From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy
Sir, — I believe that an important point has been missed in the debate about gay adoptions, namely, the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to explain the theology behind its thinking. The RC Church has focused instead on the issue of Church versus state, and the latter’s apparent determination to impose on religious people laws that they find abhorrent.
The impression thus given is that here is a new and sinister threat to all faith groups, who in future will be forced to make a choice between obedience to their religion and obedience to the state.
The reality is different. Religious affiliation on its own is not a sufficient reason for being excused from laws that apply to everybody else. If you do not give reasons that can be debated by society as a whole, but demand exemption purely on the grounds of religious principle from legislation that forbids discrimination against homosexuals, you effectively opt out of public discourse, and claim that reason-trumping divine revelation has given you superior moral insight.
The Roman Catholic Church’s argument, originally from natural law, is that the purpose of the genitals is to reproduce. Any other use of them is, by that Church’s definition, immoral. This is what informs its attitude to homosexual practice, and this is the argument it should present for public scrutiny.
Outside Roman Catholicism, nobody credits this argument with any force at all. Are we to consider it immoral to balance our spectacles on our noses unless we believe, with Dr Pangloss, that God designed noses for that very purpose?
Christians have in the past engaged in public debate — on religious education, divorce, and abortion, for example — explaining why they hold the views they do, and trying to convince people that their reasoning is sound.
How the state then responds is another matter. It may decide they are right and legislate accordingly. It may decide they are wrong, in which case believers will have to decide whether to break the law and accept the consequences. Or it may find the argument unconvincing but respectable, and design the legislation with an opt-out clause for religious conscience.
But until the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to have the debate, it cannot with integrity demand exceptional treatment on this or any other legislation.
Modern Churchpeople’s Union
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE
From the Bishop of Worcester
Sir, — Respect for conscience is very important, but when it is being pleaded in a partial way that bears disproportionally on one group of people, as in the case of the Roman Catholic adoption agencies, it must not hide that fact from us. Nor must it make us unaware that more than one set of consciences is involved.
Debate about whether legislating against discrimination is always helpful is certainly needed. We also need to note that the legislation we have on many forms of discrimination has made a great difference to the life chances of many.
We need to be alert to the presence of secularising assumptions, but not so as to forget that many who support these regulations have Christian reasons for doing so. Countering secularism is not helped by seeing it everywhere, whether there is evidence of it or not.
The Bishop’s House
Kidderminster DY11 7XX
From the Revd Giles Walter
Sir, — In the mid-1970s, I spent a year in the Soviet Union as an exchange student under the Anglo-Soviet Cultural Agreement. As such, I gained first-hand experience of life under a militantly secular regime.
It went something like this. “This is the Party ideology; it is now enshrined in the law of the land, and all citizens will abide by it. No exceptions to the law can be tolerated; least of all, those that are prompted by religious conviction. Those who, on grounds of conscience, choose to disobey the law may expect to suffer the law’s full penalty.”
To my great astonishment, large segments of the population seemed to have no problem with this.
The recent utterances, intentions, and actions of our own Government, as well as many people’s blindness to the underlying issues, are to me chillingly reminiscent of a system I was very glad to have left behind. Never in my worst dreams did I expect, thirty years later, to find echoes of it in my own country.
1 Amherst Road
Kent TN4 9LG