Monday, December 31, 2012

Rowan Williams - a tribute


Being New Year's Eve, His Grace usually thanks God for the past year and prophesies the most significant events of the next. But (being manifestly fallible) His Grace makes a poor seer, so has decided no longer to indulge in necromancy. But here is what is known:

On 10th January 2013, the College of Canons will meet in the Chapter House of the Cathedral to elect Bishop Justin as the new Archbishop, having received a Congé d’Elire from the Crown.

On 4th February 2013, a ceremony will be held in St Paul’s Cathedral where the Dean of Canterbury will confirm to an episcopal commission that Bishop Justin has been elected according to statute; and the present Bishop of Durham will then legally become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

On 21st March 2013, Bishop Justin’s Enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral will follow, when he will be placed in the diocesan throne in the Cathedral Quire, and in the Chair of St Augustine, by the Dean.

Until that date, it has been decided that His Grace will return to take charge of the Church of England, so he's got 80 days to sort out a few messes. He wishes to begin his second stint at Lambeth Palace by paying tribute to his immediate predecessor.

Opinions on ++Rowan fall into two main camps: on the one hand, there are those who remember him for perpetual near-schism over gay priests; further near-schism over women bishops; paralysis and inaction over the Pope's 'imaginative pastoral response' of the Ordinariate; and the folly of the announcement about the inevitability of sharia law in the UK.

On the other hand, there are those who pay tribute to the towering intellect of the theologian, philosopher, poet and dear friend.

His Grace is not going to add substantially to either. As with all biography and hagiography, the truth lies somewhere between the two, and this blog has attempted to bridge the gulf a number of times (see here, here, here and here (and not forgetting here]).

The reality is that people have been prophesying the demise of the Church of England since it was established: it was once referred to as being ‘crucified between two thieves’ - the respective fanaticism and superstition of ‘the Puritans and the Papists’. There is a modern parallel with a church now suspended between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised ‘spirituality’; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities. The postmodern context is marked by diversity, fragmentation and all that is transitory; beliefs and practices are culturally relative, and Anglicanism has ceased to be supra-cultural or catholic.

In a farewell documentary 'Goodbye to Canterbury' to be broadcast on New Year's Day, Dr Williams compares the iconoclasm of the Reformation to the destruction of our contemporary false gods: "When today's idols, false or otherwise, are built up and smashed down, I'm glad to have this place to retreat to, and remember that these are arguments that never go away. It's a mistake we make too easily to think we've progressed between the moral questions of the past, but what we can put behind us is institutions that have failed."

He reflects: "Institutions develop because people put a lot of trust in them, they meet real needs, they represent important aspirations, whether it's monasteries, media, or banks, people begin by trusting these institutions, and gradually the suspicion develops that actually they're working for themselves, not for the community. At the end of the middle ages, nobody would ever have expected the monasteries to vanish from the scene within a generation – yet they did, change does happen."

Rowan Williams has perpetuated the via media for a further decade, against all the odds and contra all the prophets of doom. Whether or not you agreed with him, you must concede that this is evidence of his considerable ability to sustain dialogue and relationship and keep people in communion with one another. It might be imperfect, but if the Lord's command for us to love one another means anything, it must be that we remain friendly (indeed, loving) when we do not agree.

The Church of England has always struggled with the tension between affirmation of the gospel and assimilation to the prevailing culture; between transformation and inculturation. Establishment commits the Church to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications. If Rowan Williams has shown us anything, it is that these cannot easily be reduced to soundbites, neat headlines or trite blogposts: profound matters demand profound contemplation and an articulation which does them justice. More often than not, Dr Williams has been purposely woefully misunderstood and misreported by a ferociously judgmental and increasingly hostile anti-Anglican press. His successor will fare no better: it is the zeitgeist.

We are no longer in an age, if ever we were, where the Archbishop of Canterbury can impose a morality or a doctrine of God. Archbishop Rowan saw his primary function as being the acutely political one of calling the state to account by obstinately asking the Government about its accountability and the justification of its priorities. He may sometimes have been a thorn in the Prime Minister's side; he might even have been a 'disaster' on the political front and occasionally infuriating. But being the very incarnation of the command to love, he was always sensitive, vulnerable and respectful. He has been and remains a true Prince of the Church.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury elect


He is not yet installed, but the carping and criticising have already begun. The Telegraph leads, as ever, with its myopic anti-Anglican tendencies and obsession with ephemeral trivia. The Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Justin Welby was ill just before Christmas, and tweeted (yes, he himself) that he was grateful to the NHS for the advice it gave. That was all: a simple 140-character appreciation of a health helpline, by virtue of which the Telegraph manufactures a rather bitchy diatribe of the Bishop's commitment to socialist thought and the very worst inefficiences of Tory modernisation.

Today, Dr Rowan Williams departs as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury to take up the posts of Master of Magdalene College Cambridge. Since Justin Welby is not officially installed as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury until 21st March, the Church of England is in a kind of interregnum, perched tentatively between two princes of the Church - one a highly-respected intellectual, the other a relatively untried former oil executive.

But the incoming Apostle to the English needs our prayers, not smarmy wisecracks or snide imputations of deficiency. The Province of Canterbury consists of 29 dioceses over which the Archbishop will have jurisdiction 'as superintendent of all ecclesial matters therein' with the specific responsibility to 'correct and supply the defects of other bishops' (Canon C17:2). He will lead 80 million Christians in more than 160 countries. In addition, he inherits constitutional battles over the nature of establishment and a few more trivial skirmishes relating to gender and sexuality. With seismic demographic changes and multi-faith pluralism, the Church of England cannot continue as it has done in its present form for four centuries. As it adapted to the religio-political circumstances of the 16th century, so must it meet the challenges of the post-Christian era.

It will be for Justin Welby to steer the Anglican ship through the present choppy waters and impending whirlpools without foundering on the rocks of logical positivism or aggressive secularism. But with adherents of other denominations hurling stones of discontent even before Bishop Justin is sworn of the Privy Council, one may soon distinguish between those who obey the Lord's exhortation to love and those who sadly feel the need to tear strips off a character at every turn. Whatever happened to Ut Unum Sint?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christian People's Alliance warns of 'secularist capture of political parties'


His Grace has just received this:
Britain’s political order is moving further and further away from its Christian roots and needs the church community to respond by bringing renewal and hope, says the new leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, Sid Cordle MBE. In an end of year message to the party’s thousands of supporters, Mr Cordle said that the forces of secular fundamentalism had captured Britain’s ruling political elites.

