Thursday, December 23, 2004
Dr Flew at 81:
The pilgrimage of the World’s [former] leading philosophical Atheist
This morning, in my usual online reading, I found a most interesting report, so much so that I will break the series on Rebuilding Montserrat to cite and comment on some excerpts from the Baptist Press news article of Dec 22, 2004: “Atheist's turn toward God was a 4-year process, friend says” :
. . . in December 2004 the unexpected happened when [Dr Anthony] Flew [arguably the world’s leading – now, former -- philosophical atheist] took a step toward Christianity, announcing that scientific evidence led him to a belief in God . . . . [Dr Gary] Habermas [Head, Dept. of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, who has debated, befriended and corresponded with Dr Flew] . . . had known that Flew was reconsidering his position since the fall of 2000 when Flew sent Habermas a letter in which the atheist acknowledged the strength of arguments for theism and Christianity. "In September 2000, that's about the earliest indication that I had that he was changing . . . He wrote me a long letter, quite an incredible letter, where at several points he conceded the evidence for [theism and Christianity]." . . . . By January 2003 Flew began considering arguments from the "intelligent design" movement and was on the verge of belief in God . . . . "He told me he was really rethinking theism and had corresponded with [naturalistic scientist Richard] Dawkins and was putting the ID arguments up against what Dawkins was saying and trying to compare the arguments," Habermas said. "And he was going back and forth as to whether he should be a theist or not."By early 2004, Flew completed his transition to theism and indicated his change of mind to Habermas in a telephone conversation . . . . Flew currently holds a position known as deism -- the belief that god created the universe but is not actively involved in people's lives today . . . . a short-lived movement in the history of philosophy over the last few centuries," Habermas said. "One reason deism is a troubled position is that it usually moves one way or the other."Flew could revert back to atheism, Habermas noted. "Still, he has made a number of statements to me indicating that he is open, even to revelation," Habermas said."Three weeks ago I received a letter from him where he said that he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them,'" he said . . . . "He's told me on many occasions that he was impressed with the arguments for the resurrection ... and he says it's the best miracle claim in the history of religions," Habermas recounted. "So he's impressed with them . . . " [URL: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=19780 ]
Let us consider several highlights:
1] Flew was impressed by Intelligent Design -- which argues that the intricate fine-tuning of the cosmos and the highly structured ordered complexity of life at the molecular level show that the universe was most likely designed -- and Richard Dawkins [the leading evolutionary materialist biology advocate today] did not have a solid comeback.
2] Flew is open to revelation (and we can compare an earlier interview [ CF. www.biola.edu/philchristi ] in which he expresses the impression the Judaeo-Christian claim has made on him, but not the Islamic; and those are the three major live theistic options today).
3] Finally, Habermas reports: “"Three weeks ago I received a letter from him where he said that he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them . . . . He's told me on many occasions that he was impressed with the arguments for the resurrection ... and he says it's the best miracle claim in the history of religions . . . "
Remember, that is from the former leading philosophical atheist in the world, a man who has publicly stated that he knows there is no God because the very concept of God is incoherent [ cf. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Intro_phil/God.htm ]. In defense of his thinking, he was the author of such books as "Atheistic Humanism" and "Darwinian Evolution."
What a Christmas gift for 2004!
Thanks be to God.. So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . especially for Dr Flew. AMEN
Friday, December 17, 2004
Seventy vs. Eighty Percent
The headline for The Montserrat Reporter, December 3, 2004, reads: “Survey Reports 70% of MSS Girls Sexually Active.” Thus, the public has learned about a recent Ministry of Education survey in our Island’s lone secondary school, which indicates that seventy percent of students in the school are sexually active.
This number is a stark contrast to the 2001 Census, in which easily over eighty percent of respondents identify themselves with one Christian denomination or another. Since it is quite manifest that the Bible teaches us to “flee fornication . . . he that commits fornication sinneth against his own body” [1 Cor 6:18] and indeed counsels young men to treat “elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” [1 Tim 5:2], there is a huge gap between our profession as a community and our reported behaviour. And, in a world of AIDS and dozens of other sexually transmitted diseases, widespread promiscuity is obviously personally and socially destructive. So, we at once must ask ourselves whether we are serious about rebuilding Montserrat as a “healthy . . . God-fearing society.”
Why, then, is there such a huge gap between our profession and our practice?
The answer is not too hard to find: we all like to think of God as a benevolent Uncle in the sky, but when it comes to Jesus’ counsel that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” [Lk 9:23], we are not so eager to follow in the way of self-denial and discipleship.
This gap then bubbles up in our self-indulgent, manipulative and self-destructive sexual habits, leading to chaotic family patterns, and also general self-seeking behaviour in business, community and government, so that suspicion, exploitation and apathy replace trust, trustworthiness and cooperation in rebuilding our community. In short, absent a serious, godly reformation, our sinful lifestyles will continue to undermine and block our hopes for achieving a successfully and sustainably rebuilt nation.
Let us look again at Nehemiah’s community rebuilding strategy. In the face of similar frustration, oppression and chaos, he pulled together a critical mass to work on an obviously strategic project that was in the common interest: rebuilding the protective walls of Jerusalem. So, different groups got to work on different parts of the broken down wall, and in fifty-two days success was achieved. Then, a celebration of thanksgiving to God led by Ezra broke out in revival, repentance and reformation.
Since AIDS and related diseases are a manifestly dangerous common threat to our lives and community (and indeed the world), and since this is obviously tied to the need for a disciplined, focused life and solid family structures, family life renewal and a shift to wholesome sexuality are one of the sections of Montserrat’s “broken-down wall” that we need to rebuild. Thus, the Ministry of Education and the Red Cross Peer Educators are plainly on target in seeking to address AIDS and related concerns, and the churches should also be in the forefront of the fight to rebuild this strategic section of our nation’s protective walls. ( Here, it is worth a note to point out that the Brades Pentecostal church hall was used for the Red Cross AIDS day rally that provided the platform for Ms Sylecia Allen’s bombshell announcement.)
But, how can we – as a self-confessedly God-fearing nation -- soundly rebuild this section of our broken down walls? For that, Mrs Rebecca Hagelin of the Heritage Foundation, USA has some sobering words:
“10 scientific evaluations (four of them peer-reviewed) have found abstinence[-based sex education] programs effective both at reducing teen pregnancy and at reducing sexually transmitted diseases . . . They "also can provide the foundation for personal responsibility and enduring marital commitment" . . . Therefore, they are vitally important to efforts aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing among young adult women, improving child well-being, and increasing adult happiness over the long term . . . the [US Government] funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health shows . . . . "Adolescents who take a virginity pledge have substantially lower levels of sexual activity and better life outcomes when compared with similar adolescents who do not make such a pledge," the report says. "In addition . . . teen pledgers who do become sexually active are not less likely to use contraception." Plus . . . [Hagelin notes] if condoms were effective at reducing STDs [under real-world conditions], then, as condom use goes up, STDs should go down. But they've grown right along with condom use . . . . rates of depression and suicide are higher among teens who are sexually active. We know sexually active kids are more likely to drink, smoke and use drugs. And we know – as parents, educators and members of the community – that kids strive to meet the expectations we set for them.” [“Selling a Dangerous Lie,” WND Dec 17, 2004, http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=41979 ]
These are sobering words, indeed; but they also highlight the positive health and community implications of the approach to sexuality and family life that the Bible has long taught us: chastity, fidelity and careful nurture of our children in the fear of God, in light of his Word. So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . and, through God’s leading, let’s act! AMEN
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Moving Towards a Breakthrough Strategy
“Critical mass” is the key practical concept in nuclear physics: for, when just enough Uranium-235 (or another nuclear material) is brought together in just the right configuration, a self-starting, self-sustaining reaction begins. To keep it from running away to meltdown or even an explosion, moderators are inserted into the mass, so that the process can be precisely controlled. Then, the heat and radiation given off can safely be put to good use.
Similarly, if we the people of Montserrat and the wider Caribbean are to shift to a more spontaneous, more sustainable path for national rebuilding and development, we must create and manage a critical mass to energise and sustain our own breakthrough strategy. Nehemiah (God’s re-builder, who triggered the renewal and reformation – and eventually the liberation -- of Israel after their Babylonian exile) shows us how:
--> Learning of the plight of God's people (due to the broken down walls of Jerusalem), he was concerned. So he prayed then tactfully approached a key powerbroker, one who literally trusted him with his life – for, he was the king’s cupbearer. Thus, Nehemiah obtained authorization, stable backing and necessary resources before possible opponents could mobilize to undermine or block the rebuilding effort. [Ch 1.]
