IT IS no fun being the spectre at the feast. Or, indeed, at The Reunion (Radio 4 FM, Sunday). Spare a thought for the Director of Mission and Public Affairs at Church House, Canon Malcolm Brown, whose job it was on last week’s show to reflect on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, from the Church’s perspective. While Kirsty Wark’s other four guests were there to celebrate success, Canon Brown was there to ask, “What is the mind of God?”
His case was not helped by an absent contributor: David Cameron. In a specially recorded interview, Mr Cameron told one of those stories beloved of politicians, in which an ordinary, honest chap spontaneously congratulates him for doing something that affects his ordinary, honest life. And what response is there to the punchline: “I can now marry the man I have loved for thirty years”?
Canon Brown’s performance was nevertheless impressive. His introductory statement summarised the ideological chemistry of the Church of England as “Reformed and Catholic. . . Roundheads and Cavaliers”; and he remained unfashionable in identifying the heart of the disagreement in the issue of procreation.
He kept his head when Peter Tatchell and the chief executive of Pink News, Benjamin Cohen, characterised the Church’s position in turn as homophobic and anti-Semitic; and failed to clear the credibility bar only when proclaiming the virtues of the Living in Love and Faith project. But, by this time, the other guests were on their third margaritas and were preparing to do the conga through Broadcasting House.
The divide between reasoned intolerance and irrational phobia is ubiquitously breached in discussions of sexuality. The Exchange (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) came closer than most to respecting this distinction, unwittingly, perhaps, since the ambition of the show — to bring together two people with similar stories to compare notes — was, in this instance, not fully respected; for, while Saima Razzaq and Teddy Prout both came out as gay while part of faith communities, their experiences were more than anything else coloured by their ages: respectively, 29 and 15.
Ms Razzaq is Muslim. By the time she was ready to admit her sexuality to her family, she was a self-confident professional, and her mother already knew. She remains in the faith and says that she gets no bother about her lifestyle. Teddy’s recollections of his Evangelical background include curative-prayer sessions, supported by attitudes that few would dispute are “phobic”. Teddy is now in his forties, and a humanist; but the memory is still tinged with horror.
Although engaging as individual tales, they told us nothing of the “lived experience” (a cliché that appeared to embarrass the presenter, Catherine Carr) of faith, nor of the theological mechanics by which sexual lifestyle and religious doctrine either fall apart or can be made to synchronise.