Saturday, 13 January 2007

Church Times editorial: Misguided and misinformed

The broad support for the Equality Act from the Church of England and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to name just two, has been drowned out by a small group of conservative Christians who seem to believe that, regardless of what the Government says, or the wording of the Act, only they stand in the way of a homosexual free-for–all. “This is a Christian country. If we don’t speak out now, in a few years’ time, it will be too late,” said one protester on Tuesday. No, it won’t. The legislation has been drafted to prevent discrimination against people on account of their sexual orientation; there is nothing about condoning sexual behaviour, a distinction made by the House of Bishops in 1991. The Government must simply take the protesters at their first word — every speech is prefaced by an assurance that the speaker is not against gay people as such — and ignore any misinformed opinions that follow. The mainstream Churches, having quibbled over some of the wording in the legislation, now need to make it clear that they do not share the views of the protesters, and that the majority of Christians will have no truck with discrimination on grounds of this kind. Read more

Church of Nigeria, Pastoral letter from Episcopal retreat

Following up on the decisions reached at the Standing Committees of our Church, which took place at Ibadan and Port Harcourt in February and September 2006 respectively, new Bishops were elected for the 19 newly created missionary dioceses and the vacant See of Ife. A new Archbishop was also elected for the Niger Delta Ecclesiastical Province.

We are grateful to God for the cheering report of our Brother, the Rt Rev Martyn Minns, Bishop of CANA - on the success of our outreach to Anglicans in North America who have chosen to remain faithful to historic Anglicanism rooted in Biblical orthodoxy. We also have encouraging reports about our outreach to the Church in Congo through our missionary Bishop, the Rt Rev Abiodun Olaoye. We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring the success of these outreaches through increased financial support to the Church of Nigeria Missionary Society (CNMS) programmes, as well as our earnest prayers. Read more

"And still they're preaching poison"

[...] The Muslim cleric preaching hatred and Islamic supremacy is a middle-aged family man with two daughters. He is a skilled orator - by profession an engineer and a brilliant teacher of Arabic who has lived in Britain for three decades.

Yet what he preaches at Friday prayers is a chillingly vituperative litany against his adopted country and the non-Muslims who live here. This is despite the fact that under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act brought in last year, it is an offence to stir up racial or religious hatred, intentionally or otherwise, in a public or private place, including mosques.

Mr Latif has called Tony Blair a 'murderer'; he says that every British soldier in Iraq should be killed and he proclaims that the London bombings in July 2005 (an atrocity in which 57 innocents died) was orchestrated by the Government. Read more

Letters to the Times: Ending discrimination may also end our free will

Sir, The philosopher John Locke was convinced that toleration is a mark of a mature, democratic society. The Sexual Orientation Bill may have laudable intent, but its provisions will simply create reverse discrimination against heterosexuals.

To pass this Bill into law will remove the individual’s right to do what he or she feels to be morally appropriate — and in some instances even within the confines of his or her own premises. In many cases it denies the freedom of religious adherents to follow their own sacred texts, and it overrides the natural law convictions of many who have no religious commitment. Read more and other letters

Article: A Christian snuff movie that links blood with salvation

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto
(Giles Fraser, the reviewer, is Vicar of Putney, a columnist for the Church Times and the Guardian and President of Inclusive Church.)

[...] In a sense, the cultural chauvinism is easiest to spot. What's more sinister is the connection Gibson is always forging between salvation and violence. The root cause is a theology associated particularly with Anselm and Calvin. Human beings are wicked and can only make it to heaven if they are punished for their sin, thus righting the scales of justice and wiping clean the slate. The problem is, human wickedness is so deep that the required punishment would be too much for us to bear. So Christ offers to take our place, accepting our punishment in the form of an excruciating crucifixion. It's the story of salvation, as read by the religious right. All sin must be paid for with pain.

The technical term for this theology is penal substitution. It is, among other things, the reason so many conservative Christians like Gibson support the death penalty - wickedness must be paid for with blood. And it's precisely this equation that has come to rot the Christian moral conscience from within. For this theology is intrinsically vindictive, bloodthirsty and vengeful. Though many evangelicals and conservative Catholics think it the beating heart of the good news, it's a much later medieval interpretation that refuses the gospel's insistence upon forgiveness and non-violence. Read more

Friday, 12 January 2007

God's middle managers calling - leadership key to success

TAKEN as a marketing proposition, institutional Christianity in Australia can boast some strong brands, personal as well as corporate. Peter Jensen and George Pell, for example, are so well known it is hardly necessary to report they are respectively the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney: their power is local, national and, within their denominations, global.

