June and July are Gay Pride march months, commemorating a raid by the New York police on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on 28 June 1969 (next year’s semi-centenary will no doubt see a bumper crop).
You might have thought clergymen would be either hostile or at best neutral to such things. If you do you clearly haven’t realised that times have changed. Many not only avoid negative comments but express enthusiastic support for them.
Ely had its first pride event yesterday. The flag flying from the tower of the Cathedral was the rainbow flag. Three weeks earlier, Bristol police were called to throw opponents out of a service held at the Wesleyan New Rooms to support the city’s own Gay Pride. Earlier still, the Anglo-Catholic St Michael’s Church in Exeter held – not for the first time – a “Pride Church Service” service in support of a similar event there.
Gay Pride in York for the past few years has begun its parade from outside the West End of York Minster with the full support of Dean Vivienne Faull, who is now the new Bishop of Bristol. The Canon Pastor of the Cathedral has blessed and offered a prayer for the pride march and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has made it clear that “Clergy of the Diocese are entitled to express varying views on the question of human sexuality. That is the nature of the Church of England.”
“Clergy of the Diocese are entitled to express varying views on the question of human sexuality.”
This year, Southwark Cathedral announces it will be marching with the Cathedral banner, following the “success of our participation in last year’s London Pride Parade”. On its website it proudly declares: “Last year was not only terrific fun, but also a clear witness to our mission statement of inclusiveness which many found moving and memorable.”
Even the vicar of St Peter’s evangelical Anglican Church in Brighton, a church planted by Holy Trinity Brompton, says it is “very supportive” of the parade and a lot of people in his congregation will be taking part because Gay Pride “celebrates diversity as much as it celebrates LGBT people”. Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, patron of Gay Pride Liverpool, declared at last year’s Pride parade: “‘Love is love’ and it’s really great to see all the love there is in the world and we can’t have enough of it.”
Pretty clearly any conservative Christian with orthodox views on sexuality – or “far right homophobic bigot” in progressive-speak, it doesn’t really matter which – will take a poor view. But that is beside the point. You don’t have to be right wing, homophobic or even anti-gay, to see what is wrong.
First, why do would-be progressive churchmen actually do this? The comment from the Very Rev Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, is entirely typical: “I am pleased first of all,” he says, “to lend my backing to this community event because it celebrates the breadth and diversity of the community in which we all live. I am also very conscious that Christians have not always been perceived as being very supportive and inclusive as some of us would wish, and so I am pleased to fly this flag as a sign of the kind of inclusion that I wish to promote at the Cathedral.”
Gay Pride “celebrates diversity as much as it
celebrates LGBT people.”
This is, if one may say so, disingenuous flannel. A march by any group, from the National Pensioners’ Convention to the local chapter of the Morris dancers or the Flat Earth Society, will show the diversity of the community we inhabit, and yet few would say that for this reason the church owed any duty to fly flags or conduct services to support it.
As for inclusion, this is equally irrelevant. It is true that the church may have regarded, and indeed may still regard, gay sex as a sin. But so what? We are all sinners. The church, of whatever denomination, does not keep us out, and never has done so. On the contrary: it admits us with open arms, even if we are murderers, pederasts or worse, as capable of salvation.
Indeed it has to: as a glance at the Anglican Prayer Book will show, sinners of all kinds not only must be admitted, but cannot except in very limited cases be denied Communion. Of course the church disapproves of our sin and says so: but except in the warped world view of those who say you can’t be inclusive of someone unless you first agree to be uncritical of their lifestyle, this is nothing whatever to do with excluding anyone
Secondly, one would have thought that viewed in context, Pride marches were as irrelevant to the purposes of any church worth the name as a parade of bunny girls at the Playboy Club. Both are essentially nothing more than tawdry displays of raw sexuality. Now, whatever it may say about sexual practices, what is the church doing in getting involved in, and backing, events such as these? Christians have more important things to do in life than parade their sexuality or support other people in doing so, as if this was somehow important to the spiritual wellbeing of the participants or the community generally. It isn’t.
Such conduct won’t increase respect for religion; it won’t convince unbelievers; and it won’t get bums on pews.
If this is right, it leads to a further conclusion. Although dressed up in unconvincing theological garb, rather like a burly man dressed up as a pantomime dame, you’ve probably guessed that the motivation behind church support for events like Gay Pride is not so much spiritual but secular.
The church must, on this basis, keep up with national political developments, be they in equality, liberation or gay empowerment; if this comes at the risk of bending doctrine or putting the changeable above the eternal, so be it.
Such a belief is always dangerous. Such conduct won’t increase respect for religion; it won’t convince unbelievers; and it won’t get bums on pews. Christians faced with demands for the creation of a woke, political, ersatz Christ in the image of whatever political fashion happens to be flavour of the month, would do well to consider this deeply. Jesus, as ever, had it right. “My kingdom,” he said in John’s Gospel, “is not of this world.”
(Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as UKIP’s candidate in Bath).