Saturday, July 13, 2013

The revolution Justin Welby has forgotten

Justin Welby, the newly stale Archbishop of Canterbury, wants the Church of England and, presumably by extension, the worldwide Anglican Communion, to recognize that a “revolution” has taken place in attitudes toward sexuality.

In his most widely anticipated address since taking over the leadership of the Church, the Most Rev Justin Welby insisted that it was now “absurd and impossible” to ignore an “overwhelming” change in social attitudes.

In a deliberate echo of Harold MacMillan’s 1950 speech which attacked apartheid in South Africa, the Archbishop warned church leaders that they needed to reassess their own attitudes to gay people – even if they do not “like it”.

While insisting he had no immediate plans to change policy on issues such as gay marriage, he announced a major campaign to curb anti-gay bullying in the Church of England’s more than 5,000 schools.

He is understood to have approached Stonewall, which led the campaign in favour of gay marriage, to invite it into church schools to teach up to a million children about homosexuality.

“We may or may not like it but we must accept that there is a revolution in the area of sexuality,” the Archbishop said.

Well, thank you, Your Grace, for calling our attention to something most astute observers have been aware of for the last half century. Only, to call it a “revolution” is a misnomer.

What is happening (and has, in fact, been happening since the 1960's) with the social and cultural attitudes toward homosexuality and other deviant forms of sexual behavior is not a “revolution” in the classical sense of the term. Literally a “turn of the circle,” a revolution involves the overturning of the old order and the institution of the new one. There is nothing “new” about an attitude toward homosexuality that sees it as normative or otherwise socially acceptable. In ancient times, it was not only acceptable but, in many instances, an integral part of pagan religious practices.

Contra paganism, of course, the Jewish faith viewed such behavior as "an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22); an affront to God, who created human beings male and female in his image (Genesis 1:27). The plan and purpose of God for marriage was unequivocally affirmed by Jesus when answering the Pharisees' question about the lawfulness of divorce.

He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)

This positive affirmation of the sanctity of marriage was necessary in the context of Jesus’ predominantly Jewish audience. Homosexuality was not widely practiced in the Jewish community, but creative interpretation of the law had led to lax attitudes toward divorce and remarriage. Jesus made it clear that God’s intention was for the union of the one man and the one woman to be permanent.

The larger Greco-Roman world into which Paul carried the Gospel, however, was vastly different. The new disciples who were incorporated into the Body of Christ through Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles were idolaters, thieves, swindlers, drunkards, revilers, lovers of money, and even fornicators, adulterers, and homosexuals who, in forsaking their former ways, testified to the transforming power of Christ who washed, sanctified, and justified them (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

This was the real revolution which the church inaugurated through the preaching of Christ crucified. It turned Roman society on its head, challenged a seemingly invincible empire, and finally planted the cross upon the rubble of that empire's smoldering ruins. It is the true revolution which continues to this day; the revolution which Justin Welby, in a scandalous abdication of sacred responsibility, has forgotten.

Today’s shifting social and cultural attitudes toward sexuality do not constitute a "revolution." They are a reversion to pre-Christian, pagan norms which proved no match for the bold proclamation of the Gospel. What God requires of his church today is not some grudging resignation to, much less acceptance of, a false “revolution.” Rather, he calls her to a bold and joyful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, to a fallen world which seems to have trouble remembering that it has already lost the battle.