Evangelicals and the Left are as bad as each other

Evangelicals and the Left are as bad as each other

Usually placed at polar opposites of the political spectrum, Evangelicals and the Left aren’t actually so different from each other really. They both want to change the world. They both believe they have a vision for a fair, equitable world of peace and harmony. And they both intensely dislike collaborating with anyone who disagrees with them on the slightest thing. Both Evangelicals and the Left demand that all comers embrace their doctrine right down to the most minute detail or else face excommunication and disdain. In other words, they are equally idealistic and puritanical. And no one can collaborate with an idealist and a purist. Well-known and much-loved (until last week) writer and pastor, Eugene Peterson discovered this when he was eviscerated by the Evangelical community for a series of confusing and contradictory statements he made about same-sex marriage. Never mind that he’s 84 and by his own admission not up to public speaking or giving interviews. Never mind that he’s written some of the great classics of pastoral theology and paraphrased the whole Bible in his highly successful, The Message. Because he said he was in favor of same-sex marriage in a recent interview, the wheels of expulsion began grinding. His later retraction only worsened things. Evangelical commentator, Russell Moore, wrote an article entitled, Should We Still Read Eugene Peterson? 

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Megachurches are not churches?

Megachurches are not churches?

I think the thing that’s most disturbing is the megachurch because megachurches are not churches. ~ Eugene Peterson   Some years ago, my car was broken into and my satchel containing my diary and computer was stolen. It was right on the eve of me going to the UK on a speaking tour and the loss of my diary and the notes that I stored in my laptop had a strange effect on me. I felt part of me had been lost. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was as if I had stored not only notes and ideas on the computer, but my very thoughts. Part of me. And it really threw me. I felt a real loss of confidence going into the various events at which I was making presentations. Even though I’d presented those talks before and didn’t need the notes anyway, their loss tripped me up. I felt unsteady. It was as if I was in a light fog the whole time, and not just because I was in dreary England. We store information on screens. We’re storing everything we need to know in apps, files, online diaries, websites and other screen-based ways. So the loss of our screens evokes in us an existential reaction. I’ve seen a friend have a complete meltdown at an airport

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Is it Christian to love your country?

Is it Christian to love your country?

I don’t love my country. There, I said it. I’m a citizen of Australia, a relatively peaceful, prosperous, liberal democracy with a pleasant climate, kangaroos, beautiful beaches and an impressive opera house. I’m grateful for the considerable benefits my citizenship brings. I’d rather be Australian than Syrian or North Korean or South Sudanese. I cheer enthusiastically for our national rugby team and politely explain to Americans how Australia and New Zealand are different countries and why being Australian is better. But I don’t love my country. (I don’t even really think it’s better to be an Australian than a New Zealander). In fact, whenever I allow myself to give into those tribal inclinations to defend my country as better than any other I can’t sense the Holy Spirit behind that at all. It’s tribalism. It’s factionalism. It’s divisiveness and superiority. It deceives me into overlooking the racism and injustice perpetrated in my country’s name and to focus on flimsy and ill-defined definitions of my national “character”. And yet so many Christians appear to equate national loyalty with faithfulness to God. Billy Sunday, the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century, once wrote, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.” It’s a trap, surely, to confuse the Christian

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Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

There’s been some general disquiet about the First Baptist Dallas choir performing a song entitled Make America Great Again as an ode to President Trump at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington. The rally, held on July 1, was sponsored by the megachurch’s pastor Robert Jeffress, and it gave the President an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to traditional Christian values (as he sees them), as well as reminding the audience of America’s Christian heritage. Mr Trump referred to God bestowing the gift of freedom on the USA, while praising the military’s defense of that freedom. “Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator,” he said. “Our rights are given to us by God and no earthly force can ever take those rights away.” “Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “The American founders invoked our creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer. Inscribed on our currency are the words: ‘In God We Trust’.” When the First Baptist Dallas choir fired up with a rendition of a song based on Mr Trump’s campaign slogan the fusion of religion and politics

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The monumental importance of being permanently present

The monumental importance of being permanently present

It started with the sparking of a faulty fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat. But the speed with which the fire consumed the 124 apartments was breathtaking. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched it on our screens. The inferno that erupted in the 24-story Grenfell Tower in west London quickly incinerated the whole building and all we could do was watch gape-jawed with horror. Families appeared at their windows screaming for help. Some people tied bedsheets into a makeshift rope to escape the furnace. Some leaped to the ground below. It was all too horrible. We know now that nearly 80 people lost their lives and many others were injured. Hundreds were displaced, escaping the flames with nothing but their lives and the pajamas they had been sleeping in. We also know that the community response to this tragedy was incredible. The outpouring of generosity and kindness was heartwarming. But it began in an interesting way. At 3.00am the night of the fire, Rev Alan Everett, the vicar of the nearby St Clements Church of England, was woken by a call from a fellow priest who lived in Grenfell Tower. The priest had called to alert Everett that he had a national disaster unfolding almost literally on his doorstep. Alan Everett ran to the church and turned the lights

