In the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, there are lush stands of trees that are known as “virgin forest.” In most places in North America, trees have been cut, and the ones that are standing are ones that have grown to replace the original trees. The old growth forest has developed as Mother Nature has orchestrated.
Logging of the old hardwood trees is very lucrative, and much of the timber has already been harvested. Only about 10% of the old forest remains untouched, and all of that is on Federal land. Environmentalists mounted a huge campaign to stop the logging, noting that the forest was the principle home of the Northern Spotted Owl. The logging efforts had been financially lucrative but hard on the Spotted Owl. Its population had dwindled to about 2,000.
It is difficult to say what the impact would be if the logging continues to the point that the Spotted Owl disappears. The “Law of Unintended Consequences” kicks in, and we may wind up having the only predator of some horrific thingy being eliminated, causing thingy multiplication that leads to the end of civilization.
Because of the dwindling Spotted Owl populations, environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it to be an endangered species. Regardless of whether one is an environmentalist or a development capitalist, the point of this is that all the stops were pulled out to save the Northern Spotted Owl. There is great disagreement about how the matter was handled, but there was little disagreement that a species of owl was disappearing. As a result, there was tremendous public pressure. People cared about the Spotted Owl and rallied to save it.
In northern Iraq, there is a flat-topped mountain about forty-five miles west of Mosul, Iraq, called Mount Sinjar. Whereas much of the countryside around it has change, life on the flat mountain has not changed much for many decades. The principle inhabitants are the Yazidis. They are a monotheistic culture that draws on Bible stories and “native religion” that provides a structure for their society. Technically, it is what is called a syncretistic religion because it draws on positions of a number of other religious perspectives. Of course, a Yazidi would say that they draw on those strains that are correct.
For 2,000 years, the Yazidis have lived on Mount Sinjar, holding to their beliefs and bothering no one. That was until the ISIS fighters came to the area from Syria pressing their violent agenda of purging everything religious except their brand of Islam, with their understanding of Caliphate that imposes a very strict interpretation of Sharia Islamic Law that delights in violent corporal punishment and death for almost everything imaginable.
ISIS fighters surrounded Mount SinJar and began fighting their way up the mountain. In addition to the Yazidi were some ethnic Kurds who are well equipped with small arms (principally AK-47 automatic weapons). The ISIS fighters are amazingly well armed, having more than a million dollars a day of oil revenue from captured oil fields, and probably having amassed more than a billion dollars of assets from plundering banks. In addition, Iraqi troops, equipped with a treasure trove of equipment, arms, and ammunition, simply abandoned their gear when ISIS drew near. All that gear has been confiscated and is being used by ISIS as well. They now have powerful artillery weapons and armored personnel carriers. Any news broadcast shows vast fleets of brand new identical Toyota pick-up trucks, mounted with machine guns on top of the cab and waving black ISIS banners.
Despite being overwhelmingly outgunned, the Kurdish citizen-soldiers (called Peshmerga), have done an incredible job holding off ISIS. Finally, when annihilation was imminent, the US Air Force was given the go-ahead to provide airstrikes against ISIS at the base of the mountain.
About half of the 10,000 to 20,000 Yazidi who were on Mt. Sinjar managed to escape through a break in the encircling ISIS troops and headed to the east toward Dahouk, leaving 5,000 to 10,000 Yazidi on the mountain.
The ones who are left are the very young, the very old, and the infirm, who were not able to escape. The danger is not over. It is ever present.
Why on earth, would I be writing about the Northern Spotted Owl and the Yazidi of Iraq?
It is because a nation that can marshal the energy to support an endangered owl has the means to support a group of people as well. Ethically, the people should be supported even more so. Greatness of a people should not be measured merely by the standard of some notable achievements; rather, it is perhaps more poignantly described by its meekness—its ability to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
This became a great issue when representatives of the United States government made it clear that they were denying the Yazidi’s claims for asylum. They said that they did not find grounds for granting asylum. That means that the President of the United States has decided that the Yazidi don’t count. He, or one of his staff that he has not overturned, has made the ridiculous decision that being hacked to death by 30,000 ISIS terrorists moving toward the Yazidi does not pose a significant enough threat to warrant asylum. If he is trying to live into his Nobel Peace Prize and keep from engaging militarily, he could still allow for asylum. The current position is senseless. It is cruel, and it is wrong.
Without question, the President’s position on other environmental issues makes it clear that he is on the side of the Spotted Owl. He is just not on the side of the Yazidis. Or the Syrian Christians. Or the Iraqi Christians. Come to think of it, on the side of pretty much any Christians anywhere.
At this point, you may be thinking that the crazy bishop is just going political, so let me draw things back to realms ecclesiastical. The reason this kind of horrific situation is happening, the reason we still have abortion on demand, the reason that more than forty percent of children in America are born out of wedlock, the reason seventy percent of children born are African Americans, the reason that one in five minority men are in prison, and so many other things have a screw loose is that Pastors in America have not preached the whole counsel of God to their people and have failed to engage the culture with incarnational ministry, demonstrating the love of Christ and lovingly sharing the ways God says to live in order to find abundance in eternal values.
Pastors, stand up! Speak out!
If you do not speak for the Yazidis and the Kurds, the Syrian Christians, the unborn and the others under fire, then Northern Spotted Owls will be the only ones prospering.
t was Spring of 2012; everything imaginable was blooming between the Place de la Concord and the l”Arche de Triomphe. Just off to the north, at the intersection of the Champs-Élysées at Rue de la Boetie is one of Marriott Hotel’s flagship properties, the Marriott Champs-Élysées. The hotel General Manager, Peter Antinoph, was at the pinnacle of his hotel career, but this day, he was getting bad news:
“Cancer. You have about three months to live.”
“I don’t think so,” he replied and set out to get healthy.
Now, three years later, he is in remission and decided that the time had come to give back.
Marriott was going to open a new hotel in Port au Prince, Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.
“I want to go there,” said Peter.
Haiti was devastated by a tremendous earthquake five years ago. The devastation all over was beyond description. When Peter arrived in Haiti a few months ago, one of his first tasks was to begin the process of hiring new staff: 136 people; every possible position.
They brought in interviewers from Corporate Headquarters. They advertised, and spread word of mouth around Port-au-Prince. Although it is a huge city, it is remarkably parochial. The gossip telegraph works really well. When they finished the interviews, there were more than 700 people applying for the 136 jobs, and things were stalled.
So…what to do? Peter had an idea. After the Corporate people left, he took a small team and drove with them to the tent cities where people had lost everything. He asked, “Who has never worked? Who is handicapped?” He spoke with a woman he saw with six children, “Do you have a job, does your husband have a job?” When the answer was no, he offered her one. He offered other jobs to people who were in the most despicable conditions and circumstances imaginable.
In the end, he filled all the positions. Almost all of them were from the tent cities and the worst areas of the city. Steps were taken to help them with things they needed in order to work. What has happened is that their lives have been changed. As a result, they are intensely loyal. They love their General Manager, and they love their customers. They want to make every detail perfect.
Business-wise, the hotel is doing great. There is nothing like the Marriott property in Port au Prince. It is the clear Number-one choice for all the business and government workers who are coming to Haiti. And the price? Unlike most developing nations, these new hotel rooms go for $125 a night. All in all, pretty amazing. A hundred thirty-six families’ lives revolutionized. Amazingly, it has worked wonderfully. They have virtually 100% retention of the staff, and no unusual problems. No one has stolen the swimming pool or walked off with the hotel’s front door… Their experience has been magnificent. It is also challenging to others.
As I left Port au Prince, the hotel was getting ready to welcome about 30 orphans to “camp” at the hotel, where they would have projects, fun, swimming, and feasts. Amazing. Imagine the impact on the life of an orphan to be loved like that!
But Haiti is not the only place where there are struggling people. It is certainly one of the most starkly difficult places on the face of the earth, but people anywhere can find themselves in crushing circumstances. They crop up in every corner of society. Classically, in missiological studies of contemporary culture, there are seven spheres of influence. To my knowledge, these were first articulated by Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade, now called CRU), and Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth With A Mission-YWAM).
They spoke about the seven spheres as:
• Arts and Entertainment
A great deal of energy has been expended on this model, and I believe it accurately reflects the way things ARE, but I would like to suggest some modification. First of all, one fifth of Western economies are invested in health care and compassion (such as aid programs). I would suggest having those ministries of compassion and healing be recognized as a sphere of influence. The current model assumes that health care is in the commerce (or business) area because people pay for services. The reason I don’t think that is adequate is that the paradigm of making decisions in health care should not be primarily a financial one, but instead, it should include the value placed on human life.
Instead of “religion” just being one of the spheres/mountains/centers of authority, I think God’s design is for the Church to be a platform of transformation that produces indelibly discipled Christians who can be deployed into the spheres of society. When one sees the tremendous impact that Peter Antinoph has made in the world of business (by the way, he is Jewish), my hope is that others can be inspired to work in the sphere in which they function to do the kind of good to which the Kingdom of God calls us.
Our churches should be transformation/discipleship platforms that launch people into every area of human endeavor: people who love God and share His heart for others. Imagine, judges, teachers, shopkeepers, tradesmen, professionals, and others who are so thoroughly transformed that they become agents of good. It is not impossible.
It could readily be done—but maybe not without you.
There are many oddities of postmodernism. Some are interesting. Some are obnoxious. Some are—how should we say delicately—simply nuts. What I find most frustrating about postmodernism is the wacky-doodle world of “it both is and isn’t at the same time.”
Maybe it is compartmentalization, whereby people have little dividers in their brains much like an ice cube tray that can be used to make individual cubes. For some people, it seems to work like this: "What I do at work has no bearing on what I do at home. What I do with hobbies has no bearing on my family life. What I do at church has no bearing on anything outside church. In my church world, I have one set of values; in my business dealings, I have another. In my home group, I am one person, but with money or sexuality, I am someone else entirely. There is no integration. One area has no bearing on the other area."
This kind of thinking has not only influenced academia, but in many institutions, it has taken over wholesale. Now days, it is amazingly difficult to find objective or scientific thought in many of our colleges and universities, except perhaps in some physical sciences, and even the sciences have been invaded. Things like “Earth Science” are replete with “witch-hunt” zeal to root out dissent. Factual data that don’t support the “cause du jour” are not reported, or documents that are contrary to the party line are even destroyed. Most campuses have been over-populated with liberal postmodernists, but not the warm-fuzzy kind. They are more the Nazi kind, who are intolerant of any disagreement. All kinds of fields have been redefined to support the new order of uncritical acceptance of the fantasy that has been promulgated by TV, films, print, and other media.
I could show you the exact spot I was passing on Highway 130 in New Jersey—right by a State Trooper barracks in Willingboro—when I heard an interview from the President of the Screen Writer’s Guild. It was winter, early in 1973. I don’t remember his name, but I remember what he said. It is one of the poster examples of “new speak.” The man being interviewed said, “We are going to change the world, and we are going to do it by the scripts we write. We are going to write TV and film scripts that show homosexuals as sophisticated, lovely people. We are going to show Christians as bigots and buffoons. In a generation, that will be the accepted norm of the culture, and no one will even know what we did, or care."
Sadly, they have been amazingly skilled and steadfast at their task, and an uncritical audience has swallowed the message “hook, line, and sinker.” Rarely are principled Christian people presented. If they are, as in Chariots of Fire, there is just enough of an eccentric twist to the person so as to render him or her an interesting anomaly -- an exception, not a role model that should be emulated.
So we find ourselves some forty years later, with many things entrenched in the general population. The logical inconsistencies that abound in current culture threaten my head with explosion. They are wholeheartedly embraced by the postmoderns. For example, people will chain themselves to trees to try to stop de-forestation, or go into apoplexy over the “snail darter” species that is endangered by a hydroelectric plant. They voice concern for the “ecological disaster that might come if we mess with the balance of nature.” At the same time, those identical eco-zealots eagerly embrace the re-definition of marriage, dramatically altering the fundamental building block of civilization -- marriage and family -- and they do it without a second thought. Team Snail Darter has no concern that there might be unintended consequences that wreck people’s lives. Zealous commitment that the consequences of ecology must be guarded yet willingness to ignore them in areas of social and sexual behavior simply is not logical. It doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t go unchallenged.
Same-sex attraction and activity are virtually always presented as what “gay” used to mean…carefree, happy, and beautiful. Never are the challenges reported in main stream media. Never do we hear the consequences of that behavior. Nonetheless, the toll is accruing, and a day of reckoning will come. By that I don’t mean a day of punishment. I mean that there will be a harvest of ill from behavior that is outside God’s design. The only way to be blessed is to do things His way.
We who seek to follow His way are not excused, however. We are supposed to be incarnational Christians. That means we engage the world with the transforming love of Christ—that we love the world and the people in it into wholeness. It means we should be able to love everyone, but it does not mean that the current superficial definition of “luv” must be accepted. The current cultural concept of “love" is to uncritically affirm people where they are and in whatever they do. Ironically, the only behavior that is culturally proscribed is conservative belief, which is usually re-defined as bigotry or hate.
For whatever faults society may have had in the past, the ways in which it has been ordered have actually delivered you and me to this planet, with more than seven thousand years of testimony that society’s best is for marriage to be between one man and one woman intended to be in a life long union. No more! Suddenly, in the space of a few decades, we are told that everything that went before was bad. It is only now, under the enlightened leadership of the postmodernists, that all things can be corrected.
Granted, the Church has not done a great job of welcoming people who sin. We have only specialized in welcoming people with certain sins. Others sins are much less popular, and the welcome much less robust. That is our failure. True understanding of Incarnation means more than living in the world. We are to love it into transformation. In order to try to drown out the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, many people seek the affirmation of the Church. Nowhere is that more evident than with same-sex behavior. That is why there is such a tremendous push for blessings from the Church. They are trying to find a different voice to drown out conviction’s inner witness that there is a better way.
The cultural pressure to give approbation to same-sex intimacy is understandable, but it is superficial. Frankly, it is unbelievable that the Supreme Court of the United States could be so utterly vapid in its arguments and bare majority decision. The majority justices have simply caved-in to the current culture, abandoning their role as justices weighing what the Constitution says. It is utterly astonishing that after more than two hundred and thirty years, five people have overturned the fabric of Constitutional law and societal design!
In the current pop culture, it is verboten to speak of the brokenness of same-sex behavior. Pundits want to speak only in lofty terms of friendship and commitment, but it is neither friendship nor commitment that is the problem; rather, it is same-sex sexual intimacy itself that is problematic. That is not a hateful judgment: it is a tragedy. A short time doing Google searches will reveal increased mortality rates and shortened life-spans. Same-sex domestic violence occurs at double the general population rate. Studies from the International Journal of Epidemiology show that life spans of homosexual males are eight to twenty years less than normal. HIV/AIDS infection is more than forty times as common in those active in same-sex relationships as in the general population. We need to care for people better than that! It is NOT loving to say, “Go ahead, Honey, do whatever you like, no matter what the consequences!” That is not love at all. The problem is that people who address the issue far too often are loveless in the way they speak. People with same-sex attraction deserve better. They deserve to have us love them well enough to be their genuine friends and then when we have won the right to have a hearing, challenge their behavior.
Who must speak, and say that there is a better way than the way things are? Today, only about 1% of “committed same sex relationships” are monogamous for even five years. I don’t have statistics for fidelity within the new phenomenon of same-sex marriages (though that definition is problematic), but I suspect the worst. This is NOT to say that heterosexual marriage is healthy everywhere. It is not. Particularly problematic is serial polygamy. It is small comfort that a huge percentage of the divorces that occur today among heterosexual couples are from those who have been married previously. That skews the statistics a lot, but that is not enough.
What is needed is good solid teaching about the nature of marriage and family. People in faith communities should hold each other accountable to live and love well.
Basically, we need to own a few principles and let them shape our conversation.
• We may be hard pressed by current events, but we are not destroyed or undone.
• Opposing same-sex intimacy is not hate; rather it can be genuine concern and love for the people involved.
• The Church needs to find its voice to love well enough to speak in the current culture.
• We need to own our own failures and sins, not over-judging some sins. We need to challenge the “settled science” that posits that same-sex attraction must be accepted because there is no choice involved. Where are the actual studies? More importantly, even if same-sex attraction is imposed rather than chosen, that does not mean that it must be affirmed. There are many things that are not good for people’s lives that should not be affirmed.
I understand it is difficult. The culture wants nothing as much as it desires affirmation. When we speak too soon, or—God forbid—harshly, we don’t help the situation. But because it is difficult doesn’t mean that we are powerless. We can love well and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can serve people and demonstrate the love of Christ to them so well that we can win the right to speak into their lives. In fact, when we love well, people will often invite us to speak truth into their life.
The problems with our culture go far deeper than sexuality, though it is obviously the presenting issue for many of our struggles. Eventually, the train wreck that uncritical affirmation surely brings will certainly surface. When that day comes, the Church must be there with the same Gospel message of forgiveness and transformation. We are going through a patch of rough water. That doesn’t mean all is lost. Those who have bought into postmodernism don’t need disdain. They need Good News.
Are you willing to offer it if it requires hard work and costly sacrifice?
The tumultuous Supreme Court decision last Friday mandating same-sex marriage all across the USA creatively and tragically articulated a departure not only from more than two hundred years of American understanding, but it also overturned 7000 years of civilization’s understanding of marriage, without even a cursory nod to the consequences that might flow—especially unintended consequences. Of course, unintended consequences are difficult to see because they are unintended, but there does not even appear to be any concern for what might flow from this dramatic change in societal direction. The only focus and celebration is for the moment.
Court cases used to be decided in concert with legal precedent. In other words, courts looked to what previous courts had said in order to make a current decision. Occasionally, however, some of the members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) take LSD and go off in an entirely new direction that has no relationship with law, history, or the Constitution. This latest decision by a bare 5 to 4 majority, trumps legal precedent, and it establishes new concepts of “luv” and “self-expression” as the unstable foundation of the new social order. Without a common foundation, society is like the house built on sand that Jesus described. The problems with their decision are legion, so we should sort out some preliminary things to get started.
Years ago, I was called to a parish in Lakeland, Florida. For my entire life, I had heard of “Black Swans,” but I knew them to be mythical creatures. I was certain, and would have replied under oath or polygraph that, “all swans are white.” I suppose I held the possibility that there might be albino swans, but they would be white too, wouldn’t they? In sum, all swans are white—or so I thought.
When we arrived in Lakeland, what should I find placidly swimming around the circular lake in the middle of town, but Black Swans! My response, consistent with my world-view was, “Who painted the swans?”
The answer to my inquiry required a complete paradigm shift concerning things of “swanery.” It seems for some anniversary or other, Her Majesty the Queen of England sent the black swans to the City of Lakeland as a present. It turns out that they were neither mythical nor painted—leaving me with the uncomfortable realization that I was w…w…wr…wrong. (Perish the thought—not easy to say!) There were/are black swans.
The kind of truth represented by this realization is called Ontological Truth. That is truth that is not dependent on opinion or belief. It is truth that actually is, or conversely, is not. Ontological truth is vastly different from what currently passes as “truth” in contemporary culture. “Truth” in society today, is really opinion. The sole test that is applied to something to determine whether or not it is “Truth” is whether or not it “works” for someone.
Take, for example, this conversation:
(Other person to me) “So… who is Bill Atwood? What makes you tick?”
“I am a Christian,” I replied, “a Child of God. A husband, a father, and a grandfather. Let me tell you about my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Oh,” they replied, “…So you are religious. Whatever works for you.”
It is not, however a question of “what works for me.” I remember hearing someone talk about his 12-step program in which everyone submits to a “higher power.” In His case, his “higher power” was… a Coke Machine. He imputed to the Coke Machine the powers of divinity that were helping guide him through sobriety. However sincerely he held the position that the Coke Machine was advocating for him, the ontological truth is that it wasn’t.
Sincere belief in something does not make it true. Truth actually stands whether or not someone believes in it. What is different about Christianity is that it is not just a set of concepts articulated by people: it is truth that is revealed by God. How that process works is more than I have time for today, but for millennia, God’s revelations have been received with confidence.
The five majority Justices of the Supreme Court were not concerned with either legal precedents of history or Truth. What they sought was lofty sounding language that caters to the sexual whims of a very, very vocal minority—a very tiny minority—to whom they wanted to appeal. Recent statistics indicate that less than 1.7% of the population of the USA engaged in same-sex sexual intimacy in the last year, though some studies say it is more like 5%. Looking at the media reports, though, one would think it is a huge portion of the population.
When we talk with people about this situation, we are going to have to recognize their mindsets and their world-views if we are going to be able to communicate with them at all. Sadly, today’s environment classifies any disagreement as “hate” speech or “homophobia.”
Here’s what “hate” actually is:
Hate is: verb (used with object), hated, hating.
1. to dislike intensely or passionately;feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.
2. to be unwilling; dislike: I hate to do it.
In fact, it is not hate that causes God to proscribe same-sex intimacy; rather, it is His knowledge of what happens when people pursue it. Along the same lines, the word homophobia refers to something based in fear (phobia) but is popularly used to dismiss any argument, not on its merits but with the judgment that it must be rejected because it cannot be reasoned. It is not reasonable because it does not conform to contemporary culture. This means if we want to make a difference, we must strive to act and speak with a gracious and gentle affect, especially when presenting challenging information.
Popularly, any disagreement is dismissed as “hate” by the current culture. In order to get around that, we must be much more winsome than the Church had to be in previous generations.
Next week, I’ll share some talking points—things that can shape the way you can speak with people about same-sex issues and Biblical authority, without catching their hair on fire, but for today, the most important takeaway is this: We have to win the right to have a hearing in today’s culture. That means we have to demonstrate care for people first if we want to have our comments have traction in peoples’ lives. That must begin with actually loving them!
The current culture claims love as their motive, but it is a very superficial definition of love. It is one that only concerns itself with the moment and overlooks consequences. It is a cheap trade-off that affirms what people “feel” at the moment, ignoring the harvest they will eventually reap.
It is not impossible to have an impact from a “chance” encounter for a moment, but there is much more probability that you can make a difference if you pray first, and then cultivate relationship. Once you have a relationship, then you will have a much better chance of being heard.
The Archbishop and Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America have received the recent ruling by the
Supreme Court of the United States of America and are deeply grieved by the stark departure from God’s
revealed order. We are concerned for the inevitable results from this action to change the legal understanding
of marriage and family life.
While this decision grieves us, God’s truth and the goodness of the order established in creation have not been
changed. The kingdom of God cannot be shaken. We pray with confidence that God will reveal his glory, love,
goodness, and hope to the world through his Church as we seek to follow him in faith and obedience.
Jesus Christ teaches that God is the author of marriage from the beginning of time (Matthew 19:4-6). God’s
design for marriage has always involved a man and a woman: “a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). These truths have ordered
civilization for thousands of years. Where God’s designs are followed in any society, including his designs for
marriage and families, the result is the greatest possible blessing and abundance of life.
The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often summarized as, “For God so loved the world, that he
gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Because
of his love, we love and care for all those who experience same-sex attraction. The Anglican Church in North
America continues to welcome everyone to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Marriage is established by God for the procreation and raising of children and for the good of society. For
this reason, governments have an interest in marriage and have delegated authority from God to protect and
regulate it. But no court, no legislature and no local magistrate has the authority to redefine marriage and to
impose this definition on their citizens.
The United States of America, so its founders believed and taught, is a nation under God whose citizens’
fundamental rights are derived from the Creator. There is no right to a relationship which is contrary to the
Creator’s express design. We cannot accept the Supreme Court’s decision purporting to find a fundamental
right to same-sex “marriage” any more than we can accept its claim to have found a right to destroy human life
in the womb. We will work with others to overturn this decision, and we pray that others will join with us in this
The Rev. Canon Andrew Gross
~ Reaching North America with the Transforming Love of Jesus Christ ~
Meeting this week in Vancouver, British Columbia, we are reminded that our Canadian members have been
living under a similar legal standard for the last ten years. Their situation includes minimal legal protections for
those who in good conscience cannot recognize this redefinition, and it is our prayer that stronger protections
will be put into place and honored in the United States.
In the meantime, we shall continue to exercise our religious freedom to perform marriages for those who come
for holy matrimony as defined by our Church. The Anglican Church in North America only authorizes and only
performs marriages between one man and one woman. We respect the consciences of those clergy who may
decline to perform marriages as agents of the state. We ask our churches to respect such decisions and help
make arrangements to minister to those seeking to be married. We are also well aware that this ruling may
create difficulties for our lay members and Christian institutions as they seek to be faithful in upholding God’s
design for marriage, and we will make every effort to find ways to support and stand with them.
The Church bears witness to the truth of God’s Word and God’s design of marriage (see attached statement
on “Bearing Witness”). When government oversteps its rightful authority, “we must obey God rather than men”
Today there is no place for either triumphalism or despair, so we prayerfully and sincerely urge a spirit of charity
by all. We speak out of a concern for the consequences that our people and our neighbors will suffer from an
unjust and unwise decision by five justices of the Supreme Court. We call those justices to repentance, even as
we echo Jesus’ words, praying for God the Father to forgive them, for they know not what they have done.
