Wednesday 30 April 2014

Why assisted suicide should not be legalised in Britain

I have recently been published in a head to head with Sir Terence English in the Oxford Mail on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in Britain. My contribution to the debate is reproduced below. Perhaps not surprisingly I have said ‘no’.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would inevitably place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others.

The ‘right to die’ would so easily become the ‘duty to die’. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed and would be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure.

Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions are already real and dangerous and would be made worse.

Any so-called ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, will not work.

This is because exactly the same arguments – autonomy and compassion – would apply to people outside the categories decided upon and so any law allowing it for some would immediately be challenged under equality legislation.

If for terminally ill people, why not for those who have chronic illnesses but are ‘suffering unbearably’?

If for adults why not for ‘Gillick competent’ children? If for the mentally competent why not for people with dementia who ‘would have wanted it’?

The news coming from other jurisdictions which have gone down this route, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, shows a pattern of incremental extension and pushing of the boundaries – an increase in cases year on year, a widening of categories of people to be included and people being killed without their consent.

Belgium has recently legalised euthanasia for children and in the Netherlands babies with spina bifida and people with dementia are already put to death.

This is why British parliaments have rightly rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide in Britain three times in the last seven years and why the vast majority of UK doctors, almost all medical groups including the British Medication Association (BMA), Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and all major disabled people’s advocacy groups are also opposed.

Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for, so our real priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.

This issue is understandably an emotive one but hard cases make bad law and even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom. Our present law with its blanket prohibition on all medical killing does not need changing.

The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy.

DR Peter Saunders is a retired surgeon and campaign director of the Care Not Killing Alliance, representing 40 organisations opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia:

Northern Ireland rejects same sex marriage for the third time in 18 months

Yesterday the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a motion calling for the introduction of legislation to introduce same-sex marriage by 51 votes to 43.  

This is the third time in the last 18 months that the Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a motion seeking to introduce same-sex marriage. Last year, MLAs rejected gay marriage by 53 votes to 42, and in 2012 the plans were voted down 50 to 45.

I support Care NI and others in its welcome to the Assembly’s rejection of calls to redefine marriage in the province and like them will continue to work to uphold the traditional definition of marriage in the months and years to come.

My heartfelt thanks goes to all in Northern Ireland who wrote to their MLAs on this issue and all of those who prayed for the current definition of marriage to be maintained.

You can read more about the vote here and here. Amnesty International has apparently warned that a legal challenge is likely. Same Sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales last year.

I have previously catalogued on this blog the reasons I opposed the legalisation of same sex marriage and have published 24 blog-posts on all aspects of the debate. My personal oppositions remains unchanged.

Monday 28 April 2014

Is the RCOG breaking the law by preventing pro-life doctors from receiving its degrees?

Last week I highlighted the fact that a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is barring doctors with pro-life views from receiving its degrees and diplomas. The story has been picked up by the Telegraph today. 

Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing those ‘contraceptives’ which can act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to updated FSRH guidelines .

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) is also barring such doctors from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

Or to put it bluntly – if you refuse to fit coils or prescribe the morning after pill (MAP) then you can’t train to treat infertility, cervical cancer or HIV either. This effectively means that many thousands of doctors will not be able to pursue a career in gynaecology and sexual health. 

And yet the use of emergency contraception and IUCDs like the coil makes up only a tiny part of the specialty of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) which also encompasses the following long list of conditions, treatments and procedures: screening for cancer of the cervix, ovary, breast, bowel, prostate and testes; all methods of contraception which act before fertilisation; reproductive endocrinology; SRH epidemiology; miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy; forensic gynaecology (management of sexual assault); genitourinary medicine (sexually transmitted infections, HIV, AIDs);  infertility/subfertility (male and female);  medical gynaecology (menorrhagia, dysmenorrhoea, dyspareunia, endometriosis, PCOS, amenorrhoea, pelvic pain, PMS ,continence, menopause); management of menopause; postnatal depression; prenatal diagnosis and psychosexual issues.

So the effect of this RCOG ban will be to drive those with a moral objection to interventions which kill early human embryos (including Christians, Muslims and others) not just out of family planning but out of all these other areas of medical care as well.

This is an extraordinary case of taking a sledge-hammer to a walnut more worthy of gulag or gestapo than what David Cameron has called a ‘Christian country’. Surely reasonable accommodation could be made for pro-life doctors? Can the RCOG really argue that there is no creative alternative to these draconian measures?

