Bishop David Walker on Poverty

I’ve read an excellent piece in today’s Guardian by Anglican bishop David Walker on the subject of the church’s recent head on collision with the Tories over poverty.

“Most of us would see service provision not just as an end in itself. It is equally the ground on which we stand to challenge and stimulate public sector provision, and our basis for offering a critique of dominant political narratives. Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts this latter in a typically telling phrase: “When you’ve fished enough people out of the river, it’s time to take a walk upstream and see who’s pushing them in.” And what seems to be casting people in ever increasing numbers into the waters is less a matter of specific policies and more about Britain’s scapegoat culture.”

You can read the article on the Guardian website. Obviously don’t read the comments underneath the article. Never read comments on newspaper websites.

The Whole Women Bishops Thing

Imagine for one moment that rather than being a lapsed Roman Catholic married to an Anglican priest I’m actually a member of the Anglican church. Think harder now, imagine that I’m actually the Archbishop of Canterbury and this is the speech I would give to the Anglican Synod today regarding women bishops and the future of the church.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the laughing stock of the nation. Out there in the real world women are working as teachers, firemen, soldiers, police officers, fighter pilots, surgeons and particle physicists. But in here some of you still exist in the dark ages. Well your time is over.

Some of you make representations that you’re struggling with issues of theology, of traditional and biblical teaching. I think you are full of shit. Our church was set up as an alternative what we saw as a Catholic church that had lost its way, too fond of traditions and rituals. We had a new prayer book meant to be relevant to the people of that day. And what are we now? Another church stuffed with our own traditions and rituals, clinging onto the BCP, a book that is also no longer relevant. So what if that’s what you had as a child – were you a child in Jesus’ day? Do you pray in Aramaic? What does that matter in the 21st century? What does that matter to the people on the estates, lost and alone? We need to share our love in the language of today.

We spend tens of millions of pounds each year trying to keep crumbling ancient and beautiful churches upright. Churches with no disabled access, no toilet facilities and with leaky roofs due to lack of funds and continued lead thefts. We have become an organisation that is all about curating the past, whether that is our old buildings or outmoded ideas on gender and sexuality. It is time we moved on.

It is time we abandoned all our broken parish churches. IF they are of historic or architectural worth to our nation there are organisations such as the National Trust that will look after them. But we no longer need to. Meanwhile we will save money by building new modern buildings that are as useful to our communities during the week as they are on a Sunday morning. They will be sources of hope and warmth, not drafty old stone millstones around our neck. You might argue that no-one will drive a few miles to these new central churches, but that is wrong. In villages up and down our nation people climb into their Range Rovers on a Sunday morning to go get their newspaper. Why can’t they do the same on a Sunday to attend church? Aren’t we worth more to them than the racism and borderline paedophilia of the Daily Mail they foolishly buy? And there will be plenty of room in their cars for the people who don’t have their own transport.

We need to abandon our old expensive and irrelevant church buildings. They are holding us back. We also have to abandon those people whose crumbling and irrelevant opinions are making our church the enemy of freedom, love and compassion in this nation. It is shameful that we still ordain those who oppose the ordination of women to any role in the Anglican church, or the ordination of people based on their sexuality. It is shameful. We need higher standards in who we ordain, even if that means a smaller church. The promises made in ordination must from this time on feature a promise to uphold the ideals that no-one should be discriminated against based on their race, nationality, gender or sexuality. New priests must live up to this promise or they are not welcome in our church, for they do not represent what we are about. We want loving caring priests, blind to race, sexuality and gender, people who have a heart for our church, not bigots or those egomaniacs who seem more interested in their own self promotion.

And to those here today who could not make such promises? Thank you for your service. But it is time for you to leave. Collect your P45 on the way out. You are no longer represent the new church, a church based on love, not divisions, bigotry and misogyny dressed up as theology. And yes I mean you bigoted laity members too. Out. It is about time the church stood for something. In these dark times, beset by a government – which many of you foolishly voted for – that is the enemy of Jesus’ teachings, the church needs to stand up for the downtrodden, the poor and bullied. We are not going to be party to these things anymore, not in our church, not in our name.

