What is Hell?

What is Hell? by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

We are a product of our history.  Much of our theology has been formed by the ancient church, by medieval thinking and by our personal theology.   Recently I was asked, ‘Do you believe in Hell and if so what or where is Hell’?

What is my view on Hell?  This stumped me for a while?  I actually found it pretty difficult to answer.  So this post comes out of weeks and weeks of me digging around in my theology attempting to work out what it is that I believe.  I actually came up with more questions than answers but here goes.

Hell:

Our first images of Heaven and Hell came from the middle ages where heaven and hell were seen as places of reward and punishment.  You may like to read my post on What is Heaven?  

The most prominent illustration of hell from this period was by Dante’s Divine Comedy.  He portrays Hell as nine circles in the centre of the earth where Satan dwells  (Mc Grath).

There are a few differing doctrines on Hell.  “One, the traditional Christian model of hell, articulated by some of the West’s most historically significant philosophers and theologians, hell involves permanent, conscious suffering for the purpose of punishing human sin. According to annihilationism, the damned ultimately cease to exist and so are not conscious. According to the free will view of hell, the purpose of hell is to respect the choice of the damned not to be with God in heaven. Finally, according to universalism, there is either no hell at all, or only a temporary hell” (Ref).

The most common translation for the word ‘Hell’ in the New Testament is Gehenna.  It was an actual location in Jerusalem. The term Gehenna is derived from the Valley of Hinnom, traditionally considered by the Jews the place of the final punishment of the ungodly. It was an old rubbish heap outside the southwest corner of the old city.  A smouldering smoking rubbish dump. The valley was used as a burial-place for criminals and for burning garbage.  They used sulphur, the flammable substance we now use in matches and gunpowder. Thus when the Jews talked about punishment in the next life, what better image could they use than the smoldering valley they called gehenna? (ref)

‘What Jesus was meaning in this reference when he referred to Gehenna was not that they would burn in hell as our medieval ancestors have translated, but that if they did not turn away from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing Gods Kingdom on their own terms, Rome would do what all larger empires do when they take over smaller ones,  Rome would turn Jerusalem into a smouldering stinking rubbish heap and that is exactly what has happened and it is still smouldering and stinking.  When Jesus said: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish”  that was the primary meaning that he had in mind’ (N.T. Wright).

Jesus did say that who reject God will go away into eternal punishment,” which is “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. Elsewhere in Matthew (8:12, 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30), Jesus invokes a rather different image, suggesting that hell is “outer darkness” (that is, outside heaven) “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  Though not always expressly stated, the implication is that the punishment will have duration and be endless.” John F. Walvoord in Four Views on Hell, p. 20

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Photo Cred:  Matt Lawson Photography

I come from the Christian worldview of eternal life. I think that heaven and hell are linked and that the goal is actually life now, not later and that it be a life that is demonstrating the goodness of God to those around us now and to the care of the planet.  N.T.Wright also confirms the connection saying that hell is necessary as part of the ethics of heaven.

Otherwise, it’s chaos. Unless God hates child murderers, child rapists, whatever, then God is a bad God. But God wants them to change. If they say, “No, this is the way for me to be human. I like doing this stuff,” then God will say, “Well, I’m sorry. There is no place in my new creation for somebody who insists on remaking their own humanity in that deadly way (Ref)

My view on Hell is similar to C. S. Lewis.  His book The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a good picture of life without God – the frozen paralysing fear of Narnia.

Personally, my view of Hell would be considered the ‘free will’ view.  According to the free will view, one of God’s purposes in creation is to establish genuine love-based relationships between God and humans, and within the human community. But love is a relation that can exist only between people who are genuinely free. Therefore, God gives people freedom in this life to decide for themselves whether or not they will reciprocate God’s love by becoming the people God created them to be (Ref).

It teaches that God places the damned in hell not to punish them, but to honor the choices they have freely made. On this view, hell originates not so much from divine justice as from divine love.
Jesus prayed “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Lewis says in The Great Divorce:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” He is saying that Hell is actually life without God.

When someone says, “I do not want to have a relationship with God,” in that limited sense they ultimately get their way. The unbeliever’s “wish” to be away from God turns out to be his worst nightmare. The ultimate or eternal absence of God is an eternity without goodness where you will live with your own poor character.

“In one of his few treatments of hell in Following Jesus, Tom Wright employed a metaphor which would have made Lewis proud. He imagined a grand piano that had once played brilliant music, but it changed hands and fell into disuse. Eventually wormwood set in to the disused piano and it was chopped up and used for kindling (p. 91)“.
Second Thessalonians 1:9 describes hell like this:

“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.”

