For the last few weeks I’ve become increasingly aware of the way certain parts of the Conservative Church are obsessed with fighting a culture war that we have already lost, at the expense of the Gospel.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this is so. We have websites that seem to publish link after link to stories that criticise the evils of modern lifestyle choices. We have organisations that fight tooth and nail for the right of Christians to refuse business to people they don’t like.And alongside this, the same people seem unable (or unwilling) to speak out when the people who they oppose are themselves victimised and treated in an inhumane way.
Want an example? At the moment one of the leading UK organisations campaigning against abortion is asking its members to lobby against an EU report on homosexuality. Really? What the heck has homosexuality got to do with saving babies’ lives? Seriously? Or how about the American website that is complaining about the UK Government daring to support groups in Russia planning to protest against the new law there that Â makes it difficult for gay advocacy groups to do little more than exist. The same site doesn’t have anything to say about the Russian court who found three men guilty of a homophobic murder. Or what about the group that runs conferences on pastoral support for gay people that includes graphic details about the dangers of anal sex as though that were the defining act of male homosexuality, despite the fact that two-thirds of gay men don’t engage in it, let alone lesbians. And yes, I get emails from gay men who wonder why some Christians seem obsessed with finding every example of something bad about homosexuals and plastering it all over the internet whilst never recognising those gay men and women who are monogamous and don’t engage in any form of “dangerous” sexual practice.
Why are we still fighting this culture war? In most of Western Europe it is pretty well over – the majority of countries have implemented marriage reform recognising same-sex unions and even historically deeply conservative nations like Spain have gay weddings recognised by the State. The vast majority of citizens take a laissez-faire approach to sexual morals, pretty well agreeing that what people choose to consent to in their bed is their own business. Even a majority in the UK now think gay marriage is a good thing.
Yet despite this some Christians want the world to be like it was 100 years ago, when Christendom ruled and sexual morals (and the laws around them) were largely based on the Bible. They want the right to turn down people in their businesses just because they have different choices of sexual activity than they do (but they happily buy their shopping from the sinners down the road). They want to be able to refuse to officiate at same-sex unions even when they are employed by the State as a registrar, but at the same time they fight tooth and nail in court if an employer refuses to allow them to wear a sign of their faith.
And the worst part about this is that none of these issues are to do with the Gospel. They aren’t. The Gospel is about salvation for sinners, not about imposing moral conduct. The Gospel is about the grace of God to rebellious sinners, not the throwing into jail of men and women for consensual sexual acts. The Gospel is about Jesus, not judicial jurisdictions.
This evening I read through the whole of the Acts of the Apostles. In a 1st Century environment that had (several) cultural morals opposed to the revelation of God to his people as to how he wanted them to live, the task of evangelism never saw the Apostles telling the pagans that their sex livs were obscene and dangerous, or that they should be locked up. Neither did the first martyrs complain bitterly about their rights being taken away by a vociferous lobbying minority. No, instead the early Church preached Jesus crucified, dead, risen and ascended as Lord of the Universe and saviour to all. They weren’t concerned by telling the heathens about their individual sins, instead they were concentrating on the far wider issue of how all sin (not just again and again going on only about the ones they found particularly offensive) alienates us from God and means that we are destined for hell without a Saviour.
That’s what they did in a world that had turned its back against God and it worked wonders. When the emphasis was Jesus, not groins, the Church grew exponentially as the transforming power of Christ at work in his people turned the world’s biggest empire upside down. The only time the Apostles dealt with sexual sin was when they were talking to the converted, telling them how to live a life of holiness worthy of the one who had redeemed them. The early converts weren’t converted through a poster campaign promoting a sexual minority or a blog post recounting all the possible illnesses you could get by sticking one sexual organ in another orifice, instead they were enraptured by a community of outcasts who loved the unlovable and told people how a man from Galilee who was God could change their lives forever and set them free from the guilt and shame that persuaded them for their whole lives.
Church, it’s time to stop. It’s time to stop this senseless attempt to hang onto Christendom in a society which has long abandoned it. It’s time to recognise that we are in a heathen culture that is going to stay heathen for a while yet regardless of what we do. It’s time to stop trying to “educate” people about the things that they don’t actually do or warn them about the promiscuity that they don’t engage in.
And instead, it’s time to do what Jesus told us to do. Let’s concentrate on making disciples and telling unsaved people about Him. If we spent all the energy that goes into complaining about anal sex on developing pastoral support to help Christian men and women live the lives of holiness God is calling them to, we might have a greater impact. If we spent half the effort that goes into arguing that Christians should be able to discriminate in the commercial world on advocating for the least and lowest in our society, we might have a greater impact. And if we stopped giving the impression that asking someone to choose for Christ involves them then having to lobby to take away freedom of choice (however wrong) from others, we might have a greater impact.
Really, we might. We just might. If the Church concentrated simply on sharing Jesus even when the heathen lock us up for doing so, and spent its its resources on helping disciples live lives of Godly witness rather than complaining about the unGodly existences of others, we might just have a greater impact.
We’ve lost the culture war – can we now please just get on with winning people for Christ? After all, it worked the last time we were in the same situation.
Hi Peter, very interesting piece. I agree we have lost the culture war and we need to focus on proclaiming Jesus. I do have one major question and that’s regarding the refusal of officiating at weddings, if a minister believes it to be sinful I cannot see how they can be expected to bless a relationship in marriage. Perhaps this raises the question of establishment?
Yes, the easy way round this is to remove the registrar’s role from ministers.
Why ? Many ministers want to, many congregations want to, many a pcc wish to witness thru equality. They are prevented by the triple lock.
So, rather than respond post for post, let’s try to summarise, shall we?
There is widespread opposition, even lethal hostility, around the world to LGBT behaviour.
In many countries, even the rule of law is ignored, mobs can round up those suspected of homosexuality and subject them to horrendous atrocities.
I would also add that, whatever our stance regarding criminalisation, the law should be even-handed. Excusing pre-marital and post-marital sex from public justice and targeting minority sexual divergence because the former is too widespread to police is not an excuse.
Given that the Christian faith was subjected to similar hostility, we also should exercise practical compassion towards those who suffer.
However, when I consider your challenge to ‘faithful to the Bible’, your position is overly reductive. For instance, we are also hard-pressed to find a word on chemical weapons either, so we have to use the process of deduction: inferring particular instances by reference to a general law or principle. Whenever Christ was challenged on an issue, His response was an holistic deduction from an overarching principle.
He was questioned on the dissolving of marriage for any cause (Shammai held to Christ’s single ground of sexual dereliction, while Hillel interpreted even spoiling a dish as the ground of indecency).
He even explained that divorce (and, for that matter, polygamy) was not an ideal, but a provisional concession to accommodate human obstinacy. Provisional laws are not for perpetuity.
Christ inferred from an earlier precedent in Genesis: ‘it was not so from the beginning’. He inferred from the general principle of that God himself established sexual union (that resulted from sexual differentiation) as the basis of two becoming one flesh. The divine instigation of this union that originated from sexual differentiation was not to be undermined by man: ‘what god has joined together, let not man put asunder’.
How then do you undermine and set aside parts of that precedent that Christ used (sexual differentiation as the lawful framework for sexual union) as inapplicable? ‘it was not so from the beginning’ still applies today. It rejects the same-sex marriage innovation as contrary to God’s orinating purpose.
So, you might as well side with the Pharisees and tell Him that the framework for marriage should not be inferred from Genesis.
It’s this inference aligned with Christ’s own principle for marriage that you would have to overturn, if you want General Synod to approve of same-sex marriage solemnised in church.
Thankfully there’s not been any serious talk of expecting vicars faithful to the Bible to nonetheless conduct same sex weddings. If that were to happen I agree that we should disestablish or go independent sooner than capitulate to secular demands.
