Graham Spiers Exhibits Civility

From Graham Spiers, and more of this fine specimen of civility can be found at the link. This article is about the passing of legislation in Scotland on same-sex marriage, Cardinal O’Brien’s principled opposition, and the vitriol of those who oppose the man. Spiers:

CRITICS of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s position on gay marriage have got this principled man so wrong.

I can see it has been another easy week in the business of abusing and ridiculing Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the father of Scotland’s Catholic community. In the pastime of mocking religion and religious figures in my country, O’Brien effortlessly leads the way in the custard-pie stakes.

The sorry subject, as ever, is that of gay marriage. The cardinal holds a view on this which, as it happens, is wholly opposed to my own: he detests the notion, and deplores the road that the Scottish Government is embarked upon, which is to have a gay marriage bill forthcoming by the end of the year, and same-sex marriages legal in Scotland by 2015.

Although I intellectually disagree with him, my admiration for O’Brien grows with an almost equal fervour with every passing week.

He is a strong and resolute Christian man. He is a spiritual leader of deep empathy and understanding. He is, according to those who know him, a warm and engaging character, qualities which I’ve no doubt sprang from his pre-celebrity years of humble parish work in places such as Cowdenbeath, Kilsyth and Bathgate among others….

What this church leader detests is not people, but ideas. On gay marriage, yes, he has open loathing for the notion of same-sex couples being shacked up, even more so when it is assisted by the state. But this is because he believes it drives a coach and horses through the very heart of Christian doctrine.

The foundation stone of any Christian doctrine is the Bible, and on this score O’Brien has every right to stand up for what he believes.

Indeed, amid the vagaries and vicissitudes of biblical interpretation, he may well be right on the subject of biblical authority and same-sex relationships….

What is O’Brien, if he believes in the sacred word, to do? Simply ignore it? He finds himself grossly out of step with the progressive, intellectual mood of modern Britain – although, intriguingly, not with ordinary Britons themselves – so should he simply allow his beliefs to be submerged beneath the rubble of modern values? Well, alas for his detractors, he’s not for that at all….

However, what I reject is the castigation of a decent and impressive Church leader, simply because he refuses to abandon his principles. O’Brien is that man in Scotland, standing foursquare against what he views as a modern ill-wind.

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  • Tanya

    “What is O’Brien, if he believes in the sacred word to do?” Spiers asks. My answer: If gay marriage is against his religious convictions, he should not marry another man. What prohibits me from acknowledging this man’s principled opposition is that he wishes to keep the possibility away from others who do not believe as he does. We do not have unanimity about this matter, even in Christendom, why should his opinion determine the opportunities available to all?

    “– so should he simply allow his beliefs to be submerged beneath the rubble of modern values?” How could Spier be so obtuse? The OTHER alternative is that the rest of us allow our beliefs to be submerged under the rubble of what we might call DATED values, isn’t it? And to many of us, this is outrageous. My opinons have no bearing on his behavior or options. Why should his religious convictions dictate my behavior, my options?

    When the divorce laws were under discussion in Brittain, C. S. Lewis wrote this: “A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine…”

    That, in my opinion, is the only sensible way to think in a pluralistic world.

  • Carol LeCompte

    From Graham’s lips…er, fingers to bloggers and commenters everywhere. If only something like this would go viral!

  • David Dollins

    @ Tanya – this is why Cardinal O’Brien stands for what he does. It is because God already decided it. You might want to think twice about arguing your point and fighting for your belief, as you may find yourself fighting with God.

    “Claiming to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” – Romans 1:22, 24, 26-28

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” – 1 Corinthians 6:9

    “…understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” – 1 Timothy 1:9-11

  • CGC

    HI Everyone,

    1. Civility in our disagreements is the bottom line of this thread.

    2. There is a difference between the church living as an alternative polis and Christians trying to legislate issues through politics.

    3. Quoting scriptures by either side often does not help on issues like this since the bottom line here is interpretation and both sides have interpreted the very ‘same Scriptures’ in different ways drawing different conclusions. I do understand the force of the magisterium in a world of interpretive pluralism when it comes to the Scriptures. It does seem like Cardinal Keith O’Brien is trying to stay true to his convictions and to his understanding of the beliefs of his church!

  • SW


    I’m sympathetic to your stance. I, too, sometimes wish that everyone could just do their own thing, and that people would just agree to disagree. All of these seemingly endless debates can wind people up, leading to hateful remarks and heightened tensions. Even so, I honestly don’t think its as simple as you seem to be portraying it.

