All in the best possible taste

I couldn’t resist ending the week on a humourous note and thus couldn’t resist the temptation to talk about Sally Bercow (Bare-cow), apologies for being a little behind the curve with this.

Whilst I will attempt to refrain from descending into cattiness, one thing struck me about this attempted PR stunt which badly backfired.

Can you imagine the reaction if, when my husband was still the serving Rector of a parish, I had posed seductively in the window of the Rectory, with the Church forming a picturesque background image, clad in nothing but a bedsheet? If I had gone on to talk about how the clanging of the bell for the Angelus served as a sexual stimulus, how the smell of the musty hassocks enlivened the erotic impulses and how many women found the idea of vicars just so sexy, that they were flocking to my husband to find out exactly what he might be wearing beneath his cassock? Imagine if the subsequent article had appeared on Page 3 of the Church Times or in the mainstream press in an attempt to prove quite what a sexy beast my husband is. I think a spot of episcopal tea and biscuits would definitely have been in the offing, along with a delightful parish in the Outer Hebrides.

A lot of people have commented how great Sally Bercow looked and how those who have objected are old fuddy duddies, wishing to use her to politically point-score against her husband. Well Sally, you really shouldn’t have given them the ammunition. Whilst being a priest is obviously not the dizzy heights as being of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the similarity is that both are symbolic positions. When a priest puts on his chasuble to conduct a service, the whole act is to emphasise the presence of Christ, not the individual. It used to be the case that priests were asked to take off jewellery and watches, in order that nothing of the individual may be discerned. A priest acts in persona Christi, and thus there is no room for personal vanity or affectation. The same principle can undoubtedly be applied to the Speaker of the House. In his position as speaker, John Bercow is allegedly a physical manifestation of democracy, he is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times. The Speaker also represents the Commons to the monarch, the Lords and other authorities and chairs the House of Commons Commission.

What does it matter what the wives of such men do, given that they do not directly hold these positions? It seems to me that it’s about respecting the office itself and not bringing it into disrepute. I am sure I am by no means, not the only clergy wife to have been asked prurient questions about my private life. I was both mortified and highly amused to be asked by one of the ladies from the parish during my hen-night, (which took place after my wedding and turned out to be a ribald affair, far from my expectations) detailed questions about our wedding night. I managed to politely deflect the question without causing offence, but I could not believe that someone would have the temerity to ask such an intimate question, as well as that anyone might really be that interested! I remain circumspect about my intimate life, other than to make generalisations about how hormones can impact upon libido in common with other women, for two reasons: one, it’s absolutely no-one’s business but ours, call me old-fashioned but what goes on in a marriage bed is between husband and wife, to tell all would be like inviting a third-party in to view, and two, which is not quite so pertinent now, out of respect for my husband’s position and ministry, I need to keep my counsel on these matters.

The idea of the priest’s sexual activities could prove something of a distraction to those for whom he carries a huge responsibility and burden of care. If I were to divulge that, hypothetically, he liked to dress up as a gorilla, complete with comedy inflatable banana, to get him in the mood, do you really think that anyone would ever pay attention in a homily again? What about on those occasions where he had to give the sacrament of reconciliation (sadly increasingly rare in the Anglican Communion) or if someone needed to entrust him with a deeply personal confidence? His priestly authority could have certainly have been compromised.

I would argue the same is true of Sally Bercow. Her interview and photo-shoot sadly demeaned the office of Speaker, it seems it will be hard for him to be taken seriously again, how many House of Commons wags are going to be jibing “bong, bong, bong” and the like at him. Plus, if I’m honest, the image of him frantically bonking away to the chimes of Big Ben was more than enough to put me off my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

As to Mrs Bercow’s ludicrous assertions about how his position made him irresistible to other women, I would wager this has more to do with basic psychology; as most men who have been without a girlfriend for some time will testify, it’s often like famine or feast, as soon as they do find themselves a companion, suddenly it seems like the entire female population are throwing themselves at him. Reason being, that women are a canny bunch. As soon as a man has a mate, other women realise that he must actually have lots of desirable qualities, in order to have snagged himself a nice girl. There’s also the matter of forbidden fruit, contrary creatures that we are, we are always longing for the unobtainable, that which we can’t have. Of course politics may have played their part, in the same way, that a single young C of E priest must have seemed caring, dependable and reliable, but that’s only a small part of the story.

