Monday, 24 December 2012

Irrefutable arguments for preserving the current definition of marriage

The marriage vows involve an exchange of assurances. A wife's assurance that any of her potential offspring will be her husband's and a husband's assurance is that he will faithfully partner his wife in mutual support, including any potential offspring of the marriage as his own. The law recognises this with the presumption of paternity. If a man dies before his pregnant wife delivers his child, there is no onus upon the widow to prove her husband is the father.

Consummation is a standard part of all binding legal agreements. This is especially important when the law questions whether it was intention of both partners to view the commonly-held expectations as binding. Was there duress, or was it merely a hasty response to a casual infatuation? In establishing marriage as an institution, the law sets a minimum standard of mutual behaviour that demonstrates that both parties freely intended for the marriage to be treated as a binding commitment.

Before the 1857 Marriage Act was passed, consent to marry could be exchanged in private, rather than through an official ceremony. If the validity of the marriage was called into question by either partner, the inaugural act of coitus between a husband and wife served as demonstrable proof for honourable spouses of their intention to form a legally binding, sexually exclusive unit of biological kinship: the basis for a new offshoot of family. Courts could also examine pledges made in pre-marital correspondence between the parties.

So, sexual intercourse consummates the intentions of the parties to marriage. It is the demonstration of good faith in sexual exclusivity.

Although we now have formulaic vows of marriage exchanged before witnesses, the intention of either party for a lifelong sexual commitment can still be disputed. Any other kind of consensual sexual act does not connote (when considered with the exchange of solemn vows) an undertaking to build a unit of family together, since the potential for family is not involved in other acts.

In earlier press coverage, the proponents of same-sex marriage suggested that consummation was a ‘red-herring’ remnant of a past tradition. It shows the lengths to which the more radical elements in favour of same-sex marriage will go in re-defining marriage. It is now clear from the Government response that although consummation is understood to be a demonstration of openness to establish biological kinship, this element of marriage would now somehow have to be pressed into the service of same-sex marriage by maintaining a two-track system, one for each orientation. It is clear proof that while the motives for marriage and civil partnership may be the same, the cause of marriage, i.e. why it’s legally actionable is based on the foreseeable consequences of sexual intercourse, rather than any other kind of human affection. The law cannot enforce fidelity, but it can ensure that parties to a marriage are held accountable for the foreseeable outcomes of sexual intercourse within their committed partnership. Where marriage differs from any other relationship is that the institution relates biological parents to each other first as committed spouses and then to their own children, the normative outcome of heterosexual union.

Those who oppose this view of marriage often cite elderly, infertile and child-free marriages. ‘If marriage is about building a foundation for biological kinship’, they ask, ‘then why do we allow those without children to marry?’ Those who study logic among you know that it is a fallacy to apply a qualified exception to alter the general rule in an unqualified way: the converse accident. These are qualified exceptions. The vows of marriage are uniformly exchanged to encompass the *possibility*, rather than guarantee of offspring.

England’s father of the common law, William Blackstone, described the common law presumption of the lifelong heterosexual potential for offspring in this way: 'A possibility of issue is always supposed to exist in law, unless extinguished by death, even though the donees be each of them an hundred years old.’ (2 Blackstone Commentaries 125). A defence against the charge of adultery, that an unfaithful wife, past child-bearing age, could not taint the offspring of her husband (the original meaning of adultery) was dismissed on this principle.

Crucially, in law, you cannot be bound by exchanging marital assurances in a context in which the assurances have no meaning, e.g. permanent incurable impotence, yet this is exactly what same-sex marriage would uniformly entail. Non-consummation allows one party to consider the marital assurances to be invalid. Such a union can be annulled. In contrast, divorce would not be the remedy for this situation, as it does not return each partner to the state before entering the marriage. Yet, a same-sex relationship, by constitution, rather than by sterility, offers no assurances, or the slightest probability that the offspring are their own and no-one else’s. It intentionally, rather than incidentally, defeats the goal of these assurances exchanged in marriage.

It comes as no surprise therefore that the Government response to the consultation proposes a two-track system, in which non-consummation cannot be a ground for annulling a same-sex marriage. It is yet further proof that the shared social meaning of marriage needs to be demolished by the proposals. Whereas the meaning of marriage can evolve, it cannot do so in a way that destroys its inter-generational meaning. Otherwise, as is the case here, fundamental concepts are reduced to a mere trend. Changes to divorce laws are no comparison to this. Divorce existed long before the 1857 Marriage Act. It is only the civil jurisdiction, the possibility of re-marriage and the facts that warrant granting a divorce that have changed.

We all know the saying that ‘blood is thicker than water’. Finally, I would like to highlight one area in which gay marriage subordinates the primacy of biological kin that marriage currently upholds. It answers the question regarding how it would affect a fundamental right of those outside the gay community. The truth is that it will have an impact on the unrelinquished rights of biological fathers.
Currently, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, the civil partner of the birth mother gains legal recognition as the second parent of a child conceived by assisted reproduction, but only if they use a UK licensed clinic. In licensed clinics, the donor consent uniformly relinquishes parental rights.
In contrast, married couples can employ less expensive informal assisted reproductive methods and the husband gains automatic parental recognition through the presumption of paternity. The law predicates this upon its respect for the vows of marriage and biological probability. Nevertheless, a biological father or surrogate in such a context may not wish to relinquish parental involvement and responsibility fully to a couple who have no blood ties to the child.
Let's say the proposals are implemented in the UK and a lesbian couple get married and they informally ask a friend to donate his sperm in order to have a child without recourse to an expensive licensed clinic. They agree together that he will share parental involvement and responsibility, but afterwards, find the arrangements intrusive and confusing. The law would now presume that the non-birth mother, who has no blood relationship to the child, to be the automatic second parent. The biological father will always lose out to a consistently fictional biological impossibility for every gay couple and case law proves that even DNA evidence will not improve the genetic father's chances of future involvement in his child's life.

The key difference is that, as far as the register office is concerned, the child of a heterosexual couple might have been conceived naturally. In the case of same-sex couples, the register office knows that the child could not possibly have been conceived naturally. The law would therefore be designed to override an informal parental agreement automatically to prioritise a rank impossibility for all same-sex couples.

What's contradictory is that those who insisted on the supreme biological rights of the mother over the unborn child when it comes to abortion, would now suggest that we deny that right to the biological father who has always wanted to participate in that child’s life..

Thus, the intention of the non-blood related partner would override the lifelong right of a child to know its committed blood-related father. This is not the same as adoption, which is subsidiary to biological parenting, i.e. where biological parenting has failed, been relinquished or is non-existent. This is overruling responsible biological parenting by prioritising a consistent impossibility in the case of same-sex couples. What changes would need to be made to HFEA to safeguard the rights of children to know a father who has not relinquished his participation in his child’s life.

Thus, marriage currently upholds the primacy of biological kinship as a foundation of good society. There are adequate legal provisions in civil partnership that do not alter the rights of biological fathers. There are adequate legal provisions in civil partnerships that do not uniformly prioritise a spouse with no blood relationship to a child above the rights of extended blood relations as well.

This is bad law and it deserves to be returned as such to those who drafted it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

GAY MARRIAGE. What's the real goal?

The real issue at stake in the recent Government response to the Consultation is amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 2008. For gay couples, the rules were changed to enable the female partner of the birth mother in a civil partnership to be recognised as the second legal parent (once both have legally consented), but *only* if the child was conceived through a licensed UK clinic.

