The Bible, race, and the kingdom of God

The killing of George Floyd, a black American Christian, by a white police officer, has sparked both protests and riots in America, protesting against continued racism in Western democracies—and the protests have come to the UK as well. Church leaders have been fairly prominent in joining their voices with wider protests, not only on racism but on specific issues arising from the foment of controversy that followed, including Donald Trump apparently getting police to clear peaceful protesters with ‘tear gas’ and ‘rubber bullets’ in order to hold up a Bible as a claim to the rightness of his actions (something he has done before). (To see how quickly every aspect of media coverage now gets mired in claim and counter-claim, have a look at the evidence of what happened here.)

What do Christians have that they can bring to these tumultuous events? For the most part, it seemed to me that the comments by UK church leaders echoed what others had said—expressing solidarity with those who suffer from the dehumanising effect of racism, longing for justice, and seeking reform. These are vital things to say, but for the most part, focussing on issues of social justice, they offered little that was distinctively Christian, and had little theological content. (By contrast, read some of the statements from bishops of ACNA, and break-away Anglican Church of North America, here and here.)

It might be argued that if you are communicating for a general, rather than church, audience, you need to avoid theological language in order to be heard. Yet including reference to ‘God’, ‘creation’, ‘Jesus’, ‘change’ and ‘hope’ hardly high-level theology. And there are several problems with simply echoing the concerns expressed more widely. As one of my black Christian friends commented tersely about the statement from one national church leader: ‘Too little. Too late. Too trite.’

A key danger here is making simplistic observations in what quickly has become a complex situation. The image of a white police officer using lethal force on a black man evokes a long history, particularly in America, of white abuse of black people. But this incident didn’t happen in the South, where the worst racial abuses took place in the past. Neither did the police officer concerned have a record of racial prejudice—rather, in his 20 years’ service, he had clocked up 19 serious complaints about use of excessive force. And within the police more widely, black officers are just as likely to use excessive force against black citizens as white officers are. So the issue of colour here is entangled with issue of police violence within a wider culture of violence. (And if you don’t think the dynamic of the protests is complex, just read this analysis of the involvement of both the Alt-Left and the Alt-Right.)

Yet even those outside the church expect church leaders to say something distinctively Christian—else, they ask, what is the point of having them? Matthew Parris made this point nearly 20 years ago, as a gay atheist, on the Church’s counter-cultural teaching about sexuality, and the historian Tom Holland recently called for church leaders to offer a distinctive voice on current issues—in this case the pandemic, but it applies to issue of race as well:

Rather than speaking with the voice of prophecy, rather than explaining to a grieving and anxious people how the dead will rise into the blaze of eternal life, rather than proclaiming the miracles and mysteries that they uniquely exist to proclaim, church leaders seem to have opted instead to talk like middle managers.

And of course church leaders are always speaking to their flock, as well as to the nation, and so it is no defence to claim that they are speaking to the wider public when their sheep also need feeding.

So what do we have to say, from Scripture and theology, about the issue of ‘race’? First, I need to say that I will mostly avoid using the term ‘race’ itself, since it actually has little or no basis in biology, but clumps together a variety of issues around culture, country, language and skin colour, and the modern emergence of the term was rooted in classifications from the colonial era in the 18th century. The language of ‘race’ is, ironically, rather racist!

There are a number of key texts and moves within the scriptural narrative which contribute to the forming of a biblical theology of humanity, and in particular what we should make of the variety of human ethnic, cultural and national identities. The foundational text comes in the summary statement of the creation of humanity in Gen 1.26–27:

God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

This texts offers a radical vision of the common status of all humanity, whether male or female, and from whatever culture, ethnicity or national identity. And it is striking in his contrast with the differentiation and hierarchicalism of other anthropologies, from in the ancient world and in the modern contexts (including assumptions about national exceptionalism). If all people are created in the image of God, then all have rights and dignity, and any differentiation between people groups must be limited and pragmatic, rather than all-embracing and fundamental.

So it is not surprising that it is to this text that the ACNA bishops first turn in response to the death of George Floyd:

George Floyd was made in the image of God and as such is a person of utmost value. This is not true because a few Anglican bishops issue a letter. This conviction arises from our reading of Scripture…

What happened to George is an affront to God because George’s status as an image bearer was not respected. He was treated in a way that denied his basic humanity. Our lament is real…

The gospel reveals that all are equally created, sinful and equally in need of the saving work of Christ. The racism we lament is not just interpersonal. It exists in the implicit and explicit customs and attitudes that do disproportionate harm to ethnic minorities in our country. In other words, too often racial bias has been combined with political power to create inequalities that still need to be eradicated.

However, to form our understanding of a biblical theology of human ethic diversity, we need to see how this foundational vision plays out, not least because of the biblical narrative focussing on a distinct ethnic and then national group—the Israelites.

A second key text comes in Genesis 9 and 10, the story of the offspring of Noah, and how they settled the whole earth. These texts have been used in the past to justify both national and racial segregation, because of the delineation of tribes by their geographical locations, and racial inequality, because of a misreading of the ‘curse of Ham‘. But in their narrative context, as part of the founding mythology of human origins before we change narrative gear to learn of Abraham in Gen 12, they are saying something rather different. The diversity of human cultures and nations actually stem from a common source and ancestor, just as Genesis earlier depicted all humanity having its origin in the one couple, Adam and Eve. In other words, visible difference disguises our common ancestry.

Critical within this narrative is the phrase ‘These are the sons of … by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations’ which comes in Gen 10.20 and Gen 10.31, since this four-fold phrase is picked up at the end of the biblical narrative in the Book of Revelation, to make a particular point about ethnic and cultural diversity within the people of God.

The apparent ethnic privilege of the Israelites (later ‘the Jews’) as God’s chosen people sits in some tension with this universal vision of human identity and origin. Yet the biblical narrative is clear that this does not indicate the superiority of this ethnic group; you don’t have to read very far into the account to see the failures and errors of God’s people, and their inability to live up to his call! This is made explicit in Deut 7.7–8:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

In other words, if there is anything distinctive about Israel, it is not due to their nature, but due to the mysterious choice of God as a way of demonstrating his love and power. And the vision of Isaiah is that, one day, all nations will be drawn to this revelation of God’s nature and purpose. In fact the prophets, especially Jeremiah, repeatedly warn the people of Israel against the presumption of their own special status before God, and even the special status of God’s dwelling place in the temple (Jer 7.4).

And this tension, between the special call of Israel and God’s universal creation of all peoples, finds pointed articulation at key points in the narrative. At the end of Nehemiah, in its account of the first resettling of the land after the initial return from exile, the final episode for which Nehemiah wants to be remembered with favour before God is his driving away of the foreign wives, to maintain the ethnic purity of the Israelites (Neh 13.23–29). When I preached on this a few years ago, the lesson I drew was that even good leaders can make bad decisions! For this text sits in contradiction with the story of Ruth and Boaz, a story set in the period of Judges, but viewed by most scholars (because of its style and language) of being written down during the return from exile, that is, at the same time as the account of Nehemiah. And it highlights the fact that the very line of David, the ideal king, actually includes mixed ethnic identity. This idea is reflected in the inclusion of a number of ‘outsiders’ in the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.

This tension between the special status of the Jews as God’s people, and God’s ultimate goal of salvation being offered to all, is evident in the gospels. In Matthew, for example, Jesus emphasises that he has come ‘for the lost sheep of the House of Israel’, and so prohibits his disciples, sent on a mission to proclaim the kingdom in word and deed, from speaking to any others (Matt 10.5–6). And yet, in the same gospel, Jesus brings healing to the household of what appears to be a foreign soldier (though the word translated ‘centurion’ can be used rather loosely) and then predicts that ‘many will come from the East and the West’ to join the promised feast ‘at the table of Abraham’ (Matt 8.11). In other words, the distinctive promise to the ethnic people, the Jews, will be made available to people from every nation—so it is actually no surprise when the narrative of the gospel reaches its climax and completion in Jesus sending his disciples ‘to all nations’ to induct them into the life of the kingdom (Matt 28.19)

Episodes on the way, like Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman (in Matt 15 and Mark 7) is not, as set out in popular and rather ignorant exegesis, about a foreign woman exposing Jesus’ narrow and racist prejudices, but a sophisticated exchange between two theological sparring partners, which points to the reality that the good news of the Jewish Messiah will in the end become good news to people of every ethnicity.

We see a similar dynamic in Jesus’ challenging declaration to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, that ‘salvation is from the Jews’ (John 4.22) and therefore not from the Samaritans. And yet he says that to a woman who not only embraces this salvation in terms of a believing acceptance of the claims of Jesus, but then goes on to become a model disciple as she tells others of her experience, and then brings them to see Jesus for themselves, just at the first disciples did in John 1. Salvation might be from the Jews, but it is for the world, regardless of ethnic identity.

All this is explicitly worked out in the developing story of the growth of the early church, and particular through the spilling over of the gracious presence of God beyond the ethnic boundaries of Israel in the gentile mission. One of my favourite verses in Acts comes at a key turning point in the narrative:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul (Acts 13.1).

Luke does his theology through narrative, and he has chosen to highlight the leadership of the church in Antioch for a particular reason. By mentioning a Jew, a black African, a Roman, someone from the court of the compromised leader Herod, and a Pharisees, Luke is pointing us to the essential ethnic, social and cultural diversity of this church, most likely reflecting the mixed make-up of the city itself. And it is in this context that the Spirit is at work, that Paul and Barnabas are called, and that there is a breakthrough to the next stage of the mission of God as the Word spreads west through Turkey and soon across into Europe proper. As a white Western Christian, I need to remember that I am only incorporated into the grace of God because of the ethnic diversity of the gospel!

The central nature of ethnic diversity to the people of God is, finally, at the heart of the Book of Revelation. In Rev 7, the Israel of God, counted out as a disciplined army of priestly warriors, turns out to be ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language’. This fourfold phrase combines the four-fold phrase that we noted from Gen 10.20 and 10.31 with the language in Ex 19.5 that Israel will be God’s ‘treasured possession out of every nation’. But in the new covenant in Jesus, instead of being ‘out of every nation’ in the sense of separated as a distinct ethnic group, we are now ‘out of every nation’ in the sense of being drawn from every ethnic group. Ethnic inclusion and diversity is the hallmark of God’s redeemed people in Jesus.

And this leads to the final vision of Rev 21, where there is the repeated tension between open welcome and distinctive purity, and where the ‘kings of the earth’ bring their splendour into the city, and ‘the nations (ethne, from which we get our word ‘ethnic’) will walk by its light’ (Rev 21.24). The holy people of God include and offer blessing to people from every ethnic identity.

Racial equality is a matter of humanity and justice, and we need to commit to reforms in society to make this a reality. But for Christians, it is much more than that. The ethnic diversity of God’s people, both globally and locally, joined together in a common faith in God, made known to us in Jesus and made real to us by his Spirit, is a central sign of God’s gracious love and costly reconciliation effected by Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It is something that is essential to our identity and practice as the people of God.

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224 thoughts on “The Bible, race, and the kingdom of God”

  1. Thanks so much Ian

    A Biblical framework bringing God’s perspective – and how we need ‘eye salve’ to see this and to let it shape us.

    To add to your list of the Roman Centurion, Syrophoenician woman & the Samaritan woman, I am struck by the fact Jesus went and had mercy on the demonised Gentile at Gadara/Gerasa

    “As a white Western Christian, I need to remember that I am only incorporated into the grace of God because of the ethnic diversity of the gospel!” amen

    • Yes, there is I think a host of other specific examples. Once you look at it with these eyes, there are so many texts and incidents which have a bearing on ethnic issues.

      My friend David Shepherd, who is second generation ‘Windrush’, points out the significance of ethnic Greeks being appointed to minister to the Greeks in Acts 6—an example of ethnic leadership being incorporated to reflect ethnic diversity of the growing Jesus movement…

  2. A very encouraging description of how all nations and races are now called to enter the Kingdom of Heaven together, and of how that is prefigured in Genesis.

    But its still hard to see how that is compatible with God’s favouritism for the Jews, to say nothing of David’s savagery to the Philistines, (another bit of the OT narrative it would be nice to reject along with Nicodemas’s narrow approach to intermarriage).

    It was pleasing to see you daring to use the “m” word (mythology) in your treatment of early Genesis. Its such a pity Moses changed genre in the middle of a book without any warning!

    • Well, I am not sure it is a case of ‘rejecting’ these texts, so much as reading them in the context of the wider narrative. I am still not entirely sure my reading of the Nehemiah passage does it full justice; Nehemiah was surely right to be concerned about purity—but I think that must be forward looking and not retrospective.

      I hope that I have made it clear that the ‘favouritism’ of God to the Jews was *not* about suggesting their were superior, and must be seen as an interim move on the way to ethnic diversity in the overall plan of God…

  3. Ian

    I fully agree with your general point….But:

    “When I preached on this a few years ago, the lesson I drew was that even good leaders can make bad decisions! For this text sits in contradiction with the story of Ruth and Boaz….”

    I don’t think so. As you know, Nehemiah was guided by:

    “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.”

    But Ruth said:

    “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

    Phil Almond

    • The point is that a blanket ban on wives from other, let’s say, ethnicities because “they will surely turn your hearts after their gods” is precisely contradicted by the documenting of the ancestry of King David in Ruth from Moab. Also, don’t forget that Boaz’s mother was Rhab, the harlot, from Jericho. David’s grandfather was only one quarter of Israel.

      “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.” There are more important matters than ethnic origins, which are superficial. The blanket ban on foreign wives was draconian at best.

      Assuming Matthew wrote his Gospel to a mostly Jewish audience, I think that the reason he included the women in his genealogy of Jesus was precisely to hint to his audience how non-Jews can be within the people of God.

      Perhaps one of the reasons the Hebrew Scriptures teach by narrative rather than by proposition is because there is this kind of ambiguity. There is debate and tension between different texts. It is there to make the reader think and to develop wisdom.

      • It is likely that there is something linking the 5 Matt 1 women, but that something may or may not be conscious. If it is unconscious it may be that
        (a) whenever there’s a story in which the woman plays a colourful part, it is natural for Matthew to mention her;
        (b) whenever there’s a story where the line of descent is especially interesting, it’s natural to mention the woman;
        (c) Whenever the man had more than one wife it is very natural to mention which particular wife was involved this time. But this only really works for Judah and David. And there’s no mention of Solomon’s wife who was Rehoboam’s mother; nor any mention of which wife of Jacob was involved. So I’d call (c) a nonstarter UNLESS there’s a composite solution and women are mentioned for more than one reason (which is certainly possible);
        (d) Whenever the woman is a formidable biblical character in her own right, it is natural to mention her. (But how about Sarah, Rebekah, Leah? There does seem to be a bias against mentioning women in entirely *regular* unions, hence the popularity of (g).)

        As for reasons for there being a possible conscious and deliberate scheme to include 5 particular women here:

        (e) some parts of the of descent are improbable and therefore show God’s providence and the hand of divine destiny in the final outcome – on such occasions it’s natural to mention the woman.
        (f) Gentile connections – but is Tamar a good candidate here? (Or Mary?)
        (g) Sexual/conjugal irregularity (a hidden message, in the view of some, to absolve Mary, by association, from any suggestion of impropriety).
        (h) All were fallen women – even (by some hidden message) Mary. Ruth is what puts a damper on that theory.

        Of these, only (f) and (g) seem to receive much airing. In some quarters there is a monomania with (g) – yet only in an age which would be only too keen on that, leading one to suspect culture-blindness. I don’t find (g) a weak theory – unlike (h); though I’m not impressed with people fixing on (g) before ever looking at (a) to (f).

      • David
        What are you saying? That the LORD did not tell the Israelites, ” You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods”? By their words both Rahab and Ruth had, by God’s grace and mercy, believed He is the only true God

        Phil Almond

        • I agree with Phil here – I think – seeing it from this side of the cross and Pentecost – that they commands not to marry foreigners is not to do with ethical purity but spiritual purity. That they are would be marrying outside the covenant made with Almighty God which in that historic moment was with the people of Israel (who had a calling to be a blessing to the nations even from Gen 12 – something they signally failed to do – with a few exceptions).

          Like Phil, I would take the passage he mentioned as a ‘conversion moment’ (see Sinclair Ferguson’s great little book on Ruth) so Boaz didn’t marry outside the covenant whereas Mahlon did. And as the genealogy in Matthew shows ‘where sin increased, grace abounded even more’ – so true in our lives too!

          So if you apply that today then obviously there is nothing wrong with marrying someone from a different ethnic group (for example my wife from Mexico) but it would be wrong marrying someone who wasn’t a Christian (unequal yokes & 1 Cor 7 for example).

          Great article though – many thanks Paul!