Evangelicalism is less understood, but it is the theological subgroup of Christianity recording the best growth within and between denominations, and includes Pentecostal churches such as Hillsong.

The churches are backed by financial assets such as property and investments, and large and powerful welfare networks that do plenty of good. There are schools that turn out the next generations of the religiously literate, if not the personally committed.

Reluctant to blame the product - after all, who can complain about Jesus Christ? - the churches are checking out the delivery systems and finding them wanting.

Because although there are bright spots, they are in stark contrast to the surrounding overcast landscape's emptying churches and ageing ministers and congregations. And while there has been a lot of talk about mission - the core business of maximising converts to Christianity - the crux of the mission is the person at the top: leadership was the key word for 2006. Read more

(Article, John Richardson) PS: Why Liberals also have a first-order view of same-sex relationships

It would be a profound mistake to think that the Christian world divides into those who reject the idea of same-sex relationships and for whom this is therefore a first-order issue, and those who accept such relationships, in one form or another, and for whom this is therefore a second-order issue.

Any reading of Liberal commentary at the moment, for example from Changing Attitude, LGCM or Integrity in the USA, will show that they have neither time nor room for Conservatives at this point. Not only do they believe there is nothing wrong in same-sex relationships (albeit, within certain, though not always entirely clear, constraints), but they believe that opposition to these relationships is, in fact, the true immorality and therefore something against which the church should stand.

Thus the class of those for whom this is a first-order issue actually includes true Liberals, whose pastoral practice is consistent with their theological theory. By contrast, the class of those who believe that this is a second-order issue is occupied only by people who think that the church can accommodate not only two contradictory viewpoints — that this is an issue of salvation and that this is not an issue of salvation — but also their own viewpoint that it doesn’t fundamentally matter which of these you pick.

These people may imagine that they occupy a ‘second-order’ middle ground, between Conservative and Liberal ‘first order’ believers. But in practice they will inevitably (because of their own views) find themselves generally arguing against the Conservative hermeneutic and the pastoral consequences which follow from it, whereas they will have little cause to argue against the views of ‘first-order’ Liberals.

Whilst they themselves may never realize it, therefore, they will function to reinforce ‘first-order’ Liberalism. Furthermore, if they are in a teaching position in the church, the new disciples whom they persuade to their viewpoint will not share their own ‘second-order’ position, but will become convinced ‘first-order’ believers for whom the Conservative position will be anathema.

In Nigeria, a Bill to punish gays divides a family

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Augustus Olakunle Macaulay founded the Bible university that trained his son in theology. He founded the evangelical ministry that ordained his son as a minister. And he is president of Nigeria's Association of Christian Theologians, which counts his son as a member.

But now Prof. Macaulay supports a proposed law that could criminalize his son's new Christian church and put him behind bars. That's because his son, the Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay, has founded House of Rainbow, a church that caters to Nigeria's gay men and lesbians -- a first for Africa's most populous country.

The relationship between Prof. Macaulay and his son mirrors some of the conflicting forces buffeting homosexuals in Nigeria. Gay men and lesbians are becoming more visible, even as their society, which is hostile to homosexuality, threatens to become still less tolerant of them. Read more

Muslims 'need faith-based NHS care'

Muslims should be given access to faith-based care in the NHS, a leading medical researcher claims today.

Dr Aziz Sheikh, professor of primary care research and development at the University of Edinburgh, argues that Muslims have the poorest overall health in Britain but few steps are being taken to reverse this.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Dr Sheikh says that faith-based healthcare initiatives are needed to "ensure equitable delivery of public services to all sections of society". Read more

Children carry out 40 per cent of muggings

Four out of ten muggings are committed by children aged 16 or under, it was revealed on Thursday.

This is the first time a breakdown has been provided of who is responsible for the epidemic of robbery on Britain's streets.

As well as being perpetrators of many street crimes, children are frequently the victims. They are seen as easy targets by muggers seeking mobile phones and MP3 players. Read more

Public to be consulted over 'hybrid' embryos

The public are to be consulted over plans to create human-animal "hybrid" embryos before a final decision is made this year, the embyrology watchdog has said.

Scientists want to create the embryos for research into stem cells, but need permission from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which issues the necessary licences.

