Current Affairs

The Current Refugee Crisis

Syria

I’m sure like me you’ve been deeply moved by the heart-breaking image of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach. This precious little boy is only one of thousands of children and adults who’ve perished trying to reach the safety of Europe this year alone.

This tragedy represents just a tiny fraction of over 16 million Syrians in need in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Syria itself. That’s equivalent to almost three-quarters of Australia’s population.

World Vision staff are on the ground providing life-saving aid to Syrian families fleeing conflict, including food, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and education programs for children. But the needs are growing every day.

Children are hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Their parents are becoming more and more desperate to find a safe place for them. This is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. As Christians, Jesus calls us to join him in the margins.  Together, we can bring hope to Syrian children and families in urgent need.

Today, World Vision has joined Oxfam and Save the Children in calling on all Australians to urge our government to do more to help the people of Syria. Could you please sign the joint petition today and add your voice to the call for Australia to do its fair share?

Would you also please consider helping by:

  • Taking the time to pray for the conflict and those caught up in it. 
  • Making an online donation.

Thanks


Beyond the Walls by Brad Chilcott

Bad C

Who would’ve thought that one photo could cause so much trouble?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been criticized for my friendship and solidarity with the Muslim community, in fact I’d had some threats of violence when I spoke up about Halal certification but this one took it another level. Had I renounced the gospel? Sure, being friends with Muslims, but praying in a mosque? Did I even believe in Jesus anymore? The beard didn’t help any.

Had I taken the instructions “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemy” too literally? Too far?

1 John 3. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We know what loves looks like by only one measure. Jesus Christ. We only know what loves looks like because we know Jesus and what it looked like for him.

And if I had a Bible for every time I’ve heard a Christian use their love for everyone as an excuse to be bigoted, hateful, insular, selfish, fear-mongering, greedy and self- interested I’d be the library at the Vatican.

You’ve heard it like I have. This flippant Christianese about loving people for whom we hold our deepest prejudices and ugliest hatreds.

Let me say this -

If it sounds like hate, feels like hate and makes people feel hated then it’s certainly not love.

There’s not some special form of love that only Christians get to know about that looks and feels a lot more like hate for those that it is directed towards, but in some super spiritual secret way is still love.

If it looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and keeps us as far away from people as prejudice does, then it’s prejudice.

There’s not a special form of Christian love that looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and distances and dehumanises people like prejudice but in actual fact is some secret kind of love that only Christians know of.

There’s no special kind of love where you get to be horrible to people, or pretend they don’t exist, a kind of love where you stay in your insular and ignorant world, judge people you’ve never met, protect yourself from difference and religiously maintain your privileged way of life and self-righteously sheltered paradigm.

There’s a reason that doesn’t sound a lot like love.

Because it isn’t love. It’s prejudice wrapped up in faith.

It’s ignorance wrapped up in religion.

It’s bigotry masquerading as Christianity.

It’s selfishness appropriating the name of the selfless one to excuse greed and insularity.

It’s our rampant desire for a comfortable, self-interested life using the one who gave up the trappings of heaven to set us free as an excuse not to give a damn about anyone except ourselves, our situation and our perspective.

That’s not love it’s blasphemy.

But seeing as that little rant doesn’t relate to anyone here in this room I want to move on and talk about some things that are a bit more insidious, a bit less overt and obvious but are nevertheless important to reflect upon if we are to apply this wild measure of love to our work in the community and world.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us.” There’s a CS Lewis quote that I find helpful to explain it in practice

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” ―C.S. Lewis

Another way of putting that could be “good intentions are not the same thing as love”.

Why? Because if we don’t do the hard work of turning good intentions into real outcomes for people then it’s likely that the “good” in “good intentions” is more about how good we feel about what we’re doing.

There’s a danger that we’re in fact congratulating ourselves for the intention to do good deeds, the videos we made to celebrate them and the likes on our Instagram account of ourselves with poor children rather than doing whatever it takes for the good of the people we say we love.

The phrase in CS Lewis’ quote “As far as it can be obtained” is key for us, I think. Love seeks the ultimate good of the loved person “as far as it can be obtained”.

Here are some very practical things that love does when love has the intention to work for the “ultimate good ... as far as it can be obtained”.

1. Love intentionally escapes the echo chamber. In love we realise that it is easy to be surrounded by people, ideas, books and stories that affirm what we believe, the way we think, our theology, missiology and ecclesiology and we end up in a situation where we think anyone who isn’t doing it like us, or with us, must be naive, uneducated or willfully incompetent.

The echo chamber is when we find a bunch of like-minded churches, with similar culture to our own, and so do what they’re doing – it must be the right thing because they had a sick video and their people love it.

Love is not an excuse to be uneducated, or narrowly educated. Love is a steady wish for the loved one’s good as far as it can be obtained. As far as it can be obtained means being aware of the danger of the echo chamber where all our ideas, practices and projects are constantly being affirmed by those who we have become mirrors of.

2. Love is teachable and actively seeks out learning and critique. Love makes sure we’re at the cutting edge of community engagement, aid and development and have made every endeavor to learn from the best practitioners in the world about how to maximize our engagement with the people we say we love.

Love is not an excuse to do things badly. Love is not an excuse to be ten years behind. What I mean by this is that love won’t just send money, people and hours to any foreign aid and development project, or local community development work, driven by an emotional response we call love.

Love will, in seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, actively seek to understand what it world’s best practice today and invest in that best practice.

If you don’t know what results-based accountability, asset-based community development or collective impact mean, it’s time to learn.

When we’re still behaving like the white Saviours who can solve all the world’s problems for them the photos look great but It’s not love.

3. Love maximizes outcomes no matter what the cost – because it’s about the recipient and what they get out of our love acting towards them and not about us and our desire to feel like we’re good people.

In a small church community like mine, hundreds of people hours and thousands of dollars are invested in helping the people we love. In larger churches it’d be thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands.

Across this room, across Australia, it’s incredible to think how much human and financial resource flows from our love for others.

Love, seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, pays the price of ensuring this investment does the most good it possibly can. That sometimes leads to conflict when we learn that our favorite projects aren’t aligned with good development principles, or that our community engagement isn’t helping but is feeding a dependency mindset.

Love sometimes means educating people that there are better organisations, projects, activities to invest their time and money into, and others that need to be abandoned, or radically re-imagined.

Love is not an excuse to avoid the conflict that comes from assessment, accountability and education. In fact, love makes those things essential because love doesn’t ask, “How does this activity benefit me and my church?” or “How does this keep people in my church happy and comfortable?” love says, “How can I best obtain the ultimate good for these people we say we love?”

This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. What would you give up for love of people?

Changing the way it’s always been done? Escaping the echo chamber and being challenged by new ideas and paradigms? Being willing to take your people on a journey towards world’s best practice despite the uncomfortable changes on the way?

Maybe it’s risking your reputation, like Jesus being seen with sex workers, tax collectors and sinners as we do whatever it takes to make our community engagement about them and not about us and our church-culture measures of success.

This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. Thanks. 

Brad Chilcott

[Source: World Vision's National Church Leader's Summit - February 2015]


Nepal Earthquake

Nepal-earthquake-4The people of Nepal continue to grapple with the after shock of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook their country last week. So far more than 5,000 lives have been lost with some remote valleys cut off from help - raising fears that the death toll could rise.

International relief and rescue teams have poured into Nepal as the scope of the devastation becomes clearer. World Vision has over 200 staff on the ground, responding to the needs of survivors – especially children. At this stage, their role is to provide survivors with clean water, food, cooking kits, temporary shelter and protection for children. Disaster management experts from around the region – including in neighbouring India and Bangladesh - are assisting with coordinating relief efforts.

