Thursday, 31 January 2013

What causes homosexuality Peter Tatchell? Well it depends on which view is most politically convenient at the time

Yesterday in Parliament I attended a meeting where four leading figures engaged in a lively debate on therapy for those with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction.

The debate focussed on the legitimacy of, and freedom to offer, ‘change therapy’ (more accurately SOCEs - sexual orientation change efforts), which is aimed at altering the strength and direction of sexual feelings.

Dr Michael Davidson of CORE Issues (who is about to undergo a disciplinary procedure for using it) and Canadian psychiatrist Dr Joseph Berger (who uses it regularly) were supporting change therapy.

Psychiatrist Professor Michael King (who is its most vehement critic) and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell were against it.

Although members of the mainstream press were present the debate has so far been reported only by Christian Concern, Pink News and Gay Star News.

Tatchell and King essentially argued that homosexual orientation was biologically caused and fixed, that change was impossible and that change therapies were damaging and unethical.

I will come back to King in another blog but I was particularly intrigued by the hard line position taken by Tatchell.

Tatchell (pictured) summed up his position on the causes of homosexuality by dismissing cultural and environmental factors: ‘The overwhelming mass of scientific and medical evidence shows that homosexual orientation is the product of inheritance and hormonal influences in the womb.’

King, the scientist, wasn’t anywhere as dogmatic about this and suggested that no one really knew the cause. Tatchell, however, firmly stood his ground.

To those who are acquainted with Tatchell’s writings this announcement marked a huge departure from his previous stance. Rather than accept the view that people are born gay, he has actually been one of its chief opponents.

On his own website in an article titled ‘Born or Made Gay?’ he argues as follows:

‘Something as complex and pivotal as human emotional and sexual life is bound to evolve from a multiplicity of factors, rather than from any single, simple origin… biological determinist models of gayness suggest that same-sex attraction is largely or entirely determined by our genes and hormonal influences in the womb. It is an innate desire, fixed at birth….

This was the central thesis of the recent book, Born Gay, by Glenn Wilson, a Reader at the Institute of Psychiatry in London , and Qazi Rahman, a lecturer in psychobiology at the University of East London . Their book is easily the best summary of evidence from dozens of biological studies into the causes and correlates of homosexuality.

They conclude that sexual orientation is overwhelmingly innate. Social or family influences have little or no impact. Blaming parents and childhood upbringing for a child's gayness is mistaken and unfair. The idea that people become gay by seduction or choice is, they say, not supported by scientific research and empirical evidence…

The authors are right to say that biological factors play a role. Studies of identical twin brothers show that in 52% of cases where one twin is gay the other twin is also gay (Note - later studies suggest this figure is closer to 20%). This is a much higher concordance than the 2% to 10% distribution of gay people in the general population, as recorded by various sex surveys. It suggests a significant genetic component in the causality of homosexuality - and, presumably, in the origins of heterosexuality as well.

Wilson and Rahman argue the other determinant of sexual orientation is hormonal exposure during pregnancy. They document studies showing differences between gay and straight people with respect to a number of physiological traits that are associated with hormonal influences...

This is convincing stuff, but not entirely so. If genes determine our sexual orientation we would expect that in cases of identical twins where one was gay the other would be gay too – in every case. But, in fact, in only just over half the cases are both twins gay. The same lack of complete concordance is found in hormone-associated physical attributes.

These exceptions lead me to conclude that while genes and hormones may, like male birth order, predispose a person to a particular sexual orientation, they do not determine it. They are significant influences, not the sole cause. Other factors are also at work. Social expectations, cultural values and peer pressure, for instance, help push many of us towards heterosexuality...

Wilson's and Rahman's biological determinist thesis has another major flaw. If we are all born either gay or straight, how do they explain people who switch in mid-life from fulfilled heterosexuality to fulfilled homosexuality (and vice versa)?

The authors have no credible explanation for bisexuality; claiming it barely exists… Much as I would love to go along with the fashionable ‘born gay' consensus (it would be very politically convenient), I can't. The evidence does not support the idea that sexuality is a fixed biological given.’


In another article on his website he takes an even stronger position:

‘Sexual orientation is largely or entirely determined by our genes and hormonal influences in the womb. It is an innate given, fixed at birth. Forget Freudian theory and all the other psycho babble. Biology is destiny.

This is the central thesis of Born Gay. I disagree…. If sexuality was predetermined at birth by genes and hormones, it would be impossible for young Sambian males to switch to homosexuality and then back to heterosexuality with such apparent ease. This suggests there is an element of flexibility in sexual orientation, and that cultural traditions and social mores are also influential factors.

Born gay? No. Human sexuality is too varied and complex to be reduced to a simple equation of genes plus hormones.


When asked at the debate whether his views had changed Tatchell said that they had. When asked why, he said it was a result of reading ‘Born gay?’

But ‘Born gay?’ was written in 2008 and yet just last year in January 2012 Tatchell wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled ‘Future Sex: Beyond Gay and straight’ in which he takes exactly the same position as that expressed on his website:

‘We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.

It is also apparent that same-sex relations flourish, albeit often temporarily, in single-sex institutions like schools, prisons and the armed forces - which suggests that sexuality might be more flexible than many people assume.

(Kinsey) found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings - even if they do not act on them…

…The evidence from these two research disciplines - sociology and anthropology - is that the incidence and form of heterosexuality and homosexuality is not fixed and universal, and that the two sexual orientations are not mutually exclusive. There is a good deal of fluidity and overlap.

What's more, although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions - such as genes and hormones - other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release. These influences channel erotic impulses in certain directions and not others. An individual's sexual orientation is thus influenced culturally, as well as biologically.

… This picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and - equally significantly - by many lesbians and gay men.

If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.

… Gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. They are a self-defence mechanism against homophobia. Faced with persecution for having same-sex relations, the right to have those relationships has to be defended - hence gay identity and the gay rights movement.’


So what exactly is Tatchell's position?

Does he really expect us to believe that in the last twelve months he has suddenly adopted the central thesis of a book he has consistently rejected for over four years?

If so why has he not said so up until this week?

Or is there another explanation altogether? Does Tatchell actually choose which view to hold depending on who he is talking to?

Tatchell is at very heart a campaigner and has already hinted above that the ‘fashionable “born gay” consensus’ would be ‘very politically convenient’ for him.

So maybe when he is arguing, as in Huffington Post, that in the future there will be no such thing as gay and straight but just fluidity, it is actually politically convenient to say that the main cause of sexual orientation is cultural and environmental.

But when he is making a case for disciplining people who are practising therapy aimed at changing the strength and direction of sexual attraction, it is more politically convenient for him to argue that sexual orientation is biologically fixed at birth as a result of genes and hormones.

And if he is trying to establish that gay people are a persecuted minority (very useful if you are pushing for a change in the law) then it is expedient to argue that gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression.

I wonder which argument Peter Tatchell will use next?

I guess it will depend on who is listening and what his political agenda at the time happens to be.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Belgian twin euthanasia story is just the tip of a chilling iceberg

The case of the twin brothers euthanised in Belgium before Christmas is just the latest step in an escalation of euthanasia which is badly out of control.