Pointing to the deliberate targeting of the least well off to carry the burden of the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan, to the commitment to spend billions on renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system and to the attack on Christian marriage as examples of a skewed moral outlook, Mr Cordle said Christians in 2013 need to re-engage with the political order:

“Our party is planning a serious fight in the 2014 European elections, where voters nationally will have the opportunity to give their verdict on the Coalition. As PR voting will be used, I urge people of goodwill in the churches to come forwards as candidates and campaigners for the Christian Peoples Alliance. It is in European elections that other smaller parties have first made a break through and we must do the same."

Speaking to a church congregation in London which gave loud cheers to his address, Sid Cordle explained that Christian Democratic parties had emerged across Europe in response to the advance of secularism and need for a Christian voice in politics. Christian Democrats are now present in almost every national assembly.

He said Britain needed a party such as the Christian Peoples Alliance to promote the social teachings of the churches. And Mr Cordle pointed to same-sex ‘marriage’ plans that were not in any party manifesto or the Queen's Speech, as the prime example of the Coalition’s abandonment of Christian morality.

"By contrast witjh the emerging secular establishment, the Queen in her Christmas message encouraged the nation to respect the teachings of Jesus Christ. The CPA is seeking to do this in ways which other parties aren't - and that includes parties on the far right who love to wave the flag - but who show scant regards to Jesus's teaching of care for the foreigner in our midst."

The Christian Peoples Alliance is also pointing to how the ‘lists’ of EU candidates that will be entered in PR elections in 2014 will be controlled by the secular party elites, who are responsible for the attack on church teaching.

Meeting in its final National Executive meeting of the year, the CPA made selection of European and Westminster candidates a priority for the New Year. It approved a 6 Point Election Plan:

1. Candidates will be selected as soon as possible in every region for the next European elections and preparation made for putting a leaflet through every door.
2. Candidates to be selected from now on with the aim of having one in every seat in the country in the General Election 2015 and again a leaflet through every door in the country.
3. All God's people all over the country to be invited to engage with the vision.
4. All elections between now and then to be used as a means of advertising the party and increasing awareness of it. That includes local elections where we should encourage all activists in the party to get their names on the ballot paper.
5. To revive area parties focusing first on Newham and to select candidates now for local elections in 2014.
6. To believe God at every level that He will provide the resources we need to fulfil the vision. We must not put money first. We must put the vision first and trust God to provide resources for it.

Sid Cordle, who last year completed the London Marathon in under 3 hours plans to do his first ultra run of 50km, over 30 miles, on 17th February 2013 to help raise funds for the party. He is hoping for sponsors from a broad spectrum of people. He concluded:

"With a lot of people giving something we can raise the necessary finances. We are not a party who rely on a few wealthy backers. We need a large number of people to vote with their wallets and we think they will."

The CPA will now start urgently looking for candidates for the European Parliamentary elections in 2014 with a view to completing the selection process shortly after Easter 2013.
So, let us be clear about this. The CPA's proposed solution to the 'secularist capture of political parties' is to call all Christians out of those political parties and urge 'people of goodwill in the churches' to campaign for them. Believers are to cease being salt and light in the darkness, and huddle around the illuminating vision of Sid Cordle MBE 'to promote the social teachings of the churches'.

That's interesting.

Will this be the corporatist, collectivist Roman Catholic Social Teaching, or the more Protestant Anglican version? And what of the even more Protestant Puritan or Calvinist views? What do they advocate of capitalist economic organisation? What of militarism, nationalism and expansionism? Which church rejects as dogma renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system?

That's the problem with Christian parties: the spirit of authoritarianism lurks somewhere and someone has to play pope. Only the elite are invited to join the conclave, or, failing that, they develop a committee for nominations, theology and policy to exert an authoritarian moral worldview. You will not address the 'secularist capture of political parties' by forming a separatist political God-squad.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The fiscal cliff


Better start buying gold. As things presently stand (-off) between Congress and President Obama, it looks as though the United States will fall off a 'fiscal cliff' on January 1st. The intense media focus on this latest threat of global economic meltdown is a reference to the statutory tax increases and spending cuts which come into effect on New Year's Day which were designed decrease the US budget deficit and pay down the national debt.

To some, the impending doom is a fulfilment of apocalyptic eschatology: it is God's judgment on guns, greed, gay marriage and Piers Morgan. But what manner of 'fiscal cliff' is it which induces panic at the thought of having to balance a budget and live within one's means?  Do not the economics of the kingdom of God demand a collection for the poor among the saints as an expression of their koinonia in Christ? Does not the First Epistle of John exhort individual believers to share their material wealth? Does not the Book of Revelation prophetically address the churches of Smyrna and Laodicea in their corporate giving? Should not the practice of sharing characterise Christians - helping the brother or sister in need - demonstrating the exchatological sign of the transforming power of God's kingdom?

Yet in the entire fiscal ethic of the Old Testament and New, there is not a single mention of selling possessions one does not actually own, or of of giving alms out of the debts of market capitalism. The hope of future heavenly reward should not induce present economic anxiety.     

Perhaps the only credible resolution to the big-state tax-and-spend mentality is a good dose of real austerity: let the US jump off the fiscal cliff and drag the rest of the world into the shadows of the ensuing economic darkness. Cliff and the shadows are the only reality - there is nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Youcef Nadarkhani re-arrested on Christmas Day


His Grace has followed the plight of this Iranian Christian pastor for the past few years - through worry and despair to joy and elation. He had been imprisoned in Iran for (allegedly) converting from Islam to Christianity, and was released in September having been acquitted of apostasy.

In an unexpected twist, the Pastor was re-arrested on Christmas Day and returned to Lakan Prison in Rasht, where he spent almost three years on death row. According to Fox News, the charge is 'that he must complete the remainder of his sentence', which is no charge at all: it is a summary sentence meted out in pure spite (reinforced by the timing of the arrest to cause maximum pain to his wife and young children).

For some reason, the court's prior decision that Pastor Nadarkhani's remaining 45 days could be served on probation has been overruled, and that time must now be served back in prison. It is worth mentioning that his attorney, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has also been imprisoned and remains in Iran's notoriously brutal Evin Prison where his health is rapidly deteriorating. He has been incarcerated for advocating Youcef Nadarkhani's case and other human rights cases.

And news has now reached his Grace of Pastor Benham Irani, arrested last year and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on charges of 'action against the state' and 'action against the order' (ie being a Christian). He is now being held in Ghezal Hesar, another of Iran’s most notorious prisons, where he is reportedly beaten regularly by prison authorities and other inmates, and as a result can barely walk. He is not expected to survive another five years in prison in his current condition.

With Christianity being incrementally eradicated from the Middle East, the world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death or imprisoned because of his faith. It was international pressure which kept Youcef Nadarkhani alive in prison - especially the intervention of the governments of the US, UK, France, Germany and Mexico, who were in turn pressured by believers using social media.

