Pray, lobby and demonstrate for equal marriage

The UK Parliament will vote this afternoon (5 February) on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, offering legal recognition to same-sex marriage in England and Wales. This is the “second reading”: if it passes, it could still be ammended in the Commons, and will then go to the Lords, where the opposition may be stronger. So this is not the end, but it’s an important day – not least because of the media interest. It’s important that the media realise that there are many followers of Jesus supporting equal marriage.

Today, please do one or more of the following:

Lobby: You can email your MP about the issue in a few moments by clicking here.

Demonstrate: Rally at the statue of George V opposite the main entrance to the House of Commons from 5.00pm today.

Talk: Tell your friends, family or colleagues why this issue matters to you. Be prepared for genuine dialogue with people who disagree.

Pray: Any time, anywhere.

How they choose to pray: Revealing the attitudes of the Coalition for Marriage

by Jemima

The Christian Institute and their allies produced a prayer that they hoped would be read out in churches today, with the vote on Tuesday (5 February) for the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. Both sides have tried to use today as a time of reflection and prayer. As Christians we are told to turn to God in times of dispute, however with “Thy will be done” as our guiding phrase.

The prayer released for today shows so much about the worldliness of the Coalition for Marriage that I think it bears close analysis. It reads as follows:

“Heavenly Father,
We thank you for the gift of marriage which you established at the dawn of time, to be a blessing for all generations throughout the earth, down through the ages.
We pray that you would fill each and every marriage with your love and grace, and that every husband and wife would know the joy that comes from sharing and giving.
We thank you for establishing marriage to be a secure and stable environment for raising children.
We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow.
We pray, as you have commanded us, for those in positions of civil authority.
We pray that our Government will act with wisdom and righteousness, upholding marriage as the voluntary union of one man to one woman for life, for the good of all people.
We pray for forgiveness for our nation, as our Government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray that these plans would fail.
And we pray for ourselves, that we would speak out in support of marriage with gentleness and kindness, but also with courage and confidence.
In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we pray. Amen.”

I will skip over the theological debate about a historical reading of Genesis; it has been fought many times, except of course to point out this excludes many Christians with a deep and sincere faith who do not believe the Fall is a literal fact but a poetical description of the real state of sinful humanity.

The first section has already caused pain to at least one person hearing it in my Church, a victim of domestic violence in her marriage. The coalition might claim they have asked that all marriages be joyful and sharing, but this is clearly not the case. Those who have suffered in marriage, those who are divorced, those who have grown up witnessing domestic violence are put into the box of not quite good enough Christians. By making the marriage of a man and woman a seemingly central tenet of faith, millions of heterosexual faithful are also cast out into the cold.

Again the coalition may claim they do not exclude, citing the next line:

We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow.”

This of course ignores the single parent, the abused child who saw family life as damaging, all those whom the traditional structure of marriage has failed. Is there no prayer for the teenage mum, struggling to do her best? Or the childhood abuse victim who has cut off contact with his parents to protect himself? Do you have to lose your partner or parent to be worthy of prayer?

This may seem nit picking but this prayer was produced to be read out to pulpits across the land, and presumably thought was given to wording, to who it included and excluded, to who matters in the Church the Coalition believe in.

The next part which is extremely problematic to me is this;

We pray for forgiveness for our nation, as our Government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray that these plans would fail.

During the week of prayer for Christian unity recently we were asked to consider a verse from Michah:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

It is a wonderful verse, one which the coalition has seemingly never come across. Justice and love are much talked about. Steve Chalke wrote wonderfully of his realisation of the injustice that continuing to oppose equal marriage would be. However the last part, the need to be humble is just as important.

Over and over again in the Old and New Testaments we are reminded of the impossibility of knowing the mind of God, and of the need to trust, like Job, to be aware that it is His plan, His dominion, His path that must be walked. This of course reaches its zenith in the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when God the Son, our Lord Jesus, is subject to the same pressure as all humanity.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Mathew 26:39.

It is not the place of the coalition to ask for forgiveness for others, we forgive those who sin against us personally, we do not offer out forgiveness, or call it down on our personal whim. They may believe that the same sex marriage law is wrong, but only God can determine if it is a sin, and only God can decide if a nation as a whole has sinned through the passing of one law.

