Archive for August, 2014

Boko Haram Says Part of Nigeria an Islamic State

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Theology and Society:

Boko Haram militants claim that they are turning Nigeria into an Islamic caliphate. The Muslim extremist organization is in control of three Nigerian towns, and continues to gain power and influence in the region, the Christian Headlines website reports today (August 29, 2014).

In video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is seen announcing, “Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate… By the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay.”

The militants conquered Gwoza on August 6, destroying homes and killing many residents. Some survivors fled to surrounding mountains, as well as bordering nation Cameroon.

Officials fear that Boko Haram is working with Islamic State terrorists, who have taken control of large regions of Syria and Iraq, and have given Christians in their seized land one of three choices: Convert to Islam, pay a non-Islam tax, or be killed.

Editorial: The Two Faces of Islam

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Editorial: The Two Faces of Islam

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq, Syria

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Editorial: The Two Faces of Is…

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Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund

Last month I was in Damascus. I had the great privilege of meeting Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria. He is a man of peace who pleads repeatedly for equal and harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians and followers of all religions as members of one human family. Because of this stance, he has endured great abuse and criticism from some of his fellow Muslims and was targeted for assassination by the Saudis. Knowing that he would have good security and protection, the group of Islamist hit-men were instructed that, if they could not kill the Grand Mufti himself, they should kill one of his sons instead. In due course they murdered his teenage son. After some months, two of the perpetrators were caught and imprisoned. The Grand Mufti asked to see them and they were brought to him blindfolded. He instructed their blindfolds to be removed, and the two young men, discovering themselves face to face with the head of Sunni Islam in Syria and the father of their victim, shook with fear. But, to their astonishment, the Grand Mufti gently reached out his hands to them and told them not to be afraid. He said that he did not want their mothers to weep as his own bereaved wife had wept for her son, and therefore he forgave them.

Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria
Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

Last week I was in northern Iraq and came face to face with the stark reality of another face of Islam, that of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now calling itself simply the Islamic State). The sheer brutality of this face of Islam cannot be comprehended. It kills men, women and children, the elderly, the poor and the weak. It cuts in half little children and commits acts of ethnic cleansing that border on genocide. This behaviour is pure barbarism reminiscent of the early Assyrians and later Babylonians who once inhabited this region and were known for their immense cruelty.

Islamic apocalyptic dimension

ISIS has started to produce a magazine, in English and other European languages, called Dabiq. The name is actually a town not far from Aleppo in northern Syria, which is important in Islamic history because it was the site of a major battle between the Ottomans and the Mamluks in 1516. But, more significantly, Dabiq is mentioned in a hadith (tradition recording the words and actions of Muhammad) that prophesies that a great battle will be fought there in the End Times, in which the Muslims will be victorious over the Christian forces, and which will be the first step in the Muslim conquest of the whole world. In Islamic eschatology, Jesus, whom Muslims call Isa, will descend via a minaret of the Great Mosque in Damascus, and from there he will lead his armies to victory. “Victory” means destroying every cross, killing every Jew and pagan, and either converting every Christian to Islam or killing them. This apocalyptic dimension is now shaping ISIS as it sees itself fighting an End Time battle.

ISIS militants
ISIS militants

In the first issue of Dabiq, ISIS addressed the “return of the Khalifah”, arguing that Islam is now in its final stages as it achieves at last its goal of re-establishing the Caliphate. The Ottoman Caliphate, which collapsed in 1922-23 as the Republic of Turkey was established, is now being reborn in a new Caliphate, represented by the Islamic State.

In the second issue, Dabiq looks at Noah and the flood. An article entitled “It’s either the Islamic state or the flood” begins with the “polluted ideologies that have afflicted people the entire world over” and condemns the idea of leaving people to choose peacefully for themselves what to believe. The only solution, says Dabiq, is to eradicate the principle of free choice and to implement God’s will. Any who oppose this will be punished both on earth and in the hereafter as those who scoffed against Noah were punished by flood and hellfire.

