It is not the sex, but the patronizing of God that upsets us
MY SHOCK and sense of outrage at the election of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire has been that he is not gay. The argument, as I understand it, put forward by Canon Jeffrey John and others, is that some people are gay, and that is how God made them: it was not a choice nor a matter of lifestyle, it was simply how things were and nothing could change that fact. It is as though the gay person were saying, `I am what God made me. Who are you to condemn me?’
Marriage, as understood in the Christian tradition, is not merely a private relationship, it is also a public institution and sacrament. More than the couple are involved: children are part of the institution, not an optional extra. It is not serial monogamy made respectable; it is not the sentimental renamed as sacramental; it is a deeper mystery, about something more, as Jesus himself, and his Apostle Paul, taught us.
Marriage is not therefore an option for a gay couple. Nor should it be for a man and a woman who make a clear and public refusal to have children, though of course this is more difficult to judge and discipline. All this is easy enough to say, it is entirely logical and it makes perfect sense of the tradition we have received.
Who is gay?
Nevertheless, I still feel that many of my gay colleagues have been handed the short straw. `What is there for me, if marriage is not an option?’ I can hardly say, `I feel your pain’, because the whole point is I don’t; but the challenge of a faithful gay couple is a real one. As a product of the twentieth century, I readily admit I would like to be more affirming.
Hence the shock that the first openly practising and assertive gay bishop is not gay. I do not wish to know the details of his private and emotional life, nor is that relevant, but Gene Robinson is not gay because that is how God made him. He was married, and he has two daughters from that marriage. Whatever he is now, he was not then. Now he says he is gay, and claims the right to live in a sexual relationship with a man, and be a bishop and pastor. He is gay because he says he is gay. There are, it seems, no consequences from any previous action.
I am what I say I am, irrespective of what I was or said yesterday. I may be summarizing a little coarsely; but this surely is one of the principal problems of and objections to the current agenda.
A gay `wedding’
`I am what God made me’ is the single most powerful `argument’ of what I think of as the genuinely gay lobby. `I am what I say I am’ is a distasteful parody of that original theme. But worse still is the yet greater hubris expressed by the implicit statement, `God is who I say he is.’
Last month, Bishop Edwin Barnes gave a trenchant critique of the New Westminster Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Covenants. Why should we be concerned? Because the New Westminster rite, as Bishop Edwin suggested, only highlights elements that can be found elsewhere.
We like to think of ourselves as a tolerant age, that we are `all’ agreed that people’s private relationships are their own affair. So long as it does not harm others, let them do what they want. The next stage is to demand, in the name of justice, public acceptance (or blessing) of this private relationship. Again, tolerance is urged: NW talks of a service `in the presence of friends, family and the congregation’, suggesting that if you do not like it, do not go, but do not prevent others from doing so.
The next stage is where it begins to impinge seriously on the life of others in the church, by the use of standard elements ever so slightly corrupted. The rubric after the Peace is `The couple greet each other and then greet their families and friends.’ Of course, people get kissy-kissy on occasions such as this; that is how we are made; but it is not the proper understanding of the Peace in the Mass.
Next, we move to telling God what he has done, or as Bishop Edwin put it, suborning him `into condoning our desires’. To say to God, in what is called a `blessing’ to be delivered by the presider, `you create in them [the couple] the desire for intimacy and companionship’ is frankly presumptuous. A statement is not true merely because you believe it. There is worse. Telling God what he does, in relation to ourselves, is not of itself wrong. Many orthodox prayers express a similar assurance, albeit based on Scripture and tradition. But creating a new God, by whom these new things are done, surely this is a step too far.
Nowhere in the NW rite is there any mention of God the Father or God the Son, only God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit? The Spirit is feminine side of God, according to the feminist theologians. `She who is the freely overflowing well-spring of the energy of all creatures who flourish, and of the energy of all those who resist the absence of her flourishing,’ as Elizabeth Johnson puts it. `In the power of her being she causes to be.’ As we now say about uncanny coincidences, `Spooky’
There is, it seems, an implicit acknowledgement that neither God the Father nor God the Son would condone what is being proposed and celebrated. The Spirit is, however, sufficiently vague to amateur theologians, and if freed from the oppressed and subordinated position of `proceeding from the Father and the Son’ might more readily accede to contemporary demands. If the old god is not up to job, then we need a new one: that was essentially the argument of the prophets of Baal in ancient Israel.
The title `Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’ is used once; but to do so, without arty reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is to have invented a new god. Based upon the Christian God, perhaps; but the same could be said of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the end, it is not the sex that we are worried about, it is the deception; it is the inventing of a new god and passing `it’ off as ours that so deeply offends us. No, it is more even than that. It is the hubris to reinvent the name and the nature and the actions of God, and pass them off as the truth. `I made me’ is silly; `I made God’ is plain wicked.
Nicholas Turner is Curate of the Parish of Broughton-with-Elslack.