A gloomy outlook for New Zealand Anglicans

Late last week there was an announcement that the Christchurch Anglican diocese and the government had reached in-principle agreement on the process that is intended to lead to the rebuild of Christchurch’s Anglican cathedral, which has lain in ruins since the February 2011 earthquake.    New Zealand readers will be aware that most of Christchurch diocese, and the former bishop, appeared to want to demolish the old building, and build something modern and – if less aesthetically appealing and less historically resonant –  more cost-effective.  But central and local government stumped up enough money, with promises of private fundraising and threats of legal action that could have bogged the process down in the courts for years, to persuade Christchurch’s Anglicans to take the rebuild path instead.  They were, more or less, coerced.   According to the investment banker now leading the project –  not, apparently, an Anglican –  neither the cost nor the start date is known, but within a decade the cathedral is expected to be back in use.

I wrote about the impending decision last year, torn between my own liking for something like the old building

So I will be a little sad if the old cathedral is no longer there.  My own tastes run in the direction of the older style of building.  The building was a symbol of the city, and of its English, and Anglican, heritage.   Choral worship, of the sort undertaken in cathedrals great and small, has been one of the glories of our English heritage.  And great cathedrals have typically cost astonishing amounts of money.  A place of great beauty in which to worship is a privilege, and one of ancient lineage in our Judeo-Christian traditions (read the accounts of the temple King Solomon built).

and a stronger sense that (a) government money shouldn’t be going into such things, and (b) the decision should have been, unconstrainedly, that of Christchurch Anglicans.    Should the cathedral reopen I would look forward to occasionally attending services there –  much of my extended family still lives in Christchurch –  but I wonder who else will.

As I noted last year, the church in New Zealand has been in decline for decades, and the Anglicans have been foremost among the “losers”: once dominant in New Zealand religion census statistics they –  like most other strands of the church –  are now small, struggling and, generally, aged minorities.   And like the Anglican movement across the advanced world, they are tearing themselves apart –  most immediately obviously around the issue of homosexuality, and the willingness or otherwise of the church to look favourably on homosexual practice.     Those tensions were easily apparent last year before the decision on the cathedral were made.  They have come into starker contrast in the last few weeks since the General Synod agreed the individual bishops could choose to authorise blessings of homosexual “marriages”.     For many evangelicals, and some evangelical congregrations, this appears to have been the last straw.    And thus last week there was this announcement.

Since GSTHW 2018, some Clergy, Vestries and parishioners here in our Diocese, have been deeply concerned by these changes to the church’s teaching and practice. They consider that these changes depart from the teaching of the Bible and the historic position of the Anglican Church on human sexuality to the point that they have been wrestling with the very painful question of whether to disaffiliate, or not, from the Diocese. It is a matter of conscience and sincere belief that means they feel they can no longer submit to the Constitution and Canons or rules of the province of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

The Meeting:
The four groups were led by the Reverends Jay Behan from St Stephen’s Shirley; James De Costobadie from St John’s Latimer Square; Dave Clancey and Chris Spark from St Saviour’s and St Nicholas’, South Christchurch; and Steve McNabb from St John’s Woolston.

I understand that some of these congregations  –  where the vote to disaffiliate was reported to be overwhelming – are among the largest, and most lively, in the Christchurch diocese.  I had a look at websites of several of them, and was struck by the apparent vigour and range of activities and ministries.   And there are not so many Christchurch Anglicans that I’d have thought they could face losing so many of their energetic people and leaders with any sort of equanimity.   Had the General Synod vote gone the other way, perhaps some congregrations at the liberal end of the spectrum would have considered disaffiliating too.

My own sympathies are with the disaffiliating evangelical congregations –  one reason I went back to a Baptist church a few years ago was that it was only a matter of time until this sort of split happened, whether in Christchurch, Wellington or wherever.  But, for this post, my sympathies aren’t the issue.  It is mostly a case of wondering about the medium-term viability of the husk of the diocese, about to be burdened with a grand (well, by New Zealand standards) old/new cathedral).   What will Christchurch Anglicanism –  and recall that Christchurch was an Anglican foundation –  look like at the opening service for the new cathedral, let alone another decade on?    Perhaps the diocese can cannibalise property assets for a decade or two (or parishes are closed down, assisted by the earthquakes) and probaby institutions like the private schools stand pretty much alone financially anyway.  But who the diocesan Anglicans be?   Globally, liberal Anglicanism doesn’t seem to have been good at reproducing itself, let alone growing.    Why should we suppose that having adopted the latest bit of societal “wisdom”, the effectiveness of those ministries will now change?

Having read the disaffiliation announcement on Saturday, I went to the main morning service at Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral  on Sunday (we were out of town for the weekend.)   And it did nothing to allay my fears and concerns.  The building – something of a melange of styles to say the least –  is quite impressive (again by New Zealand church standards), and the location is superb.   The new or refurbished organ sounded glorious.  But it was hard not to think that it was a congregation on its last legs.    Perhaps there were 100 people there –  on a pleasant sunny winter’s morning –  and there were a handful of children, but the people were almost lost in the size of the building.    The singing was dreadful –  unfamiliar tunes, in some cases dire words, and no good lead from the choir.   None of this is to cast aspersions on anyone’s faith or practice –  done well, it is a style of worship that very much appeals to me –  or the faithfulness of those who were there.  But it was hard not to look ahead 10 or 20 years, and wonder if  –  absent revival –  we’ll be left with a monument and a concert venue, with not much left of the diocese to which the cathedral is seat.   Perhaps the rest of the Auckland diocese is in fine form, and there is no risk of material splits.  But it is difficult not to be downcast, and not to wonder again at the wisdom of going ahead with the extremely expensive rebuild of Christchurch cathedral.  We can only hope, and pray, that in decades to come it is more than just the Christchurch Anglican Memorial concert hall.

The gates of hell won’t prevail against God’s kingdom.  But the same can’t be said for any particular denomination or tradition, in any particular time or place.   It is hard to see better days ahead for the church in New Zealand –  perhaps especially for the established liberal churches (and the New Zealand Catholic diocese probably should be counted among that number). I’m no longer even that optimistic about New Zealand Baptists.  God can make a way where there seems to be no way.  My longing is that He would move to do so here.



