Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why do conservatives face both ways?

It interests me to hear that the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England wants its adoption agency to be exempted, on the grounds of conscience, from the provisions of the Equality Act which would disallow discrimination against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services. They are protesting against the application of the Act to the adoption agency run by their church. They say today that the agency will close because in all conscience it cannot accept the placement of children with homosexual couples as this is contrary to the tenets of its faith. I have a lot of sympathy for the Roman Catholic case here - not because I think homosexual couples should be discriminated against, nor do I think that they are unsuitable to adopt children; but because I believe that faith-based conscience should be respected and diversity of belief and practice in these matters tolerated. (It would be a different matter if the Roman Catholic church controlled all adoption agencies but there is a wide range of other agencies available to homosexual couples.)

But what interests me is the character of the conservative religious mindset in this issue. The Roman Catholic hierarchy and conservative Anglicans may not be the same groups of people but they have a similarly conservative and negative view of homosexuality in practice. But whilst the Roman Catholic hierarchy seeks exemption from secular equality law on the basis of conscience; there is no such "exemption" apparently granted by conservative Anglicans to the United States Episcopal Church which in all conscience wants to offer full equality of membership to homosexuals in its church community. Conservatives thus face two ways - exemption from laws for themselves on matters of conscience but no exemption on matters of conscience for those with whom they disagree. Didn't Jesus once say "Do unto others as you would have then do unto you" ?

The blood never dried

"The Blood Never Dried" is a book by John Newsinger, subtitled, "A People's History of the British Empire" (Bookmarks Publications 2006). The title comes from a quote of Ernest Jones, Chartist and socialist, about the British Empire in 1851: "On its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries". It describes the violence of the British Empire and how that was met by freedom struggles, from the slaves' revolt in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya. It makes for salutary reading if you think that the British Empire has been a kinder force in the world than the United States for example. For me it uncovered episodes in history which I had never even heard about before and also explained situations I was aware of already but only very hazily understood. I haven't seen much analysis of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion which relates it to the legacy of the British Empire and its relations to the US empire but this book would certainly be useful background for thinking about our situation in that way.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

New C of E campaign for Lent

Church of England news reports that:
The season of Lent – a period of penitence in preparation for Easter - has been given an extra twist this year with a multi-media campaign backed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu.
Love Life Live Lent gives inspiration for simple things that people can do to spread a little generosity and happiness in their community, and particularly aims to bring Lent alive for people who might not go to church. In a bold move, the campaign is being delivered through two colourful booklets, an interactive website, and a text message service.
From today, mobile phone owners can text the word ‘Lent’ to 64343 to begin receiving daily suggestions for actions from Monday 19th February through to Easter Monday, at a price of 10 pence a day. Actions include:
Give up your place to someone in a traffic jam or a queue
Have a TV-free day and do something you have meant to do for ages
Take part in an environmental clean up
Watch the news and pray about what you see
Leave a £1 coin in the shopping trolley or where someone will find it.
The actions may seem small, but can add up to something bigger when lots of people get involved, say the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their joint introduction: “It’s all too easy to feel we are powerless to make a difference. But the truth is, with God’s help we can change the world a little bit each day. Each of us can be the change we want to see in the world… Together we can build better and more generous communities. Together we can lighten the load on our planet. We show God’s love when we do these things,” they say.
Everyone can join in Love Life Live Lent by visiting www.livelent.net, which will feature each day’s actions, games, resources, and an opportunity to share experiences with other people who have tried out the suggestions through a forum area. A special area of the website, supported by a separate booklet with activities focused on school life, have been designed for under 15s to join in.
Love Life Live Lent started life in the Diocese of Birmingham in 2006, inspired by a local pilgrimage. The booklet was such a hit that the original print run for the booklets had to be increased repeatedly, and 70,000 copies of the booklets were distributed through churches, schools and community centres.
The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, believes the campaign shows a different side to Lent: “Doing something positive or generous can be as transforming as giving something up. It helps us to reflect on how we normally behave, and how we can make changes to our lifestyles that reflect God’s love more fully.”
Church leaders hope that ‘Living Lent’ this year could be the beginning of a journey of faith, and the campaign’s dedicated website offers a range of resources and links to help explore Christianity and the Bible.
Love Life Live Lent is available as a full-colour booklet for just £1 (ISBN 0978 07151 41113, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41144) or buy 10 for £8 (0978 07151 41120, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41151), or a value pack of 50 for £35 (0978 07151 41137, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41168) from Christian bookshops including Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel. 020 7799 4064, email bookshop@chbookshop.co.uk, or on the web (mail order available)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Media atheists and fundamentalism

Giles Frazer, Vicar of Putney and columnist for the Church Times, wrote for The Guardian last Monday an article entitled "Atheists: the bigots' friends: most Christians back gay rights, to claim otherwise only boosts the fundamentalists". His argument, as I read it, is that many vocal anti-religion pundits are actually boosting extreme conservative versions of Christianity by representing it as the majority and authentic voice of the Christian church. By doing this fundamentalist Christianity is given the oxygen of publicity and made to appear as if it expresses the beliefs of the majority of present-day Christians; when in fact it does not. This was exemplified recently by the media coverage of protests at Parliament over the debate on gay rights legislation. Giles argues that both media coverage of the protests of conservative Christian voices opposing the anti-discriminatory legislation and critical reaction to it by secular voices were not careful enough to distinguish between the position of conservatives and that of mainstreanm Christian churches. The impression is given that all Christians and churches disapprove of the legislation. In fact there is broad support for the Act from the Church of England; and it is well established that the majority of Christians in Britain do not think that homosexuality is a sin.
The comments on Giles' piece are worth reading partly because they illustrate the intensity of antipathy to religious belief that exists in some people. But there are other points well-made. The headline of the article gives the mistaken impression that Giles is stereotyping all atheists as promoters of a false perspective on Christianity - so committing the error of which he is accusing his antagonists of committing. In fact the article itself speaks about a particular gouping of athesits - namely media ones - those whom we all know have grabbed the attention of editors,producers and publishers by their vociferous denunciation of all things religious. But at least a slightly overstated headline stimulates the analysis further. One comment asks why Giles and other liberal Christians who support the legislation were not at the anti-fundamentalist protest. Perhaps there were some liberal Christians in support, who knows; but they were not apparently in evidence as such.
Is it possible that liberal Christians might make common cause on some of these issues with some secular atheists? And are there not situations already where that happens - such as in the world development and peace movements? But this is not easy when vocal antagonistic atheists persist in misrepresenting all Christians' beliefs and motives. Is there a need now for peace negotiatons between liberal Christians and militant atheists?