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You can tell there’s an election coming when everyone wants to talk about politics!

17 Apr

When your vicar uses the words “I don’t want to get political but…” in at least 2 Holy Week/Easter services, as well as at least 1 Bible study, you know that politics is something that most people are thinking about, to some degree at least.

Some people, like me, will have been paying attention to the political stories without stopping. But others will have only just switched on, now that there is just under 3 weeks to go until the General Election. And then there are those who “live” politics, that is to say either the politicians (the clue is in the name) or the political journalists (again, clue in the name!), who are now reaching fever pitch in their statements, reporting and other general political stuff.

The funny thing about this election is that it is so heavily impacted by the result of (and the resulting 5 years after) the last election. In the past it has been either about ideologies being put in front of the country, or it has been about personalities and who is fit to govern. Now, you might think that this isn’t funny at all, after all people will be judging the government of the last parliament on their performance and then voting according to whether they want more of the same or a change. But hopefully, as you read on, you will understand what I mean.

Another thing that has come to fruition, after growing during the years of both John Major and Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown, if you want to include his short time as something other than the remnants of New Labour), is a completely tribal political devotion with what can very often appear to a complete lack of engagement with the actual details of what is being said. And whilst I know that it has been on all sides, it does appear to be particularly on the side of the Left that this happens the most. But, before you decide that you don’t want to read any further, I will look to address this in detail in a bit.

The final thing I want to raise is the issue of no issues. If you have a look at the majority of the main parties (and I include all the parties represented in the debate that David Cameron took part in under that banner) there is very little between them. The one exception would be UKIP, but even they stick to some of the central themes as though they are an essential mantra to show that you are serious about getting elected. And these political themes are getting fewer and fewer as it appears that the parties simply accept the status quo rather than suggest that an alternative way forward is possible. Again, I will come to this later.

Ok, so here are my issues, in detail, with the election:

1 – I hate safe seats!

As some of you are probably well aware, I am a right of centre person, politically (I am not going to say who I will be voting for on here, even if some of what I say here may make you think it is obvious, but you are welcome to ask me if you see me and we can have a discussion on the matter). I am currently in the constituency that is represented by Lyn Brown. It is a safe Labour seat, probably one of the safest in the country. And because of this, so far, I have only received 1 interaction from any political party since parliament was dissolved (it may even have been a little while before). It was a postal flyer from the Labour party, asking me to support Lyn Brown get re-elected. I have heard nothing from any other parties, nor have I been doorstepped by any parties to ask me how I am voting. It feels like I am being completely ignored because there is no fear that Labour will lose this seat, as though Labour (and therefore Lyn Brown herself) are taking it for granted that she will be returned to Westminster. I have only had 1 contact with Lyn Brown in my nearly 4 and a half years living in the constituency, which was at my own initiation when I tried to seek her support in trying to raise funds for our church community charity through being sponsored to cut my hair. All that happened was 1 tweet (and maybe she sent it around in an e-mail once, not that I have seen anything to suggest this to be the case), after I was told that she would be delighted to support me. Not that I am seeking to embarrass her into donating, but she didn’t donate either, despite receiving the web address for online donations. So it feels almost as though this constituency means nothing to any of the candidates. Lyn Brown expects to get voted in and the rest don’t expect to get many votes and so aren’t wanting to put much effort into trying to increase their votes. And so the local constituents (such as myself) are left pretty much disjointed from the political process, even though it is all that the various news channels and programmes seem to want to talk about. Safe seats mean that people are possibly more inclined to disengage with the process, rather than become involved. Personally I would love any of the candidates to come knocking so that I could invite them in and ask them questions about their party’s policies and so on, but sadly I don’t see this happening any time soon.

2 – This election is nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with who did what, politically speaking, and who might do what in the event of a hung parliament!

Don’t believe me? Just look at what has happened to the Lib-Dem vote and what people say about them! It is all about “They sided with the Tories”, “How could you, we thought you would side with Labour” and “You screwed the students!”, rather than looking both at what they have accomplished in government (because almost certainly there have been policies put in place that would not have happened under a Conservative majority) and what they say they want to see happen in the future. People are saying that the Lib-Dems lied in the past (i.e. the things that they said in the run up to 2010) and so why should they be trusted now. Labour have even tried to twist the knife, suggesting that the only way that they would accept the Lib-Dems in a coalition would be if Nick Clegg were to stand down as leader, echoing suggestions that this was what he said about Gordon Brown if they were to have supported Labour in a coalition in 2010. They didn’t say this because it was the right way to approach the matter, Labour said it because they wanted to get back at Clegg for what is perceived by many in the Labour top ranks (many of them supportive of Brown) as a slight that led to Gordon Brown leaving more or less in ignominy and before he should have 5 years ago. It doesn’t matter that the Lib-Dems were much the smaller party (therefore unlikely to get a huge amount of their policies through), nor that Labour were not the largest party in Westminster (thus making Clegg’s statement that he would look to deal with the largest party in the event of a hung parliament forced to start talks with the Conservatives, simply as a matter of honour), nor that the idea of a “progressive rainbow coalition” was completely unworkable (as in like herding cats!). All people seem to want to do is either declare “We will not help the Tories back into Number 10” or “Don’t let them help the Tories back into Number 10”, rather than actually deal with the issues of policy. And the real killer is that because this has been rammed down so many throats for so long there are many who now follow this mentality and don’t engage with reality, only the false bitterness of the past.

3 – There are a lot of arguments, but very little real substance behind them!

