Saturday, 21 August 2010

Registrars: Religious Martyrs or Bigoted Hypocrites?

This week's headline from the The Christian Institute "Two registrars subject to investigation over their beliefs" was particularly misleading. Nowhere in their article did I find evidence that they were being investigated for their beliefs. Rather, it seemed clear to me, these registrars were being investigated for their behaviour (or for manifesting their beliefs). Surprisingly the CI's own handbook, "Religious Liberty In The Workplace" states:
whilst the right to hold the belief is absolute, the right to manifest it is qualified, that is it can be constrained by matters such as the rights of others. It is a “balancing act”. page 7 
What I have never understood with registrars not being willing to perform civil partnerships as it is against there beliefs, is why they are willing to perform other services that are also against their beliefs.  As the CI also states in their "Religious Liberty In the Workplace" handbook:
... be aware that the more you acquiesce in requests contrary to your conscience, the more difficult it may be to convince anyone of the strength of your religious convictions. page 20
So how strong are these registrars' religious convictions? From the CI's article it appears these registrars only switched shifts to avoid civil partnerships. Yet, if they held consistently to their beliefs they should have also switched shifts to avoid:

  1. Performing a civil marriage where one person is a divorcee and has an ex-spouse who is still alive: But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 19:9)
  2. Performing a civil marriage where the parties are of different faiths: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 2 Cor 6:14
  3. Performing a civil marriage where the wife-to-be is obviously pregnant: But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones... Deuteronomy 22:20-21
  4. Refuse to recognise a divorce that is not a result of marital unfaithfulness: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. Malachi 2:16 and the verses from Matthew in 1 above.
  5. Registering the birth of a child born out of wedlock, e.g, there is no father on the birth certificate or the parents have difference surnames on the birth certificate: One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the congregation of the Lord. Deuteronomy 23:3

I would be more sympathetic to the fact that these registrars are being persecuted for their beliefs, if these registrars also did switch their shifts for the above. However they did not and therefore I have to conclude that these registrars are not acting on their beliefs; they are simply acting in a discriminatory manner that has no place in a secular and just society, let a lone in their roles as civil registrars. To single out just gay and lesbian couples is homophobic.

No empathetic tears should be shed for these registrars. In my opinion they are behaving as nothing more than bigoted hypocrites.

Quite rightly their employers should investigate their behaviour. When it comes to performing their roles as civil registrars, their employers have to ensure they follow the law and cannot make exceptions for personal belief.  If a registrar believes that mixed race marriage is against God's law (as I was taught in Apartheid South Africa), the registrar could also be exempted from registering these relationships. What other prejudices would then have to be tolerated under a thin defence of religious liberty or, personal or political belief?

As far as I know the CI has never dealt with the question as to why they champion these registrars as religious martyrs while at the same time their martyrs do no consistently act on their beliefs.  If they have, please let me know.


  1. Paul, Jesus did not forbid divorce He put conditions on it, as you rightly quoted for adultery and the Apostile Paul expanded on those teachings such as if a woman becomes a Christian and her husband no longer wants to live with her because of it, then she is to let him go and is free to marry again. The same goes for a man. So to say they are not keeping their faith in marring a divorcee is not quite true. As to the registering of a child out of wedlock you quote Duet which also condemns practicing Homosexual behaviour, the difference is to the Chruch under grace they are to abstain from immorality paganisum and eating the flesh of animals with their life blood still in them and also from things strangled. The point i make is this, to register a child born out of wedlock is not forbidden, or marrying woman who is not a Virgin, in the New Test but practicing Homosexual behaviour is carried through from the Old test to the New and is. What you accuse these men of doing is unjust. If the council had excused them as is their rights to their religious beliefs honoured in the workplace, then they would not have had to shift swap, which was being praised as good practice until a homosexual who works beside them complained . Who's the bigiot in this. It looks to me that they are being persecuted because of their faith....Isobel Yvonne Mckibben

  2. Hi Isobel,

    I'm glad to see that we agree that verses must be placed in the context in which they were written. Unfortunately I find myself having to agree with the following:

    'When it comes to the scriptural verses which seem to be against homosexuality, fundamentalists boldly declare their belief in the "infallible, inerrant Word of God", demanding that every single word be taken literally, without exception. But when it comes to the awkward verses listed above, they become much less sure of themselves. So much less sure, in fact, that they don't follow what their own Bible says.