This face of Islam, based as it is on Islamic sources including the Quran and hadith, is as authentic as the peaceful tradition of the Grand Mufti of Syria. Both have existed throughout Islamic history. The Grand Mufti of Damascus has not only been ridiculed and vilified by his co-religionists but also told that he he is not a true Muslim. When he visited the UK some ten years ago, and preached at the Regent’s Park mosque in London and at other mosques, he afterwards had to be protected from Muslim leaders who disagreed with his theology. Today, he cannot return to the UK, being unable to get a visa and opposed by Muslim leaders.

Many “Islams”

The question therefore is: what is true Islam? The reality is that there are now many “Islams” depending on one’s interpretation of the texts and of the history. All can validly claim to be theologically based on the same Islamic source texts. Thankfully the peaceful traditions continue to live on, shaping the minds and hearts of countless millions of Muslims across the world. These are the Muslims who seek only a better future for themselves and their children and grandchildren, many of whom have also a deep desire to live at peace with all humanity, as well as with their co-religionists.

But equally, there is the undeniable rise of radical Islam with an ideology that is propagated by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, funded by their vast oil resources, and now effectively reshaping Islam. This face of Islam brings extremists to the forefront and gives birth to movements like ISIS. ISIS has been publicly disowned by Muslim and Western leaders alike, including key political leaders in Britain and other Western countries, who assert that it does not represent Islam. In fact some would go so far as saying that ISIS is not Islamic in any way. But however much one may want to dismiss ISIS as a temporary phenomenon that will soon disappear, or that can be easily defeated, or that is un-Islamic and therefore can be rejected, these concepts may well prove to be nothing more than pie in the sky. Even if these extreme forms were to cease to exist, the ideological underpinning that has produced movements such as these will continue so long as nations like Saudi Arabia, as well as countless individual Islamic clerics and Muslim leaders, continue to use a literalist interpretation of Islam’s source texts. This remains true whether or not Western governments recognise the theological basis of such movements.

How can Christians survive?

Displaced Iraqi Christian children in Dohuk
Displaced Iraqi Christian children in Dohuk

For Christians it is now impossible to survive within the territory controlled by the so-called Islamic State. For those in bordering areas, such as northern Iraq, Baghdad, Damascus, certain other parts of Syria, and Lebanon, the future is filled with terror. Hope seems to be fast disappearing as they see an international community without the will to defeat such an extreme force.

For many the only apparent solution that enables them to retain their faith and protect their families and communities is to leave – to leave their homes and their homelands in search of survival. Countries such as the UK have shown a reluctance either to address ISIS or to protect Christians and welcome them into our land.

Calling for a concerted effort

Before I took my leave of the Grand Mufti, he commented on his last visit to the UK, a decade ago, when he had predicted that there would come a day when many British mosques would become radicalised and where some of their members would become prey to extremist beliefs and go on to do horrible things. Sadly, that day has now come. He asked me whether I could enable him to get a visa to visit the UK again and to teach a peaceful Islam based on tolerance and a common humanity.

If courageous Muslims like him do not come to the UK and other countries, if mosques do not open their doors to him, if the minds of the young do not receive his teachings and are not enlightened by his knowledge and wisdom, then the future of this land and others is increasingly uncertain. Christians in the Middle East, and now farther afield, see a rapidly approaching terror; the same terror may face us in the West before long.

The fearsome Assassins were a ferocious Ismaili Islamic sect that came into being in the late eleventh century and instituted a reign of terror, which lasted for some 200 years. The Assassins were eventually destroyed only when Christians and Muslims joined forces to work together against a group that threatened everyone. Unless a concerted effort is made by governments in the region and internationally too, ISIS will continue to grow and threaten us all.

Tim Keller on the Disappearing Umbrella Over Conservative Christians

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

August , 2014

 

Keller-219x300In a recent forum, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” Tim Keller predicted moderate growth of conservative evangelicalism even as the culture at large has grown more secular. In these remarks, he explains why these trends are leading to increasing polarization:

When I say “growing moderately,” I mean that the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion is in the middle. The devout numbers have not actually gone down that much. It depends on how you read them. But basically, they are not in freefall by any means.

