Thursday, November 17, 2016

Seriously Bishop Brian, Part 2

Having written my previous blog on the idea that natural events are caused by personal sin, I had another string of thoughts that I must put out there.

Bishop Brian claims it is murder (e.g. Cain and Abel), homosexuality, and other such sins that directly caused the event. Often abortion is also singled out in such ‘prophetic oracles.’ Let’s just assume for a moment that the honorable bishop is correct, and God is smiting New Zealand for these sins.

The first question that comes to mind is why this place of all places? According to GeoNet the quake hit fifteen km north-east of Culverden. I suppose on the rationale of the bishop we are to suppose that the people of Waiau and Culverden are really bad sinners. As God supposedly chose this place, they must be guilty of more of this than other New Zealanders? Their sins have purportedly made the earth there heavy, and it is spewing up.

Now, in 2013 Culverden was a country town of 428. North-east is Waiau, very close to the epicentre, which had 261 people in the 2013 census. If God is upset with our sins, why here? Are the folk of Waiau or Culverden worse sinners than others in NZ? Taking Jesus’ question in Luke 13:2-5 see previous blog), are these 700 or so people worse sinners than say, people from Albany, Auckland (where I live)?  I would have thought a good volcanic eruption in Auckland might be closer to the money (if his assumption is true).

I see in Culverden there are other retailers, a Four Square Shop, Farmlands, a motel, PGG Wrightson. There are also the Culverden Tearooms (a scene of carnal pleasure?), a Challenge Petrol Shop, a domain, a silversmith, and a school. There is a pub. Aha, is this the scene of the debauchery that led to the earthquake? Or is it the Culverden Indoor Bowling Club where it is all going on? I see there is a police station in Culverden, perhaps a harbinger of the rampant crime pervading the town. I looked around the Canterbury police statistics, but didn't earth up much on Culverden. Ah, but then there is also a Catholic Church there and the Amaru Cooperating Church, which is listed in the Presbyterian Church’s of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Of course, these are traditional churches—can they be taken seriously? 

Getting real; two churches, one pub, mmmm, worse sinners? Absolutely not. I can hear Jesus’ answer to his own rhetorical question in Luke 13—no, they are not worse sinners. Rather, he said watch yourself, me and Bishop Brian included.

What about Waiau? Here there is even less going on. There is a motor camp, a school, a foodmarket, a café, a lodge, a hall and library, a few other spots, and houses. As the epicenter of the earthquake, one wonders what the heck may have been going on in these places? Are the folk of these small South Island Towns living horrendous lives of sin under those roofs? Somehow, I think not any more than those in the areas Destiny Churches are found are doing so.

Then there is the second question of what sins Brian highlights. He and others who espouse such a theology and interpretation of the world seem focused on sexual sins (especially homosexuality) and abortion. Now, I am pro-life and find abortion deeply grieving. I also have a pretty conventional Christian view of sexuality. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand why these particular sins are singled out above others.

Where sex is concerned, what about the enormous range of other sexual sins that are going on around the place? I myself lived in a de facto relationship in my early 20s before becoming a Christian. We lived in Pakuranga-Howick, Auckland, why were we not smote? I sure deserved it with this line of thinking.

While Jesus did speak on sexual immorality, he spoke more about sins concerning money and greed than anything else? Way more! Luke’s Gospel is almost a manifesto against greed! So, what about the sins of rampant materialism, consumption, greed, and the acquisition of enormous wealth at the expense of others? This could include those who preach a false prosperity gospel that God makes us wealthy if we are generous and obedient, especially with tithes and offerings. It could include those who have become rich through their ministries? Paul warns Timothy of such people in 1 Tim 6 where he states that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil! Is the real problem materialism? The problem with this is that would mean the good folk of Waiau and Culverden are hoarding their wealth at the expense of others to a degree greater than the rest of the nation. Mmmmm. Hardly likely.

What about hypocrisy? Jesus spoke on that a lot, heaps in fact. When talking on hypocrisy it was almost always the religious leaders in his sights. Could it be the hypocrisy of religious leaders that caused the terrible events in Canterbury? Then again, with no church buildings in Waiau (I may be wrong on this but couldn't see one on google earth), that is hardly likely either. Or are the clergy of Culverden to blame? Like, like most small towns, the believers can’t afford clergy, so that idea can be put to bed. What about other sins of arrogance and pride? What about social injustices like racism, sexism, and mistreating others because they are different? Like homosexuals for example. You don’t find Jesus targeting them at all! When he targeted people it was always religious leaders for their hypocrisy and legalistic self-righteousness! Religious leaders be warned!

