Category Archives: Global issues

Marching against religious intolerance; Marching against me!

Here is what you might need to hear in your church today, but probably won’t: YOU might be the persecutor, rather than the persecuted.

Looking through my news feed this morning, my eye was drawn to a story from Brazil. This past weekend, over 100,000 people joined a march in Rio de Janeiro in protest at religious intolerance. So far, so good. Religious intolerance is a “bad thing” and it’s important to have a free society so that we can practice our beliefs without fear or intimidation.

But then I read further and realised that the protestors were protesting AGAINST Christians. Apparently, evangelical Christians in Brazil are seen as the cause of persecution of especially Afro-Brazilian religious groups.

You can read the story here.

This story disturbed me. Why did so many people feel the need to protest against my faith? You don’t have to deny your own faith, nor do you need to believe that all faiths are equal in order to realise that there is a problem when that many people say there is a problem. Is this the Christianity that Jesus would want to be associated with? A Christianity characterised by exclusion, demonisation, persecution and intolerance? I can’t believe that.

Tolerance of other people’s religions and faiths is something we need to learn how to do as Christians. Maybe the starting point for the right attitude in this regard is to ask whether God is more concerned that we are right (in what we think/believe) or that we are loving (in what we do). It’s not a choice between the two, of course. But which is the appropriate starting point for engagement with the world? What do Jesus’ actions tell us about his starting point for engagement?

Who are we scared of? And are we safer because of our militaries?

Here is something you should hear at church this week, but probably won’t: don’t be scared of the terrorists.

There is much to be afraid of these days. It seems that many people – too many people – are afraid of terror and terrorism. Maybe they have a good reason to be – just look at what happened in Oslo last week, or what is happening across the Middle East everyday. For those with religious inclinations, it seems that one of the antidotes to this fear is to retreat further into religious fundamentalism and extremism. The attitude is very much: “We are right and you are wrong”, leading to “You’re either for us or against us”. Unfortunately, whenever this happens it leads to even more problems, and ultimately even more reasons for fear.

A systems framework that I find helpful is Spiral Dynamics, which attempts to identify various worldviews and chart them in a progression. It seems to me that many people are trapped in the ‘Blue’ (or ‘Amber’ according to Ken Wilber’s formulation) meme/level, which is about the us versus them approach to dealing with issues. It also frequently is associated with a ‘might is right’ approach, where terror is fought with force. (PS, for an excellent book on Christian leadership using systems theory, read “Systems Sensitive Leadership” – buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)

Sadly, in the midst of this fear, we have somehow come to revere the people who wage the wars. There is a myth that we might not agree with the war leaders, but we should still support the soldiers. In certain circumstances that might be right, but I think it might also just serves to deepen the fear. This is exactly the opposite of the effect it is supposed to have. The country with biggest army is supposed to feel safest, is it not?

Those who serve in militaries around the world are given almost reverential adoration. Now I can understand this (sort of) if those people were conscripted into the military – in other words, if they had no choice about it. And I understand that they face physical danger in their work, which is (notionally at least) to protect their compatriots ‘back home’. But when young men and women make a career choice to join the military, they are doing no more or less than anyone else choosing a career that might be beneficial for their country (including, say, a farmer, a teacher, a nurse or public servant). And they have chosen to do a job that they know will lead them into war – it’s not a surprise, and we should not feel sorry for them. (For the record, in case you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, I was conscripted and saw active duty. I also attended nearly 50 military funerals during that time. This is not an uninformed opinion.)

Brian McLaren, author of “A New Kind of Christianity” wrote an excellent piece on his blog today about “How We Feel Safe …“. He asks whether we feel safer because we’re in control, because we have a big military, because we are at war? He has a point. The anecdotal evidence would say, “No, we don’t feel safer”. But that doesn’t seem to stop the wars in the name of safety (or ‘freedom’).