It is time for us to act again - on Youcef's behalf and also that of his attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah and Pastor Benham Irani. We must continue to keep up the pressure: pass the word along via blogs, Facebook, Twitter (#TweetforYoucef) and, of course, in churches and in prayer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

And the Word became flesh...



The birth of the Son of God was heralded by the angel of the Lord, accompanied by the shekinah, the glory of God, and was followed by a multitude of the heavenly host singing praises. And for whose benefit was this magnificent display? Kings? Presidents? Politicians? Religious leaders?

No, it was all for a few lowly shepherds – humble, poor, obscure and unnamed rustics of whom nothing more is heard in Scripture thereafter.

While today’s puffed-up prelates court the wealthy, famous and influential, so today’s wealthy, famous and influential seek out the private chapels and grand palaces of these prelates as the perfect stage for their displays of religiosity. But not these shepherds. No, the Lord deemed them worthy because they were lowly. They were not body-beautiful celebrities, gifted communicators, powerful decision makers or authoritative opinion formers; they were simply ordinary men, and the Lord chose them to be among the first to know that the Christ was born; that the Messiah had entered history; that the Son of God had come to redeem mankind - Immanuel.

As some reflect today on the Prime Minister's Christmas message (full text here), it is a relief to know that one day the Government will be upon His shoulder. The real deliverer and the real fulfilment of the needs of humanity is human, one of us, flesh of our flesh. He is born to rule, born to be a king, conceived of the house and lineage of David. His name is Wonderful – a mystery of divinity in humanity; Counsellor – the oracle of wisdom; the mighty God – the Word was not just with God, but was God; the Everlasting Father – not the same person as the Father, but of one substance with the Father; the Prince of Peace – bringing a peace that passes understanding.

His Grace wishes all of his regular communicants, all of his intermittent guests, and all of his occasional readers, a joyful and peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Announcing the Godbaby


Well, it's better than 'He pukes. He poos. He loves you'.

This is the impressive work of ChurchAds, who compare their 2012 Christmas campaign to Marmite: "You either love it or you hate it," said the company's sophisticated spokeswoman Rachel Farmer.

His Grace hates it. Apparently ChurchAds secured the services of top designers who worked on the campaign for free. Hint: something to do with peanuts and monkeys.

Compare that crass poster campaign with this beautiful and touching video of the Christmas story, starring the children of St Paul's Church, Auckland, New Zealand:



Shed a tear?

Funny, isn't it, what the Spirit can do with the heart of a believing child: apparently an awful lot more than with the mind of a sophisticated adult.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Archbishop of York warns defence cuts 'risk the safety of the nation'


Our gloriously colourful Archbishop of York sounds the trumpet on behalf of our armed forces, and the Rev'd Giles Fraser bleats with all the comprehension of a 10-year-old, as though the Government's 'cuts' were chronic and deep and they were perpetually robbing pensioner Peter to pay Paul's disability benefit. In fact, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is robbing us of 20,000 soldiers (that's a fifth of the British Army) in order to pay our EU (and euro) bill.

Dr Sentamu is a bishop quite unafraid to voice what his episcopal brothers rarely do: they prefer to nag about the pink fluffy stuff like the elderly and welfare while Dr Sentamu tackles the thornier issues, with nails if necessary.

He is of the view that cuts to the number of full-time military personnel would 'risk the safety of the nation', and so he opposes plans to increase our reliance on amatuer reservists. He warns: "These defence cuts need to be done with far, far greater sensitivity because we live still in a world that is very fragile and there are people out there still, wanting to do harm to...many, many people.

"To replace professionally trained, full time serving soldiers with part-timers, I'm afraid, for me. I don't think that can be the backbone of the British army," he added.

The Archbishop has form on this: back in 2009, he challenged whether troops serving in Afghanistan were being looked after in accordance with the terms of the military covenant. And in 2008, he made a sponsored parachute jump and raised an impressive £100,000 for the families of troops serving in Afghanistan. He cares about our armed services, as does a while network of chaplains which fuse the military with the church, binding them together for the common good and in the national interest. 

What Giles Fraser and his ilk appear to ignore is that we do not live in an era of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Sometimes the protection of life requires its surrender and sacrifice. The whole witness of the Bible from Cain and Abel in Genesis (4) to the warning against taking up the sword in Revelation (13:10) is against killing. But the situational peculiarities are constantly challenged by the reality of war. Some of these are waged in defence of honour, justice and liberty. But occasionally they are bloody struggles for economic supremacy.

As long as we have the Established Church, it is the task and function of its leaders to discern the ethics of government policy and to challenge motives. It is not the distinctive responsibility of Christian ethics to justify war - though there is a long and persuasive tradition stretching back to Augustine and Aquinas which does so - but to pronounce God's judgment upon it and to promote the conditions that are conducive to peace.

In extremis, God commands war as an option of last resort. Defence of liberty and justice, or to aid a weaker neighbour, are but a few such examples. As Karl Barth observes (no war-monger he), "There may well be bound up with the independent life of a nation responsibility for the whole physical, intellectual and spiritual life of the people comprising it, and therefore their relationship to God." In such cases, he says, Christians must fight and kill to protect the state.

And to do that we need an army. And to win we need a literally overpowering force. So, yes, Giles. It is right and moral to 'prefer cuts to other public services than to the military'. But few in the Church of England any longer have much comprehension of why. Thank God for Dr John Sentamu.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting for the end of the world


The end has been coming since the beginning. From the moment in Genesis when God spoke creation into existence, we have been teleologically migrating through millennialism and millenarianism in eschatological hope and expectation. The Reign of God is immanent, and better times are ahead. Such beliefs invariably relate to times of crisis and tension, danger, distress and persecution. There is an apparent discrepancy betwen reality and expectation; moments when suffering, injustice, and the general ill-ordering of the world stridently yearns for catastrophic resolution.

The much-heralded Mayan apocalypse has failed to materialise: another day of doom passes with no perceptible challenge to the current order of greed and material deprivation; nationalism and social dislocation; religious and political persecution.

That the God of the churches has become more rational, more liberal and more indulgent is not a sign of the end. Change is not a sign of the end. Terror is not a sign of the end. But the preaching of revelation might inspire revolution. As Josephus reported: '..such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretence of divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty'.

The signs of salvation may induce madness, for the world is progressing to its appointed end. But the fascination with cultic zealotry and fringe crackpottiness draw a veil over the Judaeo-Christian revelation of the relationship between suffering and hope, sin and forgiveness, evil and love. Only when we look at our human suffering in cosmic terms, as part of a universal order of creation and destruction, is catastrophe dignified and our life endowed with meaning, and hence made bearable.