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Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

When you think about Jesus as a shepherd this is what comes to mind, right? Gentle Jesus with a docile lamb nestled in his arms or around his shoulders? The nurturing shepherd, protecting his sheep, loving them one and all? These pictures are everywhere, painted on canvas, etched in stained glass, assembled in mosaics. They are the most popular and enduring images of Jesus and justifiably so. But when Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd is this only what he had in mind? Images of Jesus with a single pathetic lamb owe more to a parable he told in Matthew 18 and Luke 15 about a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine safe sheep to rescue a single lost one. He told the story to explain to the Pharisees why he hung out with “sinners” (a thing the Pharisees clearly frowned on). But the passage in which he described himself as the good shepherd is John 10. In that passage he’s also tangling with the Pharisees. They have just subjected a poor beggar blind from birth, who had been miraculously healed by Jesus, to nothing short of spiritual abuse. They brutally haul him and his family through various theological panels demanding he explain who Jesus is and where his power comes from. The man is illiterate, uneducated, unsophisticated. In his ignorance

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When tempted to choose sides, look inside

When tempted to choose sides, look inside

In a recent New York Times piece, Emily Badger and Niraj Chokshi revealed the following curious fact: “In 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In 2008… 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very upset’ by that prospect. By 2010, that share had jumped to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats.” Get ready for a remake of the Sidney Poitier classic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which a kindly and patrician couple of Republicans are shocked to discover their daughter is engaged to a (gulp) Bernie Sanders supporter. But seriously, what is going on?? By most people’s reckoning, the 2016 Presidential campaign was one of the most divisive in American history. The vitriol and animosity expressed by supporters of one candidate toward supporters of another was astonishing. Even those of us who are non-partisan and who refused to support any particular candidate found ourselves abused on social media if we posted anything critical of a candidate. And I mean any candidate. But according to Badger and Chokshi this gulf of fury and self-righteousness wasn’t a new thing in 2016. It had been building for many years. Back in

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Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

I haven’t seen Wonder Woman and I probably won’t. I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same as the other Marvel/DC comic book hero films. As everyone keeps pointing out though, what is different about Wonder Woman is that the lead superhero is woman! Or an Amazon, if that’s the same as being a woman. In the original comic book, WW was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. And somehow Zeus is her father. I know. It’s confusing. Anyway, at least she’s played by a woman. And everyone says that makes her a role model for little girls and a feminist icon. Who am I to disagree? I find it interesting that people are gushing about the breakthrough of having a female superhero in the very year that a number of exceptional female-led dramas have been released.   Both William Oldroyd’s haunting Lady Macbeth and Sophia Coppola’s Cannes-winning The Beguiled are about 19th Century women forced to take control of their lives when men threaten to destroy them. Both films make much of the fact that the odds are stacked in favor of men and in order to survive (or indeed, thrive), women must resort to extraordinary measures. In each case, the women’s sexuality draws them

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At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Watching One Love, the concert for those affected by the recent terrorist bombing in Manchester, was a strangely quasi-religious experience, and a fascinating insight into the secular rituals that have come to define public mourning in the secular West. Scheduled on a Sunday, the event was designed partly as an act of defiance by Ariana Grande and her management team, and partly as a semi-religious grief ritual for the city of Manchester. Some of the songs performed at the concert made passing reference to religious themes, like the Black Eyed Peas’ song Where is the Love, a kind of prayer for world peace, which includes the line, “Father, Father, Father help us/ Send some guidance from above.” Robbie Williams sang his oddly quasi-religious song, Angels, and Coldplay did Viva la Vida with the cryptic lines about the bells of Jerusalem, missionaries in a foreign field, and something about St Peter not calling my name. While other songs, although not specifically religious, were performed with a kind of gravity befitting a secular hymn. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Don’t Dream It’s Over and Don’t Look Back in Anger united the audience in a type of collective optimism usually reserved for religious singing. Or football anthems.   Of course, there were some explicitly religious moments, like when Justin Bieber declared that “God is good

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Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

She was elderly and wore a lavender cardigan. She gripped my arm more firmly than I thought she could. She said she had something she wanted to tell me. I had just preached a Pentecost Sunday sermon about how the Holy Spirit commissions us all as missionaries, or sent ones, to alert others to the universal reign of God wherever we might find ourselves. I had preached that all vocations offer us the opportunity to mirror the work of God in the world, whether it’s to bring healing or justice, reconciliation or wholeness, whether to design and build, or to serve and love. And I threw in references to a few random vocations like stay-at-home parents and lawyers and nurses and union officials and artists and builders and teachers. I had quoted Jesus’ words to his followers, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20:21) and I asked the congregation, “So, to whom have you been sent?” As I was leaving the church that morning the woman in the lavender cardigan took my arm and said with great determination, “I know who I’m sent to.” We were in the church, behind the last pew, still in the whisper zone before the hubbub of the mingling space beyond the glass doors. She told me quietly that her husband has

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