Some thoughts are so profound, yet so simple, you wonder how you never connected the dots that way before.
I’ve mentioned previously a lunch we organised with some Wellington pastors and Dr Chris Marshall, from Victoria University, to talk about 3-strikes legislation when it was being considered by parliament. (Dr Marshall is an internationally acclaimed author of several books including Compassionate Justice and Beyond Retribution).
In the middle of the conversation Chris said something along the lines of…
if God is love, and the Bible tells us that love casts out fear, then a society that moves away from God is moving away from love, and moving towards fear. It should be no surprise therefore if such a society became more punitive in its attitude to things like criminal justice and punishment.
Now Dr Marshall is in no way responsible for where this thought has taken me over the years. But it has stuck with me. And it seems to me that this logic can be applied to any attribute of God.
If God is just, doesn’t it mean that a society that moves away from God becomes more unjust? – (is that why we see a widening gap between rich and poor?).
If God is faithful, might it mean that a society that increasingly is less focused on, and devoted to, God, becomes also becomes less faithful? – (might that be why there’s such a high level of marriage and family break-ups?).
Roll forward 6 years.
A few weeks back Andrea Vance, a Wellington based journalist, wrote an interesting piece asking “Are we living in a post-truth era?” Vance was commenting on statements made the day after Brexit by pro-Brexit supporters saying basically that things they’d promised during the campaign could not actually be done. She also mentioned recent examples from New Zealand politics.
National Radio’s Media Watch on the following Sunday morning (10 July), made a major feature of this question.
Click here to listen
Now here’s the thing.
If God is truth, doesn’t it follow logically that if society moves away from God, it is inevitable that it will move towards a post-truth era?
Shown right: US comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” back in 2005 to describe strident political assertions based on tiny traces of facts. More than a decade later, commentators still use it to call out claims made in the news that don’t stand serious scrutiny. But the questions is: when it comes to contested claims, do people ever end up knowing the truth – or is ‘truthiness’ what sticks in the mind? – “Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?” RNZ
We’ve probably all experienced a “cringe moment”, when someone identified as a Christian says something – might be at work, or at a party with friends, or it might be in the national media – that is completely outrageous, or just plain dumb.
Timothy Goropevsek is a communication specialist. He is the Communications Director for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the global body represented here by NZ Christian Network.
He is the person responsible for crafting our global media statements on everything from natural disasters, wars, and religious persecution, through to Terry Jones threatening to burn copies of the Qur’an.
At the start of this year, Timothy gave a talk at the WEA International Leadership Forum which was very well received. His message included a lot of ideas that are important for any Christian to know when they talk about public or social issues.
Click below to watch Timothy’ full message.
The challenging, and sometimes depressing, news we receive daily, ranging from domestic violence at home to the Euro-Brexit abroad, reminded me of something we posted back in 2008 about the British Methodist minister, W.E. Sangster.
In a 1953 sermon, Sangster, who was pastor of Westminster Central Hall, London, asked “What would a religious revival do for Britain?” His answer: 1) pay old debts; 2) reduce sexual immorality; 3) disinfect the theatre; 4) cut the divorce rate; 5) reduce juvenile crime; 6) lessen the prison population; 7) improve the quality and increase the output of work; 8) restore a high sense of destiny for the nation; 9) make Britain invincible in the war of ideas; and 10) give happiness and peace to all the people, (found in a web article by Mark Bumpus, First Baptist Church, Mineral Wells).
Would revival … would turning back to God, solve all our nation’s problems? It may be hard for some people to see how. But it’s even harder to see how the results that Sangster claims would be bad in any way.
There’s evidence to suggest that the benefits claimed by Sangster do happen.
There are stories in our newspapers from time-to-time of people who settle decade-old debts after having “found God”.
Churches are well known for promoting marriage as the proper context for sexual relationships and supporting people in their relationships. While we don’t always manage to live up to our ideals, it is an important part of our faith. The evidence linking uncommitted relationships and negative outcomes is pretty strong.
“Disinfecting the theatre” would extend to TV, videos, and films, which would no longer need to carry warnings about “content which may offend” – and of course the internet.
NZ church life survey figures indicate that marriage break-up rates are significantly lower in the Church than the general population. This translates into fewer family breakdowns and resulting cost in society.
The majority of young people are not involved in crime whether they are part of a church or not. But youth involved in Church are supported in spiritual growth, and frequently participate in activities for the benefit of local communities.
A UK survey showed that Christians volunteer for community activities at over 4 times the rate of the general population.
The evidence from our faith-based prison units shows that the behaviour in prison is better, and recidivism rates are reduced, where people have found faith in God.
The “Puritan work ethic” is now something of a cliché, but highlights the fact that Christians have played a significant role in developing people’s understanding of work. Scripture says “do everything as if for God and not just for humans” which is a constant challenge to the quality of our work.
New Zealand was once called “Godzone”. Revival would restore a sense of destiny for the nation. A nation hungry for God would be a nation hungry for justice, goodness, purity, strong families, compassion, honesty, and integrity. Who does not want to see these things in in New Zealand?
Revival would open people to God’s wisdom which is infinite. This wisdom is the foundation of Christian living which evidence again suggests leads generally to happier, wealthier, longer lives, and even enjoy better sex lives than the general population. Who would not want these blessings for themselves, their families, and for our country?
