Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Community Service for Preacher who hit boys

I was flabbergasted today when I read this in the newspaper. A Muslim cleric allegedly assaulted the three boys, aged nine, 12 and 13 because they were giggling during his lesson. He hit them quite hard causing two of them to experience temporary hearing loss.

He was given a 250 hour community service sentence, but was not as far as I can tell banned from working with children. It was interesting that the article did not name the magistrate who was presiding in this case.

I feel that this sentence was effectively the magistrate winking at the man as he handed down something that cannot be called a sentence. I cannot help thinking that had this been a Christian pastor or Sunday School teacher, the sentence would have been a lot sterner.

I want to stress that I am not anti-Muslim, and have no problem with Muslims schooling their children in their religion. I also have no problem with them requiring a certain amount of discipline of the children. However, corporal punishment is illegal throughout the European Union and Muslims like every other citizen or resident should respect this law, and if they fail to obey the law they must face the prescribed sanctions. A judge or a magistrate should not be a "respecter of persons" when it comes to sentencing.

As always, I invite comments from my readers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Make a Joyful Noise or just irritating the neighbours

In the London Lite of Thursday 8 October I came across an article entitled "Churchgoers are ordered to stop singing loudly" . The article stated that Immanuel International Church in Walthamstow has been ordered by the council to quieten down after complaints had been lodged by a local neighbour.

Was the neighbour just being cranky, or was his complaint religiously motivated since he is a Muslim? Pastor Dunni Odetoyinbo lodged an appeal through the court but this was rejected with costs and it has been restricted to a twenty minute interval on a Sunday during which they can play their music.

The pastor claims that the complaints are religiously based, " so as not to offend the Muslims" but the council denies that there was any religious aspect to this. There was one sentence that grabbed my attention in this article and it was as follows:
The church also claimed the council had "taken away its ability to praise God", and that its congregation had dwindled from 100 to 30 because of the restrictions.

This is completely ludicrous and so over the top. Christians for generations have faced far greater opposition than is the case here, and have managed to keep going and keep worshipping God. Is it truly their view that the only one can praise God is to shout to the heavens? Is God hard of hearing that He has to be shouted at? Did not the Prophet Elijah mock the prophets of Baal for their shouting and screaming, and sarcastically suggest they may need to shout a little louder so as to rouse their God? If we look at that account in the Bible we can clearly compare the conduct of the many prophets of Baal with that of the Prophet Elijah. They made a loud raucous noise, whereas Elijah said a quiet prayer, that I think perhaps only Elijah and the Almighty could hear. And yet the effective prayer of the righteous man achieved the result, for despite the Prophet Elijah's sacrifice being drenched with water, it was the sacrifice that was totally burnt up with "fire from heaven."

While I do agree that it is wonderful to be able to join in loud, joyful praise singing, with a congregation who love the Lord, it is not the ONLY way to express my love for Jesus. It is true that some churches can have an hour or more of this loud music booming out of their buildings. It is not acceptable. In addition to this, the preaching, which is invariably done using amplification (whether there is call for using such amplification or not) can also be heard a great distance from the church. Surely, a Christian leader should take into account the context in which that worship takes place. Any sound technician worth his or her salt should be able set output levels suitable to the venue.

Excessive noise can damage the hearing of those at the event, to say nothing of the negative impact it has on those on which is imposed, who have to endure the noise because of their proximity to the venue. 

Lack of consideration for one's neighbours displays a lack of love. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour and though he didn't mean it to be quite so literal, I'm sure that his advice to this sister in the Lord would be to quieten down.

Many people associate loudness with anger. When one speaks loudly, it is often referred to as shouting. Not only does this place great strain on the speaker's vocal chords, but gives the impression to a listener that he or she  angry. It is also an ineffective communication technique, as after a short period of time, the listener stops concentrating and may lose interest. Yes, the occasional shouted word may be effective in grabbing a person's attention, but sustained shouting over a long period of time, is hard to listen to just as if I were to type this whole blog in capitals, which, ironically is referred to as SHOUTING, WOULD MAKE IT HARD TO READ.

