Am I Stirring Up Hatred?

I grew up hearing people shout insults and then, when challenged for their hate, retort that 'it's a free country.' They may have been saying nasty things, and they may have been nasty people, but they were quite right - it was a free country. But, as we wake up today following the passing of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland Bill) in the Scottish Parliament last night, will that still be the case? In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure.

Hate Crime and Free Speech

Undoubtedly, the Bill has been improved since it was introduced to Parliament in April 2020 (see article: Scotland's New Blasphemy Laws - Kinloch Free Church (kinlochfc.org)). However, there are still serious concerns with regards to how it shall be prosecuted. The offending section is Part 2 of the Bill. The explanatory notes summarise the section as follows:

Part 2 creates offences of stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a listed characteristic (age, disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics). It also creates offences of possessing inflammatory material with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where there is an intention to stir up hatred or it is likely that hatred would be stirred up.

The sharp edge has arguably been removed from this section by an amendment by Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins which seeks to guard the freedom of speech. In his own words, the amendment would make sure that

You are not committing a hate crime unless you cross that threshold of saying something that is not only offensive, but saying something that a reasonable person would hold to be threatening or abusive in a manner that intends to stir up hatred.

This is certainly a helpful clarification, and it's good that it was included. However, it is not foolproof. For example, where exactly is that threshold? What defines a reasonable person? In our polarised day, what is hatred? What does it look like to stir it up? Many of the key words in this debate have been left worryingly undefined.

Humza Yousaf tried to reassure the man on the street by saying,

To those who think they may accidentally somehow fall foul of the law... because they believe sex is immutable, or they believe an adult man cannot become a female or they campaign for the rights of Palestinians... or those that proselytise that same-sex relationships are sinful, none of these people would fall foul of the stirring up of hatred offence for solely stating their belief - even if they did so in a robust manner ... Why? Because solely stating any belief, which I accept may be offensive to some, is not breaching the criminal threshold.

Interesting use of "proselytise."

So, clearly, at least according to the drafters of the law, 'solely stating any belief ... is not breaching the criminal threshold.' One wonders, then, not only how this crime will be prosecuted, but also who it will satisfy? One group will be constantly looking over their shoulder, worried that they may have broken a taboo, and another group will be frustrated that those who disagree with them, offend them, and therefore arguably hate them, will not be prosecuted, shamed and silenced. How, then, is this Bill going to deal with the, apparently systemic, hatred at the grassroots level of society?

The fact is that you can't have a free speech provision in a Bill that is, in its very essence, designed to curtail free speech, and still expect the Bill to do what it was designed to do in the first place. That is a confusing sentence, but its is a confusing piece of legislation.

Stirring up Hatred

Most people are not in a position in which they could stir up hatred even if they tried. As a minister, however, I feel a bit nervous. It is, after all, my job to stir people up. The Apostle Peter wrote to the Church in his own day saying,

This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour. (2 Peter 3:1-2)

His intention is to sir up the minds of the people to remember the words of the prophets and the commandments of the apostles. Bear in mind that, in Biblical terminology, to 'remember' something isn't simply to recollect it - it's to act upon it. Peter was stirring up the Church to action.

And so it is with the preacher. Not dissimilar to the comedian who wants to make you laugh, or the singer who wants to move your emotions, so the minister preaches for a response. It is our job to stir you up to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to go out and live a consistent Christian life in the public sphere while you 'contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.' (Jude 3) Can we still do this?

Examples

With regard to the protected characteristics under this legislation, there are significant points of tension. In terms of religion, I will continue to preach that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. I will encourage my congregation to promote this view and to witness to people of all faiths to embrace Biblical Christianity. Is this stirring up hatred?

With regards to sexual orientation, I will teach that the only legitimate place for sexual relations is in a lawful marriage between a man and a woman. I will encourage my congregation to live in accordance with this teaching and to promote it in their own spheres as the only legitimate moral position. Moreover, the elders of the Church will deny membership to any who defy that Biblical principle. Under this new legislation, will myself and the elders who serve alongside me be illegally stirring up hatred?

With regards to transgender identity, I will continue to teach the congregation, in the words of Jesus, that 'from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.' (Mark 10:6) I will teach that there are two  sexes and two genders and that what we are born with is simply the hand that God has dealt us - to deny that or to seek to alter it is both sinful and unnatural. Not only will I teach this but I will also call my congregation to hold to it and to promote it. Will that be stirring up hatred?

