THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 123
(please go to tonycrosscolumn.org.uk for archived material)
I came across these penetrating words by Simon Barrow in one of his columns on Ekklesia - a site you should certainly visit if you have not already discovered its value.
It sums up for me the problem of the current arguments going on about persecution of Christians - although that is rather too heavy a word to use about the disputed cases that have come to the notice of the press in recent months.
There was the lady who wished to wear her miniscule cross around her neck at work but was prevented doing so by the rules of the employers. It was observed that other faiths could wear articles of clothing that proclaimed their faith - so why should not she? Then there have been various schoolchildren who have been prevented from wearing this or that, along similar lines.
Then there is the hypothetical case of the Guest House owner who, as a bible believing Christian, objects to an incoming law which would allow gay people to stay the night in his guest house against his wishes. The outcry there, too, was that Christians would be discriminated against if such a law is passed.
The argument goes much deeper of course. It is about what should happen when one’s religious conscience conflicts with the law of the land. That is really the issue. If you are a Christian who happens to believe that homosexuality is an abomination then you may well have great reluctance in going along with anything in which you participate that appears to condone homosexuality.
I can see the argument for the Christians, who wish to be able to refuse a double bedroom for the night to two homosexuals. The fact that they have hitherto been able to exercise a discriminatory policy against gay people is however no reason why they should continue to do that once the law of the land is changed to highlight the wrongness of such discrimination.
From the point of view of gay people, they are against any law that permits someone to put a notice that says ‘No gays’ in the window of their business premises. It is as unacceptable as a notice saying ‘No blacks’.
It is interesting to note that the attention of Christians is focussed only on homosexuality. They don’t seem to have any objection to the law that says that they must not discriminate against white or black or Asian people. They do not have any qualms about whether the next man and woman who rent a double room in their boarding house are really married or not. They wouldn’t dream of asking to see a marriage certificate! They don’t ask what the couple get up to in bed - whether their sexual practices are prohibited in the Leviticus. Its just gays they object to.
So why are they so hot under the collar about gay people? We are driven to think that they have an unreasoning dislike/hatred of homosexuality. It is called homophobia.
There is of course no reason at all why they should not have an unreasoning hatred of homosexuality if they so wish. It is a free country. It probably is programmed into them anyway, so choice may have little to do with it. If they wish they can give their opinion to anyone about the evils of homosexuality. There is no law against that. They can talk about it with other people who share their views and say how evil they think the whole business is. That’s up to them, in a private conversation. What they cannot do however is opt out from their public duty.
What do I mean by public duty? I mean that if they propose to offer rooms for rent to the general public then they must not exclude blacks, or whites, or gays, or Roman Catholics. They must truly offer the rooms to the general public. The general public means the public at large, not some selection to suit their prejudices. What can be wrong about that? How can any Christian call that oppressive?
If they do not want to have homosexuals under their roof ever - then that is fine. It is their perfect right to so decide. In which case they must withdraw from purporting to be a guest house open to the general public.
If a guest house is exclusively vegetarian it will advertise that fact alongside its general offer of rooms. But that is totally different from saying that they won’t tolerate gays. If all the staff at an establishment only speak Portuguese then that too may be mentioned in their advertisement for customers. If you don’t want to have language difficulties then you don’t go. That is not exclusionary.
Moving from guest houses to education. In my opinion it will be perfectly permissible for a teacher to state, when teaching, that there are two views about homosexuality - and even to venture their own opinion. What would be wrong is for them to teach that homosexuality is disgusting/evil/perverted/sinful - in which case the children might get the idea that such a view is actually the correct and the accepted view of society. It isn’t. And the youngsters need to be presented with both sides of the argument. The youngsters probably know more about it than the teacher, anyway!
Lets turn to leaflets. Here we have an interesting question. Should somebody who is anti-gay be compelled in his work to distribute leaflets promoting gay rights (for example) if so asked by his employer? I am not sure what the law is on this one but I would bet my bottom dollar that each case before the Courts would have to be decided on the particular circumstances of the case. What does the leaflet say? Why does the employer wish the employee to distribute it? What are the precise objections of the employee? I think we can safely leave that question as one to be decided on the facts.
