Thursday, February 28, 2013

Habemus Papam Temporarium

Forget all this Sede Vacante nonsense: His Grace very ably occupied the Chair of St Augustine during the Church of England’s recent interregnum, and humbly administered with theological grace and political wisdom (for which he received sincere thanks from Lambeth Palace). And so it has been determined by Twitter Conclave that he should now occupy the Chair of St Peter until such time as the Holy Spirit should inform the Conclave of Cardinals who will be the next incarnate pope.

Unlike all other ordained Anglicans, His Grace’s holy orders are not ‘absolutely null and utterly void’: he was ordained in 1520 (or 1521 – he can’t quite remember) and, pursuant to a papal grant, he was (and so remains) licensed to preach in all the dioceses of (what is now) the United Kingdom. Ergo, there is no ecclesio-theological bar to his becoming the (temporary) Bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter. Of course, not all Christians will agree with this, for we know that not all Christians believe that the Pope is uniquely charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock. The Church of England is a perpetual reminder that unity in faith may be diverse in expression.

But while His Grace is pontificating (literally) over the coming days or weeks (or, should the Holy Spirit tarry, months or years), he hopes to bring renewal with a tinge of reformation to the Church of Rome.

He will not begin with superficial media obsessions (ie sex scandals, or, more specifically, gay sex scandals). He does not believe that Rome has abandoned Semper Eadem for Hierarchy, Bureaucracy and Homosexuality (though reports about the Curia suggest otherwise). To assist the next pope with putting his house in order, His Grace’s first act will be to rectify some theological baggage which is an undoubted bar to ecumenical relations.

And no, we’re not talking about mandatory celibacy (these things will be dealt with over the coming weeks (/months). His Grace would firstly like to deal with the issue of ‘Papal Infallibility’, for while that teaching remains, the reunion of Canterbury with Rome is not a remote possibility.

Look, it’s only been a dogma since 1870. Yes, it was invoked in medieval superstitious traditions centuries before that, but never as an immutable doctrine of faith. And since Pope Pius IX who pronounced it obviously wasn’t infallible when it was imparted ex cathedra, it plainly cannot be an infallible pronouncement. Good grief, even some popes don’t agree with it. Pope John XXIII is reported to have said: “I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible.”

Note the ‘never’.

As far His Grace is concerned (and probably Pope John XXIII), there is and has ever been only one man who was and remains preserved from error, and that man is Christ Jesus. St Peter certainly never claimed infallibility when defining doctrine concerning faith or morals, so quite why any of those who claim to be his successors should believe they are preserved from the possibility of error when doing so is something of a mystery (or blasphemy).

This is no trivial matter or minor doctrine. It is a stumbling block if not an insurmountable hurdle for all non-Roman-Catholic Christians. Rowan, Lord Williams said that Pope Benedict’s resignation has fundamentally altered perceptions; that ‘the pope is not like a sort of God-king who goes on to the very end’. If the concept of ‘God-king’ has been dispelled, it is surely time to ditch the pretention to infallibility.

Ministry is service: to be a bishop is to be pastoral. And this occasionally necessitates expressions of authority and the administration of discipline. But it is very easy to confuse infallibility of administrative action with infallibility of doctinal morality. That Pope Benedict has broken with centuries of tradition and abdicated his throne has dented the infallible authority of the God-king. If power may be handed on voluntarily to a successor, it may be dispersed. If it may be dispersed, its manifestation becomes ambiguous. The Pontiff who emptied himself of all authority has also relativised all claims of infallibility.

Further, the Holy See has never published a comprehensive list of what, precisely, constitutes the infallible canon of Petrine interpolations. This creates spiritual confusion in the people of God. Certainly, we know about the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, but what is the status of (say) Humanae Vitae or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis? The one prohibits artificial contraception; the other reserves the priestly ordination to men alone. Are these infallible (and so immutable) teachings? The Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan certainly believes Humanae Vitae to be so, yet many liberals clearly dismiss its teachings with impunity. Who arbitrates in these disputes, and by what authority? Does Bishop Philip Egan police the bedrooms of his flock and anathematise the contraceptive recidivists as vehemently as he would those who repudiate Transubstantiation?

Papal Infallibility is contrary to Scripture and reason. It is pseudo history and ecclesial illusion. Therefore His Grace’s first act as the (temporary) successor of St Peter is now revealed:
By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by His Grace’s own authority, He declares, pronounces and defines the doctrine of papal fallibility when defining doctrine concerning faith or morals, to be revealed by God and as such to be firmly and immutably held by all the faithful.
And His Grace does not anathematise anyone who deliberately dissents from this infallible teaching, for he doesn’t think that’s very Christian at all.

Slaves to our past

From Brother Ivo:

Whether we like it or not, Britain has a colonial past, rooted in circumstances, values and world-views utterly different to those we have today. We have no personal responsibility for it, and cannot change it even if we wanted to. If we were afforded the opportunity to time-travel and interfere with that history, there is no guarantee that we would like the resulting outcome any better than what we have today. It ought to be a field of study approached with scholarly caution.

As a contribution to our understanding of that past, the University College of London has published online a searchable database detailing all the individuals and companies which were compensated at the time of the abolition of slavery, and that publication has brought the class warriors out in force.

No sooner had The Independent carried the story on Monday than we had Lee Jasper tweeting his right to be compensated for the chain of events which led him to being inexplicably appointed by Ken Livingstone to be London’s Director of Policing and Equalities, on a publicly-funded salary of £127,000. Brother Ivo agrees there is an outrage here, though not perhaps in the way Mr Jasper thinks.

Slavery is a very touchy issue in a multi-cultural society. It generates more heat than light when there is a poor grasp of the history. Sometimes the unlikely turn up as heroes and vice versa. There are significant ironies.

Because slavery has existed throughout history in societies as diverse as Africa Mexico, China, New Zealand and the Middle East, it was used by philosophers from Aristotle to Aquinas to Locke to develop the idea of ‘Natural Law’. Every known society seemed to have knowledge of common prohibitions such as murder and incest, and institutions such as marriage, kingship, and slavery. The very acceptance of such common standards of behaviour resulted in the Natural Law theory which is the forerunner of ‘Universal Human Rights’. It is not surprising that such commonly-identified features of human society such as slavery were expressed in religious thought, not least in Christianity.

Slave references abound in the Old Testament without objection, and in First Epistle of Peter, slaves are advised to obey their masters. Similarly in Paul‘s Epistle to Philemon, the Apostle discusses his need for services of the slave Onesimus without ever suggesting that the institution which bound him to his master Philemon was in any sense wrong or contrary to the will of God. Jesus never spoke against slavery in plain terms: that biblical reticence fortified many slave-owning apologists.

It would be wrong, however, to regard slavery as in any sense limited to Christian or Western thought or custom. The very term ‘slave’ derives from the Balkan peoples who were the greatest source of slaves in history, being preyed upon for centuries by the Ottoman Empire. Cassanova records seducing a Greek slave girl; North African corsairs took slaves from the coastal villages of Devon and Cornwall; and the African slave trade developed from the sale of captives of war both within Africa and beyond.

If there was an early exception to this universality it perhaps began in England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury St Anselm convened a Council of Westminster in 1102 to differentiate the status of serfs from slaves. Serfs may have been tied to the land by feudal obligation, but they could own property and had rights. Free men were more productive than slaves and could contribute in taxes – a concept that is often overlooked by modern politicians.

The Council declared: ‘Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals.’

The status of slaves brought from abroad was considered by the English Courts in 1569 in Cartwright’s case, where the defendant was observed beating another and the Court rejected his defence that the man was a Russian slave he had imported, and so not to be regarded as a legal ‘person’, but rather as ‘property’ to be treated as he wished. The Court gave that short-shrift and bequeathed to us the splendid phrase ‘that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in’. In essence, once landed, the slave was free.

The law in the colonies was more equivocal, but the principle in Cartwright’s case was developed in Somersett’s case When Lord Mansfield, a highly-conservative Judge who has been called the Father of the modern Tory Party, declared: “The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.”

No doubt Mr Jasper would regret the Judge’s lack of diversity-training, but Brother Ivo still applauds his moral judgment.

It may not have escaped notice that the Judge took a strict constructionist approach to judicial activity. This contrasts with the next step in the story.

The disinclination to uphold slavery had always had a connection to England’s Christian heritage. It is worth noting that the Council of Koblenz (922) declared that if someone sold a Christian into slavery they would be guilty of murder. William the Conqueror had also declared: ‘We forbid anyone to sell a Christian into a foreign land and especially to heathens. For let great care be taken lest their souls for which Christ gave His life be sold into damnation.’

It was that divide between the Christian and non-Christian that was exploited at the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but the legal decision which established the legality of slavery in the New World was taken in circumstances that confound modern-day assumptions about who would hold what attitudes towards slavery.

