Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stephen Sizer: is this behaviour befitting the leader of an evangelical church?

Who is Stephen Sizer and what exactly has he done?

Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer is the vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a Church of England church in the Diocese of Guildford. Since July 2011 he's posted links on his blog or Facebook page to four openly anti-Semitic websites: the Palestine TelegraphThe Ugly TruthVeterans Today, and Window into Palestine. In November he received a warning from his bishop, Christopher Hill, about his link to The Ugly Truth, but he didn't remove it until 4th January 2012, after being put under pressure by the Jewish Chronicle.

That looks bad. What's his side of the story?

When the Council of Christians and Jews released a statement condemning Dr Sizer, both for posting a link to The Ugly Truth, and then for the delay in removing it, the Diocese of Guildford issued the following rebuttal: 'The allegation, as the Bishop understands it, is that Mr Sizer did not withdraw his reference swiftly enough once the nature of the website had been pointed out to him. The Bishop was informed by Mr Sizer that he had taken earlier steps to withdraw the reference, but that these had not effectively removed it, until January of this year.'

Sounds a bit unlikely - it's not hard to remove a link. But I suppose it could be true couldn't it?

Well, people must have told Dr Sizer they thought it was unlikely, because he decided to change his story completely. He put this statement on his blog: 'On 4 October 2011, I posted a link to a ... website which I now know contained scurrilous and offensive material. I was made aware of this on 3 January 2012 as a result of an enquiry by the Jewish Chronicle. I could not find the link and assumed, wrongly, that I had removed it. I found it on 4 January 2012 and removed it immediately ... I have explained here how and when the link came to my attention. It did not come to my attention before then.'

So which of those stories is true, the first one where he tries and fails to remove the link after the November warning from his bishop, or the second one where he only hears he's linked to a racist site on 3rd January, the day before he removes the link?

Well we know for certain that the second story isn't true because Rev. Mark Heather from the Diocese of Guildford has confirmed that in November 2011 (i.e. six weeks before the link was removed) Dr Sizer sent an email acknowledging receipt of Bp Christopher Hill's warning about his link to The Ugly Truth.

OK, so he's publicised four different racist websites, failed to remove one of those links for six weeks after being warned about it by his bishop, and then told at least one outright lie to try to get out of trouble - why is he still a Church of England vicar?

Good question. Ask the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership: Rev. William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev. Trevor Archer of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, Rev. Iain Broomfield of Christ Church Bromley, Rev. Richard Coekin of the Co-Mission network of churches, Rev. Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Lyonsdown, Nick McQuaker of Christ Church Haywards Heath, Brian O’Donoghue of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev John Ross of Farnham Baptist Church, and Rev. Simon Smallwood of St George’s Dagenham. If they excluded Dr Sizer's church from their organisation it's hard to imagine the congregation of Christ Church Virginia Water continuing to stand by their man. But according to the SEGP Committee, there are 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

Shame on them. They wouldn't have defended him if he'd linked to Ku Klux Klan or BNP websites. Anti-Semitism must be less important to them. How about the Church of England itself - has it issued a statement? 

One of the people best placed to do that is Rev. Dr Toby Howarth, the Archbishop of Canterbury's 'Secretary for Inter-Religious Relations'. So far he's said nothing about Dr Sizer, despite the story being covered by the Jewish ChronicleStandpoint, the Church of England Newspaper, and the Church Times. His email address (freely available online) is Why not drop him a line today? You could point out that headlines in the Jewish Chronicle such as 'Anglican Vicar Links to Hate Website' hardly strengthen inter-religious relations. And you could ask him whether he thinks anti-Semitic websites stir up hatred towards Jewish people, and if so, what he plans to do about a vicar who repeatedly publicises them. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Australian painter Ralph Heimans has chosen Westminster Abbey as the location for an official portrait of Her Majesty the Queen in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee. Her Majesty is portrayed standing in the middle of the Cosmati pavement, in the location where she swore her Coronation Oath on 2nd June 1953.

Commenting on his prestigious commission, Ralph Heimans said: "Through the narrative of this portrait I wanted to explore the dynamic between the public role of the Queen and the personal, human dimension. Westminster Abbey is laden with extraordinary power – there isn’t a place more beautiful in this country." The artist spent two evenings at the Abbey earlier this year in preparation for the work.

The Queen is pictured wearing a state dress beneath the crimson velvet Robe of State, which she wore at the Coronation in June 1953, and which she has worn to the State Opening of Parliament each year for the last 60 years. Her diamond necklace and earrings were made for Queen Victoria and were worn by Her Majesty on the day of her Coronation.

Measuring 2.5m high by 3.5m wide, the oil painting, entitled 'The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II', was unveiled on Friday 28th September at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra in Australia. It will be exhibited in London in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation on 2nd June.

The Dean of Westminster Dr John Hall was invited to a private view of the portrait in London last week. He said: "When I first saw it, I found breathtaking the power of the image and the wonderful sense of Her Majesty’s contemplative focus, as well as the depiction of the Abbey in all its grandeur and beauty."

