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Archive for November, 2010

They’ve posted up the video of last week’s panel discussionDownload video here. Original page here.

(If you don’t have Windows Media Player (eg if you have a Mac) you can download VLC Player and paste in this URL: http://www.eastbournelive.org.uk/faithforum2010.wmv)

We didn’t know the questions in advance and we were given 90 seconds each, so this was my off-the-cuff effort.  There are a few things I’d say differently now and next time I’ll remember to sit on my hands, but… here it is.

UPDATE:  Here are my answers as short youtube videos.

The questions were as follows (you can fast-forward to my answers at the times given below):

If a believer thinks their faith has a monopoly on the whole truth how can they respect any other?
My answer 4:57

Should there be Bishops in a reformed House of Lord?
My answer 11:50

Do the Adherents of your faith represent your faith accurately to the world?
My answer: 26:00

How can we know God?
My answer:  31:16  (I pick up on the Muslim panelist’s comment that “we know God through God.”)

In inter-faith discussions, do you think there is a danger of slipping into a subtle form of intolerance i.e. to think that there are no real differences and that what you believe is just another way of expressing what I believe?
My answer:  46:43

In the past 4 decades we have seen great change in the faith structure of Britain with major immigration to the UK.  From the faith perspective, can and how can serious conflict be avoided in the next 50 years?
My answer: 51:00

Do faith schools encourage greater tolerance and understanding between faith communities or are they more divisive?
My answer:  1:03:40

What is your faith’s view of women?
My answer:  1:19:05

What is your faith’s view of other religions?
My answer: 1:23:58

Answers on youtube.

Some other questions I’ve been considering recently are here:

Is homosexuality wrong?  What is your position on gay marriage?

How should ‘faith schools’ be treated in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society?

Should there be blasphemy laws?  Who should they protect?

Can there be a place for Sharia law in our multi-cultural society?

What common ground do you share with the other panelists?

Does your faith community represent your faith well?

How do we avoid war when the religions just can’t agree?

How do we avoid the dangers of religious extremists?

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And another thing…

How do we avoid the dangers of religious extremists?

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Why should we worry about religious extremism?  What is dangerous about the phrase “religious extremism”?  The dangerous part is not the “extremism” – the danger lies in which religion we’re speaking of.

No-one was afraid of the religious extremism of Mother Teresa.  No-one is afraid of the religious extremism of the Amish.  There’s a worldwide network of cells that meet to devote themselves ever more fully to their religious fundamentals  – they’re called Quakers.  No-one is afraid of them.  Why?  Because it all depends on what your fundamentals are.  It all depends on which religion it is your are pursuing to extremes.

If you put Jesus Christ at the centre and truly pursue Him fanatically and to extremes it ought to produce communities of radically loving, radically other-centred people.  The more you become like Christ the more you are likely to die for your enemies.

Of course this is not true of all religions.  Neither is it true of all worldviews considered more broadly.  Some religions have been founded by those who have killed their enemies (rather than been killed by them).  To pursue these to extremes will indeed lead to war.  By the same token, naturalism taken to  extremes is incredibly dangerous.  It is a short step from “the stongest do survive” to “the strongest should survive.”  It’s a step we’ve seen taken by extremists last century, and the body count was the highest the world has ever seen.

It’s not the “extremism” that matters.  Pursuing something to extremes can be wonderful for this world.  Christians giving their lives to the world in Jesus’ name have made an incredible impact for good.  Don’t fear ‘extremism.’  Fear the religions and worldviews that can’t be pursued extremely.  And for my money, that’s all of them, except for Jesus.

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MP3 Audio

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Words and Guitar Tab below

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Continued from here.

AUDIO HERE.

UNITED TO THE GOD OF LOVE

INTRODUCTION

Jesus is THE Revelation of God.  Not just the Best or the Final Revelation – THE Revelation.

If we want to know God, we need to begin again with Jesus and let Him reshape our vision of God.

When we do that we discover a God totally different to the Omnibeing of western imagination.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: He is full of the Spirit and Son of the Father.

