Peter Espeut | The challenge to be fully human
I have now obtained a copy of the written submission made by the Rt Rev Howard Gregory, Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica, to the joint select committee of Parliament considering amendments to the Sexual Offences Act, and so I can comment more fulsomely.
I am well aware that the Lord Bishop is writing from a theological, rather than secular perspective, and so I interpret his words accordingly.
I enjoyed the first section, wherein the good bishop explains the duty of the Church to raise her voice in important affairs of State. He quotes at length from former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who "provides some perspectives on the task of the Church in its engagement of power in matters of governance and law". These perspectives are worth repeating:
"Churches and other faith groups might be called the trustees or custodians of the long-term questions, because they own a vision of human nature that does not depend on political fashions or majorities ... ."
This is a fundamental point, because the Church understands human nature and human society, and holds a long-term vision of where both are headed. She can stand above the political and societal fashions of the day and speak her mind. I agree!
"The Christian disciple is not seeking to make the State into a church, but is proposing to the State and to the culture in general a style and direction of common life - the life of the body of Christ - that represents humanity at its fullest."
Because the Church understands human nature in all its richness, she can challenge individuals to become fully human, and can challenge the State to put conditions in place for individuals to become fully human. This is fundamental to the Christian message: Jesus, the Christ, though true God, became fully human, to become an example for men and women to follow. Not only must individuals be evangelised, but also the ambient culture, which must be the context wherein humanity can achieve its full potential.
The meaning of this proposition rests upon an understanding of the nature of humanity, and what it means to be fully human. In the Anglican (and Catholic) tradition, this is wrapped up in the idea of being created "in the image and likeness of God". Both the Godhead and humanity are communities of persons, communities of love: other-directed and productive.
I am happy that it is Bishop Gregory who is introducing these ideas into the discussion, for they are fundamental. When a man and a woman come together and produce a child, they are being fully human; and they also resemble the Godhead. The coming together of two men or two women cannot be an expression of the fullness of humanity. I wish Bishop Gregory would take seriously what Archbishop Martin is saying.
The archbishop writes that the Church "is a voice that questions from a wholly different perspective that cannot be generated by corporate self-interest. It is a conversation partner, and what has sometimes been called a 'critical friend' to the State and its laws; it questions the foundation of what the State takes for granted, often challenging the shallowness of a prevailing societal morality."
Further down, Bishop Gregory expresses his own views: "... What happens in the privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of government," which, it seems to me, is a good example of "the shallowness of a prevailing societal morality."
It seems to me that what Bishop Gregory is doing is failing to challenge either individuals or the culture to strive to be fully human, but is actually adopting the shallowness of the prevailing libertarian societal morality, the fashion of the day.
The Archbishop of Canterbury continues, quoted by Bishop Gregory, that the Church "pushes for change to make the State a little more like the community that it is itself representing: the kingdom of God. It does not make the mistake of talking as though politics could bring the kingdom of God into being on earth, but it continually seeks to make the promise of the kingdom more concrete and visible in the common life of human beings, private and public".
The Kingdom of God is a central teaching of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels - a place of justice and peace and love, reversing the Fall from Grace. In the Kingdom, human beings now live in right relationships: with God, each other, and the natural environment - both in "private and public".
Does Bishop Gregory believe that supporting acts of buggery in private will build the Kingdom of God? Does homosexual love represent right relationships?
Why quote so extensively from Archbishop Martin if you then deviate so far from what he is saying? To be continued.
- Peter Espeut is a theologian and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.