The end will come when it comes, and no man can know the day or the hour. We await a great bang, but it is more likely to be a whimper. For God did not come in a blaze of conquering glory: He was born as a baby and laid in a manger. God became man, and dwelt among us. And therein lies the revelation and eschatological hope of our salvation: therein is our revolution of love, joy, peace and patience.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"The Conservative Party has forgotten the qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service"


Peter Oborne in the Telegraph has written one of the most perceptive analyses of the contemporary Conservative Party in a very long time. But it's a bit rich of him (and the Telegraph) to blame B-rate backbenchers for handing the next general election to Ed Miliband when he (and they) are constantly carping and criticising. It may indeed be that David Cameron hates his party and much of his party loathes him, but it is journalists like Oborne and newspapers like the Telegraph which fan the discontent.

The most perceptive comments are on the nature and character of old and new Tory MPs, and how this transation has shifted the expression of Conservatism:
...The truth is that the character of Tory MPs has mutated in the course of little more than a generation. For almost all of the 20th century, Conservatives were guided by the essential Christian insight that their personal needs, ambitions and egos were the things which mattered least of all. Their lives only had meaning and purpose within the context of the great institutions of church and state.

...Second, the Conservative Party, as traditionally constituted, always understood that the national interest was more important than party advantage. This was an intuition that confounded and baffled Labour, whose political analysis was founded on class antagonism.

Thus traditional Tories always welcomed coalition government as a fine expression of patriotism in response to a common emergency – think of the way that Bonar Law took second place to Lloyd George, or Stanley Baldwin stood aside for Ramsay MacDonald. The modern Tory party, in sharp contrast, views coalition with churlish and blinkered resentment. This is because its MPs think too much of partisan advantage and sectional interest.

Third, the Conservative Party used to be the stupid party, on the whole a positive thing. Many allegedly stupid Conservatives, with Willie Whitelaw the classic example, were intelligent but not intellectual (another distinction that Labour and its allies in the liberal media found hard to comprehend). Tories like Whitelaw, who had lived through the 1930s and served as a tank commander in the Second World War, knew at first hand the damage that abstract ideas could do.

In a linked insight, they also understood that the vast bulk of government was not about changing the world, but about compromise and pragmatism. Over the past 12 months, by contrast, the Tories have developed an enthusiasm for ideological purity that recalls the Labour Party of the late 1970s. Last week, a Tory MP named Brian Binley published an “open letter” to the Prime Minister, a moment of preposterous self-importance that was nevertheless taken seriously by many people who ought to have known better.

To sum up, the Conservative Party has forgotten the qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service that served it so well over the past two centuries. It has lost its sense of history, and lives in a perpetual present characterised by frantic manoeuvring for immediate political gain. Many of its MPs, though of high intellect, unfortunately are of low character. This is a state of affairs which does not merely threaten its chances of winning the next election, but throws its long-term survival into serious doubt.

David Cameron, as party leader, must take some of the responsibility for this. He threw his personal weight behind some of the MPs who have inflicted the worst damage, such as Louise Mensch and Zac Goldsmith, the insubstantial and foppish member for Richmond. More seriously, the Prime Minister and his ally George Osborne have failed to provide moral leadership.

Mr Osborne, in particular, gives the damaging impression that politics is a game which belongs to a tiny coterie of clever, devious and extremely rich people. Both Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne – they are so close personally and politically that they deserve the joint appellation of Camborne – show far too little appreciation of the importance of institutions in British public life, less still of the historical foundations of the Conservative Party.

They remain transfixed by the electoral success of Tony Blair, and regard The Unfinished Revolution, the shallow masterpiece written by Mr Blair’s late pollster Philip Gould, as a rule book for how politics should be conducted, rather than what it really is: a nightmarish warning. The controversial gay marriage initiative may well be an attempt to emulate Tony Blair’s famous “Clause Four” moment, when he asserted his own authority at the expense of the Labour Party.
Which brings us to the illustration His Grace has selected for today's post. The people (and Her Majesty) want authentic and intelligent representatives who understand and appreciate those qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service. Previous generations of Conservatives were indeed guided by the essential Christian insight that their personal needs, ambitions and egos were the things which mattered least of all. Yet cast adrift in a sea of relativism and promoted beyond their capabilities, many of the new generation see politics as the fulfilment of personal ambition rather than as a dutiful public service. And it is noteworthy that this shift in perceptions is contiguous with changing attitudes toward the great institutions of church and state, the meaning, purpose and functions of which are simply no longer widely understood by many Conservative MPs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Muslim homophobia (but none dare call it so)


On 10th December in the House of Commons Rehman Chishti MP, the son of an imam, asked the Equalities Minister , Maria Miller, how Muslims had responded to the Government’s proposal to redefine marriage. Mrs Miller stumbled to her feet and swallowed hard. "They have voiced some concern,’ she spluttered.

The Muslim Council of Britain has now articulated a little more of that concern, appropriating the status of the Established Church to their cause (for in New Labour’s New Britain, all religions were rendered equal, and in David Cameron’s Broken Britain, morality and truth have become a little more relative). The problem is that the prohibition on the Church of England (and Church in Wales) from hosting same-sex weddings is manifestly discriminatory in an age of equal rights for all.

Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the MCB said, “We find it incredible that while introducing the Bill in the House, Culture Secretary Maria Miller could keep a straight face when offering exemption for the Established Church while in the same breath claiming, ‘fairness' to be at the heart of her proposals.”

Mr Murad added, “It is not just the Church of England and Church in Wales who explicitly stated 'strong opposition' as Mrs Miller says. The Muslim Council of Britain along with most other faith groups also made equally strong representation.” He continued: “No one in their right mind should accept such a discriminatory law. It should be amended to give exactly the same exemption to all the religions."

And so the MCB is now seeking an urgent meeting with the Culture Secretary to express the ‘concern’ of the Muslim community, along with tjeir 500 affiliated mosques, charities and schools.

Muslim leaders are understandably aggrieved, but (pace Rehman Chisti) you haven’t heard a word about it in Parliament. In this age of relativism and ubiquitous equality, it’s hard for the Equalities Minister to defend the proposition that Anglican Christianity is more equal than Islam, and that Muslims simply don’t merit the same legal exemptions as the Church of England.

Of course, it isn’t only Canon Law of the Church of England that defines marriage as being a union of man and a woman: it has been so defined in all cultures throughout all ages, and is seen to exist in nature. Muslims are as mindful as Christians of the unique procreative potential intrinsic to marriage.

