Saturday, 22 December 2012

opinion

Jake Wallis Simons writes in the Telegraph that I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Church of England.

Timothy Radcliffe writes in The Guardian that Tolerance is not enough to learn the art of living with others.

Mark Vasey-Saunders retells the Christmas story: Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Damian Thompson writes in The Spectator about Alpha male: Can Nicky Gumbel and Holy Trinity Brompton save the Church of England?

Simon Jenkins writes for The Guardian An atheist’s prayer for the churches that keep our soul.

Richard Coles writes for the Church Times about Salute the happy morn?

Andrew Brown writes for The Guardian that Jesus knows, flooding isn’t the end of the world.

Giles Fraser writes for The Guardian that Christmas shows us humanity’s hope is to be found in the crib not in the stars.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 22 December 2012 at 11:10am GMT | TrackBack
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Bishop Gene Robinson has advocated much the same message as Timothy Radcliffe does, that tolerance is not enough. I think they're both wrong, and letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. A society that is "merely" tolerant might not be utopia, but it would certainly be an improvement over our current conditions; further, insisting that there is something wrong with tolerance (after years of calling for more of it!) is simply the wrong approach.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Saturday, 22 December 2012 at 11:21am GMT

The HTB article glosses over Nicky Gumbel's published views on homosexuality, which form part of a background of 'sola scriptura' theology that underpins Alpha publications and which lie in wait for people who come in from the cold.

My opinion is that alpha is simply a system that might have been generated by other orgs with different theologies. HTB got on and did it, powered by its network of privilege - after all, it evolved as sort of Sloane Square and upper middle class at prayer.

I have no qualms at all with the good principle, sincerity and initiative of the Alpha method which has been an instrument of really good effect.

However, when a particular brand of evangelical theology and hostility to homosexuality is bolted on, and implicit in some of the alpha publications, then - like Robert Runcie - I feel less comfortable.

I also feel the origins of privilege, and the way power and influence operate in networks, raise issues in understanding the reason this particular church grew, the way it did.

Basically, great methods, dubious underlying theological assumptions, and a backdrop of privileged people who steered this 'method' so it became a tool of evangelical-style growth, even if there's been some Catholic take up (both traditions espouse conservative theology and the vilification of gat sex).

It can appear awkward to criticise Alpha because of its clear effectiveness as a system. But I definitely question the position of Nicky Gumbel and his wife on gay and lesbian sexual relationships. HTB is a conservative voice, theologically, in terms of the way it interprets the bible.

Personally I'd prefer to see the same method used in various ways, without the Alpha association. The Spectator article was very partisan, and full of privileged associations and unquestioning championing of people who 'emerged' as leaders, from the very posh house parties of the late 70's and 80's and HTB's social set.

Posted by: Susannah on Saturday, 22 December 2012 at 2:19pm GMT

S Jenkins: "An English church is designed for a specific liturgy, in the case of 10,000 medieval parish churches ironically a Roman Catholic one."

Sometimes it feels like an atheist like Jenkins is making common-cause w/ the Papists, in spouting their line.

No, SimonJ, English churches were designed for *English* ("Anglican") Catholic worship. As ever they shall be, "while the Lord tarry."

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 22 December 2012 at 7:58pm GMT

Giles Fraser sees explanations in a small child, better than staring at the stars. Sounds like a Unitarian Christmas to me, where the carols are a substitute for the birth of the baby, like a universal baby but an individual one too. It is also combined with the green, the seeds in the cold ground at the turn of the year that later on we'll see flower again (when they show themselves). But it's not exactly riproaring doctrinal Christian belief, from him, is it? Am I missing something?

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 22 December 2012 at 8:49pm GMT

I must admit I found Timothy Radcliffe's line of argument to be rather obscure.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 23 December 2012 at 1:03am GMT

The uncomfortable tenor of the HTB article was summed up in this phrase for me: "It divides Christianity done well and Christianity done badly".

That is surely not the point?! Christianity is not about doing things well, and it is not a religion "done well" in the first place. God came to earth in the form of a helpless infant and ended up being killed for His trouble. By no stretch of the imagination was that religion "done well" according to our lights. But it is the religion of our God, and that is that.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Sunday, 23 December 2012 at 12:32pm GMT

'That is surely not the point?! Christianity is not about doing things well, and it is not a religion "done well" in the first place. God came to earth in the form of a helpless infant and ended up being killed for His trouble. By no stretch of the imagination was that religion "done well" according to our lights. But it is the religion of our God, and that is that.'

Quite - and any course that does not have an emphasis on 'Do this in remembrance of me' is not one I would choose for building profound, life changing, all embracing church communities.

I don't doubt the effectiveness of the Alpha Course either but if it is so good why did I need to pick up the casualties? I find the whole bandwagon more than a bit disturbing because of it's conditional, exclusive ethos. I have observed more profound, painstaking, suffering with models of charismatic, thank God.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Sunday, 23 December 2012 at 5:18pm GMT

"What I call God is to be discovered in the vulnerability of a child, in the excessive openness and dependence upon something outside one's own power or ability to explain." - Giles Fraser -

Herein, I think, lies the utter simplicity of what the Incarnation is all about. If we are not able to admit to our human vulnerability - our utter dependence on God's mercy, forgiveness, grace and redemption - then we are merely automatons, reliant on our own ability to navigate the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' in the hope of achieving salvation by our own efforts.

