Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What is the House of Lords FOR?

Mark Harper MP is the Conservative Party's man in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. And we need one. But is he the right one? For he appears to be obligingly assisting the Liberal Democrats with their infernal constitutional tinkering, even to the point of supporting Nick Clegg in his quest for a largely-elected House of Lords which would, of course, 'give LibDems a huge, permanent, enhanced role in politics'. He is of the opinion that the public want an elected Lords (a proposition difficult to ascertain without a referendum). He has stated, therefore, that this is what the Coalition will deliver (despite it not being in the Coalition Agreement).

Conservative Home are running an excellent Comment series this week on House of Lords reform; Tim Montgomerie being of the view that the status quo must be preserved. But those Conservatives who support the status quo appear to be confusing it with the status quo ante: they have not addressed the reality that Tony Blair changed the Chamber irrevocably. The House of Lords is no longer largely composed of non-partisan experts, cuddly cross-benchers and independently-minded hereditary peers who patriotically place loyalty to their country above ephemeral tribal politics: it is now a corporatist entity, appointed by the prime minister of the day and rubber-stamped by a committee appointed by, err... the government of the day. In order to better reflect the outcome of each general election, a prime minister now has no choice but to bung another 100-or-so in, otherwise legislating gets a little jammed up. Blair appointed his statist supporters and quangocrats, and Cameron will need to do the same. We are already at 829 members (though only around 400 turn out every day): we are heading for an Upper House of 1000 members, while simultaneously reducing the Commons from 650 to 600.

So the status quo rock is as untenable as a PR-elected hard place. The proposal to make the House of Lords an elected chamber – whether 80 or 100 per cent – is a certain recipe for future strife. Not least because Nick Clegg’s proposal is that they be elected by STV and remain in office for 15 years. Where else on the planet are elected politicians insulated from their electorate for a decade-and-a-half? How does an 80-per-cent elected chamber constitute a ‘resolution of issues’? What is the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of the remaining 20 per cent, especially the bishops? What is the democratic legitimacy of the entire 100 per cent if members may only be judged by their electorate every 15 years?

It is bizarre to seek to move towards a fully-elected chamber seemingly before establishing the function and purpose of that chamber. If it is to remain a revising chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise, why is the judgement of the people the favoured mechanism for establishing those who make the wisest scrutineers? Plato observed that philosophers are ‘very odd birds, not to say thoroughly vicious; whilst even those who look the best of them are reduced...to complete uselessness as members of society’. In short, the wisest scrutineers are not necessarily going to be recognised by most people and may certainly not have popular appeal. Have the Prime Minister and his Deputy forgotten their philosophy? Is not Plato’s simile of the Ship informing deliberations? While the partially deaf and myopic captain (the people) is quarrelling with his crew (competing politicians) over how to navigate and who should be at the helm, none of them has any genuine skill in navigation. One faction of the crew is able to take control of the ship by killing their rivals and drugging the captain. They then turn the ship into a pleasure cruise and admire the seamanship of whomever is able to control the captain.

Democratic politics has not changed. But the true navigator, with his expert knowledge of the seasons, winds and stars, is completely ignored and considered useless by the crew, who do not understand the means or purposes of the art of navigation. Nick Clegg is proposing that out of the chaos, sophistry and corruption of the democratic process, the mob will eschew their short-term carnal pleasures, see through the political rhetoric and recognise the navigator’s skills for the good of the state.

This was not so in ancient Greece and it is not so now. The philosopher then as now is not inclined to beg others to allow him to rule. For, like the navigator, he is concerned with truth and not (like the crew-politicians) with the statisfaction of his immediate personal pleasures or with the acquisition of power. Those who seek to rule are concerned with seducing the people in order to gain and retain power, which leads to conflict and distrust: those who seek to scrutinise, reflect and guide are concerned with the pursuit of wisdom and truth for the long-term good of the state. Thus their lordships should value their independence from petty issues of party politics.

The case had not been made for an elected Upper House, which would become a highly-politicised chamber crammed with even more ‘professional’ politicians. The Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has made the point that these proposals merit a referendum (yes, another one), and he referred to the proposed reforms as ‘dog's dinner’ (he meant ‘breakfast’). Not only would a house elected by PR assert a greater democratic legitimacy than one elected by FPTP, but experience shows (in Scotland, Wales and London) that demands for incremental gains in competences would surely follow. And one has to wonder at the legitimacy of a bill which is whipped through Parliament, even with the threat of using the Parliament Act to force it through the Lords.

Let us first focus on the purpose of the House of Lords: everything else should then fall into place.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bishops ‘working together creatively’ for gay marriage


The new Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam (left), has already broken episcopal collegiality on sexual ethics. The announcement of the appointment of Jonathan Clark (right), an ex office Trustee of the so-called ‘Inclusive Church’ pressure group, as Bishop elect of Croydon, threatens to do the same. What has happened already with the Bishop of Salisbury will instruct us on what is likely to be the case for the Bishop elect of Croydon

The Bishop of Salisbury has spoken recently of ‘working together creatively’ on the notion of marriage. This is curious because, frankly, there really is no creativity to discuss. The introduction to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer sets out the Anglican understanding of what marriage constitutes and means:
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained. First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
The Bishop of Salisbury, on his Diocesan website, has stressed that he reaffirms his commitment to:

• Supporting marriage as it is currently understood
• Upholding the current discipline and practice of the Church of England
• Supporting those clergy whose standpoint differs from my own

The Bishop of Salisbury is, of course, utterly unable to do the first two of these things by maintaining his current position of campaigning for same-sex marriage. He cannot commit to supporting marriage as it is currently understood if, with the very next breath, he seeks to change the definition.

The same irrationality applies to the Bishop elect of Croydon, with his membership of both ‘Affirming Catholicism’, which opposes same-se marriage, and ‘Inclusive Church’, which campaigns for it. This must be a via media too far. The Ugley Vicar blogger John Richardson makes the point:
“If the Bishop disagrees with his clergy about the definition of marriage, but supports marriage as it is currently understood, then presumably they have a different view of marriage from the current one. Either that, or the reverse is true. What seems clear is that they cannot both be supporting the current view of marriage (whatever the word “current” is supposed to mean) and be disagreeing.”
Recognising that this is a matter of ongoing debate within the Church of England, and understanding that we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect, it must be recognised that the General Synod does not condone the teaching of same-sex marriage. This was, of course, the line taken by the Lambeth Conference 1998 – that we should listen with respect but that the doctrine on human sexuality remains unchanged. What is worth asking is whether Jonathan Clark takes the same policy on other matters which have been determined by the church – on, for example, drunkenness, pre-marital sex, or dishonesty...?

There is a kind of integrity here, for we have someone who is theologically liberal who acts according to conscience. For that, he should be commended, for to act according to one’s conscience and conviction is something generally praiseworthy. But there is a manifest lack of integrity in matching that same action with a blatant disregard for the polity and doctrine of the church in which he is a senior leader. If Jonathan Clark wishes to push the homosexual agenda on the church, he is free to do so. But he should then be prepared to step aside for the sake of someone else who is prepared to keep the consecration promise to ‘drive away all strange and erroneous doctrine’ (The Ordinal). Now that would be real integrity, and utterly praiseworthy.

Blessings to the Rev’d David Ould for the inspiration for this post.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Angela Merkel gets covered in beer



UKIP finally managed to get one of their members, brilliantly disguised as a Greek waiter, within striking pouring distance of the German Chancellor.

