Tuesday, July 31, 2012

@rileyy_69 (aka Reece of Weymouth) and the ugliness of the Twitter mob



He is apparently 17, but looks about 12. Reece seems to live in a guest house in Weymouth, Dorset, and happened to be a little disappointed with the performance of Tom Daley and his diving partner Peter Waterfield in the Men's Synchronised 10m Platform Final. Like many disappointed fans, he took to Twitter. But instead of tweeting commiserations, he sent this:


Cruel and unfeeling, certainly: Tom Daley’s father, mentor, friend and guide died earlier this year of a brain tumour. But this Tweet was not a crime. Reece wrote what he thought: it was the sort of macho comment schoolboys hurl at each other every day. At this point, His Grace would like to issue a warning:

DO NOT READ ON IF YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE OFFENDED BY FOUL LANGUAGE.

Instead of ignoring the insensitive Tweet (how many harassing and irritating trolls must he have?), Tom Daley decided to RT it, with the message: ‘After giving it my all...you get idiot's sending me this...’. He must have known that one or two of his 792,000 fans would leap to his defence.

And so they did.

But Reece, bear-like, stood to fight his course:









But then something began to give. Regret, guilt, sorrow began to well within his heart:






But it was too late. Daley fans were in no mood for forgiveness: like bloodhounds on the scent of a terrified fox, they pursued their victim, intent on tearing him to pieces. Sky got hold of the story:



 And suddenly Reece was trending across the world:


He issued a desperate plea:


But no retraction, excuse, remorse or apology was acceptable. Cornered, wide-eyed, he panicked as his hate-club swelled and his followers soared from the low hundreds to 50,000, The scorn and abuse poured in. The baying mob cast their judgmental stones of hate, and Reece responded in kind:






And what began as a hormonal teenage rant became apparent threats of harm:






Of course, these threats were part of entire threads of unpleasantness being targeted at Reece. Things clearly escalated. Twitter hashtags appeared, like #ThingsBetterThanRiley69, in response to which the mob consensus appears to be ‘being the middle person in The Human Centipede’. They wished him ill, harm, and deeply unpleasant trauma. One of the earliest tweets was an expression of hope that he might burn to death.

Reece is a boy; boys need to save face. Bravado, boasting, exaggerating, threatening... Such tweets are interesting in the context of the recent ‘Twitter Joke Trial’, in which an irate passenger apparently threatened to blow up Robin Hood airport because the weather had caused flight cancellations and frustration. He was initially convicted of sending a ‘menacing’ communication. The Crown Prosecution Service took him to court under the 2003 Communications Act, and Doncaster magistrates told him to pay £600 costs, a £385 fine and a £15 victim surcharge. The conviction in May 2010 was later upheld by a Crown Court judge.

But last week the Lord Chief Justice said a joke could not by definition be menacing: ‘If the persons who receive and read it, or may reasonably be expected to receive it, or read it, would brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste... it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character.’

It soon dawned on Reece that he was fast-becoming a national target of hate:


and his plea was for honest and fair reporting: he had, after all, attempted to apologise as soon as Tom Daley had personally responded.









Reece’s threats are unpleasant, but not remotely credible. He is a lost and lonely child, who seemingly never had this:



But the Twitterati meted out their summary justice like pharisaical mobs tend to. We can choose either to hate and kill, or to understand and educate. When you’re a teenager and the whole world appears to be against you, you tell it where to go. When you're insulted, you return the insult a hundredfold. When you are abused, you hate straight back. Millions of unknown and anonymous people put up with this sort of stuff (and worse) every day.

What Reece did and said is foolish, insensitive and immature. Quite possibly, it was even a transgression of Malicious Communications Act 1988. But this would never have escalated into a criminal investigation and arrest if Tom Daley had simply decided to turn the other cheek.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Oxford University abolishes gender-distinct academic dress

Following representation/lobbying/harassment on behalf of transgender students by the Oxford University Student Union, as of 3rd August 2012 the University will abolish the centuries-old gender distinction in academic dress.

No more blouses for the ladies; no more shirts with separate collars for the gentlemen. Henceforth, both will wear plain, white shirts with fixed collars (though why all are not being obliged to wear blouses is beyond His Grace. Indeed, is it not decidedly masculinising [and so sexist] to suppress blouses?).

It is not clear what happens to hats. Presumably, by the same gender-neutral logic, no more will male graduands carry a mortarboard while the fairer sex sport soft caps (with strict, manifestly sexist rules on the wearing thereof). And, presumably, the ladies may also now wear white bow ties, and the men dark grey skirts and black stockings. And neither is it clear what becomes of His Grace’s preferred headgear, the Canterbury cap. The new regulations are reported in the University’s Gazette:
(d) Regulations relating to Academic Dress

Explanatory Note

The following changes have been agreed by Council. They remove any reference to gender from the regulations, in response to concerns from Oxford University Student Union that the existing regulations did not serve the interests of transgender students.

Text of Regulations

In the Vice-Chancellor's Regulations 1 of 2002 (made by the Vice-Chancellor on 20 March 2002, as amended on 24 January 2008), delete existing regulation 5 and substitute (new text underlined, deleted text struck through):

'5. All members of the University are required to wear academic dress with subfusc clothing (and candidates who are not members of the University are required to wear formal clothing) when attending any university examination, ie a dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black stockings or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat; black shoes; plain white collared shirt; a black tie or white bow tie.
Men. A dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie, and plain white shirt and collar.
Women. A dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, black tie, black stockings and shoes, and, if desired, a dark coat.


Dress for each sex should be such as might be appropriate for formal occasions.

Candidates serving in HM Forces are permitted to wear uniform together with a gown. (The uniform cap is worn in the street and carried when indoors.)'
But how many transgendered students are there at Oxford?

Surely, if there be one (or maybe two), he/she/it/they could have found ways of accommodating the University’s strict dress code with their own particular circumstances without neutering the entire University population?

His Grace is rather peeved (to say the least) by this development, and supports all efforts to erect a new Congregation, whilst remaining within the historic Convocation, for those unable to accept such innovations.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mitt Romney calls Jerusalem the capital of Israel

Olympic opening ceremony and the NHS aborted foetus


As the arguments about the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games continue to abound - from ignorant politicians, both Left and Right - His Grace simply wants to say that he thought it rather apt that the 'NHS section' culminated in a decapitated and dismembered baby, in deathly translucent grey, somewhat redolent of an aborted foetus.

Happiest Olympic Worker 2012



This delights His Grace muchly. Only in Britain...

(h/t @OllyGourley)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stephen Sizer - a timeline


Further to their previous open letter to the South East Gospel Partnership, in the interests of transparency, here follows a timeline which discloses the evidence behind the claims of the Rev’d Nick Howard and James Mendelsohn about the Rev'd Dr Stephen Sizer(NB none of the emails disclosed in this post were marked ‘Private and Confidential’.)

4th October 2011

Dr Sizer posts a link on his Facebook page to the racist website 'The Ugly Truth: Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today'. No one, including Dr Sizer, denies the posting of the link or the anti-Semitic nature of the website.

