Category Archives: Church and State

Lessons for the Church from Hillsborough

The vindication of the Campaign for Justice for the 96 Hillsborough dead has touched the nation, and is causing many to re-think how one views such pressure groups.

Historically it should not surprise us. The campaign to free the Birmingham 6 was similarly lengthy and convoluted, and it is not only victims who receive justice belatedly;  perpetrators of abuse are also found out in time, as some of the nation’s well established celebrities are  discovering.

Yet for every guilty Jimmy Savile, there is an innocent  Nigel Evans: Stuart Hall was properly found guilty, Leon Britton went to his grave under an unjust cloud of suspicion because  police officers were too enmeshed in the virtue of their investigation to retain objectivity.

Even the disgraced footballer Ched Evans – who undoubtedly behaved very badly towards a young woman – has been granted a re-trial because the procedure which convicted him has been considered by the Court of Appeal and found  to be unsafe.

So this is the first lesson for the Church. Justice matters, even historic injustice must be righted, even if it takes time and erodes confidence in an important institution.

This brings us to the late Bishop George Bell.

From the little they knew, the Hillsborough families were not able to accept that what they were being told by the powers that be, was safe and based upon a transparent process of integrity. For such temerity, they were characterised as “whining scousers” who were unduly inclined to embrace victimhood. Such claims look pretty shoddy this side of the Inquest verdicts.

This is the second lesson which we can draw from Hillsborough for the Church. Ignoring legitimate concerns is wrong. It will also be a fundamental error to characterise those scrutinising the Church’s  investigation of the Bishop Bell case as “strident”.

Nobody in the campaign is denying the possibility that the complainant in the case is telling the truth, yet what is attracting objective people to support the campaign, is an examination of the information currently in the public domain which draws experienced lawyers and public figures to the inescapable conclusion that one cannot see a fair- and therefore a safe  – process at work.

In the past the Church has often applied an unfair opaque process leading to injustice for the accusers; it is no improvement to replace that with an unjust opaque process leading to injustice to the accused.

This is the third lesson of Hillsborough for the Church. Those campaigning for Justice do not go away quietly

The Church authorities have tried to close the debate by refusing to answer questions. We are told that they have conducted a comprehensive enquiry and have been advised by experts. They refuse even to confirm the area professional expertise of those experts. We must trust the process because the Church says it has been thorough.

Nothing will alarm anyone with expertise in Child Protection Law more than such a patronising assertion.

Over the past thirty years, there have been many public Inquiries into issues of child protection; that history is littered with discarded , confidently asserted  expert opinion.

There are fashions in child abuse practice just as there are in skirt lengths.

The existence of widespread ‘Satanic Child Abuse’, has dropped off the agenda and the nature of  “Munchausen Syndrome” and “False Memory Syndrome” have been downgraded from the status of medically diagnosable syndromes, to that of a  loose description of phenomena to be considered –  but only with with a great deal of caution.

For anyone acquainted with such matters, “Trust me I am an expert” cuts no more ice than ” Trust me I am a Bishop’. An expert opinion is only as good as the facts made available and not all are as intellectually curious outside of the brief presented.

Once, Freudian Psychiatrists would earnestly tell the Courts that many little girls fantasise over having sex with their fathers; we are currently in an age where many assert that all complainants must be assumed to be truthful. We seem to forgotten the lesson of the Cleveland Report which was to “listen to the child ( complainant) and take what they say seriously’. That is not the same as belief, and requires an ongoing objectivity throughout the process.

So, the fourth lesson is surely The Age of deference has passed.

Paradoxically, that may have washed in Bishop Bell’s day, but it certainly is not accepted today.

The Hillsborough Campaign gathered support because enough people cared to keep it in the public eye. If the Church hierarchy is hoping that those troubled by the current state of publicly available information will let it drop, it is mistaken. Questions will be asked at Synod and any attempt to evade questions on the basis of a mistaken view of what is and is not “confidential” will only irritate Synod members.

That irritation will be picked up by the Church press and such mainstream commentators as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. It is understood that members of the House of Lords are disquieted and may introduce a debate.

So lesson number five is The concerns of ordinary people do reach the public ear.

Plainly the Church does not want the issue of sexual abuse to again dominate the headlines; the complainant has said publicly that every time the matter hits the headlines, she is distressed.

If the Church wants to bring this matter to a satisfactory close it can do so by being more transparent and engaging properly with the questions that are legitimately raised as to the processes by which its decisions have been reached.

The Establishment approached the Hillsborough families with imperious disregard for proper standards of justice, and tried to defend the indefensible. People not only now distrust what happened then, they are now distrustful of how the police and Government will act in the future

Here we have the sixth and final lesson.

Justice4GeorgeBell is not about Justice for the past but whether the Church is currently capable of delivering  Justice now and in the future.

At present, it is impossible to answer that question in the affirmative.

 

In what way do we “Belong”

Three story lines seem to be dominating the news headlines at the moment and each has the same underlying question.

Much of a recent “Today Programme” was devoted to the commitment of £20m of public funds to increase the capacity of Muslim women to speak English; a major story of last week, centred upon the issue of whether the Anglican Communion could hold together in any meaningful semblance of unity ( Hold the front page – it can! ) ; and it will not be long before the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European community returns to prominence in our news channels.

The underlying theme is that of “belonging”.

