This week has been an interesting one for Christians in politics....
“The church must keep up with the modern world by allowing same-sex couples to marry in church”. So said the Equalities Secretary, Justine Greening MP, one of two openly gay members of the Cabinet.
She was speaking last week on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships. She is also arguing that we should make it easier for transgender people to choose their legal sex without any medical advice.
The legislation that allows same-sex couples to marry includes clauses specifically excluding the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church from doing this. The issue has divided the Churches with liberals calling for change and evangelicals opposing this. The Episcopal Church of Scotland, part of the global Anglican Communion, has voted to allow gay couples to marry in church. They are not the only UK Church to do this because the URC and the Quakers also marry same-sex couples. Division on this issue is global. The US Episcopal Church voted for gay marriage last year whilst the African Churches are so strongly opposed that they have ordained a missionary Bishop for the UK outside the jurisdiction of the Church of England to care for conservative Anglicans.
Same-sex marriage is not the only issue on which orthodox Christians are out of step with secular culture and lifestyles. Gender dysphoria and transexualism is another, also addressed by Ms Greening. Much more significant, is cohabitation as a mainstream alternative to marriage because it relates to many more people. 66% of the public see no significant difference between marriage and living together. The right for people to decide when they want to end their lives and be assisted legally to do that is another vexed issue, though it currently involves only those with serious illnesses and disabilities. So far Parliament has roundly defeated Private Members’ Bills to legalise this but another attempt will be made this session. The assumption is that, like the legalisation of homosexuality, sooner or later the law will be changed.
So how do Christians respond to these pressures? Is secularisation inevitable and irreversible or if we wait long enough might we see the tide turn? Perhaps we should humbly recognise that sometimes the Church has got it wrong. Opposition to giving women the vote came from women as well as men of faith and history has proved them wrong. On issues of sex and marriage Christians look to biblical teaching, such as Genesis 2.24 and Romans 1. Their opponents argue that we should love our LGBT neighbours and act with the grace God shows us all but is it grace to do as we please or to act as our Creator intended? Jesus’ prayer is for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, not mine. The website <www.living out.org> shows it is possible to be an orthodox Christian and be attracted to people of the same sex, whilst remaining celibate. Ed Shaw’s book ‘The Plausibility Problem’ shows from personal experience that there is a credible Christian alternative to gay marriage.
Subordinating faith to fashion, as Justine Greening proposes, is not new. St Paul observed it two millennia ago and offered this response, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy. to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12)