Free Book Resource: “How on Earth Did We End Up Here?”

As the Church faces an unprecedented period of challenge and change, it is imperative that we understand how our current ways of doing things developed. Were all our practices and traditions handed to us directly by Jesus? Did we adopt stuff uncritically from unbiblical traditions? Only by understanding how we got to where we are now, can we plan a course ahead for the future.

Therefore we are delighted to provide this free copy of Nick Park’s book on Church History – “How on Earth Did We End Up Here?”

Download a free PDF from the below link

Alternatively you can read the book online here: https://eaiseanchai.wordpress.com/how-on-earth-did-we-end-up-here/

Is 2020 the Year the Church Laid Down?

I recently saw a comment on a church ministers’ online forum in the United States. One pastor posted, “2020 will be remembered as the year that the Church laid down.”

That minister was actually correct, but not in the way he intended. First of all, his lack of proficiency in the English language caused him to get confused between lay and laid. When used in the past tense, laid is a transitive verb. In other words, you laid something else down (as in ‘a chicken laid an egg’). If you want to say that everyone just decided to lie down, then the past tense would be lay (as in ‘the cows all lay down in the field’).

Now, you might wonder why I’m being so pedantic about grammar. It’s because what that pastor actually said was right, but what he meant to say was horribly wrong. He was trying to say that the Church, in observing government restrictions and lockdowns, was, out of fear, shamefully surrendering its constitutional right to assemble. He actually wanted churches to hold public services in defiance of emergency legislation, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of the coronavirus spreading in our communities.

At Evangelical Alliance Ireland, we have, from the beginning of this crisis, argued that compliance with the advice of health authorities, and with government restrictions during a pandemic, is a demonstration of love, not of fear. Ceasing physical gatherings, and taking our services online, has not been easy. It has been costly for churches and church leaders in terms of finances, relationships and stress. Yet the sacrifice is necessary in order to protect and save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable. It is the only reasonable course of action for a Church that is genuinely pro-life.

So, if that US pastor was wrong in his intended statement about the Church lying down, why was he right in saying that 2020 was the year the Church laid down?

Quite simply, the Church has laid down our privileges and rights in order to serve others. It is a corporate demonstration of Philippians 2:5-11. We believe that what we do is an essential service. Theologically (if not legally) speaking, it would not be ‘robbery’ to claim that churches have as much right to keep their doors open as do many of the shops and stores that are continuing to operate. But love, and servanthood, tell us that following in the footsteps of Christ demands that we close our doors and take the Church online until we are able to meet without endangering others.

There is a worship chorus by Noel Richards that says, “You laid aside your majesty, Gave up everything for me.” Personally, I prefer Charles Wesley’s expression of the same truth when he wrote, “He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace; Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race.” Whatever your preference as regards worship styles, the message is clear. The Incarnation, and ultimately the Passion, was where Jesus laid down for us. He laid down His majesty, and therefore He was laid down in Joseph’s tomb.

And now we, the Church, have an opportunity to show the world that we really can be like Jesus. God is not calling us to whinge about how our rights are being infringed. He is not asking us to complain that churches are closed while off-licences are open. He is not expecting us to search for loopholes to get around the government restrictions. He is not even asking us to lie down. He is asking us to lay down our normal way of doing things, and demonstrate His incredible love to the communities where He has placed us.

St Patrick’s Day – A National Day of Prayer

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NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER

‘The Big Day In’

We are living in very unique and uncommon days with many people expressing genuine concern and others being gripped by absolute fear.
Given that we are fast approaching the day we celebrate the arrival of Christianity to Ireland, we have a fantastic opportunity to humble ourselves and collectively seek the Lord by prayer and petition.


Traditionally, on St. Patrick’s Day, we have a big family day out, attending local events and visiting family and friends. But, this coming St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) with all events cancelled, we can have a ‘Big Day In’!!


In conjunction with a number of Christian Church streams, movements and organisations, We are calling on all households to commit to a time of prayer, in our homes, on March 17th at this time of National challenge. Let us pray for our island and our families and our neighbours that we will not be caught up and overwhelmed by the Coronavirus.


May God bless you and keep you at this time and always,
In Christ


Pastor Seán Mullarkey
Pastor Patrick Fitzgerald
Pastor Nick Park

Response to Escalation of Coronavirus Crisis COVID-19 and the Local Church

An Evangelical Response to, and Guidelines Concerning, the Escalation in Ireland of the Coronavirus Crisis

by Nick Park
(Executive Director, EAI)

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Last Sunday, in the church where I am privileged to pastor, I preached about the Church’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The gist of that message was that God wants us to walk as people of faith, avoiding the extremes of fear or foolishness.

