I’m not a fan of inter-denominational church politics and as a rule am more than happy to take the pure and simple label “Christian” to describe my religious inclinations. But I have never felt closer to nailing my colours to the C of E mast than at the end of a week in which the Archbishop of Canterbury talked complete sense about the credit crisis whilst the Bishop of Rome took a subtle but nasty swipe at sexual minorities.
What he said has, predictably, been exaggerated and misreported; the Pope certainly never mentioned homosexuals and neither did he mention transsexuals; but given the Vatican’s recent attitude towards both (the Vatican has just announced its opposition to a United Nations proposal to protect gays from being criminalised and punished by governments for their orientation) it’s not difficult to see what the Pope meant when he said “the Church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected”.
I actually find it all the more sinister that his Holiness chose to disguise this as an environmental message (“rainforests deserve yes, our protection, but the human being as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom, but is the condition of his freedom, does not deserve it less”) – he has taken an issue which concerns everyone and tried to wrap his own prejudiced views into it, which is no less than what Norman Tebbit did when he managed to turn a discussion about child obesity into a rant about sodomy.
Firstly, this shows a huge lack of perspective, a problem which is not unfamiliar to the church but which one hoped the Holy Father might not suffer from. Yet he suggests that as plants and animals are forced from their habitats and a million species face possible extinction over the next 50 years, God is equally ticked off when a man takes an expensive holiday to Australia and comes back as a woman. Whatever your beliefs about changing genders and the related issues of sexuality, is the latter really in the same league of awfulness? What the Pope said, in his sneaky Papal way, is that they’re just as bad as each other – and his obsession with “correct sex” (i.e. not bumming) shows just how preoccupied his leadership is with the minor issue (there, I’ve said it, it’s a minor issue) of sex and sexuality. Did his Christmas speech mention human rights abuses, perhaps name-check Mugabe or point out that people are still being tortured – sorry, interrogated – at Guantanamo bay? Nope. It’s just the trannies and, if you take his thoughts to their logical conclusion (most reporters have), queers who get the Papal wrath this year. Frohe Weihnachten.
What I wonder then, is this: has the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church forgotten the true meaning of Christmas?
It is, after all, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who practiced and preached absolute acceptance of all human beings, who showed love to outcasts and sexual deviants and who did not have divisions of class, race or gender in his ministry. He never actually mentioned homosexuality (maybe he also thought it was a minor issue), but if there had been transsexuals in Judea at the time I can’t help feeling he’d probably have taken the time to chew the fat with them.
The inclusiveness of Jesus’ teaching is beautifully summed up by the apostle Paul, which is ironic because religious conservatives usually count on him being on their side. “There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”
It’s up to you, of course, but that’s the Christmas message I’m paying attention to this year.