Saturday, October 04, 2014

Equality, Freedom and Religion - PCI's second Church in the Public Square conference (Thu 9 Oct)

Back in January, they brought together Scottish Free Church theologian Prof Donald MacLeod (who could teach Ed Miliband a thing or two about speaking without notes for an hour), Dr Jonathan Chaplin (with a background in Christian ethics and political thought) and NI's Attorney General.

John Larkin QC took the opportunity to take exception with the British Supreme Court's ruling which upheld a judgement against Christian guesthouse owners Mr & Mrs Bull who refused to provide accommodation to a gay couple. At least three Executive ministers not to mention Assembly committee members attended along with 200 delegates.

I'm firmly of the belief that churches deserve to be in the public square, but they need to take the initiative to elbow their way into the crowded agora and have something worthwhile to say. While peace and reconciliation efforts were made both at grassroots and denominational levels, over the last 40 years some inconvenient issues were ignored. There is much that the church could challenge, holding up Gospel values against Executive policies nevermind Executive politics.

So it's good to see Presbyterian Church in Ireland holding a second Church in the Public Square conference. On Thursday 9 October, Union Theological College and PCI's Church and Society Committee are hosting a conference addressing Equality, Freedom and Religion. The organisers say:
The equality agenda is important in building a just and equitable society. Yet this raises many very important issues which have scarcely been debated, never mind satisfactorily resolved. Whilst freedom of religious belief is widely accepted, there is much less consensus on the issue of freedom of religious expression and practice within a modern democracy. This is one of the core themes that will be explored at this day conference, with the help of our three key speakers.
Given the title, it's unfortunate that all three of the main speakers are men (again).
  • Religious Freedom in a Secular Society - Prof Roger Trigg (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick)
  • Faith in Human Rights and Equality - Prof Colin Harvey Professor of Human Rights Law, Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Facing Equality: What’s the Story? - Dr Michael Wardlow (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland)
Michael Wardlow's comments will much particularly anticipated in light of this summer's correspondence between the Equality Commission and Ashers Bakery over what became known as the "gay cake".

Update - listen back to the three talks.

Thursday 9 October in Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place, Belfast. Registration from 9.30am for a 10am start; finishing by 3.30pm. Tickets can be booked in advance (£20 including lunch, £12 full time students) by Monday 6.

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