God working in the House of Commons

With the release of the Pilling report yesterday (a subject that I will comment on briefly later) I felt compelled to re-release this piece I wrote when same-sex marriage was being debated in the House of Commons.

 

7:20pm, Tuesday 5th February 2013; the results of the House of Commons debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill came in; 400 for, 175 against, a majority of 225. [1] In political terms this was nothing short of a landslide.

As I was waiting for the results I realized I was actually nervous. I’ve not been interested in politics for a long time but this had my attention, I thought it would be close and when the results came in I actually cheered!! I put a quote from a conservative MP on my Facebook on how this issue was irrelevant and there were more important things to worry about. Sentiments that were echoed by Sky News political correspondent Glen Oglaza. [2] Whilst there are other important issues to tackle, my reactions made me realize that this wasn’t an irrelevant topic. This was an issue that struck at the heart of discrimination and all the work that’s been done over the last 200 years or so to banish it from our society. The results of this vote sent a very clear message – discrimination should not be tolerated on any level.

The battle at times has been pitched as religion versus homosexuality. Images used by the media [3] have done nothing to stem that view. But it’s just not as simple as that. There are many Christians who have opposed this bill, that’s an inescapable fact. But there are many Christians who have supported this bill. I regularly posted pictures and articles in support of the bill; I emailed my MP imploring them to vote yes. When the government released its consultation, I voiced my support for it providing churches had the right and legal backing if they wish to not conduct such a ceremony. In the bill, the government have put what they call a “quadruple lock” which consists of the following:

1. No religious organization or individual minister is compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

2. It is unlawful for religious organizations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organization’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.

3. Amendment the 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

4. The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples [4]

I am happy that these measures satisfy my concerns. Probably won’t stop someone challenging them in the European Court of Human Rights but the government can’t stop that*. Outside of Christianity, there were some gays who didn’t want this bill to go through or are simply not bothered though I concede they were very few in number. Some rejected the bill on the stance of tradition, politics and the fact gay couples had access to civil partnerships. Some see same-sex marriages as a step to devaluing and destroying the institute of marriage (though on a personal note, heterosexuals seem to be doing that on their own) Lets be open though, there are some Christians who don’t like gays, there are some gays who don’t like Christians. Some like Labour MP Jim Dobbin, feels this whole debate has simply widened the gap between the 2 groups [5] but I will come onto that more later.

The role of religion in western society inevitably comes up in this discussion and Professor Richard Dawkins is set to discuss this subject with Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury. [6] There was a time when state laws were based on religious views and seemed to change depending on the denomination of whoever was on the throne. In the Middle East, their laws are still directly based on or influenced by religious views (sex before marriage is illegal in Morocco) But the UK is neither in the Middle East or the middle ages. Whilst you cannot expect people to put their religious views to one side when discussing topics (faith simply doesn’t work like that) a government of a multicultural country cannot pander to the demands of one section alone. In a multicultural country, you will never please everyone and that’s why I didn’t’ envy the task faced by the members of the House of Commons yesterday. Inevitably some will see the results of yesterday’s vote as a pandering to the gay community and the trampling on of religious expression. With the government consultation, everyone got to have their say, the majority of respondents were in favor (though the margin seems to vary depending on which article you read) and the government have taken into account religious views with the quadruple lock. Frankly, I don’t see what more they could have done.

The political fallout of this result is still to come. The bill still has to get through the House of Lords and whilst the Prime Minister David Cameron, who pushed the yes vote hard, got his wish, it papers over some scary reading for him. Out of the 175 who voted against the bill, 136 came from his own party, 35 didn’t vote and a further 5 voted for both yes and no, essentially abstaining. Only 127 members of the Conservative Party voted in favor of the bill [7], meaning he needed his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the opposition party, Labour, to get the bill through. This is a point Ed Milliband, leader of the opposition, will not be slow in bringing up. Also, those who essentially lost the vote will very quickly go from licking their wounds to sharpening their knives. This is far from over.

As for the religious fall out, the ongoing theological discussion is complicated as most theological discussions are. Do the passages in the Old Testament still apply? Was Paul referring to all homosexual behavior? Would God bless a monogamous same-sex relationship? I’ve been involved in these discussions for some time (and I’ve blogged previously on them [8]) and it can become a mess very quickly. But Justin Lee, director of the Gay Christian Network has produced some great work in not only trying to help make sense of the issues, but to bridge the gap between the Christian and gay communities; a gap I alluded to earlier. He’s recently released a book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” (or “Unconditional: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” as it is here in the UK [9]) dedicated to doing just that. He’s also contributed to a debate on GayChristians.net on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The link to the debate can be found in the other articles section of Evidence2Hope. American blogger Rachel Held Evans has started a series on sexuality to attempt to bring some clarity and understanding to the issue of sexuality and the churches approach to it. [10] More discussion and dialogue is needed as the traditional go-to answer of “homosexuality is a sin” is too basic and does nothing to help the situation and the work of the above mentioned people, along with many others, cannot be underestimated and should be applauded.

I have no doubt that where will be cries of “this vote is indicative of a society who’s abandoned God” and “any Christian who voted for this is denying Christ” Well Jesus once said that one of the greatest commandments was to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) He also went on to explain that our enemies are among those neighbours in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) Jesus ended that parable very interestingly:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

I see the result of the bill vote as a practical application of those 2 commandments. Gays are our neighbors, they deserve the love and respect that we would expect to be treated with ourselves. People may have issues with homosexuality from a theological standpoint but how is restricting their rights, or trying to give them something different (in this case civil partnerships that simply say “you’re not good enough for marriage, here have this instead”) showing love? The short answer for me is that it doesn’t and it seems that atheists/secularist seem to get that more than some Christians do.  Not sure why homosexuals get singled out, Jesus seemed fairly explicit on the subject:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

I don’t see any campaigns to make sex before marriage illegal.

Just to end wrap this all up, people talk about God working in society, I think this is one such example. It’s just reminded me of a quote from Futurama;

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all” [11]

 

References:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21347719 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[2] http://news.sky.com/story/1046625/gay-marriage-not-the-biggest-issue-for-voters (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[3] http://media.skynews.com/media/images/generated/2013/2/5/219649/default/v2/no-campaigners-1-252×337.jpg (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18407568 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21343387 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-21220007 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21346694 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[8] http://evidence2hope.webs.com/apps/blog/show/14372765-no-matter-what

[9] http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1444745417/ref=s9_newr_gw_d70_g14_ir04?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1RSXTT6WJ6VN9T19VV1C&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=358549767&pf_rd_i=468294

[10] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/sexuality-church-opening-remarks

[11] Futurama; Godfellas.  Episode 18, Season 3. Originally aired March 17, 2002

 

First published 6th February 2013

*Since publishing this piece, a legal challenge on the block is being mounted (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10219802/First-couple-consider-legal-challenge-to-Churchs-gay-marriage-opt-out.html)

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