How can we speak up well on controversial and contested issues?

I was recently asked to write a short piece on this question to form part of a discussion on resilience in ministry. This is an expanded version of what I said.

There are two strong tendencies in contemporary culture, and both of these affect conversations that we do and don’t have within the church. The first tendency is to contest everything, and this has made many parts of social media very unpleasant. Unless you limit your social media circles, you are likely to find anything you say challenged—it is highly conflictual. Because men are less ‘agreeable’ (in psychological terms) than women, these debates are often male dominated. 

But the second tendency, often in response to that, is to avoid conflict, to shut down differences of view, and then often to resort to a form of ‘passive aggressive’ disagreement, without enabling conversation between different views. This is very common in church circles, where conflict is avoided and deference valued, which results in differences simmering as resentment.

In this context, how can we speak up well? Here are my five suggestions. 

1. Be courageous

There are many reasons why we prefer to avoid conflict, and there are many additional reasons within church circles. The constant conflict of our culture is exhausting, and church life is not intended to be conflictual, partly because this is not considered to be ‘pastoral’. Don’t we we gather together as the people of God to be welcomed, encouraged, and restored, not to enter into difficult debates? After all, a repeated refrain of the people of God in the New Testament is that they were ‘one in heart and mind’ (see Acts 4.32 and parallel statements).

In addition, in many churches there continues to be a culture of deference. For clergy, there are particular reasons for this; bishops have enormous unspoken power of patronage over clergy, so clergy are often dissuaded from challenge decisions made at higher levels. And there is often a dynamic of deference in the local church too; clergy have powers to make decisions that can be hard to challenge on the one hand, whilst on the other, long-standing church members often exercise an informal power that clergy are reluctant to challenge.

All this means that speaking up on important issues requires a particular kind of moral courage. And speaking up is required! Change in the church tends to come by evolution, not by revolution, and radical new ideas are often introduced step by step, the technique of ‘salami slicing.’ If those ideas need to be challenged, then they need to be challenged early and quickly.  

And they often do. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur talks of the ideas that shape our lives as either symbols—which are true and life-giving—or idols, which lead us astray. ‘The idols must be smashed for the symbols to live!’ For this to happen, we need to find the courage of Gideon (though he struggled! Judges 6.27–28).

2. Be secure

There are many things which inhibit our speaking up, and they often relate to questions of personal security. Externally, these can be real questions about ‘Will this risk my prospects in work or ministry?’ ‘Will this undermine relationships?’ But there are others around internal question of personal security: ‘Will people dislike me if I say this?’ ‘Will it undermine my self esteem?’ 

If we are going to speak up, it is vital that our personal security is rooted in God so that we do not not feel undermined, in ourselves and in our ministry, if people object to the challenges we are raising.

Asking questions or challenging assumptions can often feel risky and lonely. But it is remarkable how often, when one person asks a question or raises a challenge, others then quickly pipe up ‘Oh, I was thinking that too!’ If we can find our security rooted in God which will allow us to do this, we actually can be serving others and enabling them to explore as well.

3. Be objective

Raising difficult questions is made much more difficult if it is personalised. If we are going to raise questions, we need to do so about the issue at stake, and not the person who has expressed the view we are seeking to challenge. ‘Play the ball, and not the person’, as the saying goes. 

This is important in protecting our own self esteem, but also the well being of others. Even on personal and contentious issues—no, especially on personal and contentious issues—our focus needs to be on the issue itself, and not on the people who express it.

This is not about de-personalising issues which affect people personally, not about adopting a cold objectivity which fails to appreciate reality. But it is about looking to establish common ground on which we might be able to agree with our interlocutors, as a way of defusing the emotional power that can dominate discussion.

The saying ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes’ is attributed to Mark Twain—ironically, since it was not coined by him! In the internet age, untruths and half-truths are winged on their way through social media, making it even more important that we can base our discussion on agreed truths.

4. Be gracious

Scripture enjoins us repeatedly to speak gracious, particularly in the context of disagreement. Paul tells us to ‘kill our enemies with kindness’ (so to speak, Rom 12.20, quoting Proverbs 25.21); Peter urges us to offer a rational defence of our views, but to do it with ‘gentleness and respect’.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3.15–16)

The aim should always be to seek to win the person, even if in the end that is not possible, and not merely to win the argument. 

In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul can be seen engaging in sharp disputes with their opponents. But both are also marked by an extraordinary generosity and graciousness. I used to ask students starting out studying Paul’s writings to imagine they were writing a letter, from a distance, to a church they knew in order to address a problem. In almost every case, their letters ended up with something along the lines of ‘You had better sort this out because I am telling you!’ By contrast, Paul’s language is consistently of appeal, not of command.

5. Be persistent and consistent

When we raise difficult questions, people will often respond in ways that avoid and deflect the issue itself. ‘You say that, but why aren’t you concerned about the other?’ ‘People who agree with you on this question also do this other terrible thing!’ ‘We accepted that other change—why can’t we go along with this one?’ And so on. 

If an issue is important, then it is worth persisting with. If it matters now, then it will continue to matter. This requires careful, consistent, and persistent articulation of our case. And it is worth learning from these kind of deflection arguments. I have found that facing such challenges helps me refine my case and the way I express it. Why does this issue matter? At heart, what is the real issue? If we can get to that, then we can grow in our courage and confidence as we call people to the truth. 

If we don’t speak up, then others will, and many will be influenced by those with the loudest voices, rather than those speaking the truth or saying what needs to be heard. So we need to be courageous, be secure, be objective, be gracious, and be persistent and consistent in holding out the truth in a confused world.

