Thinking Anglicans

Christians and gay rights

Atheists: the bigots’ friends is the headline over a comment article in today’s Guardian by Giles Fraser. The strapline reads: Most Christians back gay rights – and to claim otherwise only boosts the fundamentalists.

The article starts:

Media atheists are fast becoming the new best friends of fundamentalist Christians. For every time they write about religion they are doing very effective PR for a fundamentalist worldview. Many of the propositions that fundamentalists are keen to sell the public are oft-repeated corner-stones of the media atheist’s philosophy of religion.

Both partners in this unholy alliance agree that fundamentalist religion is the real thing and that more reflective and socially progressive versions of faith are pale imitations, counterfeits even. This endorsement is of enormous help to fundamentalists. What they are really threatened by is not aggressive atheism – indeed that helps secure a sense of persecution that is essential to group solidarity – but the sort of robustly self-critical faith that knows the Bible and the church’s traditions, and can challenge bad religion on its own terms. Fundamentalists hate what they see as the enemy within. And by refusing to acknowledge any variegation in Christian thought, media atheists play right into their hands…

Read it all.


  • Tom Allen says:

    In the hope of finding some more informed and stimulating journalism I have just switched my daily paper from the Guardian to The Independent (just started today and its an improvement so far) and from The Church Times to the Tablet for my weekly religious read. It is the occurence of this kind of fantasty journalism represented in The Guardian and Church Times which suggests I have made the right choice. Its very clever in a liberal intellectual kind of way but it does not relate to reality.

  • John R says:

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about this article is the reaction it evokes in the comments – not ‘Well said, Dr Fraser, that’s the sort of Christianity we want to hear about!’, but rather a lot of hostility from what appear to be lots of atheists who think the whole Christian thing is patently ridiculous, even in its Liberal form. This raises the question of what the Liberal enterprise can hope to achieve. Like Bultmann’s attempts to make the gospel more ‘receivable’ in his generation, is it a doomed exercise evangelistically, or doesn’t it matter if nobody is listening?

  • Simon Morden says:

    If I may… Giles is on a hiding to nothing (as evidenced by the comments after the article), but it still needs to be said. In our multi-media world, it’s the brashest, noisiest, most offensive opinions that make the best news. “Moderate Christians have slight misgivings about some aspects of the SoR” or “Church politely requests clarification from someone who knows about these things – preferably over tea” just doesn’t cut it, does it?

    Meanwhile, we also have to ask – does it profit the media atheist to give lots of air-time and column inches to the shallow end of the swimming pool? Probably, yes. Can we do anything about it? Probably, no. Let’s be honest – whilst our opinions are interesting, they won’t sell newspapers.

  • Eric MacDonald says:

    Astonishingly, Fraser says nothing about fundamentalists themselves. He does not criticize them. He does not point fingers at fundamentalists in his own church. He does not call them to account. Who does he blame? Atheists! Good God. Has the man no shame?!

  • “Conflict makes for good news”. “Sensationalism sells papers”. Or even “The Emporer is wearing no clothes”.

    Giles Fraser’s article is timely. The media can and does choose to cartoonise a movement or grouping by putting forward some person/group as representing the whole. In times in history where humility matters less than ratings, where flattery is more important than justice, where the costs of victory are ignored or deferred for someone else to pay (another nation or another generation) then this cartoonisation can become rampant.

    The liberal end is being hammered on two fronts. Firstly from the conservatives who have enjoyed a dumbing down of theology leading to selfish paradigms being taken as the only legitimate interpretations. Then on the other hand, there are many liberals who hate the selfishness and hypocrisy of the religious right and take exception to the idea of taking up “right” words such as morality and higher truths. Liberal Christians end up in a nowhere land, where they are eschewed by the hard right and denounced by the atheistic liberals. But that is where the major vacuum is and that is where the strongest souls need to be. Rabbi Lerner’s Book the Left Hand of God explores this dynamic excellently, there is no reason to believe that his US findings would be different in other “modern” societies.

    The only way to stop being mice in wheels that go nowhere whilst the planet is dying around us is to jump off the wheel and move the wheel to one side. Staying on the wheel makes us look like fools, and the more engrossed we are in the motion of the wheel the harder it is to recognise good advice or the failures of our internal paradigms.

