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Should Conservative Christians be Allowed to Care for Our Children?

Eunice and Owen Johns are Christian Pentecostalists who believe that sexual relations other than those within marriage between one man and one woman are morally wrong. They also want to be foster parents.

Should they be allowed to care for other people’s children? Derby city council have been reluctant to allow this, and the High Court has recently agreed with the council that the attitudes of potential foster carers to sexuality are a relevant legal consideration. Considering the moral question whether they should be allowed to foster – that is, the question of what the law ought to say about cases like this – my colleague Michelle Hutchinson cautiously says it all depends on the risks of harm to the child, and the risks of harm to society as a whole, but implies that her sympathies lie with the council. With one proviso, I believe we should allow Eunice and Owen Johns to foster – because to do anything else would be illiberal.

First, a few facts about the case at hand. Eunice and Owen Johns look like a loving and inoffensive couple in the press photos. But the Court’s decision indicates that they have previouly expressed an inability to support “a young person who was confused about their sexuality.” They believe that homosexuality is “against God’s laws and morals”. Owen Johns has said that if a young person in his care thinks they may be gay, he would “gently turn them around”. Eunice Johns has said that she once visited San Francisco, a city famous for its large gay population, and she felt uncomfortable there and didn’t like it.

The Johns’ views about homosexuality are, in my opinion, egregious, reprehensible, ignorant, and substantively mistaken. Even if you want to derive your ethical guidance from Jesus’ teachings, the fact that he is never recorded as having mentioned homosexuality anywhere in the Bible ought to give his followers pause for thought. And if they are going to be take a prohibition on homosexuality seriously because some guy may have said something against it once or twice in the New Testament, then, respectfully, Eunice and Owen Johns ought to take that same guy’s views about the place of women and proper gender-specific headwear codes seriously too:

3But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

But I digress…

If you’ve read one of the irresponsible and inaccurate reports in the press, you may have been led to believe that what is at stake here is the principle of whether righteous Christians who profess their faith are legally considered fit to foster or adopt children – and that the High Court has decided that they are not. The Court says emphatically “not so”. Forgive me for quoting some excerpts of the decision at length here:

It is hard to know where to start with this travesty of the reality … No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not ‘fit and proper’ persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. No one is seeking to force Christians or adherents of other faiths into the closet. No one is asserting that the claimants are bigots. No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal: equal before the law and equal as a human being endowed with reason and entitled to dignity and respect.

Religion – whatever the particular believer’s faith – is no doubt something to be encouraged but it is not the business of government or of the secular courts, though the courts will, of course, pay every respect and give great weight to the individual’s religious principles. Article 9 of the European Convention, after all, demands no less. The starting point of the common law is thus respect for an individual’s religious principles coupled with an essentially neutral view of religious beliefs and benevolent tolerance of cultural and religious diversity. A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state. It is not for a judge to weigh one religion against another. The court recognises no religious distinctions and generally speaking passes no judgment on religious beliefs or on the tenets, doctrines or rules of any particular section of society. All are entitled to equal respect. And the civil courts are not concerned to adjudicate on purely religious issues, whether religious controversies within a religious community or between different religious communities.

However, it is important to realise that reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunise the believer from the reach of the secular law. And invocation of religious belief does not necessarily provide a defence to what is otherwise a valid claim.

Some cultural beliefs and practices are simply treated by the law as being beyond the pale. Some manifestations of religious practice will be regulated if contrary to a child’s welfare. One example is the belief that the infliction of corporal punishment is an integral part of the teaching and education of children and is efficacious.

The present dispute is merely one of a number of recent cases where the tension has been between an individual’s Christian beliefs and discrimination law as enacted by Parliament.

If children, whether they are known to be homosexuals or not, are placed with carers who … evince an antipathy, objection to or disapproval of, homosexuality and same-sex relationships, there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to “safeguard and promote” the “welfare” of looked-after children.

