Wednesday, 29 November 2006

church leaders attack equality regulations

Despite the extensive scope of the “religious exemption” provided in the Northern Ireland regulations, attacks on this legislation, and on the presumed extension of it into the mainland UK, continue from the Daily Mail, from the usual conservative Christian lobby groups, but also from various Christian leaders.

The paid advertisement in The Times yesterday can be seen in full here (PDF file). The group that sponsored this is Coherent and Cohesive Voice. This is an alliance of Black church leaders (“a network of hundreds of Christian leaders in the UK representing hundreds of thousands of voters”) including many names which can be found here.

Complaints about this advertisement can be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

This group also issued a Briefing Paper last July which can be read here. Both documents contain statements about the effect of these regulations which are just not true.

Tomorrow’s Times carries several letters to the Editor about this matter. One of them is from the Minister for Equality, Meg Munn:

Sir, The Government is seeking to strike a balance between protecting the rights of religious groups and preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

This is a Government, and country, that has a proud record of tackling discrimination wherever it exists. But it is also a country that has a proud record of respecting people from all faiths and none.

No one is proposing that schools will have to promote homosexuality or that a priest will have to bless same-sex couples. But at the same time, it is wrong for gay teenagers to be refused emergency accommodation after being thrown out of their family home on the ground that they had chosen to tell their parents about their sexuality, or for lesbian and bisexual people to be denied access to essential healthcare.

MEG MUNN
Deputy Minister for
Women and Equalities

And in an interview, Meg Munn said:

“It is right that there should be a public debate on these complex and difficult issues, but that debate should be conducted in a calm and measured way rather than through inaccurate and wild speculation.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 29 November 2006 at 2:44pm GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

“a network of hundreds of Christian leaders in the UK representing hundreds of thousands of voters”

How about letting the hundreds of thousands speak for themselves?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 30 November 2006 at 7:25am GMT

Dear Goran,
Are you part of the Christian church? you seem to grumble about it at every opportunity.

Posted by: DaveW on Thursday, 30 November 2006 at 9:01am GMT

The problem with covert discrimination is that the size of the issue can not be measured. So as Meg Munn points out in the letter, a youth that "comes out" can safely go to which refuge? Better to have overt discrimination, then funding can be provided for the GLBTs, as well as for the Christian purist service providers. The GLBT community can then develop a knowledge base to enable them to support those that the purists will not.

There's nothing wrong with honesty, unless there has been an under-resourcing of GLBTs' needs, in which case that market niche might divert some funding away from existing activities. But since they are only 2-5% of the population, that shouldn't be too much money out of the pockets of the purists.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Thursday, 30 November 2006 at 9:14am GMT

I find the late bishop JC Ryle's distinction between the visible church & that which is invisible & true more & more compelling. This what the BCP 1662 calls 'the blessed company', and 17th century Quakers called 'the Church Catholick.'

'Church leaders' and all of us who speak (or blog!) in this field need to be bear Matt.25:1-25 very much in mind for ourselves; and the parable of the Wheat & the Tares for others !

Posted by: laurence on Thursday, 30 November 2006 at 2:07pm GMT

Is Ms. Munn honestly suggesting that the Daily Mail and the Bp. of Rochester speak "in a calm and measured way rather than through inaccurate and wild speculation"? Hope springs eternal, I s'pose, but surely a gov't minister should have a greater grip on reality than that.

Posted by: Isaac on Thursday, 30 November 2006 at 10:52pm GMT

I think we can see here that the Religious Right (and thanks to this we see who in the UK they constitute - LCF, Anglican Mainstream and the DUP) have had their fox somewhat shot here by being quite over the top and in exaggerating wildly which has led most people (apart from the Daily Mail and Telegraph) to conclude they are somewhat lacking in balance and in easy going contact with the real world.

(Actually there is a link with foxes being shot. Remember all of the stories from right wing sources that the ban on foxhunting would destroy the countryside? The day after the ban came into force the same people came on telly to demonstrate how the ban would have no effect whatever. Similar with the end of civilisation stories about the new licensing laws peddled by - you guessed it - the Daily Mail (and the Conservative Party in this case as well).

We'll see how it all plays out, but lying (I don't see anyone having retracted their statements after being corrected) and exaggerating are probably good for whipping up your own crowd but not so good for convincing others of your point of view.

That probably doesn't matter because the people concerned have a worldview where we live in a terrible ungodly age and that the Government not agreeing with you is a terrible form of persecution.

As an example of this phenomenon, I read out the reply to the consultation in NI by the Mid Ulster Christian Helpline [sic] to my work colleagues who split their sides laughing and thought I had written it as a spoof. They were, though, quite horrified when I told them it was written by real people.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Friday, 1 December 2006 at 3:21pm GMT

Western society only considers one type of person to be valid: the victim fighting against his/her oppression. There is a cachet in this, of course, it's delicious to stand up to the Man and demand one's rights. This plays into the persecution complex that is rampant in some Christian groups that seem to pine for the good old days when there was an Emperor one could refuse to worship and thus get sent to jail. It is seen in the popularity of the Left Behind claptrap(Fundamentalism's Da Vince Code) and the claims of persecution by those who can't force Christian prayer, or creationism, in schools.

The fact that society does seem more hostile to Christianity, at least in some quarters, only adds to this. Then, something like this comes along, and the fire flares up. But fear mongering so you can appear to be standing up against oppression makes one popular in a society where to do so is the only way to be respected.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 1 December 2006 at 4:16pm GMT

I think she has to be judicious !

BTW

What a brilliant wheeze to get a known Opus Dei member to steer the legislation through Parliament, and speak up for it now !

Do listen to today;s Afternoon Play (radio 4 & online) on how Christians and the State treated gypsies in Switzerland UP TO THE 1970s. It is very relevant to this legislation. It reminds us all of what we are (all) capable. It explores beautifully the processes of marginalisation of a minority and their cruel abuse. (Children are seized from their "nomadic parents" and put in institutions.) Our Lord, God, angels, nuns,Heidi, mental health and mother-tongue are powerfully present themes of the drama.

The homelessness and nomadic nature of Christ's ministry is brought out. It is painful to listen to, but ultimately redemptive in scope.

Furthermore

I was glad to see one Church has been nominated by Pink Paper for its Gay-friendly award-- or should that be Gay-Friendly ?!

The Society of Friends aka Quakers.

Posted by: laurence on Friday, 1 December 2006 at 5:19pm GMT

Ford

Your posting of 1 December genuinely surprised me.This quote came via Sojourners only the other day:

"The Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches a fundamental point that we have often overlooked. At the crucial moments when God displayed mighty acts in history to reveal [God's] nature and will, God also intervened to liberate the poor and oppressed. - Ronald J. Sider"

If western society has a respect for the victim and fighting against oppression, then that is a legacy of our Abrahamic faiths. That is something we should be rejoicing, that a key godly trait has been so internalised that we have forgotten that humanity first learnt it from God.

Have we forgotten the God of Hosea 11:3-4? "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them."

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Friday, 1 December 2006 at 8:42pm GMT

Craig,

No-one has been proved to be lying. What has been shown is that there a number of different interpretations of the regulations.

And no, it isn't about saying that a government disagreeing with means that you are persecuted. But it is about saying that the impact of the regulations may be negative noting that Christians have already had police and court actions taken against them before these regulations are even in place.

Posted by: dave williams on Friday, 1 December 2006 at 11:38pm GMT

I have found that in the evangelical mindset there is a very loose concept of the truthfulness (other than the literal truth of scripture, that is which no doubt gives believers a certain dispensation from the other kind of truth). I certainly notice no-one from the religious right has made any efforts to rectify earlier comments which have proved to be false.

Being truthful is more than not intentionally lying. It means making an effort to be truthful in the first place (actually reading the published NI regs might be a start), apologising for and rectifying incorrect and misleading statements and also caring to point out inaccuracies of others who are arguing the same points as you.

We don't see any of that here - my guess is the media are more likely to take up an exaggerated story - "Govt to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality - churches to be exempt" isn't much of rallying call.

So this wilful disregard for any need to be truthful in the public sphere is actually a very deep dishonesty. You may want to jesuitically say it isn't actually lying if you wish, but it's hardly being an exemplar of truthfulness either.

This is not the first time I have seen this disregard for truth in rightwing religious groups and I actually see it as somewhat of a group characterstic.

As for the police, please note that the regs are civil in nature and therefore will not entail any police involvement. I personally don't favour police interviewing people unless there's a law to prosecute them under - the homophobia I worry about is when people threaten to kill me, shout abuse at me or throw objects at me, though the two might not be completely unrelated.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 1:33am GMT

The Regulations are like the Bible then--or any other human document...

Posted by: laurence on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 1:36am GMT

Cheryl,
Yes, of course God sides with the poor and the oppressed. My point was that our society, at least in liberal circles, only validates those who fight their oppression. It has bled way beyond liberalism. We now have poeple inventing oppression for themselves. Take for instance the Fundamentalist attitude that it is oppressive to prohibit Christian prayers in culturally mixed schools, or because they can't say the Lord's prayer before a football game. It isn't, but try telling them that. It also stifles discourse. I saw a talk given by a psychologist on research he had done into those survivors of childhood abuse who did not seem to carry the scars that most such survivors carry. This is important. Understanding such people might help to develop emotion resources for those many who do not have them. He was shouted down by a group of survivors and left wing academics, who could only perceive a denial of their victim status, which he was not doing at all. And the idea that wealthy white business people are oppressed because they can't force their morality on the rest of us. And the idea that North American gay people, and I am one, can claim oppression equal to that of gay people in, say Afghanistan, and that our right to marry is as important as their right to life itself bothers me as well. Not diminishing the need to fight for freedom for us here in NA, but we aren't suffering like many are, and ought not claim otherwise.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 12:46pm GMT

Ford

Thanks for a more sophisticated consideration. I can empathise with much of these contemplations.

I often find it amusing to see abusers crying "victim" or "oppressed" when they perceive they are going to lose the ability to intimidate and humiliate their intended victims.

There is an excellent section in Hugh Mackay's book "Generations" which looks at the dynamic between individuals and society. He postulates that neither extreme is healthy e.g. Stalinism's suppression of the individual led to a repressive nightmare, conversely the US's glorification of the individual can lead to chaos in both streets and homes.

Mackay suggests that healthy societies rely on an interdependence and synergy between the rights and responsbilities of the individual and the rights and responsibilities of society. A society needs to affirm and encourage individual enterprise and responsibility, but conversely individuals must contribute to and consider the needs of the rest of society. Institutions should be protected from machevelian predators and professional bludgers; whilst individuals need to be protected from rapacious institutions and misuse of power.

There is, of course the fractal pattern between different ethnic groups, nations and continents... We are all under one covenant from God and we all are dependant on the same air and water and fruits of the earth.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 6:54am GMT

Craig,

I repeat my previous comment that nobody has proved to be lying. What we have seen is some regulations put forward, people putting forward different interpretations within the context of their experience. Personally having read the regulations as someone who has read Law and has had to deal with regulations, I haven't seen any untruthfulness from the Evangelical side yet.

Posted by: dave williams on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 2:31pm GMT

Well Dave, I'm assuming you didn't see the ad put out by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship in the name of Coherent and Cohesive Voice. It's still on the Lawyers Christian Fellowship website. So I'm afraid we'll have to agree to differ on that.

I don't directly accuse anyone of lying per se as that's a quite complex psychological state to be in, though of all people LCF probably does come the closest (as well as in trying to hide behind 'Cohesive and Coherent Voice' as a front organisation for ts own views).

I do though accuse LCF, Bp Nazir Ali etc of casual disregard for the truth and of actually misleading and not being too bothered about that due no doubt to perceived party advantage.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 2:29am GMT
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