Gays and Christians in the media

Last week brought another high-profile “Gays v. Christians” story. A court in Bristol ruled against Christian guest house owners who had denied a room to a gay couple. The coverage reinforced the notion that “Christians” and “gays” are two mutually exclusive groups that are implacably opposed to each other.

The reality, of course, is quite different. There are many LGBT Christians. And there are many straight Christians who do not object to homosexuality.

I doubt that the guest house owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, are the hate-filled bigots that they have been portrayed as in parts of the LGBT blogosphere. I am delighted that attitudes to homosexuality have changed so much in Britain in the last ten or fifteen years. But it would be both unrealistic and unfair to expect everyone to find these changes easy. Most of us are far more attached to our own preconceptions and prejudices than we would like to believe.

While I strongly disagree with the Bulls’ views on sexuality, I defend their right to hold those views. But they have no right to practise discrimination in the provision of goods and services. I disagree with the Bulls not only about sexuality but also about the role of Christianity in Britain and even about the nature of commercial services such as guest houses.

Hazelmary Bull’s claim that “Christianity is being marginalised in Britain” is demonstrably untrue. If the gay couple she rejected, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, were to take the unlikely step of setting up their own guest house, they would be unable to legally put a sign on the door declaring “No Christians”.

Oddly, the Bulls’ supporters seem to think that they should be allowed to. Their main argument is that the guest house involved is also the Bulls’ own home. Demonstrators outside the court held placards declaring “It’s their home”.

This is the most invalid argument of all. If it were applied consistently, racist providers of bed-and-breakfast would also be allowed to refuse rooms to mixed-race couples. The Bulls’ supporters may leap up and say that race is not the same as sexuality. But that is an argument about which matters should be covered by equality laws. It does not make the “own home” argument any more valid.

The Bulls also refuse rooms to unmarried heterosexual couples. This seems to be just about legal. To me, this is appalling. This is not to say that I condone every relationship or sexual activity – I certainly don’t. It is a good thing if views on sexual ethics are debated and I believe that Christians should speak up for sexual ethics rooted in the values of Jesus. But the law should not allow the providers of goods and services to demand that their customers share their views.

In most cases, the providers are vastly more powerful than their customers. This is not of course true in the case of the owners of small guest houses such as the Bulls. The really powerful providers of accommodation are the owners of large hotel chains, too embroiled in the worship of mammon to worry about their customers’ sexual ethics. This is no reason not to uphold freedom from discrimination in commercial services.

Despite these points, much of the media have not moved on far from the “Gays v. Christians” language. I have to admit that inclusive Christians have to bear a sizeable portion of the responsibility for this attitude. All too often, we have failed to speak up clearly in favour of the radical inclusivity of Christ.

We need to promote this message more forcefully and more effectively. We should do this not only to tackle unfair media coverage, but because it is a message that is crucial to the revolutionary values at the heart of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to proclaim.

————

I’m blogging here on my plans for a pilgrimage of repentance for former homophobia, as well as my thoughts on related issues of sexuality and religion.  I blog on a wider range of issues in the news at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/blog/45

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5 comments so far

  1. Lucy on

    At a talk during my university’s LGBT week entitled ‘Faith and Sexuality’, somebody said “The only thing more lonely than being gay amongst Christians is being a Christian amongst gays.”

    One of my housemates (who is both gay and Christian, and struggles with it constantly) said that for her, they couldn’t have put it better.

    Both communities have responsibility there.

    Are you aware, by the way, of the <a href="http://ufmcc.com/overview/"MCC? If not I think you ought to be!

  2. Lucy on

    (Aaargh, would you kindly sort out that HTML for me please?!)

  3. Stephen W on

    “But the law should not allow the providers of goods and services to demand that their customers share their views”

    Why the hell not? It’s a private service?

    And the question is not just whether it is right that those who provide a private, commercial service should have discretion about who they provide it to. It is whether this minor and totally insignificant moral stand is a suitably great evil to justify criminalising these harmless people, dragging them through the courts, fining them, and quite possibly ruining their business and a significant portion of their lives over this occurence.

    Considering the almost non-existent harm actually done I can’t see how anyone can consider this a proportionate or reasonable response. As your banner says, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law”

  4. Symon on

    Thanks for commenting, Stephen. With regards to your point about it being a “private service”, I think I answered that in my original post. It’s a privately owned service, but it’s a service to the public. The fact that something is privately owned does not mean that the law should have no say in it, otherwise (for example) there would be no freedom from discrimination on grounds of race, gender, etc.

    On your other point, I’m not sure why you consider it is “harmless” to deny a service to people because of their sexuality. However, I’m sure the Bulls did not intend to cause harm. In some ways, I think it’s disappointing that this issue went as far as a court case. There are often much better ways of resolving disputes, but court cases are sometimes necessary.

    I am not advocating hatred or intolerance of the Bulls or anyone else. I think there are people causing far more harm than the Bulls. But this does not mean that discrimination should not be resisted.

  5. Stephen W on

    You state that it is appalling that the Bulls should not want to give a room to unmarried couples. I just don’t see how you can maintain this. It would be grossly wrong for people to just park their morality when they go to work, or run their business. As Christians we must believe moral conduct is always right, regardless of the circumstances we are in. If that is what they sincerely believe then they are surely obligated to try to live out those moral values. I don’t see how black and white separation between moral values and the workplace you seem to be advocating could possibly work.

    And to say its a privately owned public service is a bit silly. The law offers no opportunity to give a ‘private service’ in that sense. But this is something that only applies since the law was changed to mean one no longer has the option of delivering a ‘private’ service in that sense. One either offers a public service or no service at all. If there was an option to offer a public service, private service or no service at all that would be a different matter.

    I consider it harmless because it evidently is largely harmless. It will neither cause permanent or even temporary harm or damage to the people involved. It is at worst quite annoying, but I do not believe the law can or should offer protection from being annoyed by people, even on grounds of race or sexuality. Whereas what the Bulls have been dragged through seems far more harmful to them, their reputation, their business and their bank balance. I can’t see how the two sets of ‘harm’ are even vaguely equivalent. This seems much worse than an eye for an eye, let alone the forgiveness Jesus suggested.

    I should say that I am not blanket opposed to equal rights legislation, but I do think it’s a very blunt tool. It may be necessary when there’s a real risk that a social group is being or will be excluded from accessing society on an arbitrary basis. See race equality laws in the USA or even UK in the 1960’s. Or disability access legislation today. We have reached the state with homosexuality though that gays are just not going to be overwhelmingly excluded from society. There’s no chance that those involved would not have been able to find alternative accommodation quite easily after the Bulls said no. Which means there doesn’t seem to be much point prosecuting them.

    In this case I don’t see what is gained by prosecuting the Bulls except to ‘punish’ them. It does nothing to secure gay rights in society or the acceptance of homosexuals. It’s just a majority using their power to crush a few, powerless people who do not believe as they do. I don’t see anything noble about it.

    Discrimination should definitely be resisted. Resist it by campaigning against it. Organise a boycott. Write bad reviews about the hotel because of its no-gay couples stance. Complain in the local papers. Stand outside with a sign. Write a blog. In fact do anything, and I would be entirely happy to join you. I also think their stance is wrong and unChristian. But I just don’t think the legal response we have seen and do see in cases such as this is necessary or proportionate.


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