The pain in Spain is mainly inhumane

His Grace warned some years ago of impending Eurogeddon and the birth pangs of the Euromark. He wrote:
In the throes of the present unbearable strains in the eurozone, the political will is unequivocal - the euro must survive. Never one to let a Euro-crisis go to waste, Germany's Chancellor Merkel has demanded some Teutonic fiscal discipline: the single currency is the very nexus of the European dream; it is the essence of sovereign unity - a United States of Europe. Former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene once said: ‘Monetary union is the motor of European integration'.

But someone put water in the tank: Greece has been prodigal; Spain is in a 'perverse spiral'; and Portugal will doubtless follow. 'Europe', it seems, is heading for meltdown.

This is God's judgement on the Babel currency. Either that, or the financial markets have discovered that the House of Europe has been constructed on a lie.
The euro was always a house built on sand: the cause of its collapse was embedded in its very foundations. As the EMU structure has cracked and crumbled, the contagion has gradually spread through Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. €100,000,000,000s have been and are being poured into urgent bank recapitalisation and eurozone rescue, with democracy suspended in Greece and Italy as government-by-Eurocrat was imposed. The peoples of these former nations are being taxed to the hilt while their services are pared to the bone. They are locked in a cycle of debt and deflation. Protests, riots and strikes have ensued, and arch-nationalist groups have arisen to confront their suzerain creditor powers.

The medicine is bitter, says Daniel Hannan MEP. But that isn’t the half of it. The people are hurting, weeping, screaming for relief. Starving children are being abandoned in the streets, their parents unable to nourish or nurture them. Workers in the prime of life are killing themselves, less fearful of the judgment of God than the terror of economic despair. Women are begging on the streets while their men are writhing in the shame of paralysis.

This isn't some third-world vision of misery and anguish: it is first-world Europe, today, now. There is unemployment, recession, inflation and increased poverty. There is hardship, depression, homelessness and repossession. The total number of suicides, heart attacks, divorces and mental breakdowns will never be known. What monumental inhumanity.

While Berlin is undoubtedly complicit, Brussels is brazenly callous. The ECB must have seen these traumas coming, yet they did nothing to avert catastrophe. The European Commission must have known all along that judgment day would come, yet they failed to watch and warn. Like the foolish virgins, their lamps dimmed and their hope was damned. They are the demonic architects of fiscal hell, but it is the people who burn.

The love of money is the root of all evil. But the lust for the euro is the most inhumane of tortures. There can be no freedom or democracy under the ‘single supervisory mechanism’, with its obscure fiscal language and obfuscatory political manoeuvring. It is a deal from hell; a chain from purgatory; the greatest lie of all lies.

While the politicians spout their rhetoric, the people lunge from crisis to crisis. Ireland is bled dry, Greece is long lost, and Spain is disintegrating – quite literally for the Basques and Catalans. The country is being destroyed by Europe’s political elite, and its people are desperate.

And desperate men do desperate things.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Warsi: British Government is proud to 'do God'

So Tweeted Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, the Baroness Warsi, Minister of State for Faith and Communities and Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at the UN yesterday .

His Grace has been over this before, and the Groundhog dimension of religio-political blogging is becoming tiresome. But perhaps it is unavoidable when governments change and cabinets are reshuffled and one observes the next generation of ill-informed and ignorant politicians uttering the same platitudes and making the same mistakes as their predecessors. There is nothing new under the sun.

It is ironic that this 'Senior' Minister of State (whatever one of those is; not, of course, that the creation is in any sense tokenistic) should boast that the UK Government 'does God' while their lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights have made it clear that the position of HM Government is that Christians should ‘leave their beliefs at home or get another job’.

David Cameron - like Tony Blair before him - appears to mistake freedom of worship for freedom of religion. The Baroness apparently grasps the difference, and yet she is part of that government which is arguing in Strasbourg that there is a ‘difference between the professional and private sphere’.

Freedom of religion includes the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate it, either alone or together with others, in private or in the public sphere. It also includs the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is a foundational principle of liberal democracy.

Freedom of worship is the right to express a faith in private, but not to manifest or propagate it in the public sphere. It is a freedom not uncommon in many Islamic countries: you are permitted to be Christian, but not to share your faith with others or to manifest it publicly. Muslims are free to be Muslim and to display their adherence, but they are forbidden to convert.

Whatever the Baroness may spout at the UN, the UK has seen a gruadual shift from ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘freedom of worship’. The whole narrative surrounding religious faith has gone from being ‘in the world’ to the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque.

The new state orthodoxy of religion has been defined in terms of a Kantian notion of inviolable rights, as though the Platonic Forms and Aristotelian Virtues constitute no part of our syncretised conception of Christianity. Freedom of worship is meaningless for the Christian if it may not be performed in spirit and in truth; if it may not be the result of vibrant, living relationship with the Lord; if it may not sear the conscience daily on the life-long journey of faith.

In the Declaration of Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae from the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church summarised this right: "Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."