The truth is that the whole assumption that these earthquakes is due to the sins of these poor folk is utterly repulsive and unfair. It is to be repudiated as repugnant. Is it acceptable for supposed theologically astute church leader to make such claims? It is theologically wrong and it is downright mean. Even if God does smite people in this way, the claims just don’t add up. Why the heck these little towns? Why the heck these particular sins? 


I prefer Jesus’ approach—we are all sinners and we all need God’s mercy and salvation. When he came, he didn’t come to smite us but to befriend us and welcome us into a different world. Where there was suffering, he didn't preach wrath, he reached out in love. He fed them. He healed them. He welcomed them. He didn't accumulate wealth, he divested it. He foresaw a world that does no condemn but invites people into relationship with a God who identifies with people in their suffering. So, seriously? Come on!

Seriously Bishop Brian!

Oh Brian, seriously! Brian Tamaki’s latest sermon statements concerning the earthquakes besetting NZ reveals the deep theological illiteracy of many NZ Christians. The idea he is espousing is an old one, going back to the earliest days of human religious understanding. It works like this—natural events need explaining. The answer, someone of us did something wrong to displease the deity(s). So, when an earthquake hit in ancient Greece, the gods were displeased. If an earthquake hit Israel, Yahweh was displeased. In response, the deity(s) caused the horrendous event as a warning and punishment. We find this all over the OT—sin leads to God’s specific judgment. They then jump to the particular sin and sinners that caused the event. They then blame them. In the ancient world, whole groups were shut out of cities for such things.

Now as we come to the NT, we find that Jesus utterly severs this link. Here are three examples. 

In Mark 2:1–11 there is a blessed suffering severely disabled man who is brought for healing. As one would expect from Jewish religious leaders, they interpret his disability as a judgment of God on his sin (or that of his parents). When he arrives, before all, Jesus declares his sins forgiven. This infuriates the Jewish leadership for two reasons. First, Jesus is a mere man and has no authority to forgive sins. For them, this is blasphemy. They are riled. Second, if the man is supposedly forgiven by Jesus, why is he still disabled? He can’t be forgiven if he is sick (because the two are intertwined). Jesus perceives their anger and thinking and asks whether it is easier to forgive the man’s sins or heal him. This is a trick question, as the Jewish leaders would see them as equally difficult because one presupposes the other. That is, if he is forgiven, he will be healed. If he is healed, he is forgiven. So, Jesus heals the man. This proves (to the Jewish way of thinking) that he is forgiven. The Jewish leaders do not perceive that God is among them but want to kill him. They cling to their false worldview despite their thinking being demolished before their eyes with a seemingly impossible event—the healing and forgiveness of such a man. This shows that, as John says of Jesus that Jesus did not come to bring judgment but to save (John 3:17). Jesus here puts a wrecking ball through the axiom that bad things happen because God is punishing us.

The second example is John 9:1–3. Jesus and his team of followers are walking around in Jerusalem. They come across a blind beggar, the worst of situations in the ancient world where there is no social welfare system like ours today. Demonstrating the standard thinking of their age, the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There it is. The man is blind because of his or his parents’ sins. God is punishing him(them) then. Jesus’ answer directly exposes that this is false—“it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In one statement, Jesus clearly explodes the mythical direct link between suffering and judgment. The poor beggar is blind not because of sin, but so that God can display his glory in him. Jesus then heals him. The message here is that when we meet a person in such a situation, our call is not to judge them, but to help them with God’s mercy and compassion. It tells us through the direct words of Jesus that disability is not directly caused by God because of the sin of a person or their family, but so that God can glorify himself through him. Those of us who know those wonderful disabled people who refuse to let their disability hold them down can understand this. We see God in them and shining through them. Further, God’s glory is seen when humans respond to suffering not with judgement, but with merciful compassion. This is what we are called to do in an earthquake of when we bump into someone in need in any situation. We help them. Thankfully, this is the usual kiwi way. May it ever be.

