Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mainstream parties conspire against Ukip

It is not so much a conspiracy, for there is no secret plot or hush-hush plan to do harm or bring ill. But there is apparently a strategy being pursued by a group of powerful people in the hitherto mainstream parties to brand a hitherto minor party as that which it is not - essentially, to smear, misrepresent and defame them as being 'racist'.

Now, some of you may think that Ukip are doing the job very nicely themselves: they do undoubtedly have among their ranks some unsavoury types including one or two racists, nutters, fruitcakes, loonies, etc, etc. But - you know what? - all political parties do. And all parties have their fair share of nutty, eccentric or 'bigoted' candidates, too. When a Conservative peer phones His Grace and refers to a malignant politician colleague as "the nigger in the woodpile", or when a very senior party employee sends an email referring to the "Asian tribes" of a certain constituency, one might be forgiven for detecting an undercurrent of racism.

And even the Church of England is at it. Over the weekend, its Head of Communications the Rev'd Arun Arora tweeted: "UKIp says Lenny Henry should 'go back to a Black Country'. Racist nonsense. Lenny was born in Dudley - that's THE Black Country you fools."

Ah, but the Rev'd Arun Arora is not the Church of England, you might say: he tweets (he says) in a personal capacity. And yet that is precisely the conflated disarrangement made by the Rev'd Arun, for the offensive and ignorant comments about Lenny Henry were made by one Ukip member - just one (out of nigh-on 40,000) - but the good Rev'd begins his tweet "Ukip says..".

If it be possible for the Church of England's Head of Comms to tweet in a personal capacity, it ought to be possible for a single Ukip member to make a prat of himself.

How can a party which, as a policy, actually favours increasing immigration from the brown-skinned corners of the British Commonwealth and diminishing it from the white-skinned provinces of the EU, be racist? What type of racism is it which seeks to prioritise the jobs, welfare and security of the indigenous population and then implement a controlled plan of immigration based on a points system, according to national economic need? Is Australia racist?

Indeed, isn't this now the professed policy of some of the so-called mainstream political parties? Except, of course, they are powerless to limit immigration from within the EU, to which the free movement of people is a foundational article of faith.

Perhaps the saddest and most disappointing thing about this "cross-party campaign to brand Ukip as racist" is that, instead of addressing the causes of the party's support - political disenfranchisement, alienation, cynicism and disillusionment - it essentially brands all independence-inclined eurosceptics as racists and bigots, for those who declare for Ukip in the opinion polls, and those who intend to vote for them in the imminent euro elections, are just ordinary people - millions of them - from Labour's working heartlands to the leafy suburbs of Tory professionalism. Ukip is drawing them in by the thousands.

So, cast them all as racists, if you will. But know that when you do, you simply perpetuate the slander that decent British people believe crassly in the innate superiority of fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair; that being best means being white and Christian. And by asserting this egregious lie; by confining all consideration of the discontents to a narrow intellectual agenda, you simply perpetuate the dominance of an elite ruling class which is aloof and alienated from the ordinary concerns of the people - good school places, clean hospitals, the price of bread, next month's mortgage or rent - and indifferent to the mundane worries of everyday life.

If the sameness of the Cameron-Clegg-Miliband political hegemony is intent on branding Ukip and its supporters as racist, lacking compassion, intuition or empathy, then it is for the people to rise up and protest the truth and moral virtue of their difference. For when sameness means dominance and oppression, there is nothing left for the excluded but the protest of powerlessness.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Arrested for quoting Winston Churchill

Paul Weston is the Chairman of the Liberty GB Party and a candidate in the forthcoming Elections to the European Parliament. His party has a mission:
Liberty GB will address all the political issues Great Britain currently faces, something the three main parties (along with UKIP) so conspicuously fail to do.

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives manifestly refuse to discuss the most important issues of our time, namely mass immigration from the Third World, the steady rise of fundamentalist Islam and the hijacking of traditional British culture and institutions by well-organised left-wing 'progressives'.

There is no guarantee at such a late stage that Britain can be saved, but Liberty GB will endeavour to put a stop to our rapidly accelerating descent into economic, educational, moral, cultural and social ruin. Britain could be a wonderful country again, but it will take politics bordering on the revolutionary to achieve this vision.
It also has an ideology, which demands: i) The British People's Ownership of Britain; ii) Indigenous British in Perpetual Majority; iii) Principle of National Preference; iv) Primacy of National Culture; v) Christian Ethics and Morality; and vi) Upholding Western Civilisation:
There are many precepts, values and achievements of Western civilization which are worth protecting and fighting for, especially now that they are threatened by the progress of Islamic fundamentalism. They include popular democracy, equality of value of all human beings, the rights of women and minorities, freedom of speech and religion, animal welfare, science, logic and rational thought. The civilization of the West, which was founded on the Greco-Roman world and Christianity, would cease to exist if it renounced these, its most fundamental roots.
Paul Weston is a self-declared (or, rather, politico-media-designated) "racist" and "Islamophobe":

He clearly has a certain defensive and robust view of Islam, which is apparently not so different from that of Nick Griffin and the BNP.

But his view is also shared by the eminent Richard Dawkins, who has referred severally to "Islamic barbarians", Islam's "backwardness" and its "appalling attitude to women and various other moral points".

For some, this constitutes "racism"; for others it is simply religio-political truth.

It seems that Mr Weston's euro campaign hasn't been going so well, so he engineered a bit of free publicity. He decided to stand on the steps of Winchester Guildhall, megaphone in hand, and proclaim:
"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith."
The quotation is from Churchill's youthful biographical account of the late-nineteenth-century Mahdist conflict in Sudan, called The River War, written when he was just 25. Apparently, a woman came out of the Guildhall, enquired of Mr Weston if he had any authorisation to make his speech, and when he responded that he had no such permission, she told him: "It's disgusting!" and proceeded to call the police.

We are then told that "six or seven officers arrived. They talked with the people standing nearby, asking questions about what had happened. The police had a long discussion with Mr Weston, lasting about 40 minutes. At about 3pm he was arrested. They searched him, put him in a police van and took him away."

Poor Mr Weston.

Or perhaps not, since his campaign publicity stunt appears to be working.

The curious thing is that it isn't at all clear what crime he has committed.

While Richard Dawkins frequently rails quite unpleasantly against Muslims (he rarely distinguishes between extremists and moderates), Paul Weston quoted Churchill's criticism of "Mohammedanism", "Mohammedan law", "the faith of Islam" and "the influence of the religion".

You may object to the derogatory use of the term "Mohammedanism" to describe "Islam", but Muslims are Mohammedans in much the same way as followers of Jesus are Christians. Of course, Muslims would never say that they worship Mohammed - the focus of their adoration is Allah alone. But by exalting him as the Seal of the Prophets, the fulfilment of divine revelation and the pre-eminent exemplar for all mankind, he is venerated and honoured above all men - and some would argue idolised in his seventh-century Arabian primitiveness and barbarism.

Whether you believe this view of Islam or not ought to be of no legal consequence: no one has the right not to be insulted or offended, especially since the reform of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which His Grace supported. It is important to protect freedom of speech, and this fundamental liberty must override any subjective cry of hurt feelings or professed politically-correct disgust.