I just received this update from Tim Costello, who is currently on the ground in Nepal: “It’s hard for me to describe the emotions that flood your mind and heart when you are confronted with the reality of so many lives lost, so many still missing, and millions more lives forever changed.”

“The massive destruction of roads and trails that provide the only access to remote areas near the earthquake’s epicentre is making relief efforts nearly impossible.

“Children have been separated from their parents, and many people are being forced to sleep in the streets. As time passes there is a strong likelihood that those who have critical injuries will not survive.”

Recently Tim reported, "This is the most difficult emergency I've ever attended. I've just visited a hospital that is set up to treat 5,000 patients. It’s now trying to service a population of 250,000 - many of them injured and most of whom are children in desperate need of amputations.”

Please pray for:

  • Those who are injured or have lost loved ones. 
  • Protection of the hearts and minds of children, including sponsor children.
  • The safety of volunteers and aid workers involved in the relief efforts.

If you are able to provide urgent supplies to survivors, you can make a donation to World Vision here. Latest updates are also available online.

Thank you for your prayers and support for all those affected by this natural disaster.

UPDATE: Here's a link to what has been achieved so far (1st June 2015).


The Persecution of Christians (Guest Post: J John)

Per

It is becoming apparent that far from dwelling at the ‘end of history’, as was naively envisaged at the fall of Communism, we are, in fact, living in perplexing, turbulent and dangerous days. One of the most troubling, if overlooked, features of our times is the appalling extent and depth of the persecution of Christians. Thirty years ago when we Christians talked of martyrs, we used the past tense; not any more. Whether in North Korea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, China, Pakistan or Columbia, Christians are being persecuted and killed for no other reason than their faith. A Pew Research Center report in 2012 noted that between 2006 and 2010 Christians were harassed in 139 countries. The exact number of Christians who are killed each year is impossible to determine (martyrdom does not lend itself to statistics), but it is widely acknowledged that it runs to tens of thousands. Of course, death is not the only outcome: over half a million Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes in the last few years and well over 100,000 are now refugees. A once-vibrant Iraqi church, that had existed for nearly two millennia, is now on the verge of extinction.

There are many reasons why Christians are being picked on today. We in the Christian (or more properly, post-Christian) West need to remind ourselves that, worldwide, most followers of Christ are poor, marginalised and from ethnic or linguistic minorities. It is also easy for them to be associated with a Western culture that is widely and intensely disliked. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that, in a crowded world full of angry people, Christians make excellent and accessible scapegoats. It is notable that the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told the House of Lords recently that the suffering of middle east Christians is ‘one of the crimes against humanity of our time’ and compared it with Jewish programme in Europe. The parallels are indeed striking and solemn.

Why is the West largely silent? The problem is that the liberal intelligentsia that govern so much of our thinking have been so conditioned to see Christianity as ‘the enemy’ that they cannot now bring themselves to perform the mental shift of recognising Christians as victims. The result is that defending Christians in far-off countries is not fashionable. At that stylish dinner party with your valued friends, it’s just not cool to say that you want to stick up for illiterate peasants in Pakistan or fundamentalist famers in Colombia. There is also, and I choose my words carefully, very little value for a politician in sticking up for Christians on the other side of the world. With some cultural minorities an action in favour of their kith and kin overseas may gain you a block vote that may help you win some marginal constituency. There is no such electoral bonus in dealing with the far less homogeneous and much more independently minded Christian communities.

Now there is a long and honourable tradition in Christianity of meekly suffering in silence, of not appealing to the wider public. (Another reason, incidentally, why Christians make excellent scapegoats.) After all, we believers know that this world is not our home, that the kingdom of heaven is not to be found on earth, and that, as our founder suffered martyrdom, we should be prepared for a similar fate. Yet the global attack on Christians has now reached such a scale that justice and wisdom require an appeal for action and support to be made to the widest possible audience.

Why should the sufferings of Christians concern anybody who is not a subscriber to our belief system? Let me make four appeals for all of us to be deeply concerned. Before I do, let me reject one possible reason. Quite simply, I am not concerned about the ultimate fate of the Church. That is in safe hands and we have an explicit promise that even the gates of hell will not triumph against it. Indeed, as this time of persecution unfolds there is enormous Church growth in many parts of the world. So, for example, reliable figures from China suggest that the Church there is growing at the rate of a million every two months. My reasons for concern lie elsewhere.

My first appeal is to the principle of common decency. 
I believe that in every one of us there is an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. What is happening to Christians is, quite simply, a moral outrage. There is almost no evidence that any of the Christians who are persecuted have done anything wrong other than hold fast to their own beliefs. What we are seeing is quite simply bullying of the worst sort. There is, it seems, a global mood that the followers of Jesus are fair game. It’s not right and I believe that we all know it. To ignore the bullied is to ally ourselves with the bully.

The second appeal I make is to a shared obligation. 
Western civilisation is unquestionably Christian. It is a slight embarrassment to the adherents of atheism or agnosticism that the very values that they uphold are Christian. To say that is not, of course, to deny that the roots of Christian ethics lie in the Jewish faith or to ignore the fact that some of our values are affirmed by other faiths. Yet much that is prized in Western culture – the right to free speech, the value of every individual, the recognition of love as the highest virtue, the commitment to charity and many other values – all come from the Christian faith. True, Christians have not always lived up to these values, but many have and their expression of the faith has shaped the world that we are happy to live in. The very fact that this article can be freely published and that you can read it without fear is itself a testimony to the enduring power of the Christian faith. There is a naive view that all human beings are fundamentally nice people and that any external morality is utterly unnecessary. Recent events have demonstrated that there are very different codes and belief systems in operation and some of them are really not very nice at all.

My third appeal is quite simply to self-interest. 
Those values that I mentioned were not simply fought for by Christians in the past, they are defended by them in the present. Jesus told his followers that they would be salt and light in the world, preventing rot and bringing illumination. Well, we have probably not been as good at either task as we might have been, but Christians do stand firm against the inbuilt tendency of things to go from bad to worse. Yes, you may find Christians to be dull, boring people who have beliefs that you find ridiculous and a morality that you find oppressive, but such people act as the glue and the framework in society. For instance, history recounts that expulsion of the Bible-believing Huguenots from France at the end of the seventeenth century removed a solid, moral, middle-class element from society and that this loss was a major factor in the revolution and terror that descended a century later. This pattern has been repeated endlessly. In the Armenian Genocide, one and a half million Christians were killed between 1915 and 1923. Despite opposition from the international community, there was no strong action taken or sanctions against the brutal policies of the Turks, or any rescue plan for the Armenian people. Twenty years later, the memory of the failure of the international community to protect the Armenians emboldened Hitler to move against the Jews and other ‘undesirables’. ‘Who, today, speaks of the extermination of the Armenians?’ Hitler is alleged to have said in 1939. Our failure to act, today, in protection of minorities sends out a dangerous signal for the future. Amel Nona, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil, recently made a troubling prediction: ‘Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future.’ To put it bluntly, if they attack Christians today do you think you will be safe tomorrow? The new atheists live in hope of what the end of Christianity will bring. Wiser observers live in fear.

