10 things Evangelicals don’t tell you at first

I notice that one of my colleagues in the church, Malcolm Round has been trying to define what an Evangelical is.  Now, I’m very fond of Fr Malcolm and do believe he does a power of good though I have been surprised at how damning he has been in public about liberals in the church recently. One might think by reading his blog that he’s never read any good liberal theology and I’m sure that can’t be true.

However, I’ve been someone who has been an Evangelical and someone who has been greatly moved my much that people would label as liberal. Perhaps having heritage from both parts of the church I’m able to offer something helpful to the question of what it is that makes someone an Evangelical that Malcolm has been trying to answer. Those two strands, evangelical and liberal have contributed to who I am and how I live and how I try to spread the good news about Jesus.

I thought I might help Malcolm out with 10 things about Evangelicals that Evangelicals tend not to tell you when you first encounter them and when you first encounter an Evangelical church.

  1. Evangelicals believe in hell. By that, I mean that they generally believe that there is a real existence beyond this life where individual souls will be punished because of the choices that they made in this life – particularly the choice of whether or not to accept that Jesus is their personal Saviour and Lord. [Evangelicals are not the only people to believe in hell but that very personal view of salvation is pretty distinctive].
    I tend to share the view of the mystic, Mother Julian of Norwich, who had a vision in which she said she had seen hell, knew that it was real but found it to be empty.
  2. Evangelicals claim to read the bible and claim to take it very seriously but curiously, they don’t read much of it in their churches. I think this is one of the oddest things – if you come to a church like mine you’ll find a place where the bible is read out loud every day – a couple of readings and some psalms on weekdays and Sunday evenings and three readings and a psalm on Sunday mornings.
    I think that one of the reasons that Evangelicals differ from other Christians on issues like sexuality is that other Christians are used to hearing passages of scripture read in the context of other passages which leads them to do a lot of compare and contrast thinking about different things in the bible.
  3. Evangelicals tend to view only one theory of the atonement as valid. The atonement is the business by which we are saved, put right with God etc. I’ve already indicated above in #1  what that view of atonement is.
    I find different, sometimes competing views of what can put us in right relationship with God in the bible. (This isn’t surprising since different people wrote different bits of it at different times in history).  I find different people today speak of coming into relationship with God in different ways. I sing hymns in which that diversity is recognised. I am moved by different views of the atonement at different times in my life. I can’t see how only one can be true. God doesn’t seem to be in that business.
  4. Many Evangelicals believe the modern State of Israel to be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The idea is that God promised the land to the Hebrew tribes of old, preferring them over other tribes who once lived in that land. Pressure from American Evangelicals causes this view to directly influence US policy.
    I think this view directly contributes to deaths in the Middle East and persecution for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. I’m aware that not all Evangelicals hold to it but I’d like to hear Evangelical leaders who do not subscribe to this view call out those who do.
  5. It is a common view amongst Evangelicals that it is only Evangelicals who are the real Christians. After all, if you only believe that there’s one way to put yourself right with God, you are only going to accept those who take that road.
    I think that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy and that it isn’t my business speculating on who is in and who is out.
  6. Despite reading the bible and claiming to believe it, many evangelicals believe simony to be a legitimate way of getting what they want in the church. Simony is the practise of trying to buy and sell religious favours, posts or power for money. The term comes from Acts chapter 8 where a character called Simon Magus tries to buy a holy spirit experience. You don’t have to delve far into the current politics of most denominations without being told that if the denomination is nicer to gay people then the Evangelicals will withhold their financial contributions.
    I think simony is a sin. In contrast with the God of Acts chapter 8, I don’t think it should be punished by instant death, however I think it is a sin that shouldn’t be indulged.
  7. Evangelicals form the core of the opposition to lesbian and gay people in many denominations. They claim that this is because “it says so in the bible”. Other Christians who also read the bible don’t think the bible says this and/or don’t think this is a legitimate way of reading the bible.
    I think that accepting that gay and lesbian relationships are as legitimate as straight relationships does indeed cause many of the presumptions on which Evangelicalism is built to begin to feel very shakey. I’m interested in the new emergence of gay-friendly Evangelicals but I struggle to see how that works. Once I’d accepted that I thought that gay relationships could show forth the love of God as much as straight relationships then, for me, a lot of the rest of Evangelicalism crumbled. There are good theological reasons for this. Evangelicals have very good reason to be very frightened of the inevitable move towards accepting gay people and gay relationships in churches.
  8. Evangelicalism tends to follow the cultural trends of society 30 years later than other types of Christianity. Once upon a time, the examples above would have been about women in leadership in the church – now lots of Evangelicals have got over that. In 10 or 15 years time the examples relating to sexuality will be obsolete as large numbers of Evangelical churches will somehow have come to accept that gay people are OK. However, by that time they will be arguing furiously that other Christians have gone too far in accepting, loving and embracing people of other faiths. Expect “the uniqueness of Christ” to be something you hear a good deal more about.
    I think that Evangelicals need to learn from their own experience of thinking about divorce and about the ministry of women. I wish someone within Evangelicalism would write a history of how Evangelicals have changed their minds.
  9. Evangelicals tend to think that the personal is more important than God’s good news for society. It is another consequence of that dogged adherence to one view of the atonement. The paradox is that Evangelicals are suspicious of those social movements such as feminism or gay rights which have emphasized that the personal is political.
    I think that God’s love for the world is never merely personal and that’s part of what I was preaching about on Sunday.
  10. Evangelicals are a modern phenomenon. Evangelicals think that they are getting back to the original (authentic?) version of Christianity practiced by the early, first Christians and that there has tended to be a faithful remnant through the ages who have believed what they have believed. They tend to be ignorant or suspicious of histories which show modern Evangelical views to be responses to rationalist thinking emerging amongst, for example, Renaissance humanists or the new rationalists of the Enlightenment.
    I think that I’m a child of the Enlightenment and I think that God still loves me. I think that most of the tenets of Evangelicalism would have been completely incomprehensible to most Christians during most of Christendom.

