What can we expect from the new Lib-Con Coalition that has just been constructed following the General Election of May 2010? These are early days. But no sooner had the Queen’s Speech mapped out the concerns of the new Government than we heard about the Chief Secretary to the Treasury “claiming tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to rent rooms from his male lover.” One journalist wrote of the new government that “this emerging star of the coalition [had] succeeded in tipping it back into the mire of the late lamented ‘manure’ parliament. The stink won’t go away in a hurry.” From a common sense reading of the rules on Parliamentary expenses almost all were agreed that the problem was not the man’s homosexual relationship. It was his greed or cheating. However, the personal life question will not go away. Nor will it go away so long as Parliamentarians and journalists remain in a state of denial about the significance of sexual behaviour. That is for two reasons.
First, it is because, according to the latest edition of British Social Attitudes, one in three people (36%) still think homosexual acts are “always” or “mostly” wrong. This figure over recent years has gone from two thirds to one third thinking it wrong. But there has been no serious moral or scientific reasoning for this change of view. Yet this one third who think it wrong are now being denied jobs, being harassed at work for their views, not being allowed to adopt children, being struck off medical adoption and fostering panels because they are wanting to be moral and scientific, and, most serious of all in an allegedly liberal democratic society, they are being prevented even from saying such activity is wrong both for religious and social reasons.
As they perceive it, this change of heart by one third of the population is precisely that – a change of “heart” in a post-modern world that is devaluing the mind and reasonable argument. It is due, they say, mainly to a brilliantly conceived and concerted campaign using the media, education, the law, and importantly a small but very vocal minority in the church. The result has been, they claim, an imposing of views and values by false statistics and incorrect assumptions. In a post-modern society, where there is no absolute right or wrong and so a lack of sufficient certainties, particularly among the young the ensuing moral vacuum has been easily filled by a well spun and iconoclastic political cause.
But secondly, the personal life question will not go away because it is not simply a homosexual issue. It relates to both hetero- and homo- sexual relationships. The very first Chairmen of the Committee on Standards in Public Life was Lord Nolan. He was appointed by John Major in 1994 following a “cash-for-questions-scandal”. Sadly, this committee has had to be active since - such has been the moral state of some in Parliament. But Lord Nolan, when interviewed on personal life questions, said this: “Of all the behaviour which in my personal experience has caused the greatest misery to other human beings, I would put adultery pretty high on the list. I don’t actually think you can expect a man with the strains of public life to perform adequately unless he has got a good home life to go back to: someone he loves and a family he loves and some comfort that comes to him. And if you lose sight of the need for loyalty in personal relationships, if you decide that there is no need to stick to monogamy, I believe we shall be in danger of losing the cohesion that holds civilization together.”
At this time Clause 28 of Margaret Thatcher’s Local Government Act of 1988 still outlawed a local authority “promoting homosexuality”. It was, therefore, still then the case that the majority of the minority of people with exclusive and compulsive same sex attractions either sought help or wanted to keep matters private. The vocal tiny minority had still to re-group after 1988. The public issues at this time were over heterosexual cohabitation, divorce, the family and marriage. On this social science was clear. 50% of cohabiting couples are more likely to have divorced after five years of marriage, and 60% more likely after eight years of marriage than those who have not cohabited. And on average children of divorce are, sadly, significantly disadvantaged. It was becoming obvious that the only sane thing for a society is to privilege heterosexual monogamous life-long marriage.
Universal sexual ethics
Nor was there anything new about this. Marriage and premarriage patterns have always had huge significance, according to the anthropologist J.D.Unwin in his monumental work Sex and Culture. He there tells us that his researches led to two general conclusions. This first is that “the cultural condition of any society in any geographical environment is conditioned by its past and present methods of regulating the relations between the sexes.” The second is that “no society can display productive social energy unless a new generation inherits a social system under which sexual opportunity is reduced to a minimum.”
The tradition of the Western Christian sexual ethic and family pattern - namely of one man and one woman committed together for life for the sake of society, the children and each other - received remarkable support from this research. “The greatest energy,” said Unwin, “has been displayed only by those societies which have reduced their sexual opportunity to a minimum by the adoption of absolute monogamy”. As Professor V.A.Demant of Oxford once put it: “Part of the mastery over nature in man’s own life has been a mastery over the sexual impulse, to a degree in European Christendom not known elsewhere. But it has been known or practised to some degree throughout mankind’s civilized history. All cultural development has meant the limitation of sexual drives.”
So personal life issues never have been limited to homosexual activity, Nor should they be. It is simply that the motor for the sexual revolution that has been taking place in the West since the 1960s has been the so called movement for “Gay Liberation”. But, of course, the main issue all along has been the privileging of hetero-sexual monogamous life-long marriage. Necessarily that means the de-privileging of all other relationships. With whatever world-view or philosophy you hold, that will mean sooner or later that sexual behaviours relating to the privileging of marriage will be classed as right or moral, while other sexual behaviours will be classed as wrong or immoral. That is to be expected. A legitimate debate, of course, then can be held over whether such other non-marriage sexual intercourse should not only be classed by the majority as wrong and immoral but also positively proscribed, even minimally, by law. Currently the West has decided that only paedophile relations and rape should be so outlawed.
But the issue facing the people of Britain and the new coalition is no longer that debate. We have not just overturned Clause 28 and said that immoral behaviour should not be equated with criminal behaviour. We are now being asked to promote the immoral. We are being asked to teach in our schools precisely what Clause 28 forbad. For Clause 28 prevented a local authority “promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” There is no way these personal life issues will go away in these circumstances. And if Nolan and Unwin are correct they have huge social implications.
Political life in Western-democracy has evolved over the centuries a true liberalism (as distinct from a growing libertinism posing as liberalism). Such liberal democracy has come from the best of the ancient Greek and Roman traditions married, since Christ, to the Christian tradition. It has evolved from Greek rationality, Roman law and Biblical religion. There have been a number of key components, three of which are most important.
First, there is the use of “reason” in political argument and that means tolerance does not sublimate or ignore differences of view but argues over them reasonably without violence. This produces “civil” society. Secondly, there is the notion of transcendental authority. This comes from a theistic world view or a strong doctrine of natural law, such as the Roman Cicero’s “one eternal and unchangeable law … valid for all nations and all times." This is a basic moral law that Christians claim can be found in the second table of the Ten Commandments and which Paul endorses in Romans 1. This means that Governments are not self-authenticating but subject to a higher law. This is a fundamental check on totalitarianism.
The third component is government needing the consent of the governed with all deserving respect as created equal, being made in God’s image. This is a distinctly Biblical view. Allied to this are essential human rights. But these are human rights. As Martin Luther King saw, they entitled Blacks to join the normal human family and its normal life. But they are not rights for groups to diverge from the normal human family and normal human morality. To demand a right to sleep with whoever you like or “promote homosexuality” is a clever intellectual sleight of hand that subtly uses “rights talk” to enjoy its moral cash value. Yes, Casanovas can claim the human right to safety and physical protection in a civil society, but not a lover’s right to deflower as many virgins as he wants. Article 1 of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity”. That covers everyone. But Article 29 says quite clearly: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject … to … the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”.
These are a few post-election thoughts. How we need to pray for David Cameron and the government that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2.2-4).