Are you being sued for doing something you believe is right?
One of the basic rules of deciding whether it’s worth taking the case to court instead of settling out of court with apologies: is the Christian Institute offering to pay your legal fees? If so, then you know two things in advance: you will lose, and you will become a kind of public figurehead for whatever campaign the Christian Institute are running. Unwinnable cases are a form of advertising.
One of the basic rules of running an inn, a hotel, a guesthouse, or even a B&B, is that if the lodgings are available, the host can’t turn people away based on their own prejudices. That’s tolerance: active, practical, and kind.
Susanne Wilkinson disagrees:
“People’s beliefs about marriage are coming under increasing attack, and I am concerned about people’s freedom to speak and act upon these beliefs. I am a Christian, not just on a Sunday in church, but in every area of my life – as Jesus expects from his followers.
“That’s all I was trying to do and I think it’s quite wrong to punish me for that, especially after enduring over two years of vile abuse and threats. We find this a strange justice in a society that aspires to be increasingly tolerant.”
It is strange indeed that a Christian should think Jesus expects her to turn two law-abiding guests away from her door: I have noted before that the Christian Institute and others seem to be operating from an unknown gospel in which Jesus explains you become a Christian by opposing abortion and homosexuality. Most Christians I know don’t seem to have read this gospel.
But it’s stranger still that she should join Nick Griffin and Mehdi Hasan in the chorus of the intolerant antinomy:
As in, “Oh yeah, well if you’re so tolerant, how come you can’t tolerate my intolerance. Hah!”
In the New Statesman, Ai Weiwei writes as guest editor
Whatever the future problems are, I believe that, both as an international society and as an individual, you have to see the human problem as one. We share this planet and we have been divided for too long, for ridiculous reasons. Now, we have to come together and say, as one, that we share the same values, that we can respect differences and that, together, we can create the best possible solutions.
I daresay he’s not thought of the comparatively minor problem of one B&B owner who was conned by the Christian Institute into standing up for her “right” to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens so that she may feel good about herself. But the wider problem she and Nick Griffin and Mehdi Hasan earlier in the week all illustrate is that tolerance is necessarily two-way.
Hasan demanded tolerance for his intolerant view of women, and got angry because after pouring out a flood of vitriol on women for deciding they needed abortions, women and some men did not react in a kindly, tolerant way to his aggressive nastiness. This is not an issue that demands any legal response, I would not suggest that for the world: Hasan is entitled to express his views freely, and fortunate to have platforms like the New Statesman and the Huffington Post to express his views from. He is not entitled, as he seemed to think, to silence other people’s reaction based on their views or to hear only positive or at least friendly reactions to his intolerant views on women’s rights and women’s health, life, and wellbeing.
Wilkinson demanded tolerance not merely for her intolerant view of same-sex couples – she was and is entitled to say, think, and write what she liked about Jesus’s hatred of gay people, justified with reference to the strange gospel which her variety of Christianity holds to. But so long as she was running a business, she had to follow the ordinary secular laws governing that business: a law-abiding couple who booked in advance were entitled to the room for the night and the breakfast they’d paid for in the morning.
Fred Clark, an evangelical Christian, wrote in Slacktivist last year:
Like most Christians, I believe that the Almighty is, you know, all-mighty. That means: A) I believe that God is omnipotent; and B) I cannot really comprehend precisely what that might mean. To be honest, I don’t really spend much time trying to comprehend precisely what that might mean. “All-powerful” is not the attribute of God that ought to concern us most since it doesn’t seem to be the attribute of God that concerns God the most. “All-loving” — that’s the attribute that matters most when it comes to what God is actually doing. As handy as omnipotence might be, it’s nearly useless when it comes to redemption and reconciliation.
I try to remember that whenever my patience is tried by the gleeful morons congratulating themselves every time they mistakenly cite the intolerant antinomy as some kind of rebuttal of the virtue of tolerance. Reminding myself that love trumps power helps keep me from wanting to crush them beneath the Almighty’s unliftable rock.
This is not about religion. I’m an atheist. People create the religion, and the God, they want to believe in. Susanne Wilkinson says that her God wants her to show her Christian faith by denial of hospitality. (Mehdi Hasan says that his opposition to women’s rights is not based in his religion.) Nick Griffin says that the UK is “a fundamentally British and Christian country” and demands “Christians’ right to equal treatment with respect to religious freedom.” Former Archbishop Carey gets upset on discovering that he’s in the same room as as Nick Griffin, but it does not appear to occur to Carey that the solution may be to open the door and walk out, and leave Nick Griffin pushing futilely at the walls.