Clearing the Ground - Preliminary report into the freedom of Christians in the UK

Following a lengthy inquiry over the month of August, with testimony from alleged victims and leaders of prominent Christian groups, a parliamentary committee has at long last confirmed what many of us have known for quite a few years: Christians are increasingly facing difficulties in their employment and involvement with public bodies. This has been seen seen in evidence relating to a number of high profile court cases. These cases included, but were not limited to, situations where employment becomes untenable because of conditions and restrictions imposed upon the articulation and manifestation of belief. The Committee's main findings are:

• The Equality Act 2010 fails to deal with the tensions between different strands of equality policy.
• Court decisions have relegated religious beliefs below other strands and effectively created a hierarchy of rights.
• The place of religious belief suffers because companies, institutions and the government do not take sufficient action to accommodate it.
• The 1986 Public Order Act, and specifically Section 5, places the bar too low through its prohibition on insulting language.
• The policing of the Public Order Act and other legislation demonstrates a lack of understanding of what is a legitimate expression of Christian belief.
• Government departments handle religious belief in a complex and confused manner and lack sufficient coordination.
• Advice from government departments on how to handle religious belief in the public sector varies and in many cases fails to grasp the nature and implications of belief.
• Guidance from professional bodies on religious belief often fails to understand, and therefore safeguard, a role for belief in public life.
• Across the UK, local authorities handle their relationships with religious groups in very different ways.

The Committee consisted of Gary Streeter MP (Chair), Fiona Bruce MP, Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose, David Burrowes MP, Baroness Brinton of Kenardington, Jim Dobbin MP, Lord Edmiston of Lapworth, and Gavin Shuker MP.

They noted the relative religious illiteracy of the nation, which has led to many situations where religious belief is misunderstood and subsequently restricted. This comes from a social and cultural minimisation of Christianity in public life. Religious illiteracy has led to legal restrictions on the way that faith can be expressed. Recent changes have compelled Christians to provide services that they had never previously offered and which may be contrary to their beliefs.

There are specific and necessary steps which the Government should take, and national and local bodies should implement to enable Christians and other faiths to have greater confidence in their freedom to express their beliefs. They recommend:

• Reasonable accommodation is a concept that has merit and warrants further consideration. If proved viable it may help prevent legal cases where religious activity is unduly restricted.
• Areas of the law that permit the arrest of individuals for insulting behaviour need to be significantly amended or reinforced with guidance that permits freedom for preaching and the public articulation of Christian beliefs.
• Guidance for local authorities on how to deal with faith groups needs to be strengthened.
• Professional bodies need better guidance relating to religious identity, activity and freedom.
• Better guidance for government departments and professional bodies to help accommodate religious belief and the way it works itself out in everyday life.
• Clear guidelines should be provided to local authorities to reaffirm that children can be adopted and fostered by people with religious beliefs.
• Better coordination is needed of policy relating to religion in and across government, and urgent effort is required to address religious illiteracy.
• The Equality and Human Rights Commission should be reviewed and restructured to better include and represent religious beliefs.

Under a heading: 'How the Church should respond', the Committee says:

Many of the challenges identified are not wholly the responsibility of the government to resolve. There is a growing need for churches and Christian organisations to take responsibility when their actions may have contributed to a perception that the scale of the problem facing Christians is greater than it is.

Christians have, and will always, experience tensions between their beliefs and the shifting values of the societies that they live in. To some extent the present tensions should be seen as an encouragement of faithful witness.

Ahead of bringing cases to court, Christians need to consider the potential impact their actions might have on politics, public opinion and the confidence of other Christians in their mission.

The last century saw a privatisation of faith and the development of a sacred-secular divide through which Christianity lost much of its social and political influence. Now, too often the Church is defined by what it opposes rather than what it stands for. It is essential that Christians once again provide hope and a vision for society that goes beyond defending their own interests and includes the good of all.

For many Christians public life is seen as a way of living out their beliefs, and across all denominations there is a growing awareness of the need to respond to the challenges that face our communities, nation and world. This shift is already transforming many, often deprived, parts of the country, however, there is much more that remains to be done in demonstrating this vital role of faith.

Christians need to take seriously their historical role in leading and serving in public life, and church discipleship needs to account for this role – because the gospel is good news for society.

The Committee noted that 'Christianity has a rich cultural heritage in the UK. For more than 1,600 years, it has shaped the way people in the British Isles think and act, both personally and publicly. It is by far the most significant single historical influence of our social and political culture and, latterly, has been joined by other influences, many of which are antithetical to Judeo-Christian perspectives. Although Christianity has (negatively and positively) contributed to the evolution of our political culture, it is indisputable that the social and political landscape for authentic Christian witness in the UK has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. The past century has seen, in the place of a Christian public ethos, many atheistic ideas come to the fore. These have been tried and tested in politics and society. The result is that, although the UK is still constitutionally Christian, it is also religiously plural and has a public discourse heavily influenced by secular humanist ideas'.

It remains to be seen how many of these recommendations are accepted by the Government, but we should not forget that the Prime Minister himself recently reminded us:
“We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend…

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option… Put simply for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. ‘Live and let live’ has too often become ‘do what you please’. Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong, is not a sign of weakness. It’s a strength. But we can’t fight something with nothing. As I’ve said if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything... those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code…

I believe the Church – and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain – have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.”
Over to you, Prime Minister.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

David Cameron and Holy Communion

This is a guest post by the Rev'd Julian Mann:

The Prime Minister’s legislative intention to interfere with the God-created institution of heterosexual marriage has serious spiritual implications for him as a communicant Anglican.

God's Word written (as Article XX of the XXXIX describes the Bible) sets forth the creation of marriage by the Lord God Almighty in the book of Genesis. In two of the Synoptic Gospels, God Incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, publicly defends the created institution of marriage before large crowds in Galilee in argument against powerful vested interests (see Matthew 19v1-12 and Mark 10v1-12).

Word and Sacrament go together in Anglican theology, a nexus faithfully reflected in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which, according to Canon A5, is a liturgical repository of sound biblical truth. The BCP is an integrated liturgy, which means both its Holy Communion service and its marriage service have important bearing on the question of Mr Cameron’s continuing admittance to the Lord’s Table.

The BCP’S Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion warns Communicants against taking the sacrament ‘unworthily’. Worthiness is defined by Holy Scripture, because the exhortation prior to the administration of the Lord's Supper refers to the apostolic authority of St Paul.

Reflecting the same attitude to the authority of the Bible, the BCP’s Form of Solemnization of Matrimony is crystal clear that marriage is betwixt a man and a woman and that sexual relations outside of the God-created institution of heterosexual, monogamous, life-long marriage constitute ‘fornication’.

So Mr Cameron’s public action in pushing for the legal redefinition of marriage is very serious from an historic Anglican perspective.

Canon B16 - ‘Of notorious offenders not to be admitted to Holy Communion’ – declares that: ‘If a minister be persuaded that anyone of his cure who presents himself to be a partaker of the Holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the bishop of the diocese or other Ordinary of the place and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the sacrament to any until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table.’

