The church that gives away assault rifles to whoever brings along the most new people

AR15When I speak with Muslim friends in the UK, they will often express horror and disbelief at the terrible atrocities they see being done in the name of their faith by extreme Islamists.

Sometimes, I have a similar experience as a Christian too…

Yesterday a friend of mine, Mark Perrott, who now lives in the US, visited the First Pentecostal Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi. He had gone along as a visitor for the first time.

‘Killing machine’

Early on in the service, with children of all ages present, the Assistant Pastor got up to announce a competition for the church members.  They would be awarding a AR 15 rifle as a prize to whoever manages to invite the most new people to their church this month.

The Pastor happily described the AR15 as a “killing machine” and added that the prize winner would also get 100 rounds of ammunition thrown in too.

The church’s facebook page, confirmed it:First Pentecostal Church, Aberdeen, Mississippi

Apparently it was not the first time the church had run this kind of competition: the Pastor referred to the fact that there were people now part if the church who had come because of a previous similar promotion.  Well, if it works…

Recruiting tool

As Mark wrote to me:

“Whatever people’s views of gun ownership for hunting, self defense or protection against government, I cannot believe that such weapons being used as a recruiting tool to grow the church.  I am at a loss…”

I realise that the ‘right to bear arms’ is a huge political issue and gun ownership is deeply embedded in US culture. Barack Obama recently said his failure to successfully bring in tighter gun control was the biggest regret of his time in office.  It is a situation that is completely different to the UK.

It reminded me of Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine about gun violence in the US, where the opening scene takes place in a Bank which is offering a rifle to anyone who opens a new account. As Moore points out, a bank giving away firearms is incongruous enough. But what are we to make of a church which gives away semi-automatic rifles?

Love and compassion?

Along with my friend Mark, I am at a complete loss to understand the thinking which sees no problem in giving vicious weapons as prizes for bringing people to church. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that a gunman killed nine people in a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. And just last week, there was the horrific shootings in Virginia of a reporter and camera man live on air.

Did not these recent events cause the leaders of First Pentecostal Church to reconsider its prize? Did it not strike anyone at this church as inappropriate?

Peacemakers?

It’s ironic this is a Church (as you can see above) which features a dove, the Christian symbol of peace, in its logo.  On its website, it states:

We are endeavoring to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with love, mercy and compassion (Luke 24:47)

But how does an AR15 rifle represent love, mercy and compassion? How is this consistent with Jesus’ teaching that ‘blessed are the Peacemakers’?

Many people like me simply cannot understand the perspective that refuses to see the connection between such widespread gun ownership and such high rates of gun violence.   We are even more baffled when the Church promotes and celebrates gun culture.

If you have 3 minutes, watch this powerful video about a group of activists who opened a gun shop in New York to challenge the idea that owing a gun made you safer:

POSTSCRIPT:

There has been a positive development in this story because yesterday (Monday 31st August), Mark was in contact with the Pastor of the church, the Rev Ricky Bowen. He told Mark that the church has decided to withdraw the rifle as a prize and wrote:

‘My heart is hurting as I really did not think the promotion all the way through. Your post opened my eyes with an alarming, resounding jolt. I trust you will not judge us by a bad choice of gifting. We really did not even think of it in a negative way until now. I know that must sound foreign to you, however we have had weapons since we were children. That is the way all of us were raised. Thank you for your post. I love the service of Christ. It is my breath, life and hope. The weapon is no longer part of a promotion. May God richly bless you and your business. Your servant in Christ. Ricky Bowen’

In response, Mark (who runs a furniture business) offered to give the church a hand-made coffee table that they could give as an alternative gift.  He said he was inspired by the verse in Isaiah 2 which says:

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

This is a good outcome. It is uplifting that Pastor Bowen and his church decided to take such swift action and act in such a gracious way. Perhaps, this episode is an opportunity for the US Church to reflect further on what it can do about gun culture.

This whole story may just be about one weapon amid countless others, but perhaps it can give us hope that change is possible…

Posted in Ethics & Christian living | 2 Comments

We are the problem: Western militarism created this ‘refugee crisis’ – by Alan Storkey

MigrationHome is where the heart is for most of the world’s population. People do not readily leave home, family, jobs, friends and their familiar life to tramp across borders and take their lives in hock in perilous crossings.

