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Friday, 17 June 2011

Redefining marriage!

The following is the text of a communication that I have just sent off to the Civil Partnerships Consultation.  This consultation is with reference to the proposal, by the current government, to permit the civil contract between two persons of the same gender to be entered into within a church building (or any other 'religious' building), and to receive a religious blessing from a member of the clergy.

The proposed amendment to the 2004 Act would apply, as far as I can make out, only to England and Wales.  However, the First Minister of the Scottish Government has already stated that he is sympathetic to such a move within Scotland, and there is certainly a strong lobby group seeking such a change, north of the border.  Given the more traditional values that are often maintained in the Province, the N.I. Assembly might stand firm for a little longer - but would undue pressure from the rest of the U.K. lead them to eventually 'cave in'?

If you wish to make your own submission to the consultation (before June 23rd), you could go to www.care.org.uk/civilpartnerships for some initial guidance.

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Please note my concerns with regard to the proposed amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act (2004) which Act permits two people of the same gender to enter into a partnership on a secular foundation. As such, like civil marriage, civil partnerships have to be registered in a secular venue and without religious content.

It is my understanding that the amendment proposed by both Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, and Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Equalities would, if accepted, bring about a substantial change to this situation, by "permitting" such civil contracts to be entered into within consecrated buildings, and to receive a 'blessing' from a minister of religion. 

My concerns are, among others, that if civil contracts and services of blessing were to be held so consecutively, then they would quickly become combined, and the secular nature of the civil partnership would be clearly compromised.  This situation would also create the anomalous situation in which the contractual union of two persons of the same gender would have been formalised within a religious context - something, I am certain, that was never in the minds of those who legislated for the 2004 Act.

Marriage, I would respectfully suggest is, in the eyes of the vast majority of the British people, the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life.  This traditional marriage is also, I would submit, the best environment of the upbringing of a child.  it is surely of consequence that same-gender partnerships are incapable, without assistance from someone of the opposite gender, of producing offspring.  Perhaps nature, itself, is trying to tell us something!!

Although it is stated that such 'blessings' will not be forced upon the clergy (para 2.5, inter al), I note that, on p.48 of the Consultation Document, the statement is made, concerning the proposal, that "It gives same-sex couples from faith groups that opt in a legal right to celebrate and form their union in the place where they worship, a civil law right available to opposite-sex couples through religious marriage." (my emphasis).  Recent judgments would, at least, suggest that the homosexual/lesbian.bisexual lobby groups would be all too ready to claim such a "legal right" - and to take legal action if their wishes were not met!

I am also concerned that this would be, as has happened in so many instances in the past, the "thin end of the wedge".  I note that the Ministerial Foreword ends with the statement that "During our engagement with stakeholders on these proposals it was also made clear by many that there is a desire to move further towards equal marriage and partnerships. This document does not  over these further steps, but our commitment remains to consult on how legislation can develop, working with all those who have an interest in this area." (my emphases).  This wording, it seems to me, indicates a clear willingness, at least on the part of the signatories, to make further moves towards the full redefinition of marriage, as is the stated objective of a number of the more vocal members of the homosexual/lesbian/bisexual lobby.

The terms of Human Rights, and Equality, legislation have already led to a dramatic curtailment of freedom of belief and worship within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  I fear that if this proposed Amendment were to enter the Statute Book, it would merely give the more militant members of the homosexual/lesbian/bisexual community further opportunity to undermine marriage, the family, and society itself

Monday, 13 June 2011

Aid, vaccinations, and promises.

Unlike some, I applaud the Prime Minister for his brave move in committing the U.K. to providing £814 million to provide vaccinations for children in some of the poorest of the world's developing countries.  He was obviously aware that his announcement would be unacceptable to the "charity begins at home" brigade, but he went ahead and did the honourable thing. 

His very words were telling.  "I think there is a strong moral case for keeping our promises to the world's poorest and helping them, even when we face challenges at home." he said.  "When you make a promise to the poorest children in the world, you should keep it."

However, I do hope that Mr Cameron will quickly realise that, when one makes a promise to anyone, there is a strong moral case for doing all in one's power to keep it.  On that basis, I look forward to his announcement that, after all of the pre-General Election blustering about a referendum on our continuing membership of the dysfunctional gravy-train that is known as the European Union, and that costs us almost £50 million EVERY DAY (not including euro-zone bail-outs), one will be announced in the next Queen's Speech.

