The following article from the 21 November edition of The Tablet is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor.
Swords crossed over a crucifix by Aidan O’Neill
The Italian Government is seeking to appeal against a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that could lead to the removal of crucifixes from state school classrooms. A leading human-rights lawyer looks at a case that goes to the heart arguments about the relationship between Church and State.
In the last few years the European Court has, in general, been sympathetic to various attempts to regulate what, in their particular national contexts, the authorities have considered to be excessive individual religious displays. Thus the Court upheld the human rights compatibility of France’s ban on pupils dressing in a manner that made their religious affiliation immediately identifiable. It also upheld a law in Turkey barring from university lectures and tutorials students sporting beards and women wearing Islamic headscarves. In these two decisions the Court confirmed that the French and Turkish principle of laïcité or secularism, with its insistence on the strict separation between Church (or mosque) and State, was consistent with the democratic values of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).
In its 3 November 2009 decision in Lautsi v. Italy, however, the European Court appears to have gone significantly beyond this line of case law. The court has now determined that the requirement in Italian law – in place since the 1920s Fascist government under Mussolini – that crucifixes be hung on the walls of the classrooms of state-run schools (originally, alongside a portrait of the king) was incompatible with human rights. The court ruled that such display violated the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions, and the right of their children to believe or not to believe.
The Italian Government argued, somewhat disingenuously, that in context, crucifixes in classrooms need not be understood in religious terms. Instead, the cross could properly be imagined as representing a whole host of ethical values – among them non-violence, equality and dignity, justice, love of neighbour, forgiveness of enemies, freedom of choice, and separation of religion and State – upon which contemporary European democracies were founded. As a matter of history, the humanist values of the Enlightenment were said to have their roots in, or be in reaction against, Christianity. The classroom display of the crucifix could be seen as a reminder of this. The cross in the Italian classroom could therefore be stripped of any specific religious significance or meaning; it could be regarded as nothing more than a cultural relic; or, indeed, it could simply be ignored.
The third party intervener, the Greek Helsinki Monitor human rights organisation, described these arguments as offensive to the Church and to believers. The cross could only be seen as a symbol of religious faith, of a belief in the truth of Christianity. The Court agreed that the primary meaning of the crucifix was as a religious symbol, readily associated with Catholicism. But it considered that the legal requirement to display a crucifix in the classroom could be justified neither on historical nor cultural grounds, nor on the basis of the views of the majority of parents. The court declared that in the context of the provision of public education the state was bound to a “confessional neutrality” and that such state education should be aimed at fostering “educational pluralism” and encouraging “critical thought” among its pupils.
Article 9 of the European Convention proclaims the absolute right of everyone to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs is also said to be a fundamental right, though one which may be limited by law. Such limitation must be shown to be “necessary in a democratic society”.
The right to education is set out in Article 2 First Protocol ECHR. This provides that parents have the right to ensure the education and teaching of their children “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. Where the state assumes a role in relation to education and teaching, it must respect that right of the parents.
However, in the Lautsi v. Italy ruling, the European Court would appear to be committing itself to the claim that not only is a strict separation of Church and State permitted under the European Convention but it is actually required by it. Such a claim can certainly not be justified by the plain text of the Convention. It appears to owe more to United States Supreme Court jurisprudence on the separation of Church and State. But this American case law is based on the text of its Constitution’s First Amendment requirement that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion”.
This clause has resulted in a seemingly endless line of court cases on such issues as whether Nativity scenes, or the text of the Ten Commandments, can lawfully be displayed on state-owned property; or whether prayers can be said, or oaths of allegiance recited, in public schools.
To apply such an American separationist analysis within a European context simply does not do justice to the wholly different understandings of the proper relationship between religion and the State which have historically existed among the countries of Europe; where, indeed, religious establishment of forms of Christianity – whether Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic – was the traditional norm.
Under Article 43 ECHR, a party has three months from the date of a judgment to request that it be reheard on appeal before the Grand Chamber of the Court with its 17 judges. To be successfully referred to the Grand Chamber the case must be found by the court to raise serious question of interpretation of the Convention or some other issue of general importance.
The questions raised in Lautsi clearly highlight tensions within the European Court itself. In June 2007, in Folgerø v. Norway, the Grand Chamber split nine to eight on the question of whether a group of avowed humanist parents should be able to demand the complete exemption of their children from a state-sanctioned school course on Christianity, religion and philosophy. The dissenting eight-strong minority considered that it was precisely the increasing pluralist nature of Norwegian society that justified the Norwegian state in making such provision, which emphasised the historical importance of Christianity in Norway. The state had a duty to ensure mutual tolerance between differing groups in society and, in the minority’s view, providing for a common state education in religion and ethics, which did not seek to proselytise and convert but to inform, was a proper means to that end.
It is clear that we have not heard the last word on these issues.
■ Aidan O’Neill QC is a Scottish advocate, based in Edinburgh, and a barrister member of Matrix Chambers in London.
Tomorrow is just another day. Not. I am a Scot, partially by birth and partially by adoption. To no Scot whosoever, wheresoever, are today or tomorrow anything like normal days.
At Christmas Scotland strives for, and often fails at, good cheer, for the ghost of John Knox sits over all with Northumberland gloom, and mere materialism steps into the gulf even more readily than in England. Before the New Year, cheerfulness suddenly springs up in all its glory. It is natural to greet returning friends and former neighbours with cries of joy, blocking crowded supermarket aisles, while harassed shoppers ponder on just how much whisky, and lager, and ham and sausage rolls will ensure family and friends, and (even today) chance visitors will not go hungry, which actually means will not go without being stuffed to satiety.
There is a small frenzy of cleaning. Less than there used to be, but dear knows the Scots are particular at the best of times. Paintwork is washed down, floors vacuumed threadbare. And life is cleared out. The past year is reviewed. Its sorrows are brought to mind, and, in so far as they can be, dismissed. Guilt and remorse and misfortune are let go. Joys too are counted up.
There is a no-man’s-land between day and day. Most do not have to work then, but can rest. Now that time, nobody’s time, our own time, is transformed into a time of transition — part old year, and part new. It becomes Hogmanay. It starts in loss and expectation. And food and drink and dancing. It is a ceremony of letting go and drowning out — washing away if you like. And we do like it. Then comes ‘the Bells’. Midnight. The witching hour, the moment, the actual moment of transformation. The old year is finally dead, danced to death like a sacrifice. The new year is created. And the new year is beautiful, untrodden, pure. It stretches on and on. The daylight part of the First is liable to pass in a bit of a haze, even for non-drinkers, due to exhaustion. Those who managed doucely to bed at a reasonable hour of one or two in the morning set about creating a family feast. It is a day of new clothes and best dresses. The Second follows it, a public holiday in a country where most holidays are merely regional, and family and friends are visited, old jokes dusted off, and hopes for the new year counted out. And the third. From time to time Scots find themselves dragged back to their place of work on the third. Unhappy co-incidences of the calendar occasionally indicate it. That is not to say, of course, they actually do much work. It feels all wrong. And evenings are probably devoted to catching up with friends. Eating those sausage rolls before they go out of date. So, gradually, Scots re-enter life for a new start, with re-considered aspirations.
You understand it is a wholly secular time. Not.
Rosemary Hannah is a writer and historian living near Glasgow.
The Ecclesiastical Committee recently met, and a report of its proceedings is available on the Parliament website. As it says here,
The Ecclesiastical Committee is not a committee of Parliament, but its reports and their associated Measures are, for convenience, made available here. Papers in these categories are printed by order of both Houses.
Members of the Ecclesiastical Committee are appointed by the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. Reports on proposed Church of England Measures are made by the Committee under the provisions of section 4 of that Act.
The terms of reference and the current membership of the committee are listed here.
This page has further links to:
Legislative Committee of the General Synod: comments and explanations on the vacancies in suffragan sees and other ecclesiastical offices measure and the crown benefices (parish representatives) measure
Ecclesiastical Committee - Minutes of Evidence leading finally to:
Deliberation - Wednesday 25 November 2009 (this transcript is the most interesting part)
There is also a report about this in Private Eye but that is not available online. However, it makes the point that:
Desmond Swayne MP, who objected strongly - and revealed that David Cameron did too. “As the leader of the opposition’s PPS, I did ask him about this today and he is not content that this should be done.” Although the prime minister has always chosen the first of two names submitted to him, “that does not mean that the choice was automatic”.
And Mr Swayne is reported to have voted against the measure.
Additional material added
I wrote earlier about the attacks being made upon this bill. Time now to comment on some of them.
First of all, there were two reports, in the Catholic Herald and in the Telegraph, which tried to put words into the mouth of Michael Foster MP, the Minister of State at the Government Equalities Office.
These were published under strong headlines: Get ready to be sued, Minister tells Christians and Minister predicts legal battles between churches and atheists over Equality Bill were used. In one article it was claimed that
[Foster] admitted that the legislation would open the floodgates to a tide of sexual and religious discrimination cases.
The other version was only slightly less sensational:
[Foster] admitted that the controversial legislation could trigger the launch of religious and sexual discrimination cases against Christian denominations.
I was present at this press conference, the day after the Lords First Reading, and I know that he didn’t say either of those things. The purpose of the conference, limited to the religious press, was to encourage churches to support the bill.
Following a lengthy discussion with all the journalists present about the new definition of the “purposes of an organised religion” in Schedule 9, Clause 2, Paragraph 8, he showed no inclination at all to accept any modification to the existing wording – several suggestions for that were made. He was then asked if he thought it likely that, if the bill passed with the current wording, there would be a challenge to it in the courts.
Here’s what he actually said in reply:
“Both sides will want to be lining up, no doubt. Government is used to the fact that its legislation will be challenged and if we could find the holy grail of avoiding challenge outside of an authoritarian state which says ‘you can’t’, we would. But I think that people feel strongly about these issues. We can’t do anything about that and neither would we want to.”
After which, as reported by the Telegraph, he added:
“I would like to see the churches being more bold. I would like to see the faith groups stand up and be counted for what they think and to challenge secularism, if that’s what they want to challenge. The secularists should have the right to challenge the Church and if the Church’s argument is good enough – which I believe it is – then the Church should win through.”
The Catholic Herald went on to say:
He declined to offer a solution to how conflicting rights of religious freedom of employers and sexual expression of employees, for instance, could be resolved.
Nor did he deny claims made by the Catholic bishops that the Bill would allow non-Christians who work in church premises to sue for victimisation if they were offended by crucifixes on walls. Instead, he said he thought such a scenario “unlikely”, even though an atheist last month successfully sued the Italian government over its policy of having crucifixes in schools.
But in the paper handout issued at the meeting, it says this about the crucifixes issue:
MYTH: Religious organisations that display holy images in the workplace are vulnerable under the Equality Bill.
