Thursday, January 30, 2014

Censoring 'Jesus and Mo' establishes UK sharia blasphemy code

Back to that cartoon:

This is how it appeared on Channel 4 News:

They didn't just black-out Mohammed's face: they went to the extraordinary lengths of photoshopping out the shoulders. 

This is how it appeared on BBC Newsnight:

The fact that both BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News are censoring images of Mohammed establishes a narrow Sunni-sharia compliance: it is, effectively, a blasphemy code adopted by the state broadcasters. His Grace observed this development as far back as 2007. The UK now has a de facto blasphemy law which protects Allah, Mohammed and mosques more than it does the names of Jesus, YHWH or the Church of England. It is ironic that while Parliament has abolished the crimes of blasphemy and blasphemous libel as they relate to Christianity, the vacuum has been filled by politicians, police, the judiciary and media increasingly taking the view that Islam has to be treated with kid gloves, and blind eyes have to be turned to those professing Muslims who threaten murder or call for ‘Jihad’ against the apostate and the infidel.

His Grace is not a Muslim, and neither is he a Jew. In case there be any doubt, he is not Roman Catholic, Sikh or Hindu. And neither is he a Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, a Mormon or a Jedi (though the latter has many attractions).

Through spiritual discernment, historical reason, theological analysis and by exercising overt discrimination, he has decided that he is a Christian in communion with the Church of England. This does not make him ‘phobic’ or 'racist' about other options; it is simply that he has discerned the way of salvation and it sits well with him. It is truth; an ontological reality with which others are welcome to disagree or criticise, but such an onslaught will not shake his faith in his Lord.

And he shall certainly take no offence at historical parody, character satire or a cartoon strip. Indeed, they can be entertaining, enlightening and educational:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Jacob Rees-Mogg: "We know Her Majesty’s Government’s true pro-European colours"

There was a vote in Parliament earlier this week on the rather prosaic EU (Approvals) Bill. It was one of those tediously pieces of legislation which essentially hands the EU something on the nod (usually funds) - in this case, some £18million of UK taxpayers' money to fund a little propaganda outfit known as the Europe Citizens Programme. Its aim is to “encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at Union level, by developing citizens’ understanding of the Union policy making-process and promoting opportunities for societal and intercultural engagement and volunteering at Union level”.

Just so we're clear.

During the debate, Jacob Rees-Mogg made one one of the most devastating interventions of modern times; at once unmasking the Government's essential pro-EU policy, and essentially exposing the Prime Minister as a hypocrite. This from Hansard (Column 688):
Jacob Rees-Mogg: This is a dreadful Bill of which Her Majesty’s Government should be deeply ashamed. They should hang their head in shame at having done it. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, or the Department of entertainments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) called it, has agreed to something that directly contradicts what the Prime Minister said a year ago. We have a Prime Minister, a leader of Her Majesty’s Government, who says one thing and a Department for Culture, Media and Sport that brings forward a Bill to do exactly the reverse. The Prime Minister said he was against ever closer union; the money that we are discussing will be spent on promoting ever closer union.

The Commons, in its wisdom, is to contradict the Prime Minister. Does that show the proper control that the Government should have of their legislative programme, if Bills are introduced that make the Prime Minister’s words look like wormwood? Is that how the Government wish to treat the British people? Can we have trust in our politicians in this nation if the Prime Minister says one thing and his Ministers bring forth Bills saying another? Are we to feel that there is any movement in the Government’s policy towards reducing ever closer union when their Bills say the reverse and when the words, which are cheap, say one thing but the Acts of Parliament say another—and say that which the British people are opposed to? We have a review of competences to see whether there is the right balance, yet we increase the competences without having any review at all.

We have, by unanimity, agreed to spend money on promoting the ideal of the European Union, and we have had no apology for it and no defence of it other than the Minister saying that he does not much like it but he does not think it is a grand scheme and it might cheer up his mates in eastern Europe.

Mrs Main: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Minister has just admitted that the Bill is a message to the European Union and its citizens, not a message to the British public about our intentions?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I give way to my hon. Friend the Minister.

27 Jan 2014 : Column 689

Mr Vaizey: I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) represented my views entirely as I would have them represented. After all, I read out quotations supporting the programme from four British organisations that have as much right as anyone else to say that they represent the views of the British people, including the national Holocaust Centre.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: They are four British institutions that have had to take the European shilling and sign up to promoting closer European integration to get access to money—institutions that are meant to be under British charity law and politically independent, except when it comes to Europe, when they get handouts to be biased in what they say.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Minister is right that the sums are modest and the grants may well go to organisations of merit that the UK would fund anyway without the need to be given our own money back, the programme will undermine us powerfully as we go to our constituencies to try to persuade our electorate that we are sincere about getting powers back to Britain and putting them to the public in a referendum?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill is cretaceous—

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Cretaceous?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Yes, as in “from Crete”, and we know the reputation—

Sir Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know that we occasionally allow words from other languages in the Chamber, but I am not sure whether that one should be allowed.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I must admit, I did not catch the word that was said, so we will proceed.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) will find the word in the “Oxford English Dictionary” if he has a chance to look at it later.

The point is that the programme will absolutely destroy trust and we know that trust in politics is at a low. A recent survey showed that trust in the EU was at an all-time low since the survey was started in 2001. If politicians go around legislating in direct contradiction of what they have said, the British public will take them for untrustworthy.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman is almost invariably precise on this subject, and I usually agree with him, but he said that the money would be used to promote the ideal of the European Union. In fact, it will be used to promote myths about it, one of which is that the EU, not NATO, has delivered peace in Europe over the past 60 or 70 years.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I apologise for understating my opposition to this Bill. That is not an error I shall repeat.

27 Jan 2014 : Column 690

The Bill is a desperate disappointment. When I was first elected, I was told by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that Governments would promise things. They would give guarantees, undertakings and reassurances about how Eurosceptic they were, and I, as a young and naive new Member, would believe them and put trust in the leadership of the party to speak as it did, just as my hon. Friend found when he first came here. He said that as time went by I would find that those promises turned out to be as ashes and dust, and that although the Government were willing to say, to play, and to sing the Eurosceptic tune, they would actually be dancing the pro-European dance. In this Bill, that dance has been taken to a further degree. It would win “Strictly Come Dancing” for its skill in dancing to the pro-European tune. It is a great betrayal of trust.

This is not about the amount of money involved, which is small; it is the principle of proposing and advancing the citizenship of Europe—a citizenship that is odious to most subjects of Her Majesty. It is something we never asked for, never wanted, and that most of us would reject, and we object to our taxes being taken to pay for it.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

We know Her Majesty’s Government’s true pro-European colours from this particular fruit.

5.46 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris: I am not sure how I can follow that really.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Just agree with it.
It is a wonder to hear Scripture quoted in the House of Commons - and the Authorised Version, at that: “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

We can but wait.

His Grace would like to thank Mr Rees-Mogg for his intelligent, eloquent and forthright intervention in this debate. An £18million pro-EU propaganda fund will do wonders for the forthcoming referendum (whenever it be). It is heartening to note that on this matter Mr Rees-Mogg takes his whip from neither the Conservative Party nor his Holy Mother.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Welby praises "profoundly thoughtful" IDS: "We're very careful about saying he's got it wrong"

When Zeinab Badawi, for the BBC's Hardtalk programme (c21.30), asked the Archbishop of Canterbury if he was "making the Church too political" (which she defines as "going into the realm of policy"), Justin Welby was unequivocal:
Of course you have to talk about policy, but we're political, not party political.. We have more people on the ground in more places, leading worshipping communities, than anyone else in the country. Professional people living in their parishes across 9000 places in the country, often in the areas of the utmost deprivation. Of course we're aware of the pressures on the poor, and when I read my Bible I find that Jesus commands me to be very outspoken about the pressures on the poor..

