Why I spoke out

Earlier this week we made the decision to engage in the debate around the Sexual Orientation Regulations, in the light of the protest outside the House of Lords on Tuesday night (9th January). It is important to explain to you what we did and why we did it.

When consultation on the proposed legislation took place earlier in 2006, we welcomed the SORs as an attempt to ensure goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways.

We released a statement to the press on Monday, voicing our concern at the aggressive and virulent approach that some parts of the Church appeared to be taking on the issue. I appeared on various news programmes and websites the following day, including BBC News 24 and News at Ten, and also went down to observe the rally outside Parliament, and to talk to some of the people down there. Since then, other Christian leaders have spoken out to agree with our views.

This is why we did what we did:

The SORs are designed to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the delivery of goods, facilities and services. Our engagement with this issue sits firmly within our stated aims and objectives, which are:

  1. To empower and inspire individual Christians and local churches to develop their role at the hub of their community.
  2. To challenge and change the public perception of the Church by engaging with media and government.
  3. To encourage unity and partnership, to meet the needs of local communities.

The tone and context of our engagement reflects the ongoing position of Faithworks. We seek to be distinctively Christian, and enable our members to engage positively with their communities.

We celebrate the different contributions and views of the whole Christian church to the issue of human sexuality. We believe that our approach to the SORs and to Equality & Diversity legislation, which focuses on human dignity and unconditional service, allows for distinctive Christian views of sexuality while encouraging unconditional love and service. This is the Jesus model.

Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example, and he says remarkably little about sexuality in scripture. Rather, he treats all people he comes across with love and acceptance, and does not refuse his service to anyone, even if he does not agree with their lifestyle.

We encourage our members, and all those of Christian faith, to follow Jesus’ example, and to serve all people, regardless of their lifestyle, by expressing welcome and recognising the dignity of every human being. We believe that a strong sense of Christian identity and purpose enables the Church to provide goods and services in a non-discriminatory way, without that identity being diminished.

The Faithworks Charter expresses our commitment to the equal value of all people, setting out 15 high quality standards for the delivery of public services, including non-discriminatory delivery.

Having seen the rally outside parliament for ourselves, we are concerned that the tone of the debate has become aggressive and virulent, creating an unattractive witness. We call on the Church to reposition itself in a more confident and compassionate way. This is an opportunity to demonstrate positive Christian faith in action, rather than to build a fortress mentality.

The Church is not called to judge the world but to serve all people with a clear commitment to the values and example of Christ. 

41 comments

  1. Great to hear someone speak out with a sane voice on this contentious issue. I thought I should let you know about an orthodox radio website that has an excellent teaching on same sex attraction. Its at Come Receive the Light
    http://www.receive.org/
    Log on then join by sending them your email and a password takes seconds and look under ‘listen’ or ‘archived programmes’ Somewhere in feb or march last year there was a talk by Thomas Hopko. In it he talks about the challenges faced by all of us as part of common humanity. Hope it adds something to your debate.

  2. Great to hear someone speak out with a sane voice on this contentious issue. I thought I should let you know about an orthodox radio website that has an excellent teaching on same sex attraction. Its at Come Receive the Light
    http://www.receive.org/
    Log on then join by sending them your email and a password takes seconds and look under ‘listen’ or ‘archived programmes’ Somewhere in feb or march last year there was a talk by Thomas Hopko. In it he talks about the challenges faced by all of us as part of common humanity. Hope it adds something to your debate.

  3. Our membership includes an increasing number of Church organisations and we want to develop links with an umbrella Christian organisation. Your comments on this topic have convinced me that Faithworks are the right organisation to make links with and I’ll be in touch in the near future.

