Category Archives: Social Justice

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

Is Jesus left wing? (You better believe it!)

Here’s something you might not hear at church: Your Jesus is not the real Jesus.

The conservative right wing have co-opted Jesus as their personal mascot. But their Jesus is not the Jesus I see in the Bible. The latest cover article of The New Statesman magazine looks at this issue in an excellent way. You can read a lengthy extract below, or the full original at the New Statesman website here.

What would Jesus do?

Mehdi Hasan
Published 15 December 2010

Conservatives claim Christ as one of their own. But in word and deed, the son of God was much more left-wing than the religious right likes to believe.

Was Jesus Christ a lefty? Philosophers, politicians, theologians and lay members of the various Christian churches have long been divided on the subject. The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once declared: “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.” The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, went further, describing Christ as “the greatest socialist in history”. But it’s not just Russian ex-communists and Bolivarian socialists who consider Jesus to be a fellow-traveller. Even the Daily Mail sketch-writer Quentin Letts once confessed: “Jesus preached fairness – you could almost call him a lefty.”

Continue reading Is Jesus left wing? (You better believe it!)

God’s Kingdom Meets the Real World

A few months ago, I spoke at a men’s conference in Johannesburg, at South Africa’s leading Methodist Church. They asked me to speak on being a Christian in a world gone mad. I used the opportunity to do a bit of a “preach” on what I think is an absolute essential for any Christian man (or woman) who wants to make sense of the world: we need to change our view on what we think we’re here for.

You can listen to the podcast recording of the session at the church’s conference website (if you battle to listen or download it, please let me know, as I have an MP3 copy). If you want to download a copy of the slides I used and was referring to, I have created a PDF file and you can get it here.

The death penalty – pause for thought

I have just posted a blog entry on my business focused blog site, ConnectionEconomy.com. It may interest you. I compare two women both found guilty of murdering their husbands and sentenced to death by their countries’ courts. But one is Iranian and so her sentence is labelled “barbaric”. The other is American and many American Christians therefore consider her verdict to be “justice”.

Why two very different responses? Read my blog entry here and see what you think. It’s a useful intersection of two very similar stories that might help us to examine our own cultural lens, and discover that what we think are eternal moral issues related to God’s unchanging standards and decrees might actually just be culturally conditioning.

The Gospel of Wealth – are Faith and the American Dream compatible?

An op-ed piece in a recent New York Times reviews a new book that suggests that the American Dream (health, wealth, happiness, freedom) are not compatible with the Gospel. The author says Americans should live as if they earned $ 50,000 a year and give the rest away. The NYT piece makes some great points. Read it at the NYT site here, or an extract below.

The Gospel of Wealth

By DAVID BROOKS, Op-ed columnist, The New York Times, September 6, 2010

Maybe the first decade of the 21st century will come to be known as the great age of headroom. During those years, new houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.

People bought bulbous vehicles like Hummers and Suburbans. The rule was, The Smaller the Woman, the Bigger the Car — so you would see a 90-pound lady in tennis whites driving a 4-ton truck with enough headroom to allow her to drive with her doubles partner perched atop her shoulders.

Continue reading The Gospel of Wealth – are Faith and the American Dream compatible?

Would Jesus burn the qu’ran?

A church in Gainsville, Florida, USA, has started an international campaign to make 9/11 (11 September) an “international burn the qu’ran day”. They even have a Facebook fan page dedicated to it (I am NOT going to supply a link to it). The small church is called ‘Dove World Outreach Center’ and pastor Terry Jones is unmoved by growing international outrage at the planned burning of 150 copies of Islam’s holy book.

The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims. You can do a Google search for news of this event, and how even the US military is running a bit scared as they fear reprisal attacks by militant Muslims all over the world (inspired not by the qu’ran, but by hatred for the West and for those opposed to Islam).

I am not going to comment on the ramifications of such madness, although my head is spinning at how much damage one small church could potentially do around the world.

My only simple question is a spiritual and theological one: Would Jesus burn the qu’ran?

There may be debates about whether Jesus would be inclusive towards Muslims or not. I think he would have been, but I can see how some Christians would read their Bibles in such a way that indicates that Jesus would have excluded them from his friendship circle. There may be discussion about whether Jesus would have tried to engage with Muslims. I think it’s clear he did engage with people from other religions, and always did so with respect, tolerance and love. But again, I can (only just) see how some people read their Bibles and gain a different, more strident picture of Jesus. There is certainly debate about what Jesus taught us to do in relation to other religions. I see Jesus instructing us to engage, to be loving and respectful. I can see how others would interpret the Bible to say we should proselytise and point out error in other religions, and protect ourselves from contamination.

But all of these debates aside, I still have just that simple question: Would Jesus have burnt a qu’ran?

I cannot fathom any interpretation of the Bible or understanding of the nature of Jesus that would allow one to answer ‘Yes’ to that question. Pastor Jones might be right in his interpretation of Biblical truth (I think he’s not), but I cannot believe that burning a qu’ran is a Christ-like response.

I want my Muslim friends to know that anything that happens at ‘Dove World Outreach Centre’ this 9/11 weekend is not done in my name. I am a Christ-follower and I am abhorred that something like this could be done in the name of Jesus. What would Jesus do? I think He is weeping right now…

Salaam. Shalom. Peace be among us all.

Rich Stearns’ Speech at Mobilisation to end Poverty in Washington DC

First posted on the old blogsite on 7 June 2009

This is the text of a speech given by Rich Stearns, World Vision President and author of “The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? the Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World” (buy now on Kalahari.net or Amazon.co.uk), at the Mobilisation to End Poverty held in Washington DC in April 2009. Although the speech is addressed at an American audience the principles are true for all of us.

