The Saudi religious police, like their Iranian equivalents, have a duty of Hisbah, enjoining good and preventing wrong. To many Western eyes it seems, and is, an authoritarian attempt to enforce doctrine and practice. It could never happen here – or could it?
Last week I was sent a headline from the Yorkshire Post about a vicar who had got in trouble because of something he had written in his parish newsletter. These stories are common and I was going to pass it by, with a shrug of the shoulders, as being yet another example of a clergyman speaking injudiciously – until someone sent me the story - from The Daily Mirror.
It also appeared in The Telegraph and other media.
I realised that the Rev Peter Hughes was being investigated because he had the nerve to quote yours truly from an editorial and blog I had written a few weeks ago.
Whilst I was encouraged that the Good Vicar was inspired to act by reading my article – I was shocked to read the reporting around what was a fairly innocuous parish letter. It was described as a 'rant by a furious vicar'. Why? He was just challenging the current fashion to indoctrinate children with the basic tenents of Queer theory. Not least the belief that gender is not connected with biology and can be changed.
It's fascinating that Peter Tatchell can tweet in response to the Vatican's excellent and clear document on the subject: "Vatican sparks anger among LGBT+ Catholics by rejecting right to choose or change gender." Apparently in our brave new world, there is a right for children to choose and change their gender, but not to choose and change their sexuality. Indeed if anyone dared suggest that someone could change their sexuality, they would be in danger of being arrested for hate speech!
As our country is in the process of rejecting its Christian roots, it now appears that we are losing the fruits as well. The fact that a vicar can be 'investigated' for citing an article which dares to question the bizarre notion that boys can become girls or vice versa, is a clear indication of how far we have lost the Christian fruits of rationality, tolerance and humanity.
We are becoming an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian society, where even the slightest deviation from the New Orthodoxy means you face an 'investigation'. The media are far too often the unthinking and unwitting parrots of this new State doctrine. 'Vicar's angry rant' is a cheap way of mocking that stems from ignorance and prejudice. Factual reporting and in-depth discussion of the issues is becoming a rarity in today's British media.
And the Church does not help matters. Rather than a prophetic voice we hear the pathetic sound of church leaders bowing before the idols of the culture. Rev Hughes was thrown under the bus by his own denomination. The Rev Huw Thomas, the Diocese of Sheffield's director of education, said, "These views are not shared by the Diocese of Sheffield and the language used is regrettable."
It would be helpful to know just what views are shared by the Diocese of Sheffield? Do they adopt the teaching of the Bible or Queer theory? Sometimes it seems as though the Church just shares the views of the current liberal/progressive zeitgeist.
The current Establishment reacts furiously when its views are questioned. Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Sheffield Council, stormed: "He's a fool, I think he knows nothing about what's going on....He doesn't have the right to use these opinions to stop young people being taught to understand the world they inherit."
It is just assumed that anyone who disagrees is out-dated, doesn't understand and is on 'the wrong side of history'; whereas those who are intelligent, virtuous and on 'the right side of history' can admire the finery of the Emperor's new clothes. But those who have eyes can see that the Emperor is naked.
The educational establishment seem to be more concerned about social engineering than they are about education. Mr Hughes is a governor of the local school – who will now have a 'process' to discover whether he has done anything against the school's values.
This again is indicative of a major societal change – we are no longer concerned with what is right and wrong, but rather our 'values'. Although just quite how we arrive at these values and what they are based on, is left unspoken. You can have your views but if they go against 'our values', you had better not express them. Or the Secular Inquisition will investigate and insist on your recantation or punishment.
The liberal/progressive thought police may not be as obvious as the Saudi Arabian religious ones – but they are even more dangerous. Using the tools of mockery, ignorance, superiority and intimidation, they have the ability to overwhelm and destroy any opponent. The Church here has a tremendous opportunity – not just to stand up for ourselves, but to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Who will stand in the gap? Who will face down the new authoritarians and fight for freedom? Peter Hughes has done so. As have others – including the Vatican. Will Christians stand together with them?
David Robertson is a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. He blogs at www.theweeflea.com