Tag Archives: #faith

Sympathy for the Bishop of Chichester

Brother Ivo once knew a soldier who confessed that his greatest fear was being bayoneted to death by someone whose heart wasn’t in the job.

If he was going to be killed, then let it be by a professional who took pride in his efficiency, someone who got on with the job, and did it properly.

There are many jobs which we might find emotionally difficult; amongst these are trauma surgeon, funeral director, and slaughterman.

Lawyers too are used to delivering bad news. Sometimes they have to revisit their initial opinion and advise that a case that once look promising has been fatally flawed by new evidence; sometimes it is worse, that there is a known injustice, but the proof is just not there. Cancer specialists have to add a similar grim dimension to their necessary skillset. They become practiced and case hardened.

That is not the same as being cold and heartless, but professionalism comes from exposure to such problems on a regular basis.

It is worth reflecting on these examples when one contemplates the predicament of the Bishop of Chichester as he hears calls for a comprehensive review of the George Bell decision which inevitably carries the implication  that Bishop Bell’s accuser may not have the closure of which he assured her.

He will have spent time with, gained her confidence,  assured her that  all would be done properly and all that is now in question.

It is clear that he feels deeply for all victims of abuse. That is entirely right, proper and to his credit.

As he contemplates the moves at General Synod to question the processes by which the Church reached its conclusions, his mind will inevitably go to her individual need and he may well have a desire to protect her. It is hard for him, and we should be kind in our judgment and supportive with our prayers.

Yet, “Carol’s” wishes and needs cannot be determinative.

None of us know how this matter will unfold, yet the one thing of which we may be sure, is that those seeking to establish openess of process believe that this is a fundamentally important to the future integrity of the Chuch and its safeguarding responsibilities.

Pastoral care for those who come to us matters hugely but so does justice.We are enjoined to be as gentle as doves -but also as wise as serpents.

If the church leaders decide to be obdurate, we are headed for a prolonged campaign. If the Church limits it review of the case to an unsatisfying restrictive review of its processes,  without allowing fresh evidence and the possibility of a different conclusion, it will not satisfy those who have a wider and important perspective. The pain and the uncertainty for everyone not least for ” Carol” and Bishop Martin will be prolonged, and it will be prolonged because of a lack of professionalism.

As Shakespeare’ Othello agonises having resolved to kill his wife ” If ’twere to be done, tis better it be done quickly.

The Lord, St Thomas, and Bishop Bell

This morning we shall be celebrating the Apostle St Thomas, of whom little is known , but who is most famous for his displaying of doubt when told by the other apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead.

When they had told him of what they had seen, he found it inherently implausible and declares that unless he sees the evidence for himself, which he can test, by putting his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the wound, he will not believe.

Jesus has pity on the doubting friend and makes an appearance especially for him, inviting him to do exactly as he declared he must in order to believe. ” Come, put your fingers in the holes in my hands, he says , put your hand in my side” he says.

Paradoxically, in proving that he was no wraith, no figment of their imagination, Jesus could not have been more “transparent”.

Later this coming week the Church of England General Synod will be meeting in York. Amazingly the vexed question of human sexuality to which half of its time will be devoted, may not prove to be its most heated issue.

Bishop George Bell will be defended, or perhaps more accurately the integrity of the Church will be defended. People will be asking that the Church explains openly the processes by which it came to believe that one of its 20th Century “saints” had let them down in a dreadful way, by abusing an innocent child.

It is a terrible thing to abuse a child; it is also a terrible thing to accuse somebody of the crime. To assert their guilt is hugely damaging, many would rather be accused of murder. It is not ignoble to publicly ask for proof.

The House of Lords considered the matter last Thursday, and in the course of the debate the Church’s handling of the case was described as ” slippery” and “disingenuous”. A former Archbishop, Lord Carey described the secret process that led to the conclusion as a “kangaroo court”.

In the course of the debate, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss reminded the Lords of a legal principle in such cases. The more implausible event, the more cogent will be the evidence needed to establish it.

Survival after crucifixion was inherently unbelievable. Resurrection from the dead was not credible. To believe such a thing required the most undeniable of evidence, so Jesus gave it to him, gave it to us, and today we celebrate the fact that Thomas doubted, that Jesus understood how very human it was to do that , and gave him the certainty that Thomas and we needed.

One hopes that the Church might relent in this most difficult of matters and provide as much transparency as may be consistent with protecting victim identity. It can be done and it can be done well by those who know what they are doing.