The problem is that this law is only prospective and limited to conception through licensed UK clinics. It only affects children conceived after 6th April 2009. If the couple have children conceived by assisted reproduction before that date, or elsewhere, the partner of the birth mother has no automatic recognition as the legal parent. So, if they are not civil partnered, the partner has to go through adoption procedures and seek a residence order to secure her status in the life of the child.

Genderless marriage is then the magic wand. Under an amended HFEA, it would grant the same-sex spouse with a presumptive right of parenthood. This is what the Coalition is really after, since it would make the partner unrelated by blood, the automatic parent of any children conceived. It would assign a presumption of parenthood to a non-biological partner. Marriage will thenceforward promote a non-biological presumption that can override the rights of extended biological kin. Now, that's my problem.

The government knows that law courts have always favoured biological families. Genderless marriage laws will put the parental claims of non-biological partners AUTOMATICALLY above those of extended kin. If the birth mother dies, her former civil partner (now spouse) would be able to deny access for the extended blood relatives without recourse to law at all. This is why I re-iterate that marriage upholds the primacy of biological kinship.
N.B. Currently, the husband's presumptive right of paternity without recourse to the wife's explicit consent applies even to assisted reproduction procedures. It would require explicit proof that he did NOT consent to being the father to override the presumption.

As further proof, the government is quietly conducting a consultation to end the presumptive rights of adopted children to maintain any contact with their biological relatives and siblings.

HFEA 2008:
Section 35: (1)If—
(a)at the time of the placing in her of the embryo or of the sperm and eggs or of her artificial insemination, W was a party to a marriage, and
(b)the creation of the embryo carried by her was not brought about with the sperm of the other party to the marriage,
then, subject to section 38(2) to (4), the other party to the marriage is to be treated as the father of the child unless it is shown that he did not consent to the placing in her of the embryo or the sperm and eggs or to her artificial insemination (as the case may be).
(2)This section applies whether W was in the United Kingdom or elsewhere at the time mentioned in subsection (1)(a).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Commenting on the Six Social Goods of Marriage cited by Monte Neil Stewart of Duke University

1. ‘The institution of man/woman marriage is quite certainly society’s best and probably its only effective means to make meaningful a child’s right to know and be brought up by his or her biological parents (with exceptions being justified only in the best interests of the child, not those of any adult)’.

Marriage provides a cohesive social framework to encourage parents to be recognised as a legal entity and privileged by the State in order to better their children in an environment that has been proven to be optimal: the biological family. It is not part of a normative role of the State to adjust the primacy of this optimal environment advanced by marriage or to endorse the view, when there is scientific evidence to the contrary, that a genderless partnership is equally optimal. Why should a relationship that lacks this optimal intent be established as the optimal environment, known as marriage? 

As Maggie Gallagher says: ‘Once we sever, conceptually, the sexual alliance and the parenting alliance, we sever children from their uncontested claim to their parents'-especially their fathers'-care and protection’. In other words, genderless marriage can normatively assign that child’s right to a non-biological surrogate and still endorse this as optimal. Even if this is in the best interest of the parents, it is not in the best interest of the child.

2. ‘The institution almost certainly qualifies as the most effective means humankind has developed so far to maximize the level of private welfare  provided to the children conceived by passionate, heterosexual coupling. Two essential realities of man/woman intercourse are its procreative power and its passion. Society’s interest relative to those realities is in assuring the provision of adequate private welfare to children. Child-bearing in a setting of inadequate private welfare corrodes societal interests while child-bearing in a setting of adequate private welfare actually advances those interests. In passion-based procreation, it is passion rather than rationality that may dictate the terms of the procreative encounter. Rationality considers consequences nine months hence, including the rearing of a child, but passion does not. Confining procreative passion to a social institution that will assure—to the largest practical extent—that passion’s consequences (children) begin and continue life with adequate private welfare is thus a fundamental and originating purpose of marriage. The immediate beneficiaries of this private welfare purpose are the child and the often vulnerable mother, but society rationally sees itself as the ultimate beneficiary’.

The law is not only there to protect and mediate, it is there to educate society by investing in children. It does so by legally recognising and endorsing the union of biological parents as the optimal way to invest in their children. There can’t be two optimal ways to invest in the private welfare arrangements of the child, one must be sub-optimal. The counter to this is the view of marriage as emotional intimacy. Maggie Gallagher explains it this way: ‘One view of marriage is that it is a personal right, of the individual, created by the individual, for purposes which the individual alone defines. When two individuals happen to have desires and tastes for each other that coincide for a lifetime, that is beautiful. If not, it is simply no one else's business.’ It begs the question that if marriage is simply a personal arrangement, why would the State be involved, or why marriage should require intimacy. What is the public good of endorsing a relationship that lacks the consequence and import of the social goods mentioned thus far.

3. Man/woman marriage is the irreplaceable foundation of the child-rearing mode—that is, married mother/father child-rearing—that correlates (in ways not subject to reasonable dispute) with the optimal outcomes deemed crucial for a child’s—and hence society’s—well being. These outcomes include physical, mental, and emotional health and development; academic performance and levels of attainment; and avoidance of crime and other forms of self- and other-destructive behaviour such as drug abuse and high-risk sexual conduct’.

If our politicians strip away all references to gender in marriage, and re-define it as any social pairing, it fails to endorse through law the optimal environment for child-rearing. They are saying that any and all sorts of pairings (which beyond five years can be ended by individual discretion) are equally optimal. While data on comparative outcomes for children raised by homosexuals may be sparse, the study led by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas Austin's Population Research Center reported lower income levels, poorer mental and physical health and more troubled current romantic relationships than those of heterosexual marriages. Critics claim that sample sizes are not indicative of the entire population. Yet, those who cite an earlier study that found no differences had no problem with comparing the children of affluent, well-educated homosexual parenting with single-parent heterosexuals. At the very least, the evidence would suggest caution and prompt government funding for further research. To ignore the evidence and undermine the optimal environment for child-rearing by presenting same-sex relationships as equally conducive to child-rearing is completely irresponsible.

4. Man/woman marriage serves as an effective bridge over the male-female divide. “Marriage has always been the central cultural site of male-female relations” and society’s primary and most effective means of bridging the male-female divide—that “massive cultural effort of every human society at all times and in all places.”

The physical demands of pregnancy and supporting early child development require complementary responses from male and female spouses. Marriage normalises and reinforces the society’s support in maintaining those complementary roles. Children prepare for these roles by seeing good examples and the status accorded to those roles through the social prestige of marriage. It promotes interdependence between men and women, rather than child-rearing devoid of the paired commitment of both male and female biological parents.

5. Man/woman marriage is the only institution that can confer the status of husband and wife, that can transform a male into a husband or a female into a wife (a social identity quite different from “partner”), and thus that can transform males into husband/fathers
(a category of males particularly beneficial to society) and females into wife/mothers (likewise a socially beneficial category).

Marriage is the springboard of recognised kinship. It established the shared privilege of the dual role of spouse and parent. Genderless marriages cannot maintain this dual role on the basis of two congruent biological outcomes: consummation and child-birth.

6. Legally recognized and privileged man/woman marriage constitutes both social and official endorsement of that form of adult intimacy—married heterosexual intercourse—that society may rationally value above all other such forms.

Man/woman marriage uniquely delivers genetic diversity within stable permanent pair-formation to society. This diversity promotes genetic variations that ensure human survival, whereas genderless marriage doesn’t. It should not be promoted through marriage to society as delivering the same outcomes. The current framework of civil partnerships delivers equivalent legal and social recognition to homosexual couples. The European Court of Human Rights has declared that its interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights entails no right of homosexuals to marry.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

VALID MARRIAGE – A formal exposition

The validity of a marriage is determined by the society's belief that the permanent sexual union of two legally competent partners creates a new line of socially beneficial kinship. This cannot be established by political fiat alone. It is based on nature and tradition, by which I mean congruence with the natural and customary extension of society.


