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I thought this was an interesting story. Firstly, I had no idea that prayers were even held at secular meetings. And now I have learnt that although this practice seems to be fairly widespread among local council meetings, it has been ruled unlawful.
Perusing the article reveals that it is not unlawful as regards breaching human rights, it is unlawful under a particular statute from 1972 which holds that the local council has no power to summon its members to meetings which includes prayers.
Prayers may still be held, but councillors cannot be formally summoned to attend.
So does this represent the further erosion of Christianity in our society, or is it a mere nonsense given the secular nature of our society?
Such a practice is centuries old in England and the article states that it dates from the Elizabethan era. In those times England was a wholly Christian country and it would have been the norm for such a meeting to open with prayer. The King or Queen as head of the church was more involved in political matters in those days, and religion and state were firmly intertwined.
Today only vestiges remain of such a society. The issue with regard to the holding of prayers has more of a historical feel to it than a religious feel. Those who are objecting probably object equally to the tradition being uprooted as they do to the removal of the prayers.
In the 21st century religion and state are in the main separated. Many leading politicians say they are Christian, as do a vast majority of citizens on their census form, but many of these people simply regard Christianity as part of their heritage rather than something practical that affects their everyday lives.
Nevertheless it gives some reassurance to genuine Christians that those who govern the country do try to take the wishes and will of the Almighty into consideration. I myself was pleasantly surprised that such a practice existed, rather than being annoyed that it may now cease.
What matters ultimately it not whether public prayers are said prior to council meetings, but what is inside the hearts of those who rule this country. Do they truly have God’s will as their own? Do they always act in the best interests of others rather than themselves? Looking at the country as a whole the answer has to be no – or at the very least, those who do fall in that category are a minority. Human nature always seems to overrule godly nature these days in matters of politics.
So let us be thankful that a Christian minority does exist out there, and that sometimes its voice is heard. Don’t forget that we can always use our own prayers to ask that those in charge of our countries are ultimately acting in a way that will bring God’s plan for salvation to fruition.
This week we have seen in the UK a story in the press about a gay couple who sued a Cornwall Bed & Breakfast who refused to allow the couple to share a double room on the basis of their Christian beliefs that unmarried couples should not share rooms. This particular case has caused a lot of backlash in the press, articles have been written in favor of one side or the other, and online newspaper reports have had many hundreds of heated comments.
It seems that such cases are becoming more and more common; its not the first case of its kind to hit the UK headlines. An important point is raised by this and similar cases: who’s rights are more important? The answer is not easy.
The arguments are:
Why should two people of the same sex who having chosen to be in a loving committed relationship face discrimination for their lifestyle choices?
Why should two people who are committed followers of a certain religion face discrimination for not being able to put the principles of that religion into practice in their daily lives?
Giving freedom to one person can quite often restrict the freedom of another.
From my point of view, I am of course a Christian, and my sympathies are with the hotel owners. However I also understand that whilst Britain is nominally a Christian country, these days many of those who call themselves Christian only offer the religion lip service, and the title is simply from lack of knowing what else to call themselves. A very small percentage of the population actually attends church on a regular basis these days.
As Christians we do have to take the laws of the country into consideration in all our actions, and the Bible tells us to obey the authorities – so long as their rules do not conflict with the rules of God.
It is therefore a hazard, as Britain and many other “Westernized” countries become increasingly more secular, of undertaking our daily activities that we will come across situations that conflict with our personal beliefs.
For example, a strict Christian, myself included, would say that it is wrong to be in an active homosexual relationship, or indeed any sexual relationship outside of marriage. There is however an overriding Christian duty to love everyone, and do good to your neighbor, so I think most Christians would agree that one should “love the sinner, hate the sin” – not forgetting that we are all sinners of course.
So – do you have gay friends? Do you have friends “living in sin?” Do you work with people in these circumstances? Are you obliged to provide services to people in relationships of which you don’t approve? Is it different providing a service that involves allowing people to actively participate in the relationship of which you don’t approve, such as the hotel industry? Do you just do your job and mind your own business where other people’s personal lives are concerned?
Such questions could be asked in any kind of personal service industry, and I suspect there is not one person who does not come into contact with situations like this.
There’s no easy answer.
Being a Christian in a secular society, the best answer I have is to work to actively limit in your life the situations that may bring you into conflict with secular rules and regulations, and to do your best to lead a Christian example in your own friendships and relationships.
Let us take comfort in the fact that the increasing secularization of society can only mean that we are coming closer to the times of the end, when Jesus will return to restore all things. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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