Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Exodus II: persecuted Jews are fleeing Europe

You're not hearing much about this. The media focus at the moment is on the evil Zionist Jews and the Gaza holocaust, Labour's 'death tax', Tulisa's emotional trauma, and Ebola - the latest pandemic of fear and terror of the earth.

But in the latest International Religious Freedom Report issued by the US Department of State, tucked away amidst the horrors being perpetrated in Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, we find this:
Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.

..Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in parts of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism among Jews in eight member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom), released in November, found that in some countries as many as 48 percent of the local Jewish population had considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism.
Incredibly, almost half of the Jewish populations in some European countries are so fearful, intimidated and oppressed that they are considering leaving their homes, families and communities and emigrating to a foreign land. Cries of "Death to the Jews" are heard ringing across Europe's towns and cities, as the spectre of Nazi ghettos descends once again. "They pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin… as if we were in 1938," says Israel's Ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman. He has also heard chants of "Jewish pigs" and "Gas the Jews". "Since March 2012, I am ambassador of Israel in Germany," he said. "If someone had told me that I witnessed such hateful, incites hatred and anti-Semitic phenomena would be in public in this country, I would not probably have thought it possible."

Jews are being advised not to go out onto the streets wearing a kippah. In Toulouse, Jewish children are shot in a Jewish school. In Brussels, people are randomly killed in a Jewish museum: if they happen to be Jews or Israelis, all the better. In Liege, a café displayed a sign in its window which said dogs were welcome, but Jews were not allowed to enter.

This is Christian Europe, which, of all the continents of the world, ought to feel the deepest shame that Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated, Jewish-owned businesses raided, synagogues vandalised and worshippers abused and insulted. Jews are being attacked not because they are diehard supporters of Israel or the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, but because they are Jews. And the oppressors - in case you didn't know - are thousands of Europe's young, male Muslims. But none dares say so.

To these young male Muslims, the Israeli occupation of Gaza is a certain grievance, but the Jewish occupations of Paris, London and Amsterdam also need sorting. To the media, they may be male; they may be Asian or "of Asian appearance". But no, they may not be called Muslim, for that would cause great offence. These extremists, as we are told, "do not follow any faith".

A survey published in November 2013 by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union observed that Jews across Europe “face insults, discrimination and physical violence, which despite concerted efforts by both the EU and its member states, shows no signs of fading into the past”.

Two-thirds considered anti-Semitism to be a problem across the countries surveyed. Overall, 76% of respondents said that anti-Semitism had worsened over the past five years.

It is curious, is it not, that we hear so much about the latent anti-Muslim 'racism' inherent in any criticism of Islam or the Qur'an. No matter how reasoned and intelligent the observations may be, they are perceptibly 'Islamophobic' and so 'bigoted' and 'racist'. But it is not permissible to talk about the blatant anti-Semitism inherent in the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel. The only enlightened discourse is pathologically pro-Palestine and so pro-Hamas.

Of course, it is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel or to repudiate the policies of the Israeli government. But when that criticism extends to the denial of Israel to defend itself; when it becomes conflated with talk of the "Jewish lobby" and conspiracies about the Jews infiltrating Parliament, owning the media, or running US foreign policy; when it embraces objections to the Jewish State's right to self-determination, then it is unequivocally anti-Semitic. For then it stirs an ancient hatred and whips up an all too recent horror.

The Jews are leaving Europe not because the Jihadists are coming, but because they are here, dwelling among us. They hate Israel and they loathe Jews, but we say almost nothing and do very little. Instead, we let the Jews emigrate to Israel, and they are doing so in their thousands every year. They may be surrounded there on all sides by the enemies of Zionism. But at least they have a government which will not hesitate to protect and defend them.

Monday, July 28, 2014

While thousands of Christians flee Iraq, the Vicar of Baghdad keeps on going back

He calls them "My people". Not because he was born among them, or because he shares their religion, ethnicity or cultural identity. But because, as he says, he loves them. And that love transcends the politics of religion and the religion of politics, and history, social division and skin colour. "I love these people," he reiterates, and he explains what he means by "My people":
Firstly let me say what I do not mean. I am not only referring to those who are members of our church in Baghdad. We don’t have any church members as such; we have hundreds if not thousands who see themselves as part of our community. They are both Christians and Muslims. The Christians are of all different Christian denominations: Chaldean, Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrian-Ancient Church of the East Old and New Calendar, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian. Then there are a large number of our Church community who are not even Christian but Muslim both Sunni and Shia. So in reality I see all these people as my people in Iraq as my people. I would also include in my people all the members of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq (the HCRLI), which I direct, and there it is not even just Christians and Muslims but also Mandians, Yazeedis and Shabach. So all these people are whom I would consider My People in Iraq.

Iraq is not the only place where I would consider that I have my people; fundamental to this group I would also consider those I work with in Israel and Palestine. For the work of FRRME is not just St George’s Baghdad and Iraq. We are about working for peace throughout the Middle East so Israel and Palestine is a major part of that. So here we are working intimately for peace amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is also a vital part of our work. We are the only organization that is working actively in both Iraq and Israel and this is the work that the Lord has called us to do. Despite the risks we will not stop doing it because he who has called us will not fail us.

Meanwhile things continue to be very difficult in Iraq. The Christians who have fled Mosul are still in grave danger and many of them are “My People” and now you know what I mean by that many of My People come from Mosul/Nineveh and they go back to there homes often in the summer and had been caught up in the tragedy there and cannot return. ISIS continues to control much of Iraq and though it may not have taken Baghdad yet it does appear to have many so called “Hidden Cells” in Baghdad which will reveal themselves at the right time. So your prayers are still much needed.
And so, while hundreds of thousands of Christians flee the horrors of The Islamic State, Canon Andrew White keeps on going back for the sake of his people: to be with them, support them, provide and pray for them. That is his vocation: the summum bonum; the goal of his spiritual life. He doesn't know what the future holds, as he told John Humphrys on the BBC Radio4 Today programme. He just loves his people, and in their faces he sees the image of God.

His vision is to be the 'Vicar of Baghdad', to minister to his people; to help them make sense out of the pervasive false religion, anti-religion, nihilism and meaninglessness of the human condition. "Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing. We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off," he laments. His vision takes him beyond himself and concerns for his own safety: it is christocentric; looking to Jesus not simply in the wonder of His own person, but in His compassion for the world.