That may not surprise philosophers and theologians; in our secular age, many have cut themselves free from ties of connection which formerly answered their questions of identity, and unsurprisingly human beings, who are social animals, look for “people like us” with whom to associate.

Go to a comedy club, an art exhibition which “challenges” social mores, or any anti-Establishment demonstration, and you will find a collection of folk with remarkably uniformity in their collective attitudes proclaiming their counter cultural credentials. Individualism isn’t what it used to be.

Underneath all the three issues I have identified – and doubtless many more- lies the old questions “Who belongs?” and “How do we know?”,

The second question discloses an interesting divergence of discernment technique. One can draw up a collection of rules and demand allegiance and compliance; one can simplify them into a checklist of questions – a score of 95% and above gets you in the club. This is a very black and white technique – and yet encompasses an inherent weakness.

What if one plainly and strongly scores well on 94% of the criteria but weakly fails the final 1%?

A binary approach lacks any concept of “weight”.

Take the vexed and recurring issue of what it is to be “British”.

There are any number of criteria which could be suggested. We could invite nominations to add to a “basket” of matters to be evaluated. These might include, understanding of the complexities of our still largely unwritten Constitution, but also, inter alia, a love of sport, sentimentality towards animals, and an interest in Television soap operas and reality shows. Yet one who scores lowly on all of these factors might redeem themselves by the sheer weight of enthusiasm which they display towards gardening and the Royal Family.

On the European front we might test our commitment with a similar cultural comparison. Imagine a Football World Cup Final between a British Home Nation team and a South American opponent. There may be a few die hard fans of another Home Nation who would cheer for the opponents but wouldn’t most UK citizens instinctively identified with the British option? Now imagine the match is between a South American Team and an EU partner side. Would you assume a similar generalised identification? Probably not. In fact many of us have more in common with our American or Australian cousins than most of the EU population with whom we are nominally encompassed.

The gravitational pull of some identities are plainly stronger than others.

The more Brother Ivo reflected upon this the more he appreciated that the more incisive question is not “ What are British Values” “Why are we European” or “What are the rules of the Anglican Communion” but a rather more diffuse one.

“In what way does this person belong?

Posing the question in such a way allows the individual to offer up their case in personal and broader terms. You can hear and evaluate their choices of priority, their tone of voice and even more importantly, the warmth with which they advance their claim to belonging.

As the Archbishops depart from the 2016 Primates Meeting they can be judged by the content of their communiques and explanations; we might bring out our clipboards which may be annotated with our chosen questions, so that by their responses, we rule them in or out of association. We might even have a selection of preferred trigger words or phrases by which we label them as sheep or goats. “Inclusive” … “Bible believing”, “Inerrant” , “diverse” – you know the kind of thing.

Archbishop Justin has set the bar for inclusion into the Anglican Communion pretty low. If the Primates want to continue “walking together” they may freely do so; if they don’t, they are free to wander off. That is not weakness but a recognition of the reality of the institution, but it is more than that.

It is a permitting of each of the flock to determine whether there is enough of core identification present to enable them to continue that ‘walking together”.

Whilst many would have liked the meeting to have centred upon the principle points of division, the meeting explored their Catholicity which is not only a highbrow concept of what it means to be Church, but also enabled them to identify through prayer fasting and worship the many areas in which they are and remain very much a community which belongs together.

Brother Ivo does not know whether they specifically asked themselves to look across the room and ask “In what way does that brother belong?” but much of final position implies that they might thereby have assembled not only a lengthy list but one of considerable weight.

Jesus wished all his people to be as one; His is the voice of the Good Shepherd to which the flock individually and collectively responds. Even the lost sheep continues to belong, but we are surely united in our faith that the Master will not easily abandon them.

We may identify that we belong on a variety of levels; often that implies exclusion, but the ultimate test of belonging may be more generous than we realise.

Does ” Boiling Frog Syndrome” apply to the “Migrant Crisis”

How are we to think clearly about the problems presented to us by migration?

Can we be best directed by our feelings?

Our feelings might be – should be –  instinctively sympathetic for those who have been displaced, but there will be others feeling a fear of the unknown , concerned if an indeterminate number of people with different backgrounds histories and values seek refuge amongst us.

Maybe we are better to bring cold hearted logic to bear if a solution is to be reached with the necessary swiftness?

But is it is a cerebral matter only? Should we try to to work out optimal numbers, calculating our economic costs or gains?  Is that even possible in a plural democracy where there will be many views? It certainly cannot be done quickly. It thus falls to a worried Government to make a decision how to respond quickly to that dreadful picture of a drowned toddler on a beach.

Rarely will a Prime Minister have better understood Harold Macmillan’s summation of the Prime Ministerial nightmare ” Events, dear boy, events”

There will be some who will see the opportunity for political advantage, either to brand the Prime Minister an unfeeling brute or to bolster their argument against the EU. We may try to resist getting sucked too far into those areas if we are true to the mission of trying to reach a practical solution that does not affront our values, but few will succeed. Each and every decision will bleed political consequence into the body politic,

Brother Ivo ‘s abiding sense, as the various dimensions and complexities of the problem unfolds is simple, though not immediately practical. If you or I feel totally comfortable with our position in this dreadful crisis, we are probably not thinking hard enough.

