Author Archives: Andrew McFarland Campbell

Religious Freedom in Today’s Society

I have had a letter published in the Belfast Telegraph.

Religious freedom is a cornerstone of a free society. The law must not treat any one set of beliefs more favourably than another.

Imagine the outrage if the law said that, because some churches opposed inter-denominational marriages, then no church may perform one. This would (rightly) be seen as an infringement on religious freedom.

In Northern Ireland today, some churches oppose same-sex marriage. Others do not. Yet, curiously, the law only accommodates those churches opposing it.

If a Christian same-sex couple wants to get married in their church, and the church wants to perform that marriage, they cannot. The law dictates how the members of that church are allowed to practise their religion.

In recent months, there has been a huge upwelling of support for the freedom of conscience for the owners of Ashers Bakery. The freedom of conscience of people in places of worship must be at least as important as the freedom of conscience of people in places of work.

Until the law is changed and the churches that want to perform same-sex marriage are allowed to perform same-sex marriage, freedom of conscience in worship is severely restricted in Northern Ireland.

ANDREW McFARLAND CAMPBELL

#VoteWithUs Brighid and Paddy

On the 22 May, there is a referendum on marriage equality in the Republic of Ireland. Although Faith and Pride is not active in the Republic, we hope that the people vote for same-sex marriage. The words of this couple say it all.

It could happen that sometime in the future that your son or daughter, grandchild or great grandchild, will tell you they are gay. And when they ask you how you voted in this referendum, or whether you bothered to vote at all, what will you tell them? — Paddy

I know the ever-loving God that we believe in will say we did the right thing, and the Christian thing, in voting “yes” for marriage equality. — Brighid

Support Religious Freedom, Support Same-Sex Marriage

At the end of February 2015, this letter was sent to all the Northern Irish MLAs, all the Northern Irish MPs, the Lords Spiritual, some of the Lords Temporal with an interest in Northern Ireland, some religious leaders with an interest in Northern Ireland, and other political figures. You can download a PDF of the letter.

Dear Friend,

PeterRobinsonFreedomofConscience

I am the founder of Faith and Pride, a non-denominational gay Christian organisation in Northern Ireland. Although I now live in Gibraltar, Faith and Pride remains active in Northern Ireland, and I myself retain strong connections to East Belfast, where I was born and where I lived for more than 38 years. I am writing to you because in the frequent political debates about religion and same-sex relationships, the rights of gay Christians are often forgotten, if it is remembered that we exist at all. This is particularly true when same-sex marriage is discussed.

In Ireland during the Penal Law period, religious freedom was restricted. The religion of the ruling elite was elevated above the religions of everyone else. The people of Ireland, on both sides of the border, have paid a heavy price for that. One of the ways that religious freedom was restricted was by controlling other people’s freedom to marry. During the period of the Penal Laws, Presbyterian weddings had no legal standing. There was no legal bar to a Presbyterian church performing a wedding, but the couple would not have been married in the eyes of the law.

Fortunately, we live in a much more enlightened time. Two people married in a Presbyterian church are just as married as a couple who married in a Church of Ireland church. We recognise that people have different religious and philosophical approaches to marriage, and the law recognises all of them. Anything else would be unthinkable bigotry.

If you support religious freedom, that means that you support the right of people to live their lives according to different standards to you. That means you support laws that accommodate other denominations and religions to exactly the same extent that your denomination or religion is supported. That means if you are a staunch and conservative Catholic, then you support Presbyterian weddings, even though you would never marry in a Presbyterian church yourself. That means if you are a member of the Church of Ireland, you support legal recognition of civil weddings as surely and completely as you support legal recognition of weddings in your own parish church.

When my husband and I married in a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church in Belfast in 2011, we were in much the same position as a couple who were married in a Presbyterian church in Belfast in 1711. Whilst the service wasn’t illegal, it had no legal standing. We had to take other steps to get the law to recognise our relationship.

There are churches that want to treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples in exactly the same way, performing marriage ceremonies that are religiously and legally significant, regardless of the genders involved. There are gay Christians who want this. It is what my husband and I wanted. The law in Northern Ireland currently prevents churches from doing this. This is a restriction to religious freedom: a restriction to freedom of conscience. This is just as severe, and just as offensive, as the situation regarding Presbyterian marriages during the Penal Law era.

Religious freedom has not lead to Catholic churches being forced to marry atheist couples, nor Anglican churches having to marry dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterians. Same-sex marriage happens in many parts of the world, and I know of no case of a church being forced to perform a same-sex marriage against its will, yet the law of Northern Ireland still prohibits the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. There is no freedom of conscience on this issue. The position of Christians and churches is decided not by faith but by the law.

