Open letter from the Revd Malcolm Duncan on the proposed new sexual orientation regulations 31/07/06

I’m concerned that there is widespread misunderstanding of the proposed new sexual orientation regulations (SOR). I welcome the SOR as an attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways.

I am concerned that some Christian organisations have misinterpreted the word “services” to mean religious ceremonies and rites, when this is clearly not the case. The SOR apply to the delivery of public services – this does not include worship activities and ceremonies that are a part of organised religion e.g. baptisms, communion etc. ‘Ministers of religion’ are also exempt from the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.

While maintaining that faith groups have the right to distinctive faith perspectives, Faithworks, the movement which I lead and I are committed to the principles of unconditional inclusive service, and believe that public funds should only be used to public benefit.

Some representatives from faith groups are in danger of sounding homophobic because of their misinterpretation and misapplication of the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The Faithworks movement is committed to inclusion and transformation. Thousands of our members up and down the UK are already working to build a better world by delivering services to their communities on this inclusive and non-discriminatory basis. Many have signed the Faithworks Charter, a set of principles for local Christian agencies committed to excellence in three areas: inclusive service, professional delivery and Christian distinctiveness. The charter stipulates that they will serve and respect all people, regardless of their gender, marital status, race, ethnic origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or physical and mental capability.

I believe that Christian community organisations, and those of other faiths, can maintain their distinctive faith identities while still serving the needs of their whole communities. I do not interpret the new Sexual Orientation Regulations as a threat to that.

Caricaturing the Christian perspective as antagonistic and homophobic may be easy, but it is not always accurate. Christians are moving beyond antagonism towards positive engagement. The reality is that on a daily basis millions of Christians across the UK engage holistically, inclusively and compassionately with people in their communities.

6 comments

  1. I’ve just read this letter on the proposed new sexual orientation regulations.
    It’s certainly a lovley refreshing change from the increasingly angry and almost Monty Pythonesque rantings of The Church Society or the Christian Institute.
    Many of those millions of Christians out there daily “engaging holistically, inclusively and compassionately with people in their communities” are of course also gay (and practicing). And many of those gay Christians would also identify as evangelical.
    You say “Caricaturing the Christian perspective as antagonistic and homophobic may be easy, but it is not always accurate”. And yes of course there are increasing numbers of straight Christians – even evangelicals – who understand that in Christ there is no gay or straight and who are happy to defend practising gay people and civil partnerships – but they are still a Very small minority.
    As far as I can see from the evangelical circles I move in, most evangelicals still seem to think the bible prohibits gay people setting into normal happy partnerships.
    And while there are still Christians going round saying things along the lines of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ about gay men and women , then it sort of IS accurate to caricature the Christian perspective as homophobic.
    Maybe more of us should be wondering how some parts of Christianity have reached this sorry state.
    I recommend the following books if anyone really wants to understand their own faith in historical context on this and other issues
    The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
    and The Puzzle of Sex by Peter Vardy

  2. Whilst I agree with what Malcolm has said in his letter, and the principle behind the SOR of inclusiveness, there are a couple of ‘services’ that our church provides that may be affected by the SOR. What would be the position if an advert was submitted to a church magazine promoting Gay Pride? Would the individual church be able to refuse to run the ad because it promotes a lifestyle not in line with the beliefs of the church?
    What about a LGBT group wishing to book a holiday in a holiday/conference centre run by Christian organisations? Would they be able to refuse the booking as they might for a group of another faith?
    While the regulations obviously make provisions for religious ceremonies & appointments some Christian groups will still be uncomfortable at the prospect of being legally obliged to provide such services to people/groups that have beliefs that aren’t in line with the principles of the Bible.
    Have a look at ‘Staying Pure in a Sex-Charged World’ by Colin Dye for a very balanced, Biblical view on the whole issue of Sexuality.

  3. Many of the gay and lesbian groups seeking to book Christian conference centres are most likley to be Christian groups such as The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Chrstians.
    The implication that being gay (and practising) is somehow incompatible with being a practising Christian- or even an evangelical – is baffling, unthought-through and endlessly hurtful to many good faithful Christian gay men and women.
    I’m sure even Colin Dye has probably moved on in his thinking from such a negative position.
    Increasing numbers of Christian leaders, including evangelical ones, are privately very supportive of gay men and women in relationships – but can not speak out for fear of losing face.
    Sometimes Christians misuse scripture to back up their own deep bigotries -and sometimes it takes centuries for them to aplogise.

