Saturday Story of the Week
My friend Zoomtard [aka Kevin Hargaden] had a typically articulate letter in the Irish Times at the end of last week – part of a lively exchange that went on all this week on the Civil Partnership Bill. All in response to a letter by a group of evangelical pastors requesting the Minister for Justice to give an ‘opt out’ from the Bill on the grounds of religious conscience.
Kevin took an opposing line, welcoming the reality of a plural Ireland (as opposed I guess to the closed Ireland of the past) and saying a small minority can’t expect dictate to the norms of contemporary Ireland.
In a comment on Kevin’s blog, I said I thought this was a bit unfair. The pastors weren’t asking for the Bill to be axed because they disagree with it (this would equal extreme unrealness). They weren’t actually arguing against the Bill at all (although they clearly don’t like it because it recognises and affirms sinful behaviour). They were asking for an opt out for those having some tangential involvement with same-sex unions – via hypothetical cases like a Registrar or a B&B owner.
I know and respect a lot of the names who signed the letter, but I’m not persuaded by their case either.
Is it ‘real’ for Christians to seek legal ‘opt outs’ from involvement with people, in the public sphere of work, who are ‘sinning’? Where do you start and stop with such withdrawal & separation? Should all Christian hotel owners be asking guests to fill in a moral questionnaire before being given a room? I’m sure we could make a long list of examples here ..
Is it real for a paid employee of the state (a registrar) to be given an opt out of doing job because she disagrees that the state has recognised same-sex unions? Remember this is a civil ceremony, not a religious one.
Missionally, in a context where Christianity has been so associated with selfish power, I don’t think it is strategically wise to be picking battles that give them impression that we are primarily concerned with our own self-protection. Is this really where mission and transformation of culture is at?
I find it curious that a lot of the pastors will have had personal experience of being on the ‘outside’ of Irish life. Back in the 1970s and 80s Ireland was a ‘cold place’ for ‘outsiders’. Some evangelicals had a hard time; ostracisation and isolation were not uncommon. Yet they appear to see an increasingly plural Ireland in more negative than positive terms.
I teach a course on faith in contemporary Ireland and ask students during it: As a Christian, which Ireland would you rather be in – De Valera’s or Bertie’s? [must update the question to that of the two Brians]. Unanimous answer? Bertie’s.