As for cases that have already arisen, though, I agree Lillian Ladele was treated unnecessarily harshly. Perhaps the best response for christians though is to by all means privately grieve with her in her mistreatment and perhaps quietly challenge the decision, but ultimately to bear the world’s rejection with dignity and get on with preaching the gospel rather than making her into a cause celebre in some already lost war against the gays.
Perhaps, it’s also better for us to accept the loss of ‘charitable status’ tax exemptions for Christian adoption agencies that, by prioritising couples married for at least two years, thereby indirectly discriminating against gay couples.
1. rally to maintain them without charitable status?
2. expect them to abandon the priority for marriage as the preferred and optimal child-rearing environment? or,
3. expect them to shut down, so we can preach Jesus without the publicly unfavourable ideals of a ‘lost war’?
Mainly, I was thinking out loud about how to deal with situations that have already arisen in the framework of Peter’s article. When I read it my gut reaction was in strong agreement with it but I can’t pretend I’ve thought through all the issues.
As for the adoption agencies in their shoes I might be inclined just to carry on quietly doing what I’ve already done until absolutely forced to stop, whether by legal injunction or running out of money. Without wishing to diminish the good work done by these agencies ultimately running an adoption agency is not a core christian duty and while it is a shame they might have to stop, no doubt to the detriment of the children they would serve, it just can’t see these peripheral issues as worth dying in a ditch for.
By contrast, I’m much more concerned cases like Tony Miano being imprisoned twice now for speaking the gospel in public.
Sorry, not sure what you mean by dying in a ditch for it, the price of Christian commitment here is not that high. Still, ‘religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ (James 1:27)
If mission is about being Christ in the world, this expression of pure religion towards children ceases to be peripheral. It is central to complement the preached word with the lived word. Even if they lose charitable status, Christians should rally hard to keep these agencies open.
‘The price’ of being lgbt is very high all around the world – often a matter of life and death – can you begin to imagine that ? Even in Britian today the price is high – believe me.
Hmm no mission is about making disciples through preaching the Word. The adoption agencies have been a great way of caring for the vulnerable but if one door closes why not find another? Given the objective of making disciples if we can no longer be involved in the adoption process through running agencies why not instead put effort into advocating among Christian families to look at adopting children themselves. I think that may well lead more vulnerable young people to Christ than arguing whether a non Christian heterosexual couple will make better parents than a gay couple. Even more so when the comparator is not a straight couple but the institutional care system
Yes, this is exactly the right way of thinking.
‘no mission is about making disciples through preaching the Word’;
St. Paul said: ‘The Lordâ€™s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaiaâ€”your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,’
Why did they not need to say anything about it: ‘for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the deadâ€”Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’
The transformed lives of the Thessalonian converts is described as the Lord’s message ringing out. How is that not mission?
In St.James’ epistle: ‘Looking out for the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unspotted from the world’ is part of that transformed life. The gospel described through our transformed lives complements the gospel described through speech. When either is missing, mission suffers.
All organisations must prioritise. Many church schools prioritise those who demonstrate an active church commitment. These Christian adoption agencies did not discriminate directly. It was access to marriage that incurred indirect discrimination.
While advocating that Christian families adopt is also a worthy goal, I don’t see why we should let these agencies slide into financial ruin.
No, ‘the Lord’s message’ is precisely that – the gospel; words accompanied with the holy spirit and deep conviction (v.5). They welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with joy given by the holy spirit(v.6) not because ‘the message’ was directly relieving their suffering. The message then ‘rang out from [them] not only in Macedonia and Achaia’ but everywhere. Their ‘faith in God’ (v.8) – not their good works specifically – is what has become so renowned. The ‘kind of reception [the Thessalonians] gave [Paul, Timothy and Silas]’ was that they embraced the gospel and ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’.
The Christian adoption agencies are discriminating directly – they may talk of marriage, but it’s quite clear that in a few months a now legally married gay couple are still not going to deem suitable. I don’t have a big issue with this -I’d argue that there are lots of other agencies that gay couples could use rather than trampling on the conscience of the christian agencies as in Stopps v. Just Ladies Fitness – but it’s been decisively established right up to the ECHR that anti-discrimination laws do not have to allow a defence of conscience.
The options open to them are to either agree to consider homosexual couples; lose their charitable status and carry on until the council refuses to deal with them; change their policy on paper but not in practice -essentially lie – and wait until they get sued; or shut up shop now and find another way of serving the vulnerable. Which option they choose depends on what their primary purpose is – if it’s purely to alleviate suffering I’d strongly argue that a homosexual couple will make better parents than the state so they shouldn’t dismiss them; if it’s to bear some christian witness and giving up the principle then the only option with any integrity is to shut up shop. Asking christians to dig deep to prop up organisations that’ll get shut down in the near future regardless would be to throw good money after bad. Far better to put that money to good use in some endeavour which might actually lead someone to christ. It’s not evangelism if no one hears the gospel – what good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?
The irony here is that this is just the kind of hair-splitting that Peter is encouraging us to avoid. I hope that we both agree that as Paul declared after exhorting all categories of Christians to exemplary behaviour: ‘that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.’ (Titus 2:10)
I’ve never claimed that ‘the message’ is the relief of suffering. So, I don’t know why you’d need to negate something I haven’t suggested.
I have not advocated a social gospel. I’ve described how faith is complemented by action.
You’ve said: ‘Their ‘faith in God’ (v.8) – not their good works specifically – is what has become so renowned.’ Yet, James is clear: ‘But someone may say, â€œYou have faith, and I have actions.â€ Show me your faith without any actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions.’ James 2:18.
*Some* adoption agencies were found to have discriminated directly. Those which simply prioritised married couples were found to have discriminated indirectly.
Clearly, Christian adoption agencies have a duty to do more than just alleviate immediate suffering. All organisations prioritise. Agencies that prioritise suitability don’t necessarily reject. That could include prioritising couples over single applicants. What you claim they’ll do when married same-sex couples turn up is moot.
The loss of charitable status is not the same as the prospect of getting shut down, so there is no reason for Christians to precipitate this by withdrawing support.
‘Far better to put that money to good use in some endeavour which might actually lead someone to christ.’ Again, as there is only enough for one or the other endeavour, but not both.
We spend far too much time negating another’s difference in emphasis with over-refined points of disagreement.
The ‘no-one really, really gets it, but me’ camp is actually a single tent in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve just read law + religion’s post about St Margaret’s (successful) appeal of the scottish charity commission’s withdrawal of their charitable status. Excellent news. I hadn’t heard of that case until this morning, and reading about it has clarified a lot. The case I had in mind was Catholic Care from a year or two ago who were denied permission to change their charter to be explicitly discriminatory. Having understood St Margaret’s purposes much more I’ll try to be less critical in future. I do still think Peter has raised an important point but there’s room for disagreement on how we respond to it.
You’re right that we shouldn’t be arguing so much over such secondary matters. Please forgive me. It was (I hope) stemming from a wish to see Jesus reign in the hearts of all men, which I’m sure you share too.
Thanks for the update. No worries. Happy to move on from this, brother.
