Anglican update: Asking for asylum for Iraqi Christians


Anglican Update

(view online version here)

‘Convert, leave or die’. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians face this choice. Hundreds have been either beheaded or crucified. Many thousands have left everything they had in life and are living in crowded and temporary shelters.

They got brief exposure in this summer’s headlines but mainly along with the Yasidis who were trapped on a mountain.

Pleading on BBC

Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad, pleaded on BBC radio for Britain to help them by joining other nations in offering asylum. But answer has there been none. So far the UK has taken 54 refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Why? Probably because Iraqi Christians have no economic or political significance. Some within their leadership disagree about whether the best solution is for them to flee to other countries, or find a safe haven provided by the military might of others in their native lands as was provided to the Kurds two decades ago.

The latter argument is emotionally compelling. Christians have been in Iraq for centuries and members of the people of God since Jonah went to Nineveh. The land is their home, their culture and their identity.

And there are arguments against offering asylum. The UK government has its own pressing problems dealing with seemingly uncontrollable immigration from the EU. Others argue that providing asylum would do ISIS’s work for them in removing ‘unbelievers’ from the lands they want to control.

How long will it take?

In the pogrom against the Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, many found refuge in the UK and other European countries. From 1930 it took 15 years and a global war to rid the world of Hitler.

Western politicians estimate that it will take at least three years to rid the Middle East of ISIS. In that time how many of the religious minorities will have died?

Leaving home, culture and identity is a huge wrench and not undertaken lightly. But God is not bound to nations nor by them. The nation-state as a concept is so 19th-century. The nation-states in question here are of very recent origin and look set to disappear in the near future. Moreover, God moves people around: he displaced the Jews several times; Jesus himself was a refugee to Egypt as a baby; and he taught that those facing the great tribulation should flee to the mountains. God is bound to his people, not to geographical borders.

Hospitality to the suffering and vulnerable is a Christian tradition stretching back to the early church when Christians went out to take in and care for weakling babies and ill people left out to die.

It is not sustainable to provide supplies for the 7 million displaced persons in the Middle East whom the UN classes as refugees. Their aid needs are 60% underfunded, according to the UNHCR. It is sustainable to provide immediate shelter and a transit camp for 100,000 Iraqi Christians who want to flee to the UK sovereign bases in Cyprus and from there be dispersed to host countries willing to offer them asylum (which the UK currently does not).

Could we do this?

But what if parishes and churches offered to take in two or three Iraqi Christians each. for, say, three to six months? There are 16,000 churches in the Church of England quite apart from other denominations who so generously support the Christian NGOs. That would mean a handful per church.

When I floated that possibility in our church at the end of August three people immediately offered space in their homes. In another part of the country someone offered 50 places in their holiday park. That would livingly demonstrate the Body of Christ in action – a great witness to the gospel .

The archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the bishops of West Yorkshire and the Dales, Manchester and Coventry have all called for Britain to offer asylum to those fleeing Iraq. Christian peers Baroness Cox, Lord Alton, Lord Curry and Lord Dannatt wrote to The Times in September urging the government to provide such refuge and grant asylum.

Councillor Mary Douglas, a member of a Pioneer church and a trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, writes: ‘I pray that the church in the UK will be foremost in opening our homes to refugees’.

You could make your own point by writing to your MP urging this course of action and where possible making an offer. And do we doubt that such people will bring the blessing of God with them?

Chris Sugden

 

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Prayer fuel: News in the UK


Prayer Fuel

(view online version here)

Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the October issue of en. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

Dawkins (partial) apology

Professor Richard Dawkins apologised in late August for tweeting that it would be immoral for a mother to continue with a pregnancy if she knew that the foetus had Down’s syndrome.

However, Dawkins still asserted that abortion was the correct choice based on his own morality, which is to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, as he believes it is immoral from the child’s perspective not to abort the baby. Right to Life Charitable Trust

Aggressive exclusion

An ‘aggressive form of secularism’ is pushing faith out of the public square, the former Attorney General warned in late August.

Dominic Grieve said there is a ‘sanitisation’ of religion from the workplace, which will lead to people being ‘excluded’ from society and that ‘recognising people’s right to manifest their faith and express it is very important’. In April, a survey of 2,000 people suggested that Christians are afforded less protection for their beliefs by the state compared to those who practise other religions. The Christian Institute

No brainer

Children raised in marital homes are better behaved than those brought up by unmarried parents, according to major research funded by the Department for Education reported in mid-September.