The third example is Luke 13:1–5. At this time, some rebellious Galileans were killed by the Romans and the Roman Prefect Pilate mixed their blood with the sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus took this as an opportunity to again rupture the so-called link between personal sin and judgment. He asks those present, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?” In other words, did they suffer from the Romans due to their excessive sin? Surely, they were bad sinners that is why the bad stuff happened. Jesus answers, “no, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So, they suffered this way, not because of their sin. He uses it as a warning to all people to turn from sins and live well to receive eternal life. He asks again, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” This sounds like an earthquake situation, whereby a building falls on people—something we know only too well in our recent history (may God have mercy). Jesus answer, is again crystal clear, “no, I tell you.” Again, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell all listening that all need to repent, turn to God, and live well, to receive eternal life. 

In other words, yes, all people are sinners. We Christians are no different to anyone else in this regard. Such events come and go, hurting the righteous and unrighteous alike. Yet, they do not say anything particular about the sin(s) of the people in mind. To use the modern vernacular, “shit happens.” Jesus wasn’t the first to challenge this axiomatic link between bad events and God’s judgement. It is challenged in the OT wisdom literature. This is especially seen in Job, where Job’s friends are like Bishop Brian telling Job that it is his sin that caused his horrific experiences. Job stands his ground refusing to yield to their accusations. He is right. Bad stuff happened because bad stuff happens. Yet, in the end, he humbles himself before God.

What Brian and others show is their lack of theological understanding, which is tragic from any church leader. They have not learned the basic interpretative principles of reading Scripture. We begin theological exploration not with the Old Testament but with Jesus. What did he say and teach? What did those with him pass on from him? We then read the OT back through the lens of Jesus, and as we do, we see that Jesus came to clarify God and what he is really like. The ideas in the OT are clarified. One of the things that we find is that the axiomatic link between personal sin and horrific events is shattered. That is good news because when horrible things happen, we don’t need to go hunting around to find scapegoats for the bad events, people we can expose and ridicule. Crap happens. It is a busted world. We are mortal and vulnerable. Good people die young. Bad people prosper. Horrid things happen. We are all flawed. We all need mercy. We all need help. Jesus came to show us what that looks like.

And where is God in such situations? Is he is heaven throwing the thunderbolts with violent rage? Not in the book I read. No. God showed us what he is like and his attitude by coming among us as God’s Son made flesh—a person, like us. In fact, that is the story of Christmas which we will soon celebrate. He didn’t come on a chariot to destroy. He came as a baby in a manger, vulnerable. He didn’t grow up and start demolishing humanity for its sin. Aside from throwing a bit of furniture around because of the corruption in the Temple, he showed that God is love. When around the sinners of the world he did not harangue them for their depravity. No, he ate with them—the ultimate expression of concord in the ancient world. He was their friend, and they were his friends. The only people he clashed with were those who refused to hear his message and perceive what God was doing in him—the sort of people who assumed bad stuff happens because we sinned. No, Jesus went into the dark places to help, feed, and heal. He touched the untouchables. He refused to stoop so low as to hit people when they were down with messages of God’s wrath due to their so-called sins. He healed them with a touch. Then, he did the unthinkable. When he was arrested and unjustly tried and brutally crucified, he only showed compassion and love—even to those who engineered his death with their repulsive duplicity. He refused to unleash the wrath of God even when they killed the King of Glory. He did it to show us how far we are to go in love and compassion, not judgment and wrath—the point of sacrificial death.

As he lived this way, he showed us what God is like. God is not some Zeus-like figure, full of anger, smiting the bad guys! We don’t need to find the bad guys and vilify them. We don’t have to try and figure out which of their sins caused the problem. This is nonsense. What we should constantly be doing is looking in the mirror and assessing ourselves and seeking to be better people. Where we find suffering like our poor friends in the north-east of the South Island, we should be among them helping them, caring for them. If we can’t, we can send aid and messages of love and support. Actually, we see this from the good folk of the region including many churches who are horrified at this accusation made by the so-called Bishop. We see it from the religious and non-religious alike, and that is glorious. Rather than these accusatory sermons, why not a sermon calling forth the people of the church to give lavishly to aid efforts? Perhaps such churches can partner with other churches and aid groups down there on the ground who are actually helping those in pain and torment. Now that’s a message people might warm to. Jesus would be there among them, comforting, encouraging, and loving. He is not up in the hills moving the tectonic plates to destroy those heathen sinners!

