Category Archives: Christianity

More Brutality – And More Grace

A couple of weeks ago I made my seventh visit in as many years to the persecuted church in northern Nigeria, this time accompanied by a British writer and commentator who wanted to see for himself what is happening there. (I’ve blogged my previous visits, for instance here, here and here.)

Together we talked with many people, and it was as distressing as ever to hear the stories of Christians and other minorities who are being crushed by the iron fist of Islam – a fist wielded in the north east corner of Nigeria by the madmen of Boko Haram, and across the north and ‘middle-belt’ of the country by murderous Fulani cattle herders.

Nonetheless some of the stories were inspirational.

In one IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp we met a woman who, together with her husband and a 30-strong group of others, tried to escape Boko Haram violence by crossing into neighbouring Cameroon in early 2014. They were caught by the militants at a river bank. All the men were slaughtered and the women and children were carted off to the now infamous former game-reserve, Sambisa Forest, where the Chibok girls are believed to be held.

During a captivity that lasted two years she was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to a young Boko Haram fighter, with whom, she says, she quarrelled incessantly. Once she received 80 lashes across her back when she and other women tried to escape. In the end they were rescued by Cameroon soldiers who defeated the Boko Haram militants in a fire-fight; the militants ran away and the abducted women were left free to return home.

At eight months pregnant by her Boko Haram ‘husband’, she in due course gave birth to a baby boy whom she breast-fed as she told us her story. When asked how she felt about the boy, she told us quietly that she had been taught by her Pastor to love even in the most difficult circumstances; she felt nothing but love towards her son despite his brutal Islamist father.

We were profoundly moved by her dignity and courage.

Other people’s stories were informative.

We met with the elderly wife of a Pastor who had ministered for decades in and around Gwoza which borders on Sambisa. Boko Haram has decimated the thriving Christian community there, killed or injured many believers, destroyed dozens of churches and, in August 2014, declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Caliphate in Nigeria along the lines of the  Mosul headquarters of the Islamic State Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The causes of the rapid rise of Boko Haram have been much debated. Although Boko Haram’s official Arabic name when translated means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’, most authorities refuse to blame any form of Islam. Some, like the US State Department, prefer to cite poverty, bad education and “poor government service delivery”. Others reckon it is the malign influence of armed Islamists crossing the border from West African states such as Mali, Chad and Niger. Yet others identify locals’ adverse reaction to foreign influences such as decadent Western secular lifestyles and to the residual impact of British colonialism (Nigeria gained its Independence in 1960).

We asked the Pastor’s wife what she thought. She was clear: fifteen years ago or so Afghan men dressed like the Taliban arrived unexpectedly in Gwoza and started taking young Muslim men away for education and training. That is when local Muslims became radicalised, she said, and previously good relations between many Muslims and Christians cooled noticeably.

So at the territorial centre of its operations, Gwoza, Boko Haram arose out of a radical Islam imported from a country nearly 4,000 miles away. I haven’t read that in the mainstream media.

Yet other interviewees were insightful and prophetic.

“I said it would happen,” explained the charismatic if diminutive Archbishop of Jos, Ben Kwashi. We were discussing the recent slaughter of Christians by armed Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna. “This persecution of Christians came from the north and started here in and around Jos in Plateau State,” said the Archbishop. “I forecast then that the Fulani violence would spread south, as it has done now into southern Kaduna. I further forecast that Niger State will be next. They will not stop, you mark my words.”

The Archbishop also pointed out that in 2015 many Christians voted for Muhammadu Buhari for Federal President even though he is a committed Muslim; he had a reputation as a former military hardman and he said he would be tough on terrorism. They have been disappointed, the senior cleric told us, as government inaction over the slaughter of Christians is difficult to explain apart from the fact that Buhari himself is Fulani.

I returned to the UK sickened once again by the Islamic and Islamist violence and inspired by many Christians’ grace under pressure and persecution.

Goodbye Scotland?

12376_haggis-1I was born the son of a London-based proud Scot who to the end maintained his distinctive Glaswegian brogue, contended that haggis isn’t haggis without bashed neeps and a nip (ie. mashed swede and a tot of whisky), reckoned that sugar on porridge is solely for Sassenachs, and even on his death-bed required a dram of his favourite single-malt Scotch.

So I’ve watched with disappointment as that once significant nation, home of the Calvinist rectitude that some believe made Scotland the moral standard for the world, and of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment whose intellectual and scientific accomplishments reached around the globe, has deteriorated since the war into a small-minded whingeing country with the national motto, nicked from the terraces at Hamden Park, of “ABE” (Anyone But England).

A country gets, sometimes, the politics and politicians it wishes for: recently Scotland has voted overwhelmingly for the blustering Scottish National Party and has got its chip-on-the-shoulder nationalists, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minsters.

p1080018So a breakaway from England – but not, if Scots get their way, from the European Union – is on the table and I determined during my summer holiday to try to understand why. I took historian Lynda Colley’s magisterial work, ‘Britons: Forging the Nation 1707 – 1837’, with me to the sun-drenched beaches of Sardinia. It was a fascinating read.

Colley reminds us that Britain was only created in 1707 following the Act of Union between England, Wales and Scotland and therefore – I for one had overlooked the obvious fact – the British nation is just a few decades older than the young country the other side of the Atlantic which forged its own Brexit  (Amexit?) and independence in 1776.

Historically British identity is a modern concept, superimposed on the older but enduring identities of Englishness, Scottishness and Welshness and other regionalisms. union-jackColley traces how this new overarching identity gained so much pull and power amongst ordinary people as well as social elites in the 130 years leading up to the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, and – my particular interest – gives explanation why the collective identity seems now to be unravelling.

