Category Archives: theology

On the Anti-Trump demos

What is perverse about the reaction to Trump in the UK is that compared with many of the other real dictators we’ve hosted in recent years, he’s pretty harmless. Yet the serried ranks of activists have been wheeled out to whinge pointlessly at his presence. Yes, he’s a horrible person and probably a dangerous buffoon, but the ‘virtue signalling’ aka self righteousness of the mob is as obnoxious.

One way to see this is to recognise it as a form of scapegoating: we must find someone to blame for the mess, and he’ll make a fine focus to distract attention from our own failings. This is, of course, the same appeal as that of all populists; Trump has applied it in US politics, whilst the Left blame ‘the rich’ for what’s wrong with the world. Meanwhile the church of course prefers to run with the hounds rather than call ALL to repentance. Why would we want to do that? We’re all fine thank you; there isn’t really a God who will judge us one day, so why don’t we just focus on trying to make this world a better place?


The Muslim ‘problem’

It’s extremely easy to identify outrages around the world for which ‘Muslims’ are responsible. It’s easy to identify many peaceful, generous and kind Muslims in our communities. How should react to this situation?

A brief history of Islam reveals that the idea that it is a ‘religion of peace’ is ill founded. From the days of the Prophet, a substantial feature of its political manifestations was a strong expansionist, imperialism; thus in the first few years it conquers most of the Middle East, including the Persian Empire, North Africa and the Iberian peninsular. The Mughal Empire in India was similarly an Islamic state, including a period of aggressive persecution of other religions, resulting in the martyrdom of many Hindus and Sikh. Its later Caliphs were only repulsed from the gates of Vienna for the last time in 1688, though it is simplistic to see the Ottomans as only Muslims; their empire was multi-religious, and there were Christians on both sides of that fight. On the other hand the recruitment of the Janissaries by demanding a tribute of the best of the young people of the Christian villages of the Balkans shows a mailed fist. Similarly the fact that the Caliph told all Muslims to ally with him in World War I is worth consideration. Ayatollah Khomeni’s statement:

Islam’s jihad is a struggle against idolatry, sexual deviation, plunder, repression, and cruelty. The war waged by [non-Islamic] conquerors, however, aims at promoting lust and animal pleasures. They care not if whole countries are wiped out and many families left homeless. But those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under [God’s law]…. Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.’1

1 Barry M. Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, eds. Anti-American terrorism and the Middle East: A documentary reader. (Oxford: OUP, 2004) 29.


The 13th century Ibn Taimiya articulates a more comprehensive theological justification for the marauding, arguing that the property of non-Muslims must revert legitimately to the followers of the true religion; Jihad is the means to recover these illegally usurped possession, offering a justification for any Muslim to steal from an infidel. This legitimation of their earlier practice suggests that independent Arab marauders descending on villages to steal did do so with religious sanction. This, occurring in advance of the formal expansion of the Islamic Empire, softens up the target for actual conquest.1

1 Ye’Or, The decline of eastern Christianity under Islam: from jihad to dhimmitude. (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, US: 1996) 39-40.

So we have a picture of a religion whose mainstream ideology is committed to the violent conquest of its opponents, for their own good, of course, but still…

There’s a parallel in church history. Following Elizabeth I’s rejection of her sister Mary’s Catholicism, the Pope, in 1570 in Regnans in Excelsis stated:

4. And moreover (we declare) her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever.

5. And also (declare) the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordship. fealty and obedience; and we do, by authority of these presents , so absolve them and so deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other the above said matters. We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.”

In 1588 the Spanish Armada sought to conquer England for Catholicism, and in 1605 Guy Fawkes sought to blow up the entire English establishment at the state opening of Parliament. Tensions over James II’s Catholicism led to his replacement by William III in what today we would describe a bloodless coup d’etat, though it has gone down in history as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, led by James’ heirs, were the last hurrah for Catholic imperialism.

Yet during this period many Catholics remained loyal to the Protestant crown. Indeed it is one of the ironies of history that the Pope was supporting William III at the Battle of the Boyne against James II because James was allied with the French, who were the Pope’s enemies at the time; that this is now remembered as Protestant v Catholic is an example of myths overwhelming truth! A steady process of emancipation followed, largely completed by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829, although even today it is not entirely complete; the presence of a Catholic on the throne is still illegal, and a Roman Catholic Prime Minister would have to forgo certain powers with respect to the Church of England. So today being a Catholic raises no issues of loyalty to the state.

This pattern therefore offers a possible template for our attitude to Islam. There are clearly some within that religion who remain committed to violence to advance the cause of Islam, yet there are others, not just within specific ‘denominations’, who would reject such attitude. This history shows that a major world religion can retreat from its earlier beliefs and come to live in harmony with others, and also that it is unfair to tar all those with a particular label with responsibility for the actions of their co-religionists. Yet there are clearly issues; the image at the top of the blog is the present experience of one visible critic of Islam…

Verses I’ve never seen before (11)

“[Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Lk 16:15b)

The context of this is Jesus challenging the Pharisees attitude to money – but it clearly extends beyond that. We need to beware assessing the value of our contributions and talents in human terms; too often this leads us to follow the world’s way and live according to its standards. We need to test our activities against God’s agenda instead. Whilst this most clearly applies to the issue of money, it also means we need to beware our friendships with the world and our worldly achievements. If we have non-Christian friends who are barely aware of our being Christians, and certainly have no idea of how significant it is in our lives, then we’ve probably got it wrong. If we value ‘unity’ over clearly declaring God’s truth, then we’ may well end up getting it wrong ““Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Lk 6). However equally if we are so prickly that we never get to be heard because our views are dismissed as those of a bitter minority, then that’s a problem as well.