In a case which attracted world attention, Belgian doctors announced earlier this month that a fortnight before Christmas they euthanised 45-year-old deaf identical twins who were going blind and thought that they had nothing to live for.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem (pictured) were born deaf. They never married and lived together, working as cobblers. When they discovered that they had another congenital disorder, a form of glaucoma, they asked for euthanasia.

According to the Daily Telegraph, their local hospital had refused to end their lives by lethal injection because doctors there did not accept that they were suffering unbearable pain.

However, the two brothers found doctors at Brussels University Hospital in Jette who accepted their argument that they were unable to bear the thought of not being able to see each other again.

Under Belgian law euthanasia is allowed if ‘the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident’.

Critics point out that the Verbessem brothers were not terminally ill nor suffering physical pain, but Professor Wim Distelmans, a right-to-die activist and one of the doctors involved in the decision to euthanise the men, based his own assessment on their psychological suffering.

The case demonstrates graphically just how liberally Belgium’s euthanasia law is now being interpreted.

I have previously documented reports from Belgium showing that half of cases go unreported, half of Belgian euthanasia nurses have killed people without request, one third of euthanasia cases in at least one region are involuntary and that euthanasia cases are now being used as organ donors.

A report published late last year by the Brussels-based European Institute of Bioethics claimed that euthanasia was being ‘trivialized’ and that the law was being monitored by a toothless watchdog. After 10 years of legalised euthanasia and about 5,500 cases, not one case had ever been referred to the police.

But now we have new proposals aimed at extending the law even further.

On 10 January 2013 Senator Philippe Mahoux tabled in the Belgian Senate two documents.

The first, Proposition de loi modifiant la loi du 28 mai 2002 relative à l'euthanasie, is a proposal to amend the Euthanasia Law of 28 May 2002 as follows:

1.Provide for euthanasia requests from non-emancipated minors (minors as young as 15 can be emancipated under certain circumstances) who are judged by a doctor and a second doctor, child psychiatrist or other person with relevant expertise to have the capacity for discernment, that is for understanding the situation of their illness and the consequences of a request for euthanasia (One of the minor’s legal representatives (that is one of the minor’s parents or legal guardians) must also sign the request for euthanasia)

2.Advanced directives for euthanasia to be administered in certain conditions if the patient becomes incompetent and unconscious have been limited to 5 years duration – they are to be made of unlimited duration ;

3.Individual doctors with a conscientious objection to euthanasia must advise the patient within 7 days of a request and must within 4 days of the patient giving them the name of another doctor forward the medical file;

4.Institutional conscientious objection is disallowed and no contract may prohibit a doctor form practising euthanasia at an institution


The second document, Document l√©gislatif n° 5-1920/1, is a proposal for a resolution to establish an inquiry into euthanasia for patients suffering from degenerative mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s with a view to making advanced requests for euthanasia easier in these circumstances.

In summary we are to have euthanasia of minors, euthanasia of the mentally incompetent and erosion of conscience rights for individual doctors and institutions.

These latest developments are a chilling reminder of how incremental extension will happen inevitably once the law changes and the public conscience is eroded.

The lessons from Belgium for other jurisdictions flirting with a change in the law are clear – resist legalisation under any circumstances at all cost.

The twins case is also a grave warning not to look for medical solutions to existential problems, because if you do it quickly becomes very unclear when to stop.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Holocaust Memorial Day – Let’s not forget the key role doctors played

The millions of Jews and others killed during the Holocaust have been remembered in services today across the UK, as part of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Candles have been lit at ceremonies in London and Staffordshire's National Memorial Arboretum, 68 years after Auschwitz was liberated.

More than one million people, mostly Jews, died at the Nazi camp before it was liberated by allied troops in 1945.

But the horrific genocide of six million Jews was only the final chapter in the story.

What is far less well known is the role of doctors in the process.

Twenty-three physicians were tried at the so-called Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in 1946 (picture above), which gave birth to the Nuremberg Code of ethics regarding medical experiments.

Many others including some of the very worst offenders never came to trial (see full list here).

What ended in the 1940s in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka had much more humble beginnings in the 1930s in nursing homes, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric institutions all over Germany.

When the Nazis arrived, the medical profession was ready and waiting.

Germany emerged from the First World War defeated, impoverished and demoralised.

Into this vacuum in 1920 Karl Binding, a distinguished lawyer, and Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist, published a book titled ‘The granting of permission for the destruction of worthless life. Its extent and form'.

In it they coined the term ‘life unworthy of life’ and argued that in certain cases it was legally justified to kill those suffering from incurable and severely crippling handicaps and injuries. Hoche used the term ballastexistenzen (‘human ballast’) to describe people suffering from various forms of psychiatric disturbance, brain damage and retardation.

By the early 1930s a propaganda barrage had been launched against traditional compassionate 19th century attitudes to the terminally ill and when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, 6% of doctors were already members of the Nazi Physicians League.

In June of that year Deutsches Arzteblatt, today still the most respected and widely read platform for medical education and professional politics in Germany, declared on its title page that the medical profession had ‘unselfishly devoted its services and resources to the goal of protecting the German nation from biogenetic degeneration’.

From this eugenic platform, Professor Dr Ernst Rudin, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Psychiatry of Munich, became the principle architect of enforced sterilisation. The profession embarked on the campaign with such enthusiasm, that within four years almost 300,000 patients had been sterilised, at least 50% for failing scientifically designed ‘intelligence tests’.

By 1939 (the year the war started), the sterilisation programme was halted and the killing of adult and paediatric patients began. The Nazi regime had received requests for ‘mercy killing’ from the relatives of severely handicapped children, and in that year an infant with limb abnormalities and congenital blindness (named Knauer) became the first to be put to death, with Hitler’s personal authorisation and parental consent.

This ‘test-case’ paved the way for the registration of all children under three years of age with ‘serious hereditary diseases’. This information was then used by a panel of ‘experts’, including three medical professors (who never saw the patients), to authorise death by injection or starvation of some 6,000 children by the end of the war.

Adult euthanasia began in September 1939 when an organisation headed by Dr Karl Brandt and Philip Bouhler was set up at Tiergartenstrasse 4 (T4) (pictured right) The aim was to create 70,000 beds for war casualties and ethnic German repatriates by mid-1941.

All state institutions were required to report on patients who had been ill for five years or more and were unable to work, by filling out questionnaires and chosen patients were gassed and incinerated at one of six institutions (Hadamar being the most famous).

False death certificates were issued with diagnoses appropriate for age and previous symptoms, and payment for ‘treatment and burial’ was collected from surviving relatives.

The programme was stopped in 1941 when the necessary number of beds had been created. By this time the covert operation had become public knowledge.

The staff from T4 and the six killing centres was then redeployed for the killing of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and disloyal Germans. By 1943 there were 24 main death camps (and 350 smaller ones) in operation.

Throughout this process doctors were involved from the earliest stage in reporting, selection, authorisation, execution, certification and research. They were not ordered, but rather empowered to participate.

Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist with the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremberg, described the process in his classic article 'Medical Science under Dictatorship' which was published in the New England Medical Journal in July 1949.

‘The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.’

The War Crimes Tribunal reported that ‘part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly’ with the ‘mass killing of sick Germans’.

Among their numbers were some of the leading academics and scientists of the day; including professors of the stature of Hallervorden (neuropathology), Pernkopf (anatomy), Rudin (psychiatry/genetics), Schneider (psychiatry), von Verschuer (genetics) and Voss (anatomy). None of these men were ever prosecuted while of the 23 defendants at Nuremberg, only two were internationally recognised academics.

