In his speech to European security experts about Islamic State this month, David Cameron said: “It says religious doctrine trumps the rule of law and Caliphate trumps nation state and it justifies violence in asserting itself and achieving its aims. The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview? I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims ‘you are part of this.’”

I entirely agree with him about the evil of violence and any justification of it but he clearly doesn’t understand some basic things about religion. Instead he shows his naïve support of the trend towards domination of religious views by the state, including with its vague concept of “British values.” Of course religious doctrine trumps the rule of law when the law seriously conflicts with it. Take, for example, my firm belief that Jesus is the only Saviour and no other religion brings a person to eternal salvation. If, as is possible, that ever becomes illegal because (allegedly) it is causing offence to people of other faiths and creating division, I would have no alternative but to break the law.

I certainly don’t want to see the establishment of the Caliphate (worldwide Muslim state) with its violence but I do believe the church trumps the nation state, where the state seriously conflicts with the church’s beliefs.

One problem is that our politicians don’t really understand religion and how important it is to believers. Of course the state has the right to try to stop violence and therefore to oppose religious beliefs which GENUINELY incite hatred, violence and oppression. But, that apart, it has no right to tell us what to believe and to stop us proclaiming what we believe.

I have often said that I believe we should love and respect our Muslim neighbour whilst we disagree with his religion. So I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises – and it just has.

I commented recently about the very serious implications for Christian freedom of the Belfast pastor being prosecuted for saying Islam was satanic (see http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/oppression-of-christians/belfast-pastor-to-be-prosecuted-for-saying-islam-is-satanic/). It was therefore encouraging to read the comments on the matter by
Dr Muhammed Al-Husseini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute. He said:

“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others … In a free and democratic society, we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say. While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God.”

He spoke of his “deep concern and opposition to the criminalising of theological disagreement, at a time when our society should in fact be fostering better quality disagreement.” He added: “I further undertake that if Pastor McConnell is convicted and sent to prison, I shall go to prison with him.”

Pastor James McConnell in Belfast is to be prosecuted for describing Islam as “satanic” and “the spawn of the devil.” Whatever we may think of the details of this case this is a VERY serious development.

I am totally in favour of treating Muslims with respect – of loving our Muslim neighbours. I also believe we should be careful how we speak about other religions in the presence of their adherents. We should express disagreements in ways which do not cause unnecessary distress.

But we MUST be free to express our disagreement just as Muslims disagree with us Christians.

If Pastor McConnell is convicted then the implications for Christians are extremely serious. Presumably they will be forbidden to quote important passages of the New Testament publicly. Let me briefly summarise:

• Jesus said that those who hear the Christian message but don’t continue to believe it have been deceived by the devil (Luke 8:12).

• St Paul says the minds of people who don’t accept the Christian message are blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4)

• St John says those who don’t believe Jesus is God’s Son are condemned by God already. God’s wrath remains on them. He also says anyone who denies Jesus is the Christ is a liar and an antichrist. His belief is not from God (John 3:18-19, 36; 1 John 2:22; 2 John 7; 1 John 4:2-3).

If we reach a point where Christians will be prevented from quoting such passages publicly then that means we will be forbidden to proclaim crucially important aspects of the gospel. The gospel is good news for those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, but is a serious matter for any who consciously reject him. The result will be serious persecution of Christians in the UK.

The C of E Newspaper reports that the US government has released information about documents found in Osama bin Laden’s library. They include material about David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, who said the resurrection was a “conjuring trick with bones.” The paper, the only Christian-related paper in his library, argued that doubts about the physical resurrection of Christ could facilitate the Islamisation of the UK. I remember reading the paper in 1984.

It was this statement by David Jenkins on Radio 4, shortly after he was appointed bishop, that made me realise God was calling me to take a very public stand against such unbelief. It led to a national campaign, writing to all 10,000 clergy in England about it (and similar issues) and eventually campaigning about them on the C of E General Synod.

I have always stood by what I did in those days but this revelation confirms how important it was. We Christian leaders have an awesome responsibility and will stand before God one day to answer for our behaviour and beliefs. This statement by a bishop did enormous harm and clearly encouraged the enemies of the Faith.

We can learn a number of things from this remarkable event:

1. It shows how quickly social attitudes can change. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993 (and divorce in 1996). The main factor is the dramatic loss of influence of the Catholic Church and the other the great improvement in Ireland’s economy since it joined the EU which encouraged secular attitudes.

2. It underlines the huge responsibility resting upon the church and the very serious consequences of its failure to meet those responsibilities. The paedophile scandals amongst Irish Catholic priests, the repressive Catholic schools and the failure of the hierarchy to deal with these problems adequately have had a devastating effect. Attendance at mass on Sundays was 90% in the 1970s but by 2013 it was 34% and around 18% in Dublin. The Irish Catholic Church has lost credibility and, although 94% of Irish people identify as catholics, many of them voted for gay marriage. The failures of the Church of England are not as bad as the Irish Church but there have been paedophile scandals and the church has confused the nation over its view of homosexual practice. This contributed to our government suddenly approving gay marriage.

