Garry will be starting a new series looking at topical issues (‘Talking Point’) next Sunday evening. There are all kinds of issues facing us today which may seem bewildering and confusing. Where do Christians stand on abortion and euthanasia – and why? What does the Bible have to say about gay marriage? What can God know about modern science?
The Bible is relevant to us today and can help us to think through difficult issues. Come along to find out more!
Garry’s ‘Talking Point’ sermon tonight looked at the subject of celebrity culture. Celebrities seem to enjoy incredible importance and influence in the Western world, be they film stars, sportspeople, talent show winners or Internet celebrities.
Their fame,wealth and success are things ordinary people aspire to; indeed, many young people today cite ‘being famous’ as their life goal, even if they have no idea what they want to do to achieve fame! Often, this failure to achieve celebrity status breeds resentment and a sense of failure, but social media can create the illusion of fame even for the most ordinary of people. Some will go to extraordinarily dubious lengths to achieve fame (e.g. the Ukrainian mobster, Leonid “Tarzan” Fainberg, whose ‘claim to fame’ was as a sex trafficker who said, “You can buy a woman for $10,000 and make your money back in a week if she is pretty and young. Then everything else is profit.”)
What is also significant today is the increasingly varied roles that celebrities play in contemporary culture and the cultural authority that they are granted in those roles: we see celebrities serving as heroes, cultural commentators, charity spokespeople, role models and political candidates, to name just a few. It is truly frightening when politics, education, and our most intimate relationships become entertainment left to the dictates of a few celebrities.
Celebrity culture is founded on the Western lie that people have no intrinsic value set by God. If God is thrown out of the equation, then the value or worth of individuals becomes a commodity to be traded and fame and wealth become the values we live by. Katie Price once said, “No one can live without money. Money and religion are the big things, and that’s it, and I stay away from religion. We love to earn money, who doesn’t? It gets you things and it’s security.” Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity’s book ‘Life’s A Pitch’ argued that the most important thing anyone could sell is themselves, which celebrities do with startling success.
Celebrity culture cannot give people the security and worth they all desire, however: only God can do this. Gen 1:26 reminds us people are made in God’s image and mean so much to Him that He sent His only Son to die for them (John 3:16, Gal 2:19-20). Christ gave Himself as a ransom for people (1 Tim 2:5-6). Our worth is priceless; we are worth far more than the market price for a bag of heroin. Dr. Eric R. Pianka may claim people ‘are no better than bacteria’ and can therefore be destroyed on a whim (see here), but the truth is that God places great value on people and we have a hope that cannot be measured by culture. No matter what others say we are worth, God’s value of us gives us dignity, hope and security. We don’t need celebrity endorsements; we have God’s approval, love and grace.
The Bible has much to say about foreigners living in the land of God’s people, with the laws applying to both native born and foreigners equally (Numbers 15:13-16; see also Lev 18:26, Lev 24:16). Foreigners were to be treated well (see Lev 19:10,34; Lev 25:35). Lest anyone think that foreigners are somehow inferior to the native born, we should remember that in the lineage of Jesus, two foreigners are specifically mentioned: Rahab from Jericho and Ruth from Moab (Matt 1:5) The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) also reminds us that Jesus broadened the concept of ‘neighbour’ to include all people.
There are incredible opportunities for Christians to share the love of Christ with immigrants and refugees. Lebanese church leaders Camille and Stefan, for example, are seeing hundreds of Syrian refugees arrive destitute on their church doorstep, turn to Christ, experience miraculous healings and even express gratitude for their trauma – because it has enabled them to discover a God of love. Stefan’s exhortation is worth pondering: ‘I have a word for Europe,’ he says. ‘They are going in millions to Germany, to Britain, to all Europe. You should now move quickly for them, show them love. Tell them about Jesus. If we don’t do it quickly, their hearts will become rocky. There are Islamists there; they will reach them. There are fish; go fishing now. If you wait, they will become sharks later. We need to go quickly and help them before ISIS take them and send them to fight you, and send them back to fight us here. You couldn’t go to Iraq or Syria to reach them, but now God is sending them to you.’
We often feel helpless to do anything, believing that political solutions are beyond our grasp. Change can only start from within. In 2013 the Independent reported that the UK made £12.bn from arms sales to repressive regimes around the world, most of which are in the Middle East and Africa – such behaviour cannot help an already explosive situation. Christians need to be involved with politics and seek to campaign and work for righteousness at all levels. On a personal level, we often feel there is little we can do to effect change. Matt 10:16-17 reminds us of the need for wisdom, but Jesus also commands us to show mercy to all, even those with whom we might feel little affinity (see Luke 10:36-37). We are called to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9) who love even our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). The standard is high.
