Belfast Telegraph

Why we should make Pastor Buchan welcome - even if we disagree with his message

Society is becoming increasingly intolerant, but opinions can't be banned just because we don't like them, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Hands up who's heard of Angus Buchan, the South Africa-based pastor of Scottish descent who's due to speak at an evangelical gathering in Maghera, Co Londonderry, next week? Until a few days ago, there might have been a scattering of raised arms. Now, many more are aware of this man and his controversial views after a campaign was launched to stop him speaking on his latest tour of the UK and Ireland, north and south.

Buchan infamously urges wives to submit to their husbands and even boasts in one of his books of the "good, solid hidings" he gave his children when they misbehaved. But it's his belief that gay people can be "cured" by prayer which has attracted the wrath of protesters.

Complaints have already seen the cancellation of one meeting in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders that he was due to address, but it's unlikely Maghera will follow suit. He's been to the so-called Healing The Land event before, after all.

Clearly, the land remains stubbornly unhealed, so he's back again on the 'if at first you don't succeed' principle. Well, every man needs a hobby.

All things considered, it's probably best to leave him to it, while the rest of us get on with our lives. Let him visit, say his piece, then go back home to Africa. Gay people, meanwhile, will carry on being gay. We'll all cope.

Unfortunately, we live in the Age of Protest, when anyone who feels aggrieved instantly mounts a crusade on social media and, before you know it, a minor event in a small part of the world has been inflated into a threat to civilisation as we know it.

It's the Frankie Goes To Hollywood effect. Relax wasn't that big a deal before it was banned by the BBC. Suddenly, it was at Number One for weeks on end and Frankie T-shirts were everywhere. Angus should be so lucky.

He won't be, because rousing resentment against gay people is very much a minority sport these days. He has a devoted fanbase, who read his books and watch his videos and download his app, but "praying the gay away" is unlikely to become a major phenomenon on a par with Pokemon Go, no matter how much free publicity we give him.

That's not to deny the hurt which religious fundamentalists such as Angus Buchan can cause to people whose sexuality is dismissed as an illness or disorder that can be mended with enough hallelujahs.

Young people struggling to come to terms with their identity are especially vulnerable. The mental anguish they're put through is cruel.

Opinions cannot be banned simply because they cause hurt to some of the people who hear them, however.

Young heterosexual Christians sleeping with their boyfriends or girlfriends might be equally disturbed on being told that sex before marriage is forbidden, too, but that doesn't mean advocates of celibacy for singletons shouldn't be allowed to tell them they're doing the wrong thing and will burn in Hell for all eternity if they don't repent.

As for Catholics whose marriages have broken down, it's no doubt distressing to be told by more traditional members of the faith that they shouldn't remarry, but what can you do? Being upset is no argument for refusing to let others speak their minds. That includes those who believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, rather than a book written by men inspired by a supreme being who may or may not exist (the jury's still out on that one) and that gay people should just stop being silly and marry a nice person of the opposite sex.

The world is full of folk with bizarre opinions and it's a strange sort of tolerance which argues that they shouldn't be free to express them. The only reason to stop certain speakers from addressing audiences is if they intend to encourage criminal acts.

Islamic extremists who incite young Muslims to acts of violence against "infidels" are an obvious example, as is the Californian pastor who applauded the recent mass shooting in a Florida nightclub and suggested the government round up "all" gay people, stand them in front of a firing squad and "blow their brains out".

Or his fellow pastor in Arizona who put up a video on YouTube the next day celebrating the murder of 50 "disgusting perverts".

If these nutters ever plan a visit to Northern Ireland, by all means shut the door and keep them out.

Angus Buchan, though, is not of that ilk.

In fact, it could be argued that it's us who are guilty of making too much of his views on homosexuality, because he's just as disapproving of pre-or-extra-marital hanky-panky and no one's started any petitions to save Ulster from hearing his views on that. Though the way things are going, don't bet against it.

There's increasing resistance among young people, in particular, to hearing opinions they disagree with.

Heaven help them when they get out into the real world and realise that not everyone thinks exactly the same way they do.

It would be terrific if prayer had the power to cure priests, pastors, imams and rabbis of this troubling obsession with what's going on inside other people's pants.

Unfortunately, it seems to be as ineffective against that as it is against those pesky gays.

That being so, the best way to deal with those who arrogantly claim to have a hotline to the Almighty is still through argument or mockery, or just plain ignoring them.

The words of Maghera native John O'Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project, which supports the health and well-being of gay people, bear repeating.

He says: "Since coming out, I found people have become increasingly accepting... I believe the vast majority of people will disagree with the vitriol and lies being espoused by Angus Buchan."

Exactly. There's no way of persuading every single person to accept that gay people don't need to be 'cured', even if that was possible, but nor should we exaggerate their influence.

As O'Doherty says, the "vast majority" now accept gay people for who they are and only a small minority still think their gay neighbours should apologise or ask permission for existing.

It used to be the other way round, and how it must eat up the bigots that they're the ones now getting a good, solid hiding at the hands of the 21st century.

Let's not give them any comfort by pretending that Pastor Buchan is more important than he really is.

Belfast Telegraph

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