16th November 2011

The following complaint is sent to Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford:

From: Nick Howard
Sent: Wednesday, 16 November 2011 22:05
To: Mary Morris
Subject: Message for Bishop Christopher

Dear Bishop,

I am writing to appeal to you to suspend Rev. Stephen Sizer from his duties as vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water.

Although I feel there are many grounds for such a severe action, I want to focus on just one, which is his use of Facebook. As you will know, the Bishop of Willesden was suspended last year after making inappropriate comments about the Royal Family on Facebook. Yet Rev. Sizer has recently used Facebook in a much more disturbing and offensive way.

On October 4th he posted a link on his Facebook page to an anti-Semitic hate website called ‘The Ugly Truth: Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today’. The website greets its visitors with unbelievably racist cartoons (see the attached example).

The specific article recommended by Rev. Sizer is accompanied by a cartoon by the Brazilian cartoonist 'Latuff', runner-up in the notorious 2006 Iranian ‘International Holocaust Cartoon Competition’. As you can see from the attachment, it is appallingly insensitive.

Rev. Sizer might claim that the particular article he recommended is not in itself anti-Semitic. Yet it cannot be denied that the website hosting the article is anti-Semitic. Rev. Sizer has directed his 800 Facebook friends, without any word of warning, apology or qualification, to a website whose banner claims that Zionists (that is, patriotic Israelis) make ‘our world uninhabitable’. This extreme hostility towards Israel, which lies far outside the boundaries of respectable debate about the Middle East, would immediately be recognised by Jewish people as anti-Semitic, even without the above-mentioned cartoons which put that beyond doubt.

I am sorry to have to bring such disturbing material to your attention, but I hope you will agree that it gives you the opportunity to take decisive action to uphold the reputation of the Church of England. If the Bishop of Willesden's inappropriate use of Facebook merited suspension, how much more does Rev. Sizer's.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Nick Howard


22nd November 2011 - Part I

Bishop Christopher sends this response:

From: Mary Morris
Subject: RE: Message for Bishop Christopher
Date: 22 November 2011 12:34:32 EST
To: Nick Howard

Our ref: +C/amb/22.11-12

22nd November 2011

Thank you for your message in criticism of the Revd Stephen Sizer. Your comparison with the Bishop of Willesden is not in fact exactly correct. The Bishop of Willesden technically suspended himself, it was not a disciplinary process. I am not denying that the Bishop’s remarks were highly inappropriate and embarrassing to say the least.

The Revd Stephen Sizer’s opinions are clearly radically different from your own. I shall speak to the Revd Stephen Sizer about his use of Facebook but at the moment I see nothing which would merit disciplinary matters, not least because differing political opinions are definitely exempted from disciplinary proceedings in the Church of England according to the Clergy Disciplinary Measure. There may be changes to the Measure in the future which would make it possible that membership or support of the British National Party, for example, could become a disciplinary matter. But I am sure that Stephen Sizer himself would be highly critical of neo fascist movements as well as the fascism in the past which created the awfulness of the holocaust.

There is also the question of the uncontrollable linkage on of Facebook. One does not have control of that when one may not always agree with other people on related face books. This is one of the reasons I am somewhat cautious about Facebook myself and am not on it.

+Christopher Guildford

22nd November 2011 - Part II

Bishop Christopher sends a copy of the 16th November complaint to Dr Sizer. This is later confirmed by the following email (emphasis added):

From: Bishop of Guildford
Subject: RE: Phone conversation follow-up
Date: 13 June 2012 11:00:34 EDT
To: Nick Howard
Cc: Mary Morris

Dear Nick

In Bishop Christopher’s absence I can confirm that it seems that he did copy your email of 16 November to Dr Sizer who acknowledged it the same day, ie 22 November. This email did include the screenshots.

(I can’t of course confirm whether the latter would show on Dr Sizer’s computer if eg he was reading in plain text, in which case they may have appeared as attachments, if at all.)

I trust this answers your questions.

Yours in Christ

Mark

The Revd Mark Heather BA LLB
Chaplain to the Bishop of Guildford

22nd November 2011 - Part III

As revealed above by Rev'd Mark Heather, Dr Sizer emails the Bishop of Guildford acknowledging receipt of his email about the link to 'The Ugly Truth'. To respond on the same day was highly efficient. But sadly, and tellingly, Dr Sizer did not also take the trouble to remove the link from his Facebook page. (To do so would have been very easy: he simply had to click on a drop-down list next to the link, select 'Delete Post...' and then choose between 'Delete Post' or 'Cancel'.)

4th January 2012

Under pressure from the Jewish Chronicle, Sizer at last removes the link to 'The Ugly Truth' from his Facebook page.

1st March 2012

Not content with posting a link to 'The Ugly Truth' on Facebook, Dr Sizer posts a link to 'Veterans Today', an equally sickening anti-Semitic website, on his blog.

13th March 2012

The Council of Christians and Jews issues a press release titled 'CCJ Statement about Antisemitic website', which includes the following comment:
The Rt. Revd Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester and Chairman of CCJ said: “The content and the delay in removing the link from Mr Sizer’s Facebook page was disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England to promote. Members of the CCJ have described the website as ‘obscenely antisemitic.’"
14th March 2012

The Diocese of Guildford releases a defensive statement in response to the CCJ (emphasis added):
‘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 [i.e. on 22nd November]. 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.
1st May 2012

Dr Sizer posts an open letter on his blog titled 'Response to the Council of Christians and Jews', in which he says the following (emphasis added):
'On 4 October 2011, I posted a link to an essay “Israel's Window to Bomb Iran”, by Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA analyst, commenting on circumstances in which Israel might attack Iran. Regrettably the link that I used was not to the original website but to a different 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... Some ten weeks later, on 13 March 2012, the Council for Christians and Jews... said that I was “alerted to the anti-Semitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.” Whatever the CCJ might think has happened I have explained here how and when the link came to my attention. It did not come to my attention before then... If the CCJ does not feel able to make it clear that its allegations were ill founded it will, I hope, reflect on the reliability of its informants and think very hard before naming people who might in the future be the innocent victims of ill-considered complaints.'
It is quite astonishing that Dr Sizer describes himself as an 'innocent victim' of 'ill-considered complaints'. He knew perfectly well that the CCJ's charge was in fact wholly accurate, i.e. that he had only removed the link in January despite being warned in November. He was even contradicting his own diocese's response to the CCJ, which had been to claim that the six-week delay was the result of ineffective attempts to remove the link (see 14th March above). The CCJ's Patron has been HM the Queen since 1952 and its Presidents include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi. It is the UK's oldest Jewish/Christian interfaith organisation. Dr Sizer brazenly sought to harm its reputation, and the reputation of its 'informants', on an entirely false basis.

1st June 2012

Not content with posting links to 'The Ugly Truth' and 'Veterans Today', Dr Sizer posts a link to yet another racist website: 'Window into Palestine'. Defending himself in the Jewish Chronicle, Sizer says 'There was no suggestion of any offensive material in the story to which I linked' - and yet the title of that story was 'The BBC caught out with its Zionist-run propaganda machine', which the vast majority of Jewish people would immediately recognise as anti-Semitic (and utterly ridiculous). Dr Sizer also told the JC, 'I only came across [the article] after conducting a Google image search for the photo by Marco Di Lauro, which was central to the apparent BBC error which I wished to highlight.' He was seeking to explain what he was doing viewing a racist website in the first place, let alone posting a link to it. But his explanation was easy to test. Numerous people at the time tried 'conducting a Google image search for the photo by Marco Di Lauro' and yet 'Window into Palestine' was nowhere to be seen in the results.

