Christian Today Digest – February 2018

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Billy Graham dies aged 99: Tributes pour in for 'the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul'

By James Macintyre

Tributes to Billy Graham are pouring in today after the evangelist died on 21st February at the age of 99.

'The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,' wrote US President Donald Trump.

Mike Pence, the evangelical Vice President, said: 'Karen and I were saddened to learn of the passing of one of the greatest Americans of the century, Reverend Billy Graham. We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family.

'Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, "well done good and faithful servant." Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you.'

(Facebook/Billy Graham)Billy Graham

After some delay, Graham's prominent son Franklin wrote on Twitter this afternoon: 'My father...was once asked, "Where is Heaven?" He said, "Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!" This morning, he departed this world into eternal life in Heaven, prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ - the Savior of the world - whom he proclaimed for 80 years.'

The former president Jimmy Carter said: 'Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life, and I was pleased to count Rev. Graham among my advisers and friends.'

The Rev Jesse Jackson said of Graham simply: 'He became the Pope of the evangelical movement.'

And the Rev Dr Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said: 'Today, the most influential evangelist in modern history, Rev Billy Graham, stepped into the corridors of eternity. He preached the gospel, lived with integrity and changed the world. I will never stop being grateful for the impact he has had on my life. May his death, as in life, point all people to the cross of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.'

In Britain meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said the worldwide church owed Graham an 'inexpressible' debt.

'Dr Billy Graham stood as an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians. When it comes to a living and lasting influence upon the worldwide church he can have few equals: for he introduced person after person to Jesus Christ. There are countless numbers who began their journey of faith because of Dr Graham.

'The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did.

'He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his saviour and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.'

Russell Moore, the respected president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said: 'Billy Graham was, in my view, the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul. He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity...he carried unimpeachable personal integrity.'

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York said: 'As anyone growing up in the 1950s and 1960s can tell you, it was hard not to notice and be impressed by the Reverend Billy Graham. There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God.'

Mike Huckabee, former Republican governor of Arkansas and former presidential candidate, said simply that Graham was the 'greatest man of our time'.

The British Mother's Union said on Twitter that Graham was 'a man of great faith, wisdom and humility' adding: 'May he rest in peace and rise in glory.'

Graham's friend, the TV celebrity Kathie Lee Gifford also paid tribute to Graham, minutes after learning the news.

'I think the value of a life is if you can look back and say you impacted one person's life for eternity – how awesome is that? Well, Billy can look back on his life and be absolutely assured that he has impacted millions of lives for eternity,' Gifford said in a tribute to Graham.

'The thing that I adored most about him is that he remained the most humble and giant of a man you would ever, ever, ever want to meet. He had this incredible, loving presence of a person for the masses, but then when you were one-on-one with him, you were the only person in the room. Rarely do people have both of those gifts.'

She also spoke about her reaction upon learning the news, saying: 'I immediately put up my hands and said, thank you, Lord, thank you. He has been lingering and languishing.'

William Martin, the author of A Prophet With Honour: The Billy Graham Story, said: 'He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era. No more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, came close to what he achieved.'

And the conservative columnist Todd Starnes told Fox News: 'I can only imagine the scene in heaven this morning, all those tens of thousands of people who came to know Christ at those crusades over the years welcoming Billy Graham home. What an amazing morning that is.'

The British evangelical Pete Greig said of Graham on Twitter: 'He was my hero. But now, as we bid farewell to a statesman and a Father, heaven welcomes home a servant and a son.'

And Canon J John, the British evangelist, paid tribute, saying: 'In the book of Acts the apostle Paul is quoted as saying that King David "served God's purpose in his own generation" (Acts 13:36 NIV). The same can indeed be said of Billy Graham. We should not seek to imitate him (the world has changed beyond recognition since he began his ministry) but we should be inspired by him. This side of Christ's return the church will always need leaders and evangelists like Billy Graham.'

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We need to talk about trauma: Why the church needs to face up to a massive problem

By Jude Smith

One in three UK based adults report experiencing some kind of traumatic life event, defined as an incident where we or someone close to us experiences a risk of serious harm or death. Given that 61 per cent of 11–17 year olds have experienced community violence, that most of our octogenarians lived through a world war and that some 26 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men have encountered domestic violence, I think we can safely say that the incidence is probably higher.

Many (but not all) of us endure a single experience and move on. There is an increasing and alarming amount of evidence that suggests that when the number of incidents is increased, and the age at which they are experienced is reduced, the impact can be devastating. Adverse childhood experiences have a deep impact on life chances: relational, social, psychological and physical.

