“Raising the Shire” – the need for joyful resistance

by Revd Tim Vasby-Burnie

Are we in a culture war? It certainly feels at times like a battle. Blogs and books multiply, ministers nervously work out when to give a preaching series about sexuality, Christians fear what their colleagues might say, social media amplifies the sense of crisis, and grim-faced Christian warriors steel themselves to enter the fray.

Perhaps there is an important weapon missing in our arsenal: the weapon of joy.

Recently I listened to an audio version of The Lord of the Rings and was struck by the joy of the Hobbits as they return to the Shire. In the chapter The Scouring of the Shire they find things have gone badly wrong. Rules and regulations have sapped the life away. The Chief’s men have brought anxiety and dismay to the Shire.

Into this grey, dismal world come the Hobbits, full of colour and life. Pippin tears down the notices and the lists of Rules that are found on every wall. In a memorable scene, the Hobbits are being escorted as prisoners but Merry makes the Shirriffs march in front, while he, Pippin and Sam “sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important.”

Is the church known as a people who laugh and talk and sing? Amidst the chaos of the sexual revolution are we known for our joy or for trying to look stern and important? If the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) then misery and muttering weakens our effectiveness.

We sometimes imagine the world is full of people celebrating sexual licence and we are the ones who need to bring a down-to-earth, serious perspective. Actually, much of our society is full of fear and tension, confusion and hurt. Sin enslaves and damages. The latest gender-theory is nonsensical, ruins lives, spreads misery and will be outdated within a few years.

The church is called to resist the tyranny of sin with the force of joy. We have a divine teacher whose word is clear. We know a Saviour who embraces the broken-hearted and pardons the vilest of sinners. For all their raging, the nations will become the possession of Jesus Christ. Whatever our weakness and apparent defeat, the resurrection will vindicate every act of Christian faithfulness. On Sundays we do not gather as a worry-wearied band of survivors; let us come together to celebrate the victory of Christ, the freedom found in his service, the joyful news that Jesus is Lord. Can we be people who sing with joy even if we find ourselves in a Philippian prison?

The gospel empowers us to be a joyful force for resistance, and our joy may be more powerful at winning people over than the arguments we make, important as they are.

There may also be a place for Hobbit-like mockery of the petty officialdom they find in the Shire. Approaching Frogmorton, the leader of the Shirriffs tells Frodo, “You’re arrested for Gate-breaking, and Tearing up of Rules, and Assaulting Gate-keepers, and Trespassing, and Sleeping in Shire-buildings without Leave, and Bribing Guards with Food.” Sam responds by suggesting the Shirriffs might want to add some more charges: “Calling your Chief Names, Wishing to punch his Pimply Face, and Thinking you Shirriffs look a lot of Tom-fools.”

There is a place for laughing at the exponential growth of gender identities, not because it is amusing – sin is never amusing – but in the spirit of Elijah who mocked the folly of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). There are times when we might point to the Pride flag, with all the added elements for each identity, and point out the obvious: it is an ugly, incoherent mess. When we hear someone saying ‘a woman is someone who feels like a woman’, can we laugh at the illogical nonsense being said? Sometimes a chortle brings folly to light more effectively than an essay or a rant.

Yes, deep care will be needed. Jesus was able to puncture the pompous pride of preening Pharisees, yet always showed compassion and patience to those hurt by sin and excluded by the religious bigotry of uptight moral policemen. We can laugh at the latest gender woo-woo but must sympathise deeply, with tears, as we talk to those deceived by ideology or struggling with dysphoria. Yet even in those conversations we should talk with joy about our Lord, about his forgiveness, about his welcome, about his liberating truth, about his promise to make all things new. Christians should be people who laugh with joy at the sheer goodness of what God has done for us wayward sinners; we are called to be a people amazed by the mercy, freedom and lasting pleasures we find in Jesus. Here is lasting joy greater than anything found in the world (Philippians 3:1-11).