The practice of religion – true religion – permeates every fibre of our being and enters every fabric of our lives. After centuries of constitutional theo-political development, the British arrived at a notion of tolerance and an understanding of liberty which the Government appears to be intent in limiting to state-approved expressions. Whatever the Baroness Tweets, faith - and especially the Christian Faith - is being relegated to the private sphere. This is antithetical to British ‘core values’, for it is as totalitarian and illiberal as the approach taken by any Islamic country.

For this Coalition Government, and the New Labour one before it, holiness is subjugated to an increasingly secular social contract: the peace of Christ is relegated to the absence of civil strife. There is no space for religious dissent: the imposition of the liberal creed is total. Thus we see Parliament agitating to intruduce same-sex marriage and threatening to impose women bishops upon the Church of England, despite the Church having its own laws and democratic bodies to debate such issues. This Government 'does God' only to the extent that His creed begins with equality and rights, as though they may arbitrarily and unilaterally set aside Holy Scripture and dispense with centuries of Church tradition and orthodoxy.

Freedom of religion includes the freedom not only to be intolerant of extremism, but also of that which is liberal. No true liberal society should impose an agenda upon any peaceable individual or group whose consciences do not permit obeisance to its formularies. Our freedoms of speech, religion and association predate the ‘Rights of Man’; indeed, those rights spring from the fount of Scripture and so should be understood and interpreted in their Sitz im Leben. And the Gospel of Christ is paramount and preeminent: it is not for the state to re-write Scripture or to impose a uniform socio-political exposition of how we must 'do God'.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Film footage of Andrew Mitchell at the gates of Downing Street

With a proud heart he wore his humble weeds.. with the fusty plebeians.. Go, see him out at gates, and follow him..

His Grace has managed to obtain authentic film footage of the Chief Whip's altercation at the gates of Downing Street: the Patrician versus the Plebs.

Although Andrew Mitchell is widely considered a very dog to the commonalty, it must be remembered that he cannot help in his nature. He's a bear indeed, that lives like a lamb. Such a nature, tickled with good success, disdains the shadow which he treads on at noon: but I do wonder his insolence can brook to be commanded..

In addition to the filmed episode, he was overheard saying:
What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?

Behold, these are the tribunes of the people,
The tongues o' the common mouth: I do despise them;
For they do prank them in authority,
Against all noble sufferance.

It is a purposed thing, and grows by plot,
To curb the will of the nobility:
Suffer't, and live with such as cannot rule
Nor ever will be ruled.

For the mutable, rank-scented many, let them
Regard me as I do not flatter, and
Therein behold themselves: I say again,
In soothing them, we nourish 'gainst our senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition,
Which we ourselves have plough'd for, sow'd, and scatter'd,
By mingling them with us, the honour'd number,
Who lack not virtue, no, nor power, but that
Which they have given to beggars.
Of his apology to camera, he was heard to say:
Well, I must do't:
Away, my disposition, and possess me
Some harlot's spirit! my throat of war be turn'd,
Which quired with my drum, into a pipe
Small as an eunuch, or the virgin voice
That babies lulls asleep! the smiles of knaves
Tent in my cheeks, and schoolboys' tears take up
The glasses of my sight! a beggar's tongue
Make motion through my lips, and my arm'd knees,
Who bow'd but in my stirrup, bend like his
That hath received an alms! I will not do't,
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth
And by my body's action teach my mind
A most inherent baseness.
Apparently, to avoid future bicycling strife, Mr Mitchell has now requested a ministerial Jag.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

EU joins with Islamic states to declare ‘the importance of respecting all prophets’

'Respect' in the OED is defined as ‘deferential esteem felt or shown towards a person or quality’. To be respectable is to be ‘deserving or enjoying respect’; ‘of good social standing or reputation’; ‘honest or decent in character or conduct’. The term comes from the Latin respectus, which was concerned with looking round or back, consideration or regard. Not infrequently since the 11th century the word has denoted subservience: a respecter of a respected. Throughout all Europe, it is concerned with deferential regard or esteem.

And this is what the European Union, in conjunction with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Commission of the African Union, has determined that we should all have for ‘all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to'.

Of course, the moment the highest article of veneration is a prophet, we know which one they have in mind: we are not being exhorted to respect Haggai. We saw in the demands for a global blasphemy law that they are talking principally of Mohammed: if they had been concerned with all religions equally, this statement would have demanded ‘respect’ for all deities and divinities which, to many Muslims of the OIC, would have amounted to idolatry and blasphemy.

So, citizens of the EU must heed the words of our supranational High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Baroness Ashton), and learn of ‘the importance of respecting all prophets’ which leads to ‘full respect of religion’.

The statement is couched in all the requisite freedom and human rights stuff, and talks of the need for peace, tolerance, cooperation and understanding. But it is essentially concerned with prophetology and religiosity, to the specific exclusion of divinity and, indeed, of philosophical non-belief. In that respect, Baroness Ashton is rolling Europe back to the superstitious darkness of the Middle Ages, as if there had been no Reformation or Enlightenment.