Our public reflection on this issue is so shallow.  We freeze on refugees drowning in hundreds or dying huddled in lorries, or bewail more immigrants coming to the UK, but do not ask why this great exodus has happened.

When we do ask, the answer has to be: This is our work through pursuing a policy of the international promotion and sale of arms, further militarising the areas which have now become ungovernable and riven with strife and danger. Most of these refugees are travelling with guns and bombs behind them.

Equipping terrorists

Let us consider some of the Western background contribution to this process in the Middle East.

First, from 1979 onwards the United States through the CIA spent several billion dollars training and equipping terrorists in Afghanistan to fight the USSR. Groups, including Al Qaida, learned terrorism and carried on practising it.

Second, the United States armed first the Shah of Iran, and then through the Iran-Contra deal Reagan provided more weapons to the Ayatollah. Then Reagan and Rumsfeld backed Saddam against Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War and the West plied Saddam with arms for oil money. When, surprisingly, Saddam used his arms and invaded Kuwait (partly to pay for French weapons) the whole region was subjected to a major war, and Iraq faced disruption, sanctions and famine.

Following 9/11

Then, following 9/11, Afghanistan was subjected to another military attack spreading further chaos in that country, further pushing the Islamic opposition into professional terrorism. Further, in 2003, when there were no weapons of mass destruction, and under pressure from the military-industrial complex in the United States, the Second Iraq War pushed the nation into breakdown. Militias looting western supplied arms caches then became another wave of terrorists involved in Shia-Sunni conflicts in Iraq.

Then finally massive supplies of arms to the Iraq Army from the United States were taken by ISIS and became the basis of their marauding expansion through Iraq and Syria. Russia also contributed by supplying Syria with the weapons, which allowed the Syrian Government to victimize its own people. Thus the chaos in the Middle East has been primed at all stages with mainly western arms.

Arming dictatorships

The same pattern was evident in North Africa. The arming of the Egyptian military dictatorship has come from the West. Indeed, Cameron was in Egypt selling arms when the Arab Spring broke out. Even worse, Tony Blair, together with Berlusconi, set up a deal with Gaddafi, for the supply of conventional weapons to Libya, arming him with the kit he used against his own people. These arms were later looted, together with arms supplied to the rebels during the uprising, and the result again was Islamic terrorists marauding through North Africa and across the Sahara.

UK’s mean response

SyriaNow we face refugees fleeing from the destruction and fear caused by weapon-touting terrorists. The refugees from Syria alone total over four million mainly going to Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Palestine.

Those coming to Europe as asylum seekers are a minority of these and the focus of the present tragedy. Unlike the generous German response, the UK one is mean, tightening the conditions on obvious asylum seekers from Eritrea and elsewhere, closing our eyes to the tragedy millions face in having to leave their homes.

We are the problem

But even more we stay callous and impervious to the way in which our Western arms sales have militarised the Middle East and the Mediterranean, gradually creating terrorism, war and destruction. We are the problem, and yet the Cameron arms sales team carries on selling the means of suffering and death. Unless we stop, it will return to us. As Jesus (more or less) said, “Those who make the sword will die by the sword.”

Alan Storkey’s new book War or Peace? The Long Failure of Western Arms (£12) is just out.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | 5 Comments

Illegal, but moral? Were the Impact Team right to hack Ashley Madison?

impactteam

Part of Impact Team’s message to Ashley Madison

The hacking of the Ashley Madison infidelity website by the Impact Team continues to be a major global news story.

Today it was announced that Noel Biderman, the CEO and founder of the website has stepped down from his role.

Business analysts are saying that is hard to see how the company will survive. The company face multiple law suits relating to the loss of the information. Furthermore, analysis on the leaked data has exposed the vast numbers of fake female profiles the company produced to entice men to join.

A statement from the parent company, Avid Life Media, said:

“We are actively adjusting to the attack on our business and members’ privacy by criminals…We are actively co-operating with international law enforcement in an effort to bring those responsible for the theft of proprietary member and business information to justice.”

Criminals or heroes?

But are the Impact Team criminals or heroic activists?