Our society's recognition of those actions that form permanent kinship by extending and morally interlocking existing families is rooted in human biology and history. If we heard a government minister claim that permanent kinship would now be predicated upon a kiss, or a hug, it would not change the social understanding of kinship: that kinship is inextricably linked to the history of human survival.

As a minimum, our kinship system is geared towards society recognising and investing in human survival. This is the cause of marriage, the development of a new line of permanent kinship geared towards human survival. In contrast, the motives of those getting married can and do differ.

Motive and cause in marriage law.

Motive and cause have different contractual meanings. Gay couples can lay claim to the same loving motives for marriage as a heterosexual couples. Nevertheless, by constitution, the relationship opposes the cause of marriage, i.e. the chief reason which society uses to determine that the promises of marriage should be permanent and legally enforceable (what society recognises that those who marry must agree to). The reason is not to enforce love. It can't, so love is not the legal cause of marriage. However, it can ensure that those who claim its support and validation as marriage cannot abdicate their responsibility to their spouse, offspring and extended family without cost.

Marriage laws enforce commitment to support all legitimate outcomes of the marriage jointly. It imposes a cost upon anyone who marries and then abandons that kinship arrangement.

Genetic diversity.

Marriage imposes a perpetual legal obligation that is predicated upon the outcomes of permanent exclusive union. Both forms of kinship (by marriage and by descent) are so closely related (cf. inheritance and incest laws) that they need to be congruent with each other. For example, close relation marriage is banned because it is incongruent with and opposes genetic diversity.

For our society to thrive, genetic diversity ensures that there is sufficient 'variation to ensure that some individuals in a population will possess variations of alleles that are suited for the environment'. The counter-argument that the world is already overpopulated cuts no ice. If a society does not maintain genetic variation, it can't survive upheaval and sudden environmental and habitat changes.

Homosexual relations are incongruent by constitution with genetic diversity. A different more potent same-sex pairing cannot further our society's genetic diversity. They are void of the goal of marriage: biologically predicated kinship.

The societal investment in same-sex relationships to the extent of calling them marriage does nothing to further the cause of marriage: the genetic diversity of society. They are largely privately beneficial relationships compared to the societal benefits of permanent heterosexual union.


Consummation is the fulfilment of the inaugural legal intention of a contract. The law neither dictates exactly when this should happen, nor that it must result in offspring, but it does view it as a reasonable legally supported expectation of both parties to marriage. At the very least, the vow of fidelity is a commitment to the physical act of kinship-forming union with one person. There may be other acts, but 'ordinary and complete' intercourse is the minimum expectation (case law: D v A (1845) 163 ER 1039)

The fact that there are exceptions (through age and impotence) is an issue of individual incapacity that cannot be established in terms of changing universal rules for constituting all valid marriages. It does not mean that marriage should be constituted for the exceptions without qualification.

In fact, this is the converse accident fallacy: that one carefully qualified exception justifies an unqualified change to the general rule.

If consummation has never occurred owing to the permanent incapacity of one partner, or the refusal of one partner, it opens the marriage contract to the possibility of annulment: invalidation from the date of the wedding.

Annulment as a remedy.

Is annulment important? Annulment means that the requirements of the contract have no legal effect. It is not simply an aspect of marriage law, any contract can be voided for fundamental incapacity or non-performance of either party. This is fundamental to all contract law.

Void ab initio (from outset) contracts are those which demonstrate that at the outset both parties lack the capacity to be bound by the common legal expectations of the contract. The difference with marriage is that those expectations are established by long tradition and case law.

Void marriages are invalid marriage contracts. For instance, if either party is under 16, already lawfully married, if parties are not of opposite sex, or within prohibited degrees of relationship, the constitution of the marriage is deemed invalid from the outset.

Voidable marriages are open to be avoided by either party, unless the petitioner knowingly accepted the incapacity or deception, once it was revealed. There are defects of:

1: Form: the marriage was not solemnised lawfully;

2: Contract: if either party lacked the intent or capacity to enter into a lifelong kinship-forming sexual union, as evidenced by consummation;

3: Consent: If either party was coerced, or deceived, or mentally incapable, so that they lacked willingness, and therefore lacked intent.

Annulment releases the petitioner from any legal claim from the respondent to divide assets equally or provide on-going spousal support. It is as if the exchange of consent had not occurred. It may be granted immediately and back-dated to the wedding ceremony, whereas divorce currently requires a minimum of 1 year’s marriage, 2 years by mutual consent, 5 years without consent.

In spite of secularisation and 'no-fault divorce', if divorce is the only remedy for an innocent party, deceived, or denied coitus as a reasonable expectation of marriage, it carries an unacceptable stigma that the petitioner's behaviour in the matter was not completely above reproach.

Even if non-consummation was treated as evidence of unreasonable behaviour, divorce would still make the petitioner liable to claims for division of assets and spousal support. However small the minority, it is grossly unfair to force those who would have petitioned for an annulment to endure the stigma of divorce. Voiding the marriage is the proper remedy for deception, duress or refusal or incapacity to consummate.

Annulment is an important remedy for voidable contracts of all kinds, including marriage. It should not be abandoned to provide a consummation-free definition of marriage. It is not fair to re-define consummation without gender references (which is too vague and open to judicial misinterpretation). It is not fair to remove consummation as a ground for voiding marriages in which one partner denies or is incapable of sexual union.

What you can't do is have disparate standards of consummation for the single estate of marriage, whether it is entered by civil or religious means. Just as there is only one status of British citizenship regardless of whether it is entered by birth or naturalisation.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The soul should never be sold

For a while, conscience may hinder a betrayal, but it cannot alone keep us true. 

For once our moral boundaries have been breached, the grim race to compromise faith, friendship and love for selfish ends begins. To compromise these is to auction away the highest and best of our humanity: we sell our very souls.

Friday, 31 August 2012


The Father has a message,
Sent through me with blessing,
To ev’ry one of His lonely children,
He knows you feel dejected,
‘Cos people have rejected,
The mercy that the Lord’s showing to them,
Oh and I know He wants to assure you,
That ev’rything will be alright,
Oh and I know He wants to remind you,
To keep the hope of heaven in sight.

Oh I know, the time is gonna come,
Those people gonna praise His name,
Oh I know, they’ll recognize His face,
And they are gonna be ashamed,
To see how they treated and how they despised Him,
And yet He loved them all the same,
It was for those who crucified Him,
That He as their Redeemer came.

If you feel seclusion,
Facing persecution,
Remember what the Saviour said,
Bless the ones who hate you,
Do good, though they despise you,
In everything just keep your head,
And I am sure you will be rewarded,
For ev’ry ounce of suffering and shame,
His angels’ protection will be afforded,
To those who bear reproach for His name.

Oh I know, the time is gonna come,
Those people gonna praise His name,
Oh I know, they’ll recognize His face,
And they are gonna be ashamed,
To see how they treated and how they despised Him,
And yet He loved them all the more,
Yes, it was those who crucified Him,
That the cross He died upon was for.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Refugee Song

The refugee had lost all strength,
Survival was his only law,
With thoughts ruled by expedients,
Could self-esteem have been restored?

Oh, why is love so hard?
Why is there so much pain?
Why did I break her heart?
I’ll never love this way again

Monday, 23 July 2012

Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.

