Tony Campolo on homosexuality…

Over the last few years, a number of people who would previously have been regarded as Evangelical Christian heavyweights appear to have changed their stance on homosexuality significantly. There seems to be a whole wing of Evangelicalism that is ‘coming out’- or do I generalise from the particular?

Is this accommodation with the changing views of culture- albeit lagging behind because of a dragging-anchor theological hermeneutic?  Or is it the fact that Christians are finally catching the scent of freedom and justice on the breeze? Whatever, I celebrate the change.

I will not list the names I am thinking of, as this plays into the hand of the totemic brigade- you know the way it works, the degree to which a person is ‘OK’, ‘Biblical’, ‘Theologically sound’, depends on whether they agree with us on certain totemic issues. I try, but if I am honest I am guilty of a bit of this too…

I was first inspired by listening to Tony Campolo speak back in the early-mid 1980’s. He upset a lot of people at Spring Harvest festival some time around then (I think I was there, but the story might have become more important than fact on this one!) by telling a story something like this;

You know folks, X (can’t remember the exact figure) number of people have starved to death since I started to speak to you tonight.

And you know what is worse? Most of you people here do not give a shit.

And even worse that that, most of you are far more concerned that I just used the word ‘shit’ than the fact that those people have starved to death.

It is hard to convey how genuinely shocking hearing these words from a preacher at Spring Harvest was back then. Campolo has always been rather left field.

However, his stance on homosexuality in books of his I have read went something like this;

It is not the fault of gay people that they were born different, but the Bible is clear that the homosexual act is sin. It is however NOT a sin to be homosexual, as people have no control over their sexual orientation. Therefore to be gay and Christian is to be celibate.

I think he may even have used the old ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ argument. If he did not, others certainly did in his wake.

Contrast this with the clip below. He does not need to talk about the theology- rather he tells a story, which is a very Jesus kind of way of doing theology of course.

The emotional musical soundtrack is a bit naff, but Campolo is always (ahem) Campelling.

 

 

Are we still sending white missionaries to cause problems in black Africa?

I heard about this film recently. It has made waves in the US and Canada- although only a few clips are available in the UK via you tube.

It is a documentary dealing about the impact of evangelists from the American International House of Prayer (IHOP), an organisation that some of us may know from forays into the weird world of Christian satellite TV.

Are we really still sending young white men and women to do this kind of thing? Did we not learn the lessons about from the Victorians about how religion and colonialism (perhaps better understood as globalisation) become a potent toxic mix?

And when violence and intolerance result, do we still blame the victims- as if it is the fault of some kind of black ‘heart of darkness’?

Another analogy that sprang to mind in relation to this shameful process was how the cold war used Africa to play out power games- we exported the tensions and hatreds to places like The Congo and Eritrea. It is almost as if the church is doing the same in relation to homosexuality. IHOP are losing the argument in increasingly secular US, so they are fighting the good theological fight against homosexuality in Uganda.

Lord forgive us.

Taking the 666 flight to Hell…

Tegel Airport To Close In 2012

 

A few years ago Aoradh set up a prayer room/Labyrinth in an old Shop. It was as ever a wonderful mix of manic busyness, stress, significant conversations and deep moments of grace. In the middle of all of this, I looked over to see one of my friends being prodded in the chest by a local Pastor who obviously had some problem with what we were doing. He was shouting something about ‘You people think you are the only people doing anything in this town’. My friend dealt with it really well (ie he did not smack him between the eyes in the name of Jesus) but most of us were rather shocked and upset by his nonsensical outburst.

The fact that people whose only perspective of who God might be is viewed through a very narrow Conservative Evangelical set of goggles might have theological issues with what we do is a not a surprise of course. This perspective sees the duty of all Christians as saving people from eternal torment in the fires of hell. This has always included most other ‘Christians’, who are not really saved as they do not hold the same views.

A couple of years later I (reluctantly) attended a churches together Carol singing session at the middle of my small town. I was rather dreading it- standing in the middle of the central street next to speakers relaying music being played by a fiddly group inside a church. The aforementioned Pastor was there too, along with great handfuls of tracts and books intended to spread a particularly strenuous version of the ‘Good News’.

He strode over towards me, and I cringed. Was he going to challenge me over some other Aoradh unBiblical error? What he did was to thrust a tract in my hand, and say “Here you go, you need one of these.”

I was reminded of this by this story, posted by a friend on Facebook.

Anyone fancy joining us on the Friday the 13th Fin Air flight number 666 to Hel?

It is lovely there this time of year.

