Christian Today Digest – August 2016

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Evangelicals rally behind Trump while atheists back Clinton

Evangelicals in the United States are rallying behind Donald Trump while it is the “nones” who back Hillary Clinton, according to new research.

The latest Pew Research Center survey finds that despite the professed wariness toward Trump among many high-profile evangelical Christian leaders, evangelicals are, if anything, even more supportive of Trump than they were of Mitt Romney at a similar point in the 2012 campaign.

Nearly eight in ten white evangelical voters say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, including a third who “strongly” back his campaign.

Meanwhile, voters who describe their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular” are lining up behind Clinton, much as they supported Barack Obama in 2012.

Two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated registered voters say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today.

“Considering both groups are quite large, the votes of white evangelical Protestants and religious ‘nones’ could be important to the outcome of the 2016 election,” says Pew in its report.

White evangelical Protestants make up one-fifth of all registered voters in the US.

Religious “nones,” who have been growing rapidly, make up one-fifth of all registered voters.

The support for Trump among Christians is solid even though many evangelical leaders have suggested it is incompatible with evangelical principles and beliefs. In the survey, more than half of white evangelical voters say they are dissatisfied with the choice of presidential candidates.

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Theresa May: the quiet Christian from the heart of Middle England

St Andrew’s Church in Sonning dates back to the 10th Century, its church tower, above its distinctive red roof, offering unrivalled views across Berkshire and Oxfordshire’s rolling hills. Although it lies near the actor George Clooney’s recently acquired £10 million mansion by the Thames, St Andrew’s is made up of ordinary middle-England parishioners who are keenly loyal to the most famous member of their congregation.

The incoming prime minister, Theresa May has been attending every Sunday, when she can, since before becoming an MP in 1997. She tends not to stay behind for tea after the service, but there is no doubt about her commitment among fellow worshippers. Shirley Chard, a former PCC Secretary at the church, says May and her husband Philip “attend very regularly and are very supportive”. Chard tells Christian Today: “Mrs May attends every Sunday that she possibly can, apart from when she’s out of the country or on occasions such as Remembrance Sunday – we all understand about that. Both her and her husband are very good attenders. She attends socials and other events whenever she can. She has been very supportive of the new church hall that is being built. They attend all sorts of things throughout the village, such as the September local show.”

Local parishioners are expecting May to attend the Sunday service next week as usual, despite her being appointed prime minister tomorrow in the aftermath of yet another wave of Westminster drama that has followed the Brexit vote last month.

So who is this un-flashy politician and quiet Christian, who is currently packing for the move from Berkshire to Downing Street? To what extent does her faith impact on her politics?

Born in 1956, May was the only child of Rev Hubert Brasier and his wife Zaidee. She was raised in rural Oxfordshire amid heavy demands on her vicar father. She attended a local grammar school and – having already been drawn to the Conservative party around the age of 12 – won a place to study Geography at Oxford. While she was there, she met her husband Philip at a student Tory disco. She has described him to friends as her rock.

Although May enjoyed a comfortable, classically middle class upbringing, she has experienced pain. In 1981, her father died in a car accident. The following year, her mother, who suffered with multiple sclerosis also died. After that, the Mays discovered that they could not have children. “It just didn’t happen,” she . “You look at families all the time, and you see there is something there that you don’t have.”

Having worked in financial services, May won the seat of Maidenhead during Tony Blair’s landslide general election victory for Labour in 1997.

Although a traditionalist in style, Blair’s ‘modernising’ politics were formative for May. Around 2001, she started attending private meetings at the fringe Tory leftist organisation the Tory Reform Group. And in 2002, as party chair under then leader Iain Duncan Smith, she surprised and angered some of her own party activists at their annual party conference. “Our base is too narrow, and so, occasionally, are our sympathies,” she said. “You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

And here lies the contradiction at the heart of May’s agenda: she is at once moral conservative and social liberal. This contrast has been evident during her time as Home Secretary since 2010. A steady hand at the notoriously turbulent Department, May was increasingly tough-talking on immigration. Yet she also did more than any other Home Secretary since Kenneth Clarke in attempting to reform the police, for years finding herself at loggerheads with the conservative Police Federation over police corruption and misuse of stop-and-search. Dismissed as authoritarian and “illiberal” by the evangelical Christian , she has nonetheless gained the support of Tory heavyweight civil libertarian David Davis MP.

On conscience issues, May has been on what is known in Westminster as a ‘journey’. In 1998 she voted against lowering the age of consent and in 2002 against gay adoption, though she backed the introduction of civil partnerships in 2004. She has changed her mind over the years on gay adoption, and  in June 2010 that there needs to be a “cultural change” in Britain to tackle homophobia.

In 2008, May voted for the abortion time limit to be lowered from 24 to 20 weeks in the abortion amendments to the  (now Act), a position she is said privately at least to maintain.

