Getting to grips with the gaming phenomenon: 6 things to consider

Many parents of teenage boys will hardly be surprised that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed gaming addiction in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The impact of online gaming has, in some cases, been as disruptive for family life as it is worrying for parents. If you have a teenage boy in your family, you are likely to know what I am talking about. Some of those parents feel helpless to the point of despair in their efforts to grapple with the phenomenon that is online gaming.

I should put in a couple of disclaimers before continuing.

Firstly, I thought I’d write a piece on this subject, not as an expert, but as a parent – a concerned parent – who is also concerned for other parents. My thoughts are a combination of observation, reflection and possible action points.

Secondly, I’m talking about games not gambling. That is an entirely different issue.

So how can we try to come to grips with this aspect of twenty-first century life that the WHO is so concerned about?

Perspective

Firstly, I think we need to keep a sense of perspective.

The response to the WHO’s addition of gaming addiction to its ICD has not received unqualified support from health professionals. This report on the BBC website indicates that there is not universal agreement on this issue.  Recent research by academics at Oxford University suggests that the notion that children now spend their lives glued to screens is inaccurate. The reality is more complex.

In fact, it could be argued that the combination of traits considered as evidence of gaming addiction, could, in fact, be applied to any hobby, and simply seen as evidence of dedication and passionate interest. Psychology Today carried an article that maintained just that. I don’t believe that comparing your teenage son’s fanatical interest in gaming to a heroin addiction is in any way helpful!

Parenting styles

Secondly, the subject of parenting styles is worth consideration when it comes to the subject of gaming.

The challenge we face is that the challenges of gaming roughly coincide with the onset of the teenage years. I’m no expert in parenting, but one thing is clear: if you try to parent a teenager the way you parent a toddler, you are asking for trouble! If you parent your teenager like a toddler, you are likely to get a “toddler” reaction.

Parenting is a journey from prescription to partnership. What do I mean by that? In the early years we have to be prescriptive  with our children – “you must do this”, “you will do that” – if for no other reason than for the child’s own well being. However, as the child matures the relationship should develop into something resembling more of a partnership between parent and child. It’s a transition from informing to explaining.

When parents don’t change their style, their children become either robots or rebels. Worse still they will sometimes outwardly conform whilst inwardly rebelling. This can lead to resentment in later life and can stunt the emotional development of the child.

Working to secure agreements with your teenage child is much more productive than simply winning or trying to win an argument. Sometimes winning the argument just pushes the problem below ground.

Another aspect of this transition is the need to balance trust and concern.

In the early years, many of our decisions are fuelled by concern. Safety and security are more important than opportunity and adventure. If our children are going to develop, we have to give them opportunity to explore and experiment. To take some calculated risks and venture outside the safety that is appropriate for younger children.

I think that this is particularly true for boys. Modern life, especially in Western Europe, has sought to reduce risk for young people to such an extent that the adventurous instincts, perhaps of boys in particular, have been hunted to the point of extinction. There is plenty of research on the need for an element of risk in children’s play activities, but, on the whole, it’s not happening. That might explain why some of our teenagers are turning to their computer screens to find something that substitutes for risky outdoor play.

None of the above is either easy or exact. It requires courage and faith. That’s because it is more of an art than a science.

Emphasising the positives

It’s not too difficult to become a critical voice in your teenage child’s ear.

A couple of factors drive our critical output.

Firstly, we are concerned. Of course it is right that parents should have concern for their children. There is, what we might call healthy concern. But there is also unhealthy concern. And there is a fine between unhealthy concern and fear.

Secondly, we don’t always understand their world. And what we find hard to understand we find easy to criticise. 

So we need to emphasise the positives. 

There are some positives associated with gaming. The Psychology Today article I referred to above lists some of those positives. Gaming enables teenagers to develop social and technical skills, along with knowledge, in the context of play. And we should remember that this is play.

Let’s be inquisitive in a positive way about what is happening in their worlds. Let’s use this phenomenon – which most parents struggle to see as having any positive aspects -as an opportunity to build relationship and strengthen trust.

Invest in options

Sometimes teenagers default to “screens” because the alternatives aren’t obvious or attractive.

What’s needed is some creative thinking about how we can find ways of providing attractive “escape routes” from the screen. This will take an investment of thought, time and, possibly, money!

Short of confiscating phones, tablets and computers, there is no other option.

It is costly – in every way – to raise children!

Talk to other parents

It seems to me that parents’ fears and concerns are exacerbated by the thought that other parents somehow have found a perfect response to their children’s passion for online gaming. They can feel too frightened to talk about the struggles they have, as it might give the impression that they have very poor parenting skills.

