Sometimes you need to start an argument with the idols of our age

Sometimes you need to start an argument with the idols of our age

Early Christians rarely grew in number because they won arguments. – Alan Kreider   My friend and colleague Karina Kreminski wrote a very helpful blog for Missio Alliance earlier in the year, entitled Five Real (and Risky) Ways to Start Peacemaking in Your Neighborhood. It’s really good. Her five ways are super practical and I can attest to the fact that she’s trying to live them out in her own neighborhood. But it was the last line in the article that seemed to strike a chord. I saw a bunch of people tweeting and sharing her restatement (taken from Alan Kreider) that the early Christians didn’t grow by winning arguments. And it got me thinking. Is that true? I’m definitely all across Karina’s argument that peacemaking and reconciliation were central practices for the early Christians. And I loved Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. I’ve previously blogged about it here. But is it true that the early church didn’t grow in some measure due to their participation in arguments? We know that Paul’s ministry of preaching against the gods of Greece and Rome stirred up a riot in the city of Ephesus when the local idol-makers union became incensed. Paul eventually had to be smuggled out of town. Then, on another occasion Paul attacked the Lystrans’ worship of

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When your monuments lie and your national day offends, change them

When your monuments lie and your national day offends, change them

What does it say about a modern liberal democracy when its memorials don’t accurately portray its past and its national day ignores the plight of its oppressed citizens?   Can you ‘discover’ something that other people already own and love? I mean, if you claim to have discovered something – like a cure for cancer or a new species of frog – it usually means no one else knows or has seen that thing before you. Right? Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity. The moons of Jupiter were discovered by Galileo. So, if you saw a statue of a very jaunty looking naval captain atop a huge plinth with the inscription, “DISCOVERED THIS TERRITORY 1770” you’d think that he, well, discovered the land you were standing on. Yeah? I’m referring to the rather dramatic depiction of Captain James Cook, telescope in one hand, the other held aloft, his palm facing the heavens. He seems pretty pleased with himself in his plus-fours and formal coat, the master of all he surveys, which in this case is Hyde Park in downtown Sydney. It looks like he’s announcing, “Ta-da, here I am!” So he discovered Australia in 1770, did he? Well, only if you don’t count the 60,000 years Aboriginal peoples inhabited this continent. Inspired by America’s current

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Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

I was chastised some time ago when I questioned whether Australians could have a civil and constructive debate about SSM. People assured me that we are capable of debating the issue without allowing the discussion to become hateful or deceptive or aggressive. Then these despicable posters started appearing telling us that 92% of children raised by gay parents are abused, 51% have depression, and 72% are obese. The poster cites a study that has been thoroughly discredited. The hateful tone of the image needs no explanation. It’s clear for all to see. While the Australian Christian Lobby has distanced itself from the posters (I readily acknowledge the ACL had nothing to do with their production), earlier in the campaign they hosted a series of lectures by Millie Fontana, in which she explains how negative her experience of being raised by a same sex couple has been. I’ve seen a number of other sites explaining how detrimental being raised in a non-traditional household is. Not as repulsive, but still in poor taste, some No advocates have been posting a 20 year old quote by Paul Keating, taken completely out of context from his election debate with John Howard in 1996, reframed to make it look like he is campaigning against SSM today (presumably to appeal to lefty ALP Yes voters). I’ve

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Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

In 2005 Australia had its own version of Charlottesville when race riots and mob violence broke out in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla. It happened on a hot Sunday in summer when around 5000 people gathered to protest the presence of Middle Easterners in their predominantly white beachside neighborhood. It began ominously with white Australians chanting that they wanted Middle Easterners, particularly those of Lebanese descent from a nearby suburb, out of their town and off their beaches. When a Middle Eastern man happened into the middle of the crowd he was surrounded and attacked. The police intervened and all hell broke loose. Other assaults and retaliatory attacks combusted across the southern parts of Sydney, resulting in 26 serious injuries, including two stabbings, and attacks on paramedics and police. A local man, Eiad Diyab was quoted as saying, “We knew always there was racism, but we never knew it was to this extent.” It was as shameful to Australia as Charlottesville has become for the USA. The Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but refused to acknowledge racism was at the heart of it. “I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,” Mr Howard said, “I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.” Nonetheless, many other politicians, police, local

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It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

Some years ago I was on a speaking tour in North Carolina. A local pastor was driving me to my various engagements, and one day he casually asked me, “What do you guys do about your black problem down there in Australia?” “Our black problem?” I enquired. “Oh, you mean our indigenous community? Oh, we’ve treated them shamefully…” “No, no,” he cut me off, “I don’t mean Aborigines. I mean African Americans. What do you do about them?” It possibly hadn’t occurred to him that any Africans who live in Australia wouldn’t be referred to as African Americans, but I wasn’t going to quibble at that stage. I already had an ominous feeling about this conversation. I informed him that Australia has a very small African community. “You’ve got no blacks down there?” he asked incredulously, “Wow. Do you want some?” I felt ill. This man was the pastor of a church. He wore a blue blazer with gold buttons. His hair was immaculately coiffed. He had a doctorate in Christian ministry. And he was a racist. When racists wear black shirts, helmets, and boots they’re easy to spot. When they cheer the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and raise their arms in Nazi salutes, you’re under no illusions about their beliefs. When they march through the University of

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It is morally wrong to possess nuclear weapons and Christians should say so

It is morally wrong to possess nuclear weapons and Christians should say so

“The existence of nuclear weapons in the world is a grave threat to peace and we need to abolish them.” ~ Archbishop Joseph Takami of Nagasaki   As the world teeters yet again on the precipice of nuclear war, it has astounded me to hear that one Christian leader has granted God’s blessing to Donald Trump to “take out” Kim Jong-Un. Whether this emboldened the US president to tweet that he was ready to rain down “fire and fury” on the North Korean leader we don’t know. But it raises the question for me about whether it is ever possible for the church to give its blessing to a policy of nuclear deterrence? I would say it is not. In fact, I would agree with scholars and leaders from across most Christian denominations, and many other religious traditions, in saying that nuclear weapons have no legitimate use for deterrence or in conflict, and it is wrong for any nation to possess them. In addition to their obvious danger, they pose an inherent moral contradiction. On the one hand, our faith affirms the ultimate value of each human life and indeed calls us to respect all life, while on the other nuclear weapons threaten indiscriminate death to massive numbers of people, including innocent non-combatants, as well as threatening the ecosystem. In fact,

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When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

It’s tempting sometimes to fall into the habit of thinking that God only hears the prayers of those who have achieved some level of holiness above the average. Have you ever found yourself asking your pastor or priest to pray for something as if their prayers are likely to ring louder in the ears of God than yours? We’re taught, Jesus won’t hear your prayers if your motives are selfish. And, Jesus won’t answer you if you don’t believe the right things about him. Really? Because in the Bible we find Jesus not just answering, but honoring, the request of a woman made out of selfish motives and based on an entirely false assumption about him. The nameless woman’s story appears in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48) and it’s one of Jesus’ strangest and yet most touching miracles. In all three accounts, the healing of the bleeding woman is presented as an interruption to a larger story – Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jairus, a synagogue leader has approached Jesus, asking him to heal his dying child, and the two of them, together with the disciples, are making their way through a dense crowd of onlookers and supplicants toward Jairus’ house. En route, the nameless woman approaches Jesus in secret, blending in with

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