Finally, let me make what you might consider to be a spiritual appeal. 
All the Gospels mention that, at the crucifixion of Jesus, there were bystanders, presumably with nothing better to do, who stood by watching, blithely unconcerned about what they were seeing. For them, the crucifixion was no doubt just ‘one of those things’ that you acknowledge with a shrug. Yet Christ said that in some way he lives in the lives of his followers and that the Church is his body today. To accept that is to recognise that what we are seeing today, in the onslaught on the Church, is, in effect, a re-crucifixion of Christ. To stand idly by as people are massacred for their faith and to do nothing is to merge with that first-century crowd of callous bystanders. History has not judged them kindly and if we do the same, it will not judge us kindly either. Neither I’m afraid, will God. 

J.John

Revd Canon
www.philotrust.com


Nelson Mandela

NelsomnNelson Mandela passed away yesterday at the age of 95. He was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politican and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. 

After studying law in university he became a lawyer. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island. An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. Mandela published his biography and opened negotiations with President de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multi-racial elections in 1994. As South Africa's first black president, Mandela formed a government of national unity in an attempt to defuse racial tension. He also promulgated a new constitution and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. Mandela subsequently became an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He gained international acclaim for his activism, having received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata ("Father"). He is often described as "the father of the nation".

USA Today recently listed a collection of quotes that personify his spirit:

1. "Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end."

2. "It always seems impossible until it's done."

3. "If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man."

4. "I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles."

5. "Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."

6. "A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of."

7. "Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do."

8. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

9. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

10. "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

11. "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."

12. "Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front."

13. "Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."

14. "I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days."

15. "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

We pray for God's comfort for his family and friends at this time of loss and grief. May his impact live on through his great example of love for all people and forgiveness of those who hurt him so deeply.


Some thoughts on the current Asylum Seeker Issue (by Tim Costello)

AssAustralia's humanity is the casualty of repugnant asylum politics

Article written by: Tim Costello chief executive of World Vision Australia.

The Australian philosopher Peter Singer asks students to consider whether a person wearing new shoes and a suit has a responsibility to wade into a nearby pond, thus ruining their clothes, if they see a child in that pond having difficulty swimming.

Predictably they respond that the person has a responsibility to save the child and that the cost of the shoes and suit are no reason not to act.

In other words, you either think that people have inherent dignity and worth, or not. In the eyes of the bystander, that dignity does not depend on whether you have a personal link to the child or not.

This humanist approach sits comfortably alongside my Christian ethical viewpoint - in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the help afforded a stranger did not depend on cultural or ethnic ties.

In 21st century Australia it is disheartening to think that some in mainstream politics would choose to keep walking past the pond, as the architects of evermore oppressive policies concerning asylum seekers appear to be prepared to do.

The loss of focus on human dignity in our political debate is evident in framing the contemporary argument around refugees and boat arrivals as a "problem" to be "solved".

Rather, it should concern every Australian that there are children in our detention centres who are living unhappy lives: lives behind bars, lives that were already blighted in some way by the circumstances which pushed their families from their homes, lives that are suspended.

In a democracy like Australia, politicians take their cue from what they understand to be public opinion.

So when we as a nation, as citizens, as respondents to opinion polls are either complacent about this issue or complicit in the punitive approach to asylum seekers, we have lost something that sits at the core of a decent society. How did this happen?

On the policymakers' side, the courting of political favour through the demonising of vulnerable people is undignified, repugnant and venal.

Australia is in urgent need of a change of heart.

As head of a child-focused aid and development organisation, I am continually humbled by the hospitality I receive from refugees fleeing from unimaginable violence, instability and natural calamity.

Most recently I was invited into the tents of Syrian families who had fled across the border to Jordan. As urban planners go to work in these giant refugee camps - in recognition that the prospects of peace and stability returning to Syria in the medium term are remote - displaced people have told me their stories. Their hospitality crosses cultural and religious divides, as well as the fact that I am a stranger, as they tell me about their fears for the future of their children. I have witnessed the boredom and frustration of refugee kids who simply want to be in school, because that gives them the best chance of achieving their dreams. When the hope that resides in the hearts of children is in danger of flickering out, then that is a true humanitarian emergency. And that is why I believe we stand, as a society, guilty.

We have let ourselves conflate the issues surrounding asylum seekers with any number of anxieties we face - from budget deficits to job security. The most distracting and distorting of these perceived links has been the linking of boat arrivals with security risks. This fearmongering sows the seeds of distrust and envy. It is the opposite approach of sitting down with someone and learning their story. And letting fear dominate the discourse also diminishes our way of life, and our democratic ideals. The inherent worth of human beings is just that - inherent - not subject to fashion and fickle political manipulation. This worth and dignity is denied when we as a nation ban asylum seekers from working - even in a volunteer capacity. It is holding back human industry and aspiration. It amounts to a brazen attempt to worsen the life chances of others who weren't born in this "lucky" country.

I call on all people who agree that there is inherent worth in every person, not be embarrassed to be pro-people. To see the potential in every person fleeing conflict, disaster and persecution. To respect their quest for some semblance of personal security. And to be pro-children - to support them to imagine a better future, not a life limited by incarceration.

Perhaps it's time for an honest assessment of the drivers of this fear and anxiety in our society, directed towards those who arrive via ocean. There is much anxiety over the economy, the budget, debt, jobs - if the media are any guide. It's intellectually and morally lazy to allow our fears about the economy and jobs and debt, to be projected onto human bogymen in the form of asylum seekers.

A more productive approach would be to consciously and conscientiously focus on what we've got to be hopeful about in this country, and how we can welcome those who are motivated to contribute. Our wealthy, free and culturally diverse society is something which should not be hoarded - tightly guarded, wrapped in plastic and gathering dust. It is something to be celebrated and shared.

[Source]


Australian Government Considering Diverting Money from Poverty-Reducing Aid

OzNEWSFLASH: The Government is considering diverting money from poverty-reducing aid. The Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, recently admitted plans to divert at least $375 million of Australia's poverty-focused aid program to fund rising refugee support costs at home in Australia. Not only would this reduce the amount available for poverty-focused programs overseas, but it would make Australia the third largest recipient of Australian aid.

World Vision Australia CEO, Tim Costello, has publicly condemned this decision, “I am stunned by the Government's plans to divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from its intended purpose." 

What can we do?

1. Call and email Treasurer Wayne Swan (wayne.swan.mp@aph.gov.au and 02 6277 7340) and Foreign Minister Bob Carr (foreignminister.carr@dfat.gov.au and 02 6277 7500).

2. Call your Labor MP and tell him/her you don’t want life-saving aid intended for international development being diverted for use in Australia. Call on the Government to be transparent about where this money is coming from and which aid programs will miss out.

3. Call your Coalition MP and thank them for opposing the Government's announcement. This follows criticism by both Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro that Labor is hijacking Australia's foreign aid program. Ask for the Coalition to rule-out similar "phantom aid" spending - aid used for purposes other than international development - in the future.

4. Get active on social media and let others know what's at stake. #dontdivertaid  Promote the message through blogs and Facebook pages encouraging people to get involved in the actions outlined above.

It's not too late to influence this decision for this coming May budget and future budgets so that more aid is not diverted. Together, we can help give a voice to the world's poor...

For further information:


New Archbishop of Canterbury: Justin Welby

Justin[The following article is by Cole Moreton from the Telegraph]

The next Archbishop of Canterbury woke up yesterday with something on his mind. “Thought in the night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Those who made money betting on me give it to their local church!”

Chatting wittily online to 6,429 online followers is not something the present Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, would find easy. But as one observer suggested when the appointment was announced on Friday, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, may be the most worldly man ever chosen for Canterbury.

“Good gracious,” he said in response, raising an eyebrow. “That’s putting me up there with some of the medieval archbishops who owned vast tracts of land.”