How to get ahead in Evangelism; find yourself a killer story…

 

taming_the_tiger_book

 

…in this case, a kung-fu-killer-assassin story.

For those who have not heard of this book (like me) it tells the ‘true’ story of the life of Evangelist Tony Anthony, who claims to have been taken to China by his grandfather, a Kung-Fu grand master, at the age of fourm where he was trained in the martial arts and became Kung Fu world champion three times. He then moved to Cyprus, becoming an elite bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats before being jailed in Nicosia Central Prison for a series of thefts from hotels. It was in prison that Tony Anthony says he became a Christian.

His book has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide, and from the profits Tony set up Essex-based global evangelism charity Avanti Ministries. He traveled the world preaching, visiting prisons and telling his story.

Except it now looks like his story was not true. Check this out.

Finally the Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries were forced to publish a statement;

In October 2012, the Evangelical Alliance received a detailed complaint about the validity of the testimony of an Avanti Ministries’ evangelist, Tony Anthony, and his book Taming the Tiger.

Following discussions between Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries, Avanti agreed to set up an independent panel nominated by the Alliance to investigate in a confidential manner the allegations against Tony Anthony.

The independent inquiry panel was made up of three respected members of the UK council of the Evangelical Alliance: John Langlois (chair of panel), Keith Civval and Robert Amess.

The panel produced its report on 26 June 2013 and concluded, based on the evidence submitted to it, that large sections of the book Taming the Tiger, and associated materials, which claim to tell the true story of Tony Anthony’s life, do not do so.

Both the Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries take serious note of the findings of the report and as a result Avanti has concluded that it is not appropriate to continue to support Taming the Tiger.

The board of Avanti Ministries are now considering the ramifications for Avanti Ministries’ future.

The Alliance and Avanti Ministries would like to thank the independent inquiry panel for their diligence in producing its report.

The Alliance and Avanti Ministries are deeply saddened by the findings of the panel. However, they recognise the good work that Avanti and Tony Anthony have done over the years around the world and the impact this will have on the charity, and specifically Tony and his family.

What is it that makes Evangelicalism vulnerable to con men and fantasists like Tony Anthony?

Or to put it slightly differently, what is it about Evangelicalism that makes all sorts of dodgy means justifiable because of the eternal end- that of saving souls?

I have been giving this some thought, as someone who has been in and around Evangelical churches for much of my adult life;

Firstly, Evangelicalism owes much of its methodology to salesmanship. There is this wonderful product (eternal life) and our job is to ensure market penetration, by any and all means possible.

Because the emphasis is on the sale, not the life long (earthly) warranty of the product, then the most important thing that our energies can be put to is the process of selling. All other things are secondary.

Some people are very good at selling- these people are given the respectful and elevated title ‘Evangelist’. But really they are just good salesmen. They have a slick method and a killer sales pitch. However, selling stuff is by its very nature a dark art. It involves manipulation, psychological game playing. It is divorced from real life, real community, real relationships. Most people who are good at this kind of stuff are not necessarily people who we really want to see in powerful leadership positions (even if that is exactly where they tend to be.)

Some salesmen might rightly be called by another title- sociopaths.

Finally, salesmen who are able to sell their evangelical product on the global media market- these people can not only feed the mansions of heaven, but they can also feed the Christian media machine.

Beware the salesman (or woman, although they tend to be men.) What they claim to be offering is often not what you end up buying.

Christianity and Capitalism- to resist or to accommodate?

I have been dwelling on economics over the past few weeks. One of the things that has often troubled me has been the role that Christianity has had to play in developing a culture of enforced inequality, both locally and globally. At best we have become guilty by association, at worst we provided the moral justification for the whole shebang and then enshrined it in liturgy.

I have written about this before- if you are interested you might like to check out these posts;

Capitalism; a conspiracy against the common good?

Capitalism and Durkheim

capitalismrocks

Jason Clark has an interesting piece on his blog about the relationship between Evangelicalism and Capitalism, particularly in the US. It is a tough read, but basically, he contrasts two potential kinds of analysis which he characterises as ‘Cultural dispisers’ and ‘Cultural accomodators’.

Firstly the dispisers;

William Connolly, in his 2008 work Capitalism and Christianity, American Style, sets out firstly to diagnose how the ‘capitalist project’ has been perverted and warped by its resonant relationship with conservative right-wing Christian religious beliefs.[1]

Connolly describes how this relationship between an Evangelical right-wing ethos and capitalism is best understood through ‘assemblages’ of media, churches, cultural consciousness, and a ‘spiral of resonances’ that produce the Evangelical capitalist resonance machine.[4]

Connolly’s response to this contention and diagnosis is to suggest that it is within an alternative and ‘counter political movement’,[6] a democratic and left-wing visualisation of a new ethos, that capitalism might be redeemed.[7]

Now for the accommodators;

Pete Ward, in his 2002 work Liquid Church, offers an account of the relationship with Evangelicalism to capitalism that contrasts starkly with those of Milbank and Connolly.

