Rev Malcolm Duncan: The Sexual Orientation Regulations - An Alternative Christian Perspective

|PIC1|For all those Christians and churches who are planning to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), to be discussed in the House of Lords today, we want to voice concerns about this kind of virulent and aggressive approach:

1. There is misunderstanding of the SORs and their application
We are concerned that there is widespread misunderstanding of the SORs. They apply to the delivery of goods, facilities and services, but some Christians have misinterpreted the word 'services' to include religious ceremonies and rites such as baptism and blessing of same-sex unions, when this is clearly not the case. Churches will not be forced to 'marry' gay people. Likewise, youth groups and schools will not be prosecuted for not promoting a homosexual lifestyle.

We welcome the SORS as an attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways. It is right that any organisation receiving public funding should deliver services to genuine public benefit.

The delivery of goods and services can relate to situations such as hiring out of rooms, something many churches have voiced their concerns over. A commitment to diversity through doing this does not mean losing your faith identity: it actually presents an opportunity to develop a dialogue and put the Gospel into action through demonstrating love and service.

Government ministers have publicly answered questions of concern over the scope of the proposed legislation, and this information is freely available on Hansard, the record of proceedings in Parliament. The Government also made it clear in the consultation period that it would listen to the voices of religious groups. The Northern Ireland regulations already contain exceptions for religious organisations.

It is also important to remember that the measures contained in the SORs will not replace existing legislation on discrimination. Thus the protection from discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief that Christians currently enjoy will continue.

2. Double standards
Many Christians are very clear in their stance on the SORs as they relate to homosexuals. However, they have not articulated themselves so clearly when it comes to heterosexual relationships outside of marriage, which is something on which the Bible also contains clear teaching. Many opponents of the SORs have stated concerns that a Christian hotel owner would be forced to let out rooms to gay couples, but would they be as vociferous about letting out a room to an unmarried heterosexual couple? Why this inconsistency? It brings the Church into grave danger of sounding homophobic.

3. The SORs work both ways
The SORs do not refer exclusively to discrimination against homosexuals but to discrimination against people on the grounds of any sexuality. Just as a heterosexual could not discriminate against a gay person, neither could a gay person discriminate against a heterosexual person on grounds of their sexuality.

4. This legislation is an opportunity to demonstrate grace, inclusiveness and love
Christians are called to follow Jesus' example, and he says remarkably little about sexuality in scripture. Rather, he treats all people he comes across with love and acceptance, and does not refuse his service to anyone, even if he does not agree with their lifestyle. Would it really be 'Christian' to refuse bereavement counselling to a gay man, or to exclude a gay person and their child from a parent-and-toddler group? We believe that Christian community organisations, and those of other faiths, can maintain their distinctive faith identities while still serving the needs of their whole communities. We do not interpret the new Sexual Orientation Regulations as a threat to that.

The Faithworks Movement is committed to inclusion and transformation. Thousands of members up and down the UK are working to build a better world by delivering services to their communities on this inclusive and non-discriminatory basis. The reality is that on a daily basis millions of Christians across the UK engage holistically, compassionately and inclusively with people in their communities.

The proposed SORs are an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. However, vociferous opposition, a lack of constructive dialogue, and threats of civil disobedience mean that the Church is in danger of sounding homophobic and is doing little to give itself a credible voice.

Rev Malcolm Duncan
Leader of the Faithworks Movement