And then we need to consider the attitudes of the general populations of ‘The West’ towards Islam. This is where the perceived threat is coming from: “Muslim extremists”. The wars to which we send our soldiers are supposedly to stop these muslim extremists from bringing their terror to our shores. But is this story actually true?

Here’s just a quick test to help you judge your own perceptions and bias: The European Union’s 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report has just been released for 2010, and has some fascinating findings. How many terror attacks do you think occurred in 2009 and 2010 in Europe? Of those totals, how many do you think were “Islamist”? Take a moment to ponder these statistics before looking at the answers below.

Continue reading Who are we scared of? And are we safer because of our militaries?

God is not a Christian

Desmond Tutu, the irrepressible retired Anglican Bishop from South Africa, is one of my favourite people of all time. His speeches are some of the best in history, and always delivered with verve, humour and passion. He is a remarkable man, and I have had the privilege of meeting him a few times and listening to him speak live.

A collection of his speeches and writings – especially his most controversial ones – has just been published (with two different sub titles, confusingly): “and other provocations” or “speaking truths in times of crisis” (Buy it at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Kalahari.net).

The Huffington Post provided an extended extract. You can read it here, or below. I have highlighted my favourite bit. It’s from the speech that book is named for: God is not a Christian. What a profound thought. And I bet you it’s not something you have heard at your church (even though you should!).

Continue reading God is not a Christian

Should we celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death?

I don’t think we should. I think this is a moment to show the world how different Christian faith is – and what a difference Christ makes in the world. By the way, I don’t think the world is a safer place tonight. At least in the near future it’s just got a little bit scarier – especially since I am planning four trips to the USA in the next six weeks.

Two articles published today in Christianity Today helped me to think through this issue a bit more thoroughly, and I recommend them to you.

Firstly, Gideon Strauss, CEO of the Center for Public Justice, argues that “Yes, Justice Has Been Done in the Killing of Osama bin Laden”, but our response as Christians must be marked by knowledge of our own depravity. Read his article here.

His points are Biblical and theological. Proverbs 24:17 says: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” And Ezekiel 18:23: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

He understands that we have a desire for retribution, and acknowledges that God understands this (see Psalm 137). “But beyond this immediate response, understandable as it is, I believe it is necessary for Christians to pause, and to consider the death of Osama bin Laden within the deeper perspective of human sin and divine grace. In the end, no death should give us pleasure…. Our best next response, I believe, to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, after we have sought our own hearts for the wickedness that resides in all of us, and have thanked God for his amazing grace that has rescued us from our own evil, is to join President Obama on May 5, this year’s National Day of Prayer, ‘in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy’ and ‘in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our nation.’ And perhaps we can add a prayer for our enemies, that God may win them to himself and in his own good time bring into the relations between this nation and those who now seek her destruction some foretaste of the just peace of his world to come.”

But an even more profound response was written by Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, CA. He titled it: “The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?” The news should again remind us of the difference between the City of Man and the City of God. You can read it here, or an extended extract below.

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And Just Us For All

Graeme in And just us for all t-shirtOn Monday night I attended the global launch event of the “Live Below the Line” campaign at a fund raising event in London, hosted by Hugh Jackman. I worked as one of the volunteers at the event, and was given the t-shirt you see in the picture alongside. I think the slogan is one of the cleverest and most powerful I have ever seen:
& Just Us For All

The campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the fact that a quarter of the world’s population – 1.4 billion people – go to bed hungry every night. They survive on the equivalent of £ 1 per day. That’s for everything: food, clothes, medicine, transport, entertainment and education of their children.

In order to raise funds to fight extreme poverty, thousands of people around the world are going to try and live on less than £ 1 of food and drink for five days next week. I am doing so starting next Saturday, for five days. This is the “Live Below the Line” challenge. Please would you consider sponsoring me, even if it’s just a few pounds (or dollars, or rands, or euros). It’s easy to do at my special campaign website. You can also leave me a message of support, and show your concern for the world’s poor.

