This opinion piece by Theo Hobson in the Guardian has gotten some play on the blogs today, and though I pass on the "me too" bandwagon as a matter of policy, this one merits an exception. Hobson offers a compelling theory as to why it is the "gay issue" that has got not only Anglicanism but just about all of western Christianity in a twist, with no way forward in sight other than protracted conflict.
There are other issues on which the prevailing moral opinion of (Christian/post-Christian) society has shifted, he says, citing premarital sex and childbirth out of wedlock as recent examples. When couples come to me wanting to talk about a church wedding, they are virtually always already cohabiting. In my parents' generation, no one wanting a church wedding would be in that state. When my generation was young, the practice was widespread, but there was still enough stigma that pains would have been taken to hide the information from the priest. Nowadays, it's not that couples have courageously decided to not feel guilty. It simply never occurs to them. They are, in the parlance of classical moral theology, "invincibly ignorant."
Now (continuing to paraphrase Hobson), those neanderthals like myself who charitably and oh-so-winsomely contend for the old standard of delaying intercourse until after marriage, and believe that a couple ought to be married before they produce a child (and, by corollary, that a child deserves to be born into a home in which Mom and Dad are married to each other), have a rough row to hoe. We're swimming against the cultural current. But the most that we can be accused of is that we're relics of a bygone era who haven 't kept up with the times. We may be conservative morons, but we're essentially harmless because it's so easy to ignore us.
Not so with the gay issue, however. Those who assert--in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, for instance--that homosexual orientation is an intrinsically disordered state, and/or that homosexual genital intimacy falls short of God's intention and design for human sexuality ("falling short" being a good working definition of sin), are seen not simply as moral Luddites, but as bigots on the order of the worst sort of racists. Homosexual behavior, as Hobson points out, has, in about a thirty year period, moved from being considered by society as almost unspeakably immoral, to being a status worthy of legal protection. Consequently, those who maintain what was the prevailing view within living memory are now on the receiving end of society's moral opprobrium, including legal sanctions.
This is a refreshing insight, and explains a lot. Where we should go with this information I can't say that I know. But it helps to be clearer about why we are where we are, and why the rhetoric has the tone it has.