4th July 2012

The Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership, despite being aware of the above, say they see 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen or with Christ Church Virginia Water.'

Let's close with just a few of the many questions arising from this timeline.

1. Quite apart from the anti-Semitism, why does the congregation of Christ Church Virginia Water allow such a mendacious man to care for their souls?

2. Why did the Diocese of Guildford, in full possession of the relevant facts, allow Dr Sizer's slanderous attack on the Council of Christians and Jews to remain uncorrected?

3. How many more racist links will it take before the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership see 'justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership' with Dr Sizer and his church? Two or twenty-two?


Rev. Nick Howard
Assistant Minister, Christ Church New York City


James Mendelsohn
Senior Lecturer in Law, Huddersfield University

Friday, July 27, 2012

Eddie and Patsy give an AbFab Olympic interview



This is much more in the British tradition of comedy, satire and celebration than the Olympo-fascists who are monitoring every sausage of non-conformity to the draconian rules and regulations being imposed by the IOC.

Quite how C4 got away with using the Olympic rings on a bottle of champagne is unknown. But God help the IOC gestapo if they decide to go after Eddie and Patsy.

A Minute for Munich


The Olympic Games are about sport and should not be politicised. And yet whenever diverse nations and fractious tongues are gathered together in peace and global brotherhood, the laying aside of mutual enmities is only made possible by grace, diplomacy, and sheer political will.

This Olympic Games marks the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre, when Palestinian Arabs slaughtered 11 Israeli Jews, for no other reason than that they were Israeli Jews.

There has been a concerted campaign at the highest diplomatic levels addressed to the International Olympic Committee for the London Games to be preceded by a minute’s silence, in memory of the dead. The United States, Israel and Germany have all made formal requests. The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons wrote: “I am pleased to send my support for the worldwide 1 minute silence taking place on 27 July for the eleven victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. I also wish to pay tribute to those who campaign so tirelessly for this terrible event to be commemorated.”

“The International Olympic Committee have a moral commitment to commemorate the 11 athletes, coaches and referees,” Israeli Olympic Committee secretary general Efraim Zinger said. “Not because they were Israelis, but because they were Olympians and were murdered during the Olympic Games.”

But the IOC do not feel that the opening ceremony is an appropriate arena to remember the dead.

This might have something to do with the fact that the Committee includes 46 Arab and Muslim members. No doubt if a minute’s silence were held, some representatives of Muslim Arab nations would exit the arena in protest. And then the commemoration would have ceased to have been about the dead, and become a reminder of an ancient religio-political enmity which is beyond mere diplomacy.

Today, Friday 27th July, heralds the 9th Av on the Hebrew calendar. It is a solemn and sombre day, marking the date when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and by the by the Romans in AD 70. Not until 1948 could the Jews again call Israel their homeland and Jerusalem their capital. Some, of course, prefer to forget the Diaspora and the ensuing Holocaust. The slaughter of Israeli Olympians was simply a perpetuation of both.

In the absence of a minute’s silence in memory of the Munich victims, the Chief Rabbi has issued a prayer to be read in Synagogues today, the first Shabbat of the Olympic Games:
Almighty God:
We, the members of this holy congregation,
Together with members of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth,
Join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world,
In remembrance of the eleven Israeli athletes
Brutally murdered in an act of terrorism,
At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich,
Because they were Israelis,
Because they were Jews.
At this time in the Jewish year,
When we remember the destructions of our holy Temples,
And the many tragedies that have befallen our people throughout history,
We mourn their loss
And continue to protest against those who hate our people.
We pray to You, O God:
Comfort the families and friends of the Israeli athletes who continue to grieve
And grant eternal life to those so cruelly robbed of life on earth.
Just as we are united in grief,
Help us stay united in hope.
As we comfort one another under the shadow of death,
Help us strengthen one another in honouring life.
The Olympic message is one of peace, of harmony and of unity,
Teach us, Almighty God, to bring reconciliation and respect between faiths,
As we pray for the peace of Israel,
And for the peace of the world.
May this be Your will and let us say: Amen
אֲדוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים זְכוֹר אֶת נִשְמוֹת
דוד ברגר (David Berger)
יוסף גוטפרוינד (Yossef Gutfreund)
משה ויינברג (Moshe Weinberg)
אליעזר חלפין (Eliezer Halfin)
מרק סלבין (Mark Slavin)
יוסף רומנו (Yossef Romano)
קהת שור (Kehat Shorr)
אנדרי שפיצר (Andre Spitzer)
עמיצור שפירא (Amitzur Shapira)
יעקב שפּרינגר (Yakov Springer)
זאב פרידמן (Ze'ev Friedman)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anglicans criticise Cameron for misrepresenting the Church

Following his speech at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday July 24th, Anglican Mainstream has sent this letter to the Prime Minister asking him to correct his serious misrepresentation of the teaching of the Church. His Grace is happy to reproduce it:
The Rt Hon David Cameron P.C. M.P.,
10 Downing Street
London

July 25 2012

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to ask you to correct a serious misconception in the speech you made to representatives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Groups at Number 10, reported on your website on 25 July 2012.

In that speech you say that opponents of the redefinition of marriage within the church are “locking out people who are gay, or are bisexual or are transgender from being full members of that Church.” This is simply not the case. It is in fact the teaching of Christian churches that all people, including those self-identified as gay, bisexual or transgendered, are to be welcomed as members.

Your misconception suggests, first, that you are not adequately informed about the terms being used in the debates about same-sex attraction. For example, when you refer to ‘people who are gay, bisexual or transgender’, do you mean people who experience these attractions or people who engage in such experiences? For the churches, the distinction is critical: those who experience the attraction have always been fully welcomed. This is because ‘full membership’ of a Christian church comprises those who are baptised, i.e. those who have repented of their sins, and declared their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Since we are all sinners, all people are welcome. You are perhaps familiar with the most famous verse in the Bible: God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, emphasis added). That is why the gospel is such good news for everyone.

Second, your statement suggests that you have not understood what ‘full membership’ of a Christian church actually means. When we are baptised, we make a commitment to live no longer according to our own lights but according to the love of God as expressed in the teaching of Jesus and the scriptures. This teaching allows for physical sexual expression only within marriage of a man and a woman, and calls for repentance when we transgress. This applies, of course, just as much to hetero-sexual activity outside marriage as it does to homosexual activity.

We are sure that you will agree that, whatever people’s views about a public policy issue such as your Government’s proposal for same-sex marriage, the public debate about them should be conducted as far as possible on the basis of correct information. We make no progress if we misrepresent the views of those with whom we disagree. We therefore invite you, in the interest of promoting healthy and effective public debate, to correct the misconception contained in your statement of 25 July.

