It was reported on Monday this week that Sunday trading laws in the UK could be relaxed in order to reduce congestion in shops.
Apparently, the government is considering whether the laws restricting how long shops can stay open on Sundays could be suspended during the lockdown to minimise the problems associated with overcrowding.
We are sympathetic to those who during this crisis need to shop for essentials, especially key workers, so I don’t think Christians should oppose this idea on principle. It seems to be the equivalent of the “ox that falls into a well” on the Jewish Sabbath (Luke 14:5). Jesus assumes that it should obviously be rescued, whatever the day.
But what about the longer-term implications of this relaxation? Our concern is that this could signal a permanent end to Sunday trading laws, which we do not think would be a good thing.
As Christians we believe Sunday is a special day when we remember that Jesus rose from the dead and we gather for worship and to listen to what God has to say to us. At a practical level, Christians in the retail industry and associated trades will come under increasing pressure to work rather than being free to gather as church.
But also, it is a good thing for everyone, Christian or not, that we observe a cycle of rest for one day in seven. Binge working followed by binge holidaying in order to recover is not healthy in any sense.
The move to axe Sunday trading laws is part of a bigger narrative that seeks to eradicate all traces of our Christian heritage. Already we can see an emerging lockdown exit strategy in which it is assumed that shopping, working and travelling are much more important than worshipping God. Yet the Bible teaches us that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). What this ultimately means is that hearing from God is more important even than our daily necessities. Right now, church attendance is being viewed by the authorities as a kind of leisure activity – like going to the theatre – and therefore of no great importance.
We recognise the challenge of maintaining social distancing that churches will face when they start to meet again. But we believe that church gatherings are essential and need to be restored as soon as possible, rather than being left to the tail end of the return to normal.
And we believe there are good reasons for Sundays to continue to recognised as a particular rest day each week when some activities at least, are restricted. It is for the good of the whole of our society, not just Christians.