Last night the SUSA project was launched with a debate chaired by Rod Liddle entitled ‘Does Christianity have a future in politics?’ The panel (Steve Webb MP, Andrew Copson [British Humanist Association], Bishop Graham Cray and journalist Ruth Gledhill) were invited to address this question from a number of different angles but, inevitably, it was the equalities bill that dominated proceedings. It seemed impossible to move the debate into the more fruitful territory of where society’s values and Christian ethics are much better aligned such as wealth redistribution, personal financial accountability and matters of justice (though Steve Webb tried hard). Indeed, Ruth Gledhill got the most flack for hyping up the issue in the media, though as she pointed out, the editor is bound to publish more material where the church is out of step with the rest of society than reports of worthy endeavour by Christian types.
For me, the defining moment of the debate occurred when discussing the possible appointment of a youth worker. Andrew Copson (who was intelligent and gracious throughout) said this ‘if your female youth worker does an excellent job in her working hours, what does it matter if she sleeps with another woman in her spare time?’ As Graham Cray later stated, ‘[in Christian theology] doctrine and ethics cannot be separated.’ The practice of our faith is not an optional extra, it actually validates the whole premise of the transforming power of the gospel. Yes, of course, there is huge emphasis on forgiveness, repentance and restoration but that is not the point here- living at odds with the message we teach is hypocrisy. There is no sacred/secular divide, there hasn’t been since the inception of mankind in Genesis 1:26-28. God is as interested in our private moments as our public utterences, indeed probably more so. Andrew Copson didn’t get this- why should he? As Roger Forster pointed out to me afterwards, this is where the real debate lies- on God’s imprint at the heart of every human being. Yes, we can all do good- that is not in dispute. The real question is why.