Britain has joined in the bombing campaign against ISIS. This is a controversial decision. The traditional Christian definition of a Just War includes six conditions:

1. It must be fought by a legally-recognised authority. Government, not private individuals or corporations.

This has been fulfilled because the UN (as well as the UK Parliament) has approved it.

2. The cause of the war must be just.

Combating the Satanic evil of ISIS is a just cause.

3. There must be an intention to establish good or restrain evil.

This is the intention.

4. There must be a reasonable chance of success.

This is more difficult because many people do not believe that bombing alone will defeat ISIS, although it will weaken them.

5. The war must be a last resort.

It is difficult to see how ISIS will be defeated without military action.

6. Only sufficient force must be used and civilians must not be involved.

This is a controversial point as ISIS deliberately mixes with innocent civilians. It seems inevitable that many innocent civilians will be killed in the raids.

However, it is all very well to debate the ethics of the bombing campaign. But how are the nations to defeat this terrible evil? It seems unlikely that western nations will be willing to provide ground troops, having been stung by the difficulties resulting from the invasion of Iraq. If local ground forces were strong enough to defeat ISIS, supported by the bombing campaign and other non-military action by the western nations, that would be the best way forward. But it is not clear that they are strong enough.

The solemn fact is that the western nations don’t really know how to cope with the terrorists. The bombing campaign won’t be sufficient and the security measures at home will not be adequate. Terrorism is now much more sophisticated with modern communications, weapons and many other resources. For example, Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith, a security expert and adviser to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, warned that a small quadcopter could easily be used by terrorists for attacks and propaganda purposes.

War, in the form of terrorism, poses a very serious new threat to the nations. No country can feel secure because even more extensive surveillance (which, in itself, has negative consequences) is not adequate.

Nicolas Henin, who was held hostage by ISIS for ten months, says that ISIS are not superheroes but “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” They see all that is happening as an apocalyptic process towards the defeat of the “crusaders” by the Muslim army. He adds: “They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia.”

Dangers from immigration

I want nothing to do with the idiotic and offensive comments of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, there are dangers in the refugee movement. I have already mentioned the report that a Syrian ISIS operative has said 4000 covert terrorists have infiltrated the refugee movement into Western Europe. Such a report could be propaganda but it is also credible.

On a different level, the huge influx of Muslims is bound to make significant pro-Islamic changes in western nations. Over 2.6 million refugees from Muslim nations entered the US in 2014, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. That compares with 2.2 million in 2010 and 1.5 million before that. European leaders have said the “greatest tide” of refugees is yet to come.

There are now nine civil wars taking place in Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, SE Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and north-east Nigeria). Five of them have begun since 2011.

The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, commented on the influx of refugees: “Most are not Christian, but Muslim. Is it not worrying that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?” Donald Tusk, President of the EU, responded: “For me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need. Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.” I agree with Tusk’s response but it would be naïve to ignore that having so many more Muslims, with a higher birthrate, will have a profound effect on western nations. Islam is a missionary religion which aims to win the world. Current events greatly further that mission.

Other threats

Boko Haram

Whilst we major on thinking about ISIS, it has emerged that Boko Haram, the Nigerian-based terror group, also known as Islamic State’s West’s Africa province (ISWAP), is the most deadly terrorist organisation. In 2014 it was responsible for 6644 deaths, as opposed to 6073 for ISIS.

Iran

It is reported that Iran has stopped dismantling nuclear centrifuges in two uranium enrichment plants due to pressures from the hard-liners who complained that the move was too fast. They produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants but this can also provide material for bombs if refined much further.

Russia

Russia, under Putin, is reasserting itself after the US has dominated the world for over 20 years. In 2014 Moscow re-opened 10 former Soviet-era military bases which were closed in 1991. Russia is also flying more long-range air patrols off the US shores.

China

China is also flexing its muscles. I have noted before its reclamation projects on the Spratley Islands in the China Sea. It has built an air strip and harbour there. China is ignoring the territorial claims of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over this area. The US has decided to put a missile destroyer to patrol within 12 miles of disputed islands. China responded by saying that it will seek to “convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.”

However, Xi Jinping, President of China, said recently: “War is like a mirror. Looking at it helps us better appreciate the value of peace. Today, peace and development have become the prevailing trend, but the world is far from tranquil. War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind. We must learn the lessons of history, and dedicate ourselves to peace.”

Nuclear threat

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and China’s expansionism has caused the US to look again at its nuclear arsenal. There are signs that US adversaries, especially Russia, want to be ready to employ nuclear weapons to deal with any escalating conflict with the United States.

We need to be alert and to pray about these threats.

God’s relationship with the world

The Lord sustains the whole cosmos and everything in it at every moment. The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear:
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). All that happens could not take place without him sustaining what causes it. Hence the prophets can say God performs all judgments in his wrath. But that is omitting reference to secondary causes, which is particularly the case in the Old Testament. He has given free will, desires and a sense of need to human beings which can lead to wrong action and negative consequences. Those consequences can be seen as judgment but they are not God directly intervening in judgment.

Not all divine judgment is by means of secondary causes. God has, of course, sometimes intervened directly in judgment. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) is surely an example of this.

God also intervenes positively, often in answer to prayer. He can intervene to protect people from negative events which threaten them. In his great mercy he often intervenes to protect the impenitent sinner from the negative effects of his sin. On the other hand, where someone is an impenitent sinner, he can decide not to intervene and so such people experience either the negative results of their behaviour or the negative events which threaten them. They bring it on themselves but it can be described as divine judgment because the Lord decided not to intervene in protection.

So God often works through “the changes and chances of this mortal life” – sometimes in judgment. Here are some examples:

• The sons of Eli were living sinful lifestyles and their father rebuked them. But they “did not listen to their father’s rebuke for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death” (1Sam 2:25). In other words, God decided not to intervene to protect Eli’s sons in battle and they were both killed.

• Amos says the Lord caused lack of food in Israel and withheld rain from crops. He struck the gardens and vineyards, with blight and mildew. He also sent plagues (Amos 4:6-10). It is unlikely that God did this by direct intervention. Rather, he simply did not intervene to protect them from these problems and provide for them.

• The Lord is said to have put Saul to death (1 Chron 10:14) But it was the Philistines who actually carried it out. Literally, “Saul died because he disobeyed God. God removed his protection from him.”

• Amaziah, King of Judah, wouldn’t listen to a prophet warning him against going to war and so he was defeated in battle. The writer comments “Amaziah, however, would not listen, for God so worked that he might deliver them into the hands of Jehoash, because they sought the gods of Edom” (2 Chron 25:20). Literally, because of Amaziah’s persistent idolatry God didn’t intervene to convince him of the truth of the prophet’s warning. Events took their course.

• Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s “work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem” (Isa 10:12). But he goes on to say that Assyria was an instrument in God’s hand (i.e. God allowed Assyria to conquer) and would be judged for arrogantly thinking it had conquered by its own power (Isaiah 10:24-25). God allows Assyria’s selfish, violent expansionism to punish Israel but then he punishes Assyria for it’s wrong attitudes towards his people, namely the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians. God worked through the military action of these powers.

