King's Evangelical Divinity School

21 March 2012

An English View of "Chosenness"?

There's a great documentary series currently on BBC television entitled How God Made the English. The first part - A Chosen People? - is still available on BBC iPlayer (be sure to view it quickly before it is removed). It's documentary-making in its prime and rousing stuff if you are English, offering fascinating insight in how England has proved adept at constructing powerful and enduring myths. In the programme the presenter explores how the English captured, internalised and actualised the biblical concept of the Jews as God's chosen people for themselves, so that the English became the new chosen people. This English sense of "chosenness" went on to shape and drive English identity, confidence and self-perceptions. The result is a sense of immense self-confidence (even superiority), all the stronger because it was perceived as having divine backing.

Yet this English sense of "chosenness" and superiority is quite at odds with the Jewish understanding of the concept expressed by the rabbi interviewed in the film. For him, being chosen brings with it considerable responsibility and consequences, neither does chosenness mean exclusivity or superiority over others. Chosenness is for a purpose, not a means in itself. This understanding is far removed from the historical English version explored in the documentary promulgating supreme self-confidence and a sense of superiority (I'm reminded of that saying, "An Englishman will treat you as his equal if you will treat him as your superior".)

This raises an interesting question. To what extent is this latter understanding of chosenness driving a rejection of the Jews as God's chosen people by some English churchmen who are vocal on these issues? In other words, is it their Sitz im Leben, their life context and setting as Englishmen, which has shaped their (mis)understanding of the concept of chosenness through the lens of an English sense of superiority (even arrogance), rather than an Old Testament understanding of chosenness (including all its duties, responsibilities and consequences)? I am asking the extent to which a specifically English preoccupation with and expression of supersessionism might have been brought about by a post-imperial rejection of English nationalism.

15 March 2012

Evangelicals and Guatemala's Civil War

A couple of days ago a Guatemalan court sentenced a former soldier to 6,060 years in prison for his part in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre during Guatemala's bloody civil war. During PhD fieldwork I came across some shocking human rights reports of massacres and abuses committed during Nicaragua's Sandinista-Contra civil war, but what happened at Dos Erres was truly brutal (for a report in Spanish see here, for some idea of its contents see the Wikipedia entry). Neither was this an isolated incident, with other military massacres and unspeakable atrocities by Marxist guerrillas replicated across Guatemala's highlands in a civil war taking as many as 250,000 lives.

The civil war looms large over Guatemalans to this day, and among them Evangelicals. In the Mayan highlands small indigenous Pentecostal groups were frequently targeted by Marxist guerrillas who considered them counterrevolutionary. Pentecostals were also co-opted by the military into civilian defence patrols (it was either that or find oneself on the receiving end of the government's brutal scorched earth policy in the region), which only served to intensify unwelcome guerrilla attention. Yet in the city there was a quite different expression of Evangelicalism - middle-class, educated, professional neopentecostals - notably the El Verbo church. It was a member of this megachurch who emerged as key player in 1980s civil war-torn Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, Guatemala's military leader during the Dos Erres and other massacres.

14 March 2012

Interfaith Council and Bishop Issue Statement Criticising Stephen Sizer

The RPP website has posted a link to a statement just issued by the Council of Christians and Jews critical of Stephen Sizer for linking to anti-Semitic websites from his blog. The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester and chair of CCJ, said:
The content and the delay in removing the link from Mr Sizer’s Facebook page was disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England to promote. Members of the CCJ have described the website as ‘obscenely antisemitic.’
The full CCJ statement is available here. It is important to note that this statement is issued by a longstanding interfaith organisation and a Bishop of the Anglican Church. This is not (as some extremists will claim) a Zionist conspiracy.

Is Stephen Sizer anti-Semitic? It is a serious charge and not for me to say (others in the Anglican Church will now decide). I have sought to avoid some of the more extreme language in the current debate and avoid this term unless absolutely proven. In negotiations prior to our televised debate Stephen made clear he felt there was no place for discussing anti-Semitism (and other issues) in such a debate. I believe such a position is dangerous as it can be misconstrued, unfortunately it also meant we never had the opportunity to discuss this issue reasonably and openly.