I don’t quite know what Sally was trying to achieve. If she was trying to prove how attractive and sexy she is, she managed to do that, although I can’t quite see why she felt the need and it’s probably why she attracted so many horrible misogynist and unkind comments on Guido Fawkes blog – undoubtedly many men felt threatened by her. Mind you if you are going to set yourself up as a sex object, then don’t be surprised when you are objectified, perhaps not in the way you’d expected. Was she attempting to boast about her sex life? It strikes me that is not the most efficient way of persuading people of your qualities, its more likely to attract jealousy, resentment or in my case, total bemusement. It seemed to me like the attention-seeking behaviour of an insecure teenager, proudly displaying her love bites. “Look everyone, I’m having SEX, look, sex, sex, sex, lovely, wonderful juicy, sexy sexy sex, rumpety pumpety, bumpy bumpy bump, oooh isn’t it good aren’t I empowered”. No dear, you’re just a married woman having sex with your husband, so what? I’m glad you enjoy it, I’m glad you have a nice time, that’s to be expected in a healthy and happy marriage, but it’s nothing extraordinary, believe me.

Bless her, what she was trying to do was up her public profile, but it wasn’t the most advisable idea, both in terms of her husband’s status and if she does want to be taken seriously as a political candidate, although it is almost definite that she will be either on the next episode of “I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here” or “Loose Women”. I hear on the grapevine that there are many who are looking forward to seeing the poor woman being forced to munch on a kangaroo testicle.

All just a “storm in a bed sheet”, but I couldn’t help but splutter when she claimed that she had been “stitched up” on Twitter. What, someone had forced her to pose naked in a sheet and talk about her sex life? She had seriously been anticipating an article regarding her stance on economic policy. She was putting some figures to bed? It rather reminded me of the legendary Kenny Everett character “Cupid Stunt” whose every plot-line seemed to consist of a surprised “And suddenly ALL MY CLOTHES FALL OFF”!! Still it was all done “in the best possible taste”!!

Home Alone

*Warning: This post is a lengthy discussion of the issues concerning Early Medical Abortion. It contains information that some may find distressing.*

Today is the final day of the High Court hearing where the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) are challenging the Department of Health, in order that women may be allowed to take the Abortion Pill, RU486 at home. Under the current system, the woman is prescribed and given two pills at the clinic, which block the pregnancy hormones and cause the developing embryo to detach from the womb lining where it cannot survive. The second set of pills is given in the clinic 48 hours later, which will cause her to miscarry. What the BPAS wish to do is challenge the 1967 Abortion Act which states that ‘any treatment for the termination of pregnancy’ must take place in a hospital or clinic and allow women to take the second set of pills at home, their main argument being that a woman will be able to better manage ‘a natural miscarriage’ in the comfort of her own home, where she will be better physically and emotionally prepared to cope.  Ann Furedi, the Chief Executive of BPAS claims that many women describe the cramping and bleeding as a “blessed relief”. The Abortion Pill, or EMA (Early Medical Abortion) “isn’t a period, but is probably the closest thing to it there is”.

A pill-popping exercise and Post-Abortion Syndrome

Stop right there. First of all, one of the many problems with the RU486, is that it turns abortion into nothing more than a pill-popping exercise. Many will not see a problem with that, but regardless of whether or not you believe the unborn child to actually be a child and have any rights, (for a photo of a 9 week fetus click here) abortion is the destruction of unborn life. Many many women, and I know, I have spoken with enough of them, suffer lasting emotional trauma after an abortion, when the reality of their choice has kicked in. The vast majority of women who undergo an abortion do experience a measure of guilt and pain, which society does not want to recognise, because such a recognition means an identification of what abortion is. Therefore a woman struggling with the after-effects of an abortion is unable to seek support of her close friends or family, who will condemn her for two reasons, either that she had the abortion itself, or more commonly, that she is experiencing grief and pain. Society embraces and endorses abortion as being a valid lifestyle choice and so a woman who suffers unforeseen emotional consequences as a result of that choice is seen as being self-indulgent and/or undermining the validity of that choice. Phrases like “well it was for the best, it was what you wanted to do”, “it wasn’t really a baby anyway” being all too common. A woman suffering from Post Abortion Syndrome or abortion related PTSD needs to be able to vocalise her experiences to a non-judgemental listener, one who will seek to ascribe neither blame, nor validation to her decision, but simply be there to listen and also to help her find ways of marking her loss. Many women who have been through an abortion  and need help beat themselves up in almost unimaginable ways, they don’t need any more guilt than they already have. Now when you make the woman physically responsible for the ending of her pregnancy, this only compounds the potential after-effects.