The Church of England has issued prayers for the persecuted Christians of Mosul. Believers are praying fervently, and sermons are being preached in churches and cathedrals up and down the land. In Westminster Abbey, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall leads by example and articulates prophetically: 
..As we look back at the development over many centuries in the West of the freedoms we take for granted and at the end of a time when the law imposed penalties on heretics and demanded adherence to particular religious practices, we recognise that there is much of which to repent in our past. As we give thanks for freedom of religion and freedom of speech, even while we regret many of the opinions and attitudes that are freely followed and expressed, we see that there can be no return to an imposed Christendom.

This recognition intensifies our prayer for the people of the Middle East and parts of North and West Africa where a reborn militant Islamism seeks to impose an intensity of religious practice and adherence to one faith that allows no freedom of religion or of conscience or of speech. Our prayer in particular is for the Christians deprived of home and hearth, of their ancient communities and their settled way of life. The resurgence of active and destructive conflict between Israel and Palestine is another urgent cause for prayer. It seems deeply sad and strangely ironic that as we approach the centenary of conflagration in Europe with all that it implied for the rest of the world, so now we face a terrible conflagration in the Middle East with potential implications for Europe, America and the entire world. Pray earnestly that the West does not respond to the threat as we did a hundred years ago.

Our leaders need the Wisdom of Solomon and we ourselves need the assurance of the letter to the Romans from which we heard as our second lesson. St Paul was aware of the bloody persecution that threatened the emergent Christian community. He himself before his conversion had been responsible for severe assaults on the early Christians. But his comfort is to assure them that whatever they suffer, be it the loss of life itself, they can never be separated from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Most of us, perhaps all of us here, may pray with some confidence that the fate befalling Christians in Iraq and Syria, in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, is unlikely to befall us. But however cushioned our lives feel or indeed are, we live with uncertainty. We cannot see the future. There may be many perils awaiting us. Whatever befall us, whether hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword, it will not, it cannot, separate us from the love of Christ, love that conquers everything.
But the preacher's danger is that when he has preached about a thing, he is prone to imagine he has done it. And the congregation's danger is that when they heave heard about a thing, they subconsciously believe they have done something about it. And the blogger's danger is that he is hardened under the noise of his own reproofs.

Augustine said that a preacher must take care to listen to his own sermon: "For he is a vain preacher of the word of God without, who is not a hearer within." Listening to a sermon is not enough. Reading a blog is not enough. Praying is something. But it is not all we can do. We can help Canon Andrew White care for his people by giving generously and sacrificially, for they, in the immense family of humanity, are our people, too. The Vicar of Baghdad intercedes for them. Jesus died for them. We share the same Father. Their suffering is ours. They are us.       

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Christianity in Iraq – "the end is very near"

"Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing," says Canon Andrew White, the courageous Vicar of Baghdad.

"We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off.

"Are we seeing the end of Christianity? We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near.

"The Christians are in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go.

"We do not want Britain to forget us. We - and I'm saying 'we' talking like an Iraqi Christian - have always been with the British because they have already been with us. Individual churches, individual Christians in Britain, have been a bigger help than anybody around the world."

But as the Sunni-Wahhabi-Salfist Jihadists of the Islamic State carry on cleansing with impunity, the United States says nothing; the European Union says nothing; and the United Kingdom does nothing. Millions of Christians across the Arab-Muslim world are being systematically persecuted, tortured, beheaded or exiled into the desert, and the leaders of the Western world don't even lift a finger in prayer.

Or perhaps they do pray, but as their words fly up, their thoughts remain below. And words without thoughts never to heaven go.

"We do not want Britain to forget us," is the plea of Canon White. And yet we have. Or most of us have. Or HM Government has. Christians are the world's most persecuted people, and still British foreign policy fails to reflect the appalling reality or agitate for religious freedom or make aid contingent on adherence to Article 18.
..the world's Christians fall through the cracks of the left-right divide – they are too religious for liberals and too foreign for conservatives. In the UK, it is socially respectable among the secular elite to regard Christianity as weird and permissible to bully its followers a little. This produces the surreal political reality in which President Obama visits Saudi Arabia and "does not get the time" to raise the suppression of Christianity in the oil-rich nation; and in which Prime Minister Cameron gets a broadside from illiberal secularists for the historically unquestionable assertion that Britain's culture is formed by Christian values.
And so "the end could be very near" for Christianity in Iraq, where the Chaldean and Assyrian churches have worshipped since the earliest centuries of the Christian era. Without Western intervention, the end will surely come. Christ built His church, and the gates of ISIS have prevailed against it.

But only because we stood by, watched, and did nothing.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Without freedom of religion and belief, what freedom is there?

Lord Alton of Liverpool initiated a debate in the House of Lords on 24th July concerning international compliance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning freedom of belief. Here is his opening address:
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who will participate in this balloted debate, which draws attention to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right. Article 18 states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
Today we will hear from many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House, including my noble friend Lord Sacks, who says in The Dignity of Difference:
“The great faiths provide meaning and purpose for their adherents. The question is: can they make space for those who are not its adherents, who sing a different song, hear a different music, tell a different story? On that question, the fate of the 21st century may turn”.
The urgency of that challenge was reflected in a recent speech by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Douglas Alexander. Among systematic violations of Article 18, he particularly drew attention to what he described as “anti-Christian persecution”, which he said,
“must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith”.
I know that we will hear later from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who will expand on that important speech.

Two recent cases underline the universal applicability of Article 18. A young Indonesian man, Alexander Aan, was jailed for more than two years simply for declaring his atheism on Facebook. Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian, was confined to a mental institution for the same reason. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide visited Alexander Aan in prison in Indonesia and campaigned for his release. Such welcome advocacy by a group of one religious persuasion working for the freedom of another, whose beliefs are different—hearing different music, telling a different story—is echoed in a letter by world Buddhist leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, calling for an end to violence against Muslims in Burma. The Dalai Lama is emphatic that:
“The violence in Buddhist majority countries targeting religious minorities is completely unacceptable. I urge Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of the Buddha before them before they commit such a crime”.
Not only is Article 18 a universal human right; it is a human right that is violated universally. Last year, under the admirable chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which I am an officer, published Article 18: An Orphaned Right. It noted that,
“almost 75% of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief”.
Thanks to major speeches by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, and the crucial work of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the introduction of the European Union Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the excellent work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, this issue has been given greater prominence. I know that today’s important debate will contribute to that.