You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.

Keller sees the middle as having once leaned toward nominal Christianity, out of a sense of respect, tradition, or for social reasons. He says:

It used to be that the devout and the mushy middle — nominal Christians, people that would identify as Christians, people who would come to church sporadically, people who certainly respect the Bible and Christianity — the devout and the mushy middle together was a super majority of people who just created a kind of “Christian-y” sort of culture.

The mushy middle used to be more identified with the devout. Now it’s more identified with the secular. That’s all.

What does this mean for conservative Christians? Keller uses the analogy of an umbrella:

So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth. I spoke on Friday morning to the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.

What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.

Later, he explains what the loss of this umbrella means for the devout:

The roof came off. That is, you had the devout, you had the secular, and you had that middle ground that made it hard to speak disrespectfully of traditional values. That middle ground now has not so much gone secular, but they more identified with this side. They are identified with expressive individualism, and so they don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives.

And so what that means now of course is that the devout suddenly realize that they are out there, that the umbrella is gone, and they are taking a lot of flak for their views, just public flak.

He uses the White House’s rescinding an invitation to Louie Giglio as an example of the kind of flak conservative Christians are now experiencing:

And there was no doubt, by the way, the Louie Giglio thing, when he was sort of disinvited because of his traditional views on homosexuality from giving the invocation at the Inauguration, that was so clear. No matter how I add it up, I look at the mainline churches and I take out the quarter that are probably evangelical, my guess is that 80 percent of the clergy of this country would have some reservations about homosexuality — 75, 80 percent, something like that.

But what we were being told was that you are beyond the pale, not just that you’re wrong, but that respect for you is wrong. And so that was heard loud and clear in the conservative Protestant world. Loud and clear. It was enormously discouraging. It was sort of a sense of it’s not just that you’re going to disagree with us, but basically you are saying we really don’t even have a right to be in the public square.

So when you have, on the one hand, that kind of pushback in the public square because now the middle is with the secular rather than with the devout, you have both — more people from conservative Protestantism trying to get into the cultural industries than ever before, instead of just staying out and being in their own subculture; on the other hand, getting more pushback for their views than ever. What will happen?

I would think if you were in the media you would say this is a story, and I’m just going to have to keep an eye on it. Right now there is a tension between people wanting influence and people wanting to have less influence. And the end result is in doubt.

 

Daughters and Their Dads: The Vital Relationship

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

With over a half century of solid social science research now in, we know quite clearly that children do best by every measure when raised by their own biological parents, preferably cemented by marriage. Not only is the evidence for all this overwhelming, but we also know that each individual parent – the mother and the father – plays a vital and unique role in the well-being of children. Each one contributes greatly to the rearing and raising of children.

Mothers and fathers are different, in other words, and each has a key role in shaping and developing the child. Let me look in more detail at just one aspect of this: the vital role of the father in his daughter’s life. There are now thousands of studies on the importance of fathers in general, with full-length books also discussing this. In particular, a dad brings unique and vitally important input into a daughter’s life, and when dad is absent, the daughter suffers in many ways.

dad-and-daighterAs already stated, the research on this is voluminous, so only a few highlights can here be offered. Father presence, input and affirmation all correlate with better outcomes for daughters. Many studies for example have shown a close connection between “the relationship between fatherly affirmation and a woman’s self-esteem, fear of intimacy, comfort with womanhood and comfort with sexuality” as one study puts it.

A researcher from Wake Forest University in America found that “fathers generally have as much or more influence than mothers on many aspects of their daughters’ lives. For example, the father has the greater impact on the daughter’s ability to trust, enjoy and relate well to the males in her life … well-fathered daughters are usually more self-confident, more self-reliant, and more successful in school and in their careers than poorly-fathered daughters… Daughters with good relationships with their father are also less likely to develop eating disorders.”

Another study found that “there were statistically significant relationships between engagement and accessibility with the daughters’ self-esteem and life satisfaction” and father involvement. And a further study from the US found a “relationship between father-daughter relationship quality and daughters’ stress response”.

