There has been much in the media of recent about the rather fraught view of religion by other parts of society. On this occasion, I’m thinking in particular of the Church of England’s (and to be fair, most other Christian denominations) response to gay marriage and of course the well-publicised vote on whether women should be allowed to become Bishops in the Church of England.
I find it an interesting discussion for a number of reasons not least because I am a Christian and an Independent Social Worker so find myself asking whether the two can co-exist without being at loggerheads for much of the time. On the one hand, they appear to be best friends; after all principles such as compassion, self-less giving, openness and honesty and shared between the two. Prior to being a welfare state wasn’t welfare provided by family and caring neighbours? On the other hand they appear to be poles apart and the (media’s interpretation of) views of Christians have become the very definition of inequality and discrimination: Being reported as an outdated, irrelevant religion whose demise is imminent.
All this has led to the media and bloggers alike asking whether God has become irrelevant or in Katy Campbell’s blog questioning whether God requires a bit of PR to continue in contemporary society.
I think a part of the problem is that people are confusing religion with the Christian’s view of God. For a Christian, God created everything in the beginning, has always and will always co-exists as Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit. Whilst Christians identify that individuals can have a relationship with God who is perfect, religion is largely man-made and often where the problems exist. The problems don’t necessarily lie in the fact that people believe in God or any other god for that matter.
Does God need a make-over? If you ask a Christian they would say that to suggest that he does would be to acknowledge that he isn’t actually God so in itself is an absurd question. Does the Christian church need a make-over to bring it in line with contemporary society and more in line with Biblical principles?
Another issue is the Bible which is of course the Christians’ book of choice. A Christian will tell you that it is one of the means through which someone gets to know God. It has itself been under scrutiny of recent particularly when discussions about gay marriage have been raised. The reason being that the Bible sets out a clear framework for marriage; Christians believe that it is an institution ordained by God and a union between a man and women. That is why most Christians will be against gay marriage. Not because they are homophobic but because it is contrary to the foundation of their faith.
So, perhaps the issue isn’t that God requires a make-over or that the foundations of the Christian faith should somehow be remodeled because to suggest such a thing is surely questioning whether any religion is valid.
Challenging post, Gary: thank you. However … and you knew that however was coming, didn’t you? With apologies upfront for the length of this comment…
1. The Bible does not set out a clear framework for marriage: what the Bible offers is many depictions of marriage, the most common of which is polygamy, so you’re right when you refer to “a union between a man and women” — was that deliberate, or a typo? Be that as it may, see this Patheos post for a good overview of what the Bible presents us with: The Varieties of Biblical Marriage or do a Google image search for ‘biblical marriage’. The problem we’re up against is a noisy bunch of conservative/fundamentalist Christians who have seized upon their own narrow beliefs about marriage and presented that ‘one man, one woman’ model as the “biblical definition of marriage” and the media, too idle on the whole to do any research, have swallowed it whole.
2. SOME Christians believe, etc etc — I too am a Christian and I do not believe that marriage is “an institution ordained by God”: I believe it is a human convention which God has seen fit to bless; it is a gift from God, rather like the Sabbath, of which Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath” — and I think if we could hear his voice we’d find him saying much the same thing about marriage today. As for it being a union between a man and a woman or women: that’s the way we’ve developed it (or the way it’s evolved, depending on your point of view), but I see no reason for it to stop there.
Let’s ask what marriage is about: is it about the legitimisation of children? That’s been part of it, certainly: preserving bloodlines and passing on property. But what does God have to say about that? See God act: he fathers a bastard to save the world! Christmas, the birth of that bastard, is the Christian God’s answer to that convention: when he becomes one of us and lives amongst us, a homeless vagabond with no property to his name. Ah, how we like to wrap Christmas up in tinsel and fairy lights but the reality was a child born in poverty to an unmarried woman who relied on gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee.
What then is marriage about? It’s about faithfulness: that’s what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; Israel lambasted by the prophets for her unfaithfulness to God; the church called in the New Testament to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!