RESPONSE: Religious organisations are free to display holy images. Some people have suggested that the Equality Bill willl mean that workers will be able to sue religious organisations for harassment because they are offended by religious images ih the workplace. This is just mischief-making.
An example often used is that of a cleaner working in a care home who is offended by crucifixes on the walls - it is completely untrue to suggest that the care home would be required by the Bill to take them down. The cleaner should expect to see these images in a religious organisation.
9. Harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct … with the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment’ (clause 24). The burden of proof for this highly subjective definition is reversed in legal proceedings.
10. In relation to religion or belief, the provision is only applicable to employment (clause 37). The practical consequences of this are that a Catholic care home, for example, may have crucifixes and holy pictures on the walls which reflect and support the beliefs of the residents. A cleaner may be an atheist or of very different religious beliefs. Nonetheless if a cleaner found the crucifixes offensive there would be no defence in law against a charge of harassment. To avoid this provision having serious unintended consequences, a test of ‘reasonableness’ is essential.
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
Till I believed in the Israelite.
(words by Peter Sinfield from Greg Lake’s 1975 Christmas record)
If your Christmas has been anything like mine you’ve heard quite a number of tellings of the birth of Christ over the last few weeks. Sentimental, imagined, romantic, harmonized, fictionalized, sanitized and idealized — that sums up so many of them.
Perhaps you’ve been told that Joseph was the best carpenter in Nazareth, with a reputation that spread far and wide. Perhaps you’ve been told that Mary was a good girl who did all the cooking for her parents, using herbs she’d grown herself (I heard that one in a service on Radio 4 last Sunday morning). No doubt you’ve heard all about the cute little donkey that plodded to Bethlehem, and the ox and the ass that nosed around the stable; and three kings who rode on camels and were most definitely called Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Maybe you’ve even heard that it was cold and snowing. And so on.
Do we, in telling the story this way, conspire with our hearers to perpetuate a fairy story? Do we perpetuate the idea that the birth of Jesus is a fairy story, just a fairy story, something that — like the idea of Father Christmas or the tooth fairy — parents use to encourage children to be sweet and good? But something which we fully expect them to grow out of by the time they are 10, and see that it is just a fairy story that they have listened to uncritically and can discard uncritically?
For it is certain that nearly all will discard the story uncritically. Very few will appreciate the subtle distinction that theologians might make when talking about ‘myth’. No, we have fed them only sentimental tosh, and sentimental tosh is what they will discard in the harsh light of the real world. And they have been given nothing on which to build a stronger understanding of faith. When they grow out of fairy stories they grow out of the fairy story we have spun them and discard the fairy story of the sentimental Jesus, meek and mild, that we told them in their childhood.
What, instead, should we be saying? We need to recover the sense that we are proclaiming the euangelion — originally the ‘good news’ proclaiming the birth of a son to the emperor in Rome, but a word harnessed by the first Christians to describe the truly great news that is the birth of the son of the emperor of all creation. We need to tell the story in a way that lets listeners and readers see the timeless truth of the Incarnation rather than a childish fairy story. It is in the euangelion according to John that, in poetic but unsentimental and timeless language, stripped of all narrative, the Incarnation is most clearly stated, and all else is commentary at best:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Simon Kershaw is one of the three co-founders of Thinking Anglicans.
‘The wolf shall live with the lamb …
… and a little child shall lead them …
… they shall not hurt or destroy.’ Isaiah 11.6
The picture of peace which the Messiah inaugurates is not just for humanity, but for all the world.
This year it was heartening to hear that one more form of animal cruelty, the so-called ‘dancing bears’ of India, had come to an end after a seven-year campaign.
It is part of a world wide move to end cruelty to animals. In Barcelona, there has already been a vote to outlaw bull fighting, and the parliament of Catalonia, in the east of the Spain, is considering a proposal to change local animal protection laws. The people of Catalonia, who suffered intense tyranny during the time of Franco, associate bullfighting with the kind of oppression they endured at the hands of the fascist regime. As a result they identify much more with the doomed bull than with the matador. Few locals in Barcelona want bullfighting: it is far more important to have a top football team. They don’t want to be known as supporters of blood sports, and, in the approach to Christmas, the words of Isaiah sound a message which encourages their campaign.
How revolting it is then, at Christmas, to hear that the Conservative Party in Britain is proposing to allow legislation to legalise once more our own barbaric blood sport, the hunting of deer and foxes with hounds. I question whether this has wide appeal. Animal charities and the RSPB have massive support from millions of people today. It is possible that the number of people who encourage foxes by feeding them in their gardens far exceeds the number of those who might want to hunt; even if they don’t go to the lengths of a former neighbour who provided Waitrose chickens to the vixen with her cubs in the garden. Isn’t it time, as we listen to the song of the angels, to heed the message of the prophet and seek peace rather than ritualised torture and slaughter of dumb animals? And then ‘they will not hurt or destroy … for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord’ (Isaiah 11.9).
Tom Ambrose is a priest living in Cambridge.
Within three days of the good news, comes the bad news. Yes, the Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us; but there seems to be a catch: the process of full redemption and recovery is to be accomplished within human beings, resistant materials that they are, step by step. As Robert Frost once observed ‘the best way out is always through’. Indeed the whole logic of incarnation is that God’s reaction to our evil is to meet it head on, not to steer round it. If this is the nature of the operation, the fulness of any redemption brought us in this holy child is bound to be a process that works from the inside out, needing to take flesh in real people through the seemingly random and cruel processes of the world, not a magic wand job.
Reality itself is not a magic wand job. Beneath the angel strain will roll at least two thousand years of wrong. At the sharp end of that will be innocent victims who will have to take their chances in a precarious and unjust world. The fact that God counts himself among them and takes his chances like the rest of us may be some comfort, but not exactly comforting. Herod does his thing, makes his choice, and the kiddies die anyway.
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ observed the late great Brian Clough. ‘But then I wasn’t on that particular job.’ If Brian, or indeed most of us accustomed to having what we want at the click of a mouse, ruled the world, this is how it would be: Jesus would appear, ping! every one would go ‘Aha!’ ping! Herod would have no choice. The swords would turn to rubber or something, or at least the henchmen would call in sick. Herod could wish anything he wanted, however evil, but he would be unable to vent his paranoia in the real world. That would be that.
But what would that be? That would be the Fat Controller, the manipulator, pushing the buttons, wouldn’t it? That would be God the village copper, sorting everything out with the cheery wave, a few wallops, and the occasional well-aimed Monty Python 16 Ton weight. And if the whole message of the Incarnation is that God isn’t actually any of those things, it’s disappointing, perhaps, but hardly surprising that the Kingdom of God isn’t a ‘Ping’ thing. The ping has to come from us. It doesn’t merely happen on autopilot — indeed nothing happens like that.
What’s the point of kingdom come being a slow painful internal process, you may say. There might as well not be a God at all!
Well, not quite. It there weren’t a God at all, none of this would ultimately matter anyway, on anything but a notional, intellectual level. Unjust suffering would be no more significant than any other happenstance. We would just have to conclude ‘It happens,’ like sunspots or black holes. Being Nasty might be possible to portray as ultimately illogical, but Herod, and a thousand tyrants since, have a slightly different logic of their own, and, in a Nietzschean universe where might is right, who would be able to say they were wrong?
Over and above the particular choices that Herod, or for that matter any of us, may make, the wrongness of this unjust suffering stands in contrast to the justice of God, which stands eternal. That means it is what it is, whatever we may think of it, and remains supreme on a meta level. Indeed it defines the terms in which these things happen, whilst leaving us free to choose. Herod may get away with it, but no excuse he may offer can ever be adequate. No amount of rage and spite, power and opportunity, can change injustice into justice. That really would put us in a fix, far more than being told the score and given the choice.
The Christmas story turns out to be a moral compass, not a remote control device. Power games and bullying, attempting to fiddle the books by manipulating the politics regardless of the human cost, will always be off limits — a sign that the kingdom has not quite come in us as fully as it wants to, whether we are Herod or Hitler, a world leader or poor clergy of the Anglican communion. Oh, but Herod will say, what’s the alternative? The alternative is faith, but it’s harder to live by faith than by manipulation, especially if we seemingly have the means to accomplish our will by the latter. To think and act differently, we need a renewed outlook, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, nudging us along the way to wholeness and hope. And each step we take closer to that advances the peace and salvation of ourselves and all the world.
Alan Wilson is area Bishop of Buckingham in the diocese of Oxford.
The Archbishop of Canterbury preached this sermon at Christmas.
The Archbishop of York preached this sermon.
On Christmas Eve, he also spoke out about asylum seekers.
And Ruth Gledhill had a related post, Happy Christmas - and Keep Out!
The Bishop of London wrote for Cif belief about Christmas and climate change.
William Wolf writes in The Times that It is high time that New Year’s Day was reclaimed for faith.
This festival has something of a split personality. We celebrate John the Apostle, son of Zebedee and brother of James, whose mother tried to ensure a good position for her boys in the coming kingdom. And we celebrate John the Evangelist, who probably wasn’t the same person, but was the disciple whom Jesus loved, a young man who lived in or around Jerusalem and didn’t get to travel with Jesus on his teaching and healing tours, but to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother. And thirdly, there is John the Divine, author of the Book of Revelation. All of them are celebrated on this day, whether they were considered to be one person, two or three people.
The Church has generally assumed that John the Apostle was John the Evangelist, as the wording of the collect makes clear, but recent scholarship (e.g. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which won this year’s Michael Ramsey prize) makes a distinction between them. Bauckham argues that John the Evangelist was John the Elder, the Beloved Disciple, also known as John of Ephesus, who wrote the Gospel with his name and the three epistles.
It seems that church tradition has conflated two Johns, and possibly three. I wonder if this confusion of Johns in some way mirrors the position the church finds itself in.
There is the old John, the Apostle, Son of Zebedee. He was one of the small group which had the vision on the mountain top of Jesus in conversation with the old heroes, Moses and Elijah. This was a vision that made connections with the past. And yet John, with the rest of the twelve, singularly failed to understand Jesus. They walked with him along the way, they heard him, they saw the miracles that he did, but they just didn’t get the kingdom of God or the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death.
I know churches like that. They had a vision once. They have a powerful connection to the past. They have walked along the way, but they haven’t quite got Jesus.
Then there is the younger John, a disciple, but not one of the original twelve. This is John the Elder, John of Ephesus, possibly also known as John the Apostle later in his life. This John understands the spiritual significance of Jesus’ ministry. He can see what God is doing. His vision is of God’s present activity. He offers the key theological insight that God is Love and longs for us to respond to him in love.