I hope this is helpful to Malcolm and to others who wonder what Evangelicalism is all about. Sometimes you can’t see things clearly whilst you are very close to them. That’s certainly my experience of Evangelicalism. Notwithstanding all the things above, Evangelicalism remains the place where I learned to love Jesus and where I met a God who loves me still. It also feeds many other churches – we’ve lots of people at St Mary’s who have been touched greatly by Evangelicalism but who now need to find somewhere to work out what bits of the Christian faith are true because they know that what they’ve learned so far is inadequate for them at the moment. I have much for which to be thankful to Evangelicalism.

The above list is a list of generalizations. That means that there are exceptions to just about all of them. Trust me, I’m aware of that.

But are any of those generalizations downright wrong?

And does this help explain Evangelicalism to those who encounter it from the outside.

You are welcome to chip in with a comment.

Not drowning but thriving – sermon from 10 August 2014

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

 

When I was growing up – that’s exactly the kind of thing that I would have been singing on a Sunday morning.

And it came to mind when I was starting to think about what to say about the gospel this morning.

You see, the gospel reading that we have today tends to lead to sermons which represent that kind of mawkish sentimentality that suggests that Jesus will solve everything.

I’ve found in life that Jesus doesn’t solve everything. If he did, the world would already be a very different place.

I’ve learned that if Jesus does anything he calls us to build that better place not simply with him but with people of goodwill wherever we find them.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

That’s the thing about this passage – the evangelist lays on that sentiment with a trowel. Peter leaps out of the boat and starts to sink – only when he looks at Jesus is he safe. And thus, so many sermons will say – we need to fix our eyes on the saviour and all will be well.

Well, I certainly think that Jesus can be a brilliant inspiration and I look on him as Saviour and Lord.

