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Advertising watchdog rules that Church advertisement 'caused serious offence'

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William Crawley | 10:28 UK time, Sunday, 23 November 2008

In August, we reported on a controversial advertisement placed in the News Letter by Sandown Free Presbyterian Church on the eve of this year's Belfast's Gay Pride Parade. This weekend, Sunday Sequence obtained a copy of the Advertising Standards Authority's adjudication, which partially upholds complaints by seven people about the ad.

The Advertising Authority will say that "particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of sexual orientation" and concludes that "this ad had caused serious offence to some readers." The authority determined that "the ad breached CAP Code 5.1 (Decency)", and has advised the Reverend David McIlveen's Church to "take a view" from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) before publishing future marketing material. It has also told the church "to take more care in future to avoid causing offence" and instructed that "the ad should not appear again in its current form".

However, the Authority did not uphold the complaint that the ad in question was likely to provoke violence or anti-social behaviour.

The adjudication is likely to be highly controversial because may imply that certain words from the Bible, such as "abomination", should not be placed in advertisements dealing with sexual orientation.

On today's programme, P. A. MagLochlainn, president of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, welcomed the adjudication as a clear statement about the unacceptability of "offensive language" in the public debate about homosexuality. The Reverend David McIlveen told Sunday Sequence late last night that he would make a response to the adjudication "at an appropriate time".

Here's a statement from News Letter in response to the news of the ASA adjudication: "The News Letter is aware that the Advertising Standards Authority has been investigating a small number of complaints made against the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church over an advertisement placed in our newspaper. We received details of the ASA's final adjudication on Friday evening and want to take the time to study it carefully before deciding what, if any, response is necessary. The News Letter takes seriously its responsibilities as a publisher and has stringent policies in place governing the acceptance of advertising."


  • Comment number 1.

    If it wasn't going to incite violence, what business had the agency telling the advertiser what they do and do not have the freedom to say? Does the UK take seriously freedom of speech, or only "nice" freedom of speech? (As Noam Chomsky said, "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.")

  • Comment number 2.

    It's the same nonsense we're witnessing in America too. Have you seen those videos of gay rights activists surrounding and harrassing Christian supporters or proposition 8 in California with police all around. If it had been the reverse scenario all the liberal media would be up on arms.

  • Comment number 3.

    Oh I just love the angry tone of SmasherLagrus post about the supposed liberal media agenda. Maybe extra so because it reminds me of our favourite pastor Othodox-tradition (you know, the one who is so embarrassed about himself that he won't let us call him by his own name. :)

  • Comment number 4.

    Some of us have long suspected that the 'gay lobby' wish to silence ANY adverse comment about the homosexual lifestyle. Many are unwilling even to discuss the subject without resorting to sarcasm, ridicule and mockery.

    While I accept that Bible-believing Christians need to be careful in the use of language, we cannot do other than to clearly state God's view of homosexuality - ie that it is an abuse of His gift of sex, which was designed to be enjoyed by husband and wife within marriage.

    No declaration by the ASA will change that simple fact.

  • Comment number 5.

    partorphilip you are making it look like christians are the ones being insulted in this story. The advert contained descriptions of gay people living "perverted lifestyles". That is very offensive, and the Authority was right to regard it as such.

    As for the term "gay lobby" you use. This term is often used by anti-gay commentators, but it is no more acceptable than the term "God squad". Both are unhelpful in public debates.

    The fact is that there are many kinds of gay people and they don't all agree on anything. Some, like Peter Tatchell, will even disagree with this ASA ruling (Peter T would rather have a more open public debate without bringing the law into it). It would be good if we stop speaking about gay people as though they all agreed on a strategy, like a lobby group. Let's agree to stop referring to "the gay lobby". It's a silly and inaccurate expression.

  • Comment number 6.

    Peter- I'm not sure Smasher's point is invalid. Last week, gay rights activists torched a Mormon church because the church opposed gay marriage (in the form of Proposition 8). Whether you're in favour of gay rights or not, everybody should agree that is unacceptable.

    And I still don't understand why the ASA is attacking free speech and everyone thinks it's ok.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi John,

    I'm not condoning the actions you mention in the least, but I am pretty skeptical of there being such a thing as a liberal media agenda to promote the gay point of view.


  • Comment number 8.

    john the ASA are not attacking free speech. They are doing what they were set up to do by the public. Lawmakers are rightly concerned to protect the public from ads that are untrue or scurilous. This was a scurilous advertisement, which is why it has been challenged.

    If a racist group decided to pay for a full-page ad using racist language and attacking the black community, we would all quite rightly be appalled. The same protection should be afforded to the gay community, and to religious communities too.

  • Comment number 9.


    I suspect the convo may turn into a fully fledged debate on this, which I'm too knackered to engage in today!, but suffice to say:

    /sarcasm on/

    Aren't the UK public so lucky to have this agency looking out for them to protect them from the opinions of others?! It's worth every penny, really. Gay people need some heavy protection from this sort of opinion! Leaving them to defeat it with logic and reason and a better, more evolved position would be just beyond them. God forbid we'd have a society in which people could speak their mind in public, especially when it's so offensive! Thank God for the ASA!!

    /sarcasm off/

    Uh, well, anyway, that's what I think. :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hang on - PB and Smasher can't be the same person. Can they?


  • Comment number 11.

    I don't think the media are organised enough to have an agenda on anything - and if they did they'd screw it up.
    I think it is fair to say that they reflect a "liberal" and "secular" bias. But then, they were going to have some bias or other, and I don't think it's the end result of a massive conspiracy. Or even a small one. It's just how things turned out.
    No one is making us watch TV, or read the Grauniad.
    In any case, if the media endorses any worldview intentionally it is consumerism. And that should make both conservatives and lefties very uneasy.


