There was an ugly incident during the Synod on the family when Cardinal Kasper, on being challenged by African voices ove permissive views on sexual morality, attempted to dismiss the criticism by suggesting African beliefs are somehow not relevant in the West. Homosexuality is taboo there, he opined, as if nobody in Africa can therefore hold a reasoned view on the subject.
Quite rightly he was called out for the shoddy comment leading him to later deny ever making it. The incident then descending into farce as the original recording was posted on the internet. It has left his reputation damaged and so it should. For such patronising attitude towards the third world is not good let alone godly. It masks a very modern form of racism which needs exposing to all for what it is. Racism and not a mature contribution to adult debate.
But intriguingly Kaspar is not alone in suggesting African views on human sexuality are not relevant in the West. The Episcopalian leader Katherine Jefferts Schori herself used almost identical words a few years back when defending against criticism from African Anglicans who condemned the blessing of same sex unions in America. Like Kaspar she suggested an enlightened liberal view was beyond the grasp of supposedly primitive Africans.
Kaspar and Schori make strange bed fellows. Leaders who, in attempting to be inclusive end up excluding huge numbers of people. Why? Is it mere co-incidence or a sign of a larger problem for trendy liberals? I say the latter. For there is much to suggest Western elites have become so sure of their own viewpoint that they have closed minds to all others. They being so very “right” alternative viewpoints must be “wrong”. Either a result of bigotry/rigidity or caused by backward and primitive thinking.
It is something George Weigel picked up on in his comments on the Synod. He said “Many northern European bishops and theologians acted as if the blissful years when they set the agenda for the world Church at Vatican II had returned. That these same bishops and theologians have presided over the collapse of western European Catholicism in the intervening five decades seemed not to matter to them in the slightest. Happy days were here again…otherwise intelligent men…incapable of admitting that they’d gotten it wrong.
Here then is the real problem behind Kaspar’s comment and it is grave. Not that he said something stupid for which he could apologise. But that his view is authentic and actually representative of many in global politics. So that there is no room today for doubt or dissent in the wake of the sexual revolution. It spells disaster for those not conforming to the will of modernity, who still sincerely believe in traditional marriage as a union of one man and one woman in the clear interests of all children.
When we accept liberal minds are now closed we begin to make sense of extraordinary situations recently witnessed. Nurses disciplined for praying or -this month- pastors in Houston asked to submit sermons to be checked for “homophobic content”. (Otherwise know as conventional Christian teaching on family life)
Or consider the claim of Africans at the Extraordinary Synod who spoke of threats from the first world to withhold aid where abortion and same sex marriage are not accepted. A clear example of hubris from the wealthy elite and a bullying of those with less resources. No wonder so many countries “all at once” started waving the rainbow flag and signed up to “gay marriage”. Economic pressure and threats have ensured it is so.
But let those who stand by the family not lose hope. For where we see crass bullying or an obvious need for manipulation in synods- there we find doubt. Think about it! If liberal attitudes were really so convincing the British Government would not have forced “gay marriage” through parliament- they could have consulted the electorate! And the third world would not need threats at all if reason leads to only one conclusion.
Back to Kaspar’s claim then and the weakness of the liberal argument is exposed. For the notion that Africans cannot inform the West rests on a relativistic supposition. As if human nature, morality and revelation somehow shift according to postcode. And even worse it rests on a very racist supposition. As if the people of the third world are somehow more stupid/ less enlightened than those in the West. (In fact many are inspiring and well educated and overseeing growth not decline in the churches they lead.)
We reach a worrying conclusion. Kaspar’s comment was laughable in its stupidity- risible in its racism- but truly frightening in its scope. For it is a view held by many today whose minds are closed. Take the Guardian which saluted the church (wrongly) for having got with Guardian thinking. If that is not arrogance – a one sided newspaper congratulating a two thousand year old church for having caught up with its thinking- I do not know what is.
So remind me again who is rigid? And who is it on the side of the poor? Those who back the impressive leaders of Africa and Asia who are overseeing a period of growth and renewal. Or the tired leaders of the crumbling West who manage decline whilst assuring themselves of their own superior thinking?