The bishops and their motion

May 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

If Jesus were at the Church of Ireland General Synod tomorrow, how would he vote? When the bishops  propose a motion that explicitly states that gay and lesbian relationships are not ‘normative’ and are, therefore, sinful, how would Jesus respond?

Would Jesus have been a reactionary? Many church people have thought so.

Many of his followers in the 18th and 19th Centuries thought he might have supported slavery.  George Whitefield, the 18th Century cleric who is a major figure in evangelical history actually campaigned for the legalization of slavery in the state of Georgia because he believed it necessary for the economic success of the state.  While the 19th Century abolitionist movement had strong evangelical roots, it also met strong opposition from Christians.  Richard Furman, a Baptist leader in South Carolina in 1822 published an ‘Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States’; it was a defence of slavery that would be used up until the end of the American Civil War

Would Jesus have been a democrat? Not according to the 19th Century Methodist leader Jabez Bunting. When the question of adopting democratic procedures in church governance, Bunting was unequivocal in stating, ‘Methodism is as much opposed to democracy as to sin’. Bunting would have opposed even the idea that the the synod should be allowed to vote on the motion.

Would Jesus have thought racism as something his followers should accept? Many evangelical Christians in the United States actively embraced racist attitudes, seeing no incompatibility between discrimination and their faith.  Bob Jones University refused to allow admission to African Americans until 1971. The Religious Right emerged through government interventions to remove charitable status from institutions that practiced segregation.

What about equality for women? Didn’t Jesus treat women as equals? Didn’t he step outside the norms of society in his interactions with women? There are conservative evangelicals who insist that whatever Jesus might have done, the whole Bible must be taken into consideration; verses from Genesis are adduced to argue woman is subordinate to man.  Even Bible translations are vetted to ensure they comply with the theme of male dominance; the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States passed a resolution in June 2011 condemning a gender neutral New International Version of the Bible.

Every step forward in human rights, every struggle for equality and dignity, has been opposed by many Christians.  Scripture has been quoted in defence of oppression and degradation.  Given that the church has supported slavery, autocracy, racism and sexism, is it surprising that it  should be opposed to equality for gay and lesbian people?

In decades to come the attitude of the bishops will be seen as part of a tradition of discrimination, as alien to the 21st Century as the views of their predecessors in the tradition.

My medical undergraduate daughter this evening commented, ‘what I don’t understand is why any of you think that anyone cares about what the church thinks’.

We are not just pursuing the path of discrimination; we are pursuing the path of irrelevance.

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  1. I’m not sure that Jesus would even be at the General Sanhedrin Synod.

  2. The very fact that the Synod is huffing and puffing like this is itself a sign that they have lost the argument, and that they know they have but can not yet admit it. If they were discussing the abolition of slavery back whenever, the same process would be evident: challenge, reaction, egg on face. Your daughter is spot on. If the CoI persists in this, as I have written elsewhere, the church will need a tranche of pleasure police to monitor the CCTV cameras that will, inevitably, be placed in rectory bedrooms.

  3. The rush to irrelevance is clear. But for those who still enjoy a little theological puzzle solving, this post may provide both a smile and a bit of divarsion.


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