The Tatchell Debate on Same Sex Marriage

The world is a surreal place.  36 hours ago I left Dundee and took the train to Edinburgh.  Tonight I am writing this on the return journey.  In between I have been in Malaga debating Peter Tatchell, live on Revelation TV.  I find that surreal because we live in a world where it is as easy to go to Malaga for a day, as it was for McCheyne to go to Perth from Dundee for a day in the 19th Century.  And I find it surreal because Peter Tatchell is a major figure with a very high profile.   Why on earth would he want to debate someone as insignificant as yours truly on a small Christian TV station – and take two days of his time to do so?

 There have been many many comments about the debate and the whole thing can be seen on YouTube and on the Revelation website.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0PMKVvl36A  The following videos are much better quality!

The Debate
http://youtu.be/Th2MJWtp6c4

The Q&A
http://youtu.be/o1eqX_U86yA

I won’t rehash the whole debate but here are some of the things I learned.

Firstly I was greatly impressed with Peter Tatchell.  For many reasons.  We met for a meal beforehand and I suspect our hosts thought that it might be a little bit awkward.  However we did not discuss the subject of the debate and instead found ourselves with quite a lot of common ground on especially political issues.  We even had the same taste in food as we both ordered the identical main courses and desserts.   Peter is very pleasant, sincere and intelligent.  That’s one of the reasons he does so well.  What I also appreciated is that he is committed to what he believes in and is prepared to suffer for his faith.  It was also a joy to discover that his parents were both evangelical Christians, and his mother who is still alive, holds to her faith.  I appreciated the warm and respectful way he spoke of her.

The Faith of Secular Liberalism. And faith it is.  What astounded me during the debate was the extent to which his position is a faith-based position.  He uses all the correct buzzwords; equality, love, freedom and I think he really does believe that that is what he is arguing for.  And yet several times he came out with the statement that Same Sex Marriage would help and improve marriage.  There is no evidence for this assumption.  Yet despite this, our politicians are prepared to destroy the traditional view of marriage, for the sake of such wishful thinking.

Peter Tatchell’s Change of Mind and the Destruction of Marriage - He stated that he had changed his mind on SSM, after I quoted an article he wrote ten years ago, in which he castigated those Gay Activists who were arguing for it.  “There were no calls for equality; our demand was liberation. We wanted to change society, not conform to it. Our radical, idealistic vision involved creating a new sexual democracy, without homophobia and misogyny. Erotic shame and guilt would be banished, together with compulsory monogamy, gender roles and the nuclear family. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone – gay and straight. Our message was “innovate, don’t assimilate” Peter’s aim was to destroy what he regarded as the patriarchal and oppressive institution of marriage.  I don’t think his aim today is any different.  The only difference is the method.  He regards SSM as an issue of equality, whilst at the same time disliking marriage full stop.   I think he knows what I know.  That the redefinition of marriage will destroy it far more effectively than anything else the “Queer Theory” proponents have been able to do so far.  In a sense this is a no-brainer for him.  He gets to pursue his agenda of ‘equality’ whilst at the same time getting to destroy that traditional vehicle of ‘inequality’, marriage.

All You Need is Love - Peters opening was great – and a gift to me.  He just spoke about love.   For me that is exactly the territory we want to stand on.  The Christian position is one of love.  But the question then becomes who defines what love is?  When politicians speak of the legal basis of marriage being two people who love one another, if we accept that, then are we not handing over the definition of love to the State authorities?   Do we really want to do that?     Despite being pressed several times, Peter struggled to answer why equality, democracy and marriage being between two people who love one another, would not mean that two brothers would be allowed to be married. His only defence was that it was a) a different kind of love (back into definitions) and b) that it was not what the public wanted.

Public Opinion - When I pushed him on the latter point, he admitted that public opinion was not to be the arbiter of right and wrong.  He does genuinely believe that and I am thankful for his acknowledgement of that.  Politicians please take note.  Peter is a radical and a rebel.  But now that his position on SSM and sexuality is the default position of the conservative establishment and public opinion (controlled and manipulated by that establishment) is, or will be, on his side, I wonder if he is comfortable with now being on the inside?   What happens when the rebel becomes the ruler?

