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Friday 4 September 2015

Persecution is Almost Always Legal

A lot of people will be a least partially aware of a small town county clerk in Kentucky USA called Kim Davis. For those of you not fully aware of the situation, Davis has just been remanded in jail for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, indeed at one point she refused to issue any licenses, citing religious liberty and the constitution of Kentucky as her reason.

Now I am no expert on U.S law, or law in general for that matter, I have a degree in theology, so the only law I can claim any indepth of knowledge is biblical law. I am only partially aware of the issue of State’s rights, and state constitutions vs. the federal constitutions in the U.S., for a more accurate and American perspective on these things here’s a couple of places to start reading: http://americanvision.org/12412/kim-davis-is-doing-what-every-christian-magistrate-should/, http://www.westernjournalism.com/mike-huckabee-brings-up-the-one-thing-about-kim-davis-no-ones-talking-about-but-should-be/. Though I will state that I am sure there are different arguments to be made on the specific legal issues, so I don’t take either of these brief online articles as the final word on the matter, and leave that to the American legal system.

There is only one thing I want to address in this blog, and then leave the reader to make their own thoughts on the current issues facing the church. I want to address those people, both Christian and non-Christian who are saying this about Kim: she is not being persecuted, she broke the law, failed to do her job properly, her religious beliefs have no right to interfere with her professional duties, etc., etc. She is just facing the legal consequences of her decision. All I can do is say, ‘What? Haven’t you read any church history, or taken a brief look around the world?’ Persecution is more often than not a legal matter, and done through legal means.

We see this from very early on in church history in Acts 4 when the Apostles were arrested for preaching the message of Jesus, they were thrown in jail, the authorities were within their rights to do this at the time. It was legal, they were eventually released, and commanded not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, but look what happened: “18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-19). At this point they were threatened and released. Later they were again arrested for doing the same thing, this time they proclaimed directly, “29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). For their response they were beaten and then released (Acts 5:40). They continued to break the legal command of the Jewish leaders and proclaim the message of Jesus. They upheld God’s law over man’s law. They set the standard for every generation of believers to come.

Now this has been one of the major struggles of the church in every century, when is it time to disobey man, because God’s word comes first? It’s often easier to see it clearly from a historical perspective then when you are in situation as it is happening. So let’s take a glance through history then.

When the Roman’s persecuted the Christians, it was legal persecution. The Caesars commanded that all Roman subjects place Caesar as lord of all, it was Roman law. The Christians refused and at certain points the Roman leaders enforced the law and persecuted them, brutally. Remember the Romans were incredibly permissive towards worship of all kinds of gods…as long as you agreed Caesar was Lord. The dastardly Christians refused to comply with Roman law and suffered brutal legal recourse. But they did the right thing in refusing to obey man’s law over God’s.  

When the Catholic leadership persecuted the reformers in the 16th century for opposing corruption, it was legal persecution. Remember this was an age where there was no such thing as religious tolerance. Church and state loyalty were one, and so to break with the church was to commit treason. Thankfully for a man named Luther the German leaders stood up for their man and used their military might to protect him and oppose the Holy Roman Empire (this was the beginning of what would become nationalism). During the various inquisitions throughout Europe when people were executed and persecuted for not being the right kind of Christian, or for printing Bibles, or for being Jewish or Muslim, remember this was due to legal decrees of the state, and therefore was legal persecution. Christians, and others, were being executed, punished, or banished, due to enforcement of the current legal code.

When Anabaptists were being baptized unto literal death in the 16th century by Catholics and Protestants, this was legal persecution. They were in rebellion not just to the various Protestant and Catholic churches, but also to the state, because in breaking from the church and starting their own church communities, they committed treason. Ironically it was these same Anabaptists who first argued that someone should never be killed for their beliefs, a little something we take for granted in today’s western world, but was radical at the time.

When Christians were being deprived of their homes, liberty, churches and even families under the Dhimmi laws in the various lands conquered by the Muslims where these laws were applied, this was legal persecution. The law required conversion, suppression of other beliefs, or taxation and a second class status. We may not agree with it, but it was legal.  

