Saturday, 20 March 2010

Charity in a Moral Vacuum?

By last night (20/03/’10) the popular charity initiative Sport Relief had raised almost £30 million for charitable causes both abroad and in the UK. Via telethons and sponsored events such as running the Sport Relief Mile huge sums have flooded into the charity and much more is expected to be raised in events up and down the country this weekend.

You would have to be churlish to the point of perverse to not celebrate the good-hearted generosity of people and the great and practical good that is done as a result of such events. From the now historic Band Aid concert, through the well established British institution Comic Relief to Sport Relief and even the money raised for causes by the National Lottery  much good is done.

However, I can’t help but think that when we look back at 19th century missionary societies and, indeed, their 21st century counterparts, and consider how they are represented in our social and cultural histories they don’t come out well. Yet they did, and continue to do much the same in raising resources to help developing societies, feed the hungry, teach the ill-educated, protect the vulnerable – and share the gospel. This last is what our secular society finds little to celebrate about, being suspicious about the fact that what they do is done in the name of Christianity. But what is the difference between going into a country in the name of liberal democracy and insisting that something must be done and things have to change and doing the same in the name of Christian charity?

Christian teaching, building, nursing and, yes, evangelistic missions are carried out by people who have chosen to serve a moral cause because they have committed their lives to a moral course. Unlike the celebrities who front events like Sport Relief and who fly in for a few days filming and then fly out to talk endlessly into a camera about how harrowing and moving was their experience, Christian missionaries devote years, sometimes their whole lives in the cause to which they are committed. Sometimes they sacrifice their lives to serve their God by serving “the least of these” (Mt.25:45)

The difference, it seems to me, and the great advantage to a secular society of such charitable events as Sport Relief is that, where Christian missionaries serve a moral cause because committed to a moral course, here people can serve a moral cause without making a commitment to a moral course. In this way they can salve their conscience, feel they are doing some good, but make no fundamental change to the way they live their daily lives.

It looks as though they are living their lives in a morally neutral world. One in which they can give and serve if it suits but pass on the other side if not. But this is not a morally neutral world and the requirements, indeed commandments of the God who made us apply equally to everyone in it. That is why mission exists in its most fundamental, evangelistic form. It is ironic that, while many perhaps feel that charity without religion is the best of all possible worlds, the greatest good that can be done them in this world is to remind them of their obligations to God and of what he requires of them “in these last days” (Acts 17:29-30)

Every effort at helping and serving the needy and vulnerable is to be applauded but as Christians the greatest help we could ever offer is to pray for and be involved in the mission of the church to “go into all the world and tell the good news” (Mt.28:16-20) It is not always popular but we may as well nail our colours to the mast – the world has.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Brick Testament

Yes, this is the Bible in Lego Bricks.  What made me smile was the content notice:

The Bible contains material some may consider morally objectionable and/or inappropriate for children. These labels identify stories containing:
= nudity  = sexual content  = violence  = cursing

Whoever said the Bible was not for today simply hasn’t read it lately.

The world's largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible.

Genesis Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, The Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah...
37 stories with 568 illustrations

Exodus Burning Bush, Plague of Frogs, Ten Commandments, The Golden Calf...
31 stories with 431 illustrations

Wilderness The Fire of Yahweh, Moses and Aaron Doomed, God Sends Snakes...
25 stories with 271 illustrations
The Brick Testament

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Gay marriage plan threatens churches says Bishop of Winchester -Times Online

So here’s the deal. Gay people insist on the right to marry. I don’t think it is meaningfully possible and object on social and religious grounds. But we live in a liberal democracy so I can hardly deny others the privilege that democracy affords me. But that is not enough – it never is. They want enshrined in law the right to marry in religious premises. Of course, there are already those liberal churches that afford this privilege without legal coercion but that is not enough – it never is. So the final situation stands something like this:

You have no right to force me as a gay person to comply with your religious code but I want enshrined in law the right to force you to act against your religious conscience. Nice!

‘Church of England clergy will be sued for discrimination if they refuse to “marry” homosexuals under a proposed law, a bishop has warned. Other religious leaders fear that churches that refuse to bless civil partnerships might be forced to close…

Don Horrocks, of the [Evangelical] alliance, said: “We understand the Lords’ desire to allow a few liberal religious groups to have freedom to follow their consciences. But other religious groups must not be forced to betray their consciences by facing lawsuits if they fail to allow a civil ceremony.

“This amendment hugely confuses the distinction between civil secular ceremonies and religious ceremonies, as well as the nature of marriage, and has major implications for the UK’s matrimonial laws which haven’t begun to be thought through.”’

Now this is going to upset some people I know personally but it has to be said. It is never enough, whatever you do to enshrine gay rights in law, it is never going to be enough.

In the UK there are calls for all kinds of “traditional” gay activities to be acceptable and legally protected now that basic gay rights are recognised. This includes the right to participate in cruising, the frequenting of public places for the purposes of casual sex – see here. It seems some wish to be free to liaise in places like the infamous Highgate Cemetery for instance without let or hindrance (shades of Joe Orton)

What next? The right to organise and participate in cottaging? As a young man I was more than once the target of such activities and I can tell you it is not the happy-go-lucky and wholesome activity some might have you believe. But this is the way it is going as the gay programme embraces any and all sexual activities once considered aberrant and wrong. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender movement (LGBT) is vocal and growing in its call for the acceptance of any and everything that would overturn the accepted and traditional mores and customs of society. Likeminded people gathering around a common cause, or an example of my enemy’s enemy is my friend?Sociologist Mary Bernstein said:

"For the lesbian and gay movement, then, cultural goals include (but are not limited to) challenging dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity, homophobia, and the primacy of the gendered heterosexual nuclear family (heteronormativity). Political goals include changing laws and policies in order to gain new rights, benefits, and protections from harm." (Bernstein, Mary (2002). Identities and Politics: Toward a Historical Understanding of the Lesbian and Gay Movement. Social Science History 26:3 (fall 2002).

The “cause” is anarchic then and not simply about being accepted but about creating a social chaos out of which this new, promiscuous order will rise. Promiscuous?

There are faithful and good people who remain in gay relationships for a lifetime, this I know personally. But casual and promiscuous sex seem to be the overwhelming norm in the gay community. So, on one hand you have people that seek, reasonably in many eyes, to be accepted in homosexual relationship as equals in the wider society with heterosexual partnerships. But then you have many in that same community seeking to have the same wider society give licence for their promiscuous agenda.

Of course, when such concerns are expressed we are met with the same cry - “Homophobia!” Its a lot like talking to a Mormon who will cry “Anti-Mormon!” But crying foul and damning your critics as blind and ill-informed enemies hardly helps to move the discussion along and does nothing to address the genuine fears and concerns of intelligent people.

Gay marriage plan threatens churches says Bishop of Winchester -Times Online