The State we are in
A revolution is taking place in our country. The government has not been overthrown but much of our social order has – mainly thanks to government and other arms of the state. Because its pace has been slow this revolution perhaps feels more like an evolution but the consequences are just as dramatic in the end.
We certainly need the state. The civil power was instituted by God after the fall for man’s temporal good, its chief mandate being to restrain sin in society. God has placed the sword of justice in the hand of the civil magistrate in order that he should punish sin: “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Rom. 13:4)
The church is exhorted to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority” to the end “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1,2). Our desire as Christians is that there would be such conditions in our country that will enable us to carry out our calling to worship the Lord according to His Word and to proclaim the gospel of Christ to our fellow men. In our own country therefore the government should frame righteous laws, parliament should pass them and the courts should administer them rigorously and fairly.
The problem with governments, whatever their political colour, is that they are rarely satisfied with their appointed role. They want to extend their responsibilities and increase their reach. They want to pursue their philosophies, implement their schemes and fulfil their dreams for the betterment of the world. The state has become messianic in character and our modern politicians, judges, administrators and ‘experts’ of every kind see themselves as our saviours. By now most people receive welfare from the state in some form or other and have become accustomed to looking to government for answers to their problems.
The passion for power on the part of government includes the desire to regulate everything, including the individual, the family and even the church. After the Reformation the church in Scotland had a lengthy struggle against Erastianism, the doctrine that the state has supremacy over the church even in purely ecclesiastical matters. While our reformers honoured civil government as a divine ordinance they resisted every attempt at state interference in what belonged properly to the church alone. The way things are going it seems that this battle will have to be fought again.
What a state we are in – in every sense of the phrase! Some topical issues illustrate the spiritual blindness which has come over us as a nation and just how out of touch with our Christian heritage our civil rulers are. On 20th November a bill to legalise same-sex marriage cleared the first of its three hurdles in the Scottish Parliament by a vote of 98 to 15 (with 5 abstentions). Unless something very remarkable happens the bill will become law next year with the first same-sex marriages being conducted in 2015. Such is the moral state we are in that there are few speaking out against what is happening: many think that there is no point for the die is cast; most simply do not care very much.
We really do wonder at the mindset of those who are promoting this bill. We feel sure that they are not being guided by the Bible, history, reason or even common sense. Their favourite (their only?) mantra seems to be ‘equality’, at the sound of which we are all meant to bow down and submit ourselves. But how can something which is not marriage be equal with that which actually is marriage? Only if marriage is redefined to mean what it has never ever meant in all human history. The redefinition is a futile exercise because marriage was invented by God and its boundaries are set by Him in the Scriptures. It is a foolish exercise too because to enter the sham marriages which will result will only add to the misery of those whose determination is to defy God.
Bed and Breakfast
Last week the UK Supreme Court dismissed a final appeal by a Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull of Cornwall, against a ruling which ordered them to pay damages to two homosexuals who tried to book a double room at their home which they ran as a bed and breakfast business. It was their policy, according to their biblical beliefs, to only allow married couples to share a double bed. They wanted the court to grant a “reasonable accommodation” of their religious beliefs but all five judges said that their policy amounted to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: three believed it to be direct discrimination and two indirect discrimination which, they said, was not justified in this case.
The lead decision was given by the Deputy President of the court, Lady Hale, the most senior female judge in UK history. Thirty years ago, while a lecturer in Law and a part-time barrister, Hale noted that “family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage or any other union.” She forecast (correctly as it has turned out) that the “piecemeal erosion” of the distinction between the married and the unmarried could be expected to continue and concluded that we should be discussing “whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purposes.”
With the law having adopted this attitude to marriage it is unsurprising that the Bull’s sincerely-held views – “We are just ordinary Christians who believe in the importance of marriage as the union of one man and one woman... These beliefs are not based on hostility to anyone” – counted for nothing. A spokesman for the Christian Institute commented: “Lady Hale effectively said gay rights are almost untouchable because of the rulings by European judges.” So the Supreme Court has once again toed a line set by courts beyond our borders. Is the UK really a sovereign state any more?
Last week also saw the publication of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Scottish independence, entitled Scotland’s Future. At the launch the First Minister Alex Salmond said: “We do not seek independence as an end in itself, but as a means to change Scotland for the better.” What the government thinks that “better” should be must be gauged from the contents of the White Paper. Discerning the detail will take time as the document runs to 649 pages.
One thing is clear however from a quick search of the document: while considerable information is provided on such everyday things as childcare and pensions (bus services and even the Eurovision Song Contest get a mention too) there is very little on the key constitutional questions. On the monarchy we have this: “Scotland will be a constitutional monarchy for as long as the people of Scotland wish us to be so.” On religion the sum total appears to be this: “We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or of Scotland’s churches.” On the crucial matter of the interplay between the monarchy and religion we have this: “An independent Scottish Government will promote, and support amongst the Commonwealth States with the Queen as Head of State, a [similar] measure to remove religious discrimination from the succession rules.”
The Treaty of Union (1707) and associated legislation guarantees the preservation not only of a Protestant monarchy but also of distinctive Scottish institutions such as the legal system and Presbyterian establishment. It does so “in all time coming”. Scotland’s Future sounds a much less certain note and we hope that there will yet be a serious focus on these important areas. If the Treaty of Union is dissolved (and there must be a legal question as to whether its provisions can in fact be set aside) and everything is made subject to “the will of the people” (or more likely the will of their elected representatives) then in reality everything is up for grabs.
We are very aware that there are some among those pushing for independence who want to dispense with the monarchy and an established religion and transform Scotland into a secular republic. At present Christians can say that in their beliefs and behaviour they are being consistent with what our country stands for according to its constitution, whereas our government, parliament and courts increasingly are not. If our Christian constitution is changed into a secular one then the situation will of course be reversed. That is the state we could be in, although we hope and pray that it will not be. Time alone will tell.