Mrs Miller’s ‘quadruple lock’ guarantees that religious organisations would not have to marry same-sex couples against their wishes. But what of two (brave) gay Muslims who find a (very brave) gay friendly imam? Such cases are most likely to end up in the courts, and so we arrive at the ultimate clash in the hierarchy of competing rights, long foretold by His Grace. And the courts are likely to nudge us all along the chosen path of the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, for after Blair and the Heir-to-Blair, sexuality will eventually trump religious liberty at every turn.

Of course, homophobia within the Muslim communities is taboo: everyone knows that Islam isn’t particularly gay-friendly, but our predominantly white, PC, liberal political class won’t even talk about it. Peter Tatchell and his disciples are more than happy to storm the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral or picket outside Westminster Cathedral, but you tend not to see him knocking on the doors of Finsbury Park Mosque or railing against Muslim homophobia in Leicester, Bradford or Tower Hamlets.

To do so, of course, might be deemed ‘racist’, and white liberals don’t want to be tarnished with that particular brush. So only Rehman Chisti and others of his melanin hue are permitted to raise the subject, and only he and his co-religionists may challenge the Government without the risk of being called homophobic. For surely, in any civilised society, one minority will respect the views of another.

Issues of race, identity and sexuality tend to rouse the passions. When liberalism confronts cultural tradition and religious conformity, political conflict is inevitable. The Church of England will eventually be crushed, and dissenting Christians will be vilified for their bigotry and intolerance (as His Grace endures frequently). But militant gayers and rabid homosexualists ignore the immutable orthodoxy of the Mosque of England at their peril. The MCB is not as benign as the CofE. There is no tolerance of gays or lesbians in any mainstream Muslim community: persecution and torture are rife.

If theological opposition to same-sex marriage renders some churches virulently homophobic, then the mosques are even more so. But their ‘concerns’, of course, are entirely rational, and their morality a divine duty for the common good. The hypocrisy and inequality are sickening.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kirk gay row: the ugly face of liberal bigotry


This is a guest post by the Rev'd Julian Mann (aka Cranmer's Curate):

The persecution by the Church of Scotland of St George's Tron, a thriving evangelical church in Glasgow city centre, reveals the ugly face of liberal bigotry. This ogre will haunt the Church of England if its militant liberal wing wins the argument over gay marriage.

St George's, now called The Tron Church, has left the Church of Scotland because of the decision by its General Assembly to accept practising homosexual ministers. The congregation has moved out of its building on which it has spent a lot of money recently refurbishing but, not content with that, the Church of Scotland has resorted to legal action over disputed assets.

Shortly before the congregation left its building, the Kirk called in Sheriff's officers over some items of movable property. The 'sheriffs' entered the building to 'serve papers' during the church family's mid-week prayer meeting. The Kirk is now complaining to the Scottish charity regulator over the transfer of financial assets to a charitable trust set up by St George's before the congregation left.

One of the ironies here is that the senior pastor of Tron, the Revd Dr William Philip, is one of the most gracious, kindly, humble Christians Cranmer's Curate has ever met. He undoubtedly shares many theological convictions in common with the magisterial Scottish Reformer John Knox, but temperamentally the two men are about as different as Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.

The legalities of the Tron dispute may be complicated but the morality is not. If a liberal congregation wishes to leave the Church of England because of its current clear stand against gay marriage, then the right response by the Anglican authorities for the cause of Jesus Christ is to let them go.

Let them keep their building and their assets. Evangelical churches would not be abandoning communities to a false gospel by supporting tolerance in this instance. They can plant new churches that proclaim the true gospel. Such 'fresh expressions of church' meeting in secular venues, experience shows, can grow very rapidly. It is surely better to let the cursed fig tree die of its own accord than to hire lawyers to pour poison over it. What would orthodox Christians achieve for the Kingdom of God and of His Christ by sending a posse of sheriffs against a liberal congregation that wants to secede?

But politically corrrect liberals in both the church and the state determinedly set their faces against such an eminently sensible and tolerant approach. They have to conquer; they cannot live and let live. They are the secular equivalent of militant Islamists in their desire to occupy every inch of their enemies' territory.

If the Church of England gives in to politically correct pressure to celebrate gay marriage, then evangelical congregations and their ministers must expect this sort of treatment. For the sake of the Body of Christ, it is necessary to be wise before the demons of liberal bigotry are unleashed in their terrible fury.

Julian Mann is vicar Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK.

Monday, December 17, 2012

“When you speak a word against Westboro Baptist Church, you have spoken a word against the Lord Jesus Christ”



His Grace is accustomed to speaking out against those who presume to appropriate the infallible authority of God to their personal religio-political or institutional ecclesio-theological causes. But on pain of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, a number of words must be spoken against the Westboro Baptist Church (aka the ‘God Hates Fags Church’) and their vile video (removed by YouTube) which propagates the message that ‘God Sent the Shooter’ to murder 20 young children and six teachers in cold blood because of Connecticut’s acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Apparently God has judged the sin of the United States of America, and chose to send retribution in the form of child-killing. Westboro Baptist Church is particularly concerned with sexual licentiousness and the growing acceptance of gay rights. They therefore intend to picket the funerals of these dead children, knowing that the pulpit will reach tens of millions.

This is abhorrent. Jesus promulgated a double-love commandment (Mk12:28-34) which served to demonstrate that the Jewish religious authorities stood condemned by the norms that they themselves professed. Love is the greatest commandment in the Torah, both of God (Deut 6:4f) and of neighbour (Lev 19:18). But the Torah was eclipsed by the coming of Jesus, and Christian discipleship is articulated in terms not only of love, but of taking up the cross and following the Son of God.

For sure, the Lord disciplines those he loves (Prov 3:12), but the confession of hope provokes a love which leads to a life of good deeds (Heb 10:23-25). The Christian life is to be one of patient endurance and suffering obedience: the church in Ephesus is scolded for lack of love (Rev 2:4f), and the exhortation is to repent and return to good works.

Jesus didn’t picket Lazarus’s funeral and shout abuse at the mourners about the idolatry of Israel or the sins of Adam: he wept. Westboro Baptist Church is not recognisably Christian, for there is no love, compassion, grace or forgiveness in their arid faith. The focus is perpetually on judgment, justice, punishment and revenge. It is the gospel of hate. They do not feed the poor, heal the sick or bind the broken hearted: they pour scorn over their plight, informing them, like Job's comforters, that they've brought it all on themselves.

In Connecticut Jesus is still weeping, suffering the little children who have come to him rather sooner than any might have wished. Here below are the remarks of President Obama at the Sandy Hook interfaith prayer vigil. Read it, and compare it with Westboro’s approach, and ask yourself where on the preaching spectrum and mode of communication Jesus might stand:
Thank you. Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests – Scripture tells us: “…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown – you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy – they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances – with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another.This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves – our child – is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t – that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

This is our first task – caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children – all of them – safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America – victims whose – much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law – no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that – then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens – from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators – in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

All the world’s religions – so many of them represented here today – start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships. And even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have – for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace – that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger – we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of. And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them – for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A grieving father pays tribute to his murdered daughter



This is deeply painful to watch and profoundly moving.