It is easy to distance ourselves from the holocaust and those doctors who were involved. However, images of SS butchers engaged in lethal experiments in prison camps don’t fit the historical facts; the whole process was orchestrated through the collaboration of internationally respected doctors and the State.

With the advantage of hindsight we are understandably amazed that the German people and especially the German medical profession were fooled into accepting it. The judgement of the War Crimes Tribunal in 1949 as to how they were fooled was as follows.

'Had the profession taken a strong stand against the mass killing of sick Germans before the war, it is conceivable that the entire idea and technique of death factories for genocide would not have materialized...but far from opposing the Nazi state militantly, part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly, while the remainder acquiesced in silence. Therefore our regretful but inevitable judgement must be that the responsibility for the inhumane perpetrations of Dr Brandt (pictured left)...and others, rests in large measure upon the bulk of the medical profession; because the profession without vigorous protest, permitted itself to be ruled by such men.' (War Crimes Tribunal. 'Doctors of Infamy'. 1948)

A 2010 article in American Medical News covered the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition on medicalised killings under the Nazis. It concluded:

“‘The misguided scientific ideas of physicians and scientists were integral to Nazis' crimes against humanity and should serve as a reminder to doctors to put patients before political ideology ... As evil as these actions appear in retrospect, they arose out of a highly sophisticated German medical culture... More than half of the Nobel Prizes that were awarded in science through the 1930s went to Germans ... 'These doctors became killers, not despite their training but in the name of their science and training… All doctors and medical professionals need to know and understand this material.'"

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Teachers will be sacked and children will be indoctrinated with gay rights propaganda if same sex marriage bill goes through

The Daily Telegraph carried a front-page story this week saying that the Government is ‘powerless’ to stop teachers getting sacked if they refuse to endorse same-sex marriage.

It quotes a senior source at the Department for Education admitting that the UK is not ‘in control’ and that European judges will have the final say.

We knew that teachers were under threat, but now we know the Government secretly thinks so too.

The Coalition for Marriage (C4M) recently published a legal opinion from leading QC Aidan O’Neill (summary here) confirming that one of the major impacts of David Cameron’s new law allowing same sex marriage would be in the classroom.

It says that the law will require that children learn about gay marriage in sex education lessons.

This is because Section 403(1A)(a) of the Education Act 1996 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State ‘to issue guidance’ ensuring that pupils ‘learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’.

If gay marriage becomes law then ‘its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’ must be taught as part of sex education.

In addition, if gay marriage is taught within schools outside sex education, Mr O’Neill says that parents would have ‘little prospects of success’ in claiming a legal right to withdraw children from such lessons.

The Coalition for Marriage has now published a new report giving details of exactly the sort of material our children will be reading.

Gay Rights Activist group Stonewall has already produced a recommended reading list for primary and secondary schools aimed at normalising lesbian and gay families.

Titles include ‘King and King’, ‘Mom and Mum are getting married’, ‘Daddy, Papa and Me’, ‘Daddy’s roommate’, ‘Josh and Jaz have three mums’ and ‘Mommy, mama and me’.

Countering stigma for vulnerable children is one thing, but attempting to engineer and reshape children’s values and worldviews is quite another altogether.

A teacher training guide, also produced by Stonewall, suggests that primary school children could perform some of the storybooks as school plays.

An accompanying teacher training DVD produced by Stonewall, with support from the taxpayer-funded Training and Development Agency for Schools, suggests that pupils must become ‘resilient’ to the values of their parents and grandparents.

This is in reference to some parents and grandparents who may have objections to issues such as gay marriage.

In 2009, Muslim and Christian parents in Waltham Forest, East London, were threatened with prosecution for withdrawing their children from primary schools lessons that used the gay marriage story book, ‘King & King’. The council said the withdrawals were ‘unauthorised’ absences and that action would be taken against the parents.

The legal and political pressure to use these books in classrooms will be all the greater if marriage gets redefined. Culture wars about the meaning of marriage shouldn’t be dragged into our schools.

But some extreme local authority somewhere will try to do just that, and woe betide any teacher or parent who objects.

What we have learnt from two of the recent four European court cases involving Christians who lost their jobs for manifesting their faith is that under the Equality Act the right of Christian conscience is trumped by gay rights.

The Bill to redefine marriage was published on 25 January and MPs will vote on it for the first time on Tuesday 5 February.

I hope that these concerns will come up in debate and that MPs who back gay marriage will be around to hear them rather than just mindlessly filing through the ‘yes’ lobby in obedience to ‘unofficial whips’ when it is time to vote.

A national day of prayer has been called for on Sunday 3 February.

Same sex marriages can be ‘open’ marriages because ‘adultery’ will not legally exist

It has long been suspected that same sex marriage is a legal can of worms.

But David Cameron's new proposed same sex marriage law may change the nature of marriage beyond even his wildest imaginings.

Currently marriage and same sex civil partnerships are dealt with under two different types of legislation.

The formalities of marriage are predominantly governed by the Marriage Act 1949, the Marriage Act 1983 and the Marriage (Registrar General's Licence) Act 1970.

By contrast the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA 2004) defines civil partnership as a formal legal relationship between two people of the same sex but gives same-sex couples virtually all of the rights and privileges of married couples.

The President of the Family Division has even described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’.

There are however some differences in English law, between a marriage and a civil partnership, but these differences focus not on the rights they confer, but on the genders of the partners, the procedure and place where the partnership is formed, and the roles of consummation and adultery in making and breaking the relationship.

These differences are there because they are different types of relationship. It is not ‘one size fits all’.

Currently same-sex couples cannot get married and opposite-sex couples cannot form civil partnerships.

One of the most intriguing mysteries about David Cameron’s plans to redefine marriage to include same sex couples was always therefore going to be how he would deal with ‘consummation’ and ‘adultery’.

At present a marriage can be declared void if it is not ‘consummated’. And if necessary, whether consummation has been achieved needs to be determined by medical examination. But how is a lesbian or gay marriage to be consummated? Interesting question!

In the same way adultery is grounds for divorce, but the legal definition of adultery is based on (how does one say this politely?) a certain kind of genital contact. So how exactly do lesbian or gay couples commit adultery? Or are the consummation and adultery definitions just to be dropped?

This is important because when a marriage breaks down, and the bickering over who has a right to what begins (in terms of possessions, money, children etc), then the outcome could depend, at least in part, on whether or not the marriage has been consummated and whether or not there has been adultery.

So how would Cameron deal with this problem?

Well now that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has been published we finally know.

There will be no consummation or adultery for same sex couples.

The explanatory notes are more explicit than the Bill itself on this point with respect to consummation:

‘108. Paragraph 4 [of Part 3] amends section 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act. The effect of this amendment is that non-consummation (either by reason of incapacity or wilful refusal) cannot be a ground on which a marriage is voidable for a same sex couple. The provisions for opposite sex couples remain unaltered.’

And adultery? Well it will simply not exist for same sex couples.

Under the Government's draft Bill only infidelity between a man and a woman constitutes adultery.

So while the law would give same-sex couples the right to marry, they would not be able to divorce their partner on the basis of adultery if their spouse went on to be unfaithful - unless they cheated with somebody of the opposite sex.

