Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Franklin, you are no Billy Graham

Franklin, I knew Billy Graham, I recommitted my life to Christ under the ministry of your father. I was a counsellor at a couple of his crusades. Billy Graham was a spiritual advisor to 12 U.S. Presidents, both Republicans and Democrats—he was non-partisan. He tried not to wade into issues that would distract from his preaching of the gospel. I knew Billy Graham, Franklin, and believe me,  you are no Billy Graham.

Rev. Franklin Graham interviewed by Christiane Amanpour, ABC This Week On Easter Sunday, you gave an interview to Christian Amanpour. You said three things (or more), just kind of off the cuff, that made me question, What were you thinking? How do we recover from the embarrassment you bring on the church by such bizarre speculations? These comments just don’t strike me as what Jesus had in mind when he advised us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Your father was good at that. He would’ve responded very differently to these questions—not in wild speculation, but focused on the gospel and non-partisan in politics, but always supportive of the president. Franklin, you would do well to consider how Bill Graham would’ve responded to these questions about the second coming, Palin and Trump, and President Obama’s birth and faith.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: So, what will the second coming look like?

Jesus iPhone cross REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION: Well, the Bible says that every eye is going to see it. And—well, how is that going to happen? There's so many phones today.

And just look at what's happening in Libya or Egypt and everybody's got their phone up and everybody's taking recordings and posting it on YouTube and whatever and sending it to you or—and it gets shown around the world.

I don't know, but he says that he'll be coming on the clouds and the world is going to moan. They're going to groan.

AMANPOUR: I don't mean to be disrespectful—


AMANPOUR: —but could there be a second coming by social media? Is that what you mean?

GRAHAM: No. I'm just saying that how the whole world will see him when he comes, and he's coming back for his people.

How is the whole world going to see him all at one time? I don't know, unless all of a sudden, everybody's taking pictures and it's on the media worldwide. I don't know. Social media could have a big part in that.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

AMANPOUR: Is [Sarah Palin]the kind of candidate you would like to see run for election? Would she be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: I don't think Sarah's going to — I don't think she likes politics. I think she likes speaking on the issues, and I agree with many of the issues that she brings up, but I believe — I don't see her as running for president.

AMANPOUR: If she did, would you support her? Would she be your candidate?

GRAHAM: It depends on who the other candidates are.Sarah Palin appreciates Donald Trump investiating President Obama's birth

AMANPOUR: So, that's not a yes.

GRAHAM: No. I mean, we're so early. But I do like Sarah.

AMANPOUR: Well, there are people in right now. Would you support Mitt Romney, would you support—

GRAHAM: I've met—

AMANPOUR: —Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I've met Mitt Romney. No question he is a — he's a very capable person, he's proven himself. Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke. But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know? Maybe the guy's right. So, there's a —

AMANPOUR: So, he might be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: Sure, yes, sure.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

AMANPOUR: President Obama has come to you and your father, you've all prayed together. How would you say he's doing?

GRAHAM: I think he's a very nice man. I think he's a very gracious person. But I think our country is in big trouble.

President Barack Obama meeting with Billy Graham and Franklin GrahamAMANPOUR: Does it bother you that people like Donald Trump for instance right now, are making another huge big deal about birth certificates and whether he's a Muslim or a Christian and where he was born?

GRAHAM: Well, the president, I know, has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don't — I was born in a hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born.

I don't know why he can't produce that. So, I'm not — I don't know, but it's an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.

As it relates to Muslim, there are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that. Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?