    Simon Barrow’s Ekklesia paper “Absurdity as the theatre of war” gives an excellent example of how foolish wheel obsessed mice can become:

  • Pluralist says:

    I just cannot see the point of the article. In the end, the people to criticise are those who are doing the protesting, not some others with whom we might actually agree. It is instead joining in the current fashion for having a go at the secular, which is a bit easy and a bit of a diversion at a time when the Christian ship is the rocky one.

    If the problem is media atheists bashing Christianity, then tell what the alternative is: describe what a more reasonable Christianity is, in terms of belief, from the fundamentalist one.

  • mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) says:

    Re: The Guardian and its somewhat odd take on religion – I don’t know whether it’s a general phenomenon in what we used to call Fleet Street, but I understand that at 119 Farringdon Road the proportion of staff who would self-designate as ‘Christian’ is much lower than the general population (14%?), and those who would self-designate as ‘atheist’ is much higher, perhaps a majority.

    Personally I welcome that, even if knee-jerk atheism annoys me, since knee-jerk support for Christianity encourages flabby thinking.

  • Merseymike says:

    The Guardian is certainly a paper with a strong secular presence. No bad thing in itself – but this is surely encouraged by the sheer wetness of many liberal Christians?

  • John Richardson says:

    This is what I can’t understand. Does Giles Fraser think there is some kind of ‘silent majority’ occupying the ground somewhere between atheism and fundamentalism to whom Liberal Christianity would appeal, but who can’t hear the message because of the noise made by fundamentalists and the endorsement given to them by atheists?

    Also, does he really think that the Church consists of true believers who are Liberals and the self-deluded Conservatives who only think they are believers but are not – what he calls “bigots who dress up in the clothing of faith”?

    I am wondering what sort of “Inclusive Church” (to use the name of an organisation he is involved in) Fraser’s vision of the ‘purified’ Church represents?

  • Prior Aelred says:

    Well, from this side of the pond, there seems to be much more genuine interest in religion (even if it is hostility) in The Guardian than you will find in any major papers in the USA (or so it seems to me).

    I like Giles & I do think the media does grab the extremes — Dawkins & Falwell are like mirror images of each other & both despise Lord Harries (genuine Christian, ex-Oxon). There is something deeply wrong about this.

  • Ray says:

    I’m with you on this Prior Aelred. But I think that Dawkins is a friend of Lord Harries.

  • mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) says:

    I think John Richardson rather misrepresents Giles Fraser: it is undeniable that ‘fundamentalism’ is a C20 phenomenon within Christianity (as a reactionary movement against ‘modernism’ in the form of Biblical criticism, biology, geology and the rest it could not antedate the rise of those disciplines), but I don’t think Fraser denies their right to be considered Christian. He does deny their right to be taken as the classic exemplar of the Christian faith ‘quod ubique, quod semper’.

    And in my modest parish way, I seem to encounter lots of people put off the faith by their belief that the ConsEv show (represented by Paisley, Falwell, Billy Graham and the crowd demonstrating outside various theatres, cinemas and government buildings) is the only one in town.

    As Pluralist says in another posting, it may be that classical Anglicanism is called by God to fill a particular slot in the religious universe: it’s not about appealing to ‘liberals’ (since that designation is incorrect), but about keeping the faith accessible to those with serious misgivings about the strange certainties and exemption clauses of the hard line conservatives (eg no gays, which gets minimal scriptural attention, but no problem with wealth, which comes under attack again and again). And, yes, they do come in, slowly, bit by bit — and the attrition rate is, I think, low when compared with the turnover in some evangelical chapels.

