The way …. and the way forward?

The church in first world countries, as a whole, is losing ground, neither making converts nor making an impact. There are many ideas, many books, talks and blog posts, outlining the problems and the way forward, as someone sees it.

But I recently came across a brief overview that I think provides a better understanding and suggests a better way forward that most.

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The Death Penalty on Trial

Guest post by Shane Claiborne (taken from his Facebook page – see note below)

claiborne

Last month, I was arrested, along with 17 other people, as we held a banner on the steps of the Supreme Court that said: “STOP EXECUTIONS.”

We were not blocking doors or disturbing the peace. We were not unruly or disruptive. We were respectful, prayerful, nonviolent. We sang freedom songs. We carried roses in remembrance of those who have been murdered and those who have been executed. It was a solemn, holy procession. We tolled a bell 40 times signifying the forty years of executions in this modern era, and we held 40 posters with the names of the 1443 people killed by our government.

“Parading and Assemblage” – that’s the official charge, an obscure one that until now I didn’t even know existed. I remember hearing someone joke: “I guess The First Amendment ends on the steps of the Supreme Court.”

So that’s our crime: we held a banner outside the Supreme Court… at the very moment the state of Virginia was preparing to kill yet another person, Ricky Gray, execution #1444 since 1977.

We were shackled with chains on our hands, waist, and feet, and held in jail for over 30 hours. While we were in the DC jail, the same government that imprisoned us for holding a banner executed Ricky Gray. It does raise the question of what is right and what is wrong, doesn’t it?

When I got home from jail, I told some of our kids back in Philadelphia: “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. You can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right. And lots of folks throughout history have gone to jail for doing something right.”

Dr. King once said that initially he was troubled about going to jail, but then he looked at history and found that he was in good company.

This past week the 18 of us had our first appearance in court.

I am proud to stand next to the people I went to jail with, these holy troublemakers who are now my co-defendants. The group includes clergy and faith leaders, an exoneree who was wrongfully-convicted and sentenced to death, and families of both the murdered and of the executed.

Twelve of the 18 of us made a decision to take our case to trial, rather than accepting a plea bargain offered by the government. If found guilty, we could face jail time, fines, and community service… all of which pale in comparison to the twenty years my co-defendant Derrick Jamison spent on death row, staring down 6 execution dates, watching over 50 of his peers killed by the state… before he proved his innocence, and was released with no apology or compensation.

That’s why we went to jail — to expose the system of death. Our prayer is for an end to all killing, both legal and illegal. Our message is that violence is the disease, not the cure. It is time to stop trying to kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong.

We know that we are on the right side of history, and that our grandchildren will look back at the death penalty 50 years from now the same way we look back at slavery — with shame, bewilderment, and remorse.

Someone asked if I had any regrets. I said: “Only one… that I didn’t do this sooner.” I am proud of what we did. Not only would I do it again, but I will do it again. We will not stop protesting until the government stops killing.

We have a great attorney – one of the best — and we have every intention of defending the legality of what we did. But our hope is to take the focus off of us and put the death penalty on the stand. While I believe we are innocent of any crime… I am convinced that our country’s criminal justice system, and our Supreme Court’s validation of the death penalty, is a crime… and a moral failure.

As fate would have it, or as some of us might contend “by Divine appointment”– our trial is the week of June 28. That means our trial will coincide with one of the most important weeks in history when it comes to the death penalty. June 29 is the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, finding its application to be arbitrary and capricious, halting all executions. Four days later, July 2, is the anniversary of the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, which allowed executions to resume. These four days between these two historic anniversaries invite us all to question whether or not the death penalty has a future in America. During the week of our trial, the annual Fast and Vigil to end the death penalty will happen in front of the Supreme Court. I hope you will join us in DC– June 28-July 2, 2017… as we put the death penalty on trial.

Shane Claiborne is an American christian activist, writer and leader who I admire deeply. This text and photo were taken from Shane’s Facebook post, and he says the photo “is thanks to Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshals, who apparently took some of the best images”.

Do conservative churches grow more than liberal ones?

country-church

For years, more progressive or liberal christians have been saying the churches need to change to meet the challenges of modern (or postmodern) society. More conservative christians have argued that we should remain faithful to traditional understandings and practices.

Both sides can tend to welcome studies and surveys that show their approach is working better. And so we have a new report, that Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving.

Depending on your viewpoint, you are probably already keen to read this report or already looking for reasons why it isn’t right. So what is the latest?

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The kingdom of God – a ticket to heaven?

ticket

I was talking with an evangelical minister recently, about social justice and the mission of the church. He felt evangelism should be clearly our highest priority, because it has “eternal consequences”.

I suggested that wasn’t how Jesus saw things – his main message and highest priority seemed to be the kingdom of God. But the minister’s response was: “But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.” In other words, getting people into heaven was Jesus’ highest priority, and should be ours too.

I must admit I was flabbergasted. So I decided to look again at the gospel Jesus taught.

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Quick reads for busy people

quick-reads

I’m all the time trying to make this website relevant and useful to christians looking to extend their understand and resolve difficult issues. (Whether I succeed is another matter!)

I recently became aware that some people, mostly younger, tend to find some of the pages a little long, perhaps in part because they are reading on a smart phone’s small screen. So I decided to take some of the important questions that I’ve covered in long pages, and summarise them in shorter pages that give an overview of the question and a link to a longer treatment.

I’ve called this new section Quick reads, and it is specially written and set out to be read quickly and easily on a smaller screen.

So far I’ve written three pages for the new section:

I hope to add several more pages over the next few weeks. If you have any thoughts about this – possible topics or ways to make it better – please let me know.

Photo Credit: barnimages.com Flickr via Compfight, modified by unkleE.

Another king?

Critical issues:
I think this post raises a crucially important matter for christians today.

king-tut

It was mob violence, but at least it didn’t lead to a lynching. Jason and a few friends, converts of the apostle Paul, were dragged before the city officials and angry accusations were made:

“These men [meaning Paul and company] …. are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

The officials released them on a bond. But, of course, the charges were quite accurate. Jesus is the king.

But it seems many christians no longer believe this …..

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