I want to add an explanation here for the following article. I don’t normally respond to personal articles or comments attacking me – but this one was different. Last week was an intense and tough week and it was not helped by being asked to write (at midnight) a comment on the Ashers case, which I had been following. I did so and was then attacked. as I expected to be, but this time by a fellow Christian – an academic philosopher/theologian from Northern Ireland. Not only did he accuse me of ignorance, but he boasted about the brilliance of his own response, tweeted it to an official of the National Secular Society and even hassled me for not responding whilst I was at the Assembly. I was going to leave it mainly because I regarded his article as missing the point, nit picking and really quite arrogant and smug. However by the end of the week I was absolutely sick of Christians who snipe away and who, although they don’t shoot their fellow Christians, see no problems in giving our enemies the bullets to shoot us. Stephen is clearly an intelligent, thoughtful Christian, and although I have no knowledge of him, nor anything personal against him, I have no reason to doubt he is a throughly nice chap. But he is in an academic ivory tower, handing out advice and making great presumptions about his own ability. I’m on the front line – getting battered all the time. I don’t have the time or the inclination (or the ability) for these comfortable middle class academic games. The church is under fierce attack (and its going to get a lot worse). The Ashers, a lovely young Christian family, have been put under enormous pressure. The last thing they, or we, need is this kind of academic playing games,whilst we are engaged in what is a spiritual warfare. I found Stephen’s article offensive, arrogant and totally off the point (which was that the law is unequal and discriminates against Christians). When someone boasts about his own ‘robust’ response and accuses me of ignorance and falsehood, then I’m sorry I will oppose them to their face. If it is too strong for some tastes I apologise. But I am genuinely fed up of this constant sniping….the notion that Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, etc would ever have endorsed Christians bowing the knee to Caesar in this way is for me ludicrous. I pray the Lord would forgive me if I am wrong but as I long as I have this understanding all I can say is – God help me. I can do no other.
– a further note to the above note. I made a comment which was out of order and completely wrong. I assumed that because Stephen is a philosopher/theologian that he was a middle class academic living in an ivory tower. It turns out that that assumption was wrong. Stephen is a working class man from the Shankhill. I leave the remark there just to demonstrate to people how stupid I can be at times, and how not to do or say things. I should not make such assumptions. I was wrong and I unreservedly apologise to Stephen for that and hope I can learn from my mistakes. The rest of the comments and article still stand. And I wish Stephen all the best.
Having your Cake and Eating It
I knew that after writing the article on the Asher’s case,
it would not be long before a Christian apologist for the New Order would pop up. Sure enough I was almost immediately tweeted ““Yet another commentator who hasn’t bothered to read the judgment….” This was from a Northern Irish philosopher/theologian called Stephen. I was a bit surprised at his tweet given that he boasts, “I almost never respond to comments which are insulting to myself or others, or which question my honesty or integrity.” But I guess he does not extend that courtesy to others and just assumes the worst. When I told him that I had read it and asked him to deal with the actual points, rather than insulting me or just questioning my integrity; he went on to write the following article: https://stephenjgraham.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/the-gay-cake-debacle-a-rejoinder-to-robertson/
Stephen clearly has great faith in his own ability – boasting “I’m curious if @theweeflea will retract his article, given the number of misstatements of fact and misunderstandings of law in it?” And telling us that a lawyer thought his article was masterful. Friends tweeted in to say such wonderful things as ‘Jesus would have baked an extra gay cake” – and the usual abuse followed. Stephen went on to say how I had got it wrong on the Scottish Christian party case as well. On the basis of Stephen’s post, my appearance on Radio 5 live and one or two other things in the press, this weekend I have been the recipient of some wonderful compliments – I am a lying, ignorant, dishonest, homophobic, love-hating, Christian scumbag. Thanks Stephen! I know you didn’t write these things, but you have contributed to the general culture that produced them.
I have not responded to Stephens post until now because a) I have been kind of busy as moderator of the Free Church General Assembly and b) I didn’t really think it was that good and questioned whether I should respond to it at all. After all it’s hard of hard to respond to someone who thinks they have written the definitive response and are so brilliant. But since it is an excellent example of someone missing the point I thought I might as well have a go. And then when Stephen boasted about his own ‘robust’ response, I thought ‘robust…I can do that’. So here goes….
