Christian Today Digest – November 2015

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To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It’s a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

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Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published on recently.

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Suffrage: The Church’s rocky relationship with rebellion

From “Church” section

As the film Suffragette launches in British cinemas, Harry Farley examines the Church’s rocky engagement with women’s suffrage and argues why, in spite of its slow response and many failings, he is in favour of the Church of England’s institutionalised response.

Suffragette launched in cinemas across the UK this month and the Twittersphere is awash with acclamation, if not for the film itself, then for the movement which eventually led to women being granted the vote in 1919.

However the Church has not always had an easy relationship with women’s suffrage. After Emmeline Pankhurst formed her splinter group from the more peaceful National Union of Women’s Suffrage, churches actually became a target for her more radical Women’s Social and Political Union.

The Church of England was seen as opposing the movement and as a result, parish churches were often set on fire. On 1 June 1914 Wargrave Church became one such victim when it was burnt down by two suffragettes. Later on in June 1914 a bomb was placed in Westminster Abbey causing minor damage to the Coronation Chair and the “Stone of Destiny” beneath it. Several other bomb and arson attacks targeted churches throughout the suffrage campaign, including one bomb in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Church was seen as part of the establishment elite that suffocated rather than encouraged equal engagement and participation. Indeed Church teaching on women was seen as fuelling inequality throughout society. Women were barred from ministry and the Church of England refused to remove the bride’s vow to “obey” her husband from the marriage service. Furthermore its Bishops in the House of Lords did not oppose the controversial “Cat and Mouse Act” which facilitated the harsh treatment of suffragettes in prison. As long as there was theological justification for political inequality, the suffrage movement could not hope to change the status quo.

But outside the main institution of the Church of England, many individual Anglican clergy and parishioners supported women’s suffrage. There were many devout Christians in the suffragists (the peaceful sister movement to the suffragettes) including Maude Royden and Louise Creighton who helped align the National Council of Women behind women’s suffrage.

Additionally there was the prominent Church League for Women’s Suffrage (CLWS), formed in 1909 by Rev Claude Hinscliffe and his wife Gertrude. Many suffragists who drew on theological reasons to support the campaign joined the group which, alongside securing the parliamentary vote for women, sought to draw out what Hinscliffe called the “deep religious significance of the women’s movement.”

In 1912 the CLWS had more than 3,000 members and by 1914 this had increased to over 5,000 church men and women. Alongside other groups such as the Free Church League for Women’s Suffrage and the Catholic Women’s Suffrage League, there was a significant body of clergymen and laymen throughout Britain who supported it.

But the institution of the Church of England continued to be opposed. Their stance is even more surprising when you realise the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Randall Davidson, privately was a passive suffragist.

This is not an exception. The institutionalised church is rarely, if ever, at the forefront of social change. While Christians have often been champions for social causes such as the slave trade, worker’s rights and equal votes, they have operated outside the institution and either formed separate pressure groups or campaigned as individual Christians without the Church’s backing.

Normally the great edifice of the Church lumbers along, a few years behind public opinion, sometimes catching up but sometimes ignoring it and resolutely sticking to its guns. Like a vast oil tanker, it is not easily tossed by the waves of popular sentiment and takes a long time and a great deal of effort to alter direction. For this reason many criticise the existence of a Church as an institution, pointing to Christ’s radical social teaching and say that the institution of the Church hinders it from its true calling.

I am not so sure. It seems to me that one of Christ’s remaining unanswered prayers is for unity. Anglicanism is full of faults and far from perfect but it represents a great attempt at that call to unity. Certainly it is better than most so-called reformist groups who use the most insignificant theological disagreement as an excuse to splinter.

If we are to take unity seriously and have a body, or an institution to represent a vast collection of theological sympathies and styles, I would much rather it is a monolith that trundles along, albeit at a slow pace, but remains unswayed by sentiment.

It is a shame the Church of England rarely, if ever, leads great movements of social change. It would be stronger if, occasionally, it was more outspoken. But I have enormous respect for how it seems untouched by what the world thinks and takes time to debate and consider carefully the issue at stake.

Sometimes, as in the case of women’s suffrage, this means it changes far too slowly and occasionally years after the public’s mind has already been made up. But there is something reassuring that the Church seems undeterred by this and continues to take its time to consider, reflect and deliberate. The great strength of this is that rides the transient swells of opinion without being affected but takes seriously the surges that are prolonged, consistent and, therefore, have more substance.