It also states that a straight person who discovered their husband or wife had a lover of the same-sex could not accuse their unfaithful partner of adultery in a divorce court.

So what does this mean?

First that this supposed equal marriage for same sex couples is not equal at all because in traditional marriage there is consummation and adultery and in same sex marriage there is not.

Second, this will mean that as soon as the ink is dry on the new law – assuming it passes – it will be ripe for attacks by people who might want, for whatever reason, to abolish consummation and adultery for traditional marriage as well on grounds of equality.

Imagine the following scenario. A man marries a wealthy heiress with no intention to consummate – she dies and the man claims his inheritance. The Estate argues that the heiress was in the process of getting an annulment for non-consummation. The man says he is being discriminated against because he is a heterosexual. If he was gay there is no requirement for consummation – what about his human rights?

According to the Daily Mail, lawyers and MPs have already argued that the distinction over adultery - which arose after Government legal experts failed to agree on what constitutes sex between same-sex couples - would cause confusion.

They warned it would create inequality between heterosexual and homosexual married couples who found themselves in the divorce courts, and said it would likely result in adultery being abolished altogether as a grounds for divorce.

Third, it means that same-sex marriages will, in effect, be legal open marriages. As long as both partners consent in a same sex marriage, each of them can have as many sexual partners as they choose, as long as they are all of the same sex, without actually ever committing adultery. This may actually suit some couples but it completely alters the meaning of marriage which is based on sexual faithfulness.

In fact since one is married without consummation, the situation might arise where a married member of a same sex couple could have sex with any number of people he is not married to (provided they are of the same sex) without ever committing adultery (because it doesn’t exist for same sex marriages) and without ever actually having sex with his or her married partner.

So for same sex couples, sex will be legally uncoupled from marriage altogether. And if there is a legal challenge on the basis of equality, the same thing may follow for traditional marriage.

I wonder if anyone has yet explained this to David Cameron?

I suspect he may be in for a few extra late night briefing before second reading on 5 February.

Please join day of prayer for marriage on 3 February as campaign reaches crucial period

The House of Commons will debate and vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at second reading on Tuesday 5 February.

If the bill passes that hurdle it will then proceed to committee stage and then third reading which will take place around May.

If it passes through the Commons it will then have to negotiate the House of Lords.

This week I was a joint signatory to a letter calling churches to a day of prayer on Sunday 3 February, which was signed by the CEOs of four organisations – Christian Institute, Christian Concern, CARE and CMF.

A very similar letter has been sent out to all supporters of the Evangelical Alliance.

The reasons for opposing this measure, the myths about same sex marriage, the damage it will do to civil liberties and the stories of people already punished under its legal principles have been previously documented on this blog.

The key objections from a Christian perspective have been concisely summarised this week by Archbishop Peter Smith.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear friend,

Please will you pray earnestly as we enter a crucial period in the campaign to defend the true meaning of marriage?

And can you encourage your church to join our national day of prayer for marriage on Sunday 3 February?

Any day now, we expect the Government to introduce its Bill which seeks to redefine marriage.

But the Bill can’t become law unless it is backed by Parliament – and that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

On the day that the bill is introduced the Government may very well go on a charm offensive, telling the media that people who believe in traditional marriage have nothing to worry about.

But we know that’s not the case. European judges have recently shown that people who believe in traditional marriage can be forced out of their jobs.

On Tuesday 5 Feb, we expect MPs to have the first opportunity to debate and vote on the Bill at what’s called the ‘Second Reading’ stage.

That date may change but, whenever it comes, it may turn out to be a crucial moment in the whole campaign.

We don’t need an outright win at this stage – so don’t worry if the Bill passes this first hurdle – but it is important that as many MPs as possible vote ‘no’.

A healthy ‘no’ vote, even if it’s not an outright majority, will put added pressure on the Government to drop its plans to redefine marriage.

So that’s why we are asking for your prayers. Please pray:

•That marriage will not be redefined, and that real marriage will be promoted in society for the good of all.

•That as many MPs as possible will vote against the Bill to redefine marriage.

•For David Burrowes MP and others, as they lead opposition to the Government’s plans in the House of Commons.

•For the Coalition for Marriage group as it campaigns to defend the true meaning of marriage.

•For politicians and others in public life to have the courage to stand up for what is right and true.

•For the news media, that they would report the issue widely, fairly, and accurately.

•That the true consequences of redefining marriage would be publicly known and properly discussed.

•That people would not face discrimination, in the workplace or elsewhere, because of their sincere beliefs about marriage.

Open prayer is encouraged, but this written prayer may also be of help:

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the gift of marriage which you established at the dawn of time, to be a blessing for all generations throughout the earth, down through the ages.

We pray that you would fill each and every marriage with your love and grace, and that every husband and wife would know the joy that comes from sharing and giving.

We thank you for establishing marriage to be a secure and stable environment for raising children.

We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow. We pray, as you have commanded us, for those in positions of civil authority.

We pray that our Government will act with wisdom and righteousness, upholding marriage as the voluntary union of one man to one woman for life, for the good of all people.

We pray for forgiveness for our nation, as our Government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray that these plans would fail.

And we pray for ourselves, that we would speak out in support of marriage with gentleness and kindness, but also with courage and confidence.

In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we pray.

Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Nola Leach (CEO, CARE)

Andrea Minichiello Williams (CEO, Christian Concern)

Colin Hart (CEO, The Christian Institute)

Dr Peter Saunders (CEO, Christian Medical Fellowship)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Self-help books for depression – brilliant new tools for doctors, pastors and patients

A top health story on the BBC this last week has highlighted a new study showing that prescribing self-help books on the NHS is an effective treatment for depression.

Patients offered books, plus sessions guiding them in how to use them, had lower levels of depression a year later than those offered usual GP care.

The effect was seen in addition to the benefits of other treatments such as antidepressants.

The BBC summarises the findings as follows:

‘More than 200 patients who had been diagnosed with depression by their GP took part in the study, half of whom were also on antidepressant drugs.

Some were provided with a self-help guide dealing with different aspects of depression, such as being assertive or overcoming sleep problems.

Patients also had three sessions with an adviser who helped them get the most out of the books and plan what changes to make.

After four months those who had been prescribed the self-help books had significantly lower levels of depression than those who received usual GP care.

A year later, those in the self-help group were more likely to be keeping on top of their depression.’


Study leader Prof Christopher Williams, from the University of Glasgow, who also wrote the books under the series title ‘Overcoming Depression and Low Mood’, said the guided sessions were the key to getting people engaged.

The sessions can be delivered in general practice without referral to a specialist, taking pressure off waiting lists.

In Scotland, a telephone support service has now been set up to help support those using the books, which can be freely copied and disseminated.

You can read the full study itself on Plos one

This is an extraordinary breakthrough given the high incidence of depression, the expense of treating it with drugs and the huge waiting lists for CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) on the NHS.

Self-help books give GPs a third effective referral avenue (after CBT and drugs) that is cheap, effective and readily accessible.

Dr Paul Blenkiron, consultant in adult psychiatry at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said the results showed that guided self-help is effective and is ‘something the NHS should be investing in’.

He is currently advising on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, on a National Books On Prescription Scheme, to be rolled out across UK public libraries this year.