This attitude is of course at the heart of the belief system of the Coalition for Marriage. In one simple prayer they show over and over again that they believe humans, not God, define sin, define goodness, and define what is acceptable and who passes the test of what makes a Christian. To call a whole nation sinners and assume they can intercede for forgiveness is about as arrogant, and unbiblical as any organisation can be.

This is not simply a fight about inclusion in my view, but about the future of the Church, and whether that future is one of radicalism and faith or belief in traditional structures and following a worldly path of human desires for power. To finish by quoting from Chalke:

Christianity is not about a book, but about a person who is the Word of God made flesh.”

Please pray for marriage – regardless of gender

The UK Parliament will vote on Tuesday 5th February on legislation to give legal recognition to same-sex marriages in England and Wales.Supporters of equal marriage will be praying for it on the Sunday beforehand.We’re asking you to take a moment to pray about the issue at 12.00 noon (or at another time if you find it more appropriate). We’re also asking churches to pray for marriage equality in their Sunday services. You can click here to visit Facebook and add your name to those who will pray.

We will pray for:

  • All marriages and similarly committed, loving relationships, regardless of the gender of those involved.
  • The success of legislation to give equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
  • God’s forgiveness for any occasions on which we have promoted prejudice against same-sex couples, whether by word, deed or silence.
  • God’s guidance for all those affected by this issue and involved in debates on it, whatever their views.

The event is supported by Queers for Jesus and by Christians for Equal Marriage as well as a number of individuals, including Christians and people of different faiths.

May we treat those who disagree with us with love and humility, while standing up firmly for love and marriage as principles that are greater than social convention and legalism.

Christianity, conscience and the European Court

by Symon Hill

I’m delighted with the news from the European Court of Human Rights this morning. The court has thrown out three of the four cases brought by Christians who claim that they suffered discrimination because of their religion. Two of the rejected cases were brought by people claiming that they had the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. 

The news of the ruling came through as I was discussing the cases on Radio Five Live Breakfast shortly after 9.00am.

I strongly believe that opponents of same-sex relationships should have the right not only to hold their own views but also to publicise and promote them. What they do not have a right to do is to use their jobs to deprive gay and bisexual people of their rights. Far from being the victims of discrimination, these individuals are wanting the freedom to discriminate against others.

On Radio Five Live, I debated with David Landrum from the Evangelical Alliance. While I don’t agree with the Alliance on sexuality, their comments are usually more measured than those of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, the groups behind the cases at the European Court.

I found myself having a relatively healthy dialogue with David, until he claimed that his views were shared by “Christians who take the Bible seriously”. The implication was that people who interpret the Bible differently to him are taking it less seriously. I’m sure that the claim was made in the past by Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery, racism and domestic abuse. They could not see the wood for the trees: Jesus’ message of radical love that is a challenge to both legalism and self-interest.

Later on in the programme, I was up against Alan Craig of the Christian People’s Alliance. Alan repeatedly talked of the importance of “tolerance”. This is a bit rich from a man who regularly comes out with the most viciously homophobic rhetoric and who has compared the promotion of gay and bisexual civil rights to the Nazi conquest of Europe.

Alan claimed that there was a “parallel” between the rights granted by the UK to conscientious objectors (COs) in wartime and the rights claimed by people who don’t want to work with same-sex couples. I’m not sure if this is an argument he uses generally or one he chose particularly to use against me, knowing that I’m a Christian pacifist.

The “parallel” is inaccurate in a number of ways. Firstly, the rights of pacifists in the UK have been limited: dozens of COs died in prison in the first world war while anti-war publications and campaigns were banned in the second world war – a point rarely made in the airbrushed history of the war with which we are presented in schools and popular culture. Secondly, I am not denying that people such as Lilian Ladele – the civil registrar who refused to register same-sex civil partnerships – have a right to express their views. What I am saying is that they don’t have a right to use their employment to discriminate against others.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that Alan Craig’s argument completely misrepresents the nature of conscientious objection to war. Pacifism is not about opting out. It is about standing up for something different. It is good that there is at least some right to conscientious objection recognised in UK law. But let’s not forget that it is only there because the law maintains the right of the government to conscript people to carry out violence in its name. Conscientious objection is not about asking for rights for ourselves; it is about pointing the way to a different way of doing things.

