The B&B Case that may well be a Christian Win

A piece in the Daily Mail yesterday caught my eye.

The house, called Uf Dorf, named after a village in Susanne’s native Switzerland, has sweeping gardens leading down through a field to the River Thames, a lovely outdoor swimming pool, a vine-covered terrace for breakfast (weather permitting) plus two bright and very comfortable double rooms for £75-a-night, and one single, all en-suite.

Indeed, had Michael Black, 63, and John Morgan, 58, been allowed to check into the large downstairs double on Friday, March 19, 2010, they would doubtless have loved its bright airiness, the triptych of photos of the Swiss Alps above the lovely big double bed, the flat screen TV, the double doors opening on to the garden, the extensive and very generous tea and coffee-making facilities and the acres of clean linen and fresh towels.

But they never made it past the kitchen or the extract from Jeremiah (chapter 16, verse 19) stuck firmly to the fridge.

Because Susanne, 56, and Mike 58, are devout Christians and only allow married heterosexual couples to book into their double rooms. And Michael Black and John Morgan, who hail from Cambridgeshire and have been together for nearly ten years, are gay.

‘I’d had a booking from a Mr Black for the Zurich room — a nice big double with an en-suite,’ explains Susanne. ‘And, naturally, I assumed it was for Mr and Mrs Black. But as I helped them manoeuvre their car into the drive, I realised they were two men and I thought: “Oh dear, this isn’t a situation I can go along with.” ’

So after inviting them into the kitchen (‘It felt rude to have this conversation outside’), and despite her website promising ‘a very warm welcome to all visitors’, Susanne, a former airhostess and mother of four, told them politely and firmly that she was very sorry but they’d have to leave.

‘I said that because of my convictions, I could not go along with two men in the big double bed and I refunded their £30 deposit.’

This sounds oh so familiar and many in the media and blogging world are treating this as a case similar to the Bulls in Cornwall who lost when they were sued for discrimination. But this case is different because the Wilkinsons have a strict rule about only allowing married couples to share a double bed – they turn away heterosexual couples who are unmarried. On top of that, the complainants aren’t in a Civil Partnership so the key argument in the case of the Cornwall B&B, that Civil Partners have to be treated identically to married couples, isn’t applicable here.

A judge who is looking at this case and presented with the evidence is going to have to be very careful as to what ruling he makes. It seems to me that this situation is one where the Wilkinsons discriminate against unmarried couples per se regardless of sexuality and therefore what they are doing is not illegal. Of course, the proof of that pudding would be their response if a couple in a Civil Partnership asked to have a room.

101 Comments on “The B&B Case that may well be a Christian Win

  1. I understood that the Bulls in Cornwall also turned away unmarried heterosexual couples, and that was what their defence turned on?

    The thing that confuses me is, if there are these B&Bs up and down the country turning away unmarried guests, then why are we only having these court cases now, and why are only gay couples taking them to court? If I was part of a co-habiting couple who had planned a nice week-end away, travelled all the way to our destination, and then been told (no matter how politely) ‘sorry, we morally disapprove of your relationship so we’re not giving you a bed’, I’d be pretty put out.

    I’m not the judge, but it seems to me that either you can pick and choose who you let stay in your guest house, or you can’t. Unless it’s illegal (like two underage teenagers, or a couple high getting high on cocain), surely there are no ground in law to turn away paying guests who have booked and paid their deposit? The only exception I can see is if a business has actually been set up as some kind of religious retreat centre or part of a Christian holiday camp, and has been clearly advertised as such.

      • That does make it more interesting as the judge wouldn’t comment on the last case on what his conclusions would have been if they were in a Civil Partnership. This judge is going to have to decide now. I think it would be better if it was just made clear that ‘no, you can’t make moral judgements on the sex lives of paying guests in your B&B’.

        • I think I agree with you on this, inasmuch that the real judgement is going to have to be on “Can you deny customers facilities based on your expectation of their sexual activity”. And to be honest, I can see anything in law which would provide a “no” to that answer.

    • The Bulls in Cornwall *claimed* , when creating their legal defence, that they turned away unmarried heterosexual couples. It was claimed in the Guardian that in reality unmarried heterosexual couples had no problem staying at the Bulls.

      • I imagine that it would be easier for an unmarried heterosexual couple to slip through, but they made it pretty clear on their website that they had a marrieds only policy.

        • A situation where a heterosexual couple are *assumed* to be married (would most B&B customers check out the website beforehand?) is not exactly consistent with the claim that they were consistent in ensuring that no variety of non Man and Woman in marriage sex occurred in their B&B.