(Incidentally it is worth noting that neither BPAS or Marie Stopes offer any free emotional post-procedure counselling, their websites talking about the importance of having a good friend, counselling only being available on an appointment basis, in contrast to all the major pro-life charities, who are there at the other end of the phone 24/7, free of charge. )

So that’s the issue with pill-popping, it puts the burden and responsibility back onto the woman herself and reduces a devastating procedure into the routine everyday action taking a pill to alleviate an ache or pain. The comparisons that Ann Furedi makes with a patient who suffers from, for example, high blood pressure, only seeks to trivialise the issue further and is a straw-man argument. A patient with high blood pressure needs pills or medication to alleviate or control the symptoms of his condition and hopefully cure it. Pregnancy is not an illness or disease, an unborn child is not a symptom that needs to be eliminated.

A quick, safe decision?

Let’s look at the next issue surrounding the Early Medical Abortion, namely the time limit. The RU486 may only be taken before the woman has reached 9 weeks of pregnancy, therefore woman wishing to take this option need to do so quickly, the quicker the better. I can testify, having had 2 unplanned pregnancies, that in those first early weeks, one is in an absolute state of shock. Your hormones are all over the place, you are extremely tired, emotional, terrified of the future and often unable to think clearly. Even if, as with my second child, the baby is planned, you are still rather overwhelmed and incredulous that you are pregnant. It doesn’t seem real, apart from the two lines on the stick; there is no obvious physical manifestation that you are actually carrying a child. For me the weeks between 4 and 8 are the hardest, you know that you are pregnant, but you don’t actually have anything to show for it and it’s easy to go into a state of denial, particularly as you are bound to silence, for obvious reasons.

Though I need to be wary of disclosing too much private information, I feel it is appropriate to share some information regarding my pregnancy with my first daughter. As most know, my husband is not the biological father of our eldest child. Her biological father, with whom she now enjoys a close, loving and fulfilling relationship had always been explicit that he never ever wanted to have children. When I became unexpectedly pregnant, it is not melodramatic to state that for him, it was a total and utter disaster. It soon became very clear that at some point a choice would need to be made between the child and my relationship and that the relationship would not survive a child. Both sets of parents were extremely concerned, I took many phonecalls from his father urging an abortion and my mother also put pressure on me, stating that perhaps now was not the right time. His parents were terrified of the effect of an unwanted child on their son, my parents were terrified that our relationship would split up. At some point, someone well-meaning booked me in for an appointment at Marie Stopes. I rang them to discuss the situation when I was 7 weeks pregnant, about a week after I had taken the test. They informed me that I had an appointment to be prescribed the RU486 the next day. I stated that I was unsure as to my decision, (at that point I was pro-life though not practicing my faith) briefly outlined my circumstances, i.e. unplanned pregnancy, desperately unhappy partner, worried parents and had only begun a new job 5 months previously. Their response was that it sounded like an abortion would be the best option for me, the EMA was definitely the safest and most recommended method as it wouldn’t involve surgery, however they pressed home that I was really short of time, I desperately needed to act quickly. I asked for counselling, in order that I could discuss my options more fully and their response was to give me a counseling slot, half an hour before the time I would be given the clinical slot, but they did not want to cancel the clinical slot.

I decided there and then to cancel the entire thing, knowing how rubbish I am at saying no to people, and already under enough pressure, I felt that the sheer existence of this clinical appointment, looming immediately after the counseling might tip the balance or that I might be persuaded to make a quick decision. I was also concerned that the person on the phone, did not seem willing or able to discuss the alternatives. Marie Stopes were also guilty of using the oldest salesman’s trick in the book, namely of not only emphasising my limited time, but also of stating that if I didn’t take the given appointment that they couldn’t guarantee that there would be any available in the allocated time. It was a now or never scenario. I felt enormous pressure to abort with Marie Stopes keen to endorse and facilitate the decisions of others, not once did anyone ask “how do you feel about this, have you considered keeping your baby?”