The Church has been talking on welfare benefits and the reforms to that for some time. Iain Duncan Smith is profoundly thoughtful.. the Work and Pensions Secretary who's leading on this legislation and on these reforms is one of the most educated and thoughtful people in this area there is. I think we're very careful about saying he's got it wrong.

Sometimes the application of policy is complex in its impact on individuals, and that needs to be recognised, and we hear that. And when we hear that we speak about it. I'm very careful about saying the reforms are wrong: of course they've got to be right for those who contribute and right for those who receive.. The incentives to work are hugely important; training for work is hugely important.
It is a bizarrely ill-informed BBC view of the Church of England - the Established State Church with 26 Lords Spiritual in the Upper House of Legislature - that it should not "interfere" in the realm of political policy. Politics is the stuff of life, and policy can be transformational. What Christian isn't going to have a view on it? What is the Church for if it is not to speak truth to power? What does she think the Bishops actually do every day in the House of Lords if not scrutinise legislation and ask awkward questions?

Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that the Bishops do not represent a political party, it is absurd to pretend that they are not political animals. They may not represent parliamentary constituencies, but the Archbishop of Canterbury makes it clear that they are closer to their communities than any other national organisation, and this informs their diocesan and national roles. They may be constitutionally non-aligned, but like the independent Crossbenchers, they ask political questions and take political decisions. Of course, their parliamentary profession of neutrality is coloured by their individual inclination: the vast majority veer very much toward the left; to Socialist Labour and to the sacred writ of the Guardian.

Which is why Justin Welby's appreciation of Iain Duncan Smith is rather interesting. It is one thing to point out that the Church is "very careful about saying he's got it wrong" - that would be a cautious expression of the non-aligned politics of Upper-House neutrality. But praising the individual as being "one of the most educated and thoughtful people in this area there is" comes very close indeed to an affirmation of policy, for it is concerned with individual motives and morality. Rowan Williams found Iain Duncan Smith's pronouncements "disturbing". But not Justin Welby. What is the likelihood of "one of the most educated and thoughtful people in this area" getting it wrong?

Iain Duncan Smith is concerned with feeding the poor, housing the homeless and loving the lonely, because such actions reflect the humanitarian priorities which lie at the Christian core of his being. He is good-natured and sincere; concerned with individual lives and family welfare, not bland and impersonal matters of economics and statistics. There are quite a few bishops - Anglican and Roman Catholic - who would take the Owen Jones line on IDS and his reforms: he's not evil, but certainly unforgivably cruel. They attack the politician more than the policies, hence their visceral hatred, still, for Margaret Thatcher. But Justin Welby appreciates personhood. And this would be true whether we're taking about Iain Duncan Smith or Ed Miliband: Socialism may bankrupt the country, keep families in poverty and deprive children of a good education, but Archbishop Justin would still have Mr Miliband in for a coffee to chat about welfare policy and education, not least because minds are only changed through dialogue and persuasion.

But personal praise? His (former) Grace can't quite see His (present) Grace saying of Ed Miliband or Ed Balls that he is "one of the most educated and thoughtful people in this area there is". No, anyone who supports inflationary policies which hit the poor hardest, or who advocates tax increases which penalise enterprise but don't actually raise any money, is neither well-informed nor particularly thoughtful. But they're still worth a coffee.     

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tony Blair is right – religious extremism sustains political conflict

Writing in The Observer, Tony Blair has returned to a favoured theme:
So the challenge is clear. And it is one that could define the nature of peace and conflict in the first half of the 21st century. The battles of this century are less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology – like those of the 20th century – but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference.
He first articulated this view back in 2008 when he opened his Faith Foundation. He said then: "Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century." The quotation used to appear in His Grace's sidebar, for it was theo-politically accurate, if not prophetic.

But when Tony Blair talks about the "ghastly roll call of terror attacks" caused by religious extremism in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Pakistan, he's not talking about those pesky Quakers. He throws down the gauntlet: "We can either see all of these acts of killing as separate – produced by various political contexts – or we can start to see the clear common theme and start to produce a genuine global strategy to deal with it."

And that "clear common theme" is "people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion".

He hasn't mentioned it yet, but he is absolutely right that military action will not deal with the root cause: "This extremism comes from a source. It is not innate. It is taught. It is taught sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship and it is promoted by a vast network of internet communications."

And part of the solution to the inculcation of malignant perversions of religion is educational: "People have to feel equal, not just be regarded by the law as such. Such religious tolerance has to be taught and argued for. Those who oppose it have to be taken on and defeated not only by arms but by ideas."

And then he moves to the nexus: "All over the region, and including in Iraq, where exactly the same sectarianism threatens the right of the people to a democratic future, such a campaign has to be actively waged. It is one reason why the Middle East matters so much and why any attempt to disengage is so wrong and short-sighted. It is here in the centre of Islam that so many of the issues around how religion and politics coexist peacefully will be determined."

And then he qualifies: "But this issue of extremism is not limited to Islam. There are also many examples the world over where Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths."

And he is right, of course.

Muslims are, for example, being appallingly persecuted and slaughtered by extremist 'Saffron Terror' Hindus in parts of India. It may be viewed as a purely political nationalist movement, or, as Blair exhorts, the perversion of religious teachings, for it is not easy at all to admit persecution and violence into a faith which has 'no harm' as a core precept of its teaching. Unless, of course, you're claiming to be of the Brahmin caste with a prophetic message to cleanse the land of the non-believers and impose a caste system with a common language and culture under common laws based on Manu and Vedanta.

The objective, as ever, is theocracy, and the government shall be that of the elite. The other 90 per cent must submit to God, obey the law and pay their taxes, or suffer the divinely-ordained consequences.It is a common religio-political thread.

"The answer," Mr Blair says, "is to promote views that are open-minded and tolerant towards those who are different, and to fight the formal, informal and internet propagation of closed-minded intolerance. In the 21st century, education is a security issue."

Uh-huh. It's just a pity that his New World Order isn't a little more "open-minded and tolerant" toward the Christian conscience. After all, a Roman Catholic adoption agency isn't quite as detrimental to society as an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell.   

But he takes this opportunity to remind us of his current raison d'être, his passion, his divine vocation: "I established a foundation whose aim is to promote greater knowledge and understanding between people of different faiths. This is not a call to faith – it is a call to respect those of all faiths and not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths."

It is, of course, a benign call to faith: it is simply not possible to be such a prominent adherent of any religion and not to have one's every word and action ascribed to the potential spiritual fons et origo. Thus does the world judge Islam by the vile words and hateful actions of Osama bin Laden; and they judge Scientology by the antics and inconsistent morality of Tom Cruise and John Travolta. When Sir Cliff Richard challenges poverty or expresses compassion to those suffering with dementia, it is not Sir Cliff the rock star but Cliff the obedient disciple who acts and ministers.

The Christian vocation is to be Christ-like: Tony Blair is being Jesus as best as he knows how, and his faith is integral to and inseparable from his being. He famously did not "do God" in office: out of office he is doing God in abundance, and that God is Christian, and specifically liberal Roman Catholic. The means of inculcating his enlightened spirituality is education: "We focus on practical programmes. The schools programme, accredited to the international GCSE and recognised by the international baccalaureate, uses video conferencing and online interaction to link classes of students from different countries across the world to learn about each other and to learn to live with each other."

This is not a call for repentance and conversion: it is an exhortation to peace. And what is wrong with that? "Blessed are the peacemakers," said the Lord. And so Blair exhorts governments "to start to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics, to go to the roots of where a false view of religion is being promulgated, and to make it a major item on the agenda of world leaders to combine effectively to combat it".

And here he has a sure and certain ally in the Prince of Wales, who freely talks of "fundamentalist Islamist militants"; and a manifest hurdle in Baroness Warsi – the Minister for Faith – who insists that those who perpetrate such atrocities are "extremists who do not follow any faith".