Doubt is human; it is not unreasonable where human institutions are concerned. It is especially justified in the case of a Church whose record of investigating such matters so dreadfully poor.

We need our doubting Thomas’s, for by their questions truth is revealed,

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

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.

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.

The Ecology of Political Institutions

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David Cameron’s attempts to build bridges with those parts of Christian community opposed to the re-definition of marriage by praising the faith has opened up another wound for him, as the monstrous regiment of the priggishly offended, duly lined up behind the writers of the oppositional letter to the Daily Telegraph, shrieking like maiden aunts at a Chipperfields Review.

Actually, Brother Ivo takes that back; some of the broadest minded, most tolerant people he has known have been somewhat severe looking ladies whose observations on the follies of the rest of us were acute incisive and instructive.

What is intriguing is that those who are complaining  about  the PM’s. assertion that Britain is a Christian country, would almost certainly be equally assertive that they are “friends of the earth” ( capitalised or uncapitalised). How strange it is that they do not apply their thinking logically and broadly across the disciplines. Only connect.

Let Brother Ivo explain through a seemingly divergent illustration.

Researchers in the United States were recently tasked with improving the flood risk in a part of the country which was suffering rather like our own West Country. After much study they reached the conclusion that things had started to go wrong when the wolf had been removed from the local ecology.

The wolf had predate on deer. In its absence the deer population had expanded. The growing population was no longer wary of grazing the riverbanks, and both ate and trampled young riverbank saplings. The absence of saplings had resulted in decline in the beaver population which no longer dammed the rivers and created flood plains.

In short, taking out the top predator had disastrous consequences downstream. The presence of a wolf population had its downsides not only for deer, but farmer’s livestock, and yet the costs of their absence to the ecology both near and far was devastating.

Those who signed the letter calling for the removal of Christianity from public life, decrying its historic naughtiness, would of course, be equally united in decrying the removal of wolf from its role as top predator in the ecological pyramid. Ask them to explain and protect the complex web of relationships in the natural world and they will have both energy and understanding,  protesting to maintain the smallest variant of of an obscure weed rather than give way to a road by-pass.

So why the blind spot?

Why the seemingly total incapacity to understand that the Constitution of Britain, and indeed all the Constitutions and Institutions of the Anglosphere and the other political environments which evolved from the Protestant Reformation,. are themselves illustrative of the much approved principle ” survival of the fittest”.

Those who seek to preserve the natural world in aspic are frequent the same people perversely cavalier in tearing down the finely tuned political ecosphere which is responsible for the happy free and once tolerant society in which they have lived.

In Britain, our Established Church is an amazingly successful coalition of Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical and Charismatic views. We frequently contend seriously and passionately on deeply held issues. We do not share, still less enforce, much doctrinal orthodoxy and yet a bloody history of contention has taught us much an this has passed by osmosis into the body politic.

The tolerance we learned to accord each other, based upon good Queen Elizabeth I ‘s disinclination to “open a window on men’s souls” influenced the political sphere so that we are greatly blessed that traditionally, our political leaders have been opponents not enemies.

That is currently under threat from the doctrinaire ” progressives” and other heirs to the more European forms of the “Enlightenment” – the wonderful folks that brought you the French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism, whilst dear old fashioned Britain stuck with a Constitutional settlement that bemuses the narrowly logical in the same way that an ant cannot appreciate what goes on beyond its programmed allegiance to its narrowly understood community.

It is should be a historical joy that somehow we have benefitted from this guided evolution. At many decision points, there has been intelligent design -and those intelligent values have been predominantly Christian.

Instead of scrapping the past and building afresh on atheist logic -the North Korean and Albanian model –  we have traditionally and pragmatically built upon our Reformation and Restoration past,

In this distinctly British political ecology, the Lion has learnt to live with the Unicorn, and the lambs have been happy to prosper in that same environment. It is why Ed Milliband’s father was able to find refuge here, though he did tend to ungraciously bite the hand that fed him.

Why did so many faiths find a home here if not because they could prosper under the penumbra of our Christian Establishment?

Once, there was strict legislation against Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists but isn’t the point that our Established Church and associated Institutions have demonstrated the capacity to both evolve and nurture that which is not itself?

What the Telegraph signatories do not seem to take into account ( or more worryingly not even to know) is that in an environment it matters who the top predator is.

Mouthing words about “diversity” whilst sawing the trunk of the tree under which you -and it -have flourished is simply crass.

