A few people have suggested to me that I gave my Faith and Pride talk, Jonathan Loved David, to be offensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. I gave that talk because it was what I sincerely believe, and I thought other people would be interested in what I had to say. Faith and Pride isn’t about being argumentative or offensive, it is about putting forward an alternative point of view. It is about saying that you can be gay and Christian.
There are some Christians who find that offensive. Equally well, there are some Christians who find it offensive to say that you can’t be gay and Christian. However, just because one group has beliefs that are offensive to another group, it doesn’t mean that the first group should be afraid to say what it believes.
This isn’t just confined to issues surrounding gay people and Christianity. Roman Catholics believe that the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church. The Westminster Confession of Faith has this to say about the Pope.
There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV, section VI
There can be no doubt that that statement is offensive to Catholics. Does that mean that churches that adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, shouldn’t be allowed to express their beliefs? Or maybe Catholics shouldn’t be allowed to express their beliefs because they are offensive to Free Presbyterians?
This even goes beyond issues that only concern Christians. The majority of Jews and Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, which is a position that is offensive to the majority of Christians. Does that mean that Jews and Muslims should not be able to express their beliefs, lest a Christian is offended? Or maybe it is Christians who should remain silent, for fear of offending people from other faiths. Taking it a step further, many atheists find any expression of a belief in god offensive, and many people of faith find an expression of atheism offensive. Should one group be silenced to avoid offending another?
In Northern Ireland, we understand what it is like to live in a society without religious tolerance. We know how damaging that can be. In Northern Ireland we are learning what it is like to live in a society with religious tolerance, and we are seeing how wonderful that is. Religious tolerance means you can freely believe whatever you want, but that means you must also allow other people to believe what they want. Putting it another way, you have the right to stand up and say what you believe, but you do not have the right to stop someone else standing up and saying what they believe, no matter how much it offends you.