Marriage, as approved by Matthew Offord (doesn't that man look awfully pleased with himself ... while his wife gets on the phone to her lover? Or a divorce lawyer.)
Mrs Angry has been thinking a lot about sex in the last few days. And Matthew Offord. She is at a funny age, and it passes the time, you know. Sex and, not with, Matthew Offord, you understand. We are not married, or intending to procreate, so clearly that would be out of the question. Apart from the more obvious one, that is. No offence, Matthew.
As we have heard this week, Mr Offord has proffered his considered views, or somebody's considered views, on the subject of same sex marriage. Matthew has declared that this must not be allowed as marriage is intended purely for the purpose of 'procreation', ie the conception of children, and as two men or two women cannot physically conceive, any union they may form cannot be permitted to be formalised, even in a civil context, as 'marriage'.
As he would appear not to be unduly distressed by the thought of couples not wanting, or unable to have children marrying, or those who have stopped procreating still having pointless, unneccessary and sinfully enjoyable sex, many have stated that his objecting to gay couples doing the same might just be seen as being ever so slightly unfair. Or even hypocritical. Mr Offord denies that this is the case, of course. We should say Dr Offord, in truth as he is- oh, yes he is, a doctor. Not a medical one, Mrs Angry believes.
Our Matthew, in his long and distinctly odd reply to the constituent asking for his views on same sex marriage, states that his opposition to such a thing is based on his 'strong personal, moral and religious belief'. He is, like any other citizen, entitled to his own personal views. But those wanting to have legalised same sex marriage are not asking to interfere with anyone else's beliefs: what they want is to exercise what they see as their right, the opportunity for their own civil marriage, which has no religious significance. So why would he address the issue, as he does, from the point of faith?
The suggestion that the purpose of marriage is purely for the creation of children is an extraordinary position to take: an argument which the Catholic church used to hold in the past, part of a negative attitude to sexuality formed largely on the interpretations of the teachings of St Paul. Many of the most controversial, hard line policies followed now by evangelical Christians are based on an inflexible obedience to Paul's views: the role of a wife, and her duty to submit to the will of her husband, the reluctance to allow women to take the role of ministry, and in this case, the fear of any expression of sexuality outside the context of marriage. Paul thought that celibacy was preferable, in fact, and only tolerated the idea of marriage for those whose passion was burning, and in need of safe containment. He stated he believed he was expressing the will of God, but that it was only a belief. Evangelical Christians ignore the significance of this ambiguity, of course.
Reading Offord's email to his constituent reminded Mrs Angry very much, in fact, in terms of both content and phraseology, of the sort of argument that fundamentalist Christians use. Did he really write it himself? Mrs Angry notes he refers to the petition in defence of traditional marriage as reaching around 100,000 signatures, whereas in fact it has reached nearly half a million now: whatever source he used to crib his notes is clearly an old article.
And here is an interesting thing. Look at this recent statement on the Hendon MP's website:
Matthew celebrates life with Jesus House
"Matthew was pleased to attend the annual Jesus House Celebrating Life Banquet in Brent Cross. This is an event to mark the contribution made by elderly people in the local community. It is attended by senior citizens from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds and more than fifty care homes across the boroughs of Barnet and Brent.
Speaking from the stage, Matthew paid tribute to the spiritual work undertaken by Jesus House in local communities, workplaces and schools, and the willingness of congregants to help others.
The event was also attended by Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, and Cllr Barry Evangeli."
Matthew Offord, preaching to the converted
Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, has also recently attended Jesus House functions, and tweeted last December about his admiration for the organisation, eg:
"Went to Jesus House at Brent Cross to support their hamper packing which they deliver to those in need. Amazing church - amazing operation!"
Mrs Angry has written about Jesus House in a previous post last year:
Jesus House, it must be acknowledged, is a member of the rather controversial Evangelical Alliance, which regards gay sexuality - or as they put it, rather thrillingly, 'homoerotic sexual practice' as well: a sin. There is no other way of putting it.
As we are told, Mr Offord is of course a happily married man - married to a woman - and therefore in no need of any struggle with his conscience in engaging freely with a body that holds such judgemental views.
Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer is gay, and indeed has a civil partner. He has commented that Offord's views on gay marriage are 'misguided', although he supports his right to hold such views. It is hard to understand how Freer can support a church which regards his own lifestyle as inherently sinful, but then political necessities make strange bedfellows. Oh: unfortunate metaphor, but you know what I mean.
Take a look at the Evangelical Alliance's view on same sex marriage:
Whatever your views on marriage, same sex unions, civil partnerships, there is a wider issue here of fundamental importance to all of us.
In the new world created by the coalition government, the wide reach of their 'Big Society' idea necessarily includes the participation in the provision of social care and support to vulnerable people by voluntary sector and religious bodies like Jesus House. As bloggers such as Caebrwyn and Y Cneifiwr have reported from South Wales, this can be a dangerous venture, posing a potential conflict of interest and the possible exclusion of gay residents, or those whose religious beliefs are incompatible with the core values of the charitable bodies providing a service. The inclusion of fundamentalist religious organisations represents a real challenge to the demands of equal opportunities legislation. If your lifestyle and beliefs are in conflict with a faith driven organisation chosen to offer a programme of social care, or some other form of support, are you going to be excluded? If you are a sinner, will the charitable outreach programme handing out hampers, or training, expect you to show repentence for your sins?
Looking at the Evangelical Alliance's website and its 'don't mess with marriage' page, Mrs Angry's eye was caught by a comment from someone called 'Beverley', whose views present a sensible rebuttal of their position, actually rather closer to the real loving spirit of Christianity than the hate filled bigotry of other members of their professed faith:
"As a Christian I am struggling to see how allowing same sex couple to marry will affect my Church, faith or personal marriage in anyway. The more I look into Church law the more I see that we are fully protected. It seems extremely unlikely that we will be forced to marry people of the same gender.
The law that is being passed (whether we like it or not) will be for civil weddings on secular grounds. My stance on homosexuality really is irrelevant to the civil rights of other citizens.
They say roughly 10% of the population are gay or bisexual so it does sit uneasy with me when these same people are watching Christians on TV referring to them as 'disgusting.
I'm just not convinced the Church are heading in the right direction with this."
Mmm. Quite. Why are fundamentalists, of all faiths, so obsessed with sex? Are there not more important issues to worry about: war, poverty, injustice, corruption, human trafficking, homelessness, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, disability, health issues, inequality? The truth is, thinking about other people's sexual practices is far more interesting, let's be honest, than any of these rather more difficult and boring subjects, and is no doubt linked to a sense of personal inadequacy in the puritanical zealots and hypocrites laying down the law for everyone else.
Equally, it might appear to some that there is political profit to be made by exploiting the burgeoning lobby of evangelism and intolerance being exhibited by conservative religious movements, some of whom now exert a covert influence at Westminster, and elsewhere. But for all the fundamentalist religious bodies and individuals seeking to assert their beliefs, and impose them on the rest of society, there are far more sensible, liberal minded and decent people wanting to extend tolerance to their fellow citizens. Dangerous game, flirting with extremism: especially if you are as accident prone as our MP for Hendon. Mrs Angry thinks Mr Offord ought to be very careful, from now to the next election, and calculate more carefully the consequences of what he says, and what he does.