Thursday, November 29, 2012

Remembering those who suffer

Christians in Iran put us to shame by the way they live in the face of persecution, imprisonment and physical and psychological torture.

Since 1979, eight church leaders have been killed by the Iranian regime solely on account of their Christian faith. One narrowly escaped judicial execution in 2012.

Arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Christians is widespead. There are confirmed reports that more than 200 Christians in 48 cities have been arrested and interrogated since 2010. The full figure is almost certainly higher.

Since April the UK Christians in Parliament all-party parliamentary group has been listening to detailed evidence from eye witnesses of extensive suffering inflicted on Iranian Christians by their own government. The group has compiled a 35-page report, which asks the British Government to apply pressure on Iran to uphold the right to religious freedom of all Iranian people and to release Christians in prison for their faith.

At a crowded meeting to launch the report, the group handed a copy of  the document to Alistair Burt, minister of state for the Middle East - himself a Christian.

Rev Sam Yeghnazar, founder and director of Elam Ministries, read a letter from an Iranian prisoner. It said:

Often I have been insulted, humiliated and accused, but I have never doubted my identity in Christ. We rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of our salvation. Because neither the walls nor the barbed wires, nor the prison, nor suffering, nor loneliness, nor enemies, nor pain, nor even death separates us from the Lord and each other.

You can read the report here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Political correctness gone mad?

I had it in mind to write about the Rotherham couple with an exemplary record as foster parents who had their foster children taken away from them because social workers found out the couple were members of the UK Independence Party, which is not in favour of multiculturalism, or of continued membership of the European Union.

Since I was thinking about it, the story has taken on a life of its own, with coverage locally, nationally and internationally. So perhaps it doesn't need me to comment on it at this time. . . 

Except to say that if the story is found to be correct, I do hope serious action will be taken.

Children's lives are too precious to be spoiled by social workers' politically correct ideology.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Life isn't all jam butties

I don't watch much television these days, but the television happened to be switched on and it happened to be tuned to a Christian television station. It was broadcasting an hour-long interview with a well known Christian, whose name I won't mention in case my recollection of what he said is less than perfect.

He was talking about God, about worship, and about the lessons God had taught him. He recalled that the Bible verse that speaks of knowing the power of Christ's resurrection also speaks of knowing the fellowship of His sufferings.

He had five children, highly intelligent youngsters - apart from one, who was born with a disability. He remembered the lessons that God had taught him through that disabled daughter. Sometimes, he said, as Christians we look for perfection; and sometimes God allows imperfection, not only to teach us, but to demonstrate His perfection.

I have to confess that that spoke to my heart.

Life is not all jam butties, and Christians are not exempt from the trials and difficulties that come along in life. But Christians do have two tremendous advantages.

First, God is a master at bringing good out of bad situations. As the Bible puts it, all things work together for good to those who love God. In fact, God will not allow anything to happen to a Christian unless He can bring good out of it. He is working in Christians' lives. He can use what is after all a short time of suffering to work something good in us that will last for all eternity.

Second, God is with us in it. There is nothing you can suffer that He hasn't suffered already. Selwyn Hughes tells of a Christian woman whose husband was killed in the Twin Towers tragedy in New York. "When the news broke that my husband had been killed," she said, "a terrible darkness descended on me. But a hand reached out to me in the darkness. It was rough with work at a carpenter's bench, and pierced with an ancient wound."

When tragedy strikes and suffering comes, you may be tempted to wonder if God cares. If you are, look at the cross of Christ. He had no need of Himself to suffer all of that. He did it willingly for you and for me, out of the greatest love that this world has ever known. Keep the cross in view, and you won't need to doubt God's love.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Homosexual marriage: 'legislation soon'

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed to speed up legislation to permit homosexual marriage, with a vote in Parliament in the New Year. So newspapers were reporting in the past couple of days.

Downing Street had said that same-sex marriage legislation would be introduced at some point before the next election in 2015. It was not included in the last Queen's Speech, which sets out the legislative programme for the year ahead.

But with Conservative back-bench opinion hardening against same-sex marriage, the Prime Minister and his deputy are reportedly going to have legislation fast-tracked. That would be a disaster.

Even if Tory MPs rebelled, such proposed legislation would be expected to succeed, with Labour and Liberal Democrats voting in favour.

