Think Friday: the week that might have changed history

Below are some reflections that I posted on Facebook the day after the votes at Westminster on same-sex marriage and abortion.

I read Psalm 2 last night and again this morning. The nations will always conspire. People will always plot in vain. The world is growing ever more chaotic. But this is not a new thing, nor a surprise to God. In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that Christ remains on the throne in deep heaven, in charge of the universe - no name and no power exempt from his rule. Paul continues, “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” We, and others, think the opposite at moments like this - that the church is peripheral. Not so, because as Paul reminds us, the resurrected Jesus, leads and rules His church.

So we must remain faithful to our calling. To make disciples. To speak truth. To model grace and mercy. To do justice. To be a non-anxious presence. To steward heaven to earth. To love our neighbour. To seek the peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland. To go after the least and the lost. To walk humbly with our God.

The votes last night undermine devolution, they were carried by MPs without a mandate and they involved dubious parliamentary tactics. All that is true and there are valid points to be made on those issues. But the reality is simpler. Abortion is wrong. It is the taking of another human life - one that cannot speak up for, or defend itself. Yes, there are hard cases and and we must balance both lives involved. But the votes last night weren’t about this. They were to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The details will have to be worked out, but in simple terms this was about removing any legal sanction for abortion at any stage. It would leave a hawk’s egg with better protection than an unborn child. 

Westminster also voted to redefine marriage in Northern Ireland. This for me is a different matter. The Bible is clear that sex should be within marriage between one man and one woman. I support much of the equality agenda and stand against bullying and discrimination. As I have acknowledged before, the church has not always dealt well with issues around sexuality. But, I cannot support the redefinition of marriage. There are real questions as to the role of the state in blessing or supporting any form of relationship. It has historically supported marriage and family for selfish and financial reasons - it was the cheapest way to raise the next generation of taxpayers. How it will decide which relationships to recognise going forward will, I suspect, be a continual challenge for it, and others. Why not three or four people, siblings, marriage to robots and even marriage to oneself?

But today I feel challenged and excited about the opportunities ahead. Challenged to do all I can to protect the life of the unborn child. Law change is not a given and there are potential opportunities before 21st October. Regardless, we will work with others to ensure Northern Ireland is the most life affirming place it can be. We know 100,000 people are alive today because we did not bring in the 1967 Abortion Act. Even if abortion becomes a legal option, there will be opportunities to create a culture that means it will be a path taken by as few as possible. The early church was famous for getting up early each morning and gathering in the discarded babies found outside the city walls and raising them as their own - that is our model. A culture of death is fertile ground for a story of resurrection and life. In a world of fear, a gospel of hope has new appeal. In a culture of individualism and consumerism, sacrificial church communities will stand out and have opportunities to draw others in.

So we, the church, must remain faithful to our calling - gathering to worship together, to mourn together, to prayer together and then scattering to love our neighbour, to make disciples and to be a non-anxious presence in an uncertain world. We must call on, and help our politicians to do better, for the sake of the other. But we must not lose hope - for our hope is in Jesus. Come Holy Spirit and heal your world.