It is unfortunate that the BBC article doesn’t provide links to the actual books used in the study but Professor Williams was using his own ‘Five Areas’ series.

The key title ‘Overcoming Depression and Low Mood’ can be purchased on Amazon for £22.29 and for £21.99 on the Five Areas website. It is also available in Polish and Dutch.

You can also buy individual booklets - ten for just £15 via the website - or pick and choose from such provocative titles as ‘Ten things you can do to feel happier straight away’, ‘I can’t be bothered doing anything’ and ‘How to fix almost anything’.

There is a massive range of titles which apply the principles to various destructive patterns of thought and behaviour.

A clinicians guide to using the ‘Five Areas’ approach sells on Amazon for £23.74 but is available via Amazon from other suppliers for as little as £17-18.

Every GP practice should make sure that it has at least one.

Christian readers will be interested to know that Professor Williams is also a Christian and has written a similar book for Christians called ‘I’m not supposed to feel like this’ which provides a Christian view on anxiety and depression, and is written for sufferers and their carers as well as providing practical help for church leaders.

An empowering and practical response to feelings of depression, this book is in the style of a workbook, with constant reference to the Bible and the example of Jesus.

It is available for £9 on the CMF website.

You can read a review by a Christian psychiatrist here.

Jesus Christ said that the truth would set us free and the Apostle Paul talked about ‘taking thoughts captive’.

CBT and self-help books build on just these principles – helping people to reject self-destructive and enslaving thought patterns and to think and act in ways that lead to freedom and flourishing.

This particular series is both biblically sound and evidence based.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Six helpful resources for those seeking an evangelical Christian perspective on homosexuality

Because of the bias of the liberal press, Steve Chalke’s recent endorsement of permanent gay partnerships and the extreme unorthodox views of the ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ group, to which he belongs, have had an unhelpfully disproportionate amount of media coverage.

Many Christians are understandably confused.

I received this letter this week which I think is not an atypical experience.

I am publishing it anonymously with permission and have removed the name of the church.

‘My husband and I worship at a leading conservative evangelical Anglican church and we value the teaching we receive there. Our adult children come from different angles, one from a traditional evangelical church in London, the other from a more liberal Christian background. The recent Steve Chalke article will highlight the differences in our views. I have tried to find support for the evangelical views to enable us to discuss this from an informed evangelical point of view. Your blog has been useful but I wonder if you have any further areas you could direct us to? I would appreciate any help you can offer.’

So, here are some articles and resources that I hope are helpful (each title is hyperlinked)

1.A battle I face


Vaughan Roberts is Rector of St Ebbes Church in Oxford and a popular Christian author and conference speaker with an international ministry. He has also struggled personally with feelings of same-sex attraction. This testimony was published in Evangelicals Now last year and is clear, biblical, passionate and pastoral.

2.How can the Gospel be good news to gays?

Sam Alberry is associate pastor at St Mary’s Church in Maidenhead. This brief article is clear and compassionate taking a firm biblical stance on the issue but arguing that people with homosexual orientation need more grace and not less.

3.The Bible and Homosexuality

Greg Downes is theologian in residence at Christianity Magazine. This article which unpacks a traditional evangelical understanding of homosexuality appeared initially as part of a head to head with Steve Chalke but it has had very little publicity. It is an excellent overview of the main Scriptures and links to a longer article going into more detail.

4.Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality

This new book, published last summer by the Evangelical Alliance gives ten affirmations clearly setting out EA’s position on the subject. In explaining these affirmations it reviews biblical and scientific material and explores the pastoral outworking of an evangelical position. It will especially be of help to church leaders and pastoral workers as well as those with same-sex attraction seeking to live faithfully as Christian disciples.

5.Unwanted same sex attraction

This booklet was published just over a year ago by Christian Medical Fellowship and is jointly written by an evangelical theologian and a professor in psychiatry. It sets out a framework for Christian ministry among people with same-sex attraction which is psychologically rigorous, theologically orthodox and pastorally sensitive.

6.Homosexuality

This is an article in the CMF File series which gives a basic overview of the subject of homosexuality from both a Christian and Medical perspective. Although I wrote it ten years ago before the Equality Act most of the material is still very much up to date. It is available in photocopiable pdf format so makes a useful handout.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Silencing the Sirens - A lesson from Greek mythology about resisting temptation

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and devious creatures, portrayed as femmes fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.

Odysseus was curious as to what the Sirens sang to him, so, on Circe's advice, he had all of his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast.

He ordered his men to leave him tied tightly to the mast, no matter how much he would beg.

When he heard their beautiful singing, he ordered the sailors to untie him but they bound him tighter and would not release him until they had passed out of earshot.

In Argonautica, Jason had been warned by Chiron that Orpheus would be necessary in his journey. When Orpheus heard the Sirens’ voices, he drew out his lyre and played his music more beautifully than they, drowning out their voices.

By the fourth century, when pagan beliefs were vanquished by Christianity, belief in literal sirens was discouraged but Sirens continued to be used as a symbol for the dangerous temptation embodied by women regularly throughout Christian art of the medieval era.

Odysseus and Orpheus both demonstrate valid approaches to temptation.

Odysseus did not trust either himself or his men to withstand it so blocked out its source (earplugs) and arranged things so he was unable to respond even though he found it overwhelming. He also enlisted his men’s help, so that when his own resistance failed him, they were able to keep him out of harm’s way.

Jesus metaphorically points to a similar approach when he calls his disciples to cut out of their lives those things which cause them to sin. Joseph also took this route with Potiphar’s wife, running from the house to escape temptation.

Orpheus on the other hand countered temptation by playing music better than that of the Sirens themselves. He drowned out the overwhelming desire by diverting Jason’s men’s attentions with something even more desirable.

There is a popular Christian song which underlines just this approach.

‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things on earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace’.

Filling our minds with thoughts of Jesus – his character, power and beauty – makes all other passions fade into darkness in comparison.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself, who ‘has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin’ (4:15), ‘endured the cross, scorning its shame’ because of ‘the joy set before him’ (12:2).

In other words, even in Gethsemenae and on the path to the cross, he reminded himself of what his death and resurrection was going to achieve in saving sinners and the joy of it drove him on through the rejection and pain. He was doing it for us.

So, as the writer of Hebrews encourages us, ‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (4:16)

And we have God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (one of the first five memory verses in the Navigators’ memory pack) that God provides a way out with every temptation:

‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’

That way of escape might be blocking out the tempting perception or arranging friends to look out for us – like Odysseus - or drowning it out with the sheer joy of a greater godly passion – like Orpheus - for God himself and the joy of serving him.

Either way, we can be confident with every temptation we face, that there is an accessible way through, by God's grace.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Anal cancer rise in gay men prompts calls for vaccinations

The BMA has called for the HPV immunisation programme to be widened to include gay men, in an effort to tackle ‘alarming’ rates of HPV-related disease.

According to a report this week in Pulse Magazine, Colm O’Mahony, chair of the BMA’s dermatology and venereology subcommittee and BMA public health committee co-chair Penelope Toff have written to health minister Anna Soubry supporting offering the Gardasil vaccine to gay men.

The BMA letter said that although it would be difficult to identify young gay men for a vaccine programme, the HPV vaccine could be administered at genitourinary medicine clinics or community sexual health clinics, perhaps as an add-on vaccination for patients receiving a hepatitis B vaccination.