I went home in floods of tears and announced somewhat melodramatically that I was keeping the baby and although I knew he would think I was mental, that I couldn’t abort because that would mean that I would burn in hell forever! I need to add that is not my stance now, but my daughter’s birth was an enormous turning point in my journey of faith.

What got me through those incredibly awful early weeks, was the determination that I couldn’t hurt my baby and the support of a very good friend, who helped me to see that what I saw as obstacles were not really obstacles at all, and that the very worst thing I could do would be to rush into a decision. 9 weeks may seem like plenty of time, but in reality, many women do not find out until they are at least 6-7 weeks pregnant, and 2 weeks is not sufficient to get one’s head around the enormity of the decision and make any kind of rational judgement, particularly when you are being pressured by an abortion provider. It worried me that counseling was not offered for a decision of this gravity. Let’s contrast the attitude of Marie Stopes/BPAS with that of a responsible Family Planning Clinic, which my friend visited aged 17. She had suspected that she was unexpectedly pregnant, went to the FPC who confirmed this, whereupon her first reaction was “I want to get rid of it”. Admittedly this was some time ago, attitudes are now different, but she was told “you’ve just found out that you’re pregnant five minutes ago. You cannot possibly make that decision. You need to go home, have a week to think about this, spend some time and come back next week, if you still feel the same then we will discuss options”. Her daughter is now 13 years old, she also has an 11 year old and despite having been kicked out of home as a result of her pregnancy, is a qualified staff nurse.

The reality of the procedure

Pressuring women is not the responsible option. Having subsequently been motivated to do some post abortion counselling work, almost every woman I have spoken to who was prescribed the RU486, has an absolute horror story to relate. To describe the cramping and nausea as being similar to period pain is a cruel deception. Women are not properly informed as to their potential ordeal until it is too late. Clinical sanitised language is employed and it is only once women are given the second set of pills, or in some cases, pessary, are they told “what you are are about to experience is a mini labour”. Not every woman suffers from period pain, so for many this is a meaningless comparison, many women think they will just experience a mild tummy ache. I have heard stories of women in agony for hours, one that I think will stick with me forever, was of one woman who had an intuitive compulsion to walk up and down the stairs of the clinic to alleviate her terrible pain, with some nurse Ratchett type urging her back into bed and to stay still. She had a dreadful fever, was throwing up and all the nurse could say was “oh good that proves its working well”. The RU486 is a taste of labour for many women, but instead of the relief described by Ann Furedi, it is accompanied by emptiness and grief, the labour bringing home to them exactly what they have lost. Those of us who have children and have experienced the pain of labour, can also testify to the joy and wonderment when our children are finally delivered, your body having been working up to this for several hours.

Not so for women affected by the RU486, they have absolutely nothing to show for their pains and are often so scarred that they are deterred for life from ever experiencing the empowering nature of childbirth. They associate it with an ugly outcome. Though I attempt to refrain from being graphic in these matters, the outcome is horrific. Women are given a carboard kidney dish in which to “pass the sack”, which then needs to be put into a paper bag allegedly resembling a lunchsack, whereupon it is checked to ensure that it is intact. Then they are sent home with paracetamol to deal with the fall-out and get on with life.