I love this John. He excites and inspires me. Churches in this mode are working to identify God’s work in their communities here and now. They look for ways to live the Gospel of God’s love, even when they don’t always get it right.
And we can also include the (possibly) third John, John of Patmos, John the Divine, who wrote the Book of Revelation. This John has a great vision of the future, when at the last, God will dwell his people in the New Jerusalem.
Churches can live this future-church model in different ways. There are those churches which wait for God to sort everything out in the sweet by-and-by without really engaging with the issues and challenges. And there are churches which are looking prophetically at our world in an attempt to understand where God is taking us, and which are willing to face the murderous and killing beasts that threaten the bond between God and humankind.
This is beginning to sound like a version of the three ghosts of Dicken’s Christmas Carol.
In the Communion of Saints, St John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, St John the Evangelist and St John the Divine have a kind of heavenly job-share. Personally, I am happy to think of them as having an active role today, sifting our prayers and praying for us, guiding us and prompting us. My prayer is that they can help the Church to grow into a Body of Christ that better reflects the God who is Love with wisdom and insight and courage.
Meg Gilley is a parish priest working in former pit villages in County Durham.
When God acts decisively, as we celebrated yesterday, he is inclined to do so in a manner that (however much Old Testament prophecies might have hinted at it) catches creation unawares. A baby in a manger is scarcely a more likely incarnation of the divine than the one-eyed, slightly chipped tortoise that is the great god OM in Terry Pratchett’s novel Small Gods (it’s Christmas, I’m allowed to read trash). When the church acts decisively it follows much more obvious channels. Hence, some of the first tasks of the post-Pentecost Christian community are about getting the structures right. Matthias is appointed to fill the place of Judas, and then, lest the apostles be distracted from their preaching and prayers by the mundane, and inward facing, tasks of sorting out disputes and allocating resources, seven new posts are created, the first deacons.
There’s meant to be a clear distinction between the apostolic and diaconal roles, but it doesn’t work out. The mistake the twelve have made is in appointing men ‘full of the Spirit’. And the Spirit won’t be tied to the mundane and practical. Indeed in the chapters that follow in the Acts of the Apostles we find two of the seven heavily engaged in proclaiming the gospel to those outside the community. In fact, given that we hear little in the rest of the book about any of the original dozen apart from Peter, James and John, you could say that there’s a higher success rate of apostolic ministry among the seven than there is from the twelve.
Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Stephen, one of those seven, arrested for his preaching and condemned for witnessing to his vision of Christ at the right hand of God. Stephen discovered, as countless others have down the centuries, that you can’t separate the proclamation of the Good News from meeting the practical needs of the poor. And that inseparability is for two distinct and complementary reasons.
Firstly, churches and Christians need to uphold justice and perform good works in order to show the love of Jesus. My friend the Bishop of Peru has a simple rule that no congregation in his diocese can achieve the status as a parish until it has some practical programme of work: a school; a clinic; a project teaching skills to the unemployed. There has to be something that reaches out and lifts up the poor of its neighbourhood. If we are not showing the love of God through our practical actions how can anyone be drawn to him through our words?
But secondly, it was only when he began serving the needy that Stephen was granted his vision of Christ. Twelve centuries later St Francis of Assisi discovered that unless he could see Jesus in a leper he could not truly see Jesus. In that sense the practical tasks we undertake are as much for own benefit as for the well-being of those who are aided by them. We will not see Jesus at the right hand of the Father until we cultivate the habit of seeing him in the drug addict, the beggar, the AIDS sufferer, the sex worker or the homeless person; or in whomever it may be that we and our society are minded to neglect, condemn or despise.
Anglicans too often divide into those who neglect justice in the pursuit of holiness and those who ignore holiness in their striving for justice. In Stephen both are held together. May they be so for us too this Christmastide and beyond.
David Walker is suffragan Bishop of Dudley in the diocese of Worcester.
I belong to that generation who, back in the seventies, were theologically weaned off Christmas in favour of Easter’s role as the pivotal celebration of Christian faith. So convinced were we, that it seems odd to be attracted back to Christmas, to be called to contemplate the Incarnation anew.
No doubt, in forming the infancy narratives, Matthew and Luke were anticipating what happened in Jesus’s adult life, anticipating the significance of that later life — much as John did via his quite different prologue. They expected us to be better able to understand the later life by understanding the early life — written creatively to show the hand of God active from Jesus’s very beginnings.
Once you suspect what the evangelists were up to, it is horribly tempting to make theological hay about how God is revealed in the exquisite vulnerability of a newborn infant; in a child of unusual, if not uncertain, birth; in a rejected child, soon to be persecuted, soon to become a refugee. The clear anticipation of the pattern of Jesus’s later life is almost too obvious. But good theology stems, at least in part, from good prayer; and the challenge of re-appropriating Christmas is perhaps more than getting the hermeneutics or the theology right. The greater challenge is to think a little bit less and to wonder a whole lot more. In his notion of the second naiveté, Paul Ricoeur spoke of the need to let the creative aspects of these stories strike us, even with our critical reading strategies.
That’s why I like to ponder the verse in Matthew depicting the Magi falling to their knees, or the verse in Luke saying how the shepherds went back to their fields glorifying and praising God. As Ignatius of Loyola said, ‘it is not much knowledge but the inner feeling and relish of things that fills and satisfies the soul.’ Perhaps Christmas is an invitation to put theology temporarily on the back seat, and to try to let these stories tell themselves. The evangelists had their purposes in passing on these stories, but those purposes were served by these stories themselves, not by a study of the evangelists’ motivations. Perhaps rather than try to explain the significance of Jesus’s birth, we’d be better off asking God to let us experience that significance, to be bowled over by it, to hear, as if for the first time, just how this utterly surprising birth could be a great joy for the whole world. Again, rather than worry too quickly about the two natures of Christ, we could first ask God to let us taste and relish the divine glory as we re-imagine that infant’s birth. Who knows, we may find ourselves flopping to our knees, just as the Magi purportedly did.
Theology can wait another day.
Joe Cassidy is Principal of St Chad’s College, Durham University.
The BBC Today radio programme interviewed the Archbishop of York this morning. Listen to what he said here:
The death penalty could be introduced in Uganda for acts of gay sex. The proposed bill is due to be voted on in the new year and has attracted international outrage and controversy. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is Ugandan and left the country in the days of former President Idi Amin, discusses reaction to the bill.
He refers to the wording of the Dromantine communiqué. And gives reasons for him and Canterbury not having spoken out.
Although from Gaudete Sunday onwards we may start liturgically to direct our gaze a little more towards the first coming of Christ, the Advent backdrop never quite goes away. Thus I wonder whether at the very end of Advent, on Christmas Eve, there is a theme easily lost in the rush to mount the 6.30 Carol service and make sure the charcoal’s not damp for the Midnight.
There’s little reason to doubt that this Advent will end just as uneventfully as all the others, and the nearest we will get to the stars falling from the sky will be when local revellers dismantle the Corporation Christmas Tree. Advent is a journey never completed: instead of the logical resolution of the Season — the final in-breaking of the Kingdom — we find ourselves back at the beginning once more. Rather like a child whose pile of unwrapped presents never quite matches the excitement of the mysterious parcels, we find ourselves happy enough that Christmas Day is here, yet aware that it’s not really where the story should have gone. We get a glimpse of what is to come only through hearing of the end of someone else’s wait.
Camus’s essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ seems to me to suggest that although Sisyphus’s task never ends, he is nonetheless happy. He has almost reached journey’s end — and that is enough. A glimpse of what might be has been given him as he nears the top of the mountain. This is perhaps a paradigm of Advent, and particularly of Christmas Eve.
It’s long been ‘correct’ to identify the Easter Dawn Eucharist as the Solemnity of Solemnities, the ne plus ultra of Christian rejoicing this side of the Kingdom. Perhaps Christmas Eve should be styled the Vigil of Vigils, where the waiting is never quite over, but briefly we peer into that other country before we are sent back to the beginning to begin the journey once more. And like Sisyphus, we find that it is enough.
David Rowett (‘mynsterpreost’) is parish priest at Barton-upon-Humber in the Diocese of Lincoln.
There have been some rather odd articles about this bill recently.
Telegraph Simon Caldwell and Martin Beckford Minister predicts legal battles between churches and atheists over Equality Bill and later George Pitcher Equality legislation means our very right to believe is under fire
Catholic Herald Simon Caldwell Get ready to be sued, Minister tells Christians
And various repeats in the blogosphere, of which this is perhaps the most extreme headline: The Equality Bill: Will A New Law Essentially Outlaw Evangelical Christianity And Roman Catholicism In The U.K.?
Leading to items from the lobbying organisations:
Christian Concern for our Nation Act to protect employment freedom for Churches
Much of this criticism is unjustified by the facts (I was present at the press briefing with Michael Foster), and I will write more about this soon.
Meanwhile, the BBC has published a helpful reminder of the main objectives of the bill: What the new Equality Bill means for employers
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
The dream of Emmanu-el, or God-with-us is a very powerful one. Depending on the character of the God in question can make the greatest of differences to what you believe is the right or wrong thing to do. The creation myth which begins both the Torah and our Christian Hebrew bible tells of a god who creates the world as an original blessing; the world is created and it is intrinsically good. The creation myth of the Babylonian captors of Israel is a story of the violence of Tiamat the mother god slain by Marduk who spreads her butchered carcass out to create the geography of a world, a world which has been formed both in violence, and in violence against the feminine.
Before we smile too readily at these ancient near-eastern myths, we only have to consider those causes of our own day, who believe God-is-with-us. Osama bin Laden is a man of faith, in such a way as we may prefer him to have no faith at all. The last several United States Presidents have been impotent in the face of present-day Israeli atrocities, because the powerful voting lobby of the evangelical right believes that Israel has the right to that land, and is ethically absolved from how it maintains that right.
The Church of England has, by law, been the established church of the English people. While few would defend this as a meaningful title in public life, it remains the basis of assumptions in rural communities. If the Church of England represents Emmanu-el, God-with-us, whether we are signed up to the faith or not, we are currently witnessing a breach of that generation’s long-held view of that implicit covenant.
For over a thousand years, Emmanu-el meant the rights of the established church personified in the lord bishop, indistinguishable from his secular counterparts. Emmanu-el meant, for village communities, being required to gather each Sunday in churches funded by the landowners, in order to acknowledge that the pecking order of earth was ratified in heaven.
There are few rural communities now where the ancient feudal powers still exercise the same rights of patronage over the parish church their forebears built. Since the Second World War, in many places, these rights have been assumed by people of new money. These people have not been motivated by the noblesse oblige of the landed powers, but have expected the services of the church with little or nothing in return. They have expected power without responsibility.
