11 May 2009

The choices we make

I found myself choking on my Vimto this morning at Dave Thompson MSP's intervention in the Scott Rennie affair:

"I have no problem with people who have different beliefs or a different lifestyle.

"I do believe, however, that once someone declares himself as a Christian that they should comply with the teaching of the Bible and that active homosexuality is incompatible with that teaching."

That sounds suspiciously like Shirley Syndrome to me. Why not just say, "I'm not homophobic, but..." Then we'd at least have the red flag about what was coming.

And we'd be right. Because in this, and in Jeff's post today, it strikes me that by saying Scott Rennie can't preach the Gospel, there is an implicit assumption that being gay is automatically less holy, less Christian. The implication is, therefore, that you can turn it off, and walk a righteous path straight to salvation. The implication in that is that Scott Rennie chose to be gay, and can, therefore, choose not to be gay.

Let me ask a question:

Scott Rennie had a wife and kids, a stable home life and a ministry, to say nothing of bucketloads of respect from his congregation, the wider Kirk and his political party. Why, therefore, would he have chosen to put all that at risk, to ditch his family, shack up with another guy, risking a firestorm of condemnation (which has come his way recently) and a major threat to his career and vocation in the Kirk?

The answer, for me, is that he couldn't have done. No one would choose that. He already was gay. He had been from the moment it was possible for him to be anything at all. But he had surpressed it, until he could no longer do so.

Let me share my own perspective: I've often been asked whether I would take a "cure" for homosexuality if one existed. After bristling at the idea that homosexuality should be an illness, which may require a cure, I answer quickly and firmly in the negative. This is who I am. I would never seek to change that artificially.

But no one up to now has asked if I would choose to be gay, given the choice. And I'm not sure that I would if that was how it worked. I'm from a rough, old-fashioned, ex-mining community, where all the stereotypes are in play. In a village of more or less 6,000 people, I know of only two other gay guys, and no Lesbians. Unless I'm living in the wrong area, the others have opted either to stay in the closet or get out of town. No one came out at my secondary school, nor did anyone who I knew at College, despite there being an LGBT support group. Would I have chosen that isolation for myself, at the age where it all started to matter? Of course not. It wasn't a case of choice. It was a case of adolescent confusions, hormones heading this way and that until I felt that enough was enough and that my brain should re-assert control, assess the evidence, and work out just what my orientation was. The facts all pointed one way - towards homosexuality - and that was that. It wasn't about decision; it was about deduction.

So you'll excuse me if I reject entirely the notion that anyone chooses to be gay.

On that basis, then, that it's not a choice, I ask Christians (and, indeed, any theist reading this) to consider a simple proposition. If I did not choose to be gay, and if Scott Rennie didn't choose to be gay, then that is how we must have been created. If you believe that God created us, then it follows that God made us gay. Why, then, should wishing to preach the Gospel force you to suppress your true self, and deny your God-given nature?

Scott Rennie's viewpoint - and he's the preacher, remember, so he's the one who has to interpret the Bible week in and week out - is that it shouldn't. His current congregation in Brechin clearly believes that it shouldn't. His prospective congregation in Aberdeen have, in the main, taken the view that it shouldn't.

But Dave Thompson has taken the view that he knows and understands Christian teachings better than a minister and two congregations. Perhaps, if he feels so strongly about the Bible, he should quit Parliament to consider a career in the clergy, where he can preach his own line to his heart's content.


Anonymous said...

Jeff's post wasn't about choosing to be gay - it was about choosing to be christian - which is most definitely a choice. If I was politically left wing I wouldn't choose to join the nazis. Perhaps similar with gay & christian.

I am left wing but not gay and I wouldn't join the nazis or the christians. I thought Jeff's post was perfectly sensible

Will said...

But Anon, gay and Christian shouldn't be an either/or choice. Christianity is meant to be inclusive, and open to all. What Dave Thompson is saying, and what Jeff is saying, is that it shouldn't be, that the inclusion should suddenly stop the minute sexual orientation comes into play.

Scott Rennie belives not just that you can be gay and Christian, but that you can have a same-sex partner and preach the Bible. His current congregation seems to agree. His next congregation supported him taking up the ministry in their parish, so they, in the main, agree.

By taking the line they are taking, opponents of Rennie's ministry are not only saying that the Church shouldn't be inclusive, but implying that worshippers in Brechin and Aberdeen are somehow less Christian by supporting him. Who are they to make that judgment?

Political Dissuasion said...

Will, (I've also posted in response to Jeff's post if you want a read, but won't copy and paste it).
If you are brought up to believe in God, in the Church, as a devout Christian, there's nothing that's going to stop you (unless you met God, and it turned out he was actually Noel Edmonds - then you'd reconsider).
In the same way that I was brought up to believe that bullying is wrong. In the same way I've always disliked fat people...no matter what, it's my beliefs, you can't change what someone believes...or is.
"I am a believer in God". Can't change it.
"I am a homosexual". Can't change it.

To the same logic, we cannot control what the upper echelons of the Church believes either, and seeing as they set the rules, there's nothing we can do about it (unless we can class it as a hate crime?). However, the various things the Bible/Church has at one point said NO to and then performed a u-turn highlights that this is one of the last things they need to 'get with'. If they had always held firm on their previous 'no-go-areas' then they would have some ground for keeping their rules, but they don't.
Anyone, pastor, Bishop, blogger that says someone should not be allowed to do something, anything solely on the basis of their sexuality is living 70 years ago. No he shouldn't leave his post. And why not? As a man of the cloth, called to this role by God, if he felt that God would disapprove, he would stand down. Priests, vicars, canons all take their religion and their roles seriously and follow their lives by God's teachings and could not carry on if they felt thewy were doing him ill.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

J Arthur,

I posted a couple of times on the Scott Rennie story. I am a Christian and I am straight. If you want to know what I think, have a look, but in the meantime I can relate the story of a friend, that sort of illustrates your point.

I first met Cyril in the late 70's. Cyril was married and had a kid, and was great fun to be with, and frankly, was a bit camp. Cyril was a Christian who had been pursuaded, I think, to follow the road to straightdom, by the social pressures that were inevitably applied to him from within his church, once he decided to become a Christian. It is perhaps difficult for someone outside the church to understand how judgemental and proscriptive church can be for those who genuinely seek God.

Anyway, Cyril battled with his sexuality, inwardly, for years, and in the end, he had to come out. Had to. I believe "He already was gay. He had been from the moment it was possible for him to be anything at all." as you put it.

He came out to me during a weekend visit. Absurdly to me, he expected me to chuck him out into the street. I cannot fathom this. In all the years knowing each other, he could not have gained that impression from me. (I think the reaction to close friends and family back in his country was a bit less friendly)

Thinking about the general issue, I came to this conclusion: When people become Christians, often in very difficult and challenging circumstances, God can change them, instantly. I think of drug addicts who have lost their addictions overnight, of the sick being healed, and so on.

In my own case, I have experienced inner changes and healing over my troubled upbringing.

Never once have I seen or heard or been confronted with someone who has claimed to have been miraculously "cured" from homosexuality.

I can only conclude that God does not see it as something that needs curing.

Montague Burton said...

I wonder how Dave Thompson would react if the Rev Rennie was 'inactive'.

Ted Harvey said...

I take it that Jeff is being ironic? Partial (but still in context) quote:

“So if religion is inflexible in its intolerance of homosexuality, why should it be any more flexible in its intolerance of homosexual clergymen?
I'm with the conservative religious zealots on this one, and that's saying something!”

Wonderful logic at play here i.e. because Christians are ‘bigoted and prejudiced on one central aspect of human existence, we should not question this, instead we should use that as a justification for them being bigoted and prejudiced on another aspect’.

On the Christian viewpoint that ‘its alright if homosexuals remain inactive or not practicing’ – that for me sums up the hypocrisy that is at the heart of so much Christian thinking. It’s a way of saying “ we know you are, and you know you are, and we all know that, but if you just don’t do it, then that means it’s all all right because we can just pretend as though it doesn’t exist. We know it’s there and we say it is evil, but we will just pretend like you are not that”.

That reads even more rank when you put it down in print.

Jeff said...

Will, you’ve taken some fairly wild leaps of logic in there if you don’t mind me saying so.

The central tenet of my argument is that the Church of Scotland is pretty dead set against homosexuality. I’m not in the best place to know if that is the case and if it isn’t then my entire opinion on the matter changes.

Indeed, if it was up to me, Scott Rennie could do whatever job he wished if he was capable of it and his clergy were happy. I am not, as you would have others believe, homophobic. I can't imagine Dave Thomson is either.

But I don’t make the rules and neither do you and neither does Scott Rennie. I daresay you’re right that he has no choice but to be gay (incidentally, when did I say he chose to be gay?) but he does have a choice whether to be a Minister for this particular religion or not. He has a very unfortunate conflict of interest, whether you like the beliefs of this Church or not.

Of course gay people should be accepted into churches in some form but ask yourself this, could we have a gay Pope? I doubt it, so where does one draw the line?

If the Church of Scotland wishes to continue its intolerance of homosexuality and homosexual ministers that’s for them to decide.

And I also think that the respect that the LGBT community quite rightly ask for should work both ways. I’m only really playing Devil’s advocate here (rather ironic phrase) but certainly the opening lines of your rebutting argument shouldn’t resort to “I’m not homophobic, but..” which is rather cheap and unhelpful in the least.

My point is perfectly valid, so is yours and so is Dave Thompson's. I'm not saying you're wrong and I'm not saying you're right but why does your respect and logic go out the window when the topic turns to sexuality?

Ted Harvey said...