Heavily laden with a wide collection of views and traditions, the Church of England has a wide turning circle and a vast stopping distance. It should have supported women’s suffrage long before it did. But eventually, with much consideration, it got there. This seems to be a pattern for much of the Church’s engagement with change and for me, that is incredibly reassuring.

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Faith under fire: The astonishing story of Edith Cavell, shot 100 years ago this year

From “Church” section

Just outside the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square in central London is a memorial to a remarkable woman.

It’s fair to say that most of the thousands who pass it every day won’t know much, if anything, about her. But Edith Cavell was, in her way, a modern martyr. The square’s other memorials are to those who were rather good at taking lives. Her glory was that she tried to save them.

An English nurse working in Belgium - she helped found the profession there and is revered as the Belgian Florence Nightingale - she was shot by the Germans 100 years ago on 11 October, 1915. Her crime was helping injured prisoners to escape.

In words that have echoed down the last century, she said to the chaplain the night before she died: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

For Catherine Butcher, whose book Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad (Monarch, £8.99) tells her story, those words express first and foremost a Christian faith that’s all too often airbrushed out.

“She couldn’t die holding bitterness in her heart,” she says. “She would stand before God and she wanted to be forgiven, so she would have to forgive.”

Edith Cavell was the daughter of a clergyman, an educated woman but without financial resources. Born in 1865 in rural Norfolk, she was brought up in the low church evangelical tradition, with family life revolving around prayers and services. Her faith was serious and personal, though she found her father’s sermons dull.

Edith was moved by the plight of the inmates of the local workhouse, writing to her cousin Eddy: “Some day I am going to do something useful. It must be something for people. They are most of them so helpless, so hurt and so unhappy.”

Her first employment was as a governess in a succession of families. She later trained as a nurse, choosing to work in difficult settings like workhouse clinics rather than the easier option of private nursing.

The outbreak of war found her in England, but she decided to return to Brussels to her training hospital. Despite Belgian resistance, the city was soon occupied and it was not long before stories of German atrocities began to circulate. In Dinant 674 men, women and children were shot in the town square. Louvain, only 20 miles from Brussels, was burned and the population massacred.

Rather than make her escape to England, though, she chose to stay and carry on with her nursing work.

As the war progressed in 1915, however, she became involved not just in treating wounded British soldiers but in helping others get back to the front. German agents infiltrated the hospital, mail was intercepted and she came increasingly under suspicion. She was arrested on August 5, interrogated and tricked into signing statements in German that she could not read. She admitted helping soldiers to return to England. On Monday October 11, with four other “conspirators”, she was sentenced to be shot.

She spent her last days in prayer, reading the Bible and books of devotion. During her 10-week imprisonment she read the Prayer Book, the Pilgrim’s Progress and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, marking many significant passages.

On her final day, she was visited by the Anglican chaplain, her friend Stirling Gahan. Gahan later recorded: “We partook of the Holy Communion together, and she received the Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of the little service I began to repeat the words, “Abide with me”, and she joined softly in the end.

“We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul’s needs at the moment and she received the assurance of God’s Word as only the Christian can do.

“Then I said ‘Good-by,’ and she smiled and said, ‘We shall meet again.’”

She was then taken out and shot.

Catherine Butcher says that she was under no illusion about the risks she ran, but that she had to help those she believed were in danger of death. “She thought that if she didn’t help them, they’d be shot,” Butcher says. “Life was sacred to her. She knew what she was risking. There was no suggestion that she didn’t agree she was guilty.”

Though, she adds, Cavell may have hoped that they would not execute a woman; she even sent for some winter clothes in case she was imprisoned instead.

For Butcher, it is her last words that are more significant than the famous quote on her statue, because it speaks so clearly of the Christian faith which shaped her life and let her meet her death in such a composed and courageous way.

“She said, ‘We will meet again’. For me, that’s a possibility for all of us,” she says.

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Sarah Abell on the four signs that a relationship is in trouble

From “Life” section

Conflict is inevitable and normal in any relationship but what is important is how you handle it. Your relationship is more likely to fail if you allow certain kinds of negativity to run rampant through your arguments.

Psychologist and marriage researcher, Dr John Gottman, believes that there are four types of destructive communication styles, which can be potentially lethal to any relationship. He calls these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Most couples will experience their presence at some point but if you want a relationship that lasts it is vital that you don’t allow them to take up permanent residence.

Gottman is able to tell whether a relationship will succeed or fail with 94 per cent accuracy by watching a couple for just three minutes during a conflict discussion. He uses the metaphor of the horsemen to describe the negative communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. The good news is that antidotes do exist for those who want to keep the horsemen at bay.