          • Ryan, I think what these cases are proving is that having these married-only policies at guest houses is impractical and unworkable. I think that’s clear without casting uncharitable aspersions on the owners’ motives. The thing about conscience is that it often hinges on whether your knowingly are allowing something. I imagine in the past lots of unmarried couples ‘got away with it’, but the difference is that then nobody would have dared to try to take the establishment to court if they did get caught out doing something ‘naughty’.

            • TBH, I totally agree. I’m on record as having argued clearly that if Christians want to do business in a heathen world then they have to do business with sinful heathens. These kind of “rules” are non-sensical. That said, I am interested in what the judge will rule in this particular case.

              • You are right. Open a Christian guest house by all means. Monks do it all the time with their monastic guest houses but clearly you only go there if you sign up to the ethos. They also operate a men-only policy. Is that illegal? Perhaps wannabe guest house owners who are bothered by what might go on in their bedrooms should visit their local monastery for some tips. Now if Susanne and Mike read Fifty Shades of Grey they might consider that they’d better set up a a Ryanair-like booking in form.

                • I think we’re on the same page here, Tom. There are quite a lot of Christian retreat centres to choose from, and Christian holidays organised. If you’re a single person, you can also go to house share websites to find other Christians to share the rent with. On the other hand, it’s difficult for gay couples to travel in some countries. I don’t think they should be afraid of being embarrassed by being turned away from public guest houses. It’s confusing to set up a public guest house that’s not open to the general public!

  2. But did Mrs Wilkinson know at the time that the two men weren’t Civil Partners, or even ask them whether they were? There’s no indication that she did. Quite the contrary in fact: ‘But as I helped them manoeuvre their car into the drive, I realised they were two men and I thought: “Oh dear, this isn’t a situation I can go along with.” ’ That suggests that she wasn’t going to let two guys share a room, whether or not.

    As for the Wilkinsons’ strict rule about only allowing married couples to share a double bed and turning away heterosexual couples who are unmarried, I’d be curious to know how they verify that all the heterosexual couples who turn up and claim to be married really are. Are they required to produce their marriage certificate when they check in?

    • As long as they attempt to determine whether the couples are or aren’t married, that is enough. And the facts of the case are that the gay couple are not married or in a civil partnership.

      • In the (not so long ago) past, many B&Bs, hotels etc. would ask couples to show their wedding ring as proof that they were married. My parents were asked this as they were very young when they got married. It’s easy to see why. People didn’t want their respectable establishments being used by young people to have affairs behind their families’ backs, or to become the kind of seedy joint where people went to cheat on their husbands/wives. But society’s change now, and you can’t assume that every couple that isn’t wearing a wedding ring is doing something underhand.

  3. Interesting one this. How did the couple know that the two gay men were going to have sex? Or did they, as many straight people seem to believe, assume that all gay men are at it like rabbits all the time? (Since the two men are 58 and 63 I admire their staamina if they still are)
    Interesting, too, that the the website for this accomodation has nothing on it about Christian marriage or, inded any other sort.
    Thirdly, turning away this couple, as they might turn away any one else who has booked and is expecting a comfortable night after a journey, is commiting the sin of Sodom, that is inhospitality

      • If the sin of Sodom is homosexual rape, which we all rightly abhore and condem, why is it usually then used to describe and condem all homosexual activity? One might, of course remark that Lot offered his daughters to the Sodomites first. And that says quite a lot about the old testament view of women as property!

        • Good point Richard. Some of the more….stereotype-bound…conservatives who comment here are indeed fond of regarding anal sex as the gay Unique Selling Point. In that light, I was interested to read a recent comment by feminist Naomi Woolf repeated in her latest book “Vagina”. She stated that, when giving talks to colleges, the most frequent sexual question asked by young women is about the likelihood of anal fissures. Woolf attributes this to excessive porn consumption by today’s young men; perhaps some women (but not all – many enjoy the act) would prefer if anal sex was a gay male taste rather than essentially a male one, but there are enough delusions in anti-gay rhetoric as it is.

          • Of course, this is also why how the birth rate of catholic countries such as Italy became so low before the general availability of contraceptives in the face of the opposition of the RC Church. The idea that anal intercourse, and its supposed dangers, is a uniquely homosexual activity is another fantasy of many who don’t like us but are obsessed by what we might be up to.

              • You missed a glorious opportunity to diss Driscoll there Ryan.

                Gents, I’ve written plenty of times that anal sex is neither an exclusivey homosexual activity nor even a predominent activity in the male homosexual community. Let’s move on eh?

                • Hmm, tempting as it is to provide the Driscoll-themed version of
        , I’m nothing if not on-topic ;-)

                  Just for the record, do you not regard homosexuality as a key part of the ‘Sin of Sodom’? As mentioned above, I don’t see why you can’t regard the offence as against the natural order in both rape AND homosexuality (although, typing this, it occurs to me that sex with an angel is surely closer to some kind of interspecies sex act?)

