Mixed Christian response over incitement to hatred against gays

By staff writers
October 10, 2007

Plans to make inciting hatred against gay people a crime have received a mixed response from church groups.

The plans were announced this week by Justice Secretary Jack Straw. The law would cover gay, lesbian and bisexual people and may be extended to cover disabled and transgender people.

Mr Straw said it was time for the law to recognise society was "appalled by hatred and invective" directed at people because of their sexuality.

He told MPs the changes would be made as amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.

He said: "It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the last 10 years that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality.

"It is time for the law to recognise this."

The proposal is likely to run into opposition in the House of Lords. Some Evangelical Christian groups have argued that Christians who criticised gay sex could be jailed for up to seven years and warned it would be used to censor the expression of religious beliefs.

But a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The new law would not prohibit criticism of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but it would protect them from incitement to hatred against them because of their sexual orientation."

Some Evangelicals and many other Christians have welcomed the new proposed laws.

The Rev Benny Hazlehurst, from Accepting Evangelicals told Ekklesia: "Inciting hatred is a non-negotiable issue - it goes against everything that Jesus taught and lived. All Christians should support those who work to oppose the spreading and encouragement of hatred. Given the poor track record of convictions for inciting racial hatred, I think that the greater risk is of the new law being too vague, rather than it being used to censor those who genuinely have differing views, but who want to speak the truth in love."

Malcom Duncan from Faithworks told Ekklesia that the protections that Christians have enjoyed should be extended to others.

"At the heart of Christian faith is a commitment to the dignity of all people, who are made in the image of God. One of the ways in which respect for others is demonstrated is by affording them equal rights and protection" he said.

"Christians have received protection that means it is unlawful for us to be subjected to hatred because of our faith. It is not a crime for people to disagree with us or question our beliefs. It is a crime, however for them to be aggressive, threatening or menacing in their pronouncements about us. The same protection must be afforded to those who are gay.

"Our understanding of this legislation is not that it would prevent Christians from voicing their beliefs on issues of homosexuality - but it would demand that those convictions are voiced clearly, consistently and fairly, and without a violent or vehement tone. Resentment, bigotry and hatred have never had anything to do with the authentic expression of the Christian faith. The UK enjoys freedom of speech - and this is not diminished by the proposed legislation.

"We need to recognise that there is a wide spread of views on the issue of homosexuality within the Christian church. ‘Proclamation' is an important part of Christian faith. That said, the church must learn to express the Good News of Christ in words that demonstrate the love and grace of God and His offer of love to all. Acceptance of a person does not equate with endorsement of their lifestyle. We are called to express what we stand for, not just what we stand against."

Richard Kirker from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said: "Hate crimes are particularly heinous as victims are solely and deliberately chosen because of their race, religion, gender, ability, or sexuality.

"Religious groups in the united Kingdom have a particular moral and ethical duty of care in this area. This is because they alone have been given a privileged status partially exempting them from a duty which all other sections of society are expected to live by of not discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation. Needless to say there are many faith groups, LGCM being one, that find this exemption wholly unacceptable and totally repugnant.

"At their best communities of faith offer lgbt people the best of welcomes, friendship, and pastoral care – at their all too common worst their discriminatory attitudes risk whipping up the very hatred that inspires such crimes. We welcome the government’s proposals to make incitement of hatred against lesbian and gay people a crime and we hope they will resist any attempt to permit fundamentalist religious lobby any ‘get-out’ clause."

Earlier attempts to extend race-hate laws to cover religion proved controversial, as critics said they went too far and threatened freedom of speech.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.