Category Archives: Global issues

Don’t stop now: It’s not enough for churches to just “welcome” gay people

The last few weeks since the Supreme Court in America approved same sex marriage, and Ireland voted to do the same, there has been a lot of conversation (ok, mainly argument) on all forums and social media platforms. Rightly so. This is a massive shift in society.

Some people have asked me why I have made such a big deal of it, and why I am “pushing” the issue so hard. The reason is simple. I grew up in a very conservative part of the Christian tradition. I was taught that I was part of a chosen group who were going to live in Paradise, and everyone else was hated by God and would suffer for eternity. If you don’t think about it too much, there’s comfort in being part of the chosen. When you apply your mind to it, though, it’s a horrifying mindset. It actively creates “us vs them” divides at every level.

This is not what I see in the life and teachings of Jesus, who stands at the centre of my religion. I see someone who breaks down these “us verses them” divides at every opportunity. He does it across all sorts of lines: race, culture, economic status, politics, religion and sexuality.

So now that the church is confronted by such a radical shift in societal norms, we have an opportunity to re-form our churches too. It’s a key moment in history, and we must grasp it.

It is incredibly hard for someone who has grown up their whole life not just believing that homosexuality is a sin, but also that gay people are actually disgusting and despised by God to see what is now happening around the world. Acceptance of homosexuality as normal must be incredibly difficult – and for some, a sign of how badly messed up the world is.

It is wonderful to see some of these people beginning to confront their personal distaste of the “gay lifestyle” and argue for a church that should be accepting of homosexuals, and welcoming. That’s an important and necessary first step. But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

For those who believe that the Bible affirms same sex marriage, we cannot stop and applaud this half way step. It is going to bring more pain and suffering very soon. If you believe that “being gay” is a sin in itself, then you are only going to find pain in a church. And churches that welcome gays but still believe that “being gay” is sinful are going to cause deep and abiding harm to people. Homosexuals who attend those churches will be second class citizens, will be prohibited from leading, serving and exercising their spiritual gifts and calling. They will be broken down, not built up.

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One by one: Tony Campolo comes out for gay marriage

Tony Campolo, author, theologian and outspoken evangelical leader, has today announced that after much prayer and study, he has changed his position on gay marriage and now believes that the church should be in favour of it. One by one, evangelical thinkers and theologians are changing their positions. Tony is a significant figure, as he has long stood against affirming gay marriage (while being in favour of churches improving their affirmation of celibate gays). This is an important milestone in the church’s journey of change on this issue.

Tony made the announcement a few hours ago via his blog.

He says, in part:

… Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.

As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

One by one, until the ripple becomes a wave, and the wave becomes a flood. That is how it has always been, with any major shift in society.

Thank you, Tony, for having the courage to make this stand. May many more pastors and Christian leaders be encouraged now to follow your lead, and help us change this dreadful error in our interpretation of the Bible.

UPDATE ON 10 JUNE 2015: Brian D. McLaren, long time friend and collaborator with Tony (who also opposed him on the gay marriage issue for many years, while still remaining friends), has commented on Tony’s statement as well as the Christianity Today editorial. It’s well worth reading here.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

On his Formerly Fundie blog, Benjamin L. Corey, recently posted this blog entry. It’s a provocative read for some conservative American Christians, but it’s well worth it. Thought provoking and challenging. And, in my opinion, right.

Read it in full at his site, or an extract below.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

By Benjamin L. Corey

If you could meet one of the first Christians would you like them?

I’m convinced that many American Christians would not. In the course of 2000 years, Christianity- while maintaining the basic tenets, has morphed and shifted from the way it was originally designed and lived out. Since we tend to live in a culture that is rather self-centered, we have a tendency to assume we “have it right” while completely overlooking the fact that our version of Christianity might appear quite foreign– even hopelessly corrupted– if viewed through the eyes of one of the first Christians.

If those entrenched in American Christianity could transport back in time to experience Christianity as it originally was, they’d be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, would probably have declined the invitation to join Christianity at all.
Here’s 5 of the major reasons why I think many American Christians probably would not have liked the first ones:

1. The first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth.

Americanized Christians often fight to make sure our taxes are lower, fight to repeal healthcare for poor people, and throw a fit over a small portion of our income going to provide foodstamps. While touting “voluntary” and “private” charity as the way to go, we give on average 2-3% of our income to the church or charities– not nearly enough to actually address the needy in any meaningful way. But what about the early Christians?

Well, the first Christians were quite different. In the book of Acts (the book that tells the story of original Christianity) tells us that “all the believers were together and held everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). We’re further told that there were no poor among them, because those who had land or property sold it so that this wealth could be “redistributed” to the needy (Acts 4:35). While on one hand communal property and redistribution of wealth was voluntary, scripture tells us that “all” of the believers in the church did this– meaning that it wasn’t exactly voluntary but a condition of being accepted into the group.
If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel.