Therefore Jesus reveals to us the Trinitarian God

Trinity is not a maths problem but a simple truth: God is Three Persons United in Love

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Wonderfully, through Jesus, we are invited into the God who is Love.

Jesus became what we are through the crib and the cross.

Believers become what He is as the Spirit incorporates us into Jesus.

We now participate in the Son’s union and communion with the Father

In Jesus we become children of the Father, filled with His Spirit.

Thus we are christs, sons of God IN Jesus – the Christ, the Son of God.

In the words of 2 Peter 1:4 we participate in the divine nature.

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THOUGHT STARTER

“Feelings are feelings, they’re neither good nor bad, what counts is what you do with them.” Discuss.

 

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Release Sherif Hassan

Sherif is a friend of a friend, a Christian Egyptian newly married at All Souls, Langham Place this summer.  He visited his native Egypt with his English wife two and a half weeks ago.  They were detained at the airport, his wife was deported and he was taken by police and has not been seen since.

Please visit Release Sherif to learn more.

Please pray for his release.

Please write to the foreign secretary, your MP, the Egyptian embassy.

And please link / Facebook / re-tweet this (with hash tag #ReleaseSherif)

 

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From Emma’s blog:

“Scripturally, sex is not whambamthankyouma’am. It’s a covenant promise, part of a total self-giving of which the body is the final handshake.  Where, within the safety of the marriage relationship, two people are emotionally, spiritually and finally, physically naked and – crucially, without shame.  Where men step out in strength and gentleness to love and give, whilst women are liberated to receive with joy and peace.

“In contrast, what do these sexualized images offer?  Sex without intimacy.  Invitation without delivery.  Toying, teasing, frustrating.  Everything on show, flesh exposed, but nothing really given.  A plastic, disposable body.  A plastic disposable person.”

Read the whole thing.

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Happy Friday

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More hindsight…

How do we avoid war when the religions just can’t agree?

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There is a popular myth in our culture that religions are dangerous and full of extremists and that we must flee from faith claims into the warm and peaceful embrace of secularism.  Don’t believe the lie.  There’s nothing necessarily violent about faith commitments.  And there’s nothing neutral about secularism.  It has it’s own faith commitments that are just as liable to produce warfare.

The 20th century was the murder century.  More people died violently in that century than all previous centuries combined.  And the great majority were at the hands of atheistically driven regimes.  If we want to avoid war, let’s think twice before fleeing “the religious” to take refuge in “the secular.”

The common denominator in all wars is not God, it’s man.  So the real question to ask after the murder century is not “How can you believe in God?”  The real question to ask is “How can anyone believe in man?”  And yet secularism asks us to place supreme confidence in man.

I don’t have any such confidence.  My hope for peace is in the Prince of Peace.  He is One who used His power not to lord it over us but to serve and bless us, to bleed and die for us.  He was One who refused to pick up the sword but instead was thrust through in order to reconcile His enemies.  He is our only hope for peace.

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There’s nothing like hindsight.  Here’s how I wish I answered one of the questions…

Does your faith community represent your faith well?

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No faith community represents themselves very well.  Just tune into Sky’s religious channels to see that!

But for the Christian there’s a very easy test you can apply to see whether they’re representing their beliefs – Do they look like Jesus?  If they don’t, then they’re not representing Christianity, no matter how much they might claim to be Christian.

But Jesus does give the world permission to judge Christianity by looking at His followers.  That’s a scary prospect for Christians but it’s true.  Jesus says “By this will all people know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”  The quality of Christian love on display to the world will witness to Jesus.  So how does our faith community show the love of Jesus in Eastbourne?

