OK. I’ve been listening to this debate raging among Christians as well as in the general community – all without actually watching the video clip – until now. I’ve just watched it. And I think in this case I’m glad I’ve done it in that order. I’ve watched it with an eye to both (all?) sides of the debate, and I think I can see totally valid points in defense of both the Bible Society-Coopers ‘deal’ and the production of the video. But I can also see very compelling arguments by Christians and non-Christians alike, pointing the other way, suggesting that parts or all of it have been at best ill-judged or at worst a disaster of, umm, ‘biblical’ proportions.
I’ve chosen the words ‘valid’ and ‘compelling’ very deliberately. The central observation many of my fellow ‘conservative’ (relative and over-simple term) Christian friends are making is entirely intellectually valid. The hotly contentious video clip does indeed feature a civil discussion between two protagonists, who differ significantly on a few substantial criteria. It is indeed a cause for sadness that such an event could elicit public anger, opprobrium and even vitriol. It ‘ought’ to be otherwise; it ought to be celebrated rather than condemned.
But what I’m finding increasingly compelling is the metanarrative others are pointing to. I’ll mention two elements in reverse order of significance, as I perceive them. First, a political misjudgement. If Christians want to engage the public in useful dialogue on whatever issue, it’s a good idea to be astute about perception. It’s unfortunately not a good look that the two interlocutors chosen are not only both MPs, but also of the same party – and to wit the party currently in government, and the one most closely aligned with the ‘traditional’ position. We, the Christian community, could seriously do without a public perception that we’re aligned with one (doesn’t matter which one) side of politics. The danger is that that becomes a distraction from the issue itself, or worse – it actually becomes the issue.
And so to the second and I think most compelling metanarrative point. We the Christian community have not covered ourselves in glory when it comes to demonstrating God’s love for LGBT+ people. Plenty has been written and spoken on this point, so I won’t elaborate it in detail. But briefly, we’re fighting a clear public perception, forged over decades, that Christians don’t like gays – as people. Many of us are now working hard to reverse that perception. But as it took decades to establish, it’ll likely take decades to dismantle.
That, as several folk are telling me, is the big metanarrative. Thus when LGBT+ people or their advocates see a Christian organisation having a public discussion on a subject they hold very dear – and on which the general orthodox Christian position is both well known and unfavourable, the metanarrative carries the day. The civility or otherwise of the featured discussion is simply invisible beneath the torrent of long-established distrust of Christians.
That’s how it’s looking to me, anyway.