Colley cites three reasons why British identity prospered:

Her second reason is mutual hostility across the English Channel. Colley point out that Britain and France were at war six times during this period culminating in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 – and “these were only the most violent expressions of a much longer and multi-layered rivalry”. The external threat from France united the peoples of the British Isles such that, most visibly, Scottish, Welsh and English regiments fought closely together in the decisive Waterloo victory over the French that brought extended peace to Europe after twenty bloody years of war.

british_empire_1921Colley’s third reason is the expansion of Britain’s global empire and the opportunity this gave people from different ethnic and social backgrounds to fight, trade with, govern and otherwise benefit from Britain’s increasingly valuable colonial possessions. They had a real interest in accessing Britain’s subjects and captive markets world-wide rather than limiting their livelihoods to these islands. Fame and fortune lay abroad.

However Colley’s first reason is the big surprise. Our secular age is blind about religion so her thesis is unexpected: Protestantism, she argues, was the unifying and distinguishing bond.

linda-colley“More than anything else,” she writes, “it was this shared religious allegiance combined with recurrent wars that permitted a sense of British national identity to emerge alongside of, and not necessarily in competition with, older more organic attachments to England, Wales or Scotland, or to county or village. Protestantism was the dominant component of British religious life. Protestantism coloured the way that Britons approached and interpreted their material life. Protestantism determined how most Britons viewed their politics. And uncompromising Protestantism was the foundation on which their state was explicitly and unapologetically based.” (p18)

So why have we ignored the impact of the Protestant faith on 18th century society, and its subsequent role in creating 19th century Victorian Britain? “The absolute centrality of Protestantism… is so obvious that it has proved easy (for historians) to pass over,” Colley argues. Personally, I reckon in secular UK it is opinion-formers’ and academics’ anti-Christian bias that has led to this omission; although Colley is British-born and educated, she lives, publishes and is a professor of history in the more church-going United States.

john_wesley_by_william_hamiltonIt is regretable too that Colley herself passes over the impact of Protestant preacher and one of my all-time heroes, John Wesley, plus his fellow founders of Methodism. In the half century from 1738 when Wesley first preached the Christian gospel outdoors to crowds of unwashed ragged miners at Kingswood, Bristol, “their tears making white channels down their grimy faces”, to 1791 when he died as “the most loved man in the country”, Wesley travelled 290,000 miles mainly on horseback (equivalent to circumnavigating the globe 12 times), preached 15 sermons a week sometimes despite violent opposition, and created Methodist churches up and down the land from, primarily, working and lower-middle class converts.

Wesley and his evangelical colleagues were also social reformers. Methodism promoted education and health-care amongst the poor as well as ‘manners and morals’ and a commitment to wider society. The Protestant faith brought prosperity and patriotism: “Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” preached Wesley, and the changes in behaviour led to widespread uplift and social improvement that benefitted the nation as well as the individual.

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Perhaps as a concession to our religious illiteracy Colley notes only the public impact of the change, not the spiritual source. “In the early and mid-eighteenth century it had been possible for high-ranking politicians like Viscount Bolingbroke or Robert Walpole to flaunt the fact that they were keeping mistresses and to be blithely unconcerned about newspapers and cartoons publishing it. But by 1800 the fashion amongst politicians… was for ostentatious uxoriousness… (and they) wallowed in domesticity. Public men acknowledged the vital importance of practicing regular church-going and conventional sexual morality.” (p189)

If Colley’s three-point thesis is right, and Protestantism amongst all social classes, armed enmity across the Channel and the widespread fruits of global Imperialism were the main contributors to British identity, it is not difficult to see why this identity has declined. Public religion, Anglo-French hostility and the British Empire have all virtually disappeared, and local identities have begun to dominate again. So Scotland may yet go independent.

But eighteenth-century Englishmen did not all want the 1707 Union anyway, according to Colley. “(M)any regarded the Scots as poor and pushy relations, unwilling to pay their full share of taxation, yet constantly demanding access to English resources…” (p13)

Hmm… Plus ça change.

UKIP – Defender Of The Faith

UKIP has a track record of saying the unsayable and promoting inconvenient truth against the mainstream consensus. mikeBrexit, control of immigration and opposition to gay marriage are just three issues where the party has, famously, refused to kowtow to the liberal establishment.

There is another issue too: the public role of the UK’s traditional religion.

Until recently Tory MP Andrea Leadsom had been a less than high-profile politician. But she’d frequently gone public about her Christianity and her religious reservations about – but personal support for – same-sex marriage.

These, together with some naïve comments about motherhood, brought a storm around her head from party colleagues and media alike during her brief bid for the Conservative Party leadership earlier this month.

andrea-leadsomConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman described the ferocious attacks on her as ‘prejudice’, ‘feral’ and ‘bullying’, while commentator Iain Dale called the media assaults ‘astonishing’.

Faced with this onslaught the MP withdrew from the contest. Journalist Allison Pearson interviewed her afterwards and concluded that “Leadsom was genuinely shocked by the poisonous attacks from within her own party. She said it was highly unlikely that the daily stories saying how useless/dishonest/Christian she was ‘are coincidental’.”

Anti-religious prejudice in the UK is reserved only for traditionalist Christians like Leadsom it seems. In her article Pearson drew attention to the fact that no-one calls London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan a ‘religious nutter’.

