Statism and Christianity
Statism is the term given to a form of government that involves significant state intervention in personal, moral, social, educational or economic matters. It finds its extreme form in enforced communism or in fascism such as that which existed in Italy during the rule of Benito Mussolini. In such cases it usually manifests itself as a single-party state which has strict regimentation of all aspects of national life. In such states, the individual's rights tend to be disregarded in favour of the exclusive interests of the nation. North Korea is an example of such a totalitarian state. China also falls into this category, as do some countries on the African continent.
There are many other countries, however, which, while not embracing fascism or communism, favour concentrating control to a significant degree in the hands of a highly centralised government. This is true of the present Labour Government in Britain. The increasing involvement of the Westminster Government in the personal life of its citizens, particularly in regard to areas of morality and religion, has caused disquiet amongst many people, particularly evangelical Christians. In some instances they have seen their freedom to live their lives in a God-honouring way being gradually eroded by the enactment of laws which conflict with that which the Bible teaches. As far as Christians are concerned these laws fall, broadly speaking, into four categories, and these, together with examples of each category, are as follows:
1. The State 'legalising' or 'promoting' activities that God forbids
Abortion The Abortion Act of 1967 has permitted 6.7 million unborn children to be murdered in the United Kingdom since its enactment. Now there are over 200,000 abortions every year in England, Scotland and Wales, which is approximately 1 in 5 of all pregnancies.
Animal-human hybrids The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, although not yet law, permits the creation of human-animal embryos for the hypothetical benefit of ultimately assisting in the treatment of serious diseases and injuries. This effectively blurs the distinction between humans, who are made in the image of God, and the rest of the animal kingdom who are not. An article in the Edinburgh Evening News referred to such hybrids as an 'in vitro version of bestiality'.
Homosexuality Homosexuality was first legalised in Great Britain in 1967, and since then much more legislation has been brought forward to promote homosexuality as an 'alternative lifestyle'. For example, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 allows homosexual couples to adopt children on the same basis as married couples. In 2006 the Sexual Orientation Regulations were introduced which require providers of goods, facilities and services to promote homosexuality (e.g. requiring wedding photographers to cover civil partnership ceremonies and obligating guesthouses to provide double beds for same sex couples).
Divorce The Divorce Reform Act 1969legalised the 'no-fault' divorce. Prior to that the United Kingdom law reflected the biblical position that divorce could only be allowed on limited grounds. In 1973 a 'special procedure' was introduced to allow divorce to be applied for by post just as if you were applying for a passport.
Sunday Trading The Sunday Trading Act 1993 allowed superstores to open for business for six hours on the Lord's Day. This has been subsequently extended to allow traders to open for more than six hours.
2. The State 'forbidding' or 'attacking' that which God's Word commands
Physical punishment of children The Bible makes it clear that it is sometimes necessary for parents to use physical punishment on their children (Proverbs 13:24). The Children Act (2004) restricted the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' and makes illegal any smack that leaves more than a transitory mark on a child's skin. This restricts the freedom of parents to
discipline their children. The Children's Commissioners across the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland) are campaigning to make it illegal for parents to smack their own children.
Capital punishment for murder The Murder Act 1965 abolished capital punishment for murder despite the fact that the sanction which God's Word prescribes for murder is capital punishment (Genesis 9:5,6; Romans 13:1 - 7).
3. The State 'restricting' free speech and freedom of conscience
Religious Incitement Legislation In 2006 Parliament passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Amongst other things this legislation restricts the freedom to criticise other religions. A 'free speech' clause, which was inserted in the Bill against the Government's wishes, makes it unlikely that pulpit denunciation of false teaching will be caught out. But the very existence of this legislation is a restriction. At present this legislation applies only to England and Wales.
Homophobic Incitement There has been a tendency recently in western nations for reasonable disapproval of homosexuality to be labelled as homophobic hatred. In 2004 Pastor Ake Green of Borgholm, Sweden, was convicted of homophobic hatred and sentenced to one month in prison after he preached a sermon in his own church in which he described homosexuality as sinful. His sentence was appealed and it was overturned. In June 2008 Pastor Stephen Boisson of Alberta, Canada, was fined $7,000 and ordered not to publish any 'disparaging' remarks about homosexuals in newspapers, on radio, on internet, and in public speeches. This was the verdict of Alberta's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission which prosecuted Pastor Boisson after he wrote a letter to a newspaper complaining about gay rights reading books in schools. Iris Robinson MLA has been subject to a police investigation after she said on a radio interview that the practice of homosexuality was an abomination. In the recent Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill public criticism of homosexuality could have been regarded as a criminal offence but for the inclusion at the last moment of a 'free speech clause' despite opposition from the Government and the Liberal Democrats to such a clause.