The letter added that ‘the increasing incidence of HPV and development of anal lesions in gay men, particularly HIV positive gay men, is alarming... We believe that a vaccination programme with Gardasil which included this group would be of enormous benefit in reducing the increasing incidences of anal warts, anal pre-cancers and cancers, as has been borne out in Australia.’

However a Department of Health spokesperson said that there are currently no plans to extend HPV vaccination to males, based on an assessment of available scientific evidence.

What the Pulse article doesn’t do is to enlarge on the little-known link between anal intercourse, HPV and anal cancer.

Here are some facts.

Anal cancer is rare in the general population but its incidence is on the rise for homosexual men.

In the United Kingdom, about 1,100 people are diagnosed with anal cancer each year.

The survival prospects depend very much on the stage at diagnosis but overall 25-40% of people diagnosed with anal cancer will die within five years.

Sexual activity, especially with multiple sex partners, is a recognised risk factor due to the increased risk of exposure to the HPV virus.

Receptive anal intercourse, whether male or female, increases the chances of anal cancer sevenfold due to HPV.

Those who engage in anal intercourse with multiple partners are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than those who don't, if their insertive partners are infected with the HPV virus.

The incidence of anal cancer is also ten times higher in the HIV-positive population than in the female population in general.

A 2012 review reports that human papillomavirus 16 (HPV16) is causally associated with approximately 70% of anal cancers and this cancer is markedly increasing among homosexual men.

Based on a study in Denmark and Sweden it is estimated that 90% of anal cancers are attributable to HPV, as HPV types other than HPV16 are also involved.

About 35 in every 100,000 homosexual men develop anal cancer, compared to less than one in every 100,000 heterosexual men.

It's currently unclear whether anal cancer screening benefits men who have sex with men because high-quality studies on this subject are lacking.

These facts are all easily accessible in the public domain to anyone who cares to look but it is very unlikely that you will ever see them reported together. This is partly because the subject is so politically charged.

Anal intercourse is a high risk behaviour which has serious consequences for health. This is equally true whether the 'passive' partner is a man or a woman.

The reason that HPV and anal cancer are so common and rising in the male homosexual population is because of the frequency of anal intercourse and the associated level of promiscuity.

It is of course no longer politically correct to say so, but the male sex organ was beautifully designed for a particular purpose. If one uses it for a purpose other than that for which it was designed then it is not surprising that there are adverse health consequences.

I wonder amidst all the talk about vaccines just how many doctors are as honest with their patients about the cancer risks of anal intercourse as they are about the cancer risks of other high risk behaviours like smoking, obesity, under-exercise and eating too much fat.

I suspect not many. It is an issue where I suspect many doctors are either ignorant, in denial or too afraid to speak.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Steve Chalke affirms same sex partnerships

Controversial Baptist Minister Steve Chalke, who recently joined the ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ Group, which endorses gay marriage, has now written an article for 'Christianity' magazine, in which he more publicly confirms his support for ‘exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships’.

The Times reports (£) that he ‘changed his own mind, not just through personal opinion and experience, but as part of his growing understanding of the Christian Bible’.

He says that he ‘has written a special liturgy for gay partnerships’ that he has published on his Oasis charity website along with ‘a full evangelical exegesis of his pro-gay stance’.

Chalke's arguments run along similar lines to those of ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ leader Benny Hazlehurst, which I reviewed last weekend in more detail.

Chalke is no stranger to controversy, having previously described the biblical doctrine of ‘penal substitution’, whereby Jesus takes the punishment for our sins, as a form of ‘cosmic child abuse’.

Many evangelicals would argue that he has been moving away from an evangelical position on key doctrines for some years and that this latest announcement is simply a further step down this path.

This latest move will no doubt endear him to gay rights activists, the liberal press and the Prime Minister and has clearly been planned to impact on the imminent government debate on the gay marriage bill.

It will not however be welcomed by the vast majority of the country’s two million evangelicals and I expect the Evangelical Alliance will quickly distance itself from Chalke’s position (They now have - see here)

Greg Downes has outlined the traditional evangelical position alongside Chalke's piece in 'Christianity'.

The arguments of the ‘Accepting Evangelicals group have been ably refuted in a variety of recent works, and most recently in the Evangelical Alliance’s excellent summer 2012 publication ‘Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality’ which is available on the EA website and summarised here.

CMF’s recent publication ‘Unwanted same sex attraction’ reviews pastoral approaches in helping Christians who experience same sex erotic attraction or recognise that they have a homosexual orientation and I have myself covered this issue before on this blog.

See Evangelical Alliance's response to Steve Chalke here

Other coverage and reaction

Not radical enough - Steve Clifford
Homosexuality and hermeneutics - Steve Holmes
The Bible and homosexuality - Greg Downes
Christianity Today
Telegraph
Ekklesia
Huffington Post
Independent
Guardian


Catholic midwives appeal court ruling forcing them to supervise abortions

Two Roman Catholic midwives who lost a legal battle to avoid taking part in abortion procedures have launched an appeal at the Court of Session.

The outcome of the case will be crucial in defining the scope of the conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act and a ruling is expected in the spring.

Last February Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, had argued that being forced to supervise Glasgow health board staff taking part in abortions violated their human rights.

But a judge ruled that since they were not directly involved in terminations they did not have a right to conscientious objection.

The current appeal is taking place before three judges in Edinburgh and could go eventually to the UK Supreme Court.

The midwifery sisters were employed as labour ward co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and had given notice of their conscientious objection under the abortion law many years ago, but became concerned when all medical terminations were moved to the labour ward in 2007.

They claimed that previously they were not called on to delegate, supervise or support staff engaged in the care of patients undergoing terminations.

The midwives had also claimed that the health board decision breached their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.

But last February Lady Smith, the judge, said she was not satisfied that their Article 9 rights were being interfered with and that their right of conscientious objection was not unqualified.

She added that because ‘the nature of their duties’ did not ‘require them to provide treatment to terminate pregnancies directly’ they were not covered by the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act either.

Section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967,’Conscientious objection to participation in treatment’ reads as follows:

'(1) Subject to sub-section (2) of this section, no person shall be under any duty whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.'

The full scope of this clause has not been fully tested in the courts but centres around what meaning is given to the word ‘participate’. Whilst it is clear that it covers those directly involved in the abortion itself, the Janaway case ruling (see note below) held that it did not cover a receptionist who refused to type an abortion referral letter.

Lady Smith ruled that it did not cover those who are asked to ‘delegate, supervise or support’ staff carrying out abortions either.

Part of the problem is that the Royal College of Midwives, the trade union for midwives, has gone beyond the current letter of the law in its interpretation but it remains to be seen how much this stance will influence the current ruling.

The RCM guidance says:

‘The RCM believes that the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause should only include direct involvement in the procedure of terminating pregnancy. Thus all midwives should be prepared to care for women before, during and after a termination in a maternity unit under obstetric care.’

This obviously creates real difficulties for anyone with a moral objection put in this position, many of whom (including myself) would view delegation, supervision or support as participation.

The Abortion Act has led to over seven million babies losing their lives since 1967.

But I do not believe that 'supervising' the shedding of innocent blood is an option for Christians, even if the law does not allow us the option of conscientious objection.