In recent years, a number of Christians in the UK have gone to prison after taking nonviolent direct action against the arms trade and preparations for war. They are not backed by the Christian Legal Centre. They rarely make headline news. Their conscience and their faith have compelled them to act. As the apostle Paul says, Christians should not “conform to the patterns of this world”. We need to challenge greed, war, inequality – and homophobia. 

Submission: Christianity and BDSM

by Jemima

The world of BDSM can appear very obsessed with the surface, a place of outlandish outfits and shocking behaviour. Certain books have not helped and create the idea that it is as far from spirituality as can be. My personal experience is that as I have learnt more about myself through BDSM, so my faith has also deepened.

BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sado-masochism. BDSM involves consensual exploration of some or all of these between people in the role of submissive (less powerful person) and Dominant (more powerful person). 

My pastor describes me as servant-hearted, and it is true I am more likely to be found in the kitchen than the pulpit. However, I think I am more Mary than Martha, and that willingness to sit, to learn, to let go is something that I think as Christians we all need. To live fully of, and in, the moment rather than worrying about tomorrow.

Both Mark and Luke give accounts where Jesus knows what the future brings. He directs his disciples to find the donkey that will bear him, predicting who they will find and what to say. This prescience does not stop with Palm Sunday of course; he rides through the cheering crowd knowing they will be baying for his blood by the end of the week. Yet he still chooses to go, to follow a path that leads to immense pain and suffering, he submits.

Now to some it will seem sacrilegious to discuss sex and God in the same piece. However I believe we are natural, sexual creatures, that God created us to be so and He does not make mistakes. When we look at the New Testament if we can relate it to our own lives and experiences then we are far more likely to treat it as a living document that can change our lives than a bunch of ancient stories with no relevance to us.

Submission is a word that comes up in two very different parts of my life, and yet as my understanding of it grows, it informs both. Look at how Jesus entered Jerusalem, not grudgingly or secretly, he did not just accept the end was inevitable but that it was right. When my Dominant photographs me, his favourite pictures are those which show a smile. People might imagine a sadist would want to see someone writhing in pain, but that does not show submission. If you just want to make someone cry out in pain then you could punch a random stranger. Submission cannot exist without choice, and if it is to be meaningful and rewarding, it should be a willing, joyful choice.

Now no-one can know the mind of God, but when we look at Jesus’ behaviour in Jerusalem there seems a freedom to it that contrasts with so much of the rest of the Gospels. Free to confront the authorities of the Temple, He behaves in a way that many, knowing they were to be executed in a week,  might avoid. Turning over the tables of the moneychangers, sitting disputing law in the Temple grounds, he draws attention, rather than avoids it. This freedom that comes from submission is one that in my own small way I also recognise. When we submit we become free of the fear of consequences, the path has been laid out by someone else and all we need to do is walk it.

So how does this affect my day-to-day life, both as a Christian and as a submissive? In one way, it is the same lesson to be  learnt. It is easy to say “I submit”, that we are willing to bow our heads, whether it be to God or a cane-wielding sadist. However, when the difficult times happen, when a planned event does not happen or not as soon as you might wish, does the submission remain a joyful choice or become a grudging “if I must”?

So often, “If thy will be done” is a question not a statement. As a submissive, I have learnt that in fact it is a liberating statement. The trust that is at the heart of BDSM means that I put my life in the hands of another, another bigger, stronger more powerful than me, and say, do what you will. If we can do this with another human how can we fight it with God? It may seem an odd question, but so often we do fight, thinking we can cajole or bargain, instead of that sublime submission, instead of saying, “Thy will be done.”

Gay bishops: Church of England offers crumbs from the table

Symon Hill

Church of England lifts opposition to gay bishops” declared the headlines. It took only a glance to realise that the news is not as good as it sounds. Clergy in same-sex relationships will be allowed to become bishops – as long as they don’t have sex.

Gay bishops in the Church of England must be “celibate”. What’s celibate? Will a bishop with a same-sex partner be allowed to kiss him? To hold his hand as they walk down the street? To engage in genital activity short of penetration? Celibacy, like sex, is rarely defined.