It is quite impossible to maintain that a local authority is not entitled to consider a prospective foster carer’s views on sexuality, least of all when, as here, it is apparent that the views held, and expressed, by the claimants might well affect their behaviour as foster carers. This is not a prying intervention into mere belief. Neither the local authority nor the court is seeking to open windows into people’s souls. The local authority is entitled to explore the extent to which prospective foster carers’ beliefs may affect their behaviour, their treatment of a child being fostered by them

The court thus takes itself to be essentially taking the approach that Michelle Hutchinson recommends. The local authority is properly concerned with the welfare of the child, and the court says that they are entitled to consider the prospective carer’s views on sexuality insofar as these views may affect the child’s welfare.

It’s a well-written legal decision, and there’s a lot right about it. So how can I disagree with such an eminently reasonable position? Well, I start by noting that just like Derby council, the Johns also consider themselves to be concerned with the welfare of the child. They sincerely believe that failing to “gently turn around”  a young person who thinks they might be homosexual would be akin to failing to direct the child away from an addiction to heroin, or a career in shoplifting, or some other waste of life and talent.

But the Johns are mistaken you may reply! A young person’s welfare consists in part in embracing his or her developing sexual identity, and in his or her ability to celebrate diversity of sexual orientation. It is simply mistaken to think that having a developing homosexual interest, for a young adult, is in any way like having a developing interest in hard drugs or crime.

I fully agree with that. But the issue here is not whether I personally agree. It is, rather, whether our political institutions should make a judgment about this issue. And it’s plausible that they should refrain from doing so. To see why, consider for a moment how it would be if conservative Christians like Eunice and Owen Johns formed a majority of the UK population, and were considering how best to select potential child carers. If they were to make judgments about what is in the interests of the comprehensive welfare of children, they would conclude that any carers who would ignore, or even encourage and approve of, homosexual tendencies or behaviour would be at best woefully negligent in their care. They would insist that only those who are willing to declare homosexuality unacceptable could qualify to care for children.

Our hypothetical conservative Christian majority would be mistaken in their judgments about what is in a child’s welfare, and would be legislating erroneously. But that is not the point. We live in a society in which there is deep disagreement about many moral issues. This  means that we cannot reach consensus on a comprehensive judgment about what is in a child’s best interests. If we are to avoid the tyranny of a majority that seeks to impose its comprehensive value system on others, we must agree to limit the interference of government with our privately held moral values.

According to the philosopher John Rawls, government should be organized so as to allow individuals, so far as possible, to pursue their own comprehensive conceptions of the good, and government ought to maintain neutrality between these conceptions. This is the doctrine of political liberalism. Reasonable people will form an overlapping consensus around these liberal principles; agreeing that each may pursue what he regards as good, so long as his pursuit does not infringe on the ability of others to do the same. In the political liberal state, government is not concerned with promoting one particular conception of the good, but only with promoting liberal citizenship – the ability of each to form and pursue his own preferred conception of the good.

The Rawlsian politically liberal state would still be able to regulate foster carers, and would certainly deny some citizens the permission to look after children. But it would not do so on the grounds of any particular comprehensive conception of the welfare of children. It would concern itself only with ensuring that children were well brought up to become liberal citizens – each with maximum ability to rationally form and pursue  his or her own conception of the good. The liberal state would not be neutral about the best means of producing the next generation of liberal citizens; it would not allow, for example,  the religious beliefs of carers about the value of corporal punishment in education to trump established scientific evidence.

Here we come to the liberal provisos about Eunice and Owen Johns, and people like them. They need not approve of homosexual behaviour to be carers in the liberal state – indeed they would be fully entitled to express their own strong opinions. But they must be willing to nurture any child in their care even while they may overtly disapprove of its own sexual behaviour or that of others, and they must be willing to provide the child with the resources and information needed to let it decide as it grew older how best to lead its life. The liberal state would not allow carers to inculcate views that fundamentally conflict with political liberalism, nor generally to engage in indoctrination. But any carers willing to meet these provisos could qualify, whatever their personal moral and religious beliefs.