Baroness Warsi is convening a summit to deal with "secular extremism"; Tony Blair is educating the nations child-by-child about "perversions of religion". No one is specifically talking about the evils of Wahhabi-Salfist Islam, and the problems of believing that Mohammed was greater than Jesus, and that those who seek peace should behave in the minutest acts of daily life just as Mohammed behaved – domestically, socially, economically and politically.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Maajid Nawaz: enlightened liberalism swamped by a tide of intolerant Muslims

His Grace reported on this a few days ago: Petition to deselect LibDem candidate Maajid Nawaz for tweeting Jesus and Mo cartoon. He said then: "To be deselected by a political party and barred from standing for Parliament merely for articulating a religious opinion or supporting a particular theological doctrine is an offence to all that is reasonable, honourable and just," and readers and communicants were encouraged to sign the petition supporting Mr Nawaz.

On that day, the two petitions stood at 5,476 in favour of deslecting him, and only 1,150 supporting his right to a) not be offended by a cartoon; b) to say so; and c) to tweet so, with a link to the Jesus and Mo cartoon. Is Parliament really to be purged of those who hold or express religious views to which a few others may object?

Even after His Grace's appeal, which Richard Dawkins kindly re-tweeted to his 884,000 followers, the PETITION supporting Maajid Nawaz stands at just 5,348, and the petition calling for his deselection stands at 19,451.

Political petitions are trivial things, but, seriously, if this is the response of disparate and apathetic enlightened liberalism to the militant zealotry of humourless and intolerant Muslims, we are screwed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Blasphemy in the Cathedral; censorship in the theatre

In England, a cathedral has consented to a screening of a film considered by many Christians to be irreverent and debauched, if not blasphemous. In Northern Ireland, a theatre has cancelled a show which is considered by a few Christians to be irreverent and childish, if not blasphemous. The sacred space is resisting calls to cancel the screening; the secular space has bowed to the sensitivities of Christian politicians. 

Wells Cathedral in Somerset will be showing Martin Scorsese's controversial  The Last Temptation of Christ as part of the Bath Film Festival tomorrow, 25th January, at 7:30pm. Despite protests from members of the congregation that the film distorts the gospel and sexualises Christ, the Dean, the Very Reverend John Clarke, is of the view that the notorious sex scenes between Jesus and Mary Magdalene raise importnat questions about Christ's divinity: "In this more sceptical age the church should not hide from controversy and part of the task of the cathedral is to promote an intelligent faith that is capable of attracting men and women to follow in the way of Jesus in the twenty first century," he said.

The Theatre at the Mill in County Antrim has cancelled the Reduced Shakespeare Company's less controversial show The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), which was due to open next week, on 29th January. Some councillors protested that it trivialised Scripture, mocked God and ridiculed Christ. So the theatre has cancelled the show. "In taking this decision, the (Arts Board) wishes to confirm its commitment to deliver on the agreed council's artistic policy to deliver the highest quality performing arts programme, offering a diverse, socially relevant and enriching experience to as many citizens as possible," said a council statement.

It is a bizarre state of affairs when a hallowed historic cathedral - built to glorify God and magnify the name of Jesus - can turn cinema for a night and play host to an offensive interpretation and false representation of the gospel, while a secular theatre is prohibited from performing the superficially profane. Of course, Christians may freely choose not to attend the Cathedral screening, thereby avoiding the taking of offence, but so could they have chosen not to attend the Theatre at the Mill, which is effectively censoring performance out of respect for religious views not held by very may indeed.

The Cathedral Dean and Chapter could have supported a screening of Scorsese's film in a local cinema and then hosted a theological discussion. Would they have been as welcoming of a piece of live theatre which included extreme acts of violence or Jesus having sex? Why do they believe that celluloid mitigates offence?

The Reduced Shakespeare Company say their abridged Bible show is "an affectionate, irreverent roller coaster ride from fig leaves to final judgment as the bad boys of abridgement tackle the great theological questions: Did Adam and Eve have navels? Did Moses really look like Charlton Heston? And why isn’t the word 'phonetic' spelt the way it sounds? Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, Atheist or Jedi, you will be tickled by the RSC’s romp through old time religion."

You may make up your own minds:

His Grace recalls the artistic protests surrounding a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in 2005 at the Barbican Theatre. The text, as written, demands the burning of the Qur'an on-stage with quite few cursings addressed to Mohammed. But the offending sections were cut so the audience did not hear Tamburlaine say that the Prophet was "not worthy to be worshipped" or that he "remains in hell". The artistic director, Simon Reade, said that such phrases "would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions".

And so this great text was bowdlerised, essentially on ‘health and safety’ grounds.

England's theatres are not only attuned to the sensitivities of Muslims: in the same year, some 400 members of the Sikh community descended on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to demand the play Behzti (‘dishonour’) be cancelled because it caused them offence. The theatre duly obliged.

But only in Northern Ireland do Christians demand artistic censorship in the secular space, thereby resurrecting the paternal role of the Lord Chamberlain as society's guardian of artistic morality and decency. And only in England do sacred cathedrals host that which is artistically immoral and indecent. Both decisions are utterly wrong, morally amiss, and a cause of great shame.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rowan Williams' plea to Prime Minister on Syrian refugees

Dear Prime Minister,

We are deeply concerned about the growing Syrian refugee crisis which you have accurately described as ‘the greatest refugee crisis of our time’. As you will know, more than two million people have fled the country, including over one million children, the majority of whom are now living in extremely precarious circumstances. Figures suggest that only around 0.1% of the people fleeing the conflict have found safety in the UK while 97%, are being hosted by the neighbouring countries.

We write to you today to urge you to heed UNHCR’s call to help the countries bordering Syria by establishing a co-ordinated resettlement programme in the UK with a focus on the more vulnerable refugees, including women at risk, those with disabilities, vulnerable older adults and families with children.

We commend you for pledging £600 million in humanitarian aid to assist people in Syria and the region. However, we are extremely concerned to hear reports of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape from the camps on the border, and with the arrival of winter and freezing temperatures, these are plainly unacceptable environments for many at risk.

Only a resettlement programme will offer a durable solution for the most vulnerable who will struggle to survive in the harsh conditions in the region.

You are well aware of the scale of the crisis which shows no signs of abating. UNHCR has predicted that next year the total Syrian refugee population will increase to over 4 million. Unsurprisingly, given the numbers crossing their borders, Syria’s neighbours are buckling under the strain. We are extremely alarmed to hear that scores of people trying to escape the fighting, including families with small children, are being denied admission by neighbouring countries. According to an April 2013 survey, 71 per cent of Jordanians want the border with Syria to be closed to new arrivals. With thousands of people fleeing Syria everyday, this would be catastrophic.

There is a moral imperative on western countries to show solidarity with Syria’s neighbours by sharing the responsibility of protecting some of the people fleeing Syria.

UNHCR has called for western countries to take 30,000 people through resettlement or humanitarian admission with a focus on the vulnerable, a modest target given the scale of the crisis. So far 18 countries, including Germany, France and the USA, have responded to this call. Despite our proud tradition of protecting refugees, the UK has yet to respond.

We urge you to work with the UNHCR and the international community in the establishment of a global resettlement programme to help the most vulnerable find safety outside of the region. We must play our part in providing a safe haven to Syria’s refugees.