Where God withdraws, there can be no good.  So, in Lewis’s terms, the unbeliever gets what he wants — God’s absence — yet with it gets what he doesn’t want — the loss of all good.

I hope that this has helped a little.  It is a very abbreviated look at these topics which I found a little overwhelming to be honest.  I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Happy to be corrected.

Featured Art by Matt Lawson:

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.
Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on-line since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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References:

Christian Theology by Alister McGrath

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, top-selling author and Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright tackles the biblical question of what happens after we die and shows how most Christians get it wrong. We do not “go to” heaven; we are resurrected and heaven comes down to earth–a difference that makes all of the difference to how we live on earth.

Beginning to see as the mystics see by  Richard Rohr

Welcoming But Not Affirming: Getting to the Slippery Truth

“As a survivor of the gay conversion movement, it feels amazing to know that our experiences are being heard nationally and that there is finally research that confirms the prevalence and damage of the gay conversion movement in Australia… The messaging of the movement that told me that I was “broken” has caused long-term damage to me” – Chris Csabs, survivor.

This article is written by Nathan Despott.

As a gay person raised in a Catholic home, but who spent his late teens and 20s in Melbourne’s evangelical community, the image of a large church with arms open to welcome LGBTIQA+ people is familiar but foreboding. Most of my experience in the ex-gay or “conversion” movement was through long-term involvement in loving and warm local Christian communities that, rather than condemn my sexuality, lovingly intimated that I was “broken”. My ten-year quest for healing was all-consuming and overwhelming.

Since leaving the movement in 2010, it has been morbidly fascinating to watch most formal ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion programs shut their doors, often replaced by celibacy movements and a new wave of churches that call themselves “welcoming but not affirming”.

“Welcoming”, a paradoxical halfway between “condemning” and “affirming”, is the point whereby a church shifts from viewing LGBTIQA+ people as utterly intolerable, instead viewing them as “broken” and in need of gracious support. LGBTIQA+ members often experience close fellowship here, but cannot usually hold positions of leadership or, in some cases, work with young people and children. Researcher Mark Jennings found that most of the Pentecostal/charismatic religious leaders he spoke to held a “welcoming” position.

The recent Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice report (Human Rights Law Centre/La Trobe University, Melbourne) indicates that “while the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture appears less hostile than overt opposition to LGBT rights, when its ‘not affirming’ aspects are withheld or disguised… it can be deeply harmful.

“Welcoming” churches and the conversion movement share a view of sexual orientation and gender as being distinct from their expression (or “practice”). However, this distinction is relatively recent. It is certainly anachronistic to read scripture in this light. The word “homosexual” did not appear in bible translations until the mid-20th century. Modern “homosexuality” was demarcated by early psychoanalysts in late 19th century Europe, viewed as simultaneously intriguing and problematic for roughly a hundred years, then removed from the DSM in 1973.

The Preventing Harm report traces the development of the conversion movement and its ideology of “brokenness” from this point to the present day, where it has become virtually the mainstream lens through which evangelical communities – whether focused on orientation change or celibacy – engage LGBTIQA+ people.

The SOCE Survivor Statement, released by an Australian coalition of affirming organisations in September, outlined the core pseudo-scientific tenets of the ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion movement. While prime minister Scott Morrison responded by declaring that “conversion therapy is not an issue for me”, so central to the faith of a small number of “purity” groups (read: celibacy for queer people) was the “brokenness” ideology that they saw the Statement as an attack on their religious freedom.

Preventing Harm and the SOCE Survivor Statement present the conversion movement not merely as a type of therapy but as a broad movement that invests significant resources and energy in transmitting an ideology of “brokenness” through myriad channels and activities. Both reports recommend legislative interventions, tighter educational controls, regulatory measures for practice, improved media and broadcast standards, and support for survivors.

“Affirming” is distinct from welcoming. Responding to pastors who considered their churches to be “affirming” following a shift from condemnation to support, survivor support and advocacy group Brave Network Melbourne developed a model statement of affirmation. Could pastors and their leadership teams (and their online communications) readily state “We believe LGBTIQA+ people are a loved and essential part of God’s intended human diversity”? Many could not.

Do not misunderstand me. For some of these churches, their forward movement is honourable. Theologically and personally, their journey has been significant – particularly if their welcoming stance has led to rejection from conservative brethren. However, for LGBTIQA+ people of faith, the safety line lies between “welcoming” and “affirming”.

While welcoming churches may have opened their arms to LGBTIQA+ people or even actively shunned the conversion movement in favour of celibacy, only affirming churches have completely rejected the “brokenness” ideology and made the theological and pastoral shift to full equality – and therefore safety – for LGBTIQA+ people.