The arguments are there for all to see, declaring who will give the NHS the most money, who will be nicest/harshest to immigrants, who will be firm with the EU, who will support industry, who will create jobs, who will support education, and so on. But there is so little substance behind these arguments that it is almost meaningless. For example, all parties have declared that the NHS is a top priority for financial support if they were to be in power. They all say how the other parties are not fully costed in their pledges and they all say that theirs IS costed. But none that I have seen have been able to actually point to this being the case. Even when people do try they end up talking in such a way as to be completely incomprehensible to most of the electorate, either by going into too much detail or by appearing to pick “facts” out of thin air. Now, I will agree that there are some areas where there are very clear differences that can be explained fairly easily. UKIP, for example, are very clear in their intentions towards Britain’s place in the EU. However, as soon as this is brought up we get into the area of immigration and this then leads into a slanging match about who is being the more racist when certain parties suggest being “firm” with immigrants and immigration (not that this is possible due to the EU treaties that protect the freedom of movement of citizens of member states) and it becomes, in the end, a case of who can come across as the more appealing to the people watching as they seek to reprimand UKIP for their point of view. And here lies a huge issue for politics at the moment. You are perfectly ok to be a political party that espouses the accepted ideals within the ever smaller “mainstream” range of views, but as soon as you express a view that does not sit within them then woe betide you. With immigration it means that unless you are welcoming of immigrants and value their contributions you will be shouted down at any and every opportunity, rather than being allowed to express a point of view and then have the argument in a civil and productive manner. Even some of the most civil people (seemingly at least) become unbearable “liberal fascists” when an issue like this comes up. The NHS is another one, for woe betide you if you were to suggest that another way of doing things might be better! The same goes for education as well. Suggest something as a genuine alternative (as opposed to a rehashing of the current system) and you are not allowed to talk except under fear of verbal, and sometimes even physical, assault. Just look at how Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage were been treated last month! It’s not as though this election is the first time that it has happened (remember John Prescott‘s “engagement” with the public?), but it does seem that it is happening a heck of a lot more now than it ever has done in recent times. And I think that this refusal to engage with a voice that is significantly different has stifled political discourse. Ever since Labour and the Conservatives decided to “fight over the middle ground” to win votes, rather than make an ideological stand for things that they believe in, we have had a lot less to choose from and a lot less chances to talk about anything else. And to top it all off, the people who are in the positions of power are the ones that pretty much encourage the negative reactions to different ideologies. For example, as soon as UKIP mention immigration (I use this as an example as it is probably the most covered issue and one that I have looked into the most) everyone kicks up a fuss about them being racist. Whether it is BBC programming (ever seen Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You or listened to The Now Show?), on other channels or on the internet, it is a regular refrain of equating UKIP and Nigel Farage with the Nazis and Hitler, rather than listening to what is being said. If they actually read and listened to what UKIP say on the subject, they would know that UKIP said that 30 million Bulgarians and Romanians COULD come over to the UK. Not that they would, but that they could. And, when they became fully fledged members of the EU, complete with freedom of movement, that was correct. The fact that they didn’t doesn’t make UKIP incorrect, but from what you hear about it, particularly in “comedy”, you’d think that this was a glaringly obvious “fact”. They would also know that UKIP are not against immigration, but are in favour of being able to control it, something that freedom of movement prevents. They are also not looking to kick out any and every immigrant, despite what comedians and many politicians and reporters would have you believe. They have said that they would seek to remove those who are not a positive influence upon the UK, which is surely nothing like the comedy line that they are seeking to return Britain to an Anglo-Saxon nation. Of course, it gets laughs, and this means that it will be repeated again and again, to the point that many of the general public will repeat it as fact, even though it is nothing of the kind! If only people would actually read and listen, rather than reacting based on misinformation! (And I mean this about all areas, not just the UKIP-immigration issue!)

4 – Issues!

Why does politics nearly always have to resort to slanging off? Give a politician a platform and very quickly it is no longer about what they plan on doing and all about how the others are a waste of space! Sometimes this is merited, the state of the UK finances after the last Labour government springs to mind, but I would much rather hear about how you plan on making things different. David Cameron has proven himself to be a master of avoiding answering difficult questions, much to the annoyance of many, but Ed Miliband has shown himself to be little better as all he has wanted to do is say “It’s the nasty party again” and various other attempts to put the Conservatives down, rather than suggesting ways to make things better. When challenged on this he has often said “It’s not my position to answer questions at Prime Minister’s Questions” but surely, for someone who declares to be for “the new politics”, a much better way to do things (and one that someone with such a low personal rating would surely do well with) would be to suggest serious ways to do things better. And who knows, maybe Cameron and Clegg et al might have listened and done what was suggested, thus potentially making things better for the nation. But, it would appear that political point scoring is much more rewarding than making the nation a better place for it’s inhabitants. So a pox on all 3 “major” party houses on this!

 

Ok, so having moaned about pretty much everything I started saying I would (I feel like I may have missed something out, but if so then I blame the drugs I am taking for my back at the moment!), so how about what we might want to be looking for in our MPs and what might we want to ask about if we have the chance to engage with candidates?

Well, unsurprisingly given who I am, my thoughts come from a Christian perspective. That doesn’t mean that all Christians will agree with them, but I want to be clear that my conclusions are formed from a logical progression from Biblical principles.

1 – Whatever else, how the government does thing should be both affordable and sustainable

This may seem obvious to some, but it definitely isn’t to a lot of people, particularly politicians! All you have to do is look at Labour’s promises in 2010, the Conservative promises of this election, or pretty much any other party’s manifesto to see that there appears to be a thought process that includes the ideas that money simply appears out of thin air and that getting into bigger and bigger debt is not a problem. To use a computer game/app as an example of how things SHOULD be done, let me talk about Sim City. For those that don’t know, the idea of the game is to build your city as big as possible. The problem is that you can only expand certain aspects in certain ways. So your storage facility for materials (which you are able to create for free, just over time) can be increased in size, but you need certain materials to do this. You also have a limited amount of space to build your city at first, but can increase that space (within game limitations), again by spending certain resources. Each time you build something it either costs materials (particularly increasing your residential areas) or in-game money (Simoleans). Therefore the setting of the game is that if you want to need to take your time, craft your materials and await for certain other materials to “drop” (this means repeating a particular action that has an irregular rate of producing said materials) in order to progress in the game. The only way that you are able to progress quicker than this is to spend real life money on things in the game to make them happen faster. The problem is that if you want these things to continue to happen quickly you will end up spending more and more real money, when actually, if you just waited and played the game properly, you would get to the same position in the end and not spend as much money. If you don’t have the money (either Simoleans or real money) then you can’t get things and have to wait to raise the [in-game] money to build something. To return to politics now, a lot of politicians seem to think that you can continue to spend the equivalent of real life money (as related to the game) to get stuff done quicker, thus building up a debt, without then thinking of how they are going to pay down said debt. This means that we end up spending millions and billions of tax payers money on paying off debt, rather than on actual stuff like doctors, teachers and so on. This has been the idea behind that much despised word, austerity. You reduce how much the government is spending and pay off the debt owed, so that you can then start spending just on things for the country, rather than to the countries that we owe money to (and remember that all we seem to be paying off at the moment is the interest on the debt, rather than the debt itself, so it’s not like the cuts that have been moaned about over the last 5 years have actually done what they were supposed to do)! The Bible talks about being responsible with what we have, so surely a key aspect of policy for any government, for a Christian, would be to be financially responsible. That way, when we are financially stable and self-sufficient, we are able to be sure about how much money we actually have to spend and be able to accurately say where the money will go.