We call our people to a season of prayer for marriage and offer the accompanying Litany and Prayer to guide
Unanimously adopted by the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America.
June 26, 2015
A Litany for Marriage
We thank you, heavenly Father, for graciously creating us in your image, male and female, and for ordaining
that a man and woman shall be joined as one flesh in the covenant of marriage.
We thank you, O Father.
We thank you for the gift and heritage of children and for placing them in homes which may be havens of
blessing and peace.
We thank you, O Father.
We thank you for the love between fathers and mothers and sons and daughters that binds together the
generations and undergirds our country’s social fabric.
We thank you, O Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, divine Bridegroom, we repent for all the situations in which we have dishonored the
covenant of marriage through selfishness or unfaithfulness.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
We repent as a Church where we have failed to prepare our children for holy matrimony, or to care for those
who are widowed, divorced or single.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
We repent where as citizens we have become complacent and neglected the defense of marriage in the public
Lord, have mercy upon us.
We pray you, Holy Spirit, to restore marriage to its due honor in our country and to revive our marriages and
families as emblems of your love.
Deliver us by your grace and power.
We pray you to strengthen our bishops and other leaders as they join with faithful churches to make a strong
God-honoring defense of your design for marriage.
Deliver us by your grace and power.
We pray you to have mercy on those who have promoted false teaching about marriage and on those who
have been led astray and harmed by it.
Deliver us by your grace and power.
Grant us courage, O Triune God, to hold fast to the truth of your Word, and give grace to those who are
counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Christ.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his
glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and
authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
A Prayer for Marriage
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you have created us male and female in your image and have ordained
that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. Look down in mercy, we pray, on our
families, our church and our nation. Knit together in constant affection those who, in Holy Matrimony, have
been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, the hearts of the children to the parents,
and the hearts of all to those who are single or alone. Finally, grant that your Church may steadfastly defend
the unchangeable bond of marriage which embodies the mystery of Christ’s love for us; through the same
Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Suggested Hymns: “O God of Earth and Altar”; “God of Grace and God of Glory”
Bearing Witness to Holy Matrimony
The following statement is intended to make clear the position of the Anglican Church in North
America with regard to the nature of marriage.
THE SCRIPTURE BEARS WITNESS
The Anglican Church in North America grounds its doctrine and discipline on the authority of
the Bible as God’s word written (Constitution, Art. 1.1). The Bible from beginning to end is clear
and consistent in its teaching about marriage. The following passages testify to the essential
character of marriage as a faithful lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Human Nature in the Image of God
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male
and female he created them.
God’s Design of Marriage and Family
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill
the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and
they shall become one flesh.
Jesus’ Affirmation of Lifelong Monogamous Marriage
Mark 10:7-9 [Jesus said,] “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to
his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What
therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The Mutual Love of Husbands and Wives Based in Christ’s Love for the Church
Ephesians 5:24-27 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything
to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for
her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,so that he
might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she
might be holy and without blemish.
The Sanctity of Marriage
Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled,
for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN NORTH AMERICA BEARS WITNESS
The Anglican Church in North America bears witness to the biblical and traditional teaching
concerning marriage in its Constitution and Canons (2012) and in its Catechism (2014). This
teaching is in agreement with the historic Anglican tradition of the Book of Common Prayer
(1662), the Lambeth Conferences of Anglican Bishops, and the Jerusalem Declaration of the
Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (2008).
CONSTITUTION AND CANONS (2009, 2012)
Article I: Fundamental Declarations of the Province
As the Anglican Church in North America (the Province), being a part of the One, Holy,
Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, we believe and confess Jesus Christ to be the
Way, the Truth, and the Life: no one comes to the Father but by Him. Therefore, we
identify the following seven elements as characteristic of the Anglican Way, and essential
1. We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired
Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority
and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life…
6. We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in
1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine
and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican
tradition of worship.
In all these things, the Anglican Church in North America is determined by the help of
God to hold and maintain, as the Anglican Way has received them, the doctrine,
discipline and worship of Christ and to transmit the same, unimpaired, to our posterity.
We seek to be and remain in full communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and
Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline
of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Canon II. 7: Of Christian Marriage
The Anglican Church in North America affirms our Lord’s teaching that the Sacrament
of Holy Matrimony is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong of one man and one
woman. (Section 1)
Members of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the Canons of this Church
governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony. (Section 3)
As marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in which the two become
one flesh, it is both an ordinance of Creation, affirmed as such by our Lord, and
commended by Saint Paul as a sign of the mystical union between Christ and His Church
(Matthew 19:3-9; Ephesians 5:22-32). (Section 4)
The Clergy shall require the parties to sign the following declaration:
“We, A. B. and C. D., desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church,
do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as
it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. We believe it is for the purpose of the
procreation (if it may be) of children, and their spiritual and physical nurture, for mutual
fellowship, encouragement, and understanding, and for the safeguarding and benefit of
society, and we do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to
establish this relationship and to seek God’s help thereto.
Canon II.8: Of Standards of Sexual Morality and Ethics
In view of the teaching of Holy Scripture, the Lambeth Conference of 1998 and the
Jerusalem Declaration, this Church upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a
woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called
to marriage, and cannot legitimize or bless same sex unions or ordain persons who
engage in homosexual behavior. Sexual intercourse should take place only between a
man and a woman who are married to each other. (Section 2)
TO BE A CHRISTIAN: AN ANGLICAN CATECHISM
(Anglican Church in North America 2014)
128. What is marriage?
Marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, binding both to self-giving
love and exclusive fidelity. In the rite of Christian marriage, the couple exchange vows to
uphold this covenant. They do this before God and in the presence of witnesses, who pray
that God will bless their life together. (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19; Mark 10:2-9;
Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39)
129. What is signified in marriage?
The covenantal union of man and woman in marriage signifies the communion between
Christ, the heavenly bridegroom, and the Church, his holy bride. Not all are called to
marriage, but all Christians are wedded to Christ and blessed by the grace God gives in
marriage. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
130. What grace does God give in marriage?
In Christian marriage, God establishes and blesses the covenant between husband and
wife, and joins them to live together in a communion of love, faithfulness and peace
within the fellowship of Christ and his Church. God enables all married people to grow in
love, wisdom and godliness through a common life patterned on the sacrificial love of
THE ANGLICAN BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER BEARS WITNESS
As noted in the Constitution (I.6), the Anglican Church in North America recognizes the 1662
Book of Common Prayer as its standard for worship. This Prayer Book defines Holy Matrimony
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of
this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is
an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us
the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned
and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee;
and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men…”
It goes on to state three purposes of holy matrimony
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and
nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such
persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves
undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought
to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
This definition is in full accord with the biblical witness and is consistent with the canons and
catechism of the Anglican Church in North America.
THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE OF ANGLICAN BISHOPS BEARS WITNESS
The Lambeth Conference of Bishops has borne witness consistently on the subject of marriage at
its decennial meetings over the past 150 years. Several examples of this teaching are as follows:
Recognising that to live a pure and chaste life before and after marriage is, for both sexes,
the unchangeable Christian standard, attainable and attained through the help of the Holy
Spirit by men and women in every age, the Conference desires to proclaim the universal
obligation of this standard, and its vital importance as an essential condition of human
happiness. (Resolution 66)
The Conference affirms as our Lord's principle and standard of marriage a life-long and
indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of
all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to
this standard. (Resolution 67)
Faced with the great increase in the number of broken marriages and the tragedy of
children deprived of true home life, this Conference desires again to affirm that marriage
always entails a life-long union and obligation; it is convinced that upon the faithful
observance of this divine law depend the stability of home life, the welfare and happiness
of children, and the real health of society. It calls upon members of the Church and others
to do their utmost by word and example to uphold the sanctity of the marriage bond and
to counteract those influences which tend to destroy it. It is convinced that maintenance
of the Church's standard of discipline can alone meet the deepest needs of men; and it
earnestly implores those whose marriage, perhaps through no fault of their own, is
unhappy to remain steadfastly faithful to their marriage vows. (Resolution 92)
• in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man
and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are
not called to marriage.
• recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a
homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking
the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the
living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen
to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are
loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of
sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
• while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our
people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation
and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any
trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
• cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those
involved in same gender unions. (Resolution I.10)
THE GLOBAL FELLOWSHIP OF CONFESSING ANGLICANS BEARS WITNESS
In June 2008, 280 Anglican bishops held a special “Global Anglican Future Conference” in
Jerusalem. This Conference adopted the Jerusalem Declaration, which reaffirms the biblical and
historic standards of Anglicanism and states:
We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable
standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for
sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this
standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and
abstinence for those who are not married. (Clause 8)
The Conference led to the formation of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, to which
the Anglican Church in North America was admitted in 2009 as a full member.
ECUMENICAL STATEMENTS BEAR WITNESS
The Anglican Church in North America is party to a wider fellowship of Christian churches that
share its biblical understanding of Holy Matrimony. The Archbishop of the Anglican Church in
North America has borne witness by signing several recent ecumenical statements on the nature
“The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Christian Marriage” by Evangelicals and
Catholics Together (March 2015) endorsed by the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in
North America along with more than thirty Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders.
Available at www.firstthings.com/article/2015/03/the-two-shall-become-one-fleshreclaiming-marriage-2.
“An Affirmation of Marriage” by Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran ChurchCanada,
North American Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Available at http://thenalc.org/wp-content/uploads/Documents/Ecumenical/EcumenicalMarriage-Affirmation-Final-with-Signatories.pdf.
“The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared
Witness: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders to All in Positions of Public Service”
(April 2015), signed by the current and former Archbishops of the Anglican Church in
North America, along with ecumenical leaders from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and
Protestant churches, as well as representatives of the Mormon, Jewish, and Muslim
Available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-andfamily/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Open-Letter-on-Marriageand-Religious-Freedom-April-2015.pdf.
“Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage” signed by the Archbishop along with Christian
leaders and 55,000 others (and counting). Available at http://defendmarriage.org/pledgein-solidarity-to-defend-marriage
Many people wonder how the Anglican Church in Provinces such as Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda has managed to have such stellar fruit in church planting. It is certainly true that church growth was dramatically impacted by the East African Revival, but that is by no means the only factor. In a number of places, the primacy of the Anglican Church was well established but lost as the church moved away from Biblical authority. Inheriting a revival is a great thing, but it is an inheritance that can be squandered. (I’ll resist the temptation to name names, though my sinful heart is tugging at me to do so…)
It is true that discipleship in East Africa has been less robust than it should have been, a situation that continues to be addressed; nonetheless, there is a lot of evangelism and discipling. There was also a great deal of wisdom in how the leaders in East Africa went about planting new parishes. The concept grows out of an understanding of the Doctrine of Incarnation and a rejection of the false dichotomy so many western Christians have embraced that divides things secular from things sacred. In fact, neither the Scriptures nor Christian heritage makes such a distinction. The witness is actually against a kind of delineation that seeks to bring some things under the influence of the Church and leaves other things to themselves. It is one of the more broken sides of Dispensationalism.
Instead, the model that has been used successfully in Kenya and other places for planting new parishes is a comprehensive ministry centered on a bore-hole (water well), that is surrounded by a Church, a farm, a medical clinic, and a school.
The idea is that the parish will impact the area holistically. It is a work to extend the Kingdom of God and His dominion. When this takes place in a healthy way, it is Incarnational ministry, fleshing out the principles of the Kingdom in the same way that Jesus fleshes out God the Son, that Christ is manifest in the life of the believer, and that believers gathering together flesh out Christ as His body. That body, when operating with fidelity and the power of the Holy Spirit, fleshes out the Kingdom so it can be seen in health, food, water, medical care, and education.
Holistic parish ministry will soon be needed even more desperately. Within a few weeks, a new crisis is coming to Western culture. The United States Supreme Court is about to release their ruling on same-sex marriage. Despite a whole range of possibilities of what they might decide, most pundits assume that they will affirm same-sex marriage. If the predictions are accurate, then the question center on what basis they will make the decision and how far it will go. The most radical path would be to declare homosexual behavior to be a "protected class" in the same way that race, for example, has been protected. Of course, it is proper for people to be protected from discrimination against them based on race, but protecting orientation is another matter. It is almost impossible to describe a protected class based on inclination. How can that be measured? In this case, it would be the basis on which legal status would be determined. That is not to say that it is impossible for them to make that leap. Recent years, however, have seen other leaps beyond precedent, such as “privacy” for abortion and ending school prayer. For many reasons, fundamentally changing marriage has enormous implications. It will bring a huge assault against the Church.
First of all, the main behavior proscribed by Scripture with regard to same-sex relations has to do with the prohibition of the behavior of same-sex sexual intimacy. As I’ve mentioned before (and will again and again!), God’s wisdom in that prohibition is demonstrated in the terrible impact those behaviors have on life-span. Compared to the general population, those engaging in same-sex intimacy die decades earlier than their peers.
The court decision is only one issue. The “marriages” are not the endgame. What is at stake now is punishment of dissent. Those who have stood against same-sex marriage will come under terrible fire. The court decision will trigger other actions, much like the famous trail of dominos falling as one knocks the next one down.
“Gay activists” have already said that when the Supreme Court ruling comes out in their favor, they are “going after” churches and Christian schools. I suppose it has something to do with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that they so deeply crave affirmation. Of course, no one likes criticism, but the vitriol of self-described “gay activists” seems to know no bounds against Christians. Sometimes Christians have been harsh and judgmental. Sometimes, however, no matter how kindly motivated, failing to agree with the march of liberalism is viewed by them as hateful and they want to stamp out our voice.
I believe that one of the first ways that they will attack churches that do not promote their lifestyle and relationships will be to press for our tax-exemption to be repealed. Those who stay on a Biblical course will be branded as “haters” and branded as undeserving of benefits such as tax-exemptions. Those churches that do not do same-sex weddings will be obvious targets. Of course, some liberal churches will pander to the liberal agenda and they will become even more like the compromising churches in the Third Reich. In any case, I think we are less than two years away from our tax-exempt status being repealed. If you want to make a note of it, I think within 18 months we will start seeing revocation of status for conservative churches.
At first, I didn’t think losing tax exemption would be that much of a crisis. Faithful people tithe because God calls them to do so in the Scriptures. Losing a tax deduction for charitable giving could be overcome by teaching and discipleship so Christians understand the importance and value of pursuing that Biblical norm as a starting place for giving. I think many people will still give even without the tax exemption for doing so.
Originally, the reason for the exemption was that the government recognized that the church could minister to human needs more efficiently than the government structure could. Tax exemption was established to encourage them to do more of those kinds of things. That is not the prevailing view today, partly because perceptions have changed and partly because many churches have abandoned “care” ministries, leaving them to the government.
Losing tax-exemption would mean that churches would have to pay sales tax on purchases. Having to pay sales tax for paper plates for church suppers is not that big a deal. What is a big deal is property tax. In the United States, churches are exempt from paying property taxes on the land and buildings that they own. In many cases, with developed campuses, the value of the land and buildings is huge, so the tax is also huge. Some churches were planted in areas which have subsequently blossomed and the property has become very valuable. The taxes on those properties could be astronomical. With increased costs for medical insurance and other expenses related to paid pastoral workers, small congregations often hang by a thread, barely keeping their noses above water (to mix some metaphors). Small struggling churches that occupy buildings from generations past would, barring a sovereign work of God, sink, having to close their doors because of a lack of funds. My guess is that if property tax exemption is lifted, as many as two-thirds of the churches in the USA would fold because they just won’t be able to afford the increased expense.
There are several things that we can do if the environment does turn hostile and change along those lines. First of all, if the legal climate insists on churches hiring those in a newly minted protected class of those in same-sex relationships or those in transgendered behaviors, etc., rather than having to engage in huge battles over who can or should be hired, the church could go to all volunteer ministry. By that I mean bi-vocational ministers as lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops.
In an environment in which Biblical faith is branded as being synonymous with hate (at least in the view of the liberal activists), the authenticity of the ministry of the church will be re-established at the local level, where people’s needs are met and the Gospel is shared with people in tangible as well as theoretical ways. It is not simply a set of theological principles: the Gospel should be the love of God demonstrated for people. It should be incarnate in much the same ways as the East African church planters sought to provide worship, food, education, and medical care. Loving people with that kind of practical love opens the door for sharing about the mystery, grace, and wonder of the Gospel. Through our care of others, we win the right to have a hearing. In fact, it is deeply fulfilling to have someone ask, “Tell me, why you are doing this? My own family does not love me the way the people in this church do.”
The more hostile the environment becomes, the more powerful acts of kindness and Incarnational pastoral ministry become, even though they may be very costly. No matter what “they” do, they cannot take away the opportunity for us to minster grace. That grace is very powerful when it touches deep needs in people’s lives. Once again, we can learn from Africa. The church there certainly isn’t perfect, but it certainly has been effective in many places.
In years past, I’ve had the opportunity to teach at four or five seminaries and at a bunch of Diocesan training centers. One occurrence stands out from those experiences. About thirty years ago, I was asked to do a course in Practical Theology and Pastoral Ministry. The setting was a class with people who were about to graduate and be ordained Deacon. The Dean wanted to assess whether or not the candidates were practically prepared for ministry, especially evangelism, as well as being academically prepared in general. These were third-year students in their last term before graduation.
We did some “philosophical” work about ministry but then set up for a session that would be a role-play. On the day in question, I put a sign up for “St. Cuthbert’s Hospital” (in homage to St. Cuthbert, who set up some of the first hospice care). When the students came in, I had cleared off a long table that I had set up as a hospital bed and on which I was lying with blankets and pillows. Each student received a handout as they came through the door into the classroom explaining that they were to treat this as an actual hospital call which they were making the day after being ordained as Deacons.
I will never forget the first student. As he approached, I lay supine, wrapped in blankets. I weakly said, “I’m so glad you’ve come. It may look like a beautiful Spring day, but I’ve just gotten news. The doctors were just in and they told me that I only have a couple weeks to live. What do you have to say to me?”
For a long time, he stood and just looked at me, standing silently at the “bed.” Finally, he said, “Your faith is probably important at a time like this. Next Fall, the Rector is having an inquirers class. There will be the opportunity to ask questions then.”
Sighing, I said, “…can I go if I’m dead? Who will take me?”
At that point we stopped the role-play and shifted gears. We spent the remainder of the course working on how to share the Gospel with people. By the time we finished, everyone in the class could actually tell people about Jesus, explain how to enter into a relationship with Him, the role of Baptism and Confirmation, and why the Church as the Body of Christ and its Sacraments are central to each person’s relationship with God.
There are lots of ways to do that. Evangelicals are often trained in patterns like the “Roman Road,” that traces through key scriptures in the Book of Romans. Some are trained in Lay Institutes for Evangelism, a ministry of CRU (which used to be called Campus Crusade for Christ). Others have been trained in Evangelism Explosion designed by D. James Kennedy who penned the classic question, “If you were to die tonight, do you have confidence that you would spend eternity with God in heaven?”
Great orators in the Anglican tradition have preached, challenged, and written invitations to commitment to Christ. Names like Festo Kivengere of Uganda, John Stott, Jim Packer, and Michael Green would certainly be people of note in that regard. In our world, a quintessential example of the evangelist in our circle is Archbishop Greg Venables, who presents the Gospel almost constantly and could probably do it while injured, exhausted, or even when almost comatose. Others who may be less well known outside our circles would include people like Bishop Keith Ackerman, Bishop Alberto Morales, Bishop Ray Sutton, and Fr. Larry Bausch of San Diego. All of those, and many others I’m not naming now, have amazing track records of leading people to faith. There are many ways and many methods, but the essential point is that it is critically important for everyone to come to saving faith. Whether in a punctiliar conversion, or in a process over time, the point is that there is no need for people to live without the assurance of a relationship with Christ and the substantive hope of eternal life. Whether using a process of catechesis, a class, conversation, or other methods, the point is sharing Christ with others.
There is only one way of salvation, that is, through faith in Jesus Christ, but there are many ways to share about Him.
You may have heard of the person who accidentally fell down an old abandoned well. After trying all day to get out––and failing–eventually in desperation, they cried out in prayer, “Lord, send someone to save me!”
Immediately a rescuer looked down into the well and offered help. The rescued person was so excited to learn that the Lord answered prayers, they spent the rest of their life pushing people down wells.
Some people from a liturgical background think that evangelism is the purvey of the Baptists. Salvation is not just a Baptist doctrine though; it is a Christian doctrine. What I find is that it is relatively easy to link up and cooperate with others who are sharing the Gospel and bringing others to faith. In contrast, those churchmen and churchwomen who do not believe in the Gospel cannot be partners in ministr: they are actually people who need to receive the Good News.
Anglicans have many stripes and emphases. Some wear splendid vestments while others don’t. Some are traditional in their worship, whereas others use bands and drums and go without shoes. Sadly, no matter the emphases, if their members claim to know a Gospel, but don’t know THE Gospel, they have fallen prey to one of several “false gospels.”
Among those who believe the faith, there should be cooperation in manifesting and extending the Kingdom of God. Whether from an evangelical, charismatic, or Anglo-Catholic perspective, where there is faith in Christ, there is solid ground for cooperation.
The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) is a global fellowship based on historic Christian faith in the Anglican way. It rests on the authority of Scripture and the other Anglican Formularies––the foundational documents that describe Christian life. The formularies are not meant to nail down every aspect of Christian doctrine. They are meant to be a firm foundation describing Anglicanism. Anglicanism is an interesting animal. In God’s providence, it is an expression of Christian faith that has been tremendously impacted by an “accident” of geography.
Between England and the European Continent lies a body of water called the English Channel. At its narrowest point, it is about twenty some miles across. Some people have even managed to swim the channel. In years past, it was passable by ship, but challenging. Back then, the weather could be treacherous. The water is always cold. (How cold? If you go to a place like the Bahamas, when the weather is so cold the Bahamians are talking about closing the schools, there at the beach you can see stark white English holiday-makers lying on the beach or paddling through the surf. They are used to such cold, and they think it is splendid.) Now, with air travel and even a tunnel under the sea, crossing it is much easier.
In the years leading up to the Reformation, the choppy, cold water made travel more challenging than moving between, say, France and Belgium. As a result, the problems on the continent did not infect the church in the British Isles anything like the way the continent was impacted.
The English Channel
There are reports that the Christian faith came to British shores as early as the first century. In Shropshire, a Welch king named Caractacus was defeated by the Romans and taken in chains to Rome. He must have been a dazzling speaker because he convinced the Romans to send him back home as a King, but probably as a marionette. His daughter Gladys went along and was eventually joined by her brother, Linus. She was re-named Claudia, and she and Linus became zealous converts. Some say that they were in the household where Paul was held as a prisoner, which is why they are mentioned in 2 Tim 4:21. It is reported that Claudia returned to Britain and was very effective in spreading the Gospel, particularly though acts of kindness with the poor, but always, they say, pointing to the benefits from the shed blood of Christ.
So, more than four centuries before Augustine was sent to Canterbury, the seeds of the Gospel were reported to have been planted in Britain. Christian faith in Britain developed with its own Celtic rhythms, but certainly it was genuine Christian faith. Compressing time like a “Back to the Future” feature film, we jump to the time of the Reformation. Some practices emerged in the Church on the continent that were adulterations of the faith. Things like indulgences were introduced on the continent, but because of the English Channel (among other factors) they never made their way into the English church. When the Reformation began to erupt, the trade lines were stronger with Northern Europe than they were with Southern Europe and the Church in Rome. As a result, the English reformers responded to what was happening with their friends on the continent. The church battled back and forth between Catholic and Protestant emphases, ultimately emerging as a combination of the two strains. In the spirit of “The English Reformation for Dummies,” one might say that the heart of it was, “Cool, preach the Bible more. We can do that!” while the structure of the church was maintained.
The result is a church that has Catholic faith and order (Bishops, Priest, Deacons, and Lay) but Biblical teaching and liturgical services that are rich and historical. In church government, it is neither wholly hierarchical or “bottom up,” but conciliar. That means that Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and lay leaders meet in counsel to discern the direction of the church.
Apart from the Biblical absolutes it holds, the Anglican Church has edges that can be rather fuzzy. (In some areas along the edges, some Provinces are completely lost in fuzz.) On the healthy side, there are Anglicans who are indistinguishable from fire-breathing Bible-thumpers and others who engage liturgy that is far more elegant and elaborate than would be found in Rome. The heart of Anglicanism, though, is Bible-believing and preaching in the midst of the historic faith. There are different streams of emphasis, in which it is very easy for people to float along with the currents of their own tribe and have little contact with those who have other emphases. But those separate streams should not remain alone. This is an age in which faithful people of varying emphases must come together.
