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Why is Keir Starmer apologising for going to church?

 Christian beliefs on charity and sexual ethics are not unrelated

Keir Starmer has apologised for going to church. On Good Friday he visited Jesus House, a congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, to recognise their work in supporting the community during the pandemic. But afterwards he issued a rather curious apology:

This is extraordinary because, first, it’s not as if Christian sexual morality is a closely-guarded secret. For two thousand years and counting, the Church of Jesus Christ has always believed in faithful, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman, and that all other sexual activity is sin. It remains the position of every orthodox Christian church up to this day. If the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is ignorant of that fact, one has to question his qualifications for the job.

But there is a more profound reason why this is extraordinary. Starmer’s apology implies that while it is good that a church like Jesus House does lots of great community work, it is tragic and terrible that it holds an orthodox Christian view of sexual morality. But the problem with this is that these are not two unrelated and incompatible viewpoints, unfortunately and inexplicably held at the same time by the same people. Rather, they are both outworkings of the same core moral conviction: that self-sacrifice is the core of right behaviour.

Why is it that a church would, for example, run a foodbank, or open up its premises for a vaccination centre, as Jesus House has done? The church gets nothing out of either of them; on the contrary, they cost money, require volunteers to give up their own time, and introduce a whole lot of inconvenience for everyone involved. But Christians do things like this because they are imitating their Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a sacrifice for them. He has shown us that right human behaviour is to ignore our own desires, pleasures and convenience, and instead to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.

The church’s teachings on sex and their community work are both based on the same core conviction

And this is exactly what also drives Christian morality when it comes to sex. It is not for us to prioritise our sexual desires, pleasures and conveniences; rather, they are to be given up for the good of others in the service of God. So a Christian man does not see his sexual urges as something that must at all costs be satisfied. Rather they are something which must be denied and tamed; limited, whatever their nature and strength, to one woman, and only then when he first makes a public vow that he will put her welfare, and that of the children they may conceive, above his own for the rest of his life. In a world where male violence against women is of terrifying scale, it’s a very compelling vision indeed. A Christian woman treats her sexual feelings in a similar way. This law of marriage, where the lifelong faithful union of one man and one woman is celebrated, and all departures from it forbidden, is simply the Christian imperative to sacrifice ourselves for others carried into and worked out within the sexual realm.

The sexual revolution, of which the LGBT+ phenomenon as we know it today is just a part, defined itself as being against this Christian morality from the start. It’s based on a belief that the individual is king; the idea that I am defined more than anything else by what I find inside me; that true humanity is in my feelings and that it’s not my desires that are morally questionable, but anything which tries to stop me following through on them. The progress of society on this view, which has risen to cultural dominance in the West, depends on the removal and destruction of all attempts to restrict the free expression of my sexual instincts. This explains the moral opprobrium heaped upon Starmer for daring to visit an organisation which holds to Christian morality; and his abject apology which resulted.

But the trouble is, the same moral force is at work in a Christian view of sex as in a Christian view of social outreach. The sanctity of one man—one woman marriage and the imperative of feeding the poor both spring from the same well. Starmer’s apparent belief that he can have one without the other is a search in a chimera which, while widely attempted, can never really last. Either the self is king, and the ultimate value is satisfying self for self’s own sake; or Jesus Christ is king, and the ultimate value is sacrificing self for Jesus Christ’s sake. Believe one, or believe the other, but whichever you choose will imprint itself on the whole of your life.

The LGBT+ phenomenon was and is based on a belief that the individual is king

To apply the logic of the sexual revolution to the concept of charity is to destroy it. If the individual is king, and fulfilling one’s own desires is the crowning moral imperative of them all, then why should anyone give up precious time, money and resources to help others when they themselves will get nothing out of it? It is not for nothing that the word ‘charity’ itself is of Christian origin; caritas is the latin word for the distinctly Christian virtue of self-giving, self-denying love which counts others above yourself.

In fact the logic of the sexual revolution, and particularly the forceful version of it found in sexual identity politics, destroys plenty of things in the sexual realm as well. You don’t have to look at recent reports of how Michel Foucault, the man generally acknowledged as the founder of queer theory, saw his ideas as justifying pederasty as much as anything else to see this. Every woman sexually mistreated by a man, every child who grows up wondering why dad abandoned her and her mother, every unwanted unborn baby doomed to be terminated before ever seeing the light, is a victim of the same belief that sexual self-satisfaction is an ultimate good.

So it is no coincidence that the Christian church has been dedicated to faithful marriage and abstinence outside of it, and also to the care of the poor and needy, at the same time. The same Christians who refused to rape their slave-girls in the Roman empire took in and raised the babies left to die on the streets by their non-Christian neighbours. The same Christians who fought to end slavery in the eighteenth century also campaigned against the use and abuse of prostitutes.  Self-sacrifice applies equally everywhere.

So, Mr. Starmer, you did not need to apologise for your visit to a Christian church because of its views on marriage. And we do not need to apologise to you for those views either. Christ gave himself for us; for his sake we will continue to believe that, in the world of sex as well as money, time and everything else, self-giving, not self-satisfaction, is how we should live.

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