On the one hand, they have successfully attacked a website which on many levels was morally bankrupt.  Ashley Madison blatantly encouraged people to be unfaithful to their partners and promoting a warped philosophy that infidelity was somehow good for marriage. But it did even do this honestly.  As the evidence now shows, they created thousands of fake female profiles to lure men into parting with their cash.  The whole site was a big con.

But on the other hand, the Impact Team’s actions will have already caused prompted untold heartache and pain in thousands of people’s homes as people realise their partners used the site. People have split up, weddings have been cancelled and there have been reports of two suicides linked to the disclosures.

Illegal, but moral?

What the Impact Team did was certainly illegal – but was it morally right?

There are plenty of examples of civil disobedience which was ‘illegal’ but which we now celebrate as morally heroic. Robin Hood, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela all ‘broke the law’ but for reasons we now see as righteous causes.

And the Bible itself is full of those who disobey the ‘powers that be’ in serving a higher cause.  Think of the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh, Daniel refusing to obey Persian law, and Peter and Paul being regularly thrown in prison. And let’s not forget Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state.

Right or wrong?

Some peoplebelieve that what the Impact Team did was right – because they only exposed reality and unmasked corruption.  And if people had signed up for such a website then its better that their partners know.

But others will think the cost is too high – that the pain caused by exposing the foolishness of millions of men and a small number of women is not worth it.  Especially as it is a cost which will be primarily borne by families and especially children caught up in the crossfire.

What do you think? Cast your vote and if you have time, leave a comment as to why.

Posted in Faithfulness Matters | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

How should we view the victims of the Ashley Madison hacking?

Noel Biderman in an Ashley Madison advert

Noel Biderman in an Ashley Madison advert

Ashley Madison is the world’s largest website dedicated to facilitate people to be unfaithful to their partners. Their strap-line sums it up: Life is Short. Have an Affair.  But over the last few weeks the hacking of their database by a group called the Impact Team has been front page news.   The group threatened to release all the information into the public realm unless the website closed down its operation.

Noel Biderman, the CEO and founder of Ashley Madison refused to do this, so the Impact Team carried out their threat and have published the massive files on the web. According to reports, as well as containing names, emails and bank details of millions of subscribers they also contain details on their sexual preferences and explicit photos.

‘A tsunami of unhappiness’

A number of people have contacted me since this story broke, including the BBC, because of a campaign I started a few years ago against a similar UK-based website and especially the adverts which appeared on billboards.  It is clear that some media outlets were looking for people who would give them a judgemental ‘reaping what you sow’ type of message.

But I don’t think we should be judgemental towards those affected. Rather, I think we should just be deeply sad about the situation that is being unveiled.  As one commentator put it recently, this information will ‘unleash a tsunami of unhappiness’ across thousands of households as the behaviour of spouses and partners is disclosed.  Trust will be irreparably broken and many people will be damaged.

Toxic

Websites like Ashley Madison are toxic: they lure naïve customers in by selling a false world of beautiful people enjoying carefree, commitment-free sex and then going home to their families with no harm done.

But the reality is far more ugly.  Unfaithfulness destroys families and ruins lives. It creates poverty and mental health problems. It deeply scars the children affected. And more often than not the whole premise of websites like this are deceitful:  so many men waste hundreds of pounds, being strung along by a huge number of fake female profiles which are designed to keep them parting with their cash.

Humans, and especially men, will always be willing to pay money to chase sexual gratification. And whole industries, whether on the streets or on-line, will always emerge to profit from these tendencies.

Ripped off

It reminds me of when I used to be a manager of an emergency shelter for young homeless people in Soho, central London. A number of the female residents were involved in selling sex – but most also were adept in the equally dangerous practice of ‘clipping’. This is where you make a deal with a potential customer but use some form of distraction to run off with their cash without giving any services in return.

Often they would run back to the shelter and frequently our night staff would have to deal with extremely angry men who chased after them demanding their money back.  In response to their protests, our staff would suggest that the men could always phone the police to report a crime. Funnily enough, this advice was never appreciated.

The brokenness of our world

The Ashley Madison debacle is compelling example of the radical brokenness of our world. It shows how corporate greed capitalises on personal weakness and compounds wrong-doing.

