I use the word “Oppression” rather than “Persecution” about the ways Christians are maltreated in the western world because Christians elsewhere are suffering in far worse ways. Nevertheless the trend in the west is a cause of real concern.

 

Good news

 

Of course, there is some good news. The police have apologised to a street preacher in Bath who was threatened with arrest in May 2018. Another Christian street preacher has been cleared of all charges after being falsely accused of making abusive comments towards a homosexual couple. A nurse in Kent who was dismissed for offering to pray with patients has been officially allowed to return to her job by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The Government has ruled that employers must allow staff to wear religious symbols at work as long as it does not interfere with their job. After widespread public opposition, Ofsted (the government’s the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) has abandoned plans to inspect Sunday Schools and other religious groups as to whether they promote extremism.

 

Then, of course, there is the Supreme Court’s reversal of the High Court’s conviction of the Christian Asher’s Baking Company for not making a cake with a pro-homosexual slogan. However we need to take note of the Equality Commission’s response: “There is a concern that this judgment may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect; and that the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer’s equality rights, which in our view is contrary to what the legislature intended.” This case may be finished but that attitude shows there can be pressure for a different approach in the future.

 

Discrimination against Christians

 

However, the situation and trends are still serious. Tim Farron, who recently resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, said recently “If you actively hold a faith that is more than an expression of cultural identity … you are deemed to be far worse than eccentric. You are dangerous. You are offensive.” A recent study by ComRes found that up to a million workers in Britain may have faced harassment, discrimination or bullying because of their religion or belief.

 

In the United States US a report, entitled ‘Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America’, indicated a 15% rise in cases threatening religious liberty between 2015 and 2016. It was based on research by the First Liberty Institute, a legal organisation dedicated to protecting religious liberty. Following complaints by residents, a US apartment complex implemented a zero-tolerance policy over any Bible studies being held in its community space, and sent letters to residents stating the faith-based meetings weren’t permitted there. First Liberty commented: “It’s frightening that a management company would use the threat of eviction to stop residents from meeting together to discuss any issue, let alone their faith.”

 

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said: “In recent years, the cultural climate in this country-and in the West more generally-has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

 

In Australia an Elim church in New South Wales paid for digital Easter signs to be displayed at the local shopping centre. But the authorities asked them to remove the word “Jesus” from the signs because it had been causing offence.

 

Discrimination and intolerance of Christianity in Europe was debated for the first time in the European Parliament in June 2018. Speakers, highlighted recent instances of violence, marginalisation, and discrimination against Christians across Europe. Nathan Gill, MEP, who hosted the debate, said: “It’s the first time that Christianophobia within Europe has been discussed in the EU Parliament. There has often been a focus on Christian persecution around the world, but seldom do we look at what is happening on our doorstep. It’s important to raise awareness that our rights as Christians are being eroded. We need to stand together as practising Christians to oppose religious intolerance.” Hendrik Storm, Chief Executive of the Barnabas Fund (which assists persecuted Christians), stated, “It’s easy to sit back and ignore the damage because like erosion, it’s not always immediately visible on the surface. But look a little closer and you can begin to see the cracks. You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom or freedom of religion. You must defend all of them. Those freedoms are only one generation away from being lost.”

 

Undermining freedom of speech

 

South Yorkshire Police recently used Twitter to urge citizens to “put a stop” to hate, by reporting what it called “non-crime hate incidents.” They acknowledged that “police can only prosecute when the law is broken” but added that non-crime hate incidents like an insulting comment “can feel like a crime to those affected.” Someone responded

“Just to be clear: you want me to phone the police when there hasn’t been a crime but someone’s feelings have been hurt?”

 

Then reports are emerging from universities about speakers with what are considered as minority (but legal) views (e.g. pro-life) being banned because their views were considered insulting. In 2017 the Junior Common Room of Balliol College, Oxford banned the college Christian Union from attending its freshers’ (new students’) fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers.” The vice-president said: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.” Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it.  Later a motion was passed unanimously at the college accusing the JCR committee of “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

 

Christian MP Fiona Bruce commented: “University should a place where ideas can be explored and free speech is so important, it’s important from my perspective as a parliamentarian, to protect and preserve democracy, so we need to ensure students, very importantly, honour and respect the freedom of others … There is no legal right not to be offended, people can say things which might offend others but if they don’t, for example, go as far as to incite violence or terrorism under the Prevent legislation then that speech is lawful.”

