reactions to Saturday's conference

There have been several reports following up on the conference last Saturday.

Ekklesia was first onto the web with Religious and non-religious unite to combat homophobia and transphobia by Savi Hensman.

Telegraph Matthew Moore Law ‘will force churches to employ gay staff’.

The Christian Institute has Equality chief ‘regrets’ appointing evangelical as well as Government to force gay
youth workers on church

Pink News has Trevor Phillips acknowledges ‘intense hurt’ caused by Evangelical appointment and Churches to be banned from turning down gay staff.

The Church Times has a report Equality exemption ‘narrow’, written by me. See text below the fold.

A GOVERNMENT MINISTER has confirmed that the new definition of the “purposes of organised religion” published in the Equality Bill is intended to restore the scope of the exemption to “what it was supposed to have been in the first place”.

Speaking at a conference in London on Saturday, Maria Eagle, Under-Secretary of State in the Government Equalities Office, said that, apart from a few key issues such as whether to have women clergy, churches could not claim to be outside the scope of discrimination law.

Responding to a question about the Church’s intention to support amendments “to restore the status quo” (News, 15 May), Ms Eagle said that in recent years the existing exemptions had been “over-inter­preted”. The intention was to make clear now that this exemption was “as narrow as it possibly can be”.

Another speaker at the conference on “Faith, Homophobia, Transpho­bia and Human Rights” was Trevor Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Com­mission. He spoke candidly about the con­troversy caused by the choice of the Revd Joel Edwards, formerly general director of the Evangelical Alliance, as a member of the commission. The TUC Annual Con­gress had unanimously called for Mr Edwards to be removed last year.

Mr Phillips said that he had failed both to “understand what the Evan­gelical Alliance represents” and “to anticipate the intense hurt” that the appointment had caused within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual (LGBT) community. He hoped that the commission would be judged on the basis of what it was able to deliver, and he promised that in relation to the LGBT strand there would be significant improvements soon.

Other speakers included the Regius Professor of Divinity at Ox­ford, Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, and Canon Giles Fraser. Both called for the Church of England to withdraw its claims for exemption from equal-opportunity laws. Canon Fraser saw no difference between these claims and the homophobia of the football terraces. Professor McCord Adams identified their origins in the “systemic evils” of idolatrous civic and fertility religion.


  • Fr Mark says:

    According to the Christian Institute spokesman in the Telegraph: “Christians are sick to the back teeth of equality and diversity laws…”

    I’m “sick to the back teeth” of “Christian spokesmen” making such ridiculous statements.

    As a Christian, I welcome equality and diversity laws, and see them as a great opportunity for us to practice what we should have been preaching for centuries, the essential dignity and respect due to each child of God.

  • Jeremy says:

    If it were down to people like the Christian Institute we would, no doubt, still have Section 28 and all the rest of what was really discriminatory and oppressive legislation from the 80s and 90s. I am SO heartened to listen to the speeches from last weekend’s conference. I hope the legislation is passed with a minimal get-out clause for religious organisations. Hurrah for the dignity that equality and diversity offers to all people!

  • thomasl says:

    What is ironic is that this government actually think they have any moral authority to tell the church how it should behave

  • Una Kroll says:

    I too am a Christian. I too deplore homophobia and all forms of sexual and gender discrimination. It is time that some Christians recognised the sincere views of other equally committed Christians. Una

  • davidwh says:

    Either we ALL have Equality, whether we are right or wrong, good or bad, nice or nasty, or it has just become an empty word, a mantra disguising political bias.

    As with how it has allowed varying rules for tax free expenses and allowances according to who you are, I suspect that what this Government means by Equality has a lot more to do with favouring people you like, and disfavouring people you don’t, than providing equality, and maximising freedom, for ALL.

  • JCF says:

    “What is ironic is that this government actually think they have any moral authority to tell the church how it should behave – Posted by: thomasl”

    To paraphrase Churchill, “this government” is the institution with the least amount of moral authority . . . except for “the church” (most of it).

    Lord have mercy!

  • Ford Elms says:

    “Mr Phillips is reported to have answered that had he known at the time of the appointment what he knew now, how deeply people had been hurt and alienated over this.”

    What annoys me about this is that Mr. Edwards, or his fellow Evangelicals, are far more likely to see this comment as yet another example of persecution of “Christians”, and it will not enter their heads to ask the simple question “If I am truly following the Gospel, how could I cause hurt to anyone?” If any conservatives on this board answer, I expect justifications about how “standing for good Christian moral values” is guaranteed to hurt a self indulgent society. Is it that many of these Evangelicals don’t keep Advent or Lent that they have such poor capacity for self-examination?

    “the Commission would act to root out ‘homophobia’ in religion.”

