At some point today I shall cast my votes for the next Mayor of Bristol, plus local councillors, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner.
The actions and comments made last week by our existing Mayor have caused me to wonder, once again as a Christian, what I might expect from the office of an elected Mayor here in Bristol. So, whoever is elected as a result of today, I hope and pray they might reconsider the message which has been sent to the Christian community recently.
The hustings event our current Mayor refused to attend, on 25th April, was organised by Churches Together in Greater Bristol. By virtue of office, I am part of the overseeing group of leaders associated with CTGB. The reason given was, as reported in the Bristol Evening Post, 'I assumed that this was a united Bristol Churches event, but I am deeply concerned about the chosen location for the debate and some of the views of the leadership at Woodland Church’. The particular 'view' related to a comment made by a good friend of mine Dave Mitchell, in a letter to the congregation at Woodlands (NB always best to get the name right if you're going to be critical) at the time of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in 2013. The Mayor commented: ‘This seems to me a clear statement of homophobic prejudice against the LGBT community that I deplore, making it inappropriate for me to attend this particular debate’.
Unfortunately, this reveals a common lack of understanding concerning the Christian Church from National and Local Government.
The accusation of 'homophobia' is inappropriate and ill-advised. On passing legislation for same-sex marriage our National Government recognised the opposition from the Christian Church (and other religious groups) to the point of allowing a so-called 'triple-lock', precisely to allow the Church to not be compelled to perform a ceremony contrary to our orthodox Christian understanding of what the Bible means by 'marriage'. Since then the major Christian denominations have re-affirmed their understanding of marriage, similarly to the Baptist Union of Great Britain to which I belong, who have stated: 'We affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman'. This is not homophobia. It is, however, highlighting boundary lines, within which sexual relationships and family life are best fostered.
Sadly, despite the huge legacy in Bristol, as a direct consequence of significant Christian social reformers and the Christian Churches, Bristol City Council are in danger of disregarding the goodwill and generosity the many and varied Christian Churches provide, for the well being of the people of our great City. The Christian Churches are the largest provider of voluntary social care across the nation and Bristol is no different. The hustings event last week was organised by Churches Together in Greater Bristol - the venue was immaterial and any Mayor of Bristol should be more reliably informed.