Religion

Twitter Outrage at the Church of England’s Views on Sex

The inside of Westminster Abbey in central London is seen in this general view taken April 20, 2011. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)
Look who’s being intolerant and humorless now.

Two of the three main Abrahamic world religions have taught for years that sex is for marriage and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. (For most of human history, society did not define people by their dominant sexual desires, and the word “heterosexual” did not appear in print until 1892.) Unpopular though these and other ancient religious doctrines often are, they’ve never been easier to ignore. Until this week, that is, when the Guardian delivered the news straight from the mouth of Moses that the Church of England considers sex to be “for married heterosexual couples only.” Then, lo! The bowls of Twitter erupted and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But why?

Since British values are now overwhelmingly progressive, institutional Christianity has never been less of a cultural threat. According to recent statistics from the pollsters at YouGov, just 4 percent of Britons believe that sex is acceptable only within marriage, and just 5 percent of those who identify as Church of England do. Meanwhile, YouGov reports, 66 percent of Britons support same-sex marriage, as do 57 percent of those who identify as Church of England. This might suggest that the Church of England is out of step with its flock. Except, isn’t the point of a flock that they follow? So why don’t those unhappy with the direction of their leaders follow a different church, perhaps one with a rainbow flag, instead? Or they might even do what the Church of England’s founder Henry VIII did and start their own.

What’s even stranger about the overreaction to the Church of England’s fairly standard reassertion of Judeo-Christian sexual morality is that the same people often appear to be less exercised by what are — objectively— more consequential clashes between their code of ethics and that of an established religion. Islam, for instance: A 2009 Gallup survey of 500 participants found that zero percent of British Muslims thought that homosexuality was morally acceptable, while another survey conducted in 2016 discovered that 52 percent of British Muslims thought that homosexuality ought to be illegal. This is to say nothing, of course, of the various human-rights abuses of homosexuals and (often female) fornicators in Islamic countries. But no, that requires a tricky conversation, one that’s likely to upset the intersectional stomach. It’s far easier to launch a nuclear missile at a sitting rubber duck.

Brits used to pride themselves in satire, as a way of dismantling beliefs or practices with which they disagreed. In that sense, British comedy was in its prime in the 1980s and 1990s, when Christianity was still a significant cultural presence and when its critics had a sense of humor. One comic, Rowan Atkinson, known for Mr. Bean and Blackadder, had a couple of great religiously themed sketches. In one, Atkinson presents as a stuffy Church of England vicar, dressed in full vestments and reading the Cana wedding story from John’s gospel. In another, he appears as Satan, though politely inviting the damned to call him “Toby,” welcoming new arrivals to hell, including fornicators, to whom he remarks, “My God, there are a lot of you.”

Another irreverent comical success was the troupe Monty Python, a founding member of which died last week, Terry Jones. Their movie Life of Brian (1979) tells the story of a man born in Roman-occupied Judea and mistaken for the Messiah. “It was quite obvious that there was very little to ridicule in Jesus’s life,” Michael Palin, one of the movie’s creators, said in 1979. “Jesus was a very straight, direct man making good sense, so we decided it would be a very shallow film if it was just about [him].” Instead, Life of Brian makes political hypocrites and credulous and bloodthirsty mobs their target.

And herein lies the irony. This scenario has now inverted. The raging irrational and humorless mob — absolutely militant against people and artefacts that challenge their assumptions — are no longer Christians, but progressives.

Editor’s Note: This article has been emended since its initial publication.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now. In May, U.S. attorney general William Barr selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Last Trusted Prosecutor in Washington

John Durham may be the most consequential and least known figure in Washington right now. In May, U.S. attorney general William Barr selected Durham, a longtime prosecutor with a résumé so sterling it nearly glows, to investigate the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
Health Care

The Experts Lied to Us about Masks

When the stakes are highest, the truth counts the most. Or maybe when things get really serious, that’s when the people really can’t be trusted with the truth. It’s pretty clear which of these two ideas is the one that has been guiding elite medical, political, and journalistic institutions, isn’t it? ... Read More
Health Care

The Experts Lied to Us about Masks

When the stakes are highest, the truth counts the most. Or maybe when things get really serious, that’s when the people really can’t be trusted with the truth. It’s pretty clear which of these two ideas is the one that has been guiding elite medical, political, and journalistic institutions, isn’t it? ... Read More