Sovereign Grand Master and the separation of civil and religious

Millar Farr, Grand Sovereign Master of the Royal Black Institution

As part of his address to the assembled 1,000 members of the Royal Black Institution at Plumbridge, West Tyrone, the Sovereign Grand Master Millar Farr seems to get into a confusion about civil law and religious law. He said:

“In God’s law there is no provision for same-sex marriage. Holy scripture is quite clear on the subject – marriage is between male and female only.

“While man-made laws can be changed, God’s law is unchangeable. How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

Of course this is not the first time that Millar Farr has used his speaking opportunities in this way.

Now let us look at this in detail, he says that man-made laws can be changed. Now in England and Wales the legislation in question does refer to civil marriage, therefore surely by this reason the Government is at liberty to change civil law it does not prohibit ecclesiastical law from taking whatever line it wants to on the subject. Indeed over time the House of Commons as well as the Northern Irish Parliament have passed Marriage Acts which prohibit or re-permit some of the biblical practices over time.

Therein lies a paradox the state allowed non-Anglican’s to carry out marriage services only in the 1856 Marriage Act. Before that some Christians, the Anglicans, were considered more equal than others. Only they were allowed to be married in their own church. Other denominations while free to worship where they wished had to be married by the Anglican rite, so with my Presbyterian and Baptist background many of my ancestors were deemed to either be not legally married by their own church and/or forced to go through an Anglican rite.

It allowed men to marry their deceased wife’s sister in a 1907 Act and women their deceased husband’s brother in 1921; the latter of these actually was a biblical requirement for a widow without male heir, but had clearly been prohibited. You see our interpretation of what was close kinship had changed over time from what the biblical principle was the widow was expected to bear a son through her dead husbands brother to provide him with an heir, but later this closeness was actually considered incest for a time.

Both these examples show an example of marriage laws being changed either to expand the franchise for all Christian belief, or because the public niceties at the time were not compliant with biblical teaching only to later be changed back. They also show that even the church has changed its view on what constitutes marriage over time and that it is not as set in stone as some anti equal marriage apologists make out.

Now the law of this land had accommodated faith within the Christian and other traditions as far as marriage goes, it has also accommodated those without religion or excluded from religious marriage (maybe due to divorce) the right to marriage through civil marriage. Therefore if the lawmakers want to change the law as Mr Farr suggests they are more than capable of doing so, but as for God’s laws being unchangeable he better look at Peter’s vision at Joppa in Acts 10 and it consequences for a law abiding Jewish Christian.

There is also the other issue of the day about bands marching with his Institution ignoring a request for respect to others and defying a stipulation from the Parade’s Commission. It is because of lack of respect from Loyal Orders and Institutions that anyone seeking to march on the street whether a BB or Scout Church parade, the Royal British Legion, any protest or demonstration of any kind has to jump through the hoops of the Commission. The vast majority of such parades and marches pass off peacefully, yet it is those that fail to show even simple respect to others, the neighbours of the parade, that cause the issues. Most of those that are contentious are through those groups that mark the ancient sectarian divide in one form or another.

I thought that Jesus himself said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself'” (Matt 22: 37-40). Maybe Mr Farr should concentrate of the greatest two elements of God’s law first and foremost from himself, his institutions members and the bands who march with them.


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