Why I want to be an extremist and a fundamentalist

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Extremist = bad

Fundamentalist = bad

Moderate = good

These three things are held true by most people when it comes to religion. The extremist kills, the fundamentalist hates and the moderate is nice and warm and fluffy.

So, why do I want to be an extremist? Why do I want to be a fundamentalist? Why do I want to be anything other than moderate?

Look at the definitions at the top. Look at what extreme and fundamental actually mean. Think about how that would apply to Christianity, based on its central message.

Does rejecting people because of their lifestyle sound like something which forms the central core of Jesus’ teachings? Or does calling them to follow him, dining with them, talking with them and loving them sound more like it?

Does taking the lives of people for their sins sound like Jesus? Or does telling them to “go and sin no more” strike you as more fundamental to his way?

Does the pursuit of wealth for the few come across as an extreme example of Christian teaching? Or does selling everything and giving the money to the poor fit the bill?

Does a love of Queen and country seem like the central tenet for us to hold onto? Or does the seeking of God’s Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms sound like our main aim?

Does a rejection of people based on race, colour or creed sound like a divine calling? Or do you think that welcoming strangers and making disciples of all nations is the thing we are called to do instead?

Extreme love.

Extreme grace.

Extreme forgiveness.

Extreme acceptance.

Extreme devotion to God.

Extreme sacrifice.

Extreme peace.

Extreme generosity.

Extreme service of others.

Extreme life.

These, as the result of Jesus’ teachings and his sacrifice, allowing the Kingdom of God to break into this world, are the fundamentals of Christianity.

This is what true Christian extremism and fundamentalism looks like, not the false gods of the religious right in America or similar noisy factions throughout the world.

They are extreme, but not extremes of Jesus’ way.

They aren’t fundamental, but are quite the opposite as they twist and distort the truth.

And what of the “moderates”? What of the Christians who are “average in amount, intensity or degree”? Who actually wants to be one of those?

Is feeding the poor ‘average’?

Is worshipping a God that most people in the West don’t believe in ‘average’?

Is visiting the prisoner, or the sick, or the grieving, or the lonely, even though you don’t know the person ‘average’?

Is worshipping and praying with and for refugees who nobody seems to want ‘average’?

Is proclaiming your faith in the face of oppression, as many around the world have done, ‘average’?

Is speaking words of forgiveness, then singing songs of worship before being decapitated by masked men on a beach ‘average’ or ‘moderate’?

No. This is extremism and fundamentalism at its purest and most beautiful.

A quote has been posted on social media a lot recently. It says ‘If your fundamentalists are bad, there’s something wrong with your fundamentals’. I believe the fundamentals of Jesus were everything which is good. I believe that when you look at Jesus you see what an extremist, what a fundamentalist should look like.

It’s time we looked like that as well and took back those two terms to show what they can and do really mean.

 

 

People are people

 
It’s one of those New Testament stories which many people who aren’t particularly familiar with the Bible know. Acts 9 tells us how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who had been zealously persecuting the Followers of The Way (soon to be called Christians), was travelling to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus asking why he was persecuting Him. Saul then met a Christian in Damascus called Ananaias who placed his hands on Saul, who then regained his sight (scales literally fell from his eyes, where the saying comes from). Saul changed his name to Paul, made it his mission to spread the Good News of Jesus to as many as possible and, in doing so, ended up writing most of the New Testament.

It is the most amazing, dramatic story of redemption; one which has served as an example of hope to Christians for 2000 years. It has always been seen as the most startling example of a life transformed by the risen Christ.

Today, however, there may be stories coming out which are almost, if not equally as amazing. Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in the Middle East have reported a former fighter with ISIS who started dreaming about Jesus telling him he was killing His people. This man was so affected by this and other things which happened, including a Christian who gave him his Bible before being killed, that he has run away from ISIS and given his life to Christ.

The article in the link suggests, although only anecdotally, that this is not an isolated incident. If so, this is an amazing testament to the way people’s lives can really be changed by an encounter with Jesus and how even the hardest hearts can be softened. 

Now, I posted this link on Facebook and a friend of mine, perfectly understandably, pointed out that this makes no difference to those who have already been killed by the brutality of ISIS. He also commented that there was no redemption for those whose lives had been cut short. That is something I’d dispute, particularly in light of Jesus’ own words,

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭10-12‬ NIVUK)

What can be more righteous than refusing to bow down to such an evil doctrine as the warped version of Islam which ISIS espouse. Surely all those persecuted, and killed, by them have been blessed for doing the right thing. Surely their redemption is secure.

Those carrying out the persecution, however, are far from redemption. By redemption, I do not mean escaping from justice. Anyone who has carried out atrocities in the name of ISIS deserves to face justice, regardless of whether they now reject ISIS or not. However, their redemption as human beings, as children of God, as people welcomed into the Kingdom, is still possible if they do the same as the man who approached YWAM. The redemption they will receive, that this one man has received, is a spiritual redemption; one which shows the world that they are human beings, not monsters, and allows them to have the chance to do good with what remains of their lives.