The Christian is commanded to love his or her neighbour: there is no exhortation to manifest ‘full respect of religion’. The limits of syncretism and demands for holiness are clearly set out in Scripture: the entire Canon is a story of the consequences of unfaithfulness and idolatry. It is bizarre that the European Union, the inheritance of Christendom, should unite with Islamic states to expound an orthodoxy of apostasy and blasphemy.

His Grace says ‘orthodoxy’, because the statement reads somewhat like a creed: ‘We share a profound respect for all religions’.. ‘We reiterate our strong commitment’.. ‘We believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to’..

All religions?

Wicca? Satanism? Pastafarianism? Jedi Knights?


In the absence of a definition of ‘religion’, there can be no ‘respect’ for its multiplicity of manifestations. And, indeed, should the Euro-beast move toward a definition of religion, and then attempts to apportion rights and liberties under the guise of an enlightened tolerance of relativist equality, there is no logical end to the official recognition of all manner of weird cults, strange sects, spurious beliefs and pseudo-religions, all of which have to be equal under the law irrespective of the common good and irrelative to the inherent counterknowledge believed or propagated.

The problem with respecting all prophets, of course, as that they tend to disagree: one religion’s divine revelation is another’s false prophecy. While Muslims respect the prophethood of Jesus, they reject unequivocally that he is also priest and king, fully man and fully God. And Christians do not hold the prophet Mohammed to be any kind of prophet at all, any more than they ‘respect’ the revelations of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, or Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A cult is cult.

Except when it’s a sect.

The decision of an increasingly anti-Christian EU to embrace the Islamic agenda to outlaw the defamation of religion is a negation of religious liberty and an affront to human rights. Of course we must all work for peace, tolerance and mutual understanding, but these will not come by supplanting the principles of the Enlightenment with the precepts of Islamophobia. For the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, ‘full respect of religion’ means only one thing.

Ask Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran.

Or Rimsha Masih in Pakistan.

If the noble Baroness Ashton is intent on obliging His Grace to respect all prophets ‘regardless of which religion they belong to’, doubtless he'll eventually be led back to the faggots and flames. There's nothing new under the sun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Andrew Mitchell has to go for the good of the Conservative Party

When the axe falls, it is important to let it. Any attempt to dodge the inevitable only results in a botched blow to the shoulder blade, and so more screaming pain and blood. Instead of a swift, precise decapitation, death is agonisingly drawn out: the victim is tortured by his own squirming; the watching crowd traumatised by the barbaric spectacle.

Not since the incomparable Francis Urquhart has an enthralling story of the Chief Whip so dominated the nation's television screens. But Gate-gate, or Pleb-gate-gate has also travelled half-way round the world. It is a distasteful episode, involving a senior member of HM Government, who reportedly blew his top when a police security officer refused to open the main Downing Street security gates for his bike, instead asking the Chief Whip to exit via the side gate.

Mr Mitchell is alleged to have sworn at the police office involved (using the procreative 'f' word) and to have called her (for it was a WPC) a 'moron' and a 'pleb'. Further threats apparently included 'You haven't heard the last of this', with an exhortation to 'know your place'.

All patronising, pompous and sneeringly classist, consistent with the 'little posh boys' narrative which is slowly retoxifying the Tory brand under David Cameron.

His Grace is troubled that The Sun has managed to obtain a copy of the police officer's notebook, for there is no logical explanation for that other than collusion. One might have thought, in the wake of phone-hacking complicity, that the police would have been more cautious before once again collaborating with agenda-driven journalists.

And speaking of agendas, it is apparent that the Metropolitan Police Federation is a trade union in all but name, and that John Tully, its leader, is a union boss in all but name; and that this union boss, like all of them, is distinctly anti-Conservative with a particular dislike of Tory posh boys.

But there's a problem.

The police officer made contemporary notes of the incident before Mr Tully managed to seize the agenda. In a court of law, a contemporary written account carries far more weight than vaguely-recalled facts recounted some days or weeks later.

Andrew Mitchell has apologised, but in this instance an apology is simply not enough. For this is politics, and politics is rarely concerned with the truth. By staying in his job, the Chief Whip is inflicting damage upon the Conservative Party and the Government. By keeping him in his job, the Prime Minister is once again displaying poor judgment. It no longer matters what Mr Mitchell actually said: 'pleb' has captured the narrative, and 'know your place' echoes the manner and attitude of Cameron as 'Flashman', the public-school bully. However the police officer may have embellished the account (which, rationally, is not likely, for the police notebook tends to record facts), people will believe what they want to believe, and few will question the veracity of police sacred writ over a politician's redaction as he squirms to keep his job - especially a posh Tory one.

If Andrew Mitchell does not permit the axe to fall very soon, we will hear about nothing but 'Tory toffs' throughout this conference season. If he cared about his party and the Government, he would resign. Awfully unfair and unjust, maybe. But that's politics. His friends will rally round and make sympathetic phone calls; his colleagues will put out supportive Tweets and tell Facebook what a really good egg he is. But the reality is that if this had been Peter Bone or Douglas Carswell, the Prime Minister would have sacked them on the spot with a concerted effort to end their political careers. Look what happened to Patrick Mercer.

