Sunday 24 October 2010

Open Evangelical?

"There are plenty of evangelicals out there who have left the door so widely open that they are virtually indistinguishable from... Inclusive Church"

These words were written recently by Andrew Carey (son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury) who is a columnist in The Church of England Newspaper. Like many columnists, Andrew Carey is often outspoken and I often find myself at odds with his kind of right wing ecclesiastical conservativism.

The context was his musings about the new Church of England General Synod which has just been elected for the next 5 years. It will be more Evangelical and more Liberal, he said, but then implies that it can be hard to tell the difference these days!

Now I have nothing against Inclusive Church - I do support their aims, and have attended their Executive Committee meetings in the past - but I objected to the way he was trying to say that any Evangelical who embraces a more open and inclusive approach has lost everything distinctive about her/his understanding of the Christian faith.

So I fired off a letter to the editor, and this week they published it ...

Here is what I wrote...

Dear Sir

I was fascinated by Andrew Carey's description of the new Synod (15th October) and in particular, his perceived overlap between evangelicals and liberals.

While I am pleased to see that Andrew now recognises the growing number of open evangelicals, I feel that he is perpetuating a mistaken view which is a grave danger to the Evangelical movement . That mistake is to define evangelicals by what they are 'against' rather than what they are 'for'. Any movement which is simply defined by what it shuts out is destined to a slow and painful demise. To seek to define evangelicals in this way will do exactly the same, and the church would be the poorer for it.

As a evangelical, I am for the preaching of the Gospel, enabling people to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and encouraging people to read the Bible themselves as the inspired Word of God. I believe that is at the heart of being an evangelical, and is a healthy approach which is, life giving, inspirational and challenging.

In an age where secularism is growing, and more & more people regard the church as outdated or irrelevant, isn't it more important than ever to be defined by the positive things we stand for, rather than by the things we are against.

I hope that Andrew Carey is right when he predicts a more evangelical General Synod, and I hope it will be indeed be a more open kind of evangelicalism, not simply the sort that seeks to shut people out.

(Thank you CEN)

Wednesday 13 October 2010

The Confusing World of Christian Bumper Stickers

To someone from the UK the world of Bumper Stickers is an strange and alien place. We don't have them in the UK, except for the occasional window sticker or 'fish' sign.

So to come across a website selling Christian Bumper Stickers was a revelation, where I entered into a strange new world of the one-line sound bite for your car.

The only problem is, as far as I can see, far from offering a clear, humourous and thought provoking window on the Christian faith, it merely reveals just how divided we are.

So I have put together my list of "Top Ten Confusing Christian Bumper Stickers" where the profound is interweaved with the ridiculous, and the inspiring with "What the hec?!"

So here we go...

1. We start with something inspirational

2 & 3. But then we get political

4. The matter is finally settled ...

5 & 6. But for the sake of balance we have to include ...

7 & 8. Which of course, provokes the opposite reation ...

9. In the light of all this, it is perhaps not surprizing that some feel led to cry out the ultimate prayer ....

10. So thank God that someone has the good sense to lead us back to Scripture - with a little bit added to make sure we get the point.
What a wonderful faith!
All the above (and many more) are available in the UK from
(search for Christian Bumper Stickers!)

Sunday 10 October 2010

Crossing the Line

(If the embedded link above does not work follow this link to YouTube )

In Lesley's Blog a couple of weeks ago, she expressed exasperation people who talked about Mission - "I will roll my eyes if you say you are passionate about mission - what does that mean?"

As someone who is passionate about mission (whatever it is!) I felt a little stung by this constructive criticism, and have taken the challenge. I have been musing ever since as to how I would define mission in the Church.

This is, of course no mean feat! I remember back to the 1990's when a 'Decade of Evangelism' began in the Church of England. The diocese I was living in neatly side-stepped the challenge of having to actually 'do' any evangelism for the first 4 years of the decade by trying to find a definition of evangelism which most churches in the diocese could sign up to!

So if that is how difficult it is for a relatively straightforward word like evangelism, I must be completely mad to attempt to define 'mission'. Having thought about it over the last few weeks, however, I am now ready to put my definition out into the ether in the hope that it doesn't utterly crash and burn!

So, here goes ...

Mission is what happens
whenever our faith causes us
to cross a boundary.

Is that it, I hear echoing across the web? Surely it can't be that simple? So let me explain...