After all, allowance is already made by the RCOG for doctors who have a moral objection to abortion to train in sexual and reproductive health because the Abortion Act 1967 has a conscience clause. 

But the RCOG, it appears, is exploiting the fact that no similar legal provision exists for fitting coils or prescribing the MAP, by punishing doctors who want to abide by the Declaration of Geneva (which enjoins the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception).

This action by the RCOG is not just profoundly discriminatory but may also be illegal. Under equality legislation, it is unlawful to discriminate against people who have ‘protected characteristics’ - treating someone less favourably because of certain attributes of who they are. This is known as ‘direct discrimination’.

Examples of direct discrimination include dismissing someone because of a protected characteristic, deciding not to employ them, refusing them training, denying them a promotion, or giving them adverse terms and conditions all because of a protected characteristic.

These protected characteristics include religion or belief. It’s also possible to be discriminated against for not holding a particular (or any) religion or belief. Imagine the outcry if the College were to bar from training doctors who wished to prescribe the morning after pill.  But the belief that killing embryos is OK, is a belief, just like the belief that it is not OK.

So it appears, at least on the surface, that the RCOG might well be guilty of direct discrimination. The RCOG is claiming in the Telegraph today that these guidelines are not new as if that somehow justifies their position. But the key issue is that the guidelines are not just and fair and now that the news is out I'm sure that many will be concerned. 

I expect that some serious questions will be asked in parliament and elsewhere about this matter in the coming days and I would not be surprised if some government ministers got very angry as a result, or if a doctor, or a group of doctors and nurses, contemplated bringing a legal case against the College. 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

RCOG faculty bars prolife doctors from receiving its degrees and diplomas

Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to new guidelines.

Under new rules issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) earlier this year these doctors and nurses are also to be barred from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

The FSRH is a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists established on the 26th March 1993 as the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. In 2007 it changed its name to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.

Whilst many contraceptives act by preventing the union of sperm and egg, some, including most IUCDs (intrauterine contraceptive devices) and the morning-after pill EllaOne (ulipristal acetate), also act by preventing the implantation of an early embryo. In other words they are embryocidal or abortifacient, rather than truly contra-ceptive.

Many doctors, of all faiths and none, have a moral objection to destroying human life and wish therefore to avoid using drugs or methods which act after fertilisation.

In fact this position was once held by the British Medical Association (BMA) when it adopted the Declaration of Geneva in 1948. This states, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception even against threat’.

But in 1983 the words ‘from the time of conception’ were amended to ‘from its beginning’ due to sensitivities about increasing medical involvement in abortion. The word 'beginning' was left undefined, giving doctors the opportunity to argue, contrary to the biological reality, that early human life was not actually human life at all. 

Now it seems that doctors who wish to abide by the original wording of the Declaration of Geneva are to be barred from practising in certain medical specialties. This is an extraordinary about face. 

The Faculty may argue that they are not barring doctors and nurses from practising, but simply from obtaining certain qualifications. But as many job appointments will be conditional on applicants having these qualifications this is effectively also a bar on practice.

Interestingly doctors who have a moral objection to abortion are still able to complete the Faculty’s qualifications because the Abortion Act 1967 contains a conscience clause which protects them. But there is no law protecting those who object to destroying human embryos. 

Many Christians believe that every human life, regardless of age, sex, race, degree of disability or any other biological characteristic, is worthy of the utmost respect, wonder, empathy and protection.

This is based on the idea, taught in the Bible, that human beings are made in the image of God. In a society which is becoming more hostile to Christian faith and values it is perhaps not surprising that we are seeing institutional discrimination of this kind.

Perhaps it is time for Christian doctors and nurses, and others who share their prolife views, to set up an alternative training programme.

We might have to change the English flag, but Alban is a better choice for patron saint than George

 St George's Day, 23 April, may go almost unnoticed in England, but the dragon slayer is also the patron saint of many other countries, cities and regions - where traditions range from street parties and carnivals to the simple act of handing out red roses.

An interesting article on the BBC website today reminds us that Palestinians have particular reason to display the symbol and revere the early Christian martyr. For them he is a local hero who opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land.

St George was a Roman soldier during the Third Century AD, when the Emperor Diocletian was in power.

It is said that he once lived in al-Khadr near Bethlehem, on land owned by his mother's family.

The saint is remembered for giving away his possessions and remaining true to his religion when he was imprisoned and tortured before he was finally executed.