I can assure you that you are not alone! Be brave enough to talk to other parents so that you can encourage each other and bear one another’s burdens.

And pray!

Finally, don’t forget to pray. Ask the Lord to guide you. Ask Him to reveal His strategies to help you lead your children through their teenage years.

 

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Easter: Hope from another world

My grandmother once told me she preferred Easter to Christmas. I can’t remember if I sought a reason, as children usually do when confronted with an idea which they don’t initially “get”. She might even have explained that it was all to do with the significance of the cross, without waiting for me to quiz her. I think she also said something about it being in spring and not in the depths of winter. I can’t remember.

And of course there were the hymns. With the exception of Hark the Herald Angels Sing! nothing in the Christmas repertoire could compete with Thine Be The Glory! Or Christ The Lord Is Risen Today!.

Perhaps my younger self just worked it out that she must like Easter for those reasons. Anyway, my older self has more sympathy with my late grandmother than the child who found his love of Christmas  – his notion of Christmas – challenged.

Comparing Christmas and Easter might not be the most profitable exercise – how do you compare the incarnation with the atonement? However, we should at least feel the challenge of Easter. Easter should never leave us feeling comfortable.

Grateful, yes. Easter shouts “Grace” at us in our failure. In our inability to form a relationship with God through our own best efforts. In God’s overwhelming love for sinners. In God’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice we find His acceptance of us. We are welcomed to His family.

But comfortable, no. Easter challenges on so many levels. The personal challenge of taking up our cross. The challenge of loving one another as He has loved us.

Easter also presents a challenge to the world order that we live in. In fact, Easter speaks directly to the political and ideological influences of our day.

In recent years some biblical scholars have highlighted the political dimensions of Christ’s death. False charges, it appears, of sedition and blasphemy were what condemned Him to death. Even without a background in Roman law, it’s easy to pick up the contention surrounding the idea that He was the king of the Jews (Mark 15.1-15; John 19.12-16). And it is clear in the gospel accounts of His trial before the Sanhedrin that the religious leaders of the day were convinced that He was guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 26.57-68; Mark 14.53-65; Luke 22.66-71).

One thing is striking in Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate. He insists that His kingdom is from another world and that He will return as King and be acknowledged as such by all.

Given that Jesus makes these statements in the presence of the most politically powerful figures in the nation, it is hard to conclude that He is simply making a detached theological comment. What He says directly challenges the political establishment of His time.

The Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, who were respectively the religious conservatives and liberals of the day. In response to their question about whether or not He was Messiah, He makes reference to the day when He returns, in terms that recall Daniel 7.13-14. The reaction of the Sanhedrin reveals that they understood perfectly the point Jesus was making:

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think? ’‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered. (Matthew 26.65-66)

This rabbi from Galilee was claiming to be the Son of Man who by God’s appointment would rule the world!

Jesus’ response to Pilate is more or less the same as His response to the Sanhedrin. Only John’s gospel records the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate.

This time He doesn’t allude to the book of Daniel but speaks in about His kingdom, no doubt as opposed to Pilate’s kingdom, namely the Roman Empire:

 ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ (John 18.36)

Pilate is the ultimate political pragmatist. When Jesus talks about truth, Pilate’s response is cynical to the point of being prophetically postmodern: “What is truth?” (John 18.38)

He knows Jesus is innocent, but to keep the peace, he has Him crucified.

It’s easy to see the challenge Easter presented to the main players in Easter story. How might that apply to us now?

Firstly, it reminds us that we serve a kingdom that is from another world. The kingdom of God cannot be identified with any human ideology.

Throughout history politicians, priests and pastors have tried to squeeze the gospel into the model of political philosophies or political agendas. Jesus refused to be owned by the left or the right of His day. At the heart of the gospel is spiritual transformation. Both the kind of “culture war” that has sometimes displaced the gospel in right wing circles, and the “social transformation” gospel that often severs its ties with Christ’s atonement for sins, risk losing their grip on Jesus’ emphasis on the other worldly aspect of the kingdom.

Secondly, it reminds us that our ultimate hope is a future hope. We rejoice in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, and at the same time look for His return from heaven.

Finally, it challenges the cynicism of a culture that has seen it all and doesn’t like what it sees. Pilate had seen it all. He had risen through the ranks to position of Roman governor. He wasn’t afraid to use his power, with brutal consequences (Luke 13.1). His life ended when forced to commit suicide on the orders of the emperor Caligula. The kingdom of this world rewarded one of its most faithful servants in a way that was as hopeless as it was harsh. Who in their right minds would serve such an exacting kingdom when offered a kingdom not restricted or tainted by fallen human beings?

