Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Year For Memoirs

I won’t be foolish to try a review of 2011 in its entirety, not even my own 2011. But I thought I would just highlight the fact that one thing I have enjoyed this year is reading memoirs. They have been a refreshing contrast to the linear arguments of theology that I often read, and a useful reminder of the truth I often proclaim that God wants to draw us into his story.

Here are three I especially commend. I certainly discovered the first two from Scot McKnight’s blog, and I think possibly the third one, too.


Rachel Held Evans
, Evolving In Monkey Town is a book I have wanted to read for a while. Evans comes from the town in Tennessee that was the storm centre of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, and is thus a bastion of fundamentalism. Evans grew up in that faith, and her memoir details where her questioning led her. Some of her conclusions will not surprise those who have grown up in mainstream churches, but they are a hurricane all of their own for someone with her background, and she writes engagingly, with both modesty and passion. Read her blog, too, or follow her on Facebook.
Then I would commend Flirting With Faith by Joan Ball. Ball is an atheist who is  dramatically apprehended by God in a church service. Don’t read it for intellectual arguments in favour of Christianity and against atheism, but do read it for the humour and honesty she displays. It is both fun and poignant to read how her faith grows, and disturbing to hear how she is attacked from within the community of faith for it. Nevertheless, her faith endures, and she never stops questioning. Like Evans, there is a beautiful honesty in her reflections. You feel like you are living someone’s real life, rather than one of those ‘When I came to Jesus, all my problems were solved’ stories. Ball knows better than that, and so her story is not at all remote from the average reader.
Last of all, let me add my praise for Ian Morgan Cron‘s wonderfully titled and powerfully written Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me. Cron is an Episcopal priest in the States. For some he will be too sacramental, but even if his expression of faith is not quite the same as yours, do not be put off. This is a book in which to encounter grace and the healing work of the Holy Spirit, as Cron battles the demons of his father’s life and his own inner struggles. The book will be like a magnet, attached to your hands.

Yes, all three books are American. That’s just a coincidence. There is plenty in these for those of us east of the Big Pond to appreciate.

Have any of you read these books, and if so, what did you think? What else have you read this year that you would recommend, and why?

About these ads

Sermon: Ruth Part 1, Together In Suffering (A Covenant Service Sermon)

This Sunday, my two churches begin a five-part series on the Book of Ruth. At the one where I’m preaching this weekend, it also coincides with the annual Covenant Service, where we Methodists renew our commitment to Christ. Hence there is a lot of reference to that in the sermon below.
I should add that before you read it, I owe a huge debt for background issues on this sermon to Daniel I Block’s magnificent commentary on Judges and Ruth in the New American Commentary series.

Ruth 1:1-22

There was no monarch or President. Transport was primitive and you couldn’t go to the shops for retail therapy. There was no Social Security system and women were entirely dependent upon men.

It sounds a world away from our lives, and you could say it is. Yet human nature being what it is, and God’s nature being what it is, the story of Ruth is one that can have a surprising number of connections with our call to be Christian disciples today. Today, as we begin a new year, it can even frame the renewal of our covenant promises to God as we ponder the dedication shown in this opening episode.

Firstly, there is a context to set, and it begins with a famine (verse 1). That might seem a long way from our experience, situated in the middle of fast food outlets and just down the road from a Tesco Extra. But we of course are putting our weight behind the establishment of a food bank, and the economic prospects for Western society remain poor. People are struggling.

Indeed, in that fact there is another potential similarity. The famine in Israel happens ‘when the judges ruled’ (verse 1), and you may recall from reading the Book of Judges that when disaster hits Israel it is usually the displeasure of God at his people’s sins, following on from the warnings in Deuteronomy. This famine, therefore, could well be one of God’s judgments against his people.

Now without wishing to be too dramatic, it doesn’t seem entirely impossible to me to construe some of our current economic woes as a divine judgment on our society. We can blame the banks for selling credit too easily, but in our desire to munch up everything a consumer culture threw at us, we accepted it. As a result, we face stark measures to try and tame our colossal national debts. Could it be that God is letting us reap the whirlwind of our choices to seek pleasure instead of him? I do not think, therefore, that it is too remote an idea to consider that we too face the challenges of discipleship as part of a society which makes God weep, and where his severity is part of his call to return to him.

There are hints, too, right at the beginning, that this story is going to turn from pain to tragedy. We see this in the names of the two sons. Mahlon probably derives from the Hebrew verb ‘to be sick’, and Chilion from the verb ‘to be finished, to come to an end’ (verse 2).