I also shared that Christians believe in science, in obedience to the governing authorities, and in the power of God the Holy Spirit. These beliefs are not contradictory.

Francis Bacon, a committed Christian believer, is remembered as the father of the modern scientific method. Many of the greatest scientists in history were Christians. Their faith in a God of order, rather than of confusion, inspired them to study God’s creation so as to understand it better. In the words of Francis Collins (co-director of the human genome project) they saw the scientific laws and processes as “the language of God.” Sadly, there is today a popular but mistaken notion that Christians are somehow anti-science. That perception is sometimes encouraged by individual Christians who foolishly use social media to dismiss and disparage scientific research and evidence. However, sensible Christians will pay heed to the opinion of medical experts when it comes to understanding how coronavirus is transmitted, and what precautions will inhibit its spread.

Romans 13:1-7 tells us to obey the lawful commands of governments and civil authority. That Scriptural instruction is not negated even if we dislike the government of the day or have serious disagreement with their policies or personal morality. The ‘authorities’ to which Paul referred included the Emperor Nero – a gross sexual pervert and moral monster. If the Roman Christians were to obey the lawful commands of Nero, then we surely have no ‘get-out clause’ when we consider our current crop of politicians. Therefore, we have a Scriptural duty to heed governmental advice and instructions concerning the coronavirus crisis.

Of course, we also believe in God’s Word, in the power of His Holy Spirit, and in the power of prayer. Therefore, while taking all medical precautions and observing government guidelines, we should be fervently praying in faith for protection from coronavirus, for healing for those already infected, and for the current crisis to be rapidly resolved.

That message was preached less than a week ago. Since then, the government has announced a series of radical measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. The one that will affect many evangelical churches most is the instruction to cancel all public meetings of more than 100 people with immediate effect and continuing until 29 March.

There will be some who will accuse the government of panic or overreaction. This is not the case. Prior to the Taoiseach’s announcement, I had already received similar advice in the strongest terms from medical doctors who are at the front-line of the battle against this pandemic.

Therefore, Evangelical Alliance Ireland strongly advises and urges all churches to observe the following practices:

  1. To suspend all meetings and services with an attendance of more than 100.
  2. In smaller services, to arrange seating so that people are not sitting in close proximity to each other (medical advice is 2 metres apart). If your facilities do not allow for this precaution then you should also consider cancellation. Even with less than 100 present, seating people in close proximity to others for extended periods is an unreasonable risk. None of us want to put people at risk, nor do we want to see our church or fellowship identified in the press as the source of an outbreak!
  3. To wash hands frequently, and to refrain from touching one’s face as much as possible.
  4. To avoid unnecessary physical contact. Refrain from hugs and handshakes. Instead, greet one another with an elbow bump or a smile and a wave.
  5. To avoid coughing and sneezing into one’s hands. Instead, direct the cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
  6. To stay at home if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of coronavirus. Contact your GP and follow his or her advice.
  7. Those who are elderly, have medical conditions that incur a higher level of risk to the virus, or are otherwise vulnerable are also advised to remain at home.
  8. To keep yourself updated and informed of current medical advice and governmental guidelines.
  9. To trust God, have faith in His Word, and to pray.
  10. Pastors and ministers should exercise extreme caution when it comes to pastoral visitation. Under normal conditions we frequently minister to the sick and the elderly. If we ignore best practice and unwittingly transmit the virus to those who are vulnerable, then we risk costing someone their life. Saying that we did it ‘in faith’ will not lessen the foolishness or callousness of such behaviour.

It should be obvious to all of us that the current crisis will have significant effects for many churches. Some of our plans and events will be changed or cancelled. There are serious relational and financial implications. None of us know how long the current restrictions will last. If the crisis worsens, then restrictions may become more stringent, or be extended for a longer period.

As people of faith, we should also be alive to the opportunities that the current crisis gives us. We should explore innovative ways to reach and care for people. Some of us will make great improvements in our online presence and in facilitating online giving. I am believing that our churches can develop practices that will continue to bear fruit long after the coronavirus has become a distant memory.

EAI will continue to provide updates, advice and encouragement, and to share tips and ideas, to help churches and individual believers during this time of national crisis. We will also be cooperating with a number of churches and ministries to promote prayer initiatives. Please do visit our website http://www.evangelical.ie or our social media channels regularly to avail of these resources.

