Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Now is the winter of our discontent made all over again by this son of the manse

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the mortgage have been condensed and multiplied a thousand-fold.

With apologies to the Bard, for Cranmer gave up trying to scan in iambs. But along with Channel 4 he is struck by the parallels, exactly 30 years on, between the misery of this winter and the rotten fruits of last Labour administration.

In 2009 Gordon Brown faces the very unappealing prospect which confronted James Callaghan in 1979 of having to call a general election while wages are frozen or falling, house prices falling, the pound falling, savings diminishing, taxes rising, unemployment rising, and public sector strikes are looming. The UK is once again the sick man of Europe; the nation is once again bankrupt, and Labour has squandered all that it inherited. It is the prodigal party; selfish, deluded, and the undoubted author of an age of irresponsibility.

Cranmer wishes all of his readers and communicants as happy a New Year as is possible under these depressing circumstances.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Has Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor been offered a peerage?

It appears that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has given his support to key Government ministers in rejecting the criticisms of Labour delivered by the bishops of Manchester, Carslisle, Durham, Hulme and Winchester. He said on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme:

"Instead of blaming the Government for materialism and social problems, responsibility should be shared more widely. Ordinary people and churchmen also bear some of the blame. If we are going to accuse people of immorality it is much further than the Government, it is the whole country."

He continued, "I am not too happy with the blame game because if we say that there has to be a 'conversion', then I always start with myself."

Blame game?

This is not a game, Your Eminence. And why on earth may one not apportion blame when it is the reckless and myopic policies of Gordon Brown and this Labour Government which have led us to this sorry state of affairs? Did Jesus not blame? Did the prophets not blame?

And if you wish to talk of 'conversion', Your Eminence, you are welcome to start with yourself.

The Cardinal clarifies: "Obviously, governments have a particular responsibility but so have the people, so have the cities, so have the communities, I always think that a change of heart begins can't bring it about just by Government."

Well, Your Eminence, you have cetainly changed your tune over the past few years. Do you not recall questioning whether Roman Catholics can be loyal to the policies of this Labour Government? Do you not recall objecting to the imposition of 'a different version of our democracy' - one in which 'diversity and equality are held to be at odds with religion'?

The Cardinal was asked whether he agreed with the Bishop of Manchester that this Labour Government has been 'beguiled by money'. He responded: "I do not think that is the whole truth at all."

The whole truth?

What a bizarrely and inadequately ambiguous response this is.

Cranmer knows this man is on the way out - indeed, the announcement of his successor is imminent - but this new-found support for Gordon Brown against the Archbishop of Canterbury and the five bishops (not to mention the Conservative Party) is bemusing. Has he any idea what Labour has done to this country and its people? Has he any awareness of the profoundly anti-Christian legislation they have placed on the statute books? Has he not experienced its illiberal tendencies? Its intolerant secularism? Its refusal to re-examine abortion legislation? Does he know what it has done to Catholic adoption agencies or what it has tried to do to Catholic schools? Does he care?

The Cardinal's fervent support will certainly please Downing Street.

But Cranmer cannot help wondering if His Eminence has been offered a peerage.

Would he accept what Cardinal Basil Hume always refused? Would the Pope permit him to fuse the temporal with the spiritual?

Or would he care at all what the Pope says?

Israel has run out of cheeks to turn

Rachel may be weeping for her children.

But Afrah, Aisha, Haleema and Salma are weeping an awful lot more.

These new-made widows howl for their dead husbands; mothers wail for their slaughtered sons and daughters; children scream for the loving embrace of the mother who will never again comfort them; families are bereft; communities ravaged. The weeping is incessant; the suffering incalculable. For every tear that is captured in a photograph, a million are shed unseen, unheard, unfelt by a world obsessed with trivia and increasingly incapable of weeping, as the Lord exhorted, with those who weep.

Israel is acting like a depraved tyrannical maniac. It has persecuted its neighbours for years with an economic blockade which limits imports to humanitarian supplies and prevents all exports - a policy which has virtually eradicated private industry and brought Gaza's economy to collapse. And now the Interior Ministry has been flattened, the Islamic University destroyed, mosques purposely targeted, and the private home of Hamas’s democratically-elected leader has been razed to the ground. Israel is slaughtering the innocents, bombing women and children to kingdom come, wherever that kingdom may be – she’ol, jannah, Jahannam; they don’t really care.

Cranmer thought Tony Blair was supposed to be a peace envoy to the Middle East.

He has failed spectacularly.

And David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has made a strongly worded appeal for an immediate ceasefire.

But his is an impotent voice pathetically whistling in the wind: he is an insignificant nobody; an irrelevant mediocrity; an ineffectual commoner and expendable pawn in a game dominated by rooks, knights, bishops and kings.

Israel has declared war with Hamas ‘to the bitter end’ in response to rockets being fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israeli towns. But over the past eight years these rockets have claimed fewer than 20 Israeli lives. The death toll in Gaza is currently in excess of 300, with almost 2000 Palestinians reported injured.

And what is the best Israel might expect from this war? Another temporary ceasefire?

It will simply be yet another in a long line of ceasefires, each of which has been broken by one side or the other, each of which has manifestly failed, and each of which leaves Israel even more isolated than it was before the previous one. Israel wants to stop the fire, so it meets fire with fire. Might is right.

Bombing does not lead to peace; the bullet is no guarantor of stability or security. Zionism has been ill-served by all military operations, for none has ever advanced dialogue with its enemies; none has ever yielded progress.

And yet...

...even as Israel hits the Islamist factions inside Gaza, Hamas continues to fire rockets into southern Israel, hitting the city of Ashkelon with their longer-range missiles, still arbitrarily murdering Israeli civilians. As Israel has massed tanks and mobilised thousands of reservists in preparation for a ground offensive, Hamas has called upon an army of 1500, swelled with thousands of civilian supporters. About half a million Israelis live within range of the militants’ crude and sometimes deadly projectiles; they have endured hundreds of the things raining upon them without warning, day and night.

Israel has simply run out of cheeks to turn.

This is not a war against Gaza, but against Hamas. And Hamas is a terrorist organisation, however democratically-elected. Israel says that it cannot make a fresh deal with Hamas, likening it to the West signing a détente with al-Qaeda. And they should know, for they live with a 7/7 every day, and expect a 9/11 at any moment.

They do not need to justify themselves with press briefings about the university laboratories being used for weapons manufacturing and development. They do not need to brief the world that university lecturers teach bomb-making, or that mosques are used to shield the militants. They do not need to report Israeli intelligence that many Palestinians in Gaza were fed up with Hamas.

For all of this will be dismissed as propaganda by an obsessively anti-Israel media.

It would be comforting, to a degree, if this battle were 'to the end'. But this will not be Israel's final reckoning with Hamas. It may be bloodiest, but there will be future battles, and they will continue until the sons of Ishmael love their sons as much as they hate the sons of Isaac.

And Cranmer thinks this may be quite some time.

In the meantime, what might Aquinas say?

Well, Israel will take as much note of him as they have of the British Foreign Secretary. Not because he too is a pitiable pipsqueak, but because the rules of engagement have changed, and the concept of a ‘Just War’ has become as negotiable as every other Christian notion in the postmodern world of relativism.

So Cranmer wishes to articulate the most just way forward for Israel at this present time:

You must ignore the UN Secretary General and the EU 'High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs'. They do not know what they are talking about. Hamas is not likely to surrender, for it is steeped in a religio-political ideology of resistance and martyrdom. Since they are attacking you - albeit primitively and indiscriminately - you must eliminate the source of their weaponry. If this cannot be done through border-checks and blockades, you must respond proportionately. Since this means you will kill their civilians as indiscriminately as they are killing yours, you have no option but to meet arbitrary fire with precision fire, but your fire must be stronger than their fire, or the undeclared war will drag on for years, and the deaths you suffer will not merit a headline, while their casualties will be disproportionately broadcast to the four corners of the earth. If you do not kill, you will be killed. You have no choice but to ignore the worldwide liberal media (and the British Foreign Secretary) and kill your enemy. If you do not do so, you will be perceived as weak, and this will (with EU aid) embolden those who seek to destroy you. If you try to negotiate, you will find yourself confronting Allah himself, for these terrorists believe they fight for their god, and he is on their side. Jihad cannot be negotiated with, and all attempts to do so will result in a victory for the jihadist, a prolonging of the suffering, and a postponement of the inevitable final conflict.

