We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.
During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:
Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.
What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.
This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.
The lead story on tonight’s news was that of Pastor Logan Robertson’s email reply to Jim Marjoram. Jim Marjoram is a homosexual man who recently wrote an autobiography detailing his former life as a “fundamentalist” Christian. He emailed a number of Auckland Churches about the book, and about the “Support Silent Gays” support group. Robertson’s reply is now world-famous in New Zealand: “I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy fag.” Read about it here.
Now, my cynical side (the side I usually listen to) says that when you send an email to churches advertising a book about your journey from “fundamentalism” to being openly gay, and advertising a gay support group, if you’re clever you send it to a few liberal churches who will offer supportive comments you can quote, and you pick the nuttiest you can find, so you can quote them. Either end of the spectrum is good for publicity, and that has certainly proven to be the case here. Send the book it to people who will react badly, and make sure everybody hears about it when they do. Works like a charm.
Still, what an overly nasty thing to say, you might be thinking. And you’d be right, of course! It beggars belief that the pastor of a Church whose website calls itself a “family-oriented” church would say this. And it makes one’s head explode to see that at that site, we are told that “Pastor Robertson has a love for the lost and our church has a vision of reaching the lost souls of Auckland.” A love for the lost! I doubt there would be much point in any of us, Christian or otherwise, trying to reason with a person who thinks this is a helpful way to reply to anybody. What’s more, there are enough people who already hold patently false views of how the church interacts with gay people, and this will only make that perception worse.
How does this happen? Continue reading “Loose Cannons for Christ”
Dear Charlie Hughes, the (former?) vicar of St Michael’s Anglican in Henderson…
You don’t know me, but I saw your story in the newspaper. You’re disappointed by the direction the Anglican Church has taken in announcing that it will establish a process by which those ministers who wish to do so may bless same-sex unions, without actually performing same-sex weddings. I’m disappointed by this development as well. You’re so disappointed that you’re leaving the Anglican Church, and pursuing ministry elsewhere.
Charlie, I really appreciate the difficult spot you were put in, and I totally understand your call to move on. You’re right, the Synod got this wrong (Anglicans are allowed to say that, and very often do) and is catering to a vocal minority, setting aside what is, let’s face it, pretty clear biblical teaching. In case there is any possibility that I might give you some pause (if it isn’t too late already), I’d like to make my pitch. Continue reading “Should Evangelical Ministers Respond with Fight or Flight?”