Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Evangelicals - where do they fit in?

This post is prompted by moves afoot to protest the appointment of Joel Edwards to the post of Commissioner with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

At the time of his appointment there was a big and predictable broohaha, especially from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement who produced this diatribe against his appointment. I say diatribe (defined as meaning "a bitter critical attack") as it goes on and on about the personal evils of afore mentioned Joel Edwards as if he has been personally directing the whole show. Of course, that is not likely to be the case. In many particulars the quotes are taken somewhat out of context and some things are attributed to Joel Edwards and the Evangelical Alliance when they oughtn't to be. This is unfair.

Again at the time there was a wait and see approach from Ekklesia who saw a significant potential for evangelicals to address equality, human rights and discrimination issues through bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission stating

Evangelicals who recognise that equality ought to be a key part of the Christian
message have been slowly coming out of the closet, and even the Evangelical
Alliance's sceptical opinions on this issue have been expressed much more
temperately of late.

I must say I tend to agree.

My reading of Joel Edwards is of him being moderate whilst at the same time being true to his evangelical beliefs (which I personally have no objection to although I don't personally share them). I could of course be wrong on this but the politics of systematic suspicion leads to a bad place for all of us.

Of course, the Commission as a whole are open to public scrutiny as are its appointees as members of public bodies.

The Commission has broad duties laid upon it to promote equality and human rights (set out in the Equality Act) , including on the grounds of sexual orientation and has published an Equality Scheme laying out its approach to equality work in different areas as well as having as its role the support of different strands of equality legislation.

We all have a responsibility to hold the Commission to be effective in its role and also to make it clear that we oppose any hierarchy of discrimination. We also have a role to play in scrutinising the activities of Commission members and highlighting any thing that raises concerns.

One of the principal problems that we face now is the problem of alienationa and paranoia as a propaganda tool.

We definitely saw this is the debate over Goods and Services (and Joel Edwards was one of the very few evangelical voices to ward against this trend - especially in his 'Letter to leaders of Alliance member churches' on the subject).

Getting non-paranoid evangelical leaders onto the EHRC can be very valuable in ensuring that the more outlandish statements don't in the future get credance. We have also seen exaggeration and paranoia being out to good use in the debates over the Mental Health Bill - it's now a well recognised political tool.

In addition to this, religious communities do have (sometimes legitimate) concerns about human rights like freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and so on where there is a tension between equality provisions and human rights and it is probably better to have some faith representatives on the EHRC to be part of the solution as well as being part of a clear analysis that can address their concerns (which I acknowldege) in a realistic way and also calm down the more exaggerated claims of organisations in the 'Religious Right' such as Anglican Mainstream and so on that I have added to my blog lists as being 'ones to watch'.

Finally I believe in tolerance, pluralism and social dialogue in a way that not everyone does. This means accepting diversity of views and being political about them, not demonising your opponents.

For me this is part of our multicutluralism whilst balancing this with provision for human rights for all and making sure they are an indispensable part of our national culture.

Christian communities in the UK are not (in my view) under threat. The protection of gay people from discrimination is in my view a core right that crosses all communities and all communities have a role in ensuring that that happens.

On balance I think that we'll make further progress with the likes of Joel Edwards (who has expressed support for the principle of protecting gay people from discriminaiton through the law) on board.

I am sure that this is the right way to go but I welcome comments of dissent.


No comments:

Post a Comment