But when I look at Jesus I find that he is looking at the world and asking me to gaze with compassion upon it with him. [Read more...]

Social Media and Ministry – Will I be your friend?

Here’s where I’m at with social media.

Twitter

You’ll find me here: www.twitter.com/thurible

I follow whoever I like and I let anyone who wants to follow me. Twitter is the wild west – you do what you like. Part of the fun is following people who wouldn’t dream of following you back.

There are just over 500 accounts that I follow. These show up in my timeline and I keep a reasonable watch on what is going on. I miss some things in my timeline but I check twitter every day. Indeed, for some parts of my day, twitter is open in another monitor on my desk. Some of the people I follow are people who are close to me but most are not. I follow some people because they telegraph news that I’m interested in far quicker than any other media. I know things far sooner by following twitter than I would otherwise. Because I use it in this way, it is my responsibility to learn to sift and sort out what is likely to be true and what can be discarded as speculation or downright lies. As in other forms of communication, reputation is principally what determines whether I trust someone and I have huge responsibilities in working all this out. I need to be familiar with the genre to understand what I am reading.

[An example of that has just happened whilst I'm writing this post - a journalist I trust has just tweeted that Baroness Warsi has resigned over Gaza. I'm interested in that and I'm seeing that some time before  I will hear it on the news.]

People ask me whether this takes a lot of time. My answer is that it takes hardly any time. And it takes all my time. It is just going on. It is part of life.

I tweet @thurible and I tweet on behalf of St Mary’s @thecathedral. The latter account doesn’t have my personality, but reflects the institution. The former account does reflect my personality. That means you get to hear what I think about God and what I think about Kylie’s head-dress. I also retweet things from people I find interesting and people I generally trust. You might hear things from me that you won’t hear in the newspapers and some people follow me for that reason. Some people presumably follow me because what I say entertains them in some way. But it is a free for all – those who want to follow get to do so without me bothering much about who they are. Three times as many people follow me as the number of people I follow.

If my tweets are retweeted by others, and they often are, then they will reach tens of thousands of people. What I think or say about the Scottish Episcopal Church, Kylie’s head-dress or Baroness Warsi could reach very many people. This is so powerful I have to think about what I say. Believe me, I do.

If I know you, or if you interact with me in ways that are clever, funny, witty, amusing, intelligent or even belligerent, there is a reasonable chance that I’ll follow you.

Facebook

Well, facebook used to be the social network to build up vast lists of friends. I’m not interested in that any more. Since twitter came along, I’ve no particular interest in adding people as friends unless I’ve got good reason to do so. I get quite a few friend requests from people I don’t know at all and I realised a few months ago that I just wasn’t interested.

You see, if I accept you as a friend, I’ll see what you have to say in my timeline. Experience suggests that those whom I don’t know will be reposting lots of things from other people that I think of as drivel.

I’m interested in you on facebook if I know you or if I’m interested in what you’ve got to say. I am far less interested in your kitten picture. However, if I know your kittens, I’m beguiled. I’m much more interested in what you have to say or in in the picture that you have taken than in things that you have reposted from other “clever” people.

A while ago, Facebook introduced the concept of following. This is more sophisticated than twitter. You can follow me without me having to be your friend and a bunch of people do that. It means you can see all my public postings but I don’t have to see the photograph of your kitten. Everyone wins.

I work fairly carefully to keep my facebook connections in good order. I use the “lists” facility to make sure I know who is receiving what I’m posting. Thus, I can continue to use Facebook when I’m on holiday but don’t let members of the congregation see my postings whilst I’m away because a holiday is a holiday and we need time off from one another. It isn’t difficult to do that with Facebook. Most people who complain about facebook haven’t bothered to learn how to use it.

[I'm starting to see comment from politicians, journalists and friends about Baroness Warsi's resignation - some see it as principled, some see it as opportunist - I sit and think about it.]