We would be grateful for your thoughts on this issue and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss it in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon. the Baroness Williams of Crosby
Rt Hon. the Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham
Lord Avebury
Baroness Berridge
Rt Hon. the Baroness Boothroyd OM
Lord Brennan QC
Viscount Brookeborough DL
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Carlisle
Lord Chidgey
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Coventry
Baroness Cox
Lord Desai
Lord Dholakia
Lord Dubs
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Gloucester
Baroness Goudie
Lord Greaves
Baroness Hamwee
Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG
Baroness Howarth of Breckland
Baroness Hooper CMG
Lord Hylton
Lord Judd
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC
Rt Hon Lord Kilclooney of Armagh
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Lichfield
Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE
Rt Rev. and the Rt Hon. the Lord Bishop of London
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
Baroness Meacher
Baroness Morgan of Huyton
Lord Parekh
Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Rt Hon. the Lord Roper
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of St Albans
Earl of Sandwich
Rt Hon. the Baroness Smith of Basildon
Lord Snape
Baroness Stern CBE
Baroness Suttie
Lord Taverne
Baroness Tonge
Rt. Rev. the Lord Bishop of Truro
Baroness Uddin
Rt. Rev. the Lord Bishop of Wakefield
Rt Hon. the Lord Warner
Baroness Whitaker
Rt Hon. the Lord Whitty
Rt Hon. the Lord Wigley
Rt Rev. and the Rt Hon. the Lord Williams of Oystermouth
Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Worcester
Lord Wright of Richmond GCMG

And if His Grace were a Peer of the Realm, he would urgently append his name to this plea.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Warsi: Christian persecution has become "a global crisis"

Minister for Faith and Communities Baroness Warsi has written to the Vatican's newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, expressing her dismay at the global scale of Christian persecution. Throughout the Middle East - and especially in Syria, Egypt and Iraq - Christians are suffering a level and scale of discrimination, abuse, torture and murder not seen since the Roman emperors were burning believers alive to illuminate their garden parties; dressing them in animal skins to be torn apart by dogs; or crucifying them, to die in lingering agony. The lucky ones had a quick death by beheading.

Baroness Warsi is of the view that majority Muslim nations have a duty to defend Christian minorities. Nice words, but how does one inculcate a sense of such duty in those countries and communities where millions are steeped from birth in a virulent ideology which directly opposes it? In the West, many Muslims view Christians as "People of the Book"; fellow worshippers of the One True God, on a journey toward faith illuminated by the Torah and the Gospels. Yet throughout the rest of the world, and certainly in majority Muslim countries, Christians are kuffar or dhimmi - disbelievers in the Prophet Mohammad, socially subordinate to Muslims, from whom compulsory taxation (jizha) is to be extracted for 'protection'. In some of these cultures, Christians are a little lower than pigs. Throughout the Middle East, lambs are slaughtered in a more humane fashion than Christians are beheaded.

The Minister for Faith and Communities says "the government has elevated (religious discrimination against Christians and other minorities) to a key priority in the government’s human rights work".

That's good. At least the systematic slaughter of Christians has hit the FCO's radar. But what are the politicians going to do about it? How does the UK practically intervene to aid the suffering Christians of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen? Seriously, what is Lady Warsi's solution for dealing with radical jihadi Muslims when she denies that these extremists are Muslims at all?

And what about the anguished Christians of Saudi Arabia?

Or do we turn a convenient blind eye to their plight, on account of trade deals and the need to maintain good relations with the ruling House of Saud?

Baroness Warsi's letter is reproduced here in full:
Since taking on my role in 2012 as the first ever UK Minister for faith, I have made the issue of religious freedom a personal priority. The threat to religious freedom, I believe, has become a global crisis. As a result, the UK government has elevated it to a key priority in our human rights work, and, more broadly, we have shown that we understand the huge importance of religion at home and abroad.

An illustration of that approach came when I led the largest ever UK ministerial delegation to the Holy See, nearly two years ago. My speech to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy focused on the need for people to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs - to recognise that accepting and even defending another faith does not diminish your own. Given the continued plight of Christians in the Middle East and beyond, that argument has become more relevant, and the need to heed it more urgent.

The bitterest irony of this persecution - ostracism, discrimination, abuse, forced conversion, torture and even murder - is that it is taking place in a region where Christianity has its roots. Sometimes these cases are examples of collective punishment: people lashing out at Christian minorities in response to events happening many miles away. Other times, a Christian is just a convenient 'other' - a scapegoat.

What is taking place is not acceptable. The UK government is committed to standing up to such persecution, and that requires international political consensus. To that end, last September in New York I convened a second meeting of international leaders to discuss what more politicians can do to promote freedom of religion or belief and fight religious intolerance within our societies. In February I met the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Theodoros II in Cairo and in October I met with Patriarch Gregorios III to discuss the plight of Christians in Syria and I explained our readiness to speak up on behalf of all who are targeted because of their religion or belief.

In all this I believe we should be making a very powerful argument: that not only is religious freedom is a good thing in itself; it is a good thing for economies and societies to progress and flourish. This formed the basis of my speech at Georgetown University last year, when I argued that we must appeal both to states', groups' and individuals' moral obligations, and to their desire for prosperity.

In doing so, we must make sure our approach is not sectarian in itself. Christians defending Christian, Muslims defending Muslims - that will not put a stop to the rising tide of religious persecution. Instead we need a cross-faith response to the problem. That will be the primary focus of an international conference, the first of its kind, which I will be hosting in 2014. As Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, "interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities". History teaches us that we have only defeated intolerance and hatred when we have all come together, whatever the cause. The majority communities need to defend the minorities.

So that is our approach: non-sectarian; promoting the benefits of religious pluralism; demonstrating the fact that accepting and co-existing with another faith is in no way a diminishment of your own faith, but, in fact, the most powerful demonstration of confidence in your beliefs.
His Grace awaits the results of this approach. "Powerful argument" with the adherents of Wahhabi-Salafist-jihadism (who, remember, aren't actually Muslims) seems somewhat ineffectual when the state has far more effective and immediate means at its disposal.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Petition to deselect LibDem candidate Maajid Nawaz for tweeting Jesus and Mo cartoon

Is this cartoon offensive?

The BBC thinks so. On their Sunday morning programme The Big Questions on 12th January, the producers opted not to display it to viewers even though the Jesus and Mo satirical comic strip was the very topic of debate. By doing so, they chose to manifest and perpetuate a certain hyper-sensitivity to an imagined sharia compliance with which very few British Muslims actually accord, let alone the vast majority of non-Muslims. By censoring this innocuous image, the BBC is inculcating the whole nation with the belief that depictions of Mohammed are haram - forbidden - and that everyone - people of all faiths and none - must respect and obey this precept.

Setting aside the irrefutable historic fact that Shia Muslims have a centuries-old tradition of depicting Mohammed, and this sort of strict censorship being principally a Sunni assertion of belief (including the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), it is surely not for the state broadcaster to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.

The fact that the BBC chose to censor a T-shirt depicting this cartoon rather upset Muslim Maajid Nawaz, who was a guest on the show. He proceeded to tweet out the image to his followers with the message: “This is not offensive & I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Mr Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and became director of the anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation. He is now the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mohammed is his prophet, and Islam is his faith. But he understands perfectly that some people view Islam is a vile ideology and, for many, Mohammed is no kind of prophet at all. And depicting Mohammed saying "Hey" to Jesus does not offend him in the slightest.

No reasonable person goes out of their way to cause offence. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz was simply challenging the BBC's (myopic) interpretation of a particular (narrow) view of sharia, and demonstrating that British Muslims are moderate and do not reach for the nearest meat-cleaver to dismember the apostate or behead the blaspheming kuffar.

Sadly, a few Muslims have now threatened Mr Nawaz with certain 'surprises', and others have been more explicit in what they would like to do to him:

A few moderate types are simply demanding that he be deselected as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate. They include Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, who tweeted: “I intend to formally complain to the @libdems about @MaajidNawaz and his offensive tweet of a cartoon.” And also George Galloway:

Mr Nawaz has tried to educate these dimwitted hooligans, explaining: “My point is, that cartoon is not offensive. That's my opinion. Don't like it? Don't read my tweets". And he has called for calm.