The suppression of the underground church in China in the 20th century, and even still today, is again because Christians refused to obey the laws of the land, and obey God before man. It is legal persecution.

I could give countless other examples, but my point is simply this: because Kim Davis is in trouble from the law, does not mean it is not persecution. In fact this is consistent with persecution throughout the ages: it is more often than not brought through official legal means, and is the result of Christians placing their obedience to God above the state, and therefore breaking laws and facing the consequences. Yes Christians are required to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), but our highest authority is God and if our nation asks us to go against his teachings, then God’s law always is to come first.

We are yet to see what will become of Kim, or how the church in Kentucky and the U.S. will deal with the new state of affairs in their nation. But one thing is for sure: throughout history Christians have been willing to undergo extreme circumstances in order to place obedience to God above the demands of the state. The Apostles’ response was this: “41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Atcs 5:41).


As the tide of society again moves further and further away from what Christians believe, there will be times when Christians have to choose between man’s law and God’s law – times where we may face legal consequences as persecution. I wonder how we in the west, who have had it so good for so long, will respond? Only time will tell, but I hope I have helped add a little perspective to the debate.  

Thursday 9 July 2015

Love: I do not think it means what you think it means


Those of you who were correctly raised will remember watching the Princess Bride (if truly correctly then many times), a movie that despite all of its ridiculousness is one of the most classic fantasy love tales ever told. You may also recall how Vizzini the scheming kidnapper keeps describing situations involving the witty hero Westley that are happening before his eyes as ‘inconceivable’. Eventually the honourable and loveable Inigo Montoya eventually says ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ Ah how classic, such a fun movie, but oh what a great little way to summarize how people use the word love. You, yes you, and probably you too, keep using the word 'love'. But I do not think it means what you think it means.
Everybody knows the two greatest commandments succinctly summarized by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew 22:34-40 :

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
These commands are the summary of the law and prophets, the central aims of the great commands of the Old and New Testaments, the first principles that are to guide the Christian life and dictate all that we do. They are the greatest commandments in the Bible, and to love God and our fellow human beings are the greatest things that any person can do. But I do not think it means what you think it means.

Let me describe a situation (this is a hypothetical situation that may or may not be based on real life events): Two or more people are having a discussion about theology, in person, or on Facebook, at church, or some other venue. One person holds to the prosperity gospel and is defending theirs and their church’s teaching of this particular theology. In fact they are part of a massive church, filled with lots of energy and people and other cool stuff. This first guy actually believes the prosperity gospel. The second guy says to him, straight up and honestly, that what he believes is heresy, the prosperity gospel is wrong, it’s been condemned throughout church history consistently. He then proceeds to explain the biblical idea of suffering, and hardship and poverty that is evident in the scriptures and experienced by the greatest of the Apostles, and Jesus. He is not saying Christians can’t prosper, some do, greatly, but simply that prosperity is not everyone’s guaranteed experience as a Christian, in fact the opposite is often true. Therefore the prosperity teaching is sinful. Someone jumps in and says, ‘That’s judgemental, and unloving.’ Someone else pipes up, ‘It may be true, but it’s not loving to call that person’s belief heresy.’ Another person unhelpfully quips, ‘Why can’t we just love each other and get along, no one’s doctrine is perfect. Focus on the log in your own eye. Doctrine divides, love brings us together.’ And finally someone else joins in, ‘I don’t think public forums are the place for such discussions, no matter what is true.’ Ah love…again I say, ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

The problem is that so many people distinguish between truth and love, as though they were polar opposites which is bad enough, but even worse is that a lot of Christians don’t even know half of what the Bible says about love. We are told in Scripture to reason with people, bring them back from error, and confront falsehood, and we are told that this is a big part of showing love.