--> On going to Jerusalem, he quietly surveyed the scene then called the people and their leaders together in a solemn assembly, giving them hope and a vision of the way forward. Together, they solemnly agreed to rebuild the broken-down walls. [Ch 2.]
--> He then organised the project, delegating manageable tasks to specific groups and their leaders. [Ch 3.]
--> As the project went on, challenges, opposition, threats, slanders and crises arose; but Nehemiah could safely stand on his strengths and so he handled the crises, slanders and threats firmly -- while making sure he was not distracted from the main task in hand. [Chs 4 - 6.]
--> When the wall rebuilding project was finished -- very quickly: in 52 days! -- time was set apart for celebration and worship, with the help of Ezra, a recognised and respected spiritual leader. Revival broke out. [Ch 6:15 - 7:5, 8:1- 11, & 8:13 - 9:38.]
--> The project and initial wave of revival then triggered powerful waves of national renewal, empowerment, reformation, transformation and liberation that continued for centuries. [Chs 8 - 13.]
Clearly, Nehemiah’s critical mass for breakthrough included godly leadership, sincere penitence and prayer, an achievable but challenging vision, stable backing, authorization and resources, plus the support of a broad mass of the now hopeful people. Some of these elements were quietly gathered beforehand, thus anticipating and out-maneuvering the likely opponents. But equally, there also had to be a public coming together of the people of God and their leaders to consider their situation, then to hear and catch a vision of the way forward, building a stable consensus and commitment to a clear strategic focus: let us arise and build! This focus triggered organization, mobilisation and sustained effort that was rapidly crowned with success. Thanksgiving under God then led to revival, thence reformation and transformation.
Here in Montserrat, many of the challenges we face: the ongoing volcanic crisis, the loss of much of our territory and infrastructure, de-population, fear, apathy and denial of painful reality, lack of consensus and vision, breakdown of morals, a “business as [nearly] usual” mentality, economic slowdown, etc., are astonishingly parallel to those faced by Nehemiah. So, it is logical that we should take a leaf or two out of Nehemiah’s book:
1] Godly, concerned people with access to key resources, skills and backers need to begin to pray together and seek God’s wisdom for the way forward for our community and the wider region. (I believe this is already happening, as God stirs the hearts of many latter-day Nehemiahs with a new vision.)
2] Once such a group of concerned godly people has begun to form a consensus vision and so become aware of strengths and opportunities, it is time to develop initial ideas for action, and to seek support from key potential backers.
3] Once backing has been secured, a more thorough investigation and some planning can then lead to calling together a solemn assembly of concerned, God-fearing people across the community, first of all for repentance and seeking the guidance of God, then as a forum on the future, towards making the decision to act together on one or more breakthrough projects.
4] Once such a consensus emerges, a viable critical mass exists to initiate a sustainable, strategically focused programme of action. To coordinate that action, it would be wise to create (1) an oversight/steering committee with the support of both (2) project teams and (3) an oversight body selected by the forum.
5] Then, through the recognised success of the initial cluster of projects, and through lessons learned, capacity and momentum for onward initiatives will emerge. This lays a foundation for further waves of transformation under God.
Such a strategy seems both feasible and desirable. So, if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who? So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . and, through God’s leading, let’s act! AMEN
Friday, December 03, 2004
The Rebuilding of Montserrat, 1:
Over the past month, Montserrat has gone through some truly heavy, and sustained rains -- in fact, the Geralds Heliport rain gauge measured over 12” of rains for November. As a result, some houses have suffered significant damage, two tourists were almost swept out to sea in a flash flood, and several other worrying trends have come to light:
Relocated Geralds residents had their new houses flooded, damaging not only the houses but also their possessions.
At the Port in Little Bay, a culvert under a bridge became blocked as debris washing down the ghauts in the watershed blocked the flow of water. Then, the waters surged over the bridge, floating off two cars. Several Port workers had to be lifted over the waters in the bucket of a backhoe.
Twice within a week, the Belham river valley suddenly flooded, trapping vehicles and their occupants in the act of fording over the now volcanic mudflow-filled stream-bed. In the second case, two tourists were nearly washed away in the raging waters and had to be rescued by a local hero known as “William” – who should get a medal.
Media reports say that when the Little Bay bridge was being built, local opinions about extreme weather events were ignored by the overseas-based engineers. (It is, however, material to note that the flooding started when culverts were blocked by debris, perhaps due to the bad habit of dumping refuse in the ghauts upstream.)
Similarly, in the first Belham valley flood, there had been no advance warning on ZJB, which provides the designated alert service for those who drive south into the volcano ravaged zone.
In the second instance, media reports indicated that the weather seemed to be fine, and there were no obvious signs of rain in the mountains that could trigger a flash flood or mud flow.
Last, but not least, it seems that the weekly series of volcano reports on ZJB Radio has now been brought to an end. This means that the public will not be able to track the still active volcano’s behaviour for themselves, and so form their own informed judgements. (This is happening at precisely the time when there is an emerging movement to resettle the evacuated area south of the Belham!)
Let’s connect some dots.
For, such events and trends are telling us that our “business as [nearly] usual” approach is not working, especially as it relates to the Belham valley and the adjacent zone on its south bank. (Indeed, some of us are unaware that, reportedly, many vehicle Insurance policies have a specific exception: damage in the Belham valley is “at your own risk.”)
There is a current proposal to build a Bailey Bridge over the Belham, a bit away from the current passing point. Then, it is hoped to elevate it as necessary to make up for the mud flows now gradually filling up the valley. But, what would happen in the event that the debris field at the head of the Belham were to massively avalanche into the valley? What would be the impact of such -- hopefully, unlikely! --events on the prospective resettled zone between the river and Plymouth? What of the long-standing proposal to mine the volcanic the deposits in that valley, for use in construction related industries?
Such questions are not mere alarmism. For, basic prudence tells us to think through the match between our redevelopment efforts and our environment’s possible trends. [For instance, a “100-year storm” means one that, based on past trends, has one chance in a hundred of occurring in any given year. Negligibly low? Actually not: if we build a wall that is too weak to stand such a storm, over a twenty year period that structure has better than one chance in six of being hit by such a “100 year storm”! (To see what that means, think about throwing a die. The chance that, over 20 years, our wall will be hit by a storm stronger than it is designed for is a little higher than that of rolling a six. Is that an “acceptable risk”?)
In short, the events of November are a wake-up call.
So, let us again come together as a community to consider carefully our environment and its trends, opportunities and threats: bio-physical, socio-cultural, economic. Then, in light of our findings, let us soberly reassess our community’s resources, hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses as they impact our current re-building initiatives in the North, in the Salem region, and south of the Belham. On the current, “[near] business as usual” path, what is the range of significant possible good/bad outcomes over the next five, ten, or twenty years? Are the associated risks and possible losses acceptable, given our opportunities and likely benefits? If not, what are some more sustainable alternatives, and where would they most likely lead us under good/bad environmental scenarios?
Perhaps, the logical way to think these things through and reach a sustainable consensus would be for us to have an annual, public National Forum on the Future, through the churches, chamber of commerce and industry, NDF and other community based organizations, along with the Government. Does that make sense? Why/why not? AMEN
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Contending for the Truth?
The Passion of the Christ takes the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sufferings, trials, death and resurrection seriously, in the teeth of a wave of media-driven opinion that often doubts the Gospels, and even Jesus’ existence as a historical figure. But, this skepticism simply reflects the heavily publicized but highly dubious ideas of a tiny number of radical scholars.
For, as Canadian Scholar Craig Evans aptly noted just last week, during the 2004 University of Calgary Annual Bental Public Lecture, "If you bracket off the Jesus Seminar -- and they grab all the headlines -- the work of the last 30 years has given us much greater confidence that the gospels can yield a coherent, historically accurate portrait of Jesus . . . . The trend -- from archeology, new literary discoveries and reassessing the cultural context -- is to see the gospel as essentially reliable. Our understanding of Jesus is more nuanced, more Jewish and more unpredictable." So, we should confidently heed Jude’s bold challenge: “I . . . urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” [Jude v. 3.]
Similarly, Peter encourages us to “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” noting that he and the other Apostles “did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord . . . we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” [1 Pt 3:15b, 2 Pt 1:16.] Paul not only reports that testimony, but also cautions us that we live and serve God in a world that is full of misleading arguments and false systems of thought and life that try to block people from knowing him:
what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. [1 Cor 15:3 – 6, written ~ AD 55. He would have “received” it ~ AD 32 - 35.]]