In 1665, Anthony Johnson brought a legal suit against his indentured servant John Casor to enforce an agreement whereby Casor was said to have bound himself to Johnson for life. The success of that suit, determined by a judge (not any legislative body) established for the first time in law the legality of slavery in the British colonies.

It is a terrible irony that both Johnson and Casor were black and Johnson a former slave himself.

It is easy to assume that former slaves would despise the institution which oppressed them, yet many did not and became slave owners when freed. John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, was a slave-trader who was himself enslaved for a period in Africa.

Following his Christian conversion, independent of that slavery experience, Newton worked with Thomas Clarkson of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, providing the necessary first-hand evidence of the trade. He was perhaps the first significant ‘whistle-blower’. Eventually, the Conservative MP (he means 'Tory' - Ed.) and Evangelical William Wilberforce brought the legislation to fruition.

When Britain abolished the international slave-trade in 1807, it was a major affront to modern liberals. It was a unilateral act of aggressive foreign policy. It was a violation of International Law and objected to as such. Britain even engaged in regime change, deposing the King of Lagos, a key player in the transatlantic slave trade. The abolition should be seen as a complete Neo-Con forerunner of the war in Iraq.

Reading the UCL database, some have noted the mechanism of compensating the former owners and phasing in the liberation with a period of apprenticeships. The transition in societies without a welfare state was always going to be risky. In the lead-up to the American Civil War, a Southern politician graphically summed up the problem with ‘We have a wolf by the ears’. Releasing that grip was a serious concern. There was a real fear of slave revolt and bloody conflict, both of which had happened on several occasions with slave risings. The British managed their transition by compromise, compensation and without the 600,000 dead of the American Civil War.

I am sure Mr Jasper might enjoy baiting David Cameron or Douglas Hogg, both of whose family appears on the compensated list. We all might enjoy the sight of Mr Jasper locking horns with Richard Dawkins, whose family similarly benefitted. He might also go after both Barack and Michelle Obama, both of whom have slave-owning forebears.

If any of you happen to be a descendant of Anthony Johnson, however, Brother Ivo fears that it might be prudent to check your home contents legal insurance cover in case Mr Jasper gets really started.

The reparations debate has begun, and its ambit might be wide-ranging. In 2009, the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria wrote an open letter to African chieftains calling for an apology for their role in the Atlantic slave-trade: "We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless. In view of the fact that the Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave.”

Brother Ivo sees the argument as fraught with complexity and counter claims – just think of the legal fees!

It is easy to judge figures of history, but one hopes that Mr Jasper will be a little less keen to seek his money. He might be better directing his energies and indignation by campaigning against the continuing slave trade. In a more reflective mood, he might care to offer prayers for the integrity of the unlikely heroes – the Saintly Anselm, the principled High Tory Judge, the Evangelical Tory MP, and the rough seaman who paid the price for other’s convictions and liberty.

He should publicly pay tribute to the men (British and African) of the Royal Navy West Africa Squadron which did the dirty work and suppressed the slave-trade. Perhaps Mr Jasper might consider seeking a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize for these truly forgotten heroes, or even establishing a fund and inviting the families on the compensation list to contribute a little for a suitable memorial. We have an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square.

(Posted by Brother Ivo).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Disabled people 'should be put down' because they 'cost too much'

A Cornwall councillor by the name of Collin Brewer has caused a bit of a stink by baldly stating that disabled people 'should be put down' because they 'cost the council too much money'.

The story is reported on This is Cornwall, though the incident appears to stem from an incident in October 2011. Perhaps news travels slowly for the Cornowii.

It's just as well that Mr Brewer is an Independent, or no doubt his party hierarchy would have summarily expelled him from their ranks for holding such repugnant views, thereby insulating themselves from his 'ill judged and insensitive' remarks. Disability Cornwall were 'horrified anyone would make such a depraved comment', and so made a formal complaint against Councillor Brewer 'to seek appropriate justice'. Their Chairman Steve Paget MBE (don't forget that) is demanding Mr Brewer's resignation, for no 'representative and elected member' should 'hold such beliefs, let alone to vocalise them'.

Mr Brewer has apologised, saying: "I didn't mean any offence and didn't want to upset anyone."

His Grace really cannot see what all the fuss is about.

Mr Brewer has nothing to apologise for. His view is precisely that which our progressive society manifests toward the disabled in the womb - right up to full-term. There is no 24-week limit when it comes to 'getting rid' of those who can't walk, talk, see, hear or catch a ball. You'll have no problem at all getting your Down's child sliced up and vacuumed out, and you'll even find doctors who will neatly dispose of a baby with a hare lip, for that's an undoubted disability. The glorious achievements of our Paralympians have done nothing to change this.

Disability is a profound burden on parents (emotionally) and on society ('cost too much'), so our 'representatives and elected members' have indeed determined that they may be 'put down'. This has nothing to do with women's rights over their bodies, or with the question of when 'independent' life actually begins. It is a simple fact that society allows disability as a reason for abortion way beyond the 24-week period for the able-bodied, and that implies that disabled people, or the lives of disabled people, are less worthwhile than the lives of 'normal' people.

So, why isn't Disability Cornwall (or Disability-anywhere-else) 'horrified' by this 'depraved' statutory provision? Why aren't they lobbying Parliament or making 'formal complaints' against their elected representatives 'to seek appropriate justice'? Why are they not demanding the resignation of all MPs who 'hold such beliefs'?

Is it simply because they don't state it quite as baldly as Councillor Brewer?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Archbishop Justin (re-)introduced to the Lords

A glorious and happy occasion in the Bishops' Room of the House of Lords.

But who in the name of St Veronica took the photograph? Really, who is responsible for this grotesque portrait of England's most senior Lords Spiritual? The Archbishop of York looks saintly enough, but the Bishop of London is doing a very convincing impersonation of Shrek, and the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to have an HP printer growing out of his head. No thought for composition, art or posterity. Just appalling. 

But welcome (back) to the House of Lords, Your Grace.

The Liberal Sexist Bullying Democrats

For all their talk about equality, humility, integrity and respect, the Liberal Democrats are just another male-dominated, bullying, hypocritical, sexist gathering of a self-perpetuating arrogant elite. We have known for years that what they say while campaigning in Oxfordshire isn't quite what they say in Cheshire, and what they pledge for the governance of England isn't what they actually do in government in Scotland. We've seen their candidate in Eastleigh - Mike Thornton - voting for plans to build thousands of new homes on green spaces while promising ‘to protect our precious green spaces and countryside’. We know they are two-faced hypocrites. But never before have we had a glimpse into their bullying culture of misogyny and sexism.

Whatever Lord Rennard has or has not done - which is now the subject of the Specialist Investigations Command of the Metropolitan Police - the evidence of lies and cover-up emanating from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is astonishing. One day Nick Clegg denies knowing anything; the next day he knew nothing 'specific'. One day there's 'nothing to hide'; the next day there's been a 'screw-up'. One day it's all being blown out of proportion and the media must calm down; the next there are two full-blown internal investigations, one headed by a QC (who happens to be a former head of the LibDem Lawyers' Association).

But two things now emerge which have shocked Liberal Democrat women (and quite a few men) the length and breadth of the country. Firstly we have the crass and insensitive comments of the party's spokesman for Maidstone and the Weald, Jasper Gerard, who said the issue has been ‘blown out of all proportion’ and was ‘no Jimmy Savile’. These sentiments were echoed by LibDem peer Tony Greaves, who described the complaints against Lord Rennard as ‘mild sexual advances’, adding ‘half of the House of Lords’ had probably behaved in a similar way.

And now we also learn that a Helen Jardine-Brown, a former head of fund-raising, had raised concerns about Lord Rennard four years ago. From The Telegraph: 'Officials told her that Mr Clegg would call her directly to discuss them, but she never heard from him. Less than two months later, her post was allegedly cut, shortly after she told her employers that she was pregnant. She eventually reached a £50,000 settlement conditional on her silence.'

This is an astonishing and damning revelation. The poor woman must have been emotionally distraught, but they sacked her and bought her silence with £50k. It is textbook bullying and harassment.

Bullies manipulate, humiliate, denigrate, undermine, distort, fabricate, lie convincingly and then lie again to cover their lies. And then they project all of their inadequacies, shortcomings and inappropriate behaviours onto their innocent victims with ferocious psychological violence, just to avoid facing up to their own inadequacies and doing something about them.

Bullies are arrogant, audacious, and exert a superior sense of entitlement. They are practised in the art of deception, deflection and obfuscation: if ever they are called to account, they will flit from subject to subject without ever answering the question, and spontaneously fabricate further as the moment requires, knowing full well that further investigation of their additional lies is not likely. And so they continue their vile and vindictive campaign when any official internal process has been summarily dismissed. And they even lie on oath, perfectly convinced of the infallibility of their words and the untouchability of their person. They are impregnable, unaccountable and immovable; perfectly charming in public and before any inquisitor or judge but thoroughly evil in private.

