Minister in radio debate with Peter Tatchell over rugby player Billy Vunipola

Should Christians employed in any kind of dealing-with-the-public role just keep quiet?

This discussion took place on BBC Three Counties Radio on 17th April, and concerned Billy Vunipola’s support for Israel Folau, the Australian rugby star who posted a social media statement saying that unrepentant sinners, including homosexuals, will go to hell. Pastor Peter Simpson of Penn Free Methodist Church (PS), and renowned human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell (PT), were being interviewed by BBC presenter, Jonathan Vernon-Smith (JVS). The following is an extract from the debate.    

JVS : So do you think that he (Vunipola) should be sacked from the England rugby team? 

PS : Certainly not. He was expressing an opinion on his Instagram account. He was not being interviewed straight after a match still in his rugby kit. He was expressing a biblical-based viewpoint which happens to go against the grain of political correctness.

PT : The rugby authorities took a view that what he did was contrary to its equal opportunities and inclusive policy … Sport should be a prejudice-free zone where players and officials are all selected or all committed to the principle that we are all equal … and I don’t think you can fulfil those principles, if you … support extreme views.

PS : What is happening in modern Britain? Are we saying that the Bible-believing Christians cannot have a viewpoint? The Rugby Football Union talks all about its ethos of inclusivity but they are not including Christians in their inclusivity … All that Mr Vunipola is doing is upholding the teachings of the Christian Scriptures.

JVS : But isn’t there an argument that you can have whatever beliefs you want to have, but just keep them to yourself. If you start publicly expressing them, that’s when you are going to get yourself into trouble?

PS : The Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and I am regularly out on the high street preaching what the Bible says. Are you saying that I should just stay in my church and say nothing to the general public? 

PT : Peter Simpson is wrong. What he’s saying is that the Rugby Football Union would not protect Christians. They would do, if someone is prejudiced or bigoted, or incites discrimination or violence against Christians or people of any faith.

PS : But we (as Christians) have got to shut up? 

JVS : Peter Tatchell, do you just want to respond to that point – the Christians have to keep quiet. They can’t say what they believe? 

PT : They can say what they believe providing it doesn’t conflict with equal opportunities policies of the Rugby Union … To belong to it you have to agree to abide by the rules, and one of the rules is you don’t make prejudiced comments about a person’s race, faith, sexuality and so on … I won’t stand by and allow people to use religion to justify prejudice and discrimination. 

PS : You shouldn’t use these words ‘prejudiced’ and ‘intolerant’, just because we have a different viewpoint on a moral issue to yourself. I am no more prejudiced to my viewpoint that you are prejudiced to your viewpoint. So stop using these emotive terms.

PT : We live in a society where we have laws which guarantee equal treatment and equal rights for everyone. 

PS : What about Christians who work in schools? 

PT : When a teacher … decides that because of their Christian faith that gay people don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else, that is a step too far.

PS : To say that a gay person should repent of their sin is not denying them any civil rights. 

PT : When a teacher says that gay people should not be spoken about or supported in schools then that is clearly a denial of the human rights of LGBT people.

PS : So you are saying that primary school children should not be exposed to Christian teaching, because it goes against the LGBT ethos? 

PT : The primary school teaching is not about promoting homosexuality … it is about saying that LGBT people are part of our society … they should be respected. 

PS : So you think children age 5 should be told that it’s all right to have two mummies or two daddies? 

JVS : How did we get them to the subject of teaching in schools? This is supposed to be about a tweet from a rugby player, Peter.

PS : Yes, but this issue with the rugby player is indicative of what’s happening across the whole public sector regarding Christians in employment.

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