Yet, compared with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom and its ambassador-at-large, the excellent Andrew Bennett, or the US State Department and the US Commission of International Religious Freedom, the Foreign Office has just one official specifically focused on freedom of religion, and only for a third of her time. The FCO has said that it wants to develop a toolkit on freedom of religion or belief for diplomats, stating that,
“every minister at the FCO is an ambassador for religious freedom, raising and promoting these issues in the countries with which they engage”.
But how will they do that? How are our diplomats trained in religious literacy? Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18 — in promoting religious coexistence, public discourse and dialogue, foundational to building peaceful societies in a world increasingly afraid of difference.

In an all too brief survey of worldwide violations of Article 18, I inevitably begin in the Middle East, where, in the midst of an orgy of violence and brutality, we are fast approaching a time when Christianity will have no home in its ancient homelands. In Syria, the brutal murder in April of the 75 year-old Dutch Jesuit Father Franz van der Lugt, who had served there for 50 years, working in education and with disabled people, illustrates why an estimated 450,000 Christians have fled. Followers of other religions, notably the Mandeans, Yizidis, Baha’is and Ahmadis suffer similarly.

In Iraq, a Christian population of 1.4 million has been reduced to 150,000. In recent weeks, the depredations, beheadings and crucifixions by ISIS are almost beyond belief. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, no longer has a Christian community. Its churches are now closed, most having been desecrated. In what has been described as “religious cleansing”, ISIS says that anyone who refuses to convert and defies it will be,
“killed, crucified or have their hands and feet cut off”.
ISIS has taken a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with the black Islamic flag on top of Mosul’s St Ephraim’s Cathedral, and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dares to dissent. This week in Istanbul, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Görmez, in his address to the participants of the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative conference said that 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day, and that 90% of the killers are also Muslims. He said:
“They are being killed by their brothers”.
Yesterday, the archbishops of Iraq united in their condemnation of these events but also called on the outside world to help. The only people who have successfully withstood ISIS are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. To its credit, the Kurdish leadership has been generously offering safe haven to Mosul’s fleeing Christians and has asked for international aid to help it do so. This crisis justifies huge humanitarian and resettlement aid that could include micro and business loans to help people to help themselves. The West must also press the Gulf to end the funding of ISIS. Where in Mosul is the “responsibility to protect”, let alone Article 18? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us.

Elsewhere, in Egypt, these are increasingly dangerous and menacing times for freedom of belief. As honorary president of the UK Copts, I saw the way in which Copts were targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year, in the single largest attack on Christians in Egypt since the 14th century, more than 50 churches were bombed or burnt. It was Egypt’s Kristallnacht. What priority do we give to Egypt’s minorities as we engage with the new President?

In Iran, the so-called moderate, Hassan Rouhani, in the 12 months since he was elected, has executed 800 people and imprisoned and tortured many others. Iran continues to target religious minorities, particularly Baha’is, whose cemeteries have been desecrated; 136 Baha’is are in prison, some since 2008. As “unprotected infidels” they can be attacked with impunity. Repression against Christians in Iran includes: waves of arrests and detentions; raids on church gatherings; raids on social gatherings; harsh interrogations; physical and psychological torture, including demands to recant and to identify other Christians; extended detentions without charge; violations of due process; convictions for ill defined crimes or on falsified political charges; economic targeting through exorbitant bail demands; and threats of execution for apostasy. What priority will our new chargé d’affaires in Tehran be giving these Article 18 issues when he meets the regime’s leadership?

I return now to Sudan and the treatment of Meriam Ibrahim, which was described by the Prime Minister as “barbaric”. In May, this young mother of two was charged, and sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. Having refused to renounce her faith, she was forced to give birth shackled in a prison cell in Khartoum. Happily, given a debate where we will be hearing so much that is so very sad and tragic, international pressure, often led by young internet campaigners, has led to her release. This morning, she arrived safely in Italy. However, Meriam Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated one. Archaic and cruel laws lead to stonings and lashings, with Al-Jazeera reporting that in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged.

In Nigeria, another crisis is looming for religion and unfolding on a daily basis. There are reports of collusion between elements of the military and Islamist forces. This week marks 100 days since Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok. Are we any nearer to finding them? My noble friend Lady Cox has just returned from Nigeria and will have much more to say about the situation and her report documenting that jihadist violence.

As the Minister responds to Article 18 abuses in Nigeria, might we hear something, too, about the plight of Christians in Kenya, who face increasing threats and attacks from al-Shabaab, and in Eritrea—another serious violator of freedom of religion? The UN has just established a Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, and I look forward to hearing how we will assist its work.

I have focused extensively on the Middle East and Africa, but across Asia, Article 18 faces serious threats as well. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the situation in Pakistan. Think of the bombing last September of the Anglican church in Peshawar, killing 127 and injuring 250, of the attacks on Shias and Ahmadis or of the imprisonment of and death sentences on Christians, such as Asia Bibi, charged with blasphemy. For challenging those laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated in 2011, and no one has been brought to justice.

Meanwhile, in Burma, Muslims are facing growing religious intolerance. In March 2013, I visited a village just outside Naypyidaw. In the charred embers of a burnt-out madrassah, I took statements from the few Muslims who had not fled. I met Rohingya Muslims and heard from ethnic Kachin and Chin Christians facing terrible persecution. Proposed new legislation to restrict religious conversions and interreligious marriage will hardly help; practical initiatives countering hate speech and intolerance might. Could we not ask the UN Secretary-General to visit Burma, specifically to address rising religious intolerance, and encourage the establishment of an international and independent inquiry into the violence in Rakhine state, Kachin state and other parts of the country?

Elsewhere in Asia, religious intolerance is rising, too, for example in Indonesia. I would welcome the Minister’s response to CSW’s new report, Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, and the Government’s view of Prabowo Subianto’s attempts to undermine religious coexistence and his challenge to this week’s election results. There are also threats to Article 18 in India, with a BJP attack on an evangelical church in Uttar Pradesh last week; in Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim violence has erupted; in Bangladesh, where, earlier this month, nuns were brutally attacked and beaten; in Malaysia, where a court has ruled that only Muslims can use the term “Allah”, even though Christians have traditionally also used that same term in their texts and in their languages; and in Brunei, where a full Sharia penal code is being introduced.

