Undermining Cohabitation

The Church of England has today backed proposals to beef up the rights of cohabiting partners. This is covered on Ekklesia and the BBC News web site.

The reason for this is to improve the rights of the vulnerable within the situation of a cohabiting couple splitting up – either a partner or a child could be vulnerable.

However, a side affect is that this change in the law would be legislating against casual, no commitments, cohabitation. Bear in mind that most of the time cohabitation is the free choice of the cohabitees – no one is being coerced into it (there are unfortunately exceptions, perhaps those are the examples we should be concerned about?), so to imply that current cohabitation is criminal and that it should only ever be accompanied by extended commitments and rights isn’t necessarily something that we should do. Basically this would be legislation to restrict people’s freedom to cohabit in an attempt to protect people who are often putting themselves in a vulnerable position out of free choice.

As I have mentioned in a number of posts (here, here and here

Evolution on dvd

for example) I don’t believe that it is the role of Christians to impose laws on wider society.

Please don’t think that I’m saying we shouldn’t do whatever we can to help the vulnerable, including children, but I’m not sure that our ‘help’ should be to impose legal restriction on people based on our conception of morality.

14 thoughts on “Undermining Cohabitation

  1. Mark, I must admit , I find your postion an interesting one. I don’t see thess issues as imposing but more of engagement with the cultural context. Jesus came to liberate the oppressed and bring justice and love, ultimately to usher in the \kingdom of good news. Now this doesn’t neccesary mean laws. But the Church in it’s time have been behind public education, public health and imposed laws against slavery and injustice. Clearly the chuchr sometimes back laws which have nothing to do with justice and love.

    Although Jesus didn’t recommend physically fighting the romans in his day he certainly advocated resistance and opposed oppressive power and power structures which led the power structures of the day to kill him and many of his followers. Through there bodies and there lifestules they challeged and changed the laws of the day. Martin Luther king also was preapred to follow in his footsteps to change oppressive laws in society.

  2. Mark, I was mainly responding to your view that Christians shouldn’t impose laws on a wider society based on our concept of morality.
    The church don’t make laws , so they can’t impose a law on society, what they are doing is supporting the legislation which aims to protect the vulnerable, namely children.
    I think Christians have a responsibility to speak act for the weak and vulnerable and to tackle injustice which surely this bill is about, not about restricting people’s freedom, which I’m sure liberty would be concerned with. In my mind Laws are always about limiting people to live how they want. I may want to drive on the wrong side of the road, take things without paying from my local supermarket, commit fraud, but there are laws to help me take responsibility for my actions.
    There are no rights without responsibility – I sense that our society are keen in individual rights and not so keen on responsibility to others and the society they live in.

  3. Yes, this law would be there to protect the vulnerable (that is it’s purpose), but it does this by infringing on people’s rights – that is the nature of law – all law is a rebalancing of freedoms and rights. Law is necessary for an ordered society.

    You say that ‘the church don’t make laws’ – I wish! 🙂

    Currently we live in a democratic nation state where the government is decided by the people – the corollary of which is that laws are implemented due to the choice of the people.

    Similarly ‘the church’ is people – so when those people vote for laws (through voting for representatives in government) then it is true to say that the church does make laws. It is only when the people that make up the church don’t involve themselves in governing through law that the church can be said to not make laws.

  4. Is it either or OR both and? On the one hand we stand up for justice etc but also called to obedience. God given rulers etc. (This where Martin Luther got himself into a bit of a pickel).
    How do we develop a progressive liberating society that looks out for the weak and vulnerable without involvement (wether that it through the democratic process or through activly seeking to live another way and enouraging others to do so). A law in itself is not an impostion (yes it may become so when reinforced) but is it about how that reinforcement then happens – would be wrong to back up just laws with resortative justice approaches rather than punishment.
    Is there a danger Mark of looking at the bigger picture without somehow encouraging others to change. A bit like a football manager who simply by observing cant help the players play better and unless the manager becomes involves at half time nothing changes. The question is what shape does that involvment need to take?

  5. Yes, we are called to obedience to both God and our rulers – with God taking precedence.

    Remember, we are not here to ‘develop a progressive liberating society…’ we are here to be a ‘progressive liberating church’ and to be an example to society.

    Why isn’t a law an imposition? Name a law and I will tell you how it imposes upon people.

    Certainly I believe that in the church submission (not quite submission to laws) can be reinforced, but that it should be reinforced by exclusion The Power of Exclusion rather than control and coercion.

    I agree that we need to ‘encourage others to change’, but I feel that this should be by loving example rather than big stick coercion of law.

    Show me a law (in society) that doesn’t use the big stick as the last resort to ensure it’s implementation? There are none. You don’t get laws along the lines of ‘feel free to give money to a central pot’ instead you get laws like ‘we are going to tax you all and if you don’t pay up we’ll put you in prison’. The former would be a ‘suggestion’ the latter a ‘law’.

  6. I am sure that we have debated htis before, but there must be a fine line between moral imposition and moral guidance. The church and christians should surely give moral gudiance to socity, that is part of what God would want us to do, rather htan just letting people go on with what they want. By staying silent we are basically agreeing witht heir actions.
    I know there is a balance, but I also knwo tha we need to give that guidance,and yes that means sometimes we hsould challene as well as relate.