2 – Fairness for all

Before I go any further, please note that I said fairness, not equality. Not because real equality isn’t good, but because the term has become anything other than fair in today’s political landscape. As H G Wells once wrote, some people really are more equal than others! But fairness, I think, encapsulates the way that equality should work. So that means offering the same chances to those at the “bottom” of the ladder as well as those at the top (and, obviously, for those in between as well!) to be able to succeed. In some cases that might mean that those better off be asked to pay extra to help those not as well off, in other cases it is simply about opportunities being offered on merit. The Bible talks about treating people fairly (ok, so I used the term equality, but you get what I am saying), so surely a Christian should be seeking a representative who will treat people fairly. Sadly there have been more than a few examples of Christians being treated unfairly under the law in relation to expression of faith, and I would hope that whoever is in power after the election would see that as an important area, not just about the Christian faith but for people of any faith and those of none as well.

3 – Good treatment of the poor

Jesus commented that we will always have “the poor” among us but also showed how to treat them. One area that this last government has definitely done a good thing has been removing the first £10,000 anyone earns from tax, helping millions of those who were in low earning jobs to have more money to spend for their families. Something that Labour (and Gordon Brown in particular) did really good work on was gift aid, which is still seeing huge benefits for charities in what they are able to claim back from government to help their work with the less advantaged. There are many other areas, such as benefit payments and housing, where there are huge disagreements on what is the best way forwards, so I will not even try and talk to them, but I would suggest that the motives behind any policy should surely be the key to how we should respond.

4 – How to treat the rest of the world

I would look to the basic idea that comes from the parable of The Good Samaritan, the idea of doing to others as you would like them to do to you and caring for your neighbour, whoever they might be. That includes foreign financial aid where it is needed and taking refugees from areas of the world that are in need of such help, such as the situation in Syria and Iraq. We all know that we would like to be helped if we were in such a situation, so we should be looking to do the same when we are in a position to be able to.

For me, the key to all of this is that all 4 points cannot contradict themselves. This is particularly the case with point 1, because if we start to do something that is unsustainable then it means that eventually we won’t be able to afford to do it anymore. So I would encourage any conversations that you have to be focussed on these 4 points, but point 1 in particular. We all want this country to do well, both for those living here and for those we seek to be neighbours to in the rest of the world, but if we are unable to maintain them then what point is there in doing them at all? To do so means to eventually stop, which means having to treat 1 group of people less fairly than another.

 

Anyway, that’s my political pontificating done. Hopefully it has caused some thinking, maybe even some rethinking. I am guessing that some of you who have made it this far will probably not have rethought on certain things and will have less than positive comments on certain things that I have said, which is fair enough given that I am simply putting my thoughts out there in the hope of creating a conversation. All I would ask is that if you do want to actively join the discussion then please try and make your involvement worth responding to. As Brooks Atkinson said “The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.” Let’s all be open-minded and deal with the details, rather than the hot air and bluster.

Ched Evans and all that

12 Nov

I want to start by saying that this blog post, a rare foray into social commentary, may well offend some people. I want to be clear first and foremost that I am writing based on my own personal thoughts, feelings and understandings and not representing anyone else in what I say. Secondly I want to ask that anyone reading this will read to the end and do so with an open mind and not react to the first thing that they do not agree with. I do not expect everyone to do this, but it would be nice to think that anyone commenting on what I have written will have read everything that I, rather than reacting after reading only part of my post.

Ok, so the subject.

Ched Evans, for those that don’t know, is a footballer who was recently released from prison after being convicted of raping a woman by virtue of the fact that he had sex with her while she was too drunk to actually consent to anything. You can find more information here, here, here, here, here and here on this story.

I have 3 main issues with what is going on in this sad tale, but before I get to them I want to make some things very clear.

First off I want to be very clear that rape is wrong, be that where there is definite non-consent and where consent is not given (I am not making any distinction, just clarifying what I mean). Sex as an act is something that should happen between 2 people (or more if so inclined) who both agree to it and who remain willing participants all the way through. Anyone who breaks this is, to my mind, a rapist and should fully expect the entire legal system to be brought to bear on them for such an act. I also want to make clear that whilst it may be argued by some that the victim should not have let herself get into such a state as to be out cold due to alcohol intake, this does not take away any of the responsibility of Ched Evans for his actions. Any time a person acts they are, unless legally declared otherwise, responsible for everything they say and do and should always remember that before acting. And the victim should always be remembered as being such, the victim of the actions of others. They should be supported in bringing the people that have violated them to justice and encouraged to get all the help they need to be able to get on with their lives as best as they can.

All that being said, I do have to admit that I am feeling a huge amount of pity for Ched Evans right now. And these are the reasons why:

1 – Whilst he did rape a woman, he was not alone in doing so.

Ched Evans was not alone, Clayton McDonald was also there at the time and also had sex with the victim, just before Ched Evans did. The evidence that was given by Evans and McDonald was that the victim said yes to Evans “getting involved” but regardless of whether that was true or not, McDonald was still someone who had sex with the victim while she was heavily under the influence of alcohol, making consent impossible in the eyes of the law. Everyone is going on about how Ched Evans is a rapist and yet they are forgetting that he was not alone, so I feel sorry for him for the fact that he is getting all the flack for something when he was not the only one involved.

