Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sir James Munby - High Priest of Secularism

Sir James Munby, Head of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England and Wales, is a self-regarding, pompous, publicity-seeking pillock.

That is not His Grace's assessment, but that of His Honour Sir Nicholas Mostyn, barrister, judge and keen farmer, who famously named his pigs after Munby following a legal procedural dispute.

But it is a judgment with which His Grace wholeheartedly concurs. For Sir James Munby has delivered a speech in which he asserts that the law of this country is secular, and that Christianity no longer informs its morality or values. In this multicultural, multi-faith, relativist, pluralist state, only secularism can deliver justice that is neutral - i.e., only that which is secular can be truly just. And so out go 4000 years of the social history and religious tradition that defined Judaeo-Christian jurisprudence and developed notions of morality, and in comes the mumbling Munby's mundane reasoning of the supremacy of "secular neutrality".

It is not the task of judges "to weigh one religion against another", he pontificates, for "the court recognises no religious distinctions". And, apparently, "Christian clerics have, by and large, moderated their claims to speak as the defining voices of morality and of the law of marriage and the family".

"Happily for us," Munby avers, "the days are past when the business of judges was the enforcement of morals or religious beliefs."

Except, of course, when it comes to enforcing the state orthodoxy of equality and the inviolable beliefs of secularity. In this new theology, there is no theos: human rights are sacred writ, and salvation is found in the veneration of secularism. Therein lies the true source of freedom and justice.

Except, of course, it is no freedom at all; indeed, it becomes a manifest oppression to Christians seeking to live their lives in spirit and in truth. What are the foundations of British notions of virtue and morality if they are not Christian? What is the basis of English law if not Christian? The influence of the Church in the courts may have declined, but it has not "disappeared". And it is bizarre that Munby posits that the antithesis of the secular state is theocracy: 26 bishops in the House of Lords and a Monarch who is Supreme Governor of the State Church can hardly be compared to the infallible fatwas pronounced by Iran's ayatollahs.

It is interesting that Munby designate himself and his colleagues "secular judges", since he swore an oath "by Almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth...and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will."

Setting aside that it is a strange secularist that swears by Almighty God: it is of more immediate concern that Munby swore allegiance to the Queen, whose Coronation Oath demands the maintenance of the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.

Perhaps Munby might remind himself that the XXXIX Articles of Religion as found in the Book of Common Prayer still constitute the law of the land. And Article 37 is quite clear:
The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
This has not been repealed and so still forms part of the British Constitution through the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707. The clergy of the Church of England are still required to acknowledge that the Articles are ‘agreeable to the Word of God’ (Canon C15 of the Declaration of Assent). And clergy are also obliged by law to baptise, marry and bury. And as Church courts are courts of the Realm, and Measures of the General Synod have the effect and status of Acts of Parliament, Munby appears to be completely ignorant of the fact that the Constitution remains fundamentally Christian. 

But his speech follows the judgment of Lord Justice Laws a few years ago, who, sweeping aside the centuries-old Anglican Settlement and the constitutional position of the Queen (not to mention manifesting scant comprehension of the Christian faith), determined: ‘The precepts of any one religion - any belief system - cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.’

Empowered by EU Enlightenment, these judges are becoming judicial activists in their aggressive secularism. The Christian faith is intricately bound with the constitutional and legal basis of British society. Our values, virtues and notions of morality stem from a Judaeo-Christian foundation. It is not for the Judiciary to declare the relationship dead.

It is ironic indeed that we are winding back the clock on the 1689 Act of Toleration and 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act, and moving toward the reintroduction of a religious bar to holding office. Christian magistrates, registrars, paediatricians, GPs, teachers, nurses and foster parents are finding it increasingly difficult to manifest their faith without risk of disciplinary action, dismissal or prosecution for offending the ascendant secular religion.

Freedom of religion is now universally subordinate to the rights of minorities: laws protecting people from discrimination must take precedence over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.

And now we have a Royal Charter which amounts to state regulation of the press. Politicians and lawyers have conspired to nullify our ancient and hard-won liberties: we are no longer free.

Happy Reformation Day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Women bishops – enter the CofE Ombudsman

From Brother Ivo:

There appears to be a degree of relieved satisfaction expressed at the recommendation for a Church of England Ombudsman to assist in resolving the problems surrounding the implementation of its policy to appoint women bishops.