It would cause confusion with stacks of existing laws. Promises that churches would not need to perform same-sex marriages would quickly be broken. ("Homosexual marriage is legal. Why can't I be married in church?") It would quickly be followed by requests for legalisation of other forms of so-called marriage.

A new ComRes poll published this week shows that 68 per cent of Tory voters, 58 per cent of Labour voters and 52 per cent of Lib Dem voters want marriage to stay as it is (defined as "a lifelong exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.") Sixty-nine per cent believed children should be raised by a father and a mother in a permanent relationship.

So clearly politicians are not going ahead with legislation that the majority of people want.

Coalition for Marriage, who sponsored the poll, is the organisation that organised a petition to the Government against redefining marriage which has attracted a record-breaking 610,000 signatures.

"We knew that our campaign was hitting home very effectively," it said. "Downing Street's panicked reaction shows that we and you have been doing the right things in opposition to this unpopular and unnecessary plan."

It appeals to people to contact their MP - again, if they have done so already.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An encounter at the counter

There's a beautiful verse in the Bible, addressed to Christian believers. "Be steadfast, immovable," it says, "always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor 15:58).

One day I walked into a supermarket, whistling as I went (Sometimes people tell me they can hear me coming before they see me).

"You sound happy," said an assistant on the meat counter. "I am," I said. "I'm one of the happiest people around." "Why? Have you come up on the pools?" "No," I said. "Better than that." "Are you getting married?" "No," I said. "Better than that." "Are you getting divorced?" "No," I said. "Better than that."

"Well," he said, "are you going to tell us the secret, or what?" "Well," I said, "if you like." I told him I had accepted Christ, I knew my sins were forgiven, I had a home in heaven, and I had a peace that only a Christian can know.

We talked for a while; then he told me that some months before two girls from Operation Mobilisation had gone into the shop where he was working, had told him about Christ and had left him some literature.

Next time I went into the supermarket, he was missing. I never saw him again. Sometimes you meet people who are ready to accept Christ themselves. Other times, you're just a link in a chain.

But if you are prepared to speak for Jesus and do things for Jesus, He will arrange the circumstances. And the things you speak and the things you do won't be in vain. They'll be part of His purposes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christian vindicated - at a cost

A Manchester Christian who was demoted and had his salary cut by his employer because he expressed an opinion on homosexual marriage on his Facebook page yesterday won his case against his employer at the High Court.

Adrian Smith, a housing manager with Trafford Housing Trust, concerned at news that homosexual marriages might be permitted in church, wrote on his personal Facebook page "An equality too far." The page could be seen only by a few dozen friends and work colleagues, and the entry was made in his own time.

A colleague at work reported the matter to the management, who said Mr Smith was guilty of gross misconduct, demoted him and cut his salary by £14,000 a year. They claimed he had broken the trust's code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.

It emerged at the High Court that the trust was worried it could lose a homosexual rights charter award unless it took action against Mr Smith.

The judge, Mr Justice Briggs, said Mr Smith had been taken to task for doing nothing wrong. Mr Smith's postings in his view were not, "viewed objectively, judgmental, disrespectful or liable to cause upset or offence. As to their content, they are widely held views frequently to be heard on radio or television, or read in the newspapers."

He rejected the suggestion that Mr Smith's comments could be viewed as homophobic. The breach of contract the trust has committed, he said, was "serious and repudiatory."

Because of rules covering contract law, the judge was able to award Mr Smith only £98 in damages, leaving "the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him. I must admit to real disquiet about the financial outcome of this case."

I understand that despite the court's judgment, the trust is refusing to reinstate Mr Smith to his former managerial post or restore the £14,000 pay cut.

Mr Smith said after the case he was delighted to have won the judgment. "I have won today. But what will tomorrow bring? I am fearful that, if marriage is redefined, there will be more cases like mine - and if the law of marriage changes people like me may not win in court.

"Does the Prime Minister want to create a society where people like me, people who believe in traditional marriage, are treated like outcasts? That may not be the intention, but that's what will happen.

"The Prime Minister should think very carefully about the impact of redefining marriage on ordinary people."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

No go for assisted suicide

Nationally, the United States, like Britain, has consistently refused to legalise euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide. Two individual US states have agreed to allow assisted suicide, and the numbers of assisted suicides in those states have increased considerably since they were first permitted.