Please be assured that, notwithstanding our differences with you on this question, we as Christians will continue to pray for you and your colleagues in government in the heavy responsibilities you bear at this challenging time for our nation and a needy world.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Philip Giddings (Convenor)
Canon Dr Chris Sugden (Executive Secretary)
on behalf of Anglican Mainstream

Cameron slams Mosques for ‘locking out’ gays


On Tuesday, the Prime Minister David Cameron affirmed his commitment to same-sex civil marriage while addressing a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) reception at Downing Street.

In his speech, he thanked lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for the contribution they make in the arts, in media, in sport, in business, and in finance.

For some reason, he didn’t mention politics.

He lauded the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the (manifestly enlightened) Jewish Gay Equality Group, and pledged himself to follow in the steps of Tony Blair by legislating for gay marriage in this parliament. He said: “I make that point not only as someone who believes in equality but as someone who believes passionately in marriage. I think marriage is a great institution – I think it helps people to commit, it helps people to say that they’re going to care and love for another person. It helps people to put aside their selfish interests and think of the union that they’re forming. It’s something I feel passionately about and I think if it’s good enough for straight people like me, it’s good enough for everybody and that’s why we should have gay marriage and we will legislate for it.”

That’s nice: it's good to feel passion for things.  

He added: “And I know there’s going to be some big arguments, there will be arguments obviously within political parties including my own, there will be arguments with many of the public that take a different view, although it is worth noting that opinion polls consistently show that the public support the case for equality and obviously there’ll be arguments within the Mosques as well and I can say how great it is to see some Muslim men and women here tonight supporting this cause."

And then this: “I run an institution – the Conservative Party (which you're slowly destroying [ed.]) – which for many, many years got itself on the wrong side of this argument, it locked people out who were naturally Conservative from supporting it and so I think I can make that point to the Mosques, gently (‘gently’ is very considerate, bless you [ed.]). Of course this is a very complicated and difficult issue for all the different Mosques (you don’t say [ed.]), but I passionately believe that all institutions need to wake up to the case for equality, and the Mosque shouldn’t be locking out people who are gay, or are bisexual or are transgender from being full members of that Mosque, because many people with deeply-held Islamic views are also gay. And just as the Conservative Party, as an institution, made a mistake in locking people out so I think the Mosques can be in danger of doing the same thing.”

O, hang on. His Grace apologises, for he has slightly misconstrued (again).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Westminster Faith Debate - religion in public life


There was a debate yesterday in London about the role of religion in public life, featuring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Tony Blair and Charles Moore. You can read a few reviews HERE and HERE. The content will not be regurgitated upon this blog, for it was trite, patronising trash: platitudes, evasions, clichés, and a systematic avoidance of the principal contentious issues.

But what do you expect from a liberal Anglican and two converts to Roman Catholicism?

At one point, Charles Moore cracked a joke that New Labour behaved as though nothing had existed prior to 1997. Which is a bit rich, since he spoke as though nothing preceded the Four Gospels. What sort of conference on the role of religion in public life restricts the Christian input to liberal Anglicanism and Tablet-reading convert-Catholicism? Where was the voice of the Free Church dissenters?

Moreover, where were the voices of Judaism?

Not to mention Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.

There is something unacceptably patronisingly colonial about three white Christian men talking about Indus/(Mid-)Easterm religion and the role it might play in society. And there is something unacceptably offensive about the lack of any female perspective.

It was a congenial chat by men who didn't wish to offend: it was (another) promotional vehicle for Tony Blair, who is slowly but surely being elevated to the status of spiritual counsellor and global guru.

The man is a hypocrite and a charlatan. Shame on Charles More, Rowan Williams and Religion & Society for contributing to the rehabilitation of the man who did more to diminish our religious liberties than any monarch or prime minister in three centuries. His politics is predicated on authoritarian notions of equality: his instincts are wholly repressive.

The Labour Party under Tony Blair's leadership de-legitimised morality and replaced it with abstract moralising, as though the vagaries of human sense were a substitute for millennia of accumulated wisdom. The nation’s Protestant Christian Settlement, which bequeathed to us a tradition of benign social authority, has been subsumed to a malign socialist ultra-liberalism which is inexorably changing our culture beyond recognition and foisting upon everyone a value-free vernacular. Truth is relativised; all belief is valid as long as it coheres with state orthodoxy.

So, please, if you want to debate the role of religion in society, for God's sake invite someone who is prepared to challenge the increasingly prevalent view that we must dispense with the 'forces of conservatism' in the name of progressive enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BBC slams pro-Israel Jewish lobby

One is used to this sort of thing from The Guardian: its Israel-loathing anti-Semitism has long been a matter of public record. But The Guardian is a privately-run, commercial enterprise with the right in law to believe as its proprietor wishes and speak as its editor wills.

The same rights do not extend to the BBC, which is publicly owned and financed by the British taxpayer, with a commitment to broadcast impartiality and factual accuracy.

His Grace has been following this story closely for the past week: The Commentator blog drew attention to the fact that the BBC’s online Olympic coverage was manifestly anti-Israel and pro-Palestine: every participating nation had its capital city listed, bar the state of Israel, which was left blank. Yet the non-state of Palestine had its capital listed as ‘East Jerusalem’. Despite Israel’s seat of government – the Knesset – being in Jerusalem, and despite a plethora of foreign embassies being located in Tel Aviv, the BBC opted to identify neither as Israel’s capital city. And yet, despite the Palestinian seat of government being in Ramallah, and despite Jerusalem not being divided, the BBC opted to carve the East away and hand it, lock, stock and barrel (Temple Mount, Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) to the self-proclaimed Palestinian Authority.

This was a blatant bias and factual inaccuracy. Even those who might defend the BBC with an appeal to UN declarations on the ‘international’ status of Jerusalem – contra Israel’s own assertion about its capital – are left floundering in the knowledge that any part of Jerusalem claimed by the non-state of Palestine is nothing more than self-proclamation.

Yet the BBC summarily dismissed what Israel says of and claims for Jerusalem, while validating and authenticating what Palestine says and claims of the city.

Unsurprisingly, people wrote to the BBC to complain, including the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, which wrote:
...we were astounded by the decision of the BBC to discriminate against Israel in the network’s Olympic page. For each country (and non-country) participating in the London Olympics, a special page was given on your internet site which included background information such as capital city. For each country (and non-country) apart from Israel. Jerusalem is the capital city of the state of Israel, and accordingly we request that you correct this matter immediately.
The BBC acknowledged:
Due to an error which was made at the time the information was added onto the website, incorrect details and mistakes appeared on the Israeli and Palestinian team pages. This has since been rectified in line with BBC policy.
And so the offending page was amended to read: ‘Seat of government: Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.’

Still no mention of a capital city.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office sent a further letter of complaint, but the BBC made it clear that this was as far as they would go.

So the Prime Minister’s Office launched a Facebook page to increase awareness and to pressure the BBC in this matter. The page description states: ‘Following the BBC's decision to omit Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel from its Olympic Games website, this is your place to support Jerusalem – the one and only Capital of Israel.’

The Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat wrote: “We will not accept those who deny our history, our sovereignty, and our right to determine our own capital. Irrespective of the BBC's political agenda, Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of Israel and the spiritual, political, and physical center of the Jewish people.”

