Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the November issue of en. May these encourage us as well as spur us on to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world facing severe persecution.
The Colombian Constitutional Court upheld the right to conscientious objection, freedom of worship and religious freedom on September 16 in the case of Jhonatan David Vargas Becerra, who was forcibly inducted into the military in March 2013 and later arrested and imprisoned on charges of going absent without leave.
His right to object to military service should have been respected from the outset as he had made a verbal declaration of his status in 2013. The court has given the National Army 48 hours to free him. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Germany: taboo broken
Laws prohibiting incest between siblings in Germany should be removed, according to a top government committee which said, in early October, it is ‘not appropriate for a criminal law to preserve a social taboo’.
‘The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family’, stated the German Ethics Council. Incest remains illegal in the UK and in most European countries. The Christian Institute
Nepal: free to convert?
The Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, has committed to guaranteeing religious freedom in the forthcoming constitution, a pledge included in his message to Muslims and people of other faiths on the occasion of the Muslim festival of Bakra Eid on October 6.
An anti-conversion clause for the new constitution had been proposed, and there were also calls by prominent political leaders in the last few months for a constitutional ban on all conversions from one religion to another. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
USA: chicken out
Chick-ﬁl-A, a fast food chain, has, in September, been banned from donating meals to a high school fundraising event in California because of its support for biblical marriage.
The school’s principal, Val Wyatt, banned the donation, saying: ‘With their political stance on gay rights and because the students of Ventura High School and their parents would be at the event, I didn’t want them on campus’. Christian Concern
Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the November issue of en. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.
Stonewall, announced in early October that it is dropping its controversial ‘Bigot of the Year’ Award.
In the past, those who have spoken out against the redefinition of marriage have been nominated – provoking a campaign against the award. In 2012 Coutts advised Stonewall that they would withdraw funding unless the category was removed. In 2013, Barclays and PwC dropped their sponsorship of the event after being contacted by Christians who objected to the award. Christian Concern
A ban on thinking
The decision to ban a pro-life group from the freshers’ fayre at Dundee University early in September has been criticised by sociologist Dr Tiffany Jenkins.
Writing in The Scotsman, she said that such actions mean ‘denying youngsters the chance to formulate their own views’. The sociologist defended the right of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), to share its views with students despite disagreeing with them. The Christian Institute
New pregnancy centres
A new national network for pregnancy centres with a Christian ethos was launched on September 27 at St Michael’s Church, Chester Square, London. There were around 90 delegates from 30 centres nationwide.
A new initiative to reach the churches about abortion called ‘Open’ was introduced. The keynote talk was delivered by Prof. John Wyatt, author of Matters of Life and Death and Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL. He re-established the heart of the pregnancy centres’ work in an inspiring way: that we are called to be Jesus to our clients and that we are called to see Jesus in our clients.
We recall the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent state in July 2011. The Anglican Church played a signiﬁcant role along with other churches in the forming and developing the new nation, the ﬁrst in history to escape from Muslim domination.
Since December 2013, Southern Sudan’s viability has been gravely threatened by an internal civil war. The rebel forces are led by the former vice-president, Riek Machir, who established himself in the north east of South Sudan where many of the country’s oil fields, the source of its income, are situated.
Supporting small scale business
Anglican International Development, based in Newcastle, had partnered the Episcopal Church of Sudan in developing Manna Microfinance, a programme to enable the South Sudanese to develop their own family economies through small scale business activities. It was also allocated facilities in Bor in the north east to develop a medical training programme in conjunction with the International Christian Dental and Medical Association. However, Bor was overrun by rebel forces and the programme has been started in Mengo Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, training 50 participants to work as medical officers in South Sudan.
Following independence, many such international groups stretched out helping hands to partners in South Sudan. But the civil war disrupted these activities. Leaders of the major Protestant denominations concluded that such was the threat to the survival of the country itself that concerted action was needed against the major threats.
A cry for help
They issued Cry from South Sudanin August 2014 following a consultation in London and established a United Christian Emergency Committee for South Sudan.
