We are living through a time of significant political change. I have in the past written about globalisation – its benefits and dangers. But now we are in the Trump-Brexit era which seems to be moving away from globalisation. How are we to understand what is going on relative to biblical predictions about the End Times? Does it mean that world trends are no longer moving in a direction which could ultimately facilitate the rise of the Antichrist as a global leader?

 

We are seeing how easy it is for extremists to gain power

 

In fact, the current reaction against globalisation shows how easy it is for extremists to come to power. I am aware that many US Evangelicals support Donald Trump. One of the main reasons is that, unlike Hilary Clinton, Trump takes a conservative line on abortion. Abortion is a big deal in the US but isn’t in the UK. I myself am conservative over abortion and many years ago mounted a local campaign against liberal views of abortion. But we need to realise that there are other very important moral issues as well as abortion and similar matters of personal morality. Trump may be conservative over abortion but many of us think that in other ways he is an extremist:

  • He is very self-promoting
  • He rubbishes anyone who disagrees with him (including the press)
  • He regards any news he disagrees with as “fake news.”
  • He says people who protest against him are being paid to do so
  • He claims that he alone represents the people against “the elite”
  • He thrives on divisiveness and claims his opponents are un-American.
  • He bullies, threatens and holds grudges
  • He acts hastily on important issues such as global warming and other international threats (e.g. N Korea, use of chemical weapons in Syria).

The Pope recently reminded people of what happened in Germany in 1933 and warned: “A people that was immersed in a crisis that looked for its identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened.” This shows how a charismatic, extremist can gain power and go on to become a dictator.

Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN deputy general secretary, expressed deep concern about “the growing cult of the strong man.” He said: “In a range of countries there are very strong leaders, not always that respectful of the rules of the game.” He instanced the current leaders of China, India, Turkey together with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. They are a very powerful group on the G20 which is a major factor in globalisation. Malloch-Brown said that “democracy is being replaced by a generation of Caesars.”

 

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, said: “Putin has, at the cost of diplomatic isolation and the suppression of democratic rights, restored growth, order and national pride. Now all over the world there are mini-Putins.”

 

Tony Blair stated: “In a world of uncertainty, people want strength in their leaders. It’s our job to make sure that that does not bleed across into authoritarianism.”

A recent survey for The Independent discovered a fear of global fascism amongst British people. Contributory factors were the appointment of Trump, Brexit and the danger of far-right wing leaders coming to power in Europe. 53% of Britons said global fascism is growing. 46% said it was growing in Britain and 48% that it is growing in Europe.

Globalisation, one trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as a global leader, may be partly in reverse in some places. But the trend towards the emergence of extreme world leaders, another trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist, is obvious.

 

Trump has a policy of rubbishing people who disagree with him. He does this with the media who, for all their faults, are crucial to freedom of speech and democracy. He is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and human rights. Human Rights Watch warned about the emergence of leaders who magnify their own authority. They “directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality.” They are “seeking to overturn the concept of human rights protections.”

 

Until recently it was assumed that the political extremes – left or right – would not be able to take over. That assumption has been shattered recently. Extremists can come to power and take over and that is just as relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as globalisation.

 

Appreciation of the benefits of globalisation will return

 

Globalisation has brought about increasing interdependency and interaction between nations. It seems that nations are returning to protectionism and restrictions on overseas workers and refugees. Some think the apparent reaction against globalisation is merely a reaction against the inequalities caused by multinationalism which will ultimately lead to a fairer globalisation. Many feel that globalisation has to re-orientate in order to cope with inequalities and global warming.

 

Stephen Hawking argued for the importance of globalisation: “For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.”

 

In any case we live in an electronic global village. That cannot be reversed. It is a world dominated by the internet and social media. One very important factor in the move towards globalisation is technological change. Goods can easily be ordered across national boundaries if they are more suitable to the consumer. Politicians have little control over this.

 

Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organisation stated recently that tit-for-tat protectionism in the Great Depression of the 1930s led to world trade shrinking by two-thirds in three years. He added that if this were to happen today it “would be a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”

 

Globalisation promotes peace

 

Many people are already beginning to see the dangers in the reaction to globalisation. Take Donald Trump, for example. He has spoken of a nuclear arms race and has made aggressive statements about how America will deal with N Korea (a very dangerous nuclear power). He has also been provocative towards China including through his irresponsible tweets. However globalisation has been a movement towards word peace. The United Nations, NATO and the European Union which Trump tends to treat with contempt, have been powerful forces for peace. It is likely therefore that eventually people will react against the views propounded by Trump in favour of a fairer globalisation.

 

Boris Johnson commented: “We should never forget the old truism that when goods and services no longer cross borders then troops and tanks do instead. By rebelling against globalisation we endanger as system that has been associated with 70 years of post-war peace and prosperity and that has allowed billions to lift themselves out of penury by toil and enterprise.”

 

However Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, said that the world is on the brink of a ‘post-Western age’ with European and American influence declining allowing other states, including Russia, to shape a new global order.  He asked: “Will this new era again be marked by greater tensions and, possibly, even outright conflict between the world’s major powers, not least between China and the US? Is this a post-order world in which the elements of the liberal international order are fading away because no one is there to protect them? The world is about to find out.”