  4. These comments are all really helpful. My key question is how do we ensure that whatever our theological convictions might be, we do not increase the sense of the church being homophobic. I think we have muddled the teaching on ‘sexual activity’ and ‘relationships’ a great deal and I wonder whether we are guilty of forcing our presuppositions and our own preferences on others as ‘Scriptural Truth’?
    I wonder what we would say to those who have been ‘marginalised’ in the name of God and Christian faith through the centuries – slaves, women, people of different colour or those of other faiths. My distinctive commitment to Christ means that as his follower I must pick up and wrestle with the message and meaning of Scripture in the same way as Jesus himself did. To pretend that he did not re-interpret parts of the law is ridiculous. Like any other Jewish Rabbi of his day, he bound some understandings – i.e. said they were no longer relevant and right, and he ‘loosed’ others – meaning he shed new light on the central truth of some elements of the Torah. Hence his teaching on Sabbath, the Temple, Women, Children, Healing and discipleship are both in continuity with the Torah and in sharp contrast to the religious understandings of the day.
    To pretend that we are exempt from grappling and that there is an unbiased and unaffected way of reading Scriptural teaching on relationships and sexuality is niave.
    Paul and the early church ‘bound and loosed’ in Acts 15 at the Council of Jersualm. Ignatius of Antioch, Celemtn of Alexnadria, the Desert Fathers, Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Zwingle, Wilberforce, Wesley, Barth, Moltmann, Pinnock, Volf and a whole list of others have done and continue to do so.
    Sexuality is the elephant in the room that is either attacked or ignored. Exacty what do we say to those of our brothers and sisters whose sexuality is different to ours? And let’s try to explore it without garbing it in religious respectabilty and theological nicety.

  5. The other thing I find intriguing is the cloak of silence with which the church can often cover the very issue of homophobia. Persecution and victimization is always wrong. Why is it that so little investigation has taken place into homphobia in the church in the UK? If gay people are being bullied or victimised it is wrong. If it exists, where does it exist? Why have we not spoken out against it? I do not need to agree with a gay persons understanding of theology to stand with them against opression and attack. I am not ashamed to stand against marginalisation and exclusion – wherever that takes place.
    When will the church honestly admit its failure to protect those who are gay and apologise for any way in which our own bigotries have hurt other human beings?
    Two hundred years after the signing of the act that banned the transatlantic slave trade, the church in the UK is trying to be honest about its complicity in slavery. Time does not eradicate responsibility. I hope that in two hundred years we are not having to begin to apologise for a lack of courage to face vicimization of gay people or any others.

  6. The Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR) will make it illegal for anyone who provides goods, services, facilities, education or public functions, to discriminate on the grounds of whether someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. The Regulations will apply whether or not services are charged for and applies to voluntary groups and charities as well as businesses.
    The SOR legislation arises from part 3 of the Equality Act 2006, which creates a power for the Government to draw up secondary legislation via Regulations. This means that instead of having extensive debate and the opportunity for amendment, these Regulations will have only one presentation in the House of Commons and House of Lords. The Government will simply publish the Regulations then call for a vote and there will be no opportunity for amendment. We must therefore try to influence the wording of the Regulations now.
    The indication from Ministers about the proposed wording of the SORs has been taken up by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, through their policy department Christian Concern for our Nation. They have expressed major concerns about the impact of this legislation for all Christians and have urged us to voice our concerns to MPs and Government Ministers.
    Following consultation in June 2006, it is now thought that the Regulations contain some protection exempting ‘organised’ religion. Currently, the Government is not intending to provide exemptions from the SORs for individual Christians. The impact of this will be significant and in trying to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, the Government will be discriminating against faith groups on the grounds of religion instead. The Home Office have been drafting a revised version of the Regulations, which has delayed their implementation to April 2007. They will be voted on by Parliament at the latest during February 2007.
    The protection for ‘organised’ religion only is not the right approach and does not protect individual believers. We are not just Christians at church on a Sunday. We should all be clear that the Bible teaches that all people should be treated graciously and in a non discriminatory manner, whatever their sexual orientation. However, we should not be placed in a position where it would be illegal to decline to provide goods or services that promote or assist behaviour that is contrary to our belief in the teaching of the Bible.
    To be distinctively Christian in our day to day lives means that we live according to the clear instruction of God’s word in Scripture. Scripture is clear about sexual immorality. In 1 Corinthians 6v18 Paul exhorts us to flee from it. The teaching of Scripture is clear, it is not muddled. We are required as Christians to preach the truth in our daily lives by how we live, speak and act in accordance with the Word of God.
    The SOR regulations as proposed will offer me no protection if I as, an individual, through conscience refuse to provide services which actively promote a lifestyle against the clear teaching of Scripture.
    It seems to me that we live in a society where a minority group have fought for and gained equal rights e.g civil partnerships for homosexuals. Increasingly through successive pieces of legislation, this minority is now seeking to persecute and prosecute those who disagree in all good conscience with their chosen lifestyle.
    This present government through the Equality Act of 2006 have created the perfect tool for drafting legislation which provides little or no opportunity for proper debate. The MP’s Meg Munn and Ruth Kelly have responsibility for the redrafting of this legislation and it is crucial that we pray for them and write to them and our own MP’s to ensure that our freedom as Christian men and women is not eroded yet further.
    There are not enough men and women in the church today with the courage and honesty to say that homosexuality is wrong. To say so one is branded as ‘homophobic.’ To be homophobic is to ‘hate and fear homosexuals.’ I neither hate nor fear them but, as Christ commands, I love them. I have not read Karen Armstrong’s Book as Sarah Hill suggests but I would imagine this book would put me in the same bracket as the ‘Fundamentalists’ of any religion.

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