Turning to the Far East, I hope we will hear whether we have protested about the demolition of Protestant and Catholic churches there; the continued detention of the Catholic bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma, arrested in 2012; and the well-being of the Tibetan Buddhist monk and scholar Tenzin Lhundup, about whom nothing has been heard since his arrest in May, and the self-immolation of 131 Tibetans since 2009. In 2009, I visited Tibet with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Together, we published our report Breaking the Deadlock and, in highlighting the religious dimension, we argued:
“Any attempts to resolve the political situation … must take due account is of the profound spiritual life of Tibetan people”.
In Laos and Vietnam, the situation is perilous; I have given the noble Lord details. We had a debate only yesterday about what some have described as genocide in North Korea. For 10 years, I have chaired the all-party group and I commend the Hansard report of yesterday’s debate to all Members of the House.

As I have outlined in a speech which rather inadequately has tried to set the scene for the many more detailed interventions which will follow, Article 18 is under threat in almost every corner of the world. As we approach the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we should recall that, long before Article 18, it asserted the importance of religious freedom.

Societies which deny such freedoms are invariably unhappy societies. Research shows that there is a direct link between economic prosperity and religious freedom. In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, said correctly that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right—because, while there should be no hierarchy of rights and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there? As my noble friend Lord Sacks says, on this question, the fate of the 21st century may turn.
His Grace is still awaiting a response from Baroness Warsi explaining precisely what her 'Advisory Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief' has set out or accomplished (apart from being "thought-provoking").

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why do Palestinians only matter when they're killed by Israel?

"Gaza crisis: Palestinian death toll passes 700," cries the Guardian, as it offers live updates on the growing body count. The BBC is also keeping a tally. And there's a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to "Palestinian Casualties of War", yet to be updated with the latest figures. These "conflicts", as they are termed, are all individually listed: the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, recording 15,000 Arab Palestinian casualties, is listed above "March 2012 Gaza-Israel clashes", which records just three civilian deaths.

Curiously, there is no mention of Assad's persecution of Palestinian communities or the fact that he has "starved and murdered" thousands of them.

No mention of the Palestinians in Iraq who are subject to "discrimination, sectarian violence and ruthless killing by the Iraqi government".

No mention of the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Arab Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait, of which Yasser Arafat declared that "what Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories".

Israel has killed some 700 Palestinians in its latest offensive in Gaza. Every death is a tragedy, especially those of children. Some of the pictures coming out of the war zone are brutal, distressing and heartbreaking. God weeps at the suffering. If He has meaning and purpose in the pain, it is lost to the world's baffled intellects.

But it is a curious that Israel should be constantly singled out for special treatment.

After all, the Palestinians have suffered far greater atrocities at the hands of their Arab brothers and co-religionists. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced; tens of thousands terrorised, persecuted and ethnically cleansed; and many hundreds summarily slaughtered.

But the Arab League has been mute. There have been no resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council or by the General Assembly. Not a word is heard from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or any of its special committee dedicated investigating Israeli transgressions. And not a peep from the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights.

All remain silent.

Of the 1991 Kuwaiti mass expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians, one observer lamented: "You can call it deportation... But I call it the third catastrophe after 1948 and 1967. Imagine what would happen if Israel deported 300,000 people. The whole world would be up in arms. But when an Arab deports or kills his Arab brother, it's all right; nothing happens."


And those who dare to speak up for Israelis or defend Netanyahu's actions are subject to all manner of verbal or physical abuse.   

It is almost a conspiracy of silence: a global collusion to demonise Israel and deflect from the greater horror the world is about to face.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jon Snow and C4 News "provide cover" for Christian holocaust

When the dreadful news of MH17 began to spread, and conjecture of which monsters were to blame for the murder of 298 people began to take the lead in social-media gossip, there was just one thing on Jon Snow's mind: that the tragedy would somehow "provide cover for an intensification of Israel's ground war in Gaza".

It was a curious phrase, not least because, like all those who select and prepare media news stories, the editors of Channel 4 News routinely determine which daily dramas will feature above the alternatives, and which information thereby might "provide cover" for other events. Lest one be in any doubt about Jon Snow's primary and essential concern, his C4 Twitter feed since the downing of MH17 is enlightening (click to enlarge):

You will note that all the pictures coming out of Gaza are of distressed and wounded children, which are, of course, deeply disturbing. But Jon Snow doesn't appear to have tweeted or RT'd even one picture of an armed Palestinian terrorist launching rockets at Israel. Nor is there a single picture of dead or injured Israelis. Are there no petrified Jewish children in Ashkelon?

It is quite shocking, though perhaps not at all surprising, that the aging abbot is abusing his position as lead presenter of Channel 4 News to focus on Israel's Gaza offensive, thereby "providing cover" for the murder, torture, rape and systematic eradication of Christians from Iraq and the whole Middle East. They have lived there for 2000 years. Their trauma is nothing short of a holocaust, but the Western media, when they mention it at all, relegate this "religious cleansing" to the level of an anecdote, and move swiftly on to the latest homophobic outrage or the manifest evils of Israel's Nazi Zionists.

Ten years ago, there were at least 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now there are around 400,000, most of whom are fleeing to the Kurdistan region for safety and refuge. Under Saddam, 60,000 Christians lived in Mosul. Now there is none. Nuns are being kidnapped and raped, priests tortured and beheaded, and ordinary Christians imprisoned in ghettos and forced to convert or die. Ancient churches are torched and monasteries desecrated. It's the same story in Syria, Egypt and Libya.

What is this hell if it be not a holocaust?

The Islamic State is marking Christian homes with an Arabic 'N' for 'Nasarah' (denoting Christian), just like Hitler used the Star of David to categorise Jews destined for the concentration camps. "Never again", we cried. And yet we stand idly by, spluttering about Putin, transfixed by Tulisa or mesmerised by the Downing Street catwalk.

The mainstream media aren't much interested in Christians - other than the homophobic bigoted ones who won't bake a cake. And our political leaders are so obsessed by the minority vote, and the FCO so consumed with religious equanimity and moral relativity, that they'll all bend over backwards to help the Iraqi Kurds, save the Bosnian Muslims or intervene to "prevent a bloodbath" in Libya.

Funny how much political capital and military effort is expended to aid tens of thousands of Muslims, but nothing at all to save millions of Christians. As historian Tom Holland tweeted yesterday: "Nobody in Europe should be watching the persecution of an entire religious community with equanimity. We've been there...". But out of his impressive 22,000 followers, this received just 45 'Retweets' and 21 'Favourites'. The media are warped in their apprehension, and most of us are indifferent. Jon Snow is simply another left-leaning secularist preaching his gospel of enlightened relativity to fill the airwaves with anti-Israel and anti-Christian propaganda.

And using his C4 Twitter feed and TV studio to "provide cover" for The Islamic State while it effects a truly harrowing holocaust.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Direct News from Christians in Mosul

From Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad:
Direct News from the Christians in Mosul Nineveh Tonight.