This mixed picture has left some leading conservatives unconvinced. Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist and a practising Christian, calls her a “Blairite”. And he tells Christian Today: “I see no sign that Theresa May supports socially conservative policies. This is the only way in which she resembles Margaret Thatcher, whose private religious and moral views appear to have been conservative, but who did nothing to restrain the morally and socially liberal agenda of her colleagues.”

May does not “do God” in the sense of talking publicly on a regular basis about it. But in 2014  that her faith does impact on her approach to issues, and chose two hymns for her songs including When I Survey The Wondrous Cross. But she added of faith: “It’s right that we don’t flaunt these things here in British politics.”

Of her upbringing, May told the same programme: “Obviously everything did revolve very much around the Church. Early memories of a father who couldn’t always be there when you wanted him to be, but he was around quite a lot of the time and other times when other parents weren’t normally. I have one memory for example of being in the kitchen and looking up the path to the back door where a whole group, a family, that had come to complain about an issue in the church and that’s it, just knock on the door and expected to see the vicar.”

Quintessentially English and somewhat shy and reserved, May is “cold” according to some, but she is not incapable of expressing emotion. In April, some MPs wept and she herself looked close to tears as she made a statement on justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

May has impressed faith groups, including the Jewish community.  that, “As the longest-serving Home Secretary for more than a century, Mrs May is perhaps better placed than any other politician to understand British Jews’ concerns on extremism and rising antisemitism” and  to Number Ten as “welcome news for the Jewish community”.

The JC points out that after the attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris last year May attended a Board of Deputies meeting and held a “Je Suis Juif” sign before pledging to “wipe out” antisemitism in the UK. It said she was “very warmly received as the guest speaker at the Community Security Trust’s annual dinner” in March, and would be a “safe pair of hands and a continuity candidate in terms of communal relations”.

On behalf of the Catholics, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who has worked closely with May on human trafficking issues, wrote to her this morning to say: “I am personally delighted at your appointment. I know from the work we have done together that you have so many qualities to bring to the service of our countries at this time. I appreciate the maturity of judgement, the steely resolve, the sense of justice and the personal integrity and warmth you have always shown.”

If Jews and Catholics are happy however, the Muslim reaction to her elevation may be more mixed. After facing criticism from Muslim groups over the new Counter Terrorism and Security Act and the controversial anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy, May was last year’s “Islamophobe of the year” according to the Islamic Human Rights Commission. But earlier this year, May pleased some Muslims with the announcement of a review into use of controversial Sharia law.

Also controversial was May’s refusal last year to accept a mandatory EU refugee quota system in response to the Mediterranean migrant boat crisis. May had originally refused to accept any refugees under the proposed EU resettlement programme. Yet she outraged campaigners – including some Christians – by also ruling out Britain taking part in any future EU system to relocate asylum seekers who successfully make the journey across the Mediterranean. “It is shameful that the British Government seems eager to opt out of doing the right thing by some of the world’s most desperate people,” said Anna Musgrave of the  at the time.

And to this day, May is refusing to say that EU migrants will be allowed to stay in post-Brexit Britain.

But away from controversy and back in Sonning, there is at least as much good will for May as there is, for now at least, in the Conservative party. Those close to May know she faces her toughest challenge yet.

Rev Jamie Taylor, the vicar at St Andrew’s and a friend of May, describes her as a “very supportive member” of the historic church and a “hard-working and respected MP”. Taylor adds: “We pray weekly for Her Majesty and those set in authority under her, and that prayer will take on a little more significance for us at St. Andrew’s in the years ahead ...On behalf of all at St Andrew’s Church ...I warmly congratulate (May) as she prepares to take up the daunting responsibilities before her.”

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Syria’s forgotten families: One widow’s daily struggle for survival

“I hope no one will have to pass through what we’ve been through.”

These are the words of Avine (name changed), a woman who lost almost everything to the war in Syria. Her independence, her home, her husband.

Avine is one of an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in desperate conditions in Lebanon. Having endured the war that is tearing apart their country for as long as they could bear, Avine’s family fled to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where they have been living for the last two years. Shortly after arriving in the country, Avine’s husband tragically died.

Widowed with five children, Avine’s life is now a daily struggle.

The seemingly endless war in Syria has displaced more than four million people – most of them are sheltering in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Some Syrians have been living as refugees since the war began five years ago. While the media moves on and people get tired of hearing about the plight of those forced to flee, the war for people like Avine goes on and on.

In Lebanon, refugees are not legally allowed to work, nor are official ‘refugee camps’ permitted. This means many refugees have to work illegally for a few dollars a day in order to pay the extortionate rent charged by landlords. Whole families eat, sleep and live in one room. Their lives don’t resemble anything they knew before the war.