  4. I welcome your comments, and the work Faithworks does in helping the Church to engage with society. You are the first significant Christian voice I have heard providing a biblical basis for what my gut feel (some might say Spirit) told me was the right response. Jesus spent his time meeting people where they were at and blessing them. He certainly spoke out against some of the religious rules, regulations and contradictions of the Religious elite, but was surprisingly gentle and even silent with more ordinary folk. He started with people where they were at, and pointed them towards an entry into Gods Kingdom here and now, without condemming them.
    While parts of the Church build up the ramparts and throw stones at society from within their ghetto, I pray that more would engage and serve, spreading their salt within the dough.
    I am sure the vocal and judgemental nature of the some elements of the church, and its inability to attract new converts are two symptoms of the same malaise. When we see homosexual rights (or other contraversial issues) as an opportunity to stand up and be counted as a christian or to ‘be a witness’ then I think we have lost the plot. I am not saying we have to change what we believe in order to get more people in. I am saying if others don’t see Jesus in the way we live out what we believe, then it is not attractive or Godly. I’m not sure how the protest outside parliament would help Jesus with his Mission to Seek and Save the Lost.
    In Jesus day women caught in adultery were the focus of the religious right, but today the Church says much less about this. Jesus riled the religious leaders because of the company he kept, and if he were around today, I am sure he would have many friends in the gay community – causing many leaders to speak out against him.
    There are many important issues I would hope the Church would speak out on. Gay issues rank fairly low down the list

  5. “Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example, and he says remarkably little about sexuality in scripture. Rather, he treats all people he comes across with love and acceptance, and does not refuse his service to anyone, even if he does not agree with their lifestyle.”
    I would like to point out that following Jesus’ example means sharing the whole of scripture, not just what we find in the gospels. The whole of scripture declares the practice of homosexualism and lesbianism to be a sin, whilst also declaring that God loves those who practice it.
    There are many ways in which the SOR will prevent Christians from declaring that the practice is a sin, and it could even force christians to support people in committing this sin.
    Because of this, I think you were totally wrong to give your support to these regulations without them having some sort of release for those who love the people but hate the sin in the way that Jesus teaches us to do in the bible.

  6. One further comment, I would suggest that your decision to support the SORs in this way is a blinkered decision. You have looked at it solely from your own specific viewpoint.
    How does your announcement show fellowship and support for your brothers and sisters in the Church who have Bed and Breakfast establishments, and may now be forced to open their homes to gay couples committing sin in their houses? How does it show fellowship for teachers in christian schools who, if the regulations do become law, will now be forced to teach children that a homosexual relationship is equal and no different to marriage?
    You could have supported exemptions to the SOR’s but carried on Faithworks work without changing anything. Instead you support SOR’s without exemptions, regardless of the effect on other christian groups, simply because it does not affect how you wish to carry out your part of God’s work.
    In my eyes, your decision is incredibly shortsighted and has not considered others at all. You have only looked at your own position.
    If your decision to support the SOR’s in this way does not change, I will not be supporting Faithworks in Poole any longer, and will be suggesting to all I meet at our church (which has given considerable support to Faithworks) that they reconsider their own decisions to support you.

  7. I welcome wholeheartedly your statements on this matter and how you have shown that your position is firmly based on our Lord’s example.
    It is time for all to read the scriptures with minds open to what He is trying to get into our thick skulls and not merely to find the bits which seem to support our own narrow prejudices.

  8. Chris,
    How would you feel about living in a country where christian ministers can no longer preach on a passage such Genesis 2:20-24?

  9. Steve and others, thank you so much for taking the time to add your comments. In the spirit of openness and honesty, can I ask you, particularly Steve, to think and pray about the following and do some spade work around the actual situation rather than what you have been told.
    There are several things to remember here.
    1. There are no regulations even published for England, Wales and Ireland yet. So the fears you are articulating are based on assumption, not specific regulations.
    2. The government has not yet posted its comments on the consultation process – so we should at least wait to see what they say. All the indications are they have heard Christian concerns and others – which have been put gracioulsy and in a non confrontational manner.
    3. I did not say that Christians should not articulate concern. I welcome the SOR’s and accept that others will be concerned, but their concern must not lead to angry protest
    4. The assurances already given mean that the govt has already stated that guesthouses and all the other things you have mentioned will not have to accept same sex couples, so long as they apply the same approach to heterosexual couples outside of marriage – so time to show whether we have an approach to sexuality which explicity attacks gay people or is actually the biblical picture of sex within marriage.
    5. These regulations do not threaten Christian liberty, that is protected in other equalities legislation in the UK, article 9 of the European COvention on Human Rights and is a point of case law in the UK – as well as being something that is being discusswed in a senior law review right now.
    6. These recommendations do not apply to blessings, religious rites or anything else. Faith groups retain the right ro refuse anything in their buildings so long as they can show their refusal is based on the outworking of their doctrine and faith.
    There may well be the need for protection, speaking out and defending our distintiveness but the idea of shouting and demanding our rights has more to do with a wrong understanding of power than it has the example of Christ.
    I have a conservative view of sexuality. But when the witness of the church is drawn into disripute by a misunderstanding of the law, or by distrotion of the truth of these proposals, then someone has to say something.
    Lastly, we will produce a full guide that will help Christians understand these regs when they become law, and how to ensure that they protect their identity whilst serving all people. I have not brought division to the church or misrepresented my fellow believers. These demonstrators should not have assumed they could claim to speak for the whole church – they never did and do not now.
    Just as I respect your views and am really grateful to you for posting them, can I encourage you to actually examine the situation as it is, rather than what you have been told it is.
    God bless you in all you do and thanks for taking the time to post