• Jeremiah quotes the Lord speaking of himself carrying out the actions of Babylon – actions which would normally be carried out when a dominant superpower invades a country. He works through ordinary human events (Jeremiah 27:6-11). Similarly Jeremiah speaks of Nebuchadnezzar carrying Judah into exile (29:1) but then says God carried Judah into exile (29:4, 7, 14). So God uses the selfishness, pride and violence of human beings in his purposes but they are still free in their decisions and responsible for their actions. Jeremiah says God will respond to national repentance by averting destruction (Jeremiah 18:7-10). This must mean that when there is repentance God restricts human evil and selfishness and demonic activity but often allows them in cases of no repentance. Human selfishness and evil and demonic activity is widespread bringing trouble and suffering to others. God does not literally need to bring that trouble and suffering but simply not to restrict and hold it back.

• Paul said that “God gave [the Jewish people] a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.” Actually it is Satan, the God of this world, who blinds the mind of unbelievers. God simply didn’t intervene with many of them to bring them to faith.

How do we recognise God’s judgement in action today?

We need to be careful in concluding that some event is an example of God’s judgment, not least because God is very merciful, even towards persistent sinners. We can follow the approach taken in Scripture briefly outlined above, namely, recognising that God does judge people by not intervening to protect them from the results of their actions or “the changes and chances of this mortal life.”

If someone persists in wrong or unwise behaviour they may reap the result of that behaviour. This may simply be the natural result or, for example, human punishment of bad behaviour. On an analogy with Scripture, this could sometimes be seen as divine judgment. It could be in the sense that the person is reaping the result of flouting rules which God has written into creation, e.g. health rules. We often half-jokingly say when someone reaps a negative result from wrong behaviour “That’s judgment on you.” Or it may be in the sense that humans (police, law courts) are enforcing the law which is based on God’s order for society. Paul refers to this in Romans 13:1-5
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The New Testament specifies various failings which will lead to judgement. In many of them it is not clear if it refers to judgment in this life or after death. The following are specified as leading to judgment: selfish anger (Matt 5:22), judgmentalism (Matt 7:1-2), rejecting the Gospel (Matt 10:15; John 12:48), careless words (Matt 12:36), hypocrisy (Matt 23:13; Rom 2:1-5), sexual immorality (heterosexual and homosexual), idolatry, greed, drunkenness, slander, swindling, idolatry, stealing (1 Cor 6:9-10), witchcraft, hatred, discord, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy (Gal 5:19-21, Eph 5:5-6) ungodly church leaders (1 Tim 3:5-7), grumbling (James 5:9), going back on commitment to Christ (1 Tim 5:11-12).

However there are two passages which clearly speak of judgment in this life. Paul teaches that taking Communion unworthily can lead to sickness or even death (1 Cor 11:29-34). Pauls writes: “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and ill, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” This “judgment” is divine discipline which is intended to have a beneficial effect on the believer.

Both Paul and Peter teach that judgment sometimes takes the form of the undeserved suffering of believers which can build them up (2 Thess 1:4-7; 1 Peter 4:16-18). Paul writes: “among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Again this is divine discipline which strengthens them as they endure it in faith.

Peter writes: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Again this “judgment” is divine discipline.

So we may recognise God’s judgment on the church. Many churches don’t really pray (beyond brief prayers at services), don’t preach the Gospel in any effective way and don’t seek to put into practice the New Testament teaching on the church. The result is decline. The church has sometimes not handled the tragic issue of sexual abuse properly. The result is scandal. The House of Bishops seems to be “generally speaking, generally speaking” over the issue of homosexual partnerships/marriage. The result is that society ignores the church. And so it goes on.

We may also recognised God’s judgment on the world when human failing leads to negative consequences. This will include such things as:
• Self-seeking politics and military action leading to:
o War
o Terrorism
o Oppressive regimes
• Irresponsible attitude towards creation leading to:
o Global warming
o Other ecological disasters.
• Turning away from Christianity leading to
o Breakdown of biblically-based morality.
o Increasingly dominant influence of Islam
• Immoral, irresponsible behaviour, including sexual behaviour, which causes:
o Disease
o Epidemics
o Pandemics
• Sexual immorality leading to:
o Undermining of marriage
o Breakdown of the family
o Harm to children

Of course, these negative consequences spread to many innocent people.

It is more difficult to speak of God’s judgment when it involves natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanos, floods, tsunamis, tornados, meteor/asteroid impacts. These are all natural events inherent to nature as we know it. Jesus speaks of earthquakes and disturbances in the heavens as signs pointing to his return but he does not say they are judgments. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which may have been caused by an earthquake, is, of course, seen as judgment, as is the Flood, so it is not illegitimate in principle to see natural disasters as judgment. But it surely requires a clear word from the Lord to recognise a particular natural disaster as judgment.

Judgment and Compassion

How do we reconcile the idea of God’s judgment (especially affecting innocent people) with divine compassion? There are various considerations:

1. God “judges” even faithful believers through suffering and persecution (2 Thess 1:4-7; 1 Peter 4:16-18) so no-one, even an innocent person, is immune from experiencing such “judgment.” All human beings are vulnerable to suffering but God seeks to build up character, faith and perseverance through suffering. His grace is therefore available to all innocent sufferers. We too must be available to innocent sufferers to give help and support.

2. God is merciful even to those who deserve judgment. We must be too. We should not limit our compassion to innocent sufferers. The guilty may be brought to repentance through our kindness. On the other hand, the very judgment they experience may help bring them to repentance.

3. We believe in a God who became incarnate to experience the worst human suffering in order to show his love and to bring us salvation. So even God, in his perfection, is not immune to suffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of human life.

The number of deaths per year from terrorism has risen nine-fold since 2000, according to the Global Terrorism Index. In 2014 32,658 people were killed by terrorists – an 80% increase on 2013. Steve Killelea, chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace said recently: “Terrorism is gaining momentum at an unprecedented pace. The Paris incident in many ways is a watershed within Europe.”

However the horrific terrorist attack in Paris has profoundly changed the situation. Although the highest death toll from terrorism has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, Europe now feels very vulnerable. Shortly after the Paris atrocity Brussels (a European capital city) shut down for several days because of intelligence about an imminent attack.

It is also clear that terrorists are mixing with the huge number of genuine refugees entering Europe, which heightens the insecurity felt by Europeans. BuzzFeed, an American internet media company, claims that an ISIS operative told them that 4000 terrorists had been smuggled into Europe.

I am convinced that some of most serious dangers in the world are not caused by totally evil actions but by good actions going wrong. These actions will further trends towards various End Time scenarios. For example, it is clearly right and necessary for governments to protect their citizens from terrorism, including by tightening security and strengthening surveillance. But these actions can go wrong in the hands of failing human beings. They can lead towards a totalitarian state. I do not believe that such a thought is paranoid but rather a serious concern we should pray about.

The decline of the Church of England

No-one will be a member of the Church of England by 2082 and no-one will be attending by 2100, according to John Hayward. He is a Christian who was a university lecturer in mathematics and has a blog called Church Growth Modelling. He adds that the Church in Wales (C in W) and the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) will be extinct by 2043 and the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) in 2055.

He goes on to suggest reasons why the Church of England (C of E) is not in quite such a bad way as these other Anglican churches:

1. The C in W, SEC and ECUSA are episcopal by conviction whereas the C of E is a national church which happens to be episcopal. He says the C in W, SEC and ECUSA are more rigid in their views and don’t relate so well to other denominations.

2. Unlike the others, the C of E is established by law as the national church and so is not able to change so easily. The C in W, SEC and ECUSA have changed quickly and adopted liberal views e.g. accepting homosexual practice and same-sex marriage. So they have aligned more to secular society and, contrary to their expectations, this has caused them to decline faster.