I read the appeal verdict. If we donâ€™t fight, it shows where â€˜culture warsâ€™ are really lost: http://www.scap.gov.uk/pdf/Saint%20Margarets%20Children%20and%20Family%20Care%20Society.pdf
1. When organisations hostile to Christian action, such as the National Secular Association, issue a complaint to a Watchdog, like the Scottish Charity regulator (OSCR) regarding discrimination (through married
couple preference) without a single complaint from a same-sex couple
or homosexual individual. (Point 38)
2. When the same board of a sizeable watchdog organisation not only takes the decision against a religious charity, but appoints itself to be the review team for that same decision. (Point 37)
3. When a watchdog organisation, like the OSCR, in weighing up the disbenefit against benefit, only takes into account one charitable object as a benefit, discounting other objects such as religion,
the benefit of bringing children up in the Catholic faith, the benefit to
children of being part of an adoption service, or the contribution the charity makes to the community more generally. (p.26)
4. When a watchdog organisation unfairly decides not to refer such a complaint firstly to the expertise of an organisation specialised in discrimination matters, like the ECHR, before rendering its decision.(p.25)
5. When an watchdog organisation treats preferential criteria as unlawful discrimination, which they aren’t.
6. When Christians believe that only the clergy organisation is allowed religious exemptions.
For those ever so cautious of offence, it’s a lost war.
Lost war? Yeah, right!…We’ve only just begun.
Is anti-gay preaching ‘the gospel’ now ?
lgbt are imprisoned or executed in 78 countries – is that a ‘concern’ too ?
Please forgive my indelicacy in bringing this up, with you.
‘Faithful to the Bible’ ? You’ll be hard pressed to fin a word on civil partnerships, or marriage equality in the Bible. Polygamy (as you know) predominates for much of the Bible.
Hi Mary – first off the horrendous way lgbt people are treated in many parts of the world with such contempt, violence and death is terrible and should be opposed by all christians.
Yes, being faithful to the Bible includes as a tiny part recognising same sex sexual relations as sinful. The Bishop of Birkenhead’s dissent in the Pilling report provides an excellent account of why the church should not bless or affirm homosexual relationships. I cannot accept that the Bible is somehow ambiguous on the matter. Beyond that I’m not going to restate the same arguments that have been made many times before by people much better able to express them than myself. Affirming and blessing what the Bible condemns as sinful is not loving, even if that’s a gay couple’s dearest desire; it’s deeply cruel because it tastes so sweet yet leads people away from God, as does all sin. And this coming from the very institution that’s supposed to be leading people to God!
As Welby stated, though, the church does need to face up to the rapid shifts in society on this issue and establish a clear, coherent pastoral response to people who experience same sex attraction and indeed to couples in same sex relationships. Organisations like TFT and LivingOut are doing a good job of this and I’d suggest their work and ministry would be a good starting point.
er don’t forget the Triple Lock ! Preventing ministers and congos who wish to marry all comers, from doing so.
I read this and I see the logic and strength of these arguments. They are painful reading, especially for an Anglican. With other Reformed churches, we have expected churches to be in the business of urging the ruler to wield the sword rightly (Article 37). The logic of this argument leads to Disestablishment.
But there is a less rational part of me that says, “hold on, this isn’t fair”. I’m a follower of Jesus first and last, but I’m an Anglican by law and by choice. How can we follow the form of Christianity laid out into the Prayer Book and Articles without a godly prince? People who want a secular state can to France which has had laÃ¯cite (sp?) for a century, or America which has had separation of church and state for even longer. Anglicans have nowhere else to go – there is a real connection between being Anglican and being English. We are not the Episcopal Church of England, or the Catholic Church of England, we’re just the Church of England. Is it any wonder that people are reluctant to give up the idea of England as a Christian nation? Which party put that in its manifesto openly and honestly?
And if I feel that way, how much harder must it be for people in their 50s and 60s who remember when the streets were quiet on Sundays?
I am in my 60s and I remember how lesbians and gays were treated for most of my life-time ! Spare us pensioners a thought guvnor.
Since you refer to the Book of Acts as our blueprint for evangelism, let’s consider that early mission of the Church.
It’s interesting to read in Acts 11:19: ‘Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews’ There was no intentional evangelism among non-Jews, since Jesus was still viewed as the rejected Messiah of His nation. There is intentional edification, as Antioch became the second major centre of early Christianity.
Philip’s evangelistic endeavours in a city of Samaria is endorsed with such charism that even an influential sorcerer and city official are won over.
Still, it took some firm supernatural prodding for the Holy Spirit to persuade Peter to take the gospel to a god-fearing heathen’s household. In that case, Peter doubts were dispelled enough for him to remind them of the fame of Jesus’ nearby healing and liberating ministry. He again preached of a Messiah murdered by his countrymen, yet victorious over even death itself.
What I believe this means is that, if we are prompted to speak to the world, we should always enter new territory with God’s invitation to discover a Saviour who can meet us at the point of our most pressing and practical need.
In spite of this, it would be naive to think that the focus of evangelism was pagan conversion. In Salamis, Paphos, Pisidian Antioch, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, the word of God was spread through stirring synagogue messages urging Jews everywhere to recognise the rejected and crucified Jesus as the risen Messiah.
The gospel only reached pagans when public controversy inadvertently roused them to enquire (e.g Sergius Paulus, the Phillippian magistrates and jailer, the Areopagus, Felix, etc.).
And what prompted the controversy? It was the marked conversion from godlessness to lives of joyful anticipation and restraint coupled with church leaders embued with such divine power to overcome the sickness and misery of this world as to reduce the useless pagan charms and superstitious, immoral practices to complete inanity. Even staunch Jews were provoked to jealousy by the supernatural power that endorsed the gospel message.
1. Leadership that is entirely maintained by intelligence, figurehead political advocacy and eloquence, rather than the immediacy of divine intervention in healing and overpowering demonic forces will not succeed in changing the world for Christ.
2. The significant growth of immigrant churches in the UK mirrors the Holy Spirit’s work in the early church among the godfearing Gentiles of Asia Minor. The intelligentsia and those with worlkdly power continue to, by and large, reject the gospel.
3. Modern-day pagans, who worship worldly ideals, will largely be reached by incidental encounters with the Christians and when public controversy causes them to enquire. The gospel will generally rouses them to suspicion and suppression. The popularity of the unadulterated gospel in a worldly society will remain fairly short-lived.
4. ‘They werenâ€™t concerned by telling the heathens about their individual sins’. Well, they certainly told them again and again about the new life and its contrast with the offensive nature of impenitent heathenism: (1 Peter 4:3); (Eph. 2:3); (1 Cor 6:9).
5. The issue is that we over-engage in debate with society over its norms. Heathen society knows the Christian stance regarding marriage and has rejected it. It remains for Christians to remain faithful to scripture and await the Lord’s vindication of His word. It’s not as if society’s recidivism into pagan values and the defection of high-profile church officials was not predicted by St.Paul (1 Tim. 4:1)
6. Our primary duty in ministry is not only to make disciples, but also to provide for the welfare, moral support and teaching needed to sustain Christians in the faith, once delivered to the saints. ‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?’ (Matt. 24:45)
Too often ‘those who speak’ drive another nail in to the coffin of institutional religion; and make all believers something of a laughing-stock, alas.
Its a good set of points here. However I think you need to factor in the end objectives of those on the other side of the culture wars who’s objectives aren’t just those they openly state. They will continue to push issues they know will destroy the gospel and the church.
The role and objectives ( the extermination of the church or its transformation to an extent where it is in effect eliminated) of cultural Marxism can’t be ignored.
But as Jesus himself points out, it will not destroy the church. Even in parts of the world where it is illegal to be a Christian, the Church still exists and grows. Nothing can stop the work of the Holy Spirit.
So you’re argument is let’s not try to fight for freedom of conscience because when we get to the point that we have to choose between performing abortions and keeping our jobs, handing out contraception or having our charities closed down (for the Catholics), teaching that all forms of sexual activity are equally natural (heterosexual couples get up to this stuff too) or getting the sack, teaching that a human fetus is a parasite in a woman’s body or getting the sack … (shall I go on?) that the Holy Spirit will be at work anyway, so why worry?
No, what I’m saying is IF you want to fight for freedom of conscience (i) be consistent in who you apply freedom of conscience to and (ii) stop and think about what “Gospel” priorities really are.