It is a good discipline for us all to go to the position in the debate where we feel least comfortable and ask ourselves ” Where is there merit in this quarter of the discussion?” The more Brother Ivo has turned the issues over in his mind,  the more he has come to appreciate that this is one where most “sides” have a point. This is always the worst kind of dispute to be embroiled in; the worst civil wars occur where there is indeed a degree of merit on both sides.

So today Brother Ivo will challenge the instincts of perhaps  a majority in his Church whose instinct is dismiss fears about migration, and its consequences.

In an attempt to find a way of thinking clearly on the subject, Brother Ivo turned briefly to a rather obscure Harvard academic Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld whose work attempted to encourage a careful definition of concepts for use in legal analysis so that we do not confuse the argument with imprecision. He developed his language tools for use in civil disputes but as will be seen, they may assist in carrying our thinking when discussing immigration and the related Human Rights issues.

In a nutshell, Hohfeld identified that there are always two sides to a legal relationship which he called “correlatives” If one person has a legal right somebody else must have a  corresponding duty. He went further and identified four distinct pairs of necessary relationship,

So we have :-

Right – Duty

Privilege – No Right

Power – disability

Immunity – Liability.

To discuss a matter in Hohfeldian terms, you keep within those language rules; this is especially the case when considering “privilege” which is purely used in an analytical sense and has no class or wealth connotation. If you cannot clear your mind of other preconceptions about these words – stop reading now,

Looking at the migration issue through such a lens we begin to see more clearly where the current problems – and resentments arise.

In Hofeldian terms  British Citizenship  conferred  a “privilege”. If you were born here, nobody had any right to deny it to you. We legislated for others to petition to enjoy that “privilege” , by citizenship application or marriage; the “powers that be” had an absolute discretion to grant or withhold the privilege . Those petitioning were under disability; they might have a right to be considered, and the State might have a duty to consider the application, but it was the State alone which had the arbitrary legal “power”  to reject,  and a failed applicant was under “disability” in terms of challenging the discretion,

Within such a legal environment, the Executive, guided by the Legislature, would have enjoyed uncomplicated discretion in cases such as the present immigration crisis.

Provided the electorate approved, the Government could have been as mean or as generous as it wished with a true sense of control over the problem. The numbers who entered the country and the character thereof was a decision for the UK and above all for its peoples. Those peoples have been historically very welcoming and generous as Kenan Malik has written about here .

Yet we are not in the same age when such generosity was exercised, we are now in the world of the EU, and the Human Rights Act, and that makes a huge difference in terms of how confidently and quickly the Prime Minister feels able to act.

As Nigel Farage constantly points out – perfectly accurately – the Prime Minister is no longer in charge of the borders. The ( Hohfeldian ) “privilege” of the right of residence has been greatly extended, it has certainly been ceed to every person within the European Union – hundreds of millions of people.

Some hundreds of thousands have  already  exercised their “privilege”. We may not be accustomed to using the word in that context but it is le mot juste.

The UK is currently attractive to our EU neighbours because its language is the second language of many, its economy is thriving, it society diverse and welcoming; there is stability and residents enjoy a higher degree of welfare than many in the EU. A welfare claim is also a “legal privilege” – the Government has “no right” to withhold it from anyone within the extended class of those “privileged” in this way. There is the current irony that David Cameron has created more jobs for the French than Francois Holland.

There is currently no lawful mechanism for removing or restricting the privilege currently enjoyed by all EU residents.

Yet that “privilege” in not limited to those born or currently residing within the EU.

As Douglas Carswell  has written, anyone currently admitted by any of the member states to residence, automatically joins the numbers of those with a potential claim on the British State and economy. What he does not add is that any dependants  subsequently passported to residence, via s 8 of the Human Rights Act ” Right to Family Life”, must also be afforded the same status. If a newly arrived resident has a significant family tie. there is a duty to respect it. How many may subsequently claim that right is both unknown and unknowable, so people worry.

The class of those entitled to insist upon the privilege of residence was further extended under both the asylum and refugee conventions of the UN and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention to anyone from a war zone,

Through those legally enforceable rights, the class of those who are “immune” from British Government control, and can make the British Government and taxpayer “liable” for their welfare is equally unknown and unknowable.

Every person who can reach the UK from a country where an oppressive Government infringes Human Rights has the “right” to claim asylum and the Government has a “duty” to grant it. Legal Aid must be afforded those whom it challenges because the right under dispute is an “absolute” one and access to the Courts must be resourced.

An “asylum seeker” has a well founded fear of his or her own Government. It encompasses persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of any political group. Sadly, the numbers of those afflicted is not in short supply,

A refugee is an asylum seeker who has fled his or her homeland through unrest civil war or natural disaster . a useful exploration of the definitions and all too frequent confusions,  by Mr Harry Mitchell QC is to be found here .

It does not take much reflection to appreciate that the class of those who are or maybe entitled to the privilege of UK residence and the ancillary rights and entitlements that go with it is vast. It certainly encompasses not only all 4 million Syrian refugees but also every gay person in Uganda, Pakistan, Iran ( to name but a few), every atheist in a Muslim State  and every woman at risk of sexual violence from Boko Haram or Islamic State. It encompasses many citizens of countries which sit on the UN Human Rights panel which only goes to prove that satire is not dead.

