I have to admit to a degree of surprise at the speed and ferocity of the debate on same sex unions, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It may have been simmering for some time, yet its presentation as a political issue in England – the Scottish consultation, responses and subsequent commentary have been much more measured – demonstrates a level of overwhelming anxiety and determination in pressing the matter.
It has fallen to a Sikh leader to put his finger on the issue that at stake is not only the redefinition of marriage, but also the manipulation of language to fit new agendas. An understanding of the relations between men and women has become entangled in the politics of identity specifically that of same-sex couples.
My concern is that the politics of identity has taken precedence over the reality of being. What I mean is that the way we present or represent ourselves is the result of our sense of being, at the deepest level of our personalities. As a Christian, I can only say that my identity is essentially spiritual and springs from my relationship with Jesus Christ.
All other aspects of my life, identity and personality come from that and do not take precedence over it. Accordingly, it is my relationship with God in Jesus Christ that sets the agenda for my emotional life, sense of nationality and politics, tastes in music and the arts, preferences in reading and of course my sexuality. To put any aspect of life ahead of my Christian faith is to undermine that faith and to beg the question of where my priorities lie. If my priorities lie in my life with Jesus Christ, all other aspects of life must take their place after that, and that includes matters of sexuality.
Now new life in Jesus Christ is open to all regardless of the sins, pains, experiences or unresolved issues of the past. In Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3: 28). All are united in Him and have their identity in Him – but working out that identity is a lifetime’s work of abiding in Him and being pruned of dead wood and dead works. (See John 15).
In one sense we are all hypocrites for we proclaim the holiness of Jesus Christ without measuring up to it ourselves. In another sense, we are working out our salvation in fear and trembling, coming to terms with the hidden parts of our lives and trying to surrender them before the majesty and seeking the mercy of God. But what we do not have the authority to do – certainly I do not – is to reinterpret the scriptures of the old and new testaments to suit either our own preferences or the fashions of the age.
As we have been re-discovering, the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes … (Ps 19: 7). The law of the Lord is given spiritually and received and applied spiritually and not legalistically. It is the tutor that leads us in faith towards the Lord of our Salvation, but not a substitute for that salvation. If we reject it, then we may also find that receiving the gift of eternal life as Jesus gives it is also more difficult.
It is also a means by which the Lord puts a finger upon various aspects of our lives, including the sexual ones among others. For some that finger will touch an area of pain or rejection of disappointment. For others, it will heal and soothe an impossible matter or situation. For others it will cause an itch that is persistent and will not be remedied until we have sought the Lord’s face in the matter. For all, the Lord meets us with quiet and persistent conviction, but not with the destruction and turbulence of condemnation.
But let us be clear that however the matter of same-sex unions is resolved it will not end the areas of dispute which may be thrust upon us. There will be others – such as the application of euthanasia (just how voluntary?) and the harvesting of organs, the approval of bigamy or incest, the lowering of the age of consent, and indeed the conduct and language of our worship of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. As a church we are not obsessed with sex – rather we are bound to respond to the issues of the time. Our obsession if anything is in the fact that God was so totally devoted and committed to the world, that He gave Jesus – the very best and most precious of all that He had – so that we may live in union with His mercy and glory, and not the degradation and corruption of our own sins and appetites.