men and women are being executed on a daily basis, and the world is ravaged by disease. We’re called to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons – not hold meetings, form committees, debate principles and condemn those we don’t care for.”
And when it comes to using our political voice, the same principles ought to apply.
*Its probably not an accurate measure of a group, but I thought I’d add that friends identified a leading London campus fascist at a 40D4L protest in central London. He was even wearing a black shirt.