Brexit, politics, and counterfeit gods

_90076860_thinkstockphotos-526561176Every so often I am asked to contribute a short piece to end our local spoken news service – the Tendring Talking Times. This was my contribution for this week.

It seems like the world is going mad at the moment. The Brexit vote a few weeks ago triggered an avalanche of bad feeling in the country and exposed a deep rift in our society. Politics is becoming increasingly polarised: it seems that it is now almost impossible for people to respect someone with a different political opinion, let alone think they are a decent moral person. We don’t just disagree with people who have a different political persuasion; we think they are actually immoral. Something similar is happening in the USA with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – the country is divided over which political leader to support.

People seem to understand that there is something wrong with society, something wrong with our world, and they believe that these problems need political solutions. Some people believed that the right thing for Britain was to stay in the European Union – that things will all go downhill from now on. Other people believed that the right thing was to leave the European Union – it was the country’s only hope for a better future.

From a Christian perspective, all of these beliefs suffer from the same root problem: hope is placed in political leaders and policies when that hope should be reserved for God alone. I have just finished reading a book called ‘Counterfeit Gods’ by Tim Keller, a pastor from New York, and he puts it like this:

When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel.

To ascribe to mankind what should be reserved for God alone is what the Bible calls idolatry – worshipping the created rather than the Creator. In the book Keller goes on:

Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but to be evil. After the last presidential election, my eighty-four-year-old mother observed, “It used to be that whoever was elected as your president, even if he wasn’t the one you voted for, he was still your president. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.” After each election, there is now a significant number of people who see the incoming president as lacking moral legitimacy. The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion.

Although Keller is writing about the situation in the USA, I believe he could equally be writing about Britain today: we have turned politics into a god and placed all our hopes in our political leaders and ideas.

In contrast, the Christian faith does not allow us to demonise or to deify any created thing. Nothing human, no person or political idea, is the cause of all our problems or the solution to them. The Bible is clear that the root of the human problem is not political but what it calls sin: as St. Paul puts it, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

The biggest problem the human race has is sin, and it is a universal problem which cannot be solved by political leaders: it is a spiritual problem. A spiritual problem has to have a spiritual solution, and that solution is found only in Jesus Christ. St. Peter says about Christ, “He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”.

The biggest issue of the human race is not political in nature but spiritual: we are sinners. But Christ himself bore the penalty for our sin on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. That is the kind of salvation that we all need.

The Bible and (same-sex) marriage: Cutting through to the root issue

Marriage
Image by Sabtastic

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have blogged quite a few times about marriage, and in particular same-sex marriage. You can see my previous posts under the “marriage” tag. Anyway, it seems we are still talking about marriage: the debate has simply moved from society – where same-sex marriage is now a reality – to the church.

General Synod recently spent a few days finishing the two-year-long ‘Shared Conversations’ process in which the CofE has been trying to find a way forward on same-sex marriage. As part of that, a number of books have been released and a number of people have written quite passionately in support of changing the church’s current teaching. These include ‘Amazing Love’ by Andrew Davison (reviewed here and here), as well as ‘Journeys in Grace and Truth’ by Jayne Ozanne (reviewed here and here). What is notable about both of these books is that they claim to be orthodox Christian, Biblical accounts of why we should change the church’s teaching.

If you read the books, and look at the discussion it generates on Ian Paul’s blog (and elsewhere), the discussion often focusses on peripheral issues. It can be very difficult to digest what is actually going on and get to the heart of the issue. I’ve had an interest in this issue for a long time now, and I wanted to write to try and outline the issue at the heart of why I believe marriage can only be defined as the lifelong union of a man and a woman.

It’s easy to get lost in the details, but to my mind you can boil down the issue to one basic root issue, which is this:

What does the Bible say positively about marriage?

It is sometimes claimed that Jesus said nothing about same-sex relationships; however, he did say something about marriage. The Pharisees asked a question about divorce, and he replied with this answer (this is from Mark 10):

‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

So when Jesus was asked a question about marriage, he goes back to creation – he takes us back to Genesis 1-2 and to God’s original intention for mankind.

What does this teach us about marriage? Marriage was intended from the very beginning of creation to be a permanent relationship (hence why Jesus gave this answer to a question about divorce) – but he also says that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. In marriage, with apologies to the Spice Girls (and to you for putting that thought in your head), two become one.