We will have a small church. But a church that means something, stands up for what is right. And I hope a church that is attractive to those with the right heart, those people afraid of us in the past that would now see us as somewhere they could call home. And so we would grow, and grow healthily. New buildings and new hearts, fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

It’s time to end the hypocrisy. We are riven by divisions. For example we have male clergy shacked up secretly with their boyfriends who oppose the ordination of women? Does that sound like a church that’s interested in love? In supporting one another. People who want to hide who they love, yet at the same time hate the freedoms of others. Ladies and gentlemen we must embrace marriage – not gay marriage – but marriage for all – man with woman, man with man, woman with woman. We must get behind this to reclaim marriage as a sacred thing, something we can support for all, to make families important again. No more hiding in the closet for us. And we must support the ordination of bishops -not women bishops – but men and women as bishops, as leaders.

Our church is staring death in the face. We ordain clergy we don’t even think are good enough to be paid to do the job, but we ordain them anyway, then they work badly for us for free. We ordain mothers and fathers and yet still expect them to work as much as priest with no family. We ordain those who hate others that we ordain. We ordain people who struggle with who they love because they feel we will not support them. We allow bigots among our parishes to form cabals and stack the laity vote. These things must end.

We need to move forward. Men and women, gay and straight, black and white, we have a church to rebuild, a nation to support and represent, good news to spread, help to give, love to share. We can do this together or not at all. Will you join me?

And for those of you who feel they cannot, the exits are at the back, please leave now so we can get on with our purpose, our mission.

Cross Purposes

Once again the subject of wearing crosses in the workplace has reared its head again following the government’s decision that there is no automatic right to wear one.On this rare occasion I agree with the government.

The sort of people who get annoyed by this kind of thing have already been getting worked up about it. How can we show we are Christians, they demand of the government, if we can’t wear our execution-based jewelry?

Here of course is the irony. The sort of person who needs a bloody great cross to show that they are a Christian, the sort of person who rants and raves about their rights to wear a cross, needs a heck of a lot more than a piece of jewelry to convince anyone they have anything to do with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Let me put it this way, my late mother needed nothing no personal adornment to show people she was a Christian. She lived in a way, and treated others in a way, that left nothing unclear. She didn’t need to wear a cross. Christians shouldn’t need a cross to demonstrate their faith.

But my real argument in supporting the government decision comes down to our idea of freedom of religious expression. This is a valid human rights issue – and our society allows people to express their religion even when there may be other legal conflicts. For example Sikhs are allowed to ride motorcycles without a helmet. Religious observance is protected by our laws.

But wearing a cross is not a religious observance. It is not a sacrament. There is no Biblical command to wear such an item – in fact one of the main features of Christianity was the removal of ritual, religious costume and the like. Christianity doesn’t require a temple, special magic underwear and the like.

Besides, so many people wear a cross as a jewelry item with no religious relevance to them that little meaning is conveyed to anyone by wearing one. Wearing a cross is at best meaningless, at worst among the militant Christian cross wearing types, a warning to others of what an asshat they are.

I see no reason why workplace rules on the wearing of jewelry should be different for Christians. The wish to wear a cross is not about religious observance. It is about certain types of people proving exactly what kind of man/woman they are, and not quite in the way they imagine.

Creationists No Longer Welcome

I know it’s a bit late for talking of new year resolutions but earlier in the month I couldn’t actually think of anything I wanted to promise myself in 2012. After some thought I’ve now decided on something – partly inspired by the approach of the BBC radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage.

Over the years I’ve embroiled myself in many a complex argument with creationists and those that subscribe to the intelligent design concept. The sad fact is these people are too into their delusions and lies to admit their error. You can’t change the opinion of people this stupid. And I’ve come to realise I’m just wasting my breath.

The other problem with debating with creationists and especially intelligent design advocates is that they believe that their view is of equal value in a scientific discussion as those who offer real scientific theories. In trying to debate with these muppets we’ve given them credence, which is far from what they deserve. They peddle their “evolution is just a theory” nonsense at length – despite not understand what “theory” actually means in a scientific context. They believe that “theory” means guess, it doesn’t.

