H/T Ekklesia.  Now this is what authentic Christianity looks like.  Evangelical Alliance Ireland, “a movement of individuals, churches, organisations from within all streams of evangelicalism in Ireland”, has released a statement (.pdf) endorsing the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 now before the Irish government.  The EAI’s take on the bill is both pragmatic and pastoral.  Emphasis mine.

The Bill does not directly challenge the traditional understanding of marriage in Ireland.  It is a piece of civil legislation that establishes a new form of civil relationship under the law.  The Bill does not deal with religious matters.

We suggest that evangelical Christians should support the basic thrust of the Bill.  The Government is seeking to legislate for greater justice and fairness for co-habiting couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  As Christians we should support that stance.  Co-habiting couples are a reality — this legislation seeks to deal with that reality fro a legal perspective.  We may disagree on the detail of the legislation but as followers of a just and compassionate God we can recognize the justice and fairness of providing some legal protection for the reality of both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabitating relationships. …

The Christian Scriptures make it clear that God’s purpose for his gift of sex is that it would be the ultimate physical expression of love between a man and a woman in the context of the covenant of marriage.  However, the Gospel requires of us that we show grace to those who fundamentally disagree with our convictions and who do not shape their lives according to what we believe is good for them.  Jesus requires of his followers that they love and do good to those who oppose them or who hold to different ethical standards than they do. …

The EAI anticipated a negative reaction from those who want to keep “evangelical” and “reality-based” in separate universes.  Some of their preemptive remarks to their critics are below the fold.

Some will criticize such a stance as a “cop out”.  But the challenge to incarnate and commend an alternative way of living as followers of Jesus is no cop out.  We face this challenge of showing the power and beauty of marriage as God’s intended context for sex, for the raising of children and for the thriving of society.  We face the challenge of showing the strength of friendships, both same gender and opposite gender, that are based on loving as Jesus has loved us.  Facing these challenges is no cop out.  It is the essence of Christian discipleship. …

Evangelical Christians should be the foremost advocates of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.  It is the essence of the Christian faith that it is freely chosen, never imposed.  It is a tragedy of history hat it was ever thought that the power of teh state could be used to impose Christianity on people.  With that power now almost completely gone we live in different times.  As Canadian theologian John Stackhouse cautions us:

Indeed we should use what influence we have left to help construct the sort of society in which we ourselves would like to live once our power to affect it has disappeared…How unseemly it is for Christians to fight in the courts and legislatures for what remains of the dubious honors and advantages of Christendom.  There is no more prudent time to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Evangelical Christians have no automatic right to have their views preferred to thsoe of others.  Nor do we have a duty to try to impose Biblical morality on public life by force of law.  We are in a new social situation in which the religious identity markers are losing their meaning in non-religious society.  But why should we be afraid?  If we are called to live as a minority in a society that no longer pays Christianity any particular respect then so be it.  The early church lived in such a society and flourished.  Christian churches live in such societies today and thrive.