Voting & Praying

We are in the middle of election season here in Ireland, and politicians are falling over themselves to ask for our votes, to insult each other, and to explain their own statements, tweets and verbal mis-steps.

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The media increasingly seizes on anything that will seem to reflect badly on a candidate. And, to be fair, this year the candidates seem to be doing everything they can to help the media in that process. It must be difficult being a political candidate, with everything you say being picked apart for unintended meanings – a bit like being a pastor, only worse!

In the past, of course, silly statements would be forgotten with the passage of time. After all, every one of us has probably said things at one time or another which now, looking back with the benefits of hindsight and (hopefully) added wisdom, make us cringe. But in our age of social media, all these past transgressions can be dragged up and made public at the moment when they can cause the worst possible damage. Yes, as far as the east is from the west, God has removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12) – but Google, Facebook and Twitter are not so forgiving!

I’ve been accused on occasion of being too hard on our politicians, but I do have sympathy for them. I don’t think that they should automatically be trusted just because they hold office, and they should be held to account for their words, actions and policies – and if they behave in ways that diminish truth and justice then I’ll point that out – but they also deserve to be recognised when they do things well. Most of all, of course, we should pray for our politicians – both at the local and national levels.

It is important that Christians not only pray, but also that we vote. If we choose not to participate in the process that elects our politicians, then we have no right to complain at the results that come from that process. So, what are the issues that should guide our prayers – and our voting – in this election season of 2020.

  1. The value of human life.  We may have already had a referendum that legalised abortion in Ireland, but it is still important that we elect politicians who value all human life – including unborn children. It is vital that we don’t idly sit back and accept as normal a society where it is permissible to deny someone the right to life, for example, because they might be diagnosed with a disability. I was dismayed to see, in a recent Irish Independent set of interviews, the leaders of four of the five largest parties (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and Labour) all trumpeting the legalising of abortion in Ireland among their major achievements. The other fifth leader (Green Party) didn’t make mention of it, but the introduction of abortion was also their official party policy at the time of the Referendum. As a Christian who believes in the value of life, that will obviously influence my vote. Several Independent candidates in my constituency are pro-life, including one who resigned from the governing party due to his pro-life principles. But there is also a Fianna Fail TD who was strongly opposed to removing the Eighth Amendment. I want to see such people represented in national politics – even though I wouldn’t want my vote to be seen as support for his party, or, more pertinently, for his party leader.
  2. Equality and justice for all. I believe every person is made in God’s image. This principle, which is the ultimate basis for my stance on abortion, also means that I could never vote for any candidate who tries to stir up prejudice against others. For example, I could never vote for certain so-called ‘pro-life’ candidates who try to boost their numbers by playing up fears of migrants, refugees or travellers. There should be no place in Irish politics for those who release racist or anti-semitic tweets, travel to far-right rallies in other countries to consort with neo-Nazis, or post links to conspiracy theories about powerful Jewish forces deliberately promoting migration in order to weaken white European identity (all of these apply to certain individuals among the 2020 crop of candidates). Equally, I could never vote for a TD who uses bogus economic figures to slander Ireland’s Nigerian community. The same applies to those who discriminate against others on the grounds of gender. One candidate in South Dublin recently attempted to shame a pregnant woman (also a rival candidate) by demanding to know whether she will be taking maternity leave after the birth of her child. Every new mother is entitled to maternity leave – and to imply otherwise attempts to undo all the recent advances we’ve seen in regards to respect for, and the rights of, women.
  3. The housing crisis, and the scandal of homelessness, should also be a major factor in our praying and voting. The Irish Council of Churches has called for a Constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to have a home as a basic human right. Now, there’s a Referendum I would wholeheartedly support! Reducing homelessness is not impossible. Finland have developed a Housing First policy that is greatly reducing their homelessness problem. A couple of years ago I attended a dinner in the Dail, with senior politicians and religious leaders, where we discussed homelessness. I had the opportunity on that occasion to share my own experience of being homeless, and how coming to faith in Christ had changed things for me. A special guest on that occasion was the Finnish ambassador, and listening to her description of the Finnish approach, I hoped that this might mark Ireland following their example. Sadly, that initiative has seemed to go no further. As I pray about who I should vote for, I want to know what the candidates plan to do about homelessness. Will they vigorously push for increased social housing to be constructed, or will they cosy up with property developers to ensure that the profits continue to roll in unabated?
  4. The health service. Successive Ministers of Health have failed to get a grip on the crisis in the Irish health service, with thousands of people suffering the indignity of lying on trollies in hospital corridors for days at a time, with hundreds of thousands more on waiting lists that seem to stretch on forever. I know that perceived political wisdom says ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in this election, we rejected that narrow selfish attitude, and, instead of always focusing on our own bank balances, we actually saw the election determined by our concern for others who are suffering because of homelessness and an inadequate health policy?