Massachusetts is the latest state to hold a referendum on the issue. Legalisation of assisted suicide was defeated there by 1,516,584 votes to 1,453,742 - 51 per cent to 49 per cent. I thought this a small margin, but I am told it represents a significant victory for the pro-life cause since Massachusetts is strongly Democrat and one of the most liberal of US states.

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith says the fight for assisted suicide was lost in Massachusetts because opponents were not just religious groups, but disability rights activists, medical organisations, pro-lifers, and advocates for the poor concerned that assisted suicide might be promoted for economic reasons;

legalising assisted suicide was not high on people's "to-do list" (although most people were not emotionally opposed either. Primarily, they didn't want to think about it);

Massachusetts retains a strong Catholic identity; and

there remains sufficient traditional morality in the country to allow liberals to oppose a specific proposal, while still supporting the concept.

Which gives me some hope for the situation in Britain.

Advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Britain are well supported and very vocal - but the public as a whole, and politicians in particular, are yet to be convinced.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fathers are not for nothing

Supporters of "genderless parenting" are saying that whilst it might be important for a child to have two "parental figures," the genders of the "parental figures" and their relationship to the child don't much matter.

Fathers, they say, are not essential. Fathers as well as mothers are apparently disposable when it comes to their children's development.

Jenet Erickson, writing at the Witherspoon Institute, has some impressive figures to demonstrate that that just isn't true.

Decades of research on fathers, she says, demonstrate that boys from fatherless families are twice as likely to end up in prison before they reach 30. Girls raised in homes without their fathers are much more likely to engage in early sexual behaviour. Girls whose fathers left home before their daughters turned six are six times more likely to end up pregnant in their teens.

There is more abuse in homes without fathers. In one study, abuse was 10 times more likely for children in homes with their mother and an unrelated boyfriend. Children who grow up without married mothers and fathers are more likely to suffer depression, behavioural problems and school expulsion.

Andrea Doucet, who wrote a book titled Do Men Mother? after extensive research with 118 male carers, tells how after a long evening of discussion with a group of single fathers, she asked "In an ideal world, what resources or supports would you like to see for single fathers?"

She expected requests for more policies, programmes and social support. But no. After a period of awkward silence, one said "An ideal world would be one with a father and a mother. We'd be lying if we pretended that wasn't true."

But then, most of us have thought that good old-fashioned fathers - and good old-fashioned mothers - were needful all along.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

'I lost everything, but God sent His angels'

Leslie Haskin was one of 15 children. Her father was a Baptist minister, her mother a choir director. Despite being brought up in a godly home, she decided when she moved to New York to work that she wanted nothing to do with God.

She was an insurance company executive, nicknamed "the Ice Princess" because of her attitude to her underlings.

At 8.46 am on September 11, 2001, she was in her company's offices on the 37th floor of the World Trade Centre when an airplane hit the building.

Through the window she saw bodies falling as people threw themselves from windows to escape the flames. Ceilings were collapsing and you could see flames through the seams. Someone shouted "The building is coming down! The building is coming down!"

Elevators were not able to be used. Leslie joined others on the stairs. The stairway was narrow and progress was slow. The force of a second airplane hitting an adjoining building jammed the door below her so it couldn't be opened.  She was trapped near the ninth floor, and sure she was going to die.

She closed her eyes and said "God help us." She suddenly remembered a hymn her mother used to sing to her to waken her in a morning. "Pass me not, O gentle Saviour, Hear my humble cry; While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by."

After 10 minutes, the door opened and Leslie reached the street. She saw the body of a man who had been decapitated. Bodies of those who had leaped from windows lay around. The body of a man exploded near her and splattered her with blood.

She couldn't speak properly. Doctors found she had had a nervous breakdown. She was in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks, then under continuing care by doctors and therapists, still heavily medicated. She boarded up the windows of her home because she believed the Taliban were in her shed and wanted to kill her. Doctors said she would never work again.

One day her 12-year-old son came into her room and jumped up on the bed. "Mom, are you ready?" he said. "Ready for what?" "To receive Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour. The Bible says if you are lukewarm in your faith God will spit you right out of His mouth."