He hoped she meant instead that he had experience of the world beyond the Church. That was evidently true, as the 56-year-old former oil company executive took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and took instant command of his first press conference.

He was standing in the daunting Guard Room at Lambeth Palace, which will not even be his until his enthronement on March 23, but he was behaving like a chief executive perfectly at ease in his HQ.

Self-deprecation is one of his favourite tactics, and he revealed that “horrendously bad personal experience” of investment meant he had lost a lot of the money he once earned in the City, with his six-figure salary and shares. “Fortunately, I don’t have any control over church finances, otherwise our position would be really abysmal.”

That flew in the face of the main reason why he was chosen to be Archbishop – the belief that he would be able to help “reimagine” the Church for the modern age, overhauling its structures, strategies and finance. But don’t be fooled by the dry wit. Justin Welby is a serious man. His joking showed an awareness that he will have to fight Obama-fication, the heaping on to his shoulders of so many people’s wild dreams and expectations.

Then again, he has been defying expectations all his life. He is a former City treasurer who has spoken out against greedy bankers. He is an Evangelical convert with experience of the gifts of the Spirit, who has a Roman Catholic spiritual director and reads the Rule of Saint Benedict “most days”.

And he had only been Bishop of Durham for the shortest while before being chosen as the spiritual head of the Church of England and of 77 million Anglicans worldwide. As his own son Peter, studying Arabic in Egypt, said: “Who in their right minds would make Archbishop of Canterbury a man who [has] only been a bishop of any kind a year?”

The main thing most people know about him is that he went to Eton, just like the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London. Francis Gardner, his housemaster there, told The Sunday Telegraph: “He was, shall we say, a serious-minded student, who always worked to the best of his ability, academically. He was not a great games player, as some schoolboys are, but he took an interest in people and anything sensible. He was a model boy, though not one of great distinction.”

But behind the photograph of the boys of Gardner House lies a hidden truth. Master Welby had a problem, according to a family friend. His erratic father had enough money to send him to the public school, but didn’t give any of it to Justin to pay his way, day to day. In a class that included two Rothschilds, he was almost certainly the poorest child. That cannot have been easy.

His father Gavin Welby, who was from a German Jewish immigrant family, had been put on a boat to New York as a teenager with £5 in his pocket and told to make his own way. He became a bootlegger, selling whisky during Prohibition. Later, he introduced John F Kennedy to a mistress, just weeks before the future president was married.

Back in England, this rakish man fell for Jane Portal, the private secretary to Winston Churchill and niece of the great Conservative politician Rab Butler.

Her family were not pleased. The couple split up when their only child, Justin, was four years old. The Eton schoolboy was from a broken home.

His father struggled with alcoholism and died when Justin was 21. Jane had gone on to marry the banker and Labour peer Lord Williams of Elvel.

Between school and university, Justin Welby spent a gap year in Kenya, working on a voluntary project. His motivation was not faith, because that did not come until his second year at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Welby was a skilled cox of the rowing team, and loved to sail. He also fell in with a group of Evangelicals who were exploring the Bible and the Holy Spirit together. The conversion to Christianity that followed was apparently powerful, and personally overwhelming, but what interested him most was how his new faith might change the world.

Welby changed subjects, and gained a degree in history. Afterwards, he applied for a role in the diplomatic service but said: “I messed up the form. Three times.”

Somehow, he landed a job in the international finance department of the oil company Elf in Paris. “They asked me whether I knew anything about oil or finance and I said, 'No’,” he later recalled. Nor did he speak much French, so he took an intensive six-month course and became fluent. The role took him often to Nigeria, where Elf was launching a $15 billion project, and he developed a passion for the country that has lasted all his life.

Welby had met Caroline Eaton at Cambridge and they married 33 years ago. Their first child, Johanna, was only seven months old when she died in 1983. Caroline was in the passenger seat, being driven through Paris, while Johanna was on the back seat in a carrycot. There was an accident and the cot was thrown out of the car and on to the road. Johanna was killed.

Losing their only child in this terrible way left the Welbys “completely and utterly devastated”, but when they returned to London in the early Eighties they found comfort and support at Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB).

The largest Anglican church in the country has a congregation of 5,000 people spread across 10 services every Sunday. It is the birthplace of Alpha, the course introducing people to a friendly form of Evangelical Christianity, which has now been taken by 19 million people across the world and even attracted the praise of the Pope.

Despite reports, Justin Welby is believed not to have taken the Alpha course himself. He did play a full part in the life of the church though, leading a fellowship group and serving on the parochial church council.

By this time he was the group treasurer of Enterprise Oil, raising money for the exploitation of gas in the North Sea. Former colleagues describe him as “not being Churchy” and say that he “revelled” in the rough and tumble of major deals and takeovers. Last year he told the magazine Financial World: “I was good at structuring hedges [hedge funds] … and it just all turned into gold.”

So why did this rising star of the City give it all up to become a priest? The day he knew he had to concentrate on the Church came in 1987, when he heard an American speaker at HTB. “At that moment,” he said, “it just came to the front of my mind.”

The speaker is thought to have been John Wimber, leader of the Vineyard movement. A former keyboard player with the Righteous Brothers, this genial, charismatic Californian played a part in Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, but was best known for his belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to heal people emotionally and physically. His meetings were highly charged, with people often laughing or in tears, speaking in tongues or falling down, apparently overcome by the Spirit.

Welby’s personal spirituality has broadened considerably since then. HTB has also matured, becoming a strong part of the Anglican mainstream. But what he does seem to have carried with him from Wimber is the sense of faith as a great adventure, demanding that followers risk everything on the Lord.

He was rejected for ordination at first by the Bishop of Kensington, who told the future archbishop: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.”

But Welby had the support of the influential Sandy Millar, then Vicar of HTB, and eventually made it to St John’s College in Durham. He and Caroline lived off savings and investments from his time in the City as he trained, but by the time he was a curate in Nuneaton the money had begun to run out.

All five of their children went to state schools. Life was a struggle, but he was working in the midst of even greater poverty there and in his next parish, Southam. “I have never had demands on me as acute as when I was a parish priest,” he said.

There was not even a salary for his next job, as Canon and working in the centre for peace and reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. He raised his own funding to go off and mediate in the trouble hotspots of the world, specialising again in Africa.

This work continues, despite his having been threatened and held at gunpoint. Once he narrowly avoided being kidnapped during a visit to negotiate with warlords in the swamps of the Nigerian Delta.

One leader told him, through an interpreter: “Well, it looks like we’re not going to kill you. We’ll have to take you as a hostage instead.” Welby later recalled persuading him that “nobody would pay to have me back”.

His deep personal commitment to Nigeria will at least buy him time with the outspoken archbishops of Africa, who are dismayed at the attitudes being taken by the Western church towards women and homosexuality.

Rather than confront these dissidents, who represent millions of believers, he said on Friday that he hoped to learn from them. He will need all his skills of negotiation and conflict resolution to hold the Communion together.

After a period as Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, Welby was asked by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to apply for the post of Bishop of Durham. Welby declined, saying he and the family were happy in Liverpool. Sentamu insisted. This suggests York will now be supportive, rather than jealous that he did not get the top job himself.

Becoming a bishop only a year ago, he made an instant name for himself by overturning the way the Church in Durham is run.

Congregations were struggling to pay what was being demanded of them for the central pot, which is used mainly for the salaries of priests.