The HFEA had warned the scientists informally that it was unlikely to give permission, given that a White Paper published at the end of last year indicated the Government's disapproval of "hybrid" embryos. Read more

SCHORI goes after parishes in VA and NY. Lee Nixes Negotiation. Iker wins on WO

'Conservative' evangelicals. The proper use of the word 'conservative', when applied to evangelicals, is that we hold tenaciously to the teaching of Christ and the apostles as given to us in the New Testament, and are determined to 'conserve' the whole biblical faith. This was the apostle's charge to Timothy: 'keep the deposit', conserve it, preserve it, never relax your hold upon it, nor let it drop from your hands.--From 'That Word "Radical"', Church of England Newspaper - John R.W. Stott

The historic Christian faith: At the risk of oversimplification and of the charge of arrogance, I want to argue that the evangelical faith is nothing other than the historic Christian faith. The evangelical Christian is not a deviationist, but a loyalist who seeks by the grace of God to be faithful to the revelation which God has given of himself in Christ and in Scripture. The evangelical faith is not a peculiar or esoteric version of the Christian faith -- it *is* the Christian faith. It is not a recent innovation. The evangelical faith is original, biblical, apostolic Christianity. --From "Make the Truth Known" (Leicester: IVP, 1983) Read Virtue Online's news roundup

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Liberal Episcopalian's advice to Schori pre Primates' meeting

[...] Many Episcopalians are perplexed by Rowan Williams’ consistent favoring of the so-called “orthodox” elements of the Anglican Communion over the more traditionally Anglican ones, including the majority faction of The Episcopal Church. Why has a scholar and theologian seemingly forgotten the History of Anglicanism and betrayed what we all thought were his own liberal views? The answer, assuredly, is that ++Rowan wants to “preserve” the Anglican Communion at all costs, and those threatening to destroy it ... are being consistently placated to avoid the schism that many increasingly see as inevitable. By this theory, The Episcopal Church has gotten short shrift — the origin of this phrase is interesting in this context—because it has been a well-behaved child that has not questioned the punishments that its “orthodox” enemies are determined to heap upon it. Until ++Rowan realizes that The Episcopal Church is willing to leave the Anglican Communion rather than betray its principles and be humiliated ... he will continue to treat The Episcopal Church with disdain. It is ++Katharine’s mission in Dar es Salaam to make it clear to the primates—and particularly to the Archbishop of Canterbury—that our commitment to the Anglican Communion is not absolute, and our patience is not inexhaustible. She must demand respect for herself and for her office because failure to command that respect would result in a further indignity against The Episcopal Church and, as we understand it, the Gospel itself. [...] Read more

12 Most Significant Religious Findings from 2006 American Surveys

"Americans are very comfortable with religious faith. Most adults and even teenagers see themselves as people of faith. Toward that end, they have definite opinions about religion, they possess well-honed beliefs, and invest substantial amounts of their time, money and energy in religious activities. Faith and spirituality remain hot issues in people’s lives. The mass media, through news and feature stories, also play a role in keeping spiritual issues in the forefront of people’s minds." [...]

"Second, [...] people do not have an accurate view of themselves when it comes to spirituality. American Christians are not as devoted to their faith as they like to believe. They have positive feelings about the importance of faith, but their faith is rarely the focal point of their life or a critical factor in their decision-making. The fact that few people take the time to evaluate their spiritual journey, or to develop benchmarks or indicators of their spiritual health, facilitates a distorted view of the prominence and purity of faith in their life." Read more

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Article (John Richardson): A SOR point - what happens when a kingdom is divided

Belief and legislation
The indignation currently being heaped on certain sections of the Christian community, however, is not because the proponents and supporters of this legislation cannot understand the notion of a conscientious objection but because they passionately believe the behaviour in question not to be objectionable.

Yet this is precisely the point at issue: Christians — or at least certain Christians — hold otherwise. Nevertheless, legislation is being put in place to prevent them acting on those beliefs.

For Christians and churches, therefore, the present moment contains an acute challenge. People have for years been told that their faith isn’t just for Sundays, but should extend throughout the whole week and into every aspect of daily life. Now, we have the real possibility that acting on these admonitions will bring not just embarrassment in front of one’s friends but prosecution by the state.

The temptation of temptations
The sorry truth is that, whilst Christians in past decades relished the day when ‘real persecution’ would come in this country and ‘sort out’ the church, now that it has arrived things are not so straightforward. The issue is not something on which all Christians can easily agree. It is not a situation where the bad guys wear black hats and only the blatant coward will fail to ‘stand up for Jesus’. On the contrary, those who are standing up are looking nervously around to see whether anyone is with them, whilst others have clearly decided to ‘sit this one out’.

