A real revolution!

By СССР – http://pravo.levonevsky.org/

This week marks the centenary of the communist revolution in Russia, a process that was supposed to bring liberation to millions of oppressed workers but also brought terror and oppression to millions of innocent bystanders, not only in Russia but across the globe as the Soviets exported their revolution to eastern Europe, southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  While intelligentsia, bourgeoisie, merchants and managers all suffered purges, Christians have often been specifically targeted by communist regimes.  Possibly up to 20 million Christians died at the hands of the Soviet Union, and many millions more under other communist regimes.  Communist governments to this day continue to oppress Christians, particularly in North Korea.

Ever since Karl Marx commented in 1843 that “Religion… is the opium of the people”, communism has singled out Christianity for being an oppressor itself and keeping the working classes firmly entrenched at the bottom of the social ladder, and there may well be some truth in this.  For example, the whimsical hymn “All things bright and beautiful”, published in the revolutionary year of 1848 by Mrs C F Alexander, contains the lines:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Hardly encouraging the proletariat to become upwardly mobile!  Founder of the Chinese Republic Sun Yat-Sen, himself a Christian, allegedly observed that the gospel contains enough dynamite to blow up all the existing social structures in Europe.  Yet somehow the Establishment of the church allied the gospel to the elites in society, when the initial first century believers were mainly slaves or the urban poor.  So over the centuries, Christianity switched sides, although there were many notable exceptions, particularly amongst the monastics (think St Francis of Assisi) and the non-conformists (Elizabeth Fry, Dr Barnardo, George Müller).

Yet until very recently, when elements in the church have attempted to embrace the restructuring of society so that the poor and marginalised begin to become empowered, they are usually lambasted as communists, like the liberation theologians of Latin America.  Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Brazil during the military governments of the 1960s-80s pointed out:

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

It seems that for centuries, Christians have valued order, stability and power, and assuaged their consciences by donating to the poor.  A truly radical church would possibly make communism redundant: abolishing slavery, establishing economic equality and becoming a protector and advocate for the vulnerable and marginalised.

Today many thousands of mission workers throughout the world are trying to do just that – working as agricultural advisers, advocates for social justice, campaigning against homelessness, modern slavery and people trafficking, working in prisons and refugee camps.  They need more people to join them, to fund them and pray for them.  There is a huge need across the world which the church should be meeting.  Can you put your career on hold for a few years to go and help?  Or cancel your next holiday so you can donate some real money?  Give up an hour of television a week to pray for world mission?

In a sobering passage in Matthew 25, Jesus said to his followers:  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”  Today, where do we have the opportunity to serve Jesus in one of his most ‘distressing disguises’?[1]

[1] Mother Theresa of Calcutta in Where There is Love, There is God

50 shades of moral compromise

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

The release this weekend of the film of the popular porn book 50 Shades of Grey prompts us to talk about an issue that has been on our minds for a long time – the prevalence of pornography in the mission field.  It is widely known that easy and unaccountable access to pornography over the internet has made it much easier for Christians to succumb to this temptation in secret, and though accurate figures are hard to obtain and often anecdotal it is clear that many Christian men regularly access internet porn as do a significant number  of women.  Some years ago a psychologist involved in screening candidates for the mission field reported that up to 70% of men and 30% of women applying for the mission field had intentionally accessed pornography in the previous year.

Pornography is an issue for the church, because it robs us of our self-esteem, our sense of mission and our integrity.  It can leave us with a sense of guilt despite asking God for forgiveness, because it makes us feel unclean.  It can undermine our relationships by objectivising people and it can distort our understanding of sex as a gift for expressing intimacy and commitment by making it all about unaccountable self-gratification.  It can promote trafficking and slavery while many of us are actively involved in fighting these dreadful crimes and helping the people who have escaped.  When exposed, it can lead to the loss of ministry, breakup of marriage, damage to the faith of fellow believers and mission workers leaving the field.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Yet pornography is not the problem.  It is only a symptom of deeper self-esteem issues.  People may turn to pornography for any number of reasons: married people may have an unfulfilling or non-existent sex life, singles may find it hard to control sexual urges for which they have no legitimate outlet, and people who are depressed, frustrated or insecure may turn to pornography for the quick feel-good buzz caused by sexual climax.