Many of course are the same folk using their free speech to promote Government regulation of the press.

Diversity, of itself does not develop tolerance or peaceful co-existence. Syria is diverse, so is Lebanon. It is secular “liberal” France that has banned the veil, and secular America that hounds Christianity from the public space through litigation.

If you want to see what happens when you remove institutions in diversity rich countries you may go to any number of failed states which struggle to bring together suspicious factions.

Those willing to break the institutional eggs to make a diversity omelette actually have no idea how they will put Humpty together again.

Building a tolerant free country is a long slow process. Our country went through that difficult and costly centuries ago and whilst the architecture of its happy outcome is hardly characterised by its clean logical lines, it still manages to hold us together.

Those who believe that there is a functional alternative might usefully put their talents to the test by building some prototype institutions which demonstrate similar resilience and strength to that of Christian Britain. Good luck bringing the gay, the Islamic, the vegan and the tribal into your Ark.

In contrast, we already have within our Established Church, huge diversity. In our Christian Monarch we have a wise Queen welcomed as Head of State or Commonwealth across the largest network of family and political ties in the world. Our Parliament holds multi party, multi faith views: none of this was designed, but came about by the very natural selection that the National Secular Society is anxious to teach in our schools.

How strange therefore, that they and the Metro-liberals who distain the Established order never pause to reflect that this country remains amongst the best to live in precisely because the Christian faith, analogous to a ” top predator”,  has shaped the environment for the benefit of all, whether they know it or not.

To those who signed the Telegraph letter, Brother Ivo remembers and adapts the old First World War Bruce Bairnfather cartoon of the soldier Old Bill.

” If you know a better political ecology -go to it”!

The UN, the Catholic Church and Harriet Harman

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The impressively titled “United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child” has recently issued a report on the response of the Roman Catholic Church to child abuse allegations. In its approach, the UN is both new and right. Unfortunately where it is right it is not new, and where it is new it is not right.

Brother Ivo defers to no-one in his detestation of child abuse in all its forms. Christ has a special place in his heart for his little ones and warned of dire consequences to those who harm them. Brother Ivo began this year by making his own modest contribution to child protection by urging the Church to  “Make Child Abuse History”, explaining that every church and church member has to take responsibility for understanding the individual Church’s child protection procedures, and rigorously applying them whilst keeping compliance under regular review.

It is tedious repetitious work, but our protections are only as strong as our weakest link. Do not let that weak link be you, your church, or your Priest/Minister.

Insofar as the UN report identifies that the Roman Catholic Church has failed in the past, it is right.

Individual priests and bureaucratic cultures betrayed their Lord, their Church their congregations and their calling. When these crimes were identified, officialdom did what officialdom always does- secular and religious: it protected itself. That is a linked, but entirely separate wrong.

Simon Jenkins recently wrote powerfully in the Guardian reminding us that we have seen many institutional cover-ups of abuse, in the Army, NHS, Police, and Prison Service. Brother Ivo would add the BBC, Local Authority Care Homes, and UN to that list.

There seems to be an almost teleological tendency of humans and their institutions to place good reputation above good practice. The bible did warn us.  No sooner had Adam been discovered in his disobedience to God than he moved instantly to “damage limitation” and “reputation recovery” by blaming Eve.

Whenever the Church conforms to the standards of the world it fails, and in this serious matter it stands condemned, but it is far from alone. It is not the individual failure of the Church in these matters that should be remarked upon, but rather the Church’s utter alignment with secular standards rather than striking out towards its unique God-called standard of integrity.

Whilst the UN report tells us that things went wrong, there seems to be no part of the report which was not already known, understood or being currently being acted upon.

Brother Ivo is a member of a sister Church, which has been busily establishing procedures and practices built upon experiences of its own past failures and those of others. He has no doubt that his brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church have been equally assiduous, and if they have not, that would have been the more useful focus of any critique by such an outside body as the UN.

The Catholic Church has delivered a low key response, but does indicate that its efforts to address the problem have been significantly downplayed or omitted from the report.

Brother has “no dog in the fight” and so is perhaps more free to make a few blunt observations

Amongst the members of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child are Syria,Thailand, Sri Lanka Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Brother Ivo suggests that on a variety of issues, from war crime against children, child labour, child prostitution and female genital mutilation, these countries have scant authority to cast the first stone.

