Monday, October 17, 2011

Rennie attacked for being pro equal marriage and accepting intern from evangelical organisation.

The Herald is having a go at Willie Rennie for having help in his office from an intern from the organisation CARE, which is run by evangelical Christians and is emphatically opposed to equal marriage.

They clearly haven't read our constitution. I can't really blame them for that. But this passage is quite relevant.
We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. Recognising that the quest for freedom and justice can never end, we promote human rights and open government, a sustainable economy which serves genuine need, public services of the highest quality, international action based on a recognition of the interdependence of all the world’s peoples and responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources.
Is the Herald seriously suggesting we should discriminate against somebody on the basis of their religion? Really?

It will not surprise you in the least to hear that I totally disagree with CARE's attitude on many issues from abortion to equal marriage. That doesn't mean to say I put the organisation in a box that says "don't talk to these people." You can't have proper tolerance if you don't properly engage with people you disagree with. And there are issues relating to freedom and social justice where there is common ground and we can work together.

CARE isn't going to change our mind on equal marriage or anything else - it surely must know that given the thumping defeats whenever its members who are also Liberal Democrat members have put motions to our conferences.

I just think it's good to see Willie practising the sort of openness and tolerance he talks about.

And, a wee nag, in case you haven't replied to the Scottish Government's consultation on equal marriage - it's here, get on with it. You have until 9th December. The churches will organise and get lots of people to respond. Our side can be lazy.

And those lovely awesome LYS people are running a campaign on equal marriage. There's a link so you can write to your MSPs and ask them to support it. Their inboxes will be crammed full of e-mails from people opposed to equal marriage, when in fact research shows that a majority are in favour. Help put that imbalance right.

9 comments:

GHmltn said...

Yes, religious tolerance and diversity is important to us. Now more than ever in many ways.

We haven't come through 6 centuries of intolerance and strife only to replace religious intolerance with secular intolerance.

We don't fight against prejudices against Islam and Jewish people only to find ourselves slipping into an unwitting persecution of Christianity closer to home.

And, finally it is worth recognising the importance of faith at the root of many of our values as a party and in developing the values of many of our members - some more overtly than others.

Andrew said...

OK, I'll take an opposite view. but not one of intolerance.

You see, I am a Christian. Albeit one who has views on equal marriage, LGBT rights, abortion, etc. that perhaps do not sit comfortably with those of some fellow Christians.

I know about CARE. I don't care for what they stand for - a slightly softer version of the fundamentalist approach favoured by the Christian Institute. I remember (how could anyone forget?) CARE's foray into the Section 28 debate, during which the organisation itself went out of its way to target activists supporting repeal (including a friend of mine who committed suicide). It was the first time I became aware of them, but their bigotry was deeply un-Christian.

I am also aware of CARE's internship ("leadership") programme and of its reasons for providing interns to MPs and MSPs (they're looking to influence politics, not providing cheap labour out of the goodness of their hearts). Plus CARE has links with an organisation that hopes to "cure" gay people of their homosexuality.

Is this really the kind of organisation we want at the heart of our democracy?

Diversity is good. That's stating the obvious. I'm not convinced, however, that has been CARE's attitude on a whole range of issues. CARE does not value diversity and pluralism in the way the Willie Rennie does. CARE also has an unenviable record that anyone with the inclination to do so can easily check. It doesn't sit comfortably with my own religious and political beliefs.

Of course, CARE has a right to exist. Willie Rennie also has a right to accept their interns (although it says little for our supposed suspicion of internships and the role they play in reinforcing social immobility). If the Church of Scotland, the Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities or similarly respected Islamic groups wish to provide interns or staff to parliamentarians as a means of achieving diversity then that would be something to be broadly welcomed. Add the Natioanlist Secular Society and the Humanist Society into the mix, too.

The SNP has in the past had close links with the Scottish Islamic Foundation - I didn't criticise them for it then and I won't now. My problem is with the NATURE of CARE and the fundamentalism it preaches.

What Willie Rennie should be careful of is how this might be perceived publicly. But he should also be aware that whatever CARE is, it is not an organisation renowned for its tolerance towards LGBT people and in the during current debate any associations with the likes of CARE could be very damaging.

It's not a question of religion versus secularism (although as a Christian I am a firm believer in a secular state and parliament). Neither is it a question of recognising the value of faith. It's a simple question of whether the leader of a liberal party should be allowing a group with such a shameful track record of intolerance and bigotry to provide him with an intern. I don't think it's anything more than an innocent misjudgement but it's one that could have ramifications.

Do I dislike CARE? Yes. But, more than that, I'm embarrassed by them. Their brand of Christianity masquerades as religious intellectualism but in fact is solidly puritanical. The fact that others do not feel the same sense of embarrassment surprises me more than a little...

Andrew said...