Garry’s ‘Talking Point’ topic tonight was on the contentious and highly topical issue of immigration, one of the major debating points during the recent EU referendum. Many people in the UK are afraid of the rise in numbers of immigrants and refugees entering the country, often associating these with an Islamic agenda and being angry that these people are ‘taking our jobs’ and using our services (such as the NHS and claiming social security benefits.) Some of the prejudice against immigrants borders on xenophobia and certainly this topic arouses feelings to an extent few others do.
Britain has a long history of people from other countries settling here, most recently Jewish refugees during the period 1930-1940 (70,000) and Hungarian refugees in 1956 when Hungary rose up against Soviet rule. Asian Ugandan refugees fled here from the dictatorship of Idi Amin in 1972 and the Vietnamese boat people fled from the incoming Communist government in the 1970s and 1980s. Kosovar refugees settled here in the 1990s and since 2011 over 5,000 Syrian refugees have fled to the UK. A refugee is someone who flees persecution, conflict or war, whereas a migrant is someone who voluntarily moves to another country, intending to live for at least a year there. Net migration in 2015 in the UK form the EU was 184,000 and from non-EU countries was 188,000.
Thursday’s EU referendum vote for the UK to leave the European Union will obviously have an impact on this situation, for according to EU laws, one of the four freedoms enjoyed by EU citizens is the free movement of workers. This includes the rights of movement and residence for workers, the rights of entry and residence for family members, and the right to work in another Member State and be treated on an equal footing with nationals of that Member State. Restrictions apply in some countries for citizens of Member States that have recently acceded to the EU. The rules on access to social benefits are currently shaped primarily by the case law of the Court of Justice. EU citizens living and working in the UK are estimated to be about 3 million, with Vote Leave giving unequivocal assurances that any new immigration system would not affect EU citizens already in the country. “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK,” it said, promising on its website that such people would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.” Such guarantees will not necessarily apply to UK citizens living and working in other European countries after the referendum.
There is no doubt that a simplistic view of immigration may seem to offer easy answers, but the true situation is more complex. Fears of infiltration by ISIS members are real; the terrorist attack in Paris last November demonstrates that clearly (see The Washington Post.) Nonetheless, many of those fleeing persecution are Christians, and it should be noted that being granted asylum is by no means a foregone conclusion (only 43% of asylum cases were successful in 2015; indeed, the UK is home to less than 1% of the world’s refugees, according the UNHCR.) Many UK Christians would fail the asylum questions on Christianity, and it does not help that the Home Office answer to the question ‘Why did God send Jesus to earth?’ is to ‘teach us how to behave’, rather than to ‘save us from our sins.’ Though the political situation is clearly fraught with difficulties, it does not help to treat all immigrants and refugees as enemies, and as Christians, we are called to look beyond the surface to the individuals for whom Christ died. There can be no place for hatred towards people in our debates on immigration, even though we may deplore the actions some take. As Paul wisely reminds us, our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12) and our opinions and solutions to problems must be rooted in Biblical thought.
It’s important for us to understand that sex in itself is not sinful, but is in fact a gift of God. In its proper context, between a married man and woman, sex is something beautiful, a picture of the close relationship God longs to have with His people. But the Bible is clear that sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s original intention (outlined in Gen 2:21-25). Both sexual immorality (sex outside of marriage) and adultery are wrong (see Heb 13:4, 1 Cor 7:1-3), and Jesus made it clear that sexual immorality includes our thought lives (Matt 5:28).The matter of sexual purity obviously means that we must safeguard ourselves and our children against pornography, asking for God’s help in this battle for the mind and soul.
There is hope and forgiveness for all who have sinned in this way; no sin is outside the forgiveness of God. We do need to recognise the problem of pornography and seek to guard against it. Children and young people should not be left alone with unlimited access to the Internet; parents need to educate children about sex and this will include teaching about the dangers of pornography (however embarrassing this may be!) as well as setting boundaries (e.g. limiting Internet usage, using appropriate filters and so on.) Each Christian needs to seek to live holy lives before God; there has to be accountability and help given to those who struggle with this particular sin. Websites which offer further advice and help are:
The good news, however, is that the light of Jesus Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5) He provides the way to be set free from all addictions and to be liberated from all bondage. We long for God to build His kingdom here, in us, setting us free from all chains and allowing His light to shine on us and through us so that all may know His glory and grace.
Pornography (printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement) is a growing problem these days, exacerbated by the easy availability of porn videos via the Internet. Josh McDowell, a Christian author, says ‘The magnitude of porn in the world is beyond comprehension…The devastating impact of Internet pornography is a global phenomenon, and not one country or culture, or church in the world is isolated from its reach.’ (see here for more details.) The statistics regarding this industry (for the secular motivation behind pornography is often closely linked to its monetary value) are shocking: 6,311,390,400,000 porn videos watched per year, with 17,291,480,548 videos watched per day; one porn site reports 100 million pages viewed every day and the Huffington Post reports ‘porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.’ 24% of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile handsets and shockingly 9 out of 10 boys (and 6 0ut of 10 girls) are exposed to pornography before the age of 18, with 15% of boys and 9% of girls also having seen child pornography. It’s not surprising that young people consider it more ‘normal’ to send sexually explicit texts or photos via phones or that posting compromising photos and videos online is becoming an increasing problem.
