I am no legal expert. I mean I enjoy watching Law and Order and heck, is there a better court room scene than Jack Nicholson yelling at Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men? So I am very under qualified to comment on the legal ramifications of the Conscience Clause that the DUP have brought forward in light of the Asher’s Bakery case.
I can definitely see there being a few sticky cases though and there is no way that we can imagine every single possible situation where this clause could have an effect and so it is very difficult to make it perfect. Could a taxi company run by Christians refuse for example to bring two gay friends leaving a gay nightclub home, leaving them vulnerable on a cold and wet evening in a city centre?
Seem ridiculous? Perhaps, but it’s more probable than the examples used in the Bill itself.
But these legal reasons or arguments aren’t primarily behind my main objection to the clause.
My main objection comes from, and this may sound strange considering the motives for bringing the clause forward by the DUP in the first place, my religious beliefs.
Here is why.
Traditionally, the Christian belief has been that homosexuality is a sin and as such marriage between two men or two women is prohibited. Certain scripture may be quoted to make such a case. That is totally fair enough. I have no problem with anyone who holds this view. Many Christians for thousands of years have held this view and it is not until relatively recent that an alternative view has been put forth.
But my objection to the conscience clause even goes further than whether I think LGBT should be allowed to be married or not.
It comes from a deep reverence for the two most important commandments (not my words) to love God and to love your neighbor. Because if we are going to use the Bible as a Dummies Guide for How to Be a Christian then we must take it aaall seriously. If we are going to prevent some people from being married because the instructions seem to point us in that direction then we also need to give away all our possessions or wash each others feet or allow someone to punch us in the face twice.
But these ways of living are there to show us something deeper than simply a step by step guide on how to get into Heaven. They are there to reveal deeper truths about what it means to treat others with respect, Love, Grace and humanity. This is, or at least should be the reason behind all instructions in the Bible.
We must therefore open up those passages that speak about homosexuality and ask ourselves if the way we have read them, regardless of whether we agree or not, have helped us to love those people the way they deserve.
That is the least we can do.
For Christians, Love should be the cornerstone of our actions, our words and the lives we live out with the people around us. My chief aim should be to somehow show love to everyone. Not just the people I like but the people I don’t. Not just the people that like me, but the people that hate me. A difficult task for sure; but one that if we all applied dutifully would allow people to find freedom from all the different ways we oppress others by excluding and even simply being afraid of them.
And I mean real oppression. If you are a Christian living in the West you’re rights are not being oppressed.
Because our biggest right is to love everyone. Unless that is taken away you are more free than you could possibly imagine.
I was brought up being told that being a Christian meant to stand out from the rest of the world and to turn away from the way things are normally done and to turn towards a way of living that is revolutionary. Unfortunately this idea has been so distorted from it’s beautiful initial intentions that it is almost unrecognizable.
It has come to mean being defensive and on the back foot, something which if you look around you wherever you are right now, people are pretty good at already.
Do we really look any different?
This typically results in Christians protesting rather seeking dialogue with those they protest or many Christians making things like homosexuality or abortion so central to their faith that they can’t see the damage they are doing to those outside of their faith. When these things become so huge in how we define faith and when we see those being threatened; we go all out to attack instead of taking time to listen and understand.
But here is how I think Christians could really stand out from the crowd.
If we took our commandment to love our LGBT neighbors seriously.
Love is threatening to us because it makes us vulnerable to rejection. When it’s reciprocated it’s the absolute best thing in the world, but when it’s rejected no pain feels worse. But the life that can grow out of Love is worth taking that risk. It needs to be or we wouldn’t move.
Many Christians who have been accused of rejecting Evangelicalism have been so because they take a particular stance on homosexuality. But what if we took the word Evangelicalism and reclaimed it to mean an invitation to life in it’s fullest for all people? A message of Hope in Jesus that can transform our lives into beautiful vessels for peace and Love. What if we took it to mean doing things out of Love for someone even if it seems mad and even if it goes against everything we believe in?
This way of living and treating people can change everything.
It is risky because when our status as a Christian is so shaped by making sure people know we don’t agree with something, then we are unable to love the people that do those things because doing so would be a rejection of our whole identity.
But our identities as Christians were never meant to be controlled by our beliefs.
In fact, this is why Jesus often turned the tables (quite literally sometimes) on the traditions that He Himself had been raised in. He understood that it was more important to show compassion and Love to someone than to follow certain observances about picking grain or healing on the Sabbath or talking to women whose people were your enemy.
These things had a purpose, a good and Holy purpose, but none more so than Love.
Pete Rollins in his book “How (Not) To Speak of God” describes this way of reading the Bible as interpreting with “a prejudice of love” (p.59). That if our interpretations of how we should act according to the Bible aren’t loving then we should challenge our interpretations. This is what Jesus did time and time again and what I believe Paul was hinting at when he wrote in Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Are we nothing more than noise to the world when we place these ideas of what is morally right or wrong higher than Love?
As Jesus told the Pharisees, healing is more important than the law that no work should be done on the Sabbath.
I believe something similar should be enacted by Christians concerning our LGBT friends and families.
Imagine the openness we could nurture between the church and those LGBT outside of the church if we were vulnerable and allowed Love to dictate our decisions and actions? We would be opening up Jesus in a way that would genuinely be revolutionary for no other reason than it would be completely shocking.
They would see a faith that was not frightened of LGBT people. They would see a Christianity that did not condemn them simply for who they are. They would see a Jesus who doesn’t hate them but cares for them.
Isn’t this our biggest goal as Christians? For others to experience life through Jesus? Turning away someone for their stance on gay marriage is one thing, but when that also shows our rejection of them as human beings, we are turning them away from something much more important.
This isn’t really about Ashers. This is about the undercurrent in the church of fear we have of people who are different than us.
But what about Christian rights? What about them? Screw it. We’re supposed to be different. In our Western church we are not threatened. We’re not supposed to be so defensive. We’re supposed to lay down our ‘rights’ so that we can show Jesus’ love to others. We are so free it’s stupid and honestly quite offensive to those Christians in the world who face death or violence for their faith.
Jesus didn’t want defending when he was arrested.
So how much less should we feel the need to defend our faith simply because of a cake?