I am writing off the back of a recent Church of England General Synod presentation about the experience of survivors of abuse in the Church. In the honest testimony offered, it is clear that the Church is often inept, dismissive and sometimes downright awful in its treatment of the traumatised.

I pray for the day that trauma will end, our tears will be wiped away and rest in God's presence ensured. But until that day I pray that we will learn from the experience of survivors and that we will get better at dealing with trauma.

If one third of us experience trauma, then what can we as the living body of Christ do in the name of our wounded saviour that helps us all to survive and thrive? In short – can we become a trauma friendly Church?


I've never heard a sermon on trauma. I've never really preached a sermon on trauma. And yet Scripture is not shy of detailing traumatic events and people's response to them. The Old Testament gives us Elijah, fleeing after the dramatic encounter on Mount Carmel. We also have the collectively traumatic exodus, exile and return.

The first disciples, it seems to me, spent the initial days after Jesus' death dealing with their own trauma. Mary went back to the tomb, Thomas disappeared, others stayed together hidden in an upper room. The pair on the road to Emmaus are found by Jesus talking out their disappointment and pain.

We need to include these experiences in our teaching – owning that in the overarching story of God and people, there is trauma. We need to remember that bad things happen to good people. We need to be real when 'God working all things together for good' seems like rubbish. We need to look at how we teach forgiveness, giving people tools to process pain rather than platitudes they cannot live by. We may, with Jesus, need to eschew comparisons of pain. How many people in our churches do not speak up about theiar pain because 'it's not as bad as...'?

We might need to choose our testimony differently – in a world where victory is sometimes just still standing, then let's share those small victories with empathy and tears.

Together my prayer is that we would go from being churches where people feel unsafe to talk about trauma, to places where our openness means that those who would seek to control and harm others know there is no hiding place.

Talk and give permission to not talk

The Mental Health Foundation suggests that people might need to seek professional help if they have no one to talk to. It saddens me that in our churches we may have or be people dealing with trauma who feel that we have no one to talk to. Its saddens me more because I know that when people talk they may just discover others who can say 'me too'.

A healthy sign of someone dealing with or working through something horrible is that they can tell the story more coherently and that after a few weeks other signs of recovery are happening. Surely our churches can be places where we are able to spot where that recovery is not happening.

Of course, this works when we are dealing with the one-off level of traumatic experience. There is a deeper and more pervasive level of trauma marked by shame and silence. It does not speak because sometimes finding the words is likened to 'reaching down to a deep well to pick up small fragile crystal figures while you are wearing thick leather mittens' (Jerome Kagan quoted in Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score).

In these circumstances it can be re-traumatising to make someone talk, but I hope that the church can be a place that facilitates a conversation with God that transcends words. Movement, art and silence are all part of our rich history and all ways in which our pain can be vented safely. Being trauma friendly may also mean giving space for expression other than words.

Trigger proof church

About once every six weeks someone will trigger trauma in me. Normally it happens in the church kitchen, as someone turns round with a sharp knife in their hand and off I go. My breathing will go shallow, I might sweat and I have to deploy my best techniques to not run. It's a silly example – and I'm fine – but how many other triggers do we hit in our church life?

We can't mitigate for every circumstance, but there are things we can do. A healthy culture of touch by invitation is a good example – so no one feels that they could be grabbed and hugged or kissed by a random stranger. I think it can be helpful for people to know what will happen in a service, to know where they can escape to and for it to be OK to go and take a minute to recover. And, of course, when we know each others' stories we can get better at this – for I hope that none of our churches would seek to harm.


This will not happen by itself. Our churches need training. We may need to learn to listen, to think outside of our own safe worlds into worlds where nothing is safe. We are beginning to see that we can do this as we become dementia friendly – I wonder if we can apply some of that rigour to something that is even more prevalent.

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Gaza: How Christians are helping keep hope alive in a stricken land

By Jamie Eyre

As I travelled back to Gaza for the first time in 18 months, any hopeful expectations I had were somewhat muted.

The overall picture is not one of great optimism. The Israeli blockade, which restricts imports and exports of goods to a minimum and prevents Palestinians from entering and leaving, continues to blight this small strip of land. Now into its 11th year, it shows little sign of coming to an end. Long power cuts are the stuff of daily life and the recent reconciliation deal between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, has delivered almost nothing.

Almost without exception, the first words I heard from the people I met were about the threat of war. On the one hand there are real fears that local jostling for control will lead to open conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as happened in 2007. On the other, another war between Hamas and Israel is seen by many as inevitable, bringing with it devastation like that seen in the summer of 2014.