 

Globalisation promotes free speech and human rights

 

We have noted that Trump is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and this is true of other extremists who have come to power. There will be a growing reaction against this and an appreciation of the support for free speech and human rights which globalisation provides.

 

The dangers of Surveillance

 

Since November 2016 the UK has had what is being called the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. Like the CIA, MI5 will be able to spy on citizens through their smart TVs, cars and cell phones. Silkie Carlo, policy officer at Liberty, said: “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.”

 

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.” Lord Strasburger commented: “We do have to worry about a UK Donald Trump. If we do end up with one, and that is not impossible, we have created the tools for repression.

 

GCHQ has warned the leaders of Britain’s political parties of the threat Russian hacking poses to democracy. They said: “This is not just about the network security of political parties’ own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals’ email accounts.”

 

It seems clear that globalisation will continue. But there is also the worrying emergence of extremist, authoritarian leaders and of very pervasive surveillance. All of these trends have relevance to the biblical predictions of the End Times about the ultimate rise of Antichrist etc.

 

The NT predicts that the “last days” will be characterised by what Jesus called an “increase of wickedness” including selfishness, materialism, arrogance, rebellion, resentment, slander, self-indulgence, violence and treachery. So we should be alert to a decline in standards in society.

Reduced trust

Only 30% of British citizens believe “most people can be trusted” and 70% say you “need to be very careful” about trusting strangers, according to a recent World Values Survey. Trust has declined remarkably in the UK over the years. In the 1950s almost 60% believed strangers could be trusted and in the 1980s the trust level was 40%. The UK lags behind Germany (44%) Australia (57%) Norway (73%) and Sweden (65%).

Priority of Mammon

David Halpern, a senior government adviser, has warned the government that this decline in trust could be very damaging. This concern for society sounds encouraging until it becomes clear that Halpern is worried about the damage to prosperity and economic growth. He said: “Social trust seems to be a powerful predictor of economic growth and a lack of trust can stunt national economic growth rates. This really is super important.” So, Mammon wins again.

Armando Iannucci, writing in The Guardian, said “Politics was once about beliefs and society. Now it’s a worship of money.” He continued: “For the first 70 years or so of the 20th century, politics debated the power and limits of the state: the manifestos of the parties reflected how much or how little each party felt the government should involve itself in the lives of the individual. Everyone accepted there was such a thing as society, and we were given regular chances to define it. Politics was about passion, and imagination, and foresight. Now it’s just accountancy … Education became all about getting us ready for jobs … Health became a mysterious and un-debated obsession to turn our hospitals into market economies.”

In July 2014 the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that many MPs show little interest in the principles drawn up in 1995 after sleaze scandals when John Major was prime minister. It recommended that MPs take an induction course on the seven principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Reduced importance for Human Rights

Human rights are no longer a top priority for the British government according to Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. He said that “the need to concentrate on Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia has supplanted it to an extent.”

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee responded: “This is particularly disappointing after the progress made under the previous Foreign Secretaries, including William Hague who promised in 2011 that there would be “no downgrading of human rights”, as “it is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests”. We wholeheartedly share the concerns of NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, whose UK director, David Mepham, commented: “This unwillingness to fully champion rights and fundamental freedoms runs counter to the best traditions in this country’s history and weakens the UK’s global standing and influence.”

Allan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs at Amnesty International, commented: “When much of the Middle East is in flames and a refugee crisis is engulfing Europe, Sir Simon’s comments are as astonishing as they are alarming.”

Association with oppressive regimes

It is interesting that McDonald’s comments came on day 4 of the visit to the UK by Xi Jinping, the president of China.

It has come to light that Britain made a secret deal with Saudi Arabia to ensure that both countries were elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Yet Saudi Arabia has a bad human rights record. It has allowed over 100 beheadings in recent months. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, commented: “Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights.”

Jon Snow interviewed David Cameron on Channel 4 about this deal with Saudi Arabia but Cameron tried to avoid the question. Eventually he said: “We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia and if you want to know why I’ll tell you why. It is because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe.”

We have also been supplying arms to Saudi Arabia which it is using in a very destructive war in Yemen. A recent editorial in The Independent said: “Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia is a disgrace. It makes a mockery of our claims to have an ethical approach to bilateral relations with other countries, and it betrays a lickspittle way of dealing with autocratic regimes, which should be a source of embarrassment to people of any political persuasion.” The paper allows that the Saudi regime may be the lesser of two evils because of who might replace them. But it adds that does not mean we should give it “our patronising pat on the head.” Rather we should be holding it to account.

Cuts in welfare payments and inequality

Back in February 2014 the Bishops issued a statement criticising Government welfare reforms: “We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions … We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must ‘heat or eat’ each winter…”

In January 2016 a government Briefing Paper outlined that long-term unemployed people will either be required to attend the job centre every day for three months (which is ludicrous for those who don’t live near a job centre) or 30 hours voluntary work a week for six months. Those who don’t comply will face sanctions – losing their Job Seeker Allowance for four weeks in the first instance and for thirteen weeks in the second instance.

