And a little old lady shall lead them

And a little old lady shall lead them

Recently I’ve been enjoying doing a bit of research into the history and role of the church in New Zealand. The impression I had was that the Kiwi church was dominated by large Pentecostal churches and Brethren communities engaged in political activism around conservative family values. All of which is fine, but I’ve discovered the Christian church in New Zealand has a long and rich history of engagement in big issues like nation building, racial reconciliation, social activism and evangelism. An Anglican missionary did the primary work in understanding the vocabulary and grammar of the Māori language. And another Anglican missionary translated the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s primary founding document, into that language, so it could be signed by Britain and over 500 tribal chiefs in 1840. In a previous blog post I retold the story of that first man, the missionary, linguist and arms dealer, Thomas Kendall. In another post I looked at the inspirational story of the Māori prophet, chief and Christian leader in passive resistance, Te Whiti. In this, my third attempt to dip my toe into the Christian history of New Zealand, I want to focus on a woman to whom the title Mother of the Nation was bestowed — Whina Cooper. Born Hōhepine Te Wake in 1895, Whina was raised in a devout Catholic

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Don’t call them toxic, call them “sociopathic baby men”

Don’t call them toxic, call them “sociopathic baby men”

Urban Dictionary: Baby Man A fully grown man that by all appearances looks normal. However, once you get to know him, you realize he’s a big baby trapped in a man’s body.   A couple of weeks ago I was flicking channels in a hotel room when I came upon Tucker Carlson from Fox News berating the idea of toxic masculinity. Bizarrely, the catalyst for his rant were the on-stage remarks of singer John Mayer, but that’s not exactly important here (and it would take too long to explain Carlson’s enormous leaps of logic that night). Carlson, who appears to have no idea what the phrase toxic masculinity means, referred to it as a “made-up dumb feminist term” and the product of a “bunch of ludicrous low-IQ academics making it up as they go along.” His guest that night, political commentator Anushay Hossain, did her best to explain what toxic masculinity means (“Toxic masculinity is actually about men being violent towards women”) but Carlson wasn’t having any of it. He berated and belittled Hossain, he obfuscated and talked over her. In other words, he behaved like a typical Fox News evening presenter. For people like Tucker Carlson, any negative reference to masculinity is anathema. Furious at what he sees as anti-male feminism, Carlson raged ignorantly, “I object to the term. Is there such a thing as

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Franklin Graham’s strange inconsistency on teen sexual sin

Franklin Graham’s strange inconsistency on teen sexual sin

Either your sexual behavior as a teenager matters or it doesn’t. After myriad messages from the sexual purity movement telling teens not to practice pre-marital sex, we now hear that Franklin Graham thinks your behavior as a teenager isn’t relevant to your character in adulthood. Commenting on the recent allegations of sexual assault made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he was a teenager, Mr Graham said, “There’s a lot of things that I’ve done when I was a teenager that I certainly am ashamed of and not proud of. People are up in arms over this like ‘oh, this is such a disaster.’ You’re talking about two teenagers 40 years ago. That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about today about this man being a judge on the Supreme court.” Remember, Franklin Graham also defended Judge Roy Moore, a man accused of sexual misconduct against nine women when they were teenagers, by saying he was “a courageous man… willing to stand for God’s moral laws.” And this is the same Franklin Graham whose own denomination founded True Love Waits, a ministry for promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage for teenagers and college students. TLW is sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources. TLW tells teens that if they signed an abstinence pledge and followed the biblical model of

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What would Newbigin have said if he’d been invited to that White House dinner?

What would Newbigin have said if he’d been invited to that White House dinner?

Last week, President Donald Trump hosted a White House reception for 100 Evangelical leaders, including such figures as Paula White, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Darrell Scott, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Ralph Reed, and Tony Perkins. The president was lavish in his praise for those leaders who had supported his presidency. And he was equally lavish in his self-praise: “We’re here this evening to celebrate America’s heritage of faith, family, and freedom. As you know, in recent years, the government tried to undermine religious freedom. But the attacks on communities of faith are over. … The support you’ve given me has been incredible. But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised. And as one of our great pastors just said, ‘Actually, you’ve given us much more, sir, than you promised.’ And I think that’s true, in many respects.” It seems the Evangelical leaders present thought it was true too. During the dinner, Florida pastor and Trump’s “closest spiritual adviser” Paula White presented the president with a Bible, “signed by over a hundred Christians, Evangelicals that love you, pray for you,” and inscribed with the following message: “First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always. Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for