We write these things not to judge, but to offer help.  Here are some of our tips for overcoming the temptation to use internet porn:

  • Talk to God honestly about your sexuality and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you bring it under his lordship
  • Try to think of every older person as your parent, same-aged people as your siblings, and younger people as your children. That helps correct the pornographic mindset that objectivises people as tools for our own self-gratification
  • Read books such as the immensely popular “Every man’s/woman’s battle” series
  • Give somebody else access to your computer so they can see what you’ve been looking at
  • Meditate on verses such as Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 1:10 and do a Bible study on the Greek word ‘pornos’ and its cognates
  • Have an accountability partner who doesn’t do porn. It’s harder to get forgiveness from a friend than it is from God!  Other people who do porn can just reinforce each other’s sense of ‘failure’
  • Reflect on the damage done to millions of people by pornography. Visit  a refuge program and talk to people who have been enslaved by the sex industry
  • Use accountability software on your computer such as Covenant Eyes and visit websites like www.safersurfing.eu for advice and support
  • Reflect on what drives you to porn. Has somebody punctured your ego or left you feeling unloved?  Talk to a counsellor about it.
  • Exercise the old-fashioned virtue of self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25, Galatians 5:23, 2 Peter 1:6)

Sygyzy is willing to talk to anyone, male or female, in complete confidence about their pornography issues.  Please contact us on xxx@syzygy.org.uk.

I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own.

 (Ephesians 4:1)

Slaves of righteousness?

A Roman soldier leading captive slaves.

A Roman soldier leading captive slaves.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul uses strong visual imagery to ram home a theological point – slavery*.  This would have made a lot of sense in his day when slavery was a significant part of the Roman economic structure and everybody would have been fully aware of the issues.  Many of the early Christians would have been slaves; a few were slave owners and most of the rest would have aspired to own slaves.  At the time Paul was writing, possibly a third of the population of Rome were slaves.

Everyone knew that slaves had no freedom to choose.  They were quite literally the property of their owners and were not legally recognised as people.  They were assets which could be bought or sold.  They had to do exactly what they were told, or they were punished.

Imagine then a slave, let’s call him Maximus, who has recently been sold by his former owner, Brutus.  One day his new owner sends him out to do some shopping, but on his way to the market he meets Brutus, who tells him to go off on an errand for him.  What is he to do?  He knows he shouldn’t, but he’s afraid of Brutus who is a violent man, so he goes.  Of course, when he gets home late, he’s in trouble and his new owner wants to know where he’s been.  What can Maximus say to defend himself?  He’s a pawn in a power struggle who has ended up satisfying nobody.

"You have been set free from sin"

“You have been set free from sin”

Paul uses an argument just like this to put us in the place of Maximus.  Why are we still obeying sin when we have a new master?  Sin used to control us (Romans 6:17) but then we were bought (the Greek word exagorizo, which is usually translated ‘redeemed’, literally means “bought from the market”).  So we no longer have to obey our old master.  In fact, when he turns up, demanding obedience, we can tell him where to go, because we have a new master.  And Paul encourages us to obey him, so that we wholeheartedly belong to him (6:19).

All of us struggle to break the habits of our former lifestyles.  We learned sinful thoughts, attitudes, words and behaviour from our old master, and even though he now has no power over us, we’re in the habit of living in a way that would please him.  The new master has different standards, and we should make a strenuous effort to live in a way that shows we are now living according to his standards.  So the next time the devil comes knocking, remind him it’s a done deal and he’s not in charge any more.

Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, for sin shall not be master over you.  Though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

 (Romans 6:12-18, edited)

 

 

*Health warning – it never does to take biblical imagery to extremes.  Certain aspects of the slavery motif can be problematic (e.g. did God do a deal with the devil to ‘buy’ humans out of satan’s control?  Are we slaves or free people?).  The Bible writers used imagery like this to convey a general example, not an exact parallel.