The ﬁrst threat they see is that the world will forget them, overwhelmed as it is with the development of Islamic State. However, their own parlous situation is of a piece with the development of IS. South Sudan is a front-line state facing the advance of Islam in Africa. They border on Sudan, a Muslim nation, which in turns borders on Egypt. Sudan has no interest in the survival of South Sudan and will therefore be actively involved in fanning the flames of the civil war.
Following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Gadaffi in Libya, Islamist fighters dispersed south into western and eastern Africa.
Their effects have been felt in Chad and in the separatism in Kenya. Some observers claim that the bombing of Islamic State will only disperse the fighters in a similar way, and South Sudan is an obvious attraction for their destabilising activities.
second The threat is a creeping famine caused by the disruption of the civil war. This is likely to hit hard early in the new year.
The authors of Cry… continue: ‘Our future is being undermined as our children are being devastated. Over 7% die at birth. Few attend school. Those schools that do function have to meet under trees. Those people that do get educated have no jobs. This is a time bomb for vulnerability to radicalisation by extremist groups.
‘God calls the church to bring peace and stability to South Sudan. However, we acknowledge that we have not always been faithful to this calling. We as church leaders now want to respond unitedly. We are committed to act together as one body and have established the United Christian Emergency Committee for South Sudan. We will be acting trans-denominationally. We ask for your support in the following areas:
• To help us build a strong and healthy nation for the future
• To support our hands in prayer for God’s deliverance
• To continue your interest and concern for the long term. Millions have died in conflict in our nation and millions have been displaced. We are committed to ensuring a long-lasting peace.
• To keep our nation and its hopes and needs before your governments and for other institutions to bring their pressure to bear
• To assist us as you can in the following strategic projects:
Human Rights; Education; Relationship with Cultures; Health; Relief; Discipleship /Theological Training; Political / Peace-making; Leadership / Ethics; Publishing; Economic Development; Legal Systems; Prayer Committee/Intercession
Where to begin
In our emergency situation we will begin with the following:
1. Provide food, medical relief and shelter. As crops have failed, we are now experiencing a famine which could become unmanageable.
2. A process of political reconciliation with specialist advisers. Without peace there can be no stable future for our country
3. Establish teachers’ training programmes ensuring a supply of teachers to encourage the government to build many schools. Education of the young is key to the future of South Sudan.
4. Establish a leaders’ ‘staff college’ with courses for politicians, bishops and senior clergy, businessmen, people in the military and law enforcement and other leaders in civil society. We will provide responsible leaders for the nation.
The committee, based in Juba, South Sudan can be contacted through the Revd John Brand, Friends of South Sudan, firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter through @fossuk
Recently doctors explained that sadly they think my mother will die soon.
She is 92, suffering from advanced dementia, and has had pneumonia. During a busy pastoral day I found time to get to the hospital, as we have been doing every day. I walked into the ward but my mother was not to be seen. I asked a nurse where she was. ‘Didn’t you know?’ she said, ‘She was moved to a nursing home this morning’. I was stunned. She was very apologetic.
What was going on?
It wasn’t quite as bad as it might first appear. We were indeed working on getting mum to a nursing home. But there were legal forms to sign and it was taking us some days to track down our situation on enduring power of attorney. The letter from NHS Continuing Care clearly stated that nothing could be done until these legal documents had been correctly filled in and signed. But evidently that requirement had simply gone out of the window under the pressures to get my ‘bed-blocker’ mother out of the ward. She had been carted off like a sack of potatoes. We had no opportunity to try to explain to her what was happening or to bring clothes or items of comfort from her flat.
The woman from NHS Continuing Care, who had been very helpful answering questions about the forms on the phone and who had told us not to rush, was now no longer answering the phone or indeed emails. Something had obviously gone wrong. Earlier in the week the hospital ward had badgered us, phoning us on Ann’s mobile while we were in Homebase, to see if we had yet seen and chosen between the nursing homes on offer. But evidently, they could not ring us to inform us that my mother was being moved.
Because she is expected to die soon and meets certain requirements, my mother’s place in nursing care is to be funded by the NHS. We asked how long for? An answer was not immediate. Eventually we heard that the funding is reviewed every six weeks. If the funding is withdrawn it will mean us having to find £1100 a week (around £57,000 a year) to provide for mum. This would be a tall order for anyone. My mother is a strong woman. The possibility of funding being withdrawn sadly means that grieving over mum easily gets mixed up with sleepless nights of anxiety over money. This is not the best.
