Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop 7:30 pm, 3rd March 2008

I pretty much agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said when he introduced this debate, although I am not entirely convinced that the amendment would be helpful. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, about the importance of freedom of speech, but in any society free speech must be responsible speech, too; responsibility must be given an equal weighting.

The difficulty with the amendment is that, given the way in which the offence is construed, it really should not be necessary. Requiring proof that there is intent to threaten is a pretty high threshold. There is the additional requirement that the Attorney-General gives consent, which is pretty much a back-stop provision, as we understand it. If we also have to have this in the Bill, we are at least in theory justifying permitting in certain circumstances speech that intends to threaten, because of the additional amendment that we have passed. This may have been a structural flaw in the Religious Offences Bill, which also had these two provisions, which seemed to be in a certain amount of tension.

I do rather agree with the question of where we stop if we go on from here. It has been said, for example, that there is no reference here to transsexuals or to age or whatever. That may be for another day. I hope that we can stop here. Given the state of the law elsewhere in this area, I understand why this offence has been introduced.

My other problem with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—I do not have this problem at all with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas—is that anyone reading it would regard it as free speech about homosexuality. From a Christian perspective, we want the freedom to speak about marriage and the Christian understanding of marriage as the proper context for sexual relationships. We do not want a privileged part of the law that is seen to allow criticism of homosexual activity, as from a Christian perspective one would be equally critical of heterosexual activity outside marriage. The amendment's focus on sexual orientation will be read as particular permission of the freedom to criticise homosexual behaviour. From a Christian perspective, this freedom should be even-handed across different sexual orientations.

Although there might be a case for further elucidation in the Bill—the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, attempts to provide that, although leaving this to the Attorney-General may not be very satisfactory—if we take words for what they mean, the intent to stir up hatred is a pretty high bar, and with guidance issued to the police to clarify the offence, it should be enough in our society. My fear is that precisely by putting this sort of amendment into law, we almost draw attention again to the homosexual issue. That would have the quite unintentional effect of signalling out a group of people identified by their sexual orientation as different. That is the mistake. That is what leads to the bullying and the violence, which is a real problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said. It is because that is such a real problem that the amendment, although it means well and although I agree with the proposer and the way in which he introduced it, has a certain danger in it. If we are to have anything, I would prefer something along the lines of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

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david skinner
Posted on 28 Mar 2008 11:32 am (Report this annotation)

All well and good. Ever since the 60s, with Alfred Kinsey and Hugh Heffner of Playboy magazine, it is the heterosexual who has been responsible for blazing a trail of promiscuity; but though the bishop may want an even handed approach to this issue whereby the expression “sexual orientation” refers to both the heterosexual and homosexual, the reality is that the regulations clearly do not. Nothing is stopping the bishop from criticizing heterosexual adultery and fornication, starting with those in his church, but for him to even think of trying it with the LGBTs, would result, for him, as he must well know, in more than being interviewed by the police.

But the Bishop of Chester’s remarks, unless I have misinterpreted him, could lead one to think that the only sin being committed is adultery - sex outside of marriage; as long as the partners are married then it does not matter whether the relationship is heterosexual, homosexual, incestuous, polygamous or paedophile - just so long as the partners are “ imaging in their personal and sexual life the love and justice of Christ.” (1997‘Knowing
Myself in Christ’: Rowan Williams)

The Bible makes no mention of other configurations of marriage apart from male and female, nor is there any mention of the two waiting until their personal lives ”images the love and justice of Christ.” in order to become one flesh. There have been marriages created for all manner of reasons, apart from love, such as those of economy, politics and plain convenience, as with the case of C.S Lewis’ marriage to Joy Davidman.
C.S. Lewis in “ The Four Loves” says:

“Most of our ancestors were married off in the early in youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to with Eros. They went to the (sexual) act with no other “fuel”, to speak, than plain animal desire. And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their “marriage debt”, and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord. Conversely, this act, done under the influence of a soaring and iridescent Eros which reduces the role of the senses to a minor consideration, may yet be plain adultery, may involve breaking a wife’s heart, deceiving a husband, betraying a friend, polluting hospitality and deserting your children.”

Dante, the Italian poet fell in love with Beatrice at first sight, and he loved her with a spiritual passion all his life. Then he married another woman who bore his children and washed his dishes but he never forsook his love for Beatrice. It has not pleased God that the distinction between a sin and a duty should turn on fine feelings. This act, like any other, is justified ( or not) by far more prosaic and definable criteria; by the keeping or breaking of promises, by justice or injustice, by charity or selfishness, by obedience or disobedience.
But surely God would not disapprove of a beautiful and unearthly match - difficult to match even in a heterosexual partnership - where the homosexual partners had even agreed to remain celibate, such as that between Jeffrey John, the homosexual dean of St. Albans Abbey and his long standing lover, the rev Grant Homes?
Firstly, as for our love “ imaging the love and justice Christ,” the Bible tells us that our best thoughts and deeds are but filthy rags compared to God’s purity and holiness: Isaiah 55 :8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” and secondly on a point of obedience, God has said that it is the duty of married people to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Or at least be willing to carry out this ordinance.

Again to loosely borrow from C.S. Lewis, these two could say to one another in an almost sacrificial spirit, “It is for love’s sake that we have led astray young people in the church and those weak in their faith.” They may even feel a particular merit in such sacrifices to the idol of such love; what costlier offering can be laid on the love’s altar than one’s conscience? These two are guilty of idolatry.
So much for the participants of marriage, what about the conditions and imperatives placed on those surrounding the partners, the relatives, friends, the church and the community, the supporters? How are we supposed to respond? Do we have responsibilities? The church and government both say that we need to be inclusive, that no one must be left out of a diverse society, no matter how people play the game.
The book of Ephesians has for may years been held up as a book about church unity but my reading of it is that increasingly it is about warfare; indeed, it ends with some of the most vivid instructions on how to wage it.
Church unity and integration, are not the same as the universalist's mantras "inclusion and diversity" which have been seized with an almost religious fervour by the church; not only does Jesus Christ tell us that many are called by God but that few are chosen. The letter to the Ephesians, as a consequence, orders the church to enforce this selection and to exclude those within the church fellowship who are clearly not called, or who behave as such, until as such time as they are brought to repentance.

Although Jesus Christ is the final judge, there is a burden of responsibility laid upon us all. The universal church does have responsibilities in making sure that there is a clear distinction between the Christian and all others. Like an invading and infiltrating army we have to be in society but not of it. Above all, like troops, in Normandy, during D-Day, engaged in fierce hand to hand fighting, we need to recognise friend from foe. Poverty, AIDs, global warming and inequality are not principally the enemy, but the spiritual forces that have produced them.
Paul, in writing to the Ephesians clearly describes how the Christian must separate themselves from gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. He describes those outside the family of God as: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
Further on he said;

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity…….because these are improper for God's holy people....have nothing to do with the fruitless seeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret...…Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
The Church of England protests against the charge that it is leading the vanguard in moral corruption by pointing out that it upholds, personal relationship, monogamy and life- long commitment; but this is no better than the morality of some heathen cultures. The Church can tick all the moral boxes but if it is not obedient on the one issue that God demands of it at this moment, it might just as well not be bothered with any of them. It strains at gnats and swallows camels.