What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — an echo of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God.
“Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it,” says the Lord, “therefore I will find a people who will honour it.”
Does God need a makeover? No: we do; and God, as ever, holds it out to us.
I’m kind of glad the ‘however’ came Phil because your comments are really thoughtful. Thanks for taking the time to comment. On a personal level I actually agree with most of what you say. An interesting typo ‘women’! Thanks for spotting it, I did actually mean woman just for the record. My sweeping statements and generalisations are not necessarily my own views and have been included purely to promote conversation.
I do agree with your point about marriage being a gift from God to enrich peoples’ lives and also your points about successful marriage (and in fact a general theme with God) being about faithfulness rather than going through the correct motions. Christianity would be a little different today if people actually worked out why they believe what they do rather than follow a particular religion or set of beliefs purely because of historical or cultural sentiment.
” God created everything in the beginning…”
No he did not. Put your Bible down and have a good read off Gerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True” or for a really good explanation of why we are not evidence of intelligent design try Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish.” In terms of evolution both the CofE and the Catholic tyranny accepted evolutionary theory ages ago. (God thus lit the blue touch paper and then buggered off for around 4.2 billion years while we started our very slow descent out of the trees and thence out of Africa.)
That aside what is really worrying me is the amount of shit bombs being thrown at UKIP recently. Sure they have some odd candidates and have taken a strange line on gay marriage. But they are after all a political party and so will inevitably morph and give expression to differing views. I can live with this because the Labour Party has it’s obnoxious crew as well.( I can remember David Blunkett on QT once as decribing homosexuality as a vile abomination.)
What really surprises me is just how bigoted some social workers can be. Here in Brum I once worked alongside SC&H teams helping to prepare a JAR review and I can tell you that some of the Jamaican social workers from a Pentecostal background and Africans from an evangelical tradition have the most revolting views on homosexuality. I shudder to think of what the Hijab wearing Muslim social workers thought, not just on gay rights but on a whole range of issues. And yet Birmingham City Council employs these people.
I know that people are going to come back with the “it’s left at the door” stuff but that really just won’t do; you wouldn’t, for example, knowingly employ a police officer who was a member of the BNP or EDL so why do social services departments see fit to employ religous fascists?
Thanks for your thoughts Jo. I’m sure that not everyone who professes some kind of faith is a religious fascist! You do make an interesting point though about personal morals and values verses professional responsibility. When considering One might hope that the two aren’t mutually exclusive because I’m not sure that personal values can be left at the door. I think you’ll find bigots in every walk of life: My experience of some Christians is that their intention is not that they mean to be bigoted, rather they can’t really explain why they believe what they do they just believe and that is perhaps when we get views (particularly around gay marriage) that appear (and in some cases are) bigoted.
Ah I have managed to get through. It took three goes, unlike others on this web-site I will say where I am coming from. Firstly I am a white working class Conservative voter, and I very much doubt that I am unique, as only 1% of the adult population earn more than £120,000 and they pay 27% of the direct taxes in this country. Oh I have a good idea, let us drive them into tax exile, so we can pay more taxes, you like that idea don’t you? Secondly I am a republican, meritocratic and Atheist Conservative. I believe the last person to enter Parliament with good intentions was Oliver Cromwell, when he said, “In the name of God, for Christ’s sake go”. Oh and by the way I think a lot of what is said on this site is cant, unfortunately not Emmanuel Kant.
May I frst ask those intelectual tiros Phil Broom and Jo Baker to quote to me the passages in the Bible which praise specifically Gay relationships, and Gay marriage. I will point out I am an Atheist who knows my Bible well; I would like Chapter and verse, and I will look at several translations.
