Are Eunice and Owen Johns fit to be Conservative Party candidates?
This one won’t go away. And yesterday, the Prime Minister chose to ensure that it doesn’t.
It no longer matters who has misinterpreted what judgment or who has misapplied what ruling to which hypothetical scenario. Last week, His Grace chose to deal with two direct quotations – more concerned with the British Constitution and Holy Scripture than with the case of Eunice and Owen Johns directly – but he also was savaged for having misrepresented the facts of the case. If only political debate were conducted on the lines of dispassionate Court reason, it might then be possible to deal with the nuances of the judgment. But it is not. Attempts at an intellectual explanation of the Court’s ruling, as Iain Duncan Smith spluttered last week on Question Time, are doomed to failure: the details are drowned out by the righteous indignation of those who think they know what this story is about. The immediate political imperative is to respond to that, as Dr David Starkey did.
When visiting Derby yesterday, where Mr and Mrs Johns live, the Prime Minister was asked about this case. He unhesitatingly responded that he agreed with the judgment. He’s politically savvy enough to have known that this question might arise, and also that his task is to respond to what the story has become; not what he, Iain Duncan Smith, the Bishop of Buckingham or the Courts say it is.
David Cameron is somewhat preoccupied with Libya; prioritising paying off the national debt; reducing the deficit; campaigning (just about) against AV; introducing seismic reforms in health and education; placating a fractious police force; soothing HM Armed Forces; and holding together a coalition government. He didn’t need to say anything about the case of Eunice and Owen Johns at all. But he chose to. By entering the fray over this court ruling, it would appear that he has familiarised himself with one of Sir Humphrey’s most perceptive aphorisms, which is displayed prominently upon His Grace’s blog: “It’s interesting,” Sir Humphrey observed, “that nowadays politicians want to talk about moral issues, and bishops want to talk politics.”
And so the Prime Minister decided to talk about morality: sexual morality; homosexuality, to be precise.
Mr Cameron went further: speaking, he said, as a church-goer himself, he added: "I think Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad-minded."
By saying he’s a church-goer before expounding his doctrine, he places the imprimatur of the Bride of Christ upon his belief. It is a little like the Pope coming to Westminster Abbey to talk about Christian unity, and just happening to preface his homily with a casual mention that he’s the heir to St Peter. ‘I’m a church-goer, and...’ is to arrogate to himself a certain spiritual authority; to appropriate a superior experience; to claim charismatic insight; to place his theological judgement over and above that of Mr and Mrs Johns, and anyone else who happens to hold to their ethical and moral worldview. And if none of this, he is certainly placing his Anglicanism over and above their Protestant Evangelicalism, which is itself illiberal and religiously regressive.
But the inference is, in any case, quite clear: if you agree with the Johns, you are intolerant, unwelcoming and narrow-minded, which amounts to the same as being unloving, inhospitable and bigoted. To be a clanging cymbal with no love is not to be a Christian of any kind.
Yet this tolerance of sin is a curious theology. Jesus loved prostitutes, and welcomed them to his table. But he also told them to go and sin no more. Here is not the place to debate over and over (again) the sinfulness or otherwise of certain sexual behaviours. The important thing, for the Johns, is that they believe homosexuality to be a sin that leads to Hell, and so it is their moral duty, indeed, there reason for living, to save people from that eternal fate. That is the gospel of Christ, which they ought to be free to believe, practise, inculcate and evangelise.
Would David Cameron dare to say to Pope Benedict XVI “I’m a church-goer and...?”
We already know that he’d have no qualms lecturing the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Tim Montgomerie posted on the matter yesterday, where His Grace contributed some of the thoughts he has today expanded upon here today. He hadn’t intended doing so: today is the first day of Lent; a time for reflection. But he was troubled last night by what Dr David Starkey has referred to as the new liberal tyranny of ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’, and so the issue bubbles on.
Considering that the children to be fostered by Mr and Mrs Johns were aged just 5-10, the whole homosexuality objection by Derbyshire social workers was a ruse. It is ironic indeed that we have come to a point in society at which two inexperienced homosexuals can freely adopt a child while two very experienced heterosexual Christians may not. And the Prime Minister presumes to lecture us on the importance of tolerance and broad-mindedness. For Christ's sake, we're talking about the welfare of children. It is certainly conservative and ought to be Conservative to consider that the priority here is the mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of the children. And it is certainly more Christian to be concerned with loving and nurturing them than with some abstract state orthodoxy of politically-correct child-rearing.
It is reported that the country needs some 10,000 additional foster carers to meet the growing need. Mrs Johns is 62 and her husband 65. While most people that age would be winding down to indulge in a retirement of health spas, golf and perpetual Saga holidays, they want nothing more but to continue fostering, caring and nurturing children who have a need for a secure home. It can’t be for the money, for the financial reward is meagre and the emotional stress considerable: Mr and Mrs Johns simply wish to give love; to suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto them: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Just how many boxes do Eunice and Owen Johns tick? Being black is a great start; so is their sense of social responsibility; their selfless compassion; their community mindedness; their parental example as role models – they were described by Derby City Council as ‘kind and hospitable people who would always do their best to make a child welcome and comfortable’.
John and Eunice Johns are the Big Society.
They and people like them have been doing it since long before David Cameron was an embryo.
But they happen to hold to Jewish, Christian and Muslim orthodoxy that homosexual practice is a sin, and so they are judged to be insufficiently committed to ‘gay equality’; they do not believe that gay sex is completely equivalent to the heterosexual kind.
Is that trivially tittilating test the new inviolable touchstone of Conservative expression? Is it now an immutable article of faith that all Conservative candidates must be ‘tolerant, welcoming and broad-minded’ not of a diverse electorate – which is a necessary attribute in a pluralist democracy – but of all beliefs and immoral behaviours?
Age aside (if that is not ageist), would the Prime Minister be content for John or Eunice Owens to be selected as parliamentary candidates for the Conservative Party?