“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It was a great joy to be back in St Thomas’s yesterday – I enjoyed the fact that we are no longer spaced out and it was great to see people. There is nothing quite like real Christian fellowship! It’s still frustrating and bizarre that we are not allowed to sing. Given that people can sing in praise of sportsmen at the cricket and footie, I am confused as to the ‘scientific’ reason why we are not allowed to sing the Lord’s praise in church! However, there was one thing that I was really surprised at – how nice it was to worship with people whose faces were not covered with masks! It makes a great difference being able to see people. Masks are no longer compulsory in churches in NSW, although our leaders suggested that we should still wear them. 75% of the congregation ignored that – there is a reason for wearing masks in a crowded indoor environment where there is significant community spread but there is no reason why, in a State that has had zero community transmission for 28 days that we should wear masks. But masks have become the shibboleth issue for politicians. In Victoria Chairman Dan has ordered people to wear masks in the open air at all times – so I read in today’s paper of one farmer in an area 450km from Melbourne, which has not seen a single case of Covid for six months, being required to wear a mask as he goes about his work!
Dan Andrews and the Blame Game
Dan Andrews amazes me. He has more chutzpah than Nicola Sturgeon! After boasting that his quarantine scheme was ‘gold standard’, there has been a small outbreak through one of the quarantine hotels (only 15 cases so far). Because of this he has again shut down the whole State (at a cost of $1 billion to the economy) and he was ‘economical’ with the truth in justifying that. He claimed that it was ‘spreading at the speed of lightening’ and that it was far more contagious. The British variant is around one third more contagious than the normal Covid – and a decent track and trace system should be able to handle that. So far since Dan’s ‘speed of lightening’ remark there have been three cases…and none of the 11 workers in the airport café where the ‘highly contagious’ worker was based have tested positive. Dan is also rather good at blaming other people – so the poor man who ended up in ICU was blamed because he did not ‘declare’ his nebuliser – something which he vehemently denies.
Ravi and the Blame Game
Blame shifting is of course not limited to wannbe be populist politicians in Victoria. It’s part of the human condition. I don’t really want to say anything more about the Ravi situation, but for me personally last week was a bitter week. I just feel nauseous at the deceit and hypocrisy. When Premier asked me to write this article – I really did not want to – but because I had said we should wait until the evidence was in, I felt that, when it was, I should. I had been asked to do one when the Spa allegations surfaced, but after a conversation with Michael Ramsden, I felt I could not do it – mainly because I believed that it was highly likely that Ravi was guilty, and moreover he informed me about the full investigation and so I thought it should wait until the investigation was over.
The whole situation has evoked so many emotions – discouragement, sorrow, anger and even relief. What I mean by the latter is the feeling that we dodged a bullet. After starting Solas we seriously thought about just becoming part of RZIM. I’m glad we didn’t. There were several reasons – not least for me the lack of clarity from Ravi about some issues, but above all I hated the corporate culture and the whole celebrity thing. It just didn’t feel right. But I had no inclination or indeed thought of any kind of abuse. The only think I knew about in the past few years was the credentials farce and the sexting allegations a couple of years ago. I thought the Board would deal with both. Besides which there were so many good people involved with RZIM – who knew so much more than me – so why wouldn’t I trust them? My biggest concern, in terms of what I knew, was actually Ravi’s acclamation of Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon as having been ‘the Gospel reaching the whole world’. His lack of discernment for someone so intelligent was disturbing. But I could not have imagined what else was going on.
I have to say that the response to the whole situation from many people – including Christians has been mixed. Varying from wonderful comments from ex RZIM worker Dan Paterson and this revealing, humble and helpful article from David French – https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/you-are-one-step-away-from-complete to, at the other extreme, the vindictive, bitter and prideful. Somehow my reading of Sibbes this morning was very appropriate: ““He that talks of other men’s faults gives an intimation that he is innocent, and he had need be so. It is easy and plausible. Men glory in it. It feeds corrupt nature to talk of other men’s faults, but to come home to a man’s self, that is a hard thing. It is without ostentation or applause”
I think in all the talk we are missing something – we have forgotten God. Sin is against other human beings, and indeed also ourselves, but ultimately the horror of sin is that it is against God. Again Sibbes “nothing hurts us but sin, because nothing but sin separates us from God.”