Sex and Sexuality - A key moment for me was when Peter was speaking about sexuality and sex.  The thought struck me, and I made the point later, that our disagreement is not primarily about sexuality.  The debate has been framed in such a way that it has invariably become about what one thinks of homosexuals, and thus an issue about equality.  To me that is the wrong approach and the wrong question.   Peter and I have two different views, not primarily of sexuality, but of sex.  And ultimately I think we have two different views of human beings.   Reading Peters writings and listening to what he is saying, he has a view of sex that is basically that of appetite.  If human beings want to have one partner or one hundred, that’s fine.   If they wish to sleep with someone of the same sex or a different sex that too is fine.  It is the 1960’s dream of the freedom of the sexual revolution. The biblical view of sex is very different.  It is not one of repression but rather sex as being sacred – a covenant act of a man and woman where the two really do become one.   These two different views of sex reflect two different views of humanity.  I was arguing from the perspective that human beings are made in the image of God.  Peter from the perspective of someone who sees us as, at best, sophisticated animals.   That for me was the heart of the matter.  One of the key lessons for us to learn is that when people cease to believe in God, inevitably their view of humanity will change as well.  They cease to believe in humanity.

Speaking of equality – it does depend what you mean by it.  For me equality is that all human beings are equally made in the image of God and therefore deserve the dignity, respect, love and judgement that come with that.  For our secular humanists it seems as though equality is only the right to be as they say that we should be.  And even then, some are more equal than others!

Progressive or Regressive   Peter wanted to portray his position as ‘progressive’ and of course all the ‘progressive’ followers were delighted.  My social media were full of lovely comments about how regressive and backwards I was, and how delightfully progressive Peter was.  But I have a different perspective.  One that is a complete game changer.  What if the inevitability of human progress is just a myth?  What if sometimes we progress and sometimes we regress?  The liberal left have thrown all their progressive eggs into the one basket of same sex marriage and gay rights.  But what if that is not progression but regression?  What if instead of progressing to an enlightened secular nirvana, we are regressing into a Greco/Roman/Pagan world?  Peter has no way of knowing that is not the case.  He and those who agree with him, are leading a dumbed down and/or spineless elite, into the wilderness, not knowing what the consequences will be.

Those on the political right think we are ‘progressing’ through capitalism into a world of plenty and peace, those on the political left have largely given up on economic justice and instead think we are ‘progressing’ through social and moral ‘liberalism’.  For them SSM, abortion and euthanasia are seen as shibboleth issues.  And the elites of both the Left and the Right have become very accepting of each other’s emphasis.  Thus the Tory Prime Minister boasts about how conservative he is in redefining marriage, and a Labour Prime Minister boasts about how he has deregulated the City and set up a global capitalist centre in London.  I think Peter believes his philosophy and politics will lead to a secular Nirvana.  But what if they don’t?  What if we do regress not only into the sexual immorality of the Greco-Roman- Pagan world, but also into the social and economic injustice of that world, where might is right, the elites rule, and the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider?

What Causes Homosexuality? I quoted the following from Peter’s earlier writings:  “Born gay? No. Human sexuality is too varied and complex to be reduced to a simple equation of genes plus hormones.”

“The truth is that nurture appears to be more important than nature when it comes to the formation of sexual orientation. Most studies indicate that genetic factors, while not unimportant, are of secondary significance compared to social influences, such as the relationship between a child and its parents, formative childhood experiences, cultural mores and peer pressure.”

I told him that that was basically my position.  However Peter stated he had changed his view after reading ‘Born Gay’ by Glenn Wilson.  Yet this book was published in 2008 and Peter’s new views seem only to have surfaced in 2012.  I believe that he has moved his position somewhat but that he still holds to the view that sexuality has a number of causes/influences and that he acknowledges that sexuality can change.  That is not a million miles from my own understanding.  Yet in the simplistic world of the mainstream media and politicians it is just part of the cultural narrative that people are ‘born that way’.  To suggest that people can change (either way) is to be perceived as being guilty of hate speech!

