Geoffrey Kirk wonders how long it might be before Christianity becomes a hate crime?

How long before Christianity becomes a hate crime? You may well think that my question is preposterous – just the sort of alarmist talk you would expect from New Directions. But think again. And consider Canada.

Bishop Frederick Henry is head of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary, Alberta. He has been at the forefront of Canada’s battle over marriage. In consequence he has been hauled before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal for promoting traditional Christian marriage in his pastoral letters. ‘The human rights tribunals have become like thought police,’ Henry is quoted as saying. ‘In Canada you can now use the coercive power of the state to silence opposition.’

Canada has recently introduced legislation to permit same-sex marriages – or, which is more to the point, has altered existing marriage legislation to define marriage as a union, not of a man and a woman, but of ‘two persons.’ The change, needless to say, was portrayed as one which merely promoted ‘inclusiveness.’ Like the Bishop of Chelmsford, the proponents argued that same-sex marriage would not change anyone else’s marriage, but merely expand the institution to provide equal rights for all. That is not what has transpired.

Marriage, after all, is a foundational institution. As such it is embedded throughout the law. It affects everything from child-rearing practices through schooling and employment policy, to retirement and pension provision. The change, therefore, is wide-ranging. Its extent and implications are difficult to predict.

It follows, moreover, that when male-female marriage and same-sex marriage have become equal in the eyes of the law, then treating them differently becomes ‘discrimination.’ In Canada, ‘privileging’ male-female marriage is now a violation of human rights. What the State did yesterday, it has today become illegal for the private citizen to advocate. Says Bishop Henry, ‘Canadians who believe in the historic definition of marriage and who believe that children need a father and a mother, are now the legal equivalent of racists.’

It does not take much imagination to see how a society obsessed by the twin concepts of equality and human rights would further prosecute this agenda. Canada is combing its laws to remove any evidence of heterosexist discrimination. The very terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have come to seem offensive and are being systematically removed from the law books and the official literature of government programmes. The legal meaning of parenthood is being altered. Children in sex education classes are being taught equally about homosexual as well as heterosexual practice. There must be equal access to literature about same-sex partnerships as to literature about marriage in state schools. Demands are already being made for the provision of ‘positive queer role models’ in all areas of the curriculum.

But is there not, you will ask, legal exemption for those who uphold the Christian view of marriage? Does the law not allow for rights of conscience?

Indeed it does. But the Federal Law respecting freedom of conscience is interpreted and enforced by the courts, and by the provincial governments. ‘The courts and the provincial governments, not the federal government, have the competence to decide such matters,’ says Bishop Henry. He cites the case of Chris Templing, a school teacher in British Columbia who was disciplined for defending male-female marriage in newspaper opinion pieces.

And if you think all this is a far cry from our own dear country, consider the bizarre provisions of the Gender Recognition Bill, which give rights to the clergy to refuse to marry those about whose gender they have reasonable doubts – but at the same time deny them the solid information which would establish the facts beyond dispute.

Those of us who have opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, in England and elsewhere, know only too well the inexorable logic whereby the permissive becomes mandatory. We have watched ‘conscience clauses’ disappear like the morning dew. (No ‘code of practice’ can stand against the ill-will of those who are empowered to execute it; just as in Canada, no federal provision can avail against provincial courts which will not uphold it.) And we have seen the corrosive effect of the a priori ethical assumptions which underlie the innovation. No reasonable person can now doubt that the re-marriage of divorcees, homosexual marriages and ordinations, and the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are ideologically inter-related. You have only to visit the website of Inclusive Church to grasp that.

What we have not yet seen in its fullness is the effect of these changes on core doctrine. William Oddie wrote a book in 1988 which enraged the sisterhood. What will Happen to God? was a sober account of their aspirations as they themselves expressed them. No one in 1988 was bold enough, of course, to assume that the British Parliament would embrace gender re-assignment and gay ‘marriage’ in the way that it has; but even then it was clear that biblical anthropology as a whole was under attack. (‘The current emphasis on equality between men and women [runs] the risk of overlooking the equally important biblical principle that men and women were created by God not to be interchangeable, but to be distinctive and complementary,’ says the Roman Catholic response to the Rochester Report.)

We have already seen the routine policing of pronouns, in the Bible as well as in the fulsome reports of left-leaning local authorities. We have yet to experience the wholesale dismembering of the language of benevolent patriarchy, which is at the heart of the Scriptures; but as Oddie’s book made clear, the doctrines of sin, redemption, atonement, salvation and eternal punishment are all up for a makeover. What will happen to God? He will become a useful portmanteau term for the newly imposed consensus.

There is in Christianity, as intelligent observers will have noticed, a sort of doctrinal ecology. Change one doctrine and you modify the environment of others in such a way as to endanger their survival. Just as male-female marriage is an integral part of the entire moral life of a nation, so the Fatherhood of God stands at the heart of the Christian doctrines of creation and redemption. What we are seeing, in the guise of a modest increase in ecclesial ‘inclusiveness,’ is a theological landslide of unimaginable importance. But, like Bishop Henry, we are not allowed to say that.