2 – People are saying that Ched Evans shouldn’t even train with Sheffield United, let alone play for them again.

I’m sorry? Where does this come from? Evans has served the sentence that was allotted to him, with time off for good behaviour or whatever it was that meant he didn’t do the whole 5 years, as far as the system and society should be concerned that is all done and dusted and he should be allowed to get on with his life. A plumber doesn’t come out of prison and get told that he cannot be a plumber at his old firm after something that happened outside of work, does he? If he did something that meant that he could not be trusted by the firm to do the job properly I could understand it, but not something outside of work. Yet here we have people saying that someone who has been punished for a crime and served what was deemed to be a correct sentence by that same system cannot return to doing what he was doing before it all happened. The biggest problem for me in this is that if Sheffield United bow to this pressure then it sets a dangerous precedent as it means that no club will be likely to take Evans on, due to the potential loss of revenue if nothing else. And so we will be left with a young man, who has probably only got football to rely upon as an income, in need of work and unable to get any because people refuse to accept that the punishment has been served and taken. And why is this worrying? Because I am fairly certain that if Evans had killed a man because he was a threat to the life of his mother then there would be no call for him to not come back, as his actions would be seen as acceptable from a moral standpoint. Forget that he would have broken the law and that the law holds killing someone to be worse than rape in the grading that the law has, as defined by sentencing. Either we accept the punishment that is given and served or we ignore it and live in anarchy! Oh, and regarding the training, even if Sheffield United do bow to pressure how is letting Evans train a bad thing? Surely it means he has a chance of getting back into shape to be able to get work? Unless those who are taking issue really do want to see him run out of football altogether!

3 – Remorse

Ok, so to be clear on what the situation is Ched Evans has never admitted to raping the victim. He has claimed that it was always consensual and this has never changed despite the guilty verdict of the court. Now, whilst it would be great for the victim and her family to hear Evans admit to being guilty, we have to stop and realise 2 things:

  1. Ched Evans may well believe that he is innocent and that it was consensual
  2. The courts are not always correct

Now with the first issue, if you are convinced of something then why are you going to change your story? I believe in God. I don’t care if the entire scientific establishment declares that they have proved that God does not exist, as I am convinced that God exists. Why would I ever change my mind if I did not believe that the change is correct? The same must surely be considered when it comes to anyone who is convicted of a crime. Sure, there are some who refuse to admit their guilt despite being guilty and knowing that they are, but there are also those who truly believe that they are innocent, whether they are or not, and who refuse to bow to pressure simply because a court found them guilty. Ched Evans clearly believes that he is not guilty, so why would he say otherwise? And yet people are taking issue with a man who believes that he is innocent declaring this.

The second issue may seem like I am suggesting that Evans might be innocent. I want to be clear in saying that I cannot judge either way as I have not seen all the evidence that was presented to court, nor was I in the room when the event occurred. Therefore I am simply making the point that it is always possible for the courts to make a mistake. Just look at the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, not to mention various other examples over time that show that the courts are not always right. So unless you know all the details, including being present during the event, surely you cannot judge anything beyond what has been said and done. So if Ched Evans has been found guilty by the courts, served his sentence (or at least as much as the system felt was required) and been released then surely that should be an end of it?!

 

So yes, I feel sorry for Ched Evans for all the above reasons. That he was not the only one involved, that he is, in effect, being told that he cannot return to the profession that he is trained for and that people don’t like that he has not admitted to any guilt or wrongdoing.

And yet these same people who speak out against Evans are almost certainly guilty of hypocrisy. Not because they will have committed the same crime that Evans was convicted of, but because they will most likely be picking and choosing what they do and don’t forgive. Some of them are also probably people who would, in another situation, call for the rehabilitation of people who have served their punishment. For example, one of the people speaking out against Ched Evans is the local Labour MP, Paul Blomfield. He has clearly forgotten that his party seeks to rehabilitate people and get them back to being productive members of society rather than have them being a burden upon it! And they are not the only party who are guilty of this, just look at Nick Clegg’s “input” into the situation.

So often people can also take issue with something that directly affects them, and yet when it comes to the principle of the matter they are more than likely to say that there should be acceptance of the sentence being served.

Now I could at this point make some comment about what the Bible says about forgiveness and moving forward, and I would be completely sincere in what I might say on the matter theologically. But, to be honest, the biggest issues I have are the ones I have highlighted, and no amount of theological insight is going to get rid of the fact that people are unfairly treating a man for something that he has been tried, convicted, sentenced and punished for. If nothing else, the issues should be with the system, not the man who has been dealt with by the system!

People are idiots (and I am chief amongst them)

6 Nov

People are idiots!

Don’t think I’m serious? No, I really am!

People are most definitely idiots! Including you the reader and me the writer!!!

Now this might seem a bit of a strange way to start a blog. After all, a blog is supposed to encourage people to read on and engage with an idea and insulting your readers is not the best way to encourage engagement.

And yet, we are left with the undeniable fact that at various times in our lives we do do some incredibly idiotic things.

And what is the cause of this idiocy? Well, more often than not it is us thinking that we know best, rather than realising how limited we are in our own understanding of things.

Whether it is a case of creating something without looking at the instructions or speaking about a subject of which we are ill-informed, the result is very often the same, things go pear-shaped very quickly. And it’s not just the small things, but the big things as well.

Just look at some of the things that people can do as a society and you start to see that we really are a flawed bunch. Look at all the various dictators that have gained power legitimately and then continued to be popular after they had become a dictator, even when various atrocities are carried out, because people often refuse to believe or take the view that it’s an acceptable sacrifice for the benefits that have been brought. But then look at how this also translates into how nations choose to intervene internationally at the moment. People have been suffering for years in Zimbabwe, under the as-good-as dictatorial regime of Robert Mugabe. And the suffering has been for no reason other than because Mugabe and his cronies have decided. And the rest of the world has thrown words around condemning, and yet done nothing. And yet the case is very different when their own national interests are involved.

