What’s in the bad bracket?

  • Tony Payne
  • 31 July 2015

Photo by photomequickbooth at https://www.flickr.com/photos/photomequickbooth/4380100026/It’s a strange and befuddling world we find ourselves in. Progressive young things are now (literally) blocking their ears so as not to be assaulted by the hate speech that is the traditional definition of marriage. Others are arguing that straight people who support ‘marriage equality’ should refuse to be married under the current unjust and discriminatory marriage law, until it changes.

But just occasionally, the fog clears and a moment of clarity emerges.

Such as when English evangelical vicar Melvin Tinker recently found himself the subject of a media storm for daring to say that homosexual sex was morally wrong. This was in response to the decision by his local Canon to support and bless a gay pride rally, including draping a rainbow flag on the steps of York Minster. 

Now the Rev Tinker probably made a tactical blunder by mentioning paedophilia in his comments—because this sent the press ballistic and gave them their headline (“Vicar likens homosexuality to paedophilia”). He could have said ‘greed’ or ‘thieving’ or ‘idolatry’ or ‘swindling’ (or any of the other things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and made the same point: namely that men having sex with each other is in the same moral category as any other immoral act, and that it is thus extraordinary for the church to be blessing and supporting it. 

The apoplectic reaction to the Rev Tinker’s remarks reveals a great deal about the state of the current debate. It shows how uncomfortable and even dangerous it is likely to become to dissent from the cultural orthodoxy (especially of the media gatekeepers). A BBC interview with the Rev Tinker opened with calls for him to be punished and to apologise for his ‘highly offensive’ remarks. 

But it highlighted, in particular, how quickly anyone will be jumped on who dares to suggest that homosexual sex is immoral. In that tone of voice that says let me just get you to hang yourself again for our viewers”, the BBC presenter asked: “Let me just clarify: do you bracket homosexuality alongside serial adultery and paedophilia, in (if you like) the ‘bad bracket’?”

It wasn’t clear from what followed whether the interviewer accepted that there was even such a thing as the bad bracket, but it was very clear what he thought of putting gay sex into that category. 

This is and will be a key issue. It’s one that Christian apologists and debaters on the same-sex marriage question have largely avoided to this point (in my observation), presumably because it is deemed too offensive to gain any traction in the public square. It is (just) acceptable to put forward various arguments as to why a traditional definition of marriage ought to be retained. It is quite unacceptable to declare that two men (or two women) having sex with each other is bad and morally wrong—even though, biblically speaking, this is a significant plank in our view that ‘same-sex marriage’ is perverse. 

The horror with which our cultural elites greet this idea shows the extent to which the redefinition of marriage has been preceded in our society by a redefinition of sex and morality. I suspect the reason that many in the broader community seem ready to acquiesce to the concept of same-sex marriage is that we have (for several decades now) embraced the idea that human sexuality is ours to define and to practise as we see fit. In our culture, any consensual sex outside of marriage is no longer in ‘the bad bracket’. It is to be celebrated, and those who seek to limit sex to marriage are just weird, uptight fundamentalists who always end up being the perp on Law & Order SVU. Sex is something we do for pleasure and personal fulfilment. Why should we not be free to do it consensually when and with whom we wish? 

This radical individualistic re-casting of sexual morality is the foundation; same-sex marriage is one of the constructs that have been built upon it. I doubt that we will clearly or faithfully be able to explain our opposition to same-sex marriage without honestly addressing the underlying questions of sex and morality.

Photo credit: Nicola Jones

These issues will be the subject of the next Centre for Christian Living event, to be held at 7:30pm on Wednesday 26 August, at Moore College. Sandy Grant and Tony Payne will be speaking on: “Redefining Sex and Marriage: How to think, live and speak as Christians when the world heads in a different direction”. 

For more information and tickets, click here.