The early reporting of controversy over the "failure" to "modernise" the Church frequently overlooked the fact that the Church has already committed itself to the appointment of women to its highest offices, but, as always, the devil was in the detail. The last vote of General Synod was about the 'how' not the 'if', but having sent the matter off to a widely-drawn committee to find a way forward, the recommendation is now forthcoming and will be considered at next month's meeting in London.

It is pleasing that a degree of support came from across the board, with representatives of both 'pro' and 'anti' groups represented. As its chosen chairman, the Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff brought not only a conciliatory voice to the committee's deliberations, but also good knowledge of the opponents' case. Some of the leading resistant voices in the Synod debate came from his diocese and so personal contact and pastoral responsibility would have added to his appreciation of what might or might not prove a useful area for exploration.

It appears that there were only two abstentions from the committee of 15, which sounds promising, yet Brother Ivo has his doubts.

He does not want to have doubts, and hopes the steering committee has made those personal contacts and developed that level of confidence and trust that was often missing from the emotionally-charged debate on the floor of the House of Laity debate. He hopes that the near unanimity bodes well.

On every side there was honest opinion and sincere conscientious belief. Even those with whom Brother Ivo disagrees could not be regarded as having no case, and this very integrity of disagreement is what leaves a lingering suspicion that the Ombudsman route may not prove the panacea which nearly everyone hopes it will be.

There are two key questions. Who will be appointed as the Ombudsman? What principles are to be applied by them as they address the transition difficulties?

The first is tricky enough. It may be possible to find someone from within the debate attracting sufficient confidence all round, but that cannot be certain. A complete outsider to the debate might prove equally problematic, with protagonists from either side not unreasonably wary of an unknown quantity. Brother Ivo has previously written on the question of the inevitable subjectivity of all judges, and does not apologise for reminding readers of the views of the American Realist school of Jurisprudence which teaches: "Tell me who the Judge is and I will predict the outcome."

That is neither as cynical nor as naive as it may first read.

That problem pales into significance, however, when one moves to the second question.

As its Scandinavian name suggests (we never did find an acceptable anglicised alternative), the role grew within a highly specific context. It was an early means of helping citizens resolve complaints of maladministration within a highly homogenised society with very clear shared values of right and wrong. Whether a public official had strayed beyond his remit and/or applied his discretion improperly in an individual case was and is a relatively discrete factual issue. If disputing parties share the same starting premise, reconciliation is not so very difficult.

When the disputing parties approach a matter from very sharply differing starting positions, however, the value of the easily approved Ombudsman becomes revealed as superficial. What chance is there of mediating or reconciling the views on kosher slaughter between an Orthodox Jew and a New Age Vegan? The question is posed to illustrate the limitations when this kind of "issue resolution" is offered by the conciliation culture.

Will the Church Ombudsman (or woman) work from principles hammered out in advance or might they be free to propose or devise their own scope and strategies? There is coherence and merit in either approach, but pretending that outsourcing the resolution of the problem from Synod somehow resolves it is a little optimistic.

It is entirely right and noble to attempt to hold disparate opinion within the Church of England. Schism has not served the wider Church well, but we may also need to prepare for the possibility that honest people of integrity may be irreconcilable on this issue, and that the practical consequences of this may also need to be faced. It may, of course, be that the contemplation of those identified consequences will influence some of those voting. The cost might outweigh the values in contention, however fervently those opinions may be held.

An old priest friend used to confess to managing his Parochial Church Council by always insisting upon consensus, but he was canny enough to ensure always that he drew the summary of what that consensus comprised. It worked perfectly well on that micro scale, amongst people of broadly similar mind. Readers will forgive Brother Ivo if he is less than confident that a similar strategy will be viable on the larger stage.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welby: England has ill-treated the Scots for 800 years

So, the Archbishop of Canterbury flies out to Iceland and does what archbishops do: he delivers a sermon in a cathedral. His subject? "God is a God of justice". Marvellous stuff.

He called on churches to "cry out and claim and struggle" for justice, in order to bring "testimony and witness to words and prayers". He explained that "justice faints and hope fades" when the church "looks in on itself". And he called for a renewal of prayer so that the Anglican and Lutheran churches might be "caught up" with the "God of justice" who calls people into action.

"In Iceland there is the pain of the crash which took place five years ago," he empathised. "In every Diocese in England churches take part in food banks, in a society which has no need for such imbalances of wealth. On the richest continent on earth we cannot devise an economic system that provides for the poor and yet forces the wealthy and the powerful to share equally the burdens of debt, and the heritage of materialism gone mad."