Religious freedom unquestionably means support for Catholic weddings, Church of Ireland weddings, Presbyterian weddings, Methodist weddings, Christadelphian weddings, civil weddings, and it means support for same-sex weddings. The Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA, leader of the DUP, recently said, “Those who believe in freedom of conscience must stand strong and stand together.”1

That is unquestionably true, and everyone who supports freedom of conscience and freedom of religion must support same-sex marriage, so that those of us who believe in same-sex marriage can practise our religion as freely as those who do not.

Stand up for freedom of conscience. Stand up for religious freedom. Stand up for same-sex marriage.

Yours in Christ,

Andrew

Andrew McFarland Campbell MA MSci (Hons) (Cantab)

1 Leader’s Speech at DUP Party Conference, 22 November 2014, http://www.mydup.com/news/article/conference-2014-leaders-speech-rt-hon-peter-robinson-mla

The Conscience Clause: Discrimination is un-Christian

From one response to our consultation on the DUP’s conscience clause:

Christ commands that his followers must not treat any other human being in a way in which they would not like to be treated themselves. This attempt to legalise discrimination against LGBT people is unchristian and sinful.

—Antaine O’Labhradha

The Conscience Clause: Jesus Key Message

From one response to our consultation on the DUP’s conscience clause:

 I think if people go into a profession where they will be serving the entire community then they must accept that they cannot pick and choose who they provide for.I think the dup should reflect on Jesus’ key message ‘Love one another as I have loved you’.

—Deirdre Agnew

The Conscience Clause: The Scriptural Position

There are two major problems with the DUP’s proposed conscience clause.

  • It may harm those who are less well-off
  • It doesn’t actually help situations where a Christian’s conscience may tell them to refuse work

The first problem was addressed in yesterday’s article. The second is addressed in this article.

The stimulus for this proposed legislation was the refusal of a “Christian” bakery to decorate a cake that it felt carried an un-Christian message. The consultation document itself refers to a hypothetical Catholic adoption agency and a hypothetical Evangelical photographer. Would this legislation have any effect in these cases?

While a Christian should operate within human laws, it is far more important that Christian behaviour is governed by the laws of God, as found in the Bible. It should come as no surprise that the New Testament already contains a “conscience clause”.

Paul the Apostle gave this advice to the Christians in Corinth.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral … But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral… Do not even eat with such people.”

(1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

In Paul’s view, your conscience regarding ‘sexually immoral’ people did not stop you interacting with them as normal. It was only when a fellow Christian was sexually immoral that you were supposed to invoke Paul’s conscience clause:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (verse 12)

Consider an Evangelical photographer. He is free to believe that same-sex relationships are always immoral. Refusing to photograph a civil partnership ceremony for a non-Evangelical couple on grounds of ‘conscience’ is an act of judgement, and an act of judgement for someone outside the photographer’s church. Paul the Apostle says this is wrong.

No Christian would ever exercise the conscience clause this proposal seeks to give, as doing so would go against the clear teaching of Christian Scripture. This proposal is of no benefit to the hypothetical Catholic adoption agency, the hypothetical Evangelical photographer, or even the very real “Christian” bakery. It is quite simply un-Christian to discriminate in the way the conscience clause would allow.

Based on page 14 of Faith and Pride’s response to the consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill.

The Conscience Clause: Concern for the Less Well Off in Society

There are two major problems with the DUP’s proposed conscience clause.

  • It may harm those who are less well-off
  • It doesn’t actually help situations where a Christian’s conscience may tell them to refuse work

The first problem is addressed in this article. The second will be addressed tomorrow.

Christians ought to show concern for the less well-off and vulnerable in society. This proposal provides protections for a relatively prosperous sector of society while at best ignoring, and possibly even harming, the less prosperous.

Consider an Evangelical photographer who believes that it would be a violation of their faith identity to take photographs of a civil partnership ceremony. If that photographer is rich enough to own his own business, this proposal will allow him to refuse to take photographs of a civil partnership ceremony. However if the photographer is not rich enough to own his own business and is employed by a photography company, then his employer determines whether or not he should photograph a civil partnership ceremony.  If this proposal provides freedom of conscience, then it only provides it to the rich. This discrimination against the poor is abhorrent to Christianity.