I can understand that creationist point of view. A belief in an all powerful God logically includes the belief that God can create everything in an instant, in seven days or whatever period of time you choose. Yet the universe their God created wasn’t created in that way. Just as a pot thrown on a wheel shows the marks and fingerprints of the potter, our universe displays the methods of its making for all to see. These methods have been revealed to inquiring minds over millennia. We have learned how energy became matter, how that matter came together to form atoms, stars, planets, galaxies, dinosaurs and ultimately us.

An intelligent person of faith would say – “I do believe in a God that could create the universe in seven days – but he didn’t do it that way. Science has revealed how our universe came into being over billions of years. I believe it was God who set this process in motion, but I can agree with scientists on how the universe unfolded along scientific principles. To deny the way the universe has evolved is to deny the clues revealed before us, to believe the universe was created in seven days therefore would require the universe to built of lies, and my God isn’t a liar. I can agree with science on the ‘how’ but not the ‘why’.”

There are many people of faith who take this point of view. Sadly there are also many of the other sort, who think the universe is full of lies – from cosmic background radiation to dinosaur bones. Intelligent design takes these lies one step further. It is a pseudo-scientific thought process that presents itself as science, yet it is built completely on lies. Sure, an architect of intelligent design would not admit to those lies, but I know, and they know in their heart, that their view requires them to have falsified data and ignored many scientific principles and laws. They know in their heart that they are lying for their God. Their God doesn’t need their lies, they are actually working against their faith.

Intelligent design is advertised as science – some sort of rival to regular science. You may as well replace the word science with truth. These people set their stall out as a rival to truth. While I’m no friend of the current UK administration, the one good thing our government has done since coming to power is indicate that such stupidity as intelligent design has no place in our schools.

Like the Infinite Monkey Cage I’ve decided to stop getting worked up about the subject by trying to debate with creationists and intelligent design nuts. There isn’t a level playing field, there isn’t two sides to an argument. Their point of view is just stupid bullshit. Evolution and the big bang are facts, there’s no sense arguing with people who would deny two plus two equals four if their holy book said it made five. I’m bored of the whole thing. Bored of debating sweary offensive comments left (ironically by Christian creationists) on my various blog posts on the subject. Bored of banging my head against the brick wall of their stupidity.

If you’re a creationist I’m not interested in your opinions of science. The comment sections here are for discussion between intelligent people, people who value education and books, not to argue with you dimwits. So there will be no more debate. Post all you like, your idiotic dribble will always be deleted without answer to leave room for the intelligent to converse. You and your lies are not welcome here in any form.

No Sex Please – We’re a College Christian Union

Sexual morality, for want of a better phrase is something I believe is a completely private thing. Your choices on how you express your sexuality are between you, your partner and, if you’re of faith, your God. However if you’ve ever attended a university Christian union, you’ll soon discover that sex is constantly on the agenda and Pauline sexual morality and fundamentalism the order of the day. But beneath the abstinent fa├žade there’s a strange irony about the sexual dynamics of most Christian Unions. In this article I’ll take a look at the odd sexual paradox of these CUs.

Some Christians believe sex outside marriage is wrong, others do not. The rights and wrongs of both positions aren’t something I have any intention of getting into here. On the whole you’ll find CUs in the “sex before marriage is bad” camp, and it’s the hypocrisy of this position, rather than the merits of either side of the debate, I want to address…

Christian youth culture is rather bizarre. You only need to visit a University Christian Union for evidence of that. It’s not really Christianity that’s the root of the weirdness of your average CU, instead it’s down to the strange mindset folks get into when heading off to Uni.

For many students it’s a chance to be master/mistress of their destiny for the first time, away from parental controls. You see this in many university subcultures, where suddenly a student is allowed to express themselves fully and in doing so often over compensate. So you get gay lads spending more time painting banners and haranguing fellow students about homophobia than going out and finding a nice boy to have a relationship with.

And applying this to the Christian kids, especially the ones that go to Christian Union, you see similar things happening. It’s all about cliques and social groupings, it may be dressed up with faith, and often people will try to fight their corners using the Bible to justify their actions, but it’s just another uni social society.

