Christians engage with politics – quite rightly

I was invited to St James’ Church, Muswell Hill, to talk to a new group that has formed to engage in a variety of topics – this one being about politics generally – and politics and religion.

In our modern world – new challenges arise as we battle with where the right place is to draw the line between legislating to prevent discrimination – and the freedoms we treasure to believe and practise whichever faith we may follow.

An example would be the relatively recent case of a registrar whose religious beliefs led to her refusing to perform a civil partnership ceremony for a gay couple in Islington. In our modern world – there is no place any longer for conscience or belief (just as with likes or dislikes) for an individual to refuse equal access to public services.

So – when I say the ‘modern world’ throws up new challenges – years ago this dilemma would not have existed because being openly gay itself was illegal. It is a measure of how far we have travelled that to not register a civil partnership is now illegal. I know I came in for a fair amount of chatter on the Internet amongst religious sites for saying, during the committee stage of the Equality Bill, that given these new challenges people would have to basically go into a different job – meaning that if your religious belief is going to make it impossible to carry out your work in the public sector – then that job is not going to be the right one. For those in the job as the world changes – of course – this is a very difficult circle to square – but in the end (and I believe quite rightly) access to public services cannot be anything other than free of religious belief.

So – that bit is relatively simple – perhaps more complex is how far and in what circumstances can or should the state expand beyond where pubic money is spent.

I spoke a bit about politics generally – but also in particular some of the issues that had arisen thus far on the Equality Bill where there is undoubtedly a clash between religious freedoms and state requirements in the dispensing of public services.

One particularly interesting part of the discussion, I thought, was in the Bill there is a part that says of say a Christian Church in terms of employment – it’s OK to discriminate in employing the Vicar and only Christians need apply (pretty obvious) but that employing a youth leader or indeed caretaker that protection would not exist and that employment must be open to all.

The caretaker scenario no-one seemed to mind being a non-discriminatory position but the Youth Leader – people thought should be able to teach and lead in a Christian way – given it was a youth group belonging to the Church. So – I want to throw that over to comment as there is a clash between State and Church on this issue – where principles clash and both have right on their side.

0 thoughts on “Christians engage with politics – quite rightly

  1. If I understand this correctly, the group is of the opinion that a person cannot act (teach, lead) “in a Christian way” if they are not a member of the religion? I think that’s the sort of attitude that we need to stamp out.

    They are free to set policies on how the youth group should be run, to make those policies consistent with their religion, and to hire people on the basis of their ability to carry out those policies. They are even free to require candidates to have an interest in the religion. They are not free to say that a person who is not a member of the religion is incapable of carrying out those policies.

    I would expect that in most but not all cases, the person best suited under those criteria would in fact be a member of their religion. The whole point of non-discrimination laws is that they are not allowed to exclude the inconvenient few who can do the job but don’t fit the norm.

  2. I agree it’s terrible to deny people access to services. The worst offenders in this regard tend to be domestic violence services and it’s good that the Lib Dems are starting to speak out on behalf of those denied help.

    Other notable offenders (albeit far less serious) and certain libraries and swimming pools.

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  4. Lynne – this is an interesting article.

    In my experience, the work of a Christian youth leader is essentially a pastoral role. Churches don’t run youth groups just to keep young people off the streets, but to enable young people who wish to grow in the Christian faith the opportunity to do so. There is no meaningful sense in which a non-believer would be able to assist young people in living Christian lives – by which I mean not only following the teachings of Christ but engaging in a personal relationship with Him through prayer, meditation, reading the Scriptures, and so forth. The best youth workers tend to be those who model Christ-likeness in their own lives and who open up their hearts and homes to the young people with whom they work. Christian youth work therefore has much more in common with ordained ministry than with, for instance, the work of a church caretaker.

    Certainly, Liberalism requires a belief in equal opportunities in the labour market, but I think the historic Liberal belief in the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion (or non-religion) according to their own lights, so long as it does not impinge on the human dignity of other citizens, is more fundamental.

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  6. Remember it was Christians opposed to Trident who organised the meeting Lynne addressed at Our Lady of Muswell in November 2007 with Pat Gaffney from the Catholic Peace organisation Pax Christi. We play our part…

  7. It is good for Chrsitians to engage with politics ( local social action) but the group at St James needs to be careful that it doesn’t become selective and snobbish, only allowing in people in who it thinks will fit the ‘club’. ( Predominantly Conservative.) Not all Christians are Conservative by any means.

    Christ before politics, so no one should be playing at excluding others.