Start and end of life threatened in upcoming Westminster votes

As I look ahead, if I was to pick two significant future challenges, they would be start-of-life law change and end-of-life law change. It is not implausible that there could, within months, be major votes at Westminster on legalising both assisted suicide and also the ‘decriminalisation of abortion’.

In March, the Home Secretary introduced a Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Commons. It is a Government Bill and so will be given plenty of time for debate and will be considered a priority. It’s also what is called a ‘Christmas Tree Bill’.

Wide scope

What that means is that is it a very broad Bill, with a wide scope. For example, if passed, it will lead to tougher sentences for child sex offenders. It will give the police more powers to tackle protests that prevent businesses from carrying out their work. The age of retirement for judges will be raised to 75, and there is a whole host of other measures, too.

A Bill like this, with its wide range of ‘reforms’, is as a result more open to being amended on a range of other issues. Given the nature of this Bill, it is our assessment that there’s a much stronger possibility that it could be used to change the law on abortion. We’ve already witnessed attempts to put amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to make abortion in England and Wales more widely available. Back then, the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that amendment as outside the scope of the Domestic Abuse Bill and so it was withdrawn. It is much less likely that a similar amendment would be out of scope of this new Bill.

Legal safeguards

At the moment, there are certain legal safeguards in criminal law. It is, for example, legally necessary to get two doctors to sign off an abortion. It’s legally required that it meets certain specific grounds. Now of course, sadly, the interpretation of this law is very, very broad and, tragically, it’s been used to perform 9 million abortions since records began. But if you removed the final legal safeguards that do still exist, you open the door to abortion on demand, for any or no reason. If we’ve had 9 million abortions under the already very liberal laws since 1967, imagine how much worse the situation will be if it becomes all the more available.

The challenge on assisted suicide could come via an amendment to the very same Bill. This raises the highly disturbing idea that you could see votes on legalising assisted suicide and making abortion more available around the same time.

Then there is the rumour of an upcoming Queen’s Speech. This would set out the UK Government’s post-Covid-19 legislative agenda. A new NHS Bill is expected which will introduce various reforms. Once again, such a Bill will be fairly broad in scope and as such, it could see an assisted-suicide amendment tagged on.

Pray for God’s wisdom

This is the ‘mucky business’ of politics. It’s a world of deals, strategies, feints and counter-feints. But knowing about challenges ahead of time means we can be praying and preparing. Perhaps the most important way of helping is to pray for God’s wisdom, grace and favour as ‘onside’ MPs seek to persuade colleagues to reject dangerous changes in the law when it comes to assisted suicide and abortion.

It helps, when facing challenges like this, to remember God is sovereign. King Jesus is on the throne and His agenda will ultimately win the day. In fact, the biggest game-changer is the Lord Himself and so, despite these two significant and serious challenges, we can still face the future with faith, hope and expectation that, whatever the outcome, God can still bring good, even from evil.

James Mildred

James Mildred is the Communications Manager for CARE (Christian Action Research and Education)

Escaping Spiritual Abuse

There is no reason to doubt the good motives of the book: to help identify spiritual abuse, ‘to seek better response [to it] and prevention [of it]’ (p.39, cf. p.17) and to help us think ‘about what healthy leadership and healthy Christian culture look like’ (p.3).

In large part (but not all) the book is successful, but it has weaknesses.

On the positive side, the book is academically well supported by other writings on abuse and by evidence from those who have reported being abused – many quotes from respondents are included.

Victims can feel well listened to and also that this book is a key stepping-stone in the right direction. It is clearly informative and will help many to empathise and respond better to abuse that has happened – and to create cultures that limit potential for abuse in future.

A very helpful checklist of questions is included that can be used by all in the congregation. These provide an early-warning system to identify cultures that could facilitate abuse, but also lead churches in a better direction.

There is also much-appreciated humility in the book. There is recognition that what the authors are seeking to do could be used as a weapon against the church (p.4, p.7) though an example is given of one such concerned person who ‘now having listened to us … was completely on board’ (p.37).

Biblical rigour needed

Nonetheless, it won’t (yet) have everyone ‘completely on board’. For that to happen, the book needs Biblical rigour. Despite many good points and observations being made (such as descriptions of coercive control and elitism within a church or within wider tribes), there is a real danger that the book could fail to gain the support of wider sections of the Biblical church and so weaken the remedy that the authors (and victims and others) so keenly want to see developed.

The book can, at times, feel like reading a sociology essay or management improvement manual. However, the main weaknesses are its lack of Biblical rigour and its current definition of spiritual abuse. The consequent implications, I believe, are dangerous – though not irreparable – as they seem, on occasion, to collide with Biblical examples to the contrary. For example, the impression given that any behaviour resulting in isolation or exclusion is universally bad (contra 1 Cor. 5:2) or that all expectation to conform must also necessarily be bad (contra Rom. 8:29).

It is important that these things be corrected and that Biblical discipline, when properly applied, should not be called spiritual abuse. The current definition, however, does not guard against this attack on the Bible and, indeed, may actually serve to make Biblical discipline even rarer, which, given the current widespread lack of discipline in the church, is not an insignificant concern. It is not just coercion and control that bring spiritual abuse but, also, a lack of Biblical discipline (including, for example, not dealing with false teachers). Where Biblical discipline is not exercised, this abdication of responsibility is also a form of abuse – though less recognised – in that it does not protect the wider flock (or other members in a youth group, for example) and causes great harm – and potentially eternal harm.

Thankfully, the authors model what they seek to teach in humility, and they recognise that their definition of spiritual abuse is a work in progress and are open to suggestions for improvement.

The authors recognise that there will not be agreement on all points of doctrine (p.45). However, they are less clear that there needs to be a Biblical response of discipline when essential doctrines/behaviour are not held to.

