In 1967, the same year that Evangelical Times was founded, Parliament passed the Abortion Act. It was argued that the legislation was needed to help a small number of ‘hard cases’ where back-street abortions might lead to deaths.
Since then the lives of over 6 million unborn babies have been snuffed out – the vast majority for merely social reasons. A few years ago David Steel, the main architect of the Abortion Act, said he never intended to allow abortion on demand.
In 1969 the Divorce Reform Act widened the grounds for divorce. This Act came into force in 1971 and introduced a single ground for divorce – irretrievable breakdown of marriage – which could be established either on the basis of separation or by proving adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.
Again MPs were told that the reform was needed for a limited number of hard cases. The divorce rate rocketed in 1971 and about 5 million married couples have since divorced in England and Wales. The most popular ground has been ‘unreasonable behaviour’ which courts in England have taken to include ‘addiction to crosswords’ or ‘failure to do DIY’.
Concerning both Acts the public was assured that the ‘reforms’ would merely tweak existing legislation to allow for a small number of special cases. But the social consequences have been devastating.
Apart from the horrific number of babies aborted, women who have abortions run three times the normal risk of major depressive illness. Studies show that divorce causes more suffering to a child than the death of a parent. Just tweaking the law for a few hard cases? Hardly.
In 1985 I graduated from Newcastle University and began a career as a maths teacher. During my first teaching post, at an inner city school in Newcastle, I became increasingly aware that the Christian component within religious education was being submerged in a multi-faith mishmash.
I joined with a fellow teacher in campaigning to change the law so that Christianity had to be the main faith taught within RE. In doing so, we became acutely aware that secular humanism was spreading its influence and that many evangelical teachers had imbibed secular thinking.
A Christian institute
We wrote a paper calling for a Christian institute to rationally defend Christian belief in all areas of life and to stand against secular thinking. We shared the paper with a small group of Christians and (to our surprise) a few days later were offered £20,000 to realise our ideas.
In 1989 I gave up my job as a teacher to establish The Christian Institute. I had no mailing list, no premises and no staff. In the early years I focussed on education. In 1996 I worked with CARE and other Christian organisations to campaign against the Conservative Government’s plans to liberalise divorce law.
During this campaign I met Baroness Young, a Christian Peer in the House of Lords. Lady Young was to become a patron of The Christian Institute and a firm ally in opposing the growing tide of humanistic immorality.
In 1996 our report Homosexuality and young people was launched at a press conference in London and caused quite a stir. In front of journalists, the radical homosexual protester Peter Tatchell disrupted the meeting. Our report examined the medical and legal arguments against the demands of the homosexual lobby.
The Institute supported Lady Young, who won a succession of votes in the House of Lords to block the lowering of the homosexual age of consent. On 22 July 1998, after winning a crucial vote in the Lords, she needed police protection to get to her car after militant homosexual activists tried to storm Parliament.
The Lords repeatedly voted against lowering the homosexual age of consent and the Government ended up using the Parliament Acts (meant only for major constitutional issues) to force the measure through.
However, the campaigning of many thousands of Christians delayed the measure for three years – protecting countless young people during that period. Lady Young, supported by The Christian Institute, also campaigned against the repeal of Section 28, which repeal was successfully blocked for six years.
Protection for churches
At the same time the Institute was involved in arguing against a new European Union law which banned discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or sexual orientation (among other things).
We pointed out that the ethos of a religious organisation would be threatened if it could not insist that its staff were committed Christians – who lived lives consistent with the Bible’s ethical commands.
We pressed hard for protections for churches, faith schools and religious organisations. Although the final regulations issued by the Government were not ideal, they were a significant improvement on the initial draft.
Religious liberty under attack
In retrospect our 1996 report looks prophetic. This wave of sexual law reform led to a much more hostile atmosphere for Christians who publicly express the truth that homosexual practice is morally wrong.
The Institute is increasingly involved in religious-liberty case work, and the worst examples often involve militant homosexual activists trying to suppress the free speech of Christians.
In 2003 the Bishop of Chester was investigated by the police, and a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, simply because he said (quite accurately) that research shows that many homosexuals can ‘reorientate’ to heterosexuality with the help of therapy.
In 2005 an elderly Christian couple from Lancashire were interrogated in their own home by two police officers for over an hour merely because they had criticised their local council’s ‘gay rights’ policy.
These cases are alarming but we must keep them in perspective. It is perfectly legal to say publicly that homosexual practice is morally wrong. The police are not about to launch dawn raids on evangelical homes.
These cases are rare, but they are becoming more frequent and more serious. A robust response to these attacks on our liberty is vital.
Religious hatred law
Such a response was evident in the campaign against the introduction of a ‘religious hatred’ offence. The Christian Institute was heavily involved in opposing a projected law that threatened our freedom to say that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of men.
Thousands of Christians prayed, met their MPs, wrote letters to the Government and protested outside Parliament. It was one of the largest mobilisations of Christian action in our generation.
On a historic night, 31 January 2006, the House of Commons voted by a majority of one to reject the Government’s plans. Wide-ranging safeguards to protect free speech and evangelism were introduced. The victory shows what Christians can do through fervent prayer and the use of democratic means to contend for gospel freedom.
Approaches that cannot work
Over the last 40 years the basis of our society has been undermined. Restraints have been cast off and now our culture seems unable to defend itself. You can’t put out a fire by dousing it with petrol. Yet many major social problems are addressed in this way.
Schoolchildren are taught how to have ‘safer sex’ – as if sexual intercourse was a recreational activity for children. Likewise, children are increasingly shown how to take drugs ‘safely’. One popular resource advises, ‘Don’t sniff aerosols on the top of high buildings – you might fall off! … When you’re taking ecstasy make sure you drink plenty of water’.
Christians know that these approaches can never work because they never get to grips with the nature of temptation and habit-forming behaviour.
All around us we see the consequences of rejecting God’s laws. And we can expect more problems as gambling and alcohol licensing laws are further relaxed. Even small changes can have big effects if they undermine foundational values. And a rejection of Christian values in society makes it tougher to be a Christian.
In The Christian Institute we have known God’s blessing as we seek to stand against the tide of ungodly legislation and public policy. We are particularly thankful to God for the provision of our new building, Wilberforce House.
Our work is hard and we do it primarily for the honour of God’s name. It is the right thing to do. It is also the loving thing to do because God’s laws are best for people. Real suffering is caused when people go against their Maker’s instructions.
Christians above all should know the importance of restraining sin in our society. This is the first use of the moral law. We can thank God that, though fallen, men and women still have consciences – and that key common-grace institutions such as marriage and governing authorities continue.
We must pray for those in authority, as we are commanded in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, and ensure that our own salt does not lose its savour.