In his brilliant book Unapologetic, Francis Spufford writes about this brokenness. He argues that it is impossible to use the word ‘sin’ anymore because it is so indelibly linked to an archaic judgementalism.

The replacement term he suggests is ‘The Human Propensity to F*** things Upor the HPtFtU as he helpfully abbreviates it:

‘What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s’. 

Reconciliation and forgiveness

This is exactly what we are seeing unveiled in the Ashley Madison situation.  There must be so many people who feel they have screwed up, feel angry, embarrassed and deeply ashamed and wish like anything that they could turn back the clock and not have got involved. There is little better examples of the HPtFtU in action.

It is this tendency within humanity which creates the source from which all injustice, selfishness and suffering in our world flows. Whilst we should not look down on others, we need to be honest about this reality. This is our human condition.

But this is not the end of story, the final word.  For there is another, more powerful source from which forgiveness, reconciliation and healing love flows.   The best thing we can do is point to God’s grace and help those who are broken find it for themselves.

Posted in Faithfulness Matters | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Help needed: I am a Labour member and I haven’t a clue who to vote for as leader

LabourLeadersI have been a member of the Labour party since 1994 when I was in the final year of my Social Work degree. I almost joined when John Smith was leader but it was Tony Blair’s ascent to the top job which inspired me to take the step.  For the first time I felt genuine resonance with a political leader’s vision and thinking.  His famous comment, now easily dismissed as a mere sound-bite, that a Labour government would be ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ captured my attention and made sense. It was a succinct synthesis of much of the discussions around personal and social responsibility which lay at the heart of my course.

Mainly due to Iraq and his own personal wealth, Blair is now one of the most despised political figures.  Similarly to the Conservative Party following Margaret Thatcher, who also won three elections in a row, Labour has experienced an extended hangover from Blair’s spell as leader. Gordon Brown played the John Major role, struggling painfully through an economic crisis. And, as history now shows,  Ed Miliband’s tenure as leader was just as painful was William Hague’s had been of the Tories after Major in the late 1990s.

At a loss

And when it comes to the election for the new Labour leader, I am at a complete loss about who to vote for.

I can see why some people are getting excited about Jeremy Corbyn because he stands so clearly for something different and distinctive. And I can see that he could do well for Labour in Scotland – but all I can see happening is that Labour become less electable than ever.  Labour may end up being purer in its principles but simply be reduced to a party of protest.

But the problem is that none of the other candidates are impressing me. They may be decent and solid but at the moment, I just can’t see them having what it takes to lead the party.

An R&R poll

I have to confess, that I voted for Ed Miliband at the last leadership election back in 2010. It was a decision that I came to regret very soon after making it when I realised I could not hear him speak without wincing at how poorly he communicated.

So I thought I would ask R&R readers to help me out. It won’t dictate how I vote but I am interested in your opinion. Please vote in the poll and if you have time leave a comment about who you rate and why.  Who would be the best leader of the Labour Party?

Posted in Politics | 30 Comments

“The homeless? Aren’t they the people you step over when you come out of the opera?” – politics and rough sleeping

homelessI left school in 1990 and got a job as a cleaner in central London. This involved being on the Strand, by Charing Cross Station, at 7.00am.  The extent of the rough sleeping at that time was truly incredible. There were 3-4 people sleeping under almost every doorway. Walking down a road like Villiers Street, which runs down to the Embankment, felt like going through a homeless village.  For an 18 year old from the suburbs, it was both shocking and scary.

I later went onto study Social Work at Hull University, and volunteered each week at The Hull Homeless and Rootless Project. I wrote my dissertation on the Government’s Rough Sleeper’s Initiative, the first major policy initiative focused on addressing street homelessness.  After graduation I worked in a 140-bed homeless hostel in Hackney and then went to the charity Centrepoint to manage emergency hostels for young homeless people in Soho.  Today it is my privilege to be Director of Social Work for West London Mission.

So I have engaged with this issue primarily from a practical perspective. But, I have always been interested in the political and theological issues that are connected up with homelessness.

An icon of poverty

The image of a rough sleeper is powerful and moving.   It often creates strong feelings of distress, anger, sympathy and bewilderment.  Homelessness captures something raw and fundamental about social breakdown – this is why the numbers of rough sleepers are a kind of social barometer, an indicator of wider levels of poverty and exclusion.

