The dust has settled on the general election. Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won with a substantially increased majority. His Brexit deal was passed and – while we can expect more Brexit battles in the months and years ahead (oh, what joy) – the government can get on with other issues on its agenda. So, what can evangelicals expect?
The government has already signalled in its Queen’s Speech (which sets out its agenda) that it will press ahead with a bill to make divorce even quicker and easier than it already is. Under new proposals, a spouse will be able to get a quickie divorce without the consent of the other spouse, and no grounds of fault need even be given.
Family law firms have been pushing very hard for this. Divorce is big business for them. The money will come pouring in if the law is changed. Anti-family campaigners also want to see the bill become law because they know it will be another nail in the coffin of marriage. Boris himself is hardly a bulwark of family values, being himself divorced and moving his younger girlfriend into Downing Street.
Proposals to soften the law on transgenderism appear to be bogged down in internal arguments within government. There were plans to allow anyone to change their legal sex by ‘self-identification’. But many feminist groups – and even some lesbian, gay, and bisexual groups – have opposed the plans.
During the general election campaign, Boris Johnson said the government was analysing the results of a consultation and ‘carefully considering’ the ‘next steps’ before announcing any firm plans. There was no manifesto commitment from the Tory Party, and nothing was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any proposals – there is heavy pressure from trans activists to make this happen – but there is push back from feminists and gay groups.
The regulation of home schooling may be another issue that arises in the lifetime of this Parliament. Evangelicals take differing views when it comes to this issue, but for those who do home school it is a matter of great interest. A registration scheme is something that officials have been calling for. If the government decides to introduce such a scheme, it may do so with a light touch initially. However, home schoolers may be anxious that it could open the door to increasingly heavy regulation in years to come.
Various pro-abortion groups have been calling for the complete decriminalisation of abortion. Under the current law it is a criminal offence to terminate a pregnancy, but the law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for ‘social reasons’ and up to birth in the case of a ‘disabled’ baby. The government is not likely to propose complete decriminalisation. But there is a danger that a backbench pro-abortion MP could table an amendment to a bill.
The issue of ‘spiritual abuse’ is worth looking out for. It is a phrase that has been used with increasing frequency. It refers to psychological or emotional abuse administered in a religious or spiritual setting. Campaigners are calling for it to be made a criminal offence. But be warned: some campaigners say praying with or counselling someone to help them repent of sexual sin could be a form of ‘spiritual abuse’.
At this stage it is highly unlikely that the government would accept any amendments to the law to criminalise ‘spiritual abuse’. But evangelicals should be cautious of any moves to increase the acceptability of ‘spiritual abuse’ as a recognised category. Any criminal abuse perpetrated by anyone in ministry can already be caught by existing laws.
There may also be some attempts to change the law on assisted suicide, drugs, genetic modification, and conversion therapy. And then there are the separate questions of what may happen at the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff.
Those are the negatives. Those are the dangers. Are there any positives? Any opportunities? Possibly yes. To anyone who reads the comment and opinion sections of the media, the tide does appear to be turning against what is called ‘identity politics’. And some of that changing tide emerged in the election results, with traditional working-class voters rejecting Jeremy Corbyn and ‘lending’ their vote to the Tories.
Identity politics is the idea that the group identity is the most important factor. It has been at the centre of the LGBT movement, the feminist movement, and the transgender movement. Identity politics can be very tribal and polarising. Some groups are held up as worthy, other groups are cast down as contemptible. Evangelical Christians have certainly been among the latter. In the realm of public debate, evangelicals don’t get a look in.
But not just evangelicals. Ordinary people who are still socially conservative on various moral issues, especially the family, feel like their voices are not heard either. They feel cast down by the metropolitan elites. Eventually, ordinary people begin to react to that. They want to be heard. They don’t like being told what to say and what to think by snooty celebrities.
All sorts of writers and thinkers from the left and the right, gay and straight, atheists and believers, have been questioning the dominance of identity politics. Douglas Murray, Brendan O’Neill, Rod Liddle, David Starkey, Jordan Peterson, and others have all been demolishing aspects of the movement.
And yet the key institutions of our society – Parliament, government, education, the media, the NHS, the civil service, etc. – are still in the grip of identity politics. So, there is a long way to go. But perhaps there are the green shoots of an alternative springing up here and there. And if there is, then evangelicals may have a voice and an opportunity to speak more openly in the future.
It is wise to understand what may be coming our way in Parliament, and what is happening in our culture. But ultimately, we rest on the rock of our salvation. We don’t look to the ebbs and flows of our society; we must look to the never-changing truth of Christ.
Mike Judge is editor and a director of Evangelical Times, and Pastor of Chorlton Evangelical Church in Manchester.