Easter speaks directly not only to us personally but to the culture we live in, wherever we live. It challenges our religion and our politics. It leads us from pessimism and cynicism into the light of the resurrection and the hope of Christ’s return.

I’m not sure my late grandmother had discovered all of that in the Easter story. I think she was simply expressing a personal preference rather than trying to make a theological statement. What she did believe, and what a closer reading of the story affirms, is that Easter presents hope from another world for a world lacking in hope. And that’s at least one more reason to love the Easter season.

Thanks mum for the apologetics – and the Breakaways

I can’t remember the date, not even the year, never mind the day or the month. I do remember the conversation. It took place between me sitting in the back seat and mum sitting in the driving seat of a now defunct brand of British car, possibly a Hillman or a Morris Marina. And it was after another gruelling day of study as a primary three or primary four student in the village primary school.

The haze surrounding the detail, however, in no way diminished the importance of the conversation. In fact, the significance of the conversation seems to have grown as the details surrounding it have become more vague.

It unfolded something like this:

Me:  “Our teacher told us today that we all came from monkeys.”

(Then I must have added something about evolution and chance)

Mum: (I think she must have responded initially with some statement about God being the Creator)

“When you look around it’s hard to believe that all this came into being by chance.”

I can’t remember what I replied. I think I was just silently convinced.

It was hard to believe then that “all of this came into being by chance” and it’s much harder to believe forty plus years on from that profound snatch of motherly commentary on the theory of evolution.

What I didn’t realise then, and what my mother probably didn’t realise, was that she had put her finger on a very powerful argument for the existence of God.

Neither of us, I imagine, had ever heard of Sir Fred Hoyle’s question about the chances of a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard containing all the pieces of a Boeing 747, producing a fully assembled plane. In fact, he never made the statement until 1982, so my mum definitely had not been influenced by Sir Fred Hoyle!

Nor were we aware that one day the leading atheist of his generation, Anthony Flew, would pose the question “Who wrote the laws of nature?” and claim that atheism’s inability to sufficiently answer it was a pointer towards theism. It’s impressive when Anthony Flew comes round to your mother’s way of thinking.

We didn’t know any of that. My mother hadn’t time in those days to read apologetics books. Perhaps it was growing up as a Presbyterian that helped. The Shorter Catechism and all that. Or perhaps she recalled Romans 1 and Psalm 19. Or perhaps, sensible Christian woman that she was, she just found the whole we got here by chance thing too hard to believe. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not misrepresenting the atheist position by talking about chance. Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion sources the beginning of the world to the anthropic principle, which amounts to – his word, not mine – luck.

We didn’t know all of that.

Nor did I fully appreciate that the way the statement was made implied that to disbelieve in a Creator God was to believe in something else. Disbelief was not a neutral position. It required faith just as much as belief did. No, I didn’t consciously appreciate that at the time, but I think that somehow at some sort of subconscious level I realised that to disbelieve in one thing meant that you inevitably believed in another.

Looking back on that moment, what was and is even more impressive is the manner of my mother’s reaction.

There is a lazy stereotype perpetuated in the media, sometimes in the Christian media as well, that Christian families that have fundamentalist beliefs aren’t much fun. Of course, some Christians are miserable, but they have no monopoly on misery. I’ve met plenty of miserable atheists and humanists. I follow some of them on Twitter.

We weren’t miserable. We had lots of fun. And we were relaxed about things.

Mum was unfazed by my enthusiastic heresy. No note of panic. No outrage. No “I must be a terrible mother” meltdown.

Mum responded in the same way that she might have said “There’s a Breakaway in your lunch box” or “Take your anorak. I think it’s going to rain.” Or “Remember your football boots” – very important when you’re on your way to being the next Kevin Keegan.

It is only in recent years that I have become fully aware of the significance of mum’s statement. Not just as a statement in itself, but in the way it has shaped my thinking over the years.

I have had the privilege of discussing faith with people who are much cleverer than I am and who have atheistic worldviews. Even when I struggled to counter their arguments or found myself at some sort of intellectual impasse, “it’s hard to believe that this all came into being by chance” inevitably comes to mind. It’s not just a default, a God-of-the-gaps kind of fall back position. It’s a cornerstone of the way I think about faith and the reasonableness of the Christian faith in particular.

A Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris could wipe the floor with me in a public debate, but they could never convince me that my mother’s argument had any fatal flaw.

William Ross Wallace wrote:

Blessings on the hand of women! / Angels guard its strength and grace. / In the palace, cottage, hovel, / Oh, no matter where the place; / Would that never storms assailed it, / Rainbows ever gently curled, / For the hand that rocks the cradle / Is the hand that rules the world.