But Andrew Mitchell is a mate. Whether or not the word 'pleb' passed his lips, he must go for the good of the Conservative Party. And he would not be the first who with best meaning has incurred the worst.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roman Catholic Church extracts tax on pain of damnation

According to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, any Roman Catholic – no matter how pious and devout – who refuses to pay the ‘Church tax’ is no longer a member of the Roman Catholic Church: ie, they are excommunicated. His Grace is loath to talk of simony or indulgences, but the extraction of money for the administration of the sacraments or the assurance of salvation simply isn't very Christian; indeed, it is quite evil

Church giving or tithing ought to be voluntary, from the heart, and with joy (2Cor 9:7). Yet the reality is that around 70 per cent of the German Church's revenue comes from the Church tax, so it is rather useful for paying the bills (and court fees). But you only need to look at who introduced the tax in Austria to see what a thoroughly bad idea it is. Such an inheritance ought to make the vigorous enforcement on pain of excommunication rather unpalatable to Christians. It would appear that the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is serving Mammon, not God.

His Grace received the following email on this matter from one of his Roman Catholic readers. Speaking of her reaction on hearing about this tax, she wrote: ‘...frankly, as a Catholic, it made me vomit’:
As a lifelong Catholic, I thought there was very little that the Church could still do to horrify me. I watched the betrayals of the spirit of Vatican II. I watched the horrors of the child abuse scandals and the unbelievable behaviour of those that tried to cover them up. I watched the routine crack-downs on anything resembling the intelligent questioning of the Church that is actually required of Catholics by Canon Law but punished severely if practised (ask numerous brave Catholic theologians who were silenced or censored).

Why this latest development should have hit me so hard, I have no idea. Unless it's for the sheer stupidity that has been displayed.

If you have the patience, you might wish to take a look at this link. If you haven't the patience, a short summary of it is this:

In the German taxation system, Germans officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8 or 9 percent of their annual tax bill. They can avoid this by declaring to their local tax office that they are leaving their faith community – and many do. In the past years there has been a massive exodus from the Church, mostly in the wake of the sex abuse scandals. Now Rome has upped the stakes.

On Thursday – with the knowledge and full approval of the Vatican – the German bishops issued a decree stating that Catholics who left the church ‘to avoid paying the tax’ would be excluded from all the sacraments – Communion, confession, Catholic burial. The only exception to this was the anointing of the sick. They may not act as a Catholic godparent, and they must ask their bishop's permission to marry a Catholic.

In other words, a Catholic who withholds their ‘tithe’ from the Church for any reason, even if they donate that same tithe voluntarily to a Catholic charity, is excluded from the sacramental life of the Church.

There is a name for this. And it is simony.

Simony, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is ‘the act of paying for sacraments and consequently for holy offices or for positions in the hierarchy of a church, named after Simon Magus, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone on whom he would place his hands would receive the power of the Holy Spirit’ (source: Wikipedia).

For any Catholics out there who still care enough, it is forbidden under Canon law.

I'm sitting here with my head in my hands. Even now, somehow still a Catholic, I have watched what my Church has done and what it has failed to do, and I have told myself that we are a pilgrim Church. We have had Popes who were adulterers, murderers, heretics, schismatics. The Church has gone on because it is greater than the fallible men who have attempted so many times to run the Barque of Peter onto the rocks.

We'll probably survive this too. But just how, how, how could the men in Rome manage to do something this stupid?

Please don't try to answer that.

Olivia Cook (Mrs)
His Grace weeps for those whose spiritual life is disturbed by this ecclesiastical bullying. "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs" is a couplet attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican preacher who was well known in the 16th century for selling indulgences. Against him, there arose a protestor who wrote 95 theses as a disputation against all clerical abuses. One wonders how long it will be before the Roman Catholic Church in Germany produces another Martin Luther to declaim this evil. It appears there are already one or two emerging in the 'Catholic Blogosphere'.

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Open Letter to Maria Miller MP, Minister for Women and Equalities

Dear Mrs Miller,

Firstly, congratulations on your promotion to Culture Secretary and Minister of State of Women and Equalities. One notes that the Deputy Prime Minister refers to Jo Swinson MP as ‘our’ Equalities Minister, and that Helen Grant MP also appears also to have some responsibility for Women and Equalities, so it is heartening that so many fair-minded women are working toward equality for all.

You will be aware that last week the Deputy Prime Minister made known his real attitude toward those – including very many Conservative Party members and supporters – who oppose the Government’s plans to redefine marriage. We are ‘bigots’, he was due to say, until it became apparent that it’s rather a disdainful, intolerant and illiberal, not to say ‘bigoted’ attitude for any politician to hold.