As the Hobbits approached the Shire, Gandalf the Wizard surprises them by leaving them. “I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for.” It is almost as if the quest, the battles, the destruction of the One Ring, was all preparation.

We tell a story about the greatest quest, the noblest battle and the defeat of sin. This true, good news is training us for our task: the need for joyful resistance to the follies of this world, and the opportunity to present a happy, merry alternative in the kingdom of Christ.

Revd Tim Vasby-Burnie

Vicar of St George of Cappadocia, Shrewsbury

‘Pride’ – What’s the harm?

Each June, a month of celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ‘Pride’ takes place across the UK. The concept began with the Stonewall riots in 1969 and continued with Pride marches, which spread across the USA. Initially they were protests calling for ‘gay rights’. But today we see parades and events in towns and cities, celebrating a whole host of sexual identities and practices (LGBTQIA+).

Over the past decade, UK schools have increasingly been encouraged to hold their own Pride events to encourage pupils to celebrate the ever growing range of sexual and gender identities they are told they can choose from. Widely-used school resources by providers such as Twinkl and TES, as well as specific RSE providers (such as Educate and Celebrate, The Proud Trust, Just Like Us and Stonewall), suggest activities and materials that can be used to celebrate within both Primary and Secondary Schools. Children are encouraged to attend local Pride parades and these events often provide specific activities for children. Children’s “educational” programmes and websites often promote the celebration of Pride.

But aren’t there potential harms for children?

Sexualisation of children

Jo Bartosh comments in an article in The Critic:

Unbridled (or indeed bridled) displays of male sexuality have long been a feature of Pride. But as the parade becomes increasingly family-focused, more people are questioning what place fetishes have at parades, particularly in light of historic concerns.”

In recent years there have many documented concerns about public displays of sexual fetishes and sexualised behaviour in Pride events. Adults can be dressed in bondage outfits or barely dressed at all. Some people are dressed as “pups” with collars and leashes, as well as others brandishing whips and batons. This all takes place in an event which has much that appeals to children. Jo Bartosh again:

“Rainbow flags, drag queens, parades and glitter of course have an appeal to children unaware of the sexual and political connotations. To protect children we must be alive to the grown-up reality that there may well be an unsavoury agenda hiding in the shadow of the rainbow.”

The effect of exposing children to these fetishes and sexualised behaviour normalises sexual practices which may be harmful even for adults. It tears down barriers, making children potentially vulnerable to abuse. (If these things are demonstrated openly, then children will think they are safe and normal). Children are encouraged to experiment and are not warned about the dangers of this.

Skewed view of normality

Schools are being actively encouraged to celebrate Pride and to champion sexual minorities and extreme sexual practices. But there is very little teaching, let alone celebration, of marriage (one man and one woman) despite this being the likely future experience of the vast majority of children. The possibility of saving sex for marriage is almost never mentioned. Instead children hear it implied that denying your desires may cause harm.

The huge focus on actively encouraging children to not only accept a vast spectrum of sexual identities and behaviours, but to celebrate them, gives the impression they are far more common than they really are. Too often they are portrayed as much more exciting than ‘boring old heterosexual relationships’. For example, well-known ‘expert’ Justin Hancock’s sex education website BISH, aimed at teenagers, includes articles such as the horribly titled “Why penis in vagina sex can be meh” (*link content warning*).

Organisations such as Educate and Celebrate support schools with Pride workshops and Pride Youth Networks. Its founder and CEO Elly Barnes has been highly vocal about her wish to “smash heteronormativity”. That is to say, she wants people to stop thinking man-woman marriage, and therefore traditional family structure, is in any sense the norm.

So children are being taught that God’s design for marriage and sexual intimacy is at best boring; certainly not worth celebrating; and at worst that it is actually harmful and should be thrown out altogether.

