This is my talk from the Out of the Silent Church Conference – Solas Day 22nd November 2014 given at St Peters Church in Dundee. There are some additions and changes. The full talk will soon be available online or on DVD. It was a great day…..I believe this is a really important subject and would value your input and responses. If you think it is worthwhile please pass it on…
It is vital that Christians ‘understand the times’ because only then are we able to relate the Good News to those who live in those times. Of the many issues that are important for us to grasp there is one that I think is key. It is one of the great idols of our culture – the mantra of ‘equality’. I wonder how many of you have had to undergo ‘equality and diversity’ training? When people in the UK were asked if they supported Same Sex Marriage, the majority tended to say no, but once the question was changed to ‘are you for equal marriage’ the majority in opinion polls said yes – after all who wants to be against equality?! Sadly too many Christians have reacted against this and end up saying ‘we are opposed to equality’. I want to show that equality is a Christian virtue that stems from Christian roots and as such, we need to stand up for real equality and not the Orwellian Animal Farm version that is the mantra of our ‘liberals’ in todays culture.
1. What is equality? –
“The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities:” (OED)
Equal = “Being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value:”
Equality is ensuring individuals or groups of individuals are treated fairly and equally and no less favourably, specific to their needs, including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. Promoting equality should remove discrimination in all of the aforementioned areas. (Edinburgh University).
“Equality is about ‘creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’ (DoH, 2004). By eliminating prejudice and discrimination, the NHS can deliver services that are personal, fair and diverse and a society that is healthier and happier.” – NHS
This all sounds so good. Of course it is hypocritical and does not work out in practice. Does Edinburgh University really treat 12 year olds the same way they would treat 40 year olds? What happens when ‘equalities’ clash? Would they discriminate against me because of my religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman?
Today our new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has declared, “I will consign gender inequality to history”. We wish her well. But she should be careful. Is gender equality just about equal pay, or having an equal number of men and women in the cabinet, is it not also about the sexual objectification of women? What about gender based abortion? When women’s bodies are no longer used to sell cars then perhaps we might be moving towards gender equality. Cancelling gender inequality is a great principle but can it happen by legislation? Surely it is a question of attitude of the heart as much as legislation by the law?
2) The way equality is used in society today-
The Secular Humanists want all religions to be treated equally and given equal treatment. Does that not sound great? It is until you start to think about what it really means. Do you really think the Cargo, Cult, Westboro Baptists, ISIS and the Jedi Knights should all be treated the same as the Catholic Church, the Free Presbyterians and the Church of Scotland? They want all religions to be equally marginalised, equally treated badly and equally put underneath the secular humanist philosophy.
In Scotland we have The Equality Network – what do they campaign for? Economic justice? Religious equality? No they are a government lobby group, set up by the government in order to lobby the government to do what the government had already decided to do – only on issues of sexuality. Stonewall are another organisation who use the mantra of ‘equality’ in order to further their own particular agenda. They will not be satisfied until they have argued, bullied and cajoled the whole of society into their views. Did you think it ended with SSM? For them SSM is not the end – just another step on the road to the eradication of all gender and sexual distinctives. That is not equality and diversity. It is Oneness of the worst kind.
The irony is that in a society where equality is deemed to be a core value we are becoming more and more unequal.
Inequality in Wealth – In the early days of the Church, the capital of the empire, Rome was a place where the wealthy bathed in gold baths filled with asses milk, whilst people were starving in the streets, unwanted children were killed and sexual perversity meant that the poor were exploited and used for prostitution. That’s not today’s culture? Really? Last week I was flying up from London and read in the Flybe magazine of an £11 million flat in London where a £20,000 TV is not enough, it must have a private cinema. Banker Geoffrey Loque sued his house builders, because ‘I don’t want cream lacquer cabinets in my kitchen. No way, it looks like IKEA”. He won £4 million. A company called Lapicida have a bath you can purchase, carved out of rock crystal that costs £500,000. They are planning another one carved out of rose crystal for £2 million. There are wristwatches that sell for £250,000. In Spain the board of Caja Madrid the Savings Bank used phantom credit cards to spend 15 million euros on personal expenses – the chairman alone spent €10,000 on wine. Todays Scotsman has a main article on why the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. The fact is that as we retreat from Christian values and talk more about equality, we are becoming a more unequal society.