Cherished LGBTIQA+ allies such as leading evangelical ethicist Dr David Gushee, evangelical sociologist Dr Tony Campolo, mega-church leader Nicole Conner , and out-and-proud Christian pin-up Vicky Beeching have all paid a high price for their affirming stance.

Brave Network and similar organisations have openly called on churches to explicitly declare their theological stance regarding LGBTIQA+ people rather than engaging in ambiguities such as “welcoming but not affirming”, which is widely seen as code for “you’re broken but we still love you”.

This would prevent people of faith spending years ensconced in communities that slowly erode their mental health. This is because, as LGBT Christian blogger Kevin Garcia states, “welcoming but not affirming is not welcoming at all”.

To learn more about LGBTIQA+ affirmation and the church, check out Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by celebrated ally Kathy Baldock, Changing our Mind by Dr David Gushee, and Undivided by Vicky Beeching. If you are in need of safe affirming organisations, check out One Body One Faith, Affirm or Two:23 in the UK, Equal Voices or Brave Network in Australia, Q Christian Fellowship or the Reformation Project in the US.

There is a growing number of affirming churches – from progressive to evangelical and every denomination in between – across the world. LGBTIQA+ Christians visiting an “affirming” community for the first time can use a statement like the Brave Network statement of affirmation above as a litmus test.

(Nathan Despott is a co-leader of Brave Network Melbourne and works as a research and development manager in the intellectual disability sector in Australia. He thanks Australian LGBTIQA+ advocates and allies Chris Csabs, Nicole Conner and Michelle Eastwood for their contributions to this piece.)

 

Imagination and Creativity Can Change the World

Imagination and Creativity Can Change the World by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

In the Beginning ….. God.

Creation

‘Before the beginning there was silence.

There was no song. No whisper. There were no hues of blues and greens, no blends of color, no child’s laughter and no aromas, no yellow flowers, no buzzing black bumble bees, not even red sky at dawn. There was no fire and there were no rhythms. There was no work, no ice cold drink on a hot day, no flow to the center, no far and no near, for there was nothing to be measured. There was no structure, no system, no birth and no moonlight dancing on the evening tide. There was no bitter and no sweet and there was no breeze on the face. There was no texture, no form and no early morning fog. The darkness was not black for there was no color.

But there was hope.

‘Hovering there in the silence was the One’ (Source).

Hovering there in the silence was ‘the one’, Elohim. The Hebrew word Elohim is plural and it is the Hebrew word for God. The first recorded activity in the ancient texts is ‘creativity’. In the beginning, God CREATED. Genesis chapter one. He created something out of nothing. He is God the omnipotent one. Omnipotent is Latin meaning, all potent or full of potential. It means, having unlimited or universal power, authority and force.

‘I am the one who made the earth and created the people to live on it. With my hands stretched out heavens. All the stars are at my command’. Is 45:12
You can sense God’s creativity in this verse. He describes how He created the heavens with His own hands. The universe was His canvas, and His love for creation is his passion. He is the Lord of all creation. He is the one who placed the stars in the sky; who commands the morning to appear, who has storehouses full of hail and snow and who knows where the gates of death are located.

Created in His Image.

God said in Genesis 1:26 ‘let us make man in our image’.

This means we too are ‘full of potential’. Our ability to create is a direct reflection of the one who gives us life. We are Gods’ masterpiece. He created us so we could do all the amazing things He has planned for us (Eph 2:10). Of the entire world and all things in it, we are His greatest work of art ever.

In her book ‘Mind of the Maker’, Dorothy Sayers asks:

‘How then can we be said to resemble God? What is it about us that looks like God?.. The characteristic common to God and humans is apparently… the desire and ability to make things’.

James Romaine calls our creativity ‘a ringing echo of his image within us’. American author Joseph Chilton Pearce says, ‘We must accept that this creative pulse within us is Gods creative pulse itself’.

We are all created in His image, therefore, we are all creative. We may not be artists: a person who has applied decades of patience, discipline and practice into their craft. Yet we are all creative. Creativity is the capacity to take a new idea and make it come to pass.

In the book ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball’, writer and artist Gordon Mac Kenzie describe his frequent visits to schools to speak to children. He would usually begin these sessions by asking, “How many of you are artists?”. In kindergarten and early primary school, every single hand shot up in the air. The percentage declined to half when he addressed children in middle schools. When he met with fifth and sixth graders only a couple of children tentatively raised their hands.

‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong ‘- Joseph Chilton Pearce.

kids art
The fear of being wrong is what consumes us as adults. We are afraid of being shot down or made to look silly. Children don’t think like that, they are happy in their own thought bubble. They are generally encouraged and applauded. How many times have we looked at a piece of indecipherable art and declared, “Oh that is so beautiful’. Kids just think it and do it. We could all learn from that. They are outrageously confident. How sad that we start out knowing we are creative but somehow along the way it is knocked out of us. Many of us believe only the genuinely gifted are creative but this is a myth.

Alex Osbourne, the author of Your Creative Power, says.

“An analysis of almost all the psychological tests ever made, points to the conclusion that creative talent is normally distributed. That is, that all of us possess this talent. The difference is only in the degree; and that degree is largely influenced by effort”.
Imagination

Albert Einstein claimed that ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge”. Imagination is the ability to form mental images. It helps provide meaning to experience and to understand knowledge. It is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world.

Your imagination is like a canvas. You can paint on it any kind of picture you chose through your thoughts attitudes and what you decide to focus on. If I say the words ‘small white cat’, you don’t simply hear the words, your mind shows you an image of that animal. We are visual beings with incredible imaginations.

God told Abraham that he was going to be the father of many nations. In the natural that was absurd. He was old, his wife was barren. God gave Abraham some unusual directions.

“Go outside and look up at the stars, for as many stars as you can see, that is how many descendants you will have. (Gen 15:5)
God had already told Abraham what was going to happen, but he also needed visual reinforcement. Every night that Abe went outside to look up at the sky he was reminded of Gods promise to him. Even though he did not have a child until 20 years later, Abraham saw himself as the father of many nations. He heard it, he saw it and it happened.

God has said that He is able to do above and beyond all that we can hope or imagine. God knows all about the power of imagination. In the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 he says ‘and now that they have imagined, nothing that they plan to do will be impossible for them’.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

“That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our lives and out character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming”.

thinking

That which dominates our imagination and thoughts is what we will become. What is the constant movie real going through your mind? Is it healthy? Is it creative? Is it positive? Is it building something, creating life, creating a positive change? We have the power to create change for good and also for bad.

Some of us can imagine a world at peace where everyone has enough to eat, but few of us will do anything about it. We can imagine a world where there is no injustice, but how do our actions and our words match that vision. We can imagine a community where everyone is loved and accepted but what are we doing to build that community?

Imagination must partner with creativity to make ideas happen.
Does our thought life and our character match up with what we are creating? We will create something, there is no doubt about that. It is in our DNA. We can create life, hope, joy, beauty and wonder. We can also create darkness, indifference and discord. In our families, in our communities and in our Nations.

We are full of potential. We are creative beings. Whatever we plan or imagine we can create. The real question then becomes what is it that we will create and what impact will it have on those around us?

we create

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been online since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

Who Is the Jesus of Easter?

Who Is the Jesus of Easter? by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

I hope that you have a beautiful Easter weekend however you chose to celebrate and remember it.   I love Easter Sunday.  I love the message. I love the man – Jesus.  I don’t mind the chocolate either.

Empty grave

Who is this Jesus?

Easter is the oldest and most important festival on the Church calendar.  It is the  remembrance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But most of all it is about the hope that Easter brings.  The fact that Jesus conquered death by love.

This is the message of Jesus, He is alive and He is alive in me.  He brings freedom and life and joy.  He is safe and He breathes forgiveness.  He doesn’t just forgive;

HE IS forgiveness.

There is nothing to be afraid of in the risen Jesus.

We have in him the perfect icon of a God who is safe and a universe that is safe. We have a God who does not blame, does not punish, does not threaten, does not dominate. We have a God who breathes forgiveness (Rohr).

The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is no victory through domination. There is no such thing as triumph by force. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus stops the cycle of violence and challenges the notion of dominating power.

This is a power that seeks to change things from the top down, from the outside in. Instead, Jesus invites us to relational or spiritual power, where we are not just changed but transformed. And not transformed from the top down but from the bottom up, not from the outside in but from the inside out. Transformed into God…. (R.Rohr).

“You have to trust that inner voice to show you the way…You know that inner voice.  Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to  a new life of freedom and joy”  (Henri Nouwen)

Meditate on these words.  Say them to yourself.  Say them out loud.

Jesus is the one who speaks lovingly ‘I will never leave you.  I am with you always’.

I will love you forever.  My love NEVER fails.

I am faithful, I am righteous.  I am just and I am truth.

Following Christ is both the safest and the most exhilarating thing that you will ever do.

He is: comfort, compassion, love, acceptance, forgiveness.

He is:  good, peace, hope joy, gentleness, freedom.