A report published by the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the United Reformed church, as well as Church Action on Poverty said the government is more concerned
with cutting benefits than helping people back to work, resulting in greater poverty and reliance on foodbanks. Over one million unemployed were subject to sanctions in 2014 – benefits being stopped for a few weeks up to three years. Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, said “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.” Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty commented: “Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

In July 2015 the Chancellor wanted to cut tax credits linked to a national living wage, claiming 90% of families would be better off. The Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it was “arithmetically impossible” for the increase in minimum wage to compensate for the loss in tax credits. The proposal was debated in the House of Lords and Baroness Hollis of Heigham said: “We can be supportive of the Government and give them what they did not ask for – financial privilege – or we can be supportive instead of those three million families facing letters at Christmas telling them that on average they will lose up to around £1,300 a year, a letter that will take away 10 per cent of their income on average. That is our choice.” The House of Lords defeated the proposal.

The danger is that in seeking to curb abuse of the benefits system (or simply to save money) genuinely needy people will be penalised. The government should ensure these people are catered for even if it risks others being able to abuse the system.

Inadequate response to the refugee situation

At the beginning of 2016 28 aid agencies and charities wrote to the prime minister: “Last year’s announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step, but given the numbers of people searching for safety across the globe, this response is clearly inadequate: it is too slow, too low and too narrow. The UK can and should be doing much more to ensure that refugees are not compelled to take life-threatening journeys or forced into smugglers’ hands.”

The letter demands safe and legal ways for refugees to reach the EU and travel across it, noting that in 2015 3,770 people died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. It added that refugees should have “access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection.”

It welcomed UK aid to Syria, Greece and the Balkans and agreed that tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis remains a priority. But it continues: “However, in the absence of peace, people will continue to flee. We must provide them with safe, well-managed escape routes and refuge.”

The letter concluded: “Over 64 years ago, soon after the horrors of the second world war, European governments adopted the refugee convention, an instrument of international law which British lawyers helped to draft. As a nation, we made a promise: that never again would refugees be left out in the cold to fend for themselves; that this country would protect them; that here, they would find safe haven.”

At the same time 123 economic experts, including former diplomats and Whitehall officials, wrote to David Cameron saying: “The costs in human wellbeing of the refugee crisis … are so extremely high that it is morally unacceptable for the UK not to play a fuller part in taking in refugees.” One of them, Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, said: “Integrating refugees into our society and labour market will be, as it has been in the past, challenging. But we have done it before – with enormous benefits, both economic and social, to the UK – and there is absolutely no reason we cannot do it again.”

Conclusion

So in Britain we live in a society where trust has declined significantly, money has become a god, human rights have been somewhat devalued, oppressive regimes have been inappropriately supported, support for the poor has been significantly undermined and care for refugees has been seriously reduced.

It is obscene that 62 of the world’s richest people own as much as the poorest half of humanity combined, according to Oxfam. So, as the head of Oxfam said, one bus load of people have as much money as the poorest 3.6 billion people.

The wealth of the poorest half of the world’s people has fallen by $1 trillion since 2010 whilst the wealth of the richest bus load has increased by half a trillion dollars.

It is true that some of the bus load, such as Bill Gates, may be very generous, but many of them concentrate on avoiding tax by using tax havens. So some pay only 2-3% in tax.

Maybe the selfish rich should reflect on the eternal destination of the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus in Jesus’ story.

Matt 3:7-12 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? … ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”
John the Baptist prophetically summarises that Jesus’ ministry will be characterised by him baptising people in the Holy Spirit and judging the impenitent. We need to stress both of those aspects of his ministry not just the more acceptable message about baptism in the Spirit. The baptising in the Spirit is partly to empower believers to live holy (and penitent) lives in order to avoid judgment. How often do we hear that message?

This article contains updates to my main paper “Discrimination against British Christian” which is on our Christian Teaching Resources website at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/DiscriminationAgainstBritishChristians.pdf

UPDATE 1 May 30th 2012

The EHRC Human Rights Review 2012

 

It was not until the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) that legislation recognised a general legal right to religious freedom. This allows religious organisations to discriminate over employment and provision of services in specific circumstances. For example, a synagogue can have separate seating for men and women at a reception following a religious service; the Catholic Church can require that a Catholic priest be an unmarried man; and a Muslim faith school can require for a successful applicant for a headship which includes a religious role to, be a Muslim.

 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) produced its Human Rights Review 2012 entitled “How fair is Britain?” and included comment on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

 

Article 9:2 states that “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

 

This immediately raises important questions. Who defines the term “morals”? Many Christians would claim that in disapproving of homosexual practice they are protecting morals. Others would strongly disagree.

 

Even more important is when there is a clash of rights and freedoms, who decides which rights and freedoms take precedence? This issue is a main cause of concern to Christians who see their religious rights and freedoms being curtailed because of the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with them.