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92 thoughts on “How can we speak up well on controversial and contested issues?”

  1. Ian
    “persistent and consistent”
    I have tried to be persistent and consistent in challenging your view about original sin and Article 9. When are you going to engage with me please?

    Phil Almond

  2. Thank you for this, Ian.

    In whichever capacity we work or minister, it’s always helpful to have a version of Sgt Wilson of ‘Dad’s Army’ fame, whom you can trust when he utters those immortal words, ‘Is that wise, Capt. Mainwaring?’

    That all said, Ian, when it comes to disagreements of principle in church life, is there, and if so, what is the point at which it is theologically and pastorally ‘wise’ (i.e., right) not to share communion with a person/group with whom there is disagreement?

    • I don’t see why I should deny myself Communion just because someone with whom I am in serious theological disagreement is prepared to take it. The question is really who should be denied Communion; and whether I would with to take it from someone gravely unsuitable to be in church leadership.

    • I stopped taking communion when I learned that the vicar was happy to bless same sex couples… she was also hoping to marry same sex couples as soon as she was allowed ( she told us).
      I sat quietly during communion for a couple of months. Then I felt challenged by God to start to THANK Him for where we live; for the church; for the vicar. I did this for a week… as an act of obedience. That Sunday, the sermon was pretty helpful and I was feeling quite positive. Then I remembered that Jesus supped with ALL His disciples… if He could break bread in the last supper with Judas, I thought it seemed OK for me to take communion. So I did. At the end of the service, our vicar announced that she was taking early retirement on health grounds. Interesting. No one had foreseen that.

      • One Sunday in the 1990s I went into the service in the village parish church where I then worshipped, and felt the atmosphere absolutely crackling. I had enver felt anything like that in there and I almost asked people “What’s going on?”, but they seemed to be unaware and behaving exactly like a normal Sunday. At the end of the service, the vicar – the one who had okayed a fortune teller at the annual church fete (despite my objections) – announced that he was moving on.

          • Replying also to Anton; thank you both for taking the trouble to add your comments.

            I guess, for those of us who are CofE, we always have the ‘fall-back’ of Article XXVI: Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament, but let’s not step into the minefield of CDM.

          • Article XXVI dates back to the Donatist controversy, and although I agree with the assertion worded in this Article I tend to be supportive of the Donatists in rejecting unsuitable church leaders.

  3. any tips / counsell about speaking graciously to revisionist bishops who are savaging the flocks entrusted to them? I have seen the ruin of liberalism in some of the mainline churches in S.E.Asia and it makes me angry to find these UK ‘shepherds and their specious pleas for love.

  4. The term ‘self esteem’ appears in two places (‘Will it undermine my self esteem?’ and ‘This is important in protecting our own self esteem’).

    Perhaps I was naive, but I always thought that Christians weren’t supposed to have any self esteem. If my starting point is that I am a sinner, my whole nature steeped in sin to such an extent that the crucifixion was necessary to deal with my sin, then it is very difficult to see where self esteem actually comes into play.

    As Christians, we esteem what Christ has done for us in the crucifixion and resurrection and we attribute any good in our innermost being to Him alone. There is no place for self esteem in Christianity; self esteem and Christianity are contradictory terms.

    This is the perspective – and the starting point – from which we (as Christians) stand up for Him, His name, His kingdom, that His will be done.

    • It’s a bit more complex, I think. Christians are not meant to think of themselves as sinners but as holy ones (saints). We are saints who sin. But there is no room for pride, of course.

    • “Love your neighbour as yourself” – NOT “Love your neighbour and hate yourself”. There is a proper self-love and self-esteem, or that commandment doesn’t make sense. Agreed, mind, that the self-love of a Christian will be somewhat different to that which is common in the world!

      • Stephen – be careful. You won’t find a single Christian who hates what God has done with their lives and the transformation that God has wrought in the heart and mind (be ye renewed by the transforming of your minds).

        ‘Self-esteem’, though, is something completely different and is connected with the selfish, self-centred approach that modern psychology advocates for ensuring that an individual is happy in his nappy.

        While this may look like a digression, it is deeply on-topic, since a correct understanding of this necessarily impacts very heavily on how one approaches contested and controversial issues and how one speaks up about them.

        The term self-esteem immediately suggests a concentration on self – and hence taking the eye off the ball. For Christians (those of us who are in Him, who have passed from death to life and are in the number of the Saviour’s family), the Lord’s prayer gives the correct perspective (hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven) whereby we’re concentrated on God, his name, his kingdom, his will – and anything connected with us is entirely secondary to this.

        Whenever you see the term ‘self esteem’, you should understand that there is an agenda, driven by secular modern psychology, which isn’t a million miles from the same agenda that gets discussed in many threads here.

        • …. and if one’s immediate reaction to the idea that ‘self esteem’ is something that doesn’t apply to Christians is ‘oh if you don’t have self esteem then you must hate yourself’ – both these categories are self-obsession (either there is self-esteem or else there is self-loathing). Self-obsession (either self-esteem or else self-loathing) simply shouldn’t enter into it – our concern is his name, his kingdom, his will.

          • Thanks Jock – I think or at least hope that I was being careful, aiming to balance precisely the possible reaction of self-loathing that you mention in this second response. One thing I had in mind was a frequent testimony in which converts say that after faith they were able to love themselves in a wholesome way where as sinners, despite the self-centredness of sin, they found it difficult to love what they were.

