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Regret without Repentance

A U.K. newspaper, The Independent, asked twenty British celebrities to name their biggest mistake in life.1 Formula 1 driver Stirling Moss rued the day (Easter Monday 1962) he raced at Goodwood; the crash knocked him unconscious for two weeks—and ended his career. Sir Ian McKellen regretted abandoning his native accent for RP (“received pronunciation”) when he began acting. Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes wished he had used mobility kites and had drunk more water during his attempt to cross the Antarctic solo. The most poignant word came from Rabbi Lionel Blue:

It’s an odd choice, but it kept coming back to me. I’m a gay person, but I think my greatest mistake was not marrying a girl who loved me. I was beginning to love her but I didn’t honestly know what would happen; possibly my sexuality could have changed—though what we knew about sex we could have written on a postage stamp. But you’re in love with a person, not a gender. It could have worked out, and I regret that I passed up the opportunity to be with the greatest person I ever knew: she had integrity, honesty and was completely without prejudice. I just didn’t know whether I could be faithful in a hetero relationship.

This is a remarkable confession, with several layers of insight. First, Blue acknowledges that “sexual orientation” may be a matter of choice. Whatever one’s background, one can choose to put oneself in a healthy context and stick with it—or not. Second, he admits that preoccupation with sex can kill one’s chance of true love. Third, he admits that it is not so gay to be gay; he looks wistfully at the heterosexual life that might have been.

Blue reminds one of the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:16-22. Lionel has it all. He has authored 17 books, with such distinguished publishers as Hodder & Stoughton, Victor Gollancz, St. Martin’s, Random House, and Oxford University Press. He has brought a regular “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio 4. His resume lists a television series (In Search of Holy England), a university lectureship (at London’s Leo Baeck College), and denominational leadership (as European director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism). His likeness hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. But his spirit cannot rest.

Like the rich young ruler, Blue once came to Jesus for answers.2 He found His followers amiable enough. (“Christians seemed to me nicer than their scriptures.”) He liked the parables, but found biblical talk of miracles, an exclusive gospel, and the Judgment to be repellant. Ultimately, it concerned Jesus: “I think the greatest divide between Judaism and Christianity is this. For a Christian, Jesus is the unique and only way that God has fully revealed himself. For a Jew this cannot be.” And besides, Blue saw no real need for a Savior:

I remember a Christian chap who wanted to convert me. He told me what Christianity would give me, and he told me that it would save me from Sin. Well, I do not believe in Sin. Most Jews think in terms of sins: I do this wrong, I do that wrong, I do the other wrong. I will pray a bit, I will go to a therapist, I will work it out somehow. But Sin with a capital 'S', in the sense of living in it, is just not there.3

Yes, Lionel Blue has his regrets, but they mean no real change in his life. He continues to practice and defend homosexuality. Today, Moss would drive differently, and Fiennes explore differently—but Blue marches on in his error: regret without repentance. And in his candid moments, this poor, rich young ruler admits to the sadness that haunts him.


Julia Stuart, et al. "I can't believe I did that!" The Independent, October 15, 2003: 2-4.


Blue discusses his contacts with and perspectives in Christianity in a BBC interview. Lionel Blue, "Son of God: Blue on Jesus,"(BBCi Website, n.d.)


Angela Tilby, "Rabbi Lionel Blue in dialogue with Angela Tilby," (Affirming Catholicism Website, 1995)