3. The great joy and exhilaration expressed at the result by those who voted yes has a powerful and insidious emotional effect (I found it moving myself). Suddenly gay couples who had been together for years could enjoy the prospect of getting married. One man held a placard saying: “Thank you Ireland. This means everything. At last at the age of 60 I’m an equal citizen.” Another man was moved to tears as he said: “It’s an emotional day. I’m gay and I had two relationships for 20 years each. My partners both died and I would have loved to marry them.” This emotion is dangerous ….

4. The emotion over the gay marriage decision is dangerous because it will have the effect of further marginalising the church and applying pressure to Christians who don’t agree with same-sex marriage. On the other hand, it will lead some Christians to move away from biblical teaching and approve homosexual practice and gay marriage. So, with these Christians it won’t lead to marginalisation but to a partial departure from the faith. Both persecution and departure from the faith were prophesied by Jesus.

5. However, the issue is not one of emotion but of what God has said. We need to go back to the Bible on the issue and ensure we understand what it says about it. The following papers I have written may be helpful

What about Gay Marriage? (a short paper). See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/Whataboutgaymarriage.html

Homosexuality and the Church: a study guide for churches. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf

What does the Bible say on Homosexuality (a more detailed study). See
http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf
6. We should not only adhere to the clear teaching of Scripture about same-sex relationships but we should also have the right attitude to homosexual people. One of the factors driving the gay lobby is the wrong attitude that all too many Christians have – one of contempt for homosexuals as people. Ironically, the tables are now going to be turned on Christians as the gay lobby gets the upper hand. We are called to love our homosexual neighbour. That means we should respect them as people and be grateful for their companionship and care for one another whilst disagreeing with their sexual behaviour. In other words, we love our homosexual neighbour (like any other neighbour) but we don’t love his/her behaviour. We should also remember that homosexual behaviour is not the only sin! We are all sinners – but that doesn’t justify any wrong behaviour.

We are seeing massive social change at breath-taking speed. The consequences for Christians who uphold the teaching of Scripture will be very serious. We need to watch and pray.

A Christian bakery has been fined £500 plus costs for refusing to make a cake for a customer which bore the logo “Support Gay Marriage.” How should we respond?

1. We have to recognise that society is increasingly secular, including in its laws.

2. We can argue democratically (and strongly) for society to respect God’s law.

3. But we have to accept the reality of what society democratically decides, even though we disagree with it.

4. The balancing of opposing human rights is a complex matter. This is illustrated in the opposing rights present in the Belfast Cake controversy – gay rights afforded by society, on the one hand, and the right to religious freedom, on the other.

5. Society cannot accommodate every religious opinion (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusions for their children) but it was surely possible to prevent the infringement of Christians’ rights in a trivial case like this one.

6. It is sad that the legal case was mounted but the situation is complicated by anti-gay prejudice (as opposed to reasonable disagreement) and the danger of gay people wanting to get their own back.

7. The church should stand firm for God’s law (although always remembering to show compassion and respect for people themselves) but it has given confusing signals over homosexuality. For example, the official position of the C of E is that agreed by a 98% majority of General Synod based on my private member’s motion in 1987 which stated that “that homosexual genital acts … are … to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.” But since then the church has confused society as to its position on the matter. It has also given the impression that we shall come round to society’s view in the end. The church therefore must bear a very serious responsibility for what is now happening.

8. As various people have said, the Belfast decision opens the way for similar prosecutions such as over:
• A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
• An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
• A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.

9. I wish I could be confident that the government will sort out this situation where the law is an ass but I am concerned that the very beginning of real persecution of Christians in the UK has happened, although it is almost nothing compared with what is happening to Christians elsewhere.

10. I have long felt that approval of homosexual practice would eventually become a test of acceptability in society, failure in which would lead to serious consequences.

11. But how long will it be before the Christians come into much more serious conflict with the anti-extremism laws planned by the UK government? These, of course, uphold “British Values” (whatever they are) and particularly tolerance and avoiding causing distress to others. I anticipate that before long exclusive claims that Jesus is the only Saviour and even sensitive references to judgment and hell will be deemed illegal. Then we will be getting into deep water over persecution. In March 2015 Sajid Javid Culture Secretary made a very significant comment when he opposed the governments revived censorship proposal. He said it would be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.

12. Christians need to learn now which are the primary issues of the Christian Faith, and which are secondary issues. If the law requires us to deny the primary issues, we have to obey God rather than the state.

13. We are in a very serious situation and many Christians, churches and church leaders are quietly snoozing through it.