Religious freedom in the workplace

Revd Matthew Firth preached at St Matthew’s church in Ipswich, where he was Curate, on 13th May 2012. As of the new term, he will be working Chaplain to the University of Cumbria in Carlisle:

There is something which I believe the Lord has been speaking to me about for a few months now, and it’s based on what I think is one of the most chilling verses in the Hebrew Scriptures. Judges 21:25 says this: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’ I therefore want to say something about The King, the Kingdom, and rebellion against the King and his Kingdom…and of course I’m talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

(For full text, see Matthew Firth’s Sermon.)
(For Matthew Firth’s tweeting against equal marriage in January, see Firth’s Tweets. For the rebuttal of his scientific nonsense, jump to Narth Science.)

The chaplaincy page at the University of Cumbria website says:

While the chaplaincy has a distinctively Christian flavour to it and seeks to provide opportunities for students and staff to explore the Christian faith, we also want to be a pastoral service which is well and truly open to everyone, regardless of faith or belief. So, if you do want to explore the Christian faith, we would love to accompany you on the journey. But if you are simply seeking a safe space, a listening ear or personal support, we would love to be of help in that too.


Firth mentions as an example of how the UK is “rejecting the true King” (Jesus, not Charles)

You may have heard about the case of two women, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin who were discriminated against by their employers for wearing a symbol of the cross at work. British Airways suspended Mrs Eweida for wearing a small cross, and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust barred Mrs Chaplin from working on their wards for the same reason, thus ending a 31-year career in nursing. In response, the two women have taken up their case with the European Court of Human Rights, and in response to that, we now have a situation where British Government Ministers are opposing their case and arguing that people should not be free to wear a small cross at work as an expression of their Christian faith.

I outlined the details about Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida and Amrit Lalji (who tends to get forgotten about, because while she experienced the same discrimination as Eweida, she is not a Christian) but in short form: Chaplin’s nursing career was ended because she would not accept that her employer had a right to say that nurses were not allowed to wear dangly necklaces or brooches on duty. Eweida and Lalji were both told they could not wear visible religious jewellery because British Airways had a rule against that, but an exemption was then made for specifically religious jewellery and both returned to work.

But Firth argues

Now, whatever the technicalities of the case, there is clearly a will within the Government to go after this kind of thing. There is a spirit at large within key political circles that wants to rebel against Jesus and his Kingdom rule. In these days Britain has no king; everyone does as he sees fit.

That’s called freedom of religion, and most people consider it to be rather a good thing.

From the University of Cumbria’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Reassignment Policy Statement:

University of Cumbria values all its staff and students equally, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender reassignment. The University aims to create an environment in which all staff and students, whatever their sexuality or gender reassignment, feel equally welcome and valued, and in which homophobic behaviour is not tolerated.

This specifically applies to staff and students, but there’s a policy for third-party contractors, too:

The Third party agrees to comply with the University’s policies and procedures to prevent unlawful discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, marital status / civil partnership, age, and religion or belief (or a lack of belief).

Whether as staff or as third-party contractor, this policy will not suit Matthew Firth, who argues:

As you may know, the coalition government is intent on legalising same-sex marriage by 2015. Yes, there is a consultation happening about it, but there are certainly voices within the government saying that they will push it through no matter what the result of the consultation is. So, what we’re facing is the possibility that same-sex marriage will become a legal norm in our society. Children will inevitably come to see it as a perfectly normal way of life which is honoured by the society in which they are being brought up.

True, and the problem with this is…?

Now, of course, the government has said that this is about civil marriage and not about religious marriage, and that churches will continue to be able to follow their own conscience and teaching in terms of who they will offer a marriage ceremony to. But I’m not so sure that they can give us that safeguard. If the legislation passes on a Monday, you can bet your bottom dollar that on the Tuesday there will be people testing the boundaries of it and asking Church of England ministers to perform same-sex marriages.

That seems quite likely. And it also seems quite likely that many Church of England ministers, asked to solemnise a marriage between two devout and faithful members of their congregation, will examine their conscience and say yes.

