Desmond Tutu has a nasty straw man

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I was very sorry to read, in a week when our own bishops have spoken out so bravely in defence of marriage, that retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu seems to have muddied the waters of the current same sex marriage debate by voicing strong support for homosexual activism. He did so by putting up a preposterous straw man argument that wrongly implies that the only choice we each have is to either side with those who are homophobic or else support those campaigning for sexually active gay lifestyles. In his words he would rather go to hell then to a homophobic heaven.

A comment like that confuses me. Can he really be so poorly educated as to have entirely misunderstood Christian teaching on this matter? Or is he deliberately misrepresenting the faith to win a political victory? I ask because even a simple reading of scripture would make it obvious that BOTH the homophobe (being full of hate) and the unrepentant sexually immoral person, of any persuasion, would be in danger of damnation. Whereas those who live in fidelity to God’s law, homosexual or straight, have every reason to hope for heaven.

But our faith teaches that chastity is part of the deal for all outside of wedlock. Again gay or straight. A person can easily believe then that sex belongs only in marriage, and cannot be divorced from its procreative function, and yet not be homophobic at all. It is only when you make sex a fundamental human right that Tutu’s argument stands up and I was not aware any church has done that yet.

By all means speak out for what you believe in. By all means criticise your opponents in love. But have the decency to do so fairly representing those you oppose. Straw men and the slandering of conventional Christian thinking is not attractive especially as it comes from one who has vowed to defend the Christian faith.

When we compare the comments of Archbishop Tutu with those of Archbishop Nichols then we see two very different pictures emerging. I know which the media and world will praise loudly and I know which will be condemned. I also remember something in the bible about the difference between narrow paths and broad and easy ones. Our duty is to love all people- of all persuasions- but never at the cost of defying the revelation of God.

38 thoughts on “Desmond Tutu has a nasty straw man”

  1. I knew what to think of Archbishop Tutu when he commented on the election of Pope Benedict: If I remember correctly, he said then that he was “very sad” and “disappointed”. I think he once talked about abortion too – it was only then (10, 15 years ago) that I understood he was not a Catholic, but an Anglican bishop…

    1. Yes, Mrs. Doyle in ‘Father Ted’ thought Desmond Tutu was the best priest in the world. As Ted very gently asked, ‘Is he not a Protestant man?’

  2. What about your own straw men? Rampant “secular liberalism”, a totalitarian state (erm, in the UK), persecution of catholics, communist conspiracy theories? All misrepresentations and exaggerations which help your argument along.

    1. Some might define “bravery” as a lifetime of non-violent opposition to the evils of Apartheid, not spouting dogma in the comfort of a parliamentary democracy where people very rarely get chucked out of windows “whilst resisting arrest”. There seems to be a common thread to your criticisms of people who disagree with you: they are denigrated for “poor education” or need to “learn to read” (dogma, which conveniently does away with the need to think). In the case of Archbishop Tutu, this denigration is both unwarranted and redundant – Archbishop Tutu is demonstrably, and unapolagetically, black.

      1. Desmond Tutu also seem to have a dark cloud over his head – not thinking clearly and presenting a bunch of heretical views!!

      1. What exactly in Archbishop Tutu’s words do all the complainants disagree with? Would you worship a homophobic God?

  3. Oh you’re so right Fr Ed. I used to love this man and all he stood for in the days of Aparthied. I weeped when he weeped that Nelson Mandela was to be released and I revere his work in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

    However he is going too far here. He is remaking the truth in light of his experience rather than despite of it in a Christian , selfless manner.

    Let’s respect his contribution to human rights, but stand against his views on sexual identity. He is wrong, wrong, wrong and nothing will change the givenness of our gender. Women love being women and men love being men. That it given Your Grace!!!

  4. Archbishop Tutu is brave. The article makes clear that hate attacks against homosexuals are a problem in his part of Africa and he is right to stand up against them. It is shameful that there is not a Roman Catholic bishop standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

      1. I am not going to derail this blog-post by commenting on every view the Archbishop has expressed (especially not on RC hobby-horses). Which of Desmond Tutu’s words do you object to, Victor?

    1. Given the current assault on marriage this will not wash. He could have said “I am against homophobia completely but must point out that Christian teaching calls for x,y,z” or else point out that Christian’s are not homophobes. In giving carte Blanche approval to gay rights in th current global climate is clearly not to defend Christian teaching.

      1. But South Africa legalised same-sex marriage almost ten years ago. Desmond Tutu has spoken consistently for a number of years against homophobia (using these very words). It’s you who is projecting him into some sort of global struggle against marriage.

        I note the letter from Vincent Nichols says that the RC Church opposes civil partnerships, as well as gay marriage. The RCC position on homosexuality is entirely inadequate. Do you even acknowledge homosexuality as a stable identity?

      2. Fr Ed, the problem with the ‘but’ in that quote is that it entirely cancels out the first part of your re-imagined quote “I am against homophobia…” and replaces it in the minds of gay people and their supporters with a phrase more akin to “I am against your evil acts which you consider good.” It is not surprising that gay people will then hear “I am against you completely,” instead of “I am against homophobia completely.”