Not only that, if I am right that there is a background of God’s judgment, Elimelech makes a bad move. Instead of sharing in some corporate repentance for the sins of his people, he takes what he thinks will be the quick and easy way out, which is to move to Moab. But this is to embrace one of Israel’s ancient enemies. In doing so, he leaves Bethlehem (verses 1 & 2) – at this time a small and insignificant community, but one destined to be central in the purposes of God. Elimelech misses this, because he wants his instant solution.

Having set the scene of despondency and desperation, the second thing we find is that it all gets worse. Elimelech isn’t saved: he dies (verse 3). And then the two sons marry pagan women, outside their clan (verse 4). In fact, it doesn’t even sound like a normal form of marriage: when our English translations say they ‘took’ Moabite wives (verse 4), ‘took’ is quite a forceful word. It implies they abducted Ruth and Orpah. These were far from pleasant young men. The women are effectively the victims of domestic violence. You wonder what the resulting relationships were like. Certainly, within the understanding of the time the fact that in ten years of marriage no children are born to either couple and then the husbands die (verses 4-5) indicates more displeasure on God’s part.
For many of us, that will all seem rather remote. But the awful truth is that many Christians today are victims of domestic violence (I can certainly think of some people I know), and that means in some cases the violence is perpetrated by Christians. It is not a wild suggestion to make that today in Methodist churches around the world, there will be people renewing their covenant promises who do so against a background of consistent suffering at home.

Yet it is desperate in a new way when these thuggish young men die. This is a society where no men means no hope. Men were the providers. What on earth are these three widows – Naomi, Orpah and Ruth – going to do? Yet into this horrendous situation comes the third element of our story: God’s grace. Naomi hears good news in the midst of her grief:

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. (Verse 6)

God has visited his people in mercy. ‘His people’: the language of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Judgment is not the last word in God’s vocabulary, grace is. And he has not simply ‘given them food’, the word is ‘bread’, which is significant for Naomi, as Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. The house of bread is being restocked. This is grace: not only forgiveness, but provision for needs.

It is grace like this and far more that brings us to a covenant service. The grace of God in which he gives up his only begotten Son for the salvation of the world brings us here. The grace that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself brings us here. The God who not only mercifully withholds judgment in favour of justifying us but who also in grace blesses us with many things we do not deserve – all this brings us to a covenant service. If it were only about the solemn promises we make, this would be a severe and sombre occasion. But we are here because God’s grace is extravagant and healing.

Therefore the fourth movement in this episode is Naomi’s response. Grace has shown her where she belongs – not in Moab but among the people of God, and so she heads home, accompanied by Ruth and Orpah (verse 7). Having heard of God’s mercy to her own people, she offers mercy to her daughters-in-law. She urges them to go home, so that they might have the chance to remarry and thus find their own security in having a husband provide for them – and this time, hopefully treat them better (verses 8-9). Naomi, the one who has come to know grace, must first of all respond in kind to others. In today’s parlance, she ‘pays it forward’ to others. The very essence of our own response today to God’s grace is that we seek to offer grace to others.
Now in the fifth stage of the story, Ruth and Orpah react. Have they been affected by Naomi’s graciousness? Had they all been bound together in their common suffering? They promise to come with her (verse 10). However, Naomi assumes they will be doing so in order to find husbands – not an unreasonable assumption. She moves quickly to show them that gaining new husbands through her is a ludicrous idea (verses 11-13a). But in doing so, it exposes an unhealed, unredeemed side of her. At heart she is angry with God for her circumstances. There is no self-examination, just a lashing out at God. She says:

No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me. (Verse 13b)

It may well be that today we need to reflect on this. We are at our covenant service because we know that God has shown grace to us and we are making a gut response to that of wanting to show our gratitude by demonstrating that grace to others. However, we have those areas of our lives that may be forgiven but which are not yet transformed. Someone has said that the Gospel is about salvation from sin in at least three different senses: we are saved from the penalty of sin (that is, forgiveness), one day we shall all be saved from the presence of sin (when God brings in his new heavens and new earth), but in the meantime God wants to save us from the practice of sin (that is, enable us to grow in holiness).