    Doing a complete 180 here, this is a bit much, don’t you think? I mean, it’s all fine and dandy when the State wants to “root out” of the Church something “our side” thinks is wrong, but if we set the precedent of letting the State “root out” from the Church the things it doesn’t like, where will it end? What happens when a government comes along that, oh, say, decides it must “root out” gender equality or racial equality, or anything that society can take it into its head to dislike? And you Brits, given what we have recently found out about your MPs (and welcome to our world, BTW, your oldest colony has already dealt with this, you’re behind the times), do you really feel confident letting elected people decide what’s right for the Church?

  • Cheryl Va. says:

    Amen Fr Mark

    Matthew 7:12 “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”.

    Luke 6:31-36 “Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

    Oh, and that applies as much to the treatment of women and other occupants of this planet as it does to GLBTs. The peace convenant of Zion applies to all Creation, not just Jesus’ worshippers. There is no problem with Jesus or his Christians claiming they are responsible for that covenent, if they are sincerely attempting to implement it.

    However, if they claim stewardship and then deny or distort the peace covenant’s intent, then they are merely opportunistic liars attempting to gain credit where it is not due and to deny justicy where it is due.

  • Father Ron Smith says:

    Yes, Mark, and Cheryl, I do agree, but today’s interpretation of Matthew 7:12 seems to be rather:
    “Do unto others before they do it unto you”, which speaks of proactive retribution rather than the charity of Christ.

  • drdanfee says:

    Fact is, society and government in UK are changing far faster than church life institutions can pace. As sea changes go, this one has swept through in record time, speeded up greatly by new science and globalization. Even calls by church figures to respect gay folks’ human rights can be heard as vexed with all the customary negatives about gay people, hanging in our fouled up collective global air spaces.

    Decode? I will preach nasty stuff about gays, but God will bash them in eternity, not me. As change messages go, this is contradictory, implies a whole host of dubious negative presuppositions that people who know real gay people already know are false. Is there any wonder that this allegedly gospel message will hit most educated modern audiences as ignorant, besides the point of real gay people we all know, too little, too late?

    Given the change gaps, the forward moving society that has already changed will tend to hear the catching up church figures as damning gay equality or human rights with belated, faint praise. A tinge of saying it but not really meaning it blossoms, nearly each and every time Rowan Williams speaks up about gays and human rights, for example. He says, but for any number of reasons, he cannot do.

    Should church should try to do – the appointment of Jeffrey Johns? The USA election of Bishop Robinson? Decriminalizing gay life in Nigeria? – we are suddenly burdened with conservative fury.

    We are no longer making long overdue changes, we are fighting. So doing change turns into tiresome fighting. And we go backwards, sorting and arguing about traditional presuppositions and traditionalistic pseudo-facts, all remarkably impervious to facts.

    The more regular people who know the daily life truth about the goods in gay life; the fewer people will be patient with putting the brakes on because allegedly gay folks are particularly bad, particularly dangerous. Impatience with non-factual negative claims about gay folks will only widen the gaps. The next two battle grounds will probably be schools, and various sorts of services or programs run by religious organizations, open wide to all except for gays of course.

    Look folks, it only took the pope a few centuries to finally apologize to Galileo. We expect speedy? Our right wing iceberg of nasty traditions about gays may melt and break apart, before it changes much at all.

  • Merseymike says:

    The position should be quite simple. If the church wishes to be allowed to do exactly as it pleases, then it should not accept anything from the state or expect to be anything other than just another pressure group rather than enjoying a privileged position.

    And all should be subject to the civil law. Personally, I think there should be no exemptions at all, and if the church doesn’t like that, it can always close down entirely. I am sure the effects of that would be ultimately beneficial.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “If the church wishes to be allowed to do exactly as it pleases, then it should not accept anything from the state or expect to be anything other than just another pressure group rather than enjoying a privileged position.”

    I heartily agree, unreservedly. This is how is should be, how it should always have been. Why do I get the impression that for you this state of affairs would be a well deserved punishment for the Church? For me, the current state of affairs is the punishment, and the situation you describe would be a welcome relief. But maybe that’s because I’m not British, and despite us living in the situation you describe for a not inconsiderable period of time, our sky still remains high above our heads, and the world has happily continued on its way, so maybe I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Giles Fraser’s suggestion that Christian opposition to homosexual equality is no better than homophobic terrace chanting…sounds more like a throwaway remark than an analysis. So I’ll try to provide a more accurate picture.