    As my old boss as a curate used to say, ‘The Anglican Church is here to demonstrate that just because you’ve found Jesus doesn’t mean you have to lose your marbles’.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    ‘Most Christians back gay rights’?
    Even the protesting Christians believe in the equality of all people, as opposed to the equal value of all views or of all activities. I would imagine that is by far the standard international Christian viewpoint.
    So who are these ‘most Christians’? Not the Catholics who make up 75% of world Christians. Not fastest-growing-grouping Pentecostals. Not majority Anglicans. Not the Christians of the 20th century explosion in Africa, Latin America and SouthEast Asia.
    Answer: ‘most Christians’ that Giles Fraser talks to. Which is a self-fulfilling prophecy cos we all move in relatively limited circles. It would do so much more good if GF wrote for the Telegraph or Mail, and Telegraph/Mail writers wrote for the Guardian. Then they wouldn’t all be preaching to the converted, would become aware of different groups and arguments, and the debate as a whole would be advanced.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “we all move in relatively limited circles.”
    Indeed so, Christopher, as some of your beliefs about gay people show of you. Why then do make statements about what you assume to be my “lifestyle” based on your “relatively limited” circle? Why do you quote statistics without giving their provenance? You have made comments about “gay men in general” that sound an awful lot to me like the way I think “most Christians” sounds in your ears

  • Gerry Lynch says:

    Christopher Shell – whatever the official position of the Roman Catholic church, there’s little doubt that most Catholics in Europe back gay rights. Gay marriage in Catholic Belgium and Spain, civil partnership laws across Catholic Europe from Croatia to Portugal and the vote on the SORs in the Northern Ireland Assembly in which not a single Catholic member voted against the Assembly. Or indeed one could look to North America where largely Catholic Quebec and Massachusetts led the move to gay equality; or Catholic Latin America which is far more tolerant of homosexuality than Protestant Africa, for example.

  • The Roman Catholic church has an authoritative organisation structure and is not afraid to use it to censor and discipline its own. It has been known to close down places of study and excommunicate people who won’t toe the line. Some make the choice to leave because the dissonance between the established church paradigms and their own theology become too strong. Karen Armstrong is an example, advocates of liberation theology. Actually, early protestants too.

    Have a repressive censorship for the sake of the church’s reputation and public image is not the same as having genuine consent of the masses. The number of Catholics who sensibly use birth control is proof of that delusion.

    There are some in the Anglican Communion who are longing to be like Rome, not because it is morally better, but because they long for the censorship controls.

    Too bad about the casualities of selfish, short-sighted and/or cruel theology…

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Hi Ford
    Not true! I have not mentioned your lifestyle once, since I know nothing about it. Averages by definition are (a) broad-brush and not applying to every individual in the set; (b) more representative of the truth than small-scale and anecdotal evidence.

    Hi Cheryl-
    Karen Armstrong’s autobiography makes it clear that she was a victim of 1960s/70s liberal mores. But it was the prior catholic repression which made her ripe for this in the first place. The point is that once one has been through this one’s autobiography can never be the same again, and theology has an awful (tho’ inaccurate) habit of being done autobiographically. I therefore consider that there is a chance that her theology has autobiographical roots. But her life-story is just one among millions, and therefore not sufficiently comparatively important in the grand scheme of things to be the source of any theology.

    Don’t you think it is also true that the European Catholics whom you mention are largely nominal, as indicated by lack of churchgoing and general secularisation of attitudes? This being the case, I should not have enlisted their ‘support’ in the first place. The other groupings I mentioned (as well as official and dedicated RCs) still apply: ie all the largest international Christian groupings.

  • Gerry Lynch says:

    Don’t you think it is also true that the European Catholics whom you mention are largely nominal, as indicated by lack of churchgoing and general secularisation of attitudes? This being the case, I should not have enlisted their ‘support’ in the first place.

    You have a point, although it’s not entirely the case. It was notable in the NI vote that even the more clerical Catholic politicians did not vote agains the SORs. I suppose the Catholic community in Northern Ireland has a very different experience with respect to fair treatment and legislating guaranteeing it than Catholics just about anywhere else on the planet.

    Even among devout, massgoing, Catholics there’s a substantial liberal element in every European country. In some (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium) they could well be the majority of churchgoers.

  • mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) says:

    Re: recent discussions on ‘most Christians would…’ it’s worth remembering research which suggested that in the UK Christians were more likely to be in favour of (eg) capital punishment than non-Christians.

    Popularity and truth are not always cosy bedfellows….

  • David Huff says:

    Dr. Shell wrote, “So who are these ‘most Christians’?…”

    Good Lord, I agree with something Christopher Shell wrote. Pardon me whilst I check the weather reports in Hell for evidence of a severe cold front… 😉

    Now how I interpret this would, I suspect, differ from him quite sharply. To me, this just shows that “most Christians” are the sort of which Giles Fraser (and I) disapprove. i.e. bigots (yes, I know it’s an ugly word) who are aghast at the thought of equal civil rights for GLBT people.