Robbie Parker's daughter Emilie was just six years old when she was shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, along with 19 other children and six of their teachers. Yet even in the midst of his unbearable grief, he finds words of sympathy for the family of the killer: "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you," he said.

What peace, compassion, humility, forgiveness, love... it passes understanding.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Connecticut school massacre: "Our hearts are broken"


No words.

A time to mourn.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cameron treats the Church of England with contempt


The revelation that neither the Church of England nor the Church of Wales were informed in advance of the Government's decision to outlaw their officiation over same-sex weddings is absolutely astonishing. Lambeth Palace might expect such terse treatment from the Bishop of Rome, but not from the British Government, especially when it is led by a Conservative prime minister.

Heeding the pleas of the Unitarians, Quakers and Liberal Jews, we are now in the absurd situation where the law will permit each religion and every denomination to opt-in to hosting same-sex weddings, but Anglicans will be specifically prohibited by legal statute. It will require an amendment to Canon Law and further primary legislation to permit Anglican clerics to preside over a gay nuptial mass.

There are some who might say that the Church of England has brought this upon itself: in its response to the Government's 'consultation' on gay marriage in June, they stressed that 'the canons of the Church of England define marriage, in accordance with Christ's teaching and the doctrine of the Church, as being between a man and a woman'. Since Canon Law and the Prayer Book are also acts of parliament, we would have been in the situation of Parliament enacting and sustaining two mutually-exclusive acts with conflicting definitions of marriage.

And so we have the ‘quadruple lock’, intended to ensure that religions or specific denominations that remain opposed to same-sex marriage on theological grounds cannot be compelled to host gay weddings against their consciences and traditions. But the Anglican lock is one that invites allegations of 'bigotry' and 'homophobia'; indeed, it specifically limits its ability to 'get with the programme'. There are those who might say that Parliament is also limiting by statute the Church's mission to love its gay neighbour, and that impinges upon Article 9 of European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought conscience and religion.

It is not now the Church of England (or Wales) which is vulnerable to legal challenge, but the British Government. For any cleric in either church who decides to preside over a gay wedding will be in breach not only of Canon Law but Statute Law, and his or her only remedy will be through the ECtHR. If secular law recognises same-sex civil marriages, it is difficult to see how a law specifically prohibiting Anglicans to recognise and conduct same-sex weddings can be sustained.

We are no longer talking about compulsion: there is no question of (say) the Roman Catholic Church being forced against its theological traditions to host or bless such unions. The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure that religious organisations are not vulnerable to discrimination claims for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose). But the Church of England is established, and so legally obliged to bury the dead and conduct weddings for anyone in the parish who makes the request (subject, of course, to Canon Law). The personal religious beliefs of those parishioners are irelevant: if a Muslim and a Moonie wish to marry under the aegis of and in accordance with the rites of the Church of England, the Church is obliged by statute to perform the ceremony (the only exemption being certain grounds of divorce).

So, the Government found itself between a rock and a hard place, and the Church of England hoist by its own petard: either Parliament legislated for a specific exemption for the Established Church in accordance with Canon Law (ie Statute Law upholds that it remains unlawful for ministers of the Church of England to preside over same-sex union), or it must amend the Constitution by repealing the legal requirement upon the Church of England to marry any heterosexual couple who makes the request.

This would have constituted ten bold steps along the path of disestablishment: the easier political option by far (though in many respects the least satisfactory), was to 'lock' Canon Law into the proposed legislation for same-sex marriage.

It is somewhat ironic that Cameron has effectively averted Anglican schism by reinforcing Canon Law on marriage, and not even having the courtesy to inform the Archbishop of Canterbury (or the Archbishop designate) of his decision. This isn't merely rudeness; it is constitutional ignorance and political crassness. Cameron is all for gender equality when it comes to women bishops, but his commitment to the 'fundamental human right' of gay marriage is nothing but superficial posturing. Noting how long it has taken (..is taking...) the Church of England to 'get with the programme' on gender equality, we must be looking at 50 years or so before the General Synod is likely to amend Canon Law to redefine marriage.

His Grace prophesied earlier this year that gay marriage would turn out to be Cameron's Poll Tax. He was wrong: it is the Poll Tax, hunting ban, Clause IV and the Iraq War all rolled into one. It is a disaster for both the country and the Conservative Party: Cameron has pitched the State against the Church and started a culture war of which there will be no end, there will be no end, there will be no end.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Census 2011 - we remain a faithful nation


More abuse...

His Grace has been informed (by email) that he has ‘slandered God’ and ‘blasphemed the name of Jesus’ because he ‘hid (his) light under a bushel’ and is ‘ashamed of the gospel of Christ’ because he refused to tick the Christian box in the 2011 census. His Grace’s ‘Mind Your Own’ campaign apparently led directly to the fall in the number of professing Christians in the UK.

Gosh. What influence and power. Mwhahaha..

In England and Wales, Christianity is still the largest religion, with 33.2 million people (59.3 per cent) ticking the box (as opposed to professing the faith). This was 13 percentage points down on 2001, when 71.7 per cent (37.3 million) ticked the Christian box. We are informed that this is the only group to have experienced a decrease in numbers between 2001 and 2011, despite population growth and soaring immigration. Knowsley is apparently the Christian centre of England (80.9 per cent).

The second largest religious group is Muslims with 2.7 million people (increasing from 3.0 to 4.8 per cent of the population). Tower Hamlets is the Islamic centre of England (34.5 per cent). Significantly, Tower Hamlets also recorded the lowest proportion of Christians (27.1 per cent).

14.1 million people, around a quarter of the population in England and Wales, ticked the ‘no religion’ box (an increase from 14.8 per cent to 25.1 per cent). Norwich is the atheist/humanist/agnostic centre of England (42.5 per cent).

Of the other main religious groups:

817,000 people identified themselves as Hindu (1.5 per cent)
423,000 people identified as Sikh (0.8 per cent)
263,000 people as Jewish (0.5 per cent)
248,000 people as Buddhist (0.4 per cent)
240,000 people (0.4 per cent ) identified with religions which did not fall into any of the main religious categories (see excellent Guardian graphic for breakdown).

Importantly, noting that this was a voluntary question, 7.2 per cent of people did not answer the question, as His Grace slanderously and blasphemously exhorted (because he is so ashamed of the gospel of Christ).The ONS concludes from all this: ‘These trends are consistent with data from other sources which show a decline in religious affiliation.’