While anger when properly motivated is not sinful, the ongoing anger suggested by continual shouting, is indicative of wrath, a definite sin according to scripture. Yes, it may be that the pastor is not angry, but the loud volume of the preaching, if the report is to be believed would certainly beunsettling on the spirit. It is equally true to say that volume does not necessarily correlate with anger – but by and large the more angry one is, the louder one speaks.
I know of the Scriptures that say:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye nations
Shout unto God with a voice of Triumph.

But the Word of God also speaks of times of quiet:
Be still and know that I am God.
"Go out and stand before me on the mountain," the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
I am not suggesting for a moment that we need to take a vow of silence, or that it is unscriptural to worship with loud music, but as with everything in life we need to avoid the extreme of only having that way of worshipping the Lord. 

I was saddened to read that the the congregation has dwindled from 100 to 30. That is a very radical loss, and if its only due to the noise abatement law, then that speaks volumes about the level of faith of those who were fellowshipping there or to their reasons for attending church. The thought that people feel that they cannot praise God unless they are doing it at the tops of their voices is sad indeed. Please don't blame the council. They are the local authority who have to enforce the law and if the law states for very good reasons that one may not disturb neighbours through excessive noise, it is up to the local authority to investigate, determine that it is excessive, take whatever initial steps
to remedy the matter, but if the nuisance persists, to take whatever legal action may be required. Nowhere in the bible does it state that Christians are not subject to the the laws of the land. We are told that except where such laws would cause us to contravene God's higher law, we ought to submit to the authorities.

We are coming up to the month of November, when, in America, Thanksgiving is celebrated. Thanksgiving has its roots in the Pilgrim fathers and their families emigrating from England to America, so that they could practice their religion as they believed God would have them do. These pious men did not deem it appropriate to engage or argue with the authority, which at that time was the king, but rather fought with their feet and went to a new country. What I am about to type may be perceived by some to be racist. It is not and I trust that you will see what I am trying to say here. The affected church, Immanuel International Church, is probably largely attended by Nigerian and West African people. Loud music, as was described in the article seems to be a feature of worship in such churches. Clearly in the home countries of these people, this style of worship is not uncommon and is regarded as normal. I can therefore well imagine that it came as something of a shock to them when the English authorities asked them to desist with the load music and preaching, and I can well imagine that their initial reaction may have been one of defiance – they can't tell us to be quiet. However, when living in a community that is not your own, you sometimes are limited as to the extent that you can practice your own cultural traditions. If the people of Immanuel International Church feel so strongly about their need to worship loudly for extended periods, perhaps they have to return to their own countries so that they are no longer subject to English laws. Alternatively, they may choose to remain, and realise that though the exuberance of their worship may be curtailed, the genuineness of it and the depth cannot and need not be

The sacrifice of the Pilgrim Fathers – also known as the Puritans – was such that they had to give up on the land of their birth, and go to an undeveloped and unchartered land and start from scratch. It's a hard thing to be exiled from your country for whatever reason, and I speak as one who knows that feeling. I'm sure that there were those men who when faced with that choice, flee to practice the Puritan religion or remain and be a "Conformist" decided that they would sooner remain – and re-enter the established church. The persecution that the non-conformists endured because they did not believe as the established church insisted they should believe would have been terrible. Even to this day,
Christians in some countries have to worship in secret. I wonder if they ever sing hymns or songs, if they do, they do so with quietened voices, so as not to draw attention to themselves. John the Baptist said, when speaking about Jesus – He must increase, and I must decrease.

We are not to draw attention to ourselves as Christians, but our actions should draw attention to Jesus. There is freedom of religion in this country, but this does not mean that religious groups and institutions are exempt from every law. As far as I know churches are exempt from paying of taxes, however, some church leaders are using this exemtion to the extreme in order to avoid paying tax themselves. This selfish attitude is short-term gain for long tem pain. If it is found that too many church leaders use this exemption dishonestly, the long term effect will be that they all will have to pay taxes. In a similar way, failure to respect laws in regard to noise abatement, may result in churches being closed down by authorities or being refused permission to congregate in certain areas. The Bible says we must not give the devil a foothold, and I realise that this is referring to
compromise in terms of our personal lives. However, I think that situations like the one described in the article also give the devil a foothold as people will use such things as an excuse to denigrate the church in general, and thereby denigrate Christ.