All Christians need to think seriously about how to understand God. All revelation of God (the gods), including the Old Testament, are partial when put alongside the coming of God the Son. He defines who God is. And he does not look like the wrathful god who is proclaimed by many Christians. They simply have not grasped the essence of Christianity—JESUS! He is not like this. He calls us not to be like this. If we choose to believe in him, he empowers us not to be like this. He spurs us all on to be people of love, compassion, and mercy, being prepared to go the extra mile for all others who suffer burdens. This is Christianity in action.


As a passionate Christian, it hurts me to hear another one naming the same God speak so ignorantly. I apologise on behalf of the church to all who are personally hurt by such false ideas. Our God is not this wrathful cosmic beast smiting humankind for their sin. Rather, he is reaching out to us in love, justice, mercy, and compassion to show us the way of love. Let’s keep doing this. To the people of the South Island, may the Lord bless you and keep you. Kia Kaha. Our prayers and thoughts are with you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Reflections on Galatians 2: Recipients, Setting and Date

An important point of discussion concerning Galatians is the old debate concerning the setting and date of the letter. One set of scholars holds that Galatians was written around the time of Romans and the Corinthian letters, so the mid to late 50s. Others consider it was written around 47–48. Scholars dispute to whom Paul wrote. Those who prefer a later date argue Paul wrote the letter to churches in North Galatia planted on his second Antiochian mission journey (Acts 16:6) or even on his third (Acts 18:23). Such a setting pushes the date to the mid or late 50s. Others who hold an earlier date argue that he wrote it sometime between his first Antiochian mission (Acts 13 – 14) and his second. Another critical factor is whether the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2 matches the visits to Jerusalem in Acts 11 (the famine visit) or Acts 15 (the Jerusalem Council discussion on Gentile Christians the Law).

It seems to me that the arguments for an earlier date are much stronger than those for the later date. First, the only real evidence of evangelization in the Galatian region is Acts 13 – 14. Acts 16 and 18 suggests Paul passed through visiting churches rather than full on evangelization. Certainly, Luke gives no indication of his evangelization of the northern area. Rather, it seems Paul left it to the Galatians to complete the task. Conversely, Acts 13 – 14 clearly has Paul in Galatia and planting churches. One weakness of this view is that Paul preached the gospel to them first due to illness (Gal 4). Luke says nothing about this, so one can surmise this happened on Paul’s second or third journeys. However, this is not a strong argument because the details of Paul’s evangelization are scant even where Luke does mention it. So, he may have been ill on his first journey at some point, and it is to this Paul is referring.

Second, if Gal 2 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15, Galatians seems redundant. Acts 15 refers to a letter written to the Gentile churches telling them that they did not need to be circumcised and come under the Law. Silas took this to Antioch. Paul and Silas then traveled from Antioch to the Galatian churches. No doubt they carried the letter. Galatians then would be needless. Rather, the letter from the Jerusalem Church and his presence with them would do the trick. So, it fits better to see Gal 2 as Acts 11 and Galatians preceding the Jerusalem Council.

Third, if the letter comes after the second Antiochian mission journey and before the third, then Paul would surely mention the Jerusalem Collection. In 1 Cor 16, there is a reference to Paul gathering money from the Galatian churches. Yet, Galatians is silent on collecting money. All that is mentioned is Gal 2:10 where the Jerusalem leaders urge Paul to continue to remember the poor, something he is eager to do. While this reference can fit a date after Paul’s second Antiochian journey, it fits nicely with Acts 11 being the Gal 2 journey to Jerusalem. Barnabas is also mentioned, perhaps indicating this is before their split which happened before the second mission trip.

Fourth, some argue that chronology fits a later date. So, it is claimed Jesus died in 33, and Paul’s conversion was in 34/35. He spent three years in Arabia. He then visited Jerusalem 37/38. There is then a fourteen-year span until his second journey to Jerusalem in 51/52, which is the Jerusalem Council visit (Acts 15; Gal 2:1–10). He then travels on his third journey and spends time in Ephesus. He may have written Galatians from there in the mid-50s. However, there are two ways through this. One is to take the fourteen years as inclusive of the three years, the fourteen years being from his conversion. Such an interpretation takes the date to AD 48. An alternative is that Jesus died in 30 and Paul was converted in 32/33, which also takes the date to 48. Hence, the chronology question remains unclear leaving both possibilities open.

All in all, I think the case for South Galatia and a date around 48 a year before the Jerusalem Council makes better sense of the data. It is not a watertight case as the chronology question, the possibility that Gal 2 matches Acts 15, the presence of Titus, the references to later visits to Galatia, and the closeness of themes and style to Romans and the Corinthian correspondence, gives a reasonable case for North Galatia. Thankfully, such a decision is not critical as it does little to change the meaning of the letter.