Yes, that makes sense. It’s a bit difficult to argue for more flexibility/freedom in the cases mentioned by David and myself while the leading figure of the organisation at the forefront of fighting these legal battles appears to be off in Africa arguing that other people shouldn’t be free to live their own lives without being banged up in prison for 14 years.
Okay, let’s do that. From what you say, the ‘Gospel’ priority is to proclaim the saving work of Jesus the Messiah. Agreed. To highlight how all sin alienates from God. Agreed.
So, there you are on the first-century gospel trail. But, at some point, your comrade, John the Baptist will denounce Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). Your Leader could prompt you to join Him in targetting churchmanship hypocrisy with an unflattering comparison with a remorseful Pay Day Lender (Luke 18:11). He could prompt you to denounce the Temple tax (Jerusalem’s Parish Share formula) as an unfair centralisation of resources and imposition on God’s people (Luke 19:46).
Overly reductive theological opposition to the resurrection will try to undermine your teachings (Mark 12:24). The crowds in Lystra will think nothing of idolising you (unless you stop them) for your gifted eloquence (Acts 14); the Silversmiths Union will complain to the local authority that you’re defaming their legitimate business pursuits with talk about the vanity of idolatry. Judaizers will reach Antioch insisting that you’ve failed to comply with the ritual of circumcision. (Acts 15).
So, how do you contend with these well-connected opponents and detractors? When they try to hinder and even punish you, do you appeal to Caesar, citing your rights as a citizen, thereby living to preach another day, or do you embrace premature martyrdom?
While I can understand the need for balance, I would like you to explain how your thesis is supported by the whole counsel of God.
I have no issue with engaging in individual engagements that a Christian finds themself in. What I am arguing is wrong is to continually complain about changes in laws and societal expectations where you get to a point where you appear to be obsessed by sexual practices of minorities. We need to stop it. It’s not the Gospel.
I just went to the Anglican Mainstream site. So, let’s transpose the emphasis on the right-hand panel to the first-century Christ movement.
We’re in the Antioch marketplace and the Christians are running a papyrus stall called Antioch Mainstream. We are firmly opposed to all forms of idolatry. We do accept donations to the cause, which is…?
Titles on offer include:
God, Idolaters and the Church; Idolater ‘education’ damages children;
The Right to Decide: Seeking justice for choice around unwanted false worship addiction;
Beyond Critique: reviewing recent introduction of paganism-friendly legislation;
You are what you chew: A slave-girl’s descent into Delphic deception.
Luke’s scoop on scopolamine: Sacred laurel kills…but wine’s okay!
There is also a short treatise publicising recent unfavourable changes to Roman law. St. Paul writes on the pros and cons of appealing to Caesar.
What’s missing are the inspiring and heart-warming personal testimonies about what Jesus was like and how He changes us for the better.
How to love and forgive…like this one: http://gracevine.christiantoday.com/video/youth-pastor-does-the-impossible-after-his-wife-and-unborn-son-die-in-car-accident-this-will-amaze-you-233
Okay. I think I get you. It’s so sad, I could cry.
Is your last sentence sarcastic or genuine?
It’s genuine. I don’t know if you’ve watched that video before, but it’s a story of heartwrenching loss and reconciliation that calls all of us to a higher plane of Christ-imitation in love and forgiveness.
The young lives lost are never forgotten, but the darkness of that fatal car accident seems to be swallowed up in the victory of Christ over darkness and despair.
The Church Militant is still only one part of the Universal church. We shouldn’t have to wait for Purgatory to become the Church Expectant.
And this is exactly what we should be concentrating on.
And the 78 countries where being lgbt is illegal, also show great courage and fortitude, under pressure.
This point is grossly generalizing. Secular democracy is as much for the protection of religions from the arbitrary powers of the state, as it is for the protection of those who wish to be free of religion. In the case of the CofE, it would be considerably less constrained in its moral and political interventions were it not also an arm of the state.
Democracy is becoming to mean mob rule, and the mob is very much manipulated by those who control our culture, and perhaps the one who stands behind it.
My point is that we should recognise that there are those who are working for outcomes who use the recent changes in the law to pursue their agenda.
The destruction of the family unit is a high priority for this small but very influential group.
Christians are called to be salt and light to those around us – this means wading into the cultural wars even when it looks like we are losing. Of course that doesn’t stop us being smart, and avoiding being drawn into traps or things who’s timing is unhelpful.
The mob in Russia and Indian are attacking and killing lgbt with the conivance of the state and in russia the state church.
Mobs are dangerous and the tool of choice of despots and extremists, from this who wanted to throw Jesus of a cliff, burned an Australian missionary to death in his car with his two young sons ( aged 6 & 10) in India or who carried out Kristallnacht.
Good post Peter. I have been studying 1 Peter and Hebrews recently and have been particularly struck by the persistent theme in both of being sojourners, this is not our true home.
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
This sounds to me like battle fatigue. You have been a gallant and courageous fighter in the frontline against some quite unpleasant foes for a long time, Peter, and it is perfectly understandable that you should feel the battle is lost. I think we all feel like that at times.
But it isn’t! It is God’s battle, not ours – we are merely the foot soldiers. I don’t think that sitting round in circles holding hands and singing kumbaya, or, like latter-day hippies, handing out daisies to passers-by murmering ‘peace and love, man’ is really going to bring any souls to Christ. (Yes, I know that is not what you are really saying.) If people don’t know what Jesus stands for, why would they want to follow him?
The Christian church would never have got off the ground if the early Christians had left everything to Jesus. They had to spread the Word. The blood of many martyrs has been spilt. Great social reformers must have felt that the battle was lost many times, but they carried on, inspired by their faith.
Christians are not in it for themselves, as much of the media portrays. We believe what we believe because it is best for society, as has been proven many times, and once the nation turns its back on God’s way we will return to our pagan past, which is hardly a model for peaceful living. And let us never forget that there is an opposing religion – unafraid to impose its rules – waiting in the wings for the space to be vacated.
Give up? Never!
It is God’s battle, not ours
(one paragraph later)
The Christian church would never have got off the ground if the early Christians had left everything to Jesus
Do you actually read this drivel before you post it?
There’s no need to be rude like that.
Oh well, it’s plain that theological ignoramuses like me are in dire need of instruction from intellectual sophisticates like yourself, so your post has been very informative and helpful. Not.
I think you’re absolutely right, but the central question is what is the prize that the CofE is after?
In the recent change of tack, you can see the impact of the general parliamentary unpopularity of the church’s contribution to the debate on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill: the secular remedy for adult homophobia. The CofE is not liked because our stance is presumed to be a variant of racism and sexism. Unlike the early church, the CofE doesn’t like being disliked, especially after working so hard to excel in areas of relevance to their peers.
While Christian marriage won’t change, I won’t be surprised if the delay in converting CPs to civil marriages provides enough space for the church to permit CPs to be registered in church as a means of promoting an alternative tolerated ‘structure of meaning’ for gays in the church.
It is a thorough mis-reading of Acts for us to assume that the Christian response to its political opposition was an acquiescent: ‘Tell them about the loving Jesus and, in time, He will do the rest’.
John the Baptist offended the marital aspirations of Herod Antipas. St. Paul’s ministry frustrated the business aspirations of those who would capitalise on idolatry.
Today, the spirit of the age is now attuned to a new principle: ‘statute law as the secular tool for enforcing mainstream acceptance of moral divergence’. Apparently, the answer is not to challenge this enforcement, but to avoid preaching a gospel that is too specific.
Yet, just Lot ‘vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds’ and St.Paul was ‘greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols’.