Transsexualism In 2003 Maesteg Christian Centre was taken to court after a man who had undergone a 'sex change' operation began attending their church and insisted on using the ladies' toilets and attending the ladies' meetings. The eldership refused the man access to these facilities and he tried unsuccessfully to sue them.
4. The State trying to 'control' what people think
Education The State seeks to control the minds of our young people by, for example, teaching that evolution is the only reasonable explanation for the origin of species. This is really a form of indoctrination of our children. In October 2007, the Council of Europe released the 'Provisional edition' of Resolution 1580 'The dangers of creationism in education'. This resolution urged the member states, and especially their education authorities to (amongst other things):
-firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion
-promote the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory in the school curricula" .
In Great Britain the Religious Education syllabus does not involve teaching creationism, but rather teaching the central tenets of major world faiths. At the same time the teaching of evolution is compulsory in publicly funded schools. We are thankful, however, that in Northern Ireland the R.E. syllabus is still Bible-based and thus provides Christian teachers with the opportunity to teach the principles of the Christian faith.
The Government is also promoting the use of pro-homosexual reading books in schools, including Sissy the Duckling, Daddy's Roommate and King and King. Moves are also under way to promote multi-faith Religious Education. Recently two schoolboys in Stoke-on-Trent were given detention after they refused to take part in Muslim prayers. The RE teacher handed out prayer mats and asked the boys to wear Muslim headgear and pray to Allah.
How then should the Christian react to such State intervention in matters of morality and religion? The writer believes that the following biblical principles should help guide our thinking and subsequently the action which we are led to take on these very important matters.
Civil governments are ordained by God. Romans 13:lb states, 'The authorities that exist have been established by God.' There is no ambiguity about this statement. All authorities, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, totalitarian or democratic, are divinely ordained.
Civil governments are responsible under God for:
- Restraining and punishing the evildoer (Romans 13:3,4; 1 Peter 2:14)
- Enacting just laws (Isaiah 10: 1)
- Treating the workforce fairly (Colossians 4: 1)
- Maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed (Psalm 82:3)
Christians are required to pray for their rulers. Paul in 1 Timothy 2: 1&2 emphasises the importance of this when he states, '1 urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.' Paul recognised that those who rule over us need to be guided in what they do. Thus we can hardly criticise governments for their actions if we do not pray for them that they will be guided by God to make just laws. To do so would be hypocritical.
Governments have a right to require their citizens to conform outwardly to the just laws that they introduce. In response to a question about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus said, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's' (Mark 12:17). Caesar was the legal ruler. It was his head that was on the coin. As ruler he was responsible, amongst other things, for providing a semblance of law and order in the land and the citizens had a responsibility to pay their legal dues for this service. Peter emphasised this teaching in 1 Peter 2:13 - 15 when he said, 'Submit yourselves to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.' Paul makes an even stronger statement in Romans 13:1-7; the opening verses of this passage read as follows, 'Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. '
Governments have no right to require their citizens to comply with laws that are contrary to God's Word. Governments are ordained by God and therefore, by requiring citizens to do something which is contrary to God's Law, they are going outside their remit and into areas over which they have no jurisdiction. Mark 12: 17 makes this clear, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.' While citizens have a God-given right to refuse to do what is contrary to God's Law they may, nevertheless, suffer punishment from an ungodly government for doing so. The prophet, Daniel, was a case in point. He refused to obey the decree of Darius, the king, to refrain from praying to God, and as a consequence was cast into the lions' den (Daniel 6:16). However, those governments who punish their citizens for failure to obey laws, which are contrary to God's Law, will have to answer to God for their behaviour. Isaiah writes in chapter 10: 1, 'Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees'.
While Governments require outward compliance with their laws they have no right to demand inward compliance. J G Vos puts it well when he states, 'Human laws demand outward conformity of conduct only, not conformity of thoughts, desires, beliefs, emotions etc.' It is enough for man to comply with the outward requirements of civil law. He does not necessarily need to be convinced in his mind of the value of the law. Only God can require both our outward and inward compliance with his Laws. We must be careful, therefore, not to be influenced by propaganda aimed at conditioning our minds where this is in direct contradiction to the Word of God.
Summary & Conclusion
This article has demonstrated that not only have governments passed laws which are contrary to God's Law, but they will also seek to influence the thinking of their citizens on moral issues. While, as Christians, we have a duty to pray for our governments, we have also a responsibility to witness to them through private and public ways to alert them about their responsibilities to God. 'For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure' (Proverbs 11:14). Inactivity is not an option. We must ensure that our young people are taught well the tenets of the Christian faith so that they will recognise false teaching when confronted by it. We have also a responsibility to write to our Members of Parliament, MLAs., etc. as well as the appropriate Government Department when laws are being enacted which are contrary to God's Law.
The writer would like to thank the Christian Institute, and in particular its Northern Ireland representative, Callum Webster, for all the help and suggestions made in the writing of this article.