Comments: opinions just before Lent

It seems to me that Theo Hobson is confused between articles. Andrew Motion wants a positive contribution to culture, which elsewhere Theo Hobson affirms.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 21 February 2009 at 1:44pm GMT

"So Christianity's modern task is to accept liberalism (which it helped to bring about, remember) – and to exist within it. It must offer this vision of good overcoming evil, and of history coming good, without offending against liberal principles." Theo Hobson v Julian Baggini

It strikes me that in this statement by Theo Hobson, in his debate with Julian Baggini in Times online, Theo is expressing a fundamental truth about Christianity: needing to be 'up with the play' in today's world context. We are reminded here that 'God so loved the WORLD'- not just the Church, and for the Church to continue to minister in that world, it must strive to be contemporary. Otherwise, it may just become irrelevant.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 22 February 2009 at 11:33pm GMT

It isn't that we "liberals" are anti-Jewish, it is that we are becoming anti-Israel in watching the once-oppressed becoming the oppressors.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Monday, 23 February 2009 at 7:47pm GMT

"Christianity's modern task is to accept liberalism (which it helped to bring about, remember)"

This is central to what is wrong with "conservative", and possibly "liberal" Christianity. Many of the humanist ideas that we now take for granted find their roots in the Gospel,and spring from the fact that Western society has been informed by that Gospel for the past nearly 2000 years. Even those who reject Christianity still follow these ideas: the dignity of the individual, the basic value of every human being, regardless of their actions, that no-one is beyond redemption, that we are called to help each other, that wealth is to be shared with all, not hoarded by a few (a principle that made conservative Americans apoplectic in the last election. It was actually used as an accusation against Obama, that he was so evil he wanted to "share the wealth"). These attitudes are plain as day in the Gospels. Yet conservatives ignore them in favour of judgementalism, threats, and condemnation. Liberals, on the other hand, are so enamoured of the egalitarianism of it all, they tend to forget that it is the Kingdom of God, not the Republic, nor Supreme Soviet of God, who, by virtue of being omnipotent, IS a being before whom we must stand in fear and trembling. So, smug judgementalism on one hand, and what looks a lot like hubris on the other. And all because after 2000 years, we still don't get it.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 3:00pm GMT

Ford, are you saying that 'smug judgementalism' has no truck with 'hubris'? My understanding of the truly 'liberal' outlook is that it is consonant with the Gospel promise of 'freedom' in Christ - and even in the theology of Paul.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 10:00pm GMT

Fr. Ron, no indeed. And you might understand the true liberal approach to be "consonant with the Gospel promise of 'freedom' in Christ - and even in the theology of Paul", but at times that's not what the liberal position looks like. It more often than not looks like wanton rejection of anything that isn't new, combined with an attitude that we know more than God does, and that we get to tell him what He thinks. I tend to side with the conservatives on that one, actually. I can't for instance, just ignore Paul's words about homosexuality because he was writing in another time and didn't have our modern understanding, and besides, someone wrote those things later, and the words don't really mean what we have always thought they meant, yadda, yadda, yadda. If you want to argue from the point of view that we have received a Gospel and now must seek to understand that Gospel by reading the Scriptures and trying to think with the mind of Scripture, and that this precludes the kind of Bible mining that conservatives are so fond of, fine. But those semantic arguments just bespeak a lack of something on the part of those who make them. It isn't lack of faith, altogether, but lack of something. Perhaps lack of an understanding of God as neither Superman in the Sky nor Abstract Moral Guide. Frankly, I don't like it all that much when liberals argue for my inclusion in the Church, since most of the arguments don't really seem to get it at all. It's like Merseymike's railings against the Church. For him, it's just another social institution to be opposed, like some outdated gentlemen's club. Well, if he has no more understanding of the Church than that, what's the value of his criticism? Same with a lot of liberals. That's why I'd never get married, even if the Church says I can, I no more trust the liberals arguing for it than I do the consrervatives arguing against it. And if their arguments DO come from a place of understanding, why are they so bad at showing that to the rest of us?

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 25 February 2009 at 2:27pm GMT

"That's why I'd never get married, even if the Church says I can, I no more trust the liberals arguing for it than I do the consrervatives arguing against it. And if their arguments DO come from a place of understanding, why are they so bad at showing that to the rest of us?"
- Ford Elms -

Ford. Now that you've opened up the question, I must confess that I, personally, have a problem with the thought of a same-sex relationships being called 'marriage', per se. I would have thought that the simple description of *partnership* (the term used by many heterosexual couples outside of the Church, who prefer to call their spouse 'partner' rather than husband or wife) might more realistically be used for same-sex relationships.

I detect that some conservatives (and in some ways I too may be thought of as a conservative), though they might not object to the thought of same-sex relationships as 'partnerships', they have a constitutional reluctance to apply the title 'marriage' to a same-sex partnership - believing, perhaps, that such a relationship, being incapable of producing children, might not be classed in the same category as heterosexual marriage.