The study of around 3,000 children aged three to 16 found that those with married parents showed lower levels of anti-social attitudes and hyperactivity. They were also more confident, kind and responsible, according to the research from the University of Oxford and the University of London. The Christian Institute

 

For more news and prayer fuel from around the UK, subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Editors commentary: Test for the West


west-threatWEBIn the last month or so we have entered a crucial phase in the struggle between the West and extremist Islam.

This has become clear both at home and abroad. At home we have seen not only the so-called Trojan Horse project where Muslim governors tried to Islamise Birmingham schools but also the immense tragedy of gangs of largely Pakistani Muslim men targeting and trading children for under-age sex in Rotherham and across the North. They used threats and violence while the police and local authorities turned a blind eye. The report by Professor Alexis Jay said that more than 1,400 children were sexually abused over a period of 16 years.

Meanwhile, abroad we have been shocked by the totalitarian horrors of ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) as its jihadi well-equipped volunteers have captured large areas of Iraq and Syria, driving out or massacring those who refuse their particular brand of Islam. Western journalists and aid workers taken hostage by this group have been beheaded and footage of the executions – seemingly carried out by a British jihadi – posted on the internet for all to see. The response to all this so far has been weak and confused, especially from the UK.

Corrupt liberalism

It was interesting to see how the media reacted to Rotherham. As usual they looked for someone to blame. But the BBC did not focus at all on the perpetrators of these foul crimes or the influences on them. They concentrated solely on the failings of the authorities.

I have no wish to exonerate those charged with protecting children. The police should not have dismissed what was reported to them. But in a politically-correct land like ours, where the threat of being labelled racist or Islamophobic is deadly for one’s career and where under-age sex is positively promoted in our schools and young women are more or less expected to dress provocatively, one can see why, perhaps, such reports were not taken as seriously as they ought to have been. And of course it is the ‘slut chic’ fashions so beloved by many young people which invite some Muslim men, who already believe that non-Muslims are a lesser species (the Dhimmi), to indulge in such gross abuse. These abused girls, whose lives have been wrecked, have been let down not just by the police and local authorities but by our whole sexualised Western liberal culture.

To die for?

When it comes to the jihad in Syria and Iraq one has to ask whether or not the West can defend itself in the long term. Our leaders are falling into a pattern of talking tough and doing little. This is seen as a sign of weakness by ISIL (and incidentally by the Russians in Ukraine) Ultimately, secularism, which believes only in this life, has nothing it is prepared to die for. Under pressure from the liberal press Western governments are very reluctant to put boots on the ground and risk being accused of wasting young soldiers’ lives. Our problem is that, being a secular liberal society, we do not believe in absolute moral values. That being the case it is not hard to see why we lack moral fibre.

As history has often proved, it takes more than superior technology to defeat a determined enemy prepared to die for what they see as a greater good. How is the West to recover its moral backbone? I’m afraid that neither the politicians nor the church in its present state has the answer to that. But thankfully the LORD is still on the throne.

 

John Benton

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates

What’s coming up in the October issue of en…


October 2014 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the October issue of en! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on TODAY – hurrah!

You can also go to our web-site if you’d like to take a look at the online version or to subscribe!

Is the law stacked against us?


Is the law stacked against us?(view original article here)

An interview with Dr Andrew Hambler

There is conflict for many Christians in the work place.

en has asked Dr Andrew Hambler, senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, to bring some clarity to where Bible-believing Christians stand regarding faith in a secular workplace.

en: How, within one generation, have Christians gone from being seen as reliable employees to fearing for their jobs?

AH: In 2003 when the Sexual Orientation and the Religion and Belief Regulations came into law, creating new protections and adding to the existing body of discrimination law, things changed. Although these laws were developed with protecting people at their heart, they have had unforeseen consequences. Employers are sometimes worried that they might face a ‘harassment’ claim by a non-religious employee if they allow ‘religious employees’ to articulate their beliefs, particularly if they include some criticism (even implied) of same-sex couples, for example. This has made employers less tolerant when religious beliefs are articulated.

en: So legislation designed to protect people of faith, actually works against them?