                  • Ummm, do angels have anuses that could be penetrated? (They shouldn’t have vaginas – Michael, Gabriel, Raphael sound male enough – though you never know how ambivalent they might be. Gerontius’s Guardian Angel sounds like a woman in Elgar’s setting of the Dream…….(he/she is of course sung by a woman).

                    Afterthought: might be interesting to get it sung by Bejun Mehta……no?

                    • Hmm, they have barbie style blanks in Dogma but have sex with humans in the peerless Angels in America. I think they have to renounce their Anglehood to have relationships with humans in Wim Wenders Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close! Dodgy Robbie Williams songs aside, I think that’s the extent of my knowledge of angels :-)

                    • What fun. I didn’t imagine that my humble remarks would set off such a ding dong battle. I am with Dr McCulloch here. ‘…it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any concept of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong’.
                      A bit further on he says’ …most have chosen to forget the New Testament’s clear acceptance of slavery as a normal part of social structure, though once upon a time western Christians used it to justify the transport of countless Africans to slavery in the Americas’.

                    • McCulloch neglects to mention that as well as the NT accepting slavery as normal part of societal structure it also the ONE time it addresses the issue directly instructs a slave-owner to free his slave.

                    • Indeed, the ONE time, in a specific case for a specific reason. There is no condemnation of the institution of slavery in Philemon or elsewhere. The one instance of an instruction to free a slave doesn’t negate the thrust of Dairmaid’s argument.

                    • Yes, the modern evangelical will of course know that when Paul referred to women not speaking in church he obviously didn’t mean all women, but when he referred to one specific slave with whom he had an affective relationship slavery per se was being denounced! Aside from which, Paul still sends Onesimus back to the slave owner! It’s like the ending of Huckleberry Finn, except the complete opposite ;-)

                    • I think all that’s actually needed is for the men of Sodom to have believed that they were physiologically normal men. Of course, if you’ve managed to calculate how many angels can stand on a pinhead, then you could afterwards determine if they had anuses.

                  • I think homosexuality is a key part. We have to ask ourselves why the NT (Jude 1:7) refers to “unnatural desire” (lit. Strange Flesh) in relation to the events around Lot’s visitors. That can’t refer to rape because it’s not unnatural per se to sexually desire that which you sexually desire (in this case men desiring men). Of course, they may just have wanted to rape the strangers to demonstrate their power over them, but then how is this “unnatural desire” and “sexual immorality” which normally refers not to rape but to abberant sexual practices (prostitution, beastiality etc).

                    • I realise that the rapey mob assumed that the angels were men, but God of course knew that they were trying to have sex with angels – isn’t that a form of “strange flesh lusting”, comparable to bestiality perhaps but quite distinct from homosexuailty per se?

                    • As for rape: I think most men have sexual urges that they can or don’t act upon, whereas there are a minority of men who do indeed have sociopathic urges to rape that they act upon. As with an urge to kill, I don’t see why the rape urge can’t be regarded as an intrinsically disordered “unnatural desire” quite distinct from normal sexual urges. Normal men fantasise about consensual sex with attractive partners. The urge to rape is surely quite different.

                      I think most people would have no problem identifying a form of sex where one partner does not consent as “sexual immorality”.

                    • Yes, no problem with your last para, but the exegetical issue is whether the Bible would have referred to that as “strange flesh”? That’s the point I’m making.

                    • “Strange flesh” doesn’t MEAN “unnatural desire”, even if the person using the expression takes it for granted that the desire for “strange flesh” is unnatural. The Greek expression used in Jude 7 is “sarkos heteras”. My knowledge of Greek is so rudimentary, not to say rusty, as to be all but useless, but even I can recognize that “sarkos” means “flesh” and that “heteras” means “different” or “other”, which is precisely why sexual attraction to people of the OTHER sex is very appropriately called HETEROsexuality. Sexual acts, or attempted sexual acts, between people of the same sex might perhaps be described euphemistically as going after the SAME or SIMILAR flesh, but the author of Jude accuses the humans at Sodom, on the contrary, of going after OTHER or DIFFERENT flesh.

                      Light is thrown on the meaning of the phrase by looking at the previous verse, in which the author speaks of “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation” (KJV) or “left their appointed sphere” (Jerusalem Bible). This is generally agreed to be an allusion to Genesis 6:2, which says “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and took them wives of all which they chose.” The author of Jude here draws a parallel between the behaviour of the angels in Genesis, who had sexual congress with humans, and that of the humans at Sodom, who sought sexual congress with angels.

