Jehovah’s Witnesses and gay men in Chechnya: A Christian outcry

As David Robertson has pointed out here, apparently the burning question of our UK election is not political, but a moral one. Tim Farron – Liberal Democrat leader – has been asked ad nauseam about his views on gay sex. You can read my comments on that here, here, here and here. This was followed by the forced withdrawal (or statement that he wasn’t going to stand, if you prefer) of Isle of Wight MP, Andrew Turner, following a question regarding homosexuality. You can read my comment on that here. Apparently believing gay sex is sinful determines whether you will look after the NHS and enact fair taxation or not. Who knew?!

A few people pointed out the unfairness of repeatedly asking Tim Farron for his views on gay sex when nobody seemed worried about asking Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. With the media having put gay sex front and centre, and forced out Andrew Turner on the same issue, nobody has bothered to elicit comments on the question from all other candidates, skilfully avoiding any Muslims who might find themselves in Farron’s predicament but for media fears of being labelled Islamophobic.

Having flogged the Lib Dem leader publicly over the issue, the question was eventually extended to Theresa May in a thinly veiled attempt at balance (though I’m not sure anyone has asked Jeremy Corbyn yet). However, given the farce faced by Farron, the media guaranteed the only answer received would be ‘no’. If anything pertinent was ever to be gleaned from the question, the only politically acceptable answer had been well and truly established. Thus we ultimately learnt nothing. What a victory for the press all this must be.

Interestingly, for a long time, the man many wished to label a homophobe for refusing (at least for a while) to deny that homosexual sex is sinful – as per the (just about) still-standing 2000 year old teaching of all mainline Christian churches – was the only one prepared to speak out about the horrific clampdown on gay men going on in Chechnya. A few others have now followed suit but there was not much noise. Any comment on the clampdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same area has been even more muted. In both cases, the near silence is shameful.

As I commented here, a belief that something is sinful does not necessarily mean that the Christian will seek to legislate against it. As an extension of this same principle, just because something is sinful does not mean that Christians therefore hate those who sin, for who, including Christians, could escape such legislation or hatred? It should come as no surprise, then, that despite the sins of homosexual people (and, for the record, ‘being gay’ of itself is not sinful as I made clear here) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I allude to here in respect to Muslims), I am absolutely appalled by the treatment of both groups in Chechnya. It is manifestly not OK.

To sin is to not to be less than human. Indeed, to err is human. The image of God is no less present in homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses than it is in anybody else. Their human rights – which emanate from the imago dei – are no less theirs because of their particular sin. This is because we are all sinners. None of us would have any inherent rights at all were sin a basis for removing them.

I do not believe what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. The Bible tells me their rejection of Jesus Christ as God the Son is a grave sin. Nonetheless, I am adamant they are entitled to believe it and we ought to defend their right to do so. Whilst I do not think ‘being gay’ is a sin, I do believe that all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage are sinful. This necessarily includes gay sex. I nonetheless still believe in the right of consenting adults to engage in that if they so wish. In neither case does my belief in what constitutes sin mean I hate either group of people. They could as much be my friends and family, to whom I would show no unfavourable partiality, than anyone else. Indeed, people from both groups are and have been.

But this is not simply about ‘rights’. The systematic abuse in Chechnya of gay men and the similar treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a humanitarian issue. It is not a matter of coldly defending ‘rights’, it is a matter of moral outrage. It is not simply a question of what should be allowed as some sort of political ideal, it is a matter of what should never be allowed as a matter of basic justice and human decency. I make no bones about it being a moral issue before it is a political one. Let me say, just in case the point is here being lost, it is morally repugnant of the Chechen leader to encourage the torture and persecution of both homosexual men and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are no caveats here; it simply must stop.

It makes no difference whether Jehovah’s Witnesses and gay men are sinners or not; we all are. The question is whether it is acceptable for anyone – whoever they are and whatever sins to which they happen to be prone – to be tortured and persecuted for their beliefs. Let’s not pretend that sin is not sin but let us also not pretend people aren’t people. If we want to start highlighting sin, it would be good to notice this one.