AH: In some ways, yes. But it’s important to take a closer look at the origin of those regulations. In the days prior to and during the drafting of these laws in 2003, there was a clear connection made between religion and ethnicity. The ACAS Guide to Religion and Belief, written in 2003 to help employers understand religious discrimination, is concerned primarily with the protection of minority religions. It makes mention of accommodation of dress codes, religious symbols and so on which on the whole do not apply to Christians. In some ways I think it may have come as a surprise to those who drafted the Religion and Belief Regulations (now subsumed into the Equality Act 2010) that they have been invoked so often by Christians but I’m not sure they were really designed with Christians in mind.

en: Does the law offer any help then to Christians?

AH: At a basic level, yes. It stops people being refused jobs just because they are Christians. For example there were news reports of a hotel which did not want to employ a Christian because he wouldn’t ‘fit in’ with the other employees. Reportedly he won an out of court settlement from the employer when he began legal proceedings. This protection is helpful, of course. The problem is that it does not really help Christians to go on to express their faith when employers are hostile.

en: When ‘Joe Christian’ hears the results of a court case where a Christian has claimed religious discrimination against their employer, it pretty much always ends with the Christian losing the case. The question that many ask is why don’t we have a ‘reasonable accommodation’ provision here in the UK as they do in the USA?

AH: Reasonable accommodation sounds reasonable! In theory it requires employers to accept and ‘accommodate’ religious practices in the workplace, such as the wearing of religious symbols, using religious language, perhaps even ‘witnessing’ to other employees. However, the problem is that in the US in particular, this legal right does not have much meaning because the employer can argue ‘undue hardship’ to avoid making these accommodations. So, if there is any cost to the employer (including reputational cost) then they can say it is unreasonable to offer any accommodations at all.

So, I’m not sure whether reasonable accommodation would add very much unless it was introduced as a much stronger right (similar to the well-known right of employees with disabilities to have ‘reasonable adjustments’ made to enable them to work). What we do have in the UK is the right not to suffer ‘indirect discrimination’ because of someone’s religious beliefs, and when this right is invoked by a Christian it usually results in a court ‘balancing’ the rights of Christians to articulate their beliefs against employers’ rights to keep their workplaces secular.

en: What about the use of rational objections to discrimination? If, say, an NHS worker found herself having to agree to promote abortion, couldn’t she use a rational argument, e.g. citing the number of women who suffer depression after abortions, in order to avoid using a religious discrimination argument in a tribunal?

AH: When I speak to NHS HR managers, they often talk about the value of the ‘neutral workplace’. They see that as good practice. As such, the expression of Christian perspectives, or the using of religious arguments regarding objections to abortions, for example, are likely to evoke limited sympathy (although for doctors only there are some limited protections for conscience). But though neutrality sounds enticing, it means secularism in reality. And secularism isn’t neutral. Secular viewpoints on life and death and on issues of human sexuality, parenthood, etc., are very loaded, and one could argue that vocal Christian perspectives are sorely needed as a counterbalance to what appears to be the prevailing ethos. But the idea of ‘neutrality’ prevents this.

en: In your opinion, should a Christian use the law and make a complaint against an employer?

AH: I think that employees should always try to resolve their difficulties where possible in dialogue with the employer, and be prepared to compromise to the extent that their conscience allows. Unfortunately employers are not always equally reasonable.

In those circumstances, should Christians use the law? The courtroom is not a pleasant place. Even the boldest people find it challenging in the extreme; don’t underestimate the toll it will take on you. It is very hard to remain consistent, and your past conduct in the workplace may come out. You shouldn’t necessarily be put off, but if you have been a difficult employee or if you have been disciplined for an unrelated matter, this may be referred to in the tribunal.

So, I think I would say you need to examine your motives and past conduct very carefully and consider what the outcome may be. If you are standing for a principle, then yes, that can be good reason to go to court. But even if that is true, it depends very much upon the individual as to whether they are able to withstand the ordeal of a tribunal case. I am aware of many Christians who say they have found their faith strengthened during the stress of a tribunal claim but also many who find the experience too painful to talk about even some time after the event.

en: Do you think things will get harder for Christians in the workplace?

AH: Yes, certainly for those who want to share their faith at work. My anecdotal evidence is that some employers and certainly professional bodies (e.g. the GMC with its recently revised code of conduct for doctors) are making this more difficult.

Even for those who don’t ‘witness’ very overtly, there may be problems of conscience. For example, there is the fear which was voiced by the Coalition for Marriage that Christian teachers may be required to use resources in the classroom which promote same-sex relationships, something which for many will go against conscience. Michael Gove has gone on record to say that will not happen – but who is to say what the situation will be under a future government? There are certainly no firm legal protections for conscience for teachers built into the Equal Marriage legislation.

