(Originally written for 'The English Churchman' for 8th & 15th July 2005)
In two recent articles in a newspaper of the Scottish Highlands, the 'West Highland Free Press', Prof. Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College inveighs against the 'Christian Right'. In the first article (13th May), he laments the defeat of the previous Labour MP, Calum MacDonald in the last election. In the second article (3rd June), he reacts to a letter received in response to the earlier one.
Prof. MacLeod's indignation is roused by the fact that Mr MacDonald's voting record on abortion and homosexuality issues was made public and this apparently influenced the vote, especially among Christians. He states, "But what have we come to when the question whether someone is a Christian is determined by their stance on two issues never even referred to by Jesus? Had I been an MP, I like to think I would have voted on these occasions when Calum was absent, but I would have been in even deeper trouble: I would have tended to vote on the 'liberal' side. Does that make me an atheist?"
The first part of this smacks of old-style liberalism, as if the words of the Old Testament and the apostolic epistles are out of keeping with 'the historical Jesus'. For Christians, of course, the prophets had "the Spirit of Christ… in them" (1 Peter 1:11) and the apostles likewise wrote by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and as the apostles of Jesus Christ (John 16:12-14, Eph.1:1, 1 Thess.4:15 etc.). Prof. MacLeod knows what the Christian view of the whole Bible is, of course, but he seems to know also that this kind of glib comment will do nicely enough for the readers of the West Highland Free Press.
On criminalizing abortion, the Professor declares, "For the 'abortion doctors' we would need gallows, since they are 'murderers' (a concept slightly befogged by the fact that God Himself permits 50 per cent of pregnancies to abort spontaneously. Why is the Christian Right doing so little to end this 'natural' Slaughter of the Innocents?)". This is a strange line of reasoning. God brings lives to an end at all stages of development – in the womb, in infancy, young adulthood, middle age and, more usually, in old age (Psalm 90:10). It is his prerogative to do so (1 Sam. 2:6). Does this give men the right to do the same?
Prof. MacLeod also maintains, "But groups like Operation Christian Vote are also asking the state to intrude into one of the most intimate of human decisions and to take away from women the right to choose. And as if that were not enough, they are also asking the state to make an extremely complex theological judgment to the effect that the embryo is a person: a judgment rendered utterly insecure by the fact that the Bible offers absolutely no definition of a person. In my view it is utterly fitting that each citizen be free to make that judgment for herself. The current law, which protects the foetus from the time of viability, has it just about right."
This appears to mean that God has left us in the dark as to when human life begins and therefore even believing parents will have to decide about abortion without Biblical guidance. By contrast, the Westminster Confession maintains the sufficiency of Scripture by stating, "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture…" (1/6). David saw himself as a person and a sinner from conception (Psalm 51:5 and 139:13-15. Elizabeth conceived a son, not an impersonal foetus (Luke 1:36). Further, since human rights only exist as given by God, where has the 'right to choose' come from? And is it really state interference to tackle murder simply because it is a very private kind of murder?
The argument here is: "'Gay marriages' raise a different kind of issue…Whatever views we hold on same-sex partnerships, they are a fact of life and the law can no more eliminate them than it can eliminate marital breakdown, cohabitation, gambling, smoking or the consumption of alcohol. As Moses and John Calvin recognised centuries ago the law must often limit itself to regulating what it cannot eradicate."
Anyone with any knowledge of the scope of God's Law knows that all sin cannot be criminalized. We are all still sinners! Sodomy, however, was not merely regulated under OT legislation. Nor was it accommodated in Calvin's Geneva. The article makes clear that Prof MacLeod appears to want very 'small government' on matters of sexual morality, but the opposite when it comes to the state having access to people's money, as his list of things the government should do indicates. In any case, the question of civil partnerships ('gay marriages') is not even about decriminalization of sodomy, but according homosexual partnerships the same status as God's ordinance of heterosexual marriage and giving approval of them by financial reward.
It is sad to see Prof. MacLeod employing his undoubted gifts to undermine the efforts of Christians to uphold righteousness in the realm of civil government and to stand for the acknowledgement of Christ's kingship over the nation. Governors are "for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14).
In view of his influence beyond the West Highlands of Scotland, Evangelical and Reformed people in other parts need to be aware of Prof. MacLeod's views to avoid naivety. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause division and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17). These articles may be popular with the readership of the West Highland Free Press, but is it what the perishing multitudes need to hear from professedly Christian ministers? Will Prof MacLeod's denomination continue to allow someone of his views to be principal of the college where its future ministers are trained? What does he have to say before action is taken? "Who is on the Lord's side?"