        Blessed are those who know how to be truly compassionate, and even more blessed are those of us who come into contact with them. If Bishop Tutu is going to be in hell, I think I would like to be there also, hard as that is to say. Fortunately, Grace abounds.

          1. Yes, Archbishop Tutu was, on my reading of his quoted words, simply condemning homophobia.
            The reflection of Archbishop Nichols might have been improved by some express or implied consideration of Luke 6, vv.41-42, and 18, vv.10-14.

      3. Yes, Tutu has done great things fighting against apartheid. But one can be a great man in one regard and a fool in other regards, and most of what he offers on questions of human sexuality is foolish. In the end, he is just another Anglican bishop… we are just not used to having this sort in Africa, hence the surprise.

      4. An excellent response. Physical and verbal abuse (bullying) of gay people is homophobic and must be condemned. That is where the line is drawn.
        Unfortunately, Tutu (and not for the first time) has taken sides with the militants who want gay marriages. Too many clergy including Tutu have ditched Christiantiy. I do not understand where they get their faith from. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Forgive the sinner and condemn the sin. The church cannot bless sin.
        Too often the Tatchellites have have used the word “homophobic” as battering ram against those who oppose gay marriage.

  5. But your version (and it is just one version) of “Christian teaching” is itself homophobic. It would be more accurate to say “Roman catholic teaching”, you cannot claim to represent all Christians.

  6. It is perfectly possible to be opposed to homophobia and in favour of traditional teaching on sexuality. To suggest that following such teaching is somehow to suggest God is homophobic truly is creating a straw man.
    I hate no person but accept that we all have crosses to bear in our lives; I don’t blame God for that.

    1. I smiled @FrPaulHamilton’s description of Ed as ‘objective’ – no conservative Evangelical preaches objectivity even when ordained as a RC priest! But that’s what makes reading this blog fun – and this discussion is getting interesting so I hope you’ll let me comment?

      I agree that the binary descriptors of ‘homophobia’ are unhelpful because they obscure the deeper challenge exemplified by Fr Paul Hamilton mistaking gender for sexuality. What makes a biological male ‘a man’ is generally accepted as mostly social stuff we pick up from our surroundings: why is John Wayne ‘a real man’, it’s because he worked hard at the image and it’s still a potent signifier today. There are Christian communities and theologies where this isn’t understood but there too is also almost no engagement with the social sciences that Vatican II urged.

      Those who understand same sex attraction to be a stable identity, able to bear and transmit grace just like other stable identities, find the RCC descriptor of ‘homosexuality’ as ‘intrinsically morally disordered’ phobic. It’s not surprising that there isn’t any meeting of minds; there can’t be!

      RC teaching is that lesbians and gay men don’t have a stable identity, that their every experience of giving and receiving affection is suspect because morally intrinsically disordered and that in the public square it is the responsibility of ‘good’ Catholics to ensure that this pre-modern view is applied consistently across areas where affective integrity might undermine the exclusion of these morally disordered.

      I don’t believe I have overstated this case but surely even those who uphold it can understand why those concerned with the common good have found this to be increasingly untenable. They can see Same Sex Attraction (SSA) as a stable emotional state and that freedom from physical and moral violence, from blackmail and public discrimination, with the opening up of the aspirational state of marriage and all the goods it brings with it transforming the lives and attitudes of lesbians, gay men and transsexuals alongside those of wider society.

      Remember part of the 40 years wandering in the Desert was to adjust the dreams and expectations of God’s people! I very much hope you’ll publish this comment with one final addenda that in my view; argument is not assertion.

      1. I never was a conservative Evangelical at any point in my life. Just for the record. I was raised within evangelical circles, discovered Anglo Catholicism, attended a liberal theological college and served in Anglo-Catholic churches.

  7. Tutu has always been a liberal. Just because he fought a brave, and non-violent, battle against Apartheid, does not make him a Catholic. He is not, and he never has been. I do not expect him to become on now.

    1. No Pope Francis says nothing new. He offers mercy where forgiveness is asked for and refuses to judge people due to their orientation. He quite rightly doesn’t stand in judgement. But unlike Tutu he also repeats church teaching stressing that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that he remains totally opposed to gay marriage. There is a world of difference even if the press are delighting in playing with this to their advantage. Had Tuta added similar comments he would not be attacked.

      1. Whatever happened to “judge not that ye be not judged”? Perhaps it doesn’t apply to non-Catholics?
        Perhaps it would be more honest to re-title this blog “The First Stone”?

      1. Baz could have quoted from the Daily Telegraph blogs. Damian Thompson is quite ecstatic about the latest developments even to the point of being mildly critical of Benedict XVI and very openly critical of his erstwhile traddie chums. Quite a turn about. He’ll have a column in the Tablet before we know.

  8. i am not surprise at the Bishop’s support for gay and lesbianism. From time i have only respected himmas an elderly stateman but not as a christian nor a christian. Im yet to hear him in any past comments quoted the scriptures. I am sincerely praying for him to,be saved less he ended up in hell. Good people dont go to heaven only regenerated christians does.

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