Some people claim that Genesis 1-2 is only about a covenant commitment – that the male-female character of marriage is purely accidental. But given Jesus’ words here – the male-female nature of marriage comes across more clearly than being a lifelong union, doesn’t  it? If you argue that the male-female nature of marriage is purely accidental, then so is everything else about marriage from Genesis 1-2.

And this is the issue. Marriage becomes entirely what the reader thought it was before they looked at the Bible.

Jeffrey John once wrote a book “Permanent, Stable, Faithful” in which he argued that same-sex marriage was in accord with the Bible – so long as those relationships exhibited the three values of permanence, stability and faithfulness.

The thing is, where do those values come from? As we have just seen, the Bible doesn’t say “marriages must be permanent, stable, and faithful”. Let’s take permanence, for example: the Bible doesn’t say “marriages should be permanent”, but it does say, “a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”. So permanence is only defined in the context of a male-female relationship.

Similarly with faithfulness. The Bible says, “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4). But what is meant by faithfulness? Faithfulness, again, is defined in the sense of not becoming “one flesh” with another man or woman (1 Cor 6:16 – it’s interesting that when lawyers were drafting same-sex marriage legislation, consummation could not be defined and so was left out). Faithfulness is, to put it bluntly, not having sex with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.

Some people define faithfulness as ‘not sleeping with someone else without telling your partner’. In other words, ‘open relationships’ can embody faithfulness – depending on how you define it. I can well imagine someone who had such a view reading Heb 13:4 and it fitting in with their preconceived ideas – because they had an idea of what faithfulness was rather than letting the Bible define it.

This brings me to my final point. When you abstract your understanding of marriage from what the Bible actually says, marriage can become virtually anything. Almost every argument for same-sex marriage would also work for, say, polyamorous marriage. Or incest. Or ‘open’ relationships. Or time-limited marriages. And so on: the point is that it’s up to you and how you want to define it. Not the Bible.

That’s the root issue here: either we let the Bible be God’s Word and define what marriage is, or we crowbar the Bible into supporting same-sex marriage and opening the door for virtually anything. Don’t be fooled by fancy words, follow the logic and see where it leads you.

King Saul and King Jesus: Thoughts on 1 Samuel 10

samuel-saul
Samuel anointing Saul

In the past few weeks at church we’ve been working our way through the Bible, trying to get the ‘big picture’ of the whole Bible story. This week we reached 1 Samuel 10, where God chooses Saul to be the next King of Israel and Saul is anointed by the prophet Samuel.

It’s a fascinating passage in many ways. There are details in the story which make you scratch your head, some of them are a bit puzzling. In the Old Testament, the key to understanding it is to realise that it is actually all about Jesus – and I think that is exactly the case here. I just wanted to jot down a few thoughts about how this passage is actually about Jesus, in the way that he contrasts with Saul. (The actual passage we had this morning was 1 Samuel 10:9-26. The other passage was the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem from Luke 19 – the reasons for mentioning that will become clear…)

The passage in 1 Samuel 10 follows on from a rather comical story about Saul being sent to look for some lost donkeys. His father sends him out to find them, but doesn’t find them anywhere. They nearly give up, but Saul’s servant suggests asking the “man of God” – Samuel – who could help them. Saul is presented as a bit of a helpless case really: he doesn’t find the donkeys, he doesn’t really have any initiative – his servant is portrayed in a better light than he is!

Contrast #1: Jesus, the man of God, sends his disciples out in Luke 19 to bring back a donkey. He doesn’t need to search for it: he knows exactly where it will be found. Jesus is greater than Saul.

Samuel said to Saul  that “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person” (1 Sam 10:6). This is exactly what happens at the beginning of our passage, as Samuel had said.

Contrast #2: The Spirit of God came upon Jesus at his baptism – but he didn’t need to be changed into a different person. His heart didn’t need to be changed. Jesus is greater than Saul.

Twice in this passage Saul tries to duck his responsibility. Firstly he didn’t tell his uncle what Samuel said about being made king, and then he hides himself among the supplies to try and stop the people making him king! Hardly what you would call king material. In fact, his main qualification to be king (apart from, of course, the fact that God chose him) was that he stood a head taller than anyone else. In other words, he looked the part – but he wasn’t on the inside.

