In a recent Question Time on BBC television, Welsh politician Chris Bryant recounted a time when the Papal Nuncio asked him how his wife was. The openly-gay Member of Parliament answered: “he’s a man”. To which the Roman Catholic dignitary responded: “what do you mean? Is she very butch?!” Bryant explained that he was gay and that he was in a civil partnership. The Papal Nuncio’s response was shocking, as he told the politician: “you do realise that you will do more damage to this world than climate change”. On the Question Time panel, Bryant then looked at the audience and gave a challenge to those who “for maybe understandable reasons” are passionately opposed to gay marriage: “just think of how you advance your arguments, because it can be very, very painful to some people”.
This anecdote reveals something of the oft-ignored issue in Christian discussions about same-sex marriage – the pastoral issue. Whatever our own theological and ethical viewpoint, it is undeniable that the Church’s attitude to gay and lesbian people has, at times in the past, been negative, judgmental, and uncompassionate. Instead of standing alongside a group of people who already feel wounded by a prejudiced society, the Church has either turned its back on them or, worse still, has been actively hostile. In other words, it has often failed in its pastoral duty towards a section of our community that has needed visible signs of God’s love. Ironically, in light of our call to offer pastoral care to all within our churches and parishes, the Church’s uncaring and unsympathetic attitude has led to a sense of disapproval, abandonment, and alienation.
It is a sad fact that our faith, which should offer unconditional love, hope, and liberating forgiveness, is seen by many in today’s society as hateful, guilt-inducing, and judgmental. On Morrissey’s critically-acclaimed 2004 album You are the Quarry, the one-time lead singer of 80s iconographic pop group The Smiths announces he has finally found it in himself ‘to forgive Jesus’, who has left him with guilt, hang-ups, and low self-esteem. He finishes the song by screaming repetitively at Jesus – ‘do you hate me? Do you hate me?’ Instead of being a source of forgiveness, the Christian faith is now deemed to need forgiveness itself. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our attitudes towards gay people, who have felt unwelcome, unloved, and branded as ‘sinful’ by Christian reactions towards them.
The Church, therefore, needs to express an apologetic contrition for its past treatment of gay and lesbian people, before embracing a future pastoral response rooted in Jesus’s teachings and actions. Such a response must be centred upon a radical compassion – an uncompromising, self-giving, unconditional love that transcends differences of politics, ethnicity, and sexuality. We need to follow the risen Christ on the Emmaus Road, who came and walked alongside the two disciples, not forcing them to stop or to turn around, but entering into their current situation and engaging with it. As in any pastoral situation, there must be a desire to encounter Christ in “the other” (Matthew 25) and an openness to the possibility that our own attitudes may be radically changed from our engagements. After all, too often gay people are talked about, rather than listened to, in our churches.
A pastoral statement to lesbian and gay Anglicans from 188 member bishops of the 1998 Lambeth conference, including Rowan Williams, pledged to ‘continue to reflect, pray and work for your full inclusion in the life of the Church’. Such a pledge has profound implications for gay people who are already professing Christians, but also for those on the periphery of the Church community, and it should radically challenge those of us in ministry. After all, at the very heart of Jesus’s life and teaching is the ideal of a compassion that is intimate and intense (Greek splanchnizomai), rather than simply a basic compassion (Greek eleeo). Jesus’s whole existence was one of standing alongside “the other” and championing God’s deep, unconditional love for all his children. Our call, which is both simple and challenging, is to follow that model of radical compassion.
“The life of Jesus suggests that to be like God is to show compassion” (Brennan Manning)
For more on this theme, see chapter 5 “Radical Compassion” in The Compassion Quest.
Thanks to Revd Rosie Dymond for helping me formulate some of my thoughts in this blog post.
Another very interesting and positive article Trystan. And once again Mr Morrissey’s lyrics provoke discussion – I Have Forgiven Jesus is one of the beat tunes on the album.
Thanks for not ignoring this important issue and for highlighting the obvious (you would think) Christian response.