I am utterly convinced that GAFCON is essential to carrying Biblical faith into the future, at least it is if we are to preserve the Anglican way. In order to do that properly and faithfully, it must include those orthodox Anglicans from whatever stream they dwell. In GAFCON’s short history (remember it’s only about seven years since the first GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem), there has been a great deal of activity from Nigeria and the East African Revival Provinces, both of which are classically evangelical. They are not the only ones who are zealous for Biblical faith, however. At several of the GAFCON Primates meetings, there have been discussions of making sure that there is a welcome to those who are from the Anglo-Catholic Anglican world. All of us who share Biblical faith are going to have to stick together.
Now, a great opportunity has arisen to build up the body and build bridges among the faithful. July 13-17, 2015 there is going to be the International Catholic Congress of Anglicans in Fort Worth. It is being organized by faithful visionaries who see the need for the historic faith to be carried forward into the future. This is not just a gathering for those who self-identify as Anglo-Catholics. It is for all orthodox Anglicans who see the importance of working together. It’s also a great opportunity for evangelical and charismatic Anglicans to see how much we share. In fact, what they will see us that many of us in the realignment drink from all three streams.
Look at this list of Keynote speakers:
Abp. Valentino Mokiwa – Frank Weston/and the Foundations for Revival
Dr. Edith Humphrey – The Nature of the Church: Apostolic, Conciliar, and Concrete
Bp. Keith Ackerman - The Anglo-Catholic Congresses and Restoring the Anglican Mind
Bp. Ray Sutton – Theology of the Real Presence
Bp. Michael Nazir Ali – The Necessity of Unity in Truth for the Church’s Mission
Bp. John Hind – Catholic Anglicans and the Future of Ecumenism
Here is something interesting: Of the six keynote speakers listed above, four are active in GAFCON. Of the celebrants and preachers at the eucharists, the majority are active in GAFCON as well. Anyone with any sense knows that the dividing line is whether or not we are “in Christ”; it is not based on churchmanship, vestments, or expression. Differing areas of theological emphasis should not be dividing us.
I’ll be there speaking about GAFCON and the future, along with a vast array of speakers and workshops. We have to learn to work together. We need to learn to value each other. We need to celebrate all the ways that people are being brought to Christ, discipled in His Church, and deployed to extend His Kingdom. The International Catholic Congress of Anglicans is a great opportunity to gather with heroes of the faith and learn something besides. My expectation is that this is going to be a gathering of great strategic importance for the good of God’s Kingdom and the future of Anglicanism. If you are not already planning on being there, let me recommend it. If you are already going, I’ll see you there! There is much for us to do. Together.
For more information click: International Catholic Congress of Anglicans
A poll has just come out that indicates an 8% drop in the number of people in the United States self-identifying as Christians. Over the last seven years, the number has dropped from 78.6% to 70.6%. That is a dramatic shift. It is somewhat mitigated by understanding that the drop was in the peripheral of those described as Christians, but that is not much solace, however, because along with the drop in number is a new periphery. It is not just that there were some nominal Christians who left the church: others have become more nominal, too. What has not changed much is the percentage of Christians who are the “committed core.”
Where has this decline come from? There are several factors, and there are some lessons to be learned from some of our overseas partners, who are actually increasing the percentage of convinced Christians in their societies.
First Factor: Secular/Sacred Divide
It is not right, of course, but many people believe that there is, or should be, a divide between spiritual life and “real life.” It comes in several different stripes: separation of Church and State; gnosticism in which only the “spiritual” is valued and the “secular” is dismissed; and what I might describe as the false, but widely held, position that “religion is a private affair.”
This perspective has caused many evangelical Christians to eschew voting. In fact, in the USA, only 24% of self-described evangelicals vote in elections. If they brought their world-view to the ballot box there would be an entirely different cadre of leaders!
I will never forget the vestry meeting at which someone (well intentioned, of course) said, “We have a lot more needs to meet within the four walls of this church before we start dissipating resources out in the world.” In fact, we are called to be balanced in reaching Jerusalem (those in Church), Judea (those like us who are nearby), Samaria (those who are physically nearby but are from a different culture), and the ends of the earth (which is relative, of course, but it generally means separated both by different culture and by distance). Balance may not be easy, but that is what faithfulness requires.
Incessant Criticism of the Church
It is remarkable how thoroughly the media has rejected the work and witness of the Church. Of course, we have been off base sometimes, but a great deal of good has been done and continues to be done by the Church. Thinking back for many years, I cannot remember positive mainstream media references to the Church at all. Criticism is rampant. Even worse is a terrible misunderstanding by the world of what the purpose of the Church is. This morning on the radio I heard a “news analysis” in which the two commentators agreed, “What needs to happen is the church needs to get back to its primary purpose of providing care for people like food and shelter and get away from saying anything ‘political.’” Of course, “political” can mean anything that impacts everyday life. The current culture wants to silence any word from the Church that runs counter to the current narrative of diversity and tolerance. The fundamental purpose of the Church, namely worshipping God, saving sinners, and bringing people into transformed lives of spiritual abundance, is lost on much of the population. Part of that misunderstanding is because we have not done a good job of articulating the Gospel.
There is another factor. It is the lack of critical thinking among the general population. If they hear enough times how unloving Christians are, many will accept that position. I read a survey that said that among 18- to 25-year-olds, more than 70% believe Christianity has been a “net negative influence” in the world. I’m sure that they don’t connect Christian faith with education, health care, and colleges and universities; yet, the overwhelming number of schools, universities, and hospitals in North America were founded by the Church.
Far too many Christians have been inadequately formed as disciples. Rather than a robust formation process, “The Faith” is approached as though it is a cafeteria where individual doctrines or dogma can either be embraced or rejected. Take, for example, the issue of sexuality. Historic norms of reserving sexual intimacy for within the bounds of the marriage of one man and one woman are often ignored, even among those claiming to be evangelical, committed Christians. It is not only a problem of same-sex intimacy: sexual intimacy outside marriage is rampant among heterosexual people. Sexuality is by no means the only problem. Materialism, self-centeredness, idolatry, and syncretism are just as problematic.
Inordinate Influence of Social Media Masquerading as Community
People today are inundated by volumes of information, but only a tiny fraction of it is of any substance. We know, for example, how people half way across the country like to prepare their coffee, but rarely does social media address substantive issues. It is as though the quantity of communication has replaced the quality of communication. Because there is a lot of volume of communication, the assumption is that it results in community.
Continued Rise of Paganism
A pagan world-view in which there is an attempt to describe the world as one in which there are no boundaries, or in which at least there should be no boundaries, motivates many people. They are people of loud voices, as well. This clamor surfaces in the blurring of gender lines, attempts to obliterate distinctions regarding marriage, and encouragement that pretty much anything goes with regard to behavior. Of course, there is a desire to stifle conservative speech or belief while insisting on the right—even the need— for liberal philosophy to be spread. When Paganism prevails, there is sexual license, inordinate focus on creation displacing focus on God, and the assumption that all spirituality and religion are equivalent.
Even where there is a great deal of affluence, many people live under the influence of a spirit of poverty. They are incapable of seeing life through the lens of the abundance in which they live; instead, they focus on what they do not have. For the spiritually immature, material goods are “more real” than spiritual things. That is actually not true, but it seems so to them.
By contrast, in those nations where the Church is impacting the culture, one can hear the Church’s voice addressing, not avoiding, issues of everyday life. Politicians are not exempt from accountability but are called to account from pulpits. Of course, to maintain credibility, church leaders have to live accountable lives as well.
While there are certainly differences of style and emphasis, there is a clear and unmistakable call for repenting from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as Lord in the fellowship of the Church. There is little talk about denominations in the areas where the church is growing. The focus is on Christ. There is even a celebration of the fruit that is being born through the lives of other Christians.
In areas such as Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is killing Christians, people are still choosing to go out and seek to lead others to Christ. Even at the risk of their lives, they choose the difficult course because the alternative is unacceptable to them. They do not want anyone to be lost to Christ. Many are willing, like the seeds Jesus spoke of in John 12, “to fall into the ground and die that they might bear much fruit.” They do not seek to live lives devoid of painful circumstances. They choose lives of purpose and commitment regardless of the circumstances.
We have a lot to learn.
Some Commentary on the GAFCON Communiqué:
Most people will remember the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem in 2008. It produced the Jerusalem Declaration, which clearly restated Anglican formularies and norms. In the context of an Anglican Communion that has continued to descend further and further into doctrinal chaos, the Jerusalem Declaration provides refreshing clarity. The importance of that clarity has only increased as additional Provinces in the Communion pursue teaching and practices that depart from Biblical faith.
Following the Jerusalem meeting, there was a GAFCON Leaders’ meeting in London in 2012.
[Pictured to the right is Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Chairman of GAFCON giving the kenote address.]
Then in 2013, GAFCON-2 met in Nairobi.
[Kenya group photo GAFCON 2013; Photographer: Russell Powell, GAFCON]
The GAFCON Primates Council meets annually to steer the movement. The latest meeting was just held on the outskirts of London.
[Pictured above are the Primates on the Council]
Unlike many meetings that have escaped notice, there was considerable press interest in this meeting, fueled by speculation that the Primates were meeting to effect a break from the Anglican Communion. That, of course, is not true. In fact, rather than “threatening to leave” (which would thrill liberals), GAFCON leaders have been “threatening to stay.” In other words, they are not interested in leaving the Communion. They are interested in renewing it so that it is faithful to its theological heritage. There are many reasons why, but here is a compelling one:
Current estimates are that the Anglican Communion is composed of approximately 80 million people. Of that, the suggestion is that GAFCON represents about half of that number. As usual, however, he who stripes the field determines the victor. Let’s look at the striping. The number of 80 million Anglicans includes 26 million in England. The theory there with the established State Church is that it is really hard not to be Anglican. The best number I have is that on a given Sunday, there are between 800,000 and 900,000 people in church in England. Normally, one can get a pretty good idea of the active membership by doubling the average Sunday attendance. Let’s say, then, that maybe 2,000,000 people are active in the Church of England. That seems to be a reasonable, perhaps even generous, estimate. In that case, if the number that is reported reflects the Active Anglicans the number looks more like this:
26,000,000 “estimated Anglicans” in England
-2,000,000 “active” Anglicans in England
24,000,000 “non-active Anglicans” in England
To find the “Active Anglicans” in the world then, let’s deduct the “non-active” Anglicans from the total.
56,000,000 Actual Active Anglicans
Active Anglicans in GAFCON Provinces:
Nigeria 23,000,000 Yes, that’s the latest number!
Uganda 13,000,000 Also an updated number
D.R. Congo 2,000,000
South Amer 90,000
North America 112,000
48,202,000 Anglicans in GAFCON Provinces
Keep in mind, there are also many diocese that are fully on board with GAFCON, even though their whole Province has not joined. Without even counting them, GAFCON’s presence in the Communion is:
48,202,000 ÷ 56,000,000 = 86 % of the Active Communion
In addition to that, most of the members of the Global South are in complete agreement with GAFCON in terms of Biblical faith and theology. The solidly orthodox Provinces of the Global South add many more millions. In fact, a reasonable guess of the orthodox majority in the Anglican Communion is about 95% of the Active Anglicans in the world, or perhaps as many as 53 million out of the 56 million Active Anglicans.
Of course, people will point out that there are many more Provinces not in GAFCON than are in GAFCON, but many of them are very small.
For example, exact numbers are difficult to get, but my best estimates are that:
• There are more people in the Youth Group of All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi than there are in the Provinde of Mexico
• On an average Sunday, there are more people in each of the Cathedrals of more than fifty Dioceses in Nigeria than there are in the Province of Scotland or Wales
• The Anglican Church in North America has more people in Church on a Sunday than the Church in Canada, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, or Korea
The point is that the presence of GAFCON in the Communion is huge. There is no need for GAFCON Provinces to leave the Communion; certainly when viewed together with most of the Global South Province, they are the Communion. Their numbers and influence just aren’t reflected in the old structures of the Communion. Hence, the need for GAFCON and its structures!
The GAFCON leaders are moving forward. The first announcement is that there is going to be another GAFCON Conference. It will be held in 2018, with the location to be disclosed later. The plan is to have a large gathering that includes Bishops, Clergy, and Lay Christians. Plans are underway, and there is space in the design to respond to world events as well as provide encouragement, nurture, networking, and resources for spiritual renewal that much of the Communion desperately needs.
Archbishop Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, was enthusiastically and unanimously added to the GAFCON Primates Council, and the accomplishments of the Anglican Church in North America were celebrated.
There were also reports from around the world where new chapters are forming and others are growing. The growth is encouraging. Structural growth within the organization is being put in place to organize properly in order to have a positive impact in spiritual renewal.
GAFCON is incredibly broad across the globe, but the leaders desire to have greater breadth of churchmanship. In the Communiqué, the Primates wrote:
There is much room for variety within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, but when the Gospel is at stake, there can never be a middle way.
That statement reflects, I believe, the Primates’ desire to welcome and incorporate more Anglo-Catholic Anglicans into the movement. Several outreach points are being made along those lines and should bear fruit in the coming months. It also signals that there is no intention to “roll over” on Gospel doctrine. They are secure in their understanding of the faith.
Many people live in challenging areas. Some must contend with violent assault from radicals. Others live in the midst of cultures bent on self-destruction, embracing radical secularism, materialism, or Paganism. Where orthodox believers find themselves in conflict with their surrounding culture, or in conflict with the liberal church, the suggestion is to form a chapter of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. We are going to see that happen in a number of countries over the next months.
Those who live literally “under the gun” have captured the hearts of the GAFCON Primates. There will be increasingly more outreach to them, with tools, communication, and conferences to help encourage their faithful and costly witness.
Is there hope for Anglicans who remain committed to “the faith once delivered”? Indeed there is. Its name is GAFCON.
It is Tuesday night in Nairobi. I arrived last night (Easter Monday), flying out Sunday after Resurrection celebrations. Everywhere since landing and all through the day, I have heard a constant stream of conversation about the shooting attack at Garissa University on April 2nd. Here are some of the themes:
United in Grief
Even though 600 Kenyans have been killed by al Shabab radicals in recent years, this attack has caused increased grief because there were so many killed at once, and they were, as one commentator here said today, “Kenya’s brightest and best.” The technical University in Garissa has attracted bright students from all over the country. The fact that they were young and had so much promise is particularly heartbreaking. One can hear it in the voices of the people.
1998 bombingIn 1998, just a couple of blocks from where I am writing this, another attack—a bomb from al Qaeda—went off at the American Embassy, killing hundreds, mostly Kenyans (pictured, right). That was a complete surprise at the time. Maybe some intelligence analysts somewhere expected something, but most people had no idea there would be an attack like that. Today, people are not surprised when there is an attack, they are just sad. When there is a huge attack such as the one at Garissa, the entire country unites in grief.
The newspapers are running photos of the students, staff, and police who were killed. There are countless stories about them, and there are interviews and conversations everywhere that are consumed with the topic. Every parent thinks about his or her own children. Tonight, I just heard that almost 50 students have not been accounted for yet. There is a lot of speculation about that. Some fear that more students have been recruited into al Shabab, the deadly “youth group” of the al Qaeda franchise.
Kenyans process grief like the rest of us, but they are better about honoring people by going to funerals. I have no doubt that the funeral services for the victims will be gigantic events. Their friends and neighbors will honor them by gathering to pray. The good news is that these funerals, as sad as they are, will be characterized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will all be filled with “Resurrection talk.”
I spent a good deal of the day today with Archbishop Eliud Wabukala (pictured, left). Everywhere we went, people came up to thank him for his Good Friday message in the midst of the pain. “Asante sana, Baba” (“Thank you, Father”), they would say one after another. They have been thanking him, the Roman Catholic Cardinal, and the heads of other Churches who are speaking out. They are preaching Resurrection, not just because of the season, but because it is the only tonic that can ease the anguish of such a gaping wound.
United in Faith
As the Archbishop and I moved around Nairobi today, we ran into other Christian leaders, including the chairman of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the chairman of the Evangelical Alliance. They are all giving essentially the same message: “We grieve, but Jesus is the Victor, and He is our Peace.” I am told that Easter services around Kenya saw record crowds gather. Of course, many Christians are nominal, with 85% of the population of Kenya self-identifying as Christian. The result is that they turn to their faith when there is a terrible blow like this. There is another factor as well.
United in Solidarity
This attack was large enough that it touched many families. Most people I have spoken with know the families or had relatives directly impacted by the attack. There was certainly an “unintended consequence” from the carnage: there is great resolve to deal with it. Not only are their voices calling for dealing with those who perpetrated the act, and of course there are calls to deal with al Shabaab, but there are also many wanting to deal with the causes. Usually with terrible events, there are attempts by politicians to blame the other party. That’s not what I’m seeing and hearing today. Instead, there are calls for increased security, calls for overwhelming force against the combatants, and even calls for dealing with root causes of unrest. Today, there are countless articles and speeches about two topics: corruption and lack of economic opportunity.
Kenyans have been really rocked by finding out that the gunmen in the University attack were all Kenyans. Some were of Somali descent, but all of them were Kenyan. One was a law graduate from Nairobi Law University. It is clear that the recruiting that is going on is quite sophisticated. It must be met with more than platitudes.
In order to turn the tide in this situation, not only will there have to be economic opportunities, but there will also have to be pathways to significance for the young people. For those who have lived in poverty, one might assume that material abundance is the key, but it is much more than comfort that is needed. It is purpose. The Church must rise and speak to the hopelessness and disillusionment that many young people feel. Of course, the best thing to speak to that disillusionment is the Gospel – not platitudes and institutional life but robust faith that is worthy of capturing the imagination and commitment, worthy of inspiring a commitment to sacrificial life in Christ. The same is true around the world. Christian leaders need to take a clue from what senior Kenyan church leaders are saying right now. They are calling for deep discipleship and commitment to Christ, not just church attendance or pie-in-the-sky, fairy dust faith.
Of the great, unintended consequences of the gunmen’s actions is the strength of solidarity among the people of the country to deal with it. Many are speaking with the senior Christian leaders and are volunteering to take up arms. Happily, the Archbishop and the other leaders have a better plan and are able to turn the commitment and energy to more fruitful endeavors. The heart of the effort needs to be this robust discipleship. It is also important that the worship opportunities for young people be relevant to their lives. The use of HBOWM (that’s “Hymns by Old White Men) is often not inspiring. The problem is not with the hymns themselves, as they are powerful, theologically vetted, and enduring; but they require two conversions. First a conversion to Christ, then a conversion to 18th- and 19th-century English culture. Take the same hymns and play them with African rhythms and harmonies and there is a different result.
nairobi cathedral 2Nairobi cathedral
For example, at All Saints Cathedral every Sunday, thousands and thousands of young people come to multiple services for young teens and college-age youth where they sing and dance and hear great teaching and testimonies.
Along with all the things that the Church will do about this, there is another factor that the terrorists did not count on. They thought that with a big hit against the country, they would show the futility of trying to defend against their attacks. Instead, what is rising is huge support for the military action that is needed, along with the transformational programs that are needed. Archbishop Wabukala has been asked by the government to take a lead in fighting corruption. Of course, what he is bringing is not merely platitudes but character and discipleship. Those actions will yield a better society, one that is less prone to be able to recruit vulnerable young people. In the last year, scores of young people have gone missing from virtually every county in the country. Now folks are waking up to the possibility that some of them may have been recruited by radicals.
Prevailing Wind Change
Before this last attack, there was a relatively quiet Christian majority and a very loud M*slim minority. Although they are only 15%, they captivated a great deal of the public discourse. It is not even a week since the attack, and it is hard to say what will last, but today I didn’t see any news or quotes from Kenyan M*slim leaders, other than braggadocio from social media surrogates for the terrorists. That is a real change. It is exciting to see Christian leaders so mobilized, not militarily, but mobilized by kerigma (the proclamation of the Good News).
We need to be praying for them. We also need to realize that we are knee-deep in the same struggle, and we must learn from what they are doing right.
When Mohammed began the new faith “Isl*m” (meaning submission), it was not merely an introduction of a new religion but the establishment of a world view. Isl*m speaks to virtually every aspect of society, not just religious practice. There are rules for banking, behavior, politics, family, worship, and even charitable giving.
The source for all this guidance is what Muslims call the Holy (or Noble) Qur’an. It is a document comprised of 114 “chapters” called surah, sura, or surat, and a number of verses that varies by surah.
islam 632 ad
By the time of Mohammed’s death in 632 AD, Isl*m had been established in much of the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula.
Once Mohammed died, succession was a major issue.
One group elected Abu Bakr, one of Mohammed’s colleagues, and established him as the First Caliph. The Caliph is the head person in Isl*m. Those who elected Bakr were called Sunni, which is from the Arabic word sunna for “way.” They believed that fidelity to “the way” was the most important thing, not Mohammed’s bloodline.
Another group insisted that leadership succession must come through a blood relative of Mohammed. They were called Shia, which is a conglomeration of the Arabic words for Followers/Supporters of Ali, or shi’atu Ali, because of their support for Ali ibn Abi.
Husayn ibn Ali, Mohammed’s grandson, was the “Third Imam” following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Seen as a threat by those known as Sunni Muslims, he was killed on October 13, 680 AD in Karbala, Iraq. The “bad blood” between these two groups has lasted for more than 1300 years. “Hard line” Sunnis view Shias as heretics and apostates. Of course, the penalty for apostasy in the Qur’an is death.
Add to that the plain language of some Qur’anic texts like these:
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them or any helper.
Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of Taghut. So fight against the allies of Satan. Indeed, the plot of Satan has ever been weak.
The proclivity towards violence can be great among those who follow a strict interpretation of the plain language meaning of the words. Consider these verses as well:
Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.
That verse is somewhat mitigated by verse 34:
Except for those who return [repenting] before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
Note, however, that forgiveness is only for those who come to, or return to, Isl*m before they are apprehended in battle.
There are numerous more verses that are similar, with extreme treatment for those who are apostates or infidels. Moderate Muslims view those verses as metaphorical, but current events render it somewhat difficult to discern who the moderates are. For example, recently, Saudi Arabia has beheaded three people. A couple was convicted of drug trafficking and murder. Another man in his twenties was beheaded for renouncing his Muslim faith and “desecrating the Holy Qur’an” by posting a video of himself hitting it with a shoe, one of the greatest forms of disrespect.
Among those who would be described as “moderate Muslims,” overwhelmingly they would approve of the establishment of a global Caliphate (where there is a leader in charge of everything) and the institution of Sharia Law everywhere, ordering society by Qur’anic law. By Western standards, those are quite radical views. According to research by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, in many Muslim countries twenty-five to forty percent (25%-40%) of the Muslims believe that suicide bombing is always or sometimes justified.
Now, the question rises as to whether we need to be concerned in the West that the violence and stridence of those views could come to us. In fact, I do not believe it is a matter of “if” but rather “when.” We are already seeing examples, such as the beheading on the street in London and the attack on a publisher in Paris. With the open borders into the U.S. (the only nation in the world that I know of that has such an insane border policy), if only one in a million coming into the country are “wack-jobs,” we have a couple dozen already here.
So what do we do? One of my friends used to say, “Why pray when we can worry!” Obviously, he was being facetious. He was just pointing out what we often do. Shall we wring our hands and wrinkle our brows? Instead, why not do several things:
First, pray as though our lives depend on it. In many cases, they will.
Second, learn about Isl*m. Some people need to be fully trained to engage Isl*m. The Christian Gospel is an utterly compelling message. It is so fundamentally different from imposed submission to Isl*m that when it can be demonstrated and proclaimed it is a very compelling position.
Add to that, the supernatural help that the Lord is providing as Jesus is revealing Himself to Muslims in dreams and visions!
Most of all, we should live vibrant lives, striving for intimacy with God the Father through Jesus Christ, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, and seeking personal holiness. Clearly, that will be advanced by faithful worship, sacramental life, deep study of the Word of God, intentional discipleship, and deployment in mission. It would also be a great help if those of Muslim faith would stand up and speak out more against violence. Sadly, most of the time, there are only outrageous actions by radical Muslims, with the only sound we hear from other Muslims is chirping crickets. Recently a gentle, truly moderate Muslim said to me, “I would like to speak out, but I am afraid.”
Pray for all those in similar circumstances.
I’m always moved when I hear national anthems in other countries. Despite the challenges that people face, they always find things to love about their homeland. As a visitor to many other countries, I have been surprised at the depth of affection that people can have for their country when they live in the midst of violence, corruption, or great poverty—yet, they do. It is also interesting to see the worldview that the people of a nation have.
National Anthems and Perspectives
A Christian Athem: Kenya
In nations that rose out of the British Empire, there is often a Christian perspective. Take for example, this anthem from Kenya:
O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.
Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.
Christian values are so deeply assumed, that they don’t even have to be explicitly articulated. Notice the themes of creation, justice, peace, liberty, service, spendor, unity, glory, and thanksgiving. They are all Biblical themes. Thanks to great missionary energies toward Kenya, about 80% of the population self-identifies as Christian, many very actively.
Muslim Anthems: Yemen, Pakistan, Iran
Now compare this Kenyan anthem with the national anthem of Yemen:
Repeat, O World, my song.
Echo it over and over again.
Remember, through my joy, each martyr.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Repeat, O World, my song.
In faith and love for Ummayad.
