After attending the recent Westminster seminar on ‘The effects of pornography’ hosted by Premier Christian Media, I came away with many thoughts, many questions and a copy of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. The submissions from a wide range of sources are illuminating and concerning. Here are a couple of quotes:
‘One of the developments though over the last four or five years is responding to adult males involved in accessing child pornography and what has been intriguing in engaging with that population… is the significant proportion- this is not excusing their behaviour for one second- who progress from viewing online mainstream adult pornography to viewing child pornography… We have now had to develop [programmes to help offenders] to younger people because there are younger people engaging in similar material.’ Donald Findlater, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
‘children don’t really have a natural sexual capacity for [processing sexual exposure appropriately] at about 10 or 11 [year old] and what porn does is that it short circuits the normal personality development process and provides misinformation about sexual gravity and can be very disturbing for them and also their sense of self and their sense of body… they introduce children to sexual sensations that they aren’t mentally ready for’ Lucie Russell, Young Minds
Placing this in parallel with the work of Dr. William Struthers on the re-wiring of the adolescent brain by pornographic exposure it paints a potentially catastrophic picture. If a nearly-adolescent has such a distorted view of themselves as a sexual being what chance is there that they would be able to make the distinction between pre-pubescent and adult pornography? Could exposure to ‘adult’ pornography at this crucial point of development lead to an increased likelihood of interest in child pornography? If so, it blows apart the concept of harmless fun often portrayed by the porn industry. And strengthens the resolve that begins with the Online Safety Bill currently in parliament. More research is clearly required. But one thing’s for sure – this is a most urgent task.
Twitter is the best place for crowd-sourcing opinion on political matters. So thanks to Jamie Reed MP for putting it out there with this relevant question. Certainly, ‘Christian’ opinion has been in the news with increasing regularity over the past decade from a very low base – you could be forgiven for thinking that we folded as a company after the Keep Sunday Special Campaign. The key question of analysis then is this: What has changed to precipitate this? Firstly, I think the church has woken up to the fact that its influence has waned. More positively, the evangelical church has recognised that the creation mandate demands a greater stake in society – a narrow mission of words-only evangelism is a limited message to a hurting world. So the Christian involvement in the campaign against human trafficking (including legislative meat to enforce prosecution and care for victims) has been huge. Secondly, culture is moving at speed to challenge the assumptions and foundations of the past. What might have been seen as ‘sacred cows’ like the traditional formulation of a marriage relationship are suddenly up for grabs. This has led to a wide gap where a kind of ‘sacred/secular divide’ in understanding leads to all kinds of mistrust and talking past one another. And Christians have been guilty of purely defensive thinking, defending territory and not arguing positively for alternatives (granted the media aren’t so keen on positive stories). Thirdly, politicians do not declare their hands openly, especially on social issues. Perhaps this is because they cannot foresee the rate of change or maybe it’s because such scrutiny at election time is uncomfortable. Either way, it results in a sense of a democratic deficit. Which leads me to my final plea to fellow Christians: We are Christ’s ambassadors. Deal with it. I often tell the story of when I first met my MP. At the end of our first constituency meeting he said this: ‘Some of the nastiest, most aggressive letters I receive are from my Christian constituents’.
Where is our value of respect for human dignity in all this? We should be those who thank, those who encourage, those who pray and those who challenge recognising we have a human being in front of us. Yes, we sometimes have our backs against the wall, yes we are passionate about issues. But if we win the battle through dubious tactics we will lose the war because we deny the gospel a hearing. And deservedly so.
POLICE & SECURITY
I promise to obey used to be written into every church marriage service, well, for 50% of the participants, anyway. Obedience wasn’t seen as negatively as it is now. But due to the abuse of power, obedience has fallen by the wayside, trampled and cast aside by the individualistic anthem: ‘I will survive’. When trust has been obliterated by postmodern cynicism, what is there left that binds our communities together? Common self-interest is increasingly uncommon, our values and virtues are so diverse that we agree on little. And so rather than commitments of obedience our way of doing life has become ’I'd like to do what I can get away with’. Do I want to obey the letter of the law on my tax return? Do I want to be scrupulously honest on all insurance documents? No, I don’t want to but there is something bigger at stake than what I want- the truth. We all know that if none of us were truthful on our tax returns the system would fall apart. But if we decide to hide or distort the facts we do so because we think we can get away with it- that we are unaccountable- and that the honest ones will make up the difference. The problem with truth is that it lays claim to all sorts of things I would like to keep under the banner ‘personal freedoms’. I will defend the right to live unhindered lives but when such freedoms lead to irresponsible parenting, civil disobedience and the peddling of nasty rumours we have to ask questions. Why has it come to this? Why do we all seem to be so hacked off with authority?
Well, if we have no higher sense of authority then we only have ourselves to answer to. If a phone hacker thinks he will be rewarded for getting a great story by illegal means then it’s well worth it. If a rioter thinks society owes him more than his struggling everyday existence, then opportunistic looting seems ideal. God is truth- absolute and personal. I can fool some of the people some of the time, I can even fool myself occasionally, but I cannot hide from the glare of divine truth. Pilate asked Jesus ‘What is truth?’ Truth is the only standard that really matters. Whilst we might think of it as cold and abstract, the Bible is clear, God is truly compassionate and loving. He knows my tendency for self-centredness and he knows I could never justify my actions before him. So he sent his perfect Son to live and die for me. I live knowing that I’m loved and secure but that I’m accountable, too. And I’m also realistic about human nature. I will challenge and try to shape authority where necessary. I will encourage honesty and cheer on those who give offenders a second chance. And I will ask for your forgiveness when self-righteousness becomes my mechanism for unloving finger-pointing. But hacked off with authority? Not me, Authority has done me every good.
picture via http://www.guardian.co.uk
A tweet from Tom Harris MP:
The only way Fred Goodwin could be any more unpopular is if his alleged affair had been with Nick Clegg.