Nothing will turn back the clock and undo the actions of persecutors, but God allows the slate to be wiped clean for every person, regardless of their actions,

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1‬:‭12-17‬ NIVUK)

Paul is the example here. A man whose actions were comparable with those of ISIS towards Christians, but without whom the Christian Faith may not have spread so successfully in those early days. He accepted what he once was, but also accepted what he had become was through God’s grace.

So, I’m choosing, as well as praying for the persecuted Church, to pray earnestly for their persecutors. These are human beings, broken and hate-filled human beings, but people created in God’s image as we all are. I pray that each and every one finally sees the true face of the God they claim to follow and turn away from theatre of destruction they have chosen. Lives can be changed and saved by this, I honestly believe this. Violence against these people doesn’t work, but maybe a true act of love can do.

Their god is not my God

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The logic is this: God wants us all to obey him, so you can either obey him or face being killed by those who do.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God will shower you with all types of riches and hedonistic delights in the next life if you give all of that kind of thing up in this life and force your choices on everybody else.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God wants you to subjugate half of the population because of their gender. He wants you to make sure they can’t teach, lead, make their own decisions or have any kind of independent thought.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God wants you to be intolerant and hateful towards anybody different to you. He wants you to exclude them, discriminate against them, preach against them and deny them basic human rights.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God has no sense of humour. He wants any ridicule of the more extreme views his followers have to be answered with vitriol, imprisonment, persecution, terror and death.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God doesn’t care if you want to follow him. He doesn’t care if you love him. He doesn’t care if you obey him because you want to or if you obey him because his followers force you to through the law, through fear, through violence… even if they have to behead your friends and family in front of you to make you obey him. He just wants blind obedience.

That isn’t the God I worship. That isn’t the God any Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh I have met or known worship either.

The God I worship, the God we worship, is love. He is generous. He has given us free will to choose how, or how not, to respond to him. He wants us to obey him, but only if we have freely chosen to do so.

The God I worship does not want his followers to respond to satirical cartoons by killing those responsible like those who shot 12 people at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo did. He has been through more suffering and ridicule than we can imagine and grieves for all the suffering we inflict on each other on Earth. He has much bigger things to worry about than cartoons.

The God I worship does not want us to install a worldwide state in his name by force, by fighting and killing our way through the world and bringing it to heel by fear.

The God I worship does not want us to hate people we disagree with due to religion, politics or lifestyle. He doesn’t want us to condemn or persecute anybody, but to disagree in love and always point to him.

If God was like the one that extremists of all kinds claim to follow then I wouldn’t want to follow him. I would resist him and his followers. But he isn’t like that at all.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭7-12‬ NIVUK)

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Late night, big picture.

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As I write this it’s 1.40am and I can’t sleep. So, as you do, I decided to do a little bit of light reading to while away the sleepless hours. In this case I read the jolly tale of bloodshed and genocide which is the book of Joshua.

Well, I actually only read the first two chapters. No bloodshed or genocide yet, but it’s clearly on its way.

There’s an awful lot of violent, nationalistic language here. You know, the type of thing regularly used to denounce the Bible and religion itself as backwards and a force for evil. There’s lots of talk of fighting and taking of land in God’s name. There’s talk of blood being shed and striking fear and dread into other nations. There’s talk of destroying kings. Lovely, lighthearted stuff for a late night, insomnia driven read.

Now, I’m no biblical historian. I am looking to do some theological training very soon, so I hope to put that right. However, it seems to me that this stuff, if looked at through the eyes of the readers it was aimed at rather than 21st Century eyes, would not appear in the least bit barbaric. I can’t say for certain, though, which is why I want to learn more.

However, it does look, when read as part of a much wider narrative, to be a bit easier to swallow than we may imagine.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9 NIV)

God’s promise to go with the Israelites relied on them following his law, living it every second of every day. Their success in battle, in winning land and nations, depends on their ability to live within God’s law as given to Moses. As time goes on, however, this changes from laying waste to other nations into prosperity and peace for themselves and between Israel and other nations. They move on, they grow up as they learn more and more about the very nature of God.

Finally, the law which they struggle so hard to live with, which is such an impossible burden for the Jews, is fulfilled in Jesus. In Jesus we finally go from conquering nations by force to conquering hearts with God’s grace. It’s no longer about a chosen people and military might, but God has fully revealed himself and shown that his Kingdom on earth is won by his word and people living under the new covenant. Hearts, minds and souls have become the objects to win for God, not military and political domination.