And my March will always be Arab.
And my heartbeat will remain Yemenite.
No foreigner shall ever dominate over Yemen.
The reference to Ummayad is a reference to the fourth Caliphate after Mohammed’s death. It stretched across North Africa from Morocco (and parts of Spain across Gibraltar) all the way east to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Notice the difference in worldview. In this Yemeni one, the dominant worldview is Muslim. The emphasis is on sectarianism, martyrdom, and Muslim festivals. Obviously, people living with the Islamic foundation have a very different trajectory.
Here is another example, the anthem for Pakistan:
Blessed be sacred land,
Happy be bounteous realm,
Symbol of high resolve,
Land of Pakistan.
Blessed be thou citadel of faith.
The Order of this Sacred Land
Is the might of the brotherhood of the people.
May the nation, the country, and the State
Shine in glory everlasting.
Blessed be the goal of our ambition.
This flag of the Crescent and the Star
Leads the way to progress and perfection,
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present,
Inspiration of our future,
Symbol of Almighty's protection.
Obviously, the Islamic foundation is essential to their worldview, as it is in this one from Iran:
Upwards on the horizon rises the Eastern Sun
The light in the eyes of the believers in justice
The Month of Bahman is the brilliance of our faith.
Your message, O Imam, of independence, freedom, is imprinted on our souls
O Martyrs! Your clamours echo in the ears of time:
Enduring, continuing, and eternal,
The Islamic Republic of Iran
In particular, the assumption of faith being the foundation of the culture is clear with the specific reference to “the voice” that “the Imam” speaks into the nation. That assumption was clear from the time that the Shah of Iran was ousted and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from Paris and came into power. Now, the Ayatollah speaks with even more authority than does the President.
The reference to the Month of Bhaman, which begins in January and ends in February, is principally about the festival of Sadaq, sometimes rendered Sada. (Remember that both Arabic and Farsi have different alphabets, and there is not universal agreement on how to render Arabic and Farsi words in English letters.) Sadaq is a festival that involves a celebration of starting fires, with some reports speaking of people setting animals and birds on fire. Many people think that tying the feast to the end of winter resonates with creation and links to agriculture, and numerous references are made to the creation of humankind. Its name probably derives from the word Sad, which is the number 100. The feast day falls about the 100th day after the “start of winter,” and some believe that it began as a celebration of when the first two people’s progeny grew to number 100.
In the Iranian anthem, you can also see the emphasis on martyrs. That is not a great sign in dealing with the Iranian leadership’s conflict resolution style!
Another Christian Anthem: Tanzania
Moving back in the Christian direction, the anthem of Tanzania is an interesting one. Musically, it is reminiscent of European chamber orchestra style, with robust orchestration of woodwinds and brass. Lyrically, it demonstrates very African themes of invoking God’s blessing on leaders and people, but especially children. The opening lines in Swahili are reflective of the worldview that invokes God’s blessing: Mungu ibariki Afrika translates to “God Bless Africa.” Notice the emphasis not only on temporal freedom but on having an eternal perspective.
God Bless Africa
God Bless Africa.
Bless its leaders.
Let Wisdom Unity and
Peace be the shield of
Africa and its people.
Bless the children of Africa.
God Bless Tanzania.
Grant eternal Freedom and Unity
To its sons and daughters.
God Bless Tanzania and its People.
Bless the children of Tanzania.
Anthems and Worldviews
The point of looking at these different anthems is that a nation’s worldview has a dramatic impact on how it is shaped and how decisions are made. The foundations of Western nations, which were laid on Christian principles, are being superseded by other assumptions that have crept in to “guide” discourse and decision-making. One of the most dangerous is the liberal assumption that motives are more important than results. For example, the laudable initiative of “The Great Society” in the United States intended to wipe out poverty. Instead, it has created generations of people who are dependent on government subsidies. Today, both the percentage and the number of those dependent on government subsidies have risen. The Great Society did not deliver on its promise. Its framers, however, are still viewed as visionary leaders simply because their motives were noble.
Obviously, many people are in circumstances of crisis that need help, which no reasonable person would deny. The problem is how issues are addressed over the long term. While subsistence has been achieved with public assistance, dependence has also been ossified. Disadvantage or disaster may well be the entrée for assistance, but when assistance becomes permanent, initiative and dignity are the casualties. It is fascinating to me that the period of time during which the initiation of “The Great Society” took place was precisely when government initiatives in the U.S. were pressing to remove prayer from education and the public discourse in general! Without a healthy Biblical worldview, leaders embraced only a portion of the Biblical message, embracing short-term intervention without considering potential unintended consequences. Even worse, once the program demonstrated its flawed origins, no corrections were made to the basic assumptions because the intentions were considered to be noble.
At the heart of the chaos that has resulted is the fact that the presumptions of our country’s world-view have changed, but that change was made thoughtlessly. There was insistence on removing Christian motivations, but there was not insistence on other Biblical values such as accountability. As a result, a double-barrelled problem exists that results from not only the removal of the original Biblical foundation of the nation but its replacement with the shifting sand of relativism.
Two Current Critical Issues
Part of the problem is that many people are easily wooed by emphases on immediate returns, with little critical thought given to long-term consequences. Two areas with which we are currently wrestling across the globe concern human sexuality and radical Islam. Attempts are made every day to address those issues apart from Biblical truth. All those attempts fail precisely because they excise Biblical faith rather than exercise it.
Sexuality and Love
Granting that many Christians have addressed human sexuality with less than kindly words and attitudes, popular contemporary solutions refuse to address any consequences associated with the short-term present desires and feelings of those who have same-sex attractions or those who engage in heterosexual behaviors outside marriage. Even rising statistics or medical data about the devastating consequences of sexual license are denounced as hateful. Further, where societal standards are changed to embrace and affirm same-sex behaviors, practically no conversation occurs about how it is actually working or what the consequences are.
Gay flagIn fact, Robert Riley’s book, Making Gay OK, observes that although those engaging in same-sex behaviors number less than two percent of the North American population, their numbers account for approximately 60 percent of the cases of HIV/AIDS. Likewise, an emergency room physician told me recently that he has catalogued more than 100 diseases and conditions arising from same-sex behavior that have “devastating consequences.” (his words.) Is it really loving others to affirm behaviors that are proving so lethal?
We must not ignore that people have psychological and spiritual dimensions. Sexual intimacy engages those spheres as well as the physical one. We need to do a better job of communicating how God’s wisdom brings blessing. For those who experience strong same-sex attraction, profligate living is not the only option. Although many of them have psychological issues that are exacerbated by a rejection from people in society, the lack of stability of same-sex relationships needs to be addressed. Not only are these relationships problematic medically but terrible other physical and spiritual consequences result from infidelity (the incidence of which is dramatically higher than that which occurs in heterosexual marriage), and the number of sexual partners among those active in same-sex behaviors is vastly higher than with other groups. It is hard to imagine any positive consequences from those data. Indeed, it is simply not loving others to encourage sexual behavior with many partners.
Worldviews: Islam vs. Christianty
Although it is an entirely different issue, the same concern exists for working out how we can deal with radical Islam. It is a fantasy to think that those who engage in burning people in cages or beheading children are actually, deep down, motivated by the same values that motivate us. In some cases, it is an hysterical behavior born out of wounds, perceived injustices (some undoubtedly genuine), and uncritical acceptance of promises made by charismatic leaders. In other cases, it probably is actually, literally, demonic.
pillars IslamEven with the incursion of moral chaos in many areas, Westerners have a deeply engrained, if albeit superficial, Christian world-view. When we assume that everyone shares the values and assumptions of our anthems and founding, we make an enormous mistake. Westerners often say, “Radical Muslims want the same things for their families and children that we do.” That is simply not true. They want a caliphate and Sharia law. Westerners want pluralism.
To deal with this divide effectively, we are going to have to understand the differences in how many who sing the Yemini, Pakistani, and Iranian anthems think. Assuming that radicals all think and value the same things that we do is a fatal flaw. Adding to the problem is the fact that their behaviors do not allow for dialogue at this point. Sadly, it seems that the only current model that could be effective is military subjugation. Once there is a calm of the storm, we can then engage a world of ideas. Before overwhelming military superiority that can calm the storm is established, no dialogue with radicals is fruitful. It only leads to the strengthening of radical behavior and is perceived by them as our weakness and lack of resolve.
The Test of Time
I am utterly convinced that the Gospel world-view is the only one that will stand the test of time, whether we are dealing with sexuality or confronting radial Islam. Currently, however, we don’t have enough good platforms for sharing Gospel grace and power. There is so much chaos now, and those radicals with whom we have tensions are so different in their world-view from us that, it is sad to say, we are likely in for a long season of pain. Uncritical thinking will make things even worse.
Though I had grown up in church, I didn’t have any understanding of the Gospel, nor did I know Jesus. After I finished college, I joined the U.S. Air Force, in its Undergraduate Pilot Training, in the Summer of 1970. UPT is called “The Year of 53 weeks,” during which a full range of topics and skills are drummed into the students. The standards are very rigorous. They were then, as well, even though we were at war in Viet Nam and there was a great need for pilots. More than half of our class “washed out,” usually for failing to meet the flight standards. Some were eliminated on medical grounds. One got the boot for using drugs.
After the 53 weeks, on July 8, 1971, we graduated and got our wings. We all waited to hear what our assignments would be. I was assigned to a large four-engine transport called a C-141 Starlifter. It was a big plane, capable of carrying trucks, tanks, cargo, and troops, or of being re-configured as an air-evacuation plane, with 80 hospital litters to carry patients.
I enjoyed the flying, but I always had a nagging emptiness. That led to meeting Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, 1972. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I prayed, “Lord, I will go wherever You say to go. I’ll do whatever you say to do. I’ll be whatever You ask me to be, and I’ll say whatever You ask me to say, if You will do two things: be real in my life and satisfy the longing in my heart.” Faithfully, He has been doing that year after year. I can only wish that I had been anywhere nearly as faithful as He has been.
I vividly remember one day while I was heading out for a mission dressed in my flight suit. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I was startled and I remember that it triggered deep questioning about what it meant to be a Christian and a military pilot. I knew philosophically that there was not much difference between carrying cargo and dropping bombs, especially if the cargo was bombs. I knew that I had been drawn to fly the air-evac flights and did many of them, but I was still a military man and needed to come to grips with that. Many people assume that Christians are constrained to be pacifists. There are others, though, who maintain a costly commitment to Christ and still serve in the military, even in combat roles.
What the Lord showed me as I read history and studied the Bible is that it is crucially important to assess what faithfulness requires. I came to the position that St. Augustine was right, and there is the possibility of a just war. I was also greatly influenced by the Nürnberg (aka, Nuremberg) War Trials, having grown up there while the echoes of those trials were still reverberating around the city. I realized that, while it was possible to serve in the military as a Christian, I also had to monitor orders to assess if they were lawful orders. Righteousness may demand refusing an unlawful order, but then standing against unrighteous deeds almost always comes with a terrible price to pay. Sometimes that price is our freedom, our reputation, or even our life.
The question at the heart of challenging times and weighty questions like what I was facing is one that can be asked from one of two different—practically opposite—perspectives. The same dynamic still exists today. The compromised will say essentially, “Lord, how far can I stray and still keep my salvation.” That is not, however, the way that faithful people are called to live. Instead, there is another way. I was blessed early in my walk as a disciple to be in contact with some very mature and wise Christians. They taught me that we are to say, “Lord, show me ways that I can be more faithful; ways that I can be more closely conformed to your heart and will. Even if it is costly, show me what is right.” In fact, in this fallen world, the easy way is almost never the righteous way. It is almost never God’s way. We should not choose things just because they are hard. We should choose a path because it is right. It is also almost certainly going to be costly. Those faithful leaders were very helpful in assisting me in taking the first steps of fidelity. They taught me how to weigh my heart in the Kingdom justice balance of Scripture and what to do in repentance when I came up on the wrong side. Over time, I was able to learn some things about how I was called to live.
As I look at the situation of the fault line in the Anglican Communion today, there is no surprise about the course that those who do not know the Lord will take. They do what their heart tells them instead of what the Lord or the Word says. There is also no surprise from those who are committed to revision of the faith. What is particularly painful for me are those who have known the Lord and tasted His goodness, but then look to see how far they can drift to accommodate “innovation” without having to pay too great a price. Because God is so gracious (and our capacity to sin is so great), He allows us freedom. He knows that freedom is central to love. It does, however, make it possible for us to choose rebellion. He even allows us to choose to separate ourselves from Him.
Recently, a senior Bishop speaking at a small gathering I attended said, “We are going to have to accommodate same-sex blessings in the Church in order to have traction in the culture. If they won’t listen to us, we won’t be able to lead them to Christ. We will, however, hold the line against same-sex marriage.”
Of course, that position is flawed on, Oh, so many levels! It is not faithful to Who God is, or what He says in His Word. It is a strategy that will not yield fruit. We cannot build on the sand of attempting to bless what God seeks to redeem and expect it to bear fruit fit for eternity. Who is the Christ to whom he wants to introduce them? Is He the Christ of Scripture or one of his own concoction?
Instead, what should be asked is, “How is it, Lord, that we should live and move in order to be more closely conformed to Your heart and character.” We should be seeking to move closer to the Cross, not trying to see how far we can stray from it and still keep it in sight.
Institutionally, I’m glad to say that the Bishops in the Anglican Church in North America are, as a group, seeking to be found faithful. We talk about how He may call us to sacrifice and what it means to be faithful. When we gather, we share, study, and pray, asking Him to lead us, instead of just asking God to bless our plans. It is vastly different from my previous experience of the church of almost thirty years of ministry. I cannot remember ever hearing people say, “How can we be more fully conformed to Christ? How can we be found more fully faithful?”
I do remember hearing lots of people say essentially, “God should bless our plan because our ideas and efforts are so good and well intentioned.” In far too many cases, they weren’t, and He didn’t.
Here are some areas in which we need to be called to account, to live our lives faithfully for Christ in the midst of what is happening around us. How to live in the midst of the way:
• Radicals kill and maim
• Some denominational leaders distort the faith
• Some government leaders betray their people
• Some people with resources consume, acquire, and waste without regard for others
• We live segmented lives, claiming holiness in one sphere and discarding it in another
• We treat those with whom we disagree
• We intervene in the face of violence
• We protect those who are under assault
What we do matters. It matters for us, it matters for our churches and families, and it matters for others. It even matters for our enemies. Sometimes we have to act decisively to interdict evil and its impact on people who are largely defenseless. Sometimes the most loving thing to do in a situation is to cry out and act with an emphatic “No!” that stops evil. We don’t do that because it is easy. We shouldn’t choose it because it is hard, even though it probably is. We should do it because it is right.
The town of al-Bagdadi is clearly Iraqi, but it is not unlike small towns and suburbs in other nations. There are people who have lived together for millennia, for the most part peacefully. Now, with the incursions of ISIS, the story has changed. This latest outrage has occurred on the heels of the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians.
Just five miles from an air base housing 400 US Marines, ISIS “soldiers” just burned to death 45 people. It is no longer possible for ISIS to shock the world. They exist under a demonic pall, doing the bidding of evil. Sadly, there is great human tragedy associated with what they do. Untold numbers of families are being brutalized as their relatives are being martyred. This is not “senseless violence,” nor is it random. It rises from a vile and violent population within Islam. These are they who seek to impose a Caliphate that would then reign across the world with Islamic domination of as much of the world as they can take.
It is not just at the feet of those who are doing these dastardly acts that the blame lies. There is blame enough to go around. First of all, every leader of the Muslim faith owns this atrocity unless they are publicly repudiating it. When you ask at local mosques in the US, Canada, or England if they would like to see a Caliphate, the answer is always “Yes.” When you ask if they would like to see Sharia Law established in their locality, the answer is always “Yes.” What they are refusing to own is that their message is being interpreted with the way that Islam has usually advanced through history, and that is through imposition. The word “Islam” means “submit.” It seeks to impose submission on everyone. The failure of Islamic leaders to denounce what ISIS is doing is a terrible indictment of the religion they pursue.
All over Western nations, self-described moderate Muslims raise money for Islamic causes. Without clear denunciation of ISIS and al Qaeda, a huge amount of that money finds its way from Mosques on “Main Street” into the coffers of those who revel in beheading Christians and burning them to death.
Also culpable are those non-Muslim leaders who refuse to name this for what it is: Terror in the name of Islam. Just because every Muslim has not repudiated it does not mean that it is not Islamic. If the terrorists say that what they are doing is motivated by Islam, then accept that at face value. It is more than disingenuous for a Western leader like President Obama to try to mitigate the violence by calling it senseless or random. He refuses to trust that the American public can differentiate between radical Islam and any other form. These acts are neither senseless nor random. They rise out of a delusion. It is, however, not a Baptist delusion or a Buddhist delusion, a Zoroastrian delusion or a Jewish delusion – it is Muslim, and it will continue until Muslim leaders unite in expelling these monsters from their household of faith. The failure to do so brands Islam with the burden of the sin.
A friend who speaks Arabic fluently and by appearance looks Middle-Eastern told me that he often goes into Mosques in the U.S. to see what they have in print and to talk with leaders when he can. Time after time, he finds material supporting global jihad and leaders who are sympathetic with the goal of establishing a Caliphate and Sharia Law. Letting Muslim leaders off the hook for what we consider to be radical is not only foolish, it is wrong.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, U.S. President Barak Obama chided people not to feel any sense of moral superiority over the Islamic State’s barbarism saying:
“[L]est we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
He went on to say,
“In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
He was trying to make the point that American [Christians] should not feel superior to ISIS because our ancestors did bad things, too. There is a constant theme with this president of “moral equivalency,” much like the way that the liberals in the Church try to claim moral equivalence between “border crossing” and the promulgation of heresy.
While that comparison is certainly lacking, there is, in fact, a valid point to be made about the sins of those generations that have gone before us, as well as confessing our own sins. The principle is called Identificational Repentance. It is the confessing of the sins of our forefathers. There are many examples of that practice in Scripture. Look at the way that Daniel prayed:
O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God…
Here is a similar prayer from Nehemiah:
And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned…”
Both Daniel and Nehemiah realized that both they and their people had sinned, and they confessed those sins to God, seeking forgiveness. The weight of our ancestors’ sins can hang on us like so many spiritual albatrosses around our necks. It is good and right to confess sins of our forefathers, as well as our own. Doing so can bring about an atmosphere in which more healing and reconciliation are possible. Choosing a path of humility can open the way for reconciliation with those who “have ears to hear.”
I don’t think, however, that President Obama was seeking to rally American Christians to pray in identificational repentance. It is far more likely that he was trying to humanize the actions of the Islamic State terrorists by sort of saying, “There but for the grace of God go I,” (or at least “go you.” I don’t see that he sees himself as being in the place to repent for anything.)
It would be good for Christians to pray for forgiveness for the sins of our Fathers, and for the things that we have done that are not in accordance with God’s plan and will as revealed in Scripture. Although that prayer is valuable and important, it is not enough in itself to address the sins from a millennium ago. We also need to look for ways that we have contributed to tensions in our own time. As important as that task is, however, I do not believe it will be enough.
Sadly, significant portions of Islam have festered to the point that their worldview and actions are petrified in the context of violent measures from 700 AD. The “convert or die” mantra is set in stone for far too many Muslims. In the case of the Islamic State, their penchant for violence is so acute that even the gentle Pontif, Pope Francis, has said that military force needs to be used until their capacity to do violence is removed.
How is it, then, that we engage Islam? First of all, we have to raise up a cadre of people who are conversant in Islam. I have just finished reading the Qur’an, and I can assure you that it is a document that needs a great deal of study in order to talk about it intelligently. We also need a group of experts who are trained in engaging conversations with those from other faiths. The conversations that I have had that have born fruit have centered around powerful truths of the Gospel that reveal the Love of the Father for people, and the way that sins can be forgiven. Add to this the power of the Holy Spirit and the way that He reveals Jesus in dreams and visions and there is a quite compelling message. That is why so many people are becoming followers of Jesus Christ.
While military action may quell the spread of wholesale violence, what is really needed is an outpouring of evangelistic fervor, gracefully presented in the context of loving and transforming acts of grace.
What is utterly inadequate however, is trying to shame people into silence about the atrocities of ISIS because no one should cast stones. Failing to denounce depravity is complicity with it. It is not a sufficient response just to decry what is wrong. We have a holy responsibility to declare what is right.
On the other side of the wall not a hundred yards away rises a minaret, the tall tower at a mosque from which the azan–the Musl*m call to prayer– goes out five times a day from giant loudspeakers. Five times a day, the Musl*m world stops as people stop for prayer following a very specific pattern:
The Musl*m Pattern of Prayer
1. They must be completely cleansed from impurities. Any bodily functions since the last session of prayer would require ritual purification. Other “defiling” acts, including falling asleep lying down, leaning against something, bleeding significantly, and a whole list of other things, also require ritual purification.
2. On a prayer mat (to further insulate from being defiled), the person turns to face the Qibla (Mecca). Musl*ms around the world all face Mecca when they pray. In hotels in Musl*m countries, if you open the desk drawer in the room, there is a sticker there with an arrow that points in the direction of Mecca. On airlines in Islam*c countries, the moving map display on the inflight entertainment has an arrow pointing constantly to the direction one would face to pray (salat).
3. Beginning standing, the persons praying make their intentions known, usually silently.
4. Still standing, the persons praying raise their hands to face level, palms facing out while saying “Alla–Akbar,” (Which means, "God is great.”
5. With the right hand over the left hand (which is over the navel) eyes must stay focused on the place where the person is standing so as not to be distracted.
6. The person then bends down, with flat palms below the knees while repeating “Allah - Akbar,” then, “Glorified is my Lord, the most great.”
7. Standing back up, the persons recite a prayer that basically says, “I’m a rebel." While saying this, they bring their hands to their ears. Then the hands are lowered while the persons say, "Allah hears those who praise Him. O our Lord, and all praise is to you."
8. The persons then kneel, with knees, palms, and forehead on the ground. This position is called “sajdah.” The prayer admitting rebellion is repeated, then the persons stand again. The whole process is repeated three or more times.
9. The posture is then transitioned from “sajdah” to sitting on the knees. The left foot from ball to heel is on the floor. The right foot has only toes on the floor, and they pray, “Lord forgive me.”
10. They then rise from sajda and say “Allah- Akbar.” This completes one cycle or “rakaat.”
Rakaats are repeated.
11. At the end of praying, the persons praying finish by looking to the right from their knees, saying, “ The angel who records good deeds is to this side.” They turn to the left and say, “The angel who records wrongful deeds is to this side.”
Our Side of the Wall
That is what has been happening on the other side of the wall over these last days. The wall is one of those tall ones–really high, with broken glass all across the top to keep people from climbing over. On our side of the wall were twenty-four people with whom I would spend most of the week teaching and praying. They were all believers, leaders, and eager to grow. For some reason, I thought we should start off with some music, so I pulled out my iPad and some little tiny but really powerful speakers I bought from duty-free on a plane. They brightened up instantly, most with eyes closed with open palms worshipping the Lord. It was powerful and sweet.
Our first session was about the Gospel. I shared with them how to find ways that the Gospel is revealed in Scriptures. Of course, there are types and shadows in the Old Testament. One of the people I love hearing talk about this is Alan Wright. He is a Pastor in North Carolina and the author of a wonderful book called Shame Off You. Alan is a friend. He is also one of the greatest preachers in the USA. In his book, he lays out a trail of breadcrumbs to help people start applying "Gospel thinking" instead of "Shame-based thinking.”
A New Look at David and Goliath
I shared one of Alan’s insights with the people with whom I was meeting. Going through the story of David and Goliath, the normal pattern from us preachers is to explain the narrative by urging people to “ Be like David!”
We have all heard sermons with points like:
• Recognize the problem!
• Crystalize the reward!
• Remember God’s past faithfulness!
• Don’t be distracted by “other people’s armor”!
• Find your “five smooth stones"
• Go confidently praying that God will help you in the battle
Be more and more like David!
Instead, Alan suggests that the key to understanding the importance of David’s slingshot victory over Goliath is in what happened when his cowardly brothers and their fellow soldiers saw David holding up the head of the slain Goliath: they were suddenly inspired with a great shout. Because David was victorious over the great enemy, they run with confidence to chase and plunder the lesser army, which is still a substantial threat.
Therefore, David ran and stood over the Philistine, took his sword and drew it out of its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. Now the men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted, and pursued the Philistines as far as the entrance of the valley and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell along the road to Shaaraim, even as far as Gath and Ekron. Then the children of Israel returned from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their tents. (I Samuel 17:51-53)
Instead of having people identify with David and telling them to be more courageous in facing opposition, Alan suggests that it’s OK to admit we are really like David’s cowardly brothers. David’s slaying of Goliath is like Jesus’ overcoming evil, hell, and death. When we see His resurrection and how He welcomes us into His victory, a shout of joy should rise to our lips.
