An exclusivist judgement

On Monday in the High Court in England a Pentecostal Christian couple in their 60s were decisively ruled against by senior judges in a landmark legal case.

They had simply wanted to provide a loving foster care home as they had done frequently in the 1990s. The reason for the ruling was that they would be unwilling to tell a young child that homosexuality was a good thing.

From the BBC

The court discriminated between kinds of Christianity, saying that Christians in general might well make good foster parents, while people with traditionalist Christian views like Mr and Mrs Johns might well not.Such views, said the judges, might conflict with the welfare of children.Significantly, the court said that while there was a right not to face discrimination on the basis on either religion or sexual orientation, equality of sexual orientation took precedence. 

They rejected suggestions that the case involved “a threat to religious liberty”, adding: “No one is asserting that Christians – or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims – are not fit and proper persons to foster or adopt. No-one is contending for a blanket ban.”

What do you make of that last paragraph? To me it is bizarre and contradictory.

It is an extraordinary conceit that the judges are taking it upon themselves to rule what is and what is not an acceptable form of Christianity. The unacceptable form is to think homosexuality is not a good thing. That rules out historic and orthodox Christian teaching across pretty well all denominational boundaries. Such attitudes ‘may well conflict with the welfare of children’. The clear logic is that orthodox Christian beliefs may actually pose a threat to children’s welfare. And yet they then conclude such a ruling does not suggest that Christians (or Jews or Muslims) are not fit persons to adopt or foster.

The other issue here is how clearly equality legislation ‘trumps’ rights not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.  Obvious ‘moral weighting’ is going on here. There is no such thing as an objective neutrality. Equality legislation is being interpreted in order to enforce uniformity of ‘legitimate’ thought.

A civil society needs to try to balance competing values and ‘rights’ if it is to work towards some form of inclusive pluralism. Sure that will be contentious and difficult. But it seems to me that this judgement represents an intolerant and incoherent exclusivism that has little or no place for Christians or Jews or Muslims in the public square.

And the ones who lose are the children being offered a secure, stable home by a couple of experienced care givers.  Surely the real issue here should be the character and quality of caring relationships offered to children in need. It seems perverse that one hypothetical conversation becomes the litmus test of suitability to look after and relate to children. It also reduces our humanity down to being able to tick the right box of what is deemed politically and socially acceptable.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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3 thoughts on “An exclusivist judgement

  1. Patrick, I’ve argued this on your blog before… working towards some form of inclusive pluralism is not difficult… it is impossible. Because there can be no pluralism when it comes to living in community under one common law. Law defines boundaries and acceptable norms, limiting and outlawing the unacceptable. The only question is who or what decides the norms.

  2. Patrick, its not as clear cut as the headline makers have made it out to be. Here’s a link to a clearer picture

    http://blog.drake-comms.co.uk/2011/02/28/misplaced-outrage-over-high-court-ban-on-christian-foster-parents/

    It appears that “For a start, the couple had not been banned from adopting or fostering – the City Council’s social services and children’s panel hadn’t made a decision about whether or not Eunice and Owen Johns would make suitable foster parents. But, after social workers asked questions about how their Christian views would affect their response to a child who said they were gay; the couple and the council decided to make a joint application to the High Court for guidance.”

    A definitive judgement has not be given in this case yet !

  3. Thanks very much Paul, very helpful.

    I was going by the reporting on the BBC website – which from the very good explanation given at your link, does not report the full facts. It sounds like the court was being used as a debating chamber between the Council and this couple and could not rule on abstract ideas devoid of actual evidence.

    I’ve posted before on hype over ‘Christian persecution’ in the UK and the Christian Legal Centre sounds like it has a wider agenda in this case. The remarks of the judges do however point to support of the Council and against the Johns.being suitable foster carers, even if their judgement is not a principle of law..

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