The evangelical Faithworks movement, which has thousands of supporters and runs a large number of service projects, has welcomed the publication of the UK government’s draft Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) – which some other groups are describing as ‘anti-Christian’.
Faithworks (www.faithworks.info) says that SORs are a valid attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways, and that it is “confident that they do not pose a threat to Christians”.
In its latest comment on the issue, the movement says: “We stand by the statements we have previously made on the SORs. It is right that any organisation receiving public funds should deliver services to genuine public benefit.”
It goes on: “A commitment to diversity does not mean losing one’s distinctive faith identity: it actually presents an opportunity to develop a dialogue and demonstrate Christian love and service.”
Welcoming the publication of the regulations on 7 March, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, known as a staunch Catholic, said: "I am proud to bring forward practical new protections for lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people. The overwhelming majority of people in our country want a society where every citizen is treated fairly and with respect."
The regulations mean that it will be illegal to refuse a double room to a gay couple, or admission to a school based of a parent's sexuality. But it also means that public bars and clubs will have to let straight people in, as it will be illegal to discriminate against anyone due to their sexuality.
Faithworks says: “There is still a great deal of misinterpretation of the SORs, which is leading to fear and opposition. However, the draft legislation includes clear exemptions for faith-based organisations relating to doctrine, and government ministers have also publicly answered questions of concern over the scope of the proposed SORs.”
Christian organizations like the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF) are continuing to mount a strong campaign against the rules. And the Catholic bishops in Scotland are also vehement in their opposition.
But those within the churches who support equality for lesbian and gay people as a Christian principle argue that the ethos and approach of these campaigns is wrong.
In February 2007 Malcolm Duncan of Faithworks spoke at a major London conference on ‘Faith, homophobia and human rights’, making it clear that his support for SORs was based on biblical faith, and stressing that they posed no threat to the network’s many service projects.
Other Christian speakers and workshop leaders at the gathering included Giles Fraser, an Anglican vicar and philosophy lecturer, who said that it was “nonsense” to situate orthodox Christianity as anti-gay, and Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow of the UK religious think-tank Ekklesia.
On Sunday 11 March the Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, speaking to the BBC, renewed his accusations that the Labour Party was going back on Christian principles by supporting equality for gay people in adoption services – which the Catholic Church in Scotland, England and Wales has threatened to pull out of if the SORs become law.
The Anglican bishop of Durham also suggested at the end of January that New Labour was annunciating a ‘new morality’ opposed to church teaching. But the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby, voted for equalities regulations in the House of Lords. The Church Times newspaper also questioned the anti-campaign in an editorial.
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow commented: “It is surely the Gospel, not the government, which promotes ‘a new morality’ – namely, that the last shall be first, outsiders welcomed in, and those declared unclean by religious rules given God’s blessing. This was the impact of Jesus’ radical interpretation of traditional teaching in his day. But it can take the institutional churches some time to catch up with these things.”
He added: “Faithworks’ courageous stand for the SORs is an invitation for others in the evangelical community, and Catholics who share similar concerns, to re-consider their views and the manner in which they are advancing them. It also demonstrates that support for comprehensive equalities is not just something backed by so-called liberal Christians and by secular advocates, but can commend a broad support across society and within the churches.”
Meanwhile, Faithworks statement seeks to build a bridge across current arguments within the churches. It says: “We acknowledge the different contributions and views of the whole Christian church to the issue of human sexuality. The Faithworks membership is drawn from across the spectrum of the church.”
It goes on: “Our approach to the SORs and to Equality & Diversity legislation allows for [different] Christian views of sexuality whilst encouraging unconditional love and service. This is the Jesus model: defending a person’s human rights does not involve endorsing their lifestyle choices.”
Faithworks says: “We would continue to encourage all parties to show grace and respect in their tone as these issues are discussed. … The proposed SORs are an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. We must be careful not to become shrill in our discourse or fall into the trap of playing to people fears and anxieties concerning diversity.”
Talking of the need to be “speaking graciously on this issue and be committed to a credible, relevant and biblically authentic expression of our faith” the 9 March statement adds: “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. The reality is that thousands of Christians, churches and other faith-based organisations across the country are engaging compassionately and inclusively in their communities day-in, day-out.”
Faithworks says it is looking forward to helping Christians to understand how they can work within this new legislation, once it is implemented, and that it is “already working on practical guides and support for our members to ensure they are helped to maintain their Christian identity whilst serving unconditionally.”
Also welcoming the publication of the SORs, Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, declared: “[C]hurches have not prevailed upon the government to allow Catholic adoption agencies to continue to receive public funds while continuing to discriminate. We hope that, in the interests of opening their children to a wider number of prospective parents, the agency will consider changing its stance rather than closing.”
He added: “To allow single gay adopters but not ones in partnerships does not strike most people as being either consistent or in the children’s best interests.”