Download 'A SOR point'(pdf)

CofE Canon 'would bless gay marriages'

THE Vicar of Bolton says he is prepared to bless gay "marriage" at the Parish Church - even though it is against Church of England policy.

Canon Michael Williams spoke out yesterday as a torchlit protest was being organised in London by Christian groups against new laws banning discrimination against gay people.

Canon Williams said he not only supported the legislation, but also felt there was a place for gay people in the Church.
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"At the moment the advice of the Church is not to go ahead with blessings of gay civil partnerships," he said.

"Although I have not yet been approached by anybody to give a blessing, I would certainly be willing to do so - and I think a number of my colleagues would." Read more

TEC Bishop signals move against Virginia parishes

Saying that he will not renew the 30-day standstill agreement with the clergy and members of congregations who voted to leave the Episcopal Church to associate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria, the Bishop of Virginia, Peter James Lee opened the door to massive litigation in the courts to seize the properties from these orthodox priests.

In a letter to the diocese Tuesday, the Diocese notified these congregations of its decision not to renew the agreement, which is set to expire on January 17, thus paving the way for inevitable legal action.

"The leadership of the Diocese of Virginia - Bishop Peter James Lee, the Standing Committee and the Executive Board - will meet after the expiration of the standstill agreement to determine their next course of action. Specifically, the Standing Committee must decide the status of the clergy of the departed congregations. In turn, the Executive Board must consider whether the property of these Episcopal churches has been abandoned." Read more

Morrow challenge fails in Lords

New rules outlawing businesses from discriminating against homosexuals have been upheld in the House of Lords.

A challenge led by Lord Morrow of the Democratic Unionist Party failed by a majority of three to one. He had argued that the rules forced people to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the state. But Northern Ireland Minister Lord Rooker said it would be “quite wrong” to elevate the rights of one group above those of another. Read more

Bishops who voted in support of Lord Morrow's amendment:
Southwell and Nottingham

Bishops who voted against:

Read the debate in Hansard here.

Times Editorial: The contradiction of equal rights and special pleading

[...] It is still part of the faith of some Christians, Muslims and Jews that homosexuality is a sinful practice. It is natural that some followers will regard that belief as practical guidance for living. But in claiming that worshippers will be cast “back into slavery” by new gay rights, some black church leaders have gone too far. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham has accused the Government of an “aggressive reshaping of our moral framework”. But the desire to stamp out discrimination reflects a new moral framework that society has been fashioning gradually over decades.

Religious beliefs should be respected. But it does not follow that those who hold them should always be free to discriminate. Sacred texts cannot be rewritten, but they can be reinterpreted. Reformist leaders of all faiths are working hard to build a cultural tolerance inside their institutions that reflects that in the outside society. Read more

Church group challenges new law banning discrimination of gays

Church groups are to challenge in court gay rights legislation that would make it illegal for hotels to turn away guests because of their sexuality.

Christian organisations say that the regulations interfere with religious belief and are seeking a judicial review of the regulations in Northern Ireland, where they took effect this month, before similar moves planned for the rest of the United Kingdom.

An attempt to scrap the regulations in Northern Ireland failed in the Lords last night by 199 to 68, a majority of 131. Read more

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Homophobia, not injustice, is what really fires the faiths

The religious are rallying by torchlight outside parliament this evening. In the Lords they are trying to strike out regulations in the new equality act that outlaw discrimination and harassment of gays, making it illegal to discriminate in providing any goods and services to anyone, from healthcare to hotel rooms. This is a mighty test of strength between the religious and the secular. Any peers against discrimination, get on down the Lords: the vote is at 7.30pm. Will the Tories prove to be gay-friendly?

Christians, Muslims and Jews are all fighting against the sexual orientation regulations with a wrecking clause that would render them meaningless: "Nothing in these regulations shall force an individual to act against their conscience or strongly held religious beliefs." Anyone could use their "conscience" to discriminate against gays. Read more

First and Second-order things: why we cannot 'agree to disagree'

There have always been second-order issues in the church, some of which began as first-order issues. The age and mode of Baptism is a classic example. In the Reformation there were bitter disputes over ‘Anabaptism’, with the death penalty even being invoked against Anabaptists by Reformed Christians. It is partly our repentance at such horrors which makes us inclined today to be generous towards those with whom we disagree.