Celibacy (like marriage) is a gift from God. It is a calling. Some are called to it, others are not. What an insult to people with the gift of celibacy to present their calling as some sort of second-rate option for people treated as second-rate Christians.

The announcement may, or may not, come as good news to gay and bisexual clergy with a hope of becoming bishops. But many more people will be affected by this news.

For queer Christians, it is another message telling us that we are not welcome as equals in the Church of Christ. For many lesbian, gay and bisexual people outside the Church, as well as others committed to equality, it is the latest announcement of Christian hostility to them, the latest factor on top of many others to deter them from Christianity.

With some Christians preaching blatant homophobia, and others failing to challenge it, it is understandable that some grasp at any sign of progress towards equality and justice. With right-wing Christian lobby groups leading the virulent opposition to equal marriage, with Tory MPs using Christianity to justify homophobic comments in the House of Commons and with homophobic “therapy” on the rise, it is tempting to welcome any sign of change in churches with open arms. I suggest it is a temptation into which we should not be led.

This announcement is not progress, however much it may have annoyed the most extreme homophobes, who claim to be concerned about sexual behaviour but don’t want gay or bisexual bishops even if they don’t have sex. The Church of England has merely clarified that its bishops must abide by the same discriminatory rules as its clergy: rules that have already pushed many able, devout and Godly individuals from the ranks of the Church.

Theologically speaking, this ruling is another triumph of law over faith, of human rules over human love, of the letter that kills over the Holy Spirit that gives life. It is an insult to the Gospel proclaimed by the Christ who said that rules were made for people, not people for rules and who modelled relationships based on love, equality and integrity rather than selfishness or convention.

In 1964, fresh from the wave of civil rights demonstrations that had swept the US, Martin Luther King wrote of “those people who seek to apportion to us the rights that they have always enjoyed”. He suggested that they were asking people who were facing inequality to “accept half the loaf and to pay for that half by waiting willingly for the other half to be distributed in crumbs over a hard and protracted winter of injustice.”

Today, queer Christians – and others affected by church discrimination – are treated as if we have to bargain with church leaders for the equality that rightly belongs to us. It is no more possible to be half equal than it is to be half alive.

R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long live Soho Masses!

Terence Weldon

News out yesterday is that the regular twice monthly masses with a particular outreach to gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends, popularly but incorrectly known as the Soho “gay Masses”, will be moving out of their present home in Warwick Street, and relocating to a new home at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the well-known Jesuit parish in Farm Street.  For many members of the congregation, the news will be received with deep sadness, and inversely, the few but vocal opponents of these Masses will be jubilant, seeing it as a sign of their supposed victory. Both responses could be short-sighted and misplaced.

In this and other monarchies, news of the death of a reigning king or queen is typically received with the standard response, “The queen is dead. Long live the king/queen”. I suggest that for the Soho Masses congregation, that could be a more appropriate response, than simply one of grief. Our congregation is emphatically not being “shut down”, as the opponents will claim, but simply being relocated. With that relocation will come significant opportunities for further growth and expansion – just as occurred with our earlier moves, from Camden to St Anne’s, and later from St Anne’s to Warwick Street. As one who was involved in the original discussions over that earlier move from Dean St to our present home, I want to reflect here on just what it is that we lost in that move – and what we gained. From that, we could more easily reflect on what we might be losing, and gaining, in the next phase of our evolution.

The key, I think, lies in that little word “congregation”.  What we lost was undoubtedly a degree of independence, of being somehow swallowed up by the Catholic establishment. Since the move, I often heard a sense of nostalgia, at having lost that sense of being somehow “on the edge”. But the biggest asset we had was never that independence, or our premises, but simply ourselves, as a strong and vigorous congregation. During the often frank conversations between ourselves about the value and potential risks of the proposed move to Warwick Street, it was observed that as long as we retained our congregation, we would continue to flourish So it proved, and flourish we have.

