Irish Evangelical response to civil partnerships

Glen posted a link to an interesting document produced by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland (an entirely separate organisation from the Evangelical Alliance UK) in response to the current Irish Civil Partnerships Bill. The EAI’s response is well-summed up in the phrase Glen highlights in his blog post:

…as followers of a just and compassionate God we can recognise the justice and fairness of providing some legal protection for the reality of both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting relationships.

As the rest of the document makes clear, the EAI is not softening its commitment to traditional Christian teaching on marriage at all, but arguing that, in a culture where other patterns of family life are now extremely common, it is a matter of justice that the law should recognise this.

I find this heartening. Our culture (in Britain – maybe it’s different in Ireland?) seems increasingly to fail to recognise any distinction between ‘I think this is morally wrong’ and ‘I think this should be illegal’. This attitude seems to have infected much Christian commentary on matters of public policy in this country – we have demanded too often that the law be brought into accord with our moral intuitions, without exception or reserve. Evangelicals have probably been worse at this than most.

But the Evangelical Alliance movement was born, in 1845-6, out of a desire to protect and extend liberty of conscience and, whilst undoubtedly it was the liberty of people to be evangelicals in majority Roman Catholic countries (such as Ireland) which mainly concerned them, they understood from the first that they could not deny to others the liberty they demanded for themselves. The intuition (first, I am proud to say, articulated by a Baptist, Thomas Helwys, in 1611) that it is the moral duty of government to maintain a studied neutrality on certain matters, and to offer space and protection for its people to live in the way that they might choose, is a natively evangelical one.

(This also, incidentally, explains the concern Glen registers in his post – the desire to provide ‘some legal protection’; a standard problem in modern law concerns whose rights trump whose, and the EAI does not want legal protection for cohabiting couples to extend to the making illegal of the moral witness, and the expression of that witness in appropriate ways, of churches, mosques, &c.)

6 Comments

  1. Andrew Crome
    Dec 12, 2009

    Always good to read your common sense approach to the issue after coming across a few hysterical cries of “apostasy!” in the last few days. It always surprises me (though perhaps it shouldn’t) that we really haven’t moved that far from the debates of the early 1640s on the role of the government in legislating punishments for adultery and other miscellaneous sins.

  2. Patrick Mitchel
    Dec 12, 2009

    Steve, I read your blog regularly and find your comments especially encouraging. There was much discussion going on in the advisory group leading up to the production of this document wrestling with the tension of holding to Christian ethics while addressing how Christians are to live realistically in a plural society. There has been quite a mixed reaction. It seems to me that some (evangelical) criticism of the document too quickly (i) assumes that it endorses homosexuality (ii) assumes the worst of its authors (sad departure from evangelical faith etc) (iii) assumes that it should be the duty of the state to make sinful behaviour illegal (iv) implicitly seems to assume that religious and civil liberty only should go one way (v) seems to assume that identifying an action as sinful trumps the need for discussion of how to live as a minority in a post-Christendom culture.

  3. Steve H
    Dec 16, 2009

    @Andy: thanks for commenting.

    @Patrick: welcome to the blog, and thanks for your kind words. I had not really seen the various criticisms until reading Kevin Hargaden’s post – the pingback above – which links to several. It seems to me that there are a couple of different things going on. On the one hand, you have those – like the Christian Institute – who believe that the establishment in law of a certain faith, and the imposition of the moral judgements of that faith on the whole population whether they share it or not, is a good thing. This has been a common Islamic and Christian position down the centuries, but it is one that I, as a Baptist, dissent from. But that’s OK: there is a theological discussion to be had, and we can recognise the different basic approaches and how they would produce different reponses to this issue.
    On the other hand, less happily, some of the responses seemed to be driven by a sense (right or wrong) that one particular Christian denomination, the Anglican communion, is in crisis, that this crisis is focused on the question of human sexuality, and that anything that could possibly be seen as suggesting any weakening on this issue must therefore be opposed as dangerous. As a result, you got caught in the cross-fire of somebody else’s war…

  4. Patrick Mitchel
    Dec 16, 2009

    Thanks Steve.

    I think how to respond to an issue like this does not have one obvious answer. To some that seems like a fudge but we need some Christian realism. I respect the views of those who oppose the Bill because they believe it undermines marriage or poses a threat to religious liberty. That is a mixture of political, theological and sociological judgement and has nothing to do with endorsing homosexual practice or not. After weighing up the issues biblically EAI made a different call. It seems to me that Christians face these sorts of moral and ethical decisions every day. We do seem to be pretty bad at least respecting the integrity of fellow Christians as they seek to follow Christ under the authority of his Word yet come to different conclusions as to what that looks like.

  5. Shiva
    Jan 9, 2010

    So the conclusion is that this is due to this specific religious group being a part of a secular and multicultural society and culture.

    If it were any other type of society, preferably a theocratic one, the EAI wouldn’t be as tolerant? At least that’s what I get from that which is written here…

    • Steve H
      Jan 9, 2010

      Hi, welcome to the blog.

      I can’t see, I am afraid, why you would have got that impression. The phrase ‘The intuition … that it is the moral duty of government to maintain a studied neutrality on certain matters, and to offer space and protection for its people to live in the way that they might choose, is a natively evangelical one’ would seem to point rather strongly in the other direction, surely?

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