We may want – and choose-  to help every one who arrives; we are a generous people as the response to the single picture of the drowned Syrian child testifies. yet it is rather disingenuous to pretend that those who worry about numbers do not have a point.

That point primarily arises out of the legal context in which these crises arise which makes it different from virtually every other mass movement that preceded it.

When Huguenot, Irish and Jewish and Commonwealth migrations occurred in previous centuries, there was not the same context of enforceable “rights”,” privileges” “immunities” etc – nor indeed was there a welfare State of such attraction to the migrant choosing where to go. There was not the means by which the attractions of the UK were so graphically and instantly available.

This context matters when comparing the current situation with the past. If the Government appears to hesitate before acting, given the enormity of the problem and consequences of getting it wrong, Brother Ivo will be slow to criticise.

In the context of  the General Synod Climate Change debate, much weight was attached to “boiling frog syndrome” : we were told that “by the time you recognise the severity of the problem it is too late to do anything about it”.

One is bound to enquire whether the same principle applies, uncomfortably, in this debate.

The culture, attitudes, values, and institutions  of the United Kingdom have evolved over centuries. Despite many disagreements between us, we have a modus vivendi which many in the world find either attractive or at least convenient to enjoy. It has not proved as easy to replicate in other cultures as enlightened rationalists once assumed it would be.

Our current legal structures mean that we afford equal protection to the scarred woman fleeing an acid attack, the persecuted Christian, the gay African – and many who are in sympathy with the perpetrators of such persecution. We have amongst us those who perpetrated genocide, resisting exclusion because they might face the death penalty. We have advocates of the the values and systems that caused the crises ready to add such diversity to our public life.

We may decide that is a price worth paying, but it is hard to think that the debate about it is not worth having.

At the very least, it may be appropriate to introduce into our public considerations the notion that this current crisis might cause us to reconsider whether our legal structures are fit for the purpose of maintaining Britain as a place of welcome and refuge. Remember the frog.

 

 

 

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

Synod must approach the Lord Green controversy proportionately.

General Synod will be meeting this week to discuss the future shape and direction of the Church and how it will fulfil its mission to spread the Gospel. Amongst the papers under discussion will be proposals which touch upon the selection of future senior leaders, which have been prepared by Lord Green who was the Head of the HSBC, and later a Trade Minister in the Coalition Government. He is now an Anglican priest.

The Green proposals are informed by modern business practice. Under them, future potential bishops may be spotted early and will have their leadership enhanced by ” MBA style” training: this injection of business training and performance standards is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters.

Nobody is suggesting that the future Church leadership should be solely shaped by modern business thinking, but neither is it unreasonable to examine these proposals with our own due diligence.

So far so good.

Already however, the politicised question of whether Lord Green was complicit in any legal impropriety is seeping into references to him and his report. That must be resisted by all Synod members as they fulfill their proper duties of deciding whether the Green proposals have merit or not.

Brother Ivo is disturbed at how the Green Issue is being presented by the BBC. It is speaking of whether HSBC helped its clients to “duck” or “dodge” UK taxes. Synod representatives must be astute enough not to allow such terms to intrude into its thinking. The issue of probity turns upon complicity in criminal evasion not lawful avoidance or tax planning.

We all “duck/dodge” tax when we shelter our savings in ISAs or make a lump sum payment into our pensions.

In business, tax breaks are offered by Governments to stimulate activity in approved but potentially risky activities such as the British Film Industry. The tainting of lawful activity by “Arthur Daley” terminology is more to the shame of our State broadcaster than anyone engaged in the lawful activity of the Banking Sector.

It does not help that episode after episode of BBC comedy has made the profession of Banker synonymous with “inappropriate behaviour”.

Brother Ivo does not know what Lorf Green did or did not know about the way in which a Swiss subsidiary conducted its business. He does know that that HSBC was one of the few Banking Institutions that was so well managed that it did not need and did not take public money, when many in the Banking World had gambled their way into precarious instability.

He also knows that virtually every Institution and profession in the UK has had its scandals; some politicians exploited expenses, some journalist hacked, some NHS managers neglected the elderly, some at the BBC presided over a culture of immunity for child molesters. In short, damning a proposal because of prejudice towards the entire sector of the community from which they come, is shallow and a betrayal of our responsibilities to seriously examine the question of developing our own future leaders.

We must play the ball, not the man.

Lord Green is currently declining to engage with journalistic attempts to “doorstep ” him. He may not rush to issue immediate statements as called for by politicians in an election year.

Brother Ivo is not surprised and will cast no stones. Apparently over 1000 people may be interviewed about what has happened and why. The areas of concern are currently diffuse. If criminality, corporate or personal, has occurred, it has not yet been formulated. It would be a highly imprudent former Chief Executive who engages too early in assuaging journalistic appetite or facilitating political exploitation.

When the Church has its scandals we expect our Archbishops and Bishops to ascertain the facts and understand the issues before opening their mouths. We should expect nothing different from those who have offered their skills to help us re-engineer the structures of our church.

The Green proposals need discussion because they offer a new perspective. We might adapt Gamaliel’s advice, accepting that if such recommendations have merit, they should be apparent regardless of provenance. Past association does not prevent us listening to St Paul – and his past
“inappropriate behaviour” was beyond question.

The Green Report may be good bad or “curate’s egg” Brother Ivo wants to hear the debate and make his mind up. He suggests thatSynod should leave the politics for another time and do its job of examining what is before it.