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish [deceptive] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. [2 Cor 10:4 – 5, cf. Col 2:3.]
However, this is a day when “drawing lines” between the true and the false -- or even good and evil -- quite often seems rude or even offensive. How, then, should we “earnestly contend for the faith” in our time?
1] With the fearless force of right reason and solid facts, but with gentle, polite respect: As Peter counsels, we are to “give the reason for the hope that [we] have . . . with gentleness and respect.” This is always a work in progress, as it is all too easy to be caught up in the heat of the moment. [NB: cf. James 3:1 – 18, esp. vv 1 - 2.]
2] By marking the distinction between mere rhetoric and right reason. For, as Aristotle pointed out, our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are very different from those made when we are pained and hostile.
Thus, we should recognise that how we may feel about a matter is often simply irrelevant to whether it is true or false, sound or misleading. Similarly, no authority is better than his or her facts and logic. It is only when claimed facts are true, fairly represent the truth, and are tied to correct reasoning, that an argument becomes sound.
But, many now demand the right to select or even make up “facts” to suit their wishes; often refusing to accept otherwise credible reports that do not suit their fancy. There is a name for such selective skepticism: intellectual hypocrisy. (NB: By sharp contrast, when Paul was on trial before Agrippa in AD 60, he boldly said: “the king is familiar with [the now fulfilled OT prophecies that the Christ “would suffer and as the first to rise from the dead would proclaim light to his own people and the Gentiles”] . . . none of this has escaped his attention, because it was not done in a corner.” [Ac 26:19 - 26.])
Similarly, those who rage that Christians are trying to “impose” their “backward” values on progressive communities, actually appeal to the sense of fairness that is central to biblical morality: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” [Matt 7:12.] Why, then, do such people so often oppose moral reasoning that simply uses fairness as a yardstick to guide us on specific decisions? [For instance, Christians object to making gambling into a key plank of Montserrat’s national economic policy, because it would try to build up our riches by harming and exploiting other people. That en’t fair!]
Finally, our thinking is heavily influenced by the media and educators. But, when we hear or read news or information presented as “knowledge,” do we ask if it give a true, fair, balanced, charitable view of issues, facts, claims, people and alternatives? (For instance, many of the recent news reports on Flores Island man failed to acknowledge that the claimed discovery of a new species of man is hotly disputed among the Scientists! How much more should we regard skeptically those who would assure us – in the teeth of the recorded testimony of over 500 eyewitnesses -- that Jesus is a myth!)
In short, let’s first get the credible material facts into play, let us treat people and their opinions with proper respect, and then let us fearlessly see where the logic of the gospel facts leads us: to the foot of the cross, and to a certain empty tomb that first ever Easter Sunday. So now, let’s talk . . . AMEN
Thursday, October 28, 2004
AS we continue to look at The Passion of the Christ, it is clear that we must address several burning questions, first of all: is Jesus just a fairy tale? For instance, a 1998 survey, of Britons of ages 18 to 24 years, revealed an astonishing gap in what many of us think we know about Christ: for, half of the people surveyed have been led to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was not a real historical person!
But, in fact, this sad statistic simply reveals the impact of persistent attempts by many opinion leaders, media houses and educators to reduce our Lord to little more than a Santa Claus figure. Worse, the statistic also reflect badly on the competence of those who lead and staff these key social institutions. For, if those who have just completed sixth form, or even a first degree in today’s TV-saturated, Internet-age UK have been largely deceived about the following easily established historical facts about Jesus, just what else is being twisted, manipulated, suppressed or even censored?
“Easily established historical facts . . . ?” Indeed:
? First and foremost, Jesus is the subject of no less than four biographies written by his contemporaries well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses: the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. By 95 – 110 AD, these biographies were being cited by knowledgeable people, such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius. And, while these biographies, strictly speaking, are anonymous, it is equally clear that there is a 100% consensus of the early church’s leaders that they were in fact written by: Matthew, Mark (summarizing Peter’s testimony), Luke (long since shown to be a habitually accurate historian), and John – who was known by Polycarp and Ignatius.
? Second, the greatest Roman historian of the era, Cornelius Tacitus, in his Annals, sums up how the infamous Nero tried to divert suspicion that he had set the AD 64 fire in Rome: “he . . . inflicted the most cruel tortures upon a group of people detested for their abominations, and popularly known as ‘Christians.’ Their name came from one Christus, who was put to death in the principate of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Though checked for a time, the destructive superstition broke out again, not in Judaea only . . . but even in Rome.” Gaius Suetonius, in remarking on Nero, affirms that “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a body of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition.”
? And, just what was the nature of such ‘mischievous’ ‘abominations’? Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan in 110 AD, concerning his trials and tortures to extract confessions from Christians: “. . . they all declared that the sum of their guilt or error amounted only to this, that on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn . . . to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed. After the conclusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food; but it was ordinary and harmless food [i.e. the Eucharist of bread and wine, not cannibalism! And certainly not to indulge in incestuous orgies -- an equally vicious and just as widely believed rumour. (Thousands of Christians died unjustly because of these vicious, widely believed lies.)] . . .”
? Similarly, Josephus, the C1 Jewish historian, also refers to Jesus in two passages, the shorter indicating that “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ – James by name [i.e. leader of the Jerusalem church in 62 AD] – and some others” were put to death by the Sanhedrin in the gap between Festus’ Governorship and that of his successor. The longer but somewhat disputed passage at minimum affirms that Jesus was reputed to be a wonder-worker and was crucified under Pilate.
For any other figure, that would be more than enough to secure his place as a real person in history. But, Jesus’ life story cuts across the dominant anti-God superstitions of our age: for as Peter said in Acts 10, he was a miracle-working Messiah anointed by God to destroy the works of the Devil. Worse, the official (and, sadly, martyr’s blood-sealed) testimony of the church – traceable to ~ 35 AD – is: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” [1 Cor 15:3 – 6.] And, for 2,000 years now, that testimony has been backed up by the continued life-transforming, miracle-working power of the gospel in millions of lives, including the members of this panel. So, sadly, the truth is being trimmed – that is, censored -- to fit what many in our age want to believe.
But, that is not all that we should consider. For, if the educational and media leaders of our own age are so frightened of or hostile to the above cited records and testimony that they have suppressed the facts and have then boldly lied or subtly implied that Jesus was simply a legendary figure, is that not a stunning indictment? Moreover, if this has demonstrably happened on an issue so supremely and eternally important, about what else are the educational authorities and media elites distorting the truth? Clearly, these are troubling issues that we should soberly discuss. So now, let’s talk . . . AMEN
Thursday, October 07, 2004
How the Gospel can help us Re-build Montserrat as a Wholesome Community
C urrently, Let’s Talk is collaborating with Bro Ed Gough and church leaders across our community to promote a festival of Gospel Films, most notably The Passion of the Christ, but also The Hope and The Jesus Film – this last being the most widely seen film in history, now celebrating its 25th Anniversary. However, some wonder: isn’t that religious emphasis a distraction from the main theme of Let’s Talk, i.e. the Montserrat Sustainable Redevelopment Vision?
Last week, we gave a direct answer: The Passion is in part a cautionary tale about how toxic politics opens the doorway to horrible injustice – and as such it will always be relevant as long as the sad saying: “power tends to corrupt” remains true. But, a broader answer is also required, as it now seems strange, offensive or even crazy to many people that traditional Bible-believing “religion” can be seen as a positive force for liberation and development. For, many have been so influenced by (1) secularist thinking and (2) the bad examples of some believers, that Christians too often seem to be simply hypocritical bigots who want to terrorise the wider community by imposing their “outdated prejudices.”
If this were so, we should change our Vision Statement; replacing it with one that rejects the idea of rebuilding Montserrat as a GOD FEARING society. In turn, we would follow the many in the North who enshrine “separation of church and state,” in the modern sense — aptly called “the Atheist’s veto”: keeping God, religiously based moral influences and godliness out of community life, public discussion of issues, and policy-making. But, in fact, truly effective community moral codes have always been religiously rooted. So, now, let us consider a few material (but easily overlooked) facts:
1. While -- sadly – there have been many over the centuries who twisted the Gospel and so have horribly abused the Christian faith to support oppression, it is equally true that ever since the Bible was first put in the hands of the common man 500 years ago, Bible-inspired people have been in the forefront of liberation and true enlightenment. For, many Christians have been leaders (and even, sometimes, martyrs) in the struggles for: freedom of conscience, democratic self-government, the ending of the slave trade and slavery, child labour reform, the rights of the worker, the emancipation of women [e.g. Charles G Finney], ending racism [e.g. Martin Luther King], and more.