 

One of the most worrying trends in western society is the extreme application of laws against extremism! This can easily lead to Christians being legally prevented from appropriately expressing some of the Bible’s more challenging truths.

 

Freedom of speech over sexuality

 

It is quite obvious that freedom to express biblical views on sexuality, including homosexual practice, are seriously threatened. There have been many examples of this trend. Here is a recent one.

 

Matthew Grech, a contestant in a Maltese talent show, described on TV how he left a homosexual lifestyle and became a Christian. He said: “I stopped following my passions to follow Jesus. There can be love between two men and two women, yes – but only friendship love. Everything else is a sin.”  Helena Dalli, The Maltese Equality Minister, commented: “That interview should never have been aired in the first place. It did untold damage to our efforts to change social attitudes towards minorities, including LGBTQ youths. Gay youths don’t need forgiveness or healing, they need understanding.”

 

One of the sad things is that some of the oppression of Christians in the West comes from fellow Christians. One example is about “gay conversion therapy.” This is, of course, a highly controversial practice and even the Church of England General Synod voted recently to disapprove of it as an insensitive, harmful, practice which should be avoided. But, as is often the case with such action against harmful extremism, it can be taken too far and hinder helpful action. Basically the effect of what the synod did was to vote to ban anyone praying for a homosexual to be transformed by the power of God into a heterosexual. Who does the synod think it is, voting to ban prayer for a healing miracle! There are claims that homosexuals have been transformed in this way. Other people will have been prayed for and not changed – but that is the case for all healing. Of course, people must be handled with great sensitivity and loving care. They must not be pressurised. But to say that no one is allowed to pray for a miracle for a homosexual person is extremely serious. Homosexual orientation is not a sin, and it shouldn’t be implied that it is. But the Bible teaches that God created humans “male and female.” He did not intend people to have a homosexual orientation. So why can’t Christians pray for it to be changed? The church is selling out to our secular society in this respect.

 

I have had a good deal to do with homosexuals and have always treated them with respect. They can be subject to major traumas which should be met with real compassion. But to allow the emotional pressure of such traumas to cause us to take the wrong approach to helping them is a serious error.

 

However, this trend is going further. There is a strong move against what is called “Spiritual Abuse.” Jayne Ozanne is an evangelical on the Church of England General Synod who recently ‘came out’ as a lesbian. She has become a campaigner against ‘spiritual abuse.’

 

Ozanne writes: “The most typical incidents involve those in leadership who have frequently achieved a ‘cult-like’ or ‘guru’ status due to their charismatic personality and strong leadership style. This is most evident in large

evangelical churches, particularly those with a Charismatic or Pentecostal background, where leaders exercise ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ and are therefore recognised by their congregations as being ‘chosen and anointed by God’. As a result, their word can become infallible and their authority unquestioned. For the purposes of this document this type of abuse will be called the ‘Individual Leader Model of Spiritual Abuse’” She goes on to speak of unhelpful pressure from charismatic worship and prayer ministry sessions, including teaching on the Baptism of the Spirit in contexts such as the Alpha Course, New Wine, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, healing ministries and even the Lydia Prayer Movement, etc. My comment is that obviously there can be unhelpful extremes in anything, but such a blanket condemnation is appalling, set against the amount of good achieved.

 

She then begins to speak of the damage these experiences can (allegedly) do to homosexuals and says “It is imperative that professional organisations external to the religious institutions call for better safeguarding measures against spiritual abuse. Indeed, they should look to recognise it as a key form of abuse at a national level so as to ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our society are afforded the same protection as those facing other forms of abuse.”

 

She is calling on the government to recognise the alleged spiritual harm some churches can do to people and claims current church safeguarding procedures do not go far enough to protect them. Since she wrote a major article on the issue in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Journal the government is likely to take her seriously despite the fact that she has no professional qualifications or experience in either psychiatry or statistical research

 

The potential serious damage this campaign could do is very clear. I’m not saying it is Jayne Ozanne’s intention but it could lead to real oppression of especially charismatic evangelicals in their worship, prayer ministry, etc. In fact, experience suggests it is highly likely to do so. The church is rightly concerned about safeguarding but it has become OTT in its procedures. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service is accepting the sort of opinions Jane Ozanne is expressing so the denominations are likely to follow suit. It is another case of the modern practice: Take proper action against genuine extremism/abuse then go too far and restrict good practices.

