But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
The Church of England’s Evangelical [sic] Council has actually outdone itself.
It’s hard to imagine a more hackneyed, unimpressive, self-indulgent act of dissembling on the topic of Living in Love and Faith. This is meant to be an opportunity for members of the Church of England to listen to each other – yet it appears that the CEEC, including members of the bishops’ steering group for LLF itself, have decided that a bare-faced political assault is in order instead.
It’s hard to overstate how tired the arguments made in this shiny yet vacuous presentation are. However, it’s probably worth outlining some of them.
To start with, we hear the usual nonsense. ‘The teaching of the Bible is crystal clear’ on same-sex marriage, we hear. We are told that ‘liberals’ (whatever that means) agree that the Bible forbids same-sex relationships, yet have decided ‘we think the scriptures are wrong’. We are told that the Bible forbids relationships that ‘are similar to same sex marriage’. We are told, time and time again, that this is ‘orthodox Biblical teaching’ and that whilst there is ‘legitimate disagreement’ on women in ministry, this is absolutely not the case for LGBTQI people. This is a litany of poor exegesis (not least the reference to ‘the God-man Jesus’), a wilful disregard for biblical literacy, and frankly a blasphemous contempt for the Holy Scriptures themselves. For those at the back – there is not one way of reading the Bible. People who don’t agree with the Church of England Evangelical Council do not ignore the Bible. It’s really not that difficult to understand.
In the first few minutes, we are told that Jesus gave us a ‘lifestyle’ to follow. We are told that Jesus used his sexuality ‘perfectly’, but then in the same breath are told that this must mean that marriage is restricted to a man and a woman – without Jesus having to say a word in any of the Gospels! We are lectured on ‘Jesus’s teaching on sex’ – which, of course, didn’t mention same sex relationships whatsoever – yet we are told that any intention to open up marriage is a call to ‘forget about’ Jesus. And for good measure, it is implied that it is only people who oppose same-sex marriage that are ‘introduc[ing] this generation to Jesus’ – the self-importance and arrogance of which is breath-taking.
We are told that we ‘speak less’ of Jesus when we don’t recognise the clear binary between men and women, which will be a sad reveal for intersex people, let alone transgender folk.
Perhaps the most repugnant moment in the film is the absurd link made between the sexual revolution and MeToo – on this at least, you might think, church people might keep their mouths shut after the IICSA report. The sickening assault on children, young people and vulnerable adults was not made in a church culture seeped in the sexual revolution – whoever thought that an appropriate inclusion ought to be ashamed of themselves.
A particularly sad, but maybe telling, part of the film is the focus on those living the single life because of their ‘same-sex attraction’ [sic]. It is disturbing how many people featured seem to have hook, line and sinker bought into the very ‘sexual revolution’ that suggests that marriage (and/or sex) is required to be fulfilled. People who cannot survive without a partner do not need to ‘meet Jesus’ – they need psychotherapy. We are told that ‘if the Church of England chooses to change the doctrine of marriage [sic], it is actually oppressing a group of LGBTQI people who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ’ – indeed, it would ‘crush’ them and take away their safe space. It is difficult to find words to describe how concerning this kind of language and attitude is. The whole point of this film seems to be that if you say ‘marriage is between a man and woman’ enough times it makes it true. Hint – it doesn’t. Sexuality might well not have been ‘quite as straightforward’ as participants in this video wanted it to be – but this doesn’t mean repression is the answer (indeed, the respected psychiatrist George Vaillant would suggest it is a neurotic defence).
There is so much more that is utterly pastorally insensitive, simplistic, arrogant and crass in this video. Perhaps one final element to note is the insistence on marriage being a foretaste of Christ’s marriage with his Church as being a ‘union of difference’ – yet a blithe, and totally unsubstantiated suggestion, that such a union cannot be modelled in a same-sex relationship. But why? We are told that those who support same-sex relationships only offer half a Gospel – but why?
We are told by a bishop that she sensed ‘God’s judgement’ when thinking about this issue – how easy it is to feel God’s judgement when it is aimed towards other people. We hear proof text after proof text, glorification of the ‘suffering’ of evangelicals as they seek to hold up ‘truth’. And yet we then hear a half-hearted apology for the homophobia of the past – utterly surface level, unimpressive and lacking in integrity. Where is the serious repentance for the death of kids who killed themselves for being LGBTQI; where is the repentance for the religiously inspired violence, hatred and murder against LGBTQI people? It is a grotesque farce. And to top it all, there is the usual false equivalence made between same-sex consensual, loving relationships and adultery. Get a grip.
At the end, we are told that this is not being used as ‘blackmail’. Rubbish. What is this video, if not blackmail and threat? We hear about a third province, about the unity of evangelicals [sic] (they might do well to recognise that not all evangelicals share their general opprobrium of love). So this is how the battle lines will be drawn – no compromise, no living with difference. Pack the benches at General Synod, make this thoroughly political, and, indeed, pack the theological colleges (what a joy to see St Mellitus get a name check).
So where do we go from here? Where will the affirming voices speak out? Where are our purple-shirted prelates speaking out for us?
In any other walk of life, this kind of thing would be an embarrassment. Frankly, it remains an embarrassment to many of us in the church. But no wonder nobody bothers to walk through our doors. It is somewhat incomprehensible why some people have decided this is ‘the issue’ for them. There are moments when you have to ask – why do you care so much about where we put our genitals?
Yet, hear this – we will not be cowed by this. We will not give up the fight to respect the human dignity of all people. We will not be put to shame. The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation – you exalted my above my adversaries, you delivered me from the violent. For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.