The Archbishop of Uganda has launched a scathing attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury in today’s edition of The Times. Tolerance of homosexuals is, for the Ugandan Archbishop, a defiance of Biblical authority. But then so have other things been in the past.
Saying the world went around the sun was a defiance of Biblical authority, as poor Galileo found out in the 17th Century (though the Roman Catholic Church did have the grace to apologise in 1992, better late than never).
Believing in evolutionary science was a defiance of Biblical authority, indeed still is for people from some parts of the world. A Nigerian priest in our diocese told the people in my church not to believe scientists, for the world was made in six days. This did cause the professor of geology, who is a tenor voice in the church choir, to raise his eyebrows
Right from the outset of the church in the First Century, people have asserted changes to be in defiance of Biblical authority. We should not have gays. We should not have women. We should not have science. We should not have vernacular services. We should not allow people to read for themselves. We should not disobey the authority of the Pope. We should not allow Gentiles. The history of the Church has been a history littered with perceived defiance of Biblical authority.
The Archbishop of Uganda would presumably have sympathy with his co-religionists in Nigeria who support the laws making homosexuality illegal, so which direction do we go? Backwards or forwards?
The question came to mind listening to RTE Lyric Radio’s Art Zone programme while driving along the coast this evening. It wasn’t a religious programme, it was about code breakers. Inevitably, a feature on code breakers included the heroic work of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park during World War II.
Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952 (as the Nigerian church today would presumably think proper) and the scandal drove him to suicide in 1954 – through eating an apple laced with cyanide.
The RTE presenter added a fascinating postscript. Turing’s mathematical genius, and his work on developing mathematical machines, gained him posthumous recognition as the father of computer science. The presenter suggested that the symbol of Apple computers, the apple with a bite out of it, is a tribute to the genius who contributed so much to the winning of the war and to the advancement of human knowledge.
Turing’s story presents two alternatives: to go back to pre-modern thought, to become Biblical literalists, to deny science and embrace fundamentalism; or to move forward in the way the church has done for generations.
As a colleague remarked to me last week, this is not about gays; this is about whether we hold on to the Enlightenment or we move back to medieval times.