And if the covenant service is anything, it is a commitment to holiness. I believe that one reason why we sometimes feel uncomfortable about the promises we make today is that they highlight those areas of our lives we have not yet been willing to hand over to Christ for purification. I don’t want to promise to follow Christ with no strings attached: I want to retain a veto over what he asks of me. For Naomi, it was an issue of anger, bitterness and, I would suggest, trying to justify herself. In the final part of today’s reading, we shall see that she still has not resolved it: she says God has dealt bitterly and harshly with her, taking everything away from her (verses 19-21). What is it for us? Can we at least say to Christ today, I do not feel that willing to be changed, but I am willing to be made willing? May we not let it fester, as Naomi appeared to do.

Orpah, then, takes the natural human course and returns home (verse 14a). She is not to be blamed for this. But Ruth clung to Naomi (verse 14b) and from this springs the most remarkable and beautiful sixth phase of this story, where her commitment is worked out in the way she devotes herself to Naomi. It’s really quite astonishing, because we have yet more evidence of Naomi’s rather fragile faith here. She implores Ruth to follow Orpah back to Moab ‘to her people and to her gods’ (verse 15, italics mine). Naomi, a follower of Yahweh, the one and only God, speaks as if the Moabite claim to other deities is true. Sheer heresy! Yet Ruth is attracted to her mother-in-law and her feeble faith. Ruth will travel and live wherever Naomi goes; Ruth will transfer her allegiance from her people and gods to Naomi’s people and Yahweh; Ruth considers herself part of Naomi’s family now, because she wants to be buried in the same family grave (verses 16-17).

Do not let the weakness of your faith prevent you from speaking out for Christ. God does not wait until you have it all together for him to use you. God uses a woman like Naomi, with her unresolved feelings and her theological errors, to draw out a true sense of covenant from Ruth. Come, with whatever weaknesses you know you have, to renew your commitment to Christ in our service today.

But of course, as it is often said, God loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us as we are. For that reason, aspire less to be like Naomi and more like Ruth. For Ruth becomes a wonderful example of what it means to make a covenant commitment. She is committed to God and to God’s people. This is what covenant means. We bind ourselves to our Lord, because in grace he has bound himself to us. But we do not do so in isolation. God’s covenant is not merely with individuals, but with a community, with his people. The purpose of his covenant is make us more truly into the community of his kingdom, a living, breathing witness to his love. Like Ruth said to Naomi, so we say to each other today, ‘Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.’ And as Ruth also said to Naomi, so we also say to one another today, ‘Where you go, I will go.’

Today, in a context of suffering and judgment, even from the pain of our own lives, let us acknowledge with joy the grace of God in Christ and respond by seeking redemption for our brokenness, and by binding ourselves to our Lord and to each other.

Let it be so.

Peter Pan And Tintin: Icons For Today?

“Peter Pan is a lesbian.”

So said a seven-year-old to me, after he had seen the local pantomime. Sitting with my own seven-year-old who wouldn’t have a clue what a lesbian is, I didn’t know where to put my face.

“I’m right,” he added, “Peter Pan is played by a girl.”

All I thought was, just wait until you meet the  Ugly Sisters in Cinderella.

We saw Peter Pan a couple of days ago. It was a high quality production, with all the usual panto formulae. Oh yes it was …

But whereas in past generations Peter Pan was seen as inadequate because he didn’t want to grow up, is he now a hero? He conquers Captain Hook while remaining a child. Are we in a culture that doesn’t want to grow up? Having spent time before the performance in two or three shops selling computer games, where our children purchased games and accessories for their Nintendos, but where the majority of purchasers were adults, I do wonder whether we are filling our society with Peter Pans.
On the other hand, yesterday we took the children to see the incredible Spielberg animation of The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. That painted a more positive image of youth. Tintin is young, but in a job as a reporter (whereas Peter Pan explicitly doesn’t want an office job). Yet he is the one who shows courage to help the older, alcoholic Captain Haddock – with the one exception of where he wants to give up and Haddock tells him, ‘When you face a brick wall, push through it.’

The New Testament expects people to grow into maturity. Paul’s goal for the Colossians is that he will be able to present everyone mature in Christ. In Ephesians 4, there is a notion of the church ‘growing up’. Is maturity an increasingly alien notion today, when we say that 40 is the new 30 and 70 is the new 50? Do we prefer not to delay gratification but to keep on gratifying ourselves? Is that the inevitable consequence of consumerism, or is this all just about increased life expectancy? Which model do we offer young people, young Christians – Peter Pan or Tintin?

Either way, what would Christian maturity look like today, and in what ways would it be counter-cultural?

Happy Christmas

A very Joyful Christmas to one and all. I’ll resist saying Merry Christmas, because I know it won’t be merry for some of you, facing grief, pain and difficulties. But in the sense that God’s joy can be with us even in sorrow, I wish that joy to one and all.