And while the world's media focuses on the tears of Afrah, Aisha, Haleema and Salma, you can be comforted in the knowledge that their Hamas-indoctrinated, jihadi-obsessed husbands - Abdul, Ahmed, Umar and Mohammed - have been despatched to Jahannam.

And the coming of the Prince of Peace is a little nearer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Atheist Matthew Parris hails the Protestant Christian religion

Cranmer has rarely read such a spiritually-uplifting and politically-edifying article as this by Matthew Parris in The Times. It is reproduced in full, for it is a finely-honed piece of journalism. But as readers and communicants consider his words, ask yourselves why the dawning of Mr Parris’s realisation stops with Africa. If the Christian gospel is found to be the solution to the ‘crushing passivity of the people's mindset’ in Africa, and if Christian missionaries are perceived even by atheists to liberate the oppressed more than secular NGOs ever mange to do, then why not encourage and liberate the Christian charities in the UK to intervene where the state has failed, instead of legislating them out of existence?

If Africa needs God, then so does the United Kingdom. And the God it needs is the Christian God, for he alone can bring the necessary transformation. And this transformation is, as Mr Parris identifies, the fruit of the Protestant Christian faith, for it alone teaches ‘of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being’:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Mr Parris is right to observe that in Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. But it changes their hearts all over the world; even in the United Kingdom. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is indeed good. Which is why the Conservative Party is looking to liberate charities to work in social welfare. For the Socialist, social justice is principally concerned with equality, which is achieved and guaranteed by government. For the Conservative, it is concerned with individuals in community which is empowered by the people for the people. There are thousands of Christian charities run by tens of thousands of Christians who voluntarily give of their time to work among the homeless, drug addicts, in marriage counselling, palliative care, homes for the elderly, pupil referral units, prisons, adoption, parenting, child care, education, overseas aid, disaster relief, human rights, AIDS sufferers, alcoholics...

If the Conservative Party were to apply the principles of the free market to the principles of voluntarism and social action - understanding what motivates Christians to serve their neighbour - we might not only see the repeal of Labour’s most anti-Christian legislation, but the transformation of society through the outworking of the Protestant Reformed religion which is established by law.

All it requires is a grain of mustard seed.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Church of England unites to damn 'morally corrupt' Labour

Where two or three Church of England bishops are gathered together to condemn Labour, Cranmer is in the midst of them. Where five are united to do so, it must be a work of God.

The Bishop of Manchester has accused Labour of lacking integrity, of being ‘beguiled by money’ and being ‘morally corrupt’. He said: “The Government has acted scandalously.” They believe that ‘money can answer all of the problems and has encouraged greed and a love of money that the Bible says is the root of all evil. It is morally corrupt because it encourages people to get into a lifestyle of believing they can always get what they want’.

The Bishop of Hulme is persuaded that Labour are ‘morally suspect and morally feeble’. He said: “It is unfair and irresponsible of the Government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy.”

The Bishop of Durham said: “Labour made a lot of promises, but a lot of them have vanished into thin air. We have not seen a raising of aspirations in the last 13 years, but instead there is a sense of hopelessness. While the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer.”

The Bishop Winchester is of the opinion that the Government has done precious little to help the poor, and refers to the abolition of the 10p tax rate as a ‘disaster’. He said: “It is imperative that this Government help the poorer people and hold the hard-hit communities in its sights, but it seems to have its eye on re-election instead.”

And the Bishop of Carlisle accused the Government of ‘playing with people’s livelihoods’. He said: “I agree with the Conservatives that the breakdown of the family is a crucial element in the difficulties of our present society. He argued that Labour’s failure to back marriage and its ‘insistence on supporting every choice of lifestyle’ had had a negative effect on society. He said: “I think Labour has got tired.”

In short, Labour have led Britain to family breakdown, burgeoning debt, a growing divide between rich and poor, and a state of hopelessness. They have subordinated their moral and fiscal judgment to political opportunism.

Happy New Year, Mr Cameron.

This is precisely what an Established Church is for. On those rare occasions when it speaks with unity, it fulfills its pivotal role as the spiritual conscience of government and the moral guide of the nation.

But why now?

Where have these bishops been since 1997?

Perhaps they have been emboldened by the intervention of their leader into party politics, or perhaps they unified against a common enemy when the Prime Minister alluded to the Archbishop of Canterbury behaving like the hypocritical cleric in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Or perhaps they are tired of being marginalised by this amoral and anti-Christian government and have poured their hearts out to God who has given them the words to speak.

Cranmer is not sure that so many bishops have been of one mind since the seven who were prosecuted for seditious libel by James II. These five senior churchmen have done the nation a great favour by confronting the Government with the tragic consequences of their deficient policies; by highlighting the moral vacuum which is the rotten harvest of years spin, manipulation, instant gratification, welfare dependency, and the degeneration of the nation’s social fabric.

The nation needs renewal. It is time to rediscover the importance of discipline, understand the meaning of responsibility, and experience the rewards of hard work. It is time to revive the concept of duty, the notion of civic virtue, and inculcate the imperative of the common good.

Cranmer prays that the New Year may bring a general election by which this Labour Government may be judged for its sins, shamed for its vices and condemned for its crimes.

In the meantime, let us give thanks for these five bishops, mindful that judgement begins at the House of God.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Channel 4’s ‘Alternative Christmas Message’

Cranmer has waited until now before commenting on this for one very good reason. All of those who were quick to take offence and who spouted their condemnation and poured out their invective before the broadcast on Christmas Day did Channel 4’s advertising for them and undoubtedly boosted their viewing figures. The ‘alternative’ slot has gone relatively unnoticed in the past, attracting very modest viewing figures. Who even remembers the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the wounded Afghanistan veteran or Marge Simpson? And if the characters are remembered, the substance of their message has long been lost.

So let it be with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Christians of all denominations condemned the decision to invite him as ‘sick’, ‘disgusting’, a ‘scandal’, or something akin to blasphemy. It generated angry protests from Israel and other critics of the Islamic republic. They were precisely the constituency C4 sought to offend, and great offence they took.

But why?

Channel 4 has provocation in its DNA. And this is a good thing. It is frequently the only channel to tackle some of the touchiest religio-political issues of the age, and it does so with forensic precision. Of course the Christmas Day broadcast was offensive to many, but they are quick to forget that C4 is the only channel in the UK to have investigated what is being preached in many mosques, and they dared to broadcast ‘Undercover Mosque – the Return’ just in time for Ramadan.

And what did President Ahmadinejad actually say?

"If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers. If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.

"If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as he did in his lifetime. The solution to today's problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine prophets.”

Well, if Christ were (subjunctive) on earth today, Mr President, he might talk to you of motes and beams, of not judging lest ye be judged, of considering one’s own sin before casting the first stone, of showing mercy before justice, and of loving one's neighbour as oneself, even if that neighbour is Israel.

Of course, the President is preaching his Jesus, appearing as an angel of light, deluding the masses with his unsubstantiated talk of Iran's efforts for peace and reconciliation. But we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). Jesus Christ is not simply one of a number of prophets but the eternal Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, who died for the sins of the world and who rose again from the dead.