Many of us who believe in traditional marriage (i.e., as a union of one man and one woman) do so for honourable and sincere reasons. We believe that the planned redefinition raises profound issues relating to civil liberties and conscience, and that the policy – which did not appear in any party's manifesto on the run-up to the 2010 General Election – deserves a mature and considered debate.

A summary of the legal opinion of Aidan O’Neill QC, a leading human rights lawyer, raises a number of scenarios which could (and undoubtedly will) arise should the proposed redefinition become law. There would be serious implications for the Established Church of England, NHS chaplains, teachers, sex education, parents, faith schools, foster parents, public facilities, marriage registrars, and a push for religious gay weddings, whatever exemptions may be specified by statute. A summary of Aidan O’Neill’s opinion may found HERE.

In this context, your own Out4Marriage video is concerning on a number of levels, not least of which is your fervent support for the change, the implication of which is that the redefinition of marriage will be included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2013.

It is evident that supporters of equal marriage have already been leaked information relating to the Government’s ‘consultation’, and that both sides are not therefore being treated equally. This may well have resulted in a response which is heavily weighted against sustaining the conservative view of marriage because there were no safeguards against multiple submissions, or against submissions from unconnected persons overseas. It was, in short, a profoundly flawed methodology for data-gathering.

But even more concerning is that you yourself appear to pre-empt the findings of this ‘consultation’, establishing precisely what many of us suspected and wrote at the time – namely, that it was not a consultation at all: the Prime Minister had already determined to introduce same-sex marriage ‘because he is a Conservative’.

The ‘consultation’ was concerned exclusively with the staggeringly narrow but politically expedient ‘how’, rather than the socially responsible and morally imperative ‘if’. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the previous Equalities Minister and sundry other senior political figures are all known to be in favour of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, and have made their views known. A consultation which does not consult is nothing but a façade of democracy.

You acknowledge in your video that ‘equal civil marriage is something that people feel very strongly about’ but the rest of that sentence is a non-sequitur, for that is not the reason you undertook the consultation. Those who ‘feel very strongly’ opposed were completely sidelined: the policy was fixed.

You say that you are ‘looking at those submissions very carefully indeed’, but follow this with a slap in the face to millions of people – of all faiths and none – who oppose your plans. You say: “But there’s one thing that I and the Government know is the importance of marriage and the value that it brings to our society, whether that’s a marriage between a man and a woman, two men or two women. Marriage should be for everyone, and the measures that we’ve brought forward to make sure that marriage is open to all couples will help make sure that marriage is strengthened in our society and more relevant than ever.”

To say in one breath that you are ‘looking at those submissions very carefully indeed’, and then to disclose, on behalf of the Government, that marriage has already been redefined to include ‘two men or two women’, makes manifest the level of manipulation and deception of this ‘consultation’. You are not looking at opposing submissions ‘very carefully’ at all: far greater care is attached to those who favour the change.

Doubtless a large number of members of the public are apathetic concerning the proposed redefinition as they do not consider that it affects them. In the light of Aidan O’Neill’s legal advice, it is evident that it will affect society profoundly, with implications for everyone.

Sadly, the Government’s attitude toward Christians in this matter appears to be the same as that of the Chief Whip toward the police, the only difference being that Andrew Mitchell says it to their face.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anglican Communion demands global blasphemy law

In their condemnation of the puerile, amateurish film The Innocence of Muslims which appears to be being used as a pretext for riots, destruction and murder in some Islamic countries (not to mention in some non-Islamic countries with significant Muslim populations), Anglican leaders from across the Communion have written a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, demanding a UN declaration to outlaw ‘intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith’.

Note the specific parenthetical insertion of ‘such as prophets’: if they had dared to specify ‘such as the Son of God’, there isn’t a Muslim nation on the planet that would vote for such a declaration. It is a bizarre point of emphasis in any case, for why should the divinely-inspired prophets of the Abrahamic religions be granted higher recognition than the rishis of the Indian subcontinent? Why should the declaration allude to Mohammed but not to Vasishtha?

It is axiomatic that bad laws are made in ill-thought knee-jerk response to events: a global blasphemy law – which is what this declaration would amount to – cannot be cobbled together on the back of a crude bit of visual anti-Islamic propaganda. It would elevate protection from ‘hate speech’ to the level of a human right. And that would make it impossible to express an opinion – no matter how intelligent or reasoned – for ‘hate’ is in the apprehension of the offended, and the offended have an alarming propensity to decide to be at whatever convenient moment may suit them .

It is incumbent upon Christians the world over to work for peace, and we must be especially mindful of those nations in which Christians are a vulnerable or persecuted minority. But these Anglican leaders who demand a ‘blasphemy’ declaration appear to forget that to outlaw ‘intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets)’ would make it impossible for a Christian to repudiate the anti-Christian teachings of Mohammed. If all ‘symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith’ are to be protected from such a subjective notion as ‘insult’, there will be no more freedom of speech or expression where religion is concerned. And the implications for mission would be seismic, for what Muslim may be not feel insulted to hear that his or her religious foundations are built upon nothing but the arid sands of Arabia? What Muslim would not feel that his or her prophet had been defamed if they were to be told that his prophecies were false and his doctrine of God a lie? How would religions dialogue? How dare they challenge, rebuke or even question?