By refusing to endorse any particular comprehensive conception of the welfare of children, the liberal state would be even-handed and non-judgmental in its demands: pro-homosexual dogmatists would be just as unwelcome to apply as homophobic dogmatists. It is for these reasons that the liberal state represents an attractive compromise between conflicting comprehensive conceptions of the good. Is it not also, then, the fairest form of government we could reasonably hope to have?

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29 Comment on this post

  1. I don't think the press coverage is unfair. The judgment confirms that there is a hierarchy of human rights and that matters of sexuality sit above the right to freedom of religion.

    The judge may have been nuanced but in practice the foster care bureaucrats are almost certainly going to have a box to tick on their assessment form now and if a Christian couple indicate they consider the practice of homosexuality to be morally wrong they will be black listed. It will be up to them to justify why they are fit to be parents because of their worldview and will probably need to litigate to do so.

    It would be interesting to know if it would be valid to reject a foster care application from a gay couple if they indicated they would not support and facilitate a child who showed an interest in orthodox Christianity. I suspect we would find that is discrimination.

    I am suprised that in an academic context you would use the label "homophobic". It really is a silly term and gets used illegimately to label anyone who holds an opinion that the gay lifestyle is morally unacceptable. That is not a phobia any more than someone who might reject Christianity has a phobia of Christians.

    I note you use the words "mistaken" and "erroneously" in refering to the Christians view on the welfare of children and then go on to state we cannot reach "consensus on a comprehensive judgement". Don't you need to qualify your "mistaken" and "erroneously" by indicating that is your own opinion. I would think John Rawls would do so. I cannot think of what transcendent benchmark you could be referring to in making an absolute claim about what is mistaken and erroneous.

    1. hi john i thought i would just give your comment a quick reply,let me start by saying that they were asked,if a child at 8-10 years old came up to them and said they think they were gay and was it ok for them to be gay what would they say,they said that they would tell the child that they are not gay and it's not ok to be gay…(let's be clear they said they will still love and care for the child) now as parents you have the right to say what ever you want (within reason) as a parent if my child said to me daddy are boys allowed to kiss boys i would say no…boys are made for girls and girls are made for boys…the sad thing is with perfectly normal views like that i wouldn't be allowed to foster myself

      1. Dennis:

        the sad thing is with perfectly normal views like that i wouldn’t be allowed to foster myself

        Again, I’m not really interested in defending the Court's opinion as such, but “normal” has nothing to do with it. Plenty of people, in plenty of societies, have held “perfectly normal” views that were woefully wrong. Consider any slave-holding society, for example.

    2. John:

      I don’t think the press coverage is unfair

      I’m not really interested in defending the Court’s opinion as such. But you ignored the excerpts I quoted that indicated it’s simply not the Johns’ Christianity that’s relevant here; it’s the fact that they hold certain moral or factual beliefs, whether on a religious basis or otherwise, that may harm the welfare of children in their care and thus be “beyond the pale”. As you know, there are very many Christians who reject the beliefs that the Johns hold about homosexuality, including Christians in the anglican communion.
      If the Johns held a religiously-based belief in the superiority of one race, or in the immorality of professional medical care, would you be equally strident in your defense of their “freedom of religion” which apparently, in your view, demands a freedom to practice their religious views whatever the harms to others?

      I note you use the words “mistaken” and “erroneously” in refering to the Christians view on the welfare of children and then go on to state we cannot reach “consensus on a comprehensive judgement”. Don’t you need to qualify your “mistaken” and “erroneously” by indicating that is your own opinion?

      You confuse political liberalism with moral relativism here. I don’t think it’s “merely my opinion” that the conservative Christian view of the welfare of children is utterly mistaken in many respects, I think it’s objectively true that it is utterly mistaken. That you can’t see where I can get absolute values from only shows the limits of your imagination – I get my moral values from reason and reflection. See the reasoning in the post above, for example. However, I don’t think the government should make these judgments, insofar as it can avoid doing so without undermining the liberal state.

