Green Party’s shocking decision as it expels Christian councillor

Christina Summers, who is a member of Brighton and Hove City Council, the UK’s only Green Party council, has been dismissed from the Green Group of councillors over her views on same-sex marriage which she expressed during in a free vote.

As the Telegraph reported back in July, Miss Summers was ordered to face a party disciplinary panel after voicing dissent over the issue:

She was the only member of the council, which prides itself on its progressive values, to vote against a motion in support of the Government’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry at a meeting last week.

Miss Summers, 50, a devout Christian, says that she strongly supports gay rights and the introduction of civil partnerships could not back the change to marriage laws on religious grounds.

She argued that equality did not require changing the traditional definition of marriage and told colleagues it was a matter of “freedom of speech” for her in a party which does not applying a whipping system in the council in votes on matters of conscience.

But following her speech, fellow Green councillors voted to launch an “official inquiry process” into her stance, accusing her of bringing the party into disrepute.

The rest of the article goes on to talk about a previous run-in Miss Summers had earlier in the year with fellow councillors on abortion issues and the negative treatment she received as a result.

Last week Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance called on the Green Party’s new leader, Natalie Bennett to address the issue as a matter of urgency.  With the results of the disciplinary panel’s findings still to be announced he called on the Green Party to prove that it is inclusive and capable of governing for all the people of the UK:

“It is indicative of serious problems with the constitution of the party and shows a serious lack of thinking about what equality and diversity actually are. It also casts doubt on whether the party will be able to achieve their long-term goal of becoming a credible, mainstream influence in UK politics.

“A failure to exonerate Councillor Summers will effectively disbar Christians, Muslims and other religious people from Green politics, consigning the party to a future as a representative vehicle for an extremist minority.

“All the main political parties in the UK have Christian members, MPs, Peers and councillors who are opposed to the plans to redefine marriage. This valuing of diversity and the common commitment to democratic politics is a hallmark of our inclusive, plural society. If the Green Party wants to join this club and be taken seriously in British politics, it needs to present a far more mature view of equality and diversity. Otherwise, if it fails to support Councillor Summers, in order for voters to understand what they would be voting for, it will need to provide a very detailed, intellectually rigorous account of what it thinks equality actually is, and how freedom of conscience relates to it.”

Finally Brighton and Hove Green Party announced today (10th Sept) that Councillor Summers had been dismissed from the Green Group.  The announcement was apparently held off until after the party conference to avoid negative publicity according to Christian Concern who broke the news.  Miss Summers explained that her actions during the same-sex marriage vote were based on her Christian convictions, stating “I’m accountable to God above any political party”.  Following the news of her expulsion she said this:

“I have been waiting for weeks for my colleagues to make a clear and public decision. “They have no idea how much I have been wanting to say to them and how many emails, blogs and tweets from the wider party membership I wanted to refute and respond to. But there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.

“In view of the Green Party’s own special interpretation of equality, my expulsion from the Green Group of councillors should not, in the end, come as a surprise.

“Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel crestfallen. After at least two intimate years of campaigning and then serving together in administration, my own colleagues, who should know me well by now, have chosen to believe a lie. “Party policy, however vague, is sovereign”.

Christian Concern have also said that Councillor Summers is taking advice from the Christian Legal Centre over whether to seek a judicial review of the decision.  This seems an unnecessary action.  If all the reports quoted here are accurate then it would seem odd that Miss Summers would want to return to the Green Party.  The press is likely to have plenty to say, which will in turn draw attention to any failings in the Green party’s disciplinary processes.  A judicial review would only further draw this out.

In their statement the Brighton and Hove Green Party point out that this is not a faith issue.  They are correct in this as the inquiry was not directly about Miss Summers’ Christian faith.  As they rightly point out some Christians support same-sex marriage, but at the same time they attempted to force her to publicly agree with it.  Their actual reason for her expulsion was that she sought the support of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) which then publicly spoke out against Green Party policy on her behalf.

The Christian Legal Centre’s CEO, Andrea Williams clearly upset them in the CLC’s original press release by provocatively commenting that “The strong-arm tactics of the Green Party apparatchiks in this instance are disturbing” and drawing attention to some of the abusive messages Miss Summers had received. This public denunciation undoubtedly did provoke a reaction and made Miss Summers’ dismissal increasingly likely.   Unfortunately in their statement, the Brighton and Hove Green Party comes across as being unable to take on board negative criticism in a mature and responsible way and react appropriately.

To many the Green Party has had limited credibility in its attempt to place itself in mainstream politics.  Perceived single issue parties will always face this dilemma as they try to broaden their appeal to more voters.  What this case appears to expose is a failure of the Green party leadership to accept that not all of its members and supporters will have the same views that it dictates they should have.