The new bishop said instead: “OK, you tell us how much you can afford to pay, and we will set the diocesan budget accordingly.” It sounds simple, but was revolutionary in this context. The result so far has been some parishes paying even more, because of a greater sense of ownership.

Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops Council, hopes he will apply similarly bold thinking to the Church as a whole. “If he is a strategic thinker and radical and a visionary and a risk taker, then we’re in for an exciting time.”

His children have had to brace themselves for attention, as the sons and daughters of a new world spiritual leader. They are Tim, 28, Peter, 23, Katherine, 26, Eleanor, 20 and Hannah, 17. On Friday, Peter posted a picture of himself standing by Lambeth Palace on Twitter, captioned “Strange days”. And Katherine, who works for a Christian charity in London, tweeted: “So this makes me ABCD [as daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury]? I always wanted a title.” Earlier this year she posted a photograph of herself in a tea cosy mitre, as the “first woman bishop” – a cause she supports in common with her father.

Facing the press for the first time on Friday, the future Archbishop spoke about that with confidence. “I will be voting in favour,” he said of the decision faced by the Church’s governing body in eight days time, about whether to make women bishops.

He added that he “celebrated the remarkable signs of God’s grace and action in the ministries of many people who cannot in conscience agree with this change”.

He made it clear that he will oppose gay marriage equality. The Prime Minister can expect a fight. But he said: “We must have no truck with any form of homophobia.”

And Bishop Welby said: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.”

His tactic, then, is to say he admires and is listening to the people he disagrees with. How well that will work in the long run remains to be seen.

Some of his fellow bishops believe he will achieve little unless he challenges the deadening influence of the civil servants who work at Church House in Westminster or across the Thames in Lambeth Palace itself.

They are described in extraordinary terms by the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham: “On one side of the river at Church House you’ve got a group of people behaving like Sir Humphrey on the cheap,” he says. “On the other there’s a medieval fiefdom, a bunch of people sitting around a table like the knights in Monty Python. Someone has got to find a way to bring these two groups together in a way that will make them capable of organising a booze-up in a brewery.”

If Bishop Welby wants the world to know what he is doing, he will have to tackle the evasive, ultra-defensive posture adopted towards the press by staff at Lambeth Palace. But Ken Costa, the chairman of Alpha and a senior figure in the City, who has been a friend since university, says: “His business training enables him to set priorities and execute against them. It would have to be a howling gale to knock him off course.”

He will also be the first Archbishop in half a century to understand fully the work of the Church Commissioners, whose investments pay for priestly salaries. Predecessors have turned a blind eye or been hampered by their ignorance. The new man will know what questions to ask.

But perhaps his main task will be to help the Church meet the three goals it has agreed for the coming century: to grow spiritually and numerically; to focus resources where there is the most need and opportunity; and to “reshape or reimagine the Church’s ministry” to make sure there is a growing Christian presence in “every local community”.

The Church no longer has the money, the priests or the people to put a paid member of the clergy into every parish church. It must find – or “reimagine” – a new way of being itself, and preferably one that appeals to some of the 23 million or so people in England who say they believe in God but do not go to church.

Mr Costa, former head of Lazards investment bank, says: “Justin Welby is a man for such a time as this. I worked with him in the City and his integrity in a cut-throat oil industry was never questioned. He is confident in his faith and compassionate to a wide range of people, he is committed to enabling the Church to respond to the hunger for spirituality in the nation, and above all he will communicate clearly.”

Perhaps the smartest thing Justin Welby did in his first public appearance as the incoming Archbishop was to throw the spotlight on what he called the “unknown heroes” of the faith. “The work of the Church of England is not done primarily on television or at Lambeth, but in over 16,000 churches, where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the job they have always done, of loving neighbours, loving each other and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside the church a month.”

He will need their support; but Anglicans will know their Archbishop is a man who understands poverty and suffering, understands how money and power work, and knows that he must provide clear, strong leadership.

Bishop Welby said that the “vast company” of believers made him feel “utterly optimistic about the future of the Church”. As they get to know their new leader, many may dare to feel the same.


2012 Global Atheist Convention

AtheThe 2012 Global Atheist Convention is back in Melbourne this year (April 13-15th). Some Christians become concerned and worked up about events such as this. Personally, I don't believe that people of faith have anything to fear about doubt or skepticism. No need to picket or boycott events. In fact, dialogue and discussion can be helpful in all areas of belief. Events such as this give us a terrific opportunity to talk about God and faith with those around about us. Let's pray and show the love of Christ.

One of the main speakers is Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most influential atheists. I have read his book The God Delusion and it only strengthened my faith. It is written in very emotional language and he makes sweeping generalisations about religion and faith that can't be validated. In no way did it shake my faith or give reasonable objections to the classic reasons for believing that there is a God (see my previous posts on this topic here).

For those interested in strengthening their own faith at a time such as this, here are some excellent books to consider reading:

There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew

The Real Face fo Atheism by Ravi Zacharias

The Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath

Atheism Remix by Albert Mohler

The New Atheism by John Dickson and John Lennox

The New Atheism: 10 Arguments that Don't Hold Water by Michael Poole

Against All Gods by Phillip E. Johnson

A Sceptics Guide to Atheism by Peter S. Williams


East Africa Emergency Appeal

Africa Many of you would be aware of the dire situation in East Africa right now. More than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa countries, particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, are in need of our prayers for relief from one of the worst prolonged droughts in 60 years. Children are especially in need of prayer for nourishing food, opportunities to go back to school to learn, spiritual nurture and safe places to live and play. The crisis is worsening by the day, and is highly complex and urgent. UN and media reports point to a spreading famine across the entirety of southern Somalia. Some 3.6 million people, mostly children, are in increasingly dire need of help, while famine conditions are forecasted to persist to the end of this year.

Overall, some 12.4 million people are currently facing a combined onslaught of drought, hunger, displacement and armed violence. World Vision has created some resources to assist us. A video has been developed that provides basic information and includes specific requests for prayer. This video can be downloaded here (50MB in size).

A Prayer Guide is available for the region as a whole as well as country specific information and prayer points for Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Prayer really can make a difference in situations such as this in our world. If you would like to make a financial contribution to the relief effort, then please don't hestitate to contact World Vision on 13 3240 or visit the donation page on their web site.

I would also commend the work of John Cairns in Africa to you. 

Thanks very much. 

Matt.25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ NLT


The Death of Osama bin Laden

Images-31 The biggest breaking news of this week has been the killing of Osama bin Laden, the self-confessed orchestrator of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the USA. The execution was carried out by a US Navy SEAL team and watched by a American national security team, including President Obama, via video.This has been the culmination of a 10-year military project of tracking down this terrorist leader.

Response to this news had been wide and varied ... jubilation, relief, sorrow, as well as fear of increased in terrorism.

Here are a few quotes:

  • "I think we can agree this is a good day for America. Our country has kept its commitment to see that justice is done. The world is safer, it is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden." American President Obama
  • "I just pray that however I'm supposed to feel, I'll eventually feel. if God wants to forgive him, that's God. I can't." Barbara Minerving - lifelong Catholic whose husband was killed in the Sept.11 attacks.
  • "I'm happy they got him. But there's always going to be another one right behind him." Walter Hillegass, a plumber who cleaned the dust-choked World trade Center site for days after the attacks.
  • "This is the fate that evil killers deserve." Saad Hariri - Prime Minister of Lebanon. 
  • "It took 919,967 deaths to kill that one guy. It cost us (USA) roughly $1,188,263,000,000 to kill that guy. But we are winning though. Haaa. (sacrcasm). Chris Douglas-Roberts on Twitter.
  • "Woe to his enemies. By God we will avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam. Those who wish that jihad had weakened, I tell them: let us wait a little bit." Assad al-Jihad2
  • "We shall retaliate against the Americans, Israel and Europe, and Christians in Somalia with destructive explosions." al-Shabab, Somalia's most dangerous militant group.
  • "Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of revenge?" Brian McClaren
  • One journalist notes how this killing does nothing much to help those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. 
How should a follower of Christ respond to news such as this? Many Christians aren't sure (click here for recent article on this).