And yet, with the arrest of Paul Weston, the police appear to have arrived at an interpretation of Section 5 reform which now permits a teenager to refer to Scientology a "cult", but does not allow anyone to criticise Mohammed or assert that Islam may be in any sense economically deficient,  intellectually backward, spiritually fanatical, socially dangerous, fearfully fatalistic, legally misogynist or morally degraded.

Unless, of course, you happen to be an eminent academic safely ensconced at Oxford and able to shroud your 'Islamophobia' beneath the respectable veneer of enlightened atheism.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saint-making – the Great and the Good

Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were canonised today at a ceremony at St Peter's in Rome – the first time that two dead popes have simultaneously been declared saints, and the first time any dead pope has been declared a saint in the simultaneous presence of two living popes. Pope Paul VI is to follow on in October when he will be beatified.

It is not clear at this stage whether Pope Francis will continue waiving the requirement for miracles to establish saintliness and holiness. But, as the seemingly automated pope-to-saint conveyor belt churns out these sanctifications, it is worth asking why the 20th century produced especially holy popes compared to all the previous centuries. Indeed, in the six centuries between Gregory the Great and Thomas Beckett, there were no new canonisations at all. Perhaps waves of emotional fervour fused with X-Factor populism require the contemporary cult of "Santo Subito".

His Grace can't help thinking about poor Pope John Paul I, who was, by all accounts, a truly humble and very saintly man. And poor Pope Benedict XVI, who is also not likely to be hurriedly enrolled among the sanctified when he dies, for his papacy wasn't sufficiently modernist for the fluffy and pink zeitgeist.

Pope John XXIII becomes Pope Saint John XXIII (or Pope Saint John the Good) for having called the historic Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Perhaps this was miracle enough to establish his saintliness. But, for many Roman Catholics, not least the traditionalist Pope Emeritus Benedict, that Council sowed the progressive seeds of an awful lot of ecclesio-doctrinal confusion. For Cardinal Kasper, its documents are intentionally ambiguous:
"In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction."
Speaking of Nostra Aetate, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"Thus, in a precise and extraordinarily dense document, a theme is opened up whose importance could not be foreseen at the time. The task that it involves and the efforts that are still necessary in order to distinguish, clarify and understand, are appearing ever more clearly. In the process of active reception, a weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion which, from the historical and theological viewpoints, are of far-reaching importance; for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally."
Pope John Paul II becomes Pope Saint John Paul II (or Pope Saint John Paul the Great) despite having presided over the Vatican during the global scandal of child sex abuse and the proliferation of priestly paedophilia. Indeed, many of those who sought to protect the legacy and good name of Pope Benedict XVI emphasise the undeniable chronic failures of Pope John Paul II, with some pointing to the papal sinecure gifted to Cardinal Bernard Law following allegations of a systematic cover-up in his archdiocese of Boston.

But none of this seems to matter. Perhaps in his personal and sainted holiness, Pope John Paul II was either oblivious to the thousands of cases of priestly rape and torture of children, or he really did do everything he possibly could to cleanse the Roman temple and mitigate the spread of evil. In truth, we cannot know.

But on saintly intercession, the Church of England's Article XXII is clear:
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.
Let us by all means have saints, for they are holy ones who are sanctified by virtue of being "in Christ". But divine perfection comes not from the cultic declaration of the intercessory efficacy of John Paul the Great or John the Good, but by belonging to the communion of saints and worshipping among the priesthood of believers.

If we are to attribute especial holiness to particular individuals, and acknowledge their personal piety and historic ecclesio-theological contributions beyond the grave, let us this year – in the 500th anniversary year of his birth – make joyful affirmation of the remarkable Reformation saint John Knox.

A Motion has been tabled by Murdo Fraser MSP in the Scottish Parliament to do precisely that, and it has already attracted a number of cross-party signatures:
That the Parliament recognises the 500th anniversary of John Knox’s birth; notes his contribution to modern Scotland and Protestantism; understands that he is recognised as the founding father of the Scottish Reformation and of Presbyterianism in Scotland; encourages Scots to explore his contribution toward the country's religion, government and identity; notes that Knox helped write the new confession of faith and the ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church; considers that, with hundreds of thousands of members, this denomination still plays a significant role in modern day Scotland; believes that Knox's work helped to shape the democratic form of governance that the Church of Scotland adopted; acknowledges the events taking place to celebrate this anniversary in his birthplace, Haddington, and commemorates the life of a man whom it sees as one of Scotland’s greatest sons.
As Scotland seemingly moves towards historic independence, let us not forget the history of the Kirk or the uniqueness of Scottish devotion and their contribution to the Christian spirituality of the United Kingdom. Some will only see the arid summations of Calvinist orthodoxy flowering on very rocky soil. But John Knox's didactic and polemical contribution was deep, tender and loving: from the Secession congregations in the Lowlands to the evangelical Establishment in the Highlands, he made the Scottish Reformation a movement of great spiritual gain, of fellowship, of family and nationhood.

John Knox may not have been declared 'blessed', 'sanctified', 'great' or 'good', but he is undoubtedly a saint. By sweeping away too many superstitious cults and tearing down too many bogus traditions, we are in danger of forgetting that supernatural sanctity and miraculous manifestation did not die with the Apostles.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Church of England is not a church of privilege, but of obligation

Here we go again. Someone in high authority (in this instance, the Prime Minister) happens to mention that the United Kingdom is a "Christian country", and then mounts a defence (of sorts) of the constitutional establishment of the Church of England, and out they crawl from under every stone and slither out of the crumbling timbers of the disintegrating religio-political edifice - an entire tribulation of trolling disestablishmentarianists, who posit (with varying degrees of socio-politico-ecclesio-theological comprehension) that both Church and State would benefit from the severing of the union which has bound them since England's kings in ancient times first responded to the gospel of salvation and pledged to govern these islands in accordance with the lively oracles of God.

And so we have Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg:
More generally speaking, about the separation of religion and politics. As it happens, my personal view - I’m not pretending this is something that’s discussed in the pubs and kitchen tables of Britain - but my personal view is that, in the long-run, having the state and the church basically bound up with each other, as we do in this country, is, in the long run...I actually think it would be better for the church and better for people of faith, and better for Anglicans, if the church and the state were to, over time, stand on their own two separate feet, so to speak. But that’s not going to happen overnight, for sure.
..supported by the National Secular Society:
"At last, we have a high profile politician have the courage to say that separating church and state would be a good idea. None of the others dare say it, although it is quite clear that the time has come to do it."
..supported by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:
"I grew up in a disestablished Church; I spent ten years working in a disestablished Church; and I can see that it's by no means the end of the world if the Establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh Synod, it didn't have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards. There is a certain integrity to that."
..supported by the Rev'd Giles Fraser:
"The problem with establishment is not that I think it's bad for the country - I think it might be actually quite good for the country - I think it's bad for the church. And I think it's bad for the church for us to be so close to the establishment. We sort of cosy-up to the establishment and it blunts our message. And I think that's the problem - we're not free to be the church because we're too close to the powers that be, and we quite like being too close to the powers that be."
And on the other side is, well.. no-one in particular. But the Prime Minister made a sterling effort:
"No I don’t want to see (disestablishment). I think our arrangements work well in this country. As I’ve said before, we’re a Christian country, we have an established church, and being a Christian country, I find other faith leaders and members of other faiths say that it makes us almost more understanding, more tolerant, more understanding of the role that faith and religion plays in our country. And actually, faith organisations do an enormous amount in terms of supporting schools, supporting charities, helping to build what I call the bigger society. So I don’t want to see what the Deputy Prime Minister has set out, it’s a long-term liberal idea but not a Conservative one."
Those who oppose the Anglican Settlement often tend to talk in terms of outdated notions of "religious privilege" - of the "anachronism" of the Head of State being Supreme Governor of the Church of England; of the "unwarranted interference" in our system of government; of 26 "unelected" bishops in the House of Lords; of "exclusive" prayers before each session of Parliament; or of the "religious discrimination" in church schools.