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Honouring the corruption of body and soul

In the Book of Common Prayer we find the General Confession, prayed in these words (or in modernised forms of them) in service after service, week by week, throughout the Anglican world.

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.

We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.

Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The foundational truth of Christianity: all of us have sinned, repeatedly, and deserve only God’s judgement and punishment.  And yet, in Christ, we find grace: God’s reconciling mercy to those who repent.

In the words of absolution offered to the penitent

May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

God does not hold our sins against us, or treat us as our sin deserves.  And yet the response of the truly penitent –  perhaps the evidence of it –  is the desire for “amendment of life”, a turning round, living differently.  And rejoicing in the mercy we find in Christ.

Mary of Egypt, whose life the church (especially its Orthodox branches) celebrates, knew and lived that.  After a mystical encounter, she turned her back on a life of fornication and prostitution, retreating to the desert where for decades she devoted her life to prayer and to God.

Here she had lived absolutely alone for forty-seven years, subsisting apparently on herbs, when a priest and monk, named Zosimus, who after the custom of his brethren had come out from his monastery to spend Lent in the desert, met her and learned from her own lips the strange and romantic story of her life. As soon as they met, she called Zosimus by his name and recognized him as a priest. After they had conversed and prayed together, she begged Zosimus to promise to meet her at the Jordan on Holy Thursday evening of the following year and bring with him the Blessed Sacrament. When the appointed evening arrived, Zosimus…. came to the spot that had been indicated. After some time Mary appeared on the eastern bank of the river, and having made the sign of the cross, walked upon the waters to the western side. Having received Holy Communion, she raised her hands towards heaven, and cried aloud in the words of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace, because my eyes have seen thy salvation”. She then charged Zosimus to come in the course of a year to the spot where he had first met her in the desert, adding that he would find her then in what condition God might ordain. He came, but only to find the poor saint’s corpse, and written beside it on the ground a request that he should bury her, and a statement that she had died a year before, on the very night on which he had given her Holy Communion, far away by the Jordan’s banks.

Her specific call isn’t everyone’s, but the call to put off sin, and put on righteousness comes relentlessly to all who believe.

The Anglican church honours the life of Josephine Butler, who devoted to much of her (19th century) life to campaigning for women to be treated with dignity –  included those thought to be involved in prostitution –  and actively campaigned against the specific evils of child prostitution and the “white slave trade”.   There is no sign she thought well of prostitution –  prostitute or clients –  although she was wary of the idea that morality could be effectively legislated.

But the New Zealand government honours –  makes a dame –  Catherine Healy, former prostitute and now (for decades) head of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective.  Prostitution –  and living from the earnings of prostitution –  is legal in New Zealand.

As Healy herself put it in one interview

“It’s extraordinary to see how far we have come. This shows the acceptance of this industry. We are a part of society, not apart from it. It’s about reducing the stigma and acknowledging that we are an inclusive society in this country.”

And in a sense that is the problem.  Reasonable people can differ on whether prostitution should be illegal or not, and if so whether both the purchaser and supplier of the “service” should face prosecution.    Not many regard prostitution –  supply or purchase – as something that society should look favourably on – let alone something they would be comfortable with their own daughters doing –  and yet is exactly the status Healy seeks, and what our government has acted to bestow in this extraordinary award.

In a way, perhaps, we shouldn’t be surprised: of our four most senior government ministers, only one is married, and the Prime Minister herself is just about to give birth in a relationship outside marriage.   They live transgressively, and they practice politics that way too, apparently determined to corrode and replace all the norms and standards that have underpinned our civilisation for generation upon generation.

No doubt the Prostitutes Collective does some good work.  And yet in its ongoing campaign to normalise prostitution, whether small accounts such as this of Healy’s own time as a prostitute

It was a deeply social time, she said, with prostitutes and clients crammed into a little illicit bar in the brothel drinking and talking into the wee hours. It was such a contrast to her morning meetings in demure school staff rooms. The juxtaposition of those two very different lives was stark.

or in her call this morning in a radio interview for the removal of the few remaining restrictions, those which prevent foreigners getting work permits, or using student work visa rights, to be a prostitute, she attempts to corrode one of the core values (perhaps aspirational, more often than lived out) of our society –  that sex isn’t just some ad hoc recreational activity, but a culmination of the most intimate union, that between one man and one women, until death alone parts them.    It is a spiritual act, not just a physical one.

And in doing so, Healy fosters an environment in which some young women –  otherwise discouraged by the social norms –  will consider the option of prostitution themselves, perhaps as a way to pay for tertiary study.  In doing so, they degrade themselves, open themselves to exploitation and abuse, and –  not incidentally – contribute to the degradation of the men who purchase their services.   It isn’t a path that leads to an ordered and fulfilled life, and more often attracts those who are already troubled and abused and, in time, worsens their plight.   We owe each other more than this.

The official citation for Catherine Healy includes this sentence

Post-decriminalisation she was appointed a member of the Prostitution Law Review Committee, which reported that sex workers were markedly better off under the Prostitution Reform Act

We should want these people to be “markedly better off”, but not in doing what they are doing (prostitution), but by amendment of life –  by getting out of the “industry”.  That doesn’t mean encouraging or tolerating abuse of women doing this activity, but equally it shouldn’t mean treating sex –  intended as a most intimate act –  as just another market industry.

And if God shuns sin, he doesn’t shun people.   And thus the church can, and should, be involved in ministries helping women out of prostitution. I wonder if our government would consider honouring those who’ve devoted their lives to living among such people abroad, and looking to work with them to build industries to assist women to get out of their former life as prostitutes.

There are many people who’ve been honoured over the years –  even made knights or dames –  who’ve lived somewhat questionable lives.  All, by the church’s teaching, have been sinners.  But few have been honoured so highly as “Dame” Catherine Healy now has for actively campaigning to normalise sinful behaviour.    Have knighted business people been guilty of sins of covetousness or greed?  Quite probably in some cases, and yet few will own those attitudes, let alone celebrate them.