Mind you, I'm not holding my breath!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Guidance!

Today, I had the pleasure and privilege of preaching twice before Coatbridge Baptist Church.  I've been there a few times in the past - but they keep inviting me back!  I really felt at home today as, in the morning when the Pastor was speaking to the children, he made me the butt of a joke; while this evening, the Secretary welcomed me - and forgot my surname!!!

I enjoy meeting with the Fellowship at CBC, not least because I often come away with something that wasn't expected.  The Pastor has a number of interesting quotations, and the like, in the vestry (the minister's room, for those unfamiliar with the terminology of ecclesiastical buildings!).  Today was no exception and, with thanks to Gil, I reproduce an excellent quotation that deals, superbly, with a common question that is asked by many:

"What is God's plan for your life?  Do not spend time fretting over the 'problem' of guidance.  If you are walking with the Lord, then He is committed (in writing!) to guide you.  Do what you know He wants now - and leave Him to show the next step at the right time.  The problem is not guidance, but obedience." (Dick Dowsett)

Come to think of it, that quotation is not only helpful - it is also extremely challenging!  Are you (and I) up for the challenge?

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Education, education, education!

The heading is, of course, the famous (or should that be infamous?!) mantra of Tony B Liar when he first became Prime Minister of the UK.  However, in the intervening years, education in the country has, in my opinion, become more and more of a joke.

I'm not even referring to the alleged "dumbing-down" of examination papers in both secondary and tertiary education.  Nor am I referring to the news, this past week, that there were a number of "unanswerable" questions in certain examination papers produced by some English Examination Board(s).  [By the way, if you want to find out about a TRULY unanswerable question, go to my audio blog, and take the time to listen to the message under that title!].  I'm not even referring to the apparent inability of even those who would claim to be highly educated to produce correct spelling and grammar in either their written, or spoken, communications!

So why have I come to the personal conclusion to which I have referred?  Some time ago, a photograph was published in a local newspaper.  It was of a Graduating Class, resplendent in gowns and, if my memory serves me well, mortar boards, and each one holding his/her 'parchment'.  Every face was glowing with pride at the achievement that was being celebrated.  One thing alone spoiled the situation.  This was a class of very small children who were "graduating" from their Nursery School!

Now, I am all for celebrating any stage in the journey of life, and it could certainly be argued that these children had achieved something after their year of pre-schooling.  But to call it a Graduation, and dress them up as if they had just successfully completed a 3-5 year course at University ...???  As far as I was, and am, concerned it simply devalued the real thing.

This week, I also learned that the University of Dundee - Dundee being the home of publishers D.C.Thomson & Co, responsible for the childhood (and later!) favourites such as the Beano and Dandy comics, with their plethora of fascinating characters - has launched a degree programme in Comic Books!

I know a number of ministers who have been awarded an honorary D.D. (Doctorate in Divinity); but I think that I might try to go one better and work for the degree of D.D.D. (Doctorate in Desperate Dan), which might even permit me, as part of my research, to scoff the occasional 'cow pie'!   Instead of a D.S.L. (Doctorate in Sacred Law). I could maybe try for a D.L.S. (Doctorate in Lord Snooty).  Unlike some G.Ps. who are entitled to write M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) after their names, perhaps I could aspire to the qualification of D.D.M. (Doctor of Dennis the Menace)!

I do have a fair number of academic qualifications to my name, and have graduated with full degrees from three different Universities.  To gain my qualifications - which also cover a variety of academic disciplines - I have spent years in either full- or part-time study; spent countless hours researching my subjects; and produced well over a million words.  I am no natural genius, and every Certificate, Diploma, and Parchment has been the result of hard work and dogged determination.

Perhaps I am just an intellectual snob!  However, it was others who coined the expression "Mickey Mouse degrees" for those which were/are awarded for what are, in fact, vocational subjects.  I suspect that the University of Dundee has taken that concept to its ultimate height!