So it falls to Cranmer to seize the opportunity of this broadcast to draw the attention of his readers and communicants to the work of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom. Its work is supported by a majority of MPs and over 200 members of the House of Lords. Lord King of West Bromwich has written of the Iranian opposition party in Ashraf City, Iraq, whose residents are the embodiment of justice, and inspire hope for peace and democracy in Iraq and Iran. This group has long been seen as the greatest threat to the Iranian regime, with its mixture of democratic ideals and female liberation. The 4000-strong opposition group - complete with its President-elect Mrs Maryam Rajavi - has prided itself on offering a ‘third option’ to the Iranian crisis, democratic change through the Iranian people and their resistance movement – a far better alternative to either war or appeasement.

However, the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq have now put this Iranian group in danger. Iranian influence in Iraq has increased greatly over recent years as Tehran funds, trains and supplies weaponry to terrorist militias in Basra and beyond. This support for terrorist militias is the main cause of Coalition deaths. Iranian proxies are now believed to control a number of high-ranking positions in Iraq, while infiltration into the Iraqi police and military has left the Iranian opposition in danger of Tehran’s terrorism.

Since C4 has forged good relations with the President of Iran, perhaps they might extend a further invitation to him to appear before the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom?

Let him be questioned on democracy and freedom in Iran, and let C4 make documentaries about his execution of children, about the 170 mass graves each containing a truck-full of bodies, about the atrocities committed by the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and about the stoning of women condemned to death by the testimony of two men.

Jaw-jaw is preferable to war-war. Since we are not at war with this odious regime, robust dialogue, not appeasement, is the best way of bringing democracy and freedom to Iran - a conclusion which will not only guarantee the safety of the Iranian people, but a solution which will greatly increase the likelihood for peace in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Channel 4 may justifiably be condemned for granting this holocaust-denier a pulpit on Christmas Day, but it is utterly wrong to meet this with demands for censorship. The broadcaster now has a moral obligation to investigate further and finish the work it has begun. With direct access to the office of the President, who is now manifestly flattered and well-disposed to the organisation, the opportunity presents itself to tell the world of the barbaric injustices of this regime.

That would indeed be a worthy use of public money.

Failing that, perhaps C4 might invite the odious Nick Griffin to deliver the alternative Ramadan/Eid message next year?

Failing that, how about the utterly reasonable, eminently sensible and manifestly highly-qualified Bishop of Rochester?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Emmanuel – God with us

A sermon preached by Cranmer’s Curate at his service of Carols by Candlelight:

I want to focus this evening on three reasons why we mustn't tamper with the Christmas message, the message of the new-born King, the Virgin’s Son, conceived in her womb by the Lord God Almighty in order to fulfil his loving purposes for the salvation of sinful mankind.

Firstly, Christianity is a revealed religion.

It is not a make-it-up-as-you-go-along religion. It is about what God has chosen to reveal about himself in Jesus Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ. Therefore if we press the delete button on the biblical words to describe Jesus - Lord, Man, Son of God, King – we are pressing the delete button on what God has chosen to reveal. Christianity thus becomes a man-centred religion, a religion that we invent. Do we really want that? Do we really trust ourselves to get it right?

Look at the mess we are making of God’s world. We are the race who invented murder, the sin of Cain, finding grim expression within our recent history in the death-camps of Hitler, the gulags of Stalin, the genocide of Rwanda and most recently the slaughter at Mumbai. And in case we’re inclined to dismiss those as foreign problems, look at what is happening on our own streets. An 11-year-old boy shot by a 16-year-old boy when he accidently walked into the line of fire between two rival street gangs. The killer, now 18, just before being led away from the dock, embraced one of his fellow gangsters and clasped the hands of two others in an apparent show of solidarity. Look at what is happening to our country following the wholesale abandonment of the Christian consensus. Christianity, thank the good Lord, is a revealed religion – it is about what God chooses to tell us, not about what we invent.

Secondly, Christianity is a reconciling religion.

We – mankind – need reconciling with the God who made us. We began our Bible readings with Genesis, the first book of the Bible describing how mankind threw off God’s loving rule and authority. We were given freedom in the paradise God had created, freedom to eat from any tree in the Garden. But God, as a visible symbol of his rightful authority over us his creatures, had placed in the centre of the Garden one tree we were not to eat from. What do we do? The one thing we are told not to. We rebel. We do it our way, we throw off God’s authority and the consequence of that is alienation from God. We are expelled from paradise, we are excluded from the intimacy and friendship with God we enjoyed in the Garden where he walked in the coolness of the day seeking fellowship with his creatures.

We may not be as bad as we could be, but being sinful men and women no area of our lives is sin-free. Even our good deeds are polluted by sinful motives, self-love, pride, vain-glory, rather than giving God the glory – your and my sin has the effect of alienating us from the God who made us. The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son Jesus Christ as the Saviour we need to reconcile us to God, to bring peace between us and the God we have rejected. That is the peace about which the heavenly host sang on the night the Saviour was born – ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). Christmas is about peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is a reconciling religion.

Thirdly, Christianity is a repenting religion.

Repenting basically means changing our minds about the way we live; turning around; deciding that we are no longer going do it our way, but do it God’s way. Christmas therefore calls for a decision from us. Will we repent? Will we change our minds about the way we are going? Will we submit to God’s rightful rule over us, which now, in the light of Christmas, means submitting to God’s new-born King, his Son the Lord Jesus Christ? ‘Joy to the World’ in its traditional form hits the nail bang on the head about the response Christmas calls from us – ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King’. Jesus is God’s chosen and appointed King, and therefore we need to start doing what he says – believing in him for the forgiveness of our sins and living our lives his way.

Christmas is not about soaking up a Christian atmosphere once a year. It is about facing up to the fact that God reveals who Jesus is, our Lord, our King, our Saviour. It is about facing up to the fact that we need reconciling with the God who made us. We are alienated from him because of our sin. And it is about facing up to the fact that we need to repent, to change the way we are living and to start living with the Lord Jesus as our Ruler and King.

Cranmer wishes all of his readers and communicants all over the world a blessed and peaceful Christmas. In these times of political instability and economic turmoil, may you find the time to reflect upon the wonder of Christmas; may the Christ-child be born anew in your hearts, and may you draw nearer to the one who sacrificed everything in order that man may live for evermore.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Conservative case for the Established Church of England

Cranmer has received numerous emails asking him to respond to Daniel Hannan MEP, who purports to make ‘the conservative case for disestablishment’. He was not going to, not least because this is the time of year when one should be full of good cheer, and the time to deeply appreciate the wonder of Christmas and the gift of the Church. But the reality is that there is such a dearth of non-nominal Anglicans (yes, Cranmer could have said ‘committed’, ‘dedicated’ or ‘believing’) on the Conservative benches that Mr Cameron ought to consider making them an approved-list priority along with the one-legged Muslim lesbians who will contribute so much to Westminster.

The Labour vultures of disestablishment are circling above the ashen English Church and fiercely advocate euthanasia to end its suffering. And none less than the Archbishop of Canterbury declares that it would be ‘by no means the end of the world if the Establishment disappears’. Into this destabilising fusion of Labour’s propensity for constitutional vandalism, the Archbishop’s ignorance of history and the Church’s theological ineptitude, Mr Hannan makes a small ‘c’ case for for small ‘c’ conservatives to support the Prime Minister’s continuation of Tony Blair’s ‘Year Zero’ agenda for the British Constitution. And his reasoning is essentially that the nationalisation of airlines, car manufacturers and banks has historically yielded nothing but complacency and inefficiency. Ergo the complacency and inefficiency of the Church of England is a product of its nationalisation.

This is too superficial an analysis and too dangerous a generalisation for any true Tory (or Whig) to make at this time.