They tend to be superficial and awkward in conversation, though possessed of exceptional verbal dexterity. Their laugh is forced, hollow and insincere. In any discussion in which they sense danger of exposure, a voice may be raised slightly to warn off, speaking may become ‘firmer’, or the conversation will be abruptly terminated. They will alienate the strong employees, often by overlooking them for promotion or recognition, and they will ‘look after’ the fawning and obsequious.

They tend to be emotionally retarded with a pathological inability to empathise; they may storm out of rooms or rant when they don’t get their way. They are prone to mimic, repeat and plagiarise in order to maintain their façade of working excellence and semblance of normality. They cannot be trusted with personal information or confidences, and are likely to use any employee’s weakness (like bereavement or illness) as a means of undermining and destabilising.

Bullies can exhibit an unhealthy obsession with sexual matters: they see everything in terms of sex discrimination, harassment or paedophilia. Any employee they wish to bully can expect to have their morality and integrity questioned and can be made to feel like a sexual pervert. They are profoundly prejudiced (gender, race, religion, sexuality) but present themselves as the epitome of rectitude and fairness.

They criticise without foundation and often behind one’s back. They divide and rule by sharing ‘confidences’ with other employees and then swearing them to secrecy. They poison the minds by manipulating perceptions. Their own sense of superiority persuades them of the orthodoxy of their leadership style and methodology.

Serial bullies despise anyone who enables others to see through their deception and their mask of sanity. And they are programmed to discredit, neutralise and destroy. No-one knows more about bullying than the bully, and so the victim is often accused of bullying the bully by trying to raise a legitimate grievance.

The bully is spiritually dead. They may loudly profess their faith and use all the right words, but their soul is devoid of life. Their invincibility has made them their own god, and God is recreated in their image.

That is the bully. They exist in all walks of life, in all companies, at all levels. They exist in political parties, not always in the Whips Office. But exposing and attempting to bring them to account can be a suicidal pursuit, as Liberal Democrat women have clearly found.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Politics, Religion and the abuse of power

Neither Cardinal Keith O'Brien nor Lord Rennard is accused of pederasty, incest or rape. But the allegations against them are still very serious, for they are concerned with sexual misdemeanour and the abuse of power. The former is accused of 'inappropriate acts' with teenage seminarians. The latter of 'inappropriate behaviour' towards women. Both men, of course, are denying the claims.

If you are Roman Catholic, you leap to defend your cardinal. If you are Liberal Democrat, you leap to defend your peer. Notably, those who hurl allegations of bigotry or bias in the mere reporting if the allegations against the Cardinal are mostly indifferent to the plight of the Peer: it is far easier to presume the innocence of your co-religionists than it is of your political opponents. The demands for justice and appeals to due process are vapid in the double standards and hypocrisy: if you're a cardinal, you have rights and are equal before the law; if you're a LibDem, stuff that, who cares? One look at that smug, corpulent visage is enough to determine guilt.

Millions want Cardinal O'Brien to be absolved and his male accusers exposed as the charlatans they are. Millions want Lord Rennard to be guilty, and his female accusers lauded for their bravery in confronting the sexist sleazeball. But the Cardinal may be guilty and the Peer may be innocent: it is for weighing the evidence in such cases that we have courts of law and trials by jury.

But neither case is likely ever to come to court: both are now subject to internal inquiries - the Cardinal's case is with the Pope; the Peer's case is with a LibDem committee. And the Liberal Democrats have a cloaking machine every bit as effective as the chronic cover-ups of the Roman Catholic Church. Where religion and politics are concerned, the powerful always act to protect their own.  And the victims become collateral damage; discarded on the rubbish heap of inferior humanity.

But we must not ignore the timing of these revelations. The Cardinal is about to fly to Rome to choose the next pope - the only voting representative from the UK. All of Britain's Roman Catholics are hoping for a hint, awaiting clue of how he might cast his ballot. The Peer is in the middle of what is possibly the most important by-election in a generation. All of Britain's politicos are waiting to see if the LibDems can hold on to Eastleigh or if the Conservatives can take the seat from them. On this result rests the futures of Nick Clegg, David Cameron and possibly the outcome of the next General Election.

Nick Clegg is clearly of the view that the timing of these allegations - not the allegations themselves - are a clear attempt to undermine his leadership and damage his party's prospects in Eastleigh. Hence the strongly-worded denial that he was involved in any cover-up. And many believe that the allegations against the Cardinal have been publicised now in order to hasten his retirement and remove him from the Conclave.

Hum! Conspiracy?

Cardinal O'Brien wouldn't be the first 'spiritual director' to abuse his position of power: the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has a long and sordid history of doing preciselty that. Lord Rennard wouldn't be the first 'senior politician' to abuse his position of power: the Liberals, Conservatives and Socialists all have their predatory perverts.

There's something about power in politics and religion which is irresistable, principally because its application produces results. When you put together authority and charisma, you have influence. When the elite exercise that over those who are beholden or dependent, there may be healthy respect or fear, and you arrive at a potential system of abuse. It is a culture we have inherited: power controls us, sometimes in deleterious ways. The only solution is greater accountability and enhanced transparency in community. There should be devolution and a separation of powers. The elite should certainly not be permitted to judge in their own cause, for that is likely only to lead to further abuse and cover-up.

One of the complainants against the Cardinal was just 18 at the time of the alleged abuse. He has said that he was too frightened to report the incident, and became depressed. He was ordained, but resigned when Keith O'Brien was promoted to bishop in the mid-1980s: "I knew then he would always have power over me," the victim says. "It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity."

What potential did the Roman Catholic Church lose in this young man? A great priest? An inspirational bishop? A future pope?

We will never know.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bible-believing idolatry?

From Brother Ivo:

All Christians respect and venerate the Bible. A library rather than a book, it contains history, law, poetry, journalistic reportage, philosophy, commentary, exhortation, autobiography, song, and even (whisper it quietly) a hint of eroticism.

If you want to know who was Jesus of Nazareth in history and beyond, this must be your starting point, and that will be the case whether you describe yourself as a Christian of the Liberal, Catholic, Charismatic, Evangelical or Orthodox slant.

When a child is baptised in an Anglican Church, he/she is often given a Children's Bible with the words: 'Receive this book; it is the Good News of God's love. Take it as your guide.'

So far, so good.

Things start to go a bit awry however once questions begin. Which Bible might we be talking about? That of the Protestant Reformation - the Bible of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin? Maybe you choose the Bible of Catholic Europe and beyond (including the Apocrypha)? Perhaps you prefer the Greek Orthodox version, or even the rather more extensive ones of the earliest Coptic or Ethiopian Churches.

There was even a scriptural tradition in India dating back to the times when St Thomas introduced Christianity to the area around Madras/Chennai, but sadly those scriptures were destroyed when those of the Western Church made contact in the colonial era and suppressed a long-standing Apostolic tradition. It would be fascinating if some of those early scriptures were to be unearthed today. If we did find them, however, where would we put them?

Each Bible has variants and its champions can explain and justify the editorial decisions that have been made. The Vulgate version, which is the basis of most Western understandings, dates from the 5th-century work of St Jerome.

Some could point to books like the letters of Clement and Ignatius which are venerated but narrowly missed the cut, and then there are the Gnostic Gospels, some of which plainly share common material with orthodox texts but draw unorthodox theological conclusions.

This is before we get into controversy over translations versus original languages.

None of this, however, seems to trouble a certain section of the worldwide Church that likes to define itself and set itself against others with the self-description of 'Bible-Believing'.

For those unfamiliar with 'Bible-Believing' churches, Brother Ivo offers you an extract from one randomly-selected church which explains its view professionally, with clarity, honesty and appropriate biblical references.
'Bible Believing' is now no longer to be regarded as part of a universal understanding of all followers of 'The Way'. Instead, it has become a shorthand term, a freemasonery coded message, by which adherents of a certain kind of Christianity (more specifically a method of biblical reading and interpretation) identify themselves and set a challenge to others. Who dares not to be 'Bible believing': that challenge swiftly and easily morphs into 'How can my approach be challenged?'
At one level it can be conceded that in itself, it is academically perfectly respectable to seek to denote those of similar mind. Many here will have some knowledge of The Tractarians, The Oxford Movement or the Evangelical Revival, each of which contributed to the life of the Church in general and Anglicanism in particular. Such self confidence has its problems, however, and some will consider that the implied promotion of factionalism is precisely what Paul was warning about in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:10).

Plainly, even Christ's followers inhabit a fallen world to which they contribute in full measure, and those who stand in contra-distinction to the 'Bible-Believing' folk are often no less unhelpful and divisive.