Perhaps he overstated the case a bit. Nevertheless, the hand that rocks the cradle can influence a life for eternity.

Thanks mum. Thanks for the apologetics. And for the Breakaways. They were both important. Each in their own special way.

You can discover the power of the Christmas story wherever you are

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
Luke 1.51-52

In the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin there hangs a picture known as The Stalingrad Madonna. The picture was painted by a German doctor, Kurt Reuber on the back of a Russian map captured during the battle of Stalingrad. It depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus, their heads almost touching, and mother and child are enfolded in a great cloak. Down one side are the words light, life and love.

Reuber painted the picture in the dark days of 1942 when the German sixth army was surrounded by their Russian enemies. Morale was at a low ebb. Reuber took his painting around all the bunkers and remarked on the impact it seemed to have on the soldiers. He then hung the painting in his own bunker in time for his unit’s Christmas meal. Once again the presence of his painting seemed to change the whole atmosphere.

Much of the superficiality and sentimentality that has grown up around Christmas has little relevance to the real difficulties of life, never mind the harsh realities and deprivations of war. Perhaps, however, you find the true power of the Christmas story in battle, conflict and difficulty.

When you read Mary’s song, there’s little, if any, sentimentality. This child that she is carrying is a warrior. A deliverer. A ruler. He’s come into the world to make war on God’s enemies. He has come to take the battle of the ages to a whole new level. Injustice and oppression look out!

It’s worth reminding ourselves at Christmas that the baby of Bethlehem’s manger would grow into a warrior. Jesus is the ultimate freedom fighter. He’s also the one who is able to identify with those who are hard pressed in life and fighting their own battles. Hebrews exhorts us to consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men (12.3). Jesus doesn’t only know and care. He’s fighting your battles with you.

A short film has been made about The Stalingrad Madonna. This link will take you to the trailer.

Think twice before deciding to read the Bible in a year

You might be tempted to dismiss this title as “click bait” – provocative headline and the restatement of something fairly widely agreed.

Not this time. I have serious questions about the widespread and very well-intentioned exhortations to read the Bible in a year. Of course, some people can and will do just that – read the Bible in a year. Please don’t allow my thoughts to discourage you. In fact, stop reading right now and go and read your Bible instead!

This post is for those who struggle to read the Bible at all, never mind in a year. It is also for those intimidated by the prospect of attempting such a feat, or been discouraged by past failure.

I hope as well that some pastors might read this post and revise the way they promote reading the Bible to their congregations.

There are many people that struggle with reading the Bible regularly or even at all. Surveys conducted both in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the U.K., bear this out. I say “lesser extent” for the UK, simply because the research is not as extensive here as across the pond.

One piece of research suggests that only 25% of Christians in the 18-37 age bracket read the Bible every day.  And in a 2008 survey by ComRes, 35% of Christians said they read the Bible daily. That means that 65-75% of Christians of all ages do not read the Bible every day. And, unless British Christianity is a lot more robust and disciplined than its American counterpart, “not every day” means something less frequent than not getting around to reading the Bible one day a week. The study by Lifeway, referred to in the previous link, found that only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week.

For a good while now, Bible reading has been in decline. It is hard to see how exhortations to read the Bible in a year will, alone, significantly turn around the trends in the UK and US.

Why? Simply because we are not only asking people to engage with a whole range of literature, some of which is, let’s face it, not easy to understand, we are also asking them to develop a new daily habit. And a new daily habit of reading which might not be usual for some or even many. To my mind, that is quite a tall order to complete between now and 1st January. And, experience tells me, it is quite a tall order to maintain for the next 365 days. I know, I’ve been there!

Add to that the fact that the Bible is almost 200,000 words longer than War and Peace, you begin to get some idea of the spiritual Everest we are presenting to some inexperienced spiritual mountain climbers.

It might be objected that I am leaving no room for the Holy Spirit’s help. Perhaps. But then again, I don’t know of any scripture where we are commanded to read the Bible in a year. And given that the command doesn’t exist, I could equally query whether we are not actually hampering the Holy Spirit by imposing on ourselves something that He has not expressly commanded.

So if my reservations about reading the Bible in a year have any merit, what should our approach to reading the Bible be?

Deal with your guilt

Firstly, I believe that many of us need to deal with guilt about our lack of Bible reading. Some of that guilt has come about because we set unrealistic targets or we listened to the advice of someone who told us we should read the Bible in a year. In other words, we set ourselves up for failure. And guess what? We failed. Worse still, the experience of failure has kept us from going back to the Bible.