 

The EHRC Review refers to these issues: “Courts are setting too high a threshold for establishing ‘interference’ with the right to manifest a religion or belief, and are therefore not properly addressing whether limitations on Article 9 rights are justifiable. Indirect discrimination provisions in domestic law covering protection for individual beliefs may not be consistent with Article 9.” It quotes Lord Nicholls comments in the Williamson case (2005): “Religious and other beliefs and convictions are part of the humanity of every individual. They are an integral part of his personality and individuality. In a civilised society individuals respect each other’s beliefs.”

 

The Review accepts that manifestation of religion “can occur through worship, teaching and proselytism, observation by wearing symbols or special clothes, or by eating or avoiding certain foods.”  But it points out that the right to manifest a belief is a qualified, “for example, by uniform policies at work or school, or requirements to work at certain times or carry out certain tasks.”

 

It quoted the British Social Attitudes Survey 2009 which stated that just 2% of religious people in Britain said that they had experienced discrimination or harassment because of their religion or beliefs in the previous 12 months.

 

The Review acknowledges that “the recent lack of success of some claimants who bring cases under Article 9 or the Equality Act (or its predecessor legislation) has prompted some religious groups to argue that the right to manifest religion or belief is treated by the law as a ‘lesser right’ than others. They argue that religious discrimination claims are too readily trumped by the aim of preventing discrimination on other grounds.” But it comments: “This view does not appear to be widely held, however, among the representatives of different religious groups” and that some secular groups believe religious groups enjoy more protection than they do.

 

The Review recorded that “The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief found in 2008 that the UK government had ‘balanced approaches in responding to difficult situations with regard to freedom of religion or belief and the contentious issues involved’ and welcomed the case-by-case approach which allowed each complaint to be judged according to particular circumstances.”

 

The EHRC believes that British courts have taken the appropriate approach in cases balancing competing interests and states: “The Commission believes that an employer may legitimately refuse to accommodate an individual’s religious beliefs where such accommodation would involve discrimination on the basis of other protected characteristics.” However it goes on to state: “The Commission believes that domestic courts are setting too high a threshold for the preliminary question whether there has been an interference with the right to manifest a religion or belief and that, as a result, they are too often failing to consider the question of justification.”

 

The Review records a new approach in the European Court of Human Rights: “That Court has become more ready to accept claims of interference with applicants’ rights to manifest belief, and to focus on the question of justification. This is an approach the Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomes.”

 

The EHRC also refers to indirect discrimination where a rule or practice applicable to everyone has a disproportionate adverse effect on a particular group of people, such as people sharing a specific religious belief. It comments: “The European Court of Human Rights has, until recently, tended to take the view that a practice amounted to the ‘manifestation’ of a religion or belief only if required by the particular religion or philosophical belief. In recent judgments, however, the Court has found that Article 9 protects religious practices not prescribed by a religion, thus suggesting that personal rather than group belief is protected.”

 

Finally, the Commission says that British courts “should comply with the obligation imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998 to interpret equality legislation compatibly with the Convention. The Convention should be followed to ensure that the requirement to demonstrate group disadvantage does not overwhelm an individual right to manifest a belief. The question of justification would still remain for the courts to determine.”

 

This is relevant to a cases like Nadia Eweida, the British Airways employee who was asked to cover up a necklace which included a cross, and Shirley Chaplin, the nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards after she refused to remove a cross from her neck, because wearing a cross is a personal preference, not something required by Christianity.

BBC Director: Christianity treated with less sensitivity

 

Mark Thompson, Director of the BBC, stated in February 2012 that other faiths tend to receive more sensitive treatment by the BBC because they have “very close identity with ethnic minorities.” This seems a valid policy, within reason. However, the BBC does seem to go beyond the line at times and to treat Christianity with contempt. Fair criticism is acceptable but extensive ridicule is not. For example it is rather wearisome that in TV drama clergy are all too often portrayed as hypocrites, weirdos or criminals.

 

He stated that he was a “practising Catholic” and added: “One of the mistakes secularists make is not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.”

Maleiha Malik, Professor of Law, on Religious Freedom

 

Maleiha Malik is Professor of Law at King’s College, London. In the Westminster faith Debates held in April, she pleads for an approach to religious freedom based on tolerance rather than rights. She said:

 

“I want to suggest that current framings of the issue in relation to the right to religious freedom, or in terms of equality and non-discrimination, have led us into an impasse. The debate collapses into a clash of rights or a clash of equalities – ‘my right to religious freedom or equality versus your right to equality on the grounds of sexual orientation’. My view is that the principle of tolerance does more useful work.

 

“The speech/conduct distinction also becomes crucial. Those with strong religious beliefs about women, gays and lesbians can hold that view or express that view; BUT they cannot act on their belief in ways that constitute discriminatory harassment (via speech) or discriminatory acts (via conduct).”

 

Professor Malik points out that the law already allows religious people “significant exemptions to discriminate against gays and lesbians. As a society, we’ve reached an agreement about the balance between the rights of the religious and equality for women, gays and lesbians enshrined in our recent legislation. If the religious want to rebalance this, then they should join with their fellow citizens for reform of the Equality Act 2010.”