Although we are all called to exercise practical generosity, there are some areas of Christian service that can thwart our availability for others. We can frustrate the development of a person's  primary gifting and ministry by assigning them elsewhere. When the apostles were called upon to resolve the omission of welfare support for Greek widows, they said: ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables’. Instead, they assigned the responsibility as a separate task for deacons (Acts 6:1)

Today, Anglican evangelism is dominated by deacon outreach. Of course, 'daily ministrations', such as food parcels and welfare missionaries are important to the church's work. Nevertheless, they should not be confused with evangelism: publicising Jesus' victory of over sin and death and warning the world that we must now, through Christ, find refuge from that great day of mankind's eternal reckoning.  Of course, at the same time, scripture reminds us: 'therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers' (Gal. 6:10). Also, 'do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.', (Heb. 3:16). These offerings are to be organised in accordance with each person's means: 'On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.' (1 Cor. 16:2)

All of these are worthwhile practical expressions of our commitment to the God who cares for the poor. These endeavours also enhance the credibility of the gospel. Nevertheless, there is an abiding notion that the Anglican church should engage in these acts of public charity and community-building without explaining, in the context of performing those charitable acts, the importance of 'repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 20:21). 

Some would have us believe that evangelism is better expressed through the silent witness of our good works before the consciences of unbelievers. They are partly right. Those in positions of authority are best won to Christ by quiet exemplary conduct. Nevertheless, that conduct is still a backdrop to the central message that must be preached. Paul asks rhetorically: 'how, then, can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?' Of course, they can’t. The church has a duty to declare the gospel beyond the confines of the edifice to the whole community!

The reasons that I hear advanced for neglecting the overt preaching of the gospel outside of church premises is that it's focus on the after-life reward and punishment is too far removed from the practical needs of society, a turn-off, inappropriate, ill-timed and best directed towards those who eventually attend church and express a desire to discover more. They will likely be pointed towards an Alpha course to be run in a month’s time. Anything to evade responsibility for delivering the gospel to an unwelcoming audience.

Underlying all of this is a fear of rejection. You can sense that many Christians wrestle with the unpalatable thought that we might be treated with scorn and misunderstood (much the same as Christ was). We hate to bear the painful epithets of secular contempt: ‘holy roller'; 'he claims he’s found God', 'she’s too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good'; ‘his head’s in the clouds’. Yet, slander was the very experience of Jesus Himself and the apostles as they proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Andrew Lloyd-Webber captures this slur perfectly in Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas follows up his accusation that, ‘all your followers are blind, with too much heaven on their minds’ with the fearful warning, ‘and they’ll crush us if we go too far!’

Yes, there were miraculous conversions, but by and large, the gospel demanded a level of change that most found intolerable. It was met with a slanderous smear campaign aimed at undermining the early Christians’ public standing and credibility.

The reluctance to speak informally of Christ as the only means of deliverance from the coming judgement is also an inverted form of arrogance. How could we believe that our own paltry charity efforts (so minuscule when compared to God permitting His body of incarnate deity to be beaten, spat upon, exposed and executed) could somehow be a better witness than to recount what Christ suffered Himself?

So why is there such reticence about the saving work of Christ?

1. Christian charity has become a PR exercise, the focus of which is winning secular acceptance of the human organisation, rather than its spiritual head, Jesus Christ.

2. Offence caused by mentioning the gospel of heaven contradicts efforts to make church members appear more likeable and practically minded to secular outsiders.

3. Many lay church members are not taught to explain their faith and lead others to Christ. In relation to evangelism, they are taught to lead others to church services.

4. The path to lay involvement in evangelism is far too formalised. Discernment before ordination, while an important means of scrutiny, has become obstructive.

5. Christian faith has been reduced to a code of organisational affiliation and loyalty.

6. There is no defining moment of moral transition that would publicly underscore the importance of being born again.

7. There are very few testimonies of radical conversion that would inspire those who have strayed far from God.

8. Churches are looking for a particular type of pragmatic problem-solver who is more inclined to rely on professionally acquired skills and connections and intelligence than on divine guidance and intervention.

9. Loyalty to a church leader's favoured approach and priorities is valued more highly than loyalty to the approach and priorities of the early church.

It's a tall order, but change these factors and we might yet have a church that can radically change the world for God and for good. The pathetic alternative (for those who hope to avoid the cardinal offence against secular morality of demanding repentance) is to continue to invite the neighbours to yet another parish social!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Happy Families!

I've been reading an article about how families with IVF babies have had to combine traditional ideas about kinship with novel ways of developing a common bond with the new child. It may help to ask ourselves what makes the church into a real family. That’s what most of us want from a church: a sense of permanent belonging, that we’d be missed if we left for good.
1. Affirmation of Resemblance
People accept that, not only do we inherit natural characteristics from our parents, but that many of these are easily discernible. We often say, 'he has his father's nose', 'she has her Mum's smile'. In a broader sense, an accent or physical trait may even give away our national heritage. Do we discern and affirm divine family resemblance when we see it? Do we behold and affirm what we see of the living God in each other? Are the natural and spiritual gifts of some easily dismissed as peripheral, or suspect, while others are encouraged to thrive? Is it easier to relate to an inner circle?
2. Family Narrative
A family narrative involves a series of memorable common experiences that were shared and recounted throughout the family. It might be something as simple as a shared meal, a medical crisis, or a holiday.  'Remember when your Dad and I took you and your sister to Brighton?' Suddenly, all the memories of that great summer holiday come flooding back. Each relative adds a part of that story that wouldn't mean a thing to outsiders. It refreshes the common bond of kinship between them. The early church's narrative was marked by a commitment to suffer with Christ, knowing that they would reign with Him in eternity. Out of that common experience, the challenge that the early church faced was to build a kinship that would resonate with both Jews and Gentiles: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the gospel. The dynamic narrative that we see in the Book of Acts captured their imagination and wrote a new story of God's love on their hearts. It overcame their cultural and ethnic differences. COGS members need to participate in a commonly owned narrative about what God is doing in the church. Every member needs to have a stake in that narrative. One that reinforces a sense of common purpose and invites full participation of all members. Christ himself said: ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother‘ (Matt. 12:50)
3. Exchanging Confidences, Knowing Vulnerabilities 
Family members will share confidences that they'll not share with outsiders: Uncle Festus' nervous breakdown last year; Auntie Kitty's 'friend' who spent the vacation with her in Provence. If we are unwilling, or feel it to be unsafe to share confidences with anyone in church, it means that the extended family support will be thwarted. In contrast, Paul says, 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ' (Gal. 6:2)
4. Effortless Acceptance and Goodwill.
Children generally don't have to make a great effort to be liked by family. They are welcomed at every get-together with words like 'my you've grown since I last saw you'.  How often do we say anything encouraging about each other's Christian maturity? Although there is a place for rebuke, family members should generally be proud and supportive of each other. They typically boast to outsiders about each other's accomplishments.
Compare this with the experience of new employees. They spend their first few months on probation. It takes a long time to establish the organisation’s trust. They cannot contribute fully until their loyalty and competence has been thoroughly vetted. Their role is always in danger of being made redundant. Is your experience of church hierarchies, one of welcoming parents, or cautious supervisors?
So, unless we discover and affirm the valued contribution that each of us can add to the church, many will feel under-appreciated. As with Jewish circumcision in the early church, if we constantly vet all new members and make them jump through too many hoops, they will lose heart.
In contrast with this, St. Paul, the former enemy of Christians and whose conversion was initially viewed with suspicion, was soon warmly accepted as authentic. The result was that the apostles extended to him the 'right hands of fellowship' (Gal. 2:9) to spearhead the mission to the Gentiles. They knew that Paul had already almost lost his life for sake of spreading the gospel.
In summary, let us agree to:
1. Affirm the godly resemblances in each other more than our superficial differences
2. Build a family narrative through the impact of full participation for all
3. Know, share and openly commit to help each other's weaknesses
4. Affirm and reassure the newer members of their gifts as much as the longstanding members.
Hope this is a blessing.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Ordination of Women

