This debate on homosexuality is so polarised and politicised that there is diminished space for reason. It's largely a dialogue of the deaf. There is hardly any genuine desire for dialogue. It's easier to attack, accuse, malign, distort and rock back on old prejudices and stereotypes.
For those who are still capable of thinking rationally on this issue, perhaps a few points can be made. The first prerequisite for any dialogue is understanding the various points of view. There are some gay people who can't understand why Shirley Richards and Wayne West are constantly talking about the threats of the gay lobby. They see their talk as sheer hysteria-mongering. These persons ask how are gay people any threat to as Christians.
One online writer responded to my piece last week by saying: "While the Bible categorically condemns homosexuality (with many other things), their simple position on the matter should be: Christians are separate from the world, therefore they have no authority to set standards for the world outside the Christian congregation. Just as they benefit from laws set by Government to allow them freedom of worship, they should not interfere with whatever law the Government may grant to others with whom they are scripturally displeased. Their only concern should be to make sure those they accept as members of their churches are not people practising things the Bible condemns (homosexuality being one of them)."
Well, that's the first major misunderstanding. Once the State passes non-discrimination laws, religious institutions can't exempt themselves. There is increasing rejection of any religious exceptionalism. There was, indeed, an earlier period when the US courts, for example, were sympathetic to religious exceptionalism, but that has been coming under increasing pressure. President Obama just signed an executive order last month prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in federal hiring that might have implications for religious institutions.
LIVE AND LET LIVE
This 'live-and-let-live' view that some moderates hold might not apply if some gay-rights activists have their way. There are some who hold that just as religious organisations should not be accorded the right to discriminate on race, they shouldn't have the right to discriminate on sexual orientation.
So just as how it would be abominable for any church to openly declare it would never appoint a black man as a minister or a bishop, so some believe the Church should not have the right to declare that it won't hire an openly gay minister or bishop. When gay rights are framed as human rights, and when discrimination against gays is equated with discrimination against black people, it's hard to maintain any religious exceptionalism.
So my online respondent's view that Christians should just concern themselves with setting standards for their members is naïve.
If some gays have their way with legislation, Christians won't be able to live their lives based on their understanding of Scripture. This is not outrage-mongering. And it is a fact that on many university campuses (of all places) in North America, hate-speech codes are so restrictive that even mild criticism of homosexuality is banned. In Scandinavia, political correctness vis-á-vis homosexuality has reached absurd proportions, and in Britain, there have been scandalous violations of people's free-speech rights as well as their right to practise their religious convictions. Shirley Richards and Wayne West have not been manufacturing these cases.
If you think conservative Christians who fear the squelching of their rights are just fearmongers, note the British House of Lords and House of Commons Human Rights report a few years ago titled Legislative Scrutiny: Sexual Orientation Regulations. It says explicitly that for even private religious schools: "We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of sexual orientation regulations." It is saying schools should not be free to teach homosexuality is a sin or is abnormal.
"In our view, the regulations prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination should clearly apply to the curriculum, so homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching as part of the religious education or other curriculum that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong." Now if this is not an attack on freedom of religion, I don't know what is.
If conservative Christians are not free to teach in their own schools their views on homosexuality - however misguided or wrong-headed the State might think - their free speech is severely compromised.
MINDFUL OF OTHERS
If I were a gay man, I would not, as a free-speech libertarian, care one heck if people want to teach in schools, churches, media and on the streets that my behaviour is abominable and worthy of a lifetime in hellfire. If people want to take out ads and run public campaigns against my lifestyle, I might deplore it, but as someone committed to liberal democracy, I would do nothing to impair the right of those persons.
Yes, it's stigmatisation, but so what? A liberal democracy has to tolerate such messiness. This desire to sanitise everything is what leads to autocracy.
I believe that too many people on both sides of this propaganda war - gays and Christians - are deeply hostile to liberal democratic values. There are Christians who want to impose their religious dogmas on the whole society, adapting a Christian Shari'a. Left to them, they would ban Sunday racing, carnival, casino gambling and all forms of gambling, drinking and they would close down all exotic clubs. They don't hold that Christians are exiles. Rather they are theonomists who feel Christians must impose the Kingdom on the heathens now. I believe in a pluralistic democracy; people have a right to resist this.
We need a new, fresh discourse on this Christian-gay debate. It's time for rational voices like those of gay-rights advocate Brian-Paul Welsh to emerge. I have corresponded with him and I have found him to be eminently reasonable, charitable, conciliatory, gracious and humble. The arrogance of so many gay people repels me. It's one thing to have contempt for religion and for "silly, Stone Age religious dogmas", as the enlightened gaytheists would put it.
I am not offended if you think I hold preposterous ideas. I can understand if you have contempt for my ideas. But you should not have contempt for me because I am brainwashed.
There is an excellent article on the Christianity Today website (July 16, 2014) titled 'Religious Freedom vs LGBT rights? It's more complicated'. The author calls for a reframing of this dialogue. He tells Christians that, increasingly, people are abandoning the idea of religious exceptionalism. They are also having less regard for religious liberty. They don't see why Christians should have the right to discriminate against women and gays in religious appointments and they don't be believe Christians should be exempt from discrimination laws.
As Christian intellectuals, we have to fight our battles on the ground of pluralism, not religious exceptionalism. "The pluralist argument is not clothed in the language of religious liberty, but extends to religious groups and institutions ... - the idea that in a society that lacks a shared vision of a deeply held common good, we can and must live with deep difference among groups and their beliefs, values and identities."
He goes on to say: "More pointed, every one of us holds beliefs that others find morally reprehensible. Pluralism rests on three interrelated aspirations: Tolerance, humility and patience. Tolerance means a willingness to accept genuine difference, including profound moral difference." Tolerance permits differences to coexist.
Significantly, he says, "Pluralism does not impose the fiction of assuming that all ideas are equally valid or morally benign. It does mean respecting people and allowing for the right to differ among serious matters." And I end by reminding both the Christian and gay-rights Taliban that "patience reminds us that the best means to a better end is through persuasion and dialogue, not coercion and bullying".
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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