Radiant smiles, and forgiveness in the face of cruelty: the Charleston church is showing the world the face of True Christianity

When I heard of the Charleston shooting story broke, I was asked to write a background piece on the State Senator who was killed, Clementa Pinckney. I was touched by the photos of this man, which suggested a loving and humble character. I was touched by the tributes, that he was kind, without cynicism and served others. I was touched by his words about service to the community.

Why would God allow such an outrage in a church? My answer to this is not about whether God ‘allowed’ it, but more what the people of that church are demonstrating – the real face of Jesus Christ.

Clementa was clearly a man of faith. When I saw the faces of the other victims, all I could see was that radiant joy that you see when people are really close to Christ. They are beautiful:

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All the more in contrast with the angry, confused and hateful expression on the killer’s face. He is reported to have said that he nearly didn’t kill them because they were so nice to him.

The legacy and fruit of that Bible study group is next displayed in one of the most extraordinary expressions of Christ I’ve ever seen. One by one, the family members of the victims spoke at the killer’s bond hearing, and told the killer, whose impassive face is seen in this video, some extraordinary words:

I forgive you. You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. God have mercy on your soul. You’ve hurt me, you’ve hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you, and I forgive you.

I would like you to know that… I forgive you and my family forgive you. we would like to take this opportunity to repent. And give your life to the One who matters the most, Christ, so he can change you. He can change your ways no matter what happen to you. And you’ll be OK. Do that. You’ll be better off than you are right now.

We welcome you Wednesday night in our Bible study, with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. I’ll never be the same. [My son] was my hero. We enjoyed you [in the Bible study]. May God have mercy on you.

Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. But everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies live in love. And, hate won’t win.

I’m a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I am very angry… we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate… may God bless you.

If you don’t think that Christianity is true, and Jesus is real – I don’t know how you can deny the reality of Christ living in these people. The ability to forgive while in such pain and grief is the power of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. What an amazing community.

Blog: Tanzania and “How planting trees can tackle poverty”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry I’m a bit late with this. I took a trip to Tanzania to observe the work of a charity – Plant With Purpose – and see how permaculture ideas, Christian faith and development can be integrated holistically to help people. I’m writing a few articles about it, here’s the first short piece for Christian Today, about how something as simple as a tree can help people as well as improve the environment.

For people on the breadline, the link between the environment and poverty is much clearer and easier to see. A significant root cause of poverty is the state of the land.

The picture is of a beautiful area in this lovely community of Marangu that’s been set aside as a nature reserve, and it’s truly gorgeous. Leaving nature to do its work has also brought them a new water source – good news for rural farmers in a hot country. They were so generous and welcoming – it was an amazing experience.

If you’ve any questions about the work, I’d be really happy to answer them.

Boxing star Manny Pacquiao: from booze, girls and gambling to a devotion to Jesus Christ

I loved researching this story for Christian Today before the weekend and the big fight, do take a look!

Boxer Manny Pacquiao used to go to church – but he also cheated on his wife, drank and gambled. Then he had an amazing encounter with God and his life changed. Now he tells people of the importance of obeying God, and being born again. He said:

When you have Jesus in your life, when you have God in your life, the things in this world are not important to your heart. The most important is God in your heart

I read around the guy and his conversion seems to be very sincere. Great that he can see that God is so much greater than all the money and trappings of fame.

Are the ‘culture wars’ coming to an end? (I hope so)

In writing up a summary of this week’s Southern Baptist Convention on homosexuality for Christian Today, I started to get hopeful. There’s a softening on the conservative side that suggests detente. The last thing Christians want to be involved with is war – and that includes the culture wars. Let’s hope and pray that we can all learn to love and respect one another, even when we disagree.

Humanists launch a new ad campaign: I chat to their chief exec

The British Humanist Association has just launched a new advertising campaign on the London Underground. Under the heading, “What’s it all for?” the posters feature quotes from atheists such as AC Grayling and novelists like Virginia Woolf. Partly it’s to rival BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the day’ which continues to be religious.

I rang up the chief executive of the BHA this morning, Andrew Copson. He was more friendly than the folk in certain other secularist organisations. It was an interesting exercise in conversing with someone from a different point of view, while asking my questions about the campaign.

