Hate and other thought crimes
My own view is that it is extremely puzzling for a government to legislate in such a way as to make ‘incitement to x’ illegal, when ‘x’ itself isn’t illegal. Take incitement to murder (right). Murder is illegal, and so for incitement to murder to be illegal makes sense, since it amounts to encouraging someone else to break the law – presumably on your behalf. However, since ‘hatred’ isn't illegal, how can ‘incitement to hatred’ be illegal?
Our present government takes the view that it can, and hence as part of its Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 created the offence of ‘incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation’. On the face of it, I personally find this no better or worse motivated and justified than similar legislation that has been introduced to criminalise incitement to hatred on the grounds of race or religious belief. Anyone hating anyone else is a bad thing (Galatians 5:19-21), and so anyone inciting anyone else to hate anyone else is likewise a bad thing. But hatred as such is not illegal, and so I don’t see why incitement to hatred should be illegal.
Suppose, however, that I’m wrong about this. Very well. What remains as a concern in the minds of many Christians and others is just what is going to count as ‘incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation’ under this law. For this reason, it seems, the bill had real problems making it through both Houses of Parliament, and only did so after certain amendments were made, a fact about which our Prime Minister is not happy:
I’m proud that thanks to Labour, incitement to homophobic hate will now be a crime. But the law we recently passed was watered down through the so-called Waddington amendment, which provides a ‘freedom of speech’ opt-out from laws designed to stop incitement.So, I hear my readers asking, what exactly is the substance of this nefarious-sounding Waddington amendment, painted by Gordon Brown as a licence to incitement? The answer:
The amendment was defeated by Labour MPs in the Commons four times - but Tory Lords conspired to force it through Parliament. That’s simply not acceptable, so the next Labour manifesto will contain a commitment to reversing Waddington, and we will invoke the Parliament Act to overturn the Tory Lords if we have to.
For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.That’s it. Suppose I say, ‘When God calls us into his Kingdom, he also calls all of us to a radically changed way of life. The Bible teaches that sexual intercourse between people of the same sex is a sin. If you find that you struggle with this sin, I encourage you to seek out one of the dedicated ministries out there that are designed to help and support you’. As far as I can tell, that’s the kind of statement someone in a free society should be at liberty to make. That liberty seems to be precisely the one that the amendment in question is designed to preserve. So what’s the problem with the Waddington amendment? I can only conclude that to oppose the amendment, one has to be in the firm grip of an ideology, one that insists on silencing voices that dissent from it. And that ideology is insistent: a second attempt was made to repeal the amendment in the Coroners and Justice Bill 2008-09, although thankfully again defeated.
What’s wrong with discrimination?
Suppose I am taking casting auditions for a film I am directing. The film is a biopic of Devon Malcolm, and Mr. White is auditioning for the main role. But Mr. White is white. If I refuse to cast Mr. White as Malcolm, since whoever plays Malcolm has to be black, am I in the right?
Not all discrimination is unjust. It’s generally taken as a rebuke against a person to tell him that he does something requiring precision ‘indiscriminately’. Discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, age or whatever is unjust to the extent that those factors are irrelevant to someone’s ability to do the job in question or entitlement to the benefit in question. So, while it would not be unjust discrimination to refuse to cast Mr. White as Devon Malcolm merely because he’s white, it would be unjust to refuse to pick Devon Malcolm in your cricket team merely because he is black, since his being black has no bearing on his ability to play cricket well. That kind of discrimination has no place in a just society.
Interpreted charitably, it was a desire to prevent unjust discrimination so defined that was the motivation behind the government’s consolidation of existing equality legislation in the Equality Bill 2008-09 to 2009-10. However, there have been legitimate concerns that this bill actually goes beyond those bounds.
To be able to work for a church properly, you have to commit yourself to that church’s vision. If that church’s vision includes (as it should) a commitment to strive for holiness, defined as adherence to God’s moral law as revealed in Scripture, then someone unapologetically living a life in contravention of that law is not cut out to work there. It is, therefore, a travesty that a church could be prosecuted for refusing to employ someone engaged in a lifestyle, such as a sexual relationship outside of marriage, that is incompatible with that church’s teaching. However, this was exactly what was threatened by measures in the bill. Happily, these were later dropped, but pressure can still be felt from all sides.
So much for those two examples. I can’t begin to address the rights and wrongs of all the cases of conflict coming up between orthodox Christians and the power structures that exist in this country.
Where is all this leading?
^The question applies both to the political trends, and this post!
Reading the stream of vitriol directed at the Westminster Declaration and those who support it (as well as the article, check the comments there and here), I was placed in that familiar dilemma of how to respond. As usual, I see three options:
To my fellow British citizens who sympathise with the stream of vitriol
We love you. We want to work with you for the common good. We want to live at peace with everyone as much as we possibly can (Romans 12:18). Yes, we want you to believe in Jesus, but not as a result of coercion, and not as the precondition for us loving you, working with you and living at peace with you.
I also have a newsflash for you: Biblical Christianity is not secular liberalism. Bible-believing Christians are not closet secular liberals. We are not, in your words, waiting to be freed from religion. We are not, in our words, about to exchange our God for yours, ever. We are not like this because we lack education or exposure to the real world. We are like this because we have had an encounter with the living God, and we know that following his plan for our lives is infinitely better than drifting along with what society expects and/or being pushed along by our own instincts and urges. I submit that, when it comes down to it, that is what you are doing. Second,
To my brothers and sisters in Christ
Egypt seemed big to the Israelites. Babylon seemed big to the exiles. Rome seemed big to the early Church. Communism seemed big to nearly everyone very recently. Secular liberalism seems big to me right now.
I met a traveller from an antique landChrist is bigger than all of this. What the effort of writing this mammoth post has made me want to do more than anything is stop arguing about this and get back to the business of witness, serving the community, prayer and worshipping the Lord.
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley