I previously blogged on the ‘gay cake case’ as it is known – whereby a bakery in N.Ireland, Ashers, refused to bake a cake with the words ‘support gay marriage’ on it because of their Christian beliefs. They lost the court case and the judge ruled they had discriminated against the consumer who was gay.
Asher’s have decided to appeal the case, which starts this week. I read an interview with Daniel and Amy McArthur from Ashers bakery, in the Belfast Telegraph where they explain why they feel they have ‘done no wrong’. There is no doubt about their religious conviction and how they endeavour to live the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ as they understand and interpret them.
I agree with them that religion is not just for Sundays. Indeed a true religious way of being is something that permeates all aspects of life, including in particular how we treat all our fellow human beings on this planet – and the basis of that is to be with equalness and love – in recognition of the fact we are a one humanity, deeply interconnected and all Sons of God. A work in progress for sure for all of us but we ought not to lower the bar any less than that.
And this is a key point. Their defence is that it is a human right to express their (religious) beliefs at work – well, not if those beliefs result in discrimination against fellow human beings – for that is neither a right nor a belief, be it religious or not, that is worthy of upholding in any way, shape or form. So no, it is not a human right to express discriminatory beliefs of any kind at work, religious or otherwise. There is this arrogance that thinks just because it is a ‘religious belief’ that we have the right to express it even if it goes against our fellow man – well, no, we don’t – that is just a fancy way of trying to justify that which in truth cannot be justifed – discrimination against another – which in this case is simply because of a different sexuality!
Daniel and Amy McArthur sincerely believe that they are doing no wrong and that they are following the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. And there are many in this country, N.Ireland, who would agree with them and support their views. However, even should all ‘Christians’, even all people, agree with them – that does not mean it is ‘right’, or the way of God, or the way of Jesus Christ. The number of people who agree on something is not an arbiter of whether it is true or not. Indeed, paradoxically, whilst endeavouring to live the way of Christ, they are in this example doing the opposite, for it is in my view profoundly opposed to the way of God and Christ.
The way of God, the way of Christ is the way of love, inclusivity, equality and universality – there is no room for any form of judgment, discrimination, ‘them and us’ or any form of separation or holding others as lesser in any way in the heart of God or the Christ. Equality legislature needs to trump discriminatory religious belief as it is founded upon the truth of the fact that we are all equal, a fact that is deeply religious and intimately entwined with the true way of God. Equality is foundational and a basic pre-requisite to the living way of God, to see and know and treat all others as equal – anything other than that definitely does not come from God.
The source of universal omnipotent love thankfully does not have the prejudicial and judgmental mind of men! And is definitely not so petty as to rule out a section of his Sons just because they love the same sex! No, the opposite is true – for all are held in and with love irrespective of sexuality, gender, race, nationality or indeed religion. Gay people who love each other and are loving of their fellow human beings are actually displaying more of the qualities of Christ than those who profess to be Christian but who hold beliefs which cause them to discriminate against and judge their fellow human being.
Peter Tatchell, a well known pro equality and gay rights advocate writing in the Guardian explains how he has changed his mind on the gay cake case as he now feels the ruling infringes vital freedoms and he says:
“This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.”
However, this argument is fallacious and does not stand up to scrutiny. NONE of these examples are based on true equality, love and respect for fellow human beings. And in my view equality legislation should act to prevent all such forms of discrimination and to call people to live to a standard that at the very least recognizes our common humanity and is not disrespectful, disregarding or hateful to others. Freedom of speech does not mean to freedom to abuse – we should not support any form of discrimination or hateful speech.
It is a sad indictment on our society and interpersonal relationships as human beings that we need equality legislature to uphold such a basic tenet of human life.
And so rejecting the appeal by Ashers is the true way to proceed to maintain and ensure equality for all. If religious beliefs result in people being discriminated against in any way then those beliefs need to be challenged and not kowtowed to just because someone holds it as a ‘belief’ – no matter how sincere they are. If Ashers win the appeal then it opens the door to all kinds of religious discrimination based on ‘belief’ alone – and that would be a dangerous precedent. “No gays here” signs would surely follow in bed and breakfasts, hotels, bars, restaurants etc and potentially much, much worse. It opens the door to all kinds of evil acts against fellow human beings justfied on the grounds of ‘religious belief’.
This is an example, of where even so called well-meaning and sincere people can be side-tracked down an alley to believe something through a religious teaching that is actually deeply harmful and separative and has nothing to do with the way of love, the way of God or the Christ. An example of religion ( as it currently is) yet again getting in the way of love, the way of God. The real evil here is the bastardisation of religious teachings that perpetuate the ‘them and us’, the Christian and the non-Christian, the heterosexual and the gay person – when in my experience true religion does not separate at all, it is unifying, loving and caring for the whole and sees beyond all labels and outer identifiers to the true heart and soul of everyone.
So let us not be fooled by niceness or sincerity or politeness when they are used to sell a message that is deeply harming – it is easy to see the evil of horrid and vile acts like murder, rape, paedophila and so forth, but it is not always so easy to detect the harm that comes wrapped in well-meaning niceness and politeness but with a dark underbelly that sees fellow human beings in any way lesser, not worthy, not equal to the same rights as every other human being on the planet. Gay people are people first and foremost – equal to every other human being on the planet. Their sexuality does not in any way interfere with their right to live as equal human beings; free to love and marry the person of their choosing, if they so wish.
They have as a group been subject to and still are subject to some of the most vile slurs, abuse, bullying, discrimination, torture and in some cases even losing their lives either through being killed or killing themselves as a consequence of the abhorrent bullying and abuse they experience. I have no doubt that the true Christian response is to welcome them with open arms, to support gay marriage – a celebration of love between two people, in the knowing that they too are Sons of God, just like everyone else. Let us not allow false religious teachings to get in the way of love and equality any more – but to stand united by the true religion of our inner hearts where there is no room for any judgment or prejudice, only the fullness of love for all.