The Great Revealer

There are many political issues which are genuinely complex for Christians.

Tax policy. The role and size of the State, and how that’s balanced with individual responsibility. How best to tackle crime, or education. As a pastor, I want to acknowledge that there are good arguments for leaning left or right on these or any number of other issues. And I don’t just say that because I’m a pastor and I don’t want to offend. I really do believe these things are hugely complex, and good arguments can be made in different directions. Most political issues are not simple.

How we respond to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow isn’t one of those issues, though.

This is one of the things which, for Christians, is simple. Continue reading

Christians and Israel

It’s not often that New Zealand gets international political attention, but we certainly did so this week when our government co-sponsored a UN resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements.

As expected, my Facebook feed has been lighting up like a busy switchboard as Christians I know react with outrage. That’s because many Christians today see the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. For them, criticism of Israel is like ice cream on a sensitive tooth.

I’m aware that this is a highly controversial topic, but I’ve never bought into that line of thinking myself. I’m also aware that people who hold the above view (let’s call them Christian Zionists) are often unwilling to consider other interpretive options. So, I’m not writing this blog post to convince them. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts for the people who’ve seen or heard Christian Zionism, and felt a bit confused, or uneasy, or overwhelmed.

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to land there. And, here’s some mixed news: there probably aren’t any easy answers. The truth is, this subject, more than most, calls for nuance. So, let me try to offer some…   Continue reading

What Do You Want?

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What’s on your mind?

Facebook asks me this question every time I log on.  As I scroll down my timeline I feel encouraged to give my thoughts on topics religious, political, and just about everything in between.

“What do I think about this?” I wonder.

Over the last few years, however, two books have made me think twice (ironically) about whether what’s going on is quite so simple as that.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, uses the metaphor of an elephant and a rider. The elephant represents our subconscious world: our emotions, intuitions, and flash reactions (disgust, attraction, etc). The rider is our intellect and reasoning.

Through much research, Haidt’s conclusion is this: elephant’s rule. We have an intuitive response to almost everything, and our minds then work to justify that response. We think we’ve arrived there by “thinking”, but actually we’re far less rational then that. Haidt puts it like this… Continue reading

Oppressed & Oppressors

I’ve read three things recently which have made me mad. Three things which seem to me to highlight humanity’s sad inclination to oppress the most vulnerable.

First, I’ve been reading about the American drone program. This is an increasingly frighting remote control arms race which the Obama administration has been pursuing. Drone strikes often ignore  international law and national borders, and they turn war into a distant video game for “pilots” who sit at computers back in Arizona. But more than that, the psychological cost is huge, especially for civilians in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, who live in fear of random missiles raining from the sky. These are simply the latest in a long line of people who experience oppression under the boot of the empire.

Second, I’ve been reading about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor who was just convicted of murdering three babies who were born alive. This case has brought the topic of abortion to attention in the public sphere again. It’s an emotive topic, and I admit to feeling real anger as a Christian for the millions of babies who never get to have a voice. Can there be a more stark example of oppression than this? I also know that the factors which lead to abortion are complicated, and education is such a high need. I feel anger on behalf of the women who live in poverty because of the oppressive decisions of governments or local city councils, and who see abortion as their only option. It’s hugely sad and hugely complicated.

Third, I’ve been reading about my own governments decision to effectively add to Auckland’s gambling problem as payment for their own glittering idol. So, Auckland gets a $402 million convention centre, funded by SkyCity, and SkyCity gets, among other things, 230 pokie extra machines, 40 extra gambling tables, and (from the article) “gets its licence extended to 2048 and until then, if any future Government changes gambling laws and affects the profits the company gets from its new concessions, the taxpayer will have to pay compensation.” This is a deal with the devil paid for off the back of problem gamblers. It is oppressive legislation, both to people caught up in gambling and to every New Zealander for the next 35 years. Continue reading

Christian Political Posture

Increasingly, in the Western world, the Christian voice is not a welcome one in the marketplace of ideas.

This video (which my friend Cameron sent my way) unpacks this quite well, focusing on the debate around same-sex marriage; it’s almost as if the moral worldviews of secularism and Christianity are now so far apart that it’s impossible to do anything except talk past one another.

To put it simply, we’re living in a post-Christian culture.

That in mind, the de-registration of Family First as a charity this week got me thinking.

Not thinking so much about whether it was fair or not. As long as the law is applied consistently, I don’t feel it’s outrageous that a political lobby group shouldn’t have charitable status. Besides, to be honest, while I respect the fact that Family First does represent a healthy chunk of Christians on many issues, I’ve generally found their approach a bit shrill for my liking.

No, what I’ve been thinking about is how Jesus would have us Christians respond to our shrinking influence and political capital.
Continue reading