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Gay cakes and sinful lesbians: why discrimination law isn't always bad for Christians

Jonty Langley explains why conservative Christians should love anti-discrimination laws.

It’s the cry of terrified Christians across Britain: “Anti-discrimination laws will be the death of us all!” Or, at least, it can feel like it is to some of us.

We imagine, spurred on by alarmist pressure groups using the language of persecution (more appropriately applied to what’s happening to Christians in Iraq than Islington), that there is an army of LGBT activists poised outside the doors of churches and Christian businesses, waiting for opportunities to attack Christians wherever they dare to differ from popular moral opinion.

We have our worst fears confirmed when Christian bakeries are found guilty of discrimination for not baking cakes in support of gay marriage, and just as we’re about to give up and move to a country where Christian values are still safe (like America, or South Korea or the Vatican) something happens to surprise us. I mean really surprise us.

In this case, it’s that dreaded anti-discrimination legislation working in favour of Christians. And not just in our favour when we feed the hungry or visit the sick, but in favour of us when we have a particularly conservative view of homosexuality.

‘No!’ I hear you cry. ‘Surely not!’

But truly. Listen:

Sarah Mbuyi, the nursery worker dismissed for telling a lesbian co-worker that homosexuality was a sin, has won her case of unfair dismissal. An employment tribunal found that she was unfairly discriminated against based on her faith when she was fired for telling a lesbian colleague that she thought homosexuality was a sin.

Ring the bells. Pass the smelling salts. Praise the Lord and the European Convention on Human Rights.

That’s right: anti-discrimination laws were good news for a conservative Christian.

Ring the bells. Pass the smelling salts. Praise the Lord and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Except, this shouldn’t surprise us – this is exactly how anti-discrimination legislation is supposed to work. Nobody should be fired for expressing a religious view, regardless of how the rest of our society perceives that view. Nobody gets to tell you what your religion should teach, as long as you’re not hurting anybody. And this judgement establishes that calling something a sin is not the same as hurting the person we consider to be a sinner.

Sure, we can’t refuse to employ people on the basis we consider them sinners, nor can we refuse to serve them or bake cakes for them (any more than we could refuse on the basis of their race or class). But, then, I don’t think we need to. Jesus seems to tell us not to discriminate on the basis of sin, both with his example and that whole ‘judge not’ thing.

We evangelicals should all support anti-discrimination laws, because sooner or later we are going to need their protection. 

If we are conservatives, concerned with keeping clear boundaries between right and wrong, we’re able to do that by saying: ‘this is sin.’ We really don’t need to take any further action – the matter is between the ‘sinner’ and God. And if we’re liberals, we are protected from conservatives who might seek to prevent us calling ourselves Christians while not concerning ourselves too much with the moral lives of others.

And this is why we should all be fans of anti-discrimination laws. And I’m not just talking about the flower-sniffing, pluralism-loving, gay-affirming lefties among us. (Though obviously they should.)

We evangelicals should all support anti-discrimination laws, because sooner or later we are going to need their protection. Our views will, as Scripture promises, bring us into conflict with the thinking of this world. Today it may be the conservatives offending a society that draws permissive moral lines around personal sexuality. Tomorrow it might be progressive Christians getting into trouble with their boroughs for feeding and “encouraging” homeless living (as has already happened in the States).

Anti-discrimination laws are there to protect minorities, the vulnerable and people society finds odd. People like us.

Let’s keep that in mind the next time someone tells us how terrible all these liberal laws are. Today they’re more often protecting gay people. Tomorrow, in a world even less comfortable with our talk about the one and only Son of God, they could keep us out of jail.

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