Sunday, October 29, 2006

Michael Mayne

I found out today that Michael Mayne, former Dean of Westminister, died last Sunday. He was one of those people with the rare gift of making you feel special when he talked to you. Lorraine and I met him once only when he was vicar of Great St Mary's in Cambridge but we never forgot his gracious greeting to us as we left the church at the end of the service. Later we read his book about his episode of chronic fatigue syndrome. Click on the title link above for an article about him by CHristopher Howse.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Archbishop of Canterbury on religious symbols

In this article published in yesterday's Times the Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on his recent experience in China to throw light on the questions of the right place of religion and religious practices in British society today; as debates continue about the wearing of Muslim veils and Christian crosses in the workplace, and about the place of church or faith schools. He cautions, rightly in my view, against a state-sponsored secularism. China is moving away from that, having tried and failed to exclude religion from public life, and it would be ironic if we are moving towards it. A state which sponsors secularism at the expense of religious integrity and practice is a state which is usurping to itself a role which is very different from what we have understood the state to be about in Britain. The difficulty Anglicans have however, and which the Archbishop does not mention explicity, is that the Church of England has been, and constitutionally remains, a state-sponsored religion. In that sense we are not yet a secular society. Perhaps the over-reaction, as I would see it, of those who bitterly oppose so-called faith schools arises from the spiritual toxicity of a situation and a history in which the Church of England has exercised, and in some respects still does, an authority drawn from its status as the established church but which is no longer freely embraced by the vast majority of the British population.
If the Church of England has a genuine concern to protect religious freedoms in England then I think we should be pursuing vigorously the dismantling of our established status. Then we would stand on all fours with other faith commuities in English society and earn what respect and authority we may gain on the basis of our track record as a faith community rather than on our historical priveleges which now appear increasingly more like burdens.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Why Jack Straw is wrong about the veil

The current Government speaks with forked tongue on matters of faith. On the one hand some of its Departments have encouraged greater involvement of faith communities in public life, such as Local Strategic Partenerships (I am a faith representative on one of these myself), but on the other hand it has promoted a bland secularist agenda which basically regards all faiths as the same and wants to contain them within its own agenda. Recently Guy Wilkinson, interfaith advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury was reported as claiming that the Government had mishandled its attempts to promote relations between faith communities by being "schizophrenic" in its approach and favouring Muslims over the churches. Other commentators, such as Jonathan Bartley of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia acknowledge there is a growing feeling amongst Christian churches that they are being sidelined in public life in favour of other faiths. But Bartley argues that these feelings are misguided and reflect Christians' sense of the loss of the priveleges of the Christendom era.

The statements of Jack Straw about the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women and his defence by other leading government ministers like Harriet Harman reflect the strong vein of secularist authoritarianism that runs through the bedrock of New Labour. This vein has surfaced time and again during this administration's period of office in draconian legislation to curb the freedoms and legal protections afforded ordinary people going about their daily business, and to increase the powers of the police and the State to invade our homes and our privacy, (not to mention other peoples' countries), in the name of security and stability.

Ziauddin Sardar writes in this week's New Stateman with compelling arguments as to why Jack Straw's frank admission of his feelings towards the niqab, the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women, and his requests that it be removed in meetings with him, betrays both an astonishing ignorance and a readiness to force his views on others. ( See link in title)

Why is this of interest to me in Anglican terms? I do believe that in a free society our assumption must be that people may wear what they choose in public, subject only to the laws of obscenity and public nuisance. It is the role of politicians to defend that right, and not to undermine it by asserting, without strong evidence and purely on the basis of personal feelings, that certain forms of dress are subversive of good order in society. But all those who belong to communities of faith, whether or not we agree with the veiling of women's faces in public, should be very worried when government ministers use their public role and voice to criticise the practices of a faith community simply on the basis that it is different from what the majority do and makes the majority feel uncomfortable.

Lesbians and gays are the Bible's greatest lovers, says Trevor Dennis

Writing today in The Guardian Trevor Dennis, Vice Dean of Chester Cathedral argues here that the Bible is not as lacking in a positive assessment of homosexuality as anti-gay conservative Christians might think. (Click on title for link.) In fact he sets out to show that the Bible celebrates same-sex relationships. Not only that, but there are more examples of good role-models for same-sex love than there are for exemplary marriage in the Bible! His conclusion is that there are pressing issues around human relationships in our society that the Church needs to be challenging rather than condemning loving homosexual couples, such as casual infidelity, lack of time and love for children, the devaluing of friendship, and domestic violence.