Protecting our children

The Greater Love Declaration background document states:

Sexual difference and sexual attraction are made by God for the purpose of marriage and all the good that flows from it. Sexual union between husband and wife is designed by God as a delightful and joyful part of the union of their hearts and lives. However, sin has distorted and damaged sexual desires in all people, as it has all of human nature.

Sexual behaviour has particularly widespread effects far beyond those immediately engaged in it, on family, friends and beyond. Therefore, where sexual inclinations are wrongly indulged, this results in damage and harm to ourselves, to others and ultimately to all of society. Where they are resisted for the sake of others, the result is good for ourselves, for others and for all of society.

Ensuring that all people are treated with respect and not discriminated against or treated with prejudice is one thing. But the normalisation and celebration of relationships and sexual practices that go against God’s good design are particularly harmful to children, who need our protection most. As Christians we must be willing to continue to protect our children and to teach them that God’s ways are good, even when that means taking a stand against what is happening in schools and society.  

Dr Julie Maxwell

A co-author of the Greater Love Declaration, Dr Julie Maxwell is a Paediatrician who has recently taken up the role of Deputy Director of Lovewise a charity which seeks to help parents, youth groups and schools by providing presentations on the subjects of marriage, sex and relationships from a Christian perspective. There are a variety of high quality resources available at https://lovewise.org.uk/ that can support you in teaching children and young people a Biblical perspective on relationships and sex. 

A new book from Lovewise has been written for teenagers by Dr Chris Richards and Dr Liz Jones giving a Biblical perspective on some of these difficult areas.

Find it here: https://lovewise.org.uk/challenges-to-living-gods-way.html

Why General Synod matters to free churches

A blog by Revd Ray Brown, a co-author of the Greater Love Declaration

“The essence of Independency”, writes John Stevens, the national director of the FIEC, is “the Bible-derived conviction that each and every local church is autonomous and self-governing”. He goes on to explain that this means the local church is not subject to any external authority that exists outside the gathering of Christians that make up the local congregation. Unlike the Church of England, independent churches do not have a General Synod and so it is easy to gloat and take solace in our independency. Of course, I say this because last month the Synod of the Church of England (CofE), approved prayers of blessing for gay couples for the first time.

Apparently, its position on gay marriage has not changed and same-sex couples will still be unable to marry in church. A position one Anglican minister has described as ‘a dogs dinner’. I have been a Christian for over thirty years, and yet I find this both a confused and a confusing position to adopt. Clearly trying to please everybody has left no one particularly happy with the present state of affairs. As evidenced by the fact that since this infamous decision, a group of Anglican leaders from around the world have rejected the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as the leader of the global Anglican communion, adding that the CofE was “disqualified” as their historic “‘Mother’ Church”.

And yet at the same time, to many in the West, including certain progressive elements within the CofE itself, the CofE’s refusal to allow church weddings for gay couples is repressive and out of step with today’s culture. The Archbishop and the church legislative body that he presides over is in the unenviable position of trying to hold together such divergent views.

I have recently been preaching through 1 Timothy and as a result have been struck over and over again about the importance of the need for strong leadership within the local church. From beginning to end, this letter by the apostle Paul to a young minister named Timothy is concerned with church leaders who have gone off the rails (1:3-4 & 6:3-4). In seeking to help Timothy deal with the problem, Paul gives us an insight into the role of the local church leader or elder. He writes this:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching – 1 Timothy 5:17

In the context of the letter, Paul’s emphasis here is on church leaders who do a good job of managing the life of the church through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, being respected enough to be paid appropriately for the work they do. We can get side-tracked about the false distinction between ruling and teacher elders here and miss Paul’s point which is this: you direct the affairs of the church through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Put differently, you cannot rule over God’s people by overthrowing the authority of His Word in Holy Scripture. When the beliefs and teachings of the church finds itself in conflict with the culture around it, each local church must decide for itself that “we must obey God rather than man”.

