Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

This week in the Australian parliament a newly minted senator called on the government to stop accepting any immigrants who do not reflect “the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people.” In particular, he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a return to what was termed the “White Australia Policy”, a discriminatory immigration policy dismantled way back in the 1960s. Of course, this doesn’t sound too different to the stated desires of Mr Trump regarding US immigration policy, albeit a less sophisticated version (although when you think about it, being less sophisticated in policy to Donald Trump is quite an achievement). Britain has its own versions in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. What might surprise some is that Fraser Anning, the Australian senator in question, and the US president, both claim to be committed conservative Christians. Indeed, in the case of the senator from Down Under, he wants a discriminatory immigration policy precisely because he is a Christian. Farage, who has confessed to only praying “sometimes”, nonetheless wants the UK to stand up for Judeo-Christian culture and values. So, is it appropriate for Christians in Western countries to call for the banning of Muslim immigration to their shores? These attutides are usually characterized as xenophobia, a term that comes

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How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

Sure, religious zealots have done some terrible damage throughout history, but some beautiful religious ideas have also shaped history for the better. This post is part of a series looking at some of the ways religion has changed the world. I look at how the Benedictines figured out how to make amazing beer here, how a Calvinist preacher created a world where John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was possible here, and how an 18th century renewal movement unleashed the abolition movement here. Here’s a fourth religious idea that changed the world.   THE IDEA: THAT HUMAN SUFFERING CAN BE REDEMPTIVE The idea that the suffering of one Christian can be used by God for the benefit of others is as old as the Christian movement, but one regularly ignored or forgotten by believers and nonbelievers alike. Christians believe that Jesus’ suffering on the cross pays the penalty for their sins, but even before his death Jesus taught his followers that their own suffering could have a redemptive power. In Matthew 5:38-39, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” It’s a well known saying, but its meaning

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How one religious idea produced the greatest activist you’ve never heard of

How one religious idea produced the greatest activist you’ve never heard of

We often hear about all the harm caused by religious people in the name of their religion, but good religious ideas have continually made the world a better place. I can think of plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history. In an earlier post I looked at how the Cistercian idea of work created an economic boom. In a second post looked at how the idea that beauty is the key to understanding God led to some of the world’s most magnificent architecture, film and music. Here’s the third in this series. How a single religious belief unleashed a remarkable activist and a global movement.   THE IDEA: THAT EVERY PERSON CAN HAVE A SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S GRACE In the 17th and 18th centuries, there arose a Protestant movement referred to as Christian Enthusiasm. We don’t use that term much these days but its adherents were so transformed by its central idea that they turned the world upside down. Today, we use the word enthusiast to refer to someone who’s really passionate about a hobby or interest. Hence we have car enthusiasts and football enthusiasts, etc. But in around 1700 that term was used in a very specific way. The Greek from which we derive term, enthusiasm, connotes being taken

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How one religious idea gave us the best album of all time

How one religious idea gave us the best album of all time

Recently, I met a gentleman who, upon discovering I taught theology, asked me what was the good of studying religious ideas in our secular world today. When I told him religious ideas have continually made the world a better place, he challenged me to name one. I told him there are plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history, and shared a few of them with him. I’ve decided to turn my response into a series of blog posts. The first one, about how the Cistercian idea of work created a Europe-wide economic boom in the 12th century (and helped produce some amazing beer), is here. Here’s the second of those world-changing ideas.   THE IDEA: THAT BEAUTY IS THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING GOD The Christian doctrine of creation is a bit different to that of other religions. Christians don’t believe that God created the world and then sat back and admired his creation from a distance. Instead the church teaches that while God is separate and beyond all creation, he is nonetheless integrally involved in that creation, sustaining the universe from moment to moment. Theologians and writers from Irenaeus to Thomas Aquinas to Julian of Norwich wrote about how creation is an ongoing process, with God actively involved in the

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How one religious idea gave us the best beer in the world