It is wrong to assert, as Mr Hannan does, that ‘hostility to organised religion in general, and to the primacy of the Church of England in particular, is in the DNA of the British Left’. There are many on the Right who habitually deride the Church of England and earn their living by ridiculing its bishops and archbishops. They chant their sectarianism from the sidelines like Celtic fans, and blame the bishops for a lack of clear leadership. Yet where there is Anglican orthodoxy, it is derided for being ‘anti-Catholic’. Such hostility is much more deeply engrained in the DNA of some of the Roman Catholic Right who have a pathological loathing of the consequences of the Reformation and the ensuing via media of the Church of England than it is for anyone of the political Left to pontificate with their here-today gone-tomorrow crass agenda for ‘equality’.

Mr Hannan is persuaded that disestablishment is a Thatcherite pursuit, for it will create a ‘free market of denominations’ such that churches will ‘compete for congregations.’ And thus ‘those congregations in turn compete to raise their ministers' salaries’ resulting in full pews because ‘people are often more loyal to what they have chosen than to what they have been allocated’.

Cranmer hardly knows where to begin.

Empty pews are not a product of national ministry, but ineffectual leadership. As the Church’s leaders have been feeble in propounding its core beliefs, they have contributed to the perception that they are ashamed of the gospel of salvation. It is noteworthy that the Evangelical churches which have remained faithful to Scripture have grown while the liberal Anglican churches have seen falling attendance. The Church of England has lost the Right because it has pandered to and been occupied by the Left.

The Church of England should serve as a spiritual national health service. Any agenda to privatise it wholesale will yield all manner of blows which will see the end of England as a Christian nation in any sense. Setting aside the constitution (for Mr Hannan prefers to deal with economics), what would happen to the Church’s assets? How would one sell off Westminster Abbey, which presently belongs to the nation? And what if the highest bid came from the House of Saud? Would Mr Hannan be content to see this magnificent structure ‘enhanced’ with a minaret? How would he prevent this? Create another quango – Ofchurch – to ensure adherence to the conditions of sale? Does he propose that each church should produce glossy brochures and send them to parishioners – who would have ceased to be parishioners – in order to attract them to their life-giving spring with money-back guarantees of tasting the water of eternal life? Such is likely to lead to the worst aspects of pseudo-Christian spectacle, and church would become nothing but light entertainment (which, for many, it already is).

But to the theology.

Faith is a gift of God and a work of the Holy Spirit. It is not inculcated with a free-market approach or invigorated with competition or choice. To assert this is to fall for the postmodern deception that marketing is all, and one may pick and mix theology and spirituality with impunity.

Disestablishment may not be ‘the end of the world’, but it would be the Church of England’s Armageddon.

And the Roman Catholics are divided on this. The most moderate see that it is ‘unfair’ in a modern democracy to discriminate against Roman Catholics, but they are content to endure a little residual anti-Catholicism in order to sustain a Christian expression at the heart of government. It is not ideal, and it may all have a very shaky foundation, yet it is the English tradition. But the extremists and reactionaries demand repeal of those foundational Acts which perpetuate this injustice, and are wholly in favour of constitutional vandalism if it would end the perpetuation of the Protestant Crown (albeit Anglo-Catholic, or God-knows-what in the imminent reign of George VII).

The Catholic extremists have more zeal than sense. They dismiss those who support the Act of Settlement as ‘bigots’, and harp on about Anglican orthodoxy as being ‘anti-Papist’. They might recognise the irreconcilable tension in having a Roman Catholic Monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but they offer no solution. Presumably, since Anglican Orders are 'absolutely null and utterly void', the Pope or the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminister would need to officiate at the coronation of a Catholic monarch, yet they do not address the theological or political implications of this. They may find it ‘insulting’ that the Monarch may not even marry a Roman Catholic, but they never address the undeniable fact that not only may the Pope not marry a Protestant, he may not marry at all. And they are mute upon the Catholic requirement to raise one’s children in that faith, which would then create an exclusively Roman Catholic royal house, to the discriminatory exclusion of all others.

Both the Queen of the United Kingdom and the King of the Vatican are heads of state, and both positions place certain limitations upon their liberties. Why accept the constraints of the latter if those of the former are ‘insulting’ or ‘unfair’? The occupant of each throne, with the grace of God, accepts the limitations imposed by their respective offices. And if this is not a vocation, they are at liberty not to accede to their thrones or to abdicate.

The wisest English Roman Catholics recognise that the Establishment of the Church of England - and the retention of those foundational Acts which sustain its position and that of the Protestant Crown-in-Parliament - are beneficial to the nation. The moment one seeks to undo one thread of the intricate quilt which is our Constitution – such as the Act of Settlement 1701 – this fragile and priceless work of art will unravel.

The disestablishment of the Church of England would eliminate that residual expression of Christianity from our nation which is cultural. Certainly, it may not save souls, but it is a bulwark against those politico-religious forces which are gathering to fill the void. And Cranmer is not only talking of aggressive secularism. Militant Islam is knocking at the door, and its 95 theses have already been sent to Downing Street. And Downing Street has listened and granted a number of Shari’a-compliant exemptions from the laws of England & Wales even though they are manifestly inimical to the principles of Christianity and liberal democracy. And they have done so because they fear the consequences of not doing so.

The gradual erosion of Christian expression from the public square has already damaged the social fabric of the nation. Morality is relative, values are negotiable, norms are no longer normative, and trust has been destroyed. This has led inexorably to the obscuring of human dignity, the elimination of the notion of the sanctity of life, and the obfuscation of the true meaning of freedom which was derived from the Bible's teaching that man is made in the image of God; that all are equal and may approach him directly.

The break with Rome is central to the history of England, and the schism lies at the very heart of Britain’s development as a modern nation. It should be remembered and celebrated – even on November 5th – by all Christians, for it is a reminder that the nation is vulnerable and prone to attack from without and within. A liberal democracy certainly ought to grant minorities the freedom to practise their religion. But this does not involve the diminution or destruction of the majority faith which is the one by which minorities are granted the liberties they enjoy and by which they freely worship.

The fusion of the Church of England with Monarchy and Parliament has yielded three centuries of religious tolerance and political stability; it has carved out what is unique about English identity, English civilisation and English values. Protestantism is not ‘equal’ with other faiths; its contribution to public life has been immense – spiritually, socially and economically. To disestablish the Church of England would be to abandon the rock upon which the English edifice is constructed.

It is no surprise that this amoral Labour Government wishes to destroy this foundation. And neither is it any great surprise that some Roman Catholic journalists and prelates or Anglican clerics seek to do so. But Conservatives?

As Hugh Gaitskell once said (and Mr Hannan will appreciate): “You may say ‘let it end'. But my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Catholic leaders say ‘Hokey Cokey’ is 'faith hate'

As Cranmer read this report in The Herald, he did wonder if today were April 1st. But it is true enough, and all inextricably tied up with Scottish sectarianism and the interminable feud between Rangers and Celtic.

Yet it is curious that ‘senior Catholics’ have entered the fray, with Peter Kearney, a spokesman for Cardinal Keith O'Brien, declaring that it was a Puritan song with ‘quite disturbing origins’.

Well, there are some - not least AC Grayling - who are persuaded that the Roman Catholic Church has ‘quite disturbing origins’, but they are not calling for it to be proscribed.

And since when did the Puritans write songs?

The Cardinal’s office says the song is ‘anti-Catholic’, adding that ‘it was devised as an attack on, and a parody of, the Catholic mass. If there are moves to restore its more malevolent meaning then consideration should perhaps be given to its wider use’.

Is the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland seriously suggesting that ‘malevolent’ football chanting should lead to the song being banned at all parties?

An example of this abhorrent evil may be observed here.

It is highly likely that the song's title derives from ‘hocus pocus’, a parody of the transubstantiating phrase ‘Hoc est enim corpus meum’ (‘this is my body’), and it is noteworthy that the song in the United States is ‘Hokey Pokey’. But Cranmer would like the Cardinal to consider that ‘faith hate’ is something of a slight overreaction.