What we have in the recent decision of the CofE, is an external body imposing its decision or ruling – one that goes against the Word of God – upon local congregations. Which decision prevails? Who rules the church? The Word of God or the Synod of the CofE? According to 1 Timothy 5:17 what the church needs are leaders who rule the church by upholding the authority of Holy Scripture. The leaders of the local church derive their integrity and authority from the principles laid out in the Word of God. This is how they direct the affairs of the church well.

We who belong to independent churches should not think we are immune from the sort of thing happening in the CofE. We must not forget that the affairs of the church can only be directed well if we do so in accordance with the principles of God’s Word. The shock of 1 Timothy was that leaders had arisen from within the church itself who failed to recognise this all-important principle. If this was predicted by the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:29-30), and even began happening within his lifetime, we should not be surprised by the recent decision of the General Synod, nor should we think this could not happen to us, with or without a General Synod.

Why Kate Forbes’ view on marriage is exactly what the SNP needs

A blog by Revd Dr Matthew Roberts, a co-author of the Greater Love Declaration

It was Nicola Sturgeon’s descent into transgender absurdity which brought her premiership to an abrupt end. The belief that women and men are interchangeable, and its necessary corollary, that women are a disposable category, foundered on the rocks of its total absurdity. Getting away from this should, if the SNP has any sense at all, be a top priority.

Which is why it needs Kate Forbes. Her opposition to gay “marriage” is not a quirk which should be tolerated. It is, on the contrary, the only possible position for anyone who does not wish also to affirm transgenderism. Because all of the absurd conclusions of transgenderism are already present in the belief in gay “marriage”; and it is a vain hope to think that we can have the latter without the former. Like Mare’s Tails growing in the garden, pulling up the Trans plant will do nothing to destroy the root. And while the root remains, the plant will simply grown back.

Why? Because Gay “marriage”, too, believes that women and men are interchangeable, and that women are disposable.

Let’s take the first of those: Gay “marriage” is about the belief that women and men are interchangeable. This should not be a controversial statement. The whole point of redefining marriage back in 2014 was that it matters not whether the two people making vows, and sharing a life, a family and a bed are men or women. As LGBTQ+ journalist Sam Dowler asked a Christian commentator recently on Talk TV, ‘What about a family with two mothers or two fathers? Is that not a family then? What’s the difference?’ That’s the issue: belief in gay “marriage” is a belief that there is no difference. There is nothing to distinguish between men and women. They are indistinguishable and interchangeable. Two mothers, two fathers, or one of each, is of no significance at all. Sex is meaningless.

Nowhere is the difference of the sexes more clear, more celebrated, more beautiful, and more constructive.

Marriage is, in fact, the place where the difference of the sexes finds its central significance. Even the word signifies the joining of the two in a way which implies compatibility which arises from intrinsic difference; reflected of course in the act of married bodily union, but reaching into every other area of life. It is in the marriage of the sexes that their inherent, beautiful difference results in the blessing and fruitfulness of children. Nowhere is the difference of the sexes more clear, more celebrated, more beautiful, and more constructive. To redefine marriage is to erase all the good and rich things in human life which arise from the difference between the sexes, and to replace them with a flat, grey uniformity. Neither man nor woman brings anything to family, to society, and to each other, which is distinct from what the other can bring. They are entirely interchangeable.

The consequence of this is often not recognised: this makes women (and men) disposable. It says that marriage does not require a woman in order to be a marriage; that two men will do just as well. The wife can be swapped for a husband, and nothing has changed. The cruelty of this becomes especially clear when we consider that marriage is all about children, and family: a marriage establishes a family as place where children are conceived, born and nurtured. The word marriage speaks of the combining of the two: a central part of this is how the flesh of the husband and wife are combined into one in the bodies of their children. Societies value marriage because of the inestimable value for every child of being brought up, if at all possible, by his or her own natural father and mother.