What I got wrong.  This was a live two-hour debate.  And yet I still came off thinking that I had, in the words of Russell Brand, barely articulated anything!  I took lots of notes and tried to remember all the main points but the one I really regret not getting round to was when he cited the Levitical laws in Scripture and the usual stories of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If I had had the chance to respond to that I would have pointed out how Scripture ‘progresses’ and also Calvin’s teaching about ‘accommodation’ – how God accommodates himself to our capacities and weaknesses.   It is also always important to point out where scripture is being prescriptive rather than descriptive.   In this regard it was interesting to discover that Peter had been brought up in an evangelical home- Baptist and then Pentecostal.  He spoke very warmly of his mother, who is still alive and who still maintains the biblical faith, whilst accepting him.

The Deadness of Theological Liberalism and the Danger of Dumbed Down Conservatism – Peter spoke of how he had drifted towards theological liberalism and then into atheism, because the bible just did not make sense to him.  It struck just how responsible the church is for many people like him.  On the one hand we have the theological liberalism exemplified by the clergywoman from the LGBT Christian society, who managed to come out with the most banal comments (not least that the bible endorsed 9 and 10 year olds being married); on the other the kind of pietistic conservatism which refuses to take the intellectual questions and apparent inconsistencies seriously, and as a result leaves our young people to drift on a tide of emotionalism and ‘spiritual’ experience, which can so easily be undermined.   Peter Tatchell is a classic result of that kind of Christian unthinking incompetence.

The Response: There were interesting responses before, during and after the debate.  Revelation TV told me that they had had over 300 e-mails (the highest ever before was 182).  They took some stick from Christians and I certainly did as well.  Varying from those who wandered what the point of debating was at all, to those who questioned why a ‘Sodomite’ should be given a platform on Christian TV!  One man had a go at me for ‘needless flattery’ because I appreciated Peter’s sensitivity and intelligence.  The trouble is that it wasn’t flattery.  I really did like him.  And I really did think what I said.

Consider Jesus.  When the rich young ruler came to Jesus he went away a non-believer.  Yet we are told that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  That is why he challenged him.  And that is what I was trying to do.  I was not there to condemn him in order to appease ‘Self-righteous from Swindon’.  I was there to present the Christian case and to try to encourage him, and those who agree with him to see things from a different perspective.  I loved Peter and feel an immense sorrow that he is so lost.  I pray and plead for his salvation.  Thats why I gave him a copy of my book about Jesus, Magnificent Obsession. May the Lord use it to reveal Himself to Peter.

Peter also came under some criticism from his own side.  Not least for debating with me in the first place.  “it will look better on Robertson’s CV than Tatchells’! But some of his adoring fans, who seem to lack lack both his intelligence and sensitivity to the issues, are atheist mirror images of the unthinking emotive Christians who automatically condemn anyone who does not fit their mould.  So anything he said was wonderful/brilliant/true and anything I said was of course stupid/ignorant/lies.  Some samples from those bastions of liberal secular tolerance – Secular Scotland.

“I can’t watch this. My heart goes out to Tatchell for doing this. Shit what a wasted time for him.”

“God is love – wha ha ha ha ha what an eejit”

“I’m struggling through and still can’t fathom how you have the energy to argue with this moron.”

“I can only take so much of the crap DAR spouts which is why I’m unable to watch it fully”

“Watching now… what a fanny’.

And this kind of attack was posted – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy2IilNju4g&feature=youtu.be

One man was a little more balanced, but he was the exception as the secularists indulged in their favourite pastime of reaffirming one another through groupthink and mockery.   “DAR had a good innings…Peter held his ground…it was a christian broadcast…the low point for me was the Scottish ‘ex gay guy’ who’d found Jesus…cognitive dissonance can’t be healed by faith and I wonder about such cases.”