          • I’ve just acquired on my Kindle the latest book from Helen Paynter who is the/a lead of the Centre for the Study of the Bible and Violence based at Bristol Baptist College. The book is “Blessed are the Peacemakers” and one of the first points in the discussion of violence is the work of an American studying violent criminals who says pretty exactly that one of the major problems of such criminals is a lack of healthy self-love, and a motivation from shame at their inadequacies. Much the kind of point I tried to make, and not about ‘self-obsession’.

        • I used to think something like this, but I don’t anymore. It makes no practical sense at all, and only leads to confusion. There is a world of difference between the conviction of sin leading to repentance and life, and pathological self hatred, which leads to a host of problems which make it impossible to lead anything resembling a healthy Christian life. Christ told us to deny the self, not obliterate it.

        • Hi Jock, I think like many areas of life there’s a balance to be had. On the one hand I am a sinful & selfish individual who needs a saviour. I know how ‘base’ I can be. On the other I am worth so much that the Creator of the universe sacrificed Himself for me.

          But I think we have worthiness not just because of Jesus’ sacrifice, but because all humans are made in the image of God. We therefore have an intrinsic worth simply because we exist.

          That’s my tuppence worth anyway.

          • PC1 – the point here is – what is uppermost in your mind. Is it self, or is it God? Self-esteem and self-hatred (or self-loathing) are two cheeks of the same bum, which is the bum of self-obsession. When you have passed from death to life, your mind-set is supposed to be God-ward, the problem of self is supposed to have been solved.

            This is where (in my opinion) John Duncan goes wrong – where he seems to see a binary world where people are self-centred and so concentrated on self that there is a binary choice between self-esteem and self-hatred, which is exactly the same as the self-centred world of Stephen Langton – and I think they’ve both missed something absolutely vital about what salvation actually entails.

          • I’m replying to Jock’s February 2nd comment, which does not have a reply button.

            This process that you commend of ignoring the self and focusing entirely on Christ sounds highly spiritual, but in practice is often pastorally disastrous. You quote Romans 12:2 in your first post; I offer you Romans 12:3 which says “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” There is a clear injunction here to focus on self, but to think clearly; not to be “puffed up” , inflated in our ideas about ourself as a redeemed child of God; nor indeed, to be self-deprecating, caught up in self-loathing, whether because of sin or anything else, which too many Christians are. We are rather instructed to think of ourselves carefully, with sober judgment. We are to know Christ, but also to know ourselves. Self-esteem is not about thinking highly of ourselves, but about esteeming ourselves rightly.

          • Stephen Langton, John Duncan – yes, but we’re talking about two different things. ‘Self esteem’ in modern secular parlance has a particular meaning.

            Yes – as Christians, we are called upon to be in the Lord’s service, to have a shrewd assessment of ourselves as Paul indicates in Romans 12, to assess where do we not have talent and where we do have talent, how to use these talents in His service – and, crucially, understanding when there are others better endowed and supporting them instead of pushing ourselves forward.

            For example – related to the next thread – not everybody can preach. If you can’t preach, it’s best to reach this understanding sooner (rather than later) and to support someone who can. If you find (for example) that you can’t keep the attention, even of sound Christians, for more than 10 minutes when you try preaching, then it really is time to pack it in and support someone who can.

            This has nothing to do with modern psychological use of the term, where low self esteem is a matter of psychological anguish. As a Christian, you don’t suffer psychological anguish if you discover that you can’t preach – and instead you support those who can. In the Lord’s service, you are doing what is best for Him – our joy comes from seeing what is best for His kingdom.

  5. The truth matters. As someone who is the child of one of those rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton, I find it hard to listen to those within the Church who pontificate about the Middle East, glibly referring to the victims of another genocidal massacre as perpetrators of genocide. I want to ask whether they have ever visited the land they often call the Holy Land (because they shun the name of Israel) or whether they know anybody who lives in that land.

    Surely there comes a point when we must start to use some facts to point out that their rants are not actually true? The current text for the Women’s World Day of Prayer (WWDP) on 1 March is a case in point. How many will use the material unaltered, and thus endorse the antisemitism contained in that material?

    After all, how can God’s fulfilment of His promise to return His people to His land ever be called a “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” by those who claim to be Christians (as it is called in the WWDP material not once, but at least three times) ?

    We have a real opportunity, especially those whose church buildings will be used to host such services, to speak up and insist that any prayers for those living in the Middle East must include prayers for all sides of the conflict.

    I do not find it easy to pray for the murderers of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad or their supporters within UNRWA, but that is what Jesus tells me I must do (Matthew 5:43-48) and so, with His help, I try to do so. I therefore call on those who describe Israelis (by which they usually mean Jews, despite two million Arabs choosing to live in Israel rather than any of more than twenty Arab states) as “occupiers” or “oppressors” to pray for these Israelis whom they consider to be their enemies.

    • Jonathan Cook has a balanced and informed view of the Middle East – for example here.

      I find the following paragraph particularly useful:

      ‘Israel raised its citizens to believe that Jews must join the racist, oppressor nations, adopting a “might makes right” approach to neighbouring states. A self-declared Jewish state sees the region as a zero-sum battleground in which domination and brutality win the day.’

    • Watching One Life recently which was a very good film, I found it hard not to think that if Nicholas Winton was still alive he would be doing the same thing for the children (still) living in Gaza at this time.

      It’s a terrible situation for both sides.

      PS I am not sure what happened in 1948 was a fulfilment of a promise. But Im not an OT expert. But holding such a view inevitably colours one’s perspective.