In July 2012, the U.S. Episcopal Church approved a new addition to the liturgy, called “the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” as a standard rite for same-sex marriage. “For the past three years, bishops have been to able approve requests for the blessing of same-sex marriages and Jeffrey Lee, the Bishop of Chicago, said he had authorized such ceremonies using an earlier version of the liturgy.” The measure was approved 111 for, and 41 against, with three abstaining. “The convention also approved inclusion of transgender people among those who should not be discriminated against, either for ordination or as lay leaders.”

The Reverend Lowell Grisham, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arizona, said:

“Today the Episcopal Church affirmed the human dignity of a deeply stigmatized population that is far too often victim to discrimination, bullying and abuse.”

Not for Matthew Firth, however, who believes that same-sex couples marrying is bad for the drapes:

And all of that is quite apart from the more fundamental issue that legislating for the desire of individuals on this matter will be to the detriment of society as a whole. The legislation will build into the fabric of our society confusion about the relationship between men and women. It will devalue the goodly vision of the family. It will discriminate against those who wish to retain for themselves the definition of marriage which has been in place since time immemorial.

Ah, back in the good old days when a man gave his daughter as a wife to another man chosen by him, and received the bride-price in return, and then in the morning a bloody sheet was shown to prove the daughter’s virginity. That was such a great definition of marriage, why did we ever change it?

From the University of Cumbria chaplaincy page:

You can be sure that the chaplaincy offers a safe space to talk about anything that is on your mind.

Of course, we are just as happy to chat about other stuff – the news, sports, what you watched on telly last night. We are all very friendly people!

Not, however, when Matthew Firth is there and if you happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, because then:

But, we must also not be afraid to speak up when we can see that political moves will be to the detriment of the flourishing of society as a whole, and also the flourishing of individuals within that society. In short, legislation to introduce same-sex marriage stands in opposition to the vision of human relationships and family life which is set out in the New Testament. It’s in opposition to King Jesus and his Kingdom. In these days Britain has no king; everyone does as he sees fit.

There’s a problem for the University of Cumbria, and not a nice one. Because on the one hand, Matthew Firth has a right to believe Jesus is homophobic and transphobic, and that Firth is called by King Jesus to let lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and staff know that they ought to expect to be discriminated against and treated as abnormal. He’s even got a right to believe, and to promote as his faith, that straight students and staff ought to be speaking up against same-sex relationships, not treating them as equal and normal.

But does he have a right to work for the University of Cumbria, which has quite a definite policy against these kind of discriminatory beliefs?

—-

The full text of Matthew Firth’s sermon as published


Matthew Firth asserts I am misjudging him based on “a fragment of a sermon”.

Here then is the whole section from which I took Firth’s homophobic views:

Or let me give you another example. As you may know, the coalition government is intent on legalising same-sex marriage by 2015. Yes, there is a consultation happening about it, but there are certainly voices within the government saying that they will push it through no matter what the result of the consultation is. So, what we’re facing is the possibility that same-sex marriage will become a legal norm in our society. Children will inevitably come to see it as a perfectly normal way of life which is honoured by the society in which they are being brought up.

Now, of course, the government has said that this is about civil marriage and not about religious marriage, and that churches will continue to be able to follow their own conscience and teaching in terms of who they will offer a marriage ceremony to. But I’m not so sure that they can give us that safeguard. If the legislation passes on a Monday, you can bet your bottom dollar that on the Tuesday there will be people testing the boundaries of it and asking Church of England ministers to perform same-sex marriages.

And all of that is quite apart from the more fundamental issue that legislating for the desire of individuals on this matter will be to the detriment of society as a whole. The legislation will build into the fabric of our society confusion about the relationship between men and women. It will devalue the goodly vision of the family. It will discriminate against those who wish to retain for themselves the definition of marriage which has been in place since time immemorial.

Now don’t get me wrong, God’s loves all people. Jesus died for all. The Church must be truly welcoming to all, irrespective of class, colour, sexual orientation or other descriptors of identity. But, we must also not be afraid to speak up when we can see that political moves will be to the detriment of the flourishing of society as a whole, and also the flourishing of individuals within that society. In short, legislation to introduce same-sex marriage stands in opposition to the vision of human relationships and family life which is set out in the New Testament. It’s in opposition to King Jesus and his Kingdom. In these days Britain has no king; everyone does as he sees fit.