Let off the leash of parental control a lot of Christian students become rather scary zealots. Many CUs feel the need to be at war with their university chaplaincy, because it’s just too liberal for them, the CU are the hardcore, the paramilitary wing of Christianity. I once witnessed a Lancaster University Evangelical Christian Union leader tell a boy with Down Syndrome that he’d burn in hell if he didn’t go to church. Another member of the committee told a friend of mine who’d just become a Christian that “we don’t need people here like you.”

Don’t be fooled by the evangelism, missions and worthy causes being rallied at most CUs. Really it’s just another campus group, a way of meeting folks and especially members of the opposite sex. Yes the average CU meeting will seem like the centre of the universe, the leaders will lead you believe that the CU is the moral heart of your university and it’s the only thing that will save the place from fiery destruction. Sat there at the meetings you’ll feel guilty because you’re not as spiritual as all the others; you’ve come to the CU with the hope that you’ll meet a great girl/boy. There’s a good chance you may be thinking lustful thoughts about a fellow CU member while the leaders are rattling away through some awful Graham Kendrick song.

I’ve got news for you. Most folks at your CU are having sex. Yes sex, not just dating, flirting or whatever – they are having sex with their partner(s). This is one of the great paradoxes of CU life. On the face of things these young zealots who will lead you believe that they are the only hope for world Christianity, that their particular CU the heart of global revival, and that they are the most puritanical none-sexual beings on the planet. Don’t believe a word of it, I bet half of the folks in your CU are either having regular sex, or wishing they were.

Yet the public face is very different. If they catch you, if it becomes common knowledge that you’ve seen someone bare-naked, you’ll be on the receiving end of the zealots’ wrath. Either that or you’ll suddenly cease to exist – I discovered that for myself at Lancaster University in the mid-1990s. Folks will be friendly until you let out the secret of the great CU sexual paradox and then you’re out in the cold. Want to measure the real compassionate heart of a university Christian union? It doesn’t lie in evangelical missions, it’s seen in the way members are treated when they behave in a way, or express opinions, that are contrary to whatever moral guidelines that CU has carved into stone for itself. In my experience, and the experience of friends at other universities, this is a test usually failed.

But for all its similarities to the usual peer groups, CUs are a different type of entity, at times perhaps more akin to a business. The annual recruitment drives, the evangelical missions, are organised to tell people across the campus about the faith. If you’re a none-Christian on a campus with a CU attending acquaintance, during the mission you may find they’ve suddenly become your best friend. Gone will be their aloofness and distain for your record collection, choice of clothes or posters – they’ll now be the most caring compassionate person you know. If they are of the opposite sex you may think you’re in with a shot at them, if they are of the same sex (assuming you’re straight) then you may assume that you’ve discovered a great new long-lasting friendship.

You haven’t. They’ll drop you like a hot brick in time. It’s yet another of those Christian union paradoxes. During mission week this new best friend may get you to come along to some mission meetings. If you join the faith you may find this friend no longer seems very interested in you. Yes, you’re the latest victim of CU head-hunting. Once your friend has your scalp, you are of very little use to them, get used to it. If you don’t join the faith you may find they’ll stay in touch, often being very helpful, kind and considerate. It’s one of the ironies of campus Christianity, at least in the UK.

So what if you’re a Christian about to head off to university this autumn? Well I do have some advice for you. Visit the chaplaincy for worship or a local church – don’t rely on the strange zealotry of the CU, and its hatred for the chaplaincy and other Christians outside their circle. If there’s a Catholic society on campus, consider going to that, even if you’re not a left-footer. The CU culture vilifies Catholicism as the idolatrous work of the anti-Christ – so you’ll probably find a nice bunch of people there to hang out with.

If you’re going to hang out at the CU, then take things easy. You don’t have to take on board the tub-thumping fundamentalist face of the society. Use the CU for things that will aid your walk with God, through uni and after. You may enjoy some of the worship, make some good friends and enjoy the meetings. Great, good for you, but remember to keep some friends outside the CU, because once the CU finds out you’ve openly flouted their rules, you’ll need those friends. If you are having sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend, don’t flaunt it, keep it secret, just like your puritanical CU president is doing. And don’t feel guilty, after all, nearly everyone else at your CU is at it.