On a day like this, I am thankful for the gift of God in Jesus Christ. I shall spend the morning ‘at work’ proclaiming this.

But of course I am by no means the only person who will be working today, and at least after my services are finished I can relax with the family. Others will be working long hours today, and I want to pay tribute to them – those providing meals and company for the lonely, the emergency services and so on. A member of one of my congregations will be spending the day volunteering in the A & E department of a local hospital.

In particular, I remember a Christmas about six ago, when one of our then rather small children was running a near-feverish temperature. How grateful we were for the staff at NHS Direct who were available at the other end of the phone to give us medical advice.

So a Joyful Christmas to you all. And particular blessings to those of you who are struggling, and those of you giving up your time to be available for others.

Christmas Eve Sermon: Grace And Truth

Here is the sermon for the ‘midnight’ communion service tonight. It concludes the series on the Prologue to John’s Gospel, and given the hour at which it will be delivered, is shorter than my typical Sunday morning sermons.

John 1:14-18

Grace and truth. As we complete our reflections on the Prologue to John’s Gospel tonight, these two words dominate the final verses. Grace and truth. They are such rich words, and not to be trivialised in the way we often do, where grace is no more than what we say before meals and truth is no more than being right. Here, grace and truth are linked to the rich beauty of the Incarnation, the birth of our Lord in human flesh.

In particular, there are two strands about grace and truth in these final verses of the Prologue.

Firstly, God’s grace and truth in the Incarnation are the glory of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Verse 14)

When the Word is made flesh – when Jesus is born – we see the glory of God, and that glory is ‘full of grace and truth’.

When he says ‘we have seen his glory’, John may want his readers to think about the time in the Book of Exodus when Moses asked to see God’s glory. When indeed God’s glory passed near to him, the Lord proclaimed that he was

the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:5-7)

So back then, seeing God’s glory meant discovering the goodness of God. Now, as we see God’s glory in the birth of his Son, we also find the goodness of God revealed to us: he is ‘full of grace and truth’.

We might think that to see the glory of God is a fearful thing and in one sense it is. We can no more see the glory of God in all its splendour than we can safely look straight at the sun. But at heart, seeing the glory of God is a good and wonderful thing. The glory of God is that he is the saving God.

And we celebrate this supremely at Christmas. Here above all we see God’s glory. He is the saving and redeeming God. His Son takes on human flesh in order to bring his grace and truth to the world. Perhaps here the old saying that GRACE stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense comes into its own. The riches of God which we do not deserve come to us courtesy of all that Christ gives up. Eventually that will be the Cross. But it begins with the Incarnation. Tonight we mark when God goes up a gear in the salvation of the world.

And what a privilege it is to mark this. ‘We have seen his glory’ – we have, says John, and the implication is that not everybody has. He has not long said that

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (verse 11).

Let us never treat the glory of God’s goodness, his grace and truth, as a commonplace. It is not that we are some kind of élite because we have seen his glory, but it is the most awe-inspiring privilege. This is the One who outstrips John the Baptist, because although he came after him in terms of birth is actually senior to him because he originates before him (verse 15). This is the One who would later claim, ‘Before Abraham was, I Am’.

So in the morning, even amidst the rushing of preparation and the rustle of paper, might we have a moment to contemplate what a truly wonderful thing it is to know that God has revealed his glory in the coming of his Son? Here is grace and truth: grace in God giving us the blessings we do not deserve as sinners; truth in that he who himself is the truth has come into our midst. What wonder. What glory. What goodness this is.

Secondly, God’s grace and truth in the Incarnation are a greater grace. Here I want to tease out something of the relationship between God’s work as witnessed in what we call the Old Testament and his work in Jesus Christ Incarnate. Sometimes we seem to set them up in opposition to each other. Because we can come to the Scriptures in that frame of mind, we can hear a verse like verse 17,

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ

and think that ‘law’ is being opposed to ‘grace and truth’. Law is bad, grace is good, we think.

But this is to miss the force of verse 16, immediately before it. The NIV translates it,

From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

However, I would translate it more literally:

From the fullness of his grace we have all received grace instead of grace.[1]

What preceded the coming of Jesus was grace. The Old Testament Law was not originally given in order to say to God’s people, ‘Follow these rules and you will be saved.’ It had a different purpose. The Law was given at Mount Sinai, after God had saved them from the Egyptians. Salvation had taken place. The Law then showed them how to live as the people of God in grateful response to that salvation.

