Monday, 14 December 2009

"Loony Left" now swimming in Conservative mainstream

This is a guest post by Rev Julian Mann

Back in 1986, I attended the annual conference of the National Union of Students as a Conservative delegate. It was there that I got a sense as a young man of a new political ideology emerging in Britain. Political correctness was then in its adolescence and, outside student politics, was confined mainly to what was then known as the 'Loony Left'.

Now it appears to be mainstream Conservative thinking.

I am not now a member of any political party, but I was invited to apply for tickets to a Cameron Direct question and answer session with the Conservative leader here in north Sheffield on Friday. I raised with Mr Cameron the serious crisis facing the orthodox Christian community from the Equality Bill and in particular its impact on our desire to uphold heterosexual marriage. I asked him a). whether he wanted to do anything about our concerns and b). whether he could because of the pressure from Europe to take away our religious exemptions.

He said he was in favour of some aspects of the Equality Bill (the fact that it tidies up various bits of legislation) but he had some concerns about its impact on faith groups. He ended by saying something along the lines that he was in favour of faith groups being allowed to continue
provided they don't discriminate.

Though I am very much a layman on political philosophy, this struck me as a quite extraordinary statement from a Conservative. I thought they believed in a limited role for government. I also thought they had an ideological commitment to safeguarding people's rights over their property.

Mr Cameron is clearly a very bright and able man and has sincere and deeply-held convictions about the need for greater personal responsibility in society. It was also impressive how he was able to give answers on such a wide range of issues. I certainly wouldn't be able to think that quickly on my feet.

But it seemed to be astonishing that a Conservative leader refrained from offering a firm assurance that his party would oppose any moves to compel churches to host blessings for civil partnerships on our premises and to employ staff who do not adhere to our Christian moral standards.

Instead, he spoke in terms of politicians giving permission to faith groups to operate in society. Mrs Thatcher was a strong-minded character but the thought would never have occurred to her that Caesar should tell God what to do over the couples He allows to get married in His churches and the kind of people He employs to serve in them. She certainly never would have invoked 'anti-discrimination' as the rationale for government intervention in the voluntary sector. Mr Cameron's terms of reference reminded me of the NUS back in the 1980s.

Christian churches in fact have a spiritual and moral obligation to discriminate in favour of heterosexual marriage and in terms of who we employ. They must be good Christian role models to the people in their care. We certainly don't discriminate in terms of the people to whom we proclaim the living Christ and look after in our groups and social care programmes.

We have no desire to impose our standards on non-Christian voluntary associations and charities. But we do ask to be free to uphold our Christian spiritual and moral standards in ours.