How one religious idea gave us the best beer in the world

Recently, I met a gentleman who, upon discovering I taught theology, asked me what was the good of studying religious ideas in our secular world today. When I told him religious ideas have continually made the world a better place, he challenged me to name one. I told him there are plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history, and shared a few of them with him. In coming weeks I’m going to share a series of posts on a number of them. Here’s the first of those world-changing ideas.   THE IDEA: THAT RELIGIOUS DEVOTION CAN BE EXPRESSED THROUGH MANUAL LABOR In the 11th century, a group of extremely devout monks withdrew to a monastery in Cistercium, near Dijon, to live under the strictest interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. They embraced a severe form of asceticism, seeking to be purified and strengthened for a life-long labor of prayer. They also refused to accept any feudal revenues, believing it to be sullied by the church’s collusion with the state. We’re talking about hardcore monks here. They combed the writings of Benedict, looking for ever-more demanding ways to submit themselves to God, when they came across this reference in the forty-eighth chapter of the Rule, which states: “…for then are

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One of the reasons I’m a feminist is in this urn

One of the reasons I’m a feminist is in this urn

When my mother passed away 18 months ago we undertook that sad task of dividing her possessions and dispensing of those we didn’t want. She didn’t have much left, frankly, having downsized to a room in a nursing home a year earlier. Jewelry, photograph albums, trinkets, a few paintings. And a big old brown urn that she’d had in her home since I was a kid. As we were going through the old photos and jewelry, my youngest daughter Fielding asked if she could have the urn. No one else wanted it, so of course we agreed. On our way to the car with the few items we’d retained from my mother’s long life, I asked my daughter why she wanted the urn. I mean, it’s not the most appealing object I’ve seen. I couldn’t imagine why a young woman would want it in her home. “You don’t know the meaning behind this urn?” Fielding replied. “There’s a meaning behind it?” I asked, baffled. When I reflected on it, every time my mother moved house, from our large family home, to a smaller seaside home after my father died, to an even smaller mobile home, to a room in a nursing home, that urn made the transition with her. Of all the vases, bric-a-brac, and keepsakes that had disappeared over

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The Beast in Me and the Monstrosity of the Cross

The Beast in Me and the Monstrosity of the Cross

The beast in me/ Is caged by frail and fragile bars,/ Restless by day/ And by night rants and rages at the stars,/ God help the beast in me.   If you’ve heard Johnny Cash’s tortured version of Nick Lowe’s The Beast in Me you’ll know he was destined to growl those aching lyrics. God help the beast in me, indeed. The beast in Johnny Cash imagined all sorts of depravity, like senseless violence (“I shot a man in Reno/ just to watch him die”) and petulant arrogance, like shooting a woman because she was lowdown and trifling (“First time I shot her in the side/ Hard to watch her suffer/ But with the second shot she died”). Recently, a friend gave me an old LP version of Cash’s At San Quentin live album. The record opens with the beast in Johnny Cash ranting and raving about how annoying the recording crew were by getting in his way. He swears like a sailor and boasts about his own stints in jail, and his drug use, all the while fulminating about the cruelty of the American criminal justice system. This is Johnny Cash at his most beastly. In fact, this is the concert where Cash was snapped flipping the bird in that now-famous photograph. Little wonder then that Cash was attracted to

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Two apostles walk into a bar…

Two apostles walk into a bar…

Two old men meet in a tavern in a small, unremarkable village. They embrace, their heavy, solid hands slapping each others’ broad backs affectionately. They kiss twice, on each cheek. They sit and drink, hunching over the shared table in a conspiratorial way. The dust that coats their faces highlights the deepening lines around their eyes. Their graying beards betray the years. They are like two old lions, warriors who’ve fought many a battle, but live to fight another day. Wiping crimson wine from his moustache with the back of his hand, one says with a smirk, “You’ve gotten old quickly.” The other looks up and raises his eyebrows. “I just mean,” continues the first man, “I haven’t seen you for a while and you seem to have aged quite a bit in that time.” Another smirk. The other man goes to defend himself or make some equally rude comment, but finally waves his hand dismissively at his friend. “Why do I even bite at comments like that?” he smiles. “You’re not exactly the strapping young fellow you used to be either, you know.” They both smile and the first man reaches across and places his hand on his friend’s arm. The tone turns serious. “It’s the travel that wears me out,” he confesses. “Agreed. And the disappointment. I could

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Men in their 60s – afflicted by hope