He does NOT:  reject, abuse, abandon, condemn, dominate or control.

HE IS:  gracious, kind, merciful, creative, wondrous, ingenious.

He is rest…………..

Happy in the mountains

He fights for the oppressed.  He hates injustice.

He came to set prisoners free from every trap that they have been caught in. Every addiction, every bondage, every fear and terror.  He has the power and He can free us.

He knows the beginning from the end.  His love NEVER fails.  When we fail, he lifts us up.  By HIS power we can stand.

He knows us intimately, He knows we weep and grieve and that we are frail.

My hope is in Jesus.

My trust is in Jesus

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

He is alive and He lives in me.

We see in Jesus the divine being who is also the perfect human being. Jesus comes in a human body to show us the face of God, the One who is eternally compassionate and eternally joyous, who stands with us in our sufferings and our joys.

As Christians, our vocation is to unite with both Christ crucified and Christ risen. (Rohr)

When you think on these things you can feel hope rising in your heart.

SELAH

love Lisa

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Recommended Reading:

Henri Nouwen:  The Inner Voice of Love

This is Henri Nouwen’s “secret journal.” It was  written during the most difficult period of his life, when he suddenly lost his self-esteem,  his energy to live and work, his sense of being loved, even his hope in God. Although he experienced excruciating anguish and despair, he was still able to keep a journal in which he wrote a spiritual imperative to himself each day that emerged from his conversations with friends and supporters.

Welcoming but not Affirming: Getting to the Slippery Truth

“As a survivor of the gay conversion movement, it feels amazing to know that our experiences are being heard nationally and that there is finally research that confirms the prevalence and damage of the gay conversion movement in Australia… The messaging of the movement that told me that I was “broken” has caused long-term damage to me” – Chris Csabs, survivor.

This article is written by Nathan Despott.

As a gay person raised in a Catholic home, but who spent his late teens and 20s in Melbourne’s evangelical community, the image of a large church with arms open to welcome LGBTIQA+ people is familiar but foreboding. Most of my experience in the ex-gay or “conversion” movement was through long-term involvement in loving and warm local Christian communities that, rather than condemn my sexuality, lovingly intimated that I was “broken”. My ten-year quest for healing was all-consuming and overwhelming.

Since leaving the movement in 2010, it has been morbidly fascinating to watch most formal ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion programs shut their doors, often replaced by celibacy movements and a new wave of churches that call themselves “welcoming but not affirming”.

“Welcoming”, a paradoxical halfway between “condemning” and “affirming”, is the point whereby a church shifts from viewing LGBTIQA+ people as utterly intolerable, instead viewing them as “broken” and in need of gracious support. LGBTIQA+ members often experience close fellowship here, but cannot usually hold positions of leadership or, in some cases, work with young people and children. Researcher Mark Jennings found that most of the Pentecostal/charismatic religious leaders he spoke to held a “welcoming” position.

The recent Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice report (Human Rights Law Centre/La Trobe University, Melbourne) indicates that “while the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture appears less hostile than overt opposition to LGBT rights, when its ‘not affirming’ aspects are withheld or disguised… it can be deeply harmful.

“Welcoming” churches and the conversion movement share a view of sexual orientation and gender as being distinct from their expression (or “practice”). However, this distinction is relatively recent. It is certainly anachronistic to read scripture in this light. The word “homosexual” did not appear in bible translations until the mid-20th century. Modern “homosexuality” was demarcated by early psychoanalysts in late 19th century Europe, viewed as simultaneously intriguing and problematic for roughly a hundred years, then removed from the DSM in 1973.

The Preventing Harm report traces the development of the conversion movement and its ideology of “brokenness” from this point to the present day, where it has become virtually the mainstream lens through which evangelical communities – whether focused on orientation change or celibacy – engage LGBTIQA+ people.

The SOCE Survivor Statement, released by an Australian coalition of affirming organisations in September, outlined the core pseudo-scientific tenets of the ex-gay/ex-trans/conversion movement. While prime minister Scott Morrison responded by declaring that “conversion therapy is not an issue for me”, so central to the faith of a small number of “purity” groups (read: celibacy for queer people) was the “brokenness” ideology that they saw the Statement as an attack on their religious freedom.

Preventing Harm and the SOCE Survivor Statement present the conversion movement not merely as a type of therapy but as a broad movement that invests significant resources and energy in transmitting an ideology of “brokenness” through myriad channels and activities. Both reports recommend legislative interventions, tighter educational controls, regulatory measures for practice, improved media and broadcast standards, and support for survivors.