These are the main issues that will guide my voting. Maybe you have other ones that you see as equally important. So, in the light of all this, what are we to do? We need to research where the candidates stand on the issues. That isn’t hard to do – Google is our friend! A few minutes on genuine internet news sites (not Facebook) will soon help us to discover the position, and statements, of candidates on the main issues. Then we need to pray. Pray individually, but pray corporately as well. If you are in church leadership, please consider taking time in a church service or a prayer meeting to pray about this election. Then vote. Vote with your conscience. Let your vote honour Jesus.

Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland

An expanded audio version of this article is available on a podcast at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/562411/2612134-the-evangelical-seanchai-episode-20-praying-voting-mick-toolan-the-church-in-indonesia

 

‘Genocide’ – A Word That Matters

Last week, the US Congress, by 405 votes to 11, finally passed a resolution recognising the slaughter by Turkey of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1914 and 1923 as ‘genocide.’ The Armenian genocide was a truly horrific attempt to exterminate an entire race of people. While it lacked the industrial efficiency of the Nazi Holocaust, it more than made up for it in savagery. As in the Holocaust, Armenians had their property confiscated, were herded into concentration camps, subjected to gassing and medical experimentation, and forced on death marches into the Syrian desert. Tens of thousands were burned alive in sheds and haylofts, taken out in boats and drowned in the Black Sea or the River Euphrates, thrown from clifftops or crucified.

It is somewhat ironic that Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who lost most of his extended family in the Nazi death camps, originally coined the term ‘genocide’ in 1943 to describe the Armenian experience, rather than the Nazi Holocaust.

It might seem long overdue for the US Congress, over 100 years later, to acknowledge that such actions constitute genocide. Shamefully, the Irish Government has yet to make such a statement, preferring instead to refer to “terrible events.” Political relationships and trade deals are undoubtedly important – but at what cost? What does it say about us as a nation if we are willing, for diplomatic or economic reasons, to gloss over one of the darkest chapters in human history?

Some might question why this matters today. It was all so long ago, and surely the use of a word like ‘genocide’ is simply a matter of semantics – isn’t it?

Earlier this year I joined Ireland’s small Armenian community for a Service of Remembrance in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. For them, their genocide is a very present cause of grief and pain.

Furthermore, refusing to acknowledge genocide for what it is facilitates similar atrocities in the future. In recent weeks, Turkey has used the same language it has historically used to deny the Armenian genocide to justify atrocities against the Kurds in Northern Syria. In 1939, a week before the invasion of Poland, Hitler asked his generals, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

In my own religious tradition (Evangelical Christianity) I have had cause to remind my fellow religionists that Martin Luther’s disgusting anti-Semitism (albeit on theological rather than racial grounds) was seized upon by the Nazis in partial justification for their crimes. I also see a disturbing tendency in right-wing Catholicism to rewrite history so that the senseless butchery of the Crusades becomes ‘a reasoned response to Islamic terror’!

This week marks the anniversary of another milestone in man’s inhumanity to man. On 9 November 1938, more than 1000 synagogues were burned or damaged in a concerted attack across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and herded into concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. More than 7,500 Jewish business were looted. So much broken glass littered the streets that it became known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. It was not just windows that were shattered, but any remaining hopes that Jews might have a future in the Third Reich.

This Tuesday, together with other Christians, I gathered with Ireland’s Jewish community to remember Kristallnacht and to listen to Susan Pollack, a Holocaust survivor. In conversation with Susan, I was moved to hear her say that Evangelical Christians are key to remembering the Holocaust. As she addressed the gathering, I found myself sitting beside one of the most inspiring speakers I have ever heard – the inimitable Tomi Reichental – a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. On Saturday 9 November, at 7pm, more Christians will be gathering in the National Boxing Stadium on Dublin’s South Circular Rd for a similar event to listen to Tomi. If you have never heard the firsthand testimony of a Holocaust survivor, I strongly urge you to make a point of attending.

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The passing of years and the limitations of human longevity mean we will only have limited opportunities to hear such testimonies first hand. But all of us, whether religious or not, have a responsibility to ensure that events such as Kristallnacht or the Armenian genocide are remembered for what they were.