Crossing a boundary can be:

  • a physical boundary like a national border, as Missionaries have done for hundreds of years, but it can also be ...
  • an economic boundary like taking the time to talk with the homeless man in the street who you normally walk straight past
  • a social boundary like the one we cross when we talk about God to our family or friends
  • a personal boundary like the one we cross when we spend time alongside a person we don't understand
  • even perhaps a faith boundary when we choose act beyond our comfort zones, trusting that God will give us what we need to be there.
I believe that when we do such things because of our Christian Faith, we are engaged in mission - God's Mission.
  • It might be giving money to a charity to help others beyond our reach; it might be that simple act of kindness to someone very different to us.
  • It may involve words; it may not; it may involve more listening that speaking; it may mean setting aside our ideas to allow others to give us theirs.
  • It may involve us 'giving a reason for the hope we have within us' (1 Peter 3:15); it may be talking about the love of Jesus; it may mean us allowing someone else to show us God's love.

But if our faith draws us into that place, that action, or that situation where we have crossed a boundary, we have engaged in mission, and mission changes the world. It breaks down the barriers which separate us from our fellow human beings. When done in humility, it builds our humanity, our capacity to include others and to be included by them.

Most of all, of course, it is what Jesus did for us, and with us - and as a Christian, it is His example which I want to follow more than any other.

My song for this week is from one of my favourite Christian band "
Superchick", and it is their song "Cross the Line"

Its message is to reject the status quo, the comfort of what we know; to step over the line into an attitude of mind that says the world can change, and we can be a part of changing it! And as we cross the line, as we take risks driven on by our faith, we take hold of life in all its fullness...

In their words, "Revolutions start when someone crosses the line!"


(The embedded link above seems to have gone down to see the video follow this link )

Sunday 3 October 2010

The Sin of Honesty

Over the last week there have been a number of Blogs pointing out the culture of secrecy that exists in the Church of England and the Anglican world over sexual orientation.

Colin Coward in the Changing Attitude Blog has been most outspoken, claiming that there are 3 gay Primates in the Anglican Communion and 10-13 gay Bishops in the Church of England!

So the Archbishop's now famous phrase from last week's interview in the Times that "He has no problem with gay bishops' clearly needs another caveat placed alongside celibacy - the caveat that "He has no problem - as long as no-one knows!"

This is clearly a major issue for the CofE and the Anglican Communion. At a meeting of candidates for the current General Synod elections last week, 2 of the candidates openly noted that the Church of England has been ordaining gay priests and consecrating gay bishops for years, and that we need to stop living a lie!

Indeed, when I served on General Synod several years ago, I remember being part of a conversation in which a serving Bishop's name was mentioned as being gay. The reaction was remarkable - there was shocked silence for a moment before one senior churchman (they were both men) for whom this was news, said "He's not gay, is he?" while at the same moment another (who already knew of the Bishop's sexuality) said, "He's not gone public, has he?" Which was the greater crime, I wondered - being gay or being honest?

Nor is this issue limited to men. I also remember meeting a life-long missionary, for an evangelical mission agency, who, throughout her many years ministry in Africa knew she was a lesbian, and indeed had a relationship with a fellow missionary for many years. Everyone thought she was simply a spinster who had never met the 'right man', and it was not until she was in her late 60's and safely retired, that she could be finally honest and open about her sexuality. The sense of liberation on her face, at finally being able to tell people was tangible and powerful.

Is honesty the main issue then? Is it the honesty and openness of Jeffrey John that is the real cause of his awful treatment at the hands of the Church? And when is there going to be a sustained challenge to this way of doing things?

Is it the honesty of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool that makes them and the Episcopal Church such a focus for disapproval in the Anglican Communion? If they had just kept quiet? If they had just lived a lie? If they had hidden behind a veneer of acceptability? Would everything have been ok?

The answer, of course, is a resounding "No!" If we, as Christ body here on earth are to convince people that God is real, we need to be real. If we want people to find abundant life in Christ, we need to live real lives, not carefully crafted veneers of acceptability.

It was Oliver Cromwell ironically, (the English puritan political leader during the English Civil War) who said "Paint my picture - warts and all". Like it or not, good or bad, he wanted people to see him as he really was.

Until we learn to be a church which is prepared to be an environment where people can be honest and open, we will continue to encourage Christians and Christian leaders to lead fake lives.

And fake lives can only build a fake Church.

And a fake Church does not portray a real God, or a real Gospel, or real salvation - just an hollow veneer which people see though all too easily.