But conversations quickly move on to the impact of the blockade; tales of refused travel permits and the challenges to normal life. The director of one local institution stated it plainly: 'The situation is very bleak, we don't know where we're going. We are lost in between – and another war will not create a solution.'

One of the biggest effects of the blockade has been on health care. Last week, 16 government clinics closed their doors as they could no longer operate due to a lack of fuel. The impact of power cuts on clinics, with the electricity on for four hours at a time and then off for 12, is really taking its toll. A senior doctor told me of the troubling lack of medicines – 40 per cent of essential children's drugs have been out of stock in government clinics for some time. I heard stories of adult patients buying one tablet at a time as hospitals could not provide full courses of treatment. Many ordinary people are unable to afford the blister packs of drugs we take so easily for granted on the NHS.

The people of Gaza are buffeted by local and regional politics and, perhaps more troublingly, a general indifference from us, the international community. In the midst of this, the local Christian led organisations who work with Embrace the Middle East are making small but significant contributions to support hard-pressed people.

In spite of the blockade, the clinics and hospitals run by Embrace's partners continue to function, their staff working tirelessly to provide some of the poorest and most isolated members of the community with essential care. The Anglican-run Al Ahli Arab Hospital has a free medical mission programme that links up with 35 community-based organisations on the borders and margins of Gaza.

Together they identify women, children and the elderly who can't access good medical care and they bring them to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. More than 2,500 people benefited from treatment in 2017 and in the coming year we anticipate 17,000 families will be reached through this programme. This is the backbone of their medical outreach work with communities. Their staff told me: 'The free medical mission is a real asset, we can reach the most deprived families by the border, places like Al Moghraqa where there is only one small clinic for 13,000 people.'

The Near East Council of Churches is also active, providing a wide-ranging service to support women – from pregnancy, through a healthy delivery and on to the first few years of their lives. Working to combat anaemia and malnutrition, they are able to support children from disadvantaged homes. In 2017 over 12,500 babies and toddlers benefited directly from this programme, helping them get a good start in life and avoiding the irreversible damage that these deficiencies can cause. These projects are two bright spots in what is a pretty bleak outlook.

Hope for the future is certainly in short supply. Yes, the shops seemed to have more items on their shelves – but I heard quite clearly that people don't have the money to buy them. The middle-class medical professionals I met talked about getting poorer and for the many thousands who are unemployed, poverty is already a very real problem. Add to that the reduction in salaries of up to 50 per cent felt by government employees over the past twelve months and it paints a very difficult picture.

The hope I did see was in the commitment and care of the local organisations alongside which Embrace has the privilege of working. We don't know if the much-discussed threat of conflict will come soon. But now, perhaps more than ever, we need to pray for peace and an end to the blockade. Alongside this, we need to continue to do what we can to support these excellent local organisations to make their small but significant contributions to help people in need throughout Gaza.

I am particularly challenged and encouraged by the words of one doctor as we left: 'We don't wish to be part of history. The organisations you support – what you help us do – is helping to keep Christianity alive here.'

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Polyamory and polygamy – the next big social change?

By David Robertson

After spending a great deal of time discussing and debating the pros and cons of same sex marriage, first of all being assured it wouldn't happen (after all, we already had civil partnerships) then being assured it wouldn't affect anyone, I received a letter from Her Majesty's Government. To be precise, from the office of the then prime minister, David Cameron.

In response to my question on what the government meant by same sex marriage, I was told the government supported redefining marriage because they did not see why two people who loved one another should not get married. It was a trite and superficial soundbite, but as a definition of marriage it was truly dreadful. Immediately I could see that there was no chance of this redefinition (and the subsequent social change) stopping at same sex marriage. However, when I suggested the inevitable consequence would be an increasing acceptance of polyamory and then by default, polygamy I was told not to be ridiculous.

A couple of years later that prediction is being fulfilled. A number of articles in influential newspapers and magazines are now being followed by TV documentaries such as this one broadcast on the BBC this week.

It is one of the most depressing programmes I have seen, not least because it was focused on my country (Scotland) and my city (Dundee). Who knew that there was a Dundee polyamory group? There was a great deal to sadden one's heart in watching this and a great deal to learn about our society.

The English language is being constantly expanded. As with the transgender issue it appears there is a whole new vocabulary to learn. The programme spoke of triads, thruples and V relationships amongst others.

