It was one of those phrases that still chills me when I think of it. That now infamous interview that Prince Charles gave with the then Lady Diana Spenser on the announcement of their engagement to a marriage which would end in unhappiness and bitterness and which was began, at least on the prince’s part, in hypocrisy and insincerity.
Are you in love? the happy couple were asked by a TV reporter in the spirit of true open-hearted tabloid journalism. Then came that answer from the mouth of an awkward young man who obviously had no idea about love even though he was to vow before the world and, at least in his opinion, before God in St Paul’s Cathedral at his marriage to his naive young bride that he did indeed love her. “Whatever love is…..” rings down the decades to haunt him just as his hypocrisy will do if he ever has to take his vows in Westminster Cathedral as the new British monarch.
I thought of these words again when I read about the brutal punishment handed out to those two young men in Malawi who will now serve 14 years hard labour for confessing their love in public in a country that regards love between two members of the same sex as Satanic.
If that same television reporter had asked Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga if they were in love, there would have been no question in their minds about whatever love is. They demonstrated what love is before the World and were prepared to take the consequences for it – they should wear those handcuffs with pride.
Malawi likes to call itself “the warm heart of Africa” but it fails to understand that hearts are meant to be full of love. If this reactionary country cannot open its heart to love or recognise it when it sees it, it not only causes unacceptable misery to the many Malawian people like Steven and Tiwonge but it also shows the World that it is as hypocritical and misguided as that ignorant young prince who stumbled into a relationship that he just didn’t understand. There is a strong case for the West to reconsider its development budget to Malawi if it is to deny not just human rights but humanity itself.
Let’s not get too smug about our tolerance here in the West though. Talking about love, I used to think, wrongly, that the Church of England preached a gospel of love. Not so, we hear, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, objected that its American branch was electing a Lesbian, Mary Glasspool as assistant bishop of Los Angeles. Bishop Glasspool has lived in a loving relationship with her partner, Becki Sander, for twenty-one years. Mary and Becki, too, had no problem telling the press what love is. Archbishop Williams though, instead of grasping this story as a moving example of love in the face of adversity, regards it instead as a mistake which could “alienate traditionalists” in the church. Well, Archbishop, tough.
Let’s alienate a few more traditionalists – both within the Church of England and in the government of Malawi and beyond.
In the meanwhile, God Bless Bishop Glasspool and God help Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.