“The key is not how strong or good you are as you come up against evil, challenges, and sin,” I told the twenty-four who gathered with me behind the wall. “We shouldn’t lament that we are not enough like David. It’s OK to say that we are actually a lot more like David’s cowardly brothers. When we see the victory of Jesus over evil, it means that we are being invited to come into the victory celebration and join in the party. We don’t have to agonize over how we will face the giant or the battle. We just have to apply the victory of the Cross and Resurrection to the battle at hand!”
As they were seeing this great picture, excitement broke out around the room, and they began to clap and shout “Hallelujah!” Just then, the loudspeakers from the mosque scratchily spit out the mid-day call to prayer like it was a challenge.
Coursing with Gospel victory, the whole room turned in prayer towards the sound from the minaret with everyone praying powerfully prayers like, “Victorious Jesus, we thank You for the power of the Cross! Come with power. Come with signs and wonders! Subdue this message of darkness from the speakers! Turn the hearts to You, Lord Jesus! Draw them to salvation, to the one true God!” Others prayed, “Send dreams and visions! Show the truth! Let light overwhelm the darkness!”
It was thrilling. This tiny group of believers who had been courageously following Christ but had been discouraged and burdened by the magnitude of witnessing for Christ in the midst of a population in which there is a huge Musl*m majority, suddenly saw that the greatness of Jesus Christ in the power of His resurrection could penetrate the darkness, and they could go with Him as He did.
The azan, call to prayer can also be spelled adhan because the Arabic alphabet doesn’t exactly match ours. Often there are a variety of spellings for Arabic words when we try to render them in an English alphabet. It is often hard to render the words properly. It is also hard to reach out into the Musl*m world with the Gospel. What was happening in this wonderful prayer time was a new insight and surety of how the Gospel can penetrate.
After the azan died down and our prayers did as well, one of my students said very wisely, “We do not have to be afraid to face the big battle of dealing with Isl*m. Jesus has already won the victory. We just need to get on board with His plan!”
Of the prayers that stood out for me, from those that were prayed during the time of spontaneous prayer we had just experienced during the azan, was, “Lord send them dreams and visions. Send them revelations of Yourself!” That was wonderful because it is the way that most Musl*ms are coming to faith in Christ. I have heard that as many as two thirds of converts to Christ have come to Him because of a dream or a vision.
More Power of the Holy Spirit
As we took a break after an invigorating time of prayer, one of the men came to me and said, “I was a Musl*m. Not a good one though. I was a drunkard. One night as I was drinking, Jesus spoke to me and said, “You have two choices. Either come to Me or die.” He said that he had been drinking a lot, and he had walked outside to relieve himself. As he stood over a steep ledge, his foot slipped and he went headlong into the night. He said he would have gone headfirst into the rocks below except for a root from a banana tree that stuck out and caught him. There he hung, with the upper part of his body over the edge and his feet still up over the crest. Hearing the commotion, his friends came out from the bar and pulled him up by his feet. From there, he believed the word that Jesus had given him. He found Christians and asked to be baptized. Now well discipled, he was looking for even more.
He said, “I want to have more of the Power of the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel with my people.”
When the group gathered again, we looked at this passage:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Luke 11:9-13
“Would you like to have more Holy Spirit power in your life?” I asked the group. Immediately, they all answered and nodded.
“This passage is clear. To receive more power of the Holy Spirit, you simply have to ask.” We also talked about how the Holy Spirit works in Baptism, Confirmation, Conversion, gifts, and fruit. Everyone wanted to ask, so I invited them to gather in prayer triplets, praying for more Holy Spirit power.
By this time, hours had passed since our earlier prayer time. As the small groups prayed, the afternoon call to prayer went out over the nearby loudspeakers. Their quiet prayers for each other changed and became more emphatic. Some with arms outstretched toward the chanted song prayed with great urgency. As they prayed for a new Pentecost, many began to pray differently, some more quietly and reflectively. Just like the first Pentecost, many began to pray in a new language given from heaven to glorify God, and, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14) to “edify their Spirit."
The days were full. They were tiring but wonderful. Every day, each time we heard the azan, we would turn from what we were doing and pray for light to overwhelm darkness, for Jesus to be revealed.
As we finished and I was about to get in the car to leave, they came over. One, a very sharp young woman, spoke for the group. She said, “Daddy. Thank you for what you have brought. We are different. We are not going to be looking at Goliath. We are going to be looking at Jesus’ victory over him. Watch for us. We are going to go and plunder the Philistines.”
May it be so, please, God!
Looking out the aircraft window, all I see is the endless dust and sand of North Africa. There are a few patches of ground below where the air is at rest and the dust is still, but for hundreds of miles in every direction, the scene is mostly one of swirling, lifeless, brown and beige dirt, where the desert ominously says, “Dare to intrude and I will take your life. I have done it for centuries, and I do it still.”
It is quite compelling, this mocking cry from the sand, and it has gone on for centuries. Millennia really. Unlike the rest of the world, where the momentum is for life, this is a place where death reigns, or at least so it seems. Where Tuarig and Bedouin nomads survive, little else does.
There is an anomaly, though, one where life easily vanquishes death. A thin ribbon of lush green cuts through the lifeless desert. The demarcation is stark. At one point, desert death reigns supreme, but then just a few steps away, death is utterly vanquished, not merely muted by the water that flows through it but utterly transformed by it. From the Nile comes all manner of life–plants, fish, and animals. Even humans, who without the water quickly succumb to the brown sandy beast, are empowered by it and able to do that which they cannot do on their own.
The essence of water is life. Whether in the form of rain, rivers, lakes, or seas, wherever it is found, life is also found, or will quickly come. From its very being, water does its work and extends its dominion.
The Biblical word for authority is exousia. It is a compound word made up of ex, meaning “out of,” and ousia, meaning “being.” Authority, rightly manifest, extends the reign of what is true. In the case of the water, its authority, its being, reaches out to subdue the environment.
Before there was water, before there were seas, and tides, and rain, there was God. He chose to act to extend His being into the lifeless nothing that was apart from Him. When He spoke, out flowed life and love, creation and dominion, all inspired by a missionary heart motivated by His passion for Incarnation–His commitment to manifest things so that lesser beings, as yet not even created, would eventually be able to experience and appreciate what He alone had known.
There was no need for God to do this, no need for Him to create so that He could appreciate philosophical concepts more fully. Because His ability to apprehend is limitless, concrete creation offers no more fullness than a concept. For us, however, even in our exalted state before The Fall, our senses and intellect could not apprehend that which is philosophical as well as that which we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. When things are fleshed–out for us, we can come to know that which we didn’t know before.
God makes us like Himself in so many ways, yet even before the devastation of The Fall diminished us, we were lesser beings than He. Surely, we extended His glory by being made. Lips were formed that could sing His praise. Hands and hearts could create in lesser but somewhat like manner to their making.
Looking down at the scrolling desert below, one finds it hard not to be discouraged by the chaos of Somalia and the violence in South Sudan. Even worse, any evening news broadcast will show hot spots of terror and militancy from Morocco to Afghanistan and then beyond, touching even the capitals of many nations where once Christendom reigned. Does this mean that Islam is overwhelming Christianity? I do not believe so.
Where the heart and soul of the Christian faith is embraced, there is life aplenty. It is when the people forget that they, like the Jews of Jerusalem, may well have to be carried off to Babylon in order to begin to remember again. Even in the places where there are brutal regimes and a spiritual desert, the river of God still flows, and its life, the Gospel, overwhelms the death of empty messages.
In some places, the Church is attempting to modify its charter from what was given to it by the Lord Jesus and is seeking to present another message. Sadly, it is neither respected nor effective. What is effective is fidelity and the Power of the Cross.
Those from Christian origins who stray make a mistake in thinking that there is not a problem. Another mistake is assuming that there is nothing we can do about the struggle. Those grave errors are compounded when the Church fails to tap into the life that God offers.
Now, my flight is complete, and I have landed at the place where I am staying.
I can hear the call to prayer from minarets. It is a sober reminder that there are many who have not yet experienced the Love of the Father, poured out because of, and through, relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As we drive through one area, the driver tells us that we should roll up the heavily tinted windows so the people will not see the bishop in the car.
Over the next days, I will be leading a retreat for new young leaders who are about to be ordained, to carry the life of the river of God into the desert. It may be at great cost, but they will do it. And I have no doubt concerning what the river will bring to the desert. Just as darkness is vanquished by light, so the desert by the water…
and this land by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The historic shorthand of Anglicanism is the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It began in the hearts of faithful Episcopal Bishops (remember the days when that was the norm?) who had a righteous desire for unity of faith. This unity is not a sloppy kind of gathering under a golf umbrella with a logo; rather, it is the kind of unity that Jesus spoke of in "His High Priestly Prayer.” It is unity that comes from shared beliefs in which the essentials of the faith are fully owned and diversity flows like amalgam to strengthen the ability to transmit the basic tenets of the faith. Unity in Christ surrenders nothing of the power of the Cross to redeem and restore, and it gives up no ground regarding the Word to convict, convert, nurture, and sanctify. It neither waters-down the work of the Holy Spirit nor seeks to supplant Him with vague semi-spiritual fables that ooze through the world like some sort of electrical tapioca pudding.
Unity and Disunity
The unity that these Bishops sought was based on a shared belief in the essentials of the faith. They realized that there were some points of agreement that were necessary in order to enter into full communion with other Christian bodies. They compiled four principles that were necessary for that unity:
As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
3. The two Sacraments - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with
unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
In today’s cultures, which have forgotten the shared assumptions of Christian language, the power of these statements may be missed. For example, the phrase “the revealed Word of God,” is not merely a title. To the authors, it meant that the Bible holds the place of ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice.
To say that the Nicene Creed is a “sufficient statement of the Christian Faith,” does not mean that the Creed plumbs the depths of the theological riches of the faith or that it reveals the fullness of what Christians believe; rather, it lists those dogmas that cannot be denied without forfeiting salvation.
No responsible Anglican body would enter into a new relationship of Communion with “liberal” Provinces such as TEC and Canada (and others like… Brazil, Wales, Scotland, Mexico, and more than a few others!) were they not already part of Anglican institutional life. This is not to say that they have gotten everything wrong. Getting everything wrong would require far more energy and commitment than they have been willing expend so far. Nonetheless, none of the elements of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral are unstained by the unbiblical practices and beliefs of the liberal agenda. They are somewhat “grandfathered” into being included in ongoing Communion life, even though they are hacking away at the ark of the faith, using giant theological chainsaws to separate themselves from saving faith. The Good News, however, is that in each of those Provinces, there are "7,000 who have not bowed their knee to Baal.” Those who are faithful will never embrace the Cross-less faith that offers cheap affirmation rather than blood-bought redemption.
As critical tenets of the faith have been rejected, the false teachings that have replaced them are like a hole below the waterline of a ship. Most of the hull may be in tact, but when a hole lies below the waterline, the entire vessel is under assault. The increasing pull of their heretical practices leads them farther and farther away from the ship of faith, and ultimately to perdition. The sinking liberal ships give rise to the inevitable emergence of separate Biblically faithful churches. At some point, those whose allegiance is to the historic faith find that their bonds with orthodoxy are stronger than institutional ones and that they must separate from the institution of which they were a part. That is what happened in the U.S. and in Canada, and it is likely to happen in other places where similar dynamics exist. But there is more…
C. S. Lewis said in the Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan is on the prowl.”
By that, he meant that the Lion Aslan (theChrist-figure) was on the move to manifest the Kingdom of God, overwhelming sin, evil, and rebellion. In that same way, the Holy Spirit is moving around the world in a great simultaneous call that thousands and thousands are answering.
A New Breath of Life
Not long ago, I spoke with a Christian from Germany. He was blissfully unaware of Anglicanism, but he was active in a new church plant. It was filled with new converts among the 20- to 30-somethings. I asked him to tell me about the church. He described several distinctive characteristics.
1. The people in the church fully accept the Word of God as authoritative.
2. They are open to the present work of the Holy Spirit and His gifts.
3. They have a desire to connect with historic worship (citing liturgical prayers and music like the Monastery at Taizé, as well as new things).
4. They seek Apostolic order.
5. They had a revelation that Baptism and Communion are “supernatural acts” and are more than memorials that serve as testimonies.
What is fascinating is that a few weeks later, I spoke with a Christian from Cambodia. I asked him to describe his church. He cited essentially the same principles. From Argentina, despite rampant inflation and horrific corruption, I heard from a convert how new Christians are coming to life with the same heartbeat. All over the world, in thousands of places, the Holy Spirit is “spontaneously” calling people to new life with this pattern.
In addition to the faithful in the Church who refuse to surrender the Faith, there are thousands of new fellowships emerging that all reflect this Holy Spirit DNA. It is remarkable that it is so coincidental with Historic Anglicanism. Where the institutional church is departing from its roots, new work is breaking out. It is a winsome face for the Body of Christ, and disenchanted and disheartened people are finding hope. Whereas in generations past, the momentum of Christendom was enough to gather sufficient people to fuel the future of the institution, now there is a demand for more life -- not superficial showmanship, but substantive, challenging, discipleship that takes faith so seriously that it is not shaken by the violent assaults of Boko Haram and ISIS or the terrible persecution of intolerance that seeks to eliminate Christian faith. No external assault can overwhelm what Christ is doing in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
To those “liberal” Anglican Provinces that seek to demand a fruitful future because they are “franchise owners” in their region, the Lord is very clearly saying, “Fooey.” He is no more inclined to remain linked with the faithless now than He was when Israel needed to be dragged to Babylon in order to be disciplined into faithfulness.
A Timely Warning
Certainly not every Christian in those liberally leaning cultures that are abandoning their Christian roots at breakneck speed will wind up in an Anglican Church tomorrow. But the ones who do not join re-aligning Anglican congregations will enter churches that look more like a living Anglican Church than a vapid institutional one that has only the musty remnants of Anglican aroma. We not only are part of a globally growing, spiritually powerful Anglicanism, but also are living in a time when the Lord is shaping a great deal of new life in a way that looks a lot like healthy Anglicanism.
“Liberal” Provinces, can you not see the signs? The earliest sign of new life in the Spring is the budding almond. Blooming even in the midst of snow, this early promise assures us that winter is not forever, and that spring will surely come. And what comes, like Aslan’s footprints melting the winter snow and ice into Spring, looks a great deal like what it means to be one of these new congregations. It also looks amazingly Anglican.
In the extreme Northeast corner of Nigeria, from Potiskum to Baja, lies the scene of the latest attack from Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-linked murderous group. In this attack, which spread through the region, as many as 2,000 people, mostly Christians, were slaughtered. In addition to the thousands that this demonic group has killed, more than 700,000 people (again, mostly Christians) have been displaced. They have lost their homes and all their possessions and have had to grieve on the run as they have fled the violence.
Of course that is what the evil members of Boko Haram want. They seek total Islamicization. The word “Islam” itself means “submission.” Boko Haram members believe that it is the ultimate expression of Islam to impose the dictates of Sharia Law. Sharia is the literal application of a system of cultural control that includes brutal penalties—even death— for a whole range of offenses.
Sadly, most of the people who died in the northern Nigerian carnage were elderly, infirm, or children, those who were least able to defend themselves or flee. The terrorists came into populated areas, firing rocket-propelled grenades into crowds,and binding and executing others.
This level of horror raises the question, “What is necessary to defeat groups like Boko Haram?”
To that issue, let me suggest some things that are essential to win against such evil.
Educate People About the Real Problem.
International leaders need to be educated on the real problem. Sadly, the issue is not just a handful of radicals who are abandoning their “peaceful religion”; it is actually a broadly held position among Muslims to want to impose a Caliphate across the earth. Certainly, not all of them endorse the kind of violence of Boko Haram, al Qaeda, or Islamic State people, but a tragic number of Muslims are completely sympathetic with the goals of those groups. International political leaders need to hear from their constituents about the real nature of the problem and the threat. At issue are not Baptist or Buddhist.
Look, for example, at these quotes from the Qur’an:
“The Messenger and those who believe with him, strive hard and fight with their wealth and lives in Allah’s Cause.” Qur’an 9:88
“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists [ed. Trinitarian believers] wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer [i.e., five time daily prayer], and give zaikai [tax paid by non-Muslims; they do not have full rights but are not killed at that point] let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” Qur’an 9:5
“So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief among non-Muslims) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone (in all the world).” Qur’an 8:39
There is no mitigating New Testament in Islam. There is also a problematic issue of a terribly violent history.
If Islam in general were not the problem, then you would see message board signs in front of American Mosques calling for an end to violence. You would see so many Imams speaking publicly for peace that their voices would become the voice of Islam. Instead, what we have is almost total silence from supposedly moderate Islamic leaders. When they speak, they are much more likely to insist that they not be profiled or intimidated than they are to denounce terrorism. If Islam is a religion of peace, then where are its advocates among the Muslims? With the millions of Muslims in North America and Europe, there should be more than the handful I have been able to find.
Engage in Spiritual Warfare
While identifying the problem is necessary at a temporal level, from a spiritual standpoint, the first step is intercessory prayer. We need to pray for God to intervene in protecting innocent life and also to intervene in revealing Himself in dreams and visions. Spiritual warfare needs to be taken seriously, and we need to “wrestle” with evil as Paul says in Ephesians 6.
Establish vast military superiority
It is close to impossible to stop 100% of military-style threats, but we can do it much better than what is being done. Nigeria (for example) probably needs to deploy three to four military Divisions to the north of the country. That would be an additional 100,000 troops along with armor. This is not a war of words. The ability of the terrorists to identify unarmed civilians and attack them with sophisticated weaponry needs to be undermined if not eliminated. That action does not come from conversation. It comes from enough military presence to effect annihilation of those who pursue terror. History demonstrates that where there is the capacity of annihilation, it often does not have to be used. The threat of it interdicts many problems.
Whole groups of terrorists are not likely to embrace the Gospel in a people movement. It is possible, of course, and we should pray for that, but it is certain that we can make inroads by evangelizing people one-on-one. I’m not suggesting trotting off unarmed into the North of Nigeria with a Bible and a box of Chick Tracks. Neighbors and those with whom you come in contact need to hear the story of “How being a follower of Jesus has changed and enriched my life.” They need to be loved. Hopefully, many will be loved into the Kingdom before they get recruited by radicals set on violence.
In Recife, Brazil, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Diocese of Recife are expanding the Kingdom’s presence one block at a time. They pray, evangelize, clean up, renew, and proclaim house-by-house and street-by-street. Now after years, it is obvious to see how the Kingdom of God is invading a place that was formerly run down and where evil ran unchecked. Now there are daycare centers, gyms, youth programs, schools, and churches. Expansion into the worst areas may need to be undertaken slowly with the unified force of those committed to living out Kingdom values, advancing the love of the Gospel step-by-step in incremental expansion into the areas that are the petri dishes of terror. There is no way in the long haul that the Gospel will be overcome.
Extend the Coalition Internationally
This is not a problem for Nigeria alone. It is one that must be engaged broadly across the nations of the world. We are going to have to work together, or we will fail at the task. While it may seem politically expedient to say, “No American boots on the ground,” the fact is that if there are not, then the radicalism likely will continue to spread because no nation has the capacity to do everything alone. Christians in particular (as well as other civic minded citizens) need to press their representatives to join in addressing this madness, or plan to see it at a mall near you soon.
In a massive “double issue” of the magazine Newsweek, the cover boasts a story that is a verbose article by almost Pulitzer Prize winner Kurt Eichenwald. The article seeks to ravage the way that contemporary American evan-gelicals engage the Bible. The article brings to mind the warning “Incoming!” to alert people to the fact that artillery or mortar shells are inbound to their location. Only in this case, the ills he describes are really pretty much fantasies. Take for example, his exceedingly dismissive overview of American Evangelicals (of which there are scores of millions) with this paragraph:
“They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshiping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.”
While I offer kudos to Mr. Eichenwald for getting the plural right of the word passerby, I take umbrage at the way he assumes a seat of judgment. Employing the classic “straw man” fallacy, he posits what is not and then dismisses his caricature for being flawed. For example, the last I heard, the only people waving Bibles and screaming are those from the exceedingly odd, particularly odious, and pointedly obnoxious members of Westboro Baptist Church (which I believe is down to around six members), who all seem to be of the same abundantly eccentric family. Representing only a few thousandths of a percent of Evangelical Americans, the hateful Bible-wavers amount to what is statistically an astounding 0% of us. To be sure, we of the “Biblical Church” could have done a better job of sharing how the Good News of the Gospel brings redemption to those with sexual brokenness, but the attribution of hatefulness is misplaced.
Regarding those who “fall on their knees, worshiping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments,” Eichenwald misses the point. German theologians coined the phrase “Sitz im Lieben” which means “Life setting,” or context. What Eichenwald fails to grasp is the uncomfortable truth that the “Sitz im Lieben” of the United States is Judeo-Christian Biblical faith. Even his abundant disdain for that perspective cannot overwhelm the fact that this nation was founded under God.
You, dear reader, may have experienced the same fallacious teaching that I endured in school that our nation was founded by secularists and Deists, but having done a great deal of research about it, I’ve discovered that is simply not true. Feel free not to take my word for it. Look at the original documents, things such as the State Constitutions and other founding government documents. It is impossible to miss. The only caveat I would offer is that it is important to understand that the use of the word religion in our founding 18th-century documents, would be better translated in our modern parlance as denomination. It was important to the founders that there not be a state “denomination,” but they were not assuming that all world religions were the same. Time and again, their original writings affirm the Lordship of Christ and the authority of the Bible.
As to stadiums filled with those praying for salvation for the nation, only a fool could think that there is nothing in current American culture that needs salvation. In his own way, even Eichenwald is pursuing a vision for change, only he has a very different sense of what needs to be saved, and what needs to be done to achieve that salvation, than I do.
He goes on to dismiss the unruly, unwashed, ignorant Evangelical mouth-breathing Neanderthals’ intellectual capacity, assuming that we owe uncritical obedience to cherry-picked verses of Scripture. He writes: ”No television preacher has ever read the Bible.” He asserts,
“Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation–a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”
His assumption is that the Bible has been handed down like a parchment-recorded version of “telephone” whereby whispers around a circle begin with “Jesus is Lord,” and finish with “My grandmother’s new gardener is named Haysoos.” Anyone who has done serious inquiry would know that this is simply not the case.
First of all, as archaeologists have unearthed more and more texts, it is obvious to see how amazingly reliable the text actually is. There simply are no doctrines that are cast in doubt by versions of the Bible that have surfaced. We are not left simply to our own devices to preserve or interpret Scripture. We have the help of the preserving and life-giving Holy Spirit. It is simply untrue to say that Scripture cannot be received with confidence. In my studies in London, I was blessed to be able to pour over the oldest fragments of the New Testament. Whereas they are, as Eichenwald rightly describes “scriptio continua,” a mass of letters crammed together with neither spaces nor punctuation, knowledge of Greek and a couple of afternoons in the archives of the British Museum produce enough facility to be able to confirm that the Bible we have is virtually identical to the writings from the past.
Second, just as objectionable as Eichenwald’s superficial scholarship is his myopic perspective that seeks to preserve his right to speak while simultaneously seeking to silence others with whom he disagrees. Rightly established, Christian perspective in culture seeks to give a level playing field for ideas. In that context, the Gospel will win out, and it will do so again and again. Christians need not fear either dissent or unbelief. When we rightly engage the culture, we will love it into redemption through the Cross of Christ.
So, what can we learn from this criticism from Eichenwald and Newsweak magazine? That we should not flag in zeal in engaging the culture with the Gospel. The need for redemption has never been greater. All around us, people and systems are failing because they have failed to apply the foundations of Biblical faith to them. We should be loving those who live with brokenness, especially in the sexual brokenness of this age. We should not speak condemnation to them, but rather the kindness of saying, “True treasure is not found where you are looking. The true treasure of a fulfilling life is found in this way…” and go on to share what life in Christ is really like. We should be sharing how people can become whole and healed. Given the context of the disease-ridden, unfulfilling rootless relationships that infect modern culture, a word from us on how it is possible to find life in the midst of a culturally dark time, a godly proclamation of the Gospel Good News is better received that one might expect.
Most tragic of all, is that the fruit of friend Eichenwald’s efforts, if embraced and adopted, would result in the duplication of the hideous world he thinks he sees, only with a different underclass, namely Christians. He offers no word of redemption, to transformation, and no transfiguration. His world is a tragically vapid one––empty of the Cross or its life.
Instead, we must redouble our efforts to effectively bring the Gospel to bear to our lives and those around us. Let us care. Let us serve. Let us pray…and let us celebrate Jesus. Maybe we can do so in such an authentic way that others (including ourselves) are able to embrace its fullness.
One of the delightful things about international travel is meeting people in other countries who read GlobalView. So far, all the “in person” comments I have received have been very encouraging. On the other hand, there are also some messages from people, usually by email or sometimes on Facebook or through our Diocesan portal, that are less so… Usually, the critical comments have to do with the fact that in some weekly missive, I am unquestionably an idiot because I did not include the OBVIOUS reference to Saints Cosmas and Damian, the twin brother patron saints (who were amazing physicians who would not accept payment for services), or I missed a reference to St. Benvento, the patron saint of dryer vents.
