Sometimes when I listen to news and current affairs programs I get the feeling that our Western culture is moving, at a great rate of knots, away from its Judaeo-Christian roots. The list of concerns is endless: from gratuitous violence in movies to the sexualising of children and from same-sex marriage to corporal punishment. Already forty years ago, when I was at our theological college we talked about the coming of a post-Christian era. Well, I don’t want to be a “chicken little” who complains that the sky is falling in but we could be forgiven for claiming that we are now living in a pagan era.
At the same time God graciously gives us as Christian some occasional victories – two such were prominent in the news in the past week.
From the UK there was a statement from a high court judge that she felt that religious conscience ought perhaps to be respected in the public square.
The background to that was an event in 2008 where bed-and-breakfast owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, declined to provide accommodation for a homosexual couple on the basis of their Christian convictions. The two men concerned successfully sued the Bulls for nearly $6000 for discriminating against them. A year ago their appeal was rejected by the Appeals Court and the Bulls then took their case to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK. Six months ago their appeal was again rejected. However this week one of the judges had some second thoughts about the matter. The July 4th Daily Mail reported it as follows:
A judge who condemned a Christian couple for turning away gay guests from their hotel yesterday said her decision may have been wrong. Supreme Court deputy president Baroness Hale called for a rethink on religious and gay rights six months after she rejected the B&B owners’ arguments in a key test case. Lady Hale said in a speech that the law has done too little to protect the beliefs of Christians. And she cast doubts over her own judgment in the landmark case in which a gay couple sued Christian hoteliers Peter and Hazelmary Bull.
At the very least it’s rather refreshing to hear someone in this position state that the law has done too little to protect the beliefs of Christians.
Meanwhile in the USA the Supreme Court made a ruling in favour of two Christian companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
The background to that decision was that the Obama administration had required companies to provide their employees with contraception products as part of a health-care package under duty-of-care legislation. That already raises heaps of questions: does company want to encourage sex in the workplace? Is a company really responsible for the family-planning of its employees? However the big issue for these companies was the requirement to provide the abortifacient morning-after pill. They took the government to court over the issue.
This week these companies won their case. The presiding judge declared that every person has the right, not only to believe in a divine creator and a divine law but also:
“the right to express those beliefs and to establish one’s religious (or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community.”
One can only applaud these two small but crucial victories for Christian conscience and pray that they may set precedents that will halt the further whittling away at Christian convictions from the public square.