Church sues venue for cancelling event over Biblical view of marriage

22 April 2021

Communications Officer Rebekah Moffett comments on the case of Stirling Free Church, which is being supported by the Christian Institute.

This week, an evangelical church is taking Scotland’s largest charitable trust to court after it cancelled the church’s weekly rental agreement over its views on same-sex marriage. The case, supported by the Christian Institute, is due to be heard at Glasgow Sheriff’s Court this week.

Anti-religious discrimination

Both Stirling Free Church, a church of the Free Church of Scotland, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), are taking the Robertson Trust to court after contracts to use rooms owned by the trust were cancelled due to objections raised about their beliefs. The Robertson Trust is a multi-million-pound relief agency, which states that its focus is “on improving the lives of people and communities experiencing poverty and trauma.”

Stirling Free Church had been due to use the trust’s Barracks Conference Centre for Sunday services, and the BGEA had also booked the same venue for a one-off meeting.

Reportedly, when chairwoman Shonaig Macpherson heard of the agreement, the contract was terminated, objecting to both the church and the organisation’s belief that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman.

Rev. Iain Macaskill of Stirling Free Church spoke of the case: “We are a thriving church that welcomes all people and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were shocked to be told we could no longer use the Barracks for our Sunday services.

“We had negotiated with the Trust in good faith and their contract expressly refers to us using the premises for religious worship.

“The Free Church believes marriage is between a man and a woman – a mainstream Christian belief shared with the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.”

Meanwhile, Roger Chilvers of the BGEA also commented: “We made it clear to the venue at the time of booking that we are a Christian organisation. It was only later that they came back and said they were cancelling our booking because of our religion.

“It is a neutral space, offered to the public at large. You can’t have a situation where religious groups are banned from hiring neutral spaces. That is not a free society. This is anti-religious discrimination, plain and simple, and we are hopeful the court will uphold our claim and recognize the inequities present in this case.”

Cancelled for Christian beliefs

Sadly, this isn’t the first time either an individual or an organisation has been cancelled for their Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality. Back in May 2012, Christian Concern was due to host an event entitled ‘One Man, One Woman: Making the case for marriage for the good of society’ at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEII Centre) in Westminster. However, the QEII Centre cancelled the booking the night before the event was due to take place, citing concerns over compatibility with the centre’s diversity policy. This wasn’t the first time the event had been cancelled: Christian Concern had originally booked at the Law Society, but the Law Society also cancelled shortly before the event was due to take place, with the society stating that the event was “contrary to its diversity policy.”

Similarly, our Wilberforce Academy has faced opposition on multiple occasions for holding to a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality. In 2018, the Oxford college Lady Margaret Hall began issuing angry statements from its Junior and Middle Commons Rooms, voting to cancel the event before anything official had even been agreed. The demands for cancellation even made it into the Times. Why? Because apparently the Wilberforce Academy’s teachings weren’t in line with the college’s ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.

Likewise, last year, all UK venues cancelled events that had been planned by the BGEA, citing its lack of support for LGBT relationships as the reason.

This type of cancellation isn’t just reserved for organisations and events, either. At the Christian Legal Centre, we have seen time and again Christians punished for holding to the mainstream Christian belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman: Felix Ngole was hounded out of his university social work course for supporting a Biblical view of marriage; Richard Page was hounded out of his jobs both as a magistrate and an NHS director for saying – in private – that a child is best raised by a mother and a father; councillor Mary Douglas was removed from her portfolio role on Wiltshire Council for refusing to back a grant for a Pride event because of her religious convictions. Even Core Issues Trust, a non-profit Christian ministry that supports men and women who voluntarily seek change from unwanted sexual attractions, has faced harassment and intimidation for their work, with Facebook banning their account and Barclays closing its accounts.

Tolerance’ is never enough

‘Tolerance’ of LGBT issues no longer seems to be enough. In fact, if you don’t publicly state your support for the cause, you’re labelled a bigot and not worthy of respect. West End actress Seyi Omooba, who had been hired to star in The Color Purple, which the LGBT crowd has claimed almost as a holy book, was mocked and scorned for not supporting the LGBT cause. What eventually led to her sacking was a years-old Facebook post that backed up the belief that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman.

Is Christian belief no longer worthy of respect?

In law, it is illegal to discriminate against a person or organisation solely based on their religious beliefs. Even in the case of Seyi Omooba, the judge (albeit reluctantly) agreed that her beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society.

In some ways, the case with Stirling Free Church is nothing new. However, the fact that a church has now been denied access for their Sunday services does seem a more sinister move; this was not a one-off event, nor simply a job – this is the core of Christian worship, being able to gather together to study the Word of God, building up the body of Christ.

Of course, the fact that the trust has denied them access on a Sunday doesn’t stop the church from meeting elsewhere – especially now that churches in Scotland are free to meet again. However, it sets a dangerous precedent when big venues and charitable organisations feel the need to take it on themselves to block Christians from being able to worship in public – all because they hold to the mainstream Biblical belief of marriage and sexuality.

In fact, the Scottish judgment in the judicial review of church closures should send a warning to these secular organisations that public Christian worship should never be banned or outlawed – or, for that matter, forced underground because it doesn’t adhere to secular principles. The point is – Church isn’t secular, it is to be in the world, but not of the world.

The Church in the UK is muddled

The trouble is, the UK Church hasn’t set a clear enough example of where it really stands on the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality – it has been far too quick to simply accept the secular principles of the day and adhere to cultural norms.

Although the Church of England at least in principle still teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman, the very fact that some churches support same-sex ‘marriage’ sends the world a very mixed message. Similarly, the Methodist Church in the UK is now divided over the issue of same-sex ‘marriage’.

Is it any wonder, then, that our secular institutions, and even our courts, are holding us to this standard? Is it really any surprise that in the case of Dr David Mackereth, the Church of England’s acceptance of transgenderism was thrown at him, as if to say, Christians don’t really believe what the Bible says, do they? Is it really a shock that in the case of Seyi Omooba, lawyers took the actress on a brutal page-by-page breakdown of Old Testament law, almost asking, ‘but nobody really takes this seriously, do they?’

The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. Stirling Free Church knows this. The BGEA knows this. But until the Church in the UK can form one united voice on this issue, we are going to continue seeing individuals, organisations and churches themselves kicked out of society for holding true to God’s word.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:19, NIV

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2, NIV

Please pray for Stirling Free Church, the BGEA and for the Christian Institute as they support their case.

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