There are many churches in the West Bank and Israel today that bear the name of St George - at al-Khadr, Lod and in the Galilee, for example.

In the 1,700 years or so since his death, he has also become identified with other figures, some historical and some mythical.

The legend of him saving a maiden by killing a dragon probably originated in the Middle Ages.

But quite why someone, however noble, who lived in Palestine in the third century should be the patron saint of England is anyone’s guess, especially when there is a far better home-grown candidate from the same century who actually lived and died here.

The city of St Albans, where I live, is named after Alban, who is generally accepted to be the first Christian martyr in Britain. He was a resident of Verulamium, the Roman town on the site, at the time the third largest in Britain after London and Bath.

Whilst sheltering a priest fleeing from persecution Alban became a Christian himself and was beheaded for refusing to recant. The full civil trial that led to his execution in AD 209 was advised by the son of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus who was visiting the town at the time.

After Verulamium had fallen into ruin they built a church and later a cathedral out of its bricks on the very spot where Alban had lost his life. The cathedral still contains a shrine dedicated to him.

Alban was not the only resident of St Albans to give his life for his faith. In 1555 a non-conformist, George Tankerfield, was burnt at the stake outside the cathedral for refusing to believe the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (that the bread and wine at the eucharist literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ).

One doesn’t face death now in Britain for becoming a Christian or refusing to believe denominational doctrine and certain not for being a non-conformist. (Our own church was formed when a group of non-conformist believers were thrown out of what is now St Albans Cathedral  during the great ejection in 1662. It now meets peacefully just a hundred yards from the Cathedral gate).

But that aside, the events of Alban’s life illustrate two great eternal truths.

Alban gave his own life whilst at the same time clothing a stranger in a cloak of protection. In this way he was giving witness to his own master Jesus Christ, who through his death on the cross in our place clothes us with his own righteousness, thus protecting us from the judgement of God which we all rightfully deserve. This is the truth of substitutionary atonement, the very heart of the Christian faith, which we celebrate at Easter.

And just as the bricks of Alban’s Roman town were taken to build a cathedral as testimony again to Jesus, so the Kingdoms of this world will be superseded and conquered by the Kingdom of God which will endure forever. This is the truth of God’s sovereign rule over history and Christ’s triumph over and redemption of all creation.

By God's design, Rome took the lives of both Jesus and Alban. But Rome is long dead whilst Christ lives, and through him Alban and we also, if we respond to him in repentance and faith.

So by all means keep George for England’s patron saint if you will, but as for me, I’m with Alban and would be happy to substitute his flag (left)  for George’s Red Cross on a white background any day. 

It needn’t change the Union Jack that much either -  the various flags of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland together would give us the same basic red, white and blue arrangement. All we would need to add is a strip of yellow to the diagonals. Think about it.

Monday 21 April 2014

When secularists start running leper colonies we should take their attack on Cameron seriously

An assortment of ‘liberal’ journalists, scientists and celebrities have today accused David Cameron of risking causing ‘alienation’ in society by saying Britain is a ‘Christian country’.

The 50 signatories to a letter to the Daily Telegraph say that Britain is largely a ‘non-religious society’ and warn about the ‘negative consequences for politics and society’ that the Prime Minister’s comments engender.

Interestingly, other faith leaders have defended Cameron. Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has spoken of the UK’s ‘deep historical and structural links’ to Christianity and Anil Bhanot, managing director of the Hindu Council UK, said he is ‘very comfortable’ with the PM’s description. Ironically, the Muslims and Hindus appear more tolerant than the ‘liberals’.

On one level the 50 correspondents are correct. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do not hold to core historic teachings of the Christian faith such as those we celebrate at Easter - Jesus’ divinity, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and return in judgement. Biblical teaching on ethics is also increasingly falling out of favour at a practical level – witness Britain’s family breakdown, spiralling rates of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases, epidemics of alcohol misuse, gambling, debt and obsession with celebrity culture, personal peace and material things.

In fact David Cameron has himself described his faith as fading and reappearing ‘like Magic FM in the Chilterns’.  His support of same sex marriage, his weakness on opposing abortion and defending Christian conscience along with his glaring omission of any reference to Christ’s death and resurrection in his Easter address make it highly likely that Jesus and his apostles would not have recognised the PM’s faith as orthodox. He may profess Christianity, but as I have previously argued, actually fails Luther’s test of confession.

