In recent weeks here in New Zealand, we have seen our government propose new legislation along with changes to existing legislation which together present a shift virtually unprecedented in Western Liberal Democracy. Specifically, we are addressing suggested proposals to what is generally referred to as “Hate Speech Laws” (Proposals against the incitement of hatred/hostility) along with new legislation under the heading of “Conversion Therapy Ban” (Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill).
Of course, in a very real sense as a Christian these are just the latest iterations of a pattern stretching back to 2007 up to our current year with Anti-Smacking legislation, Marriage Definition legislation, Abortion legislation and Euthanasia legislation. Each of these changes to current laws or the introduction of new laws have directly touched on one or more issues of Social Ethics which are very important to a Christian Worldview and which Christians believe are best for a society to thrive.
As each of these laws have been debated publicly and within our Parliament there have been Christians (like myself) who have sought to encourage other Christians to speak out against these changes. In every case our voices have been effectively ignored and these laws have been implemented. With each new wave, it can feel like speaking out and speaking up is a waste of time and only invites unnecessary criticism.
I completely sympathise with that feeling. Yet I would like to take a few moments to address why I believe it is still essential for Christians to speak up and speak out on these matters. Each of the above areas of legislation have been different and have brought with them different consequences for our culture. The two current matters of legislation are, in many ways, so fundamental to a society that they stand out, even more, as demanding Christians to use their voice in constructive rebuke.
Why should we speak out even if it seems almost certain our voice will be ignored?
Firstly, if there is a Biblically derived principle which calls us to speak up then we do so in obedience regardless of the outcome.
Secondly (and admittedly more pragmatic), if (or perhaps when) laws like this are passed and our society fundamentally changes for the worse (which is inevitable), to speak up when we have the opportunity allows us to stand with a clear conscience before the generations that come after us as we can honestly claim, “we did not stand by in silence as these laws were debated and implemented!”
What is at stake with the proposed “Conversion Therapy Ban” legislation and the proposals to existing legislation expanding (and making vaguer) the definition and penalties for “hate speech”?
Both of these legislative procedures undermined freedom of speech along with freedom of religious expression – two fundamental building blocks of any Liberal Democracy.
More specifically, these legislative procedures are directly connected to the Christian’s freedom to preach, teach, and speak of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this point which places these items of legislation into a category of great importance for a Christian.
The Christian Gospel is a message of salvation from sin (as defined by God) through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Fundamental to the Gospel message is change. God looks on us in our sin and out of passionate love calls us to trust His Son, Jesus Christ given for sin in love, for the forgiveness of sin. In so doing, He does not leave us as we are but sets about a great work of changing us into who were we truly created to be.
As a Christian we are utterly committed to a message that inherently involves change. Therefore, to see laws put in place that makes it illegal to tell people that God desires to change them, and He can and will change them through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, is deeply disturbing to us. We must obey our God and Saviour. We must call people to turn from their sin and turn to Jesus in faith. To not do so is to no longer hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to lose what is essentially a fundamental freedom of religious expression as a Christian.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Acts 17:29-34; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; even essential for Christian parenting – Ephesians 6:4)
Although we can continue to preach, teach, and speak of this Truth even when it is illegal (indeed all faithful Christians will continue to do so) it would preferable and best for the basic principles of society, as a whole, if this freedom remained.
We do not expect most people to agree with our message. It’s not really our message but God’s. We actually believe people should have the right and freedom to disagree, to state their disagreement and to do so publicly.
As citizens of a Liberal Democracy and as Christians we are committed to freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, just as we are committed to the prevention of incitement of violence.
Please, my Christian friends, brothers & sisters in Christ. Speak up. Use your voice to defend the opportunities and freedoms we currently have in New Zealand to openly preach and teach the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ – in our homes, in our churches, in our communities, in our schools, etc.
Let me say in closing… I know all of this can seem overwhelming. All of the discussion and debate and stir even a sense of fear – fear for the future, fear for our children, fear for our churches, etc. Some of the rhetoric, even from those whose conclusions might be similar to our own, can be rather harsh at times and even seemingly exaggerated.
I can totally sympathise with this as well…
However, fear is the result of turning our eyes away from Christ and focusing on our situation or the potential of changes in our future.
It is possible (perhaps likely) these laws will be changed/passed. It is possible our current freedoms within New Zealand society as Christians will be eroded. It is possible Christians may suffer costly consequences for faithful obedience to God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, none of that is reason to fear.
If these laws are changed and/or passed, the cultural landscape in New Zealand will be fundamentally changed.
May we speak for truth, may we resist the pull to love this life and this world, may we entrust ourselves to Christ fully. He is worthy of our praise, worthy of our worship, worthy of our obedience. Our future is sure and better than anything this world promises.