In their obsession with privilege, they ignore the Church of England's social obligation and its contribution to the common good. Even the Rev'd Giles Fraser acknowledges that establishment "might be actually quite good for the country".

The Church of England has always struggled with the tension between affirmation of the gospel and assimilation to the prevailing culture; between transformation and inculturation. Establishment commits the Church to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications. These cannot easily be reduced to soundbites, tweets, neat headlines or trite blogposts: profound matters demand profound contemplation and an articulation which does them justice.

We are no longer in an age - if ever we were - where the Archbishop of Canterbury can impose a morality or a doctrine of God. His primary role is not to assert any kind of "privilege", but to declare the Good News of salvation. And intrinsic to that is the acutely political function of calling the state to account by obstinately asking the Government about its accountability and the justification of its priorities. He might sometimes have to be a thorn in the Prime Minister's side; he might even have to be stealthy in his applied wisdom and occasionally infuriating to his flock. But that is because his duty is that of service to God in submission to "the powers that be", for whom he prays, as he is commanded, that they might govern with justice and righteousness.

And in that holy obligation lies the essence of the Church of England. Its proven and dedicated commitment to the common good and its contribution to the maintenance of the peace and security of the State outweighs any secular scruple, grievance or objection.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mohammed Blair and the promulgation of orthodox Islam

Tony Blair runs a faith foundation, and he has a problem. As an abortion-supporting, embryo-destroying, contraception-using, gay-marriage-propagating, war-mongering, communion-abusing, Magisterium-defying convert to Roman Catholicism, he can't even persuade many of his co-religionists that he knows much at all about his own faith, let alone apprehend the theology of Islam. Yet in a keynote speech yesterday at Bloomberg HQ - Why the Middle East Matters - while he explained 'Islamism' via a tour of the 'Islamic world', through Pakistan and Afghanistan, wading through Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Yemen to Lebanon and to Syria, he decreed:
At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.

..In fact it is often the most devout who take most exception to what they regard as the distortion of their faith by those who claim to be ardent Muslims whilst acting in a manner wholly in contradiction to the proper teaching of the Koran.

..At this point it must again be emphasised: it is not Islam itself that gives rise to this ideology. It is an interpretation of Islam, actually a perversion of it which many Muslims abhor. There used to be such interpretations of Christianity which took us years to eradicate from our mainstream politics.

The reason that this ideology is dangerous is that its implementation is incompatible with the modern world – politically, socially, and economically. Why? Because the way the modern world works is through connectivity. Its essential nature is pluralist. It favours the open-minded. Modern economies work through creativity and connections. Democracy cannot function except as a way of thinking as well as voting. You put your view; you may lose; you try to win next time; or you win but you accept that you may lose next time.

That is not the way that the Islamist ideology works. It is not about a competing view of how society or politics should be governed within a common space where you accept other views are equally valid. It is exclusivist in nature. The ultimate goal is not a society which someone else can change after winning an election. It is a society of a fixed polity, governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable but which are, of their essence, unchangeable.
So, it is not Islam which has given rise to the malignant Sunni-Salafi-Wahhabi strain of theology, but a "perversion" of the religion which "distorts and warps" and which "many Muslims abhor". In this, he agrees with the Prince of Wales, though Faith Minister Baroness Warsi maintains that these extremists are not Muslims at all; not even of the perverted, distorted or warped kind. 

What is curious about Tony Blair's promulgation of Islamic theology is his understanding of religious orthodoxy and "proper teaching". The religion that is acceptable is that which coheres with the modern world - politically, socially and economically. The religion that is unacceptable is that which is "of a fixed polity, governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable but which are, of their essence, unchangeable".

This might explain his particular approach to Roman Catholicism: it is not, for him, Semper Eadem - a constant, catechised Catholic faith composed of infallible doctrines and immutable truths founded upon an unchanging gospel: it is a religion of "creativity" moulded through human "connectivity" and subject to the whims of democracy. For him, an "exclusivist" religion which is "governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable" is a perverted ideology. Ergo, traditionalist Roman Catholicism is a "perversion" of the faith; the orthodox Christianity which preaches "exclusivity" is one which "distorts and warps".

All of which makes one wonder why Tony Blair left the mutable ecclesiology, flexible doctrine, synodical governance and national expression of the Church of England. He appears in spiritual temperament to be far better suited to the shared experience of fellowship through diverse communion: his understanding of koinonia is plural, ecumenical and universalist, rather than uniform, exclusive and centralised.

And this naturally colours his approach to Islam: by making Mohammed more like Tony Blair, the Qur'an, Sunnah and Hadith become the 'Rough Guide to Islam' rather than the epitome of Islamic practice. The Islam that is 'acceptable' is an ecumenical Sunni-Shia chimera infused with Sufi love and peace and syncretised with Third-Way political thought, of which he becomes the self-declared spiritual moral authority and the self-appointed guardian of historical-theological truth. The example of Mohammed is not to be emulated literally, but reinterpreted spiritually in accordance with the enlightened values of the modern era. And there are many millions of moderate and enlightened Muslims who would agree with this, and of the need for someone to do for Islam what Martin Luther did for the Christianity in 1517. Except, of course, that historic reformation was initiated by an eminent theologian from within: Tony Blair is a discredited politician and quite extraneous to the theological and spiritual traditions he seeks to challenge.

However well-meaning he may be, a Blairite epistemology of Mohammed and appraisal of Allah are never going to have influence or effect change in any aspect of Islamic thought - any more than his personal beliefs will ever challenge the ecclesiology, res sacramenti or a single ex-cathedra pronouncement of the Church of Rome.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy 450th Birthday, William Shakespeare: "Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and St George!"

From the quill of William Shakespeare comes the only line in Renaissance literature which links England with St George. It could not be more appropriate that the Bard’s birthday falls on this day, for it becomes a cause of celebration of England’s (and the world’s) greatest writer. To borrow from Hamlet: "He was a man, take him for all in all; we shall not look upon his like again." And today we mark the 450th anniversary of his birth.