Contrast #3: When God sends Samuel a bit later on to anoint David as King, the Lord says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Saul had the appearance of a good king physically, but his heart was not right. Jesus, on the other hand, as Isaiah 53 puts it: “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” He didn’t look like a king – and yet, his heart was completely right and true. Jesus is greater than Saul.

The passage finishes with these words: “But some scoundrels said, ‘How can this fellow save us?’ They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.” Scoundrels throw insults at Saul and question whether he can “save” them. But Saul keeps silent – which is perhaps an implied criticism of Saul, maybe he should have spoken up and said something. Another example of how Saul was not king material – at least, not in the eyes of the world.

Contrast #4: When Jesus was hanging on the cross, people threw insults at him and said “He saved others, but he can’t save himself” (Mark 15:31). And Jesus, before Pilate, was silent (Mark 15:5). In the words of Isaiah 53 once more, “as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Jesus was the one who could truly save others. Jesus is greater than Saul.


I think these contrasts are all here to point to the fact that Jesus is the great King, the King of Kings, the one whom God has chosen and anointed to rule eternally. The Israelites wanted to be like the other nations, they wanted to have a king just like everyone else – but God has very different ideas about kings.

It turns out that what they – and we – really need is not one who is physically impressive, a brilliant strategist who is able to lead an army into battle. No – what we really need is a king who has a right heart, a king who can truly save others – not from physical danger but from their sins. Saul could never be that king: the only one who could is Jesus.

Brexit and the decline of Christian understanding

The last few days I have felt particularly ashamed to be British. Not because the country voted to leave the EU, but because of the backlash following it. I appreciate that many people felt deeply unhappy with the result – it’s natural and understandable. Many people believed that leaving the EU was the wrong decision. No problem. People thought the opposite and felt equally strongly about it.

No, what got to me instead was some of the mocking characterisation of ‘Brexiteers’ – xenophobic, racist and ignorant “Little Englanders”.

A few years ago, in one of the comedian Chris Addison’s shows, he made the point that ‘Eurosceptic’ was wrong – because ‘sceptic’ implied that people had actually bothered to think about it. I think this is a good example of the kind of tone used on Facebook and the like recently: not always offensive, but generally implying that those who voted leave were lesser people, somehow.

It really makes me think of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

This seems to me to get to the heart of a lot of what is going on with moaning about Brexiteers. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – racists, xenophobes, ignoramuses – and especially not like this Brexiteer. I voted for Remain and I don’t want to sacrifice the futures of all our children for no good reason.”

The other night I had something of an epiphany: it seems to me that people who moaned about Brexiteers actually believed they were morally superior. It’s easy to treat someone else badly when you believe they are morally in the wrong (and you are in the right) – after all, they deserved it, right?

I think this attitude is linked with the decline of Christian understanding and morality in our culture. I believe that people growing up in decades past would have grown up with the language of the Book of Common Prayer – believing that mankind are “miserable offenders” and “there is no health in us”. Even people who didn’t regularly go to church would have had something of this attitude ingrained.

This has a big effect on how we see other people: if we believe that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – then if someone else gets something wrong, something of a moral nature, then they are still fundamentally no different to us: all are human beings, all are flawed, and the only hope is the grace of God which cannot be earned – only accepted.

On the other hand, if there is no Christian understanding of humanity, then I think you end up with what we’ve just seen: people who think differently are actually perceived as morally deficient in some way. Worse than that, they are wilfully morally deficient. They should try harder and stop being morally deficient, and in the meantime we’ll treat them with disdain and contempt until they realise how morally deficient they are and change.

I wrote about this in November last year when I talked about Bigotry and legalism in our culture. That was in the context of same-sex marriage, but I think the same could be said of Brexit.

If we want to learn to disagree well, I think we have to recover a truly Christian ethic: those on different sides of a divide like this are both human, both made in the image of God, and yet both flawed. Neither is infallible. Both are in equal need of God’s mercy. If by the grace of God we are able to see others in that way, perhaps we’ll be able to make positive progress. But until then I fear for the direction of political discourse in this country.

Cathy Warwick and Pro-Choice Logic

Baby LydiaCathy Warwick has been in the news lately – she signed the Royal College of Midwives up to support a legal campaign for the removal of abortion limits in the UK. (Currently, if a woman undergoes an abortion outside of the law, it is a criminal offence.) This would effectively allow abortion to happen up until birth for any reason. You can read a midwife’s response here, see the links through to the original story.