Another study made this claim: “Research has shown that daughters who are dissatisfied with their communication interactions with their fathers are more likely to be involved with bad peer relationships, have unpleasant romantic endeavors, and make poor or life-threatening decisions compared to daughters who are satisfied with their communication interactions with their fathers.”

The research also finds a host of issues surrounding sexual problems. When dads are absent, daughters get into all sorts of trouble in this area. Here are some of the findings. Studies from many different cultures have found that girls raised without fathers are more likely to be sexually active, and to start early sexual activity. Father-deprived girls “show precocious sexual interest, derogation of masculinity and males, and poor ability to maintain sexual and emotional adjustment with one male”.

A US study found that girls who grow up without fathers were “53 percent more likely to marry as teenagers, 111 percent more likely to have children as teenagers, 164 percent more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92 percent more likely to dissolve their own marriages.”

Another US study found that “father engagement seems to have differential effects on desirable outcomes by reducing the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women”.

New Zealand research has found that the absence of a father is a major factor in the early onset of puberty and teenage pregnancy. Dr Bruce Ellis, Psychologist in Sexual Development at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch found that one of the most important factors in determining early menarche is the father: “There seems to be something special about the role of fathers in regulating daughters’ sexual development”.

A British study found that girls brought up by lone parents were twice as likely to leave home by the age of 18 as the daughters of intact homes; were three times as likely to be cohabiting by the age of 20; and almost three times as likely to have a birth out of wedlock.

Physical problems also can be noted when fathers are absent. A recent Australian study showed that obesity among girls in single-parent households continues to be a major problem. Deakin University health researchers studied nearly 9000 children aged between four and nine and found higher rates of overweight and obesity in girls from single-parent families than those in two-parent families.

Brain development can even be impacted by fatherlessness. Dr Gabriella Gobbi carried out research on this at McGill University in Canada. A summary of her findings says this: “Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain and produce children who are more aggressive and angry, scientists have warned. Children brought up only by a single mother have a higher risk of developing ‘deviant behaviour’, including drug abuse, new research suggests. It is also feared that growing up in a fatherless household could have a greater impact on daughters than on sons.”

Also, the likelihood of girls getting involved in antisocial and harmful behaviour is also increased because of father absence. As sociologist David Blankenhorn puts it, “If the evidence suggests that fatherless boys tend toward disorderly and violent behavior, it just as clearly suggests that fatherless girls tend toward personally and socially destructive relationships with men, including precocious sexual activity and unmarried motherhood.” Here again a raft of studies can be appealed to.

And as already noted, even something like one’s hormones can be influenced by the presence or absence of fathers. As science writer Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), states, “Girls who grow up with an engaged, involved father have a reduced risk of early puberty, risky sexual behavior, and teen pregnancy. The explanation could be that fathers’ scent alters the hormonal activity in their daughters.”

And a host of studies show that girls are far more at risk of sexual abuse when the father is not present. As but one example, a Finnish study of nearly 4,000 ninth-grade girls found that “stepfather-daughter incest was about 15 times as common as father-daughter incest”.

By way of summary, one author lists a number of reasons why fathers are so important to their daughters. These include:
-fathers shape their daughters’ self esteem
-fathers influence their daughters’ body image
-a father helps develop behavioural traits in his daughter
-fathers impact social traits in their daughters
-fathers help define future romantic relationships for their daughters
-fathers also help define non-romantic relationships

There is so much research now out on this that entire volumes have been penned examining the data. Let me highlight just two such books. The first is Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by American paediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker (Ballantine Books 2007). In it she demonstrates how vitally important a girl’s relationship with her father is to her mental, physical and social development.

The second book is by Bruce Robinson. Daughters and Their Dads (Macsis Publishing, 2008) also focuses on this vital relationship. As Robinson states in his opening chapter, “There is an incredible power in the father-daughter relationship, a power which strongly influences a woman’s future for good or bad. Girls long for affection and affirmation from their fathers. The influence that fathers have on their daughters is profound and lasts for the whole of their lives and it creates a hole in their lives if it is absent…. Many published studies have confirmed the powerful effect that fathers have on daughters with few dissenting voices.”

