Sunday, 28 October 2012

Christianity Explored in South Sudan

This week I am in Juba, South Sudan, to help introduce Christianity Explored at the invitation of Bishop Moses Deng Bol of Wau Diocese,  Bishop Andudu Elnail from Kadugli Diocese and Bishop Abraham of Aweil Diocese in the Anglican Church of Sudan.

Based at the Anglican Cathedral in Juba, we are equipping Church leaders to use the course to evangelise their communities and deepen the faith of their congregations, as we have done previously in Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. So far over 2,000 clergy and church leaders are using Christianity Explored in East Africa.

We are also working in partnership with Fields of Life, a Northern Ireland charity that has built 140 community schools in East Africa. They are exploring the possibility of building additional schools in South Sudan also where the need is great.

The challenges of organising a conference such as this in South Sudan are considerable. For a country that only became independent a year ago, after more than 50 years of bloody civil war, the scars are still visible. There is a strong UN peace keeping presence on the streets of Juba with soldiers from Japan ands other non-aligned countries visible in bright blue helmets.

The sound of automatic weapons as well as handguns being fired could be heard close to the Anglican Cathedral compound last night and periodically through this morning. Women and children scattered and people took shelter behind buildings until the sound died down.   I was told it was probably the police taking on armed gangs.

The Archbishop of Juba who was due to host us was called in to mediate between two Dinka tribes locked in a dispute over cattle ownership. These tensions are exacerbated by the increased availability of weapons, a legacy of the civil war.

Independence for South Sudan, which was costly to achieve, has inspired a spirit of hope and optimism, and the Church has a strategic role to play in laying a secure foundation upon which, by God's grace, this young nation will grow and prosper. It is exciting to be here at this strategic moment in history. God willing, we will be returning to Aweil and Wau Dioceses in January 2013 to provide further training at the request of Bishop Abraham and Bishop Moses.

There is an excellent Guardian article about South Sudan here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Awareness Foundation Conference: Christians in the New Middle East: Fears and Hopes

The Awareness Foundation held an international conference on Christians in the New Middle East at St George's Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral in London. Religious leaders and scholars from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the UK participated. The Revd Nadim Nasser also delivered a public lecture at Southwark Cathedral during the conference.

The Awareness Foundation is an educational, ecumenical and international charity, founded in 2003 in response to the disturbing increase in religious conflict and violence around the world. Our Patron is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We work to help Christians make sense of their faith and culture in the 21st century, and to increase their awareness of their neighbours’ faiths and cultures, so that they can live in a diverse society without fear and without compromising their beliefs. We believe that greater understanding among religions and among peoples will ultimately defeat extremism, and help nurture an environment where people can live together in peace.

You can learn more about the Awareness Foundation by clicking here. Click here to meet their staff.

For more photos of the conference and speakers see here 

Monday, 22 October 2012

Innocence of Muslims and Blasphemy

In an interview with the International Quran News Agency (IQNA), I was asked the following questions regarding the film Innocence of Muslims. This is a transcription of the interview.

IQNA: What was the main reason behind releasing the sacrilegious movie "Innocence of Muslims"?

Sizer: It is clear that the producer of the film intended to incite Muslims and to cause controversy. The motive of the producer was malicious, and reprehensible, and his actions have been repudiated by political and religious leaders, Christian and Muslim leaders in the United States and Europe. So we oppose what he has done totally. Muslims I know are very upset , and I would hope their faith is strong enough for them to trust that God will vindicate Himself and if He has been blasphemed and maligned through this film , those who produced it will be punished, because God will not allow them to get away with it. I trust in God’s power and His sovereignty, and His judgement. I respect that many Muslims are very upset by the film and I regret that.

IQNA: As you know, the movie insults Islam's Holy Prophet (PBUH) and in fact the producer has attempted to undermine Muslims by portraying them as savage and uncivilized people. What's your view on that?