We need to apply 1 John 2.9 to our failed attempts at Bible reading. Ask and receive God’s forgiveness and move on.

Get real

Secondly, we need to get real about where we are at with Bible reading. If you have only read the Bible a handful of times in the past year, it’s probably unrealistic to aim to read four chapters of the Bible – which is more less what is required to read the Bible in a year – every day up until the end of December 2018. Now, I am not saying this is impossible. People can go from couch potato to marathon runner in six months. But it requires enormous discipline and a fairly big lifestyle change.

The same is true of Bible reading. Some of your down time or leisure time has to be given to reading the Bible. The more you want to read, the more time you have to devote to it. The equation is that simple.

Remind yourself of the overall objective of Bible reading

Bible reading is not an end in itself. And it is not a way of gaining spiritual brownie points!! The whole point of reading the Word of God is to grow in our relationship with God.

Set some realistic goals

There are at least two types of goals you can set to do with Bible reading. One type of goal is a quantity goal. In other words you work out how much you want to read. The second type of goal is a quality goal. It is more about what you want to experience from reading the Bible.

Quantity goals will help to develop your working knowledge of the Bible. It’s about knowing the various stories and how things fit together. Those kinds of goals don’t initially seem as spiritual as quality goals, which I’ll explain below. However, they help you to develop biblical thinking.

I would also suggest that like seed sown in the spring time, you don’t always see the immediate results of quantity goals. What you might find is that the Holy Spirit uses your knowledge of scripture that lies hidden in your heart and brings it to your memory when you need it. A scriptural example of this is found when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He countered Satan’s suggestions with “It is written…” and quotes from Deuteronomy (Matthew 4; Luke 4).

By reading the word in this way you are soaking yourself in scripture. The word is dwelling in you (Colossians 3.16) and it is renewing your mind (Romans 12.2). You are increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1.10)

Quality goals – it’s not a great term but the best I can think of! – are not just about attaining a knowledge of God’s Word, they are to do with meditating on chunks of it at a time. Or studying some parts in depth.

One of the best ways of meditating on the Word of God is by using the simple acronym S.O.A.P..

Scripture – read a chapter or two and choose a portion for reflection.

Observation – write down your observations about the passage you have chosen. Record your questions / feelings / thoughts about the passage.

Application – ask yourself how what you have read applies to your life.

Prayer- write out a prayer based on your observations and application.

This link will take you to a fuller description of S.O.A.P. with a 10 minute video explaining and illustrating each step. Your S.O.A.P. doesn’t have to be as lengthy as the example in the video. Short S.O.A.P.s can be very effective.

What might quality and quantity goals look like for Bible reading. A quantity goal might look something like this:

“I will read through the whole of Matthew’s gospel by the end of January”.

A quality goal might look like the following:

“I will produce eight S.O.A.P.s based on passages from Matthew’s gospel by the end of January”.

Both these goals have the characteristics of well thought out goals. They are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (S.M.A.R.T.). For some, they would be easily attainable. For others, they are difficult to attain. Some need to set higher goals than the examples given. And some need to set lower goals. It just depends on where you are with Bible reading! Just don’t set targets that you know are impossible to achieve!

You need both types of goals to achieve the overall goal of Bible reading, namely a growing, fruitful relationship with Jesus.

Make a realistic plan

On the basis of the last point about goals, construct a realistic plan. If you can manage one chapter every day, you could easily read, for example, the four gospels, Acts and the book of Proverbs in six months.

For some reading this post, that is no big deal. For others, that would be a major achievement. Don’t be intimidated by the reading achievements of others. They don’t set the standard for you. Measuring your progress from where you currently are is more important – and more helpful – than measuring yourself by an arbitrary standard of Bible reading perfection.

Recognise the power of reading /studying the Bible in a group

One great way to read the Bible is to do it with other people. Why not consider getting together with some friends and reading together? Community Bible Experience is one great way of doing this. The group follows the same Bible reading plan. You read the Bible in your own time and then get together with your group to discuss what you have all been reading.

Handling failure

If you follow all the advice given above, but find that you are still not reading your Bible every day, don’t give up. Don’t let failure keep you away from Bible reading. Reading a little bit of the Bible is better than reading none at all. God might just speak to you through the little bit that you read!

Conclusion

Bible reading is so important. And it’s so important that we must do all that we can to make it accessible to as many people as possible. To do that we need to ensure that we are not imposing systems of Bible reading that have more to do with our well intentioned traditions than with either scripture itself or basic spiritual wisdom.

