A Christian bakery has been fined £500 plus costs for refusing to make a cake for a customer which bore the logo “Support Gay Marriage.” How should we respond?
1. We have to recognise that society is increasingly secular, including in its laws.
2. We can argue democratically (and strongly) for society to respect God’s law.
3. But we have to accept the reality of what society democratically decides, even though we disagree with it.
4. The balancing of opposing human rights is a complex matter. This is illustrated in the opposing rights present in the Belfast Cake controversy – gay rights afforded by society, on the one hand, and the right to religious freedom, on the other.
5. Society cannot accommodate every religious opinion (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusions for their children) but it was surely possible to prevent the infringement of Christians’ rights in a trivial case like this one.
6. It is sad that the legal case was mounted but the situation is complicated by anti-gay prejudice (as opposed to reasonable disagreement) and the danger of gay people wanting to get their own back.
7. The church should stand firm for God’s law (although always remembering to show compassion and respect for people themselves) but it has given confusing signals over homosexuality. For example, the official position of the C of E is that agreed by a 98% majority of General Synod based on my private member’s motion in 1987 which stated that “that homosexual genital acts … are … to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.” But since then the church has confused society as to its position on the matter. It has also given the impression that we shall come round to society’s view in the end. The church therefore must bear a very serious responsibility for what is now happening.
8. As various people have said, the Belfast decision opens the way for similar prosecutions such as over:
• A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
• An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
• A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.
9. I wish I could be confident that the government will sort out this situation where the law is an ass but I am concerned that the very beginning of real persecution of Christians in the UK has happened, although it is almost nothing compared with what is happening to Christians elsewhere.
10. I have long felt that approval of homosexual practice would eventually become a test of acceptability in society, failure in which would lead to serious consequences.
11. But how long will it be before the Christians come into much more serious conflict with the anti-extremism laws planned by the UK government? These, of course, uphold “British Values” (whatever they are) and particularly tolerance and avoiding causing distress to others. I anticipate that before long exclusive claims that Jesus is the only Saviour and even sensitive references to judgment and hell will be deemed illegal. Then we will be getting into deep water over persecution. In March 2015 Sajid Javid Culture Secretary made a very significant comment when he opposed the governments revived censorship proposal. He said it would be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.
12. Christians need to learn now which are the primary issues of the Christian Faith, and which are secondary issues. If the law requires us to deny the primary issues, we have to obey God rather than the state.
13. We are in a very serious situation and many Christians, churches and church leaders are quietly snoozing through it.