Behold (that's meant to be read as slightly dramatic) some verses:

17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18  ESV)
It’s amazing how the Bible makes our more stupid arguments look well…stupid (I know this from experience. I have had it happen to me too. It’s why we submit to God’s word, not the other way around. None of us are perfect and the Bible confronts us all). The VERY FIRST TIME ‘love your neighbour’ is found in the Bible, it is in the context of reasoning with them, to show them their error or sin. In fact Moses begins by stating that we should not hate our brother in our heart. In other words, do not keep your disagreement to yourself and dwell on it as you may sin and hate your brother in your heart. We all know the negative effects of holding stuff in which needs to be said. Instead we should reason, frankly. The NIV and KJV are even stronger, they both say rebuke. In this way, by frank reasoning, we love our neighbour as our self. So confronting someone in error or sin is intrinsic to the very first mention in the Bible of loving your neighbour as yourself. Indeed whenever this verse is mentioned in the New Testament, whether by Jesus, or the Apostles, they are quoting this passage. So again, you use the word ‘love’, but I do not think it means what you think it means.   
Indeed in the context of encouraging people to love others above all else, look how Peter expands on it:
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God… (1 Peter 4:8-11, ESV).
In other words in the context of loving one another comes the encouragement to speak the very oracles of God. So we who speak should boldly, confidently, respectfully and with conviction speak the truth; this is loving. This means as the Apostles themselves did. They rebuked people, corrected people, encouraged people, and they did these things in public and private, in letters and from public platforms. Paul told the Athenians, in Athens their home ground, in their discussion area, to repent. This is loving and truthful.

Yes indeed we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but to do this we need to speak. Again let’s bring up the context:
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… (Ephesians 4:15, ESV).   
Isn’t that fascinating…the idea of speaking the truth in love, is mentioned in the context of avoiding false doctrine or ‘every wind of doctrine’, meaning doctrine that moves like jelly in the hands of a toddler. No we must not be carried along by untruths, human cunning (in other words human inventions that masquerade as biblical teaching, aka a lot of what is heard from a lot pulpits), but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up and be like Jesus. In other words speaking the truth in love is what Jesus did and as we do that we display his image in the world.

Now, remember there were times when what Jesus said was just mean, but he was always loving, sometimes we need a metaphorical slap in the face (I know I do, I’m not perfect, no one is), even a public one, to be protected from the dangers of false teaching, which is a serious problem, and mentioned in nearly every New Testament book as something to be wary of. Let’s take a look at Jesus speaking the truth in love in one particular PUBLIC context, where he is challenging false practices:
27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28, ESV).
Ouch! Now Jesus said this, and it would have been the gravest of insults to the Pharisees and scribes, and where did he say it?Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples…” (Matthew 23:1, ESV). He said it in public? But..but that's...inconceivable. It’s not for no reason the religious leaders hated him, and killed him. This was mean, but it was true, abundantly true, and it was divisive, confrontational…and incredibly loving because he wanted to bring them to repentance. I’m not saying Jesus was always like this, or that we need to always be like this, or even that in our fallen-ness we will do this very well. I’m simply saying Jesus is God, God is love, Jesus said this and it was the truth being spoken in love. Again, ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’
Look so much more can be said about love. We could talk about how it includes humbleness, self-sacrifice, service, sometimes, even often, being silent and just walking with someone and so much more. It especially includes the great love Jesus displayed on the cross, dying for our sins. Libraries of books could be and have been written on love. But our post-modern, post-Christian, post-truth, politically correct world needs to hear this, especially Christians who are caving in to all these things. There appears to be no place for boldness in the church today, at least boldness in calling a spade a spade. Even if it is done in a restrained and careful way, based on indisputable facts, and exercised respectfully, so many in our modern culture just can’t handle it. I think the key to public debate is respect and integrity. But for a lot of people it is niceness, not being divisive, and not offending. But then 90% of topics become taboo and the public space is filled with cat videos and useless platitudes about inane topics. Effectively it's political correctness stamping down on dissent because it makes people uncomfortable.

Now confronting discussions should not be all we do, there is so much depth and richness to the Christian walk, but it should not be excluded, or jumped on by very nice, polite, never want to offend, people whenever it happens either. To quote Solomon, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: “a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:3,5,7 ESV).