But this is an overly simplistic summary, as many complex factors come into play when people are asked to identify their religion or categorise their spiritual beliefs. The question ‘What is your religion?’ is interpreted diversely, in terms of belonging, practising, affiliation, language, culture, and identity. There are manifest methodological problems raised by asking the question at all.

The Church of England has issued the following:

“These results confirm that we remain a faithful nation,” said the Rev Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Archbishop’s Council. “ England remains a country where the majority of the nation actively identifies the role that faith plays in their life. Clearly we welcome the fact that Christianity remains the most populous faith in England – with six in ten people identifying themselves as Christian. When all faiths are taken together, people of faith account for two-thirds of the nation - two in every three people identify themselves as having a faith.

“Obviously the fall in those choosing to identify themselves as Christians is a challenge. We need to look closely at the fuller figures published next year and to reflect on what these tell us. One of the reasons may well be fewer people identifying as “Cultural Christians” i.e. those who have no active involvement with churches and who may previously have identified as Christian for cultural or historical reasons. They indicate a changing pattern of religious life in which traditional or inherited identities are less taken for granted than they used to be.”

“The work of the Church of England is not limited to those who declare Christian affiliation. As a Church we continue to serve people of all faiths and none, in parishes, schools, community projects and through the 23.2 million hours voluntary work that churchgoers contribute outside their local church to the local community,” said Arun Arora.

“In a speech earlier this year, Her Majesty the Queen spoke of the Church of England’s ‘duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country’. The figures released today show that the Church’s duty concerns the overwhelming majority of people in England .

“The death of Christian England has been greatly exaggerated. Despite a decade of nay saying and campaigning by atheist commentators and groups, six out of ten people in England self-identify as Christians, a figure which rises to more than two-thirds when including people identifying with faith as a whole.

“During the past decade alone the CofE has baptised an average of 2,500 people a week - with a 40% increase in adult baptisms - conducted more than 100 weddings a week, celebrated the ordination of more than 5,000 new priests and maintained more than 16,000 parish church buildings. While 253 churches closed over the past decade, 1,000 new congregations were started through the Fresh Expressions initiative.

“Today’s figures pose questions – not least for most of the London based national media – about whether their perceptions and reporting of faith accurately reflect the reality of a faithful nation, especially when considering the figures in the North East and North West of the country.

“Doubtless, campaigning atheist organisations will attempt to minimise the significance of the majority figures for faith and Christianity. In fact, these figures draw attention to the free ride that had been given to these bodies whose total membership would barely fill half of Old Trafford. For instance there are an estimated 28,000 members of British Humanist Association – the same membership as Union of Catholic Mothers, whilst the National Secular Society has an estimated 5,000 – the same as the British Sausage Appreciation Society.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cameron is not only redefining marriage, he is constricting conservatism


His Grace has received more criticism, insults, threats and general unpleasantness on this matter than any other. On 'gay marriage', he has been informed that he is 'obsessed' by the issue (they have discovered 10 or 15 posts by His Grace on the matter - out of more than 2000...) and so, they conclude, he is probably a closet homosexual himself. It appears that only homosexuals may discuss homosexuality and associated matters, and if anyone else should dare do so (namely, a heterosexual), they are actually revealing their true latent sexual desire.

Thankfully, not all gays and lesbians are of the homosexualist-gaystapo-extremist variety: the vast majority simply want to live and let live, preferring to get on with their careers, love friends and family, decorate the home, plan a holiday and worship their god. This is the normal everyday stuff of a mundane life. Like the rest of civil society, they don't seek to impose anything upon anyone or to disturb the natural social order. They are not driven to express a personal identity primarily in terms of genital function: they are more rounded, tolerant and benevolent than those who seek to bully, harass and censor all reasonable and rational debate on the issue.

As the Government today announces its response to the public 'consultation' on same-sex marriage (as if the results weren't foregone), it is interesting to observe how it is not only 'marriage' which is being redefined, but conservatism itself. So much so that those who oppose the move (which includes about 40 per cent of the Parliamentary Party) must be asking themselves if they are actually any longer conservative at all.

The problem is the increasingly widespread use of the paternalistic 'should' and 'ought'.

The Prime Minister announced two years ago that he is introducing the reform 'because I'm a Conservative'. Tim Montgomerie is of the view that 'Conservatives should embrace gay marriage', and Nick Herbert MP is of the view that 'Conservatives who believe in marriage should feel this most strongly'. There are many other prominent Tories who frame the debate in the imperative terms of duty and obligation to the core philosophy.

Stewart Jackson MP isn't the only one to find such an approach 'arrogant' and 'disingenuous'. Mark Pritchard MP observes: “The Bill is likely to alienate the Tory grassroots, natural Conservative voters, and multiple faith communities. Number 10 is out of touch with mainstream public opinion and needs to shelve it.”

The Church of England has responded with uncharacteristic precision, and the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference remains firmly opposed to the Government’s plans. And yesterday in Parliament, Rehman Chishti MP, the son of an imam, asked the Equalities Minister what Muslims had said to the Government during its consultation. Mrs Miller said they had voiced ‘some concern’.

Are all these opposing voices fundamentally unconservative, or are they simply anti-Conservative? Is it the top-down Tory instinct to talk in terms of 'should', while the bottom-up Whiggish approach is one of natural questioning and dissent?

The reality is that under David Cameron, Conservatism has ceased to be a broad church after the fashion of its conciliar Anglican heritage: it has become more centralised, elitist and authoritarian, demanding uncompromising adherence to the modernist orthodoxy of equality and rights. Those who view gay marriage as an unconservative revolution rather than a natural evolution are, as Tim Montgomerie says, 'angry voices' which are 'out of touch with the country'. Which is a little odd, because His Grace isn't remotely angry. But such simple emotional judgmentalism is contiguous with the patronising 'should' and 'ought'. They tell us what we must believe, and then direct us in our feelings.

Might it simply be that the dissenting voices care more about the future electoral prospects of the Conservative Party than this absurdly over-prioritised reform, which is causing more dissent and division than anything in the party's history bar Europe? Is it not a psephological fact that natural conservatives are leaving the Conservative Party in droves over this issue, and are less likely to vote for them in 2015 because of it? However morally right or ethically justifiable this reform may be, it is undoubtedly and undeniably terrible politics.

His Grace remains a conservative... he thinks. And he will be mocked, jeered, insulted, reviled and ultimately excommunicated, simply because this 'should' and 'ought' cannot, in conscience, be obeyed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Government jobs website advertises for 'internet babe chat'


This screenshot (click to view clearly) is not from some private job-finding service, but a government website advertising: 'Female Presenters required for home internet work for internet babe chat.' This, under a Conservative-LibDem coalition, is deemed to be the sort of respectable and gainful employment for which women are encouraged to apply, in order that they may not live a life on state benefits. Mental, emotional and sexual welfare are subsumed to the super-objective of cutting the welfare budget.