The present lack of bitterness over this specific issue, however, is also possible because both sides have been able to change their own position, with neither saying, ‘You cannot be saved if ..’ or ‘unless ...’.

This shift was helped considerably by the relative silence of the Bible! Nowhere does the Bible say infants must be baptized (as often happens with Anglicans), and nowhere does it say you must be baptized by total immersion as an adult of several years good-standing in the church (as often happens with Baptists). Honest people have therefore been forced to admit the other side may have a point.

It is still possible, however, to turn Baptism into a ‘first-order’ issue, as happens with the so-called ‘Jesus Only’ movement. This insists that you cannot be baptized (and therefore saved) ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

We should notice, however, that whilst some elements of disagreement here may be the same as between, say, Baptists and Anglicans generally, there is an important difference. Simply because of the implications about salvation, this cannot be treated as a ‘second-order’ issue, where Christians can agree to differ and remain in fellowship. We ourselves may not write off the ‘Jesus Only’ people, but they have certainly written off us, and therefore we could not form one denomination. Again, if ‘Jesus Only’ teachers arose within Anglican churches, other pastors would have to oppose them as not simply different but wrong, and if unresolved then division would have to occur.

Until relatively recently, same-sex relationships were regarded in the same way throughout the church in general and within Anglican evangelicalism in particular. The Bible, it was accepted, taught that sexual activity between people of the same gender was wrong and to be repented of. It was sometimes forgotten that salvation still extended to those who engaged in this activity, but it was never for a moment assumed it was anything other than sinful.

Today, however, there is a massive shift taking place, not over whether same-sex activity is right or wrong, but over whether it is a first or second-order issue.

The problem is, many Christians don’t recognize the difference and don’t realize its significance.

The important point is this: it may be very hard to persuade someone your position is right and theirs is wrong. Try arguing with someone who takes a different view from you on baptism, for example, It is very easy, however, to persuade not only them but yourself that you should both agree to differ. The second fight is much easier to win (or lose) than the first.

There are a number of reasons for this. You may (indeed you should) be aware of the weaknesses in your own position. It is also easier, emotionally and intellectually, to agree to let a matter of dispute remain unresolved. Perhaps most importantly, in our present climate ‘agreeing to disagree’ is held up as the right way to proceed.

There is, however, a simple reason why this temptation must be resisted, namely that this matter has always been understood to be a ‘salvation’ issue. By ‘agreeing to disagree’, therefore, the essential argument is settled: it is not a salvation issue, previous generations were wrong. Everything subsequent to this concession is, as they say, just commentary.

Of course, Christians may disagree — indeed they do — over both first and second-order issues. And they must seek to resolve those disagreements. But they cannot remain one united, institutional church where there is disagreement over issues of salvation. Thus I personally may concede that Jesus-Only Baptists can be saved by the grace of God (they are certainly not saved by their doctrine of baptism, any more than are we). But I could not pretend to work in the same church structures, or even in cooperative mission, with them. That would make a nonsense of church, of doctrine, of mission and, indeed, of honesty and truth.

This does not mean that change is impossible, or that the church’s present position must always be right. The Reformation took place because there were those who were convinced that the church had got it wrong, both in its official formularies and its popular practice. However, it was precisely because these disagreements concerned salvation that the Reformation divided the institutional church, and until those disagreements are fully resolved there cannot be true reunion.

By the same token, then, Anglican Evangelicals today cannot resolve to ‘agree to disagree’ either amongst themselves or with others over the issue of same-sex relationships without first resolving whether or not this is a salvation issue — and that brings us back to precisely the point that many people are now trying to avoid, namely deciding whether this is right or wrong.

To agree to disagree may look like a compromise in the argument. In fact, it is a conclusion to the debate. Painfully we must accept that the church either divides here or is defined here.

John Richardson

Religions united in opposition to gay rights law

Christians, Muslims and Jews will demonstrate outside Parliament today against new homosexual rights laws that they claim will force them to "actively condone and promote" gay sex.

A petition signed by 10,000 Christians will also be handed to the Queen asking her to use her "position and power" to stop the Government introducing the laws.

The protests will coincide with a House of Lords debate on the Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation Regulations, which are designed to prevent businesses discriminating against gays in the provision of goods and services.

But critics say they undermine freedom of religion and conscience and could have a serious impact on faith schools, charities and adoption agencies. Read more

Should religious beliefs bow to gay rights?

