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No freedom of conscience to have a gay marriage

I was encouraged to read Peter Lynas’ letter in support of “freedom of conscience and religion” in Northern Ireland (May 10).

 

These freedoms are, as I am sure all in the Evangelical Alliance agree, a vital part of a fair society.

 

Leaving aside the issue of the cake, I want to remind everyone that there are gay Christians who support same-sex marriage, and there are gay Christians who want to get married in their own churches.

 

At the moment, the law of Northern Ireland prevents this. There is no freedom of conscience or religion on this issue.

 

I am sure I hold religious views that Peter disagrees with, and doubtless he holds religious views that I disagree with. Yet we can both agree that we should have the freedom to practise our religion, and that the law should no more restrict my religious practice than it should restrict his.

 

I hope and pray that Peter Lynas, the Evangelical Alliance, and all members of the newly-elected Assembly fully support freedom of conscience and religion, and that together we can bring same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, bringing about a more free society with greater freedom of conscience and religion than we currently have.

 

If the Evangelical Alliance would like to work with Faith and Pride on this issue I am sure we could work together. Whatever our differences, we all surely believe in freedom of conscience and religion.

 

Andrew McFarland Campbell, Founder, Faith and Pride

 

Letter originally published in the News Letter.

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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

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

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.

Faith and Pride Consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill

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 (Northern Ireland) 2006, will allow people to use religious belief to legally discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. The DUP recently launched a consultation on the bill. You can read the proposed bill and consultation paper on the DUP website.

Faith and Pride will be responding to this consultation. We would like to hear about what other people in Northern Ireland (and beyond) think about this bill, and so we are running our own consultation before submitting our response to the DUP. We particularly want to hear from people who would be uncomfortable with contacting the DUP directly.

If you would like to respond to our consultation, please read the DUP’s consultation document and then fill out the form below. All fields are optional. No personally identifying information will be shared with any third party unless your explicit consent is given. Most of the fields below are questions taken from the DUP’s consultation document.

Update Our consultation has now closed. Our response will be submitted to the DUP and published on this website in due course. You can respond directly to the DUP via their website.

Remember, some of us are both gay and Christian

I have had another letter on same-sex marriage published in the Belfast Telegraph.

IT seems that much of the coverage of the gay marriage cake affair has portrayed it as Christians on one side and gay people on the other. It is too easy for people to forget that some of us are both.

There are gay people who are Christians and there are Christians who support same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is a long Christian tradition of fully supporting same-sex relationships.

While this tradition has, arguably, always been in the minority, being in the minority does not mean that you are not Christian.

I am lucky enough to know the “gay activist” who ordered the cake in question. I am perplexed by that label. I think he is better described as a “community worker”. He is a man who goes out of his way to help people, particularly those at the edges of our society.

While I don’t want to judge anyone in this case, it seems to me that kindness, particularly kindness to those at the edges of our society, is a key Christian virtue; after all, Christ himself said loving your neighbour is like unto loving God (Matthew 22: 36-40).

ANDREW McFARLAND CAMPBELL

Faith and Pride

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