On the one hand, justice is important and it is appropriate for governments to protect people from evil-doers, such as terrorists (Rom.13:1-5). On the other hand, we should never rejoice over the death of anyone, including the wicked. Ezekiel says it well ...

"As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live." Ezek.33:11.

As Christ-followers, we are also called to love and pray for our enemies, to turn the other cheek and to seek to overcome evil with good. Violence only begets violence. We are called to be peace-makers. Love alone has power over all.

What has been your response? What does it say about you? What does it say about your view of God? These are important questions, as an event such as this can become a metaphor revealing for our view of life and God.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard backs Chaplain Program

Images-2 Some old but good news ... in August last year, new Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised to extend the use of state funds to put staff chaplains in both public and private schools (as it has since 2007) through to 2014. State-funded chaplains now serve 2,700 schools and Gillard wants to add another 1,000.

Gillard, a self-professed atheist, pledged faith in the chaplaincy system shortly after taking office. "We think it has been a great success, and wanted to make sure schools around the country were fairly benefiting from it," Gillard told Australian Christian Lobby director Jim Wallace.  

The program is voluntary. Chaplains offer comfort and support to students and staff as well as general religious and personal advice. Many school principals are keen for this pastoral support, understanding that students are often more comfortable approaching their chaplain than other adults in the school community. 

Thanks Julia!


Muslims defending Christians ...

Images-1 Some of you may have heard about the brutal attacks from militant Muslims on Christians in Egypt at a New Year's Eve Mass. Tragically, at least 21 people were left dead at the Saints Church in Alexandria after a car bomb exploded outside. The attack rocked the nation. This kind of religiously motivated terrorism is evil and continues to create fear and havoc across our world. 

An inspiring story has emerged since this time, with Muslims turning up in droves for a Coptic Christmas Mass, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community. Read the full story here.

Deep in the heart of every human, regardless of race, social status, or personal belief, there is a passion for justice. May justice continue to be a value worth working for - for everyone! 

"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get." [Jesus - Matthew 7:12. MB]

 


Approval Ratings of President Obama

Images-21 It has been 18 months since America elected Barack Obama to be it's president. His presidency began with a lot of excitement and anticipation, partly created by his inspiring messages about "Yes we can!" It has not been an easy run for him, with many complex challenges and problems ... 

Gallup reported last week that the president’s average seventh quarter approval rating among Americans stands at 44.7 percent – its lowest point since Obama took office but still significantly higher than among Protestant pastors. A new survey by LifeWay Research indicates that 61 percent of Protestant pastors disapprove (47 percent strongly) of President Barack Obama’s job performance. The survey, conducted by phone Oct. 7-14, found that 30 percent of Protestant pastors approve of the president (14 percent strongly) and 9 percent are undecided. 

“If voting intentions and job approval measure similar things, the president hasn’t made many friends in the pulpits of America’s churches throughout the first year-and-a-half of his presidency,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said.

Although Protestant pastors have strong personal opinions on political matters, 84% disagree with endorsing candidates for public office from the pulpit. 

Let's continue to pray for President Obama ... 

Latest News: The US mid term elections have just finished and the Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats (Obama's party) and just fell short of winning control of the Senate. 


Pastor Plans on Burning Koran

Unknown-4 A Florida pastor by the name of Terry Jones plans on hosting a Koran burning event at his church to commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the USA - 9/11 (this coming Saturday). He is doing this to target Islam extremists. Protestors are rallying in various countries around the world and their are growing security concerns in the US. The move has been criticised by many people, including President Obama.Violent attacks of retaliation on innocent people could occur.

So what do you think? Is this an appropriate response by a Christian leader to Islam extremists? What would Jesus do? What happened to "love your enemies?" It sure doesn't help the cause of Christ and the reputation of His followers in our global village. 

What would you say to Terry Jones if you had a chance?

P.S. Latest reports indicate that the event has been cancelled ... though we can't be sure (see report here).


Labor Wins the Australian 2010 Federal Election

Finally, after two and a half weeks of speculation and negotiation, we have a government - a Labor government led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Support from a few independent MPs has given Gillard the narrowest of margins. Labor's position on broadband and climate change were influential in the final decision. This has been Australia's first hung parliament since the 1940s. Images-7

Without doubt, Australia is a divided nation politically and only time will tell how well the new government will perform in leading the nation forward. Labor voters will be pleased with the final outcome while Liberal voters will naturally be disappointed. 

Whatever our personal stance politically and however we may have voted, as followers of Christ now is the time to accept the decision that has been made. Like it or not, Julia is our Prime Minister and we have a Labor government. Paul's words to the early Christians have fresh relevance for us today. Remember he was writing during a time when the Roman Empire was in power and Nero was the Emperor.

"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." [1 Timothy 2:1-4. NLT] 

Now is the time to continue to be salt and light in our world, showing we are Christ's followers by our love - for all people. Finally, let's remember what God requires of us ... "O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." [Micah 6:8. NLT] 


Thinking Globally ...

Unknown-3While those of us who live here in Australia wait anxiously to see who is going to become our next Prime Minister after such a close federal election, let's be sure to lift our eyes and realise that we are only one small part of what is now a global village. We live in a networked world and through technology we can be instantly aware of what is taking place anywhere on the planet. This can become overwhelming at times but we can also become numb and immune to the issues and suffering that others are experiencing right now.

God is clearly at work. He is building his church and expanding his kingdom, more often than not in in hidden and subversive ways. At the same time, we live in a fallen world where tragedy and calamity occurs every day, affecting someones life forever. Every now and then it pays to turn on a world news program such as SBS to avoid becoming overly Australia-centric. Right now we can think of 33 workers stuck in a mine in Chile, 17 million people affected by recent floods in Pakistan, landslides in Turkey and fires in the Philippines. That's in addition to wars taking place and our global economy still trying to recover.

What can we do? We can pray - for Christians, church leaders and workers in these places, and for those who do not know Christ to become aware of God's love for them ... even during difficult times. Intercessory prayer (praying for the needs of others) enables us to partner with God and what he is doing ... anywhere in our world. It also gets our eyes of off ourselves for a moment and on to the needs of others.


Some Post-Election Observations ...

Resize.php The voting is over and the 2010 Australian federal election has turned out to be the closest election result in our short history as a nation. No out-right leader has emerged yet and we may end up with a hung parliament

A few observations are clear: 

1. The Labor Party has had a large swing against them right across the nation, with many seats falling to the Liberals. Maybe the de-throning of Kevin Rudd has come back to haunt them after all. Julia Gillard looks a little shaken, to say the least. 

2. The Liberal Party has made a remarkable comeback, after losing the nation's leadership a few years ago. Who would have thought that this would have occurred so quickly after Kevin Rudd's historic win over John Howard and his resultant high popularity rating even up to just twelve months ago. Tony Abbott has pulled off quite an achievement. 

3. Like it or not, the Greens Party have emerged as a legitimate third party in our nation. They will hold the balance of power in the Senate and will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. Their appeal to the younger generation and to swinging voters disillusioned with the major parties is only growing. 

