Of the increase of His government there will be no end….

NightShineI always find it encouraging at Christmas to be reminded of just how many biblical prophecies were fulfilled in the Birth of Christ – way beyond any conceivable statistical odds!  We know that Jesus was in fact born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) over 2,000 years ago, in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) before fleeing to Egypt (Hosea 11:1) as Herod slaughtered the innocents (Jeremiah 31:15). The light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

But this Christmas, I started to wonder about the ongoing fulfilment of biblical prophecy today.  How is the increase of his government going, since it should never end? Having done some research, I’m frankly stunned by what I’ve found. Get ready to be astonished!

Christianity is the fastest growing religion worldwide igrowth_doughn absolute growth, not Islam as the media would lead us to believe. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the annual increase of new adherents. The absolute growth number is calculated as the annual number of new Christian converts subtracted the number of ex-Christians + number of births subtracted number of deaths (new converts – former Christians + births – deaths).

Christianity is the fastest growing religion at both parameters, both in absolute number of new converts and absolute number of new Christians due to population growth. In all, this sums up to an additional approximately 25.2 million new Christians annually:. 22.7 million due to population growth and 2.5 million due to conversions. This total growth of Christianity (25,210,195) adds the equivalent of more than the population of Australia (21,555,500) or the U.S. State of Texas (23,904,380) of new Christians to Christianity. Every year.

Christian converts are more than twice as many as converts to all other religions combined. growth_dough_conversionThe number of new converts to Christianity is more than twice the combined number of new converts to all the other tabulated religions, even if we take out those with negative numbers, such as Hinduism which is losing adherents.(2,501,396 vs. 1,090,541). And globally, around three times as many people convert to Christianity annually as convert to Islam (2,501,396 vs. 865,558)

The new converts to Christianity (2,501,396) adds the equivalent of more than the population of Latvia (2,268,000) or almost the U.S. State of Nevada (2,565,382) of new Christians to Christianity. Every year.

Currently, the largest religion in the world is Christianity with 2 billion followers of Christ; based on current trends, projections put that figure at 3 billion by 2050. This is even without any significant new wave of revival or renewal.

The number of charismatic healings and miracles being reported is on the increase. Of the two billion Christians today, there are more than 600 picisto-20141229153908-238732million charismatic-Pentecostal believers worldwide, the second-largest group of Christians after Catholics. Pentecostals and charismatic churches  can no longer be considered a small, fringe movement.  Broadly categorized as renewalist movements, these religious communities are experiencing their most dramatic growth at the frontier between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria; in the vast factory towns of China’s interior; among members of the rising middle class in Kenya; in the slums that ring the rapidly modernizing urban areas of Central and South America; in Muslim-majority Indonesia and Hindu-majority India. Blurring many of the traditional distinctions between Protestantism and Catholicism, renewalism is widely believed to be the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. And with the rise in this movement, reports of miracles and healings have been an increasing phenomena worldwide. An academic study of Iris Ministries’ work in Mozambique, an example of this movement, has found that yes, real healing is happening through laying on of hands (or Proximal Intercessory Prayer (PIP) as the academics like to call it!)

“These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Mark 16:17-18

The number of new churches planted is increasing exponentiallchurch growth graph Togo Myanmary.  To give just one example, look at the number of churches planted by the Assembly of God in Cuba and Myanmar – both very closed cultures, Communist and Buddhist – working with local church planters. Notice in particular the rapid rise in numbers of churches planted since 1995. I found this pattern repeated in any denomination or church planting network. There are more churches of all types being planted than ever before.

It all looks to me very like what is described in Micah 4:1-2.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways.


Now let’s look at some other ways in which His kingdom is coming in our days.  Remember, He came to destroy ALL the works of evil one, (1 John 3:8) including sickness, poverty and death (Isaiah 53:4, 61:1, 2 Corinthians 8:9, 1 Corinthians 15:16).


The numbers living in extreme poverty are dropping rapidly
, that means that fewer and fewer are living on less than $1.25 per day,  the UN definition of best_year_graphics-06extreme poverty.  The percentage of those living in extreme poverty globally has dropped from 40% in 1981 to just 14% in 2010. Some estimate that extreme poverty could be eliminated by 2030: this is the stated goal of at least one Christian NGO, Live58, as well as the hope of such well known activists, such as Bono. You can check out his TEDtalk on the subject here: http://www.ted.com/talks/bono_the_good_news_on_poverty

but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree                             Micah 4:4

War is becoming both rarer and less deadly too: so there are fewer wars occurring, and fewer Waning-of-Warpeople are dying in them.  In the graph, you can see how the death rates have fallen from around 20 million annually between 1940 and 1950 dropping to around a million in the early 1990’s to virtually none by the year 2,000.

After two devastating wars in the first half of the 20th century, Robert Schuman, the founding Father of the European Union, stated in his declaration in 1950, when launching the European Coal & Steel Community, that thus…

any war becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.

Today, the European Union has known over 60 years of continuous peace, after centuries of internal wars – and only two years of peace in the 17th century!