                      The Finnish biblical scholar Martti Nissinen summarizes thus the purport of this passage in Jude:
                      ‘The nature of the transgression of the Watchers and the human daughters is clear: it is unnatural sexual contact between angelic beings and humans. … Lot’s guests were angels (mal’ākim, Gen. 19:1), creatures of nonhuman origin. The Sodomites’ attempt to rape them was seen as aspiration for “another kind of flesh,” similar to the intercourse between the Watchers and the human daughters. The sin of Sodom is viewed not as males violating other males but as mortals violating immortals.’ (Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, 1998)

                    • perhaps now we’re circling an essential divide between (at least some) ‘liberals’ and (ditto) ‘evangelicals’? Most now would also say that that a sexual ethic that (say) regarded masturbation as a more sexually immoral than rape, or that regarded homosexuality per se as a comparable moral offence to rape per se is indeed morally objectionable. The fact that rape in marriage was only criminalised within marriage in the 90s is perhaps unsurprising given passages such as Deutoronomy 22:28-29. Numbers 31:7-18 Judges 21 etc. Can you proof text a modern, moral understanding of gender equality and the intrinsic wickedness of rape from such (or any) bible passages? Of course, you could quote Paul on husbands loving their wives, but the notion that love trumps all and that ”love” in the biblical sense means what we want it to mean is the very error that liberals are accused of when it comes to homosexuality!

                    • Not in the slightest.

                      When I see the Bible says something that seems strange from a modern perspective my response is to remember that Scripture is God-breathed and useful for training in righteousness (amongst other things). That means that I want to understand WHY God thinks in a certain way (or at least wants us to think in a certain way). The liberal response however is to reject the Scripture as incompatible with modern understandings.
                      Look at rape. You argue that the Bible does NOT have an understandoing of the “intrinsic wickedness of rape” but this is actually simply not true. Take for example Deut 22:28-29. It’s very clear here that rape is wrong – “violated her”. But why the payment of money? Well the answer is very easy – Scripture understands sex to equal marriage, so the fifty shekels is a reverse dowry. What Deut 22:28-29 is saying is that there are consequences for rape and that is that you actually have to marry the girl and provide for her AND give compensation. This is actually an incredibly progressive position for the time because it values the woman as a human being, it looks after her future and it recognises her rights.

                    • ‘useful’ is a fairly liberal word in this context; it’s hardly synonymous with ‘binding instruction’ is it?
                      I would disagree that rapists marrying rape victims, although preferable to a “rape them then kill them” sexual ‘ethic’, is consistent with a modern understanding on the intrinsic wickedness of rape. The financial aspect similarly indicates a “women as property” marriage ethic which, similarly, is not consistent with modern moral understanding of gender equality. Merely having to provide “compensation” for rape victims, in the context of death penalties being advocated for all sorts of other offences, is hardly a stern punishment indicative of a great moral wrong.

                      The line about “progressive position for the time ” stands out. Perhaps it is. But does that make it moral, and the position articulated binding in other contexts? If we’re following “for the time” logic then OT condemnations of homosexuality and non-procreational sex have an obvious local/historical explanation.

                    • Ryan, Liberals may have to discard some of the texts that seem clearly immoral but I think it is more logical to regard all sacred scriptures as human constructions which may hold some sublime writings as well as many time-limited texts and some clearly aberrant low points such as the defence of slavery (because one human being can never justifiably own another however much the apologists try to square it) . Literals create for themselves more problems (despite using anthropomorphic metaphors such as ‘God-breathed’ in an attempt to ameliorate the problem). You cannot at the same time bracket out evil from God and at the same time try to justify all the dubious teachings in the Bible some of which you list above, without tying yourself in logical knots. Personally, I believe Liberals have their hearts in the right place but they are in some sort of denial about the consequences. Literals on the other hand may have logic on their side but it is a horrible kind of logic that led to Calvin’s awful ideas about predestination and the kind of God that engenders. It eventually puts God above morality and leads to the idea that nothing God does can be be mistaken or evil, baldy speaking Might is Right. Calvin’s ideas were declared heretical by the Catholic Church – and even when they were briefly tolerated under the Jansenist movement at the convent at Port Royal, they were eventually rejected by Catholicism.

                    • When has the Bible ever defended slavery? It certainly doesn’t promote it and where it exists it regulates it to become a quasi-familial relationship. When Paul writes to a slave owner (Philemon) he basically tries to shame him into freeing his slave.

