Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.


The Pressure for Conformity 

There is increasing evidence across the world that Christians are being forced to conform to what the world considers acceptable action towards others—or face the consequences. What is considered to be acceptable is not determined on the basis of Scripture, but rather on the prevailing “morality” of the day. In some places it has become a “hate crime” to condemn homosexuality and to label it as sin. It is considered criminal in some nations to condemn other religions. Woe be to those who draw cartoons about certain religious figures. Such can generate riots across much of the earth. There is the cry to impose restrictions on “freedom of speech” when it relates to certain religions or condemnation of certain sins.

In the United States there is still “freedom of speech” to a degree not seen in many other countries. However, one can discern changes in our land. Attempts are being made to limit “freedom of speech” so as to prevent the condemnation of many serious sins.

A periodical published in South Africa calledChristian Action, in 2005, Vol. 3, has an article titled “Hate Speech,” by Mrs. D. Scarborough, which warns concerning the dangers facing Christians today:

The South African Government wants to introduce a “Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill.” The draft is published on the website of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. 

The Constitution, Chapter 2, Section 16, demands that “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm,” be outlawed. Surely no Christian would disagree, because hatred, except of evil and sin, is forbidden in the Scriptures…. 

The envisaged Hate Speech Bill is designed to complement a more comprehensive bill, namely the ‘Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Bill.’ This is based on the United Nations’ ‘Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.’ South Africa signed this Convention and is therefore obliged to make ‘the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred a punishable offence.’ Not only racial superiority and hatred will be declared a crime, but the ‘propagation of religious superiority’ will also become a punishable offence. A transgressor will, on first conviction, be fined or imprisoned for up to 3 years, and on second conviction fined and/or imprisoned for up to 6 years. 

“Hate” or “superiority” speech will, however, be a crime only when it is expressed in “public.” A “public place,” says the proposed bill, “includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied, and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.” The question then is: Are churches public or private places? Can a minister be punished if he preaches against idolatry and sin and if he extols the Christian life as being superior to the pagan? 

In other countries, e.g. Australia, Sweden, and Canada, “hate speech” laws are being used to suppress such religious teaching. In Sweden a minister was sent to prison for speaking out against homosexuality, and in Australia two Pentecostal pastors, Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah, were tried and sentenced. Their punishment was to run 4 big newspaper adverts costing $70,000 which would declare their guilt of having offended Muslims. They had held a seminar about the Muslim religion and had quoted from the Koran. Pastor Scot explained: We are not “promoting hatred… but rather protecting people’s right to know what other religions teach…. If a girl, for example, wants to marry a Muslim man, I believe it is important that she knows that, under the Qur’an, she may be beaten or, if her husband chooses to marry up to another three women, that is perfectly acceptable under Islamic law.”

The writer continues by pointing out:

It is clear then that the aim of the hate-law advocates is not to protect people from being insulted, but rather to shackle the Christian faith and ethic and to establish moral equality in a secular society…. All over the world Humanist governments are busy introducing hate speech laws because they are tired of Biblical Christians putting up resistance against sin laws which, among other things, sanction abortion, pornography, prostitution, homosexual ‘marriage’ etc.

A similar reminder about the limitations being placed upon “free speech” is found in an article called, “Free speech on the run” by John Leo, appearing in the Grand Rapids Press on March 9, 2006. John Leo is a well-known conservative editorial writer who reminds us in his article that increasingly “free speech” is being squelched. He writes of “the spreading practice in Europe, Canada of setting up some groups in law as beyond criticism.”

Law professor Eugene Volokh calls it “censorship envy.” Muslims in Europe want the same sort of censorship that many nations now offer to other aggrieved groups. 

By law, 11 European nations can punish anyone who publicly denies the Holocaust. That’s why the strange British historian David Irving is going to prison. Ken Livingstone, the madcap mayor of London, was suspended for four weeks for calling a Jewish reporter a Nazi. A Swedish pastor endured a long and harrowing prosecution for a sermon criticizing homosexuality, finally beating the rap in Sweden’s Supreme Court. 

Much of Europe has painted itself into a corner on the censorship issue. What can Norway say to pro-censorship Muslims when it already has a hate speech law forbidding, among other things, “publicly stirring up one part of the population against another,” or any utterance that “threatens, insults or subjects to hatred, persecution or contempt any person or group of persons because of their creed, race, color or national or ethnic origin…or homosexual bent”? 

No insulting utterances at all? Since most strong opinions can be construed as insulting (hurting someone’s feelings), no insults means no free speech. 

It’s not just Europe. In Canada, a teacher drew suspension for a letter to a newspaper arguing that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation but a condition that can be treated. He was not accused of discrimination, merely of expressing thoughts that the state defines as improper. 

Another Canadian newspaper was fined 4,500 Canadian dollars for printing an ad giving the citations—but not the text—of four biblical quotations against homosexuality….

Leo continues by expressing thankfulness that in the United Leo continues by expressing thankfulness that in the United States we have not yet reached such extreme positions. Still, the trend is clear. Laws are being put in place that speak of “hate crimes.” In some countries a “hate crime” could be anything that condemns another’s action, calling it sin (as: homosexuality). Even the Bible could be outlawed because it condemns homosexuality, adultery, etc.

One can easily envision how persecution of the church might take place also in our land. It will all be according to the law of the land. Those condemning certain sins and rejecting other religions as false will be fined and imprisoned because of their “hate crimes.” This sort of development is another of the signs of the times.

The Instruction of the Children

In the WorldNetDaily, January 9, 2006, there is an article reporting on Richard Dawkins, who presented a two-part series about religion on United Kingdom television. The report stated:

Controversial scientist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins, dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” calls religion a “virus” and faith-based education “child abuse” in a two-part series he wrote and that begins airing on the UK’s Channel 4, beginning tomorrow evening. Entitled “Root of All Evil?,” the series features the atheist Dawkins visiting Lourdes, France, Colorado Springs, Colo., the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and a British religious school, using each of the venues to argue religion subverts reason.

After he condemns all expressions of religion, he continues with harsh condemnation of the teaching of religion to children:

In part two, “The Virus of Faith,” Dawkins attacks the teaching of religion to children, calling it child abuse. 

“Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods,” he says. “It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?” 

“Sectarian religious schools,” Dawkins asserts, have been “deeply damaging” to generations of children. 

Dawkins, who makes no effort to disguise his atheism and contempt for religion, focuses on the Bible, too. 

“The God of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist,” he says. Dawkins then criticizes Abraham, compares Moses to Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and calls the New Testament “St Paul’s nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin.”

Such is the growing opposition to the church on this earth. There may well be a drive to eliminate Christian school instruction or insist that these schools not teach Creationism in the science classes—because the view is not “scientific.” Dawkins insists that religious instruction in the Christian schools has been “deeply damaging” to generations of children. How quickly such a view can be translated to the law of the land forbidding Christian parents from “brainwashing” their children with instruction from Scripture. Make no mistake about it: the opposition to the Scriptures and Christian preaching and instruction is growing. Over against that, the church must be steadfast and faithful to continue godly instruction even if it results in fines and imprisonment.