Evidence of media bias: airbrushing Christianity out of the (positive) news story

Christians are pretty used to having the positive fruits of our faith being erased from history. The media will happily tag the label ‘Christian’ to ranting or philandering pastors when they hit the headlines, the atrocities of the Crusades or Westboro Baptist Church.

Yet in the secular media, our faith is rarely, if ever, associated with the true inspirations of Christianity: Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Josephine Butler. Such people are presented as modern day humanists, rather than the devout and conservative believers in Christ that they really were, motivated by their faith.

So it’s also the case for modern believers.

Earlier this year, successful rugby player Jason Robinson talked to an ITV programme about how he once contemplated suicide. What changed? His Born-Again team-mate, Va’aiga Tuigamala, talked to him about God, and Jason found new life in Christ:

I honestly believe the Lord sent him. He came to me and said: ‘I’m concerned about you. I had a dream about you last night. You were stood on top of the world and as I watched, slowly from underneath you, the world started to crumble.’ The Bible talks about repenting [changing your mind] and asking the Lord into your life. That’s what I did. After I said it, I felt something lift. Had it not been for him I certainly wouldn’t have the hope that I’ve got now. And hope is something that people can’t take away.

Yet, most of the secular media that reported the story totally ignored the main part of the story. Reports from The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, and the ITV website, all totally ignored that it was Christian faith that changed Robinson’s life.

There was a brief mention in The Telegraph, Wigan Today, and the Yorkshire Evening Post, but it’s very brief.

Is there anything we can do about this? I’m seeing more and more anti-Christian rhetoric and propaganda on social media, even in people I’d have thought would be open and tolerant.

In the meantime, read about Jason’s faith in his own words from a Christian site:

A player called Va’aiga Tuigamala (Inga) joined my club, Wigan.  As I watched him it was obvious that he had something I did not have, something that I wanted.  He played the same game as me, but didn’t need all the going out and drinking that I did. He was at peace with himself.  He was the happiest man in the place.  I talked to him about it and he explained his faith.  I became a Christian.

(Does believing in Jesus Christ make a difference?) I am leading a better and more fulfilled life than I ever lived. I have been a better father, a better husband, and 100 times better morally than I was before.

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.

Darkness and light: the crucifixion and ISIS

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Today I was given a clear picture of the scene of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, as I was reading Matthew 27. I saw how much hatred there was in the crowd, and in the religious leaders, and in the soldiers. The crowd was shouting for Jesus to be viciously tortured and killed – full of murderous rage and evil. The leaders were desperate to find something wrong in Jesus and to condemn him for blasphemy – and so have him killed and tortured. The soldiers were mocking and taunting him and drove nails into him. There was no compassion, no mercy – just hate and evil.

And yet Jesus did not fight back, he did not try to defend himself. He did not try to justify himself. He remained pure, and good, and holy. Even when he was in agony on the Cross, he still said to his Father: ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. The darkness was raging around him, throwing its worst at him, hating him, hurting him and cruelly mistreating him. Yet Jesus remained the same – pure and loving – and full of mercy.

It struck me very clearly and forcefully how the evil of the crowd was darkness, but how brightly Jesus was the light. As it says in John 1:5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

It also struck me how similar kinds of darkness have expressed themselves throughout history. The crusades, the gas chambers, and the modern-day atrocities committed by ISIS are all examples of the darkness expressing itself. All too often, it prompts evil and hate in return. But to have the mind of Christ is to stay pure, stay loving, stay forgiving in that situation. That is completely impossible for a human being, but it is possible for Christ living in us. That light cannot go out – we must let it shine within us, and keep the darkness out of our souls – even when the darkness rages outside.

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.