There is also a spat going on at present caused by the Roman Catholic Church saying that it will dismantle it’s adoption agency work if they are not given exemption. This, of course, is because the official line in the Roman Catholic Church is that homosexuality is a disordered state. They therefore do not wish to have to place children for adoption with gay people - which they believe they would have to do under the new Act. It seems to me that if the State started making exemptions like this then the whole point and purpose of the legislation would be subverted. I really think that it is a case of all or nothing, and the legislation is so right - in my opinion - that it would be disaster if the Government were now to withdraw in the face of Roman Catholic opposition. However, the final outcome of this little argument is still awaited!
As I noted in a recent article, the time may well be coming when Christians feel they are under pressure from a secular society because of their faith. It may get quite tough for Christians. Is that a bad thing? Obviously if they are being sent into the Coliseum to fight wild beasts, then there is excessive pressure! But otherwise? Maybe a whiff of pressure from the secular society surrounding us is not a bad thing? It makes us perhaps a little clearer about our faith and it sharpens us up so that we stop worrying about inessentials and to get on with the real job of loving and serving our neighbours. Maybe we need such opposing pressure to help us see how silly it is to have all these arguments about sexuality and - God forbid! - even divide the church over such an issue.
There is a possibility that Christians who have lost the plot, and who are sitting around arguing are just suffering from a dose of paranoia. We have moved out of the period when Christianity was easily accepted as the basic truth of society. Now there are challenges. Now there are other faiths jostling us for influence in the market place. And some of us don’t like it. Well, we will have to get used to it! The old days are never going to return. They are gone for ever.
Lets now look at the argument in favour of this legislation which is objected to by some Christians.
The first and foremost justification for this legislation is that there is incipient homophobia in society, and that this prejudice is evidenced and fostered by discrimination against gays by anyone - Christians included. There is a sizeable proportion of Christians - the majority? - who accept that gay people are acceptable to God, whether they practice their sexual orientation or not. But there is still a reservoir of Christians prepared to discriminate against gay people. Probably, mostly, they are the older sections of the population.
The refusal of some churches to deal with gay people on equal terms with everyone else has to be addressed. No one wants to attack the beliefs and opinions of any religious person, but where the laws of the surrounding society require them to conform to a certain standard in their daily life (outside churches) then that must be respected.
If the law of the land requires there to be no discrimination against a certain group (in this case, gay people) then that has to be obeyed. A penalty may follow if the law if broken - and that is not persecution.
If you don’t agree with the law of the land in which you are a citizen then you have various options. You could emigrate. You could cease to offer the service in which you want to unlawfully restrict gay people. You could move into another area of work where you are not concerned whether your customers are gay or not (selling ice cream for example). Or you could adopt a policy of civil disobedience (for which of course there would be consequences - and again those would not be persecution). You could fight to have the law changed, meanwhile obeying the law. If you cannot get enough fellow citizens to agree to change the law then you will have to put up with it as it is. But at the end of the day we all have to obey the law.
The law of the land must be paramount for all of us. None of us can pick and choose which laws we will obey. Law and order - without which everything collapses - can only come through the will of the majority and the first duty of everyone, including Christians, is to obey the law.
Obviously each Christian must decide - as Bonhoffer had to under Adolf Hitler - where and when and how he must obey his conscience even if that means disobeying the law. Desperate times require desperate measures - but to say that we in Britain are now in that position with regard to discriminating against gays is absurd. Save your fire for when your meeting places are closed by edict of the State, or you are forbidden to meet at all in private - draconian measures, comparable to the new laws in Nigeria (aimed however not at Christians but at all gay people!)
Assertive paranoia will not help the present situation and Christians who feel persecuted need to ask themselves what exactly they are complaining about. Could it be, perhaps, that it is because the general attitude of the general public is less sympathetic to Christians than a few decades ago? If so, then the answer is not to try to tamper with legislation to make things easier for Christians, but rather to examine the message they are transmitting as Christians. At the end of the day it is the love of Christ that will win people over - that is what we need.