  6. Thanks for these insights, Ian. This is a really important area and we should be able to show an excellent way to disagree to our wider society and even in our disagreement seek to build each other up.
    I don’t think we have the evidence of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels to be as certain as you suggest about his style of disagreement. We don’t, for example, have many details of his tone of voice gestures or facial responses, all of which contribute hugely to effective disagreement. And disagreement is expressed today in very different ways in different cultures and languages. But he was clearly extraordinarily courageous in the way he challenged people, including the disciples.
    Three additional points. 1. I always find it helpful in disagreements to remember that I might be wrong or at least that I might benefit from the wisdom of those I’m disagreeing with. ‘The wisdom is in the group as well as in my head.’ I hope others do me the same courtesy and I assume that they may change their mind in my direction.
    2. But change is often very,very difficult. Partly because my friendship group may depend on holding a particular view. Identities can be built by belonging to a group which has a particular view and which opposes other groups. And none of us likes to stand out. Brexit was a great example of this nationally. We like to live in echo chambers that confirm our views.
    3. I don’t always agree that ‘if it matters now, then it will continue to matter.’ That may lead us to elevate our current concerns when they may need to be dialled down. Sometimes an issue will continue to matter, sometimes not. And at the time it may be impossible to know which it is. E.g. the Baptist church doesn’t continue to tear itself apart over the Downgrade Controversy as it did at the time of Spurgeon, nor does the C of E over clergy wearing stole or scarf, chasubles or surplice. Things move on. Live and apparently fundamental issues in one era may come to be minor ones 50 or 100 years later. Or they may indeed remain fundamental. We often just don’t know.
    Thanks again for raising this topic.

    • Tim

      I agree on your point 3, but I don’t think these rifts always go away entirely. I know plenty of people who are very upset that large parts of the CofE don’t wear vestments. They aren’t ready to walk over it, but it will come up when they are next pushed. A great example is the rifts over Pope Francis. When it boils down to it, their core problem isn’t that theyd prefer Benedict had stayed or the Popes support for immigrants, but that the RCC did away with the Latin mass in 1962!! It was never truly dealt with, it was just parked until the next time its supporters were pushed on something

      Others will probably disagree with me, but I see a similar thing in the Anglican communion. Most of the communion and most of the CofE were never happy with (all of) Lambeth 1.10 and much of the debate now about same sex couples is actually about disagreements over that document. Same sex blessings are just the push that unparked the grievances

      • Vestments? As an ordained Anglican minister since 1977 I’ve never worn vestments.
        As needed it’s Surplice, Cassock and Preaching Scarf. All properly CofE and canonical.

          • Not the slightest offense taken. It was to highlight the use of words (esp in the CofE) when the meanings/history get turned on their heads. Points of conflict over misunderstandings… demands that can even be (as if!) not historically Anglican.

            I rarely wear robes and would happily see them disappear…

        • Yes, I agree, and that was part of my point. There have been times when such things really did cause fierce divisions and lead to splits in the church, even though now we may wonder why it got that far. What is absolutely central in one era can be seen in a very different light sometimes only a decade or two later, but it’s often very difficult to know at the time what is of permanent importance and what isn’t .

        • PC1

          I think (sorry if I say this wrongly) its because they see the symbols of communion as a really really important part of Christian witness and practice, not just thinking the right theology but showing it – like the difference between reading a book about joy and performing a dance about joy. Does that make sense?

          I’ve also come across many Anglicans who think its not communion unless the wine is alcoholic and are very unhappy if grape juice is used instead. This is just an extension of that thinking

        • Anyway my point is an observation that denominations often consider disagreement resolved, when actually it hasn’t been at all

  7. Maybe this comes under “be objective”, but I think you also need to find out the facts surrounding the matter from a trustworthy source (not a random person on youtube and be careful even of media like the BBC). So many of our current controversial issues rely on facts and alternative facts.

    My professional work is connected to climate science. I’ve seen several preachers talking boldly about climate change when they clearly haven’t done any research at all and I think there is a tendency for church leaders to feel pressure to be experts on everything or to try to make scripture an expert on everything. Its better to be informed or even to say ” I don’t know” than to give inaccurate information with the authority of the church

    • Absolutely, it is awful that people misuse pulpits in circumstances where they know that others have researched things far more and they themselves have not yet availed themselves of that research.

      • Hi Christopher and Peter, I agree that there isn’t excuse for laziness, and that ‘I don’t know’ is better than confident assertions where they are not warranted. But it seems you are suggesting deferring to experts. I am not sure how to apply that these days. In what areas? How does one decide when not to defer? Could you help me please?

        In such a polarised environment where ‘experts’ are routinely mouthpieces of others or who have ideological axes to grind, how can a vicar be expected to know which research to trust? How can any of us?

        E.g. The consensus view seems to be that all Christians are hateful bigots who do violence by insisting on objective truth. I wouldn’t appreciate my vicar availing themselves of that research. Maybe it’s easier in the hard sciences (is climate change a hard science? It seems very contested) but it seems much less clear elsewhere. And the preaching I sit under doesn’t regularly have lots of need for the hard sciences.

        • Luke

          I can understand why you might think otherwise, but Climate science isn’t contested. I chose it as an example because its something we have very clear information on and thats easily accessible, but is often ignored. There’s very good scientific consensus and firm records. You will struggle to find any climate scientist anywhere in the world who will say that pollution is not causing the climate to change.

          We live in an age when its really easy to access expert information. How do you determine who is an expert? I’d say look at qualifications and what they do for a job. If someone works as a Climate Scientist and has a PhD in Atmospheric Physics then they are more likely to be knowledgeable than someone who dropped out of school, but has a YouTube channel!

          There are, of course, some areas of disagreement between experts and then maybe the vicar should mention both sides, but what i am getting at is not to speak as if you are an authority on a topic, when you are not.

          • Are you suggesting that carbon dioxide, without which green plants would die and then we would starve, is a pollutant?