Rich Stearn – World Vision
Mobilization to End Poverty

April 27, 2009

Good morning.

I want to thank Jim Wallis and Sojourners for organizing this historic meeting. I believe that our country and our world may stand at the brink of one of those momentous turning points that we usually see with greater clarity in retrospect than we do in the moment. 1776 was a turning point that changed the world order. 1860 was a turning point election that settled the issue of slavery three years later after the bloodiest war in our history. 1918 and 1945 were turning points that concluded two world wars and restructured international power dynamics while creating the multilateral institutions that would influence the world during the cold war and after. 1989 was a turning point that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war. Why is 2009 a turning point? First, just as we witnessed the bankruptcy and inadequacy of Communism in 1989, we are now witnessing the bankruptcy and inadequacy of unrestrained Capitalism in 2009. This is a tough thing for a former corporate CEO to admit. Second, we are just now beginning to accept and understand the dire consequences of the global carbon economy that was the birth mother of a global economy based on unsustainable consumption. Third, and of considerable significance and perhaps more hopeful than the first two, is that we have just had an historic election that was a radical departure both racially and generationally. It is hopeful because it may be that the ingredients for a radical shift in the direction of global politics are now in place just as they were when Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy were elected.

Continue reading Rich Stearns’ Speech at Mobilisation to end Poverty in Washington DC

Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far

Every now and again I’ll do a quick overview of my favourite posts – and that can act as a nice introduction for new readers and a navigation tool for those who want to “catch up” with some of the thinking and conversations on this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians and those seeking faith to find new ways to think about what it means to be a Christ follower. I have been writing and blogging on this topic since 1995, and this blog includes a selection of new and old stuff I have been working on. Some of it I’d die for, but some of it is purely experimental (I try and let you know which is which). The point is not to present a fully worked through systematic theology, but rather to allow you to enter into an ongoing conversation with me. If you like, this is just my journal – and you get to look in…

So, with that said, here is a brief intro to some of the posts on this blog:

Continue reading Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far

Graeme Codrington writes for Jim Wallis and Sojourners

This was originally posted on 28 March 2008

Every now and again, I make a connection with one of my heroes. Sometimes it’s attending a live event with them (I usually find a way to get them to sign a copy of their books for me – I collect signed books!). I have had the privilege of organising a few of these events. I have also shared a platform with some of them. Sometimes it’s a bit more random – I have bumped into a few people in the weirdest places on my travels.

I have long been an admirer of Jim Wallis, and his work with Sojourners. It was a real privilege to be asked to contribute to a series of blog entries about the Iraq War, leading up to the 5th anniversary of the start of the war. My entry has now been posted here – and reproduced below. Read the whole series here.
Continue reading Graeme Codrington writes for Jim Wallis and Sojourners

More on “cheap grace”

This was originally posted on 29 March 2005

Here’s something you might not hear at church this week, but should.

Following on from my previous post, I wanted to add that this concept of “cheap grace” is one of the biggest problems facing the “established” church (by this I mean orthodox, traditional, and/or evangelical churches/denominations) is that many of them have a rotten image amongst non-Christians. I do not simply mean that they are not attractive to non-Christians (at one level, of course, the cross is an affront to non-Christians, and cannot be “attractive” in a simple sense). The problem goes a lot deeper.

In his excellent book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren writes a great introduction in which he addresses a number of different types of people who might be reading his book. Here is a short excerpt:

“You may not be a Christian and wondering why anyone would want to be. The religion that inspired the Crusades, launched witch trials, perpetuates religious broadcasting, present too-often boring and irrelevant church services with schmaltzy music – or else presents manic and overly aggressive church services with a different kind of schmaltzy music – baptises wars and other questionable political programs, promotes judgementalism, and ordains preachers was puffy haircuts… doesn’t make sense to you why anyone would want ‘in’ on that.

You may not yet be a Christian, and you’re thinking of becoming one, but you’re worried that if you do you’re become a worse person – judgemental, arrogant, narrowminded, bigoted, and brainwashed… Do I have to like organ music? Do I have to say ‘Praise the Lord!’ all the time? Do I have to vote Republican? Do I have to oppose civil rights for homosexuals?… you wonder if there is any way to follow Jesus without becoming a Christian.

You may already be a Christian, struggling, questioning, and looking for reasons to stay in. Or you may have officially left the Christian community, but part of your heart is still there, and you wonder if you might some day return. So many of us have come close to withdrawing from the Christian community. It’s not because of Jesus or his Good News, but because of frustrations with religious politics, dubious theological propositions, difficulties in interpreting passages of the Bible that are barbaric (especially to people sensitised by Jesus to the importance of compassion), and/or embarrassments from recent and not-so-recent church history. Or perhaps it’s simply boredom – dreary music, blase sermons, simple answers to tough questions, and other adventures in missing the point. Or perhaps it’s fatigue – a treadmill of meetings in books and programmes and squabbles that yield more duties, obligations, guilt trips, and stress.”

And that’s just the introductory page…

The point I want to make is quite simple: I believe that in an attempt to deal with the declining image and acceptance of the church in general society, and, paradoxically, in moves by the existing leadership of churches to entrench their positions of power over laypeople, we have created churches that firstly make it too easy to become Christians, and secondly give too easy answers to the tough questions that fill the lives of people inside and outside their congregations.

We are currently living with the awful consequences of decades of cheap grace. There are many churches beginning to attempt to deal with some of the problems this has caused. There are many ways of approaching this problem and looking for solutions. There are many practitioners experimenting with new practice, many authors are beginning to write about it, a few theologians are attempting to systematise it, and some philosophers are trying to fathom it.

I find myself wondering between these different categories, continuing to look for questions, answers and markers for the journey. This issue of cheap grace seems to me to be an important marker.