Loving our Neighbours
by Humphrey Dobson
When Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbours, what did that imply about our involvement in moral issues in the public arena that can make or mar the lives of those around us? And what are some immediate practical steps that we can take on those issues?
The Christian Institute has been helping to answer these questions since 1991. Our ministry is about equipping Christians for action and working for Christian influence in a secular world.
We are inspired by examples in the Bible of godly involvement in moral issues in the public arena. The prophet Daniel took a bold approach, saying to King Nebuchadnezzar: "Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." (Daniel 4:27)
John the Baptist also took practical action on moral issues. He publicly reproved Herod Antipas for all the things that Herod had done (Luke 3:19) and spoke to officials of the Roman Empire about the moral right and wrong of their governmental policies.
At The Christian Institute we long to see public policy that is consistent with the teaching of Christ and the Ten Commandments. We speak out on moral issues where we believe the Bible’s teaching is plain and where our team has expertise. Our beliefs include: religious liberty must be preserved; marriage is sacred; parents have a God-given authority over their children; life is sacred from conception; drug taking and gambling are wrong; our national life needs Christian underpinning.
Religious liberty is both the freedom to believe certain things in our heads and to act according to those beliefs. It includes, for example, the freedom to tell other people about our faith as a way of "loving our neighbours", and to speak out as we seek to be light and salt in our world (Matthew 5:13-16).
In 2010 we alerted our supporters to a proposal by the Scottish Government to criminalise the use of ‘distressing’ words in public or in private. Such a broad law, had it been passed, would have been wide open to misapplication. What if non-Christians were to find a sermon "distressing"? How easy would it be for preachers to become criminals?
The Scottish Government’s proposal came out in April. Within days we sought an independent legal opinion, which confirmed that there could be scope for the wording to be misapplied. On 28 April we wrote to all our supporters in Scotland, providing information for informed prayer and positive action. We also alerted other Christian organisations.
On 2 July the relevant Scottish Government minister, Kenny MacAskill, stood before the Scottish Parliament and said: "We are aware of and have taken on board the concerns of some in the Christian community and we have changed what was proposed." The revised proposal was much narrower in scope and contains a ‘reasonableness’ defence.
Marriage and the family is another area where our research team work to keep supporters informed. The Bible records: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) Marriage is a creation ordinance and God’s teaching on marriage and sex applies to all people.
During 2009 the Labour Government was pressing ahead with plans to make sex education compulsory in schools in England from the age of five. Our research team produced a clear briefing about concerns that the plans could undermine the value of marriage, increase the sexualisation of children and infringe the rights of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs.
This briefing was received by the thousands of Christians in England who have asked to be kept informed through our mailing list. We also gave them details of the opportunity to respond to a Government consultation on the proposals.
In April 2010 the then-Government was forced to abandon its plans for sex education, having run out of time to get them passed by Parliament before the General Election.
Sanctity of lifeL~
Another issue during recent months has been whether for-profit commercial groups should be allowed to have abortion ads on TV. This was not headline news in the secular media, but it is of great importance to those who wish to protect our unborn neighbour. The Bible teaches that human life is precious and that murder is wrong (Genesis 9:6).
We filled the "information gap" by briefing our supporters with prayer points and informing them of their opportunity to take part in a three-month consultation by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).
In June 2009 we submitted our own response to the consultation. We pointed out that abortion is highly controversial and TV commercials are not appropriate media for the issue. Allowing such ads would make it more difficult for parents to manage how their children learn about such a controversial subject.
In May 2010 BCAP allowed a not-for-profit abortion provider to advertise on TV but it will not, for the time being, allow commercial groups to have abortion ads. In a statement they said there were "outstanding matters" that require "further discussion".
The Bible teaches that the only proper context for sexual activity is within lifelong monogamous marriage (1 Corinthians 6:9). Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery: "Go, and sin no more" (John 8:11).
Sex shops can make a considerable profit out of the commercialisation of sex. Large companies are willing to spend large amounts of money to persuade local authorities to grant them licences. It may well feel a daunting prospect to stand up against such powerful interests.
But by using legal rights, local people can successfully oppose the licensing and operation of sex shops in their area. Time and again, Christians have used our 200-page publication called Stopping Sex Shops to gain knowledge and encouragement.
We have also been able to alert supporters if we learn of plans to open sex shops in their areas. Case studies presented in Stopping Sex Shops include Ayr, Camborne, Gateshead, Powys and Sunderland. We have been involved in cases including proposals for a sex shop next door to a toyshop and a homosexual sex shop near a nursery school.
The Bible teaches that drunkenness is wrong: "Do not get drunk on wine" (Ephesians 5:18). Intoxication and loss of control are intrinsic to drug taking. Down the ages Christians have been at the forefront of battling against drunkenness and today there is a battle over the legalisation of drugs.
To give Christians in-depth information on the debate, our researchers published a 30-page booklet called Going Soft on Cannabis. This popular resource demolished 15 key arguments for downgrading cannabis from a Class B drug.
In January 2004 the Labour Government did downgrade cannabis. However in January 2009 it upgraded it again to Class B following widespread concern about the destructive consequences for individuals and society.
If we love our neighbours as ourselves, in obedience to Christ’s words in Matthew 22:39, we will want good laws and policies that protect our neighbours’ marriage, children, property and so on. What are some immediate practical steps that Christians today can take? The first answer is prayer. To help with informed prayer please visit our daily-updated news website at christian.org.uk. There is an online sign up form for our regular "In the News This Week" email.
A second answer is positive action such as writing letters to politicians, responding to consultations and contacting local and national media.
A good way to stay in touch with our work is to join the 27,000 people already on The Christian Institute’s mailing list. You can expect timely alerts and news on religious liberty, marriage and the family, protection of the unborn and vulnerable, and public morality.
The Christian Institute is committed to the truths of historic, biblical Christianity and has a mainstream evangelical basis of faith. It is non-denominational and a registered charity. It is based in Newcastle upon Tyne and has 40 staff including a research team specialising in parliamentary and political issues, in-house legal experts and a news/website team. To join the mailing list, please visit the Christian Institute Web Site or call 0191 281 5664.
Humphrey Dobson is Deputy Director (Policy and Staffing) for the Christian Institute
METConnexion Autumn 2010 pp20-21