            What laymen can do when experts disagree – as they do over climate change – is look to physicists who work in other fields but who have taken a serious interest in the controversy, because these are people able to educate themselves to the research level with some effort, yet who have not been subject to any groupthink within climate science itself.

            Luke might be interested in Steven Koonin’s book Unsettled.

          • Peter – I understand why you say Climate Science isn’t contested, but this is very much a vague shorthand. The broad lines are not contested, but in any very detailed area of knowledge details are contested.

          • Anton

            When you don’t want to believe the sixteen cardiologists telling you that your diet is killing you, just find a dentist who is saying the opposite because they are able to educate themselves very quickly on the biology of the human heart

          • Christopher

            I’d say there’s uncertainty in some things we would like to be certain about, but we can be certain that human activity is causing the mean temperature to rise and is leading to more extreme weather in most parts of the world

          • ‘I can understand why you might think otherwise, but Climate science isn’t contested.’

            ‘Climate science’ in terms of the accuracy of past and present measurements and particularly the prediction (modelling) of what may happen in the future must necessarily be contested if it is to follow the scientific method with integrity. That’s not to say that there is no such thing as truth of what is happening and will happen, but we must surely accept that we could be mistaken, for example, about the relevance of even the smallest variables in what is a vastly complex summation of interacting effects. And what about the unknown variables?

            It’s hardly controversial any more to note that much the same problem has recently been revealed in the medical world. In both worlds certainty and top down prescription (and proscription) has become far too much the product of political power which may not be challenged rather than the product of open minds which need fear no sanction when they speak.

            We lay people may not be well placed to take part in the specifics of scientific debate but we can observe when the same tension between hierarchical power and individual freedom which characterises our political processes appears to be operating in the scientific world. Of course we only have our own observation and instincts and intelligence to go by but, unless every single player in the online debate is an ignorant charlatan, there is good cause to make us wary about accepting what the ‘experts’ tell us without question.

          • Don

            I think at this stage, if you are a non climate scientist who doesn’t believe pollution is driving climate change then you either have done no reading on the subject (which is totally OK, unless you are giving a sermon or talk on it) or are choosing not to believe it! I think one thing that might help people is to really tangibly understand that computing, scientific understanding and even things like digitizing weather records has improved in leaps and bounds since the 1970s.

            I don’t think there’s much evidence that (covid) vaccines don’t work. They certainly worked for me!

          • How to respond to a warming climate isn’t science though. It’s politics.

            Also an awful lot of green lobbyists who bang the drum of ‘science’ when talking about climate change are fully in the anti-science camp when it comes to talking about plastic (a wonder material) or nuclear power or genetically modified crops.

        • Climate change is only contested by a few. Simple physics shows that it’s happening (at least the overall effect). Plus chemistry and biology. Sadly it seems a significant number within the Christian community, perhaps especially in the US, dont want to believe mankind could be affecting this earth in such a bad way. Odd, given that the same are quite happy to believe the whole of mankind were doomed just from eating an apple.

        • Luke, this consensus view is held by media etc not by academics. They have the platform to spread their view of things, but as you’ll be aware they are very far from being those who have done a lot of research. I almost keel over when I hear a TV or radio commentator citing a research paper by name. They are self important and full of chatter but have not even got to the most basic stage of knowing what research has been done by whom and what that research points to.

          • Christopher

            Actually its the other way round!

            There is scientific consensus, but the media doesn’t always report it like that, probably because a lot of politicians pretend not to understand climate change

          • Peter, and others,

            *Scientists* don’t understand climate change, let alone politicians – who nowadays decide which side of the argument to listen to according to their politics, a fact that we both might regret. And argument among scientists there is, despite your assurances.

            For about a hundred years we have known enough about the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecule and about the planet-atmosphere-sun system to calculate how much CO2 would cause how much warming on a dry planet. Trouble is, the earth is a wet planet, and warming due to CO2 causes increased evaporation of water from sea and soil, and water vapour is itself a greenhouse gas. So you get more warming on a wet planet like ours for a given amount of CO2 than on a dry planet. The question is how much extra warming this causes, and I contend for a variety of scientific reasons, mostly related to the complexities of cloud, that the error bars are so large that the answers are little better than guesswork and the IPCC chooses the top end. I also contend that the IPCC computer models take only CO2 and H2O into account and do not consider other possible influences such as solar variation (we have only been able to measure solar output *above* the atmosphere, where the answer is accurate, for 40 years), and cosmic ray variability (Svensmark’s theory). If the model leaves out relevant causative factors then no amount of estimation of the parameters of the model, based on the data, is going to give you an accurate answer and hencde accurate future predictions. And that is before all of the spurious corrections that have been made to the raw temperature data, eg over-correcting for Urban Heat Island effects.

            For several reasons we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Those reasons include ultimately running out, reducing our dependence on unstable and culturally hostile oil-rich regimes, and reaching the drowsiness threshold for atmospheric CO2. But the present panic is vastly overdone and a heartless trick perpetrated on the young, who are hugely stressed by claims that they have no future or must freeze in winter. It’s not true.

          • An interesting example of how a brilliant scientist can be wrong outside of his area of expertise is Linus Pauling, who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry. He was convinced that high doses of vitamin C can prevent or cure the common cold. He put his money into a research center which had the purpose of verifying this. A few years back I was watching a TV program in which the then director of the Linus Pauling institute admitted that they had basically failed to find anything other than that high doses of vitamin C can help reduce the time of the symptoms.

            Should you spot some conspiracy by ‘big pharma’ to suppress the knowledge of the wonderful effects of vitamin C, remember that they don’t have any effective pharmaceutical products either.