Bishop Paul Laverde says ‘what was once the shameful and occasional vice of a few… has become the mainstream entertainment for the many.’ This is especially troublesome when we consider age, for whilst 88% of 18-24 year olds believe stealing is wrong and 71% think lying is wrong, only 32% believe pornography is wrong, with many believing recycling is ‘more immoral’ than pornography. Even more shocking is the fact that 22% of young adults believe porn is ‘good for society’.
Pornography is a perversion of the devil which rips sexuality from its relational context and presents human beings not as creatures made in God’s image but as sexual commodities – something to be bought and sold. Luke Gilkerson in ‘Your Brain on Porn’ says there are 5 main effects in individuals who habitually view pornography:
- Watching porn decreases sexual satisfaction because it trains us to desire the variety and ‘designer sex’ of porn more than the familiar sexuality of marriage
- Watching porn disconnects us from real relationships, training us to detach emotional involvement from sexual experience
- Watching porn lowers our view of women, training us to see women as sexual commodities
- Watching porn desensitises us to cruelty
- Watching porn is addictive, tapping into the neurocircuitry of our brains, maming us desire the rush of sexual energy from porn again and again
Clearly, pornography has harmful effects not only on individuals but also on families and on society. In 56% of divorce cases, one party having an obsessive interest in pornography websites was cited as contributing to the divorce; those who have committed adultery are 218% more likely to look at porn. The scale of the problem simply cannot be ignored.
The Biblical view of marriage is given in Gen 2:18-25 and is reinforced by Jesus (Matt 19:3-4, Mk 10:2-9). Marriage is between a man and a woman. There are obvious problems with the notion of homosexual marriage, the first being that homosexual practice is not physically or sexually compatible. Anal sex in males frequently leads to tearing of the fragile anal tissue and sphincter and an increase in diseases such as HIV, Anal Cancer, Chlamydia trachomatis, Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Herpes simplex virus, Human papilloma virus, Isospora belli, Microsporidia, Gonorrhea, Viral hepatitis types B & C and Syphilis.
-  (a) Anne Rompalo. “Sexually Transmitted Causes of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Homosexual Men.” Medical Clinics of North America 74. 6 (November 1990): 1633-1645. Print;
(b)“Overview – Safer Sex & STD Prevention for Gay & Bi Men.” LGBT Health Channel. 01 Aug. 2001. Web. 01 Oct. 2010. <http://lgbthealth.healthcommunities.com/stdmsm/index.shtml>.;
(c)“Overview, Anal Anatomy, STDs, Anal Health, Anal Cancer – Anal Health.” LGBT Health Channel. 01 Aug. 2001. Web. 01 Oct. 2010. <http://lgbthealth.healthcommunities.com/analhealth/index.shtml>.
Homosexual women are also not exempt from physical problems such as bacterial vaginosis (with 30% of women who had had sexual encounters with only other women within the prior year suffering from this), Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C (see here for details.)
Moreover, there is considerable evidence that children living in homosexual households tend to suffer a greater risk of clinical emotional problems, developmental problems, or use of mental health treatment services than those living in heterosexual households. No one wishes to dispute that children living in heterosexual households can also face troubles, but the fact remains that the Biblical view of marriage gives a complementary unit of male and female to help and to guide. Men and women are undoubtedly different biologically, hormonally and neurologically (as proved by a recent study by Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania), but God (who is spirit, neither male nor female) has ordained that heterosexual marriage (a committed, loving relationship between a man and a woman) should be the basis for family life, the building block of society.
Where does this leave those who are attracted to members of the same sex, then? Is there no hope? Are they simply doomed to a life of loneliness, condemnation and judgment? The gospel of Christ is good news to us all and, as this video from Living Out shows us, those who experience same sex attraction do not necessarily have to be identified by this; they choose to see their identity as disciples of Christ first and foremost and commit to living by biblical values, choosing not to engage in homosexual practice, even if they are attracted to others of the same sex. Vaughan comments in this video that we are all broken in some way; we live in a fallen, broken world and every one of us has to face the incredibly high standards God has for sexual purity and work with Him to maintain these standards. Nonetheless, with God’s help (2 Cor 12:8-10), acceptance and help from fellow Christians and a daily dependence on God’s grace and power, there is hope for us all. All of us are accepted by God because of His grace through faith, a gift of God we gratefully receive, wherever we are broken. When we are weak, then God’s power can be seen most clearly, shining through our brokenness and leading us ultimately to that perfection we all crave.