But there is a petition for the LibDems to deselect Mr Nawaz (currently with 5,476 signatures), and its organisers appeal to Article 3.1(b) of the LibDem Constitution, which says:
As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.
And there is a counter-petition (currently with 1,150 signatures) to Nick Clegg urging support. Its organisers explain:
Islamists and political opponents have mounted a campaign against Maajid Nawaz, resulting in numerous threats to his life. We note that this campaign, rather than being based on legitimate concerns of Muslims, is a political campaign which is being spear-headed by a group of Muslim reactionaries with a track record of promoting extremism. They are seeking to use Muslim communities in order to whip up hatred against a liberal and secular Muslims. We are concerned that this campaign will also be used by anti-Muslim extremists as evidence of Muslim intolerance and incompatibility with liberal values which could, in turn, fuel anti-Muslim bigotry.
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society hits the nail of liberty squarely on the head. He says: "We simply can't have a climate where politicians are intimidated into silence by people who believe they have a right not to have their religious sensibilities offended. Anything other than complete Liberal Democrat support for Maajid could have a very chilling effect on free speech in this country."

This is more or less what Nigel Farage said in support of Ukip Councillor David Silvester, who has since been suspended (for continuing to stoke the fire, it must be noted; not for expressing his personal beliefs about divine judgment). This is also the rational view taken by very many Muslims, who must now it seems be styled 'moderate', as though they were an emerging denomination distinct from the extremists.

Freedom of expression is essential to the functioning of a liberal democracy, and strong passions may be aroused on both sides of any dispute. If we cease to respect such freedom, we no longer tolerate difference or dissent. And tolerance is important because the alternative is religious war or cultural conflict. Those who demand the censoring of the expression of religious beliefs have no sense or understanding of the common life, and so it disintegrates into a chaos of warring factions. Where there is no respect for pluralism or diversity, there is no grasp of the common good. And a society is only good when it sustains freedom from tyranny and the imposition of an oppressive uniformity. 

His Grace has no wish to augment Nick Clegg's present woes, but this is important. Culture is a shared social reality, and the good of the British culture arises from the historic Christian commitment to support and foster religious freedom as a shared virtue. Please sign the petition in support of Maajid Nawaz. To be deselected by a political party and barred from standing for Parliament merely for articulating a religious opinion or supporting a particular theological doctrine is an offence to all that is reasonable, honourable and just.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Blue Monday - the most depressing day of the year

Apparently, today is 'Blue Monday'. The most wonderful time of the year has given way to the most depressing day of the year (according to a YouGov survey). It's certainly a very depressing day for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, though this has nothing to do with Christmas, unless Lord Rennard was 'active' at LibDem festive bashes, too. The Mental Health Foundation has calculated the formula establishing the 'Blue Monday' phenomenon as:

where weather = W, debt = d, time since Christmas = T, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions =Q, low motivational levels = M, and the feeling of a need to take action = Na. 'D' is not defined, nor are units of measurement.

The Church of England has helpfully produced a healing antidote video (above) to counteract the doldrums, but His Grace isn't at all sure of its efficacy: the musac alone is sufficient to drive one to the dentist's waiting room. Do they assume that those who watch this are uplifted by Richard Clayderman shopping-mall pap?

And the message? Well, if you wade through the gloomy weather, credit card bills, pay-it-forward and the Polish psychologist Andrew Bienkowski, it is essentially "May you be blessed this Blue Monday, and always. After all we have breath; we have life; we have shelter. We are here."

The name of Jesus is mentioned nowhere: just an oblique allusion to "the God (or god?) who became flesh and dwelt among us." Did He not have a name? Are they ashamed of it? And apparently this unnamed God (or god) came not to save us from our sin, but as someone to help us "enter life more fully; to embrace it; to make the most of it."

This isn't even milk: it is watery brain science video-therapy: a Christian reflection devoid of Christ and Scripture. A quotation from the Psalmist rather than a psychologist would have been preferable. Invocation of CS Lewis (Surprised by Joy) or a few thoughts from Pope Tawadros II (suffering 'real-blues' persecution) would have put a few credit card bills and weight-gain into perspective.

Now, His Grace isn't one for cramming Christ into every utterance or insisting that the Bible is the only source of wisdom: He is far more missiologically attuned and culturally sensitised than that. He agrees that you should indeed #countyourblessings (today's Twitter hashtag), including your family, friends, health and wealth (the CofE press release doesn't mention wealth). But it is well known that 'Blue Monday' is Sky Travel marketing pseudoscience, so quite why the Church of England has invested(?) funds in this project is something of a mystery.

The Bishop of Chelmsford the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell clearly knows this. He says: "It's no surprise to find that 'Blue Monday' originated as a piece of PR puff and this is reinforced by the poll results. Happiness comes when we stop living our lives just for ourselves. The importance of family and partners highlights that when we are loved and show love it begins to make a difference to how we live and how we view the world. No wonder that the Christian faith places the self-giving love of Jesus at its heart. God can always provide affirmation even when the still important human affirmation lets us down."

At least the Bishop mentions Jesus.

But it is curious that the Church of England can produce something so crass one day, and something quite brilliant the next. This is currently displayed on the London Underground:

Plastic Jesus? It's catchy, memorable, almost indelible. In that succinct phrase lies a dozen sermons challenging preconception, and in the tacky visual the trigger to thousands of commuter reflections on idolatry and triviality.

The video carries the imprimatur of the Archbishops' Council: the poster that of the Euston Church. The objectives of the former are somewhat diffuse; those of the latter are rather more succinct: "to know Jesus Christ and we long to make Him known".

Is this not evidence that mission is most effective when it is inspired and devised by passionate individuals operating in a local context, rather than by a broad committee seeking to inculcate an entire nation with a vague sense of spiritual consciousness?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

We have more to fear from religious state orthodoxy than a biblically-illiterate Ukip councillor

A Ukip councillor from Henley-on-Thames has written to his local newspaper claiming that the current deluge of tempest and floods aflicting the United Kingdom are "divine retribution for the government's decision to legalise gay marriage". The subsequent outpouring of incredulity, condemnation and scorn has been rather disproportionate to the man's political (or religious) significance, except to say that elections to the European Parliament are fast approaching, and Ukip are widely tipped push the Conservative Party into a humiliating third place, if not win outright. Ergo, the merest unorthodox utterance by the lowliest of Nigel Farage's rabble army will be tend to be whipped up into a storm of shame and embarrassment.

David Silvester had been a life-long Tory (he is still named on Henley Conservatives' website as a branch treasurer). He defected to Ukip when David Cameron changed the natural-law (and dictionary) definition of marriage to embrace homosexual partnerships, thereby riding roughshod over millennia of Judæo-Christian orthodoxy (not to mention, Islamic, Hindu and Sikh beliefs on the primacy of the procreative potential of sexual union). The consequence of this, according to Mr Silvester, are storms, floods and other climactic judgments, which are God's warning about national rebellion, idolatry and apostasy.

The full letter is worth reading, not least because Mr Silvester expounds his belief and sets it in some sociological context, including the Queen's Coronation Oath. It is theologically naive and evidences spiritual immaturity, but the Bible exhorts us to nurture milk-drinkers onto meat (1 Cor 3:2), notwithstanding that some are patently unable to digest it.

David Silvester was probably nurtured in 80s Baptist charismatic fundamentalism and believes that sexual sin is worse than murder, torture, rape and genocide. If not, why is his God not busy flooding vast swathes of the Middle East? Surely the 'cleansing' of millions of Christians from the land is more offensive than a few gays in Henley-on-Thames? And why on earth is He sending the rains upon Bangladesh, which has quite strict laws on homosexuality?