We need to seek after God’s perspective because it’s He who will judge us in the end; the views of others pale in comparison.

Verses I’ve never seen before (10)

Us Charismatics take pleasure in noisy celebrations. To be fair we’ve built on the Evangelical tradition in this: Charles Wesley and William Booth (of the Salvation Army) both encouraged enthusiastic singing. And of course we spend a lot of our celebrating God and what He’s done for us in our lives. And one of the passages we like to quote as justification is Psalm 98 – whose beginning is well enough known:

O sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvellous things…

So far so good

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Yup – a biblical justification for noisy celebrations

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord….

So all creation is getting in on the act to celebrate God. But to do what? Because of what aspect of Who He is? Because He loves us, provides for us, cares for us, saves us?

Er no

He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

We celebrate God’s love a lot. We tend – probably because we are blessed to live in a society where there isn’t much visible corruption of the law – not to realise how horrendous that experience would be. But one day all the injustices and crimes will be addressed; noone will ‘get away with it’. We should probably talk about and celebrate God’s judgement a bit more.


Verses I’ve never seen before (9)

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:33

Yup – it’s in there. It’s just after where Jesus has been warning about the need to assess the cost of becoming a disciple. For the record, the Greek does include the word ‘possessions’. And for some reason I’ve never heard a sermon on it… 😉

It’s from Luke’s gospel, so it’s the same writer who tells us about the common purse of the early church in Jerusalem. And that helps contextualise it: Peter’s comment to Ananias that the property he sold, and its proceeds, remained his to dispose of makes clear that selling everything wasn’t a condition of church member. The challenge is therefore more subtle; we need to ‘give up’ or ‘renounce’ (RSV). It comes down to a matter of attitude: we are holding our possessions in trust. They’re not really ours. But it is legitimate for us to use them wisely, in the service of God, to His glory.

And note what it DOESN’T justify: it doesn’t demand that we agree to the extractions of the state for its glory. It is God’s money, not the commisar’s…

Perhaps this should be added to the baptismal promises made in the Anglican prayer book. At present this is:

“Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?

I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?

I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?

I come to Christ.”

Perhaps we should add:

Do you renounce your possessions?

I will only serve Christ with them.

Needs work…

A tragedy abused

A little under 4 years ago the church I was then a member of was rocked by a dreadful tragedy: a 14 year old girl committed suicide because she felt that her being gay would result in her being rejected by both her church and family. Recently, to mark what would have been her 18th birthday, the church that I have now left produced this video where John Bell interviews the Rector about the story. The important take away, from what is otherwise an emotionally charged piece of pro-gay propaganda, is the importance of churches talking about the issue a lot more than we do; Lizzie was killed by her misinterpretation of the attitude of the church to this particular temptation.

However it is also important to challenge the underlying narrative of the story. Because I’m walking through this minefield, I have to start by making clear that the fact that I am mentioning homosexuality and paedophilia in the same sentence doesn’t mean I’m suggesting any sort of link. One of the most blatant and unhealthy forms of homophobia is the claim that there is some sort of link between the two, meaning that LGB people were suspected of paedophilia when that was as accurate as accusing any straight person of it.

Yet comparing the treatment of LGBT+ people with the treatment of paedophilic people offers a powerful illumination into the issue of ‘inclusion’. Given that heterosexuality, homosexuality and paedophilia are all expressions of sexuality, we have to ask whether the response of the church would have been different if Lizzie had been struggling with a sexual attraction to children. Once you engage with that question, it becomes clear that you are still putting up a border somewhere. All that ‘inclusive churches’ are doing is moving the border to conform to the patterns of the world today and contrary to how the view of the overwhelming majority Jewish people and the church down the ages and in most of the world today. Of course it’s far easier to pretend that homosexual attraction is not disordered and that homosexual practice should be judged by the same standards as heterosexual relationships. Unfortunately that is the fashion of parts of the church today; instead we should be declaring God’s view, that all sexual activity outside a marriage of a man and a women is sinful.

The church is about dealing with sin – and helping sinners find God’s forgiveness for their sins and then live less sinful lives. In that context homosexuality is revealed as just another form of temptation to be resisted – along with greed, hate, pride etc. Yes it’s a hard road for those subject to this temptation, but it is the same challenge as any other temptation, and one that paedophiles must equally live with. Or are we going to endorse ‘paedophile pride’? The only issue is where we draw the border between acceptable and sinful, as I discuss elsewhere.

Verses I’ve never seen before (8)

When Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is going to be the father of John the Baptist, he says:

Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. (Lk 1)

This does nasty things to the ‘you can only become a Christian when you understand what you are doing’ line of theology that most of us are bought up on. What are we to make of the phrase ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’? Luke’s use through in the rest of Luke and Acts is as a prelude to God inspired action – a prophecy, rejoicing, or a miracle; for example in Acts 13 it precedes Paul’s blinding of Elymas, whilst later He fills the disciples and they rejoice. Certainly He SHOULD have a demonstrable impact on our lives…

Overall we are left with an unresolved issue; however it is one that we need to respect as a boundary on our simplifications of the faith; we want to have it neat and tidy, but at times God doesn’t work like that. Let’s not construct a theology that puts God in a box, because He is greater than any box we can construct!