Martin Parsons has written a series of articles for ConservativeHome, arguing that the right of Christians to express their belief has been circumscribed by thirteen years of socialist government. It’s not my intention to argue with this proposal, since it’s self-evidently true, and I am always and everywhere an opponent of thoughtcrime.
I want, instead, to propose a supplementary notion, which, given the tenor of the comments which Dr Parsons’ articles have received from some readers of this website, may come as something of a surprise. It is simply this: gay people and Christians are not political enemies. To suggest that we need a Tory politics where one group is played off against another (indeed, to act as though the groups are mutually exclusive) is not only illogical (since homosexuality and Christianity are not, of course, mutually exclusive characteristics; nor in any important sense does either sexual or religious orientation determine voting behaviour). It’s worse than that. For Christians to squabble (to the point of schism) about something as statistically inconsequential and culturally harmless as homosexuality is self-defeating. Exactly the same is true for those gay people who spend their energy attacking the Church of England (I’ve never met such a gay person, I have to say, no more than I’ve met a Christian who couldn’t see the point of our common humanity). We are not one another’s enemies. We are, in fact, allies. Allies in the fight for reason.
Most of the threads on this website about homosexuality and/or religion - which make up by far the most popular posts, by the way - boil down to:
Homosexuality is not about sex. It is a natural, harmless way a small minority of people express love.
(Adrian, in a comment to Martin’s last article)
[It does if] homosexuality is immoral.
(High-Tory-Shane, same article)
I agree with Adrian, and disagree with Shane, of course, but that’s not my point. You're no more going to stop being a Christian, because of my existence, than I’m going to wake up and find that everything I know about my small, quiet and well-intentioned life is an irregularity or a disordered wound, because of something the Pope thinks. (I wrote about this once, and though I meant what I wrote more strongly than anything I've produced since, it won’t have changed a single mind).
So I don’t really get the ‘logic’ of this as an either/or. With apologies to Martin for summing up his sequence of articles into a couple of sentences, we won’t get anywhere if we insist on anything other than absolute equality of public esteem for one another. You don’t get a more Christian Britain if I have to pad apologetically around a registry office, hoping to catch the eye of a registrar willing to grant me my legal right to civil partnership without resigning and writing in the tabloid press about how my shocking demand has infringed her Christian freedom of conscience. And if that’s not what you want, Martin, I note that you didn’t spell out exactly what sanction should have been taken to prevent the Islington registrar - and others like her - inflicting their view of morality on the taxpayers (we do pay taxes, you know, just as much as heterosexual people) who want access to the services they provide.
I need to be more blunt (as ever). I’m sorry Martin, but I’m saying that in cases such as the ones you mention, the Christian has no option but to assimilate the discomfort she feels, and to get on with her job. Either that, or find alternative employment. Just as I have to, in countless similar/through-the-looking-glass circumstances. I went to the wedding of a close friend, someone I’ve loved for decades. Her minister was a bit brimstone-ish and lectured his congregation on sexual morality, as he saw it. This was his right - his duty, of course - and I’d have no more stood up and said -Actually, sir, I profoundly disagree with you than I’d have turned up at the wedding in a teeshirt and jeans. I assimilated my discomfort and enjoyed the beautiful day and its central celebration of love and commitment. Freedom of conscience entails some sort of freedom to be offended, I think. (Here, I’m sure, Martin and I agree, along with nearly everyone who reads this website).
Freedom of conscience, and its suppression, after all, are not issues only for Christians. I don’t want to feel that I can’t criticise those aspects of Islamic religious doctrine which are inimical to my way of life, because I might be breaking a law. And Labour’s solution - that we can all have our own little bit of thoughtcrime law, and prosecute one another, in an endless spiral of farce - doesn’t help me either. It didn’t comfort me for Sacranie to be investigated by the police for airing his (to me) repugnant views on homosexuality - but it would comfort me - it would give me succour - if every time a religious leader like Qaradawi is feted by socialists like Livingstone (Qaradawi is the guy who'd prefer it if I were put to death) that our national church be at the forefront of pointing out that such fawning over evil has no reputable role in civilised Britain. Else, what is the point of a national church?
If a newspaper feels that it cannot publish a silly cartoon, because people have been killed in various parts of the world because of the cartoon - I want to be shoulder to shoulder with Christians, saying that we demand to live in a country where authors aren’t persecuted, either for their cartoons, or their literary novels, or their theatre plays about domestic violence. Halal meat should not be forced onto schoolchildren in London boroughs: what does the Church of England think? And so on.
These are ‘conscience’ issues where I think most gay people and Christians, because of our common cultural inheritance, should be on the same side of the argument. But such issues are dwarfed, surely, by the most important problem in Britain today: the near-complete breakdown of what we’d all regard as normal family life in parts of our inner cities, and its replacement with big-state-subsidised failure, leading to cohorts of fatherless children, generations of worklessness, and the consequent collapse of civil civic society. If you’re reading this in a nice place like Sussex you might think I’m exaggerating. If you’re reading it in Hackney, then you should know that I’m not. And if you imagine for one minute that gay people are part of this problem - that our tiny numerical quantity is somehow disproportionately causing all that family breakdown - well, then, you ascribe us greater powers than I think we possess.
In what sense are gay people and Christians on opposite sides of any argument about the need to provide a bulwark of protection for married couples, to help them raise their children together, to give them better access to better schools, and to re-capitalise the poor in order that they can take control of their streets back from their borough council masters? I can’t think of anything more important in Britain today than that these matters are tackled. I can’t think of a single reason why the adjectives ‘gay’ or ‘Christian’ - other than that the policies required involve love, second chances, and the central importance of the family - need be deployed to describe the correct, Tory response to the state that we are in. Let’s stop fighting each other, now, please, and get on with mending Britain.