Pearls of wisdom from “The Cloud of Unknowing” (Christian contemplative prayer/meditation)

The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works (Penguin Classics)

I’ve just finished reading the medieval Christian book “The Cloud of Unknowing”, which is a classic of Christian mysticism. I always take such books with a pinch of salt, because I think you’ve got to approach mysticism carefully and use the Bible as your boundary. But I did find a lot of great wisdom in this little book. Here are some examples, with quotes:

1) Seek God for God alone, and not what He can give you

Peace, love and the Spirit are wonderful benefits of contemplative prayer – but not always. And one of the blocks to knowing God that I’ve found is if I’m only doing the prayer to feel good. Instead, it’s important to just seek God and God alone – love requires that we are not seeking for only what we can get.

Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him… Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or in particular.

There’s encouragement to wait in prayer, even when it seems difficult:

When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love.

2) Christian meditation / contemplative prayer is very different to Eastern, Buddhist styles of meditation

It’s not a game of trying to seek knowledge, and pride is a danger.

Whoever hears or reads about all this, and thinks that it is fundamentally an activity of the mind, and proceeds then to work it all out along these lines, is on quite the wrong track. He manufactures an experience that is neither spiritual or physical. He is dangerously missed and in real peril.

Indeed he points out that you need a foundation of knowing your own sinfulness, meditating on the Cross and the kindness of God.

See to it that there is nothing at work in your mind or will but only God. Try to suppress all knowledge and feeling of anything less than God, and trample it down deep under the cloud of forgetting.

Although the Christian meditator is seeking to lose ‘self’ it is ONLY to give it to God in love – to surrender all we have to our Creator.

3) As you reach towards God, run away from all that is bad

By its very definition, if you are seeking God you must turn away from all wrongdoing – all sin.

In itself prayer is nothing else than a devout setting of our will in the direction of God in order to get good, and remove evil… all evil is summed up in sin… if we pray with intention for the acquiring of goodness, let us pray, in word or thought or desire, no other word than ‘God’. For in God is all good, for he is its beginning and its being.

Being aware of this great separation can be a help if we’re struggling with sin, or with hiding from God:

Feel sin in its totality – as a lump – without specifying any particular part, and that all of it is you. And then cry ceaselessly in your spirit this one thing: ‘Sin! Sin! Sin! Help! Help! Help!

4) The fruit of contemplative prayer is love, and intimacy with Christ

This kind of prayer is done to know God more, and to love him more.

The nature of love is that it shares everything. Love Jesus, and everything he has is yours.

…He may, perhaps, send out a shaft of spiritual light, which pierces this cloud of unknowing beteween you, and show you some of his secrets… then will you feel your affection flame with the fire of his love, far more than I can possibly say now…

Happy praying!

The limits of science and the necessity of humility

Why Us? / How Science Rediscoveerd The Mystery Of Ourselves

One of my favourite books I’ve read recently is “Why Us: How science discovered the mystery of ourselves,” by Telegraph columnist and doctor, James le Fanu. It’s said to “reunite science with sense of wonder” and it’s well worth a read. Essentially it’s a critique of Darwinism or materialism as an explanation for living phenomena, though not from the perspective of religion. The author seems to have spiritual beliefs but of an unknown variety.

Personally I find it lacking some depth in terms of its critique of Darwinism – and there were facts that were not taken account of. However the book neatly summarises one of my biggest problems with the New Atheist arguments that use science to attempt to disprove the existence of God. Science is presented as if it has already answered all the questions of life, or at least the big ones. But nothing could be further from the truth. As we unravel the complexities of molecular biology – more problems arise. What seemed to be a simple explanation for phenomena becomes much more complex, or even untenable.

I agree with atheists that this is not a reason to therefore decide “ah well, God did it then”, the infamous “God of the gaps.” The book has a tendency to do this (though it is with a “life force” rather than God, in keeping with the author’s beliefs) But it is a reason to generate humility and awe for the world around us. It’s important to acknowledge that despite all the efforts, all the research, all the great minds working hard on their subject, to the end that now, no one person could possibly know and understand all of the scientific discoveries and results we’ve achieved, at least in one lifetime – we still just don’t know. There is so much to learn, to understand. it is a mind-bending and humbling truth. Anyone who says we know it all, just exposes their total ignorance of all that we know.