In a deeply disturbing situation like this we can allow our upset and anger to morph into a blame game. Ravi of course rightly bears the brunt. I fear for him. But then as French’s article points out there was a real problem with the RZIM board who did not listen to Ruth Malhorta, the former public relations manager from RZIM who has behaved couragously in challenging the culture, when it cost her. (this letter from her sets out where things went wrong). – Others want to go wider and blame the patriarchy and all men – still others think this is a great weapon to attack the church with – although I have to say in this regard that the atheist who did most to expose Ravi’s wrong, Steve Baughman, has been wise and gracious in pointing out that Ravi’s behaviour does not negate the Christian message and should not be used in that way. There is an element of truth in all of these things. The trouble is that it is just never quite as black and white as we like to think – ‘the good guys over here, the bad ones over there’. We are all sinners. A statement which should not be used to excuse sin, nor to blame victims of particular actions. But we do like simplistic narratives.
One of the things in the report that shocked me, was not just the details of Ravi’s abuse (and who knows how much more there was elsewhere in the world?), but the fact that one couple sought $5 million from Ravi to keep silent about the sexting scandal – and that they signed a non-disclosure agreement after getting $250,000. That is hardly the action of someone who is desperate for the truth to come out! Although to be fair perhaps they regretted it later and sought to be released from the NDA. Ironically it was when I first became aware (late last year) that Ravi had paid $250,000 to the people he was suing, that I realised something was really wrong. Again ironically in demanding money in order to keep silence, the couple gave Ravi a defence and prevented themselves being able to speak out. Please note I am not saying that seeking to make money out of what happened to them is equivalent to what Ravi did. But neither was it right.
I have much more sympathy with the massage workers who were exploited – Ravi used his position and the Lord’s money to abuse them. But note the hypocrisy of a society which tells us that women who sell their services are to be treated as ‘sex workers’ not prostitutes, nor victims; and yet when the consequences of that immoral and stupid position begin to be seen, they are surprised and upset. The fact is that men (and some women) need to stop treating women as commodities, to be bought, used and exploited just because the men have more power, money and influence.
Sowing the Wind, Reaping the Whirlwind
Our society is in a Hellish mess – we want sexual freedom and ‘liberation’ – yet we cannot see nor cope with the consequences. Such liberation brings slavery – whether to our own lusts or in a more literal sense. Is it not incredible that one of the fruits of the ‘sexual revolution’ in the 1960’s has been the re-introduction of slavery into the Western world? (incidentally I suspect that what Ravi did in bringing over ‘masseurs’ to the US could fairly be described as sex-trafficing- at least according to the Miller report). The Church is supposed to be separate from all this – yet it seems as though just as we have copied the models of the world, so some leaders seem to have adopted their morals – at least in private if not in public. I guess none of this is new – Paul wrote 2,000 years ago – “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. (1 Timothy 5:9-10).
What a mess! Maranatha.
Let me leave with something a bit more positive. One lunchtime last week, feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that has gone on, I took my packed lunch to my favourite spot in Sydney – the Botanic gardens. Once again, I was reminded of the beauty that God has created in the midst of the ugliness that we have brought.
And then another gift is the gift of music. Whilst we were having lunch in Lane Cove – one of our favourite areas – this young man, Graham, who is a classical musician was playing. It was all Scottish and Irish jigs – he told me his dad was a musician in a folk band – and he always did better busking when playing Celtic tunes! He will go far.
Not only has the Lord given us the beauty of nature and of music, but he has also provided the remedy for our sin. The fact that some people misuse that to exploit and justify their sin, no more negates the Gospel, than when some people misuse nature and music does not negate the gifts of music and Gospel. It just shows the perversity of the human heart. Lord, create a clean heart within us, and renew a right spirit…(Ps 51).
See you next week…
PS. Willie Philip has this excellent article on why he, and other church leaders, are opposed to churches remaining closed in the current situation.Here is just one paragraph.
Willie Philip – https://thecritic.co.uk/meeting-others-to-worship-is-a-lifeline/
We must care for people as whole human beings, and Covid 19 is not the only threat to health and wellbeing. Our congregation of 500 in the heart of Glasgow is diverse in age and background, including some of the most vulnerable in the city. I have witnessed first-hand real suffering through lockdown, not least a huge increase in loneliness, misery and untold damage to mental health. I have witnessed people, through not seeking care in order to ‘save the NHS’, develop life-threatening conditions. Most tragically, I witnessed the death of a former drug addict, many years clean but relapsed through isolation and despair.
PPS. Here are this weeks Covid Prayer notes –