In Eastbourne there are 70 congregations, averaging around 125 members.  In addition there are 26 specialist agencies run by Christians helping people with unemployment, debt, homelessness, elderly care, Beachy Head Chaplaincy, Street Pastors, St Vincent de Paul, etc, etc.  Every week in Eastbourne, Christians run 372 activities for the community!  372!  The council couldn’t even begin to provide that kind of service to the community.  This is not bible studies and parish council meetings and Christian stuff for Christians.  This is activities run for the community to which everyone is invited regardless of faith or lifestyle.  To run these 372 mid-week activities we give 2200 volunteer hours per week.  Again, this is not about Christians serving Christians, it’s Christians serving the community.  And this is just one little town in one little corner of the British Isles.  Around the world the story is repeated again and again, the risen Jesus living His other-centred life in believers all over the globe.

The church is the one organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members.  We are church for the world.  And in this way we represent our Lord Jesus who lives and works not for Himself, but does everything for us.

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The Christian is expectant.  We wait for Christ our Bridegroom.

But how do we wait?  Like this?

look-up

I recently read Sam Harris quoting this statistic: 44% of Americans believe Jesus will ‘certainly’ or ‘probably’ return in the next 50 years.  That’s not 44% of American Christians.  That’s 44% of Americans!

Now I think Jesus could return today.  But I also think He could be another few millennia.  I’m not sure it’s fruitful to put a time frame to this.  But perhaps we know people who scour the newspapers for signs of antichrist – certain that the end is nigh.  And by nigh – they mean Tuesday week.

Just before Jesus ascended His followers wanted to get an eschatological timetable from Him:

Acts 1:6-9:  So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

They wanted to know times and seasons.  Jesus says ‘That’s not your job!  Your job is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

We do not wait by worrying about when.  We wait by witnessing.

Notice how Acts 1 continues:

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Even as Jesus goes – even as they’re told that Jesus will return the same way! – the disciples receive a rebuke for gawping at the skies.  They’ve been given their marching orders.

The posture of the church as we wait for Christ is not stationary, faces heavenwards.  It’s, verse 8, moving out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth witnessing to Christ.

people-together-arrow

We wait by witnessing.

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Peter Owen Jones seems so at home with this newfangled technology called “”a camera””.  Must be all that BBC training.  I, on the other hand, seem utterly bemused by it all.

So anyway, just come back from Question of Faith.  Thanks for all your help and prayers.

Reflecting with an older wiser Christian afterwards, we noticed that the watchword of the night was “tolerance.”  This was the Absolute Good and that which no-one dare speak against.  But interestingly, my friend made the point that the history of religious toleration was very different to how we use the word today.  So, for instance, the Act of Toleration in 1689 was the granting of liberties by a strong majority to a weak minority (the non-confromists).  It was not, as it is assumed to mean today, the decision of equals to get along together.

I think that’s a fascinating point.  True tolerance is a strong incumbent majority who nonetheless accommodate themselves and stoop to serve the weak.  The truly Tolerant One is the Lord Jesus who makes Himself Servant of all.  And He wouldn’t be more tolerant if He stopped insisting on being Lord.  He can be Lord and the most tolerant all at once (when tolerance is properly understood).

Anyway, that’s one reflection.

My answers were as Twitter-like as I could make them.  We got 90 seconds maximum, so there’s not a great deal that can be said.  I had the very best questions from some teenagers who came up to me at the end of the evening.  They appeared to be with their mother.  There was no pussy-footing with the teens: “So you think the other panelists are going to hell?” etc, etc.  It was definitely the most fruitful time of the evening.  At one point I tried to make fun of the omni-being of philosophy: “You know that nonsense they teach in religious education, ‘God is omniscient, omnipotent, omniverous, ambidextrous’.”  They laugh nervously.  I think it’s because I’m deliciously drole.  Then the woman introduces herself: “Hi, I’m their RE teacher…”  Oh.

The evening was video’d and will be up on the web in a week or so.  I’ll link to it when it’s available.

Once again, thanks!  :)

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Today is the anniversary of Blaise Pascal’s night of fire.  He turned decisively from the god of the philosophers and found Jesus Christ, the true and living God:

The year of grace 1654
Monday, 23 November.
From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight. 

Fire
‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
‘Thy God shall be my God.’
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word. Amen.

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Continued from here.

What common ground do you share with the other panelists?