The changes to the BBC’s website are inadequate: they not only constitute an overt attempt to deny and de-legitimise Israel's capital; they amount to a breach of the BBC’s own Charter which requires impartiality and factual accuracy.

His Grace is loath to ask his readers and communicants to complain to the BBC about this matter, because it appears that those who believe in and proclaim Israel’s sovereignty over its destiny and eternal capital city are held in contempt. A viewer who did complain received a response which included the distasteful line: ‘...we feel it is worth explaining that a considerable number of complaints have been generated by online lobby activity’.

Media Guido asks ‘Which “lobby” could they possibly be referring to?’

And that is an interesting question, for one never hears of the BBC complaining about the ‘online lobby activity’ of (say) Muslims or gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered...

The Jewish Chronicle appears to be in no doubt, and neither should we be.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The 'woeful lack of religious understanding at the heart of government'

Further to the article in The Telegraph by Alan Judd, adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, in which he equated evangelical Christians with 'totalitarian Muslims' and 'segregationist Jews', referring to all such groups as 'extreme', the Evangelical Alliance wrote a letter to The Telegraph to set the record straight. Since the paper's Editor has not seen fit to publish it, His Grace is delighted to do so:
Dear Sir,

It is wrong and worrying that a senior government advisor brands evangelical Christians as extremist (Alan Judd, 19 July). There are approximately 2 million evangelical Christians in the UK , the fastest growing part of the church worldwide. They take their faith seriously, but that does not make them extremist. To suggest it does demonstrates a woeful lack of religious understanding at the heart of government.

Evangelical Christians are at the heart of their community. The churches that are members of the Evangelical Alliance contribute half a million hours of service a week to their communities. In fact, the more important a Christian thinks their faith is, the more likely they are to engage with the world around them. Evangelical Christians work hard to alleviate poverty, counter injustice and care for the vulnerable.

Letting evangelical Christians run schools is not just a matter of equality: it is letting the people who know their communities best work to make them even better.

Steve Clifford
General Director, Evangelical Alliance

What is even more telling, of course, is the silence emanating from the Department for Education on this matter: there has been no retraction, correction or apology from Mr Judd or any spokesperson. Now, if this had been a complaint on behalf of Britain's 2.8million Muslims, who also tend to take their faith seriously without it making them extremist...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bradley Wiggins should light the Olympic Flame

Never before has a Briton worn the Yellow Shirt up the Champs Elysées to be crowned victor in the epic Tour de France. It is a phenomenal sporting achievement which ranks alongside that of our greatest Olympians. It is fitting in this year of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee for Bradley Wiggins to be the first Briton to take the crown of the Tour de France, echoing the conquest of Mount Everest in the year of her Coronation by the British team led by Edmund Hilary.

Sir Edmund was knighted for his phenomenal efforts: surely both Daley Thompson CBE and Sir Steve Redgrave should cease their infernal bickering over who should light the Olympic Flame. Sir Chris Hoy has already said that winning the Tour de France would be among the greatest British sporting achivements of all time. People forget that Bradley Wiggins is already an incredible Olympian with six medals, including three golds. That makes him something of a British sporting legend.

So, let us focus on the glories of the here and now: Bradley Wiggins deserves an honour before the New Year and prior to Her Majesty's next birthday. What say you, Sir Steve, Mr Thompson, Lord Coe, BOA, LOCOG?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why does the South East Gospel Partnership tolerate anti-Semitism?

Earlier this year, His Grace brought to your attention the anti-Semitic tendencies of Church of England vicar the Rev Dr Stephen Sizer. The charges against him have been widely reported and discussed in the Church Times, the Church of England Newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, and Standpoint.

Considering the evidence, it beggars belief that any reasonable person can find the allegations against him to be unjustified. Yet the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership do indeed remain un-persuaded.

His Grace posts this Open Letter on behalf of those named below, in the hope that the Committee will reconsider their association with Stephen Sizer, or that members of SEGP churches may consider the evidence and change their minds individually. The allegations contained therein are supported by an entire corpus of evidence.

For example, the video beneath, in which Dr Sizer equates the Holocaust with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. That amounts either to Holocaust denial or to the most appalling slander of the Jewish State. Earlier this year, Baroness Tonge was forced out of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords for remarks about Israel which were far less offensive. It is the task of the Church to set an example to the World, rather than the other way round.
An Open Letter to the South East Gospel Partnership about Anti-Semitism

Among the many people and organisations who have declined to take action against the anti-Semitism of Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer is a group called the South East Gospel Partnership. Its Chairman is Rev. William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and its Committee is made up of 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.

Recently we asked them to join Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, in publicly criticizing Dr Sizer for posting a link to an extreme anti-Semitic website, and on the basis of that offence and others to exclude Christ Church Virginia Water (Dr Sizer’s church) from their organisation.

In their response they did not engage with a single charge that we made about Dr Sizer. They concluded by saying they saw ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen’. Here are the charges that were brought to the Committee's attention:

- Posting links to at least four different anti-Semitic websites, and offering demonstrably false explanations by way of defence: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Offering unqualified support for Raed Salah, a notorious anti-Semitic hate preacher and convicted fundraiser for Hamas: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Spreading recognised anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as Israeli complicity in 9/11 and the claim that McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and L'Oréal 'channel their profits to the Zionist agenda' - and on that false basis promoting a boycott of those four companies (which, being publicly-listed, pay their profits to shareholders of every nationality): 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Appearing repeatedly on Press TV, a TV station renowned for its anti-Semitism and aptly described by Daily Express columnist Stephen Pollard as 'the propaganda arm of the world's leading funder of terror': 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Describing regular Israeli troops photographed at ease in a street as 'Herod's soldiers operating in Bethlehem today', an unashamedly anti-Semitic blood libel: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Hosting an event on behalf of the ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’, an organisation that refuses to co-operate with the British police and openly calls for the nations neighbouring Israel to ‘release their armies to burn that land’: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Seeking to divert money donated to the Christ Church Virginia Water mission fund to George Galloway's Hamas-supporting organisation 'Viva Palestina': 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

We offered to provide evidence to back up all of the above claims. The Committee did not take up the offer. We also pointed out that no one, including Dr Sizer, has been able to find any inaccuracy in any of those charges.

What particularly troubles us is our firm sense that if a vicar belonging to the SEGP had posted links to four anti-black websites, such as Ku Klux Klan white supremacist sites, he would have been quickly excluded from the organisation. If that assumption is correct, the SEGP Committee are not demonstrating impartiality. As the Bible says, ‘Differing weights and differing measures - the LORD detests them both.’

Perhaps the SEGP Committee might say that what we see as anti-Semitism is in fact legitimate political criticism of the state of Israel. We invite people to review the charges above and decide for themselves.

The SEGP Committee might also point to the decision by the police earlier this year not to prosecute Dr Sizer for the incitement of racial hatred. Yet that decision was based solely on the police’s judgement that the racist material which Dr Sizer had publicised was not likely to incite hatred to the point of a disruption in public order. They raised no doubts about whether Dr Sizer had linked to the material.