For Iraqi Christian Fadi and his young family it is a lonely wait to see whether they will be executed soon.

Their Christian neighbours and friends have already fled the city of Mosul in Iraq's north, which last month fell into the hands of Sunni jihadists led by the Islamic State group, which espouses an extreme form of Islam. Along with the rest of the city's estimated 25,000 Christians who had not already fled years of kidnappings, bombings and shootings, Sunni militants gave 36-year-old Fadi, his wife and son until Saturday to comply with a brutal ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay an unspecified tax, leave the city or die.

"I'm staying. I already feel dead," Fadi, a teacher, told AFP by telephone moments before the deadline ran out.

"Only my soul remains, and if they want to take that I don't have a problem," he added, giving only his first name.

On Friday, Mosul's mosques called through loudspeakers for Christians to leave, after centuries of being part of the once cosmopolitan city's social fabric.

Fadi said he could not afford to flee and argued that the prospects for those who did were hardly better.

Islamic State (IS) militants robbed departing Christians of their belongings, he said, leaving them to face destitution in grim camps for the displaced.

"They were stopped by members of Islamic State, who took everything they had. Mobile phones, money, jewellery," he said, speaking of the fate of some 25 Christian families who had recently fled.

"When my cousin and friends, from three families, tried to plead with them, they took their cars."

IS fighters took control of Mosul and swathes of north and west Iraq in a sweeping offensive that began last month. Their leader has since then declared a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.

The group claims its goal is to return the lands they conquer to a state approximating that of early Islam, in which Jews and Christians who did not convert had to pay a "jizya" tribute to their Muslim rulers.

"From one old woman they took $15,000 (11,100 euros). She asked for just $100 of it so she could reach Dohuk. They told her that these are the funds of the Islamic State, and we cannot give it to you," Fadi said.

Robbed of their cars and cash, many Christians were forced to walk to safety.

- Exodus -

Some of Mosul's Christians might be able to afford to pay the jizya, but they appear unwilling to take their chances living under the thumb of rulers notorious for executing and crucifying their opponents.

"Maybe a few are still hiding in Mosul but I don't think any would have decided to pay jizya or convert. There is no Christian who can trust these gangsters," Yonadam Kanna, Iraq's most prominent Christian leader, told AFP. "They even took wedding rings from women fleeing the city at checkpoints... I am astonished they can claim to be Muslims." In a purported statement issued by IS last week which detailed the ultimatum for Mosul's Christians, there will be nothing left for those who do not comply "but the sword".

Ahlam, a 34-year-old mother of two boys, and her husband carried their children on their shoulders on their long march out of Mosul.

She described an exodus of hundreds of Christians walking on foot in Iraq's searing summer heat, the elderly and the disabled among them.

"We first reached Tilkkef in a state of exhaustion. We hadn't had anything to eat or drink for a whole day," she said, referring to a town some 20 km (12.4 miles) north of Mosul where volunteers are picking Christians up in their cars.

"My husband and I were carrying our children on our shoulders the whole way."

Many Christians are making their way to the relative safety of the city of Dohuk in Kurdish autonomous territory further north.

According to the IS statement, seen by AFP, any homes they leave behind become property of the insurgent group.

"I left my home in Mosul, that my family built decades ago. And it was taken away in an instant," Ahlam said with tears in her eyes.

"Everything's gone, all our memories. Our home has become property of the Islamic State."
We can read, weep and pray, or read, weep, pray and do something., for these are our brothers and sisters in Christ  

And ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State is marking their homes. And it's not for a passover.

Nor is it a smiley face. It is the circled Arabic letter 'n', signifying 'Nasarah' (Christian). Once the dhimmi occupants are so identified and labelled, they can more easily be taxed (jizya), forced to convert to Islam, harassed to leave or be summarily executed by the Islamic State which now owns their property.

The Qur'an might say: "You have your religion and I have my religion", and in another place: "There is no compulsion in religion". But in the Islamic State, these verses are abrogated. Their creed is: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter... But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful... If they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression."

Under Saddam, there were 60,000 Christians in Mosul, where they had lived in fraternal coexistence with Muslims for 1700 years. In the Islamic State they have become less than pigs, outcasts, refugees in their homeland. And Canon Andrew White is guiding, providing, praying and leading them to safety in the Kurdistan region. They needs tents, mattresses, food, water..

Please help the Iraqi Christians: DONATE HERE.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stop the War Coalition urges war against Israel

The Stop the War Coalition was established in aftermath of 9/11, calling for an end to what George W Bush termed the "War on Terror". According to the organisation's Aims and Constitution, their principal objective is "very simple": stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against 'terrorism'. We condemn the attacks on New York and we feel the greatest compassion for those who lost their life on 11th September 2001. But any war will simply add to the numbers of innocent dead, cause untold suffering, political and economic instability on a global scale, increase racism and result in attacks on civil liberties. The aims of the campaign would be best expressed in the name Stop the War Coalition.
You would think, given their righteous moral objective and benevolent humanitarian quest for peace, that this coalition might be broad, inclusive and non-partisan. It might even include a few Conservatives, perhaps those who opposed Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq. Not at all:
We call on all peace activists and organisations, trade unionists, campaigners and labour movement organisations to join with us in building a mass movement that can stop the drive to war.
Despite being dead, their President is still named as Tony Benn. When you look at the list of Vice-Presidents - including George Galloway, Tariq Ali, Kamal Majid, Caroline Lucas - it ought to come as no surprise that the Stop the War Coalition's strategy for world peace includes war against Israel.

The headline is profoundly shocking. You have to delve into the article to discover precisely what they're calling for - a "legitimacy war" involving "the mobilization of a movement from below, combining popular resistance with global solidarity" (ie boycott, divestment, and sanctions [BDS]). But few fanatics read beyond a headline. According to Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, this strategy represents "the best prospect for realizing Palestinian self-determination". His notion of a "legitimacy war", he says, was "exemplified by Gandhi’s nonviolent victory over the British Empire and more recently by the success of the global anti-apartheid movement against racist South Africa".

It doesn't seem to occur to him that Gandhi's non-violent "movement from below" was deeply rooted in the Hindu ethic of Ahimsa, which requires that socio-political objectives are attained without causing injury or harm to any living being. Nor does it seemingly merit even a sentence of theological consideration that "popular resistance" means something very different to Hamas and Fatah from what it meant to the Indian independence movement: the Qur'an isn't entirely consistent with the philosophy of Satyagraha.