Those who oppose the ordination of women claim that their view is scriptural. They refer to Paul’s insistence: ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.’ (1 Tim. 2:12)

Yet, if this is an absolute, why does Paul also say, ‘And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.’ (1 Cor. 11:5)? So women did pray and prophesy publicly and this conditions Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Philip, the deacon and evangelist, had four young daughters who prophesied (Acts. 21:9). Prophets would encourage congregants with elated expressions of thanksgiving for God’s covenant faithfulness and His supernatural subversion of worldly merit. They would instruct, warn and encourage devotion to Him and each other in the face of recent and predicted challenges. These are all the hallmarks of any great sermon.

It is unfortunate that the office of the prophet is not as publicly recognised as that of the evangelist, deacon and elder in today’s church. If anything, the need for prophetic discerning admonition has only increased. However, if the prophet was a recognised church appointment, rather than treated as an ad hoc ministry, would those who oppose the ordination of women then welcome the participation of prophetesses? Or would they produce scripture to support the notion that the prophetic gift had died out. I suspect that it would be the latter because of the historic Protestant focus on centralised pulpit authority. On any given Sunday, one person becomes the unchallenged voice directing the church: evangelist, teacher and preacher rolled into one. It’s a concentration of church authority that is unbiblical and opens the door to the possibility of unprincipled thought manipulation.

The early church liturgy (derived from the synagogue) involved three principal components: the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the formal explanation of the text and an open discussion. When he limited female participation, Paul meant the second component, the formal discourse that was typically delivered by a learned male elder. Even when Paul and Silas travelled to Pisidian Antioch, it is unlikely that they would have delivered that component (Acts 13). More probably, they would have been invited to participate in the reasoned discussion that followed. This principal part of first century synagogue liturgy, the word of encouragement as a part of reasoned group discussion, is now largely missing from modern Christian liturgies. In Berea, the disciples were commended because they ‘were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.’ (Acts 17:11)

Whereas Paul and Silas expected questions and intelligent counter-arguments, we are expected to silently listen to the ‘private interpretation’ formulated by each licensed minister, who expects to promote his/her views without a public post-sermon discussion. The result is that few lay members can discern heresy without the aid of a minister, or reason on behalf of their faith skilfully and convincingly. Scripture memorisation is lacking. The church is reduced to a platform for promoting an orthodoxy that avoids impromptu public scrutiny, far less exposure to external criticism. To thoughtful outsiders, it seems like little more than formulaic mind-control. Explaining the Christian faith is now better learnt from books on Christian apologetics, rather than through the dynamics of a short post-sermon group discussion.

Liturgy should adapt to accommodate open reasoned discussion, rather than the usual unquestioned 40 minute monologue. Post-sermon Q&A sessions, twitters and discussion forums should be buzzing with queries and insights. Instead, the congregation trundles home, knowing that, even if questions are entertained on a one-to-one basis after the sermon, passive consensus is generally preferred to any public vocal expression of their critical thinking faculties. Equally, home study groups can often refuse to entertain reasoned intelligent counter-arguments. Especially, when a controversial opinion can be relegated due to the tightly monitored discussion schedule. How many times has a thoughtful contradiction been either subjected to thinly veiled ridicule, or brushed aside with a remark like, ‘We really must move on!’? It may not be intended as dismissive, but it achieves the same end: the teacher’s zealously guarded status and all of their preconceived agendas remain unassailable.

When Peter and John were arrested by Temple guards and interrogated before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4), their lack of formal training was noted. In spite of this, they performed a prophetic role in challenging the majority view. Peter declared that Paul’s knowledge of the Law and Prophets and the revelation given to him regarding the deep truths of salvation therein were exceptional: ‘He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

Nevertheless, the unschooled apostles held the same status as the educated ones. They were all witnesses to the power of Jesus’ resurrection. There was a respectful fraternity without priestly elitism.

We all know that, at that time, adult women would have had little opportunity to devote to the study of the Torah. Paul’s comparison of the first-century situation with Adam and Eve is valid in that the gender disparity in knowledge mirrored the sequence of creation. Paul did not demand that moral insight is to be gained second-hand through men for perpetuity, but he did argue for a disciplinary authority in the church that did not contradict male authority within the Christian family. Just to ensure that he was not misinterpreted, he explained gender interdependence: ‘In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.’ (1 Cor. 11:11)

If a woman could become a recognised prophetess in the early church, gifted women can and should attain a recognised role in the ministry of the modern church. Nevertheless, both genders in Christian ministry would do well to encourage a liturgy that involves public lay participation in a reasoned discussion of the Word. A fifteen minute Sunday post-sermon Q&A session would be a good start. Social media can also be utilised.

In contrast, to deliver a message and then lack the time, inclination or resources to discuss, debate and refine the impact of a sermon straight afterwards in a post-sermon church forum undermines the very purpose of anyone appointed to a position of church oversight. It’s a formula for oppressing our God-given thought faculties and encouraging moral puppet-mastery over the laity. And who wants that?

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Neglected Winemaker

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ (John 15: 5 – 8 )

Winemakers may also be vineyard owners, but first and foremost, they (surprise, surprise) produce wine. It’s really obvious, but it means that the vine has a specific overall purpose. However luxuriant its foliage, however full its buds, however strong its branches, its fundamental purpose in a vineyard is to deliver as many fine grapes as possible. The job of the vine is to deliver the raw material for wine.

Without that raw material, production stops, and there ceases to be a benefit. Spiritually, first century Judaea had ceased to deliver what God desired: the raw material of practical devotion to God that He could use to right a world that was so wrong.

The nation’s leaders had compromised values under the Roman Empire’s tyranny. Even the divine laws were interpreted by the religious elite in a manner that contradicted God’s underlying intent to benefit the whole nation. Those who were wealthy assumed that their accumulated comfort was proof of God’s approval. They segregated their social lives, ostracised the poor from positions of authority, abandoned the chronically helpless and publicly censured sinners with contemptuous disregard. It was all too easy to reap condemnation for even ceremonial mistakes. Forgiveness and reacceptance by society could only be provided through the temple officials at great financial expense. An even greater cost was imposed on pilgrims to Israel, who were forced to pay a hefty commission to convert their money into temple currency. It was far easier to condemn, than rehabilitate wrongdoers by giving them a chance to change.

John the Baptiser was hurled into the midst of this moral mayhem. He demanded that everyone in Israel re-evaluate their behaviour and devotion to God with a desire to make amends wherever they fell short and deliver fruit from their lives that was worthy of the nation’s God-given role. They should have been an example to the world, rather than a cause of God’s shame. For many, It was the impetus for change that they needed. A fresh start in a newly formed community. One that would let them bury the past and live a new life. He offered a simple ritual of cleansing that would signal an end to their neglect of God and a new focus on relaying God’s providence to others. A new life symbolised by BAPTISM: the purification rite of water immersion.

Teaching explains what we don’t understand, whereas preaching insists on what we already know. Of course, we know what to do. It’s just that we prefer to do something else and we can’t do both. The Prophets, Jesus, the apostles preach one message: without the mercy of God, our lives don’t deserve to remain part of God’s creation. Without the mercy of God, our nourishment through all that God has created will be lost forever. The Winemaker is on his way, so where’s the fruit we owe Him?

Foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem a few decades later, John PREACHED to any Jews who lacked remorse that the era of privileged hereditary protection was almost over: ‘Even now the axe of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire." This is the preaching of the Kingdom of God: ‘If there’s no desire for fruit, judgment is poised over my fate. No fruit? No more privilege. Where’s God’s fruit?’

It is mandatory. If we are casual and not eager to demonstrate moral change, our privilege of growing in the soil of God’s providence and revealed truth hangs by a thread. It is ready to be lost forever by those who don’t desire to respond productively to God. Those who do respond partially, are challenged to deliver even more fruit.

Christ also reminds us to ask for whatever we like. As long as it doesn’t hinder us from our primary purpose, guess what? We can have it!

All around us today, we see the proof that the status earned by our Christian forefathers is receding from our grasp. The freedom of Christian expression in society is opposed on all sides. Atheism, godless secular thought and mindless contempt for the church is on the rise. No fruit? No more privilege. It’s time to ask and when you do, ASK BIG!

Without fruit, as the Messiah promises ‘Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Notice their focus on ministry gifts: prophecy, exorcism, miracle-working are the tools to achieve the intended outcome, they are not the intended outcome. Imagine telling a winemaker who comes to collect grapes about the work you did on his behalf: how well you’ve tilled soil, pruned branches and spread fertilizer, WHEN WHAT HE WANTS IS FRUIT.

So what fruit does God require? You know already. ‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8 )


  • Discreet, practical empathy that reaches out to improve the lot of those confronted with hardship and injustice. Defraud no-one. Deceive no-one.
  • Prayerful compassion that reaches out selflessly to empower those overpowered by hate, selfishness and helplessness.
  • Thankfulness to and opportunism for God against evil in a world full of selfish grudging discontent with His natural abundant providence.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Growth, Division, Multiplication

Organic growth is achieved through cell division, multiple cell differentiation, expansion and adaptation.

In church, are we willing to divide cells and build new smaller units of fellowship that expand and adapt for new purposes? How will those new cell units need to adapt to grow in a very different environment? How will they develop? Will a few parts of the body remain relatively unchanged in purpose and size, like our eyes?
Paul says, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase’ (1 Cor. 3:7).

Christ’s own growth example involved pruning away unproductive aspects of our individual and corporate lives: 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.' (John 15:1 - 4)

Our two-service proposal for Sunday worship is a low risk initiative that foreshadows future growth: the development of interdependent units of community, outreach and worship. Units that can spread and demonstrate the message of God’s Kingdom in a wider context than is possible now.

That's the ultimate aim of church growth. Beyond the numerical outreach, this proposal is a test of whether the church cell is capable of the cell division and differentiation needed to adapt to the needs of our community. To do so, the church needs to draw upon the moral and emotional energy reserves bestowed by God on all its members.

Uncontrolled, rapid cell division does not provide normal healthy growth and adaptation to a changing environment. It is like cancer and it can destroy us by first disrupting existing useful functions and finally spreading to destroy vital organs.

As a pre-cursor, it is far better to spur change by challenging church members to re-group around smaller initiatives that may involve working towards a goal outside of each other's comfort zone.
Beware of inward focused self absorption. There are those who believe that the church's primary duty is towards the comfort of its existing members. It's not change in itself that they fear, but the disruption of the comfortable relationships and roles that they've built for emotional support and insulation. As you know, Paul faced major emotional upheaval when the Holy Spirit made it clear that he had to move on from Ephesus never to return (Acts 21:13)

Finally, what are the lessons to be learnt from our past outreach initiative, Taste?
Was the whole church involved?
What worked and what didn't?
Was the mission to invite outsiders and attend with them accepted by all members?
Did any of the existing church members reject the idea on the level of personal encouragement and involvement?
Did it end for natural reasons, or was too much responsibility for success imposed on too few church members?
Why won't history repeat itself this time?

Friday, 25 May 2012

The best ideas come from the top.

It seemed like a brilliant idea for the bank. The managers had racked their brains to find a way to sell more financial products, but they had finally cracked it.

The background was that the last quarter's sales figures were less than impressive and Head Office wasn't happy. ISAs, postal accounts, loans, insurance and pensions had all taken a tumble. 'We need to sell these products when customers are thinking about money. So give us your best ideas' said the memo.

Over a lunchtime brainstorming session replete with bottled water and one attendee's reflective guitar piece, the plan was hatched. 'From now on, bank tellers will be expected to sell directly to walk-in customers. Given that they will be thinking about money in the middle of a transaction, it's the best time to make a sale.' Head Office was filled in with all the details of what they did to arrive at the new scheme and approved the plan.

It took a few months, but all teller staff were duly trained in the features and benefits of a range of financial products. Memory aids were positioned within the easy reach of each of them as a back-up should they forget. IT ensured that monthly payment and APR information was accessible from every teller's computer terminal. As the system went live, the branch managers rubbed their hands together with glee, revelling in the prospect of income from the erstwhile expensive human cashpoints becoming a welcome addition to the sales force.

A few months later, another e-mail was despatched from Head Office: 'while the sales figures relating to teller staff are promising, customer services has noted a sharp increase in teller transaction times and customer complaints of delays and mis-selling. Given that the training issues have been addressed, we hope that branch managers will resolve this and deliver a winning formula to improve the level of sales while maintaining the highest standards of customer service from their tellers. We do realise that to develop a better plan, you will need more resources and we are committed to providing them'. An hour later, two cases of Evian and the Paul Simon song-book arrived at each branch.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

You got to know when to hold ‘em

Last night, I wrestled with the idea of how people move on. Some people seem more resilient than others at calling it quits, while others seem bent on continually reliving their past mistakes and relationships.

The whole debacle of modern relationships reminds me of a poker game. Successful card-players mix the luck of the cards dealt and drawn with a powerful memory of past successes and failures, considerable skill and, at times, sheer ruthlessness in securing a winning hand.

Even if, at the outset, you have a pair of high-ranking cards (like A♠ A♦ K♦ Q♥ J♣), you might find that one of them doesn’t follow suit, or discover that the Jack can also be a Knave. Your hand still needs three other cards to complete a ‘full house’, so if you must win, you’ll need to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit.

For instance, ‘One pair’ (perhaps the King and Queen of Hearts) however high and well matched is easily defeated by a complete family of lower ranking cards that all follow suit.

That hand might look good to you, but a straight flush led by a Queen (Q♣ J♣ 10♣ 9♣ 8♣) is a lot stronger than a King and Queen paired by themselves. Similarly, you might also win the pot with a lower-ranking family called ‘Four of a kind’.

Perhaps, most of all to secure a ‘full house’, you need to know how to exploit the ‘wild card’.

Of course, you will probably have close friends and family looking over your shoulder and whispering wise words like ‘lose the Queen’, or ‘just use the wild card’. All the while, they will claim to have your best interests at heart. Be careful, especially if all that they really want is to spend your success on themselves. You might want to check their own track record with lady luck before accepting advice at face value.

In the end, those who can move on quickly realise that:

1. There’s more than one game in town;

2. It’s better to bluff indifference and hide revealing ‘tells’ by a stoic poker face;

3. They can have more success if they can team up with a better bluffer;

4. You can’t focus on the defeat of the last hand, when the next hand you hold promises greater winnings;

5. Playing solitaire is only the last resort for losers.

So, whether you end up winning with ‘Queen straight flush’, or losing with just ‘two of a kind’, try to remember never to bluff your entire future in trying to gain one card and that eventually we all get played at our own game.