    So yes, Dr. Shell, I’m sure “most Christians” agree with your position. But as my Mother said numerous times to me as a child, “Just because ‘everyone’ is doing it, doesn’t make it right.”

  • dave williams says:

    It seems to me that it is Mr Fraser who suffers from the problem of needing to attack enemies within. He is now quite constantly and inaccurately attacking fundamentalists and evangelicals in savage terms in the Guardian and the Church Times. For all his commitment to inclusive church his priority seems to be to attack that part of the Church which is growing because it is inclusive, not only welcoming people to join but pro-actively seeking them

  • Chrsitopher Shell says:

    Hi David (Huff)
    You have read a lot of what I have written – and from that you know that I very often make the same point: the majority is not always right.

    My point was not to say the majority is right, but to pick up Dr Fraser for claiming that a minority was a majority.

  • Ford Elms says:

    Dave Williams,
    The Consevos are inclusive? Tell that to the Anglo-catholics in Sydney! Tell that to any of us who have been told we aren’t Christians or aren’t “saved” because we don’t believe as they do! And as to proactively seeking people, I have been a victim in times of past of that kind of “proactive” seeking. I would call it manipuilation by means of guilt and fear, actually, not exactly something to be proud of! Sure it works, people are all guilty, and fear is common, but is it right to prey on people’s fears to make them “believers”?

  • mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) says:


    It’s funny how ancient conundrums return to haunt pastures new. Preying on someone’s fear to make them a believer is all down to our old friend the means/ends argument. Those who believe that the means are justified by the ends (ie deliverance from darkness and the worm which dieth not) cannot see the problem. Trouble is, the same argument was used to justify the excesses of the Inquisition, or the intervention in Iraq/Chile/Nicaragua, or….

    Meanwhile we well-meaning Guardian reading types (when not knitting our own muesli in order to save the planet) probably spend our time wringing our hands for fear of gettting them soiled. Help!

    The fact is, of course, we all inhabit our old friend the Slippery Slope. What separates us tends to be whatever we’ve chosen as a foothold, since we’ve no intention of moving from where we feel moderately safe.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “knitting our own muesli “

  • Giles Fraser says:

    Small point: Dr Shell is getting very worked up about something I haven’t actually said. Rather worrying in someone who so often claims to be the person who best understands a rather more important text.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Hi Giles Fraser

    My quibble was with the strapline of your article. If you did not write or approve the strapline then you have my sympathy, since it has happened to me more than once that I’ve had an article given an inaccurate strapline that doesn’t represent the contents but provides a good soundbite.

    The strapline is in fact pandering to the existing prejudices of Guardian readers. How are readers of ideol;ogical papers (Guardian, Telegraph, Mail) ever going to be educated out of their ideologies if they are simply fed what they want? (It’s demagoguery, I tell you! :o))

  • laurence says:

    ‘most Christians would…’

    Puts me in mind of Julian of Norwich’s ‘even Christians’

    Now there is a message of hope for the world…

  • laurence says:

    Most of the population of UK do support gay rights. As the strapline has it.

    And as we know from C of E official sources, in the annual statistics of surveys, most of the population own that they are Christians. Also, a goodly number of them have been Christened, and so there can be little doubt.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    ??? What proportion of those who were christened had any say in the matter of whether they were christened or not?
    In other words, no-one could claim that all ‘votes’ are equal. There is a strong case for saying that (broadly, on average) the more committed a Christian is, the more likely they are to be counter-cultural on this matter.

  • Ford Elms says:


    Ah, lovely phrase. For Conservatives, it means being opposed to the licentiousness they see in the modern world, for Liberals it means being opposed to the not so modern fashion in which the wealthy and powerful lord it over the rest of us. Of course, each side is assuming that there is only one culture to be “counter” to, and that it is the one they do not like, while turning a blind eye to what is wrong with the culture they espouse.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Hi Ford-
    Your post illustrates the danger of seeing there to be two sides or poles. The ‘might is right’ ideology would in fact be opposed by all Christians. In our own society this may be the might of the media, the might of those who have high positions in society and therefore think they are ‘above’ defending their position with argument; and so on.
    If what you said were true, there would be no honest truth-seekers in the word. Everyone would be ranged on one side or another, with no eye to truth and both eyes on their own prejudices and preferences. That is true to an alarming degree, but there are still some left who have not bowed the knee to Baal (or rather to their own preferred ideologies).
    Out of interest, do you actually think the world is devoid of honest truthseekers?

