Stonewall cries bigotry and grabs Boris by the balls
What price freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Freedom of association? Freedom of contract? As His Grace foresaw (because it was tediously predictable), The Guardian jumped (with unseemly haste) on the Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust plans to advertise a challenge to Stonewall’s claim that being homosexual is innate and unchangeable. For his own ashes, His Grace is not inclined to megaphone advertising and is no fan of sound-bite soteriology, but is respectful and tolerant of those who wish to spend their money in this way. Richard Dawkins’ did not create one new atheist with his bus-side 'There’s probably no God’ campaign, and doubtless the ‘No God’ slogan irked or offended more than a few people of faith. But the Christians responded in like fashion (again, without news of mass conversions), and there was a healthy and entertaining debate. And debate requires the proposition of (at least) two opposing viewpoints, or it is simply an imbalanced presentation of a singular thesis.
Christians are called to proclaim the Good News, and whether that vocation be in a pulpit, upon a television screen, or walking up and down Oxford Street with a sandwich board, it ought to be tolerated in a free society. Now, while some might preach the wonders of heaven, the Way of Salvation and the boundless love of Jesus, others choose to focus on sin and damnation. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – it takes all sorts. In 1999 Lord Justice Sedley championed the rights of people to express such views, and quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers in doing so. There is no breach of the peace if what is said is merely offensive. He said: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.”
The world has seen too many examples of state control and censorship of unofficial utterances. The Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust message may well be offensive, irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative, but it is His Grace’s judgment that society is all the better for such expressions being permitted: freedom reigns while people spout their views. The ‘post-gay’ advert was as response to the Stonewall advert, which sounds rather like a debate to His Grace. Of course, we draw the line at prejudice, irrational discrimination or incitement to violence. Or we used to, before Labour introduced the concept of ‘hate speech’. But now, it seems, any utterance which a minority group might find offensive is censored: the contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative must give way to a state-enforced normative orthodoxy of denatured social harmony.
And this Conservative-Liberal coalition is perpetuating the new spirituality. The Guardian reported (somewhat gleefully, His Grace suspects) that the bus adverts commissioned by the Christian groups had been pulled by London’s Conservative mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson. In an extraordinary display of semantic volte face, they report him as saying: “London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses."
So it is apparently fine for Stonewall to blitz England’s capital city with pro-gay propaganda that may offend those of orthodox religious belief (indeed, there was an inferred slap of homophobia on everyone's cheek), but wholly intolerant to point out that some with same-sex attraction wanting help and support to change may indeed do just that – change. You may not agree with the message; it might even be offensive. But to censor it is to propagate the belief that ‘Gay is good’, which is fine if you believe that. But for those mainly Abrahamic monotheists who take a slightly different view, to censor the counter-proposition is tantamount to banning discussion of sexual ethics and expressions of religious orthodoxy.
His Grace happens to believe that the proposed advert was crass and clumsily worded, but it did not scream out for suppression. If Boris were really tolerant, he would have given the enraged Stonewellian activists short shrift. When democratic politicians no longer tolerate expressions of dissent, we no longer live in a liberal state. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister urged Christians to ‘fight back’ against the inexorable rise of secular intolerance, effectively sounding the battle cry of a culture war. Surely he must know – with his First in PPE – that aggressive secularism is being inculcated through the incremental imposition of intolerant ‘gay rights’ upon us all – even upon those mild and moderate homosexuals who were once perfectly happy to live and let live. Christian evangelicalism is outlawed while homogelicalism thrives, and the religious conscience is systematically subsumed to this new order.
His Grace happens to know that Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust are now considering legal action against TfL for breach of contract. Firstly, they want to know who breached the confidentiality clause and leaked news of the proposed to The Guardian, and then they want to know on what grounds TfL have terminated the agreement, not least because they were approved by TfL’s advertising agency CBSO; they fall foul of no ASA regulation; and had been agreed by the Committee of Advertising Practice.
But it appears that Christian groups may no longer freely associate with some advertising agencies (or they with them), and that the ASA and CAP may be arbitrarily overridden by the intolerant autocrat. Have we really become a nation where you are not allowed to express an honestly-held opinion, even when that opinion may be supported with sacred Scripture? Is it permissible any longer to say that homosexuality is a sin? Is it legal any longer to preach the belief that homosexuals might be forgiven for their sins and transformed into a new creation? If this, in the words of Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill, is just ‘voodoo’, then the state has reduced all religion to primitive superstition.
And people are free and must remain free to spout such views. But what manner of debate is to be had when ‘equality’ legislation makes Christians unequal, and TfL’s ‘inclusive’ policies exclude the Christian? If, as Boris says, ‘London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance’, then who is the custodian of the thresholds of intolerance? Who determines which socio-political lobby group rises and which falls?
Today the custodian is Boris. Tomorrow, it might be Ken. God help us.