Church & State - Principles

The following is a set of eight principles for discussion:

  1. We need to be careful when we describe any proposition as a "Fundamental" Christian Principle. There is no constant in the moral outlook of Christians which a legislator could recognise: Christians frequently disagree but often what they propose is, at best, a reaction to contemporary cultural, political and scientific conditions and, at worst, the pretext to entrench the status quo in power relationships and private preferences. (It is interesting, for example, that Christianity has accommodated much more comfortably to divorce which Jesus specifically forbade than to homosexuality about which he said nothing).
  2. We need to exercise extreme caution in proposing restrictions on liberty in the sphere of private behaviour, not simply because any general principle of imposition might abridge our own freedom but also because as Christians we believe that we were created to choose to love and to exercise our conscience. (This is quite distinct from legislation to distribute the fruits of social collaboration).
  3. To propose restrictions on individual behaviour because a situation or technology might be exploited by the wicked would require extreme differentiation rather than general acceptance. We might, for example, quite properly impose restrictions on the carrying of firearms but that is quite different from halting cancer research in case a 'mad' scientist creates a race of monsters.
  4. Assertion is not enough; any individual or group can make claims based on individual preferences and give these a 'moral' justification.
  5. We should be careful not to damage the whole superstructure of law by insisting on an individual law that does not command respect. At its best, law is self discipline not imposition.
  6. There is no ideal relationship between church and state and appeals to theocracy are hollow; there never was such a phenomenon in England, even during the 'High' Middle Ages. The proposal that the legislature should enact specifically Christian legislation on anything rests on an historical myth. Further, the proposal that legislation should be based on outcome is a perfectly respectable paradigm for secular justice operating in an imperfect world but it is a profoundly unchristian principle; we are supposed to value motive and - regardless of the need for secular jurisdiction - leave judgment to God.
  7. We will have to recognise that there is no right of special pleading. There may well be limited rights of pluralist pleading but that is another matter. Far from being in the vanguard, Anglicans will have to rely on Roman Catholics and Muslims to preserve a special zone for the operation of religious opt-outs.
  8. It would be much more principled of us to pay for our infringements of just laws than to try to perpetuate unjust laws for our own convenience, so that we can escape from our sacrificial responsibility.


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