The appointment of Joel Edwards – general director of the Evangelical Alliance- to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has attracted criticism because of his public anti-gay views, highlighting the tensions between the religion and belief and sexual orientation ‘equality strands’.
Atheist and gay rights groups have questioned his committment to the EHRC’s aims to “work to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and to build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.”
Pink News claims that the Evangelical Alliance are one of the most strident voices against gay rights in the UK citing evidence they gave to a House of Commons committee opposing a new crime of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In an interview with them in 2006, Edwards said “I believe homosexuality is sinful” but added that he also believes “heterosexual relationships outside marriage are sinful” warning that “the gay community must not misrepresent the proportionality of what we call sinful….we see the issues around gay sex as no different to heterosexual sex” [Except there are less conditons in whcih the former is permissable]
Edwards also clarified that Christian-gay dialogue is not always centred on sexuality and that he wants to “engage with the gay community on the wider thought on justice” and alluded to recognition that tolerance is necessary within a liberal democracy. It remains to be seen whether it is possible to speak publicly of homosexuality being sinful and yet champion equality and good relations for gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women.
The National Secular Society’s Terry Sanderson has called for Edwards to be unappointed while Alan Wardle, director of public and parliamentary affairs for Stonewall, told Pink News that “All commissioners will have obligations to ensure equality for all people, including lesbian and gay people, and Stonewall intends to hold him to that.”
Edwards’s appointment as the first commissioner with an explicit religious background might not be a godsend for all faith communites however. Although the EHRC said in a press release that he enjoyes “an accessibility and acceptability across the broad religion and belief spectrum” in a 2003 interview for Reuters he claimed that “the rise of interest in Paganism [there were at least 30,000 Pagans in the UK in 2001] is damaging because it normalizes spiritual evil by presenting it as mere fantasy and fiction…the Evangelical Alliance calls on government and TV regulatory bodies to monitor programs which promote or glamorize Pagan issues.”
The National Secular Society reports that Edwards said on his appointment: “As a Christian leader, I believe one of my primary responsibilities will be to ensure that the values of faith communities – our concerns for important issues such as respect and tolerance – play an effective role in this commission”.
I hope somone will remind him that the Commission is responsible for religion and belief (not just faith communities) and that these are universal values.