Those are just two examples, and they do come from a political perspective. I’m sure if you sat down for five minutes with a pen and paper, you could come up with a list as long as your arm of ways in which individuals, groups, communities, institutions and authorities are consciously or subconsciously trying to throw off the rule of King Jesus in favour of doing how they see fit. And as a title to your list you could simply write: In these days Britain has no king; everyone does as he sees fit. It’s very sad. And it’s not how God wants it to be.

What do we do in response?

Now, in response to this gloomy image of our country not wanting to have anything to do with King Jesus and his Kingdom, we have two options. The first option is to do what the disciples did after the first-century Jewish and Roman society had crucified their King. In our reading from John 20, we see in v.19 that after the Jewish and Roman leaders had dispatched Jesus, the disciples’ response was to huddle together and lock the doors in fear. And today, in our society which is trying to dispatch Jesus again, we too could go the route of huddling together in our churches feeling rather fearful about what is happening around us out there…the sort of fear that paralyses us from making any impact.

But that would be such a shame. Because there is a second and glorious option, which is what the disciples eventually experienced and is what you and I can experience today. You see, in the midst of their fearful huddle; in the midst of their terror that their King had just been dispatched from history; in the midst of their confusion as to what they should do next, Jesus came and stood among them. And to their fearful hearts he simply said: ‘Peace be with you!’

And then we read that Jesus showed them his hands and his side, and John records that all the disciples were overjoyed. Into the midst of their fear that the King was dead, Jesus brought his peace, and his proof that the King was well and truly alive. He brought concrete resurrection hope into their dire situation. Not the sort of phoney hope that is wishful thinking that bad things don’t happen. No, the real hope that says, despite bad things, God can and does turn them around and bring real resurrection life out of them.

So, when we look around and see that Britain has no king and everyone does as they see fit, let’s not retreat in fear, but rather let’s open our eyes to the joyful news that Jesus is risen from the dead and can and will turn things around.

It’s the filling of the Holy Spirit which makes timid disciples into bold heralds. It’s the breath and Spirit of Jesus in us which gives us the strength to go with his Kingdom message. It’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives us the strength to take a stand for the Kingdom of God in our society in this generation. Yes, we are living in days when Britain has no King and everyone does as he sees fit. But for those who want to receive it, there is the good news that Christ the King is risen from the dead and can and will therefore transform this nation until the day dawns when the Kingdom comes in all its fullness. Good news!

Which sounds to me like a direct call to use religion to discriminate against LGBT people. Interestingly, while accusing me of misunderstanding him because I was only looking at “a fragment”, Firth also seems to have taken the whole sermon down from NetworkIpswich, apparently reluctant to let people judge him on the entire sermon.

Unless of course he plans to put it up again, as is, on another site.

Update, from an email:

“You have not read the whole of my sermon. The text at the end of the piece on the NI website makes it clear that it is ‘taken’ from my sermon. The entire sermon is on my hard disk. And no, you will not be seeing a copy.”

My guess is, because though the above may only be part of the sermon, the rest of the sermon does not make Firth sound any less homophobic.


So it stayed since last August. Then, in January – Richard Firth seems to have decided to troll.

A sampler of Matthew Firth’s tweeting

Hours later Matthew Firth was still arguing:

NARTH science is bad science

Note: I initially (and incorrectly) identified Simon Burton as Simon Burton-Jones, Archdeacon of Rochester. Matthew Firth pointed this out to me (not very politely, but I appreciate the heads-up nonetheless) that they are two different people: I wrote to the Archdeacon to confirm and got the pleasant reply:

An easy mistake to make! I am not the Simon Burton referred to, though as you said, I have had involvement with the Jubilee Centre. Hope this clarifies things. If you want to access stuff I’ve written on faith and culture, it can be accessed at the website; www.simonburton-jones.com

Such as Same Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household At Risk by Mathew D. Staver, Seventh Day Adventist?

The paper to which Matthew Firth refers is The Causes of Homosexuality: What Science Tells Us, S. Burton, published by the Jubilee Centre, A Biblical Vision For Society:

Simon Burton studied Natural Sciences at Magdalene College, Cambridge, followed by a Diploma and MPhil in Theology and Religious Studies focusing on 17th century Church History and Theology, also at Magdalene College.