The diocesan bishop is ultimately responsible for Holy Communion discipline. The minister of the church where Mr Cameron takes Christ’s sacrament urgently needs to confer with his or her Ordinary as to whether the Prime Minister’s move to redefine God’s created institution of man-woman marriage constitutes ‘grave and open sin without repentance’.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire – www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Marriage goes the way of 'gay' and 'pride'


Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has proclaimed that the Church does not 'own' marriage. And she castigates the Bride of Christ for 'polarising' the debate into one of gay rights versus religious liberty. "This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms,” she declares: it is up to 'the people' how they define the term. And she insists the Government has a right to change the definition of marriage and so confront those who 'want to leave tradition alone'.

But the state does not 'own' marriage, either, Ms Featherstone. It is a union observed in all cultures and, according to Aristotle, exists by nature. The state cannot change nature: it can legislate to call the rain 'sunshine', but the rain is still the rain; it's neither good nor bad; it's just the rain. And it will still make you wet, whatever you call it.

Marriage is essential for the functioning of society: in Scripture, it is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where YHWH says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.

There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of v24: (i) the procreation of children; (ii) companionship, and (iii) sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before YHWH, which Jesus confirms with the phrase ‘God has joined together’ (Mt 19:26); when a person ‘leaves’ and ‘cleaves’. It is the erosion of this foundation which has contributed to ‘Breakdown Britain’.

The thing is...

If, as Ms Featherstone says, 'it is the Government’s fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future', why stop at a redefinition of marriage which includes homosexuals? If marriage is 'owned by the people', surely any redefinition must be subject to the democratic will, yet the British people have not been asked about this: proposals for 'gay marriage' were not included in any party's manifesto at the last general election, and there has been no referendum. So is Ms Featherstone saying that a minority group somehow has the right to impose its 'unnatural' redfinition on the majority? If so, why not permit Muslim men to marry four or five wives? If the state has the authority to eradicate the heterosexual imperative, who says 'equality' must be the new immutable foundation? Surely it is up to 'the people'? And if marriage may be polygamous, why not incestuous? If 'the people' wish to privatise the institution, there is no logical end to the varieties and expressions of 'family, society and personal freedoms' which will result. If, a decade hence, they want marriage to embrace consensual polygamy, incest and co-homeowners, who is Lynne Featherstone to stop them?

As the Roman Catholic adoption agencies discovered, and as those who administer school curricula are finding, the inexorable quest for equality does not deviate for any exemption: for equality to triumph, it must eradicate the religious space. There will be no equality until two men can marry in their local parish church, regardless of the theo-political misgivings of the vicar.

But 'language evolves', you say: marriage is being redefined to reflect the new societal norm. There was a time when 'gay' meant 'happy', Abba was cool, Kylie was a c-list soap star and rainbows were a symbol of God's covenant with every living thing (Gen 9:13). Over the decades, homosexuals have appropriated 'gay' and 'pride' and the world has not ended. But these meanings have evolved incrementally, even naturally (and are still doing so, for 'gay' in teen vernacular has come to mean 'crap'). But this was not the state decreeing change. The Government is proposing to redefine marriage forever, and it will use the full force of its bureacracy to inculcate the new reality: no longer will paperwork talk of husbands and wives, but of partners. No longer will we be male and female, but simply androgynous individuals. And if you resile from the new order, you exclude yourself from public office and from employment by the state. If you dare to speak out against it, you are criminalised. This is not organic change: it is societal revolution.

If 'gay marriage' is the conservative thing to do because, as the Prime Minister avers, it strengthens society, then why are 57% of Christians pepared to abandon the Conservative Party over the issue? Are they all wrong? Are they all homophobic 'backwoodsmen' and reactionary 'Turnip Taliban'? And let us not pretend the alliance against 'gay marriage' stops (or starts) at the Church: Lynn Featherstone is uniting the churches, synagogues, gurdwaras and mosques in a faith alliance against the Government. The religious conscience will not be cowed and bullied into submission in the name of 'equality', 'fairness' or 'tolerance'.

Coalition For Marriage is uniting people of all faiths and none against 'gay marriage'. So far, it has collected 39,000 signatures (how many have put their names to a petition in support of 'gay marriage'?). If the will of the people is sovereign, surely Ms Featherstone must heed it. If it be for 'the people' to decide the definition of marriage, and the majority opt for one based on the complementary natures of men and women, who is she to say otherwise?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Exeter College Oxford bans the Pope


Oxford University takes its Christian foundations very seriously. Or it used to. Despite all-pervasive political-correctness and multi-faith multiculturalism, its higher degrees are still bestowed upon graduands Ad honorem Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et ad profectum Sarosanctae Matris Ecclesiae. As they kneel before the Vice-Chancellor, he touches each one upon the head with a Testament, admitting them in nomine Domini, Patris, Filii et Spirutus Sancti. No one has (yet) sought to rid the University of this appalling bigotry; not even the emeritus rabid atheist agnostic who struts around New College perpetually proclaiming the advent of Anno Dawkinsi.

Oxford has produced around 12 saints of the Church and some 20 Archbishops of Canterbury. Amongst its stellar theological alumni rank the names of John Wycliffe, John Locke, William Tyndale, John Colet and John and Charles Wesley. The University was inspired by and founded upon the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith: eradicate Christianity, and you cease to understand the academic culture and spiritual values which spawned one of the greatest seats of learning in the world. At various points throughout history, when that faith has been imperiled, men arose to establish theological halls and houses to address disbelief. When the college chapels were faced with closure, these became a bulwark of orthodoxy and sound doctrine.

But gradually the Fabians, atheists and secular-humanists have taken over. Chaplains have been downgraded, and Christians no longer dare to defend their faith for fear of being accused of bigotry, racism, or (worse) anti-intellectualism. St Catherine's College was the first Oxford college to be built without a chapel: it is a ghastly ‘Barbican’ structure without architectural merit. St Antony’s converted its 19th-century chapel into a library; Sommerville’s is multi-faith (with space for anti-faith); and many of the others are poorly attended shrines to the divines of yesteryear. Oxford University, like most British institutions, is rotting from within.

And now Exeter College, founded in 1314 as a school to educate clergy, is being harangued by a homosexual student for having the audacity to rent out its premises during the Easter recess to a Christian group. Why? Because some of its staff believe – shock horror – homosexuality to be (shhh...) a sin, from which one may be delivered. You’re free to believe it, of course: they're not opposed (yet) to freedom of conscience. But God forbid that you would ever seek to give voice to that belief in this Oxford college.

And so the complaint of that solitary student has now spread to hordes of other students, lecturers and gay rights campaigners (ie Stonewall). And lo, verily, are they come unto the Rector Frances Cairncross to demand, yea, demand that their college be purged of this defilement, for gayness is to be lauded and celebrated (and college buildings given over gratis for the celebration of such). But these vile Christians, yea, these vermin who believe homosexuals are 'sinners' who may be 'cured', are never again to set foot within its hallowed quadrangles.

The group concerned is Christian Concern, which has hired the college to host a five-day event known as the 'Wilberforce Academy'. The group’s chief executive Andrea Minichiello Williams has, apparently, previously said that homosexuality is a 'sin' and is a supporter of 'corrective therapy' treatment for gay couples.

This is, of course, deeply offensive and now constitutes ‘gay hate’ and ‘homophobia’. And so Exeter College is coming under pressure to cancel the event. The Rector is aghast, and said: “Given Exeter College’s strong record in protecting the rights and dignity of its gay and lesbian members, I am especially dismayed that we should come under attack. The college and its governing body have always worked hard to ensure that its members of all sexual orientations felt safe here and secure from any hostility. Given our contractual situation the governing body believes that cancelling the conference booking is not a viable option. However, we are reviewing the basis on which we take bookings for conferences in future.”

