DECRIMINALISATION (REVISITED)

Recent calls for the decriminalisation of prostitution and homosexuality resulted in much debate, which appeared to be based on hysteria and emotionalism. Debating such issues is always a sensitive issue and we must be rational in our contributions. Christians who share their views on the issue must avoid the ‘holier than thou’ approach; any judgmental opinion and be open to varying views without compromising their Christian principles.

Decriminalisation of prostitution and homosexuality refers to the repealing of existing criminal laws and does not seek to establish a regulated practice of any kind. Decriminalisation of prostitution or homosexuality should not be interpreted as encouraging immorality. To make this connection is to act dishonestly. The two are not the same. From the Christian perspective prostitution and homosexuality are and will always be sinful and immoral. Are they crimes?

The Weldrond report recommended the decriminalisation of prostitution and homosexual acts between consenting adults. Many persons objected to this thinking and it seems that government will not support the idea.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. A distinction has to be made between immorality and crime. All immoral acts are not treated as crimes by the State. Sin and crime may coincide but they are not the same. Sin is defined by divine aegis, crime by civil authority. Christianity teaches that fornication, adultery, racial discrimination, lying, idleness and the like are sins, but they are not classified as crimes. If we argue that prostitution and homosexuality are crimes because they are immoral acts, we will have to be consistent and argue that all immoral acts are crimes. We will have to imprison the whole population. What is the rationale for treating the immoral acts of homosexuality and prostitution as crimes, but not the immoral acts of fornication, adultery, racial discrimination and lying as crimes? In the presence debate neither the Law of God nor the teaching of the Church can be used to answer the questions raised. No one is questioning the sins of prostitution and homosexuality. The debate centres around the issue of crime. We are being asked two questions: “Is prostitution a crime?” “Is homosexuality a crime?” For good measure we can add another two questions which deal with immoral acts: “Is adultery a crime?” “Is idleness a crime?”

A distinction must also be made between what is legal and what is moral. From the Christian perspective a law that is legal can be immoral. A classic example was the system of apartheid practised in South Africa some years ago. Apartheid was legal, but from a Christian point of view it was immoral because it undermined a fundamental principle of the equality of all persons.

THE USE OF THE BIBLE. As we discuss the issues of homosexuality, prostitution and other immoral acts we must exercise great care in the use of the Bible. The Bible makes moral statements not legal statements. The Bible offers its adherents a way of life that should be followed. Its teachings are not binding on non Christians and in a pluralistic society we might find it difficult to argue a special place for the Bible in moral discussions.

Christians are obligated to use the Bible as their sacred text for informing them on all issues which they encounter from time to time. However, we must be aware that the Bible does not address every moral issue and as such it cannot be used as the final authority for answering all the moral questions that do arise from time to time. The Bible does not speak specifically to such problems as cloning, life support methods, human and animal genetic engineering, nuclear war and other social and moral problems. Anglicans recognise this problem and do not subscribe to the principle 'the Bible says'. There are times when we have to look outside the Bible for answers to complex issues and in these circumstances we use insights from Scripture, natural and social sciences, medical science, anthropology and natural law to help us in making our moral and ethical decisions.

In all discussions relating to doctrines and morals, Anglicans employ the use of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. The Virginia Report says, "The characteristic Anglican way to living with a constant dynamic interplay of Scripture, Tradition and Reason means that the mind of God has constantly to be discerned afresh, not only in every age, but in each and every context. Moreover, the experience of the Church as it is lived in different places has something to contribute to the discernment of the mind of Christ. No one culture, no one period of history has a monopoly of insight into the truth of the Gospel."

THE ANGLICAN WAY. Anglicanism is known for its tolerance and inclusiveness, which is unique in its expression of Christianity. Persons who interpret it to mean that for Anglicans "anything" goes misunderstand this position. Anglicanism does not subscribe to the theory that "anything" goes. It recognizes that there will be differences in peoples' understanding of God and allows its members to hold different views on various issues, and yet be part of the Church.

Anglicanism follows the via media - the middle way. The "middle way is not a tool of compromise nor is it a shoddy rhetorical device. It is a special way of approaching issues, a method which accepts that the truth is always larger than our perception of it. Our reluctance to take no dogmatic stand on controversial question is informed by our view that there is some truth to be found everywhere." Richard H. Schmidt says, "the result is that Anglicanism has always tolerated a certain ambiguity, middleness, and imprecision."

There is a fear that the proposal would lead to more people engaging in homosexuality and prostitution. If this were to happen the act of decriminalisation could not seriously be blamed for persons' sexual preferences. One would have to conclude that the disposition was always there. These fears are unfounded and lack scientific verification. I do not think we should pursue this line of argument.

Morality cannot be legislated and the Christian community should not seek to so do. We should see the development as a window of opportunity for Christians to get involve in creating a just society that would not make it necessary for people to want to get involve in prostitution. We should also see it as an occasion for the Church to engage in meaningful evangelism that would help people to turn from their sinful living and become new beings. It is a challenge for the church to become the leaven of the society as it gives to the nation a counter culture. We can become the light and salt of the nation. It can be an exciting era for the Christian community.

We must not allow the debate to detract us from the burning social issues that affect the lives of our citizens. Social injustices and other ‘evils’, which we encourage, allow and perpetuate, are just as immoral and in some instances worse than the immoral acts of homosexuality, prostitution, fornication and adultery. They rob people of their true humanity and display a selfishness and lack of concern for others, done do other forms of immorality.

The call for the decriminalisation of prostitution and homosexuality has to be seen within the context of the evolution of society and the pluralistic global world that is rapidly emerging. No longer are laws rooted in some common morality, or indeed in any common political or religious foundation, but against a constantly moving social and economic set of conditions. We cannot escape, we are part of the new world order which will see an ever marginalization of religion and the church. We have to face the reality of our times and be positive and intentional in our proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The social changes do not diminish the work of the church. "We have a gospel to proclaim."

Wayne E. Isaacs (Canon)

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