This might all seem very distant, as it is all about other countries, but our own country is not immune from such idiocy. Just take a look at the events of last night (November 5th) in London:

People in masks decided that it would be a good idea to go and protest in Westminster.

Now protesting is one thing, and Anonymous (the group that claimed to have organised this protest) said that it was “against austerity and infringement of rights” which seem like good values to protest against, but look a bit further into the story and you find that actually there were a lot of people not protesting about that, but about a whole range of things. And whilst this is not a big deal per se, we soon see that in addition to a wide variety of reasons there were also a wide variety of “solutions” that people were suggesting as well. This included the call for revolution, something which celebrity protester Russell Brand has suggested needs to happen, against the establishment. And this is where my biggest issue with human idiocy arises.

You see, the call for revolution from these groups, whether real or simply a way of protesting without any real intent behind it, is so short-sighted that it beggars belief, particularly when you hear some of the passion they appear to have on the subject. And yet when they call for change, they haven’t got a clue as to what they would replace the current system with! And it you were to have a look at the hearts of some of the protesters would would likely come across some very self-serving reasons why they want change, with some equally self-serving solutions to their particular aspect of the protest. And that’s about as far as they think. Let’s say that they were to cause the “Establishment” (whatever that may mean) to remove themselves from positions of power and “hand it over to the people” as a result of the protest, what next? Ok, so you can decide, for example, to end austerity and enable people to have more money to spend on  things. But what about the national debt? What about the deficit? What about how the banks, that we all rely on for so many aspects of our daily lives without even thinking about it, are likely to be treated? Or how about our issue being the curbing of civil liberties? So we remove the perceived curbs, so how do the police and security services (assuming that they are allowed to remain in existence) stop terrorists from causing harm to the population? How do they ensure that crime is punished? These are issues which, if I were a betting man, I would be willing to bet hardly any of the protesters had considered before they marched on Westminster. And look at what has happened when revolutions have taken place. The French Revolution was aimed at “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” but instead it led to what was called the Reign Of Terror where people were guillotined left, right and centre, with over 16 thousand killed by this method and a further 25 thousand executed by other methods! Then we can look at the effect of revolution in Russia and China, where anyone who disagreed with the winning side being punished in various ways, from imprisonment all the way through torture to execution, sometimes by assassination. And then finally look at what happened with the Arab Spring. How many of the countries that had a change in government after this had a peaceful transition that was seen as being for the good of all concerned?

You see the problem is that human beings want their freedom and they nearly always forget what freedom means. Not only that, but they also don’t realise what their version of freedom means for others, or themselves further down the line for that matter!  Self-seeking, self-serving, self-satisfying: this is what it is all about for some people, and it is a mindset that is spreading.

 

But there is a way forward that differs the idiotic approach of protests like this. It is self-denying, serving others and self sacrificing. It is the Way of the Cross, the way of God. You see, we are created to be a part of something, not to be a creator of something. We are called to join in with God and His design, not declare our independence and strike out on our own. In Exodus 20 we are told that God has rules, and chief among them is the rule to follow only Him. That means keeping His commands, living as He calls us to live and looking after that which He has given us. And this includes the leaders we are given. Whilst we are told to resist that which is ungodly, Romans 13 points out that we are to submit to the laws of the land we live in and to obey the rulers of the land, so long as they do not clash with the rules that God has set, because they are put where they are by God and that God is in charge of them.

You see, God has a plan and a purpose for everyone. And He has a desire to see that everyone fulfils them. And so He created the rule of Law in the wilderness with Israel so that everyone could have the chance to do so. God instituted penalties for people who acted in a way that stopped others from being able to follow God’s call on their lives.

And so whilst some might believe that the system needs replacing, the problem with replacing a system is what you replace it with. God knows everything, so when He sets something in place He does so knowing how it will impact on everyone. When God institutes something it is done not for His own sake, but for those for whom it is intended. So when we read that all rulers are in the position they are in because God has put them there, we need to remember who we are ultimately rebelling against if we seek to bring about revolution.

And people may respond by saying that Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary, as He turned the world on it’s head. But I would argue that Jesus was the ultimate establishment figure. Yes, He did rebel, but only against the rebellion of mankind that had twisted God’s design for humanity into something unrecognisable from the original.

 

So yes, people are idiots. And I admit that I too can be an idiot, and from time to time rebel against God. But, at the risk of sounding like the Pharisee at prayer, at least I am not wearing a silly mask and thinking that I can bring down the Establishment and make everything better!

 

Kids say the funniest things

22 Apr

Before Easter Dave (my vicar) and I went in to one of our local primary schools to deliver RE lessons to the two Year 6 classes. Today I went in to the school to arrange for meetings to plan when we will be going in for this term. While there I was given some letters written by some of the Year 6 pupils saying thank you for the lesson and, in some cases, asking questions about both the Easter story and Christianity generally.
Here are the questions:
Why did Jesus wear a crown of thorns?
How do we know it happened?
Would you take the pain if yoo was Jesus? (sic)
Did Jesus have kids?
During the Easter story was Joseph dead?
Do you enjoy watching the Easter story?
Who were the first people on the planet and how we’re they/him/her made?
How were all the world separated into families?
How did Jesus feel?
Why did they not believe that Jesus was not the Son of God? (sic)

If anyone fancies lending a hand with the answering then do offer a comment below. All help gratefully received, even if it ends up not being used in our replies to the pupils.

Women Bishops: Honour before glory

21 Nov

Definitions:

Honour – 2 the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right

Glory – 1 very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent

The last 16 hours have seen many tears shed and angry words spoken in the wake of the Church of England’s General Synod vote on women bishops. And alongside this has been many tweets from people giving honour to the women who have influenced their life and/or ministry. In the same way, I would like to do likewise.

I want to pay tribute to Rev. Sue Allen, curate for St Andrew’s, Goldsworth Park when I joined in 1996. I was there and took part in her first time presiding over communion and she was a key influence on my first involvement with working with children and young people. Indeed, it is quite possible that without her support I might not have gone in to youth work when I did, if at all. Sue is now Team Rector for Hemel Hempstead.