The rough sleeper could be described as an icon of poverty: because of the powerful way it brings together political failure and personal tragedy.

Highly political

Rough sleeping is undoubtedly highly political.  Back in the late 1980s, the Tory minister, Sir George Young reputedly said:

‘The homeless?  Aren’t they the people you step over when you came out of the opera?’

But the scale of rough sleeping in that era could not be ignored – it’s important to remember that the first Rough Sleeper Initiative was started by Margaret Thatcher’s government because of the pressure created by the sheer numbers sleeping rough around Westminster and Whitehall.  For the many critics of the government, it was an easy indicator to point to about the social outcomes of Thatcherism.

But the problem did not go away and 7 years later, Tony Blair established a Social Exclusion Unit when he became PM with one of the key targets being to cut rough sleeping by two-thirds. Then when he became Mayor, Boris Johnson pledged to eliminate rough sleeping completely by 2012. Officially, Blair was successful in reaching this target; Johnson did not get anywhere near. Despite new initiatives, the numbers sleeping rough has steadily increased year on year since 2010.

In recent days, there has been a furore surrounding Hackney council’s initiative to tackle rough sleeping which involves fining homeless people up to a £1000. An online petition against the initiative gathered over 80,000 signatories and just last week the council backed down from their proposals.

Material or relational?

3 Faces of PovertyThe issues of material poverty and a poverty of relationships are at the core of homelessness – and politics cannot be divorced from either. The diagram on the right is adapted from Jim Wallis’ analysis in Faith Works (SPCK 2002). I have not positioned or coloured these two issues by chance. It’s because of the political significance of how we view these issues.

Commentators and think tanks on the right of centre – such as the Centre for Social Justice set up by Iain Duncan Smith – place a strong emphasis on family breakdown as a cause of poverty.

Left of centre organisations, such as Church Action on Poverty, tend to focus is on material poverty, such as benefits and financial inequality.

Of course one the relationship between these two forms of poverty is dynamic – relationship breakdown creates material poverty. And we know that material poverty and financial insecurity worries are one of the key causes of relationship breakdown.  But which aspect is emphasized is strongly linked to political perspective.

Material poverty is easier to directly blame on the government – on the structures of society which create social injustice. Whereas relationship breakdown is more the realm of individual decisions and personal responsibility.  Its far more challenging to speak out about and far harder to address…

This is an excerpt from a lecture, which can be read in full here: ‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty’.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Greenbelt needs to rediscover it’s spiritual confidence

Greenbelt 2015For some people the annual Greenbelt festival, with its blend of music, arts, justice and spirituality, is an article of their faith.  It provokes a fierce devotion in those who would never dream of being anywhere else on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

But as the trustees of the festival have made clear, Greenbelt faces serious challenges.  It moved to a new site last year, costs rose and the event lost money which has meant using up their reserves. They are looking at a smaller festival this year and the future seems uncertain.

I have written before on R&R that Greenbelt has been my favourite Christian festival because of its outward focus and commitment to justice. I have been many times and cherish great memories of inspirational seminars from people like Jim Wallis, Dave Andrews and John Smith.

But the disappointing side of Greenbelt is it’s tendency to be too right-on and predictably liberal in both its politics and theology.  In terms of who is invited to speak, it definitely pushes the envelope, but only in one direction. Too often, in my experience, more conservative perspectives are sneered at rather than engaged with.

‘Guardian-reading echo chamber’

I didn’t go to last year’s festival but I saw a panel of people they had assembled to discuss poverty. From the make-up of the panel, it was hard to see where much disagreement would come from.  A friend of my mine who did attend the discussion, confirmed my concerns: ‘It was like being stuck in a Guardian-reading echo chamber.’ However worthy, no one ever finds a panel of nodding heads very exciting.

Also, the youth work I have seen, and participated in, at Greenbelt lacks the kind of conviction which brings energy and vibrancy.  In contrast to the approach of an event like Soul Survivor, there was a timidity and uncertainty about the core Christian basis of what was being shared. There needs to be more than a commitment to ‘inclusion’ to inspire and excite young people.