  • Comment number 12.

    Personally I feel that people should not complain so much-especially so when it concerns silly fundamentalists like Rev Mcilveen-just do what I do and laugh at them! Believe me it annoys them far more than any complaint would ever do!

    Incidentally I do hope that the Rev McIlveen would not mind if freethinkers and rationalists were to post an ad highlighting the "perverted lifestyle" of Free Presbyterians?

    To elaborate...Free P's wish to impose the dishonest, useless, horse manure that is Biblical creationism on our children in the public school science classrooms. They wish to make our kids as intellectually challenged, dishonest, arrogant and wilfully ignorant as they are-I believe that our children should be protected from such "perverts".

    In the interests of freedom of speech I do hope that no-one will hit the gurn button! I am entitled to my view and Iris Robinson to her own.



  • Comment number 13.

    "or read the Grauniad"

    Hey Graham, do you read Private Eye too?

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Graham,

    I'm sure smashie and our self-embarrassed, anonymity-craving pastor are not the same. Smashie voices a hardline catholic point of view, OT/PB/PBmild/originalPB/embarrassed pastor used to voice the fundamentalist protestant YEC position.
    They share their powerless cries over 'liberal media conspiracy', that's why smashie reminds me of our self-embarrassed, anonymity-craving pastor sometimes.


  • Comment number 15.

    I have occasionally wondered if Smasher might not be that rarest of all creatures on this blog - the female of the species, a girly, womanly, female, feminine dame. If I am wrong I apologise whole-heartedly for paying you so high a compliment but the though has just crossed my mind once or twice. Would you care to enlighten us Smasher?

  • Comment number 16.

    Couple of things

    With 'freedom of speech' comes responsibility. What I mean is this, it should not always have to be the duty of the 'spoken at' to always figure out how to respond especially when the speech directed at them, whoever they are, is offensive, abusive etc. Rather, I think there is, at the least, a responsibility on the part of the speaker to consider the consequences of what is said. It is for this reason the phrase 'freedom of speech' above is in quotes. With freedom comes responsibility. I tried to argue this on the PZ Myers thread a while back.

    I therefore do not think that the advertisement the FPCU was the best way to go about disagreeing with others, they have their point of view, OK, but when christians moralise they usually have a convenient habit of forgetting their own sins and of being or trying to be 'superior'.

    However if one does take the view that all speech should be allowed then it is absolutely critical that there is consistency. John and DD by their comments appear to realise this, but we all should try to be aware that freedom of speech, if we support that, really means freedom of speech, for everyone and not just for those with whom we agree. And the question is can we all really live, do we all really live, with the consequences of this, even to the extent of supporting free speech when we are on the receiving end of abuse.

    Maybe then it's also worth remembering that this blog is not an entirely free forum, there are rules, and comments have been removed.

    One more thing, PK, I really don't see why you have to bring OT into this debate (post 2/14) . I know you two have your differences, but he has said nothing on this thread and he is entitled to his nom de plume, maybe it's time to give it a rest.

  • Comment number 17.

    This is a surreal turn

  • Comment number 18.

    Thank you for mentioning me PeterM, and that was the point that I was striving to make. I do believe that freedom of speech does apply to all and especially those who disagree with me and even those whose views that I find obnoxious.

    I really do not like all this complaining business and I do not mean just on these threads. I made the same point when all the Iris Robinson business was going on that I wished that the gay rights groups had not made official complaints etc but rather attempted to engage in debate or getting their viewpoint across in the media or failing that just laugh at Iris-which I did!

    Also in fairness to PeterK, he was not the first person in this thread to raise the dreaded spectre of PB! I do get what you mean about the nom-de-plume but it does work both ways. I happen to know that a certain poster on here complained to the employer of another poster (who uses their real name) in an effort to get them disciplined at least and in the worse case scenario sacked! The really hypocritical thing is that the poster who did the complaining is hardly a shining example of positive behaviour and I am sure that their colleagues would be shocked to see the stuff that they have written! I have it in my power to do that but choose not too-whether this makes me a better person is not the point I am making just that I think that I have a better perspective. People just need to chill!



    ps. I am an avid reader of PZ Myers, was wondering if your posts on responsibility were about the sacrament destroying issue?

  • Comment number 19.

    Oops PeterM! just looked through the thread and I see that PeterK did raise PB first!

  • Comment number 20.

    Peter Morrow-

    Yes, and I agree with DD, basically. With freedom comes responsibility, absolutely. For the record, I hate the sentiments in this advertisement: not only for their hatred by because I strongly disagree with them. But the minute we ask our government to regulate or censor opinions, we've made a grave mistake. Was it Voltaire who said, "I disagree with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it"? (I ask because there's some debate on the quote's authorship.) Anyway, I'm glad you mention responsibility. It is the responsibility of the hearer to deal with whatever others say in a free society (whether that be to ignore, respond or whatever). Call me crazy, but I put an extremely high value on liberty. That includes the liberty of those I despise as well as my own.

  • Comment number 21.

    Slight surprise at JW citing Chomsky... Didn't think you were a libertarian socialist John!!

    However, I'm 100 per cent behind you on this one. If we accept freedom of speech we should accept it utterly. I disagree with everything the Sandown church said but I think, as a Church, they ought to be free to say it.

    I believe, too, though in responsibility. If someone says something in the exercise of their freedom of speech which leads to the commission of a crime or the doing of harm to any person then they should be open to be being sued, along with the perpetrator, as an instigator of the incident and be jointly liable for redress to any victim.