That a humble son of a glover, with an education no higher than a grammar school, should tower above the university-educated; should have such insight into morals, manners, economy, philosophy, religion, taste, and the conduct of life, is a cause for wonder. That an Englishman was blessed with great knowledge of the greatest mysteries, understood the politics of high office without having held any, and could articulate with profound accuracy the emotions and needs of the common man, is a cause for great celebration – yea, a national holiday.

But we shall not get it - for fear of 'English nationalism'.

Saints Andrew, David and Patrick may be celebrated with a secure national identity and respectful chippiness. But George is vulgar, and represents the bunting-strewn, beer-swilling worst of what it is to be English. It ought to be cancelled on 'Health & Safety' grounds alone.

Like Guy Fawkes' Night - offensive, sectarian, divisive and dangerous.

But it's only English culture and tradition which needs to be subsumed and sidelined: Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism are wholesome manifestations of historical defensiveness and political identity. Even on Shakespeare's birthday, the cry to honour England or laud the English is 'racist'. Even in this second great Elizabethan age, we may not receive from or observe in Shakespeare's nature the peculiar impulse and impression which he, best of all, bequeaths to us. He is not just of England or for the English: he belongs to the whole world and is for all time. And yet he is English and of England, and at his quill patriotism becomes a virtue and a blessing.

The greatest human mind ever to walk the earth writes eloquently of love, friendship, marriage, parenthood, jealousy, ambition, hatred, revenge, loyalty, devotion and mercy. And into these he weaves the national life of England, caressed with extravagant sensibility: "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm", which is"possessed with rumours, full of idle dereams." And our national life is identifiably Christian: "Is this Ascension-day?"

He is not concerned with doctrine, but with the state of the human heart, will, intellect and soul. In this new age of limitation, restriction, deficiency and injunction, William Shakespeare liberates us to think what we may not, feel what is unmentionable, and be what is forbidden.

Happy Birthday, Will.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't condemn Cameron's claim to Christianity

Apparently, No10 had no intention of releasing a transcript of the Prime Minister's speech to Christian leaders last week: unlike other faith gatherings, it was an impromptu declamation, spoken spontaneously from the heart, and some there felt that the content didn't merit courtly promulgation, not least because it wasn't honed, crafted or filtered by aides to extinguish any hint of offence.

But His Grace agitated and agitated, and the oration was made public. And it was seen that the Prime Minister spoke intimately of the loss of his son, Ivan; and of his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land; and of his quiet times in church; and of the need for Christians to do more "evangelism". He is a politician; not a theologian: his words were those of a layman, but no less sincere for that.  

And then he released an article in the Church Times - My Faith in the Church of England - in which he demanded the right to speak about his faith "in this ever more secular age". And he dared to refer to the United Kingdom as a "Christian country", and again called for Christians to be "more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives".

And all hell broke loose.

Some 50 self-important secular-humanising bigwigs wrote to the Telegraph, accusing the Prime Minister of "fostering division" by daring to invoke Christianity: "Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a 'Christian country'," they declared.

Fostering division? As Bishop Nick Baines has eloquently observed, that is the very nature of politics:
First, if politicians were to refrain from saying anything ‘divisive’, they would be silent. Any stated viewpoint or priority is by definition ‘divisive’ as there will always be people who strongly disagree. The use of potential ‘divisiveness’ as a charge against anything inconvenient is ridiculous. Presumably, the divisiveness caused by publishing this letter is to be excused?
And Jesus Himself said:
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
But the liberal enlightened media set aside such reasoned christological inquiry: who is Bishop Nick Baines? And who, indeed, is Jesus?

In candid disinterested neutrality, Sky News wheeled out the ubiquitous anti-Tory atheist Owen Jones to debate with the equally anti-Tory Christian Vicky Beeching to weigh up the Christian claims of a Conservative prime minister, and in unison they both railed against the "cuts" and the "bedroom tax", neither of which (apparently) Jesus would support. Was there no Christian Tory available, or were they simply not telegenic and pretty enough for the TV studio?

And then on Channel 4, Vicky Beeching (..again..) stressed "as a theologian", that she looks at David Cameron's policies and looks at his claims and, for her, they "don't add up". 

Well, "as a theologian", His Grace would exhort his readers and communicants to weigh very carefully indeed the utterances of any theologian who prefaces a partisan pontification with "as a theologian", for their theology is invariably cajoled to pander to their politics. In the Christian mind, the Bible precedes all matters of polity and questions of policy, and any assessment or judgment is offered in humility. The fact that the welfare reforms are designed and being implemented by one of the most devout Christians in Government appears to escape Miss Beeching. But then she speaks "as a theologian": what could Iain Duncan Smith possibly know?

Alastair Campbell famously didn't "do God", or, rather, didn't allow Tony Blair to "do God" while he was in office. Like Owen Jones and Vicky Beeching, he is persuaded that the Prime Minister's "religious ramblings" are "insincere".

And you may very well agree with that: after all, an election looms, and Ukip is biting at Tory heels.

But is it not possible that David Cameron's faith is maturing? Is it not conceivable that he is moving from a faith of watery milk to red meat? Is it not imaginable that the death of his son caused such a crisis in his spiritual life that he is journeying to that place where God leads, and in that presence the melancholy façade of religiosity is giving way to authentic renewal and regeneration?

You may agree with Alastair Campbell and the socialist-atheists and the secular-humanists and the liberal-lefty Christians that David Cameron is a PR-obsessed political fraud. But doesn't St Paul exhort us to welcome even the half-way conversion from neo-platonic spiritualism toward Christianity? Shouldn't we rejoice over the sinner who moves from infidelity to orthodoxy? Isn't it an act of Christian love and humility to (at least) consider that David Cameron has subconsciously incubated the seeds of faith, and that now he finds new strength and boldness to declare the gospel of salvation?

You may quibble that he hasn't used the word 'repent'; you may mutter that he doesn't have a clue what 'evangelical' means. You may deride the motive or question the timing. But David Cameron has received grace and gained assurance. And now he seeks to bring about a moral change, which his opponents condemn as "divisive".

You may side with spin-meister Alastair Campbell, atheist Owen Jones and theologian Vicky Beeching and judge the sincerity of the Prime Minister's faith. But His Grace will look to Scripture: "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters" (Rom 14:1). His conscience may not be overly sensitive, but it is not to be condemned. We are exhorted and encouraged to accept other Christians wherever they are in their pilgrimage of faith; however imperfect their learning; however flawed their understanding.

And that includes a Tory prime minister.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ma'am

Her Majesty the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, celebrates her 88th birthday today, in commemoration of which this new portrait has been published.

It is undeniable that our Queen is admired and respected all over the world, and very much loved by her loyal subjects throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Where there is disapproval or antipathy, she is dignified in the presence of contention and gracious to her opponents. And she endures as our greatest national asset: While here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians win and lose, rise and fall, and come and go, Her Majesty provides a reassuring spiritual continuity and political stability in a world of frequent unthinking change and paralysing uncertainty.