Brother Ivo is no different from anyone else. He thinks he is a 'normal', 'mainstream' Christian, though doubtless those about to disabuse him are even now forming an orderly queue to post comments. For Brother Ivo reminds himself that the Bible is but one part of that edifice which is Christian belief. It is an important part, some may say the keystone, yet undoubtedly only a part. It was Paul who stressed the interconnected nature of the head, hand and organs of the body and our Bible is surely but one of many other necessary aspects which make up the faith.

There are the promptings of Holy Spirit who we are told is always with us. There are Church traditions which are often derided but are hallowed by the lengthy acceptance of faithful believers in exactly the same way that certain books made it into the final compendium of whatever Bible choice you happen to accept. Some call on the interpretation of the Gift of Tongues.

Neither should one ignore the value and significance of a Christian life: there is wisdom in the saying 'Christianity is caught not taught'. Caught, perhaps, from a loving family member, teacher or acquaintance when Bible study of itself did not quite ignite the faith. Then there are the promptings which the heart receives in prayer.

Those of the 'Bible-believing' persuasion perhaps fail to note that when Jesus sent out the first 70 to spread the Word, they went with so very little. They had nothing analogous to a Bible, just their faith and perhaps some recollection of a few parables and teachings.

For the first six centuries of the expansion of the Faith, there was no Bible that we would recognise - and why would there be? The Early Christians expected the Parousia - the Second Coming of Christ - as a matter of imminence. What need of record-keeping or private study?

For most of human history, most Christians have not been literate. Today in many countries worldwide there is not a 'full Bible' that we would recognise. Only maybe 600 of the 6000 extant languages have the 'full set', and many are getting by with perhaps one gospel and a handful of other books from the New or Old Testament. This is all before we grapple with the question of disability and those whose incapacity will always set them apart from those whose modus operandi is to season their religious discourse with terse, unexplained 'chapter-and-verse' references (which are themselves the 12th-century additions of Simon Langton in the case of the New Testament, and 16th-century additions to the Old Testament by Robert Estienne).

Many Christians learned their theology from pictorial presentations in their churches on the walls and stained-glass windows, and these principally depicted stories, not rules; parables rather than closely-argued systematic theology.

Those who struggled to master God's thinking by the close reasoning of biblical texts have not left us the happiest memories of their efforts. Even a cursory familiarity with Early Church history teaches that people reading the same texts have always managed to sow theological mayhem and discord. If you doubt this, try googling any of the Early Church councils from Constantinople, Ephesus, Nicea and Chalcedon. You may also explore the 'Bible-believing' conclusions of the Arians, Docetists, Monophysites, or Modalists. These were not insignificant theological minorities but serious rivals to what we now call '"Orthodoxy', and each did, in their own way, draw their conclusions from their reading of the same texts.

We can go a stage further: the historic Creeds of the Church owe their very existence to the fact that 'Bible'believing' factions derived contrary conclusion from the same biblical texts.

As we routinely intone the Nicene Creed at communion, few appreciate that this is essentially a bulwark against heresy. Try reading each sentence in the voice of Ian Paisley, thumping the table at the key words like 'crucified', 'dead' and 'buried', and you will catch a sense that there were alternative theological positions available and being disputed by 'Bible-Believing' Christians at each and every section of that and every creed we know.

If 'Bible-Believing' were an inoculation against false doctrine, there would be no creeds!

So, if Brother Ivo cavils at being associated with 'Bible-Believing', based upon its history of conflict and known frequency of error, to what does he cling in dark times of dispute?

The answer lies in the nature, person and love of Christ, which shines in the darkness as a beacon of hope. Jesus' own teaching style was rabbinic. He told stories, pointed the way and set an example. He never weighed his followers down with complexity, and he simplified what is required of us in terms that even a child could understand. The whole picture can be expressed by relatively little, and that is offered in a human life accessible to everyone. All that is needed is available through a living example of humility and love.

So what might this 'Christianity-for-the-rest-of-us' call itself? If we are not to limit ourselves to being only 'Bible believing', to what should we aspire?

Brother Ivo has a suggestion: 'Gospel Gracious'.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pastor Saeed writes to the world from his Iranian prison

His Grace has long been following Iran's appalling persecution of Christians. Here now is another: Pastor Saeed Abedini is currently serving an eight-year sentence in one of Iran’s most brutal and deadly prisons – merely for exercising his fundamental human right to religious freedom; simply because he is a Christian. His case is not as high-profile as that of Pastor Nadarkhani, but it ought to be. Please help spread the word. Please Tweet #SaveSaeed. Please sign the ACLJ Petition. Please pray.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maggi Dawn: "Sometimes we are called upon to express prophetic anger"

George Galloway: "I don't debate with Israelis"

If any further proof were needed that George Galloway is a vile, racist anti-Semite, this video should suffice.

In a debate at Christ Church College, Oxford, the Respect MP had spoken for ten minutes in favour of the motion ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’. You know how debates go - there tends to be speaker for a motion, and then a speaker against. The speaker against the motion was 21-year-old student Eylon Aslan-Levy (which sounds just a tad Jewish to His Grace), who spoke of 'we' in reference to Israel and the desire for peace in the region. Mr Galloway's ears pricked up, and he enquired as to whether Mr Aslan-Levy was an Israeli. After being told that he was, the MP grabbed his coat and stormed out, with the proclamation: “I don’t debate with Israelis.”

There were immediate cries of 'racist' from assembled students, and an appeal to common humanity and to reason: it is a university and a great seat of learning, after all. "He's a human being," cried one student. But George Galloway was having none of it. To him, Israelis are not quite fully human; they are not worthy of his time or his superior intellect.

Imagine this had been a Conservative MP saying 'I don't debate with Pakistanis'. The repudiation of nationality would have carried more than a whiff of racism, and the BBC and The Guardian would have been quick to tell us about such 'right-wing' nastiness.

The Respect MP clearly doesn't respect Israelis (ie Israeli Jews). He is so staunchly pro-Palestinian that he will not share a platform with any Israeli, simply because, in his opinion, Israel has no right to exist at all, despite the Jewish State being a legally-constituted entity under the auspices of the United Nations, and despite Israel being a full member of that body. International law recognises the existence of Israelis, but George Galloway does not.

This would be shocking prejudice - not to say bigotry - from any enlightened human being, but from a British Member of Parliament it is a disgrace. He brings his elected office and the whole institution into disrepute. What if there were Israelis living in Bradford West? Would he refuse to assist them or represent their views in Parliament simply because they were Israeli?

Anti-Israeli rhetoric has become a cloak for anti-Semitism (and by 'anti-Semitism' we mean 'anti-Jew', for we know the Arabs are Semites, but the term has taken a more specific meaning). If Mr Eylon Aslan-Levy had not sounded quite so Jewish, and perhaps if he had been a little more Arab-looking, George Galloway would have happily debated.

But, you see, he holds Israel and Israelis to higher standards. Or are they lower? Whatever, they are different to those of every other nation on the planet, and that makes him racist. His appeal is doubtless to the Qur’an, in which we may read that the Jews were disobedient to God and are now subject to judgment which will eventually be carried out by Allah’s faithful servants. Thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims do not interpret these surahs as a current religious imperative. Unfortunately for Israel, their thuggish neighbours to the north (Hezbollah) and south (Hamas) do. And so does George Galloway. The Hamas Charter looks forward to Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews on the basis of Quranic teaching. And so does George Galloway.

The Palestinian narrative requires that the history of Arab rejectionism and aggression lying at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict be expunged. So George Galloway won't hear a word of it from an Israeli Jew. You won’t often hear anti-Zionists admitting that millions of Jews have lived all over the Middle East continuously for over 3000 years. Instead they join with Israel’s enemies, denouncing Zionism while promoting Palestinian nationalism. They, too, adopt the language of delegitimisation: Israel is a western colonial enterprise formed on stolen land; Ashkenazi Jews are foreign interlopers, displacing the ‘indigenous Palestinians’ depriving them of land and resources. And so on.

Just in case you've already forgotten the opening line of this article, George Galloway is vile, racist anti-Semite. Let it be remembered, and spread far and wide.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Apologising for Amritsar

There are about 50 million lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals in the UK. That is why every Government policy is now tested for any potential detriment to this cohesive community; why the social bedrock of the nation is being redefined to accord with their pleas for equality; and why they must be represented in the Cabinet, in the General Synod and on every soap opera.

It is also why HM Government apologised to Alan Turing in 2009, almost 60 years after he was outrageously prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. Gordon Brown said that Turing - a genius mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist - suffered 'appalling' treatment simply for being gay. This included chemical castration, which almost certainly contributed to his suicide. Appalling indeed. Government apology wholly justified.

There are only about 500,000 Sikhs in the UK. That is why no Government policy is tested for any potential detriment to this community, and when it is, they invariably play second-fiddle to the Muslims, who tend to shout a bit louder. David Cameron once promised them their own distinct ethnicity, but he reneged on that pledge. There are no Sikhs in the Cabinet, none in the General Synod, and (to His Grace's sparse knowledge), none in any soap opera.