The committee is not content to regurgitate known facts however. It goes a step further and rather pompously claims the right to instruct the Church upon its doctrines.

This UN committee not only has no authority to link the Vatican’s views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality to the question of child abuse, it fails to give proper weight to how faithful adherence to the Church’s teaching on matters of human sexuality and family life promotes the protection of children.

There are a number of “inconvenient truths” in play here.

Statistically it is not the local priest who is most likely to abuse your child.

More teachers than priests are accused of abuse in all its forms.

According to A Department of Education report 12,086 such allegations were made in 2009-10. 2827 teachers were involved, 1709 non teaching staff were also accused. About half related to physical abuse. Strikingly only 20% of those accused were suspended during the investigation. One third of allegations were substantiated, another 20% inconclusive and only 2% deemed        “malicious”. 12% were prosecuted.

Imagine the calumnies that would fall on any church if it had such a statistical profile.

If Brother Ivo were then to draw strong conclusions about the risk of sexual abuse from entire Educational Establishment and teaching profession, and to call for a root and branch reform of the education system, is it not plain what would happen? Ten thousand metaphorical swords would leap from their scabbards in defence of this fine body of folk. There would be accusations of bigotry – and that would be right. The proportion of teachers – and priests – who fall from Grace is small, but they tend to be devious, persistent, and ” irreplaceable “.  This is why strict process is needed, to avoid being distracted  by plausible explanations and indispensability.

Sadly the willingness to equally defend people of faith from such broad brush criticism, is not all one might expect from a society whose narrative embraces fair process and “human rights”

It seems that if you are antagonistic to religion and people of faith, especially if it involved the Vatican, those who form public opinion will give you every opportunity to have a “free hit”. 

Yet there are two facts highlighted by that Government report which cannot pass unremarked as we consider the folly of the UN’s attempt to sit in judgement on Church doctrine.

Statistically, a child is most at risk from those known to him/her.

More specifically, greatest risk to a child is from a step-parent or mother’s boyfriend. Church teaching maximises the retention of the most protective environment possible- marriage between the child’s birth parents. In contrast, those of a more “liberal” outlook, who have both elevated dependency on the State and marginalised fatherhood, have consistently undermined the value of that protection.

It is no coincidence that the incidence of child abuse and the destabilisation and decline of marriage have risen within the same 50 years. Dysfunctionality grows exponentially

The next most likely abuser of a child or young person  is …. another child or young person. Whether by overt bullying or unwanted peer pressure the young are exploited within the context of a sexualised culture which facilitates the abuser’s task.That culture has everything to do with secular values and nothing to do with those taught by the Church.

The attempt to foist responsibility for the presence or growth of child abuse on the Catholic Church’s attitudes to contraception, abortion or homosexuality is specious and needs to be called out by all of us. it is part of the “insurgency” which Brother Ivo has called upon, an insurgency against the values of the day, and against the values that are hurting children first and incidentally the Church.

The latter has endured much worse, and may yet do so again. It is not for the Church’s sake that we must take responsibility for these problems back to those truly responsible. Sadly the Church is often reluctant, afraid even, to be as direct as its critics.

Brother Ivo isn’t.

He has already challenged the right of the UN committee to pontificate on such matters. There is another challenge that ought to be made if we are to clean up public life from past errors about child abuse.

Is there anyone in the hierarchy of the country’s Churches who might start by mentioning  an example very close to home?

In the 1980’s the forerunner of Liberty – the National Council for Civil Liberties – became catastrophically embroiled with the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation dedicated to promoting child abuse as a normal expression of  human sexuality and changing the law to permit it. Liberty’s current Director Shammi Chakrabarti has made the same kind of clear and unequivocal acknowledgement and apology for that involvement as critics have required of the Church. All credit to her for doing so. You may read the outline of the case ”here”

There are, however, three historic apologies outstanding. They are needed from the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, her husband Jack Dromey MP and former MP Patricia Hewitt who currently chairs the UK India Business Council.

The facts are plain, well established established. and unequivocal.

All three were senior officers of the NCCL at the time when the organisation was promoting the interests of that paedophile group. If the Papacy and its past officers has accepted responsibility for past neglect, is there any proper reason why these high profile political folk should not do the same, or are they waiting for a UN report to prompt them?

Now some may think this a party political point which ought not to concern people of religion.

Yet do not Church leaders often speak of the need to raise the voice of prophecy? Having been properly examined and chastised for past deficiencies in protecting our children, should not our Church Leaders be publicly and determinedly working to establish similar standards of accountability and integrity in the secular world? Is this not an outrageous example?

