Last month Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, called on David Cameron and the Commonwealth Games organisers to speak out against the criminalisation of homosexuality in many of the countries represented at the Glasgow Games. Tatchell and others point out that homosexuality is a punishable offence in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth nations. Penalties range up to life imprisonment and even, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan, the death penalty. These measures are in place despite every Commonwealth country having signed up to the Commonwealth Charter which states: "there shall be no discrimination against any country or person on any grounds whatsoever, including race, colour, gender, religion or politics" (Article 7).
Some Christians may wonder why they should be concerned about this, or indeed rally to the side of a campaigner like Peter Tatchell who has not been, shall we say, a great friend of the church in recent years. Further, Christians may be asking where such high profile media campaigns for fundamental human rights are being made when it comes to religion. In the same period that Peter Tatchell received considerable airtime on this topic, a brutal programme of persecution against Christians was being carried out by ISIS in the city of Mosul without any great outcry among the Western political class.
Nonetheless this is an issue that Christians would do well to make their voices heard on – and do so by supporting Peter Tatchell in his call to end persecution against homosexuals wherever that happens. Believing that someone should not be persecuted (or vilified) is not the same as agreeing with them. There are many things that Christians would regard as inappropriate, sinful even, but would see no benefit in criminalising – e.g. hetrosexual adultery or promiscuity. The same Bible passages that warn against homosexual activity include injunctions against gluttony, gossip and boasting – woe betide all of us if these should become grounds for imprisonment or state sponsored harassment. Law and morality are complex bed-fellows but we can all recognise that State Law can’t deal with all immorality – indeed often the best Law can do is mitigate the effects of fallen human behaviour by facilitating and thus managing the consequences of things we’d rather didn’t happen (e.g. the OT divorce laws).
There is also an issue here of Christians having to treat others the way they themselves would want to be treated. Again this is a complex area and one that doubtless requires a number of nuanced qualifications. However, Christians cannot expect that in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies (where they themselves may be in a tiny minority) that their beliefs will be privileged. We may feel we are right and it would be better if our beliefs were privileged (i.e. held sway over others) but that is not going to be countenanced by a majority who don’t share our basic convictions and faith premise. Christians can, however, make the case that their beliefs and the resulting way of life should be protected – that is, allowed the same freedom to be held and expressed as others. If I would wish such freedom for myself – I should (indeed will need to) be prepared to grant it to another, even if I might personally be appalled by their use of it. In the end God will judge on such matters and we can confidentially leave that to Him.
For those outraged at the treatment of Christians in many places today; for those who would be horrified at the thought of LGBT friends or family members being publicly hounded or castigated; for those who believe that tolerance is more than, our secular culture’s definition of, insisting that everyone hold the same beliefs, but actually involves standing up for those you disagree with – then this is an opportunity to show that Christians are not just another pressure group only concerned with themselves.
This piece has also been published on CHRISTIAN TODAY