And when celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins claimed that then New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan was disqualified for the job because of his Islamic beliefs, the media leapt en masse to the Muslim’s defence and it was Dawkins who came under sustained media fire.

for everyoneBy the end of the 19th century, laws requiring holders of public office to assent to particular religious beliefs had been repealed. Jews, Catholics, Puritans, Atheists – they were all free to participate in public life. It was a long time coming, but freedom of religion had come of age.

But step-by-step today’s secular Britain is turning back to public prejudice. As Andrea Leadsom found out, there is a new intolerance in the air.

Hotel owners, registrarsmagistrates, doctors and counsellors have lost their livelihoods because of their Christian beliefs.

anti-christian_hateAnd a wider targetted hostility can be observed, for instance, via the stand-up comedians in the popular TV series Live at the Apollo. Mock Christians or Christianity and the audience falls about laughing. This is no problem in a society that values satire and freedom of speech of course. Except that it does not, it seems, translate across onto Islam or atheism.

So who will step into the breach and stand against this rising tide of prejudice against the nation’s traditional religion?

Yup, once again: only UKIP.

In last year’s general election, ours was the sole party to publish a manifesto specifically for the faithful. In the document Policies for Christians, Nigel Farage wrote “UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judeo-Christian heritage” and “we need a much more muscular defence of our Christian heritage and our Christian constitution”.

He had made similar comments previously to Fox News in New York and at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall was reported as saying too that “UKIP is the only party that will confidently protect the rights of Christians in the UK and speak out against the attack on our Christian heritage.”

The party was as good as its word. In the 2015 manifesto UKIP promised to “extend the legal concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to give protection in law to those expressing a religious conscience in the workplace“- in this case over same-sex marriage.

QuakersSince 1757 our society has been broad-minded enough to allow Quakers and other pacifists to refuse military service even in times of national peril, and freedom of conscience has developed into a fundamental feature of western democracy.

Yet the establishment’s growing liberal authoritarianism has meant that UKIP’s pledge on this issue is unique amongst the main political parties.

UKIP also has been the only party to speak up for Christian refugees from the Islamic Middle East and North Africa.

In Syria Christians are a vulnerable minority who frequently suffer the double whammy of having to flee first from Islamist violence in their home towns and villages, and subsequently from the hostility of militant Muslim migrants inside the refugee camps. In 2013 Nigel Farage faced down a storm of politically-correct censure when he called for the UK government to take in only Christian Syrian refugees.

MigrantBoatAerialEighteen months later, after African Muslims threw Christian fellow migrants out of the boat while crossing the Mediterranean, the UKIP leader repeated his call for Christians only, this time from north Africa, to be offered refuge in Europe.

Farage and Nuttall have both resigned from party leadership and currently UKIP is looking for a new leader. Nominations close today, and hustings and voting will take place during August. The successful candidate will be announced at the party conference on 16th September.

Will he or she be sympathetic towards Christian values and defend the nation’s traditional religion? To find out, some CAUKIP (Christian Action in UKIP) colleagues and I have formulated an online questionnaire which we will be submitting to each declared candidate.

You can view it here.

We plan to publish the responses of the candidates on the CAUKIP website. If you’re interested, watch this space too.

The Easter Jesus v The Islamic Fake

It was the weekend before Holy Week and I was on my way home across Meridian Square outside Stratford station. I was looking forward to the coming festivals: the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper on Maundy Thursday, the solemn reflection on his death on Good Friday and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. For a Christian it’s the heart of the Gospel and highlight of the year.

HijackJesuspic2On the Square I was confronted by some Muslim men doing dawa (proselytism) at an Islamic book table. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this as freedom to promote your religion, and indeed your non-religion, is vital to our society.

But, deliberately courting controversy, they were trading upon our Christian festivals by wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words, “I love Jesus (peace be upon him) because I’m Muslim!

I was well aware that their “Jesus” is a fake. So I chatted with them briefly, took a picture with their consent and tweeted it with the caption, “@ Stratford #Newham this w/e: #Islam hijacks, demotes & discredits Founder of #Christianity”.

Immediately I was contacted by our local paper, the Newham Recorder. Would I write an article to reflect my views? 250 words; deadline 10.00am on Tuesday.

I did. I wrote:

The True Jesus

“We love the Wife of the Duke of Edinburgh as much as you Brits do,” said an imaginary American in my dream. 

Queen Elizabeth“If that’s so,” I retorted, “you wouldn’t downgrade her. Instead you’d acknowledge her role properly as Her Majesty, Elizabeth ll, Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth.” 

There was a bearded young man outside Stratford station last Saturday. “We Muslims love the prophet Jesus (pbuh) as much as you Christians do,” he declared. 

“If that’s so,” I reflected, “you wouldn’t demote Jesus and insult his self-sacrifice. Instead you’d acknowledge him as he truly is – the Son of God who for our sakes went willingly to his death on a cross on Good Friday 2,000 years ago.” 

Easter this weekend is the highlight of the Christian year, when Jesus’ followers commemorate both his death and resurrection. It’s a wonderful time of significance and celebration. Yet Islamic zealots like the bearded young man are trying to hijack Jesus, diminish his role and spoil the party… 

‘Jesus’ translated into Arabic is ‘Yesua’, but there is no such person mentioned in the Quran. Instead there is an inferior prophet called ‘Isa’ who ranks significantly below Muhammad. Isa wasn’t God’s Son and he didn’t die on a cross, but nonetheless some Muslims insist on misnaming him ‘Jesus’ after the Founder of Christianity. 

It’s simply a ploy or taqqiya (deception) to undermine the real Jesus. 

empty_tomb11However Christians don’t need to mind. It is Easter-time once again; Jesus is Jesus; and in Christ we are free to celebrate his life-giving resurrection from the dead.