Jo Baker raves about Christian tyranny – did she actually confront the Pentecostal African-Caribbeans, or the Muslims. I very much doubt that she did, and I look forward to proof of her bravery on this subject. I am an Atheist. In relation to religious Societies I could only be an open Atheist in Christian countries, there is no country in north Africa, the near east, Iran, or indeed Pakistan where I could state this openly. This is true throughout history. Omar Khayam was a believer in transmigration of the soul, and at least a borderline Atheist, but he dared not state this, in what at that time was a moderately tolerant Muslim society.
And Phil Broom! Hetero-sexuals are to blame for bringing marriage into disreput. Does he not realise that before the end of 2005 the first civil partnership was dissolved; five weeks is a life-time in Gay terms.
By the way Jo Baker, I will repeat the first thing I ever said on this site – if I had a thousand pound for every trade union official or Labour Party member who stated openly, in my work place in local goverment, if you vote Conservative you should not be employed by the Local Authority, I would have been able to retire in 1990. in myview the only extremists in Britrish society are the political left, who would left to their own devices limit freedom of speach, and engage in both political and reliugious persecution.
Hello Gookworm (well, y’know, if I’m Phil Broom…). Sorry, did I say the Bible praises gay relationships? Can’t see it there myself. Once again, however: it is heteros who have brought marriage into disrepute: gays have not yet been given the opportunity (at least not here in the UK). Will gay marriages prove more stable than hetero? We don’t know; but I daresay having seen the mess heteros have made of it, those who opt for it will not do so lightly. Many gay couples have said, quite plainly, they’re not interested in marriage; at present, however, they have no choice in the matter: that’s the inequity that I think needs to be redressed.
How refreshing to have a dissenting voice. As someone whose work colleague (a vet surgeon) long ago described me as a conservative with a ‘small c’ I admit that I find extremes of position disquieting, as I do people who make judgements on others without reflecting deeply on their own lives, behaviours and actions.
Bookworm, I praise your thinking and reflective ability. We need this. Political affiliations matter not a toss, but out ability to take a wider and more balanced view of all behaviours, including of self, and broader knowledge do. Unfortunately insightful self awareness is not common and self deception is, especially with those who wear ‘labels’ of authority attached to their name.
(Jo, belief in evolution and creation don’t have to be mutually exclusive: I believe that God created everything — through evolution; and that creative process is ongoing. Not so much a case of God lighting a blue touch paper and buggering off, as you put it — more a case of God strapping on an explosive vest, stepping into an empty room, and detonating it: God explodes, our reality begins, bits of God scattered everywhere. Kinda messy, I’ll give you that, but on balance it seems to be working…)
(comment in brackets as it’s wandering off at a bit of a tangent)
sorry but you can’t use Christian faith as an excuse for being homophobic the bible says lots of things if it’s all the word of God who decides what to follow ? people do that’s who people are deciding not to treat gay and lesbian people as their equals nothing to do with upholding Christian teachings and if i remember right even the last pope accepted evolution
Thanks bc for your thoughts. I’m not entirely sure what point you’re making by identifying that the last pope accepted evolution. You’re definitely right that no set of beliefs should be used as an excuse for being homophobic. That said, differing views about marriage doesn’t make one homophobic. An interesting point about what parts of the Bible should be considered as a blueprint for life. After-all there are some pretty unsavory characters in the Bible.
I have been bloked from responding twice to this site, is this because the Left simply do not accept free speach?
Not at all. I can’t find any reason from checking the site why you might have been blocked. If you have any problems commenting let me know and I’ll sort it out.
Thank you very much, as you will see, I did get through. It was probably my incompetance, which is legendary. My first respoinse was more humorous – as i quoted the Gathas and the Yasnas!
By the way, Many decades ago I was invited to the party of a gay work colleague and decided out of curiosity to go, along with select tolerant others from the work place. The thing I found most shocking was the host saying he had slept with all the men in the room, one of whom was a handsome chap with his wife… she did not stand a chance. It brought home to me how fidelity is not the lexicon in gay groups (also noted with other gay friends).
“It brought home to me how fidelity is not the lexicon in gay groups (also noted with other gay friends).”