This has raised – once again – the question of abortion. Many people see abortion as a woman’s rights – a foetus is simply a few cells connected to a woman, and having an abortion is no more morally problematic than having your appendix out.

The fact that a human life has to die is basically irrelevant: it is justifiable because at that point in the foetal development, the foetus is not a ‘person’. Notice here that I am using medical terms like ‘foetus’ rather than words we might normally use such as ‘baby’, ‘child’ or ‘mother’. This is because it’s important to understand that a foetus is not a baby – a baby implies a person, whereas a foetus is simply a medical term for a living organism inside a womb. A foetus is a group of cells; a baby or child is a person. A foetus cannot feel pain, has no understanding of itself as a separate entity, and so on – it’s not a person and so can be terminated at will.

I think this line of reasoning is deeply flawed and troublesome for a number of reasons. Chiefly, I think the problem is that it makes an arbitrary concept of ‘personhood’ the key factor in whether it is right to terminate life or not. Who decides what is a person and what is not? There’s a good question.

There was a very helpful article posted today, Why abortion makes sense. The authors make the point that such dehumanising has been the stock in trade of just about every genocidal regime throughout history. Once you have determined that ‘they’ are not human, you can exterminate them with a clear conscience. In fact, more than that, it is morally right and proper for them to be killed.

Once life is valued not for the sake of being life but because of some arbitrary concept we impose, then it can be redefined at will. The whole article is worth reading and I’d suggest having a look through it.

Coming back to Cathy Warwick – I think her position is interesting because it’s entirely consistent. Once you define a foetus as a nonperson, then where do you draw the line? Isn’t 24 weeks simply arbitrary? And then, if you’re going to allow abortion up to full term – what’s the difference between a 37 week child inside and outside the womb? Not much. This is why some ethicists have argued for post-birth abortion (an article published in the British Journal of Medical Ethics, by the way, not some hack rag). They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

I think most people see through those kind of arguments, which is why the reaction against Cathy Warwick has been so strong. And yet, many people seem unwilling to concede that the position is entirely logical once the premises of abortion have been granted in the first place. Once you say that abortion is OK, any lines you draw are essentially arbitrary ones.

The BBC recently reported that abortion rates are stable – there were 185,824 in 2015. Nearly 200,000 abortions in one year – that’s incredible. That  statistic makes me feel nauseous. And yet we as a society brush this away because we are ‘pro-women’.

In reality, I think many women feel uncomfortable with abortion – from the article I posted at the start, an Angus Reid poll in 2012 found that 59% of women favoured a reduction in time limits for abortion (i.e. decreasing from 24 weeks). Only 2% favoured an extension.

In the name of being ‘pro-choice’, it turns out that a lot of women are actually pressured into abortion: if a woman falls pregnant unexpectedly, and in inconvenient circumstances, then all of a sudden abortion becomes the most attractive option for everyone except the woman concerned. Many women find they are pressured into it, simply because it is what is expected. Some choice.

All in all, I struggle with our society which permits what I think is essentially state sanctioned murder. However, I hope that Cathy Warwick’s comments will raise the profile of this issue – abortion is usually kept pretty hush-hush. Talking about it, rather than simply brushing the whole thing under the carpet, is a step in the right direction.

Hymnology: Love Divine and perfectionism

Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley

This morning I read an interesting post on the Church Society blog: Should we stop singing ‘Love Divine’? Charles Wesley is a great hymn writer and Love Divine has always been one of my favourites, but this post did make me reconsider. The goal of this little ‘hymnology’ series is to think about hymns and the theology behind them – and sometimes that might mean taking down a sacred cow. If a hymn expresses theology which is unclear or unhelpful, then it’s probably not a good idea to sing it! We need to be concerned with truth and clarity in our songs as much as we are in preaching.

The post I mentioned above has done a pretty good job of outlining the problem with Love Divine, and I would suggest you read it before carrying on with this one; I just wanted to expand a little on the underlying theology of Charles Wesley. The teaching mentioned in that post is perfectionism – that is, the belief that moral perfection is attainable in this life. In other words, there can be a point in this life when someone is no longer under the power of sin.