Men in their 60s – afflicted by hope

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide at age 61 has got me thinking. I know suicide isn’t the exclusive domain of any particular age group, but recently I’ve been troubled by the number of well-known and highly successful men who have ended their own lives in their 60s. Maybe that’s because I just had a birthday and, well, frankly, I’m closing in on 60 myself. The reasons for Bourdain’s suicide aren’t yet known. He was working on a new series of his television show when he died. He was in a new relationship, was exercising, and had given up his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. All good signs. And yet… I won’t speculate on a topic I know nothing about. But, as I said, Bourdain’s is just one of a long list of self-inflicted deaths of successful 60-something men. In 2004, writer and actor Spalding Gray, 62, drowned himself after suffering from depression that resulted from the debilitating effects of a severe car accident some years earlier. Legendary Chilean footballer Eduardo Bonvallet, 60, hanged himself in 2015 after struggling with stomach cancer for several years. Likewise, Tony Scott, 68, the director of such films as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Crimson Tide, jumped from a bridge in LA in 2012 after fighting a lengthy battle with cancer. And comedian and actor, Robin Williams,

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I held an old man’s fragile, weathered hand today

I held an old man’s fragile, weathered hand today

I sat beside a hospital bed and held an old man’s hand today. His skin was thin and papery and he struggled to open his eyes. Even when he did blink them to life, he didn’t initially recognize me. It had been a long time. I first met him in the late 1980s when I had just been appointed the student minister at Seaforth Baptist Church in Sydney’s north. It was a small congregation, many of them aging, which is why they could only afford a part-time student minister. I wasn’t exactly what some of them wanted in a minister. I didn’t wear a suit or preach with a booming, authoritarian tone. I was chastised by one older member because she thought the way I conducted the Sunday services was “too cavalier.” The treasurer – a nervous man who squinted a lot while pushing his glasses up his nose – suggested I should stop spending all the church’s hard-earned money. Although, for the life of me, I have no idea what I was apparently frittering it all away on. I didn’t win any friends when I closed their dwindling Wednesday night prayer meeting (at which I was expected to bring a sermon) and tried to start home study groups. One fellow said I would “go down in history” as the

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Four times the church got weird… and was better for it

Four times the church got weird… and was better for it

It feels like the church gets weird every four or five hundred years, and it does the world of good. In fact, it could be argued that the church is at its best when it throws off its desire for acceptance and conventionality and launches into the strangest and most counter-cultural behavior. Here are four times when the church did exactly that, and history was changed.   1. The Hiberno-Scottish missionaries (Sixth Century) The Hiberno-Scottish missionaries were Gaelic monks from Ireland (in Latin Hibernia) and the western coast of modern-day Scotland, who re-Christianized Britain and Western Europe after the fall of Rome. You might have heard of a few of their leading lights: St Columba of Iona, St Aidan of Lindisfarne [pictured], St Columbanus of the Franks. They were wild people from a wild land, who harnessed their considerable passions and energies into Christian devotion. Rather than undergoing complete personality transplants, the Hiberno-Scots disciplined their passions without extinguishing them. They retained their sense of rowdiness and their love of wild, elemental places like the coastline of Scotland and northern England. They harnessed their love of drinking and singing and storytelling and directed it toward God. They practised hospitality, welcoming all comers. They were deeply shaped by their new-found triune faith and saw the Trinity not only as a doctrine but

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Stronger men? Let’s not dish up lazy male stereotypes in the name of Jesus

Stronger men? Let’s not dish up lazy male stereotypes in the name of Jesus

You might have seen the promo video for the Stronger Men’s Conference coming up on April 13-14 in Springfield, Missouri. It features commandos rappelling onto the stage, an MMA cage fight, monster trucks, and a guy firing semi-automatic pistols. In the video you can hear one of the speakers announcing that while the devil likes to make strong men weak, God loves to make weak men strong. There’s been quite a backlash to this promo and the whole premise that strong men are into all this stuff, as well as woodchopping, firestarting, and motorbikes (which feature in an earlier Stronger Men’s Conference promo). Leaving aside the concerns I have about a Christian men’s conference featuring gun play and violence, I have no problem with the fact that a lot of guys love monster trucks and starting bonfires. In the video, NFL players lob footballs into the crowd, and there’s a basketball player getting air, and a drum circle and jets of fire on stage. Cool. My concern (aside from the cage fight and the guns) is the assumption that all this epitomizes masculinity. That to be a strong man you have to be into all this. More than that, to be a godly strong man you should be into all this. I get that those Christian men who do like chopping

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