By their petitions shall ye know them…

Tuesday, 27th March 2012 at 15:24 UTC 4 comments

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.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Church, Politics, Religion.

Sermon: Jesus in the Temple Olympic Weapons of Mass Distraction

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Monday, 9th April 2012 at 14:43 UTC

    For starters, “who it’s allowable to love” is a gross mischaracterisation of the issue at hand, and anyone who writes that, or quotes it, makes me seriously question their intellectual honesty. If you could avoid the straw men, that would get you the start of some sort of credibility.

    The truth is that Christians are involved in all sorts of good works, both in explicitly Christian and in secular contexts. The reason why we’re best known for some sort of sex obsession is because that’s how the media choose to portray us. We knew this would happen, because Jesus told us so: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

    We’re meant to give the whole of our lives to Jesus; leaving our nets and boats on the shore, having our minds transformed, etc. If abortion is a sin (and let’s not discuss the fine details here) or gay marriage is no marriage at all, then I absolutely defend the right of Christians to teach and preach that. If Jesus is lord of all, he’s lord of that too and so upholding Christian teaching in that area does not make an obsessive or a bigot, only a faithful Christian. Neither is it forcing it on anyone, or compelling everyone to accept it, to say that something is true – and as free citizens in a democracy, we’re entitled to preach and persuade. Being concerned with the truth does not make someone an obsessive, unless you’re trying to sleight them because you disagree with them but can’t show they’re wrong from the bible – in which case it’s you who needs to be concerned!

    I’m reminded of Philippians 3 here: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more” – I’ve known too many Christians who give without counting the cost, both in terms of their time and their money, to help other people and support God’s work in the world – only to be called obsessives and bigots by some group of pharisaic campaigners who don’t actually help anyone themselves, just pour cold water on other people’s efforts. Maybe you could list your donations here, and your time given to spread the word and help people – not just shout at people – to prove that you’re a better Christian than your brothers and sisters in Christ, and so have the right to criticize them for being too apathetic to be allowed to sign a petition with integrity.

    As Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone”. I’d say that a blog counts for a lot more than a petition, and you haven’t always been perfectly fair and balanced here, so I really don’t think you can comment when someone else signs a letter to support their Christian views.

    I look forward to seeing you out doing some street evangelism tonight!

    Reply
  • 2. poetjust  |  Wednesday, 18th April 2012 at 14:10 UTC

    For starters, “who it’s allowable to love” is a gross mischaracterisation of the issue at hand, and anyone who writes that, or quotes it, makes me seriously question their intellectual honesty. If you could avoid the straw men, that would get you the start of some sort of credibility.

    Is it? Is a sexless marriage less of a marriage? Because that is actually pretty fundamental to the problem. The conclusion that same sex marriage is wrong is based on the position that homosexual sex is not allowable according to Scripture. Remember living with an individual, even sharing their bed, is not condemned in the Bible, as long as there isn’t sex (David and Abishag). If there is no sexual activity between the two individuals what is the scriptural basis to condemn that relationship? Why should it not have the same rights as an ordinary civil marriage? People have argued that allowing homosexual marriage diminishes marriage, yet have been remarkably silent about twenty day celebrity marriages, loveless marriages, sexless marriages, and violent marriages. Marriage was not actually a sacrament of the church until the Middle Ages. The previous involvement of the church was rather limited (often confined to blessing the marriage bed or the new home). It could be argued that marriage was brought into the church to protect women from abandonment, or violence, etc. However it has been argued that it was a change based around property rights – not spirituality. Many vehemently deny that marriage is about money or property, and similarly deny that it is about sex (stating that sexless marriage is just as much marriage as sexually consummated marriage) – therefore what is the argument about if not love? The question is one of who it is acceptable to love in the sense of ‘eros’? In which case again it is undeniably about sex, in which case if there is no sex what is there to condemn? It’s not a mischaracterisation (a term I use simply because it has already been used, the correct term would be misinterpretation or misrepresentation – to characterise something is to define its personality or elements, rather than its focus) – it is in fact the logical conclusion of following the arguments of those who oppose it. Thus talking about love is far from a straw man issue.

    The truth is that Christians are involved in all sorts of good works, both in explicitly Christian and in secular contexts. The reason why we’re best known for some sort of sex obsession is because that’s how the media choose to portray us. We knew this would happen, because Jesus told us so: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

     This is demonstrably not true. The reason we’re best known for some sort of sex obsession is that of the last hundred statements publicly made by priests most have involved statements on sex, sexuality, or gender. This impression exists long before the modern era. Further more you imply that people outside the church are in effect not free thinking and not capable of forming their own opinions (since you argue there view is entirely based on media portrayal) – as such you insult the intellectual capability of non-Christians, passing judgement on their reasoning with no attempt to examine how that reasoning comes about (since you claim it is explicitly held simply because the media tells them it is so). It’s actually more or less how the organised church has chosen to portray itself, not the other way around.