This should be a major concern to Christians who support it, but just as much so to all its other supporters.  If the Green Party thinks intolerance along these lines is the way forward in politics then it risks losing its right to be listened to.

Things can go two ways now.  Either the party rectifies this intolerant decision or it accepts that it is not interested in working with those who cannot fully agree with it, which will sideline it for a long time to come.



Categories: Faith in society, Homosexuality, Party politics

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19 replies

  1. This article draws slightly different conclusions to me on the reasons for expulsion, having read the official B&H GP statement you link to. It says:
    “Speaking and voting against policy would not, of itself, be a matter for an internal inquiry.
    “This is not an issue of free speech. Nor is it a religious matter.
    “The Green Party is as welcoming of Christians as it is of any other faith; indeed, we have other Christians in our Green Group, not to mention a Christian Chief Executive and a Christian national party chair.
    “The panel … has concluded that, in relation not to her speech or vote in the council chamber or her sincerely held religious views, but in relation to her breach of her own written undertakings as a council candidate and her recent behaviour towards the party, she should be expelled from the Green Group of councillors”

    From this it seems fairly obvious that B&HGP were not annoyed that she voted against it, but that she broke a promise and briefed against her own party. I’d love to see other parties act so strongly against people who break their own pledges! I also don’t think any other party would put up with one of its Councillors publicly discrediting their own party. The actuall issue (of her religious belief) seems to have very little to with the reasoning, but her reaction to the issue is what influenced them

    • It’s a bit disingenuous of the Green Party to imply that Councillor Summers signed a pledge to advance gay marriage. She signed a declaration saying that she would uphold equality, and I imagine she would argue that she has done so by supporting the equal rights under law that civil partnerships offer to gay and lesbian couples, for example. I am sure that she felt that she could do so, whilst maintaining a definition of marriage that was consistent with her faith. ‘Equal’ does not necessarily mean ‘same’.

      Although the Green Party itself has been careful about how they frame their response, individual members have been vitriolic in some instances. Perhaps this is the reason that she felt the need for legal representation.

      In a multicultural society, it is expected that our political parties will reflect the diversity of the society they seek to serve and represent. A ‘grown up’ party should be big enough to accomodate a range of views, whilst still advancing its own unique values – and the Green Party is very clear about what therse are in relation to the LGBT community. It is rather less clear now about what it means by other aspects of equality – the declaration signed by green Councillors also included the commitment to uphold equality regardless of religion.

    • I suspect the inquiry would not have taken place if they were not annoyed that she had voted against them. I initially wrote the post before the Brighton and Hove Green Party statement was issued, so I’ve now updated the post to take this into account. I think Ali sums it up well.

  2. Can’t help thinking there’s a certain irony here: once again it appears that conservative Christians want the freedom to discriminate against others (in this case, against the LGBT community) but get wound up when that discrimination rebounds and they find themselves on the receiving end. You could almost rewrite this entire post switching things around, substituting Church for Green Party, with someone in favour of marriage equality being kicked out of a conservative Christian group for refusing to toe the party line against marriage equality.

    Sorry guys, but you can’t have it both ways: if you want the freedom to discriminate, then you have to accept it too; and if you want to be truly like Jesus, you have to accept that standing up for your beliefs — however misguided those beliefs may or may not be — might just lead to being crucified. At what point did Jesus say take legal action against those you perceive to be persecuting you?

    Finally, let’s be clear about this: Ms Summers’ stance against marriage equality is by no means universal amongst Christians. The conservatives might be shouting the loudest, but there are many of us whose equally strongly held Christian convictions lead us to support marriage equality.

    • I wouldn’t want to be part of a church where people were made unwelcome if they supported same-sex marriage. If that’s your definition of what gets you into the God’s Kingdom and makes you a good Christian then you’re mistaken.

      The Green Party are entitled to their views and if you want to be a member then I if they insist you have to abide by those rules then so be it, but who wants to win the prize for being the most prejudiced? Christians need to learn to accept other’s views even if they don’t agree with them and so do political parties if they want those on the outside to take them seriously.

    • I don’t think anybody is claiming that all Christians agree on this issue. The point is that Miss Summers was making her decisions based on ‘traditional’ Christian teaching. If someone came to my house who’d explained that they were a traditional Jew, i wouldn’t serve them pork and say ‘not all Jews observe the food laws, so you’ve got no excuse for not eating that’.