I'm not suggesting that people with religious views similar to CARE can't be active within the party - that would be intolerant. What I am suggesting is that it is unwise for our leader to accept an intern from an ORGANISATION with CARE's history and values. Such associations should always be avoided. It undermines the bold stance he's made so far on equal marriage.

Caron said...

I don't have any time at all for CARE to be honest, but I can see that showing them the sort of tolerance that they fail to show others might have a longer term effect on them. It's certainly more likely to than putting them in a box and keeping them at a distance.

I can't imagine for one second that CARE expects Willie Rennie to change his mind on an issue or set of issues he's held the same opinion on for years.

I know how strongly Willie feels about the intolerance shown towards the LGBT community generally during the Section 2A stramash. He would never countenance any such thing or be associated with it.

He is not endorsing any of CARE's views - but I don't think a young person having the chance to work in a place where the LGBT community is respected and supported is a bad thing.

I do get where you are coming from on this, especially with what happened to your friend, but I would much rather try and engage with these people and model to them an alternative way of treating people you disagree with or disapprove of.

Kelvin Holdsworth said...

Caron - I think that it is a big mistake to accept an intern from such an illiberal outfit as Care.

I know that Willie Rennie is still new to the task, but this does show questionable judgement.

You are quite right that we shouldn't discriminate against anyone on their religion. However we should discriminate relentlessly over policy. Isn't that the point in politics?

Care may well be attempting to influence the parliament legitimately. In an open democracy they've every right to do so. Indeed, I'd stand up for their right to do so.

However, I think those of us who are gay also have every right to express our disappointment that Willie Rennie would take help from Care. It is a reminder of how the party's policies on sexuality have so often translated into incredibly poor leadership in areas touched by issues of sexuality.

This issue makes it look as though Willie can't be trusted to discern whom he should accept help from. Was he really so naive that he did not know Care's policies?

Andrew said...

Caron - you're right, we should ENGAGE with the likes of CARE. I have many Christian friends who don't share my views - I'm not (usually) intolerant of them; I talk with them. We understand each other's perspectives. I'm not suggesting Willie Rennie should be any different.

I don't actually care who Willie's intern is. I'd prefer he didn't have interns (pet hate, sorry!) but if the individual has views Willie doesn't share I'm sure that's not an issue. It's quite a different thing to employ a religious fundamentalist who is opposed to gay rights than to actually associate yourself with an organisation with a history of discriminatory behaviour and championing anti-LGBT prehudice.

There are a number of factors that influenced my political thinking, but the Section 28 debate has to be the most significant. Anyone who experienced the vile prejudice not only of Souter but also groups such as CARE and the Christian Institute would not welcome the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats associating himself with them on any level.

There are plenty of other places interns can be provided from. I know many talented young unemployed people in Inverclyde who I'm sure would love the chance to gain such incredible experience.

I'm with Kelvin on this score. You say that Willie "would never countenance any such thing or be associated with intolerance"...but yet, by accepting the intern, he is. He is effectively sponsored by CARE. He will have to declare them in his register of interests. Willie's willingness to be associated with CARE is at best naive, at worst a potentially fatal misjudgement.

I will be contacting Willie myself because for me this is a matter of significance.

It's not often I disagree with you Caron (!) but please don't suggest this is simply a matter of Willie demonstrating his commitment to diversity. A willingness to talk with and listen to those we disagree with is a genuine exercise in promoting "openness and tolerance". Accepting sponsorship from an organisation diametrically opposed to our policy positions is nothing of the sort and simply makes Willie - and the party - look hypocritical.

Caron said...

I do get what you're saying but I think Willie deserves a lot of credit for being so passionately & proactively fantastic on LGBT issues. He has jumped well above the parapet. I don't think the presence of an intern in his office from an organisation neither of us like is relevant. In fact, when CARE comes out with the usual drivel about Christians being persecuted, they can easily be ridiculed.

I do not feel any more comfortable around this organisation than you do, but I can live with an intern from them spending time in an environment where diversity is not only tolerated but actively celebrated.

Kelvin Holdsworth said...

But Caron, which right-wing anti-gay groups get a pass into Willie's office?

Just the religious ones?

Yes, Willie gets credit for jumping up above the parapet and promoting equal marriage. (It is party policy now so he is not hugely vulnerable on it though, is he?). The problem here is about hypocracy, not whether Willie's views are one's we like.

Care work directly against some of the views that Willie holds which I do like.

The trouble is, by offering that internship he helping an organisation which doesn't have those views and also benefitting from the relationship himself and it undermines the good he does do.

Rather ironic that today we've got Tim Farron (another one who has trouble being consistent about gay rights) coming out for lobbying reform.

Hywel said...

The logical extension of this would seem to be that because we support free expression then it would be OK if the EDL funded an intern in our (your) leaders officer.

This is very different from Willie meeting with CARE or any other organisation - he's in effect taking a donation from that organisation.

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