    Bernard - I've never heard one of PeterM's posts described as surreal before - interesting thought ;-)

  • Comment number 22.


    Agree, although I'd be careful with that last one. Assigning responsibility when they say something "...which leads to the commission of a crime..." is a minefield, because it may not reasonably lead to the crime. In other words, the government may 'bail out' a bank in an act of corporate welfare, and I may use my freedom of speech to write a feature-length diatribe on how wrong that is and how they're taking our money wrongfully to give to the bank. But if a reader of mine goes and robs the bank at gunpoint after reading my piece to 'take back' the money he feels he has lost to them, am I to be held responsible? Of course not. I merely used my freedom of speech, and it certainly wasn't a direct incitement of crime of violence.

    So, I agree in principle, but we've got to be careful in implementation, because speech is, 99.99 percent of the time, merely speech. Everybody is responsible for their own actions.

  • Comment number 23.

    (And of course the morons who wrote this ad against homosexuality may call them 'perverts' and lots of other things without wishing anyone to go and commit crimes against gay people. Those who do that are responsible for their own actions.)

  • Comment number 24.

    Agree John - I would feel liability should only figure where direct incitement can be proved.

  • Comment number 25.

    Ah Portwyne, there's hope for thee yet!

  • Comment number 26.

    (Just kidding, of course, that comment would be quite patronising otherwise.)

  • Comment number 27.

    John, the ability to use the correct case of thou covers a multitude of sins in my book - even had you been patronising it would have been forgiven! (I did not for a moment think you were btw).

    Graham, however, your occasional bon mots about those of us in communion with Lambeth have been noted: beware the Curse of the Were-Anglican! You have been warned...

  • Comment number 28.

    John Wright

    I recently discovered a program that a friend recommended to me which I think is great! It's Charlie Brookers 'Screen Wipe'Having been away for awhile and catching up on threads and seeing what you had to say about the whole Ross/Brand thing and knowing a little bit about your views-I think that you would find it interesting!

    Had a wee google and it can be viewed here


    But there is only one day left to watch! so if you have the time(or anyone else for that matter)give it a watch-the closing credits are a hoot and I do hope that someone did complain!

    Btw if you like your horror bloody and gory Charlie also wrote a great horror for E4 for Halloween called 'Dead Set'-fantastic! also if you get a chance-well worth a watch!



  • Comment number 29.

    John, Portwyne

    It would appear that there is a little agreement in relation to the issue of responsibility, even if there is a difference with regard to the extent of such.

    What I would say however is this, words have implications and while everyone is, absolutely, responsible for their actions, surely words are also actions. Are they merely words John?


    Is post 26 an example of you thinking through the implications of your words in post 25 and reviewing them as a result? : )


    Surreal? Me? I most certainly am not! It is everyone else who inhabits a phantasmagorical landscape of their own making. I am perfectly, utterly and completely normal! : )


    Post 19 - no worries. I simply mentioned it because there's been quite a bit of talk about OT recently and I thought it was getting out of hand.

  • Comment number 30.


    Forgot to say, yes, my previous comments about responsibility were about the sacrament destroying issue. It's not that I was offended, just that sometimes 'freedom of speech' seems to take sides.

  • Comment number 31.

    Peter- Of course words should be taken seriously, I never argued that they shouldn't. But they should also be free unless they directly incite violence of some sort. For example, consider the statements:

    (A) God hates fags!

    (B) Kill all fags!

    The second is an incitement to violence; the first is a crude (and ill-informed) theological statement. The likelihood of someone killing a gay person on the basis of seeing statement (B) on a wall somewhere is, imo, extremely low. But if a court was able to prove a link between the statement and an act of violence against a gay person, there would rightly be a case against the person who wrote it.

  • Comment number 32.


    The issue of our use of words usually comes down to the question, did it or did it not incite violence.

    Just two things for now. Why do you think it is that physical violence always seems to be considered a greater wrong than psychological/emotional violence. To me, both are real.

    Secondly, you seem to want to absolve the 'speaker' of any responsibility with regard to forethought. Surely we need to think through where the boundary lines fall if we are to enjoy the 'game' of free speech. Apologies for the analogy, I'm too tired to think of a better one.

  • Comment number 33.


    Are you suggesting statement (A) should be illegal to say?

    And free speech is not a 'game', it's a fundamental, inherent right. No-one, including government, gives me the right to free speech. I have it; whether anyone likes it or not (the question is whether you, and government, will honour that right, not whether it exists or not).

    I'm agreeing with you about responsibility: maybe you could provide an example of a statement you think should be censored and I think should be free?

  • Comment number 34.

    (Btw I understand you weren't regarding it as a game; you made that clear in #32 and I missed it.)

  • Comment number 35.


    I wasn't drawing a distinction between statement (A) and (B) above, saying (A) might have a psychological effect and (B) a physical effect. I wasn't really responding directly to those statements at all, merely suggesting that emotional consequences can be as painful and debilitating as physical ones.

    Do you have a view on this?

    In terms of an example of a statement which might not be acceptable, it seems to me that you are asking for definitive statements when this might not always be possible; sometimes the context and outcomes of speech are all important, which is why I suggest that "think before you open your (not you obviously!) mouth", is important and necessary advice and something society should acknowledge in any debate about free speech.

    It's not as simple as 'anything goes'. The concern regarding physical violence flags that up.

  • Comment number 36.


    You're right, practically-speaking, a verbal attack can be as painful and horrible as a physical one. I think the difference is that one is a right and the other is a crime, and that's as it should be. We must honour each others' rights to hurt and offend with words even as we prosecute and condemn physical violence. The exceptions to free speech are:

    - incitement to violence
    - slander
    - libel.