While the rest of us re-build the walls of a New Jerusalem with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, the CofE missives are fraught with apologies for past homophobia. By not distinguishing attraction from impenitent indulgence, those in sexual immorality of all orientations are encouraged to believe that they which do such things shall inherit the Kingdom of God.
Apparently, these prelates know better. They could as well say: ‘St.Paul was wrong, so very wrong and we’re sorry’.
Last year’s parliamentary guilt trip worked a charm on them. They’re always on the back foot now.
David, I am convinced this goes right to the heart of our current problems. My granny used to say that if you make a pact with the devil, in the hope of keeping him off your back, you will always – always – end up dancing to his tune. How we used to laugh at that! Well, she may have been theologically naive (even more so than me) but I am not sure that she was so wrong.
I more or less gave up hope for the Church of England around 1993. Since then it has been apparent (to me) that bishops have been chosen more for their willingness to embrace the new feminism and ambition than for their theology and faithfulness in passing down the faith unadulterated to the next generation. How many bishops now will stand for ordinary pewsitters who believe that the ordination of women and the promotion of homosexuality is not God’s plan? I would say not many. Even the one on whom I had pinned great hopes was a signature to the Pilling Report.
But the Church of England is not the Church of Christ. Whatever happens there is not that important in the overall scheme of things, although it might be for you and me.
Ask any coach in sport and they will tell you that you can only control the ‘controllables’ i.e. what your own team is able to do. The condition of the pitch, the weather, the response of the crowd, and the strength of the opposition are beyond your control so you concentrate on what you can effect or have influence on. Tactics, teamwork and having a fully understood and shared goal produces results. I fear the Christian church rarely wears the same coloured top or faces in the same direction so the chances of a good result are minimal. Good post, Peter
Doesn’t the survey on anal sex that you quote mean that 70% of gay men engage in it – or at least somewhere between 36% and 70% (depending on how much receiving and giving are disjoint sets)?
I still think the equation gay = anal sex is silly though!
I’m just giving one example. Study after study shows its a minority interest among sexually active gay men.
I am not convinced by this. Not everybody tells the truth when asked such invasive questions. Yet the stats for hiv soaring among men who have sex with men tell a different story, and it is well known that anal sex is the most effective vector.
The fact that HIV is rising again in the MSM population does not mean all MSM have anal sex. All the research indicates it is less than half and more likely only a third of MSM.
Just because you suspect something is so doesn’t actually make it so, especially when the research is contrary to your assumption. We need to deal with the facts as we have them, not suppositions based on putting together two uncorrelated items.
Yes, it’s unlikely that HIV being 50 times more prevalent among MSM is just due to risky sexual practices. It’s probably the high levels of fornication/promiscuity among MSM that is to blame for all those AIDS deaths.
You’re confusing two issues. One is the high rate of HIV infection amongst MSM. The second is that the majority of MSM don’t have anal sex. The fact there is a high rate of HIV infection amongst MSM doesn’t mean that all MSM are having anal sex. There is a large proportion of MSM who have pretty undangerous sex lives.
Do you understand this simple point?
So, let’s compare another couple of uncorrelated facts. There’s a high rate of cancer among smokers. A minority of Africans smoke, but they consume 2per cent of the world’s cigarettes and make up 6 per cent of the world’s smokers. This is disproportionately high and preventable.
A large proportion of Africans will not suffer lung disease. Being African does not equal smoking related lung cancer. Yet, I have no problem with the claim that smoking may explain a disproportionately higher lung cancer rate among Africans. And again, it’s only a minority of Africans who smoke.
Let’s for a moment look at the varying fronts of these culture wars. Here is a list of the attempts to re-engineer society towards the stifling of Christian scruples in the public domain.
1. Censuring/dismissing headteachers and any public official who opines publicly against modern violations of the sanctity of marriage, or who disapproves of gay marriage on social media.
2. Closing Christian adoption agencies whose don’t place children with gay couples.
3. Lowering the age of consent to 13. Teenagers under 16 in rape trials must prove that they didn’t consent.
4. Lifting ban on using public toilets for sexual activity.
5. Permitting the public performance and publication of a show that casts Christ as: ‘the hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high â€“ Jesus of Nazarethâ€™ (while banning Dieudonne M’bala M’bala from entering the UK and all cartoons that insult Mohammed)
6. Re-classifying drugs from Class B to Class C.
7. Re-framing incitement to hatred laws to record a hate crime on the basis of the perception of the victim or those offended (not the reasonableness test). For instance, a complaint about the money spent on gay right leaflets or the morality of homosexuality must be investigated as a hate crime.
8. Ensuring equality exemptions safeguard wearing symbols of some religions (like turbans), but not others..like crosses.
9. Forcing through the changes to enforce recognition of gay marriage without genuine public consultation and minimal initial religious protections.
10. Dismissing teachers and healthcare for offering prayer and outlawing reparative therapy, while permitting homeopathic quackery to continue without State licensing.
11. Exploiting the margin of appreciation to demand the strictest reading of regulation 6 (1) to exclude B&B owners from exemption from penalties.
It might seem easier for lay Christians to just be covert about ethics and personal morality in the public square. Perhaps, we should leave the gospel to be preached by professionally trained clergymen who are well catered for under numerous religious exemptions.
I’m just not convinced.
“What the heck has homosexuality got to do with saving babies’ lives? Seriously?”
Contraception divorces the marital act from its natural end (conception). Abortion divorces conception from its effect (parenthood). In tandem, they sever marriage from parenthood. By “homosexualizing” marriage, our minds become susceptible to the idea that sexual difference is no different from sexual sameness. The 4million who have died from abortion in this country played a bigger part in legalising “gay marriage” than David Cameron did, Peter. Seriously.
Contraception, abortion, homosexual sexual activity, divorce and euthanasia are all strands of the same rope, with which the truth of the human body is being legally strangled.
By â€œinvalidatingâ€ gay relationships our minds become susceptible to the idea that some classes of people are of less value than others, that our moral obligation to treat others decently and fairly do not apply in their case, that their welfare is a matter of little or no importance, and that their needs can be either disregarded or subordinated to our own desires and beliefs.
Homophobic activity and paedophilic sexual activity are both strands of the same rope, with which the truth about human dignity is strangled.
See, we can all do it.
If we take something which is wrong (homosexual sexual activity) and then import the belief that there are “gay people”, we can mistakenly believe that something which cannot be wrong (a person) is wrong (a “gay person”).
Now the opposite dynamic: contraception takes something that is right (marriage) and makes it wrong. We then arrive at the point of believing that something which is wrong (abortion, etc) cannot be wrong. I didn’t mention paedophilia but, yes, we can add that to the mix. And cloning. “What the heck has homosexuality got to do with cloning?”
Getting back to the “culture war” aspect, I have some sympathy for Peter’s position. There is a common, objective moral order, and Christian teaching on sexuality is in harmony with that moral order. However, the social/cultural recognition of that order cannot be kept alive by Christianity via the proxy of man-made law, since it is man-made law which is leading us astray. So, if “culture war” is defined as Christianity directly engaging with politics, I would not advise fighting a culture war. If we instead define it as Christianity directly engaging with individual hearts and minds, then there is no proxy and no compromise.
“contraception takes something that is right (marriage) and makes it wrong”. gentlemind
Oh dear. Following Peter’s ‘snip’, his marriage has now been made ‘wrong’.
This is an excellent post, Peter. It is lucid, humane and truly biblical in its overriding concern for the centrality of the gospel. The only clarification I would like to seek from you at this point is your view now on Pilling’s recommendation that there be ceremonies to mark gay relationships. I seem to remember that you were greatly exercised in advance of the Report’s publication by the thought that Pilling was about to recommend ‘blessing sin’. In this blog, however, you say that ‘none of this (‘sticking one sexual organ in another orifice’) has anything to do with the Gospel’, which is ‘not about imposing moral conduct’. Prima facie these seem to be contradictory positions.