But there was great appreciation for both Peter and the debate from many Christians.  This for example was typical of many – I was really pleased with the debate. I too thought of Peter Tatchell as an angry man but he was very different to the way I had seen him on previous occasions. He seemed at ease and willing to listen (to a certain degree). But the whole evening was conducted with such respect and care and the Love of Christ, which is so very different to all other form of love was demonstrated abundantly by Rev TV. I just want to commend everyone who took part. Tim you were brilliant as the Chairperson, David and Peter were excellent. I just pray that God will open up the eyes of their hearts (the people wanting to redefine marriage) and hear the word of God and be able to understand why God has set out these safeguards for us to live by. God will have his way. Every blessing to you all and thank you for declaring God in public.  Or this one: My husband & I both appreciated the 2 hours of programming last night … well done, Tim Vince, for being such an able host and chairman. Both speakers were clear and considerate of one another …no rancour or mudslinging … true debate. Thank you Revelation TV for an enthralling programme.  Or this “It was actually the most thorough and intelligent debate on SSM I’ve ever heard.”

Challenges:

To the British and Scottish Governments:  Have you actually thought about what you are doing?  Or are you so concerned to be ‘on the right side of history’ that you are rushing into this without considering the social, moral, political and economic consequences for our society?

To the BBCPeter said this was the best debate he had been in.  We gave it two hours of intelligent in-depth discussion.  You are supposed to be a public service broadcaster.  Why then have you not allowed such a debate and discussion to take place on your network?  Would that not be a public service?  Why did you have to leave it to a tiny Christian TV station based in Malaga to have such a quality programme?

To The ChurchWhen are we going to come out of our comfort zones and challenge the zeitgeist of this current age?  When are we going to train our young people so that they can take captive every thought for Jesus?   And for those who consider themselves to be on the ‘liberal wing’ – let me ask this one question.  Why are Desmond Tutu and Steve Chalke so loved by those who hate the Lord and his Word?

FinallyI was very encouraged by this whole event.  By the Lord’s timing, his preparing of the way, opening up the doors and enabling grace which allowed us to walk through them.  I was very conscious of the prayers of many people.  I was deeply conscious that it was a spiritual battle one fought not with the weapons of this world, but with the armour of  God (Ephesians 6).  In particular I was strengthened by reading the following from Isaiah 54 and Habakkuk 2

4           “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.

Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth

and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

5           For your Maker is your husband—

the Lord Almighty is his name—

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

he is called the God of all the earth……….

14         In righteousness you will be established:

Tyranny will be far from you;

you will have nothing to fear.

Terror will be far removed;

it will not come near you.

15         If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;

whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

16         “See, it is I who created the blacksmith

who fans the coals into flame

and forges a weapon fit for its work.

And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;

17         no weapon forged against you will prevail,

and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

and this is their vindication from me,”

declares the Lord.

Habakkuk 2.

13   Has not the Lord Almighty determined

that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,

that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

14   For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,

as the waters cover the sea………..

20   But the Lord is in his holy temple;

let all the earth be silent before him.”

 

20 thoughts on “The Tatchell Debate on Same Sex Marriage

  1. Excellent David, I was enthralled. Has given me a better understanding of how to unearth the fundamental issues beneath the surface. I went to the dentist on Thursday, she attends Dowanvale in Glasgow and in between having my mouth full of her tools, we discussed the debate on RTV. Her assistant was listening. Thanks so much.

  2. It was an excellent debate on both sides, and did at least one of the things that a good “debate” of this kind should do: promote understanding between those who differ. For what it’s worth, my take on it as a mere observer (via Youtube) resonates with your account of it as an able participant.

    Two factors struck me, beyond the ones you note in your reflections. The first, very simply, is the problem with “evidence”. Both of you cited studies, and you (David) expressed your own reservations about the value of some of the data such studies produce. The difficulty of knowing what counts as evidence, let alone what can be agreed upon by both sides as reliable evidence, is a continuing problem.

    The second is captured in a part Peter Tatchell’s closing summary to the first hour of the debate:

    I’m sad—with respect, David—you know, if you say that black people are not entitled to equal rights in law, that is racist. If you’re saying that gay people are not entitled to equal rights in law, that is homophobic. And the ban on same-sex marriage … that is discrimination.

