Excuse the alarmist headline, which I grant doesn’t bode well if it is balanced reporting you are looking for. But there is a reason for doing this, as will become clear. It is also about me wanting to give vent to some of my many “bees in my bonnet”; including a desire to see fair and balanced reporting, an unease about both current cultural trends and social injustices, a concern for the poor and socially excluded, an irritation with politics and politicians, an aversion to political correctness, a belief that no-one is strictly neutral, a yearning for there to be more community engagement to benefit the less well off and me wanting to make a difference.
A story has just broken, which for those of us that have been following similar such stories, will know is one in a long line. A lady has lost her job because either she doesn’t think gay is ok or she has done something that seriously contravenes her terms of employment – in this case, it is alleged, and according to which account you read, she harassed one of her fellow employees or refused to read stories to children in her charge that would endorse gay relationships.
The story that has prompted this preamble is regarding a nursery nurse that has been recently fired from her job and, from what we can make out, had something to do with her more conservative, and these days less acceptable, views on homosexuality but, to add the balance, may also be about her not doing her job properly and acting inappropriately toward a colleague. I won’t elaborate on the story, but rather suggest click here or here for a “quality” newspaper view, here for a Christian reporting view and here or here for a “Gay” reporting view and, with respect to the last link, here for some interesting comments as to what some gay folk think about it all.
Before preceding further, I would refer readers to my “The Gay Conundrum” book, available as a free download from this website, where I consider in depth some of the related stories and issues. Furthermore, I am reticent to comment on something when I don’t know all the facts. Much as I would have loved to been a fly on the wall, the best I can hope for is when the matter of unfair dismissal is raised during the legal process that the truth will come out.
However, I have to nail my colours to the mast. Back in 2010, I helped to organize an elections hustings. I got to ask the candidates a question and it was along the lines: “how would you encourage faith communities to better serve the needs of the wider community, especially around poverty and social justice issues, while resisting the trend (that was already becoming apparent) of stopping Christians exercising their conscience (at that time a story had broken where a government minister had been sacked for supporting the bed and breakfast owners who were being prosecuted for refusing a room with a double bed to a gay couple)?
The response was, on the whole, disappointing. While the candidates were unanimous in the message: keep up the good work; we will support you, they rather fudged the second half of the question – except for one. He then got castigated by the readers of Pink News, although I did subsequently reflect that the reporter who made the report was generally on the whole fair and balanced.
A little prior to the hustings, I signed the Westminster declaration, with its threefold plank of supporting the right to life regarding the unborn, traditional marriage and freedom of conscience. This followed the still active US Manhattan declaration campaign. As a result of my Daniel going into the lions den experience (engaging with Pink News readers), by trying to set the record straight, I decided to write my Gay Conundrum book and add an edge to my community activism, whereby I resolved to continue to work at the coal face when it comes to community involvement, but at the same time speak in the public square on issues that affect us, in a paradigm of conflicting ideas or as US friends put it: culture war.
Let me give two examples. As for the first, I have no desire to blow my own trumpet or purport to be holier than thou or come across as a do gooder, because I am all too aware of my failings as a husband, father etc. but I do want to put on record the seriousness of what we are up against and the need for an appropriate response. In the early hours of yesterday morning, I was out with Street Pastors. Among other things we met ten rough sleepers and did what we normally do: listen empathetically, give out food and drink etc.I should add, since it relates to one of the themes of this post, on another recent Street Pastor tour we came across a gay couple one of which had experienced a homophobic attack and was able to assist.
Because yesterday was a special day, I shared that there is hope, and we can enjoy new life, because Jesus is risen. Later in the day, sandwiched between two church services, I visited our local soup kitchen, Soup 4 Southend. Besides having positive conversations with a number of my rough sleeper friends, I told two ladies who had recently been evicted, and were sleeping rough, that I will try to get them sleeping bags (one of them actually turned up later at my church along with two others). Later that night, I went out with a new group: Street Spirit, and we gave out sleeping bags and blankets, as we said we will try to do, as well as food and drink, and had positive engagements on a whole range of matters with some twenty rough sleepers, many of which had major needs besides that of accommodation, yet all were courteous. While in big picture terms, this did not seem a particularly big deal, I’m pretty sure, if you were to ask those that we did meet, they would say it was!
The second example is about the latest public square challenge I’m gunning for, albeit biting my lip and biding my time. It is one reason for unashamedly plugging this blog, especially to those who disagree and also to the nice people who agree but need to be encouraged and informed. There have been recent reports of statements by our Prime Minister regarding how nice it is for Christians to be active in the community and we are indeed a Christian country where Christian values need to be upheld and the church is encouraged by his government to “be evangelical” (more here or here or here).
My initial reaction to all this is unprintable but I do hope Christians will respond to the challenge. One thing I will say to Mr Cameron – if you are serious about involving the church in your Big Society ideals or whatever the new flavour of the month is, on one hand, while sanctioning the persecution of the church on the other, by allowing the withdrawal of the means to a livelihood of some of its members as this and many past stories demonstrate, for merely acting true to one’s conscience, and all because they really do what you said they should do, i.e. be evangelical (refer to my Gospel tab for what that really amounts to – proclaiming the righteousness of God), then the losers may well be the very people you claim you want to see helped. While many of the best servants of the poor have themselves been of modest means, the practical reality is we need to work not just to live and support our families but also to support our voluntary endeavours – which is why paid work is important.
While I realise that the Lord’s prayer that many Christians pray daily includes the idea of bringing in God’s kingdom, which involves uplifting the poor and the oppressed and making society more conformable to God’s idea of how it should be yet, on reflection, the Church does best when it is being persecuted, so just maybe Mr Cameron’s doublespeak is doing us a favour!
As I have said repeatedly in the past, Christians (the sum total of which constitutes the Church) need to hold their nerve when it comes to sticking to their guns on what they believe to be right, yet given the ever growing gaps in terms of unmet need in our society, they should be in the forefront of doing what it takes, including engaging and working with government and sometimes antipathetic centres of power, to meet those needs … which brings me back to the story of the anti-gay nurse that was sacked. Regrettably, her employers have not commented, and British fair play would want me to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll try …
While I await further developments, hoping for but not necessarily expecting a just outcome, I am of the tentative view that whatever misdemeanors this lady had committed (and the evidence for this seems scant at best), the reaction of her employer was more than disproportionate and on the wrong side of the culture war (like it or not, recognise it or not, fight it or not) all of us are in, and depending on the outcome will shape the future destiny of this nation.