Monday, 20 June 2011

Slut Walk

Ok, this blog was requested by Brian Jose, so we're expecting some erudite comments BJ! It does follow on nicely from two topics we've covered recently; Ken Clarke's comments on rape and the last post on 'freedom'.

For anyone unaware of what we're talking about here, this is Wikipedia's take on it:

The Slut Walk protest marches began on April 3, 2011 in Toronto, Canada and have since become an international movement of rallies across the world. They are a protest against the belief that any aspect of a woman's appearance might explain or excuse rape.

It begs the question 'To what extent does person a's action mitigate person b's response?'

There is a general principle in our (and many other) justice systems that a lesser charge or lower sentence applies where there are mitigating circumstances. The person who inadvertantly kills a burglar is charged with manslaughter not murder and often given a short or non-custodial sentence. The person who smuggles drugs under genuine threat of personal harm or harm to a family member may be treated more leniently than someone who did it for personal profit. The man who has sex with a woman against her will but who dressed provocatively is guilty of a lesser crime than rape.

Of course in our evangelical world, we are often encouraged do this when someone 'sins against us'. Yes, they hurt us badly, but consider their background, the problems they had as a child, the difficulties they have faced - forgive them.

But there is a flaw in these arguments. Human beings were created with the ability and the imperative to say 'no' to sin. There is no mitigation. We have fallen for the lie that says the external circumstances are so powerful that they over-ride or limit our choice. We are not then responsible for our actions, it is the fault of the external force, the mitigating circumstances. But the truth is that we are capable and we are expected, to say no to temptation. And it is an entirely reasonable and fair expectation because someone has shown us that it is possible. 

Coming to this world fully human, not exercising his own divine power, facing the same temptations we face - and more, Jesus lived a life utterly without sin. In other words, Jesus, just like us, faced what he could have seen as overwhelming temptation. Yet even though he sweated blood with the effort, he exercised self-control. When every fibre of his being screamed for him to choose the way of escape, nevertheless, he chose the cross. The truth stands. We are designed, called and capable of choosing that which is right, even if it costs us our life. Jesus did it without recourse to his own divine power, so can we. Jesus did it relying on the word of the Father and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. So can we. There may be some temptations that are harder to withstand than others. The actions of others may lead us to temptation. But 'with every temptation there is a way of escape'.  We are without excuse, there is no mitigation. The perfect life of Jesus stands in judgment of us when we fail to be like him. So of course we are 'not to cause our brother to stumble', we will be held to account for every time we lead others into temptation. But that is no mitigation of the one who then freely chooses to stumble.

The man is looking to have sex. The woman is dressed in a way that she knows will arouse. She's dressed like that not because she wants sex - and certainly not with that leering guy, but because her friends are and it's the uniform to get into the club. He tries to have sex with her, she says 'no'. He won't listen....

We make it too complicated, we try to judge. But actually, we don't have the whole picture, only God has that. From our perspective all we can say is this. 'You were unwise to dress like that - it increases the temptation and sadly there are many weak-willed men in the world. You should and could have withstood the peer pressure. Your identity is not rooted in who your friends are or your physical ability to allure. It breaks God's heart that you would think otherwise, he is desperately sorry for what has happened and offers his unconditional love and healing.' To the man we can say 'You are not an animal who has no control over his instincts. Your hormones may be powerful, but you are stronger. No matter how provocatively someone is dressed in your eyes, it does not constitute permission. She said no. You submitted to lust. That is both pathetic and wrong. You are guilty without mitigation of rape. Your identity is not rooted in the number of women you have sex with or how much you impress others. Love is not found in possesing, having power over or the kicks you get out of an encounter. You need God to set you free and give you real life.

So, Slut Walks. Are women free to dress as if their identity is rooted in their ability to sexually arouse men? Of course, but it doesn't make it anything less than profoundly sad. Are men less guilty if they fail to control themselves in the face of such folly? No, of course not. Do women make themselves more vulnerable by dressing provocatively? Self-evidently and sadly, yes. 

Are 'slut-walks' an appropriate means of re-estabslishing the dignity and respect women deserve? Well, what do you think?