Jeff I do accept your point about my leaps of logic – but there again, I was attempting to lay out the logic that you seem to have promoted and that can be construed as almost an apology for intolerance on the part of some Church of Scotland members.

The intolerance when ‘the topic turns to sexuality’ seems to originate and be perpetuated by some members of what you call “The Church of Scotland”. But there’s the rub; it is not the Church of Scotland, rather it is a number (minority?) of members with questionable and reactionary social views; views that it can be reasonably contended have nothing at base to do with scripture.

When left to their own devices, it would appear that the majority of members of this Church are willing enough to contend with homosexuals within their congregations; and in some cases willing to welcome the apparent diversity of their God’s children into their congragations.

I repeat that the problem of intolerance seems to originate with some Christians when the topic turns to sexuality – indeed I have posed the question here before, of why is it that certain Christians, especially clergymen, and often celibate clergymen, have such a seemingly obsessive and prurient interest in the sexuality of homosexuals? Is it because of something deep inside themselves that they recognise and fear?

Because, the rest of us, by and large, in smoother or rougher ways just get on with living with other human beings that are honest about their sexuality.

naldo said...

Excellent post JAM.

My take is that "the Scott Rennie affair" has flushed out a few closet bigots like Jeff and Dave Thompson.

Thankfully, these bigots appear to be in a minority in the Church of Scotland, in the Scottish Parliament and amongst the wider public in Scotland.

Rev Rennie is a trailblazer who has moved this debate along and for that, all who care about a human rights should be very grateful to him.

Caron said...

This is a brilliant post, Will. Can I just pick you up on one thing, though? Scott came to terms with this sexuality after the break up of his marriage. His wife left him before he met his current partner. He did not "ditch his family, shack up with another guy"

Indy said...

You know churchy types were pretty positive that women could not preach the gospel and be ordained until they changed their minds (of course Catholics and some conservative protestants are still against that).

If you look at the history of the Church it is all about people being absolutely certain they know God's will - until they decide they don't and God actually meant something quite different.

In churches, as in life, there are progressive and reactionary forces.

Jeff asks could we have a gay Pope? You think we haven't already had several? Come on.

We've had a woman Pope as well, did you know that?

Will said...

Jeff, to say the Kirk is dead set against homosexuality is to overlook the support Rennie has had from his congregations and some of the more influential figures within the Kirk, as Ted flags up. He has been backed in his bid to take the ministry - and already holds a ministry in Brechin, remember - but his attempts are being blocked by a very nasty campaign led by a loud minority. Moreover, if you are accepting that homosexuality isn't a choice, you're saying that certain roles in society should be forever shut off to a group of people due merely to an accident of birth. I don't think that's right, I don't believe that you do either, but the reality is that that's the argument you're now stuck with.

As for the gay Pope issue, you're crossing denominations and raising an argument which doesn't stand up to scrutiny. First: the Kirk has women ministers; there are no women Catholic priests. Second: the Kirk permits ministers to marry and have a family; the Catholic Church expects celibacy of its priests. Therefore, the clergy (including the Pope) is expected to be asexual, not heterosexual. As Indy points out, we could well already have had several gay Popes. Further, despite the expected celibacy of the clergy, we still routinely hear of members of the priesthood abusing vulnerable people of both sexes in their care, which have been brushed under the carpet by Church authorities for decades. So I don't see how a Church which allows sexual abuse of all kinds from people who are supposed to be celibate to go unpunished can provide a moral textbook for a Kirk considering whether a man in a mutually fulfilling, consensual relationship with another man should be allowed to preach the Gospel. And in any case, as PD highlights, positions are constantly evolving and developing, and the present trend is (rightly) in favour of Rennie.

I don't for one second believe that Dave Thompson's point is valid, because he is either arguing that the Kirk itself - which, in the main, is on Scott Rennie's side - is wrong about its own approach, or that homosexuality is a switch that can be flicked, or that the way someone was born bars them from all sorts of choices in life. Of course that's homophobia - it can't be anything else.

I'm arguing that in an increasingly secular world, you have someone like Scott Rennie who is willing to put himself through sheer hell to answer this particular theological calling and logically, the Kirk would have to be absolutely barking mad to turn away someone with that level of commitment and zeal. But all you see, all Dave Thompson sees, all the loud minority opposing Rennie can see, is the gender of his partner. You ask about respect and logic - I don't see either of those in your position, I'm afraid.

Caron, thanks for the clarification: I didn't intend to suggest that he did simply run off with another man and I am guilty of eliding matters somewhat. The point I was trying to make was that it can't have been an easy thing to do and wasn't anywhere near as simple as it sounds, that it wasn't just a flicking of a switch and was a difficult process, just as WW's friend showed.

Thanks for all the comments so far, folks...

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

I come to this very late, but have not seen anywhere any consideration for Scott Rennie's partner. What a difficult position he must be in, seeing his partner having to go through this, he must feel at least partly, on his behalf. The man must be a saint. No they must both be saints.

Personally I don't see how either of them can be bothered.