Belfast Telegraph

Reaction to Ashers ruling tells us we need to show a little more tolerance

By Alf McCreary

The vast majority of reasonable people will rejoice that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ashers in the controversial 'gay cake' issue. The case arose after the bakery declined to ice a slogan supporting same-sex marriage on a cake ordered by Gareth Lee, a member of the LGBT community.

The Supreme Court ruled that Ashers did not refuse to fulfil the customer's order because of his sexual orientation.

"They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation," it said.

"Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal orientation of Mr Lee."

This was a victory not only for Ashers, but for everyone who values freedom of expression.

Businesspeople, in providing a service for a customer, are not compelled to propagate messages or symbols with which they disagree.

Significantly, gay activist Peter Tatchell, who supported Ashers, also welcomed the Supreme Court's decision.

We should all be grateful for the political independence of our Supreme Court, compared to the one the US, where politics plays a huge part in appointments.

One of the sad results of the Ashers case was the ungracious way in which members of the LGBT community accepted the verdict.

It is particularly sad that, as a result of the ruling, Mr Lee regards himself as a "second-class citizen".

I certainly do not regard him or any other member of the LGBT community as second-class.

Sometimes, this is in the eye of the beholder, and there is nothing that I, or anyone else, can do to dissuade him from taking that point of view.

In general, the LGBT community did itself no favours by its reaction to the result of a costly case that, in the eyes of many people, should not have been brought in the first place. Though the young couple at the heart of the case are committed church-goers, it was not about committed Christians taking on gay activists. It was about freedom of thought and expression, which lie at the heart of our society.

For the past 17 years or so, when writing this column I have covered many controversies within the Churches about social issues including abortion, and same-sex relationships, and I have constantly urged my readers to be tolerant of other people's points of view.

That is not to say that I agree with everyone else's views, but I must have the broad mindedness to give them their right to hold that point of view, rightly or wrongly.

Take, for example, the controversy in the Presbyterian Church about homosexuality, which is causing deep divisions that are far from being healed.

I have no doubt that good people on each side of the argument are totally sincere in what they believe, and that they base those beliefs on their interpretation of Scripture.

Sadly, however, this also develops into personal criticism, of which I have had my share.

Some of the most hurtful and bitter comments made against me have come from Christians who show little concern for fellow human beings, which ought to be the hallmark of people who claim to follow Christ.

The intolerance, however, is not confined to issues such as homosexuality and abortion.

There is still a deep intolerance here about other people's beliefs, whether they are a member of a different denomination or from a different faith.

I have learned a lot from writing about religion in this column for so many years, but I still despair at our inability to say to someone else, 'I think you may be wrong, but perhaps I am wrong too, or at least not totally right, so let's try to learn from one another'.

One of my favourite hymns has the line, 'There's a wideness in God's mercy, which is wider than the sea'.

This applies not only within Christianity, but also to other faiths and people of no faith.

In writing a column such as this, I have no idea where my words will go, or what reaction they will have, for good or ill, months or years afterwards

However, it has always been a privilege to have this platform, and if my words have brought even a little more tolerance, openness and kindness to some of my fellow human beings, my efforts have not been in vain.

Belfast Telegraph

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