Continue reading 5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

Parenting in a world gone mad

I wrote this article a number of years ago for a Parenting Magazine. The concepts that had been birthed in me eventually turned into a book that I co-wrote with Nikki Bush, “Future-Proof Your Child” (Penguin, 2009 – see here for purchasing options).

It was the early morning of Thursday, 10 August 2006. We had just landed after a long haul flight, the overnight non-stop from Johannesburg to Heathrow airport in London. Even though we hadn’t slept very well, we were all excited – after all, it was the start of our two week family holiday in England. Imagine our dismay as we were told on landing that we had to wait on the runway as there was some kind of security alert. Having already spent a night trying to stop our three daughters, Amy (7), Hannah (5) and Rebecca (16 months) from dismantling the plane, each other and the other passengers, this seemed like an announcement from hell.

We soon discovered that it was the morning that British police had taken some terrorist suspects into custody. They were part of a plot to blow up airplanes leaving from UK airports. Heathrow had been shut down.

The inconvenience and extra security was a pain, but understandable, of course. You’d rather be delayed and safe, than have terrorists be able to do what they want to. But what really alarmed me that day was trying to explain to my daughters why bad men would want to blow up planes. “Daddy, why don’t the bad men just speak to someone about what made them so angry? Daddy, did they want to kill us?”

It’s a Mad, Mad World

Living in South Africa, and more particularly in Johannesburg, we should have been prepared for questions like this at some stage. My oldest daughter is increasingly taking in the information from half-hourly news bulletins. I fear that Hannah, outgoing and fun-loving as she is, is beginning to sense that there are many ways in which her idealistic world can be shattered. My youngest daughter is currently oblivious to the bigger issues in the world. But, as an orphaned Zulu girl adopted into our family, she is a daily reminder to us that the world is very much less than perfect.

We live in a world seemingly gone mad. At a macro level, there is an increase in the “clash of civilizations”: East vs West, Poor vs Rich, First vs Third world, Christian vs Muslim, Black vs White, and so many other conflicts at a global level. The news is filled with war, natural disasters, crime, death and destruction. It is the same at the local level, especially in South Africa, as our fledgling country continues to grapple with the consequences of 40 years of simmering struggle, deliberate under-education of an entire generation and rampant unemployment. All of these contribute to unacceptable crime levels. Our whole world is very fragile indeed.

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The madness of evangelical responses to homosexuality

UPDATE on 29 March 2014: After just three days, and intense funding pressure, World Vision have decided to reverse their decision and will exclude openly gay people from their organisation. This is shocking and disgusting. Evangelicals will claim it as a victory. It is not.

Tony Jones has written about this, with both opinion and inside information – it’s worth a read!

ORIGINAL POST:

I really do understand why some conservative Christians are so concerned about the debate around homosexuality and gay marriage. They see it as a key theological issue, threatening to unravel their approach to Biblical interpretation and a threat to a Christian morality they’ve often been able to impose on the societies in which they live. I don’t agree with them, but I do understand why the issue is so important. But I don’t understand some conservative Christians who seem to have gone beyond the far edge of “concern” and become completely obsessive.

It harkens back to what must have happened during the days of witch hunts. (And it brings to my mind a few Monty Python type sketches too: “she’s a witch, burn her!”, and the twisted logic often employed in those days).

An example of what I am talking about happened just this week.

World Vision announced that they were not going to make any comments or issue theological statements about the issue of gay marriage, but that they were not going to discriminate against gays in their hiring policies and would employ people in same-sex relationships. American evangelical church leaders went bananas.

Rachel Held Evans has (as she very often does) the best reflection on what happened and what it shows us about the state of the evangelical church. I agree with her assessment – and it greatly saddens me.

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Above the Law? Mark Driscoll and plagiarism

Updated on 1 July 2014

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Mark Driscoll. I think his version of Christianity is one of the most dangerous around at the moment. His view of women in Scripture is horrid, and the way he has taught his accolytes around the world to take many, many steps backwards on this issue is more than just a problem: I find it abhorrent. I think the way he has manipulated Scripture on issues of sex are highly problematic.

So, I need to be careful. I take no delight in the fall of a Christian leader, even one I think is dangerous and wrong.

But Driscoll has been caught in a plagiarism scandal. (Again, by the way). In the most recent issue, both a book he has written and a series of study guides his church put together, he appears to have clearly wholesale copied from another author’s books and from a Bible commentary, with insufficient attributions being made. Having been found out, he and his publishers have issued a half baked non-apology, and invited the original author to come and speak at his church. I am guessing there is a financial consideration somewhere in there for the author.

All well and good. Except it’s not.

The tone of his “apology” and the way in which this has been handled smacks of someone who feels he is above the law. I don’t like it. But then I don’t like Driscoll and what he stands for.

Driscoll has also been very vocal on this specific issue in the past. His own website cautions people against using his intellectual property, and in his book, ‘Vintage Church’, he argued that pastors who plagiarize should resign from their jobs. I wonder if he will? No, in fact, I don’t wonder at all. He won’t.