In God’s command to Joshua we see something which appears unpalatable to our eyes, but is near the start of a journey which sees him move his people away from the usual way of barbaric warfare to one where all people can be reconciled through him. It seems unpalatable to us because it’s unpalatable to God, but he’s moving his people forward, step by step, to peace, love and grace.

Sadly, this has been lost by many who feel that literal translation is the way to look at these things. Fundamental believers from Crusaders in the Middle Ages to many on the Christian Right in America (and a few in the UK too) seem to think that conquering military forces, destroying the bastions of “heathen” religions and setting up systems more acceptable to Christian (or a Western version of it) sensibilities.

On the flip side of the coin there are those who use verses like this to attack religion. They say that it demonstrates a bloodthirsty, psychopathic God and his sheep like followers being a danger to society as a whole and a cancer on the Earth.

Both of these views misrepresent the nature and law of God. They say that you can’t know where you’re going until you understand where you’ve come from. That’s what stories like Joshua do, they show a developing understanding and relationship with God. They show the start of the revelation of his true nature, which points to and culminates in Jesus. They show our own journey from people lost and blind to those found and sighted by his amazing grace. They are just the beginning, not the whole story.

God’s story is far bigger than one moment in history. It’s far bigger than one book of the Bible. It’s bigger than the Bible itself. Unless we try to see as much of the story as we can we run the risk of reading individual parts badly wrong and acting in ways which he never means us to. But when we try to look at the bigger picture we are constantly amazed by his love and patience for us and for all of his people.

Britain Equal. Racists last.

First off, I have a qualifying statement. I do not live in East London. In fact, I don’t live anywhere with a high Muslim population at all. I live in an overwhelmingly white area in central Scotland which does have a fair amount of eastern European immigrants (who are a normal part of the community), but very few Muslims. As such, I have never experienced Muslim extremism in my area or in my life. I don’t know what it’s like to see “Muslim patrols” on my streets or feel unsafe on certain streets in my area. I hear from others that there are parts of the country where this is the case, but I don’t have any first hand evidence of whether this happens or, if so, how bad it actually is. My view of Muslim communities is that they appear, in the main, to just be a bunch of people wanting to get on with their lives in peace. Just like the rest of us. Some folk, however, do seem interested in some sort of Islamic cultural and religious revolution in the UK, but they are a very small minority

Regardless of all of this, when I see far-right groups demonising Islam and Muslims because of their religion and the actions of the few it angers me. None more so than this video by Britain First, a political body which has fielded candidates in recent elections and has an increasing presence on social media, particularly Facebook.  In this video the group have announced that they are combating “Muslim Patrols” in what they call “Muslim East London”, by sending out self-styled “Christian Patrols” designed to “take our streets back”.

They start off by showing us evidence of the Muslim Patrols, roaming the street telling people not to drink alcohol as this is a “Muslim area”.

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Now, if this is happening then it clearly needs to stop. Note something, though. The whole way through this section that logo fills the whole left hand side of the screen. This means that you never actually see the faces of the patrol members, just those they approach, like the guy in this shot. We hear the words of the patrol members, but, as far as evidence goes, never seeing them seems a tad suspect. How genuine is this clip? Are we seeing what is actually being presented to us? It’s difficult to tell.

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So, “enough is enough”. What looks like no more than 2 or 3 guys going round telling people not to drink (if that’s what is actually happening) is such a threat that Britain First needs to do something. They need to launch “Christian Patrols”.

Now, to my mind, we already have Christian Patrols. People going out in the name of Jesus helping those on the streets in vulnerable positions to stay as safe as they can. They’re called Street Pastors and they go out in peace, love and compassion on the streets of many of our towns and cities every week.

Britain First has a very different view of what a Christian Patrol should be.

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Here we see the chairman of Britain First, Paul Golding, explaining what they are doing. They will patrol East London with about 10-15 activists (considerably more than the Muslim Patrols seem to have) handing out leaflets, going into pubs and warning people of the scourge of the Muslim Patrol. They will, of course, be peaceful and loving as a group of Christians should be as they patrol London in…

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…an armoured Land Rover! In fact, two armoured Land Rovers. Because nothing says “we come in peace” like vehicles altered to give the appearance of a military convoy in a war zone. Anybody would think they were trying to intimidate people, but that can’t be right. Can it?

He also discusses how, if they come across a Muslim Patrol (something which, pointedly, doesn’t happen in this video) they will confront them and tell them to “sod off”. In a reasoned, polite manner, I assume.

Note the crusader style cross on the leaflets, too. Let there be no doubt that this is nothing to do with stopping fear and intimidation, this is all about trying to assert domination over Muslims by using fear and intimidation.

We then see the Christian Patrol handing out leaflets, harassing people on the streets and telling a bunch of Muslim looking young men that “this is our country and if you want to live here you need to follow our laws”. No context is given at all about these young Muslims who may, as far as we know, be peaceful, law-abiding men. They may not even be immigrants themselves. However, the message is clear. If you’re not white, you’re a target for Britain First’s self-righteous, racist ire.