Mr Silvester's letter is being widely trailed as a 'homophobic rant', but his target is not gays and lesbians but David Cameron who, he says, has acted "arrogantly against the Gospel". It is the Prime Minister who is to blame for the bad weather; not the LGBT communities whom God was perfectly happy to tolerate until Mr Cameron allowed them to marry. Only then did the Lord decide to flood the households of gay and straight alike (but not, it must be observed, No10 or Chequers). Quite why He seemed okay with civil partnership is something of a mystery. As His Grace has previously written:
His Grace has received an email telling him that these present floods and interminable downpours are God's judgment upon a sinful and rebellious nation.

No, they absolutely and unequivocally are not.

Firstly, God promised never to do that again (Gen 9:11-17); and secondly, the books of wisdom found in the Bible suggest that the wicked may prosper while the righteous suffer. Job’s counsellors were of most use when they sat with him in silence for seven days (2:13). Though their understanding of suffering was partial, in their silence they moved towards empathy and understanding.
You may think David Silvester unutterably stupid, biblically illiterate or bigoted. You may decry the damage done to the Faith with each crass utterance. But the belief that "the scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel" will be somehow punished is not unique to a lowly Ukip councillor: you will find it expressed by a number of politicians - especially those of representing Northern Ireland constituencies. Why does the media tolerate the DUP's Rev'd William McCrea MP ranting about the 'Sin of the Nation' - basically lesbians having children and the number of mosques plaguing the land - but not Ukip's Councillor Silvester?

The truth is that if you scratch beneath the surface of any religiously-inclined politician (except, of course, Anglicans of the Magic-FM-in-the-Chilterns disposition), you will find 'bigoted' beliefs which will offend all manner of modern sensibilities. How many Muslims repudiate gay marriage? How many Hindus and Sikhs believe that disabled people are paying the price for wrongs done in previous lives? How many Roman Catholics believe the Church of England to be a sham of an institution, a facade of ecclesiology and a wayward expression of theology that needs bringing back into the fold? Bigotry is everywhere.

But the demand is for conformity to the zeitgeist: dissent is intolerable, and must be punished. Astonishingly, even The Spectator condemns Nigel Farage for his "laissez-faire approach on unconventional views". This is appalling bandwagon-jumping from the Spectator, which was once edited by that famous conventional conformist Boris Johnson; which conventionally supported David Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative Party before anyone else had even heard of him; which employs that renowned lover of convention Rod Liddle; and which conforms utterly to that well-known convention of repudiating every notion of man-made global warming.

For the Spectator, it appears that only in the realm of religion must everyone be blandly conventional.

Ukip said the views expressed by Mr Silvester were "not the party's belief" but defended his right to state his opinions. It is an obvious point, but (sadly) needs to made . A party spokeswoman said:
"If the media are expecting Ukip to either condemn or condone someone's personal religious views they will get absolutely no response. Whether Jain or Sikh or Buddhist or Sufi or Zoroastrian or Jewish or Muslim or Baptist or Hindu or Catholic or Baha'i or Animist or any other mainstream or minor religion or movement, we are taught as a tolerant society to accept a diversity of ideologies. Freedom to individual thought and expression is a central tenet of any open-minded and democratic country. It is quite evident that this is not the party's belief but the councillor's own and he is more than entitled to express independent thought despite whether or not other people may deem it standard or correct. That is what makes the United Kingdom such a wonderful, proud, diverse and free country."
And so it should be. The imposition of a uniform pattern of public utterance exposes the merest trace of unorthodoxy as a jarring dissonance. Not since 1559 has there been an Act of Uniformity requiring everyone to assent to a particular worldview, and it took more than 300 years to eradicate that. In a free society, David Silvester ought to be free to express his religious views and Ukip free to select him as a candidate. There is far more to fear from intolerant assertions of state orthodoxy than a ranting Ukip councillor with outdated views on divine deluges. Biblical literacy ought not to be a qualification for standing for or holding public office: the ultimate judgment should lie with the electorate and the ballot box.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The slaughter of Syria's Christians - doing nothing is not an option

This young boy sleeps in between the graves of his dead parents. The location is unknown, except for it being somewhere in Syria. The faith of the boy is unknown, but it is immaterial. The suffering of innocents breaks the heart. The grieving of a child is an agony shared by the whole of humanity. His loss is bottomless; his despair boundless; his tears endless.

He is just one child in a sea of suffering in which thousands are being butchered and millions displaced. As ever, the Christians are getting it worst. According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), violence against Christians in Syria is becoming "one of the worst persecutions endured by Christians in this part of the third millennium". Christianity risks being expunged from the region altogether. Another report talks of Christians being beheaded simply for wearing a cross, and tells us that "more than 600,000 Christians - a third of the total Syrian faithful - are internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries".

Other estimates put the figure at 1.3 million - that is two thirds of the entire Christian population of Syria. They have no destiny and serve no purpose: they are victims fate and chance. We can talk of the "Christian hope" and waffle on about God's promises and the unfathomable peace of Christ. But when you are cold and hungry, words bring little comfort. And when you're grieving for your mum and dad, a rational appeal to God's coming vindication offers absolutely nothing.

Apparently the UK is giving aid, along with the rest of the EU, which amounts to millions of pounds. That's nice, but this boy needs a hug, a shoulder, and new familial relationships to begin to heal his lamenting spirit. He doesn't understand talk of the anti-Assad forces, Al-Qaeda or the Free Syrian Army. He doesn't do politics. He just wants to put his arms around his parents and be loved again.

And his story - whatever it is - will be just one among the multitudes of the innocent dead. When St John saw the martyred souls beneath the altar crying "How long?" (Rev 6:9f), he saw the question as the Old Testament prophets had left it:
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever (Dan 12:2f).
Outstanding injustice awaits the final intervention of God to judge this world and to give life to the dead. Daniel expresses the limitations of a purely cosmological theodicy in chapters 4 and 5. It is the opacity of history, the sealed scroll in God's hand, that reduces John to tears. It is the revelation of the Lion of Judah, who is also the sacrificed Lamb of God, which affords us a glimpse of joy that evil and suffering are made intelligible.

But this doesn't comfort the grieving children of Homs, Maaloula or Aleppo. We can pray and/or send money. Or we can physically go there and weep with those who weep. We can petition the Government to open our borders and welcome them as we should all widows and orphans. Whatever or whichever, doing nothing is not an option.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Archbishop Justin appoints Evangelical Tory Baucum to Canterbury

Please don't be over-excited by the title of this post: 'Tory' is the man's name, not his political inclination. The Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed the Rev Dr Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church, Virginia, as one of Six Preachers at Canterbury Cathedral.

Don't fall asleep. This is significant, especially to the ill-informed and ignorant who puff and blow that Justin Welby is not "evangelical" (His Grace won't bother linking: you'll find the assertion mainly in the Telegraph's tedious anti-Anglican refrains). But this appointment will irritate liberals and traditionalists alike: those who prioritise issues of gender and sexuality in all aspects of ministry; and those who hold a certain dogmatic view of Christian leadership and the worldwide Anglican structure. 

Truro Church is part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is not a member of the Anglican Communion. They are, however, in full communion with the Anglican churches of Nigeria, Uganda, and Sudan, and affiliated to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which was born of GAFCON.

This all sounds painfully convoluted and schismatic, but essentially ACNA is composed of Anglo-Catholic and Evangelicals who could no longer submit to the "un-Biblical and un-Anglican practices and teaching" of the US Episcopal Church. To some, they are the misogynists and homophobes. To others, they are faithful to the catholic traditions of the Church of England and the Worldwide Anglican Communion. They are unequivocally theologically conservative, being opposed to women bishops and believing that marriage is between one man and one woman. They are also staunchly pro-life, holding that "all members and clergy are called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death".

Dr Baucum even preaches the Reformation, asserting (quite rightly) that His Grace "was a Catholic who yearned to see the Medieval Church reformed" (to a gospel-based soteriology), and that the Church of England "was simply an attempt to re-Christianize Christendom by reintroducing to the Church the full power of Christian salvation". 