The argument goes that it is much kinder to let women manage their abortions in the comfort of their own home. From the stories I have heard, home is the very last place that women need to be, they need medical support and assistance, even if it is of a very brusque nature. Sometimes women need serious pain relief and intervention and a clinic or hospital is undoubtedly the best place. Complications such as incomplete or failed abortions which require surgery or problems associated with bleeding are not rare. What concerns me about this, is that it will be the vulnerable who will be most at risk. Teenage girls taking this pill without the knowledge or support of their parents, quietly taking the pill all alone in the privacy of their bedrooms, experiencing excruciating pain and potentially serious complications and too scared to ask for help or support. Apparently clinics will have a manned helpline for those concerned with symptoms, but the helpline will be of no practical support if someone needs urgent medical attention. All sorts of things could happen. The so-called ease and convenience of this pill could mean that many are pressured into taking it by boyfriends or abusive partners, relatives or even pimps without the proper care and support. Worse still, it is not beyond the bounds of imagination that women may be unknowingly duped or forced into taking it, particularly given the amount of women estimated to be working illegally in the sex industry. It seems so simple, go to the clinic take a few pills, go home, then take a few more 48 hours later and problem solved. Just a little bit of tummy ache to contend with. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many women do experience natural miscarriages at home, with a significant proportion needing follow-up medical attention. Furthermore most women who do experience a natural miscarriage have the support of friends, families and partners who understand that this is an emotionally and physically gruelling time for them, with time off work often granted for compassionate reasons. I cannot see women taking the RU846 at home being accorded anything like the same amount of support, the myth is take the pill, solve the problem and get on with life. Besides, a miscarriage is a dreadfully traumatic experience for any woman, and yes probably they are more comfortable tucked up in bed, or curled up on the sofa. Not so for the woman going through a mini labour on the quiet, who has absolutely no idea of what to expect, whether or not her pain or blood loss is normal and no-one to talk to about it, unless she can sneakily use her mobile whilst locking herself in the bathroom or bedroom, unable to physically manifest any sign that she might be in pain in case someone suspects. The bedroom or bathroom will forever be associated with horrific memories and associations, a constant reminder of her ordeal.

There is also the issue of disposal of the fetus. Existing Department of Health guidelines state that dignity and respect should be afforded to fetal tissue and to leave women to deal with this aspect not only contravenes existing guidelines but is downright cruel.

Holistic healthcare – body and soul, or an expedited solution?

This is being sold under the premise of healthcare and concern for the woman, whereas if healthcare was the main issue, proper counseling would be mandatory before any abortion takes place, so that the woman is able to fully consent to the procedure and knows exactly what to expect. Since when did mental health cease to become a healthcare issue? The whole point of the 1967 Abortion Act was to ensure that abortion was as safe as possible for women. A successful challenge would totally undermine the spirit of the act, would compromise women’s safety and put abortion safely back behind closed doors.

And if you still think that this is done in the name of altruism, consider this. BPAS charges £530 for a medical abortion, although the NHS funds 93% of abortions carried out by them. Marie Stopes charges the same, although they will let you have your consultation over the telephone  rather than face-to-face and will charge an extra £35 if you need them at the weekend. Do you think that if all of a sudden women are allowed to take their pills at home, with no medical supervision, that the prices will fall? If the challenge is successful, the clinic’s overheads are reduced, meaning plenty more money in the pot to guess what sell and promote even more speedy abortions to even more women. It’s a nice little earner for them, make no mistake. And for those who are sceptical, check out Planned Parenthood in the US. A similar “altruistic” organisation, providing choice for women, abortions given, no questions asked, who have this week been uncovered not only covering up cases of child abuse and statutory rape, but also giving advice to pimps and sex traffickers who bring in their clients for a no questions asked service.

Regardless of one’s views on abortion, today’s challenge is motivated far more by profit than altruism. If you truly care about women facing crisis pregnancies, you’ll enable them to make a properly informed, wholly consensual choice, instead of rushing them into a course of action which will have serious long-term emotional and physical repercussions. To any woman who has ever suffered a miscarriage, to equate it to being the closest thing to a period, shows how out of touch BPAS and Ms Furedi really are.

Shhh…don’t mention the s-word

One of the recurrent themes of my online presence recently has been that of judgement. Not in the eschatological sense, but more of an earthly sense. “Ooooh, you’re so judgemental” goes the cry. A quick scan through some of the comments on this blog will certainly bear this out.

Taking a black and white position on various issues renders one “judgemental”. The phrase amuses and irks me in equal measure. It is undoubtedly meant as a criticism, as it is applied to mean that one is negatively judging a person, not an act, however as I have repeatedly stated, there is a world of difference between abhorrence or distaste for an act and the extension of that abhorrence to the person. It is entirely possible to condemn an act without implicitly condemning the person. An example might be the mother or father with a child who is addicted to drugs. They would abhor the habit, despise the effect of dependency upon the child, whilst their love for their child would remain unaffected.