If you do decide to read the Bible in a year, I hope you realise your goal. However, if you find yourself well behind by the third week in January, ditch the plan. Make a new, more realistic one. But whatever you do, don’t ditch the Bible.

That Interview: Day time television – who needs facts when you can have emotion instead?

The discussion of issues relating to transgenderism on a recent edition of This Morning, apart from marginalising the views of Christians and many other people of faith, trivialised a very complex and painful issue. The presenters gave the impression that ideas of sexual identity associated with transgenderism were by and large accepted by society. That is not the case. They also failed to acknowledge the medical risks of taking the transgender route.


Previous generations had a Gettysburg address or a “peace in our time” declaration. In our day, it seems that the ideological battle raging over gender identity risks being summed up by a few condescending moments on daytime television. Of course, I am exaggerating the importance and significance of Philip Schofield’s recent outburst on This Morning.

Given that it was awarded the Best Programme award by Transgender Awards it was hardly likely that any presenter on This Morning was likely to allow any kind of balanced presentation of transgenderism or any issues connected with it. Unsurprising then that Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby should react in the way that they did, even to the extent of Schofield describing his guests’ views as “abhorrent” and “mediaeval”.

Betraying a lack of professionalism and ignoring any attempt to retain journalistic objectivity appear to do no harm to a presenter’s reputation on daytime television. Having said all of that, given Schofield’s co-presenter’s reaction to a guest maintaining that it was healthy for children to consume what they picked from their noses, it’s hard to know where real disgust and outrage begins and ends on This Morning.

For some of us, the spectacle of two Christians being treated in such an aggressive manner on television, isn’t pretty viewing. We can feel angry that our voice is not heard. That our views are treated in such a hostile and dismissive manner. And we can feel frightened – though most of us would not admit to it – that “they” are coming for us too. Or frightened at the thought of being ridiculed in a similar way in public.

This is probably the moment to remind ourselves that public ridicule is a very real risk for any follower of Jesus. Jesus warned His disciples that persecution and opposition awaited them, wherever they went. It is also an appropriate moment to remind ourselves that the opposition and sometimes discrimination that some Christians are currently facing in the UK, is nothing like the persecution that believers are facing in other parts of the world. We do need to keep a sense of perspective.

Nevertheless, apart from what might be seen as an attempt to bully Christians on air, there were some very disturbing factors in the This Morning broadcast referred to above.

Controversy

For a start, there was no acknowledgement that there is no consensus whatsoever in academic or medical circles or in society in general about transgenderism. Far from it. Just do a quick YouTube search for another ITV staple, Good Morning Britain. You don’t have to look too hard to find clips of Piers Morgan rubbishing the whole notion. I suppose Schofield would find Morgan’s views “abhorrent” and “mediaeval”. I can’t imagine that for one moment Morgan gives two hoots about what Schofield and Willoughby think of him or his views. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Morgan’s book.

If you really want to check out the level of disagreement, this edition of the Moral Maze will prove informative. This overview of the programme by John Stevens of the FIEC summarises the tone and content of the discussions very well. (Much of what I have written in this article has been informed by the Moral Maze podcast, but Stevens’s summary is still worth reading).

An aspect of the controversy that might surprise some, is the antagonism that exists between “trans” people and feminists. One of the contributors to the discussion, Heather Brunskell-Evans, was described as a T.E.R.F. – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Shortly after participating in the programme, aired on 15th November 2017, she found herself accused of “promot[ing] prejudice against the transgender community”, and attempted to refute the charge in a blog post.

I can’t imagine that my blog has any following at all in the radical feminist world, but I wholeheartedly agree with the Dr. Brunskell-Evans when she says:

“I have called for transparent public debate, without fear of reprisal, of the social, psychological and physical consequences of the narrative that children can be born in ‘the wrong body’.”

It is simply wrong to couch this issue in terms of “society has accepted transgenderism and Christians need to ditch their mediaeval views and catch up with the rest of the world”.

It’s not just Christians who question the validity of ideas associated with transgenderism. It’s not even just religious people in general. People right across society, some who have little time for any kind of religious belief, do not accept these ideas.

One of the most serious aspects of the This Morning show in question, was not that the presenters used intemperate language. No, what was inexcusable was that they totally misrepresented the whole debate by promoting the idea that there is no debate on this issue. On the contrary, society has not moved on. This issue is controversial, extremely controversial.

Concerns

A second troubling aspect of the show was the unwillingness to accept that the concerns about transgenderism are real and sincere.

