Wednesday, January 19, 2011

lessons from the Cornwall B&B case

Comment is called for on the judgement in the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, because it is a significant one, and because of the Cornish connection. While some of the responses have been predictable and stereotyped, most commentators have recognised that Judge Andrew Rutherford has treated the Bulls with respect, even though he has found against them. The case turned on the principle that Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, as civil partners, were entitled to the same rights under law as a married couple. This meant that the Bull's argument that they would equally discriminate against an unmarried heterosexual couple was not accepted, because Hall and Preddy were, for the purposes of this case, married.

This is a tricky one. The Bulls didn't really have a strong case, but it's difficult not to have sympathy for them. They come across in the media as a harmless couple just doing what seems right to them. It's also hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that they have been ambushed. There may, too, be unintended consequences of this. I remember a blogger a few weeks ago linking to the website of a "gay only" hotel, and asking the quite legitimate question of why that was not illegal.

Should Christians who share the Bull's views be allowed to discriminate between married couples and those in civil partnerships? Andrew Brown offers the interesting information that Judge Rutherford is a member of the Church of England, but that didn't sway his opinion in favour of the Bulls. I have to say though, that I think the Judge is right. Whatever the details of the theological debate over sexuality, the Church should be subject to the law of the land. I do, incidentally, still believe that if there's a clash between following Christ and obeying the law, Christ should come first. I just don't think this is a case in point. The Bulls are not being forced to participate in anything they believe to be wrong. They are just being told not to discriminate against other people who do.

Although the case breaks new ground legally, it's another example of something that has been going on for some time, whereby Christians attempt to enforce their ethical standards on the world around them. This is quite the wrong way round. Let's side aside the question of sexuality for a moment (not because it doesn't matter, but because it is complicated and Christians don't agree on it), and think in general terms. The Christian life begins in an encounter with Jesus Christ, and out of this flows a desire to live one's life a certain way. If we attempt to force that lifestyle on to other people without them first sharing our faith, we are going nowhere. It's like trying to make someone wear evening dress when they're just off to the beach. Why should they?

It's a big scary world out there, and if Christians are to live in it, then we will meet a lot of people who don't do things the way we do. If we are to be credible in our faith, we need to realise this and stop trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Belief comes before behaviour.

13 comments:

Roger R. said...

I'd rather go to prison than obey such a 'law', along with a long, long list of such who disobeyed the law of (their) land where it cuts across their Christian profession. It's certainly a 'big scary world' out there, but it's a 'slippery slope' too.

Fr David Cloake said...

"following Christ and obeying the law" - with you all the way, and Roger but...

...don't go into a service industry and expect that to be a reasonable proposition. Jesus would have offered hospitality to all, not just the straight, married, employed, able-bodied.

I don't believe that we do ourselves any good as Christians, people of love, when we mete out our own localised versions what we regard God's justice to be.

Roger, theirs is not a Christian profession - they are the innkeepers that sent some more people away!

Fr David Cloake said...

...meant to say - this is the best post on this that I have read. Reasoned, balanced, allowing you to maintain your own perspective - a personal favourite, thank you Charlie!

cymraeg said...

Your clear lucid version of the B&B dilemma is I think the only way to look at it and retain an unprejudiced view. Not that many of us are without prejudice on this subject!
Personally I regard homosexuality simply as a fact of life. Whether or not it is an affront to the larger majority says more about them than the "offenders"
If the excuse for refusing same-gender couples accommodation is that the refusers are Christian
does that then imply that there are no Christian homosexuals? Answers on (several) loo-rolls please.

Charlie said...

Thanks all for the positive feedback. I find my opinions on this don't fit neatly into any of the obvious categories. This can be difficult, upsetting an eclectic cross-section of people, so it's encouraging to know there are others thinking along the same lines.
Roger, I do appreciate your comment. My feelings are similar to David's here. I think we forget that when it says Jesus partied with sinners, that's exactly what it means.

Revd John P Richardson said...

"The Bulls are not being forced to participate in anything they believe to be wrong."

Surely the whole point is that they are. They believe sex outside marriage to be wrong, and that to offer accommodation to unmarried people who may be presumed to be having sex would therefore also be a wrong. That is why they have a policy on this.

As to "it's not about us forcing our ethical behaviour on other people", I think that's called 'making laws'!

Charlie said...

John, I do recognise that I'm on slightly thin ice with the "not participate" line. But as David suggests, a B&B proprietor should realise the possible consequences of running such a business. The fact that it's their own home further complicates the issue. But they are running a business. I guess most people would think it unacceptable if a large business like a supermarket were to refuse to serve gay people. So where do you draw the line?

But your second point doesn't mean that much to me. It is indeed "called 'making laws'", hence my argument that we should, by default, obey the law. And if we don't like the law, we should strive to change it by the same means available to everybody else in a democratic society.
(In addition to which, we have an additional means at our disposal - preaching the gospel which changes hearts and lives. This is where I think we should be focussing our energy, rather than on moral determinations).