3. The C of E has a much stronger evangelical section. In 2006 Peter Brierley, a Christian statistical expert, recorded that out of 870,600 C of E members (a smaller number than attenders), 297,500 (34%) were evangelicals (77,400 mainstream, largely conservative evangelicals, 114,900 charismatic evangelicals and 105,200 broad or less conservative evangelicals). 4273 (26%) of the C of E’s 16,247 churches were evangelical. Of the 160 largest churches, (1% of the total number of churches) with a membership of over 350, who make up 10% of the membership of the C of E, 83% were evangelical. Reform, the Anglican conservative evangelical group, calculates that about 70% of male ordinands (candidates for ordination) under 30 come from conservative evangelical churches.

4. The C of E has been much more influenced by charismatic renewal than the others. Hayward comments that “Perhaps the C of E has been more open to revival than the others.”

5. Wales and Scotland are more rural than England.

John Hayward then adds that maybe the C of E is more mission/evangelism- minded than the other three. I don’t have the information to comment on that except to say that, yes, the C of E does stress mission but sometimes it is better at discussing it and passing resolutions about it than doing it! He then makes the interesting comment: “It could be that … most of the pre-1900 denominations are coming to an end because they have put too many resources into themselves at the expense of mission. The way forward is not to work out how to save the organisation, but let it fade and try saving the lost. Something new will then emerge. Perhaps the Church of England, with its greater diversity, is much further down the road of that reinvention.”

Other commentators are more negative about the C of E. In November 2014 The Bishop of Truro said: “The Church of England has only five or six years to save itself.” Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates’ Commissioner, said at the July 2011 General Synod that, assuming the recent declines in younger people continued, the number of worshippers “would fall from 1.2 million in 2007, to half a million in 2030, and 125,000 in 2057.” Peter Brierley commented: “This means an almost 90 per cent decline in overall attendance in the 45 years between 2012 and 2057. It would mean not only that by 2030 the attendance would have dropped to 500,000, but also that the number of larger C of E churches (attendance over 300) in England would have probably declined from about 200 to 100, some Cathedrals might need to have been “decommissioned,” perhaps 9,000 of the current 16,000 churches will have closed as “unviable”, with large numbers therefore of redundant church buildings, half the eight Theological Colleges will have had to close, several Dioceses merged, the numbers of Bishops reduced, and so on, unless God revives his work again.”

In June 2015 NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey found that the number of people who describe their beliefs as being Church of England or Anglican (but many don’t attend or only attend rarely) dropped from 21% to 17% between 2012 and 2014. That is a loss of 1.7 million and now the number of people identifying as Anglicans stands at about 8.6 million.

On the other hand, in November 2014 Giles Fraser (an Anglican clergyman who writes for The Guardian) pointed out that about a million people go to a C of E church each week whereas the Conservative Party has 134,000 members, Labour 190,000 and the Lib Dems 44,000. Adding them together it is less than half the members of the C of E. More people go to the C of E than to Premier League stadiums on a Saturday. He commented: “We have survived every conceivable war, crisis, scandal, collapse and disillusionment. OK, we may not have the money to keep the heating on all the time. But don’t expect the “for sale” sign to go up any time soon.”

The C of E reported that in 2012 an average of 1.05m people attended C of E churches each week and this has been the case for the previous decade. Around 25% of churches are growing, 25% declining and over 50% remaining stable.

However, it is true that in some ways the C of E is becoming less and less relevant to the people of England. It is less trusted by the public than the army, charities, police, monarchy, legal system, the Bank of England and the BBC but more than parliament, the government and political parties.

But the picture is not consistent. A recent study found that 56% in England wanted the Church of England to remain the official established Church, with 15% disagreeing, and 29% neutral or undecided. It is significant that the Chief Rabbi and many followers of other faiths support the establishment of the C of E. Perhaps even more significant, an Opinion Research Bureau survey in 2004 found that 42% of Britons think that local churches should receive funding from the State through central taxation. This is probably related to the fact that nearly 90% of adults had been to a church or place of worship once in the previous year to find a quiet space or for weddings, baptisms and funerals and for community purposes, as well as for regular services of worship.

The state of belief in the Church of England

A 2002 poll reported that a third of C of E clergy doubt or disbelieve in the bodily resurrection of Christ and only around 50% believe in the virgin birth. But the poll was criticised because the question to the clergy provided five responses:
• Believe without question
• Believe but not sure I understand
• Mostly believe
• Not sure I believe this
• Definitely don’t believe

Many clergy ticked the second box saying they weren’t able fully to comprehend God and many of the beliefs that they apprehended wholeheartedly. But it appears that only those who ticked the first box were classed as believers. Nevertheless, there are significant numbers of clergy who do not believe in the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Christ. If they cannot sort themselves out and come to believe those doctrines they should resign with immediate effect. Not to do so is unethical. It is significant that an analysis by a Muslim scholar of the views the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, who didn’t believe in the virgin birth and had serious doubts about the bodily resurrection of Christ, was found in Osama Bin Laden’s library. It argued that doubts about the resurrection of Christ could further the Islamisation of Britain.

On the positive side, in January 2015 a General Synod report outlined “Ten marks of a diocese committed to developing disciples.” These are:
1. A lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in Christian maturity is supported and modelled by all.
2. The importance of discipleship in daily life is affirmed.
3. Gatherings for worship celebrate the discipleship of all the baptised.
4. Disciples are equipped to help others to become followers of Jesus.
5. Diocesan work on vocations is based on the principle that all the baptised are called into God’s service.
6. Good practice in facilitating learning and formation is developed.
7. Gifts of leadership are recognised and developed among all the baptised.
8. Innovation and experiment are encouraged in mission, ministry and discipleship.
9. Specific diocesan policies and plans promote discipleship development.
10. Diocesan resources are committed to the development of the whole people of God.

Division in the Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion, which is the third largest Christian body in the world with 80 million members, has been seriously divided by the issue of homosexual practice and also women bishops. Many African bishops and others from the southern hemisphere regard any acceptance of gay relationships as a serious denial of biblical truth. The liberals in the western church regard this as homophobic bigotry. Traditionally the 800 bishops of the Anglican Communion meet for the Lambeth Conference every ten years. But in 2008 250 stayed away, largely because of the consecration of the openly homosexual bishop Gene Robinson in the United States. The Archbishop of Canterbury has postponed the next conference, scheduled for 2018, but has called together the 38 primates (senior archbishops) to meet him in Canterbury in January 2016. Having discarded the failed approach by his predecessors to bring conservatives and liberals together he is going to propose that the communion be reorganised as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other. He regards the attempts to bring liberals and conservatives together as “spending vast amounts of time trying to keep people in the boat and never actually rowing it anywhere.”

The African conservative bishops have formed an organisation called GAFCON (The Global Anglican Future Conference). If they decided to withdraw totally from the Anglican Communion other Anglicans may join them, including in England (thus leaving the Church of England).

Women priests are predominantly liberal

22% of clergy in the Church of England are now female. But Peter Brierley says: “There are very few Anglo-Catholic female clergy, and relatively few evangelical female clergy. Consequently the large majority of female clergy are of broad, or liberal, churchmanship, so that, as their number increases, so will the balance of churchmanships change within the ranks of stipendiary clergy.”

This is a serious matter. It will mean that gradually the proportion of Church of England clergy who are liberal will increase. Part of the cause is that many conservative Anglicans, evangelical and catholic, are against women priests and so their churches will not produce female candidates for ordination.