                    • “When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exod. 21:20-21)

                      Then the following looks pretty much like an institutional acceptance to me:

                      “And if the slave shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.”(Exod. 21:5-6)

                      “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1Tim. 6:1-5)

                      “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Eph. 6:5-6)

                      “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:9-10)

                      “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1Pet. 2:18-29)

                      I can see the defence apologists offer might sometimes be the defence of the status quo especially where NT writers thought time would end soon, rather than the defence of the institution but why aren’t the biblical writers addressing their remarks more apparently to the slave-owners? I don’t have to tell you that the Bible has been used down the centuries, right down to modern American slavery, particularly using the story of Noah and the cursing of Ham to justify the enslavement of black people.

                    • Well, let’s see shall we.

                      Ex 21 – The context is about damage of property and compensation. When we come to the verse about slaves the meaning is clear – if you kill your slave you will be punished. If you injure your slave you are a fool because he is your “money” (i.e. you are damaging your own property). So the context is not about the rightness or wrongness of slavery but the laws around inter-personal violence.

                      Ex 21:5-6 is about marking someone as belonging to his owner – notice that this ONLY happens when the “slave” chooses it.

                      1 Tim 6 / Eph 6 / 1 Peter 2 – This is about godly living if you are a slave – how do you best represent Christ? Nothing to do with whether slavery is right or wrong in the first place.

                    • This is about godly living if you are a slave – how do you best represent Christ? Nothing to do with whether slavery is right or wrong in the first place.

                      Which is in itself problematic; something we now regard as a self-evident moral evil is being considered in (at best) neutral terms.

                    • No, because we’re discussing passages of teaching (as opposed to history, poetry) etc that do indeed touch on moral wrongs but not condemn them. If you claim to get all your morality from the Bible then, if we’re being logical, it’s reasonable to question the implications of what is and is not condemned as immoral. It’s the conservative, remember, who believes that the Bible necessarily encompasses *modern* expressions of sexuality and condemns them where appropriate.

                    • Rubbish Ryan. For example, the Bible has several accounts of rape during which the act of rape itself is not explicitly condemned. Does that mean that rape is commended by the Bible?

                    • I made a point above of saying that I most certainly am not saying that ALL of the various forms of literature one finds in the bible must necessarily condemn rape. Note also that I’m not arguing that the bible says that rape is a ok. I’m saying that it doesn’t portray it as the evil that modern Christians do. You referred to compensation being paid to a rape victim. Again: in the context of the death penalty being advocated for all sorts of offences, does “if you rape someone, marry them and pay them a retrospective dowry” REALLY suggest a moral offense that contemporary Christians would (in practice) regard as far more serious than (say) masturbation?

                    • The punishment of an offence doesn’t indicate something about how series a moral offence it is? Really? So why are Leviticus passages advocating the death penality for homosexuality cited to this day? (in the context of outlining the immoral nature of homosexuality of course, not as arguments for changes in the civil law)

                    • No (although if you do regard ALL scripture as God-breathed, then making overmuch of a supposed OT v NT tension is slippery at best).

                      Put it this way: Do you regard the severity of particular punishments for crimes in the OT as indicating something about the severity of their nature? Yes or no? If yes, then what are the implications about rape (in your own explanation) being a marriage-and-retroactive dowry offence? If no, then you’re not a million miles away from liberals who attempt to explain away homosexuality warranting the death penalty in the OT!

                    • Why is the severity of penalties for crimes in the OT and the textual weight given to particular issues NOT something the Bible “says”? Yes, I know you can say that everyone should know that slavery, and rape, are obviously wrong, but you can make quite the same point about “Thou shalt not murder”!
                      How serious a moral offence are rape, or slavery and what is your scriptural basis for your judgment?

                    • And again, it’s the conservative who claims that the Bible necessarily provides a comprehensive moral guide to sexuality and the severity of particular sexual sins. One recalls Gagnon noting, in response to “all sins are equal” claims, that the Bible in reality provides clear witness to just how severe a form of sexual immorality homosexual practice clearly is. A Sola Scriptura-ist would expect no less.

                    • So, when Jesus said ‘give to ceasar what is ceasar’s’ he was supporting everything the Roman Empire stood for?

                    • Given that He didn’t actually specify what is ‘Caesars’ and made clear that people’s primary moral obligations are to God: no.

                    • Which raises the question of why God would not clearly condemn slavery.