It is not as if prostitution is a uniquely bad thing –  heterosexual sex is God-given, but in prostitution it occurs outside its appropriate frame (a committed partnership).  Key fathers of the Western church  –  such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas –  have taken the stance that prostitution –  while immoral –  should be tolerated by civil society as the lesser of two evils.  But that plausible stance is a far cry for endorsing it is a positive good, or something whose champions should be honoured by the state (on behalf of society as a whole).

The Prime Minister and her colleagues sell society short –  all of us –  when they celebrate and honour, as both normal and acceptable, what societies for centuries treated as at best a lesser evil, but evil nonetheless –  something that, if always with us, degrades –  body, soul, and spirit – all those who participate (buyer and seller).  Would that, as a society, we could celebrate repentance, and an amendment of life that points men and women to something so much better –  lifelong committed marriage, and sexual intimacy that grows and deepens within that union.

These aren’t just Christian insights, and yet the abandonment of the forms and practices of Christian faith in our society –  exchanging its disciplines, acquired the hard way over centuries, for the dissipation of “anything goes” (so long as it doesn’t stand in the way of “anything goes”) –  should probably leave us unsurprised to find an award like this happening.   And yet I was. I am.   The gift, sadly, reveals something of the character, the views, of the givers.



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Faith, belief, and practice in New Zealand

There was fascinating new report out a few days ago on Faith and Belief in New Zealand.  Produced by McCrindle, an Australian research firm, under commission from the local Wilberforce Foundation, it is a fascinating collection of material, of the sort not often seen in New Zealand.   The report itself states the purpose

The 2018 Faith and Belief in New Zealand report, commissioned by Wilberforce Foundation, explores attitudes towards religion, spirituality and Christianity in New Zealand. The purpose of this research is to investigate faith and belief blockers among Kiwis and to understand perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards Jesus, the Church and Christianity.

and the approach

This research employed qualitative and quantitative methods to explore Kiwi perceptions and attitudes towards Christianity, the Church and Jesus. These methods included a nationally representative survey of Kiwis, a series of focus groups with non-Christians and analysis of Census data from Statistics New Zealand.

It draws from similar work undertaken in Australia.

I’m mostly interested in writing about what is in the survey, and what we might take from it.  Nonetheless, it is worth noting some of the limitations (most due to the small size of sample, in turn presumably due to cost considerations).   There is, for example, nothing of an ethnic breakdown –  increasingly common in New Zealand polling and research these days –  and also, within the Christian subsample, no denominational breakdown, not even at a relatively high level (eg Catholic vs Protestant, evangelical vs liberal and the like).  The survey seems to have identified Protestant vs Catholic/Orthodox, but the sample sizes were probably too small to do more with that information.  By contrast, in Pew research in the US these breakdowns often produce a lot of interesting results.  If Wilberforce is ever looking to do more work in this area, I hope they think about a large sample, and more disaggregation.

Here is the first breakdown

faith 1

That seems not inconsistent with the most recent published Census results (for questions posed differently), bearing in mind that the Christian share is likely to be lower again in this year’s Census.  Around a third of New Zealanders, in this sample, “currently practice or identify with Christianity.  That seems a slightly more demanding question than the Census question “what is your religion?”    Some who no longer practice or identify as Christian but were born or raised in a churchgoing family, or even just baptised as an infant decades ago, may be happy enough to write down “Anglican” or Presbyterian” or whatever.   This isn’t a Christian country, even if the number identifying as Christian still far exceed those identifying with any other organised religion.

faith 2

And of that third who still identify as Christian, only around half state that they attend church even monthly.  A more common metric is to look at those who identify as attending weekly (or more frequently) –  a later question suggests 12-13 per cent of survey respondents are weekly attenders.  Perhaps it just comes from living in very secular Wellington –  although of the three big cities, the survey suggests Auckland is least Christian –  but I don’t believe that 17 per cent of the population is in church with reasonable frequency (there was probably a bias for respondents having identified with Christianity to overstate their attendance frequency) or that 12-13 per cent are in church weekly.  From observation of local churches, in my own suburb 5-8 per cent would seem more plausible.

As a marker of the problem –  the increased secularisation of New Zealand –  there is this age breakdown

faith 3

Some of that will be a decline of nominalism, but that is (very) unlikely to be the bulk of the story.  In a subsequent question, a materially smaller share of the young describe themselves as actively involved than among older respondents.

The decline is captured in this chart.

faith 4

A small number of converts (to any religion in this case), and a huge proportion of respondents who were raised in a “religious household” (however loosely respondents themselves took that as meaning) but have since walked away.  And, of course, the large (and presumably increasing) share of those non-religious from the start.

This is a sobering chart.

faith 5

Remarkably, 40 per cent of people reckon that even seeing first hand people living out a genuine faith would make no difference.  If it works for you, that’s fine, but that has no implications for me, presumably.  No sense of the possibility of absolute truth?   A reminder, I suppose, that conversion isn’t some abstract thing, but a response to ground prepared by the Holy Spirit.

What of the influence of Maori culture in New Zealand?

faith 6

I’m not sure what to make of this question.  I’d probably have answered “no”, but more accurately the answer would be “it depends”.  In vast swathes of New Zealand society (European as well as Asian immigrants) I suspect the answer is none at all –  I detect no influence in my own values and beliefs, which seem very similar to those of British evangelicals –  but there are parts of society where things Maori have undoubtedly made inroads.  In a follow-up questions, the key aspects highlighted were acknowledgement of sacred places (like church, or a war memorial, or a cemetery?), importance of extended famility, and respect for elders.  In general, I struggle to think of evidence suggesting those are stronger here than in the societies from which most of us originally came.

Somewhat to my surprise, respondents still seem to support the (voluntary) religious instruction offered in some state schools.

faith 7

And what issue block or engage New Zealanders around the Christian faith?

faith 8

It was intriguingly phrased –  I missed the question “a recognition of my own sinfulness and the reconciliation with God offered in Christ Jesus”.  But, in today’s climate, I wasn’t surprised by the top-ranking issues.   For millenia –  two even in the Christian era –  the church has taught, along with natural law, that homosexual practice is sinful (not more sinful than many other things, but sinful nonetheless).  Judaism and Islam took the same view.  And now 66 per cent of New Zealanders list that teaching –  often pretty attenuated these days –  as a block to “interest” in Christianity.   It is, they report, less of a block for non-Christian who are warm to Christianity than to those completely cold, but even for that group it is a significant stumbling block.   Which isn’t grounds to abandon or change the teaching: Paul, after all, could write of the cross itself as foolishness, or a stumbling block, to those who don’t believe.  But it is sobering nonetheless –  probably a predictor that the church will keep watering down its teaching, but also a reminder of the uphill task of calling a nation like ours back to God.