For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

I’ve told you what I think, but what do you think? Did Franklin Graham do a good job of presenting a Christian response to these questions? How would Billy Graham have answered differently? Post your opinion in the Comments below. To be fair to Franklin, I’ve posted a video of the full interview below. The full transcript is also available by clicking on an ABC logo above.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Helena Guergis deserves better, Mr. Harper

Suppose the Toronto Star realized that their company’s management was mostly male and began an effort to move more qualified women into leadership. Let’s say a good reporter was moved into position as a department editor and that she was doing well and was asked to serve on the task force charged with mentoring and promoting women within the company. Now, if she were suddenly dismissed from her editorial position and demoted back to being a reporter, don’t you think the company would need to give the reason? Wouldn’t the optics require it? And what if later she was sent to work for a smaller newspaper in the chain—wouldn’t that look terribly unfair? Wouldn’t someone need to give a reason for these decisions? So if the Prime Minister of Canada dismisses the Minister for the Status of Women and then ejects her from caucus, shouldn’t he have to give a reason? And shouldn’t that reason be something more substantive than rumours and criminal allegations completely dismissed by the RCMP? Now that his report of “serious allegations” have tarnished Helena Guergis’s reputation and caused her significant grief, stress (during per pregnancy) and unwanted publicity, shouldn’t Stephen Harper do something to make this right?

You can click here to see an excellent summary of the Helena Guergis story, but I’d like you to view this interview of Helena Guergis herself. Watch closely when the counter gets to 4:47 and the reporter begins asking Guergis about the cross she’s wearing. Do you think that was fair?
[I want to thank J MacShimmie who posted this video and then asked if I would write an op-ed. I don’t usually do politics, but there is a real intersection of faith and culture happening here.]

Helena Guergis is looking for redemption and that seems fair given that she has done nothing wrong. No evidence has ever been presented to the RCMP or to the public to substantiate what the prime minister has said or the rumours that his office leaked to the press about her. The reality is that Stephen Harper has seriously damaged the reputation of this woman for a motive which is still unclear. If he was CEO of the Toronto Star, if this was corporate Canada, I doubt that he would get away with this demotion and public humiliation of a high ranking member of the executive team. To my mind, this action is clearly sexist. Guergis was Minister for the Status of Women—if you’re going to demote and then remove her from caucus, you ought to have a substantial reason that can be announced, something other than baseless character assassination.

This was quite a good interview, but then suddenly CBC reporter Carole MacNeil decides to question Helena Guergis about the cross she’s wearing (4:47). What do you think about this questioning? Do you think it was fair? Relevant?

CBC Anchor Carole MacNeil: Ms. Guergis I notice when we see you, uh, recently, that you’ve been wearing this cross around your neck more prominently than you had in the past, what’s the significance of that?

cbcnn_hgi.mp4_000292059Helena Guergis: Actually Carol, that’s not true at all. This is a cross that I was given by my grandfather who is a Reverend, and I’ve been wearing it around my neck since I was 14 years old.

MacNeil: OK. No it’s just I say we’re noticing it more now than we ever had in the past –  I’m not suggesting that you put it on for any other reason,  but I was just curious what it means to you.

Guergis: Well, you have to look to your faith, when you go through a difficult situation, and you know God only gives you what you can handle.

MacNeil: (Long pause.) Alright. (Pause) And are you handling this? Do you think you can handle this?

Guergis: Yeah… Yeah, I think I am. Yeah. It’s difficult, but we’ll get through it…

Personally, I do wonder why MacNeil went after the cross even after it had been asked and answered. I think Helena Guergis gave a pretty solid Christian answer. Difficult life situations often do deepen our faith and cause us to turn to God with a growing trust. It is that hope that somehow God will redeem even the most difficult circumstances that gets us through. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Back in June 2010, Guergis told Jane Taber (Globe and Mail) she believes that what is happening to her is for a “greater purpose.” “I keep telling myself that,” she said. “I don’t know what it is at this point, but I do continue to go back to my faith… It’s a challenge and every day I turn around and say, ‘What is it going to be tomorrow?’”

