On abortion, gender, marriage and sex education, the Tories sound ever more authoritarian

Christianity, according to the Equalities Minister Justine Greening, should “keep up with modern attitudes” on same-sex marriage. “The church,” Greening says, must be “part of a modern country… We have allowed same-sex marriage, that’s a massive step forward for the better.” The same minister wants to make it easier to change your gender. Meanwhile, the government is proposing to make “relationships education” compulsory from primary age – and has decided to fund abortions for Northern Irish women.

What makes all this even more alarming is the streak of authoritarianism in some government ministers. The people of Northern Ireland have continually opposed abortion, and have always been given the right to decide the issue; that right has now been overridden. Similarly, ministers seem to believe that the state rather than parents should be the prime educators of children when it comes to matters of sex and relationships.

Justine Greening and her colleagues seem to be fulfilling Benedict XVI’s 2005 warning about a “dictatorship of relativism”. To many this phrase seemed to be a rhetorical device. How can you have a dictatorship driven by the belief that there are no absolute values? Surely, if there are no absolute values, everybody can believe what they like. However, the belief that there are no absolute values is itself an absolute value. And if that belief is imposed by the government on businesses, citizens and civil society, we have a form of dictatorship. It is the dictatorship that prevents the owner of a cake shop deciding what cakes they can bake; that prevents parents sending their children to schools that teach sex education in a traditional way; that cuts off an entire province’s jurisdiction over the rights of unborn children; and that closes the country’s most successful adoption agencies because they will not provide adoption on the basis that the state demands.

Not every dictatorship uses physical force; ridicule and quiet pressure can be even more effective. As the Pope Emeritus put it: “certain forms of behaviour and thinking are being presented as the only reasonable ones and, therefore, as the only appropriately human one.” It has not taken long for such tacit pressure to be enacted in the law of the land.

It appears that the Equalities Minister and her colleagues do not understand how theology works. It is not the role of the Church to work out what society thinks and then pronounce that this is the will of God. It works the other way round. The Church, through scripture, revelation and tradition, seeks to understand and preach the will of God. In many ways, some subtle and others less so, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so.