2. This is because the first step to positive transformation is repentance. In Paul’s words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11.]
3. Such personal transformation then flows out to the wider community, for, as Paul adds: “the commandments are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Rom 13:9 – 10, cf. Matt 7:12 & Lev. 19:15 – 18.] In short, true love has a moral cutting edge: Godly agape-love is that heart-felt force which values and so helps (rather than harms) its neighbours.
4. Nor can we brush these points aside with sarcastic rhetoric about “silly quotations from a backward, dubious, pre-scientific book.” For, it has long been a well-established (but often overlooked) fact of life that the movements that most consistently help people escape self- and socially- destructive, sinful lifestyles are based on the commitment to God and to the love-based godliness that the Gospel calls for. Often, nothing else works.
5. For instance, this Sunday on ZJB, we heard the 2,801st Unshackled radio testimony programme: a show that, for many years, has told how the Gospel changes families and communities one life at a time; just as we may read month by month in the most widely circulated regional magazine: Caribbean Challenge. The Salvation Army has been a global success story, based on this same Gospel principle. The world-renowned Teen Challenge ministry breaks drug addiction through Christian discipleship. Scouting is rooted in godliness and morality. The thousands-strong Exodus ex-homosexual movement (which the so-called mainstream media seem determined to shut out of public discussion!) is based on moral change through commitment to God. Even the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step addiction recovery programme is based on acknowledging “a Higher Power,” AKA God. So strong is this pattern that the United States Government has recently had to reverse its secularism-driven policy and re-fund “faith-based initiatives.”
But, of course, it is never good enough to point out that the Gospel is merely helpful: the key issue is whether it is true – and for that, we have five hundred eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and the Gospel’s continued, miracle-working, life-transforming power right down to today. Thus, we can easily see that the Gospel message (of which the passion story is the core) is solidly established, sound, effective, powerfully transforming truth. So, while we should -- and do in fact! -- respect the fact that people who disagree with the Gospel have rights to freedom of thought, expression and conscience; wisdom is to re-build and develop our community on sound, life- and community- transforming truth: in one word, the Gospel. For, “[e]xcept the LORD builds the house, its workmen labour in vain . . .” [Ps. 127:1a.] So, now, let’s talk . . . AMEN
Friday, October 01, 2004
Just before we went on air last Wenesday, Sept. 22nd, Let’s Talk’s hosts previewed Mel Gibson’s powerful and painful, but controversial record-setting blockbuster movie, The Passion of the Christ.
For me, three easily overlooked moments capture much of the essence of the movie: (1) a fellow prisoner calling Jesus a fool for prayerfully embracing his cross in humble submission to the Father; (2) the sadly comical picture of a heavily made up, half-mad Herod having his long-haired wig put on just before he goes out to examine and dismiss Jesus as an idiot; (3) Mel Gibson, blue eyes shining into the camera, acting as one of the Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross:
I. The paradox of atonement: As the Apostle Paul long ago warned, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Cor 1:18.] In our day, many want to believe that sin is a minor -- or even a mythical -- problem, so (a) they refuse to recognise the justice of God’s holy wrath against sin, and (b) find it hard to accept that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in [the crucified and risen] Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 6:23.] But in fact, through the cross God shows himself both “just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus” [Rom 3:26]; for, in Christ God himself [Col 1:15 – 20, Phil 2:5 – 11 (cf. Isa 45:18 – 23!) & Heb 1:1 – 4] bears the eternal penalty for our sins, so that those who look in repentance and trust to that cross may there find grace: mercy, cleansing, and reconciliation with our heavenly Father (i.e. eternal life, cf. Jn 17:3). Then, in triumphant proof of this strangest of all spiritual truths, Christ Jesus “through the Spirit was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” [Rom 1:4, cf. 1 Cor 15:1 – 11; also see Jn 5:16 – 30 (esp. 16 – 24) & 8:42 – 59 on just what “Son of God” means.]
II. The sad pretence of power: The picture of ruthless and cowardly rulers putting up a false front to impress others while failing to be concerned with truth and justice, joined by howling mobs madly barking for Jesus’ blood, and leading to the callous brutality of the soldiers who gleefully carried out the unjust order to put an innocent man to a horrible death is one of the saddest parts of the passion week story. For, it lays bare the shabbiness of political scheming, exposes how easily mob-rage overwhelms justice, and shows how we too often shrug our shoulders and “just do our job” – thus making, supporting and carrying out unrighteous decrees. So powerful is this point, that some have said that the film is an attack on Jews, but in fact it is just plain too big for that; instead it is the shabby hypocritical injustice and cowardice of all of humanity that are on all too public display. (Indeed, if we were to sit down together as a Caribbean family and carefully reflect through the eyes of this film on just where our own fast-spreading hypocritical corruption, greed, slanders, prejudice and injustice are heading, it would be an important step toward God-blessed repentance and community reformation.)
III. The power of penitence: Gibson’s appearance as a Roman soldier at the cross is a direct echo of Rembrandt’s famous painting in which that great Dutch painter appears, blue beret and all, as one of the execution squad. Thus, for the whole world to see, Mel is confessing that he too, by his own sins, has helped nail Jesus on the cross. But, in fact, no clenched-over nails ever had the power to hold him there; it was love for us and submission to the Father’s will that we be redeemed by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God that kept him on that cross, in the teeth of the mocking taunt: if you are the Christ, come down. And so, we read:
“. . . Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [Jn 3:14 – 17.]
In the end, then, the Passion of the Christ is a love story: that of the God who reaches out to undeserving, ungrateful, rebellious wretches who ever so often gleefully resort to injustice and hypocrisy if there is an advantage in it. In short: US. Just one question therefore remains: how will we respond to that ever so painfully given love?
So, now, lets talk . . .
Friday, September 24, 2004
Ever since September 1997, three months after the deadly volcanic eruptions of June 25 1997, Montserrat has had an official vision statement, one that acknowledges that we face the challenge of rebuilding our nation, and it also implies that we have to think, decide and act based on our community’s fundamental views and values:
The rebuilding of a healthy and wholesome Montserrat, founded upon a thriving modern economy with a friendly, vibrant community in which all of our people through enterprise and initiative can fulfil their hopes in a truly democratic and God fearing society.
So, when our community leaders sat down together seven years ago to think carefully about our common future, the consensus that emerged was that we want to build a healthy, wholesome, friendly, enterprise-driven, truly democratic and God-fearing society. However, now that we are considering concrete development proposals, we are facing issues and conflicts that are tied to the current three-way global clash on the future:
I. Those who are influenced by secularism – i.e. “practical” atheism -- and other anti-Christian trends from North America and Europe assume that the most dangerous threat to our liberty and progress is: traditional, so-called “fundamentalist” Christians. So, now that Bible-believing Christians in Montserrat have objected to the proposed gambling act, some feel that Christians are attempting to undermine the “freedom” for people to do whatever they want to do, and are also blocking the road to economic progress. (Sadly, they are blind to the moral, social and economic responsibilities that are the basis for liberty – and to the chaos that grows from gambling.)
II. Islamists view the West (including the Caribbean) as decadent enemies of Allah. Advocates for Islam also sometimes accuse traditional Christians of being foolish idolaters who have allowed the upstart apostle Paul to distort the true teachings of Jesus and his disciples. (But, in fact, the ~ AD 49 Apostolic council described in Ac 15:1 – 28 agrees with Gal 1:15 – 24 that “the man who formerly persecuted [Jesus’ disciples] is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” Cf. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/PAUL_AND_CHRIST.htm .)
III. Christian revival and reformation have been reshaping the South of our planet over the past 200 years as millions in Latin America, Africa and Asia have turned to Jesus. So, souls have been saved, and lives, families and societies have been blessed and transformed in light of love: first to God, and then to our neighbours.
Clearly, these three alternatives have drastically different and conflicting core beliefs about God, ourselves, the world and our moral duties. How, then, should we decide which is best? And, given that different people think different options are better, how can we form a workable compromise so we can come together to rebuild our community?
Obviously, we must decide democratically – the majority should rule, but we must respect the rights of minorities that disagree. However, when popular feelings are based on ignorance or misinformation, community decisions often go tragically wrong. So, if we are to consistently decide wisely, we need to have free, informed, fearless public discussions based on well-established facts and sound reasoning, rather than on lies, misleading sweet-talk, high feelings, fear, greed or blind loyalties. But also, whenever we deal with basic questions that touch on God and morality, every major alternative is built on core beliefs that we simply cannot prove beyond dispute. So wise people and communities compare the alternatives and their difficulties, then choose the “best”; recognising and respecting the fact that other people will come to a different decision.
