For the love of Christ, let me give you a hug

This blog is about love, fried chicken, incest, the Benedictine order, Saint Aelred, marriage, and the Bishop of Aberdeen. Not necessarily in that order.

The Bishop of Aberdeen, Hugh Gilbert, entered Pluscarden Abbey at Moray in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1979: he became Abbot of Pluscarden in 1992 and is celebrated for his support of Latin liturgy:

wonderful to see that … Aberdeen will soon have a pastor known for his understanding of liturgy and the “reform of the reform” currently sweeping through the Universal Church. The Divine Office and the Mass are both sung in Latin (using Gregorian chant) at Pluscarden, and devotees of the Extraordinary Form and traditional Catholicism have always been made to feel welcome there.

Gilbert left the monastery to be ordained Bishop of Aberdeen on Monday 15th August 2011.

“The rule of St Benedict says ‘prefer nothing to the love of Christ,’” he said. “I would like to think I take a firm sense of that with me, a sense of Christ and a certainty of Christ.”

On Friday 2nd September 2011, less than three weeks after Gilbert became Bishop of Aberdeen, the Scottish government launched their consultation on gay marriage. Monica Baldwin wrote a book about her experience of entering the secular world, I Leap Over The Wall: A Return to the World after Twenty-eight Years in a Convent – she entered her convent in 1914, a few months before WWI, and came out in 1941. In 1974, when Hugh Gilbert entered his monastery, the first international conference on gay rights was held in Edinburgh: sex between men was still illegal in Scotland, and had barely been decriminalised in England and Wales.

Even in his monastery, Gilbert was probably aware that sex between men had been decriminalised (1981) and that civil partnership legislation had been passed (2005). He may even be aware that children adopted by same-sex couples are now allowed by law to have two parents, not one (2009), and that adoption agencies are not allowed to refuse couples who want to be assessed as adoptive parents on the basis of their sexual orientation.

But how could he possibly have become aware of the change in thinking between 1974 and 2011 which is summarised in the gay marriage consultation and the Ipsos-Mori poll:

Count only what the Scots wrote to Holyrood on consultation forms and letters, and the 2011 consultation reports 65% in favour of same-sex marriage and 35% against. Which matches almost exactly what Ipsos-Mori found when they carried out a poll on same-sex marriage in June 2012: 64% of Scots agree same-sex couples should have the right to marry, 68% agree that churches should have the freedom to wed same-sex couples if they choose.

St Aelred of Rievaulx

St Aelred of Rievaulx, also a Benedictine, wrote in his book On Spiritual Friendship eight hundred years ago:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love; in whom your spirit can rest; to whom you can pour out your soul; in whose delightful company, as in a sweet consoling song, you can take comfort in the midst of sadness; in whose most welcome, friendly bosom you can find peace in so many worldly setbacks; to whose loving heart you can open, as freely as you would to yourself, your innermost thoughts; through whose spiritual kisses – as by some medicine – you are cured of the sickness of care and worry; who weeps with you in sorrow, rejoices with you in joy, and wonders with you in doubt; whom you draw by the fetters of love into that inner room of your soul, so that though the body is absent, the spirit is there, and you can confer all alone, the two of you, in the sleep of peace away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you; to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul, and two become one.”

Bishop Gilbert said that he had not yet finalised his pastoral priorities

but that his years in the monastery had given him one simple answer: Christ. “To put it liturgically, it is the discovery of Easter, when Christ passed over from death to life,” he said. “Everything that we as Christians are springs from that moment. He is the one the Holy Spirit is working to bring alive in our hearts. So what other priority could we have?”

But on Friday, in the Scottish Catholic Observer, Bishop Gilbert said:

“Why is it alright for a man to marry another man, but not alright for him to marry two women? If we really want equality, why does that equality not extend to nieces who genuinely, truly love their uncles? And, if you say that such things don’t happen, that they are mere freaks of nature, extreme examples dreamed up for the sake of argument, I say you need to spend more time in the parish.”