So cancellation is ‘not viable' (ie, a contract is a contract, and to cancel at this stage would be met with litigation and costs), and the College is ‘reviewing the basis on which (they) take bookings for conferences in future’ (ie they will henceforth ensure that no person associated with any discussion or debate about anything which may be deemed ‘homophobic’ will ever again be able to hire its facilities).

Let us consider for a moment that Andrea Minichiello Williams sincerely believes that homosexuality may be cured, and that this is her vocation, her mission, her whole raison d’ être. And let us agree that she is barking. And let us consider that Christian Concern simply wishes to hold a five-day conference for the exclusive, if not obsessive, discussion of such. And let us agree that this is theologically myopic, spiritually ignorant, manifestly unloving and utterly irrelevant to the Gospel of Christ.

What does any of this have to do with the student body during recess? Is it not simply a commercial matter? Does the College (and its student body) now have to agree with the moral worldview and meta-ethical beliefs of every organisation which seeks to hire its premises? Are they about to ban Christian unions and Catholic societies from operating under their aegis for fear of ‘homophobic’ expression? Or does this censorship apply only to external bodies? Will Oxford colleges hire out their halls to those who seek to limit or ban abortion and contraception? To those who preach sexual abstinence? To those who believe the mere orientation toward homosexuality to be an ‘objective disorder’? To those who believe marriage to be a union of one man and one woman? Would Exeter College rent out its buildings to a conference organised by the Holy See or attended by Pope Benedict XVI?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The White House condemns Iran over Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani death sentence



THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 23, 2012
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Case of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms reports that Iranian authorities’ reaffirmed a death sentence for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for the sole reason of his refusal to recant his Christian faith. This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values. The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution—a fundamental and universal human right. The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence, release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion. The United States renews its calls for people of conscience and governments around the world to reach out to Iranian authorities and demand Pastor Nadarkhani's immediate release.
Meanwhile, silence from No10, Lambeth Palace, the BBC, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and the Holy See.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to be hanged


Sources in Iran are reporting that the execution order for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued. An Iranian Court has convicted him of apostasy (despite never having been a Muslim: background here, here and here), and the execution is thought to be imminent. The present heightened tensions with Iran lend credence to this development: a high-profile execution becomes retaliation as the country endures crippling sanctions and international pressure in response to its nuclear agenda and fundamentalist rhetoric.

If the execution proceeds, it will be the first Iranian execution of a Christian for many years, and the fear is that it may (re-)establish the precedent for the execution of other Christians and religious minorities, of which there are many languishing in prison. According to Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ, Pastor Youcef's execution 'could be the catalyst for the extinction of Christianity in Iran'.

The world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death because of his faith. It is likely that the Pastor's life has been extended thus far only because og international pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 89 members of the US Congress, along with the governments of the UK, France , Germany and Mexico.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide are asking people to email the Iranian Chief Judge and to pray.

WE must continue to keep up the pressure: pass the word along vis blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, using links, 'likes' and hashtags.

The greatest fear is that Iran is simply waiting for pressure to die down before quietly executing Pastor Youcef. The best chance for keeping him (and, indeed, the Christian faith) alive in Iran is to protest very loudly and forcefully about this. And pray.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Merkel: "If Greece leaves the euro, it will be the end of our European project"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The hounding of David Burrowes

David Burrowes is a Conservative MP, a Christian, and parliamentary chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. He happens to believe precisely what the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs (and, indeed, people of no faith) believe about marriage. He has said: “My views are that the values of marriage should be between a man and a woman and that is something which is set out in statute hundreds of times – if you change the shape of marriage then you change its purpose and risk changing the meaning of it. I don’t in any way challenge the fact that people will want to change the law and it’s important that this is a debate that is done with respect and we respect people’s views.”

He has also suggested that David Cameron’s support of ‘gay marriage’ is part of his decontamination strategy to show that Conservatives are a ‘modern party’ – socially liberal, ‘with it’ and cool. There are, Mr Burrowes avers, many other ways to demonstrate the demise of ‘the nasty party’ without the Orwellian redefinition of the foundation of civilisation.

In the midst of economic hardship, concerns over health and education reforms, the focus on government cuts, impending drought, the terrorist threat, and the meltdown of the euro, David Burrowes said last month that ‘gay marriage’ was not something ‘people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about’.

Enter Phillip Dawson, treasurer of Mr Burrowes’ local Conservative association, who has decided to set up a Facebook group demanding that Mr Burrowes ‘listen to the views of his constituents’ on this matter. Mr Dawson is homosexual, and a proponent of marriage equality. He says of himself that he is ‘intolerant of inequality, unfairness and homophobia’. At the time of writing, his Facebook page has c250 members, and his Twitter account has 212 followers, so perhaps c250 homosexuals in a constituency of 86,201 (Census 2001) where, statistically (we are constantly told), there are supposed to be c8,600 homosexual and lesbian residents are now ‘hammering’ their MP on the cyber doorstep over 'gay marriage'.

But membership of this Facebook group is not contingent on being domiciled in Enfield Southgate, so the number of Mr Burrowes’ constituents who are actually ‘hammering’ for equality will be considerably less than 250. At the last general election, UKIP scored 505 votes, the Greens 632, the English Democrats 173 and Independents 391. When it comes to being obliged to ‘listen to the views of his constituents’, there are groups with far stronger cases than Mr Dawson’s ‘gay marriage’ gathering.

As a consequence of the publicity surrounding the mere articulation of his beliefs, Mr Burrowes has received insults and low-level harassment by letter, email and phone. He is coming under pressure to disassociate himself from the ‘hard’ expressions of his faith, and a certain ‘far-right’ Christian charity (ie one which is orthodox and opposes ‘gay marriage’). Gay rights charity Stonewall are very much on his case, publicising his ‘poor record’ on homosexual equality, and urging their supporters to continue writing and emailing to condemn his appalling voting record.

Mr Burrowes has also received a death threat. He is not alone, of course: the Archbishop of York has also received racist death threats following his comment that he believes marriage to be between one man and one woman.

Thus is the intolerance of those who demand toleration. Phillip Dawson protests in the name of tolerance but manifests a malignant intolerance of anyone who opposes his view. As JS Mill observed: ‘Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realised...’.

While Mr Dawson has vehemently denied that he is attempting to deselect David Burrowes as his constituency MP, he is certainly doing everything in his power to undermine him, if not to bring his Party into disrepute, not least because David Cameron is likely to make ‘gay marriage’ a matter of conscience and so a free vote. Mr Dawson is content for his MP to abstain on the issue, but to lead any kind of revolt against the planned legislation is, he avers, ‘unacceptable’. Rather provocatively, Mr Dawson enjoys the backing of Stephen Twigg, the homosexual Labour MP who formerly represented this constituency.

It would matter far less if Phillip Dawson were an ordinary Conservative Party member in Enfield Southgate, but he is an association officer of the local Conservative Association. He manifests his unfitness for office by choosing to lead a revolt in the media and side with political opponents against an honorable Conservative MP on a matter of conscience. Mr Dawson's partner is Cllr Henry Lamprecht - David Burrowes' Constituency Agent and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on Enfield Council. This must present Mr Lamprecht with certain - how shall we say - 'tensions' in allegiance.

