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’ 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.
Garry continued his ‘Talking Point’ series tonight, looking at the subject of gay marriage. Homosexuality is a ‘hot potato’ in Christian circules and it is important to stress that we are all sinners saved by grace and that God loves everyone. Jn 3:16-18 emphasises God’s love for the whole world in sending Jesus to die to save us; Rom 5:6-8 reminds us that we didn’t have to change to be loved; ‘while we were sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom 5:8) God urges us to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mk 12:29-31); not only does He love everyone, but He urges us to love everyone too (including even those we may consider our enemies, see Matt 5:43-45). There is no room for us to hate anyone, whatever their sexual orientation, for God’s love reaches out to everyone.
God hates sin, however (see Is 59:1-3), and we live in a fallen world, where sin separates us from God. These verses show us that there is no ‘grading’ of sin; those whose hands are tainted with blood are separated from God just as are those whose lips spoke falsely. We may perceive some sins as more serious than others, but all sin separates from God and all of us need forgiveness.
There are several passages in the Bible which make it clear that homosexual acts are detestable in God’s sight (see Gen 19:5-7, Judges 19:22-23, Lev 18:20-23, Lev 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:9-10). This view, however, sees God as the ultimate authority in our world because He is the Creator and He made the rules. That view has been increasingly challenged in Western society since the 1950s. A pattern of rejection of homosexual practice because it was viewed as sinful gave way to tolerance of such practices to acceptance of these practices to promotion of such practices. Nowadays, homosexuality is seen as just as valid a lifestyle as heterosexuality and justification for this is often given using the following arguments:
- it’s been around a long time
- it happens in nature
- it’s just the way I am
Just because something has been ‘around a long time’ does not, of course, immediately justify it. Nor does what happens in nature immediately strike us as a valid excuse: voles, some fish and wolf spiders eat their young, but no one has ever successfully justified infanticide on the grounds ‘some animals do it’! Even the idea that homosexuality is somehow ‘just the way I am’, an integral part of our identity, does not necessarily mean that it is acceptable. Desire should not necessarily dictate our actions: as humans, we believe we should not be controlled by our desires but should exercise self-control in how we live.
A rejection of God inevitably leads us to question His authority and His rules for our lives. If we reject God, many embrace an evolutionary theory of life, but even here, there are problems with homosexuality, for the survival of the fittest would not last long without procreation, and naturally speaking, the homosexual lifestyle cannot lead to procreation. “This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?” So often, justification for homosexual practice and for gay marriage is based on conflicting ideas that directly oppose the Biblical view that God is the moral arbiter of our world.
Garry’s latest ‘Talking Point’ sermon looked at the subject of Islam. Headlines appear almost daily in the newspapers informing us of terrorist atrocities committed by radical Muslims, and it is undoubtedly true that violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history, the theology of which is given by some as a justification for terrorism. Many Muslims in the Middle East and Asia see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy, with America viewed as the ‘great Satan‘, and the radicalisation of British Muslims is of great concern to people at the moment. However, it would be naive to view terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram as representative of all Muslims; one website refutes the tactics of ISIS, saying ‘as British Muslims, we utterly condemn ISIS who are abusing the name of Islam with their acts of terrorism. We call on fellow British Muslims to unite and denounce this evil group and their acts.’
For many years, the only way for Christians to reach Muslims with the gospel was through ‘tentmaking’ ministries in Middle Eastern, North African and Asian countries, using mail, radio and personal contact as evangelistic means. Now, with many Muslims in this country, the opportunities for witness are enormous and the headlines which rarely feature in newspapers tell of massive numbers of Muslims converting to Christ all around the world. David Garrison, whose book ‘A Wind In The House of Islam’ recounts tales of revival in the Muslim world over the past two decades, writes of a time of spiritual breakthrough, with centuries of drought in terms of Muslim communities turning to Christ coming to an end. Many Muslims testify that ‘we didn’t have salvation in Islam… but we have found assurance of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.’ (see here for further details.) There are also many testimonies of Muslims coming to faith in Christ through miraculous visions and dreams.
Christians may fear Islam, and certainly many Christians in Islamic countries suffer persecution for their faith, especially those who have converted from Islam. 1 Pet 2:22-23 reminds us that suffering for Christ’s sake is part of the gospel call and we are called to love even those we may perceive as enemies (see Luke 6:26-29). Ultimately, we must love Muslims, for God loves them; we cannot impose our views on them, but must propose a radically different worldview which reflects Christ’s spirit of love. The spiritual breakthrough seen by so many is the result of much prayer (see ‘Pray30Days‘, for example) and God calls us to pray and intercede for people (for more information about this, see organisations such as Arab World Ministries and Open Doors.)
Rev 12:10-12 reminds us that we overcome through the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb. This may seem to be a time of great instability, uncertainty and suffering, but the devil knows his time is short and, in the words of Bill Brown, ‘the beautiful truth is that the history of the faith is filled with those who once spoke violently against Christ and then, overwhelmed by grace, embraced Him as Savior.’ (quoted in an article here.) We need not fear, but should be motivated to pray that Muslims embrace Christ as Saviour, for He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)