Jacob Rees-Mogg has managed to hit the headlines following comments he made on Good Morning Britain. I say comments he made, he actually just answered questions directly put to him on the issues of gay marriage and abortion. You can watch the interview below:
Let me begin with where I disagree with Rees-Mogg. I do not share his view that marriage is a sacrament. Whilst this has long been Roman Catholic doctrine, it is not the mainline Protestant view. Not only is marriage not considered a sacrament in Protestant theology, to offer a lengthy quote by D.A. Carson:
In medieval times, not only did the Roman Catholic Church understand marriage to be a sacrament, but because of that fact marriage could be performed only by the priest. Protestants dropped the language of sacrament with respect to marriage, but long protected the prerogatives of ministers of the gospel to officiate at weddings. Eventually justices of the peace or other non-ecclesiastical state-recognized officials were granted the right to officiate at weddings, not least to accommodate the non-religious among us. All sides recognize that these weddings are every bit as valid as a wedding celebrated at First Baptist Church.
In fact, I would argue that marriage is a creation ordinance, not a church ordinance. I’m not sure that ministers of the gospel should be involved in the legal matters of weddings at all. I rather like the practices that have developed in France (though I admit that they developed for all the wrong reasons). There, every marriage must be officiated by a state functionary. Christians will then have a further service/ceremony/celebration, invoking the blessing of God and restating vows before a larger circle of family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. Similarly, Christians seeking to be married may well undergo pre-marital counseling offered by the church. But the legal act of the wedding is performed exclusively by the state. That is one way of making clear that marriage is not a distinctively Christian ordinance (though it has special significance for Christians, including typological significance calling to mind the union of Christ and the church); it is for a man/woman pair everywhere, converted or not, Christian or not—truly a creation ordinance.
Ideally, of course, the state should adopt the same standards for marriage and divorce as those demanded by Scripture. But where that is not so—whether by sanctioning marriages after prohibited divorces, or by sanctioning marriages between persons of the same sex, or whatever—Christians will be the first to insist that because we take our cues and mandates from Scripture, our own standards for what will pass for an acceptable marriage will not necessarily be those of the state. So our own members will observe the biblical standards, regardless of what the state permits. The tensions we feel on these occasions arise from one of the most obvious truths in the New Testament: we live in the period of inaugurated eschatology, in the period between the “already” and the “not yet.” As a result we have two citizenships. We owe allegiance to “Caesar,” to our country in this world, and we owe allegiance to the kingdom of God. But where the two allegiances conflict, we must obey God rather than human beings. In this light, and remembering the history of marriage in the Western world, ministers of the gospel
who perform marriages (as I do) better remember that when they do so, they are not performing a sacrament, or making a marriage union more holy; they are functioning as officials of the state, licensed by them. They are discharging their duties as citizens of an earthly kingdom. Then, in the larger service in which the wedding is performed, they may also be discharging their duties as Christian ministers—assigning to marriage a much higher value than the state does, drawing attention to Christian obligations for husbands and wives, reminding all present of the wonderful typological connection between Christ and the church, and so forth. In France, all of these Christian duties are separated from the legal marriage vows themselves; here, they are integrated (in church weddings) precisely because the minister is serving both as a minister of the gospel and as a minister of the state. (Carson, DA, ‘Issues Relating to the Family’, The SBJT Forum, 2002)
The key phrase in all that is this, ‘Christians will be the first to insist that because we take our cues and mandates from Scripture, our own standards for what will pass for an acceptable marriage will not necessarily be those of the state. So our own members will observe the biblical standards, regardless of what the state permits’.
Though Rees-Mogg and I might end up drawing the same conclusions about same-sex marriage, we arrive at them for different reasons. He determines that marriage is a sacrament of the church, the church determines the ontological nature of marriage and he supports the teaching of the Catholic Church. I believe that marriage is a creation ordinance that provides the standard for all marriages. Whilst the state ought to abide by God’s sovereignly ordained decree, and the church may speak to the state on this issue, it is not for the church to force the state to abide. Nonetheless, whatever the state chooses to permit, the church must abide by scripture.