Where Milbank would warn us of the complicity of the Evangelical Church in conforming to the practices of capitalism, and Connolly of the pathologies of the Christian ethos that shapes those practices, Ward critiques the Church for failing to embrace commodification as a spiritual practice and suggests that the Church should be engaged with it even more. For ‘rather than condemn the shopper as materialist Liquid Church would take shopping seriously as a spiritual exercise.’[17] Where the underwriting of commodification by ecclesial practice is inherently evil for Milbank, according to Ward it is a vital and theologically necessary ecclesial practice to the Church.

I have not read Connolly’s book, but I have read Pete Ward’s Liquid Church- which is a great book, although I do not think the points made by Jason do it full justice. What Ward was seeking to do was to get the church to engage fully with the culture we are part of- to flow in its veins. He reckons that it is only by doing this that we understand, that we become relevant, that we can become part of the mission of God for our times. I am not sure that this is the same thing as ‘accommodation’.

Ward uses the example of advertising as a case in point- he suggested that rather than dismissing all such commercialism as ‘of the world’ and therefore having no spiritual significance for the followers of Jesus, rather we can learn so much about the collective spiritual yearnings of our age from advertising. Is this accommodation, or is it being engaged as thoughtful critics?

I am much more convinced by Mike Frost’s book Exiles, in which he compares Christians living in our post-modern, post-Chistendom world to the Jews exiled in Babylon. It is simply not possible to live lives of isolation- neither is it our calling. Rather we have to learn to live as engaged, loving, active agents of the Kingdom of God. This might involve the celebration of aspects of culture, or it might also require us to resist other elements- injustice, prejudice, the power of the strong over the weak. This also brings us into contact with the language of sin and evil- the ways of living that tear into each other and destroy us.

The other polarity that Jason proposes in his piece is that of the dispisers. This is not a word I would have chosen to apply to myself in relation to Capitalism- more because I do not think it would be honest. At the same time as asking my intellectual and theological questions about Capitalism I am very conscious that my whole lifestyle is wrapped up in it.

Back to the direct relationship between Christianity (particularly Evangelical Christianity) and Capitalism. How might we characterise the ways that faith has accommodated? I started making a list;

  1. By emphasising personal, individual salvation above all else. The only useful purpose of mission is to save people from hell after they die.
  2. By embracing success culture. We use the same corporate structures, we reward our religious successes as we would our CEO’s, we value hard measurable outcomes, we construct programmes.
  3. We make mission a kind of hostile take over. Business success involves out performing the opposition, and rejoicing in their bankruptcy. So it is that we see any form of religion not our own as our economic enemies.
  4. Christianity is a lifestyle choice that requires no change to the way we live our economic lives. Yes, I know there is the old ‘tithing’ argument around Evangelical churches, but we drive the same cars, live in the same houses, take the same holidays, fill our lives with the same gadgets- or (and here is the sting) even if we do not have these things, we aspire to them.
  5. We bought into lives characterised by individualism over the collective. The model given to us by the life of Jesus and the early church was all about the collective- how we live for one another, how we hold things in common, how we find ways of including the poor, the weak. Yet these things are not really part of our DNA.
  6. We failed to demonstrate any kind of radical alternative. The best that we have been able to offer is how to live as better Capitalists- more sensible, more responsible, with greater probity.
  7. We did not see injustice, inequality, poverty, unfair taxation, usury, over consumption, environmental destruction, as any of our business. Which relates to point 1.
  8. And where there was visible discomfort with Capitalism, we lacked any coherance, we lacked leadership, we did not become a critical movement. Rather we splintered and focused on totemic side shows live homosexuality and women bishops- all of which is destroying our credibility anyway.
  9. Our mission to the poor was conditional on redeeming them to become like us. Difficult one this, but stay with me. There is lots of wonderful Christian history of engagement with the poor from the Salvation Army right through to local soup kitchens. These activities clean up the edges of Capitalism- but also justify the dominant ethos. It encourages us to lift people back into becoming productive consumers. Like us. It does not suggest that the problem might be in any way systemic.
  10. We forgot that the Church exists not to give us a better life, but to serve the lost and the least. If we are serving the lost and the least, how can we have convinced ourselves that our unsustainable greedy lifestyles are God-given rewards for our moral superiority- which we Brits built an Empire on, and then passed the baton to the USA?