The section to which Matthew Firth refers says:

One survey by Bramblett and Darling found that among adult male survivors of such abuse 14% perceived themselves as gay and 32% as bisexual compared to 88% heterosexual and 12% in a non-abused control group.

This is a popular survey. I also found it cited in a Family Research Council download, What Causes Homosexuality. The FRC is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as an anti-gay hate group, because:

it engages in baseless, incendiary name-calling and spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community.

The SPL notes:

The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science.

A particular theme of the FRC is that so-called “reparative therapy” is a way to combat LGBT civil rights measures, and another is the false claim that gays and lesbians are more likely to sexually abuse children. The theory that people “become” gay because of sexual abuse in childhood is something the FRC – and evidently also the Jubilee Centre – would love.

The study which they cite is Sexual contacts: experiences, thoughts, and fantasies of adult male survivors of child sexual abuse. The abstract notes that the study was based on the answers to a 72-item questionnaire, given to 35 adult men who were sexually abused during their childhoods, and a group of 33 adult men with no history of sexual abuse included for the purpose of comparison.

So had Simon Burton used numbers, rather than percentages:

One survey by Bramblett and Darling found that among 35 adult male survivors of such abuse 5 perceived themselves as gay and 11 as bisexual [and 19 heterosexual] compared to 30 heterosexual and 3 gay in a non-abused control group.

Using percentages is recommended by How To Lie With Statistics to disguise the thinness of your data.

(The Burton paper also cites Joseph Nicolosi, of NARTH, who will treat very young children whose parents buy into his “reparative therapy” scheme:

If a child shows signs of atypical gender behavior, NARTH suggests ex-gay therapy. Indeed, the group takes clients as young as three years old.

“The parents bring me kids who are unhappy. It’s my job to increase the possibility of a heterosexual future for these effeminate boys,” NARTH’ Dr. Joseph Nicolosi told the Advocate Magazine in a Nov. 11, 1997 interview.

The ex-gay therapy Nicolosi uses to “treat” three-year-old children is abusive behaviour intended to punish children for appearing to their parents to be “at risk” for growing up gay.)

But not a skill that being chaplain at Cumbria University requires. All you need there is the conviction that God is on your side.

On 14th February there will be a Question Time style debate with Matthew P Firth on the panel:

UCSU Same-Sex Marriage Debate

That should be interesting.

16 Comments

Filed under Education, LGBT Equality, Religion, Unanswerable Questions

16 responses to “Religious freedom in the workplace

  1. The Revd Matthew Firth

    Anyone, student or staff, who comes to see me in the context of chaplaincy at the University of Cumbria can expect care, kindness, encouragement and support, whoever they are and whatever they believe.

    Part of my role is also to represent the teaching of the Church of England within the University of Cumbria, which is itself a Church of England foundation. The teaching of the Church of England is currently in line with British Law, under which it is illegal for two people of the same gender to marry. It is in no way discriminatory to hold a view which is in line with British Law.

    • “Anyone, student or staff, who comes to see me in the context of chaplaincy at the University of Cumbria can expect care, kindness, encouragement and support”

      So the sermon you preached in May was hypocritical?

      “Part of my role is also to represent the teaching of the Church of England within the University of Cumbria, which is itself a Church of England foundation”

      So the chaplaincy page is in error – students can expect to be told what’s what?

      ” The teaching of the Church of England is currently in line with British Law, under which it is illegal for two people of the same gender to marry. “

      So you will change your views when the law changes?

      “It is in no way discriminatory to hold a view which is in line with British Law.”

      …Okay. So in your view, before 1967, it wasn’t discriminatory for people to argue that two men having consensual sex in private deserved to be locked up? It wasn’t discriminatory, before 1976, to say that men and women deserve different rates of pay for the same job? It wasn’t discriminatory, before 1991, to say that a man was entitled to force his wife to have sex with him? Your view on what’s discriminatory and what isn’t is based on English law, not on your moral judgement?