But this is not a matter of 'persecution': David Burrowes would not call it such, and when one considers what many Christians endure the world over, it is wholly inappropriate to equate such low-level political harassment with the sort of systematic bullying and torture found in the most despotic and repugnant regimes of the world. But Mr Burrowes is being threatened, bullied and reviled...
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Do not attack Phillip Dawson on this matter; instead, pray for him. And pray also for David Burrowes, and thank God that he is being salt and light in Parliament and dares to risk unpopularity, inconvenience and harassment for his good works. His reward will indeed be great.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pure Manhood: how to become the politician God wants you to be

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has just met his Section 28. Or is it his Clause 4? Whatever ‘defining moment’ this turns out to be, it is surely an example of the precise irreconcilable tension and mutual exclusion in the ever-expanding competing hierarchy of rights of which His Grace has long warned. The Human Rights Act 2010 is incompatible with religious liberty: the two cannot coexist; one must give way to the other.

It transpires that Roman Catholic Schools across Lancashire have been using a booklet written by a Roman Catholic theologian which includes a bit of Roman Catholic orthodoxy on human sexuality, and this apparently amounts to ‘homophobia’ or ‘gay hate’. The booklet is entitled Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be, by one Jason Evert, and it is reported to discuss ‘a boy dealing with "homosexual attractions" which it suggested may "stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse".’

Supplementing this outrageous homophobia with a bit of generalised sexophobia, the booklet ‘claims that "scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke", explains that "the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals. Both acts are directed against God's natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding”.’

Well, this has got right up the nose of the TUC’s Brendan Barber who wrote to Mr Gove, reminding him that the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their ‘protected characteristics’ (which includes [in case you don’t yet know] their sexual orientation). He wrote: ‘Schools now have a legal duty to challenge all forms of prejudice. Such literature undermines this completely.’

Mr Gove apparently responded that the education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 do not extend to the content of the curriculum: any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, are not subject to the discrimination provisions of the act.

This might have been his initial reading; it might have been his understanding; it might have been his hope; it might even have been his legislative intention when he devolved curriculum matters to headteachers, parents and governors as part of his ‘free schools’ initiative. But as the Human Rights Blog correctly points out, the school curriculum is not exempt from the tentacles of the Equality Act: it is all pervasive, all invasive and all consuming – ‘A school is permitted to teach about whatever subject it likes, so as not to inhibit it from teaching about a wide range of issues, including, it would seem, controversial views about homosexuality. However, the school must still ensure that those issues are not taught in a way which subjects pupils to discrimination.’

Of course, if (as appears to be the case) Mr Evert is a Christian, it is highly likely that he would have presented these ‘controversial’ views in a sensitive and compassionate way. The problem is that Brendan Barber wouldn’t know ‘sensitive and compassionate’ if they hit him in the face. Anything which may be interpreted as ‘phobic’ or ‘hateful’ will most certainly be; and anyone who dissents from the orthodox creed of egalitarianism is a bigot. So Roman Catholics are no longer permitted to teach that even the inclination toward homosexuality is an ‘objective disorder’ because to do so amounts to ‘homophobia’ or ‘gay hate’.

Jason Evert is married to Crystalina (really), and together the run Chastity.com and also contribute to Catholic Answers. Being Anglican, His Grace doesn’t agree with them on everything, but he is certainly of the view that if they wish to go around schools teaching their moral and meta-ethical views about homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, birth control and chlamydia, they should be free to do so. It is for headteachers, parents and governors to determine the curriculum, and this was clearly Michael Gove’s legislative intention and understanding.

There is a curious and irreconcilable tension between the DfE’s Whiggish desire to devolve and liberalise (indeed, abolish) the Tory National Curriculum – encouraging free schools to forge their own – and the simultaneous desire to impose a form of National Curriculum on the vast majority of schools. There is a manifest contradiction in the assertion that an autonomous free school should have imposed upon it a standardised syllabus of sexual ethics. Mr Gove cannot have it both ways. Either one trusts parents and teachers or one does not. Either one is prescriptively imposing a centralised national curriculum or one is not.

Interestingly, Mr Evert wrote two versions of his book: there is a Pure Manhood for believers and a Pure ManhoodSecular Version for use in public schools’. Comparing the contents, the only difference appears to be the cover (unless all mention of God is expunged in the ‘secular’ version, but His Grace really can’t be bothered to fork out for either booklet, even though we are told both are ‘a priceless gift’). Perhaps Brendan Barber might like to see if the secular version is more to his liking. Since there is to be no new British Bill of Rights to sort out this dog’s breakfast, perhaps, like Eric Pickles, Michael Gove might like to ‘clarify’ educational subsidiarity provisions or ‘strengthen’ devolved curriculum matters in an Act of Parliament?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The death of the Anglican Covenant

It is theologically and politically interesting, if not historically and ecclesially amusing, that as Pope Benedict XVI shores up support for his reforms in the Roman Catholic Church with the appointment of 22 mainly like-minded cardinals, Archbishop Rowan Williams is left floundering on a sea of dissension. The Anglican Covenant was the ‘Tory’ mechanism by which the Anglican Communion might be held together over differences on the issues of gender and sexuality, with the incorporation/adoption/imposition of a bit of papalism to deal with ‘scandalous and ungodly behaviour’ – a move quite contrary to Anglican ecclesiology. Yet the Covenant is being trounced in diocese after diocese as the Whiggish hordes defend their historic liberties.

It is perhaps a mark of episcopal ignorance and inadequacy that the Bishops appear to have learned nothing from Anglican history. The parallels with the chaos of 1643 are evident, this being the era of the Cromwellian Commonwealth, the outlawing of the Church of England and the rise of Presbyterianism. The resulting Westminster Confession of Faith was revoked in England at the Restoration in 1660, but its provisions remain in force in Scotland to this day. The lessons are clear: the Anglican Communion is an international partnership of autonomous communities with theological diversity. i.e., not one church; the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a central authority, i.e., not a pope; the Anglican pattern of church governance is synodical, i.e., not papal. And no covenant can make these things so.

The Covenant was designed to hold the Anglican Communion together for better or worse, in sickness and health, ‘til the Second Coming do them part. For, like papal infallibility, only the apocalyptic parousia could render it absolutely null and utterly void. But Anglicanism is wary of the totalitarian and centralised: the See of Canterbury is not as absolute as the See of Rome.

And so we are left wondering how each ecclesial community can grapple with Scripture, tradition, reason and experience when reason and experience diversely challenge Scripture and tradition. If the US branch of the Communion says it’s consistent with the ‘Anglican tradition’ to consecrate an openly gay bishop or the odd lesbian, who is the African branch to be ‘appalled’ at such a development? And if one Province decides that it is most definitely consonant with the ‘Anglican tradition’ to appoint women to the Episcopate, who is to decide the proportionality of the punitive action against them?

What if the Anglican Church of Australia wishes to object to the Queen being Supreme Governor of the Church of England on the basis that the hereditary principle is ‘corrupt and sexist’? Shall ++Cantuar simply say they are ‘entitled to their views’? Who is the guardian of the 'Anglican tradition'? How can there be Roman unity in Anglican diversity? How can one impose discipline without exerting a pseudo-papal authority?

