Sunday, December 24, 2006

How do we explore the new century?

Various strands of reading and listening have been bubbling around in my head, and are now coming out on the blog.

Reading Magnus Mills’ latest novel Explorers of the New Century, and hearing about David Irving’s views on the Holocaust started me thinking. (I think Irving was a topic on this morning's Sunday Sequence ... but I missed the segment. Must listen again before the week is out.)

I always need to be careful in my life that prejudice and discrimination doesn’t overrule other positive traits. (You can replace “I” with “We” and “my” with “our” in the previous sentence if you want.) It’s all too easy to lapse into nimbyism. Culture and background filter so much of what we do and how we think and react.

Another auditory delight (?) that pumped through my earphones while pram-pushing was an episode of Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan show, in which Adrian Watson (councillor and deputy mayor of Antrim) defended his Christian wife’s right to theoretically refuse a gay couple accommodation in her family-home Bed and Breakfast if they insisted on wanting a double room. Refusal on grounds of religious belief. “Theoretically” since that was the specific question posed by a local rag, rather than an actual occurrence at the door of their B&B.

Less than two weeks ago, the shadow NI Assembly debated the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland).

A debate rehearsed on the local radio airwaves and newspaper columns. A debate centred on rights. The right of some to uphold their right to withdraw other people’s rights (generally, to seek to deny service based on a religious belief towards sexual orientation). The right of others to avail of a service even if the providers were uncomfortable with their lifestyle and the impact on the provider’s family.

But weren’t they missing the point? Do Christians not have a stronger witness (ie, cast a more positive shadow over society) when they open their doors and welcome people in? Even more so when they open their doors and step out through them into the communities in which they live and work?

Inclusivity and tolerance doesn’t mean imply approval or agreement. But exclusivity tends towards rejection and alienation.

The Bible isn’t full of stories of Jesus making people jump through hoops before he would start speaking to them. Rather he started out his relationship with tax keepers, soldiers and women at wells from were they stood. Didn't he made a bigger impact with those isolated from the mainstream church that the religious establishment?

My rule of thumb is that protecting other people’s rights is more important that maintaining your own. Not always easy or pain free, but better than trampling over others to get to the fire escape ahead of them.

Naomi Long, an East Belfast Alliance MLA, didn’t sit on the fence (as her party are oft accused) when she stated during the debate:

“On a personal note, it grieves me, as a Christian, that those of us who profess a personal Christian faith are so often seen to be in the heel-dragging section of the population when it comes to issues of human rights and equality. We ought to be at the forefront of the movement to extend to everyone the same rights that we enjoy. We should extend protections and safeguards under the law to all people, thereby reflecting the inherent dignity, worth and value of every human being, as it is my belief that we are all created in the image of God.”

It’s Christmas Eve ...

Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all People.

1 comment:

John Self said...

Sadly 'thinking Christians' like you and Naomi Long are, if not in a minority in Northern Ireland, certainly less audible than the pulpit-bashing Paisleyites. Too many people in our society - and in America - are wedded to a simplistic literalist interpretation of their faith (which in their case is not faith at all but certainty), where their moral standards are set by the moral standards of societies two thousand or more years ago. Odd for those who style themselves CHRISTians to forget what Christ said and rely instead on old testament hectoring and law-setting. But comfortable and easier for them, even if it makes things less comfortable and harder for others.