“A sensible reformation of attitudes”
That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today. The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which
the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.
Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”
Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:
He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”
Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:
He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.
Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”
So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth. This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally. In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional. “Yes, we can.”
We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel). Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.” But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them. They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.
The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals. It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us. Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25). The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous. Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)
See: absolute equality. Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .
But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty. And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)
True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart. It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven. The apostle Paul describes such sinners:
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1.26-32).
Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss). In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.
To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)
That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.
Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable. What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm? Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition? If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new? This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.
Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery? Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West. Is it time to ring the changes once again? It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today. Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?
Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all. He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him. Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.
What a heap of confusion! We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not. What a miserable and empty vision for religion. What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?
How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)