I trust and really do hope that I have expanded your idea of the biblical view of love. Let it not be said of you, or me, that ‘Love, you keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

 


 

 

Monday 6 April 2015

May Heretics Live Free From Harm


Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524)

Quick Introduction: Hubmaier was one of the early leaders of what would quickly become known as the Ana-Baptist movement, which was an off shoot of the reformation. What makes this guy so significant is that he wrote one of the earliest pleas for religious toleration that we have to date. In this short disputation he argues that those who burn heretics, are in reality heretics themselves. Because he was one of the key leaders in a 16th movement that believed in the separation of church and state, and that everyone should be able to choose their own religion, in a time when the state and church were intricately connected, and chose the state religion for everybody else, the way his life ended was one of terrible irony: he was burned at the stake in March 1528. But his legacy lives on. We take religious freedom for granted in the west, but in fact, we have religious freedom in the west, because of men like Hubmaier, who took Jesus’ teaching literally, when Jesus said don’t pull out the tares with the wheat, and that Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save.  

Here is his brilliant line of reasoning on why it is heretical to kill or persecute the heretic:   

 1. Heretics are those who wickedly oppose the holy scriptures, the first of whom was the devil, when he said to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die", (genesis 3:4) together with his followers.

 2. Those also are heretics that cast a veil over the scriptures and interpret them otherwise than the holy spirit demands; as those who everywhere proclaim a concubine as a benefice, pastoring and ruling the church at Rome, and compelling us to believe this talk.

 3. Those who are such one should overcome with holy knowledge, not angrily but softly, although the Holy Scriptures contain wrath.

 4. But this wrath of the scriptures is truly a spiritual fire and zeal of love, not burning without the Word of God.

 5. If they will not be taught by strong proofs or evangelic reasons, then let them be, and leave them to rage and be mad (Titus 3:2,3), that those who are filthy may become more filthy still (Rev. 22:11).

 6. The law that condemns heretics to the fire builds up both Zion in blood and Jerusalem in wickedness.

 7. Therefore will they be taken away in sighs, for the judgments of God (whose right it is to judge) either convert or harden them, that the blind lead the blind and both the seduced and the seducer go from bad to worse.

 8. This is the will of Christ who said, “Let both grow together till the harvest, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29). “For there must also be heresies among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

  9. Though they indeed experience this, yet they are not put away until Christ shall say to the reapers, “Gather first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them” (Matt. 13:30).

 10. This word does not teach us idleness but strife; for we should unceasingly contend, not with men but with their godless doctrine.

 11. The unwatchful bishops are the cause of the heresies. “When men slept, the enemy came” (Matt. 13:25).

 12. Again, “Blessed is the man who is a watcher at the door of the bridegroom’s chamber” (Prov. 8:34), and neither sleeps nor “sits in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1).

 13. Hence it follows that the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, since, against the doctrine and example of Christ, they condemn heretics to fire, and before the time of harvest root up the wheat with the tares.

 14. For Christ did not come to butcher, destroy, and burn, but that those that live might live more abundantly (John 10:10).

 15. We should pray and hope for repentance, as long as man lives in this misery.

 16. A turk or a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer; and so we should await with patience the judgment of God.

 17. If we do otherwise, God will treat our sword as stubble, and burning fire as mockery (Job 41:29).

 18. So unholy and far off from evangelical doctrine is the whole order of preaching friars (of which variegated birds our Antony is one), that hitherto out of them alone the inquisitors have come.

 19. If these only knew of what spirit they ought to be, they would not so shamelessly pervert God’s Word, nor so often cry, “To the fire, to the fire!” (Luke 9:54-56).

 20. It is no excuse (as they charter) that they give over the wicked to the secular power, for he who thus gives over sins more deeply (John 19:11).

  21. For each Christian has a sword against the wicked, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), but not a sword against the malignant.

 22. The secular power rightly and properly puts to death the criminals who injure the bodies of the defenseless (Rom. 13:3,4). But he who is God’s cannot injure anyone, unless he first deserts the gospel.

23. Christ has shown us this clearly, saying, “Fear not them that kill the body” (Matt. 10:28).

24. The [secular] power judges criminals, but not the godless who cannot injure either body or soul, but rather are a benefit; therefore God can in wisdom draw good from evil.

25. Faith which flows from the gospel fountain lives only in contests, and the rougher they become so much the greater becomes faith.