Toxic Transience

When Brother Ivo was elected to serve on General Synod, he resolved to worship with other parishes from time to time. He has tried to vary the churchmanship beyond familiarity, and has prioritised those in the poorer areas. Yesterday, he joined a congregation which is drawn from the poorest parish in the Diocese.

It was well attended, welcoming and instructive.

The Diocese has supported it well and it is well used in various guises, throughout the week. Debt counselling, a lunch club, silver surfers, youth activities, are but some of the activities which comprise their weekly offering to the community, and yet they are worried.

Because of their deprived area, they have attracted grants over the years, from European, Diocesan and Local Government sources but these were for capital projects, so far so good, but they are now entering the next phase, running on hope and prayer.

When asked directly what they would say to General Synod, given the chance, worshippers answered  Brother Ivo in similar vein, –  essentially “Don’t forget the poor”.

They like what they hear about Archbishop Justin, and when pressed, acknowledge that the institutional church has been supportive up to now, but they feel especially insecure. They are a church on the margins, they are not self supporting, and what they rightly suspect, though most probably do not know, is that the Anglican Church is about to embark on a major review (General Synod paper GS 1978) of how we should be “Resourcing the future of the Church of England”.

If there is any comfort to them and churches like them, it has been conveniently highlighted for them.
“We believe that equal weight should be given to the purposes of a) the support and development of mission work in the most deprived communities and b) proactive investment in new opportunities for growth across the country”.

It is hard to think the Church will not endorse that strategy, but it will come at a price.

If the Angican church puts its financial priorities into the inner city/ deprived town centres inevitably there will be smaller, perhaps equally faithful and prayerful congregations which will find their churches amalgamated or closed. Ancient buildings may be abandoned like eroded coastlines left to crumble.

Having voted in the last session to allow rural churchyards to be grazed by sheep, the resting places of past forebears may well be given over to benign neglect.

Synod may decide “So be it”.

Talking to those struggling to sustain mission in hard pressed urban areas one interesting feature emerged. “Transience” is a major problem. WE all talk of poverty and “lack of resources” but “transience” is an under-discussed factor>

Brother Ivo heard how the community has changed in and around the church where he worshipped. Once the surrounding streets would have housed workers for s single large blue collar employing facility. The houses would have been owner occupied, and the shops, pubs voluntary organisations, sports clubs, and churches would have made up the community.

Now, the principal employer having gone. Those in work began commuting elsewhere and with higher income moved to “better areas”.

Local business has declined, housing stock has been bought by absentee, often neglectful, landlords. The police are not seen, crime has risen and with it drug addiction and anti-social behaviour. The resilience of the local community has been sapped not least by disillusion. But also because the local families- the social glue – are much in decline. People are not marrying and separation which is higher amongst those living together – especially in poverty – compounds the transience.Those who move away from extended are more isolated and often more transient.

London Boroughs have re-located people to these communities, the rentals are on short hold tenancies, into sue standard housing where nobody wishes to remain. THere are no legal aid housing lawyers to fight their cases as Government has all but killed the sector. Many of the newcomers happen to be Eastern European who do not speak English, and thus community is further undermined.  Where it exists it is not in touch with the indigenous poor and suspicion arises, even from the Churchgoers. THere is suspicion of undetected criminality and people trafficking. These areas may be ” multi-cultural” . What is less in evidence is “community”.

It is this scarce ” asset ” which the Church can and does supply, and why “transience” is a factor we need to bring specifically into account more frequently, when discussing the problem.

What will help such communities?

Two frequent answers are “resources” and “education”.

What is particularly striking about Brother Ivo’s visit is that he learnt that the local school is failing.

That may not seem surprising until one hears that not 400 yards from the church in question, massive investment has been made in a school which Brother Ivo visited at its re-opening in 2010. It is a fine and well resourced building. There were more IMacs in a single classroom than in the nearby Bluewater Apple Superstore.

“Resources” cannot be the answer there. Results are the third worst in the country.

” Transience ” may be part of that problem, not least in the school leadership: they are on their third Headteacher since the re-build. Children come and go. Middle class parents who do remain in the catchment area do not want their children at a failing school. THe school fails partly because of the poor results imported with every newly disrupted transient child. That is a diagnosis not a criticism.

How one addresses “transience” may be complex. Labour mobility may be a good thing in certain circumstances, but plainly in the poorest communities it is also potentially toxic.

One cannot halt community decline unless and until one can give the very poor some semblance of stability from which we can build strategies to set them back on a path to integration into mainstream society.

Whether that strategy be one of debt management, language tuition, skills training or whatever, the halting of transience appears to be an early priority. The support of  local Churches with their community mission as part of spreading the Gospel must surely be an early part of the bringing of much needed stability and re-generation.

When the police, housing office, scout troops, and business community have moved out, our Churches are frequently the only foundation stone left . We surely don’t need too much discussion to decide what Christ would have us do.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.

Many conclusions will be drawn,  frequently according to our preconceptions.

“Don’t trust Muslims”,

“Don’t demonise Muslims”,

“To hell with all faith”,

“Close the borders”

“Repent of our foreign policy”

“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”

Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.

The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..

The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.

If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.

Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.

Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.

Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.

Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.

He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know  1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.

Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.

Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3

He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2

It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.

Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.

Yet ask we must.

Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.

Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.

One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.

Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.

Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.

It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.

We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.

Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.

Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.

When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.

We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly

Our God is imminent, not remote.

Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.

God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.

We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.

Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.

The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.

Such differences matter.

If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.

Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.

Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-

Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.

The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims

The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity

 

We can call these inconvenient truths.

It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.

These truths need to be said.

Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.

We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.

We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.

This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.

 

They are not

If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.

Brother Ivo goes to General Synod

In the 19th Century Victor Hugo described the conditions of the prisoner Jean Valjean who was de-humanised by the assignment of the number 24601. In the mid-21st Century, Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664. In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Winston Smith cries ” I am not a number!” Upon joining General Synod in the 21st century one is immediately allocated a number. There is no remission for good behaviour.

Despite that apparent anachronism, one of the striking things on entering the forum is a pleasing and genuine diversity. At early morning coffee on the first day Brother Ivo was warmly welcomed and assisted by a colleague with significant disability, an armed forces chaplain and a nun. In the chamber he sat behind the deaf representatives enjoying the expressiveness of the language of translation, especially the gesture for “angels” which we should surely all adopt whenever we use the word. Think descending fluttering hands- delightful.

The promulgation of Canon on Women Bishops was undertaken with dignity and the varied legislative agenda was well explained and frequently laced with bonhomie when a potentially dull subject needed enlivening.

Sincere conviction was never far beneath the surface. Discussing Clergy Discipline Guidance we heard heartfelt devotion to the integrity of the confessional, and no less determination to banish laxity from our safeguarding procedures.

Brother Ivo made an immediate maiden speech on this issue seeking to strengthen the guidance when Clergy think there “may” an exception to the usual rules on confidentiality.

Instead of stating that clergy “should” take the advice of Safeguarding Officers he proposed that they “must” take that advice. It does not of course require them to identify those under suspicion at that evaluation point, but where the safety of the vulnerable is concerned, Brother Ivo stressed ” This is no time for amateur hour”.

The need for disciplined prayer in clergy life was emphasised as was the sheer stress and volume of advice and regulation upon our clergy.

We are to be encouraged to go ” paperless” as the cost of our a Synod paperwork now exceeds £20,000 per session. As an apostle of systemic modernity, Brother Ivo was hoist with his own petard and has resolved to make the change. He has suggested that we need a fringe meeting at the next Synod with an on hand “techie” to help the less confident Synod members to download the materials and organise them for ready access. Many will worry about doing it themselves but an ounce of practice is worth any amount of exhortation.

The highlight of the first day was unquestionably the address by Archbishop Justin. If you have not read it, it is highly recommended.
( http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5443/archbishop-justins-presidential-address-to-the-general-synod-video)

To Brother Ivo, the key paragraph is the one in which he says

” the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together. In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.”

The more he has considers these words, the more Brother Ivo is impressed with the boldness of that vision.

Is he not challenging us to review the very nature of Anglicanism?

For too long we have had doctrinal strivings, aimed at winning an inter-party struggle. Do we not need to step back from even attempting theological uniformity?

With the approval of women priests we created an enclave for our Anglo-Catholic friends. We shall soon be asked to ensure that other colleagues who hold to the “headship” principle shall have a guaranteed place in the House of Bishops. Having embarked upon that institutionalisation of difference, what possible reason can we advance for not reaching similar accommodations with other sections of the communion, not least those who wish to participate in gay “marriage”.

Brother Ivo opposed the redefinition of marriage: he is on record in that view. That debate was lost.

That law  is now in place and many liberal clergy would wish to conduct such services in accordance with it. We know their views, they are open and plain in their support, even as we share the bread and the cup together. They will want no less acceptance and respect for that approach, than they were asked to accept on behalf of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals for their issues of conscience and interpretation.

Given a vitally necessary strong defence on behalf of those who can never accept participation in such services, will this not be part of the “functional diversity” to which Archbishop Justin alludes?

To those worried about too much diversity in our gender views it is worth reflecting for a moment on the once unimaginable diversity in theology with which we currently live.

We have within the Communion, those who regard the Bible as the literal word of God, but there are others who regard it as the “inspired” word of God. Some are strongly for the historicity the Virgin birth whilst others see only an expressive truth. The reverence of some for the Virgin or Icons is for others but one step removed from idolatry. The literal body and blood of Christ for one,  is the “token of sacrifice”  another. One man’s altar is another woman’s table. To some, prayers for the dead are efficacious, for others a pointless exercise. There will be other examples.

In short, we have all swallowed so many theological camels to preserve unity, that choking on the gender gnat should be almost easy. If we are finding it hard, we need to look again at Archbishop Justin’s vision.

Of course our disagreements are a cause for repentance. Yet is that continued, and even additional, division enough for us to call it a day? Is this the time for some of us to walk away?

The reality is that we have become a federation of belief- a “federation of failure” if you like – but still with enough shared love for God to make it worth our while not to throw in our hands. There is still much we agree upon.

On Tuesday we looked at Middle Eastern issues. In that context we hoped that the protagonists will somehow, with the Grace of God, come together. Notwithstanding  the blood and rhetoric currently in evidence there,  if we can still conceive of reconciliation between Middle Eastern Jew, Muslim, and Christian , we surely cannot regard division from those currently in communion with each other whilst plainly of different gender views, just because we are approaching a decision point on gay marriage?

