A leading Bishop has dismissed the myth that the blasphemy law ‘only applies to the Church of England’. He called for all churches to have a say.
Speaking in the House of Lords Second Reading Debate (22nd January) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the Bishop of Manchester said all Christian churches should take part in the current discussions.
The Bishop, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, said:
‘I would like to correct a common misapprehension about the law of blasphemy. It is often said that it protects only the tenets of the Church of England, but that statement is based on a faulty reading of case law. The judgment of the
in the Jerry Springer case on
5 December 2007
usefully confirmed that the factual basis of the offence includes, contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous and/or ludicrous material relating to God, Christ [or] the Bible'.
‘The law therefore protects the basic tenets and scripture of the Christian religion. I mention that because it means that a response to the proposal for abolition is not a matter for the Church of England alone but for Christian denominations and groups more generally.’
The Government have announced their intention to consult the Church of England about abolition of the blasphemy laws after Dr Evan Harris MP (Liberal Democrat, Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, militant atheist) put down an amendment to abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday 10th January.
Fearful of losing in a vote, Maria Eagle MP, the Minister, promised the Government would bring in their own amendment after ‘consulting’ the Church of England. Most observers agreed the Church of England would thereby be 'bounced' into supporting such a move. However, Dr McCulloch’s intervention shows the Church of England realises that the blasphemy laws are there to protect the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ and might not be ‘bounced’ so easily.
PRAY: That God will even now be working to frustrate the blasphemers' plans. Pray that He will have mercy on our land and safeguard our national respect for His great name.
PRAY: That wherever groups of ministers and laity meet whether in local synods, PCC's or fraternals, that a motion will be passed supporting the laws against blasphemy and that such a vote will be communicated to local bishops, MP's, peers and the local press. If you take part in one of those meetings, please seize the moment.
READ: Exod 20:7; Judges 5:2,9; Esther 4:14; Psalm 35:1, 56:3, 144:1, 145:13; 149:6; Matt 10:32-33, 16:27; Luke 10:16; 2Cor 10:3-5, Rev 17:14.
Follow the debate online:
ITS ALL ABOUT INSULTING JESUS
It is being commonly said that abolition of the blasphemy laws will merely allow 'debate, criticism or even ridicule' of the Christian Faith which is currently prevented.
That is not the case. 'The God Delusion', with its debate, criticism and even ridicule of the Christian Faith, has been published with impunity. Atheist magazines circulate freely, complete with debate, criticism and even ridicule of the Christian Faith.
Others argue that the blasphemy laws can go because there is protection for 'the established church' under the religious hatred law.
But the prime purpose of the laws against blasphemy and blasphemous libel is not to protect the sacrament of baptism or the evensong service, despite the reference in the definition of blasphemy to 'the formularies of the Church of England'.
The truth, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is that the target of blasphemers is nearly always the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blasphemy laws have only been invoked recently in prosecutions for the most extreme and gratuitous insults against His person.
JESUS IS THE BLASPHEMER'S TARGET
This was true in the case of the 'Gay News' poem, a homosexual fantasy of what a Roman soldier wanted to do with the crucified body of Christ. The prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 was successful and was upheld in the European Court of Human Rights.
Wingrove's 'Visions of Ecstasy' contained a sequence of a nun having sexual relations with the body of Jesus Christ. The banning of the film by the BBFC in 1989 for its blasphemous content was likewise upheld in the European Court of Human Rights as recently as 1996.
'Jerry Springer the Opera' centred on humiliating Jesus Christ by casting His character as a sexual deviant, an infantile coprophiliac, to be precise. There was much more that was blasphemous in it, but that was the centre-piece.
SPRINGER CASE NOW IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, petitioned the House of Lords on 3rd January to appeal against the decision of the High Court last month not to allow a prosecution to proceed in respect of Jerry Springer the Opera. Serious matters of public importance need to be decided. So it is untrue, as has been said, that this case has been lost. It is not over yet and it would be premature for Parliament to pull the rug from under the case while it is still going on.
Indeed, this case might provide a reason for the current rush to abolish the blasphemy laws. It occurs to me that Evan Harris MP (an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society) and his friends are concerned we are going to win in the House of Lords and bring a successful prosecution for blasphemy in respect of Jerry Springer the Opera. They argue that a prosecution hasn't been brought for thirty years, but now that a case is about to be decided upon in the courts, they are afraid they might lose.
BALTIC CENTRE STATUE IS LATEST EXAMPLE
on Saturday there was a well-attended protest against the latest example of blasphemy, a disgraceful statue of Jesus Christ with a phallus attached being exhibited in the Baltic Centre. During the protest, Christians went in to the centre to gather evidence to prosecute those involved. Police attended, but all went off peacefully. An evangelistic leaflet was given out.
However, there was much anger amongst those present outside the centre, and it could fairly be said that it is only the laws against blasphemy, and the knowledge that someone can be brought to book under them, which prevented a serious breach of the peace inside the Baltic Centre.
But once again, the Baltic Centre statue is not about 'debate, criticism or even ridicule' of the Christian Faith. It is about disrespecting and insulting the Lord Jesus Christ.
So anyone in favour of abolishing the laws against blasphemy must explain why he wishes to see the person of Jesus Christ vilified and humiliated, and just how that helps build the 'culture of respect' in our society which the Chief Rabbi called for in a recent lecture.
RESPECT FOR OTHERS BEGINS WITH RESPECT FOR GOD
As the Lord Jesus Christ said in His parable of the unjust judge, respect for others begins with respect for God. It would be reasonable to take the view that to stem a growing culture of disrespect, the blasphemy laws are more important in 2008 than at any previous time.
Lastly, some well-meaning people who are going along with abolition of the blasphemy laws, Christians among them, seem to be regarding this matter in isolation, or at best in conjunction with the religious hatred laws.
The hard-line secularists actually pressing the amendments, however, while denying there is an agenda, have shown that abolition of these laws is not an isolated issue. The '666' EDM to disestablish the Church of England and the website of the National Secular Society reveal that abolition of the offence of blasphemy is just one step towards an atheist Britain, in which Christianity, which they despise, is washed from the public square.
IT IS TIME FOR THEE, LORD, TO WORK
Again, the Lord Jesus said, 'The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.' Good-hearted people of faith supporting the abolition of the blasphemy laws will in this view be like turkeys voting for Christmas.
The last time this matter was debated in the House of Lords, just over two years ago, there was a healthy majority for retaining the blasphemy laws. But then the Government were in favour of keeping the law. Now they are not. So, right now, everything seems against us, but just at this very moment, the Lord is working, and apparent co-incidences are building up. 'It is time for thee, Lord, to work' (Psalm 119:126).