John Wesley – Charles’ brother – seemed to teach perfectionism, although it should be noted that he was a man who is quite hard to nail down when it comes to this issue: he would say apparently contradictory things – sometimes he claimed that perfection was attainable, other times he didn’t. And, of course, Charles and John did have their disagreements on various aspects of theology. However, the perfectionism theology evident in Love Divine – in its original form at least – fits quite well with the general holiness movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. The movement believed that moral perfection was attainable when one surrendered all to God. There would be a second blessing of the Holy Spirit, and all of a sudden sin would disappear from your life. Most of this theology was based on a misreading of Romans 6.

What’s interesting about this teaching is that it was for many years mainstream evangelical teaching with the Keswick Convention. Keswick was started by a man named Thomas Dundas Harford-Battersby (brilliant name), who was himself influenced by the teaching of Hannah Pearsall-Smith and others from the holiness movement. The structure of the week, the ‘God-given sequence’, was designed to bring you to a point of surrender to the Holy Spirit and receiving his fullness.

However, it is exactly what happened to Harford-Battersby and others in the holiness movement which should give us serious pause for thought when it comes to perfectionism: many of them struggled with depression because of their sin. If you genuinely think that sin can be completely conquered in this lifetime, then if in your life you find that sin is not conquered – chances are you’re going to be devastated. Having too high an expectation of sanctification will inevitably lead to disappointment.

On the other hand, as the apostle John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Bible makes it clear that at no point in this life can we claim to be without sin! Sin will be with us for as long as we live on this earth – there will come a day when it is gone, but not yet. We should hope and expect change to happen, of course – otherwise there would be no point in the Christian life at all! – but no-one will ever achieve perfection in this life.

Of course, most people (if not all) don’t have perfectionism in mind when singing Love Divine. I certainly don’t! And, of course, the words that we actually sing are a little different now to the words which Charles Wesley actually wrote. I think when I’ve sung it in church I’ve tended to think about it being looking to the future in a ‘new creation’ sense. But now I look at the words and actually analyse it – I can see how it fits with a ‘second blessing’ / perfectionism theology. Sadly I think the hymn has survived simply because it has some beautiful phrases and is usually sung to a rousing tune – rather than because it is clear and sound theologically. But I think the blog post I mentioned above may be right: perhaps it is time to quietly shelve Love Divine – it’s not as if there are a shortage of decent hymns out there, perhaps it’s time for some others to take the limelight.

Suggestions for good modern or traditional hymns about God’s love welcome!

Just for fun…

Charles Spurgeon was brilliant on perfectionism. Here are a couple of quotes, the first from the man himself and one from a book by David Watson recounting a story about Spurgeon:

One man, who said he was perfect, called upon me once, and asked me to go and see him, for I should receive valuable instruction from him if I did. I said, ‘I have no doubt it would be so; but I should not like to go to your house, I think I should hardly be able to get into one of your rooms.’ ‘How is that?’ he inquired. ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I suppose that your house would be so full of angels that there would be no room for me.’ He did not like that remark; and when I made one or two other playful observations, he went into a towering rage. ‘Well, friend,’ I said to him, ‘I think, after all, I am as perfect as you are; but do perfect men ever get angry?’ He denied that he was angry, although there was a peculiar redness about his cheeks, and a fiery flash in his eyes, that is very common to persons when they are in a passion.


In the past, when men and women had been blessed by the Spirit (whatever they called it), they sometimes claimed that they were so dead to sin and so full of love that it was no longer possible for them to sin. When the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon heard a man teaching such nonsense at a conference one evening, he poured a jug of milk over the man’s head at breakfast the next morning. By the man’s unholy reaction, the doctrine of sinless perfection was speedily disproved!

Genesis 3 and Gender

symbol-male-and-female-mdThis morning I was preaching on Genesis 3 – ‘the fall of man’. It’s a fascinating passage, very carefully and cleverly constructed, and bears studying carefully. One of the things I noticed in my preparation time but didn’t really have time to elaborate on in the passage is the way gender is portrayed.

In Genesis 1-2, the creation, a sort of order of hierarchy is established within creation. God creates the world, creates the man, and places him in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (2:15). The Lord commands the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mankind is also given dominion over creation – God says to “rule over” the animal kingdom (1:28).