We should rightly resist this proposal from the Pilling Commission. In asking that I support it you seem to be confusing my call for the Church to move away from the culture war in society with basic Christian discipleship (which I am all in favour of). Since a sexually active same-sex relationship is sinful, how could we possibly bless it?
The comment does reveal a gnostic dualism, though.
The mistaken notion that redemption recovers the intangible spirit of man, while, once we can lay claim to a committed relationship of some kind, the things done in the body are irrelevant to the gospel.
Even to the redeemed, Paul says, ‘For we must all appear before the rostrum of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or insignificant’ (2 Cor. 5:10)
I don’t think I’ve ever argued that what one does with one’s body is irrelevant. Quite the reverse. What I am arguing is that this is a matter of instruction for Christians, not legislation for the State.
Our wires got crossed. The comment that I was referring to was Keith Sharpe’s, not yours.
You may argue for it to be a matter of instruction. I don’t think that anyone has argued for the State to intrude any more than it does.
On the contrary, it’s same-sex marriage that heralds an era of rights that are enforced by big government, rather than negotiated by long-standing custom, such as legal presumptions.
That’s what happens when institutions, like marriage, are undermined. It leaves a legal vacuum that can only be filled by going to law to ascertain what was previously part of the common law.
Thanks for your response, Peter. It’s still a bit confusing. If you say a sexually active same-sex relationship is sinful then you are ipso facto imposing moral conduct. You cannot therefore go on to argue that the Gospel has nothing to do with imposing moral conduct’.
I am suggesting it is an issue for discipleship, not the State’s legislation.
When you object to ‘culture wars’, I’d want to make some distinctions. First, I think it’s implausible to argue in general that churches don’t have a contribution to make on good legislation. For example, do you think that churches should keep silent in the face of patently unjust laws? Assuming the answer to this is no, then some concern (and public advocacy) over culture/social policy looks inevitable. Secondly, there is the question of whether any specific engagement with culture/.social policy is right. If it’s a question here of the engagement/war over (broadly) issue of human sexuality, then I can see why it might be argued that this specific concern should be put aside as, given the present state of society, it’s getting in the war of the central mission to make disciples. (I wouldn’t agree, but I can see there’s an argument here.) Thirdly, there is the issue of conceptualizing a range of social concerns as a ‘culture war’. I think this is quite a difficult issue to unpack in a combox: is it right to talk of one war than any number of separate engagements? Is it right to talk of a war? Is it right for Christians (implicitly at least) to ally themselves with non-theistic conservative cultural warriors who, at a deeper level, don’t base their worldview on Christian principles? In sum, on this third aspect, I think there are certainly arguments to be made, but they’re quite complex and (personally) I can see reasons for going either way on this.
I agree, we are calling people to discipleship, and musn’t sell that short to be more popular. Jesus told his followers they would need to ‘take up their cross’ to follow him, and it’s no different now, but people are free to follow or not.
But in the public square, we are called to call people to repentance – and the popular view of sin, if it recognises the concept at all, tends to think in terms of eating cream cakes, or cheating on your partner, or being gay (as opposed to doing anything) – as being about it as far as sin goes. I don’t think it’s the church that puts the emphasis on sex all the time, but we have a huge culture-gap to bridge, and it’s getting wider all the time.
But surely being ‘salt and light’ does mean we point to a better way, and in an age when much
legislation inspired broadly by a Christian ethical framework is being pretty unthinkingly swept away, surely we do have a duty to stand and declare what a Christian view is, and why. After all, surely we believe God wants us to behave in certain ways for our own good, and the good of others, and that he’s given us certain customs, like marriage, which enable us to do that. Our culture views having a ‘significant other’ as your greatest goal in
life, and equates loving a person with being involved in a sexual
relationship, and treats marriage as an optional bolt-on for party-lovers, and resulting
children as preventable accidents or a regrettable self-indulgence which are a drain on the planet. Small wonder we are on collision course with the zeitgeist at times.
And yes, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get attacked for it. We were warned.
I want to suggest that it is *how* we engage with society that is the issue.
Let’s compare how St. Paul engaged with a plural society.
1. He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. He engaged with the religious and secular forum as we have done. It was not to advocate a law banning idolatry, but it was to persuade them to abandon it for the God they had ignorantly displeased. In fact, the impression that he left on his hearers was that he was advocating foreign gods because he proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection.
It may be a fault that we need to focus on root causes and the sort of life that Christ saves us to, not just what Christ can save us from. We need to counter society’s ‘Greed is good’, Have it All’ and ‘More is better’ mantras with ‘Judgement and Salvation Draw Near’. Paul reasoned with Felix about what was truly right, conscience and judgment to come.
2. Paul realised that the Hebrew scriptures would more resonate with synagogue than those in the marketplace. He was also fully aware of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophies. We have not tried to oppose the drive to legalise same-sex marriage on ‘one-size-fits-all’ religious grounds. We have argued this from the secular standpoint.
3. It was their fear of offending religious diversity that allowed him to expound before the council. His opening comment says as much. As with Athens, once again, pluralism dictates our parliamentary priorities.
4. Paul did resort to aspects of their own philosophies that resonated with Christianity, citing Cleanthes’ hymn to Zeus and Aratus’ poem about the greatness of God.
We too have articulated the concept of marriage from a secular frame of reference.
5. Fully cognizant of the human failure, Paul declared that by comparison with what intended for worship, idolatry involves a paltry, demeaning lie by comparison. He identifies what makes such portrayals of God offensive.
We too, fully cognizant of human failure, declare that by comparison with what God intended for marriage, the same-sex parody involves a paltry, demeaning lie by comparison.
6. He called them to reverse the demeaning contradiction of idolatry, but with a view towards how they would fare on the Day of the LORD.
We too have rationally called on society to reverse the demeaning contradiction of same-sex marriage. Perhaps, we have been less forthcoming about what will ensue if they remain impenitent until the Day of the LORD.
So, while I get the importance of winning hearts with stirring testimonies and exemplary living. I would say that we have walked in the footsteps of St.Paul.
We now need to focus on the root cause: devotion to ideals that are unworthy of creatures made in God’s image. I will not waste time on heretics. They’ve had their chance.
We have reached a few prominent souls in this campaign, as St.Paul did at Mars Hill. We must now move on to Corinth, Ephesus and Antioch, challenging all forms of idolatry and its concomitant behaviour with the knowledge of God and true worship.
When are you going to start a blog, David? :)
Thanks. I’ve had one in the past. It doesn’t have anywhere near Peter’s visibility.
If these words are worth hearing, then, share them anywhere.
I think, Peter, you are arguing for disestablishment, rather than disengagement. My Anglican minister in the 90’s was pointing out that in the UK the church is now in a missionary situation rather than a ‘Christian nation’ as we could probably have been argued to have been at times in the past (although Wesley certainly felt the faith was almost dead in his time, and some of his strongest opposition came from inside the established church). The church cannot any longer claim to speak for everyone, or even most people, in this country, but it should still have an authentic and faithful witness to the truth and justice of the ways of God – people need to know what we stand for!
You cannot legislate people into a pursuit of holiness, and I agree, it does the advance of the Gospel no good to try as such. But you can argue the injustice of, say, the same-sex marriage bill on the basis of childrens’ human rights as laid out by the UN, and abortion laws similarly, and of course we should be speaking up for the voiceless and doing all we can to see passed compassionate and just legislation that properly protects the vulnerable. We cannot set or lead the debate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take part. If we’re not going to accept that responsiblity, even if it does attract flak, we should stop calling ourselves disciples of the Master at all.
As David points out below, St Paul had a two-pronged approach – ie discipleship and cultural engagement, and so can we.