I have argued this case in more depth on biblical grounds previously on this blog.

The ruling, when it comes, will create a precedent not just for nurses but quite possibly for doctors also and I will be following the case with great interest.

The legal principle is certainly worth fighting for and, whether they win or lose, by making a stand on this issue, these midwives have set a good example for others to follow and deserve our prayerful support.

'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.' (Matthew 5:10-12)

NOTE: For a thorough explanation of the current law on conscientious objection to abortion see ‘Conscientious objection to abortion - ethics, polemic and law’ by Charles Foster in the CMF journal Triple Helix

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Twenty good arguments for Christianity

Are there any good arguments for Christianity? Of course! That’s why so many intelligent thinking people are Christians.

Are there any good arguments against Christianity? Of course! That’s why so many intelligent thinking people are not Christians.

Recently I posted a list of twelve of the best arguments atheists bring against Christianity.

In listing them, I was not saying that I find any of them particularly convincing (I don’t and none of them have led me personally to doubt any of the teachings of Jesus Christ).

But I do concede that some intelligent people do find them convincing and cite them as reasons why they either lost the Christian faith of their childhood or chose not to believe. This is why I call them ‘good arguments’ – they are good enough to persuade some people.

I have lost count of the number of times atheists have told me that the reason they are not Christians is because there is no evidence that it is true. I get rather tired of hearing this as in my experience those who most vociferously assert it are those who are least interested in examining any evidence that Christians produce.

Over 20 years of working with CMF have taught me that in fact the vast majority of atheists are neither aware of the evidence for Christianity or, if they are, have invested little or no time in evaluating it.

Personally I do not know any Christians who have not made their decision to follow Christ on the basis of some evidence or another. Anyone in this category is welcome to confess it below but I am not holding my breath.

In this post I list some of the main arguments that have convinced Christians to embrace Christianity and give their lives to the service of Jesus Christ. In the interests of (relative) brevity I have stopped at 20 but I could have gone on and on….

I have tried to explain each argument as briefly as possible but many books could, and indeed have, been written on each one.

If you are a Christian then let us know which ones have been most important in convincing you to follow Christ.

If you are an atheist please let us know which, if any, have made you consider the possibility that Christianity might be true, or which you have found least convincing.

Also, are there any important ones that you think I have left out? Anonymous posts are welcome.

1.The uniqueness of Jesus Christ
The life, teaching, extraordinary claims and miracles of Jesus Christ as recorded by eyewitnesses are best explained by him being God incarnate: the creator and sustainer of the universe who took on human flesh.

2.Jesus death and resurrection
All historical records are agreed on the facts that Jesus was killed, that his dead body disappeared, that the disciples claimed to have seen him alive and that the church grew rapidly in the belief that he had been resurrected. His actual bodily resurrection in space-time history remains the best explanation for these observations.

3.The manuscript evidence for the New Testament
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are by far the best attested events in all antiquity in terms of the number of manuscripts recording them and the closeness in time of those hand-written records to the events they describe.

4.The uniqueness of the Bible
The uniqueness of the Bible in its continuity, circulation, translation, survival, teachings and influence along with its internal consistency despite consisting of 66 books written by over 40 authors on three continents over 1,500 years defies simple explanation and is fully consistent with its claim to be divine revelation.

5.Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in Christ
The 39 books that make up the Old Testament contain several hundred references to the coming Messiah concerning his life, death and resurrection which were written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth but were fulfilled during his life and confirm his credentials as the promised Messiah.

6.Biblical prophecy fulfilled in history
The hundreds of predictive prophecies in the Old Testament and New Testaments about the fate of nations, empires and cities are consistent with supernatural revelation from a God outside the space-time continuum (Tyre, Sidon, Samaria, Gaza, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Israel).

7.The uniqueness of the Christian experience
The shared testimony of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by millions of people from diverse cultures, nations, personalities, professions and time periods is unparalleled by any other ideology and consistent with the existence of a God with a universal attraction to all kinds of human beings. Each testifies to finding peace, forgiveness, the power to change and new meaning, hope and purpose through Christ's death and resurrection.

8.The origin of the universe
Everything that began to exist has a cause and it is now virtually undisputed that the universe had a beginning. Any cause would have to be outside the material universe so would be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal and all powerful – characteristics shared by the God of the Bible.

9.The fine tuning of the universe
In order for the universe to come into being and allow intelligent life to exist, it required an astonishing series of ‘coincidences’ to have occurred. The probability that the six dimensionless constants (N, Epsilon, Omega, Lambda, Q & D) would be tuned in such a way as to allow this is infinitesimally small and the phenomenon is best explained by intelligent design.

10.Biological complexity
Whilst it is widely recognised that random gene mutation, genetic drift and natural selection can account for a degree of biological descent with modification (evolution) the mechanisms by which proteins, DNA, unicellular organisms and new body plans could have arisen remain unexplained. Blind chance and necessity alone are unable to account for the biological complexity that we observe on planet earth and these phenomena point to intelligent design.

11.The rationality of the universe
The universe operates according to physical laws which are not merely regularities in nature but also mathematically precise, universal, ‘tied together’ and rationally intelligible. These phenomena point to the existence of what Einstein called ‘superior mind’, illimitable superior spirit’, ‘superior reasoning force’ and ‘mysterious force that moves the constellations’ and are fully consistent with the teachings of Christian theism.

12.The human mind
Human experience of free will, consciousness, self-awareness, conscience and a sense of meaning, purpose and destiny are all very difficult to explain within a purely materialist world view (ie. the belief that nothing exists apart from matter, chance and time). These phenomena point to, and are consistent with, a reality existing beyond the material world and are consistent with the biblical teaching that human beings are made in the image of God.

13.The explanatory power of the Christian world view
The Christian theistic world view described by the parameters of creation, fall, redemption and consummation has considerable explanatory power in accounting for the existence of human complexity, creativity, love, suffering, disease, evil and hope.

14.The universality of spiritual belief and experience
The universal belief in, and experience of, a spiritual reality beyond the material world and in the existence of other intelligent beings in addition to human beings (gods, spirits, angels, demons, ghosts etc), along with the proliferation of different religions, is consistent with the Christian world view including the existence of a Devil whose intention is to deceive people into believing anything but the truth.

15.The moral law
The universality of moral beliefs and conscience, and the similarities of moral codes across times, continents and cultures, point to the existence of moral laws and a supernatural law giver. The moral laws outline in the Decalogue (ten commandments) encapasulate these principles of respect for life, marriage, property and truth and their observance leads to more stable and enduring societies. These observations are consistent with the existence of a moral God who has designed human society to operate according to moral norms and who reveals moral principles.

16.Lives changed by Christian faith
The power of Christian faith and prayer to change behaviour and improve human functioning in restoring the lives of those suffering from addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography and other enslaving activities or in reforming antisocial and criminal behaviour and strengthening marriages, families and societies is unparalleled.

17.Christian reformation of society
The reformation of British society in the 19th century (and many similar phenomena elsewhere in the world throughout history) through such moves as the abolition of slavery, child labour, child prostitution, prison reform and the establishment of schools and hospitals through the work of Wilberforce, Booth, Fry, the Clapham Sect and others was largely the result of the evangelical revival of the 18th century and lends strong support to the existence of a redemptive supernatural God who changes and shapes human lives and societies.