However, despite these particular issues, I suspect that the majority of difficulties that Christians face at work will probably continue to be the same as ever – mockery, sidelining, pressure to do something dishonest, temptation to gossip, etc. Such problems have no doubt always existed in the workplace and most Christians may find their particular ‘trials’ at work extend no further than this.

Andrew Hambler is the author of Religious expression in the workplace and the contested role of law, due for publication by Routledge on 15 November 2014

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Healing and healers (book review)


HEALING AND HEALERSHealing and healers
By Jim Thompson
Evangelical Press. 267 pages. £8.99.
ISBN 978 0 852 349 335

(view original article here)

Here Jim Thompson investigates not only modern day healings but modern day healers – those who claim to have the same gift as that possessed by Christ and his apostles.

The first question is this: What are the NT standards for healing? Thompson lists four. They were immediate, without natural means, complete and 100% successful. Additionally, ‘no condition was too hard to heal’. The conditions were truly organic (like a chopped-off ear), not merely ‘functional’ or psychological.

In the light of these standards, have we just been through a ‘century of healing’ (chapter 2)? No. The vast majority of the ‘healings’ of the likes of Benny Hinn simply do not live up to the NT standards of Jesus and his apostles. Are many healings today little more than hypnotically induced psychosomatics, often with positive effects that are only very temporary? This is the author’s contention, examined through various medical studies.

Useful sickness

Biblically, it cannot be shown that all sickness is from the devil and it can be shown that sickness may be the will of God for a believer – positively promoting holiness, sympathy for others and dependence on God.

The writer deals with passages that might seem to challenge his view. For example, the ending of Mark 16 he takes to be descriptive of first generation Christianity, not prescriptive for every generation. The ‘greater works’ of John 14.12 are surely works of conversion on a global scale, otherwise what could they be? Hebrews 13.8 cannot be used in support of ongoing miracles, as in Jesus’s day, because God does not work the same way in every period of history.

Ultimately, the author emphasises the power of God’s Word in the church – the greatest changes in individuals and the church have happened through this means, as revival histories clearly demonstrate.

I found this a helpful book. The question of healing comes up again and again in church life. It needs to be re-addressed with every new generation and the dynamic gospel of God re-asserted, or we can be dangerously diverted.

Oliver Rice,
pastor, Bow Baptist Church, East London

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe for monthly updates

Breaking the church/state link


Breaking the church_state link(view original article here)

Given the rise of secular ideas, should the Church of England be disestablished?

David Cameron looks upon Britain as a ‘Christian country.’

His comments came in an article for the Church Times in April. It caused a furore in the press with a collection of 55 anti-religious intellectuals firing off a furious letter to the Daily Telegraph. And atheist and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg would evidently agree with them. He does not want Britain to be seen as a Christian country – at least not in the historic sense. On an LBC radio phone-in following the PM’s comments he said that he would like to see the disestab-lishment of the Church of England.

All this has brought to the surface the question of whether or not, in 21st-century multi-cultural Britain, any one religion should be given preferred treatment. Surely, Church and State ought to be separated.

Running from the argument

The argument over disestablishment has, of course, a long history. In her novel Felix Holt the Radical, the great 19th-century writer George Eliot touches on the subject with light comedy. Her book is set during the time of the Reform Act of 1832. Old Rufus Lyon, Dissenting minister of the Independent Chapel at Treby in the Midlands, is a central character. In the course of the story Mr Lyon does Sir Maximus Debarry, the local Lord of the Manor, a good turn and, touched by the Dissenter’s kindness, Sir Maximus asks if there is anything he could do for him. After some thought Mr Lyon says there is. He could arrange for a public debate between Mr Lyon and the local rector, Sir Maximus’s brother, the Revd Augustus Debarry, on the subject of the establishment of the Church of England. This is duly arranged. But fearing the debating abilities of Mr Lyon, the rector passes the buck. He deputes the responsibility to engage in the debate to his curate, the Revd Sherlock. There is much excitement. The day of the debate arrives. However, it arrives only for the Revd Sherlock to abscond. He has taken the stagecoach out of town and is nowhere to be found!

Perhaps George Eliot was aware that an argument for establishment is pretty hard to muster from the New Testament. Convinced from Scripture of independency though with a great respect for good gospel congregations still within the Church of England, many of us would find it impossible to argue cogently and biblically for the present state of affairs.

Contemporary Britain is not in the same category as Old Testament Israel. We are not a theocracy but a democracy. The only Head of the Church is the Lord Jesus, not the monarch – much as we respect her.