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Two years ago if anyone wanted to understand the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, they would never think of starting with their commonalities.  The best way to understand Conservatism is on its own terms, as a distinct entity.  And the best way to understand the Liberal Democrats is to treat it as its own political party with its own philosophy and aims.  To begin by asking about common ground will not help you to grasp the true essence of either, but only lead to a superficial understanding.

Now that the two parties are in Coalition it’s possible to look at common ground and to see that there are many ways they can work together fruitfully.  But you don’t begin with common ground.

In the same way, the best way to understand the faiths we represent is not to begin with common ground but to treat us quite distinctly and according to our own ways of understanding.  That’s not to say that we can’t pull together – Coalition style – on a number of issues.  But it is to guard against having a shallow and superficial understanding of these faiths.  Don’t start with the commonalities – treat each on its own terms.

The common ground which I believe exists between each member of this panel and indeed each member of the audience is a reality that not everyone will acknowledge.  But it is no less firm as common ground because of that.  I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ loves and has bled and died for each one of you and longs to draw you into the very life and love of  God.  Therefore I don’t just have respect for you or tolerance for your position.  I love you and I know the love that Christ has for each of you whether you know it or not.   Jesus loves you and He loves me.  That’s common ground between me and everyone I meet and it helps me to treat each person not simply with ‘respect’ or ‘dignity’ but with heart-felt love and compassion.

I believe what we need in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society is not simply “respect” or “tolerance” (such milky words!).  We need love.  Even love for enemies.  We need the kind of love that Jesus embodies and offers freely to all.  Therefore I believe Jesus Christ is our greatest hope for a united society and is the most firm common ground possible – even if right now you’re not aware of it.

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Comments gladly received…

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Questions of Faith 4

Thanks for comments so far.  I’ll get around to responding later on today or tonight.

Continued from here.

Can there be a place for Sharia law in our multi-cultural society?

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Any provision of Sharia law within a multi-cultural western society would be extremely complicated, and not something I’m in any position to comment upon.  But it’s complication shows us something – it shows that admirable liberal values like “respect” and “tolerance” can’t, by themselves, arbitrate in a multicultural society. What does it even mean to “respect” a cultural practice that is entirely alien to modern, liberal western values?  How should the British Raj have “respected” the Hindu practice of burning widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands?

For all talk of “respecting” different faiths and outlooks, a single rule of law must, by the nature of the case, outlaw certain religious practices that are dear to certain of its communities.  The tolerance card only goes so far – everyone finds something intolerable.  There are, it turns out, taboos, sacred cows and unforgiveable sins even for the most secular legislator.

Therefore, for all the attempts to make our laws neutral with regards to faith communities, the rule of law cannot be neutral.  Every rule of law is faith based.  It embodies a certain vision of the healthy, flourishing society.  It comes from a certain worldview.

What faith is embodied by this country’s laws?  I’m certain that we have passed a tipping point whereby Christianity is no longer our shaping faith commitment in the passing and upholding of laws.  Instead there is another faith informing our laws: liberal, pluralistic humanism.  That is our grand vision for humanity and what we are and what we should aspire to – it shapes our legislation and our judiciary.  And necessarily so.  All laws come from faith commitments.

Now I’m not here advocating that we lobby against liberal pluralistic humanism and try to get Christianity back onto the statute books.  I don’t think you legislate Christianity, I think you preach it.  But I’m a preacher – of course I think that.

If the debates about Sharia law do anything, I hope they make us more self-consciously aware of the faith commitments we already hold as a society.  I hope we scrutinize carefully what it is that Sharia law wants us to believe.  It has a vision of what it means to be human, what it is to be woman, what it is to be man, what is right, what is wrong, what is just.  And I want us to scrutinize and question those things very carefully.  But I also hope we scrutinize what it is that our own law-makers want us to believe.  Who are we, what do we need, what must be protected, what must be rejected, what is true, what is just.  The answers to those questions are not obvious.  And simply to slide along with the majority view on those questions is not wise.  Neither will it allow us to say a firm “No” when a faith community demands something really abhorrent in the name of “tolerance.”  We need a firmer foundation than “tolerance” or “respect.”

