Visit to the Scottish Parliament- 10th Feb 2016
I was asked to speak to the Scottish Parliament sub-committee on religious freedom. Although I never stick to a text the following is the substance of what I said and a few reflections on the whole experience – which tells us a great deal about the state of Church and Society in Scotland today.
“It is my privilege to be able to address you on this vital subject of freedom of religion. If we do not have freedom of religion then we will lose all our other freedoms. Let me first of all say a word about persecution. Religious people are not persecuted in Scotland today. At least not in the sense of being jailed, fined or executed for their faith. When we see what is happening in many areas of the world, especially to Christians, then it would be foolish to complain of persecution. However you are all aware that the way to boil a frog is very slowly. Put it into tepid water and gradually heat it up. In the same way my concern is that whilst we do not experience the kind of persecution that is so often the norm for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, there is a danger that through a ‘salami tactics’ slice-by-slice, discrimination is increasing against Christians.
I am not here however just to speak in favour of Christians – I want to defend religious liberty for all. My remit is particularly concerned with the role of religion in politics. My view is that there is subtle and not so subtle discrimination against religious people in politics, but especially Christians.
Philip Nye writing in the Telegraph in January this year spoke of Christianity as being subtly “silenced” within the public sector in the UK because of a civil service culture that treats speaking about faith as “not the done thing”.
On the Left, my favourite Marxist writer, Brendan O’Neill, gives the example of a Baptist Church in Norfolk in England that put up a poster suggesting that if you didn’t believe in God you would go to hell. Someone complained to the police who registered the poster as a “hate incident”. They launched an investigation, went to the church, spoke to the pastor, suggested he take the poster down, and so he took the poster down. O’Neill writes these insightful words –
“I found this really disturbing. For what we had here, in Britain in the 21st century, was a situation where the armed wing of the state put pressure on a church, a private religious association, to take down a public expression of its deeply held beliefs.” He continues to summarise the situation – What we’re witnessing is a silent war on religion. In the 21st century, there is the creeping criminalisation of certain religious views and an undermining of religious groups’ right to organise themselves, and those who are voluntarily part of their community of faith, in what they consider to be the most fitting way. Religious people’s ability to express themselves publicly is being undermined, and their ability to organise themselves around their faith — such as by having schools and other agencies to propagate their views among their followers — is being undermined too. How has this happened? I think there are two drivers of the silent war on religion: first, the spread of hate-speech legislation; and second, the rise of new and intrusive so-called equality laws.
I found the following words of our Prime Minister quite chilling:
“For too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone”
Since when was it the business of government to interfere in people’s lives, outwith the law? This is what happens when the proper relationship between church and state is not understood, and when the state thinks that it is God –with the ability and right to control the thoughts, words and actions of its citizens.
The following are some examples of where this is leading us.
1) Mark Spencer, a Tory MP, argued that new banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong.” He called for those who use their position in the classroom to teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadis.
2) Polly Harrow. She is the Head of Safeguarding and Prevent at Kirklees College in Huddersfield. She was asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, should a Muslim who believes that homosexuality is wrong be accepted. Her chilling answer?
“ If that’s what you think and that what you want to believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law”.
3) Kevin McKenna cites this example –
“Last month, I conducted an interview for the Scottish Daily Mail with the Reverend David Robertson, the outspoken but articulate Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. For this I was condemned by some gay rights activists for promoting a man who hates gay people. The Reverend Robertson is nothing of the sort and simply believes that marriage is a civic and sacred contract entered into by a man and a woman. To hold such a position, whether you agree with it or not, is entirely reasonable. But in the world occupied by Patrick Harvie, full-time atheist and part- time Green Party leader, and his acolytes such views do not deserve even to be uttered in modern, enlightened Scotland. In the months and years ahead it won’t be tanks that are being parked on the lawns of those who oppose abortion or want to see the 24-week time limit reduced it will be fiery crosses.”
4) Jim Murphy former Scottish Labour leader was frequently referred to to as the Catholic….or Pope loving by the Scottish Secular Society. If I had done this I would rightly have been accused of sectarianism. Is sectarianism any better if it is conducted by secularists?
5) I know of at least two prospective MSPs who have been hounded through social media by activists within their parties who would like to exclude all those who dare to disagree with the current liberal elitist zeitgeist on issues such as Same Sex Marriage.
6) I think of the prospective Tory MP who told me to remove a reference to her and her church from my website from ten years ago because gay rights groups were trawling the internet trying to link her with known extremists – like Christians!
7) I did a debate here in Edinburgh at Charlotte Chapel with Patrick Harvie and Willie Rennie, in which I pointed out that there were MSP’s who disagreed with SSM but would either abstain or vote for it because they did not think it was that important an issue and they could not be bothered with the abuse, hassle and intimidation if they dared to vote against. Patrick Harvie disputed this but after the debate I was approached by a leading journalist who told me that what I had said was right and that he could name several who were in that position.
The bottom line is that it is not right that anyone who dares to disagree with the current zeitgeist, whether for religious reasons or not, is discriminated against, abused and effectively removed from the mainstream political process.
What is the solution?