There will be more to say on Tuesday’s business which saw debates on the Middle East, the Methodist Covenant and the “Bedroom Subsidy” as well as a fringe meeting on Gaza. These will be the subject of the next post.

Transparency in Public Life

The Bible is quite clear about our duty to deal plainly with each other.

Even in a secular age, most people know that the Ten Commandments include a requirement that ” Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”

Lest anyone seek “wriggle room” by limiting that interpretation to giving evidence in Court, Matthew records Jesus teaching ” But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

In the letter of James we are told ” But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”

All strands of the Church can be clear and insistant about this in both public and private life, and perhaps it needs to do so  now when talking both inside and outside the Church.

There is a growing list of scandal.

Last night, the Government behaved appallingly. It had attempted to settle the controversy over the European Arrest Warrant ahead of the Rochester and Strood by election by promising a vote on the issue, but as unease grew amongst its own back benchers, they shifted their ground. Rather more accurately they became shifty. They attempted to avoid a humiliating defeat by having a global vote on a range of issues rather than seeking approval of the measure on an individual basis. That is not what they promised and it will not wash.

The speaker has righty observed that the public will be ” contemptuous ” of the Government’s lack of straight dealing”.

Their own “supporters” have complained at the lack of integrity of their Government and Whips office and no amount of bluster about the Labour Party’s intention to return to the issue will do. If the opposition brings the matter back to a specific vote it is not being “politically opportunistic” but rather it is doing its proper job as the loyal opposition

Labour is doing the right thing, yet there are several beams in their own eyes.

They have accepted that during their last administration they deliberately took a relaxed view over immigration policy. It is a policy that inevitably had consequences upon the poorest in this country in terms of employment competition, housing need, and local medical and educational resources. This issue was important and the public are unhappy at being deliberately kept in the dark. Whatever one’s view of the appropriate number of newcomers that can be properly welcomed and cared for, a seruptitios policy of unacknowledged societal transformation is wrong in a democracy.

Some of this political culture has been imported from the USA which gave its own appalling example this week.

American Healthcare needed reform. All sides of the debate agreed that, yet one does not have to consider the words of one of its political architects, James Gruber, for long without feeling outrage at the cynicism involved. Claiming that ” the stupidity of the American voter’ would have meant the defeat of the measure, Mr Gruber was happy to acknowledge to the political editor of the Daily Caller that he deliberately misled the public as to the nature of what was being proposed stating unashamedly that lack of transparency is a “huge political advantage.’

It is worth taking a moment to reflect upon the implications for democracy when such attitudes can be openly admitted by the political class. Brother Ivo would advise against any dismissal of such things as a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. Plainly we are seeing it here too.

A democracy depends upon integrity and transparency. It is fundamental to the concept. If Party Politicians and Managers think that sleight of hand is ” good enough” it is right that they be swiftly disabused of the notion, and the Church is both entitled and required to speak on this subject. We have Bishops in the upper House, they are there to remind our politicians of higher values.

Insofar as it addresses a fault in our current political mores, many will think hard before speaking out on this issue, and yet they have both a right a duty to use their ethical influence on this current political culture.

A wise priest once told Brother Ivo that he never made a criticism of his congregation that did not include himself. If he felt them ungenerous, he might begin with a story giving an example in which he had behaved badly.

We in the Church have our own beams in eyes.

We elect our own legislators to General Synod with a system which gives little information about candidates to the electorate amongst the members of the Deanery Synods. WE do not harness the power of modern communication technology to promote questioning and debate.  Our hustings are poorly attended, the election addresses are often anodine and many who have the right to vote, do not fulfil their duty. If they are not fully engaged it may be that they do not feel drawn into a process that does not make issues and attitudes clear.

In a recent by election in Brother Ivo’s Diocese few candidates declared membership of any of the major campaigning groups like WATCH, Forward in Faith, Changing,Attitudes or the like. Interestingly, a newly elected member of General Synod receives a questionnaire in which they are asked to identify their churchmanship for the purpose of enabling a balancing of committees.

Brother Ivo has been told that at General Synod, their are groupings, pre-voting meetings and temporary alliances. He never knew. He is plainly a naive and innocent soul, but imagines he is not alone in his innocence in the pews.

It is expected, not unreasonably, that Church legislators should declare their positions when they are elected. Is it not more even important that such clarification is offered before electors cast their votes?

This all seems part of the same malady.

Transparency is important in public life. Without it, those to whom we lend power over us, cannot be held accountable. We need this virtue to be asserted in times when growing cynicism by political operators exists both inside and outside the Church.

As the political maelstrom swirls, perhaps one of our a Bishops might survey the spin doctors, pollsters, whips, and political operators of Westminster and ask ” Will no one rid us of these troublesome cynics”.

Well, no Bishop can achieve this, but we can. Well informed and engaged voters are the antidote to the malady we all see before us and condemn.

“Rendering to Caesar” implies respect for politicians

The last few weeks have been very political, and with the Clacton by-election happening soon, that news priority seems likely to continue.

People of faith often check themselves when they find politics taking precedence in lives or pre-occupation and Brother Ivo is no exception.

Politics are there to serve humanity, and not to be an end in itself. When it takes a distorted priority in anyone’s life, priorities slip, family suffers, single-mindedness gives way to pride and in that way lies corruption and perdition.