18.The work of Christian missions
The development of education, healthcare and societal reform in the developing world owes a great deal to the work of Christian missionaries motivate by the love of Christ who underwent great hardship and made great sacrifices to assist and empower those marginalised through ignorance, superstition or poverty. If Christianity were true we would expect it also to result in demonstrable good across nations and cultures.

19.The plausibility of Christian eschatology
The emergence of a one-world government under the leadership of an antichrist, antagonistic to God, based on the worship and pursuit of material things, strongly opposing Christian faith, dominating through economic control and resulting in massive environmental destruction seems increasingly plausible given recent historical experience and the current trajectory of world history.

20.The phenomenon of Israel
The history, laws, influence and endurance of the nation of Israel through over 4,000 years of world history whilst world empires have come and gone, the maintenance of its national identity and central place in world affairs through war, persecution and holocaust, its recent restoration to Palestine and the educational and cultural achievements of its people are unparalleled but fully consistent with its special status as described in the biblical record and teaching of Jesus Christ.

I am happy to post links to responses to these twenty arguments on this blog on request:

Responses

1. Dan Abrahmsen - Arguments 1-10

2. Dan Abrahmsen - Arguments 11-20

3. 'Cephus' - Arguments 1-20

Situation ethics is alive and well amongst British evangelicals


I was recently out for a meal with a friend, with whom I have a great deal in common, who told me that he/she disagreed with me about three things.

While I was inwardly shaking my head with astonishment at ‘only three’(!) my friend informed me that the three things in question were abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality.

Now I suspect that there are several billion people on the planet currently who disagree with me on more than one of these things but if I told you that the friend in question was an evangelical Christian and a Bible college lecturer I wonder what your reaction would be.

If you are at all familiar with the Evangelical Alliance survey on evangelical belief you would probably not be that surprised.

EA surveyed 17,000 ‘evangelicals’, mainly at conferences like New Wine and Spring Harvest, in 2010 and published the results in January 2011 (summary here and full survey here).

Amongst the questions were one on each of (you guessed it) abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality.

Participants were asked if they agreed or disagreed with each of the following three statements

1.Abortion can never be justified
2.Assisted suicide is always wrong
3.Homosexual actions are always wrong

I have extracted the results and posted them on this blog.


Now one might imagine that those evangelicals who attend conferences like New Wine and Spring Harvest would be a more serious and committed subset of evangelicals generally.

One might also expect them to be fairly black and white on ethics – especially with respect to killing and sexual immorality.

But that is not the case at all. Because the above three statements were supported by only 37%, 60% and 73% respectively.

In other words – 63% of British evangelicals do not agree that abortion can never be justified, 40% do not agree that assisted suicide is always wrong and 27% do not agree that homosexual actions are always wrong.

Now, although I have no data to support it, I suspect if mid 19th-century evangelicals had been asked the same questions a much greater proportion would have agreed with all three statements.

So why the change?

Well obviously the prevailing culture has shifted hugely on these questions. But this should not necessarily account for the quantum shift amongst Bible-believing Christians. What explains this?

An anonymous evangelical theologian has blamed it on the rise of Darwinism and humanism.

I’m sure there is a lot of truth in this along with the decline in Bible (and especially Old Testament) reading generally.

But I suspect another powerful ingredient is the way that evangelical Christians are taught (or not taught) to think about ethics - in particular the rise in popularity of what is called ‘situation ethics’.

Situational ethics (see also here) is a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by the then Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher.

Fletcher taught Christian Ethics at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Harvard Divinity School from 1944 to 1970 and wrote ten books and hundreds of articles, book reviews, and translations.

Interestingly, he later identified himself as an atheist and was active in the Euthanasia Society of America, the American Eugenics Society and was one of the signatories to the Humanist Manifesto.

Situation ethics basically states that other moral principles can be cast aside in certain situations if love is best served; as Paul Tillich once put it: ‘Love is the ultimate law’.

The moral principles Fletcher was specifically referring to were the moral codes of Christianity and the type of love he is specifically referring to is ‘agape’ love.

Fletcher believed that in forming an ethical system based on love, he was best expressing the notion of ‘love thy neighbour’, which Jesus Christ taught in the Gospels.

He believed that there are no absolute laws other than the law of ‘agape’ love, meaning that all the other laws are only guidelines to how to achieve this love, and could be broken if an alternative course of action would result in more love.

In effectively divorcing ‘agape’ love from moral law Fletcher was steering a subtly different path from Jesus himself.

Jesus indeed said (Matthew 22:34-40) that the most important commands in the Old Testament Law were love of God and neighbour (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). In fact he said these summed up the whole of Old Testament Law (Matthew 22:40 and Luke 10:25-28). Furthermore he criticised the Pharisees for obeying the less important parts of the law (tithing mint and cumin) whilst neglecting the ‘more important matters of… justice, mercy and faithfulness’.

But he also said that ‘anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:19) and reproved the Pharisees by saying that they should have ‘practised the latter’ (important commandments) ‘without neglecting the former’ (lesser commandments).

Certainly there is no place in the Gospels where Jesus implies that those commandments which deal with killing and sexual immorality (numbers 6 and 7 of the ten commandments) should be disobeyed.

By contrast he exhorts his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount to go beyond the mere legalities of ‘you shall not murder’ (6) and ‘you shall not commit adultery’ (7) to embody the very spirit of love which undergirds them. Not only no murder or adultery but no hate or lust either! (Matthew 5:21-30).

It is this more exacting moral standard that underlies the ethical teaching in the epistles. Christians are exhorted to be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and God (Ephesians 5:1&2), to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6) and to ‘abstain from sinful desires’ (1 Peter 1:11).

In short we are to live by the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2) and to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34-35). And love of Jesus means obedience to Jesus (John 14:15,21 and 15:12).

This is not to say that we are saved in any sense by good works (Galatians 2:15,16 and Ephesians 2:8,9). We are saved by grace through faith. But nonetheless we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10 and Titus 2:14) and they are part of the evidence of saving faith (James 2:14-26).

Furthermore the Bible is very clear that judgement is on the basis of works (Revelation 20:12, 21:8, 22:15).

Obedience to Christ is of course only possible by God’s grace but Christians are nonetheless called to obey him. In fact the heart of the great commission, sadly so often distorted into merely an exhortation to evangelise, is to ‘make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19, 20).

So whilst we may say that there are situations where choosing not to kill or to indulge in sexual immorality requires great grace, courage, restraint and self-sacrifice, there are no situations where one may choose to kill or to do something sexually immoral and claim to be acting in love.

If Christ had been directly tempted in such a way, and indeed he must have been if he was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15) we can imagine him answering as he did in the wilderness, ‘It is written, “you shall not murder”, “you shall not commit adultery”’.

By my reading Situation Ethics is a distortion of biblical ethical teaching. It is, in short, heresy. But it is a heresy that appears to be very much alive and well amongst British evangelicals in the 21st century, which of course brings us back to the three issues which prompted this blog post: abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual practice.

Can anyone build a biblical case for them? If so then let’s hear it. But if not, then let’s ensure that evangelical Christians, who are supposed to believe in the authority of the Bible, are taught that there are no situations in which they can be deemed right.

This is turn will prompt us to work harder in providing godly and compassionate alternatives for those situations where we are tempted to embrace these courses of action.