I’m more than aware that “friends” are not friends. However, I think that it is silly for people to say that “friends” have nothing to do with real friendship and community. (As the Church of Scotland Moderator appeared to do at the end of the General Assembly). I get lots of my community online. I like living that way. Some of the people I am closest to relate to me in this way. I have known them for many years and enjoy the daily company of good friends whom I would have lost touch with years ago without this way of communicating. I’ll be praying this morning at Morning Prayer for someone whom I’ve known since 1989 whom I see from Facebook is waiting news from a significant MRI scan. Don’t tell me that’s not real.

I’m on facebook at www.facebook.com/thurible – if you are someone I know, are in my congregation, are someone I’ve met in my ministry then yes, I am likely to add you as a friend if you request that. I don’t generally befriend people in the congregation who are under 16. I don’t generally befriend people whom I don’t know at all. I get regular requests from people who have a number of mutual friends in common. I’m afriad if I see that our only mutual friends are a few of the dozen or so LGBT activists that I know well then you probably need to follow me rather than expect me to befriend you.

[BBC have a Breaking News note on their website saying that Baroness Warsi has resigned - nothing else].

Google+

I’m only on Google+ because it gets you access to google’s video hangouts and we host online evening prayer there. I only know one person who regularly posts on Google+ and they post their photographs elsewhere too. I don’t monitor Google+ and I’m unlikely to add you to my account. Not because I don’t want to be your friend but because there is no-one there. You are not there asking me to be your friend anyway. Presumably google will one day pull the plug on some of this – they can’t be making money out of it.

Pinterest

Oh, I do love pinterest and I’m on that sporadically. (You’ll find my profile here: http://www.pinterest.com/kelvinthurible)
It allows you to build up collections of pics that are on the web.If you want to see my collection of Religious Hat pictures you need to find me there. If you want to gaze in wonder at my board of Baldacchinos, ombrellinos, and religious shades then there’s nowhere else to go. And as for my carefully curated moodboard of TISECesque worship – then if you’ve not seen it you don’t know what you are missing. No friends here – if I pin something on a public board you are welcome to pin it to yours. We’ll hope that pinterest have plenty of well paid lawyers to sort out the copyright issues. And we’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts – again I don’t see how they are making any money. This is the social media network of choice if I’m off sick.

Interestingly, Pinterest is a social network with significantly more women on it than men. I keep an eye on some of the “Dream Wedding” stuff for fear of what is coming my way.

Flickr

Flickr is a social network I have a profile on but hardly ever post to. I’m much more likely to post pictures to facebook. However I do use Flickr for finding pictures which people have already given their permission to be copied. I use these on the cathedral website sometimes. For example, when Peter Tatchell was with us recently I needed a good pic of him and found one on Flickr that had the appropriate copyright permissions allowing me to use it so long as I acknowledged where it had come from. Such generosity is a blessing unto us all.

LinkedIn

I always think I ought to love LinkedIn more than I do. I have a profile but don’t know what to do with it. Maybe it just doesn’t work for the church.

Others

I don’t have an instagram account but I might do one day. I don’t have any accounts on scruff, grindr, blendr or anything else which attempts to find me something carnal 300 ft from where I am. I also don’t think regular online dating can work for me but that is perhaps a post for another day. I don’t do social bookmarking though I can see the point. I don’t run any micro social networks of my own though from time to time I explore the options for the congregation. I use email so much that I’ve forgotten that it is a social media network though I’m quite sure that it is. I used to have a profile on Friends Reunited and presume it is still there but have to admit that Facebook beat it hands down. I have a spotify profile and think that it is very clever to try to make music into social media but resist most of their attempts to do so.

[The BBC now have a full report on Baroness Warsi's resignation - pictures and responses from other people. I look at it and feel I've seen it all before. No-0ne links to it.]

Conclusion

Social Media and Ministry mix rather well. I don’t know what I’d do without some of it. It undoubtedly drives people to my blog and to the church website and both of those push some people towards the church. (They will push some people away too, but that’s OK – why waste the time of those who won’t be interested). Personality and ethos are gloriously muddled online. That’s the way the world is and I like it.

