Our monthly church meeting at Costa Coffee in York is always interesting as we have a wide variety of topics covered by a wide range of Christian speakers.
This time it was our local Member of Parliament Hugh Bailey who was invited. I realise now that we omitted to mention to him that he had the honour of being our first speaker who is not a believer.
I had not realised that Hugh is an award winning photographer. We usually have a prize for the quiz and it has become the usual thing for the speaker to provide the prize – sometimes just a low-cost novelty. Hugh provided something better than usual, it was one of his photographs and was taken during the surprise snowfall on the Easter weekend 2009. I didn’t win it though.
We weren’t interested in hearing a partly political broadcast but wanted to know more about him as a person. I was particularly impressed by his reply to one question. He had just explained that one hard part of the job is when you make decisions that can effect people’s lives and that you have to live with those decisions for the rest of your life. When asked whether he regretted any decisions he had made, or things he had voted for, he said he now thought he had been wrong in his support for the invasion of Iraq. I think respect for him was increased by that reply.
After the initial interview questions there were questions from church members that had been submitted previously. There was not enough time to pose them all to Hugh but we got through a lot. I won’t list all of the questions but below is a flavour of them:
Did you always want to be an MP for York, or did you have higher ambitions?
What do you want changed in York and Britain?
What characteristics do you admire in David Cameron?
Why is there no government funding for Christian organisations such as Christians Against Poverty.
Which African countries have you been to and how often?
It’s been said that the Church is the nation’s largest voluntary agency. The churches in York are no exception as they provide a wide range of services and activities which complement those of the voluntary sector. In your opinion is there anything else that the churches could be doing in response to the needs you see in York?
In the light of the current banking crisis what is your attitude towards third world debt?
About the Equality Bill, it was a long question but part of it was – Church life has changed and is not limited to formal worship and doctrinal teaching. The Bill separates religious belief from religious behaviour which is a contradiction in terms. My concern is if this Bill proceeds without amendment there will be a severe limitation on the ministry teams in religious organisations. Would you agree that there is a need for better understanding of the needs of growing religious groups with their formal worship but also their work in the community and that MPs should be prepared to listen to the reasoned objections currently being voiced..?
Regarding the Equality Bill going through at the moment, I am not sure Hugh understood how much it alarms us. When asked about it he seemed to think that it is only about protecting homosexuals from discrimination. It would also protect serial adulterers too, something which has not traditionally been tolerated in the lives of church leaders.
Christians are being encouraged to sign a petition (and to invite Christian friends to do the same) to the Prime Minister asking for the removal of schedule 9, paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/harryhammond/
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Remove the current employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion). These restrict the rights of religious bodies to employ personnel who conform to their teachings only if their duties are confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine.”