One of the contentious issues of our time is gay rights and same-sex marriage. Part of my task in representing Evangelical Alliance Ireland in both conventional and social media is to proclaim a biblical view of marriage while simultaneously speaking out for Christian values such as civility, tolerance and civil rights.
This task has been made harder in recent months by a deliberate attempt in Northern Ireland to manufacture outrage and confrontation. Let’s examine this muppetry.
Our first set of muppets are Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. These are two characters in a children’s TV show that a few people have chosen to pretend are gay. This is a disturbing trait among certain activists who seem to want to sexualise everything. They do it with the Bible (apparently unable to accept that two men like David and Jonathan could have a close relationship without there being a sexual component.) I actually feel very sorry for anyone who cannot comprehend the love and friendship that can exist between friends without trying to imply that sexual activity is involved. That must be a lonely way to live. However, I do find something rather creepy about anyone trying to sexualise characters, either in a same sex way or in a heterosexual way, from a TV show designed for very young children.
Sesame Street have issued a number of statements over the years stressing how silly it is to try to make Bert and Ernie into gay lovers. For example, in 1993: “They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets. They don’t exist below the waist”
Our next muppet is an activist who asked Asher’s bakery to produce a cake with a picture of Bert and Ernie and a slogan supporting gay marriage. I find it next to impossible to believe that, out of all the hundreds of bakers in Northern Ireland, the choice of an overtly Christian bakery (whose very name is taken from the Book of Genesis) was an innocent coincidence. This was clearly an attempt to deliberately manufacture an allegation of discrimination.
Asher’s refused to bake the cake. Their refusal was not based on the sexual orientation of the customer. Instead they refused to bake a cake that promoted a political message with which they disagreed (same sex marriage is currently illegal in Northern Ireland so the cake was to agitate for a change in the law). This would appear to be a perfectly reasonable position. Do we really think that businesses should be forced to produce promotional materials for political campaigns with which they strongly disagree? For example, should a nationalist-owned printshop be forced to print loyalist posters? Should a Jewish printer be compelled to print T-shirts supporting the British National Party? Should a Quaker who is a committed pacifist be required to print leaflets calling for the invasion of Iraq or for the restoration of the death penalty?
Support Our Campaign or Else!
The biggest bunch of muppets in this whole story are the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. They decided to spend taxpayers’ money getting involved in this case, ruling that Asher’s bakery, by not helping support a political campaign, had opened themselves up to prosecution and financial penalties. They are now demanding that Asher’s pay compensation to the customer, and threatening legal action if such money is not handed over. Asher’s, understandably, are resisting this extortion.
Please Don’t Add to the Muppetry
I’m really hoping that Christians can express their opinions on this controversy without turning into a fourth bunch of muppets.
There is a subsection of Evangelicalism which is not content to teach biblical approaches to sexuality and marriage in a truthful and gracious way, but which slips into hysteria and homophobia at the slightest provocation. One of their favourite mantras is that there is a ‘gay agenda’ or ‘gay mafia’ which is determined to destroy Christianity. This ‘us versus them’ worldview is dangerous because, by seeking to dehumanise their opponents, it removes any need for respectful discussion and dialogue. That makes my job much harder as I seek to build bridges with the LGBT community and dialogue with them in a way that reflects Jesus.
So I issue a plea to my fellow Christians. Yes, we should pray for the owners of Asher’s bakery, and indeed anyone else who feels that the law of the land and the power of State agencies is being abused to discriminate against them. Yes, we should raise our voices here in the Irish Republic. Moves are underway to introduce a new religious hatred bill in Ireland to replace the current Blasphemy law. We need to prevent legislation that might be abused to discriminate against minority religious groups. But let’s not add to the muppetry. Yes – people are clearly trying to engineer confrontation and polarisation. Let’s not respond in any way that would be inconsistent with the example of Jesus Christ.