And she is acutely involved in leading her people to salvation. As Richard Hooker explained in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, church and society are one: "A gross error it is, to think that regal power ought to serve for the good of the body, and not of the soul; for men’s temporal peace, and not for their eternal safety." If the state were concerned solely with economics and the material, it would cease to be concerned with people’s welfare in respect of a right relationship with God. Hooker’s articulation of the prerogative of the Crown over its subjects’ religious welfare is the same as that which underlies the role of the Monarch in relation to the Church of England today.

From Article XXXVII
The Queen's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.
There are two distinct spheres of authority: i) the political, in which the Queen as Head of State has supreme and God-given authority under the law over every sector of society, including the Church. In the words of Canon A7: "We acknowledge the Queen’s excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in his kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil." And ii) the spiritual, in which authority belongs to the Church and to its appointed ministers, and not to the Queen. But as she is responsible for the welfare of her subjects, she is tasked with ensuring that the Church as an institution is in a state to perform its spiritual tasks properly so that right relationship with God may be possible for all.

The Royal Supremacy in regard to the Church is in its essence the right supervision over the administration of the Church, vested in the Queen as the champion of the Church, in order that the religious welfare of the people may be duly provided for. We are truly blessed in having a Supreme Governor who submits to the headship of Christ, and proclaims His Lordship daily in her dutiful and dedicated service.

Happy Birthday, Ma'am.

God Save The Queen!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miliband claims he would be "the first Jewish prime minister"

Ed Miliband has been in Israel, discovering his Jewish roots.

According to the Daily Mail, he said: "I would be the first Jewish prime minister if we win the election." This appears to corroborate an interview he gave to Haaretz: "In a little over a year from now, Ed Miliband could well be the first Jewish prime minister of the United Kingdom," it begins. It is undeniable that he made the claim himself: as well as this journalistic introduction, he has been directly quoted.

This is curious, because the Conservative Party gave the United Kingdom its first Jewish prime minister a while back - in 1868, to be precise; a full century before minority rights and PC quotas became a political obsession. He was called Benjamin Disraeli: an indication of his Semitic ethnicity may be found in the name. But Ed Miliband seems to be unaware of this, which is a little odd, considering his audacious appropriation of Disraeli's 'One Nation' slogan.

So popular was Disraeli with the Conservatives that they kept him as their leader for 13 years, and the people re-elected him to a second term in 1874. You may argue that he was only a practising Jew up to the age of 12, when he converted (or was converted) to the Church of England. But Ed Miliband is not an observant Jew either, and has never been: he was raised in a sceptic-humanist-atheist household, and is himself an avowed atheist. So we are not concerned here with matters of religious orthodoxy or observance, but with ethnicity.

And on that count, Benjamin Disraeli was irrefutably the UK's first Jewish prime minister.

Perhaps Harriet Harman might make a better leader of the Labour Party, at least in terms of a grasp on history. One doubts that even Ed Miliband would hail her as the first woman prime minister.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cameron on his vicar: "I can’t think of anyone who was more loving or thoughtful or kind"

This is the Rev'd Mark Abrey, vicar of St. Nicholas' Church, Chadlington, Oxfordshire. He seems to be a quiet and unassuming sort of minister, so you won't find much written about him anywhere. Indeed, it took His Grace the best part of an hour to unearth a photograph. The Rev'd Mark happens to be David Cameron's local vicar in his constituency. And this is what the Prime Minister said of him at Wednesday's Downing Street Easter reception:
..it’s lovely to have here tonight the vicar from St Mary Abbots school, Gillean Craig, and also the vicar who looks after me spiritually in the constituency, Mark Abrey in Chadlington, who, when I often – anyone asks me about the pastoral care that many vicars carry out across the country, I remember 5 years ago when we had to mourn the loss and bury my son Ivan, I can’t think of anyone who was more loving or thoughtful or kind than Mark. And of course, Ivan would have been 12 yesterday, which has had me pause to think about that.
Now, Mr Cameron said an awful lot more in his speech, which spanned politics, religion, the law of Christ, the Big Society and Dyno-Rod. And you may read all of that for yourselves and make up your own minds what you think about it. But His Grace is going to dwell on this single sentence of tribute to a single Church of England vicar, for this speech was extempore - not carefully crafted by some Downing Street hireling. And, clearly coming from the heart, it reveals rather more about the Prime Minister's spirituality and appreciation of the Church of England's ministry than anything he has previously disclosed.

You see, however the Rev'd Mark Abrey votes and whatever his personal political beliefs, he has pastoral responsibility for all those who live within his entire parish. The pastoral care, prayer and support he provides constitutes an applied theology, and clearly, in the case of David Cameron, the Rev'd Mark has brought the liberating power of the gospel to bear on the actual circumstances of the Prime Minister's life. There was no imposition and no prior condition: the trappings of state and political power presented no hurdle to the vicar's compassion to weep with those who weep. The love of God - agape - reaches down to create a new love - caritas - in which humans are able, regardless of their wretched state or inconsolable grief, to behold their creator in a joy for which they are destined.

Dramatic changes in social circumstances and upheaval in our personal lives create pastoral needs. If Christian theology is to maintain any credibility at all in this increasingly secular, post-Christian age, it cannot ignore those needs. And it must adapt to human experience and observation, for, as we have seen in the lives of St Paul, St Augustine, Luther, Barth, Bonhoeffer and many others, a pastoral crisis can call received theological wisdom into question, and a new integrity has to be sought which is resonant with contemporary insights into human need and suffering, as it is manifested not only in the lives of individuals, but also in the behaviour and needs of whole societies.

The pastoral nature of Christian theology - as embodied by the Rev'd Mark Abrey and thousands of other ministers all over the country and the world - is what makes its existence necessary in the first place. It is something done sacrificially and empathetically by human beings to human beings, which is why it speaks to them most profoundly and creatively when it addresses the actual circumstances of their lives., especially when they are threatened, insecure, desolate or inconsolable with grief. Consider this section of the Prime Minister's speech:
I often get my moment of greatest peace – not every week, I’m ashamed to say, but perhaps every other week I pop in to the Thursday morning sung Eucharist beautiful service in St Mary Abbots, and I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance.
Who are you to judge this simple insight? Who are you to condemn the search for navigation through stormy political waters? Who are you to be offended that David Cameron calls Christ "our Saviour"? He tells us that he went on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem and Jerusalem: "And it’s a very special moment the first time you go to the Church of the Holy Nativity; it’s a remarkable, extraordinary place, and I think something that will stay with me."

You may think he's a political chameleon and spiritual charlatan, spouting about this being a "Christian country" to try to dupe disaffected Christians into voting Tory. But is it not written that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags"? He says he wants to "do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world", and we are still waiting to hear what this might be. But please don't think that one who has mourned the death of his own son cannot taste the grief of the many thousands of bereaved parents and orphaned children whose tears are unending.

Pray for the Prime Minister, as St Paul exhorts, "For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." And pray for the Rev'd Mark Abrey, that his witness to the Cameron family may continue to be "loving, thoughtful (and) kind"; that he might be wise and compassionate, manifesting the love of God to them as each opportunity presents itself to challenge the ever-renewing secular knowledge that purports to hold so much promise for the amelioration of the human lot, but which, without Christ, is little more than self-sufficient, self-deluding hubris.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cameron's Easter message: "Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right"

"Easter is the most important date in the Christian calendar, and an incredibly special time for people across Britain and around the world. Last month I was in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and I got to see for myself the places where Jesus was born and died. It was an extraordinary experience to be in those places where so much history began.