I share this because I am expecting blowback from the “liturgically-particular” and ” –precise” for what I am suggesting today. With that preamble, fasten your seat belts…
The shorthand summary of Anglicanism is the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Its four tenants are:
• The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
• The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
• The two Sacraments — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
• The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
Those tenants are not meant to be an exhaustive description of Anglicanism, but they are the minimal convictions about which we must be in agreement in order to enter into Communion with other Christian bodies. But… that is not the purpose for which I reference it today. It is a phrase that is part of item 4 to which I’d like to refer, namely “locally adapted."
The principle is that in order to maximize the Gospel’s impact, we need to recognize that our presentation of the Gospel must be adapted to the local culture. Western liberals have corrupted that principle by adopting change to the core values of the Gospel message. In so doing, they have allowed it to be overwhelmed by the surrounding culture to such an extent that their message has lost its power to save. That’s not what I’m suggesting! It is certainly not the core values of the Gospel that need to be changed, but every year around this time, I have the sense that we are missing a golden opportunity.
The Church’s liturgical calendar focuses on Advent in the run-up to Christmas. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year and its focus is on preparing for the return of Christ. In many congregations, it is a “mini-penitential” season, sort of “Get your act together, the boss will be back any second—look busy!” kind of thinking. That is good, right, and valuable, but a focus strictly on Advent means that there is no reference to Christmas at all until Christmas Eve. Starting with Christmas Eve, we then celebrate the weeks of Christmas (rightly), but many of our members and virtually all of our visitors find it bizarre that we are still talking about Christmas after the fact. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many people, even secular ones, are quite disillusioned by the commercialism of Christmas and have a sense that something is wrong, but they can’t seem to put their finger on what is wrong. In fact, Christmas, like Easter, is a central pillar of Christian civilization, with Christmas dealing with the wonders of Incarnation and Easter with Atonement and power to change.
In North America and the UK, the culture has shifted far away from the way that Christmas was woven into every day life in previous centuries. Now, not only do our villages not center around festivals of worship as did those of our ancestors, but most of us don’t have much in the way of community except online.
In addition, many Christians seem afraid to refer to Christmas for fear that they will offend someone. This, however, is a sure-fire way of offending me! I’ve told the clergy who work with me that anyone who sends me a Christmas card of skiing mice will be subject to some horrible retribution (which I have not yet devised, but will be terrible I’m sure!).
What I’m suggesting is not forgetting Advent, but overlapping Advent and Christmas in order to speak Gospel life into the culture at a time when there is some of the least resistance. This overlap is particularly easy to embrace when making choices for music during December.
For instance, look at verses two and three of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!”
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
or this from verses three and four from “O, Little Town of Bethlehem”
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!
Including Christmas music during Advent will certainly tumble the gyros of the “liturgically-precise,” but we need to capitalize on the opportunities we have to reach people with the Good News. Evangelism is different today from what it was thirty years ago. Directive, authoritative declarations of the Bible’s authority are less effective than are narrative stories of what is working in our lives. Those who face life without Christ are no less satisfied today than they were decades ago, but we do need to access their hearts differently from how we did in the 1970s. In the last two months, I’ve had the opportunity to pray with about forty people to make first time commitments to Christ. Certainly, I’ve been thrust into some fertile environments, but I’m sure that the opportunities could have been overlooked.
A more faithful approach to today’s Decembers should have the message of the birth of Christ and His amazing gift to us woven into the opportunities that present themselves to us. We should have the words of these songs in our hearts and on our lips during the time that those around us have any openness to hear. Retreating from engaging the culture, fearing criticism from naysayers, or choosing to stay silent for whatever reason is causing us to lose not only the battle for Christ and Christmas in everyday life, but also the battle for faithfully sharing the transformation that the Gospel brings to people’s lives.
Here is my invitation. Next year, will you join me in sharing about Christ in Christmas even before Christmas Eve? Will you build bridges to those who don’t know Him, capitalizing on the open doors that Christmas conversations offer?
What more do you need than the will to reach out and a message like:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!
It is not unusual for people to ask, “Why would a loving God allow death?” Usually, the question comes at a time when they are reeling from the death of a loved one with whom they have been close. It is very difficult to engage in a theological conversation of depth in that kind of pastoral environment. Since no one has asked me that for some weeks, I’ll use the opportunity to weigh in on it.
Death was not God’s initial plan. He is perfect. He is good, and He is eternal. He created things to be good and to be eternal like Him. Death entered into creation because men, who are free, have the capacity to sin and rebel, and the consequence of sin is death. Now, He allows death to assault us because the real issue we face is eternal separation from Him: Hell. Dealing with death is the closest challenge there is to being separated from Him forever.
It may seem that the way He has ordered the world makes him like a terrible schoolmaster who uses death to help to tutor us toward redemption and eternal life in Christ. Even so, that is what has happened. Death is still around because there is still a need.
In everyday life, it seems that many people escape the consequences of their actions. Last night, we were reading a book together that had been assigned reading for my granddaughter who is in fourth grade. It is called “The Indian in the Cupboard.” In it, deceiving parents, and even stealing whiskey from the parents liquor stash, is presented as normative but without any negative consequences for those actions. It is a surprising choice for a Christian school! It’s not that fourth graders should be shielded from everything that happens in the world, but it would be better to have choices presented with consequences.
Consequences are such a big deal to God that He even allows us to go through death. Kept in Christian perspective, however, death is not the great victor; Jesus is. In the light of the resurrection, we read, “Death where is your victory, grave where is your sting?” (I Cor 15:55) When we come to know Christ and His redeeming love, our hearts begin to be filled with the knowledge of the eternal life that has been wrought for us through His death. We no longer need to be prisoners of horrific fear; in fact, we can actually begin to live in the eternal life that has been won for us. While we still have to pass through death’s portal, now we can do so with our eyes fixed on Jesus and His redemptive power.
Rightly ordered, Gospel conversation will present the Good News of redemption in such a way that people will begin to know Christ and will begin to assimilate that redemption into their lives. Hopefully, the wonder of knowing Christ will impact the way they live, and even, eventually, the way they die.
Far worse than death itself is the prospect of being separated from the love of God for all eternity. Of course, we should be motivated by love to reach out to people with kindness and to share with them about God’s love. It is not particularly effective to try to preach people into the Kingdom from a fear of Hell; nonetheless, a genuine relationship with Christ does deliver people from eternal death. The assurance of His love for us and His relationship with us can carry us through terrible temporal times.
Last week, four young Iraqi boys all younger than fifteen years old were captured by ISIS. They were told that they would be killed unless they renounced their faith in Jesus and promised to follow The Prophet. They refused, saying, “No, we love Jesus.” As a result, all four were beheaded. Such things used to seem far away -- in a different land and a different age. Today, however, the truth is that those same pressures are coming against us. It could be any place and any time that we are challenged.
For decades now, we have been fighting the liberal message that there are no consequences from sin, either temporally or eternally. Many of us went so far as to break with those who preach this false Gospel. It is not that we insist on puritanical behavior because otherwise our sensibilities would be offended. Rather, we have stood up against the departure from Scriptural faith because the faith that we have received teaches us that to depart from it brings the consequence of eternal death. The battle has been about whether or not people go to Hell. A compassionate people could not wish Hell on anyone. We should be loving with such poignancy that our lives will have traction in other people’s lives. Hopefully, they will be able to hear the words that can free them. The reason we have fought so hard is not that we hate anyone, but rather that we love them. We do not want people to perish, not temporally and, especially, not spiritually for all eternity.
It is remarkable that behaviors such as pursuing other gods or sexual license can result in death, but it is so. In these news reports of Christian children in Iraq, we read, however, of young people who have so deeply experienced the Love of God that their faith is stronger than death. That is not the hope for a select few saints. It is the rightful inheritance of every Christian. God appears to be allowing things of that great magnitude because the weight of the consequences of sin is so utterly horrific—even worse than the consequences of death itself. He wants all people to find redemption in Christ and eternal life. The truth is that few people wander into a relationship with Christ. Most people come to Him when they are dealing with deep crises in their lives. For many, death is the ultimate question with which they have had to deal.
If it seems harsh to use death to help bring us to our senses, we need to remember that the price that comes from a life lost and unredeemed by Christ is far greater even than death. We would be well served to remember that there are issues that are salvation issues. We need to be committed to utter fidelity when it comes to those. No matter what it takes, we must stay faithful to present the truth regarding them. The failure to do so means that precious people that God loves (and we should love) will be lost for all eternity. This is really the heart of the divide that assaults today’s church and world. People might like to ignore the possibility that a person can be separated from Christ’s redeeming love. It may be hard, but sadly, many choose to do so. We are called to reverse the trend.
We do that by praying for people, demonstrating Christ’s love to them concretely, and then sharing with them about Who He is and how He can work in their lives. When people come to know Christ, the joy that He brings can overshadow anything that the world, the flesh, and the devil can throw at them.
We, too, can be people who can say, “No. We love Jesus.”
Aeronautical engineering is a tremendously precise discipline. Aircraft have to be made to exacting specifications. Mostly, they are not terribly complex. Instead, they are a giant conglomeration of lots and lots of simple, small machines or systems. Today, many planes “fly-by-wire,” using computers to position the flight surfaces on the wings and tail, but plenty of planes still have a system of cables and pulleys that turn the pilot’s inputs to the control yoke (or stick) into ups and downs of the ailerons and elevators. Foot pedals do the same thing for the rudder on the tail.
The tolerances of construction are very fine, however, regardless of how simple the system is on the plane. The reason is that it takes a lot of energy to lift the plane, and you don’t want to waste any unnecessarily. Systems must be robust enough to be reliable but not so over-engineered that they waste fuel and require oversized engines to make the bird fly.
Although there is a safety margin built in, in engineering terms, there is an absolute limit at which things will fail. Because there is always a whole range of factors at play, if a part needs to be strength “x” in order to work, then they will make it “x 2” or “x 3” so it will continue to work even when there are stressors in play, such as turbulence.
Usually, there are tradeoffs. For example, there is less stress on an aircraft when it is taking off than when it is landing. The “wing loading” is the same, but climbing into the air is not as violent on the airframe as is slamming onto a concrete runway at 150 mph or so. As a result, most aircraft can actually take off at a weight higher than that with which it can land. The reason is that it is going to burn off fuel as it flies and will be considerably lighter after crossing an ocean, for example. It is possible to make an aircraft so robust that it can land at its maximum take-off weight, but because it is very wasteful, it is not often done.
If an aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of say 325,000 pounds, it might have a maximum landing weight of 275,000 to 290,000 pounds. In flying across an ocean, an aircraft could use 100,000 pounds of fuel. Using pounds gives more exacting calculations than gallons. (100,000 pounds is about 14,700 gallons of fuel.) Let’s suppose the rest of the aircraft is fully loaded with people and cargo, so it is taking off at its maximum weight. If there is a problem and the aircraft has to return to its departure point immediately, it would have 25,000 to 50,000 pounds too much weight on board to land. Some weight can be jettisoned by throwing cargo and passengers overboard, but that is frowned upon for obvious reasons. Sometimes, a stricken plane will just fly in circles for hours until it burns enough off to land. That is problematic as well. If there is already a problem on board, putting off a landing for five or six hours has its own risks.
The solution to too much gas on board is to dump fuel. For those thinking that dumping thousands of gallons of fuel is an ecological disaster, it is not as bad as one might think at first. The fuel actually evaporates before it hits the ground. Of course, there are serious problems with the evaporated fumes polluting the air, but it’s not as bad as the liquid spill.
Some of the impact of the evaporated fuel is lessened as more air blows through and the pollutants are diffused, but not completely. Additional fuel dumps only add to the problem, and the environment gets more and more polluted. People may not notice the change, but the impact on the environment from fuel spills is cumulative and significant – far more significant than burning it for flight. A fuel dump is much worse than when the fuel burns. It is really important to take care with the impact from what is being done.
Now…press hold for a second.
We’ll get back to impacting the atmosphere shortly.
When I met “A” in Iran, he shared how he had come to know Jesus. He had heard some things about Jesus, but not much. When he was 19, he had a dream in whcih Jesus came to him revealing Himself as God and man. He told his parents about his dream one night just before going to bed. He woke up a few hours later to his mother screaming, and his father standing over him with a knife getting ready to stab him. Just before the knife came down on him, he was able to roll over and jump through the window beside his bed. Since then, he has no more contact with his family, but he has continued in his relationship with the Lord. He said that as costly as it was to follow Christ, it was worth it.
In East Africa, “L” was leading Friday afternoon prayers in a mosque. As he prayed, he had a vision of Jesus. It was powerful and consuming. He turned to the others there who were gathered for prayer and said, “I have just had a vision of Isa [the Arabic name for Jesus]. He is the Lord!” The others in the mosque jumped up and came for him in anger. He fled from the building and basically was never able to go back. He embodied giving up everything for Christ, but he would never consider it a sacrifice. He speaks of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
On the border between Uganda and Congo was a small town where “M” lived. He had never considered anything other than Isl*m because that was all he had known, but he also knew that his heart was longing for something more. Something was missing, but he didn’t know what it was. In the night, he had a vivid dream of Jesus coming to him telling him of the love of the Father. He had never heard anything like what he was hearing from Jesus in the dream. He awakened knowing that there was a different way to relate with God, and it was through Jesus Christ. He also knew that it would cost him everything to embrace Christ, but his experience was so compelling, he chose to do it. The hostility of his neighbors and family meant that he had to flee and resettle elsewhere.
These three examples of M**lims coming to Christ are only three of tens of thousands. As many as two thirds of those who come to faith in Christ do so as a result of a supernatural dream or vision.
How on earth does that relate to fuel dumps from aircraft impacting the atmosphere, you ask? Just as those who dump fuel into the atmosphere impact it dramatically, there is a way that we can impact the spiritual atmosphere.
Jesus told us to extend the Kingdom of God. We do so by preaching and teaching and reaching out in mission. We also do it through prayer. In fact, prayer is one of the great factors in many of the dynamic conversions that are coming about through dreams and visions. In Revelation 5 we read:
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
Imagine that the bowls of heaven, which are filled with the prayers of the saints (us!), are what God pours out in order to reach those of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” As we pray to extend His Kingdom, I imagine those bowls filling up. When they overflow, it is not hard to imagine the grace of the Kingdom pouring out of the bowls and into the dreams of those whose hearts are ripe. Of course we still do all we can to carry out mission, but in this season, more fruit with M**lims is coming from supernatural means.
Dumped fuel has a tremendous impact on the atmosphere. It is profound and negative. It should only be done when there is no other way to save lives. Joining in prayer for the extension of the Kingdom and the conversion of hearts and souls to Jesus Christ through all manner of means both natural and supernatural has a tremendous impact on the spiritual atmosphere. It is profound and life-giving. It does not cost anything but time, and it pays tremendous dividends.
By the way…you might wonder why I chose to spell M**lim or Isl*m with “*” instead of just spelling it out. It’s because of search engines. Radical M**lims can Google for articles that mention both Christ and Isl*m looking for ways to identify those whom they view are committing apostasy. A simple thing like an * in the spelling is just a safety net for our brothers and sisters in Christ who came from M**lim backgrounds.
A "Communion” is a relational network of churches and people who are “in Communion.” What that means in the literal sense is that they have Eucharistic fellowship; in other words, they have Holy Communion together. In the case of Anglicanism, it has been expanded to include a number of institutional protocols (like the transfer of clergy), but the heart of the arrangement is the ability to share Holy Communion.
When the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) moved away from Anglican faith and practice (especially with regard to sexual practice), many Provinces broke Communion with them. Both the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and the current one, Justin Welby, remained in Communion with TEC and the ACoC. They also have put heavy emphasis on the institutional structures. When many people in the U.S. and Canada separated from TEC and the ACoC, the institutional structures did not respond. The GAFCON Provinces were quick to recognize the new Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Very shortly thereafter, the regional fellowship called the Global South recognized the ACNA as well.
Recently, in response to questions posed to him while he was in Ireland, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that the ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion. It was a very bad week to posit that statement. Some very significant things happened that demonstrated that most of the Anglicans in the world do not agree with his assessment.
First Example: West Malaysia Consecration
Shortly after the TEC House of Bishops met in Taiwan, a group went to West Malaysia. They announced that they had heard about the consecration of a new assistant bishop that was about to take place, and they were there to participate. Leaders in the Anglican Church in Malaysia said, “You are welcome—to our country. You cannot participate in the service, however, because of the actions you have taken to tear the fabric of the Communion and you remain unrepentant. We are not in communion with you, so you cannot participate in the service.”
The visit was part of TEC’s initiative to demonstrate that they are fully part of the Communion and are in relationships with other Anglican Provinces, even though they have been deeply criticized for "tearing the fabric of the Communion." The tactic has been used in a number of places in Africa, where they visit, are received with hospitality (because that is the culture of those people), and then take pictures to demonstrate that there are no significant issues even though there may be disagreement over things like sexuality.
In this case, the TEC plan did not work in Malaysia. The leaders in the Diocese of West Malaysia are very well informed and steadfastly faithful. Not only did they turn TEC away, they knew I was traveling in South East Asia so they sent me a message: “Can you change your travel plans to be at the consecration we are having in Kuala Lumpur? We want to demonstrate that we are not in Communion with TEC, but we are in Communion with the ACNA. If you can get here, we’d like to make your visit highly visible.”
I was able to change my itinerary and arrived in time to participate in the Consecration, including the laying on of hands for Charles Samuel, consecrated as Assistant Bishop for the Panang district of the Diocese of West Malaysia. Here is the official photo:
I’m on the left with Bishop Rennis Poniah (Singapore). Newly consecrated Bishop Charles Samuel is in the middle flanked by his daughter on the right and his wife on the left. Directly behind Bishop Charles and just a bit left is Archbishop Bolly Lapok (Archbishop of South Easts Asia). The Bishop of West Malaysia, Ng Moon Hing, is right behind Bishop Charles’ daughter. Bishop Peter Takser of Sydney is on the back row right.
My invitation to participate in this consecration is not particularly significant because of me personally, but it is very significant. When the Diocese of West Malaysia (Province of South East Asia) refused to allow representatives of TEC to participate in the service and made a point of inviting me, a Bishop in ACNA, they demonstrated the fact that a paradigm shift has occurred in the Anglican Communion.
Second Example: Instruments of Unity
Historically, there have been four “Instruments of Unity” in the Anglican Communion. They are:
• The Archbishop of Canterbury
• The Primates' Meeting
• The Lambeth Council of Bishops (every ten years)
• The Anglican Consultative Council
During the last fifteen years, all four of the Instruments have been compromised:
At the Primates’ Meeting, repeatedly, the Primates would meet and make decisions and The Archbishop of Canterbury would either modify it or nullify it. That action was taken most stridently by ABp Rowan Williams’ overturning the Primates’ call from Dar es Salaam for TEC to turn back from their revisionist agenda. There were also decisions in Dromantine, Ireland, and well…actually in all the Primates’ meetings decisions were made and subsequently overturned. As a result, a large group of Primates have refused to attend Primates Meetings until the provisions of previous decisions are actually put in place.
The Lambeth Bishops’ Conference in 2008 failed to gather all the bishops. More than 300 bishops refused to attend because those who had consecrated Gene Robinson as a bishop were invited. It was in that environment that the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) was born and met in Jerusalem.
The Anglican Consultative Council’s agenda has been completely dominated by revisionists, causing many of the orthodox Provinces to lose interest.
Archbishop of Canterbury: Over the length of his tenure, ABp Rowan Williams skillfully steered the Communion in a way that has institutionally enshrined the practices that deeply tore the fabric of the Communion. Initially, there was great enthusiasm for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. ABp Welby shares the testimony that he came to faith in Christ through the Alpha movement and has experienced charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. His comments two weeks ago that the ACNA “is not part of the Anglican Communion” were met with stunned surprise by many Anglican leaders.
Third Example: A New Reality of Relationships
In 2008, GAFCON in Jerusalem called for the launching of a new Province in North America, one that would be faithful to Anglican formularies. Upon the launching of the ACNA in 2009, all the GAFCON Provinces made declarations of Communion.
Even more significantly, they wrote:
“While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
GAFCON then claimed for itself the ability to recognize “authentic Anglican bodies” where they were encountered. The efficacy of their decision to recognize the ACNA as genuinely Anglican is seen in the fruit that most of the Provinces of the Communion—and certainly the vast majority of the world’s active Anglicans—not only share Holy Communion with the ACNA, but they also share in ministry together.
My invitation to the consecration in Kuala Lumpur (especially in light of the dis-invitation of the people from TEC who had volunteered to attend) is a graphic example of the new reality. What actually happened at the consecration was not dictated by what the Archbishop of Canterbury thought or said; rather, it was constrained by the realities of relationships, both good and bad.
Fourth Example: Investiture of ACNA Archbishop
On Thursday night, October 11, 2014, Primates from the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (the ongoing ministry of GAFCON) and from the Global South led the investiture of Archbishop Foley Beach as the new Primate of the ACNA.
In the course of the service, the eight Primates who represent the leadership of the vast majority of the world’s active Anglicans said:
“Foley, we receive you as Archbishop and a Primate in the Anglican Communion.”
The next day, they reiterated that reception and expressly pledged their partnership and commitment to shared ministry in a written statement.
Next month, representatives from many mission-minded Provinces will join the Diocese of Singapore for a Mission Roundtable. The ACNA will be there. TEC will not. Canada will not. The people who believe the same things are getting on with the mission of the church. Those who believe different things are left stuck in an institutional quagmire that isn’t doing Gospel ministry.
Here’s the rub: The Anglican Communion is not going to re-align, it has re-aligned. It is true that the structures have not yet caught up with that reality, but the re-alignment has taken place. Increasingly, those who pursue the liberal agenda of TEC and insist on maintaining partnership with them are finding that the fruit of their actions will continue to be increased marginalization.
Last week, the church in Kenya, including the Finance Meeting, the Standing Committee, and the House of Bishops, gathered for the Provincial Synod. There were a host of issues, both national and international, discussed. Kenya, like every other nation, has many divisive problems. I’ll describe some of the findings, but they are not the only matters of importance. What was most remarkable was the godly atmosphere surrounding the conversations among the Bishops.
First, there was a report from the GAFCON-2 meeting that was held last October. Some of the Bishops had been skeptical that a conference could be held with that many people without plunging into debt. Their concerns were unfounded: in fact, every single expense was covered and there was a tiny positive balance after all the bills were paid. It was an amazing tribute to both the GAFCON leadership (especially Bishop Martin Minns) and the huge, organized, and dedicated local team from All Saints Cathedral Diocese, where a small army of volunteers was involved.
Having experienced meetings sponsored by the Anglican Communion Office, the bishops recognized that GAFCON-2 was a dramatic shift in many ways. At ACC meetings, little happens of spiritual substance, unless one includes things that are actually destructive to the Gospel. GAFCON-2, by contrast, was a revival retreat, with tracks and topics that allowed for Gospel mission and practical applications of Biblical principles to everyday ministry. Bishops also spoke about the rich offerings of resources for engaging Islam, doing development, and developing theological education (among many other things), which is exactly what GAFCON and its ongoing fellowship the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA) are all about.
“GAFCON is the future and its life. The ACC is dominated by Western liberals and doesn’t have any life to offer,” offered one of the senior bishops. There were many voices of agreement and no dissent.
When the “continuing Indaba” process came up, it received an energetic and vociferous rejection, being a fundamentally flawed and corrupt process. Many of the bishops agreed to stop participating in it, although some of the younger guys wanted to try “taking over” and rejecting the liberal agenda. That happened just before a break, during which considerable conversation occurred with them about the lies and corruption that have characterized ACC and Primates meetings.
On the positive side, the enthusiasm for GAFCON was reflected with a resolution to formally partner with GAFCON/GFCA, including establishing a budget line-item toward financial support of GAFCON. That proposal was approved both by the House of Bishops and then later by the Provincial Synod without dissent!
Women as Bishops
When Archbishop Eliud introduced the topic of Women as Bishops, many bishops were expecting a contentious debate. What actually happened, though, was a reflection on the years of relationship building that ABp. Eliud has emphasized. For instance, there have been ministry times and wonderful meetings with SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad) teams. Last year, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, who does not ordain women, was on a SOMA team with ACNA Bishop John Guernsey, who does ordain women; during that time, prayer and relational healing took place that caused the Bishops to emerge even more unified than ever.
As the Kenyan House of Bishops met to consider the topic, the conversation was spirited but, at all times, remained collegial and respectful. As the conversation proceeded, many points were brought out, including the fact that this issue is not impacting only Kenya, but that relationships with other Provinces would be impacted as well. Different Bishops warned of taking action that would be in opposition to Nigeria’s position. Others said that a decision to include women as bishops at this time would also be damaging to relationships with the Anglican Church in North America because it is such a high priority for a significant number of leaders. I didn’t have to bring that up; others thought of it, too.