26. That everyone has not been taught the gospel truth is due to the bishops no less than to the common people – these that they have not cared for a better shepherd, the former that they have not performed their office properly.

27. If the blind lead the blind, according to the judgment of God, they both fall together into the ditch (Matt. 15:14).

28. Hence to burn heretics is in appearance to profess Christ (Titus 1:10,11), but in reality to deny him, and to be more monstrous than Jehoiakim, the King of Judah (Jer. 37:23).

29. If it is blasphemy to destroy a heretic, how much more is it to burn to ashes a faithful herald of the Word of God, unconvicted, not arraigned by the truth.

30. The greatest deception of the people is a zeal for God that is unscripturally expended, the salvation of the soul, honor of the church, love of truth, good intention, use or custom, episcopal decrees, the teaching of the reason that come by natural light. For they are deadly arrows where they are not led and directed by the Scriptures.

31. We should not presume, led away by the deception of our own purpose, to do better or more securely than God has spoken by his own mouth.

32. Those who rely on their good intention and think to do better, are like Uzziah and Peter. The latter was called Satan by Christ (Matt. 16:23), but the former came to a wretched end (1 Chr. 13:10).

33. Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah acted wisely in withstanding Jehoiakim, the kind of Judah, when he cast the book of Jehovah into the fire (Jer. 35:25).

34. But in that, after one book was burnt, Baruch by the express direction of Jeremiah, wrote another much better (Jer. 36:27-32), we see the just punishment of God on the unrighteous burning. For so it shall be that on those who fear the frost, a cold snow falls (Job. 6:16).

35. But we do not hold that it was unchristian to burn their numerous books of incantations, as the fact in the Acts of the Apostles shows (Acts 19:19). It is a small thing to burn innocent paper, but to point out an error and to disprove it by Scripture, that is art.

36. Now it is clear to everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of the devil. “Truth is immortal.”

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Real Threat is at Home


In 2001 on a warm spring morning, I was woken up a couple of hours before school, the news was on, my family was in shock. On the T.V. screen in the lounge room I remember seeing a building with smoke billowing out of it, then I saw another that looked the same. The twin trade towers had both been struck by passenger planes, and then the Pentagon, 2996 people were killed (Statistic Brain 2014); among those killed were 10 Australians (Sutton 2013). Within a year Australia would be at war in Afghanistan, helping the U.S to hunt down the attackers – the Taliban.  

Just over a year after this, “…on 12 October, 2002, 202 people, including 88 Australians, died when a bomb went off at the Sari nightclub in Bali’s Kuta district. A further 209 people were injured” (Thomsen 2015). Australia would not seek to go to war in Indonesia to track down the perpetrators, as there was no need, the Indonesian police arrested and prosecuted the terrorists who committed the attack. But in the national psyche, this attack justified the War on Terror that Australia had already committed to. This bombing had struck close to home, in a popular holiday spot frequented by Australians, and these terrorists, and all like them must be stopped. They were killing civilians and breeding horror where there should only be joy, and life, and all things normal.

Over the course of this early part of the 21st century, the threat that terrorism holds, and specifically the Islamic kind, has grown in the minds of many westerners. But all told, since 1978, 113 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks; this number includes those killed at home and abroad (Keane 2014). Now 113 Australians killed in terrorist attacks is 113 too many, but alongside of this has existed a much more pervasive threat, one which is much closer to home – domestic violence.

From 2003 to 2012 between 700-1000 women and children have been murdered by their partners or parents in domestic homicides (Keane, 2014). Add to this statistic that between 2008-2010 75 males were killed in domestic homicides incidents (Oneinthree), and we can begin to see, that while terrorism holds a grand threat in the media headlines, an Australian is much more likely to be killed by someone they live with, and likely love (or have loved), than by a random person with a bomb under their shirt, or in their car. I don’t want to be seen to be minimizing the threat of terrorism, and indeed the socio-psychological effects of a terror attack, but it says something about us as a people, that when a terrorist attack happens, no matter the size or the impact, the media go crazy, social media even more so, and there are calls for the police to do something, politicians do grand speeches, and promise tighter restrictions on visas and new laws to track down suspected terrorists. But the much more common, and perhaps in the mind of some mundane act of domestic violence, and even murder, hardly causes people to bat an eyelid. “Oh, that is terrible!” “What a poor women!” “That man murdered his own wife?” These seem to be about the extent of our reaction, and then we move on with our lives, not realizing that a woman, or even man down the street (one in three victims of current partner violence during the last 12 months (33.3%) and since the age of 15 (33.5%) were male [oneinthree]), or child, is living in a daily terror, fearing for their lives, and is much more likely to be killed by their husband, wife, or parent than any of us are likely to be killed by a terrorist of any stripe.