I’ll try and categorise those concerns under five headings: medical; science; children; women; mental health. Of course, for Christians there is the whole issue of scripture. I am not going to deal with that, as my purpose is to try a provide some sort of snap shot as to what is going on in the culture. Glyn Harrison has authored an excellent paper on identity and this is a brief but helpful statement of biblical teaching from Kevin De Young.

Medical

Despite the seriousness of taking the transgender route, both the government and opposition in the UK argue that people should be allowed to self-identify. That means you can determine your own gender without any medical evidence. It is hard to believe that a decision with such serious medical implications can be made without any medical evidence.

More seriously, the use of puberty blockers – drugs to delay puberty – has raised some serious questions. This Wikipedia article will direct you to various references on the subject. A quick Google search on the long term effects of puberty blockers will reveal the concern raised about these drugs.

Professor Robert Winston in a Radio 4 interview reported in the Telegraph, expressed serious concerns about the impact drugs and surgery were having on those seeking a change of gender. In his opinion, the results of gender reassignment surgery were “horrendous in such a big proportion of cases”. Needless to say, he came in for severe censure shortly afterwards, posting the following statement on Twitter in his defence: I have nothing against transgender. But I object when I have cited independent peer reviewed papers with full evidence for what I said”

Science

The scientific basis for transgenderism is at best questionable. Certainly, some scientific publications and studies claim that there is scientific evidence to indicate that the so-called “transgender brain” is different. However even this article in Scientific American, largely sympathetic  to the idea of a “transgender brain”, concludes:

“…it will be a long time, if ever, before a doctor can do a brain scan on a child and say, “Yes, this child is trans.”

Other scientific research finds no evidence whatsoever for a “transgender brain”. Ideas of gender are shaped by social background and cultural context more than by genetics. This research published in the New Atlantis argued that there was no evidence to support the idea of a specifically “transgender brain”. Some of the headlines from the report are covered in this newspaper article.

Children

For many people the notion that we should be discussing gender dysphoria or gender identity with children, even in some cases pre-school children, is troubling to the point of being sinister. Cases of “trans children” appear to be growing all the time. This kind of story is not considered unusual these days.

One has to ask, however, why much of what could be considered part of growing up and a not unusual part of childhood, should be framed in the language and understanding of transgender ideology?

Is it really necessary to read into, what in the past would have been considered lack of understanding, some kind of condition that needs prescription drugs and possibly leads to gender reassignment surgery?

None of this received air time on This Morning. Nor, significantly, was it even mentioned that, quote “the majority of children with suspected gender dysphoria don’t have the condition once they reach puberty.” (Source: NHS Website)

Transgender Trend in the UK, was formed specifically to draw attention to the implications of transgenderism for children and provides links to articles presenting academic analysis of transgenderism.

Women

It is understandable why feminists are concerned about transgenderism. Women’s lives are put at risk when, for example, a murderer is allowed to change his identity to a woman and be sent to a women’s prison.  An article in The Sunday Times claimed that up to half of transgender inmates may be sex offenders (Up to half of trans inmates may be sex offenders : The Sunday Times 19-11-17)

Women have suffered so much at the hands of twentieth / twenty-first century western culture. Whether it’s eating disorders, some kind of plastic surgery to “enhance” their beauty or the destruction of the parts of their body that biologically define a woman as woman, it seems that western society is not short on inventive ways of attacking womanhood.

Mental health

Great offence is taken when so called gender dysphoria is associated with mental health issues. The Sunday Times reported that one therapist in Scotland, who was afraid to reveal her identity for fear of being struck off, helped teenage girls to question whether they were transgender.

She frequently found that young people sent to her supposedly suffering from gender dysphoria had previously undiagnosed mental health issues such as autism or anxiety (“Wrong gender feelings” could be teen anxiety: The Sunday Times, 19-11-17).

Some in the medical profession question the whole phenomenon of gender dysphoria. John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University, raised such concerns:

“ Yet hardly any paediatricians recall any cases of gender dysphoria in almost 300 cumulative years of practice. Certainly, I have not seen one in fifty years of medicine. I accept cases must exist and consider them tragedies deserving as much compassion and medical care as the three cases of physical intersex I have encountered in my career.

What astonishes me is the lack of evidence to support massive medical intervention in the face of evidence that it is not necessary. I cannot help wonder how the intervention was approved by the various ethics committees in hospitals, health regions and universities when it took some students and me over a year to get approval for a study that merely asked mothers when they introduced solid foods to their children. Ultimately, I had to give my personal phone number to all respondents of the questionnaire lest someone suffer anxiety in the middle of the night.”

