Friday, 12 January 2007

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Thought for the Day, 12 January 2007

The Rev. Dr Giles Fraser

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.

As a Christian I'm protected by the law against discrimination - and I'm grateful for it. No one can legally deny me access to goods and services because of my faith. No one is allowed to put a sign up in their hotel window that reads 'No Christians' - or 'No Muslims' for that matter. Discrimination on the grounds of race and gender is equally outlawed. All of which is an unambiguously good thing. As indeed, I believe, is the extension of these provisions to include sexual orientation. For no one should be allowed to display a sign that reads 'no gays' either.

Some Christians, however, are strongly resisting this legislation. They argue that being obliged to provide goods and services to gay couples makes them complicit in what they regard as sin, and that this complicity compromises their deeply held religious convictions.

For some, however, these so-called 'religious convictions' are little more than a mask for prejudice. Why, they argue, aren't these same Christian hoteliers up in arms at a legal obligation to provide hotel rooms for unmarried couples? After all, conservative Christians believe sex outside marriage to be equally a sin, yet they haven't been protesting about this. Indeed, many of them may well believe gluttony is a sin, but they haven't been campaigning for Christian waiters to have the right to refuse fat people extra chips on moral grounds.

No, there is real inconsistency in the way some Christians apply the argument from complicity. Moreover, this inconsistency is indicative that they are treating homosexuality as a special case. In other words, this inconsistency is a tell-tale mark of prejudice.

And the sad truth is, there'd be little need for this sort of legislation if there wasn't so much prejudice about - both in the church and elsewhere. Indeed, it's worth saying that discrimination doesn't only shelter behind religious belief. There's prejudice outside the churches and mosques too. For the idea that this is an argument between Christian prejudice and secular enlightenment is a lazy media distortion that likes its arguments simple and binary.

Within the church there is real debate and much disagreement. Many Christians don't think homosexuality is a sin in the first place. In fact, I believe it a God-given gift - sure, it's a gift that can be abused like any other - but often it's a channel of grace, a means by which some human beings show love and commitment and hospitality, just like anybody else.

There's a hymn we often sing in church that goes like this:

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind
But we make his love too narrow with false limits of our own
And we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.

Further reading:
* Faith groups are misrepresenting sexual equality rules, say critics, Ekklesia.
* Anti-gay rights activists do not represent most religious opinion, say critics, Ekklesia.

Previous Posts:
* Christians: "Get Over It and Get On With It"
* Further "Christian" Attacks
* Sexual Orientation Regulations - The Demo
* Anti-Freedom Demo Today Outside Parliament
* Sexual Orientation Regulations, Letter To Ruth Kelly
* Sexual Orientation Regulations, The Saga Continues
* Anti-Gay Christians Strike Again - Part 2
* Anti-Gay Christians Strike Again

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