Saturday, 29 August 2009

August bank holiday opinions

The Guardian has two major interviews.
Bishop Gene Robinson I’m not the gay bishop – I’m just the bishop
Nick Gumbel interview transcript
The paper also carries related articles by the interviewers.
Aida Edemariam Gay US bishop attacks treatment of gay and lesbian clergy by Church of England
Adam Rutherford Nicky Gumbel: messiah or Machiavelli?

Jonathan Sacks writes in the Times Credo column on The good tensions between reason and revelation.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser asks Is salvation a bit like bankruptcy?

In The Guardian Andrew Brown writes about Fundamentalists in the police.

Earlier in the week H E Baber wrote in The Guardian Unverifiable God is still good. She says “We know the logical positivists were wrong. So what’s wrong with a God who makes no difference?”

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:50am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Cut out from the Gumble interview: "But because marriage is the exclusive preserve of hetero couples, homosexual sex is therefore a sin. Can homosexuality be healed?"

Unfortunately these are two distinct questions. What would be intereresting is to have the first one answered. Not the second.

In other words: ducking questions is one thing (not really unknown in the world ;=) but what's interesting is if the interviewee is blind to his contraditions or aware of them.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 11:11am BST

Gene Robinson seems to be unanswerable, and no one has attempted to answer him. His position is roughly that of Jefferts-Schori, Tutu, and R. Williams as quoted. Hard not to see an inevitable turning point here.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 11:16am BST

A deft piece from Giles, careful observation.

Just as a matter of interest and in the light of recent debates in the UK and elsewhere on the NHS,if Giles had been in a similar court in the USofA the majority of those seeking or being forced into bankruptcy would be people who could not afford to pay their health care bills.

Yes, that how it is. The largest single cause of bankruptcy there is the cost of health care.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 11:41am BST

From Aida Edemariam:

"It also makes space for unelected men like the Bishop of Abuja to consolidate power, and speak for millions, many of whom may well not feel the way he does."

At last, a journalist who does not simply repeat the canard that Akinola et al "represent" their congregants in the Global South.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 2:41pm BST

It's a tangent, but I can't forbear. Martin Reynolds is right about our broken and bankrupting health care system.

Unfortunately, it looks as though US health care reform has once again been stopped by the fearmongering of the reckless demagogues of the far right. Some of the names involved in this campaign would be familiar to readers of this blog, because they are the same far-righters who have been sponsoring anti-gay, anti-TEC campaigns in the Anglican Communion. Hmm. Could that be one more reason why so little has been heard lately from the "Global South"? That their funding has been redirected?

Well, but what can the international readers of this blog do?

Two things:
1) Right-wing propagandists in the US consistently misrepresent the state of health care in the UK, Canada, and other nations with a government provision for the uninsured. You can seek out their venues and tell the truth.
2) Your eyes will pop when you see how badly they distort the truth of life in your own country. So remember that the anti-gay, anti-TEC propaganda consists of the same lies and distortions, peddled by the same people.

Posted by: Charlotte on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 3:01pm BST

Obviously (being who I am), I am not a fan of Nicky Gumbell or of Alpha, but he answers decently and levelly, and at least he's prepared to label himself an Anglican. In fact, if it weren't for the sex stuff, he's actually rather liberal (perfectly happy for people to stay within their own traditions, etc.). Rather confusing.

Posted by: john on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 3:17pm BST

"Yes, that how it is. The largest single cause of bankruptcy there is the cost of health care."

Yet there was at one of our "town-hall meetings" (here in the USA) on this subject, a person was carrying a poster stating "Get government out of my Medicare". Medicare is the federally sponsored medical insurance for those fortunate to have reached 65.

When you see these types, is it any wonder that we have a country full undereducated suburbanites that are gaga for "praise music" (recycled rock-n-roll for churches and aging baby-boomers stuck in constant mid-life crisis), mega-churches and an over-reaction to +Gene Robinson.

Makes you proud.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 3:47pm BST

"I think that a case can be made for playing such a long game that you actually make no progress at all. Or at least, no noticeable progress in anyone's lifetime."

OK, who slipped ++Rowan Williams's master game plan to ++Gene Robinson?