I want to pay tribute to Rev. Chris Harrison, also a curate, who I also met while at St Andrew’s, Goldsworth Park. She was very supportive to me when I first came to be a part of the PCC at St Andrew’s, encouraging me to be a part of a planning group for church social activities and also giving constructive advice after a youth event that I had been involved in organising didn’t quite go as it perhaps should have.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Chris Simmons, who I worked alongside when I was the caretaker for Christ Church, Woking. She worked tirelessly for the church, as associate minister, and it was a real privilege to work alongside her, particularly supporting her midweek communion service where she ministered to many elderly members of the parish.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Judi (Jude) Drummond, currently chaplain to the University of East London. She came and took at least 1 service, possibly 2, during the interregnum at my church, Ascension Church, this year. She is a bubbly, vibrant character with a heart for serving people and meeting their needs. I really enjoyed being a part of the service she did during Holy Week, as she hit the right level of humour and solemnity and was well received by all there.

I want to pay tribute to my mother, who has heavily influenced my theological thinking, particularly from her Celtic influences from the Northumbria Community, which have always given me a fresh insight into understanding spirituality.

I want to pay tribute to Alice Smith and Rachel Brett, area DYOs for Chelmsford Diocese, who have both been supportive and prayed for me during a 12 month spell at Ascension Church that was less than pleasant. They are awesome and inspiring people who seek to support young people and their youth workers in their walk with God.

I want to pay tribute to Liz Fisher and Becca Dean, both youth workers in the Church of England. They are thought-provoking people who do an awesome work with young people and also supporting fellow youth workers.

There are so many more women I could also pay tribute to, but I have another list I wish to pay tribute to:

I want to pay tribute to Rev Jim Charles, Vicar at St Peter’s, Bexleyheath, who has been supporting youth work for many years now through being involved in CPAS Venture Camps. Jim is currently the Head Chef for Brambletye (formerly Danehill) 1. Jim has also been supportive of me during my aforementioned difficult 12 months, meeting me for coffee and praying with and for me during that time.

I want to pay tribute to Rev Marc Lloyd, Rector for the benefice of Warbleton, Bodle Street Green & Dallington in East Sussex. Marc works tirelessly as leader for the Brambletye 1 Venture Camp, seeking to minister to young people aged between 11-14 to help them hear the Good News and put their faith in Christ. He is an inspiration as a selfless leader who puts others before himself as he encourages his team of both women and men, young and not so young, to work for the Kingdom in the lives of the youths we are responsible for.

I want to pay tribute to Rev James Oakley, vicar for St Mary’s Kemsing and St Mary’s Woodlands, who became my vicar while I was youth worker for St Mary’s, Kemsing. He supported me and prayed with and for me both during my time and after my time as youth worker. He did this all the way through my year of unemployment and also when I found out that my parents would be divorcing. He has been as big a support for me in the last few years as any others.

I want to pay tribute to Rev John Richardson, perhaps best known as the Ugley Vicar, who is currently minister for the churches of Henham, Elsenham, & Ugley. John has been tireless in his quest to see the Bible and the teaching of it put at the heart of the Church of England. He was partly responsible for the formation of the Chelmsford Anglican Bible Conference and an author of several books, in particular on seeking to convert the nation through his book A Strategy That Changes The Denomination. He is passionate about evangelism and seeing people come to know Christ as Lord. He is also one of the reasons why I have put myself forwards for election to the Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Education.

Adding 4 men after a list of tributes to women might seem a bit odd. However, my reason for these last 4 tributes are that these 4 men are all against the measure that was voted for, and lost, yesterday, indeed at least 3 of them were signatories of the letter to the Times saying that the measure as it stood was not good enough. They are good and honourable men of God, seeking His call on their lives and in their ministries. They are equally as awesome as the women mentioned (just as the women are equally as awesome as the men) for the dedication they show in their walk with God and His people.

And here’s where we come to the crux of the issue. In 1992 General Synod declared that whilst it was changing and becoming a church that included women priests, however it also said that the Church of England would retain an “honoured place” for those who could not agree with this on theological or traditional grounds. Indeed, the the Act of Synod 1993 (part 3 a) says the following:

The General Synod regards it as desirable that –

(a)     all concerned should endeavour to ensure that –

(i)      discernment in the wider Church of the rightness or otherwise of the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood should be as open a process as possible;

(ii)     the highest possible degree of communion should be maintained within each diocese; and

(iii)    the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood should be mutually recognised and respected;

This holds true for BOTH positions, not just 1 over the other. So in doing this the Church of England has committed itself to keeping people of both persuasions within it’s fold. It cannot be taken seriously as a church if it does not continue to do so. This was the view of enough members of Synod, including some very well known liberals, to see the measure not pass the 2 thirds majority.

So where now? Well, there are 2 key things that need to happen. The first is that people need to get over the pain that this vote has caused so that level heads can come together and talk about a way forward. The second thing is that those against (particularly those of ReformForward in Faith and the Catholic Group in General Synod in particular) and those in favour (in particular WATCH) need to get together and find an agreement that they can all back. They can then take this to the presidents of Synod (The Archbishops of Canterbury and York) and the chairs of the houses of Laity and Clergy, telling them that they will tell all their members and supporters to vote for the measure and it can then be taken before Synod and voted for (please note, although it is being reported that it cannot come before the General Synod in this synod’s lifetime, the Archbishop of York did say that the above-mentioned line of communication could see it come in again during this synod of all the mentioned parties agreed to it).

What are the issues that need addressing? Well, the biggest one, which has been described as “squaring the circle”, is trying to find a way that provision for those against that will be enough for them whilst not making women feel like any women bishops will be “second-class bishops”. This is, sadly, a doomed argument. The Church of England has, in effect, declared this to be the case back in 1992 when it declared that it wanted to keep those against women’s ordination alongside those in favour. Those against women’s ordination and/or consecration will never hold that a woman can be a bishop and so will not recognise them as such. So the question has to be posed to those at the “extreme” (the word does not sit well with me, but it is the best I can think of at the time) end of those in favour of women, can you accept that there are some people that will never accept women’s consecration as valid? If so, then the argument about “second class bishops” MUST go out of the window! If not, this question then has to be put to the whole Church of England, do you still want to be a church that holds an “honoured place” for those that are against the ordination and consecration of women AS WELL AS ordaining and consecrating women? If the answer is yes then the solution as a result of question 1 becomes increasingly difficult. If the answer is no, then the last 20 years promise to those against are hollow and the Church of England really needs to take a good look at itself and where it is heading.

