Friday 21 January 2011

Double Standards in Conscientious Objection ...

The news that Cornish B&B owners have been successfully sued for discriminating against gay guests is likely to reinforce the growing accusations that the right to practise our Christian faith are being eroded or challenged in the UK.
Groups like Christian Concern have highlighted this in speaking out in support of Christians who feel their right to religious freedom been challenged by equality laws designed to uphold the rights of homosexuals.  These include the Relate counsellor who lost his job after refusing to counsel homosexual couples, a registrar who refused to officiate Civil Partnerships and the B&B owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull.
In the words of Christian Concern, such laws have "led to Christians losing their jobs after refusing to compromise their beliefs at work".
Whilst I have every sympathy with those whose faith puts them in situations where they face moral dilemmas, I can't help wonder why some seem to single out homosexuality for this kind of Christian conscientious objection whilst ignoring other moral dilemmas.
There is, of course, a proud history of conscientious objection in this country.   My wife's grandfather was a pacifist and conscientious objector in the second world war, and suffered for it in prison.  His pacifism was rooted in his Christian faith, and he stood up for what he believed.
There are also many Christians who rightly choose not to work directly in areas where they feel that their faith and their job would be in conflict - whether it be in the arms trade, adult entertainment, gambling, or some areas of medical research.
But that is entirely different to the moral dilemmas which face many Christians in ordinary, day to day jobs, and which Christians almost universally accept (sometimes with a heavy heart) as inevitable in a 'free' society.
Examples might include the shop assistant in a newsagent who is faced with a customer buying a 'top shelf' pornographic magazine.  The Roman Catholic pharmacist who is asked to supply contraception.  The taxi driver picking up a customer who asks to be taken to an abortion clinic.  The stock broker or fund manager who is required to buy shares in companies with questionable records in the arms trade, environment, human rights or third world exploitation.  All of these situations could involve a Christian being asked to facilitate something which they might find morally wrong or questionable.
Years ago when I was a motorbike despatch rider in London, I often felt compromised by the company I worked for.  They charged more than anyone else for the letters we delivered, on the basis that each courier would only have one letter on board at any one time.  This was completely untrue of course, and we were often juggling several deliveries  at the same time.  Sometimes, a particularly astute customer would ask for reassurance when I picked up an urgent letter.  "You don't have any other jobs on board, do you?" was the standard question - and it placed me, as a Christian, in a dilemma.   I could lie and keep everyone happy, or tell the truth and lose my job.  In the end I found a way of fudging the issue, and my standard answer when challenged became "That's what you are paying for!"  which was true, even if it wasn't truth-ful.
The point is this.  Christians often end up facing issues of compromise at work.  That is simply the way life is.
Now perhaps we should  be less compromising.  Perhaps we should be more ready to witness to our Christian faith by refusing to do anything that goes against our religious beliefs.  Perhaps we should be campaigning for the right to Christian conscientious objection in every moral area of life - including other areas where Christians don't always agree (like pacifism, contraception, and the stock market).
But at the moment, it appears that almost all the 'conscientious objectors' whose cases are being highlighted by groups like Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre are related to homosexuality.
I don't see campaigns to encourage Christian shop assistants, taxi drivers, pharmacists & stockbrokers to stand up for their faith in the moral dilemmas they face.   All I see are a minority of Christians who want the right to single out homosexuals as the one group worthy of such conscientious objection, because for some strange reason, homosexuality is worse than all the rest.
Unless those same Christian groups encourage a policy of refusal for the full range of situations where faith creates moral dilemmas, it will not be seen as principled action to uphold freedom of religion - just prejudice.

PS.  I found the picture to illustrate this blog on a campaign site called "Stop Gay Marriages".  They descibe their cause in the following way, "without gays the world would be a better place we need to stop all gays marriages. they are absuly wrong and horrible".  Enough said ?


  1. An informative post on a difficult subject.

    I think that the visible prevalence of what many see as discrimination comes from the fact that it's difficult to ignore people. You can ignore abortion, you can ignore contraception, you can ignore injustice. You can pretend these things don't exist if you want to. But it's difficult to ignore two people who want to spend the weekend at a nice hotel with their dog.

    At the end of the day it is indeed double standards.

  2. An excellent and thoughtful post. I am sure I commented on this post yesterday -( could my comments be going in your spam box?)

    I think the Bulls may well have felt they would be "condoning" immorality to allow unmarried or gay couples to share a room. So it might have been about keeping their own integrity unblemished (in their eyes) as much as about judging. (I might be being too generous here, but I have many relatives who would take the same approach.)
    I do feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the Bulls, not their views but their situation now. I wonder if they will close or just change their policy?