So here you have the Stop the War Coalition urging the "mobilization" of a "popular resistance" which, to the many millions of Salafi-Wahhabi-Islamists who are currently rampaging over the Middle East, is an exhortation to carry on 'cleansing' the land of idols and summarily beheading the kuffar.

It is legitimate to criticise Israel for its failings, but to single out Israel as a legitimate target for a just war is a malicious attempt to delegitimise the Jewish State and stir up anti-Semitic sentiment on a scale and ferocity not seen since the Nazi era. Here's the Stop the War Coalition marching yesterday in London:

"..what a picture. These are the people who stayed at home throughout the Syrian civil war, stayed at home when ISIS rampaged across Iraq, stayed at home when Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab carried out their atrocities across central Africa and showed no concern whatsoever when the Muslim Brotherhood was running Egypt into the ground. Yet they pretend to care about Muslims.

"And here they all are, coming out to scream because Israel is carrying out the most specific and targeted campaign in the history of warfare in order to stop Hamas – a group dedicated to the annihilation of all Jews – from firing thousands of rockets into the Jewish homeland"
(Douglas Murray in The Spectator).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The imminent extermination of Mosul's Christians

Canon Andrew White has posted an urgent request for prayer: the Christians of Mosul, where they have lived for 1,700 years, are about to succumb to the ISIS interpretation of Sharia - you know, convert to Islam or pay the jizya or prepare to die. As the savvy Digital Nun observes, Christians have been in Mosul since before Mohammed was in nappies. She writes:
This item of news didn’t make the front page of today’s BBC web-site (it is buried deep inside), yet it represents a sickening attempt to violate the consciences of thousands of people and the very real possibility of mass murder. It highlights the difficulty we in the West have in dealing with the religious dimension of conflicts in the Middle East. Part of the problem is that many of us no longer take religion seriously enough to consider how it motivates people and are woefully ignorant both of its teachings and its history. Most of us can’t get inside the mentality of Isis and its particular understanding of Islam so tend to dismiss the kind of ultimatum posed to the Christians of Mosul as mere posturing. We believe in freedom of religion, we say, by which we mean the freedom to worship according to our own beliefs. There are a few limitations on such religious freedom. Human sacrifice, for example, is not permissible, but by and large, we follow the principle of ‘live and let live’. If you want to follow some cranky religion, you do so; just don’t expect me to follow suit. That is not how a member of Isis would see things. It is not how things are in Saudi Arabia. So what do we in the West do?
What do we do, indeed.

We must, of course, pray for those who are suffering as if we were suffering with them. We might also send money, for Canon White seems to have to waste an inordinate amount of his precious time making appeals for the odd ten quid.

And we must ensure that our new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond makes religious freedom and the persecution of Christians an absolute priority. William Hague never seemed to be overly concerned, and the sacking of Alistair Burt from his team at the last reshuffle dealt a blow to those who knew of his immense background efforts. But (and take it from His Grace) there are now those within government and very close to the Prime Minister who have every intention of bringing this issue to the fore, and we, too, must make our voices heard. Please don't just post on His Grace's obscure blog: write to your MP, badger the Foreign Secretary, pester the Prime Minister. As Martin Luther King said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Whatever we do, silence is not an option.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Faith leaders unite: Assisted Dying Bill is a "grave error"

His (present) Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby often gets it in the neck, not least from some of His (former) Grace's more uncharitable communicants. Even when he makes a speech in robust defence of traditional marriage and orthodox Christian morality, he is mercilessly mocked and reviled for "caving in" or "betrayal" when he expounds a realistic understanding of the constitutional limitations of his office. His mind doesn't change; nor does the gospel. But, unless they are under a specific spiritual or political authority, there is no point banging people over the head if they dissent. One must simply agree to disagree.

Archbishop Justin has now joined more than 20 British faith leaders who are calling for Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill not to be enacted. It is absolutely the right thing to do. His message is, again, refreshingly unequivocal and uncompromising. In a joint statement ahead of the House of Lords debate, these principal representatives of all faiths are united in their opposition. They write:
As leaders of faith communities, we wish to state our joint response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. We do so out of deep human concern that if enacted, this bill would have a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.

Every human life is of intrinsic value and ought to be affirmed and cherished. This is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error. The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others’ lives, in effect colluding in the judgment that they are of no further value. This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society.

Vulnerable individuals must be cared for and protected even if this calls for sacrifice on the part of others. Each year many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers. Being perceived as a burden or as a financial drain is a terrible affliction to bear, leading in many cases to passivity, depression and self-loathing. The desire to end one’s life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is ‘rational’ does not do justice to the facts. The Assisted Dying Bill can only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people will feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.

A key consideration is whether the Assisted Dying Bill will place more vulnerable people at risk than it seeks to help. We have seen, in recent years that even rigorous regulation and careful monitoring have not prevented the most serious lapses of trust and care in some parts of the NHS and within a number of Care Homes. It is naïve to believe that, if assisted suicide were to be legalised, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.

The bill raises the issue of what sort of society we wish to become: one in which life is to be understood primarily in terms of its usefulness and individuals evaluated in terms of their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves. While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all. Better access to high-quality palliative care, greater support for carers and enhanced end of life services will be among the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies ought to be harnessed.

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha

Mr Yousif Al-Khoei, Director Al-Khoei Foundation

Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church and Secretary of the Conference

Bishop Eric Brown, Administrative Bishop, New Testament Church of God

Mr Malcolm M Deboo, President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe

Rev Jonathan Edwards, Deputy Moderator Free Churches Group

Pastor John Glass, General Superintendent, Elim Pentecostal Churches

Revd David Grosch-Miller and Mr John Ellis, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly

Colonel David Hinton, Chief Secretary, The Salvation Army United Kingdom

Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, Baptist Union of Great Britain

Ayatollah Fazel Milani, Dean of the International Colleges of Islamic Studies

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales

His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster

Rev John Partington, National Leader, Assemblies of God

Mr Ramesh Pattni, Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain

Bishop Wilton Powell, National Overseer, Church of God of Prophecy

Maulana Shahid Raza OBE, Leicester Central Mosque, Leicester

Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain, London Buddhist Vihara

Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

Dr Natubhai Shah, Chairman/CEO Jain Network

Lord Indarjit Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Doubtless Canon Rosie Harper takes the view that all of these holy and learned men (for men they all are), by exhorting Their Lordships to vote against the Bill, are lacking in compassion or some basic theological understanding. Doubtless she feels that even His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols and His Grace the Most Rev Justin Welby are "personally requiring other people to suffer extreme agony on behalf of (their) own consciences", which, she avers, is "neither moral nor Christian". Doubtless she will (again) take His Grace's challenge as an "unpleasant and personal" attack, when it is nothing but an appeal for her to humble herself before God and acknowledge that opposition to this profoundly flawed Bill may be motivated by highly moral and profoundly Christian motives.