Yet politicians (ie the SNP’s Michael Mathieson MSP) are reported to have urged police ‘to arrest anyone using the song to “taunt” Catholics under legislation designed to prevent incitement to religious hatred’.

Cranmer looks forward to the arrest of all magicians who use the phrase ‘hocus pocus’, and exhorts all rational people to join with Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, who said: "I can't believe Scottish children performing the 'Hokey Cokey' are doing so in pursuit of any sort of anti-Catholic agenda."


But paranoia is rife.

It might even lead to calls for the repeal of the Act of Settlement 1701 and the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Archbishop of Canterbury compares New Labour to the Third Reich

The Telegraph has got a little fevered, for it has Dr Williams warning that ‘recession Britain must learn lessons from Nazi Germany’. And the disemboweled newspaper has infected its own religious blogosphere, with accusations of the Archbishop being conceited, obfuscational and opportunist.

But Cranmer exhorts his readers and communicants to read the Archbishop’s article carefully and without prejudice. He criticises the Prime Minister for failing to address the human cost of the ‘credit crunch’ and recession: He asks:

"What about the unique concerns and crises of the pensioner whose savings have disappeared, the Woolworth's employee, the hopeful young executive, let alone the helpless producer of goods in some Third-world environment where prices are determined thousands of miles away?"

And with a precise needle-point dig at Gordon Brown and his ‘moral compass’, the Archbishop observes ‘without these anxieties about the specific costs, we've lost the essential moral compass’.

So the Government has lost it.

This is a continuation of the battle between church and state which began when the Archbishop compared Government policy on spending to ‘an addict returning to a drug’. This prompted a riposte from the Prime Minister in which he alluded to the Archbishop being like the cleric in the parable of the Good Samaritan who ‘walks by on the other side’ as people suffered.

It would be fair to say that relations between Lambeth Palace and Downing Street are a little strained.

And so they should be.

It is evidence that something is working.

And no-one will persuade Cranmer that the Archbishop would be more effective if his voice were raised after disestablishment. The logical conclusion of that would be the disastrous combination of publicly sponsored secularism, on the one hand, and the terminal privatisation of religion, on the other.

One of the Church’s primary functions is holding government and political parties to account. The document ‘Moral but no Compass’, although unofficial, illustrated the powerful role the Church of England may still exercise in highlighting the inadequacies - spiritual and political - of the political system, in order that people’s welfare may be improved. Whatever the outcome, the intervention suggests that the public realm remains an arena in which the Church’s moral and ethical mission continues to be exercised. Perhaps it is only the Establishment Church that, in contemporary society, possesses the status to permit it to fight for representation of a slighted electorate in the face of an increasingly abstract political élite.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cranmer's Collect: Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succor us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we be sore let and hindered, thy bountiful grace and mercy, through the satisfaction of thy son our Lord, may deliver us; to whom with thee and the holy ghost be honor and glory, world without end.

AC Grayling: Roman Catholic Church perpetuates ‘the biggest pack of lies that the world has seen’

AC Grayling - ostensibly one of the UK’s greatest living philosophers - is quite good on hyperbole. But he appears to be somewhat deficient in grace. His tirade in The Guardian against The Telegraph’s Gerald Warner is highly entertaining, but it is (again) sorely lacking in the calibre of insight one might expect from a philosopher of such stature. Whenever he writes on religion, he produces little more than histrionic polemic as his professed and obsessive atheism gathers to cloud his reason.

Gerald Warner simply remarked that the recent arson attack upon Sarah Palin’s church in Alaska may have been perpetrated by ‘militant homosexuals or liberals simply driven by hatred of Palin’.

For Mr Warner, the burning of the Wasilla Bible Church is a metaphor for the West’s onslaught against Christianity. He refers to this as ‘anti-Christian jihadism fuelled by secularism’ which is ‘as unacceptable as that driven by militant Islam’. Since both groups are concerned to make ideological points through violent means, both constitute terrorism.

Enter AC Grayling:

Gerald Warner, as a Catholic (and apparently something of a "jihadist" himself), is a member of an institution whose history is littered with crusades, burnings at the stake, persecution of gays, and the perpetuation of the biggest pack of lies that the world has seen - so would seem to be in a poor position to try working the moral equivalence angle. Gays and liberal secularists as jihadists!

This is the funny bit. In the last few years secular liberals have been uncompromising in what they say about religion, and the targets of their criticism have squealed and complained as loudly as if they felt real flames licking round their feet. The churches answered criticism in the past with murder; if they still had the upper hand would they now restrict themselves to their critics' choice of weapon – words? The foam-flecked variety issuing from Warner suggests not.

Let us look at some comparisons. In Afghanistan the Taliban stop girls going to school, beat up women who show a millimeter of skin, ban music, kill gays, and in general force their choice of life and belief on everyone, thus illustrating the less charming aspects of enforced observance of religious orthodoxy under which most of humanity has suffered for most of history. By comparison, secular liberals of Europe and North America say that they think religion is a load of nonsense and that religious folk should keep their fantasies to themselves. Some comparison, eh? Some jihad! Its effectiveness, though, is a sign of insecurity among the faithful. Mark Twain defined faith as "believing what you know ain't so", and the level of insecurity among the faithful when criticised suggests that almost all of them really agree.

Gerald Warner and his kind strain hard to whip up a belief in a moral equivalence between the inhumanity, intolerance, coercion and violence of their own religions' histories and the criticism and disdain with which secularists view them now. I suspect that Warner really hopes that balaclava-wearing, Kalashnikov-toting secular liberals flew some paraffin-laden model aeroplanes into the Wasilla Bible Church. If so it would make the excesses of religion's crushing imposition on the human spirit all ok, because it would show that liberal secularism has become the very thing it criticises.

I wonder whether, in the dialogue of the deaf that this quarrel has become, a few reminders might be in order. Secularism is the view that religious outlooks, though perfectly entitled to exist and have their say, are not entitled to a bigger slice of the public pie than any other self-constituted, self-appointed, self-selected and self-serving civil society organisation. Yet the religious persistently ask for special treatment: public money for their "faith-based" schools, seats in the House of Lords, exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices, and so endlessly on. They even have the cheek to ask for "respect" for their silly and antiquated beliefs; and in Geneva at the Human Rights Council the Islamic countries are trying to subvert the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it is inconvenient to their medieval, sexist, intolerant outlook.

Secularists in the west say to the apologists of the religions: your beliefs are your choice, so take your place in the queue. They also say: you've had it your own way for a very long time - and committed a lot of crimes in the process - and you still fancy yourself entitled, but you aren't. You don't smell too good at times, so don't try to tell me what I can read, see on TV, do in my private time, think or say. In fact, keep your sticky fingers off my life. Believe what you like but don't expect me to admire or excuse you because of it: rather the contrary, given the fairy-stories in question. And when you are a danger to the lives and liberties of others, which alas is too frequently the wont of your ilk, we will speak out against you as loudly, persistently, and uncompromisingly as we can.

It is curious indeed that Mr Grayling seeks to compare the Roman Catholic Church with the Taliban yet seems ignorant of the Reformation and the profoundly Christian inspiration of the liberties he enjoys. He aspires to be 'neutral', but neutrality appeals to the egalitarian instinct that one group should not be more advantaged or enjoy greater privileges than another, while leaving unresolved the need to adjudicate between competing conceptions of the good. It is manifestly necessary to deem some conceptions as being legitimate or beneficial and others as not. In doing so, there is a need to refer to some ‘higher code’, which in liberal Western democracies has traditionally been identified with Christianity and the principles of the Enlightenment. These, in England, have historically been embodied and articulated by the Church of England.

Nowhere does Mr Grayling specify what the lies of the Roman Catholic Church are. Do they include the divinity and resurrection of Jesus? If so, why does he single out Rome when all orthodox churches subscribe to these articles of faith? And if the lies are to do with matters of history, the understanding of the kingdom of God, justification and salvation, why does he not say so? And why should any of these ‘lies’ be worthy of his time and effort when other religions perpetuate lies with far worse consequences?

