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Westminster 2010: Protecting freedom of conscience – but whose conscience? April 14, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Theological Reflection.
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My thanks to Eddie Olliffe for his post yesterday drawing attention to Westminster 2010, supposedly a ‘Declaration of Christian Conscience’ drawn up with what appear to be the entirely laudable aims of “protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience”. Bravo indeed, good things, worthy of protection, and issuing a loud call to

all parliamentary candidates to pledge that they will ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.

But what exactly is “Christian conscience”? As I commented on Eddie’s post, I have no problem whatsoever with the ideas of protecting human life and protecting freedom of conscience … but I’m wary of the idea of “protecting marriage” and more than a little puzzled about how that fits in with protecting freedom of conscience.

Protecting marriage — from what and from whom? My experience is that most Christians who want to “protect marriage” want to protect it as an institution that excludes the gay community, which then presents gay people with a double whammy: they’re excluded from marriage but then condemned for entering sexual relationships outside of marriage.

Since leaving my comment on Eddie’s post I’ve explored the Westminster 2010 site a little more and it turns out — as I suspected — that this attitude is precisely what the Declaration seeks to protect:


We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage…

My response to that is no, no, no! It is a stance adopted by many Christians, but it is by no means the definitive Christian position that the declaration pretends it to be. I have quite a few gay friends — most of them Christians — and I’d love to see them free to marry, to see their relationships recognised by the wider Christian community. I am not alone in this, not by a long way: witness, for example, Accepting Evangelicals and the The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

So I cannot — will not — in good conscience put my name to this declaration because it does not protect the freedom of conscience of those such as myself who have come to recognise gay and straight relationships as equally valid.

My call to all parliamentary candidates, then, is to tread very carefully around this declaration. Affirm your support for protecting human life (but do read the full text of what exactly is being called for); affirm your support for protecting freedom of conscience; but be wary, very wary, of supporting a call to protect marriage that sets itself so resolutely against today’s standards of equality.

Westminster 2010: would Jesus sign it? I don’t think so.


1. David Marriott - April 14, 2010

I have yet to sign it, with very similar thoughts to you, Mr Phil. Also, ‘assisted suicide’ clause gave me pause for thought as well. I think both that, and the issue of ‘promoting heterosexual marriage’ (as against singleness? As against homosexual relationships? Neither are ideas I want to subscribe to) are far too grey to sign a black and white declaration regarding them.

I have had a few conversations regarding said Declaration, and my problems with it. Someone did point out that you could sign it ‘for the freedom of Christian voice.’ I may not agree with what the Declaration declares, but I would certainly want people who believe it to have the right to say so.

Just as I would like them to say that you and I have the right to believe what we will about the above topics.

God bless you, sir.

2. Tony Lane - April 14, 2010

Hi Phil. You may be right that not all Christians take that stance towards marriage, but would you not agree that neither the Bible nor Christian tradition until relatively recently offer any endorsement of homosexual relations and that the great majority of Christians still take that view?

Phil Groom - April 14, 2010

You’re right Tony, and I’m glad that we live in these recent times and have the opportunity to be part of the changes that are taking place.

Down the centuries the great majority of Christians have held on to all sorts of beliefs and attitudes — flat earth, six-day creationism, slavery and apartheid, for instance — all the while pointing to the Bible for endorsement. We could say exactly the same thing about politics: neither the Bible nor Christian tradition until relatively recently offer any endorsement of democracy.

Yet we’ve moved on in all of these areas and now recognise that the way the Bible was interpreted was mistaken; and I hope the impasse the church seems to have reached on homosexuality will soon be passed too.

I find it sad that people want to build walls and put up barriers when the gospel calls us to tear them down: people seem to be driven by fear rather than by love, by fear of the other, by insecurity. Can God not be trusted to lead the church in God’s way?

Tony Lane - April 15, 2010

Picking up on ypur last sentence, can God not be trusted to have led the church in his way on this issue for 1900 years? Or has he only just started?

Phil Groom - April 15, 2010

Ongoing, I think, Tony: a thousand years is like a day, a day is like a thousand years, but slowly, steadily, God is moving on… we follow or we get left behind.

3. Phil Groom - April 20, 2010

Interesting discussions emerging on Annie Porthouse’s blog and facebook:
Blog: Westminster Declaration of Christian Conscience..??
Facebook: Annie Porthouse is NOT signing the Westminster Declaration of Christian Conscience…

Thanks Annie! 🙂

4. The Westminster Declaration: Just Say No! Dissenting Voices #hangem « Phil's Boring Blog - April 20, 2010

[…] The Westminster Declaration: Just Say No! Dissenting Voices #hangem April 20, 2010 Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs. trackback A note following on from my post a few days ago, Westminster 2010: Protecting freedom of conscience – but whose conscience? […]

5. annie porthouse - April 21, 2010

Yes, agree with David above who points out that promoting marriage is surely rather belittling towards those who are single, either through choice or circumstance. Although I do think marriage is fab and ought to be promoted, but only alongside other lifestyle choices, as it were.

Yes, agree with Phil… for many many years ‘Christians’ were fine with slavery (and perhaps many of us are now when we buy non-fairly-traded goods!). But now we can see the error of their ways. I do wonder if the same thing will happen with gay marriage and suchlike. Still not 100% sure where I stand on this… still learning… but it’s always good to get back to scripture and re-examine our faith. Keep it an open discussion, not rely on the traditions of our Christian forefathers… who didn’t always get it right, to say the very least!

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