An interesting point is that not one Province that has women bishops has remained orthodox. Although it may not be a cause-and-effect relationship, the situation is so unsettling that it begs inquiry to try to determine what actually is occurring before proceeding with making a decision.
As problem solving, prayer, and conversation proceeded, a proposal was suggested to engage in a prayerful theological study and conversation with GAFCON partners to seek a theologically sound consensus. While the discussions proceed, a five-year moratorium on women candidates as bishop was proposed.
In the end, that is what passed: a five-year moratorium on considering women as candidates for bishop while prayerful, theological study is done in conversation with other GAFCON Provinces (and a few other Provinces who are committed to orthodoxy).
Another matter that was mentioned was the need to address the cultural pressures that are at play. In general, voices outside the church are pushing for removing gender from any role and trying to advance acceptance of same-sex relationships.
Given the fragile nature of orthodox alliances because of organized pressures against them, it is a tremendously important development that the Kenyan Bishops are attentive to other Provinces’ concerns as well as their own. They are not foolishly trying to reconcile matters that cannot be reconciled, as theological agreement cannot be reached with liberals on the issues concerning sexual behavior or Christology, but they were concerned to find consensus where ever they can. It is also remarkable that they were not willing to take the bait of the Western leaders, who feast on the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and jump ahead without consultation, convinced that they must be right because it is they who are doing the deciding.
This desire for agreement does not mean that there are no issues to discuss. For instance, the question of women as bishops is not settled. A conservative process with a cooked and pre-determined outcome would be as corrupt as a liberal one. This is a true inquiry, and it is being done in the context of relationship with other leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to Biblical authority.
I have never been more proud of these Bishops than I was at this meeting. They faced critically important issues full on and did not back off. They did so with maturity and collegiality, each caring for and being respectful of the position of others. In the end, the passage of a resolution without dissent did not indicate that there are no bishops who support women as Bishops. There are. They support unity with their brethren, as well, and that guided the day.
For "official" military photos, one is not allowed to smile. That must have been difficult for my grandfather. Shortly after I was born, "war" broke out in Korea. My father was shipped over to the "police action" in Korea as an infantry officer. It was not a long time since my father had spent years in the jungles of the Philippines in World War II. Any adult male influence in my life would have been missing had it not been for my Grandfather. He had just retired from a long career in the Army, and so I spent time with him every day. I still remember his crooked smile, the way he would wave with two fingers, and the many pithy sayings he offered. Somehow, my daughter found this picture of him and got it printed and framed for me for my birthday this year. It certainly is bringing back loads of memories.
I've mentioned previously how he used to carry me around and whisper the motto from West Point, from which he graduated in 1916 to race overseas for WW I, where he served at Château-Thierry. Because of the limited range of weaponry back then, his assignment to Horse Artillery was in the thick of the battle.
U.S. Horse Artillery Batteries in France
"Duty, Honor, Country," he would whisper so quietly even a person standing beside us would never hear, but I heard it, and it settled into my spirit and soul. To this day, I am moved by schmaltzy small town Fourth of July parades with American Flags on fire trucks. He was more a Father figure than a Grandfather for me for the five years my Father was away, and the "toddler speak" name I assigned to him was Daddy Pick.
Periodically, when something would break or someone would make a big mistake that impacted others, he would sigh and say, "Address your painful problem today or address a worse problem tomorrow." Then he would address the problem and usually fix it. When other people would fail to address a problem and it mushroomed out of control, he would say, "See. The painful problem became a worse problem."
"There are three ways to learn something," he would say. "Precept, example, and horrible example!" Obviously, precept (where you figure it out before the crisis crashes down on you) is best. Horrible example is worst because it is, well... horrible!
There is something beating in most human hearts that longs for significance, longs for love and intimacy, and longs for freedom. I say most, because some hearts are so twisted or so wounded that they try to find their place, not from the cultivation of the fruit of the spirit, but from the pursuit of the world and the flesh. The pursuit of Jesus Christ and Biblical faith is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-3). Under the influence of the evil one, instead of pursuing God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Person of the Holy Spirit, the individual on a dark journey pursues the world, the flesh, and, ultimately, the devil. It is a dark descent into a chasm of terrible evil. We are seeing that manifest around the world today in staggering proportions.
The places where the Gospel has prevailed as the focus of social order are not perfect (they have people in them!), but they have an abundance of Gospel fruit. Stability, peace, education, prosperity, families, philanthropy, and generosity tend to increase when people follow Christian teaching. Where there are gaps in the teaching and relationship with Christ, there will also be gaps in the fruitfulness of the society. Where the principles of Christian living are deeply engrained in the culture, there is more fruit. Though liberal revisionists try to deny it (sometimes with elaborate deceptions about the founding of the U.S.), it is Biblical faith and Judeo-Christian fidelity that shaped the foundations of the United States.
One of the mistakes of foreign policy that the U.S. has made has been thinking that it was obvious that everyone longs to be free and is ready for democracy. While that may be true for most people, there are two things that also need to be said. First, a culture cannot move past multiple paradigms into free republican democracy in one step. Coming from feudalism or despotism, there are steps that need to be taken, and they cannot be skipped.
This is true not only for political organizations but also for many other areas of life and culture. For example, when a culture has been living with a model characterized by nomadic herdsman or subsistence farming, it is not possible to have them jump to internet banking. One has first to introduce the concept of cash, and then have people develop through a cash society, and then a banking society economic model. After banking, comes credit and "plastic" tools for economics. Ultimately, internet banking and a truly "cashless society" can emerge. Of course, if that is not managed well, then there is a bubble that bursts and, worst case, the culture goes back to a barter economy!
The same thing happens politically. To move from a patriarchal (or matriarchal) society, other models have to be introduced. Instead of having an extremely disbursed social structure based on familial lines, central authorities have to be established. That form can be feudal, monarchial, or despotic. When a culture has lived with little or no freedom, it is a tremendous adjustment for people to manage the choices they now have. Many people will find the transition all but overwhelming and will be stuck in place, waiting for someone to tell them what to do when faced with a choice that is outside their base of experience. The skills and tools of decision-making need to be learned and developed.
During the last several weeks, I've been talking about the terrible situation in the Middle East. From early U.S. Air Force days in the 1970s, when I used to travel through the Middle East flying embassy mail runs and support, through ministry trips more than twenty years ago, I've watched a lot happen. Some successful mission opportunities have planted some seeds of entrepreneurialism.
In the 90s, I traveled through Kurdistan and taught about underground church planting, using home cell groups for evangelism as free-standing churches were almost impossible to build. Here is a group I traveled with in the 90s, teaching cell group evangelism while they pursued water well drilling. This is the same area where today, ISIS is wreaking such havoc.
When U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, things were pretty stable at first, but there were several underlying fissures that made it difficult for that stability to be lasting. First, the people had lived for generations under despotic control. There were some cosmopolitan people in the cities, but in the rural areas there were three constants, herding, farming, Islam (either Shia or Sunni, depending on the area), and despotic control from a pretty much feudal warlord. Whoever had the most fire-power was the local decision-maker. Whoever cobbled together the most military weaponry was in charge. Decisions from Sadaam were far off and few between, though often sweeping, including such things as conscription and taxes.
The failure of Western leaders to understand the Shia-Sunni divide has led to disastrous consequences. It is even beyond images that describe Islamic difference like those between Christians. It is very difficult for Westerners to understand the Sunni-Shia divide. Never one to shrink from a challenge, I'll share some points about that. The reason we need to learn about it is simple. If we don't address our painful problem now, we'll have to address a more painful one tomorrow. History in dealing with Islam has proven this point over, and over, and over, and over, and over ad nauseam.
All Muslims believe what are called the five pillars of Islam. They are:
Sawm -Fast during Ramadan
Hajj -Pilgrimage to Mecca
The Shahadah -Pledge the faith
Salat -Practice Ritual Prayer
Zakat -Give charity to the poor.
Fasting during Ramadan is refraining from eating from Sunrise to Sundown. During Ramadan, Muslim cultures have "tickers" scrolling across the bottom of TV screens to show when Sundown is. People will be lined up outside restaurants in large number when the declaration is made that it's Sundown and [essentially] "time to party."
The Hajj حج is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims date back to the time of Abraham, but it was certainly advanced during Muhammad's time. It is considered the religious duty of every adult Muslim who is physically and financially deemed able to fulfill the Hajj. They are called istita'ah. One who fulfills the visit is called a mustati. The Hajj includes many acts of prayer, ceremonial walking around the Ka'aba (a building in the shape of a cube), and drinks from the Zamzam Well زمزم (where Abraham's son Ishmael received water miraculously from God). There are also many other things.
The Shahadah الشهادة is basically a testimony. In its short form, it is the familiar statement, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." This is basically the call to prayer that is heard over loudspeakers from Mosques. The call to prayer expands it to repeat things about the "greatness of Allah" and a call to prayer, which is also called a "call to success."
Zakat زكاة is the giving of charity to the poor. In practice, it is actually often just giving to the Mosque. It is through this principle that a great deal of funding for groups that Westerners find suspect occurs.
Sadly, agreement on those "Five Pillars of Islam" is not enough to keep Sunnis and Shia together. Where the two groups diverge is on the succession of leadership following Muhammad's death. Shia, which is the short form of Shīʻatu ʻAlī شيعة علي, are those who believe that the succession passed through Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law. The leader of Islam is called the Caliph. Ali, therefore, is the first Imam. The anointing can even extend to the point of infallibility, and can address social and political issues in addition to religious ones. There is widespread (though not ubiquitous) belief that the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdī will return as the savior who will return to establish peace and justice. He will come with Isa (the Arabic name for Jesus), but it is the al-Mahdī (12th Imam) who will reign to provide peace, not Jesus.
The Sunni Muslims believe that the succession went to and through Abu Bakar, who became the first Sunni Caliph instead of Ali, whom they reject. It is critically important to understand that Sunnis believe that as culture evolves, Islamic law and rulings must evolve as well. Though they are the majority, about a third of Muslims are Shia. The Shia lean toward favoring the return to 7th-century social structure and Islamic practice. That is problematic for the world.
Before the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Sunni Muslims controlled Iraq, even though they did not represent the majority of Muslims in Iraq. When Saddam fell, Shias came into power. Al Malaki became the leader in 2006. He allowed, or even fostered, retribution by Shias towards Sunnis. In the military, the Shia generals who had been highly trained by the U.S. forces were fired and replaced with political hacks, appointed by Al Maliki. The result was a headless organism. When conflict rose from the radical Shia ISIS, the generals who had been put in place through nepotism fled and left the forces without leadership. Reports are that as few as 400 ISIS troops overran Mosul, which had forces of something like 10,000 troops under arms. In fact it was a command and control problem. There was no command, so the Iraqi Army had no one controlling it. After the 400 were in place and were the visible control in Mosul, thousands of new recruits and reinforcements from Syria came flooding in. ISIS control is unspeakably brutal. People were unwilling to resist because they did not want to be killed and have their families tortured.
To make matters even more complex, the ISIS terrorists reject most of the Shia as being heretics because of their position on succession. It’s odd that they don’t resonate with the more “fixed” view of Islam from the Shia. At the same time, ISIS views many Sunnis with suspicion. Pretty much, they march to their own violent drum beat.
Had the plans for democratization of Iraq included work to have the two sects functionally reconciled and cooperative, there could have been a very different story. After the fall of Saddam was the perfect opportunity to introduce the principles that gave rise to English, European, and American strength. That, of course, was the Gospel. Sadly, that was never a strategy to share what could make chaotic Iraq stabilize. Add in some very high-profile examples of poor moral leadership among Allied troops in Iraq, stir in terrible cultural forces in the West like pornography, greed, and MTV, and the outlook was not rosy.
It has been said that the U.S. forces had to leave because the White House was unable to negotiate a "Status of Forces" agreement with Al Maliki. In fact, there was no will from the Obama White House to press for one, as the return of troops from Iraq to the U.S. was considered a political victory. Had the U.S. absolutely insisted, troops could have stayed and could have worked for social order that fostered Sunnis and Shia working together. Sadly, there was no will to engage that effort nor the appreciation of how important it was. It was simply viewed by the "bird-in-the-hand" U.S. politicians as expedient to get the troops home. Now, failing to deal with the painful problem has paved the way for a worse problem to emerge. This one is not one discerned by precept or example. It is a HORRIBLE EXAMPLE, and will be exported. Over the weekend, social media sites were posting new threats of ISIS members, who say they are heading toward the now intentionally non-existent border between the U.S. and Mexico. While the overwhelming majority of the people are motivated by seeking better financial and social circumstances, with millions and millions of people being indiscriminately welcomed into the U.S., without a doubt there are some very, very bad people among the millions.
There are only two ways to deal successfully with the radicals: either overwhelming military subjugation or conversion to Christ. Western Christians (for Europe is in the same mess) need to understand that fact. Sadly, it would be a big surprise if conversion alone will work as a strategy. It may well be that extensive military force will be necessary to stem the tide of violent subjugation until the Church can get its act together to share the Gospel in meaningful ways.
The great challenge is that we must not just "do something!" We must do what is right. Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized that he came to the place as a Christian disciple where intervention by force was the only justifiable course for him. Like it or not, we may soon face similar choices in what has been for many, a very comfortable experience of faith up to this point. The failure to do what is right has allowed this crisis to develop. Of course, not everyone did bad things. Just not enough did good things were done. Certainly, not enough senior leaders properly diagnosed the situation. Engaging it now is smarter than waiting.
People may be getting tired of hearing about this kind of thing. Too bad. More is coming. Some in precepts from me. Some in horrible examples from ISIS.
We continue with Part II of the Gospel Under Attack.
Wake up and smell the sulphur…
The second great vulnerability is in our lack of engagement with Islam.
Look at this recent map of the holdings of ISIS (also known as ISIL).
The “Islamic State” group(s) want to establish a stateless caliphate in which Sharia Law rules. Qānūn-e Islāmī (قانون اسلامی ), Islamic law, means “the moral code,” but it would be better understood to be an Islamic worldview imposed everywhere. Remember that “Islam” means “submission.” That is the heart difference between Islam and the Christian faith. When we come to Christ, He sets us free. In Islam, the law is imposed upon us. The militants who are advancing militarily believe that states need to be toppled and people need to:
(1) convert to Islam,
(2) pay dhimmi-unbeliever’s tax (which is crushing second class citizenship),
(3) flee, or
That is what they are imposing on the Yazidi and Christians in the Mosul area, and will everywhere they get the chance.
The gravity and strategic significance of the map above is revealed when one overlays the road system of Iraq on it. Notice how virtually every road is dominated by ISIS troops.
These are not just the major roads, in most cases they are the only roads. That means that they can completely control the area if they can control the ground transportation, especially in the absence of US air power.
Apart from the Ramadi-Rutba Road, all of northern Iraq is under ISIS control, save Kurdistan. A tiny number of troops are utterly controlling vast areas of territory, and inflicting horrible violence on the population. This atrocity absolutely requires a strategic response. Not only must we respond in this location, we need to engage with Islam in other areas as well.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the very top Islamic leaders in another nation. He was quite engaging, and our conversation had a lot of favor on it. Things went so well, that we decided to proceed from our meeting to lunch. Much to the amazement of the “aides” who were along, I took the opportunity to respond to what I believed to be an inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (please note, I am not advocating adopting this as a wholesale strategy for Islamic engagement. I believe, though, that it was the right thing for this time.)
I was not sure where things would lead when I said to him, “Most of the time, all our interfaith conversations are limited to topics around which we can find agreement. Things like weather and superficial topics. Would you like to invest our lunch-time conversation in identifying the areas about which we completely disagree?”
He replied, “Yes,” that it would be an “interesting conversation.”
We went on to discuss the central difference of the understanding of who Jesus is. He came from the perspective of Jesus being a holy prophet. I came from the orthodox position that He is God and man—two natures in one person––fully God and fully man. The conversation was lively and quite animated, but very congenial. Neither of us was really expecting to change the mind of the other. Eventually, the conversation took an interesting turn. To this point, we had communicated well with good will. Even though there was disagreement, we were developing a friendship. We had talked about the extremists with whom he had to deal, and I was able to speak sincerely about some Christians who say and do things that are not helpful. With the relational equity that was developing, we were able to even talk about atonement—the concept of how we who are separated from God by sin can be “at-one” with Him.
I have found that a wonderful way to engage in cross-cultural conversation is to ask a question, but it must be one genuinely framed. I said, “Could I ask something about atonement – how we become one with God—or you may say ‘closer to God’?”
He replied, “Yes, of course.”
I asked, “For Christians, we become one with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. In keeping with the sacrificial system of the Pentateuch (which Muslims accept to be authoritative), Jesus Christ, Who is both God and sinless man, freely offered Himself as a sacrifice fulfilling the demands of the Old Testament sacrificial system, pouring his life-blood into our curse of separation and death so that we can be restored to intimacy with God the Father from whom we have been estranged. Isn’t there a parallel with radical Muslims who believe that they must shed their own blood in order to inherit Paradise? Aren’t they relying on shed blood, too?”
“Yes,” he said. “Though many of us would not agree with them. Some, perhaps many, are doing that.”
“Would that blood sacrifice be sufficient to bring a person into intimacy with God as Father?” I asked.
“We would not think in those terms—Paradise for us is different from that,” he replied.
“What if God Himself were to shed His own blood? What could that win? What could that produce?” I asked.
“I will have to think on that,” he said. “Perhaps for another conversation.”
Please understand, I am NOT suggesting such a line of conversation with Muslims you might meet. I do think that we must engage Muslims with meaningful dialogue. We have been so disappointed with the fruit (or lack of it) from dialogue in our own tribe, we may well be hesitant to engage in it with Muslims. We must rethink that. At least some of us need to become equipped to have those conversations. All of us need to be mobilized to pray as a matter of urgency that the Lord will anoint substantive conversations. I firmly believe that when the Gospel is given a level playing field in conversation and life experience, it will win the day.
Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America has called us to pray diligently for the situation in Iraq and Syria and other places where Christians are under assault from radical Islam. To fail to do so will be devastating for the Christians who live in those regions. It will also be at our own peril. If not stopped now, it will march until it is next door.
Now, in addition to looking for the right places for conversation with Muslims, I pray for my new friend. I also pray that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ will visit him in his dreams and experiences. I can hardly wait until we get to speak again.
This week, I’d like to share about two areas where the Gospel is particularly under assault.
Not everything claiming to be benign actually is…
The first area of attack on the Gospel is occurring in the Church.
There is nowhere in the Church where there is more vulnerability for the Gospel to be undermined than in the Anglican Communion. Certainly, there are other churches and denominations where the historic faith has been more fully and formally abandoned by the official decisions of institutional leadership, but the current vulnerability in the Anglican Communion is that the historic faith and Gospel commitment that have driven missionary zeal and Biblical fidelity for centuries are being de-emphasized in order to “get along.”
Right now, there are countless initiatives at the institutional level to attempt to convince people that the “cut-glass crystal punch bowl” is so beautiful that when it is polished, preserved, and appreciated, the recipe of the punch it contains is unimportant. The challenge, however, is how much adulteration to the punch is acceptable. I addressed the House of Bishops in one of our Anglican Provinces and pointed out that the soup that was being made (to switch metaphors) has lovely carrots, beautiful potatoes, succulent chicken, and tasty broth. “How much manure can be added to the soup before you no longer can consume it and stay healthy?” I asked them. Not surprisingly, they did not want to have any manure added to the soup, and yet, quite a number of them were participating in conferences sponsored by liberal entities that completely undermine the Gospel, replacing it with institutional focus and uncritical acceptance of sin.
While I was tremendously excited at the selection of Justin Welby as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and had hoped and prayed for his selection believing that he was the best of the available candidates, I have been concerned at what appears to be a perspective that everything can be reconciled with everything else. Whereas most relational disruptions can be reconciled, theological positions are another matter. It is impossible, for example, for the position “Jesus is Lord of all” to be reconciled with “Jesus is not Lord of all.” Although theological disagreements may not seem to be that stark, it is precisely that revelation that is at stake in the Anglican Communion. The Lordship of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and how He viewed Scriptural authority are very much in play.
It is admirable to have loving “welcomes” for all people, but everyone needs to be welcomed to come into a relationship with the Savior. The current plan by senior leaders in the Church of England to bless relationships of same-sex sexual intimacy may seem to be a wonderful welcome so that people can then later be won to Christ, but what is the character of the Christ that is being presented? When Jesus validated Scriptural authority (every jot and tittle), He certainly could have made exceptions for some things of moral law had He chosen to do so, but He did not. He certainly dismantled tenets of the ceremonial law. Rather than making changes to moral law as well, He instead called us to an even higher standard. Same-sex sexual intimacy is proscribed by Scripture because it is incompatible with Godly living. The spiritual and physical health consequences are terrible. Sadly, virtually everyone overlooks the truth that there are Biblically proscribed behaviors that have devastating consequences to people’s bodies—as well as to their souls and spirits.
I heard with my own ears Archbishop Welby describe the plan to allow for blessing of some same-sex relationships while “holding the line against same-sex marriage.” That is no comfort. In a marriage, the Church does not “marry” the people. The people marry each other. In fact, the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament. The role of the priest is to evaluate the circumstances of the union and if they conform to the teaching of the Church, pronounce blessing over the union. Pronouncing a blessing over that which God does not bless is no blessing at all. It is, instead, a fantasy that leaves people on a dangerous path spiritually and even physically. The Archbishop is in many, many, respects a wonderful man. However, on this point, I believe he is tragically wrong.
What we need to do is recapture the majesty of the Gospel. Rightly lived and proclaimed, it should offer a lavish welcome to sinners, because that’s what we all are. The Gospel then embraces us for Christ’s sake so magnificently that we are fundamentally changed. We actually get a new nature and begin to be able to become like Him who saves us. We are not “stuck” with the way we were. Our new horizons are the horizons of Jesus. What is possible for us is what He deems possible. It is to His values and horizons that He draws us. Granted we have far to go, but we cannot proceed while shackled in a false, ungodly belief that thinks we get to choose which part of our lives to submit to Christ. The fallacy that we get to decide what is good and what is evil is not only the same mistake that wrecked things in the Garden, it still burdens lives and robs freedom, leaving people stuck in “less than” lives. We should love them better. The dialogue that is being promoted and advanced among Anglicans is not an honest one. The “Continuing Indaba” project is an utterly corrupt process of manipulation designed only to advance the liberal agenda. That kind of conversation can never bear godly fruit. We need a different kind of conversation where the Gospel can be plainly, lovingly, and powerfully demonstrated and then spoken about. Only then can there be resolution.
When I was serving as a USAF pilot, I used to fly over “Batman,” Turkey. For Westerners, it is a memorable name due to the fictional crime-fighting hero of the same name. Rather than referring to the “Caped Crusader,” it probably is just a diminution of “Bati Raman,” a mountain near the small town that took its name. It also became a unit of measure in Turkey that is equal to 7.7 kg or about 16.96 pounds–wherever that is from!
On the ground, I’ve traveled through the area on the way from Diyarbakir to Silopi and Zakho (right above the Q in Iraq on the map) and into Kurdistan. Even back then, some years ago, the border at Zakho was not really a border. There were lots of guys with guns who wanted to look at passports, but none of them was part of the Iraqi government. They were Kurds who were overseeing the area by force. There were plenty of citizen soldiers called peshmerga, and they all had AK-47 assault rifles or Rocket Propelled Grenades and plenty of ammo. Tons of ammo. Ammo like it was going out of style! There were lots of guards and lots of guns.
The area from Duhok to Mosul has fairly good roads, but it is dominated by vast areas of prairie. The environs were too unstable from fighting to support much agriculture. In fact, the only jobs that were available were as taxi drivers or armed guards. Even back then the environment was pretty wild. A great source of entertainment was to go to the dammed-up lakes and fire tracer rounds across the reservoirs (Mosul and Dokan). Tracer rounds are bullets that have phosphorous on the tip so they trace an arc on the path of the bullet. Bullets from an AK-47 leave the barrel of the gun at more than 2,300 feet per second. That is almost half a mile per second. Watching the arc of the bullet traveling at this speed is intimidating, indeed. Amazingly, lots of people had AK-47s and plenty of ammunition. In fact, so many did that one seemed somewhat underdressed to appear without heavy armament.
The point of all that is not to endorse the presence of so many guns but to illustrate how utterly ubiquitous machine guns are in the area. It is not a “walk-in-the-park” for ISIS to engage the Kurds. They are fierce and know how to fight, and, although it is a rag-tag kind of “fiercedom,” it is, nonetheless, imposing. The Kurds, however, cannot stand for long without re-supply.
During the last few days, the highly trained and well-armed Islamic State fighters have continued to move across Iraq, supplied by vast resources from Syria. Along the way, they have captured high-tech U.S. weaponry and vehicles. They also have raided banks and accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to finance further engagements. They did so in numbers sufficient to declare the border between Syria and Iraq to be dissolved, fitting with their plan to establish a state-less Caliphate under which hard-core Sharia Law (Muslim law that is just as brutal today as it was in the 8th century) would reign. They captured the Mosul Dam and then lost it when U.S.-led airstrikes came against them. But they are not in retreat. They believe they are on a mission.