Jesus Christ says, Come to me and I will show you who we are, what we need, what is true, what is false.  He frees us to think again about what life is really about.  And His vision is not the Sharia vision and it’s not the liberal humanist vision either.

But His rule is the one rule which outsiders should fear the least.  Because here is One who loves and bleeds and dies for His enemies.  He does not merely wish us to “tolerate” outsiders.  He commands us to love our enemies.

And He invites you into an alternative, counter-cultural kingdom, even as you live in the United Kingdom.  He tells you to honour the law-makers as far as is humanly possible: He says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.”  And a society in which Christians are vigourously living out Christ’s other-centred life in the world – whether they happen to wield political power or whether they are a small, oppressed minority – that society is better off.

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Once again, I very much appreciate your comments…

 

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Continued from here.

Should there be blasphemy laws?  Who should they protect?

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Sometimes when people find out I’m a clergyman halfway through our conversation they clap their hand to their face and say something like, “Sorry for the swearing.”  And honestly I don’t care one little bit if you’ve turned the air blue with a tirade that would make a sailor blush.  Really, I could care less.  But if you use the name of my Lord who bled and died for me as a swear word – that pains me a great deal.  I don’t care about your morality, I don’t care about ‘clean language’, but I do get offended when the Prince of Peace is dragged through the mud.  I think blasphemy matters.  I think it’s wrong.  But what should be my response?  Call the cops?  Sue you?  Take you to court?  When you speak against my God, to whom should I appeal?  The state?

While other Christians may disagree with my position, I think it’s one thing to call blasphemy a sin, it’s quite another to call it a crime.  Yes it’s wrong.  But it’s not wrong because it’s against the laws of the land.  And I’m not an advocate for getting the state involved here.

How should we react when Christ is blasphemed?  Well Romans 2:24 is an eye-opener.  Paul (a former blasphemer himself, 1 Tim 1:13) reflects on both Isaiah and Ezekiel and says: “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations because of you [people of God!]”  Why is there blasphemy?  Not because of those blasphemers – those wicked heathen.  Because of you – God’s own people.  It’s the way God’s people have acted that’s led to the blasphemy.  So perhaps our first response to blasphemy should be to come before Jesus and confess our part in bringing dishonour to His name.

Secondly we should respond with Christ-like grace.  In the face of a false portrayal of Christ, answering that with cheek-turning Christians will be the best portrayal of Christ possible.  This rarely happens though.  When Stewart Lee and Richard Herring wrote Jerry Springer the Opera they portrayed Jesus in breath-takingly and deliberately offensive ways.  Of course Christians can get offended by that (they’re meant to!).  Of course they can complain when their license fees are used to fund it.  But from the hate mail Lee and Herring received from Christian protestors, there was another false and offensive Jesus being portrayed.  The way the blasphemy was answered by some Christians was not Christ-like and was therefore itself blasphemous.

At this point some Christians will complain that I’m advocating a soft policy that will make Christianity an easy target for ridicule.  But of course the same argument is always used against ‘turning the other cheek.’  Yet still, it’s what Jesus commands.

The whole world was waiting to see how the Muslim world would react to the Danish Mohammed comics.  Those who reacted violently confirmed every fear the comic was based upon.

The whole world also looks to Christians to see how we will respond.  Undoubtedly the blasphemies which Christians have to put up with are hugely greater than anything Muslims have to endure.  But the world is watching.  And there is, on some level, an expectation that Christians will react differently.  There is an expectation that forgiveness will be part of our response.  And that’s a good thing.  I realise that some Christians say “That’s the problem, these iconoclasts target Christianity because they know we’ll put up with things others never would.”  Well yes.  But that weakness is precisely our strength.  May we go on being the only group on the planet that can actually handle ridicule and answer with grace.  Because that’s how Jesus handled the blasphemies that were hurled at Him.  And the only way to answer false portraits of Christ is to show them true Christ-like grace.