As feudal estates have receded, with their guarantees of employment and grace and favour accommodation, they have been replaced with the new rural with the aspirations of gentry, but who do not understand the obligations with which that power was balanced in former days.
So, the notion of God-with-us is open. Formerly the Us, whom God was with, was a contact between feudal power and peasant, and each looked after the other. Our medieval churches are littered with memorials to the moneyed. As despicable as this is to the original Jesus vision, at least it is honest.
But, in these days of pastoral restructuring of the church, the voices who oppose closure of a church are not those which have contributed to its life, either by piety or by brute underwriting. They are arid voices which do not give life to anyone, but rather defend their own view of themselves and of the romantic view of the countryside which overlooks the impoverishment which made its economy possible.
We need church leaders who can articulate what it means to have God-with-us which supersedes the basis of much of what has given the Church of England, and before that, the Bishop of Rome, power in the past. It must be rooted in the character of God represented in the infancy narratives, stories from which we cherry-pick for our carol services each year, because we value attendance over conviction.
In short, we need to re-visit the character of the God whom we claim to be with us, re-visit Emmanu-el, and ask whether our practice discloses God’s character, or seeks to shore up a practice whose underlying assumptions are corrupt.
Andrew Spurr is vicar of Evesham, in the diocese of Worcester.
The Uganda Monitor has an article Museveni will block anti-gay Bill - reports.
The BBC says Uganda fear over gay death penalty plans.
Ecumenical News International reports World church leader concerned about Uganda anti-homosexual bill.
CBS News has Republicans Condemn Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, and see also Members of U.S. Congress Invoke their Faith to Oppose Ugandan anti-Gay law.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
What now, late in 2009, might be the desire of the nations?
It should be possible to answer that question, surely. After all, only last week, the nations came together. Or, at least, their leaders did. From the super-powers and the almost-super-powers, and from the tiny island states, diplomats, negotiators, heads of government, all gathered over the last week or so in Copenhagen. Nations with contrasting, even competing, experiences and priorities; nations clinging to what the comforts they now enjoy, nations aspiring to more as they grow into affluence, nations desperately fearful of losing what little they have.
They came seeking a foundation — or to change the metaphor, a cornerstone, something which would hold them together in an accord, an agreed response to the threat of changes to the climate which may alter all our lives, diminish the earth’s abundance, and destroy those who already struggle for survival. If there is a cornerstone, if not entirely neglected, it is as yet scarcely in place. Over the last few days of the conference, reports moved from gloom to hope to gloom again. Since its conclusion, there has been some rewriting of the last grim summaries. At least the meeting took place. At least there were conversations. At least something was written down. At least we are at the beginning of a road. But it is the beginning, I suspect, of a very long road, and the journey may take too long. We are very, very far from being one, even in our fears, let alone in our hopes, or in converting hope into reality.
The old story, the story reflected in today’s antiphon, is that we were fashioned from clay, from the soil, the very earth from which we still draw what sustains our physical life. As we come towards the great festival of the Incarnation, we so often focus on the divine entry into the day-to-day, earthed, ordinariness of what it is to be human. Yet now, we are also aware, as perhaps never before, of a profound disharmony between the story of the earth and its well-being and the actions of the beings who have their life on it and from it. It is, it seems, the clay itself which is in need of salvation, in need of saving from what so many of us, in our particularly voracious way of living, are doing to the soil, the seas, the atmosphere.
‘Peace on the earth’, we will read, and sing, and pray, over the coming days. Perhaps we should be praying instead, ‘peace for the earth’, for the raw material of God’s creation.
Truly, an antiphon for our time.
Canon Jane Freeman is team vicar at East Ham with Upton Park in the diocese of Chelmsford.
The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan has issued a statement, via his press office:
“Whatever one’s standpoint on same sex relationships, the private members motion for an Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda is unacceptable. It could lead to the legitimising of violence against gay and lesbian people which is totally against what Lambeth 1.10 agreed in 1998 and its proposal for capital punishment against such people is barbaric.”
On the other hand another report from Wales shows that Stephen Green has a different view.
Warren Throckmorton reports Uganda National Pastors Task Force Against Homosexuality demand apology from Rick Warren. This task force claims to represent among others The Roman Catholic Church in Uganda (but not the [Anglican] Church of Uganda).
Reuters reports Ugandan gay community says prejudice to become law.
New Vision reports Govt defends need to legislate on homosexuality.
Voice of America reports Africa’s Anti-Gay Laws Spark Accusations and Denials in US.
ACNA has issued a statement. Read ACNA speaks out on Uganda anti-homosexuals bill. And also from Episcopal Café read Don Armstrong’s silence, and other news on that anti-homosexuals bill.
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Today’s antiphon addresses Christ as the morning star, the rising sun, the dawn. Whichever translation is used, the image is one of the light of the sun turning the darkness of night into bright day. It echoes the words of Isaiah, who prophesied that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has the light shined’ (Isaiah 9.2). This light has the power to bring joy as well as justice, clarity as well as re-ordered relationships and peace. This light is intended to transform both individuals and institutions.
The prophet Malachi, in trying to convince the people of Israel of God’s continuing love for them, also speaks of the rising of ‘the sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4.2), with a beautiful additional phrase made familiar in the final verse of the great carol ‘Hark, the herald-angels sing’: ‘Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.’ The potentially dazzling light of the sun of righteousness comes not to blind, but to burn out and dissolve and so heal all that wounds or damages people and nations, all that prevents their flourishing and their right relationship with God.
In the New Testament, in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is described as the Word, in whom ‘was life, and the life was the light of all people’ (John 1.4). Part of the enlightening action of this light was to reveal the true nature of Jesus as the Son of God and to make clear the possibility for all who believe in him also to become children of God. The light of Christ both enables a new way of being and reveals a new identity, an identity in which we are invited to share in the life of the Divine.
As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, we are encouraged to step out of all the different kinds of shadows there may be in our lives that obscure the life of God in us — the shadows of hurt and disappointment, fading hope and growing despair, sin, loneliness, grief, regret. We are once again reassured of God’s ongoing, never-ending love for us, a love that is strong enough to overcome any kind of darkness.
By stepping into the light we turn our backs on the darkness and on our own ability to deceive and to be deceived, and place ourselves in a position to be shown more of who God is and more of who we are. As we open ourselves more and more to the light, and look more fully into the face of the sun of righteousness, all that is shadow in us is eventually dissolved and ultimately we ourselves become light.
Christina Rees is a member of the General Synod and Chair of Watch (Women and the Church).
Stephen Bates wrote in The Guardian yesterday (although it was only published online today):
With some leading Anglicans calling for gay people to be killed (and the archbishop staying quiet), we visited one congregation to see if they’re still proud to be CofE.
Diarmaid MacCulloch writes in today’s Observer:
The Church of England has taken a pounding from critics, but Rowan Williams has reasons to be cheerful as Christmas approaches, says a leading Anglican historian and commentator.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
The Key of David figures twice in the Bible: once in Isaiah 22, when Eliakim is told that God, ‘will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open;’ and then in Revelation 3 where the Church in Philadelphia is told ‘the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. … See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.’
Jerusalem and Philadelphia both faced uncertain futures. Each in their own way is challenged neither to be hopeless, nor hope in hopeless things, but to put their trust in God.
Our own society has issues too about the future and hope. We oscillate between what can be an ostrich-like preoccupation with our present prosperity, and apocalyptic angst about the future that we find hard to turn into effective action. One of the reasons no political party seems to cut the mustard at the moment for me is that none of them seems to have a real grasp on giving us a future.
Can the Christian Gospel do it? Can a hope that is ‘steadfast and certain’ not dissolve into other-worldly post-mortem escape on the one hand, or doctrine-driven tyranny on the other, but lead us into a coming of God’s kingdom that is both good news now for all God’s children, and good news that in the end all shall be well?
I think it can. Committed faith in Christ matched with an equal commitment to live in a Christ-like way can release the resources of the past into the passion of the present, and unlock the door of the future. We see it happening all the time in very practical actions by people we know, and when the time is right we see it breaking through and changing society itself.
This, I sense, is such a time. Faith is returning rapidly to the public stage. Let’s make sure it speaks in a way that gives us all back our future.
David Thomson is the suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon in the diocese of Ely.
Cif belief asked this week, Is the Bible anti-gay?
Responses came from:
Theo Hobson: Ours is not the same homosexuality
Davis Mac-Iyalla: A terrible use of the Good Book
John Richardson: Evasive answers don’t help
Judith Maltby: Not much to do with the Bible
Giles Fraser wrote in the Church Times that Perhaps the politicians really value Christians.
Jonathan Sacks writes in The Times Thank God for the Courage to live with uncertainty.
Nesrine Malik writes in the Guardian about usury.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
As a teenager I helped in coppicing woodland. Even the mightiest trees were felled. But the intention, rather than simply destroying the wood, was to allow the old roots to put out new growth. It wasn’t a replacement of the original trees, but something potentially just as useful. With careful management we had chestnut and hazel for woven fencing, cover for pheasants and even willow for cricket bats.
Isaiah saw the great family tree cut down. The legacy of King Solomon, a magnificent temple crowning the royal city, had been destroyed, and the rulers of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah were taken captive. Surely nothing could arise from this, yet the prophet saw the survival of the stump as a sign of hope. Isaiah’s vision of what it might produce kept the hope of Israel alive through long generations in spite of conquests by foreign powers. However, rather than wondering about what the possibilities of new growth might be, people may have longed for a return to the old days, with a clone of Jesse’s son who might once more slay the new Goliath and throw out the Philistines again.
The descendant whom the nations would seek was no clone. The man who came, humble and riding on an ass, didn’t fit with the expectations of either the zealots or the temple elite. He neither restored the military power of Jerusalem nor added to the glory of the city’s temple.
But how people long to relive former greatness! There is in Britain today a similar longing to recapture the days of former glory, when London was the capital of an empire which reached every continent and included a quarter of the people of the world. In those days Britain was expected to take a leading role on the world stage and indeed did so. But the mighty tree is no more. It will not grow back as it was, and the coppice needs to be valued for what it can produce today.
The false perception wasn’t helped when the rapidly won victories in the Falkland Islands and in Kuwait lulled the nation into thinking that all that was needed on the foreign stage was a continuation of sabre rattling and gun boat diplomacy. We are now seeing that Bush and Blair only thought they needed to give a final kick to a regime in Iraq that was already beaten, and everyone would rush to congratulate them. The ‘special relationship’ with the USA appealed to Blair’s vanity and bounced us into an expensive illegal war with no plan for securing the peace. He clearly thought it was Britain’s role to act as the major player alongside the USA rather than acting alongside our more cautious and larger neighbours such as Germany and France.