The damage caused by clerical sexual abuse

The most serious damage is, of course, to the innocent victims of this criminal behaviour. But it has also done enormous damage to the reputation and credibility of the church, including the Church of England. In October 2015 Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Gloucester, was jailed for two years and eight months for sexual abuse of 18 young ordinands. One of Ball’s victims committed suicide. Ball had been charged with some of the offences back in 1993 but he avoided a trial by accepting a police caution for abusing one young man and resigning as Bishop of Gloucester. However he continued to work as a priest in Truro. His victims are suing the Church of England for hundreds of thousands of pounds. The damage to the church caused by such appalling behaviour is enormous. The Archbishop of Canterbury has ordered an independent review of the church’s handling of the Peter Ball affair. The church published an official statement which said: “It is a matter of deep shame and regret that a Bishop in the Church of England has today been sentenced for a series of offences over 15 years against 18 young men known to him. There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades.”

In 2014 Lord Hope, the former Archbishop of York resigned from ministry when an independent enquiry found he failed to deal properly with allegations against Robert Waddington, former Dean of Manchester, for abusing schoolchildren and choir boys.

Confusion over same-sex marriage

There is an old joke that “The Bishops of the Church of England are, generally speaking, generally speaking!” The House of Bishops seems to be in its “generally speaking” mode over gay marriage. On the one hand it upholds the fact that the official view of the Church of England is that marriage is heterosexual but it also produced a statement in which it acknowledges that there are strongly-held and divergent views in the House of Bishops about the matter. So the confusion continues, which is damaging to the church.

The pro-gay Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, acknowledged in 2014 that he couldn’t bless same-sex marriages but he added: “If I am approached by a gay couple, I think it perfectly possible to devise something with them which is as appropriate as it can be in the present confused situation. You can pray with people pastorally but you can’t use the B word [Blessing].”

A YouGov survey in October 2014 found that 51% of clergy believe same-sex marriage is wrong, 39% disagree, and 10% say they don’t know. 88% of evangelicals believe same-sex marriage is wrong.

A Church Times Survey in 2014 found that some 60% of Anglo-Catholics agreed with practising homosexuals becoming priest or bishops and about 55% of middle of the way Anglicans but only around 20% of Evangelicals. Around 39% of Anglo-Catholic and middle of the way Anglicans approved of same-sex marriage and 12% of Evangelicals. 51% of Evangelicals also disapproved of any kind of blessing for a same-sex marriage.

At least two Anglican priests have married same sex partners. Canon Jeremy Pemberton had Permission to Officiate in Southwell Diocese but the Bishop rescinded that permission. In 2014 the Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain married his atheist partner. He has the old-style legal freehold as Vicar of St Mary with All Souls in Kilburn and St James in West Hampstead, which makes it probably impossible for the bishop to remove him.

Then it was announced that Foreshew-Cain had been elected by fellow-clergy to General Synod. Some people called for him to be removed but the Secretary General of the Synod, William Fittall, said questions about eligibility were addressed before any voting took place and at a diocesan level. He added that any questions surrounding the suitability of a candidate was for the electorate to decide.

The House of Bishops has given an uncertain sound over same-sex marriage (as have many clergy) and this will do enormous damage to the church.

Bishops – the good news

It is easy to concentrate only on bad news. But some bishops are making great efforts to help the church face up to the great challenges facing it. In my own diocese we have two evangelical bishops, an evangelical archdeacon and rural dean. They are going to great lengths to encourage parishes to reorganise, co-operate with other denominations and to major on mission and evangelism.

Bishops speak out on other moral issues

Before the 2015 General Election, the bishops produced a letter encouraging “voters to support candidates and policies which demonstrate the following key values:
• Halting and reversing the accumulation of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, whether those of the state, corporations or individuals.
• Involving people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most.
• Recognising the distinctive communities, whether defined by geography, religion or culture, which make up the nation and enabling all to thrive and participate together.
• Treating the electorate as people with roots, commitments and traditions and addressing us all in terms of the common good and not just as self-interested consumers.
• Demonstrating that the weak, the dependent, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable are persons of equal value to everybody else.
• Offering the electorate a grown up debate about Britain’s place in the world order and the possibilities and obligations that it entails.”

More recently they called on the government to receive 50,000 rather than 20,000 Syrian refugees in the next five years.

Conclusion

The Church of England is facing decline in the number of worshippers and clergy, unbelief in fundamental doctrines by clergy, division and enormous damage over sexual issues: sexual abuse and same-sex marriage. There needs to be much repentance, some firm action and earnest prayer for revival. But there are encouraging aspects with growth in some churches and a realistic emphasis on prayerful outreach and evangelism in some quarters. Other churches are facing huge problems too. Then there is the old saying: “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, you’ll spoil it.

Introduction: the Bible and the Church

My concern about the homosexual issue is to be clear as to what the Bible says about it. It is then up to the individual and the church to decide whether to follow that teaching or not. The Church of England’s position on Scripture is quite clear. Its Canon Law, which has legal status, states: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.” Canon Law also supports the 39 Articles of Religion which state: “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” Every Anglican bishop and clergyperson is legally bound to follow these rules. So ensuring an accurate interpretation of Scripture is important.

The official position of the Church of England on Sexuality is stated in a General Synod decision in 1987 based upon a Private Members Motion I put to the synod. The Bishops modified my wording but then the synod voted by a 98% majority that sexual intercourse belongs properly within a permanent heterosexual marriage and that just as fornication and adultery falls short of this ideal so “homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.”

We now live in a very different society from 30 years ago. It has different attitudes towards homosexual practice. Homosexual marriage has been legalised. Even some evangelicals have changed their minds on the issue. But the Church of England is still committed to the 1987 decision and has been granted exemption from having to celebrate homosexual marriages. However, the pressure will increase and there are clear indications that the homosexual issue will be a cause of oppression and ultimately persecution for Christians who stand by the traditional biblical teaching.

We are called to love our homosexual neighbour, as we are called to love all of our neighbours. There is no place for antagonism towards or rejection of homosexuals as people. But loving our neighbour does not necessarily involve loving their behaviour. Homosexuals will, of course, claim that those who don’t accept their sexual behaviour are rejecting them as people. That reaction is understandable but it is illogical. We should strongly affirm that homosexual people are equal to heterosexual people. But that is not the same as saying that homosexual practice is the same as heterosexual practice. All people are equal but not all behaviour.

The marginalisation of the church

The fact that many in society do not make this important distinction leads to the church being seen as intolerant and judgmental. So Ireland, which in 1987 voted overwhelmingly against the legalisation of divorce, and only legalised homosexual practice in 1993, in 2015 became the first country to approve same-sex marriage after a referendum. But there were other factors. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church has hugely diminished. This is largely due to what is seen as hypocrisy, namely the allegations of sexual abuse amongst Irish clergy and of the church’s failure to deal with it properly.

A recent poll found that 52% of Americans favoured same-sex couples being allowed to marry and only 32% disapproved. Another poll found that 53% of Americans were favourable towards gays and lesbians compared with 42% towards evangelicals. 18% were unfavourable towards gays and lesbians compared with 28% towards evangelicals.

In July 2014 the UN stated it would recognise the same-sex marriages of its staff. An Ipsos MORI poll in April 2014 found that “the proportion of Britons who think homosexual couples should be able to marry has more than quadrupled in the four decades since 1975. 69% now agree with the statement that “homosexual couples should be allowed to marry each other”, whilst just over a quarter (28%) disagree. When the same question was asked in November 1975, support for gay marriage stood at 16% (with 53% disagreeing). Simon Atkinson, Assistant Chief Executive at Ipsos MORI, commented: “It is very unusual, even over a period of 40 years, to see such a sea change in public attitudes. People in Britain are clearly behind the recent legislation on gay marriage – a rare example of Parliament and public opinion being very much in tune with each other.”

