Obedience … it’s one of those words we all know and think the meaning is so obvious it doesn’t need definition, but actually that’s wrong. Obedience is a word that has many layers of meaning, and functions at many different levels. If you look up the word online, you find the definition, ‘compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.’ Which is okay, as a start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
For instance, ‘obedience’ today may indicate coerced compliance with the ideological demands of our increasingly totalitarian state. But it may also mean the willing acceptance of discipline, in the pursuit of excellence. Athletes, for example, will be ‘obedient’ to their coach, because they want to win, and actively seek a discipline that will help them best develop their strengths. In the same way, soldiers are obedient in training, because they know that their lives and the lives of their comrades will, if they find themselves in conflict, depend on their ability to follow orders and work together.
Perhaps not so different is the obedience required of a believer, who chooses to follow the rules laid down by God, because compliance leads to life and salvation, while wilful disobedience results in bondage to sin and death.
And just as ‘obedience’ has many shades of meaning, so the reasons why people obey can be equally multi-layered. The most obvious reason, of course, is fear of the consequences if we don’t comply. Put at its most basic, people are ‘obedient’ because they want to avoid punishment – and that’s true for every stage of life, from the four-year-old who restrains himself from stealing his schoolmate’s sweets, to the businessman or woman struggling to complete their tax returns satisfactorily, because they don’t want to end up in jail! And some political systems, such as communist regimes and dictatorships, are of course built on enforced compliance and punishment. That’s how they function. In this kind of scenario, it takes real courage to stand up and resist.
Which is why the latest news of a Christian factory worker, awarded compensation after being summarily dismissed from his job at a chicken wholesalers in Scotland, is so disturbing (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10916631/Christian-factory-worker-wins-22-000-fired-refusing-crucifix.html). Jevgenijs Kovalkovs, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, refused to remove his cross while at work, as he said it posed no danger and was a sign of the ‘deep and profound’ commitment he feels to his faith.
His line manager, however, disagreed – though she failed to carry out any kind of risk assessment – and ordered him to take it off. This he did, initially, but later put it back on for a meeting with another manager, after making a complaint of bullying. He was again ordered to take it off, and this time refused – leading to his immediate sacking. Mr Kovalkovs subsequently sued the company for religious discrimination, a claim upheld by Employment Judge Louise Cowan, who found that was the sole reason for his dismissal, and that his deep and profound Christian faith should have been respected. She awarded him damages of £22,074.68.
The ruling is to be welcomed. It remains a cause for concern, however, that the company should have felt it legitimate to sack Mr Kovalkovs for wearing a Christian symbol in the first place.
Under Art 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998, freedom of religion and belief, and the freedom to manifest such belief is enshrined in UK law (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1/part/I/chapter/8). Only last month the government reaffirmed its commitment to defending this right and for promoting respect between different religions (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/freedom-of-religion-or-belief-understanding-this-human-right). And as long ago as 2012 it was unequivocally stated by Eric Pickles, at the time Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that, “It is reasonable, and lawful, for Christians to wear a discreet symbol of their faith as long as this does not get in the way of their work. Indeed, given the massive contribution of Christians to our country over centuries, it is to be welcomed” (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/wearing-of-christian-symbols-at-work).
Yet despite all this, discrimination, specifically against Christians, both in the workplace and society at large, seems on the rise. Not just in relation to wearing Christian symbols, of course, but in cases of expressed belief and even when quoting direct from the Bible. Woke activists are quick to take issue with anything that conflicts with the new Weltanschauung, and it would seem that amongst different groups of believers, Christians are viewed as an easy, legitimate, and prime target.
Why should this be?
There are perhaps two main reasons. First, Christian values are seen as underpinning the moral code upon which our society is founded and whose values are now being so stridently challenged by secularists and sexual libertarians alike, both of whom claim a right to rewrite ‘the rules’ … and devil take the consequences! But second, Christians are viewed as an easy target because by and large it’s known they won’t react with violence. On the contrary, they will respond with consideration and love, and the one thing they won’t do is seek to attack or destroy their opponents.
Obedience to the faith requires that Christians uphold the moral and spiritual teachings of the Bible. Obedience to a secularist, ‘modernising’ agenda would seem to mandate intolerance to views not supportive of the new pogrom – and yes, the use of the word is deliberate. So it would seem that we have here a conflict of ‘obedience’. Does the believer stay true to the faith and suffer discrimination, or does he or she bow to the pressures of the world?
Mr Kovalkovs is to be applauded for his principled refusal to compromise. Those seeking so casually to suppress such belief should perhaps learn what genuine tolerance and inclusivity really is.