Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Dean's Speech

This is the excellent speech given by the new Dean of Jersey in the debate on the proposed Same Sex Marriage Law, and its so-called "tolerance opt out" for businesses amendment (which was thankfully rejected).

For my own comment on the matter, read here:

The Very Reverend M.R. Keirle, B.A., Dean of Jersey:

It gives me great pleasure to agree with Deputy Tadier on at least 3 things that he said. Firstly, I do not agree with putting pepper in cakes. Secondly, it is very easy to take scripture out of context; very easy. Thirdly, I would affirm the good work that is also done at St. Brelade by the rector Mark Bond there. [Approbation]

There are other things that I do agree with as well. It is with some trepidation that I stand up here. If Deputy Southern felt that he had a bit of a target on him; that he might be burned at the stake from both the Catholics and Anglicans in a joint ecumenical effort, I feel that I too have a target painted upon me. As a teenager, I, like many others of my generation, found myself buying a copy of Pink Floyd’s iconic album, The Dark Side of the Moon. You all know the prism and the light that goes through.

On that L.P. - that is a long player for those who do not know what that is, for the younger Members here - is a song entitled Us and Them. I had not thought about that song for years until I found myself standing on the Somme battlefield on the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle with a group of men from my former church standing in the middle of no-man’s land. I was asked by the group if I would give an off-thecuff reflection on why we were there and what we were there for.

The thing that popped into my head immediately was the song from Pink Floyd, Us and Them. So I spoke about Us and Them and I asked them to walk with me over to the British lines and I asked them who was us and who was them? We then walked across no-man’s land, no more than 150 metres, to the German lines, and I asked again: “From this perspective, who is us and who is them?”

Us and them is the language of separation; it is the language of hostility; it is the language of entrenched positions in every sense of the word. The language of division is rife in our world at the moment: “Build the wall. Separate. Divide.”

Yet one of the most memorable moments that we recall from the Great War was in Christmas 1914 when soldiers came out of their trenches and met in no-man’s land, albeit for just a few moments, and simply to acknowledge their shared humanity, to listen and to speak to one another in a respectful way and, if we are led to believe, they even had a game of football together.

But they went back to their polarised positions, us and them. I am sure we would all agree, and I am no exception to this, that judging by our inboxes and our telephone calls that we have received and the media exposure, this has been an extraordinarily emotive subject with feelings running deep.

Only yesterday we were reminded in this Assembly that we need to listen to the inconvenient voices in our society and that includes those with whom we may profoundly disagree. But it is in the crucible of that uncomfortable place of free speech and of listening to those inconvenient voices that we shape the way ahead.

By and large, I am grateful to Members for the manner in which the majority of this debate has been held. What we have been looking at are intensely complex issues and the simplest thing that we can do is to fire off a salvo from our side of the trench to cause as much impact as we can, rather than coming out into that more dangerous place, and yet perhaps more creative place, of no-man’s land where no one wants to be, in order to kick the issues around a little bit and wrestle with our consciences over issues like human sexuality and the place of faith in the public sphere, the protection and balancing of rights of one group who may profoundly disagree with another.

Today is not about us and them. But it is a constant temptation to make it so and I think every now and again we have slipped back into those trenches and fired off the guns and no one hears anything because of the noise. We may have come with minds already made up, with caricatures already in place, with long-held views that will not budge, and it is the easiest thing of all to create a parody of somebody else’s position and then to attack the very caricature that we ourselves have created.

So I have been very pleased when people have stood up and come into no-man’s land in this debate and been willing to listen to each other and debate our common humanity together. Since we first debated this in the autumn of 2017, and I note Deputy Renouf’s comments on timing, and Senator Ozouf’s comments on timing too, I have not come across a single person who wants to stand in the way of same sex couples celebrating their love for each other in a marriage recognised by law - not one - and I have spent a great deal of time with people of faith and people of none.

But the question that we have all been wrestling with today is what happens when the sincerely-held views of one group impact upon the lives of another, and we have had several submissions and speeches trying to unpack the complexity of not compelling an individual or a group to promote something with which they profoundly disagree without it discriminating against another person.

These are really, really difficult issues. I know that some people fear that the loaded gun of litigation may be held to their heads because of their sincerely-held views and they may cite a tolerance clause, or whatever you want to call it, where protection is given to groups or individuals without the law identifying it as discrimination and they will say there is precedent for that. Others will cite that there is not another jurisdiction that has managed the legislation to find a via media and therefore this should be rejected.

There may be some who feel that a reasonable accommodation is the way forward where no one is compelled to act against their views, taken out of the line of fire, of course that greatly depends on your definition of “reasonable”.

Of course there will be those who feel that this is deeply inappropriate and it is not becoming of an equal, tolerant and just, society and that, simply put, this is all about discrimination. What we do now in the next few minutes and how you vote will decide where the balance point is in all of that.

I am not here at all to try to sway the debate in any particular direction or give my own views on what I believe is the way ahead. Those of you who have been kind enough to ask me privately, I have told you my views. I represent all faiths and none and not just the established church. The views that people have taken the time to share with me have not all come from Christians and they have covered a spectrum of views from one end of this debate to the other. So I find myself on a knife edge at this point. It is not a comfortable place to be but that is the nature of freedom of speech and debate.

But as the one faith representative in this Assembly, I have listened carefully to this debate and I have admired the passion and the measured approach of some who feel greatly that this is a discrimination. I have tried to put myself into the shoes of others whose world view is completely different to my own and I do not seek to impose my view on others.

We are not a theocracy and, unlike Father Ted, I may wear black in this Assembly occasionally, but I do not seek to compel my views upon others. But I am happy to buy a round of drinks if it will help. [Laughter]

So where do I look for the way forward? Inevitably I look to my faith, as I do for the whole of my life. I am a person who tries and often fails to live within that framework that Deputy Renouf spoke about.

Inevitably, for me as a Christian - a Christ one - I look to the person of Jesus, as Deputy Tadier said earlier, for the template of that framework. So what did he say? He said quite a lot, but he said two really important things, he said the two most important commandments were to love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and then he said to love your neighbour as you love yourself. They override everything.

When I am asked about this complex and nuanced issue of competing belief systems, my response is: “Love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and love your neighbour as yourself”. I also agree with Deputy Tadier that this has been the wrong place for this debate and that a separate debate on a bill of rights, if you like, in the Discrimination Law would have been the most appropriate place. There is current provision for race and for gender, for sexuality, and shortly we hope and pray for disability. But there is no provision for those of religious belief and that is a conversation for another time.

If Jesus could love and forgive the person who smashed the nails into his hands, whether you believe in propitiation or not, then loving my neighbour as I love myself I think is not too much to ask.


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