It makes no difference to the victims, present or historic, whether the deficiencies were secular or religious. Common standards should apply.

Have there not been enough cover-ups to save the reputations of the influential? Do we truly wish to be complicit all over again?

Dear Peter Ould – “We are the insurgents now!”

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Peter Ould has written an interesting and provocative piece in which he urges the Church to stop fighting the old culture wars, which he asserts are lost, and concentrate on preaching the Good News of the Gospel.

If you have not read it yet it is well worth reading ”here”

There is much to be said for his reminder that however beneficial to society an Institution may be, whether marriage, or family, or the Established Church, it is not in itself the Gospel, and he writes his thoughts having read the books of the Acts of the Apostles in their entirety at one sitting.

That is doubtless a useful spiritual discipline in itself, and it has plainly highlighted and sharpened for Brother Peter the contemporary issues of the early church, helping him to look again at how we need to see our mission as redemption first, and compliance second.

If Brother Ivo were to condense the argument, it might be thus; – “It is the grace of God that will save us and our response should be to shine as a light to the world which will, in time, bring our values and priorities into alignment with Gods will.”

Brother Peter identifies this as the approach which served the early church well in transforming a pagan society into a Christian one, and that is the model he urges us to follow today.

If that is not a fair conclusion, Brother Ivo will apologise and stand corrected. The post stands for itself, commended and approved so that you may read it uninterpreted and judge for yourself.

Brother Ivo does not disagree with Brother Peter,  but writes to extend the conversation in the context of his own modest mission statement which is to “write social commentary as if religion really matters”.

We are  called to stand apart from the world and to speak of eternal verities, and yet at the same time the sower must have understanding of the field in which he sows, the fisherman experience of the waters in which he fishes, and the preacher close fellowship with the sinners with whom he breaks bread.

“In the world but not of it” is a tricky position in which to find oneself, and often when we tentatively attempt to follow bold souls into difficult places we find ourselves on thin ice. Many of us dare not make the attempt.

To change the metaphor Soren Kierkergaarde wrote that sometimes a man of faith may be likened to a tightrope walker; what he does may seem impossible and yet it is done, and so there may be a hope amongst us that men like Brother Peter can engage with the world whilst not tumbling into its controversies.

And yet, engaging in those controversies is not entirely ignoble either

We need the purists and the best examples to anchor us to that early Church model, but in a fallen world isn’t some messy engagement with the everyday world going to engage many of our number?

If the old culture wars are over, will there not inevitably be new ones?

Brother Ivo highlights three  current news stories without attempting analysis in depth.

A Hollywood “star” dies of a drug overdose leaving a young family behind. The beneficiary of Government preferment laments that she is not to be re-appointed to her post when her contract expires. The Education Establishment is stung that its ways of doing things is coming under review by a radical approach of an outsider, forgetting that it too was radical, once.

The Church cannot help but be cognisant of these events and inevitably it will  hear its members engaging with the controversies, and probably be asked to pass comment.

Just as Brother Peter was wise enough to look back at historical context, so we might highlight to this present age,  that as Christian “hegemony” has been challenged and overthrown ( to use the language of Gramsci) a new set of orthodoxies have held sway for the last 50 years.

Just as Church Orthodoxies acquired a historic record that could be examined and used to challenge it from a worldly standard, so the victors of the culture wars referred to by Peter Ould   are now coming increasingly under the same process of evaluation and judgement.

We should not be surprised, for were we not taught that “by their fruits ye shall know them”?

The secular world view may not recognise the Christian standard but the Marxist world view that informed much of the cultural attack on the old traditional model, had its own principle which leads to the same disturbing outcome.

Marx’s dialectic predicted the sequence of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

We had antithetical change when culture wars defeated Christian values; we are living in its synthesis – but life goes on and we are surely seeing once victorious mindsets, having since become the new Establishment, facing a cultural backlash of their own.

We may be entering the times of renewed intellectual turmoil as the chickens come home to roost.

With every drugs death we approach the time when people may begin to ask if the ” naughty but nice” approach to drugs, is actually worth the pain of the children losing their father.  Nick Clegg may claim the drugs war lost; Brother Ivo suggests that the time for declaring the failure of such hedonism is about to arrive ; surely the misery that drugs cause cannot not stand unchallenged by the culture for long.

