The Issue? The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York have weighed into a debate between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is fighting for an exemption to new anti-discrimination legislation which would force Catholic adoption agencies to place children for adoption with lesbian and gay couples. If they don't get their way, they are threatening to close those agencies.
The Problem. Once again I am going to studiously avoid making a statement one way or the other on the gay issue in general. This is not moral cowardice on my part - but a result of a genuine search for truth in my own mind...and a desire to listen to voices on all sides of the debate.
The Archbishops have argued - as I understand it - that to force Catholic adoption agencies to act outside their moral frame of reference is a form of discrimination against Christians. In other words, they seem to be arguing, we should not force Christians to act against their moral convictions.
What a very difficult dilemma! Self-evidently if would be wrong to force a Christian to murder (against his moral conviction). But in matters as finely balanced as the question of homosexuality...I can't help but wonder.
Christ's example (as I have learned from Rowan Williams - the very same Archbishop of Canterbury, in case you don't know) was one of utter self-emptying, and a refusal to stand up against his oppressors. I have on my book shelf a lent course written by Williams some years ago, on the way that Jesus is presented to us by the Gospels. In analysing Mark's account, Williams makes the point that the only time that Jesus was willing to admit to the title of 'Messiah' or 'Christ' was when he was at his lowest ebb, and most powerless - in front of the Temple Court. Jesus' example was one of not asserting his rights; and not resisting the oppression of the state. The result? By the Holy Spirit, the growth of God's good news across the face of the planet.
These things are finely balanced though. It was right of Christians to lead the campaign against the slave trade, 200 years ago. It is right for Christians to be at the forefront of campaigns for the release of world poverty.
The difficulty arises when Christians move their attention from standing up for the rights of others not to be oppressed, and begin to stand up for their rights to believe certain things (in this case, that Gay and Lesbian couples who want children are 'sinful' and should not be allowed). That's a fundamental shift - and one that I am, frankly worried about.
Of course, supporters of the Catholic church's stance will say that they are standing up for the right of children to be brought up in a 'normal' home, and 'as God intended'. The trouble is, if we follow that line, the logical extension is that we have to begin to define what is 'normal'. If, for example, a heterosexual couple adopt a child, and then one of the couple dies...should we take away the child from the remaining parent on the basis that theirs is no longer a 'normal' home?
I once knew a lesbian couple who had developed a relationship after the divorce of one of the pair. She brought her two children into the new relationship. I was naive enough, then, to ask how they felt about the lack of a male presence in the children's life. They told me that the children's father had been a wife and child-beater, and a chronic alcoholic who would not confront his problem. They told me that one of the reasons they brought the children to the YMCA (where I then worked) was precisely because they wanted the children to have contact with positive male role models.
I had to ask myself - which of the two situations the children had lived in was the better. The answer was obvious.
Ours is a messy world...and in many ways it is as much of a mess now as it was when Jesus walked among us. But his response to the mess was not to impose his own morality...but to tell people the good news of a better way...and leave them to make their own choice.
I have, in theory, no problem with Christians advancing their views about how we should live. But accepting that even among Christians there is no 'common moral stance' on a lot of issues (like homosexuality) - should we perhaps avoid forcing our views on others (by, for example, threatening to close our adoption agencies if we don't get our way)?
I'm dithering on this one...does anyone want to help me out with an opinion? Click on the comments button below to progress the debate!