                      Interestingly, the latest episode of Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” podcast had a call from an evangelical Christian. The fellow wanted to know if he was failing to support his LGBT friends and colleagues by opposing marriage equality. Dan made the excellent point that the bible condemns divorce (yes, I know we can say it permits it SOMETIMES but I think, at the very least, we can all agree that the popularity of divorces in the US and elsewhere suggests that they are not all on the basis of legitimately biblical loopholes) but that Christians still accept its legality. One reason why liberals and LGBT people do not want to needlessly abandon the ‘homophobic’ label (aside from the arrogance of attempts to stop its usage; should non-Jewish people tell Jews what they’re “allowed” to call antisemitic? Should white people tell black people what they’re “allowed” to call racist? Should men tell woman what they’re “allowed” to call misogynistic? and so on) is that a situation, as happens now, where “sinful” and “should be illegal” are conflated for homosexuality or state acceptance of homosexual unions is indeed at least potentially suggestive of the sort of blind-spot that is literally prejudiced.

                    • All about defence of property, eh? Why doesn’t the text simply say “if you own a slave set him free – it is an abomination”. It doesn’t. Your first text might be “centred” on violence but if it is using the context of slavery it is neatly missing the elephant in the room.

                    • No you’re right, it doesn’t. But then if you were a bond-servant in the middle of Canaan who, with his wife and kids, was suddenly released then (i) you would starve to death because you would have no home or means of employment because (ii) your previous owner would not be able to pay you a proper “wage”. Bond-slavery in this environment was often a contractual exchange of food and accomodation for work. It was also familial, because on the whole bond-slaves were NOT sold as they were extended members of the family.

                      The problem is that you simply view slavery through a particular “forced labour” lens but the historical situation was more complicated then that in certain circumstances.

                    • If you believe Paul can and indeed does simultaneously condemn local/historical forms of cult prostitution AND 21st Century gay relationships then is it not reasonable to query why the same standards doesn’t apply to slavery? Replying that slavery per se wasn’t condemned in biblical times is exactly the point.

                    • It misses the point surely to say that in the middle of Canaan to set a slave free would be to caste him into penury and starvation. Of course it would – but since the Bible deals with all matters from the foundation of the world and set up explicit rules and ceremonies for the Chosen Race from Abraham on it is strange that at that point if not earlier God didn’t teach Abe not to own slaves. According to the Chief Rabbi in conversation with Dawkins aired on TV a couple of weeks ago the Binding of Isaac was all about teaching him that he did not own his son to do as he liked with and not to do with abolishing human sacrifice as some commentators have suggested. Teaching parents that they do not *own* their children seems like quite high-level morality to me, way more refined than the idea that you should not buy and sell human beings – and yet the latter obviously got in without any fuss from God – didn’t Abe himself procure a woman to bear a son when Sarai couldn’t? Literalism leads to having try to defend the indefensible. When Literals see they are losing the argument they frequently try to turn the tables by saying if you do not see it their way that the Bible can teach no wrong to saying their opponent is in rebellion against God and needs to amend his lifestyle. It reminds me of my old scripture master at school when he caught boys doing homework or reading something more interesting than his lesson: “You are not cheating Me, you are cheating GOD!”

                    • Sorry Tom, I’m not quite sure what you’re arguing here. Are you saying it would be MORE moral to free 100 bond servants and their wives and children and let them starve then keeping them and looking after their families in exchange for their labour?

                    • Sorry Tom, I’m not quite sure what you’re arguing here. Are you saying it would be MORE moral to free 100 bond servants and their wives and children and let them starve rather than keeping them and looking after their families in exchange for their labour?

                    • Not at all. I thought I made it quite clear that I agreed with you that would be a greater evil; but you can’t begin there. The point that the ownership of slaves had been reached at the time the text in question is dealing with it is an indictment of the earlier history of God’s dealiings when he failed to establish that the ownership of humans by other humans is immoral. This is not a case when you can apply increasing sensitivity and empathy as some apologists try to do with women as men’s property – e.g. they needed protecting in a familial way – father, later brothers to husband – that has been taken over in a societal way so that women now have equality because society has come of age. Difficult to argue that slavery was a necessary way to protect the vulnerable. To argue that it was is a bit smelly.

                    • The bottom line is this – we don’t really have any texts in the OT that tell us that slavery is either a good thing or a bad thing. All we have are texts that tell us (i) how slaves were treated and (ii) how slaves *should* be treated. These texts DON’T engage with the morality of slavery itself, they simply understand it to exist and respond to that.
                      In the NT we have several texts on how slaves should behave and we also have, in Philemon, one of the only texts in the Bible which actually engages with the morality of slavery. In it, Paul writes that a slave owner should see his slave as an equal human being and respond accordingly.
                      So, texts that assume slavery as a given and determine how to respond and *one* text which explores the humanity and spiritual status of a slave.
                      Of course, Paul in Romans tells us that we are all slaves anyway….

                    • Right. So the bible doesn’t condemn slavery. WE , modern collective Christendom, does. That’s not exactly very literalist sola scriptura, is it?