  2. The Revd Matthew Firth

    Because you are working from some tweets and a fragment of a sermon, you have actually misunderstood how I hold together biblical views and pastoral practice. You are also mistaken in your logic as you make the jump from expressed view to discrimination. In a university context, discrimination would be the act of preventing someone from accessing university services or the act of showing very negative behaviour towards someone on the basis of who they are or what they believe. An expressed view therefore does not need to lead to discrimination, and in the case of the chaplaincy, it does not. You have no knowledge of how the chaplaincy operates in terms of holding together CofE teaching and pastoral practice, so I suggest you stop making assumptions and putting two and two together and making five on this and other public fora. But if you would like a telephone conversation with me about this so that we can engage in a reasonable way, I am more than happy to do that. You can e-mail me your telephone number at mpf1983@hotmail.com. I will not be responding further on this forum or on any other forum.

    • Because you are working from some tweets and a fragment of a sermon

      I read through what appeared to be the whole sermon as published on the Network Ipswich homepage. (Disturbingly, it appears to have now been taken down. At your request?)

      , you have actually misunderstood how I hold together biblical views and pastoral practice.

      Do you consider any part of what I quoted from the disappearing sermon to inaccurately represent what you said in May?

      You are also mistaken in your logic as you make the jump from expressed view to discrimination.

      You were cited as saying that you thought “Children will inevitably come to see it as a perfectly normal way of life which is honoured by the society in which they are being brought up.” Was that a misquote? If you were not misquoted, did you think it would be a bad thing for children to come to see same-sex marriage as a normal and honoured relationship?

      If you believe children ought to think of same-sex marriage as an abnormal or a dishonorable relationship – which is certainly what comes across from that quote – that is a call to discrimination.

      In a university context, discrimination would be the act of preventing someone from accessing university services or the act of showing very negative behaviour towards someone on the basis of who they are or what they believe. An expressed view therefore does not need to lead to discrimination, and in the case of the chaplaincy, it does not.

      Only if you keep quiet about your homophobic views on campus, which your sermon strongly seemed to indicate that you would not.

      But if you would like a telephone conversation with me about this so that we can engage in a reasonable way, I am more than happy to do that. You can e-mail me your telephone number at mp….

      Fair enough, if you agree that I can post a transcript of the interview. (If you agree to that, my email address is on the About Me page.)

      I will not be responding further on this forum or on any other forum.

      Well, if the University of Cumbria wants to convince students it will uphold its policies, you may have to.

  3. EE, 1) Do you think anyone who opposes the political move to introduce same sex marriage is eo ipso homophobic? 2) Do you think that any world view which suggests that sexual activity other than in the context of a (heterosexual) marriage is wrong is again automatically homophobic?

    I suspect that you’d answer ‘yes’ to both of these -certainly 2). But in that case, shouldn’t your complaint be less against Revd Firth personally than against the idea of religious chaplains at all in universities? (You’d certainly struggle to find a Catholic, Muslim or Orthodox Jewish chaplain who supported the substance of both 1) and 2).)

    • Do you think anyone who opposes the political move to introduce same sex marriage is eo ipso homophobic?

      So far, everyone who has said they’re against it, has provided only homophobic reasons for doing so.

      In 11 years since the ban on same-sex marriage was first lifted in the modern world, everyone who has said they’re against it has either been afraid of a homophobic reaction, or provided homophobic reasons for being against it.

      Do you think that any world view which suggests that sexual activity other than in the context of a (heterosexual) marriage is wrong is again automatically homophobic?

      Homophobic, transphobic, and usually misogynistic, since the judgement usually falls on the women.

      But in that case, shouldn’t your complaint be less against Revd Firth personally than against the idea of religious chaplains at all in universities?

      Do you know who were the two most helpful people in Scotland about setting up a lesbian and gay support network in the years before 1981 when sex between men was against the law and many people – organisations and businesses – used the law to discriminate against any lesbian or gay organisation?

      Two men. The Catholic chaplain at Edinburgh University, and the Catholic chaplain at Glasgow University.

      I have been privileged to know many great and generous people of faith: and a few priests and ministers and rabbis and even a couple of bishops, who were truly honest, kindly, generous, loving people: who did not care what the orthodoxy or hierarchy of their faith said about LGBT people, they were going to be loving and openhearted and supportive: who took seriously the command of their God that it was for God to judge, not them.