His Grace is of the view that the liberalisation of the law on 'assisted suicide' or euthanasia would be a dangerously amoral development, as the Lords Spiritual asserted when the issue was last presented to Parliament. This is not simply a theist perspective; it is consistent with the principles of Enlightenment secularism also. Natural law – that which constitutes rightness and justice – is common to all mankind. The Greeks and Romans articulated this in their philosophy, setting the foundation for St Paul and later philosophers. Thus did Cicero write of "true law, right reason, diffused in all men, constant and everlasting", and St. Paul reflected on "what the law requires is written in their hearts" (Rom 2:15). Hobbes defines the law of nature as "a precept of general rule found out by reason by which a man in forbidden to do anything which is destructive of his life".

Opposition to "do anything which is destructive of life" is one of the few general rules which unites all of the world’s religions. The Church of England's position on this matter is clear:

The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.. Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England's concerns about any proposal to change the law. Our position on the current Bill before parliament is also consistent with the approach taken by the Archbishops' Council, House of Bishops and with successive resolutions of the General Synod.
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states: "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick and dying persons. It is morally unacceptable" (para.2277). Pope John Paul II reflected in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae that "we see a tragic spread of euthanasia, disguised and surreptitious, or practised openly or even legally. As well as for reasons of misguided pity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and weigh heavily on society". And more recently Pope Benedict XVI stated that "freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery".

The Orthodox and Protestant churches have expressed similar views, most notably the Baptists, who concluded that "a Christian should never recommend, or help with a suicide of an unsaved person because that would hasten the unsaved person's damnation and prevent any chance of repentance. It is an affront to God to take one's own life, both for reasons of his sovereignty but also because any murder is an attempt to annihilate his image in man (Gen1:26f)".

Similar sentiments opposing euthanasia may be found in the scriptures and/or ethical traditions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Suffering is natural to the human condition, and the end of life does not need hastening but loving; there should be no easy escape, but dignity and care. 'Assisted suicide' is as morally repugnant as abortion; indeed, His grace is hard-pressed to comprehend those who repudiate the former while supporting the latter, for both are concerned with the termination of the seemingly deficient or unwanted; both have the distaste of eugenics – ending the ‘unworthy’ life. Just as the legalisation of abortion was never intended to open the floodgates that it evidently has, so the legalisation of 'assisted suicide' would mutate over the decades, and eventually lead to the ‘humane’ termination of all those who simply cannot be bothered to continue. What will doubtless begin with volunteers will eventually include conscripts; the ‘right’ to die may easily become an expectation, and even a duty.

Killing is not healing. In a culture that worships youth, beauty and physical fitness, the elderly, ugly and disabled may be seen as deficient, but they are also made in the image of God. And just like Christ suffered at Calvary, they must be exhorted to endure whatever life throws at them. And then, with Job, might they come to know that their redeemer lives. In the meantime, unlike Job, they need friends and comforters around them who can make them see that their life has worth, and that their witness is profound.

Will Canon Harper apologise to those devout men and women of God whom she grievously offended in Parliament (and elsewhere) by slandering their faithfulness and denigrating their grasp of theology and morality? Or is this post simply further 'trolling', as newly defined by her boss the Bishop of Buckingham?

The Assisted Dying Bill is quite literally a matter of life and death for society. But some Christians prefer to play the man rather than the ball, which they do usually because they lack confidence in their own case, or in their ability to argue their case, and so seek to suppress debate by screeching "bigot" or "troll", or puffing and blowing about how "extraordinary" and "toxic" it is to have an "unreconstructed right-wing" blog which is "unaccountable" to anyone.

This blog is accountable ultimately to God.

As are all those who vote for this odious Bill.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A triumph for Welby and the contextualisation of Christ

Having cleansed the Temple of Wonga, the Archbishop of Canterbury is on a mission. And it is a mission with passion, perseverance and purpose. You may not grasp it, but it is an urgent necessity. You may not agree with it, but it is a holy avocation.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams observed of his successor: “Justin is, frankly, immeasurably better than I ever was at prioritising. He clearly knows where he wants to put his primary energies, and I was always much too ready to say Yes to this and Yes to that.” These are questions of character and temperament. But they are also matters of business and assignment. Justin Welby is succeeding where Rowan Williams failed not because the Lord wanted greater protection for Anglo-Catholics, as was averred in a Synod debate, but because his approach to doing mission chimes with the times.

The Church of England was once referred to as being "crucified between two thieves" – a reference to the respective fanaticism and superstition of "the Puritans and the Papists". There is a modern parallel with a church now suspended between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised spirituality; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities. The contemporary context is marked by diversity, fragmentation and all that is transitory; beliefs and practices are culturally relative, and Anglicanism has ceased to be supra-cultural or catholic.

The Church has always struggled with the tension between the affirmation and assimilation of culture, and the call of the gospel to confront and transform it. Niebuhr outlines five possible relationships between the gospel and culture, which are the typical answers given in Christian history. There is Christ against culture; of culture; above culture; with culture in paradox; and Christ the transformer of culture. Each model of mission generates different understandings of the purpose and function of the Church. But each finds its expression in the ‘broad church’ that is the Church of England – which incorporates Protestants, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, Anglo-Catholics, and permutations of various fusions of these held ‘in tension’.

Historically, some archbishops have viewed culture as antagonistic to the gospel, and adopted a confrontational approach. Others have seen culture as being essentially ‘on our side’, adopting the anthropological model of contextualisation, looking for ways in which God has revealed himself in culture and building on those.

Those who adopt the ‘Christ above culture’ model have a synthetic approach and adopt a mediating third way, keeping culture and faith in creative tension. And those who see Christ as the transformer of culture adopt a critical contextualisation which by no means rejects culture, but is prepared to be critical both of the context and of the way we ourselves perceive the gospel and its meaning. This is ++Justin's approach. He believes that culture itself needs to be addressed by the gospel, not simply the individuals within it, and truth is mediated through mutable cultural manifestations, which may present hurdles, but none is insurmountable.