So, the question at the head of this piece- to resist, or to accommodate?

I think we need to resist what should be resisted, and to where there are seeds of justice, of beauty, of grace- there we should plant ourselves alongside and accommodate for all we are worth.

And what would church look like if we took each of these 10 points above and reversed them?

 

Steve Chalke raises his head above the parapet on homosexuality…

steve chalke

My mate Simon pointed me to this article, written by Steve Chalke, of the Oasis Trust, and published in this months Christianity Magazine. For those who do not know this publication, it is the voice of Evangelicalism in the UK- read by mostly fundementalist, bible-first, charismatic (with a small c), conservative (also with a small c) Christians. I used to read it myself years ago, but found that it made me too cross.

In this instance however, well done to the magazine for giving air to Steve, who has no doubt summoned down the wrath of many of its readers on his head, but in doing so has opened up an important debate from on the ‘inside’.

Here are some of the things he had to say;

I feel both compelled and afraid to write this article. Compelled because, in my understanding, the principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion sit at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Afraid because I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is ‘a grotesque and sinful subversion’, an ‘objective disorder’ or, perhaps slightly more liberally, ‘less than God’s best’.

Some will think that I have strayed from Scripture – that I am no longer an evangelical. I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible’s authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously. My prayer, in writing, is therefore to encourage a gracious and mature conversation around an extremely important pastoral and theological issue that impacts the lives of so many people…

In autumn 2012 I conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians. Why? Not to challenge the traditional understanding of marriage – far from it – but to extend to these people what I would do to others – the love and support of our local church. Our service also gave them the opportunity, surrounded by their family and friends, to publicly recognise their dependence on God and their need to be part of a supportive Christ-centred community to strengthen them in fulfilling their promises to one another.

Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ. I leave it to others to debate whether a Civil Partnership plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage or not. But I do believe that the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded…

In my view, although motivated by a laudable concern for inclusion, many of the arguments that have been constructed in the attempt to soften or nullify what is the clear and uncompromising stance of Scripture unintentionally end up clouding the real issue – one of wider hermeneutics rather than simply exegesis.

Through my hermeneutical lens, the Bible is the account of the ancient conversation initiated, inspired and guided by God with and among humanity. It is a conversation where various, sometimes harmonious and sometimes discordant, human voices contribute to the gradually growing picture of the character of Yahweh; fully revealed only in Jesus.  But it is also a conversation that, rather than ending with the finalisation of the canon, continues beyond it involving all of those who give themselves to Christ’s on-going redemptive movement.

Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?

Tolerance is not the same as Christ-like love. Christ-like love calls us to go beyond tolerance to want for the other the same respect, freedom, and equality one wants for oneself. We should find ways to formally support and encourage those who are in, or wish to enter into, faithful same-sex partnerships, as well as in their wider role as members of Christ’s body.

I end where I started; in the coming months there will be huge and often heated debate around gay marriage. I am committed to listening and trying to understand the intricacies of the arguments on both sides. But, whatever the outcome and whichever side of the debate we find ourselves on, my hope is that as Christians we face what I think is the central issue – what does real, Christ-like, inclusion look like?

For those who want to engage with the theology of his argument, I recommend reading the article in full.

And in the mean time, I commend you Steve for using your apostolic voice to raise this issue in such a thoughtful and gentle way. I know this is an easy thing to do when someone agrees with your own opinion- it is much harder to feel respect for those on the other side of a debate.

Let us hope that there may yet be a time when the Church can be a place of radical inclusion of out groups- which is after all the Jesus way.

 

Evangelical becomes gay for a year…

Amazing story in the Guardian today about an American ultra conservative evangelical Christian who found himself questioning his Church teachings on homosexuality, and decided to walk in the shoes of a gay man for a year.

In order to do this, he had to tell his family, his Church, his friends that he was gay, take on a pretend ‘boyfriend’ and live and work in gay bars.

It seems that not only his own theological understanding of homosexuality radically changed, but so was that of his mother.

Finally Kurek’s journey ended when he revealed his secret life and “came out” again, but this time as a straight Christian. However, he says that one of the most surprising elements of his journey was that it renewed his religious faith rather than undermined it. “Being gay for a year saved my faith,” he said.

Kurek also said that he felt his experience not only should show conservative Christians that gay people need equal rights and can be devout too, but that it can also reveal another side of evangelicals to the gay community.

“The vast majority of conservative Christians are not hateful bigots at all. It is just a vocal minority that gets noticed and attracts all the attention,” he said.