      Matthew Firth makes clear in this sermon – and in his response to it here in comments and in removing it from the Internet rather than dealing with having said it in the first place – that he isn’t one of these people.

  4. Most of the theistic religions -Judaism, Islam and Christianity- make truth claims and have an authority structure, whether this is a matter of personal authority (eg Bishops and the Papacy in the Catholic Church) or of rules (Qur’an and Hadith in Islam). As a minister of these religions, a Chaplain has a duty, as a matter of personal and professional integrity, to represent those religions correctly to those under her pastoral care. So, to take your example, if Catholic Chaplains are misrepresenting to their students the teachings of their Church, then they are not, qua ministers of that Church, fulfilling their duty.

    Now, clearly, we’re not going to agree on what counts as homophobia. (I certainly wouldn’t accept that either 1) or 2) above amount to homophobia, but I’m not surprised that you do so regard them. Not the place to pursue this argument now.) But to the extent that a Church teaches homophobia -and it’s clear from your analysis that (eg) you would think that the Catholic Church does- you should be criticizing the provision of Chaplains from that Church/religion, rather than the individuals who try to remain faithful to their duties as a minister of that religion. (The Chaplains you mention may, accepting for the sake of argument your understanding of homophobia, be better people; but they were not (given the implication that they were undermining the teachings of the Church) better Chaplains.)

    I can’t see anything other than a minister trying to be faithful to the orthodox understanding of Christianity and to pastoral sensitivity in what Revd Firth has said. If that amounts to homophobia, then it is his duty as a minister not to misrepresent (I presume) Evangelical Christianity you should be attacking, rather than his personal integrity.

    • Most of the theistic religions -Judaism, Islam and Christianity- make truth claims and have an authority structure, whether this is a matter of personal authority (eg Bishops and the Papacy in the Catholic Church) or of rules (Qur’an and Hadith in Islam).

      I’m primarily familiar with Christianity, and wouldn’t presume to speak for a religion I’m not familiar with. Christianity believes in personal conscience: in free will. The notion that Christianity is all about respecting the authority structure, is directly contradicted in the gospels, if you’re familiar with them. (I am.)

      As a minister of these religions, a Chaplain has a duty, as a matter of personal and professional integrity, to represent those religions correctly to those under her pastoral care.

      A chaplain is customarily a paid, secular post with secular obligations. If a chaplain is being paid by their secular employer purely and simply to educate the students in what that chaplain’s religion is, then they fulfil the obligations of their post by doing so.

      But if they’re paid to provide comfort and counselling, ecumenical spiritual support, without discrimination, then a chaplain like Matthew Firth can’t do his job.

      But to the extent that a Church teaches homophobia -and it’s clear from your analysis that (eg) you would think that the Catholic Church does- you should be criticizing the provision of Chaplains from that Church/religion

      Not at all. You’re ignoring my point – and possibly you just don’t know any good-hearted priests with a conscience! No Catholic priest ought to accept the role of a chaplain in an ecumenical chaplaincy if he conceives his role as chaplain to enforce Catholic doctrine on the students without regard for their feelings or their spiritual needs. There exist Catholic priests, as much as in other faiths, who are capable of this kind of conscientious loving-kindness, who respect the teaching of the gospels. Your belief that these priests do not exist is false.

      I can’t see anything other than a minister trying to be faithful to the orthodox understanding of Christianity and to pastoral sensitivity in what Revd Firth has said.

      Yes, but that is because you are yourself homophobic, as you have made clear in this and previous comments on this blog and elsewhere. Firth would do nicely as a spiritual minister to you. My point to Firth is that he is supposed to be able to provide chaplaincy services to everyone, not just those who share his homophobic views.

  5. Indy

    What I struggle with is the idea that people can think and say a particular behaviour is wrong and yet claim that it does not affect how they deal with people.

    That just can’t be true. If you say to anyone I think what you do/what you are is wrong that is going to have an impact on them.

    It is just an intrinsically aggressive and confrontational thing to say and it is not necessary.

    If you believe certain things because of your religious or ethical beliefs – such as that it is wrong to eat pork or to have gay sex – then fair enough. It would obviously be completely wrong for anyone to try and make you eat pork or have gay sex ! But it’s another thing to say it is wrong for everyone.

