Monday, 5 March 2012

Cardinal O'Brien's letter: a fight Christ would never have picked

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has summed up his opposition to plans for legalised gay marriage. In the letter he calls the idea a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.

The letter is not much of a read, failing to deliver a coherent argument. The points Keith dusts off here were exhausted a decade ago:

He frets over the fate of teachers, compares gay marriage to polygamy, and claims that the stability and wellbeing provided by a heterosexual relationship cannot be provided by same sex partners. Gay rights activists will have no problem countering these ancient hymns. Keith’s hysterical reference to “homosexual fairy stories” being rolled out in Massachusetts schools (after gay marriage was legalised there in 2003) only serves to hint at something rather ugly.

Yet in one respect the letter is interesting, and that is what it says about the state of Christianity in this country. Following the Church of England’s inglorious response to the “Occupy” movement, the letter powerfully reinforces the impression of religious leaders’ utter dislocation from ordinary lives.

Legalised gay marriage “will redefine society”, says Keith. Can he really believe that? He acknowledges in his own letter that the consultation is being launched at the “behest of a small minority of activists”, failing to note that the counter campaign is, in turn, the domain of a small minority. It’s certainly of great importance to both camps – but not to the majority of British people. While many individuals may well be uncomfortable or even offended by the notion of gay marriage, few will think it an issue that will define the way they live their day-to-day lives.

“Occupy”, on the other hand, presented leaders from all Christian churches with a chance to deliver a unified message on issues with huge implications for our society. Greed and inequality are themes for which Christ provides clear guidance, yet by the time the St Paul’s camp was dismantled, organised Christian religion was left looking impotent, out of touch and divided. This letter makes matters worse.

The Cardinal has complained previously that the Church is being marginalised from “the public square”. If he wants Christianity to play a part in the shaping our society, his church and others must develop a unified voice and pick more crucial battles (Immigration? Poverty? War?) . They must stop raising hell about matters of personal choice like abortion and loving relationships. Of course they must have some position - but choosing to define themselves by these issues pushes the Church further and further to the periphery.

The greatest threat to the Church’s future is not gay marriage – it is having nothing relevant to say.

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