It is laudable for the Prime Minister to visit Amritsar and pay his respects in memory of the hundreds (or thousands) of Sikhs who were slaughtered there by the British Army in a six- (or 20-) minute massacre in 1919. Whether it was panic or malice on the part of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, we cannot know. What we do know is that these protestors were all unarmed and their aspiration was for a peaceful transition to national independence. If they had been protesting today in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt or Syria, we would be siding with the 'rebels'; even sending in British troops to assist their political objectives.

So, why no official Government apology to the Sikhs of Amritsar? It has been almost a century: surely the perspective of history has established beyond doubt that those who gathered in protest around the Golden Temple were treated at least as outrageously as Alan Turing? Their deaths were a moral outrage; the crime remains a deep scar on the soul of Empire.

His Grace is no fan of vicarious apology, but HM Government not infrequently expresses deep remorse for the sins of its fathers - either when it is the right thing to do, or (more likely) when it is deemed to be of tactical electoral advantage to the sons. Why is winning the votes of the LGBT community of greater significance than those of British Sikhs?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our judges have become deputy legislators

From Brother Ivo:

The Home Secretary has decided to pass a new law in order to attempt to limit the number of foreign criminals who escape deportation. They do this by claiming that forcing them to leave the country will infringe their right to family life. That right is guaranteed to them under Article 8 of Schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

It is worth quoting the Article in full:
Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Unlike the earlier Article 3 provision against torture, which is absolute and unqualified, Article 8 sets out with some precision the kinds of cases where it is both proper and lawful to set a person's right aside because other over-riding interests require it.

Article 8 Rights are ‘qualified’: they can be over-ridden, but often when they can be, they are not.

Brother Ivo is no great fan of the Act or the politicians who introduced but, being a fair-minded cove, he has to acknowledge that it is hard to see how any sensible judge would struggle to deport any anti-social offender he or she wishes to, using the principles clearly and fairly drawn in that second paragraph. The Parliamentary Draughtsman did his work with admirable clarity.

The problem is that judges are not deporting because they simply do not wish to.

Mrs May is hoping to rectify the situation by passing another law, which will be interpreted by those same judges applying the same discretions and the same Human Rights Act principles. Should they decide to deport, the appellant can still seek redress from the European Court of Human Rights.

What could possibly go wrong?

It is unfortunately the case that our Home Secretary was formerly a financial consultant and our Justice Minister / Lord Chancellor was a BBC producer / management consultant. Neither has any depth of understanding or experience of the culture with which they are grappling on a daily basis.

The problem is essentially a cultural one, and until that is understood the judges will continue to run rings round what Sir Robin Day famously characterised as ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’ politicians.

Brother Ivo blames Lord Denning.

Actually he doesn’t, but Lord Denning was the greatest British judge of the 20th century and the presiding influence of generations of law students who went on to become legal professionals and members of the Judiciary. He was a reformer, but from an intensely traditional and English perspective.

He was also a committed Christian, serving as Patron of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship for many years, and encapsulating his views thus:
"If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also. We have already strayed too far from the path of our fathers. Let us return to it, for it is the only thing that can save us."
These two virtues, together with a real sense of justice for the ordinary person, encouraged him to innovate, but always from a cultural grounding in the England he loved. Thus, though a staunch supporter of Christian marriage, he developed justice for divorced wives and even cohabitees while legislators dithered. He also developed new law for workers’ compensation and to protect pensioners. He was a judicial activist, but only when the alternative was to leave a wrong un-righted.

Unfortunately, just as Van Gogh left a legacy of every poor painter, struggling to sell a painting, believing they are hidden geniuses, so every minor judge is convinced he is the heir to the great man, and should act accordingly.

If Mrs May and Mr Grayling need a short course of study to ‘get up to speed’, they could do worse than consider the work of two Americans, one recently deceased, the other very much alive.

There is a school of jurisprudence to which the late Ronald Dworkin and the very lively Gerry Spence belong. The American Realists teach: ‘If you want to know the Law, don't study the statutes, study the Judges.’

Gerry Spence has an astonishing litigation record. From a modest office in Wyoming, wearing a trademark western fringed jacket, he terrifies US corporations and Government alike. He has never lost a criminal trial, either as prosecutor or defender, and he last lost a civil action in 1969.

In his book Win Your Case he explains that every case is won through emotion, not cold, forensic logic as is commonly believed. Identify the emotional weak spot of the judges and the case-plan writes itself. Were this otherwise, he reasons, how could logic fail to unify the Supreme Court involving dry cases of technical tax statutes? That Court rarely agrees and regularly splits 5:4, often on a partisan basis. The answer lies in the individual prejudices of the judges.

Gerry Spence knows why and how Judges avoid the intentions of naive politicians. ‘The function of the Law is not to provide justice or to preserve freedom. The function of the law is to keep those who hold power in power.’

British judges, whose tenure of the reins of power will exceed that of any elected politician, have embraced the power afforded to them under the Human Rights Act. They break out of mere interpretation, and have become what Ronald Dworkin described as ‘deputy legislators’.

The current senior Cabinet ministers are amateurs in the field. They lack the well-furnished minds necessary to appreciate how much the legal intellectual landscape has changed.

Tom Denning acted when absolutely necessary; modern judges see social and legal activism as totally permissible and the Human Rights Act gives them the full pallet of ‘superior principles’ with which to fill in the legal blank pages with a design of their choosing.

These Judges will not readily be put back into their constitutional box.

The classic doctrine separation of powers has been compromised as explained on the Theory of Jurisprudence blog. Dworkin objects to judges acting as ‘deputy legislators’ for 2 reasons:
(i) Separation of Power: It offends the democratic ideal that a community should be governed by elected officials answerable to the electorate. The judge not being elected must not substitute his own will as against the legislature. (In Lord Simmons words, ‘it’s a naked usurpation of legislative functions’).
(ii) Retrospectivity & The Rule of Law: Dworkin’s 2nd objection to judicial originality is that ‘if a judge makes a new law and applies it retrospectively in the case before him, then the losing party will be punished, not because he has violated some duty he had, but rather a new duty created after the event’.
The proper ambit of Judicial discretion was described by Dworkin’s intriguing ‘Hole in the Doughnut theory’.

He likened a proper degree of judicial discretion to the hole in a doughnut. Bounded by statutes, precedent, and established cultural norms, there was a degree of movement by which the hole might be stretched or compressed, but its internal area was nevertheless properly confined. What was not permissible was to break the outer ring.

The Human Rights Act has changed the classic Anglosphere model of constitutional government based upon past precedent, traditional values and a circumspect judiciary. We are now within the intellectual realm of the French Enlightenment, ‘rationalism’, and an innovative judicial activism. It is the same cultural vandalism that brought the French Revolution, the re-organisation of the calendar and the abolition of marriage.

We have given judges a ‘Big Idea’. They have principles greater than any legislated law and theirs is the open discretion determining how it shall be used. They are the keepers of the conscience, the superior estate.

If Mrs May and Mr Grayling have any sense of this state of affairs (which Brother Ivo doubts), they will address this serious problem in one of two ways:
i) They can repeal the HRA and with it the ability of judges to strike down laws by appealing to principles which trump the will of the elected parliament.
ii) They can go down the alternative American route and require a degree of scrutiny of the judges by making these self-appointed ‘deputy legislators’ subject to some democratic control, either by introducing elections or through the institution of judicial authorisation hearings.
This is constitutionally serious, but it is the consequence of having passed the Human Rights Act with an inadequate understanding of the full implications.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Monday, February 18, 2013

'Committed Christians' quit the Conservatives

This has been coming for a while. His Grace wrote over a year ago about the 57 per cent of UK Christians intending to abandon the Conservative Party over ‘gay marriage’. Some view it as David Cameron's 'Clause IV' moment: His Grace sees it rather as Cameron's Poll Tax, because however just and equitable the policy may be, it is catastrophically bad politics for both David Cameron personally and for the Conservative Party generally.

Of Christians surveyed :
85% were concerned that the value of marriage would be further undermined
78% that it would be harder to argue against ‘other novel types of relationship’ such as polygamy
88% that schools would be required to teach the equal validity of same-sex and heterosexual relationships
93% that clergy would have to conduct gay marriages against their consciences
Denominationally, the results were unsurprising. While only 11 per cent of those surveyed supported ‘gay marriage’, a massive 83 per cent were opposed (75% ‘strongly’). Hostility was particularly concentrated among the Pentecostals (69%) and Roman Catholics (75%).

