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.