However, and in our society this is probably the most controversial part of Genesis 1-3, there is something of an order within the relationship between the man and woman as well. Genesis 2 describes how no ‘helper’ suitable for the man could be found in the animal kingdom, so God created a woman from the rib of the man. The man names her ‘woman’ in 2:23 (and further on in 3:20 he names her Eve). Now, naming something is significant, because it does signify a kind of authority – for example, God brings the animals to Adam for him to name them (2:19-20). Naming is what God does in chapter 1, e.g. in 1:5 God calls the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’. So the act of naming itself indicated that Adam had a kind of authority over Eve – although that isn’t exactly spelled out in detail here.

Just as an aside while I’m here – the more I think about this the more I think how fundamental gender difference is to marriage. God takes one – the man – and creates two – the man and woman. One becomes two – but in marriage (if I may say this without invoking memories of the Spice Girls) – two becomes one. Husband and wife become ‘one flesh’ (2:24). Something which two men or two women cannot do. Anyway, this is a digression, but an important one given today’s society.

So, according to Genesis 1-2, the ‘order’ of creation before the fall is: God – Man – Woman – Animals. So, what’s interesting about Genesis 3 is that that order is completely reversed.

The story of the fall begins with the snake, “more crafty than any of the wild animals…” The snake, a representative of the animal kingdom, then talks to the woman. The woman eats the fruit, then gives some to her husband. Only then does God get involved. The order of Genesis 3 is Animals – Woman – Man – God. It’s a reversal of creation – it is, in a sense, ‘de-creation’.  Creation is undone.

Why is all this important, and how is it relevant to us? It’s relevant because I think we’re seeing a huge amount of gender confusion at the moment. What seems to be happening is that people think being a man or a woman is basically unimportant – sure, there are some biological differences, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman: people are pretty much interchangeable. I think we see this play out in the transgender movement, same-sex marriage, and so on.

We seem to believe as a society (or at least, movers and shakers in our society are imposing the idea) that being male or female is of no real consequence. Women and men are simply people, and aside from a few biological differences, there’s nothing to distinguish them. Same-sex marriage is a just a logical consequence, because there’s virtually no difference between two people of the same sex getting married as there is with two people of the opposite sex: it’s just the same love, right? Whether or not you have certain body parts is immaterial.

The problem here is that, according to Genesis 1-3, being a man or a woman is an important thing. Being a man or a woman is, in fact, a gift of God. We are not amorphous beings, people who simply happen to have a different physical body. Men and women are created both in the image of God and reflect his glory, but they reflect it in different ways. Men and women literally need each other, and we need each other as men and as women. This seems to be to be common sense to me: in my own experience, I do relate differently to men than to women. It’s just the way the world is. Men and women are not simply interchangeable, there is some kind of fundamental difference.

The other day I was reading an article by Alastair Roberts: Why we should jettison the “Strong Female Character” (it’s a long read but good). One of the things that struck me while reading that was that to blur the lines between male and female actually is harmful to women. If women are supposed to be strong in the sense of being able to do better than men in what are traditionally seen as masculine things, what value does that place on things which are traditionally feminine?

What happens when the boundary lines between male and female gets blurred is that things which are uniquely masculine and femine get lost. If being a woman isn’t really significant, who is going to champion being a wife and mother? Should a woman feel like she has to be ‘strong’ in that she needs to be more masculine than a man?

The real irony of steamrolling over differences between the sexes is that I think it is detrimental to both men and women – but especially women. Generic people, men and women, have jobs, play sports, spend time with friends etc – but there are things which only a woman can do, e.g. be a wife and mother. During the last election, my wife felt quite undervalued: David Cameron kept on talking about people being in work as if the most important thing that anyone could do was to be an employed worker. Not once was there a mention of mums (or dads, for that matter) who choose to stay at home to look after their children. Mums and Dads parent in different ways – I’ve noticed this with my daughter. I’m not a generic parent – I’m a Dad. I bring something different to the table than a Mum.

I apologise that this blog post has gone on a bit. This is because my thoughts are still in the process of forming. However, I do feel like our society’s view of gender at the moment is following the pattern of Genesis 3. We need to get back to God’s pattern for our lives and in particular Gender – to rediscover what it means for men to be men and women to be women. To cherish the unique gifts that each can bring, rather than simply erasing all differences.