Not one of Avine’s five children is in school. They, and thousands of other children like them, have to spend their days hanging around their tent, helping with chores or working illegally. Children like these are at risk of trafficking, early marriage or falling prey to extremists – at risk of being plucked from the daily monotony of their lives and forced into something even more tragic.

Without the monthly food packages Avine receives from a local church, which is supported by UK-based Christian charity BMS World Mission, survival for her family would be even harder. “The church has been helping as much as they can – giving food packages every month,” says Avine. “Their support is very helpful.”

The church is also providing education for hundreds of Syrian refugee children, keeping them off the streets and investing in their futures. Giving them something to focus on and strive towards. BMS is partnering with this church, and you can help them support even more children by giving to the charity’s  appeal.

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10 ways to bless your pastor

Leading a church is a tough job: the hours long and irregular, expectations impossibly high, the definition of success ostensibly amorphous and spiritual and yet indisputably linked in the minds of many (if not God’s) to attendance figures and finances. A pastor’s life and family is under scrutiny and held up as a model for others, their home is perceived by some as an extension of the church building, and they are under constant pressure to project personal piety and spiritual shininess.

It is in the interest of the whole body of Christ to keep our leaders in good shape, and as a vicar’s wife, it is very definitely in mine. Over the years Shawn has worked for churches I’ve seen the difference it makes to his wellbeing and therefore to his ability to serve when the church has his back.

Stress and burnout rates among clergy are well documented. Here are ways to look after our church leaders so they don’t become another sad story of a pastor chewed up and spat out by their congregation:

1. Pray for them

Pray they would have wisdom, vision and discernment. Pray for their health, their marriages and their children. Pray for spiritual protection and a deepening relationship with God. Pray hard and pray often. There’s a lot at stake.

2. Watch your mouth

It’s so easy for a toxic culture to develop in a church – clusters of people gossiping, criticising, spreading discontent and disunity behind the scenes. Our words have the power to build up or tear down. It won’t be hard to find negative things to say about your pastor – they might well be arrogant, indecisive, administratively challenged, pastorally insensitive, prone to preaching for too long, a bit smelly – but what will you achieve by discussing any of this behind closed doors? Let’s choose to play our part in fostering a church culture of mutual respect and kindness.

3. Check your expectations

I’ve seen some hilarious job specs produced by churches hunting for their new pastor. What they really want is Jesus. What they will get is a human being who will be a sad disappointment if they don’t adjust their expectations. It will be a great blessing to your pastor if you only expect what is reasonable to ask of a human.

4. Grow in spiritual maturity

There are few tangible sources of job satisfaction for church leaders, but nothing makes them happier than seeing people taking off spiritually. If you’ve seen God at work in your life lately, if you’ve discovered a love of the Bible or a passion for prayer, if you’ve shared your faith at work for the first time, or got a handle on a besetting sin, tell your leader: it will make their week.

5. Pull your weight

One of the very practical ways we can bless our church leaders is by pitching in and working alongside them to make things happen. It is horribly disheartening to have pleas for help repeatedly fall on deaf ears and can lead to an unbearable burden of responsibility. Could you stay a few minutes late after church meetings to wash up the coffee cups and put away the chairs? Could you take on the church magazine, or lead an Alpha group, or organise a choir for the Christmas services? Many hands make light work and all that.

6. Give money in a predictable way

Churches rely on the financial contributions of members. It takes a huge amount of stress away from church leaders when we sign up to give in a regular, reliable manner – budgets can be written, plans can be made and it creates a measure of job security.

7. Give them frequent, detailed encouragement

When a pastor has poured heart and soul into preparing and delivering Sunday’s message, an offhand “Nice sermon” at the door doesn’t cut it. If we particularly appreciate or notice something good our church leader has said or done, let’s try and tell them. That way they are less likely to be destroyed by the critiques they inevitably receive.

8. Give their family some space

A church leader’s family, if they have one, can feel they are constantly under the microscope. This can put huge pressure on a marriage and on children, who are all too aware of being watched and may well act up as a result.

9. Don’t vote with your feet

When things at church are heading in a direction we don’t like, or we feel an important aspect of the Christian life is being neglected, or we think we’re unappreciated or unsupported, the easiest thing to do is walk away, and find another church that works better for us. But if we are seeking to bless our leaders, surely the right thing to do is raise the issue and seek to be part of the solution? Quietly removing ourselves is ultimately an act of passive aggression.

10. Respect their authority

We don’t much like authority these days. John Stott wrote in his book Between Two Worlds, “Seldom if ever in its long history has the world witnessed such a self-conscious revolt against authority.” Yet Hebrews 13:17 urges us to “have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority”. As it goes on to say, this is the ultimate way to bless them: “Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden.”

[Jo Swinney is an author, speaker and editor of Preach Magazine. She has a Masters in Theology from Regent College, Vancouver, and lives in South West London with her vicar husband and their two little girls.]

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