Who gives a crap. All you religious nuts are insane. Worry about ‘saving’ yourselves from brainwashing. That is a good start…
Obviously, you do, or you wouldn’t care enough to comment.
Peter, I think the world of you and learn from you, so I hope that you will not dismiss me out-of-hand.
This post, however, comes from your perspective as one who lives in a society which has already lost all of these things, lost all freedoms related to free-speech on this issue. For those of us in the US, it is not quite so. The battles in our mainline churches, while terribly discouraging, are not quite so far gone as yours. About half of our churches are very conservative on this topic. Our fastest growing churches have not bended an inch doctrinally on homosexual relationships (Baptist and Assemblies.) Most of us are not hateful nor angry toward homosexuals, in fact, we are quite loving and life-offering, even though we have not doctrinally compromised ourselves.
You say we’ve “lost” the culture war. Maybe you have, but I’m not sure that “we” have, and I’m not sure that we will.
When I read your words saying that you’ve “lost,” I can’t help but think of a letter I recently received from a friend living in the UK. She is a mother, and she fears for her arrest or imprisonment if she even speaks against homosexuality in her home with her own children. She was amazed at my freedom online to even talk about the issue. Surely living in such a climate has affected you more than you realize. My question is: Why should Americans give up the freedoms we still have? Should we willingly lay them down for the sake of the Gospel? That sounds good in some ways, but terrible in others. Should I give up the freedom to teach my own children scriptural truth – out of fear of what will happen to me or to them if someone finds out? I think we give up this freedom when we stop speaking boldly but lovingly.
I think one thing is clear, we will lose evangelical youth on this topic if we don’t bother to lovingly speak. That’s not something I’m willing to do. Along with offering a supportive and caring hand to those who deal with SSA, I desire to continue speaking hope and truth and freedom in Christ as I educate my own children and others which God has put under my care.
I say this lovingly to you, too, for I think the world of you and your ministry.
Fascinating & thoughtful post, Peter.
Personally I believe that content is just as important as tactics. I.e., there’s nothing inherently wrong with fighting a culture war. Liberals have fought a “culture war” to change the laws of divorce, abortion, and, yes, marriage equality. As abolitionists before them fought one to criminalize slavery.
Beliefs shouldn’t rest on fashion. I don’t believe that LGBT rights should be endorsed because they’re popular, but because they’re right.
If conservatives honestly believe that they’re right about these causes, I don’t expect them to stop fighting, whatever the odds. To nuance it a bit, and in line with Peter’s post, I would like them to consider if the law is the best way to forward their beliefs. You can believe that something is wrong without believing that it should be illegal.
All people, liberal or conservative, should subject their beliefs to scrutiny, ask why they believe what they believe, and take a good, hard look at whether their reasons stand up.
Peter, I don’t think I’ve ever really understood your position until I read this article. I’m a gay man who has struggled with sexuality and faith for years. Now I know you’re not the enemy. Thank you.
Kevin, you’re definitely on the button with this one! And that’s not just because my name is Charlie Brown meaning my wholehearted approval of your picture :)
Yes, I agree, this is a very important post and one that – some of the more wild-eyed comments below notwithstanding – deserves to remain very much on show. And indeed for the debate to continue.
This blog has always been a regular port of call for me and it often manages that tricky act of both stimulating and infuriating my mind at the same time while feeding all sorts of spiritual needs. A strange brew…sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet but never bland!
And likewise, I have never quite known how to take the author. Forgive me for saying this Peter, but you are something of a rum egg at times. A fierce intellect combined with a Christian heart of love but really sometimes, an abrasive old bugger who sounds like he’s in need of a good strong coffee…
But then along comes this article and as you say Kevin, things all get a bit clearer. One of those, “OK, I get him now” moments. And that’s been a joy to experience rather than “Ouch! That’s a bit snarky”
Now I am sure that there will be many times again that I read stuff here that causes an ouch or two – I’d be disappointed Peter in you if you didn’t ;) – but I shall often return to this article and remember how well you set out what is basically an excellent example of a blueprint for how we can proceed together in the midst of all the challenges – secular and theological – that the 21st Century offers us.
I may not agree with much of your theological position at times but I always believe – and as a Catholic I am used to all sorts of compromises ;) – that when it comes from that essential place of love then we can always find as Christian brothers and sisters a place to stand together.
Thank you Peter for reminding us of that.
Oh and I seem to remember you were asking for suggestions for FAQs etc. Well it’s slightly different but I would strongly suggest that in whatever sort of ‘About’ section you have, that you make sure there is a link or a paste of articles like this one. It’s a great starting point for any new visitors. As is btw, your posts recently on the African anti-gay laws which again is a great response to those who might falsely accuse you of being indifferent to such issues.
Perhaps I’m exhausting Peter Ould’s patience (after all it is his blog), but I also think his piece is valid in parts. Elsewhere, it adds to the catalogue of unfair criticisms of harassed Christian lay people levelled by other church leaders (who enjoy legal protections that lay people don’t).
Consider this comments of the former ABC Rowan Williams: ‘When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely,” he said. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. ‘For goodness sake, grow up,’ I want to say.”
So , let’s look at REAL persecution. During the reign of emperor Gallienus (260 – 268AD), the church enjoyed a short period of peaceful coexistence (The Little Peace). However, when Diocletian came to power in 284 AD, as a conservative pagan, he wanted to inspire a worldwide revival of commitment to pagan gods.
The augurs, through rituals claimed to discern the ‘will of the gods’, sanctioned the execution of public policy. They were as powerful a political constituency in Rome as those who lobbied Parliament for same-sex marriage.
In Syrian Antioch, the augurs of Diocletian’s court claimed that certain Christians in the imperial household had been observed making the sign of the cross. Their refusal to comply with statutory observances were considered an affront to the State and a hindrance the execution of public policy.
Diocletian demanded that all of the imperial household perform the observance. He further demoted any member of the army who wouldn’t participate in the required observance. Thus began what is known in history as the Great Persecution. As Rowan Williams might put it ‘Christians were made to feel mildly uncomfortable.’
So, tell me how this demand un Diocletian for Christians to participate in a godless observance because they operating in a public role differs from back?
How is it possible to say:
Because they were being asked to worship a false god?
Idolatry involves a distorted observance parodying of the real thing: true worship.
Civil partnership and same-sex marriage involve a distorted observance parodying the real thing: marriage.
These distortions ‘blinded by the god of this era’, are both works of darkness.
In either case, why should Christians participate in distorted parodies of the truth. Why should they not stand up and ‘appeal to Caesar’ as Paul did?
It’s different though isn’t it? Officiating at a ceremony that you disagree with is not the same as being made to explicitly deny Christ.
The Diocletian demand for Christians to perform sacrifices occured later as a State reaction. The original offence was simply that Christians viewed the whole observance (of consulting entrails before effecting the emperor’s policy) as part and parcel of blind idolatry. Instead of participating, they made the sign of the cross, while working in a public capacity.
It’s overly reductive to treat these State-mandated observances as purely secular. If they can involve religious elements, that contributes to what is critical to the development of any institution: the shared social meaning
The shared social meaning is not purely secular when civil partnerships and same-sex marriages can be registered/solemnised on religious premises.
The government allows these institiutons to be invested with public religious importance, only to insist that, for registrars, it can be divested of that religious significance (because it’s a civil ceremony).
There is Christian precedent for opting out of specific observances that the State permits to have religious significance.
I’m not advocating this as a license to opt out of everything with which we disagree on religious grounds. Neither am I suggesting that *every* case brought by any Christian has merit.
What I’m challenging is that whatever the outcome, there are cases in which the opt-out of staff from quasi-religious observances that overtly contradict our faith is morally justified. It’s not merely a ‘senseless attempt to hang onto Christendom in a society which has long abandoned it.