Anti-gay Jesus

To unpack this: Gilbert is not only making the American right-wing Christian argument that if same-sex marriage is legalised so will polygamy be (a nonsense in Scotland, obviously) he’s arguing that when uncles rape their nieces they’re doing so because their nieces “genuinely, truely love them” – a standard defense offered by child abusers. I do not accuse Gilbert of being involved in child abuse – I think if he had been, he would have known better than to come out with something so grossly obscene. I think we’re hearing from a man who has heard uncle rapists defend their abuse as “love” in the confessional: who has never listened to the girls who were raped.

From 1992 to 2011, for nearly 20 years, Hugh Gilbert was Abbot of a Benedictine monastery, which to the community of monks under his rule means far more than Bishop to a dioscese:

To be worthy of the task of governing a monastery, the abbot must always remember what his title signifies and act as a superior should. He is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is addressed by a title of Christ, as the Apostle indicates: You have received the spirit of adoption of sons by which we exclaim, abba, father (Rom 8:15).

A man who has lived in that community, both as monk and Abbot, will not think of “equality” as something to be desired: the rule of the Benedictine order is not about equality but about obedience. There is a strange distorted innocence in this argument, offensive though it is, as there is in what Hugh Gilbert went on to say:

“As Bishop of Aberdeen, I know there are gay people amongst the community of the Church. I promise I will always respect and love them and uphold them in their relationship with the God who loves them. But I won’t marry them. It just can’t be done.”

For that, Bishop Gilbert needn’t worry. Not only does the Equality Act 2010 give him the legal right to refuse to wed any couple whom he doesn’t feel should be joined in Catholic matrimony, but why would any couple want to be joined in holy matrimony according to their beliefs by a man who sees their relationship as morally equivalent to rape?

The problem for Hugh Gilbert is not, as he apparently imagines, that gay and lesbian couples will be lining up asking him to wed them – it’s that he is like a man who has stuck his hands into a pile of dog turds who now wants to give people his blessing with those sticky, stinky fingers. His promise to “respect and love” LGBT people of his parish is meaningless.

I read today about the WAY foundation, a charity providing support for people who lost their life partner at an early age:

In the aftermath of Danny’s death, Amy used to stay up, scouring the web to find someone in her age group who had been through a similar experience, who had lost their partner in extreme, tragic circumstances and could understand what she was going through. Despite having friends and family around, she felt alone and desperately felt a need to connect with someone who had also lost their partner young, to make some sense of her situation.

To a Catholic who follows the current stance of their Church against LGBT people, this must be horrifying: The WAY Foundation

includes parents and those without children, those who were married and those who weren’t, gay and straight.

But that’s what respect and love looks like, for real: not the kind offered by Bishop Gilbert from his filth-clogged hands and closed heart, but the reality:

“We would never have met had we not gone through what we have. When I first met Kerry and Amy, it was as if I was talking to myself. We don’t pretend to know what each other is going through. And we don’t say the things that other people, say, such as ‘You’ll find someone else.’

I’ve written before about how I feel about prelates like Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop John Sentamu, who understand perfectly what they are saying and how it hurts the LGBT people they pretend to “love”, but I can’t feel that way about Bishop Hugh Gilbert, a man from 1974 faced with all the changes between 1974 and 2011 in one leap: he stumbled, his hands went into the dirt, but I’d like to believe there’s hope for him yet.

A few days ago and several thousand miles away, Dan Cathy, president of the American family-owned fast-food chain Chick-fil-A (which reputedly donates millions to organisations “with strong anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-abortion histories”) let the American public know that he didn’t hold with gay marriage.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” he told the Biblical Recorder. On the radio, he observed: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.”

The Serious Eats Food Lab blog responded with an illustrated description of how to make a chicken sandwich at home:

I don’t normally like to mix my food with my politics, but the thought of where my chicken sandwich dollars might be going is enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth, no matter how crispety-crunchety, spicy-sweet and salty that juicy chicken sandwich may be.

To Mike Huckabee and other politicians of the Christian Right, however, this declaration by Dan Cathy was the perfect opportunity to invite their followers to show their support for homophobic politics by, er, going down to their nearest Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday 1st August to buy some fast-food chicken:

Former GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum encouraged people to show their support for Chick-fil-A by buying food there Wednesday. Huckabee dubbed the day “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and touted in his TV and radio shows and online.