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They’re fiddling while young lives burn

They’re fiddling while young lives burn

To fiddle while Rome burns (idiomatic) To neglect helping when one’s time is needed most; to ignore the major problem at hand (whilst doing something less important); to be idle, inactive, or uninterested in a time of great need.   The Emperor Nero certainly did not play the fiddle during the great fire that ravaged Rome for a week in July, 64 A.D., destroying 70 percent of the city and leaving half its population homeless. Not that it was beyond him to be so insensitive, but because the fiddle, or any instrument like it, wasn’t invented until the 11th century. He probably sang instead. The posturing Nero fancied himself as something of an ancient rockstar. He loved performing, and craved recognition in the musical world so much he launched his own singing competitions (which he won himself, of course). So when Rome went up in flames, even though he threw open his gardens and public buildings to the homeless and brought in grain from the neighboring towns, all anyone remembered was what Tacitus reported: “…he had mounted his private stage, and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the Destruction of Troy.” Can you picture it? The injured and dispossessed survivors of the firestorm who took refuge in the imperial gardens, having lost everything

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Let’s be freed from our obsession with the bad president

Let’s be freed from our obsession with the bad president

Let’s get a little perspective, people. I’m just getting so tired of all the ire and high dudgeon. It’s exhausting. The anti-Trump outrage is at fever pitch at the moment and it’s making my ears ring. The fury and the intensity of the attacks on Donald Trump are becoming so frenzied I fear we’re all starting to lose perspective. And I say that as someone who has been more than willing to criticize the President.   In the 90s it was the Republicans who were in full outrage mode. Remember when Kenneth Starr was the Robert Mueller of the Clinton administration? The news cycle was dominated by Whitewater, the firing of White House travel agents, the alleged misuse of FBI files, and the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. And then along came Monica! The anti-Clinton rhetoric was venomous and relentless, and lasted for years. But by 2004, it was the Democrats turn. Michael Moore released his incendiary film Fahrenheit 911 alleging presidential incompetence by George W Bush for his response to the September 11 attacks and the hastily cobbled together Coalition of the Willing’s invasion of Iraq. And then the so-called evidence for there being WMDs in Iraq all came to nothing. The attacks on Mr Bush’s character and intelligence were unending. The critics claimed he was surrounded by

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Don’t let policymakers tell you we don’t care about the poor

Don’t let policymakers tell you we don’t care about the poor

“It’s an 80-percent issue, people want to close down the borders.” – Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley   “80 percent of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid.” – Australian minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells   Sometimes, when you read the studies into attitudes toward the most needy in our world you wonder where all this heartlessness has come from. We’re told people want DACA dismantled and immigrants deported. We’re told people want a great big wall on America’s southern border. We’re told Australians want refugees incarcerated on Pacific islands, and cuts to foreign aid. When did everyone get so stingy?   LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS Relying on a Lowy Institute poll that said 80% of Australians supported reductions in overseas aid, the Australian federal government recently did just that. They lowered the level of foreign aid in the national budget. In fact, the minister responsible for international development quoted the poll itself to justify the cuts. Which must have made the folks at the Lowy Institute a bit uncomfortable. Being cited while they take money away from the neediest people in South East Asia and the Pacific wouldn’t sit well with me either. So they decided to dig a bit further. And what they found surprised them. Yes, it’s

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Tis Merely a Flesh Wound: when Social Justice Warriors feel like the Black Knight

Tis Merely a Flesh Wound: when Social Justice Warriors feel like the Black Knight

It hasn’t been a good week to be a social justice warrior. And I don’t use that term in its pejorative sense. To me, a social justice warrior is what the term suggests at face value, a person committed to fighting for justice. I know Twitter has turned “SJW” into an insult to describe young progressives, offended by everything, incapable of reasoned debate, blah, blah. But for me, fighting the good fight for justice and peace in this world is exactly what Jesus calls us to, and what his followers have been doing for centuries. Being a social justice warrior shouldn’t put you on the left or the right. It shouldn’t deem you a liberal or a conservative. Rather, it should put you firmly in the will of God. The kind of religion the Bible advocates is rooted in justice that flows from the heart of God. It seeks to bring all things into the wholeness of God. As one justified by faith in the God of all justice, I believe we are to experience the wholeness God brings and extend it to others.   This week, those of us committed to that task were dealt a crushing blow when the richest nation in the world, and the one most likely to refer to itself as Christian, enacted a policies that

