It’s a minor story, affecting citizens of territories, those islands, which are still under British sovereignty. The Government is being urged by the Foreign Affairs Committee to remove references to Christianity from the constitutions of the Cayman Islands in the western Caribbean and St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.
The proposal is part of the attempt to give their citizens more rights in return for introducing anti-corruption and human rights laws. One of the reasons they are pressing for change is the belief that references to traditional Christian morality could undermine gay rights in the overseas territories.
Anything which might help protect LGBT people and enshrine appropriate constitutional rights is seen by some of our bishops as an attempt to impose ‘the gay agenda’ and undermine what they believe are more fundamental rights – to be Biblically conservative – as if the Bible didn’t also major on justice and the protection of people who are subjected to persecution and hostility.
So, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, has wriitten to the committee and to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary. He says that references to Christianity in the preambles of the constitutions should have no impact on the human rights of people living there. The proposal was ‘unnecessary’ and appeared to be more about ‘advancing a secularising agenda’ than protecting people from discrimination. He condemned the proposal as ‘spurious political correctness’.
Bishop Michael is wrong. Many of those countries which remain under British sovereignty and Commonwealth countries still have penal codes, and attitudes towards homosexuality which this country now believes are wrong and used to maintain prejudice and discrimination. Under the guise of ‘Christian values’ some bishops wish to maintain, legally, prejudice against LGBT people.
There is a battle being waged, not just within the Anglican Communion but in the corridors of Westminster, the House of Lords and between our Government and the Church of England. The change in attitude for which we are campaigning is universal. Every country where the Anglican Communion is present must be challenged to ensure that LGBT people are recognized and granted full dignity and human rights (meaning equality under the law and protection from discrimination).
Those Church of England bishops who still resist any developments, anywhere in the world, which will help to achieve these goals, are simply wrong. They are wrong to maintain that Christian teaching demands that the status quo is maintained.