It’s a well-written and interesting book, and a great place to start exploring this topic. Don’t let the anti-Darwinism put you off, it does make interesting points and it’s not anti-science.

Stephen Fry, it’s not God that’s the problem with the world, it’s you and I

I write this knowing that there’ll be very few who read my opinion, compared to the millions for your recent tirade against God. Apart from the Pope, or perhaps Bono… even learned and accomplished believers get little coverage compared to you and Dawkins and all of the other famous celebrity atheists. You have an awful lot of power. Somehow The Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t seem to go viral, he seems a nice man but he’s just not got the street cred I suppose. Most of the believers who get the headlines are the nasties like Westboro Baptist Church, and they’re about as representative of Christians as Stalin and his cronies are of atheists.

As many of my learned friends have pointed out, your anger against God assumes that this world is the way he designed it to be. But it’s not, if we take a Christian view on the subject. It doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to see that the God described in those pages is not very happy with the world as it is. In fact when he’s most angry, in the much maligned Old Testament, then God’s raging about the lack of compassion for people in poverty, the murdering of children in pagan blood sacrifices or just plain selfishness and hate. Most clearly in Jesus’ teachings, you can see clearly that God wants people to care for one another, not to be greedy etc. Yet, we ignore him.

The problems you cite in your rant on RTE – as with most of the suffering of the world – could be alleviated, if not eradicated, if human beings chose to love. (Not the fickle, randy, romantic kind of love that is usually what’s counted as ‘love’ these days, but the agape, compassionate, caring kind of love that Jesus talks about.) How? Well, we could be giving our money to the care of those children turned blind by worms, rather than spending it on nice meals out, posh clothes or sunny holidays. We could be adopting the orphans and tending to the sick kids – spending all our time caring for them rather than all the ‘leisure’ activities that us Westerners love so much. We could be studying for the ultimate purpose of relieving suffering and treating illness rather than just the learning for enjoyment’s sake that we tend to do – or the learning we do to make ourselves sound clever and be admired, even worse. We could be spending as little money as possible on ourselves, in order that we can give it to others. In short, we could be living lives of pure love, and focusing all of our time and energy on relieving the suffering of others. But, we don’t. You and I, Stephen Fry, do not do that. Even the people I know who do a much better at it than I do, still obviously fail at it on a regular basis.

This, according to the Bible, is why God is angry. He doesn’t want it to be this way, because he loves us. He created a world that was meant to be good, where humans were meant to love one another. But, we were given free will. We have many choices that we make each day, that could make the world a better place. They involve more than just giving a fraction of our handsome surplus or of our time to our favourite charity – it involves genuine sacrifice of our whole lives for the sake of others.

We’ve been given that responsibility. And most of us have it in our power to do something about it, however small that something is. If everyone used their little bit of power for love’s sake, then most of the evil in the world would either be stopped at source, or at least alleviated. It’s no use shouting at God for the evil we claim he is responsible for. He’s given us the power and the free will, to make things different. And we choose not to do that. Heaven is the place where what God wants is done perfectly, not here. He’s given us the reins while we’re on Earth, and we’re doing a hopeless job of being in charge.

Jesus was pretty clear, when he was asked by a rich young man how to be good enough get to heaven. He said, we’re to give all our money up for the poor – to the people who are genuinely suffering. The rich young man was sad, as I suppose we would be too, if told we had to give up our comfortable, Western lives, to help those who are suffering today.

His disciples were too. But thankfully, Jesus had more to say – “nothing is impossible with God”. Christianity is not about us being good enough, but instead recognising that God is good enough. That’s pretty good news given the very clear reality that there’s no-one who’s perfect in this world – no-one who is giving up everything for the sole purpose of genuine self-sacrificial love of others. It says that Jesus saw this problem, and decided to take on the negative consequences of all our selfishness so that we can be free of it. If we choose to, we can accept this free gift, accept our own responsibility for the problems of the world and say sorry to God for this – and then learn from Him how to love better, love more, and relieve suffering. But we have to recognise that we can only do this, by turning to God, for his leadership and his love. On our own, we just don’t manage it.

