In today’s blog post, Andrew Brown, a religion columnist for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, makes a pithy case for why Christians should support gay marriage. Brown deftly avoids both the liberal fallacy that sex between consenting adults has no public moral dimension, and the conservative fallacy that gays are just disordered straight people.
Brown observes that before the issue was forced into the open, the Church of England quietly ordained gay men who were in stable long-term partnerships, on the theory that they made better priests than potentially promiscuous singles of either orientation. Writing about one London bishop who had this sub rosa policy, Brown says it is important to recognize that “it wasn’t in the least bit liberal. He did not believe that the sex lives of his clergy could be a private matter, still less that they ought to be. He would have agreed with St Paul that sex could be so disruptive and so dangerous that it must be channelled.”
This insight about sex informs the conservative Anglicans who feel that gay marriage is a threat to the family. They’re protecting important values, they’re just wrong about where the real threat lies. Brown continues:
When they say that they are defending the family, they are sincere. They understand that families matter, and that restraints have to be put on adult sexual behaviour if children are to be brought up reasonably selflessly. Children need hope and self-discipline: they don’t invent them all by themselves, and if they do they don’t hang on to their inventions without encouragement. They learn them from the adults around, who can only teach by example.
And the adults, in turn, keep themselves on the strait (not straight) path of righteousness partly because they are afraid of being found out. It may be reprehensible to do the right thing for a squalid and ignoble reason, but it is better than to do the wrong thing for a squalid reason. So one of the great slogans of the liberal society, that it doesn’t matter what consenting adults do with each other in private, turns out to be false. It does matter what other people do in private, even when they are not parents. Our natural prurient interest in gossip reflects this fact in a rather repulsive way. Other people’s sex lives are a legitimate matter of public interest – not just in the News of the World sense that they interest the public, much though they do – but because they also affect everyone around them, and influence their behaviour as well as their feelings.
Thus far the strong case for a conservative sexual morality. But there is a final twist. The stronger the case is for reining in sexual appetites, the more wicked it becomes to scapegoat gay people, and in particular open, monogamous ones like Gene Robinson. They are not the problem. As the wonderful New Yorker cartoon has it “Gays and lesbians aren’t a threat to my marriage. It’s all the straight women who sleep with my husband.”
What the Akinola-ites deny is that there is such a thing as a natural homosexual. To them, a gay man is merely a turbocharged straight man, like the Earl of Rochester, who boasted of his penis that “Woman nor man, nor aught its fury stayed.” On the other hand, what many of their opponents deny is that there must be painful restraints on our sexual (and other) appetites if civilisation is to survive. It’s hard to tell which are furthest from Christianity. But the people who believe in unrestricted sexual freedom tend to grow out of it; the pleasures of scapegoating and self-satisfaction only increase with age.