Matthew Parris is something of a journalist gadfly or agent provocateur. He writes,
"I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? Time was — even in my time — when there were quiet, understated, sometimes quite severe men of the cloth, often wearing bifocal spectacles, who could show us moral relativists a decent fight in that eternal debate. Now there’s only the emotional witness of the ranting evangelicals, most of them pretty dim. How I miss the fine minds of bishops like Joseph Butler, who remarked drily to John Wesley: ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, is an horrid thing, a very horrid thing.’
Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic?"
Of course Matthew Parris is not particularly kind above to 'ranting evangelicals, most of them pretty dim.' There is a certain kind of bigotry which presumes Christians of intellectual stature will be found anywhere but in evangelicalism!
Does he have a point, however, in what he argues above, that Christianity (in the West) is sliding 'with the flow of social and cultural change'?
Yes, he does. Christians are more than capable of flowing with social and cultural change (ask e.g. Catholics who use artificial means of contraception, check out e.g. Anglican priests who conduct remarriages of divorcees). It has actually always been thus and so. Paul changed the native culture of the gospel (Judaism, Israel, Aramaic) in order to win the world for Christ (Hellenism, Athens and Rome, Greek). The first Christians went with the flow which said slavery was part and parcel of life.
And why has this been so and why is this so today? The answer is a point I think Parris misses. Christians live their lives in the world and not out of it. Precisely because we are in the world and not out of it, we need, in the words of the Archbishop of Dublin after the result of the referendum was announced, a 'reality check' ... every day.
That 'reality check' means that Christians took a long view over (ancient) slavery and changed it eventually. On sexual relationships conservative Christians (such as Roman Catholics) have another sort of long view: that long view concerns communication and connection with society. We do not want to stop communication. We do not want to lose connection. Neither do we want to change God's revelation on sin.
Conservative churches are not separate from society. The Archbishop's point is not that 62% in a referendum have determined what is right is what used to be wrong and his church must now catch up. If it were so, Parris for Pope! No, the point the Archbishop is making is that a society contesting what is right and what is wrong is inside the church as much as it is outside the church. The reality check for the church is facing up to that fact and working out how to act.
If we wish to avoid either schism (a current Anglican option) or excommunication (at least a theoretical Roman Catholic option) then we need to find 'a way forward'.
That way - my Yes and No of the previous post - is going to look like flowing with social and cultural change to some and like stubborn, 'pretty dim' adherence to old-fashioned ideas about sin to others.
End Note: Oh, and by the way, if you do not know much about Matthew Parris and what kind of conservative he might be and thus what kind of conservatives I pal around with, this is how the citation above began:
"Even as a (gay) atheist, "
*If the title seems strange, it is a play on some famous words which I am sure our friend Google will assist with.