Movie Review – ‘Unplanned’

On Friday night I went to the Omniplex cinema in Dundalk to watch the first showing there of ‘Unplanned’. This is a film that shares the story of Abby Johnson, director of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Houston, Texas, and at one time Planned Parenthood’s employee of the year. Abby came to the realisation that she was not supervising the removal of clumps of cells, but rather that she was supervising the killing of unborn children.

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The film is certainly not light entertainment, not that you would expect it to be given the subject matter. There are several gory scenes – not showing an abortion in detail, but blood running through tubes, and blood dripping down legs, feet and onto the floor, and a representation on a black-and-white ultrasound screen of an unborn child being sucked out with an empty space left behind. Most of the procedures are left to the imagination, but you can understand why the censors gave it a 16 rating in Ireland. So not a film to take young children to.

Our views on films are often coloured by our expectations – for example, by the reviews that we read. I had heard glowing reports from pro-life sources about ‘Unplanned’ – so I made a point before viewing the film of reading a variety of reviews from international newspapers, magazines and film critics. These included pro-abortion websites that use euphemisms such as ‘reproductive justice’ (roughly translated as – ‘freedom to abort unborn children’). But I wanted to hear different perspectives so I could be more informed when deciding how effective this film could be when viewed by different kinds of people.

I came across three major objections to the film, so I went to watch it with these objections in mind. Because, if they were true, these objections would cause a serious problem if, for example, I wanted to take someone with me to view the film. I am passionately for the protection of all human life, but I despise dishonesty. I could not endorse a pro-life initiative that used dishonesty or misrepresentations to make its case.

The first objection was, according to a number of reviews, that the film portrays a foetus (unborn child) as moving around during a suction abortion procedure and trying to evade the doctor’s implements. Quite a bit has been made of this in certain newspapers, with it been claimed that this is medically impossible. A spokesperson for a pro-abotion group in Northern Ireland loudly protested that such a thing was not possible.

The second objection was that Planned Parenthood is portrayed in the film as a multi-billion dollar company, whereas it is really a non-profit.

The third objection was that the film exaggerates the numbers of abortions that go wrong – whereas the vast majority of abortions are perfectly safe (if not for the unborn child, then at least for the mother).

I have to say that, once I actually went and watched the film, I discovered that all three of these objections were not just unfounded, but dishonest. The film does not say that the foetus (unborn child) tried to avoid the doctor’s implements. Rather, the film shows the unborn child, on the ultrasound screen, wriggling around inside the womb, and the doctor says, “Oh, they all do that, that’s why we use the ultrasound.” Abby’s character is greatly impacted by these movements because it looks to her as if the child is trying to evade the abortion. Later in the film, when recounting why it made such an impact on her, she says, “It’s as if the baby was trying to get away.” The film nowhere claims that the unborn child really was taking evasive action, it simply gives Abby’s own perspective, that God used the movement of the child to give her such an impression and to open Abby’s eyes to the barbarity of the procedure that she was witnessing. So the allegation made in antagonistic reviews was extremely dishonest against the film.

The second allegation is that the film portrays Planned Parenthood as a multi-billion dollar company rather than as a non-profit. In fact, the film says quite clearly that Planned Parenthood is a non-profit – that, after all, was why Abby joined them in the first place. She wanted to help women by volunteering, and eventually being employed by, a non-profit concern. The film also states, quite correctly, that ‘non-profit’ is a tax status. It simply means that a company does not make profits for, or distribute dividends to, shareholders or directors. But a non-profit can still be run, particularly by those on the corporate side of the organisation, just as ruthlessly as any large business concern. Employees in non-profits, particularly in the upper echelons of its administration, can still command fat salaries and be judged on the basis of business turnover and market share. After all, we’ve seen this in the religious world, where some unscrupulous television evangelists have set up ‘non-profits’ that pay them obscene salaries and provide perks such as private jets. So there is no inconsistency whatsoever in the film’s assertion that, in Abby Johnson’s own experience, a non-profit concern acted like a multi-billion dollar business.