  10. Dear Malcolm,
    You give the impression that the rally was aggressive.
    I was at the rally and this was certainly not my impression, nor was it the BBC’s impression.
    Duncan

  11. Malcolm,
    Thank you for your gracious reply. It does seem as if we both think the other is somewhat misinformed on this issue though.
    “1. There are no regulations even published for England, Wales and Ireland yet. So the fears you are articulating are based on assumption, not specific regulations.”
    The Regulations for Ireland are published: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/sr/sr2006/20060439.htm# And apart from some exemptions that will hopefully be added to them, they are understood to be exactly the same as the ones for England and Wales barring the regional legal differences.
    “The government has not yet posted its comments on the consultation process – so we should at least wait to see what they say. All the indications are they have heard Christian concerns and others – which have been put gracioulsy and in a non confrontational manner.”
    The idea is that these regulations will come into force in April 2007. This means that if we do not speak out now, it will be too late. The government have no legal necessity to post any coments on the results of the consultation, beyond what we know already; that there was a bigger response to the consultation here than that in Northern Ireland, and that a large number of the responders were opposed to the regulations in their current form. That is why the Government is considering some exemptions. If these exemptions are included, they will then be added to the Northern Ireland regulations. this was all stated in the House of Lords debate.
    With regards to your point 4 about the guesthouses. The way the current Northern Ireland Regulations are worded, this is not actually the case. If you look at 3 (1) C (iii) of the regulations. A guesthouse owner cannot turn away a same sex couple whom the law considers to be a partnership. This is because by law, that couple cannot get married at present. Therefore, a partnership for them is considered to be the same as a marriage for a heterosexual couple, as far as these regulations apply at present.
    As for your points 5 and 6, whilst this is true, it is extremely likely that this will all have to be worked out by bringing cases to court. How many churches or christians do you know that have the funds to defend a court case as it goes through the High Court, the house of Lords, and the European Parliament? Any test case that is brought to the courts, and there will be a number of cases once these regulations come into force, will have the full financial backing of the Gay Liberation Front and others. How is this mythical Christian Guesthouse Owner going to fight that level of financial commitment?
    “There may well be the need for protection, speaking out and defending our distintiveness but the idea of shouting and demanding our rights has more to do with a wrong understanding of power than it has the example of Christ.”
    Like you, I agree that we should not shout or demand our rights. But neither should we submit to proposed laws that could well make it illegal for us to be different without speaking out against them.

  12. R. Crawford
    Thanks for taking the time to contribute. You may be interested to know that I am not paid by government funds at all.
    I’d ask you to talk honestly and openly, but maintain the example of Christ in your comments.
    Cheers