So, since our community’s God-fearing Christian values are now being publicly challenged, we will need to “give an answer . . . [for] the reason for the hope that [we] have.” [1 Pet. 3:15.] The best start-line for that is the words of the Apostle Paul, as he spoke to the C1 leaders of Athens:
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth . . . From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. `For in him we live and move and have our being.' . . . . now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." [Ac 17:24 – 31.]
So, in the end, our choice is whether or not we are willing to accept the testimony of the over five hundred eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Christ [1 Cor 15:1 – 11], a testimony that was cheerfully kept up even in the teeth of torture and execution. Further, while there have been many sad evils done by wicked and misguided people in the name of Christianity, it is also undeniable that once the Word of God was freely available to the people, the gospel has consistently been in the forefront of the waves of liberation and godly reformation that have transformed and blessed the world over the past five centuries. For, “except the LORD builds the house, its workmen labour but in vain.” [Ps 127:1a.] AMEN.
Monday, September 13, 2004
GEM 04:09:12 [Ivan: Gilbert + 16]
Rev. Jesse Jackson once said that if you were walking through a rough part of town on a dark night, and you suddenly saw four strapping young men coming your way, you would be very, very relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study. In short, being heavenly minded is one motivation for doing much earthly good!
For, lived out gospel principles have a definite and obvious impact on personal behaviour, and as a result truly godly people often have a definite positive impact on the community at large.
The biblical explanation for this pattern is that: (1) souls are saved and filled with the Spirit of God through the atonement in Christ’s blood (what the Passion of the Christ is about); (2) people are discipled through the teaching and corporate life of the church; and, (3) their lives, families, communities and associated institutions are reformed and positively transformed as a result. For, communities and their institutions do not have souls; so, it can only be through spiritually transformed – i.e. “born again” -- people who are motivated, envisioned and equipped by God that the church can work to bring enduring blessings to the nations. As Paul puts it: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph. 2:8 – 10, cf. 4:9 – 29 & Titus 2:11 - 14.]
Indeed, history records that in the barbarous Dark Ages the people were systematically kept from having the Bible in their own language. But the sacrifices of martyrs such as Tyndale -- betrayed and burned at the stake in 1536 for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English -- unleashed the Spirit-driven reviving force of the gospel by putting the Bible and its message in the hands of the people. This led to centuries of reformation and liberation, as otherwise ordinary people stood up for conscience, for freedom, and to end age-old social injustices: tyrannical government and wars of conquest; colonialism and slavery; child labour; barbaric prison conditions; the oppression of women and racial groups; and more.
Here in the Caribbean, Colonialism, racism and slavery (that once universal curse) indeed came to us at the hands of “christianised” Europeans. However, the church of 1492 was a church that had long fallen far short of the gospel mark, and was only then about to be confronted by the call to reformation in light of the unfettered gospel and Scriptures. Then, as modern democracy emerged over the next several centuries, based on the declaration that it is self-evidently true that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, age-old abuses gradually and in turn came under the moral microscope and were found wanting. So, in the course of time, it was “dissenting” – that is, evangelical -- Christians who saw that something was deeply wrong with slavery in the New World and began to call for the end of the slave trade, then slavery itself, leading to a long and bitter conflict.
But, why “gradually”? Why, sometimes, “centuries”?
It is tempting to expect and demand that the flaws in communities and cultures should all be seen and perfectly corrected at once. However, that requires revolution rather than reformation: such a sudden, across the board change leaves no time or room for people to change their thinking. So, objectors to the demands of revolutionaries are instead swept away, often to the forced labour extermination camp or to the execution-place. Thus, it is no surprise to see that the history of revolutions – starting with the French Revolution, the prototype for such radical revolutions -- is by and large a sad one: they almost always end in bloody reigns of terror and ruthless dictatorships.
For, it takes time to think, discuss questions and create a critical mass of support for social change. It also takes time to find and fix the bugs in proposals for such change – and the white heat of revolutionary rage is not the best mood for successfully carrying out the required debugging. (Observe: it was only on the second attempt that the American Revolution narrowly managed to work out an effective – as opposed to perfect -- governing structure in 1787, and it would take a massively bloody civil war in the 1860’s to resolve a key remaining issue: slavery.)
In short, history teaches us a vital lesson, one written in rivers of blood: gradual reformation is as a rule safer, sounder and more successful than radical revolution. But, for a much needed reformation to happen here in our region, courageous reformers must be prepared to stand up and ask hard questions that many powerful (and perhaps corrupt or even ruthless) people will not want to hear. So, the basic rights of such reformers need to be protected by law: freedom of conscience, of association, of expression, of the press, etc. And that brings us back to our need to respect and uphold the ideals in the Montserrat Vision statement: “a truly democratic, God fearing society.”
Therefore, let us now repent, especially from blindly following those who try to lead by deceptive rhetoric, slander and intimidation. Then, let us confess that we have too often allowed fear to silence our consciences (and indeed sometimes: even our pulpits). After that, let us turn again to fulfilling the urgent task and call of the church in the Caribbean and world: saving souls, transforming lives and reforming and blessing communities as we build our nations under God.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Recently, in the Let’s Talk session on Godliness, Morality and Law, Bro Ed Gough made a remark that touched a raw nerve: morality will keep you out of jail, but not out of hell. This has prompted several calls, and much discussion, more or less on: How will God judge sincere and moral Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sun-worshippers,-- or even “Christians”-- etc.? [That is: Aren’t they “ saved”?]
This question is not a simple one, and a full theological and philosophical answer would need a big book. But, since it goes to the heart of why the gospel of Jesus the Christ of God is good news for the whole world, we need to highlight the key issues and summarise what a responsible, biblical, balanced Christian answer looks like. So, let us now consider:
1. The post-modern context: many people today believe that “the unpardonable sin” is to think or say that sincere people who hold different opinions can be well-intentioned, but sadly wrong. However, just consider the claim: “error exists.” If one tries to reject it, s/he would in effect say: it is an error to think that error exists. That is, “error exists” is undeniably true. So, since error exists, truth obviously exists; even though we may be mistaken about it. Let us therefore seek and serve the truth, wherever it leads. (NB: Jesus warns us that “Light has come . . . but men loved darkness . . . because their deeds are evil . . . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen that what he has done has been done through God.” [Jn. 3:19 - 21.])
2. The Fact of Diversity: There have always been a great many religious traditions, but these are based on worldviews that are so sharply diverse that they cannot all be correct. For instance, the C1 NT asserts that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God suffered and died on a cross as Redeemer; the C7 Quran – without historical evidence – (1) baldly asserts that Jesus was not crucified, (2) infers that Christians are idolaters who “promoted” the merely human prophet Jesus and his mother Mary as companion “gods” alongside Allah, and (3) implies that church leaders deliberately corrupted the text and message of the Bible. Zen Buddhism is non-theistic, and aims to give us meditative techniques and disciplines that quieten our inner lives, rather than addressing sin and the consequent conflicts with God and one another as the roots of inner turmoil and outer chaos. Hinduism ranges from polytheistic worship at the folk level to pantheistic, idealistic monism at the philosophical level. Atheists assert that they know enough to know there is no God – even though it is logically impossible for a finite, fallible mind to prove [such] a universal negative claim. All may be wrong, but all cannot be right – the contradictions are far too deep for that.
3. The Myth of the “Moral” Man: Morality deals with the world of creatures who are free to choose and act in light of good and evil, right and wrong. And, conscience within points, like a compass-needle, to our holy, just, loving Creator, who has a public standard of morality for the world: the Man he revealed to all men by raising him from the dead. [Ac 17:16 – 34, cf. Rom 1:16 – 32 & 1 Cor 15:1 – 20.] But, we ALL struggle when it comes to right and wrong – Christian or Atheist, Muslim or Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount [Mt 5 – 7] we find in it not only wonderful inspiration but also, sadly, a stunning indictment of our deceitful, desperately wicked hearts [Jer 17:5 – 18]. In short, there are no truly moral people, just struggling sinners.
4. Light, Darkness and Judgement: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is your darkness.” [Matt 6:22 – 23, cf. Eph 4:17 - 19.] In short, we can be deceived: thinking we are “enlightened” but in fact we have only been “en-darkened.” Also, even though God will not punish us for mere ignorance, if he judges us by the light we do have [Rom 2:1 – 16], in fact we too often reject what we know is true and right (but difficult) [2:6 - 11]. For, instead, we willfully cling to what is false and wrong, but enticing [3:9 - 23]. Then, we point an accusing finger at others [2:1 – 3]. So, if God were to judge us by the moral standards we set for other people when we quarrel, our self-serving hypocrisy would shame and silence us!