    -(1) Inequality is something that Christians fight daily: e.g., the supposed and baseless inequality between unborn and born.
    -(2) There is no chance of citing any tempted/untempted or sinner/virtuous inequality, since all of us are tempted and all are sinners. -(3) Likewise all of us are *equally* responsible for minimising, rather than glorying in, our sin and its results.
    -(4) There is, however, always bound to be disagreement on what constitutes sin and what does not. Any such discussion has worth when factually/statistically based (re: life expectancy, disease susceptibility, promiscuity rates, association with patterns of abuse as in C20th Ireland; also naturalness – see below), and is worthless when it is not, for then it will be based on presuppositions, biases, wishes, ideologies and the like.
    -(5) Reasons for not recognising equality of married couples and homosexuals are the ways in which, in real-world scientific fact, the two are unarguably not merely different but actually unequal:
    —(A) Unequal in biological attestation: Babies vs no babies/no equivalent attestation.
    —(B) Unequal in pathological attestation: No ‘protection’ needed in intercourse by monogamously married couples in numerous cultures, yet it is advertised as being necessary for pretty much all homosexuals. The whole idea of protection must ring alarm bells on the naturalness front.
    —(C) Unequal in physical fit.
    —(D) Unequal in the relevance of two-ness to the whole matter. Man-woman couples are intrinsically two for reproductive purposes; homosexual partnerships do not need to be two for any particular reason.

    It has certainly often been the case that the clerics the House of Lords has taken to its heart and has sometimes further ennobled are often as far as it is possible to be on one fringe of the C of E (justly named the ‘state church’) and would not be accepted for membership of many Christian denominations. Thus, we’ve had Lords Habgood & Harries, Bp Butler, Primus Holloway. In Jesus’s day the religious authorities did not in fact particularly need to be men of God: they were appointed according to how far they could be under the thumb of the secular authorities. One would be naive to think that politically aware people would not indulge in similar spin today, given the clout assigned to the pronouncements of religious leaders.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “No ‘protection’ needed in intercourse by monogamously married couples in numerous cultures, yet it is advertised as being necessary for pretty much all homosexuals.”

    This is absolutely untrue. Monogamous gay couples have no more need of safe sex than monogamous heterosexual couples. Seriously, Christopher, if you really want to appear scientific, rational, and objective, get your facts straight. They only reason anyone would advise a monogamous gay couple to practice safe sex is if there is the likelihood of infidelity, or if one partner had brought a chronic sexually transimtted disease into the relationship, and that advice would be just as applicable to a straight couple. You just can’t get over your basic bigotry that there is something inherently sick or dirty about gay people, can you? Unsafe practices spread HIV, Christopher, not something inherent in people. That’s basic infectious disease biology, not some new untested idea. Again, you reveal your motivations to everyone except yourself. And, besides, given that the risk of infectious disease transmission, especially of HIV, is quite low among lesbians, your arguments fall pretty much flat when it comes to them. I also notice they pretty much never show up on your radar. From your statements, it appears that for you homosexual means gay man. Certainly your arguments concerning health issues are ALWAYS framed in the context of gay men. Homosexuality is sinful because the Bible says so. This is supported by 1)gay men get AIDS, which means 2) they have inherently shortened lifespans, which means 3)there is something intrinsically wrong with gay men, which means 4) all homosexuality is sinful. But point 1) is untrue, since everybody gets AIDS. It is a heterosexual scourge in Africa for instance, point 2) is untrue and reflects your inability to interpret scientific data, indeed reflects your poor understanding of science in general, point 3) builds upon the faulty points 1 and 2, and point 4) is currently being debated, but certainly cannot be supported by your points 1-3 which are faulty or out and out wrong on their faces. So, your continued repetition of this line of argument shows your lack of scientific acumen.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Re homophobia, you would be quite right to argue against opposition to homosexuality merely on the basis of a text (although it would be wven more wrong not to take account of the text and aim to understand what it is saying before coming to any overall conclusion). ‘Homosexuality is sinful because the Bible says so’ is an inadequate view in and of itself, besides being something I would never say. That, of course, does not make the first part of the statement true or false: it’s merely a matter of the ‘because’ being a non-sequitur. The other points I’ve already answered.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “besides being something I would never say.”

    Indeed. But you still start from your own personal biases and then look for evidence, however unreliable, to back them up. You even misrepresent the facts, like your statement above about safe sex and monogamous gay couples. You use this piece of misinformation to bolster your underlying belief that there is something intrinsically wrong with gay people:

    “The whole idea of protection must ring alarm bells on the naturalness front.”

    How is this so? Since non-monagamous straight couples have the same need for safe sexual practices as non-monogamous gay ones, and since monogamous couples of either stripe have no need of such things, despite what you claimed, I see no need to ring alarm bells about the “naturalness” of homosexuality per se. Promiscuous sex might be another matter, but that is hardly something restricted to gay people. Besides, the relative lack of need for safer sexual practices among lesbians would suggest, per your arguement, that lesbianism is somehow more “natural” than male homosexuality, indeed, it even suggests that it is more natural than promiscuous heterosexual behaviour.

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