Did I say terrorist of any stripe? Because surely a man (and the majority of domestic violence is committed by men against women [Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015]) or perhaps woman who is abusing their partner, wife, husband, or child, is as much a terrorist as someone who does similar violence in the name of some god, or ideology. But our problem is that when we hear about a terrorist attack in a Bali night club, or inner city cafĂ©, our immediate thought is “that could have been me”, or someone we know, and so our minds race with the perceived threat of violent terrorists. But when someone is abused, or even murdered by their husband, or wife, or parent/s, we think to ourselves, “That could never be me,” and we move on with our lives, without giving it much thought. But the sad reality is that the real threat for too many Australians is at home…and I mean at home, in the four walls of the house where people lay their head, some permanently because the person they live with, and once probably loved deeply, has become for all intents and purposes a terrorist of high magnitude, and has stolen the life they should have held precious.

Politicians play up terrorism like it is the greatest threat to face civilisation, who was it that stated that ISIS presents an ‘existential threat’? I don’t remember, but when it is known that “…just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months (Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015) and 119, 600 men reported “current partner violence” in 2012 (Oneinthree, 2013), we can see there really is an existential threat to a lot of Australians. This threat doesn’t come in the form of someone with a bomb in their car, or axe under their jacket, but in the form of the average person, someone we likely even know.

The home should be a safe place, a place where people can rest after a day’s work, enjoy the sound of laughter as their children play with their new toys, a place to relax and watch some T.V. in the evening, a place where a good book can be read, and a home meal enjoyed, and most significantly a place where the next generation of Australians is nurtured and brought up to lead this country into the future. But when you read that “…most incidences of physical assault against women in the 12 months prior to 2005 were committed in a home (64.1%) (Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015),” and that “32.3% (almost one in three) victims of reported domestic violence by a current or ex-partner (including both physical and emotional violence and abuse) were male” (Oneinthree, 2013), it makes you angry, it makes you sad, it makes you want to do something, because a home should not be a place where fear reigns, but love.

As a Christian minister I cannot help but think that the church can take a positive step in tackling this issue. It is a real problem, one that exists in our communities, in our neighbourhoods, and sad to say, in our churches. We need to begin by creating an environment where the abused feel safe to come forward and the abuser feels the full force of the wrongness of what they are doing. We should not leave families to deal with this on their own, as we are called to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We are also called to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Pro. 31:8-9).  If there is one thing that an abused person often feels, it is that they do not have a voice, or that they are too afraid to use it. We need to speak up on their behalf, to be their champions, and defend their cause. It is well known that women are often too afraid to tell anyone, or that even when they do tell someone, they are afraid of what will happen when action is taken. They may have children, or other family, who are in danger, and so they often suffer in silence, carrying the burden of abuse, which is not fair on them. But many people do not know that men were less than half as likely as women to have told anybody about partner violence, to have sought advice or support, or to have contacted the police” (Oneinthree, 2013). The reasons for this are perhaps complex, but in either case, we need to create church environments where people are given a safe place to speak, and report those who are abusing them. And if we see something, or note something, we must speak on their behalf and defend the rights of people in need.

But perhaps even more importantly, we must check our rhetoric, and language on this matter. There has been much anti-male rhetoric on the issue of domestic violence, and violence against women in general, and though it is undeniable that a woman is more likely to be attacked by a man, than a man is likely to be attacked by a woman, it’s not a matter of men verse women, but a matter of all men and women against any such violence. Some men are violent to women, and some women are violent against men, but men and women acting together can work towards reducing both types of violence.