 

She believes the Ladele judgment (theformer registrar, disciplined by Islington Council for refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies) was correct because “it would be a significant step backward if, having won the fight for the right to same-sex civil partnerships, gay and lesbian couples could be shunned by the very people charged by us as a society with solemnizing.” She added: “There should be no accommodation for the religious where the exemption is from a key ‘constitutional’/human rights or equality value. Individuals cannot expect to directly influence the provision of public services to the general public to conform with their personal religious where that accommodation constitutes a breach of the constitutional/human right of another citizen.”

 

However, we repeat the argument outlined above in the main paper: The law helpfully already allows religious organisations to discriminate when they appoint staff whose work clearly requires them to follow a particular religion. Also, churches and similar religious bodies have been given the option of not celebrating civil relationships (the main issue being homosexual civil relationships). It follows that the law also could and should allow registrars the option of not conducting same-sex civil partnership ceremonies (the clients being dealt with by other colleagues happy to do so).

Christian radio station loses legal battle over advert

 

Premier Radio wanted to broadcast an advert asking Christians to report their experiences of marginalisation in the workplace but the courts have supported the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) refusing to approve the advert. It is claimed that the advert had a political aim and so was contrary to broadcasting prohibitions on political advertising.

 

Peter Kerridge of Premier Radio claimed that the decision was a direct threat to freedom of speech and is “wholly reminiscent of a totalitarian state.”

Two different views of equality

 

It is obvious that a big issue facing British Christians today is the relationship between Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights about the right to freedom of religious practice and Article 14 about the prohibition of discrimination. Megan Pearson, a doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics specialising in the clash between articles 9 and 14, refers to the clash of two different world views. Pearson says that the modern western mindset is dominated by the Enlightenment concept of the individual; a non-gender-specific, autonomous body with personal rights and freedoms. “But the Christian view is that we are not individuals. We are persons in relationships and as you try to build stable community bodies there is a differentiation of roles.”  Men and women are equal but different and that difference is important to the functioning of our society.

 

Pearson claims that for the secular modern world justice is justice for the individual (and equality the way to achieve that), but for the Christian it is communal and is achieved by fulfilling the needs of others. He suggests that any interference with an individual’s rights should be proportionate to the interests of society. This could be interpreted as balancing justice for the individual against justice for the community.

An unlikely alliance

 

The National Secular Society and the Christian Institute, with others, have formed ‘Reform Section 5’ which is calling on the Home Secretary to amend the Public Order Act, which outlaws ‘insulting words or behaviour’. Section 5 of the Act states:

Harassment, alarm or distress.

1. A person is guilty of an offence if he-
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

 

They argue that the word ‘insulting’ is unclear, and allows for controversial arrests. So, for example, Dale McAlpine, a Christian street preacher was arrested simply for saying homosexual practice is a sin and a student was arrested for holding a placard saying “Scientology is a cult”. Christians (and others) could easily be arrested for making reasonable critical comments about other views or behaviour. Keith Porteous of the National Secular Society was surely correct when he said: “Freedom only to say what others find acceptable is no freedom at all.”

Conclusion

 

In the main paper I concluded:

 

  • That recent high profile cases of Christians being penalised for wearing Christian symbols (including in hospitals where people of other faiths are allowed to do the equivalent), for sensitively praying (as a health professional) with or sharing their faith with patients, for refusing (even as professionals) certain involvement with homosexuals should not have happened.

 

  • That the new legislation on equality needs to be reassessed so that religious freedom is not undermined.

 

  • Both judges and employers sadly have accepted the propaganda that Britain is no longer a Christian country in terms of public opinion.

 

  • That some people in the pro-gay lobby are using the gay issue not just to seek respect and equality for homosexuals but to use the issue (quite effectively) as a Trojan horse to marginalize orthodox Christians and the church. It is proving very effective.

 

  • That Christianity is being marginalised in judicial proceedings, employment, as well as in parts of the media.

 

Finally, I wrote: “Are British Christians being “persecuted”? Well …. no, not yet. But some are being discriminated against and oppressed, including by well-meaning but misled people, and the future is likely to be even more difficult for them.”

 

This update shows that:

 

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is critiquing the courts’ approach to religious freedom, particularly to manifest a religion or belief, and particularly the rights of the individual in this respect. It clearly thinks the courts have sometimes got this wrong. But the EHRC (and some legal experts) still upholds some of the judgments which I believe are not justified.

 

  • The BBC accepts it discriminates against Christianity because it is not associated with an ethnic minority.

 

  • One of the problems is modern western individualism with its over-emphasis on the rights of the individual (a non-gender-specific, autonomous body with personal rights and freedoms) as opposed to the Christian view which values the individual but also emphasizes community where people are equal but different and that difference is important to the functioning of our society.

 

  • Both Christian and secular groups are working together to remove the very unhelpful use of the word “insulting” in section 5 of the Public Order Act which has been used to curb proper freedom of expression.