        • The point is this: Nehemiah called on men [sic] to disard wives based purely on their ethic origin. The stories of Ruth and Rahab show that this is an inadequate basis for this. There is no allowance for those wives who had fully embraced the life dedicated to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and who had rejected the worship of the gods of their people. The rejection of these women was based purely on their ethic origin.

          Don’t we have a word for that?

      • David Wilson’s point is well made and the argument is similar to Christ citing the instance of David eating the shewbread.

        “ 3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ a you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:3 – 8)

        God, as Judge of mankind, always does equity (fair dealings which go beyond procedural justice) by establishing precedents, authorising permissible exceptions as an expression of His prerogative of mercy.

  4. Interesting Ian. Do you have any references for your comments here?

    A key danger here is making simplistic observations in what quickly has become a complex situation. The image of a white police officer using lethal force on a black man evokes a long history, particularly in America, of white abuse of black people. But this incident didn’t happen in the South, where the worst racial abuses took place in the past. Neither did the police officer concerned have a record of racial prejudice—rather, in his 20 years’ service, he had clocked up 19 serious complaints about use of excessive force. And within the police more widely, black officers are just as likely to use excessive force against black citizens as white officers are. So the issue of colour here is entangled with issue of police violence within a wider culture of violenc

      • The Myth of Systemic Police Racism

        When people are trying to build a case for something, one the most familiar mistakes is “begging the question”: building an argument which requires us to assume something without proving it.

        The arguments in the controversial WSJ article, The Myth of Systemic Police Racism (by Heather MacDonald), have been repeated over and over again by right-wing commentators.

        Single-handedly, MacDonald has turned the ‘question begging’ mistake into an artform.

        A perfect example of this is the recent video rant by the right-wing Trump convert, Candice Owens.

        So, let’s look at MacDonald’s reason for rejecting the allegation that fatal shootings of black people by police are exceptionally high (in the US): “That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects.”

        Unless we *assume* that the convictions that make up the black crime rate are not affected by systemic police or judicial racism, the statement that the proportion of African-Americans fatally shot by police in 2019 was lower than predicted by the “black crime rate” does not build the author’s case.

        The evidence shows that her assumption is not well-founded. In fact, until the author proves the assertion, the black crime rate can’t be cited as a valid gauge of the police’s fair and unbiased use of lethal force.

        There’s clear evidence from 20 million traffic stops that US police disproportionately target blacks and latinos (despite the fact that this tactic only results in a 3% conviction rate)

        “Blacks are almost twice as likely to be pulled over as whites — even though whites drive more on average,”
        “blacks are more likely to be searched following a stop,”
        “just by getting in a car, a black driver has about twice the odds of being pulled over, and about four times the odds of being searched.”

        Another statement that requires that we just swallow MacDonald’s assumptions whole is her statement: “African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.”

        Again, without proof, the author assumes that the US judicial system is not racially biased. So, we’re meant to accept that the exceptionally high African-American conviction rate is evidence of exceptionally high African- American criminality.

        Yet, we know the awful history of US prosecutors efforts to remove black people from juries to improve the odds of convicting black defendants.

        We also know that the Supreme Court made it illegal for prosecutors to use race as the overt reason for excluding prospective black jurors, prosecutors have bypassed this by successfully asserting allegedly race-neutral factors such as affiliation with a historically black college, a son in an interracial marriage and living in a black-majority neighbourhood.

        The other influence on the conviction rate is plea bargain overuse (especially for poorer suspects) and bias. A 2017 study of about 48,000 criminal cases in Wisconsin showed that white defendants were 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their most serious charge dismissed in a plea bargain.

        A 2016 review of nearly 474,000 criminal cases in Hampton Roads, Va., found that whites were more likely to get plea deals that resulted in no jail time for drug offenses.

        While facing charges of drug distribution, 48 percent of whites received plea bargains with no jail time, vs. 22 percent of blacks. Among those with prior criminal records who pleaded guilty to robbery, 36 percent of whites got no jail time, vs. 8 percent of blacks.

        A survey of data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year (2018) found that when black men and white men commit the same crime, black men on average receive a sentence almost 20 percent longer. The research controlled for variables such as age and prior criminal history:

        To cement her false argument, MacDonald cites a study from the Proceedings from the National Academy of Science and the 2015 Justice Department analysis, stating : “There is “no significant evidence of antiblack disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by police,” they concluded.”

        While the study may be valid, it does not relate to what’s called systemic racism. Systemic racism is not evidenced by the proportion of black people fatally shot by police increasing with the greater involvement of white officers in the shooting.

        Instead, systemic racism means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them.

        If, based on the previously mentioned higher conviction rate, police departments authorise a greater presence (of officers from all races) in predominantly black neighbourhoods compared to white neighbourhoods, then that will lead to a disproportionately higher proportion of blacks fatally shot by police.

        Systemic racism does *not* mean, when white, black and Hispanic officers are deployed together in these neighbourhoods, that the white officers are more ’trigger happy’ than their black or Hispanic colleagues.

        In conclusion, the WSJ article relies heavily on falsely ‘begging the question’ and a complete misunderstanding of systemic racism.

        The following Washington Post article provides a far better analysis:

    • Yes, we don’t even know if there was a racial motive in Chauvin’s brutal behaviour. Chauvin and Floyd both worked part-time as security guards at the same Latin American club (which was burned down in the riots) and may well have known each other. The assumption that the aggression was racially motivated is based on appearances, not on anything that is reported as being said. One of the officers is Hmong (Vietnamese or Laotian), as is Chauvin’s wife (who is divorcing him), and another of the sacked officers, Kueng, is mixed-race. In Atlanta, six cops have been suspended for aggression toward young blacks in a car. Of those six cops, five are black. Nothing is simple in these matters except uninformed opinions and slogans.

      • Systemic racism doesn’t require its agents to be motivated by racism.

        Please see my critique (above) of the Myth of Police Racism.

  5. The exploration of ethnic identity and purity does lead to the “problem” of Nehemiah and Ezra versus Ruth. I am with Phil in asking whether we ourselves go along with the view that God told Nehemiah to break up the marriages, or not. Ian suggests that even good leaders can get it wrong, but the deeper problem is that the “good leader” not only got it wrong but recorded in Scripture that he confidently believed the instruction was from God. Where else then in Scripture might we rightly question where it says “God said”or where we read people act in response to what they heard from God; when we start the list might get quite long – Joshua, Solomon, Elijah .. or Ruth (of course!). I think an honest reading requires us to engage in this wrestling with the texts, honouring them but engaging with them more deeply and uncomfortably.

    This raises much deeper questions about how we read the Bible, maybe particularly OT narratives; Ian does not address the ethnic issues of the Canaanites, nor the more philosophical issue of how the “other” is understood in various scriptural traditions. Hebrew ethnicity emerges and develops into a Jewish identity via a tribal confederacy.

    And the current debate about “race” also requires the church to grapple with systemic and structural issues, the deeper causes, but which become ingrained.The ACNA pronouncements seem very thin on this, even reductionist; it is generally true that a more conservative theology avoids or disparages the systemic and structural dimension, and the systemic and structural use, misuse and abuse of power. You see this in the way words like violence, brutality, authority, oppression and force are used. You also see it in the underlying view of chaos and order – the conservative tradition places a very high value on order and has a very strong antipathy to chaos, even if that means leaving unjust and unequal and even violent forces in continuing authority; those who are the victims and who are excluded, experience order as systemic oppression which is a form of ongoing ordered subjugation / chaos for them.

    Political, economic, gender and tribal (in its broadest sense) strands are interwoven making this complex, and you probably have to start with one not all to make headway. (Discuss ?!)

    I notice this divide on this blog in the way people interpret various passages from the Bible and which passages are privileged; as Wogaman (among others) has noted it has caused a split in the evangelical tradition and it is a deep split and there is considerable antipathy between the two views and some deep trenches.

    How we find a voice which speaks of God, of God’s call on our lives, individually and corporately, a prophetic challenge to what is wrong (all in a world where headlines are what matters) is not easy as there are deep divides within the church. But it is urgent and vital and it may cause greater fractures to the Church.

    Those of us who try and keep ourselves pure may discover we are whitened sepulchres!

    • Peter

      I do not understand quite a lot of your post. I am not even sure whether you are agreeing with me or not. To me the issue is whether or not we accept that God and Christ did say and do all that the Bible asserts they said and did. Is that the “split in the evangelical tradition” you mention or were you referring to some other split?

      Phil Almond

      • Hi Phil,I am agreeing that the question you asked was an important one, but I suspect I disagree with you on the answer. I find it very difficult to accept every utterance attributed to God in our Bibles as straightforwardly “true”, which is what Ian was also suggesting with his interpretation of Nehemiah and where you were challenging him (if I understand both right). I think the issue is more widespread and deeper than Ian may have been suggesting.
        If the Scripture is taken as a mosaic of tiny stones, and each stone is in itself, and lifted out separately, still true, then there are too many inconsistencies; our Scriptures are a rich weave of different genre from different times and contexts, nor do they make the claims for truth in the way that some today do – there are characters in Scripture who appropriate the name of God; there are tensions and disagreements made plain for us to have to reflect on. If each stone contributes to the true / full picture(s) then we have a crucial task of interpretation to make sense of that bigger picture or pictures. In both cases we find proponents making some texts more important than others.
        Because this includes more political texts and texts which invite a political interpretation, this is therefore linked to how we view the structures and systems of today and therefore how we understand our role in countering systemic wrongs and the abuse of power by those with greater power over those with less. More normally the conservative evangelical constituency has supported status quo in the name of order (sometimes with great anxiety and concern), but there are those who find in Scripture a more radical and even revolutionary call – what Wogaman has called an evangelical perspective of the Left.
        It could be argued that either or both parties have shaped their theology to suit their political view, even though both will claim they have not. I think this is what Ched Myers means by ideological literacy and the place of theology in unmasking all ideology including allowing others to unmask its own.

        It is without doubt that Jesus died at the hands of Roman authorities aided and abetted in some ways by the religious leadership in Jerusalem. How does this fact inform our understanding of Incarnation, Salvation and the call to marturia / witness / discipleship? Many theologies of salvation do not engage with the political dimension.
        The current crisis in America requires us to respond, and to think deeply not just spout. It will highlight the deep divisions and it is very clear that there is disagreement among Christians and church-goers.
        As Ian has indicated the public voices are already saying rather different things and appear to be pushing rather different approaches.

    • “This raises much deeper questions about how we read the Bible, maybe particularly OT narratives;”

      This is indeed the nub of the matter. How do we know we are reading it right?

      • The more cultural, linguistic, literary, historical knowledge we have, the more likely we are to be reading it right.

        • I think I know what you mean but it is potentially a very elitist approach.
          If there is a preferential option for the poor, and if there is an epistemological privilege that the poor have (and I know this raises complex questions as well), then we will find the deeper insights may well come from the weak and the foolish and those of apparently no worth, from those on the edge and pushed to the edge.
          Both a preferential option for the poor and an epistemological privilege for the poor challenge our (assuming others share my position of relative privilege) position and unsettle it. Not surprisingly we will want to claim back a place at the front of the bus, and choosing to sit at the back for a bit is not the same as never having had the chance to be at the front.

          • This is an interesting one. Oswald Chambers and Andrew Murray are devotionally marvellous, they have the Spirit and ‘get it’ – and yet they are exegetically wrong time and time again.

            There are 2 contrasting traditions that spring to mind: the biblical theology approach (which most devotional writers and indeed very many Christians inhabit) and the historical/developmental (history of traditions) approach. I am exclusively the second and am always thinking I see holes in biblical theology; but biblical theology is a good discipline because it enables us to see what consensus there was between the different writers, and thereby to recover their shared perspective, which is something more important than any exegetical point, and also large enough to stand firm against exegetical challenges.

    • Peter writes: “the conservative tradition places a very high value on order and has a very strong antipathy to chaos, even if that means leaving unjust and unequal and even violent forces in continuing authority; those who are the victims and who are excluded, experience order as systemic oppression which is a form of ongoing ordered subjugation / chaos for them.”
      – Lots of assumptions in there. Was the Soviet Union “conservative”? Yes, in the sense of wanting to keep power and control the lives of the citizenry and using violence to maintain it. Is the Communist Party of China “conservative” in this sense? Emphatically so – the greatest organised source of violence and oppression in the world. Is the one-party state in South Africa “conservative”? Arguably, yes – they want to keep things as they are and seem incapable of controlling the violence in the country. There is plenty of fear and insecurity there, especially for the poor underclass, but so far at least the judiciary does not seem to be corrupted.
      Are any of these regimes CHRISTIAN or Burkean conservatives? Of course not. Fundamental to the Christian conservative/Burkean vision is the rule of law and the rights or the family and the individual maintained by an independent judiciary and an impartial constabulary. It is left-wing totalitarian states that oppress the citizenry most, as the 20th and 21st centuries have shown. Burkean Christian conservatism contains within itself the power to critique the state because its vision is fundamentally Christian, not Marxist. A Marxist vision is humanist, not Christian, and therefore cannot critique a socialist state. Chinese Communist oppression of its own people, the Uighurs, the Tibetans and now Hong Kong bear out the evils of Marxism.

      • Yes Soviet Russia, and the current Russian government, China, the USA, the Gulf States, and most governments where the leader is powerful are broadly conservative, conserving what they have and how they are. The primary concern is for their own kind not the good of all. Rulers benefit from an ideology or theology which legitimates them or at least legitimates them using force on any disruption
        Liberation Theologies challenged this in many countries but were challenged for their different theology. There is much we could and should be learning from them.
        Mainline denominations have taken a more liberal (both conservative and liberal are used politically not theologically, though there is some overlap) approach, speaking out but prioritising unity and a via media, and averse to the use of force other than by the state. The more conservative strand has either tried to be apolitical or non-political (a nonsense when you live in a political world) or has held the rulers in greater esteem.
        Rule of Law is too simple a phrase as it assumes the law is impartial and objective, and it isn’t in most cases nor in many applications of it.
        I suggest there are many in the USA today who would question whether left-wing totalitarian states are the most oppressive, likewise Palestinians and black South Africans or migrant workers in the Gulf States. And we should not ignore what happens in our own country.
        We might love to think there is an independent judiciary and an impartial constabulary, and we may be better off in this country than many, but to think that is idealist.
        State churches signed up for protection from, in return for support for, totalitarian regimes of the right or the left and there is a form of this happening in the US at the moment – it is always tempting to hitch a ride with the big guy! Establishment may be a bigger temptation than some of us realise for Anglican leaders in this country.
        I suspect the challenge for many of us is not just what we should say, but what we should do. Have we chosen which side we are on, and how do our actions reflect that. Is justice – justice for who? – advanced? There was healthy seed that grew fine until choked by the cares of this world, so yielding no grain, as well as other seed that lacked roots when it got hot. How true (as it includes me).

        • If you haven’t could it be suggested you take a course in Jurisprudence, when considering the question of rule of law particularly without defining what it is or isn’t and the various schools and philosophies. (Beyond the scope of this article and comments section)
          But, today, what are the mechanisms for making and changing the laws of a country, balance of powers, in democracies and party demagogues, and influences and influencers, and the boundary lines drawn by illiberal liberals and by educators who indoctrinate, rather than teach how to think, and whether there are any irreducable Universal’s and from where they are derived, their source.
          But as this is a Christian site let’s start and finish with Christian theology and the ” rule of law” in the sum total of the canon of scripture.

        • Peter writes: “Rule of Law is too simple a phrase as it assumes the law is impartial and objective, and it isn’t in most cases nor in many applications of it. I suggest there are many in the USA today who would question whether left-wing totalitarian states are the most oppressive, likewise Palestinians and black South Africans or migrant workers in the Gulf States. And we should not ignore what happens in our own country.”
          ‘Rule of Law’ is NOT “too simple a phrase” – it states that ALL are subject to the Law, the Government included. This is a very radical idea embodied in British democracy – and utterly derided by Marxists and cultural Marxists who see everything as a class power play, such is their ignorant (and anti-Christian) reductionism and the bilge of ‘the hermeneutic of suspicion’ – and as everyone knows (or should know), Marxism is profoundly anti-Christian. The Rule of Law is actually a profoundly Christian idea applied to Statecraft, as any historical study of Jurisprudence will show. The fact that Zimbabwe did not suffer the worst from Mugabe’s racist Marxism is partly due to the enduring power of Westminster institutions, including an independent judiciary.
          Whatever left-wing academics in America imagine, it is plain they have never lived in hellholes like Venezuela or the violent place that ANC-ruled South Africa has become – a nation which also does its best to kick out migrant workers from the rest of Africa.
          What has happened in the UK? Fifty years or more of concerted effort to welcome and build up the migrant community with schools, university places, jobs and great expenditure of public money. How are they doing?
          Hindu Indian-heritage British are doing *very well – educated and prosperous, filling up the professions.
          Muslim Pakistani-heritage British: not so good. Why? Poor school results. Why? Well, you tell me.
          Christian African-heritage British: pretty good. Lots in university and professions (the women are practically taking over social work courses – why?)
          Caribbean-heritage British: not so good but no different than the white underclass in life chances. Why?
          Bottom line: It’s not about Race. It’s about Culture. Same issue as America.