Inequality in Marriage – What is the fasting growing inequality in the nation today? Fraser Nelson in The Spectator recently wrote a fascinating article on the inequality in marriage. Ironic when you consider that our liberals argued that SSM was equal marriage. Fraser points out that when he was born over 93% of children were born in marriage – excluding immigrants that is now down to 50%. Co-habitation does not work as well as marriage – “today the average British 15 year old is more likely to have a smartphone in their pocket than a father in the house”. The Office for National Statistics stated in 2001 that those in the top tax bracket were 24% more likely to be married. Now its 48%. Nine in ten new parents in the top tax bracket are married. For those at the bottom its 50%. The rich are more likely to marry the rich. Talk about killing social mobility! Meanwhile it is the poorest who are most affected by family breakdown. Less than one in ten married parents have split by the time the child is five. A third of unmarried parents do so. The reality is that the middle class liberalism of the late 1960’s does not mean freedom and equality for the poor – it just allows the rich, as in the Roman Empire, to indulge their own fantasies and sins, often at the expense of the poor.
Inequality in religion – “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion, in practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it” GK Chesterton By treating all religious views ‘equally’, except their own, the militant Secularists are creating a great inequality.
Inequality in Education – Trinity Christian School in Reading is a small independent school that is doing very well. In November 2013 it was rated excellent by Ofsted, the government inspectors, for pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. However in October of this year following another inspection it was deemed to not be meeting the Department of Education requirements. Because of the Equality Act of 2010 they were told they should ‘actively promote’ other faiths and the principles of the Act including protected characteristics (including gender reassignment, sexual orientation and civil partnership). Now we have an extraordinary case where a good Christian school is threatened with closure because it refused to have an Imam come and promote Islam. Does anyone seriously think that the West can survive against Islam when its own liberals are willing to commit such suicide?! Meanwhile in our culture the rich can send their children to the best private schools – often with a Christian ethos whilst the poor are left with state social engineering and platitudes. In Solas we are looking at what we can practically do about this. The bottom line is that we are not going to get equality in education through a state education system that excludes Christianity or demands that we promote Islam!
Inequality in politics, philosophy and ethics – Christ Church College in Oxford this week cancelled a debate on abortion in order to ‘protect the mental and physical well being of the students’. In Dundee the students association banned the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child from having a stall at freshers fair. Douglas Schreiber, vice-president of DUSA, said SPUC’s last stall had literary material and foetal models that were “highly offensive”.
He added: “We have students on campus who have had abortions in the past and there was clearly some distress felt by a number of the students that attended the fayre surrounding this issue. “The students largely do not want anything to do with a group that promotes the removal of rights over bodily autonomy for over half the student population that attend this university.” Is this really what we have come to in our ‘equal’ society – that our students are so weak and dumbed down that they need to be protected from views which go against the establishment elites?
Herein lies a great danger – last month the Chinese writer Jung Chang spoke in Dundee. In her book on Mao she tells the story of Marshal Peng De-Huai who openly admired the concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He advocated ancient Chinese ethical codes such as ‘A prince and a man in the street are equal before the law’ and ‘do not do to others what you don’t want done to yourself’. (The silver rule – as opposed to the Golden Rule of Christ). Mao responded by saying, ‘my principle is exactly the opposite – do to others precisely what I don’t want done to myself”! Although Secular Humanists would deny this and maintain that they too uphold the golden rule, the reality is that the social darwinianism of secular humanism ultimately leads down this road. This is ultimately where secularism without Christ leads us.
The Biblical view of equality….
Let us turn now to the biblical view of equality. At this stage I want to mention two books that I regard as invaluable. The first is Vishnal Mangalwadi’s The Book the Made your World – How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation. The second is Larry Siedentop’s – Inventing the Individual – The Origins of Western Liberalism. This latter book in particular demonstrates how the modern concept of equality rose out of Christianity. At the core of Greek/Roman/Pagan thinking was the idea of natural inequality. Today it is simply the truth that equality cannot fit with a Darwinian concept of humanity and morality. To try and fit survival of the fittest, with the equality of all is like trying to make a square circle.
We are not all equal in terms of gifts, wealth, backgrounds and so on. We are diverse. Incredibly diverse. Do we all have equal quality? It is obvious that we do not. So how do we get equality when inequality is the natural way? Inequality is the way of social Darwinianism. The strong replace the weak in order for the species to survive.
This is where Christianity comes in. We are all equal in this sense:
1) We are all equally made in the image of God – Proverbs 22: 2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
Genesis 1: 27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
2) We are all equally sinners – there is moral equality – Romans 3: 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
3) We all live in an unequal and unjust world – There are so many bible verses that point this out –just in case we are blind enough not to see.