Atheism and establishment

Many thinkers have argued that to break the link between Church and State would be ultimately beneficial for the Christian faith.

Why is it that Europe is now so strongly atheist, yet America, also a modern society, is not? Listen to what Alistair McGrath has written in his excellent book The Twilight of Atheism: ‘The appeal of atheism in Europe rested partly on its social role as liberator from the bondage of the past and partly on the challenge it posed to the state. In Europe, the phenomenon of state churches (a relic of medieval Christianity) made Christianity an integral part of the establishment. To revolt against the status quo was to revolt against Christianity. But the social situation in North America was quite different. The constitutional separation of Church and State prevented any Christian body from exercising influence save through its function as an interest group. There was no link between Church and State to revolt against, no established church to oppose’.1

The Church/State link of establishment forever allies Christianity with worldly (and therefore failing) governments. With an established church, people can feel as if Christianity has been forced down their throats for centuries. This is one of the great catalysts for aggressive atheism.

America’s wisdom?

But there is another side to this coin. In their book The Right Nation: Why America is Different, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write: ‘The separation of Church and State has done more than anything else to preserve religion as a vigorous … force in American life. The disestablishment of religion injected market forces into American religious life. Religious organisations could not rely on the state for subsidies in the same way as, say, the Church of England. They had to compete to survive. This was exactly as Jefferson, one of the most vigorous supporters of disestablishment, predicted. In his notes for a speech to the legislature in 1776 he argued that religious freedom would strengthen the church because it would “oblige its ministers to be industrious and exemplary.”’. They go on to state, ‘Disestablishment also lifted a huge burden from religion. What better way to distort faith than to make it dependent on the whims of politicians? And what better way to debilitate faith than to link it to the pursuit of sinecures and preferment? America was mercifully free from the local equivalents of Trollope’s parsons, who were constantly manoeuvring for official preferment’.2 .

The Queen and the Prince?

It also needs to be pointed out that at present the Head of the Church of England is Queen Elizabeth II, who declares herself to be a Christian. Many of us have been tremendously encouraged by her Christmas Day messages over the last few years which, though showing much respect for other faiths, have seen our monarch speak of her own personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, Prince Charles, her son and next in line to the throne, does not seem to have a similar Christian faith. The anomaly of having a non-Christian as Head of the Church of England is of course absurd. But it is an absurdity which was bound to happen sometime given establishment.

Long and short

However, although this writer believes that there is no biblical case for an established church in these new covenant times, and that disestablishment would have long term benefits for the gospel, I do have some misgivings for the short term.

If, eventually, Parliament does vote to cut the links between Church and State it will of course be trumpeted by anti-God brigade and the chameleons of the media as a great triumph for atheism and for ‘freedom’. It will be less mainstream than ever to identify yourself as a Christian. The majority of people in our darkened country will see this as yet another reason why they may dismiss the gospel and write off those who believe it as cranks or cultists. At the last census in 2011 some 59% of the population called themselves ‘Christian’ in some sense. That was a fall from 70% in the previous census ten years earlier. I would expect that disestablish-ment would have the effect of seeing that decline accelerate.

No neutrality

I also have misgivings about those Christians who think that somehow a secular State would bring about a fairer deal for evangelicals. The idea is that the secular judiciary would be neutral and be bound by law to treat all religious groups equally – a nice idea but it is a pipe dream.

According to Scripture, a position of ‘neutrality’ concerning the things of God or the people of God is a myth. Already in our increasingly secular and politically correct society we do not see other groups being treated in the same way that Christianity is treated. The blasphemies and derision allowed as acceptable against the person of Jesus in recent years would never be allowed against the Prophet of Islam. Christians are reprimanded for wearing any emblem of their faith or offering to pray with someone whereas to treat those of other faiths similarly would cause an uproar. If this is the present experience of the church then to imagine that things would improve for us once disestablish-ment occurred is hard to believe.

The Bible teaches that Christians are in a spiritual warfare in which there is no one who is disinterested. Secular lawyers and judges are just as fallen as other people and part of that fallen-ness is not only alienation from God, but antipathy to God and his gospel (Romans 8.7). So if disestablishment goes ahead I will rejoice for the long term but prepare for an even more bumpy ride for the short.

1. The Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath, p.162.
2. The Right Nation: Why America is Different by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, p.324

 

John Benton,
Pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford and Editor of en

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.