Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tony Blair: A Catholic convert stands up for gays

Back when I was considering becoming a catechist (before realizing that the diocesan child protection hoops were too extensive to be worth jumping through), I struggled with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. I told my priest at that time that I could not imagine ever telling a group of kids that homosexuals are objectively disordered. I find it even difficult to tolerate the homophobic comments and jokes to which we have been subjected in various retiros and charlas in the RenovaciĆ³n. To my priest's credit, he suggested that I should avoid talking about the issue completely and just tell the children that they are the sons and daughters of a God who loves them.

Now, one of Catholicism's most famous converts, former British prime minister Tony Blair, founder of the Blair Faith Foundation, shows in an interview with one of England's gay publications, Attitude (free registration required to read full interview), that he too is not willing to compromise on his support for gay rights. And his assessment that the leaders of the Catholic Church are not in step with the flock on the issue of homosexuality is born out by a recent Gallup poll that found that 54% of American Catholics believe homosexuality to be morally acceptable.

...Attitude: But why do you think so many of the world’s most senior religious figures disagree? The Pope said in a speech that ‘homosexuality is a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’, and even compared the tolerance of homosexuality to the destruction of the rainforests.

Blair: Again, there is a huge generational difference here. And there’s probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on an issue like this, because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end? You’d start having to rethink many, many things. Now, my view is that rethinking is good, so let’s carry on rethinking. Actually, we need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith. So some of these things can then result in a very broad area of issues being up for discussion.

That’s when I understand why religious leaders are very reluctant. But I sometimes say that organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances. You can either hold to your core vote, basically, you know, say: “Look, let’s not break out, because if we break out we might lose what we’ve got, and at least what we’ve got, we’ve got, so let’s keep it”. Or you say, “let’s accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change, and actually reach out”.

Attitude: Can you foresee a situation where in your lifetime or mine, we would have a pro-gay Pope, for example?

Blair: I don’t know, is the honest answer. I don’t know. Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this Pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic Church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.

Attitude: That’s quite a radical line for a Catholic: to say that the average Catholic congregation speaks for the Catholic Church more than the Pope does?

Blair: Well, I’m not going to say that! [Laughs] On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement. But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you’d find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes. If you asked “what makes you religious?” and “what does your faith mean to you?” they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering. I would be really surprised if they went to “actually, it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong” or “it’s to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way”...

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