'Internet babe chat' sounds like harmless, easy work. The reality is rather different: it is nothing but video prostitution, no doubt leading many victims into a life of squalid abuse.

It is curious - is it not - that a prime minister who patronisingly wags his finger and orders the Church of England to 'get with the programme' on women's equality and civil rights should at the same time be leading a government which propagates the sexual objectification of women through this sort of immoral advertising.

The job vacancy no longer appears this morning: perhaps Bluebird Live of Walton-on-Thames were inundated with 'beautiful babe' applicants for whom intellect and character counted for nothing against their age and looks. One must hope that any future female bishops are not selected on such criteria, but it is difficult to know when the Government's exhortation is simply to 'get with the programme'.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Roman Catholic Church to Cameron: "You are out of your depth"


Joseph Devine, Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, is a feisty, robust and forthright sort of church overseer - the type who doubtless takes the Catholic Herald and at one time might have been beheaded or burned at the stake for asserting a dogmatic spiritual authority over the temporal power of the king.

The Bishop has apparently written a terse and testy letter to the Prime Minister which is rather critical (to say the least) of sundry government policies and of the Prime Minister's whole moral worldview. The Bishop, it might be observed, has form in this, having previously criticised Mr Cameron for 'surrounding himself with secularists'.

Unfortunately, His Grace has been unable to acquire a copy of Bishop Joe's Epistle to the Cameroons (if any reader or communicant can oblige, your treasure will be in heaven), so we must depend on the secondary account of The Scotsman. In summary:

The apparent disconnection between the Prime Minister's assurances and the Government's actions relating to religious liberty in the ECtHR 'only serve(s) to compound our perplexity about the imperfect fit between your statements and actions. You appear to be creating a political culture in which words mean nothing'.

The bishop then asks: 'on what basis can you expect anyone – Christians in particular – to trust or respect you?”

Noting how Roman Catholic adoption agencies have been made to feel 'not welcome', he says: 'That feeling... is the legacy of the last Labour government. Sadly, many of your government’s policies show no sign of reversing that, despite your plausible public relations exercises'.

On the Prime Minister's reproach of the Church of England over women bishops to 'get with the programme', the Bishop advises: 'Disagree with decisions by all means, but such graceless comments were indelicate to the point of being offensive. And this from a Prime Minister belittling the nation’s established church. Hardly an example to set for society in general and especially for the youth of this country.'

He than asks: 'So where next for David Cameron’s spiritual mission?... While I cannot speak for other creeds, let me be quite frank with you. So far as the Roman Catholic Church...is concerned, you are out of your depth. We will take no finger-prodding lectures from anyone or any group devoid of moral competence.'

There are some who might say that the Prime Minister would be wholly justified in responding to that criticism with a phrase including the words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black', or with some allusion to glass houses and the casting of stones. Certainly, no Roman Catholic bishop in Ireland would presently be so bold. But Bishop Joe then prophesies: 'I suspect it is only a matter of time before you go one step further and outlaw the teaching of Christian doctrine on sexual morality on the grounds of discrimination.'

David Cameron is basically completing what Blair began: Religious freedom 'under your premiership...is no longer being respected in the UK'. And in one final barb, the Bishop observes that the Christian Church has lasted for 'two millennia...and all this amazingly without any direction and guidance from you or your peer group'.

He ended the letter 'Yours Truly', which is jolly nice and Christian of him.

This is a most pleasing rant, to which No10 has apparently promised a comprehensive response. Some will think the Bishop a doddery old fool who speaks on behalf of the medievally-minded and bigoted; others will recognise his apostolic authority to speak truth to power. If any of His Grace's readers or communicants are matey with Bishop Joe, a copy of the correspondence in both directions would be most appreciated.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Church of England responds to Cameron's gay marriage statement


Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on same-sex marriage (ie that the Government intends to repeal the prohibition on wedding ceremonies for homosexuals and lesbians in religious buildings because he does not want gay people to be 'excluded from a great institution'), the Church of England has issued the following statement:

It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole. Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted. Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.

The proposition that same-sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute. To that extent, the Prime Minister’s claim that he supports same-sex marriage from conservative principles is readily understandable. However, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation.

To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged. To argue that this is of no social value is to assert that men and women are simply interchangeable individuals. To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships.

We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage.

Given the absence of any manifesto commitment for these proposals - and the absence of any commitment in the most recent Queen’s speech – there will need to be an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with these proposals and make them a legislative priority. In our view the Government will require an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with on these proposals and to make them a legislative priority.

We welcome the fact that in his statement the Prime Minister has signalled he is abandoning the Government’s earlier intention to distinguish between civil and religious marriage. We look forward to studying the Government’s detailed response to the consultation next week and to examining the safeguards it is proposing to give to Churches.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made a foetus


His Grace would like to congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the announcement that they are expecting their first baby. Girl or boy, he or she is destined to ascend the Throne and reign over the United Kingdom (should it remain united) and the Dominions overseas.

But His Grace is puzzled.

Everywhere he turns he reads about a Royal baby. Even The Guardian talks of the couple 'expecting their first child', despite the Duchess being in the 'very early stages' of pregnancy. We are told that the couple 'are to be parents', and that this 'will be the Queen's third great-grandchild', and 'a first grandchild for Prince Charles'.

And the child's birthright is acknowledged: yes, he or she is 'destined to wear the crown one day'; he or she 'will become third in line to the throne', which the Prime Minister described it as 'absolutely wonderful news'. Even Ed Miliband tweeted: 'Fantastic news for Kate, William and the country. A royal baby is something the whole nation will celebrate.'

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "The whole nation will want to join in celebrating this wonderful news. We wish the Duchess the best of health and happiness in the months ahead."

And speculation abounds about the name: Charles? Diana? With The Guardian freely referring to 'their baby' and already anticipating his or her 'first day at school'.

Baby? Destiny? Parents? Great-grandchild? School? Even the Twitter hashtag is #RoyalBaby.

Surely such 'pro-choice' newspapers and journals (and people) should be talking about a bunch of pluripotent stem cells, an embryo or a foetus? For reports suggest that the Duchess is still in her first trimester, so this is not yet a baby; and certainly nothing with any kind of destiny. At this stage, surely, it is a non-person, just like the other 201,931 non-persons who last year were evacuated from wombs in England, Scotland and Wales.

Or are royal foetuses endowed with full humanity from the point of conception?
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