Leader: The Johns judgment: a useful corrective

03 March 2011

A PRESS RELEASE was circulated on Tuesday evening headed: “High Court suggests Christian beliefs harmful to children.” It came from Christian Concern, a sister organisation to the Chris­tian Legal Centre, which supported Owen and Eunice Johns in their attempt to become foster parents despite the reservations of Derby City Council about the couple’s antipathy to homosexuality. If anything were needed to justify the decision of Lord Justice Munby to side with the city council, it would be such a press release.

In his judgment, the judge reminded the Johns and their sup­porters that English law was essentially and necessarily objective. On this point, he quoted from the judgment of Lord Justice Laws in the Gary MacFarlane case (News, 7 May 2010): “We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion, any belief system, can­not, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.”

Some Christians — we do not know how many — would agree with Mr Johns’s view that, were a foster child to express the view that he or she was possibly gay, an attempt should be made “gently [to] turn them round”. Others would disagree. Neither side could claim that theirs was the exclusive “Christian” view, and thus, even within the Church, an appeal needs to be made to authorities other than the Bible. For Anglicans, these are tradition and reason. Another quote from Lord Justice Laws: “The general law may, of course, protect a particular social or moral position which is espoused by Christianity, not because of its religious imprimatur, but on the footing that in reason its merits commend themselves.”

This important point is repeatedly overlooked by those who cite scripture (or their interpretation of it) and then feel hard done by when they are ignored. It is not a new requirement that the Church, or a section of it, marshall evidence to demonstrate that what it proposes or defends is for the general good. This is the day-to-day task of bishops in the House of Lords. What is new, perhaps, is the laziness of Christians when it comes to reason­ing their case, with the result that rationality is now thought, erroneously, to be the preserve of secularists. In such an atmos­phere, the lack of investment by the Church in research and education has severely weakened its intellectual centre, leaving the field to be occupied by lobby groups of various persuasions. When these go to law, it is no surprise when their emotive, par­tial arguments are given short shrift. This is emphatically not the defeat of Christian principles or teaching. A few more press re­leases and a little more lazy journalism might, however, convince people that it is so.

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