Thomas Cordrey continues last month’s discussion on the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations and the threat they will pose to Christian values
On 9 January 2007 over 3000 Christians from all denominations assembled outside Parliament for a peaceful torch-lit demonstration against the Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation Regulations.
While the crowds held banners proclaiming ‘freedom to believe’ and ‘freedom of conscience,’ singing hymns and praying, the House of Lords decided by 199 to 68 to keep the Regulations in force – the size of this majority not quite so impressive in light of the heavy whipping on the Lib Dems and Labour peers who turned out in force. Only the Conservatives and Cross Benchers were allowed freedom of conscience on the issue.
What were the grounds for opposing this innocuously-titled Statutory Instrument? The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship have written extensively about the threat posed by this law to the freedom for churches, Christian organizations, schools, charities and individuals to live and act according to the teaching of the Bible.
The operation and impact of the SORs are disconcertingly hard to explain, but upon close scrutiny their potential effect is clear: they constitute the use of secondary legislation to promote an unchristian moral view over a Christian one. Perhaps you think that this is nothing new. Well, the concomitant precedent set by the Regulations is that they render illegal full adherence to biblical teaching about homosexual practice and, in certain circumstances, will require Christians actively to condone homosexual practice. The alternative will be breaking British law.
Using powers created by the Equality Act 2006, the Government proposed a new law making it illegal for anyone who provides goods, services, facilities, premises, education or public functions to discriminate against that person on the grounds of their sexual orientation i.e. whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual.
Where is the difficulty? Christians are commanded to love all their neighbours (sexual orientation having nothing to do with it) and as Christians we earnestly desire the repentance and salvation of all people, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. However, the Bible is clear that the only rightful sexual relationship for which we were created is a relationship between a man and a woman in the context of a legitimate marriage. Consequently, any law which forces Christians to promote or assist sinful sexual behaviour (whether homosexual or heterosexual) forces Christians to sin themselves. It is perhaps important to point out that our concern would be the same were a law to propose that Christians should be forced to condone and promote adultery.
Several scenarios were alluded to in ND last month; but consider a Christian voluntary organization that provides services to the local community with funding from the local government. This could be a homeless shelter, a drop-in cafe, a drug rehabilitation project or a community centre. If that organization claimed the freedom to refuse to provide its services in a manner which could promote or assist homosexual practice, even if it never needed to act on that freedom, then it would almost certainly (see Regulation 16(8)) have its funding removed and possibly therefore be shut down.
This is not a case of a Christian centre refusing to serve a cup of coffee to a homosexual person. Far from it, such a centre (one would expect) would lovingly welcome all people who sought, in good faith, the goods and services it provided. But should a homosexual group wish to use the centre for an event clearly promoting homosexual practice, the centre would need the freedom to gently and respectfully decline.
Do you think this scenario sounds unlikely? At the LCF we hear of numerous situations like this – at the time of writing, the latest such case (featured in The Times, 2 December) occurred when a Christian family centre, for vulnerable Eastern European families living in London, was threatened by its local council with withdrawal of funding unless they agreed to recant their position on homosexuality (which was ‘we welcome homosexuals but we will not promote homosexuality’).
Consider a Christian-run printing shop. If someone asked them to print material promoting gay sex, under the SORs, it would be illegal for them to refuse to do so. Does this sound unlikely? The LCF has dealt with two cases of Christian printers in this exact situation in the last few months.
The England, Wales and Scotland SORs are being finalized at the moment. If the Northern Ireland Regulations are any indicator, there is much to be concerned about. Although there are likely to be exemptions for churches, allowing ministers to refuse to bless homosexual partners and preventing the need for church halls to be hired out, upon request, to homosexual groups, there are gaping holes in the protection of freedom of conscience for Christians.
The problems fall into four main categories: the lack of protection for faith schools, the lack of protection for Christian organizations in receipt of public funding, the lack of protection for Christian commercial organizations and the lack of protection for Christian individuals (the exemptions in Northern Ireland only apply to organizations).
One overarching problem facing Christians which is illustrated by these Regulations, is the ‘public private divide’ which the state appears determined to impose upon believers. The SORs in effect say that you are free to be taught and to believe that homosexual practice is sinful, but you are not free to maintain this position with integrity for the other six days of the week. If you provide goods and services you are not free to refuse to promote homosexual practice.
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