Sizer: Most secular people and most Christians I have met and spoken to about it are embarrassed by the film and they realized its purpose was destructive and they don’t agree with it. The film doesn't bear any resemblance to what we know of the Prophet’s life and therefore any sensible person will recognize that this film was malicious. We regret the French newspaper publishing cartoons, and I hope that political leaders in Europe and America will wake up to the fact that their own instability and insecurity and their reputation around the world is deeply affected by groups of people whose behavior would not be tolerated in any other society.

IQNA: Are such heinous acts and blasphemies in accordance with teachings emphasized by Jesus Christ (PBUH) ?

Sizer: Jesus (PBUH) teaches in the Christian Scriptures that we should conduct ourselves in a way that others, including those in authority, will see us as obedient citizens who obey the law, who are not a threat, who when asked to do something, will go beyond what is requested. The character qualities expected of Christians include humility, graciousness, kindness, gentleness, self control. We are told to forgive those who oppose us, not retaliate. Doing something deceitful and malicious intended to stir up hatred, is the very opposite of the Christian faith. Therefore I deeply regret any association between the film and the Christian faith. Christian leaders in America and in Europe condemn the film and those who made it. I hope that he will face the penalty of the law for his action.

IQNA: Would you please elaborate on reason or reasons behind insulting Islamic sanctities?

Sizer: It is a complex question and there are number of factors. The reality is that the Western powers especially America have interests in the Middle East, and it’s related to the oil, and raw materials. Oil and its presence in the Middle East, is a significant factor. The creation of the state of Israel, and the power of Zionist lobby is clearly an important influence in American politics. Even today, Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning through advertisement in America on behalf of Mitt Romney. He is clearly worried that Obama would be re-elected, and will institute measures that negatively will impact Israel. So we have a Zionist lobby, we have oil, and we have competing empires at work in the Middle East, and those must be taken into account. This film has been a trigger for anger and outrage.

IQNA: What would be the best reaction in response to such insults?

Sizer: I would encourage people to use whatever freedom they have, to express their opinions peacefully, and non- violently. If individuals have broken the law, and offended religious values, or behaved in criminal way, then the protesters should not take the law into their own hands. Demonstration is very important, but taking the law into their own hands, too easily leads to serious conflicts. So I think it is very important to respect and obey the law in whatever country we live, and if we don’t like these laws we can seek to change them through the political system that exists.

The problem with the law in America, and Europe to some extent, is that it does give people freedom of speech. If people are offended by the film, they have the right to bring a complaint to the police. For example Zionists were offended by some of the things I said about Israel and they complained to the police. If I had offended people’s religious opinions, then I could have been charged in Britain with a criminal act. Police rejected the claims in my case. Because they recognized I had no intention to offend or break the law. So there are laws in Europe that would enable Muslims as well as other religious groups to make a formal complaint and have the producer of the film charged with incitement.

If I were a US citizen, I would seek to use my freedom , vote, and my ability to campaign, to ensure that these kinds of events do not take place. I would lobby and encourage Muslim groups in America to have these kinds of actions outlawed. Laws are passed by the government, but they need to be approved by the people.

Interview by: Fatemeh Nazari

Source: IQNA 

See also: The Innocence of Muslims
and Anti-Islam movie criminal filmmaker misled cast

Why Should the Middle East Matter to Christians?

Christianity in the Middle East: Living Faith or Museum Piece?

There will be a special public lecture by The Revd Nadim Nassar, Director of the Awareness Foundation, at Southwark Cathedral on Tuesday 23rd October 2012.

Doors open at 6.30 pm, and the lecture starts at 6.45 pm. After the lecture, there will be time for questions.

Tickets are £10 each (£5 each for Friends of the Awareness Foundation). Tickets are available from the Awareness Foundation or telephone 020 7730 8830.

Nadim preached at Christ Church, Virginia Water yesterday on Jesus the True Emancipator.