Why, then, does Paul speak about ‘law’ and ‘grace’ in Romans as if they are opposites? Because people ended up using the Law of Moses in the wrong ways. Either they used it to say, “I’m one of the in-crowd and you’re not” (the elitism I spoke about near the end of the first point) or they said, “My keeping of the Law is what saves me” (salvation by works, not by faith).[2] The Law was unable to save in itself, but it could show where people needed to change and it could show ways of faithful and grateful response to God’s salvation, just as the ethical passages in the New Testament can for Christians. And because it could have a good purpose in the plans of God, it was a gift of grace.

Therefore when Jesus comes, he brings a greater grace. It is ‘grace instead of grace’. Jesus is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament hopes – not just the prophets, as we often remember in Advent, but the Law, too. What the Law could not do in transforming us, he can. What the Law pointed to, he brings to fulfilment. The grace of the Incarnation replaces all the promises of the Old Covenant: truly, ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

It’s like going to a concert where there is a support act before the main act you have gone to see. When the main act is about to take to the stage, they may be introduced with words to the effect that this is who you’ve been waiting for. John is telling us that Jesus is who we have been waiting for. In him is the grace of forgiving love, for he will offer a sacrifice that does not need to be repeated like the Old Testament sacrifices – this is ‘grace instead of grace’. In him is not only the example of how to live in gratitude for the love of God, but also the gift of the Spirit in order to live that way, unlike the Law – again, this is ‘grace instead of grace’.

John’s Prologue, then, concludes at a fitting place as we stand on the cusp of Christmas – never has the glory of God’s goodness been better seen than in the grace and truth of Jesus. And the gracious God of the Old Covenant now gives a greater grace as his Son inaugurates the New Covenant. ‘O come, let us adore him – Christ the Lord.’


[1] Italics mine.

[2] Yes, I am hedging my bets on the New Perspective/Old Perspective debate here!

The Modesty Wraps Campaign – Forthcoming Government Action?

If our Coalition Government delivers as suggested in this report in the Daily Telegraph, then it will be good news.

HT: Gemma Wilson in the Make Modesty Wraps Law group on Facebook.

Christingle Service Talk

Tomorrow afternoon we have our annual Christingle service at Knaphill. Our theme is called ‘Socks, Sheep and Searching’. I get to pick up the ‘searching’ theme in my talk near the end. This is the PowerPoint I hope to use (provided I haven’t sent it to the AV team too late). The text of my talk may not show up below. If it doesn’t, click the ‘Slideshare’ button in the bottom left of the display and that will take you to the site where you can see the notes on a tab below the slides.

Employment Rights And Ministers

The Methodist Church has lost an appeal against a minister who claims she was unfairly constructively dismissed. To be more precise, Haley Preston is pursuing a case along these lines against the church, and in past times the church could claim that it was not her employer, but that ministers are employed by God. Now the Appeal Court has upheld the ruling of an Employment Appeal Tribunal that Mrs Preston was in fact employed by the church, a position which gives her access to redress under employment legislation. Before now, ministers who were dismissed have had no such redress in law. The full judgment is here. The official Methodist response reads as follows:

Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain said: “The Methodist Church is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgement that Haley Preston’s (formerly Moore) case is a matter for an employment tribunal. We are treating this matter with great seriousness as something which would affect all of our ministers and the culture of our Church. “The church values all of its ministers, and it is clear to us that relationship cannot easily be reduced to a simple contract of employment. The call to Methodist ministry cannot be treated as just another job – it is based on a lifetime calling, expressed through a covenant relationship with the Church. “We want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and properly and all of our ministers have rights of redress under existing Church procedures. We are committed to caring for all who serve the Church, whether lay or ordained, paid or volunteer.”

The point of the ‘covenant’ language is that there is a mutual covenant between church and minister. Ministers give up a home to go where the church stations them; in response, the church provides a stipend (a living allowance – not a salary) and a manse. In court the Methodist Church tried to invoke Human Rights law to the effect that religious conscience should have prior claim over employment law. The Appeal Court called this ‘moral poverty’. It appears that the church has added things to the covenant from the world of secular employment, such as appraisal, supervision and holidays, and these are now regarded as evidence by the courts in support of ministers being in a contractual situation, in addition to or instead of a covenantal one.