In such a case (same-sex partnership) I believe that the Church should, in all conscience, see the way clear to 'Blessing' such a partnership - if the couple, as Christians, feel the need for their relationship to be recognised as a natural extension of God's love being witnessed to in their special union - unique to them. If God is Love! as the Church proclaims, then this would be an opportunity to proclaim and celebrate it.

By the way, Ford, I think that many Anglo-Catholics are both conservative and liberal - a bit like the Anglican Church being both Catholic and Reformed - so that to put us all into one category or the other is the very same mistake made by the fundamentalists who would like both categories to disappear from the scene.

Have a good and fruitful Lent and Easter.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 26 February 2009 at 10:27am GMT

"I would have thought that the simple description of *partnership* (the term used by many heterosexual couples outside of the Church, who prefer to call their spouse 'partner' rather than husband or wife) might more realistically be used for same-sex relationships."

I have business partners. The woman I am "married" to is not my business partner, however convenient the term would be for other people.
And we are not "just" living together, like many heterosexual couples who use the term "partner", precisely because they have not made deeper vows.

I accept that some people have difficulties in seeing my relationship as a marriage. And I accept that they come from all ends of the spectrum.

But I have been married to a man before, and I know what I say when I believe my current relationship to be far more of a true marriage than the previous one.

Apart from the fact that our children are not physcially both our children - a story we share with many many heterosexual married couple - there is no difference from any other good heterosexual marriage.

I'm sorry, Ford, whether you personally ever wish to marry or not cannot stop me from calling my relationship a marriage. Because that's the only word we have to describe the state and the goods of marriage, and that is precisely what my "partnership" is about.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 26 February 2009 at 11:18am GMT

Thank you, Erika, for being brave enough to open up the conversation on what, I think, is one of the most important aspects of same-sex partners living together in a fully-committed relationship - what exactly is the covenantal character of it?

I must admit that my own hesitation about calling such a partnership 'marriage', is in its context
as a type of sacramentality - which has usually been restricted to marriage between a male and a female. (I was going to add - with the prospect of procreation, but that is no longer expected of marriage where heterosexual partners are incapable - in any way - of producing their own children). However, speaking of the Sacrament of Marriage, I believe even some Roman Catholic clergy are now admitting that the sacramental commitment is between the two people involved, and that what the Church does, is add a blessing.

I guess there needs to be a whole re-think, theologically, of what the word 'marriage' may encompass. And you, Erika, have made me re-think my own ideas towards a more inclusive category of meaning - in terms of a faithful, monogamous same-sex couple. Let's hear what others think! This whole matter needs debate and reflection if ever the Church at large is going to formulate a viable policy of 'Blessing ' such unions.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 27 February 2009 at 10:11am GMT

"I'm sorry, Ford, whether you personally ever wish to marry or not cannot stop me from calling my relationship a marriage."

Erika, I have never suggested otherwise! I meant what I said offline about your relationship, and I think I've said the same online. As gently as I can, I wonder if the ease with which you see devaluation of your relationship is not a contributer here. Do you feel that the Church's refusal to marry us is a devaluation of your relationship? Is marriage really about validating relationships? I have always felt that was the least important aspect of the Sacrament, and I strongly doubt it has anything to do with the sacrament at all, actually, despite how straights have used it for 2000 years. Let me put it this way. The Eucharist is a meal, which was brought home to me this Christmas when our priest brought my father communion at home, he being unwell. We sat at the dining room table, where I ate nearly every meal in my childhood, where we played cards, laughed, joked, cried, where we waked my grandmother, and so much more, and we celebrated the Eucharist. It melted my cynical heart. Remembrance of the laughter we shared around that table has taught me how blessed I have been, now that as an adult I have friends whose childhoods weren't happy like mine, now that I have sat at their family dinners and seen that even when they are happy, they don't feel the joy that was so evident around our family table. But that Eucharist wasn't all the things I remember going on around that table. It wasn't my supper, it was something else. No meal we had around that table was a sacrament, neither were any of the laughter, the tears, the card games, all of the things that happened around that table that have been so important in making me into who I am. But that doesn't make them unimportant or invalid. I don't see how the sacrament of matrimony is any different. You have described the ill treatment you have received at the hands of the Church, and that is wrong and it makes me angry, frankly, that your bishop could seriously think you are unfit to read in church, but that's not the same thing as saying that your or my relationship is different from what the Church has for two thousand considered marriage to be, any more than calling one kind of meal a sacrament devalues other kinds of meal that aren't.

"my current relationship to be far more of a true marriage than the previous one."

That is evident in everything you say, I've never doubted it.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 27 February 2009 at 2:10pm GMT


Oh, I am cross with the church, yes. Mostly so with those in positions of influence who privately are quite liberal as far as homosexuality is concerned but don't speak out and believe that to be an honest way of living.

But, no, I genuinely don't believe that I feel the church can possibly devalue my relationship. It is outside its power to devalue any human relationships, all it can do is refuse to accept them, it cannot affect their substance.