  7. Mark How would correlate Gods law to this. WOuld you take a universialist view of salvation and does by your definition of law and suggestion – Salvation cease to become a grace act and more like a law. Jesus suggests you turn to God but if you don’t you will go to hell.

    Back to the balance thing God could be seen as pro law Old Testement as a system to promote justice and a James says to help people “people to live how they want”. Was it Paul who talked about not being able to do the things he ought to do all the time. Although Christ ushered in the new Romans 7 it was completely disconnected from the old MAtt 13 50-53.

  8. Mark, It sounds like you feel Christians should not have anything to with normal society and that they should live a part from society. People should only do things that they feel is right within their heart and then when they do the “right� thing it will be acceptable and heart felt.
    You say, we are here to be a ‘progressive liberating church’ and to be an example to society. I’m not sure where that belief comes from – but as a Christian I don’t subscribe to that view and wouldn’t like that view to be imposed upon me!!
    My view on society is that it is flawed and that ultimately people are selfish, broken and carry many wounds. If there were no boundaries on people in society then there would be no community or any sense of society. It is my experience that in Christian communities there are still rules and boundaries to help people live together and there are many examples of these communities believing and doing harmful things.
    I work with children and young people with behaviour problems and it is clear to that they are struggling because they were given no boundaries and hence will push and push until they hit a boundary. I believe that as a parent a key role for me is to provide my children with boundaries which I think will help them to flourish as human beings.
    I feel that ultimately Jesus came to help us grow up, to take responsibility for ourselves – growing up is painful and many of us struggle to do it – hence we rely on a ‘nanny’ or a ‘pastor’ to help us work out things together.

  9. Hi James,
    How do you conclude that I think that Christians should live apart from society merely from my contention that we ought not control society?

    I don’t think that anyone is trying to force you to be progressive and liberating. Jesus made a lot of progress (he fulfilled the law and ended our enslavement to the written law by ushering in the Holy Spirit) and was very liberating – I guess that’s why I believe that the church should be progressive and liberating (not old fashioned and controlling).

    I entirely agree with your points about society, it is flawed – if you wish to have a pleasant society then it does need moderation and boundaries.

    In my mind it seems second best that, as Christians, we tend to fall back on rules and structures when reliance on the Holy Spirit is what Jesus gave us to set us free and enable us to do the right thing. However, we’re not about to be perfect, so inevitably we will fall back on rules etc.

  10. Hi Richard, no I’m not a universalist, I believe that there is a choice to be made regarding one’s relationship with God. Also, no, salvation is entirely grace and not law. Law brings death, it convicts it condemns – life can only come through God’s grace. Law doesn’t give you the absolutely security that God’s love does, the security that you need to live a transformed life.

    Certainly we will struggle with the part of us that wishes to do evil, but part of us will to want to do God’s will – the old Romans 7 chestnut. So what is the solution to the evil that we continue to do? I suspect that using the law in attempt to solve the problem will only distance us from God, as we are tempted to not rely on a relationship with him to fix our situation – in my mind the only solution is to immerse one’s self further in God’s love and to be changed by that. The only time when we don’t sin is when we do God’s will – if we are just obeying a written law we are merely approximating God’s will and it is unlikely we will be living his ideal and so will be just as sinful as if we were ignoring law.

  11. Mark,
    I find this form of communication annoying, I am trying to understand what you are saying and yet I don’t think I am getting it, come back old fashioned face to face debate.

    I was brought up in a strict Baptist tradition which I would say certainly practised that you had to follow a certain religious code in order to be accepted by God. There were many ‘Sabbath’ rules and additional rules which in no way helped me to connect with my soul or God . Latter the church changed it’s name to Grace Baptist – but it’s basic code didn’t change. I’ve always felt that this is the law that binds people not the law of the land.

    Now, I think that old religious law keeps us away from the law, didn’t Jesus say something like the Sabbath is for man not man for the Sabbath !!

    I’m left with ‘love the lord your god with your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. I suppose for the last few years I have been trying to learn to love myself and I think that has impacted on my ability to love my neighbour. As I have let go of condemning myself I have found myself to less judging of others etc. In seeking to practice this my understanding and relationship with God has changed nearly totally.

    I am also struck by the sheep and goats stuff in Mt 25 – if I love Jesus then I need to do something, to care for my brother and sister in practical ways – by doing , showing love in action will I be saved, saved from my selfishness, saved from my separateness.

    This may have no bearing on what you are trying to work with… but I admire your ability and passion in working with these things.

  12. Hi James, thanks for your comments. I must admit I feel like I struggle to put what I’m starting to believe into practice and sometimes I get a bit short – which really doesn’t help with this type of communication! So sorry for that. You’re right face to face is better and a lot easier!

    Regards rules, I know that I’m still failing to spend enough time ‘in’ Christ and that I love to fall back on easy options. I know that he has enough grace for me, but I just have to hope that I have enough love for Him.

    I’m looking forward to your next post on SP. Note the trackback URI below this comment, you can put that into a field against a new post to get good cross-refs if necessary!

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