The problem with acquiring cultural hegemony is that with it,  comes the loss of other people to blame. We may hear Hollywood lamenting the loss of  Mr Seymour Hoffman’s talent, yet  Christians, sympathetic to his family, can and should be challenging his selfish values and those of the the new Establishment; values which left his children fatherless.

It may not be our first priority as missioners for Christ, but neither is it unchristian if we take responsibility for such tragedies back to those who won the culture wars. It is perfectly proper to “reprove with judgement”.

That is not fighting the old culture wars, it is however opening a new perspective on the fight against the hubris of fallen man.

The story of Lady Morgan may be more obviously  political but that is not to render it immune from Christian evaluation.

We often say that part our mission is to comfort the discomforted and discomfort the comfortable. Who is more complacent and comfortable than those who live their entire lives within the  Westminster confines of approval by their fellows , funded by the little people.

We have seen that for some years the number of holders of highly remunerated public offices have been overwhelmingly from one political party. Fraser Nelson has explained it clearly ”here”

Lady Morgan’s imperious sense of entitlement to continued office is little more than the  familiar process of the Establishment objecting when its ways, and abuses, come under scrutiny. The biter is being bit.

As yesterday’s post makes clear, in such matters Brother Ivo calls “a plague on all your houses”, believing that there should be fewer sinecures, fewer political appointments and more public service. Christians have often been in the forefront of demonstrating such self sacrifice. We should be doing so again, and if that upsets either the Labour politicians in place or the Conservative aspirants then so be it.

In these matters we should be genuinely counter-cultural to the venal spirit of the age, and if this means confronting those who once regarded themselves as” anti-Establishment” and “counter cultural” themselves then we may indeed be engaged in a new culture war.

There are many other examples, but Brother Ivo cannot fail to mention the very considerable irony that within the world of Education, a generation of movers and shakers has marginalised Christianity within our schools and promoted “political correctness ” as an alternative. Brother Ivo cannot but smile as the  current Education Secretary is criticised for introducing political ideology into our schools.

Given the name of what went before ( the clue is in the title) one cannot help thinking that the objection is not to a heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom, but rather, someone else’s heavily weighted political agenda being present in the classroom.

We do not have to take sides in the minutiae of the issues, but we can speak up for a degree of integrity and self awareness which is seemingly lacking in the current dominant ethos of much  public life. We are called to be salt, and salt can be irritate.

So the problem is, that no sooner do we walk away from one set of culture wars than we shall find ourselves embroiled in a new set.

Yet in this new round, accepting the thesis of Peter Ould is interesting and challenging.

When the Labour Government took office in 1945 the cry went up “We are the masters now” and soon they found themselves judged on their record.

Once we concede that the secular radicals  won the culture wars, they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending the consequences of their actions.

In this Peter Ould and Brother Ivo’s analyses converge. Whether we speak in terms of the spiritual or the practical aspects of Christianity, we are back with the early church in a much more familiar and life affirming position.

“We are the insurgents now!”

 

What next after the Grammy Wedding?

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The writer and playwright Alan Bennett has written simply and touchingly of the marriage of his parents Walter and Lilain in the early hours of the morning in a Leeds church with only the vicar and witnesses present.

Walter was a butcher at the local Co-op, and when he requested time off so that he could be married, it was refused; the only way forward was for him to secure a 15 minute leave of absence so that the principle part of the service could be undertaken early and the pronouncement of the marriage lawfully declared immediately at 8 o’clock, giving Walter just enough time to kiss hiss bride, and jump on his bicycle to arrive in the shop just before his leave of absence expired.

Notwithstanding the time constraints, Walter and Lillian would have heard the full majesty of the opening lines of the Marriage Ceremony, lines which their famous son came to love, as he later became a significant member of the Prayer Book Society

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

Walter and Lillian’s marriage lasted a lifetime.

Brother Ivo could not help but bring the simple integrity of this story to mind as he awoke to learn of the “ mass wedding” which occurred live on television during last nights Grammy Awards, when 34 couples, some gay, some straight, were brought into marital union by a rap singer, Queen Latifah, who had been temporarily appointed as a Marriage Commissioner for the occasion.

The couples had been recruited by a casting agency and sworn to secrecy so that their families and friends knew nothing about it until they were shuffled into the television schedule, so that a bunch of self regarding celebrities might preen and offer themselves congratulations at their liberal outlook and ground breaking innovation.

The President of the Recording Academy said “I think it was as elegant and meaningful and powerful as we wanted it to be”.