 

However the Newham Recorder didn’t publish it!

It’s not the first time the paper has failed to publish my work. A few years ago I wanted to place a campaign advert against the proposed London Olympic mega-mosque at West Ham near my home. At the last moment they pulled the ad because they feared violence.

This time they say that they couldn’t find a Muslim writer to answer my points.

So it’s published here on my blog instead.

Would any Muslim like to respond to the piece and justify Islam’s ‘Jesus’? Avoid vulgarity and personal abuse and I will publish your comments unedited in the appropriate place below.

UKIP: Christians Welcome!

Last year I helped set up Christian Action in UKIP, aka ‘CAUKIP’, an informal group whose aim is both to promote UKIP to the churches across the UK and to promote mainstream Christian ideals within the party.

Ade AmoobaWe held our first fringe meeting at the UKIP party conference last September. It was attended by Steve Woolfe MEP, the party spokesman on migration, and addressed by UK-based Nigerian Pastor Ade Omooba who talked for 30 minutes on “The Moral Argument for Controlling Immigration”.

Interestingly, Pastor Ade quoted the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6: 9,10) to demonstrate that God Himself created immigration controls for the Kingdom of God, and that therefore we are free, responsibly, to control immigration into the United Kingdom.

UKIP listeners loved this application of Christian values to political policy, especially by a Black pastor from a Commonwealth country. Contra our sniffy metropolitan critics, UKIP doesn’t do racism. It was a good meeting.

However, CAUKIP is closely associated with another informal but long-established group in the party, Christian Soldiers – UKIP, and we were concerned last month when a gay UKIP councillor based in Dudley & Halesowen, Shaun Keasey, called publicly for the party to cut all ties with Christian Soldiers. He was supported by UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge and on twitter by the official LGBT in UKIP group.

microwave-2-resizeCllr Keasey’s argument simply reheated cold meat. He focussed on a leaflet promoted by Christian Soldiers at the party’s Spring Conference a year ago as his reason for the ban. The leaflet had denounced attempts to create gender confusion and promote sexual-orientation discussion amongst primary school children, especially through a now-withdrawn LGBT programme called ‘CHIPS’. Although the leaflet had used robust language, it was in line with UKIP’s excellent and politically unique manifesto promise to ban all sex education in primary schools.

The Daily Mirror happily pursued its anti-UKIP agenda by manipulating the story and creating a fuss. The party was forced to handle this and, light of foot, it smartly insisted the Christian Soldiers leaflet should be withdrawn. As a result the issue was reduced to a storm in a tea cup, and was dead and buried within 12 hours.

And so it stayed for almost 12 months, until Shaun Keasey decided to resurrect it four weeks ago.

Fortunately the party is growing canny. This time around it did absolutely nothing. Cllr Keasey’s call to ban Christian Soldiers was flatly ignored and the group continues to be free to hold its regular stall and promote its Christian literature at the UKIP Spring conference this coming weekend. As they say in church: Alleluia!

Then, at a party hustings three weeks ago I was selected as UKIP candidate for the London South West constituency in the London Assembly elections on 5th May. The only other applicant at the hustings, gay activist Richard Hendron, immediately and loudly resigned from the party publicly accusing me of being a “vile, nasty homophobic individual”.

Pink News and the Daily Mirror rapidly crawled all over the story claiming that I support ‘gay cure’ amongst other things (I don’t, of course), and LGBT in UKIP activist Richard Hilton put up a public change.org petition to have me removed from UKIP’s approved candidates list.

agreement36 hours later and unknown to me, a party member in the North put up a counter-petition, “Say NO to political correctness infiltrating UKIP”, asking the party not to remove me as a candidate because of my “traditional Christian views”.

Regrettably, the party’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans – who has since been relieved of her job – weighed in against me too. She tweeted that my views have no place in UKIP, declared openly that the party’s selection process had failed and wrote to the party chairman requesting that my selection should be reviewed. She gave Pink News an exclusive telling them she was confident I would be removed.

For a few days it was The Battle of the Petitions but, as news website Breitbart pointed out, the LGBT in UKIP petition was soon seen to have “backfired” as it was rapidly overhauled by the counter-petition. As I write, the second petition has more than 13 times the signatures of the first.

I became aware too of growing grassroots support as people told me they had called and emailed party officers asking that I should remain a UKIP candidate.

Finally, I was invited to appear before a panel of senior party officers to discuss my views about ‘gay cure’ and related issues. The meeting was confidential, but I was informed the next day that the panel had decided unanimously that I should continue as an approved candidate for UKIP – a decision then ratified by the party chairman and the National Executive Committee.

So in my experience UKIP is maturing into an excellent anti-establishment party. As you see, with a few exceptions it is fair, robust, hard-working, committed to free speech and democracy and stands firmly against the suffocating tenets of political correctness.

Unlike the old parties, there is ample room for social conservatives, grassroots Christians and supporters of family values.

bojesen_brexitIf that’s you, and you urgently want the UK out of the EU on 23rd June, join us now. There are only 16 weeks to get our country back from the dead hand of the Brussels bureaucrats.

Courage In A Bleak Mid-Winter

I’ve just returned from another visit to Jos at the north end of Plateau State in middle-belt Nigeria. Nigeria_map_JosHere, despite the proliferating Christmas decorations in homes and churches, peace on earth and goodwill between communities continues to be in short supply and, across northern Nigeria, the church is facing an existential threat from the violence and intimidation of Islam in its various forms.