But redefine marriage so that two men can marry, and the mother can be disposed of. I wrote about this when the gay marriage legislation came into force, ironically, on Mothers’ Day weekend 2014: Dear Mum, Thanks, but it turns out I never needed you after all. To believe in gay “marriage” is to believe that mothers are unnecessary; that they bring nothing to a family, and to a child, which a man cannot. It is to say, in an astonishing insult to the mothers of us all, that there is nothing unique, nothing precious, nothing of distinct value in women. They are disposable. The same, of course, is true of fathers.

Redefine marriage to disregard sex, and you redefine sex out of existence.

And so it is that support for gay “marriage” in fact leads to the absurdities of transgenderism. The roots of the former lead to the invasive weeds of the latter. I wrote about this in that 2014 article, before Transgenderism was even really heard of by most people, suggesting that the logical next step would be if ‘the government also plans to redefine ‘childbirth’ so that we can say that men can give birth to children’. I had no idea how quickly that would prove true: transgenderism arrived in force only a year later, with Bruce Jenner’s very public announcement that he was ‘becoming’ a woman, Stonewall’s pivot to focusing on trans issues, and Mermaids’ establishment as a charity, all taking place in 2015. Even if many do not yet see the logical connection, society has a way of following logic even when individuals deny it. Redefine marriage to disregard sex, and you redefine sex out of existence.

Either sex is real, and both women and men are to be valued for their unique glory and beauty, or sex is a fiction and the women and men as categories, and therefore tragically as individuals, are malleable, interchangeable, and disposable. We can have gay marriage and transgenderism (with its awful implications), or we can have neither. But we cannot have one without the other.

Which is why Kate Forbes’ views on marriage, far from being a quirk which the SNP should tolerate, is in fact the only thing which can ultimately bring them back from the total dead-end of Sturgeon’s reluctance to say that a rapist is, in fact, a man. The Christian doctrine of marriage is no boneheaded throwback to an unenlightened age. It is a deep mercy to children in desperate need of a mother; to teenagers deceived into drastic self-harm in the pursuit of a supposed gender identity; and to women exposed to predatory men as a result of an absurd ideology. Men and Women are created in the image of God, gloriously different, for the glorious union of marriage, for the good of children and all of society. That is not a view to be cancelled, but celebrated. Kate Forbes deserves the support of all in the SNP, for she is (on this matter at least) exactly what they need.

Statement on the Church of England Bishops’ proposed “prayers of love and faith”

The authors of the Greater Love Declaration are dismayed at the decision of the House of Bishops of the Church of England to commend prayers intended to demonstrate approval and blessing of immoral sexual relationships.

As the Greater Love Declaration affirms, Christians are to love as Christ has loved us: to lay down their lives for others. The ordinance of marriage, the exclusive lifelong union of one man and one woman, has been given to us by God as the preeminent instance of this. We are to lay down our lives for our spouse, children and others, denying ourselves by refusing sexual self-indulgence.

All sexual relationships and activity outside of marriage are condemned as sinful in Scripture, and unanimously by the Christian Church in all ages, because such immorality is deeply harmful. It harms those committing it, their children, their families and friends, and society as a whole. And most of all it is harmful to the glory of God, whose absolutely faithful holy covenant love for his Church in Christ is to be reflected by us, his images, in the exclusive union of husband and wife, and chaste sexual abstinence elsewhere. Sexual immorality is a preeminent example of the love of Self replacing the sacrificial love of God and neighbour. It is therefore the opposite of the love that Christ commands.

We reject entirely the claim that these prayers and blessings do not affect the doctrine of marriage. It is abundantly clear that they will be used to indicate approval of sexual relationships that directly contradict the teaching of Scripture and the Church. To bless people involved in immoral actions and relationships, in the very context of them celebrating those actions and relationships, is indistinguishable from blessing those actions and relationships themselves. Statements from the Archbishop of York and Bishop of London in media interviews have confirmed this.

We therefore call upon the House of Bishops of the Church of England to repent of their actions, withdraw these proposed prayers in their entirety, and reaffirm the Christian doctrine of marriage.

