Equalities 'historic opportunity' for evangelicals

London, UK - FRI NOV 9, 2007 The think-tank Ekklesia, which examines religion in public life, says that the controversial appointment of the head of the Evangelical Alliance UK to the new Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is "a historic opportunity for evangelicals to shift toward full acceptance of the equalities agenda."

The appointment of the Rev Joel Edwards as a EHRC commissioner is provoking intense debate because the organisation he heads up has previously been against the Sexual Orientation Regulations and full legal equality for lesbian and gay people in all aspects of public life.

"The appointment of Joel Edwards necessarily depends upon his acceptance that, whatever the moral and theological debate within sections of the church, the full practical and legal equality of everyone should be upheld in national life, irrespective of sexual orientation," said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

"If that is the case, it marks the possibility of a significant shift in the thinking and practice of a significant constituency which has been reluctant or unwilling to sign up to the full equalities agenda", declares Ekklesia - which has argued vigorously that full acceptance and inclusion of lesbian and gay persons ought to be a Christian as well as a public duty.

The think-tank says its analysis shows that, underneath the very public rows about sexuality within the Anglican Communion and elsewhere, there are already signs of such a shift. It points to the fact that Faithworks, a prominent evangelical Christian service agency with thousands of supporters across the UK, publicly supported the Sexual Orientation Regulations - even as many other evangelicals opposed them.

Ekklesia also points to the growth of Accepting Evangelicals, affirming the full dignity and rights of gay people within the church and society as a whole, and the work of Courage Trust - a former 'ex-gay' ministry which is now pro-gay.

"Evangelicals who recognise that equality ought to be a key part of the Christian message have been slowly coming out of the closet, and even the Evangelical Alliance's sceptical opinions on this issue have been expressed much more temperately of late," said Ekklesia's Jonathan Bartley.

"We fully understand the concern that EHRC should not make appointments that undermine the full equalities agenda from within, but we know Joel, and though we disagree with him on a number of issues we believe him to be a person of integrity who will respect the new obligations he has been given and encourage recognition of them in the section of the church where he has great influence" said Jonathan Bartley.

However, Ekklesia has expressed concern that if a dialogue with 'religion and belief' is to be an element of the new Commission on Equality and Human Rights, this should be conducted fairly. "In particular the commitments of humanists and the principles of others who do not subscribe to religious views, a significant proportion of the population, should be represented and acknowledged too. The aim should be to develop a broad consensus on comprehensive equal rights."

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Ekklesia is a leading think-tank, founded in 2002, which promotes transformative theological ideas in public life.

2. It was listed among 20 leading think-tanks in Britain in 2005, by the Independent newspaper. It has been profiled by London's Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph.

3. Ekklesia is independent of all church denominations, and operates on a self-financing, not-for-profit basis. It has one of most visited religious websites in the UK, and raised over £250,000 last year for peace, justice and development work.

Simon Barrow
Co-director
simonDOTbarrowATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk

Jonathan Bartley
jonathanDOTbartleyATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk

News release distributed by Ekklesia, which examines the role of religion in public life. Ekklesia is a limited company no. 5831226.