"Any serious view of the nature of human beings," he said, "tells us that without the action of God their can be no true justice, and that the Church is there to be the widow, to cry out and claim and struggle. That must involve action, which may be slight or grand."

It was all going so well, until:
And it is such a powerful movement that we’re even working with the Scots about it. And there is a miracle. It takes a lot to make the Scots willing to work with the English. Understandably, we’ve spent about 800 years ill treating them.
The "powerful movement" to which he refers was his call for the re-establishment of credit unions to take on the 5000% usury of Wonga. He explains:
I made what seemed to me the fairly obvious comment that I considered this to be usury and usury had been a sin since Moses. Well, it was a quiet day in the press. And they had nothing important to report, so we found that they reported it rather large scale. It was a casual comment. I wish I could say that I had a grand strategy, but I didn’t. It was an accident. But it was an accident in which God was involved. Because it has created such momentum that there is a great new movement to change the way we do community finance.
Well, it must be another quiet day in the press: 800 years of England's ill treatment of the poor Scots is now being reported on a "rather large scale", and it is not yet clear that God is involved.  

When you're good at soundbites, you need to use them wisely and sparingly. It was manifestly a lighthearted joke - another "casual comment" - but it is already circling the globe, and Alex Salmond has added it to his referendum armoury. Sadly there was no helpful contextual history - a passing mention, for example, of the fact that the Scots tended to forge alliances with the French and conspired to invade England once or twice would have been helpful.

But everything that surrounds the assertion of England's ill-treatment of the Scots - the theology of reconciliation that preceded it and the anthropology of cooperation that defined it - will now be subsumed to the feverish tabloid headlines of the English Archbishop who is stoking the cause of Scottish independence. The Daily Mail is already on the case. Others will follow.

Justin Welby's predecessor Rowan (Lord) Williams learned the hard way, with his assertion that, in the context of increasing ethnic plurality and religious equality, sharia law in Britain is "unavoidable". It was a reasoned theological point reflecting a political reality. But the naivety was astonishing. He seemed to treat Radio 4 as if it were an Oxford theological college, assuming his audience to be made up of academic theologians with the ability to dissect and analyse words with his theo-political precision. But ++Justin is not so naive: he is, as The Spectator noted, "a very political archbishop": he knows and understands fully that every word he utters will be seized upon by certain sections of the media for an undesigned emphasis and turned to some unintended meaning.

The Church of England has always struggled with the tension between affirmation of the gospel and assimilation to the prevailing culture; between transformation and inculturation. 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. If Rowan Williams showed us anything, it is that these cannot easily be reduced to soundbites, neat headlines or trite blogposts: profound matters demand profound contemplation and an articulation which does them justice. More often than not, Lord Williams of Oystermouth was purposely woefully misunderstood and misreported by a ferociously judgmental and increasingly hostile anti-Anglican press.

His Grace prophesied that his successor would fare no better: it is the zeitgeist.

The assertion of England's 800-year-long ill treatment of the Scots cannot be put down to "an accident": unlike the Wonga episode, these words form part of a prayerfully considered and thoughtfully crafted sermon; not a spontaneous bit of levity in a magazine interview. But is it not a shame that bishops and archbishops may no longer use humour in their sermons?

There is an unbridgeable gulf between the God who laughs (Ps 2:4) and the one in whom there is no humour. Protests over cartoons satirising Mohammad combined with images of Muslims criticising frivolous aspects of Western culture often leave the distinct impression Islam and comedy are incompatible. The most concerning thing for Britain is that those Muslims who dare to express humour or satrise aspects of their religion are derided by those who hold to the Ayatollah Khomeini school of Islam. He once said: "An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam."

God forbid that the Church of England should ever become so drearily stuffy, priggish or straitlaced. So, go on cracking your jokes with a twinkle in your eye, Archbishop Justin, for they bring your sermons of salvation and messages of social justice to the whole nation.

Yes, God is involved.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Servants of the Lord Jesus Christ should expect to be called bigots"

From the Rev'd Julian Mann:

A letter published by the editor of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's local paper, the Sheffield Telegraph, is alarmingly illustrative of the triumph of political correctness over Judaeo-Christian values.

In the edition of October 24th, the editor published a letter by Ms Laura Woodhouse objecting to Mr Greg Fletcher's view, expressed in his letter of October 17th, that 'for relationships to have a strong foundation and to last sex should be seen as something special and only for that one life-long partnership within a marriage between a man and a woman'.