To call someone “judgemental” is highly ironic, because that is in itself a judgement. Is it so bad to be “judgemental”? Every single one of us is judgemental, whether we like it or not. Our whole lives are centered around a series of judgements concerning what is right and what is wrong. For some, like myself, this is extremely black and white. I hold fast to the principle of the sanctity of human life and thus I would never intentionally kill anyone, which is why amongst other reasons, I could never participate in abortion, IVF or euthanasia. It has been argued that this stance leaves me lacking in compassion, because my morality is not fluid –  I would not change my mind regardless of circumstance. This is apparently a bad thing, because, if you look at my comments, it means that allegedly I am raising myself up above other people, implying that I am somehow better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, by stating one’s opinions, one will incur the wrath of others who take an opposite viewpoint and see an implicit criticism of their stance, however this is a different proposition to criticism of the person or individuals. Very often people use the lesser of two evils to justify a position, however that does not render the act a desirable one, in the same way that it does not judge the person who has participated in that act. In the vast majority of cases involving life issues, there are mitigating factors, these are not cold-hearted decisions, however that does not detract from the gravity of the act themselves.

I challenge anyone who claims that they are not judgemental. All of us are, whether we admit to it or not. We make judgements throughout our lives and on a daily basis. Some of these are trivial, others more far-reaching. We make judgements on politicians, on ideologies and dare I say it on people themselves. We make judgements on the moral characters of our leaders and public figures. Though I have not watched it, it seems that the popular Channel 4 programme, Big Fat Gipsy Weddings, has incurred a huge amount of judgement upon the lifestyles and personalities of the travelling community. If we see a pregnant mother smoking a cigarette most of us make a moral judgement, regardless of whether or not we have caught her having an uncharacteristic quick one-off puff, or as happened to my husband tonight, who was sat in front of a couple who chattered non-stop throughout a silent Mass discussing whether or not they wanted burger and chips later on, he certainly made a judgement, i.e. that they clearly weren’t regular church-goers, as indeed did the lady who glared at him, thinking that he was the culprit. All of us live our lives by judgements in terms of our actions and behaviour and we invariably raise an eyebrow if we see others acting in a manner contrary to our innate codes.

This is not the same prospect as judging the state of other’s souls however, or as has been suggested, looking down on others. One of the most misquoted passages of Christian scripture is “Judge not lest ye be judged”, which is used as stick to beat Christians who take absolute positions. As in all passages from scripture it needs to be contextualised. This is not a passage that is saying “never ever have an opinion on anything or anyone”, far from it. Indeed to state that Jesus was not judgemental is to misunderstand huge swathes of the gospels. Most of Matthew’s gospel is in fact concerned with judgements and how we should make them. It is the statement immediately following “judge not lest ye be judged” that holds the interpretative key:  “or with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” What we as Christians need to refrain from, is judgement concerning the final fate of anyone. We must leave intentions, motives, and final worth to God. We are not to confuse the judgment of the actions of people, with sitting in judgment over them as to their eternal fate, and furthermore we are exhorted to remove the log in our own eyes first, to make sure that we are not hypocrites, before we may make sound and righteous judgements.

I never fail to be bemused by those who claim Jesus didn’t judge because he was happy to consort with sinners. Whilst the second part is undoubtedly true, Jesus did not come to call the righteous and was often admonished for the company he kept, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers to name but a few of the so-called undesirables, what is clear, is that whilst retaining compassion for the individual, he always forgave the sin. So to the woman brought before him for adultery he said “neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more”. He was making a judgement that her previous life had been sinful, however he urged her to sin no more. This is not the same as “neither do I condemn thee, what you did was alright really and understandable in the circumstances…”

I love the tale of Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. Not only is this an example of Jesus consorting and embracing the outcast, of the casting aside the social conventions of his day, a modern day analogy would be going for tea with Nick Griffin, but also it’s a classic example of meeting the sinner where they are. Christ didn’t wait for Zacchaeus to come to him, he spied (or perhaps he knew) Zacchaeus was in the tree and came to meet him. This is one of the key elements of evangelisation. It’s meeting people where they are, acknowledging them in their journey and quest for grace, not waving about banners or statements of condemnation. But in all that, there is an acceptance by Zacchaeus that he is wrong, he is the sinner, Christ has already forgiven him before he makes his offer of reparation. Christ does not justify Zacchaeus’ actions, indeed he has already judged, however the important thing is that Zacchaeus is aware and prepared to concede that he has done wrong, without ever once seeking to make excuses for his conduct. Zacchaeus is not exempt from judgement.