As it says on the inscription of the United Nations building in New York:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore… Isaiah 2:4

 Fewer people are dying young, and more are living longer.  Major killer diseases are being vanquished – tuberculosis, measles, and both the infant and maternal mortality rates have halved since 1990. Since 2000, the dramatic fall in deaths due to malaria means it could soon be the latest disease added to the list.  According to the World Health Organisation:war on death

Mortality in children under five, the age group, which concentrates the biggest malaria problem in terms of severe disease and death, has reduced by a staggering 58 percent.

In short, fewer people are dying untimely deaths. And that’s not only true in rich countries: life expectancy has gone up between 1990 and 2011 in every WHO income bracket. The gains are even more dramatic if you take the long view: global life expectancy was 47 in the early 1950s, but had risen to 70 — a 50 percent jump — by 2011.

Never again will there be in it  an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child;   Isaiah 65:20

Violent crime is on the decline.  Yes, again contrary to popular perceptions, violent crime is actually on a downward trend worldwviolent crimeide. Murders have halved since the turn of the century, while violent crimes are down by a third since the early 1990s in the USA.

In fact, the European murder rate fell 35-fold from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century (check out the amazing 2003 paper from Manuel Eisner, who dredged up medieval records to estimate European homicide rates in the swords-and-chivalry era….)

Prince of Peace! Of the increase of his government and peace,
there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7

Christ’s kingdom is coming throughout the earth through His church, directly and indirectly through the salt and light effect.  It’s amazing to realise just how much progress is being made. The divine kingdom predicted by Daniel, which started as a small stone, is really becoming a mountain that is filling the whole earth.

 But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth……    In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.     Daniel 2:35 &44

An interesting piece of evidence highlights this: in a landmark study of the much maligned 19th century missionaries, the sociologist Robert Woodberry made a fascinating discovery:

Areas where Protestant (conversionary) missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher fmmama1865detail2educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.

What do we dream of for tomorrow?

Of the increase of His government there will be no end….

Some of my sources:

http://fastestgrowingreligion.com/numbers.html

http://thinkprogress.org/

http://www.christianitytoday.com/

http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration/index_en.htm

https://www.academia.edu/2128659/The_Missionary_Roots_of_Liberal_Democracy

http://crcc.usc.edu/initiatives/pcri/ – the Pentecostal & Charismatic Research Inititiative

https://soci.ucalgary.ca/brannigan/sites/soci.ucalgary.ca.brannigan/files/long-term-historical-trends-of-violent-crime.pdf

https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/14131 about PIP

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Are the women of Ireland liberated yet?

 

 

Do you recognise these famous Irish women?
Do you recognise these famous Irish women?


As some of you may recall, I was invited to a public debate on the Vincent Browne show on TV3 on this topic a few weeks back, but never managed to get my spoke in on the night! I realised afterwards that everybody else had two minute speeches prepared, so it wasn’t really a debate, so waiting for an opening to hop in was a waste of time….But if I’d had my two minutes, here’s what I’d have said, more or less.

It all depends on what you mean by liberated.

A bit of a cop out, I know.  But if we’re talking about political and legal rights, access to education, equal pay for equal work, all the things the last generation of Irish feminists fought for, then you have to say that we have achieved equality of opportunity. Here’s a list of things that women of today take for granted, but ordinary Irish women (in the Republic) could not do in the 1970’s:

1 Keep her job in the public service or a bank when she got married.  The marriage bar in the public service was removed in July 1973, on foot of the report of the first Commission on the Status of Women. In 1977, the Employment Equality Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status in almost all areas of employment.

2 Sit on a jury  Mairín de Burca and Mary Anderson challenged the Act and won their case in the Supreme Court in 1976. The old Act was repealed and all citizens over 18 who are on the electoral register are eligible for juries.

3 Collect her children’s allowance, without her husband’s written mandate! The 1974 Social Welfare Act entitled a mother to collect the allowance in her own name.

4 Get a barring order against a violent partner  In 1976 the Family Law Act, Ireland’s first legislation on domestic violence, enabled one spouse to seek a barring order against the other where the welfare or safety of a spouse or children was at risk.

5 Live securely in her family home  Under Irish law, a married woman had no right to a share in her family home, even if she was the breadwinner! Her husband could sell the home without her consent. Under the Family Home Protection Act of 1976, neither spouse can sell the family home without the written consent of the other.

6 Get the same rate for a job as a man  In 1970, almost all women were paid less than male colleagues doing the same job. In March 1970, the average hourly pay for women was five shillings, while that for men was over nine.  Legislation on equal pay was introduced in 1974 and employment equality legislation followed in 1977, both as a result of European directives.

You see, personally I’m very glad of all these changes, and grateful to those who took on the legal battles that brought them about; it meant that I was one of the first generation of Irish women that really experienced this equality of opportunity.  Now, in my daughter’s generation, as many women go to college as men – the world is their oyster. If that’s liberation, then I’d say we’ve got it!