The next move is for activists to try to bait these Muslim Patrols out by standing outside the East London Mosque drinking and smoking. The hope is that some sort of confrontation will happen in order to “do something”. What, I don’t know.

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Oh! Hold on! That’s a little more than drinking and smoking, isn’t it? That’s outright provocation by means of aggressive language. If a group of young Muslims approached a man about drinking and smoking near a mosque then I could understand the discontent. This, however, is clearly designed to provoke pretty much any passing Muslim into action. If this was turned on its head and a group of young Muslims stood outside my church with a banner saying “We are the Muslim resistsnce” then I think I’d be asking them what they think they’re doing too.

Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe the attendees at this Mosque just can’t be bothered with this group of idiots.  If so, fair play to them.

They finish with this,

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If this doesn’t anger you, then it should do. Lee Rigby’s family have consistently distanced themselves from Britain First’s use of the murdered soldier in their propaganda. This culminated in their anger over Britain First’s use of Lee Rigby’s name on ballot papers.

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His mother is absolutely clear that they have no support for Britain First’s views and that Lee would not have done either.

This group are nothing but far-right, racist, intimidating thugs. They have, through some rather clever manipulation, built up a decent following for their bile on Facebook. Many who follow and share their material are reasonable people who are being emotionally manipulated by people who claim the moniker of Christian. Please do not fall for it.

“Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you,  for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.  Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?  How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 GNBDC)

Yes, there are extremists out there. Yes, we need to fight back against extremism. But that’s the point. It’s not Islam which is the enemy, but those things which distract us from love and turn us into people who hate. You can’t fight extremism with more extremism. You can’t look at Muslim extremists and hate Muslims any more than you can look at Christian extremists and hate Christians. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists and those of all other beliefs (or lack of beliefs) need to work together to combat this through education and understanding of each other. We can’t do it through propagating fear and hatred.

Please, if you follow Britain First on Facebook or Twitter, stop. They are not “patriots”, they are not “Christians”, they are right-wing extremists. They are fascists. They are racist.

They need calling out for this and being ignored for it.

No to extremism

(Please excuse some of the language used in this post. Anything offensive is a direct quote from others.)

So, back to Halal meat.

It turns out that, on top of Subway’s recent announcement,  Pizza Express put Halal meat into all of their restaurants without telling anyone!!! (Despite the fact that they actually did tell everyone!)

The media reporting of this has, of course, been totally fair and balanced. I wouldn’t normally link to a story in the Sun, but that is worth reading due to its brilliantly brief deconstructing of their bile.

As part of the ongoing debate,  Premier Christianity on Facebook posed the question “is it ok for us [as Christians] to eat Halal meat?”. A fair question, really. As food which has been ritually slaughtered according to the laws of another religion, is this something we should eat? (The answer, by the way, is why not?)

I have no problem with this sort of debate from a religious perspective. It’s a pretty healthy and understandable debate to have.

Or, at least, it should be…

” I do not want halal meat  there taking away all out rights and trying to control is.  B ger  off and leave us alone this is our country bet they would not let it happen on there’s”

” England is still a christain country … just! unless we soon get some  politicians with the will to  to keep it christain then it will be lost forever, you  try going  to an Islamic country and telling them Halal meat offends you and will they change it … no chance,”

” yes it does matter if they dont like way we live fuck off were they came from.”

” would i eat a muslim,,,,,,only if i had red meat with,but i would have to slit the muslims throat first no problem”

Seriously! And this is just a snapshot!

Of course there were reasonable posts on both sides of the argument, but these were not a small minority of comments. On a Christian Facebook page.

This is what happens when we allow extremists to grab the mainstream political and media agenda. This is what happens when we allow extremist views to creep into Christian broadcasting around the world (not a pop at Premier, whose work I love and respect). This is what happens when we lose sight of Christ and focus on our own prejudices and the World’s selfish wants.

It goes without saying that I disagree with Islam as a religion. I believe that Jesus is the way to God and all other paths are false. I do not, however, believe it or its adherents are evil, just wrong. I love them as God’s creations and I respect their rights to hold the beliefs they hold. If businesses are willing to help them adhere to their beliefs,  without harming others, then fair enough.

But for people to profess faith in Christ on one hand, but then to spout hate and bigotry,  is wrong. It is unChristlike and goes against his teachings,

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’     “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’     “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:41-45 NIV)

Treat people with love and respect, regardless of background. As Christians it is our responsibility to rid the Church and society of hatred and replace it with love. If we listen to the extremists and say or do nothing then we are as guilty. We must stand up to it and beat it in all its forms; Christian or Muslim, left or right,  black or white. That is where evil lives.

No more.