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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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8 comments

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:

Marriage

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.

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