In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum there remain big and important questions, but none perhaps is greater than our sudden loss of confidence in our institutions and our politicians. In many ways they have brought it upon themselves, partly through the expenses scandal but also through the increasing distance of those within the ” Westminster Bubble” from ordinary life.

Policy positions are perceived to be driven by political expediency, shaped by internal polling or focus groups, rather than any real conviction or intellectual analysis. More and more, MP’s seem to have drifted from Oxbridge to consultancy, special advisor status to favoured status on the constituency short list, without ever having to engage with the problems and frustrations of everyday life.

Many long for the days when the House of Commons may have had its admirals, brigadiers and Masters of Hounds, but also its self made businessmen, its miners, boilermakers and shopkeepers who could inject a degree of ordinary experience into debate. To use the modern jargon it may, paradoxically have been more “diverse” in former days, at least in terms of life experience.

We seem to think less of our rulers now, and yet Jesus taught us to render to Caeser the things that are Caeser”s, and amongst that which we should offer, is surely a modicum of respect. There many other biblical references to to propriety of secular authority.

In Exodus 21 we read ” Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens”.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans emphasises the role and value of rulers.

“Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

Paul knew, and frequently suffered at the hands of rulers. Having suffered multiple beatings and imprisonments; he would not have any need of our tutoring on the subject of oppression by those in authority.

Our modern rulers, even at their worst, are infinitely better than those to whom the Apostles bent the knee.

Our faith response to reform must be informed by institutional and personal frailties but also carefull that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater.

Too easily, MP’s are characterised as venal, and a Parliamentary salary may seem high to most on the average wage, but it is now fixed by independent outsiders. Many MP’s do take a pay reduction when the offer themselves for public service, and for all their faults they stand in the higher centiles of probity and good conduct when compared to rulers of most other countries.

When we are feeling weary and cynical it will do us no harm to reflect on how else we might be governed to our detriment. Pakistani politicians are more tribal, Chinese politicians more compliant to the wishes of the elite and Kenyan MPs pay themselves the highest salaries of any legislature in the world.

As we reflect on what respect we should record our own representatives, we still need to ask ourselves not only why some fall short of proper standards, but also why so many serve with industry, conscience and dedication. When contrasted with politicians across the globe, our question might be not “Why are they so bad?” but rather “Why are so many so good?”

Looking at our current crop of leaders we may not approve of everything that David Cameron does, yet amidst all the cynicism, there was a real bravery and integrity about his decision to give Scotlad its referendum on the Union. Many criticise Alex Salmond’s cocky style, yet few can deny that he both connected with the electorate, especially the young, and is responsible for renewed confidence in the possibility of change. Gordon Brown has been widely depicted as a brooding figure of resentment since his departure from office. He can earn huge amounts on the US lecture circuit. Yet when he was needed (we may debate whether by his country or his party) a fundamental loyalty kicked in and he answered the call, with vigour and ability.

Soon we shall have a by-election in Clacton, where every political commentator expects the former incumbent to triumph, with a majority that might as well be weighed as counted. Notwithstanding his confidence in retaining the seat, there was real integrity in Douglas Carswell’s insistence on seeking a renewed mandate from his electorate when he switched party. That is another reason for renewed optimism about what is right in our political settlement. A precedent is important in our political system which evolves pragmatically rather than follows a set text.

A little internet research showed a huge history of defections, and many simply switched and stayed put. In the 1980’s over 40 Labour MP’s created the SDP without reference to their constituents. More recently Peter Temple-Morris, Shawn Woodward and Quentin Davis all switched to Labour without offering the conservative majorities who elected them, a chance to agree or disagree.

A little reflection on these developments ought to lighten our moods rather than putting our heads in our hands with those bemoaning our “broken politics”. Don’t try and secure sympathy for that view in Zimbabwe or Iran.

Why we are so blessed is partly a result in the integrity of individuals, but there is no small contribution which derives from our culture. It is a culture with both a Christian past and even a Christian presence. Our Queen sets a shining example, both from private devotion but also as head of the Established Church. Our Parliament begins its sessions with prayer – voluntary prayer at that. The Speaker’s chaplain is a quiet presence supporting both MPs and their staff. Every day in churches across the nation, prayers are offered for the Queen in Parliament

We learnt the hard way: our history is beset with both horror and error, yet somehow it gave birth to a system that is still the envy of many countries for both the subtly balanced form, and the overwhelming probity of its members.

Of course it is far from perfect, yet, the day after we saw the Archbishop of Canterbury’s cricket team enjoying a match and the company of a Vatican 11, it is worth remembering that the same peoples who devised a political settlement based on fair play, gave many of the varied sporting codes to the world. We seem to have a talent for sensing what is and isn’t cricket, and that ought not to be under estimated.

Some politicians still “walk”. Many still disapprove sledging, ball tampering or the professional foul.

Reform makes its case by telling a negative story: that easily resonates with the young. There is some truth in its critique. Yet Established Church – and all who have benefitted from it- surely have a duty to tell the full history and redress the balance when we fail to properly count our many blessings.

There are, as Ian Drury cheerfully sang “Reasons to be cheerful”. If we want a better politics we need to be sensitive to its weaknesses but also to balance the widespread cynicism with a refreshing recognition that things could be very much worse and there is still much for which we should properly render thanks.