Saturday, 6 January 2007

Secular fundamentalists are the new totalitarians

There's an aspiring totalitarianism in Britain which is brilliantly disguised. It's disguised because the would-be dictators - and there are many of them - all pretend to be more tolerant than thou. They hide alongside the anti-racists, the anti-homophobes and anti-sexists. But what they are really against is something very different. They - call them secular fundamentalists - are anti-God, and what they really want is the eradication of religion, and all believers, from the face of the earth.

In recent years these unpleasant people have had a strategy of exploiting Britain's innate politeness. They realised that for a decade overly sensitive souls (normally called the PC brigade) had bent over backwards to avoid giving offence. Trying not to give offence was, despite the excesses, a noble courtesy.

But the fundamentalists saw an opening. Because we live in a multiconfessional society, they fostered the falsehood that wearing a crucifix or a veil or a turban was deeply offensive to other faiths. They pretended to be protecting religious sensibilities as a pretext to strip us of all religious expressions. Read more

U-turn may block ban on human-animal embryos

Tony Blair has indicated that the Government may back down over plans to outlaw “human-animal” cloned embryos in research that could improve the lives of those with motor neurone disease and Alzheimer’s.

The Times revealed yesterday that leading scientists were opposing attempts by ministers to prohibit experiments that involved fusing human DNA with animal eggs. A White Paper, published last month, proposed outlawing the creation of such embryos, at least initially, which the scientists said would deny society one of the most powerful tools available for medical research.

However, the Prime Minister said that the Government was “not dead set against” creating embryos that were part animal and part human. Mr Blair said that there were difficult issues surrounding the embryos, which would be more than 99 per cent human but have a small animal component. Read more

Bishop on Fulcrum forum questions "No particular place to go"

I think what worries me about John Richardson's essay (and he's an old mate of mine from college days, so I don't want to diss him) is his almost complete lack of understanding about what bishops in the Church of England actually do. I'm a bit too busy at present to write a detailed refutation, but the questions it raises for me are:

1. Do evangelical Anglican clergy (and laity) genuinely and generally think that the picture he paints of the work of a bishop and what our priorities are is an accurate one?

2. If this is a generally held impression, what can be done to acquaint people with the reality?

3. Does this lack of comprehension lie at the heart of much of the stuff that is going on in relation to bishops and some parishes at present?

These are genuine questions. I'm not sure that most of the clergy in my episcopal area would share anything like John's views; indeed, I'm sure I may delude myself that they know what bishops are for, what they do, and the theological and practical value of episcopacy. But it would be interesting (without derailing this thread) to tease out whether these views are widespread. Go to the forum Read the essay

Kelly accused of snub to bishops on gay rights

Ministers were accused of snubbing the Catholic Church after refusing to meet senior clerics over new gay rights rules.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has failed to reply to a request from the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, for talks and has declined even to acknowledge his letter sent a month ago. Read more

Dr Williams invites Dr Jefferts Schori to Primates’ Meeting

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has written to all the Primates of the Anglican Communion, in advance of their February meeting in Tanzania, confirming that he has invited the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA), Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, to attend.

Dr Williams acknowledges that the meeting will be “an important and difficult encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist in strengthening our unity as a Communion”.

While questions remain about ECUSA’s relations with other provinces — “though some provinces have already made their positions clear” — the Archbishop says that he does not think it wise or just to take “any action that will appear to bring that consideration, and the whole process of our shared discernment, to a premature end”. Read more

Archbishop fears Church schism in gay row

The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that he fears losing control of the worldwide Anglican Church, which is on the brink of schism over homosexuality.

In a surprisingly frank assessment of the crisis, Dr Rowan Williams said that he feared anything that set Christians more deeply at odds with each other.

"And because I am an ordinary, sinful human being, I fear the situation slipping out of my control, such as it is," he said.