At the beginning of October, just around the time that mum was taken into the nursing home, it was reported in the national news that the chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, Andrea Sutcliffe, admitted that the standard of care in homes in England is ‘not good enough at the moment’ and that too much ‘awful care’ was happening. The nursing home we have chosen looks a good one. We hope we are right. Our experience at the hospital has unsettled us.
My mum is a believer who, with a simple faith, was baptised at the age of 82. That is the ultimate comfort. But the only cure for an anxious night that I’ve found that works is prayer and resting on the promises of our faithful God. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4.6, 7).
en: This summer sees the publication of anew book on parenting and a DVD written and presented by you. Is this entirely new material?
AB: These are two quite separate projects, although both are on the subject of parenting. The DVD is of previous material in a new format. The Good Book Company already publishes a parenting course written by me, titled Putting Parenting to Bed. It includes a leader’s guide. But I am aware that not every church has someone who would have the confidence to front such a course and I have been frequently asked whether a DVD was available of the material. So this is the material in DVD format and it includes footage of children and parents talking about their children as well as the didactic stuff from me. From July the DVD will be on sale along with the leader’s guide and course-book materials*.
It’s designed to be used by churches with all kinds of parents including unchurched ones. Although it is based on biblical principles it is not presented as a Bible study but as good common sense about parenting which happens to be from God’s Word. Along the way I throw out some gentle challenges which, I hope, will make an unbeliever think, for example, about the values they bring to parenting and why they might like to investigate Christianity. But it is a parenting course, not evangelism as such.
en: What about the book? Do we needanother book on parenting?
AB: I have become increasingly aware that political correctness and other fashionable ideas/taboos have made many Christians nervous of following common sense parenting principles.
The very notion of parental authority is no longer taken for granted in society at large. But this is a core concept in the Bible and crucial, I would maintain, to raising a healthy, happy child. And there are many other issues where a thinking Christian parent may feel out of step with current views: discipline, sex and sexuality, materialism, the internet and many more. I have called the book Parenting Against the Tide** and it is written for parents who want to think through those issues biblically. It is a call to be counter-cultural in some ways, but that is nothing new to a follower of Jesus Christ.
en: You state very early on that parentingis much harder than in the past. Children are still children, so in what ways do you see parenting as more of a challenge?
AB: I think that parenting is harder because many parents have become less confident in their authority. Broadly that means that, from the earliest age, children are growing up with fewer boundaries. As a result they have an inflated sense of entitlement which in turn makes them harder work still. I am not saying that all children are brats. But I am saying that many parents are frightened of their children, treating then more like clients who have to be satisfied. In my book I explain a little bit about how that shift has happened. There are a number of factors, but a major source has been the whole children’s rights lobby. Since much of that is built on the idea of the total innocence of children (so denying the doctrine of original sin) it is going to be seriously skewed in its applications.
en: You argue that the emphasis on achild’s self-esteem, which lies behind so much parenting advice, is actually damaging children. Surely children need to feelgood about themselves or they will grow up to be damaged people?
AB: The Bible would say that children need to be loved, with the kind of special love that only a parent can give. That is what makes a child resilient. Yes, a parent’s love will often make them feel very happy, but sometimes the best thing a loving parent can do is to confront a child – even make a child feel bad about himself when he has done wrong. Part of a parent’s work is to instruct a child’s conscience and to help a child to learn from mistakes and take correction as a route to wisdom. Flattering a child to believe he is always wonderful will have no such educational value. Humility is a more helpful aim than high self-esteem, according to the Bible.
en: You place a huge value on a motherwho stays at home to bring up a child. What would you say to the woman who says, ‘We can afford for me to stay at home, but I’d go mad if I stayed at home with my child and I just want to go back to work.’?
AB: I understand some women have to go to work for financial reasons but I think it is high time somebody praised those women who selflessly give a number of years to caring for their children.