      • Is a lack of replies here to be taken as consent? I feel torn between a desire to disagree with the above, and an even deeper conviction that God has not appointed any of us to judge the relevant sinfulness of the current Chinese and American and other systems.

          • So you have no opinion on the Chinese Communist State and what it does? Not even as a Christian? You think state oppression of its own people is a matter on which no opinion should be expressed?
            Why do you live in a democracy then?

        • There is evil in all human governments because, well, they’re run by humans. But some are more oppressive than others because those in power are desperate to hold onto that power due to its associate wealth, security and pride of being on top and telling others what to do. And even in ‘democratic’ countries, the people typically vote from their own desires, eg students for a party who ‘promise’ to abolish tuition fees, older people for a party who ‘promise’ a triple lock to pensions etc.

          Humans were born to be free (God only put a single restriction on His image-bearers (I recently learned we humans are in fact ‘icons’ hence the later prohibition) ) and the less evil governments are those that recognise that and allow the people to live largely in freedom, as long as they dont hurt others.


    • Peter, thanks for your interesting response. I wonder if you can offer a link to Wogaman or say more about the split in reading strategy amongst evangelicals?

      I think I need to look at Nehemiah more carefully. There are several things to note:

      a. Nehemiah doesn’t anywhere say that God told him to drive away the wives. He has read the law of Moses on this, and (from a social-scientific point of view) we might say that this text represents a shift from a prophetic-affective period, where prophets heard from God, to a proto-scribal period, where the primary concern was interpreting texts.

      b. I have re-read the texts carefully, and what appears to be the issue is that the children has not been raised to speak Hebrew, so that they could not then understand the teaching of the faith or hear the Scriptures read (clearly v important from Neh 9)–see Neh 13.24.

      c. The law of Moses consistently notes that foreigners, particularly those sojourning as bonded servants or itinerant workers, were to be welcomed, and might receive the blessings of God’s people, but also needed to submit to the law. That appears to be the main issue here.

      d. Critically, I cannot see a text which says Nehemiah drove the wives away. I think I might have conflated the account here with that of Ezra, where they are.

      So perhaps I have been unfair to Nehemiah…?

      On the wider question of dealing with the difficult OT texts, see these earlier posts (and I have another planned):

      • Wogaman is an American scholar who has written “Christian Perspectives on Politics”. In the second edition he updates to include the variant evangelical political perspective of which he sees Jim Wallis as a key proponent. Many will know Wallis and his views and stance and the work do Sojourners, but he is not the only evangelical with this sort of view. My Baptist colleague (turned Anglican), David Walker, wrote his PhD on whether there is an evangelical understanding of God’s preferential option for the poor, and argued there was.
        Nehemiah records the separation of the mixed families in 9:2 but as you say Ian without much comment, and in a section which is really about Ezra. Nehemiah 13:23ff does include Nehemiah forcibly breaking up families, and Neh 13: 1 reinforces the teaching on excluding Ammonites and Moabites – hence the clash with the theme of Ruth.

        I agree that interpreting the books of Nehemiah and Ezra and even later prophets in the light of earlier prophets and / or the Torah is not straightforward. At the very least I am sure we would ask questions today of Nehemiah’s leadership style of cursing, beating and hair-pulling (13:25) and I hope we would question his facile theology that foreign women were the reason for Solomon’s faults, as if Solomon himself was somehow not to blame. [There is a clear and wonderful irony in 1 Kgs 2 where David instructs his son Solomon to follow God’s ways and in the next verses to eradicate Joab and Shimei in two targeted killings. .. “so the Kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon”(2:46) – how does the inscrutable narrator really want us to read that sentence? And the next verse he marries an Egyptian princess ..]

        Isaiah 56 6-8 offers a home for ALL PEOPLES, which is again in conflict with the line taken by Ezra and closer to the “theology” of Ruth, but it has the temple at the centre like Ezra would want.
        Then there is the rather different focus of Esther where she seems to have embraced and benefited from Persian culture, compared to Daniel who seeks to keep separate. Joseph is another who straddles the issue, keeping away from Potiphar’s wife but becoming Egyptian and even having divining cups.
        Is God and the Truth to be found in ironing flat these texts and removing the crinkles which give them their texture, or in discerning the tensions that these texts raise and finding God in the crinkles and shadows as well as in the lines and sweep of the cloth?
        I have come to believe that we must listen and search in the intricacy, not apply a hot iron of any particular theology and flatten a path through texts which are actually much more varied and provocative. Scripture speaks of the One God, but it does not do so with one voice, but as a choir or symphony – 66 books not one for a start!

      • Yes, I thought that about the language issue. It seems clear that it is the men who are at fault – fathers are to tell their children about Yahweh and about the rescue from Egypt and the meaning of the Passover and to teach them the law etc etc. If they were doing that the kids would be bilingual. To me this failure shows that living by God’s law isn’t much on their minds and presumably the choice of wife wasn’t guided by any desire to live in obedience to God. Perhaps alliances were pursued for reasons of polity. This is exactly the type of marriage that Solomon pursued and that led to his downfall. I noticed that one of the marriages involves a connection to Sanballat who has been an enemy of God’s people throughout Nehemiah. Ezra uses the language of faithfulness. They have been unfaithful to God by marrying the foreign wives. That would certainly fit with pursuing alliances with pagan nations rather than trusting God. The sending away of the wives is awful but I wonder if it primarily shows the damaging effects of the sin of the Israelites rippling out. They were meant to be a blessing to the nations – like Rahab and Ruth were blessed when they came to know something of Yahweh through His people and then chose to come in. Instead they have been a curse by going away from Yahweh to embrace something else.

  6. There are Big Picture themes that run from Genesis through Revelation, such as covenants and covenant, promise keeping, faithful God, Kingdom theme, God’s calling, choice, Exoduses, Worship the true God.
    Nehemiah/Ezra are concerned with the return from exile to the city of God, to rebuild the temple and city for the people to worship the true God of Israel, renewing of covenant distinctiveness ( not exclusivity), to reflect God’s holy nature (Lev19:12) through obedience to God’s revealed law, as opposed to the many god’s of the nations.
    (Note, the Passover regulations of non Israelites (Exodus 12:48-50) and the requirement that the extended household be circumcised (Gen.17:13,27) bringing foreigners within the covenant protection and priveledges shows an open attitude to non Israelites to being part of the covenant people.
    It was incumbent on Ezra and Nehemiah to define and secure the newly forming covenant community at Jerusalem in temple worship and community life, that is worshippers of the True God, the “God of heaven”, the “God who is in Jerusalem” Ezra 1:2,3
    Nehemiah was to establish a community by birthright, not by mere claim or supposition, but proved reality, (cf. Jesus insistence on reality of new birth/ from above)
    The community of the true born to gather around the “book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.”
    (which included the prohibition against taking foreign wives – Deut 7:3- This was so that they marry worshippers of the LORD. It was not in respect of ethnicity. In addition intermarriage was one of the ways land tenure could be jeopardised and with it covenant benefits.
    Prevention of the assimilation of false gods into worship and the City of God and community was of uttermost importance.

  7. Ian is wrong to claim that Nehemiah’s measures to drive away the foreign wives of the Golah community was in order “to maintain the ethnic purity of the people”. It wasn’t about “ethnic purity” but spiritual faithfulness. A commentator above has already referred to Neh. 13.26, where Solomon’s foreign marriages were blamed for leading to religious syncretism (or ‘inter-faith worship’, as we call it today). Neh. 13.24 observes of the Golah that ‘half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod … and did not know how to speak the language of Judah’, i.e. Hebrew or Aramaic, the language of the sacred Scriptures. In other words, the community that had been so painfully re-established after the Exile and was still in such a weak and parlous condition, being surrounded by powerful and hostile neighbours, was threatened with extinction in just one generation by assimilation. You may argue that Nehemiah acted in a blunt and “unnuanced” way, but his motive was religious and not “ethnic”. The supposed conflict with the example of Ruth doesn’t pertain because Ruth had clearly acceded to the Covenant people, turning her back on her own ethnicity and familial religious loyalties.

    • As I have commented to Phil, Nehemiah’s requirement was based purely on ethnic origin. It did not allow for those like Ruth who had embraced the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Can you actually “turn your back on your own ethnicity”? Can an African from Nigeria who is Hausa turn his back on that?

      It seems to me that Nehemiah was at least in danger of looking on the outward appearance and not on the heart.

      • Yes, it was spiritual, not ethnic because the children did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic (and thus the language of the Scriptures and the Covenant) and were being brought up as (presumably) pagan Ashdodites. Ruth’s conversion to Yahwism is explicit. Read Neh. 13 carefully again and you will understand Nehemiah’s motive. A Hausa Nigerian in England who didn’t speak English would be an odd phenomenon. Some West Africans in Britain (just like many Pakistanis and Indians) have sought to retain their traditional practices in this country. The Victoria Climbie case shows that this doesn’t always work out well when West African beliefs about witchcraft and exorcism are involved.

    • James [….It wasn’t about “ethnic purity” but spiritual faithfulness. A commentator above has already referred to Neh. 13.26, where Solomon’s foreign marriages were blamed for leading to religious syncretism (or ‘inter-faith worship’, as we call it today)….]

      Yes, this is how I have always understand this decree of Nehemiah – not about racial but religious purity

  8. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8 God’s call of Israel was not ‘mysterious’, or a random ‘close-your-eyes-and-pick’ choice but a theologically based preference.This is echoed in Jesus’ description of his followers: they are ‘little ones’ (Mark 9:42; Matt 10:42; 18:10 & 14); ‘the least (Matt 25:40, 45); ‘simple ones’ (Matt 11:25).
    On the same lines Paul writes “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (v 26), as the basis of their calling by God, in order both to shame the wise and the strong, and to undermine all attempts at human boasting. It is intriguing that Paul should write this of the Corinthians. By comparison with other churches Corinth may have included an unusual number of high status people. We know of Titius Justus who owned the house next door to the synagogue and was probably a Roman citizen (Acts 18:7); Crispus, the official, or ruler, of the synagogue (Acts 18:8); Sostehenes, associated with Paul in the writing of the letter (1 Cor 1:1) and probably the unfortunate synagogue official who before his conversion was beaten by the Jewish crowd for leading the futile attempt to have Paul punished by the proconsul (Acts 18:17). Also we have Gaius, wealthy enough to own a home big enough to host a church and Erastus, the city treasurer (Rom 16:23). Yet Paul chooses not to flaunt the high-status converts who have joined the church, but quite the opposite – he foregrounds the weak, the low, the despised, laying the theological basis for his rebuke to the rich members for disrespecting the dignity of the poor at the communion meal (1 Cor 11: 17-34). Further his perspective may reach beyond to the now inappropriate mind-set that gave a welcome to the arrogance and bombast, the ‘power’, of the super-apostles (see 2 Cor 11:20, as part of his wider argument in chs 10 to 12).
    We need to apply Paul’s theology. Beyond affirming slogans like “Black Lives Matter” we need to be enshrining respect for the disregarded into our pastoral practice and training. It is sad that so many ‘progressive’ books on mission, worship, and new forms of church still read as though ethnic minorities don’t exist in this country. We could learn from those organisations who run their policy proposals through “Impact Assessments” – how will this policy affect those often disregarded in our church and society?

    • There are plenty of black churches in Britain. They’re just not Anglicans. Why not? Because they don’t care for Anglican worship and liturgy?
      Yet there are millions of black African Anglicans – in Africa. In fact, most Anglicans are Africans. Why not learn from them?

    • Two difficult passages! We may not see them as key verses, but Acts 17:26 was a key plank, if not the key verse, in the theological justification for apartheid.
      Has God set bounds for nations and what then of migration today, and how would Ruth have fared as a Moabite coming to live in Bethlehem?
      And if we ignore this, are we not ignoring a truth that Paul presents as fundamental to God’s design and purpose? What then of Paul’s own theological structures, and which else might we re-interpret?
      Or is the context of the Athenian sermon a limiting as well as an explanatory factor (but what then of Deut 32?)?

      • Re Acts, whatever the meaning of that specific verse, Paul gives the reason for it; ‘God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.’ Not so that we could enslave each other.

        But He treats all the same: ‘ but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.’

  9. Thank you for this Ian. It’s helped flesh out some things well. I’m glad you noted what a friend of yours had shared about things being presented as rather ‘trite’. Spot on, sadly. I’ve been disheartened to say the least that either the theology or responses I’ve read from many prominent church leaders.

    Not to try and draw too many parallels, but I feel as if much of what’s been said has had as much teeth as the public shaming of Dominic Cummings; nothing substantive but keen to make sure the ‘optics’ are good. I’ve found that even basic, constructive acknowledgements could’ve easily been made by Bishops for some kind of Christ-centred response, have been lacking. Something most lay-people would’ve been able to tap into or think about, e.g. where Simon of Cyrene was from (most people have at least heard about the crucifixion!) or Philip and the Ethiopian, or even the foundations of Augustine or Athanasius for what we believe. They strike me as being a straightforward starting point for elevating and refreshing Christians who might be feeling a bit rudderless with how to respond, or prone to be sucked towards a ‘white oppressor’s religion’ type approach.

    Thank you again for the blog – first time commentator, long time reader!

  10. What we’re really talking about, regarding the turmoil of the last few days, is ethnicity (cultural grouping) which is visually identifiable when it goes in parallel with genetically different groups within the one human race. Any talk about variation in human genetics raises immediate concerns for reasons we all understand but the key problem is that we can’t help recognising difference because appearance is plain to see. And that visual difference can so easily be used to reinforce tribal antagonism which is really to do with culture (lifestyle, religious beliefs etc) – and that inevitably will include inherited narratives (including tribal grudges) which are inculcated into the self identity of children as they grow up and become adults.

    And we Christians know all about tribalism – we’re famous for our splitting into different, often competing, groupings – so any Christian who takes it upon himself to lecture others about reconciliation between opposing groups is walking on very thin ice!

    Is tribalism (the state of living together in tribes) inherently sinful, and therefore disapproved of by God, or is it a neutral concept (part of the kaleidoscope of humanity) which is only a bad thing when man’s sinful nature becomes involved? I’d suggest that diverse groupings are not necessarily a problem: diversity is a major aspect of genetics, and genetics are God’s design. It’s when sin latches on to diversity, unleashing the urge to dominate, antagonise or manipulate (just as it latches on to every other aspect of human life) that the problems really take hold.

    Arguing that the answer to ethnic tensions is to aim for (and even enforce) intermixing, to the extent that a day will come when there are no ethnic differences at all, has no biblical warrant. In fact it cannot be an option for God’s people. And so perhaps there’s a warning here for Christians who support any political aspirations to work for a grand ‘global’ vision.

    The Bible narrative envisages a final time in Heaven when God’s people, drawn from every tribe and tongue, will be one diverse eternal nation where earthly antagonism is consigned to the past. But for this present life surely it’s the job of Christians to pursue harmonious living among the peoples of the earth by proclaiming Christ to the world; is that not a better way, and the one to which we have been commissioned, rather than engage in political posturing which doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem?

    That’s doesn’t mean political action is off limits for Christians who are personally called to be politically active, but it does mean that trying to ‘make a better world’ is not the central calling of Christians as the people of God. Surely the rather obvious malign political forces which are manipulating the current situation should be warning God’s people not to become directly involved with those whose interests lie very far distant from the revolution in the hearts of men and women which is the vision towards which Christians are called to work.

    • Genetic differences are minimal. Cultural differences are significant, and open to evaluation. But all the discussion thus far has ignored the elephant in the room: differences in power which were established over the last five centuries and which have created manifold injustices. Until we white people face our own history and look at the brutality and shame of slavery and its continuing consequences we simply can’t understand what’s happening in the USA and to a lesser degree in Britain. As Robert Beckford has said :”It is easier to eat Caribbean food than to read the history English slavery, colonialism and imperialism in the region.” But until we digest the bitter taste of the history our understanding will always be weak and malnourished.

      • And how long will this go on for? 200 and more years since British Christians ended the slave trade? I have never enslaved another person or spoken in a degrading way about other races. I refuse to be white-shamed.
        Most of sub-Saharan Africa was NOT affected by European powers for five hundred years in any case. Colonialism was a 19th and 20th century phenomenon.
        As for whether ‘genetic differences are minimal’, that is a scientific statement always open to investigation. Not as simple as you suggest.