The Awareness Foundation is an educational, ecumenical and international charity, founded in 2003 in response to the disturbing increase in religious conflict and violence around the world. Our Patron is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We work to help Christians make sense of their faith and culture in the 21st century, and to increase their awareness of their neighbours’ faiths and cultures, so that they can live in a diverse society without fear and without compromising their beliefs. We believe that greater understanding among religions and among peoples will ultimately defeat extremism, and help nurture an environment where people can live together in peace.

You can learn more about us by clicking here.

Click here to meet our staff.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Battle for Public Opinion in Europe

Last night Middle East Monitor and the Cordoba Foundation held a book launch of 'The Battle for Public Opinion in Europe' edited by Daud Abdullah and Ibrahim Hewitt, at Senate House, University of London. 

Tim Llewellyn, Seumas Milne and Jackie Rowland were on a panel chaired by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. It was fascinating to hear correspondents from the Independent, Guardian, Al Jazeera and BBC discuss changing perceptions of the Palestine-Israel Conflict and agree with each another on almost every issue. 

Baroness Jenny Tonge gave a closing 'thank you' to the Zionists present for helping to draw attention to the Palestinian cause by their criticisms of her and other human rights activists.

Photos taken at the book launch may be seen here
Read the MEMO Report on the evening here

Review by Lord Steel of Aikwood
Review by Samira Shackle
Review by Ibrahim Darwish

Mainstream media in European countries commonly espouse Israeli government propaganda when reporting on the Israeli-Palestine conflict often reflecting the attitudes of their respective governments, and betraying an imbalance of support for Israeli interests over those of Palestinians. This in turn conveys a rather unbalanced and obscured version of events and issues to the European media consumer. Nevertheless, recent events like the Gaza War (2008/9) have enabled increasing numbers of Europeans to see through the smoke screen.

In 2011 the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) in collaboration with Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) and the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) at Exeter University commissioned a pioneering study to gauge European public perceptions on the conflict. The study, carried out by one of Europe’s most reputable polling and research institutions, surveyed over 7,000 adults from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain. This collection of essays is the compelling and timely analysis of that study.

With contributions from a range of international experts and specialists in their field, including Ilan Pappe, Tim Llewellyn, Maria Holt and Daud Abdullah, ‘The Battle for Public Opinion in Europe’ brings credible and unique insights to bear on how and why public opinion in Europe should be, and is, changing regarding the conflict. Chapters cover such topics as the broadcasters’ false portrayal of the conflict; the rise of the Israel lobby in Europe; questions of the inclusion and exclusion of Hamas; extremist nationalism in Europe and support for Israel; and changing perceptions relating to the conflict.

The book further addresses the consequences that these changes in public perception might be expected to have on European policy-making. It is hoped that the book will persuade policy and decision makers, as well as the media, to take more serious notice of the evolving views among the populations they serve. It is also hoped that it will force then to examine more closely how they might further a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and thereby diminish the ugly and destabilising phenomena of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe.

Order the book here

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Faith Hate and The English Defence League

Faith Matters, a counter-extremism organisation, has published, A Study of the English Defence League. The 51 page report answers two important questions: "What Draws People of Faith to Right Wing Organisations?" and "What Effects Does the EDL Have on Interfaith Relations?"

Fiyaz Mughal, OBE, Director of Faith Matters, insists, "Christian organisations should be doing far more to combat the appeal of far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL)."

He laments, “Christian institutions on a national level have not been robust in condemning the EDL, There is no national voice from the Church of England for example, universally condemning the actions of the EDL despite the fact the EDL disrupts and attempts to divide Christian and Muslim communities. Why?”

Mughal also urges that UK authorities need to examine how hate groups such as the EDL, which have the capacity to cause huge disruption on our streets, receive international funding.

“Links with Pamella Geller’s Stop the Islamization of America campaign and the ability to raise funds from the US need to be put under the spotlight,” he said. “People in the US promoting street-based social unrest in the UK by donating to the EDL is simply not on.”