"I fear schism, not because I think it's the worst thing in the world but because, at this particular juncture, it's going to be bad for us. It's going to drive people into recrimination and bitterness." Read more

Changing Attitude responds to the "Covenant for the Church of England"

On Tuesday December 12th 2006 a small group from Reform, Anglican Mainstream and other conservative evangelical groups met with the Archbishop of Canterbury and presented ‘A Covenant for the Church of England‘.

Changing Attitude interprets the Covenant as a further step in the attempt by certain Anglican groups to exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans who fall in love and commit themselves to faithful, intimate relationship, from the life and ministry of the church.

Changing Attitude is an organisation of lay people, priests and bishops who are members of the Church of England, part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, sharing with others throughout the world a commitment to biblical truth and the Anglican Communion. We are in fellowship with Anglicans historically and globally. We are committed to strengthen this fellowship, praying, believing and working for a restored, reformed and renewed Church of England, holding its traditional convictions, confident in the truth of God in his Word, in the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ for the world and for the whole of creation. In the power of God’s Spirit we are committed to continue the transforming work of Jesus Christ in the world.

Most of these phrases can be found in the Covenant statement. We use them too, with integrity, because we too are committed Anglicans. The Covenant asserts that the authors are authentic, orthodox Anglicans as if we are not. We are! With them we are authentic, orthodox Anglicans; authentic because we are members not of a narrow, exclusive, confessional sect but a broad, inclusive, holy people of God; orthodox because we too are committed to the classic formularies of our tradition. Such is the sometimes disparate but honest nature of Anglicanism.

Changing Attitude is also committed to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Read more

Friday, 5 January 2007

Article (John Richardson): No particular place to go? The role of bishops in the mission of the Church of England

Periodically we hear calls for bishops to be ‘released for mission’ or of the need to create ‘missionary bishops’. In both cases this seems to mean that bishops should be given more time, or should be appointed solely, to do ‘hands on’ mission activities. Yet this is to misunderstand the nature of leadership and would leave the prevailing institutional ethos of the Church of England unscathed.

The great need is not for bishops to find time to do more visits or to give lectures or even to preach, but for them to exercise leadership in such a way that the section of the church under their oversight achieves its mission goals. Their situation is directly comparable to that of a general, whose role is not to pick up a gun and charge the enemy, but to direct the battle. Doubtless this may be helped in the bishop’s case by visiting, lecturing and preaching, just as a good general will find time to visit his frontline troops, win their confidence and explain to them his strategy. But the means by which the bishop will discharge his duties effectively is primarily by finding the resources for the church to achieve its calling, and by directing them to that end. Read more (pdf file)

Christian group in legal fight over politically correct campus ban

Christian students barred from using their university's facilities because of their refusal to accept gay rights rules have launched a High Court case against the ban.

The battle over the rights and status of the Christian Union at Exeter University will now be decided by a judge.

Their legal move set up a test case likely to decide a series of arguments in a number of universities between Christian societies which believe that homosexual practice is wrong, and student unions and universities which demand they accept gay equality.

Similar rows over attempts to censor students who profess traditional Christian beliefs have broken out at universities in London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Read more

Hanging regretted as ‘degrading’, if not unjust

THE EXECUTION of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, “cannot be called unjust”, provided he had had a fair trial and a proper opportunity to appeal, the Bishop of Lichfield said this week. A deliberate murderer “immediately forfeited his or her right to life”. [...]

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, regretted the televising of graphic images from the execution, but hoped that they might “raise in the public mind how offensive and morally unacceptable this form of justice is”, The Sunday Times reported. “It is degrading to the people who have to do it, and degrading to the society that requires it.” Read more

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Article (Anglican Mainstream): A Covenant for a Confused Church

[The Bishop of Durham] NTW wants to downplay the difficulties of the present situation, and claims it was worse a generation ago. But his argument is from the position of hegemony – this gives special status to a way of talking about a problem. Every challenge to the way the problem is discussed is considered to be merely political, not theological. NTW tends to dismiss the many views he has in common with the CCE, and regards the CCE challenge as basically insubordination. He applies far more criticism to the evangelicals he agrees with than the incoherent liberals with whom we both disagree. But the incoherent liberals are his colleagues in the house of bishops. This is the culture of the prefects’ room at an English public school. The prefects may hate each others guts, but they collectively hate the guts of the pesky lower fifth more.