The evidence is clear: girls need their dads, and they suffer greatly in many respects when their biological father is absent.

The Gospel is Under Assault

Friday, August 29th, 2014

 

Bishop Atwood

Not everything claiming to be benign actually is…

This week, I’d like to share about two areas where the Gospel is particularly under assault.

The first is 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 which has driven missionary zeal and Biblical fidelity for centuries is 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 undermined 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. While 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.” While 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 is very much in play.

While it is admirable to have loving welcomes for all people, 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 excepted some things of moral law had He chosen to do so, but He did not. He certainly dismantled tenets of the ceremonial law. He could have made changes to moral law as well. Instead, He called us to a 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.

 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

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 it conforms 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 a fantasy that leaves people on a dangerous path spiritually and even physically. The Archbishop is in many, many, respects a wonderful man. 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.

The second great vulnerability is in our lack of engagement with Islam. 

Wake up and smell the sulphur…

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

(4) die.

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 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 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 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.

August, 2014

The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop an American Anglican Council contributing author and Bishop of the Anglican Church in North America’s International Diocese.

The State of the Anglican Communion: Midterm Report

Friday, August 29th, 2014
The State of the Anglican Communion: Midterm Report

Homosexuality has become the Ebola of the Anglican Communion

COMMENTARY

By David Virtue DD
www.virtueonline.org
August ,2014

Archbishop of Nigeria the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, leader of the Anglican Communion’s largest and fastest growing Anglican province with more than 20 million active Anglican souls, slipped into Washington, D.C., last week to meet with his CANA bishops, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, and other Anglican figures. His appearance in the US went unheralded and unnoticed by either the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Mariann Edgar Budde, or the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

This is not surprising. There is no love lost between the leaders of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Like a bad marriage, the two have separated, but are not officially divorced — since Primate Okoh and a dozen of his fellow primates failed to show up in Dublin, Ireland in 2011 to contemplate the Communion’s future in the light of current trends with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. It is a divorce in all but name and the separation seemingly permanent. No one is prepared to sign the divorce papers.

The besetting sin that has bedeviled the Anglican Communion for more than two decades is, of course, homosexual practice, and, concomitantly, doctrinal uncertainty, theological compromise (the ordination of women to the priesthood and more recently the episcopacy) as well as near total moral breakdown with multiple sexualities now looking for acceptance in the Episcopal Church pipeline.

Homosexuality has become the Ebola of the Anglican Communion. It is spreading throughout western Anglican provinces with major efforts being made by The Episcopal Church and the London based Anglican Consultative Council (the fourth instrument of unity), aided by the Listening Process, to infiltrate Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Of course, those of us who know Philip Groves, the Listening Process “facilitator”, knew early on that this had nothing to do with listening. It had everything to do with pushing and promoting a behavior funded by then Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to which church Groves bows deeply for his paycheck.

His efforts and those of the Episcopal Church are meeting with some small success in Africa, particularly the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and those poverty stricken African dioceses in provinces that are still orthodox in faith and morals. Major efforts are underway in Tanzania, Central Africa, Uganda, and Kenya to change the Church’s received scriptural teachings on sexuality for post-modern “doctrines” of inclusion and diversity regarding homosexual practice.

Only a handful of African Anglican primates are prepared to apply the serum of scripture to the death rattle of sodomy now spreading across the Anglican Communion.

GAFCON

In response to the torn fabric of the Communion and the intractableness of Western pan Anglicanism over sexuality, the birth of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which took place a month before the Lambeth conference in 2008, brought the promise of new life into an ailing Communion.

Orthodox Anglicans from Africa to the US rejoiced that at last they had an ecclesiastical home they could call their own. The Jerusalem Declaration was issued and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans was created. Conference participants also saw the creation of the Anglican Church in North America as an alternative to the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. It declared that recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury was not necessary to Anglican identity.

A new day dawned in Anglicanism, one that has changed the Anglican Communion picture so dramatically that it will never be the same again.

