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Faith and sexuality: tread carefully

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 02/04/2015

While not identical to the Ashers’ gay cake controversy, this story touches on some of the same themes and dilemmas
While not identical to the Ashers’ gay cake controversy, this story touches on some of the same themes and dilemmas

Once again a case has arisen which involves a seeming conflict between homosexuality and faith. While not identical to the Ashers' gay cake controversy, it touches on some of the same themes and dilemmas. This time the organisation finding itself having to explain its stance is the Girls Brigade.

This is a faith-based organisation with almost 23,000 members in Northern Ireland and it ran into trouble over a scripture lesson. One parent, incensed that homosexuality was apparently equated with murder in the lesson, complained to the organisation and then asked police to investigate if this could be classified as a potential hate crime.

The PSNI have confirmed that the matter was carefully considered, legal opinion was sought, and a decision was made that no further action should be taken.

The Girls Brigade has been candid in its response, saying that some complaints were received about the lesson. It argues that the lesson could have been delivered in a different manner which would have made it clear that its import was to teach children that there is no hierarchy of sins.

What the case shows is that great care needs to be taken when discussing issues like homosexuality or sin in a Biblical context. Trying to put Christian teaching in an easily understood context can sometimes lead to misinterpretation or even sloppy presentation.

The parent involved - and the organisation did receive other complaints - was quite right to raise her concerns even if some people might regard her allegation that the lesson amounted to a hate crime as being a tad overstated. She also had the option of removing her children from the organisation if she disagreed with its scripture lessons.

But that does not deny the Girls Brigade the right to hold strong Christian principles and include faith-based teachings among its child development courses.

However, it does seem that common sense has prevailed and that there is an acceptance that some people's or organisations' faith beliefs can run contrary to populist opinion.

That is not to suggest that homosexuals or anyone else should be discriminated against. This newspaper has long stood four-square behind the principle that everyone should be treated with respect and equality. That, of course, applies not just to minorities but also to the huge numbers of people who have strong religious beliefs.

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