Finally, the SEGP Committee might also quote the numerous statements made by Dr Sizer condemning anti-Semitism. Yet sadly Dr Sizer's word cannot be trusted. This was proven when he recently insisted that the first time he was alerted to the presence of a link to a racist website on his Facebook page was on 3rd January. The Diocese of Guildford, however, has confirmed that he sent an email acknowledging receipt of a complaint about that same link on 22nd November. The SEGP Committee were made aware of this, yet it did not seem to affect their wholehearted support for Dr Sizer.

We take no pleasure whatsoever in publicly airing this disagreement. But in the last analysis, racism is worthy of whistleblowing. We very much hope that the evangelical community will react better than the Roman Catholic church to fact-based whistleblowing. Sadly, thus far, that has not proven to be the case. An evangelical leader has posted links to racist websites, his explanations have then been exposed as false, and yet nothing has been done about it. Two questions have driven us to write this open letter: 'When is it ever acceptable for an evangelical to post links to racist websites?'; and, ' 'Why are other evangelicals refusing to take action in response?' It's because we can't think of any satisfactory answers to those questions that we have taken this step.

The Committee of the SEGP are good men. And so we appeal with hope to members of their churches to persuade them to act in a righteous, impartial way. The history of the Christian church has repeatedly been stained by anti-Semitism. Our prayer is that in this case the church will take redemptive action.

Rev. Nick Howard
Assistant Minister, Christ Church New York City

James Mendelsohn
Senior Lecturer in Law, Huddersfield University

Friday, July 20, 2012

DfE labels evangelical Christians ‘extremist’


There’s been a bit of a hoo-ha over the past week about new free schools which have supposedly been licensed to teach ‘creationism’. It is a synthetic fuss, whipped up by the National Secular Society (NSS) and the British Humanist Association (BHA) which has been ably dissected by the Ecclesial Vermin (amongst others).

There is a good piece by Alan Judd in the Telegraph about why some free school applications fail.

That is ‘good’ in all respects bar one. Mr Judd tells us: “I help the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, with the vetting of free schools.” And then has this to say about faith-based applications:
The trouble is, as always, when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s evangelical Christians, totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews. Such applications need careful vetting, not because there shouldn’t be far-out religious and ideological beliefs, but because the taxpayer shouldn’t pay to propagate them – and because children should be able to participate in a wider society without having their horizons narrowed by fundamentalism.
Please note that this is a senior adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, involved in the vetting of applicants, who equates ‘evangelical’ with ‘totalitarian’ and ‘segregationist’, thereby writing off an entire corpus of Protestant theology and our nation’s history with murderous regimes and sectarian bigotry.

Certainly, there are one or two extremists who term themselves evangelical. But every denomination of every religion has its fanatics and extremists. Consider the outrage if Alan Judd had written:
...when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s Catholic Christians, totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews.
or
...when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s totalitarian Christians, Sunni Muslims or segregationist Jews.
or
...when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s segregationist Christians, totalitarian Muslims or Orthodox Jews.
It is astonishing that he chose to qualify ‘Muslims’ and ‘Jews’ with adjectives of political oppression or separatism, but for Christians he singled out a distinct theological movement. It is evidence of a prejudicial mindset which some might term 'Christianophobic'.

If he had written (say) ‘sectarian Christians, totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews’, that would have shown impartiality. But he didn’t. And by choosing to disparage a particular branch of Christian theology, the DfE is pandering to the aggressive, extremist secular-humanist agendas of the NSS and the BHA.

One wonders what the personal religious beliefs of Alan Judd are.

Surely, in light his manifest prejudice against evangelical Christians, we ought to be told.

Evangelical Christians are used to this sort of treatment in Iran, where they are routinely portrayed as being 'corrupt' and 'deviant' like the Taliban. But research by the Evangelical Alliance suggests that they are (quite literally) a broad church, essentially unified theologically upon penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers, but rather disparate on the politics of poverty alleviation and such social issues as abortion and homosexuality.

Evangelical Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again from the dead. But this is not mere belief in a doctrine: it is inspiration to active involvement in society. A significantly high proportion of them tend to be trustees of registered charities, members of a political party, or serve as school governors.

Evangelical Christians also beat the national average for serving as councillors for their local authorities and as court magistrates. Astonishingly, a mammoth 91 per cent turned out to vote in the AV referendum (compared to 42 per cent nationally). 81 per cent of evangelicals do some kind of voluntary work at least once a month, contributing a total of around half a million hours each week to their communities. There is substantial evidence that they are more likely to be active in public life, making a huge investment of unpaid time and energy in the voluntary and community sector, in education and health services, in politics and in the trade union movement.

So it is no surprise that evangelical Christians are applying to establish their own free schools. Without 18th-century evangelicals, there would have been no movement towards state education at all.

So please, Mr Judd, do not conflate evangelical Christians with totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews, for the singing of Shine, Jesus, Shine ought not to be equated with those enemies of liberal democracy who seek to impose sharia and blow us all to kingdom come.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Too much Catholicism is detrimental to a nation's fiscal health"

Before the ubiquitous one-man inquisition pounces upon His Grace with allegations of 'bigotry', this article is reproduced in its entirety from the BBC website. It takes a theme long-advanced by this blog - that the EU 'project' is far deeper than mere politics and economics. It is good that some in the mainstream media are finally catching up:


Discussion among eurozone leaders about the future of their single currency has become an increasingly divisive affair. On the surface, religion has nothing to do with it - but could Protestant and Catholic leaders have deep-seated instincts that lead them to pull the eurozone in different directions, until it breaks?

Following the last European summit in Brussels there was much talk of defeat for Chancellor Merkel by what was described as a "new Latin Alliance" of Italy and Spain backed by France.

Many Germans protested that too much had been conceded by their government - and it might not be too far-fetched to see this as just the latest Protestant criticism of the Latin approach to matters monetary, which has deep roots in German culture, shaped by religious belief.

Churchgoing has been in decline in Germany as elsewhere as secularisation has spread, but religious ideas still shape the way Germans talk and think about money. The German word for debt - schuld - is the same as the word for "guilt" or "sin".

Talk of thrift and responsible budgeting comes instinctively to Angela Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor.

Merkel's frequent assertion that "there is no alternative" to austerity policies (while reminiscent to Britons of Margaret Thatcher) has been likened to the famous stubborn statement by German Reformation leader Martin Luther: "Here I stand. I can do no other".

The new German president, Joachim Gauck, who might play an important role in constitutional arguments about the single currency, is also from the Protestant fold - he is a former Lutheran pastor.

The country's population is fairly evenly divided between Protestants and Catholics - as well as those of other faiths, or none - and Merkel's and Gauck's ascent symbolises changes in Germany since reunification in 1990.

Both lived in East Germany, a historically Protestant territory, while West Germany had several influential Catholic political leaders, who, in earlier post-war decades, had joined in broad Catholic enthusiasm for European integration.

Former West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, a Rhineland Catholic highly distrustful of Protestant Prussian traditions to the German east, led West Germany into the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

This created the European Economic Community, forerunner of today's EU. And there was a clear geographical fit between the six countries which signed and the territory of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire.