Today, 2000 years on, Easter is not just a time for Christians across our country to reflect, but a time for our whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain. All over the UK, every day, there are countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ. The heart of Christianity is to 'love thy neighbour' and millions do really live that out. I think of the Alpha courses run in our prisons, which work with offenders to give them a new life inside and outside prison, or the soup kitchens and homeless shelters run by churches. And we saw that same spirit during the terrible storms that struck Britain earlier this year. From Somerset to Surrey, from Oxford to Devon, churches became refuges, offering shelter and food, congregations raised funds and rallied together, parish priests even canoed through their villages to rescue residents. They proved, yet again, that people's faith motivates them to do good deeds.

That is something this Government supports and celebrates, and it's why we have announced more funding for the Near Neighbours programme bringing together even more faiths in even more cities to do social action. And as we celebrate Easter, let's also think of those who are unable to do so, the Christians around the world who are ostracised, abused -- even murdered -- simply for the faith they follow. Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right.

Britain is committed to protecting and promoting that right, by standing up for Christians and other minorities, at home and abroad. Our hearts go out to them, especially at this special time of year. So as we approach this festival I'd like to wish everyone, Christians and non-Christians a very happy Easter."

Sajid Javid: "I was a Thatcherite long before I was a Conservative"

Sajid Javid has been promoted to replace the hapless Maria Miller as Secretary of State for Press Regulation and Gay Marriage Culture, Media and Sport. He also become Equalities Minister (except for women, obviously, because a man can't do that). According to the Telegraph, he is "Britain's first Asian Cabinet member". Quite how Baroness Warsi feels about that is unknown, not least because she was Britain's first Asian Cabinet member, once (though the Telegraph styled her "female Muslim"; not Asian, though she is manifestly all three).

Being steeped in the Economist, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, it is not immediately clear what Mr Javid knows about the Arts or Culture. But it can't be less than Mrs Miller, and His Grace welcomes this appointment wholeheartedly.

This son of a Pakistani bus-driver is by far among the most talented of the 2010 intake, and a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher, who is his political inspiration. A portrait of her hung on his office wall in the Treasury: doubtless it will now be transported to the DCMS. Importantly, unlike Baroness Warsi, his meteoric rise is meritocratic. He studied economics and politics at Exeter University, and was the first member of his family to go to university. This, he says, is the root of his conservative beliefs:
"My mother and father had nothing and, like many people in their adopted country, worked their way up. All they had to rely on was their drive and determination, a willingness to work hard, and the confidence to take risks in the hope of greater rewards. There were, of course, ups and downs. But whenever my parents were knocked down, in business or anything else, they picked themselves up and started again. The abiding lesson was clear to me: don’t doubt yourself and don’t stop trying.”
For those who are interested (which will doubtless be one or two upon His Grace's august blog), Mr Javid is proud of his Muslim-Pakistani background, but he himself is not remotely religious. He doesn't worship in a mosque, read the Qur'an or observe Ramadan. Ergo, he is not a practising Muslim, any more than Christians who do not attend church, read the Bible (or, some might add, observe Lent) are practising Christians. One may certainly believe without belonging, and be culturally affiliated without practising. But the only religion observed in his home is Christianity (his wife is Christian), and he is of the view that immigrants should adapt to British culture - respecting its distinctly Christian heritage and traditions.

Some are offended that David Cameron has appointed an Asian as guardian of British Culture. They clearly have no understanding of the nature of conservatism, no apprehension of British-Asian values and no appreciation of what drives Sajid Javid. He is a small-state, low-tax, regulation-cutting, patriotic, meritocratic Thatcherite: his political values are hers. All that we know of him culturally is that his favourite film is the Christian allegory It's A Wonderful Life, and his favourite music is the Christian rock band U2. He'll now need to take in a bit of Shakespeare and a few Proms, at least.

As His Grace wrote when Aaqil Ahmed became the first Asian/Muslim to lead the BBC's Religion & Ethics department, those who object - on either religious or racial grounds - to the appointment of immigrants or the children of immigrants to these influential offices of state might pause to reflect on what has become of them under Anglo-Saxon Christian types. The quality of the Christian output of the BBC deteriorated markedly under a Methodist and a Roman Catholic; indeed, between them they reduced the Faith to a toothless myth. Maria Miller's advocacy for the illiberal and thoroughly anti-British state regulation of the press and her insensitive handling of same-sex marriage eclipse everything else she accomplished while she was in office.

So, why not let the first deserving Asian to be appointed to the Cabinet have a go at redeeming the situation? 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

'Luton on Sunday' newspaper bows to Luton Taliban

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is 125 years old this year, and Prime Minister David Cameron sent them his sincere congratulations on reaching this milestone. He praised their work for peace, their charitable endeavours and their efforts on behalf of the environment. "This is true faith in action," he wrote, acknowledging that they have also endured fierce persecution for expressing that faith. This gesture clearly touched a number of Ahmadiyyans all over the world, mindful that in some countries to be Ahmadi is a crime, punishable even by death. For the Ahmadiyya, jihad is not violence, which they repudiate: it is the peaceable struggle against the flesh in a never-ending quest for the peace that passes understanding. And blessed are the peacemakers.

In commemoration of this anniversary, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community took out a two-page advertisement in a number of local newspapers. Luton on Sunday agreed to publish this advertisement (pp4-5):

They then received a complaint from one Dr Fiaz Hussain, who is co-ordinator of the Preservation of Finality of Prophethood Forum (PFPF):

Followed by a delegation of 'Community Leaders':

And then Luton on Sunday issued this swift disassociation and apology (p4):

This is yet another example of Muslim intimidation of the media into conforming to a narrow interpretation of sharia. The advertisement was accepted by the newspaper, and there is no editorial compulsion to endorse the content or message of any such promotion.

Notwithstanding this, Luton on Sunday felt the need to issue an apology for offending "the Muslim community in Luton", as though the offence caused by such a repudiation to the Ahmadiyya community is of no consequence at all, which, of course, it isn't.

One doubts that this delegation made violent threats or even intimated that the Luton on Sunday offices might be firebombed or their staff harassed. But clearly the newspaper came under some sort of pressure to "completely dissociate (themselves) from the content of the advertisement", and this could only have come from a persuasive if not forceful assertion of the sort of narrow Sunni-sharia orthodoxy that is in force in Pakistan (via the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), and which is being incrementally imposed upon or adopted by the British media.

The Ahmadiyya call themselves Muslims, and clearly some other Muslim groups are offended by this because the Ahmadiyya believe that other prophets followed Mohammed: he was not the 'final seal'. This sort of religio-identity dispute is, of course, nothing new: the Church of England calls itself Catholic (and Reformed), which irks one or two (Roman) Catholics. But newspapers and other media are not exhorted by sundry zealous priests and cardinals to dissociate themselves from advertisements which might contain this historic assertion of Anglican belief. It is surely not for Luton on Sunday or any newspaper to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.