As perhaps are some of these (even recognising that sin will always be with us, within the church as well as without).

faith 9

How have we failed to convey (to live?) the fundamental belief that all (of us) have sinned and fallen very far short of God’s glory, that a growth in a walk with Christ should only make us more aware of our own sinfulness and need for God’s grace?

It is interesting to see what people do value in the church.

faith 10

There is nothing wrong with any of these things, of course, but the church is supposed to be more than a badged welfare provider.  I guess the option of “it helps me sustain my walk with Christ, and faltering witness to him” wasn’t offered even to Christian respondents.

This is probably the closest (but also where a lack of disaggregated data is frustrating)

faith 11

There are a few surprising, mildly encouraging, results.   A quite surprisingly large proportion of respondents claim to know about Jesus’ life

faith 12

And 45 per cent regard Jesus’ life as important to them personally. I struggle to know what that means, when only 33 per cent claim to identify with Christianity, but results are what they are.  And there are some specifics:

faith 13

Perhaps some of those are pretty attentuated descriptions: “love” seems to mean everything (the user wants it to mean at the time) and nothing.  But 30 per cent –  far more than go to church regularly –  mention grace and salvation.  Prompts –  in the survey –  probably help, but it is interesting nonetheless.

I’m a data junkie, so I really enjoy working my way through survey results like this.  I don’t come away hopeful –  at least in our own strength –  and keep thinking of other questions I wished they’d asked (eg about religious liberty, outside the four walls of the church).  I’m also wondering what the greatest stumbling block respondents to similar surveys might have identified in other times and places.  I suspect the unchanging teaching on homosexuality wasn’t the big obstacle in early Britain or among 19th century Maori, or Nigerians or Ugandans of 100 years ago.  Whatever it was, by God’s grace, those obstacles were overcome.  I wonder how people would have responded here even 50 years ago?  Whatever that obstacle was, it presumably wasn’t overcome.

Of course, even the people of Israel went through very dark times –  of slavery, exile, foreign rule, and a widespread abandonment of Yahweh, who yet never abandoned them.  God doesn’t give up on his purpose, calling all men and women to him.  And yet in individual places –  countries, regions –  the light of the gospel has been snuffed out almost completely (see modern Turkey).  Our prayer and passion –  and I as much as anyone need this prompt –  must be to work and to pray, to witness and to teach, to form our own people, our own children, in the way of Christ, to be ready for the fresh wind of God’s Holy Spirit to blow one day through this land.


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Standing with Israel Folau

What fate do sinners deserve?  Death, and eternal separation from God. Hell, in fact.

That has been the teaching of the church as long as there has been a Christian church.  It seems to have been the teaching of Jesus –  he who, as the church teaches, was God incarnate, living among us.  Perhaps the idea of Hell isn’t well-developed in the Old Testament, but the connection between sin, death, and separation from God goes all the way back to the first chapters of Genesis.

And, as the church teaches, since all have sinned, and all have fallen short of God’s glory, the fate all of us deserve is that eternal separation from God, eternal punishment (as it has often been framed) and Hell.  I deserve it, you deserve it, Israel Folau –  the Australian rugby player – deserves it, his critics deserve it.   It is the common destiny of all mankind.  Were it not for God’s redeeming grace, and mercy extended to those who repent, and turn from sin to God.  Not that we ever succeed in putting off sin in this life, but growing in grace, in an awareness of our sinfulness, and of our desperate need for his mercy to the penitent.

I’m not a big fan of rugby, and particularly not of Australian rugby, so I know little of the on-field talents of Israel Folau.  I don’t know much either about he lives his life off field, but I’m enormously admiring of his courage in making a stand for orthodox Christian truth –  in his initial Instagram response, which sparked so much adverse reaction, and subsequently, with more time to reflect, in print and in what we read of his dealings with the Australian Rugby Union.

Perhaps I’d have worded things differently, but his straightforward answer to the question “what was God’s plan for gay people?”: “HELL…..Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”, expresses the simple truth for all of us, for all have sinned.   Perhaps his expression is more Arminian than we should really be fully comfortable –  ‘no one can come except the Father draw him”.  Perhaps –  if this is indeed his view –  he might have explicitly distinguished between impulses/attractions, and actions, although arguably it is implicit in his wording.   The attraction might be a consequence of the Fall, of the pervasiveness of human sin, but most would argue that it is the action, or the fostered illegitimate desire, that creates individual guilt, and the need for repentance.  I might admire my neighbour’s car, house, or wife –  but when I covet them, and take steps to acquire them, I actively put myself outside God’s plan and law.  I need to repent.  If I wilfully persist in my sin, I put my eternal destiny in jeopardy.  There is nothing in Scripture, or church teaching, that makes homosexual sin any worse than any other sin, but there is nothing that excuses it either –  any more than any other sin.

This isn’t new teaching.  Anglo society –  the foundation of Australia and New Zealand –  was shaped by Christian teaching for perhaps 1500 years.   Not much more than 30 years ago, male homosexual activity was not just sinful, but an offence under New Zealand criminal law. I don’t have a strong view on whether such conduct should be criminalised –  some sin is, some isn’t –  but the law is a teacher, for good and ill, and in traditional Christian teaching (and the way most other societies have organised themselves) homosexual desire, and conduct, is disordered desire.  It shouldn’t be condoned.