“Affirming” is distinct from welcoming. Responding to pastors who considered their churches to be “affirming” following a shift from condemnation to support, survivor support and advocacy group Brave Network Melbourne developed a model statement of affirmation. Could pastors and their leadership teams (and their online communications) readily state “We believe LGBTIQA+ people are a loved and essential part of God’s intended human diversity”? Many could not.

Do not misunderstand me. For some of these churches, their forward movement is honourable. Theologically and personally, their journey has been significant – particularly if their welcoming stance has led to rejection from conservative brethren. However, for LGBTIQA+ people of faith, the safety line lies between “welcoming” and “affirming”.

While welcoming churches may have opened their arms to LGBTIQA+ people or even actively shunned the conversion movement in favour of celibacy, only affirming churches have completely rejected the “brokenness” ideology and made the theological and pastoral shift to full equality – and therefore safety – for LGBTIQA+ people.

Cherished LGBTIQA+ allies such as leading evangelical ethicist Dr David Gushee, evangelical sociologist Dr Tony Campolo, mega-church leader Nicole Conner , and out-and-proud Christian pin-up Vicky Beeching have all paid a high price for their affirming stance.

Brave Network and similar organisations have openly called on churches to explicitly declare their theological stance regarding LGBTIQA+ people rather than engaging in ambiguities such as “welcoming but not affirming”, which is widely seen as code for “you’re broken but we still love you”.

This would prevent people of faith spending years ensconced in communities that slowly erode their mental health. This is because, as LGBT Christian blogger Kevin Garcia states, “welcoming but not affirming is not welcoming at all”.

To learn more about LGBTIQA+ affirmation and the church, check out Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by celebrated ally Kathy Baldock, Changing our Mind by Dr David Gushee, and Undivided by Vicky Beeching. If you are in need of safe affirming organisations, check out One Body One Faith, Affirm or Two:23 in the UK, Equal Voices or Brave Network in Australia, Q Christian Fellowship or the Reformation Project in the US.

There is a growing number of affirming churches – from progressive to evangelical and every denomination in between – across the world. LGBTIQA+ Christians visiting an “affirming” community for the first time can use a statement like the Brave Network statement of affirmation above as a litmus test.

(Nathan Despott is a co-leader of Brave Network Melbourne and works as a research and development manager in the intellectual disability sector in Australia. He thanks Australian LGBTIQA+ advocates and allies Chris Csabs, Nicole Conner and Michelle Eastwood for their contributions to this piece.)

 

A Dummies Guide to the Bible

1 THE BIBLE

Every writing which is written by The Spirit is profitable for teaching, for correction, for direction and for a course in righteousness 2 Timothy 3:16 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

Bible reading is at the heart of this Way of Life Community of Aidan and Hilda Way of Life

Traveller        I am drawn to this way of life but new to it. Why should it include daily Bible reading? I thought the Bible was an out-date book.

Guide             Because the Bible is a collection of writings which have passed the test of constant use, and which, although they lay bare the worst things human nature is capable of, they give glimpses of ways in which God speaks, inspires, challenges and unfolds divine purposes.

Traveller        Tell me about the Bible. What is it?

Guide             It is the most published book in the world and vast numbers of commentaries have been written about it. I am not an expert. There are experts in Hebrew and Greek (the original languages of the Bible), the cultures of Bible lands, brilliant theologians and profound mystics who can help us.

Traveller        OK, but please will you give me a Dummies Guide to start me off.

Guide             All branches of the Christian Church agree that at least sixty-six ‘books’ comprise ‘the canon’ (agreed list) of Scripture. These sacred writings written over two millennia gradually gained recognition as having innate authority. In 367 Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, stated that the list of 27 books that we call the New Testament was ‘canonised’, that is, that a ruling had been given by senior church leaders as to their inspired authority.

Traveller       What’s the difference between the New Testament and the other books?

Guide             The others are about The Old Covenant (or Testament) God made with one people. The last twenty-seven are about the New Covenant (or Testament) God made through Jesus Christ with all people.

Traveller        So Timothy, in today’s Scripture verse, meant that these writings before the New Testament were inspired?

Guide             Yes, but we believe that the same applies to the New Testament.

Reflection

The Divine Scripture is a sea, containing in it deep meanings, and an abyss of prophetic mysteries; and into this sea enter many rivers. There are Sweet and transparent streams, cool fountains too there are, springing up into life eternal… Various then are the streams of the sacred Scriptures. There is in them a first draught for you, a second, and a last. Bishop Ambrose in a letter to Constantius 379.

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Way Marks Of Life

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Lara, Vic 3212

Australia

We are Not Called to Follow an Organisation but a Way of Life.