In some ways Evangelicals have never been as strong on the ground in the C of E as now, with over 34% in churches self-identifying as evangelical. But strength on the ground is not matched by strength in visible and vocal leadership. In the Civil Partnership Guidelines from the House of Bishops, evangelical bishops did not speak up for orthodox causes.

There is a serious inbuilt imbalance of power and representation. We need procedures that address the imbalance of power between a bishop who uses his office to try out interesting innovations, and congregations who find themselves embarrassed, their consciences seared, their mission hindered and their members dispersed by Episcopal indiscipline. Read more

Muslim and Jews join gay-laws protest

Prominent Muslims and Jews united with Christians yesterday to voice concern at laws boosting gay rights.

Churches are organising demonstrations next week against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which are due to come into force in April.

Campaigners claim the rules will force religious groups to promote homosexual rights in contradiction to their teachings and could persecute those who disapprove of homosexuality on moral grounds.

Dr Majid Katme, of the Islamic Medical Association, yesterday urged Muslims to join protests against the "unjust" laws, including a torchlight parade in Westminster to coincide with a Lords debate next Tuesday. Read more

Church leaders welcome Black Country Missionary

Local church leaders have welcomed the appointment of Evan Cockshaw as Church of England missionary to West Bromwich.

The Revd Margaret Small, Rural Dean of West Bromwich, said: “The Church in West Bromwich has got hardly anyone in the 16 to 30 age group and we felt very much that we need to have somebody to come and do this work for us.

“I don't see this initiative as being in competition with the existing churches. I very much see it as helping the existing churches to do what they are not able to do. For some reason we are not meeting the younger people at all and we need somebody to go out and be doing that work for us and hopefully showing us what we can be doing in our own areas to get the young people to know about Jesus. [...]

And the Archdeacon of Walsall, the Ven Bob Jackson, who also serves as one of the Bishop of Lichfield’s growth officers, denied that the appointment was a sign that traditional churches have failed. He said: “There is a huge amount of life left in the traditional churches as Jonathan said in the sermon. Actually, church attendance at the traditional churches in West Bromwich last year increased, but they are missing a couple of generations, so they are mainly middle aged and older folk, and they are clearly missing some of the sub cultures. Read more

Article (Guardian): Britain should integrate into Muslim values

It is easy to dismiss Muslim parents as old-fashioned and traditional, but when the rest of the country is busy wondering how to respond to a culture of rampant disrespect, it is worth considering whether they could learn from Muslim values. Muslim children are more likely to be brought up in two-parent families rather than the single-parent households that are increasingly common in Britain.

Muslim parents also tend to be less interested in child-centred parenting and more into parent-centred parenting. For example, when I was growing up there was no possibility of answering back to my parents, and this was accompanied by an all-pervasive fear of letting them down. This was a model of parenting that put great faith in deference and, while at the time it felt regressive, it was also what kept my generation in check. Read more

Windsor-Compliant Bishops Reconvene at Camp Allen

Diocesan bishops will again be discussing the relationship of The Episcopal Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other primates within the Anglican Communion at a consultation that begins today at Camp Allen in Texas. The consultation is scheduled to be held through Jan. 5 and was organized by the Rt. Rev. Don Wimberly, Bishop of Texas. Bishop Wimberly organized a similar consultation in September.