I travelled in the company of Baroness Caroline Cox and members of the team from her Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) charity for the first time. The Baroness is seventy-seven but her drive, energy and zeal for travelling to help oppressed people in remote and dangerous locations show she clearly considers herself thirty years younger.

Zambiri2In Jos we met with Ben and Gloria Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop and his wife – an essential engagement in a Christian visitor’s itinerary as it is never less than inspirational. We visited Gloria’s school for 400 orphans where, for a third of the children, the lunchtime bowl of mixed rice and beans with added nutrients is the only meal of the day. Education of these precious orphans is taken seriously by Gloria and her dedicated staff of seven, not only as a Christian imperative but also as a vital route out of poverty.

We had dinner too in the archiepiscopal home and joined in night-time prayers with the fifty five orphans who Gloria also has rescued to live with them.

archbiship_ben_kwashi_and_his_wife_gloria“Good night children,” said Archbishop Ben after leading the prayers. The fatherly but diminutive spiritual colossus stood in front of the youngsters holding the rudimentary archbishop’s staff they had made for him from branches of a nearby tree in one hand, while blessing them with the other.

“Good night Daddy Kwashi, goodnight Mummy Kwashi,” they chimed in unison. The orphans have nothing, but, surrounded by the warm and disciplined Christian love of the Kwashis, they have everything. It was difficult to join in the prayers thanks to the lump in my throat.

I’ve blogged before about the inter-communal violence generated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen migrating from the Sharia states in the north onto Plateau land belonging to Berom Christian villagers. Ostensibly the Fulani are searching for grazing pasture for their cattle although their motive seems also to do with Islamic expansionism.

ShoVillage2On the fourth day of our visit and protected in convoy by two police armoured cars bristling with guns, we were taken to a distressing recent example of the phenomenon. The farmland belonging to and surrounding the Berom village of Sho in Barkin Ladi local government area, some 30 minutes’ drive outside Jos, has been occupied by force by Fulani herdsmen. Since September 2013 twenty-four of the Berom villagers have been massacred, ten of them on 7th July of this year. As a consequence they live in terror, unable to enter or exit their village or cross their own adjoining occupied farmland except under armed military escort. Their school and church have been destroyed.

We met the head man and villagers in the village square and heard their stories. They were grateful that outsiders – perhaps especially foreign ones – were being made aware of their plight. Fear and distress was in their eyes as they explained they are isolated, grieving and desperate, living in poverty without access to their farmland food source.

It wasn’t clear why the authorities have not attempted to rectify the situation except that justice is in short supply in northern Nigeria. And it wasn’t clear either how we as outsiders could help except by publicising their predicament. I left Sho with a heavy heart.

Mark_LipdoI also visited an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp run in dilapidated school buildings in Bukuru south of Jos by the under-funded but resourceful Stefanos Foundation and it’s energetic CEO, Mark Lipdo. Primarily the camp comprised Christians from the Gwoza area of Borno State in the north east of Nigeria, close to the Cameroon border.

Until the second half of the last century, Gwoza was peopled by primitive and frequently warring tribes. Then, after the Second World War, the colonial authorities allowed British and other missionaries into the area. These were doctors, nurses and teachers as well as evangelists, and they built health clinics, schools and in due course churches. The first indigenous convert, Inshaya Hutuku, became a Christian in the early 50s (he is still alive today) and the early trickle of converts grew to a steady stream. By 2013 there were over 200 churches in the thriving Gwoza council area.

But twelve months later, by the middle of 2014, there were almost none.

Boko Haram, who last year killed more people than ISIS and who this year pledged allegiance their brutal Iraq/Syria counterparts, moved into the area in April 2014, killing, kidnapping, burning and destroying churches and homes. On 2 June last year the militants perpetrated the infamous Gwoza massacre wherein up to 500 males were slaughtered. Then on 24 August Boko Haram declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Islamic Caliphate. An acquaintance of mine, an elderly Nigerian minister, narrowly escaped death by scrambling up into the hills and hospitalising himself in the process through a heavy fall. His home was burnt out.

IDP2Many escaped the slaughter in Gwoza with only the clothes they stood in. Over 450 are now living in the IDP camp I visited, surviving on church generosity and handouts organised by Stefanos. The conditions are pitiful, the drafty rooms are cold during the December nights, most of the refugees are desperate to return home to Gwoza as soon as possible and there is limited cause for optimism for them. While the military under the new Federal ‘hard man’ President Muhammadu Buhari, together with increasingly effective civilian vigilante self-defence groups, are gaining some push-back against the militants across Borno State and elsewhere, there is little prospect that families can return to and rebuild their lives back in Gwoza itself in the near future.

Ben and Gloria Kwashi and Mark Lipdo – like many other Christians in northern Nigeria – are faithful, courageous, visionary and inspirational. They spread hope, joy and generosity in the darkest of places, and it is certainly appropriate to highlight and celebrate their endeavours at Christmas time when we remember the true Light who came into the world.

But the tide is flowing strongly against them. Through violence, persecution and discrimination, over the centuries and especially over the past decade Islam has chased Christianity out of the heartlands of the Middle East as well as across North Africa. The signs are that the same is happening in northern Nigeria.

So despite the joy of Christmas, rising militant Islam means it’s a bleak mid-winter for many believers there and indeed around the world.

If you are moved to help them, you can donate via HART. Your money will be well spent.

Can We Talk About Islam?

All sorts of people promote their religious beliefs at Meridian Square outside Stratford Station in east London. Pentecostal Christians, Jehovah Witnesses and radical Muslims are the most frequent proselytisers, and it is fascinating how their styles vary. stratford-meridian-squareThe Pentecostalists preach loudly quoting Scripture, the JWs stand quietly offering their Watchtower literature and the Muslims often have a stall and always engage in discussion and argument.