    If there was a movement to prevent everyone eating bacon rolls on religious grounds we would all see the absurdity of that, wouldn’t we?
    It’s really no different. Personal choices should remain personal and not be applied universally.

    I don’t know what the exact situation is in this university but if people can’t access counselling or pastoral services without that kind of judgmentalism behind it then there is clearly a need for an alternative provision.

    And it’s not something that just affects gay people. That’s something that always annoys me about discussions of LGBT issues and the idea that they are just a vocal minority obsessed with their rights. LGBT people don’t live in bubble disconnected from everyone else. Most of us aren’t gay but we have gay friends, we have gay family members and so prejudice against gay people actually affects all of us because we care about our friends and family. What hurts them hurts us too.

    If you are a pregnant woman for example you don’t know if your kid might be gay, you have no idea, but they could be and would you want them to come into contact with a mindset that says they are wrong just because of who they are?

    Most people just don’t want the world to be like that any more.

    • It is just an intrinsically aggressive and confrontational thing to say and it is not necessary.

      To be fair, where Matthew Firth originally expressed these views was in the Church where he was Curate, where presumably everyone there understood that gay people, their family and friends, were unwelcome. (Or got the message with that sermon.) A preacher in a church has a right – a legally protected human right – to say whatever they please if they can claim it’s religiously inspired.

      Of course when that sermon was then posted on the Internet, and Firth named as the chaplain of Cumbria University, it ceased to have that context and became a public message about how Firth intended to do his work.

      Which is why I think Cumbria University ought to be concerned about their chaplaincy.

      I presume they do have secular counselling on offer as part of the student health service – most educational establishments do.

      • Abitofcommonsense

        I work at the University of Cumbria and have significant concerns regarding some of the comments made by and subsequent behaviour of Rev. Firth regarding this issue. I’m also gay. We do have secular counselling available, of course.

  6. ‘No Catholic priest ought to accept the role of a chaplain in an ecumenical chaplaincy if he conceives his role as chaplain to enforce Catholic doctrine on the students without regard for their feelings or their spiritual needs.’

    Enforce? No. Articulate clearly? Yes.

    • Enforce? No. Articulate clearly? Yes.

      When a student is in a vulnerable position – for example, if they’re coming out as gay and they want to talk through the spiritual implications of this for them – if a priest takes this opportunity to “articulate clearly” homophobic Catholic doctrine to the student, then the distinction between “clearly articulating” and “enforcing” is … not great enough for kindness to slip in.

      The proper role of a counsellor in that position, whether a chaplain or secular, is to help the student feel comfortable with their sexual orientation and not self-hating (this, Matthew Firth has made clear he is wholly unwilling and probably unable to do) and further, if called on as a chaplain, to help the student as requested – not to instruct the student in the chaplain’s religious beliefs.

      The kind of “counselling” you appear to suggest a chaplain should provide has been known to make lesbian and gay victims suicidal and self-harm: convinced by their counsellor that God will hate them unless they learn to hate themselves. Which is, in my view, an ugly way to make use of Christianity.

  7. OK, EE, we’re too far apart on this to have much of a sensible discussion in this area. so I’ll bow out. Thanks for putting up with me! But it’s clearly unfair on Revd Firth to extrapolate from a sermon focused on a political question to how he would behave in a pastoral context. I have experienced care in the past from gay people despite their knowing that I was an orthodox Catholic; I would expect Revd Firth to be able to show the same humanity.

    • But it’s clearly unfair on Revd Firth to extrapolate from a sermon focused on a political question to how he would behave in a pastoral context

      Well, I’ve also had an email from him indicating that his political views about how LGBT people don’t deserve equal legal rights do affect his ability to provide pastoral care. Kind of like a racist white minister thinking he can minister to black people, keeping his belief that black people are inferior “separate” from his pastoral work.

      I have experienced care in the past from gay people despite their knowing that I was an orthodox Catholic

      Of course. Gay people don’t want orthodox Catholics discriminated against. You were as deserving of care as anyone else: the problem is that Firth doesn’t think gay people are as deserving of care. He explicitly says so in his sermon.

      Thanks for putting up with me!

      I respect both your wish to end the discussion and your ability to engage in discussion politely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s