Thursday, May 25, 2006

Redefining "homophobia"

Andrew Goddard, tutor in ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, has published a warm embrace of the political middle on homosexuality in the Anglican Communion without sacrificing his moral position that homosexuality is a sin.

I think you'll be heartened to see how some in this now very muddled Christian denomination are working toward a middle that can simultaneously embrace both moral principles and a commitment to civil society.

However, it's necessary to make an important correction to his article. Goddard writes:
Some of the criticism of the Nigerian church's support for recently proposed state legislation is unfounded because there is no human right to same-sex marriage.
As I wrote in the comments section of this titus one nine post:

A careful read of the legislation (pdf) shows that it would ban more than gay marriage -- it would also ban constitutionally protected speech, press, assembly, and freedom of religion. The legislation goes beyond denying recognition of gay marriages to banning private ceremonies. Worse, it bans advocacy of gay marriage, or a defense of homosexuality, and it levies a punishment of 5 years' imprisonment.

Some within the Anglican Communion, such as Changing Attitude, might condemn the Church of Nigeria for endorsing a ban on gay marriage.

But the US State Department, nearly 20 human rights organizations, and 60 members of the EU Parliament have not criticized the ban on gay marriage, but the ban on far more basic civil rights: speech, press, assembly, and religion.

No one should be denied their right to speak out against what they perceive to be an injustice. About homosexuality, gay and lesbian Nigerians may be wrong or they may be right, but by its endorsement the Church of Nigeria has come dangerously close to letting ministry turn to persecution.

It seems to me that even the most even-handed, well-meaning conservative Anglicans still don't know what's in the Nigerian legislation. But thanks, Andrew, for advancing the argument in a very civil direction.


Jody said...

I tried to post these comments on T19, but the blog went down as I tried to submit them, so I thought I'd post them here instead. Blessings.

Re: 8, I would say that there has to be a distinction between private employers and public, i.e. government employment. The government, which represents the whole of society, must be much less discriminating and enforce the leaving of one's personal feelings at the door. In a privately owned bussiness, particularly one with a specific mission or one in which the inclusion of people whose outlook is antithetical to the mission of that bussiness, discrimination seems to be perfectly justifiable. Just as Wheaton College can decide not to continue their relationship with a Roman Catholic professor, Lifeway Christian stores or a smaller Christian employer should be allowed the freedom to choose who would work well in their environment and who would not. This is not discrimination in the negative sense, but is instead a function of the reality of human existence expressed by the old comment "birds of a feather." This also works the other way around, as there are particular places where it would be difficult to get a job as a straight white man (thinking here of a bookstore I know of which is owned by Lesbians. It's a very good bookstore, but it makes no secret of the moral/political outlook of its owners and their employment reflects that. As a Christian I have no problem with that.)

This issue raises the true legal issue, as to whether bussinesses are bound to certain societal standards by accepting public (governmental) funds or by merely doing bussiness in the public sphere. I tend to think that the restrictions should be more strict for those accepting government funding and much looser for those operating on their own in the public sphere. This was the distinction that was drawn in the recent case where Catholic Social Services was made to include contraceptives in their health benefits package--they had accepted public funds and where therefore required to do so... had they remained completely private, they would not have needed to do that and their moral discrimination would have been perfectly justifiable.

Matt said...

Hi Jody,

This is a good comment -- I would try again to post this on t19.

Matters of law aside, I agree with you that employment decisions surely must take into account reasonable fears of damage on the part of the employer, should the prospective employee turn out to be a liability. Deciding not to hire a convicted sex offender would be reasonable in my view. Their rehabilitation surely depends on employment, but that's another problem.

But it's not clear that one can make a similar argument about gays and lesbians. If your hiring decision, as an employer, is based on your belief based in your faith that they're going to be a liability, then you're arguing that others must accept your decision not to hire on the basis of unprovable assumptions.

Each employer must search their heart to decide whether they are making hiring decisions based on moral arguments or prejudice -- it's not for us to decide -- but if those decisions are based on prejudice disguised as faith, then we're all the worse for it.