Even though Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby refuses to recognize the ACNA, the movement recently surged past the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) in average Sunday attendance leaving an embarrassed archbishop not knowing what to do or how to respond.

In a very real sense, he is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he recognizes the ACNA, he will isolate and alienate both the Episcopal Church and the ACoC. If he does not (and that seems to be the direction he is going), he risks ignoring the elephant in the narthex and further alienating the very evangelicals to which he theologically belongs.

His mantra, since he took office, has been one of reconciliation, the legacy of his years as a successful businessman. But business and the church are not remotely the same and reconciliation, while sounding good, has proven elusive in the Anglican Communion. GAFCON evangelicals could have been his missional spear carriers. He had a definitive moment. Instead he blew a major opportunity that will haunt him till the end of his episcopacy.

As an evangelical, he has sounded an uncertain bell over homosexuality, upsetting evangelical Anglicans worldwide, and at the same, time failing to be definitive enough for homosexuals in the Church of England. The recent Synod action to recognize sex only between a man and a woman in life long monogamy was a severe blow to homosexuals in the Church of England even as the Church rejoiced in paving the way for women bishops, another issue that set his Anglo-Catholic wing on edge.

Welby has seen the devastating effect of homosexuality in Africa. He has stood beside the graves of Christians slaughtered by Muslim extremists because of Western pandering to homosexuals, but he cannot fully escape his own country’s cultural acceptance of a behavior that has deadly spiritual and medical consequences. Like his predecessor, Rowan Williams, he will still not come out and declare definitively that the ontology and cosmology of sexuality has not, and will not, change because God has not changed his mind to accommodate less than 2 percent of the population. Cries of homophobia outweigh the facts of homosexual behavior and what is increasingly gay fascism posing as victimhood.

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

The Episcopal Church’s slow disintegration — recognized by liberal and conservative bloggers alike — continues. The hoped for influx of world-weary homosexuals into TEC following the consecration of Gene Robinson never materialized. Heightened publicity generated by Robinson’s celebrity status with a president has not resulted in gains for TEC.

Churches are growing smaller, parishioners are getting older, and a fortress mentality is setting in with “I don’t care what goes on in New York or San Francisco or LA, leave us alone.” The truth is that of the 6700 congregations in existence, only a small handful will ever see a homosexual or lesbian priest. The other truth is that a growing number of congregations can no longer afford full time clergy and must make do with retired or part time priests to fill their pulpits. The ability of a parish to pay a full time priest, who must also pay off seminary fees and raise a family, is shrinking by the week.

Meantime, the Anglican Communion marches relentlessly forward, its orthodox wing growing while its liberal wing shrivels and dies despite talk of a new reformation.

GLOBAL SOUTH PRIMATES

The Anglican Global South is a grouping of 24 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion and should not be confused with GAFCON archbishops even though there is some overlapping of jurisdictions and Primates. Both groups are orthodox in faith and morals with GAFCON primates more aggressive in their dealings with Western liberals, preparing to strike back when occasions call for it. The Global South are more careful not wanting to upset the Archbishop of Canterbury in his role of Primus inter pares.

The provinces identified with the Global South represent most of the Third World provinces within the Communion, including all those from Africa, most from Asia and two Oceania provinces. It significantly excludes the Anglican Churches of Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, and the Asian provinces of Japan and Korea. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa is officially associated to the Global South despite being more liberal than their African counterparts.

Whether there will be a full convergence of GAFCON with the Global South Primates, only time will tell. There is certainly no hostility between the groups, just a difference in emphasis.

NEW ALLIANCES

New alliances continue to form. Recently, the split Diocese of South Carolina saw its bishop Mark Lawrence ally himself with the Primates of the Global South. A steering Committee lead by Egyptian Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis recognized his Episcopal orders thus giving him legitimate Episcopal oversight within the Anglican Communion. This was a red rag to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and she is sparing no efforts in lawsuits and dollars to win away the properties she believes belong to the Episcopal (national) Church. Sooner or later, the Supreme Court of the United States will be charged into making a definitive ruling as to whether “neutral principles” outweighs the Dennis Canon. We live in exciting times.