Pro-homosexual evangelicals

Many Christians uphold the biblical teaching on homosexuality but some, including Evangelicals, support same-sex marriage. Jayne Ozanne is a prominent evangelical I know who was a member of the Archbishop’s Council. She describes herself as “a staunch evangelical … a fully signed up charismatic evangelical … an ardent evangelical” who has “an extremely high regard for scripture.” However she has been in a “gay relationship.” She lays down the challenge that if this is sinful “why then do I see so much fruit in my life? As Jesus said, “Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7). Why does God continue to answer my prayers? Why do I see his power constantly at work in my life; his voice whispering in my inner ear; his healing power touching the lives of people who have been deeply hurt and broken by a Church that has shunned them.” She said that back in 1999 her views on sexuality were “extremely black and white” and added “I did not believe it was compatible to be gay and a Christian.”

Jayne also wrote that in a General Synod debate she read “a draft suicide note written by someone struggling with their desire for love, but knowing that the only thing that could satisfy this hunger was ‘forbidden fruit’. The letter was my own, written during this time of pain – a cry from the created to the Creator, asking why I had been created with such a cruel dichotomy.”

One cannot read this last paragraph without one’s heart going out to Jayne and others like her. We need to pray especially for homosexuals and lesbians who face such trauma. We also need to be sensitive in our approach to the subject.

However, one cannot base moral decisions on emotion or on people’s motives. The crucial question remains: What is the biblical teaching on homosexual practice? The fact that Jayne experiences answers to prayer and spiritual fruit in her life is an evidence of God’s mercy. After all, we are all sinners and don’t deserve answers to prayer and spiritual fruit. Such experience does not justify what is wrong in our lives. Also, it is not just homosexuals who experience great traumas about their circumstances and who cannot understand why God has put them in such a situation. We need to understand them but that does not mean we approve of everything they do.

The Rev Steve Chalke, a very well-known evangelical leader and leader of the Oasis Trust which seeks to provide housing, education, training, youthwork and healthcare in various countries, similarly disclosed his change of view over homosexual practice. Ultimately this led to the Evangelical Alliance terminating the Trust’s membership.

The Evangelical Alliance has been criticised for this decision. Critics point to its “Evangelical Relationships Commitment” which states: “We respect the diversity of culture, experience and doctrinal understanding that God grants to His people, and acknowledge that some differences over issues not essential to salvation may well remain until the end of time. We call on each other, when speaking or writing of those issues of faith or practice that divide us, to acknowledge our own failings and the possibility that we ourselves may be mistaken, avoiding personal hostility and abuse, and speaking the truth in love and gentleness.”

Like Steve Chalke himself, the critics say that the issue of homosexual practice is a secondary one. Chalke commented: “It is extremely disappointing that this matter of sexual ethics has again been seen as more significant than central matters of the Christian faith. I would call on the Evangelical Alliance to reverse its decision and declare that acceptance of same sex relationships can be compatible with evangelicalism.”

Dr Justin Thacker, lecturer in theology at the evangelical Cliff College, wrote “My concern is that this looks like a decision, not born of confidence in the gospel or trust in the power of the Scriptures to transform, but rather one born of fear – fear that the church is becoming inevitably compromised by the world and that its time to pull up the drawbridges.”

Accepting Evangelicals is an organisation which states: “We are an open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” It has 960 members. It commented that the Evangelical Alliance “can … no longer claim to represent ‘the UK’s two million evangelical Christians’ as there are clearly many evangelicals who they no longer represent, or who they are unwilling to represent.”

Other Christian response

In May 2015 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed by 309 votes to 182 the idea that individual congregations could opt out of the tradition view of marriage and appoint a minister in a same-sex civil partnership.

However when Canon Jeremy Pemberton married his male partner the Church of England removed his licence to minister. The Bishop of Buckingham, who supports equal rights for homosexuals, said this was unjust and that homosexual clergy are subject to “harassment and victimisation.”

Steve Chalke’s Oasis Trust did a survey and found that the attitudes of churchgoers has undergone an “ethical earthquake” in the past decade, “despite the more hostile tones of the denominations they belong to.” Around a quarter of churchgoers believe that same-sex relationships should be affirmed by the church, but are reluctant to share their views, a new survey has found. 49.6% of Christians across the main 11 denominations believe that monogamous same-sex relationships should be fully embraced and encouraged. 68% said that their views have become more inclusive over the past decade, with 61% noting that the shift had come as a result of “understanding or interpreting the Bible differently.”

In October 2014 the Vatican published a synodical report which stated:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York put out a statement in February 2014 about the views of the Church of England House of Bishops which said: “We are not all in agreement about every aspect of the Church’s response. However we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.”

The legal situation in the UK

In a March 2014 poll BBC Radio 5 Live found that 59% of people believed a person should not be considered homophobic for opposing the legislation that allows gay marriage. However there are increasing attempts to bring legal action against those who do not approve of homosexual practice. In April 2015 The Guardian published an editorial which stated: “It’s at least possible that conservative Christians might at some stage end up as despised and disadvantaged a minority as some of their victims have been in the past … In the west we privilege conflicting but broadly liberal values. We no longer privilege the authority of the Bible. So, once we have determined that discrimination against homosexuals violates the principle of equality – and that is the settled position in both law and public opinion now – the fact that some people are compelled by their consciences to disagree does not exempt them from behaving as if it were true. There cannot be a special exemption for mistaken beliefs held on religious grounds when these harm others.”

The same month an article in The Guardian stated: “Hostility to homosexuality, abortion or extramarital sex may be justified as the teachings of gods, prophets or scriptures … and anyone has the right to follow them. But actions based on those beliefs should have no particular privilege and, if illegal, the fact that the person undertaking them believes in the Almighty should be no defence.”

However the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated that the UK Same Sex Marriage law provides “protection under equality law for ministers of religion who do not wish to marry same sex couples. The Commission stated that “churches and individual ministers will not find themselves forced by litigation to conduct same sex marriages and no one will be required to promote views about same-sex marriage which they do not support.”

Welcome though this is, it is also evidence of the increasing marginalisation of the church in today’s society. How long will it be before such protections are removed? There are already calls for that. For example Lord Fowler, former chair of the Conservative Party has said that the government should be able to prevent the Church of England from sacking clergy who enter same-sex marriages. We are seeing Christians accepting homosexual practice, despite the biblical teaching on the matter. We are also seeing a further trend towards oppression of those who uphold the biblical teaching. We need to recognise the seriousness of these trends.

 

Is there a sinister conspiracy to establish a repressive world government or is this simply the view of paranoid extremists?

Dr Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, wrote that many people do not appreciate that “Global government might begin benevolent, but it could turn sour, even becoming the oppressive disaster that the conspiracy theorists fear. And if it does, there would be no other government out there to keep it in check.” He added: “It’s worth noting that there have been several major oppressive governments throughout world history, resulting in some of the biggest disasters ever. Fortunately, a historical trend has been that other, more open societies have eventually out-competed them, leading to the oppression declining. But if that oppressive government is a global government, then there is no chance for another society to out-compete it.”

