Photo Credit: The Telegraph

September 6, 2013

When Facts Offend

Once upon a time, at least so I’m told, words had meaning. Flannery O’Conner even had the audacity to say that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Those days are past. Several weeks ago, a lesbian couple in Gosport, England, took their son to St. Mary’s Anglican Church to be baptized. The retired Rev. Gebaur was officiating services while the parish looked for a new priest and expressed a willingness to perform the baptism. All seemed well until the Rev. asked the couple who “the mother” was for the purposes of the baptism certificate.

The couple responded that they both wished to be listed as the mother. The Rev., obviously not an enlightened modern, pointed out that this was a biological impossibility, and suggested that for purposes of the certificate the natural mother be listed under the line reserved for “the mother.” The couple apparently could not stomach being confronted with this truth, and later reported that they were appalled and stormed out.

In the same interview, the Rev. said “We have bent over backwards to try and accommodate this family… Their sexuality has no bearing on the issue. It was never discussed. The church baptism register makes no provision for it. We can only make sure the child is theirs. For all we know they may have pinched the child. We suggested time and again that the natural mum be registered as mum.”

The concessions and mild requests of the Rev., however, were not enough to satisfy the couple who said “It’s so hard not to be put off by our experience.”

What is striking about this particular controversy is that does not revolve around a matter of doctrine or church teaching. It revolves around a matter of fact. The clergyman in this case is obviously not a raging fundamentalist or even a mildly orthodox conservative who is taking a stand for the Church’s teachings on sexuality. In fact, he seems to be of the inclusive and tolerant sort. He explicitly admitted that his views on sexuality, whatever they may be, had nothing to do with the reasons for his question and he expressed no hesitation about performing the baptism. He even made the very Christian statement that “Surely baptising the child is more important than being registered.” A sentiment the child’s parents obviously did not share.

Asking who a child’s biological mother is should not be a controversial question. Even with the redefinition of marriage it still has an obvious and factual answer that even the most enlightened of moderns would have a difficult time denying. However, such questions are now off limits. It would appear that certain words no longer mean what they mean.

This episode is an unfortunate proof of the point made by Professor Helen Alvare, who in the wake of the Supreme Court Windsor decision said that,

 “Defenders of human life, religious freedom, and children’s interests in marriage should excuse themselves these days for sputtering—for having literally no words to offer in response to recent events. It appears words are currently useless. All the words we would ordinarily reach for are taken, and have suddenly been redefined.”

The incompatibility of religious freedom and the redefinition of marriage is on full display here. The world has made it clear that even if we work to make accommodations, to agree to disagree, and to attempt to coexist with the modern world, none of it will be good enough. If we oblige by taking the more “uncomfortable” doctrines out of the world’s view, they will find natural facts that are just as uncomfortable and insist that we stop insisting on them.

A parallel can be drawn with the prediction made by C.S. Lewis when he pointed out that when “the modern world says to us aloud, ‘You may be religious when you are alone,’ it adds under its breath, ‘and I will see to it that you are never alone.’”


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  • Ray Bannister

    I would not call this pleasant reading, but I must admit it’s kind of amusing to see a Politically Correct clergyman playing the villain in such a situation, seeing the left devour its own water-carriers (pardon the pun). I’m reading this just a few days after the incident of the Oregon bakery whose Christian owners would not provide a cake for a lesbian “wedding,” and both stories illustrate the point that, indeed, words mean what the left says they mean, which in practice means, reality means what they say it means. What next? Three men “marry” and all want to be listed as a child’s “father” – or “mother”? Or, the current option when signing up for an e-mail account – “Not specified”? I’ve yet to meet a “Not specified” person, but they’re out there somewhere, and something tells me they have an ax to grind.

    My own response to the two “mothers” would be blunt: you are NOT mothers, either of you, and you are NOT a married couple and never will be, period, have a nice day, and no doubt some parson down the road will be glad to do as you ask, but not me.

    FYI, the English term “pinched” means “stolen.” The pastor at least understood one of the obvious reasons for keeping track of birth mothers’ names.

  • jakie

    No reference until the pastor asked for a sexual orientation to be designated on the certificate. Do we need a certificate, I believe the commitment to serve Christ, not maintain church records takes priority.

    • Darren

      Jakie, being a mother is a biological fact, not a sexual orientation. No amount of political correctness can change that.

      Christ is not being served by diminishing or obliterating the uncomfortable parts of His Word according to our tolerance for them at the time.

  • readering

    We’re talking about a form. If a man and woman adopted a child they took to be baptised the form would not indicate the biological mother. If both these mothers want to be listed on the form and neither wants to be listed as father, surely the vicar can figure out how to accomadate them and accomplish a baptism with no muss or fuss.

  • Peter Serive

    “The incompatibility of religious freedom and the redefinition of marriage is on full display here.”

    I think the incompetence of Mr. Miller as a would-be lawyer is on full display here.

    Mr. Miller, the couple in question is not married. Although same-sex marriage has passed Parliament, the law is not yet in effect. It will not be in effect until well into 2014, a fact you could have uncovered in a 1-minute Google search. And when it does go into effect, it won’t impose any obligations on St. Mary’s Anglican Church. Nor does it have anything to do with baptisms.

    Either you don’t understand concepts like cause and effect, or you just don’t care. I hope you do a better job of serving your future clients than you did serving your readers in this instance.