Now you might say, with good reason, that the church is not presenting this utopia to the world. We’re not the perfect houses of love that we’re meant to be. That’s very true. There are some pretty irritating and occasionally nasty people within church walls – such as myself, I would say. But I came from a very typical liberal, secular culture and then moved into the church after I became a Christian as an adult. No, it’s not perfect, but when you find a genuine church that is truly seeking to follow Christ, then you do start to see something a little bit different. You see glimpses of the way the world is meant to be. Not a window, but just glimpses. A drug addict who has been healed and now has a happy family and is holding down a job. A church rallying round a mum whose disabled daughter and poorly husband have left her exhausted. People who give up well paid and powerful jobs in order to go and practically help the suffering in other countries. Those who suffered terrible abuse as a child who find peace through faith, and start to give their lives to help others. These are glimpses of heaven, and of the way the world is meant to be. Sometimes those glimpses are seen outside the church, it’s true, but in my lifetime I’ve most often seen self-sacrificial love within the church. It’s not a wishy-washy, State-dependent, ranty, political kind of ‘love’, either (though there is quite a bit of that too, to be fair, it not being perfect). There’s a ‘taking on of responsibility’ kind of love, making things happen with our own hands and not blaming the government or whoever else for the problems. It’s recognising the massive responsibility that has been given to humans to choose. To choose whether to obey God’s commands for genuine love and to avoid greed and suchlike – or not. To choose his way, his redemption, or not.

So, when you get to the Pearly Gates, you rage to God all you want to. I suspect what he might say to you or I, or anyone who chooses to start wagging their fingers at him: “And what about you? What did YOU do with the money, time, gifts and relationships that you had? Did you love others or did you love yourself and your own desires? Did you follow Jesus’s instructions for making the world a better place, or not?”

I think that we’re living in this world where God’s will is not done, to see whether we want to live in the world where his will IS done – heaven. There, is pure joy and pure love, with no greed or selfishness at all. If you don’t want to follow his way of love – loving God, loving people, and recognising that the world’s problems are our fault and saying sorry for that – it’s your choice. But you might find out that who you should really be angry with, is not God, but yourself, myself, and everyone else.

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.

A summary of Tom Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”

I love this quote from Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, which I think summarises the whole book quite well:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

It’s expanding on 1 Cor 15:58: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”.
I find this massively encouraging! Keep loving, peeps…

Why I went from party girl newspaper hack to committed Christian

All weekend I was talking about my story, of why I became a Christian. I was hearing other people’s stories too. People are always interested, especially when you come from a pretty secular background, like myself.

In my old life, I would have thought it hilarious if I’d known that I would become a Christian. But it’s without doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. The best thing being Jesus.

I used to love to party. I smoked, drank, danced and suchlike. It was fun, at times. But it didn’t bring me a lot of joy. Joy being a more whole happiness – from inside out. Not dependent on situation, friends and nightclubs, but just in my being.

I left a fairly decent newspaper career in my mid-twenties, to try to do something more caring. I worked in mental health for a while. But dropping the gear from the frenetic and boozy world of journalism to the chaotic and humble acute mental health ward prompted a lot of thinking. Why did this suffering go on, and what is the answer to it?

I had a kind of itch inside. I knew I needed something spiritual, but didn’t know what it was. I started exploring various different kinds of faith. Buddhism, paganism, Islam… Christianity would have been the last on my list, because it seemed to be a bit uncool. Really, there was a bit of social stigma about it – a prejudice – that is very prevalent in the liberal left world in which I had inhabited. But hey, I like to swim against the tide. Often that’s how you get to the truth.

When I first started going to church, and reading the gospels, I knew that there was something about Jesus that I wanted. I started seeking, and asking, and knocking. And as Jesus promised, I found. And what I was looking for was love – and the love of our Creator.

You can’t really describe spiritual experiences, you have to know it for yourself. But all I can say is that my worldview changed into one where love was the real meaning behind the universe, and the source of it all was God. Jesus is the visible image of God – how we can understand God and his love for us.