Interestingly, as Rees-Mogg notes, same-sex marriage is ‘something people are doing for themselves’. Once again, whilst the church cannot affirm what scripture prohibits, it is possible to permit, whilst not affirming, actions that one cannot endorse. This is the heart of classical liberalism. It is campaigning against, and refusing to endorse, positions that one cannot in good conscience affirm whilst permitting individuals to so think, act and behave if they will. The church may speak to such things, but it has no right to enforce them.
The issue of abortion Rees-Mogg rightly notes cannot fall into the category of that which one is doing for themselves. SSM may involve two consenting parties which, whilst the church may not affirm their behaviour, permits them to behave in such ways. This is different to the abortion issue which is one party inflicting termination upon a child who cannot give consent. Like Rees-Mogg, given the child cannot consent, it is right for us to defend their life. Even could the child give consent, this would not be a credible basis for taking its life. To put the matter as simply as Rees-Mogg does, ‘life is sacrosanct’.
There are two key things that stand out from this story. The first is the reaction from those who disagree. The Head of Policy Research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said this:
We are a pro-choice country, we have a pro-choice parliament. Rees-Mogg’s stance on abortion is quite simply extreme, and extremely out of touch.
Rees-Mogg’s stance is ‘extreme’. It seems believing that life is so important that we shouldn’t simply snuff it out as and when we feel like it is ‘extreme’. This seems to be the go-to phrasing to shut down just about anything we don’t like nowadays. Something is typically called ‘extreme’ if I, and my friends, don’t like it. The problem with pro-choice people calling pro-lifers ‘extreme’ is that this is essentially a binary argument. One is either pro-life or pro-choice. If it is ‘extreme’ to be pro-life, definitionally, only the pro-choice position is within acceptable limits of thought, speech and action. And, of course, we all know what Theresa May has said she wants to do about extremists.
Second, and equally magnanimously, BPAS stated ‘every politician is entitled to hold their own opinion on abortion. But what matters is whether they would let their own personal convictions stand in the way of women’s ability to act on their own’. In other words, politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg can think what they like as long as they don’t think it enough to actually do anything about it. That is, as long as they don’t really believe it at all. Ironically, of course, in calling Rees-Mogg’s view ‘extremist’, they are specifically saying he is not entitled to even think or voice this view because it is too extreme. So, Rees-Mogg can think what he likes as long as he neither acts on it nor does it conflict with whatever BPAS have determined is acceptable. In other words, unless politicians agree with them altogether their views are ‘extreme’ and, therefore, unthinkable and unsayable. Very tolerant indeed!
I am most heartened that a mainline politician, albeit a back-bencher (though a back-bencher being tipped for leadership), had the courage to simply stand up and say what they thought despite the potential damage to their reputation or political career. Whatever else we may think about Jacob Rees-Mogg and his politics – scour this blog and it won’t take much digging to recognise I and Jacob Rees-Mogg are not natural political allies – I am simply pleased that a politician was prepared to say what they thought. There was no spin, there was no political chicanery, it was simply a plain statement of his position. Wherever we sit on the political spectrum, surely we can applaud that. A man, speaking from principle rather than party loyalty, with nothing to gain from the comments and much to lose, simply stated what he thought when asked.
If, like me, you don’t much care for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s wider politics (even if I can agree with him on some individual issues), you can surely appreciate his candour and willingness to stand on principle. I just wish BPAS and their progressive liberal allies currently foaming at the mouth about it would appreciate it too. For a people supposedly all about love and tolerance, they do seem to relish the death of unborn children whilst screaming blue murder whenever somebody expresses an opinion they don’t like. It seems like Orwellian newspeak that the death of children is a ‘reproductive right’ but to voice a contrary opinion is ‘hate speech’. It is fully Stalinist in its application and the media hounding lacks only the KGB to back it up with force (which isn’t far away with EDOs).
It is frankly boring, not to say lazy, to watch yet another journalist harangue a Christian on these moral matters purely because it makes headlines. I’m sure you noted the glee with which Piers Morgan commented that such questions did ‘enormous damage’ to Tim Farron. What exactly is progressive about shutting down dissent? If enlightened thinking is so advanced, why is it incapable of dealing with diversity of opinion? Perhaps progressive liberals might want to reflect on this: it is coming to something when Jacob Rees-Mogg manages to appear more radical than you by gently and politely upholding a 2000 year old orthodox Christian doctrine.