I wholeheartedly agree with the need to be compassionate and loving and including. Jesus would have us behave as no other way. But as he showed us when speaking with huge compassion to the women caught in adultery, He also requires us to turn from our sins. Yes, he walked with the two on the road to Emmaus without asking them to turn but He was clear on the need to repent and turn. As Andy Stanley writes in ‘Deep and Wide’ we should ‘carpet bomb with grace’ but be courageous with the truth. BTW – St Mike’s in Aber is coming up – I hope you apply! God Bless
I think that when reflecting on an issue like this, we need to carefully think about what it means to have compassion. It seems to me that Trystan is saying that the only way the Church can be compassionate is by accepting relationships between two people of the same sex. In other words, being compassionate means saying “yes.” But is that always the case? Can it be that by saying “no” you are also being compassionate? Absolutely. In this case, let us understand what the Church means by saying “no.” The Church is very clear about the gravity of sexual relations between two men and women. But I’m afraid that we are too quick to go to the whole sex thing. The question really begins with what love really is. Is love merely the affection that two people have for each other? No. For the Catholic, Love was made incarnate and dwelled among us and died on a cross for the remission of sin. And every time you walk into a Catholic church, you have His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in that tabernacle waiting for you to adore HIm. He is Love. And it is through Him that we are called to love as He loved us.
Does that imply a romantic/sexual relationship? No. It is a call to service from the One who came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). And we can all serve in many different ways. The Lord in his goodness can reserve certain ways of service for certain people. One of those ways is Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman, who are created to share in that creative power that belongs to God. That isn’t to denigrate those men and women with same-sex attraction who are just as equal in dignity as men and women who are straight. For the man or woman who identifies as gay or lesbian, this is something very unique. And the Church recognizes that and knows for sure that they are in no way responsible for being gay or lesbian. Yet, as human beings, we still give full consent of the will to whatever we do romantically/sexually. That’s what the Church is condemning. But let us not come to the conclusion that when the Church speaks out on an issue like this, that the Church is calling gay men and women inherently evil. The Church is emphasizing their humanity. Our Lord told us that in order to follow Him, we need to carry the Cross. What does that mean for those who identify as gay or lesbian? Well, as difficult as the teachings of Holy Mother Church are, it means following the teachings of the Church we believe truly to be founded by Him. In essence, the call to service through chastity and celibacy isn’t God punishing, but rather God calling his children with same-sex attraction and telling them “You are mine. I want you to serve me by sacrificing yourself for my sake.” This is a compassionate “no.” He is calling you in this particular way not because He hates you but because He loves you enormously and believes that you can consecrate yourselves to Him and He’ll take care of the rest.
As for the Apostolic Nuncio’s remarks, it is evident that they were rather blunt and harsh, but they were said out of true compassion for souls. As a priest, he is in charge of the care for souls, including that of Chris Bryant. And because he was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ, he is robed in the authority of Jesus Christ. Our Lord, as compassionate as He was, was also tough on this Earth. Let us not forget why the Blessed Lord came to Earth. It was to save us from sin. And at times that means being quite tough, like in this case.
Reblogged this on matt's musings .
Thanks for a very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I think the relational and pastoral issue is a hugely significant issue that has and is so often overlooked. Steve Chalke’s paper and follow up around this whole area are key for me in this, opening up space for much greater dialogue, compassion, understanding is so important and I think Steve’s article, your blog and your excellent book all foster that space in a really compassionate and compelling and liberating way
Thanks for the blog it was excellent. It’s the age old conundrum of trying to hold to scriptural teachings on the nature of the sin and yet somehow enfolding it with love and compassion not condemnation or exclusion. Jess warned us that the Christian path is a difficult one and this whole issue underlines this. However all too many Christians take the broad path of turning all this into a black and white question of accept or condemn and Jesus does not sanction that way or that attitude. Love comes at the head of the fruits of the Spirit and it is at the heart of the Christian faith. All else must radiate from this centre.
God bless. Mark
Ps I mistyped Jess when I meant Jesus (of course)
Keven has done a rather nice job of explaining all of this, and I do not need to add much more.
Each of us is created in the image of God, and we are called to be much more than simply our sexuality. Those who embrace homosexuality tend to focus on their homosexuality to the exclusion of all other aspects of themselves, which is not at all what God intended. For those who want to live a godly life, God will provide strength to live a chaste life, even as a homosexual.
The idea that the Church has something to apologize for with regard to homosexuals is simply wrong. The Church has consistently spoken God’s Truth on the matter. Particular individuals may be a different matter.
The idea that we would “forgive Jesus” is blasphemy. Jesus was without sin, and therefore there is absolutely nothing of which we can accuse Jesus. It is simply human arrogance to think that we might presume to judge Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, and find Him in need of our forgiveness! Gag!!
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I truly enjoyed reading your post. It rang true within my spirit. Personally, my daughter and I follow the same belief that unconditional love should be the Christian response to anyone regardless of who they are. We have been alienated for such beliefs within the Christian people. However, it is refreshing to find others who are of like-mind (with the mind of Christ) as we are. I have recently began a blogging portal for positive global and social change called Reia’s World. I hope that it will become a large voice for those without one; further, a place of both challenge and serenity. I would love for you to stop by and share! Be well.