I feel strongly about gay marriage precisely because I have been "properly" married before. Unlike many, I speak from understanding both kinds of relationship and what their true similarities and differences are.

I know gay people have traditionally not wanted to copy heterosexual relationship patterns and that has valid historic reasons.
But I'm not coming from there. I'm coming from a very conventional, traditional middle class marriage, fully integrated into church and society. A marriage concluded in a church, but not a Christian marriage because my husband had no faith and later nothing but contempt for faith.
All that has changed for me is that my new “husband” is a woman. The rest of my life is the same, my local church is the same, society is the same. Bringing up the children has the same challenges. Everyday life is the same (well, better, of course, but you know what I mean). Ironically, this is a truly Christian relationship because we both have deep faith and are – were - both active members of our local church. If anything, because of that, it is the relationship the church should recognise even more than the one that was Christian only in name.

When the only real difference between two kinds of marriage is found in a different set of genitals, then I do find it very difficult to take seriously the claim that there is something sacramentally different. You and I have both read Tobias Haller. All the goods of Christian marriage, the responsibilities of Christian marriage and the meaning of Christian marriage he describes apply just as much to gay couples. There is, genitalia apart, absolutely no difference.
To me, it is so blindingly obvious, and that’s what makes me feel quite strongly about it.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 27 February 2009 at 4:59pm GMT

Erika and Ford.

How wonderful that you both are prepared to open up to all of us on this thread about your own understandings of your separate relationships with a same-sex parter. This is holy ground! One thing I have learned from you both is that each of your situations is basically the same - that you love your partner in a way consonant with what Christ speaks about in the gospels, mirroring that of Christ for his Church.

I am inclined to believe what some of my Roman Catholic priest friends have told me about their understanding of 'marriage' - that the couple themsleves are the 'instrument of their marriage' in a way that is 'sacramental', and that the Church merely adds its blessing.

The only question remaining now for me, personally, is whether, or not, a same-sex partnership needs the title of 'marriage', when any covenanted relationship between two people can be considered - even by the Church - for what it is, a Covenant Relationship?

A peripheral problem with calling a same-sex relationship by the title of 'marriage', is: what do you call your partner in these circumstances?
Do you introduce them to your friends as my wife, or my husband?

I ask this question because, this very morning I was aware, when presiding at the Eucharist, of the presence of a couple whom I knew to be a trans-sexual woman and her female wife, unknown to anyone but myself in this congregation. I realised their difficulty in introducing their respective partner. When I first met them in another parish situation, the wife said: "We are not lesbians, she is my husband". I quickly cottoned on to the real situation, and found myself introducing them, initially to the congregation as companions - until, in a more intimate context of a parish meeting, I was able (with their explicit permission) to explain the true relationship, urging upon the parishioners to respect them as fellow Christians.

This, I believe, can be a problem for everyone who is known to be married - whether 'straight', gay or trans-sexual. The biological female in this situation has now elected not to accompany her legal husband on any excursion where unusual embarrassment might ensue. How, I wonder, can this be overcome by such couples who want to be recognised as truly 'married"?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 12:34am GMT

Fr Ron

What to call the love of my life? I have no idea!
There was a wonderful radio programme last week talking about just how difficult it is to find the right terminology here.

It's not just about what we would choose, although that could be a start. It's also about not being strident, not offending people around us who haven't thought about this issue - strangely, there are large numbers of people who still genuinely have not ever had the need to think about same sex relationships.

And so we try to feel our way into every single situation. Sometimes we do say "partner", sometimes we just explain the relationship and then use first names only, sometimes we say "civil partner", although I detest that legalistic sounding term.

You see, just as “marriage” is really the only word we have for expressing the kind of relationship we share, so “husband” and “wife” are really the only words that express all the meanings of this relationship: the political, the private, the commitment, the responsibility, privilege, the closeness…..

Maybe we should throw the question to all of you -what would be appropriate terms that truly express everything that is contained in the words husband and wife?

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 4:20pm GMT

What you have said here, Erika, in response to my question of what to call your partner in terms of the relationship you have together, when people ask you. I think you have perhaps the only response you can give at the moment, which is to act sensitively; to both your partner and those who enquire as to the terms of relationship. I have known personally of a congregation of people whose attitude has changed, because of their exposure to the integrity of such a relationship.

The word 'courtesy' springs to mind, which, I believe in this circumstance, is absolutely critical. And each couple must make up their own mind(s) about how to address this important matter of identification. Also, congregations need to be prepared to test the credibility of such relationships - in terms of the couple's involvement in the every-day affairs of their parish.

Of course, if one was part of a loving congregation, which has been exposed to the Christian philosophy of non-judgementalism, then things might get easier as people get to know the parties concerned, and are able to observe their loving-kindness each to the other. This, I think, is one of the opportunities for the congregation to test the biblical theory: "By their fruits you shall know them". (Of course, the inclusive attitude of the parish clergy is an essential element in such negotiations).

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 1 March 2009 at 10:19am GMT
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