    But yes, practically, it's the speaker's responsibility to ensure we use our words in ways congruous with our morality.

  • Comment number 37.

    Peter on this one I am more or less with John. Words can hurt and wound deeply and we all have a responsibility to use them with care. Words, however, are also the primary vehicle for the communication of ideas and for any society to be truly called free ideas must be allowed to circulate freely: to challenge and be challenged, to provoke and to inform. The need to permit this freedom for society as a whole must, I believe, take priority over the desirability of shielding individuals from offence. The church should be allowed to place the advertisement, the Pride Marchers should be allowed to riposte that Jesus was homosexual but both should be encouraged by society as a whole to examine the profitability of so doing.

  • Comment number 38.

    Sorry guys for being away - my lipstick rolled under the desk and short circuited something.

    I'm not sure there is an agreed liberal media agenda, but it is a fact that most journalists tend that way and are not particularly objective, not least because they tend to be lazy and do what's easiest. But if you look at the US election - there was a definite media bias in practice in favour of Obama and against, in particular Palin. Every person in America was told Palin had said you could see Russia from her kitchen window which she didn't. Almost no one saw the clip where Obama thinks there are 57 States in the Union.

  • Comment number 39.

    Smasher- Are you confirming that you're a woman? Or was that facetious? And how the heck did someone figure that out, if you are?

  • Comment number 40.

    Smasher, there are some pretty bold assertions in your post 38. I simply don't believe that a man as erudite as Obama thinks there are 57 US states, but if you direct me to the clip on the internet I am willing to be corrected.
    Sarah Palin made a number of inept performances and she was heavily criticised by Republican insiders as well as other parts of the media. There is a strong right-wing constituency in the US media as well as a liberal one, which is how it should be, and there were plenty of nasty little insinuations about Obama's background too.
    I think the media caught the prevailing mood fairly accurately and that was reflected in the result.

  • Comment number 41.


    You say there's a strong right-wing media as well as a left-wing one. Most people would associate Fox News with the 'right-wing constituency' in the U.S. media. But I hear lots of liberals complaining about Fox News. So I suggest you can't have it both ways: one can't complain about a supposed bias at Fox News while welcoming the fact that it balances the media coverage between left and right. (Of course I'm not suggesting that you have personally ever uttered a word against Fox News, right?)

  • Comment number 42.

    First of all, some people need to come to learn what the term 'racism' is. Racism is hatred for a particular race...a nationality or a colour, not disagreeing with a homosexual lifestyle.

    Secondly, the advert simply stated what the Bible said on the issue. If you find that inappropriate, then it is God that you disagree with, not Sandown FPC.

    Thirdly, a lot of people seem to forget that there are two sides to every story. Those who lodged these complaints (all 7 o0f them...hardly suggests a nationwide consensus) are forgetting the fact that at last years Gay Pride Parade, a sign was carried around that said, 'Jesus is a fag'. This is incredibly offensive to any Christian. It also mocks the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet no formal investigation went into that. This year at the parade, a marcher exposed himself to the protesters. Yet again very little was said.

  • Comment number 43.

    Saved by Grace

    1) It is possible to express the Biblical view without using terms like "Sodomite"or "Abomination". "Abomination" may not be the best term to translate the Hebrew "toevah" into contemporary English. "Taboo" would be closer. I like to think I have represented the Biblical view on this blog without using either term.
    2) I hate to be this blunt, but two wrongs don't make a right. Whatever happened at the Gay Pride Parade does not give any Church licence to retaliate in kind.
    3) We are under a direct command to turn the other cheek.
    4) The ASA can only deal with adverts.
    5) Nothing at the Gay Pride Parade offended me as I didn't attend. I won't be going to any Socialist Worker rallies, or watching any Jimmy Carr. If something is going to annoy or offend me I choose to go elsewhere.
    6) From what I can gather, the protest against the parade has turned into an unmitigated disaster. Do you know what it was meant to achieve?
    7) Our Lord told us he would be blasphemed. He never told us to get even.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 44.


    You bring a grin to my face, inadvertently I'm sure, since it's obvious you agree with Sandown PFC on this (maybe you attend the church?) and I can only imagine the response of the rest of W&T when they see your comments. Which I'll address:

    1) Who mentioned racism? We're talking about hatred of gay people, which is just as bad. And, if I may anticipate your response a little, you can't claim to 'love the sinner, hate the sin' when your language is quite intentionally deeply offensive to them. That isn't loving language, my friend, whether you believe it to be true or not.

    2) I agree with GVeale above that the bible does not say what Sandown claims it says on the issue of homosexuality. Even if it did, shouldn't one strive to understand why what was being said was being said and to whom? You need to start reading some theological views which disagree with your own.

    3) You object to the language used at the gay pride parades. Can't you see that this is exactly what they're objecting to Sandown about? Both sides have freedom of speech, but when both use it imprudently then neither has a claim to moral superiority. That means Sandown is wrong, too. Right?

  • Comment number 45.

    I'll repl to you both individually.

    1.Sodomite and Abomination are both Biblical terms. That's why why they're used.
    2, 3and 7 were all the same point so I'll address them together. My point was not that we should get vengence, not at all. My point was simply that SFPC was being attacked for saying what it did...who's questioning the choice of words used by the marchers.
    4. There's other bodies that could deal with it.
    5. That attitude is quite a large part of what i wrong with Christians in Northern Ireland, they're happy enough to let stuff like that take place without even being there to take a stand against it or to witness to those taking part.
    6.The protest is meant to achieve exactly what I said...it's a stand against homosexuality, a Biblical stand. And it's a witness to those taking part.