That’s the problem with the world – there’s not enough love. And that’s because we’ve shut ourselves off from the source of that love. That’s the answer I’d been seeking.

That might sound a bit ‘hippy’, but I’ve had seven years of scientific education and I can assure you I’m pretty hard-nosed when it comes to investigating the truth. I spent a long time questioning my beliefs.

Well, the story is an awful lot longer than this. I’ll not going to go into too much more detail. After working in the NHS for a bit, and finding that secular approaches to mental health did not seem to provide the kind of healing that Christian approaches could do (especially for addicts) I thought I’d go back to journalism to pay the bills, and spend more time doing voluntary work rather than taking an NHS cheque.

Journalism in the Christian world is a lot softer and calmer than the mainstream kind. This kinda suits my lifestyle. Plus, whether the NHS or newspapers, I don’t think it’s easy to be a person of faith in those workplaces these days, unless you’re willing to shut off that part of you. And when that part is what makes you tick, then you don’t want to do that.

All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I think Jesus has his arms open to everyone. You just have to ask him for a hug.

Ten quick responses to atheist claims

I attended the Evangelists’ Conference in London on Tuesday, with the view to reporting it for Christian Today. Professor John Lennox was the main speaker, and very good he was too.

He took queries from the audience, of questions they’d been asked by atheists or skeptics. I collated ten of these into a short article for Christian Today – click here. Those who like to discuss their faith will find the atheist claims very familiar.

Of course, most of these touch on subjects that could take books and weeks of discussion before they’re even partially resolved. However some of the atheist claims are a bit daft and illogical, so can be answered pretty quickly. Anyway, I hope the article stimulates some thinking and seeking in whoever happens to be reading it.

Obeying the Bible means living a radical, green life

It was great to see so many people out marching for Climate change around the world last weekend. It’s always good to see a community getting together for a common cause. But will it change anything? I doubt it. Governments already know that a significant minority of their populations are concerned about climate change. What will really change the situation is not going on marches, but changing the way we live.

And, encouragingly for Christians, this way of living is laid out pretty clearly in the Bible. In fact, even if you don’t believe in climate change, if you want to take the Bible seriously, you’ve to live a life that is in agreement with the greenest and most right-on environmental protesters.

Why? Well, anything that is producing carbon and going into the atmosphere, is related to consumption. It’s caused by money, or more to the point, it’s caused by some people having too much money and greed. It’s now the norm for our culture to be going off on foreign holidays via plane, even twice a year, having two cars, changing technology every few months, eating vegetables that were flown from the other side of the world. And what makes all this possible? Having too much cash, and then choosing to spend it on ourselves rather than on helping others. This is a lifestyle that we’re all caught up in in the West, and dealing with it is a lot harder than going on a march. Our societies need root and branch reform, and the Bible is the best place to start. I think this passage is key to the issue:

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” 1 Tim 6:6-10

How true this Bible quote is. Greed, and the lust for entertainment, stuff, activity and fashion, has lulled us into this situation, where the world’s resources are scarce and we’re wasting them on consumer goods and leisure rather than investing them into people and the planet. We have a model in Jesus, who was so low-impact that he didn’t even have his own house (Luke 9:58). We’re told to be stewards of the Earth and all the living things in it (Gen 1:28). When we think of Matt 25 we normally remember that those who go to eternal punishment are those who have not helped the sick, the imprisoned and the hungry. But Rev 11:18 also points out that those who destroy the earth will be in this group. So if we’re God’s people, then we’ll be caring for people and caring for the Earth too.

Breaking our addiction to consumption, cars, boys toys and all the trappings of the modern world will take a long time. In the same way as an addiction to crack or alcohol, it takes Jesus to fill the hole that the addiction leaves and repair the damage. This in and of itself will direct our attention from entertainment and buying stuff, towards helping others and loving Creation, in all its beautiful variety. We’ll not be working every hour God gives us, but working fewer hours because we’ll need less money: truly we’ll be serving God and not filthy lucre (Matt 6:24). We’ll have more time for our friends and family, and serving our community, even putting on dinner parties for the lost and broken (Luke 14:13). We’ll be able to give away the money we do have to good causes.