Posted by: peterpi on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 7:54pm BST

Re: Fundamentalists in the police. Who can forget the late and unlamented Chief Constable Anderton of Manchester, another 'Christian' policeman. At the time of the AIDS crisis he caused much outrage when he demonised homosexuals as swirling about in a cesspit of their own creation. His own daughter then revealed herself as a lesbian. H went rather quiet after that.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 8:42pm BST

Why does Jonathan Sacks consistently sketch out basic frameworks within which we can come together and speak across religious differences; while Rowan Williams fails?

Alas. Lord have mercy. Rabbi Sacks can stand for a bigger tent globally and locally, than RW.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:05pm BST

As an American, I think lumping the opposition to a nationalized health system with the opposition to civil rights for everyone is a serious misunderstanding.

Many pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, thoughtful people doubt the ability of the US government to manage health care for all. The system would be almost five times larger than Germany's and more than six times larger than that of France or the UK.

Our government is not noted for its ability to do this: the Post Office is a good example of a so-called independent but government supported system, one much simpler than health care, that barely can do its job, and is losing money.

There are many other dysfunctional examples in US, state, and local government institutions.

I am not sure what the answer is, but most of the other health care models will be too big to be managed here. We have to find our own way.

On the other hand, civil liberties including those for gays, is something a growing proportion of the population supports. This is something the government can and will do well, since it is no different than previous extensions to women and Asians and blacks. The US has a long history of success in this area, often leading the world.

Posted by: Andrew on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:19pm BST

Giles Fraser's article reminds me of American theologian (and food critic) Robert Farrar Capon, who insists that Jesus can only work with "the least, the last, the lost, and the dead." Those who insist that they are in control don't understand his message.

Posted by: Old Father William on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 10:39pm BST

For those who have experienced both systems, the Alpha course is not too different from the old charismatic 'Life in the Spirit' seminars held thoughout Christendom since the sixties. What has bothered some of us about both initiatives, is the way in which glossalalia (speaking in tongues) was often over-emphasised in both 'Life in the Spirit seminars and, later on, the Alpha course.

When some of us who were mentors in both systems were able to introduce a more balanced view of the real importance of renewal in the Holy Spirit - without undue emphasis on 'speaking in tongues' (a la St. Paul's authentic teaching in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13) - then members of the groups who had hands laid on them for the infilling of the Holy Spirit were not expected to 'perform' as some sort of passing out parade.
In this matter, at least, Nicky Gumbel is correct in his assessment of the real value of Alpha and it's component 'Baptism in the Spirit' seminars.

However, his reluctance to open up his liberality to the LGBT community is just one more piece of evidence of evangelical insistence on Law over Grace theology, and not particularly consonant with N.T. Gospel inclusivity. This lack of insight into the basic gender/sexuality reality as it exists - inside the Church and outside in the real world - is one of the flaws which prevents Alpha from becoming the evangelisitc tool that it might otherwise truly claim to be.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 1:31am BST


If the right to be healthy without going bankrupt in the process isn't a civil right, what is it, then?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 2:01am BST

Rutherford mentions scientific research on speaking in tongues - can anyone suggest a couple of reputable articles? I'm admitting a bit of laziness here, I don't have the heart to weed through dozens of articles, so I'd love a pointer or two. Reputable arguments against the science welcomed.

This is an interesting group of articles - Rabbi Sacks' is the the one I'll suggest to a couple of friends.

choirboy - "get government out of my medicare"? Does that include government's funding of the program? Oh, my.

Posted by: Lynn on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 6:32am BST

As an American, I think lumping the opposition to a nationalized health system with the opposition to civil rights for everyone is perfectly appropriate.

Conservatives have spent years underfunding government services here, and then when things don't work well, they point to the problems they themselves caused and say, "Ah! Told you so. Government is the problem, not the solution."

If we spent even a portion of what we now spend on our military and war fighting on health care and education, we'd have complete health coverage throughout life and free education through grad school for everyone.

American conservatives who profess to be Christians need to go back and re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and then not let their political and economic ideologies stand in the way of love.

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 6:34am BST

Here is another recent piece by H E Baber in which we learn that because the likely Anglican schism doesn't mean anything to her, it really doesn't mean anything at all.

Ahh, philosophers. Her "unverifiable God" strikes me as oddly sterile, though I suspect her argument concerning it is logically inconsistent. How could God be the "ultimate...power" and, as an "object of contemplation," the transcendental support of "aesthetic experience and every sensual pleasure," if God was not in some way present in the world?