I wish I could end this article with solutions to all the issues, and a clear move forward. But the truth is I don’t have all the solutions, but I do know that creating safe environments for the abused to seek refuge, and to share their pain, and swift action in seeing perpetrators of  domestic violence bought to justice, will make a difference. I also would like to see the government redirecting some of their billions away from terrorism, and data retention schemes, and towards support for victims of domestic violence, because the truth is, for a lot of Australians, the real threat is at home.          

List of References

Sutton, R 2013,
 


 

 

Friday 9 January 2015

Life’s Not Always Fair - A Big Lesson Learnt From Serial


It’s those four little words that every parent uses to counsel their children, ‘Life's not always fair’. Usually it’s at the dinner table and it’s because Timmy got a bigger piece of chicken than Susy, and in these situations, the parents are doing a good thing, they are preparing their child for the fact that sometimes in life things don’t go our way, sometimes we get the short end of the stick. And for little things, like arguments with siblings, or friends at school, you want kids to have the big, stiff upper lip and backbone to deal with the fact that life is not fair. But for the big things that thought actually causes us to recoil, because it feels a bit glib.

Where is this all coming from, Matthew? Well over the last few days I have been listening to the podcast Serial. For those of you who do not know what it is, it is a true crime drama/report where reporter Sarah Koenig tells the true story of Adnan Syed, who was charged, tried and convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Without giving too much away, because the podcast is riveting, and I highly recommend listening to it, it seems that there is more than just a reasonable doubt that Adnan was actually guilty. In fact it seems he got the short end of the stick in many different ways, including a trial lawyer who seems may not have been at her best when the case was in court. Let me be clear, I cannot speak to whether or not this man is innocent or not, but he was convicted on so little evidence, with the key evidence being a witness who is more than just a little bit duplicitous, that it still raises the question: what if Syed is innocent? Because if he is innocent, as he himself claims, and as many people who know him also believe, then it seems more than just a little unfair that he has lost 15 years of his life and counting.

But even aside from Adnan’s potential innocence, or maybe guilt, we have countless examples of how brutal and unfair this world can be, just a couple of days after I began listening to the Serial podcast, I read this article “Brian Banks, CA Football Player, Exonerated Of Rape Charges After Over 5 Years In Prison” (Deutsch), which tells how Brian Banks, a CA football player, was exonerated of rape charges that he spent five years in jail for, and five years on probation, and which took away his chance of going to college, and at least delayed if not destroyed his chance of becoming a professional football player. He was innocent, but he was convicted on the testimony of the ‘victim’ who named him, and who did not want to recant her testimony as she did not want to have to pay back the $1.5 million she got in damages. She was eventually caught on tape admitting to her crime of falsely accusing him, and has since been legally declared innocent, but he will never get those years back. Unfortunately however, the unfairness of our world does not stop there.

Just google ‘man found innocent’, or ‘innocent man freed’, or ‘wrongly convicted’ and you will find countless stories of innocent people who have spent 10, 15, 30, or more years in prison and finally been set free. It’s wonderful that they have been set free, but how is it fair to have that much of their life taken from them? To have lost time with loved ones, wives, children, friends, careers, hobby’s, goals and more. They will come out and have to start their lives again, and because of what? A legal system that made a mistake, sometimes wilfully, sometimes accidently, but with way to much frequency; how is that fair? Where is the justice? This could happen to any of us. How many of us have an alibi for where we are all the time? Likely, none of us.

But think about this, some people get an incredible lot in life, and some get a horror of a lot in life. Compare James Bain with Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian is a beautiful young socialite, born into a wealthy family, her father being an incredibly successful lawyer, she is born with looks, money and connections, and has built more fame and wealth from that foundation; she’s literally famous for being famous, and has a dream life style. Holidays wherever she wants, gets to hang out with the coolest of people, she can afford the dream homes she wants, buys expensive cars, eats in fancy restaurants, and she has done nothing to deserve this - she was just born into a lifestyle that most people only dream of and desire to have. James Bain on the other hand spent 35 years in jail, convicted of molesting a young boy; a crime he did not commit. What happened? The young man misidentified him, as he looked a bit like the real attacker; talk about a bad situation. He was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence, something he had been asking for, for years. Wow, is this an unfair allotment of life experience.