This really ought to be of concern to CCHQ if not to the Prime Minister (not to mention individual MPs). If 57 per cent of church-going Christians would be less inclined to back the Conservatives in future – this being especially true of Pentecostals and Roman Catholics – that amounts to anywhere between 2.8-7.2 million votes. And when you add to these the votes of those ethnic-minority faith groups which the Conservative Party needs to attract in order to win a majority - the Pakistani Muslim vote in Luton; the Indian Sikh vote in Southall, the African-Caribbean Pentecostal vote in Lewisham - it becomes clear that Cameron is leading his party into a gay-marriage wilderness that might just last rather longer than 40 years.

The curious thing is...

No news has reached His Grace of this mass Christian exodus, except for two councillors in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. And these 'committed Christians' are Mormons, who aren't Christians at all, though it's probably 'hate-speech' to say so.

Nick and Matt Grant (who - let's be honest - look uncannily like Mormons) have served as Conservative councillors since 2000 and 2006 respectively, and are also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a statement announcing their resignation, they said: "The Conservative Party leadership’s proposals for ‘same-sex marriage’ is at odds with our personal position (as committed Christians) and belief in what traditional marriage is."

They explained that marriage is 'not a political matter, but exclusively a religious matter', and so 'No mortal man has the right to redefine that which God has decreed'. It is simply that 'Same-sex marriage – as we, and many others see it – is an intrusion of politics into an area of sincerely held religious beliefs'.

Pre-empting the inevitable accusations, they continued: “Our position is not homophobic in any way. We did not oppose the introduction of ‘civil partnerships’ and the legal equality that this introduced for same-sex couples."

Could His Grace please just confirm that all those Pentecostals and Roman Catholics who 'strongly opposed' same-sex marriage are still, in fact, supporting the Conservative Party, and that the media is simply failing to report the mass resignation of these devout councillors and party workers? Could His Grace also please confirm that the hundreds of thousands of right-leaning Muslims and Sikhs who have abandoned the Tories over 'gay marriage' have simply been ignored by the Coventry Telegraph? But a couple of Mormons is newsworthy, right? Because they're weird, right?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fishers of Men? Rescuing Mission from the Fundamentalists

From Brother Ivo:

Brother Ivo recently visited Dublin, and on the morning of his return decided to pass the waiting time with a brief walk around Trinity College. His eye was caught by a notice of forthcoming services on the chaplaincy noticeboard, and he was disappointed to discover that as he left to catch his flight, he would be missing a sermon with the intriguing title of this piece.

Fortunately, a suspicion that a modern teaching institution might publish its sermons online proved to be well-founded and it is now available.

The Rev'd Darren McCallig ministers in a college environment where those of different views, experience, and churchmanship live and worship in close proximity. Despite their differences they are able to gather in the same space to worship and praise the same Lord. In this regard there is a similarity between the college mission and that of the Church of England: both admit all-comers. In the college, the congregation perhaps presents itself to the chaplaincy team in a more changing stream as students come and go. The team becomes habituated to working with humanity in all its varied and flawed forms.

They set out their Mission Statement on their website:
Everyone is welcome at all our services. We are committed to a faith that is generous and resists the instinct to exclude on the basis of disagreement and difference.
I believe we can be Christians without laying aside any of our convictions about the equality and dignity of all people, whether men or women, gay or straight, young or old. College chaplaincy and state church alike are intentionally inclusive; diverse by design.

The sermon title caught Brother Ivo's attention at a time when he has been having the same conversations with two distinct and separate groups of people who were consistently using exactly the same argument to support polar opposite conclusions.

"Look at your Bible," would say the Bible-believing fundamentalist, quoting from his latest spoils from a smash-and-grab raid on the scriptures which point towards his being unquestionably right. These favourite passages always seemed unremittingly grim.

Immediately afterwards, in a conversation with a militant secularist, the conversation would follow the same pattern: "Look at your Bible," would cry the atheist triumphantly, before advancing the same passages in support of the precisely opposite conclusion.

The God of Wrath featured prominently.

It seemed puzzling that those who seek to draw people to God would enjoy such congruence with those who demean and reject Him.

Brother Ivo continues to resist such readings of the scriptures in the same spirit as Leonard Cohen who remarked: "I've studied deeply in the philosophies and religions - but cheerfulness kept breaking through."

It seems that the Rev'd Darren McCallig is of similar mind to Brother Ivo, and the essence of his sermon is the need to confront the forms of evangelisation founded on fear which are too often presented to the unbeliever, and to replace them with something altogether more attractive.

"The point of Mission is to tell people that they are loved," says Rev'd Darren. He makes his point by emphasising that 'Jesus didn't destroy His enemies; He forgave his enemies... Jesus didn't root out societies notorious sinners in order to humiliate them and belittle them; He shared His meals with them and He loved them into wholeness'.

I love that approach - 'loving into wholeness'.

We cannot hear this kind of Mission advice too much.

The narrow approach has its superficial attraction. With a mobile population you can fill a building by drawing those of like mind from further afield, but that is not the same as growing the Kingdom. As someone recently remarked, the Church needs to decide whether it wishes to become fishers of men, or keepers of the aquarium.

Mission needs to reconnect with the Jesus who drew the crowds; the Jesus to whom the rejected, the disillusioned, the disapproved, the sick and the dispirited came and responded when presented with a new vision of what it is to be God. In their encounter with Him, they miraculously discovered a better way to be human.

If we are to recapture some of the excitement and encouragement of those early followers, we can do a lot worse than refocusing our mission in the way proposed in Rev'd Darren McCallig's sermon, to which you are invited to listen.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cameron gifts King James Bible to Pope Benedict

It was disclosed by Baroness Warsi this week that the Prime Minister sent Pope Benedict XVI a copy of the Authorised Version of the Bible as a gift, which we were told he accepted 'with grace'. It would have been delicious if David Cameron had selected this gift on purpose, perhaps in order to reiterate a 'statement of national independence'; or as a reminder that 'The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England'; or perhaps a deeper theological riposte to the Pope's liturgical reforms, in particular to the restoration of the Tridentine Mass which is so irksome to the Roman Catholic Bishops of England & Wales.

But, of course, the Prime Minister is oblivious to such spiritual matters, not to say utterly ignorant. And Baroness Warsi simply wouldn't have had a clue about the significance of gifting this particular version of the Bible to His Holiness.

Consider these extracts from the Preface and Translators' Introduction of 1611. Doubtless the Prime Minister gave absolutely no thought at all to the potential offence these might cause:
..that right Occidentall Starre Queene ELIZABETH of most happy memory, some thicke and palpable cloudes of darkenesse would so have overshadowed this land..

..manifesting it selfe abroad in the furthest parts of Christendome, by writing in defence of the Trueth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of Sinne, as will not be healed)..

..since things of this quality have ever bene subject to the censures of ill meaning and discontented persons..

..we shall be traduced by Popish persons at home or abroad..

..whom they desire still to keepe in ignorance and darknesse..

..we are enabled to informe and reforme others, by the light and feeling that we have attained unto our selves: Briefly, by the fourth being brought together to a parle face to face, we sooner compose our differences then by writings, which are endlesse: And lastly, that the Church be sufficiently provided for, is so agreeable to good reason and conscience..

..the learned know that certaine worthy men have bene brought to untimely death for none other fault, but for seeking to reduce their Countrey-men to good order and discipline: and that in some Common-weales it was made a capitall crime, once to motion the making of a new Law for the abrogating of an old, though the same were most pernicious..

..hee had not seene any profit to come by any Synode, or meeting of the Clergie, but rather the contrary.. is not unknowen what a fiction or fable (so it is esteemed, and for no better by the reporter himselfe, though superstitious) was devised; Namely, that at such time as the professours and teachers of Christianitie in the Church of Rome, then a true Church, were liberally endowed, a voyce forsooth was heard from heaven, saying; Now is poison poured down into the Church, &c..

..whosoever attempteth any thing for the publike (specially if it pertaine to Religion, and to the opening and clearing of the word of God) the same setteth himselfe upon a stage to be glouted upon by every evil eye, yea, he casteth himselfe headlong upon pikes, to be gored by every sharpe tongue. For he that medleth with mens Religion in any part, medleth with their custome, nay, with their freehold; and though they finde no content in that which they have, yet they cannot abide to heare of altering..

..But now what pietie without trueth? what trueth (what saving trueth) without the word of God? what word of God (whereof we may be sure) without the Scripture?

..But what mention wee three or foure uses of the Scripture, whereas whatsoever is to be beleeved or practised, or hoped for, is contained in them?

..I adore the fulnesse of the Scripture.. is not lawfull (or possible) to learne (any thing) of God or of right pietie, save onely out of the Prophets, who teach us by divine inspiration.

..It is a manifest falling away from the Faith, and a fault of presumption, either to reject any of those things that are written, or to bring in (upon the head of them, ) any of those things that are not written.

The Scriptures then being acknowledged to bee so full and so perfect, how can wee excuse our selves of negligence, if we doe not studie them, of curiositie, if we be not content with them?

..Catholicon the drugge..