The third allegation was that the film exaggerates the number of abortions that go wrong. Once again, this is an unfounded and dishonest accusation against the film. There are only two incidences in the film of abortions that went wrong, and both of them are included, not because they are representative of the whole, but because they are key elements of Abby Johnson’s own story. One was Abby’s own second abortion, where taking an abortion pill proved to be much more traumatic and painful than she had been led to expect. Obviously, this had a huge impact on her, so its inclusion in the film is perfectly reasonable. The second instance of an abortion going catastrophically wrong was where the climic where Abby worked nearly lost a young girl through blood-loss. The whole point of recounting this incident is not that an abortion went wrong, but rather that the clinic covered it up to avoid adverse publicity. Abby was complicit in that cover-up, and the stress this caused her was another key element in her eventual change of mind and heart. Indeed, the film goes on to quote Abby as saying that, during her time with Planned Parenthood, she was complicit in the abortions of 22,000 unborn children. By only mentioned two botched abortions out of 22,000, the film actually underplays the number of abortions that go wrong by an extremely large margin.

So I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to discover that, when watching the film with the reservations of these three objections in mind, that all three turned out to be totally false. Otherwise this review would have had quite a different tone and message.

What about the film itself? For a Christian film, it’s surprisingly well made. I’ve seen too many Christian films that had poor production values, corny dialogue and that conveyed a preachy tone. This wasn’t like that. Abby Johnson’s personal story is told, and it’s told well. It’s told movingly. I felt emotionally touched by it. Although the film is not preachy, it is an unashamed testimony to the power of prayer, and refused to soft-peddle the spiritual side of Abby’s story. That’s very encouraging that a motion picture is not ashamed to portray a message of faith.

Another good point about the film is that it doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of the pro-life movement. We all know that there are some who, while being anti-abortion, do and say things that make the rest of us ashamed. The film acknowledged the existence of this. It showed people outside an abortion clinic shouting abuse at young girls, and it also featured violence at one point while recounting a true-life incident when an abortionist was shot and killed while worshipping in church. The film unflinchingly portrayed these things as part of the pro-life movement that is very wrong.

Now, overall, what can we say about the film? It’s certainly a film that pro-life people should go and see, not for entertainment, but because it is informative, affirming, and encouraging about the faith of those who want to support the right to life of unborn children. It is not a film for those on the pro-abortion side. It is not likely to convince those who are firmly opposed to a pro-life message. But it is a film that has the potential to speak powerfully to those who are undecided, and to those who are sitting on the fence. I would say if you can get such a person to attend this film with you, then it would be well worth their while in watching it.

Just one final note. I understand that on the opening night in Galway, a group called ‘Galway Pro-Choice’ picketed the cinema, stating their determination that there was no way this film would be shown in Galway. This is rather ironic. It used to be conservative Christians who picketed cinemas, before they caught themselves on. A famous episode of Father Ted had the priests outside a cinema with a sign saying, “Down With This Sort of Thing!” I find it rather funny that this group in Galway would become a parody and example of the kind of intolerance that they claim to despise. They want to deny anyone the opportunity to view a film that might express a viewpoint that is different to their own. Obviously, being ‘pro-choice,’ doesn’t extend to allowing others to choose which film they want to watch!

Update: Unplanned has been extended for a further week’s showing (11-17 Oct) at the following Omniplexes: Cork Mahon Point, Dundalk, Limerick, Galway Salthill, Sligo, Tralee, Wexford & Lifford. It will also be showing next week at IMC cinemas in Tallaght, Omagh, Dun Laoghaire, Dundalk, Tullamore, Enniskillen, Carlow, Kilkenny, Athlone, Santry & Newtownards. Also at the Eclipse in Bundoran, the Empire In Ennis & the Savoy in Dublin.

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Justin Trudeau, Blackface & Redemption

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Poor Justin Trudeau. The Canadian Prime Minister, previously best known to the Irish public for his youthful good looks and colourful designer socks, has landed himself in a load of trouble. Apparently, in his younger days, Justin took to the stage in high school talent shows and the like in ‘blackface’. Blackface is where white entertainers use dark make up to make themselves look black. Many of my own generation will remember this practice from TV shows such as ‘The Black and White Minstrels’. This was a hugely popular BBC entertainment programme that ran for 20 years until it gradually became seen as racially offensive and was cancelled in 1978.

There’s no doubt that blackface entertainment shows, particularly in the southern United States, had a nasty racial stereotype attached. The blacked-up characters were often portrayed as being lazy, uneducated and dim-witted. Indeed, the segregation laws that were opposed by Martin Luther King and other Evangelical Christians were known as ‘Jim Crow’ laws – taking their name from a character in a blackface minstrel show. Jim Crow was a stupid buffoonish character paraded for white audiences to laugh at. So it’s not hard for us today to understand why blackface so-called ‘entertainment’ is inextricably entwined with racism, injustice and oppression.