Sarah Palin campaigned to promote ‘Focus on the Family’, which reached out to ‘help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome’. And she is ‘pro-life’, believing that a child is fully human from conception and that abortion amounts to murder.

Does this merit comparison with the Taliban?

Where is AC Grayling's rational discourse (ie philosophy) upon these matters or the right to express them? Does he deny the right of the homosexual to change his or her lifestyle, or to wish to do so? Does he seek to propagate the normalisation of infanticide, and, if so, why? Or is his atheistic jihadism simply a tool of the liberal media to expunge all politically incorrect activity, and he is so flattered and vain that he is unable to see this? Mr Grayling has to demonise Gerald Warner because he dares to be Roman Catholic; he has to ridicule Sarah Palin because she dares to be Evangelical. Yet who may question the liberal secularists without themselves incurring the wrath of the likes of AC Grayling and the hatred of the media simply for posing the questions?

Church burnings have a long association with some of the world’s most repugnant regimes. It is a manifestation of tyranny, not modern plurality.

AC Grayling has fallen for the lie of political 'neutrality'. He would prefer to live in a coercive Marxist secular state, and see it uniformly imposed upon all because it would be 'neutral'. Which might explain his support for David Miliband as the next prime minister.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The disembowelling of The Daily Telegraph

Cranmer will not often say this, but he commends to his readers and communicants the observations of Roy Greenslade of The Guardian.

Observing the eradication of such institutions as Craig Brown and AN Wilson from The Daily Telegraph, not to mention Patrick Barclay, Sam Leith, Andrew McKie, and also noting the phasing out of the regular columns of Iain Dale and Daniel Hannan MEP, Mr Greenslade has this to say of the Telegraph Media Group's Roman Catholic owners Sirs David and Frederick Barclay:

TMG's owners, the Barclay boyos, have never given a stuff about journalism. They are notoriously touchy about any criticism. They have been happy to use laws that inhibit press freedom. They want their papers to be mouthpieces for their own reactionary opinions and clamp down - through intermediaries - on anything that runs counter to their views.

And 'disembowelling' might be an apt term to employ, observing its long association in England with high treason. The Barclay brothers are clearly intolerant of voices raised in protest. This might explain some of TMG's decisions on the reporting of religion - who loses and who wins; who's in and who's out - and why some of those Telegraph writers who are highly critical of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England have not been silenced, despite 'considerable pressure' and 'concerted efforts' to do so...

Rick Warren to invoke divine blessings upon Barack Obama

The office of President of the United States of America is a divine bestowal. The Reverend Billy Graham has traditionally officiated at presidential coronations as the godfather-pope of the nation, but he is now too old and frail. And so President-Elect Barack Obama has selected Rick Warren to pour fire and brimstone deliver the invocation when he takes the Oath of Office on January 20th. It is one of those rare moments in American political life when church and state fuse. The event is likely to be attended by over a million people, and watched by over a billion worldwide. Pastor Rick Warren will have a pulpit which will reach beyond that of the Pope, and world will hang on every word.

The choice of Rick Warren is surprising for a number of reasons.

He is a ‘pro-life’ Evangelical and said that Evangelicals could not support a presidential candidate who was a ‘Holocaust denier’ - by which he meant, ‘pro-choice’. He is also a supporter of California’s ‘Proposition 8’, a successful ballot measure that denies same-sex couples the right to marry. He said, "There are about 2 per cent of Americans are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let 2 per cent of the population...change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."

He has compared gay marriage to incest, polygamy, and paedophilia, and stated that gay marriage rights would lead to hate speech prosecutions of Christians who oppose gay marriage and view homosexuality as sin.

Such ‘homophobic hate speech’ is unsurprisingly offensive to advocates of Lesbian and Gay rights and ‘progressives’ who are finding the President-Elect not quite as inclusive as the Senator.

They naturally wanted a gay vicar – the Right Reverend Gene Robinson? – to make the invocation.

And yet Rick Warren has sold more than a million books and leads one of the largest churches in the world - Saddleback in Lake Forest, California. He does not just preach about abortion and gay rights, but has sought to broaden the focus of the Evangelical agenda to include issues like the reduction of global poverty, human rights abuses, global warming and the AIDS epidemic.

Barack Obama himself is not a supporter of same-sex marriage, but is in favour of full equal rights for lesbian and gay couples through civil unions. In August, during the Presidential campaign, Senator Obama and Senator McCain made a joint appearance before 2800 Evangelicals at Mr Warren's mega-church in California. Asked about marriage, Senator Obama replied: "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it's also a sacred union. God's in the mix."

And so God is in the mix of this man’s presidency, just as he prayed in Jerusalem.

His philosophy is ‘to disagree without being disagreeable’, and, if he achieves it, this will be a positively revolutionary approach to politics. He is of the opinion that civic and religious leaders should focus on what they have in common as Americans, rather than carp and criticise at every turn, invariably in the name of Jesus, or ‘the unborn’ or ‘the poor’.

The choice of Rick Warren may be capitulation, or it may be a post-partisan expression of Barack Obama’s heart to unity, regeneration and transformation. He is manifestly so post-partisan that he is willing to embrace and promote someone who loathes him and did not vote for him. This is truly forgiving, and a most Christian expression of inclusion.

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury: Labour’s fiscal stimulus is ‘like like the addict returning to the drug’.

Cranmer rather wishes that the Archbishop of Canterbury had said of the Prime Minister: ‘As a dog returneth to his vomit: so a fool returneth to his folly’. But the phrase he did use was explicitly damning and most sufficiently telling. He may not be an economist but Dr Williams is most certainly right to assert that one cannot run the British economy by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The intervention of Archbishop Rowan Williams into party politics is most welcome. He admitted that he does not consider the reaction of politicians before speaking out, and it brings back fond memories of Margaret Thatcher’s torment by certain meddlesome priests. Of course, she tended to be right while they found their daily bread in The Guardian. In this case, any rational person, regenerate or dead in their sins, can discern that Gordon Brown's £20 billion borrowing binge of debt-funded tax-cuts is short-sighted and immoral. And the Government are compounding the problem by considering a national lending scheme under which they (ie the taxpayer) would guarantee loans to business and increase the supply of home loans by guaranteeing mortgage-backed securities issued by banks. In a damning comment on the VAT reduction, Dr Williams said people should not ‘spend to save the economy’, but instead spend for ‘human reasons’ such as providing for their own needs.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is anxious for the soul of the nation, saying: "I worry a bit about that, it seems a little like the addict returning to the drug. I think there are deeper questions to be asked. I want to ask where these moral questions are in the economic discourse."

The Archbishop said the credit crunch was a ‘reality check’, a reminder that ‘fairy gold is just that’.

Indeed. Gordon Brown sold the nation’s real gold when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and replaced it with euros – ‘fairy gold’.

The Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has described the Archbishop’s criticism of Labour’s fiscal stimulus package as ‘a very powerful moral warning’ against the planned borrowing binge. He praised the Archbishop for raising the important moral question of whether it can be right for Gordon Brown to saddle future generations with huge debts. And he stressed, “The chorus of disapproval at what the Labour Government is doing to our society and our economy grows every day.”

Dr Williams preaches to the Prime Minister: “When the Bible uses the word 'repentance', it doesn't just mean beating your breast, it means getting a new perspective, and that is perhaps what we are shrinking away from. What I'm worried about is anything that pushes us straight back into the kind of spiral we were in before. It is about what is sustainable in the long term and if this is going to drive us back into the same spin, I do not think that is going to help us."

The ‘same spin’?


And he takes David Cameron’s theme when he says people were waiting for financial bosses to apologise for the crisis. He said: “A lot of people are waiting to hear some acknowledgment of responsibility for irresponsible behaviour."