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Returning violence for violence only multiplies violence

Returning violence for violence only multiplies violence

When I was a kid, I gave an opposing player some lip on the rugby field and he punched me in the face so hard and so quickly I didn’t even see it coming. One minute I was trash-talking him and the next minute I was on my butt, my head spinning, watching him run back to join the flow of the game. It was embarrassing. I remember how for weeks (months?) later I kept fantasizing about how I could have got back at him. I imagined clobbering him, humiliating him in front of others as he had done to me. The impulse to respond to violence with violence is primal. It’s almost involuntary.   When we feel personally assailed we want to return fire, to make our attackers suffer as much, or more, than we have. It’s a very human, visceral reaction. Even when we see horrible acts of terrorism perpetrated in cities like Paris or London or Nairobi, that same impulse rears up. We feel threatened, and we clamor, “Do it back to them. Return violence for violence. If they’re trying to kill us we should kill them.” Whole nations can become inflamed by this hunger for revenge. After the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, the US responded by bombing Afghanistan and invading Iraq.

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What would you know about fair play, Mr Turnbull?

What would you know about fair play, Mr Turnbull?

Warning: this post contains references to an archaic and almost unwatchable game still played by a few British Commonwealth nations.   Cricket. It’s like baseball, but on valium. It’s slow. It’s boring. And no one outside England and a few of her former colonial outposts play it. But it’s come to epitomize the best of British values like tradition, gentility, and insouciance. Cricketers use quaint terms like tally-ho, and pucka, and huzzah. Okay, I made that bit up. But they should. And so it pains me as an Australian to admit that this great and ancient game has been brought into disrepute by my own countrymen. While playing our fellow former colonial outpost, South Africa, the Australian cricket team has been caught ball tampering. I know the term ball tampering doesn’t sound like the worst crime in the world. In fact, it sounds a bit comical. And I don’t fully understand it myself, but apparently you can fiddle with the ball in such a way as to make it fly at the batter in less predictable ways. And in the world of cricket, it is a complete no-no. The rules state: “The Laws of Cricket allow for manipulation of the ball to some degree, but there is a definite line that must not be crossed. A match ball may be

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The Scandal of Free Porn: we need to legislate paywalls and age restrictions

The Scandal of Free Porn: we need to legislate paywalls and age restrictions

Before Christmas last year, 23-year-old Mercedes Grabowski left the home she shared with her husband in Ventura, California, and drove 20 minutes to a public park where she hanged herself. A suicide note was found in her car. In it she apologized to her parents. Mercedes’ death might have gone largely unreported but for the fact that she was a well-known pornographic actress who had starred in more than 280 adult films under the name August Ames. Her grieving husband is a pornographic film director and former performer. In interviews, Ames had revealed she had been sexually abused as a child and that as a teenager one of her high school teachers would beg her for naked selfies before class. She said she had suffered from long-term depression because of the abuse. “Some days I’ll be fine and if I’m not doing anything I’ll get these awful flashbacks of my childhood and I get very depressed and I can’t get out of bed and cancel my scenes for like a week or two.” Ames confessed to an interviewer that she needed therapy, but was worried that a therapist would frown on her career or suggest her job was the cause of her depression. In the days leading up to her death, she was also embroiled in a Twitter war over

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Three Billboards Outside Miami, Florida: how America turned into Mildred Hayes

Three Billboards Outside Miami, Florida: how America turned into Mildred Hayes

In Martin McDonagh’s hugely successful film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a grieving mother, frustrated by police inaction in solving her daughter’s murder, erects three signs goading the local police chief to do something. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is numb with grief. Her face is set like stone. Her manner is flinty and gruff. She’s survived a violent marriage, the violent death of a child, and now she’s surviving a sluggish police investigation. She won’t take any more garbage from anyone. The focus of her billboard rage, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is a more sympathetic character than you first expect. After the signs go up and start causing a stir around the fictional town of Ebbing, Willoughby calls on Mildred and tries to explain the reason Angela’s murder and rape hasn’t been solved. There’s no evidence. There’s no witnesses, no DNA matches, no suspects, no leads. “Right now there ain’t too much more we could do,” he laments. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is all about unfocused grief. Mildred has no one to blame for her daughter’s death and therefore nowhere to focus her grief and her anger. So she’s angry at everyone. The billboards are the only tangible outlet for that anger. In one touching scene, Mildred squats by the billboards and starts platting flowers, as if those the

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