The covenant is good when it works. However, it can go wrong on either side. A minister can be treated badly by a congregation, circuit or other body; equally, a minister can mistreat a church or individuals. I do not know what happened in Mrs Preston’s case, and even if I did it would be wrong to comment, especially when the legal process has still not finished. Clearly, though, she feels aggrieved. However, it is a tragedy when Christians have to invoke the law in order to deal with each other, something Paul told the Corinthians in his First Epistle to their shame.

At this point I simply want to tease out the pros and cons if ministers do end up being treated as employees. In favour is the fact that it would open us up to clear protection in employment law. It might also make things clearer in cases of incompetent or abusive ministers. Against is the notion that some people would want to tell ministers explicitly what they should be doing, in ways that go against the historic notion that the stipend frees ministers to pray and seek God’s direction for their work. The introduction of the ‘Letter of Understanding’ that circuits give to ministers when an invitation to serve in a new circuit is accepted has pushed in this direction: some circuits start to get quite precise about their expectations of the minister. While accountability is important, it will be hard to be a leader if those we are trying to lead think they can tell us what we should be doing.

Furthermore, should the position be confirmed that we are employees of the church, we shall need to resolve exactly who or which body in the church is our employer. The fears described in the last paragraph could be very real if the employing body was very local. If, on the other hand, it was the Methodist Conference itself, there might be more opportunity for proper safeguards and procedures. It is not that all local lay leaders are dangerous – far from it! – but lack of knowledge, experience and skills could be dangerous.

There is a fascinating (but increasingly complex) discussion of this issue going on at the UK Methodists page on Facebook.

In the wider context, the trade union Unite (which represents such ‘faith workers’ as join it) has been campaigning for a few years now for ministers to be given the same rights as employees. That may not necessarily involve us becoming employees, but being entitled to the same protection. There is a paper explaining their position here.

This is going to run and run, in some form or another. Whatever the final conclusion, it will massively change the relationship between ministers and their congregations. My gut feeling is that it will end with ministers becoming employees in some form or another, because – as has been said on the UK Methodists Facebook page – the courts are increasingly taking the line that ‘if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck then it is a duck.’ It is hard to know what fundamental doctrinal reason we could have for resisting employment status, but if we go that route we shall have to be careful and we shall need to be proactive in developing what that relationship could and should be in line with our convictions.

The Modesty Wraps Campaign – Update

Following my post on Sunday I went into our local Co-Op this morning after the school run to buy some rolls for lunch. Seeing the manager stacking goods on the shelves, I approached him. Bearing in mind my concerns yesterday about aggressive political engagement I spoke diplomatically to him.

I explained that I had a concern as the father of young children about his store. It was all too easy for my children to see the copies of Nuts and Zoo. Before I could go any further he told me they had ordered modesty wraps (or modesty bags, I think he called them) and duly explained what they were.

I told him how grateful I was for this, and that I also understood the difficult position retailers were in, given that wholesalers demand they take a particular range of magazines without exception (and demand that they are displayed). He nodded, seemingly in appreciation that I understood their dilemma.

I shall watch with interest to see when the modesty wraps appear.

But it also poses a further question, about the attitude of the wholesalers and of the magazine industry. Clearly retailers feel financially threatened by the terms of the contracts the wholesalers expect them to sign. Should we not also be talking with them and with the magazine industry? The advertising industry learned that many people disliked unsolicited direct marketing. As a result, the Mailing Preference Service and the Telephone Preference Service came into being. There is even legal backing for these services. So why should there not be something similar for retailers who don’t want to take vulgar or pornographic magazines?

Aggressive Political Engagement?

Today, I received an email today from the Evangelical Alliance (to which I belong). Its main business was to promote their Christmas message, but it trailed other things, too. One was the latest snippet from their ‘21st Century Evangelicals‘ project. This was on political engagement. Here’s what it said:

The latest in the Alliance’s 21st Century Evangelicals research series looks at the question of how Christians are communicating as the world changes, bringing new technologies, new media and new ways in which we speak and listen to the world around us.  The research shows that Christians are engaging in politics to a far greater degree than the average British citizen, and their weapon of choice is social media.

Clearly they’re pleased with evangelicals being more politically engaged than most citizens. That in principle is good. There’s just one problem. Did they mean to use the word ‘weapon’? Did that deliberately convey a confrontational approach to politics by evangelicals? Was it an unwitting testimony to the way many of us in the evangelical tradition campaign politically – as badly as the mainstream politicians we criticise? Was it just accidental, in that they happened upon the familiar phrase ‘weapon of choice’?

Let’s hope it was just an accident. Because ‘our fight is not against flesh and blood’.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,198 other followers