 

Conclusion

 

We need to be alert to dangerous trends both outside and inside the church which are leading to serious oppression of Christians in the West and particularly to those who still believe the teaching of Scripture on what have become controversial issues. We should take whatever action is appropriate but also remember that these trends show how urgently we need to pray for and to see God bring Revival.

We live in an age when attitudes towards sex are changing radically with unprecedented speed. It is easy for Christians to become so taken up with what we see as sexual immorality or even depravity that we don’t discern the more serious effects of this revolution. The most serious effect is the destruction of the family in its biblical sense of a heterosexual couple committed for life, normally having children and bringing them up in their own home.  And this will lead to the undermining of society which will have very serious consequences.

The Bible makes it clear that the heterosexual family is fundamental to the welfare of society. Whatever symbolism is used in the Genesis account, the principle of marriage is clear. “It is not good for man to be alone” – he needs a suitable partner – a woman (Gen 2:18). There is an essential complementarity in the marriage relationship. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Obviously heterosexual marriage is fundamental to reproduction. It provides complementary role models for children (and they can learn from both parents, of opposite sexes). Parents must not act unreasonably towards their children but “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21). Children are urged to honour their parents (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20). Jesus confirms this understanding of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 as does Paul in Ephesians 5:25-33.

The fact that there are examples of polygamy in the Old Testament does not undermine the principle of heterosexual marriage, nor does it alter the fact that the fundamental biblical idea of marriage is of a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, as Genesis makes clear.

It is so obvious that heterosexuality is the norm since only 1.5-3% of the population is homosexual. (It could be lower if young people were not encouraged to think they might be homosexual). Only those who have been brainwashed by homosexual equality propaganda could think otherwise. It’s an “emperor’s new clothes” situation. Having said that, homosexuals as people are equal to heterosexuals and should be treated with respect. But that is quite different from saying that homosexual behaviour is equal to heterosexual behaviour within (heterosexual) marriage.

 

The biblical vision is that well-functioning heterosexual marriages and their associated families will add to and maintain communities, will stabilise and strengthen those communities and will train children to be good citizens.

Some people are deliberately aiming to destroy the heterosexual family. Others have different aims but will have the effect of furthering this destruction.

Those campaigning for the destruction of the family

MARXISTS

Many, but not all, socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected the family in favour of “free love” – unrestricted sexual relationships based purely on mutual love. Marx and particularly Engels criticised the family. Marx argued that in early human history sexual promiscuity was the order of the day. There was complete sexual freedom including incest. He and Engels argued that the family brought about the idea of private property, inheritance of property together with the oppression of women and children. They held that the abolition of private property (in socialism) and the abolition of inheritance would lead to the dissolution of the family.  The absence of private property would mean everyone would benefit from the economic opportunities in society. There would be no need for the financial support provided by the family. Instead of (‘slave’) labour in the family, women would work in factories and there would be communal child care which would remove the fear of unwanted children. Thus women would be liberated.

Engels wrote in Principles of Communism that communism “will make the relations between the sexes a purely private affair, which concerns only the two persons involved; a relationship which is in no way the concern of society. This attitude is made possible because private property will have been abolished and the children will be educated communally.”

Charles Fourier, a 19th century socialist philosopher believed monogamy was contrary to human nature and consequently an impediment to human happiness. He also believed that children should be raised, not in family units, but communally. His vision was of society being one big happy family.

In the 1920s Leonid Sabsovich, the leading Soviet urban planner under Lenin and Stalin advocated that children should be the property of the state, not the family. Children should be moved to specially designed children’s towns at a distance from the family.

Other communists have said that a preference for one’s spouse and authority over one’s children violates the principle of equality, which proclaims that we must treat everyone exactly the same.

RADICAL FEMINISTS

In the pre-industrial era men and women tended to work together in farming, etc., (accompanied by their children) but after the industrial revolution women were expected to stay at home doing domestic jobs and looking after children, whilst men went out to work. This gave men more power and created a much more patriarchal society. Many radical feminists advise women to avoid heterosexual relationships because they involve patriarchal (male) dominance. They see family as facilitating power relationships very much in favour of men. They also object to the large amount of unpaid labour which stay-at-home wives undertake.

Some feminists are influenced by Marxism and believe the family supports capitalism. For example Margaret Benston wrote that “As an economic unit, the nuclear family is a valuable stabilizing force in capitalist society. Since the husband–father’s earnings pay for the production which is done in the home, his ability to withhold labour from the market is much reduced.”[1] Also, within the family, children learn to conform and to submit to authority. The foundation is therefore laid for the obedient and submissive workforce required by capitalism.