She prayed with her son to accept Christ.

Slowly she improved as she stopped taking the medication. Doctors were amazed when she started to fly on planes again.

Leslie has written several books, appeared on television and become the subject of a film. Now she travels the world telling people Jesus Christ is the answer.

"I lost everything," she says, "but God sent His angels to help me."

You can read the full story here.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

'Death' pathway: Government acts

Health minister Norman Lamb has announced an investigation into the way the Liverpool Care Pathway is used. Doctors and patients' groups are to meet together to look into mistakes and discuss improvements.

The pathway is intended for dying patients. It allows for food, water and medication to be withdrawn and for patients to be sedated in the last hours or days of life.

There have been claims that families have not been consulted or told that patients were being placed on the pathway, and that patients have been placed on the pathway who were not dying, with fatal results.

The NHS constitution is to specify the need for patients and families to be consulted before a patient is placed on the pathway. It will say that patients should be involved fully in all discussions and decisions about their care, including end-of-life care, and that, where appropriate, this right includes family and carers.

I have written about the Liverpool Care Pathway here, here and here.

Newspaper reports may have exaggerated the numbers of people placed on the pathway improperly. But where issues of life and death are involved, as here, it is proper that there should be a comprehensive investigation.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Another Government U-turn

The UK Government has done a U-turn on plans to hold a consultation on whether women contemplating abortion should be offered independent counselling.

The then health minister Anne Milton was working with Department of Health officials on an overhaul of abortion counselling provision - pro-lifers pointed out that counselling by abortion providers like Marie Stopes and BPAS involved a conflict of interest - and a consultation was promised.

There were differences on the subject in the Coalition Government, and a cross-party group of 10 MPs considering the proposals was reported to be deeply divided.

In a parliamentary debate on abortion in Westminster Hall last week, recently-appointed health minister Anna Soubry said she had decided to scrap the consultation because the Government had no intention of altering either the law or guidelines on abortion counselling.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries accused Ms Soubry, whom she described as "as pro-choice as many Labour women MPs," of imposing her personal belief on her role as minister.

Pro-life campaigners, who believed independent counselling would lead to a reduction in the number of abortions, were disappointed.

Dr Dan Boucher, of CARE, said "To shut down the consultation commitment which was promised in response to concerns about financial conflict of interest is a monumental political misjudgment."

A BPAS spokesman said "Current abortion counselling arrangements serve women well. BPAS is pleased to see the Government has dropped its plans to unnecessarily overhaul services.

"BPAS hopes the Government policy can now focus on efforts to support women trying to prevent pregnancy and ensure the highest quality care for those who do need abortion services."

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Would you like to be rich?

You may have heard the story.

As a youngster, George had attended Sunday school, where he found Christ. He lived in a small cottage and hadn't much of this world's goods, but always he had a smile and a kind word for everyone. "What a beautiful day," he'd say. "How good God is." Or "Look at this rain, making everything grow. Isn't God good?"

George worked as a gardener on a large estate.

One day the owner of the estate was walking around his gardens when he thought he heard a voice. He stopped and listened. There it was again. "The richest man in the land," it said, "will die at five o'clock tomorrow." He listened carefully. It came again. "The richest man in the land will die at five o'clock tomorrow." He looked all around him. He searched the places nearby. There was no one there.

Where did the voice come from? Who was the richest man in the land? He thought about his properties, his companies, his bank accounts. Surely he was the man. But he didn't want to die. He wasn't ready to die.

He didn't sleep that night. The following day the minutes seemed to go by too slowly and too quickly, both at once. As five o'clock approached, he was sitting in his library with his head in his hands. He heard the clock whirring as it prepared to strike. It struck. One. . . two. . . three. . . four. . . five. The sound died away. A minute passed. Three minutes. Five minutes. He was still alive!

A feeling of relief flooded over him. He ordered a big meal. That night, he had an early night and slept like a log. When he woke up, the sun was shining and the air was fresh and clean. He went for a walk in his gardens. It was good to be alive.

As he returned, a thought occurred to him. He stopped a man working near the house. "Where's  George?" he said. "I haven't seen George this morning." The man's mouth fell open. "Why sir, haven't you heard?" he said. "He's dead.

"He died last night. About five o'clock."