The steady development of globalisation

Globalisation is an inevitable process, a lot of which has already happened. Some people may not appreciate that there is already a huge amount of international co-operation and control. Much of it is for positive motives and has the potential to improve the lives of human beings. But, as Seth Baum says, well-intentioned and helpful developments can go wrong. There are various contributory factors to globalisation some of which I’ll mention briefly:

POSITIVE TRENDS

Economic Cooperation

One of the biggest factors driving the movement towards globalisation is economic. There has been an increasing exchange of products, services, capital and labour across national borders which has led to closer integration of economies throughout the world. This is linked with a large fall in transport costs over time. Also modern communications facilitate global trade and an international work force, and enables companies to split their work between different countries. The great increase in speed of travel and transport assists this trend. These developments require international laws to govern economic activity. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) founded in 1945, is composed of “188 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”

Peacekeeping

Another factor which has brought nations together in global co-operation is the experience of the world wars. Both the United Nation and the European Union have grown out of the aftermath of war as an attempt to promote and maintain peace. Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General, said the UN “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” In addition to providing peacekeeping forces around the world, the UN set up the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957, to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.

Upholding Human Rights

The disturbing oppression and inequalities in many countries has led to attempts to bring nations together to promote human rights and welfare across the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.
• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948 in Paris.
• The International Labour Organisation (ILO), set up in 1919, was inspired by the idea that social justice was crucial to world order and peace.
• The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, set up in 1946, contributes to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights.
• UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women was set up in 2010.

Overcoming Hunger, Ill-Health and Poverty

The need to overcome the huge challenge of world poverty has also led to global co-operation which has drawn nations together.
• The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, set up in 1945, leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
• The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, was created 1946 to provide food, clothing and healthcare to European children who faced famine and disease. It now works in more than 190 countries with families, local communities, business partners and governments, to help protect children in danger.
• The World Health Organization (WHO), established in 1948, is concerned with international public health
• The World Food Programme, which was set up in 1961, delivers food and other relief supplies to about 80 million people in more than 80 countries every year.
• The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, set up in 1969, aims to ensure every young person has their potential fulfilled, every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.
• The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), set up in 1977, is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

Caring for Refugees

The increasing problem of people fleeing war and oppressive regimes has also brought nations together to provide for them.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was founded in 1950 to help displaced Europeans. Globalisation encourages people to move. In 1970 there were 70 million international migrants. Now there are over 200 million.

Professor Alexander Betts is director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford believes that refugees and displacement are likely to become a defining issue of the 21st century. This is because an increasing number of states are very weak and so are unable or unwilling to ensure the most fundamental human rights of citizens. The UN Security Council has not dealt well with this increase in migration and there will need to be a more effective international co-operation on the issue.

It is interesting that in September 2015 for the first time, at a meeting of EU Interior Ministers, a majority decision was made on the sensitive issue of refugee quotas which was binding on all EU countries. Previously such a decision would have been left to individual states to make. This was based on the new mechanism whereby 55% of EU countries representing 65% of the EU population can decide for all 28 members of the EU. This was a significant step forward in European solidarity and a corresponding weakening of national sovereignty.

Combatting Climate Change

One of the biggest challenges facing the world is, of course, global warming and this requires much more global co-operation. In 1988 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to assess scientific information relevant to the impact of human-induced climate change and options for adaptation and mitigation. It is essential that the nations of the world work together to combat this problem.

In August 2015 President Obama launched his Clean Power Plan which sets achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. His action encourages the possibility of a realistic international agreement at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. It is possible that such an agreement could limit global warming to a maximum of 2oC.

Obama predicted what would happen if world leaders don’t take action on climate change: “Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.” He added: “Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety—now. Today.”

Sustainable Development Goals

In July 2015 24 Heads of State and Government met with other politicians in Addis Ababa to discuss ending poverty in the world and combatting climate change. They put forward 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General said the agreement “encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world.” The UN General Assembly endorsed the Addis Ababa agreement and Ban Ki-moon commented “We launch a new era of cooperation and global partnership.” Then at the end of September 2015 the 193 countries of the UN ratified the Goals. Ban Ki-moon commented: “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success. To achieve these new global goals, we will need your high-level political commitment. We will need a renewed global partnership.”

The 17 goals including ending poverty and hunger, ensuring people have healthy lives and access to water, energy and education, achieving gender equality, promoting economic growth and employment for all, tackling climate change, pollution and promoting sustainable use of ecosystems, etc. They also include “promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.” In addition it involves “promoting a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization.”
Another aspect of the Addis Ababa conference was that developing countries are demanding a global body on tax co-operation. Currently global tax standards are decided privately by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which any see as the “rich countries’ club.” Developing countries lose more money through international tax dodging than they receive in aid. They want this to be stopped.
Achieving all this will require much greater international co-operation between governments and nations. The pressure is on and this will move the world more in the direction of world government.

Others

In addition to the numerous international bodies mentioned above, the following also encourage globalisation:
• The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), set up in 1947 to encourage the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.
• The International Maritime Organization (IMO), set up in 1948 to regulate shipping.
• The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), originally founded in 1865, as the International Telegraph Union, is now responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.

As can be seen, global co-operation has led to many very positive developments.

NEGATIVE TRENDS

One of the ways in which world government could “turn sour” is by it seriously limiting human rights and freedom, despite the organisations set up to promote human rights. There is already disturbing evidence of such a trend. The reason may be international crime, cyber war and the spread of Islamic terrorism. But counter measures carry serious dangers. One aspect of an oppressive world government would be a powerful surveillance system.

The dangers of surveillance

David Anderson QC produced a report in June 2015 in which he said: “Modern communications networks can be used by the unscrupulous for purposes ranging from cyber-attack, terrorism and espionage to fraud, kidnap and child sexual exploitation. A successful response to these threats depends on entrusting public bodies with the powers they need to identify and follow suspects in a borderless online world … But trust requires verification. Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards.” He recommended replacing the current legislation on surveillance. He also proposed safeguards against snooping on journalists, lawyers and other groups. He rejected the idea that the threat from terrorism is “unprecedented” and questioned whether the intelligence services need the power laid out in the Government’s proposed “snooper’s charter” to search through people’s web browser histories to see what they have been looking at online.

He also suggested that control over the intelligence services be transferred from politicians to judges, which does not seem to have gone down well with the government. Sir David Omand, the ex-head of GCHQ (Government Communications HQ), commented that it would be “unconscionable for a judge to authorise a very sensitive intelligence operation where the political risk, if it went wrong, fell on the home secretary, or overseas the foreign secretary, who would know nothing about it and wouldn’t have approved it.”

However he has agreed with demands from GCHQ that bulk data gathering should continue. Although the security authorities claim it is an anonymous exercise in tracking, it is clear from the US that personal information can be extracted from it.

In February 2015 GCHQ was found guilty of illegal behaviour in the period leading to December 2014 when it allowed American security authorities to access private personal information about UK residents. However the government strongly defended GCHQ and said this judgment would not affect its operations.

Tony Porter, the UK government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner, said he was very concerned about the “burgeoning use of body-worn videos” by police, university security staff, housing and environmental health officers – and even supermarket workers. He added: “If people are going round with surveillance equipment attached to them, there should be a genuinely good and compelling reason for that. It changes the nature of society and raises moral and ethical issues … about what sort of society we want to live in … I’ve heard that supermarkets are issuing staff with body-worn videos. For what purpose? There is nothing immediately obvious to me.”

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the level of secrecy surrounding the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), saying it allows the police to “engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy.” Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said: “Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.”