  13. Steve
    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the debate and conversation very much.
    Whilst it is likely that the regs for England, Wales and Scotland will be very like the NI ones, it appears there may be some movement on the harassment clause, although we have to wait to see. The responses of the OFMDFM in NI to the consultation etc and the exchange in the Lords make it clear that some of the concerns you are articulating, at least in principle, have been answered by govt. Whilst they may well need to be tested, the answers should be considered as turhtful I think.
    The right to protest and express concern around the SOR’s is vital, and I am grateful foor the moderate and gracious engagements in this issue such as the one you present here – it is the tenor and tone of the debate which has so troubled me.
    There are issues as to how Civil Partnerships are understood in this legilsation that do need to be addressed and I am grateful for the way in which many groups are presenting this issue.
    I also think the issue of the impact of Article 9 of the ECHR is important and needs discussed. But my reading and understanding of the proposals and the responses to questions around the relationship of regulation 3 and regulation 16 assure me that government has heard us on this issue.
    I think we have the right to protest and demonstrate. I also think we should make our concerns known – which many have done. I think we should be careful in our representation of the key issues, though and make sure we do not enflame the fear and anxiety of Christians around this issue if there is no need to do so.
    I am really grateful to you for engaging in this conversation graciously and clearly and want to thank you for taking the time to discuss the issues with me. Your views have also brought further clarity to my own.

  14. Following the demonstrations on Tuesday, my church had a debate on the SORs yesterday.
    The debate was quite heated, quite vociferous and quite long. One of my brothers in Christ stood up to voice his opinions, and he silenced the debate.
    He pointed out that we are God’s people, called to do God’s work, and we are all working to the same ends. The enemy will draw us out, and cause division within the Church in an attempt to stop us doing God’s work.
    True Christians, who seek to be Christ-like in all they do, will not let legislation stop us. We do the will of God, not the Will of man. Whatever barriers are put in our way, we will continue to praise the Lord and do His work. Paul set the example when he was imprisoned and I would hope that we would all follow if needs be.
    I feel that this issue, although divisive, is largely irrelevant. We, as Christians, must do God’s will. Organisations such as Faithworks and people like Malcolm are very important, just as those opposing these regs are important. Both ensure that, wherever possible, God’s will can be done in a gracious and loving way without falling foul of a region’s laws.
    The real point is: whatever views we hold on this and whatever our theology behind those views, our focus must always be on Christ and not on each other.

  15. Duncan
    Thanks for your response. There were parts of the rally that were quitre aggresive. It may be that you didn’t see them, but banners such as ‘Abonimation before the Lord’ and ‘Protect our children’ were enflaming the situation quite badly.
    I also ended up standing at the corner of the demonstration where a number of gay people had gathered as well as a number of Christians (both gay and straight) who were voicing their support of the regs. Whilst I do not want to be tied closely with one view or the other, there were some very angry outbursts and criticisms of those who had a different view to those of the main demonstration.
    I fully recognise that you may not have found the tone or content of the demonstration aggresive, but many did not have that experience.
    Thank you again for taking the time to articulate your view.

  16. I think its possible that I don’t have quite the same confidence in government as you do – lol.
    I recognise that all those involved will have given the truth, but not necessarily all of it, and at best, only the truth as it stands now. As far as I can see, the regulations have not been very well worded and a large part of what they mean is going to have to be decided by the courts until the case law is set up to accomodate the bill. And i htink that in our court system, good though it is, there is at least some element where those who have the most money and can afford the best lawyers or the highest courts win.
    One further worrying element is that these regulations are likely to lead to further moves. For instance, it will be very difficult for educational boards to avoid including the teaching that homosexual relationships are equal to heterosexual oens in all ways. This teaching will have to be applied in faith schools as well if this happens (And our school does stress that sex is best suited to a long term committed relationship).
    With regard to the current partnerships of homosexuals and heterosexual marriages, it is quite possible that this will have to change as a result of SORS since it could easily be argued that the government is discriminating in this area.
    Regarding article 9, yes, there are some schools that do reject pupils because of their sexual choice. I think it was the Lawyers Christian Fellowship that objected to this. I think they were wrong to do so though. I am a parent governor of a faith school where I live, and I know that we, and the other faith schools in the area would not consider rejecting anybody for this reason.

  17. To help you understand my position, R. and Steve, I have signed and subscribe to the Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith – have a read of that and it will clarify my position on Scripture etc for you.
    Secondly, Faithworks receive funding from statutory authorities for some of the work that we do.
    I hope that helps clarify and answer your questions and trust you continue to know God’s grace in your own life and ministry. If you’d like me to answer any other questions I’ll do my best to do so.