Responding to a report about the number of teenage pregnancies, Mr Fletcher had also said: 'Outside of marriage, sex gets cheapened and reduces people, particularly women, to objects and not human beings.'

Here is Ms Woodhouse's letter in full:
I must say I was rather amused to learn that my highly enjoyable marriage-free sex life has, according to Mr Fletcher, reduced me to an object.

What I found less amusing was his assertion that sex should only take place between "a man and a woman". Far from supporting youngsters, such homophobic beliefs contribute to the discrimination and abuse suffered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people, and I was disappointed to see Mr Fletcher's bigotry printed uncritically in the Telegraph.
Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg clearly shares Ms Woodhouse's negative opinion of evangelical Christian readers like me who agree with Mr Fletcher. Even if he does not regard us as bigots, he does see us as 'dinosaurs' as he made clear when addressing his recent party conference.

But more pressing than the view of a prominent reader like Mr Clegg, who is quite likely to lose his seat anyway in 2015, is why the editor of the Sheffield Telegraph was apparently so willing without comment to publish a criticism against his newspaper for printing Mr Fletcher's letter 'uncritically'.

Such editorial prostration before a politically-correct rant like Ms Woodhouse's is astonishing. The letters page in the Sheffield Telegraph is called 'Opinion'. The editor at the very least should have had the self-respect to point that out under Ms Woodhouse's letter whilst making clear that she was entitled to her opinion.

Surely such obeisance to PC by a local newspaper cannot be blamed on Leveson. Even under the proposed Royal Charter, which British newspaper groups are rightly opposing, there would be no requirement to include editorial comments against readers' letters that assert that sex should only take place within heterosexual marriage.

As a regular reader of the Sheffield Telegraph, I have no quibble with the editor's decision to publish Ms Woodhouse's letter. In fact, I would deplore an editorial comment criticising an opinion in a reader's letter even and perhaps especially one in which I am accused of bigotry.

Servants of the Lord Jesus Christ should expect to be called bigots by the likes of Ms Woodhouse. The editorial practice she is advocating would reduce us Christian readers to cry babies.

It is not clear what comment under Mr Fletcher's letter she would have liked the editor to have published. Would it be something along the lines of: 'It is the view of this newspaper that, far from supporting youngsters, such homophobic beliefs as Mr Fletcher's contribute to the discrimination and abuse suffered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people'?

Sounds like the kind of editorial philosophy of which Joseph Stalin would be proud.

Julian Mann is vicar Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Niqab in Britain - our response is hard-wired

From Father Silas:

I have an acquaintance who, now in his 40s and living in London, was raised in a Christian family in Syria. He recalls that when he was growing up, relatively few Muslim women in his city wore religious dress, and even fewer wore face-veils. Now, he says, a majority do. What, he wonders, has happened to make them ostensibly more devout over such a short period?

The reason, he has concluded, is linked to the sense that Muslims in Syria (and probably elsewhere) have that their culture and traditions are under threat from Western influences. Not principally by political pressure or military activity; but by the ubiquitous commercial, materialistic and secular forces that seem to wash continuously from west to east like a cultural jet-stream. Their dress is an assertion of their identity, for the survival of which they fear.

If this is true, it might be assumed that niqabed Muslim women in the West are similarly motivated. They are, after all, a minority, living in the very midst of the culture that they may fear is poised to overwhelm their own. If the tables were turned, might not I want more boldly to proclaim that Christian belief and identity which is inseparable from my ethnic heritage? I might indeed; but it is worth reflecting that in some Muslim countries I would not be permitted to proclaim it too loudly or openly (or perhaps at all), on the grounds that, there, my religion is simply wrong; and that something which is wrong must not be flaunted.

“We are a free country and people should be free to wear whatever clothes they like in public or in private,” says David Cameron; and most of us would agree instinctively. We do not contemplate legislating for Jews to be allowed to wear a yarmulke only at home or in shul, or even for almost-naked girls to be forced to cover up in public. Why do we argue about banning the burka?

The answer, I think, lies in what constitutes culturally acceptable appearance and behaviour in our own cultural setting. Because we tolerate public expressions both of extreme modesty (eg in the wearing of the niqab) and extreme immodesty (eg wearing practically nothing) in women, it is assumed that we tolerate anything; that we are, if you like, perfectly tolerant. We are not. Being a free country is not the same thing as being a cultural vacuum. Because we seem to have abandoned many of our former social requirements does not mean we have abandoned them all.