                    • Are you willfully misreading me? The Bible very clearly condemns slavery – read Philemon! At the same time it talks about how slaves should witness in their slavery to Christ and it also (in the Mosaic Law) provides ways for those who choose bond-servitude to show that in a mirror of the way we choose to belong to Christ.

                      Your issue here is that you are refusing to let Scripture be the word of God.

                    • Hmm, wikipedia (caveat emptor! I know…….) claims that Diarmaid MacCulloch notes that Philemon was a “Christian foundation document in the justification of slavery” and that is was cited by pro AND anti abolitionists

                    • As for the word of God – surely it’s perfectly possible to believe that scripture is inspired by God without subscribing to innerancy?

                    • I have just read Philemon. I don’t know whether you are reading the same version as me but NRSV doesn’t ‘clearly’ condemn slavery. Paul sends one slave back to Philemon for him to release from slavery. I don’t see any other command to release all slaves or any condemnation of the institution of slavery.

        • Some people use it to proscribe all homosexual activity, but it’s a poor argument.

          As for Lot offering his daughters, what that demonstrates is that somehow he thought the rape of the men / angels under his care was a worse act then raping a woman. This has two possible causes – (i) Lot believed that homosexual rape was somehow worse than heterosexual rape or (ii) Lot believed that the rape of his guests was worse than the rape of his family members.

      • But that dosen’s answer my first question which is why the B&B owners assumed that the two men were going to have sex anyway? Surely, if they just slept in the same bed, that doesn’t compromise the hosts’ Christian principles?

          • Indeed, it’s the fevered imaginations of some evangelical Christians which is the problem and, as I say, that they think we are at it like rabbits at every opportunity!

            • Like I said to Ryan, I really don’t think we need this kind of rhetoric constantly poisoning the discussion. They refused the room for the same reason they refused a room to unmarried heterosexual couples. The government has decided that you can’t refuse services to people based on your own moral code. Let’s just leave it at that.

              • I think it’s worth noting also that there WAS a time when individuals could refuse rooms for personal prejudice, and a “No Poofs” modern equivalent to those “No Irish, No Blacks” signs is hardly the stuff of a free and equal society.

                • It is a bit different. Gay people can book into the hotel, they just can’t book into a double room with their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner. Claiming that it’s the same actually doesn’t help resolve the problem. People just switch off and say ‘well, of course we’re not excluding gay people, just extra-marital sex ….’

                  Asking whether someone would put up a sign saying ‘no people married to divorcees with spouse still living’ might actually get people thinking about how practical these kind of policies are and the double standards that are going on.

                  • That’s due to societal heterosexism i.e. people are assumed to be straight unless they declare otherwise, so in effect a gay person can stay in such a B&B until they actually do something that announces them to *be* gay (i.e. having a same-sex partner).

                    • To elaborate: if the ‘Christian’ Institute et all are defending the Bulls because the B&B owners should be allowed to let or not let rooms to whom they please, then obviously that has implications beyond just actually gay couples showing up and demanding a room.

                    • I think they’re defending them based on the idea that they should be able to refuse rooms based on a moral objection that is part of their religious beliefs about sexual conduct. As excluding black people wouldn’t be based on the moral teachings of any mainstream religion, then there’s no possibility that black or Jewish people could be excluded from a hotel or guest house by arguing from this case (if it was successfully defended).

                      Also, the Christian Institute is defending them based on the argument that they’ve excluded unmarried heterosexual couples in the past – not on the basis that no heterosexual couples have ever stayed there.

                      Like I say, I don’t think people should have these policies, but I think my divorce analogy better fits the case.

                    • The argument being put forward is that Christians are taking these cases to court because they want the right to be able to discriminate. That’s not what these cases are about. Christians want the government to recognise that their beliefs prohibit certain behaviour (abortion, sex outside marriage, use of contraception in some cases) and that they should be able to opt out of actively promoting or enabling these behaviours. It’s seriously concerning that Catholics should have to go to court to gain recognition of their inability to be involved in abortion procedures, and yet simply wearing a cross is regarded as insulting. Respect has to go both ways.

                    • Yes, but public servants get PAID to perform a duty to the, er, public. As for wearing a cross, you’ll recall that the employment tribunal (in the case of Nadia Ewada ) said that

                      . generally lacked empathy for the perspective of others … her own overwhelming commitment to her faith led her at times to be both naive and uncompromising in her dealings with those who did not share her faith”

                      “[Eweida’s] insistence on privilege for Christmas Day is perhaps the most striking example in the case of her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis.” ”

                      In contrast, I’ve known lots of Christians who do shift work in e.g. hospitals who except that they may indeed have to work Christmas. Other claims of ‘persecution’ by the ‘Christian’ Institute tend to be spurious .

