What price freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Freedom of association? Freedom of contract? As His Grace foresaw (because it was tediously predictable), The Guardian jumped (with unseemly haste) on the Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust plans to advertise a challenge to Stonewall’s claim that being homosexual is innate and unchangeable. For his own ashes, His Grace is not inclined to megaphone advertising and is no fan of sound-bite soteriology, but is respectful and tolerant of those who wish to spend their money in this way. Richard Dawkins’ did not create one new atheist with his bus-side ‘There’s probably no God’ campaign, and doubtless the ‘No God’ slogan irked or offended more than a few people of faith. But the Christians responded in like fashion (again, without news of mass conversions), and there was a healthy and entertaining debate. And debate requires the proposition of (at least) two opposing viewpoints, or it is simply an imbalanced presentation of a singular thesis.
Christians are called to proclaim the Good News, and whether that vocation be in a pulpit, upon a television screen, or walking up and down Oxford Street with a sandwich board, it ought to be tolerated in a free society. Now, while some might preach the wonders of heaven, the Way of Salvation and the boundless love of Jesus, others choose to focus on sin and damnation. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – it takes all sorts. In 1999 Lord Justice Sedley championed the rights of people to express such views, and quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers in doing so. There is no breach of the peace if what is said is merely offensive. He said: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.”