 

UPDATE 2 March 10th 2015

 

Oppression of Christian schools

For example, because of an incident of extreme religious views being taught in a British school there is now an emphasis on schools encouraging knowledge of other religions and tolerance – what are called “British values.” This is a good thing but it has led to most unhelpful results. A Christian school has been told it must invite a Muslim imam to take collective worship. The government seems unaware that many Christians would be willing to accept an imam coming to talk about Islam and answer questions but would have conscientious objections to their children being obliged to be led in Muslim worship. The right of a Christian school not to have Muslim worship must be protected (just as a Muslim school must have the right to refuse to have Christian worship). Schools are being required to “promote” other religions. If this means to learn about them, that is acceptable. But if it means a Christian school has to promote another faith as equally true to Christianity, that is a gross infringement of religious freedom.

Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals

A recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that 53% of British Christians believed they thought that they could get into trouble for saying what they believe in a work or professional context.

 

I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good.  But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.

There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’  Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.

However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].

Post-Christian Britain

 

Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:

·         Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]

·         66% of Britons think religion is not important

·         Only 29% think the UK is a religious country

·         Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]

·         Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God

·         Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)

·         69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).

Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade.  The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.

Gay marriage

 

Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.

It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.

These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).

It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.

Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?

UPDATE

I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:

“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?

Serious oppression of Christians

As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed. 

It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.

I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.

The failure of the church

 

I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”  And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.

 

26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained.  The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”

He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.

Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.

Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.

Then there are the bigger issues:

The Middle East situation

 

The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.

The rise of Islam

 

I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so.  Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.

Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world.  It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.

 

Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.

I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”

Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”

From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.

Hints of ‘Big Brother’

 

I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:

·         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!

·         4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!

·         15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!

·         5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!

 

This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.

 

However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for  good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.

Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories.  We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:

·         Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?

·         What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessnesswhowill oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?

 

I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.

 

I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc.   The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.

 

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.

Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.

Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.

UPDATE

As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.

However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”

The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.

 

[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]

Conclusion

 

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.

 

Tony Higton

LATEST MESSAGE No 10 posted 23rd June 2013

 

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

As many of you know, one of my main interests (after living and working in Israel) is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I shall soon be producing one of my occasional newsletters encouraging prayer for both sides and seeking to take the need, pain and fears of both sides seriously.

 

However, I am also interested in what the NT says about Israel in an eschatological (End Times) context.

 

It is good to have Friends from the Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian people groups. I think it is very important for me to explain my attitude to Israel (and to the Palestinians). It is easy to be misunderstood – by both sides. In a nutshell I believe God loves both people groups equally, but more needs to be said. So, this week I plan to outline my attitude towards Israel. By all means respond but bear in mind, I will probably take the whole week to summarise all I want to say on the subject and I shall come onto the Palestinian people later in the week. I shall then put an article on the blog.

 

My first message on the subject follows.

Message 2

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 1:

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.

  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

 

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

Message 3

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 2:

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29

 

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus. “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

 

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

Ian Paul: But there is a huge debate to be had about who ‘Israel’ is in Rom 11.25…I am convinced by NT Wright’s reading of this to mean ‘All who will come to know God in Jesus.’

 

My reply: I am aware of this, Paul, but the whole context makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Gentiles and I find it very difficult to believe ‘Israel’ has a different meaning from the previous verse where it obviously means literal (Jewish) Israel.

 

Ian Paul: Well, that is the main criticism of eg Tom Wright’s position (I guess you have read him on this…?). But then Paul uses ‘Israel’ to mean ‘God’s true people’ rather than ‘the ethnic nation’ earlier in this section in 9.6, arguably he uses it in the same way in Gal 6.16, and also in Eph 2.12. In fact, Eph 2.14 would support this idea that both Jews and Gentiles are now one ‘Israel of God.’

 

Again, fascinating you list Joel 3 above…when Peter is quite explicit that ‘those last days’ when the people will return, there will be signs in heaven, and the Spirit is poured out on all flesh…are the days of Pentecost in which he is speaking! In the words of F F Bruce ‘This is that…’

 

My reply: I have always understood Rom 9:6 as Paul speaking only of the Jews but distinguishing between Jewish believers and purely ethnic Jews. I don’t think Eph 2 proves anything because there is no reference to the word ‘Israel’. But clearly Gal 6:16 is speaking of the new Jewish-Gentile Israel. On your second point there is also ‘the now and the not yet’, the multiple fulfilment of prophecy. I don’t think you can say that the Day of Pentecost totally and finally fulfilled Joel when it goes on immediately to speak of “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (By the way, thanks for the discussion, I’m finding it both enjoyable and helpful – keep challenging me).

Message 4

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 3:

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

 

The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.

Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

 

Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

 

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

David Sax: Excellent Tony. I wish that more believers would read this and consider it carefully.

Ian Paul: Not sure if you want an FB debate about this…I have always found it striking that NT appears to see the OT promises to Israel as completely fulfilled in Jesus. That followers of Jesus come from ‘every tribe language people and nation’ is the fulfilment of the promise of gathering.