She writes: "It is remarkably hard to discover by introspection what one really thinks about these matters [about God] because they are so overlain by conventional pieties." No mystic she. An intuition for things unseen that is sufficiently weak to be occluded by mere "conventional piety" is simply unreliable.

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 7:37am BST

Andrew wrote: "... often leading the world"

May be this is the rub?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 7:46am BST


I absolutely agree with you about Sacks.

Posted by: john on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 11:42am BST

'... that Jesus can only work with "the least, the last, the lost, and the dead." Those who insist that they are in control don't understand his message.'

Posted by: Old Father William on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 10:39pm BST

This trikes a real chord for me.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 12:53pm BST

Yes - first run up a huge debt in a war based on lies, then underfund other govt programs, and then say 'they don't work.' Oh, as in the case of FEMA under Dubya, appoint a nincompoop to head it. Government programs that DO work, despite underfunding, include the interstate highways, the Coast Guard - tasked with rescue at sea and on land, drug interception, etc., and doing so with an aging fleet, NOAA, Center for Disease Control, US Geologic Survey ... I could go on.

The greatest thing we lost with the death of Ted Kennedy is not just his voice and vote on the side of the least, the lost, and the last, but his ability to mediate and reach across party lines both as horse-trader and friend.

The funeral mass was fine - very appropriate readings, and the youngest generation, one by one, led the intercessions [Prayers of the People] with excerpts from his speechs. Very powerful.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 2:04pm BST

Pat O'Neil wrote to Andrew: "If the right to be healthy without going bankrupt in the process isn't a civil right, what is it, then?"

Some info:

Percentage change since 2002 in average premiums paid to large US health-insurance companies: +87%

Percentage change in the profits of the top ten insurance companies: +428%

Chances that an American bankrupted by medical bills has health insurance: 7 in 10

—Harper’s Index, September 2009

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 2:16pm BST

I could only wish that the United States had led the world on civil rights, but in the past as well as the present, we have often lagged behind the rest of the world.

Slavery and serfdom were declared illegal in England in 1102 (reaffirmed 1772), in Norway in 1274, in Sweden and Finland in 1335, in Lithuania in 1588, in Upper Canada and the Holy Roman Empire in 1793, in Lower Canada in 1803, in Argentina in 1813, in Chile in 1823, throughout almost all the British Empire in 1833/34, in Uruguay and India in 1843, in Tunisia in 1846, in all French and Danish colonies in 1848, in Peru and Venezuela in 1854, in Wallachia in 1856, in Cuba in 1862, and in all Dutch colonies in 1863. The Russian Empire freed its serfs in 1861.

All this was done without violence at a time when the US was expanding its slave territories, using state violence to do so. In 1864, the relatively stingy Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Confederate territories only. Even so, the Ku Klux Klan and other armed militias soon forced American freedmen and women back into de facto slavery, enforced by the notorious "Black Codes" of the South. This state of things, enforced by white terror and violence, lasted until the mid-twentieth century.

That was then. Currently, the US record on basic human rights for GLBT people is among the worst in the developed world.

The US needs to start being honest with itself. We are scarcely a "city on a hill" when it comes to human rights.

Posted by: Charlotte on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 5:27pm BST

"I am not sure what the answer is, but most of the other health care models will be too big to be managed here."

That's the American Spirit!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 7:58pm BST


I made the NHS link the week before but Simon was on holiday so it didn't go up. That was a pitty because I was also trying to wind up my mate Jim Naughton with a go at his beloved baseball. I guess he didn't see it.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Sunday, 30 August 2009 at 9:00pm BST

It's interesting how some get so worried about money when it comes to actually taking care of citizenry.

The U.S. spends almost 50% of its federal budget on the military, military legacy costs and "national security". This is more than half the world's total spending on the military and 10 times more than the next country, China.

I always find it ironic when Americans demonize North Korea for its "military first" policy, because the U.S. pursues the exact same policy. Give the military whatever they want while the citizenry waste away and (often) die.

New priorities are definitely in order here folks.

Posted by: toujoursdan on Monday, 31 August 2009 at 4:26am BST

Lack of faith in the efficacy of the US government to manage health care, or even the military at a reasonable price without waste, does imply lack of Christian faith, or specifically Anglican faith.