So, I surmise that the situation was thus: Paul has evangelized the churches of South Galatia (Acts 13 – 14). He has returned to Antioch. Judaizers have entered his churches seeking to convince Gentile converts to Judaize. Paul has heard of this and wrote Galatians to deal with it. Some of these same characters come to Antioch and do the same. Their presence catalyzed Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas where the church resolved the issue (Acts 15). After this, Silas and Judas delivered the letter to Antioch. Subsequently, after the split with Barnabas and Mark, Paul took Silas and the letter west to follow up on his Galatians letter. The Judaizers remained an issue after this, but the ‘orthodox’ position of the church is that a new Gentile believer did not require to adhere to Jewish boundary markers to be saved and included in God’s people. 

Reflections on Galatians 1: The Authorship of Galatians

It is not debated whether Paul wrote Galatians. It is one of the seven undisputed letters alongside Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Its acceptance is due to its similarity to these other letters in style, theology, and vocabulary and the details concerning Paul’s life (esp. Gal 1:10 – 2:14; 4:8–19; 6:14–16). However, there are two things worth noting concerning the production of the letter. First, it is the only Pauline letter where ‘all the brothers who are with me’ is mentioned in the prescript. ‘Brothers’ here can mean his co-workers (e.g. Ellis), but most likely means all the Christian brothers and sisters at Paul’s point of writing. The letter is likely written from Syrian Antioch if I am right about the date. Otherwise, this would include the Christians in Corinth or Ephesus, if the letter is later.

The brothers and sisters are likely mentioned not because they are co-authors or even co-senders, but they endorse the material in the letter. Thus, all those Christians with Paul at his point of writing agree with his appeal and repudiation of the Judaizers. They stand with Paul in advocating that the only real gospel is a gospel of grace and faith. New Gentile believers are not required to yield to the Judaizers’ demands that the male converts are circumcised and that all new believers live by the expectations of aspects of Jewish law that mark them distinct from the world. When combined with Paul’s testimony that the Jerusalem Church endorse his apostleship and gospel (1:17–19; 2:1–10), the whole church stands behind Paul—Jerusalem and Antioch. As such, this pulls the carpet out from under the feet of the Judaizers who are claiming Jerusalem’s endorsement in their repudiation of Paul and his supposedly deficient gospel. The mention of the brothers likely means that they have heard the letter, and may even have contributed to its production.

The other interesting reference in 6:11 where Paul exclaims, ‘see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.’ These words almost certainly indicate that Paul wrote this verse and/or some portions around it. As such, we can surmise that another Christian acted as his amanuensis (secretary), he dictating the letter to him—someone like Tertius in Rom 16:17. If Paul writes from Antioch around 47, this may be John Mark, who is at this stage an essential member of the Pauline team. Alternatively, Barnabas or Titus may have acted on his behalf (Titus mentioned in 2:3). If he is writing later from Corinth or Ephesus, then Tertius may be involved, or Timothy, Gaius, or any of the other brothers or sisters in those cities. 

The writing of letters like those of Paul was probably not quick. Each sentence was likely carefully crafted and the labour of writing it down slow and laborious. One can imagine Paul with a crowd of key Antiochian Christians including Barnabas, Titus, and perhaps John Mark, sitting around hearing him dictate. They may have made suggestions as he wrote.


The upshot is that when the letter reached Galatia, delivered by one of Paul’s Antiochian emissaries, it was a letter which the whole Antiochian Christian community vouched for. The reference to the brothers would have added to the authority of the letter. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let Us Be Confident in the Gospel

Note: A piece prepared for a newsletter.

If Paul was writing a letter to the New Zealand churches today, he might write something like this: ἀλλὰ πείθεσθῶσαν ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ (alla peithesthōsan en tō euangeliō), which can be translated: ‘but, let us be confident in the gospel.’ This lack of confidence is because many Christians in NZ have lost their confidence in the gospel and have adopted a quietist approach to sharing Christ. They live out the supposed mantra of Francis of Assisi (which he never actually said): ‘preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’ There may be good reasons for our reticence, with many New Zealanders very resistant to the gospel. One could imagine Paul becoming very testy if he was to observe our unpreparedness to open our mouths and share Christ. For what counts for Paul is that in every way, Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18).