The Covenant was designed to resolve disputes and strengthen unity, yet it is clear that Anglicans do not do ‘punitive action’ (or unity) very well: we do not even do suspension, preferring instead the euphemistic ‘withdraw from public ministry’. So we can forget anathematisation or excommunication.

The bizarre thing is that the Anglican Church actually practises what the Roman Catholic Church purports to: subsidiarity. It is to do with governance at the lowest level, and the Anglican Communion has historically been constructed on devolved localism. It is thoroughly Whiggish. But it hasn’t worked.

It is the old Conservative tension between Tory centralised authority that seeks to preserve tradition and Whiggish local democracy to precipitate radical reform. Is the Covenant a via media between restriction and liberty; between subsidiarity and centralisation; between paternalism and autonomy?

Insofar as it appears to be satisfying no one, perhaps the balance is right. Yet if the Covenant be not unanimously approved by all 38 Provinces in the Communion, it can be authoritatively adopted by none.

And that will just leave us with the XXXIX Articles ‘as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today’. What need another covenant?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pickles returns to councils the freedom to pray


The inimitable Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has today written to local authority leaders, faith organisations and parishes in England, giving local councils a new power to continue to hold town-hall prayers, should they so wish. This intervention fortifies a major constitutional shift to localism that maintains the ‘defence of British liberties’ and responds to last week’s absurd ruling in the High Court which sought to ban the centuries-old practice of religious prayers in council meetings.

Mr Pickles hailed this a victory for localism, for freedom of worship and for parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism. Last week the High Court ruling against Bideford Town Council was based on an interpretation of Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, rather than on the grounds of equality or human rights concerns. It judged that councils did not have the powers to hold prayers.

Ministers contend that it was never the intention or will of Parliament for the 40-year-old Act to prohibit the practice of prayers; especially given England has an Established Church governed by the Queen.

Mr Pickles has today fast-tracked and personally signed a Parliamentary Order which should render the judgement irrelevant, thereby protecting the freedom to pray. This new power can be exercised by all major local authorities in England from today (and in parishes by the end of March).

The Localism Act creates a ‘general power of competence’ which will legally permit councils to do anything an individual could do unless specifically prohibited by law (a useful guide may be found HERE: councils will not, for example, be able to ban or tax things, as an individual has no powers to do this). The Act gives councils more freedom to collaborate with others in new ways to drive down costs. It gives them increased confidence to do creative, innovative things to meet the needs of local people. Instead of being able to act only where the law says they may, local authorities will be liberated to do anything (in accordance with our Common Law tradition: provided it does not break any other laws). It does not remove any duties from local authorities - just like individuals they will continue to need to comply with duties placed on them. This should give councils which want to continue holding formal prayers the confidence and legal standing to do so.

Today’s intervention builds on the speech made by the Prime Minister in Christ Church, Oxford, in December, where he asserted: “We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so." It also follows the official ministerial delegation to the Holy See this week led by Cabinet Minister, Baroness Warsi; in her speech, she criticised the intolerance of 'militant secularisation'.

Eric Pickles said: “The High Court judgement has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council. By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.

“Last week's case should be seen as a wake-up call. For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned.”

Equality extremism

Just a day after Her Majesty the Queen talked of the Established Church being ‘misunderstood’ and ‘commonly under-appreciated’, Trevor Phillips wades in with his assertion that Christians who seek exemptions from equality legislation are no different from Muslims who seek to subject us all to sharia law. The Chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is of the opinion that the Archbishop of York is no different from Abu Qatada; Westminster Cathedral breeds extremists just like Finsbury Park Mosque; and those who seek a conscience exemption over ‘gay marriage’ are no different from those who want to all homosexuals hanged or thrown off a cliff.

To seek to adhere to the teachings of St Paul on marriage is no different from Mohammed’s example of betrothal to a six or nine-year-old (whichever it was). The belief that women are better home-makers and child-rearers is akin to beating them and forcing them to wear a hijab. And the space which permits Roman Catholics not to perform abortions or dispense contraceptives is as cancerous to society as those Muslims who seek to establish a state-within-a-state and wage jihad against the filthy kuffar.

Trevor Phillips is foolishly stoking Christianophobia and inciting hatred. All in the name of equality, of course, so it is barely perceptible. The belief that religious rules should end ‘at the door of the temple' and give way to the 'public law' laid down by Parliament is the assertion of the secularist. Britain is not a secular state, and it is not for some trumped-up chairman of an over-inflated quango to make it one. All gods are not equal in the pantheon, Mr Phillips; all religions are not equally conducive to the common good; all faith groups are not equally beneficial to society; all beliefs do not equally save.

When he says: “You can’t say because we decide we’re different then we need a different set of laws,” he is making an argument for churches, mosques and gurdwaras to be forced to accommodate ‘gay marriage’. To assert that Christians must choose between God’s law and that of the State is nothing new: but in the United Kingdom such conflicts have the benefit of the wisdom of centuries of evolved resolution: we have learned to live side by side; out of the ashes we reached a settlement between the spiritual and the temporal which is generous, tolerant and peaceable. The secular equality which Trevor Phillips seeks to impose is as intolerant as any totalitarian belief system: equality becomes the new metaphysical orthodoxy, the inviolable state religion from which there can be no accommodation of the recusant. He speaks as though this were Year 0 in the UK, and almost two millennia of Judaeo-Christian cultural influence is of no greater meaning, significance or worth than a few decades of agitating for Islamic sharia. He is ignorant of (or purposely ignores) the fons et origo of our understanding of equality and human rights, and the foundations of our liberal democracy. Our liberty did not stem from sharia, Mr Phillips, but the Protestant understanding and expression of the Christian faith. We didn’t always get it right, but the Anglican Settlement isn’t called a settlement for nothing. As Her Majesty said yesterday, ‘the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths’.

Could Trevor Phillips point to any nation on the planet where the Islamic sharia has ‘created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely’? Militant Muslims present more of a threat than crusading Christians. Except, perhaps, the crusading Christian who leads the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. If Baroness Warsi meant a word of what she said in the Vatican about ‘militant secularists’, she would sack him.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Queen's speech at Lambeth Palace


In an ecumenical gathering of faith leaders at Lambeth Palace, the religious leaders of the nation showed their affection and support for the Queen in her Jubilee year. She, in turn, made one short speech in which she encapsulated perfectly the essential religio-political raison d'être of the Established Church:
Your Grace, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Prince Philip and I are delighted to be with you today to pay tribute to the particular mission of Christianity and the general value of faith in this country.

This gathering is a reminder of how much we owe the nine major religious traditions represented here. They are sources of a rich cultural heritage and have given rise to beautiful sacred objects and holy texts, as we have seen today.

Yet these traditions are also contemporary families of faith. Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this and other countries originate in the ancient wisdom of our traditions. Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.

Here at Lambeth Palace we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.

It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.

This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.

Your Grace, the presence of your fellow distinguished religious leaders and the objects on display demonstrate how each of these traditions has contributed distinctively to the history and development of the United Kingdom. Prince Philip and I wish to send our good wishes, through you, to each of your communities, in the hope that – with the assurance of the protection of our established Church – you will continue to flourish and display strength and vision in your relations with each other and the rest of society.
The secular-humanist atheists are incapable of grasping these essential truths, but a few politicians might take note. God Save the Queen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What kind of idiot does Baroness Warsi take the Pope for?

