In December the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, brought forward his Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. Part 5 of this Bill was highly unsatisfactory and, while not applicable in Scotland, presented a distinct threat to Christian liberty south of the border; it made incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence. Thankfully this measure did not become law due to massive opposition in the House of Lords that reflected the widespread disquiet felt in the country.
Meanwhile, Donald Gorrie MSP was preparing a Private Members Bill for the Scottish Parliament along similar lines. This Bill aims at Protection from Sectarianism and Religious Hatred. His consultation paper points to “animosity” between some Protestants and some Roman Catholics, and to “sectarian bigotry” leading to violence and harassment. He does not propose to introduce a new offence but to increase the existing penalties if an existing offence is aggravated by bigotry or sectarianism. Part 2 of this document proposes a code of conduct to be imposed upon all public bodies – councils, schools, health authorities, universities and colleges, quangos, the Executive Departments and Parliament, all employers, voluntary organisations, churches, football and other sports clubs, and housing associations. Following concern about attacks on mosques, the Scottish Executive has set up a working group to tackle religious hatred and bring forward proposals for legislation on aggravated offences and incitement.
Violent, sectarian behaviour from any quarter is totally unacceptable; it is contrary to the law of God and therefore incompatible with Christian principles and practice. Those who engage in such violence, in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, are criminals, not Christians, and should be dealt with as such, whatever side of the divide they come from. Certain ways of speaking or writing are calculated to stir up hatred and prejudice, yet truth itself can be offensive to those who will not accept it. Jesus Himself said, “They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:25, Ps 69:4).
This kind of violence affects only a tiny minority of the Scottish community, largely confined to the west of Scotland. Does this warrant imposing a nationwide law? Mr Jim Wallace, the Justice minister, is reported to have said that Scotland’s criminal law is “robust and flexible enough” to deal with such incidents. Although Mr Gorrie has stated that it is not his intention to stifle genuine religious debate, such a law may well have unintentional and far-reaching effects on free speech. Among those affected may be Christian ministers who condemn superstitions and errors in the legitimate pursuit of truth while preaching the Word.
Some crimes may be easily identifiable as aggravated by sectarianism but a former Lord Chancellor, pointed out recently that the words “religion or religious are extremely vague terms to be used to define a statutory offence” (1). Cultural and religious divisions in Scotland are hundreds of years old and, as long as the main issues remain untouched, they will not be cured by an aggravation penalty. Such a penalty is unlikely to have any significant deterrent effect on the kind of people who commit such crimes. Codes of practice may help in some circumstances but they already exist in most organisations. In Scotland, state interference in the affairs of the Church has been extremely divisive. It could again bring Church and state into serious conflict.
Some may argue that the language of the Westminster Confession – still the principal subordinate standard of the Church of Scotland and referred to in various Acts of Parliament – encourages bigotry and sectarianism. The Confession states: “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (25:6). But such statements are necessary because of the manifestly false claims and aggressive activities of the Papacy.
Falsehood destroys unity and divides churches and states. For example, the Roman Catholic Church claims that the Pope is infallible when he speaks on matters of faith and morals. Pope Leo XIII declared in 1885 that “the Pope holds on earth the place of Almighty God”. When a cardinal crowns a new Pope he makes the following pronouncement: “Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns, and know that thou art the Father of Princes and Kings, Ruler of the World, the Vicar of our Saviour Jesus Christ”. No support for such astonishing claims can be found in the Bible or in the lives and doctrines of the Popes. A Protestant is simply one who protests against doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church that are contrary to the Word of God. However, the Church of Rome has never been willing to reform them.
There is ample documentation to support the claim that the Roman Catholic Church has sought to dominate nations and peoples by fair means and foul. It has been guilty of atrocious crimes of fearful magnitude and to this day it exerts unbiblical political influence all over the world. Recent studies of previously-unpublished Vatican archive material prove not only papal complicity in the Holocaust, but that papal anti-Semitism was a major cause. Roman Catholic and Jewish historians – including John Cornwell in his Hitler’s Pope and David Kertzer in his Unholy War – have underlined, not just the fallibility, but the terrible guilt of the Papacy. A further disturbing study is the recently-published Papal Sin by another Roman Catholic historian, Professor Gary Wills. Various studies have estimated that, during the Second World War, more than 500 000 Serbs and Croats were murdered by the Ustashe with the help of Roman Catholic Archbishop Stepinac and with the knowledge of Pius XII. Stepinac reported to the Pope that 244 000 Serbs had accepted (forced) conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In November 1999 and in December 2000 the Scottish Parliament debated the Act of Settlement, which bars Roman Catholics from the throne, and condemned it as discriminatory. Such discrimination, MSPs said, “has no place in modern society”. Allegations were made that the Act infringed European human-rights legislation, and the Parliament supported an attempt by the Guardian newspaper to challenge the Act in the courts. However, in the light of the foregoing evidence of papal crimes, we may well ask: “What place should an institution like the Papacy have in modern society? And was this not the institution whose activities made it necessary to bring in such an Act in defence of civil and religious liberty?” It remains to be seen whether or not we shall continue to receive such protection.