        • James

          To understand why you should feel ashamed, I suggest that you read some black theologians. J. Kameron Carter would be a good start (or Augustine of course). And some WOC.

          • Ah, I’ve read Augustine of Hippo – in Latin actually, his mother tongue, as I taught Classics once. But Aurelius Augustinus from Thagaste wasn’t a ‘black theologian’. Where on earth did you get that strange idea from? Do you think Egyptians like Origen and Athanasius were “black” as well? Have you not heard of the Roman Empire? I encourage everyone to learn some history (as well as some Latin).

          • There were plenty of black people in the Roman empire, speaking Latin, as they would. Augustine was, perhaps, not black in the sense of being from sub Saharan Africa, but he was certainly a POC.
            Of course, he has been whitewashed over the centuries, as have Syrian and Egyptian saints and theologians.
            Try J. Kameron Carter.

          • Penelope, Augustine was NOT “black”. It has been speculated that he may have had some Berber genes from his mother, but we really don’t know. The Punic-speaking people in the hinterland were presumably of Carthaginian origin, but Augustine didn’t speak Punic. Anyway, Berbers don’t think of themselves as “black”. Rome had settled the north coast of Africa for four hundred years before he was born and Carthage was the second largest city in the western Empire. It was as Romanised as you can get.
            And the Romans didn’t actually have much “racial consciousness” as people use that expression today. The Roman identity is what came first.
            Not being the descendant of slave traders, I will pass on your invitation to feel ashamed of myself, at least on that account. I have actual sins to worry about.

          • James
            I wrote that Augustine was a POC. Like many early Christians he has gone through the process of being whitened by European, Occidental sensibilities.
            The Roman empire was ethnically diverse and speaking Latin or Greek was not the preserve of the elite.
            Are we so fragile that we need to construct a white Augustine.
            Like you I have no slave owning forebears. Mine were much more likely to be oppressed than oppressors. But I am conscious of my white privilege in a culture in which Floyd could be murdered by a policeman in broad daylight. I am also conscious of how white my church is and how white (and male) the academy is. I am trying to redress this by reading some black and womanist theology. I can never walk in their shoes, but I can begin to appreciate how whiteness is the unmarked category.

          • Hi Penny

            I saw evidence in James’s answer, but ideology in yours. Ideology is not answer to evidence; it merely exposes its own lack of evidence. What would your evidence be?

          • Hi Christopher

            What is ideological about stating that Augustine was a POC?
            He was born in north Africa, probably of Berber heritage.
            I think claiming that he was white is the ideological move.

          • Penelope asks: “What is ideological about describing Augustine as a POC?”
            The very expression, out of leftwing American academe, which retrojects contemporary American arguments into the 4th century Roman empire. Whether or not Augustine had Berber or Amazigh genes, nobody knows. Nobody knows just how dark his complexion was, and he came from a province that had in any case been part of the Roman imperium for nearly 450 YEARS or more, with constant movement of peoples. As I said before, Romans didn’t think in terms of skin colour but Romanitas vs. Barbarians. Augustine felt like a provincial ( as he was) when he came to Rome because of his accent but he didn’t think he was “racially ” different any more than a Yorkshireman in London (ok, maybe you have a point there). Furthermore, the American term “person of color” is problematic and borderline offensive. It defines people in terms of what they are not, as if “white” was the normative state of humans, and is a term that Chinese and other east Asians like Japanese and Koreans would repudiate. ” colored” was a euphemism for black and it has been unhappily transferred into this American academic ideology.

          • Hi Penny

            The difference between someone *perhaps* having *some* *Berber* heritage on *one* side of their family tree (three separate limitations – computing in the outcome to anything between 0-25% Berber) and ‘being Berber’ (i.e. 100%) is a damning and measurable measure of the precise extent of your inaccuracy and (apparently, to the layman – but do clarify if we have misunderstood) racism.

            It’s all very Animal Farm. Black skin good, white skin bad. What a polarising way of seeing things considering that I have scarcely ever seen anyone who actually has either of those two skin colours, and it would be a matter of indifference even if they did.

          • James and Christopher
            I do not want to believe that either of you is racist. But you are making it very difficult.

            I did not say that black was good and white bad. Or vice versa. It is not a question of good and bad, but of marked and unmarked categories. As I have observed before, whiteness is the unmarked category – as is being male, cis, and heterosexual. These are not ‘bad’ categories of course; they are privileged categories. The ‘norms’, the ones we take for granted. Believe me, the matter of skin colour is only one of indifference if you are white and European. And however Berber Augustine was, he was clearly not white.

            Which leads me onto James. What the Romans thought of race and ethnicity isn’t really the point. Does 450 years of Roman rule erase north African ethnicity? Yes, Augustine may have been a mixture of various ethnicities, but he wasn’t a white European. Does the Roman annexation of Palestine erase the Judaism of Jesus and His apostles? Are they no longer middle eastern? POC, which I use because people of colour use it, is no more offensive than the term white. What is offensive is when the concept of whiteness is seen as normative, so that saints and theologians who are not of white European extraction are adopted into a hegemonic narrative of whiteness.

          • I got the 0-25% wrong. If Monica’s name is Berber let’s say 50% for the sake of argument.

            So that 50% is to be regarded as the good 50% that should determine the way we classify Augustine, and the other 50% is the bad 50% that should be forgotten. Which is exactly what racism, by definition, is.

            Next point: What does ‘Person of Colour’ mean? Nothing. If you use phrases like that then you are denying the truth that skin colours (*all* of which are colours – if you disagree then we’d be very interested to see on what grounds) are on a continuum dependent on sunlight and pigmentation. So which parts of that continuum are ‘colour’ and which parts are not? It is rubbish ( I say respectfully)….

            You then add to that the implication that particular colours bestow virtue (so others do not?). Elitism and aristocracy, in other words.

          • Christopher

            What part of my saying there is no intrinsic goodness (or badness) in skin colour did you not understand?

          • Penelope, I really don’t want to think of you as obtuse and slow to understand but you are making it difficult. Please learn something about the history of the late western Roman Empire. There was no concept of ‘European-ness’ and ‘African-ness’, there were Romans and there were barbarians. Other than geographically, there was no idea of ‘Europe’, while ‘Africa’ meant what we call Tunisia today. For over 500 years people moved back and forth across the Mediterranean, colonising and settling conquered areas with retired soldiers (who could be Greeks, Syrians, German mercenaries or from anywhere, as well as Italy). Slaves from everywhere as well. And Jews. People moved from North Africa to Rome or Spain all the time. Romans did not give much thought to the pigmentation of somebody’s skin. They knew there were paler blond Germans and barbarians to the north, but they weren’t Romans. Italians themselves are darker than North Europeans, as is typical of all Mediterranean peoples. (Let’s face it, pale-skinned people don’t thrive too well in lands of blazing sunshine.)
            As for that leftwing American expression “people of color” being a catch-all term for anyone who isn’t “white” – my half-Chinese wife disliked very much being called “coloured” as a schoolgirl.
            (I suspect the stupid catch-all expression ‘people of color’ was coined in the United States as an embarrassed nod to the outdated expression ‘Colored Persons’ as in the NAACP.)

          • James

            I do not want to conclude that you are obtuse. But what part of my observing that the Romans’ own categories do not obtain today? We no longer think in binaries of Greek/Roman vs. Barbarian.
            So, on a contemporary university reading list are you suggesting that Augustine should be included as a white or a POC theologian?
            I can quite understand your wife’s objection to the term POC. Some gay and non binary people find the term queer offensive. But I tend to use the terms which people use to self describe, as a mark of respect. And of course all names are political.

          • Hi Penny

            But that was precisely the part I did understand – not that you implemented that belief. The parts I did not understand were (a) why call (let us say: for the sake of argument) a half Berber a Berber? (b) why exclude people from having a skin colour when we all do, (c) why put what you refer to as white people in a colourless category?

          • No Christopher

            You said that I assigned virtue to colour. I didn’t. And don’t.

            As I said, white people are in a ‘colourless’ category because we are not distinguished by our race/colour. We are the unmarked category. POC (their own term, not mine) are the marked categories, reminding us that black, Asian and mixed race people are still discriminated against, still have poorer outcomes, are most often poorer, are more often the victims of violence and brutality, than white people in the west and the antipodes.

          • Where do British and American Indians and Sri Lankans fit into that? They seem to defy the model.

            Chinese and Japanese don’t notably have poorer outcomes.

            And so it goes on.

            Your talk about marked and unmarked is assertion. We are compelled to accept that analysis? We will certainly accept parts of it, but none of them by compulsion or diktat.

          • Who is “we” in your final two sentences above Christopher? I wasn’t aware that you were speaking on behalf of any others here or elsewhere. Or have I misunderstood?

          • We = I and the many who would underwrite the same points.

            What on earth is ‘white’? Atrocities are committed by leaders, whom their countrypeople then follow. It is not their ethnicity that makes them act like that – still less their colour. How do African dictators like Amin or Mugabe fit into the scheme? A peaceful Norse is sullied by association because they come from colder climes and their skin reflects it? Do Spanish people rank as white or not? There is inaccuracy and unclarity everywhere. And at the end of the day no-one can actually be found who has this fabled white skin apart from the Joker in Batman, who should perhaps be made a representative blood-sacrifice for the sins of those who dare to commit the felony of being born in climes that put them at that end of the skincolour spectrum.

          • Christopher

            Whether you like it or not, you are the inheritor of white privilege. If you are also male, straight and cis, as I assume you are, you belong even more in the unmarked categories.
            It is true that we are not responsible for the actions of our forebears and we may (as I am) more likely to have ancestors who were the oppressed rather than oppressors. But that does not free us from the privilege that whiteness confers.
            You have perhaps unwittingly, made my point. The more white you are perceived, the better your outcome. Paler Brazilians have a much better outcome in life than their darker skinned compatriots. Of course, there are other factors involved which is how someone like Obama became
            President and why South Asian children often do well educationally. But these are factors working against the grain of privilege. And colonialism.

          • I repent in sackcloth and ashes for daring to be born how and where I was, and promise not to cease feeling guilty – guilt is good. The British Empire – I admit it: it was me.

          • Christopher

            The stupidity of your reply suggests that you are careless of your privilege. I suggest you have a conversation with David Shepherd.

          • It suggests more that no-one has the right to require others to believe that their assertions and ways of looking at things are accurate. There is a worrying degree to which they seem just to reflect the fashions of the day. To impose guilt (let alone on non perpetrators?!) is just another way of increasing tension and negativity. And of making people feel they are unwelcome and sidelined. Because they belong to the ‘wrong’ group, and dare to treat ‘the’ narrative as not being ten feet above the possibility of questioning. It is just like the primary school playground.

          • Christopher

            Did I say I felt guilty? Or that white people should feel guilty? If I did, I apologise.

            White privilege is not about feeling guilty. How can I feel guilty that I was born white?
            But I can be aware that this accident has given me privilege. The awareness of privilege is important in politics and in religion. It is the acknowledgment that we have whitewashed our history, our culture and our versions of Christianity. That we have allowed people to suffer, to be vulnerable, to fail, because they are not white. That we have ensured that whiteness is the unmarked category, the norm we don’t notice. That still, in western society, black people are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for longer periods for the same crimes as those committed by whites. That children are still taught about Columbus and the Conquistadors as though they were heroes.

            I cannot help being straight either. But that also confers privilege. I will never be spat on, attacked or abused because I am gay. I can walk down the street with my spouse in perfect safety. I can book a hotel room without fear of being refused. I am the unmarked category.

            Privilege exists. The gospel response to privilege is Gal. 3.28. But we don’t live that reality in Christ.

          • That is false in 2 ways:

            (1) that pigmentation and sexual behaviour are to be spoken of in the same breath when one is inborn and the other belongs to later in life and is rooted in the craziness and risktaking of adolescence – a yawnworthy point when it has been made 1000 times already;

            (2) That 2 things called ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are to be spoken of as equivalents. There is that which fertilises and that which is fertilised – right from flowers upwards to the higher mammals. To fulfil function and to fail to fulfil function are opposites not equivalents.

          • Christopher

            1) pigmentation and orientation are analagous. You can write that being gay is a choice for the 1001th time. But it doesn’t make it so.

            2) of course gay and straight are equivalent. Your point about fertilisation as the telos of sexuality suggests that because I don’t have offspring I am gay.

          • (1) Far from writing that being gay is a choice for the 1001st time, I have not even written it for the 1st time yet. Which is proof of the degrees of your exaggeration, However – you can attempt to disprove that by googling.

            I have never even thought that to be true in so many words, but it is close to the truth. Causes of present homosexual sexual behaviour include:
            -embedding of habit subsequent to formative experiences
            -formative experiences that stem from the extremely common situation of one’s own sex being accessible to sleep with at the time that the sexual drive is highest
            -formative experiences classified as molestation, though the instigation of these can be either way / both ways
            -rebellion – a compulsive drive to transgress societal boundaries and break the rules
            -actual initial sexual awakening or informing will frequently be in company or at hands of same sex – that then is the seed from which the plant subsequently grows
            -(in the case of men) spreading the narrative that if you have ever been involved in same-sex sexual behaviour you must be gay, yet failing to extend the logic to the opposite scenario
            -(in the case of women) being fed up with all things male and/or wishing to take revenge on the male of the species
            -peer-pressure. Prevailing culture among one’s friends. Being in a particular subculture or society.
            -Brain adapting to and being remoulded by formative experiences.
            -The fact that once sexual behaviour has been embarked upon it is then going to be desired periodically and regularly – for all of which period it remains (for example) extremely difficult for men actually to obtain it with women, but laughably easy with other men – meanwhile, the behavioural pattern becomes ever more embedded.
            -Where sex is simply a matter of satisfying the individual’s bodily urges, they may not entirely mind whom they satisfy them on so long as they do satisfy them. (That scenario ”figures” for men more than for women I think, and it probably takes a man to understand it.) But (for men) men will be more accessible to satisfy them on.
            Etc Etc Etc. The alternative is to say that babies are gay. Another execrable example of assuming that the entire population is in the age range 16-50, which could happen only in a society that is starved of family life and always at college or the workplace.
            But by the time they actually are 16 (or even 13), they will have had the opportunity to muck around no end with their original integrity and original blueprint, so that they can end up looking and seeming nothing like the person they really are.

          • (2) It is very odd to deny the intricate design of the plant and animal kingdom and the reproductive purpose (not always actuality) behind it.

            We can always live estranged from our purpose or in harmony with it. Both are possibilities in any area of life.

          • Christopher

            1) your aetiology of homosexuality is outdated, patholigising and pointless: why does it matter when or how people realise that they are gay, or bi, pan or asexual?

            2) I hope my function is more than reproductive. If not, I have failed. Defining humans by their ability to reproduce is reductive, essentialist and anti eschatological.

          • (1) On the contrary, the ‘born gay’ convenient/simplistic narrative is regularly not believed even among the most precise leading researchers such as Lisa Diamond. The overarching reasons for not believing it number more than 10 and nothing have I more frequently rehearsed than those 10. Find a more precise leading researcher than her?

            Out of date? Not true – but I am puzzled about why you would care. Fashion is the last thing that researchers look to. Or at least should be.

            (2) It’s just the nature of evolution and the survival imperative that reproduction will be by far the main determinant of how we are (and living beings are) made. However, it does not exhaust all that is to be said about us.

            But my specific points you have not addressed.

          • On the contrary. You are misrepresenting Diamond’s research which was very specific and limited; Diamond herself gets very irritated when people misuse her research.

            As I have said before, I have no idea why people are gay or straight and, frankly, I don’t care. But I do very much dislike the outdated narrative that this has something to do with being abused, or that it develops from adolescent fooling around. Lots of male adolescents experiment with gay sex, especially at public schools. It does not turn them ‘gay’.

            I don’t know what questions I am avoiding. I have said that I ddon’t believe reproduction is the only telos of sex. Certainly not for humankind.

          • But we are not talking causation tout simple. We are talking *significantly* increased incidence in certain circumstances.

            You are certainly being bold if you claim that molestation is *not* higher among the gay population – on the contrary, it has never been thought to be other than very significantly higher. I have listed the studies – which ones are you relying on, and why are they better than the ones I listed (if they exist)? What sort of percentage swing would it take to reverse the picture that is normally accepted here?

            As for ‘outdated’ – what do you mean by outdated? And what would be its significance? If there are other studies that have trumped the standard position then what are their names and what do they say? Accuracy in science does not depend on ‘date’ but on truth to the facts. Obviously….