                    • I also know Christian doctors, prison guards etc. who have to work on Christmas Day. Ewada’s personality isn’t the issue here. People also claimed that the Protestants who got burnt at the stake were ‘difficult personalities’ – and I’m sure a lot of them were! Women who refuse to wear headscarves in Iran are probably ‘difficult personalities’. The point is, why were they trying to stop her wearing a cross in the first place?

                    • Public servants get paid to perform a service to the public – yes. But they’re not automatons that do everything they’re employers tell them to. Why move somebody into a particular job they’ve indicated they’d rather not do, when there are other jobs more suitable? Why put a Catholic nurse in charge of abortion care?

                    • the question is why should nurses of particular religions be exempt in a way other staff are not. You don’t need to be a monotheist to be pro-life.

                    • Christmas Day is interesting for the Eweida case because it has been stated that she is a Coptic Christian. Well, the Copts, as the Orthodox, Amenians and several other Eastern Churches don’t celebrate Christmas on 25th December because their liturgical calendar is not Gregorian. It falls on Jan 7th. I have read though that Eweida is (now?) a pentecostal. A recent picture of her at the Strasbourg Court shows her with a Coptic Bishop. If she is a Copt then it looks like she is making trouble for the sake of it in insisting on having Dec 25 off.

                    • That’s interesting Tom. Damian Thompson has argued that Western evangelical Christians have been shamefully blind to the genuine persecution of Christians oversees because those being persecuted are usually the Copts, Orthodox etc who seem more like Roman Catholics rather than subscribing to the supposed H.C.F. of Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, million quid sound systems and Shine Jesus Shine. I would tend to agree. The ‘Christian’ Institute, assuming they can abstain from lying for five minutes, have a platform they could use to highlight genuine persecution. The George Carey’s of this world are about as ”persecuted” as David Cameron, or less famous but equally wealthy members of the ruling class.

                    • Yes Ryan, I think Thompson is pointing out what everyone except Carey and the CI can see as plain as the nose on their face. When His Lordship in all his ermine is dragged out of the HOL and tarred and feathered in Parliament Square he might have the vestige of a claim – but even then he’d have a job proving the mob didn’t do it because they thought he was a hypocritical twerp rather than because he was a Christian martyr.

                    • Well said. There was an incident recently when Dan Savage was accused of ‘persecuting’ conservative Christians – he reiterated the truism, that has much to commend it, that bullying is the powerful against the powerless. The other way about is satire.

                    • I’ve booked into guest houses as a single person before and nobody has ever asked me if I was gay or straight. You’ve no proof at all that the Bulls assumed that all their guests were straight. You’re guessing at their state of mind, and the problem with guessing at somebody’s state of mind is that they can always so ‘no, I didn’t think that at all’ and you’ve no proof otherwise.

                  • I agree it would get people thinking. Perhaps the Wilkinsons might think about their whole enterprise after they read Fifty Shades of Grey. It might be easier to put up a notice outlining the sexual activities they would allow, e.g. “Only vaginal sex only between first-time marrieds and NOTHING else, oral, cunnilingus, anal, and definitely no toys.PS condoms will only be allowed if you are not Catholics”.

      • Hmm, isn’t the Gagnonite conservative line that the sin of sodom is homosexuality AND attempting to gang rape some angels? The great Gore Vidal pointed out that gang rape is indeed usually disagreeable to any deity, but I’m not sure if it helps the evangelical cause to downplay the significance of homosexuality per se to the sinfulness of Sodom’s sin (as it were)

  4. Belatedly, what I find really odd about the account is that on receiving a booking for a double from ‘Mr Black’ they naturally assumed that the only person he could possibly be intending to share the room with was ‘Mrs Black’. They are living in a society where 90% + of the population have sex before marriage, and where most heterosexuals would assume that it’s no damn business of a B & B owner whether you’re sleeping with your girlfriend or someone else’s wife. It seems naive in the extreme (or to show a keen interest in not finding out) to assume without asking that two people sleeping together in a B&B are necessarily married. This may nix their claim to weed out the unmarried generally.

  5. Clearly not a win. It seems it is illegal to impose your own morality on other people regardless of whether they are in a marriage or a civil partnership though it is reported the judge asserted that Mrs Wilkinson had “treated them less favourably than she would treat unmarried heterosexual couples in the same circumstances”. How did this happen if Mrs Williamson also turned away unmarried heterosexual customers? Perhaps she didn’t after all.

  6. Can Christian guest-house owners actually manage to construct a water-tight case. As I was discussing with Fiddlesticks, I doubt somehow that a monastery guesthouse is going to be dragged to the courts anytime soon.

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