It was a good speech – carefully crafted and spiritually sensitive, and quite good enough for the Rev’d George (who appears to be falling in love). Baroness Warsi, leading a delegation (at least two of whom are gay, and thereby afflicted with an ‘objective disorder’) to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in the Holy See, focused on the warm, cuddly stuff: inter-religious dialogue, human rights, fundamental values, communities, fair trade, disarmament, climate change, and closer cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. There was a fair smattering of Red Tory Catholic Social Teaching on the common good and sustaining a culture of social, economic and political responsibility.

But there was something ever so slightly inappropriate, not to say embarrassingly patronising, about a few sections of the speech, which made His Grace wonder at the religio-political disconnect which exists at Conservative Campaign Headquarters. Not only is it bizarre that the Baroness is of the view that Britain is being taken over by Dr Evan Harrismilitant secularists’; there is more than a hint of blaming these poor marginalised members of the National Secular Society for great swathes of government policy. The NSS actually boasts about 7,000 members – the same number as the British Sausage Appreciation Society.

If that’s a takeover, the BNP are virtually at Downing Street. The problem isn’t the paltry number of ‘militant secularists’ or the rise of ‘aggressive secularism’: it’s the gulf that exists between what Baroness Warsi is preaching and what HM Government is practising. If Pope Benedict has got half a brain (which he surely has, along with two or three other halves as well) he must be wondering what on earth this woman takes him for.

Her introduction included the observation that diplomacy between England (though she said the United Kingdom) and the Holy See is ‘the oldest formal diplomatic relationship in my country’s history’, dating back to 1479. But, she continued, ‘for reasons we all know too well, we broke diplomatic relations...’

Don’t, for God’s sake, mention the ‘R’ word.

And she went on to boast about her speech at the Anglican Bishops’ Conference on the importance of governments ‘doing God’, with the Coalition ‘marking a clean break with the approach from the past’ (ie Blair), saying that ‘our Government would be on the side of faith.’ And so she made a plea (‘one simple argument’) ‘to ensure faith has a proper space in the public sphere...’.

Right.

Setting aside what she might have meant by ‘proper’, it must be observed that the Coalition has simply continued (and, indeed, extended) New Labour’s aggressive assertions of equality: if it moves, it has to be equalised. It is the inviolable dogma and immutable creed to which religion, politics and the economy must be subsumed.

Baroness Warsi insists that Christians ‘need to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs’. This, she avers, ‘means individuals not diluting their faith...and nations not denying their religious heritage’.

Okay.

This is a Cabinet minister of a government which fully supports Labour’s war against Roman Catholic adoption agencies, and intends to go even further than Tony Blair went with civil partnerships in a quest to redefine marriage. If that isn’t diluting faith and denying heritage, it’s difficult to know what is. Marriage isn’t exclusively Christian, but its essential heterogeneity is certainly part of our religious heritage: the Established Church maintains that the venerable institution consists of one man and one woman for the procreation of children.

But she avoids that banana, opting instead for a swipe at French laïcité. Europe, she says, ‘needs to become more confident in its Christianity.’ She bemoans the ‘basic misconception’ that somehow ‘to create equality and space for minority faiths and cultures we need to erase our majority religious heritage’. This is strange, since religious equality demands a paradigm shift in the state: a multi-faith presence in the House of Lords; a Monarch who is ‘defender of faiths’; a Church of England complemented by a Mosque of England, the Gurdwara of England, the Mandir of England...

And she boldly proclaims: ‘You cannot and should not erase these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.’ And yet these foundations are not buildings or spires, but centuries of accumulated wisdom based on Scripture, tradition and reason. She continues:
Let me get one thing very clear (oh, go on): In the United Kingdom, we have guarded against such fear by recognising the importance of the Established Church and our Christian heritage – our majority faith. And that is what has created religious freedom and a home for people like me, of minority faiths.
She’s quite right there, of course. But this Established Church is being somewhat sidelined by the Government of which she is part. And her primary allegiance is to her Prime Minister and Party Leader; not to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such inconvenient truths are conveniently sidestepped, and there follows a profound, insightful and revelatory bit of theological exegesis:
As the Bible teaches us: “For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.”
The Quran teaches us something similar – that:
“those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings”.
Stunning, eh? And yet she berates those politically-correct ecumenists who reduce irreconcilable doctrines of God to the most banal common denominator.

This was followed by a little requisite flattery and sycophancy: the Roman Catholic Church is credited for being ‘instrumental in toppling communism’ and for playing a ‘key role in securing peace in Northern Ireland’.

Dr Paisley might have a different perspective (as might all dispassionate historians).

If, as she says, spirituality is suppressed and divinity downgraded (fine, alliterative oratory, incidentally, and most worthy of His Grace [– who wrote this speech?]); and if, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, faith is looked down on as the pastime of ‘oddities, foreigners and minorities’; and if we are at that place ‘where religion is dismissed as an eccentricity’ and ‘where faith is overlooked in the public sphere’, it is utterly bizarre that she apportions blame for all this to the ‘European Constitution. Why not look a little nearer home?

When she criticises the ‘well-intentioned liberal elite...who, conversely, are trying to create equality by marginalising faith in society...who think that the route to religious pluralism is by creating a path of faith-neutrality...who downgrade religion to a mere subcategory in public life’, she is talking to her own government and to the Prime Minister, for on the subject of sexual morality, he has said (‘as a church-goer’ himself): "I think Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad-minded."

By saying he’s a church-goer before expounding his doctrine, he places the imprimatur of the Bride of Christ upon his belief: ‘I’m a church-goer, and...’ is to arrogate to himself a certain spiritual authority; to appropriate a superior experience; to claim charismatic insight; to place his theological judgement over and above those who oppose homosexual behaviour. And if none of this, he is certainly placing his Anglicanism over and above their Protestant Evangelicalism, which is itself illiberal and religiously regressive.

But the inference is, in any case, quite clear: if you disagree with him, you are intolerant, unwelcoming and narrow-minded, which amounts to the same as being unloving, inhospitable and bigoted. To be a clanging cymbal with no love is not to be a Christian of any kind. Cameron and Warsi are themselves part of the ‘well-intentioned liberal elite’. They want us to ‘do God’ more assertively, but not the Pope’s kind of God. For if you believe the inclination toward homosexuality to be an ‘intrinsic disorder’, and if you believe marriage to be heterosexual, you are a homophobe. If you believe women should be neither priests nor bishops, you are a misogynist. If you oppose abortion and contraception, you are anti-liberty and anti-women’s rights. And neither does the Baroness admit the God of the Established Church, for if you believe the Throne of the United Kingdom should remain Protestant, you are a bigot. It is all reminiscent of the remark made on Roman Catholic schools by Labour’s Barry Sheerman MP. He detected 'intense turmoil' about the future of Catholic education, and asserted: 'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all.'

People who are 'not serious about their faith' do not possess a faith. And faith schools which are 'not serious about their faith' are not faith schools. Let us all ‘do God’, but not by all means, for we must make sure it is the loving God of mercy who accepts us just as we are, for the Holy God of judgement who punishes and rejects is no longer welcome.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Richard Dawkins forgets On the Origin of Species



To remind the eminent evolutionary biologist, the full title of Darwin's work is: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

And if he doesn't even know that, by his own logic, he's not a true evolutionist!
Dawkins had claimed that Christians who aren't familiar with the Bible aren't Christians. He claims he was 'ambushed' on Darwin's work, despite giving an unequivocal 'yes' when asked if he knew the title. All very amusing.