That is why Paul concludes that there are no truly moral people: “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin . . . . whatever the [written] law [of God] says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God . . . through the law we become conscious of sin.” [Rom 3:9, 19 – 20.] Thus, we are all guilty as charged, so our only real hope is to throw ourselves at the feet of our Judge and plead for his forgiveness and mercy. For, whatever tradition we have: “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” “Atheist” etc., if we try to rely on our “morality,” or selfishly reject the truth and the right because we want to cling to darkness, we will simply condemn ourselves. [Jn 3:19 – 21, 1 Jn 1:5 - 10.] So, it is only if we (1) accept whatever degree of true light we have: by nature, reason, tradition, conscience or the Word of God, and then (2) admit our shameful hypocrisy and guilt, (3) crying out for mercy from God; that, (4) we can be saved. Of course, God, our loving Father, delights to give us his mercy!
Finally, we can now also clearly see the saving power and the gracious, loving blessing that are in the gospel: it reveals the True Light of God in His full glory [Heb1:1 – 4],which dispels darkness and deception so that we can accept Jesus, God’s Final Revelation. So, those who call on God through Jesus find deliverance from sin through that One Name under heaven that brings salvation to all who call upon it. [Ac 4:9 – 12, cf. Jn 1:1 – 14, 14:6.] END
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Thirty-six years ago, in 1968, “Black Power” was the talk of the day; and -- despite the preaching of the Rev’d. Dr Martin Luther King (the martyred prophet of liberation through gospel-based, non-violent strategies) – anger expressed through “any means necessary” was the main mood of the hour. For, all over the world, the shackles of generations-long prejudice, racism, exploitation and colonial oppression, and unjust laws backed up by abusive police forces and murderous armies were being directly confronted. Thankfully, by 1994, the last bastion of racist oppression of the black man had fallen, and Nelson Mandela, a heroic figure, became the first President of a truly free South Africa.
But, sadly, paradise did not arrive with majority rule in Africa, nor with Independence in the Caribbean. Instead, we have in the main had a generation of missed opportunities and frustrations; so that there has been a backwash of disappointment and in some cases even of self-induced economic, political and social disasters. For instance, Jamaica has somehow managed to move from being a fairly orderly and quiet (but quite unjust) society to one that (though it is far more egalitarian) has ruined its economy and has a murder rate of about 1,000 per year – many tied to corrupt politics, or to gangs ruthlessly fighting over the illicit drugs trade or control of communities and associated protection rackets. Similarly, mineral-wealthy, agriculturally rich Zimbabwe is on the verge of starvation; and, for all its mineral and industrial wealth, South Africa is so crime-riddled that even Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the South African hero, was recently tried for complicity in corruption, kidnapping and murder. In short, economic stagnation and social instability in the face of a high-tech, global age are now major interacting challenges in the motherland as well as in our region.
What went wrong? How can we correct the problem?
The full answer would take a massive book, but its heart lies in the main point we discussed last week: we cannot sustainably achieve good ends by doing evil, as evil is deceptively attractive, but in fact is ruinously addictive, fast spreading, corrupting and destructive. So, the true way forward for individuals, families and communities lies through several often overlooked – but powerful -- gospel principles that lead us to a better path: repentance, mutual reconciliation and God-blessed reformation and community transformation:
1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” [Ps. 127:1.]
2. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure . . . I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct.” [Jer. 17:9 – 10.]
3. “[S]eek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and [your material needs: i.e. food, drink and clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well . . .” [Matt 6:33.]
4. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” [Matt. 7:3 – 5.]
5. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people . . .” [Gal. 6:8 – 10a.]
6. “[E]ach of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully . . . He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . ” [Eph. 4:25 – 5:2.]
In short, in our justifiable rage at oppression and injustice, we all too easily forgot that we too are just as fallen and prone to evil as those who had long lorded it over us. Thus, true liberation must build on a solid spiritual foundation: repentance, reconciliation and mutual building up -- rather than bitterness, hate and violence. But, in too many cases, we failed to build with God, and we therefore built in vain – for, corrupt colonial elites were simply replaced by sweet-talking would-be political messiahs who then became the new lords of the same old plantation great houses. Even with sincere liberation leaders who did not give in to the temptations of power, there was often a want of sound knowledge and skill to build a prosperous, orderly, just community under God. Consequently, we usually followed after ruinous political and economic myths that ignored or derided the need to be productive, earning and paying our way in the world. But, thankfully, there are some partial success stories that can point a way forward, such as Barbados and Singapore. From such successes, partial though they are, and the above gospel principles, we have much to learn. So, now, let’s talk . . . AMEN
Saturday, August 28, 2004
“Why not say . . . ‘Let us do evil that good may result’?” [Rom 3:8]
With this question St Paul summed up one of the central and enduring puzzles of morality: it often seems that the most effective way to achieve a good personal or policy goal is by doing something that is in itself morally wrong. As Machiavelli put it in his infamous book, The Prince: “The end justifies the means.”
But, does it? No, for that infamous Renaissance Diplomat was blind to the central problem of humanity -- sin: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . the evil that I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” [Rom 7:18b – 19.] For, evil is usually enticing (or even exciting), but it is in fact deceptive, addictive, contagious, corrupting and destructive. In the words of Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” [Prov 14:12.]
That’s fairly easy to see in our personal lives, but it also holds for public policy. For instance, when Hitler arose as a man of the people, and promised a way out of the economic ruin that had overtaken Germany after the 1st World War, few were asking questions about his rhetoric against the despised Jews. Likewise, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were simply rescuing the oppressed masses from the wicked capitalists and imperialists. Similarly, in the 1970’s in the USA, people were busy trying to rescue poor girls who made a mistake and were desperately resorting to coat hangers – and weren’t asking too many questions about the little bit of tissue that needed to be got rid of. Fidel Castro was liberating Cuba from a wicked, US-backed dictator. Over in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe is even now simply helping the landless poor to get back their land from those who stole it from their forefathers. The Gays and Lesbians are only demanding equal treatment: if Adam and Steve wish to be married, that’s really just the same as Adam and Eve. And, many, many more.
But, over a hundred million people paid with their lives for the sins of the Nazis and the Communists. The toll of innocent lives sacrificed in the name of “choice” in the USA has now reached 44 millions and counting. Castro’s Cuba is in fact a brutal dictatorship in which you can go to jail for simply opening up your personal collection of books for others to read. Lawlessness, murder and famine now stalk Zimbabwe. And in those countries that have been unwise enough to try to legitimise sodomy, we already see where people who object on principled, biblical and moral grounds are now being jailed as hate-driven criminals.
Why is that so? Because – as Scripture, history and experience jointly warn us -- good ends cannot justify evil means; for evil is always deceptive, corrupting, addictive and destructive. So, if we in Montserrat or in the wider Caribbean resort to evil, we will set loose demonic forces that will run destructive riot across our lives and communities. For, our bad example will encourage others in evil (and one evil invites many others): that is, evil is also contagious.
Worse, as we become increasingly addicted to evil, we will soon be forced to use lies and twisted arguments: to make ourselves sound good and to get others to go along with us. Next, we may then all too easily find ourselves usurping the force of law to silence, crush or drive out those who dare to oppose our evils. Finally, such people become handy scapegoats for the disasters that always flow from evil as it spreads like a raging wildfire across our community. In short, godliness, morality and especially justice – which is a moral virtue! -- cannot safely be separated from law and policy.
[SIDEBAR: Now, we are not here speaking to any one specific policy proposal, for our theme is general: Godliness, Morality, Law and Policy. But, we would be negligent or cowardly if we did not make a few fair – though quite sad -- comments on the fact that gambling is an acknowledged, addictive evil; but it has been proposed that by introducing it here in Montserrat, we would be able to “cream off” up to $50 millions per annum from “the rest of the world,” to support poor relief and other social services. So, we must ask: (1) Why has the church been ridiculed and brushed aside for pointing out (in part through a petition signed by some 600 of our residents), that it is not wise nor right to do evil in the hope that good may come of it? (2) Our official, democratically adopted SDP policy vision statement seeks to redevelop Montserrat on a wholesome, sustainable, God-fearing basis; why, then, have so many Civil Servants and ordinary citizens alike felt that they were expected to suppress their moral and social concerns about the gambling proposal? (3) Why is it that some callers to Let’s Talk -- ignoring the wide range of issues we have discussed since June and the fact that gambling undercuts the national SDP vision -- have told us that we are obsessed with gambling and that if we are to have any credibility, we must speak on other issues instead?]