Of course, in the modern West the prevailing ideology not only condones such conduct and associated desire, but celebrates it.  Amid the decades-long sexual revolution that marks it out.  No one  –  no modern society –  celebrates adultery.  And if pre-marital sex has become all too common –  including its worst manifestations, the hook-up culture – even it doesn’t excite so much official and semi-official celebration as now surrounds homosexuality.   I’m pretty certain, no rugby player would be in half as much trouble had he tweeted that the adulterer exposes him (or her) self to Hell, unless they turn to God and repent.  And yet from the same passage in I Corinthians

Or do you not know that the unrighteous1 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: xneither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,2 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

The prevailing ideology not only wants to up-end traditional teaching and practice, normalise such conduct and desire, but shun anyone who won’t accept/embrace (or at very least keep quiet) about their disagreement, about their allegiance to a much older –  but ever new –  truth.

In this case, it is money attempting to speak –  sponsor’s money.  Major sponsors of Australian rugby, notably Qantas, seem to want Folau silenced.  One can only imagine how they’d treat one of their own employees who made a comment on social media similar to Folau’s traditional Christian teaching.   For a mere employee silence might not even be enough: there are more and more reports of companies pressuring staff to actively subscribe to the new agenda, participating in activities actively designed to promote sin and prohibiting anything akin to conscientious objection.

I was interested in Folau’s new, and much fuller, article articulating his perspective.   Here is how he begins

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.

I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily. 

I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write.

That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.

But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.

Bravo.  What a courageous man.  An example to the rest of us to consider, when/if we face a similar test.

As he writes of that I Corinthians passage

In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people. 

There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself.

No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

He goes on to recount his conversations with the Australian Rugby Union

After we’d all talked, I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.
Perhaps in the short-term it is relatively easier for him to take such a stand –  he has lucrative offers to play rugby elsewhere, and the ARU is unlikely to want to lose one of their few staff.  But we can only take a stand in the situation we actually face.  And I guess Folau knows that the rapidly expanding intolerance around holding and expressing traditional Christian beliefs on (homosexual) sin isn’t likely to be something he can escape from permanently.  But he has had the courage to take a stand, and ground his stand in Scripture.  Fellow believers can pray for him, give thanks for his courage.  But perhaps also we need to be willing to take a stand, with Israel Folau.  This post won’t be widely read, but it is a small act of identification I can make.  In this, I stand with Folau (and his wife).
None of which means I don’t have a modicum of sympathy for sponsors, and outfits like the Rugby Union.  Qantas long forfeited any sympathy –  they’ve been pro-active aggressive players in promotion  and normalisation of homosexual life and conduct.  But most aren’t in that category.  Whatever the personal views of many involved, they’ll be caught in the swirling vortex of massed “public” or social media opinion, seeking out whom they may next destroy.  Customer boycotts –  sponsor boycotts –  are a real threat.  Management of public companies, for example, might argue that they have no choice –  a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders perhaps interpreted as doing nothing that might risk a boycott.   On the one hand, it is reason to be wary of widely-held public companies –  unable to take stands for anything except what the mob demands.  And on the other hand, that the real problem is less individual firms or non-profits, but the increasingly intolerance of wider society for the expression of attitudes with which the majority now disagrees.
Perhaps it was never that much different, just that the boot is now on the other foot.  If so, I can only urge tolerance, while recognising that perhaps no society can really tolerate for long too much difference on issues that go to the heart of humanity, society and religion.  And, as Folau – again quoting Scripture reminds us –  as Christians we are called to take up our cross, be willing to follow Christ in the way that led him to die, and to count it as blessing when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake.  It is always easy, on any individual day or event, not to take a stand.  But do so long enough, and you’ll risk losing your footing, your ability to take a stand, and eventually perhaps our claim on God’s grace and mercy
But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.


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A big call to make

It isn’t common in New Zealand today –  contrast the situation with that described in this week’s Listener, describing Billy Graham’s 1959 visit – but the editorial in today’s Dominion-Post newspaper is devoted to the deliberations of the Anglican church in New Zealand.

For years, the local Anglicans have been edging closer to a more formal recognition of same-sex relationships, perhaps even ones that some might describe (weirdly) as “in the nature of marriage”.  That seemingly inevitable drift is a big part of why I’m no longer an Anglican.

And at the regional synod in Christchurch the other day there was a non-binding advisory vote (for the information of the diocesan representatives who will be part of the General Synod decision in May) on the latest proposal.  Under that scheme, as I understand it, with the approval of the local bishop individual clergy will be free to offer proper services of blessing for same-sex relationships, including those that now bear the state-gifted label of “marriage”.  No clergy will, apparently, be forced to offer such blessings, or (presumably) subject to any indirect coercion on the matter.

It is a scheme that won’t go far enough for some.  There are plenty who would have the church move fully into line with the state, changing its doctrine of marriage –  as between one man and one woman –  and offering “weddings” for such couples.  And, at the other end of the spectrum who see such blessings as making the church complicit in sin –  no more acceptable, say, than offering blessings for the actions and choices of slanderers, thieves, adulterers. It is to sanction sin, when the whole point of the gospel is about the confronting the harsh reality of sin, the need of us all for God’s grace, and for the hard –  Spirit-assisted – long journey of growing little by little in holiness.

But the latest scheme isn’t really concerned with either of those ends of the spectrum.  It seems that everyone knows there is no consensus on these matters among New Zealand Anglicans (nor indeed among Anglicans in other Anglo countries); the scheme is more about holding the local Anglican church together than it is about truth.  It is a point that seems to have escaped the editorialist.

The local bishop declared herself surprised by the outcome: a 60/40 vote in favour of the liberalising proposal.  Another participant –  see link above –  seems less surprised, noting similar margins in a vote on a related issue some years ago.

This morning’s editorial declares that “this is about relevance”.  That had the feel of the rather desperate call of the liberal that the church must adapt to be just like society, or else no one will care (as distinct from a counter-cultural that offers something radically different  –  God’s call, God’s offer –  to the sin-raddled society around it).   But, a little surprisingly, the editorial is more balanced than that.  It notes the risk that by failing to adapt the Anglicans might lose even more parishoners –  as if the adaptation of the last few decades seems to have done anything to staunch the bleeding.  But it also notes that

“if they do change, does that also undermine the church’s relevance –  what else might change in the name of expediency?”

Indeed.  What, for example, was lost of the integrity of the church’s witness to truth –  to the unchanging God –  when many northern European Protestants bought into eugenic thinking only a few decades ago.