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of such freedom being sustained in a context of global religious censoriousness.

His Grace agrees with these Anglican leaders that Christians and Muslims alike should continue to work to defeat attempts of extremists of every religion to create fear, hatred and violence, for, indeed, only love can cast out fear. But the UK Parliament has not abolished our own ‘regressive’ national laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel only to see them resurface in ‘progressive’ international law or supranational legal regulation against the ‘defamation of religion’, in order to enforce global adherence to a sanctified UN orthodoxy.

Let us be in no doubt about this: any UN declaration to outlaw ‘intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith’ will not protect Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Atheism. It is the 56 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation who will agitate in defence of their prophet. Whenever Israel complains on behalf of Judaism, or Tibet on behalf of Buddhism, no-one will listen; few will care. The law will protect Islam alone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Please stop talking of Eurosceptics as the media talk of Muslims

His Grace has long been irritated by the propensity of the mainstream media and many commentators to talk of the 'Muslim World' or the 'Islamic World', as though there were some unified and coherent cohabitation going on between the globally-dispersed followers of the professing prophet Mohammed. There simply isn’t.

There is no more social cohesion, unity of doctrine or meeting of minds among the disparate expressions of Islam as there are between the myriad of denominations, factions and cults which purport to constitute Christendom. There is Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi, of which everyone has heard. But there are the lesser-known sects like inter alia the Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, Quranists, Yazdânism, Karaite-Karaism and the Nation of Islam. The ‘Muslim world’ is simply a patronisingly convenient classification of 'the West' (which is another one) to lump them all together for terminological convenience. It is as sociologically simplistic and theologically ignorant as ‘Hindu’, which entered the theo-political vernacular and has become an enduring legacy of the British Empire.

The ‘Muslim world’ is meaningless because it implies a geographic entity unified by a monolithic faith – a caliphate. But the ‘Muslim world’ has no universal understanding of this, and so the concept of a ‘Muslim world’ is as meaningless to Muslims as it is to those of other faiths and none. Some Muslims, we know, want to worship and live peaceably with their neighbours; some want to wage 'Jihad' (another misunderstood and much-abused term) and blow us all to kingdom come; still others want to blow themselves to Jannah, in the hope of an eternity of wine and virgins. The term 'Muslim World' is as vacuous and meaningless as 'Sikh World' or 'atheist world': it is non-existent.

Which brings His Grace (in a roundabout kind of way) to 'Euroscpetics'. No, there isn't a faction of them threatening violence or murder or global revolution if they don't get their way on political European integration (yet..). But when the media refer to 'Eurosceptics', the term appears to embrace everyone on the Eurobarometer from David Cameron to Nick Griffin, with a very broad spectrum of belief ranging from incremental renegotiation and repatriation to 'Out'. As with Islam, trying to identify the 'true' or 'real' Eurosceptics is fraught with theological difficulty, for there is no unified central authority around which the professing denominations and divisions may cohere: there is no Sir James Goldsmith.

But even with a single professing prophet of salvation, the Muslims (like the Christians) still dispute and disagree, so perhaps a 'leader' would not solve the problems. Yet until Euroscepticism speaks with one voice - or at least unifies around a single immediate objective - it cannot lead us to the Promised Land. Not least because, for some, that land is Canaan, while for others it is Palestine, and still others prefer to call it Israel, each with its own historic narrative, unique theology and socio-political expression.

Some Eurosceptics are undoubtedly dangerous, but most are utterly benign. Some think strategically; others just seek the limelight. And His Grace has purposely not hyperlinked to examples (in his judgement) in either category, for to identify one as 'thinking' and another as 'posturing' is to cause further despair and division on a matter of the utmost political significance. The Eurosceptic 'movement' (if it be) is fundamentally a clash of gargantuan egos, none of whom will deign to cooperate or collaborate with their co-Eurosceptics, principally out of a lack of trust, belief or respect.

So, with a referendum on the next EU treaty looming - and, as sure as night follows day, it is coming - please don't expect political coherence or campaigning strategy from the Conservatives, UKIP, The Democracy Movement, The Campaign for United Kingdom Conservatism, Better off Out, Campaign for an Independent Britain, The Freedom Association, or The Liberty League. Frankly, you have more hope of persuading a Wahhabi Sunni to sup with an Ahmadiyyan and plant the cornerstone of a new mosque. If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand: the referendum may already be lost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gove europeanises GCSEs

His Grace likes Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, and is broadly in agreement with his proposed reforms to GCSEs for all the stated reasons (which His Grace will not repeat here, for he really can't be bothered).

