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.