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Once again, I’d love to hear your thoughts, corrections, additions…

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Following on from here.

How should ‘faith schools’ be treated in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society?

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Every school is a faith school.  Every school will communicate an ethos, a grand vision of what makes for ‘the good life’, what is valuable, what is worthless, what we should aspire to, what we should reject.  Every school is a faith school just as every person is a person of faith.  We all have some object of hope and desire to which we look.  We all give ourselves to ‘something greater’ which becomes our life-shaping object of devotion.  We all have a ‘heaven’ we day-dream about and a ‘hell’ we seek to avoid.  We all hold ourselves and others to account using some particular measure.  We all have faith commitments that shape our lives.

In our particular culture, we think nothing of sending off our children aged 5 years old to be educated by the state.  This is just one more example of how we unthinkingly trust in the state from the cradle to the grave.  When there is a social ill, we ask “What will the government do to sort it out?”  Everyone’s looking for a Saviour, and for many people, the State is it.  We trust in the state to feed us, to clothe us, to heal us, to protect us and to educate us.

So for many it’s just a no-brainer to send their children from the age of 5 to be educated by the state.  And for the next decade and more, we trust the state to inform our children’s minds for a very great proportion of their waking lives.  The government approved curriculum will educate them on matters including religion, family, sex and relationships.  A good education should encompass all these things.  But there is no neutral way to teach such subjects.  For instance, to present all religions as equally valid is itself a religious view – it’s called religious pluralism.  And it is a religious view intolerant of billions of people on our planet.  (It’s ok to disagree with billions of people, but it’s good to be up-front that you’re doing so).

So it turns out that teaching from a faith perspective is inescapable.  All schools are faith schools.  It’s just that state schools are a lot more clandestine about it.  Usually people worry that the ‘faith schools’ are covering something up.  Actually, they are the ones coming clean that they do and they must teach according to certain faith commitments.

Which means all schools should be transparent about the what and the how of their teaching.  ‘Faith school’ should certainly not be a cloak for secrecy.  If there’s anti-semitism or racism or the glorification of war in the syllabus, it needs to be exposed to public scrutiny.  But we should not bring everything to the bar of secular pluralism, for that turns out to be a faith position of considerable intolerance.

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To be honest, I don’t know what else to say on this topic.  Thoughts anyone?

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Here are some thoughts regarding potential thorny questions I may be asked on Wednesday night:

Is homosexuality wrong?
What is your position on Gay Marriage?

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Let me begin by saying that I have no interest whatsoever in getting non-Christians to live Christianly.  The good news of Jesus is not a set of rules about behaviour it’s the proclamation of His loving rescue for sinners.

I’m not trying to get anyone to “behave”, I want people to “believe” – and to believe in the Lord Jesus who loves them to death.

The heart of Christianity is not adherence to a code but a relationship with a Person.  Therefore homosexuality is not even close to being a central concern for Christianity – Jesus Christ and His death on the cross is.  The bible centres on Jesus – not on us and our sex-lives!

Having said that, our relationship to Jesus is described as a marriage-relationship.  Marriage is a portrait of our relationship to Jesus.  So marriage and human sexuality does matter.  It proclaims who Jesus is and how we are related to Him.  So for Christians who think it’s important how we proclaim Jesus to the world, we need to think through marriage and sexuality carefully.  We need to resist the assumed sexual morality of our age and make sure we are shaped by Jesus.

But that would remain a peripheral, in-house matter if it weren’t for the fact that human sexuality is a massive issue in our culture.  Homosexuality is not big in the bible, but as a test-case for the defence of our personal liberties, it’s huge in our culture.  That’s where the heat and light is being generated.  Wherever Christians resist the cultural myth that “what I do with my body is no-one’s business but mine”, there will be a clash.  Wherever Christians say “There is a higher authority than the ruling libido of our time” there’ll be trouble.

Today our culture regards it as common sense that “what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is for them and them alone to decide.”  To even think about questioning that assumption is to invite frowns of incomprehension at best and angry revulsion at worst.  This is a sacred cow we must not touch.