For the moment, this is how things stand. The ACNA continues to grow while TEC continues to shrivel. The Global South is wary of Welby though they are unwilling to upset the Anglican apple cart. Africans are endlessly patient and they have cause to be — time is on their side. They are the ONLY show in town and they have the numbers to prove it.

Just as evangelical Archbishop Okoh showed up in Washington, recently, the revisionist Presiding Bishop will also show up in the evangelically run Church of England. Boundary crossing is the new norm. Nobody can stop it.

With the birth of ACNA, a new day has dawned in North America. With the birth of the Anglican Mission in England and the possibility of it spreading to NZ and Australia, the momentum is on the side of an evangelically driven gospel, sans sodomy. Warfare continues, the battle rages on. But as Scripture attests, “Victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov. 21:31).

END

WCF Versus the Haters, Bigots and Tolerance Brigade

Friday, August 29th, 2014

CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Those who scream the loudest about tolerance and acceptance are again proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they refuse to tolerate and accept anyone other than themselves. Indeed, if we did not already have proof positive of how great the hate, and how deep the diabolical savagery of these folks can be, we have certainly witnessed it lately.

A pro-family conference is being “tolerated” by bullies and thugs who are intent on shutting it down. So much for free speech. The regional conference of the World Congress of Families is due to be held this Saturday somewhere in Melbourne.

wcfBut the jackboots of political correctness and hate are doing all they can to shut down freedom of speech and democracy. Of course the hate brigade has been saying for quite some time how they intended to show tolerance, acceptance and diversity. Consider this for example from the Green/Left site:

Victoria police are vetting registrants and scouting venues to try to provide security for the besieged World Congress of Families in Melbourne on August 30. The final venue for the event remains unclear as they try to avoid clashes with widespread community opposition.
Activists are already causing chaos for conference organisers Babette Francis of the Endeavour Forum (formerly Women Who Want to be Women) and John Brennan of the conservative Catholic men’s group Knights of the Southern Cross.
Notorious bigot-baiter Pauline Pantsdown has encouraged her thousands of followers to register for the extreme-right, anti-feminist and homophobic conference. Pantsdown’s Facebook page is awash with hilarious correspondence between activists and Francis. Francis openly admits that police are vetting all registrants, even to the point of checking the addresses provided.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex activists, feminists, First Nations people, unionists, pro-refugee and anti-racist activists, and atheist and religious people against bigotry are organising a disruptive “Unwelcome Ceremony”, Equal Love demonstration and family-friendly “Block Party against Hate” wherever the congress tries to meet. Police have told organisers that the venue is unlikely to be either of the two advertised by the congress.

The Coalition to Beat Back the Far-Right put out this Media Release well before the conference:

Activists are pleased to announce an entire day of subversive activity against the upcoming gathering of rightwingers and bigots, the World Congress of Families, to be held in Melbourne on August 30th. Beginning at 8am with a “welcome they deserve,” the day will feature a protest hosted by Equal Love at 11am and a Block Party against Hate in the afternoon.

And they even admit that they will seek to trash this peaceful conference and take away freedoms of ordinary Australians:

Meet the people disrupting the extremist World Congress of Families
Kerrie Davies (Council of Single Mothers and their Children)
Gaye Demanuele (Reproductive Justice Activist, Radical Women)
First Nations spokesperson (TBA)
Louise O’Shea (Equal Love)
Mohammad Ali Baqiri (Former child refugee from Afghanistan detained on Nauru, Refugee Rights Activist)
Marisa Sposaro (Disability rights and prison activist)
Naomi Farmer (National Union of Students)
Anonymous (Public sector worker and unionist)

If that is not clear enough, consider this threat: “Naomi Farmer, National Queer Officer for the National Union of Students and Demonstrator Organiser, told MCV they were expecting over 100 people to protest the event. ‘They key thing we want to do is actually stop the event from happening, so we do intend on blockading the gates in the morning,’ she said.”