According to an online report, Bishop Wimberly characterized the meeting as including “a growing number of bishops from across the United States” when he wrote to diocesan clergy about the meeting last month. He also stated that Archbishop Drexel Gomez, Primate of the Church of the West Indies, and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela, Primate of the Church of Tanzania, will be attending as guests. Read more

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Catholic Church looks to bring in numbers

In recent years the Catholic Church in Lancashire has arguably been in the grip of its biggest challenge yet – falling numbers. But an encouraging Christmas period may be the start of a turnaround.
The Roman Catholic Church in Preston has overcome some major obstacles in its history.

The dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, oppression after the gunpowder plot and anti-Catholic monarchs all had an effect, but today the Church is facing a different threat – indifference. Read more

Changing face of Church's equal rites

Jill had to wait another seven years before she became one of Yorkshire's first women priests, something she thought would never happen, but she still she has to endure prejudice, like the clergyman who refused to walk in the Remembrance Day procession because she was part of it

"I think it's having a sense of humour that's kept me going," she says. "It's a great God-given gift, and I think the Vicar of Dibley has done women who work in the Church a great service. When I end up on someone's doorstep, they say 'Oh it's the Vicar of Dibley', and it breaks the ice."

In most circles, women priests are now an accepted part of the Church of England, which inevitably has left some calling for the next step to be taken with the appointment of female bishops. Read more

Article (Virtue On Line): Bishop of Durham's blast at Covenant divides evangelicals

VOL believes this attack by Dr. Wright only serves to show disunity among evangelicals at a time when orthodox (evangelical) unity is most needed. By his attack Dr. Wright has effectively made it possible for the Archbishop of Canterbury to ignore evangelical demands in the same way that Forward in Faith's request for a Third Province that excludes ordained women is not being received. [...]

What happened in England this past week might be the worst of all possible things to have occurred. It shows disunity at precisely the moment unity was called for. It ultimately means that schism is now almost inevitable (along perhaps with a long overdue disestablishment of the C of E) and the wholesale break up of the Anglican Communion. Read more

Article (Guardian): If they preach the cause of the poor, they're my people

Religious communities are among the increasingly few places that bring people together as citizens rather than as consumers - fighting for a living wage and against poverty.

For me, as an atheist and a full-time politico, this is unsettling. It reveals the moral vacuum at the heart of our politics. Many politicians I know agree with the sentiments of these messages - but they feel trapped in a political system that only adapts itself to the demands of big business. Because it is the economy that now dominates our politics, it is the market that decides our morals - or lack of them. The fact that it is "the economy, stupid" requires a moral recession that then creates its social equivalent. Read more

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Article (Churchman): Being clearly and positively evangelical

If I am not mistaken there is a concerted attempt being made at present to redefine what it means to be an evangelical Christian. A number of prominent people around the world are trying to broaden the term, to encompass a variety of perspectives which were once quite alien to evangelical thought and practice.

Twenty years ago John Stott was able to define ‘Evangelicalism’ as authentic biblical Christianity, where thought and practice are shaped by God’s revelation of himself in a verbally inspired, infallible Scripture. Today a number of leading evangelical thinkers consider such a definition to be too narrow, too divisive, too doctrinaire. We are repeatedly warned of the danger of division and disintegration, and the need to be more inclusive in our ideas, our attitudes, and our practice.

Old fashioned ‘liberal Evangelicalism’ is trying to hijack the middle ground, and sadly the attempt is succeeding in many quarters. Download (pdf)

Christian lawyers to petition Queen to block gay rights bill

Thousands of Christian lawyers are to petition for the Queen's help to stop the Government from imposing sweeping new gay rights laws on Britain.

They will ask the Queen, as defender of the Church of England, to make the case to Tony Blair that the proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations discriminate against Christians. Read more

Saddam 'forfeited right to life' says bishop

The Iraqi regime's decision to hang Saddam Hussein was defended by a Church of England bishop yesterday.

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, said that anyone who deliberately murdered another human being "immediately forfeited his or her right to life". [...]