But two aspects of yesterday's announcement are rather irksome. Firstly, to move away from historic English 'levels' ('O' or 'A') toward a Baccalaureate is to adopt a decidedly European, if not especially French term for the new English qualification. 'Baccalaureate' comes from baccalauréat or baccalauratus, and is the term used in many international schools to refer to the qualification which precedes higher education (ie A-level): it marks the successful end of secondary education. It is confusing to adopt the term for education which finishes at 16, and puzzling further that it may be divided into individual EBacc certificates, which separately will not constitute the English Baccalaureate, but will still be termed Baccalaureate certificates.


So are the Secretary of State for Education and the Deputy Prime Minister, at least on a point of grammar. For in their jointly-written justficatory article for yesterday's Evening Standard, they said:
And both of us agree there is much more to do. Structures developed in the past and attitudes that have grown out of introspective debates need to be challenged. Policy-makers have tended to waste time arguing about when we should select students for particular paths in life instead of giving every child the tools to choose for themself.
His Grace is rather shocked that such a howling offence against English grammar could have got past two Oxbridge graduates and their SpAds, not to mention the sub-editor at the Standard. And this, from the Department for Education, which is about to tighten the 'good grammar' requirements with the EBacc which certainly used to exist for O-levels but which became incrementally otiose for many GCSEs (not to mention the teachers).

But even this ignorance is not as bad as the confusion which reigns on the Labour benches. Stephen Twigg opposes reforms to the examinations system, even though something obviously needs doing to combat the grade inflation, declining rigour and stalled social mobility that characterised their time in government.

When Labour were in power, the percentage of GCSEs graded A*-C soared from 54 per cent to 69 per cent. But these results were not matched in international league tables, as 15-year-olds in England fell down the rankings from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 27th in maths, and 4th to 16th in science.

Despite all the evidence showing that GCSEs have become discredited, the Shadow Education Secretary said the Government should ‘shelve’ its proposals.

Michael Gove said of Stephen Twigg: "The Honourable Gentleman was faced with his own test today. He was faced with an opportunity to embrace reform that this side of the House has outlined and he flunked that test. There will be an opportunity for the Honourable Gentleman to re-sit this test. There will be an opportunity during the consultation that we have for him to rethink his blind opposition to this progress.

"I hope that we can count on him to reflect on the decision that he took today and decide that he will join this side of the House in delivering better, more rigorous and more inclusive qualifications."

Alas, this will never be forthcoming from Stephen Twigg, who must be one of the most ill-reasoned, ineffectual and inconsistent shadow education secretaries of modern times.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Religious liberty and the Government’s hot-head lawyers

His Grace posted last week on Eric Pickles’ spirited defence of the Faith which was received mainly positively, with some observable relief that there is at least one in the Cabinet who has a grasp of the concerns surrounding the denigration and marginalisation of Christianity faith in public life.

But there was one section of the article which caused some confusion (not least to His Grace). Mr Pickles wrote: ‘The Government’s opposition to a European Court of Human Rights challenge on crucifixes should not be misinterpreted as supporting secularism: rather, we are resisting Brussels interference and gold-plating of what should be a matter for common sense.’

This is interesting – not to say utterly bemusing – in the context of the legal arguments against the wearing of crucifixes (etc) being made by government lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights. They have made it clear that the position of HM Government is that Christians should ‘leave their beliefs at home or get another job’.

So, while the Prime Minister in Westminster is promising to protect religious expression at work by (if necessary) changing the law, government lawyers in Strasbourg insist that there is a ‘difference between the professional and private sphere’.

This appears to be somewhat schizophrenic, akin to the Conservative Party’s historically-professed cautious euroscepticism by MPs in the UK Parliament while the party’s MEPs were effusively europhile in Brussels by virtue of their membership of the EPP – a federalist group committed to ‘ever closer union’. At least David Cameron brought an end to that Jeckyll and Hyde existence.

In light of the legal arguments being used in Strasbourg to restrict the display of religious symbols and the manifestation of belief in the workplace - in the cases of Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane - either Eric Pickles and David Cameron are being duplicitous, or government lawyers are being over-zealous in their quest for courtroom victory.

It is easy to believe that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government are being disingenuous, deflective and ignorant of the real concerns: they are, after all, politicians. But if Mr Pickles happens to be honourable, honest and fully informed on the matter; and if Mr Cameron meant what he said to Parliament about the fundamental right to manifest one’s religion in the workplace, the only alternative conclusion is that the Government’s hot-headed lawyers have gone renegade in court: they are acting independently, failing to inform ministers of state or even run their legal arguments past (at least) the Attorney General in order to ensure that they cohere with pan-governmental objectives.

The British legal team arguing before the ECtHR that Christians in the UK have no right to wear a cross could not possibly have been briefed by the Government, because Conservatives know that the Church of England is the Established Church and the Queen is still its Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith: she does not distinguish ‘between the professional and private sphere’. It is a fundamental religious liberty to be able to dress, behave and speak in accordance with the precepts of one’s belief. The Christian faith must affect every aspect of one’s life, or it is not a living faith.

Our lawyers in Strasbourg are asserting secularism while our politicians back home are affirming faith. There can be only one victor. Thankfully, constitutionally, Parliament is omnipotent.
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