 

My reply: By all means debate, Ian. Obviously, the NT is the blossoming of the ‘bud’ of the OT but I’m convinced that, however ‘untidy’ it is, the NT does follow the OT is seeing a future purpose for the Jewish people – but only in Christ. Hence my first composite point above. Replacement Theology (which I’ll define for the benefit of others), namely the idea that church has totally replaced the Jewish people in God’s purposes, does not seem to fit all the biblical material. See my article ‘Christian Zionism: An Attempt at a Biblical Basis’ at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html

Ian Paul: I agree with you about ‘replacement theology’ not being in the NT. But I am struggling to relate your first line ‘the regaining of Jerusalem is an end-times sign’ to the NT in the light eg of Jesus’ seeing himself as the new temple in John’s gospel. But I will look at your article…

(It does seem odd to me that the *only* text you cite in support of the Jerusalem comment is Luke 21.24…which doesn’t actually say much.)

My reply: I’m convinced that Luke 21:24 is literal. The Jewish people did literally ‘fall by the sword’ and were literally ‘taken as prisoners to all the nations’ and Jerusalem has been for 2000 years literally ‘trampled on by the Gentiles’ and so I can’t be other than literal in regard to the direct implication of ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’, namely the Jewish people regaining control. Also what happened in the 20th century is a most remarkable coincidence if it doesn’t relate to that prophecy. As I said, I think it is backed up by the direct implication of Jesus’ reply Acts 1:6 (and a great deal of OT prophecy). That is not to deny that the Kingdom is bigger than believing (Jewish) Israel (and, of course, I am not at this moment commenting on the political (Israeli-Palestinian) aspect. More on that later).

If I were basing this point merely on two brief verses (both of them inferences), namely Luke 21:24 and Acts 1:6, it would hardly be a strong foundation. But those two verses are the NT tip of the OT iceberg which is Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14.

Message 5

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 4:

 

God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

 

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.

  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

 

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

Peter Gray-Read: Tony, Israel is an economic support for the Palestinians, Israel would love closer ties but when you are bombed as they have been they need to protect themselves. WE have to recognise that the Palestinians Arabs have been a pawn used by other Islamic nations to get world opinion against the Jews. And many have swallowed the bait. Israel has absorbed Jews from so many nations. How big is Israel? Why could not the other huge Arabic nations have shown such compassion on their own people. I love your desire to promote the study of end times but please be careful about the blame Israel lobby. They who bless Israel will be blessed … Gt Britain had such an opportunity to assign the Jews land commensurate with their God given heritage after WW1 we abused that trust. Let’s not repeat the mistake.

My reply: Peter, there are faults on both sides of this dispute but your (admittedly brief) comment seems to be putting all the blame on the Palestinian/Arab side. It is not that I disagree with your criticisms of them but the situation is more complicated. Your statements that Israel is “an economic support for the Palestinians” and “would love closer ties” are not the whole picture. For example, the fact is that a significant number of Israelis do not long for closer ties. I used to take a solely pro-Israel view before I lived in Israel and listened extensively to people from both sides and did a fair amount of research.

I am well aware of the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby as I am of the “Israel can do no right” lobby and I definitely disagree with both of them. They are both mistaken and unhelpful. We must recognise the need, pain, fear – and faults – on both sides if we are to pray effectively. And prayer is the most important thing we can do. You will have read my very positive statements re Israel and its future (and my condemnation of anti-Semitism) over the last few days. But I do not believe we bless Israel by ignoring her faults (see the Prophets – to whom I referred in my piece), any more than we love an individual by ignoring his/her faults. The same can be said for the Palestinian side. The problem with the Arab nations absorbing the Palestinians is that the Palestinians believe they have a right to return to what they see as their homeland. Whatever we think about this or the likelihood of it happening we have to understand this aspiration, just as we have to understand the Jewish concerns about not losing their homeland. We must show God-given compassion to both sides and on that basis assess and pray about the faults of both sides. (I’ll deal with the “God-given heritage” later so won’t comment now).

 

Message 6

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS 5:

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

 

  1. An excessive appreciation of Israel: I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

 

  1. A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel: This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

 

There are two attitudes we need to have:

 

  1. A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
  • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  1. We must always listen to both sides of the story
  • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

 

[This is the final part of my 5 comments on this subject. They are now in article form on http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=277]

 

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians? Because although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

David Sax: Well said Tony.

Angela Harverson: Indeed .we must have the two eyed approach..

Hazel Smalley: Yes, we must never lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to every story….and especially where Israel is concerned.

Peter Gray-Read: Amen to that. Paul’s desire was that all Israel be saved – it should be ours as well. They are not just a Biblical exhibit – they and the descendants of Ishmael are our brothers and sisters. Thank you

 

Alasdair Gordon: One of the most balanced articles I have read in a long time on this difficult subject.

Ian Paul: I would agree with this–but I am unclear how it sits with your conviction that the land has been promised in perpetuity. When Israel steals land that belongs to others and builds settlements on it, is this a violations of human rights or enacting Israel’s God-given right?

My reply: Ian, I am about to write relevantly to your question but you may like to see my brand new article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

 

Stanley Hierons: Am in agreement Tony…

Hazel Smalley: Just read your “brand new article” Tony…and I shall read it again as it’s a lot to take in all at once! Thank you ‘tho, I enjoy a good and informed read any time!!