It would "be wrong to encourage Iraqi democracy on the one hand and to interfere with their government and legal system on the other", he said. Read more

Article: The Journey of Christ Church, Plano: Part V

When I was at Lambeth I sensed a kind of timelessness. There are portraits of past Archbishops lining the dark, wide hallways. There are old, musty smells in the curtains and furniture. I was offered tea (but took coffee) in a great library filled with large tables and tall windows and old pieces of art. I've been in dozens of corporate headquarters for American enterprises in my ministry. This headquarters said something to me that no other American organization would ever want to say. The stone edifice, the creaky floors, the polite staff, and the great hallways of historic archbishops - they all said "Wait." Not "lead," not "charge!" [...]

I offer this anecdote because my meeting at Lambeth showed me two things that I could not have discerned in any other way than through a personal visit. The first thing I felt was the vast cultural distance between my 24 years of 'renewal-based evangelical Episcopalian ministry" and the Lambeth culture of a 'state church.' [...]

We are not anything like the 'established' Church of England. The culture of Lambeth is of a state church where clergy have their 'livings' and people, priests, and centuries come and go. It is the 'established' church. And it seems very content to wait and wait. Read more

Monday, 1 January 2007

BNP ballerina defies rising clamour to sack her

Officials from the English National Ballet faced calls to sack one of their leading dancers yesterday after Simone Clarke defied criticism and gave a detailed interview defending her support for the British National party.

Two weeks after she was named by the Guardian as a card-carrying member of the far right group, the ballerina hit out at her critics, voicing her belief that the BNP seemed to be the only party "willing to take a stand" against immigration. Read more

No religion and an end to war: how thinkers see the future

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

[...]Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance". Read more

Dr Rowan Williams: New Year 2007 Message

People often speak about the spiritual hunger of our society. But the answer to that isn't in ideas or spiritual feelings; it's in the decision to act - to reach out to feed, to heal, to befriend, knowing that this is where we discover who we're really meant to be.

We get the power for that when we believe that there is a divine love that is waiting eagerly for us to cooperate. Read more

Sunday, 31 December 2006

Bishop of Willesden condemns 'Covenant for the Church of England'

THE BISHOP of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, has disowned the “covenant” document presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury two weeks ago. He described it last week as “a significant own goal” for Evangelical Anglicans. In a letter to all members of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), on whose behalf the covenant was sent out by the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, and the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull, Bishop Broadbent says that members had not been able to read or agree to the document in its final draft. It had not appeared on an agenda paper, and minutes of meetings appeared no longer to be distributed. He describes the CEEC as in “deep disarray”. Read more

Bishops and MPs condemn hanging

SENIOR clergymen, politicians and leading liberals yesterday condemned Saddam Hussein’s execution, describing the release of graphic images of his final moments as “degrading and inappropriate”.

“It was most unpleasant to see this on television, even with the knowledge of what Saddam had done to others,” said John Gladwin, the Bishop of Chelmsford. Read more

Review: The Church of England in the Twentieth Century: The Church Commissioners and the Politics of Reform 1948-1998

For the first time, the Church of England is heavily dependent on money from the living, as opposed to an income from capital gifted in the past. The Evangelicals threaten bankruptcy by withdrawing their financial support. In retaliation, the extremist liberal wing has closed its ears and walked off in the opposite direction. It is these extremists that Williams has to confront at practically every turn. All previous primates could have told them where to go, knowing that they had the money to run the church in a way that made most English people feel comfortable. Without the financial bulwark that Peel’s commissioners provided for so long, Williams has to duck and weave like no other archbishop before him. Read more

Archbishop faces clash over gay marriages of 50 priests

THE Church of England is facing a new rift over homosexual clergy with the disclosure that more than 50 gay or lesbian priests have “married” in civil partnership ceremonies.

Traditionalists and evangelicals opposed to gay clerics said this weekend they would force open debate of the issue at February’s meeting of the General Synod. Campaigners have criticised bishops for shying away from enforcing the church’s policy of ensuring gay clergy are celibate before they are given authorisation to enter civil partnerships. Read more