    1. There was a comment earlier on the page where someone accused SFPC of racism, thats why I said that, because this is clearly nothing to do with race. And hate the sin love the sinner is very true....the language used was Biblical language...they were verses taken straight from the Bible, u can't deny that. And it is done out of love...a love for God and to see his name glorified and a love for people to see them won to Christ.

    2.Like i said those verses were quoted straight from the Bible. I have looked at other views and have found them to be contrary to scripture which I believe to be clear on the issue of homosexuality.

    3. I object to the language because it is offensive to God. The language used by Sandown was Biblical language, theres a big difference.

    I'm not some sort of homophobic hatefilled person. I can honestly say i have a love for those people, and I personally know many of them. But I can't codone their actions because of what the Bible says. And SFPC is being branded in this way because they took a stand for wht the Bible says. Whether you agree with the Bible or not, you have to realise that.

  • Comment number 46.


    I realise you believe those words are in the bible. In fact they're in some translations of the bible, not all, and there's certainly debate among scholars as to what the words intended.

    For example the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about homosexuality but about the theology of hospitality. Where you get the word "abomination", you also have condemnation of eating shellfish, spitting on the floor, having sexual relations with menstruating women. I didn't see any ads from Sandown FPC condemning seafood restaurants based upon the same passages! The ban against homosexual sex acts is of the same order as not eating shellfish. Period. What Sandown did (and what you're doing by agreeing with them) is to cherry pick one single sentence from that Jewish book and use it to beat up your neighbours!

    At issue here is not whether I agree with "the bible" or not, but whether "the bible" agrees with Sandown. I suggest that it doesn't.

  • Comment number 47.

    Actually, thats where your wrong. That is not the only passage of scripture that condemns homosexuality. Romans, Timothy, Corinthians...all new testament passaged. When does the Bible ever talk about marriage between anyone other than a man and woman? If that reference in Leviticus were the only part of the Bible tat discussed the issue, then perhaps you would have a point. But as there are others, your point is null and void.

  • Comment number 48.


    I like your name. I have read your posts. I'd be interested to know why you think you have been saved by grace.

  • Comment number 49.

    1) I agree that Scripture does not condone or permit homosexual practice. That does not mean that "abomination" is a good translation. "Taboo" would seem better.
    2) Also "the Sin of Sodom" went beyond bad hospitality, but also beyond homosexual practice. Gang rape of whoever/whatever seems to have been perfectly accpetable behavior in Sodom. "Sodomite" carries the implication that you deserve to burn in fire because you are not exclusively heterosexual. That may not be what SFP meant, but it is how folk hear the word.
    3) A public witness against homosexuality may not be helpful if we are trying to argue that everyone is a sinner, and we all deserve punishment. Such a witness singles out one sin, and leaves everyone else feeling rather better off. As far as the gospel goes, I think the effects aren't helpful, whatever the intention.
    4) If Free-speech is the worry, SFP should run an ad saying that the believe homosexuality is a sin, or morally wrong. Similarly a Homosexual organisation should be allowed to run an ad saying that the Bible is homophobic, or that Jesus and the Apostles promoted homphobic attitudes.
    This is rather different than talking about "Sodomites" or tearing up Bibles. You don't get the headlines, but it's a better form of public expression.

    Graham Veale

  • Comment number 50.

    I should have added to points one and two that Sodom and the Levitical texts only play a minor role in the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality - so why focus on "Sodomite" and "Abominations? Why use the weakest links in the argument? Is it because they sound the most offensive to secular ears? Or did SFP want to know how far free speech could be stretched?

    G Veale

  • Comment number 51.

    And isn't HETEROSEXUAL sin of greater public concern, given family breakdown, STDs etc ?
    G Veale

  • Comment number 52.

    I believe I've been saved by grace because of the Gospel. I'm not trying to take some sort of higher position, where I think I'm sinless and better than everyone else, because I'm far from it. But by the grace of God, he saved me. I don't know if you have a knowledge of the gospel or anything because I don't know you, but God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins (John 3v16). We're all sinners, (Romans 3v23) and we're all in need of salvation. Thats why I believe I'm saved by grace. I hope that makes sense?

    In regards to your comments about how a witness at this sort of a event may not be helpful, I disagree. If this were the only sort of witness taking place, then you would have a very good point. But it isn't. The church is very clear on the gospel, that everyone needs to be saved. This witness is taking a stand against something condemned by the Word of God, while this year we saw so called Christians taking part in the parade itself. This shows the need for Christians to take a stand against it! Besides that, it is a fantastic opportunity to have a witness, but it is far from being the only one taken.

    It isn't a case of taking the 'weakest links' as you put it. Its part of the Bible. It's the Word of God! And other verses of scripture are used also. It's absolutly nothing to do with offending anyone, its about showing that this is against Gods Word.

    Also, I'm not sure your argument about heterosexual sin is relevant, there are no parades that celebrate that! Also I could counter your argument by saying that HIV is identifiable with homosexuality.

  • Comment number 53.


    You state "HIV is identifiable with homosexuality" - have you tried advancing that argument in Africa?

  • Comment number 54.

    In this country it generally is.

  • Comment number 55.

    Not in NI according to the "Love for Life" organisation. I'll check their source.


  • Comment number 56.

    Well perhaps I'm wrong about that but I made quite a few other points. Also, if heterosexual relations are also responsible for a large amount of STDs, then it doesn't cancel out that homosexual relationships do the same.

  • Comment number 57.