It is to be observed that the Luton on Sunday statement of apology refers only to 'The Ahmadiyya': the Islamic inquisition has clearly determined that they may not be referred to as 'Ahmadiyya Muslims', for the Preservation of Finality of Prophethood Forum (PFPF) has weighed their theology and found them quranically deficient if not heretical.

And so, once again, we observe the adoption of a sharia blasphemy code, which His Grace noted as far back as 2007. The UK now has a de facto blasphemy law which protects the Sunni-sharia assertion of Islamic doctrine vis-à-vis Allah, Mohammed and the Qur'an. And now, in Luton, the views of the Ahmadiyya can go hang with the sensitivities of Christians. Shame on Luton on Sunday for tacitly supporting their persecution.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Archbishop Justin gets handbagged by Ann Widdecombe

Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made history by becoming the first holder of that Holy Office ever to participate in a live Q&A session on national radio. It was, despite much of the post-interview negative media coverage, an undoubted missiological success. It may have caused a bit of grief for the Archbishop's Director of Communications Ailsa Anderson, and it may have been a testing time for Press Officer Ed Thornton. But if the Archbishop is to be effective in his ministry, he must communicate the Faith succinctly, incisively and frequently by all means possible. And Lambeth Palace staff have to learn to live on the edge with all the comms expertise and sound-bite savvy of a political media machine. Spontaneous Q&A is raw, authentic and well worth doing, despite the personal costs and predictably distorted media reaction. So more, please.

But what shall we call this new media phenomenon? 'Ask the Archbishop'? 'Grill Justin'? 'Quiz Welby'?

Whatever the emerging brand, the Lambeth Palace media operation needs to be swift in its spiritual counter-response to the world's knee-jerk response. It is axiomatic in politics that a lie is half way round the world before the truth has its boots on. When it comes to religion, the world spins whole revolutions in honour of the lie while the truth disappears into the stratosphere.  

In an intense and sometimes fractious hour, Archbishop Justin covered a vast array of political topics and social-justice issues, as well as profound theological reflections about Christ and the nature of God.

There has been an array of blogging responses for those who can be bothered to consider the politico-spiritual depths of the exchange (full transcript here). For those who can't be bothered – which will be most of the world – the sound-bite impression from the media coverage is that the Archbishop of Canterbury got a good handbagging from Anglican-turned-Roman-Catholic Ann Widdecombe on abortion and women priests, and was then lured into admitting that the Church of England will not introduce same-sex marriage because it would lead to the mass slaughter of Christians in Africa. These distortions have been lapped up by the world while context, meaning and truth are lost in the ether.

His Grace will not deal with the same-sex marriage issue for two reasons: firstly, he is thoroughly sick of the issue; and secondly, a magisterial response and exposition has been written by eminent theologian Andrew Goddard over at Fulcrum. Do read it, for it is the definitive theological rebuttal to those crass assertions that Archbishop Justin's teaching is "scandalous", "severely mistaken" or "dangerously sloppy".

LBC doubtless admitted Ann Widdecombe into the debate because she is one of the most high-profile defectors to the Church of Rome, her religio-political objective now being to deride wishy-washy Anglicanism at every turn and laud the absolute rock of theological certainty afforded by the successor to St Peter. "The Church of England never seems to know what it thinks about anything," she declared, with all the righteous zeal of an ex-smoker preaching the eschatological judgment of lung cancer. Archbishop Justin graciously later acknowledged via Twitter her "effectiveness".

His Grace would have handled her questions slightly differently, probing why manifestly second-order theological issues such as gender or sexuality - the zeitgeist obsessions of the world - should trump primary theological contentions such as the essence of soteriology, the nature of ecclesiology or the meaning of communion. Does the appointment of women priests really outweigh salvation by faith? If the ordination of women as priests should become a cause of schism and the impetus to abandon the Protestant-Anglican understanding of salvation to embrace the Sacrifice of the Mass, as it was for Ms Widdecombe, what hope is there ever for fuller visible unity?

Are issues about authority in the Church as theological in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear ecumenical agreement? If they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion? And if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fuller visible unity? Can there, for example, be a model of unity as a communion of churches which have different attitudes to how the papal primacy is expressed?’

The central question, of course, is whether and how we can properly tell the difference between “second order” and “first order” issues. When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?

There are two issues which divide as authority – the nature or indeed the very possibility of the magisterium; and primacy – the extent to which the integrity of the Church is ultimately dependent on a single identifiable ministry of unity to which all local ministries are accountable. The Church of England repudiates the language of rule and hierarchy established by decree, with fixed divisions between teachers and taught, rulers and ruled, advocating instead filial and communal holiness held in a universal pattern of mutual service.

During his conversation with Ms Widdecombe, Archbishop Justin said: "I'm not the Pope: I can't declare infallible doctrine." And later he explained: "We're not a political party: when we do something (which some members don't like), we don't say you've got to quit."


The Church should be concerned with repentance, love and mutual reconciliation; not pride, power and ever-increasing division. The pattern of Church leadership built upon papal primacy is allied to juridical privilege and the patterns of rule and control to such an extent that it fails to achieve what it sets out to do. Of course, this is a slightly sensitive discussion, but the question of altar fellowship and of mutual recognition of ministerial offices should not be unconditionally dependent on a consensus on the question of primacy.

The historic Anglican via media seeks a restored universal communion which would be genuinely a community of communities and a communion of communions. This is not expressed as a single juridically united body, and therefore one which does indeed assume that, while there is a recognition of a primatial ministry, this is not absolutely bound to a view of primacy as a centralised juridical office.

The corporate reading of Scripture, obedience to the Lord's commands to baptise and make eucharist, or the shared understanding of the shape and the disciplines of what we call filial holiness, do not need any further test, and certainly not any imposed by a universal primate.

And so the Church of England repudiates those Roman Catholic theologians who assert that the ordination of women priests or bishops makes the Anglican Communion simply less recognisably a body doing the same Catholic thing. For many Anglicans, not ordaining women had a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women, which in their view threatened to undermine the coherence of the ecclesiology in question. The same unwelcome implications may be drawn from not admitting women to the episcopate.

The challenge to recent Roman Catholic thinking on this would have to be: in what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so enhance the life of communion, reinforcing the essential character of filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of the Church as so defined? And do the arguments advanced about the 'essence' of male and female vocations and capacities stand on the same level as a theology derived more directly from Scripture and the common theological heritage such as we find in these ecumenical texts?

Even if there remains uncertainty in the minds of some about the rightness of ordaining women, is there a way of recognising that somehow the corporate exercise of a Catholic and Evangelical ministry remains intact even when there is dispute about the standing of female individuals? In terms of the relation of local to universal, what we are saying here is that a degree of recognisability of 'the same Catholic thing' has survived: Anglican provinces ordaining women to some or all of the three orders have not become so obviously diverse in their understanding of filial holiness and sacramental transformation that they cannot act together, serve one another and allow some real collaboration.