One afternoon last week it was business as usual. As I crossed the Square a group of bearded Muslims were debating heatedly with a well-built African Christian who, Bible in hand, seemed to be holding his own.

Separately, a Muslim man in front of me held a large poster which declared:  “Jesus – Prophet of Allah”. He handed me a leaflet which informed me that God has sent many Prophets and Messengers, from Adam the first Prophet, through Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, to Muhammad “the last and final Messenger”.

Salome-Guido-Reni's MosesApparently all those who believe in the one true God and follow His commands are called Muslims. Therefore Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were in fact all Muslims even though there was no such word as ‘Muslim’ in their day and there is no record anywhere of these men of God understanding themselves in this way.

It is, of course, theological imperialism. The Islamic intention is to take over, neutralise and reinterpret Jewish and Christian redemptive history in an attempt to give Muhammad a legitimacy he would not otherwise have. It certainly seems – according to traditional Islamic teaching – that Muhammad was an effective Arab preacher, military leader and state governor. But he was not an Israelite descended from the patriarch Jacob. He cannot therefore stand in the line of authentic Hebrew prophets any more than can Joseph Smith or Guru Nanak.

It’s the old military adage: “the best form of defence is attack”. Classical Islam is based on shaky prophetic foundations so it has initiated theological jihad. It attempts to colonise the Jewish and Christian story and capture these religions’ major figures. It aims to establish itself as the superior all-encompassing global religion.

Hence, as the Muslim man’s poster revealed, it has tried to highjack the Founder of the older and more numerous world religion, strip him of his divine status and reduce him to one in a long line of Islam’s prophets. That’s why the poster used his New Testament name, Jesus, rather than Muslims’ own preferred Quranic/Arabic name for him, Isa. The man in Meridian Square was declaring that Christianity’s Jesus is the prophet-servant of Islam’s god, Allah.

Mehdi-HasanAward-winning journalist Mehdi Hasan is a Shia Muslim and an “interviews with attitude” talk-show host for the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV channel. Previously he was a senior editor of the centre-left political weekly New Statesman in London where, significantly, he seductively promoted the possibility that Islam’s version of Jesus may be a way of building bridges between the two faiths – and published his article with a front-cover image of Christ wearing a kofi or Muslim prayer cap.

crown of thornsIt was a double affront by Hasan. Not only did he dress Christianity’s Founder in Muslim clothing but he replaced Christ’s crown of thorns – the only recorded item that Christ wore on his head and the sacred sign of his humiliation and crucifixion that lies at the core of Christian belief – with Islamic headdress.

Imagine the bloodshed if a Western magazine published a drawing of Muhammad wearing, say, a crucifix or pectoral cross around his neck.

So Muhammad’s religion is nothing if not pushy, and it is pushing hard at the doors of churches, congregations and Christian communities across the UK with its debased version of Jesus.

It’s partly for this reason that a colleague and I recently created a roadshow for churches called Can We Talk About Islam?

My African Christian friend in Meridian Square apart, Christians have been reticent about engaging with Muslims and Islam. Political correctness; multicultural sensitivities; fear of Islamic aggression; lack of knowledge; invertebrate leaders; confusion about whether Islam is the religion of peace that we are told about or of violence that we see on our screens; and, amongst English Christians, post-colonial post-Crusades (yes, really) guilt – all these and more have left the church like a rabbit transfixed and sometimes terrified in the headlights of the oncoming juggernaut.

HandshakeThe aim of the roadshow is first to educate Christians in the basics of Islam and then to empower them to engage with their Muslim neighbours and workmates on matters of personal faith. Christ’s command to his followers to “love your neighbour as yourself” means that such engagement must flow out of respect for Muslims as equal citizens and fellow human beings.

The roadshow aims also to embolden people to challenge the inappropriate Islamification of society. Why, for instance, are children offered only halal meat in a school canteen, as mine were? Why, further, do teachers enforce the demanding Ramadan fast among Muslim children at the local LEA primary school, denying them water and food throughout school hours even during a heatwave? CWTAIFlyerBlogAnd why do politicians in our secular state fund mosque-building in east London, support Muslim-only youth work and promote Islamic religious practices to the general population?

It’s a bit-by-bit society-wide process, Islamification by salami-slice; we encourage roadshow attendees to challenge this process whenever they find it unnecessary or unjust.

If you reckon the Can We Talk About Islam? roadshow may be suitable for your local church or churches, contact us at info@CanWeTalkAboutIslam.com.

Learning From The Pit Of Hell

They told me it would be grim. In the event I was left numb, silenced by incomprehension and the inadequacy of words.

Early this month we had enjoyed an uplifting week in conference at the huge Hotel Golebiewski in the ski resort of Wisla, southern Poland, near the Czech border. Overlooking the Vistula River close to its source and with spectacular views across the tree-covered hills and valleys of the Silesian Beskids mountain range, the hotel offered 5-star luxury and an extraordinary range of facilities.

There 700 Christian leaders from across Eastern and Western Europe ate, slept, saunaed and swam, worshipped, prayed, fellowshipped and wrestled with issues such as church planting, understanding Roman Catholicism, the sexual revolution, apologetics and a Christian response to the ISIS crisis. It was inspirational.