I think most Christians would say that there is very little broadcasting that they can relate to as Christians: what little there is, such as Songs of Praise, is often designed more for the older generation, or can come from a very liberal point of view. I suspect other religions might feel the same. But it seems that this feeling is the same for humanists.

This surprises me, because to me, almost everything on TV and radio has an underlying humanist worldview and secularist assumptions, which are definitely not neutral. I’d love to see some quantitative evidence of to what extent religious and humanist views are expressed on TV, and whether they’re given a positive or negative light.

In any case, the conversation did help me to understand this guy’s point of view, at least a little bit. Perhaps we all notice opinions that are different to ours much more often than we do our own. The difficult thing is to communicate with the people holding those opinions, but that’s the way we come to understand each other.

Why are New Atheists so offensive?

It’s been an interesting spectacle, to watch the fame of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins rise in the last decade, and then a little sad to observe that in recent years they have become increasingly offensive. It’s no longer just believers who are offended, it’s women, people with disabilities, and many others.

I wrote an article for Christian Today yesterday about the latest offence from Sam Harris: that women’s “Estrogen Vibe” led them to be less interested in his books. It didn’t go down very well and feminists expressed their irritation on the hashtag #EstrogenVibe. The article contains a short summary of offensive comments from the New Atheists.

Of course there are plenty of Christians out there who cause offence, too. But those people generally are not put on pedestals, at least in the UK. I am starting to feel sorry for the atheists. They seem genuinely unaware of why what they say is offensive, and really believe that their approach is the rational and right one.

Perhaps that is the problem: that when we become proud of how intelligent we are (or we think we are), then it naturally lends itself to being insensitive to others. The mark of a humble person is often their soft and non-judgemental attitude, and they’re the least likely to cause offence. It’s a virtue that is valued in some religious circles, and perhaps it needs more popularity outside, too.

 

Genocide is happening right now

Right now, innocent people are being killed by ISIS in Iraq: including Christians and other ethnic minorities if they don’t convert. I wrote about this for the Christian Today website, and link it here, in the hope that I’ll raise the profile of the issue and help people think through a response. Please, please, pray, and urge your politicians to act.

We look back at other atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide, and even the Holocaust, and we wring our hands and kick ourselves for what we could have done. We should have bombed the railway lines that were carrying Jews to their death, for example. We should have done more, we think. We could have, we should have.

So here’s our chance to fight such evil.

Political tribalism: whose side are you on?

I am interested in politics, but it worries me how tribal it is. As if one side has all the answers. I guess I used to be very tribal – a real leftie. But I’ve learned the error of my ways. Do you hate any political parties? UKIP? Socialists? Anyone?

It’s not that I don’t think Christians should be into politics, but the minute we start throwing stones at the other side, we need to stop and think. Here’s a comment piece I wrote for Christian Today: “Why political tribalism is bad for the soul”

One quote:

I don’t think it’s the political colour that matters – people just generally like to move in tribes, and once we are in that tribe, the terrible temptation is to condemn and look down on others. We all do it, but it poisons our hearts.

 

 

On the ground at the DSEi arms fair [archive]

I wrote this article a long time ago for the Indy on Sunday, but the experience has stayed with me and I thought I’d put it up here. I attended the DSEi arms fair and it was an education.

If you walked around DSEi with squinted eyes, you might think it was a normal trade fair. There are bright colours, glossy brochures, models and video screens demonstrating the wares. But when the gaze comes into focus, the videos are of battlefields – even cluster bombs at the Israel Military Industries stand – and the models are of missiles and bombs, such as the 12ft Tomahawk cruise missile used by the Royal Navy, on sale from its US manufacturer, Raytheon.

UKIP on the campaign trail in Newark

I visited a UKIP rally for the Newark by-election: this is my report for the Spectator blog.

After the European elections, we can smell blood,’ said a cheerful UKIP activist, Scott Cross, from Hampshire. Former Tory activist Steve Stanbury, who defected to UKIP a few years ago, felt ‘exhilarated and invigorated for the first time in ages.’ And this exuberance was given full vent when their saviour Farage appeared. Entering the packed 500-plus crowd in Newark’s genteel Kelham Hall, the ovation was standing and the roar was deafening. The grand Victorian hall is usually used for weddings, but marital celebrations had nothing on the enthusiastic applause from UKIP’s blue rinse brigade yesterday, still buzzing from their triumph in the EU elections a week earlier.