But at another level the prime minister is quite correct about Britain being ‘Christian’. After all, 59% of Britons still self-identify as Christians according to the 2011 ONS survey. And there is no doubt that Christian influence on British society has been immense.

In his speech on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Cameron said that the Bible had ‘bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage… from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art’.

Our politics too, he said, owed to Christianity everything from ‘human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy’ and ‘from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects’. Not only did it place the 'first limits on Royal Power’ but, even more significantly, ‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was… a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality’.

Cameron correctly echoed Margaret Thatcher who once said, ‘we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible’ and illustrated this with a list of foundational Christian values including ‘responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities…’

All of which raises the question why these 50 atheists and secular humanists are so incensed by the Prime Minister’s references to the Christian faith. Is there a deeper issue here?

Telegraph blogger Toby Young has rather provocatively suggested that ‘the liberal metropolitan elite’ despise Christianity because it poses a challenge to their moral authority. These people constitute ‘a secular priesthood’ , he argues, who see ‘anything that suggests there might be a higher source of authority than them when it comes to matters of right and wrong’ as ‘a direct challenge to their status’.  What greater threat to our moral status than the ‘God-man’ Jesus Christ who asserted that he was both our Saviour and Judge?

But is there, perhaps, also a hint of jealousy? Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), the late journalist and author was a secular humanist for most of his life (before a late Christian conversion), but, like the PM, was honest about Christianity’s social impact. He said, ‘I’ve spent a number of years in India and Africa where I found much righteous endeavour undertaken by Christians of all denominations; but I never, as it happens, came across a hospital or orphanage run by the Fabian Society, or a humanist leper colony’.

Come to think of it, the secularists haven’t actually been at the forefront of the sort of community-led initiatives the PM has been praising either – where are the secularist food banks, night shelters, street pastors, debt-counsellors and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres?

So my challenge to the 50 secularists is this – bleat as much as you like, but if you really want to be taken as seriously as Christ himself as a life-changing and community-transforming force, then please demonstrate to us how secularism can transform societies and communities for good? Where is the historical legacy? Where is the evidence that secularism is a positive society-transforming power? 

After all, actions speak louder than words. And Jesus said that the real test of a tree was its fruit.   

Saturday 19 April 2014

Understanding God’s role and ours in evangelism – Get it wrong and you're setting yourself up for unnecessary grief

The prospect of evangelism causes many Christians to break out in a cold sweat.

To maintain our sanity we need to understand clearly who is responsible for what in sharing the Good News.

In particular we need to address the questions, 'What is God's part and what does he expect of me?' 

Get the answers to those questions wrong and you will find that your experience of evangelism is an unhappy one because you have fallen into one of the following traps:

  1. 'If God is in control there is no point in me doing anything.'
  2. 'I feel so guilty that I don't share my faith with everyone I meet.'
  3. 'I must find a better technique to make people come to Christ.'
  4. 'I give up! None of those I talk to has followed Christ.'
So what's the answer?

We need first to see the big picture - it is God who is in control of history and the universe itself. He is its Creator (Gn 1:1-2; Ps 8:3; 2 Pet 3:5), Owner (Ps 24:1; Jb 41:11), Sustainer (Heb 1:3; Ps 147:8-9,15-18), Director (Dn 2:21, 4:17; Is 40:15,22-24) and Redeemer (Rm 8:20-22; 2 Cor 4:16-5:5)

It is he who will bring history to an end (Rev 5:9-6:1). His ultimate plan is a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1; Is 65:17, 66:22) where there will be no more death, crying or pain (Rev 21:4), populated by a people drawn from every nation (Gn 12:3, Rev 7:9) who have been set apart to do his will (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet 2:9). He is now in the process of gathering this people (Mt 24:31) before the world as we know it is destroyed (Zeph 1:2-3; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 21:1). This is achieved through evangelism, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:15-17; Rm 10:14-17).

God's Sovereignty in Evangelism

The proclamation of the Gospel requires human instruments (us), but it is God's work. It is he who:

  • Gives us the Word to proclaim (Rom 1:1,16)
  • Opens doors of opportunity to proclaim it (Acts 14:27; Col 4:3)
  • Gives us the courage to speak (2 Tim 4:17; Acts 4:29; Eph 6:19-20)
  • Enables hearers to understand the message (Acts 16:14)
  • Convicts people of sin (John 16:8)
  • Enables sinners to repent (Acts 5:31,11:18; Eph 2:8)
  • Brings about rebirth (Acts 2:38; Rom 8:9; John 3:3-8)
God does all these things! The fact that God is sovereign in evangelism takes an enormous burden off our shoulders. 