Those Christians who won, or lost their cases deserved our support for their courage to stand up and be counted. Not a critique by the better informed of how misguided they were. As they say, hind-sight is 20-20.
Ohhhhh, this is Peter’s blog …………
Yeah. Apparently. Who knew?
Point taken. Sorry for the imposition. I’ll get lost.
Don’t worry about it. I’ve been busy. There may be a blog post on it coming at some point.
Yep, one with a discussion option.
“We have organisations that fight tooth and nail for the right of Christians to refuse business to people they donâ€™t like.”
I’m very happy to fight for that right, but because it’s a right I think everyone should have. Having said that…
“They want the right to turn down people in their businesses just because they have different choices of sexual activity than they do (but they happily buy their shopping from the sinners down the road).”
Who’s actually arguing for it in these broad terms? Not wanting to aid and abet someone in sin (e.g. by providing a double bed to a same-sex couple) is very different to saying “Gay? Get out of my corner shop.” I wouldn’t do the latter, and wouldn’t patronize any business which did. But I think people should have the _right_ to do both. To take a leaf from your book, not doing the latter should be a matter of Christian discipleship, not the law of the State.
“And if we stopped giving the impression that asking someone to choose for Christ involves them then having to lobby to take away freedom of choice (however wrong) from others, we might have a greater impact.”
Surely the right of freedom of association _is_ a freedom of choice? I take your point on other issues, but it seems odd to say that those arguing for the right of freedom of association (or non-association) are trying to _take away_ freedom of choice.
Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
It was really interesting to read your article as I’ve been wondering something similar ever since reading the quote above. The first part of the quotation in particular, set me thinking that we Christians only seem to start fighting battles after the (culture) war is lost. Having said that, maybe some of the short term battles are fought more with the long view in mind of trying to change the culture, or maybe just out of obedience to divine guidance. Totally agree though that we need to “concentrate simply on sharing Jesus”.
That part of your article touches on something else I’ve thought for a long time now (though
it’s not quite what you wrote), which is that in some (though not all I know) parts of the church there seems to have been an emphasis on “winning the leaders of the future for Christ” and changing the world that way. Hmmm……funny that: The early church did just the opposite “not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth”…….and long term they certainly changed the world. It has seemed to me for ages that it’s better for lots of non influential people to become Christians, who will pray for their rulers however bad, than a few leaders with no one to protect them in prayer. I think that may be part of the explanation for the lost (culture) war. There. That feels good. I’ve wanted to rant about that to someone for ages!
Thanks for ranting!
My pleasure (!)
I commented on some particular points, but neglected to address the larger question.
It seems to me that a properly-thought-through Christian vision for what society should be, would be independent of what society is at the moment. The particular strategies and tactics one might use to move things in a good direction (for the betterment of all) might vary from time to time and place to place, certainly. And that also doesn’t mean that there won’t be Christians who are wrong-headed, inconsistent, and generally unhelpful to God’s world-changing project. And of course there will always be opposition. But I’m not sure any of those things mean we should give up. If God truly does mean to transform the world for Christ, so that the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea – and perhaps one’s view on that is connected to one’s flavour of millennialism – then we are called to be his agents in that task.
I just have to say that your blog post really makes my heart sad. I grew up without Christ in any way. Without God in fact. There was no God, no prayer, nothing was sacred. Life was haphazard and I was on my own to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t. That meant, for me, that I had to try everything to determine if it was beneficial for me or not. Of course that led me into all manner of fleshly stuff. I ended up a lesbian, with lots of drugs and alcohol use in my life, and still very lonely and isolated. Then I met Christ and my whole life, slowly changed. While I agree that the preaching of the Gospel is the main point, and will always be, to just ignore and not even comment upon the harsh reality of poor choices, doesn’t seem like love to me.
Thanks for commenting MT.
I don’t think I’m quite saying what you think I’m saying. I’m all for preaching that speaks very clearly into people’s lives, challenging their sinful behaviour and calling them to holy living. What I’m increasingly opposed to is thinking one can, at the moment, legislate moral behaviour. It is this idea that is the “culture war” and we spend SO much energy on telling people who aren’t interested in God that they are immoral people rather than concentrating on discipling the Church and producing a community of salvation and sanctification.
Thank you Peter for your response. Even when I was an agnostic, I knew that the laws were beneficial, whether I agreed with them or not. I never believed that through the law you could change a persons thinking, but the law could help prevent people from making poorer choices in life. Kind of like if I lock my doors, I don’t prevent real criminals from breaking in, who have intent to steal. But I do prevent those silly folks who at a whim or a dare might try to get in my house.
There is this whole push here in the US regarding Grace and the completed work of the Cross. I have definitely benefit by much of it and do appreciate it. What does sadden my heart is that this younger generation, with the wonderful message of Grace, also thinks that behavior matters not one lick. I think to myself, yes Christ did it all, but to not warn a believer or even ask the question regarding some choices that they are making, seems to me, just uncaring. That is kind of what I thought you were saying. I am a firm believer in discipleship. I don’t define when the HS will move in a persons life in a particular area, but I will let those I’m involved with know that at some point the HS will deal with that area.
It’s worth dissecting what we mean by Culture Wars, a term adopted by James Davidson Hunter to describe the political polarisation around moral issues like abortion, censorship, euthanasia, drug use, homosexuality and privacy.
On the one hand, the society laments its inability to tackle rising drug abuse and drug-related crime, the early sexualisation of youth, the abuse of children by neglectful parents (as with Baby P), the rise in suicide among the young. On the other, many of those in power want to address these concerns with a poorly reasoned ‘laissez-faire’ capitulation.
This includes the re-classification of drugs like cannabis; attempts to lower the age of consent; the unfettered access to internet porn; the media glorification of two-faced ‘reality show’ superficiality, the promotion of the euthanasia ‘imperative’ through portraying hard cases and LGBT political priorities via mainstream ‘soap opera’ story lines; the de-selection of any politician who opposed same-sex marriage (like Tim Yeo). In equal measure, arguments abound over the right of Christian to offer prayer in a public capacity (whether town hall, school board, or with a recipient of public service), to restrict the sharing of a B&B double-bed to married couples, or to refuse to officiate at quasi-religious public observances, like civil partnership ceremonies.
It is faced with this unbroachable cultural fault-line in mind that it is suggested that we abandon such causes as attempt to legislate morality. While i might agree that there are extremes at either end of the spectrum of Christian responses that are far too polarised, I question whether we should allow liberals free-rein to portray themselves as the natural successors to the abolitionist movement when the premise of behavioural determinism is faulty. Should the influence of Coronation Street’s ‘Hayley’ story-line (or any other cultural icon) hold sway over public opinion in a manner that renews the debate over euthanasia?
As MT, rightly says, ‘the law could help prevent people from making poorer choices in life. Kind of like if I lock my doors, I don’t prevent real criminals from breaking in, who have intent to steal. But I do prevent those silly folks who at a whim or a dare might try to get in my house.’
Good laws can endorse optimal behaviour. We should resist the re-purposing of social institutions away from the optimal to facilitate single-issue causes. We can do so without denigrating the importance of personal choice. Like the Pax Romana, these laws are the preparatory sub-structure that facilitates the spread of the gospel. They can’t effect salvation, but they can underpin our basic conception of morality and fairness: the lowest common denominators of right and wrong.
By fighting for good laws, Christians aren’t trying to legislate personal morality. It is the fact that many of these issues touch on the public (rather than private) purpose of our institutions that we give our voices and money to establish them. The simple fact that equitable boundaries of public morality should control our interactions, social recognition and the public purse is also known as common decency. It’s still worth fighting for in public debate.