“Whoever causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a great millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, NIV)
On the weekend of 10-12 August Ely Cathedral flew the “Pride” rainbow flag from its tower in support of the first Ely Gay Pride event, at the request of the Dean and agreement of the cathedral’s chapter (senior staff). There has been much comment about this – inevitably, since it is a very public statement from the cathedral church of our diocese. What are we to make of it?
May I first ask you to take what I am about to say as a whole and not out of context. And may I also assure you that, far from retreating behind my computer and lobbing grenades, I have also written personally to the Dean, who has charge of the cathedral, and have received a courteous reply from him, as part of an on-going discussion.
Everything depends on what the flag means. If the flag means that women and men who experience same-sex attraction are welcome in our churches, then I’d want to fly it. If the flag means that we abhor bullying of same-sex attracted people, then I’d also want to fly it. If the flag means that we want to make the saving news of Christ known to the whole diversity of humanity, then I’d want to fly it. If the flag means that we want our churches to be genuinely trusting communities and safe and loving spaces for all who come to Christ, then I’d want to fly it.
But the real meaning of the pride flag is different. It is not, of course, a Christian flag at all: rather, it is the emblem of a secular movement which aggressively promotes behaviour which God calls immoral.
Here are the words of Christ’s Apostle, Paul:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NIV)
You will note from Paul’s comments here (a) that it is possible to be deceived in this area; (b) that homosexual practice is far from the only sin, but (c) it is sinful, and very serious in its consequence; (d) that Paul is speaking of those who practise these things, not those who are tempted to (for such were some of you indicates this is past practice for those who have come to Christ); and (e) that in Christ there is a God-given, wonderful fresh start.
This passage is one of several in the Bible which – an honest reader must admit – warn us that homosexual practice is wrong in God’s eyes. It is because of what the Bible says (not our own prejudices!) that we must be very worried about the flag.
For the terrible effect of flying the flag is to lead people into sin. It will only be understood among the public – and same-sex-attracted people – as promoting behaviour which God says is wrong. More than that, when a cathedral does this, it’s giving the message that Christ promotes such behaviour, which is entirely untrue, and both dangerous and confusing to those who struggle in this area.
I tremble to say it, but this is the point where our Lord Jesus’ words, which I’ve quoted at the top of this blog, should shake us. He is talking about His little ones – by which He speaks with a fatherly care of the vulnerability of those who trust in Him. As He makes clear, it is a very dreadful matter in God’s eyes to lead people into sin.
The truth is that in Christ we have a better story! Jesus and His apostles really can be trusted to know what is best for us and He gives us the power and means of grace to live His way. You can read some testimonies – and much more – on this marvellous web site: www.livingout.org