With the increase in antagonism towards biblical Christianity in the UK (and beyond) so the questions – philosophical, ethical and theological – of church/state relationships and Christian protest arise.
In the context of the current 'consultation' regarding same-sex marriage there is news that a group of Christians are planning a public protest at the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh at the end of the consultation period. One of the organisers, a church elder has been quoted as affirming "Marriage is an exclusive union of one man and one woman and the government are trying to violate our moral code."
While all who are faithful to biblical teaching, there are also questions regarding whether this manner of protest is in keeping with the Christian ethos. However with the very marked shift in legislation and public policy against Christian belief and value – along with various situations in law courts, and actions by employers and even the police – the question of the relationship between professing Christianity and the state in general is increasingly coming to the fore.
Following the Reformation division appeared between the Reformers and the Anabaptists. Although the question of baptism was at the forefront, there also appeared profound differences within these ranks regarding the extent to which Christians should be involved in the political process.
At one end of the spectrum hyper-Calvinism/Christian Reconstructionism and Theonomy would see the job of the church as being to enforce God’s standards on society (cf Augustine/Calvin ‘City of God’ philosophy). This view was also manifest in the Anabaptist rebellion in Münster. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, pacifist and isolationist views have produced sects such as the Amish who live 19th-century lifestyles and divorce themselves completely from the world around them. [Interestingly the Amish have their roots in the Swiss Anabaptists.]
In between these two extremes there are diverse views on the extent and manner in which Christians are allowed and/or instructed to attempt to influence the surrounding world.
The ‘salt and light’ metaphors which Jesus employed would clearly suggest that Christian witness should be clearly evident (Matt 5:13-14). There is no biblical support for the sadly-common view that ‘faith is a private matter’. However in restoring the guard’s ear, Jesus demonstrated that violent responses are not the way (Matt 26:50-54): that we do not fight with the weapons of this world (2 Cor 10:4) but rather with reasoned argument (apologetics) - preaching obedient thought processes within a changed worldview (2 Cor 10:5; Rom 12:2). The zealots of Jesus’ day who sought to overthrow the invading Roman rule would not have been comfortable with these concepts; in fact they were ‘soon scattered and became a lawless band of mere brigands’.
But even in the ‘middle ground’ there are differing views on whether or not Christians should be engaged in the political process; and if so how should they engage. Some believers steer clear of the muddied waters of the political pond; others seek to bring ‘influence from within’ by joining one of the mainstream parties: yet others feel that forming discrete Christian parties is the best way to proceed.
Criteria for engagement
In a world full of violence, corruption and inequality there is ample biblical justification for responses from those who hold to the Kingdom principles of peace, honesty and justice. Whilst the deeper motives may well be highly suspect, the invasion in the Balkans and, more recently, the action in Libya, were conducted under the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P) philosophy. In early Christian doctrine, these actions would fit into the ‘Just War’ doctrine of Cicero which was then adopted into Christian thinking by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand many churchmen protested within the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement arguing the case against weapons of mass destruction.
Means of engagement
Regarding the ‘how’ of Christian influence again there is a spectrum of opinion. In Inverness the ‘Silent Witness’ on Easter Friday stands in stark contrast with ‘Christians’ who threaten to burn down abortion clinics. In the Highlands and Islands one prominent clergyman earned the media epithet of ‘Ferry Reverend’ in relation to the minister’s actions of lying prostrate on a ferry pier in an effort to block Sunday sailings.
Back in the mid-90s a group of Christian believers – leaders included – stood in silent protest outside the Highland Council’s headquarter building on the day on which local authority counsellors were due to discuss the proposal to install condom vending machines in secondary schools. In a high-profile and – for the Council, and more so the Highland Health Board – a deeply embarrassing fashion, the proposal was ditched in a spectacular volte face.
In more recent years, polite but efficacious representation from the Christian churches in the Inverness area has meant that offensive flags are no longer be flown over prominent local authority buildings.
The particpants in engagement
The very public and embarrassing predicament of English clergymen embroiled in the anti-capitalist protests at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has pointed up the dilemma for many believers – whether or not to align with those who might have a just cause but lack Christian ethics regarding deportment and behaviour.
This expedient but unholy admixture of ideologies was very starkly evident in earlier protests against the military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. TV scenes showed violent street marches comprising radical Islamists, ‘peace’ activists (including Christians) and vociferous supporters spanning the political spectrum; all marching together.
Co-belligerency is a very dangerous game for followers of Christ and disciples need to be very careful indeed regarding the platforms on which they stand and the associations they are involved in. [We are now seeing Anglican clergymen taking the stage with hate-mongering Islamists – all in the name of ‘justice’ in the Middle East; see video below]
Compare and contrast the following scenes
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The four models of Church/State relationships have been described as follows –
- The State over the Church: where Christianity is only expressed – if at all – within the boundaries of the country’s laws and constitution (e.g. The ‘Three-Self’ church in China which is effectively state-controlled).
- The Church over the State: for instance the Vatican is a separate state ruled by the Pope/Roman Catholic Church. Essentially the Scottish Covenanters pressed for a nation which would be ‘covenanted’ with God and under God.
- Separation of Church and State (typically in the USA)
Although the ‘two kingdoms’ model (above) is cherished within the Church of Scotland (as the ‘national’ church but not the ‘state’ church – as is the Church of England with the monarch as its head), the fact that there are now many other Christian denominations (and non-denominations) means that the body of Christ in Scotland cannot possibly be understood as being confined to any one grouping.
- Mutual interaction between Church and State with each having primacy in their respective spheres as two parallel but complementary systems. (This is the ‘two kingdoms’ view which the Scottish Reformers championed and is embedded in the Westminster Confession of Faith; Ch 23.)
In this context the Church of Scotland has (under God) no special or unique place in the spiritual life of Scotland. However it does have a unique position within the Scottish legal framework as expressed in the Church of Scotland Act 1921 which grants the denomination immunity from civil jurisdiction in ‘matters spiritual’.
But any lingering notion that Scotland is a ‘nation convenanted under God’ with the Kirk as its spiritual mentor and overseer is well and truly demolished by the Scottish Governments wholly unbiblical desire to redefine marriage and the Church of Scotland’s risible failure to hold a biblical line on this vitally-important issue.
For a fuller overview of the relationships between the Christian faith and the nation/state(s) see the article:
Church and State; who's boss?