And how does the Prime Minister, the ‘son of a manse’, respond?

He said he supported the Archbishop’s views on a strong civic society and the need to act against irresponsible behaviour when it appears in the banking and financial system. He witheringly continued: “But I think the Archbishop would also agree with me that every time someone becomes unemployed or loses a home, or a small business fails, it is our duty to act and we should not walk by on the other side when people are facing problems.”

Walk on the other side?

Is the Prime Minister claiming the moral high ground and comparing the Archbishop of Canterbury to the religious hypocrite in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Well, Prime Minister, there is nothing in that parable to indicate that the Samaritan asked for an ID card to establish whether or not the victim lived in a Labour or marginal constituency before helping him. And neither did he run a credit check to discern his level or debt, or enquire of the Inland Revenue to discover if he was eligible for tax credits or state benefits. Nor did the Good Samaritan redistribute the robbed merchant's remaining money to the long-term unemployed who stay in bed until midday and only venture out to binge drink or vote Labour.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated unequivocally that the country is ‘going in the wrong direction’.

He must be praying for a general election and interceding for a change of government.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - the sins against political correctness

Cranmer has received a missive from the Reverend Julian Mann on this much-loved Christmas carol, which he is delighted to share with his readers and communicants. The carol was written by Charles Wesley in 1739. It is a wonderfully subversive proclamation of the Christian Gospel against the neo-gospel of political correctness. It originally had a sombre tune - the joyous tune to which we sing it is a 19th century chorus by Felix Mendelssohn. The words were also improved by the great 18th century Anglican Evangelical preacher George Whitfield. The opening line in Wesley’s original was ‘Hark! How all the welkin rings’.

It sins against political correctness particularly in the following lines:

'Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled'

This reflects the biblical teaching that God and sinners need reconciling because the God of the Bible is a God of wrath who is implacably opposed to human evil and sin. Therefore he is implacably hostile to us when we devote ourselves to sin (see Romans 1v18ff; Ephesians 2v1-3). This biblical teaching is reflected in Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer in the general confession at Holy Communion: 'We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us'. An unforgettable New Testament expression of the truth of 'God and sinners reconciled' is to be found in 2 Corinthians 5v19: 'In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us (that is to the apostles and those who subsequently proclaim the apostolic Gospel) the message of reconciliation' (ESV).

'Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb'

This offends against postmodern sensibilities not so much in its acknowledgement of the miraculous but in its celebration of the fact that a young woman was not sexually active before heterosexual marriage.

'Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel'

Wesley of course believed that Jesus came to save women as well as men from God's wrath on sin, but the reference to humanity as 'man' reminds of the fact that Adam, the first man, is the federal head of the human race who led us into disaster. Jesus, the second Adam, is the representative Man who, to quote Article II of the Church of England's 39 Articles of Religion, 'truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men'.

So let's enjoy singing this wonderful Christmas carol to Christ's praise and glory whilst it is still legal in the United Kingdom to use it uncensored in public worship.

Shari’a finance in the dock

In the US there is a lawsuit being made by David Yerushalmi and Frank Gaffney, filed against the Secretary of the Treasury, et al. for their involvement with Shari’a Finance.

The action challenges the United States government’s broad policy and practice of approving, endorsing, promoting, funding, and supporting Shari’a-compliant financial products and business plans, such as Takaful Insurance. The governmental policy and practice conveys a message of endorsement and promotion of Shari’a-based Islam and its religious beliefs and an accompanying message of disfavour of and hostility toward Christianity and Judaism and their religious beliefs in violation of the Establishment Clause.

As US history reveals, the Nation was founded upon values that acknowledge the importance of religion, respect for the right of conscience, and respect for the free exercise of religion. These values, which are Christian values, are enshrined in the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

The Shari’a-based Islamic religious practices and activities that the government-owned AIG engages in — activities that are funded and financially supported by American taxpayers, including the plaintiff, who is forced to contribute to them — are antithetical to the Nation’s values, customs, and traditions with regard to religious liberty, religious tolerance, and the proscriptions of the First Amendment. These government-funded activities not only convey a message of disfavour of and hostility toward Christians, Jews, and those who do not follow or abide by Islamic law based on the Qur’an or the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, but they also embody actual commercial practices which are pervasively sectarian and which disfavour Christians, Jews, and other ‘infidels’, including Americans.

The entire lawsuit is outlined here, and Cranmer’s readers and communicants will note that the case is being heard in the Thomas More Law Center.

His legacy endures and it is a wonder that it remains associated with issues of conscience and religious liberty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Israel's anti-Christian discrimination

Cranmer may be a friend of Israel, but he is not uncritical. He is dismayed to receive a report from the Anglican Friends of Israel which indicates that Christians of Jewish heritage - who almost invariably support Israel - sometimes get a worse deal than Christian leaders who are ambivalent towards the state or occasionally downright hostile towards it. Incidents like this one, reported in the Jerusalem Post, play straight into the hands of Israel's enemies. One might think, with it being Christmas, that the Israeli authorities might express a little more shalom.

Messianic Jews detained at Ben-Gurion
Dec. 14, 2008

A director of the US Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and his wife were detained Sunday at Ben-Gurion Airport by Interior Ministry officials amid allegations he is involved in illegal Christian missionary activity.

It is illegal in Israel to proselytize among minors. It is also prohibited to engage in missionary activities among adults when economic incentives are offered.

After over eight hours of detention, Jamie Cowen, a former president of the union, and his wife, Stacy, were permitted to enter Israel only after they agreed to sign a document that they would not engage in missionary activities during their stay.

The Cowens are in Israel to visit their two daughters, one of whom is an Israeli citizen. The other is in the process of obtaining citizenship after she and a group of other Messianic Jews won a Supreme Court case against the state.

The Cowens and their daughters all identify as Jews but believe that Jesus is the messiah.

"This type of religious discrimination would be expected of Iran, not Israel," said Jamie Cowen, a US immigration lawyer, a few hours after he was released by immigration police.

"In the US we imprison individuals suspected of terrorism. Here apparently one can be jailed for his religious convictions. This is a case of blatant discrimination against basic rights. It is a story of a bureaucracy run amok. Someone has to crack down and bring in people of integrity."

Cowen said he had visited Israel about 10 times, and had been active in social causes via the Knesset Social Lobby.

"I've brought $100,000 in humanitarian aid to Israel. We've provided lone IDF soldiers with about $50,000 in aid. This is unbelievable," he said.

The Interior Ministry, which directed the police to arrest the Cowens, said they had classified information regarding missionary activity.

"The Immigration and Population Authority has reliable information that the Cowens were involved in missionary activity prohibited by Israeli criminal law during their last visit to Israel," a ministry spokesman said.

"This is the reason they were detained. As soon as they agreed to refrain from any missionary activity they were allowed in."

The Cowens arrived in Israel on a flight from Frankfurt at 3 a.m. They were arrested at passport inspection and placed in detention at the airport.

"As an immigration lawyer I have visited many detention facilities for illegal immigrants. This one was particularly dirty, smelly and overcrowded," Cowen said.

According to Cowen, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations has 90 member congregations with membership ranging between 50 and 400 per congregation.
Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of The Jerusalem Institute, which provides legal advice and representation to messianic Jews, said the Interior Ministry was filled will clerks who identified with a strictly Orthodox definition of who is a Jew.

"During the years that Shas controlled the ministry they made sure to appoint clerks who were willing to carry out their policies," Myers said.

"As a result, Israel is the only Western country where basic freedom of religion is denied. Today those who being discriminated against are messianic Jews. Tomorrow it will be Conservative and Reform Jews."

Myers said anti-missionary organizations such as Yad Le'achim often tipped off Interior Ministry officials regarding messianic Jews attempting to enter the country.

However, Meir Cohen, a Yad Le'Achim activist, said that while it was true that his organization did provide the ministry with information, they were not involved in the Cowens' case.