Christ himself demonstrated the importance of sharing the message of God, even when the gospel was repudiated. He died because he refused to be silenced. After his resurrection, much of his teaching was to urge his followers that their primary task was to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Then the end would come (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8, also Mark 13:10; Matt). One of the primary functions of the Spirit in us is that God may speak through us with Spirit-inspired words (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12).  In this way, the lost are found. The early Christians were fearless and determined to share Christ refusing to relent even if they were commanded to be silent, flogged, imprisoned, and killed (esp. Acts 4:19-21; 5:29-32; 6:8-8:4).

This is because they had complete confidence in the word of God. When a Christian opens his or her mouth and shares the gospel or some part of it, God speaks through us, working in and through these words prompting response from the hearer. Aside from much prayer, seeking to be as clear as possible with our words to ensure the gospel is plainly heard (Col 4:2–4), and sharing with the right attitude of agapē love and grace (2 Cor 5:14; Phil 1:16; Col 4:5-6), we carry no responsibility for the effect of the message. God does his work. Some will hear it and not comprehend it, even repudiating it with stubborn hearts and antagonism (Acts 28:26-27). Others will hear it, appear to receive it with faith, but it come to nought (e.g. Mark 4:1-20; Acts 17:32). Yet others will hear the word and believe, faith born in their hearts (Rom 10:17). Their hearts will be opened (Acts 16:14), faith will flower, the Spirit will enter their lives (Gal 3:2), and they will be born anew from above (John 3:5). We do not control this process. This is between God and the hearer. Our responsibility is to preach the word in season and out of season, and let the word of God do its work (2 Tim 4:2).


It is critical we find our voice as New Zealand Christians. We find as we do that although there remains much resistance, the fields of NZ are white for the harvest (John 4:35). What is needed is people who are deeply prayerful at all times, immersed in the word who know the gospel, motivated by the Spirit with holy passion, full of agapē love, who will find their voice and let God speak through them to the lost. The time is urgent. Will we take up the challenge? My prayer to the God of nations is the same one prayed by the Jerusalem Christians after being told to cease sharing the message of Jesus: ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29-30). May it be that after we pray, that we are filled with the Spirit and this nation is shaken to its core, not with an earthquake, but the power of God. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit: Well Done the UK

Congratulations to the UK for the Brexit vote. Having seen the outcome, and having considered the discussion, I am convinced they made the right decision. My reasons are this. 

First, sovereignty. Decisions like who can come into your country must be in the hands of the citizens of the country involved not in some non-democratic government across the water. The UK has a parliament and they have to have sovereignty to preserve the best interests of that nation. If Europe is for real, and nations like the UK are to be involved, then there needs to a full elected government from the President down and a disempowering of national governments. However, as the UK is only one country among many, they put themselves in the position of being dominated by others who have a different agenda. So, the decision gives the UK sovereignty again. They can now take control of who is coming and going from their country with points systems like Australia and England. They can now work to make the society they have work, with all its diversity. This is what we have in NZ, and it is great. That will not be easy, but they can decide their own destiny.

Second, the challenge to Empire. I am delighted to see the breakdown of the impulse toward Empire that is arising in the world. Europe is a quasi-empire. Sure, it is not one formed through violent force as in many instances in history, but Europe’s union is in effect the formation of another imperial power that could easily morph into something hideous. This is especially so with the rise of right wing movements through Europe. While this can be seen as right wing, the UK’s exit actually disempowers the power of Europe and reduces the danger. It also means that if something hideous occurs in Europe, the UK can stand against it and is not swept up in it. All Empires are dangerous. We live in a world in which they are on the rise – Europe, China, Russia; not to mention the US. It is a dangerous world with forces on the rise which are threatening. I do hope more nations break from Europe for the same reason. For these reasons, I think Scotland and Northern Ireland would be wrong to opt for Europe over the UK. 

Thirdly, while there will be acrimony because of this decision, there is no reason that the UK cannot remain a strong trading partner with Europe while negotiating its own relationship with other nations like the US, Asian nations, other Commonwealth countries and more. There is no shortage of economic opportunity for a nation with as much wealth and skill as the UK. The UK might struggle for a year of five, but they can now negotiate their own relationship with the world.

