Persecution for Christ’s Sake?

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Increasingly there are reports of Christians getting into trouble with police for publicly preaching against homosexuality and gay marriage, most recently this report on the site churchleaders.com. The verdict of “Incitement” against Pastor Olaf Latzel in Bremen is another example.

Here are my thoughts on this:

Of course Christians, like everyone else, should have the right to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of opinion and speech, and the fact that this right is increasingly eroded by labelling some opinions “hate speech” is a problem and politically concerning.

BUT: From a spiritual perspective our task as Christians and as the church is NOT to preach Christian morality to an unbelieving world, but to preach Jesus Christ as Lord and only Saviour.

When people come to Jesus and are born again then the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth, and He cannot be arrested by police.

Of course, as Christians we will be increasingly discriminated against when we express our convictions on various topics, or when we refuse to participate in certain activities (i.e. abortions, same-sex weddings), and this is a deplorable development in countries that boast of their liberal society because it is the very people who most vocally demand tolerance for their views who are most intolerant of others.

But I warn against claiming persecution for our faith, even obliquely, as long as we are permitted to preach Jesus as Lord, as the crucified and risen Christ and Saviour.

The problem is this: if we call the discrimination which we experience on certain subjects here in Europe and other western countries, “persecution for Christ’s sake,” when Christians in countries like China, North Korea, or India experience violent oppression and persecution including imprisonment and even death, or while Christian refugees in refugee camps here in Europe experience violent persecution from Muslim fellow refugees, we are effectively risk minimizing the suffering of these persecuted Christians as we focus on our own discomfort. If we complain of being persecuted right now, how will we cope if we ever are faced with real persecution?

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A Growing Tide of Antisemitism

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In an article on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Eichmann trial in Israel Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt writes,

«Today, amid a rising tide of antisemitism, I am troubled that so many people only see this scourge among their political enemies and never among their compatriots. This happens at both ends of the political spectrum.

But … the evil of antisemitism must be fought irrespective of its source. Even as I fight those with whom I have nothing in common and whose views are a complete anathema to me, so too must I call to account those whose views on other matters I share.»

This is an important thought, not only but especially in the context of antisemitism, and nowhere more so than in the countries directly responsible for the Shoah, including my country of Austria.

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The Most Common Cause of Divisions?

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The Good Friday sermon by P. Raniero Cantalamess O.F.M.Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, is of course addressed to Catholics. However, as Evangelical Christians, parts of what he says is applicable to us as well and should make us reflect on how we deal with each other, especially where differences of opinion on worldly matters are concerned: 

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.

In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).

We need to learn from Jesus’ example and the Gospel. He lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it. Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’. The Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

This problem, that a political ideology or opinion becomes so important in some Christians’ minds that they forget or neglect charity and brotherliness in the way they relate to other Christians, is by no means limited to Catholics but is alive and well among us Evangelicals.

In our communities, too, the shepherds (and that is what “pastor” means) need to care for the whole flock and should therefore, as much as possible, steer clear of political controversy; in our communities, too, as Christians and citizens it is our task to translate the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different ways, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

That we need to be reminded of this became especially clear during the four years of the Trump presidency, in the context of Brexit and similar controversies in other countries, as well as in our response to the Covid pandemic and the restrictions in response to it.

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What does “FTP” stand for?

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In my reading in recent months I have come across a lot of new acronyms such as, for example, “BLM“. One that recently caught my attention, because I use it a lot, is “FTP“. This is, apparently, a ruder and more comprehensive variant of “Defund the Police“, being shorthand for “f*ck the police“.

This puts me in a quandary, because, as I said, I use this acronym a lot, in its original meaning of “file transfer protocol“, a venerable part of the standard UNIX/Linux networking tools.

So I wish to make it very clear, lest anyone misunderstands:

Whenever I use the acronym “FTP” in a neutral or approving manner, I am referring to the File Transfer Protocol, its various implementations across different operating systems, and the action of using such implementations to transfer files. Sometimes, because there are actually more convenient ways of transferring files, I may even use the acronym in a negative or disapproving manner to refer to the file transfer protocol and the apps implementing it.

Only very rarely will I use the acronym FTP in its contemporary “political” sense because I am opposed to abusing words in this fashion, and I am opposed to abusing the police. When acts of police brutality or other illegal actions by police officers happen (and I have no doubt that they do because policing involves the exercise of power and that attracts people with a pathological desire for dominating others), there are more effective and suitable means of dealing with it than the obscene suggestion implied by “FTP”.

 

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