Isaiah 10: 10 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
4) We will all equally stand one day before our Maker in judgement. Acts 17: Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
Once we grasp this teaching and apply it, it has a radical impact on the whole culture
a) In the Church our relationship with Christ transcends all our other relationships and equalises everything. Galatians 3: 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The Church is the most radical organisation ever known to man. There is equality and diversity. Paul in 2 Corinthians 7 and 8 talks about giving that there may be equality. ‘From each according to his means to each according to his needs’ is not originally from The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, but from the Bible!
The trouble is when the church takes on the world’s definition of equality and as a result ends up making secondary issues the main ones and appearances key. The bible teaches that men and women are equally made in the image of God. Of course there is misogyny in the church, because we are all sinners. But all Christians should be feminists. I was proud the day my wife was called a kneejerk feminist, by a Neanderthal Christian! We should all wear the t-shirt and more importantly should all have the heart attitude – men and women are equal. However that does not mean that if women are to be equal then they have to be able to perform the same functions as men, or vice versa. That is based on a notion of hierarchy in the church that is simply wrong. And it refuses to recognise the complementarity and diversity.
Likewise when someone comes and says I’m gay so I can’t be equal. Yes you can. You are equally under the Word of God. You are equally a sinner. You equally stand in need of Christ. You are equally invited. It’s a different paradigm, a different perspective. If you think the church is there to reflect the culture then of course you will get that wrong.
b) Culture – The Christian view of equality radically affects the culture. It teaches that we are all ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’. There is a lovely documentary film, To Kiss the Water, about Megan Boyd from Brora. She was a simple ordinary woman, with a great gift. She was probably the best fly-fishing tyer in the world. Prince Charles often popped in to get his ‘flies tied’. She made him sit in the same chair as everyone else and treated him exactly the same. He loved it. She was awarded the CBE but wrote a letter to the Queen which began ‘Dear Elizabeth’ and went on to explain that she couldn’t come down to the ceremony because she had her dog to look after and she had bingo on a Saturday night! She was not being disrespectful or revolutionary, but she was just reflecting the radical Christian attitude she had been brought up with. There is only one Lord – Jesus Christ. Actually maybe the recognition ‘Jesus is Lord’ is revolutionary?! Siedentop asks “was it an accident that women and even slaves also played an important part in the growth of Christianity, and that, through them, it spread into the upper classes? The Christian movement gained from being marginal. The offer of dignity through belief in the Christ did not openly challenge patriarchy or servitude. But it offered self-respect. A moral revolution was under way.”
The American Declaration of Independence is a cornerstone of modern Western democracy – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. “ Our secular humanists cannot sign up to that because they do not believe there is a Creator. But for the Christian (and Muslim and Jew) all human beings are created, by a Creator. Our rights come from him. They are divine rights not human. If they are given by humans they can be taken away by humans. Samuel Rutherford the great Scottish covenanter wrote Lex Rex (the Law is King) not Rex Lex (the King is the Law). Modern atheist secularism leads to the inevitable replacement of God by the State, and the Law of God by the Law of the State (that is the law of whichever elites happen to govern it at the time). The law of God must be the basis of our law or our law will just be the law of man – Leviticus 19: 15 “ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
This is not a new issue. I love the way that the puritan John Flavel expresses it. – How falsely is the gospel charged as the cause of discord and trouble in the world. It is not light but darkness, that makes men fierce and cruel, as light increases, so doth peace……What a sad condition would the world be in without gospel-light! All places would be dens of rapine, and mountains of prey. Certainly we owe much of our civil liberty, and outward tranquillity to gospel-light. If a sword, or variance, at any time, follow the gospel, it is but an accidental, not a direct and proper effect of it.” (Flavel vol 1:p.372).
“It is not religion but lusts that make the world so unquiet, James 4:1-2. Not godliness, but wickedness, that makes men bite and devour one another. One of the first effects of the gospel, is to civilise those places where it comes, and settle order and peace among men. How great a mistake and evil then it is to cry out, when atheism and irreligion have broken the civil peace; this is the fruit of religion! This is the effect of the gospel! Happy would it be if religion did more obtain in all nations. It is the greatest friend in the world to their tranquillity and prosperity.” (Flavel, vol 1: p.381
1) We need a return to Christian Secularism
Liberalism and secularism in the best sense of the words have Christian roots. What we mean by that is the separation of church and state. In the Greco/Roman/Pagan era religion was the state. Now we are moving towards a situation where the state is the religion. We need a return to Christian secularism. Siedentop is again invaluable on this – ‘”If Europeans understand ‘secularism’ in the terms favoured by its critics – as mere consumerism, materialism and amorality – they lose touch with their own moral intuitions. They forget why they value freedom.” John Gray, the atheist philosopher is one of the most perceptive and honest of modern commentators. In an essay commemorating the fall of the Berlin wall he states – Far from being the natural condition of humankind, freedom is inherently fragile and will always be exceptional…….As it faces an increasingly disordered world, the greatest danger for the west comes from the groundless faith that history is on its side.