But if governments can learn to move from conquest to co-operation, then the churches need to do the same. The stock of Jesse did not ask for Constantinian triumphalism, crusades, inquisitions and holy wars. This tender shoot announced a kingdom which did not require the trappings of worldly power in order to proclaim his universal message. Churches which appeared as temporal powers in nations and empires are increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many, and the wars between the remaining Christians bring faith into disrepute.
If we are truly to offer what the nations seek, then we need to model ourselves more closely on the shoot from the stock of Jesse, whose mission was to the bruised reed and whose message proclaimed justice for all. We need to be seen as the bearers of that hope, offering new life. ‘Come and deliver us’, we cry this Advent - that we might offer this deliverance to all. He offers us a new creation open to everyone, not a return to the past glory of a few.
Tom Ambrose is a priest living in Cambridge.
The following resolution was passed by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion meeting in London on 15-18 December, and approved for public distribution.
Resolved that, in the light of:
i. The recent episcopal nomination in the Diocese of Los Angeles of a partnered lesbian candidate
ii. The decisions in a number of US and Canadian dioceses to proceed with formal ceremonies of same-sex blessings
iii. Continuing cross-jurisdictional activity within the Communion
The Standing Committee strongly reaffirm Resolution 14.09 of ACC 14 supporting the three moratoria proposed by the Windsor Report and the associated request for gracious restraint in respect of actions that endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion by going against the declared view of the Instruments of Communion.
For those who haven’t been keeping up, this body was formerly known as the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council.
More links added
The final version of the Anglican Communion Covenant has been released and sent to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has this evening issued a message to go with it.
A message from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Anglican Communion Covenant
Thursday 17 December 2009
As the final version of the Anglican Communion Covenant is sent to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has given the following message explaining the purpose of the Covenant and the processes surrounding its adoption.
[On the Archbishop’s website a 4 minute 37 second video follows here.]
A transcript of the Archbishop’s video message is below:
After several years of work, the proposed covenant for the Anglican Communion has now reached its final form and is being distributed to the provinces for discussion, and I hope it will be adopted by as many provinces as possible.
It’s quite important in this process to remember what the Covenant is and what it isn’t, what it’s meant to achieve, and what it’s not going to achieve. It’s not going to solve all our problems, it’s not going to be a constitution, and it’s certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don’t comply. But what it does represent is this: in recent years in the Anglican family, we’ve discovered that our relations with each other as local churches have often been strained, that we haven’t learned to trust one another as perhaps we should, that we really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other. In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.
The covenant text sets out the basis on which the Anglican family works and prays and lives and hopes. The bulk of the text identifies what we hold in common, the ground on which we stand as Anglicans. It’s about the gift we’ve been given as a Church and the gift we’ve been given specifically as the Anglican Communion. All those things we give thanks for, we affirm together, and we resolve together to safeguard and to honour.
The last bit of the Covenant text is the one thats perhaps been the most controversial, because that’s where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn’t set out, as I’ve already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that’s in question - or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we’re trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they’re always going to be there.
So what happens next? This Covenant is being sent to all the member Churches of the Anglican Communion. Each church will, within its own processes, decide how to handle it, and by the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in three years time we hope that many provinces will already have said yes to this and adopted it into their own understanding and identity. Clearly the process won’t all be over by then, but we’re hoping to see some enthusiasm, some general adoption of the principles. We hope to see a new kind of relationship emerging. We hope to see people agreeing to these ways of resolving our conflicts.
Beyond that, what’s going to happen? It’s hard to say as yet, but the Covenant text itself does make it clear that at some point it’ll be open to other bodies, other Ecclesial bodies as they’re called, other Churches and communities to adopt this Covenant, and be considered for incorporation into the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, it’s open to anybody that wishes to affirm the principles of the Covenant - to say that this is what they wish to live with.
So in the next few years we expect to see quite a bit of activity around this. We hope, as I’ve said, that many provinces will feel able to adopt this. We hope that many other bodies will affirm the vision that’s set out here, and that in the long run this will actually help us to become more of a communion - more responsible for each other, presenting to the world a face of mutual understanding, patience, charity and gratitude for one another. In other words, we hope and pray that the Covenant for the Anglican Communion will be a truly effective tool for witness and mission in our world.
The full text of the Anglican Communion Covenant can be found at:
The Covenant Working Party Commentary on Revisions to Section 4 contains an explanation of what they have done.
A PDF file showing the exact textual changes that have been made to Section 4 is available via this page.
An official comparison of the texts is now here in another PDF.
A cover letter from Kenneth Kearon to Primates, Moderators and Provincial Secretaries is here (PDF).
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Many years ago when I was still living in Germany, some time in the mid-1970s, I used to go on prison visits with a local priest. I was at that time a bank employee, and these visits seemed to me to balance my life in a useful way.
One of the prison inmates was a man then probably in his late 50s. He was a loner, and though he was always present in the prison’s leisure room when I was there, he never joined the group conversations and kept himself to himself. Eventually I learned from other prisoners that this man was a serial offender, usually convicted of burglaries and other similar offences. However, despite his clear inability to fit into society, he was known never to be violent towards the victims of his crimes.
One day I did manage to get him to talk to me, and I was completely taken aback by his story. Before the Second World War, he had been a Roman Catholic ordinand, but when the war started he felt he should join the German army and did so. From 1941 he was posted to Russia, and apparently was known as a courageous but also a humane soldier (a significant feature, given where he was and who he was fighting for).
In December1943, he and a group of other soldiers were instructed to ‘clean out’ a shed which had been used as a refuge and hiding place by some Jews, who had been found by the SS and had presumably been murdered. As this soldier and his comrades removed the bodies, he saw that one of the refugees had written something on the wall — the single Hebrew word ‘Adonai’. So here, somewhere in Russia, during Advent in 1943, this German soldier was reminded of his theological training, and as he put it to me, the shout of the people yearning for their God amidst this terror reached him through this one Hebrew word written on a barn wall. He was not able to fight any more after that day, and was in fact relieved to be wounded a few days later and, as a result, transported back to Germany.
After the war he was unable to return either to his seminary, or indeed to an ordered life, and he drifted in and out of petty crime. I ended my prison visits a short while later, as I was moving to Ireland, and I have no idea what happened to this man. But I think of him from time to time.
O Adonai has been described as the most Jewish of the O Antiphons, and it reminds us that the people of the law that was handed down on Sinai are the people to whom the Messiah was to come, and that we are also possessors of their heritage and are their brothers and sisters. And it reminds us that the Lord’s outstretched arm reaches through the torments and cruelties of this world and can touch us when we least expect it.
Ferdinand von Prondzynski is President of Dublin City University.
Updated Friday morning
Christianity Today reports that David Zac Niringiye, the Church of Uganda’s assistant bishop of Kampala, says that American Christians should cultivate relationships before condemning the proposed legislation.
Read Ugandan Bishop Pleads With American Christians on Anti-Homosexuality Bill by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.
And there is a related article by the same author, Anti-Homosexuality Bill Divides Ugandan and American Christians.
The Times has just published this Leading Article, Uganda’s Inhumane Bill.
The European Parliament approved a resolution criticising the Ugandan legislation. See this press release.
Friday morning update
The Episcopal Church of Brazil has published an Official Note on the Proposed Ugandan Bill.
Today’s Church Times has a report by Pat Ashworth headed Dr Williams ‘shocked’ by Ugandan Bill.
According to Episcopal Café the Church of Scotland has issued a statement which is copied below the fold.
Statement from the Church of Scotland on the proposals before the Ugandan Parliament on Homosexuality
Church of Scotland has had a long record of standing against injustice and inequality especially when it is perpetrated institutionally. The Church of Scotland is therefore appalled at the draconian measures proposed by the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
In 2007 The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly received a report which stated that “Theological approaches to homosexuality which present gay or lesbian people as unlovable or less loved by God than any other person are unacceptable”. To discriminate on issues of sexuality is unacceptable in the eyes of God and of the law.
Rev Ian Galloway, convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Committee said “This draft legislation is without question an infringement of human rights. It is morally repugnant. The Church of Scotland wants therefore to strongly add it’s voice to the many calling for the immediate withdrawal of this discriminatory Bill.”
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Wisdom. When God speaks, he speaks wisdom. But what is formed by his mouth is not words, but The Word. God is love, and when he speaks, what he speaks is a person. We usually think of ‘person’ as a human category, but God is much more a person than we ever are. Surely the Platonists were right in this instance at least. We are people because we are made in his image.
This person, who is God’s Wisdom, is the order and the purpose of creation, the strength which fires up super novae, and sends glaciers scraping through granite mountains, and is the desire which kindles the fawn in the deer. And all of this is very poetic and beautiful and moving. Inspiring, even.
Until we get to Jesus of Nazareth, who is Wisdom and shows us the way of prudence. Yes, right. We get to Jesus who is an extraordinary way of showing either of these two virtues. As Kenneth Bailey’s books show (Poet and Peasant: Literary-cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke; Through Middle-Eastern Eyes), he spent most of his public ministry firmly committed to a path guaranteed to exasperate and distress the religious and civil hierarchies. A path which alternately delighted and appalled the crowds, and which was, much of the time, clearly a mystery to his closest followers, never mind his family. The Wisdom of God in person.
And actually I believe he was. Wisdom does not lie in dodging conflict, or trying to escape it. It lies in just how you confront it. Jesus does not confront conflict by blaming others. It is striking how rarely in the Gospels he ever blamed individuals. He blamed that which creates false barriers between people: the mix of closed minds, impossible purity standards and bumptious self satisfaction which has people hiding behind masks which disguise their inner failings, and their inner selves. Faced with individuals, typically he asked for hospitality, or offered forgiveness, without ever seeking an admission of guilt. So Jesus accepted Simon’s hospitality (Luke 7.36ff.). Simon failed to offer Jesus the usual courtesies, and Jesus made no accusation then. Later, he took an opportunity to comment on what actually happened.
Jesus’s very reaction to others sparked more anger and more controversy. In my experience, it still does. When we are hurt, or despised, we very naturally want to hit back, to prove our worth, and to point out the failings in our attacker. To be pulled up short in the enjoyable pursuit of seeing all the failings in the other is painful. Naturally we want to aggrandise our own virtues by contrasting them with their failings. To forgive, and to advocate forgiveness, is generally misunderstood. People think one is condoning the failing, or admitting one’s own guilt.
Naming sins, wrongs done to self or others, is healthy. It always needs to be balanced by an awareness of the humanity of the other and a lively sense of one’s own weaknesses. Otherwise one gets dragged into a spiral of accusation and counter accusation. You don’t even need to believe that Jesus is the wisdom of God to see how pointless that soon becomes.