            Recently it has become apparent that one of these significantly higher correlations is broken families. If one is born in an out of kilter situation, one will react (or play up) to that because action and reaction are equal and opposite.

            Another is weak fathering and lack of positive male role models (and/or dominant mothers) as has long been seen. None of these is a cause. Each of them is something that significantly increases incidence. It would be good to have your affirmation that you get that point.

            The statistics flying around have always been utterly alarming, and when people fail to tell the truth about them that causes a false sense of security that can be fatal in individual lives. If people were told up front that men who have sex with men are per head approx 1000 times likelier than an average person to contract HIV/AIDS then they might sit up and take things seriously. But the statistics are generally spun in another direction that removes this alarming angle.

            I tried to collect together all the main studies known to me when I published 3-4 years ago, and not to leave any out. Generally they extremely strongly (and therefore irreversibly) in a single direction. All additional bibliography is always greatly appreciated. What people should be doing is familiarising themselves with the facts before debating.

      • “Genetic differences are minimal. Cultural differences are significant, and open to evaluation.”
        Two statements here which are themselves open to evaluation.
        First, through most of my life I have believed and stated that ‘genetic differences are minimal’. But I find this challenged by works like ‘Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are’ by the geneticist Robert Plomlin. I am still trying to assimilate this. We are not surprised, for example, that Dutchmen are the tallest in the world overall, or that Ethiopians and Moroccans have the greatest endurance in long distance running. Why are there so many blacks in US athletics teams (and British)? It is genetic. That’s fine for sports but the problem is that physical strength is no longer very important today for earning a living. Or if it is, only fro jobs at the bottom of the scale. The political hot potato is when we turn from physical prowess (height, speed, upper body strength) to intellectual ability. In California and elsewhere in the US, for example, many Asian Americans (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) complain that although they score highest in STEM exams, many of them don’t get admitted to the top colleges there because of affirmative action intended to favour black and Hispanic students.
        Second, culture means the aggregate of what we do and value. In theory, any racial group could have any culture. But in practice we find it very difficult to distinguish people’s skin colour or appearance from the majority cultural practices of that group. That is why, for political reasons, Islam has been equated with a ‘race’ with the coinage of ‘Islamophobia’ by western leftists – most of whom despise religion as false consciousness. And any criticism of black US culture is denounced as ‘racism’. The black conservative commentator Candace Owen has made herself a hate figure to the left for pointing out (as only a black woman can) the pathologies of black urban culture in America, most egregiously glamourising strong outlaws. No other culture, Hispanics included, says Owen, does this: rather they disown the criminal in their midst. The effect on black youth is terrible. The fundamental problem is that too many American black families are female-led, stuck at the bottom, with a lack of fathering and good role models for adolescent boys. This isn’t the case for Hindu Indian or Muslim Pakistani families in Britain, or in America, where these immigrant groups are making their way up the social ladder. What is the key factor here? I suggest it is the very strong social taboos against birth out of wedlock. Very few Indian or Pakistani children in Britain (or America, I imagine) are born out of wedlock because shame is a central cultural force (for good or ill). By contrast, black family profiles are very similar to the white underclass.
        That’s the sad reality, and none of this railing against the police will change the facts.

        • Hi James, Thanks for your comments. I strongly agree with some and strongly disagree with others.
          1. Irresponsible, multiple fathering is way in which insecure men try to prove their worth (are you reading this Boris Johnson?) It is a major, serious, and too often ignored factor in the under achievement of slave-descended populations. I think part of the intensity of the present demonstrations is a displaced frustration that black people are falling behind the progress of other ethnic groups – all those Indian cabinet ministers.
          2. Whites are good at swimming, blacks at running. So what? (In fact, of course, ‘blacks’ aren’t good at running – some people from specific parts of East Africa excel at endurance running; people of West African origin are good at sprinting.) But this is of little predictive value in most areas of life.
          3. Sorry, James, but we whites do need to be shamed. Read a major historian on slavery like James Walvin (such as ‘Black Ivory’) for all the mind-numbing cruelty and brutality inflicted by the English; set that alongside the enormous profits it created to establish our continuing economic prosperity and there is a great deal we should acknowledge, confess, repent of and seek to put right. History never finishes – we still live with both the damage to identity and self worth that slavery generated, and the white comfort and sense of superiority that we live with. To quote a leading authority on the book of Revelation 18:13: “luxury and prosperity for the few has created poverty and oppression for the many. . . .A curiously contemporary critique of power and wealth in human empires of every age.” (I Paul, pp 298 & 301).
          4. As long as white people pretend that we are now on a level playing field so long injustice will persist and we will be dishonouring God.

          • Thank you for responding, John.
            1. I carry no candle or water for any politician – whether Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone who also fathered out of wedlock. The point is that sexual promiscuity is far more destructive to the poor than to the rich because the rich can buy their way out of their mistakes. This *is the primary issue where American blacks and British Caribbeans are concerned. That is why I highlighted the major difference about births out of wedlock among British Caribbeans and Asians. I take it you agree on this? But note also that most black British are now from immigration from Africa in the past 50 years. They are not the descendants of slaves.
            2. The chief predictor of career success and income is actually IQ or cognitive ability. Encouraging school success means promoting a culture that loves literacy and mathematics and education generally and repudiates a negative culture. This is the second reason why Indians have done so well here. But there aren’t only Indian cabinet ministers – there are several African-origin government ministers. In fact, this government is the most racially diverse one Britain has ever seen – and they’re Tories!
            3. Adam and original sin aside, I don’t believe in inherited guilt. My Scottish and Irish grandparents and great-grandparents were poor farming people. Whatever sins they committed, slave-trading wasn’t one of them. I get a bit tired of incessant guilt-mongering. I don’t blame modern Arabs for the slave trade by their ancestors, either. But I am proud of those great Christians William Wilberforce and David Livingstone.

        • The discrimination against these bright Asians is wrong and is racist. The fact that the most maritally stable cultures are also the highest achieving and most stable too, leading to lowest ‘mental health problems’, means that the answer has always been staring us in the face, not that all of us ever forgot it in the first place. Christians never did (apart from culture conformists).

          Never have anything to do with the sexual revolution. We are creatures of habit and what a culture imposes will be viewed as normal and will be followed and will become a natural framework, so all we need to do is impose the norms that have the best track record in health and happiness and success. The human cost of PC is incalculable.

          • Yes, let us return to the cultural and religious norms of the 19thC.
            Then we’d have stability and…..slavery, child labour, disenfranchisement of Catholics and Free Churches, marital rape, high levels of prostitution and drug taking, hanging and deportation, rotten boroughs, disenfranchisement of most of the population, high rates of infant and maternal mortality, illiteracy, smallpox, cholera, typhoid, consumption…..

          • 1. The weakness of your case is shown in one move: you respond to something that never mentioned 19th century by saying ’19th century was bad QED.’. One might just as well mention Muffin the Mule for all the relevance that has.

            2. You treat 19th century vs the present as a package deal. If even one aspect of another age (one it shares with many other ages and cultures) is better than today (and it is a given that plenty will be, whichever age one evokes) then if we are to revive that aspect the *only* alternative is also to revert to sending children up chimneys and exhuming Disraeli to return as PM.

            3. That aspect is (shock horror) strong families. Do you then prefer weak families? A weak family regime certainly gives more scope for polyamory and one night etc – so that’s all right then?

          • My contention is, and why I was using the 19thC as an example, that when certain eras are noted for their stability, this assertion is often mistaken. Some Victorian families were more stable, others weren’t.
            One cannot say that we should impose the norms that have the best track record in health and happiness and success without pointing to somewhere those norms obtained. I thought you might believe the 19thC was one. Forgive me if I’m wrong.
            Perhaps you would like to provide an example.

          • It is a given that we should examine history and cultures and see which work best (for health and happiness and success) and copy them.

            It is also a given that different ones will be better in different ways.

            It is also a given that not all will be equally good overall.

            The fact that C19th behaviour was not all it might be cracked up to be is the one obligatory thing that people are ”supposed” to say and know about the Victorian era. But if people only ever say one thing that shows that their knowledge is limited and we can safely discount them as experts. The more so if the one thing they say is the ”approved” thing that will gain them virtue points from those who have the upper hand in the culture and who are spreading a narrative.

            It’s not about transplanting one age into another. What an extremely odd idea. Whoever said that? I will tell you who said it: people who think that an entire age can be summed up as cool or not cool by a wave of a hand: fashion victims and identity politicians. More than that, it would quite obviously be impossible. It is about learning from the particular successes of other cultures and times and copying them. Not wholesale copying, copying in different aspects.

            The way that family stability has been ripped away and stolen is such utter rubbish/waste when we already have/had the answer before that embedded right within the culture, that had more of a sense of corporate duty and responsibility, of simplicity, of maturity and of (the positive aspects of) shame.

            People who were formed before the 1960s-70s almost don’t *see* the abuse atrocities that have been discussed, because their norms, growing up, were more wholesome. It absolutely breaks my heart. HM Ian Beer formed within muscular Christianity and Tommy Barnett’s Marlborough etc understood how the norms of that age made sense and worked, and were positive and invigorating; of course, then, they will not take seriously the more selfish and darker 1960s when they interpose, because who would swop something better for something worse. The downside is a failure to see what Peter Ball was doing, because one’s norms are those of a happier and healthier age (within which age he would have been unlikely to be doing any such thing). One of the healthiest cultures now is the Indian, and it is no coincidence that they lap up the Enid Blyton worldview (in terms of its [what people now term] ”innocence” and outdoor-ness) that was anathema to the 1960s-70s. The recent ‘Malory Towers’ TV series was strongly marketed to the Indian contingent. The leading evangelist Michael Green towards the end of his life, having also grown up in that healthier age, failed to see that he was being taken in on one occasion by financial con artists. Because the norms and expectations one will have grown up with are more wholesome. All good people are resolutely on the side of the innocent and wholesome against the cynical.

            So obviously one should see the sicknesses of one’s own age and compare them to (and heal them with) those cultures and ages that have better track records. This track records thing is precisely what I wrote about in WATTTC.

          • Yes, fine Christopher but when were those days of happier, healthy norms when people like John Smyth and Peter Ball couldn’t have operated? You haven’t specified, except that some past imaginary Utopia existed when everyone read the racist Enid Blyton and knew their place.

            In fact men like Smyth and Ball were successful, not because of the so-called permissive society but, because they both operated in male milieus of snobbery, elitism, shame and fear about sexuality and gender. Such men still prevail because, despite your belief that we live in an era of unbridled lust and freedom, shame about sexuality and gender still obtain and we still live in a racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic society.

          • You keep trying to tie this to particular times and places. The 1970s are always the peak when it comes to sexual disorder. That means that (unsurprisingly) it is possible for sexual disorder to operate at considerably higher and considerably lower levels, so we try to replicate the conditions of the lower levels. Christians warned repeatedly in the 1970s about the abandonment of biblical and Christian principles.

            Goodness that Utopia thing is a cliche, evidencing lack of original thought or independent though. If levels can be far higher and far lower, you still don’t listen unless levels become *perfect*? What nonsense.

          • Christopher

            Yes, well you speak always in cliches of times when there norms and everyone was healthy and happy. Such conditions exist only in your imagination.
            The 1970s were, indeed, more sexually liberated and, perhaps, less hypocritical than the post war years: they were the fruit of the the 1960s.
            But in retrospect, they were still appallingly racist and sexist, as we are only now discovering when we revisit the culture of that decade. It is hardly surprising that, like previous decades and like the 80s and 90s after them, they encouraged a system of shame, of homophobia and misogyny, and allowed sexual abuse to grow unchecked like mould.

          • Sexually liberated? They were the opposite: a lothario’s paradise, with massive fallout. ‘Liberated’ is supposed to be a compliment. Are you complimenting the age that did what the 1970s did to people?

            Why must I repeat ad infinitum that we are not looking to replicate any age even if that were possible, but to see what every age did successfully rather than badly and replicate those successes in an eclectic fashion?

            In the knowledge that some ages were far better than others in this respect, and that the Christian worldview proved its truthfulness by successfully predicting what would be the end result of the 1970s mores.

          • Christopher

            I was young in the 1970s. It was a fairly sexually liberated time, but nowhere near as tolerant and equitable as today. There was still a massive amount of racism, sexism and homophobia around in the 70s. Of course there still is. But perhaps, fortunately, less.
            The 70s were also much less materialistic and selfish than succeeding decades.
            On the whole, a good time to be young.

  11. Ian,
    Thanks as ever, I do wonder why senior church leaders appear to have lost confidence in the gospel (at least in what is reported in the media) , and instead go to the the standard line which is virtually identical to any statement for an organisation that has a social conscience. It’s little wonder that so many in our congregations lack the confidence to share Christ, when those who have received the most training both in terms of theology, but also in leadership and how to handle the media, seem to lack confidence too.

    • I wonder if he’s just rediscovering the light which he and so many of his colleagues lose on entering the dark tunnel which seems to enclose men and women when they become bishops in the Church of England. And this is a phenomenon which we shouldn’t accept as the way things have to be.

      Perhaps there’s an evil spirit at the heart of this inner circle of our church which is squeezing the life out of the souls of these poor people, and draining the life from the whole church as a result? A similar thing can happen at parish level where the grim and stifling presence of one or two influential people can kill off the spirit within a church. I was brought up in a vicarage: my parents experienced it, and their answer was to pray those individuals out of the church. It worked.

      My fear is that people are becoming so used to this deadly atmosphere that they think it’s normal: they’ve forgotten the power and the joy of working together with love for Jesus, with confidence in the truth and power of his word. The performance over the last few months, culminating in these dreadful last two weeks must surely have caused people to conclude that things cannot be allowed to continue in this fashion.

      I hope there is already urgent and concerted prayer going on for the removal of whoever is quenching the spirit in the Church of England. It’s not names that matter – we can leave that to God who knows – it’s determination that there must be repentance, things must change, and that we must ask God to help us in whatever way he chooses.

      • It is not John Sentamu’s “confidence in the gospel” that is in question but the quality of his leadership. The way he answered Andrea Williams of Chichester at the General Synod in July 2017, downplaying the importance and authority of the Bible was appalling for any Christian leader and sadly showed that even an archbishop put little store by the Church of England’s foundation document.
        Or consider the dismissal of the constant appeals from Gilo and from Matthew Ineson for an explanation why there had been no reply to their complaints about sexual abuse by clergy of the Province of York: the correspondence, said Sentamu, “was lost in a basement flood and it’s too late now to do anything”. Evasive or what?
        Or – supposedly on public health grounds, having closed all the churches in the Province, banning clergy from praying within them or livestreaming services, doing funerals or visiting sick – “so we can set the nation a good example!”, he asserted – and then tweeting how “FANTABULOUS” that thousands of people in London were breaking the lockdown to taking part in a protest against a police killing in America. So the city in the UK with the highest concentration of BAME and covid deaths is set to see a spike in infection – and what will Sentamu say then?
        What are we to make of this kind of “leadership”?

        • I am indeed well aware of John Sentamu’s leadership failings, certainly ever since his public display at the 2017 Synod of shame. Whether my implication that he may have been a good apple turned bad by the destructive influence at the heart of the Church of England (the corruption of the bishops and their acolytes) is true or whether there have always been two contrasting sides to the man (as there are in all of us to a greater or lesser extent), there’s much cause for concern.

          My problem more generally is how few people are prepared to voice these concerns publicly despite their church being brought low before their own eyes – although there are some courageous exceptions, not least on this site.

          • My biggest concern about the Church of England is that only a minority of Anglican Ministers believe and preach the Bible’s terrible warnings of the wrath to come. I know I can’t prove this and I would be humbled, put in my place, but glad to be proved wrong. What should those of us who agree with this view do?

            1 God revealed himself to Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not; how dreadful is this place. This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of Heaven”. Christ revealed himself to Peter who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord”. God revealed himself to Isaiah who cried, “…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”. Christ revealed himself to John on Patmos and John fell at his feet as one dead.

            Above all let us pray that God and Christ, in mercy and grace, will reveal themselves in the same way to all of us as both terrible and wonderful, especially to Bishops and Ministers, who have a particular responsibility to proclaim a gospel which is both terrible and wonderful.

            2 Persuade the Church of England Evangelical Council and Church Society to send an open letter to all Bishops and Ministers challenging them about this.

            3 Work through the Synodical process to get a motion to General Synod. Blackburn Diocese might be a good starting point. Bishop Julian might be sympathetic.