Tonight, in the House of Lords, there will be a debate on whether a Humble Address should be presented to Her Majesty praying "that the regulations laid before the House be annulled". The regulations in question are the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. The purpose of them is to make discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation unlawful in the provision of goods, facilities and services, education and public functions in relation to Northern Ireland. Similar regulations are under consideration for England, Wales and Scotland, but these have not yet been finalised.

The considerations in this field of statutory provision are of far-reaching importance, involving the practical application of a person's faith in the field of morality. Read more

TUC: Ministers urged to stand firm against religious bigots

Press release:

The TUC has today (Tuesday) urged ministers to stand firm against calls from religious organisations who are pushing for a watering down of soon-to-be published regulations making it illegal for the providers of goods and services to discriminate against lesbians and gay men. [...]

Unions fear that last-minute lobbying from some religious groups could see the Government cave in and grant widespread exemptions under the regulations to religious organisations. There is concern that the law could allow any provider of services who has a religious objection to homosexuality to be exempted.

Read more

Trades Union Congress enters religious debate

In a briefing paper on opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations, the Trades Union Congress has quoted a number of opinions of Christian organizations and individuals opposed to traditionalist views and advocating change:

The General Secretary of the Modern Church Union, Jonathan Clatworthy, told the TUC:

'The campaign by some Christians to exempt religious organisations does not represent majority Christian views in the UK, but it does discredit Christianity by presenting it as committed to inferior moral standards. Church leaders who claim that most Christians oppose homosexuality are only hearing the echoes of their own voices ...'

Similarly, the organisation Inclusive Church's chair, Giles Goddard, stated:

'We believe that the churches should be sent to be willing to engage with the world around them. The continued campaign for exemption from the Goods and Services Regulations is not only ill-conceived but a distraction from the concern the churches should be expressing for the well-being of all people.'

Young religious believers also reject the approach of the opponents of equality. The Student Christian Movement's coordinator, Liam Purcell, told the TUC:

'The Student Christian Movement does not support the 'Coherent and Cohesive Voices' campaign for religious organisations to be exempt from new regulations outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. We support the Inclusive Church campaign for gay people to play a full role in the life of the Church...'.

Even in the Catholic Church, where the Vatican bans placing adoptees with same sex couples, some Catholic adoption agencies in Britain and in the USA have taken a more pragmatic approach by referring cases to another agency to complete the process, where the adopters are (and are known to be) lesbian or gay. Clearly, their experience did not suggest that they found that such adoptions were harmful to the interests of the children involved. If they were, why would they continue to make them?

Evangelical thelogian agrees homosexuality may be 'second-order issue'

Oliver O'Donovan writes "Good News for Gay Christians" on the Fulcrum website:

Can we promise ourselves, then, that if the churches would only discuss homosexuality long and fully and widely enough, they would end up agreeing? Well, we are not entitled to rule out that possibility. But suppose it were not true; suppose that after careful exploration and a search for common ground, there was an agreement-resistant core at the centre of the issue - a problem about how modernity is viewed, for example, or about the ontological status of self-consciousness - it might still be possible to set the residual disagreement in what the ecumenists like to call "a new context", and (who knows?) learn how to live with it. We have a parallel in the difference between indissolubilist and non-indissolubilist views of marriage, a traditional point of tension between Catholic and Protestant. That disagreement has not gone away; but if today it bulks less threateningly than it once did, that is because we are so much more clear about the extent of the agreed ground all around it - God's intentions for marriage, the pastoral desiderata in dealing with broken marriage etc etc. It no longer evokes threatening resonances. It is a problem reduced to its true shape and size.

Read the whole article

Monday, 8 January 2007

Article (John Richardson): What the web tells us about mission in dioceses

In response to an article I recently wrote about the leadership role of bishops in the Church of England (No Particular Place to Go), an anonymous episcopal correspondent on the Fulcrum website responded that I basically didn’t know what I was talking about. Indeed I had, he said, an “almost complete lack of understanding about what bishops in the Church of England actually do.”

Nobody likes to be called an ignoramus, least of all me. But it is true. I don’t really know what bishops actually do, any more than most of my parishioners know what I actually do. However, like most clergy I do know something about the impression people get of what I do - and I wrote my article based on my impressions about bishops. [...]