This model mitigates cultural arrogance or easy identification of the gospel with English culture. It also permits one to see how mission relates to every aspect of a culture in its political, economic and social dimensions, which is what occasionally brings Archbishop Justin of Canterbury into conflict with the Government.

The task of the Church of England  (and so the Archbishop of Canterbury) is to challenge the reigning plausibility structure by examining it in light of the revealed purposes of God contained in the biblical narrative. Like his predecessor, Archbishop Justin advocates a scepticism which enables one to take part in the political life of society without being deluded by its own beliefs about itself: Establishment commits the Church to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications.

But the difference is in character and temperament. On matters of gender and sexuality, both are concerned with the pastoral dimensions of wholeness and healing. Both are persuaded that the mission of the Church accords with people’s quest for meaning and an assurance of identity which cannot be found without community, without fellowship. As the State Church it is uniquely called upon to minister to all: everyone is a parishioner. And issues like gender equality were becoming a huge distraction from the primary mission of changing hearts and saving souls.

Jesus fed the 5000 before telling them about the Kingdom because hunger pains are a distraction to mental reception. ++Justin wants women bishops because the perceived inequality and injustice are a cause of confusion and bewilderment; an impediment to the gospel.        

Notwithstanding some of the excellent work going on in some of the most impoverished parishes in the country (just follow the Rev'd Giles Fraser for insights), the public perception of the Church of England remains largely one of middle-class privilege and an élitism which has little relevance to a modern, pluralist, multi-ethnic, equal, just society. While this is an undoubted misconception, it is exacerbated by the nature of establishment and the fusion of the Church with an increasingly secular government.

Whatever you may think, whether or not you agree, we have in Archbishop Justin a man who is prepared to intervene forcefully for justice and righteously for truth. But he knows the threshold of his influence, the essence of his own character and the limitations of his office.You may demand the perpetual religio-political antagonism and the bold assertion of 'Christ against culture'. We are not all called to such. Sometimes it is better to contextualise Christ; to be 'with culture in paradox', and then to live uncomfortably with the inherent and inescapable tensions caused by the inconveniences of human diversity and an awkward coalition of consciences.

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's women bishops or CofE schism

And so, once again, the General Synod of the Church of England returns to the contentious issue of women bishops. It seems extraordinary, while our brothers and sisters across the Middle East are being crucified and beheaded by zealous Muslims and systematically cleansed from their ancient homelands by a malignant strain of Islam, that the Church of England appears to the world utterly obsessed with vestments and issues of gender and sexuality.

One wonders what Canon Andrew White, 'Vicar of Baghdad', might think of it all. He is now without any means of communication, having to deliver his sermons (and administer communion) by phone. He wrote yesterday:
Dear Friends,

Things continue to get more desperate by the hour. We have plans in place as what to do with the church and ministry if Baghdad is attacked. The church is at risk because as it is known as the English Church. It is known as that as it has an English priest. I must get out of here quickly as I am putting our people at greater risk. We need money on stand by just in case we need to get people out quickly to Erbil. We are in crisis mode but all is now in hand and organised and, with your help, and that of the Almighty, we know we will cope and we thank our dear Lord for this.

Please pray for us and help us,

Blessings my Friends,

Perhaps they are praying for him in Synod.

But the priority today is to determine whether or not women may become bishops, thereby overturning the wrong decision delivered by the House of Laity in 2012, when the motion was defeated by six votes (the Houses of Bishops and Clergy having both consented). This time the legislation is likely to pass: the composition of Synod is unchanged from 2012, but four of those six traditionalists are likely now to vote in favour of the motion after securing provision for parishes unwilling to serve under a woman bishop to request a male alternative. And an ombudsman would arbitrate in cases of dispute.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says he is "hopeful" that, at long last, the Church of England will vote for women bishops.

And so (to the chagrin of some here) is His Grace.

Not least because the alternative is schism (if we are not already there), and that would be as bad for the Church of England as Scottish secession would be for the United Kingdom.

There is a clear ethical issue in how best to apply millennia-old biblical teachings to modern society, and the Church of England has never shied away from adaptation and adoption of a via media, even when such adaptation has brought it to the point of schism. In The Community of Christian Character, Stanley Hauerwas articulates the traditional 'high-church' Anglo-Catholic belief that textual meaning is knowable only to those who participate in community, because only the Church "is capable of hearing the story of God we find in the scripture and living in a manner that is faithful to the story". Thus readings of Scripture outside the context of the Church will merely underwrite the ideology of a politics concerned with individualism or self-indulgence.

But the ‘low-church’ wing of the Church of England tends toward the traditional Protestant idea that Scripture may challenge tradition, and individuals may seek scriptural enlightenment through discipleship and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. On the issue of women bishops, therefore, the Church of England is torn between, on the one hand, rendering the biblical teaching irrelevant by emphasising the change in and uniqueness of contemporary society, and on the other, insisting that the Old or New Testament speaks to every circumstance, ignoring or refusing to acknowledge societal change.

The campaign group Reform says the Church must "follow biblical principles", by which they mean "having a set of bishops that serve the flock and are male". On this matter, His Grace inclines toward the view expressed by Richard Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament: "No matter how seriously the church may take the authority of the Bible, the slogan of sola scriptura is both conceptually and practically untenable". It is simply not possible to read and interpret Scripture apart from one's own psyche, education or the contemporary social context: we bring to each verse our own baggage of intellectual limitations, historical ignorance and emotional or spiritual deficiencies. And since we already have bishops who prefer to lord it over their flocks rather than serve, and who preach heresy and cynically foment rebellion, their gender appears to become a secondary if not utterly peripheral issue. Is it not preferable to be led by a God-fearing and faithful woman than a sneering, self-obsessed, heretically-inclined, crotchety and divisive man?

This is not so much about creating greater equality between the sexes in the Church of England, though today's motion will certainly move toward that end: it is about sensitivity to tradition in a world of constant change. By allowing space for parishes which wish to continue under the authority of a male bishop, we arrive at one of those gloriously Anglican viae mediae. The principal dissenters now are those who zealously insist that the legislation does not grant a female bishop full authority in her own diocese, and so there is no gender parity and so no equality at all. But such people tend to be more obsessed with vestments and preaching their own opinion than with the gospel of Christ and the salvation of souls.

Which is perhaps how all this appears to an uncomprehending world.

If not to our Assyrian, Armenian, Catholic, Coptic, Maronite, Chaldean and Orthodox brothers and sisters bleeding to death across the Middle East.