The main findings of A Study of the English Defence League are:

- The EDL uses mainly Christian symbolism in its promotion and publicity material,

- Some within faith communities believe that by allying with the EDL they can marginalise and stigmatise Muslims,

- Building community resilience against such hate is vital – anti-hate groups in other faith communities, such as the Luton Faiths Forum, Community Security Trust, the Turban Campaign and Sikhs Against the EDL, should be more fully supported,

- The UK government needs to look at how groups such as the EDL are financed internationally, via a network of supporters in the ‘counter jihadist’ network (particularly the USA),

- The Jewish Defence League needs to be effectively outlawed in the UK for inciting extreme hatred against Muslims.

See also Fiyaz Mughal writing in the Huffington Post: Faith Hate: The EDL Targets Faith Communities for New Recruit 

The Bishop of Norwich has taken a courageous stand against the EDL: 'You're not welcome': Church leaders' message to English Defence League

The church’s General Synod passed a motion in 2004 stating that any political movement that seeks to divide our communities on the basis of ethnicity is an affront to the nature of God revealed in creation and scripture and is a grave danger to harmonious community relationships; consequently voting for and/or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship.

Tony Greenstein warns of the link between some within the Palestine solidarity movement and the Far Right:  Ken O'Keefe Believes Palestine Solidarity and neo-Nazism are Compatible

And here are two good blog posts from Richard Batholomew:

The EDL Has a Concern for Christianity, but Christian Concern Does Not Support the EDL

EDL Uses Express and Mail to Highlight Christian Complaints at SION Conference

And some earlier blog posts of mine critical of the BNP/EDL:

The Church and the BNP

Counter-Jihad Report from Hope not Hate

Counter-Jihad: The Cold War on British Muslims

The Jewish Chronicle and the BNP

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Yeldall Manor Drug Rehabilitation Centre

Yeldall Manor is a residential rehabilitation centre, set in 38 acres of Berkshire countryside near Wargrave, Reading. For over 30 years, they have been helping men to overcome serious drug or alcohol addictions and return to society to live new lives, drug, alcohol and crime free.

Their programmes, lasting up to eleven months in total, followed by a year's support in the community, combine work in the house and grounds with therapeutic groups and counselling.

They are a Christian organisation and all our staff and volunteers are Christian.

They believe that the best means of achieving rehabilitation is through discipleship to Jesus Christ. However, men do not have to be Christian to join the programme, and they never insist upon such a commitment.

Christ Church, Virginia Water is delighted to support Yeldall Manor. They receive our annual Harvest collection of food and toiletries from families connected with Christ Church and Christchurch school.

For more information see here

Why I gave up religion: Vijay Menon

Mr Vijay Menon has converted literally thousands of people to Christianity – but himself became a Christian 'by chance'. A Hindu from Kerala in India, he was such an exceptional ship's engineer that he secured a job with Lloyd's Register. One lunchtime he followed a City crowd into a building – and found to his horror it was a Church! The Rev. Dick Lucas's sermon converted him – 'I had discovered the sweet and wonderful world of forgiveness' he was later to write in his Only One God. Vijay became so busy with his world-wide 'talk ministry' to schools, colleges, Churches and other businessmen that he resigned from Lloyds as a senior engineer surveyor in 1998 to become a full-time Evangelist.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sewage in Palestine

The International Middle East Media Centre reported in May 2011.
Sewage and wastewater from the Israeli settlement of Ariel, the largest settlement in the West Bank, has polluted the Palestinian village of Bruqin, which sits adjacent to the settlement.

Ariel is constructed on hilltops and its wastewater is frequently directed away from the settlement onto the land of nearby Palestinian villages. This is a common occurrence in a number of Israeli settlements, which are constructed on illegally-seized Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Currently, Israeli settlements and military encampments control 70% of the West Bank's water, leaving the Palestinian population with little water to drink, and downstream of Israeli settlers' wastewater runoffs.