Life is intended to be lived in right relationship with God, which helps people live in right relationship with each other. In faith communities people develop a relationship with God, which the Bible says is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.
A secularist approach to solving society’s ills, does so, without reference to God. But the heart-change God produces in revival, which can be seen every week in churches around the country, could remove many of these ills altogether.
Click to read the post on Facebook
NZ Herald social issues reporter Simon Collins posted a story on his Facebook page (June 27) about community backlash when a sex offender was relocated into their community.
His comment finished with the words …
I hope one day a school that is told about a child molester in its community will offer love instead of hatred; bring in the local churches and psychologists and counsellors instead of vigilantes; find the man a job with a good boss and supportive workmates and invite him for dinner instead of shunning him. Will it ever happen?
I’ve met Simon Collins. In my opinion he’s a good man and a balanced journalist, who does his best to present issues fairly. I am certain that like all of us he understands the need to consider issues of safety when relocating sex offenders into the community.
But his question about when will we offer love instead of hatred, and his hope that things would change, struck a chord with me, and prompted me to add this comment …
“I hope so too Simon. But we do need to start asking the really deep questions including the awkward ones about the relevance of God. I was talking one time with a lecturer at Vic Uni (the discussion was about 3 strikes legislation) and he said something that has stuck with me. He said: “If God is love, and love casts out fear (quoting from the Bible), then when a society moves away from God, what this *means* is that it is moving away from love and towards fear. So (he said) we should not be surprised that there is an increasingly punitive attitude in society in the area of criminal justice.
“I think your article illustrates another example of this. People get upset about the failings of Christians and the church, and rightly so. There are many, and we (Christians) have to take responsibility for them. But the picture is not as bad as it is often painted. Most Christians genuinely strive to live by faith as God wants. We know we’re flawed, but churches are still places where people are taught and challenged to love our neighbours, and even to love our enemies, just as Jesus instructed. If we want society’s response to such issues to be more loving, maybe we need to look to where love comes from?”
Our post prompted the following response from another person …
As someone who is no longer a Christian, I find these words strangely uplifting
As I ponder this exchange, a few points stand out to me which I offer for your consideration.
- Social media is a space where people ask some very important questions.
- Many of those question offer opportunities to talk about God and the Church.
- When we talk about God, are people left with a sense that God loves them?
- The last person’s response shows that we can connect with people if we communicate well.
- Being human means we won’t get it right all the time – (we certainly don’t, and this post is not intended as an exercise in self-promotion). But we all still need to be engaged in talking to people about God, whether in social media, or face-to-face.
- It’s great to see a journalist talking about “bringing in the local churches”. Let’s pray that more journalists are willing to name churches as offering solutions to society’s pressing social issues.
- Within our churches, do we talk about society’s pressing issues, and how God would have us respond?
There’s plenty of other questions that could be raised. How about you?
Does your church talk about social issues? Do you talk to others about God, or is this something you find difficult?
Let us know what you think. If you want ideas about resources, or help in any area, please send us an email.
Ever since the concept of “city church” was explored as a major theme at the 2008 NZ Christian Network Congress, I have become even more convinced about its importance for New Zealand. Jesus’ prayer for unity “that the world will know …” has a clear application among churches in a city (or town or nation) as well as within the individual churches themselves.
But I am equally convinced about the importance of pastors, ministers, and other Christian leaders (e.g. local government, business, and education), discerning how God might work this out in their particular town or city, rather than trying to apply any one prescription or formula.
We have put a lot of emphasis to date on city-wide prayer summits and regional roundtables. These are still important and we look forward to many more in months and years to come.
But God can always be doing different things with different groups, so it is useful to consider alternatives.
Two alternatives which emerged in forums at the end of 2008 are strategic planning and conversations. Some groups are “primed for action”. This doesn’t mean they don’t pray or converse together. It may be that they feel they already do these in other settings. Or maybe they are wired to sense or outwork the presence of God in different ways. Whatever the reason, they are groups ready to think through issues of strategic planning, and move to action.
Other groups may need to grow relationships through conversation. This is a highly focused activity where significant topics are addressed (personal, church, or theology), usually with the help of a facilitator, in a way which builds trust and intimacy within a group.
The common focus in all these is growing relationships rather than a fixed idea of what the group might do. NZ Christian Network is able to point groups to a number of gifted people who can assist in any of these areas. Of course, groups of ministers in a town or city do not exist in isolation. Most ministers are part of a denominational or network structure and bring something of this tradition into their local grouping.
There are also parallel groups of Christian leaders called by God to specialise in particular areas such as disabilities, sport, prayer, marketplace, or politics (to name just a few). God is at work in these activities as well as in the “city church”, so it is good for all these groups to look for ways to be connected with each other (cf. “the hand cannot say to the eye ‘I don’t need you’”).
I believe there is also a need for practitioners and theologians to be working closely together. Theology not grounded in real lives and experience can fall prey to abstractness and irrelevance. But activity not grounded in good theology can also fall well short of the mark.
Let us pray that God will continue to guide all those involved in leadership in this area, “so that the world will know …”