The plain truth is that, in Britain and much of the West, it is not culturally acceptable for the face to be covered. The sight of a covered face evokes a deeply embedded response – a prejudice, if you like – which involuntarily associates it with criminal intent or activity. This is not to say that I suspect your average niqabed Bond Street shopper of plotting to rob the Hermès store or to bomb Parliament. It is a reflex controlled, metaphorically, by the spinal cord rather than the brain, and is (for the moment at least) hard-wired. We can prevent ourselves from acting on this response, but we cannot prevent it taking place.

Seen from this perspective, the current debate as to whether the niqab represents either the oppression of women or their right to choose is displacement activity. While they may be valid questions, they are not what is fundamentally at issue. What is at issue is the western hard-wired response to the publicly covered face. Are we capable of being re-wired? Should we even consider calling in the electrician? Or should we take the French route – framing our law to reflect our cultural requirement?

What’s the betting we won’t be brave enough to ask the real questions?

Father Silas is an undistinguished (he says) priest and deacon of the Church of England who loves it in spite of everything.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Welfare reform delay is mature politics

From Brother Ivo:

BBC News leads with the story that the Government is delaying the implementation of part of its welfare reform policy: it is replacing a full roll-out of its Personal Independence Payment with a limited pilot scheme in Anglesea.

Anyone with experience of implementing an IT project, within a business, school, or even a home network, will appreciate how much can go wrong with such plans, and taking the time to implement change would appear to be the prudent response if there is any doubt about its preparedness.

The feverish response of the Labour opposition is to declare the Government's flagship policy of welfare reform in "chaos".

Little illustrates the worst side of politics than such a knee-jerk, shallow response. All parties do it, but it rarely fails to irritate the public. It is a matter of record that Labour's record on the implementation of complex IT projects is unimpressive, and one might wonder if any within their campaigning strategy team gave any thought to the wisdom of allowing the inevitable response about the pot calling the kettle black.

Do such spin doctors think we have no memory? In the age of social media, the deep recesses of collective recollection will ensure that somebody revives a past failure and re-circulates it. Presumably those responsible for starting this hare running are either so young or myopic that they lack historical perspective from even the most recent past.

It is not as if one needs to look back more than a few weeks to learn from the IT failure of others. In the USA, President Obama's flagship healthcare policy is in deep technical difficulty regardless of any objections to the project in principle, or to its intellectual architecture.

In many states, the number of people who have successfully signed up with the Obamacare exchanges to obtain a quote for the new insurance scheme is currently running in tens rather than the hundreds of thousands. This is three weeks into the scheme and after three years planning and half a billion dollars worth of investment. Inevitably, their opponents are making hay.

The company responsible turns out to be Canadian, with an very recent history of failure of its last smaller project in that country. It now turns out that its main owner was a Princeton classmate of Michelle Obama which may or may not be significant. Those programmes are always fraught with practical and political problems.

The spin doctors are insulting the voters intelligence, and so is Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary for Health Human Services who is responsible for the project, with her briefing that the responsibility lies with the Republicans because of the government "shutdown" which began the same day Obamacare went live. The only person to have been sacked over this disastrous project is Erling Davis, a hapless black telephone operator on the project, whose only failure was to talk to radio talk show host Sean Hannity about the difficulties that were being encountered. To his credit, Mr Hannity is meeting her $26k annual salary whilst helping her to find re-employment. For such a lady to be the only casualty of such gross failure tells you all you need to know about this President and the modern political culture.

In such a context, for somebody within Government or Civil Service to take responsibility and say "You know folks, this just isn't ready" is rather refreshing. It is in keeping with one of Brother Ivo's dicta that it's better to get the right answer than a fast one.

A similar response may be needed over the HS2 rail project. Large structural change, whether in welfare reform or transport infrastructure, is fraught with both predictable complexity and many "unknown unknowns". That is the very nature of sophisticated systems and reforming multi-layered old entitlements.

Instead of complaining, we should be celebrating the rare acknowledgment that lessons were there to be learned; those subject to the change will not be inconvenienced to save political face, and we shall not see change implemented unless and until the systems are fit for purpose.

Had the opposition positioned itself with a mature response, its stature would have been enhanced. But, sadly, it appears that the era of the juvenile cheap soundbite, recycled by the BBC, continues.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers

Friday, October 25, 2013

Welby walks into the C4 lions' den

The Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed yesterday on Channel 4 News. Perhaps he was fatigued by the christening and his prior weighty lecture on business ethics, but there were some distinct 'rabbit in headlights' moments when it appeared that His Grace was trusting the Holy Spirit to give him the words, and inspiration came there none.