One can seek to be wholly committed to the message of the Sermon on the Mount, in thought, word and deed, and still doubt the ability of secular government, especially the lumbering and inefficient federal US version, to make good on these promises. Belief in the incarnation and resurrection does not necessarily lead to faith in big government.

Posted by: Andrew on Monday, 31 August 2009 at 8:32am BST

And toujoursdan, nothing has been more wasteful and failure-prone for the last forty years than the U.S. military. It's a monster (with it's internalized culture of violence, aggression and testosterone-induced ethos of 'me first' that largely has American society where it is today) that we can't control. My god, the largest office building in the world is the pentagon. (

Hardly the city on the hill. More like the fortress.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 31 August 2009 at 10:32am BST

The bankruptcy stat makes a good link between these two stories Giles!

I remember, rounders .... it was a game the girls liked a lot ......

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 31 August 2009 at 1:46pm BST

In the abstract, rather shorn bald of anchoring contexts, the posing of a soundbite dilemma - bad big government public program healthcare vs small private flexible responsive healthcare – sounds convincing?

Not the real dilemma for too many real people.

One USA context is mentioned, people who have the allegedly private-flexible-effective health care until they discover how bankrupt they are just about to become, thanks to that very same coverage. Seven people in ten, wow.

Add in:: People whose insurance is cancelled two or three months after they are diagnosed with major, life threatening illnesses. Add in, people who find that their insurance doesn't cover tests or treatments that, combined, offer them better chances for survival or recovery.

Finally, add in: people who do not have any health care for the three main USA reasons which our current private system makes nearly inevitable: (1) lack of job, so lack of health care benefits, (2) pre-existing conditions, not covered, (3) low income or no income, making nearly any sort of coverage difficult to obtain.

For many people, the choice is not between some fancy private insurance and some bad big government mess; but between no coverage, and getting to go to a local ER when one's condition has finally gotten bad enough to startle one of the local ER healthcare staff into admitting you.

The sound bite against public option health reminds me of the sound bit against Social Security and MediCare - yes, in danger of going bankrupt after conservative majorities in federal executive and legislative branches collaborated to raid Social Security trust funds in order to shift money around for their own favorite conservative priorities at the time.

These sound bites are revisionist glosses on a more vexed real history, often tilted in favor of locking us all into a paralyzed, helpless Status Quo.

Big government may be our last hope of intervention, because systems have been cleverly established - rather like the subprime mortgage plus shilling new financial instruments Wall Street de facto arrangements which played strong roles in our recent economic melt down. These privileged mercantile exploitations of a carefully rigged business marketplace – tobacco used to be a main example, and now health insurance companies seem to have stepped in to the spotlight? - are just too difficult to affect from the consumer ground up, let alone change for the better from the consumer ground up.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 31 August 2009 at 6:56pm BST

"Belief in the incarnation and resurrection does not necessarily lead to faith in big government."

True enough. But my point was that loving action should take unquestioned precedence over any political or economic ideology.

If anything, I may be more skeptical of group process than you -- I am constitutionally a Neibuhrian, and have always been impressed by that worthy's development (in Moral Man and Immoral Society)of what he asserted were the six primary reasons for the inevitable structural immorality of group process. But this social ethical weakness applies not just to government (big or little), but to the operation of every human group, including business (big or little).

Leaving health care almost entirely to corporations driven by the profit motive is really bad public policy. Very significant involvement of government in the delivery of health care is, I believe, a necessary counterbalance to corporations that have all too often demonstrated that when push comes to shove, profit comes before life.

But -- when people (mostly conservatives) support without hesitation spending half the annual federal budget on the military, war and national security, while objecting (often with very great violence of feeling)to spending far less on health care, education, and general social support during a deep recession, I'd say they've completely missed the point of the Sermon on the Mount.

Of course, 80% of American Christians can't tell you when asked who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Gallup), so our pols are not likely to pay a price for their lapses anytime soon...

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 7:23am BST

Giles, I saw it. I even linked to it from the Cafe. But I chose not to lament this deplorable lapse in your otherwise excellent judgment. There's nothing wrong with you people over there that learning to hit behind the runner wouldn't cure.

Posted by: Jim Naughton on Monday, 7 September 2009 at 9:18pm BST
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