      • On t’other hand, should an observant Jew enter a house where pork is served? Could be wrong, but can’t help feeling that in a way Miss Summers set and baited her own trap; strong convictions provoke strong reactions: somewhere down the line you have to decide whether your convictions are strong enough to withstand the flak when you air them. As Miss Summers herself has said, “there is a time to speak and a time to be silent” — perhaps she chose the wrong moment to speak?

        • I don’t really understand what you mean. Are you really suggesting that my Jewish friends shouldn’t come round to my house for dinner? I invite them round because I enjoy their company and we have a lot in common. I don’t rail at them for their ‘ignorant and bigoted views towards the gentiles’. Nobody can have everything in common. In this case we do not have pork in common.

          I also don’t understand what you’re getting at with Miss Summers. I imagine that she joined the Green Party because she shares many views in common with her colleagues – including that gay and straight couples should have equal access to services, jobs, some form of legal recognition (eg. civil partnership). She simply disagreed on this issue because of her views on the function of marriage within society. Are you seriously suggesting she should have just towed the party line and voted against her conscience or left?

          You always struck me as a reasonable man, Phil, but in your latest posts you’ve shown yourself to be as intolerant and contemptuous of different viewpoints as any other ‘liberal’ (you don’t even deserve the word) who claims to value tolerance and diversity.

        • Ha ha – love it, Liz: me, reasonable? You should ask my wife; she’ll be able to tell you some home truths. Pax: I don’t know who you are or whence your belligerence, but when my conversation partners resort to hurling abuse, I tend to take it as a good sign, evidence that I’m asking the right questions; and I’ll not abuse Gillan’s hospitality by responding in kind.

          How you and your Jewish neighbours relate to one another is your affair: you brought them into the conversation and I’m content to leave the topic with you; but I’ll admit to being similarly baffled by what you’re getting at with Miss Summers by drawing that particular parallel, if parallel it is.

          Amongst conservatives, I’m a liberal; amongst liberals I’m a conservative: I wear no particular label, but if it helps you to pigeonhole me, feel free to try; but one thing I’m not inclined to tolerate is intolerance.

          Peace to you, sister, to Miss Summers and to all who seek peace.

        • Phil, there was nothing abusive in what I wrote. I have been genuinely surprised by some of the things you’ve written lately. There are two sides to this woman bishops thing. There are two sides to this marriage argument, yet you keep accusing people who disagree with you of discrimination and intolerance and suggesting that they don’t deserve a hearing because ‘I’m not inclined to tolerate intolerance’. I haven’t accused you of being abusive, so why are you so dismissive of me? I know what I said was a little harsh (I’ve been irritated by this ‘intolerance of intolerance’ thing and I took it out on you – I’m sorry). But here is the basis of liberal society or discussion – you come to the discussion with an understanding that two people of good faith can come to different conclusions for good reasons. You do not keep saying that they just don’t deserve to have a voice because their views are motivated by prejudice (which is based on the assumption that you’ve thought of every way of looking at the question, and they haven’t). After all, what was the outcome of this Green case? She was overwhelmingly outvoted and the party carried on with its support of same-sex marriage. Democracy at work. Where’s the problem?

        • You’re right, Phil. I shouldn’t have been so personal. I apologise. I hope you can take aboard my explanation of what it means to be a liberal society and ignore the rather heated way I expressed myself.

        • No worries, Liz: apology accepted. Puzzled, however, by this remark:

          … you keep accusing people who disagree with you of discrimination and intolerance and suggesting that they don’t deserve a hearing…

          I don’t recall having expressed myself in those terms, in particular, I don’t recall having argued that viewpoints other than my own don’t deserve a hearing: if that is how my comments have come over, then you, too, have my apologies — I’m all for dialogue; wouldn’t be here otherwise 🙂

  3. Its true that christians vary in their viewpoint on the issue of Same sex marriage. Whats interesting is that there is no actual material inequality, because civil partnerships offer the same legal protections as marriage. We are talking about a name and how that best describes the nature of marriage . Some will say that love commitment, loyalty, trust, are more important than any form of sexual expression and so take a grace position whilst others are more theological believing that God created man and women in order to create new life and that new physical life and the idea of Christ being the groom and the church his bride equates to a born again spiritual life so in that sense we cannot ignore Gods plan. The law will decide and the church as an organisation will have to hold a position also. Whatever we do lets not talk about sin because we are all sinners. We should respect people wherever they are coming from on this issue in the same way we should respect Gay people. We are not here to judge and we should be confident that God decides what is required to commune with him. I think the green party decision is terrible and coercive and i hate it. I am not aware of anybody being dispelled from a political party for being gay ( i may be wrong on this ) and those churches who do not welcome gay people are not really churches in my view. Crushing peoples honestly held view in this way though is anti democratic. Today its religious views. What will it be tomorrow ? For me its more about the principles by which we conduct democracy.