  18. I was at the demonstration last week and thought it was exceedingly good tempered and loving. People sang humns spiritual songs and prayed together several times.
    We do have a problem and I agonise over it myself all the time On the one hand we must love our neighbour and accept and include him or her – on the other if people are going astray and incurring God’s wrath – we cannot stand by and watch them destroy themselves. It is all about where we draw the line. People in general are quite happy to ostracise paedophiles – so they have drawn a line. We have to be very careful that we do not just follow our secular society and accept as perfectly all right the things they accept or reject.
    If we draw lines they must be based as far as possible on the lines drawn in scripture. Jesus told the woman taken inadultery to go away and sin no more.I feel there must be some activities that are unacceptable and although we must be loving and caring we cannot encourage them to do things which we think will harm them.

  19. Folks
    Just a quick note to let you know that whilst some of the conversation on here is fascinating to read, it might be better posted elsewhere. Once again I would ask that the tone of the discussion, on both sides remains gracious and Christlike.
    I intend to remove some of the comments on the blog at the end of the day to ensure that the debate can continue, but in a slightly more measured way.
    Thaks everyone.

  20. My concern about this new regulation is that it seems to deny Christians the right to take the view that same sex sexual relatipnsihps are not honouring to God. As a church leader I have made decisions to deny the use of our facilities for a number of reasons – yoga being one (starter for ten anyone!) and would find it hard to allow our faciliteis to be used to celebrate a civil partnership. I don’t want to stop the partnership, I belive they have a right to do that if they want – but do not feel that I should be forced to allow them to use our buildings. I don’t think that position is unchristlike – and lets be clear – while Christ loved everyone, he also told sinners to stop sinning – and I think that would include people engaged in sex outside of a male female marriage (and me for a whole load of things that I won’t bore you with!)

  21. Ian
    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you and don’t think the SOR’s will force you to do anything you believe to be wrong. You certainly won’t be forced to celebrate Civil Partnerships etc. I think you will able to set the perameters for the use of your buildings etc in a coherent lettings policy so long as you can demonstrate that your views spring from your theological and doctrinal ethos
    Thanks again

  22. It might be worth pointing out that the few exemptions that there currently are to the regulations are there largely due to the pressure that has been placed on the government by religious people and groups.
    It is going to need continued gentle pressure such as writing to your mps, or the Prime Minister in order for these to remain or be strengthened in the regulations that will be published in April.
    And if you are connected to a faith school that lets its hall regularly, the only way that you can guarantee not to have to let it for a celebration of a civil partnership is by not letting it at all. Again, unless an exemption is included in the new regulations.

  23. Thanks for the info Steve. Do you think Christian groups should have a ‘if you let at all, then let to all’ policy’? (That’s not my phrase by the way, a friend emailed it to me) Or do you think we should encourage churches and Christian groups to develop a clear lettings policy that springs from their ethos and Christian values which sets out the perameters, in advance, of what situations they can let in and what ones they can’t?
    I’d be interested in your thoughts. Some people are suggesting that rental of buildings should be avoided altogether if it protects them from renting too groups against their conscience, and perhaps a different approach to church buildings useage should be explored.
    I’d love to know what you think

  24. I’m fortunate at present in belonging to a Church that has so much going on that its rooms are almost never available to be rented. If only every church could be like that since it is the best solution.
    All the smaller churches that I have belonged to in the past have had a clear letting policy that is based on christian values, and I do think this is necessary. Some churches would not be there if it was not from the rental income from playgroups etc. and since this income is used to support the Church, we have to ensure that it is coming from sources that Christ would not disprove of.
    I’m not sure that an alpha course would have much success if it was being paid for by the local gambling or voyeurs club :@)

  25. On thing I forgot to say before. After reading your words about SORS on here, I admit that I acted prematurely in saying I would no longer support Faithworks and would urge others not too.
    I still think you were wrong to use the words you did to support them, but we agree far more than we disagree on them.

  26. One thing is very likely, there could well be a lot of court cases from these regulations. For instance, a christian guesthouse owner that owns two guesthouses, and lives in one may be allowed to refuse a room to two homosexuals or lesbians in the one they live in. They will not be allowed to do this in the guesthosue they don’t live in.
    And if you are fortunate enough to own a larger guesthouse or hotel, you may not be able to refuse them at all whether you live in it or not since the exemption only applies to small businesses.