But one thing is clear: when CCJ state, "We are conscious that The Revd Stephen Sizer’s contributions have caused widespread disquiet and hurt in both communities and led to confusion and polarization of views" they have identified a key aspect of this whole debate. Indeed I raised this very issue towards the end of my television debate with Stephen. The polemical and unnecessarily pejorative nature of the current debate is not helping anyone, and it's certainly not contributing to a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the Middle East. For that Stephen must take his fair share of blame.

I do hope we can all, at some stage, get to a less emotive and more objective examination of the Middle East crisis and the relationship between the Church and Israel.

12 March 2012

Confusion at the Checkpoint?

Now that last week's controversial Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference is over, participants, observers and critics on all sides are beginning to take a step back to reflect upon events over the past couple of weeks and consider where next. As the conference wound up CatC organisers released a "manifesto" on the last day setting out their position in the wake of the conference. More on the contents of the manifesto in a moment.

Unfortunately there appears to be considerable confusion surrounding who actually drafted the manifesto, which was initially presented as a document produced and agreed upon by all delegates (when you read it you'll see why its strongly one-sided nature is hugely problematic for some of the Messianic delegates who attended). Several of the Messianic attendees have stated categorically they were not involved in producing the statement presented in their name, and indeed did not even know a statement was being produced.

For their part, CatC organisers also seem confused. The conference website has been changed to reflect Messianic objections, while the website of one of the CatC organisers, Stephen Sizer, has reflected no less than three versions of events over the weekend. Elsewhere another CatC organiser, Sami Awad, tweeted to confirm Messianics were involved in drafting the document. For their part Messianic participants are currently drafting their own statement which is expected to be released shortly. You can keep up with the various twists and turns on the RPP website, which has followed the story closely and has attracted comments by at least one of the Messianic delegates stating emphatically that he was not involved in drafting the manifesto.

8 March 2012

The Tornadoes, John Piper and God's Judgment

I was attending a conference in the US last week when a series of tornadoes wreaked havoc and killed around 40 people in the Midwest. These included an entire family in Indiana, including a 15-month old baby girl who was initially found alive having been blown several hundred yards from her destroyed home, but who has since died.

Unfortunately we've become used to Christians invoking God's name and declaring every such tragic event divine judgment, whether the 2004 Christmas tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 US tornadoes, or whatever. And true to form, last week's tornadoes have proved too much to resist for those convinced they know God's mind and dare speak on His behalf. Perhaps the greatest surprise this time round, though, is a noted figure like John Piper going down this route, to the surprise of various US Christian commentators. However softer the language might be compared with previous statements by Christian leaders, and while Piper notes several of the objections below (though fails to answer them), his view echoes similar declarations: the tornadoes were caused by God and the reason was divine judgment.

5 March 2012

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I posted on a joint statement issued by international Messianic leaders expressing concern about the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference, together with the conference organisers' response and my comment not he whole issue. Rosh Pina Project have now drawn attention to the publication of a highly detailed counter-response to CatC by these same Messianic leaders and organisations, who continue to express grave concern about the aims of CatC (RPP have worked hard to keep this issue in the spotlight). The statement is detailed, insightful and makes essential reading. It also demonstrates how a conference purporting to bring about reconciliation has totally alienated Messianic believers. Something is clearly wrong here.

1 March 2012

Make infanticide legal, says academic

The Daily Mail reports the following story based on an article published by an academic in the British Medical Journal:
Doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies because they are disabled, too expensive or simply unwanted by their mothers, an academic with links to Oxford University has claimed. Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, argues a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb.
And the sad fact is, given how society arbitrarily and routinely states that late-term abortion is just fine, how can society actually disagree with her? How is, say, a late-term abortion on medical grounds any different from a killing a child for social or medical reasons a week after birth? What have we done that a respected member of our society can justify infanticide like this? (given this isn't some rather cynical attempt by an academic to get some much-needed publicity for an ailing career).

I worry about the world in which my grandchildren (not yet born) will bring up their own children.