GAFCON decreed that recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury was not a necessary part of Anglican identity. Rowan Williams would have been content with that assertion, if grieved by the division. By making this appointment, Justin Welby is proffering the right hand of fellowship, which is the essential unifying heart of the man. The focus is spiritual unity in ecclesial breadth, true to the Lord's teaching, His Grace's believing and Hooker's longing.

Commenting on the appointment, Archbishop Justin said: “Tory is a fine scholar, an excellent preacher, and above all someone with a holistic approach to ministry. The close friendship he has forged with Bishop Shannon Johnston (of the Episcopal Church), despite their immensely different views, sets a pattern of reconciliation based on integrity and transparency. Such patterns of life are essential to the future of the Communion. I hope and pray that Tory’s presence as one of the Six Preachers will play a part in promoting reconciliation and unity amongst us.”

Dr Baucum is, in essence, what you might call a 'staunch Anglican' - of the sort who rarely gain advancement in the present Church of England; the sort that prefer red meat to milk and aren't afraid to preach it. According to ACNA's Constitution and Canons, Dr Baucum believes:
The Bible is the inspired word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and is the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are sacraments ordained by Christ and are to be ministered with unfailing use of his words of institution and the elements ordained by him.

The historic episcopate is an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.

The church affirms the historic faith of the undivided church as declared in the three ecumenical (catholic) creeds: the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian.

Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided church, it affirms the teaching of the first four Ecumenical Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Bible.

The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the ordinal attached to it, is a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline and, with the Books which preceded it, is the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, express the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and express fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.
One may see why this appointment may not go down too well in certain liberal quarters. And, not being in fellowship with the Anglican Communion and being rather pally with Bishop Shannon Johnston,  one may understand a little muttering from those who are dismayed that schism may be rewarded and reconciliation affirmed without repentance. But the College of Six Preachers at Canterbury has a specific function. It was created by His Grace in 1541, forming part of his plans for a new foundation to replace the dissolved Priory. Canterbury was unique in this; no other cathedral had a group of preaching priests, and it was a reflection of His Grace's determination to give greater prominence to preaching the truth of salvation that it came into being.

Today, the Six Preachers are called to preach on various occasions at Canterbury Cathedral, which is the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. With the Rev Dr Tory Baucum in its pulpit, you can be sure that the truth will be preached without compromise. The Church of England's warring factions and agitating splinters across the Communion have nothing to fear but caricature and their own poor judgment.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Bill to silence debate, curb dissent and inhibit democratic engagement

Today all freedom-loving democrats the length and breadth of the United Kingdom look to the House of Lords (once again) to defend our ancient liberties and the health of democracy against this increasingly authoritarian, censorious and coercive Government.

Last September His Grace raised concerns about the (niftily-named and immeasurably soporific) Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. In short, a bill intended to promote transparency and ensure greater integrity in the democratic process may greatly restrict charities and other groups from speaking out on important matters of public interest. The Government denies this, insisting that charities are already exempt from party political campaigning. But lawyers, charities and a raft of respected organisations (IEA, TFA, CPS, TPA, PEN, BBW, ASI) take a contrary view. The Christian Institute has a helpful explanatory hub.

Today their Lordships vote on Part 2 of this Bill. Bizarrely, legislation aimed at restricting the covert activities of big business, trades unions and the manoeuvres of former politicians using an old-boys' network to enrich themselves actually risks silencing any group of community-minded people which lobbies political candidates on local or national issues. The Electoral Commission said:
"..the Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the next general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations."
The Government did step back from the brink and made some amendments, but profound concerns remain. There has been some movement on this 'year' limitation: it is now eight months. Since we know that the next General Election will be in May 2015, this Bill, if passed, will restrict freedom of expression from September of this year. Any group which spends over a certain threshold (£20k in England) lobbying potential candidates is defined as being engaged in political campaigning. Quite what happens if the Government calls an election beforehand is not clear: how may one unknowingly fall within the eight-month purdah? And what happens in a by-election? If your group has been opposing a windfarm for a year and your MP suddenly dies, do your costs suddenly constitute an election expense? And how exactly does one distinguish between seeking to influence policy and doing so for electoral purposes?

If (say) your church opposes (say) euthanasia, and you support a candidate who shares those views, your church will be deemed to have assisted that candidate and so be subject to financial regulation. If you publish views contra a pro-euthanasia candidate, you can rest assured that every phone call, flyer and coffee morning will be scrutinised, assessed and the costs totted up. That's okay, you may say: my church wouldn't spend anything like £20k on a political campaign. But nationally they may certainly do so. And if they fail to make the appropriate returns, the Archbishop risks being imprisoned.

But this £20k limit is swept aside by a particularly sinister clause. Under the proposals, any group that spends more than £9,750 on political activity in a single constituency will have to register with the Electoral Commission. It is not remotely clear what happens if your campaign is national or geared to a wider region (whether, for example, the anti-HS2 group will need to divide their budget by the number of constituencies along the route). Astonishingly, that limit includes staff costs, which is an expenditure specifically excluded for political parties. This could greatly affect the work of churches and other non-partisan voluntary groups which may have no direct involvement in an election but which happen to employ an administrator on £10k pa. Any 'substantial' agitation by such a group may constitute political lobbying.

One can foresee lengthy court cases to establish whether monies spent denouncing or supporting political policy were, in fact, designed to affect the outcome of an election, not least because organisations may be subject to these constraints even if they do not name a particular candidate.

But what constitutes political activity? Is not the whole process of ordering lives in community a constant negotiation of one interest against another? Is not participation in the whole of civilised life therefore a political pursuit? Is not campaigning to defend the lives of the unborn as political as the siting of a windfarm, the alleviation of poverty or the care afforded to our war veterans? How may one freely express an opinion on these matters without being seen to be tacitly supporting a candidate who shares one's views?

The lobbying of politicians by any interest group is integral to a healthy functioning democracy. Of course, there should be transparency and statutory limits to prevent abuse, but not at the level of having to scrutinise the conduct or register the interests of every Neighbourhood Watch scheme.  

It is principally the uncertainty created by the Bill's imprecise wording which will deter healthy debate and democratic engagement. Your church might think twice before supporting a Christian candidate, just in case they suddenly find they're engaged in lobbying and so subject to registration and a raft of burdensome regulation. It cuts to the foundations of our democracy and constitutes a direct assault on free speech and freedom of religion.

This is not a Bill to control lobbying; it is a Bill to curb dissent and impede those who seek to challenge the status quo of the establishment. One hopes and prays today that the Lords Spiritual and Temporal will expose its disturbing implications.


The Government was defeated on an important amendment. Their Lordships voted 237-194 to exempt NGO/charity staff costs from campaign spending thresholds.

The exclusion of staffing costs from campaign expenditure thresholds was a common-sense amendment, tabled by crossbencher Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly Bishop of Oxford). It passed with Conservative, Labour and LibDem support. Since staffing costs are one of the larger expenditures associated with campaigning, this amendment will be of enormous benefit to NGOs and charities and in their campaigns.

Monday, January 13, 2014

George Osborne's 'nasty' anti-youth narrative

There was an interesting observation in last week's Spectator about the internal division within the Conservative Party on welfare reform. The gulf intensified on Question Time, when Nadine Dorries categorically ruled out supporting George Osborne's latest proposal to save money by targeting young people. She said: "I have already voted on something I don't believe in. So I will not be voting on removing housing benefit for the under 25s." In an article provocatively entitled 'George Osborne's very own nasty party', the Spectator explained this 'compassion gap':
Iain Duncan Smith, who is in charge of welfare reform, is appalled at the Chancellor’s apparent relish in imposing the cuts — uncomfortable for Labour, certainly, but even more uncomfortable for those who are affected. To the Work and Pensions Secretary this is about saving lives, rather than saving money — that is the premise on which the Conservatives’ social justice strategy is founded. But Mr Osborne is making clear he sees the matter in a very different way.
On one side of the Conservative Party are the nasty slicers and slashers, eager to cut and save cash at all costs; on the other are the huggers and humane, determined to ensure social justice for the poor. The former tend to think in terms of economics and statistics; the latter about the individuals affected and their life struggles.