In short, evils – whether in our personal lives or at the policy level – are often enticing, but they are deceptive, addictive, corrupting, contagious and destructive. Therefore, wise communities and governments will base policy and law on sound principles of godliness, morality, and justice; and so will use the force of law to restrain rather than promote evil. That’s quite a challenge, but one we have to take up. So, now, let’s talk . . .
Thursday, August 19, 2004
“Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” [Matt 22:21.]
With these startling words, Jesus rebutted the Pharisees and Herodians, who had hoped to trap him with a trick question: “Is it lawful to give tribute [tax] unto Caesar, or not?” Had he answered, “no,” Jesus would have been an open rebel against Rome. If he had answered “yes,” most Jews would have branded him a traitor. But instead, he called for a tribute coin and asked whose image and inscription were on it: “Caesar’s.” So, very wisely, our Lord told them to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God, what belongs to Him.
There is, however, a subtle issue in the answer: Who decides what properly belongs to Caesar – or any other governmental official -- and why?
Of course, Caesar is not competent to answer that question: for, he has a major conflict of interest. Equally clearly, raw power or trickery or unjustly imposed decrees cannot properly be trotted out in the name of “law” or “custom” and passed off as the answer to a question of rights and justice. Nor, can a nation be simply a matter of property to be handed over from one ruler to another, for that would be mere slavery. (In fact, the Romans had been invited into Judaea by one side in a power struggle, and simply had never left: so, their C1 rule of Judaea was rooted in trickery, lies and naked force.)
The Psalmist has a better answer: “The earth is the Lord’s . . . and all who live in it” [Ps 24:1] – for he is our loving Creator. So, clearly, all government must be established under (and should acknowledge) God, as we see in Rom. 13:1 - 6:
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established . . . Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted . . . For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”
“The [civil authority] is God’s servant to do you good.” That is, s/he is God’s servant, i.e. accountable to God. Next, such a ruler is tasked to do you good – and in vv. 8 – 10, Paul then points out that “[l]ove does no harm to its neighbour” and therefore fulfills God’s Law. Thus, the first duty and qualification of the ruler is justice, in light of God’s law of neighbour-love: s/he is to be concerned to promote the right and good, and to restrain those who would do wrong. That is why rulers bear the sword to defend justice and have a right to collect reasonable taxes to support the work of government. In short, it is God who assigns to his servant, Caesar what properly belongs to Caesar; that he may promote justice. So, as Daniel Chs 1 - 6 show us, it is God who, in his wisdom that is far above our human understanding, raises up Governments; and as Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius’ satraps learned the hard way, God is not afraid to judge, punish or even overthrow rulers who become arrogant, blasphemous or unjust -- especially those who dare to persecute the people of God.
But, what about democracy – the rule of the people? Now, first, the people do not directly rule as a body, for that lends itself to the fickle tyranny and brutality of enraged crowds and the demagogues who manipulate them – the downfall of ancient Athens’ democracy and the root of the Reign of Terror in revolutionary C18 France. Instead, as the Bible and history jointly bear witness, free people should choose their leaders and set up laws as the framework in which government acts justly, under the supreme rule of God. Then, since sometimes governments are not merely incompetent, but are tempted to steal from the public purse, or may willfully undermine the public good, or may even use the force of the sword to attack the rights of the people or set out on imperialist conquest, we have a collective right to use the vote to reform government, by removing such mis-rulers and if necessary changing our laws, to correct the underlying fault.
We can therefore sum up the lesson of the past five hundred years: just and wise government, under the rule of law, in the fear of God [cf. 2 Sam 23:3], and with accountability to the people through regular elections – that is, “a truly democratic and God fearing society” -- is vital: for, the alternative is chaos, tyranny, and oppression; leading to recurrent and futile coups, civil wars and bloody revolutions.
As this has been increasingly recognised over the past several generations, we the people of the Caribbean, under God’s providence and blessing, have been set free from slavery and the worst excesses of colonial rule, and we have embarked on our own experiment of liberty and democratic self-government. Clearly, if we are to make a success of it, then, we must seek God’s wisdom and grace. So, now, let’s talk . . .
Friday, August 06, 2004
This weekend, the Anglophone Caribbean celebrated the 170th anniversary of the emancipation of our ancestors from chattel slavery. Perhaps, we can best recall how it felt to our forebears by looking at a midnight celebration held in Falmouth’s Baptist church, in Trelawney, Jamaica:
As congregations gathered in every chapel across the island, the Negroes arriving for worship at Falmouth at 11p.m. on 31st July  found a huge banner bearing the word Freedom across the entrance to the chapel. [Missionary William] Knibb [who had narrowly avoided being hanged as a suspected leader of the so-called “Baptist War” rebellion of 1831/2 and had then gone from Jamaica to England on an anti-slavery tour in which he addressed both public meetings and parliamentary committees] counted every last second till midnight and, as the final stroke died away, cried with all the fervour and relief of the bitter struggle finally won: “The monster is dead! The Negro is free!” [Cited: http://www.broadmeadbaptist.org.uk/people.php, cf. Sherlock & Bennett, The Story of the Jamaican People, (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1998) pp. 224 - 228. ]
Clearly, many of our ancestors saw freedom as a precious blessing from God, one that had been won at bitter cost. This is aptly summed up in the words of Paul, teachings that inspired many of our ancestors:
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. [1 Cor 7:21 – 23.]; and . . . .
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . . . You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Gal. 5:1, 13 – 15.]
How, then, did men from lands that had been Christianised for centuries enslave our ancestors? To see why, let us first note that the Bible has choice words on the slave trade, the foundation for plantation slavery:
The law is good if one uses it properly . . . [it] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders [KJV: menstealers] and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. [1 Tim 1:8 – 11, emphasis added]
If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. [Deut. 24:7. Cf. Lev. 24:22: “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native born . . .”]
In short, there is simply no biblical defense for “Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships . . .” and the resulting chattel slavery imposed on our ancestors by the Europeans (who had the merchant ships) and the Africans, Berbers and Arabs who carried out the kidnapping and selling in Africa. But, greed for super-profits plainly blinded the traders to the serious moral and biblical issues at stake. So, instead of creating an indentured labour system, which the OT tolerates and regulates (and which was how for instance the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts), the Europeans resorted to plantation chattel slavery and racism, backed up by unjust laws passed in the interests of the powerful. Then, they suppressed, ignored or twisted the scriptures and persecuted those who protested, to silence their uneasy consciences.
Thank God, many dissenting Christians dared to stand up stoutly for the liberating truths of the gospel in England, in America and – starting with black American Missionary George Liele, who came to Jamaica in 1783 as a refugee fleeing re-enslavement -- here in the Caribbean. Fifty-one years after that date, “the Monster” was dead. Then through an endowment from the people of God in Britain, a network of free villages was formed, starting the process of economic liberation. And, within five years of “full free” in 1838, a hundred Caribbean Missionaries went to West Africa -- the land of our ancestors -- with the gospel.
How, then, can we do less in our time? So, now, let’s talk . . .
Saturday, July 31, 2004
On Tickling Ears vs. Sound Instruction
In his final letter, written shortly before he was unjustly put to death by Nero Caesar in ~ AD 67 [Christians were falsely accused of setting the fire that burned Rome in AD 64], the Apostle Paul warned Timothy -- and through him, us:
". . . the time will come when men will not put up with sound [instruction]. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." [2 Ti 4:3 – 4]
In short, there has always been a temptation to turn away from spiritual and practical truth and instead follow sweet-sounding talk that tickles our itching ears with myths and lies that tell us what we want to hear. But scripture warns: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way are the ways of death.” [Prov. 14:12]
So, if Montserrat is to be successfully rebuilt, we must learn the vital difference between ear-tickling rhetoric and sound thinking under God: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” [Ps 127:1a] And that is what Let’s Talk is all about. Therefore, let us note Aristotle’s telling remarks in his The Rhetoric: “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”
That is, as a rule, persuasion – and rhetoric is the art of persuasion; not proof – uses the ear-tickling words of a clever speaker, to appeal to sin-prone emotions (especially pride, greed, lusts, fear and anger). Only rarely does a public debate instead focus on actual proof: laying out the true facts and then correctly reasoning from those facts to sound conclusions and associated duties. For, the latter requires: (1) knowledge of the background context; (2) fearlessly facing the material facts -- those that make a difference to the conclusion; and, (3) patiently following a step by step chain of careful reasoning. That’s often quite hard, and can take a lot of time. But, if instead we base our decisions on sinful sweet-talk, we are headed for shipwreck – as literally happened to the people who rejected Paul’s advice on his first journey to Rome. [Cf. Acts 27.]