  27. HOMOSEXUALS BACK AWAY FROM FORMALISED RELATIONSHIPS
    The homosexual lobby continues to push for varying forms of “marriage” relationships be they civil unions or relationships registration. However evidence in places where legislation to allow such arrangements has been passed would seem to indicate that individual homosexuals in fact make little use of their hard fought gains.For instance in Tasmania which introduced a ‘relationships register’ in January 2004, only 43 partnerships were registered in the first year and only 15 in the second year. There are now 63 registered. Sydney City Council introduced a relationships register in January 2005 – so far only 22 couples have registered.New Zealand introduced a ‘civil union’ scheme twelve months ago. Only 156 male and 170 female same-sex couples have registered. The 2001 NZ census showed there were 5070 same-sex couples – therefore only 6% of those couples have formalised their relationship with a ‘civil union’. That hardly seems to represent a strong demand for changes which are supposed to be of vital importance and highly sought after by agitators within the homosexual community. The real motive obviously lays elsewhere. Perhaps it is more the destruction of traditional marriage they are after by gradually watering it down until it looses it’s God given meaning. Or perhaps it is just their way of trying to legitimise homosexuality as a “normal” lifestyle. Either way the above figures certainly do not warrant legislative change for so few people.
    Source: Compiled by APN from data supplied by Saltshakers
    Have you visited our Web Site? http://www.ausprayernet.org.au/

  28. Malcolm,
    Given the report from Lord Falconer this weekend about there being no exemptions on the grounds of religious belief, are you still as certain that these regulations are beneficial?
    How can they be beneficial if christian adoption agencies have to close down as a result of them?

  29. Hi Malcolm,
    As a long time supporter of FaithWorks and all it stands for, I have to say how disappointed I was both at your position regarding the SORS and the action you have taken. Whilst not every Christian is going to have the same view of these regulations and the demonstration that took place, we are encouraged in the scriptures to debate these issues amongst ourselves. Those that demonstrated were doing so earnestly out of conviction. You may just as earnestly disagree, but I cannot stand with your decision to go to the media in opposition to the actions of fellow Christians, so allowing the world to judge the church.
    Also, your description of the demonstration was a misrepresentation of the true nature of the event. The LCF estimated a 3000 attendance. This may be over the top, but I was there and I could easily count 2000 and I could not see how far the crowd extended from the central core. Your suggestion of just 1000 was simply inaccurate and misleading. Personlly, I did not like the chanting, but this formed only a small part of the rally, which was mainly spent in singing hymns and songs and praying. The atmosphere was light & joyful.
    As for the regulations themselves, you say that Jesus spoke little about sexuality. True, but what he did say blows everything out of the water – even entertaining lustful thoughts about a relationship outside marriage is tantamount to adultery. Elsewhere, of course, we read of same sex activity as a “detestable practice”. That remains God’s view whatever the culture of this nation thinks (although you may disagree with this). So, whilst we love, respect and care for those who genuinely struggle with their sexuality, we must surely resist regulations which force us to compromise our own understanding of God’s heart. I believe your view that the SORS will not cause this is, frankly, naive. Whatever the good intentions of the legislators, the full implications of these laws get worked out in the courts. Poorly thought through legislation wreaks more havoc than it solves.
    Over recent years, FaithWorks has built a strong relationship with the government, which is good. Sadly, I suspect that the preservation of that relationship is affecting the way you respond to the government’s actions, although I am sure you will disagree!

  30. Steve
    Busy weekend, hence I haven’t had the chance to update the blog until now. We are examining the comments over the weekend carefully and will respond in due course, seeking to clarify some things before we do.
    Andy
    Thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts on this issue. I appreciate you think we may be being naive – but we are attempting to understand the fuller picture behind the SOR’s, rather than the misleading headlines. Our relationship with government is not one which causes us to dilute our Christian faith at all, and our private conversations with them have been robust around this and many other issues.
    Your comments around sexuality do not in any way contradict the position that we have taken over this issue – it might be helpful to read across several conversations on the blog to help you more fully reflect on our position. Our view on sexuality is quite clear – but we refuse to apply one standard to homsexulaity and another to heterosexuality. The call for is for a consistent and compassionate and considered response to the SOR’s in the context of wider equalities and diversities legislation.
    If exemptions and assurances are withdrawn from faith communities, then we will need to consider our position.
    Hope that helps and thank you again for taking the time to comment and to express your feelings. I trust you will also understand the breadth and distinctiveness of the Faithworks activity and agenda and understand our desire and commitment to Christlikeness in all we do
    Malcolm