Criticism: Criticism involves attacking your partner’s character rather than focusing on the particular behaviour that bothers you. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame. Talk about your feelings using “I” statements and then express a positive need. For example, “I hate clutter and feel stressed when the kitchen is a mess. I would really like it if you could keep the counters clear.”

Contempt: These are statements that come from a place of perceived superiority. These might include using sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery or hostile humour. The antidote is to build a culture of appreciation and respect.

Defensiveness: When you are defensive you will do things like deny responsibility, make excuses or trump the complaint with one of your own. When you are being defensive it is hard to tune into what your partner is saying. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if it is only for part of the conflict.

Stonewalling: This is when you simply refuse to respond and check out of the conversation. It often happens when you feel overwhelmed or “flooded” with negative emotion. When this happens on a regular basis it can be damaging because you are pulling yourself out of the relationship rather than working out your problems. The antidote is to practise self-soothing. Let your partner know you are feeling overwhelmed, take a break but return to the conversation once you feel less emotive.

One thing that separates happy couples from miserable ones is the balance between their positive and negative interactions. Gottman talks about the 5:1 magic ratio. If you want to have a relationship that thrives not just survives, make sure you have at least five positive interactions with your partner for every negative one. It reminds me of the wonderful advice we are given in Colossians 3:12-14 - make that a reality in your marriage and you can’t go too far wrong.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.”

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Jesus’ stark challenge: you give them something to eat!

From “Comment” section

God’s plan for us is spiritual growth, not comfort, writes David Baker.

“The disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away ...’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’” Mark 6:35-37

Jesus is a very unsettling travelling companion, isn’t he?

Here he is with his friends, embarking on a mini-break after a hectic preaching tour (Mark 6:30-31). They set off by boat to “a deserted place by themselves” but - oh no - a whole load of bystanders “saw them going and recognized them, hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them”. So much for the retreat, then.

Jesus doesn’t send the crowd packing, but begins to teach them - apparently for some considerable time. For it is growing late (v35) when his disciples, presumably even more weary by now, come to him and ask for the crowds to be dismissed.

“Send them away,” they say, “so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

It’s not unreasonable, is it? After all, where could they have got food for several thousand people? And indeed their request could be seen as compassionate - not only for the crowds, and themselves, but also for Jesus too.

The disciples must have been open-mouthed and disbelieving when Jesus responds: “You give them something to eat.” Yeah right, Lord - like that’s really going to happen.

Given that Jesus must know what he is about to do - multiply some loaves and fishes to feed the mass of people - we might additionally wonder why he bothers to challenge them in the first place. Moreover, if Jesus could do that sort of thing then, why doesn’t he just do the same now and eliminate world hunger? What’s going on here?

1. “Without Him, we can’t ... Without us, He won’t.” That’s the first principle here - as put by famous preacher CH Spurgeon in a pithy phrase many years ago. In other words, Jesus wants to do impossible things - but he wants to do them through us. We need his power, to be sure, but he much prefers to work through human agencies to accomplish his purposes.

2. That’s because God’s plan for us is spiritual growth, not comfort. Never mind the quiet break they had planned; Jesus wants his disciples, relying on his power, to grow in active faith, hope and love.

We often think of “God’s plan for us” in terms of being whether or not he wants us, say, to go to China as a missionary (which it may be, of course) - or similar. But, more broadly, his number one purpose is for us to grow in active, thinking, holy discipleship and become like him. And if we’re serious, that will most likely involve (as for the disciples here) discomfort, perplexing circumstances and Jesus frequently bringing us up short.

3. This is all about the breaking in of God’s Kingdom. The feeding of the 5,000 is not some conjuring trick with bread and fish. It is about Jesus making clear that just as God provided manna in the desert (Exodus 16), so now he is acting in exactly the same way - in other words, as God himself - to provide food for the crowd. God’s rule is now breaking into the world, and Jesus the king delights to use his disciples (including us) to further it.

As Bishop Tom Wright puts it, this incident “doesn’t just mean ‘work a bit harder for famine relief,’ though that would certainly help”. Rather it means acting as Jesus’ people, in his power, to bring his kingdom in, while growing as disciples through the challenge and suffering this may involve.

Author Randy Kilgore sums it up so well: “When Jesus asks us to get involved, He already knows how He will accomplish His work through us. What we need is faith and vision; the ability to see that God wants us to be His instruments, and that He will supply what we need.”

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