            Talk of “scientits disagree” is unhelpful. For climate change we must first go to climate scientists – those who have been studying this for years. Perhaps the most important observation one can make is that the climate models constructed over the last 50 years, have been pretty good at matching what has actually followed, see for example:


            Then there are the clear signs of significant changes which are serious. For example, the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas is not good. Loss of the glaciers would mean that during the dry season the very large number of people who current get their water from the glaciers’ meltwater would lose that.

            A sea-level rise of 1m would be disasterous for Bangladesh, where flooding is already getting worse and worse.

            There are places in the tropics which are becoming uninhabitable with a temperature of 35C and 95% humidity – you overheat because you cannot sweat to keep cool.

            Even in Britain, there are noticable effects. One is that Spring is coming earlier. The problem with this is that different species react in different ways and speeds to the change. So, the symbiosis which has birds raising young when there are the insects around to feed them is being disrupted.

            The pressure from non-scientific areas, e.g. industry, politics, would largely be to oppose reacting to climate change. What is required is very disruptive (particularly to the profits of oil companies), and people do not like that – they love their cars. So, that politicians etc. have mostly come round to seeing the problem (perhaps 30 years too late) is actually testimony to the weight of evidence.

          • Dear David W,

            At the research frontier in any area of science there are competing schools of thought. That is as it should be. Eventually enough evidence comes in to show one of them is correct and the others wrong. How this happens is an interesting question in the sociology of science, and is where extra-scientific factors may accelerate or retard the process.

            In summer 1988, US funding for climate science rose an unprecedented 15-fold in 6 years after an alarmist briefing to Congress at which one speaker (Jim Hansen of NASA) had jinxed the air conditioning. Politicians believed what scientists told them, and science faculties and job applicants understood that recruitment was in response to the alarm. They knew what research proposals would (and would not) win grants. Other nations followed. At that time, no warming effect other than greenhouse gases was known (apart from a short-term solar cycle and the earth’s orbit, both easy to account for). So scientists included only CO2 in their computer models. More effort then went into matching the models to the data, doubling down on CO2 as the principal driver of global climate change. Today it is time to reconsider solar variability and cosmic ray variability as factors. If you choose the parameters in a CO2-only model to fit the data then you will always get a good fit; the question is then whether that model can predict the future reliably.

            Young researchers are taught the CO2 model, and they either commit to it or leave at junior level. Many journal editors reject papers outside this paradigm. The people who can best see what’s going on are physicists working in other fields – as physicists they are able to educate themselves to read the technical climate literature, but they haven’t been indoctrinated into the CO2-only model. (I am one such. Of course we get told “you’re not a climate scientist, so your opinion isn’t worth much.”)

            So claims of ‘scientific consensus’ prove nothing. In fact more than 440 ‘sceptical’ papers were published in 2019 alone:


            Sceptics of dangerous global warming due to CO2 output from human activities include Ivar Giaever, 1973 Nobel prizewinner in physics; John Clauser, 2022 Nobel prizewinner in physics; Richard Lindzen (emeritus prof of meteorology at MIT); Will Happer (professor emeritus of physics, Princeton; expert on greenhouse gas molecules, performed atmospheric layer radiation calculations); Steven Koonin (Caltech physics prof, now at NYU; former adviser to US National Science Foundation & Department of Energy).

            Here is from a UK Institute of Physics memorandum of February 2010 to a Commons Select Committee looking into the leaked ‘Climategate’ emails between senior climate scientists:

            worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field… The CRU e-mails… provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law. The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital… …[Pre-thermometer] temperature reconstructions from measurements of ‘proxies’, for example, tree-rings… are the basis for the conclusion that 20th century warming is unprecedented… Different choices, omissions or statistical processes may lead to different conclusions. This possibility was evidently the reason behind some of the (rejected) requests for further information. The e-mails reveal doubts as to the reliability of some of the reconstructions and raise questions as to the way in which they have been represented; for example, the apparent suppression, in graphics widely used by the IPCC, of proxy results for recent decades that do not agree with contemporary instrumental temperature measurements.

            If you (and Ian?) are interested, I am happy to give a couple of further paragraphs explaining how the temperature data are improperly doctored and how claims of record high temperatures are misleading. Meanwhile, here are three examples. Supposedly Britain first saw a temperature of at least 100°F in summer 2003, but this temperature was recorded on 9th August 1911 at RGO Greenwich. Also, the record British temperature at RAF Coninsgsby on July 19th 2022 occurred in a 5-minute peak at around the time that several Typhoon jets were active on the runway. Finally, a statistical technique called percentile matching) has swapped the record for most consecutive days with a temp >100°F from 1923/4, at Marble Bar in Australia, to 2001, at Death Valley, CA. So the later date – with more CO2 – now wrongly appears hotter.

            The IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report (2007) claimed that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, and the IPCC’s (scandal ridden) chairman at the time had to withdraw the claim.

          • Anton

            Both weather and climate models include moisture.

            How do you account for the unnaturally rapid warming that we have observed records of starting in the 1850s?

            The increased greenhouse gases explain it perfectly. I’ve never seen another explanation.

          • Peter,

            We have been emerging from the ‘little ice age’ during which the Thames regularly froze over for a couple of centuries now. Variations of that magnitude have taken place many times in the pre-industrial era, eg the Roman warm period, the mediaeval warm period (which the IPCC tries to claim was local to Europe, but the evidence is against them). Whatever caused these fluctuations is still at work.