So that’s what I’m using social media for.

You?

Who guessed the Pope would turn out to be Mrs Beamish?

It has been wonderful seeing the enthusiasm of Roman Catholic friends for the refreshing breeze that Pope Francis has been bringing to their church over the last few months.

Lots of Anglicans are hugely admiring of what he has managed to achieve.

But what’s this coming from the Vatican now?

No less than an injunction to calm it down during the Peace in the mass.

A document has emerged which suggests several different ways in which to ensure that things don’t get over exuberant. As well as discouraging people from moving from their place, it also suggests:

“changing the way in which the exchange of peace is made.” In particular it notes that “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” should be substituted with “other, more appropriate gestures.”

Well, there’s a whole load of other Anglicans are going to be impressed by this developement, I guess.

But who guessed that the Pope would turn out to be Mrs Beamish?

 

The Privatization of Public Space and the Commonwealth Games

Glasgow’s having a ball hosting the Commonwealth Games at the moment. As everyone here is going around saying to one another, there’s a real buzz about the place.

However, that buzz comes at a significant price.

I had a wander down to Glasgow’s great public gathering place by the Clyde yesterday – Glasgow Green. I was surprised to be frisked going onto the Green and even more surprised to read what was and was not allowed there during the Games celebrations.

It was very noticeable that in all the hullabaloo, religion had been written out of the picture. To a certain extent the churches have colluded with keeping themselves hidden during the Games period. I don’t particularly have a problem with that but it was striking that amidst all the festivities in this city in which both the glories and the shame of religious life are vibrantly practiced there was nothing at all to refer to that reality.

More troubling to me is that people on the Green were apparently being told to cover up YES badges indicating their support for Scottish Independence.

I’m not a supporter and have every intent to vote no and encourage others to do so. However, I don’t like the idea that the authorities were asking people to cover up their allegiance to a political movement on Glasgow Green – a place where political opinion and protest has often flourished.

There’s other things you can’t take onto the Green too which are perplexing – the ban on wifi routers being one particularly worrying one. Fortunately those doing the frisking seemed oblivious to the fact that one can use a mobile phone as a wifi router if one so desires.

There’s other things you can’t bring in too – drinks in large bottles was one restriction, I think.

There’s a lot of buying and selling going on down on Glasgow Green. But no protest. No dissent. No freedom of expression.  No freedom to use new technology.

This glorious public space has been privatized and the Live Zone on Glasgow Green is a triumph of authoritarian capitalism.

Amidst all the celebrations which rightly surround these Games, we should not be blind to what is being done to us.

Remembering Dr Pritchard

Dr Edward PritchardEvery day at morning prayer in St Mary’s we remember those whose year’s mind falls on that day. This means remembering by name in our prayers those from the congregation whom we know to have died on that day. Now, our year’s mind list goes back a few decades and we’ve added one or two prominent people from the past to it.

One of them came up today – Edward Pritchard.

It is a name that one could pray through and not pay any attention to but I think of him each year on this day when the anniversary of his death comes around. He was hanged on 28 July 1865 before a large crowd of people, tens of thousands, some said, on Glasgow Green. He was the last person to be hanged in public in this city. He had been convicted of murder, having killed his mother-in-law, his wife and possibly a maid in his household. As a trusted doctor he had been able to get hold of Antimony relatively easily. As a genteel murderer, his case was particularly shocking to people.

He was also a member of this congregation and he died with a curate from St Mary’s in attendance at the scaffold.

Religious people are pretty good at remembering those who have done something courageous. Saints are a real part of our continued worship, but what do we do with sinners?

It seems to me appropriate every year to remember Dr Pritchard. He seems to have been a rather nasty piece of work but I have this giddy belief unsubstantiated by anything other than Christian hope that nasty pieces of work are children of God just as much as those who live lives that are pure and holy. (And I’m not really stupid enough to think that people fall into only one category, either).