Saturday, 11 June 2011


We love it when people comment on the blog - that's the idea, for us to 'Think Allowed'. Recently, we took the unusal step of deleting a comment - and that sparked some comments! One of those suggested that we should do a post on freedom - and we freely decided that was a good idea!

We love to think of ourselves as these amazing, independent creatures, evaluating options and freely coming to our own mature, sure we are right, decision. Freedom of choice, freedom to speak, free to live the life we want is many peoples highest goal. 'I did it my way' is the iconic song.

In reality of course, no choice we make is completely free. There are influences on every decision we make, consequences that have to be taken into account. For example, I am writing this from a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'm here because I chose to be, but it wasn't a 'free' choice. In fact there were a number of costs - financial was but one; there's the long-haul flight, the heat and humidity and of course the time away from those I love.  On the plus side of course there's the opportunity to be somewhere I've never been before and the chance to input into the lives of the leaders and trainees that we had invested in during our time in Carlisle. Sometimes the influences can seem overwhelming - as if we have no actual choice. But scripture tells us that 'a bruised reed, I will not break', 'a smouldering candle I will not extinguish'. There are boundaries around the influences, no matter how powerful they seem, we always have choice. Love does not insist on it's own way.

So how do we choose? So often we don't ask 'who is trying to influence us, what other self-interests are in play?' We simply take the costs and benefits; weigh it up, make the decision. Do the benefits seem to outweigh the costs, if so do it, if not, don't. Of course, it isn't always as explicit as that, we don't sit down with a spreadsheet and evaluate it this way... often it will be a gut feeling rather than an intellectual process, nonetheless, that's what in our heart and mind we have done..

It's a seductive process, it gives the illusion that we are in control, masters of our own destiny, but of course it just isn't true. One persons freedom to comment on a blog may result in someone else not having the freedom to be at peace. If everyone chooses what is best for them, at some point their choices will not be good for me and given there are more others than there are of me, this cannot be good news! Similarly, the influences from some quarters may seem plausible, but behind them may be malicious intent - whether mildly in advertising, more dangerous in propaganda or fatally, the direct lies of the enemy.  But even if we are able to accurately assess and give appropriate credence to the influences, we do not have all the facts - ever.

We don't have the full picture, we have no clue as to the full consequences and implications of our choices. So often, we make our choices on the basis of narrow self-interest, based on incomplete information, blind to the mailcious intent behind some of the influences!

In society, democracy attempts to mitigate some of these issues. It provides a crude means for taking into account the interests of others. It provides a legal framework in which individual freedoms are curtailed for the benefit of the whole. But that still leaves the problem that we are poor judges of what is good for us. The internet provides the illusion of personal omniscience, but in truth, Wikipidea is a poor substitute for God's knowledge. It would surely be good to make decisions in the light of a broader wisdom than ours alone.

So what about decision making, freedom in the Kingdom?

Jesus, faced the hardest decision ever - to go to a cross or call on the Father to destroy the world with 'more than 12 legions of angels'. He made the decision based on the full picture. A picture only available through the Spirit and only believable through faith. Human insight and demonic influence all pointed a different way. 'You want to die for people who want to kill you?', 'God has deserted you, make an end to it now'. It was an agonising decision, one which flew in the face of seemingly overwhelming influence. Yet, 'for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame' In human terms, the shame and anguish of the cross, the death it guaranteed far outweighed any benefit. Yet because of this divinely revealed bigger picture, Jesus was able to over-ride the cost and choose instead the way that would bring real freedom for us.

We can do the same. We can choose against self-interest. We can make choices on a divinely revealed bigger picture. We can choose the hard road, the narrow path, the shadowy valley. We can go from Albainia to India and spend our life serving the outcasts. We can go from Middle Class Britain to Albania and serve people there. We can choose against the mere economics of what's in it for me. We can lay down our rights to our freedoms and be like Jesus.

Strangely, in this topsy-turvy Kingdom, as we lay down our life we find life. As we make ourselves vulnerable we are protected, as we empty ourselves we are filled, as we make ourselves poor we become rich. As we submit our will to that of Jesus, we become freer than ever before.

If the son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.

Feel free to comment.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Wrath of God

We often, rightly focus on the love of God. It is central to who He is and central to our understanding of the very meaning of life. For practical, life-transforming insights into this amazing theme, take a look at Ulrike Hunt’s blog ‘If God is Love’.