To the, arguably legitimate, anger of some, sex has not been included as a protected characteristic under this Bill. Should it be introduced, as it is expected that it will be, I will continue to preach that men and women are, in many cases, naturally suited to different but complementary roles. I will expound the Bible's teaching that, although women are invaluable to the Church, they are not to hold office in it (i.e., be ministers, elders or deacons). Will I be stirring up hatred?

What Next?

It is my job to stir people up to specific views on all of these issues. I will never do so out of hate but, rather, out of love. Indeed, I hope that I would give the shirt off my back for those who disagree with me and are living lives which Scripture deems to be sinful and dishonouring to God. They are all welcome in the Church and they are welcome at my dinner table.

However, without a shadow of a doubt, there will be feminists, homosexuals, members of other religions, and transgender people who will believe that I am stirring up hatred against them. Does this legislation give them a grounds to say that? Does it give a judge a legal basis to charge me? Will 'speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15) be deemed hate speech in 21st century Scotland?

I hope not. However, in all honesty, I am not sure. This new legislation has certainly made it a worrying possibility, if not yet a reality. I suppose time will tell.

One thing is for sure - in this increasingly transparent day, there will be new fears and anxieties as ministers preach on such moral issues in the future. Not just that we might offend someone in the congregation, but that we might have a policeman knocking at the door on Monday morning. However, regardless of what the future holds, I hope that, like thousands before us, ministers will continue to understand that 'we ought to obey God rather than men.' (Acts 5:29)

 

As always, these opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Kinloch Free Church or the Free Church of Scotland. 


A Challenge to Self-Centred Christianity

Christianity is, in the first place, a personal relationship with God. We must be saved, not in a group, but alone. This individual pursuit of being right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be the great goal of our lives because, if we fail in it, we perish eternally. In this pursuit, then, we ought to be self-centred. We cannot afford to put anything or anyone before that all-important goal.

Yet, once saved, the Christian is not to be self-centred. An emphasis on personal spiritual needs, of course, continues. However, the focus radically broadens to embrace the needs of others - temporal and spiritual - in obedience to the full teaching of Scripture.

The nature of the Christian life, as perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ, is one of selflessness rather than selfishness, of self-giving rather than self-obsessing, of self-denial rather than self-gratification, and of bearing crosses rather than securing comforts.

Peter reminds us that Christ's life was an example for us, 'that [we] should follow his steps.' (1 Peter 2:21) The Apostle Paul, too, called the Christians in Philippi to adopt the mind of Christ by 'looking out not only for [their] own interests, but also for the interests of others.' (Philippians 2:4) Paul, himself, adorned this posture of humble selflessness by 'not seeking [his] own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.' (1 Corinthians 10:33) The salvation and good of others far outweighed his own gain.

We, too, as Christians in the 21st century, are to be selfless rather than selfish. Our primary concern, after God Himself, is others, not ourselves or our own. How are we following our Saviour in this regard?

In 1878, J. C. Ryle wrote:

There is a generation of professing Christians now-a-days, who seem to know nothing of caring for their neighbours, and are wholly swallowed up in the concerns of number one - that is, their own and their family's. They eat, and drink, and sleep, and dress, and work, and get money, and spend money, year after year; and whether others are happy or miserable, well or ill, converted or unconverted, travelling toward heaven or toward hell, appear to be questions about which they are supremely indifferent. Can this be right? Can it be reconciled with the religion of Him who spoke the parable of the good Samaritan, and bade us "go and do likewise"? (Luke 10:37) I doubt it altogether.

If that was true almost 150 years ago, how much greater is the temptation in our day of rife individualism?

As we examine ourselves in response to God's Word and providence, we have to ask some serious questions about what has, hitherto, characterised our Christianity. Have we cared about others, or have we been swallowed up in our own concerns? Has our Christianity been active and sacrificial, or has it been individualistic and comfortable?

As we prepare to enter what is being called a 'new normal,' what will our new Christian normal be? If God has been speaking to us through this pandemic and calling us to change, what will have changed? Will repentance make us look more like Jesus who continually 'went about doing good' (Acts 10:38)? Or will the new normal be like the old normal?

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matthew 16:24-26a)