And we call upon all orthodox Christian ministers and clergy in every denomination to continue to teach and proclaim the goodness of sexual self-sacrifice and self-control; the sinfulness of sexual indulgence outside of the marriage of one man and one woman; the grace of our Lord to those who have failed in this way, and his willingness to forgive those who repent; and with our Lord to affirm that here as in every part of life, there is no greater love than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Press Release: Greater Love Declaration authors write to Kemi Badenoch and Rishi Sunak over conversion therapy plans

The authors of the Greater Love Declaration have written to Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling on the Westminster Government to drop plans to ban ‘conversion therapy’.

The Declaration affirms Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity and is signed by well over a thousand church leaders from across denominations throughout the UK.

The letters are a response to last week’s announcement that the Government would go ahead with a ban on conversion therapy for gay and transgender people.

The writing group explained the legislation is “likely to criminalise innocent parents, teachers, and church leaders” and they “urge that this confused proposal be dropped”.

The letter to the Equalities Minister can be found below.

Co-author Revd Dr Matthew Roberts commented:

“We have every sympathy for those who have suffered genuine abuse. Christians firmly reject any attempt to coerce or abuse, as it defies Christian teaching at the most basic level. We are grateful that this is already illegal.

“Instead, many of those demanding this legislation are pushing a narrative that traditional orthodox Christian beliefs are harmful. They have made clear they are unwilling to accept a new law which does not criminalise ordinary believers and Christian leaders.

“More than three thousand Christians in the UK have signed the Greater Love Declaration. Of these, well over a thousand are in recognised ministry positions. They have committed to continuing to teach Christian sexual ethics, even if it becomes illegal to do so.

“The Declaration sets out the foundational Christian teaching that we are to lay down our own desires in self-sacrifice for others. That is the ‘greater love’ to which Christ calls us. This is the basis of all Christian ethics, and foundational to the Christian view of marriage. It is a profoundly good teaching that benefits all, yet many are now calling for such orthodox views to be criminalised.”

“The Government has said that it wants to protect religious freedom. That is a very welcome aim. But we remain unconvinced that the Government can avoid unintended consequences in the passage of this Bill.

Notes for Editors:

  • The authors of the Greater Love Declaration previously wrote the ‘Ministers consultation response’ on banning conversion therapy. It was signed by 2546 ministers and pastoral workers, and sent to the Secretary of State on December 21st, 2021.

The current number of signatories is listed alongside the Declaration (3470 as of 3pm 26/01/23).

Letter to Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister for Women and Equalities of the UK

26 January 2023

Dear Mrs Badenoch,

We write to express our serious concerns about the Government’s newly-restated aim to legislate against so-called ‘conversion therapy’.

We are Christian ministers, and authors of the ‘Greater Love Declaration’. This statement of historic, orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity was published in October 2022 and has attracted the support of well over a thousand Church leaders across Christian denominations. It aims to present the content and rationale behind the widely-held orthodox Christian position on these matters. We commend it to your attention in order to understand our views and concerns. It can be found at greaterlove.org.uk.

It has become increasingly clear that further legislation on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is not only unnecessary – since abusive ‘therapies’ have long been illegal – but it is also likely to criminalise innocent parents, teachers, and church leaders. Indeed, this seems to be the goal of at least some of those most eager for a new law.

Christianity prioritises denying oneself, including in matters of sexual desire, for the good of others: for the benefit of society in general and for the protection of children in particular. We firmly believe that Christian teaching on marriage, the family and human identity is of vast benefit to all people. Despite the unfair portrayal of our position by some activists, it offers profound compassion and love to all.

Yet it is this standard Christian teaching which is at grave risk of being outlawed by the proposed legislation. When Liz Truss, as former Minister for Women and Equalities published the consultation document on this matter in 2021, we along with over two and a half thousand ministers wrote to her to point out that the proposals it contained would do exactly that. If the Government gives in to activists’ demands, it appears almost certain that innocent Christians will be criminalised.