I wrote: “Asher’s did not refuse a gay person a cake. They refused to bake a cake with a message supporting gay marriage. And that changes everything.” To which Stephen replied: “This is flat-out false; it doesn’t change anything, not under the law. “ Now I am quite surprised that an intelligent person can write such an illogical statement. The fact is that my statement was correct, not flat out false. Asher’s did not refuse to serve someone because they were homosexual. They refused to put an SSM slogan on the cake. That does change everything. My statement was not flat out false.
Stephen’s point about the law is however probably correct (although not as clear as he likes to think – I know several lawyers who don’t agree). But here he misses the main point (indeed this seems to be his speciality – he argues against what is not being said and therefore ends up arguing against himself, rather than argue against what is being said). The main point of my article was that the law is wrong – that there is ‘legalised inequality’. The fact that Stephen does not address this negates his whole response.
But not only does Stephen not get the point of the article, he also seems to specialise in nit picking. “Robertson incorrectly identifies the Equality Commission as the plaintiff in such cases. In the Asher’s case it was not the Commission who sued – it was the customer, which again should be abundantly clear from the judgment” What he neglects to mention (and you will note that he neglects quite a lot – which is interesting from someone who is a Christian telling the whole truth and giving a balanced judgement) is that the Equalities Commission funded the case to the tune of £40,000 of taxpayers money. The question remains would the equalities commission have given £40,000 of tax payers money to a Christian who was refused a cake from a homosexual run bakery stating SSM is sinful?
Lets continue with the nit picking. Stephen thinks this is a great point because he re-tweeted it. Asher’s (or a Jewish baker being asked to bake a cake with a Swastika on it) would not have to do so because they could just take the nuclear option and refuse to bake any cake with political or religious slogans. So bye bye, ‘God is Love’ being put on your cake. All to avoid being sued by the Equalities commission. Way to go. And I repeat here my main observation that the law is dumb and oppressive. Who is to decide what is political or what is religious?
And yet more nit picking – Robertson’s misunderstandings continue to pour forth, as he claims that “it is ridiculous for a Christian who thinks that Same-Sex Marriage is against the Word of God to be compelled to bake a cake with a message supporting it.” Again, this isn’t true. Remember, the issue is not with a private individual but with a commercial entity. It baffles me that Stephen thinks this is some kind of brilliant point. I don’t buy into the ‘its not me, its just the company I work for’ ethic. Of course he may be right in law, but that was not my point. My point is that as a Christian I want freedom to practice my religion in the public square and in my business. It may be legal for pornography to exist, but if I run a commercial print business I don’t have to print pornography.
The issue was not that the customer was gay. The issue was the message on the cake. Now Stephen may be correct that the law requires all political and religious messages to be baked, irrespective of what they are. If that were true then a message stating Mohammed is a false prophet would have to be baked in a Muslim bakery, a message stating SSM is of the devil would have to be baked by a homosexual baker etc. That may be what the law states but if it does the law is an ass. Stephen may wish to defend the law if he so chooses. I don’t.
Lets continue with his ‘brilliant’ demolition, –
Now beginning to lose the run of himself, Robertson claims that the real discrimination in this case is against “the Christian baker who is being told he will have to close down if he is not prepared to provide cakes with messages that contradict his beliefs.” Again, this is simply flat-out factually incorrect. The baker was not told to bake cakes with slogans contradicting his beliefs or close down.
Actually they were. If Stephen stops to think and quits the nit picking and playing with words, he will see that. The fact is that Asher’s were found guilty of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake with a support SSM message on it. If they refuse to do that again they will be shut down. Their only way out is to refuse to bake a cake with any slogans on them. Wonderful victory for free speech and equality! I guess the one way to stop the Church being sued for printing ‘unequal’ material is just not to print anything at all. We can all be equally silent (except of course those who argue for their version of equality!).
And then Stephen goes on to argue about the Scottish Christian Party being refused their leaflet published. I won’t rehearse all his points here but they are all to do with it being a different legal jurisdiction, a private individual vs. a political party etc. But again he misses the main point. My article was not about whether the minutiae of the law were being interpreted correctly; my point is that the law itself is unequal. We live in a society where a Christian can be sued for refusing to bake a cake with a SSM message on it, and a printer can refuse to publish a leaflet because it is anti-SSM. That’s the modern version of equality! Given that I wrote this it puzzles me that Stephen does not see this. Maybe a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees?