Palestinians have also accused a number of Israeli settlements of purposely directing wastewater and raw sewage onto their farmland and homes, in an attempt to contaminate the property and render it uninhabitable, thus forcing the Palestinian residents to leave.

In the current incident, the sewage was directed from Ariel settlement directly toward the land of Bruqin village, and has contaminated farmland and groundwater in an area of several kilometers around the village.

All Israeli settlements are considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, which prohibits the transfer of civilian populations onto land seized by military force. Currently around 500,000 Israeli civilians and military personnel live on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that was seized by Israeli military force during the 1967 war.
A Friends of the Earth Scotland delegation observed the same continuing practice in August 2012, corroborating what we had witnessed near Bethlehem on a church pilgrimage in October 2011.
Waste is another political tool used by the Israeli occupiers. The settlement of Ariel dumps liquid waste – sewage and industrial – onto Palestinian water-courses and agricultural land, making the contaminated and unworkable land easier to confiscate. In Qalqilia we saw the great mound of solid waste from 20 years of unregulated dumping of Israeli industrial and chemical waste. We heard how the toxins from this waste are leaching into the water used by nearby Jayyous and Azzun, with the resultant risk to the health of their inhabitants.
In June 2012, The Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) published a report entitled,
Water resource allocations in the occupied Palestinian territory: Responding to Israeli claims which also addressed the issue of waste disposal.
Israeli settlements are also a major cause of environmental pollution in the West Bank as untreated and unregulated wastewater is allowed to flow from the settlements. The amount of domestic wastewater generated annually by almost half a million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank amounts to 54 MCM per year (ARIJ, 2008). This is more than the annual amount of wastewater generated by the 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, a result of excessive water consumption by Israeli settlers.

Israeli sources state that only 81 of 121 settlements in the West Bank are connected to wastewater treatment facilities. Therefore unconnected settlements discharge 5.5 MCM of raw wastewater which flows down the settlement hilltops polluting wadis and Palestinian agricultural lands (Cohen et al, 2008, B’Tselem, 2009). This is the case in Salfit where local residents have witnessed contamination of agricultural lands and water resources, and have contracted serious diseases including cases of cholera. Barqan settlement, near Salfit’s Qana Valley, has the largest industrial complex of the Israeli settlements and waste from industrial activity is dumped in sites surrounding Salfit. In November 2011, wastewater from Revava settlement near Salfit completely destroyed 20 olive trees and flooded a further 100 trees in Palestinian land surrounding the settlement (WAFA, 2011)
Read the full report here.

On 8th September 2012, the Ma'an News Agency reported 24 children admitted to hospital after drinking contaminated water
See also The impacts of electronic waste disposal in the occupied Palestinian territory

Download a factsheet entitled Israel, Palestine and the Environment produced by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Jews for Jesus

Yoel Ben David is UK Director of Jews for Jesus. He preached at Christ Church, Virginia Water on Y’Shua and the Harvest drawing parallels between the Hebrew and Christian understanding of Harvest and how they point to Jesus.

Watch Yoel's personal story.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Global Leadership Summit

This weekend some of the leaders of Christ Church, Virginia Water, participated in the Global Leadership Summit.  It must be the largest annual leadership event in the world, with around 160,000 leaders in over 90 countries and 42 languages.

It is the most inspirational leadership event I have ever attended. I think this is my seventh or eighth. Here are some highlights from this year's Summit:

The 2012 Faculty included: Bill Hybels The Privilege of Leadership;  Condoleezza Rice No Higher Honor; Jim Collins Great By Choice; Patrick Lencioni The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else; William Ury Getting to Yes: Negotiating Conflict; and John Ortberg A Leader of Unimaginable Influence.

Here are some more Faculty video clips

I have ordered Lencioni's book. Here's a link to more of his resources from the Table Group

Check out more about the Summit here and about the Willow Creek Association here.

We have found membership of the WCA an immense blessing to our church. God willing, I look forward to being at the 2013 Summit.