Influential Christian blog Cranmer has defended a BBC Radio 4 programme presented by Benjamin Cohen, the founder of PinkNews, against accusations of blasphemy. He claims that those who accused Mr Cohen of blasphemy are the real blasphemers.
The programme, broadcast on Wednesday as part of the network’s Lent Talks season, was criticised by Christian campaigners before it was even aired for including a segment on the Gospel’s description of Jesus’ abandonment by society “for something he couldn’t help”, something that Mr Cohen reflected is similar to fears of abandonment that many young LGBT experience before coming out.
In the programme, Mr Cohen criticised parents for rejecting their children saying: “In many cases, the reason for this rejection is religion – something that really angers and upsets me. Religion should be about bringing families together, united in devotion and celebration, not tearing them apart.”
Before being able to listen to the programme, Andrea Williams of Christian Concern told the Daily Telegraph: “To link (homosexual) experience to that of Christ is to misunderstand the biggest event in history – it is blasphemous.”
The Cranmer blog, written as if it were authored by the late Archbishop Cranmer, tells his deeply Christian readership: “Mr Cohen is also human – a sentient and deeply spiritual creature who eats bread, feels want, tastes grief and needs friends. Just like you.”
His defence of Mr Cohen continued:-
Nowhere in his talk does Benjamin Cohen defame Christ or denigrate the name of Jesus. One may quibble with his imperfect grasp of Christian theology, but His Grace is merely Anglican and so also utterly devoid of that perfect divine communion claimed by the theologically infallible. One could write a weighty dissertation on the question of whether or not Jesus had no choice but to die an agonising death on the cross – that is, ‘for something he couldn’t help’. But to dismiss the coincident feelings of a gay Jew as ‘blasphemy’ is the real blasphemy. Jesus died for everyone: we are all sinners before the Throne of Grace. It is simply the feeling of helplessness in absence of choice in life’s course which Mr Cohen meditates upon.
And His Grace uses ‘meditates’ purposefully. For it is a clear and deep reflection on the character and mission of Christ. Throughout his talk, Mr Cohen is respectful and reverent. Those who have leapt to judgment appear not have thought at all about the meaning of Christ to a gay Jew, preferring instead to cry ‘blasphemy’ as their precious and pure Christ is, once again, dragged through the mud and filth of a contrary Christology.
Hanging on the cross, Jesus said: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For Mr Cohen, this echoes something of the fear of abandonment experienced by gay people. And he isn’t entirely ignorant of his subject matter. He talks openly about the impact of being taught at an Anglican school that he, as a Jew, was responsible for the abandonment and crucifixion of Christ (..what a sensitive and intelligent RE teacher he must have had). He went on to study Theology at King’s College, University of London, and studied both the New Testament and the Torah. His final dissertation was on the Jinns of Islam in Morocco. His is not a voice of aggressive secularism: he is doing what all truly spiritual people do: making sense and finding meaning in the Messiah God-man who died that we might live.
Mr Cohen explains: “The only thing I directly criticise about Christianity and indeed any religion in my talk is that religion is often used as the basis for parents rejecting their LGBT children, something that I say is wrong and that it is terrible that this has in some cases led to young people committing suicide. I’m not sure what is blasphemous or offensive in this message at all.”
Quite. What kind of parent – what manner of Christian – rejects their child for being gay?
“Of course, I understand that for the very religious, it is difficult – an orthodox Jew really does believe the Torah is the literal word of God and a devout Catholic believes the Pope is infallible,” he says. “But do people of faith really want to reject their children for something which I believe they can’t help? Just as, the Jewish authorities rejected Christ – for something he considered he couldn’t help- being the son of God?”
You will hear Mr Cohen talk about the large crucifix on a neighbouring church which overlooks his garden, where he and his (gay) friends often gather. “Having feared such abandonment myself, every time I look up at Christ, I’m happy that both our stories are ultimately about embracing love, rather than fear,” he says.
To dismiss this as ‘blasphemy’ is to misunderstand Christology, abuse theology, and defame the name of Christ.
Some of His Grace’s readers are not so Christian when it comes to Mr Cohen’s broadcast.
One asked Mr Cohen: “When is it all going to stop Ben, this gay crusade?”, adding: “Let this man tell you this. He’s seen two men kiss and cuddle in the street. And do you know what this man had to do. He had to turn his head away, because it was quite the most revolting spectacle he’d seen in a city street. Believe him when he says this is a feeling any red blooded man will have. And the younger the man, the more intense it will be. In fact, you have to be pretty far down the road of personally degeneracy to feel otherwise.”
Another said: “Stats on assault show that gays are more likely to be bullied and injured by other gays than by the 98% heterosexual population.”
One claimed that Mr Cohen wished everyone to be gay, claiming: “Don’t be fooled by Cohen, fellow commentators here. We do not have a man who wants society to be gay tolerant. We have a man who wants society to be gay.”
Mr Cohen responded with his own comment: “To those that claimed that I wish society to be gay- Why would I want that? I have a business that only exists because LGBT people are a minority group. If everyone was gay as you claim, what would be the point of PinkNews? No, all I want is for same-sex couples to be treated with the respect and dignity of every other couple.”