Jon Snow probed him on a number of socio-religio-political themes, from banking standards and wealth distribution to Ralph Miliband and the possible future religious beliefs of Prince George of Cambridge. He declined one question on economic policy, insisting it was "party political"; and demurred on the consequences of Prince George becoming a Buddhist with a "let's wait and see".  If you walk voluntarily into the lion's den, bringing a tin of cat food is not adequate preparation.  

Archbishop Justin says there is much work still to do to mitigate the potential social impact of any future financial crisis. "Even if the push-back does not win, we have not dealt with the 'too big to fail' or 'too big to manage', and there's a danger of not dealing with 'too big to rescue'." He did not appeal to 'Moral Hazard': he is a firm believer that corporate actions should have consequences.

UK economic growth is a good thing, and he is of the view that the benefits flowing from that growth should reach all corners of society: "Part of the problem we're facing is that where there are inequities, people don't really know how to deal with them. Politicians can't say that, but the reality is that a lot of people don't know the answer. I don't think we've found the answer, and you look across Europe or north America - Detroit would be a very good example - and it's clear it's not for lack of effort, it's perhaps for lack of understanding of how to change things."

He is right that politicians can't or won't admit to not having answers, but what, precisely, is the Church of England's solution? Inequity is endemic: the poor will always be with us. But punitive levels of taxation for wealth redistribution and expansion of the welfare state invariably deter enterprise and diminish philanthropy. You don't solve the struggle against generational deprivation by pledging to put Wonga out of business.

The Archbishop appears to have an aversion to Milton Friedman and an inclination toward collectivism, apparently oblivious to the fact that voluntary exchange yields benefits for both parties. Free-market economics has a place for non-market systems and values in order that it operate morally (and so effectively). Buyer and seller both derive gains from trade where competition prevails. We ameliorate the human condition and help to alleviate poverty by serving others in the supply of goods for which they choose to pay. The pursuit of self-interest is not antithetical to the common good of the wider community. Friedman's view was that you have to do good to do well: not that you must maximise profits at all costs. Entrepreneurs may seek riches, but it is the Church's task to change hearts in order that that wealth might enrich society far more.

And as for Prince George being a Buddhist king, well, the answer here was not: "He's perfectly entitled to be that and we'll cross that bridge if we ever get to it, who knows?" He is indeed perfectly free to be any faith he chooses: that is his human right. But should he decide to be Buddhist, Muslim or Roman Catholic, under our present Constitution he may not then be King. But to be King is not a human right: it is a role with responsibilities and constraints. As with Edward VIII, one either accepts the limitations of the office, or one defers to the next in line. It appears that Prince Charles may be preparing to do precisely that.

Archbishop Justin warned against what he termed a "bully pulpit". "A number of us... have the capacity to make comments, or structure interviews, or preach from a pulpit... We have to be very cautious about the use of that responsibility."

His (present) Grace is right to exercise caution; His (former) Grace paid a heavy price. Turbulent priests have a tendency to meet unseemly ends.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Queen with three future kings

£350k taxpayers' bill to defend Muslim pubes

From Brother Ivo:

It is almost impossible to offer original comment upon the story of over £350k of taxpayers' money being spent litigating whether a disabled 30-year-old woman who will never live with her family should, at their insistence, have her pubic hair shaved.

The young woman herself did not have the legal capacity to consent to this happening, and was represented throughout by the Official Solicitor. The report here will exasperate, outrage, and bewilder everyone who thought we lived in an age of austerity, especially those who imagined that Chris Grayling's denial of Legal Aid to most family law disputes might have seen an end to such gold-plated exercises in political correctness.

Having been listed for 10 days of court time, the issue deflated like a failed Great British Bake Off Victoria sponge, leaving the Judge suitably bemused. Mr Justice Roderick Wood was a good choice for the case and was characteristically clear in expressing his bafflement.

It will be interesting to see the full report if one is forthcoming, although as the case presented no issue for adjudication we may never know much more than we do now.

The response of the majority of the public will be predictable and likely to diminish the reputation of the law in public esteem.

Brother Ivo offers a few provisional thoughts.

