Thursday, 4 May 2017


Gay sex: is it a sin or not? After being hounded by all, wimpish Liberal leader Tim Farron finally gasped that it is not. PM Theresa May followed suit. Bizarre.  Because sin is a theological concept. Part of the universe of discourse of faith. Why should uber-secular politicians be hammered with questions about their religious beliefs? What next? Is betting a sin? Is usury? Is disbelief in the Blessed Trinity a sin?
Had you fallen into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition 400 years ago, interrogators would have demanded: ‘How many things are necessary to salvation? Is faith alone sufficient? Or do you need hope and charity too?’ The wrong reply would have got you burned at the stake as a heretic. Of course, back then religion and politics were one. To be an Englishman was to be a Protestant, just as Catholicism was Spain’s state religion. Now society’s dogma is that faith is a private matter. Relates to the inner forum, conscience. The police don’t stop and question you about the Virgin Birth. Why then tormenting Farron and May about sin and gay sex?

The priest won’t beat about the bush. Farron is an evangelical Christian. The Bible-based variety. Traditionally hostile to gays. And to fornication in general. Yes, fornication. A biblically-abominated activity which covers heterosexual as well as homosexual categories. From adultery to sex outside marriage, prostitution, casual relationships and so on. Many Christians are embarrassed about those quaint prohibitions. They keep schtum about them. Evangelicals at least are upfront. They wear their floppy Bibles on their sleeves.  Hypocrites they are not…

Gays were also Tory MP Andrew Turner’s undoing. ‘Homosexuality is a danger to society’, he shocked students. That was not theology – sin – but sociology – the well-being of the community. Hence the matter becomes not spiritual but empirical. Homosexuality is no longer illegal – indeed, it’s widely approved. How would you decide whether society is harmed by gays? In Imperial Rome, in the Medici’s Florence, in the Berlin of Roehm and the Brown Shirts homosexuals thrived. (Hitler actually excused his friend Roehm’s pederasty because, to quote him: ‘Sexuality is a private affair’.) Those were culturally vibrant, exciting times. Nonetheless Emperor Claudius expelled gays (sphinctriae) from Rome and Hitler had Roehm executed – for non-sexual reasons. Not clear what the answer is here. Anyway, Andrew Turner won’t stand again as MP. That will teach him: steer clear of gays!
The State and the media want religionists to keep out of politics. You’d expect reciprocation – the secularists should leave matters of sin alone – but they don’t. In fact, they may have a point – though not the point they think they have. Caesar and God can’t be relegated to mutually separate compartments. (Christ never meant it that way. Because God is infinitely greater than Caesar.) They interact and sometime conflict. Who should have priority? From martyrs like St Thomas Becket and St Thomas More to the horrendous de-Christianization enacted by the French revolutionaries, the battle has been fought. And it must always be.

I wonder whether those who bang on about sin understand  its meaning. Sin is violation of God’s will and enactments as set out in a religious revelation. What is clear from the Bible is that every human being is a sinner. Israel – God’s ancient, chosen people – was constantly going astray, opposing God’s will – sinning.  (And God regularly forgiving…) Even prophets and patriarchs like Moses and David sinned and deserved God’s punishment. Yet the Creator sent his only Son into that sinful world to redeem it. Sin does not exclude eventual salvation, that’s the point. It’s up to human choice.

The greatest of all religious poets, Dante, in the Inferno portrays the cycle of the sodomites, as medieval theology would have it. Amongst them, he recognises his own teacher, Brunetto Latini. They talk. Nothing in their conversation indicates Dante was hostile to him or disgusted. ‘His dear, paternal face’, the poet so affectionately describes Brunetto. Church doctrine requires his teacher’s proclivities to be chastised but Dante does not love him less.  Moreover, gays also appear in the second canticle, the Purgatorio. Now, Purgatory is a cleansing, a purification, a necessary prelude to being admitted into Paradise. Once in Purgatory you can’t backslide, you are Heaven-bound.  That shows that Dante did not consider gays to be beyond the reach of divine grace, forgiveness and love.

I happen to know a top Evangelical Christian in London. I’ll call him Gideon. We were friends at Oxford, though at different colleges. Once, during some silly clerical training, we had to act out a role play. ‘You will play a gay man’, they told Gideon. He flatly refused. ‘I won’t play a homosexual’.  Stuck to his guns, despite being mocked by fellow liberal priests. Intolerance? Maybe but many Evangelicals and Charismatics believe in a demon of homosexuality. Playing a gay man might have opened the door to demonic possession, with Gideon actually becoming gay. A prospect for him (and his wife) too dreadful to contemplate. Hence his stern resistance.
Lastly, I read in the Evening Standard that a ‘Big Gay Iftar’ is being planned for Ramadan. London’s LGBT and Muslims will meet for Gay Pride festival in July. Though the Gay Iftar will be held in a church – not in a mosque. I wonder why...
Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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