Category Archives: Global issues

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.

Here’s something you won’t hear at your church this Sunday: your conscience isn’t working!

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.

Why have South African Christians welcomed CJ Mahaney?

Right now a conference called Rezolution is taking place in Johannesburg. The keynote speaker is an American, CJ Mahaney. Just a few weeks ago, Mahaney stepped down from the leadership of his own denomination, Sovereign Grace Ministries on the back of a court case in which he is a named defendant. The case alleges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders knowingly covered up sexual abuse that took place within their churches. (Update on 18 May 2013: the indictment has now been updated and made public: read the court document here. Warning, it will make you sick to your soul).

This comes on the heels of a leave of absence Mahaney took in 2011, in which he admitted to “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy” (see Christianity Today’s reporting of the situation back then).

In October last year, three female plaintiffs filed a lawsuit that alleges “a conspiracy spanning more than two decades [in the 1980s and 90s] to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members”. Mahaney and board president John Loftness, along with six other leaders, are named as defendants for allegedly failing to report incidents of abuse to law enforcement, encouraging parents to not report them, and “mislead[ing] law enforcement into believing the parents had ‘forgiven’ those who preyed on their children.”

Reformed Christians are flocking to this conference and extolling the teaching of Mahaney.

I have no doubt that God can use anyone to speak His message, and that all of us are sinners. But I am very concerned that in a country rocked by sexual abuse such as South Africa, the church would invite this man to speak. It sends a horrific message to a watching world. We need to be more sensitive to the world we wish to minister God’s love to. CJ Mahaney should have been removed from Rezolution conference as a speaker. And his public ministry should not be supported by Christian leaders in this country.

A good friend of mine who happens to be a recently cum laude graduated Masters student in psychology who has a passion for social justice and dealing with the effects of child abuse, has written an article on this issue that I think deserves to be read. You can read and download the PDF here. I encourage you to do so.

I am very disappointed that Antioch Bible Church, founded by Tim Cantrall out of a messy split with Honeyridge Baptist Church a few years ago, has chosen to keep CJ Mahaney on the bill of Rezolution. I am disappointed in my many conservative friends who have supported this conference and specifically Mahaney while knowing the fact that he has stepped down from ministry in the USA. By all means support him privately, but do not endorse his public ministry. I am disappointed that the Reformed churches in South Africa do not take the issue of sexual sin amongst one of their leaders seriously. I am disappointed in the message that a watching world has received from this Rezolution conference.

I distance myself from this brand of Christianity.

How rich do you have to be (in order to help a poor person)?

Contrary to a common misinterpretation, Jesus never said that money was the root of all evil. There is nothing wrong with money, with making money, or with being rich. The Bible does warn rich people that it is dangerous for your spiritual health to be wealthy, but it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. According to the Bible, one of the key uses of personal wealth should be to help others. An abiding principle throughout Scripture is that we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

Yet we live in a world that is as inequitable as it has ever been. The rich are so rich, and have skewed the economic systems in their own favour. And the poor continue to remain so. There are currently over 1 billion people who live on less than $2 a day – and most of them will die because of their poverty.

Back in 2000, the world’s governments got together and created a set of eight goals, called the Millennium Development Goals, with a target of halving global extreme poverty by 2015. We’re nearly at that target date now, and we are seeing some successes. The number of extremely poor people has in fact reduced in the last thirteen years. But probably the most important part of the MDGs was that they quantified what is required to end extreme poverty, putting a price tag on it. We know what needs to be done. We know how much it will cost.

And there’s the rub. Who will pay?

Well, Oxfam recently crunched the numbers and showed that the net income of the world’s 100 richest people for 2012 (not their overall wealth: just the $240 billion they earned last year) is enough to end extreme poverty not once, or twice, but four times over. Or, put another way, if the world’s richest 100 people gave just three months earnings to the efforts to end poverty, we’d have all the money we needed to achieve this goal.

By the way, the world’s richest 1% have seen their income grow by more than 20% during the financial crisis.

OK, so that’s quite an eyeopener. But you could easily tut tut at this point and write this off as someone else’s problem.

But what about you?

Well, how rich do you have to be to be one of the “world’s richest”? How rich are you? Go to this wonderful website, http://www.globalrichlist.com/, enter your annual income and it will show you where you stand in the world’s income list (yes, your ranking out of 7 billion people). If you’re in the top 20% (and I promise you that if you’re reading this, then you are), then this is YOUR issue to.