…Hmm, remember when a friend of mine completed his first Open University summer school where the majority of participants were hetero. Infidelity seemed to be the norm!
Indeed. Anyone who thinks infidelity or promiscuity is either a gay or a straight thing needs to get out more.
My personal opinion on gay marriage is that things will probably pan out in a similar manner to the debate on gay people serving in the armed forces – lots of people insisting the sky will fall down, and a few years later everyone wondering what all the fuss was about.
A few more comments Mr Gloom, i mean Groom. I hope not to be too irrelevant.
I also know a few hetero-sexuals who have married for some fairly trivial reasons; usually the wedding party, and frankly this does not impress me at all. I also know of quite a few hetero-sexuals who have been unfaithful in their relationships. In a few marriages there is an understanding that both parties will have other sexual relationships, as is the case in quite a few Gay relationships. My comment about the Gay perception of fidelity came from a ‘Gay’ comedy programme, so perhaps some Gay people share my perception.
It is my experience that the vast majority of hetero-sexuals try their best to make their partnerships work, and are usually devestated when they fail – even if they want the relationship to end. You do not seem to share that perception.
On macro-scale however in the twentieth century Atheistic socialist regimes exterminated, by execution, starvation or forced labour 100,000,000 people – some of them because they were homosexual. This is more than the black death, the Mongols, all the religious maniacs, and right wing dictators, including Adolf Hitler, combined. Any Atheist, and i include myself in this ought to consider this fact when accusing religious people of bigotry.
I managed a Fostering and Adoption Service, in which most of the applicants were African-Caribbean, and for want of a better term, devout Christians; we also assessed some, again for want of a better term, conservative muslims; we also assessed some Gay couples. Some of each were recommended by a Fostering and Adoption panel, which had reprentation from the gay community, and some other people who had similar concerns about Christians as expressed elsewhere on this site. I had to say that each approval was a frustrating running battle, which i personally would have loved to have avoided. It is likely that many of these couples would not have been approved by some local authorities, for the idealogical reasons asserted in this stream. This is one reason why i say social work is still full of idealogy.
Here is cunundrum – I can quite see, and have some sympathy with the concerns of the gay lobby, what happens, if this devout Christian couple are confronted with a Gay teenager? on the other hand if society wants children in care or adopted to have good outcomes placing with married devoutly religious people is a pretty good way of achieving this objective.
The statistics are overwhelming in this regard. Within marriage; marriages between the devoutly religious last longer than among the nominally religious; and marriages tend to last longer than other forms of cohabition. Religious couples tend, ( I would cite here the Black muslim movement in the USA, who are viewed as highly employable by all major American corporations) to have a strong work ethic. Believe it or not stopping together and having a strong work ethic are both good for children, and good examples to children. Religious couples tend to be educationaly aspirational, and have good education outcomes; they tend to have some concept of agape, ie non-sexual love, which in many cases they pass on to their children. The children of religious couples are less likely to develop drink or drug problems or divorce themselves. I emphasise the less likely.
On a theological point the Bible cannot be a confortable read for the Gay community; but let us look at the underlying reason for this. The Bible is not just against Gay sex, it is against all sex outside of marriage, and for the creation of children. I am lucky I do not have to agree to it; as far as i am aware, and I have spoken to representatives of several, what you would call extremely bigotted churches, about the ‘coming out’ issue, and the answer is that these churches are not against the urge to be gay, and they except that is what is you; they cannot condon the act of gay sex as they see it as sin. The same churches would see some of my sexual acts, and perhaps of others on this web-site as equally sinful. Oddly they do not discrimate against gay people, but view everyone who commits sexual acts outside of marriage the same in this regard.
When reading reports on devout Christians or conservative Muslims I am not preoccupied with the Gay issue, but with something far more relevant to the protection of children. I am looking for evidence as to how they view bad behaviour, and in particular if they see bad behaviour by children as the work of the devil, and critically what this would permit them to do to the child. This I think is the main lesson that should have been learnt from the Victoria Climbie debacle.
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