While this looks like xenophobia, nationalism, or almost racism, and there are some among the Brexit vote who are tending toward this impulse, it is not necessarily this for many. One can believe in diversity, celebrate it, desire an egalitarian society rich in cultural difference, and not be racist. One can recognise a common culture that a nation holds dear, want to retain it, still celebrate diversity and welcome people who are different, and not be racist. I am not hearing Brexit proponents now saying that the UK should expel people who are different. I am not saying they want to suppress difference. Indeed, the UK is very diverse. However, surely a country should have sovereignty over its borders and be able to work toward a common culture with values that uphold decency and unity. They can be more secure, and no less prosperous. If I had been there, I would have voted to leave. They are now in a position like NZ, and this is a good position. 



Monday, April 25, 2016

ANZAC 2016, I Will Remember

Lots of my Christian friends struggle with ANZAC. They do so for good reason. The Christian message is one of non-violence. Jesus preached ‘love your enemies’ and ‘turn the other cheek. Despite claiming he could in an instant call on legions of angels to demolish the Romans, he did not do so. Rather, he went to the cross without using violent force in his defence. The closest we get to the use of violent force is Jesus in the Temple, making a whip, throwing over tables and driving animals and people out. However, these passages are carefully written to remove any insinuation that Jesus struck the people. Assuming the veracity of the biblical accounts, he was imbued with immense power, but never used his force to impress others, in answer to their requests for signs, in defence, or in compelling people to believe in him. In a ruthless world not unlike the Seven Kingdoms of the Game of Thrones, He taught and embodied non-violence.

Knowing this, many Christians are simply quiet at ANZAC. Although they respect greatly those (including family members) who gave their lives for the causes in the wars of the late 18th–21st centuries, particularly the world wars. They don’t go to the Dawn Services. They recognise the importance of what was done, they are grateful to live in a world which is ‘free,’ in the sense that it is democratic with ideals of compassion and egalitarianism. However, they are simply uncomfortable with the whole thing. The event that lies at the heart of ANZAC day, the attack on the Turks in Gallipoli, is more a reflection of the failure of humanity to test the limits of non-violence. It was a disaster, where the allies were resisted, an attack on Turkish sovereignty. It may have been justified in terms of the horrors of the Ottoman Empire, but it is still more a reflection of human failure than something to celebrate.

Part of me agrees with this point of view, I feel more sadness on this day, not just for the many lives lost on both sides of these wars, but for the whole spectre of war. It repulses me. It is horrific. I thought of that today as I rode my bike and saw the road kill that as always, litters the country roads of NZ. These men and women were ‘road kill’ in the hands of politicians seeking power. A visit to Gallipoli in 2010 hammered that home, as I reflected on graves engraved with biblical verses and the names and ages of young men in their late teens and twenties. Then down the road is the Turkish memorial, with Islamic texts and similarly aged deceased men. It is tragic.

But then again, it seems in a fallen world, even with Jesus’ ideals ringing in our ears, and his example vivid in our imaginations, there is a time for war. There are times when horrific regimes must be stopped for the sake of the living. It seems that while love usually cries out non-violence, at times love cries out ‘you must act for the defenceless.’ In times like the Holocaust in particular, how can good people merely protest or simply stand back praying? So, with deep reluctance, I acknowledge the simple truth of Ecclesiastes 3:8: ‘there is a time for war.’ There is a time where people must fight for the innocent and defenceless. That is why we should be thankful for the police, and even militaries where they are holding back evil.

So, while torn between a theology of pacifism and just war, I find myself giving thanks for those who heeded the call to fight to hold back the forces of evil. Yes, some of the wars and causes were less noble than others. Yes, many of our young men died because of stupid decisions. Yes, they were pawns in the game of thrones we are all swept up in, where powerful men (and the odd woman) decide their fate. However, they still gave their lives. I live in a nation that is while imperfect as are all nations, is blessedly free, which seeks to live out of ideals of goodness, love, charity, compassion, egalitarianism, and justice. I do so in no small part because of the courage of those who gave their lives on battlefields across the world. So I will remember them. I give thanks for them and to them.

But I will also be further spurred on to live out of Jesus’ teaching and example as best I can, renouncing violent malicious thoughts and actions toward others. I will do my best to uphold his call to the world to ‘love your enemies.’ And I will also remember our past as a people whereby we crossed the seas on wakas and through somewhat dubious means and power, we took possession of a land that was peopled by the Maori. My European forebears fought them. While we have come to place of some reconciliation, I will seek to live honouring the indigenous peoples of this nation. I will seek to embody and preach that the way ahead is the way of the cross—forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy. I will remember.