There were two issues before the court: whether the young woman should return home after being in continuous local authority care for five years; and whether she should be shaved. The issues are perhaps linked but separate, so we need to be cautious about attributing all the costs to the headline-grabbing issue. There is frequently more than meets the eye to these stories and there may have been some merit in testing the issue of where the young woman should live. That does not usually cost £350k, however.

Be that as it may, there has plainly been an utter failure of case management to bring the principle of proportionality into account. How that responsibility is apportioned may be worth investigating. The parents' lawyers were publicly funded. They had a continuing duty to keep the matter under review and not just spend public funds in pursuit of their client's wishes. The Legal Services Agency would have had to extend the costs limit of the parents and the subject of the case, on a periodic basis. Once each person's case costs exceeded £25k, the matter would have been referred to the Legal Aid Agency's High Cost Unit which is supposed to have specialist expertise in managing such expenditure. They would have required case plans with appropriate expert and Counsel's fees factored in. Did no one there ask questions? If they did not, what exactly is their purpose?

The Local Authority had their own in-house lawyers and outside Counsel to advise. They should be mindful of both public costs and the scarcity of Court time. As the merits of the case ebbed toward the parents' surrender, they might have been raising concerns both in liaison with the other parties and by putting the matter before the Court of their own motion, inviting the Court to make a bold case management call.

It is not clear whether ED, the person under disability, was represented by external lawyers or the Official Solicitor's staff. Whoever represented, other minds were fully aware of the facts and merits of the case. They, too, had an independent duty to consider whether the dispute was being properly case managed.

It may be reasonable to have spent some money on the matter, but there can have been no excuse to have delayed securing the evidence of the "cultural expert" whose unchallenged evidence was that there was no religious imperative to comply with the cultural norm of depilation in the case of a woman lacking personal decision-making capacity. Once that evidence became "unchallenged", there was no issue to have been determined. Until such evidence arrived, there was no need to expend much on that issue: proving the alleged norm by which that aspect of the case was to be judged could have been addressed within the first three months.

Primarily, however, it was the Court which carried the ultimate responsibility. District judges and judges are empowered and encouraged to take control of the way in which the evidence is collated, the issues defined, the timetable estimated, and the costs contained. Every day, up and down the country, parents are being persuaded, advised, cajoled and sometimes near-bullied into giving up cases without significant merit. "Gatekeeper" judiciary are keeping their colleagues on their toes, allocating cases and monitoring targets set by Ministry of Justice bureaucrats to hit performance targets, and avoid losses like the 10 days of judicial time wasted here.

The whole ethos has become cost-and-time-management conscious. Judges can and do require experts to liaise on narrow issues and only bring matters of serious disagreement for adjudication.

All this seems to have failed. Why might this be?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this was identified by all concerned as a politically and culturally-sensitive issue which nobody dared to end by an application of intellectual strength and common sense at an early stage. Nobody ever believes they will blight their career by going along with the politically correct zeitgeist. This would be a good case to disabuse our courts and publicly-funded lawyers and officials of that notion.

There is one final observation. At the end of a publicly-funded case, the bills of the legally-aided parties are drawn up and itemised with every letter and phone call logged, every interview and document read or drafted duly time-recorded. A District judge then 'taxes' the bill, disallowing any excessive or questionable part of the claim. There is a wide discretion permitted.

In a case of this kind, it would easy for public ire to be expressed through that mechanism against the parents and subject's lawyers. It should not be the occasion for scapegoating. It is the obvious place for punitive action to be applied but it touches only a minority of those bearing responsibility.

The Local Authority, the Legal Services Agency, the Official Solicitor's office and the Case Managing Judges all stand apart from that process. Public anger should prompt action, but any penalties and consequences should be fairly distributed. If there are consequences after the row has died down we should know, and we should be satisfied that there has been no targeting of those in the private sector to protect the agencies of the State.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Err.. His Grace thinks not!

According to the Daily Mail:

His Grace thinks not!

Not least because Mrs Welby is not a vicar..

On the occasion of the baptism of HRH Prince George of Cambridge

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury will baptise HRH the Prince George of Cambridge. In this film, Archbishop Justin explains the significance of baptism and why it is such an important moment for anyone, whoever they are. When Prince George is baptised he will join two billion people around the world in "the family of the Church", he says. He says that baptism is not just for royal babies but is offered to everyone, because "God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always."