The Intelligence Services Committee (ISC) report into the murder of Lee Rigby confirms the existence of the Tempora programme – which taps undersea cables off the Cornish coast in order to collect the communications data of every UK internet user.

Whilst avoiding a paranoid reaction to the security services, it is important to recognise that modern surveillance, although claimed to be about combatting terrorism, is disturbing. It is easy for it to be misused and to be open to facilitating political oppression.

Another factor which can encourage oppressive political action is terrorism and there is growing evidence of this trend today.

Counter-radicalisation strategy

One of the most disturbing recent developments is the establishment of the UK governments Counter-Radicalisation Strategy. There is widespread concern that this could lead to censorship. One of the problems is that “radicalisation” has not been defined. Also “British Values” is a term which lacks clarity. Roger Mosey, former editor of the Today programme on Radio 4, commented: “There are difficulties sometimes in deciding what is extremism and what is not; hardline religious conservatism is one thing, inciting terrorist violence another. I’m not sure politicians are the best to judge which is which.”

Sajid Javid, when he was UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told David Cameron that he couldn’t support the Home Secretary’s plan to vet TV programmes which might contain extremist material before they were screened. He added: “It should be noted that other countries with a pre-transmission regulatory regime are not known for their compliance with rights relating to freedom of expression and government may not wish to be associated with such regimes.”

Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police supports the UK government’s new counter-terrorism measures. But he commented: “If these issues [defining extremism] are left to securocrats [police officers with power to influence government] then there is a danger of a drift to a police state. …There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police. This securocrat says we do not want to be in the space of policing thought or police defining what is extremism.”

There is a real danger that views such as that homosexual practice is sinful or Jesus is the only way to God (and thus other religions are false) would be deemed extremism.

Growing restrictions on human rights is a serious issue in many parts of the world.

Limitation of human rights

James Savage, Human Rights Defenders Programme Manager for Amnesty International, commented on the fact that, in the last three years over 60 countries have drafted or passed laws that curtail human rights groups and 96 countries have inhibited them from operating at full capacity. He said: “This global wave of restrictions has a rapidity and breadth to its spread we’ve not seen before, that arguably represents a seismic shift and closing down of human rights space not seen in a generation. There are new pieces of legislation almost every week – on foreign funding, restrictions in registration or association, anti-protest laws, gagging laws. And, unquestionably, this is going to intensify in the coming two to three years. You can visibly watch the space shrinking.”

Contributory factors are the shifting of political influence away from western countries which tend to fund such groups, reaction against pro-democracy uprisings in former communist states and the Middle East and counter terrorist actions which, intentionally or otherwise, adversely affect human rights groups.

As is often the case, the truth lies in the middle. Some people dismiss the danger of oppressive world government as the stuff of fiction. Others oppose genuinely positive developments to promote human welfare on a global level because they read everything as sinister. Both of these approaches are unhelpful. A more balanced view is that globalisation has many positive aspects but there is a real need to be alert to unhelpful and sinister developments. The New Testament envisages an eventual oppressive world global regime. But that does not mean that Christians should oppose the positive trends which benefit

 

 

Religion is in its death throes according to A C Grayling, who was Professor of Philosophy at the University of London. Having a keen interest in astronomy, I wonder what planet he is living on.

There is, of course, a decline of Christianity in Britain and the West but it is arrogant to think that this means Christianity is finished in the world. It is rather old-fashioned colonialism. Christianity is alive, well and growing in many parts of the world, in Africa and China (despite its atheist regime), for example. But he explains claims that religion is growing as “the volume and the irritation and the frustration [being] ratcheted up” by religious people who feel threatened by the decline of religion. This is, of course, wishful thinking on his part as an atheist.

John Gray, Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, said recently that “The vocal fervour of today’s missionary atheism conceals a panic that religion is not only refusing to decline – but in fact flourishing” He pointed out that “The resurgence of religion is a worldwide development. Russian Orthodoxy is stronger than it has been for over a century, while China is the scene of a reawakening of its indigenous faiths and of underground movements that could make it the largest Christian country in the world by the end of this century. Despite tentative shifts in opinion that have been hailed as evidence it is becoming less pious, the US remains massively and pervasively religious – it’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president, for example.” He added that science cannot determined human values: “None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism.”

Nevertheless we need to take the decline of Christianity in the West very seriously. The question often arises as to whether the UK is still a Christian country. The Pew Research Centre published a report in April 2015 stating that on current trends the percentage of the UK population identifying themselves as Christians will fall from 64% in 2010 to 45% in 2050. Similarly, less than 50% of the population will claim to be Christians in France, the Netherlands, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Australia and New Zealand by 2050. 16% of the world’s Christians will live in Europe but 40% will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

One illuminating indication of the decline of Christianity in the UK is a quotation from Lindsay Meader, Rector of St James’s church in Piccadilly, which has significant number of gay and lesbian members, and chaplain to the Apollo Theatre. She said: “I’ve had people who work in the theatre say: ‘It’s much harder to come out as Christian in the theatre than to come out being gay.’ I think we’ve come to a stage in society where actually it’s easier to come out as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, than sometimes it is to come out and actually say: ‘I follow a particular religion.’”

Linda Woodhead, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University has said: “We are living through the biggest religious transition since the Reformation of the 16th Century.” She added: “Western governments will have to work hard to convince the world of the value of liberal democracy and the forms of religion and belief which have supported it, and I am not sure they yet grasp the scale of the challenge.” Even more serious was her comment: “Religions have a natural dynamic towards more sectarian fundamentalist extremes, and we are losing the moderating forces internally and externally that used to regulate and deal with these tendencies, including Parliamentary interest and involvement.”

However Grace Davie, Professor emeritus in Sociology at the University of Exeter wrote: “Looking at the figures, there are the committed religious people, the committed secular people, and in the middle, there’s this grey area. The pendulum is swinging gradually towards the secular end, while everyone is wondering what the growth in Islam will mean. There’s no room for complacency, but there will be a future for Christianity,” she says. It will just be a different future. It will be smaller and more committed, but not necessarily more extreme.”

Caroline Wyatt, Religious Affairs Correspondent at the BBC commented: “That increasing lack of belief is not confined to religion alone, but appears to be affecting almost every other sphere of authority – while new technology allows individuals to access more knowledge than ever before about the world around us, while apparently leaving us no happier. Faith in politicians, government, the mainstream media and in many other institutions has diminished, yet the human search for meaning, identity and principles that unite us as a society has not gone away.”

A recent WIN/Gallup Poll concluded that the UK was 59th out of 65 nations in terms of the proportion of the population self-rating as a religious person. The 2015 Britain Uncovered survey on the attitudes and beliefs of Britons in 2015 found that 61% of Britons associate with a religion but it is only a minority of that group (29%) who actively practise their religion with 21% describing themselves as atheist. 61% of Britons agree with the view that “These days religion is a negative influence in the world rather than a force for good.”

The Christian Concern Easter 2015 Poll conducted by ComRes found that 47% of Britons still think that Britain’s Christian heritage continues to bring benefits to the country today (32% say the opposite). 55% welcome the fact that Easter is a Christian festival (33% don’t). 52% believe that Christians should be able to refuse to act against their conscience without being penalized by their employer. For example 72% think it is wrong that health care workers should be threatened with the sack for offering to pray with patients.

Andrew Brown wrote in April 2015 about the challenge facing the Church of England: “Institutionally, the Church of England is set up to be entirely embedded in the nation around it, from the parish system all the way up to the coronation service. The idea that it could somehow reinvent itself as a religion for outsiders and the marginal may be profoundly Christian, but it is sociologically incredible. The God that the English still more or less believe in is less and less likely to be found in churches, or at least in church services.”

