Page 16, 23rd February 2007

23rd February 2007
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Page 16, 23rd February 2007 — Selling the Church's crazy story about love
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Selling the Church's crazy story about love

By Brendan Walsh

Wasn't the snow gorgeous, an utter joy? I stumble out of the flat every morning on automatic and start to come to my senses as the 28 bus grinds over Wandsworth Bridge. There had been a heavy snowfall overnight and there were still dazzling stripes of snow in between the tyre tracks on the road. The car auction site, the scruffy shops and takeaways sparkled like silver spoons and cut glass on a fresh white tablecloth. Come lunchtime, and studious copy editors and glamorous publicity directors left behind their lowfat yoghurts to throw snowballs at each other in the park.

Our spirits needed a bit of a lift. The Church had been back in the "meeja" over the previous few days and there was talk about how well we'd "done". The cardinal and an archbishop. the cheerleaders and porn-porn girls from Eccleston Square and a lively supporting cast of loyalists and dissidents had been championing or disputing the right of Catholic adoption agencies to opt out of new legislation to ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services. The exchanges tended to follow the familiar pattern. Each side has undergone top of the range media training. The interviewer is schooled in paying respectful attention to the man from the Flat Earth Society, while the Church's spokesman is careful not to come across as a gay-basher, willing to refer samesex couples offering to adopt children to an alternative supplier of goods and services up the road, and indeed, one gets the impression, happy to drive them there himself. They all tend to sound as it they'd rather not have been wheeled out to talk about That Subject again, and the general feeling was that this was a storm that with better piloting might have been quietly circumnavigated.

On my way home the white stripes on the road had long since gone, the snow on the pavements had turned to slush and the world looked grey again. The Church's take on a complicated subject is set out by Herbert McCabe in his crisp little catechism, The Teaching of the Catholic Church: "We exercise chastity by, characteristically. being warm and affectionate but not flirtatious with others; by ensuring that embraces and other bodily gestures are genuinely signs of friendship; and having genital sex only with the one to whom we are exclusively committed in marriage." At the same time, there's a growing number of Catholics with varying levels of puzzlement about the Church's teaching on homosexuality, including a minority who have been convinced by the arguments of Anglicans such as Rowan Williams that the question of whether faithful and stable same-sex relationships (with all the physical bells and whistles) might be blessed by God should be moved from the file marked "case closed" to the one marked "cases still under investigation". In other words, they are wondering if homosexuality might be one of those items in Herbert's catechism, like capital punishment or the possession of nuclear weapons, that Catholics can have a good row about without being told to shush and do what they're told because it's all been settled. It's frustrating that when you see the face of a Church leader appearing on the box you have the sinking feeling that he's going to be cross-examined by some baffled-looking link-man about his idiosyncratic views on sexuality. Perhaps in these matters it's time we gave the charisms of humility and silence a little more exercise. But at the heart of our subversive Christian conspiracy there is something we passionately want to say about love and relationships, something that has always been seen as a scandalous affront to the values of the world — and it's got nothing to do with views on gay relationships. "Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes." My guess is there were a few Corinthians who responded to St Paul with a world-weary Paxman snort. When Christians talk about love, they have always rubbed up against a wary world that's heard people say, sure, they'll call us, too many times, and has worked out how to play its cards better next time. Everyone is a smart cookie. This talk of love as a reckless self-abandonment, no strings, no quid pro quos, and not just seven get-out-jail-free cards for the erring partner but 70 times seven, you bet it's a shock and a scandal. Are these people mad?

We are invited to love in as disinterested a way as we can, and to let the cards fall as they will, knowing that they might very well fall badly for us. At least in this life. It's a long shot, perhaps, but we pray that we might be happier in the next one. That's a difficult one to sell on prime time. I'm glad I'm not a bishop. But that's our crazy story about love, and wherever we see it acted out, as often, it seems, outside the Church as inside, in so-called "irregular" as often as in regular relationships, that's where, we believe, God is.

Brendan Walsh is the editorial director of Dorton. Longman and Todd. His e-mail address is [email protected] darton-longman-todd.co.uk




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