    On some matters, yes, we can legitimately agree to disagree. If you happen to enjoy a TV show or movie that I don’t, no harm is done; we don’t think anything of significance is at stake if one person likes ‘Mad Men’ and the other doesn’t. But on other issues we absolutely (and, I think, rightly) do not believe we can just leave people be. No one lets a criminal get away with murder simply because said murderer thinks that the charges against him/her represent “outdated” values. The same goes for theft, rape, and many other abominable acts as well.
    Why is it all right for us to impose our values on Bernie Madoff or Jerry Sandusky, but not on others who go against deeply-held moral convictions?

    I’m not trying to say we need to go back to some supposed “good ol’ days” that existed in the past, but that everyone inevitably imposes their values on others. There is no such thing as a ‘value-free’ society, institution, etc. As fellow posters have already mentioned, the highlight of this post is civility, that if people argue over beliefs that they do so sincerely and with the intent of understanding their opponent’s ideas. Hopefully doing so will lead to insight on what we think we can afford to disagree about, and on what we think is too important to let slide.

  • RJS

    Does 1 Cor. 5:9-12 speak to this at all? (Not civility, but our attitude toward the issue that is behind this particular dispute.)

  • David Dollins

    @CGC “Quoting scriptures by either side often does not help on issues like this since the bottom line here is interpretation and both sides have interpreted the very ‘same Scriptures’ in different ways drawing different conclusions.”

    The Scriptures I quoted not only help on this issue, they go to the heart of the issue. I, like anyone else, am free to do whatever I want. That is certainly true. It was also true with Adam and Eve but they paid a dear price for not obeying God. I face the same choice. The real issue is…do we want to do it God’s way or our own way. Yes, we definitely have freedom to choose to live however we desire. And by the way, those Scriptures are very clear and leave no ambiguity as it regards interpretation..

  • @David Dollins: Then how about I Corinthians 5:12 – 13? My issue isn’t with the Cardinal’s view of same-sex marriage. It’s with his desire to limit it to people outside the church.

  • David Dollins

    Hi Tyson! Very simply, being an Ordained Minister myself, I totally understand what the Cardinal is doing. As with any minister who takes the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible revealed word of God, he believes himself to be a preacher of righteousness. Through that the Cardinal, like myself, believes that by warning people and taking Biblical stands that we are stating things that are steering people away from things that lead away from God and ultimately to destruction. Further, it is out of love for people that we warn of what we believe are consequences for various actions, regardless of whether you are born again or not. As to your verse in 1 Corinthians 5, I believe Paul was making sure ‘we see to our own house’ too. I don’t have time to draw this out, but I also believe that the Cardinal would say that to allow such marriages or unions would cause further degradation of society. The verses I mentioned in my first post give a lot of that reason. Finally, my heart’s passion is to point people to Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for all, regardless of their background. The issue is, will we place ourselves on the throne of our heart, or will we place Jesus Christ on the throne. The choice truly is ours.

  • Eric L

    @ SW (#5)

    You don’t need a religion to explain why acts like murder, rape, and theft are “wrong”. All of those acts are “abominable” precisely because they harm other people. It doesn’t matter whether the murderer thinks that not wanting to be killed is an “outdated” value. Most of us don’t want to be killed, which is why we collectively criminalize murder.

    Same-sex marriage is not like that. Having lived in three states that recognize same-sex marriages, I can tell you that granting marriage rights to two men or two woman never once caused me harm. And the Prop 8 court case strongly indicates that my anecdotal conclusions are correct. The pro-Prop 8 side had to lay out a compelling reason to believe that same-sex marriage would harm society, and it failed to do in a most spectacular fashion.

    If you want to prohibit something in a pluralistic society, you need a better reason than just “my religion says this should be prohibited”.

  • Ben Thorp

    It is worth noting that, in the UK at least, the same-sex marriage debate is not one of equality. Gay couples can join in a “civil partnership” which gives them identical legal rights to heterosexual marriage partners. Depending on the denomination, they can also engage in a spiritual blessing of some sort. The objection of the churches is to a redefinition of marriage, which is regarded both as a spiritual constant, and a societal norm, and something that has not previously required legal definition. The other worry is that once the change is in place, that the local parliament will be powerless to stop it being used as leverage in the European courts to force ministers to allowing gay marriages to take place in their own places of worship (among other things).

  • Surely Ben the fears of some of the Churches around being compelled to allow their premises to be used for same sex marriages is unfounded if one thinks of similar situations?The EU promulgates equal rights and non discrimination for women but has not attempted to make it illegal to deny ordination to one. It is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of religion but that does not mean Jews will be forced to allow Christian marriages in their synagogues.