Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Giving Stephen Green his Voice

Some people think it was wrong of Channel 4 to invite Stephen Green - founder, spokesman and only known member of the pressure-group Christian Voice - to fulminate against homosexuality last night. Patrick Strudwick, for example, complains that "having Green on Channel 4 is like putting a pound of flour on one side of the scales, and dropping a house on the other" and wonders why the newly beardless Green hasn't been arrested for inciting hatred. He also claims that Channel 4's main motive in inviting him was to boost ratings.

Stephen Green is an odious self-publicist, to be sure. And of course Channel 4 have no obligation to allow him a platform. Yet while he may not himself be representative (like Anjem Choudary or the Westboro Baptists, his message is closely bound up with his own notoriety) but he does represent a point of view - an unfashionable point of view, and a minority one, but one traditionally upheld by most major religious traditions, and very strongly by the three monotheistic ones. It's still widely held across the world - above all in Africa and the Muslim world - and indeed among Britain's own ethnic minorities. I can't see how Channel 4 could have aired a series of personal views on the subject of religion and homosexuality without having someone propounding the idea that homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord. And if not him, then who? Ann Widdecombe, presumably. Perhaps she was too busy practising the rumba.

It is gay rights activists, and anti-homophobes more generally, who have been in the forefront of cricisim over Green's appearance. I think it's the anti-gay religious conservatives who have more to complain about. Stephen Green is, after all, a ridiculous and remarkably unattractive personality. Imagine if the slot had been given instead to one of those nice media-friendly imams who are usually to be found extolling the virtues of our multicultural society. Or, for that matter, an African Christian. (It was a masterstroke of the station, incidentally, to give the right of reply to a gay Nigerian Christian minister who had been forced to flee his native country. But it's hard to believe that the Reverend Rowland Macaulay is remotely typical.) A moderately-expressed encapsulation of the traditional view might have convinced viewers without strong views on the subject. Green's appearance merely reinforced smug liberal certainties about the nature of the anti-gay position.

Channel 4 knew what they were doing. Generating a bit of much-needed publicity for themselves (they need the revenue that comes from increased viewing figures, I don't begrudge them) yes, but also making damn sure that they were giving Green the rope he needed to hang himself. He might think that there is "something inherently destructive about the homosexual lifestyle". There's certainly something inherently self-destructive about Stephen Green.

Green had three main arguments against homosexuality, only one of which is strictly-speaking religious - the view that homosexual practice is wrong because God doesn't like it, the evidence for which he finds in certain passages of the Bible, most but not all in the Old Testament. It seems to me that once you've accepted the principle that the Bible is inerrant and should, where possible, be taken literally, then it's hard to disagree. But does Stephen Green want to stone adulterers, as is also recommended in Leviticus? Jesus didn't. Does he want to ban art, as demanded by a strict interpretation of the second commandment? As Reverend Macaulay wondered, with so many Biblical prohibitions to choose from why do campaigners like Green so often choose that one?

Of the other two arguments, the first masquerades as biological but is really Aristotelian - he claimed that homosexuality must be unnatural because gay people "have to press into sexual duty parts of the body that aren't designed for that." If by "that", he means reproduction - and is thus insisting that the only legitimate reason for sexual intercourse, even in the context of a Christian marriage, is the begetting of children - then he probably does have a point. But somehow I doubt even Stephen Green has quite such a restrictive view of sex. And once you've accepted that sex has other beneficial functions besides procreation - such as expressing love, providing mutual pleasure, reinforcing relationships - then Green's argument collapses. For there are many parts of the body that respond to sexual stimulation. You could argue - though I doubt Green would - that God designed the whole body for, among other things, the expression and fulfilment of sexual desire. The feet, the neck, the breasts, the earlobes, the (insert your own favourite erogenous zone) - all respond to the touch. If God didn't want them to be used for sex, why did He make them that way?

Finally, he warned that as a result of the "homosexualisation" of society, the Christian population is failing to reproduce itself properly, the inevitable result of which will be the takeover of society by Muslims, who do breed. He adds - in a nice ironic twist - that "the gays aren’t going to like it much living under that system." Indeed not - as examples such as Iran and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan testify - but then Stephen Green's Christian fundamentalist Utopia doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs for sexual minorities either. Or for anyone else.

Of course, Green's figures don't add up. The decline in the birthrate has gone into reverse in recent years, and not just because of the breeding habits of Muslims and other immigrant communities. In any case, the smaller average family sizes that come with economic and educational progress almost everywhere can't be due entirely (or at all) to non-reproducing gays. There's nothing new (nor religious) about this trope. Moral conservatives worried about it in Roman times. To begin with, the fear was that Roman citizens were being outbred by non-citizens (especially immigrants) and slaves. Augustus levied higher taxes on the unmarried and childless. Later, respectable pagans began worrying that they were being outbred by Christians.

Stephen Green doesn't like Islam. Looking at his website, it's hard to work out which he hates more, gays or Muslims. Is he jealous, I wonder, of the no-nonsense moral line upheld (at least in the popular perception) by Muslim religious and community leaders? Does he feel an inferiority complex? In parts of Africa, gay people are the victims of a rhetorical arms race between Christian and Muslim bigots, trying to establish the Godliness of their respective faiths by the stridency of their denunciations. Similarly, Green's Biblical certainty seems to mask a deep-seated uncertainty - about the future of Christianity, perhaps even about whether it has God on its side.