Well, that which they falsly or vainely attributed to these things for bodily good, wee may justly and with full measure ascribe unto the Scripture, for spirituall. It is not onely an armour, but also a whole armorie of weapons, both offensive, and defensive; whereby we may save our selves and put the enemie to flight. It is not an herbe, but a tree, or rather a whole paradise of trees of life, which bring foorth fruit every moneth, and the fruit thereof is for meate, and the leaves for medicine. It is not a pot of Manna, or a cruse of oyle, which were for memorie only, or for a meales meate or two, but as it were a showre of heavenly bread sufficient for a whole host, be it never so great; and as it were a whole cellar full of oyle vessels; whereby all our necessities may be provided for, and our debts discharged. In a word, it is a Panary of holesome foode, against fenowed traditions; a Physions-shop (Saint Basill calleth it) of preservatives against poisoned heresies; a Pandect of profitable lawes, against rebellious spirits; a treasurie of most costly jewels, against beggarly rudiments..

..repentance from dead workes..

..the Emperour of Constantinople calleth the Latine tongue, barbarous, though Pope Nicolas do storme at it..

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtaine, that we may looke into the most Holy place; that remooveth the cover of the well, that wee may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which meanes the flockes of Laban were watered. Indeede without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacobs well (which was deepe) without a bucket or some thing to draw with: or as that person mentioned by Esau, to whom when a sealed booke was delivered..

Therefore the word of God being set foorth in Greeke, becommeth hereby like a candle set upon a candlesticke, which giveth light to all that are in the house, or like a proclamation sounded foorth in the market place, which most men presently take knowledge of; and therefore that language was fittest to containe the Scriptures, both for the first Preachers of the Gospel to appeale unto for witnesse, and for the learners also of those times to make search and triall by. It is certaine, that the Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction; and who had bene so sufficient for this worke as the Apostles or Apostolike men? Yet it seemed good to the holy Ghost and to them, to take that which they found, (the same being for the greatest part true and sufficient) rather then by making a new, in that new world and greene age of the Church, to expose themselves to many exceptions and cavillations, as though they made a Translation to serve their owne turne, and therefore bearing witnesse to themselves, their witnesse not to be regarded.

There were also within a few hundreth yeeres after CHRIST, translations many into the Latine tongue: for this tongue also was very fit to convey the Law and the Gospel by, because in those times very many Countreys of the West, yea of the South, East and North, spake or understood Latine, being made Provinces to the Romanes. But now the Latine Translations were too many to be all good, for they were infinite (Latini Interpretes nullo modo numerari possunt, saith S. Augustine.) Againe they were not out of the Hebrew fountaine (wee speake of the Latine Translations of the Old Testament) but out of the Greeke streame, therefore the Greeke being not altogether cleare, the Latine derived from it must needs be muddie.

..they provided Translations into the vulgar for their Countreymen, insomuch that most nations under heaven did shortly after their conversion..

..The Scripture being translated before in the languages of many Nations, doth shew that those things that were added (by Lucian or Hesychius) are false. not to be excepted against by them of Rome..

..the Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians. Ethiopians, and infinite other nations being barbarous people, translated it into their (mother) tongue, and have learned to be (true) Philosophers, he meaneth Christians. have the Scriptures in the mother-tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up, either by the Lord Cromwell in England, or by the Lord Radevil in Polonie, or by the Lord Ungnadius in the Emperours dominion, but hath bene thought upon, and put in practise of old, even from the first times of the conversion of any Nation; no doubt, because it was esteemed most profitable, to cause faith to grown in mens hearts the sooner, and to make them to be able to say with the words of the Psalme, As we have heard, so we have seene.

Now the Church of Rome would seeme at the length to beare a motherly affection towards her children, and to allow them the Scriptures in their mother tongue: but indeed it is a gift, not deserving to be called a gift, an unprofitable gift: they must first get a Licence in writing before they may use them, and to get that, they must approve themselves to their Confessor, that is, to be such as are, if not frozen in the dregs, yet soured with the leaven of their superstition. Howbeit, it seemed too much to Clement the 8. that there should be any Licence granted to have them in the vulgar tongue, and therefore he overruleth and frustrateth the grant of Pius the fourth. So much are they afraid of the light of the Scripture, (Lucifugæ Scripturarum, as Tertullian speaketh) that they will not trust the people with it, no not as it is set foorth by their owne sworne men, no not with the Licence of their owne Bishops and Inquisitors. Yea, so unwilling they are to communicate the Scriptures to the peoples understanding in any sort, that they are not ashamed to confesse, that wee forced them to translate it into English against their wills. This seemeth to argue a bad cause, or a bad conscience, or both. Sure we are, that it is not he that hath good gold, that is afraid to bring it to the touch-stone, but he that hath the counterfeit; neither is it the true man that shunneth the light, but the malefactour, lest his deedes should be reproved: neither is it the plaine dealing Merchant that is unwilling to have the waights, or the meteyard brought in place, but he that useth deceit. But we will let them alone for this fault, and returne to translation.

Hath the Church bene deceived, say they, all this while? Hath her sweet bread bene mingled with leaven, her silver with drosse, her wine with water, her milke with lime? (Lacte gypsum malè miscetur, saith S. Ireney,)..

Yea, why did the Catholicks (meaning Popish Romanists) alwayes goe in jeopardie, for refusing to goe to heare it?

Now what can bee more availeable thereto, then to deliever Gods booke unto Gods people in a tongue which they understand? Since of an hidden treasure, and of a fountaine that is sealed, there is no profit..

A man had rather be with his dog then with a stranger (whose tongue is strange unto him.)

..for the very Historicall trueth is, that upon the importunate petitions of the Puritanes, at this Majesties comming to this Crowne, the Conference at Hampton Court having bene appointed for hearing their complaints: when by force of reason they were put from all other grounds, they had recourse at the last, to this shift, that they could not with good conscience subscribe to the Communion booke, since it maintained the Bible as it was there translated, which was as they said, a most corrupted translation. And although this was judged to be but a very poore and emptie shift; yet even hereupon did his Majestie beginne to bethinke himselfe of the good that might ensue by a new translation, and presently after gave order for this Translation which is now presented unto thee.

..nay wee affirme and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set foorth by men of our profession (for wee have seene none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.

..The Romanistes therefore in refusing to heare, and daring to burne the Word translated, did no lesse then despite the spirit of grace, from whom originally it proceeded, and whose sense and meaning, as well as mans weaknesse would enable, it did expresse.

The translation of the Seventie dissenteth from the Originall in many places, neither doeth it come neere it, for perspicuitie, gratvitie, majestie; yet which of the Apostles did condemne it? Condemne it? Nay, they used it, (as it is apparent, and as Saint Jerome and most learned men doe confesse) which they would not have done, nor by their example of using it, so grace and commend it to the Church, if it had bene unworthy the appellation and name of the word of God. And whereas they urge for their second defence of their vilifying and abusing of the English Bibles, or some pieces thereof, which they meete with, for that heretikes (forsooth) were the Authours of the translations, (heretikes they call us by the same right that they call themselves Catholikes, both being wrong) wee marveile what divinitie taught them so. 

..For what varieties have they, and what alterations have they made, not onely of their Service bookes, Portesses and Breviaries, but also of their Latine Translation?

If we should tell them that Valla, Stapulensis, Erasmus, and Vives found fault with their vulgar Translation, and consequently wished the same to be mended, or a new one to be made, they would answere peradventure, that we produced their enemies for witnesses against them; albeit, they were in no other sort enemies, then as S. Paul was to the Galatians, for telling them the trueth: and it were to be wished, that they had dared to tell it them plainlier and oftner.

If they say, it was one Popes private opinion, and that he consulted onely himselfe; then wee are able to goe further with them, and to averre, that more of their chiefe men of all sorts, even their owne Trent-champions Paiva & Vega, and their owne Inquisitors, Hieronymus ab Oleastro, and their own Bishop Isidorus Clarius, and their owne Cardinall Thomas à Vio Caietan, doe either make new Translations themselves, or follow new ones of other mens making, or note the vulgar Interpretor for halting; none of them feare to dissent from him, nor yet to except against him.

..doth not Sixtus Quintus confesse, that certaine Catholikes (he meaneth certainte of his owne side) were in such an humor of translating the Scriptures into Latine, that Satan taking occasion by them, though they thought of no such matter, did strive what he could, out of so uncertaine and manifold a varietie of Translations, so to mingle all things, that nothing might seeme to be left certaine and firme in them, &c?

Nay, further, did not the same Sixtus ordaine by an inviolable decree, and that with the counsell and consent of his Cardinals, that the Latine edition of the olde and new Testament, which the Councill of Trent would have to be authenticke, is the same without controversie which he then set forth, being diligently corrected and printed in the Printing-house of Vatican? Thus Sixtus in his Preface before his Bible. And yet Clement the eight his immediate successour, publisheth another edition of the Bible, containing in it infinite differences from that of Sixtus, (and many of them waightie and materiall) and yet this must be authenticke by all meanes. What is to have the faith of our glorious Lord JESUS CHRIST with Yea and Nay, if this be not?