            So, if you haven’t seen any other explanation than CO2 from the Industrial Revolution, you haven’t looked very hard. We all tend to stop when we find evidence that backs up our beliefs and not look for evidence to the contrary – I accept that – but when such evidence is pointed out, it is the responsibility of a scientist to consider it.

          • Anton

            The CO2 model (do you mean the greenhouse effect) isn’t A model or theory. Its scientific fact! Its why the heat from the sun doesn’t immediately escape to space and we all freeze to death.

          • Peter,

            Do you actually read my posts? Earlier on this thread I explained that the greenhouse effect due to CO2 certainly exists, and is enhanced by water vapour to an extent that is not accurately known (and, I contend, exaggerated by the IPCC). For you to write as if I deny the greenhouse effect of CO2 should embarrass you!

            It is a simple calculation using Stefan’s law of radiation, the angular diameter of the sun as seen from the earth, and the temperature of the sun’s surface (plus the fact that the sun is optically thick), to calculate the average temperature of the earth’s surface due to solar radiation. The answer is about 250K or -23C, and the greenhouse effect due to various gases – of which water vapour (not CO2) is the major contributor – boosts this by about 30C. You seem to write as if you believe the earth would be at a temperature of absolute zero if not for the greenhouse effect, which is nonsense. The greenhouse effect is responsible for about a 10% enhancement of the mean temperature on earth; the other 90% is due to the sun. To what standard do you have scientific training?

          • Anton

            If you accept the greenhouse effect than that is what climate change is. Or are you claiming there isn’t unnatural levels of co2 and other pollutants in our atmosphere due to human activity? Or are you claiming the increase in co2 doesn’t increase the effect?

            The warming we have seen over the last 100-150 years is at a greater rate than is natural. And we have good proxies for temperature before direct observation from ice cores.

          • Maybe we could survive just at temperatures 30 degrees lower than they currently are, but we wouldn’t be able to grow any food and it would be a miserable and short existence!

          • Yes Peter, I doubt that our ancestors would have got through the Ice Ages without the greenhouse effect.

            The global climate changes for many reasons, not all of which are known. CO2 is one of them and I agree that it is increasing in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. The magnitude of the temperature increase due to this increase in CO2 is what I hold in question. I have already explained this in previous posts on this thread.

          • Anton

            My point is that preachers shouldn’t be attempting to be authorities on issues that they actually have not researched

        • I believe my point has been well made by the ensuing thread that has entirely taken over this discussion. I pity the poor vicar who has to wade through that before being allowed an opinion! deferring to experts is not so straightforward as the experts make it out to be.

          • Luke

            They dont. They can just go read some basic information on the Met Office website…or not talk about climate change in their sermon

          • Peter, you mention the Met Office. This executive agency of government is a key partner in the UK Climate Resilience program, which sets out Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs) due to climate change.

            In the UK’s SSP2 the NHS gets privatised. SSP3 sees the UK break up and a surge in “right-wing populism”; the police and justice system cease to exist, militias rise to power, and armed conflict, terrorism and riots occur. People resort to subsistence farming.


            (Just change SSP3 to SSP* where * represents the apppropriate number in this web address). In SSP4, “society is more divided than ever… to keep the general population in line, governments introduce military conscription”. In contrast, in SSP1 – a low-CO2 low-temperature-rise scenario – “the UK re-enters a progressive and expanded European Union”.

            Clearly the Met Office is more at home with leftist political speculation than with climate prediction.

  8. To build a doctrine or idea or praxis, on one single thought or question is not a safe way.
    The Apostles considered the “Whole Counsel of God”

    For example Jesus and the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13).
    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to enter
    Jesus cares for people. He desires for them to know Him and to enter into His kingdom (John 10:10,). The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

    After rebuking the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus lamented over rebellious Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37–39).
    Clearly, His heart is for people to find life in Him.
    It stands to reason, then, that He would have harsh words for those who prevented people from finding salvation.
    The teachers of the Law and Pharisees were not truly seeking after God, though they acted as if they were. Their religion was empty, and it was preventing others from following the Messiah.

    Or take Paul in Galatians ch2
    2:3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
    2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
    2:5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. Verses 6-8 shows his vindication.

    To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
    It was for the Church’s sake that he thus contended, not for his own opinion.

    As some have commented I also withstood a minister who suddenly resigned and gave up on pastoral ministry.
    Alas there are many who are passing clouds that “hold no water”. They have no substance, no solid ground.
    They are peddlers of vain philosophy and psychology.

    God Hates sin vehemently for the simple cause that sin deceives, it robs, it chokes and it kills. Jesus came to give Life, and that in wonderful abundance.
    That many do not enjoy such fulness is often down to insipid, lazy teaching, not having This Life.

  9. Disputes and Climate Change?
    That everyone has an opinion, hence polarization, is fact;
    but few have solutions, fact.
    Fact, there will be tribulation.
    Tribulation = distress = anxiety -anguish -asperity – joylessness.
    The actual solution is well documented Isaiah 51:6 – Isaiah 34:4
    How then should we think and act?
    2 Peter 3:10-12 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness
    Luke 21:9-10 But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, [great earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: ]
    be not Terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
    John 16:33 ESV
    “ I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

    • As I’ve said in two previous posts on this thread, the best people to read on climate physics are physicists (who when they take the trouble can comprehend the primary research literature) who are not themselves climate physicists (since these need not be of the school that dominates a contentious field). The source you site, PC1, gives no verifiable source for the words reported to be from Clauser and is written as if cloud is fullly understood in relation to climate. It’s not. “We don’t understand cloud feedbacks. We don’t understand air-sea interactions. We don’t understand aerosol indirect effects. The list is long” – Prof. Richard Somerville, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (12th March 2004); email made public.

