Ah, the Sabbath and one is put in mind of Iris Robinson’s insistence that Governments must pursue God’s law. Now I don’t pretend to know more than the next congregant but I do have a particular background, having been engaged with American southern Christian fundamentalism in my early years. Yes, I learned the ‘good book’ at my mother’s knee and though I have moved on, much that was good in that book has stayed with me. So, Sister Iris’s call touched a chord.Take old Amos – one of those in-your-face prophets from the time of Jeroboam’s rule: why were the cities Tyre and Edom and Ammon and (I could go on, there were many) condemned? Was there a lot of ‘gayness’ around? Unprotected sex? Late-night partying in the vineyards? Nah. For Amos, like all the Old Testament prophets, what mattered were always social sins: like enslaving foreign peoples and torturing citizens (e.g. ‘disemboweling the pregnant women of Gilead’ 1:13) in their imperialist pursuits.
But what really got Amos’s goat was the sin of oppression:
‘ . . . they have sold the virtuous man for silver and the poor man for a pair of sandals; they trample on the heads of ordinary people and push the poor out of their path’ (2: 6-7).
And Amos was in no doubt who perpetuated these sins. It was the rich:
‘Lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, they dine on lambs from the flock and stall-fattened veal; they bawl to the sound of harps, they drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest oil for anointing themselves, but about the ruin of Joseph (i.e. the collapse of society) they do not care at all.’ (6: 4-6)
It was the corporate class:
‘ . . . you who trample on the needy and suppress the poor people of the country . . . lowering the bushel, raising the shekel, swindling and tampering with the scales . . . you buy the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals.’ (8:4-6).
In particular, Amos wasn’t fond of the idle wives of the idle rich:
‘you cows of Bashan, oppressing the needy, crushing the poor, saying to your husbands, “Bring us something to drink.” (4:1).
So what’s going to happen to these sinful folk? Amos tells those lying on their ivory beds: ‘the sprawlers’ revelry is over.’ But that doesn’t really capture it. For our Yahweh doesn’t do things by half. He’s going to let loose a torrent that not even Hollywood’s best special effects could do justice to:
‘It will mean darkness, as when a man escapes a lion’s mouth only to meet a bear; he enters his house and puts his hand on the wall, only for a snake to bite him.’ (5:19) ‘The houses you have built of dressed stone, you will never live in them’ (5:21). I mean to pull down both winter houses and summer houses, the houses of ivory will be destroyed, the houses of ebony will vanish.’ (3:25). ‘You will be dragged out with hooks, the very last of you with throngs.’ (4:2). ‘And if ten men are left in a house, they shall die. Only a few will escape to carry out the bones.’ (6:10).
Heeeaaavy. So, Sister Iris, be quick about God’s law. And you can start by easing up on the public preaching which Amos scorns:
‘I hate and despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals, Let me have no more of the din of your chanting . . . but let justice flow like a river.’ (5:21-23).
That’s the programme, Sister Iris, God’s programme: bring down the rich and raise up the poor. Regulate business, redistribute wealth, ensure equality in society. To every man and women, good work with good pay; from each according to their ability to each according to their need. No one excluded, no one left behind.
You are in an excellent position, Sister Iris, to go about God’s work, being chair of the Assembly Health Committee. You have the ear of your husband – a man with no little influence. And if the rich and powerful get uppity, just give them a copy of the Book of Amos, look them in the eye, and tell them you’re a believer.
For the Creator has a master plan – peace and happiness for everyone. For everyone.
And, yes, Sister Iris – that includes gays.