Jesus avoided tit for tat, dodging it by wit, or evasive answers or silence. He did not do much spelling out of what is and is not the right moral code, and gave his followers few chances of scoring against others. He did not give simple, clear and easy to follow moral codes. He would not make his people into ‘the good guys’ and he would not turn any of the expected figures of hate into the bad guys. On the other hand, he was impossible to turn from what he believed to be true. He would not keep silent and he did not take a path which lead to appeasement. He kept right on speaking the truth. He had no discernable interest in keeping others on board, and less in keeping any faction of the Jewish faith together.
He saw the need of the people, and also their desire for him to be a leader and a ruler of a kind he had no intention of being, and he refused to fulfil it. He took his own chosen and principled path. That is how one acts out the Wisdom of God.
He sparked a huge anger, and a mix of disappointed hopes and unreal expectations. Mere common sense suggested his death, which was facilitated by one of his own followers whom he had failed to keep on board. O Wisdom. He died in agony.
Christian leaders would do well to bear all this in mind. Easy moral codes are not wisdom. Wisdom lies in taking a principled path, which does not blame others, but holds to what is true. Not yielding one’s own agenda, but not heaping blame on those who do not follow it. The only trouble is that this is also the path for all of us, and it leads to various kinds of crucifixion, although it is actually the only path that really works.
Many will rightly comment that the distinction between boldly naming wrong done, and not getting drawn into recrimination, is at best a fine line, and very hard to maintain. But that is the trouble with having a Wisdom which is not words, but a person.
Rosemary Hannah is a historian and writer who lives near Glasgow.
The following individual speeches are interesting:
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, summing up the debate for the government.
More about this later.
Updated Thursday morning
The Court of Appeals (Civil Division) has today dismissed the appeal of Lilian Ladele from the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision of December 2008, which found in favour of the London Borough of Islington.
Initial press reports:
Press Association Registrar loses discrimination case
Press Association Pressure groups welcome same-sex discrimination ruling
Symon Hill Cif belief A judgment Christians should celebrate
Christian Institute Court rejects appeal in Christian registrar case
Christian Concern for our Nation Court of Appeal rules against Christian Registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships
Episcopal Café has an article Does the Church of Uganda really have no position?
Evidence continues to accumulate that the Church of Uganda supports the anti-homosexuals bill before parliament.
And the article proceeds to give chapter and verse in some detail.
Meanwhile, Ecumenical News International reports Anglican church warns on homosexuality
[Bishop] Onono-Onweng in his interview with ENI said he did not wish to comment on the draft law until he had more time to study it…
This one by George Pitcher in case you missed it yesterday.
On the one hand, there is the bit about Uganda:
Andrew Brown Rowan denounces Ugandan law
There is a passage a long way down in the Daily Telegraph’s interview with Rowan Williams which deserves celebration and quotation:
“Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades,” says Dr Williams. “Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers.” He adds that the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty but, tellingly, he notes that its archbishop, Henry Orombi, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference last year, “has not taken a position on this bill”.
On the other hand, there is the bit about politics:
What would he like to see from politicians in the coming general election year? He responds that we “curiously have three party leaders, all of whom have a very strong moral sense of some spiritual flavour”. David Cameron may have conceded that the Church of England is in his DNA, but Gordon Brown is a son of the manse who is notoriously secretive about his faith or lack of it, and Nick Clegg has declared his atheism. “But he takes it seriously,” replies Dr Williams. “And with all of them I think if you can get them off the record or off the platform, these convictions will come through quite strongly.”
Is the problem “we don’t do God” spin doctors? “I think it’s important for politicians not to be too protected, to be able to establish their human credentials in front of a living audience.” So our leaders need to be more open about their faith? “I don’t think it would do any harm at all. Part of establishing their human credentials is saying ‘This is where my motivation comes from … I’m in politics because this is what I believe.’ And that includes religious conviction.
“The trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities. The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream.”
Theo Hobson What’s Williams whinging about?
Ok, Williams is right that there is a widespread perception that religion is “a bit fishy”, but I don’t see how the government can be blamed for this. MPs who raise secularist concerns are only echoing a major sector of public opinion, and I haven’t noticed many senior ministers denouncing religion. He is fuelling a crass culture war by complaining that poor Christians are persecuted by nasty secularists. If religion is now widely mistrusted maybe he should ignore the speck in the government’s eye and consider the beam in his own.
Bishop Nick Baines has more about the interview here.
The Evangelical Alliance Ireland writes:
Evangelical Christians and the Civil Partnership Bill 2009
The Irish Government has published a Bill that will establish Civil Partnerships for same sex couples to give them rights, obligations and protections once they are registered with the state. Many of the rights are similar to those currently offered to married couples under Irish Law. In response to this Evangelical Alliance Ireland has just produced a four page paper. Read this document here. [PDF]
A recent Associated Press report: Irish lawmakers open debate on gay rights bill.
Rowan Williams gave an interview to George Pitcher of the Telegraph. Read about it at Dr Rowan Williams: taking a break from Canterbury travails. An earlier news report is titled Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Labour treats us like oddballs’.
Richard Chartres and Ali Gomaa wrote at Cif belief about the Swiss minarets decision, see An opportunity to understand.
Richard Reddie writes in the Guardian that We should understand, not fear, the rise in black conversions to Islam.
Giles Fraser wrote in the Church Times about Loyalty — or an obligation?
Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about Eucharist in the Wesleys’ hymns.
Roderick Strange writes in The Times that To follow Jesus is a cause for rejoicing.
Bishop David Hamid reports from Copenhagen on something other than climate change.
…the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD) has decided to join the Porvoo Communion of Churches. A press release from the Church of Denmark has gone to all the constituencies of that Church and to the general public in Denmark, announcing this landmark decision by the state Church. Arrangements for the public signing of the Porvoo Declaration are still to be settled. The ELCD was a full participant in the theological discussions leading to the Porvoo Common Statement in the 1990s, but in the end did not sign the agreement, so the news today is a major ecumenical breakthrough. Once signed the agreement will extend the Porvoo Communion of Churches to embrace the 12 dioceses and over 2000 parishes in Denmark.
We reported yesterday on the release of the latest Church of England finance and ministry statistics.
Riazat Butt writes about the statistics in the Guardian as Church of England issues cash call to the faithful. Her report highlights “that churchgoers were still giving 3% of their disposable income, compared with the 5% recommended and requested by the General Synod”.
David Keen writes about the statistics in his St. Aidan to Abbey Manor blog Latest CofE stats on giving and ordinations: More is Less, Less is More.
The Church Mouse writes in his blog Church statistics - can someone create a database please. He draws attention to how long it has taken to publish these data (the finance figures are for 2007) and their “almost unusable format”. He offers suggestions for improvement and ends with this offer:
So here’s Mouse’s offer to the good old CofE. Mouse will gladly build a website for them to do these tasks, on the condition that they promise to use it.
Pat Ashworth reported it all for the Church Times in Election of lesbian bishop stirs up controversy.
Riazat Butt reports in the Guardian that Archbishop Rowan Williams urged to retract comments on election of lesbian bishop.
Jeanne Carstensen at Religion Dispatches has Election of New Lesbian Bishop Reveals Tensions in Anglican World.
Daniel Burke at Religion News Service has Lesbian Bishop Aware but Undaunted by Controversy.
LOS ANGELES AND UGANDA
The LGBT Anglican Coalition warmly welcomes the election of two new suffragan bishops for the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles, and notes:
It is most encouraging to see that the elections have been conducted without regard to the sexual orientation of the candidates. The election of a lesbian bishop, following on so soon after the consecration of the new Bishop of Stockholm, gives heart to the many LGBT clergy and lay ministers in churches around the world.
In the light of this, we are gravely disappointed to see the Archbishop of Canterbury rush out a statement within twelve hours of the announcement suggesting that the Episcopal Church should not confirm this election. His repeated intervention in the affairs of that province contrasts embarrassingly with his complete unwillingness to speak publicly about the Church of Uganda bishops’ support for what is universally seen as oppressive and homophobic legislation in that country. That support is in direct contravention of recent resolutions by the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meetings.
If the Archbishop is to retain any credibility at all he needs to reconsider. This double standard of justice is frankly perverse. It appears to most people in Britain to be a disgraceful acquiescence in the demands of homophobic pressure groups both in England and in the Communion.
LGBT Anglican Coalition partners look forward to working with the Diocese of Los Angeles and all others across our Communion in the service of Christ who are committed to a church which includes and welcomes all.
The LGBT Anglican Coalition - including
Revd Benny Hazlehurst - Accepting Evangelicals
Revd Colin Coward - Changing Attitude
The Clergy Consultation
Jeremy Marks - Courage
Mike Dark - The Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians
Canon Giles Goddard - Inclusive Church
Revd Sharon Ferguson - Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
Revd Dr Christina Beardsley - Sibyls
The LGBT Anglican Coalition is a new network of groups working for the full and equal inclusion of LGBT Christians within and beyond the Church of England.
The Equality Bill that was passed in the House of Commons recently is now before the House of Lords. The first debate, i.e the Second Reading, will occur on Tuesday 15 December, starting soon after 2.30 pm.
Earlier reports of the Commons debate can be found here.
My own report is in today’s Church Times at Attempt to remove ‘religion’ clause in Equality Bill fails. That is currently available only to subscribers, but the full text is below the fold.
Meanwhile, the RC bishops have issued a briefing, which has been reported in a somewhat alarming tone in several places:
Catholic Herald Equality Bill threatens integrity of the priesthood, bishops tell Harman by Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service English, Welsh bishops say Equality Bill redefines who can be priest also by Simon Caldwell
There is also a less sensational report by Isabel de Bertadano in the Tablet but that too is subscription-only.
More on this topic to follow.
Church Times 11 December report
Attempt to remove ‘religion’ clause in Equality Bill fails
by Simon Sarmiento
AN ATTEMPT to remove a clause in the Equality Bill defining the “purposes of organised religion” was defeated in the House of Commons on Wednesday of last week. The Church of England had raised objections to the wording (below) when it first appeared (News, 20 November).
The Bill received its Third Reading, when only eight MPs voted against, and it now passes to the House of Lords. A Second Reading debate there is scheduled for next Tuesday.
The amendment, proposed by David Drew, MP for Stroud (Labour), sought to delete the new definition entirely. Speaking in support of Mr Drew, Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean (Conservative), argued that the phrase “wholly or mainly” was too narrow. Many full-time ordained Christian ministers would be excluded, since only a small proportion of their time was spent leading worship or teaching doctrine.
When voted upon, the amendment was defeated by 170 votes to 314.
