When does a sermon discriminate against homosexuals??

When does a sermon discriminate against homosexuals??

In future, discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation is to be punished more severely in Switzerland. What does this mean for critical statements of some churches on homosexuality? An exploration.

On Sunday, the Swiss accepted the extension of the anti-racism penal norm with 63.1 percent yes votes.

This will make discrimination and hatred against people on the basis of their sexual orientation a punishable offence. It is questionable whether the new law will affect religious practices in churches, such as sermons.

Free churches were against tightening the law

"Basically, nothing changes for our churches," says the general secretary of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA), Matthias Spiess. "Our member churches have never called for violence and hatred against homosexuals."The SEA, which represents mainly Christian free churches, had lobbied for a No vote in the run-up to the vote – citing sufficient opportunities for punishment and a potential conflict with freedom of expression.

When it comes to sermons, Spiess now actually sees "a certain legal uncertainty". Thus, he said, it must continue to be possible to speak critically about homosexuality within this framework without immediately being sanctioned. "To judge practiced homosexuality negatively in a sermon for ethical reasons must remain possible."Likewise, the statement that there are no positive examples of same-sex sexuality in the Bible.

Freedom of expression or discrimination?

In the church today, no one has the intention of humiliating a person or violating their dignity, Spiess said. At the same time, he said, misunderstandings can arise if criticism is perceived as discrimination or disparagement. But it could be that certain groups tell someone that he is "not living according to God's will". Whether this is freedom of expression or discrimination shows the legal uncertainty in these matters, he said.

It is important to the free churches that their theologians may continue to reject homosexual church weddings. "If a prospective theologian were to be expelled from his studies because of such a statement, we of the SEA would try to support him with our possibilities," says Spiess.

"All people are welcome"

The president of the Swiss Catholic Bishops' Conference (SBK), Bishop Felix Gmur, on the other hand, does not see any problems ahead for the Roman Catholic Church. The SBK had refrained from commenting on the bill in advance. Gmur does not consider it necessary to formulate recommendations for priests, theologians and catechists.

"I am convinced that our employees are aware that all people are welcome in the church – regardless of their race, origin and sexual orientation."And in response to the question of whether sermons should now be formulated more carefully: "Sensitive biblical interpretation is a basic competence that can be expected of a pastor today."

Gmur is basically convinced that the Catholic Church will not come into conflict with the new law. "The church is a so-called tendency enterprise with restrictions that do not apply to the general public and therefore do not fall under the new criminal norm," he explains. In addition, Gmur is convinced that the church is on a path of development with regard to its internal "restrictions around sexual orientation worldwide. At the same time, the church reflects the social developments and the discourse of the sciences.

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Christina Cherry
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