It is just over 12 months ago that one man was touring the UK to address crowds of well-wishers, fans and even a few voters in the final stages of the General Election campaign. Buoyed by a strong performance in the leaders’ debates, Nick Clegg appeared to have been elevated to that much envied status of political pop star. How things have changed. After forming the coalition with the Conservatives, embracing deficit reduction plans and U-turning on tuition fees, he is now the object of opposition scorn where MPs compete to see who can be nastiest to prove their tribal credentials. And even those on the government’s side don’t seem to hold a high opinion:
Mr Clegg was mocked by both Tory and Labour MPs as he gave a statement in the Commons on the proposals, which will now be scrutinised by a committee of 13 peers and 13 MPs, with a report due early next year. (Discussing the launch of Lord’s reforms- The Daily Telegraph)
He seems to have gone from Palm Sunday adulation to Good Friday mockery in the course of 12 roller coaster months. But this post isn’t about feeling sorry for the Deputy Prime Minister, rather to learn the salutory lesson of human identity. If we base our identity, our value in the opinions of others, then we will be all over the place in our sense of worth. We will think we can change the world one minute, unable to change the sheets the next. We all make mistakes, we all break promises- it’s just that most of us don’t have them beamed up in the full glare of public opinion. Of course, it’s public opinion that got Nick Clegg where he was 12 months ago and if you can’t stand the heat… But our identity is rooted in the image of God implanted in each one of us and that, for all our foolishness, deceit and self-centredness the man who is God was stuck on a tree. This is our worth. This reclaims our identity if we respond to his act of self-sacrifice. It gives us the strength to cope with the fluctuations of praise and criticism, of respect and contempt.We may not have dog mess posted through our letterboxes but we have sharp-tongued exchanges designed to destroy rather than build-up. And it would be wise to know who we are when we face it.
On Saturday 75 of us gathered at Woodlands Church in Bristol to participate in a number of seminars and sessions looking at ‘Politics: Why bother?’. Hosted by LoveBristol the various sessions included contributions by Christians in Parliament through the SUSA project. It was an inspiring time due to the diversity of all present and the differing focus of each session. There was very much a sense that worship & justice are interwoven into our humanity leading us to connect with our creator and with his beloved creation. We heard from Christians involved in Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Greens, seasoned with observations from an anarchist. We were able to drill down into some of the cut and thrust of elected politics by hearing personal observations and reflections. Stories were told of successes in public policy (e.g. change in law to prosecute those paying for sex with victims of trafficking) and questions were answered about getting to know elected politicians. The feel of the day was very positive, suggesting that change can come about when prayerful, passionate believers follow their calling into the public space. A particular highlight was hearing the testimony of a local youth worker whose impact on her own challenging neighbourhood was truly inspirational- do the police let themselves in to your house to make a cup of tea? And she used to hate them…
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The UK government has a great opportunity to opt-in to the EU Directive ‘Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims’. As has been widely commented on, the Coalition Agreement stated that this government would make tackling human trafficking a priority. But at this stage, the government appears unwilling to sign-up to a very sensible series of articles that will update and enhance the protection of the most vulnerable people, including children. When the voting in Europe was more closely examined, it emerged that ALL Conservative and Lib Dem MEPs present voted in favour of the directive. Indeed, when I was over in Brussels recently, one MEP said she wasn’t sure what the objections were in London. And now it has emerged that the Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, speaking on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists group has stated:
“It is still not perfect but the directive we have now is far better than the original proposal and, on balance, we felt that the human benefits would outweigh the concerns that we had.”
So, is the government listening to the more coherent voices emanating from its own members in Brussels? Or are they prepared to keep their focus on domestic politics, declaring that they will not opt-in for fear of conceding ground to the EU? If so, it’s difficult to see how they can say that tackling human trafficking is still a priority.
In a hugely busy news week, Baroness Warsi’s comments about the acceptability of discrimination against Muslims in the UK have been somewhat eclipsed. They clearly caused a stir- especially her assertion that constant references to ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Muslims have cast a dark shadow over all Islamic adherents. So much so that a rewriting of the speech was required as a sharp division of opinion opened up about the wisdom of raising the spectre of Islamaphobia. As a Christian it got me thinking about the perceptions of others of my own faith. Do I like being referred to as a fundamentalist? Or in the wake of the Terry Jones saga seeing others link evangelical with extremist? Do these associations build a picture of committed Christians that actually increases their sense of caution and develop our underlying defensiveness? Some degree of wider understanding would be welcome for us all- not for conversion purposes, but so that we describe each other in terms that that those we describe are happy with. With this in mind I read about Michael Gove’s education plans for school performance indicators. And what did I discover? That one humanities subject would be used in the five subject ‘English baccalaureate’. One of history and geography. Here’s the reasoning:
Gove fears that schools are narrowing the range of exams, depriving pupils “of the things they should get from education, which is a rounded sense of how to understand this world in all its complexity and richness. If you don’t understand science and you don’t understand other cultures, you are deliberately cutting yourself off from the best that is going on in our world.” [Source: The Guardian]
Excuse me? So Religious Education (or Ethics and Philosophy at my children’s school) is not suitable for this task? If there’s one subject that could help foster such an appreciation surely this is it. So Latin, Classical Greek & Biblical Hebrew are all in, but not any form of religious studies. Is academic elitism triumphing over the need for the understanding of contemporary culture? I wonder what Baroness Warsi makes of that?