..the imputation of Sixtus had bene true in some sort, that our people had bene fed with gall of Dragons in stead of wine, with whey in stead of milke..

..If they were sure that their hie Priest had all lawes shut up in his brest, as Paul the second bragged, and that he were as free from errour by speciall priviledge, as the Dictators of Rome were made by law inviolable, it were an other matter..

..we have shunned the obscuritie of the Papists, in their Azimes, Tunike, Rational, Holocausts, Præpuce, Pasche, and a number of such like, whereof their late Translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sence, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may bee kept from being understood.
Accepting, of course, that neither the Prime Minister nor Baroness Warsi would have wished to so offend the Pope of Rome, one can only conclude that certain officials in the Foreign Office decided to convey this rather insensitive message. They do, after all, have some form in this.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gary Walker and the ethics of gagging

From Brother Ivo:

It is always necessary to be very careful about commenting on legal cases until the full facts are known. We ought accordingly to be appropriately cautious about the case of Gary Walker, who asserted on the BBC Today programme this morning that his negotiations with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust to settle an employment dispute included a provision that he must not disclose the terms of that agreement to the media.

The BBC has, however, placed into the public record the detailed terms of a gagging provision which it says was part of an employment law settlement of Mr Walker’s claim for unfair dismissal, and that it was required, as a precondition of financial settlement by the Trust, under the advice of solicitors DAC Beachcroft.

Brother Ivo has not seen the document and only comments on the premise that such agreements may be in currency within the public services. If such a silencing provision is true as reported, it discloses a most alarming state of affairs.

Sometimes a phrase acquires such currency that we fail to recognise the basic underlying concept. We are talking about public services. We are talking about public money and public servants. Those advising these bodies are also under the same moral penumbra of moral obligation as to how these considerable powers and resources are utilised.

These are not the matters of gift lying in the exclusive and unaccountable discretion of some medieval monarch or his chosen favourite.

The number of occasions when the use of public funds should be utilised to shield public bodies and public servants from our scrutiny ought to be very rare indeed. A functioning democracy requires accountability based upon the fullest information. The report suggests that in addition to the privileged governmental classes enjoying remuneration, pensions and expenses beyond the imaginings of ordinary subjects, they now seek to create a culture of secrecy at the heart of government so that what they do and how they protect those privileges shall not be known.

If the Government seeks to preserve its reputation as one of integrity, it needs as a matter of urgency to ascertain what has happened, who has created this constitutional outrage, when it occurred and who has known about it.

This is not a regional scandal but one which strikes at the very heart of democratic values. We may be habituated to such outrage in Brussels - but Lincolnshire?

There is a further aspect.

Mr Walker has apparently chosen to take the risk of disclosure. If so, Brother Ivo applauds him. But what if we had only secured a hint of this scandal by someone hacking into emails of the participants?

It perhaps warns us of what lurks beneath the surface of post-Leveson controls on the Press.

We live in dangerous times for the democracy bequeathed to us by our noble forebears. Principled men and women of all political persuasions must raise their voices loudly against this appalling usurping of the people’s right to know.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Food Bank bureaucracy and Christian charity

From Brother Ivo:

Nobody who is familiar with the Gospels can fail to be struck by a very Jewish preoccupation with food. From the first miracle at Cana, through the feeding of the 5000, to the Last Supper and the post-resurrection fish barbecue by the side of Lake Galilee, there is a plain link between food, family, community and God's love. Food matters to God.

Even when handing Peter his wider commission, Jesus uses the metaphor of food, instructing him to ‘feed my sheep’. He does not issue to Peter a direct set of detailed instructions; he does not tell Peter to ‘care for them’, ‘protect’, ‘teach’ or ‘keep them in order’. The chosen model is that of feeding. The blend of practicality, necessity, pastoral concern, sharing and love is all embodied in the duty which would not normally fall to an institutional leader. Peter is to be like a Jewish mother, a slave or the lowliest shepherd, all at the bottom of the social hierarchy: he must first and foremost ‘feed’ them.

The Church has always spread in the context of food. When the 70 are sent out to evangelise the world, they are sent with next to nothing by way of missionary resources, and no provisions. Jesus gives them no alternative but to place them in a position where they are utterly dependent on the hospitality of strangers. It may not be stretching interpretation too far to see in this an echo of the conclusion of the story of the road to Emmaus, where Jesus makes himself known in the breaking of the bread.

Mediaeval monasteries were places where travellers could receive this ministry of food sharing, and the relief of poverty was one of the key illustrations when Elizabeth I passed the inaugural statute defining charity in 1601.

Our pastoral duties continue. There are several major charities, consciously religious or not, which deal with the relief of hunger in the developing world. No Christian can ignore his or her duty to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ with regular charitable giving for the meeting of the needs of the needy neighbour.

Food provision has always had political dimension. There are international discussions on conserving the world’s fish stocks as industrial fishing reaches corners of the earth of which Galilean fishermen knew nothing. Closer to home, criminal fraud now exists in the food chain and the cry goes up of ‘Do something!’.

Yet amidst the plenty of the well-stuffed supermarkets, Britain has a growing number of Food Banks.

At one level this is extraordinary: the quantity, quality and safety of food have rarely been surpassed, especially for the ordinary person. Brother Ivo's great grandmother struggled to feed 12 children on a baker’s wage and though she was reputed to be a lady of charity, giving when she could to the Salvation Army, her credulity might have been stretched to hear the modern discourse about Food Banks.

In some quarters we hear that this is the return of poverty to the land. The bald statistics of Food Bank creation are recited in the House of Commons as evidence of economic mismanagement. When this argument is deployed, one rarely hears it linked to Government policy on inflation which tends to dis-incentivise the poor of any inclination to save a little for a rainy day.

In other quarters there is a stern lack of sympathy. Food Bank supplicants (Brother Ivo shies from the ubiquitous ‘client’) are there by a wide range of circumstance, and Jesus’ heart was always open to those in need howsoever they got there. Some, nevertheless, react as if the Food Bank is another free hand-out to the undeserving, encouraging profligacy.

Yet the rules of the Trussell Trust, which is the impetus behind most of the growing number of these voluntary initiatives, are quite specific. The food offered is generally sufficient for three days; ordinarily only three visits a year are allowed. Anyone seeking assistance arrives via an approved voucher-issuer, which may be a doctor’s surgery, a Social Services department, or another charity.

Far from being an open-ended encouragement to the profligate, the system is deliberately designed to be of a short-term limited character, and if there is a problem in the system, it is that those wishing to issue vouchers also take on a responsibility for enquiring into circumstances, keeping records and ‘signposting’ individuals to other agencies, whether that be a benefits agency, a debt counselling service or women's aid hostel.

It is the accompanying responsibility that presents a problem and causes the occasional bottleneck. Such a control mechanism may be necessary to prevent the abuse of charitable giving, but many Churches – which constitute the principle source of volunteers and food donations – are simply not geared for dispensing that kind of advice and the paperwork that goes with it. Finding your way to an approved voucher-issuer is not always very easy.

In some areas the congregations give, the volunteers wait, but those in need don't arrive. The vicar’s private store cupboard is returning as a necessary precursor to the bureaucratic delays of those issuing the vouchers for the Food Bank, which itself exists because official channels cannot always move quickly enough to feed the needy under statutory schemes. If the issuers of vouchers do not issue enough, the food in the store cupboards can slip out of date.

Whenever we hear of Food Banks in Parliament they are presented by the Opposition as if they are symptomatic of famine in the land. The greater reality is that they are symptomatic of things altogether different.

If Brother Ivo's great grandmother were to have seen this problem in the midst of riches beyond her dreams she might have asked: ‘Where are the families?’; ‘Where are the neighbours?’; ‘Where are the Friendly Societies?’ – in fact, all the things that existed in the pre-bureaucratic state.

Above all, the Food Banks are needed because the state cannot do everything, and the further the administration of the solution is removed from the people and their problems, the less efficient it can be.

There is a further problem looming. A recent poll in Bulgaria showed that 54 per cent of respondents would like to exchange their lives of penury there for life in one of Europe’s richer countries. The UK is attractive with its culture of acceptance and welcoming the stranger.

Will the Government open the Welfare State to meet such an influx? It seems unlikely, not least because it would be politically unpalatable and economically unaffordable. If the Welfare State is closed to those exercising newly-acquired rights, does anyone believe that private charity such as the Food Bank movement could stand the strain of open borders?

Brother Ivo is confident that those of Christian conscience will be moved by need wherever it comes from. The Trussel Trust is not restrictive in its mission statement, adopting Jesus’ teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:35): ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.’ How good that we remember and respond.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)
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