Christians must stand against discrimination

By Giles Fraser
15 Jan 2007

As a Christian in the UK 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.

After the noisy protest outside the House of Lords against the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) it is easy to be left with the misleading impression that all Christians oppose them. Not a bit of it. As the editorial in this week's Church Times, effectively the Church of England's trade paper, rightly complains, the "broad support for the Equality Act from the Church of England and the Board of Deputies of British Jews has been drowned out by a small group of conservative Christians".

It goes on to point out that "mainstream Churches do not share the views of the protesters, and the majority of Christians will have no truck with discrimination on grounds of this kind". And thank God for that.

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Part of his article is from a Radio 4 Thought for the Day delivered on 11 January 2006. Reproduced with grateful acknowledgments to the author and the BBC.

Giles Fraser vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham college Oxford. He writes for the Guardian newspaper

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