Cohen said the ministry had its own intelligence unit that gathered information on missionaries and on messianic Jews who were ineligible for Israeli citizenship due to their religious convictions.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Jews who embraced Christianity are not eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, the court has also ruled that people who are not Jews according to Orthodox standards, but who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return do not forfeit this right if they adopt Christian beliefs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

David Cameron on the ‘failure of moral leadership’

It is heartening indeed to hear David Cameron talk of a ‘day of reckoning’ for those responsible for the financial mess in which we find ourselves. He says that an enquiry is necessary ‘in order to send the right message about our country's values’. He insists that it is a ‘failure of moral leadership’ on behalf of Gordon Brown not to have already done so.

Politicians increasingly operate as though there were no Judgement Day in this life, and certainly none in the next. And while they may dismiss the latter as superstitious folly, the absence of the former ought to concern every democrat and all who are remotely concerned with such outdated notions as justice, liberty or fairness.

But like a wise and learned archbishop (not yet quite oxymoronic), Mr Cameron has climbed into his pulpit (Thomson Reuters in London) and delivered a fine sermon on individual morality and political ethics. While the pews may have been full of the undiscerning and ignorant (or indeed empty as they attend to more urgent matters of Christmas), for those with ears to hear, it was possibly the most important speech he has made since, err, well, for a very long time indeed.

As this Labour government dies and Gordon Brown atrophies, to the masses are bequeathed a frightening inheritance of colossal debt, negative equity and perpetual mortgage. Mr Cameron observes that the financial services industry has had its name ‘blackened’. And by association the United Kingdom and the City of London have also had their reputations sullied.

But instead of promising the earth, or vacuous ‘change’, or some vague notion that things will be better under the Conservatives, Mr Cameron has called for retribution against those who are responsible for financial wrongdoing. They must, he says, be held to account: ‘There should be a day of reckoning. A day when we would not flinch from spelling out the rightful consequences of irresponsible behaviour.’

Enter the spirit of Amos, Hosea, Joel, Micah...

This is good and wholesome stuff – a cause-and-effect theme straight out of Proverbs, and a promise and warning of judgement consistent with the message of the prophets of old.

Mr Cameron said there should not be ‘one law for the rich’ and another for everyone else. Thus distancing himself from the perception - however unfair – that the Conservatives simply ‘looked after their own’ and left the poor to fend for themselves. By demanding justice for the poor and punishment for the rich and powerful who have exploited those poor, Mr Cameron has shown an authentic streak of religio-political righteousness. He notes in the US that ‘no stone is being left unturned’ in their investigations into financial impropriety, particularly in the mortgage industry. The FBI has deployed 177 agents to investigate the big financial institutions, and the hedge-fund manager Bernard Madoff has been charged with fraud. In the UK, one is struck by the alarmingly complacent approach being adopted by the Government or by any investigating authority. And so Mr Cameron asks:

"In the home of capitalism, a sense of fair play is dramatically in evidence. Why aren't we doing the same in Britain? Doctors who behave irresponsibly get struck off. Bankers who behave irresponsibly should face professional consequences. And, for sure, if anyone is found to have behaved criminally they must be prosecuted. Are the government seriously saying that nothing untoward could have happened over here? How can anyone believe that in the worst financial crisis of our lifetime no proper and thorough investigation needs to happen? If we're going to build a strong and fair society, individuals must carry the consequences of their own actions - regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what their background is."

This is coherent Conservatism to the core. He articulates personal responsibility in the context of corporate ethics and social philosophy. If the poor are to be liberated from state oppression to take responsibility for their own decisions, then a fortiori should the rich and powerful not be shielded from state retribution when their criminality and negligence have dire consequences for society’s most vulnerable. A government which prosecutes the benefit cheat to reclaim a few thousand pounds is acting justly because it is taxpayers’ money which is stolen. But such a government must ensure that it also prosecutes the bank directors in order to reclaim the millions and billions they have purloined from depositors and (now) the taxpayers, for the law should be applied fairly and equally. The alternative is moral hazard and social and economic chaos.

Pleasure, money and power present challenges to sincere moral judgements, and conspire to ensure that such judgements are not always determined by the goodness of the reasons. What is this goodness? What is this reason? What is the Christian understanding of human and social relationships and what is that God requires of us in those relationships? That we love our neighbour, certainly, but also that charity towards them goes beyond, but always includes justice. An adequate regard for justice always involves not only a concern that justice be done and injustice prevented or remedied, but also resistance to and, where possible, the abolition of institutions that systematically generate injustice and the punishment of those who perpetuate the evil.

We do well to honour those Christians who have comprehended what charity and justice required: John Newton, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, Franz Jägerstetter. But the need for the eradication of injustice is ongoing.

And David Cameron has just placed himself firmly on the side of the righteous.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vicar bans ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’

Meet the Reverend Stephen Coulter. He has visited the West Bank once, and discovered that the line ‘How still we see thee lie’ from the carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ is not quite true. So he has deleted the carol from Christmas worship in the Dorset parish of Blandford Forum on the grounds that the words were ‘too far removed from life in Bethlehem’ and no longer ‘represent the modern-day reality of the war-torn city’.

He was dismayed to discover that ‘where shepherds once used to watch over flocks by night, now security guards watched over the people living there’.

If he had bothered to travel wider in the area, he might also have observed that very little in Israel is as it was 2000 years ago, not least because a church seems to have been built over every possible site where Mary spilled some of her breast milk or to mark the burial site of the donkey which carried Jesus into Jerusalem. It remains true, however, that nothing good comes out of Nazareth.

And Mr Coulter draws attention to a carving he ‘smuggled out of Palestine’ which shows the Israeli security fence separating the crib from the wise men. And while he is in the limelight, he highlights reports that the Israeli government is prohibiting the movement of communion wine from Bethlehem this Christmas because it was deemed a security risk.

Is it any wonder with vicars like these that the Church of England is in such a state of terminal decline and ritually held up to ridicule?

Since when was modern reality being at variance with history justification for banning hymns or carols?

Why does this theologically-foolish and politically-naïve vicar not ban ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ because they patently no longer do?

Or ‘O Come all ye Faithful!’ because the faithful are no longer coming?

Or ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘See Amid The Winter’s Snow’ because of global warming?

Or ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ because Christmas now seems to last for about 60 days, from early November right through to January?

Or ‘Away in a Manger’ on health and safety grounds for fear of increasing the likelihood of cot death?

Or ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ because so many church bells have either been silenced by local councils or are being supplanted by the local mosque’s call to prayer?

Or ‘Joy to the World’, because joy is not possible in a world of conflict and war.

Or ‘Silent Night’ on the grounds that silence is no longer possible in a world of increasing noise pollution?

Or ‘While Shepherds Watched’ because few people go anywhere or do anything by night for fear of being mugged or murdered?

Or ‘Unto Us a Child is Born’ because so many more are being aborted?

While this vicar is obsessing about peripheral minutiae like the movement of communion wine, he might consider saying something about the Palestinian Christians who are being persecuted.

What has he said about the cases of violence, including forced marriage to Muslims, and the Arab-engineered decline in Christian population of Bethlehem?

Is he aware that His Supreme Governor has recently bestowed an honorary knighthood on the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres?

What has he observed of the number of lives – Arab and Israeli – that the Israeli security fence has saved?

What has he said in support of Israel’s democracy, in which Arab-Muslims may rise to the highest office?

Since he is intent on censoring divine worship and imposing his puerile politics upon his congregation, Cranmer thinks a little email harassment enlightenment is wholly justified:

The Reverend Stephen Coulter's email addresses are:

Do let him know what you think, especially about the plight of Palestinian Christians and the importance to the whole region of Israel's security. And be sure to wish him a Merry Christmas, even though merriment is far from the present reality in Gordon Brown’s credit-crunch Britain.
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