And that’s why I think the slogan is so brilliant. If we don’t do anything, who will? And if we don’t do it now, then when? It’s about Just Us For All.

Continue reading And Just Us For All

An atheist, God and African solutions

This post was originally written on 15 January 2009, on the previous version of my blog

The Times (UK) published a thought-provoking article last week, by an avowed atheist who is often critical of organised religion and Christianity. Yet, his thoughts on what is needed in Africa are refreshing and exciting for those of us who believe there is a different way of being and doing Christian in the world today.

This is worth a read. The original is online here.

 

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset
by Matthew Parris

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Continue reading An atheist, God and African solutions

From Minority to Majority – a problem for Reformed Protestants

This post was originally written on 10 June 2009, on the previous version of my blog

I was recently sent an article from the Associated Baptist Press (ABP, USA), entitled: “Baptists urged to consider risks of ‘majoritarian faith’”, by David Wilkinson. It is a news article about a recent lecture by Baptist historian Doug Weaver, speaking at the Baptist History and Heritage Society annual meeting.

His main point was that Baptists (and by inference, other Reformed Protestants) were shaped and formed as persecuted, minority groups. Now, they are majority, mainstream groups, and are in danger (I’d say they have already) lost their distinctiveness and compromised their values. In particular, he is concerned that Baptists have abandoned their belief in religious liberty (and in liberty in general).

While Baptists proudly point to religious liberty and church-state separation as their distinctive contributions to American history, Weaver said, contemporary Baptist heirs to that tradition may find it difficult to relate to their 17th-century forebears, who were part of a persecuted minority of dissenters to official state-supported denominations.

“We are used to being a part of the majority. We are the Bible Belt, maybe even the buckle of that belt. We are Baptists, the largest body of Protestants in the United States,” Weaver, a religion professor at Baylor University, said. “We have climbed the ladder of success numerically, socially and intellectually. We have an air of respectability. We are the majority; hear us roar.”

In contrast, he noted, it was the persecuted minority groups – the Anabaptists, Baptists and Quakers – that “pushed the Christian world in the 16th and 17th centuries to face the music and hear cries for complete religious liberty.”

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Engaging with Islam – with an agenda of peace, reconciliation and truth seeking

Here’s something you probably won’t hear at church, but should: Jews and Muslims are not “the enemy”.

I wrote yesterday about the need to engage appropriately with skeptics of the Christian faith. It’s also important for Christians to engage with people of other faiths and religions. The most important route to lasting global peace right now is for the three major monotheistic religions to find ways to peacefully engage with each other.

It is amazing to me that the Christian right wing in the United States has so easily and quickly engaged – even integrated – with Judaism (and especially Zionistic Judaism). I don’t want to comment on that issue in this blog entry, but it does indicate that major religions are able to find ways to engage with each other when they share a common goal (like the protection of the State of Israel). What better goal for all religious leaders to have than world peace?

So, it was with interest that I read about Amr Khaled in the (very conservative) Spectator magazine Christmas edition. This is a Muslim cleric who seems to be gaining the kind of reputation in the Islamic world that Billy Graham or Bill Hybels have in the Protestant Christian world. Although there would be obviously be significant theological differences between us, I nevertheless support his efforts to bring about a calmer, more rational, more engaging Islam. That can only be a good thing, and should be supported by all Christian everywhere. Maybe this is a common space for all religious people (and those of no faith, too) to play.

But read the article for yourself (at The Spectator website, or an extract below) and make up your own mind.

Continue reading Engaging with Islam – with an agenda of peace, reconciliation and truth seeking

Reflections on Christmas and Christianity in the USA

The New York Times op-ed column this past weekend included an excellent analysis of two recent books and what they tell us about Christians in the USA. Well worth a read, especially at this time of year.

You can read the piece at the NY Times website here, or an extract below.

A Tough Season for Believers

By ROSS DOUTHAT
Published: NY Times op-ed column, December 19, 2010

Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

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