We are to be faithful to what scripture teaches us. That’s always the call, in every context, in every community, for everyone who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus and we are commissioned to make Him known.

Christian leader John Stott, whose legacy was recently commemorated on the centenary of his birth, spoke frequently of double listening, of holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Our commitment to follow what the Bible teaches does not negate the need to listen and to understand the culture and society around us. But our understanding of the world we live in never undermines what we learn from the Bible about how we respond and what we say.

This means, as we speak up and engage on key public policy issues, we will at times be applauded and on other occasions rejected. Some of our views will be popular, and others will be viewed as controversial. But we speak with faithfulness and a commitment to truth.

Our society increasingly sees outrage as the major note of any public debate; if you’re not outraged at what someone else has said, then you are probably lacking in conviction. The space for nuance, reason, considered arguments, context, and
policy that cuts both ways is squashed out of sight.


Public policy is frequently complex and rarely simply defined into something that is good or bad. The best policy proposals can have room for improvement, or good ideas can be constructed in such a way that makes them into bad laws. Even poor policy plans can have redeeming features.

For instance, the Government’s New Plan for Immigration is broadly a bad policy proposal, but it has positive steps towards community resettlement of refugees. The proposals for gambling regulation reform, which have many points of merit, fail to
address the availability of gambling opportunities for children and do not require the gambling industry to fund essential research, education and treatment.

The UK Government has frequently spoken of its intention to bring forward plans to end conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is an undefined concept, primarily used by its detractors, but often captures activity which is described as seeking to change or supress someone’s sexuality or gender identity. Horrific accounts have been reported of people being subjected to abuse because of their sexuality, with the intent to force them to change. Some of these accounts are of treatment carried out by the state historically, such as electroshock therapy, while others are of formal approaches (a
defined programme run by a psychotherapist, for instance) and others more informal (such as when no specialist is involved).

At the point of writing this article, details of the proposals are unknown, so it is difficult to establish how we will respond. But, considering international comparisons, and the definitions proposed by campaigners, we have considerable concern. It is apparent that plans could exceed the stated intent, impacting the freedom of churches and Christian ministries to teach a biblical view on sexuality and minister to members of their congregation.

In its 2018 action plan, the Government said it would not restrict people from accessing spiritual support around their sexuality, and therefore we will hold them to this commitment. When we see the final proposals, we will consider them carefully. We share the desire to see abusive practices stopped, but we will not accept measures
that run roughshod over religious liberty.

Speaking out on issues around sexuality attracts attention – more so than engaging on gambling, immigration, sustainability, domestic violence or the countless other issues to which we regularly respond. We do not speak to court controversy, and we will not be silent to be judged favourably by the court of public opinion. We speak carefully and with utmost consideration because key issues are at stake, and it is vital we help
evangelical Christians have a voice that is heard.

Intolerant of tolerance

Controversy is king in attracting attention, and outrage is the go-to posture in public debate; this means nuance is frequently absent. But alongside this unwillingness to engage with complexity in public conversation is a considerable reduction in the tolerated space for belief in anything absolute. 

Tolerance is lauded as a high value of contemporary society – the acceptance of different views, beliefs, lifestyles and people. But proponents of such tolerance often ringfence their tolerance far too narrowly. Some views are placed outside the circle of tolerance; considered intolerant, these are not worthy of respect or space in public
debate. Only those views that accept certain other preconditions are welcome.

This is frequently used to shut down debate and stifle views that are not considered mainstream or acceptable. The problem is that whatever noble causes may motivate such an approach, in the process our freedom of expression is diminished. As Lord Justice Sedley remarked: Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom to only speak unoffensively is not worth having.”

In a society where people increasingly reject biblical beliefs around sexuality and they’re not reflected in laws or policies, the space to speak freely is contended, and the importance to do so never greater.

The cycle of outrage and controversy feeds a culture war, where those who are shut out from public debate are aggrieved by their treatment, and nuance gets lost because fire fights fire. This is where cancel culture comes in, whether it’s social media platforms, book contracts or speaking engagements. While individual situations may be justifiable or permissible, the cumulative effect is that voices with more conservative views on moral and social issues are left out of public debate and are, as a result, further portrayed as marginal and therefore marginalised.

It is vital that Christians do not take the bait and feed a culture-war narrative but respond with grace, compassion and clarity. Our world needs compassionate, confident and courageous disciples. We should use our freedom to speak, because if we retreat from public life, it will be harder to retake our place. On the issues that may
seem controversial, it is important that we do not stay silent.

We should have confidence in what the Bible teaches and how scripture shapes our views on policy issues. Our engagement in politics is not defined by access or favour, or even by whether we are viewed to have influence in the manner the world may judge. We are called to faithfulness to Christ and His word to our world.


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