 Message 7

On April 3rd a hundred prominent US Jews wrote a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister: “We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

 

I have written earlier that the re-establishment of Israel is a sign of the End Times and a fulfilment of God’s ancient promises about the land. But I also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian State is probably the right way forward for Israel. That raises the question: Is it right to divide the Promised Land?

Message 8

IS IT RIGHT TO DIVIDE THE PROMISED LAND? 2

I will briefly summarise various points I make in my article (Is it right to divide the Promised Land? See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284)

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

So it is difficult to imagine Israel possessing the whole of the land. Israel has only possessed the whole land for 40 out of the last 4000 years (1% of the time), {some would say they have never possessed the whole land] yet God has worked out his purposes for the Jewish people.

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the Promised Land

God commanded Israel to observe a “Year of Jubilee” every 50th year when all property is to be returned to its original owner. This was a condition of keeping the land. (Those who are strict about God’s promise of the whole land should be strict about this too!). Only having part of the land is preferable to losing it.

 

I shall give more reasons later but you may like to read my full article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

In have already addressed this on Facebook.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

Israel is a democracy and the single-state solution (making Palestinians citizens) would soon mean an Arab majority and an end to the safe Jewish homeland.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But Israel should not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism.

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbour, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

Message 9

TO INFORM YOUR PRAYERS FOR ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS
My latest Paradox Newsletter is now available. My newsletters seek to take the needs, pain and fears of both sides seriously. This edition asks what hope there is for the Peace Process and reports on

• The situation with Hamas in Gaza
• The effects of the UN agreement to treat the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state”
• The dangerous isolation of Israel
• Israel’s relationship with the US
• The results of the Israeli General Election

• Thanksgiving & Prayer Topics

See http://prayerforpeace.org.uk/blog/?p=37

Message 10

CURRENT AFFAIRS: ISRAELI GOVERNMENT “STRONGLY OPPOSED TO PALESTINIAN STATE”

Having spoken strongly about the strong anti-Israel bias in the WCC’s recent statement I now have to say something on the other side. This week Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economics and trade minister said in a meeting of West Bank settlers that it was hopeless to expect a settlement with the Palestinians. He said: “Never have so many people invested so much energy in something that is hopeless …. This land has been ours for 3,000 years. There was never a Palestinian state here and we were never occupiers. The house is ours and we are residents here, not the occupiers.” He then said Israel should “build, build, build” settlements on the West Bank.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, agreed with Bennett.  Two weeks earlier the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, claimed a majority within the Israeli government were strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He said: “If there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government.”

All this is very sad and guaranteed to create a lot of trouble for Israel as well as frustrating the Palestinians in their legitimate desire for their own state. True, there was never a Palestinian state on the West Bank but there were Palestinian people living there, many of whom were displaced and their private land occupied. These politicians should realise that we are living in 2013, not 1948. There is now a recognised and defined Palestinian people who naturally wish to have their own state.  It is wrong and unjust not to recognise this.

I recently wrote at greater length about this issue in “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284  This new development is very disturbing and we must pray it won’t prevent a just settlement with peace and security for both sides.

What a terrible thing it was that Joanne Yeates, the young landscape architect, was brutally strangled just before Christmas 2010. Our hearts surely went out to the grieving parents when they were on television. We must pray that the murderer will soon be found and punished.

However, I was upset by something else that happened in this case. I am well aware that the police have to do their job and need to follow up any leads. Also I know that not infrequently the murderer is someone close to the victim.

However, I remember watching the news when her landlord had been taken into custody. It was yet another case of trial by media. I said on more than one occasion as I watched: “A person is innocent until proved guilty.”  But in the modern news-entertainment media some people are guilty until proved innocent. And that was the case over this suspect. Yes, he perhaps looked a little wild – I think he was an ex-professor!

The more I watched, the more uncomfortable I became. In one sense it made no difference whether he was actually innocent or guilty. He was being convicted anyway. Covering themselves legally with words like “alleged” the media were able to “entertain” the viewers by implying he was a “horrible fiend.”

In the old days it would just have been local people who might have assumed his guilt. That’s bad enough. But nowadays the whole country is likely to conclude he was guilty without trial. How devastating it must have been for him. I wonder how he is now. He’s dropped out of the news-entertainment spotlight because he was released without charge. Will he ever get over it?

I hate to think of people’s lives being ruined by false accusation and by conviction without trial. I’ve seen too much of it over the years.

Little wonder, therefore, Jesus and the apostles are clear about how we should respond to allegations or suspicions. According to the teaching of Jesus:

  • We should not jump to conclusions about a person’s guilt, i.e. be judgmental. We should carefully suspend judgment and refuse to “convict” them without trial, even in conversation.
  • We should directly approach someone who appears to have done wrong to hear their defence or explanation and to assess the truth.

This is the Christian approach and it means we avoid becoming slanderers. The Bible is quite blunt about slanderers. It says a slanderer is a fool (Proverbs 10:18) who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10) and who should be avoided (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Quite!