      1. I dare say that the Johns' consider they would be acting in the best interests of a child in their care by not facilitating that child's interest in homosexuality. It is difficult to objectively measure what is in a child's best interests. Research by the US Department of Health indicates that members of the homosexual community have significantly higher rates of mental illness and anal cancer than the rest of the population. There may be a variety of reasons for this but the fact is from the health perspective alone it may not be in the child's best interests. I know it will be said that such a child does not have a choice about their sexual feelings but I know of many many people who once practiced homosexuality and are now happily married in hetrosexual relationships.

        I have to say I am gobsmacked that you get your absolute values via imagination. Reason and reflection are not transcendent. They are personal and contrained by time and culture. I would find it difficult to hold to any values if that was how I derived them. And surely no person can objectively reason their values, they will be informed by their upbringing, circumstances, education and, perhaps most of all, lifestyle.

        1. I dare say that the Johns’ consider they would be acting in the best interests of a child in their care by not facilitating that child’s interest in homosexuality

          Exactly as I said in the post … thank you for reading.

      1. Thanks Simon – having re-read your post I realise my initial reaction was too quick: you indeed make clear that a "Rawlsian politically liberal state would still be able to regulate foster carers" in order to ensure "that children were well brought up to become liberal citizens – each with maximum ability to rationally form and pursue his or her own conception of the good", and that the "liberal state would not be neutral about the best means of producing the next generation of liberal citizens". So obviously it would also abandon neutrality in the extreme case I cited.

        But then I wonder: is this not also compatible with abandoning neutrality in the case of parents who believe that homosexuality is "against God's laws and morals"? Surely such a belief, particularly if the parents-to-be have said they would (however gently) transmit this belief to the child, could reasonably be argued to be contrary to the objective of "producing the next generation of liberal citizens". I'm not saying that this necessarily justifies excluding them, nor that I necessarily approve of doing so, but it is not immediately obvious to me that doing so reflects a "comprehensive conception of the welfare of children" or that it contravenes Rawls' criteria.

  2. "failing to direct the child away from an addiction to heroine…or some other waste of life and talent"

    Au contraire, obsessing over Catwoman or Lara Croft is certainly not a waste of time :-p

    Regarding Rawls: he also claims that society should act in order to benefit the least well off (e.g. the difference principle). In this case, could it not be argued that the least well off would be the children who are never adopted because of this policy, rather than any who are potentially harmed from having homosexual tendencies discriminated against?

    1. Touché Matt, typo fixed, thanks.
      I think the argument you about benefitting the least well off is plausible. But of course Rawls, rightly, places the first priority on ensuring that everyone has equal basic liberties (to be liberal citizens). So dogmatic carers still need not apply.

  3. Anthony Drinkwater

    Whilst it is obvious that society should have standards concerning those who foster children, I doubt whether overall it is right to seek the form of perfection that Derby City Council insist on.

    Why are children placed in short-term foster homes ? Hopefully, it happens only where there is a demonstrated, real risk in leaving them in their existing family.
    The theoretically possible risk of children being harmed by the views of foster parents is necessarily more remote – do short-term foster parents really exert an enormous and exclusive influence on children's development, such that their views on homosexuality would risk harming a child ?
    In the unlikely case that there were a surplus of short-term fosterers in Derby it might be justifiable to select only perfect foster parents.
    However, I doubt they exist, any more than perfect parents do generally.

    I conclude with Simon that the judges are right in law to support the council , but that Derby social services are wrong to risk alienating potential good foster parents.

  4. I'm not sure that Simon *did* conclude that the judged are right in law – in fact he seemed to be making the case that they are not – but he can clarify that. For my part I think we need to distinguish between whether the council's position was reasonable, and whether it contravened Rawls' criteria for a liberal society. It is on the latter point that I am unconvinced.

    I'm also wondering what position to take in relation to the idea that the majority should not seek to "impose it's comprehensive value system on others". At first glance this idea seems, like the Court's decision, "eminently reasonable", but then I wonder: what exactly makes a value system "comprehensive", and what do we mean by "impose" in this context?