This committee must defend and maintain the following:
a) Freedom of Speech – in reality as well as in words.
b) Freedom of Ideas – there must be the freedom to discuss and to hear ideas that one disagrees with and others might find offensive.
c) Freedom of religion – which involves a whole lot more than an acknowledgement that we have the right to worship and serve God in private. We also have the right to be involved in the public square. All political parties in this parliament should give an assurance that Christians and others are welcome to participate within them and in the political process, without discrimination.
Political leaders should discourage the use of social media to intimidate and abuse those who are believers and who might have different value systems. Social media has become the 21st Century equivalent of the 19th Century mob.
The removal of the Christianity, upon which our society is founded, from the public square will result in either a secular authoritarian state or a religious authoritarian state. If we do not defend, maintain and promote these freedoms whilst we have them, then we will find that once we have lost them, it will be too late.
Discussion and Reflections:
After this speech there was a lively discussion for an hour. I did not take a verbatim record and it would be unfair to try and state what everyone said. But I will offer the following observations.
1) I was very impressed with the Jewish representative who spoke of the anti-Semitism within Scottish society – especially mentioning Jim Murphy being accused of being too pro-Israel.
2) It was good to see MSP’s present who clearly cared about and are interested in the issue of religious freedom.
3) It was good to have the backing of a considerable number of the Christians present. However there was a little confusion with some who argued that this is what we should expect as Christians. I’m afraid I don’t buy into the persecution/martyr complex of Western Christians who think that a little persecution is good for the soul. We are to pray for kings and those in authority so that we may live peaceable and godly lives – we are not to pray for persecution – although we know that in the providence of God it will come and he will protect us through it. But we are not just concerned for ourselves. We are concerned for others. Freedom of religion means greater freedom for all. The removal of that freedom will mean the State replacing God and greater restrictions for all but the elites who control and run that State.
4) Finally I was really frustrated at the Church of Scotland representatives who spoke. It reminded me of the last time I spoke at a Scottish Parliament committee. (You can read about that here). They really undermined my case by suggesting that what I said was not really happening; that is was anecdotal; that it needed some research and that the people of Scotland were not really concerned about religious freedom. They based this last statement on their own research that they conducted of 11,000 people.
So what was my response?
Of course it is anecdotal – just like Stonewalls stories of homophobic bullying in schools is anecdotal.
Their own research – which can be viewed here – was not academic research but a political campaign with highly leading questions about ‘a fairer, more equal, more just society’, climate change etc. Of course when people self-select by taking part in this campaign they are not going to think about religious freedom and the threats to it.
Incidentally I suggested that Solas would be quite happy to conduct serious research into the question of religious freedom and discrimination within Scottish society. And I asked if the Scottish parliament would be willing to fund such research. After all they are very happy to fund the ‘Equality Network’ and other gay rights groups to do ‘research’, why would they not fund us? Or is it the case that some are more ‘equal’ than others?
In my view the Church of Scotland establishment has become the secular humanist society/Liberal party at prayer. The fact that the establishment of the Church of Scotland does not experience religious discrimination does not mean that there is no religious discrimination. It just simply demonstrates how much in bed with the secular establishment, the C of S is.
Sally Foster-Fulton tried to defend the religious discrimination that many Christians face in political life by saying that political people just don’t like our social views on issues such as SSM. I responded by saying that the liberal elites just assume that their social views are the self-evidently right views which any right thinking and nice people would accept, and that the only reason people do not hold them is because of religion – and therefore such religious people must be excluded.
The only religious people who can be accepted are those who accept the doctrines of the cultural elites and are prepared to compromise their faith in order to be accepted as part of the establishment. It seems to me that the Church has always been plagued with clergy politicians who think that their job is to reflect the values of the culture and use the church as a power base to promote those values. If you doubt that just observe that whenever a cultural change occurs, the C of S establishment tamely follows behind – initially it will oppose but then within a few years it will become part of the obvious values. Witness this coming Assembly and the current debacle over SSM. In my view the establishment of the C of S is gutless, Godless and gormless….and that is why they are currently in such decline. God will build his church, not the secular humanists.
It is more than ironic that some of the people who are most likely to encourage religious discrimination are the establishment of the self-styled national church. I know that there are believing leaders in the Church of Scotland who do not buy into this agenda. But all I want to know is – why don’t you speak out? Why don’t you tell the Sally Foster-Fulton’s of your church, ‘not in my name’?! If you don’t do this soon then you are in as much danger of losing your freedom as the rest of us are in the wider society. Or have you determined that ‘Ichabod’ has already been written above the door of the Church of Scotland?
It is so frustrating because I know many good and fine people in the Church of Scotland and I hate to see the Lord’s people being led at best by spineless shepherds who run away when the wolves attack, and at worst being shepherded by the wolves themselves!
I am sorry if my words are too strong for some – feel free to just dismiss them because my words and opinion don’t really matter. But at least consider the words of the One who does matter and who will be our judge on the Last Day. Jesus Christ once said of one of his churches, who thought that they were rich and comfortable (in touch with the people, a key part of society, doing rather well thank you) that they were poor, pitiful and blind; and that they made him sick. He preferred hot or cold…anything but the tepid insipidness of a church which thinks it is great. I am all too deeply conscious of my own weakness, blindness and pitifulness (as I am of my churches), but at least I know that my only hope is in Christ and not in seeking to ape and follow the changing fashions of this world. Whether we have the political and social freedom to do so or not, let all the Lord’s people determine to follow him whatever the cost, and never to bow the knee to Caesar.