Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The responsibilities of religious liberals

The two dominant Christian denominations in Britain - the Anglicans and the Catholics - are doing their level best to block the passage of new UK human rights legislation. They are incensed at the secularization of the law and the potential that church discrimination against BGLT people could be further restricted or that assisted dying might become legally permissible.

Anglican Bishops, who occupy some 20 unelected seats in the House of Lords - the 'Lords Spiritual' - have managed to defeat one proposal already. The Pope, who has said that Britain's proposed equality law "violates natural law," is due to make a state visit to the UK in September. Thanks to the tireless efforts of human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, protests against the visit are due to begin as early as February!

As a Unitarian, I might sit back and look with smug satisfaction at the fact that my movement has long supported equal rights for BGLT people. We have many gay and lesbian ministers, BGLT people are welcome in our congregations, and some of our highest leaders are themselves lesbian or gay.

But, the fact that our own hands are clean is not enough. Our very identity as a religion - and one that emerged from Christianity at that - means that we have a special responsibility to work to reverse the wrongs perpetrated by our kindred religionists past and present.

I am often asked why my congregation has chosen marriage equality for same-sex couples as its major cause to champion. After all, we ourselves include many BGLT people; we are not a source of the problem and there are so many other worthy causes to support. That criticism is fair, but it ignores our historic responsibility. Churches have for centuries persecuted individuals and groups whose nature, behaviour and/or beliefs have been unacceptable to the establishment. Religious liberals are well situated to counter that history of oppression by demonstrating that religion is not monolithic in its opposition to equality for BGLT people.

This is not purely a practical and strategic matter by any means. I have been with gay, lesbian and transgender people as they broke down in tears of joy and relief upon finding a religious movement that would welcome them wholeheartedly as they are - not as sinners to be 'fixed' somehow. This is part of the work of healing that only religious liberals can do - an opportunity to begin to right the wrongs of the church of the past and, sadly, the church of the present.

And the great danger of 'secularization' so feared by the Church of England? What they fear is the loss of the power to impose their own peculiar rules and teachings upon a diverse society. Liberal religionists should welcome this kind of secularization, which simply removes oppressive dominance by a single group. Indeed, erasing the imposition of religious strictures from our laws may help to redefine religion in the minds and hearts of the people of this country. Religion could begin to be understood for what it should be - and what it is in truly liberal religious communities - an opportunity to grow our own individual spirits with the support of a caring community and to join our strength together to create more justice and love in the world.


  1. My congregation ( is preparing for a "Standing On The Side Of Love" service on the 14th( as I think are many UU congregations around the world. We are stepping out, beginning with this service, into the wider community to share a message of love and inclusion.

    There is an opportunity that is, in my opinion, too often missed by Unitarian Universalists and other liberal faith traditions, to counterbalance the hateful statements of other, too often louder, religions with our own message.

    When we hear the nonsense spewed forth like Gospel from the likes of Fred Phelps and others of his ilk, we can and should be JUST AS LOUD, through our OWN demonstrations and actions in the community, about our own concrete belief that a Just and Loving God would not condemn ANYONE to eternal damnation let alone do so based upon whom they choose to love. And further, share our belief that the only way to preserve the right to practice one's faith as one sees fit is to ensure that NO ONE's religious beliefs are enshrined in law. Period.

  2. Going to be linking to your blog from mine now.

  3. Yes, and having a "signature" cause draws attention to your other values... welcome to the blogosphere rev!

  4. I think New Unity is doing a great job on this issue - but I'd like to see more congregations taking a similar stand.