And back to more of Stephens’s favourite pastime – nit picking. Apparently there is a significant difference between refusing to print the leaflets because they have a policy of not printing material that might offend people.” (What John Cormack said) and “[they] did not agree with the messages on it.” – what I said. Stephen clearly lives in some kind of academic philosophical ivory tower because he does not seem to realise that ‘I do not agree with your message’ is equivalent to ‘I am offended by your message’ in todays touchy feely ‘you’d better not disagree with me or I will be offended’ culture – especially when it comes to the subject of homosexuality. He then goes on to accuse the SCP of being homophobic because they speak of “REAL” marriage, implying that SSM is not real marriage. He then suggests that it would be perfectly legitimate for a printer to refuse to print something they thought might be deemed homophobic. And there you have Stephen’s case in a nutshell – he is happy to defend a Christian being sued for refusing to print an SSM message on a cake, and to defend a printer refusing to publish a leaflet because it suggests that SSM might not be real marriage. Talk about having your cake and eating it!
As an aside let me clearly state that Same Sex Marriage is not real marriage. The government and the law courts have no more right to redefine marriage than they have to call a square a circle. I look forward to the phone call from the Equalities Commission!
“I agree with Robertson in his desire that our Christian freedoms not be eroded, but what he splendidly overlooks is that he lacks no right or freedom whatsoever that a non-Christian enjoys. The law applies equally to Christian and non-Christian alike.” Mega fail. The question is not whether the law applies equally to Christian and non-Christian alike, the question is whether the law itself is ‘equal’ and just. I don’t agree that it is. And there are so many ways that this is seen. I don’t believe that Christians are currently being persecuted – but we are being discriminated against and I suspect that that will soon lead to direct persecution. There are many jobs that I could not take and would not be offered, because I do not believe that SSM is right. There is discrimination and bias in the media, arts, politics and now the legal system against those who would hold to biblical beliefs. It is beyond sad that an intelligent professing Christian should use his gifts to try and defend the indefensible.
Another example of Stephen leaving out relevant information. He helpfully tells us that the plaintiff went to Asher’s because it was near his office. For some strange reason he does not tell us that the plaintiff is a member of Queer Space, a gay rights advocacy group. That of course had nothing to do with the case.
And now my favourite nit-pick off them all. I had stated that SSM is illegal in Northern Ireland, to which Stephen responds: SSM is not “illegal,” it’s simply that there is no legal provision for it. Murder is illegal. Theft is illegal. SSM is not illegal. You kind of have to read that several times to try and grasp what is being said. But it is just another classic example of someone trying to be clever and getting confused. SSM is illegal in that it is against the law. There is no legal provision for it, not because the Northern Irish can’t afford it or forgot about it, but because it is against the law. To most rational people that means it is illegal. I think what Stephen was trying to say is that SSM is not criminal.
But lets return to the main point. Stephen clearly thought his article was a wonderful rebuttal of mine and that having been humbled by his obvious brilliance, I would withdraw mine, repent and acknowledge by stupidity. Sadly for him, I had actually read the judgement and I stand by what I wrote. A society that seeks to compel Christians to publish messages that go against their faith, to permit practices in their own home which they regard as sinful, and discriminates against us in politics, media and the workplace because we believe the bible, is not one that is equal, tolerant and free. That discrimination may be legal but then so was apartheid in South Africa. The fact that a Christian philosopher/theologian becomes an apologist for unjust and discriminatory practices against Christians (and helpfully tweets the National Secular Society their findings) is not something to rejoice in, but something to be saddened by. Doubtless Judas thought he was keeping the law as well.
And finally a nit-pick that Stephen actually managed to get right. I admit that the judge was not a ‘he’ but a ‘she’, I apologise for my mistake, but that’s what happens when you are compelled to use unequal gender specific language. In the Brave New World of the future I look forward to the day when all gender specific language will be done away with as a symbol of the oppressive past and we will all be free and equal. Except that some will be more equal than others. But Christians need not worry; as we are being thrown to the lions I am sure some philosopher theologians will find a legal justification for it and write ‘brilliant’ articles against those who dare to question the law.