My hope and prayer? That my 2 points about getting over the pain and the 2 sides meeting happen and that they find a way forward together. The Church of England’s greatest weakness is that it is home to so many opposing theological views. However this is also it’s greatest strength. It means that we will be constantly both tearing ourselves apart and trying to pull ourselves together. What better example is there on earth of how our Lord wanted us to be, than to be striving to remain as one DESPITE all the disagreements that we might have?

For those that are still reading and are still hurting, I know how you feel. I am as much in favour of women bishops as the majority of Synod and when the vote result came through, whilst I felt it was the right result I was numb inside because, having heard the debate in July, I knew how close we had come to getting it right! I urge you, please do not despair. Please pray for those that are influencing this to be open to doing what is right, for both parties. And this is why my title is “honour before glory”. The glory of the victory comes from outside, but we are not called to be acclaimed by the world. We are called to love God and our neighbour and in doing the honourable thing we show our love for what is right for others. I pray that we can move forward together in love.

Theology of Creation

29 Aug

This comes off the back of some comments I made on the Ugley Vicar blog and I thought, rather than leaving it in a blog comments section I would actually make a blog of it. Momentum blogs to follow on after.

 

Creation

 

First off, I recognise that there are 2 stories of Creation. Second, I believe that God is unchanging and that because He says that incest is wrong at a later point in the Bible (Leviticus and Deuteronomy) that it is wrong eternally (though some would argue differently, and it is a very thought-provoking argument that they make) and so Cain and Seth need wives from somewhere.

My understanding of the first creation story is that it’s not 6 consecutive days of creation, necessarily. They could, quite easily, have been millions of years apart. Equally, because God is so amazing, they could have been consecutive. Interestingly, though no one ever seems to think this idea out loud, each day could have lasted FAR longer than 24 hours! However it happened doesn’t really matter for salvation, but my belief is that God created and used evolution as His tool (there is too much evidence of things that aren’t around now and time passing to claim Young World Theory holds water) and that the bits where God says “Let there be…” is God dictating the next stage of creation. After all, how do the cells know they need to mutate to form the next stage of evolution without guidance?

The second creation story is about the creation of a relationship as much as it is about the created order. We see God creates man and is in relationship with him. God then creates Eve and is then in relationship with both of them. I believe that Eden could have been created anywhere between the first and last point of the first creation story, and could have either been spread out at the same points as the first or created all at the same time (after all, if God knows how it’s going to turn out then He can set it up any time He wants, given that Eden is separate from the rest of the world). When Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden they join with the rest of creation, giving Cain and Seth possible wives that are not related to them.

Just to add to my comment about Young World Theory, the Bible does not say how long Adam is on his own for before God created Eve, nor does it say how long they were in Eden before the serpent tempted Eve and they got kicked out. It could have been hours, it could have been eons. It doesn’t say. The evidence would suggest that they could have been in Eden for some time.

Now, as to why I take Genesis literally, I believe that there are 2 very good reasons to take it literally. The first is that if you say that it isn’t really to be taken literally then where do you stop? Do you stop at Noah and say everything after is true? Why stop there? Why not say that everything up to Abraham, or maybe even Moses? And in the space of 3 logical jumps we have just dismissed any historic truth from the whole of Genesis. But why stop there? After all, if we can scrub 1 book that easily then why not others? After all, surely at least 1 of these so-called prophets was just hearing voices. And did the walls of Jericho REALLY come tumbling down? And so on. In the end we are left with a shell of the Bible, most of it being “useful guides on how to live and stories that explain what can happen if you do or don’t follow them”. There are bits that are obviously not to be taken as history, but that is because the Bible itself says they are not. Psalms, for example, clearly say what they are. The same with the wisdom books and the prophets (at least the prophetic bits) etc are not saying what happened (although the prophetic bits did happen, in that the prophecies were spoken) and they say what they are. But the Bible does not, as any point, say “This is not to be taken literally” of any part of the Pentateuch.

My second reason for taking Genesis literally is that it is never said not to be taken literally in the New Testament. Even Jesus, who you would think would be in the know on such matters, never corrected anyone on taking it literally. Indeed, both gospels that mention Jesus’ genealogy go at least as far back as Abraham and 1 gets all the way back to Adam. Adam and Eve are mentioned in the NT and nowhere does it say “Adam and Eve, who by the way weren’t real people…” or anything to that effect.

Finally, EVEN IF we were to take all of Genesis out of the equation for proof of how God created everything, Exodus 20 still stands. Unless people deny that God spoke to Moses, or say that Moses chiselled the first tablets wrong and then God made the same mistake with the second batch we are left with the Lord God Almighty Himself declaring that He created the world in 6 days and then took a rest on the 7th. The only way that this can be ignored is if you deny it happened (because, let’s face it, the mistake option is flawed from the start!) and then you deny the very foundation from which Jewish law originates (and thus our own).

Women in Church Leadership

7 Jul

Given that the Church of England General Synod are speaking about Women Bishops this week I thought I would offer my two-pence-worth on the issues that it brings up. The draft measure that Synod are voting on can be found here.

First off I wish to declare my colours loud and clear. I am in favour of women in leadership at all levels of Church. I believe that those who are either against women in leadership or simply against women bishops are wrong biblically, traditionally and culturally. However, I find myself in disagreement with the measure and feel that it should be put off for at least another 20 years.

Let me explain myself.

