We Remove Blasphemy Laws, but Woe Betide if You Dare to Blaspheme Our Secular Sensitivities!

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News has broken today that Israel Folau, the Australian full back, has been sacked by Rugby Australia. His offence was to post on Instagram that hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators”. Let’s leave aside the fact that professional sport includes many more drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators than it does gay players or officials. The allegation of homophobia is what caused offence and media uproar.

Let me state straight off that I get thoroughly depressed when Christians use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram in this way. Do we really think that people are going to rush to a church and get saved because they read on social media that someone thinks they’re going to hell? Of course not! This kind of doctrinal chest-beating is designed to get a cheap cheer from our own community. I hate it when preachers go off on a rant to get cheap applause rather than presenting the Gospel in a thoughtful or compelling way – and it comes over even worse in social media than it does in sermons.

In tweeting as he did, Folau displayed an apparent ignorance of why the doctrine of hell is included in Christian theology. Hell is not a reactionary stick to be waved at those outside our faith who choose not to live by Christian standards of morality. It is rather a reminder to those within the faith, that we should live lives that are demonstrably different from how we lived before we came to Christ. It is also a motivation for us to share our faith in an attractive way with others, because our love for others means we don’t want anyone to go to hell. If I was Israel Folau’s pastor (which I’m not), I would advise him to use his fame and influence to draw other people towards Christianity, rather than turning them away with rants on Instagram. He acted like a jerk – and that rarely ends well irrespective of our religious affiliations or convictions.

However, it is disturbing that Folau should lose his employment because he expressed his sincerely held religious beliefs – even if others find his beliefs offensive. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees each person (including Israel Folau) not only the freedom to hold whatever religious beliefs he chooses, but also “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” So, apparently, Folau has been sacked for exercising a human right, one guaranteed to him under international law by a treaty that most countries, including Australia, have signed up to.

Believing that someone will go to hell, or stating that belief, is not hate speech. Genuine hate speech, such as advocating that people should be killed, or inciting hatred against them, is dangerous and can cost lives. For that reason, I recently supported the decision by the Irish government to deny entry to antiSemitic ‘pastor’ Steven Anderson because of his support for terrorist violence.

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But, for most Bible believing Christians, our belief that people are going to hell is a sorrowful recognition of a biblical doctrine – one that motivates us to reach out in love to others. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words.”

While the original Instagram post was by Israel Folau, it was liked by Billy Vunipola of Saracens, which made him a target of abuse for Munster fans at a European match the following weekend. Irish sports journalists moved into hysterical overdrive, defending the constant booing of Vunipola by Munster fans, accusing him of ‘bringing hate to rugby’, and even demanding that he be banned from the Champions Cup Final. (Given his match-winning against Leinster, a lot of their fans probably wish he had been banned!)

I have been told by some Catholics that I, as an Evangelical Christian, am going to hell because salvation is only to be found in the Church of Rome. I’ve received a similar message from Muslims who see me as an infidel. Obviously I disagree with them, but I would be appalled if they were to lose their jobs for holding such views. I would also be appalled if they were targeted for abuse or bullied by crowds at a sporting event.

How would we feel if a Catholic sportsman or woman was continually booed by a crowd in Northern Ireland who felt offended by their religious beliefs? There are a number of Muslim players in the English Premier League. Would it be permissible for them to be booed every time they touched the ball because of their faith? Or are we going to split hairs by supporting their human right to hold a religious belief, but deny them the equal human right to speak about their faith?

Ireland recently voted to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. I think that was, on balance, a good move. Gospel truth is strong enough to stand on its own two feet without needing the law to stop our feelings getting hurt, and totalitarian regimes use blasphemy laws as an excuse to persecute minorities, including Christians. But there is a glaring hypocrisy from those who want the freedom to make statements that religious people might find offensive, but want to deny a similar freedom to Israel Folau.

Yes, we’ve taken blasphemy off the statute books – but woe betide those who dare to commit blasphemy against our new secular sensitivities.