    Page 7 of that report shows that heterosexual intercourse has overtaken other causes of HIV infections, although at the moment 38% of those known to have HIV contracted it through heterosexual intercourse.


  • Comment number 58.


    We have a serious problem in NI surrounding teenagers alcohol abuse and heterosexual intercourse. There are plenty of ads that sensationalise or trivialise both intercourse and alcohol abuse. Many of the products are aimed at teens. If you want to fight the ASA forget Gay Pride Parades. They've critcised SFP. They should hit back on these issues. Don't wait for a parade.

    If the advertisement had hit out at the Sexual Revolution as a whole, and not one part of it, then you would have gained a wider and more sympathetic hearing.

    As I've pointed out three times now - Toevah need not and should not be translated as abomination. Unless you think it is an abomination to have lunch with an Egyptian Shepherd. And "Sodomite" and the Sin of Sodom are not equivalent. It was an attempt to use biblical language, but I think it failed.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 59.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on the issue of abomination and sodomite. I think you need to take it in context with the rest of Gods word.

    Your basically arguing that you shouldn't argue against just homosexuality but against other forms of sexual immorality. But the point as the advert was placed on grounds of forming a protest against that parade!

  • Comment number 60.


    I've noticed that anytime someone defeats one of your arguments, you say something like, "But I made lots of other points." Okay, but on that one, you're down one. So the way this works is that if someone defeats an argument you make, you can't just deflect; your position is weakened.

    For example, on the issue of "abomination" and "sodomites". You defend Sandown's use of these words even though you admitted above they are sins of the same order as eating shellfish in that chapter. You can't have it both ways. Either the chapter is condemning the sins described therein and it's applicable today (Sandown then also must rail against the eating of shellfish) or the chapter is not applicable today and you CANNOT claim that "the bible" calls gay sex an abomination.

    Can I ask what you think of women preaching? Or women being in church without head coverings? Or using instruments in church? Positions against all those things have been used by Christians reading "the bible". You're in denial if you think quoting from "the bible" is all you have to do to make a sensible, coherent theological point.

  • Comment number 61.


    Thank you for your reply.

    I should be open regarding the motives of my question. I have a 'knowledge of the gospel', and would call myself a Christian. (Although I suppose what God says about me is more important than what I say) My experience has been of both formal and informal churches within the broad Evangelical tradition. I am absolutely familiar with the words 'gospel', 'grace', 'saved' and so on, but what interests me is the meaning attached to these words and I'm not sure you have (I'm not actually sure our culture has) unpacked these yet. This unpacking of meaning is, I should add, something which I believe to be central to the church understanding what it is, how it should be and how it might communicate with those who do not believe. In this, it is related to the themes of this thread, 'free speech', 'defending the gospel', 'taking offence', and 'sin and sinners'.

    I fear too that these words, have become so common place among both Christians and those who are not, that they have all but lost meaning and have in many instances been reduced to tired old cliches. My concern therefore has two dimensions, one, that the church has a clear comprehension of what it means by 'the gospel', and two, that we find ways of communicating what we call good news without using language which I think creates more problems than it solves.

    So, if you don't mind, I'm going to ask my question again and ask you to consider the emphasis 'why'.

    I'm interested to know why you think you have been saved by grace.

    You said you have been saved by grace because of the gospel, that 'we're all sinners' and other things with which I can concur, however I find that these thoughts sit awkwardly with other comments like "it's a stand against homosexuality", "a witness to those taking part", "this witness is taking a stand against something condemned by the Word of God", and so on. You see I've rarely seen christians taking a stand against, say, for instance, homelessness, but we're happy to spend millions on new church buildings.

    I know I've raised quite a few issues but I really do think what we understand 'saved by grace' to mean will have implications for how we 'witness'.

    Thank you again for your reply.

  • Comment number 62.

    It's interesting how you've apparently noticed that I do that when I did it once. I'm not going to argue over the meaning of words, my Bible states that it is an abomination, and so I believe that it is. Yes, it does refer to other things such as eating shellfish, but certain things were abolished when Jesus came. In the New Testament, we see that the eating of all animals becomes acceptable. However, homosexuality is still condemned in the new testament.

    Women should not preach or hold authority in the church...thats clear in the Bible. The Bible is also very clear on head coverings, women should cover their heads. On the issue of instruments, I have no problem with them to a degree.

    I understand totally what your saying. It's true that many use these terms without really knowing what they mean. And I'll also agree that money should be spent more on issues like homelessness.

    When it comes to sharing the gospel, its true that we should show it in our lives. But the Bible does say that words are important.

    13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

    And if I go further into the meaning of the term saved by grace, I believe that not only are we all sinners but we're also incapable of choosing ourselves to come to God. By his grace he draws us in.

  • Comment number 63.

    "I'm not going to argue over the meaning of words, my Bible states that it is an abomination, and so I believe that it is."

    You are then being willfully ignorant, because you refuse to refer to anything that might educate you further. Until that changes, you are guaranteed to fail at any kind of sensible reading of the bible on any issue.

  • Comment number 64.


    Thank you again.

    I agree, words are important. I agree too that our default mode is autonomy rather than worship. And that this autonomy is expressed in all sorts of ways, some socially acceptable some socially unacceptable.

    Do you think then it would be possible for us to agree on the following words. It's one possible definition.

    Grace is God's glad, indulgent, no-strings-attached welcome of those who appear not to want to know him.

    You see I'm wondering if we Christians because of our judgementalism usually end up communicating the idea that somehow we have merited God's kindness?

    I'm wondering too if SFPCU ought to take a gospel stand against the PMS:

    Ezekiel 18:13 (King James Version)
    Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.