    [0:53:04 – 0:53:19]

    Words change meaning over time, and “gay” is of course the obvious example in this context. It seems that “homophobia” (and “homophobic”) is also undergoing a transformation.

    The word was already in use in the 1920s in a manner which paralleled “misogyny”: “contempt for the male sex”, as expressed by a woman (see OED, homophobia, n.[1]).

    Now, however, the OED defines “homophobia” this way: “n.[2]: Fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality”. Contrast that now with the Oxford Dictionaries Online (“quick current definition”): “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people”, or the similar — but slightly extended — version in the Merriam-Webster definitition: “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals”.

    The slippage is embedded into Mr Tatchell’s closing statement in two ways: (1) the obfuscation about ‘right’ to marriage which redefines marriage (like a “right” to round squares: just because I can say the words doesn’t make it a meaningful concept); and (2) the alignment of that difference (i.e., disagreement over the definition of marriage) with a term denoting hatred of a group of people (homosexuals). In other words, vilify the “enemy”.

    Defining opposition to SSM in law as “homophobia” (which Peter did quite insistently when pressed on whether this also applied to Alan Duncan and David Starkey) makes for powerful rhetoric, albeit of a false and misleading kind — or so it strikes me.

    In any case, I’m grateful for your voice in this, David!

  3. I will admit that I have not read everything posted here. I think the whole debate has exhausted me. Contrary to common belief I an a Gay Man who has spent almost my whole life struggling with this issue, mostly in private, in fear of being hated, mistreated, and misunderstood. Rather than continue to split myself in two, and put myself through needless agony, I made a decision long ago that I was worth more than this debate, and that I would never be able to reconcile what others told me I must. I have been in a gay relationship now for the past 14 years and have been married the past seven. I am part of a very loving community, a spiritual community at that, and I still fight for my faith in Jesus. Many who are privileged in the Christian church have never had to struggle with their faith. After sixteen years in the exodus ministries, I came to see that people’s sexuality is really not up for debate, that people cannot change. That trying to change will only make you neurotically ill, and that trying to blame your orientation on your upbringing is crazy making. I can only ask that if you want to debate this issue, than talk with some people who have walked the walk. Yes I still have my wounds, but the Grace that God has given me is nothing short of amazing. I am no theologian, and I am no debater of facts knowledge.or church politics. But every day I am grateful for who I am. I am grateful for my partner, for our families and friends, and when I walk down the street, I can hold my head up, instead of covered in a shame that is needless. I guess the question here is. Can I love you, and can you love me, because people are loosing their faith over this issue and that to me is the real .tragety.

    • Craig – thanks for this. I have a great deal of sympathy with what you say – however I think you are falling into the trap of allowing your personal experience to determine or ignore what the Scripture says. It is not just homosexual people who struggle with their faith! I also think that it is a bad idea to determine everyone else’s experience by your own. You say that people cannot change. You are not allowing for the power of the Holy Spirit. Whilst I don’t believe in so called ‘conversion therapy’ I have seen and know people who have changed. It is interesting that Peter Tatchell also believes that some people can change.

      Your question about whether I can love you is a good one. The answer is yes. But love does not mean that I have to give up the Word of God. In fact it is because I love you that I will stick with it. Even if it seems to contradict your experience and your faith.

      • Thank you for rwsponding to my comments. I have little time now, so I will write more later. You make some thoughtful points which I will respond to. I personaly can tell you that in my experiences I do not know of anyone who has actually changed their sexual orientation. I believe there are those who choose to go into denile and many may go on to getting married to a woman. They will tell you they are tempted, which in my mind is a way of using religious jargon to remain in denile. They may be happy with their choices and I am happy for them. But that is very different than claiming to have changed. I don’t believe the holy spirit changes people from gay to straight. Believe me I tried AND GOT CAUGHT IN THAT TRAP. Gotta go, more to follow.