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Why, as a Passionate Pro-Life Pastor, I Won’t be Endorsing or Supporting any Politicians or Political Parties

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It’s election time again in Ireland. Next week we’ll be voting for Councillors for local authorities, MEP’s for the European Parliament, and in a Referendum about making divorces easier to obtain.

I am not one of those people who says Christians should stay out of politics. Christians should care about righteousness and justice, and political issues affect people’s lives. I have already issued a statement about the divorce referendum: https://eaiseanchai.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/marriage-matters/

I have been involved in a number of single-issue political campaigns, including a heavy investment of my time into last year’s Referendum campaign where Ireland,tragically, voted to remove the right to life of unborn children. During the last General Election, I displayed a screen during church services that listed which candidates were pro-life in their statements and promises. I felt this was important, as I knew that the push for abortion legislation would be held in the next parliament.

Now, I see a number of Christians are committing to promote or canvass for any candidates who will take a pro-life stand. I have been approached by political candidates seeking my endorsement as a pastor, or looking for us to place their campaign literature in our church. A real problem with all of this is that candidates and parties have a wide range of policies and positions on issues other than that of abortion. Some candidates who claim to be ‘pro-life’ espouse a version of right-wing nationalist populism that I see as deeply unbiblical.

In 2 Kings 20:1-20 we read about King Hezekiah getting healed and his life being miraculously extended by God. Hezekiah was one of the good kings. He had been used by God to save Jerusalem from the attacks of the Assyrians. Now emissaries arrived from Babylon, offering congratulations on his healing. Hezekiah knew that the Babylonians were rivals to the Assyrians. On the principle that “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” he welcomed them into his palace and showed them his storehouse of treasures. This resulted in a stern rebuke from God, delivered by the prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah had opened the door to the enemy that would destroy Jerusalem, tear down the Temple, and carry the Israelites as slaves into captivity.

In recent years I have been disgusted at the duplicity of mainstream politicians and media. Politicians who got elected by parading their pro-life credentials became enthusiastic apologists for abortion. But, that does not justify allying the church of Jesus Christ with other politicians – some of whom, when it comes to trying to stir up populist prejudice against immigrants, are just as unprincipled and opportunistic. I can see no political party that offers a platform that is consistent with the truths and values of the Kingdom of God.

In the 1930s, many Christians were concerned, rightfully so, by the spread of Communism. (Remember, we are talking here about the cruelties perpetuated by Stalin.) So large numbers of Christians voted for a leader who promised to halt the Communists – and in doing so they enabled Adolf Hitler to commit the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. We like to remember the sacrifices of brave souls such as Corrie ten Boom or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the darkness – but we should also remember the Christian support for Hitler that is an enduring stain on the history of European Christianity.

I am a passionate pro-life pastor, and as such I could never vote for any politician that supports the killing of unborn children, but I will not be endorsing or supporting any politicians or political parties during this election season.

 

Marriage Matters

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On Friday 24 May, Ireland votes in a Referendum on Divorce. At present, a couple can get divorced if their marriage has irretrievably broken down, and the Constitutional criteria for recognising this is that a couple must have lived apart for at least four of the past five years. The referendum proposes to remove this four-year clause from the Constitution. The government has announced an intention to legislate a lesser time frame, but that will not be in the Constitution so will not form part of the Referendum question. Of course, any legislated time-frame can be amended or removed altogether by future governments.

Most Evangelical Christians, while seeing marriage as a lifelong commitment, recognise that occasionally marriages do break down irretrievably. Jesus Himself, in teaching against divorce, made an exception where adultery had occurred (Matt 5:32 & Matt 19:9). Also, no victim of domestic abuse should be expected to remain married to their abuser.

However, this is not to normalise or trivialise divorce. Jesus said that divorce existed because of the hardness in men’s hearts (Matt 19:8). So, even where provision for divorce exists, Christians should still see divorce as an abnormal collapse of something that should last for a lifetime. It takes hard work to make marriage a success, and divorce should never become an easy option for giving up and trying again. Entering into another lifelong covenant after divorce is a serious matter indeed, and should never be something that is entered into lightly or quickly.