Heroes in mission: David Livingstone

Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813-1873)

On this day (10th November) in 1871 Henry Morton Stanley walked into a small African town, found an elderly white man and uttered the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”  Or at least he may have done – there is some suggestion that his story of the encounter was subsequently embellished.

200 years after his birth, the Scottish missionary doctor David Livingstone remains an icon to many despite much recent criticism of him as an ineffective evangelist or a lackey of colonialism.  It is true, that during his lifetime he did not make many converts, but neither do most mission workers, so that accusation does not really hold much water.  He did through his exploration pave the way for later colonialism, but that does not take account of the full picture.  In fact, Livingstone was missiologically 150 years ahead of his time in that he engaged with the socio-cultural environment rather than simply preaching the gospel.

Livingstone's travels in Africa

Livingstone’s travels in Africa

As a mission worker wanting to take the gospel to the African interior, Livingstone became aware that the greatest challenge to the gospel was the slave trade, which broke up families, caused conflict between tribes, and impoverished many of the survivors.  But simply abolishing it would also cause poverty – as many of the African chiefs benefitted from it.  He concluded that trade with Europe would bring prosperity and stability in the aftermath of abolition, and create a more positive environment for the gospel to flourish.  This inspired him to take up exploration in a search for suitable sites for European settlers.

While Livingstone may be seen in the west as a precursor to colonialism, many Africans see him differently.  They love him for treating Africans with respect and courtesy, for not forcing his way into their territory with soldiers, for playing a huge role in the abolition of the slave trade and for bringing them Christianity.  Many millions of Africans owe their salvation directly to his pioneering ministry which contributed to the demise of the slave trade and gave significant impetus to Christian mission to the continent’s interior.

The most eloquent testimony to the respect that Africans have for him is that in the immediate post-colonial era, when names like Leopold, Victoria, Speke and Rhodes were being systematically obliterated from  the map of Africa, the name of Livingstone still remains commemorated by cities, mountains, waterfalls, parks, streets, schools and colleges.

Slavery is still widespread today.

Slavery is still widespread today.

Yet the quest to abolish slavery still continues.  It is frequently cited that there are more slaves today than at any time in history.  They include:

  • child domestic workers
  • forced labourers on construction sites
  • people trafficked into the sex trade
  • agricultural workers growing cash crops like cotton, coffee or cocoa for western consumption
  • miners of jewels and precious metals
  • waste reprocessors
  • manufacturers of beauty products
  • sweat shop workers

Many are kept in debt or in physical custody to prevent their escape.  Others choose not to escape because of threats made to their families.  Millions more may not technically be ‘slaves’ but are held in bondage and deprived of basic human rights by poor wages and lack of opportunity.

What can we do about it?  We can campaign or protest through organisations like Abolish Slavery,  Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children, Stop the Traffik, and the Fairtrade Foundation, but the simplest thing most of us can do is vote with our money.  Author and educator Anna Lappé commented:

Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.

A child in DRC sifts through broken rocks to find copper.

A child in DRC sifts through broken rocks to find copper.

While ethical trading still has its issues, it has demonstrated the power of consumer choice.  As little as ten years ago, many of us had to search around for fairly-traded products or buy them from specialist retailers.  Now ethically-traded tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate and bananas are available in every supermarket.  This is now extending to clothing, staple foodstuffs, gold and even mobile phones.  We now need to be asking our suppliers ‘Where did this come from? Who made it?  Why isn’t it Fairtrade certified?’

Many of us Western consumers may find it hard to afford the premium on such products, but despite our financial challenges we are probably still significantly wealthier than the people who produced them.  It is now 200 years since David Livingstone was born, and 80 years since the UK officially abolished slavery, but every time we shop we still need to be asking ourselves

How might I be enslaving someone today?

You can find out by clicking this link how many slaves work for you.