Fundamental questions

The Chair of the Greenbelt Trustees, Andy Turner has written honestly about the challenges facing the festival and asks some fundamental questions, including:

  1. Is there a big enough audience in the UK for a progressive festival of arts, faith and justice? Do the wider demographics of religious institutions suggest Greenbelt’s audience is disappearing? Or is a Festival like this now more necessary than ever?
  2. Is Greenbelt still needed? (10,500 people who bought tickets in 2014 think so… but are they enough?)
  3. We love the young people who attend the Festival but there’s not enough of them so how can Greenbelt become more their thing again?

Spiritual confidence

I think that fundamental to answering all these questions is the core issue of spiritual confidence. In my opinion, Greenbelt needs to re-discover its spiritual mojo. The Christian faith has been a huge part of Greenbelt’s story, and it will be fundamental to its vision going forward.

Greenbelt needs to rediscover it spiritual nerve: to be prepared to be properly radical by getting back to the roots from which it was birthed.  In many ways, the church is more than ever committed to social justice – but often the new initiatives are not coming from liberal and traditional churches. It should have more contributions from charismatic churches and learn from the spiritual vibrancy of other events like New Wine and Big Church Day Out.

The source of inclusion

Greenbelt cherishes its inclusivity. But, this inclusion comes from a divine source – it is not simply self-generated.

Christians believe that God created the abundant diversity of humanity. That each and every person is made in God’s image. And that this God continues to reach out to everyone with grace and the most inclusive love possible.

We worship a God who is radically inclusive.  But we don’t worship inclusion itself. There is a big difference: the unearned grace of God must always remain central and not be replaced by a celebration of human tolerance.  This means talking confidently about Jesus, as well as justice.

There are many examples of institutional Christianity that are dying across the country – but there are also forms of faith which are flourishing. I hope Greenbelt can re-discover its spiritual confidence and continue to be a gathering which inspires engaged, Christ-centred spirituality that makes a real difference in the world.

See Greenbelt’s website for more details about the 2015 festival.

Posted in Theology & Church | Tagged | 7 Comments

Social action, or gospel-centred mission? A story of GrowTH – by Tony Uddin

growTHYesterday in a church in East London, a cross section of the community gathered to celebrate the 5th anniversary of GrowTH, the Tower Hamlets Churches night shelter for homeless people. The place was packed, literally standing room only. The crowd diverse. Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths and those of none. The marginalised celebrating alongside those with much. All gathered in a church to give thanks to God for a project that has changed the lives of many.

Over these past 5 years GrowTH has offered shelter, hospitality, friendship and the good news of Jesus to over 630 men and women. Of these, around half have been helped into further temporary or more permanent accommodation. This is all the more remarkable because many of the people we help have no recourse to public funds so cannot claim any benefits.

In a borough that has repeatedly been in the headlines for corruption, cronyism and racial division, this is a compelling story of the Church of Jesus in action, working for the benefit of others. Here are five things that have contributed to its success:

1) GrowTH is primarily a gospel centred mission initiative and not a social action project. Whilst even making this distinction may seem odd to some and even theologically incorrect to others, to us as an organisation it is a key part of our story. In setting up GrowTH we wanted to ensure that the spoken and demonstrated Gospel, the good news of Jesus, runs right through the life of the project. We make no secret of the fact that we want people to come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

We have run Alpha and Christianity Explored courses at the shelter and actively encourage guests to attend local Churches. We keep records of those who make a commitment to follow Jesus and who become part of a church. Why? Because projects count what matters – and people encountering Jesus is something we care deeply about.

2) We believe in the power of Christian hospitality. We don’t talk of clients or service users, but call those who stay in the shelter guests. We treat them with dignity and respect and the centre piece of our evenings is a shared table. Eating together reminds all of us, staff, volunteers and guests of what we have in common.

3) We will not side with power against the powerless. We have challenged the local authority where some of its policies and practices have been too narrow, focusing on geographical boundaries and criteria that have effectively excluded many vulnerable people at their times of greatest need. We do seek to complement the local authority’s work, but we are also honest with them about our different priorities.

4) We seek to enable transformation and refuse to help people remain homeless. By only accommodating people for 28 days we place the emphasis on helping people to progress rather than simply returning to the streets once it gets warmer. Our staff and volunteers seek to blend grace and truth to help guests change their circumstances. If people are not looking to help themselves then we may ask them to leave the shelter, as there are others in need who do wish to do so.