      • Craig, I too have little time and wonder whether it is worth while getting into this at this stage anyway. Just to say that you cannot determine everything by your experience, nor can you possibly say that no-one ever changes. You can just say that you have not seen or experienced that. But I have. It is a cop out to say that ‘well, they have not really changed’. The other problem you have is saying that you don’t believe the Holy Spirits can change people because you tried. If you tried it was not the Holy Spirit. I think you should be a bit more open-minded on this and recognise that there are a variety of experiences.

      • There has been much research done about the effectiveness of therapy in helping people change their sexual orientation. It is true that I cannot speak for everyone, but in my years of trying to change, I know of no one who has changed. Yes I know there are a variety of experiences, but I believe what I believe. It is not a cop out for me to share my experience and belief. Based on my life and those of many others, I have come to believe what I believe. I don’t think either of us would agree on very much in this disscussion and I am always open to what others have to say. We will one day see clearly.

      • Craig – I was not arguing for therapy to change peoples sexual orientation. And again I repeat – I cannot base everything I believe solely on my own experience. That is to make the whole universe centre round me.

  4. I’ve only had time to watch part of the debate. It seemed very interesting and as David Reimer said, it was nice to hear and learn more of views of people who see the situation differently. I modified the statement slightly as I think in the wider debate there are more than two sides.

    I was also glad to hear Craig’s comment above. Thank you Craig for sharing such a personal story and for sharing how God has been working in your life in this issue.

    I was interested to read David that your view is closer to Peter’s former one on homosexuality. Would you therefore say that your and my heterosexuality is predominantly a result of “the relationship between us and our parents, formative childhood experiences, cultural mores and peer pressure”?

    • No – I would say that hetrosexuality is the norm – and that it too is conditioned by our circumstances, upbringing etc – so for example someone who has been abused as a child may well have either a horror of sex, or might become extremely promiscious. Nature and nurture play a part in all of our lives.

      • Thanks David. So, does this mean you believe we are all born naturally heterosexual but that some are someone changed (by all the factors mentioned above) into homosexuality? I suppose I am asking if the word “norm” here means “all of us” or “the average/majority”?

      • No – it means that we are all born sinful and that we are all impacted by our environment and upbringing. How that works out is far more complex that a simplistic formula – whether it is someone saying ‘God made me gay’ or ‘God made me an alcoholic’, or someone saying ‘its just entirely your choice’. People because of genetics and circumstances may not have a choice about their sexuality, but they do have a choice with what they do about it.

    • There was a time when I believed the whole idea of nurture being a cause or contributing factor to on becoming homosexual. That only served to alienate my family and look for possible reasons. I no longer hold this view at all, and I suggest you get some currant real research based information to back up your claim.. Personally I hope no gay person has read what you have written here. You tell me that I base my beliefs on my experiences, well , all I can say is that ai have done some study of what the bible says and does not say, I suggest you read John Boswells book, homosexuality, Christianity, and social tolerance. It is a heavy read, but is worth a look at, also look up Soul Force. They have been most helpful to me. But before you make your broad claims, do some homework yourself on the topic. I have had to. Because it is about my life, my faith, and my sense of who I am as a child of God.

      • Craig- I have plenty research and I know plenty gay people. My view is largely the view of Peter Tatchell – that whilst there can be strong genetic components (though there is no such thing as a gay gene), environmental factors as well as personal choice play a significant role for many. I too have had to do plenty homework about it. Since you are suggesting books to be read – can I suggest Sam Alberry’s wee gem – Is God anti-gay?

  5. The implications can be significant, depending on what you mean. The word “norm” can mean different things to different people. Some consider it to mean the average or majority. In that case it is merely a statistical statement. Some use it to mean the default, and therefore deviation is “abnormal”.

    I am curious to know if you think that were we living in an entirely Christian culture, there would no homosexuality, owing to “the relationship between us and our parents, formative childhood experiences, cultural mores and peer pressure” being purely Christian in influence (for the purposes of my question, we can assume a Christian influence that is consistent with a more conservative/orthodox view).

    • No – it would be helpful if you applied orthodox biblical theology. We live in a bent universe, a messed up world. That means that sin will pervade every aspect of our being including sexuality. Orthodox Christians are sinners too!

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