There is a huge amount of fuss in the UK papers at the moment about the impending implementation of the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. The regulations, being pushed through to begin in Northern Ireland on the 1st January and at the moment looking as though they will be implemented in mainline UK by April, will make it illegal to deny the provisions of goods or services to anybody based on their sexual orientation. That might sound OK, but it has huge implications for the church and for yours truly.
Let’s say you have a church hall. At the moment if the local GLBT social group want to hire it for a function you have the right to deny them that privelige. From the moment that the SOR is implemented such a denial, based on conscience, faith and tradition, will be illegal and liable for prosecution. That means that if the aforementioned social club, proposed to be held on my church property, is designed to be an environment to pick up people for sexual activity that I personally believe is contrary to the word of God, it would be illegal for me to refuse to host it. How about holding a reception to celebrate a Civil Partnership? SOR says I cannot refuse if other people hold parties in the same building. Bottom-line – I could go to jail for my faith in Jesus by refusing to provide that service.
Leading Bishops in the Anglican and Roman churches are warning that this is an outrageous attack on civil and religious liberties and strikes to the heart of the freedom to practice one’s religion. It may lead to a damaging split between the Government and the Churches in England. And don’t think that Nazir-Ali is being sensationalist in his response that “youth clubs may close”. In many, many towns across the UK the only youth clubs in existence are run in church properties. If the only way to prevent church buildings being used for what I and others believe are unGodly purposes is to close them down then that means that hundreds of youth groups in areas that desperately need them will be closed as well.
All the Government has to do to get around this is to build in a religious conscience clause and the problem will go away. But the elements in the Government that want to push this legislation forward won’t let that happen, so we are set for a showdown over the next few months. In particular, Northern Ireland is shaping up to be the initial battle-ground as the likes of Ian Paisley and the Roman Catholic archbishops unite in opposition. Cool huh what God can do when the heathens move?
But the deeper problem with the act has been highlighted by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship who argue that since the law allows for prosecution if an individual felt that they had “been subjected to a ’humiliating or offensive environment'”, that means that if I stand up and give my testimony of healing from sexual brokeness or preach on the subject of homosexuality and somebody in the congregation who self-identifies as gay finds it offensive, I could be prosecuted. Or take it further (and I haven’t seen this argument anywhere else so I claim the rights!!!) – Could I be prosecuted for refusing to give Communion to somebody who I knew was willfully engaging in gay sex and not repenting? Would that mean that their “dignity had been violated” even though I was exercising traditional Christian (and Anglican) discipline?
I’m not sure what the answer is. On the whole I have been broadly in favour of things like the removal of Section 28 and the guarantee of equal employment rights (to prevent people being sacked for being gay – which used to unfortunately happen). I might even have a flicker of support for non-Christians entering into Civil Partnerships. But the line I draw in the sand is when I am prosecuted for being a Christian, sharing my testimony, preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in a loving, disciplining way. What will happen when that line is crossed? Who knows? Let’s see if the Government is foolish enough to push it through in Ulster and what happens there.
Oh, and for the record, I’m right behind Cranmer when he says:
Cranmer agrees wholeheartedly with this. He just wishes the words had come from the Archbishop of Canterbury – the man who is supposed to be the thorn in the side of a morally corrupt and intellectually deficient government.”
Come on Rowan. (The Church of) England expects everyman to do his duty, and that includes you.