It is this sort of thinking that has allowed Anglicans until recently to maintain a degree of undoubtedly impaired communion among themselves, despite the sharpness of the division over this matter. It is part of the rationale of supplementary episcopal oversight as practised in the English provinces, and it may yet be of help in securing the place of those who will not be able to accept the episcopal ministry of women. There can be no doubt, though, that the situation of damaged communion will become more acute with the inability of bishops within the same college to recognise one another's ministry in the full sense. Yet, in what is still formally acknowledged to be a time of discernment and reception, is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene? At least, by means of some of the carefully crafted institutional ways of continuing to work together, there remains an embodied trust in the possibility of discovering a shared ministry of the gospel; and who knows what more, ultimately, in terms of restored communion?

At what point do we have to recognise that surviving institutional and even canonical separations or incompatibilities are overtaken by the authoritative direction of genuinely theological consensus, so that they can survive only by appealing to the ghost of ecclesiological positivism? These issues may all seem, to the eyes of a non-Roman Catholic, to belong in a somewhat different frame of reference from the governing themes of the ecumenical ecclesiology expressed. If the non-Roman Catholic is wrong about this, we need to have spelled out exactly why; we need to understand either that there are issues about the filial/communal calling clearly at stake in surviving disagreements; or to be shown that another theological 'register' is the right thing to use in certain areas, a different register which will qualify in some ways the language that has so far shaped ecumenical convergence.

These are political matters which there is no point in approaching theologically, which is quite possibly why Ann Widdecombe finds them so very attractive.

For those of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question His Grace would like to put to Ms Widdecombe and her co-religionists, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn't, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?

As Archbishop Justin said: "I’m not a Pope and I can’t say what the Church is going to do. It’s something we decide collectively, the Church together and we’re beginning that process."

It is good for the Archbishop to be handbagged by assertive women. But he needs to develop a way of responding robustly by swinging his manbag.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pope Francis asks the Queen to pray for him

These are not joke captions, but real excerpts from the conversation this week between the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Bishop of Rome.

It is good when Christians pray for one another, and especially humbling when that request is made specifically and personally rather than vaguely and generally. Roman Catholics appear to be divided as to whether Pope Francis is most humble and a great reformer, or encouraging "moral laxity and doctrinal indifference" and "the most subversive Pope in history".

The Queen, however, seems to enjoy universal praise and acclamation for her resolute Christian faith - and it comes from Christians of all denominations and from people of all faiths and none.

By asking the Supreme Governor of the Church of England to pray for him, Pope Francis is acknowledging their mutual solidarity with God, and affirming that the Queen is trying to live out her life faithfully. In New Testament terms, the intercessor lives in solidarity with Jesus: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all" (1Tim 2:5f). Through belief, baptism and living a life of faith, the believer is reconciled to God, and intercession on behalf of others is intrinsic to the lived faith.

But in this modern era, we associate requests for prayer with some human need or inadequacy - sickness, suffering, trouble, lack of faith, etc. Or with a wider objective - peace, justice, reconciliation, etc. By granting Pope Francis's prayer request, and assuring him that she will not forget, the Queen has consented to work for him with God - effectively, to care about his person and ministry. We intercede for others because of what we believe about God as loving Father, who works directly, but also through men and women, using their cooperation.

The Queen's intercessions for the Bishop of Rome depend on her life of faith, not of words. For possibly the first time since the Reformation, England's monarch has agreed to be a channel for bringing Rome's pope closer to God; to become more sensitive to his needs, desires and struggles. Of course, neither the Queen nor the Pope may see or know the results in this life, for doubtless Her Majesty prays "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).

And the Pope will be mindful that Her Majesty is a faithful Protestant, who prays to none other than God or Christ. Her prayer is communion directly with God, as her own heart inclines toward mercy, love and generosity. And Jesus promised that God would do all that we ask in Christ's name, but this means more than appending "through Jesus Christ" to the end of every prayer: it means praying as Christ himself would pray.

The Bishop of Rome trusts the Supreme Governor of the Church of England to do that: that she will abide in Christ as He does in her; that she may ask what she wills and it shall be given.

His Grace just can't help wondering what that might be.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Queen meets Pope Francis, with another outward innovation

Whenever the Supreme Governor of the Church of England journeys to the Vatican and graciously grants an audience to the Pope of Rome, protocol demands that she wear a mantilla or hat, and all non-Roman-Catholic monarchs are required to wear black, whether or not the meeting has any state formality. Thus is the theological heresy symbolised in the apparel. In 2000, the Queen wore black in the presence of John Paul II's radiant white:

Just as she had done in 1980:

And when meeting Pope John XXIII in 1961:

And when meeting Pope Pius XII in 1951:

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother obliged in 1959:

As did Diana, Princess of Wales in 1985:

Even Margaret Thatcher wore a black mantilla when she met Pope Paul VI in 1977:

And when she met Pope John Paul II in 1980:

And when she met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009:

But on 3rd March 2014, Pope Francis made no such demand of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England:

Some may consider this utterly unimportant and of no significance whatsoever. But it is not without symbolic meaning: this new head of the Church of Rome appears to have rather more respect for the historic and theological status of the Church of England. Indeed, unlike his predecessor, now Pope Emeritus, Pope Francis seems to acknowledge that Her Majesty is Supreme Governor of a sister church and not a mere "ecclesial community" (ie a non-church), as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in Dominus Iesus in 2000 - a view he reiterated as Pope Benedict XVI in 2007:
..it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of “Church” could possibly be attributed to them, given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church.

In saying this, however, it must be remembered that these said ecclesial Communities, by virtue of the diverse elements of sanctification and truth really present in them, undoubtedly possess as such an ecclesial character and consequently a salvific significance.
The Church of England is, of course, both Catholic and Reformed. Under Pope Francis, we are clearly moving toward a new era of ecumenism; perhaps toward acknowledgment of the validity of Anglican orders and recognition of a true episcopate in apostolic succession. Maybe even (eventually) toward a shared Eucharist.

The Queen dressed in lilac and not black means nothing to many, but to those who have eyes these are nuanced developments and very steady increments. Her visit to the Vatican was just one in a long line of Royal-Papal encounters since the Reformation:

29 April 1903 – King Edward VII met Pope Leo XIII.
1918 – Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and then Duke of Windsor) met Pope Benedict XV.
1923 – King George V and Queen Mary met Pope Pius XI.
10 May 1949 – Princess Margaret met Pope Pius XII.
13 April 1951 - Princess Elizabeth (now Queen) and the Duke of Edinburgh met Pope Pius XII.
23 April 1959 - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret met Pope John XXIII.
5 May 1961 - The Queen met Pope John XXIII.
17 October 1980 - The Queen met Pope John Paul II.
29 August 1985 - Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, met Pope John Paul II.
9 December 1985 - Prince and Princess Michael of Kent met Pope John Paul II.
10 April 1990 - The Duke of Edinburgh met Pope John Paul II.
3 November 1994 - The Duchess of Kent met Pope John Paul II.
17 October 2000 - The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh met Pope John Paul II.
27 April 2009 – Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall met Pope Benedict XVI.

There are still one or two apparently insurmountable hurdles in the path to Christian unity. But what are centuries to God?
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