            Phil Almond

  12. I have posted to this thread because it has raised the issue of whether God and Christ did say some things in the Bible which we find difficult. Such as his command to Samuel to totally destroy the Amalekites. As I see it this is a very fundamental disagreement about the Bible which was debated at some length on the ‘old’ fulcrum. I am not saying that those who hold that God did not say some things are not Christians. Just for the record I have always tried to make it clear that as far as I am concerned these debates do not address whether any of us are Christians or not. Rather, they are about what are the truths of Christianity. But the point is that the view that God and/or Christ did not say some things that the Bible says they did say means that those who hold that view have to decide on grounds that convince them what God and Christ did say and what they did not say. This has far-reaching results on all the debates and disagreements that we have here.

    And, going back to an earlier exchange with Peter Reiss, it means that we are on opposite sides of this disagreement. Nor am I happy with

    Christopher Shell
    June 6, 2020 at 3:37 pm
    The more cultural, linguistic, literary, historical knowledge we have, the more likely we are to be reading it right.

    My “cultural, linguistic, literary, historical knowledge” is minimal but just by prayerfully studying the Bible, reading commentaries that stick to the text, and debating on this website, I am convinced that God and Christ are both terrible (in their holiness, righteousness, justice, wrath against sinners, sovereignty, honesty, reality) and wonderful (in their love, mercy, grace, compassion, tenderness, pity, patience), and the Gospel we ought to proclaim is both terrible and wonderful (retribution for the unsaved, promise of salvation to those who submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection).
    Phil Almond

  13. Sorry Phil, but I think Christopher Shell is correct here. You need to be certain that the commentaries you are reading do understand the text correctly and do not contain their own preconceived ideas as to what the text should mean. They could ‘stick to it’ in the wrong way. This is easier said than done but is nonetheless, worth the effort.

    It should strike us odd that to an outside observer, the Bible could be seen as a cause of division by which the Protestant church worldwide today has around 9,000 different denominations all of which think they have ‘read it right’.

    • The Reformed doctrine of the ‘claritas Scripturae’ warns us against making difficulties where they don’t really exist. Essentially this means that the message of the Bible is accessible to intelligent people following the normal rules for reading any text in context. The Bible is not an esoteric code containing secret messages that can only be discerned with occult knowledge. It was written, in the most part, to ordinary men and women to be received with faith, to be read and studied by them with intelligence, and to be obeyed with joy. If we start with the principles that Christ is the centre of the Scriptures and that the clearer passages cast light on the obscurer, then we can be confident of reading it right. But of course this assumes that the Holy Spirit is the primary Author of Scripture, a point that liberal theology, shaped by Kantian rationalism, is at pains to deny. that is why contemporary liberal theology insists that the Bible is really a collection – or cacophony of competing voices, some of which must be “exposed” and repudiated. Once again, the cultural Marxist ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ does its work of subverting in the name of human ‘liberation’. The ‘liberation theology’ base communities have largely faded away now in Latin America but the habits of thinking they engendered still live on.

      • Well said! There’s far too little emphasis and confidence in the most basic skills of English comprehension (or whatever language of the Bible translation one is reading) as the primary essential when it comes to understanding what the Bible is saying.

        • Ditto, to James and Don.
          Well said.
          When the meaning is plain, give it the plain meaning, is first.
          Scripture interprets scripture. (Even a Bible with cross references helps, with this)
          Why is a particular scripture, sentence there, in the context; of the book, gospel, letter, N T, OT, the whole canon.?
          It seems to me that it is in recent history that big picture cross hatching themes across the whole Bible, the Bible as one book, and continuity. ( Anglican OT scholar Alec Motyer has said the only uninspired page in the Bible is the blank page which separates the OT from the NT) have come to the fore, like a multi faceted diamond, rather than reading a text, say in Nehemiah, in splendid isoltation. (Although I think Don Carson has traced the history of biblical theology, back two or three centuries).
          What does scripture say about God? About ourselves? About our response, relationship with God and others?
          Is that easy?
          Is it easy, particularly today, to be a careful reader?

    • Chris
      I don’t read the commentaries uncritically. I read several commentaries on Romans and compare what they say and I sometimes disagree with them all. The flaw in Christopher’s approach is that it seeks guidance from outside the Bible on what the bible means. The way to do it, as I keep saying, is for the academy, the pastors, the scholars and ordinary layfolk like me to debate on the web the strongest arguments from all sides on what the Bible means. Then we can all challenge and be challenged. But this has to be an open debate with all, including the likes of Ian Paul, participating. I don’t think the likes of Ian Paul are willing to do that. The ball is in his court on ordination of women and the atonement. I repeat, what I always say, that I admire and value his website. He does post views with which he disagrees strongly.

      Your point about 9,000 denominations may be misleading. I think you would find that there would be substantial agreement on original sin, the wrath of God and the atonement, which, as I see it, are among the most important doctrines.

      Phil Almond

      • Hi Philip

        Your own approach seeks a massive amount of guidance from outside the Bible as to what the Bible means. It seeks guidance from all the people and writings who taught you the English language and formed your understanding of what English words mean. And though translation is a wonderful and precise skill, languages never map onto one another.

        • Christopher
          The things you mention are common to all Bible readers whose native language is English. I assumed that the ‘external’ things you mention are more than that. Is that not the case?
          Phil Almond

          • Most definitely. How can a person who understands the relevant language, literature, history and culture be on a par (in these matters) with someone who has less or no understanding of them?

            That would be like saying I am qualified to speak in the next astrophysics conference.

            Here our topic is what a text is saying. Very regularly the essential message will be clear and straightforward, and although cultural and background knowledge will always add something, it may not always add much. Where our topic is the realities of the way the world hangs together, then experience and study teach us a great deal too, over and beyond what we learn from a text.

          • Christopher Shell
            I reply to your Christopher Shell June 9, 2020 at 12:15 pm. You posted: “Here our topic is what a text is saying. Very regularly the essential message will be clear and straightforward, and although cultural and background knowledge will always add something, it may not always add much”. That is what I was trying to say. “Where our topic is the realities of the way the world hangs together, then experience and study teach us a great deal too, over and beyond what we learn from a text.” I don’t see how experience and study of “cultural, linguistic, literary, historical knowledge” adds anything essential to the truths of what the Bible says and means about God and Christ – who they are, what they are like, what they have said and done, what they are saying and doing, what they will say and do, what they command, what they forbid what is our condition in their sight, what are the promises of the gospel.

            Phil Almond

          • Exactly. (a) The essential message and perspective can be understood by all (but understood more precisely by the trained). (b) Particular words and sentences cannot always be, especially in another language. When we speak of ”understanding the Bible”, then we have to define what it is we mean. Is it a or b.

  14. I was struck deeply by how Christian and theologial was ACNA’s statement compared to the trite, childish nonsense from our own Bishops and Archbishops. Why have we descended to such a pit of irrelevance?

    The statement from ACNA was an absolute breath of fresh air and pointed towards the Christian meaning of the whole set of events. Zac Bawtree’s comment comes closes to this but the clash between the banality of the statements from our own Bishops and the contrasting statement from ACNA pointing us towards Christianity is clear and thoroughly refreshing.

  15. At the risk of being trolled—is it not possible that we are overdoing the white guilt trip about the situation of black people in the UK today (without suggesting that there have not been injustices in the past)? I have travelled extensively and frequently in Madagascar where the average annual income is $1,850 pa. There is no state health care provision, and private provision is expensive and limited. They got their independence from France in 1960 and few in the middle classes there (average annual income for teachers/dentists etc is probably about $4,000) would blame the French for their situation. Is it cultural? Many there think so. The situation is similar in many African countries, even worse in Zimbabwe. Incidentally I love Madagascar and its laid-back culture and would readily live there—but at my advanced age I am nervous about the lack of health care.

    • Dear Colin and James
      I am not to blame for slavery but I am the beneficiary of it, just as my black neighbours and fellow church members still suffer the consequences of the damages inflicted on their societies. (Listen to what black people say). The legacies are still with us and we need to address and seek to rectify the injustices.
      Also, James, you are right to point out the different outcomes for Caribbean and (immediately) African descended people in this country, which relates significantly to different parenting patterns, which probably go back to slavery (though the historical evidence in the USA is mixed). Nonetheless all black people here suffer from a generalised sense of white disdain and superiority.

      • Hi John,

        “Nonetheless all black people here suffer from a generalised sense of white disdain and superiority.” That is not true. The MD of my company is black, born in poverty, now wealthy, with a PhD from Imperial College at age 25 – and I can assure he does not think that. So that is one less 🙂

        And I do listen to what black people say. I have a home in Madagascar, but I do not know anybody there who sees that their plight today is in anyway linked to slavery. And because some black people say that, does not automatically make it correct. The poor outcomes for white working class men—whose fault is that? (I came from a working class home.) Why are we not championing their cause? Why doesn’t the BBC (and our Bishops?) get worked up about that? Ask anybody in education and health and they will tell you they are among the most disadvantaged groups of all.

      • John,

        I forgot to mention my black MD’s family were traded as slaves. He wished it had not happened, but he does not use the fact to justify any shortcomings in his parenting style today—or indeed in any other matter.


      • But here’s the rub, John – up to c. 1962 or so, the illegitimacy rate among US blacks was about 4%, not really different from the white population. Most black families were (or so I understand) intact ( or am I mistaken on this?) Blacks were poorer and treated horribly in the segregated south, but things were getting better as the Civil Rights movement gathered steam. And then things started going downhill as the sexual revolution took over. Now 70% of black children in the USA are born out of wedlock and perhaps the majority of abortions are of blacks. And black imprisonment has skyrocketed, while blacks, who make up 13% of the US population, account for half the homicides and armed robberies, of which the victims are chiefly black. These are terrible statistics. How are they to be explained? This isn’t the fault of the American police forces. The sexual revolution has devastated the American black family. At least, that’s one take on it. In many respects I don’t think American blacks are much different from the white underclass.

        • I was wrong on that initial statistic – until about 1963 black births out of wedlock were about 24%, it was white births that were 4%. Then from 1963 black illegitimacy sharply increased to the point that it is now c. 77% (as of 2017). White births out of wedlock in the USA slowly increased from the same year and are now about 40%. Daniel Moynihan prophesied in 1965 that this meant poverty for the black family and he was correct. The coming of the pill and readily available abortion from c. 1965 meant the end of ‘shotgun weddings’ but it didn’t end births out of wedlock. The upshot of all this is that a very large number of young black males have grown up in female-led households.

          • Yes, and it is astonishing the godly level of the mothers who are nevertheless unable (although individually no more unable than the rest of us who are blessed with a second spouse in the family) with to control their boys growing up.

            The correlation of fatherlessness with all sorts of social ills and with prison populations is truly astonishing, as I laid out in What Are They Teaching The Children?

            Fatherlessness is not at the same levels in all cultures. And where it is tolerated it will flourish.

            Many are failing to speak out, and thereby being complicit in the problem.

          • Cause for reflection:

            Despite all of this, the Brown Parliament voted over a decade ago that ‘children do not need a father’.

            Who are these truly uninformed and unscientific (or malicious?) people who voted in that direction and think they have a right to rule us on the basis of their ignorance and their lack of care for children?

    • It has been pointed out above that Ian is a leading authority on Revelation and states in his commentary that “luxury and prosperity for the few has created poverty and oppression for the many … A curiously contemporary critique of power and wealth in human empires of every age.”

      But I suggest unequal wealth for a minority is not intrinsically linked to poverty for the rest. Is that a Marxist idea? Certainly if you asked young (Black) peeople in Madagascar if they would like to escape Madagascar to live in the UK or the USA, despite all our failings, and where the extremes Ian refers to are obvious—you would be stampeded to death in the rush.

  16. Yes, the sexual revolution has been bad news for black people.
    Yes, many people in Africa would still love to live in the USA.
    Yes, the neglect of white working class issues is also serious (cheers for Bishop Philip North who speaks on this)
    Yes, a sense of agency helps people more than a sense of victimhood –
    BUT the statistical evidence is overwhelming that black people are discriminated against in the labour market despite the qualifications;
    that black people live with frequent micro-aggressions.
    There is a battle on two sides here – both against those ‘critical race theorists’ who say the issue is entirely structural and systemic; and those who say that racism, discrimination and the lasting cultural and economic damage of enslavement is not lasting.
    I think writers like Trevor Philips, Tony Sewell, Eric Kaufmann are important here.

    • The sexual revolution has been bad for black people as it has been bad for everyone. However, the Indian cultural norms have seen quite different outcomes in the USA for American and British Asians. They are also surrounded by the sexual revolution to exactly the same extent as the rest of us, but do much better than white people on average, which only goes to show that strength of family culture and norms is key.

      Which family culture and norms you grow up will set you up for life, which is why I have said for years that the best-achieving ones should be encouraged and implemented. To some extent this is done in schools. Relativism (which everyone knows to be untrue) however prevails for PC reasons (as though they were actually ‘reasons’).

      • Exactly what I’ve been saying and why Daniel Moynihan was so prescient in 1965 about the coming destruction of the black family.
        You can use contraception and abortion but you can’t stop girls wanting to have babies. But if the fathers don’t marry the girls, what then?
        A generation bought up without fathers – and overwhelmingly this is bad for boys, who are far more likely to fail at school and to develop bad attitudes toward women and marriage.
        But any discussion of these very obvious family and developmental factors has been ruled out of court by the self-appointed censors of the sexual revolution who prevail in broadcasting, ‘entertainment’ and education. Christianity has been chased out the door just by shouting ‘Racism!’ or ‘Judgmentalism!’ Not to mention radical feminism’s disdain for fatherhood and marriage.
        But the South Asian and East Asian cultures, which are highly family-centric (and pretty patriarchal), have done their best to keep modern secularism outside their homes, and in one generation or less, they can move from poverty to the middle classes. This happens all the time, provided young people follow these three rules identified long ago by Michael Novak:
        1. Finish school properly.
        2. Don’t start a family until you are married – and stay married!
        3. Accept an entry level job and stick at it until you get better.
        Perhaps we could add a fourth:
        4. Repudiate any culture that glamourises drugs, criminals and wealth without work.

      • “Relativism (which everyone knows to be untrue)..”
        Another of your vast generalisations Christopher. Everyone? How do you know? What study have you done to see if ‘everyone’ agrees with you? What sort of relativism are you speaking of? What do you mean by untrue in this sentence?

        • Christopher can and no doubt will speak for himself, but I imagine he means in this context the frequently made claim ‘It doesn’t matter whether one parent or two bring up a child or whether they’re married, the outcomes will be the same’, which is said to ward off any criticism of single parenthood and the sexual revolution – and which everyone knows is false but many are too afraid to admit in public. Have you ever taught in inner city London? Maybe you should read Daniel Moynihan and his legacy, Andrew – very interesting reading.

        • Relativism doesn’t work very well in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering etc. There’s usually just one correct answer to most of the questions here. But some people are anti-science and have trouble with this awkward truth.

          • James

            It was I who first made the observation that Jewish and Christian views on the ethics of abortion differ. And that is interesting given that we read the same texts.

          • But we don’t have the same traditions.

            And some of us can think for ourselves without being bound by texts.

          • Christopher

            I don’t quite see how you can have Christian ethics without the texts from which they are drawn: the Hebrew Bible and the NT.

          • You can’t. The texts (and the story and perspective they convey) read us as a matter of fact. Just we are not ‘bound’ by them. If they cut the mustard, we honour them.

          • Christopher

            Oh, that’s a relief. You abandon texts that don’t ‘cut the mustard’. And I thought I was the liberal?

          • What’s the alternative? Blind obedience? Would that be a good thing?

            It’s OK because we have so many to choose from. So we can choose the way that is most worth following and obeying out of all the alternatives.

          • Christopher

            That’s great. So, I’ll just ignore the texts condemning adultery and fornication!

          • The criterion re law and ethics is good outcomes (happiness, health, success). We choose the document whose prescriptions do actually lead to these. Least of all short term selfish pleasure.

          • Ah but your definition of short term selfish pleasure might be my definition of long term generous pleasure. How are we to know which is correct?

          • Long term are things that last a long time.

            Short term are things that last a short time.

            Your claim (grounded in pure unthinking relativism) is that the two can be confused. How? How can brief and lasting things resemble one another?

            Generous and selfish are 2 ends of a spectrum. That means that they too are highly likely to be mistaken for one another. That does not happen with things that are at the 2 extremes.

          • Christopher

            No, my claim is not that the two can be confused.
            My suggestion (no more) is that long term, generous polyamory can exist.

          • That well known doctrine of Christ.

            Loosened structures of family responsibility have a colossal payoff. If it is regarded acceptable to take no family-tree responsibility, what motivation is there for anyone to do so? That means far fewer devoted husbands and fathers, wives and mothers. And it means children gasping and suffocating for lack of love, which means commitment.

            Hell, in other words.

          • Christopher

            I mentioned neither doctrine nor family structures.
            My hypothetical suggestion was where is the harm in long term generous polyamory (for this model there are no children involved).