Where, however, could I find hard evidence for my thesis? I decided to look at diocesan websites - in fact at every diocesan website for the Church of England - and ask myself three simple questions. First, did the website supply evidence that the diocese concerned had a strategic plan for its mission and ministry? Secondly, was this plan couched in terms of specific goals rather than broad aspirations? Thirdly, was there evidence that the diocesan bishop was providing the lead in strategic planning, rather than delegating it to others? Download the article (pdf)

Leading Southwark Evangelical says same-sex relationships are "ethically possible"

A leading Southwark Evangelical clergyman and outspoken critic of recent actions by Conservative Evangelicals in that diocese and elsewhere has publicly stated his acceptance that same-sex relationships are “ethically possible” when they are “loving, committed and monogamous”.

In a recent post on the website of Fulcrum, the Open Evangelical group launched at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 2003, Canon Simon Butler describes himself as “pro-gay and listening”, and says that he now wants to argue the pro-gay case from within the Evangelical Anglican movement.

Butler says that there has to be “a degree of honesty in evangelicalism”, though he is aware that many other Evangelicals will disagree with his position. “I've thought, prayed and agonised about whether that immediately writes me out of the Evangelical Book of Life,” he comments, “and in all conscience I don’t think it does.” The Evangelical tradition, he says, is the one that “nourishes, supports and inspires him”, adding that Evangelical Anglicans have always been willing to argue their case in disputed matters.

Simon Butler is the Team Rector of the Sanderstead group of four parishes in Croydon, South London. In 2005, he was one of the signatories of a letter produced by those Evangelicals in Southwark who supported Bishop Tom Butler (no relation) in his action against the Revd Richard Coekin over the latter's involvement in irregular ordinations in Southwark. In a legal appeal, the bishop’s revocation of Coekin’s license was later ruled as unwarranted.

More recently, Butler wrote an article published in the Church of England Newspaper which was highly critical both of Coekin and of an unnamed “prominent Evangelical minister” in his own diocese for their attitude to the rest of the Church of England. “Conservative Evangelicals,” he wrote, “are so locked into their small world that they find it hard to acknowledge even the existence of other ways of being evangelical.” Fulcrum, he went on to say, represents the “evangelical centre”, but he suggested that too many who shared its views were afraid of standing up and declaring that the conservatives didn’t speak for them.

Go to the Fulcrum forum

'Homophobic' Orkney under attack for ban on civil partnership

Gay rights campaigners have called for a tourist boycott of Orkney after one of the world's leading composers was banned from forming a civil partnership with his lover on the remote island of Sanday.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who is master of the Queen's Music, and Colin Parkinson, 52, planned to hold their ceremony next month on Sanday, where they have lived for the past nine years. [...]

But their plans were put on hold after officials at Orkney Islands Council unexpectedly said the registrar, a friend of the couple, was not authorised to preside over the civil partnership. Instead, they would have to travel to Kirkwall on Orkney mainland for the ceremony. [...]

A furious Sir Peter condemned the ban as "downright discrimination" and pointed the finger at "religious fundamentalists". [...]

"Fundamental religious people, who delve into the Bible to justify their hatreds, still hold great sway. That kind of malignant influence is wrong. Most of the people here are fine and open, those who disapprove are in a minority." Read more

An African archbishop finds common ground in Virginia

Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola says it's no accident that he, an African, has become the outspoken leader of Anglican traditionalists worldwide. God has always looked to Africa to save his church, he says.

When Christ sought safety from Herod, he found it in Egypt, in Africa, and when he was completely worn out, an African carried his cross, according to Akinola.

"God is consistent: He has always used Africans to build his church, to save his church from error. Right from the very beginning," says Mr. Akinola, dressed in the traditional garb of his Yoruba ethnic group, a large wooden cross hanging from his neck. "Africans are always there to do it!" Read more

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Revealed: preachers' messages of hate

An undercover investigation has revealed disturbing evidence of Islamic extremism at a number of Britain's leading mosques and Muslim institutions, including an organisation praised by the Prime Minister.

Secret video footage reveals Muslim preachers exhorting followers to prepare for jihad, to hit girls for not wearing the hijab, and to create a 'state within a state'. Many of the preachers are linked to the Wahhabi strain of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia, which funds a number of Britain's leading Islamic institutions.

A forthcoming Channel 4 Dispatches programme paints an alarming picture of how preachers in some of Britain's most moderate mosques are urging followers to reject British laws in favour of those of Islam. Read more. Go here for talks on "Engaging with Islam".