How rich do you have to be in order to have enough to help the poor? So what are you doing about it?

Here’s something you should hear more of in your church: you are richer than many other people, and therefore need to give them some of your money and wealth. God is not a capitalist, and neither should we be.

Being a witness to grace: Louie Giglio, homosexuality, a prayer, persecution and a storm of protest

One of the current themes of conservative evangelical Christianity is a persecution complex. They look for opportunities to be offended by popular culture (take the phony ‘war on Christmas’ in America, for example). And when something happens that could in any way be taken as an attack on Christians, they fall over themselves to proclaim how persecuted they are. This happened again this past week, as Louie Giglio, well known pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was withdrawn from praying the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration. The reason was pressure from LGBT groups because of a sermon Giglio had preached in the 1990s about homosexuality.

The Gospel Coalition immediately jumped on this as a sign of an anti-Christian bias in society, of President Obama’s campaign of religious intolerance and (of course) of the fact that the conservative evangelicals must be right because Jesus said that people would hate them. Read their statement here.

It’s amazing how John 15:19 is taken so out of context it is made to say exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended. Go and read John 15 for yourself quickly. The immediate context is about love. It’s about proving our commitment to God, our devotion to each other and our service to the world by how much we love. And not the “tough love” advocated by James Dobson (so called “love” that would reject a child because of their sexual orientation, or cut off ties with a friend because of their divorce) but the sacrificial love of Jesus, who “while we were yet sinners”, gave up his life for us. Keep reading into John 16. The people that Jesus was warning his disciples about – those that would “hate them” – were the religious leaders. Jesus was hated by Pharisees and Saducees, not by the people. This is the tragic irony of the persecution complex: it’s actually conservative evangelical church leaders that Jesus was warning us about. They are actually the persecutors, not the persecuted.

Anyway, back to Louie Giglio, who I actually believe has done something different. He has provided a wonderful example of the grace and love we are supposed to be showing to the world.

It seems as if he withdrew his acceptance to pray at the inauguration (rather than being “disinvited” as the Gospel Coalition said). Read his statement here, and the Inaugural Committee’s statement here. In the light of a growing backlash to the invitation, Giglio – maybe under pressure from the White House – chose grace and peace and love. Rachel Held Evans has stated beautifully the value of this move by Giglio:
“I applaud Giglio’s decision to do as much as he could to ensure that something as sacred as a prayer did not become overly politicized or divisive. He made grace and peace higher priorities than his own celebrity. To me, that’s the essence of what Paul meant when he said, ‘As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.’ We would do well to follow Giglio’s lead in this regard and discuss this situation with civility, not making more of it than necessary.”

I’d suggest, by the way, we should discuss the whole issue of homosexuality in the same way, too.

By the way, Rachel’s blog post on the issue is masterful. She explains that there is no denial of freedom of speech in Giglio’s removal from the Inauguration, nor are evangelical Christians being persecuted in America. Read her thoughts here.

It’s becoming too predictable, and a bad witness, that every little issue is seen as a storm, a denial of rights and a persecution by evangelical Christians – especially in America.

Thank you, Louie Giglio for your grace and wisdom.
Thank you, Rachel Held Evans for your insights and analysis.
Thank you, LGBT community for your continued concern and advocacy for people broken and wounded by a society and a church that does not know how to engage with you in love.
Thank you, God, for your patience with your creation and for helping us to inch forward – however slowly – towards the type of world that is truly “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.

Responding to Tragedy

There have been tragedies to respond to in the year just passing. Unfortunately, a consistent theme coming out of American evangelicalism has been to use these tragedies as a bandstand for the common causes of the day, namely abortion, homosexuality and gun control (sad how conservative American Christians have reduced their religion to these touch stone topics). Once again, after the Newton school shootings, prominent Christian leaders have publicly stated their beliefs that this tragedy is caused by America’s shift to the left on these issues.

Greg Boyd, of ReKnew, responds as follows, and I agree entirely – here’s something you should hear in your church, but probably won’t:

Finger Pointing and the Impulse to Judge

by Greg Boyd, ReKnew

To no one’s surprise, yet to the sadness of many of us, several Christian spokespeople, including James Dobson, Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer, are blaming the shootings in Newtown, Conn, on abortion and gay marriage. This is sadly reminiscent of Jerry Falwell’s hurtful response to 9/11 when he divined that “the pagans,” “abortionists,” “feminists,” “gays,” “lesbians,” “ACLU” and “People For the American Way” were to be blamed. It’s reminiscent as well, on a smaller scale, of John Piper’s disturbing public declaration that the collapse of the 35W bridge here in Minneapolis that killed 13 people was God warning us about our sin and the toppling of a church steeple by a tornado was God warning a denomination not to ordain gays.