Since MacNeil can go after Helena Guergis’s faith, how about we have some other reporter go after Stephen Harper’s faith—he claims to be a Christian, doesn’t he? Does Christianity have anything to say about gossip,Stephen Harper sweater spreading lies and treating someone so poorly? As Bishop Fred Henry said so famously to Jean Chretien, “When you’re prime minister, you can’t take off your faith at the door like it was a sweater” [paraphrased from memory]. I suspect Jesus was talking to politicians too when he said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). Guergis said Harper would not meet with her, would not disclose the allegations and did not give her a chance to defend herself. Now that she has been cleared by the RCMP and Freedom of Information requests have shown that the prime minister had no evidence to support the criminal allegations he raised against her, isn’t it time for Mr. Harper to do the right thing? His handlers may have decided against it, but isn’t it time for Stephen Harper to put his sweater back on?

Perhaps, I should have finished with that previous line, but here’s the deal with scandals. The news focuses our attention so much on so few details about the person that we lose sight of the bigger picture of who this person is, what else they’ve done and whatever we used to think about them. While researching for this post, I stumbled across this great video of Ricker Mercer’s “interview” with Helena Guergis in her riding, Simcoe-Grey. I think you’ll find it quite entertaining, especially if you watch through to the last couple minutes. Personally, I think this time spent with Rick Mercer gives us a truer, more fair picture of who Helena Guergis really is than Harper’s baseless accusations and all the headlines spun from that a year ago. I, for one, vote for redeeming Ms. Guergis and lifting the cloud of suspicion—seems like a good Christian response.
    x   Ken Symes

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ivory Coast crisis: What they’re not reporting

For three months now, newly-elected Côte d'Ivoire President Ouattara has been struggling to take control of the country away from the desperate dictator-like ex-president Gbagbo who is defiantly ignoring election results, consolidating power and attempting to stay in control. Only now that President Ouattara has almost succeeding in ousting Gbagbo are we beginning to see any substantial coverage in the news. The United Nations confirmed the election results and they have 10,000 troops on the ground to try to minimize the toll of the conflict. The French also sent in soldiers. The European Union, the United States and much of the international community has accepted Ouattara and not Gbagbo as president. The fighting has been intense, but slowly most of the Côte d'Ivoire army has switched sides to supporting Ouattara. ALL THIS and only now is the situation getting some news coverage! I’m concerned that they are not reporting the full story. Côte d'Ivoire is the world’s #1 producer of cocoa—without Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa we would not be able to enjoy chocolate as we do. What’s not being reported is the huge role that cocoa is playing in this civil war-like crisis. Take for example the first serious coverage I saw on CBC News on April 5, or this video from ABC News (turns out it’s Australia, not America!).

No mention of cocoa even though President Ouattara called for a cocoa embargo in order to deprive Gbagbo of the funds he needs to pay the military who are keeping him in power. You see, taxes on cocoa farmers, export taxes (from north to south) and corruption in government obtaining most of the profits from cocoa sales is how military conflict has been financed in Côte d'Ivoire for over a decade now. The EU and US have heed the call not purchase cocoa, a ban came into force in January 2011. Only last week did I hear any mention in mainstream news about this chocolate embargo and that was because Hershey’s announced their wholesale prices would be going up by 10%. It’s mostly just in the financial news that I have found any mention of this embargo, but even then they’re not reporting the whole story!

What no one is reporting is how the government has impoverished the cocoa farmers who do not make a fair wage for their labour. The horrendous result has been the widespread use of cocoa farmers’ children to work on the family farms. When they could not get by even then, cocoa farmers began to buy children and traffic child slaves from Burkino Faso and other desperately poor areas. 200,000 children work in the cocoa jungles of Côte d'Ivoire and about 15,000 of them are trafficked slaves. Children are used “to clear land for the planting of cocoa trees, and for weeding and harvesting crops. The boys and girls, many as young as seven, are unpaid or paid very little,” according to Asad Ismi writing for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor (Feb 2011). Citing a Channel Four documentary from England, Ismi says, “90% of the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast use child slave labourers, whose hellish working conditions include 20-hour work days, malnutrition, torture, sexual abuse, and exposure to toxic chemicals.” You don’t see this reported very much in the news, but it’s all been well-documented for at least a decade now, if not longer. [Here on this blog, see my first chocolate post "Giving up chocolate for Lent, maybe for life" by Ken Symes.]