  • Ford Elms says:

    I posted yesterday, but I figure it was too longwinded to make it onto the board. My bad. Because I only refer to two opposites here doesn’t mean I think there can only be two camps. I believe there is a spectrum, and that the majority of Anglicans are in the middle. I certainly do think there are honest truth seekers in the world. They’re just not very outspoken. Do you seriously think that a conservative position is countercultural? It all comes down to the culture you choose to be counter to, I guess. I just can’t consider a conservative political, social, or economic position to be countercultural, since people who espouse these views ARE the dominant culture, in my view.

  • mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) says:

    Re: Countercultural. Came across a (perhaps better) term which avoids overtones of reaction, ‘culture critical’. But Ford’s point still stands, of which culture are we critical? Recent contributions about wealth (one poster’s defence of City of London bonuses being particularly interesting) show that we do rather choose which culture to criticise.

    So Chris’ question about ‘honest truthseekers’ may be answered by both Augustine and Anselm’s gloomy assessment of human disinterestedness….

  • Christopher Shell says:

    I agree. In *our* culture trad Christianity is counter-cultural; but in many others it equates to following the crowd.

  • Ford Elms says:

    Where are you, Christopher, that traditional Christian culture is countercultural? I had assumed you were American or British. Given the people who make the laws in both Britain and the US, you can’t seriously claim that traditional Christian culture, at least as represented by conservative Evangelical Christianity, is counter cultural. Not when George Bush has breakfast every week with fundamentalist Christian millenialists who have strong influence on his policies, and not when Tony Blair is so far up Bush’s backside you can’t see the soles of his shoes!

  • Ford Elms says:

    What is “your” culture, Christopher? Seriously, I really am interested. It annoys me that someone who seems to espouse the values of the ruling classes can consider himself countercultural, as the above posts admit, but that’s unfair of me. It is, instead, an intriguing thing how we perceive the culture around us. My partner came up with an observation this morning. In Conservative Christian culture, being closeted is normative for gay people, if they choose to stay in that culture. Thus, anything that brings gay people out of the closet is going to be seen by them as threatening to their own culture. There’s a lot to chew on there, I think. The traditional culture I grew up in was not accepting of gay people, yet I define myself far more by my ethnic heritage rather than my sexuality, and feel at best ambivalent, and at times hostile, towards so-called “gay culture”. I certainly don’t feel a part of it, and rarely feel welcome in it. So how do you define your culture, Christopher, and how do you understand it to be countercultural?

  • Well, in the counterculture where I was brought up all this americanizing, theological and otherwise, was considered neither pro- nor counter- anything, but lacking.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    I am a londoner, have links with all denominations and none, and have worked (and been educated) in international institutions, sometimes almost aggressively international. The broader the culture the better one is likely to avoid solipsism.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “In *our* culture trad Christianity is counter-cultural”
    Fair enough, Christopher, so how does a Londoner who for the most par espouses the conservative values of the ruling elite justify saying he is countercultural? Again, no anger here, or even challenge, I am really interested in how this can be. I will, unfortunately, be out of computer contact for the next few days, and by the time I get back, the discussion will likely have moved on. I look forward to taking thisnup at another time.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    ‘The conservative values of the ruling elite’?
    Pardon me while I choke on my cornflakes. Who rules this country? The politicians, who worship not truth but popularity – their bottom line is electability. Their principles are miraculously compromised by concern for promotion, party unity, party whips and ‘image’.
    They in turn are ruled by the media who are well-informed about very few matters and will compromise truth for the sake of publicity, money and sensation.
    Who then are the conservative ruling elite? Having said that, the cons are the one party I have never voted for. I guess I am too much of an egalitarian concerned for the little people who are too often pushed around by those in power. Might ain’t right, and that is what a lot of this very debate is centred on.

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