The fine city of Glasgow was host to two very different demonstrations this past couple of weeks. One involved members of the Orange Order marching through the streets in a rather hollow demonstration of triumphalism and was marked by the despicable assault on a Catholic Priest at St Alphonsus church. The other was the annual Pride, march celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender culture, which was led by first minister Nicola Sturgeon and this was marked by colour, music and positivity.
Celtic’s decision to post a message on social media wishing those attending the annual pride march in Glasgow a good day had the surprising effect of attracting some very negative comments from a vociferous minority. Of course there are those with no love for Celtic who seize on any opportunity to throw mud at the club but some of the comments I saw on social media came from people who claimed to be Celtic fans. Celtic’s message was a simple one…
This however provoked some ire from a minority who seemed to feel that that Celtic’s Catholic roots were incompatible with such a message. One person stated that Celtic’s message was…
‘Absolutely disgraceful. Our club was founded on Catholic principles. Brother Walfrid will be spinning in his grave.’
Celtic was of course founded on the Christian principle of charity and love and there seemed to be a distinct lack of that in such comments. Let’s be clear here, Celtic Football club is not a Catholic organisation, it is a modern, secular football club open to people of all faiths, all ethnicities and all sexual orientations. Through historical circumstance the majority of supporters are at least cultural Catholics but a large and increasing number of Celtic supporters come from other faith backgrounds or have no interest in religion.
The social attitudes around in 1888 when the club was founded have gone through revolutionary change. It was routine in the late Victorian era for Jews, Catholics, people of colour and others to suffer open and, by modern standards, pretty appalling prejudice. We will never know the opinion of Celtic’s founding father on those of a different sexual orientation although his actions in trying to feed the poor and alleviate suffering among the marginalised and poverty stricken community he served suggests he was a man of compassion.
Most Christians are familiar with the scriptures of their faith and in truth some have twisted them in the past to bolster their arguments in favour of things such as slavery and racial segregation. The most quoted passages concerning same sex relationships are found in the book of Leviticus and in the letters of St Paul. They were written in a very different context and culture from the modern one we must navigate in our lives. Leviticus is particularly unforgiving and brutal in its assertion that….
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (Lev 20:13)
Compare this to the meeting Pope Francis had with a victim of clerical sex abuse. Juan Carlos Cruz meet the Pontiff to discuss the abuse he suffered at the hands of one of Chile’s worst paedophile’s. He told the press after the meeting that the Pope that Francis had said to him…
‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’
While official Catholic doctrine would still suggest that sexual activity with someone of the same gender is a sin, it’s clear that the compassion and love shown by Pope Francis is a million miles away from the harshness and cruelty of the book of Leviticus. People of faith need to judge for themselves what being a Christian means for them. For most it’s about love, forgiveness and accepting that none of us are perfect. For a few it means harsh rules, shame and guilt. I know which side I fall on in that debate.
This week also saw a very brave and defiant young man called Blair Wilson suffer a homophobic attack on the streets of Glasgow. He took a selfie of himself in the wake of the assault and for many who saw the image of his bloodied but smiling face it was a timely reminder of where prejudice can lead. His courage in speaking out though and the reaction to it is testament to how much society is changing. Most people are sick of petty prejudices be they aimed at religious or ethnic groups or people who are different from them. Societies evolve and the attitudes of the past can seem utterly ludicrous to a modern person. It is not denying your Christian heritage to be more tolerant of the ‘other’ in society-it is living up to it!
If you’re reading these words the chances are you’re using a phone, laptop or other computing device. All of this technology owes much to the pioneering computer work of Alan Turing. Turing was one of the key men who broke the German codes in World War Two and in doing so shortened the war and made an allied victory over fascism more likely. He was also a gay man who was dragged through the courts and charged with ‘gross indecency.’ His public shaming cost him his security clearance as well as his reputation. In the end he took his own life. We must never return to those days. Believe what you want to believe but allow others the same privilege.
So for those offended by Celtic’s message of support for Glasgow’s Pride march I say follow your conscience as you have every right to do but know that the vast majority in our society feel people should be free to live as they choose without fear or shame. We learn from the past or we’re doomed to repeat it and the past shows us very clearly the disgraceful persecution gay people endured. Times change and thankfully in some respects they’re changing for the better.
To any LGBT Celtic supporters out there, we're far from perfect but this is a club for all and you’re welcome here. In that we take Pride.