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A Tale of Two Tolerances: Then and Now

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We are now 50 years on from Royal Assent being given to the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967, and the question that we should be asking ourselves is whether we are really a more free, fair and tolerant society today than we were then. One of the best barometers of the health of a democratic society is how it treats freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

In 1947, just 2 years after the end of World War II, work was already underway to draft the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Kingdom took a leading role as a defender of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Mr. Charles Duke, the United Kingdom's first representative to the draft committee for the Declaration, made a passionate case on behalf of freedom of expression by stating that the United Kingdom which, in 1940, had been the sole champion of freedom against tyranny, would remain faithful to that ideal. He added that amongst the values to which the Government of the United Kingdom attached the greatest importance was tolerance, which was the essence of democracy and civilization. Each individual, he said, ought to be in a position to form opinions, to express his views and to communicate freely.

While the word tolerance has remained in vogue until today, its meaning has been completely repurposed. No longer does tolerance include, as Mr. Duke argued, the right to freely form opinions or to express views openly without fear of reprisal. The new tolerance is a product of the current cultural zeitgeist; born of the sexual revolution, and tasked with redefining, if not completely destroying, Christian moral views about sexual behaviour. Archbishop Charles Chaput perhaps defines the interplay between Christianity and tolerance best with the following words: "We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty - these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil."

Anyone who has ever visited the Christian Concern website for even 5 minutes can see exactly what the new tolerance preaches. If you believe homosexual behaviour is a sin you can be barred from pursuing certain courses of professional studies. If you preach on sexual purity from Scripture in the confines of a prison ministry service, you can lose your job. If you hold Biblical views on sexuality you could lose your right to foster children. If you think, as social science also supports, that children do best with a mother and a father, you could be barred from your profession all together. If a service provider does not want to actively endorse or promote the homosexual lifestyle, they could be blackballed from their profession for gross misconduct. And if you are a street preacher, you can be arrested and convicted from preaching against the cultural orthodoxy of the day including homosexual behaviour.

During Mike Overd's and Mike Stockwell's criminal proceedings in Bristol, Prosecutor Ian Jackson told the court regarding Mr. Overd's public recitation of Scripture that "although the words preached are included in a version of the Bible in 1611, this does not mean that they are incapable of amounting to a public order offence in 2016." The conviction was reminiscent of a modern day heresy trial. The views of Mr. Jackson, as well as the magistrate's court which convicted Mr. Overd and Mr. Stockwell, evidence a deep and very dangerous cultural shift fed by intolerance and ignorance of both the Christian message and the prevailing legal protections for Christian speech.

While the convictions were eventually overturned, we should mourn for the values and beliefs our society has lost in the last 50 years, and even more so we should be deeply concerned for the future of our children and the world they are inheriting. As a society, have we run too far to find our way home? Let's pray not. And above all, lets pray.

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