Glen posted a link to an interesting document produced by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland (an entirely separate organisation from the Evangelical Alliance UK) in response to the current Irish Civil Partnerships Bill. The EAI’s response is well-summed up in the phrase Glen highlights in his blog post:
…as followers of a just and compassionate God we can recognise the justice and fairness of providing some legal protection for the reality of both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting relationships.
As the rest of the document makes clear, the EAI is not softening its commitment to traditional Christian teaching on marriage at all, but arguing that, in a culture where other patterns of family life are now extremely common, it is a matter of justice that the law should recognise this.
I find this heartening. Our culture (in Britain – maybe it’s different in Ireland?) seems increasingly to fail to recognise any distinction between ‘I think this is morally wrong’ and ‘I think this should be illegal’. This attitude seems to have infected much Christian commentary on matters of public policy in this country – we have demanded too often that the law be brought into accord with our moral intuitions, without exception or reserve. Evangelicals have probably been worse at this than most.
But the Evangelical Alliance movement was born, in 1845-6, out of a desire to protect and extend liberty of conscience and, whilst undoubtedly it was the liberty of people to be evangelicals in majority Roman Catholic countries (such as Ireland) which mainly concerned them, they understood from the first that they could not deny to others the liberty they demanded for themselves. The intuition (first, I am proud to say, articulated by a Baptist, Thomas Helwys, in 1611) that it is the moral duty of government to maintain a studied neutrality on certain matters, and to offer space and protection for its people to live in the way that they might choose, is a natively evangelical one.
(This also, incidentally, explains the concern Glen registers in his post – the desire to provide ‘some legal protection’; a standard problem in modern law concerns whose rights trump whose, and the EAI does not want legal protection for cohabiting couples to extend to the making illegal of the moral witness, and the expression of that witness in appropriate ways, of churches, mosques, &c.)