Well, in the country of the Elvis impersonator Wedding Chapel, one supposes that this passes for “elegant and meaningful”, although in future one wonders whether those who were brought in as extras for this purpose will still look back on it in that way.

Brother Ivo wondered what might have happened had someone smuggled a canine pair into the proceedings and whether anyone might have raised an objection that this was a step too far in demeaning the solemnity of the occasion or would that, too have been welcomed in as evidence of progressive thinking.

Brother Ivo specifically makes clear that whilst he did not and does not support the redefinition of marriage, his criticism of this event stands independent of that debate which has been resolved and is settled law. He should also clarify that he is one of a minority of participants in the debate who does respect gay Civil Partnerships and has actually cast a vote in favour of such unions being blessed within an appropriately structured Anglican Service.

His problem with last night event centres upon seriousness, an aspect that eluded the imagineers of last night’s events, who evidently think that nothing says “reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly,”  like a wedding, shoehorned into an awards ceremony, in the absence of all who love and care for you, conducted by a here today gone tomorrow “Minister’ who gave you no preparation and would pass you in the street tomorrow without a flicker of recognition – except they are all to grand to walk the streets that you frequent ( they have people who do that sort of thing for them).

So what next year?

What could possibly top this year’s extravagant celebration of all the great things Liberalism stands for?

Brother Ivo has an even more  ground breaking suggestion.

Why not have an even more “edgy” celebration of a Constitutional Right which these Hollywood/Music Industry folk have fought to establish and extend for years.

It is a Constitutional Right, the reality of which has never been shown on television before. It will change hearts and minds in ways that this one could only dream about.

It is a right which their liberal President has repeatedly supported and one which they will doubtless be very proud to have “ out there”, “in your face” and “loud”. If you don’t like it “Deal with it!”>

Next year, lets show and celebrate live on screen for all to see , the world’s first celebrity partial birth abortion.

Briefly speaking……

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At Christmas, Brother Ivo was given a small book of 10 second sermons written by the comedian Milton Jones, for whose off beat humour he has a soft spot. The title of the book is in fact “Even more 10 second sermons”, so there is evidently an earlier offering to enjoy.

Many of these truly “mini-sermons” are thought provoking yet profound in their brevity.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote – “ I am writing you a long letter because I haven’t got time to write you a short one.” Distilling one’s thoughts into a few words is an art, and a very important one. Many a preacher could usefully resolve to adopt its mastery as a New Years Resolution. 

There might even be a TV reality show in there somewhere. “ How succinct is your Priest?”

Congregations could call in Milton Jones to critique and instruct loquacious Ministers, leading to the ultimate acclamation at the end of the Service, as the grateful  Congregation’s rises as one in a prolonged standing ovation.

It is one of the merits of twitter that it compels one to think clearly and concisely, and Mr Jones has a facility for practicing what he preaches.

In the briefest of books he manages to offer sermons on all the main concerns of religious folk including,  Faith, God ,Heaven, Judgement, Prayer and many other important topics. As with any sermon, even where he advances a contentious idea, he provokes a worthwhile reaction. It makes you think.

With such a mercifully short work, Brother must not plagiarise or harm sales by quoting extensively, though it is very tempting to do so.

There!

Through this slight volume, Brother Ivo has been made a more considerate fellow already, and he has not yet finished reading  the entire book!

By way of encouragement to buy (for which there is no commission received) Brother Ivo commends two observations.

“Praying seems to be like trying to undo a knot. You never quite know what’s going to work, its just important to keep going. Also, best check what you’re trying to undo isn’t holding up something else that’s important”.

“Coming from a Christian home is like receiving the antidote to a poison on your first birthday. You can’t fully appreciate its worth until you’ve seen the effects of the poison at first hand.”

Having seen the effects of such a poison within many families, that observation lands with particular impact on this reader in particular, Every sermon will be read, heard,  or considered through the prism of one’s individual experience, but the shorter the message the harder it is to misunderstand or impose one’s own gloss .

There is much other wisdom like these and one cannot help but suspect that behind the comic mask is a serious mind. He may not thank us for saying so.

It the very clarity of the thought which is its principle value. There is much else that Brother Ivo would love to quote, commend, explore and expand upon, but that would not be fair to the time that Mr Jones has put into his reflections, so do just buy it and read it for yourselves.

It will not take long, but it may have a longer lasting effect than you appreciate.