Perhaps, only then it will dawn on us that (with the high stakes involved, and however much we bluff indifference and holding a better hand than everyone else) LOVE IS REALLY NEVER A POKER GAME BECAUSE THERE IS NEVER AN OUTRIGHT WINNER WHO TAKES ALL.

Till then, if you insist on playing games, as Kenny Rogers sang:

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, know when to run.

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table,
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

No mean feet!

Clearing weeds, tending festering wounds, removing rotting garbage, washing away perspiration: we would prefer to avoid the detritus of life that clings to everything we touch and do, for it arouses in us a sense of disgust when we are dealing with something that is either distasteful, or potentially harmful, or demeaning.

If we are employed in the service sector, we prefer an unpolluted, safe and healthy work environment. We want our homes to be shrines of almost clinical, allergen-free cleanliness. If we are well paid, qualified and competent professionals, we can probably afford to have someone perform the task of cleansing the environment on our behalf.

Domestic employment is often considered to be thankless drudgery and so poorly paid as to be on a par with slavery. In the healthcare sector, we fail to recognise the dignity of those assigned to cleanse bedpans, disinfect our toilets and remove medical waste with adequate pay.

Yet, we also pay a premium for beauty therapists to cleanse our faces and remove dead skin from our feet and hands every now and again. That's because we want to be seen at our best: our hair to be shining and our complexions, radiant and blemish-free and our bodies toned and strong. In spite of this, Christ, the King of eternity CHOSE, in spite of His status, spectacular talents and abilities, to inhabit our real world of dust and debris. Even in respect of John the Baptist, He asked his audience: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet’

John, like Jesus, was a man of simple tastes. The desert caves were his home. Living on a Spartan diet of locust and wild honey, he wore a cheap, coarsely-woven camel tunic and leather belt. It disturbs us that anyone could live so sparsely. Yet, it was all he needed. His wealth was in knowing how to transform broken lives into those pleasing to God. His reward was great in heaven!

It was typical of ancient Eastern hospitality to extend the courtesy of cleansing the feet of those who have arrived exhausted after a long and dusty journey. Among the lower classes, overland travel was largely completed on foot. Yet, while the Pharisees were offended by the fact that Christ had participated in a meal without observing rituals of hand washing, His host, Simon the leper could not be bothered to supply water for Christ to wash His own feet. Oh, the irony! Christ contrasts the blatant discourtesy with Mary’s tears of gratitude: ‘Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair’ (Luke 7:44), the lack of hospitality amply demonstrated the absence of any social acceptance. Christ was sat at dinner with his enemies.

Judas aside and in spite of their constant bewilderment, the apostles were sure He was the Messiah. This was contrary to the many others who had abandoned the cause, offended as they were by what they saw as stern, grandiose and uncompromising pronouncements.

At the Passover, Christ sat at dinner with his friends. In relative seclusion, He treated His inner circle of disciples as honoured guests. They had stayed the course and, separated from their contemporaries by holding onto His entire message, they could exclaim, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?"

Christ explained the effect of His message on those who do stay the course: ‘Now you are clean by the message that I have spoken to you.’ (John 15:3) Paul also attests to this cleansing action of divine insight through the gospel: ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word’ (Eph. 5:25,26)

Yet, Jesus’s later reply to Peter on the cleansing ritual is startling: You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to Him, `You shall never wash my feet' Jesus answered him, `If I may not wash you, you have no part with me.’ (John 13:7 – 8)

The gulf between vastly differing statuses is crossed in rendering such a personal level of service to another. The action of foot-washing unveils a deep truth of salvation. Mere mental agreement to the truth of gospel is not enough. It may even distinguish churchgoers from the wayward society that we live in. Nevertheless, each of us, in turn, must submit to the principle of Christ washing our feet. In effect, we must each accept and exalt His sacrificial act of cleansing our moral grime, however foul or undignified that might be.

For Peter, the act was filled with unacceptable prospect of a role-reversing indignity towards his master. Yet, the foot-washing merely foreshadowed the next day’s horrendous indignity of Christ’s surrender to humiliation and death on the cross. The ritual only made sense and became a model for us to emulate after Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and exaltation were understood by the apostles, not before.

Paul put it this way:

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5 – 8)

The service rendered by Christ towards us and that we, in turn, offer each other, is not just about embracing or conveying the lofty morals of godly behaviour. However that may dedicate us to God morally, true Christian service begins by restoring fallen humanity to cleanliness and wholeness at the most basic practical level of human need. BUT IT MUST BE AT THE EXPENSE OF OUR PRECIOUSLY GUARDED STATUS. To make a difference, we must all get our hands in the water and wash away the debris, rather than doing no more than pointing out where people have accumulated dirt.

It’s no mean feat, but if Christ does not restore us at that practical level, we can have no part of Him. If we do not restore each other at that practical level and at the expense of our pride and status, we can have no part of each other.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Marriage is not just about two people

The report of the European Court of Human Rights ruling regarding the recently decided civil partnership adoption rights case is by itself more fascinating than any of the headline grabbing journalism about it. Please see the English summary. It supported the refusal of French authorities to authorise an adoption that would transfer parental rights from a child’s biological mother, Ms. Dubois to her civil partner, Ms. Gas.

We might be tempted to think that an adoptive transfer of parental responsibility to Ms Dubois's civil partner would be the best way of securing the primacy of Ms. Gas's parental rights over all other family claims, especially should Ms Dubois die prematurely. The French authorities rightly saw that this was not in the best interest of the child, given that should their partnership be dissolved, it could inadvertently challenge her own access to her biological child. Marriage, given the body of case law, is the only exception in which the parental responsibility is shared between the biological parent and the adoptive husband, or wife.

But surely, this is discriminatory? Well, no. Had there been a French prohibition on forming opposite-sex civil partnerships (as there is in the UK), the Strasbourg court would most certainly have viewed the adoption ban as discriminatory. In fact, opposite-sex civil partners in France equally fall foul of this limitation on the transfer of parental rights. So, in this case, the adoption refusal was *not* about sexual orientation, however loud others might scream to the contrary.

In a sense, the limit on the right to marry is the final counter-argument. Surely, it was the lack of access to marriage that scuppered the couple's bid to share parental rights over Ms. Dubois' child. The blunt answer is that EU governments are under no obligation to extend marriage to same-sex couples. The legal implications for the church can only be applied, once same-sex marriage has been granted, not before.

The approach of the French authorities is vastly preferable to the 'blue skies' thinking that permeates the current UK government proposals for re-defining marriage and that leaves off defining a gender-free common standard for annulment through non-consummation and even adultery as issues for judges to unravel under case law.

This case does highlight the very real problems in extending the rights of marriage beyond its historic definition and without discerning the full implications. Marriage is clearly NOT just about two people who love each other. It can naturally trigger legal consequences far beyond those two people; consequences that matrimonial case law has thoroughly considered. Marriage also carries a gravitas (derived from human history and supported by case law) and an essential framework of commonly held mutual obligations that can be relied upon in law. It is this gravitas, when compared to the relative informal ease in ending civil partnerships, which led the French authorities to restrict the sharing of parental rights via adoption to married partners.