On 26 November, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, had also spoken about this clause during the debate in the House of Lords on the Queen’s Speech. He said: “I cannot imagine that any Christian would recognise their faith in those descriptions. . . In practice, especially in smaller churches or faith groups, many employees play a multi-tasked role which could fall foul of the requirement that their employment wholly or mainly involve leading worship.”
During the Commons debate, several MPs referred to a “reasoned opinion” that the European Commission had issued to the UK government on 20 November. The Commission stated that the exceptions in current UK law to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than permitted by the EU directive.
The EU Commissioner for Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, said: “We call on the UK Government to make the necessary changes to its anti-discrimination legislation as soon as possible so as to fully comply with the EU rules. In this context, we welcome the proposed Equality Bill, and hope that it will come into force quickly.”
The Government has not yet released the full text of the opinion, but Mr Harper, who had obtained a copy from Brussels, told the Commons that it said: “The UK Government has informed the Commission that the new Equality Bill currently under discussion before the UK Parliament will amend this aspect of the law, and bring UK law into line with the Directive.”
Two other amendments sought to permit religious care-homes for the elderly and religious adoption agencies to restrict their services on the grounds of sexual orientation. They were not adopted.
During the House of Lords debate, an amendment is expected to be tabled to allow religious buildings to be used to hold civil partnership ceremonies. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall, a gay-rights group, said: “We are very clear that this is an issue of religious freedom, and if faiths want to celebrate the ceremonies of two men or two women, it’s not for someone else to say you can’t do that.”
(8) Employment is for the purposes of an organised religion only if the employment wholly or mainly involves —
(a) leading or assisting in the observation of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion,
(b) promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others).
The Church of England has announced the publication of its latest finance and ministry statistics with the following press release.
Latest finance and ministry statistics published on web
11 December 2009
Parishioners’ tax-efficient planned giving averaged more than £9 a week for the first time in 2007, while the total income of parishes increased by £70 million to £898 million, well above inflation, according to the latest statistics from the Church of England. Total voluntary income rose to £485 million or £8.02 per electoral roll member per week. At the same time, total parish expenditure rose to £838 million, with £50 million of this donated by parishes to external charities.
“Data for 2007 shows that giving to parishes by individuals continues to increase year on year, with the landmark figure of £500 million being reached for the first time. We have more than 630,000 people giving in a regular way, with nearly 90 per cent given through Gift Aid enabling parishes to reclaim £78 million from HMRC,” said Dr John Preston, the Church’s National Stewardship and Resources Officer.
“In a time of significant economic pressure, the Church is grateful for the committed support given by so many to their local church. Our givers on average donate more than three per cent of their incomes to the Church, and we estimate that a similar proportion is given away to other causes and charities. However, this remains short of the five per cent of disposable income recommended again by the General Synod in the summer of this year.”
Another 490 candidates were accepted to train as future clergy in 2008, bringing the total in training at the end of the year to 1411. In total, 574 new clergy were ordained in 2008, 19 more than in 2007 and 87 more than in 2006. Of those, 321 were entering full-time paid ministry, compared with 267 in 2007 and 226 in 2006.
While clergy numbers across 2008 remained buoyant, the number of retirements remained high. Revd Preb Lynda Barley, Head of Research & Statistics for the Archbishops’ Council comments: “The large number of clergy retirements reflects the changing age profile of our nation. Parishes continue financially to support clergy in active ministry and in retirement.” Taking retirements and other losses into account, there was a net loss of 112 full-time paid clergy, compared with 192 in 2007 and 182 in 2006.
At the end of 2008, there were some 28,000 licensed and authorised ministers, ordained and lay, active in the Church of England.
Since 2000, the proportion of those under 30 years of age recommended for training has increased slightly to 17 per cent. Further to encourage young vocations to the priesthood, the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council has developed the Call Waiting campaign including the website, a glossy magazine with essential information for prospective clergy, and a series of eye-catching posters. Audio interviews with young trainee priests, curates and vicars on the Call Waiting website chronicle the journey from initial sense of calling through discernment to training and ministry.
The latest statistics have been added to the Church of England website, alongside attendance statistics published in February.
There are links to statistics for earlier years here.
Box Turtle Bulletin reports Uganda’s Official Media Centre Publishes Article Suggesting Anti-Homosexuality Act Not Needed.
Columnist Obed K. Katureebe wrote an opinion piece in which he suggests that the Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act may not be needed. While Katureebe does not hold a governmental position, the fact that this piece appears on the government’s official Media Centre web site might be significant. The Media Centre acts as a “centralized location where all official government correspondence and information can be easily accessed.”
Here’s the full text of the media centre article: Homosexuality: we can still avoid foreign bad press.
Update That article has been
removed from relocated in the website. However you can still read it over here.
Box Turtle Bulletin also reports Vatican Statement about Uganda’s proposed legislation.
Today the Vatican representative read a statement to a United Nations panel on anti-gay violence. Although the Holy See did not reference Uganda by name, it does address in a general sense its response to the Ugandan Kill Gays bill. The timing suggests that this statement is driven by the publicity surrounding the bill…
And, Warren Throckmorton has this: Rick Warren issues statement to Uganda regarding Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009. Among the points Rick Warren makes is this one:
5. What did you do when you heard about the proposed Ugandan law?
I wrote to the most influential leader I knew in that country, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, and shared my opposition and concern. He wrote me back, saying that he, too, was opposed to the death penalty for homosexuals. There are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world that kill people (For instance, last year, 146,000 Christians around the world were killed because of their faith.). In this case, I knew the Archbishop in Uganda, so I did what I could, but my influence in that nation has been greatly exaggerated by the media.
There is a Southern California Public Radio interview at The highest stained glass ceiling.
Ruth Gledhill has Canon Mary Glasspool: time for Church to open door to rights for gays in The Times and Lesbian bishop pledges gracious non-restraint on her blog.
On the other hand, there is this editorial in the Living Church Think, and Act, Globally.
PublicEye.org has a long article The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa by Kapya Kaoma.
Kapya Kaoma is an Anglican priest from Zambia and project director of Political Research Associates. He is the author of PRA’s October 2009 report, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia.
The Uganda Story
For two days in early March 2009, Ugandans flocked to the Kampala Triangle Hotel for the Family Life Network’s “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda.” The seminar’s very title revealed its claim: LGBT people and activists are engaged in a well thought-out plan to take over the world. The U.S. culture wars had come to Africa with a vengeance…
Andrew Brown has been talking to the Bishop-designate of Peterborough.
On behalf of religious writers everywhere I think should welcome the choice of Donald Allister to be the next Bishop of Peterborough. He will be good for business…
Acccording to Bloomberg, but curiously so far no other news agencies, Uganda to Drop Death Penalty, Life in Jail for Gays.
Uganda will drop the death penalty and life imprisonment for gays in a refined version of an anti- gay bill expected to be ready for presentation to Parliament in two weeks, James Nsaba Buturo, the minister of ethics and integrity, said.
The draft bill, which is under consideration by a parliamentary committee, will drop the two punishments to attract the support of religious leaders who are opposed to these penalties, Buturo said today in a phone interview from the capital, Kampala.
As Warren Throckmorton notes here,
Not enough but a start…
Counseling to be added. Now the ex-gay ministries will come into even sharper focus. Evangelicals who promote change as a political exercise will need to really think through whether the data supports them because real lives are in the balance.
UPDATE: On the other hand, some clergy seem resolute to maintain the bill.
From that last link, Church leaders back govt on anti-gay Bill note the following (emphasis added):
“The Bill is ok. But it has been misunderstood. We need to educate people on this proposed law,” he said.
Bishops from the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist churches as well as Muslim kadhis agreed to defend the Bill in their centres of worship.
Meanwhile, Time has these reports by Zoe Alsop:
And at MSNBC Rachel Maddow continues her series on this. For links to the latest episodes from her show, and other material, see Warren Throckmorton’s reports:
Bishop Alan Wilson wrote a further post, this one is titled Two ways to win an argument….
Richard Morrison in The Times wrote Nothing but sex please, we’re vicars…
Savi Hensman wrote for Ekklesia Liberating the Anglican understanding of sexuality.
The New York Times published an Associated Press report headlined Episcopal Lesbian Bishop Calls Election Liberating.
The Baltimore Sun published a report headlined Lesbian bishop-elect finds support as well as controversy and the transcript of the interview is at Glasspool: ‘I anticipated some kind of reaction’…
Dear Bishop Katharine and Bishop Jon,
We congratulate you and the people of the Episcopal Church on the electoral process which has led to the election of the Revd Canon Diane Jardine Bruce and the Revd Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool as Suffragan Bishops of the Diocese of Los Angeles. We are aware that the process was carried out with great care and prayer, as will the decisions of Bishops and Standing Committees who consider whether to confirm the elections. We wish the elected candidates all joy in their ministries and assure them of our prayers.
The Anglican and Episcopalian tradition is, at its best, one which celebrates the breadth of human experience and welcomes the many ways in which we, as Christians, try to live out our vocations under God. We are therefore deeply sorry that the reaction from the Church of England to the election of Mary Glasspool has been at best grudging and at worst actively negative.
While it gives us no pleasure to dissociate ourselves from the sentiments expressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose wisdom in so many areas we deeply respect, we greatly regret the tone and content of his response, particularly in the context of his failure to make any comment on the seriously oppressive legislation being proposed in Uganda.
We wish you to know that there are a great many within the Church of England who like us are unequivocally supportive of TEC in being open to the election of bishops without regard to gender, race and sexuality. We pray that the Communion at large will grow in confidence and maturity, so that it can learn to celebrate both those things which hold us together and those things over which we disagree. In that context we greatly welcome the Theological Round Table recently announced by the Churches in India.
We urge you and your fellow Bishops and diocesan Standing Committees therefore not to be persuaded by responses from outside your province in considering the request to confirm these elections, and urge those who disagree to approach the Episcopal Church with a renewed and reinvigorated sense of trust in the actions of the Holy Spirit. As a Communion we are called to be an example to other Christians and those who have no beliefIn a diverse and global world threatened by much, it is time now to move on from these questions which divide us and focus on responding to the huge challenges we face together.
Stuff on this just keeps on coming in.
Bishop Alan Wilson What hath Kampala to do with LA?
Living Church Canon Glasspool’s Election Draws Pointed Responses
Kampala Monitor Orombi angry over new lesbian bishop
Ruth Gledhill has written Friend of Dr Rowan Williams feels ‘betrayed’ by his stance on gays.
The subject of that interview, Colin Coward, has commented in Betrayed by the Church’s stance on gays.
Symon Hill has written Questions for Ruth Gledhill and Rowan Williams.
And now, Ruth Gledhill has blogged Out and Angry: Colin Coward on being gay priest in today’s church.
