Yesterday (9th January) I spent the day being interviewed and discussing my position on the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Last night, I quietly slipped down to Westminster to watch what was happening at a rally organised by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and others to coincide with a debate taking place in the House of Lords around an amendment intrdouced by Lord Morrow. Had it been supported, the Amendment would have meant that the SOR’s, introduced in Ireland on Jan1 would not have been introduced across the rest of the UK in April without the addition of a ‘conscience clause’.
I want to comment on both the defeat of the amendment in the Lords (by a whacking majority of 3-1) and on the tenor of the discussion and demonstration yesterday.
Firstly, the defeat should not be feared by Christians. There will be more said on the actually SOR’s here in the course of the day, but they fit firmly within the context of wider legislation around equality, diversity and the provision of goods and services. Exemptions and protections have already been won, and those interested in the actual facts of the SOR’s should endeavour to read through the detail of the legislation and debate around it rather than the interpretation of the legislation as presented by groups such as the LCF.
The church’s distinctiveness, identity, ethos and values are not threatened by this piece of legislation. Instead, we should see this as an opportunity to engage positively, compassionately and graciously with others. Sexuality is not the means by which we should define people. It is part of what makes a person, but it is not the sum total of their personhood. Whether someone is gay or straight does not change the inherent biblical principle that they are made in the image of God. We respect that image in all people and are committed to serving. That does not mean that we endorse lifestyle choices or agree with decisions, but we respect personhood. To love a human being means to offer them shelter. not to offer them shelter with conditions. No doubt those who opposed the SORS will continue their fight – and will describe last nights decision as a step in the wrong direction, an eradication of our Christian foundations etc. I disagree. Last night’s decision recognises the rights and obligations of people in Britain to be non-discriminatory and fair. It might just have been a moment of liberty and freedom rather than a nail in the coffin. The challenge for me as a Christian is to understand the legislation and to work out how we engage with those who are different, serving unconditionally but remaining true to the values and example of Christ. That might be hard – but a relevant and credible gospel and church must begin with three fundamental commitments. Faithfulness to God, unconditional love and service of others and a willingness to speak the truth in love out of a relationship of trust, respect and humility.
Secondly, the demonstration itself. About three thousand people turned up – about halfthat expected. Many of those protesting are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I have an obligation to love and serve and respect them also. I am committed to doing that. I acknowledge your right to protest, I understand your passion on this issue, and I share your concerns around distinctiveness and Christian values. However, I disagree with your methodology. In what way was it Christ like? Young children involved in a protest they could not possibly understand. Chants which at times sounded threatening intermingled with hymns and songs of praise. Political figures from Northern Ireland inciting strong anti-gay sentiment by their words and their actions. Banners which linked homosexulaity to child abuse? Aggresive accusations levelled at me and others. Confrontational dialogue with a few people who were there to exercise their right to demonstrate. Leaders of the demonstration donning orange jumpsuits to make politcal and press headlines out of the inhumane treatment of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. And all of this in the name of Christians and in the name of God?
If judgement and challenge are important for us as Christians, then according to both Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel and Paul in the book of Corinthians, we must be careful to hold one another accountable. So I ask the organisers and the demonstrators last night, as your brother, to think again about the message and methodology of their actions. They did not represent me, they did not represent the vast majority of people in the church, and they cannot claim to be the Christian voice on this issue because there is no such thing as one Christian voice on this issue.
Be careful of planks of wood before you point out pieces of sawdust