One of the news items that has been running for these past few months is the case of a Christian bakers (Ashers) in Northern Ireland that refused to bake a cake for a gay organization that would include an inscription promoting gay marriage. The bakers were told by the Equality commission they needed to comply with the request otherwise they would be breaking discrimination laws. Ashers refused and were taken to court. Two days ago the court ruled to the effect that Ashers had indeed broken the law. The story can be followed from numerous sources. Those which offer a perspective sympathetic to Ashers include Christian Concern and the Christian Institute and there are several secular sources too. Some have been sympathetic such as the Daily Telegraph which starts and ends thus: “Northern Ireland’s gay cake scandal may sound silly, but it goes to the heart of the debate … So why should they also be required to make a statement they do not agree with? Indeed, should freedom of conscience always be trumped by anti-discrimination rights? Imagine if a Muslim printer was forced to produce a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. Either a higher court needs to look at this again or Parliament should revisit the law” and even more poignantly with the Spectator which leads with the headline: “The ‘gay cake’ case highlights a new intolerance developing in Ireland”.
I was interested, as I usually am in such cases, to read what Pink News wrote about the matter, and particularly what would be the comments of some of their readers, which from past experience I expected would not be too sympathetic, and understandably so given the quite legitimate grievance that many gay folk share having been discriminated against and that this needs to stop, including through recourse to law. While that was the case, I felt some readers looked further than this, and I was encouraged. One reader wrote:
“This decision is totally flawed for at least three reasons:
- People/partnerships/business are often run by Religious people who have a thing called a “Conscience.” This means they will not do certain things for, in doing so, they believe they would be betraying their Faith, and sinning and thereby offending God.
- Proprietors can decline custom to whoever they wish – it is their business, no one else’s!
- The case was only brought by a Gay Rights Activist to push a LGBT Agenda on British Society – the ‘civil partnership’ couple could’ve easily gone somewhere else for the cake decoration. They, and he, should’ve respected the Religious Convictions of the Proprietors of this business.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T and D.I.S.C.R.I.M.I.N.A.T.I.O.N. work both ways in this case. So much hypocrisy going on here….
I am totally sick of Christians being disrespected and discriminated against on the basis of the Religious Conscience!”
In a related story concerning the possibility that Tescos might sever their relationship with Ashers as a result of this judgment, another Pink News reader wrote
“Some of the comments here make me ashamed to be gay. Are we saying that we want to see their business go to the wall, and orders cancelled, because of their opinions? We all have opinions, and it would be a sad day for mankind if we felt that we had to censor ourselves because of the fear of the repercussions our opinions may cause.
Fair play to them for having principles, and for defending them so strongly. No-one should feel terrified, or feel at risk from tirades like I’ve seen for defending their principles. Colleen Nolan went a little too far in her ISIS comparison, but there remains the point that a line has to be drawn somewhere – and for this business, this was that line.
if you don’t agree with their opinions or principles, then fine – move on. Life is too short. But to hound them, and their retail partners to a point where only the collapse of their business is an acceptable outcome, is disgusting.”
Before venturing forth with my own views on the matter, looking as I generally do at the bigger picture and wider implications, the last word should be given to Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur:
“We’re extremely disappointed with the judgment.
“We’ve said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer and we didn’t know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was, and it wasn’t relevant either. We’ve always been happy to serve any customers that come into our shops.
“The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign no matter how much they disagree with it. Or as the Equality Commission has suggested, they should perhaps just close down, and that can’t be right.
“But we won’t be closing down, we certainly don’t think we’ve done anything wrong and we will be taking legal advice to consider our options for appeal.”
For those people who have been following my writings e.g. “The Gay Conundrum” and my “gay related” blogs, the latest being “Equality and gay marriage”, will know why this is a subject that particularly interests me, despite my reluctance to labour my points. I write from the point of view of a Christian community activist that wishes to operate freely and fruitfully in the public square. I have no problems whatsoever with LBGT folk, and do not wish to appear unwelcoming, discriminatory or churlish, despite being accused of homophobia for expressing my views. Such is a price I fear, given our present equality obsessed culture, folk like the Ashers bakers will have to pay when acting as they do – and like a number of unlikely public figures e.g. Patrick Stewart, I will stand with them even if I may have gone about things differently. I think they will find out what it means: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness“, and I commend them for their principled stand. Regrettably, despite the definition being hijacked by those who use it as a stick to beat their detractors, homophobia does exist among Christians. While this is wrong, so too is the wrong done to often law abiding Christians, and indirectly to the people they seek to serve, when they are penalized for merely acting in accordance with their conscience. I believe this to be the case with Ashers bakers, and many others besides.
Things may well get worse as the culture wars hot up, and Christians need to hold their nerve. Some of my fellow Christians “don’t get it”, wondering why the fuss and arguing the loving response is to do what is asked. One day they will get it should their freedom of conscience be challenged and are forced to acknowledge black is white or face the consequences, but sadly it may then be too late. For my part, I need to speak out while I can, as well as get on with the business of preaching the gospel and serving the poor, lowly, disempowered and oppressed, which is where my interest truly lies.