Logic and reason are being butchered so that the language becomes even more meaningless. What else can you can of otherwise intelligent people declaring, 'Although they were fully committed they continued to date other people'? The disconnect from reality is surreal.

It's all about 'me'. One participant declared, 'There are times when monogamy is right for me and other times when poly is right for me.'

A cheap, degrading and selfish view of sex inevitably leads to shallow and ultimately meaningless relationships. One man spoke of sex as just being a 'cardio workout – like going to the gym'.

Mainstream and social media are always likely to be used to promote and advocate increasing aberrations in human behaviour. Having accepted that any form of 'sexuality' and sex is fine they have no real basis for challenging it. The BBC documentary had lovely soft romantic music in the background as we were told that this was just another expression of 'love'. There was no challenge, no cultural analysis and no interviews with those who have been harmed by this practice. It was all positive.

The political parties will follow where the cultural elites lead. In the 2015 election Green Party leader Natalie Bennett stated that they were 'open' to the idea of three-person marriages. In my own church at a political hustings, the man who is now our local MP stated that he also saw polygamy as a possibility. It is after all about 'marriage equality'.

It won't stop with polyamory. Polygamy will follow on. And then what? There is no reason, given the logic of the position that has led us this far, that incest will not be legalized. When I challenged one group on this I was told: 'I don't have a moral objection to incest between two consenting adults either. I would have an objection if there was a chance that a child with a higher risk of genetic abnormalities might be produced. Otherwise I see no reason to intervene.'

What can/should the church do? We should weep as we watch our society regress into the pre-Christian Greco-Roman/pagan view of the world. I certainly wept – because I recognised the people I saw in that programme. Not that I know these particular individuals in person, but I do know plenty like them – young, hip, confused, entertained, materially well-off – and lonely.

There is not much point in waving placards or just protesting, because we would be doing so in terms that our cultural elites largely do not accept. Instead I think the clue is found in the statement that was made more often than any other by the messed up participants in the programme – it's all about love.

The trouble is that they seemed unable to define what love is. But we know. It's not lust. It's not greed. It's not just companionship. It's not selfish. It is 1 Corinthians 13. It is Christ. It is the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. God is love. 'Love' is not God.

Our answer to the confused sexual dysfunctionality of our society is to proclaim the love of Christ, to live lives that challenge the cultural narrative and to exemplify God's new kingdom. If our culture is to see a genuine repentance and a renewal of faith in Christ, maybe it should begin with us?

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From poverty to plenty: What the church can do about food waste

By Clare Lyons

Jesus made quite clear his views on waste when he asked his disciples to 'gather up the pieces, let nothing be wasted', after generously feeding the 5,000 (John 6:12).

So why is a third of all the food produced in the world never eaten, especially when most of this waste is preventable?

The Church of England General Synod will discuss this problem today, following on from Tearfund's Renew Our Food campaign, which has been asking Christians to pledge to cut down on the amount they waste from their homes and use their power as customers to call on supermarkets to halve their food waste by 2030.

Every day millions of Christians pray that God will 'give us today our daily bread' and yet at the same time we waste so much bread from UK homes that we could fill St Paul's Cathedral to the brim each month. How can that be right in a world where so many have so little?

Members of the synod will discuss this later and focus on people here in the UK who go hungry while tonnes of food is wasted. It's a serious issue that is finally getting the attention it deserves.

But an often neglected aspect of the debate is the direct impact on people living in poverty overseas.

UK food waste fuels climate change, with our food waste responsible for 20 million tonnes worth of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Tearfund sees first hand the impact of climate change on people in poverty, who are experiencing more floods, drought and less reliable rain leaving them struggling to feed themselves. The UN reported in September 2017 that global hunger is on the rise for the first time in a decade, with climate change one of the root causes for the rise.

By not tackling climate change, we are at risk of excluding the poorest from the harvest. As the synod motion paper argues, 'Our worship rings hollow if in our daily lives we despoil the world around us... and neglect our sisters and brothers who bear the image of the Creator.'

The very good news is that the church could be at the forefront of efforts to solve this problem. That's why Tearfund's Renew Our Food campaign is calling for action on both fronts – at home and in church, and in the places where we shop. If we eliminated food waste from UK households it would be the environmental equivalent of taking one in every four cars off our roads. And if our retailers took action too, the impact could be multiplied.

Almost 10,000 Christians have already pledged to do more and momentum is building, with three major supermarkets (Tesco, M&S and Aldi) so far committing to halve their food waste. If the Church of England encourages its 16,000 parishes to act too, the impact is more than we can even quantify.

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