I can hear the mini-me Richard Dawkins of the twitter world howling in outrage at what I’ve just said, thinking of the gas-guzzling SUVs and private jets of certain parts of the Christian community, especially in America. But it’s not our job to shout at them, it’s our job to lead by example. And perhaps we need to get the log out of our own eye, before we can help others get the speck out of theirs (Matt 7:3-5). We need more than shifting to a green tariff, reusing plastic bags and buying recycled paper, to get the almighty, rotten trunk out of our own eyes.

Living a life worthy of that 1 Tim passage, and to be content with just having enough food and clothing to survive, is radically different from our Western culture. But as the ancient monks and nuns discovered, it can leave more space for what’s really good, and what’s really God. After all, it’s His Earth, not ours.

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.

How gay people are treated in church

I’m listening to an interesting debate between Steve Chalke (a British pastor who is well-known for his liberal approach to sexuality issues and other things) and Sean Doherty, a teaching pastor at Bible College St Mellitus. Doherty described himself as gay, and when at university he was open about this with his Christian friends. Yet he said that he has never received homophobia or criticism from the church or other Christians. However he did get criticism from outside the church. Why? Because he’d decided to be celibate.

I find this fascinating. Sean comes from an evangelical background, but it’s a similar story to a Catholic guy, Steve Gershom (not his real name). Gershom also said he’s never experienced negativity for being gay in church: but he has experienced negativity outside the church for being celibate. He said:

“Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am.

“Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.”

Yes, we hear some horrible stories from other people who are gay: negativity, and being thrown out of church, and even terrible stories about teenagers being thrown out of their homes. But the experience of Doherty and Gershom suggest that this is not the whole picture. Vicky Beeching, a worship leader who recently came out, received a lot of criticism (she, unlike Gershom and Doherty, doesn’t seem to be aspiring to celibacy), but she also received an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement from Christians, certainly on twitter.

So, it’s not that someone who is gay is immediately ostracised by churches, at least in the UK. Even in conservative circles, gay people can experience inclusion, love and acceptance. This has to be the right way, whatever your theological stance on the matter is.

But what about our culture’s distaste for celibacy? Why should people who choose not to have sex, be ostracised, mocked and criticised? For the most part, our culture appears to have learned the lesson of welcoming and including people who identify as gay, though there are exceptions. Yet it is still not very good at including and accepting other people who are different to them: whether that’s because they are celibate, they believe in God or many other things that are not fashionable at the moment. We desperately need to learn, and encourage others, to accept and love other people whoever they are and whatever is fashionable. The culture might decide that one group is OK (at the moment that’s gay people) and that another is not (at the moment that’s celibate people). The church has to be different: we have to love everyone. Many times we fail: but that’s got to be our goal.

(To hear similar stories to these two men, you can look at the ‘Living Out’ website, or that of Peter Ould.

How did Bono come to faith in Jesus?

It’s not that widely known that Bono is a Christian, and has been throughout his very successful career. It was only when I became a Christian myself in my late 20s that I found this out, and then their music developed new meaning to me, as the lyrics are full of Christian imagery and meaning.

Interesting that his faith seems to have been sparked by Billy Graham, who at one time was a regular preacher in the UK. This comes from this poem released by Graham’s library, which is rather sweet. I wrote about it for Christian Today yesterday.

The journey from Father to friend
is all paternal loves end
It was sung in my teenage ears
In the voice of a preacher
loudly soft on my tears
I would never forget this
Melody line
Or its lyric voice that gave my life
A Rhyme
a meaning that wasn’t there before
a child born in dung and straw
wish the Father’s love and desire to explain
how we might get on with each other again…

To the Rev Billy Graham (that preacher)
Ruth and all the Graham family
From Bono (March 11 2002)
With much love and respect

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.