    Let's assume for the sake of argument, that there is no shortage of foster parents in Derby and that there would be a significant influence on the children concerned. (Once again I'm not saying this is the case, but am trying to clarify the ethical issues.) The council is then concerned about harm to the children, and a negative influence on their values (i.e. in a less liberal direction). Does that necessarily reflect a "comprehensive" value system? And in what sense are they "imposing" it? Where exactly should we draw the line between asserting our values (surely a laudable thing to do) and "imposing" them?

    I certainly think that we should try to understand, and indeed empathize with, people who's beliefs and/or values are different from our own, and I also agree that we should avoid an excessive conformism with regard to how people behave. But perhaps it's also important, as Michelle suggests, to express our disapproval of illiberal, discriminatory attitudes fuelled by irrational religious beliefs. Perhaps this was not the best occasion to do so (I really don't know enough about the case to judge), but like Michelle my sympathies tend to lie with the court.

  5. By the way I also rather object to the following excerpt from Simom's reply to John: "That you can't see where I get my absolute values from only shows the limits of your imagination – I get my moral values from reason and reflection." To me this borders on arrogance. To me it is obvious (but maybe that's because I lack imagination) that moral judgements rely at least indirectly on some kind of emotional reaction: it cannot be *purely* a process of reason and (emotionless) reflection.

    So in fact I disagree with Simon on both counts: I don't see a really compelling reason for the government not to intervene, but I do think that our values, whatever they are, are ultimately a matter of choice, and not of truth, and that recognizing this helps us to understand and empathize with those whose choices differ from our own.

    1. That's harsh, Peter! I should have perhaps added "empathy" to "reason and reflection". I didn't intend to exclude any role for emothion. But I don't agree that our values are a "matter of choice". That's the kind of thing that upsets people like John (that and certain sexual practices, although I am willing to bet that, given where he finds the grounds for his own moral beliefs, he is oddly unperturbed by head coverings or their absence).

      1. Thanks Simon. I would still be interest – perhaps in another post? – to understand a bit better in what sense you *don't* see values as a matter of choice. If emotions indeed influence (perhaps even underpin) our values, then in stands to reason that different people will come to different conclusions, and unlike with questions of empirical fact there is no "scientific method" to determine who's right and who's wrong.

        Unlike John I tend to take the view that reason, in an important (essentially Platonic) sense, *is* transcendent, and it has the great advantage over God that it corresponds (albeit in ideal from) to something we can observe in the real world. (Not that I have a particular problem with the idea of God as an embodiment, and even personification, why not, of all that we consider good, I'm just not sure what we do with it/him/her.) By contrast, reflection is a process (i.e. activity) that takes place in the real, temporal world, and is thus by its nature contingent. So, then, are the moral judgements we make through a process of reflection.

        1. " I would still be interest – perhaps in another post? – to understand a bit better in what sense you *don’t* see values as a matter of choice. "

          Hey Peter! Long time no talk. I can only answer for myself here, but I would say that ethical decisions can certainly be viewed as a matter of choice based on what you value, while still leaving open the possibility to determine the rightness or the wrongness of that value itself.

          "If emotions indeed influence (perhaps even underpin) our values, then in stands to reason that different people will come to different conclusions, and unlike with questions of empirical fact there is no "scientific method" to determine who’s right and who’s wrong."

          That's only assuming we can't determine the role of our emotions in our decisions and values, and further how those emotions came about (and maybe even further, what goals we should be reaching for). I know you're aware of my views on this, but I believe we CAN make pronouncements on what kinds of things we should value. Possibly not by sticking these questions in a lab and applying the scientific method, but certainly using a rational and logical argument that respects scientific knowledge. i.e. – philosophy!

          1. Hi Greg – nice to hear from you! For me there's a close parallel between moral judgements and (other) aesthetic judgements. I say "other" because I tend to think of moral judgements as a class of aesthetic judgements, namely aesthetic judgements with regad to people's behaviour. Indeed we've discussed this issue before; I think at core my point is that the reason and logic on it's own can only really help us determine the internal consistency of our pronouncements. Combine them with evidence (using the scientific method) and we can start to understand thing like what people *do* value, what we are *likely* to value, even what values are likely to make us happy (i.e. positive psychology). But when it comes to what we *should* value…well that's something we just have to decide.