I am the way, the truth and the life’ Jesus did not call people to join an organisation, but to follow a way of life. Ray Simpson

In the last few years, I have had a lot of people asking me about community, church, gathering, attendance etc…  In the last decade, our understanding of what it is to be a Christian or what it is to attend church has become very entrenched with the institutional model of attending church weekly on a Sunday.  Singing three fast songs, two slow songs,  having announcements, offering and a message.

I challenge you to show me where this model is reflected in the bible.

I constantly hear sentences like:  Where do you fellowship?  Where do you find like-minded people?  Where do you attend?

Jesus us told us to go OUT into all the world.  His own life models being present in the community, in everyday life.

I have been challenged of recent years to be more present in my community.  To BE the presence of God IN my community.  To be available and to be salt and light.  That means being accessible and involved in the life of the community around me.

Not living in fear.  Not living in judgment and condemnation.  Just being who God created me to be and loving those around me.

I am moving further and further away from the  ‘us and them’ mentality and closer to just ‘us’.  In doing so I have met and am doing life with some of the most amazing humans on the planet.  There is no longer ‘us and them’.  There is just us and that is enough for me.  In fact, I have had more God encounters in the last 4 years than in the previous  30.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only son Jesus.

I am sorry Christians but God does not love you more than anyone else.  God IS LOVE.  HE LOVES – everyone.  He loves the whole world and everything in it.

When we love,  we make an environment where the spirit of God can dwell because that is who he is.  People are drawn to love, they crave it and need it.  Love is the greatest power in the universe.  “For the greatest of these is LOVE”.

Dear friends, let us continuously love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God.

I no longer drive each week to a location to meet with other ‘Christians’.

I no longer spend all my time and energy ‘doing’ church I am the church.

I no longer worry about inviting people TO church.  I invite people to church every time I have a conversation with them and every-time I demonstrate the love and acceptance of Christ toward them.

This post from Rev Ray Simpson from the Way Marks of Life initiative explains it very well and it is different for all of us.  As long as we are following Christ and not the institution.

Way Marks Of Life

COMMUNITY IS NOT READY-MADE

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel… and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. Philippians 1:12, 14.

There is no ready-made Community on anyone’s doorstep. Unity with other members is rooted in the knowledge that we all follow the community’s Way of Life and that this reflects our deepest calling. Introduction to the Way of Life

Traveller:       I want a community that is there for me every day where I live.

Guide             I encourage you to ask yourself this question: Which do you love most – God or your idea of a community?

Traveller:        Why can’t I have both?

Guide             God comes first. God may give you what you long for but it will be on his terms, not yours.

Traveller:        What do you mean?

Guide             The first issue to sort out is this: Is God calling you to live this Way of Life? If you commit to this, you will be led wherever God wishes to lead you. God may ask you to open your heart to local people and share in an existing group, or to draw new friends to meet together. God may, however, lead you to a different focus.

Traveller:        Can you give an example?

Guide             The apostle Paul was asked to travel on missionary journeys. Then he was put under house arrest. He carried those he had met in his heart. He wrote letters to them and prayed for them but he had no ready-made community on his doorstep. This dispersed community of Aidan and Hilda may be like that.

Traveller:        In what ways?

Guide             Some keep in touch through area groups, and occasional community events, others keep in touch with like-minded members through Skype, Facebook, email and other social media. All use the daily prayer diary. But there is something deeper that binds us together. When we truly ‘come home’ we are known as we are known.

Reflection

What is your deepest calling?

 

You can get Ray’s book here – Amazon.  Way Marks for the Journey

I am the way, the truth and the life’ Jesus did not call people to join an organisation, but to follow a way of life.

Under the guidance of Ray Simpson, renowned for his expertise in Celtic spirituality, this daily prayer book is structured according to the way of life adopted by the Community of Aidan and Hilda. Along with a short Bible reading and reflection, each day includes a step to enable readers to move away from what is destructive towards what is life-giving. There is also a unique spiritual breathing exercise following the rhythm with which our bodies breather, allowing us to pray with our very core, wherever we are.

 

6 Warning Signs Your Church Culture Is Toxic

6 Warning Signs Your Church Culture Is Toxic

Every church has a culture. But how do you know if your church culture is toxic?

More importantly, how would you know whether you’re creatinga toxic church culture as a leader?

I’ve interacted with many church leaders (and readers of this blog) and the sad reality is that there is no shortage of toxic church culture stories and experiences.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it certainly isn’t always that way.

Leaders are the architects of culture.

You create a culture whether you intend to or not.

Part of shaping a healthy culture is being aware of the signs of toxic culture and the signs of health.  I blogged about the early warning signs that a person may be toxic here. But organizations have different signs than individuals do.

