Even when I was a campanologist (no sniggering at the back), ringing the bells at our village church, I didn’t believe in God. Ok, I was only a teenager, and I was only ringing the bells each Sunday as the lesser of two evils. It was that or being a choirboy. You’ll understand why I chose Plain Bob Minor.
I had a typical rural upbringing. I lived in a quiet north Essex village near Saffron Walden, went to the local C of E Primary School, my mother did the church flowers once a month to keep up with the Jones’s, and every so often we’d be dragged along to the Sunday morning service to take Holy Communion. I hated the wafer thin fake bread and loathed the red wine even more.
I remember sitting there willing the hour away. I quite liked the hymns, but I just couldn’t get my head around reciting a whole lot of religious doggerel worshipping some supreme being. By that stage I didn’t believe in Father Christmas or fairies at the bottom of the garden. My father rarely came to church, but on one occasion that he ventured there I remember the vicar saying rather sarcastically how nice it was to see him there. He snapped back: “I don’t need to attend church every Sunday to prove my Christian credentials, I do that every day of the week.”
There are two sorts of Christians – those whose entire life and philosophy is governed by strict adherence to scripture, and those who try to live their life by what they think Jesus Christ would have done, or would have wanted. And this brings me (at long last!) to my point.
The Anglican Church, of which the Church of England is the leading player, is split asunder on the issue of homosexuality. Just recently the leaders of the Anglican Church voted to sanction the US Episcopal Church for its liberal stance on homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular. It was a murky decision which some felt that their valued they hold vital to Christian empathy and inclusion were sacrificed on the altar of what Bishop Stephen Lowe called the “altar of false unity for Anglican Communion.”
If marriage is such a great institution – and it is – why is it that some of the more recidivist members of various religions find it so wrong that gay people want to access its benefits too. How does my being married to a man, threaten or undermine anyone else’s marriage or relationship?
Some Christians cling on to the fact that the Old Testament is quite clear about the evils of homosexuality. But it’s also clear about the evils of eating shellfish, the evils of wearing mixed fibres, and that the best way to deal with adulterous women was to stone them. However, depending on which translation you read, the New Testament barely mentions homosexuality. Just as importantly, if a ‘New’ New Testament was written today, does anyone seriously think that there would be any condemnation of homosexuality at all?
Those Christians would do well to actually study the life and beliefs of Jesus Christ himself. I may not believe in God, but I do believe Christ existed. And from what I know he would be one of the last people to condemn anyone who found true love. And even if he still abided by the belief than ‘man shall not lie with man’ he would be compassionate and empathetic to those men who did. Or do. He certainly wouldn’t want anyone publicly shamed, stoned or thrown off the top of a building.
I’m afraid there is no way of keeping the Anglican Church united. Women bishops started the fragmentation. Gay vicars and gay marriage is likely to lead to a schism. The dogmatic and recidivist views of the African Anglican Churches will never reconcile with the increasingly liberal attitudes displayed by many in the leadership of the Church of England or the US Episcopal Church.
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and formerly an ordained Priest, has decided that enough is enough and he has quit the church. Many other gay and lesbian Christians believe that fighting the fight from within is still the best way forward. Time will tell who is right.
This article first appeared in the April edition of ATTITUDE Magazine