As a Christian practising Lent, this year I gave up chocolate so that I could think and pray about this bitter truth about chocolate: children are being trafficked and enslaved to produce the cocoa needed to make the chocolate I love. So two days ago, when I saw that the National Association of Evangelicals published a press release calling for prayer for Ivory Coast, naturally I expected that they would include prayer for the 200,000 children labouring in the cocoa jungles.

“Evangelical missionaries have worked in Ivory Coast since the 1920s, planting churches and supporting schools, hospitals and other social ministries,” said NAE President Leith Anderson. “Our hearts go out to the people of Ivory Coast who desperately want peace, and especially to those who have lost loved ones in the recent fighting.” …
“Scripture calls us to pray for our leaders and all who are in authority,” Anderson said. “I am praying that President Gbagbo will step down gracefully for the good of his country and for the peace of the entire region of West Africa.”
The NAE also encourages its members to support humanitarian relief efforts to care for displaced refugees in the region.

These are good thoughts for prayer, but since we know that our Lord Jesus loves the little children of Côte d'Ivoire (Ghana, Burkino Faso and all of West Africa) and since we know that the Lord calls us to minister to the least of these, we must add to this prayer for Côte d'Ivoire. Please pray for changes in the chocolate companies and in the Côte d'Ivoire government so that they will do what is needed to end child slavery now and eliminate the worst forms of child labour now. Pray that people will come to know the bitter truth about chocolate and call on our governments stand up to the cocoa industry and legislate them to end the use of slavery and child labour. It’s not fair that children’s lives are being ruined in the Ivory Coast cocoa jungles so that our children can enjoy Kit Kats, Snickers and Smarties. [The following video is a snipit from Chocolate: The Bitter Truth.]

Sunday, April 3, 2011

One thousand paper cranes and prayers for Japan

Everyday you can be overwhelmed by carefully watching the continuing news coverage of the devastation of Japan. The scope of this tragedy continues to grow. The latest being the failure of the cement to seal the damaged area that is allowing radiation to contaminate the ocean. The problems continue to multiply. Nothing seems to go well in the efforts of recovery. What can we do? Certainly we can give financially, but shouldn’t this unfolding tragedy also call us to prayer? And how should we pray for the people of Japan?

I see no reason why Christians could not pray and fold paper cranes. This was an amazing show of support from the good people of PEI. I wish I could’ve gone to an event like this. Even still, I can pray. We can pray. When I look at the facts of this devastation of Japan, my recurring prayer response is, “Lord, have mercy…” And in reflection of all that has happened, I’ve also prayed along with a prayer spoken in Japanese in the video I’ve posted below. Please do share with us in the Comments how you have been responding to this crisis in prayer. It’s important for us to pray, to pray together, and I’m hoping we might also learn from each other how we might better pray.

The Japan crisis by the numbers

  • Mar 11/11 A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck 125 km off the shore of Japan
  • At least 50 aftershocks followed, some with a magnitude as high as 6.0
  • A powerful tsunami was triggered, coming ashore at 800 km/hr (speed of a jetliner)
  • The tsunami wave was 10 m high (equivalent to a three-storey home)
  • The earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, knocking out power to its cooling systems which spread fear of a nuclear meltdown
  • Volcano Mt. Shinmoedake erupted on Mar 13, leading to the evacuation of a 1 mile radius as roasting hot ash rained down from the mountain
  • 1.4 million homes are without water
  • 1.9 million homes have no electricity
  • 450,000 people are displaced
  • So far 12,000 deaths are confirmed and 15,000 people are are still missing

Lord, have mercy.

Ken Symes Conclusion
Please do comment: How should we then pray for Japan?


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