  • Comment number 65.

    I think the starting point for this discussion - on a religious blog - should be sin.

    My heart brims with pride, rebellion against God, murder, adultery etc etc. It is willful.

    It is not what I do, it is what I am. The bible says we are all the same.

    The Christian message is that a just, righteous holy God must judge us for this but that he loved his creation so much that he put this punishment on his Son, and that trusting in him we have hope and a way out.

    I want to set aside discussion on this advert to make this crucial point without any equivocation.

    Anyone on this blog is entirely free to play down the gravity of sin or toy with discussions.

    But let not anyone be in any doubt that this is totally incompatible with the traditional mainstream gospel (good news) message ie that God has given us a way out from this sin (bad news).

    You are completely free to reject the historical and spiritual truths of this.

    But if anyone reading this thinks for a second that they can oppose this truth and still be in harmony with the traditional, mainstream message of Christianity you are in complete denial.

    If sin were not so serious then why would God sacrifice his only son?

    The homosexuality aspect is in one very important sense irrelvant; the people discussing the religious significance of sin on this blog normally take the tone that traditional Christian definitions of sin are outdated and irrelvent.

    You are completely free to take this view, but it bears no resemblence to the faith on every page of the New Testament, so let there be no doubts or disputations about which is the authentic faith.

    God loved us too much and sacrificed too much in his rescue plan to have this ignored.


    GV- Toevah in the hebrew means "disgusting" according to Strongs hebrew concordance, but as this is old testament theocratic law it is to a large extent replaced by similar NT scriptures.

    JW- I think you are mistaken to say that Sodom's sin was inhospitality because Genesis clearly says God had condemned the city to destruction long before the attempted gang rape incident. Throughout scripture the affirmed context for sexual relations is heterosexual marriage; this is the explicit case from the creation of sex. homosexual relations are only ever mentioned in a negative context.

    Having said that temptation is not sin and Christian faith helps many people overcome life-controlling habits, though it is usually a gradual process, with repeated failures, which needs much care, understanding and support from the church.

  • Comment number 66.


    I understand your concern to frame the discussion in terms of sin. I appreciate your references to yourself, I think they are helpful. I understand your concern too, to emphasize that the good news is all about rescue from sin.

    However, I have a tendency now to hesitate before using this language and here are some of the reasons why.

    First, as you will be aware, we end up spending a lot of time on this blog discussing the existence of God at all and the mainstream understanding of sin only actually in fits in where we have already accepted the reality of God at all.

    Two. It could just be me but 'good news' in a Northern Ireland context has a tendency to sound like, "You're going to hell you repugnant sinner you." Strange do you not think that a lot of Christians who believe in hell do not fear hell themselves?

    Three, sin usually seems to be communicated in terms of a list if things not to do and the list has a tendency to vary from church to church. As I pointed out above there are Christians who are happy to use the word abomination in the context of gay relationships, but ignore it in relation to making money off money. It's not really very consistent.

    And lastly for now we talk a lot about love, and I know it's complex, but we (Christians) don't seem to be known for our love. Maybe we need a bit of introspection.

  • Comment number 67.

    Hi Peter

    I dont think we materially disagree on anything and thanks for "hearing" me.

    I would say that the audience of this blog tend to be thinking people who deserve the credit to be able to get their head around these issues in an objective way, esp as they are taking the trouble to seek out such a blog.

    second it is debatable as to whether the familiarilty with the term sin in NI is a strenght or weakness. while I appreciate the problem you mention, I will say that overall I consider it is much better that so many people in NI have a decent enough grasp of sin for it to be common publicly understood rather than a position, common elsehwere in the UK where it has little common currency.

    Sure dont think I fear hell half enough myself so no argument there at all.

    In essence I take you post as saying that the church generally has all these faults so we should keep quiet and examine them instead.

    There is no little merit in this if it is a productive process within a specific period, in a sense. but the church is also called to preach, teach, to witness to be holy and loving.

    I guess my message above is not aimed at the plain man in the street who is open minded enough to give the gospel a fair hearing.

    It is more aimed at the proud intellectual who finds pleasure in discussing religion but is much too proud to consider himself a genuine sinner in need of a saviour, the type who smirks at people who do.


  • Comment number 68.

    OT says:

    "JW- I think you are mistaken to say that Sodom's sin was inhospitality..."

    But OT, GOD HIMSELF says that Sodom's sin was inhospitality! From Ezekiel 16:49...

    "Truly, THIS was the sin of your sister Sodom: pride, a full measure of food, and the comforts of wealth in peace, were seen in her and her daughters, and she gave no help to the poor or to those in need."

  • Comment number 69.

    OT, hi

    Let me try this by way of response. You said,

    "second it is debatable as to whether the familiarity with the term sin in NI is a strength or weakness."


    "In essence I take you post as saying that the church generally has all these faults so we should keep quiet and examine them instead."

    I think these comments can be linked.

    It's difficult, of course, to say everything one wants to say all at once but I am saying more than your summary above. I'm trying to figure out why it is that the church seems happier pointing out the sins (whatever they may be) of others than it is in recognising it's own. (In this it would be as proud as anyone else) It's not so much that I'm trying to suggest we keep quiet about sin, it's more that we seem to want to condemn certain sins, and certain sins only. It's as if some Christians take delight condemning others, and I'm not so sure the 'love the sinner, hate the sin' caveat is much of a help. Strikes me at times as if it's witness by harassment, a kind of a, 'well whatever I am, I'm not as sinful as you are.' But that would be self-righteousness, would it not?

