The Church must not let the State shape its understanding of right and wrong
I hesitate to rush to judgement, and I am always reluctant to criticise other church leaders publicly, but I must admit that I was more than disappointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's latest response to the same-sex marriage legislation. In fact disappointed hardly begins to describe my feelings; despair might be a more accurate description.
I listened to the Archbishop talking on Radio 4 and could hardly believe my ears when I heard him suggesting that the issue was now settled and we simply have to "accept" the new law and move on. It seemed to me that he was encouraging us to roll over and submit rather than fight the good fight of faith.
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting we engage in acts of civil disobedience. I am fully committed to the traditional Biblical understanding that Christians should do all they can to obey the law and to honour those who have been given authority over them. But I would argue that it is one thing to respect a law and quite another to accept it. If I accept a particular law it means I agree with its basic premise and like many, many others I have to say that this much celebrated law is at odds with both the natural order and Biblical truth. For these reasons I cannot, and will not accept it.
We do not need leaders who advocate unconditional surrender, we need spiritual leaders who are will to be prophetic in the way that Jeremiah was. He knew his people had turned their backs on God and would reap a bitter harvest as a result. And as so often his listeners turned on the messenger but Jeremiah knew what he had to do, and did it at great personal cost.
We need leaders who are willing to do all they can to protect God's people from the potential consequences of this assault on our religious liberty too. The Sunday Times made much of this in an article that focused on the official guidance drawn up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and civil servants.
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Businesses will be in breach of the law if they refuse to take part in gay weddings, and churches, religious organisations and other groups could lose their contracts with publicly funded bodies. And chillingly, chaplains working in prisons, hospitals and other public bodies could be asked their views at job interviews in the knowledge that "a chaplain's views on marriage of same sex couples could be relevant to recruitment and employment" (EHRC guidance).
To be blunt we need lions willing to roar on our behalf not "toothless tigers" that are willing to let the state shape our understanding of what is right and what is wrong. The apostle Paul summed it up well when he wrote: "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity." (Romans 12.1-2 MSG)
And of course we need leaders who are eager to inspire a movement for change; leaders who believe that we really do have divine power to demolish strongholds. We need not give up in despair; the core assumptions of society can be changed. Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect proved that in the early 19th century on the issue of abolishing slavery. If we believe God's laws are both good in themselves and make for a happier more, fulfilling life we dare not settle down for an easy life. That would lead to increasing irrelevance and even greater numerical decline.
In 1612 Thomas Helwys founded the first Baptist Church on English soil at Spitafields just outside the city of London. Helwys had returned from the safety of exile in Holland because "thousands of ignorant souls in our own country were perishing for lack of instruction". And in the same year he published a 200-page treatise which proved to be the first demand in England for universal religious liberty – for freedom of conscience for all. It cost him his freedom and four years later he was dead. That's the kind of leadership the British church needs today if it is to be the salt and light Jesus expects it to be. I wonder who will be willing to provide it.