          • Where to begin? I’m now repeating myself. People think individuals don’t impact society. Individuals, quite the contrary, constitute society.

            If looser structures are societally approved, that takes away *everyone’s* motivation to be more structured (i.e. to have family trees rather than free for alls), so much fewer will be. This means that sexual histories will be more complicated and marital bonds will become accordingly looser (because they are not once-for-all, they are not such a big deal, the huge deal that they are for the lifetime monogamous) and more fragile, and therefore children and adults will suffer alike from this instability, when stability is the one thing they need most. So it affects *everything*. Are we blind?

            The precise opposite of the way of Christ. Isn’t it clear how very different are the ways we are following? They are not even close to being the same thing.

          • Christopher

            So being child free and polyamorous is so attractive that if some individuals chose to live in this way, society would be undermined, marriage would decline and people would stop having children?

          • No – the individuals acting that way would not be affecting society, as though society were some external entity – they (like the rest of us) are society and with every action they change the way society is. This would have been obvious to every former age, wherein individualism was not as possible as it now is.

            Of course it is attractive. The superficially shortterm attractive thing is to have no limit on numbers of sexual partners. No-one would really stop at polyamory (an unsatisfactory half way house) which would just produce rootlessness and instability and jealousy and limitation to a mere couple or handful of ”partners”. With short-term perceived pleasure rather than healthy functioning as the imperative, things would degenerate further into a sexual free for all, a hell for children and for souls.

            In fact we have seen how very few years it takes for that to happen.

          • Christopher

            Unlike you, I see no attraction in unlimited sexual partners. Nor do I see how polyamory is an unsatisfactory halfway house. A halfway house to what?

            My model of polyamory has no families or children involved. As I said. It was simply a hypothesis of how gentle, longterm polyamory could exist.

          • Which, again, is a twisting of what I said.

            The question is what sort of person would misrepresent what people say, and why.

          • No, Christopher, you said no one would stop at polyamory. What I would like to know is:
            1) what is ‘beyond’ polyamory?
            2) how do you know ‘no one would stop’? Have you asked them?

            Furthermore, you provided no evidence that polyamory is either selfish or short term.

          • If people can no longer be monogamous they typically adopt a devil-may-care attitude, according to numerous testimonies. I am sure this is borne out by our knowledge of human nature, but it is certainly borne out and fully confirmed by the big picture. For as soon as one lifetime mate ceased to be the norm, it was not replaced by two, nor by three, but by many (an average of about 7 in the last UK survey I saw – equating to a million each when you count not only all their sexual partners but also *their* sexual partners etc.).

            This is because we are creatures of habit. Faithfulness is a habit. Mixing it up is a habit.

          • Christopher

            That may be true. But you have given no evidence that this is inevitably harmful or selfish.

          • Quote me one – just one – polyamorous set-up that

            (1) is not just one transient part of a complicated sexual history – in other words the precise opposite of the Christian way, and something unpleasant to talk about…or…

            (2) would not have to be kept secret (so: living a lie) in order that children would not get the impression that marriage (i.e. faithfulness, since no other sorts of sexual relationships are remotely averagely/typically faithful) is just one option among many – with the fallout that that insecurity will then cause in their own lives and their own inability to find people with whom to be secure.

            Everyone reading will see that your perspective is very opposite to Jesus’s and the things you talk about are very opposite.

          • Christopher

            I didn’t argue that the hypothetical model I was suggesting was Christian. It was an attempt to get some perspective on your notion that only texts which cut the mustard are to be obeyed.
            I also said that I was not envisaging children bring involved in my hypothetical polyamorous relationships. But even so, I can think of two in which children were involved and where the children did not appear to be markedly affected: Vanessa Bell and Vita Sackville West.

        • My ‘everyone’ is rhetorical. What I meant was that intelligent and honest people know it (because it is self refuting [is relativism absolutely or relatively true?] AND does not sound remotely likely on the face of it AND is a massive generalisation AND a suspiciously convenient one AND also vague AND also conveniently vague – so I think that from those 6 points people of a certain intelligence can work that one out). If it looks like an ideology and behaves like an ideology it is an ideology.

          You will see that Andrew can only question (to throw confusion in and thereby gain time?) but cannot provide answers or shed light. Questioning is easy.

          One can reverse the questioning. ‘Why do you think it is intelligent to question and never to make headway? The greatest thinkers made headway and discovered things.’ ‘Questioning is something so easy to do that demonstrably almost everyone can do it. It is the answers that separate the sheep from the goats (unfortunate phrase).’ What do you mean by ‘another’? What do you mean by ‘know’? ‘What sort of study are you speaking of?’.

          Has our understanding improved after all those questions? Not a jot.

          But if people delay the shedding of light by incessant questions, they are free to continue living and thinking as they please. Which suits them fine, and was the object of the exercise.

          It is quite true, as has been pointed out, that those branches of study that have least time for relativism (and indeed disprove and refute it) have been precisely the ones that have advanced the most. But that scenario would be impossible if relativism were of any worth, wouldn’t it?

          (Relativity, which is interrelationship, is something different from relativism which is the name of an outlook.)

          How do I define relativism? It is so utterly vague and deliberately vague an idea that I scarcely know. (Vagueness is the last thing one associates with the intelligent: one associates it with unclear thinkers and the unscrupulous.) People seem to be saying that we can have no clear knowledge of anything; that nothing is right or wrong per se; that nothing is better or worse per se. In order to be able to assert something as large as that, containing all those ‘nothing’s, they would need to have considered one by one all the questions known to man. Which is the reverse of what they have actually done.

          • Nonsense Christopher. I spend quite a lot of time giving answers here. You spend a lot of time making vast general sweeping statements that need questioning. The whole of the first paragraph of your post just above is of that sort.

            There are lots of different sorts of relativism – and you don’t state which sort you are thinking of. Moral? cultural? Religious?

            Whilst I fully accept (and have so accepted since I started studying relativism 45 years ago) that there are *disadvantages* of relativism, there are also advantages. Here are just 4 briefly and off the top of my head..
            1. I do think it’s crucial that people make a decision for Christ. But doing that is very different if you were born in India, or if you have been born in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
            2. Cultures are very diverse. The way we behave is clearly linked to culture. hence the expression ‘When in Rome…’
            3. There is, whether you happen to like it or not, a great deal of flexibility around ethics. I suggest that ‘everyone’ knows this and accepts it. You have even accepted that the Jewish tradition around abortion is different to the Christian one.
            4. People have different opinions about politics, for example. What you tend to believe about politics is very often bound up with culture.

            There are many more examples. ‘Everyone’ could give you some.

          • Hard to get the right measure of what Andrew is saying but a quick reply:
            1. A “decision for Christ” is essentially the same in India as in Stratford-on-Avon. I am not sure what point he is making here. Does he think Indian Christianity is a different religion from English Christianity?
            2. Cultures are diverse because climates and histories are different but Christian morality is the same everywhere.
            3. ‘Flexibility about ethics’ is just another way of saying there are limits to our understanding ( = ignorance), maturity and faithfulness to God. Contradictory beliefs can’t both be correct. Reform Jewish beliefs about abortion (as opposed to Orthodox Jewish beliefs) are hardly relevant to Christian ethical reasoning, so I don’t know why he mentions this. Jewish beliefs about the divinity of Christ are likewise irrelevant to Christians. What point are you trying to make here, Andrew?
            4. Of course people have different beliefs about politics, as well as the Gold Standard and the 1966 World Cup final. So what? What has that got to do with the task of Christian ethics?

          • James: it would have been a great deal easier for you to get the measure of what I was saying if you had bothered to read the whole of my post. But to reply briefly:
            1. If you are born in India you are far More likely To be Hindu and never to encounter a Christian culture. If you are born in Stratford upon Avon the chances of encountering a Hindu temple are pretty slim.
            2. Morality is only one form of relativism. And different branches of the Christian church take different approaches. Contraception is one obvious example.
            3. Flexibility about ethics: see above. There isn’t a simple Christian ethical position about everything you know.
            4. Christian ethics isn’t the only sort of relativism. Hence I asked Christoher what kind of relativism he was on about. It wasn’t clear. It still isn’t.

          • I was on about the kind of relativism that says all religions lead to the same goal, all are roughly equally good, there is no absolute truth, there is no absolute right and wrong. Are there kinds of relativism that do not have those characteristics, or most of them?

          • “Are there kinds of relativism that do not have those characteristics, or most of them?“
            Yes, and I’ve given quite a lot of examples in the conversation with James in this thread, particularly in the realms of culture and politics.

          • Since the types of relativism I mentioned exist, are common, and undergird most other kinds, no-one can subscribe to relativism, or certainly not without qualification and clarification. It’s good that your approach is more nuanced.

          • I think every genuine approach to relativism is nuanced. Anything else is just a caricature.

  17. Very good. We need to combat system racism in the C of E churches. I have written to the PCC of my old church, St. Paul’s Throop, (and copied in the Bishop of Winchester) about the issues.

  18. I do not see how Andrew answers anything I said. And i did read all his post.
    1. Being a Christian is essentially the same in Stratford on Avon or in India. Whether you get to hear the gospel is irrelevant to that question and I have no idea why he mentions it.
    2. Right and wrong are not relative things. Contraception may be against God’s will if Catholic natural law teaching on this is correct. I don’t think it is but I could be wrong. But it can’t be right and wrong at the same time in the same way. Relativism is wrong.
    3. Actually the fundamental principles of Christian ethics are clear. Moral reasoning calls for hard work but our chief problem in obedience isn’t ignorance but cowardice and sloth.
    4. Christian ethics isn’t about relativism at all. That pernicious idea was insinuated by situation ethics in the 1960s and has profoundly led liberal Anglicans astray. You need to get back to Augustine and his modern interpreters like Oliver O’Donovan and throw away your situation ethics books.
    Penelope: Jewish writers on ethics do NOT “read” the same texts as Christians. The New Testament and the Church Fathers ar not authorities for them. But interestingly the young Orthodox Jewish commentator Ben Shapiro takes a pro-life view very similar to Roman Catholics.

    • James

      That seems a tad Marcionite to me. But to balance Ben Shapiro there are pro choice Christians (some of them RCs).

      • Not at all Marcionite. You don’t appear to be using that wooing its actual historical sense. Psalm 139 is part of the Christian Bible. “Pro-choice Catholics ” don’t understand Catholicism. Trust me, I had a thoroughly Catholic education. There are adulterous Catholics too. Don’t confuse inconsistency with variety. I am glad you have heard of Ben Shapiro. One day, I think, he will become a Christian – or rather a Messianic Jew.

        • James

          Don’t patronise me. I was brought up a Catholic and I know pro choice Catholics who understand their faith perfectly.
          If Shapiro becomes a Christian fine. I do hope he doesn’t become a Messianic Jew.

          • There are pro choice Catholics, are there?

            I know that there are many who self-style in that way, but in a world of 7 billion people there will of course be some who culturally conform. It has long been apparent that high proportions of people can’t resist social conformity and have only so much social-deviance tolerance.

            So why should that surprise us? Heresies spring up largely as the result of leavening the gospel with the particular surrounding culture.

            It would surprise us more if every single one of them resisted the culture. That is never remotely going to happen, albeit there are many ways in which it certainly should.

            As for your uncritical use of the term ‘pro-choice’… please answer these 2 points:
            (1) ‘Choice’ is not even in view here, just one particular choice on one particular topic. But how can one particular choice on one particular topic be termed (grandly) ‘choice’ as though it encapsulated all choices that there ever could be? You admit that point, right?

            (2) Second, people will ‘choose’ (so-called) on the basis of their self-interest. That is not a rational choice but a wilful one, yet ‘choice’ sounds like a rational word and therefore clarification is needed, which you did not give.

            (3) Thirdly, those people who deprive another human being (worse: their daughter or son) of every single one of the millions of choices they would otherwise be able to make are as anti-choice as it is possible to be.

            (4) Fourthly, everyone would choose to live and not die. There are no suicidal children, so the choice to die can only be something that happens after subsequent corruption or despair. These so-called pro-c people:
            i: are thinking they are so important that they can choose on another’s behalf –
            ii: and then secondly, in a superior and dominating manner, make a ‘choice’ which they know is the precise opposite of the one which that other would make left to themselves –
            iii: and then thirdly are content to make that choice even though it is the most extreme and irrevocable and final and all-encompassing one possible. If someone came up to them and said, ‘I’ve made a choice on your behalf and that choice is that you are to be killed’, how would they react as they saw themselves (as it were) in the mirror, and the full horror of what they are really like? Violent people.

          • Pro-choice at its most basic means freedom from the kind of emotional blackmail and guilt tripping *from any perspective* that is evident above.

          • To be clear – the C of E position, which I agree with, is posted below:

            The Church of England combines principled opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be strictly limited conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative. This is based on our view that the foetus is a human life with the potential to develop relationships, think, pray, choose and love.
            Women facing unwanted pregnancies realise the gravity of the decision they face: all abortions are tragedies, since they entail judging one individual’s welfare against that of another (even if one is, as yet, unborn).
            Every possible support, especially by church members, needs to be given to those who are pregnant in difficult circumstances and care, support and compassion must be shown to all, whether or not they continue with their pregnancy.

          • Christopher

            Yes, of course there are. Just as there are pro choice Anglicans, Methodists etc.
            Abortion is not a decision which any woman would, I should imagine, take lightly.
            There are occasions when it is medically necessary or desirable. These are the reasons for very late term abortions, not the silly idea, I sometimes hear, that the mother has suddenly changed her mind.
            I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew’s comment below on the CoE understanding of abortion.
            I do not wish to see women demonised for this difficult choice, nor a return to the horrors of back street abortions.

          • No woman would take this decision lightly? That’s worryingly cliched. Evidence? Are women an amorphous mass? Not the ones I know. Why then should anyone pay attention to generalisations? Least of all those which are (a) convenient for getting off the hook and (b) unsupported by figures. If someone asserts and never knew the figures, spot the ideologue.

            No human being would be expected to impose irrevocable negative outcomes on another at all. But when the other is daughter or son and the decision is the most irrevocable and final and unwelcome of all, the same applies in spades. Of course we don’t accept either dictatorship or cruelty. Or things that have more complete and total effects than child abuse and domestic abuse.

          • “If someone asserts and never knew the figures, spot the ideologue.”
            Christopher it’s what you do all the time! You stated that ‘everybody’ knows that relativism is untrue.

            “No human being would be expected to impose irrevocable negative outcomes on another at all.” Just more generalisation. What about the politicians you voted for? You expect them to do that every day.

            The C of E puts is like this:
            “Women facing unwanted pregnancies realise the gravity of the decision they face:” If you disagree with that, I am sure you know how to contact the relevant people.

          • ‘Women facing unwanted pregnancies realise the gravity of the decision they make’. Evidence? And evidence that their society teaches them to care?

            All women are the same as all other women? So why is that not the case with even the smaller sample of women I know? And why would a sweeping generalisation be at all likely to be true?

            Every time an unevidenced statement is made it is like ‘Whoa!’. Is that what you want to believe, or have to believe if your house of cards is not to crash?

          • Christopher

            I wrote ‘I should imagine’. There may be women who make the decision lightly, but being a woman allow my to consult my imagination more than yours.

            You often make sweeping generalisations. Apparently Hampstead is full of Bohemians and semi Islingtonians – whoever they may be.

            I didn’t address your fourth point. Some people do choose to die. Hence the campaign for assisted suicide.

            I think that claiming abortion as a worse evil than child abuse or domestic abuse is very ethically dodgy.

          • ‘Women facing unwanted pregnancies realise the gravity of the decision they make’.

            An official statement from the Cof E Christopher. It certainly matches the women in such a position I have known. If you have a problem with it and need evidence I’m sure a member of the Archbishops Council can help you

          • Some people do choose to die?

            On suicide: That is exactly what I already said. You think you are disagreeing with me, but you are agreeing on that point. (a) Some people do choose to die. You actually think I was denying that?? Where do you think I have been living all these years? (b) None of them are below a certain age. (c) That means that it is only circumstances and sin (what some people call bad choices) that cause them to. (d) It also means that none of the people in the relevant age bracket for so-called abortion would have chosen to die. Quite the reverse, presumably. (e) Which further confirms that the will to die is a post-childhood deviation rather than something natural or endemic. (f) Something which any biologist or evolutionist would agree with (the survival imperative).

          • No Christopher

            You said ‘everyone’ would choose to live and not die. Another vast generalisation

          • Everyone would choose to live and not die. Correct. Hence the complete absence of all that before a certain age. Just as there is a complete absence of many other things before that same age. Smoking – drug taking – psychologically harmful sexual behaviour – alarming risk taking – you name it. They all start at around the same age, and many of them peak around age 19 too.

