COI Gazette -9th June 2017

Global ecumenical initiative on health and healing

Dr Christoph Benn (Photo: G. Brekke/PNS/WCC)

Dr Christoph Benn (Photo: G. Brekke/PNS/WCC)

Convening a range of international representatives and partners in Geneva on 24th May, the World Council of Churches reiterated its commitment to the ministry of health and healing for all people, taking new steps towards a new Global Ecumenical Health Strategy.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, the WCC is developing this strategy in order to meet continuing and new health challenges worldwide.

Dr Christoph Benn, Director of External Relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, reflected on the value of the work done by Christian Health Associations around the world, and on the role that the WCC has played in helping to establish them.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of that work in many countries,” he said. “So the focus now needs to be on strengthening these networks, and reviewing where we need to add to such networks.”




A thought provoking exchange of views on the future of Christianity in the West was published in the 15th April issue of The Spectator. On the one hand, the American writer and commentator on religion and culture, Rod Dreher, argued that Christians “will have to recognise themselves as outsiders, and cease to care about conforming to the norms of secular society”, while on the other, the English writer and commentator, Matthew Parris, lauded the Church of England “that, however fitfully, seems to be trying to stay open to ideas, differences and influences outside”.

Dreher referred to his remedy for relentless decline, at least in the number of churchgoers, as “The Benedict Option”. Referring to Scottish moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s conclusion – in MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue (1981) – that the West needs another St Benedict, because of the 6th century saint’s impact in the context of religious collapse by founding monastic communities, Dreher writes that these communities “spread quickly throughout western Europe, and over the next few centuries laid the groundwork for the rebirth of civilisation in the West”, adding: “What I call The Benedict Option is a choice made by an increasing number of Christians living in the secular West: to build the resilient local communities MacIntyre calls for.”

Parris, for his part, queried separatism by challenging Dreher’s disapproval of the Church of England’s “frequent accommodations with secular society”, observing: “Connecting a religion and the culture within which it lives, the metaphor of a length of elastic is illuminating. The two may diverge, but each exerts a pull on the other… I think that – pulled by secular society and with the elastic often stretched very tight – the Church’s agonised progress towards the recognition of divorce and the acceptance of contraception (with of course powerful pockets of resistance among Roman Catholics) has been good for the world. Though I’m not myself opposed to abortion, I think Christianity’s anxiety about careless disregard for human life has also been good for the world.” The argument here is that just as the Church hopes to influence the world so also it cannot ever be hermetically sealed from the world around it and has to allow for good influences in secular society to be mirrored in its own attitudes.

The question, of course, arises as to how one can tell whether such outside influences are in fact good, and not bad. However, in such a dilemma, Jesus’ words on true and false prophets are ever instructive: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7: 15ff, NIV) So, there has to be discernment and, naturally, discernment can take time and, for the Christian, does require prayer and earnest reflection on Scripture and the Church’s teaching.

The future is of course, quite simply, impossible to predict, and considering the future of Christianity in the West is no less fraught with dangers than focusing in a similar way on any other aspect of life. The Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910 was predominantly focused on Asia as the place of missionary advance in the 20th century, but events in China in particular were to change all that. Circumstances in the world do change and can significantly affect the Church and its mission. The way forward is surely the way of a faithful looking to Christ to lead the Church into all truth and to have the patience to search diligently for that truth.


Home News

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  • Lord Eames stresses ‘multitude of questions’ over Brexit
  • Kairos host two days of discipleship training
  • Organ tuition in Clogher Diocese
  • One Lord, One faith – an ecumenical conference in Clontarf commemorating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses
  • ‘Big breakfast’ fundraiser held in Lisburn Cathedral Hall
  • Tribute – Canon Charles Cecil Ruddock
  • Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise



In Perspective – High days and holidays

Insight – German Kirchentag welcomes Barack Obama


World News

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  • Manchester’s Muslims fear backlash after concert attack
  • Fate of quake damaged NZ cathedral to be decided in September
  • Scottish Primus regrets GAFCON move


Letters to the Editor

The Manchester bomber

I would like to respond to Stephen Neill’s ‘Rethinking Church’ article regarding the tragic deaths by a suicide bomber in Manchester (Gazette, 2nd June).

Like Stephen, I have no first-hand experience of Manchester, but I do have first-hand experience of the IRA, INLA, UVF, LVF, Taliban, violent conflict in Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo and the Middle East, and of violent young men – men who have killed and men who want to kill.