In retrospect, we can see that at St Anne’s, we were already pushing against our limits. We were in effect meeting for not much more than just two Masses a month, the space was comfortable but could not have accommodated any increase in numbers, and the congregation consisted overwhelmingly of older, White men. Since the move, the transformation has been astonishing. Numbers have doubled, and the degree of active participation has simultaneously increased. We are now far more diverse in age, ethnicity and gender balance, and offer far, far more than just two Masses a month, with a steadily expanding range of support groups and activities, social and spiritual, outside of the Masses themselves. The SMPC has been considering some possible ways of extending these still further.  We have identified a need, for instance, to provide for an RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), and an obvious need for structures for people to discuss and share their experience of faith and sexuality in a more structured, private setting than informally over refreshments after Mass.

But once again, we are pushing at the limits of what is possible in our present home.  In purely physical terms, the basement space where we serve refreshments is becoming increasingly unsuitable: crowded, not easily accessible and with poor toilet facilities. It is at present extremely well patronized even so, filling a vitally important part of the overall experience, but could scarcely cope with any further increase in numbers. Accommodating the need for additional activities as discussed above, would also be difficult (even if just about manageable). With a move to Farm Street, which has extensive physical and spiritual resources already in place, these difficulties will largely disappear. The parish has extensive meeting rooms, a far superior hall for after Mass refreshments and conversation, and existing structures for faith sharing and spiritual growth, which could be easily extended to meet our needs.

It is true that there will, inevitably, be a loss of independence: but therein could also be a new benefit. The downside of independence, is the danger of hiding in a gay ghetto. I am increasingly convinced that one of the major challenges facing the LGBT Catholic community, is that of achieving visibility in the wider Church, and engaging openly and honestly with others. I have myself become heavily active in my local parish in a small, deeply conservative (and Conservative) country town – and have found this experience of open and honest engagement richly rewarding. By merging our activities into an existing, strong parish, we will have the opportunity to meet with and engage other Catholics, exposing them to our particular difficulties – and listening also to theirs.

The real issue here is not simply one of a “gay Mass”, but of the wider issue of effective  Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the “Soho Masses” may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.

When we moved from St Anne’s to Warwick Street, we did not “end” the Soho Masses, but entered a new phase – one which proved, despite some reservations and misgivings, a source of growth for the congregation. As we move from Warwick Street to Farm Street, this too will not “end” the Soho Masses (except in name), but will simply mark a new phase, and probably a further period of growth for our present congregation.

R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses LGBT Catholic ministry!

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This article appeared originally on Queering the Church. Many thanks to Terence Weldon for permission to reproduce it.

We need a locksmith

by Jemima

Earlier this week, Maria Miller, the misogyny and discrimination – sorry, the Culture, Womens and Equalities – Minister, announced that legislation would be brought forward in January to allow same-sex marriage in some religious buildings in England and Wales. Now there a number of reasons the current government  might be looking to distract from the financial situation we are in, the privatisation of the NHS, the demonisation of the disabled, the budget that ratcheted up the war on women, and equal marriage is a great way to distract, it might even get a few people thinking they are not the nasty party. Especially if these people are white middle class gay men, who by every other factor are a Tory voting demographic.

If the intention is to win a few votes and try to change voters’ perceptions of the Conservatives as a party of right-wing homophobic bigots though, then the equal marriage debate deserves much better than this back of an envelope omnishambles. The four locks that Miller announced instead show typical lack of thought, knowledge or understanding . So lets look at two of them  more closely.

 The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that canon law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.

Where shall we start ? Perhaps with the fact the Church in Wales is disestablished  The Welsh Church Act of 1914, finally brought into law in 1920, broke the link between the Welsh Anglican Churches and the British State. That neither Miller nor any advisers knew this highlights this is not a policy based on deeply held convictions or beliefs, but a cynical headline grabbing stunt.

Which the attitude to the CofE also shows. There has not been an Act of Parliament that mandated behaviour in the Anglican Church since 1874. It was controversial then, and should still be now; the separation of Church and state is a grey enough area as it is. For the government to overturn tradition, and wisdom, and decide that religious policy can be determined by politicians is a step back in history that all, religious, agnostic or atheist, should resist. Miller is claiming that they are merely reflecting cannon law. Cannon law is set by the Synod though, not the government of the day.

This firsthand account here of the prosecution of Rev. R.W. Enraght shows the dangers of the state interfering in the consciences  of  people. Am I being fanciful in imagining there will be many more Enraghts should this law be passed? The issue of equal marriage  is one that many Christians disagree on, there is no universal consensus.  There are  clergy who support widening who can get married in their churches. Defying a law imposed by government ministers may already be something they are praying about.