      What’s the difficulty? As solar radiation heats the sea surface, evaporating water, the water vapour takes that energy with it (‘latent heat’, felt in cooling sprays for sports injuries). This damp air cools as it rises, releasing the energy as heat if it reaches >100% relative humidity and condenses into cloud. Clouds absorb, or reflect from their white tops, a lot of solar radiation (you feel colder when a cloud moves across the sun). Cloud is visible (i.e. opaque at wavelengths of visible light) whereas water vapour is invisible. Cloud also traps heat beneath it (cloudless nights are colder). Cloud may evaporate or rain (or snow – reflective), may be water droplets or ice, and may be high or low – all make a difference. And thunderstorms are climatically significant but to small to be modeled by present pixelation. Cloud is complex – too complex to be incorporated accurately in present climate models.

      • To provide a context, here is Prof Somerville’s words in full:

        “I also think people need to come to understand that the scientific uncertainties work both ways. We don’t understand cloud feedbacks. We don’t understand air-sea interactions. We don’t understand aerosol indirect effects. The list is long. Singer will say that uncertainties like these mean models lack veracity and can safely be ignored. What seems highly unlikely to me is that each of these uncertainties is going to make the climate system more robust against change. It is just as likely a priori that a poorly understood bit of physics might be a positive as a negative feedback. Meanwhile, the climate system overall is in fact behaving in a manner consistent with the GCM (Global Climate Model) predictions. I have often wondered how our medical colleagues manage to escape the trap of having their entire science dismissed because there are uncured diseases and other remaining uncertainties. Maybe we can learn from the physicians.”

        Wise words.

        Somerville is an expert in the physics of clouds. I would assume the scientific understanding has increased over the 20 years since that quote. Prof Somerville remains confident that climate change is real. He recommends the website I linked above.

        • It seems to me that these multiple scientific uncertainties have somehow been transformed into a singular certainty of consensus. The comparison to a human body, is a false one. As no doubt the research methodologies will differ.
          The models of management of change of behaviour of humans within organisations differ, how much more so for weather and climate.
          Humans want to be in control over the whole of life, material existence, of their own destiny, which is not the same as having been delegated, by grant, good stewardship by our Creator, despoiled by consumption and competition and greed, base human nature, disguised in godless grandiose philosophies, including the philosophy of saviour-science.

        • I wouldn’t be too sure that we understand the effect of cloud better since that email was written. A pause in global warming was observed in real time between 1998 and 2012 (even though China and India were opening many coal-fired power stations). IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth wrote in an email of 12th October 2009 that “We can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment”. Some ninety papers were written about the pause at the time it was happening. But that same pause cannot be seen if you look today at the temperature data for 1998 – 2012. The data have been changed!

          • Well Anton, that is an era and
            area of uncertainly that has been scientifically removed, in the name of scientific certainty of consensus, it seems. It is so far from disinterested science as to be a cohort of philosophical group-think and self-serving dishonesty.
            As more and more evidence emerges of the Post Office prosecutions and perversion of the course of justice by none -disclosure of known evidence that would undermine their case, there is, rightly, outrage.
            Are there any parallels with climate change?

      • I am very grateful indeed for this explanation as a succinct summary of aspects where we are uncertain as yet — and the reasons why. The ability to express graduations going from pure conjecture through to certainty seems to be lost these days. I think in GCSE Physics they must do some sort of lab demonstration of the greenhouse effect, and then tell the kids to go home and berate their parents in tones of shrill, virtuous certitude. I have had “climate change” kidsplained to me on a couple of occasions, rounded off by being told I was “stupid” for expressing reservations about the quality of the physical intuition that would equate a lab experiment to our planet . I would not have dared to speak to my father like that — and not just because much of his research had a bearing on the subject though he wisely stayed out of it!

      • Anton

        And also…the vast majority of quantum physicists accept that our pollution is driving climate change! The only reason that this mans name is mentioned in relation to climate science is that there’s such good consensus amongst climate scientists. This was my point coming into this – when preaching, don’t pretend to be an authority on subjects which you are not an authority on! Make sure you get your facts right. If you are wrong about facts that people can go home and Google easily then how will they ever trust you on eternal matters?

        Richard Somerville has been a leading voice in warning of the impact of climate change. He retired 20 years ago. 2004 was a very very long time ago in scientific research terms. We have much better models now at much higher resolution thanks to incredible improvement in computers over that time. Climate scientists haven’t been sitting twiddling their thumbs for 20 years!

        • Climate scientists have been doubling down on the CO2-only model for the last 20 years and they failed to explain the pause in warming during the first decade of the century (as I have shown above) so they eradicated it by changing the data. When they come up with a model that explains the actual data, I’ll start listening.

          Will Happer is the expert on the quantum mechanics of the molecules that com;prise greenhouse gases and his calculations raise very grave question marks over the IPCC’s models.

          • PS The pixelation of the atmosphere is done differently in Happer’s radiation calculations and in the IPCC’s climate (average weather) calculations. Strictly speaking these should be done jointly, but no harm is done provided that the two calculations are consistent in regard to energy conservation. They aren’t. Happer has exposed another problem with the IPCC model. Cork Hayden has explained it.

          • Long retired from active research? If you take the trouble to look him up on arXiv, the online physics/maths preprint repository, you will find his name on 8 preprints in the last 20 months. These are fully technical papers.


            It is Happer who has done the radiation cacluatoins and found that the energy balance does not match those according to the time-averaged Navier-Stokes equations of compressible fluid flow used in the climate model pixellation of the atmosphere. Once you have got his name right, how would you resolve this discrepancy?

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