Having said that, it isn’t clear that the editorial writer has any real sense of just how central sex, sexual relations, and the boundaries around them, actually are to human societies and civilisations.   It is almost put in the “just another recreational activity” category –  the same “anything goes, so long as its consensual” mindset that suffuses so much of our society today.  That wasn’t how robust civilisations were built and sustained.  It was never the teaching of the Christian church.

Strangely, the editorial writer is also under the impression that “traditional churches face increasing competition from more modern counterparts, some of whom embrace more liberal views, some of whom are even more fundamental and resistant to compromise”.  It is certainly true that there are more and more denominations and independent church groups.  But you wouldn’t know from reading that quote that the more liberal churches –  the “mainline” ones, in a US context –  are in much steeper decline that those which have held a bit more firmly to traditional teaching on marriage, sex, and homosexuality.  Chesterton’s line that someone who marries the spirit of the age will soon find themselves a widow is as true as ever today.

I don’t envy the Anglicans the decisionmaking path they are on.  My sympathies are, of course, with those who would hold to the teaching: marriage is about one man and one woman, together for life, and sex outside marriage (heterosexual or otherwise) is wrong.  But if they lose –  and if things go as they have been that seems sure –  what do they do?   Do they stay yoked to the new rules –  perhaps secure in their own parishes, if those are of an evangelical disposition – or do they risk walking away?  To stay is to buy into the post-modern proposition that quite conflicting versions of truth can be sustained in a single body.    But perhaps it is a chance that, over decades, work, prayer and evangelism might win back the denomination.  To walk – even as a parish –  is hard, a rupturing of relationships and ties going back generations and so on.   And yet isn’t the path of discipleship the one in which the call comes to take up our crosses and to come follow Jesus.

Perhaps as big an issue as still before us.  How will the state come to treat those Christian churches (and actually groups of other faiths) who won’t bend the knee and subscribe to the prevalent orthodoxy around sex, homosexuality and so on.   Will congregations or denominations remain faithful, or twist and squirm and draft cleverly, when the call comes that tax-deductibility should no longer be availabe for those congregations who faithfully teach marriage as something for one man and one woman, for life?  Or when local rates exemptions are threatened.  Or when the clear proclamation of the teaching of Scripture is challenged as “hate speech” and preachers are threatened with fines or imprisonment.  We aren’t there in New Zealand yet –  rather closer, it appears, in the UK.  But resistance is perhaps harder when the threats accumulate little by little –  as with resistance in, say, Nazi Germany.  Clergy and bishops need to be preparing the ground, helping each other, and congregations prepare to pay the price of discipleship, in whatever future institutional form the church takes.


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2017 or 1967?

Last week I stumbled across the thought experiment posed a couple of years ago by economist Don Boudreaux.  How much money would it take for you to change places with America’s then richest man, John D Rockefeller, at his prime in 1916.  The conclusion to Boudreaux’s thought experiment is as follows:

Honestly, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916.  This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire.  It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916.  And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

It is a nice piece of economist’s reasoning.   Rockefeller had a lot of stuff, and lot of prestige/status.  But he couldn’t take a plane to London or San Francisco.   The quality of recorded music was poor.  The best medical care in the world was far inferior to what almost all citizens in advanced countries today have access to –  a few years later Calvin Coolidge’s teenage son died of an infected blister he got playing tennis on the White House lawn.  Mortality rates in childbirth was soberingly high.  Even heating and air-conditioning –  for the richest –  were nothing like they are today (something that matters a fair amount to residents of non-temperate climes).   And, of course, although the United States wasn’t in World War One in 1916, it soon would be, with another ruinous war to follow only 20 years later.   I’m pretty sure my own answer would be the same as Boudreaux’s: there is no amount of money that would make it that attractive to take Rockefeller’s place and give up my comfortable but modest life in New Zealand, one of the poorer of the advanced countries.

But as I toyed with Boudreaux’s question I was much less sure about how I’d answer if the choice was between 2017 and 1967 –   fifty years ago, and a time I can (just)remember.  In fact, the more I thought about that version of the experiment, the more I thought that, taken together, life in 1967 beats out that in 2017 in many respects.   And that’s just looking at the perspective of someone like me –  a middle-aged professional person.    The richest person in New Zealand at the time probably quite easily beats the situation of a comfortable person like me.

For sure, there are things to be thankful for –  that favour 2017 over 1967.   Real per capita GDP, for example, is around twice what it was 50 years ago –  that is the ability to consume more stuff.  “More stuff” encompasses “better stuff” –  cars that are better-built, that are air-conditioned; TVs that offer (in NZ) more than a single channel; a rich array of eating-out options; much more affordable overseas travel, and smartphones with the resources of the internet in our pocket.   And yet in 1967 New Zealand most people had fridges, ovens, washing machines, TVs and radios, cars, and it is far from obvious how much real gain new and better gadgets have brought.  Some no doubt, but much?   People like to talk, for example, of the immediacy of news via the internet.  But how many of us really need that immediacy that much?  I look at some copies of Time magazine on my shelves from the late 1960s –  sure it was only weekly, but the content was generally far superior to that in today’s newspapers or news magazines.  I’m not suggesting I’d prefer the 1967 model in this respect, but how large is the gain?  (In some ways, this is  economist Robert Gordon’s point)  After all, in 1969 I heard the broadcast of the moon landing live, played out into our school playground.

Life expectancy is quite a bit longer than it was too –  infant mortality has dropped further, and life expectancy among the old has also improved considerably.    And there are more work options for women in particular –  if most discriminatory laws had gone by 1967, old models in which married women were typically out of the workforce either permanently or for long periods while children were around still prevailed.  In many more-formal ways, options for Maori have considerably improved –  witness the number of Maori MPs as just one small example.  In 1967 people like me couldn’t find an audience with something like a blog.

This is the sort of narrative leading Harvard academic Steven Pinker offered in his recent Wall St Journal essay “The Enlightenment is Working” .  His focus is the gains, across so many fronts, over the last 200 years, but he is quite explicit that the gains aren’t slowing down.  And there are points in his favour

In most times and places, homicides kill far more people than wars. But homicide rates have been falling as well and not just in the U.S. People in the rest of the world are now seven-tenths as likely to be murdered as they were two dozen years ago. Deaths from terrorism, terrifying as they may be, amount to a rounding error.