This kind of secular state, one based on Christian principles is the best for Christianity. Paul tells Timothy to make praying for political, secular leaders a priority in the church (is that true for your church?) – 1 Timothy 2: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Why? Because Christianity, unlike Islam, is not spread by force, but by persuasion.
2) We need an equal opportunity Gospel – to Hear, Believe, Proclaim and live the Gospel of the Risen Christ who along brings equality and freedom – not just for us but for the whole world.
6 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
The greatest need our society needs is to hear the word of the Lord and for people to come to Christ and be reborn. Again Siedentop – “Pauls solution – a paradoxical one to say the least – is that human autonomy can only be fully realised through submission, through submitting to the mind and will of God as revealed in the Christ. That act of submission is the beginning of a new creation. “
That’s what we need – a new creation. Legislation won’t bring racial, gender and economic equality. Why? Because of the human heart. Humans will always find a way to break or get round laws. We need to be changed. The heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart. The new birth changes everything. When people come to Christ society is changed; people don’t come to Christ because society is changed. That’s why our first priority as a church is always to proclaim the Gospel….not because we don’t care about society and are withdrawing from it (as our secular humanists would want us to) but rather it is precisely because we do care about society and realise that a renewed society needs renewed individuals.
And here is where the doctrine of equality really hits home. Lets look at how Jesus makes us equal.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Isn’t that astonishing? The Son of God gave up his equality in the Godhead, so that he could make us his brothers and sisters and bring us into that glorious union. I don’t have time to go into any of this but I love the whole Christian doctrine of equality from which everything else stems. The triune God created all human beings in his image. When humanity fell the Father so loved the world that he sent his Son, the Son so loved the world that he came, and the Spirit so loved the world that he enables and regenerates. Just as the Spirit moved over the surface of the waters in the first Creation, so He moves over the world today, renewing, regenerating and bringing life and peace. Ultimately that will only be seen in the new heaven and the new earth but meanwhile we get a foretaste of that now.
Those who hold to a merely materialistic, atheistic view of humanity do not have a consistent and logical framework within which to hold their ideal of ‘equality’ and as a result we will end up with greater inequality. John Gray illustrates this “Dostoyevsky suggests that the result of abandoning morality for the sake of an idea of freedom will be a type of tyranny more extreme than any in the past. As one of the characters in Demons confesses: “I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism.” I cannot think of a better summary of where contemporary Britain is headed – from unlimited freedom to unlimited despotism.
On the other hand Christianity has a consistent, logical and proven worldview that enables us to treat all human beings equally. The Fatherhood of God leads to the Brotherhood (and sisterhood) of Man. If you take away the one you will not have the other.
We need to reclaim this vision. That’s why in Solas we are arguing for Christian secularism. We do not want the church to run the State (that would be a disaster). We want Church and State to be good friends and good neighbours, but not for either to run the other. But the State has to have a philosophy, principles and values with which to work. I was recently in a ‘discussion’ with a gay rights activist whom I really liked. He was gracious and open. At one point he said ‘ I just want to live in countries like Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands etc.’. He listed the top ten countries for equality and civil liberties in the world. Guess what? Every single one had a strong Christian history and indeed was founded on Protestant Christianity. This Solas day is entitled ‘throwaway Christianity’. If we throw away Christianity we are throwing away the foundation, heart and soul of our society. And for what? The untested, unreachable fantasies of the secular humanists, liberals and ‘progressives’ who think that everything will be just fine if only they were in charge and all of us thought like them! Surely it is better to stick to Christian reality rather than such utopian dreams? Rather than ‘progressing’ towards secular utopia we are ‘regressing’ into a pre-Christian Greco/Roman/Pagan world. That is why in Solas we are working to reclaim our education system, politics, arts, welfare, science, philosophies and society for Christ and his kingdom. Why not join us in this great endeavour? We are all one in Christ Jesus!
PS. Just as I finish writing this up I have received information telling me that the EU is planning to renew its failed proposal for the Equal Treatment Directive (ETD). If passed this will become the primary tool to limit freedom of religion, speech, and conscience. Dostoevsky prophesied correctly ““I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism.” Maranatha….
An edited version of this appears on Christian Today – here –