So how do you know if your church culture is toxic? Believe it or not, the Bible gives incredible practical advice. The longer I lead, the more I use Galatians 5: 16-23 as a health check for me personally and for anything I lead. It describes what’s healthy and what’s not, for me as a leader and for the church.

Below, I outline 6 warning signs that are practical applications of that text.

 

church culture toxic

1. The Politicians Win

One sure sign of a toxic culture is that you have to play politics to get anything done.

You know things have gotten political in your church when:

Decisions rarely get made the way they’re supposed to be made.

Most decisions happen outside of meetings or any agreed-upon process.

You can’t get a yes without offering something in return.

You have to continually lobby to be heard.

If you’re always jockeying, lobbying and courting favour to get the right decision made, it’s a sign your organization is unhealthy.

In the local church, having to play politics to win is a sure sign there’s sin.

When you do what you say you’re going to do the way you said you’re going to do it, you bring health to an organization.

2. What Gets Said Publicly Is Different From What Happened Privately

Another sign things are becoming toxic is when what gets said publicly is different than what happened privately.

When there’s spin on every issue and nothing can be said publicly without ‘agreeing’ on what gets said first, things are bad.

For sure, there are times where a situation is delicate and you will want to ‘agree’ on what gets said publicly to honour everyone involved, but in too many organizations few things that get done privately can be announced the same way publicly.

And to be sure…when you’re crafting any kind of a public statement, you want to pay attention to the words you use and perhaps even find agreement on them.

But the end product should never be the opposite or even different than what actually happened

I have good fortune of being part of several healthy organizations. I love it when people pull me aside and ask (in hushed tones), “So what’s the real story?” and I get to tell them “Actually, that is the real story.”

Living in that kind of culture really helps you sleep at night too.

3. You Deal With Conflict By Talking About People, Not To People

The golden rule of conflict is this: talk to the person you have an issue with, not about them.

In too many churches and organizations, the opposite is true.

People talk about people rather than to them.

The church should be the BEST organization in the world in dealing with conflict. Often, we can be the worst.

The next time you want to talk about someone (i.e. gossip), talk to them instead. If you can’t or won’t, there’s something wrong. Pay attention to that.

Want to know what’s wrong most of the time? You’re gossiping. That’s what’s wrong.

Trying to resolve conflict by gossiping about the person you’re angry with is like trying to extinguish a fire with jet fuel. It only inflames things.

Sure, occasionally you need advice from a friend about how to approach a situation. When I’m in that situation, I try to assume the person we’re talking about will hear everything I say. Even if they don’t, the fact that they could speaks volumes.

Do I always get it right? No, but it’s a great integrity check, and I try to live by it.

If you want more, I outline 7 steps for dealing with conflict in a healthy way in this post.

4. Church Fights Are Normal

Conflict is normal. Church fights shouldn’t be.

Yet so many congregations are in perpetual fighting mode. One day it’s the music. The next it’s the carpet. The next it’s some staff member everyone ganged up on.

Failure to get point #3 right above is the way churches come to see fights as normal.

Another reason churches fight regularly is because personal preferences have trumped organizational mission.

Essentially, members decide that what they want is more important than what others want or the church needs to make progress.

When that happens, it essentially pits one selfish person or group against others.

And when that happens, everything dissolves.

If your church is in conflict there should zero mystery as to why it isn’t growing.

5. There’s An Entrenched ‘Us’ And ‘Them’ Mentality

The church should always be a ‘we,’ not an ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Fundamentally, being a Christian causes us to die to ourselves and rise to something bigger than ourselves.

Some Christians forget that.

Whether the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality exists between factions in your church or between your church and the community, it’s always fatal to health and growth.

The job of a leader is to raise vision high enough and urgently enough for all of us to become bigger than any of us.

United, the church will always accomplish more than we will divided.

6. No One Takes Responsibility

So who’s going to fix your church?

No one.

Someone.

Anybody but me.

As long as things are someone else’s fault, things will never get better.

A final sign your church is toxic is that no one takes responsibility. Instead, people just blame everyone else.

You can blame the culture, the pastor, the leader or anybody, but until you take responsibility, things will never get better.

Blame is the opposite of responsibility. Leaders who stop the blame cycle and take responsibility have the potential to usher in real change.

But, you say…”I’m not responsible for all of it.” True.

But you’re likely responsible for some of it. Own what you can. Own all you can.

If no one else does, still take responsibility.

You’ll get healthier. And if they don’t, you’ll leave and will eventually join a healthier church.

Health attracts health.

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