Real gains, for which we should be grateful, and not take lightly (or treat as secure for all time).

And yet, and yet.   Pinker’s value are entirely secular: he celebrates a world that abandons faith, dogma, tradition.  He celebrates the decline of traditional family, and notions of “equality” for practising homosexuals.   In his model, so it seems, longer life-expectancy, and higher incomes (more stuff), is what pretty much everything boils down.  On that score, no doubt he is right.   We should rejoice that we aren’t in 1967, and look forward to  –  working towards –  a better 2067.

But especially if you follow the God revealed in Jesus, crucified Saviour and Redeemer, if you recall –  as Christians do today –  that “dust you are and to dust you shall return” one can look at modern Western societies, 2017 vs 1967, in a much different light.  We might still welcome the longer life-expectancy –  at least among those with the good fortune to be born – and even the higher incomes: God created abundantly, and if excess can be a risk, there is little or no intrinsic virtue in involuntary poverty.

But what we’ll note will be:

  • the sharp decline in Christian religion in all Western countries.  Exposed to the gospel of Christ, nonetheless the bulk of our contemporaries knowingly turn the back on God, and put in jeopardy life beyond this life,
  • the weakening of families, reflected in the rise of divorce, and in the marked increase in children born, and raised, outside wedlock,
  • the general legalisation of abortion.  We can be grateful numbers have been in decline lately (here, and in other countries) while still lamenting the society we’ve become, one in which our Prime Minister wants to make abortion –  the slaughter of a living child –  a “health matter”,
  • at the other end of life, the looming legalisation of “euthanasia”
  • the normalisation of homosexuality, now taken to the extreme of homosexual “marriage”, and the increasingly pressure on those who would seek to resist this agenda,
  • the pervasive spread of pornography, degrading all involved, and corroding the institution of marriage,
  • in all this, the growing difficult of raising children God’s way.  A community influences children, for good and for ill,
  • the alarming rise in the number of people with mental health problems,
  • in a specific New Zealand context, one might also list staggeringly high rates of unemployment (and welfare dependence) among Maori (and to a less extent Pacific) people,
  • at a simple material level, in New Zealand –  as in so many other places (although not much of the south and midwest of the United States)  – the scandalous unaffordability of houses and urban land (in countries with abundant land).   50 years ago, it was the norm for a young couple, perhaps in their mid 20s, to buy a first house, and service the associated mortgage on a single income (my parents did just a few years before that).  These days, for most people, not a chance –  even for the smaller simpler home of 50 years ago,
  • one might even worry about the growth of the surveillance state,
  • or the greater difficulty of keeping Sunday for God (societies buttress or undermine the practice of our values/inclinations: I couldn’t have got a part-time job on a Sunday as a teenager, whereas now I have to remind my kids why we won’t let them have one, even if their peers soon may have).

I’m not suggesting there is some sort of causal tradeoff –  higher wealth and longer life expectancy have someone caused these blights.  Almost certainly they haven’t.  But when the question is posed which bundle would one prefer: 1967’s or 2017’s I can see good reason to prefer the old model, even without my smartphone and blog.

As I’ve reflected on this issue, and some related ones, loose parallels with the Tower of Babel spring to mind.  The hubris of claims like those of Pinker (and of the society he celebrates) –  things just keep getting better and better, and will only keep on doing so as we turn our backs on God –  invite nemesis.  Perhaps it never happens, but even if so there is still the reminder from Scripture that wealth and long life aren’t all there is: how we use them, how we use our talents and gifts matters –  rather more in the longer-run.   Do we build up treasures on earth –  toys to amuse ourselves with, or even to deliver good stuff for others –  or treasure in heaven.  Can we say, with the Psalmist, that better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to “live in the tents of the wicked”?   I’m not sure I can, but it is my heart’s aspiration and desire to live that way.   At the margin, I suspect it was a little easier –  and little easier for my parents to raise me than for me to raise my kids –  in 1967 than it is in 2017.


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Protecting religious freedom…or not

There was a column on the New Zealand news and opinion site Newsroom the other day, written in the wake of the Australian same-sex “marriage” referendum result, challenging the notion that Christians (or no doubt people of other faiths who hold that marriage is of one man and one woman, for life) should be free to practice, proclaim, and live consistently with their beliefs.  These are, of course, beliefs that have been largely uncontentious –  and reflected in life, practice, and legislation –  in our cultural traditions for a very long time.

The column was by Caroline Blyth a British religious studies academic at the University of Auckland.  She appears to live in a homosexual relationship herself.   Although she teaches and researches in biblical studies, in digging around it isn’t obvious whether she has any particular religious faith commitment herself.  From the tone of her column, I suspect not.

Blyth does not even like the provision in New Zealand’s own legislation that lets religious celebrants choose not conduct a same-sex “marriage”.

These exemption clauses essentially grant legal recognition to the fact that religious institutions (particularly the Christian church) are deeply invested in preventing certain people from enjoying the same civic rights as everyone else. In other words, the clauses offer a legal mandate for these institutions to preserve and protect their intolerance of individuals and communities who do not comply with established religious doctrine.

Well, that is certainly one way of interpreting that (rather limited) protection.  It could equally be argued that any citizens were free to marry (subject to finding a willing potential spouse etc), but that since marriage was innately something between a man and woman, almost any male/female pair could marry.   The law did not prevent homosexuals living as they chose (most especially since the civil union provisions were introduced) but they couldn’t call their relationship a marriage, because it wasn’t (and isn’t –  in any true sense of the word) one.

