Christian faith ‘to change the world’ – activist Jim Wallis tells Gazette
One of the most influential voices on religion, politics and social justice in America today, Jim Wallis, on a recent visit to Belfast, told the Gazette: “Christian faith is meant to change the world – not just Christians, but the world.”
He said that the Gospel of the Kingdom led to “a real commitment to the common good”, and described Christian mission as being “to proclaim and live the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven”.
Mr Wallis, the President and Chief Executive Officer of ‘Sojourners’ – an American network of Christians working for justice and peace – referred to his latest book, On God’s Side, saying that the biggest mistake that religion and politics made was to claim God on one side, whereas the important thing was to be on God’s side.
When the influential Christian activist and commentator on current affairs, Jim Wallis, told the Gazette that it is necessary to learn a “deeper response” than military solutions in relation to critical situations across the globe (report, page 1), he was surely voicing a challenging call especially in the context of the current crisis in Syria. The global community’s divisions over a military response, the UN’s role and international law were all clear during the G20 summit in St Petersburg.
When the UK parliament rejected British participation in military strikes against the Assad regime, MPs were drawing a lesson from the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the former, initial intelligence reports got the situation wrong, and in the latter, the Afghan authorities will be expected to face the Taliban threat more or less on their own as from the end of 2014 – and their capacity to do so is looking increasingly fragile.
The desire to ‘do something’ following the use of chemical weapons in Syria has been understandable, but putting more bombs into an already extremely volatile situation, and region, is a highly dangerous strategy. The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, last week chose his words well when he said that everything possible had to be done “to starve the fire of war rather than feeding it”.
There is a dilemma here, because the suffering of the Syrian people is immense, not only in terms of deaths and injuries but also in terms of the millions of refugees and displaced people. Increasing the diplomatic momentum, to the extent that it is possible, must ever be the first avenue of approach in such circumstances, and it must be fully exhausted before military action becomes in any way defensible. Archbishop Welby, speaking recently in the House of Lords (report, last week), warned of as much when he said that any action diminishing prospects for peace and reconciliation in Syria, when inevitably a political solution had to be found, would be “deeply unjust”. The Archbishop also drew attention to what he described as the “open season on the Christian communities” in the area that would result from foreign intervention.
When Mr Wallis pointed to the failures of war in recent times, post 9/11, he placed an unmistakable marker down which nations must heed and must bring into the equation of their deliberations.
The “deeper response” to which he referred requires the imagination to find new ways towards the resolution of conflict by peaceful means.
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Letter’s to the Editor
I was privileged to attend the recent Greenbelt festival at which the British Christian response to the Kairos Palestine document was launched (Molly Cooper letter, 6th September).
This was an inspiring meeting, where we heard presentations from our Palestinian fellow-Christians who are involved in nonviolent protest against the injustices they experience at the hands of the Israeli government.
Suggestions have been made that this document may be anti-Semitic. Both the document itself and all the speakers were clear that the Israeli state has a right to security. We have to be careful to differentiate between the Jews as a religion and the modern state of Israel.
It is entirely legitimate to call the Israeli government to account for the demolished houses, the daily humiliation of citizens, the plight of thousands of refugees and the continuing construction of illegal settlements.
Since 1967, Israel has established 150 illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and 27,000 homes have been demolished since 1967.
Many Jewish human rights groups in Israel support the call for change in how the Palestinian community is treated and there are also Jewish groups within the UK who see the actions of the Israeli government as unjust.
The Palestinian Christian community has asked for support from Churches around the world. They are suggesting that we go and see what the reality is for Palestinians and that we take political action, demanding our governments challenge all violations of international law and hold those responsible to account.
They suggest Churches prayerfully consider boycott, sanctions and disinvestment as tools for justice, peace and security for all. They are requesting us, as Churches and individuals, to boycott everything produced by the occupation and actively support the Palestinian economy.
It seems reasonable to accept that they have thought about this carefully and have considered the implications for their own economy. Those on the ground are the most likely to know what will be effective.
Boycott was effective in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and many Churches were involved at that time.
I would suggest that members of the Christian Churches in Ireland read the documents produced by Kairos Palestine and the response document – available at www. kairosbritain.org.uk.
We must then consider the response we are prepared to make. The call from Greenbelt was: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Jeni McAughey (Dr) Whitehead Co. Antrim
Decade of centenaries’
As we are now well into the Decade of Centenaries, I wonder if anyone in the Church of Ireland has thought about the bigger picture.
A decade of centuries makes a millennium and we are now less than a year away from the millennial anniversary of one of the great landmarks in Irish history – the Battle of Clontarf and the death of Brian Boru on Good Friday 1014.
Brian Boru is commemorated by a plaque on an exterior wall of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh. I should like to think that his life will also be remembered in other ways in the 1,000th anniversary of his death.
John Budd (Canon) The Rectory 20 Derriaghy Road Lisburn BT28 3SH
The Ulster Historic Churches Trust
The Ulster Historic Churches Trust (UHCT), a voluntary organisation with representatives from the Church of Ireland and the Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Churches (the Ven. Stephen McBride and I are Church of Ireland Trustees), is organising a walkabout in Derry/ Londonderry on Thursday 26th September.
In the past, we ran similar events in Cookstown, Newtownards and Portadown.
In 2012, the UHCT launched an important publication, New Life for Churches in Ireland – good practice in conversion and reuse. This book featured examples of good conversions from Cork to Belfast, Ennistymon to Dublin – and many places in between!
Details of the book and some excellent reviews can be found on our website www.ulsterhistoricchurches. org.
The walking tour – led by Manus Deery, Assistant Director of NI Environment Agency – will include Carlisle Road Methodist Church, St Columb’s Cathedral, St Columba’s, St Augustine’s, Long Tower, and will end at First Derry Presbyterian for refreshments and a talk on church maintenance.
The event is designed to heighten awareness of the City’s fine ecclesiastical architectural heritage and to discuss best practice on church maintenance. Everyone is welcome and details are on the website: www.ulsterhistoricchurches. org.
Primrose Wilson Chair, UHCT Marlacoo House Portadown Co. Armagh BT62
Church of Ireland-Methodist interchangeability of ministries
Canon Kennedy is incorrect when he states that I “totally missed the point” of his argument (Letter, 6th September). I get his point only too clearly: Hooker admitted of a single exception in very particular circumstances and therefore in principle other exceptions are admissible.
Hooker, however, was very careful to lay out the conditions under which his one exception should be allowed – and he made them so stringent that it is all but impossible for them to be met. Effectively, he not only made his own exception impracticable but he also excluded all others.
Hooker is not an ally to this cause. Quite the opposite – he was a staunch defender of the necessity of episcopal ordination. He wrote, I believe, with the intent of securing the Anglican Church against future irregular ordinations, not in order to validate future ones.
Ministerial interchangeability between the Church of Ireland and our Methodists brothers and sisters is something that can be achieved without foregoing the ancient practices of the Church of episcopal ordination, but if we decide to abandon it in pursuit of this project, I am afraid we must do so without Hooker’s blessing.
Patrick G. Burke (The Revd) The Rectory Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny
Features and Columns
- Focus on the Persecuted Church – The Suffering Church The first in a two-part series by the Revd Patrick Burke, on behalf of the Church of Ireland’s Council for Mission
- Soap – Down at St. David’s
- Insight – Towards a common future – bloody reconciliation? By the Revd Earl Storey, Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Communications Officer
- Musings – Alison Rooke – Absences
- Upper Bann MLA meets Church representatives in opt-out organ donation consultations
- Bible Sunday 2013 material available