5) GrowTH is about the Church working together in gospel work. We have progressed from seven churches running a 3 month shelter to twenty churches running a shelter for seven months. This past year we had over 300 different volunteers, many of whom are former guests, who use their experience and insight to help others.

Confidence in the gospel

Christian social activists need to have confidence in the gospel’s relevance and power.  It is legitimate for us to run projects that are purely social action, serving the local community without any sense of evangelism (in fact I serve as a trustee of one of them). The trouble comes when we think of these projects as mission.  By making everything mission we are in danger of making nothing mission.

Too often woolly theological notions of the Kingdom of God allow us to neglect any clear presentation of the Christian Gospel.  Whilst this may be good work, it is not the kind of integrated mission that helps people find hope in Jesus.

My passion is to see more Christian projects combine a sense of service with a commitment to helping people come to Christ – and GrowTH has given me a glimpse of what is possible.

Tony UddinTony Uddin is pastor of Tower Hamlets Community Church and Chair of GrowTHFollow him on twitter @tonyuddin. These are his personal reflections and do not necessarily represent GrowTH.

Posted in Homelessness, Social action | Tagged | 1 Comment

‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty’: HPH lecture on 9th June, central London

Hugh_Price_HughesHugh Price Hughes was an energetic and enterprising Methodist Minister who founded the West London Mission in 1887. He was a proponent of what he called ‘Social Christianity’ which was in contrast to the Christianity he saw around him, which in his words has ‘been too speculative, too sentimental, too individualistic.’

His founding of the West London Mission embodied his desire to see the Christian faith have a social and political impact and to be ‘applied to all aspects of life’. Right from its start, as well as having thousands come to its weekly services, WLM established a soup kitchen, a food depot, a clothing store as well as a labour exchange for the unemployed and a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’.  Later they would establish the first ever Creche for working mothers and open hostels for unmarried mothers who had to leave home.

Today, WLM employs over 70 people in a wide ranging work with people affected by homelessness, addictions and offending.  It is my privilege to lead this work.

Three faces of poverty

3 Faces of PovertyEvery year, a series of lectures is held in memory of Hugh Price Hughes at Hinde Street Methodist Church, where WLM is now based.

I will be giving the closing lecture in this year’s series on Tuesday 9th June. I will be speaking on ‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty’.  I will be talking about how homelessness in the UK embodies the fusion of these three faces of poverty and how this needs to inform our practical, political and theological response.

The lecture starts at 7.30pm on Tuesday 9th June and is at Hinde Street Methodist Church, London W1U 2QJ which is 5 minutes walk from Bond Street tube.

Entrance is free and everyone (but especially R&R readers) are very welcome!

See here for all details.

Posted in Homelessness | Leave a comment

All right-thinking people should now boycott The Daily Mail

Last year, I wrote a post arguing that Christians should lead the way in a boycott The Daily Mail due to its campaign against overseas aid.

Today, The Mail has descended further into the pit of the worst type of journalism with this incredible election headline:

Daily Mail - RIchard Littlejohn

It is simply incredible that any newspaper could use the tragic suffering of innocent children abused by a criminal as the basis for such a cheap headline.  It is barbarically insensitive.

I have today tried to log a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Association (IPSA) but the Editor’s Code of Practice is so restrictive that there are no categories under which a complaint could be filed.  Like the Advertising Standards Authority, it is another example of the toothless agencies which we end up with in this country because we believe in self-regulation.  It seems nothing has been learnt from the hacking scandals and the press remain free to do whatever they want.

I think The Daily Mail is the most dangerous newspaper in the country, because it spreads a toxic brand of pious-sounding poison.  I do not write this because of its political perspective but because of the repugnant and hypocritical way it points the finger at everyone else whilst behaving so poorly itself.

I simply do not understand people who continue to buy it, especially those who profess to be Christians. We can make complaints, but the best decision is for right-thinking people (in both senses of the word) to commit to no longer buying this odious publication.

Know a Mail reader? Share this article with them and see what they think…

On a more light-hearted note, they may enjoy The Daily Mail Song:

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