Actually, as often happens when you go up against someone who is above the law, the radio host who made the original allegations has in the past week removed all the allegations from her website saying she should have approached the publisher first. And her producer has resigned. I wonder if that was all voluntarily done?

I’ll say no more – you make up your own mind – here’s a good enough summary of the issue and the text of the “apology”. And here’s another blog on the issue, with details of the copied texts.

I just want to go on record saying that the cracks are showing. I hope the accolytes can see them.

Update: In June 2014, Tyndale announced that it had removed all Driscoll’s future books from its catalogue, and would not be reprinting any of his old books.

Further information has also come to light since I wrote the original post. For example, Driscoll paid a company to buy 11,000 of his “best selling” book from a variety of sources in the first week of its publication. He initially claimed this was just part of marketing the book, but later apologised for the activity. Any author will tell you that having a few thousand books sold in the first week instantly raises the status of your book, and also creates a platform for better contracts in the future. It appears that it was on this false basis that Tyndale offered contracts in the first place.

The cracks are indeed showing. The empire is crumbling. One of the most dangerous men in evangelical Christianity is showing his true colours.

Read more on this here.

The Pope is TIME magazine’s Person of the Year: a great choice

I really do like the current Pope. He seems to be a wonderful representative of Christ on earth – as we all should be. And he certainly has done much to raise the profile of the church. Catholic or not, all Christians should see the value in that.

TIME magazine’s profile and the reasoning behind their choice is well worth reading. Do so online here – with all the graphics and videos, or a text extract below:

Pope Francis, The People’s Pope

He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century

On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the ­pasaje—Spanish for passage—where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K. Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks. The word asesino—­murderer—is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.

Continue reading The Pope is TIME magazine’s Person of the Year: a great choice

A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition) wrote an article which the Gospel Coalition posted on their website: “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and ‘Gay Marriage’“. I have heard this argument before: that the disgust many conservative Christians feel towards homosexuality is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in their consciences and a clear indication that it is wrong.

Whatever your belief about homosexuality and gay marriage, this is an entirely spurious supposition.

I travel all over the world for my work, and have very often had a gag reflex in response to some of the food I have been offered. Is that my conscience telling me that the food is morally bad for me? Or is it possibly more likely to be some deep seated cultural conditioning telling me not to eat this food which is unknown or unappetising to me? I have learnt not to trust my gag reflex in many situations.

But I have also experienced the ‘gag reflex’ Pastor Anyabwile speaks of in a church context. The first time (and a few more, sad to say) that I heard a female worship leader (sorry, Darlene Zschech) and a woman preacher I had literal bad physical reactions. I had been brought up to believe with all my heart that women should not be leaders or teachers. I don’t believe that anymore. But the gag reflex had nothing to do with it – either way. I also had a ‘gag reflex’ the first time I saw a black man and a white woman kissing. I grew up in Apartheid era South Africa where this was illegal, and also considered immoral on the basis of the Bible. Although I remember my church being vaguely opposed to apartheid, we never had any black kids in our Sunday School or youth programmes (it was technically illegal to do so, but some churches didn’t bother obeying that particular law, while mine did). And there were certainly no cross cultural couples around. I had a deep cultural conditioning against such things. I don’t anymore (my family has even adopted a Zulu daughter). But a few years ago, on an international youth pastor’s forum, I asked participants to list their top three biggest youth group issues. Many pastors from the southern states of the USA listed cross cultural dating as their number one issue (and they were opposed to it!).

So, I don’t trust my gag reflex to be my moral guide. I really honestly don’t. And I find it horrific that a person in the position that Pastor Anyabwile is can publicly put forward the level of homophobic attitudes he does in his article.

As I was wondering how to respond, I was delighted to see that one of my favourite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, had also picked up the story and provided a thoughtful and useful response. You can read it on her blog, or an extended extract below.

God forgive us for these attitudes, and rescue us from the pit from which they come.

Continue reading A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Wonderful examples of inter faith solidarity

Two years ago when the first riots swept across Egypt, I posted a wonderful picture of Christians who surrounded and protected Muslims who were praying. Now, in the past few days, as Christians have been on receiving end of persecution it is wonderful to see Muslim’s returning the gesture. There are now quite a few photos circulating on the web of Muslims surrounding Christian churches, protecting them from protestors and arsonists.

Here are two of these images:
Muslims protecting church in Egypt

Muslims protecting church in Egypt

One of the books I have enjoyed reading most this past year is Brian McLaren’s, “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World”. It is an insightful and well reasoned book that helps us reconsider how we can be truly Christian while still connecting with other religions. The intention of the book is to seek a “third way”. As Brian says, “We know how to have a strong Christian identity that is intolerant of or belligerent towards other faiths, and we know how to have a weak Christian identity that is tolerant and benevolent. But is there a third alternative? How do we discover, live, teach, and practise a Christian identity that is both strong and benevolent towards other faiths?” (Buy Brian’s book at Kalahari.com in South Africa, on Amazon.com or on [email protected]).

It’s great to see some examples of this in Egypt.