            When any such thing enters a person’s life that is, therefore, a deviation from who they really are inside. It is not them. In such behaviour, ‘they are not themselves’, as the saying rightly goes.

            You by disagreeing know of the existence of suicidal angst-ridden toddlers. Introduce me to them. (Or concede the point….?)

            Note too that so much of the talk of how people really are (re suicide, re abortion etc etc) is really talking about not people at all, but people between 16 and 50odd. Thus leaving out half the population. How family starved that inaccurate way of looking at things is.

          • “(d) It also means that none of the people in the relevant age bracket for so-called abortion would have chosen to die. Quite the reverse, presumably.”

            Ok, so given your logic here, at what age (i.e. how many weeks) are they able to choose?

            At what age do you think *any* living child is fit to choose for themselves where, for example, they might live? And if a 4 year old doesn’t wish to move house or town, how much of a say do you grant them in the decision making process in comparison to the mother or father? And what is you reason for weighting the decision making in favour of the parents (if indeed you do that)

            At what age does that change?

            In other words, what is the age or stage of reasoning you are thinking about here Christopher? And what is your evidence for that.

          • Parents should always be able to make choices for their children’s good. Never obviously for their harm and especially not for their ultimate harm or oblivion. Duh, as the rather too contemptuous saying goes.

            This applies even when the child has asked for harm. In the present case they have not and would not.

          • Parents should always be able to make choices for their children’s good. Never obviously for their harm and especially not for their ultimate harm or oblivion. Duh, as the rather too contemptuous saying goes.

            This applies even when the child has asked for harm. In the present case they have not and would not.

          • I’d agree with most people that you give children an increasingly large independence as time goes on.

            Also, by definition, that you never agree with their doing harmful things. Presenting ‘suicide’ and drug taking as simply alternative choices among many is child abuse.

          • I’d agree with most people that you give children an increasingly large independence as time goes on.

            Also, by definition, that you never agree with their doing harmful things. Presenting ‘suicide’ and drug taking as simply alternative choices among many is child abuse.

          • Andrew, do you disagree with people speaking accurately? The things you classify as emotional blackmail could be 100 pc accurate – did you check? Supposing that they sometimes will indeed be 100pc accurate, then you are banning truth. What is your beef with truth?

          • Christopher: very important question. No, I certainly don’t oppose people speaking accurately, and the issue here is one of competing truths, which I know you don’t accept. Wade v Roe is packed with people speaking accurately.

            I do not believe there is 100% accuracy to be achieved in all moral cases. But in this instance I believe that women’s voices are bound to be more accurate than men’s. And of course there will be a variety of voices within both women and men in this case.

            I think the C of E has reached a position which is about as accurate as it is possible to get to. But even then I have sat with couples And individuals tortured by a decision either way. Every time I feel humbled by the way they approach truth. But each time I have found myself wanting to give greater weight to truths that the woman speaks. In the end I am always for listening harder to the voice of the woman rather than the man to discern those truths.

          • “Also, by definition, that you never agree with their doing harmful things. Presenting ‘suicide’ and drug taking as simply alternative choices among many is child abuse.“

            Christopher: could you please give evidence, as opposed to anecdote, that people present suicide and drug taking as simply alternate choices? I’ve seen enough damage done by both things to want to eliminate such an approach. But I would need independent evidence of cases. (And I’m afraid I do not count your chapter in a privately published book as being evidence).

          • Drug taking is always presented as a ‘choice’ as opposed to (a) something one should simply shun – not an option at all; (b) something that if it were not mentioned a lot of people might never have thought about it at all; (c) something that people do through weakness of will rather than rational choice.

            Our society is very inclined to say that all kinds of things are ‘choices’ (sometimes ‘inappropriate choices’) without addressing a-b-c above. These things include suicide.

            I don’t think it’s an important question whether people should be accurate or not. They should always be accurate and never inaccurate. It’s not a question that ever needed to be asked and one only asks it if people behave differently.

            As to seeing different angles – exactly.

            As to seeing the angle of someone who would even contemplate killing (or hiring a hitman to kill) their own daughter or son – er, no. And that is the sort of odd situation that arises once one starts presenting all sorts of things as so-called ‘choices’ rather than some things being out of court.

            I have not contributed a couple of chapters to a privately published book. I have written on only one occasion for Wilberforce Publications (publicly published, and distributed by CLC), but so have all kinds of much more distinguished people.

            The worst error you commit is saying that I am somehow responsible for all the multiple statistical surveys I cite, and their results. I am responsible for none of them – isn’t that obvious? They are much the same ones cited by everyone else. How is their accuracy related to me even in the slightest? This extremely obvious point I have been making almost for decades – could I just have an indication that you understand it?

          • “Drug taking is always presented as a ‘choice’ …..”

            “Our society is very inclined to say that all kinds of things are ‘choices’ ….These things include suicide.”

            Vast generalisations…..unsubstantiated….no evidence….alarm bells ring.

            Always? Really? By who?

          • It’s ubiquitous. Google drugs or drug taking and choice, and see how many people say it is a choice and how many agree with me that it is not to be presented as a choice at all but rather as something that people should never choose, something out of bounds.

          • Goodness….Google is hardly solid evidence. All kinds of opinions on there. Where is there any official view from schools or government or health agencies that these are equal choices Christopher? I can’t see anything of that kind of real evidence.

          • Christopher

            I think that’s nonsense. I have never ever seen drug taking presented as a choice. Nevertheless some people do take drugs, just as some drink alcohol. For some, as with alcohol, there is no harm; for others there is moderate harm; and for a number, as with alcohol, there is severe and debilitating harm.
            Some people, it has been suggested, both Michael Gove and George Osborne, are social cocaine users. Though, now I come to think of it, that doesn’t really help my argument!

          • Christopher

            And I’m not sure why you think suicide is always an ‘inappropriate choice’.

          • When I say’equal choices’ I mean that drug taking and failure to take drugs are both (equally) put in the category ‘choice’ *not* equally recommended. Being both put in the category ‘choice’ sends the message that some will choose one and some the other, so we had better have variety and diversity.

            Penny misunderstood me about ‘inappropriate choice’. I am not going to classify as an inappropriate choice something which I do not classify as any kind of choice.

          • Christopher: still no evidence and all I can say is “Every time an unevidenced statement is made it is like ‘Whoa!’. Is that what you want to believe, or have to believe if your house of cards is not to crash?”

          • Well – if you can find others who support me in saying that drug-taking is not even an option, not even a concept to be introduced to people at all, I would be very pleased. I wish I could find more of them. Most seem to treat as ubiquitous facts of life things that are unnecessary to treat that way, given the multitudes to whom such things would never occur if they were not fed into their minds.

            The minority nature of my perspective is the point. If you’ve evidence that in fact it is not the minority – go for it.

          • Christopher: your claim was that drug taking or non drug taking were presented as equal choices. I have asked you to provide evidence for such a claim. I clarified this by indicating bona fide organisations like schools or WHO, etc. All those bodies are clear about the harmful effects of drugs. NICE, for example make it clear that:
            ‘It is important that adults who have been assessed as vulnerable to drug misuse are provided with clear information and advice on the harms of drugs use and where to get help. This can help to reduce the likelihood of the misuse of drugs, such as preventing drug dependency.‘

            You have provided no evidence for your claim.
            You can’t really be suggesting that we just need not mention drugs to young people and then they won’t ever know about them? That is just worrying if you think that.

            See NICE here for adults:


            And here for young people:


            Similar things available for tobacco and alcohol use prevention

            Alcohol is likely to be far more dangerous to most young people and yet they can just go in a supermarket and buy it, relatively cheaply with few checks and balances.

          • Christopher: I’ve asked for evidence to support your claim that drug taking is presented as an equivalent choice to not taking drugs. You haven’t provided any evidence.

            Have a look at NICE advice and guidance

            For young people here

            And for adults there is also a great deal of helpful advice. Certainly no support for drug taking.

            Alcohol misuse is a much bigger issue, given the ease with which alcohol may be obtained.

            I look forward to your evidence but I doubt you can produce any

          • No. Like Penny says, the mindset is that these things are choices, just wrong ones, and not even always that where relativism prevails in talk of ‘wrong’.

            Whereas I think something different. I think it is a disservice to children to introduce these into normality as though they were part of normality. If you treat them as such, that is what makes them become such.

            By all means mention them. Have nasty-looking gremlins smoking or have an antihero called Nick O Teen opposed by a superhero.

          • Christopher: your failure to engage is astonishing.

            “I think it is a disservice to children to introduce these into normality as though they were part of normality. ”

            EVIDENCE please that this is done anywhere by schools, by governments, bu WHO by the UN..any responsible organisation.

          • Your replies suggest you think I am saying there is support for these things.

            To repeat, my point is quite different from that. Merely to call them ‘choices’ (which is very widespread these days and has been for decades) – even ‘inappropriate choices’ – makes it seem that they are part of the array of options that will be available to children. But children are normally told ‘You choose!’. Hence the confusion inherent in this message.

            We should say – These things are not part of our world at all. Why even think about them? They are part of the world of the baddies and losers. And not include them in the curriculum, unless to make that point. Drug education just puts ideas in minds.

            That is what my point was, not the other.

    • A good friend of mine who has just died, aged 92, when asked why she was a Christian, replied “because I was born in Hampstead”.

      • It reminds me of the following story:
        A lady went round door-to-door evangelising in Pinner. A well-to-do gentlewoman opened the door. ‘Hallo? How can I help?’ ‘Well – I’m travelling round sharing the good news of Jesus with sinners like myself.’ ‘Young lady! There ARE no SINNERS in PINNER.’

        • Having been baptised (as an adult) in Pinner, (nearly 40 years ago) then on PCC etc there, this was an oft repeated story!

      • She did jolly well to end up a Christian in Hampstead. It is a home of bohemians and semi-Islingtonians, among others.

  19. Once again James, you aren’t actually reading what I put. Relativism isn’t ALL about ethics is it? There are other sorts of relativism.
    1. Being a Christian might be the same in India and Stratford. But Becoming a Christian is very different, for the reasons I have given – which are relative to culture.
    2. If the RC church *might* be right, why on earth are you hedging your bets?
    3. There definitely is flexibility and relativity. Medical ethics is one area what that is very true.
    4. I wasn’t talking about ethics at all. I was talking about political relativism.

    • Again you miss the point.
      1. So what if the “way” one “becomes” a Christian is different in India and Stratford? It’s different in Russia and China as well. But it’s the same faith. *How* one comes to believe in Jesus Christ as God Incarnate and Sin-bearer has no bearing on the truth of our faith. I haven’t the foggiest idea what your point is here.
      2. I am not “hedging my bets” on Catholicism. All I said was I am not convinced by their teaching but I cannot be dogmatic that it is wrong because the Bible, as far as I can tell, does not address that question directly. But my understanding might be wrong. After all, official Anglican teaching used to be anti-contraception. I haven’t investigated the historical background to that position.
      3. Medical ethics comes in all brands, many of them not Christian. You are not saying something terribly illuminating. No doubt there is “medical ethics” in China where they abort children up to birth (as they do now in some US states) and harvest organs of condemned prisoners. But this is not Christian ethics. If all you are saying is that medical advances raise new situations, again that is obvious.
      4. The Christian faith has *always* said that politics is a sub-section of ethics, and in this Augustine (in The City of God) is one with Plato and Aristotle. Politics without ethics (or rather with bad ethics) is precisely the problem in every age.

      • Let me give a brief illustration of what I mean. Firing a gun randomly into the woods is not a good thing to do at the best of times, but it becomes positively wrong if you have good reason to think there are people walking around there. With more knowledge comes greater clarity – and less relativism. Same thing works in medicine.

      • 1. If you haven’t the foggiest idea then I don’t think I can do much more. I recall that my theological college principal explained very clearly to us that where we happen to be geographically has a huge influence on the way we understand God. If you are in the inner city facing very real poverty things seem very different from being surrounded by wealth and open countryside. So for those in lockdown, life will seem very different for the single mother with three children on the 15th story of an inner city tower blog than they do to a wealthy double income family in a leafy suburb. It is, as they say, relative.
        2. Sounds totally like you are hedging your bets if you haven’t looked at the issue in any detail.
        3, Of course medical ethics come in various brands. The whole world is not Christian. But even within Christianity there will be some Tough decisions that one makes in some circumstances that one would not make in others. Because the decision is relative to the situation. We don’t live in a perfect world of easy theory.
        4. Politics is greatly to do with culture. Look at the way the culture of newspapers influences political choice.

        • 1. The Christian faith is the same everywhere. I grew up in single parent family with five children at home and the sixth a single mother who came back to live with us with her child.
          2. No, I have read a fair bit about Humanae Vitae and Thomistic understanding of sex. I’ve never “hedged my bets” on this question, I just haven’t been convinced by scholastic arguments, just as I am not convinced by Catholic arguments for Marianism, purgatory and prayer for the dead. I assume you reject thee as well?
          3. That isn’t what we mean by “relativism” in ethics, which is that there are multiple “truths”. Hard choices in medical care simply means the need to make decisions in a fallen world.
          4. Of course politics is deeply related to culture, and culture is intrinsically about ethics: the questions of the goods and ends of human actions and decisions.

          • James: you don’t seem able to grasp the concept that relativism is not only something in connection with ethics. I think until you can reckon with that this discussion can go no further.
            And whilst Christian faith might be the same everywhere, the expression of that faith varies greatly relative to culture.

  20. A comment from Derek Rishmawy:

    “Put another way, the Bible doesn’t merely provide us with a variety of discourse alternatives for communicating in disparate contexts. Instead, it supplies a comprehensive analysis of humanity from God’s perspective. He tells us what we should think of ourselves and our cultures. Which means that guilt-innocence paradigms—I have especially in mind the weighty theological categories of propitiation, justification, imputation, and sanctification—have a place in our discipleship.

    That said, I do believe it’s helpful to contextualize the gospel in evangelism. We should, like Jesus and Paul, look for natural bridges to our audience. We should speak a language they understand. We should meet them on their own turf. We should be clear about the gospel by drawing on cultural sensitivities or even felt needs, whether that is uncleanness or powerlessness or darkness or shame. The gospel speaks to all of these.

    But that doesn’t mean we should co-op the whole of Christian discipleship into the values of a given culture. We must never downplay the law of Christ or the centrality of obedience as his disciple. If a host culture diminishes disobedience or lacks categories for transgression, the solution isn’t to sidestep the issue. It’s to teach believers that to honor the Master means to follow in his steps.”

    Phil Almond

  21. Fatherlessness is correlated with crime very strongly indeed. If fatherlessness is X percent higher in any societal group, how many percent higher should one then expect crime to be in that group?

    The last weeks have in some ways turned back the clock on Martin Luther King’s anti racist programme, in other ways reiterated it. How foolish for anyone to believe there will be much change while fatherless households persist. Both in poor black and poor white communities. Marching won’t change that, but it may help change racism.

  22. The very idea that one can witch-hunt oppressors is backward-looking but well intentioned.

    To witch hunt oppressors on the mere basis of the colour of their skin is still worse.

    But what people are trying to do now is worse than either. It is to witch hunt anyone at all on the mere basis of the colour of their skin, without any interest in whether those people have been involved in doing any oppressing or not.

    Racism in other words.

    Sir Brian Thwaites, Gavin Ashenden reminds us, wanted to endow scholarships for poor white boys, who will regularly be the most disadvantaged and/or low achieving. Most people can endow scholarships for whomever they like. It is their will, after all. But he wasn’t allowed to, by these awful discriminatory people.

    Stu Peters (GA also mentions) dared to speak something not only true but unexceptionable and universally agreed on, in saying ‘All lives matter’. Bang goes his job. Truth? Affirmation and welcome? You’ll get a P45 for that, sonny.

    What people are not realising is the innocent human cost of their fruitless virtue signalling, together with the frighteningly sheep-like tendencies of the authorities.

  23. Best of a good bunch of recent articles is (predictably) the outstanding Anthony Esolen on mercatornet.

    Unwarranted deaths in custody are a horrendous reality. Some deaths in custody are warranted. But even if all were unwarranted, that would still leave the deaths of black individuals at the hands of white in custody as less than half of one percent of the deaths of black men at the hands of black men. So why don’t the latter deserve the same degree of mourning?

    He points out too that black births out of wedlock are now 70-80 percent (whereas in Martin Luther King’s day it was ”no more than” a third). How can people’s lives be made anything other than worse under those circumstances? If people who are marching have no mind to that point, they are not living in reality – they are just imposing their selective narrative.

    We are living in an age when black individuals can have their SAT scores augmented and when interracial marriage has mushroomed. It is substantially less racist than MLK’s day, but all racism is wrong.

    Read Esolen. Always read Esolen.


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