Recently, I was reading an article by an Islamic scholar who was saying that any references to violence were only referring to self-defense. He cited this verse:
“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
The scholar used this verse as an example of Muslims defending themselves when under assault by Christians. (In this verse, “polytheists” refers to Christians because of the belief in the Trinity.) While it may well be true that there are some Muslims who view such verses as describing self-defense, the Islamic State terror-troops do not see it that way. They view the Qur’an verses such as this one (and MANY others) as the mandate to press into Iraq and seek to establish the Caliphate by force.
The areas where Christians, Jews, and moderate Muslims are being slaughtered are filled with quiet towns and gracious people who have lived together for 2,000 years or more. They need our prayers and support. Though there are more troops in Iraq now from ISIS, the first gains were done by only 3500 troops who advanced with speed, precision, and breathtaking violence against unarmed people.
Those who think this is something happening only in far off lands need to wake up. It could happen elsewhere very easily. In fact, it already is. For instance, in Belgium, a movement called Shariah4Belgium is pushing for establishing Sharia law as the ruling force. Graffiti in Belgium shows "Welcome to Belgistan." Islam, according to one report, "is flexing its muscle." Girls in bikinis have been attacked, Jewish and Christian symbols have been vandalized, and Sharia law has been enforced in Muslim areas. The movement intends to rule Belgium . . . and the world. The high Muslim birth rate is changing the economic and social landscapes. In Antwerp, already approximately 40% of children in schools are Muslim. The movement's leader has predicted "a wave of Sharia law across the West," as well. (http://www.westernjournalism.com/heres-next-country-taken-sharia-law/)
It is a spiritual war. Yesterday, Pope Francis spoke about the need for force against the atrocities of ISIS. He described the use of military force as a “Just War.” That is an indication of how desperately evil this advance is.
In addition to air strikes and aid airdrops, we need to marshal our resources to pray against this advance with all the utter earnestness that we can muster. Against it, we must employ spiritual warfare. We must fast and pray and listen to the voice of the Lord for how to engage, but engage we must for we will be engaged eventually, even if we seek to avoid conflict.
The ACNA Conclave, Council, and Assembly
Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
And lighten with celestial fire
These ancient words of the Veni Creator were said and sung many times over the three days that the Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America met in conclave. As the church waited, the bishops met for three full days to discern who the next Archbishop would be.
The Anglican Church in North America, like other Provinces, is made up of people who have many different points of emphasis and different understandings of priorities. Rather than engaging in a political process in which groups rally not only to win but also to defeat others, our bishops reported that they were committed to discerning the person whom God was calling and anointing to lead as the next Archbishop. They also said that they were committed to doing so in a way that unites the church. In order to do that, bishops shared their hearts and priorities. To engage differences in a way that preserves relationships took open communication and time—in fact, almost three full days.
There were several things that were notable and encouraging during the “conclave” where the next Archbishop was selected. First of all, each of the bishops was given three minutes to share what was on his heart with regard to the church and his view of the direction and priorities for the next phase of our life together. A lot of time was devoted to worship and prayer, with Scripture being both read and acclaimed as authoritative. Bishops also had time to share their sense of “words from the Lord,” as distinguished from personal points of view, for which there was also ample time to share. Each time someone spoke, time was allotted for weighing the words that had been given, seeking not only to honor our thoughts and decisions but also to listen to what God was saying. Naturally, this is something which must be weighed very carefully and measured against Scripture, but the fact that God’s voice and guidance are taken seriously is a great encouragement.
Much of the time was spent articulating different senses of direction for the future of the church, and that resulted in an agreement of what was needed for the present. The process led to prayers of repentance and acts of reconciliation, prayers, brotherly hugs, and even tears. As relationships were strengthened, agreement was reached on what next steps to take and how to engage challenges emerged. In many ways, this was a time of “being the church” and “doing the work of the church.” As trust increased, consensus grew more readily, ultimately resulting in enthusiastic and unanimous selection of the new Archbishop. On Sunday afternoon, the bishops’ shout of acclamation rose from the crypt under the Basilica as they reached their decision and was heard by those nearby.
DuncanPreachingThe bishops are earnestly united and expectant for our common life and ministry as we celebrate the selection of our new Archbishop, look forward to the next season of ministry with joy more united than ever, and move ahead to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Following the election of the Most Rev. Foley Beach as the new Archbishop, the Executive Committee and Cabinet met, preparing items for the Council. The Council, which is a body of Bishops, Clergy, and Lay people, debated and refined the business items and budget of the Province, which were then presented to the full Assembly. The Assembly is the broadest decision-making body of the Province. It has the power to enact what is presented or send it back to the Executive Committee and Council to be re-worked, both of which have happened in the past. It provides an opportunity for the most broadly based shared decision-making in the Province and allows for ownership of decisions through the Province.
Most of the Assembly time focused on pursuing the mission of the Church, with inspiring plenary sessions given by people like Eric Metaxis (Author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy), Os Guinness, and evangelical icon Dr. J.I. “Jim” Packer (a dear friend). The intent was to encourage and further equip the church to reach North America (and the world!) with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. It was hugely successful.
Of course, there was discussion of the Anglican 1000 movement, to “plant the first 1,000 new congregations.” The call from Archbishop Duncan five years ago for our brand new church to plant 1000 new ones was inspirational. It was also viewed as impossible. In fact, about 500 new churches have already been planted, with many, many more in process. It is a remarkable achievement and has resulted in many lives being transformed. It is part of our common life that will not be abandoned.
During the last twenty years I have visited countless diocesan and Provincial Synods all around the world. I have been privileged to be a plenary speaker at about a dozen Provincial Synods around the Anglican Communion. As encouraging and wonderful as those meetings have been, the content and character of our Assembly here in North America (admittedly exhausting!) was as wonderful as one can find anywhere in the Anglican world. In fact, it was head and shoulders above the wrangling and political posturing that often takes place in some other Provinces. Those who are part of the Anglican Church in North America can be very proud of what is happening. Those in other Provinces would do well to take note. We must grow in many areas, but there are also many things that can be learned from this young Province. The Lord is helping us reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Where’s North? Navigating the Globe
The magnetic North Pole isn't actually at the point of the axis of the spinning earth. The magnetic North Pole is actually a moving target that is located near Resolute Island in Northern Canada. It is a "force field" that moves because of the molten magma underneath the earth's surface. It is actually moving in sort of a race-track circuit, but that could change. The center of the magnetic field used to move at approximately10 miles per year, but that speed has been increasing. This year, it is going to move about 40 miles, and it currently is just under 500 miles from the "spinning pole."
For those of us who live a long way from the top of the world, the difference isn't terribly significant. It is accounted for by adjusting for "magnetic deviation." In North America, to find "True North" one must adjust the reading of a magnetic compass according to the chart below. In other words, in Texas if you want to go toward the True North (what I call "Spinning North" where the axis of the earth is), in Alabama, you can actually steer straight for the N on the magnetic compass. In Texas, depending on where you are, you need to adjust between 5˚ and 10˚. When one has a West declination, it is considered negative. When one has an East declination, it is considered positive.
This means that if you are in California and you steer toward the “ " thinking you are "actually" going North, you will be off course – way off course. A 3˚ error leaving New York is enough to cause you to hit Africa instead of Europe! A 15˚ error is catastrophic! As one goes farther and farther North, the declination gets even greater. Not only that, when one actually gets close to the magnetic pole, the compass becomes completely worthless and just spins around in a circle, seemingly randomly, causing profound disorientation.
In order to cope with this, two systems have been designed. One is the GPS system, which is now very familiar. The other is a special navigation system that is used in the Northern latitudes called "Grid Navigation." Technically, "Grid" is the projection of the polar stereographic projection, (the zenithal orthomorphic) that draws lines parallel to the Greenwich meridian and allows for accurate navigation, regardless of the magnetic irregularities. Suffice it to say that technical understanding of Grid Navigation is necessary for only a handful of technical people. The point, however, is that one can navigate accurately only if accurate and true standards are used.
Principle of Navigation in our Lives: Christian Witness
The principle is the same in other areas of life. Standards of reference that are assumed to be true are only as effective as they are actually accurate. This is where the standard of Biblical authority is so important. God has worked in the production and the preservation of the text. There is no other document that is so well tested and reliable. Of course, there are many people who don't understand that reality. Many dismiss the witness of Scripture because they are more familiar with other means of making decisions. Just as the magnetic compass may work well in Alabama, moral and philosophical constructs that have worked reasonably well in a person's life in previous environments may not work when we enter into new territory. We see this dramatically in the way that contemporary culture is making "feeling" decisions about sexual behavior. We also see it in the way that some people make decisions about moral, spiritual, or religious expression.
A Case in Point – Meriam Ibrahim
Last Thursday in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Christian was sentenced to receive 100 lashes for adultery immediately and then be executed for apostasy. The judge did not recognize her marriage to a Christian. Because the judge did not recognize the marriage and she had one child and is pregnant with another, in the judge's eyes her relations with her husband were illicit. Because she has refused to renounce her Christian faith, the court has ruled that she must be executed after her child is born.
Meriam's convictions as a Christian are of such strength that she has refused to renounce her faith in Christ. She is navigating according to Biblical fidelity, and one can also well imagine, according to the demonstrated faithfulness that Jesus Christ has manifest in her life. He must be real and "tried and true" in her life for her to be committed to Him even to the point of death. She could avoid this sentence by renouncing her faith in Christ. That she is not willing to do. This is extremely challenging to Western Christians who have often experienced ease of life and often even favor for following Christ. As circumstances in our comfortable lives change and become more challenging, what cost will we be willing to bear to remain faithful?
It is not necessary to impugn the motives of the Islamic judge or court. It is not the motives that are at question; rather, it is the paradigm in which such verdicts are possible. Disagreements rise not only from our understanding and Biblical revelation, but also from natural law. It is demonstrable that people have freedom to make decisions, especially about spiritual priorities. That fact is manifest every day. Not only those who recognize Biblical authority find this verdict repugnant. Secular people who recognize the constraints of Natural Law reject it as well. Those of Biblical faith should have a paradigm in which they can articulate why it is so very wrong.
A Call to Participate – Taking Action
The challenging question to us is whether or not we will do anything about this verdict. A frown and sorrowful clucking is not adequate. It has been demonstrated that even extreme and despotic regimes are not immune to the power of social media and international pressure. Although tweets and Facebook postings may help, nothing is as powerful as a handwritten note decrying the verdict and asking for it to be reversed. If you decide to respond to my request to do so, please be sure to write respectfully and not in an insulting manner, yet clearly state your disagreement with the verdict. It is fine to point out that the verdict is not consistent with the Constitution of Sudan, but simply stating that you disagree with the verdict and that you want to see it reversed is the most effective point to make.
Verdicts such as this one speak profoundly about the essential character of Islam and overwhelm the witness of those who seek to present the tenets of Islam as being merciful and peaceful. Our failure to act in response to this outrageous situation would be unconscionable. We would be failing to navigate our lives faithfully. We would not be found faithful to God's call on our lives to love others.
He has called you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord requires of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (NKJV)
You can reach the Embassy of Sudan at:
Embassy of Sudan
2210 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
Or you can phone at (202) 338-8565, but a handwritten letter is far more effective.
Boko Haram is a group located mainly in Nigeria that is linked with al Qaeda. The name means "Western Education is Forbidden" or "Western Education is a Sin." It is inadequate to describe them as terrorists or extremists. They are better understood by the technical psychotherapy designation as "Wingnut Wackjobs." They view attacks on unarmed innocents as their vocational pursuit.
In the desolate far North Eastern part of Nigeria, Boko Haram has grown in influence and infamy during the last five years. Its foothold is due partly to the harsh conditions in that part of Nigeria, partly to the sieve-like borders with Chad and Niger, and partly to the difficulty of bringing development projects to life that demonstrate compassion and increased quality of life. It is difficult for a militant who longs for the brighter day of 1400 AD to appreciate medical technology or economic development projects that empower people.
In the last several years, they have targeted mostly Christians and churches. Last September, they attacked a temporary police station that had been set up in Yadi Buni Town in Yobe State just to the West of Borno State. More than 160 were killed. Civilian fighters, members of a "Joint Task Force" whose focus is battling Boko Haram, were targeted, captured, and beheaded.
Shortly after that, soldiers were attacked on the Baga-Maiduguri Road in Borno State. In that ambush, fifteen soldiers were killed.
Emboldened by bloodshed, on April 15th, Boko Haram members armed with AK-47s abducted almost 300 high school girls who were gathered to take exams. In the confusion, some 50 of the girls escaped, leaving some 230 or more still in captivity. Recent reports indicate that they are being smuggled across the borders to Chad and Cameroon.
Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau said (by way of a shaky home video), "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah." He continued, "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”
Reports coming in say that these girls are being sold to militants in Chad and Cameroon for 2,000 Naira (that's only about $12).
It is almost incomprehensible that a caravan of some 230 young women and a host of Kalashnikov-bearing Boko Haramers could move through the desolate of Northern Nigeria and cross the borders into Chad and Cameroon without being spotted by satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, or traders.
Now, the story, which has been almost completely ignored by the news media for the last two weeks, is beginning to gain traction in the media. It's not because the mainstream media have suddenly gotten either religion or conscience! Rather, it is because every day crowds of demonstrators are marching in front of media outlets and government offices places like Lagos, Abuja, and London and carrying placards that read, "Our girls are not for sale," and "Bring them home." Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites are starting to explode with references as people post and share postings of the atrocity. That effort is putting great pressure on the "news" outlets.
The silence about this outrage is most remarkable from a number of fronts.
First of all, Christian leaders have been slow to call for fasting and prayer. That is changing, but we are still behind the power curve! The realization that we have failed there is humbling. We need to repent and get praying.
Second, it is a stunning omission that news outlets have all but ignored it for three weeks! Very few have covered it prior to this week. Now, FINALLY, stories are appearing, thanks to pressure from social media and other efforts.
The third group that has been, and remains, silent are Muslim leaders. I have not been able to find even one Islamic leader who has denounced this kidnapping, the violence, or the added horror of these young girls being sold for "marriage." If Islamic leaders want to be perceived as leaders of a "Religion of Peace," they need to speak like it and act like it. As it is, the broad violent strokes from those who act in the name of Allah powerfully and dramatically portray what kind of religion Islam is.
In the mean time, the girls are still missing. They are being sold off like goats and cattle into brutish, backward, and desperately poor oppression, where they will be stripped of learning, dignity, and likely even life itself. That descent will continue unless each of us begins to speak and act. These innocents cannot be forgotten or abandoned. We must do something, beginning with prayer!
This week marks the passage of the twentieth year after the open hostilities of the Rwandan genocide. It is usually marked from the time on April 6th when violence broke out after the plane carrying both the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents was shot down as it approached Kigali Airport, but prior to that tension was building and the stage was being set for the meltdown. One can hear the tension in the words of this Rwandan radio broadcast from April 7, 1994:
Therefore at home, you know it, Rwanda is living through a particularly hard chapter of its history since last week events further to the tragic death of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana, who disappeared at the same time as his Burundian homologue, Cyprien Ntaryamira in the attempt against the presidential plane shot down by a rocket as it came up at Kigali airport. You know the following, instantly was triggered a wave of violence without precedence, mainly in Kigali first and some other regions of the country next.
Note: describing the Burundian President as a “homologue” of the Rwandan President may be a new term, since it is not a common one in English usage. It stems from the Greek ‘omologos homologos, or “same word.”
Even as horrific as this broadcast indicates the situation was, it was actually understated. In addition to killing that took place at the hands of military forces, there were also hundreds of thousands killed by those who were intent on stamping out the tribal minority with whom they were estranged.
There are three things that are vitally important to say about the Rwandan genocide:
1. It did not occur in a vacuum.
2. The leaders and people of Rwanda have done an amazing work of reconciliation following the violence.
3. Any sense of moral superiority from people in the West, especially in the US, is terribly misplaced.
1. It did not occur in a vacuum.
Of course all human conflict has its origin in sin, but as is the case in many African countries that were former colonies of European countries, some of the tensions rose out of the way that the Europeans set up structures. Often, they would empower one group over another in order to more readily control the population. In Rwanda, Belgian and French influence so empowered one group over another that a person of wealth (with, for example, ten cows) would be reclassified into the other group if they lost their cattle. It may have made for easier administration by the Europeans, but one can easily imagine how it stirred resentment.
The context also included a rise in rhetoric over quite a long period of time. I can remember listening to radio broadcasts that referred to one group as “cockroaches who do not have the right to even exist, but should be eliminated and thrown on the garbage dump.” Incivility of discourse provides an open door to a rise of tension and such dehumanization that violence that at one time seems unthinkable becomes “justifiable” (at least in the minds of the perpetrators).
2. The leaders of Rwanda have done an amazing work of reconciliation following the violence.
The genocide was so horrific, and impacted so many people that when people came to their senses, they were willing to pay the price to be reconciled even with those who had killed family members. The actual genocide numbered about 100 days. The work to begin to heal the wounds from it has taken decades. We should take heart, however. If the divisions and horrors of Rwanda can be healed, other cultures should be able to learn from Rwanda and resolve their conflicts. Walking in Rwanda right after the genocide - when there were still bodies lying where they were slain - I remember thinking that the blood-soaked ground was crying out. Now when one walks in Rwanda in those same areas that have embraced the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, there is a palpable peace. That is an amazing, Holy Spirit miracle; one that is not limited to Rwanda but one that God wants to replicate in other places.
3. Any sense of moral superiority from people in the West, especially in the US, is terribly misplaced.
It is easy for Westerners, perhaps especially Americans, to say, “How savage the situation was in Rwanda.” Americans are easily outraged on learning that 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, killed mostly with machetes. But the Rwandan genocide pales compared to the 55 million that have been killed in the US through abortions. The vast majority of abortions do not rise out of conflict or violence, but rather out of inconvenience. People do not want to be inconvenienced by the fruit of their actions and so they choose abortion, thinking that it is the easy way out. Moral decisions have consequences, though. Without a doubt, judgment will come to America for the slaughter of the unborn.
The Rwandan genocide anniversary raises a serious question. Was the genocide just an anomaly of history or is it something that could take place in another culture? Sadly, I see things happening in American culture that are depressingly related to the things that preceded the genocide in Rwanda. Almost every day, there are reports of things happening in which the dominant presumption is of cultural moral rightness which is vastly different from the moral compass of Biblical values.
For example, Brandon Eich, CEO of Mozilla (the company that produces the Firefox web browser among other things) was just forced to leave his job because six years ago he donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California. He was by no means an activist. I have not been able to find other factors that were involve in his ouster. In fact, self-described “gay activists” this week have said that “Eich does not deserve to have a job,” simply because he donated to a campaign which disagreed with an activist judge who ordered same-sex marriage in California. Particularly concerning to me is the aroma of demonization that I smell around Eich’s firing that is so reminiscent of pre-genocide Rwandan attitudes.
In another case, Julea Ward, a student counsellor at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was sacked because she referred a client to another counsellor because the person wanted counsel on her lesbian relationship. Her supervisor at EMU said that it was simply unacceptable for Julea to fail to go through “remediation,” which is a euphemistic way of saying “re-education.”
In a third case yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a photographer who refused to photograph a ceremony of a same-sex couple who wanted to marry. For refusing to photograph the service, the photographer has been fined and ordered to comply. It is unlikely that a same-sex couple would actually want photographs taken by a person who did not agree with their same-sex union. It is more likely that it was pursued in order to advance the same-sex political agenda.
There are several things to take away from all this. First, realize that we in America are on a horrible moral footing because we have allowed 55 million abortions. There are surely consequences from this disaster. Second, we should be greatly concerned with the demonization of Christians by the culture and the media. The positions we hold because we have received God’s revelation in Scripture are increasingly rejected by American culture. I believe it will get worse. Recently the Governor of New York listed groups of people who are not welcome in New York. That is not a great gulf away from “cockroaches on the garbage dump.” While he did not in any way speak of the legitimacy of violence against “those” people, neither did the Rwandans originally.
In the West, including those of us in the United States, we need to realize that we are on a greased path toward Babylon. At least we can choose to be as faithful as Jesus. That doesn’t mean that our walk won’t be costly. We just know that it will be more costly soon.
One of the most tragic things about this reality is the fact that what is becoming the loudest voice in the culture only exists because Christians who were in the majority protected the ideas and speech of even those with whom they steadfastly disagreed. If we had not protected the speech of those who have gone before us and disagree with us, their voice would not existed today. Sadly, hardly anyone on the left is protecting those who disagree with them now. One day, they will find out how foolish they have been.
Last week, some ten ACNA Bishops and Archbishop Bob joined Anglicans for Life in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision. In my inexpert, but right, opinion, that decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is one of the very worst decisions ever made by the Court. Equally horrid was the decision against prayer in school. In both of those decisions, the Court took it upon itself to depart from more than a thousand years of jurisprudence. Decisions used to be made based on precedent; in other words, a court case made in the present takes into consideration the understanding of the law of previous court decisions. Rather than doing that, in these two cases, the Court cut new law out of whole cloth.
God is observably a life-giver. He loves life and claims it for Himself. In dietary laws, the Jews were forbidden to consume blood because “the life is in the blood” (Lev 17:11). If we are submitted to His Lordship, we will cooperate with His call to honor life.
So, last Wednesday, we joined with more than 500,000 of our closest friends and marched through Washington, D.C. to the Supreme Court. The happy throng did not require any crowd control from the Capitol Police. People were gentle and orderly. Interestingly, a huge portion of the crowd were people under twenty-five. Last year I heard that they estimated that the under-twenty-fivers made up 80% of the marchers. This year, that figure could not have been less. Additionally encouraging were the vast numbers of people who were wearing “I’m worth waiting for” buttons, declaring their commitment to sexual purity as well as being Pro-Life. Their presence is a huge encouragement to the hope that the abortion holocaust might actually end.
I’ve written before about the unintended consequences of abortion. Social Security is going bankrupt because we have 50 million too few workers paying into the system. A chilling figure when juxtaposed with the fact that there have now been 55 million abortions in the United States. Canada is proportionately suffering under similar tragic numbers for their population.
When Americans get on their high-horse and criticize other nations for genocide or tribal violence, I always cringe. Our national horror is a manifestation of sin in our lives just as other violence is in other nations.
The answer is the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That message should capture our full energy. It is the hope that can help people navigate through the most painful waters of their life. It is the inspiration that can soften our hearts to love people in practical ways, and it is the power of God unto salvation.
When we realize the depth of what God has done through the Cross of Jesus Christ, it should captivate us. A friend of mine says, “The Gospel is so wonderful, so compelling, why would people want to talk about anything else!” What Jesus has done is amazing. He does not offer icing for life’s broken cakes. Rather, He offers life for the dying. He offers an end to empty religion. He offers the power to experience transformation to actually become more like Him.
For me, the fruit of participation in the March for Life is a challenge to see how we can become more faithful to the kerygma—the passionate proclamation of the Good News—and become more faithful to the Great Commandment, to share Jesus with others. In our parishes, we should be looking for concrete ways to love people so those who are in a state of panic or pain, don’t give up. There are countless ways to be able to truly be Pro-Life. It is a worthy pursuit. It’s what faithful Christians do.
Painful news came this week from across the Atlantic. The Right Rev. Dr. Solomon Tilewa Johnson, Anglican Bishop of Banjul and the Ninth Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa, fell while playing tennis before being pronounced dead at the Medical Research Council. He was 60 years old and the first Gambian to be the Archbishop of West Africa.
News of his passing was received with great shock by many Gambians, who considered him a great role model for his self-comportment and dedication to the service of God. In a predominantly Muslim country, he was revered and celebrated for his high moral standing.
I first met Archbishop Tilewa Johnson at the 1998 Lambeth Bishops’ Conference. We had just begun talking when some of the notable bishops were passing by. “That one,” he said, pointing to one of them, “is one of the smartest bishops.” Pointing to another, he said, “That one is one of the bravest.” Pointing to another who was passing by, he said, “And that one is one of the most prayerful. I on the other hand, am the TALLEST!” and collapsed into gales of infectious laughter.
Since then, when we got in touch, I always said, “And how is the tallest bishop?”
He would respond, “Still tall!”
We got the chance to spend a good bit of time in the lead-up to the GAFCON 2 Conference in Nairobi. In front of the multipurpose building where most of the meetings were held, there are some steps. I was able to stand up several steps higher than he and, for the first time, see him eye-to-eye. I said, “Oh. I’ve never seen your face up close!” We laughed about that.
Speaking about those gathered for the GAFCON meetings, his observation was telling, especially considering that Western liberals were always trying to manipulate things in his Province. He said, “Look at these people. Listen to what they are saying. There is life in this group. Other gatherings are empty. This is the life we need to pursue.”
God bless you, Archbishop Tilewa. You did indeed stand tall. May you enter in to the joy of your Father’s Kingdom. I will miss your laugh and your insights.