Charlemagne, claimed by modern European unifiers as a kind of patron saint, had created a new currency for his territories - the livre carolienne.

Helmut Kohl, who took Germany into economic and monetary union in the 1990s, was another Catholic Rhinelander constantly visiting cathedrals and speaking of the ancient spiritual roots of a united Europe.

There was much talk of the Germans sacrificing their beloved Deutsche Mark currency "on the altar of European unity".

But German reunification at that time also meant the capital moving back to Berlin, away from closer Catholic connections felt in the west and south of the country.

And the eurozone crisis has intensified a deep-rooted debate about whether Germans, shaped by Protestantism, are fundamentally different from Catholic "Latin" countries and their allies.
German banking has, from medieval times, been more cautious than that in Italy and Spain. And sceptical Germans looking at the history of previous currency union troubles point to the 19th Century Latin Currency Union.

Germany, unifying under Prussian leadership through its own customs union, did not join. The Latin Union struggled to survive after a number of countries, notably the Papal States, minted and printed more money than they were meant to.

Politicians or states undermining money have diabolical overtones for angst-filled Germans.


In Goethe's Faust, one of the most famous works in German culture, Mephistopheles persuades the Holy Roman Emperor to issue a new paper currency - despite one of his advisers warning that this is the counsel of Satan.

Order duly breaks down as the Emperors' subjects go on a binge bearing no relation to their real wealth.

Weimar Republic hyperinflation in the early 1920s - when "money went mad" and all moral as well as economic order was seen as collapsing - seemed a diabolical vision made real.

Some in Germany suggest today's eurozone would be better dividing, with some kind of Latin Union on one side, and on the other a German-led group of like-minded countries including perhaps the (Calvinist) Dutch and the (Lutheran) Finns.

The former head of the German industry association, Hans-Olaf Henkel, has said that "the euro is dividing Europe".

He wants the Germans, Dutch and Finns to "seize the initiative and leave the euro", creating a separate northern euro.

A new split along ancient lines? The government in Berlin has begun to plan for what it sees as a hugely significant anniversary in 2017 - 500 years since Luther began The Reformation.

He was protesting against indulgences, a controversial attempt by the Papacy to solve its fiscal problems by persuading Europeans to buy absolution from their sins.

One German commentator, Stephan Richter, has suggested mischievously that the eurozone's problems would have been prevented if only Luther had been one of the negotiators of the Maastricht treaty, deciding which countries could join the euro.

"'Read my lips: No unreformed Catholic countries,' he would have chanted. The euro, as a result, would have been far more cohesive," says Richter.

Richter is himself a Catholic, but an admirer of thrifty economics. "Too much Catholicism" he suggests, "is detrimental to a nation's fiscal health, even today in the 21st Century".

But he believes some historically Catholic countries, such as Austria and Poland, may have come under more Germanic influence due to their geographical proximity. They are "Catholics perhaps, but with a healthy dose of fiscal Protestantism," he reasons.

Commemorations in 2017 will doubtless try to stress that Reformation divisions between Protestants and other reformers and Catholicism were not too great.

But the usually thrifty government under Chancellor Merkel has already promised 35 million euros to mark this birth of Protestantism.

And where will the eurozone be in 2017?

Still intact? Or coming to terms with a new historic divide between the Latins and the preachers of Protestant thrift?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bishop of Durham to serve on Banking Standards Committee

In today's materialistic world, it is generally considered easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a bishop to serve on a parliamentary committee into Mammon. His Grace has long held that the most effective (and so most useful) politicians are those who are elected to Parliament following a few decades of experience in the real world - former doctors, nurses, soldiers, teachers, farmers and ship-builders are always going to know and understand more than those who leave Oxbridge with a first in PPE, become a special adviser, and are then sufficiently well-connected to be flown into a safe seat to begin their climb up the greasy pole.

Perhaps the same is true of clergy.

A cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the banking industry and Libor scandal has had its membership confirmed with the inclusion of the Bishop of Durham as a non-politically-aligned member from the House of Lords.

The Right Revd Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, has been invited to sit on the commission titled the ‘Parliamentary Commission On Banking Standards’. The terms of reference set out in the motion which resulted in the commission being set-up requires it to consider and report on ‘professional standards and culture of the UK banking sector, taking account of regulatory and competition investigations into the Libor rate-setting process’ and ‘lessons to be learned about corporate governance, transparency and conflicts of interest, and their implications for regulation and for Government policy’.

The Commission will be headed-up by Andrew Tyrie MP, Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons. The membership of the Commission will be drawn from across parties in both Houses of parliament with six from the Commons and five from the Lords.

Bishop Justin commented: “I am very honoured to have been invited to take part in this important enquiry, which has an impact on all of us because ethical markets are essential to a flourishing economy, and thus jobs. The work commitment is obviously going to be intense, but short-lived. Having started dealing in these markets from the oil industry side in the late 1970s, and with experience not only of LIBOR related instruments but also of a range of derivatives and many other forms of market, as well as being involved in the City of London through work on ethical investing in recent years, this is an area where I hope to be able to make a useful contribution."

Bishop Justin presently sits in the House of Lords, where he specialises in finance and economic matters. He studied Law and History at Cambridge University and then spent 11 years in the oil industry based in Paris (working for Elf) and London, working on West African (principally Nigerian) and North Sea projects. In 1984 he became Group Treasurer of Enterprise Oil plc, a large UK exploration and production company in the FTSE 100. His role included overseeing all the short and long-term financing activity of Enterprise as well as insurance. He was actively involved in the development of the derivatives markets, and their use in connection with loans and foreign exchange dealing. He also sat on the Education committee of the UK Association of Corporate Treasurers. During this time he was also a lay leader at Holy Trinity, Brompton in London.

Amongst other activities, Bishop Justin has been chairman of a National Health Service Trust general hospital. He is the Personal and Ethical Adviser to the UK Association of Corporate Treasurers, and lectures extensively on ethics and finance. He chairs the Committee of Reference for Stewardship, the ethical funds owned by Friends Life and managed by F&C plc. He has published a number of articles in English and French on issues of international finance, ethics and management and also on reconciliation.

It will be interesting to see what contribution the Bishop of Durham brings to this investigation, considering Jesus expressed a certain privilege for the poor, and tended toward the view that rich men don't easily enter heaven.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What is this obsession with unity?


All political parties in a liberal democracy are coalitions of the disparate, if not the diverse, come together to agree upon a broad philosophy of government. Prior to the 19th century, politics was exercised by independent MPs who grouped informally according to type or temperament. It was only during the course of that century that these social networks evolved into what may be considered political parties.

The present Conservative Party was born out of 18th-century Tory-Whig divisions, and still contains staunch defenders of both traditions: it is the 'broad church' gathering that permits the likes of Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell to dwell under the same tent as Kenneth Clarke, or Margaret Thatcher with Ted Heath. It wasn't until 1912 that the Conservative Party merged with the Liberal Unionist Party and formally became The Conservative and Unionist Party. This year is, in fact, the centennial celebration of that union and the birth of the modern party (but don't expect any celebration or commemoration).