Alpha, great tool as it is for the self-help ethos of personal striving for salvation through good works, is simply not enough. Without recognition of God's willingness to take on board our common human frailty at the Incarnation of Jesus - as a helpless child, at the mercy of the same sort of perils as beset us all - we risk the idolatry of believing that salvation and redemption are in some way achievable by our own efforts - holy and commendable as they may be.

"Never was God so great, as when He became so small"

A Blessed Christmastide to ALL

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 23 December 2012 at 9:56pm GMT

T Radcliffe: "Many Christians oppose gay marriage not because we are homophobic or reject the equal dignity of gay people, but because "gay marriage" ultimately, we believe, demeans gay people by forcing them to conform to the straight world."

Is this SERIOUS??? Utter hogwash.

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 1:46am GMT

I agree with Craig: I must admit I found Timothy Radcliffe's line of argument to be rather obscure.

It really is simple. There are gay couples who are deeply religious and feel called to receive the Sacrament of Marriage, the outward and visible sign of inward, invisible grace. And to have all of the equal legal rights that come with it. Equal as children of God, equal as citizens.

When the status quo says no, that is oppression. Thus far, the status quo's reasons for this are pretty wanting. Just a long, oppressive history.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 2:55am GMT

To judge from the reader response at The Guardian to Timothy Radcliffe, nobody seems to understand his claim that he opposes marriage equality out of tolerance. He writes, "Many Christians oppose gay marriage not because we are homophobic or reject the equal dignity of gay people, but because 'gay marriage' ultimately, we believe, demeans gay people by forcing them to conform to the straight world." I will leave him to his contradictions and denials.

Bill Dilworth must have read only the title of the piece. Otherwise, it would be hard to understand how he can say that Timothy Radcliffe and Gene Robinson share the same message.

Radcliffe may share the views of the current Pope, however, who says that he speaks not from faith but from natural theology. Two men or two women cannot be married, according to Roman natural theology. It has nothing to do with faith, the Pope says. Married same-sex couples are viewed as impossible in Roman discourse.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 3:57am GMT

'Behold him now wearing the likeness of man,
weak helpless, and speechless, in measure a span.

O wonder of wonders which none can unfold:
The ancient of days is an hour or two old;
The maker of all things is made of the earth,
Man is worshipped by angels and God comes to birth.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 9:56am GMT

Happy Christmas to all here.

Posted by: John on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 4:14pm GMT

I should have been clearer. Radcliffe's claim that opposition to SSM is a form of "tolerance" based on respecting "difference" is completely obliterated in the face of the many gay couples who yearn for the Sacrament of Marriage within the church. Equal in the eyes of God, equal before the law. When a people yearn for that equality, and a status quo denies it, it is oppression.

The sophistry is breathtaking, calling oppression a form of tolerance.

In the old days of segregation in the American South, politicians are on record saying things like "the blacks LIKE it in the back of the bus, the gallery of movie theaters, being excluded from education and opportunities..." etc.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 5:38pm GMT

Gary - I didn't give it the close reading I learned in school, but I did read more than the title. Sort of. I skimmed most of it and skipped to the final paragraph. Mea culpa. (Still think both are wrong on tolerance, but understand they hold different positions on marriage.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 9:20pm GMT

Timothy Radcliffe's view was shared by Stonewall until relatively recently.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 24 December 2012 at 10:03pm GMT

Martin, I don't doubt that "Stonewall" (that's a UK LGBT group?) included many who believed (some perhaps still believe) that

"'gay marriage' ultimately, we believe, demeans gay people by forcing them to conform to the straight world."

I find it PAINFULLY disingenuous for a Christian to contend that "many Christians oppose gay marriage" for THAT reason!

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 25 December 2012 at 8:20am GMT

Yes it's true Stonewall supported the CP option no doubt a Realpolitik acceptance that that was all that could be got at that point.

The argument behind CP's was that they are the same as marriage (but given a more modern title and shorn of all that terrible historical - mostly religious - baggage).

The big argument against CP's as a sole option for gay people is that they are already in large part the same as marriage.

The French PACS is/was an attempt to do something (a little) different. Giving people virtually identical rights including on parenting, pensions, dissolution and identical degrees where CP's are forbidden (including cross referencing to marriage) shows that difference is not the leading thought but rather one of equality.

If difference is the main motivating thought then why aren't they more different - ought the difference to reside only in the name and not in substance?

Most ethicists within religious thinking proclaim similarity - if you're going to have a relationship it should be faithful - again sameness - I don't see Radcliffe cutting a different track but am not familiar with his thought and writings.

If the difference is only in name what are we left with? Apart from the tautology that same sex relationships (whether CP's, marriage or cohabitation) are made up of couples of the same sex whereas...

In addition one notes the tendency of people only to espouse the great vitues of CP's when equal marriage is spoken of.

Just some of the things I've been puzzling over.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 26 December 2012 at 12:46am GMT

Hmmm, that's true!

As I thought about what you say above there are likely rather few Christians who would share Fr Radcliffe's view, but Fr Radccliffe probably knows them all. i cannot believe him to be disingenuous on this matter, or on any other.

JCF, Stonewall is more than a UK LGBT group, but it's difficult to describe what it is.
It is more like an unofficial government department on gay affairs, and it's official position was as described earlier.
As Stonewall is the personal fief of its leader who is responsible to no democratic process, it took a grass roots rebellion to force the change, but they struggled ........

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 26 December 2012 at 12:58am GMT
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