Evangelical students fail in bid to be called 'Christian Union'

Perhaps the Church of England has something to learn from the students of Exeter University!

Evangelical students fail in bid to be called 'Christian Union':
"Evangelical students fail in bid to be called 'Christian Union' -14/10/06

Evangelical students at Exeter university have failed in their bid to call themselves the 'Christian Union' and have had their accounts frozen pending a full review into the society's Equal Opportunities policy.

A referendum was held at the university this week about whether the 'Evangelical Christian Union' should be able to change its name to the 'Christian Union'.

For more than 50 years, students at the Devon university have organised evangelistic events under the name of the Exeter University Christian Union. However in May a complaint was made against them that the group was too exclusive. The student Guild subsequently changed the name to 'Evangelical Christian Union.'

Opposition has been growing in universities up and down the country to many Christian Unions over their approaches to gay and lesbian people. They have also been accused of operating discriminatory policies over appointments to their executives.

Other Christian groups also operate in universities, holding different positions to traditional Christian Unions which tend to be evangelical in character. This calls into question say critics, the right of Evangelicals with conservative views, to have a monopoly on the name 'Christian'.

Voting in the referendum at Exeter University, about whether the Evangelical Christian Union should be able to change its name to the 'Christian Union', finished on Friday. The “No” campaign won the referendum with a 55% majority. Of the 582 votes, 317 were in favour of keeping the existing name.

The result of the referendum will still need to be ratified at the university Guild Council. "

Friday, October 13, 2006

Desmond Tutu expresses sadness at Anglican anti-gay stance

Desmond Tutu expresses sadness at Anglican anti-gay stance:
"Desmond Tutu expresses sadness at Anglican anti-gay stance -11/10/06

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he has been saddened by his Anglican church's position about the ordination of gay priests, in his biography released in the United States and Europe on 7 October 2006, his 75th birthday – writes David Wanless for Ecumenical News International.

When he served as archbishop, Tutu was critical of the South African Anglican church policy to allow gay priests to minister in parishes as long as they remained celibate, but he was unable to change the approach. He also approved of blessing of gay and lesbian relationships for lay church members, but declined to call them marriages.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who gained the award in 1984, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, is also critical in the book of former South African president F.W. de Klerk for his failure to more fully admit accountability for apartheid atrocities.

World Council of Churches general secretary, the Rev Samuel Kobia, said in a congratulatory letter to Tutu on 6 October: 'You have challenged and pushed us never to adjust to the powers that are, but always to discern the signs of God's coming kingdom and to act accordingly.'

Dr Kobia added: 'Through your work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you gave this fractured and broken world a model for overcoming the wounds of past evils and for creating space for healing and reconciliation.'

On visit to South Africa, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his country had chosen Tutu for the Gandhi Peace Prize - India's highest international award. He made the announcement on 2 October, which commemorates the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Former classmates in different worlds?

Two former classmates of mine from theological college days are in very different places on the homosexuality issue and both in the news in recent days. Henry Orombi now the Archbishop of Uganda is one of the leaders of the Global South group of Anglican archbishops who are pressing the American church to renounce its acceptance of homosexual bishops and clergy, and same-sex partnerships; and David Page, vicar of Clapham Common, is quoted in today's Daily Telegraph as a priest who has a civil partnership with his partner. In the early 80s we were young students together in St John's College Nottingham preparing for our lives as ordained ministers in the Anglican Communion; eating, praying and studying together in one large family. Now David and Henry stand on opposite sides of the rift threatening to split the Anglican church.

Recently I emailed Henry to plead the cause of unity and peace despite our differences, recalling our days together in the same classes and at the feet of the same biblical scholars. His reply was congenial but made clear that he believes the Americans and others who accept homosexuals in the ministry are the ones who are walking away from the biblical faith which is the foundation of the Anglican church. He sees himself as pleading with them for the cause of faithfulness to the biblical witness.

There was a wedding in our church this afternoon. It was conducted by my colleague but I happened to be walking by as the bride and groom emerged from the West Door into the sunlit churchyard. The scene was the same as it has been for decades if not centuries (with the notable exception of the video cameraman) - the bride in white shining out, the centre of attraction and interest. I started reflecting if the day would ever arrive, perhaps in ten years time, perhaps in a hundred, when it might be two women in white dresses emerging from the church as a couple, or two men beginning a lifelong partnership with the blessing of their church community. One hundred years from now - I cannot really doubt that will be accepted - unless the next generation leaves our dividing church to its own devices and finds God equally present at a wedding on a beach or in garden where the integrity of their identities and feelings are not questioned by those who neither know them nor understand them.