Tony Blair converted to Catholicism two years ago and is now offering advice
to the Pope on doctrinal matters.
Asked if he agreed with the Pope's attitude to homosexuality, he told Attitude:
'There is a huge generational difference here.
'There's probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on [homosexuality], because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end?
'You'd start having to rethink many, many things. If you went and asked the congregation, I think you'd find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes.'
He added: 'Organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances.
'You can either A: Hold on to your core vote, basically, you know, say "look, let's not break out because if we break out we might lose what we've got, and at least we've got what we've got so let's keep it".
'Or B: You say "let's accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change and actually reach out".'
Blair seems to think that the Church should follow along with changing and evolving attitudes. People decide to think one way, so the Church should follow. I wouldn't want to belong to a church which operated this way. I would want a church to hold me to a standard of right, even if it went against the temper of the times.
In other words, if Blair wants to argue for an acceptance of homosexuality he should really be claiming that the Church was wrong in the past and should now admit its mistake - rather than blather on about evolving attitudes.
However, even if we accept Blair's approach to the issue, his claim that accepting homosexuality would extend the reach of the church is doubtful.
Blair is taking a very common position here - one that is worth criticising. There are many people, most of them non-radical and well-intentioned, who want to apply the non-discrimination principle and who genuinely believe that by doing so nothing significant will change.
In other words, they sincerely believe that in not discriminating they will keep all the traditional goods that they and society enjoy and will simply extend these goods to other groups who were previously excluded.
It seems a no-brainer to them: if we are inclusive we will allow others to share in goods which were previously irrationally denied to them.
Blair is not a radical who wants to smash the Catholic Church. He wants the Catholic Church to continue and to grow in influence. His approach, though, is much more dangerous to the Church than he realises.
We already have an example of a major, formerly mainstream Christian church which has taken the Blair road. The Episcopal Church in America is dedicated to non-discrimination and is accepting of homosexuality. Has this church stayed the same but with a more inclusive outlook and a wider audience?
In fact, it has changed radically and suffered upheaval and schism. I described some of these radical changes in my last post
. The Episcopal Church has appointed as the new dean of one of its seminaries Dr Katherine Ragsdale. Her main activity has been to lead a political think tank called Political Research Associates (PRA). The papers published by this think tank, and endorsed by Dr Katherine Ragsdale, are aimed at attacking the heterosexual nuclear family, fathers and marriage.
Dr Ragsdale is a lesbian minister in the Episcopal Church. It makes sense for her as a lesbian to attack the traditional family and to press instead for alternative family types. If homosexuality is the equal of heterosexuality in the Episcopal Church, then why should she accept that fathers are a natural part of the family? Logically she can't accept such an idea - otherwise her lesbianism would be taking second place. Similarly, how can she accept that the heterosexual nuclear family is the natural form of the family - if she accepted this, she would be denying that homosexuality was equal to heterosexuality.
So in accepting homosexuality the Episcopal Church must, as a matter of logic, deny that fathers are a natural part of the family. The Episcopal Church must also deny that the heterosexual nuclear family is the natural form of the family. And if it isn't the natural form of the family, why has it been held to be so in the past? The answer given by many will be that it performed some sort of exploitative, oppressive role from which we are now being liberated by the modern, politically correct church.
If homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality then which culture should predominate? Should homosexuals aim to become more like heterosexuals? Or heterosexuals more like homosexuals? The Rev. Dr. Marvin Ellison, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was invited to give a keynote address
to the Episcopal Divinity School last year. He argued that heterosexuals should assimilate to homosexual sexual norms:
Considerable evidence suggests that the majority heterosexual culture is coming to resemble gay culture with its gender flexibility, experimentation with family forms, and celebration of the pleasures of non-procreative sex ... This process may be thought of as reverse assimilation. The lesson, Bronski suggests, may be that "Only when those in the dominant culture realize that they are better off acting like gay people will the world change and be a better, safer, and more pleasurable place for everyone."
But, complains The Rev. Dr. Ellison, there is a stumbling block to this better future:
"The Religious Right with its notorious "straight agenda" is hardly enthusiastic about queering the church or world."
The Rev. Ellison wants to inspire us with these words:
Celebrating our common humanity requires making an odd, decisively queer turn toward radical equality and plunging in together to rebuild a vibrant, just and wildly inclusive social order.
The "inclusive social order" requires a "decisively queer turn" in which fathers are no longer considered a natural part of the family; the heterosexual nuclear family is no longer the social norm; gender identity is no longer fixed into the categories of male and female; and sexual morality changes to embrace a more promiscuous, homosexual style sexuality.
Can we really be surprised that the Episcopal Church is beginning to break up? The church lost 115,000 members in the years 2003-5; 800 out of 7000 parishes in North America are exploring future options; and four bishops have taken their diocese out of the church in recent years
Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker argued for the split from the national church. He's repeatedly argued that the Episcopal Church has abandoned orthodox Christianity for a liberal social agenda.The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists.
"The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. It's been hijacked," Iker told the Dallas Morning News.
Following a principle of non-discrimination did not mean keeping the church and extending its reach. It meant losing the church.
Tony Blair's advice to the Pope is not sound. Blair is not deliberately intending to harm the institution he supports. He is not motivated by radical malice. His fault is that he assumes too casually that non-discrimination cannot do harm, that it merely extends a good more widely, rather than undermining that good.
And Blair has this fault because it is so common, so assumed, within political debate and discussion at the moment. It is part of the reigning political mindset.