And the present-day Liberal Democrats are a fusion of Gladstonian Liberals (there are still a few) with those who are Social Democrat in disposition. There is an ever-present tension between the social liberals and the economic liberals (often termed 'Orange-bookers'), which permits Whig-Radicals like David Laws to break bread with moderate Socialists like Shirley Williams.

Both the Conservative and Liberal traditions embrace the top-down authoritarians and bottom-up libertarians. They both contain their reforming and conserving elements, held perpetually in tension, with diverse views on social mobility, economic liberalism, and overseas intervention, not to mention religion and secularism.

If, therefore, political parties are themselves fragile coalitions of the disparate, it stands to reason that the present Coalition Government, forged out of two already-fragmented parties, will itself be fractured across innumerable policy areas, though agreed on broad economic strategy and most of the reforms being implemented on education and welfare. Division, distrust and unsociability belie outward shows of unity and camaraderie.

This being the case, it would assist if the top-down Tory types would stop demanding that the bottom-up Whiggish element should submit to their authoritarian disposition and conform to a uniform agenda. If the liberals and conservatives in both parties bothered to sit down and listen to each other instead of bawling and bullying in the corridors of Westminster, we might just get some strategic policy direction and coherent philosophy.

But that's the grown-up approach.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The legacy of Margaret Thatcher



This tribute reminds you (should you need reminding) that desperate times call for desperate measures. "Margaret Thatcher came to power at a desperate time in her country's history, when real leadership and bold ideas were most needed. And by applying conservative principles to the challenges she faced, she was able to achieve real and lasting success. Then, as today, she faced an extraordinary set of challenges and a chorus of voices saying her country's best days were behind it. Thatcher's successes are a comforting reminder of the power of a bold, conservative vision at work."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gimme Five! I'm going to church because of women bishops

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

How many teenagers in your local Anglican parish church?

Unless you happen to live in the parish of All Souls Langham Place or Holy Trinity Brompton in London or Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle or Christ Church Fulwood in Sheffield, you can hug a teenage hoody at a bus stop (or exchange a high five with one) but not generally in an Anglican church.

Your local Anglican Church is not alone in experiencing a famine of teenagers. Tim Thornborough in his outstanding article last year in the evangelical magazine The Briefing - Does the future have a church? - distilled the findings of church statistician Dr Peter Brierley: 'The generation for whom church-going was part of their culture is dying off, but the church is missing an ability to replace the dying saints with new ones.' So let’s turn to look at what is going on at the other end of the age spectrum. This is where the stats for all UK churches present a truly frightening picture. Take a deep breath and read on!
39% of churches have no-one attending under 11 years of age
49% of churches have no-one attending between the ages of 11 and 14
59% of churches have no-one attending between the ages of 15 and 19
Does anyone realistically think appointing women bishops will defuse the demographic time bomb?

The arguments for women bishops are varied. They range from the purported leadership deficiencies of an all-male House of Bishops to the claim that to refuse to consecrate women as bishops amounts to denying that men and women are made equally in the image of God.

The Roman Catholic journalist Melanie McDonagh has ably exposed the theological absurdity of that latter contention in the London Evening Standard: 'I’ve got no business, myself, getting involved, given that I’m a Catholic and we don’t actually believe that any of them (male or female Anglican priests) are properly ordained. But I do get a bit restive when I hear the likes of the Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, one of the many media-friendly female clerics, declaring that “the whole point of having women bishops was to say that the Church of England believes that women and men are equal and made in the image of God. I do not want it enshrined in law that we officially do not believe that.” Hang on there. Our lot don’t have women bishops either but I’ve never had any problems on being made in the image of God, thanks all the same, Miranda.'

The Threlfall-Holmes argument could be extended to saying that the refusal to appoint a person to church leadership because they do not have the necessary ability to expound the Scriptures amounts to denying that they are made in the image of God.

God does not confer the public teaching office on all Christians; only on some. In that sense, God is discriminatory. But such divine discrimination in the conferring of his gift of teaching the Faith does not mean for one moment that church administrators, sidespeople, or those on the coffee rota are any less made in the image of God or lesser members of the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Back in the 1990s, one of the arguments put forward for the ordination of women by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, was that the church would put itself out of touch with modern society if it did not have women vicars.

But despite women being ordained priests in the years following the 1992 Synod legislation, the Church of England has continued to haemorrhage young people.

The undeniable fact of Anglican church life is that the above mentioned Christ-proclaiming churches, and many other Anglican evangelical churches around the country, have managed to attract teenagers under the ministry of male incumbents and in dioceses led by male bishops.

But for the majority of Anglican churches, no young people spells no future congregations.

If the Church of England goes ahead with appointing women bishops, the ladies in question will not require the teaching gift because there will be nobody to teach. But estate agency experience would be useful because of the large number of empty properties in their dioceses for sale or let.

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cameron takes on the Pope


Not content with rebuking the Church of England and publicly rowing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron has now decided to take on the Bishop of Rome, successor of St Peter the Apostle, the King of the Vatican City State and worldwide leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

This is nothing new, of course. English monarchs and British prime ministers have throughout the centuries felt obliged to tell various successors of St Peter where they can go. But the great battles of ages past tended to be concerned with issues of sovereignty: now it is all about sexuality.

Tony Blair challenged Pope Benedict XVI on homosexuality; David Cameron has chosen contraception. In each case, they appear to believe that centuries of Roman Catholic orthodoxy can be overturned by 'the strength of our arguments'. They mistake Rome's Magisterium for the Church of England's General Synod. The motto of the Church of Rome is 'Semper Eadem'; that of the Church of England is 'Argumentum ad Nauseam'.

His Grace, being Anglican, happens to believe that condoms save lives, especially in Africa. And he would much rather a child not be conceived than aborted. For these reasons, in this incontinent age of unrestraint, he believes that contraception should be accessible across the globe. The Church of England accepted birth control in the 1930 Lambeth Conference. In the 1958 Lambeth Conference it stated that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents 'in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife'.

Not so with the Church of Rome, which specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and procreative. Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae of 1968 decreed that all artificial contraception is intrinsically evil. According to the new Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, this is 'infallible teaching'.

That's a shame, because it means it was declared ex cathedra, and so is immutable, semper eadem (take this understanding up with the Bishop-elect Mgr Philip Egan, not His Grace).

And that leaves millions of Roman Catholics all over the world somewhat at variance with their church on this matter. Everyone knows that the papal ban on artificial birth control is largely ignored, and many millions of otherwise sincere and obedient Roman Catholics long for a change of policy. The women in particular (including a few American nuns) might rather like the Pope to listen the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (and the President of the United States) on this matter.

The thing is, of course, that those Roman Catholics who speak out against their church hierarchy are manifesting that very same spirit of protest which ushered in the Protestant Reformation. One either submits to the infallible teachings of one's church, or one disputes and disobeys them. Roman Catholicism is not like à la carte Anglicanism: one may not choose one dimension of the Magisterium and pour scorn upon the rest; one may not prefer one ecumenical council over another; one may not be ‘a pro-abortion Catholic’ or a 'pro-condom Catholic' any more than one may be a paedophile priest. And for Pope Benedict, flooding Africa with condoms is tantamount to murder. This is not a battle the Prime Minister can win.
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