But it doesn't mean that we can sit back and let him do all the work. William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement was told by the hyper-Calvinists of his day that if God wanted to save the lost, he would do it without his help. Carey's refusal to believe this led to the massive spread of the Gospel around the world in the 19th Century. God has chosen to use us. It is certainly his work to open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears, so that people will recognize Jesus as Lord - but it is our work (in his strength) faithfully to proclaim and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is God's means to bring men and women to faith.

What are the Implications for Us?

1. The biggest obstacle to evangelism is not technique but opposition. Our enemy the devil's opposition will take many forms...often our indifference means he hardly need bother doing anything else. But in reality he is a defeated enemy because Christ who lives in us has conquered him (Eph 1:19-21) and we share his victory (Eph 2:4-7; 1 Cor 10:13; 1 Jn 4:4).

2. Our response needs to be spiritual and practical. Paul's response was to pray and encourage others to pray also (Eph 6:18-20). Prayer is central because it is a recognition of our humble dependence on God. If he does not inspire and empower our efforts, our work will be in vain (Ps 127:1). We must pray for opportunities and courage.

3. But it does not stop with prayer. We must also obey. We are commanded to ...'go and make disciples...' (Mt 28:19). We have actively to step out in faith and take the opportunities he gives us.

God is in control of the universe and our own lives. Evangelism, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is his work, but we are his instruments. We need first to pray for opportunities, and the courage to use them to step out in faith.

This article is adapted from CMF’s Confident Christianity course

When ideology drives science – intellectual dishonesty in the ‘abortion/breast cancer’ and ‘change therapy' debates

In July 1949, the New England Journal of Medicine printed an article by Dr Leo Alexander titled 'Medical Science under Dictatorship'.

In it, he explains what happens to science when it 'becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy' of a political ideology.

'Irrespective of other ideologic trappings', he argues, the 'guiding philosophic principle of recent dictatorships' is to replace 'moral, ethical and religious values' with 'rational utility'.

Alexander eloquently demonstrates how 'medical science in Nazi Germany collaborated with this Hegelian trend' and became the source of 'propaganda' which was 'highly effective in perverting public opinion and public conscience, in a remarkably short time'.

This expressed itself in a rapid decline in standards of professional ethics and led ultimately to the German medical profession's active participation in 'the mass extermination of the chronically sick' and of 'those considered socially disturbing or racially and ideologically unwanted'.

Britain is not Nazi Germany and is a democracy rather than a dictatorship. However, all democracies are also susceptible to influence by well organised minorities and it is very clear, in this post-Christian society, that the corridors of power are increasingly filled by those who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview and values.

In fact, many of those who occupy positions of influence in our 'mountains of culture' – universities, schools, media, judiciary, parliament institutions and entertainment industry – are actively hostile to Christianity and supportive of public policy directions consistent with a secular humanist agenda – eg. pro-choice on abortion, supportive of 'assisted dying', embryo research and same sex marriage.

These issues are of course highly political. But is there any evidence that the 'medical science' marshalled to support them is in any way being influenced or shaped by secular humanist ideology?

Two articles in the latest edition of Triple Helix would say 'yes'. They make the case that financial or ideological vested interests can be used to stifle the truth when medical issues become highly politicised. Both articles question the way that British Royal Colleges have handled scientific evidence in their support for a certain public policy direction.

Donna Harrison, Executive Director and Director of Research and Public Policy at the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (AAPLOG), argues that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has misrepresented available scientific evidence to support its view that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

She explains why a link between abortion and breast cancer is entirely biologically plausible and points out how oft-quoted studies which deny such a link 'often resort to errant methodology which obscures the actual scientific question they were purported to answer'. She singles out for particular criticism a frequently cited meta-analysis by Beral et al on which the RCOG leans heavily in formulating its abortion guidance. She then cites a 2014 meta-analysis of 36 studies by Huang et al which looked specifically at the relationship between induced abortion (IA) and breast cancer. It found that IA is significantly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer among Chinese females, and that the risk of breast cancer increases as the number of IAs increases.