      2. Simon, when you remove God from your moral framework you remove transcendence and all moral values become human constructs that are at best held together by consensus (assuming that can be measured) in a particular time and culture. Although even consensus is a human derived value – why should your or my personal will be subject to what the majority may think? We restrain personal behaviour for reasons of public order (and I am glad that we do) but the personal behaviour we choose to allow or prohibit changes from age to age and from culture to culture.

        I don't say this to commend theism particularly, if there is no God there is no God, we can't beleive just to have meaning. My beef is that those who want to exclude God rarely accept the consequence that there is therefore no meaning and morality. Few people these days actually live like the athiests of old. These days it has just become an excuse to live however you like without any acceptance that the Godless life is ultimately meaningless.

        You do well to berate Christians for not practising all of the Bible. If it is God's word we cannot cherry pick the bits we like and do not like. This is not the place for a detailed exegesis of 1 Cor 11 but you cannot just apply one isolated part of the Bible without considering it in context. The Bible's teaching on homosexuality is consistent all the way through and in many places appeals to God's creative work. I doubt God is making people differently these days.

  6. Simon, I have to bite in response to your comment about Jesus never mentioning homosexuality as somehow being an indication that he did not consider it to be wrong. This is a silly argument. The gospels do not record that Jesus had any interaction with a person who was homosexual. To my knowledge homosexuality was not openly practiced at that time and place in history, and certainly not within the Jewish community. Why on earth would Jesus refer to it? There are all manner of things that Jesus did not teach on, we cannot infer his position from his silence.

      1. If you did not infer Jesus position why ask his followers to pause for thought? What reason would there be to pause?

        Clearly you are suggesting that Jesuss silence may be grounds to think he was not against homosexuality.

  7. Attempts at Jesus/gospels exegesis does not strike me as the most constructive/productive kind of discussion here. I contend that we could expand Simon Rippon's March 4 at 9:38 AM comment into a strong argument in the spirit of his original post. (We need only to appeal to the relevant psychological and other social science research on relevant parenting practices and the evidence we have for their likely effects on children, sexual identity development, and so on, in the sorts of cases/contexts under question.)

    As regards the gospels, it seems to me that very little if anything distinctive of what goes on in contemporary Christian and Catholic religions and churches bears any resemblance to Jesus and what he says in the gospels. Perhaps for some relief in the form of welcome (at to some of us?) liberal theology, readers who have not already read it might like to check out the wonderful "What's On Jesus' iPod?" by Mark Morford from April 27, 2005:

    "…After all, Jesus was a rebel. Jesus was the Original Liberal. Jesus was a devoted pacifist and a badass egalitarian and his best friends were all whores and dissidents and freethinkers and miscreants, artists of every shape and size and haircut and of course, were he walking around today, Jesus would be pretty much loathed and ostracized if not outright hacked to bits by the Christian Right. "Goddamn hippie liberal tree hugger," they'd sneer, waving scythes and Bibles. "What the hell?" Jesus would say…"

  8. What is likely to be the most constructive/productive kind of discussion depends on what we want to construct/produce. For my part, I would be most interested in a reaction to my objections to Simon's arguments, which I'll summarize again for convenience:

    1. I'm not convinced by Simon's arguments that the intervention of the council, or the support of that intervention by the court fundamentally contravene Rawls' prescriptions for how a politically liberal state should behave. (By contrast the arguments raised by Matt and Anthony may well call into question the wisdom of the council's behaviour.)

    2. As a more general point, I don't believe that we ever base our moral values/judgements on "reason and reflection" alone, if by that we mean without any emotional input. I do believe that understanding and accepting this point is likely to help us to forge consensus on what we want, and what moral judgements are likely to help us get it, and would thus contribute to our overall wellbeing.