The Government must deport Abu Qatada, regardless

Despite having been found guilty of no crime, he is universally loathed and has managed to attain membership of the Daily Mail’s élite register of the ‘most hated’ in history, ever, along with Myra Hindley, Fred West, Francesco Schettino and Katie Price. He adopts the panoply of an Arab sheikh, pontificates like an Iranian ayatollah, and presides over the Coalition like Ming the Merciless. He entered the UK illegally, claimed welfare effortlessly, and then preached his hatred zealously. Fortunately, it wasn’t without impunity, and he spent six years in prison for urging his brothers and sisters to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings. Quite why that doesn’t constitute a crime is something of a mystery, but his new-found liberty is subject to some exacting bail conditions, including prohibition from using the internet or mobile phone, meeting any of 27 named individuals, publishing statements, attending a mosque and leading prayers. He is, of course, at liberty to pray to Allah privately.

Apparently, we can’t deport him, despite his forged passport, because there is no assurance that the Jordanian authorities won’t convict him on the strength of evidence obtained by torture. It wouldn’t be a fair trial, you see. What that has to do with HM Government is also something of a mystery, but the European Court of Human Rights has decreed that it most certainly is their/our business, so the British taxpayer is now compelled to house him, support him, feed him and guard him at an estimated cost of £10,000 a week (that’s £500,000 a year, on top of the £1.5million already provided in legal aid and benefits). Some 60 police officers and MI5 agents will provide round-the-clock protection for him and his family. Seemingly ignoring the fact that the primary duty of government is to protect its citizens, the Coalition is apparently more concerned with protecting Abu Qatada from the public than with protecting the public from him.

But he has committed no crime, you say, so he is entitled to a generous welfare settlement and state protection. In the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher, “No. No. No!” Abu Qatada is on record as having praised Osama bin Laden: he told his congregation at Finsbury Park Mosque that Americans should be attacked, wherever they are; that in his view they are no better than Jews (which is low indeed); and that there is no difference between the British, Jews and Americans. We should all be slaughtered, he avers, for the sake of Islam, which would be no sin.

So, regardless of any judgement of the European Court of Human Rights; regardless of any protestations from the Liberal Democrats; regardless of any technical legalistic intervention from Donal Blaney; and regardless, too, of any opposition from the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, whose adoration of the blessed ECHR verges on idolatry, Abu Qatada must be dispatched forthwith to Jordan, whence he came, and where his garb, preaching and pontificating would become someone else’s problem (ethical and financial).

Conservatives believe in the rule of law, of course. Yet increasingly the ECtHR has shown itself to be antithetical to UK interests and prepared to ride roughshod over centuries of established custom and the common law tradition. This is not a narrow partisan issue incited by ‘swivel-eyed, right-wing xenophobes’ who insist on ‘banging on about Europe’; last year Parliament was almost unanimous in setting its face against the ECtHR judgement that we should enfranchise prisoners and grant them the right to vote.

We shouldn’t, and we won’t. In British tradition, voting is an entitlement of the law-abiding, not a right of the lawless. To convert our entitlements into rights dispenses with the need for a social contract, for our rights become inviolable while the concept of duty and responsibility is negated, the rule of law is undermined and justice perverted. Parliament has been subsumed to alien powers; the Queen has been usurped by foreign princes and potentates; and our politicians have been emasculated by unconfined judges. That is the issue before the Government today: are we free to determine our laws and live in accordance with our customs and traditions and rights which go back to Magna Carta and include the Bill of Rights 1689 which declares the supremacy of Parliament over all courts? Or are we now unavoidably and irrevocably subject to a deficient court with designs on European domination through judicial activism?

Let’s be clear about this. Abu Qatada’s presence in the UK isn’t ‘conducive to the public good’. If a Dutch MP can be banned from the UK (even temporarily) for fear of inflaming Islamophobic hatred, why in the name of Allah can’t we deport a foreign Anglophobic Islamaniac intent on inciting hatred against the very foundations of the liberal and democratic state? And we must note the ‘even temporary’ qualification on the treatment of Geert Wilders, not least because it won’t be too long before Abu Qatada’s bail conditions are relaxed and he’ll be free to post on the internet, phone his Islamist ummah-mates and collect his kids from school without being electronically monitored.

This is an issue of national security: Abu Qatada is deemed to constitute a ‘dangerous risk’. The British people see it, the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper sees it, Conservative backbenchers see it, most of the Cabinet see it, and the Prime Minister sees it. So what is the Government doing? Dispatching the very nice security minister James Brokenshire to negotiate with Jordan and gain assurances that Abu Qatada will get a fair trial.

What constitutes a ‘fair trial’ in an Islamic court? What is the ontology of justice? Who determines the epistemology of fairness? Who arbitrates the methodology of due process? In truth, none of this judicial philosophy is any business at all of either HM Government or the British people. The alien is welcome here and we should be hospitable towards him, but not if he seeks to blow us all to kingdom come and impose a sharia-compliant caliphate. That is not a notion of justice we should admit or negotiate with. Abu Qatada’s continuing presence is not only an affront to civic morality; it is detrimental to the public good.

And why has he never been charged with any crime? He is not only in the UK illegally on a forged passport; he has spent the best part of a decade, at taxpayers’ expense, exhorting young British Muslims to take up arms against the British, Americans and Jews in the name of Mohammed and for the greater glory of Allah. In short, he has incited murder. Why in God’s name are we sending our brave men and women to die in Afghanistan and Iraq while the likes of Abu Qatada are let in through the back door? And why is the Government not prepared to do something about it?

Perhaps we must return to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, whose task it is to ensure that HM Government upholds the rule of law, even if that law is handed down from Strasbourg and is offensively sacrosanct. There are those who will blame the Europhile Liberal Democrats for inflicting Qatada upon the country, but the real block to reform is indeed the Attorney General. While Tim Montgomerie and ConservativeHome focus on the hapless Andrew Lansley and his floundering Health and Social Care Bill, it falls to this blog to highlight the more egregious offence and the far greater governmental incompetence – that of permitting a foreign court filled with incompetent lawyers to override the Sovereign Legislature and negate the supremacy of Parliament. And responsibility for that lies foursquare with the office of Dominic Grieve, who asserts that HM Government may not pick and choose or play fast and loose with the law. Mr Grieve is one of the Conservative Party’s foremost proponents of the ECHR. The fault, he avers, is not in the law but its interpretation. He lauded the ECHR in his 1997 maiden speech, in which he said:
The incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our national law is something that, although challenging, is nevertheless desirable if it can be done without diminishing the sovereignty of Parliament.
It is indeed challenging, not least because it is manifestly diminishing the sovereignty of Parliament. So does the ECHR thereby become undesirable? No, for both Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve – the two most senior legal minds in the Cabinet – are opposed in principle to derogation from or revocation of the European Convention (or repeal of the Human Rights Act). It is wrong to blame the Liberal Democrats: it is Conservatives who are the impediments to reform. The Prime Minister cannot fight his corner ‘in Europe' without first fighting his own Cabinet and thereby tearing his party asunder (yet again) over the issue of 'Europe'. Or that’s his excuse.

Perhaps Abu Qatada may yet do the nation a great service, for his continuing presence here exposes the manifest impotence of Parliament, the hypocrisy of the Government, and the corrosive sophistry of the political class.
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