I felt the need to say something about Cardinal Keith O’Brian’s statements about homosexuality. I bear him no ill will, no resentment, or at least I try not to. If I do, if I hate him for what he’s said, it’s my problem, not his.
I can of course understand those who are more directly affected being angry to the point of fury with him. There is nothing, nothing more soul-sapping than someone who speaks out of ignorance of who you are, damning you for behaving in a way you believe to be moral and good.
But those are issues for the listener, not the speaker. Myself, having heard the Cardinal on the Today programme this morning, I felt, amongst other things, pity. You know things are not going well for someone when they are saying things you find completely morally objectionable and yet, they are failing so completely in their argument that you want them to stop, not for your sake, but for theirs.
But that’s by the by. The reason I want to write something is not simply because of a fundamental error of judgement he is making, but rather a fundamental error of theology. The theological mistake he is making is a massive one.
He believes that the church is the way in which God speaks to society. Whereas it seems to me that God speaks to the church through society. The prophets are always outside the church, not in it. Any church which does not admit that possibility that God may be speaking to them through society is one which is at least partially deaf to God.
The Cardinal’s argument is not a biblical one, or an argument about Jesus, or about morals. It is about history and doctrine. If history and doctrine is against it, then it must not be true. Which begs the question, how can God ever tell us anything which is new? What is the meaning of Good News in a church where God can only say Old News?
Jesus was on the outside of the church calling in, and the Pharisees saw nothing in their traditions and histories which would admit a possibility of Jesus being right. Their fundamental error was not being nasty people (they weren’t) but being incapable of listening to anything new.
We are seeing in our Western World, the church being left behind, old churches hollowed out and used for other things, the remnant of Christendom struggling to keep up with a new world. People object to Christianity, not on the grounds of belief in God, but now on moral grounds – it is harsh, it is unkind, it is pompous and preachy, it is stern and damnatory.
If God is speaking and we do not listen, it is good, and right, that churches decline. People being deaf to God is one thing, but institutions which enshrine deafness in their practice is another. God has a habit of breaking down such barriers, and we should, perhaps, in this context, and especially in Lent, welcome the end of such former glories.