The failure to understand the theology, organisation and structures in the country she is supposedly legislating for is demonstrated by the next lock:

It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so;

In Miller’s land there are no Quakers,Unitarians, or Community Churches. The Baptist Church I attend has no governing body other than the Church membership. I suppose that might constitute an acceptable governing body, but the very phrasing of the provision shows just how little knowledge or understanding has been put into this announcement by Miller. Another point here is that true equal marriage could be brought in by extending the legal right to marry people, of whatever sexuality, to all  non-Christian religions. That would be true equality. Yes, they might decide not to marry same sex couples, but currently an iman or pandit who wishes to conduct a wedding is a second class celebrant. That is discrimination that has to end.

The other two locks might be best left to someone who understands the law better than I do (*coughs*) . However this brief examination to me shows this is nothing about equality. There may even be an interpretation that Miller, who is not known for liberal views, has framed the debate this way so it fails. Or is that a conspiracy theory too far? This government has a history of ill thought out policies, often changed at the last minute. It demonstrated again its arrogance and refusal to consult with experts this week.

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This blog post appeared originally on the blog It’s Just a Hobby. Many thanks to Jemima for permission to reproduce it.

Christian Concern, Barclay’s and the stench of hypocrisy

Symon Hill

If you thought that Christian Concern couldn’t sink any lower, think again. This group say that they want to “infuse a biblical worldview into every aspect of society”. Their latest campaign exposes the hollowness of this claim more than anything they have done yet. They have now made clear that they are prepared to overlook key messages of the Bible in favour of promoting homophobia.

Christian Concern have this week criticised Barclay’s and a number of other banks. Now why would a Christian organisation criticise banks? I hope they would do so because of the banks’ role in the economic crisis, because of their tax avoidance, because of their exploitation of the poor in the interests of the rich and – most of all – because they are based on usury, a practice denounced throughout the Bible. The Bible condemns the exploitation of the poor and the practice of usury – lending money at interest or, more broadly, making money out of money – more than almost any other sins. Now we have an economic system built on usury.

But Christian Concern don’t seem to have a problem with any of this. They have not mentioned it. Their objections to Barclay’s, Coutt’s and Price Waterhouse Coopers is that they are sponsoring an event promoting lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s rights. More particularly, they are sponsoring Stonewall’s annual awards dinner. Christian Concern are focussing on the part of the event that they can most easily be presented as objectionable by referring to Stonewall’s award for “Bigot of the Year”.

As a result, Barclay’s and Coutts have now said that they will not sponsor the event in future unless this part of it is removed. I hope Stonewall will have the backbone to stand up to them. Like Christian Concern, I have a problem with these sort of companies sponsoring a Stonewall event – but for different reasons. My objection is that Stonewall should not associate themselves with such unethical companies. It demeans Stonewall and undermines the progressive causes for which they struggle.

Christian Concern’s Andrea Williams claims that the award for “Bigot of the Year” seeks “to humiliate and intimidate those who hold mainstream views on marriage rather than engaging with their arguments”. But the award is not an attack on everyone who opposes same-sex marriage. It is about bigotry, as a glance at the shortlist reveal.

The shortlist consists of Ugandan minister Simon Lokodo, who wants to execute people who have same-sex relations more than once; former Christian People’s Alliance leader Alan Craig, who compared the LGBT rights movement to the Nazis; Keith O’Brien, who equated the introduction of same-sex marriage with the legalisation of slavery; former Ulster Unionist politician Ken Maginnis, who described homosexuality as “unnatural and deviant” and argued it would lead to the legalisation of child sex abuse; and Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, who suggested that gay men are less healthy and who attributed a gay MP’s death to his sexuality.

From their comments and behaviour, it is clear that this is not simply a list of people who have a problem with same-sex relationships. It is a list of bigots. These individuals, stirring up prejudice, hatred and (in Lokodo’s case) violence against gays, lesbians and bisexuals are the people who Christian Concern are so keen to defend.