P.P. (post-publication!)   I've just noticed that the new degree programme (which will actually offer the degrees of M.Litt., and Ph.D.) is to be led by Dr Chris Murray.  It's a pity that Chic, of that ilk, is no longer available.  Now those would have been lectures worth attending!!!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sharia

Some will be aware that there are Sharia (Islamic Law) Courts already operating in certain parts of the U.K. This has been a cause for concern to many for some time.  However, at last, someone is taking positive action with regard to the situation.  Baroness Cox - a 'cross-bench' peer, and a leading humanitarian campaigner - has introduced, to the House of Lords, the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which is intended to outlaw the use of Sharia law where it conflicts with English law.

You may read about this in more detail at

http://www.christianconcern.com/our-concerns/social/new-bill-to-stop-sharia-law-operating-in-the-uk

and, if you wish (and you have a UK home address), you may encourage other members of the House of Lords to support the Bill, by going to

http://equalandfree.org/take-action-now  (in both cases, please copy and paste.  I still haven't found out how to add 'hot links' to a post!)

and following the directions given there.

I would hope that many will do so, and take a stand against this creeping of Sharia into this country.  To fail to do so now could well mean that, at some time in the not-too-distant future, it would end up trumping traditional British Law which, while a long way from being perfect (it is, after all, man-made!), has a fairness, and equality, that is totally lacking in Sharia.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

On baptism and homosexuality!

More than thirty years ago, I was wrestling with the subject of water baptism within the Christian Church, and the appropriate subjects for that sacrament.  I was a parish minister within the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) - a denomination that held (and holds) that it was (is) acceptable to baptise infants on the basis of a profession of faith made by their parents. However, after much study, and soul-searching, I had come to the conclusion that the teaching of the New Testament was that only those who had recognised, and confessed, their sinful state; who had repented of their sins; who had deliberately and consciously surrendered their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; and had accepted the salvation that He had won for them on the cross at Calvary; were suitable candidates for water baptism.

My decision led to a period of almost two years before I accepted the inevitable and demitted (resigned from) my charge.  Less than a year later, I was baptised as a believer, on my own profession of faith, and gave up my status as a practicing minister of the Kirk.  None of this was easy!  I was married, with two small children, and in a 'tied' house.  We had very little in the way of savings (ministerial stipends were not known for their largesse!), and I believed that the Lord was now leading me into the teaching profession - requiring a further year of full-time postgraduate study.  Yet that same Lord provided for all of our needs - and blessed us abundantly over and above the necessities.

It was that experience that gives me, I believe, some authority to address the situation that is facing so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are still ministering in, and members of, the Church of Scotland.  The recent decision by the General Assembly of that Church to admit practicing homosexuals to the pastoral care of congregations goes completely against the clear teaching of the written Word of God. Accordingly, those who love that Word, and ministers who have sought - many of them for decades - to be faithful to it in their preaching and their teaching, face the same kind of dilemma that faced me all of those years ago.  

I understand something of the pain and anguish that they are currently experiencing.  I understand the brother who was only recently called to another congregation, and who feels that the Lord would not have called him there for just a few months.  I understand the members who are looking, in vain, for some clear guidance from the pulpit - I have heard of at least one believer who left her C of S service last Sunday in tears. She had gone to church expecting to hear something in the way of an observation regarding the acceptance, only six days earlier, by the Church of practising homosexual clergy; something by way of a response; something; anything. But nothing was said.

I also know that, when I stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, it will be my faithfulness to Him on which I will be judged - not my faithfulness to a denomination, or even to a congregation, where such faithfulness goes against being faithful to Him!

When I was going through my own 'crisis period' a number of ministerial friends sought to provide me with help and guidance - usually quoting a selection of Biblical texts.  Without, in any way, belittling such texts, the words that probably made the greatest impression on me came from a dear minister friend (a Presbyterian!) in Australia.  Ian, in the course of a long, and lovingly-written letter, quoted these words, penned by William Shakespeare: "This above all: to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" (Hamlet, Act 1, Sc.iii).

The word of the LORD through the prophet Haggai may be seen to be relevant: "Thus says YHWH Sabaoth: Ask the priests to decide this question, 'If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and touches with his skirt bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?' The priests answered, 'No.' Then said Haggai, 'If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?' The priests answered, 'It does become unclean.' Then Haggai said, 'So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.'" (2:11-14; RSV).  In the vision given to the apostle, John, he hears a voice saying: "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities." (Rev 18:4-5; RSV).