The fear of imposing judgement can be inhibiting and paralyzing. One of the things of which I am frequently accused is of lacking compassion. I pray that the opposite is true. Compassion does not mean accepting all actions, lifestyles, beliefs or choices are equally valid. It’s understandable, after all this sentiment sounds kind, sympathetic, convincing and even loving. Jesus did after all, welcome everyone with open arms; when he stretched his arms open wide and died for the for the salvation of mankind, absolutely no-one was excluded from that sacrifice. No-one. If we accept the sacrifice, we have therefore accepted the reason why it was necessary, namely that big old s-word again, sin.

This is why we have to use our judgement as to what is right and what is wrong, whilst at the same time, accepting that we cannot stand in judgement upon the souls of others. We have to go and “sin no more” and without identifying what constitutes sin, how may we do this? God deals with sin, not by making allowances for it, excuses for it or lowering his expectations. He didn’t water it down, but in His perfect justice He showed us compassion, and He met His own demands on our behalf. Christ died to free us all from sin but we can’t be free from sin if we make allowances for it, or attempt to justify it. We have to repent, not make excuses for ourselves.

If we go back to Zacchaeus we see Jesus’ showing a perfect example of tolerance. Christ allowed Zacchaeus turn upside down the gossip and presumption that his townspeople had spread about him.  Then by Jesus going to his home, Jesus was welcoming Zacchaeus back into the community.  He was being inclusive. In our time, tolerance has a unique meaning.  It means being welcoming and accepting and inclusive, and, here’s the catch for our time: pretending that evil does not exist.  Contemporary society mistakenly defines inclusive to mean the sin as well as the sinner. Jesus is the pattern for how we are to be tolerant.  He did not whitewash the sins of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus had already come to terms already with sin in his life, and Jesus confirms him in his reformed life, and leads the townspeople to see him differently. Jesus did not affirm the sin itself and therefore conversion, a recognition of sin, was a key part of Christ’s tolerance. Somewhere along the line Zacchaeus had changed his ways.

God tells us specifically that certain things are sinful, the problem is that a lot of people don’t like it, but we are not doing anyone any favours if we deny the reality of sin. St Paul tells us “Judge everything, hang on to what is good”.

One of my favourite on-line adversaries, is always screaming at me “you can have what ever batshit, bead-rattling beliefs you like, you just have no right to impose those beliefs on other people” *puts on Rolf Harris voice – can you guess who that might be”? 😉 * I vehemently disagree with not only the wording (obviously) but also the premise. The Church has every right, and more importantly, every obligation, to tell mankind of the danger of sin and the deadly consequences of indulging in it. That’s not “imposing morality.” It is the greatest demonstration of compassion.

In being given free will, we have been given a terrible and deadly choice. We can either choose God, or choose a path that will lead us away from him. I am not motivated by hatred. I am not intolerant in that I seek to stigmatise or criminalise no-one. I would not turn away a perceived sinner as I know that I am every bit as guilty. But, by the same token, I am not afraid to call sin for what it is, and that does not render me extreme or intolerant.

I am learning that by vocalising my beliefs, I am being scorned, reprimanded and amusingly enough called un-Christian, for stating that some things are wrong and sinful. I am labelled hateful, judgemental and self-righteous. None of this deters me from the identification of sin and though upset, I am not afraid to state the truth. Sin comes to kill and destroy us, to detach us from God. I don’t understand how it is compassionate to welcome and tolerate sin which threatens eternal death.

Compassion is deep awareness and sympathy for another’s suffering. Compassion does not comprise of condoning a particular action and neither is the identification and  rejection of sin akin putting oneself on a pedestal above others. As a sinner I cannot sit in judgement upon another,  but neither must I “call evil good, and good evil, [or] change darkness into light, and light into darkness, [or] change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!” It’s a very difficult tightrope we must all walk.

If the identification of sin and a refusal to consciously commit a mortal sin, renders me “judgemental”, well I guess I’m happy to live with that. Whether or not that makes me “a nasty titsponge who hides behind a sickeningly pious exterior”, “batshit”, “clinically insane” and “a religious extremist” to name but a few of the choice insults, I shall leave for God to judge. I will not respond, other than to note that the  name-calling, public defamation and bullying that I have been subjected to recently from other Christians, are not the tactics of Jesus.