Brussels says churches must lift ban on employing lesbian and gay people

On Friday the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to the United Kingdom for incorrectly implementing EU rules prohibiting discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment and occupation. The Commission pointed out that exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than that permitted by the directive.

The ruling is the result of a complaint from the National Secular Society which argued that the opt-outs went further than was permitted under the directive and had created “illegal discrimination against homosexuals”.

The original exemptions were granted as a result of intensive lobbying by conservative Christian groups which claimed to represent Christian opinion in this country. In reality, they represent the opinion of a small minority who oppose the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England and other denominations, groups which make a lot of noise but are so blinkered as to be totally out of touch even with the majority in their own congregations.

Conservative evangelical Anglican organisations hailed the exclusion clauses as a success for their fiercely conducted campaign against recognition by churches of LGBT people as equal in God’s order of creation with heterosexuals. They have claimed their ability to discriminate against LGBT people as a victory for Biblical values, God, and traditional Christian morality. Changing Attitude disagrees.

God does not discriminate on the basis of our sexuality. LGBT and heterosexual people are created by God and enjoy equally the holy, infinite and indiscriminate love of God for creation. Heresy to some, I know, and certainly to those who think the church is an institution which employs ministers to police the rules.

Changing Attitude breaks the rules consciously, rules that are already being broken in every part of the church – rules that supposedly prohibit the ordination and appointment of intimately loving, partnered, lesbian and gay people.

What will the conservatives do now? Make a lot of noise, outraged that the State (forced by the National Secular Society, to make matters worse), is going to remove one more plank in their ability to discriminate.

This welcome development leaves the next discriminatory prejudice untouched – the freedom the Church of England enjoys to discriminate against LGBT people in lay and ordained ministry (although as we all know, this prohibition is ignored by many bishops, and other, naïve or ignorant conservative bishops, who ordain and license single and partnered LGBT people because they can’t tell who we are).

Under new proposals being drafted by the government, religious organisations will be able to refuse to employ lesbian and gay people only if the job involves actively promoting or practising a religion. A blanket refusal to employ any homosexuals would no longer be possible. I expect there to be further fierce argument about exactly who is exempted by this clause.

The original exemption allowed religious groups to refuse a position to a lesbian or gay person “so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers”.

Change is coming slowly for the supporters of Changing Attitude who long for a church fully inclusive of the gifts of women in ministry as well as LGBT Anglicans whose lives are already fully open and dedicated to God. Barriers are slowly being removed, and the work goes on, patiently and impatiently, reforming the church into a community which embodies Jesus’ Kingdom of love, justice and truth (with some help from secular sources).

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