The signatories of the Greater Love Declaration have committed themselves to continue to teach Christian sexual ethics, even if this should become illegal.

We trust you are well aware of the harm being caused to children by the inappropriate promotion of questionable ideologies. Children are left confused about what it means to be male or female, what constitutes appropriate sexual behaviour, and the basic question of who they are. We fear that the proposed legislation could far worsen the situation by stifling the voices of loving parents and pastoral carers. In fact, it appears to be tackling exactly the wrong issue: instead of addressing the promotion of these ideologies, it threatens with criminal sanctions those who are doing their best to help children respond wisely.

We are grateful for your assurance to fellow MPs that ‘the freedom to express the teachings of any religion, as well as every day religious practice, will not be affected by the ban’. But we remain unconvinced that the Government will be able to avoid exactly this in the passage of this legislation.

We urge that this confused proposal be dropped. However, we are grateful for the commitment you have made to pre-legislative scrutiny, and look forward to participating in this process. We would also like to request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns further and to help in ensuring that orthodox Christians do not fall foul of any proposed law.

Yours sincerely,

The authors of the Greater Love Declaration:

Revd Graham Nicholls (Affinity)

Revd Clare Hendry (Church of England)

Revd Dr Matthew Roberts (International Presbyterian Church)

Revd Dr Ian Paul (Church of England)

Dr Julie Maxwell (Church of England)

Revd Dr. Thomas Brand (Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches)

Revd Ray Brown (Baptist)

Revd Dave Gobbett (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches)

The letter to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak MP, is not included here for brevity. It included no additional content, but can be made available on request: [email protected]

Greater Love responds to Online Safety Bill amendment on ‘conversion therapy’

[The following statement has been issued by the authors of the Greater Love Declaration. It is a response to a poorly-drafted amendment in the Westminster Parliament calling for “the practice of so-called conversion practices of LGBTQ+” to be considered ‘harmful’ for the purposes of the Online Safety Bill. If selected, it will be debated tomorrow, Tuesday 17 Jan 2023.]

Christian churches are deeply committed to the welfare of children, and strongly support the intention of the Online Safety Bill in protecting them from harm.

This amendment would, however, entirely contradict that aim. It addresses a complex and contentious issue which has not received adequate scrutiny. It puts into law words and phrases which have a total lack of definition. As a result it would have a devastating effect on churches’ freedom to offer the gospel message to people online. Anything shared online encouraging people to follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ could fall under its wide scope.

Presumably the undefined phrase ‘conversion practices’ is intended to relate to matters of sexuality and gender. However, the word ‘conversion’ is normally used to refer to a person adopting Christian faith in all its aspects. Therefore much of the normal ministry of churches could be assumed to be included in ‘conversion practices’. So this amendment could place all orthodox Christian ethical teaching under the suspicion of social media companies.

Furthermore, the phrase ‘practices of LGBTQ+ people’ also introduces serious problems. Neither ‘Q’ nor ‘+’ have any agreed definition in UK law or wider society. Therefore, the presentation of Christian teaching to potentially anyone would be placed under the control of social media companies.

Terrible harm is being done to young people by the promotion of highly sexualising material and very questionable ideologies online. But instead of tackling these problems, this amendment would stifle the freedom of Christians to help young people, and to speak online about Christian faith, at all.

Official Launch – ‘Imaginary harm vs. real harm’

At the official launch event for the Greater Love Declaration, co-author Dr Julie Maxwell gave a talk entitled ‘imaginary harm vs. real harm’.

“Increasingly, Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity is seen as harmful. And yet the real harm is being done by the sexualisation of children that is becoming more and more apparent in our society.”

“The Greater Love Declaration encourages and empowers church leaders and parents to be confident in the goodness of relationships as God intended them to be”

Official launch – What is the Greater Love Declaration?