But in the interests of free thinking, in the interests of liberating ourselves from unquestioned allegiance to cultural myths, let’s ask:

  • Doesn’t my gender matter a great deal to my identity, or do we think that it’s incidental?
  • Doesn’t my gender matter in my relationships to others, or is it a matter of indifference?
  • We acknowledge that the number, the age, the degree of family separation and the species of our sexual partners are all vital factors (though perhaps these too will become less important over time).  Is it really so outrageous to suggest that the gender is also vital?
  • If we say Yes, what are we saying about our gendered and bodily existence?
  • Can I really split my ‘true’ self from my bodily and gendered existence without damaging myself?
  • Can I really unite my body to another without uniting my person to them?
  • Is it really true that what consenting adults do in private is of no consequence to society as a whole?
  • How would we know if these cultural myths were ‘true’ or not?  On what basis are we asked to swallow them?  Can they be questioned or are they moral absolutes?

In all this we see how this issue centres around authority.  Who has the right to pronounce on these matters of identity, freedom and choice?

Christianity, at its best, invites people in to look through another set of lenses at questions of sex, relationships, gender and identity, etc.  It sees all things as made by Jesus and for Jesus and therefore has a very different take on these issues.  Therefore Christianity has the temerity to question the deeply religious commitments of our so-called ‘secular’ society.

But once again let’s be clear, this is not about enforcing a sexual morality on those who don’t see things through the lens of Jesus Christ.  The point is not monogamous heterosexuality, the point is Jesus.  First we invite people to Jesus and then to live out the reality they see in Him.

By the way, Christianity has a lot more to say on the subject of sex and marriage than a simple insistence on the gender of the participants!  But that’s for another time.

But finally, perhaps an analogy will help to show the Christian position on human sexuality.  From a biblical point of view, homosexuality is like an eating disorder (see here for more).  It’s a disordering of a person’s relationship to sex, the way anorexia is a disordering of a person’s relationship to food.  Are there environmental factors?  Loads of them.  Are only some people weirdly disordered and others ‘normal’?  No, we’re all weird in different ways.  Does the disorder present itself as a straightforwardly chosen lifestyle?  Very often.  Is it?  No, it’s more complicated than that.  Do Christians also struggle with the disorder?  Indeed they do.  Do they slip into this disordered behaviour, sometimes for long periods.  Yes.  Can all Christians expect ‘total healing’ from the disorder?  Difficulties will often remain throughout life, though some may know large degrees of freedom.  Should we approach the issue with an attitude of fear and condemnation?  Please no.  But – here’s the thing – can a person be an active champion for the disorder and claim Christian justification?  No.  That would be a like holding a pro-anorexia Christian support-group.

On the issue of gay marriage, I’d rather preserve the term ‘marriage’ for the exclusive, monogamous, lifelong union of a man and a woman.  Once you expand that definition you have to start asking why ‘three blokes, a dolphin and the Eiffel Tower‘ isn’t also a ‘marriage.’  But I can’t get too worked up about the name.  And I’m not interested in creating more heterosexual marriages.  I am interested in people meeting Jesus.

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Disagree?

Something to add?

Let me know…

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From Emma’s blog:

…This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a friend. We were discussing what it is we pray for and she suddenly dropped a conversational bombshell.

‘Every day’, she said, ‘I pray to be nice’.

You might think, well, what’s wrong with that? But ‘nice’ to me… is what Kyrptonite is to Superman. It’s a terrible word. An insipid, pastel-coloured emotion, laden with shoulds and oughts and good intentions and utterly devoid of passion.

However, when I suggested as much to this friend, she looked at me aghast. Now, to be fair, I could have been a little more sensitive. I didn’t help matters by shouting ‘You pray to be NICE? WHY? It’s not an adjective, it’s a biscuit. You’re not nice! You’ll never be nice! If you turn ‘nice’, our friendship is OVER’.

No-one is nice in the bible.  I am so grateful my wife is not nice!

Her whole article

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