Evangelical Christians have historically understood marriage to be a lifelong commitment and covenant where one man and one woman become one flesh in the sight of one God for the duration of one lifetime. Although civil marriage ignores the part about marriage being ‘in the sight of God’, Christians have generally understood that civil marriage is close enough to the Christian concept of marriage for us to assume that when society and churches speak about ‘marriage’ that we are talking about the same institution. So, for example, most churches readily accept a new couple into fellowship and treat them as married where their marriage was civil rather than religious.

Today we are in a process where authorities in many parts of the world, including the Irish government, are determined to redefine marriage into something very different from the Christian understanding. We understand that, in a secular society, civil marriage makes no reference to God. But now ‘marriage’ is deemed to be between any two individuals, regardless of gender. The proposed change to the Constitution removing any time-frame by which a marriage might be deemed as having irretrievably broken down is designed to further weaken the concept of marriage as a lifelong commitment. As a result, the only similarity between civil marriage in Ireland, and marriage as understood by most Christians, will be that (for now, at least) they are both ceremonies that involve two people.

It is particularly worrying that some of the debate around the proposed changes to the Constitution concerning divorce have included calls for legislation to permit prenuptial agreements. Such agreements, where a bride and groom have already decided who gets what when they get divorced, make a mockery of the ideal of marriage as a lifelong commitment,

In effect, the Irish government appears determined to reduce and redefine marriage to the status of a civil partnership. This poses serious questions for the future as to how churches act as agents of the State in solemnising marriages, and whether churches should continue to view civil marriage as ‘marriage’ in any meaningful sense of the word. Those are necessary discussions, but not ones that can be conducted in the short time frame before this imminent Referendum.

We should not deceive ourselves. Evangelical Christians have neither the numbers or influence to sway this Referendum one way or the other. So this should not be interpreted as a call to campaign against or to defeat the Referendum proposals. But we should all vote with our consciences in this Referendum, and in a way that supports the idea that marriage is wonderful, special, and much more than a legal contract or a civil partnership.

Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland

Call to Irish Government to Deny Hate Preacher Steven Anderson Entry to Ireland

PRESS RELEASE FROM EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE IRELAND

 

Executive Director: Nick Park

22/24 Foley Street, Dublin 1

nick@evangelical.ie

(087) 6597161

 

Thursday 9th May 2019

As Executive Director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland, I have consistently stood for freedom of speech for Christians and non-Christians alike. Nevertheless, society needs to be protected from the words and actions of those who, rather than expressing legitimate differences of opinion or unpopular viewpoints, choose to deliberately incite hatred and violence. It does not matter if such hatemongers are non-religious, Islamist extremists, or claim to be Christians.

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Steven Anderson has a track record of vitriolic attacks against many individuals and minority groups. His frequent antisemitism, his denial of the historical fact of the Holocaust, his statements that he prays every day for individuals to die, his use of slurs and insults while preaching, and his characterisation of the terrorist murder of 50 victims at an Orlando nightclub as ‘good news’ are anti-Christian. His message is a blasphemous perversion of the Gospel, and has nothing to do with the genuine Good News proclaimed in the growing numbers of Evangelical churches across Ireland.

Evangelical Alliance Ireland is currently engaging with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service to assist religious workers from overseas, many from the United States, who are in Ireland as peace-makers. These religious workers, who are doing their utmost to comply with immigration policies that are sometimes unclear and confusing, are motivated by love for all the people of Ireland, including those who do not share our faith or moral viewpoint. It would be a slap in the face for them if Ireland was to extend a welcome to a hate-preacher who has no other motives than self-publicity and a desire to troll the people of this nation.

This individual has already been denied entry to a number of nations including Canada, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the Schengen group of European nations. I am joining the many individuals and groups calling on the Irish government to deny Steven Anderson entry to Ireland.

 

Nick Park

Executive Director

Evangelical Alliance Ireland