At the official launch event for the Greater Love Declaration, co-author Revd Dr Matthew Roberts gave an introduction to the Greater Love Declaration.

“When it comes to ordering our lives including our sexual behaviour, we are to, as Jesus taught us, lay down our lives.”

Revd Dr Matthew Roberts, Trinity Church York, introduces the Greater Love Declaration at its official launch.

“It is a statement of classic, historic Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity.”

Christ’s example – central to the Greater Love Declaration

An introduction to the Greater Love Declaration, by Revd Raymond Brown of East London Tabernacle Baptist, delivered at the Declaration’s official launch.

According to the good news of the Bible, even though Jesus Christ from the very beginning of all things was with God and indeed was and is God. Even though He is the Creator through whom all things were made, making Him the source of not only our physical life but also the source of all spiritual life and reality. Even though our Creator God in Jesus took on human flesh, blood, and bones; and remarkably dwelt among us 2000 years ago.

Even though our natural tendency is and has been to reject His light, preferring instead the darkness of our own foolish unbelief; he came into this world, not to be served (which would have been perfectly within His right) but rather, to serve us by giving us the right to become children of God. And that despite our wilful rebellion, rejection and indifference towards Him.

The life of Jesus Christ was marked first and foremost by self-denial and self-sacrifice.

The life of Jesus Christ was marked first and foremost by self-denial and self-sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus willingly denied Himself, took up His cross and died sacrificially to save each and every person here today. And the glorious, good news of the Bible, compares Jesus Christ to a loving husband who denies self, while giving of Himself sacrificially for the sake of His bride the church.

I remember a then colleague of mine some years ago, preaching a sermon on the latter part of Ephesians chapter 5. His basic premise was that marriage rightly understood is at the very heart of the universe. This is because Jesus dying for the sins of the world; while lovingly creating a people for Himself, is at the heart of God’s plan for this universe. It is into this context that we are to understand these wonderful words spoken by Jesus Christ in John’s gospel:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

The LORD Jesus Christ laid down His life for those who were His enemies, so that He might make them His friends. So at the heart of the Christian message stands the idea that earthly marriage is a permanent and ongoing witness to the eternal self-denying self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for people like you and me.

So not only has Jesus uniquely sacrificed Himself for us. In doing so He has also left us an example of how to live our lives. Therefore great blessings flows to all people everywhere of great faith or none when marriage is widely honoured. Or when the Christian attitude to marriage and sex is, as in all other things, not one that craves at all cost self-satisfaction or self-fulfilment for the sake of self, but rather pursues self-denial and self-sacrifice for the good of others. And as we bear true witness to our natural God given sex with all that this entails.

So not only has Jesus uniquely sacrificed Himself for us. In doing so He has also left us an example of how to live our lives.

Significantly this will mean abstaining from all sexual activity outside of marriage or being sexually exclusive or faithful within marriage. It will start by recognising marriage as the life-long or permanent covenant bond between one man and one woman. At the heart of which must be an attitude of self-denial and self-sacrifice. This is the reason for the clear and unambiguous commands of Holy Scripture around marriage, sex, and gender. And for the consistent, unchanging submission to this teaching by the Church across the world and down all the ages.

This is why we are calling ministers and pastoral workers in Christ’s church, to commit themselves among others things to the following: There are no circumstances – not the threat of legal sanction, nor of financial penalty, nor of social stigma – which will cause us to abandon our LORD’s call to love in this way, in sexual matters as in all others. And therefore there are no circumstances which will cause us to abandon the Christian doctrine of marriage, nor to cease teaching it, to all people of every age. If the cost to ourselves of faithfulness to our LORD, and love for those around us, is high, we nevertheless commit ourselves to these things. For in this way too, we recognise that we are called to lay down our lives for the good of others; for there is, as our LORD Jesus Christ said, no greater love than this.

Revd Raymond Brown, East London Tabernacle Baptist