  4. As an Evangelical Christian who is a member of the Green Party (and who has supported Councillor Summers in online debate on the issue), I thought I’d comment.

    Firstly, nothing has happened to her yet. The Green group still has to vote on the proposed sanction..

    Nobody in the party has an issue with a Green councillor speaking or voting against party policy, as long as they make it clear that they are going against party policy, and that it is made clear what party policy is.

    There are two issues that people within the party seem to have. The first is the equality pledge she signed. I’ve not seen the text, but quite a lot of people seem to think that it explicitly included support for gay marriage (they’ve tended to use the term “equal marriage”). If it did contain that wording, then she broke that pledge, and the sanction proposed would be entirely fair – she would have been selected as a candidate on the basis of a pledge she did not intend to keep.

    Secondly, there are claims that she went against the party’s philosophical basis, which upholds the principle of equality on the grounds of both sexual orientation and religion. There are a lot of people who seem to think that equality of sexual orientation must necessarily mean support for gay marriage, and that any other view is bigoted and homophobic. I’ve yet to see them come up with a coherent answer to the question of how taking disciplinary action against a party member for expressing and voting on a religious belief is compatible with equality of religion. If Councillor Summers challenges the ruling, then it will presumably have to be on that basis.

    Finally, the post describes the Greens as a “single issue party”. That is not, and has never been, the case. Go back to the party’s foundation nearly 40 years ago (as “PEOPLE”), and you’ll find an awful lot of non-environmental policy in their political program. And it’s even less true today, when the party is basically staking out its claim to the political territory that was occupied by Old Labour back when it still existed.

    • Thanks Stephen. I was hoping you would comment on this. Apologies for calling the Green Party a single issue party. I acknowledge that it is not and have changed the wording slightly. I do think that many people still believe this to be the case.

      i am saddened that people who want to get involved in the Green Party may feel they are no longer able to do so if official party policy goes against some of their views. Pledges should not be broken (although look at the Lib Dems and university fees), but if the equalities wording not sufficiently clear, then Christina Summers has been unfairly dismissed. Whether it would be wise for her to challenge the ruling is another matter and she should be clear in her mind what she is trying to achieve if she decides on that course of action.

      • The (relevant bits of) the pledge Christina Summers signed up to are on an FAQ page from the Brighton and Hove Green Party, and they mention nothing about marriage, but only about equality based on sexual orientation (and other characteristics). The claim being made is that opposition to same-sex marriage is in itself an attack on equality based on sexual orientation. I’ve contested this here.

        The decision of the Green group of councillors hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s difficult to see how they could do other than part ways with Cllr Summers. Even if they decide that they were wrong about their interpretation of equality, and that opposition to the specific policy on same-sex marriage does not equate to opposition to the party’s core principles (as expressed in the pledge), and even if they offer a full apology and acknowledge that her actions on 19 July were acceptable, it’s still the case that Cllr Summers has become one of Christian Concern’s celebrity victims (of the “strong-arm tactics of the Green Party apparatchiks”, to quote their less-than-conciliatory press release of 27 July), and it’s hard to see how the Green group would want to welcome her back on that basis.

        • Thank you Anthony. I read your blog post when I was researching this piece and I would recommend others read it too – it is an excellent article from someone who has a good understanding of what happened.

          I too doubt that things can be reconciled. I wonder if Christina had mentally made this decision when she called in the Christian Legal Centre’s help. Certainly Andrea Williams’ comments suggested that reconciliation was not something they were interested in and given Christian Concern’s history and reputation, the Green Group where highly unlikely to respond to such a move without feeling the need to defend their actions and deflect the blame back onto Miss Summers and seek to have her removed.

        • I can’t help wondering if Christina would have been expelled had she been a gay man or a lesbian. It is a mistake to think that certain gay rights campaigners represent all gay people, anymore than ‘White Power’ or the English Defence League represents all white people. Not all gays and lesbians believe in gay marriage – but how often are their voices being heard?

          Frankly the concept of equality in respect to matters of sex and sexuality – some 60 years after Kinsey – ought to be questioned as people are far more diverse and complex than simple labels. Sexuality is in fact the one area where all people are unequal – what is right for one person is completely wrong for another.

          More pertinently in the political sphere, to have expelled a person for expressing an opinion and acting on conscience really is a sad thing in a supposedly democractic party and in society in general . One cannot but wonder if the Green Party may be heading back to its authoritarian roots, in the early 1970s when as the Ecology Party it was anti-immigrant and favoured population control, part of a right wing survivalist mentality.

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