But years ago, and in other parts of the world where racial tension was much less obvious, there would have been plenty of young people who went to fancy dress parties and the like with blacked-up faces pretending to be Bob Marley or Mahatma Ghandi. They didn’t for a moment imagine that their actions could be hurtful to anyone else, or seen as racist. If you were dressing up as David Bowie you spiked up your hair and coloured it red. If you were dressing up as John Lennon you wore a long-haired wig and round steel-rimmed glasses. And if you were dressing up as Bob Marley you blacked your face and wore dreadlocks. I don’t think it was ever something I did, but I remember plenty of others doing it with no malice intended whatsoever. They would have been horrified to think it was racist – indeed, they probably thought it was a tribute to Bob Marley’s reputation as one of the coolest people they could think of.

Today, we have Google and much more information and historical context at our fingertips. So we understand that blackface is utterly unacceptable as a form of entertainment. But that also means that there are probably thousands of photos lying in attics that could be used at some point in the future to demolish the reputation of some celebrity or politician. Trying to explain that they meant no wrong all those years ago isn’t going to cut any ice. The only option is for them to apologise profusely and, like Justin Trudeau, to express how disappointed they are with their younger selves.

Justin’s major problem is not that he made a big mistake, but that he lives in an environment without grace and redemption. These Christian doctrines recognise that we can change – that we don’t have to spend all eternity being condemned for the people we used to be, but rather that we can rejoice in the people that we’ve become through the transforming power of the Gospel.

I’m not suggesting that public figures shouldn’t be held accountable for their past actions, particularly when those actions display a pattern of behaviour, or character flaws, which continue to make them unstable or dangerous in the present. But we need to give people the opportunity to show that they have changed.

I’m so glad that God changed me. Two days ago I was visiting Belfast, and I stopped at the spot in East Belfast, a few yards away from the gates to the Harland & Wolff shipyards, where, in 1981, I knelt in a Salvation Army hall  and surrendered my life to Christ. I was living a life characterised by selfishness, immorality, violence and stupidity. The person I was then was totally unfit to fulfil any of the roles I fulfil today – the roles of husband, father, pastor, leader of a Christian organisation etc.  I’m glad I don’t have to hide my past, or live in fear that someone might discover and expose it to try to destroy me. I can be open about the person I used to be – because I live in the community of the Church, and the Church is a place where we celebrate grace and redemption.

And the same is true, even after that initial point of salvation. I’ve made many mistakes in my walk as a Christian, and even as a preacher. Sometimes, on social media, I see self-appointed ‘heresy hunters’ who are quick to lambast a well-known Christian minister on the basis of a throwaway comment they made in a sermon 25 years ago. I will freely admit that I’ve probably preached some stupid stuff over the years, and I’ve certainly made decisions and, looking back, I realise that I could have handled situations so much better. I’ve frequently had to apologise to others for my mistakes. That’s all part of growing older and becoming wiser. But the wonderful thing is that I’ve encountered so much grace and redemption from others over the years, and in turn I’ve tried as much as possible to extend grace and the opportunity of redemption to others.

So, if Justin Trudeau were listening to me (which he almost certainly isn’t), I would say to him, “You don’t have to spend your life being disappointed in yourself. But everyone needs to part of a community that is based on grace and redemption. Because only in such a community can you truly become the person you were always meant to be.”

Hurricanes in the Bahamas & Prayer in Dublin for the Climate

One of the most devastating news stories in the last few weeks has been the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. A friend of mine has strong links in the Bahamas and is out there now in some of the worst-hit areas. The reports he is sending back and posting on social media are absolutely heart-breaking. I have been to Grand Bahama Island on a number of occasions and when you see it, one of the first impressions you have is just how flat it is. It is particularly vulnerable to abnormal sea levels, and to see news footage of it swamped by the hurricane is horrible.

Hurricane Dorian Slams Into The Bahamas As Category 5 Storm

According to news reports, 17% of the population of the Bahamas has been made homeless. Initially it was reported that 2,500 were missing. Thankfully, that number has now been reduced to 1,300 after officials cross-referenced their lists of missing and evacuated residents. It will be some time before we know any kind of accurate death toll. Whatever way the statistics finally pan out, it has been a truly horrible event for the Bahamas.

People used to refer to hurricanes as ‘acts of God’ – but I don’t for one moment believe God wanted this misery to be inflicted on the Bahamas. The Christian doctrine of the Fall asserts that we live in a broken and fallen world – far removed from how it was originally intended by our Creator. Increasingly, it looks as if it might be similarly inappropriate to refer to a hurricane as a ‘natural disaster.’ We are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – and an ever-growing body of scientific evidence suggests that human activity is a contributing factor in this trend.