Any future edition of this book would benefit from including scenarios that deal with these matters – whether they relate to a local church or to a whole denomination – though it would be a brave book that did so. We wait and see…

Steven Hanna

Steven Hanna is minister of Christ Church, Exeter, in the Free Church of England

On Q. And You. And…

Our lives take place increasingly against a background of conspiracy theories.

From the vaccines altering your DNA, to the accusations that the US election was ‘stolen’, to QAnon, we seem surrounded by frightening scenarios of all kinds. It is not that conspiracies never ever happen. It is more our willingness to believe them so readily which makes me wonder.

Why is the contemporary world so awash with these things? And why should Christians think twice before buying into them? Here are some general thoughts to bear in mind.

First, we should realise that the Postmodern mindset, which informs modern society, sets us up for conspiracy theories. Unlike a Christian worldview, it doubts that there is such a thing as truth, and sees all communication as manipulation of the weak by the strong. If we accept this, then everything is actually a conspiracy.

Second, because a lot of people like to believe something, that doesn’t mean it’s true. As Christians especially we should understand that. Think of the success of  The Da Vinci Code. The human psyche loves the sensational rather than everyday facts and evidence. Third, as our world becomes more

apocalyptic in its feel, it is easy for Christians to forget the truth of common grace. The Bible does not see every non-Christian as a threat, or worse, some scheming demon. They are fallen sinners, yes, but relatively speaking many are good, sensible people, and all are made in God’s image. Let’s keep things in perspective.

Personality types?

Maybe some personalities are more prone to conspiracy theories. Here the book Educated  by Tara Westover is instructive. In it she tells her story of being brought up in Idaho by her Mormon family who live ‘off grid’ – no birth certificate, avoidance of government, public schooling, hospitals and medication, which are all, according to her very dominant father, a conspiracy of the ‘illuminati’. Meanwhile, their own home is a violent and abusive place, something of a bunker prepared for ‘end-time’ – firstly linked with the supposed millennium Y2K catastrophe which never materialised. The only ray of hope comes as Tara is discovered to have a gift for singing and her father obviously enjoys the congratulations and reflected glory. Later, as she begins to break away and attends Brigham Young University, she hears a lecturer describing bipolar syndrome and immediately feels she is listening to a description of her dad – depression, paranoia, euphoria, delusions of grandeur, persecution complex. Are those of us with a bent towards such things more prone to conspiracy theories?

The recent Netflix docudrama  The Social Dilemma  is a ‘must-see’. Put together with the help of those who have worked in powerful positions within Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it raises big questions about the ability of the internet to promote conspiracy theories, and indeed to destabilise society.

The internet

We should realise that the AI search engines behind the screen are not there with the object of you finding truth. They cannot even recognise truth. The algorithms are optimised to ‘success’ for advertisers – which simply means keeping your attention. They will, therefore, tell the conspiracy theorist basically what he wants to hear – and they are very good at calculating that. Hence, for example, given the same question, they are likely to point Republicans to certain websites and Democrats to others – with the result that both sides see each other as ‘stupid’. Your internet search for ‘the facts’ is frequently not what you think it is. Is this a conspiracy?

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy,

Treasures from the lives of Scottish Christians for today

This is an excellent, scholarly, book, recounting of the story of the church in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries through the personalities involved.

The beginning of the 16th century was the time of the Reformation ignited by Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg castle. Through reading the Bible, Luther rediscovered the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. He realised that simply by believing in Jesus Christ he was made right with God and was fit for heaven. This was an abhorrent doctrine to the corrupted medieval Roman Catholic church which was committed to salvation by works. According to this teaching you had to live a good enough life to enter heaven or pay your way instead.

Early in the 16th century, the Reformation doctrines reached the shores of Scotland, and Donald Macleod recounts how Patrick Hamilton (1504-1528) and George Wishart (1513–1546) were the first Scots to preach them and die as a result. Next came John Knox (c.1514–1572) who became famous for his fiery preaching and uncompromising adherence to the gospel. Knox was a major contributor to the  Scots Confession  (1560) and  First Book of Discipline  (1560) which were mileposts in Scotland becoming a Protestant country.

In the following chapter Macleod introduces Andrew Melville (1545–1622), an academic recognised by his European peers, who was responsible for the production of the  Second Book of Discipline (1578) which laid the foundations for Scottish presbyterianism. The next theologian Macleod presents to us is Robert Bruce (1555–1631), not to be confused with Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1274–1329). Bruce was an apprentice of Andrew Melville and he became the Minister at St Giles, Edinburgh. He was a favourite of King James VI, but later in his ministry he was exiled by the same king.

Founder of Reformed Church

Macleod then tells us about Alexander Henderson (c.1583 –1646) who was one of the drafters of the National Covenant (1638) and, as such, was one of the founders of the Reformed church in Scotland. The National Covenant rejected King Charles I attempts to impose the English Book of Common Prayer on the Scottish church. Henderson battled for a free Scottish church and Parliament.

The next two theologians Macleod tells us about continued in the same line: Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661), author of  Lex, Rex and David Dickson (1583–1663). These gospel-hearted men thought long and hard about the relationship between church and state. Rutherford was an attendee at the Westminster Assembly (1643–1653) which produced the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), a summary of Reformed christian doctrine. The final theologian Macleod describes is Robert Leighton (1611–1684) who became Archbishop of Glasgow, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh from 1653 to 1662. He wrote a famous commentary on 1 Peter.

I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out about these men of God who did battle for the gospel in their life and times. In our day and age it is unfashionable to be a Christian and even more unfashionable to be interested in the history of the Scottish Reformation! However, for the searcher after truth, there are treasures to be dug up in the lives of these Scottish Christians. This book contains many of them and I highly recommend it.