The Chicago Consultation has issued this press release:
“For weeks the Archbishop of Canterbury has been silent as the Ugandan legislature considers making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Lambeth Palace has let it be known that it was working behind the scenes to influence the situation because public confrontation would be counterproductive and disrespectful. Yet the election of the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, a remarkably qualified gay woman as a suffragan bishop of Los Angeles, incited the Archbishop’s immediate statement of alarm, implying there would be grave consequences unless bishops and standing committees in the Episcopal Church refused to consent to her election.
“Canon Glasspool is a qualified, respected and beloved servant of God whom the Diocese of Los Angeles has discerned has the gifts of the Spirit to help lead their ministry. She is no threat to the work of God or to Jesus’ commandment that we love our neighbor as ourselves. On the other hand, executing gay people and creating a state system of oppression is a gross violation of the spirit of the one who welcomed the outcast to his table. We are as perplexed by the Archbishop’s speedy condemnation of the former as we are by his prolonged silence of the latter.
“We believe that honoring the relationships and ministries of gay and lesbian Christians, is, in the end, the only way in which the Anglican Communion can be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We hope that when the Archbishop realizes the damage he has done to the Communion’s ministry among gay and lesbian Christians and those who seek justice for them, he will reconsider both the words he has spoken and the words he has not.”
Savi Hensman has written A bishop Anglicans can live with.
Riazat Butt has written Election of lesbian bishop divides Anglican community.
Paul Vallely has written Rowan Williams cannot now prevent an Anglican schism.
Scott Gunn has written Of “bonds of affection” and misplaced anxiety
Susan Russell has written Advent is for lighting candles, not for fanning flames.
Tobias Haller has written Episcopalections.
George Pitcher writes at the Telegraph A lesbian bishop need not mean Anglican handbags at dawn, his concluding paragraphs are:
…What the American Episcopal direction really means is that we’re moving towards a schism that looks like the Mercedes-Benz logo. In one segment we have the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions; in another, the conservative and orthodox Anglicans and, in the third, those who push the Reformist tradition alongside Bishops Glasspool and Robinson.
To those who say this last category is taking the Church to hell in a handcart, or possibly a handbag, I would say this: when Anglicans started to ordain women priests in the Nineties, female bishops became a logical and rational extension of that Reformist tradition. As for lesbians, the Bible has even less to say about them than it does about homosexuals. It may very well be that Queen Victoria, for whom lesbianism is said to have been removed from the Labouchere Amendment in 1865 when homosexual acts were outlawed because she simply didn’t believe they existed, was being more obedient than she knew to her scripture study.
But, ultimately, what Bishop Glasspool shows us is a God who is infinitely more interested in love than in sex. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth for his human creatures.
Daily Mail Steve Doughty Archbishop of Canterbury calls on Americans to block lesbian bishop’s appointment
Telegraph Tom Leonard Archbishop of Canterbury concerned over lesbian US bishop
Press Association Rethink urged on gay bishop role
And at Cif belief Andrew Brown in a piece mainly concerned with Uganda, titled Rowan Williams’ choice concludes with these paragraphs:
What makes his difficulty darkly comic rather than tragic is the speed with which he has reacted to the election of a lesbian assistant bishop in Los Angeles. A statement came out of his office less than 12 hours later urging the Americans not to proceed.
Consider the case of two Anglicans of the same gender who love one another. If they are in the USA, the Anglican church will marry them and may elect one of them to office. If they are in Uganda, the Anglican church will have try to have them jailed for life, and ensure that any priest who did not report them to the authorities within 24 hours would be jailed for three years; anyone who spoke out in their defence might be jailed for seven.
Under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion. The church that would jail them both for life, and would revile and persecute their defenders, stays snugly in his bosom. Not even the Archbishop’s remarkable gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts forever.
Updated again Sunday evening
Archbishop of Canterbury’s Statement on Los Angeles Episcopal Elections
Sunday 06 December 2009
The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.
The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.
The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.
Reporting of this statement in the media:
The Times Ruth Gledhill Election of lesbian bishop ‘is very serious’, says Dr Rowan Williams and on her blog Lesbian Bishop: Archbishop of Canterbury warns of serious questions and later, Dreams of Church liberals are almost dead
The first link above has had the headline changed to Anglicans split over election of lesbian bishop after a write-through for the Monday paper edition
Updated Sunday morning
The Diocese of Los Angeles has elected two women as suffragan bishop. They are:
This election is attracting more attention than most suffragan bishoprics do, because of Canon Glasspool’s status as “openly gay partnered”.
First media reports:
Associated Press Lesbian Episcopal priest elected LA assist. bishop
AP via San Francisco Chronicle Christopher Weber and Rachel Zoll 2nd gay bishop for Episcopal Church, Anglicans
Los Angeles Times Larry Stammer Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elects openly gay bishop and later Newly elected gay Episcopal bishop: Excited about church’s future and later still, L.A. Episcopal Diocese elects openly gay bishop by Larry Stammer and Paul Pringle
Press-Enterprise Lesbian priest from Maryland elected Episcopal bishop at Riverside meeting by Larry Olson
Baltimore Sun Md. priest becomes first lesbian Episcopal bishop
BBC US Episcopal Church elects second gay bishop headline changed to Rift flares after US Episcopal Church elects gay bishop after a write-through
Mail on Sunday Jonathan Petre Fury as lesbian is chosen by Anglican Church to be a bishop
Press Association Lesbian elected US Anglican bishop
The UK Equality Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, and has now moved to the House of Lords, where the Second Reading is scheduled for 15 December.
An amendment to delete entirely Schedule 9, Clause 2, Paragraph 8, was proposed by David Drew Labour MP for Stroud, who made this speech in support of it. But when put to the vote it was defeated Ayes 170, Noes 314.
The debate on the religious exemptions and related topics starts at this point.
There has been some comment about the bill on blogs. For example Cranmer has written EU forces Government to put gay equality over Christian conscience and also European Commission ‘lobbied Parliament’ to pass Equality Bill which refers to the debate on Wednesday.
The full text of the EU Reasoned Opinion has not been published by the Government, but the Conservatives have obtained a copy from Brussels (they said) so it is surely only a short matter of time before it is available. Meanwhile, according to Mark Harper Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean it does say this:
“The UK Government has informed the Commission that the new Equality Bill currently under discussion before the UK Parliament will amend this aspect of the law and bring UK law into line with the Directive.”
Earlier in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds had used the occasion of the Queen’s Speech to speak there about the Equality Bill. You can read his speech in full here.
Updated Saturday evening
I linked earlier to the statement by the US Presiding Bishop. ENS now has a news report on this, see Presiding Bishop says church opposes proposed Ugandan legislation.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Dec. 4 that the church believes “the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema” and thus is “deeply concerned” about a proposed Ugandan law that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate that country’s anti-homosexuality laws.
Jefferts Schori also noted in her statement that “much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism toward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own church.”
“We note further that attempts to export the culture wars of North America to another context represent the very worst of colonial behavior,” she said. “We deeply lament this reality, and repent of any way in which we have participated in this sin.”
Yesterday, the Guardian reported that a Ugandan church leader brands anti-gay bill ‘genocide’.
If Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill becomes law, it will be little short of state-sponsored “genocide” against the gay community, a prominent member of the Ugandan Anglican church said this week.
Canon Gideon Byamugisha said the bill, which recommends the death penalty for anyone repeatedly convicted of having gay sex and prison sentences for those who fail to report homosexual activity to the police, would breed violence and intolerance through all levels of society.
“I believe that this bill [if passed into law] will be state-legislated genocide against a specific community of Ugandans, however few they may be,” he said..
Today, the Guardian has this this editorial comment: Uganda: Unjust and infamous.
…Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill 2009, which is now before parliament, is unpleasant even by the standards of anti-gay laws around the world. Its supporters will decry any criticism as neocolonial interference, but the reality is that Uganda is being misled, not least by evangelical churches, some of which have links with the American Christian right.
The proposed law is more a rant against homosexuality and the west than a workable piece of legislation intended for Uganda itself. Much of it consists of a list of unfounded claims, starting with the statement that “same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic”. Infamously, it calls for the execution of gay men found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” – by which it means those who are HIV positive, or who have sex with someone who is under 18 or disabled. The bill may be amended during its passage through parliament to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, but that change would be only a gesture to spare the blushes of Uganda’s aid donors. If passed – which looks likely, since its sponsor is a member of Uganda’s ruling party – the bill will continue to write hate into law…
Episcopal Café unearthed this gem:
A senior member of the Anglican Church has thrown support behind the government move in a bid to phase homosexuality out of the country.
Rev. Michael Esakan Okwi said on Friday that not even “cockroaches” who are in the “lower animal kingdom” engaged in homosexual relations.
In the Guardian Jonathan Chaplin writes about why public discourse should not be secularised. See Face to Faith.
In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes that Church movements will always fall short of perfection.
Earlier in the week, Libby Purves wrote that Faith and power is the fundamentalist’s brew.
Alan Wilson wrote about Church new media futures….
Nick Baines wrote about (not) being a Grumpy bishop.
And last week, Ann Petifor argued that UK needs more not less government.
Giles Fraser wrote at Cif belief about Choosing for oneself.
Ruth Gledhill reports: Archbishop of Canterbury in ‘intensive’ efforts to combat Ugandan anti-gay death law.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has been criticised widely for failing to speak out against the new anti-gay law in Uganda that could see some homosexuals being executed. But there is method in his silence. Today, Lambeth Palace told me: ‘It has been made clear to us, as indeed to others, that attempts to publicly influence either the local church or political opinion in Uganda would be divisive and counter productive. Our contacts, at both national and diocesan level, with the local church will therefore remain intensive but private.’
And there is an excellent set of links there to what various other people have said recently on this topic.
Warren Throckmorton reports:
Extreme Prophetic declines to oppose the Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill part of reclaiming the 7 mountains of culture? – Part One
Addition Is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill part of reclaiming the 7 mountains of culture, Part Two
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a statement, see Presiding Bishop expresses concern about Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill for the full text.
These responses express grave concern about the content and implications of “Our Anglican Future”. They were written after consultation and are intended to reflect a variety of responses to the Archbishop’s paper.
There is a short paper here.
And a much longer paper here.
(Both in PDF format.)
Earlier IC responses are here.
Voices continue to be raised about the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.
Independent Thomas Sutcliffe: No dignity in this pretence of unity
Atlantic Monthly Andrew Sullivan Rick Warren, Silent Enabler Of Hatred
National Post Stephen Harper slams Uganda on anti-gay bill
Politics Daily David Gibson If Uganda Executes Gays, Will American Christians be Complicit?
Religion Dispatches Michelle Goldberg Uganda’s Radical Anti-Gay Measure and the American Religious Right
From church sources:
Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops issues statement on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill