Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Are Christians being persecuted? No.

Yesterday saw what was, I think, a pretty sensible ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on the "Christian discrimination" cases. It seems reasonable that people should be able to express their faith, but in a way that is moderated by other issues, such as health and safety. If I say my faith means I have to constantly juggle knives doesn't mean I should be able to do that while being a nursery teacher.

Of course some Christian conservatives have been pushing this agenda as part of a "Christian persecution" narrative that bares no relation to reality, but seems to fit with their worldview. It is, though, a bit of an insult to people in other parts of the world who are genuinely persecuted for their beliefs.

The attitude, I think, comes from a place of entitlement and privilege. Take the case of a registrar who does not want to perform civil partnerships. Even if you accept the idea that civil partnerships are incompatible with Christian faith (which I don't) I think you have to accept the reality that doing civil partnerships is a core duty of a registrar. You can't expect to continue to be a registrar while not doing civil partnerships.

In the early days of Christianity this issue related a lot more to soldiers who became Christian. Killing was seen as incompatible with Christian faith (and there's a lot more Biblical warrant for this position than opposing same sex relationships and wearing jewellery). So becoming a Christian involved putting down the sword and refusing to kill. But, as carrying a sword and killing is part of the core duties of being a soldier, it was necessary to conclude that being a soldier was incompatible with Christian faith. This was something that had to be accepted. They couldn't demand that they continue to be employed as a soldier while refusing to go to war. The two could not go together, and so you had to choose one or the other.

I basically still agree with this position. Being a soldier would be against my religious principles, so I choose not to be a soldier.

If you consider being a registrar as incompatible with your faith, then I think you have to accept that and accept the consequences. You can't demand that the job works around you to uphold your principles. If the job is against your principles, then don't have the job.

What depresses me is that solemnising and counselling relationships is seen as what is wholly incompatible with Christian faith. And yet no one seems to think too deeply about jobs based on the accumulation of wealth, the exploitation of others, or violence as being against Christian principles. How do we get so far away from the way of Jesus?


Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

I have every sympathy with Gary McFarlane, the Relate counsellor, who felt unable to give sexual advice to a gay couple ; the scenarios that face Relate counsellors are many and various and to expect any one counsellor to be competent, skilled and able to cater for every kind is unreasonable ; surely the couple in question could have been assigned a gay counsellor from within the organisation - the loss of an experienced counsellor with an ethnic minority background is particularly disappointing for an organisation that probably struggles to find suitable staff from that group.

In the case of the registrar refusing to conduct civil partnerships her position as a government official obliges her in my opinion to carry out her duties in accordance with the law as set down by Parliament ( unless that law is manifestly immoral e.g. deportation of citizens for ethnic reasons as in 1930's Germany ).

The second crucifix case involved a much larger item of personal wear - the health/safety reason for restricting its use just about 'stands up'; however the wearing of such a large item is almost an advertisement rather than an item of jewellery.I would expect someone in the same position in hospital to be restrained from displaying a 'Vote Labour/Conservative/Lib Dem' rosette on their unifirm for the same reason.

2:02 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Kenneth, you talk about the loss of an ethnic minority member of staff.

But that does make me wonder, would it be OK for a Relate counsellor to refuse to work with couples from ethnic minorities? Or refuse to work with mixed-race couples? If that is not OK, why should it be OK to refuse to work with same sex couples?

I think the law is pretty clear that you cannot pick and choose who your provide a service to. If you provide a service, it has to be to everyone.

5:02 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

The service is provided by Relate; it is up to the organisation which member of its staff it assigns in each individual case.I do not accept your comparison ( frequently made ) that to draw a distinction between relationships of persons of the opposite sex and those of the same sex is analogous to racism.Race is an unalterable aspect of identity ; sexuality is an aspect of personality that both gay and straight persons may choose to embrace or not.
It is a sad irony that Relate began as the National Marriage Guidance Council and one of its founders was a non-conformist minister and now a highly qualified and experienced Christian counsellor cannot be employed by the organisation.

12:05 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

It depends for what purpose you are "drawing the distinction." Obviously they are different - but are those differences morally, theologically or legally significant?

Sexual orientation is believed by most people to be "an unalterable aspect of identity" like race. But even even if it isn't. Even if it's a freely chosen path like religion, it is still a "protected characteristic."

A perfect comparison cannot be drawn between race, sexual orientation, religion or other identities. Each is different. But nevertheless morally (and legally) you cannot discriminate against people based on these identities.

10:04 am  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

That 'sexual orientation' is not 'an unalterable aspect of identity' is evidenced by examples of persons, who, having been in committed straight relationships, often of long duration,leave these to begin a fresh same sex relationship - Gene Robinson, former Bishop of New Hampshire, is a prominent example.It would be interesting to know what proportion of civil partnerships come into this category.If there are those who change orientation 'straight to gay',is it not likely that there those who would wish to change orientation 'gay to straight'?

There exists a conscience clause for doctors who do not wish to counsel women seeking abortions ; they must however be prepared to refer their patient to another doctor who will provide advice. There is no evidence that Mr. McFarlane would not have been prepared similarly to refer gay couples seeking therapy despite his refusal to do so himself.

9:44 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

There is a distinction here between behaviour and orientation. Obviously there is a huge amount of social pressure to be straight (and this was even more true in the past), so some people will deny a part of themselves and try to conform to heteronormativity by entering into different-sex relationships. That doesn't mean they change from "straight" to "gay" - it means they change from "gay in denial" to "openly gay." Although Gene Robinson was married to a woman I have never heard him describe himself as anything but gay so I assume that was his journey.

For some people though their orientation is more bisexual and they may have changed relationships while remaining bisexual.

Again even if sexuality does change for some people over time, it does not change sexual orientation being a morally and legally protected characteristic, as is religion.

The language that sexual orientation is a simple matter of choice is usually coupled with the implication that people "should" "chose" to be heterosexual. But pressurising people to do so does real psychological and spiritual harm, as it usually involves a deep repression of a part of who they are.

4:00 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

I think we might both agree that 'sexual orientation' is not quite the fixed, unalterable characteristic that some might wish to claim and that it 'stabilises' for different people at different ages.
To return to the matter of Gary McFarlane's dismissal from Relate Avon, further investigation of the case reveals that he did not refuse to counsel gay couples generally about relationships but, after completing an advanced course in psychosexual counselling,he felt unable in conscience to provide intimate personal advice to gay couples .There is no evidence that I have come across that he acted in other than a professional manner in his earlier counselling of such couples.

4:39 pm  

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