    In this particular instance of homosexuality for example, although we could apply it to anything, might it not be better to listen to people, hear their story rather than shout from the side lines. Maybe we'll never agree with their lifestyle, but maybe we can respect them as human beings.

    Sort of leaves me wondering if we really understand grace. I mean who does God accept, and why does he accept anyone at all? Important question. Is it only those who are open to the gospel?

    And a couple more questions to finish. (The first is a cheeky one!)

    According to Ezekiel, charging interest on loans is an abomination. Ought PMS investors to be excluded from communion until they publicly repent?

    And two, what do you make of my definition of grace in post 64?

  • Comment number 70.

    Peter sorry for delay.

    A helpful definition of grace, IMHO.

    The whole incarnation and crucifixation was grace ie it is a core of the gospel.

    I totally agree that condemning people is not the tenor of the NT but I do think we no longer give sin the place it has in its NT context.

    Hi again John

    hope you're well...

    If Ezekial is God inspired so is Genesis and Jude;

    7[The wicked are sentenced to suffer] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the adjacent towns--which likewise gave themselves over to impurity and indulged in unnatural vice and sensual perversity--are laid out [in plain sight] as an exhibit of perpetual punishment [to warn] of everlasting fire.

    In decline and fall of the Roman empire it was clear that sexual licentiousness went hand in hand with the decline of the empire. This would also be the tenor of the Old Testament prophets ie Godless decadence tends to lead to all sorts of sin, including sexual ones.

    in other words you must take Genesis, Jude and ezekial together and not in isolation or you are taking passages out of context...


  • Comment number 71.

    I've no problem with arguing that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. In fact I have done so on this blog many times. But it isn't helpful to use the most offensive terms when they are not essential to the debate.
    I've also argued that good manners are essential to free speech. So I'm trying to be consistent.
    And if your Church has a preference for the King James Bible you should be relaxed about using those terms - in Church.
    I would worry a little about the focus on the "worlds" sins - it is easy to get a chorus of "amens" condemning homosexuality, but not so easy to get those amens condemning how Christians spend their spare cash, their viewing habits or their business practices.

    Graham Veale

    PS In case anyone should make the allegation, I DO NOT think you are an extreme fundamentalist with outrageous views.
    From what I have read, you are a fellow Christian with similar convictions, who would disagree on how Christians should use their legal right to free speech.

    Graham Veale

  • Comment number 72.

    OT- Great, but then a "sodomite" could be just as easily defined as "someone who does not show hospitality to those in need", right?

  • Comment number 73.

    Hi John

    Would be helpful to conclude the last point before we move on.

    I dont understand your point about the term "sodomite".

    I understand it literally means a male temple prostitute so biblically the term is not a good translation at all.


  • Comment number 74.

    just to clarify - the hebrew for sodomite is here;-


  • Comment number 75.

    Why, then, do you want to use it to refer to all homosexuals?

    are they all male temple prostitutes?

  • Comment number 76.

    I would agree with graham on this issue....

    argue about sinfulness by all means, but there is no need to use language that may be degrading and insulting, particularly when we have so many other words.

    On the subject of law...well, secular law is something that, in my opinion, stems almost solely from human thinking...so if it's wrong, it makes no odds to me.

    When people are being locked up for using words it becomes a worry, but a rap on the knuckles by a toothless toger shouldn't really be any cause for concern anyway.

    But why use such words, other than to be deliberately provocative. The translation and revitalisation of language is something that's continuously ongoing...

    if a particular word, even one found in translations of the bible, becomes provocative and insulting in its usage, why keep using it other than to provoke and insult?

  • Comment number 77.


    I have to politely inform you that you are completely accusing me in the wrong ref post 75.

    I cant recall ever using this term to refer to all homosexuals.

    If you dont mind me asking, why did you ever assume this to be the case?

    But now that you raise the question, I suppose it is only fair to ask if there actually was an historical connection between male temple prostitution and Sodom.

    I can't answer that right now but it would seem presumptous to rule out any possible connection.

    Of course, even if this turns out to be the case, I cant see how it could justify using the term male temple prostitute to refer to all gay men.


  • Comment number 78.

    ...also Bernard

    I just want to raise this in a seperate post...

    I have to say hand on heart that I think this thread is typical of many theological debates sponsored by non-traditional theological thinkers.

    And by that I mean that it seems these type of discussions seem to actively or by default mitigate against all tradtional Christian teaching on sex.

    For example, when did you ever hear the sponsor of such debates urge the gay (or straight) community to adhere to New Testament standards on lifelong physical monogamy and divorce or complain about intense and persistent promiscuity and the underlying spiritual reasons and solutions for this.

    My point is that like Lot, all such commentators seem to be facing towards Sodom.

    In other words, I always get the impression that they oppose ALL traditional Christians teachings on marriage (ie sex is for inside marriage only) and indeed the human sin nature in general.

    They never give any reason to think otherwise and they never seem to qualify their arguments by saying something like;-

    "Well I think homosexuality is biblically permissable so long as people realise they are still sinners under Christ's command only to have sex within gay lifelong marriage; that adultery is a grave offence to God and that mental adultery is no different".

    Perhaps putting it simply Bernard, is it enough for the church to simply say "yes lets not use offensive language about homosexuality" when the burden of scripture actually says this;-

    1) Sin is threatening the destiny of every human life on the planet in a way that makes climate change look like a day at the fair.

    2) In the final analysis, God will not judge people on whether they are gay or straight but on whether they recognised their need of a Saviour and followed him.

    In other words, again, I just feel this whole argument is comforting people of all sexual outlooks in their sin rather than pointing them to their urgent need of a saviour.



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