4. If a government can be formed, there will only be a slight majority. Maybe this isn't such a bad result after all, as governing will require a greater degree of partnership and collaboration OR maybe it will just be difficult to get much done at all. Only time will tell. 

5. The Christian vote continues to emerge as having a significant influence around election time. See a report about this here.

6. Finally, at times like these, it is good to remind ourselves that God rules in the daily aspects of our human lives, including politics. He puts one leader up and takes another one down. Everything and every one is under his ultimate authority and power. His will will be done. I can sleep on that.


The Australian Liberal Party

Images-3The Liberal Party of Australia has been the opposition party since losing the 2007 federal election. Prior to that, it had held power since the 1996 election. At the state and territory level, the Liberals hold government only in Western Australia. The Liberal Party was founded after the 1943 federal election to replace the United Australia Party. When in government, the Liberals usually govern in a coalition with the National Party

Tony Abbott is the current leader of the Liberal Party with Julie Bishop as his deputy. For more background on Tony Abbott, click hereFor more details about the history, structure and policy of the Liberal Party of Australia click here. For more information about the current Liberal Party, visit their web site here.


The Australian Labor Party

Images-2The Australian Labor Party has been the governing party in Australia since the last federal election in 2007. Labor currently governs all states and territories other than Western Australia. Labor is the country's oldest political party, having been founded in 1891. 

Julia Gillard is the current leader of the Labor Party and the Prime Minister of Australia. The former Deputy Prime Minister became Prime Minister on June 10th, 2010 when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stepped down, after losing the support of his party. She is the first female Prime Minister and the first not to be married. For more background on Julia, click here.

For a full overview of the history, structure and policy of the Australian Labor Party, click here. To learn more about the current Labor Party, visit their web site here.


What about Family First?

Unknown-1  The Family First political party was founded in South Australia in 2002 and spread nationally in 2004. The Family First party has not sought to promote itself as a Christian or church-based party but rather as a party with a primary focus on looking out for families.

Family First currently has four members in parliament, two in SA, one in NSW and one in Federal Parliament - Steve Fielding, who was elected in 2004.

Steve and his family attend CityLife Church. However, I do not act as Steve's policy adviser. We have casual conversations from time to time about various issues but as a politician he is there to represent the views of his party and he is accountable to the Family First Board of Directors.

To find out more about Family First and their policies, visit their web site. You can also ask questions or give feedback directly to Steve or any other Family First members using the contact details on their web. Like every political party, they are always looking for volunteers around election time.


What about the Australian Green's Party?

UnknownThe Australian Green's Party is gaining more and more interest here in Australia, especially amongst the younger generation who seem to be looking for an alternative to the Labor and Liberal political parties. It is estimated that the Greens could win anywhere between 10-16% of the Australian vote. There is also a high probability that they will hold the balance of power in the Senate after this election, which will place them in a very influential role, much like Family First member Steve Fielding has had over the last term (Family First does still have a chance to be re-elected if enough people vote #1 for them with their Senate vote). 

Overall, people tend to love the Greens or hate them. Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt is not too keen on them, nor is Salt Shakers or Bill Muhlenberg. In contrast, Jim Reiher, a follower of Christ, joined them a few years back and is running for a seat in Latrobe at this next election. You can visit Jim's BLOG here and click here for a personal profile.

Personally, I would be concerned at the refusal of the Green's Party to honestly answer 18 of the 24 questions put to them by the Australian Christian Lobby on a wide range of very important policies.

To check out the Green's Party policies for yourself, visit their web site here. As Christians we are called to discern and vote accordingly. 


Preparing to Vote ...

Images-1The Australia federal election is just under two weeks away (Saturday, August 21st). Every election is a very important time in any nation and as followers of Christ we should take our responsibilities as citizens seriously. Voting is a privilege and we should be diligent in our research of each candidate and the various political parties vying for our support.

The Australian Christian Lobby has done us an excellent service by compiling the various viewpoints of each party on a wide variety of issues. See their web site here, which includes a recent interview of Julia Gillard who was not the Prime Minister at the June 21st Make it Count event in Canberra, when the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addressed church leaders from across the nation.

In addition, be aware that each voter gets two votes ... one for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate. The Senate vote does not determine whether Labor or Liberal win government but rather who holds the balance of power in the Senate (for instance, that is how Steve Fielding from Family First became a Senator at a recent federal election with only a small percentage of the overall vote). 

Please make an informed vote and let's continue to pray for our nation of Australia, a country filled with opportunity for the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  

P.S. For an interesting pre-voting exercise, visit news.com.au Voteamatic 2.0.

 


Does the Prime Minister need to be a Christian?

ImagesLast week I received a phone call from Barney Zwartz, a journalist from the Melbourne AGE newspaper. He wanted to get my pulse on the upcoming federal election. We had a 5-10 minute conversation together and talked about a range of issues. In his actual article, I ended up with one quote ...

"Mr Conner, senior pastor at Melbourne's biggest church, CityLife, said he was not concerned by Ms Gillard's atheism: 'Primarily you are looking at them to have what it takes to run the nation' - but felt Mr Rudd's dumping would cost Labor more than the party realised."

In fairness to Barney, he didn't have space to quote everything I said or give the full context of the statement he did quote. Of course, any time you are quoted by the media ... there is always the possibility of misunderstanding. I have had emails from a few people about my quote asking me whether I was suggesting that people should vote for Julia Gillard and whether I didn't think faith for a political leader was important. Neither of those are true. I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify myself and will do so in this blog post.

First of all, my personal approach and our approach as a church at CityLife is to be politically neutral, in that we don't tell people who or what party to vote for. We encourage prayerful and diligent research, so that followers of Christ make intelligent use of their privilege as an Australian citizen to vote for those who will govern us. So, never have I said and never will say, "Vote for Julia Gillard" ... or anyone else for that matter.

Discussion has come up about Julia's atheism and whether any potential Prime Minister who does not have a Christian faith should be considered as a possible candidate to vote for. It is an issue worth thinking about. Let me paint a scenario for you ...

Continue reading "Does the Prime Minister need to be a Christian?" »


New Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Gillard Julia Gillard became the 27th Prime Minister of Australia on June 24th, 2010. This occurred after the resignation of Kevin Rudd. Julia had served as the Deputy Prime Minister in the Rudd Government. She is the first woman Prime Minister in Australia and the first to have never married. She is also a red head - bring on national ranga day! :)

Discussion has taken place concerning the ousting of Prime Minister Rudd, but let's not forget that Rudd did a similar thing to Kim Beazley and similar situations have occurred in other parties. Political leadership is not for the faint of heart.

Although brought up as a Baptist, Gillard has recently declared that she is not religious and has no belief in God. Some people believe that this will alienate her from the Christian vote, though not everyone feels this way. At least she has been honest about this matter, without trying to present something she is not, just to get more votes.

Julia has already demonstrated decisive leadership during her short time in office, immediately dealing with the mining tax issue and promising to move forward on the asylum seeker and border protection controversy as soon as possible. She has also confirmed her commitment to protecting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, a commitment welcome by the Australian Christian Lobby who has done much work on this matter.

Only time will tell what kind of a Prime Minister Julia will become, especially in relation to her and her parties policies and values, and how they will shape her leadership. Whatever your political persuasion may be, let’s be sure to uphold Julia and our government up in prayer at this important time in our journey as a nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4).