My approach to Salman Abedi would be different. I want to remember him and other young men like him. Many of them I can’t forget. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet Salman, and to listen to his pain.

I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to hear why he thought suicide, ending his own God-given life was OK. I’m so sorry I didn’t get to hear why he wanted to kill young teenage girls. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to pray for him.

The example and teaching of Jesus I try to follow includes: “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”; “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”; “today you will be with me in paradise”.

To me, no one is evil. Everyone is created a child of God, in the image of divine, gracious love.

It’s clear to me that Salman Abedi’s self-hatred and low self-worth, and his experience of inner loneliness, trauma and loss, was such that he sought power, meaning and esteem in a way that would not just kill his pain, but kill and inflict terrible pain on others.

Media reports suggest that Abedi’s suicidal ideation and desire to kill was reported at least five times. The suicidal person will tell others about their desire to die, but too often it is avoided, missed or dismissed.

I’m so sorry. He clearly wasn’t listened to in a compassionate,
caring and respectful way, in a way that would keep him and others safe. He was isolated in his torment and as a result many others have suffered unbearable loss and torment too.

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world” through incarnate divine love, that no darkness can overcome.

I understand Stephen Neill’s horror and shock, but for me suicidal people and people with the desire to kill must not be stigmatized, ignored, isolated and driven deeper into darkness, but with kindness and compassion be helped to see a different way to respond to the terrible truth they feel about themselves, the world, and their experiences. For me, that is the way of grace.

Andrew Rawding (The Revd)

The Rectory

Coalisland Co.Tyrone

Same-sex relationships debate

CANON KENNERLEY (Letter, 2nd June) commends an impartial and objective approach to the (quite disparagingly described) “proof texts” in relation to homosexual practice. Yet, her approach to I Cor. 6: 9b-10 does precisely what she seeks to avoid.

1) She implies that the Greek is unclear and that there is sufficient debate around the words to warrant uncertainty. She suggests (with confidence) that it couldn’t possibly mean what it has been taken to mean, over two millennia, throughout the history of the Church.

The supposed mystery around the words St Paul uses in I Cor. is no mystery at all. For example, the word arsenokoitoi is a Pauline neologism – a new word, like ‘software’ or ‘database’ – drawing together Leviticus 18: 22 and 20: 13, which places prohibition on the practice of homosexuality. The Greek translation of the words ‘men’ and ‘lying’ [down with] from the Hebrew, are the two words which are brought together to form this new word.

2) It is true that the translators of the text have differed in their translation of the words in question, but Canon Kennerley
does not sufficiently recognise the concerns and pressures exerted by the political and social contexts in which the translators did their work. This is strange, for she highlights St Paul’s own historical context (Corinth), suggesting that this supplies the necessary information to help us understand why St Paul wrote in this way. However, it is not surprising that earlier translators didn’t use the words we use today, or may have been coy about stating things explicitly – and putting them into a translation of the Bible.

3) Canon Kennerley chooses the NRSV (1989) to illustrate this. The NRSV is itself a revision of a translation, the RSV, c. 1949. More recent translations (e.g. CEV 1991, ESV 2001, NIV 2011) use phrases like, ‘men who practise homosexuality’ or ‘live as homosexuals’ to capture the essence of the Greek words.

4) Moreover, it is precisely because St Paul does not specify any particular type of same- sex relationship (e.g. abusive, exploitative, pederastic, prostituted) that all who unrepentantly and deliberately persist are excluded from the Kingdom of God, along with those who participate in the behaviours listed elsewhere in I Cor. 9-10. St Paul is being general
and unqualified at this point, thus precluding every possible permutation of relationship outside two-gendered marriage. If St Paul had meant anything else or had a particular permutation in mind, he would have said so.

5) The Church of Ireland’s espousal of pervasive interpretative pluralism, so evidently displayed at the recent General Synod, places her mission in jeopardy. The mission of the Church is to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” to the ends of the earth. Confusion or uncertainty over what constitutes godly or sinful behaviour threatens the Church’s faithfulness, weakens her message and denigrates her usefulness in the Lord’s service.

The weight of the entire scriptural witness is against Canon Kennerley. To say that multiple possibilities flow from the text is, quite simply, untrue. Sadly, what she is doing is quite unloving as she seeks justification from texts where, in fact, there is none. Her methodology reveals significant bias.

Trevor Johnston (The Revd)
All Saints’ Church, Belfast


News Extra

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The editor extends good wishes to his successor, the Revd Earl Storey (pictured), who will be editing the newspaper as from next week’s issue.