    1. 1) I don't think either Matt or Anthony gave any substantive disagreements with me Peter. In fact, I'm not sure what your own disagreement with me is supposed to be. I said in the post that the liberal state would not allow carers with fundamentally dogmatic, illiberal views or behaviours. But carers would be entitled to hold, and to express, moral views that are not illiberal per se, e.g. views that as a private matter, homosexuality is wrong and homosexual activity ought not to be engaged in. (Views only count as "illiberal", in this sense, when they would undermine the child or other people's ability to form and pursue their own conceptions of the good. You can, of course, be a perfectly committed Christian and bring up a child to do this.)
      2) I don't mean to imply that moral judgments would occur without emotional input. Neither would colour judgments occur if we had never seen the world in a peculiar chromatic way – but this doesn't imply that we choose the colours in which we see things.

      1. Only just noticed this Simon.
        1) I'm not sure what you mean by "as a private matter, homosexuality is wrong". The traditional Christian view is that homosexualual practices are sinful, whether done in public or in private. I think perhaps what you're saying is that the Christian doesn't necessarily say they should be outlawed, and it is this that makes the view compatible with liberalism. Still it seems plausible to me that conveying the idea that such practices are "against God's laws and morals" will (even if marginally) compromise the child's ability to "rationally form his or her own conception of the good". Basically you're teaching the child superstition, and potentially leading him or her to repress (for no good reason) deep-seated desires. I can hardly imagine anything more likely to restrict one's ability to rationally form one's conception of the good.

        2) Is someone with Daltonism wrong to see red and green as the same colour? Not in any fundamental way, I would say, although we still want them to stop at red lights. Similarly, someone who doesn't see a problem with killing people is not "wrong" in any fundamental way, but given that the vast majority of us do (often with caveats of course) means that we will want to ensure that they nevertheless refrain from doing so. The Johns are wrong to think that God cares about who we have sex with – there's no evidence that such a God exists. They are not "wrong" in any absolute sense to oppose homosexual practices, but we may legitimately consider their opposition to be illiberal in a sufficiently serious sense to justify making it a criterion regarding their eligibility as foster parents.

        It's in that sense that I think I see things the other way round to you.

  9. My concern is not with the ideology that will be furthered by persons with that ideology passing it on to an through their children or wards. Foster homes and adoptive homes are scarce and their benefits tend to be preferable than the alternative, which is often no foster home or adoptive home. My problem is with the welfare of the child who is sexually not straight, and the harm that might be done to that child by people who don't accept the "built-in" nature of sexuality. It can be affected by the environment in some cases, but generally, so far as I know, the kind of sexuality one has is unavoidable by environmental factors such as disapproval which may be manifested physically, to the detriment of the child.

    If I am right about sexuality and the danger to the child of strong disapproval, the case against allowing those who disapprove of homosexuality nd don't understand its "built-in" nature to be foster or adoptive parents is substantial. Some Evangelicals and Muslims might, indeed be free of such prejudices, and focus instead on homosexual acts. At worst, they will try to impede the child's sexual development. Is that enough to prevent them from having foster or adoptive children?

    What would Jesus do? Remember, Jesus was big on the sanctity of marriage which always was heterosexual in nature. He was of his time and culture (even if he was one of the persons of a god), so you can't expect more of him than of an enlightened male of his age in that culture. What of Mohamed. He wasn't divine, according to the Qur'an, but he was supposed to be extra wise. Hadith has him against homosexuality. I doubt if he had any thought other than that sexuality was a matter of free choice?

    1. The first two paras of Dennis's comment express very well why I think the Johns' views could inhibit the child's ability to rationally form his or her conception of the good (and, more importantly from my essentially utilitarian perspective, grow up to be happy and well-balanced).

      As for what Jesus and Mohammed actually taught, thought, or would have taught if the issue had arisen, I basically don't care: of all ethical frameworks, basing our moral views on what some guy in the past taught is among the most silly. But if you press me: I think both would have opposed homosexuality. What Dennis says about Jesus also applies IMO to Mohammed: they were both of their time and culture.

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