A Christian band brought me joy recently. Probably without intending to do so.
They are kind of a big deal in China. They're Chinese, you see - a Chinese Christian band who have made it onto China's equivalent of X-Factor. A few Christian sites had picked up their story as an example of how Chinese Christians have embraced technology (they took to Weibo, the Chinese state-regulated social media site, to vote for the band) and while I think that's sweet, it's not what brought me joy. No. What put a smile on my face all week was their name: Rainbow Come.
I know. It's childish. And as borderline racist as any Engrish-type laughter at a non-English-speaker missing the comedy inherent in a choice of English words. But I find a sprinkling of justice in the fact that a band representing a Christian minority might, however briefly, be confused with gay porn.
Sad for the earnest and well-meaning band members (not only to be the unwitting focus of mirth, but also because their crossover potential in the West is almost certainly limited to a specific niche in which they might feel quite uncomfortable), happy for me. Don't feel too sad for them, though. They are still basically an X-Factor band and deserve everything they get.
I was pretty much alone in noticing Rainbow Come over the last few weeks, because Christians have had their own homosexuality-related storm to occupy their minds recently. Steve Chalke, a well-known and influential Baptist minister, wrote a piece for Christianity magazine about homosexuality and my world - that is to say, the world of Christians who talk a lot about Christianity went mental. See, Rev Chalke's piece was really about how Christians read the Bible, how we choose to leave some bits out and others in. It was interesting, thoughtful and raised some questions that I, as a Christian, think almost all non-theologically-trained Christians and a vast number of those with the right to call themselves Rev have ignored for far too long. Reactions ranged from measured and wise to predictable, and while I think much of what he said is up for debate, debate is not really what has happened. Drawing of lines of who is in and who is out of 'real' Christianity, that ugliest of Evangelical games, was more the order of the day. And Steve can't really be surprised.
As a rule, we Christians are just ridiculous about sex.
I know, I know, we're not supposed to say that. We're supposed to say: "Sex is natural and good and a gift from God, and so it should be enjoyed responsibly, like a bottle of fine brandy. Ideally after a wholesome meal in one's own home, rather than with a couple of friends at the beach." Well, something like that. At least, it feels like every contemporary, outreach-minded Christian has to make it clear that we don't believe sex is bad or even a little weird and gross. No sir. We're not at all odd about sex.
But we are, we are, we are! Or, at least, in public we are. Institutionally, where we are the easiest targets for stone-throwing, we bow to the weirdest common denominator. Not Westboro Baptist, just weird.
If Steve Chalke were questioning popular Christian thinking on politics or economics, coming out in favour of Soviet-style Communism, would I even be writing this? Probably. I'm a geek. But would you be reading it? More to the point: would Christians have been discussing it as much as we have been recently? Nyet, comrade.
We are so weird about sex that we have made questions of orthodoxy super-important when it comes to anything that may lead to orgasm but would never dream of doing that with stuff that might lead to war or famine. I'm not saying we should call people's faith into question over their politics (we're not Americans), just that where we draw our lines gives a clue as to what subjects we have either the most concern about or least confidence around.
We're not bad people, we Christians. And we're not, as a rule, stupid. But bring an active penis and interactive vagina into the room and we come over all queer. As it were.
Here's a personal example. I recently wrote a piece about getting testicular cancer - how terrifying it was, how I was dealing with it spiritually and psychologically. I had expected to feel all deep and wise because I was now walking through the shadow of the valley of death and all that, but discovered I was the same rather simple, shallow chump I had always been. I included a line or two about discovering this by noticing how my mood was buoyed by watching a hot little nurse jiggle and wiggle across the car-park as I left the hospital. My lovely editor later told me that someone had complained about that reference, and it had been removed.
I was a little baffled at what kind of person goes on propriety patrol when another human being is talking about terminal illness, and I didn't blame the lovely editor for cutting it out, but it made me sad. Partly for the many Christian editors and leaders who have to stow their rationality in the overhead compartment when flying Born Again Airways to Sexy-Town (I'm so sorry). And sad, partly, because I belong to a subculture where you can be honest and open or light and comic about anything in your life except sex. Sex, that thing we claim we're totally fine with, is not for joking about. Make a fart joke in a church and you'll get an indulgent laugh. Tell the Rainbow Come story and you'll get letters. Tell them you have repented of your sexual sin and they will ask you to talk forever about it. Act as if finding people attractive is normal and you will be censored. And that's if it's all penis-vajayjay action. Go all gay and you're in real trouble.
Christianity's gay-friendly future
Don't get me wrong: there are legitimate reasons for believing homosexuality is a sin (even if I myself find them less convincing these days). But when there are equally legitimate arguments to the contrary, the urge to erase names from the Lamb's Book of Life based on which side they subscribe to seems odd.
For the vast majority of Christians, there is such a thing as sexual sin, and that, too, is perfectly reasonable to think about and avoid. But there has to be a difference between avoiding adultery and not being able to relax around any sexual subject.
In 20 years' time, of course, the next generation of Christian leaders won't be having the homosexuality argument. Young Christians today have done what the previous generation did and have gone with the flow of culture: they don't think being gay is a big deal. Ask around. I know, I know. Many Christian leaders are rigorous thinkers and honest theologians. It's just pure coincidence that those who grew up in a world that saw gay love as disgusting also believe it is wrong. And I'm sure the Christian leaders of 20 years' time will have very good reasons for at their heart agreeing with the assumptions of the world in which they grew up.
It's sad, really. We could do with being in some way distinguishable from our non-Christian neighbours for some noble and admirable reasons. For now, though, we'll have to make do with funny band names and a pathological fear of naked dancing.