Germaine Greer is a radical feminist who believes that “it is men who need marriage more. Married men score much higher on all measures of psychological well-being than unmarried men, whereas single women tend to be more content than married women.” She believes the only answer is segregation – women doing without male partners. She has been criticised for not taking seriously the progress made by women in recent times.

Michèlle Barrett and Mary McIntosh (1982) were influenced by Marxist feminism. They believe the family undermines life in the community – “the family ideal makes everything else seem pale and unsatisfactory”. Family members are so taken up by their family relationships that they neglect other social contacts. For example, they claim that the family encourages people to view life in other institutions (such as children’s homes, old people’s homes and students’ residences) as shallow and lacking in meaning.

GAY LIBERATIONISTS

In 1971 the Gay Liberation Front published its Manifesto. Peter Tatchell, the well-known gay campaigner said in 2013 that this manifesto was almost “the LGBT equivalent of the Communist Manifesto.” It envisaged an alternative society. The LGBT struggle was “part of the broader anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement, striving for the emancipation of all humankind. It critiques homophobia, sexism, marriage, the nuclear family, monogamy, the cults of youth and beauty, patriarchy, the gay ghetto and rigid male and female gender roles.” “Erotic shame and guilt would be banished. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone.” “What’s required is a revolution in culture, to overturn centuries of male heterosexual domination and the limitations of traditional gender roles.”

The Gay Liberation Front’s Manifesto stated: “The oppression of gay people starts in the most basic unit of society, the family, consisting of the man in charge, a slave as his wife, and their children on whom they force themselves as the ideal models. The very form of the family works against homosexuality.” “Our entire society is built around the patriarchal family and its enshrinement of these masculine and feminine roles. … It is because of the patriarchal family that reforms are not enough. Freedom for gay people will never be permanently won until everyone is freed from sexist role-playing and the straightjacket of sexist rules about our sexuality. And we will not be freed from these so long as each succeeding generation is brought up in the same old sexist way in the Patriarchal family.”

However, whereas lesbian and gay organisations in the 1970s were often very anti-family, since the 1980s the opposite has been the case and there has been the move towards same sex marriage.

Speaking of same sex marriage, Judith Stacey, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Sociology at New York University admits: “If we define the current ongoing effort to remake contemporary family life as the post-modern family … the term post-modern signals the end of a familiar pattern of activity and emergence of new areas of endeavour whose activities are unclear and whose meanings and implications are not yet well understood. Thus, the post-modern is characterized by uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt.”[2]

She claims that by the late 1980s, 6–14 million children were being brought up in gay and lesbian families. She says that research indicates that gay and lesbian relationships are at least as suitable for raising children as heterosexual marriages, that there is virtually no difference in the psychological well-being and social development of children with gay or lesbian carers and those with heterosexual carers. She added: ‘The rare small differences reported tend to favour gay parents, portraying them as somewhat more nurturant and tolerant, and their children in turn, more tolerant and empathetic, and less aggressive than those raised by non-gay parents.’

She believes children raised in gay and lesbian families are more likely to try homosexual relationships for themselves. But she does not believe the development of the postmodern family has no disadvantages. She acknowledges that it creates a certain degree of unsettling instability.

However, same sex marriage is not just a different form of marriage (and family). It contradicts fundamental aspects of family. It undermines marital complementarity and the fact that children are intended to have both a mother and father. It undermines the obvious fact that marriage is heterosexual because it is intended to lead to procreation. In other words, it serious undermines the divine intention about marriage. It involves homosexual social values being absorbed and accepted by children. And, as Judith Stacey says, it encourages children to try homosexual relationships.

The Church’s failure

The way things are going, it is only a matter of time before much of the western church will accept (and celebrate) same sex marriage. Already some denominations have.

The Church of Scotland recently discussed a report which advocated allowing ministers to celebrate same sex marriage. It has been committed to the church’s Legal Questions Committee to check the practicalities of a move to allow same-sex marriage in church. The Episcopal Church of Scotland has just approved (by only a one vote majority) same sex marriages taking place in church. It was reported that several prominent evangelical pastors in the US back same sex marriage.

The Church of England is maintaining a conservative position but, to a significant extent, is giving the impression that it will eventually change. I firmly agree that we should treat homosexuals as people with respect and apologise when we don’t. But the church has so overdone the apologising that it has given the impression that it is insecure in its position over same sex marriage. We seem to be intimidated by gay propaganda, especially being called ‘homophobic.’ Homophobia literally means ‘fear of man’ or ‘fear of the same’ but recently it has come to mean ‘fear of homosexuals.’ The Christian disapproval of homosexual behaviour has nothing to do with the fear of homosexuals but ‘homophobic’ has become an effective ‘put-down’ word. It often makes the church weaken the biblical position on homosexual behaviour.

Gay propaganda

The media can, of course, be a power for good. But it also has the power to change public opinion in unbiblical ways ways. Ever since the 1960s society has been transformed in its view of sexuality. Heterosexual couples living together, childbirth outside marriage, sex before marriage have all become widely acceptable and one of the main influences has been indoctrination by the media. To question these practices nowadays would seem archaic. And the same thing has happened, especially in the last 25 years, with homosexual behaviour. Same sex marriage is not so established in public opinion but it will be.

Then there is sex education in schools. Inevitably this has changed in line with public opinion.  This year’s annual conference of the National Union of Teachers called for compulsory teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues “throughout all phases of state education”, including in nurseries.

Peter Tatchell comments: “The right to love a person of either sex, to engage in any mutually consensual sexual act, and to enjoy a happy, healthy sex life, is a fundamental human right. This right to sexual self-determination should be promoted in every school, to create a culture of sexual rights where every young person understands and asserts their right to determine what they, and others, do with their body. This ethos of ‘it’s my body, I’m in charge’ is the best possible protection against people who try to manipulate and pressure youngsters into having sex.” He says schools should not promote any particular sexual orientation and he advocates schools teaching children about the whole range of sexual activities.

Allen Young, a member of New York’s Gay Liberation Front says: “Only because our capitalist values and nuclear family structure coerce children into sex roles do they become limited in their sexuality.”

The danger is already present of young teenagers who formerly would have known little about homosexual practice, now experimenting or even asking for gender changes, who, but for modern propaganda, would have grown up to form a heterosexual relationship.

The way things are going it is inevitable that marriage and the family are going to be increasingly undermined by a society indoctrinated by the sort of view Tatchell is advocating.

Other undermining of marriage and the family

Single parenthood

I am aware that many are lone parents as a result of divorce or unplanned pregnancies and many of them make every effort to be good parents, caring for their children. However the British Social Attitudes Surveys also show an increase in the acceptance of parenthood outside marriage. In 1989, 70% agreed that ‘people who want children ought to get married.’ In 2000 it was 54%. In 1961 2% of the population lived in homes with children and a single parent. In 2005 it was 12%.[3] In 1972 7% of children lived in single parent families. In 2002 it was 23%.[4]

Sarah McLanahan and Karen Booth of the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1991)refer to various American studies claiming that children are harmed by single parenthood. They say that such children have lower earnings and experience more poverty as adults; that are more likely to become lone parents themselves; and that they are more likely to become delinquent and engage in drug abuse.

Sara Arber, Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey found that the children of single parents suffered more ill-health than other children unless their parent was fully employed.

Sociologist David Morgan says the evidence suggests the children of single parents fare less well than those from two-parent households. In addition, many such children will experience the confusion and insecurity of their mothers forming successive relationships with different men.

Divorce

Divorce rates have been rising and this has obvious ill effects on both parents and children. However the remarriage rate is also high.

Conclusion

The rate of marriage in the UK is still quite high but marriage is declining as an institution. Cohabitation outside of marriage is widespread and single parenthood is growing. Also the divorce rate has grown considerably. Then there is the issue of same-sex marriage which, however popular, undermines the nature of marriage and the family.

Ecologist Edward Goldsmith wrote: “The institution of the family has decayed in modern times, so converting society into an alienated agglomeration of disconnected individuals, susceptible to arbitrary, remote and authoritarian governance.”[5]

We need to recognise and watch these trends because ultimately they will cause enormous damage to individuals, families and society. Marriage and the family are under serious threat and so is society.

Tony Higton

[1] Margaret Benston, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation”, Monthly Review, 21 (4), September 1969.

[2] J. Stacey, Brave New Families. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

[3] HMSO, 2002a; Social Trends 2006.

[4] Social Trends 1998, 2006.

[5] http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/30/the-family-basis-of-social-structure/?show=all