Roman Catholic schools have been one of the most prominent means of nurturing sectarianism in our society. Sectarianism will not end as long as parents continue to send their children to these schools.
Dialogue and debate are highly desirable and necessary, but we should never give way to error at the expense of truth. No good will ever come of denying and hiding the truth, whether it concerns Islam, Christianity or whatever. Honesty and truth impress, but lies and deceit destroy confidence. The Church has a great responsibility to show leadership in this present discussion; it is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). But it is obvious that such leadership is not forthcoming. A recent comment indicates how one of our national churches appears in the eyes of many: “The Church of England, alas, is basically one great big soggy jellified compromise” (2).
Ecumenism on the basis of truth is good but, if people see churches sweeping the truth out of sight, as is happening today through false ecumenism and also through the inter-faith movement, both truth and leadership will be lost. How can the blind lead the blind? The ninth commandment requires all of us, especially churchmen and politicians, to maintain and promote the truth between man and man. People of other faiths and beliefs must be treated kindly and lovingly, but no Christian, true to his Saviour, can accept other religions as valid ways of worshipping the same God. “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Young British people, many sickened by the decadence and empty worldliness of modern Western society, are converting to the error of Islam. The new convert to Islam has to learn to repeat in Arabic, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”. In the light of the Bible, we can be quite clear that Muhammad was no prophet, and that Allah is no God but a figment of the imagination. Yet, if that statement was made in Pakistan, one of our anti-terrorism partners, one could be sentenced to death for criticism of the Prophet Mohammed in violation of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Act of 1985. Peaceful Muslims and British Prime Ministers join in asserting that Islam is a “peaceful” religion, but a lot of explaining will have to be done before ordinary people are convinced, given the fact that there is a worldwide network of Islamic people crying “death to the infidel”.
The Christian gospel is not to be defended or promoted by the sword, as in the Roman Catholic Crusades against Islam. Jesus told Peter to put up his sword into the sheath and declared that His servants would not fight, because His kingdom was not of this world. The civil power, on the other hand, has a duty to defend its people, and the failure of our government to be resolute and effective in that duty has created the climate for vigilante tactics in Northern Ireland. There is hypocrisy in seeking protection for society by fighting Islamic terrorism abroad whilst pandering to Republican and sectarian terrorists at home.
It is to be hoped that the current discussion will stimulate a real quest for truth and reconciliation, rather than more legislation. Such a quest will be the best protection from sectarianism and religious hatred. We have a perfect code of practice in the Bible. Christ is our Righteousness and our exemplar. He is meek and lowly in heart and calls on us to follow Him. Both Church and state should encourage the hearing and doing of the Word of God. Let the Church carry out the great commission and let the people openly debate the causes of division. For good reasons, Scotland rejected Romanism at the Reformation and embraced biblical Christianity. We have no reason whatever to relax our stance or change our minds. At present both Church and state are failing the people. We have a wonderful Christian heritage and the gospel of Jesus Christ – “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” – is for all, including the atheist, the Muslim, the Hindu and the Jew. All our citizens, of whatever colour or creed, should be encouraged to embrace Christ for themselves. People of other faiths are not to be persecuted, but treated with respect; yet it does not follow that we should encourage heathen religions. The opposition of committed Christians to Roman Catholic or Muslim teachings does not mean that they are against Roman Catholic or Muslim people. The Christian’s desire is to love the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind and his neighbour as himself.
The civil magistrate is a divinely ordained institution for the protection of man and is armed with the sword for “the defence and encouragement of those that are good, and the punishment of evil doers” (Westminster Confession 23:1). How will God view a state that uses its authority to protect the evildoer and to overthrow sound doctrine? Terrorism at home is being appeased while the real causes of sectarianism and religious hatred are ignored. Our legislators should beware of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matt 23:24).
1. Daily Telegraph, 24 October 2001.
2. Libby Purves in the Times, 15 January 2002.