And if Blyth really thinks that private bodies, and groups of citizens, should not be able exclude from their membership those who cross boundaries of acceptable behaviour/belief, she is pretty much giving up on any sort of democratic pluralism from the start.   Should the Labour Party be able to exclude from membership people who urge voters to vote, say, ACT?  Of course, it should. Should the womens’ bowls club be able to exclude male members?  Of course, it should.   Should a church be able to exclude from formal membership someone who denies Christ as their only Saviour, and lives a scandalous life?  Of course, it should.  Humanist Association should be able to exclude Christians too?  Indeed

Allowing religious celebrants not to conduct same-sex “weddings” is the bare minimum freedom of religion.   Without that protection, Christian churches serious about a traditional view of marriage should simply abandon civil marriage to the state, and conduct their own –  more important – religious ceremonies for their own members (and any others who sought the blessing of the church).

But that objection was just a start for Dr Blyth.

what interests me more is the way that these clauses testify to the continued power and privilege of religious institutions within self-identified “secular” countries, such as Australia and New Zealand.

Power and privilege?  Wow.  I’m not sure adherents to traditional Christian faiths (let alone their Muslim or Jewish counterparts) would quite recognise any sort of power or privilege.  The maximalist requests –  whether in Australia now, or in US – have really become not much more than a request to be left alone, to practice and live as we believe.  Discipleship I think we call it.

This isn’t Dr Blyth’s Britain with an established church, or some northern European country with a “church tax”.   Perhaps the provisions of the charities legislation under which the advancement of religion still counts as a charitable purpose, but it is really hard to think of much beyond that.  Clergy these days –  perhaps particularly in New Zealand – are welcomed into the public square when, and only to the extent that, they parrot secular liberal/Green agendas.  Other than that, it is a distinctly Christmas and Easter phenomenon –  noting, in passing, that those are actually Christian festivals.    And that is the clergy.  Is there these days a single prominent media figure willing to articulate a traditional Christian perspective on marriage, abortion, sex or (in fact) anything where such a view might be out of step with the mainstream consensus.  And pity the practising Christian who doesn’t want to be part of his employer’s championing of (say) a gay agenda.

Dr Blyth goes on

In certain hands, religious doctrines, traditions and teachings can become powerful weapons that are wielded to validate and sustain homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. And, while religion is by no means the only or original source of these prejudices, it can undoubtedly play a part in their perpetuation, granting them divine authority and thus enhancing their influence and appeal.

I don’t suppose anyone is going to defend “phobias”, but actually most of things Dr Blyth talks about here having nothing to do with fear at all.  They have to do with sin.  The Christian religion –  as in Judaism before it –  is fundamentally about the reconcilation, at God’s initiative, of man and God, removing the barrier that sin puts in place.  And the response to act of grace, is the call to holiness, to putting off sin.

Sin takes diverse forms.  Some, sadly, in almost any age are socially acceptable.  Others aren’t.  But there is, these days, little overlap between those distinctions, and the standards taught by the Christian church over the centuries.    Covetousness is sin.  Murder is sin  So is adultery.  But looking on another person with lust in our hearts is, Jesus says, sin.  Theft is sin.  Greed is sin.   Fraud is sin.  In many circumstances divorce and remarriage are sinful.  Dishonouring the Sabbath is sin.  And so is any sex outside the confines of marriage (defined as between a man and woman), and thus all non-heterosexual sexual acts.   Homosexual practice isn’t a more serious sin than any other.  They all put up a wall between humans and God, and they all need to be humbly repented of.  The message of the gospel is about repentance, and the grace of restoration and renewal.  When we do church well, we take quite seriously the fact of our sin –  each and every day –  and our grace-filled status of forgiven sinners.  That doesn’t make us take sin hereafter more lightly; if anything we strive all the harder, by the grace of the Spirit, to grow in holiness.   Whatever Dr Blyth’s conception of Christianity it clearly isn’t that one.

She concludes, asking of the Australian churches

How do these institutions feel about being nationally and globally renowned for their intolerance of diversity and inclusivity? What do they think about their global reputation as formidable roadblocks to legal reforms that seek justice and equality for already marginalised and vulnerable groups? What do they make of the power that they wield in contemporary secular societies – a power which compels governments and lawmakers to placate their interests at the expense of committing fully to LGBTI rights? Is this a reputation to be proud of? Is this the legacy that religious institutions wish to be remembered by in years to come? And how will they minister to their own members who also belong to the LGBTI community, all the while clinging on to legal exemptions that deny these members justice and equality?

I wholeheartedly applaud Senator Smith’s bill, and agree with Senator Penny Wong that the bill’s religious exemption clauses give it a far stronger chance of passing into law. Yet these clauses, I suggest, should be regarded by religious institutions less as a welcome safeguard for “religious freedom” than a source of utter shame, which betrays their unrelenting failure to acknowledge the legitimacy and value of LGBTI lives.

I’m quite sure hers is simply an unrecognisable description.  If there is shame, it should be that the church has so manifestly failed, over the last thirty years or more, to proclaim the Gospel compellingly, in ways that might have prevented the continuing degradation or our societies, and the abandonment of the institutions of Western civilisation, including marriage as traditionally understood.  Perhaps same-sex “marriage” really does just normalise what a majority of our fellow citizens have come to accept, but that makes it only something to lament rather than to celebrate.  The Christian church calls followers to a life set apart, a life in which we (perhaps ever so slowly) put on holiness, and put off sin.   That is as true of sexual sin –  important as that is, as one of our most basic human urges that all civilisations channel and disciple –  as of any other sin.  Sin is sin.  And every single member of every single Christian church lives –  or should live –  with the  knowledge that they themselves are sinners, redeemed only by grace.  Unrepented sin –  again of whatever nature –  needs to be dealt with, and failure to do so leaves a blockage in any sort of life of discipleship.

In the meantime, presumably Dr Blyth would be quite comfortable with laws requiring Christians to provide services to same-sex “marriages” –  be it cake-decorating, photography or whatever?  Presumably she would be happy to penalise, say, any teacher who told her class that she happened to believe that marriage was something for one man and one woman, while noting what the current law is?  Would she be happy to see prosecuted a Christian who wrote, or openly spoke, in favour of a restoration of a traditional understanding of marriage to our law books?  Perhaps she would, be if so it would be another step on the slippery slope towards abandoning the freedom of faith and practice our ancestors fought for in centuries past.   That sort of repression won’t change the truth of the gospel, but it will test the extent to which Christians are willing to live openly for their faith and, if necessary, pay the price.

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