    '"Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)'

    In some respects you must be in a more liberal church than the fundamentalist one I grew up in. Many of its members still today would have serious issue with you explaining away of what they hold as fundamental.

    It concerns me that the CI and others stubbornly stick to literal interpretations of verses to justify discrimination of the LGBT community. These are a few handful of verses that even well educated academics are not able to agree on.

    I need to point out that the shift swapping had not be officially praised as a good example. It was sited as an example of what the workshop participant thought was good practise.

    I know many people in the LGBT community who were offended that these registrars would switch shifts. Yes it was a gay person who raised the objection as it is discriminatory of the LGB communities. One does not want to work in an environment which permits one's colleagues to discriminate against your community. The discriminatory behaviour began with the registrars. We would not say that a person who fears racism, would be bigoted for raising a complaint. Nor should we regard this persons complaint against the registrars as bigoted.

    Again, I must emphasise the registrars are not being persecuted because of their beliefs (faith). They are being investigated because of their ACTIONS.

    I also feel that you have not answered where does the employer draw the line? If they permit this level of discrimination (one you feel is justifiable), when does it stop? Do they have to accommodate a BNP member who will have nothing to do with other racial groups or mixed-marriages? I'm sure you and I both agree that this is not an acceptable level of discrimination. Freedom of political thought is also a workplace right.

  3. Paul, the line has already been drawn, in the law people have the right to have their religious beliefs respected in the workplace, the BNP would not have a case on Race grounds because that is most definitely not a matter of faith. What the bible teaches about mixed marriages is to do with pagan culture not race and that is carried through to the New Test in don't be "unequally yoked" As to your reference about God's word being infallible, inerrant and every single word should be taken literally, without exception, that is true it should, IN CONTEXT to it's application to history, human behaviour and the predictions of the future. The way i see it Paul if those men had had their religious beliefs honoured in the first place there would be no issue and if their attempt to find a solution that does not compromise their faith had not been complained about by their colleague, there also would have been no issue and the CI would not have reported on it...... Do you see where i am coming from; They have the right to live by their religious convictions just as Homosexuals have the right to choose their lifestyle and civil partners. Each side doesn't agree with each other but they both have equal rights under the law. That is why they are being persecuted for their faith because their right are being denied them....In Christ's love,Isobel

  4. Hi Isobel,

    I have dealt with why I have adopted the "Reformed" view of human sexuality in other blogs. If we could move further discussion of the "Orthodox" vs "Reformed" views to those blogs I would appreciate it.

    I agree with you that under the current UK employment Law an employer does need to respect and accommodate an employees religious beliefs. However, in both the EU Convention Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act this right is limited to what is lawful and restrictions "necessary for a democratic society" are permissible. Therefore, this right is not absolute.

    When rights conflict between the right to freedom of religion verse the right to private life (the latter right being the one protecting gay and lesbian people), an employer has to perform a balancing act.

    No employer should discriminate against a Christian (or other faith) for *believing* that homosexuality is wrong (this is absolute). However, if the person of faith in manifesting their belief, *acts* in a manner that infringes on the rights of others and, in particular, breaks the law, they are obliged to investigate and sanction such behaviour.

    In the case of the registrars, their employers have to follow three bits of law: employment law that states they have to provide a working environment free from discrimination; goods and services act that states they have to provide all services without discrimination and the civil partnership act that they have to provide civil partnerships.

    The first two laws in particular are regarded as necessary in a democratic society (secular).

    The CI's handbook (link in the blog) is worth reading, as is Stonewall's handbook on the issue (

    I heartedly recommend reading both. They both deal sensitively with these issues.

    Your sibling in Christ,



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