Nancy Wallace said...

Good post. I agree with you. I think the judgement of Judge Rutherford is fair. I wrote something similar, with a link to the full judgement on my blog this morning.
http://nancysblog-seeker.blogspot.com/2011/01/fair-judgement.html

Mike Bull said...

Charlie

Whatever happened to "we reserve the right to refuse service, etc..."

Re Fr David Cloake - this was not a "hospitality" issue. These instances are direct challenges for the purpose of enforcing a godless worldview upon godly people. Morality will always be enforced. The question is which morality.

This issue is where the conflict is, and this issue is where we are currently called to make a stand. When the Roman church wants to burn you for preaching a gospel of grace, you don't change the subject and focus on common ground. You fight, graciously, where the battle is.

Perhaps the gay couple could have shown some tolerance and love instead of hauling these people into court. What hypocrites. They are not victims at all. Would they pull this stunt on a Muslim couple running a B&B?

And there is most certainly a time, very biblically, to disobey the law. It is exactly such gutless retreats from the civil sphere that got Christianity in the West to this point.

And corresponding this to a supermarket is illogical, unless you are afraid of sodomy in the aisles. Drawing a line is easy.

And Charlie, how can you divorce the preaching of the gospel from moral determinations? Christ and the apostles, and many Christians since, stood in courtrooms and testified of Jesus' resurrection and His power to save from sin. And should John the Baptist have refrained from his criticism of Herod?

The gospel is a two-edged sword, and it is going to offend some people. Water it down and it loses its power to challenge and save.

The church always leads the way. In this particular case, the church's failure to stand is leading the culture in the wrong direction. Time to get a spine, people. Imagine John the Baptist's comments on this discussion.

Mike Bull
Australia

Suem said...

I think it was the right decision legally (and I think morally.)It clearly was discrimination.

I also feel some sympathy for the Bulls. Attitudes have changed very rapidly, as the judge said, a short while ago they would have been seen as quite reasonable by most people and by the law. I also guess they have this idea of "not condoning" immorality, or else they too are sullied.
I remember when I was a child, a couple at our church had a niece who was living with her boyfriend and they had a baby. This couple refused to go and see the baby, or send a congratulation card or anything as this would be "condoning" the fact that the couple had chosen to have a child out of wedlock.
I can't imagine anyone taking this stance today- even if they disapproved of cohabiting, but it was not seen as unreasonable at our church at that time.

Tony Sidaway said...

Although the notion that people in civil partnerships enjoy the same rights as married people is presented in some places as a precedent and this case is described as a "landmark", the truth is more prosaic. From its first introduction civil partnership was always intended to be marriage in all but name, and more recently the Equality Act and associated statutory instruments have emphasized that in cases like this one a person in a civil partnership is to be treat exactly the same as a married person. So all the judge did was read the law and interpret it accurately.

I can't see this case as a terrible setback for Christians (or Muslims for that matter). It just tells us what we already know: that the law applies to everybody. For the long-persecuted minority of homosexuals the Equality Act is a small but measurable advance in basic human dignity, and that's a good thing for our whole society. Full civil marriage equality is likely to follow soon enough, at least in Scotland to begin with.

mad padre said...

I think you're spot on, Charlie. As a military chaplain in a country where same-sex marriage is legal, I have an obligation to serve all, and if that means making my chapel available for a same sex marriage, as per our military's and chaplaincy's policy, I have to make that happen, even if I exercise my option not to officiate. If I couldn't bring myself to do that, I should resign from the military and give up my state-paid salary. For me it's the Bonhoeffer test. When the state forces the churches into apostasy or heresy, then we as Christians are required by our witness to take a stand. What we shouldn't do is try to make the state pass laws based on our Christian faith, because that is using the state's coercive power to buttress our faith's dominance.

Red said...

Hi Charlie
I agree with David above, this is the best post I have seen on this case. Balanced and I think fair. I was considering writing something myself but couldn't get the balance right! I just wanted to add something about the issue of the law. Some may chose not to agree with this law and even deem it against their faith but the fact is, it is the law. If we have a problem with the law then we need to take it up through proper channels, not go against it.
Mathew 22:18-24 comes to mind - give to the rulers what is theirs and to God what is His.
I do not like the fact that the Bulls could not set a rule about who stayed in their home, but that said, it is a business and therefore has to follow laws that apply to businesses. As already noted I am sure Jesus would have welcomed all into his home, regardless of their circumstances or sexual orientation. Allowing this couple to stay in their home would actually have been acting more in the spirit of Jesus than turning them away, whatever their or the couples motives may have been. After all it doesnt say in the bible, be careful who you entertain they may be devils, it says, 'Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it' Hebrews 13:2
redx