Astrophysicist turned Missionary brings ‘Extreme Christianity’ to West Bromwich

“It not just about putting God in the unknowable bits, saying: ‘We know all this and everything we don't know we'll call God.’ I'm not saying that. I'm saying there's a huge amount of discussion and interest which anybody of any intellectual capacity or persuasion can enjoy when you look at the whole universe and our lives and look at it from science and theology and explore things both ways round.

“There's a huge positive dialogue going on between science and faith, and anybody who thinks science has written off faith really hasn't done their homework very well. I enjoy doing that and do a lot of debate and discussion work around those issues. And I find that when I say to people that I have a degree in astrophysics, it opens a huge number of doors which allows us to discuss things much further.”

Evan will combine his missionary role with that of chaplain to the West Bromwich YMCA, a role he sees as complementary: “In the absence of anything else I might have to do I could simply come and be the chaplain here seven days a week and have a very full schedule." Read more

Bishop of Lichfield: "Going for growth together"

When I was preparing the vision statement for the next stage of Going for Growth (published in the current Spotlight) I was asked about my own specific goals for the diocese over the next few years. What do I want to see as part of diocesan strategy?

Actually I don’t think it’s my job to press specific long-term goals on the diocese at the moment. I believe in many local initiatives in parishes, deaneries and areas as we pray together. I believe particular strategies emerge as we deepen our faith, learn to praise God more and love our neighbours genuinely. If I say what I would like too soon it could even stifle the grass-roots creativity.

As a friend of mine used to say, church-life is all about re-inventing the wheel together. Unless a mission action plan is right for a locality and particular churches, unless it has emerged from the thinking and praying together of incumbent and PCC, it is not real. After all Christianity is about relationships or it is about nothing. Just as a baby is made to respond to its mother’s face from day one in a way unique among mammals, so churches are made to respond together to the face of God in a unique way that links worship, nurture, pastoral care and outreach.

But here are some bullet points that in due course I hope to offer for stimulus as we look at the next stage in the strategy. Read more (scroll down linked page)

I’m gay and soon science may be able to tell me why

The good news, then, is that the empirical origins of sexual orientation are slowly being discovered. The bad news is that once discovered, they could be manipulated. There seems no likelihood in the foreseeable future of a hormonal treatment that could affect sexual orientation in adult humans. It’s been tried to no avail for decades — and once drove great men like the brilliant codebreaker Alan Turing to suicide.

But it’s not unimaginable to see scientific insight into the origins of animal homosexuality being abused if directed towards human beings in their first months and years. Maybe hormonal manipulation in utero could make homosexuality less likely in a sheep — or a child. Or maybe in the future, research like that being done now on sheep could be used to detect homosexual orientation in foetuses or babies — and prevent it. Why not, if that’s what parents wish?

The answer, of course, is an ethical no-brainer. Experimenting on other human beings crosses a bright moral line — even when that other human being is in your own womb. Read more

Open Evangelicals wrestle with issue of same sex relationships and CCE

On the Fulcrum forums, the thread on the Covenant for the Church of England shows how Open Evangelicals are wrestling with their own position:

What to do, what to do. We do sometimes end up in conversation with somebody of either persuasion who has been too liberal with his affections - who is at the tail end of a series of abortive affairs which have damaged his ability to love with any degree of gift or selflessness. The advice to a heterosexual person is to give that all up - to seek out a relationship which is multifaceted and not merely sexual, with an emphasis on gift and communication - a relationship which can be 'built' and does not merely require to be 'found'. Notwithstanding my inability - refusal even - to countenance marrying two people of the same gender I could not with any degree of peace as a priest and a christian refuse to offer the same counsel to a homosexual person who found himself in a similar predicament. The advice would be the same. All homosexual relationships are not the same. Some are better than others.
Go to the forum

State Is Front Line In Episcopalian War

The Christmastime decision by eight Virginia congregations to bolt the Episcopal Church in favor of Anglican partners in Africa echoed loudly in the church's oldest diocese - the one in Connecticut that is shuddering from its own active revolt.

"We are living in a time of great chaos. Would we consider breaking out [like the Virginia churches]? Yes," said the Rev. Christopher Leighton, rector at St. Paul's Church in Darien, a leader of the rebel band known as the Connecticut Six.

"As people, we hate chaos. But God loves chaos. God creates out of chaos," he said.

Chaos is a good description of the turmoil in a church once called "the Republican Party at prayer" and still identified with the nation's power elite. Read more