Kevin Rudd

Rudd Kevin Rudd was the 26th Prime Minister of Australia. Under his leadership, his party won the November 2007 election against former Prime Minister John Howard. As the new leader, he made major announcements about climate change, education, a national broadband network, and health. He will be remembered for a number of things, including his reading of an apology to the Indigenous Australians for the 'stolen generations.'

Mr Rudd started well, gaining fairly broad rapport with the general population and giving some inspiring speeches. Over time, his popularity declined and he didn't deliver on a number of his promises. Was this due to an inability or lack of discipline to implement change or did he lack internal support for his change agenda? Whatever the case, it became clear that he had lost the support of key factions within his party and on June 24th, 2010 he stepped down as the leader of the Labor Party. He became the first Labor Prime Minister not to complete his first term in office.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr Rudd a number of times in Canberra and he visited our church once before he became the Prime Minister. He always came across as a genuine, likable and sincere person. Behind the scenes, the story seems a little different, as there was a lot of staff turnover under his leadership and claims of occasional anger outbursts. This is concerning, as good leadership requires both competence and character (see blog article by Rob Buckingham on 'Leaders Behaving Badly').

Whatever your opinion of Mr Rudd, being ousted from leadership as he was would be a painful  experience for anyone to have to go through. Mr Rudd deserves our sympathy, our gratitude for his overall service to our nation, and our prayers as he moves forward into his next season of life.

P.S. Click here for some reflections by Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, on Mr Rudd leadership.


President Obama's Speech

ObamaLast week saw the swearing in of the 44th leader of the United States of America as Barack Obama officially began his role as president.

President Obama's inauguration and speech can be viewed on You Tube by clicking here. A full transcript of his address is available from the New York Times web site (click here).

Not everyone likes Obama. There are concerns about his policies on a number of important issues, including abortion (see Jim Wallace's recent article on this). President Obama is not perfect. He is not the messiah. He needs our prayers and God's wisdom. He plays a crucial role at this important time in world history.

Overall, I thought President Obama's inauguration speech was very inspiring. Here are some of the things I really liked about it ...

  1. Obama addresses the crucial issues head on - war, the economy, health care, education, the environment, energy, nuclear threat, terrorism, and world poverty. He names the challenges and refuses to ignore them. He brings them right out into the open where they can be discussed and where decisions can be made. Leaders must always clearly define the current reality. 

  2. Obama offers hope over fear. He said, "... the challenges are real, they are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time ... but .. they will be met." People need hope and leaders need to be dispensers of hope. See the music video 'Yes We Can' for an example of hope-filled words.

  3. Obama has an global interest and perspective, which is essential for a leader of one of the most powerful nations of earth. No doubt, his Kenyan father and the number of years he lived in Indonesia have helped this. Although I love America and spent 10 very enjoyable years of my life there, there is a still a tendency in American culture to be somewhat insular and to think that America is the world. The fact that they call their national baseball finals the 'World Series'  is a classic illustration of this. The fact that fewer than 10% of Americans have a passport or have traveled outside of the US also doesn't help (a statistic from the book The Extreme Futureby James Canton, PhD). I believe that Obama will help to change this.

  4. Obama calls people to a spirit of service - "a willingness to find meaning in something greater than ourselves."  It's a call to kindness, selflessness, honesty, hard work, loyalty, tolerance, courage, and responsibility. Government and leaders can only do so much. People must rise to the challenges of their time and be the kind of people that make the world a great place to live.

  5. Obama seeks to lead for the 'common good'. He said, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth." As the president of an entire nation, his role is to create an environment where diversity is valued, where religious freedom is preserved, and where open dialog can take place. Christians currently living in places where there is no freedom of religion would love to hear this said by national leaders.

  6. Finally, Obama speaks with confidence but without arrogance. He models a graciousness and a humility that is important for all leaders. He honours the past. He acknowledges God. He makes it clear that government exists to serve the people and not the other way around.

If you'd like to know more about who Barack Obama is, where he has come from, what makes him tick, and what his policies are, then I'd recommend his book The Audacity of Hope.

P.S. Pastor Rick Warren from California's Saddleback Church prayed at President Obama's inauguration. For responses to his prayer, click here.


Australia Day 2009

Australia day Today is Australia Day- an annual celebration, held every January 26th, of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, marking the colonisation of Australia by Great Britain.

Having just read the book The First Fleet by David Hill, it is amazing that our nation, as it is today, even got started. England was sending convicts from its overflowing prisons to America when America's sudden independence (on July 4th, 1776) closed that door. Other locations were discussed, with Botany Bay being a last resort. The long trip out from England was marked by frequent crises and challenges, let alone the first few years of trying to establish a colony in such tough conditions. Although intending to make peaceful relations with the local Aborigines, the arrival of the First Fleet no doubt became detrimental to these first Australians.

Reverend Richard Johnson was the chaplain of the First Fleet and he held the first church service on Australian soil on Sunday 3rd February, 1788. His sermon was based on Psalm 116:12 - "What shall I render unto the Lord for all that he has done for me?" To learn more about Australia's Christian heritage, click here.

Our nation may seem small and insignificant to many but I believe that God has a purpose for it. As Australians, let's celebrate our nation today - it's heritage, it's diversity, and it's future.

 


Racism

Racism

Many have lauded the election of President Barack Obama as a new day for African-Americans, after a long history of abuse and mistreatment. Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in America. 

Click here to read a shocking report of recent incidents since the election.


Prejudice based on skin colour is not only sad, it is morally wrong. Each human being is created in the image of God and is to be treated with dignity and respect. The apostle Paul tells us that 'in Christ' there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). This does not mean that racial, socio-economic, and gender differences cease to exist (they don't) but that are no longer to be a cause for segregation or prejudice.  

One of the things I love about CityLife Church is that we have over 100 nationalities represented in our community, which now numbers over 8000 people. I love this diversity as it gives us a bit of foretaste of heaven, where people from every people group will gather around the throne to worship God (see Revelation 7:9). 

God is an incredibly innovative God who created difference on purpose. Let's value the differences and remember that unity is not uniformity but rather harmony in diversity.


A New American President

ObamaYesterday, the American people voted in a new president - Barack Obama. Winds of change are in the air and there is a lot of anticipation about what kind of leadership Obama will bring to his nation.

There is no doubt that he is a charismatic speaker who has captured the attention of people from all sectors of society. The challenge for Obama now is to try to turn around a nation that is in crisis financially and in regard to its place in the world arena.

Regardless of our personal thoughts about Obama, we need to pray for him - that God will give him wisdom to lead America.

The apostle Paul put it this way back in the first century under the rule of the Roman Empire ...

"The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we've learned: that there's one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us — Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out." [1 Timothy 2:1-7. The Message Bible]

P.S. For full election coverage from the USA click here. For local coverage from the Herald Sun click here or from the Melbourne AGE click here.

P.S.S. To watch Obama's victory speech, click here. It is in three parts and is over 20 minutes long, but it is well worth a listen. Click here to listen to John McCain's speech. He was very gracious in defeat.


Obama or McCain - who would you vote for?

US ElectionOn Tuesday, November 4th, Americans will vote for a new president as their presidential election takes place.

Who will win - Barack Obama or John McCain? Who would you vote for?

Some people tend to vote more 'conservative' while others vote on the 'liberal side'.

Here is an article on the election by American political commentator, Jim Wallis (author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It). You may not agree with everything he says but his comments are very thought-provoking ...

"In 2004, several conservative Catholic Bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of 'non-negotiables' which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word 'poverty', only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of 'non-negotiables'. The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.

I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of 'faith priorities' that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year -- and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of 'faith' or 'moral' priorities for this election year and take them into the polling place with you.

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