KrakowOn the way to the conference, too, we had experienced a heavenly sunny afternoon in the historic city of Krakow, lazily consuming ice cream under huge parasols in the Old Town’s medieval and spacious Market Square. We sat in front of the 14th century St Mary’s Basilica facing the 16th century Cloth Hall and in view of the 10th century Church of St Adalbert, watching the elegant open horse-drawn carriages circle the Square. It was magical.

On the way back from the conference, though, we descended into hell.

At the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp 65 km from Krakow, over a million people, mainly European Jews, were gassed, shot, hanged, starved or burned to death by the Nazis during WWII. Accompanied by a fierce, perhaps emotionally-seared guide, we walked under the notorious “Arbeit macht frei” sign at the gates, stood where the camp orchestra played to accompany prisoners marching to and from work, stopped in the gas chamber in Crematorium 1 and viewed the reconstructed Death Wall where many prisoners were executed.

She took us too into the notorious Block 11, death block, with its unspeakable “standing cells” in the basement where the Catholic priest Maximillian Kolbe was starved and poisoned to martyrdom. We saw horrible mountains of children’s and adults’ shoes, human hair, spectacles and used Zyklon B gas cylinders and, at Birkenau, fragments of human bones from cremated victims still in the ground. AuschwitzDollI examined a broken doll in a glass case and, as the father of young daughters, I wondered about the little girl to whom this had belonged and feared for the anguish and pain she will have suffered.

I left the camp aware that I had read somewhere that many of the German officers, guards and staff attended church especially at Christian festivals such as Easter. How on earth could they – and we – reconcile the Christian belief in a Lord of love with such depravity and evil?

The answer is, of course, we can’t. But since returning home I’ve studied Edwin Lutzer’s analysis of the German church under the Nazis, Hitler’s Cross . Previously I had devoured Eric Metaxas’ superb biography  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, the story of the anti-Nazi churchman Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The rapid Nazification of the Protestant church in Germay had complex antecedents. These include the weakening of belief as a result of 19th century German biblical criticism, and the post-WWI poverty and despair of the German people as a result of military defeat and the imposition of massive financial reparation by the victorious Allies. Whatever the reasons, by 1930 an open-door opportunity for a national saviour had arisen.

AdolfHitlerWhen one came along the enfeebled church compromised on the Gospel and lost sight of her true Saviour who said he himself is the real Truth. Churchmen had no theological rock on which to stand out from the crowd and were easily swept along by Hitler’s oratory and untruth accompanied by Goebbels’ propaganda and Gestapo intimidation. Although the Nazi regime planned to destroy Christianity and replace it with a new paganism, gullible pastors and church leaders arrived at a 1933 General Synod in Berlin wearing Nazi uniforms and giving the Nazi salute.

Later, many congregations submitted to the prevailing zeitgeist and substituted the swastika of the Nazis for the cross of Christ and Hitler’s Mein Kampf for the Bible. This was the anti-Semitic church-going ‘Christianity’ of Auschwitz officers and guards.

But God always has His faithful remnant, and thousands of ordinary Christians resisted the regime and heroically rescued Jews from their fate. Albert Einstein, exiled from Germany because he was a Jew, wrote  that, unlike the academics in universities and editors of national newspapers who were silenced in a few short weeks, “only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth… The church alone had the moral courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom”.

Dietrich BonhoefferAt great personal cost Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other members of the anti-Nazi ‘Confessing Church’ clung to Christian truth. Bonhoeffer argued in his Cost of Discipleship that the cross of Christ is above the world and that Christianity and National Socialism cannot be united. He plotted against Hitler and was executed on Hitler’s orders just three weeks before the end of the war.

Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, now famous for his poem “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist… then they came for me”, spent eight years in a concentration camp for his vehement opposition to Nazi control of the church, and only narrowly escaped execution.

David Cameron’s Britain is not Hitler’s Germany of course, but there are some disturbing parallels:

9911715-Elderly-Senior-Woman-Using-Walking-Frame-Stock-Photo-seniors-disabled-walkingThe UK too is rapidly saying goodbye to its Judeo-Christian roots and turning to a new secular paganism that aims to restrain, control and extinguish the church, promotes the wholesale slaughter of unborn children, and is on the way to approving euthanasia for the ill, the elderly, the frail and the medically hopeless.

The most media-friendly, youth-friendly and influential Baptist Church leader actively seeks State endorsement for his work while trashing Christian belief, dismissing the central Christian understanding of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross as  “cosmic child-abuse” – a profane misnomer akin to Richard Dawkins’ famously blasphemous depiction of God.

Anti-Semitism is rising rapidly and anti-Semitic attacks are at record levels.

And the Government plans to impose ‘British values’, introduce control orders, ban extreme speech and censor talks and sermons.

The Auschwitz visit gave me much to think about.

My Journey Into UKIP

Out of the blue, less than 24 hours before nominations closed on 9th April, I received a call from UKIP London Region chairman asking me if I would be a candidate for the party in the General Election. He wanted me to stand in the Brent North constituency where the intended candidate apparently had gone AWOL.

Immediately I consented. Then, working with local activists, we managed to submit the required papers, signatures and deposit with just two hours to spare.

ukipIt was an unexpected and personally significant turn of events, so I thought I should email an explanation about my UKIP journey to people close to me. This, then, is what I wrote to them back on 11th April; the UKIP hierarchy requested that I shouldn’t publish it on my blog until today when the General Election campaign is over:

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

In October I joined UKIP, which surprised many, horrified some and delighted others.

Further, over the past month I have been campaigning at weekends for UKIP’s excellent candidate in the party’s most winnable London seat, Dagenham & Rainham. Then this week UKIP suddenly asked me to stand as their paper (that is, nominal or non-campaigning) candidate in the unwinnable Brent North constituency – which I readily accepted.