  3. Thanks for sharing so many difficult choices that people have to make. You are right in that the subject of same sex relationships seems to create divisions that are difficult to heal. Thank you for being someone who is prepared to think outside the box.

  4. Thank you all.
    Chris - for another perspecitve on double standards
    Sue - for a caring response. I do know what you mean about the situation the Bulls are now in. I did however choose my examples very carefully as all of them ask a Christian to do something which then facilitates something which, in their eyes, is a sin. IE "If I sell you this, if I drive you there, then I am enabling you to sin." I think this is at the heart of the issue for them. It is a difficult situation but by no means unique - and that doesn't even touch the issue of why 2 people in a committed relationship of love should be treated as worse than pornography, destruction of unborn children, etc.
    Freda - many thaks for your encouragement.
    God Bless
    PS Sue - I did check my spam box but there was nothing there.

  5. Hello I came across this blog just now. It does look very interesting and you do make some thought provoking points about double standards. I would just add that with the case of the B&B owners that it is a case of it being their own home. They should surely be allowed to make judgements as to what they allow in their own home. I can understand that: I would not allow my daughter to bring a boyfriend to stay the night in my home. Also, I understand that they would not allow any unmarried couples to share a room, not just homosexuals, so strictly speaking it is not discrimination against homosexuals. I think it's also necessary to see to what extent the person's rights are being violated. There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels which will not make a fuss about who shares a room. Similarly, in the case of the registrar, there is no evidence that any gay couple would be denied the opportunity to have a civil partnership since there are many other registrars happy to undertake th service i.e. the council can easily accommodate both the wishes of the gay couple and the Christian registrar. It is also a factor that when the particular person entered the profession, it was not a requirement that one would conduct CPs. It would be different I think for new entrants who would be aware of the requirements of the job before commencing employment.
    You obviously put a lot of thought and care into your blog. Thank you
    - Peter

  6. Thank you Peter.

    To be honest,I do have some sympthy with the registrars because of exactly the points you raise. In the Church of England for example, clergy are allowed to refuse to marry a couple where one partner is divorced - on the grounds that it goes against their conscience. So I can see the argument for a similar approach with civic registrars.

    In regard to the the B&B case, however, I must still beg to differ. I used to be a vicar in Brixton, and to this day, the first generation Caribbeans remember vividly the signs on lodging houses which read "No dogs, No Blacks". The fact that acommodation was available eslewhere did not negate the discimination they felt. When someone opens their home to offer a service, I do beleive that there should be equality of access.
    I also wonder how scrupulous they were about checking the marriage certificates of married guests. It was just more obvious with a same sex couple (who considered themselves to be married because of their civil partnership, and therefore expected to be welcomed).
    Do come back to me if you want to repsond to anything I have said.
    God Bless

  7. Homosexuality, as you point out, seems to have a unique place in Christian discourse. It is discussed as if it were different from everything else. This struck me especially in a post on another blog, Christian Perspectives on LGBT | onehandclapping, where the writer distinguished four different Christian attitudes to homosexuals. The central point seemed to be how Christians regarded gay people.

    There are other moral questions on which Christians hold widely differing opinions – war, for example.

    There people ask "What is your attitude towards war?" or "What are the different Christian attitudes towards war?" and not "What are the different Christian attitudes towards soldiers?"

    Are there debates about whether the church accepts soldiers? No; the debate is not couched in terms of how you accept the people so much as what you think of the behaviour.

    Why the difference?

  8. Thank you for the comment Steve - sorry for the delay in it appearing - for some reason Blogger thought it was spam!

    I was making the same point at a speaking engagement today. Why the difference indeed?

  9. hello benny just wanted to say im proud of your
    work and support it fully,i know we didnt see
    eye to eye when you were in brixton but i quess
    i didnt give you a chance,hpe mel and kids ok and you are happy,was reading your account of mels
    accident it was hard to believe it happened and glad things were ok,give her my regards,take care
    jerry(was cafe manager)

  10. Hi Jerry
    Thank you for kind words and encouragement - I do appreciate it.
    Mel sends her love and says to look her up on Facebook!
    How are you? If you wanted to contact me direct to let me know, you can do so at
    God Bless

  11. im ok getting by still with steve we celebrate 24 years together this week and alls good,esther who worked a in cafe died just after xmas which was sad.ive really grown close to god in last few years a person who i can confide with no judgement who always seems to inspire me to appreciate what i have,i love listening to premier radio and draw alot from it thanks for link and will def look up mel take care jerry.keep up good work

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