Monday, 3 May 2010

Law and politics

A reader writes! And having nothing else to say right now to keep the blog going, I'll answer this instead...
Hi David, I don't think I've ever commented here before, but I appreciate the things you write.
Thank you!
On the subject of politics and freedom:

How do you think Christians should feel about/respond to a potential ban on burkas (as has recently happened in Belgium, and I think is one of UKIP's policies, although I don't know if any of the major parties have mentioned it). On the one hand, governments telling people what they can and cannot wear doesn't seem like a good thing, and we might well wonder what the next thing to get banned would be. On the other, to oppose a ban would (it seems) be to defend an idolatrous practice.
I suppose that in the context of the present state of Western civilisation in regard of how it measures up to a godly society, spending too much energy on this issue is making sure that we don't let any of the Titanic's deckchairs fall over. In the context of a society which explicitly refuses to name Jesus Christ as Lord, what the state does with bits of clothing is making sure the patient's toenails are clipped when he's bleeding to death. But, a Christian politician looking to please God and serve man still has to have an answer because the issue's out there. I don't think that the government tolerating X is the same as defending or approving X. In lots of things the government simply has to say, "this is not by legitimate area of concern". Now, if people only ever wore burkhas because they were off on a suicide mission in a crowded station and they believed that Allah had told all suicide bombers to wear burkhas, then the government might have a legitimate interest in banning them. But banning them simply because they represent false religion is not in keeping with the government's limited role, which does not include restricting false religion. I think the state is intended to submit to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, because he is Lord of the state; but this does not mean a negative role to restrict the activities of those who don't agree.

I think that continental powers are discussing banning the burkha because it is to their eyes a symbol of the oppression of women in Islam rather than because it represents false religion. I find it had to get worked up with enthusiasm for this policy; why not pass laws against the oppression of women in Islam, rather than just against the symbol? But in fact I think that the Bible doesn't make either of those two things the God-given work of the state. Families have authority from God to employ their own symbols (only if it is obscene does it become a matter for the state) and the oppression of women in Islam can only ultimately be undone by a change of heart through the advance of the gospel, not an external attack on the symbol. Though symbols point to significant realities, yet we don't want people to think that the kingdom of God is a matter of clothes and appearance rather than righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

So basically I think that Christians should assert that people are free under God to choose whatever they wish to wear without interference from the state, and that we wish to approach Muslims with the gospel, not with restrictive and intrusive laws on their appearance.
Similarly, how do you feel about those protesting about the planned Mega-Mosque in/near Dudley?
Again, it seems inconsistent. If you allow large numbers of Muslims into an area, then forbidding them to live as Muslims is churlish. Choose one or the other; you can't welcome people who self-identify as Muslims without allowing them to be Muslims. If they are allowed in the country they should be allowed to worship according to their consciences, because God has placed worship as a matter under the authority of the individual, not the state. Islam is a legalistic, external and crudely territorial religion and for Christians to protest against mosques is for us to confuse Muslims about how knowing Jesus Christ is a distinctively different experience. The best protest against mosques is gospel preaching. To be sure, a mega-mosque may drastically change the character of an area and there are such things as planning laws and zoning laws which should be applied and can be done without the state over-extending its God-given role. They should obey the same planning laws as everyone else; I don't know anything about if or how that applies in this particular case. Perhaps a protest against a mega-mosque is a proxy-protest against mass immigration, but I think a Christian needs to be careful that he does not compromise his gospel witness by becoming seen by the unsaved person as an enemy protester instead of a friendly evangelist.
(Since you mentioned Doug Wilson, I'd like to ask your views on theonomy, but perhaps that's a little much for a blog comment!)
If you elaborate on the question a bit to help me I can try in a future post!

God bless,


Ned Kelly said...

There are many dimensions to this issue. On my regular early morning walk recently, I noticed a lady struggling with loading bicycles onto the rear rack of her car. I naturally stopped to help. Later walking on, I reflected that had that been a Moslem dressed in a burqa or otherwise had her face covered, it may have been offensive to her for me to have even spoken to her, let alone offer assistance, without her husband present, and in truth, I would not have known how to behave in that circumstance. I wondered whether she may have even been punished for my transgression.
As a motorcyclist, I get annoyed when I am forced by oil companies to remove even an open faced helmet before being served, a security issue they say, but that doesn't apply to Moslem women and in South Australia, a woman was even allowed to have her driver's licence ID photo taken with her face covered.
While I am delighted to accept different cultures, it does seem that some practices give us cause for pause, and it would be a tragedy if normal compassion was stifled through confusion over giving offence. Should a man offer help to a Moslem woman in need? Why are security restrictions ever tightening on ordinary folk such as myself, yet political correctness overrides common sense where Moslems are concerned?
It may be a political issue to some, religious to others, but there are numerous common sense issues that regularly arise.

David Morgan said...

Hi David, thank you for your response.

The question that I'm left with is: what's the Biblical basis for your view of the role of government? (By which I'm not trying to imply that I don't think there is one!)

On my part, before becoming a Christian my political views would probably be best described as something like "right-wing libertarian". I saw no reason to change from this after becoming a Christian, but without really giving it much thought.

In practice this looks/sounds something like: adultery is a terrible/wicked/immoral thing, but it isn't the job of the government to issue laws against it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is roughly where you land too.

The basic idea of theonomy, as I understand it, is that the civil/judicial parts of the Mosaic Law (according to the tripartite division a la Aquinas and Calvin) teach us what God expects from a government - which would extend its role beyond your view. (This is probably a naive/simplistic explanation, but hopefully not inaccurate.)

So how do you decide what is and isn't part of the government's role, and why do you choose your view others?

I realise that I'm getting close to some major issues to do with the nature of the law and the exact details of NT believers' relationship to it, and I'm not trying to disagree/argue with you, I'm just trying to make some headway in a area difficult area that I hadn't thought too much about until recently.