A few examples from last week’s somewhat boisterous call-in segment will make the point clear:
--> You are only talking about gambling.
Not so: over the past eight sessions, we have focused on the Official Montserrat SDP Vision Statement and so have highlighted issues ranging from (a) the need to develop our new Community College and foster business incubation as a foundation for re-development; to (b) the need for God-fearing just governance in our various social institutions; to (c) the vast potential for agriculture. Also, sadly, this false accusation can easily distract us from the vitally important ethical issues and facts raised by the crisis with the Attorney General!
--> You are speaking normatively, not interpretively.
Now, the key issue in view last week was the need to recognise a Civil Servant’s right and duty to act in light of conscience, as guided by sound reason under the SDP’s long-standing policy commitment to wholesome re-development; and the material fact that the gambling proposal seeks to legalise making money through promoting an addictive, personally and socially destructive habit. That is, the issues on the table were about what OUGHT to be [i.e. the normative/ETHICAL], rather than what IS so just now. In short, if we are to correct injustice and reject unsound policy proposals, we must deal with the normative/ethical!
--> You hypocrite!
The follow up meeting with this caller revealed a key fact that he did not state during his call last week: I had been called over to respond to several questions raised by his wife, and did so until I became late for a meeting; thus, there was no deliberate refusal to address questions that he had asked. On the broader question, as we discussed earlier tonight, we apologise for our clumsy handling of calls last week, and are reworking the call-in component to give people and issues a fair hearing while keeping the programme on track.
--> You are Fundamentalists!
This word, in the 1920’s, originally meant people that were concerned to stand up for -- and live by -- the authentic, historically sound core teachings of the Gospel. But it has now become little more than a prejudice-driven accusation that means something like: “you Christians are ignorant, hypocritical, backward, violent religious bigots who want to impose a Taliban-like religious dictatorship.” Now, the Let’s Talk Hosts stand by the central fact that God vindicated Jesus and his teachings by triumphantly raising him from the dead; with over 500 eyewitnesses. So, unless we rebuild our nation under the Lordship and wisdom of the risen Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom” [Col 2:3], our efforts will simply be in vain. We are also just as committed to the God-given right of all of our people to responsibly exercise their democratic freedoms. So, we invite you to speak to the issues and facts, on whatever side you happen to hold; but, let us all respect the facts and avoid abusive words that stir up heat rather than give forth the light we need to guide us to safe harbour. [Cf. Ac 27.]
So, now, let’s talk . . .
LT # 8 International Current Interest item:
The Apostle Paul long ago counselled:
“Live as children of light . . . have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them . . . everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible . . . Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” [Eph 5:11 – 17]
In short, as the Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” [Ps 119:105]
But, ever since the great triumphs of Sir Isaac Newton in the late 1600’s, who discovered the laws of motion and gravitation, we have increasingly sought “enlightenment” through Science, education, and philosophy. Then in the 1800’s, the triumph of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution seemed to hammer home the last nail in God’s coffin. Even the leading Theologians began to explain the Bible in terms of man’s evolving religious ideas, rather than any so-called revelation from God. So, as Richard Dawkins sums up, it often seems that it is only the ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked who reject the modern “enlightened” view of the world.
Q: Why, then, are there still educated people – such as us – who take God, the Bible and biblical morality seriously?
A: Because there is a big gap between how things may seem and how they actually are. That is, there is true en-LIGHT-enment, but there is also a deceptive (but ever so popular) en-LIE-tenment:
--> “Science” at most gives us provisional knowledge of the external natural and human world, based on experiments, observation and educated guesses as to the underlying laws. But, as “provisional” points out, science is open-ended; science is always subject to correction based on further research and analysis. For instance, over the past few decades -- as it has become ever more clear how finely and exactly tuned the laws and constants of physics have to be for life to be possible, and as the irreducible complexity of the mechanisms of life have been recognised – a growing number of scientists and philosophers have now seen that the most reasonable conclusion is that the universe and life have come from the hands of an awesomely Intelligent Designer, AKA God.
--> Also, the famous secular humanist Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World, grandson of “Darwin’s Bulldog, Thomas H., and brother of the first leader of UNESCO, Sir Julian H.) gives away the game on philosophy, science and morality. For, in a famous quote, he confessed: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none . . . Those who detect no meaning in the world [e.g., that the complexity of life just discussed strongly points to God] generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless . . . For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” [Ends and Means, Chatto & Windus, pp. 270 – 273, parenthesis added.]
--> Finally, the decisive fact regarding the truth of the Bible and the Gospel is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for which there were over 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom were alive when the record was made. As Paul said to the Governor of Judaea when he was on trial for his life because of his testimony to the resurrection: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king [Agrippa] is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” [Ac 26:25 – 26.] The king’s evasive reply, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” and the silence of his accusers speaks volumes. So have the testimonies, transformed lives and impact of the many millions who have met God personally through faith in the risen Christ in the twenty centuries since.
So, then, we must choose in our day. Which will it be: Godly En-LIGHT-enment, or persuasive but ever so deceitful humanistic en-LIE-tenment?
On Legislating Morality
“The Glory and the Shame.”
That’s how Roman Catholic Priest and Scholar Peter Hocken summed up a basic human puzzle: for all our vast potential to do good, we ever so often fall short of the glorious image of God that is in us; because of the shockingly deep roots of sin in our hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9.]
So, injustice, oppression and corruption all too easily and rapidly spread across state, church, families and the wider community, damaging or even destroying a society. Government, therefore, always has to address justice and morality as issues that are of first importance. As David said in his last words: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” [2 Sam 23:3, KJV, cf. Rom 13:1 - 7.]
“But, you cannot legislate morality!”
This is a popular saying nowadays, but it is simply wrong. For, our rights are moral claims we make on one another: in defense of our life, liberty, property, reputation, family etc. So, if Government is to protect our God-given rights – i.e. if it is to be just – it MUST address morality: in its Laws, its Courts, Parliament and the Cabinet, as well as the Civil Service, Police and Schools. Otherwise, the state becomes tyrannical, and the people will either be utterly crushed or else they must rise up together to reform or if necessary replace such a corrupt and devilish Government. That is what our history of liberation from slavery and from share-cropping – not to mention the right to vote -- are all about!
So, since our region is so strongly influenced by trends in America, let us look with deep concern and prayer as we see the current debate in the United States Senate, over protecting what is now called “traditional marriage.”
For, Judges in Massachusetts have recently twisted the long-settled law on marriage; to promote so-called “same sex marriage” – never mind: (1) what God has to say on the sin of sodomy [e.g. Rom 1:16 – 32], (2) the known personally and socially destructive consequences of such homosexuality, (3) the absence of credible scientific evidence that this perversion is rooted in one’s genetic make-up and (4) the demonstrated importance of sound marriages and families to the survival of the community. Sadly, the proposed Constitutional Amendment is likely to fail; as most Democratic Senators (including Candidates Kerry and Edwards) and several Republican Senators are unwilling to confront the powerful Gay Lobby, now a major force in American politics. And, given the pressure from Amnesty International on Jamaica to legalise sodomy and buggery, and the similar pressure on the Netherlands Antilles to accept homosexual marriages from Holland, ill winds from the North are already blowing across our region.
But, while we look with shock to the North, we face a similar – but subtler -- dilemma at home. For, our own Montserratian legislature last week again considered the question of introducing Gambling as a fund-raising measure, and it was only with great difficulty that the public petition against the proposed act was finally read in the House. Thankfully, the bill had to be postponed again, due to the courage of concerned members. However, it is increasingly clear that Christians and others of similar moral convictions who hold responsible positions in Montserrat are under terrific pressure to accept gambling; regardless of well-founded and widespread concerns that such a policy promotes a greed-driven, addictive, selfish, corrupting and socially destructive practice. In short, Montserrat, too, is at the point of decision, and the issue is in doubt.
Are we really determined to be “a healthy, wholesome . . . truly democratic, God-fearing society” as our SDP vision statements have said – since at least 1997? Don’t these words actually acknowledge that we have a national covenant under, and with, God – a covenant that we break at our peril?
Let us therefore reflect soberly, let us pray, and let us talk these things over. After that, let us come together as a people, to act with courage to build a healthy, wholesome, truly democratic, just and God-fearing future.