Peter May, retired GP from Southampton, takes issue with the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) over their opposition to 'change therapies' for unwanted same sex attraction. He accuses the College of locking itself into a 'born gay' ideology by ignoring the evidence to the contrary. The College's argument that causation is 'biological' has led to the widespread belief that LGB people are being 'true to their nature' in homosexual behaviour. Yet twin studies do not support this view and in 2006, a major Danish study reported, 'population-based, prospective evidence that childhood family experiences are important determinants of heterosexual and homosexual marriage decisions in adulthood.'

The position of the RCOG on the abortion breast cancer link, and the RCPsych on the causation of homosexual orientation, have both been profoundly influential on public policy. In fact the latter has even helped shape policy within the Church of England.

These College positions will remain crucially influential this year with the Department of Health about to issue guidelines on abortion and Parliament about to consider legislation seeking to ban 'change therapies'.

It is part of the role of Triple Helix to highlight issues like this so that our readers can participate in these debates in a fully informed way. They have profound implications, not just for public policy, but also for fully informed consent.

As Peter May concludes, 'We have a mandate to be passionate and honest about truth and to strive to teach it accurately. All truth belongs to God, and all untruths deny him. We must insist that love and truth are essential values in public discourse.'

This editorial initially appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Triple Helix

Thursday 17 April 2014

David Cameron is right about loving one’s neighbour but has he missed the whole point of Easter?

Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alistair Campbell famously said that the Labour government didn’t ‘do God’ but the Prime Minister’s Easter address to church leaders has him trending on twitter as #CameronJesus. Today he has called for Christians to be ‘unashamedly evangelical’.

David Cameron’s pronouncements have sparked controversy and criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Is the astronomical rise of charity food banks a consequence of the Coalition government’s welfare policy creating a new class urban poor? Is the exodus of traditional Tory voters to UKIP linked to Cameron embracing same sex marriage? What would Jesus, who had a heart for the poor and upheld the principle of ‘one man, one woman for life’, say to Cameron about both these issues?

Would he side with the 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders who wrote a letter this week calling on all political parties to tackle the causes of food poverty? Or with conservative evangelicals who sought to prevent the legal redefinition of marriage? Or both? Or neither?

But others have raised different questions altogether. Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge at the Parish Church of St Mary, south London, has criticised Cameron for reducing Christianity to merely ‘a religion of good works’.

The Prime Minister’s praise for the ‘countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ’ and his expounding of Christ’s command to ‘love thy neighbour’ is all well and good Fraser says.  

But it is not, as Cameron would have it, ‘the heart of Christianity’. Easter is about Christ’s death on a Roman cross and his resurrection. And Jesus was not crucified for ‘doing good’ but for what he said. Fraser argues that Cameron has sidestepped ‘full throttle Christianity’ to embrace a diluted faith devoid of doctrine that will be more palatable in a society which is essentially secular and post-Christian.

He laments the fact that what we get from politicians is ‘a pallid imitation of Christianity’, just ‘empty gesture politics’. Real faith, he argues, means ‘taking hard decisions and standing by them’. It is about addressing ‘darkness and struggle’. We have to ‘walk the way of the cross’, to ‘face rejection and humiliation’.

Fraser draws attention to those many places around the world where Christianity remains a criminal offence and asks ‘If Christianity was illegal in this country, would there be enough evidence to convict you of it?’

Cameron and Fraser are both partly right. Jesus did say that loving one’s neighbour summed up the moral teaching of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. And he did call his followers to take up their cross and follow him. He demanded nothing short of utter obedience, complete devotion, with all its consequences. ‘If you love me you will obey my commands’.

St Paul said that what ultimately mattered was ‘faith expressing itself through love’ and that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’. Both service and suffering are part of the package.

But, having said this, Christianity is not primarily about what we do for God. It is rather about what he has done for us. This does not mean that following Christ does not have profound moral implications. It does. But good works are not the way to God, but a response to his grace and mercy.

The two key questions raised by the historical events that we remember this week are not primarily about how we should live – important though that is – but are rather about the person and work of Christ. ‘Who actually was Jesus?’ and ‘Why did he choose to die?

Miss those and we miss the whole point of Easter. And the Gospel accounts leave us in no doubt as to what Christ taught about either. We cannot divorce Jesus’ moral teaching from what he said about his own identity and mission, and our predicament.

Cameron and Fraser each have part of the truth. But before we ask what God would have us do, we need first to know who this man nailed to a wooden gibbet in first century Palestine actually was, and is, and why it was necessary for him to die… and to rise.