A couple of days ago, the press was filled with stories such as "Foster parent ban: 'No Place' in law for Christianity, court rules" - Daily Telegraph. A couple from Derby had gone to the High Court to seek clarification with Derby Council as to whether they could still be foster parents in the light of different equalities legislation, which preserve rights of religious freedom and sexual orientation.
The organisation which sponsored the couple through the court, the Christian Legal Centre, has a very efficient press arm, and it seems that most of the subsequent reporting came from their press releases. Because that story in the Telegraph bears a great resemblance to the CLC website report, but not to the facts.
Gavin Drake reports an alternative line in his blog; the Church Mouse has some useful information on the actual ruling. It seems, in fact, no ruling was actually made. The judges would not make a decision on a hypothetical issue, would not make a blanket judgement on a very technical and issue-specific question, and were critical of both parties for not even being able to agree on the questions they were raising before them.
That being said, they did say some interesting things about the place of faith in the law. The line that there is no place for faith in the law is inaccurate; they were quite clear - all people are equal and must be seen as such. But they were also clear that no-one has a privileged position because of their faith, no-one can claim superior standing because of their faith. This would be theocracy, and not the kind of state in which we live. Faith (for sure) is protected; but the content of faith (any faith) may indeed be questioned by the law. That is uncomfortable for people in a world where values are set in all kinds of ways - and yet I find this still encouraging, and essentially Christian.
It's a question of priorities. Which is more important here: that all people are made in the image of God, that in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, that we worship a Lord who eats with sinners and tax collectors to demonstrate that they too are children of Abraham - or that we should have a right to a moral code that effectively makes some people second class? The judges were keen to point out that no-one was being called a bigot, but the CLC are almost pathological in their attempts to make all Christians appear to be such - and as such, are achieving a far less Christian standard for the church in the public eye than the High Court granted a couple of days ago. The content of a faith that goes on making some people second class needs to be challenged. And don't you dare fire off at me with, "But the Bible says..." because if you do, you are saying that the Bible contradicts itself, and that the principles with which I began this paragraph (clear, obvious Biblical principles) are at best secondary to a couple of random verses about a moral issue that has hardly any weight at all in the pages of the Bible. Perhaps rather we need to work a bit harder at understanding those couple of verses, and see better how they fit into the general swathe of God's Word.
And perhaps also the world can do the Church the occasional favour. We are an obtuse and bizarre lot. As I pointed out last time! Loving people, doing good and finding friends everywhere (rather than making random or even rather specific enemies) seems to me quite a good aim for the Church. If the world refuses to allow us the safety of hiding behind the barricades of the past, it might make us better at living out the love of Jesus today. Engaging with his world. His mission. His way. I find in the words of the non-ruling that I have read nothing for any of us to fear, no advance of secularism, but more a reminder that fiddling whilst Rome burns is never attractive.
A secular state? Bring it on; I'm afraid it feels more Christian than the alternative promulgated by those who have taken our Lord's name upon themselves in their press release about this court case.