And Debbie Brennan, the head of the socialist feminist organisation Radical Women, said “We will exercise our free speech right to make it as hard as we can for people to get into the congress. Certainly, we will be out there in force and having loud things to say.”

So very typical: in the name of tolerance and acceptance, they will not tolerate those with opposing ideas, and they will not accept anyone who dares to differ. They will disrupt and carry on like the fascists of old to shut down public debate. In the name of freedom of speech they will do all they can to strip freedom of speech away from those they disagree with. Go figure.

And they talk all the time about “hate”. The whole world can see where all the hate is coming from. And it is not coming from those who celebrate love, life, marriage and family. It is coming from the rent-a-crowd of the radical secular left who always roll up to shut down and shout down any event not to their liking.

World Congress of Families leader Larry Jacobs had to weigh into the debate, offering some truth about the whole affair:

World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs praised those leaders who signed an International Pro-Family Leadership Open Letter to the People of Australia in support of the August 30th “Life, Family and Freedom Conference” in Melbourne.
“We are thankful and humbled by the support of the 80 leaders from Romania, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, Venezuela, the Philippines, Canada, France, South Africa, the Republic of Georgia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia, Poland, Colombia, Jamaica, Trinidad, the Netherlands, Chile, Serbia, and the United States for standing with us against attacks on the Melbourne Conference and the international pro-family movement,” Jacobs declared.
The petition notes that sexual radicals and extremists have launched a smear campaign alleging that to promote positive ideas regarding the natural family somehow “shames” others, including single-parent families, the divorced and homosexual couples.
“That’s absurd,” Jacobs countered, “As a child raised in a loving home by divorced, single parents, I would never advocate for policies that would promote hate or shame mothers and fathers. The real truth is that our natural family solutions to the social crisis help all parents and children by reducing poverty, improving education, maximizing mental and physical health, and saving lives. A wealth of social science data demonstrates conclusively and unequivocally that children do best in married families with a mother and a father in the home. To state that simple truth does not demonstrate a lack of compassions for those in different circumstances. Just as saying that marriage is a social good doesn’t ‘stigmatize’ or ‘shame’ the unmarried.”
The Petition/Open Letter notes: “The natural-family philosophy was set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, which observes that ‘men and women of full age… have the right to marry and found a family’ and that the family is ‘the natural and fundamental group unit of society’ and, as such, is ‘entitled to protection by society and the state.’ This language is repeated in the constitutions of more than 100 nations around the world.”
Moreover: “For the past 3,000 years, in every culture, this definition of the family (a man and woman united by faith and tradition, raising their children in a loving environment) has been considered beyond dispute. Only in the past few decades have competing ‘models’ of the family been offered as the new norm. The natural family is also affirmed by every major religion.”
Jacobs said: “Attacks on proponents of the natural family and marriage are part of a cynical campaign by sexual radicals to avoid an honest discussion by labeling those who disagree with them ‘hateful.’”
Jacobs concluded: “If you want to see ‘hate’ in action, look at efforts to deconstruct human dignity, re-define marriage, and marginalize the natural family which, if successful, will result in untold human suffering especially for children.”

Former US Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is also a signatory to this open letter, and was also featured in a newspaper article here:

“Sexual radicals have launched a smear campaign to discredit the Melbourne conference, which misrepresents the international pro-family movement and the positions of the World Congress of Families,” says the open letter, which has been signed by 80 people. The letter says criticism of the group’s support for a traditional family is unfair because “social science data shows clearly and unequivocally that children do best in families with a mother and father”.
The letter cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says “men and women of full age … have the right to marry and found a family”. The group writes: “The goal of sexual radicals is to deconstruct marriage and marginalise the family, and thus to transform society into something unrecognisable to generations past. Like all social experiments that attempt to create a ‘new man’, these are doomed to failure.”

All this commotion – pro and con – has been taking place long before the actual day of the conference. If the conference does in fact go ahead – no thanks to these fascists who are seeking to shut it down and stifle free speech, all in the name of tolerance of course – then I will be there, and I will certainly write up what takes place. So stay tuned for episode two.