George Osborne sees a mob of under-25s playing a very generous benefits system and manipulating their way to a cushy life of indolence. Nadine Dorries and Iain Duncan Smith have spoken to Claire, a young homeless girl who was turfed out by her parents at the age of 16 when she became pregnant. And they also keep in touch with Zach, a 23-year old who was physically abused as a boy and descended into drugs and petty crime during his teens. He's got a job now, but it's only just covering food and bills. Moving back in with mum and dad isn't an option for either of these youngsters: without some kind of support, they would be out on the streets.

George Osborne seems to think that young people are ripe for targeting, as though none is poor and they may easily make alternative arrangements when their housing benefit is cut. It isn't as though the Chancellor doesn't have other options: Peter Hoskin at Conservative Home has identified a few, and His Grace knows one or two others. So why is George Osborne intent on targeting the nation's struggling youth while wealthy pensioners go on getting their free bus passes, TV licences and winter fuel contributions?

Surely he wouldn't be so cynical as to skew benefits toward those most likely to vote Conservative, would he?   

The poorest under-25s in the United Kingdom are not at all poor compared to the starving in Africa or the dispossessed across the Middle East. But the developed world sets higher standards.

Since poverty is relative, it is important to examine who the real poor are.

In the NT, the peasants who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (Gr. ptochos) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence). These were termed 'penes', and the distinction is important. Jesus was concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual, cf Acts 10:38). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money - the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated 'ptochos', indicating poverty-stricken, cowering down or hiding oneself for fear - quite literally, begging. The penes has to work - sometimes at menial tasks - but the ptochos has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not the penes of few possessions. This is important in a modern Western context where the threshold of poverty is defined by having access to a total annual cash income less than one half of the national average, and the non-possession of a television, video recorder, or the latest Nike trainers.

The "irruption of the poor", as Gustavo Gutiérrez phrases it in his book The Truth Shall Make You Free, remains a direct challenge to both government and church. He was writing in the 90s about the 70s and 80s, but the truth remains:
This new presence of the poor and oppressed is making itself felt in the popular struggles for liberation and in the historical consciousness arising from these struggles. It is also making itself felt within the church, for there the poor are increasingly making their voices heard and claiming openly their right to live and think the faith in their own terms.
If the ptochos is deprived of the basic needs of life - food, water, shelter, clothing – the message of salvation demands the provision of the necessities to restore dignity. But for the penes, whose life is manageable but manifestly subject to inequalities and deprivation, salvation also demands ‘human rights’ – an involvement in the democratic process, education, healthcare, and protection under the law. Gutiérrez sees both as a sort of death:
Death, in this case, is caused by hunger, sickness, or the oppressive methods used by those who see their privileges endangered by any and every effort to free the oppressed. It is physical death to which cultural death is added, because in a situation of oppression everything is destroyed that gives unity and strength to the dispossessed of this world.
George Osborne seems to want to analyse the causes of this ‘death’, and dispense charity according to worthiness. But there is no indication in Scripture that the there should be any such discrimination. Certainly, those who do not work shall not eat, but those who are not working because of the Government's economic policies and regional variations in wealth distribution is an oppression in which confidence is destroyed and hopes crushed.

The question of whether the poor are victims of their circumstances, or have made their own poverty, is of no matter in the context of evangelism. Matthew’s ‘social contract’ (Mt 7:12) becomes the great leveller, and constitutes the Church’s foundational expression of social justice.

The compassionate wing of the Conservative Party feels deprivation vicariously - often because they have experienced poverty or loss in some form themselves. They have either suffered, and then found release from a cycle of hopelessness and despair; or they have seen suffering, and been profoundly moved to take action to alleviate the effects.  

The Hebrew word for jubilee (yôbêl) means ‘release’ (Ex 21:2-6 cf Lk4:18). In a sense it constitutes the removal of the barriers which prevent human beings from participating fully in the benefits and responsibilities of the community. The legislation concerning the Jubilee (Lev 25:8ff) releases those who are denied the means of livelihood (land) and are, therefore, forced to be dependent on others (25:39-41). Luke’s ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ (Lk 4:16-19) may be seen as a declaration that the time had come for the fulfilment of these laws, with Jesus declaring the purpose of his own mission and the future mission of the Church. The economic practice of the Early Church thus gives birth to a ‘Jubilee community’ not once every 49 years, but in its daily practice, in which social justice may be defined as giving to each his or her due.

There is a challenge here for political policy. Under-25s are not ptochos, but they are perceived as being so relative to other demographic groups, and, in politics, perception is all. George Osborne really ought to know that. And certainly, compared to the penes pensioners, the penes youth are in greater need of social support because they are tomorrows wives, husbands, mothers and fathers.

It is important to note that the Lord instructs the Israelites to give generously without a grudging heart (Deut 15:10), with the acknowledgement that there will always be poor people in the land (v11). He didn’t establish a redistributive governmental tax regime, but commanded his covenant people, out of love for Him and the Law, to care for the poor from their hearts.

The fusion of the message of God’s love in providing salvation, and His manifest concern for the needy, means that the mission of the Church has political implications because it demands that people repent of social as well as personal sins, and live a new life as a member of the community of the Kingdom. Nadine Dorries and Iain Duncan Smith are Christians; George Osborne stands aloof from their inspiration: he is a secularist. He only sees the penes who is no ptochos; they see the oppression of both. 

Social justice has both political and religious implications because acts of mercy and love are a demonstration of the gospel. If a government is to rule righteously, it must be concerned with the release of all who are oppressed. While evangelism is distinct from social justice, they are contingent and related. David Bosch describes the partnership as a marriage which husband and wife not only belong to, and depend on each other, but where one should also be able to see something of the one in the other. This means that there is an evangelistic dimension in all truly Christian social action even when explicit evangelism does not take place; likewise, there is a social dimension in all authentic evangelism, even where explicit social action does not occur.
The Book of Deuteronomy is a social charter of extraordinary literary coherence and political sophistication; it is the archetype of modern western constitutionalism. For Jews and Christians committed to the continuing struggle for social justice and human rights, the Deuteronomic model of theocentric humanism remains an eminently practicable legacy. But laws are not always sufficient in themselves; we need the narrative in which they are set to understand the principles on which they operate, and we need the later narratives, prophets, psalms and wisdom literature to see how they were taken up into the life of the nation. God has spoken in all the scriptures ‘in many and varied ways’, and we must use them all in building up our picture of his character, acts and purpose.

The Good Samaritan’s love in action challenges us to work for justice, because the Church cannot remain passive or neutral when fellow men suffer from poverty. Equally, it is not only a question of ethics in the present, but also proclamation of a hope that is future. Jesus blessed those who show mercy, who work for peace, who provide hospitality without any thought of reward (Mt 5:4-9; Lk 6:30-36), and the poor themselves are blessed, for in the coming Kingdom there will be sufficient for all (Lk 6:20f). Thus the Church is not called simply to proclaim the gospel, but simultaneously to live out its evangelistic message. In the words of Bosch: "Just as one cannot speak of the church without speaking of its mission, it (is) impossible to think of the church without thinking, in the same breath, of the world to which it is sent."

Nadine Dorries and Iain Duncan Smith are concerned with feeding the poor, housing the homeless and loving the lonely, because such actions reflect the humanitarian priorities which lie at the core of their beings. They are concerned with lives. George Osborne is perceived as being detached, judgmental and indifferent to the needs of young people. This is the 'nasty' image which no amount of Cameroon re-branding has yet managed to transform, perhaps because it is authentic and destructively deep-seated.
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