Explainer: What’s happening in Northern Ireland?

Understanding a new bill on same-sex marriage and abortion

July 18, 2019

On July 9, the U.K. Parliament intervened in the politics of Northern Ireland by voting for a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and abortion. Under the current law, same-sex couples can only attain civil partnership status. Likewise, abortion is only permissible under the National Health Service in Northern Ireland if the mother’s life is in danger or there is suspected long-term mental or physical damage caused by having a baby. 

To understand where this bill came from and how it was voted on, it’s important to map out a timeline of events.

How did we get here? 

November 2012: A renewable energy initiative called the renewable heating initiative (RHI) was introduced, seeking to shift Northern Ireland from fossil fuels to renewable sources of fuel. Major spending oversights equated to an excess of £700 million. The responsibility for the scheme lay with the devolved government in Stormont’s Department of Enterprise.

February 2016: The evidence of overspending hit the press, showing the major spending oversights within the scheme. Arlene Foster (Democratic Unionist Party leader & First Minister of Northern Ireland) came under scrutiny for her role as secretary to the department in 2012. The Good Friday Agreement requires two parties that represent two distinct perspectives within Northern Ireland to share the power in the devolved government. Therefore, when opposition party leader Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fien) tendered his resignation as Deputy First Minister, it triggered a general election. 

The results of the election favored Sinn Féin, who won 27 seats, the same number of seats as the DUP. The DUP lost 10 seats from the previous election, and with that lost the majority. The election exasperated the stalemate between Sinn Féin and the DUP, later leading to the shutdown of the devolved government in Northern Ireland in January 2017. 2019 has revealed that nothing has changed; both parties are yet to come to an agreement to form a government again. The July 9 vote was a last resort due to the effects of not having a government.

What does the bill mean? 

The Northern Ireland (Executive formation) Bill grants the powers to the secretary of state (Karen Bradley, member of Parliament) to circumvent devolved Government in Northern Ireland. An amendment allowing for same-sex couples to marry is included in this bill. The bill also has an amendment added to it allowing the secretary of state to pass laws amending the “strict” abortion laws that currently exist in Northern Ireland. The bill would change Northern Ireland’s laws to widen the laws beyond the 24 weeks limit set in the rest of the United Kingdom to 28 weeks. A study carried out by pro-life organization “Both Lives Matter” showed that because Northern Ireland didn’t implement the Abortion Act in 1967, 100,000 people are alive today who would have been aborted otherwise.

What are the next steps? 

The bill gives the Northern Ireland Assembly until Oct. 21, 2019, to form a government. If it doesn’t, the bill will be imposed by the secretary of state. The prospects of an agreement being reached are slim due to Sinn Féin’s vested interest in passing similar laws like this in the past. An open letter has been sent to Prime Minister Theresea May seeking to highlight the “constitutional abuses” the bill has brought about. A staggering 15,000 people have signed the open letter over the weekend, showing the public disapproval of Parliament’s actions last week. 

How should we respond? 

Many Northern Ireland evangelicals have expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposed laws. As Christians, how should we deal with all the anger and frustration at the dismaying laws due to be passed? We need a biblical worldview. 

Our primary purpose in this discussion is the Lordship of Christ over every governing power on earth. In How the Nations Rage, Jonathan Leeman drives this integral doctrine when he uses the example of John 19. Jesus is being delivered up to Pilate to be crucified. The rest of the Gospel accounts tell us that he has been silent during the questioning of the chief priests during their kangaroo court. Now, he’s before the most powerful man in all of Jerusalem, one who has the power to take his life. 

What does Jesus say? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” 

This should provide a wake-up call to the church. Politics is not the final judgement; God is. The government does not have complete authority; God does. Our political party or policy position should not have our complete submission; God should. A biblical worldview then, shows us that God is ultimately in control. We should turn our anger and dissatisfaction into zeal, longing to see hearts and minds changed by the gospel and desiring the see our neighbors and societies flourish. 

Glossary of terms: 

Devolved government: Powers given to local politicians in Northern Ireland that were originally under the control of Westminster. 

Stormont: A building that is home to Northern Ireland’s devolved government. 

Department of Enterprise: Full title: Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. A department that is in charge of developing plans for Northern Ireland’s economic policy, encompassing a host of services from tourism to consumer affairs. 

Good Friday agreement: An agreement made between the two main political parties (Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionist Party) enabling Northern Ireland to sustain a devolved Government.

Nationalist: Political motives lie with uniting Northern Ireland (UK) with the Republic of Ireland. 

Unionist: Political motives lie with continuing the union with the United Kingdom.

Executive formation: This phrase is used within the bill to summarize the law that is being delayed until Oct. 21. The law calls for secretary of state (Karen Bradley MP) to call a general election in Northern Ireland to overcome the impasse. 

Matthew Jackson

Matthew Jackson is a current intern at the Nashville office. Being from Belfast, Northern Ireland; he will be completing his final year this coming academic year in Queens University Belfast where he is studying Primary Education. Matthew hopes to either pursue a career in teaching or work in Education policy. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24