How then does this amazing grace square with the much maligned conservative views of sexuality in our liberalised age? To find understanding of this, it helps to go back to the fundamentals: a Christian viewpoint is that each person is created by God in His image which encompasses a physical and spiritual element that exists in every person, reflected in the mystery of the Trinity where multiple aspects make the whole. Therefore the creation of a person is not reliant upon the stage of development or denigration of the physical elements of a body. From the moment of conception until the moment of death a person exists; a vulnerable, special and beautiful human being with the breath of God in their inmost soul. It is this understanding of self that naturally leads to a strong desire to protect the vulnerable through anti-abortion and anti- euthanasia policies.
This dignity of the human person extends to their relationships as well. As a person is created in the image of God, they are created to exist by love in the way God the Father, Son and Holy spirit exist in the Trinity. We are created to live in life-giving relationships with those around us; starting with a childhood that develops a sense of unconditional love through the devotion and care of our parents, friendships that bring joy, comfort and adventure and for some marriage which through fidelity, exclusivity and humble admiration allows a person to grow, be cherished and to be completed with an unbreakable bond. They should be a completion of who we are, physically and spiritually, where the complementarity of male and female comes into play. This then leads to an understanding of the importance of a father and mother, or husband and wife. These relationships should be up-lifting and life-giving for the person, their families and the greater community, bringing us to a new daily understanding of our special place in God’s heart.
Unhelpfully these understandings then become laws which are drawn as lines in the sand by many people. Humans by their very nature seem to desire rules to define what is right and wrong and feel uncomfortable with grey areas that offer only vagueries and uncertainties. Therefore they take these viewpoints made in general observation and create winners and losers, right and wrong, sinners and saints. This is a view that is promoted by those who seek to divide and create an artificial cultural war on both sides of the argument. It is an incredibly unhelpful way of promoting dialogue and bringing about understanding and tolerance. One way to overcome this is to offer these up as ideals, ideas that point to the truth, remembering God wants us to have life and have it to the full, not to judge, but to serve. The ideals point to the spirit of the law, the understanding of the uniqueness of every individual, mother and unborn child and the idea that true love is more than just physical attraction and the union goes deeper than a certificate or a name.
However life cannot be lived by ideals; they may point to the truth and be like a lighthouse in a storm to guide our steps, but real life is not lived in the Garden of Eden. Women are not there as procreational machines and certain situations offer difficult choices that are not clear cut. Love is not dependent upon the physical attributes of two people and self-sacrificial, life-giving love can exist in same sex relationships as much as it can be absent in heterosexual ones. We are not called to offer judgement and condemnation, we are called to spread a message of hope and love and yet we often get lost in that gaping hole between our ideals and real life like Tim Farron appeared to be. We are then offered a false choice between living in the real world and our outdated faith.
Yet this was exactly the world Jesus came into and needs to come into again because slap bang in the middle of this gap is planted the cross. The cross links us back to the spirit of the law through an understanding that it is by grace we are saved; it is where mercy and justice meet, where faithfulness and forgiveness are found. It is the grey areas of life on the margins that offer us so much difficulty in defining right and wrong where this is so applicable. This is nothing new. The Pharisees and Scribes struggled with these challenges and Jesus knew this, deliberately ministering in these places, to those people. Look back at the women caught in adultery, the man blind from birth, the man with the withered hand cured on the Sabbath. Jesus deliberately forced us to face these questions, not to hide behind the generalisations, but to face the person that is affected by the laws we cling to, not so we abandon the laws, but so we can come to fully understand the divine mercy that leads to unconditional love.
I know these answers to these difficult questions will be wrong to many people. People will claim that truth is truth, no matter what the situation is and I understand the need to have truth, and to deny it exists is a dangerous precedent. However, the world is not black and white and I would encourage them to meet the people on the margin, to see God’s fingerprint in any situation, see Him working through and with any person, remembering every good and perfect gift comes from Him. People will argue that it is discriminatory to have any ideals and by stating that some situations offer a better outcome you immediately judge those not in those situations to be less than ideal. Yet people need to have guidance and the ideals offer pointers to the truth that can be applied for the good of us all, remembering God truly wants the best for us and just because someone has a different opinion to you, it does not make them evil or bigoted, they may still be acting out of love.
Sometimes though you don’t have to have all the answers; our ability to live with the tensions and paradoxes of life will determine how much peace we feel and how balanced our mental well-being is. To hold this together is difficult, but the reality is we don’t have to. Let these things go and let Jesus with his cross hold them for you. To quote Richard Rohr, everything belongs.