But what about the wrath of God? It’s a common theme in the Old Testament and often referred to in the New, and by Jesus Himself.  The fact that the subject has been caricatured by non-believers and abused by some evangelists is no reason to ignore a significant part of scripture. So let’s take a ‘Thinking Allowed’ tour of God’s anger!

Why is God angry?
Let’s face it, God had no reason to create a universe. Father, Son & Holy Spirit were already in an indescribably wonderful relationship that can only be described as ‘Love’. Perfect, wholesome, joyful, unbridled, untainted, eternal love. The purpose of creation, the only possible motive for creation is to extend that love. To create those who could receive and freely give of that same love.

But what a risk to take! Love ‘does not insist on its own way’ it has to give choice. Which means we can choose not to receive that love, or having received it, not to share it, either of which will bring distress to God’s heart. The act of creating those who can be loved makes the creator vulnerable to hurt. For us to knowingly choose to reject this offer of life and love inevitably brings great sadness, more, it would evoke a reasonable anger. ‘I took the risk of spoiling perfection for your sake, in order to bring you joy and wonder and love and peace. Yet you rejected it, and for what?’. But of course it goes so much further than this. In the light of our rejection, God does the extraordinary. He puts this reasonable anger on hold and the Son comes and suffers the consequences of our disastrous choices in order to break open a way back.

Let’s spell that out. In spite of His reasonable anger at our choice, He responds, not out of anger, but out of a hope motivated by love. The Son, rather than staying in the perfection of this triune relationship instead offers to come and live as one of us. The Spirit, Holy-Spirit, offers to come and live in the lives of those who are still making those un-godly choices. The Father agrees to omnipotently restrain His anger even when His son is killed by those he came to rescue. In response to our utter folly, God holds nothing back, He gives up all he had in order to break open a way for us nevertheless to enjoy all He had planned for us.  No wonder God then asks ‘Who shall escape if they reject so great a salvation?’

Who Is God Angry With?

Some Angels
God created us to be His bride, he created angels to win us to Himself. (click here to see a post on this). Some of these angels, rather than winning us to God, chose instead to be god to mankind, luring us away from Him to themselves, usurping the authority God had given us along the way. The bridegroom rapes the bride.  God is angry at these angels who deliberately, knowingly, selfishly abused the very ones He had taken the risk of creating. Hell was created for such as these. God is an angry God. 

Some non-believers
Some of the people God created have received enough light about himself that they could reasonably be expected to have enquired about  the one who made them. Some have heard specifically, some have seen him, reflected in his living witnesses. Yet despite this they have failed to ask, failed to seek; chosen instead the ease and comfort of the unfairly distributed things of this life, rather than pursue the source of life Himself. God’s anger rails against these. He did not hesitate to give himself for them, but they choose the things of death and corruption rather than His precious, crucified son. ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?’ 

Some believers
Then there is the church. What of us, who have received the light, tasted the first-fruit of salvation, eternal life? What if we then sit back and respond, not out of wholehearted gratitude to the overwhelming love given to us, but out of short-term self-interest? What if we who know fully what Christ has given for us, nevertheless choose comfort and security and the immediate pleasures of this world? What wrath, what anger must surely await us?

Whilst the hungry die, the homeless shiver, the bereaved weep – we who have received true sustenance, true shelter, true life seek ourselves first rather than the kingdom. What judgment, what wrath must be reserved for us? Whilst the Christ runs from heaven’s home to earth and a cross, for fear of our own future, we hesitate to open our purse to the poor. Whilst the Almighty Father chooses powerlessness in the face of His son’s cross, we trust in the security of money. In the light of an all-giving God, we hold back. For the sake of embarrassment, we do not speak of God’s love.Whilst the Spirit grieves at every ungodly choice, we carelessly allow others to die.

We who know the truth, who can read Ezekiel 33, are utterly without excuse.Why in the ‘good news’ of the Gospels does Jesus speak of hell only to the disciples? For whom is God’s anger most reasonably reserved?

Awake my soul
God is love, that is why we can be saved. The cross means that God's anger can be dealt with and He alone has the full perspective to judge rightly. God is love. But God is angry also.

Awake my soul, awake church.