While it is a painful outcome for the couple, we return to Lord Penzance's 1866 statement in Hyde vs. Hyde: 'It may be, and probably is, the case that the women there pass by some word or name which corresponds to our word “wife.” But there is no magic in a name; and, if the relation there existing between men and women is not the relation which in Christendom we recognise and intend by the words “husband” or “wife,” but another and altogether different relation, the use of a common term to express these two separate relations will not make them one and the same, though it may tend to confuse them to a superficial observer'

Saturday, 10 March 2012

An open letter to my vicar

Hi Rachel,

I hope that your retreat was a time of spiritual growth and insight. There's a lot of good that your pastoral oversight imparts, so I'm glad you're back.

At the same time, the recent report cataloguing the culture of connivance at Chichester exposes a terrible history of episcopal errors. In spite of the damning evidence, the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, remains in office until retirement later this year. He'll collect his pension with not so much as a censure on his record of public service. A skilled communicator, he even appeared as a bit of church PR on Top Gear some time ago.

The 'apology' extended to the child victims who are now adults (the perpetrator went after choirboys, once he was dismissed on similar grounds from the Scout movement) merely cites systemic failures that we should now presume to be fixed, rather than holding specific clergy to account for their lack of protective oversight:

Yet, we wonder why so many have abandoned the Anglican church. Even if you discount the comparative ignorance of the '60's, we are now in an era in which CRB checks are routinely mandated. Yet, the 'good' bishop was happy to endorse a 1999 Permission to Officiate for a previously convicted paedophile.

This case needed a clear and inspiring show of root-and-branch disciplinary rigour. Instead, victims got a set of ecclesiastical sound-bites aimed at avoiding organisational incrimination. Perhaps, we need a Christian equivalent of the Nazi-hunter to root out these convicted perverts before they occupy a role of trust. There must be a range of XXXL granite dog-collars on reserve for them in hell.

It's not the quality of theology, preaching and social initiatives that undermine the Anglican church, nor the rise of secularism. It is the reasonable public fear that at a certain level, we are a church run by those who can dismiss the damning evidence that would prevent interlopers ('wolves in sheep's clothing') from exploiting public trust with impunity.

There is an abiding recognition that many of our leaders are far too interested in publicised political debate, civic prominence and the advocacy of single-issue social causes to worry about a nurturing relationship with each individual parishioner, as a true shepherd would nurture sheep. Yet, the gospel not about driving through grand policies, but the transmission of divine grace through nurturing change, mentoring guidance and committed personal interaction. You can easily identify those who don't engage at those levels.

You can't overcome those obstacles from the pulpit alone. You can only establish important ideals. People will respond to someone who is alongside, rather than above them. That's why I'm signing up for the mentoring course that I mentioned last year. My extended two-cents worth here might just add up.


Friday, 17 February 2012

The Genesis Prototype of Sexual Union

It all depends on whether you view the Genesis account of heterosexual differentiation and union as THE definitive prototype of marriage, or just the origin of its heterosexual variant. The event is presented in Genesis to explain why a man relinquishes his parental bonds to develop a new line of kinship. Christ’s application of this scripture makes clear that He accepted that Eve’s body was partially derived from Adam. The divinely induced sleep and mitosis began the furtherance of the human creation specifically for co-operation between companionable adult lives and for pro-creation.

As Christians, we must assume that, as with Adam, Eve was brought to life by the breath of God. As with references to Satan as the serpent, the specifics of her creation are cloaked in allegorical terms. Although the underlying moral truth remains, the text involves some language fashioned for the consumption of primitive minds. As Paul said : ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.’ (1 Cor. 13:11)

Adam’s response on introduction to Eve implies that God had already revealed to him that she was derived from his own physical material. Out of that knowledge, he declares an immediate, instinctive kinship followed by naming his new partner in the great work of propagating mankind to become the dominant species on earth: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man’.

However, we know from the fact of gender that Eve’s creation involved sexual differentiation. It is the sexual differentiation within our species that facilitates sexual union. Sexual union arises from a created instinct to return to what was parted at the dawn of creation from Adam’s body. This natural desire to join sexually is not universal. However, in the case of marriage, it must take precedence over parental and filial demands. Marriage involves more than sex, it is a commitment to build affinity, a new line of kinship distinct from that brought about by procreation itself.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20 – 24)

1. This does not mean that the woman had did not have independence of life, choice, substance and an equal relationship with God. The breath of life from God would have animated her body to become a living soul. However, Adam’s ordained authority over creation was committed to him first. He was given the discretion to name all of God’s creation including Eve herself. His authority was neither to remain unshared with Eve, nor to be usurped by her.

2. Although pro-creation may be an outcome of sexual union, there is no reference to the propagation of the species in this particular passage. Sexual union occurs through an instinctive desire to re-join what was parted by design in creation. The wife’s body is joined to her husband’s in organic union. Sexual union makes their bodies and lives into extensions of each other. The intricately co-ordinated act of sexual union should inspire a commitment to grow, develop and harmonise effort towards their common purpose of family, emulating the satisfaction of that union in a shared life of mutual giving. This is why Paul expresses deep concern over fornication. Harmonising sexual behaviour with a person of promiscuous greed contradicts the re-born life of self-sacrifice to Christ:

‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.’ (Eph. 5:3)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (1 Cor. 6:13 – 17)

The difference between fornication and the sexual union described in the account of creation is that the latter involves intent to forge a new family unit by leaving the 'descent group', the man leaves his father and mother first. The same cannot be said of the promiscuous sexual union that Paul denounces here. Promiscuity thwarts the effort to secure a permanent offshoot of kinship (what the law calls affinity) that is the aim of marriage. However, Paul's central argument is that we are Christ's physical presence on earth, His body. The church (being the body of Christ) will be re-joined to her head, Christ, in the resurrection. Sexual immorality degrades Christ by joining His body to those who indulge in illicit sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

3. Christ’s own declaration is that joining to one’s wife is an act of permanent kinship arising from God’s unrevoked design intent for marriage at creation. Children are marriage’s blessing, but NOT its condition. Additionally, its dissolution was never instigated by God. Divorce was a provision requested by Moses to accommodate human intransigence. Christ has enunciated that sexual unfaithfulness (whether by a complete neglect of conjugal rights, or adultery) is the chief ground for ending attempts at marital reconciliation. Paul adds desertion by the unbelieving partner to this. Still, divorce is NOT a licence to re-marry. The Genesis prototype remains: ‘what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ We should not pretend that a conditional divine concession under Moses was unconditionally instigated and approved by God. Certainly no more than we consider how God accommodated Israel’s desire to replace the priest-prophet theocracy ordained through the Law of Moses with a monarchy in line with her Canaanite neighbours:

‘But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Sam. 8:6 – 9)

4. Adam declared what Eve meant to Him. Man is told the wider context of human sexuality as it relates to God’s plan:

‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Gen. 1:27, 28)

Man and woman are both created in the image of God. However, under God, their respective roles in the shared task of establishing global beneficent order over the animal kingdom are not the same. God’s intent for humanity, as revealed here, would have been subverted, were humans to have largely turned to homosexuality after a few generations.

5. Although the Pharisees wanted to debate the acceptability of divorce, Christ harks back to the Genesis prototype as the perpetually authoritative prototype for marriage (Mark 10:7). Paul also refers to Genesis as the prototype for male disciplinary authority in Church, highlighting both the past consequences of subverting male authority and the pre-eminent role of women in nurturing the young:

‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be restored through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.’ (1 Tim. 2:11 – 15)

The conclusion is that Genesis is the authoritative, universally applicable prototype for our sexual roles. Whether I am an overbearing, unloving, uncommitted heterosexual, divorced and contemplating re-marriage, or in a homosexual relationship, I am challenged by the prospect of divine judgement to re-apply these precepts of the Genesis account to my life and relationships.