Why is childcare considered a perfectly viable career option for a woman professionally, but if she does it for her own children she is looked upon as lazy or lacking in ambition? I salute such women. I nowhere argue that it has to be a long-term full-time arrangement (although I think there is much more to good homemaking than some people believe), but I do think that someone has to speak up for the child. In his first few years, who would a child rather be with – his own mother or a professional carer? Who will give him that kind of special love that he needs? Who knows him best?
With the raising of pensionable age, there will be plenty of hours for a woman to spend in the workplace when mothering days are done. There are ways to protect your sanity when the baby is in his cot. The grass is always greener in the other option and it is good to remind yourself that even the best of workplaces can drive you mad too.
en: Homeschooling and smacking. Why not avoid these controversial topics? AB: They certainly are controversial. But I included in my books all the subjects I get asked about. And I have been asked many times about both of these. They are not on the same level however. Homeschooling is a hot topic because those who have chosen to do it tend to have a missionary zeal about it which can be unsettling to those who have decided to make other arrangements for their children’s education. But equally there are those Christians who really wanted me to argue that homeschooling is a poor choice. But I could not. I defy anyone to find a case for state schooling from the Bible. The Bible gives principles which different Christians apply in different ways regarding the education of their children. I have tried to be even-handed in presenting the case for homeschooling and the one for delegating the education elsewhere, which, incidentally, was what we did. A Christian should never be afraid of thinking through the reasons for any choice. I hope my analysis helps in that choice.
Smacking is controversial because it is unfashionable. There is always a bit of an intake of breath if I mention it when speaking. Some people think it is already illegal in this country. It is not – though many people would like it to be. Again I maintain that the Bible does not rule it out and neither therefore can I. Indeed on balance the Bible rather commends it than otherwise although some would maintain that the use of the word ‘rod’ in Proverbs is metaphorical. This is discussed in my book. Again, let readers think the issue through and make up their own minds. In any case I refused to avoid the subject just because various health and childcare professionals think smacking is wrong. That is precisely what I mean by ‘going against the tide’. I do not argue from history or from psychology but from Scripture. I did not write a book just to put across my own ideas.
en: Many parents will come to this bookwith a heavy heart and a sense of failure with their children not behaving how they would want them to. What do you say to that parent?
AB: I say to that parent, ‘I know how you feel’. I have had my share of heavy-hearted days. And surely all parents know what it is to look at their child and give a great big sigh. But remember that the snapshot you take of your child today is of a work in progress. It is not ‘game over’.
If you love your child and are not afraid to exercise authority, there is hope. One of the lovely things about children is that after the most ghastly day when you have done nothing but nag/correct/chastise – even perhaps when you have blown it and lost your temper and your failure has kept you awake at night – your child wakes the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and it is a whole new day. And they are right. It is a brand-new opportunity to lovingly train and correct.
Remember also the unsung but all-important things you do as a loving parent. You provide food, clothing, shelter. You are there. You are a good parent. Keep going.
en: If you had your time again as a parent, what would you do differently, or what do you wish you’d known then that you do now?
AB: Firstly, I would enjoy my children more. I think sometimes I got bogged down in management and administration and did not revel in the relationship I had with these four fantastic unique human beings growing up in my house.
It is a cliché, but they are not children long. As a parent you have this small window – yes, certainly for input of all kinds but also for being around each other. I think I got too stressed over little things – toilet-training, for example, which I loathed and at which I was hopeless (or my children were) – and failed to realise that these things pass. Things like that shake down OK. What is more important is your own attitude and demeanour.
Secondly, I would pray more – both with my children and for them. Despite my many failures God has been extraordinarily gracious to me and my family.
en: In the last chapter you write: ‘The shambles of family life is there to teach parents that they need God.’ To encourage every parent, can we just end this interview with you expanding on this for us?
AB: We don’t help anybody by pretending or thinking we can ever be perfect parents. There is plenty of scope for failures under a dispensation of grace. When we meet a problem in life, it suits our pride to solve the problem ourselves by thinking our way through to a better strategy. God might let us get away with that for so long. But in his kindness God sometimes lets us completely mess up and gives us the opportunity to face up to our weakness, our utter fallibility and repent. He does it so that we realise how much we need him. Whether in parenting or in life as a whole, each shambles presents us with that reminder. Run to God, who gives everything we need for life and godliness, and for parenting too.