It seems to have become a staple of American conservative Christianity to respond to tragedy – when people most need to be reminded of God’s comforting and healing love – to grab a megaphone and accuse.

Continue reading Responding to Tragedy

Focus on the Family gets it spectacularly wrong

Exactly four years ago today, on 22 October 2008, with just a few days to go in the US presidential election race between John McCain and Barack Obama, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group in the USA, released what they called a “letter from 2012”. This was a letter written from the perspective of the future, intending to highlight what might happen if Barack Obama became president.

The letter listed 34 specific things that would change in America, as well as hinting at about 10 more. You can read it for yourself here (PDF file). It’s now 22 October 2012, the date that the letter was “written”. I wonder how they fared with their predictions?

Remember that this is a Christian organisation, representing Christians and claiming to represent God Himself (as an aside, isn’t it interesting that every single candidate for the US presidency that said God told them to run for high office has failed in the attempt this year? Is that God’s fault, I wonder?). The reason I say this is that if they have done a very bad job of predicting the future, then this will show up Christians – and God – in a bad light. It sets us all up for ridicule, and gives an unbelieving world just one more reason to dismiss us.

Let’s see how they did.

Continue reading Focus on the Family gets it spectacularly wrong

Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry

I have never liked Christian bookstores much. Back when I was a theological student, I could never find any books by the authors that my conservative textbooks were warning me about. Sure, some of the warnings were valid, but I still don’t appreciate having my reading list vetted and censored for me. And then, South African Christian bookstores refused to stock some of the best selling Christian authors of the last two decades, including Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Tony Campolo amongst others. That’s when I stopped buying anything from them (luckily, Kalahari, Loot and Amazon provided me with other options).

Then, last week, Rachel Held Evans wrote a very insightful blog entry on this topic. It sounds as if America is even worse than I remember South African being. How do we let bookstore owners and publisher editors shape and mould our theology. And aren’t these the same people who fuelled the “Left behind” rapture theology with badly written fiction books? Scary.

You can read Rachel’s blog here, or an extended extract below:

Continue reading Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry

The Daily Show, Mitt Romney, Evangelical Americans and Cults

I am a fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Their brand of satire and political commentary appeals to me (even if it is a bit crude sometimes). They pull no punches and have no favourites.

On Monday night, they took a swipe at evangelical Christians who are targeting Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs as cultish. They start with an overview of the Republican nomination process thus far. Then they move into their main piece by making fun of Christian beliefs, and although I did squirm a bit, I consoled myself by thinking that their jibes were aimed at a specific version of evangelical Christianity in the USA. But as the clip heads to a conclusion, they target the huge inconsistencies in how Republican Christians in particular are applying their version of the Gospel to life in America, “the 99%” and the divide between rich and poor. This was the best bit for me.

It is a deeply insightful piece of satire, and worth your attention. Watch it below or at The Daily Show website.

PS – if you can’t watch Daily Show videos because they are blocked in your country, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll help you with a work around.

Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church

One of the biggest ‘elephants in the room’ for evangelical Christians is why so many of their young people leave the church in their late twenties. There’s no denying this happens. There are too many “used to evangelical Christians” running around. Something must be wrong.

Some people blame the way youth ministry is run. For example, see this hour long documentary produced by a young churchgoer, “Divided“. They have a point, but I don’t buy into their analysis completely.

A new book by David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, provides some more detail. “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church” is an excellent read. The Christian Post reviewed it and provides a summary of the findings (read it here, or a summary below).

This is a problem I have been passionate about for nearly three decades. I continue to be dismayed at how few churches are trying new things in an attempt to reverse nearly a half century of losing young people. This book from Barna provides some clues. What is your church going to do about it?

Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church

By Jeff Schapiro | Christian Post Reporter, Sep 2011

Nearly three out of every five young Christians disconnect from their churches after the age of 15, but why? A new research study released by the Barna Group points to six different reasons as to why young people aren’t staying in their pews.

Continue reading Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church