The Iman, the Rabbi and the Gay Columnist

May 21, 2001

Did you hear the one about…? Probably not, because I’m making this up as I go along. You see, there was this imam – a kind of Moslem pastor – who last week dared to say on Dutch TV that homosexuality was a sickness. Poor man. Obviously nobody had told him about political correctness.

Suddenly everything hit the fan in this country. Politicians, including the prime minister, deplored that anyone could make such a statement in this day and age. Derogatory terms like ‘medieval’, ‘intolerant’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘insensitive’ and ‘discriminating’ were flung in the direction of the imam. And towards imams in general. The justice department began an investigation into possible prosecution. Better orientation of foreigners into the Dutch way of life was demanded in the media.

“This will not be tolerated!” stormed the leader of the ‘toleration’ party, the liberals, who then quickly compared the statement to that of Christian voices opposing euthanasia and abortion.

Why such a hysterical over-reaction to a religious leader who was expressing a standard Moslem belief? Whatever happened to religious liberty rights? or to freedom of speech?

Now, it’s worth us reflecting for a moment on this incident. You see, it’s not just a Dutch issue. It highlights the direction European society in general has been heading for some time. All across Europe we are faced with the challenge of living with pluralism, and with a moral code that says there is no moral code. And all too often we don’t know how to respond. We often don’t feel equipped to engage in debate. So we – myself included – tend to withdraw into the safety of our Christian ghettos. Including our YWAM bases. Where we hold lessons on discipling nations.

Yet we cannot disciple nations in a vacuum. We must engage the issues and learn to forge biblical responses. But what is involved in discipling a nation like Holland, where a liberal-socialist coalition government, with several gay or lesbian cabinet ministers, is pursuing an aggressively post-Christian agenda? This government is bent on creating a new image of Holland with ‘progressive’ policies on euthanasia, same-sex marriage, prostitution and drugs. If this is not yet happening in your country, you can be sure there are those who will be advocating the Dutch model.

Here’s where the rabbi comes in.

Jonathan Sacks, seen by some as the moral leader of Britain today, is the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth. His books, (e.g ‘The Politics of Hope’, and ‘Faith in the Future’) have helped me greatly in relating faith issues to our confusing times.

Rabbi Sacks laments that almost any public pronouncement on personal morality will be greeted today by a chorus of disapproval. In the name of tolerance, he says, we have taught that every alternative lifestyle is legitimate. Moral judgement – once a virtue – is taboo, even ‘judgemental’. Moral relativism has destroyed our moral compass.

What is right becomes what does not harm others, and in time degenerates to what I feel like doing and can get away with. But since we no longer share a moral code, how can we agree on what constitutes harm to others? Does abortion? Does the withdrawal of a life-support machine?

To recognise others’ rights to their lifestyle choices is one thing. To demand that no-one question the ‘rightness’ of those choices is another. Such political correctness, he argues, is intolerance in the name of tolerance, intimidating the voice of reasoned opposition into silence.

The rabbi calls us to summon the courage to rebuild a moral consensus, beginning with that most fundamental of questions: what sort of world would we wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren?

“We must have the courage to make judgements, to commend some ways of life and point to the shortcomings of others, however much this offends against the canons of our non-judgemental culture. We must lead by moral vision and example, and be prepared to challenge the icons of individualism, the idolatry of our age.”


Surprisingly, criticism of Holland’s new ‘progressive’ image also came recently from a well-known gay columnist. Questioning the wisdom of government policy on drugs and euthanasia, he also called the new homo-wedding legislation ‘ridiculous’ and superfluous.

“Marriage is an institution that is reserved worldwide for a bond between a man and a woman,” he wrote, “providing any resulting family with the necessary legal, social, emotional, mental and cultural protection.” OK, I’ll subscribe to that.

Then he added: “I have been very surprised how easily heterosexuals have allowed this institution to be applied to same-sex relationships.”

Ouch. The silence of intimidation?

Till next week,


Till next week,

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