  31. A good weekend as well as well as busy I hope. It looks like there is definitely a battle going on over the regulations, within the party at least. Obviously a part of the greater spiritual battle, but I think the christian side could well be outnumbered there from what Lord Falconer said.

  32. I have followed developments re SORs over the past months closely and have encouraged members of the church of which I’m an elder to communicate with their MP’s and relevant Govt. Ministers in a gracious way regarding the key concerns raised by the SORs. MPs have so far responded positively to their letters, so I am disappointed that public pronouncements by Faithworks appear to undermine this approach.
    I would refer Malcolm to the EA’s preamble to their submission to the consultation. You might question the wisdom of the protest outside the Lords, or the way in which is was conducted. It does not change the core issue at the heart of the SORs, which will affect the freedom of conscience of a Christian who seeks to live out his faith as part of his everyday life.
    I have raised one question affecting my family with Ruth Kelly’s department:
    “If Mr A, a newly-qualified teacher, is asked about the christian teaching on morality and sexuality, he would wish to do all he can to assert the clear teaching of the bible. If he asserts that biblical teaching is clearly opposed to the morality and practice of (practicing) homosexual people and that it does not support the establishment of same-sex partnerships or the establishment of families with same-sex parents, would the headteacher be able to ask him not to express such views, and if he continued would his NQT assessment be affected? Would he also be open to legal action from any parent or other person who does not agree with this view?”
    The answer I received from a Christian barrister:
    “If Mr A was a teacher in a school in Northern Ireland, a ‘gay’ student would be entitled to sue if they felt an answer your son gave about the importance of marriage ‘violated their dignity’. The focus is on the perception of the pupil, not on the intention of the teacher. If the same Regulations are applied in England, Mr A could certainly be in substantial difficulty if he sought to be open about his Biblical views on extra-marital sex.”
    The response I received from a civil servant in Ruth Kelly’s department failed to allay the legal concern about this.
    The potential for mischief from gay campaigners should be self-evident. The idea of Christians being sued and having to defend themselves, at significant expense, in the courts is appalling.
    Malcolm, please consider this and other practical issues seriously. The expected exemptions in the SORs cover only church buildings – they do not cover issues arising from the personal application of biblical taching to everyday life.
    There is a balance between opposing positions regarding rights and freedoms – it is not a homophobic response to deduce that the government has currently got it wrong. A proposed amendment to the SORs is that `Nothing in these Regulations shall require a person to provide goods, facilities and services, education or to use or dispose of premises, where such provision of goods, facilities and services, education or such use or disposal of premises would promote, facilitate, encourage or assist the practice of a sexual orientation in a manner which is contrary to the strongly held religious convictions of the person.’
    I do pray that Faithworks will do all it can to promote the adoption of this amendment.

  33. Alec
    Thank you so much for taking the time to send such a gracious and thougtful email. I assure you that our conversations behind the scenes have also been aimed at ensuring freedom of conscience whilst at the same time preserving commitment to non discriminatory practise. And thank you also for the way in which you have encouraged your congregation to engage in this issue.
    Faithworks has accepted and welcomed the reasoned and gracious responses of many agencies, including Joel Edward’s comments on the issue. The confusion around the SOR’s certainly needs clarification. Our position is nuanced, but clear. It should be illegal to discriminate, we also believe that the right of conscience is important, and should be protected and are following the debate closely.
    We have said all along, that if the assurances given to religious groups proved false, then our comments and proposals and dialogue would reflect the concern that would cause. However, we maintain that the delivery of goods and services should be in a non-discriminatory way and that the ways in which we chose to voice our concerns should be Christlike and gracious. Many organisations have behaved well – including EA and CARE on this issue, but not all have. And not all Christian comment has been as gracious and as thoughtful as yours Alec.
    Lastly, not all Christians hold the same position on this issue, and when we spoke out we chose to articulate ‘an alternative view’ – that does not threaten unity, it simply enables a more accurate and honest reflection of the positions of Christians on this issue.
    Thank you again and I have found your comments helpful.