As I share the pain of brothers and sisters, I commend all of those words to them.  It is a laudable aim to seek to 'change' the Kirk from the inside.  I fear that it is, in the current climate, an impossible task.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Free to speak.

This morning, I attended a Memorial Service for the late Shahbaz Bhatti - the Federal Minister of Minorities' Affairs, in Pakistan, who was assassinated as he left for his office on March 2nd.   Mr Bhatti, himself a disciple of Jesus, was a fearless, and outspoken, advocate for all minority groups in Pakistan.  He was fully aware that there were those who opposed his stance, and his attempts to have the 'blasphemy law' - Section 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code - repealed, but stated on more than one occasion that he was willing to die for his cause, and his Lord.  This he did, as he was hit by a hail of bullets from cowards who sped off on a motor-bike.

On my way home from the Memorial Service, I had occasion to stop off in the centre of Glasgow.  As I walked along Sauchiehall Street (one of the main thoroughfares, for those who may not be familiar with the city), my attention was attracted by the words of a street preacher, who was proclaiming a simple, straightforward, Gospel message.  I thought of my Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan - and in some fifty other countries around the world - who do not enjoy that same freedom of expression and speech that that preacher was able to enjoy.  I thought of the crowds who were passing by - giving not a thought to the words of life that were being proclaimed.  I thought of the thousands, and tens of thousands, who are incarcerated by the authorities in their homelands, for as little as owning a copy of the Bible, let alone preaching in the open-air.

At the service, we had been reminded of some of the atrocities that disciple of Jesus suffer in Pakistan.  Sadly, we could have multiplied those instances, over and over again, and not confined ourselves to Pakistan.
We, in the "free world", with our (albeit less-than-perfect) democracies, and free elections, don't always appreciate how well-off we are.  It may be a beneficial experience to log on to one (or more) of the sites in My Favourite Links (scroll down the right-hand bar) that deal with the Persecuted Church, and read some of the true stories that are available.

We gave thanks for the life of Shahbaz Bhatti, and for his faithfulness to the Lord - even unto death; we give thanks for all of those who are ready to suffer, and even die, for the sake of His Name; I gave thanks for a man who was willing to be the object of sarcastic comments and heckling, or to be totally ignored.

They are among those "... of whom the world is not worthy ..." (Heb 11:38).   I am privileged to call them my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

It's not an amnesty!

Listening, as usual, to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, this morning, and an interview with Damien Green, the Coalition Government's Immigration Minister, two familiar quotes came to mind.  The first was from the works of William Shakespeare: "A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2); the second was from Lewis Carroll's book, Through the Looking Glass, in which Humpty Dumpty makes the statement that, "“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

The issue was the claimed (or un-claimed, if you are Damien Green) amnesty for some 160,000 asylum-seekers who have been in the U.K. for at least six years.  These people, not all of whom, apparently, have been checked out, have been, in effect, granted an amnesty.  Keith Vaz, of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, who was also being interviewed, seemed to believe that these people had, in effect, been granted an amnesty.  On the simple basis that so many have been granted leave to stay in the UK, without the appropriate checks on the eligibility of their claims, I find it difficult not to agree with Mr Vaz!  Mr Green, on the other hand, insisted on speaking about an administrative measure!

Of course, as a disciple of Jesus, I would wish to assist anyone who was in serious danger in their own country.  The Children of Israel were instructed that they should not "... oppress a stranger ; you know the heart of a stranger , for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Ex 23:9).  Jesus was very clear that our treatment of a stranger is a mark of how we treat Him!  "... I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" (Matt 25:35-40).

However, it is also true that, writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us that, "If any one will not work , let him not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work .  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living." (II Thess 3:10-12).

This, it seems to me, is the crux of the matter.  Those who are in danger - and I know of so many in the persecuted church who fall into that category - should, surely, be welcomed, and supported until they are in a position to support themselves.  On the other hand, those who simply want to come to the UK for the social benefits that are so readily provided, should be returned to their country of origin and encouraged to work to improve the lot of both themselves and their fellow-country-men/women.

It seems so simple to me - but perhaps I am looking at the whole situation in too simplistic a manner!  Doubtless, if I am, someone will find this post, and take the time to write a corrective comment!