Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Gave a speech and made me cry.
George Osborne’s speech hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies was a damp squib. He rambled. He tried the three-point sermon tack from the Vicar of Dibley. He tried Humpty Dumpty’s line of argument from Alice in Wonderland: “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” Georgie Porgie went on to pull a rhetorical rabbit from his top hat to prove to his audience how the word ‘conservative’ really means ‘progressive.’
That’s when his oratorical flourishes began. Georgie boy switched to his ‘I have a Dream’ pulpit pyrotechnics mode, a la Martin Luther King, Jr. Holding his audience with his Ancient Mariner’s glittering eye, he launched into a litany of adulation glorifying great Conservatives who had taken great progressive leaps for the greater good of mankind.
Tory worthies like the Earl of Shaftesbury and Lord Salisbury rightly featured in Mr Osborne’s Roll Call of the Righteous, but, believe it or not, in chronological order Georgie Porgie commenced his litany by praising William Wilberforce for ending the slave trade and climaxed with hailing ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron for legalising gay marriage. St David, patron saint of gay marriage, pray for us Tories.
How do you compare a towering moral giant like Wilberforce with a vacillating moral pygmy like ‘Hug a Hoodie’ Dave? It’s like comparing Thomas Becket to Justin ‘Wonga’ Welby… Oh! Becket, by the way, would have survived as Archbishop of Canterbury if his General Synod had organised a chummy round of ‘good disagreement’ and ‘facilitated conversations’ with King Henry II.
The nonsense value of Osborne’s asinine analogy comparing Willie Wilberforce with Dave Cam is rivalled only by his comparison of the abolition of slavery with the legalisation of gay marriage. Was George Osborne trying out a new literary device or figure of speech in the form of oxymoron, irony, paradox, hyperbole, antithesis, adynaton, anti-hero, non sequitur or monumental stupidity?
The legalisation of gay marriage is a moral achievement on par with the abolition of slavery, trumpets Osborne. Really? So where do gay-traders hold their weekly LGBTI flea market where you can buy a lesbian with MasterCard? When did you last hear of homosexuals being clapped in leg irons and whipped unless it was in a seedy S & M nightclub in Soho? The adherents of Isis have a lot of fun flinging gays off tall buildings in the Middle East, but their hobbies also include crucifying Christians, stoning adulterous women and raping Yazidi girls. And while the abolition of slavery put an end to the slave trade in Britain, America and Africa, the ‘progressive conservatives’ (or should it be ‘conservative progressives’?) of the Bullingdon Club have done nothing much to stop Isis’s horrific persecution where such intervention is needed the most.
The incongruous juxtapositioning of Willie and Dave reaches its pinnacle of absurdity when you compare Wilberforce’s sheer moral indefatigability and unimaginable moral courage in campaigning for the abolition of slavery with Cameron’s easy breezy populist ride in passing the gay marriage Bill. Wilberforce’s Bill was defeated every year for eighteen years in Parliament. Abolishing slavery in that day would be like abolishing the automobile in our day, says Professor N T Wright. In that day slavery drove the economy. Legalising gay marriage when it is one of the cardinal doctrines of the dominant postmodern orthodoxy is no big deal. Even the peers voted by a majority of 242 to allow the same sex marriage Bill to pass through the House of Lords.
The incongruous juxtapositioning of slavery and homosexuality from a biblical and theological position is even more bizarre. “What kind of legitimate analogy can be made between the two? In my opinion, absolutely none. It’s just night and day,” writes Professor Robert Gagnon, one of the world’s most prolific biblical scholars on the subject of the Bible and homosexual practice.
First, it is unfair to confuse or conflate the slavery grudgingly approved by some sections of the Bible with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I wrote an article on this in the Dictionary of Mission Theology where I pointed out how much of slavery in the biblical cultures ‘entailed relationships that were non-obligatory, often temporary and not necessarily deemed socially inferior.’ Slavery was not based on race, slaves had well-defined rights, and slaves were to be treated fairly.
Second, as William Webb argues in his book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, the Bible has a ‘redemptive-movement hermeneutic’ progressing from a cultural context where slavery was permitted under certain conditions to a time when slavery would be abolished. In the case of homosexuality such a redemptive move is notably absent. The Bible prohibits homosexuality from start to finish.
Third, there is a definite trajectory in the Bible that critiques slavery. It begins with Israel’s memory of her own slavery in Egypt and culminates with the apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus ‘no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.’ This is one of the most revolutionary statements in the biblical writings and would be at the heart of Wilberforce’s theology of abolition. ‘Yet there is not the slightest indication anywhere in the canon that same-sex intercourse is anything other than a detested practice to be utterly eschewed by the people of God, Jew and Gentile believer alike, in all circumstances,’ writes Gagnon.
Fourth, homosexual practice was approved and even applauded by many of the surrounding cultures in the biblical periods. In contrast, the biblical authors were intensely counter-cultural in opposing what they call an ‘abomination’. However, slavery had qualified approval from biblical authors with a view to ultimate abolition and largely unqualified approval from contemporary culture with a view to continuing the practice.
Georgie Porgie can be sure that the Margaret Thatcher lecture for 2016 will not make it to the list of the top ten TED talks of the year.
(Image: Gareth Milner)