However,  some are not satisfied with equality of opportunity, many feminists today want equality of outcome.  This is what lies behind campaigns for 50% women TDs in the Dáil,  and the gender equality programme in the EU, for example, where the Institute for Gender Equality tracks such things as the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling and so on. (If you ask me, that shows just how institutionalised feminism has become!)  This suits the economists as much as the modern feminist movement, as the State really needs the maximum number  of productive economic units (i.e. women working) to offset  the fall in birthrate across the West.

So for some feminists the patriarchy is alive and well in all the places of power. The problem is that many women are not all that bothered about equality of outcome in reality.  In the Netherlands, for example, many younger women feel that feminism has run its course; it’s no motivation to stand for election or pursue a career full time- almost 80 % of employed women there worked part time in 2012.  In Ireland too, we’re delighted with family friendly work policies and choose in vast numbers for part time work when it suits our families, seemingly not too concerned about our careers, nor the gender pay gap, which does not look at equal pay for equal work, but compares the average earnings of men and women across a state.   In Ireland in 2011, for example , 46% of women were working, with women’s earnings averaging 94% of men’s, even though over 80% of part time jobs were taken by women. I don’t hear anyone complaining….

It seems when given equality of opportunity,  different groups of women demonstrate different preferences, however galling that may be the sisterhood! Catherine Hakim’s preference theory suggests that we divide roughly into three groups by preference in affluent, western societies: Home-centred women (10-30%) , Work-centred women ( 10-30%) and Adaptive women ( 40-80%), who make decisions based on the need  or opportunities of the moment.  In surveys done in Ireland, 13% of women were found to be home-centred, another 11% were work-centred while the remaining 76% were adaptives by preference.  The economic and social environment will determine the exact breakdown of percentages in reality.  So in 2011, 28% of Irish women were at home, and 46% were at work: the rest were students, or retired, or unemployed.

For many Irish women equality of opportunity is enough: they have real choice about what they do.  And that’s an issue for militant feminism today. Where the women’s movement 40 years ago was fighting for things most women agreed on, now feminists can find themselves fighting for “rights” (reproductive rights, for example), which other women perceive as “wrongs” (abortion on demand, for example).

But now I’m on to another aspect of women’s lib, the sexual revolution, and that I’ll leave for the next post.

 

Women Daring Greatly

It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt.)

You may notice I’ve feminised this quotation, which I picked up from Brené Brown’s descriptively titled Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. For me, the book addresses the courage we need to have to be truly ourselves, to overcome shame about who we are and dare to live beyond the expectations of others. Apparently one of the main regrets expressed by people on their deathbed is: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I believe this is something women today particularly need to hear.

Just in the last few days, the blogosphere has been rife with posts promoting, attacking, defending and reviling different visions of what a woman today should be. A certain Amy Glass had a good rant fetchingly entitled I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry, which brought forth a raving of sensitively named copycat rebuttals, like I Think People Without Kids Have Empty Lives And I’m Not Sorry About It and I Feel Sorry For Amy Glass And I’m Not Ashamed.

What was strange was that at the same time I was working on research into childcare in Ireland where the economic imperative to help women get back to work has led to the gender equality agenda promoting a certain vision of, yet again, what a woman should be. So many of the figures on percentages of Irish mothers in the work force in the early noughties were disapprovingly labelled as “below the OECD average,” while at the peak of the boom we had finally made it and were working outside the home in sufficient numbers to keep the EU happy.
Here’s how a report on labour market activation puts it: Parenthood is one of the main factors underlying the gender employment gaps…. the employment rate for women who have children is much lower than for women without children in most Member States…. That’s pressure in one direction.

Well known Irish researcher, Professor Noirín Hayes, puts it like this: However, there is another driver – the tension between Ireland’s traditional ideology, which places a strong value on the place of women in the home, and the policy driver that encourages increased female labour market participation.

And so, you can read articles about how guilty many young Mums in the UK feel about going back to work – as many as 4/5, according to a recent survey there. That’s pressure from another direction, be it internal, innately coming from the bond they feel with their young child, or it could be the result of traditional family values in their community, which make them feel they should stay home or their child will suffer irreparable damage. In some church circles in the US, you should not only stay home with baby, you should also home school your kids if you really want what’s best for them. Pressure!

All the while, at the same time in the same great nation of the USA, I read about high flying women, who come under fire from their feminist sisters, for leaving the big job to be able to care more for their children. Women like Anne Marie Slaughter, who has worked for the Obama administration; she wrote an article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All! In it, she described the outraged response she got to the idea that she’d leave her post for the sake of her son, and even consider writing such a tellingly entitled piece. She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.

You see, the modern woman should be able to have it all!

Pressure!

Views are heartfelt on this one; feelings run high. But funnily, it all reminds me of a phrase of scripture in Romans 12:2 Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould is how the Phillips translation puts it. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. says the NIV. And as always, I love how Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

The world – be it traditional, liberal, conservative, feminist, marxist, academic, political or ecclesiastical – really has only one trick. Shame you into conformity. Get you to buy into one should or another, or even a case of the shoulds.
From all these shoulds, O Lord, deliver us!

P.S. This is worth a read, if you have time. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/