When I lost my seat on Newham Council in 2010 after eight satisfying years as Christian Peoples Alliance councillor, I decided that my period of electoral politics was over. I’d had my time and I’d done my bit. So I am, perhaps, as surprised as anyone to find myself back in the fray ahead of the general election on 7 May, this time on behalf of a different party.

I thought I’d try to explain why to those who know me and may be puzzled by my recent political conversion to UKIP. If however you are simply not interested or find it boring, please be free to ignore and delete this email.

the crossWhen I became a Christian in my late 20s, my worldview changed dramatically. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the corporate success, high income and jet-set lifestyle that I enjoyed then, I realised immediately that the Christian God rejects egotism, arrogance, selfishness and untruth: Christ showed us that His compassion is for the weak, the voiceless, the marginalised, the deprived, the disabled and the despised.

As a result and following my faith, I left the prosperity of leafy Highgate in north London and moved to inner-city Canning Town in London’s east end, then the most deprived neighbourhood in the country according to the London Research Council. There I founded and became live-in warden of an after-care home for young offenders following their release from prison, and I ended up running a local church and community centre for the disadvantaged docklands population.

My heart was primarily with the outsider and the underdog, so when in 2001 and without consultation Newham Council highhandedly and Mugabe-like announced a brutal housing clearance scheme across Canning Town (“social cleansing” the appalled locals termed it) I moved into action. I door-knocked, leafletted and held mass meetings. I was then elected onto Newham Council as the sole Opposition member facing 59 Labour councillors and a Labour executive Mayor. I was the first non-Labour councillor in Canning Town for nearly a century and this small local earthquake helped kick-start my short political career…

The union of one man and one woman in marriage, faithful to each another “for the procreation of children” and “till death us do part”, is an almost uniquely Christian ordinance. Like Christianity itself, this monogamous ideal has for more than a millennium so influenced our society, culture and language that we hardly notice it; for instance it is a bit of a shaker to consider that if I had been born in, say, traditionalist Africa or Muslim Middle East, my beloved Sally could be merely the first of my three or four wives without anyone batting an eyelid or me breaking the law.

wedding handsThe social benefits of Christian-style faithful marriage have been so great, especially for the nurture and socialisation of the nation’s children, that I put the promotion of the marriage-based family via tax breaks and other incentives at the top of my agenda. For instance when I ran for Mayor of London against Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone in 2008, my prime election pledge was to “Promote marriage and stable family as a long-term solution to youth crime, educational underachievement and child poverty”.

I was stunned therefore when in 2011, without prior notice or indeed, initially, the support of gay campaigning groups like Stonewall, David Cameron commenced his crusade for same-sex marriage and, consequently, the debasing and degrading of traditional marriage. Under the government’s gay marriage legislation, loyalty and faithfulness were negated as a key defining characteristic of marriage (“Go on, be modern, play the field, everyone does”) and, necessarily, so was procreation and the nurture of the marital union’s offspring.

Yet same-sex marriage was not in any of the main parties’ manifestos at the previous general election; there was no Green or White Paper consultation over the issue; debate in Parliament was severely restricted and one-sided; opponents were excoriated as stone-age dinosaurs or homophobes – in this way the whole metropolitan liberal political bubble (led unitedly and enthusiastically by David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson) highhandedly rammed through the destruction of this foundational building-block of a healthy society. They betrayed our children and it’s the coming generations who will suffer the consequences.

For me it was the last straw. It was shades of highhanded Newham Council again, but at the national level. Until this betrayal I still had – just – some residual respect for our political elite and our existing party system. But no more. Their cavalier and flagrant abuse of the political process over this vital social issue was, for me, jaw-dropping. They shoved it down our throats, and it made me sick.

But not UKIP.

UKIP is an unsophisticated grass-roots party of mainly ordinary people, warts and all. The leaders make mistakes but deal swiftly with the jesters and worse that any new party attracts.

The leadership has common sense and very real courage: alone they stood against gay marriage; alone they want the UK to exit the corrupt and undemocratic EU; alone they campaign to end to the madness of uncontrolled mass immigration; alone they plan to protect childhood innocence by banning sex education from primary school pre-pubescents.

I don’t agree with some of UKIP’s stuff, but as despised outsiders and in spite of virulent opposition the party has single-handedly shifted the political agenda on both the EU and mass immigration. The party is currently doing the same over health tourism and wages depressed by cheap labour. Yet encouragingly a significant percentage of supporters come from ethnic minorities who too, of course, are outsiders.

So I’ve joined UKIP and am campaigning and nominally standing for the party on 7 May. I want our society to regain its identity and confidence, to come out of the cosy but crumbling rich men’s club that is the EU and to engage independently with the wider world (including Europe) so that we stand or fall by our wits.

friends-fingersI don’t expect all my friends to agree with me (that’s not what friends are for!) or to support UKIP. But it is important to me that you understand why I am actively campaigning for them.

If you want to know more about the moral fury that has driven me into UKIP, I urge you to read my post “Matthew Parris’ Poison” (especially the second half) at www.alansangle.com/?p=1531.

Also if you have any comments, favourable or otherwise, be free to email me. I’d love to hear from you.

Very warmly,

Alan

O Holy Night

Kings-College-Choir

On this silent sacred night, England’s best chapel choir sings Christendom’s best Christmas carol, here .

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born. 

Even in the darkness of tragedy, brutality, weariness and despair, in Christ there is a thrill of hope and through Christ every day is a new and glorious morn; we can do all things in Him who strengthens us.

Happy Christmas!