There is a paradox. On homosexual marriage, David Cameron's theology may be better than his politics. That might seem an extraordinary claim. For nearly 2000 years, Christians professed to believe that the sins of Sodom were punishable by Hell fire: that those in authority who sought to encourage them would certainly experience to the full the horrors of damnation. But how many Christians still believe that today? If Hell is virtually decommissioned, what beliefs are still compulsory? A hundred years ago, the Anglican and Catholic Churches both rested on doctrine and dogma. Is that still true?
As a reverent non-Christian, I would have thought that the literal truth of the Resurrection was at the core, along with the Incarnation. These miraculous occurrences are the foundation stones of Christian belief. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin: that might be gilding the lily. The other two: if you believed in them, you were a Christian; if not, not. The new Archbishop of Canterbury has said that if Christ's bones were discovered tomorrow, he would resign his post. Yet I know a fair few people who profess themselves to be serious Christians, and disagree. Although they would not follow that sometime Bishop of Durham and ineffable ass, David Jenkins, who described the Resurrection as a conjuring trick with bones, nor do they believe that Christ rose from the dead. I suspect that even if they would never imitate Bishop Jenkins's frivolous blasphemies, some current Bishops might echo his unbelief.
So what is left? Homosexual marriage has been condemned for 2000 years, but if all the rest of the Church's teachings are now adrift, why take a stand on that? It should be possible for a current Christian to argue that Christ's teachings could be reduced to one word, love, and that the Churches should organise their mission to mankind on that basis, proclaiming His love and His sacrifice. If that were the case, why should homosexual love be excluded from Christian compassion, and from Sacramental redemption?
There is a case to be made. Suppose the Prime Minister had identified a Bishop or equivalent figure who had been willing to argue it: to claim that after agonising and soul-searching, after hours on his knees in prayer, he had changed his mind and concluded that the Church should extend its blessings to homosexuals. He did not wish to force his views on anyone else. Christians who held by their traditions should also be blessed. But let there be discussion, debate, dialogue.
The PM could have intimated that he shared that view. Although there would be no early legislation, the question was now on the table. If that had happened, the homosexuals would have been broadly content. Many Tories would have been uneasy, but not to the point of rebellion. There could indeed have been a debate. Instead, Mr Cameron relied on the brute force of a Parliamentary majority. Opinions which had been unchallenged for two millennia and which had commanded the adherence of the greatest Christian intellects, the noblest Christian souls, not to mention hundreds of millions of ordinary, decent people – were suddenly treated as if they were rancid and loathsome survivals from the Old Stone Age. There is a lesson in all this. If, as a Tory, you are ever tempted to agree with Harriet Harman, you should first ensure that the tempter is not wearing two horns and a tail. Downing Street was taken aback by the extent of the dismay. Other Tories were taken aback by the extent of Downing Street's naïveté.
There is a price to pay. In the opinion of this column and of almost all other wise Tories, the Prime Minister is right on the economy and right on Europe. In both of those mighty, complex and hazardous ventures, he deserves his Party's loyalty, even if there are moments of credo quia impossibile. Homosexual marriage is a much lesser question. But the tactical miscalculation has spread alarm and despondency: has undermined trust and faith. Memo to No.10; for God's sake avoid such foolishnesses in future.