David Cameron wrote in Premier Christianity magazine that Christian values “are the values on which our nation was built” and said he is an “unapologetic supporter of the role of faith in this country.” However, as I have noted elsewhere, he shows little understanding of the faith when he wrote in a Downing Street press release in June 2015 disapproving of the idea that “religious doctrine trumps the rule of law.”

A YouGov poll at the end of March 2015 recorded the little influence religious leaders have in the UK. Only 28% said they took any notice when religious leaders commented on politics or economics and 23% when they spoke on personal morality.

George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, has announced what will prove to be the end of the present Sunday Trading laws because it will boost the economy.

There are calls for the end of compulsory religious school assemblies. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romaine said: “Collective worship belongs to a previous century when everyone was religious and everyone was the same religion, but not in multi-faith Britain today, and it is unfair to make children of one faith, or no faith, sit through worship of another faith every day. Collective worship also confuses the role of schools, which are to educate and be objective, and the role of churches, synagogues or mosques, which are confessional and subjective. Faith should come from the home, family and places of worship, but not from the school system, where knowledge and values should be the only task.” Dr Romaine is very liberal and he supports the legalisation of brothels, voluntary euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

In June 2015 The Guardian commented: “Christianity is now only the largest among many contending religions or life stances; among schoolchildren it may not even be the largest any more. In these circumstances, the state cannot mandate the practice of any one religion, nor demand that any one be taught as if it were true. But precisely because they are all contested it is vital that religious education teaches children how to live with others who inhabit entirely different imaginative worlds, whether these are explicitly religious or not.”

In the United States the Pew Research Center found that more than 25% of American men say they are not affiliated to any religion compared with 20% in 2007. 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian compared with 78% in 2008.

Non-religious spirituality

Whereas we must address the serious decline in Christianity in the west, we must not ignore the fact that while many people outside the Christian church reject or disregard religion they do retain their own spirituality. “Spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) has become a popular phrase. Professor Michael King of University College London estimates that one fifth of British people are spiritual but not religious. A Pew Research Center survey in the US found that one fifth of the population were religiously unaffiliated with 37% of them regarding themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Mark Vernon, who was an Anglican priest but became an atheist, has written a book called “How To Be an Agnostic.” In it he writes: “People associate religious institutions with constraining doctrines, and bad things that are done in the world. That may be outright fundamentalism, the oppression of women or some kind of conflict with liberal values.”

Craig Hospital, a Rehabilitation Hospital in Colorado, says on its website: “Some people use the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ interchangeably, but spirituality is really a broad term; religious ideas and concerns are only a part of a much larger concept. So, while some people’s spirituality is very much related to God or a higher power and might include worship in a church, synagogue, or mosque, for others spirituality may have nothing to do with religion and things like praying or going to church. Some examples of spiritual activities are meditation, traveling, reading, learning or doing something new, focusing on nature, and becoming deeply moved by music.”

Non-religious people can experience awe. Journalist, Oliver Burkeman, writes: “Spirituality I take to refer to things that are not expressible in words. There’s an aspect of human experience that is non-conceptual.” Another journalist, Tom de Castella, writes: “Awe and wonder is how spiritual people often describe their relationship with the world. There’s a sense that life is more than pounds and pence, of work, childcare and the rest of the daily grind … There are moments that seem transcendent in their lives – a beautiful sunset, a football crowd filling a stadium with noise, or a moving piece of music.”

However, it is a cause of concern that Professor Michael King and others produced a report of research which aimed “To examine associations between a spiritual or religious understanding of life and psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses.” It concluded that people who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder such as anxiety or depression.

Atheist Philosopher Julian Baggini comments on the yearning for something more that spiritual people have in his book “The Shrink & the Sage”: “My short reply is that you can yearn for higher as much as you like, but what you’re yearning for ain’t there. But the desire won’t go away.” This is, of course, a statement of faith by Baggini. He cannot prove scientifically that what people are yearning for is not there. In fact, what spiritual but not religious people are yearning for ultimately is God. And they are seeing something of God in creation but not recognising him. As Paul puts it in Romans 1:20, 25: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” but some people “worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

Conclusion

Christianity is declining in the West though not in some other parts of the world. Even amongst those who have no interest in religion or the church there is clear evidence of a spiritual yearning for something more and of experiences of awe. The church needs to be imaginative, rather than confrontational, in reaching out to those who are spiritual but not religious. However, the decline of Christianity is very serious not just in spiritual terms but also socially. As Professor Linda Woodhead has warned, it weakens the foundation of liberal democracy.

One important difficulty with taking eschatology seriously is that we are creatures of tradition. Our attitude is that everything with respect to God’s relationship with the world will be “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” We therefore find the idea of spectacular divine intervention on a world scale difficult to accept. We find the idea of Christ ruling on earth, of the Antichrist etc., difficult. But Jesus was on earth. Also, for centuries up until the early 20th century, people would have found it difficult to accept that the State of Israel would be re-established. Yet it has been and is either a most remarkable coincidence or the beginning of a fulfilment of prophecy.

Another difficulty is that we tend not to stand back and see the bigger picture of trends and dangers in the world. We are aware that:
• we have the ability to destroy all life on earth,
• one fifth of the world’s population is already under a godless dictatorship (China) (and adding other smaller countries the figure is higher),
• we now live in a global village with constantly developing globalisation and the potential for world government.
• a religion with an alternative Christ can attract millions of followers and have huge and growing influence around the world (Islam),
• secular scholars and authorities are concerned about Earth being struck by large asteroids.
But we tend not to see the significance of these things with respect to eschatology. Of course, the unbalanced and paranoid prophets of doom don’t help.

Why do we not stand back and see the bigger picture of trends and dangers in the world? It is a spiritual blindness to prevent people preparing for eschatological events and particularly for judgment. Many people don’t even prepare spiritually for the inevitability of death. The church’s neglect of sensible teaching on eschatology, and especially our individual accountability to God on the Day of Judgment, is a spiritual deceit and a profoundly unloving failure to prepare unbelievers and believers for eternity.

Sughra Ahmed, chair of the Islamic Society of Great Britain, wrote in the Spectator that he might be expected to support the opinion that the next Coronation should not be a Christian ceremony. He wrote: “
I support the idea of a Christian coronation. Only 19 per cent of people [in a recent ComRes poll] thought that a Christian coronation would alienate people of non-Christian faiths from the ceremony, while only 22 per cent of people from a religious minority agreed that it would alienate them. I believe that many British Muslims feel the same way as me. We, like others, respect the traditions of our country, and would not see it as alienating if that Christian tradition continued.” He added: “The idea of Christian traditions being at the heart of the coronation is an affirmative sign that religious traditions play an important role in our nation’s key ceremonies.” He does think that the ceremony could involve representatives of other faiths.

A group of Jewish students tried to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (a city divided between Israelis and Palestinians) when they took a wrong turn. The finished up in a Palestinian area.

Fayez Abu Hamdiyeh, a local Palestinian, said: “I heard shouts outside, I left my house and saw the five Jews frantically leaving their car, which was attacked by stones. They were very anxious, one was injured and bleeding from his face. I reassured down. I told them in Hebrew that it will be okay, I gave them water, and I helped the injured man.”

He called police and sheltered them with his family in their flat until soldiers arrived to collect them.