  34. One further thought, Alec, which I forgot to mention.
    The SOR’s do not determine the nature of curriculum and in public answers to this same question, and a written response to this concern in the consultation in Northern Ireland, the government stated that SOR’s could not be used to bring a prosecution to a teacher in the situation you mentioned – nor would the SOR’s affect the curriculum in any way. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the rights of the teacher.
    That, at least, is the written and formal response of the government in NI. The SOR’s do not relate to education and curriculum, they relate to goods and services. I appreciate your concerns, and thanks again for raising them.
    We have actually begun to articulate our position more fully today as the debate continues, as you will see from my most recent posting.
    Your comments are helpful

  35. ARTICLE 9
    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
    Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
    Since Article 9 appears to state that one’s freedom is dependent upon the limitations prescribed by law, it will take a hard fought court battle to decide whether ones freedom, or the new regulations are more important.

  36. Malcolm,
    I appreciate your response and the constructive letter you have just sent to the government. I would also assert that our priority as Christians is to behave graciously and show through our practical love for others that it is Jesus Christ who brings good into our society. And yes, we ought to be much more involved in working with all who suffer injustice in its many forms.
    Our love for others is a reflection of our understanding of the truth we find in God’s word. In certain circumstances, the SORs will compel individuals to compromise on their understanding of biblical truth – but to what extent? Consider the example I raised: the government assurances you find in the statements regarding NI, as well as those given to me by the Women and Equality Unit, are not matched by a lawyer’s interpretation of the NI regulations…
    The legal issue does not relate to differing positions regarding biblical truth, but to the freedom of an individual to act according to conscience. In law, there can only be ‘alternative views’ of the SORs until a judgement is given in court. If the SORs are then found not to protect our freedom to act according to our Christian beliefs, it will be too late. Subsequent comments, proposals or dialogue will not change the law.
    It seems to me that it is essential that there should be unity of understanding between Christian organisations as regards the legal wording of the SORs and their resulting impact – and thus unity regarding the amendments which are proposed to government on behalf of all Christians.
    I would urge Faithworks and EA to work with those groups, including LCF and CCFON, whose view of the law appears to be different, as well as with any other groups who appear ‘not to have behaved well’. I pray that you will reach a common understanding of the possible legal implications, and then present a united proposal to government on the legal wording which will provide the right balance between competing freedoms and rights.

  37. Malcolm,
    Steve just left our seminary campus yesterday and there are now plenty of shattered evangelical, right wing, conservative and slightly fundamental Christians who know the truth of why church is where it is now. We alsolutley have to have this movement or some form or reawakening in the United States. The denominations are in tremedous need of repair (if this is possible) and now that I know what I know I don’t think I can go back to a cushy appoitnment in 2008 when I graduate. I’ve served for 2 1/2 yrs and have seen such complacency that I feel like a rat running on a wheel! We are so wrapped up in exclusion by using the Bible to make excuses for who we should let in or out that we have neglected Jesus’ bigger message which is to SERVE! My world view has been thankfully shattered and I am so grateful I broke school rules by sitting in on this session with Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren since if they kicked me out of school it would have been worth it as I have been radically changed. Please know I will do anything I can to help faithworks spread this message in the United States. I’m thankful for your courage and committment and may God continue to hold you and all others involved in the palm of His hand. Stay focused.

  38. Alice
    Thank kyou so much for taking the time to write and express your thoughts. How can I pray for you and your journey from this point on? Faithworks continues to grow and prosper and I would love the opportunity to talk to you about the opportunities we have in the US right now.
    Also, try and get a hold of my book, BUILDING A BETTER WORLD, which tries to unpack some of the shared values of Christian spirituality with inclusion and justice at their heart – check out bits on the blog http://www.buildingabetterworld.typepad.com and let me know what you think. The book is doing well both here in the UK and in other parts of the world, including the US.
    May God hold you in the hollow of His hand and guide you to be all that he wants you to be.
    Keep going!

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