Thursday, January 25, 2007

Catholic Adoption Agency Row

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!


  1. Anonymous10:05 pm

    Hi Tom,

    A recent quote in a newspaper relating to this issue read, "Who is going to help a little girl being raised by two men buy her first bra?"!!

    Parental qualities are key to family life. And most importantly placing a child in a loving home environment. That goes without saying. You have to think of the child. That the child is loved and cared for, of course. But also take this wider. Think of the child outside of the protection of the family.

    Are we as a society ready for this move of extreme liberalism? I fear the playground ridicule and confrontation the children of the gay parents will encounter will be tremendous. These families are not just going to be in Islington and comfortable primary schools in leafy Hampshire are they? The children who are going to have to go to school in inner city areas are going to be in for a rough ride! This could lead to group exclusion and isolation for some children, not to mention bullying issues. Leading to all kinds of social problems in the future. I don't want to be negative but I think they need to look at the wider issues surrounding this.

    I was swaying one way until I read and interesting article the other day which gave me food for thought and added another layer to the gay adoption argument.

    It suggested the following... that Conservative Christians, who have long used the Bible as their handbook for political direction on gay adoption, will be the first to tell you, "God made Adam and Eve -- not Adam and Steve." Anything against that ideal - to them -- is wrong.

    But how might Christ have defined family?

    Not so long ago, the only sanctioned family - according to those on the religious right wing -- consisted of "dad, mum and the kids - and usually of the same race."

    What finally forced re-evaluation was the once "dark sin" of divorce.

    At one point, divorce was on the list with homosexuality and murder as an abomination to God. But as the divorce rate began to soar, conservative Christians toned down their rhetoric and set in motion their acceptance of single-parent family homes.

    But now, the definition of family is at another crucial crossroads, and conservative Christians feel they are losing ground. Allowing gay parents the right to adopt is against everything their Bible upholds.

    Or is it? Does the Bible define things so rigidly? Christ sounds somewhat open-minded when confronted with the issue of family.

    "While he (Christ) was still speaking...his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. And stretching out his hand...he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:46-50 [KJV])."

    Here, Christ takes family outside of its traditional "dad, mum and the kids." What Christ says here is simple: The bonds joining a family can be social, emotional, financial or in his case -- spiritual. Basically, the family is who they say they are.

    The people at the tip of Christ's outstretched hand were not his biological brothers, sisters, or mother. But he bonded spiritually with them. He loved them.

    If Christ himself characterized family in such accepting terms, how can so many be so adamant in their definition -- so opposed to people who genuinely love their children and want to offer them a hope-filled life.

    If a gay couple wants to devote their lives to nurturing an otherwise neglected child, surely that is a good thing?

  2. Thanks for a fascinating comment Rob. You seem to have managed to argue for both sides of the argument at the same ture Anglican fashion.

    I'm not actually sure which Rob you are...but I feel I should warn you that with such an open mind, you are in danger of becoming an Anglican!

  3. Anonymous2:33 pm

    Hi Tom,
    You have assumed correctly as to which Rob! And yes, I am feeling increasingly at home in an Anglican Church! Reasons for which perhaps we can discuss over a pint at some point!!

    As regards the the 'gay' debate... At the end of the day all anyone can do is offer an opinion based on knowledge, feelings or beliefs. Perhaps we will never know what is the right answer on this one. Only God knows the right answer. Hindsight can tell us how we should have done things differently. There is evidence of that throughout history. I guess we have to pray for God's Will surrounding such issues.

  4. Hi again Rob!
    I look forward to a less public conversation about your dangerous Anglican tendancies!