It is conceivable that, if this proposal is passed, the employment opportunities for people with a strong faith identity will be harmed. For example, if a photography firm is owned by an Evangelical who refuses to photograph civil partnership ceremonies, then certain sectors of the population will not approach the firm to do business. If another photography firm merely employed an Evangelical, then there is a real risk that the firm will be perceived as being Evangelical and as a result its business will be harmed. This makes Evangelical employees less desirable, making it harder for Evangelical people to find employment. Once again, the proposal protects the prosperous and in this scenario actively harms the less well off.

It is completely impractical to suggest that the conscience clause be extended to all employees. It would make it impossible for firms to recruit staff to do a particular job, because at any point in their employment an employee could invoke the conscience clause to decline to do essential tasks. For example, an Evangelical human resources manager may refuse to do the necessary administration to add an employee’s civil partner to a company’s health insurance plan because it was believed that that was an endorsement of same-sex relationships.

Based on page 15 of Faith and Pride’s response to the consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill.

Christians and the Conscience Clause

Christian consciences have been a concern since the days of the New Testament. A long time ago, a wise man called Paul the Apostle gave advice to the Christians in Corinth about how to handle their consciences.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral … But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral… Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

In Paul’s view, your conscience regarding ‘sexually immoral’ people did not stop you interacting with them as normal. It was only when a fellow Christian was sexually immoral that you were supposed to invoke Paul’s conscience clause: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (Verse 12)

Consider an Evangelical photographer. He is free to believe that same-sex relationships are always immoral. Refusing to photograph a civil partnership ceremony for a non-Evangelical couple on grounds of ‘conscience’ is an act of judgement, and an act of judgement for someone outside the photographer’s church. Paul the Apostle says this is wrong.

Much more recently, another man called Paul has come up with a new idea. This Paul, an MLA not an Apostle, suggests that Christians should judge those outside the church, to the extent of refusing to do business with them if their moral standards are found wanting.

However well-meaning Mr Givan and his DUP colleagues are, it strikes me that no Christian would ever exercise the conscience clause he seeks to give them, as doing so would go against the clear teaching of Christian Scripture.

DUP MLA Paul Givan has proposed a Private Member’s Bill for the Northern Ireland Assembly. This bill, which proposes introducing a conscience clause to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI), will allow people to use religious belief to discriminate legally against people based on sexual orientation. Faith and Pride will be responding to the consultation, and is running its own consultation beforehand.

Update 26th December 2014. This article has been published as a letter in the Belfast Telegraph.

Equal marriage in Gibraltar

10685496_738278972922937_6941628744041493341_nI have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Gibraltar Chronicle.

Although I have only lived in Gibraltar for a short time, I have been much struck by the diversity and tolerance shown here. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahá’í, people of other faiths, and people of no faith all live together in mutual respect. Gibraltar enjoys religious freedom to an extent that most of the world can only dream about.

This freedom does not come freely, and everyone who lives here must protect and promote this freedom that we all share. Supporting religious freedom means that we should support same-sex marriage. People from all parts of the religious spectrum support same-sex marriage, and there are churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples that would gladly perform same-sex weddings.

When we say that the law only recognises opposite-sex marriage, we are saying that the religious views of people like M. Bear (Letters, 21st November 2014) are more important than the religious views of people like me. This is a limitation to religious freedom that I believe is shocking to the so-called ‘silent majority’. If you support freedom of religion, you must support same-sex marriage.

Andrew McFarland Campbell
Faith and Pride

The Biblical view on being gay and a Christian

And another letter published in the Belfast Telegraph.

I take the Bible just as seriously as any other Christian from Northern Ireland. If there were really a single sound-bite verse that could prove that you cannot be gay and Christian, as Good News Messenger seems to think (Writeback, November 17), then I would listen to what it said, and close my organisation Faith and Pride.

As proof that you can’t be gay and Christian, Good News Messenger quoted the 2011 NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. On the face of it, that translation does seem to be convincing, but only on the face of it. There are two Greek words (malakos and arsenokoites) that are translated together to become “men who have sex with men”. In other translations they become things like “effeminate”, “self-indulgent”, and “sexual perverts”. It seems that translators are not in agreement about what is meant.

People in the 1st Century Graeco-Roman world often wrote about all sorts of sexual relationships between men, in both positive and negative terms. Malakos and arsenokoites are not used in those discussions. This is a very strong indication that in the 1st century those words did not mean “men who have sex with men”. The arguments for that translation are based on a mixture of modern prejudice and a misunderstanding of how etymology is related to meaning.

It is perhaps foolish to depend on one translation of one verse for guidance. It is far better to look at what Christ himself said about the topic, in a passage where there is no significant dispute about the meaning: Matthew 25:31-46.

ANDREW McFARLAND CAMPBELL

Faith and Pride

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