Kim Kardashian has a dream life, and James Bain literally lives what some of us would consider a worst case scenario life. But here’s what’s incredible; his response:  

Exonerated by DNA evidence, James Bain isn’t angry about spending 35 years of his life in prison for a horrific crime that he didn’t commit. “How can I be?” he told Business Insider. “You can’t go back.” Bain actually feels blessed for his experience, comparing himself to Joseph, a biblical character who was wrongfully imprisoned before emerging with greater power to create change. (Sterbenz 2013).  

How does a man, who has every right to be angry at the police, the FBI, the person who wrongfully accused him, the inept jury, the painfully slow process to get his DNA testing, the bureaucracy of a legal system that kept him in prison; how does this man have this kind of response to the unfairness of his life situation. Because of his eternal perspective:

Today, Bain tells his experience from middle schools to colleges across the county. “I have to thank God,” James said. His humility and kindness even extend to the rape victim whose misidentification helped put Bain behind bars. When the two met after his release, Bain apologized for what happened to him. “I was very, very sorry that had to occur to him at such a young age,” Bain said. “I know what his family and uncle had to go through to try and prove me guilty at the time.”

There is an old saying everyone knows, ‘Of too heavenly a mind, for any earthly good’, but in reality a truly biblical perspective of the afterlife and complete faith in God does the exact opposite. You see if this world is all there is, and there is no heaven, and no hell, then this life sucks for probably 99% of the people who have ever lived in it. Most people in the world today and most people alive throughout history have copped the short end of the stick when it comes to life experience. Just picture what it was like to be a slave in the Roman Empire, or a non-citizen even in one of the provenances. Consider what it was like to be a native African Alive on the west coast of Africa during the peak of the European slave trade. Consider what it is like to be a Dalit person alive in India today; consider how few people ever actually get to live in a mansion, or even a house, or live the life of luxury we all wish we could have, to one degree or another; consider all of the injustices and unfair things that happen in our world every day, the list is endless. Today as you read this there will be a lot of babies born into wealthy families around the world and hundreds of thousands more babies born into situations where there isn’t even enough food for their already born siblings. How is all of this fair?  

The short answer is it is not fair, the long answer is it is not fair, and God’s response is that he will one day make it right. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that for all of those who trust in him, and make him their Lord, we get the reward of an eternity of complete absence of all the evils in this world we all have had to deal with; some of us more than others. A future with no more crying, no more pain, no more heart ache, no more tears, no more hunger (Rev. 21:1-4). But more than that, there will be a final judgement, where every injustice is weighed by a perfect judge, and every crime, every unfair treatment will be exposed and dealt with, “For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body; whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). God will bring justice against all who have wronged others, we can either accept his forgiveness through his justice displayed on the cross (cf. Rom 3:20-28), or we can face his correction of all wrongs on the day of judgement.

But the point is this; James Bain can thank God and consider himself blessed, because he has a better hope than even a life as awesome and as wealthy as Kim Kardahian’s. He has the hope of an eternity in heaven, and even the loss of 35 years of his life does not compare to that. Sure, no one wants to go to prison for a crime they did not commit, but compare that to the incredibleness of heaven in the presence of God and his angels, and the promised reward to all God’s people who bear up under suffering, and there is reason to rejoice.

Coming back to the podcast Serial, I don’t know whether Adnan is innocent or not, and maybe a retrial will send him straight back to prison with a clear verdict of guilty, but it got me thinking about how unfair this world is, and how many people face injustice, and I could not help but think, ‘I am glad that I have the hope that I do in Jesus Christ.’ Whether you are a believer or a sceptic, you have to admit, there is power for perseverance and for good that comes from knowing that in heaven all injustices will be righted, all unfairness will be levelled out. It inspires in countless believers a desire not to be bitter but to forgive, a desire not to overlook injustice, but work for what is right, and more than anything a desire to see that as many people get to share in the blessed hope of an eternity with Jesus as possible.

References