Suicide rates amongst people who have had sex reassignment surgery are also a major cause for concern:

“The only long-term follow-up study of people who have under-gone sex reassignment surgery suggests that it is not the simple solution we are led to believe. This study found substantially higher rates of overall mortality, suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalisations in sex-reassigned transsexual individuals compared to a healthy control population.”

The academic study referred to in the above quote can be found here.

There is a ton of information out there, some of it very technical, pertaining to this debate.

Contributing to an increasingly polarised climate

Finally, the kind of contribution This Morning made to the ongoing discussion about gender identity, in my opinion, only further polarises an already polarised debate.

More worryingly, it is another instance of the curtailing of free speech. Demonise the opposition and then walk away and write a tweet ending with #bekind.

Or in the case of Bath Spa University, deny a psychotherapist the opportunity to research the rise in the number of people seeking to reverse their gender re-assignment, for fear of negative coverage on social media.

Or like the teaching assistant at a Canadian university, face the wrath of the university authorities for showing a video about the politics of grammar.

We are in an increasingly toxic climate. My issue with the This Morning episode that prompted this post, is not that Christians were publicly ridiculed, distasteful as that might be. It’s not that our opinions aren’t heard sympathetically. I’ve come to expect as much.

The major criticism that can be made against said programme, is that experienced broadcasters presented a very complex and painful issue in a wholly irresponsible and facile manner. And a few hours later engineered an exchange on social media and then shut it down. The show itself and the aftermath indicated that the presenters had little if any concern to help the public understand any facet of what is a very complicated social issue.

The only winner to emerge from this was Piers Morgan. In comparison to his counterparts on This Morning he’s emerging as a voice of sanity and common sense. I can hardly believe what I have written in the last sentence. But then again, the world does seem to be going crazy.

3 Ways to keep your vision tank full

Philip the evangelist is one of the forgotten heroes of the early church.

Philip was a member of the church at Jerusalem. His first official ministry role was that of ensuring the fair distribution of food to the Greek and Hebrew widows in the Jerusalem church.

The next time we meet Philip he is evangelising in Samaria (Acts 8.4-8). His ministry has an incredible impact and attracts the attention of the apostles who have remained in Jerusalem. Eventually Peter and John are dispatched to Samaria to lay hands on all the new believers so that they are filled with the Spirit.

Meanwhile, an angel has told Philip to leave these scenes of revival and take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8.26). As he is walking along the road, he meets a high ranking official from Ethiopia and shares the gospel with him. The man responds to the gospel and as soon as they find some water Philip baptises him (Acts 8.26-40).

And then Philip disappears once again. This time the Spirit transports him to Azotus and he begins a new preaching tour.

Philip clearly had God-given vision.

There are a number of things in Philip’s story that will help us keep our vision tank full.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, a secret life with God is essential. 

Firstly, Philip had a secret life with God.

When the apostles were looking for people to distribute food to the widows in the church, the looked for people who were full of the Spirit (Acts 6.3).

You don’t stay full of the Spirit unless you have a secret life with God.

Secondly, Philip had a reputation for wisdom. He was full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6.3). He was a wise man. Wisdom is a quality that enables us to make decisions that are good and godly. Philip had that quality.

We need to be spiritual and practical!

If you want to keep your vision tank full, look for opportunities where others see problems

Philip’s evangelistic ministry began during the greatest crisis the church had faced up to that point.

One of its greatest leaders, Stephen, became its first martyr. In the aftermath of Stephen’s death, a violent persecution broke out against the church. Many of the Christians left Jerusalem. Philip went to Samaria.

Philip began his evangelistic ministry at what seemed the worst time. And he began it in one of the worst places, Samaria. Samaria for any Jewish person was not a destination of choice. But Philip went there and God blessed him.

Philip seized an opportunity in a time a great difficulty. Sometimes God sends us opportunities, but they are wrapped up in a problem! When your vision tank is full, you see the opportunity, not just the problem.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, don’t settle for success

Philip could easily have settled in Samaria. He could have made it “his” revival. But he didn’t. He listened to God – or more precisely listened to God’s angel and walked off down the road!

He left a good thing to pursue a “God thing”. What he didn’t know was that he would lead someone to Christ who had the potential to influence a whole nation.

When your vision tank is full you will be prepared to take new roads to pursue what God is doing, even if it seems you are leaving something successful. And you don’t know who you are going to meet on that journey.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, look out for your family

In Acts 21, we see Philip at home. Paul and Luke and their friends stay at Philip’s house. Luke explains:

 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21.8-9)

He had four daughters who prophesied. Clearly Philip had given time to his family despite all his responsibilities and activities. There was an atmosphere of God in his house.

When your vision tank is full, you will look out for your family and have their spiritual interests at heart.