Over 550,000 visitors to Huckabee’s event page on Facebook have responded that they will participate. The action enjoys the support of the Rev. Billy Graham.

You'd never see that many Christians lined up to help at a homeless shelter

The reaction was huge. An easy way to feel good and eat fast-food chicken! Fred Clark at Slacktivist called it a flustercluck.

Jane Devin saw the queue of her neighbours at Chick-Fil-A in Tucson, Arizona:

That line at Chik-Fil-A struck me like a banner of unwelcome, like a vigilante caravan of people who could hardly wait for the opportunity to openly express their belief that I was an enemy to be conquered — someone they longed to see be put back in her place as an anamoly, a threat to society, a pervert, a half-person.

It broke my heart.

Part of me wanted to scream my pain at the crowd. To reach into those cars, extend my hand, and somehow convince those Chik-Fil-A supporters that I didn’t deserve this — that I’m a good person, a good neighbor, someone worthy of equality. The wiser, more experienced part of me knew that nothing I might say — no quality I might hold, and nothing I might actually be — would matter. The acidic marrow of hate is rarely extracted by reason, or quelled by requests for consideration. Hate exists, as thoughtless as any desert viper, ready to deliver a painful, poisonous strike against anything that feels like its opposite.

I drove home, closed my gate, and for the first time since I’ve lived here, locked it — another visceral response I didn’t expect. Much like someone who has been robbed and never again fails to check their doors and windows, tonight was a brutal lesson in loss. The loss of delusion, of feeling at ease, of innocence, of acceptance, of feeling like maybe, just maybe, I might be welcome in this largely conservative, but seemingly nice community.

Dallas Stevens, worship pastor at a church in Lubbock, Texas, went to his local Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday with his two children “to teach my children (who are 11 and 9) about the balance between free speech, love, respect, and all sorts of other awesome things” and to get “some freaking awesome chicken”. It had not occurred to him that there would be people from the other side of the fence standing peacefully there with placards in support of the freedom to marry. Nor had it occurred to him that the group he was joining would be hurling abuse at the gay marriage people, but they were and they did, and this upset Stevens:

Regardless, I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to show some sort of kindness to the protestors, but had really no way to say or express what was/is in my heart.

Honestly, I do believe that sin is ugly and tears us away from God, and that actively participating in homsexuality is a sin. But, so is hate, pride, arrogance, lust, lying, cheating, stealing, and a host of other things that are no more or no less sin. All of these things tear us away from the heart of God. So that brings me to the place that I am right now. I do not have any great answers, and I don’t know any solutions as of yet. The only thing I know to do is love–and not the “love the sinner, hate the sin” kinda love that probably all LGBT people are sick of hearing–real true love, that gets messy and dirty with people where they are. That shows kindness even when you may fundamentally disagree about faith/sexuality/race/whatever.

And picking up the story where I left it… After asking God for words or something to say as I waited for my food, I felt compelled to share with those protesting that I was sorry that some people (not all of course) were hurling insults and ridicule. I didn’t have any other thing to say but, “I love Jesus, and I love you guys. I am sorry.” As I spoke, I became overwhelmed and started to cry.

To my surprise, a woman who wore a “gay” american flag came to me and hugged me as to comfort me.

I was undone.

Here I was trying to show kindness, and it was being shown to me.

Stevens adds, with the same honesty, “I do not know how to process this“:

i do not know where to go from here. all i know is that it can never be an US vs THEM mentality (from either side.) division is never going to help anyone. Choose Love. start a rEVOLution. and maybe things can change…

Bishop Gilbert is to preach O’Brien’s message that same-sex marriage is “grotesque” on Support Marriage Sunday on 26th August.

I’m not a hug-my-neighbour kind of person, Hugh, but if it’ll help: for the love of Christ, let me give you a hug. I’m an atheist, but I believe this with all my heart:

You do not have to believe that Jesus needs you to hate me.

You can believe in my humanity, as I believe in yours.

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Filed under Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Religion

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