When I remember Dr Pritchard, I remember that God most loves those who need love most. As I pray, I remember those who are on death row today and I know with every greater certainty that I’m opposed to the death penalty. And I remember the mercy and love of God which is as real and true for the Dr Pritchards of the world as it is for anyone else.

So, recognising that it is as perplexing and puzzling to work out how to pray for Dr Pritchard as it is to pray for anyone else, I add to the corporate prayer of the church my own intentions, hopes and struggle.

For Dr Edward William Pritchard whose year’s mind falls today.

May he rest in peace. And rise in glory.

 

Thurible of the Week – 26 July 2014

Spotted in St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Port Glasgow. From the Epiphany Chapel.

thurible from Port Glasgow

Wee dugs – genius

dug

Peter Tatchell on Outing Bishops

I was in conversation with Peter Tatchell yesterday in St Mary’s after the Sung Eucharist yesterday morning. The whole of the conversation was recorded and can be seen on the cathedral website.

One of the things that I wanted to ask him about was whether he still thought it was appropriate to out gay bishops, something that he has done in the past. I wasn’t too surprised to hear him justifying the outing of gay public figures who use their own influence to inhibit the lives of other gay people.

I was interested to hear him say that he and those whom he works with are currently considering outing bishops again.

The whole of the segment on outing people is in the video extract above. The particularly relevant bit comes at the end:

Kelvin Holdsworth: For what it is worth, I find myself very often wondering these days whether we are heading back in that direction [of outing], with bishops in England directly preventing their clergy from marrying at the moment in a way that is not likely to happen in Scotland. And some of them perceived to be in partnerships. And that seems to me to be back in that territory.
Peter Tatchell: You are absolutely right, and we are amassing the evidence right now. I’m not saying that we will use it, but we are certainly thinking about it – because people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it. If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.

My own view that it is perfectly justifiable to out those who are gay who use their authority to inhibit the lives of those gay people in their care. It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for anyone with concrete evidence of a bishop who has supported an anti-gay policy such as the recent pastoral statement in the Church of England and who is in a same-sex partnership, to draw attention to that hypocrisy in public.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to out bishops who are themselves gay and in partnerships who are supportive of policies which would inhibit their gay and lesbian clergy from marrying?

Why we sang a lament today

It has been a pretty depressing week on the news front. The downing of the plane in the Ukraine, the continued terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the invasion of Gaza and the oppression of the Christians (and other religious groups) in Iraq by ISIS have been a huge amount of negative events that feel terrible.

As I was preparing to take the worship this morning, I saw a picture of an 1800 year old church burning in Mosul in Iraq.

Now, burning churches are just buildings but this seemed to represent the organised oppression of a whole communion. The Christians of Mosul have been told to convert to Islam, pay an infidel’s tax or be slaughtered. They are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and thousands of them have now fled for their life, their homes being marked by ISIS with a symbol indicating that Christians live there allowing particular buildings to be targeted.

I decided this morning that our worship needed to include something that had not previously been planned for. I decided to include a lament. Given that the city of Mosul sits astride one of the rivers of Iraq (ie Babylon) it seemed appropriate to sing from Psalm 137 – by the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.

Now the context from when it was first sung to our present age is different but the sense of lament is the same. Lament is what happens when anger and sadness meet and start to sing in harmony, creating a song that suggests that the singer is not happy to let the world rest in its current state.

And so we sang the simple round, “By the waters, the waters of Babylon” during our worship at St Mary’s this morning.

[You can hear others having a go at singing it over on Youtube]

It wasn’t the most dramatic or glorious music we’ve had in St Mary’s recently. However, it was some of the most heartfelt.

When we meet on Sunday’s our songs are generally songs of praise and rightly so. However, we have other songs in our repertoire. Today was a day for lament. And in lamenting to claim that a better world is possible.