Climate change is affecting all of us, not just in places like the Bahamas. Here in Ireland, in just one year, we had our first ever hurricane, the worst snow I can remember (over 2 metres of the stuff in a lane near our home), and a heatwave that caused road surfaces to melt. This is all part of the changing climate. The last five years have been the warmest ever recorded in the 139 years that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been measuring global heat.

Climate change is not just about rising temperatures. It doesn’t just mean warmer weather.  – it means weird and extreme weather. Warming produces more moisture in the air – which in turn leads to heavier rainfall, hailstorms and snowfall.

Some people insist that the scientific evidence on the causes of climate change is ambiguous – but the vast majority of scientific opinion supports the evidence that human activity is a major cause. A small minority of scientists deny climate change, but many of them receive millions of dollars in funding from oil companies and groups such as the American Petroleum Institute. This is strongly reminiscent of the ‘scientists’ who received funding from tobacco companies in order to cast doubt on the fact that cigarette smoking was harmful to health.

Climate change should not be viewed as a left/right issue. That’s where we tend to make a mistake. Some of us like to view things based on whether they are liberal or conservative – left or right. But, for Christians, the issue should not be whether something is left or right. The issue should be whether it is right or wrong.

For a great number of Evangelical Christians, myself included, abortion is one of the most widespread and harmful evils and injustices in the world today. Because being pro-abortion is widely viewed as a ‘left’ issue, then many Christians say to themselves, “I’m against abortion, therefore I have to be on the right.” But then they embrace a whole package of positions that are seen as being on the right. But we aren’t obliged to agree with everything that is seen as being on the right. Neither should we automatically disagree with everything that is viewed as being on the left. We need to ask, “Where does Jesus want me to stand on each issue?” Not left or right, but right or wrong.

When it comes to climate change and extreme weather events, the fact is that the poor are disproportionately affected. For those of us living in more prosperous parts of the world, yes, we still suffer ill effects. When we had our Irish hurricane and blizzard, our home was cut off from the electricity supply for a number of hours. I lost a tank full of tropical fish. But that’s not a life-or-death issue (well, it was for the fish, but not for me). Whereas, for the poor of this world, climate change and extreme weather are life-or-death issues. People are dying now because increased exposure to the sun, caused by a depleted ozone layer over the Andes, is causing cancer rates to skyrocket. Soil erosion on the edges of the Sahara is leaving entire communities destitute. Extreme weather events are destroying lives, homes and livelihoods.

For us as Christians, this should never be a matter of indifference. We should be concerned, even outraged, when the poor suffer through the actions of the wealthy. We are supposed to care for the defenceless. We are supposed to speak out for the voiceless. That’s why I’m passionate about abortion. I find it absolutely barbaric that we should kill the most defenceless and voiceless members of our society – unborn children. That’s why Evangelical Christians were at the forefront of the fight to abolish slavery on both sides of the Atlantic. And that’s why we should be profoundly concerned at what is happening with our climate.

We know the stuff we should all be doing – recycling waste and using renewable energy – but sometimes it seems like we are up against forces that are so much greater than our best efforts.

For example, consider this. The whole bitcoin phenomenon is spawning a bitcoin mining industry – where massive energy-hungry computers perform hugely complicated mathematical calculations to validate transactions. It is profoundly depressing to realise that bitcoin mining now produces 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. That is the equivalent of 35 million trucks driving all year round. Or, to put it another way, bitcoin mining consumes as much electricity as a nation such as the Czech Republic. Making a few minor adjustments in our lifestyles feels like a drop in the ocean.

So what do we do? Do we light a candle? Or do we curse the darkness?

I’m delighted that TearFund Ireland are holding a Prayer & Worship Evening for the Climate at Third Space, Smithfield, Dublin, on Monday 23 September from 7pm to 9pm.

Sadly, I have no doubt that some within Evangelical Christianity will deride my friends at TearFund for holding such an event. They may even call them ‘liberal lefties’. I want to congratulate TearFund for operating within the very best of Evangelical tradition. Their concern for the poor who suffer due to climate change is thoroughly consistent with the abolitionist campaigns of William Wilberforce, and the championing of the right to life of unborn children.

If you want to attend the TearFund Ireland Evening for the Climate then you can register at:    https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/prayer-and-worship-evening-for-the-climate-tickets-68437489373