In an “Action Alert” to their supporters yesterday, Christian Concern said only that the nominees include “a cardinal, an archbishop, a member of the House of Lords and Alan Craig”. They conveniently missed off Lokodo from the list. Their wording implies that these people should be respected because of their positions in society. They seem to have forgotten that God is no respecter of persons.

When I tweeted about this issue earlier today, a few Christian bloggers who are backing the criticisms of Barclay’s over Stonewall told me that they also had criticisms of Barclay’s over its unethical economic behaviour. I respect that; at least they’re showing some consistency (although I still wonder if they really think that the five people on the shortlist are not bigots).

Christian Concern, however, are showing no consistency with their own stated aims. By defending Lokodo, O’Brien, Tartaglia, Maginnis and Craig, they have made clear that they share the bigotry that these individuals have promoted. They have ignored the economic sins of big business in general and Barclay’s in particular. The Bible condemns economic exploitation many hundreds of times. In contrast, those who use the Bible to attack same-sex relationships rely on a very small number of ambiguous passages. It is not biblical values, but homophobic values, that Christian Concern are seeking to promote.

Hypocrisy and homophobia at the Court of Human Rights

Symon Hill

Three Christians were yesterday convicted of criminal damage for a nonviolent anti-nuclear protest at the Ministry of Defence. They have all refused to pay the court costs imposed on them and are ready to go to jail as a matter of conscience.

The case has received almost no coverage at all. But today, four Christians are at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Christians as a group are being discriminated against in the UK. Two of them are arguing for their “right” to discriminate against same-sex couples. They’ve attracted a lot of media interest: I’ve done three radio interviews about the case since yesterday, and am about to do a fourth.

These four Christians speak the language of human rights, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. These are concepts that matter to me more than I can say. That is why I am so appalled by them being used by people who want to deny rights and freedoms to others.

Not all the cases that they are taking to the court are about sexuality. Two of the four are concerned the right to wear a cross at work. I support this right as a matter of free expression, but I doubt that it is really what these cases are about. At least one of the individuals concerned – Shirley Chaplin, a nurse – was offered the chance to wear a cross pinned to her uniform rather than on a chain (for safety reasons) but refused. The other two cases concern Gary McFarlane, a counsellor who did not want to give sex counselling to same-sex couples, and Lilian Ladele, a registrar who refused to be involved in same-sex civil partnerships (which I wrote about for the Guardian when she lost her earlier case).

These four very different cases are being wedged into a narrative about anti-Christian discrimination. The groups behind this case – the Christian Legal Centre, Christian Concern and the Christian Institute – have for some years been pushing the absurd notion that Christians as a group are being discriminated against in the UK. And this in the only country in the world in which Christian leaders have an automatic right to sit in Parliament and vote on legislation. Bishops who claim discrimination in speeches delivered from the privileged benches of the House of Lords seem to be lacking a sense of irony.

Of course, some Christians are suffering for their conscience – such as the three Catholics who will go to prison for protesting against Trident. Many others have engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience over war, militarism, climate change and the government’s vicious cuts agenda. It’s worth remembering that the symbol of the cross – which has featured so much in discussions of this case – derives from an imperial punishment for Jesus’ nonviolent resistance to injustice. I am a Christian because I have faith that God vindicated that resistance by raising Jesus from the dead.

Unlike Christians who campaign against war and capitalism, groups such as Christian Concern expect the UK to uphold their privileges because they hark back to a mythical ‘Christian nation’ that never existed. They frequently attack the ‘human rights agenda’ (indeed one of the most recent tweets from the Christian Institute does just that) but are ready to use the language of ‘human rights’ to fight for their own privileges.

To love our neighbours as ourselves means to uphold the rights and freedoms of people who disagree with us as much as our own. That’s why it’s important that we defend the right of groups such as Christian Concern to express and promote their own views – however vile we find those views to be. But a right to express a view does not equate to the freedom to discriminate against other people.

If these cases were to be upheld, it would be a massive step backwards in the struggle for queer freedom. Remember that these Christians want to discriminate against other Christians. They want to deny gay, bisexual, trans and other queer Christians the rights and liberties that they now enjoy. We mustn’t let this turn into another ‘gays v. Christians’ story. We must make sure that pro-equality Christians are heard just as loudly as the homophobes. It’s down to all of us to make it happen.