First off, why I believe that those against are wrong:

  • Biblically

Women have been in positions of leadership throughout the Bible. Look at Deborah and you will find that we have a leader, indeed a prophetess, being asked to go with a commander of the Israelite army to a battle. Whilst Deborah is possibly the only female leader in the Old Testament we do see several other females in prominent roles. Rahab, who is in Jesus’ genealogy, was the prostitute who saved Joshua and Caleb. Naomi and Ruth, who are also in Jesus’ family (Ruth becoming the wife of Boaz and great-grandmother to David) get a whole book dedicated to their story. Esther also has an entire book dedicated to her as her actions help to save the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Then we come to the New Testament. Mary is given the role to bring up Jesus. You might say that this is the only way it could happen, but with a God who could do anything He still allowed it to be done as such. So Jesus’ early years of teaching would have come through Mary. Jesus very clearly had female disciples. Indeed Mary, the sister of Martha, sat in a position that culturally was for men as only men were supposed to sit at the feet of a rabbi and learn. We also see Mary Magdalene as the very first evangelist, the first person given the responsibility of telling people of the resurrection. Men could have been used, but Jesus chose to reveal himself to Mary first. Then we have Junia (wrongly named here as Junias, which has often led to her being thought a man), noted as “outstanding among the apostles” by Paul. We have Lydia who, because the church was held at her house, was a leader (as was the custom) within the church at Philippi. And let us not forget Phoebe who Paul describes as a servant of the church at Cenchrea or, to use the Greek Paul uses, deacon. Paul says she is in the leadership by that very word! I could go on, but suffice it to say that the Bible does not say that women should not be in leadership. Indeed, as I have shown it says the very opposite!

Biblically, regarding bishops, I have seen an argument made that the Bible does not talk about priests in the Church (indeed, this argument suggests that the early Church would have been against priests as they were a part of the fallen order of Temple worship) however when it does talk about bishops (also known as overseers or elders) it apparently only talks about men. Well, certainly in letter to Timothy Paul only uses the male pronoun. However given that the Bible tends to use male pronouns widely in areas where it can also be taken to include women I do not find this to be a convincing argument. And given that we, as non-Catholics, do not hold anyone to be infallible I have to take the view that a woman can do the job just as well as a man because she is just as likely to fail as a man.

There are claims also that Paul writes about women by saying that they should not be in leadership. Whilst this is true, Paul is also very clearly not one for hypocrisy. Thus the writings must be seen as writing to a specific time and place. If they were not to speak, teach or lead at all then the above mentioned examples would not have been praised by Paul, which they clearly are. To deny this fact is to deny the Bible’s authenticity, which is something that those arguing from a biblical perspective cannot do as it would remove their argument.

  • Traditionally

This argument could be seen, at first glance, as being a clear loser. However, when we take in all that is mentioned above about women in leadership we see that actually the tradition held where women were not in leadership was not tradition but an innovation that does not follow the Bible but changed the Church to follow the societal norm that was imposed upon women. Therefore the claim of tradition to keep women from taking positions of leadership is flawed at it’s very outset by virtue of  biblical proof of women in leadership in the early church.

  • Culturally

My cultural argument is very similar to the argument that those who argue against women being in leadership simply to try and get the Church moving towards the culture of the day. However, my argument is aimed at the point at which women were removed from leadership by the early Church as they clearly left what was already working and turned it to fit the way the world was at that time. The “innovation” of women in leadership is actually a return to what was before, rather than adhering to modern culture. What WAS adhering to “modern” culture (of the time, at least!) was to remove women from leadership when they were already there with biblical blessing! The Church should NEVER bow to the way society thinks things should be. But the Bible clearly shows that women were in leadership in the early Church and that this was ok (Paul said as much) so any change to bring women into leadership is returning to a biblical model of Church, rather than “moving with the times”.

HOWEVER!

In 1993, when women vicars were finally given the go ahead by General Synod, the Act of Synod was created that set in place ways to continue to minister to churches that were against women priests. They were promised an “honoured place” within the Church of England. However the way that the current legislation is created does not “set in stone” provision that meets the requirements of those who still cannot accept the ministry of women.

For starters, there are NO bishops of the conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England. None! How can we claim to be looking after churches and clergy of such a disposition if they are not represented in discussions at the highest levels of the church? There is a suffragan bishop, Bishop Wallace Benn, however given that he is not a diocesan and is due to retire later in the year this is hardly looking good as an “honoured place”.

The fact that the measure has nothing “set in stone” for those against the ministry of women means that it leaves the door open for someone, acting in an ungodly fashion, to be able to force something upon them whenever they feel like it.

And finally, the thing which REALLY gets my riled up against people from WATCH, we see the abuse of the English language with the terminology of “bigot”, “sexism” and so on with some people either representing or supporting WATCH declaring that those against women in ministry are “behind the times”. Inflammatory language shows that they really don’t care about a point of conscience by those they disagree with and declarations of needing to catch up with society shows a complete lack of understanding of what the Church is about!

It also shows a complete lack of grace on the matter. And this is where my view on the delay of a move towards women bishops comes from. As Paul writes, that if we do something that causes a problem for a fellow Christian then it is better for us not to do it than to cause distress within the Church. The only time that this is not the case is where not doing something is to go against God’s commands. Therefore the gracious way forward, at least to my mind, is to hold back from introducing women bishops until a time when it will not cause problems. After all, we are only 20 years from when women vicars were first given the go ahead. That means that the oldest members of Church of England leadership  have potentially had less than half their time in ministry working alongside women. Surely it would be better to wait until no man in ministry has not been in ministry at a time when women priests were not around. Comfort zones would hopefully be far wider and, again hopefully, those wanting women as bishops would be willing to give more so as not to cause a schism within the Church of England.

I say again, I want to see women bishops as I believe that it is theologically correct to do so. However I do not want to see a “weak brother” be “destroyed” just so that a second order (if not lower) matter can be brought in line with my understanding of Scripture.

**Additional comment on the House of Bishop’s amendment**

As far as I can see, the amendment from the bishops simply puts on paper what the original measure would be hoping would happen. Surely there is nothing wrong with ensuring that excessive zeal (no matter how well intentioned) cannot cause hurt to a church that, purely on their theological understanding of what the Bible says, cannot accept the ministry of women, either as priest or bishop. The intention of the original measure was to do just this, so where is the problem?

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