    We’re meant to give the whole of our lives to Jesus; leaving our nets and boats on the shore, having our minds transformed, etc. If abortion is a sin (and let’s not discuss the fine details here) or gay marriage is no marriage at all, then I absolutely defend the right of Christians to teach and preach that. If Jesus is lord of all, he’s lord of that too and so upholding Christian teaching in that area does not make an obsessive or a bigot, only a faithful Christian.

     I would raise a question here. Your argument is that you are holding to the teaching of Jesus by proclaiming homosexual marriage is no marriage at all, yet Jesus demonstrably never said this – in fact Jesus barely talked about marriage at all. You are holding to the teachings of Paul of Tarsus – these are not and never have been the same thing. However even in this case you aren’t taking things as a whole, but rather selecting what agrees with the point of view you already hold.

    Neither is it forcing it on anyone, or compelling everyone to accept it, to say that something is true – and as free citizens in a democracy, we’re entitled to preach and persuade.

    Actually, this isn’t the case. As a citizen of a democracy you are bound to abide by the laws of that democracy, as decided by the majority of people (either directly or by proxy). Laws are made via the will of the (majority of the) people – and as each has equal status we have the same rights and responsibilities. While you argue that we have the right to preach and persuade we only have that right within the boundaries of the law as agreed by the will of the people. It is a limited right, not an inalienable one. Secondly it is in effect force, since it is in effect coercion. The assumption that is being made is that there are two groups here “homosexuals” and “Christians” and that these are mutual exclusive. They are not. What many are effectively saying is that you cannot be homosexual and Christian – denying salvation to those who genuinely believe on the grounds of their sexuality. Thus you sit in judgement upon your fellow man – in the place of God – and that is something we are fundamentally NOT called to do. It is not for a Christian to pronounce the fate of their fellow men and women. To do so, to pass judgement, is to in a sense attempt to usurp the throne of God. And that is something which I doubt any Christian would truly want to do.

    Being concerned with the truth does not make someone an obsessive, unless you’re trying to sleight them because you disagree with them but can’t show they’re wrong from the bible – in which case it’s you who needs to be concerned!

    To me, your argument here is that the Bible is the solemn, direct and literal Word of God. This implies that if you simply followed every commandment in the Bible, performed every ritual and said and thought and felt the right things, you could walk into Heaven without ever having truly known or heard God’s voice. Faith is not an academic exercise, nor is Christianity simply a series of exams. I for one refuse to believe Life is simply an entrance exam for heaven. It was never meant to be this way. And I pray God would never let the church make it appear so.

    As Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone”. I’d say that a blog counts for a lot more than a petition, and you haven’t always been perfectly fair and balanced here, so I really don’t think you can comment when someone else signs a letter to support their Christian views.

    As for this statement I feel you fall on your own sword. You imply a hierarchy of sins where some are greater than others, and others worse still. Does not the very same set of scriptures you quote say “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” thus are not all sins one and the same in gravity and seriousness? Isn’t that in part the point? All have sinned and fallen short? The origin of the word Sin is actually French, and has its roots in archery. It meant to miss the target. You could miss by an inch or a mile, but you would still sin. Christ died for the sins of all men, all women, all humankind. God loves the people you hate. Those people you hate are the same people who Christ loved so much that he went to the Cross and died for them just as much as he died for you.
    This effectively says everything else I want to say more than anything else – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbcLArwrtN8

    I just pray that one day people in the Church would be enough like Jesus that I won’t have to take off my rings, cut my hair, cover my arms and wrists and feet to be accepted and allowed into worship. It’s often said that my people bare the mark of Cain, since we are wanderers all other the Earth. But I hold in my heart the hope that in some tiny corner of heaven there’s a bit of space where my people might be welcome simply to be who are, and praise God as we are. Because this condemning, overruling, shunning, legalistic Jesus that people seem to be talking about – I don’t know him. The Jesus I know died for the very people who nailed him to the cross. It’s almost as if he was trying to say “I love you this much…” to the whole world, even to gypsies like us.

    (Oh and by the way, the extract quoted as from my journal and was a private reflection, so if anyone’s intellectual honest needs it’s not Graham, it’s me).

    Reply
  • 3. Tom D  |  Monday, 23rd April 2012 at 22:23 UTC

    I have got to say I only read the first part of Greg’s post but I tend to agree that actually this is not what Christians are debating. In the same way that the media portrays Islam based on the actions of a few, so Christianity is portrayed.

    The sad part of this is that Christians themselves come to believe this narrative is representative – and there is a lot of judgement passed.

    I read in the Guardian daily what a bigot I am as a Christian.. but daily, working with social issues of poverty I see that it is the Chrsitians who are everywhere taking on poverty and deprivation, giving time and money. I also have been around a number of Churches and never have I found anyone ‘transfixed’ by sexual issues.

    Reply
  • 4. Steve  |  Sunday, 20th May 2012 at 3:57 UTC

    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

    I like that.

    Reply

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