Explaining what will happen when he baptises Prince George, the Archbishop says: ‘I will mark Prince George with the sign of the cross on his forehead, and that’s exactly what every single priest does at every single baptism. It’s an extraordinary moment because that is the sign by which we understand that this person belongs to God.’ The Archbishop encourages anyone who is thinking about christening – either for themselves or their child – to go along to their local church and find out more. At the end of the film, Archbishop Justin shares what he would like to say in his mind to the Prince as he baptises him, citing words used by the Church of Scotland: 
For you Jesus Christ came into the world:
for you he lived and showed God’s love;
for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished’;
for you he triumphed over death and rose to new of life;
for you he reigns at God’s right hand.
All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.
His Grace would just like to add that baptism doesn't make Prince George a Christian any more than it makes him a future Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In baptism we begin the life of grace within the Church: it is a means of participation in the divine life; the sacrament which unites the Church to the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, and it is water from that very river which fills the font in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace.

Baptism is a public rite of a covenantal nature, pledging the infant to Christ and to the Church. It is, as the XXXIX Articles affirm, 'effectual' of grace and has an 'instrumental' relation to the action of the Holy Spirit. It is not a man-made piece of theatre, but truly effects what it signifies. It is the foundation of Christian initiation, which also includes catechesis, liturgical profession of faith and confirmation of the Holy Spirit, participation in the Eucharist and reception of Holy Communion.

Today, Prince George will receive the sign of the cross upon his forehead to identify him with the death and resurrection of Christ. It will require a later response from him 'after the example of the Holy Apostles', and a commitment to discipleship throughout his life. The sacrament is theological and eschatological: its meaning and effect are only partially realised in this life.

But instead of quibbling in the comment thread about how and why the Church of England errs in its baptismal ecclesiology, why not pray that the Holy Spirit will lead Prince George to the fullness of faith, and equip him to resist temptation, to follow Christ ardently, to serve the Church, and witness boldly to the world?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Britain's most senior judge criticises politicians' poor legislation

From Brother Ivo:

From time to time, Brother Ivo has written of his concern about judges who adopt an activist legislative role. He does not object to the application of common sense, which is necessary to smooth out the rough edges of legislation, but rather the dimension of unaccountability when they trespass into areas of significant social policy, and then proceed to make value judgements so discordant with the views and attitudes of the average citizen that they step beyond an interpretive and adaptive role, becoming self-appointed legislators.

Last week a lecture was delivered by the President of the Supreme Court which explained why judges sometimes feel called upon to be more pro-active, and occasionally enter the public-political debate about 'Justice in an age of Austerity'. Judges are not well known to the general public, and so when one of them steps out from under the wig to explain himself away from the courtroom setting, it can be both interesting and instructive.

Notwithstanding an innate suspicion of such activity, one must be open-minded and give credit where it is due.

In the interesting but little publicised Tom Sargant Memorial Lecture for the campaigning organisation Justice, Lord Neuberger chose a few issues to explore before an audience, principally of lawyers but with entertaining accessibility to a wider audience. Its 19 short pages are well worth a read.

There is much to like. The style is thoughtful, measured and accessible. It is seasoned with a charming self-deprecation as he revisits his own judgements and observes: "Reading some judgements one rather loses the will to live, and that is particularly disconcerting when it is one's own judgement one is reading."

Would that our professional legislators had such self-awareness as they listen to their own sound-bite-crafted obfuscations.

It was the passage about our legislators' technical failings in paragraphs 14-18 which caught Brother Ivo's eye. The sheer volume of statute law and statutory instruments has tripled since 2005, and Lord Neuberger correctly describes it as "a welter of ill-considered legislation". He resists the common notion that the best response to perceived public problems is yet more law, and recognises that such responses often create complexities and impose costs. He does not use the term "the law of intended consequences", but that is plainly a contributing aspect to the problems he describes.

When one of our senior judges identifies such difficulties, our members of Parliament would do well to take notice. Lord Neuberger spends a little time illustrating how hopelessly incomprehensible modern law-making has become, even for those who have spent a lifetime studying and interpreting it.

He illustrates his point with reference to the appalling mess that was presented to the House of Lords in the Financial Services (Banking Reform ) Bill. Lord Turnbull described the legislative dog's breakfast with which the Lords grappled:
..Total amendments run to 116 pages and Government amendments account for 95 pages of that; more than three times the length of the original bill. That tells us something about the process of legislation. We are dealing with amendments to amendments to amendments which are in turn amending Statutes which have already been amended more than once.

Unsurprisingly, a point can be reached where nobody has a clear strategic picture of the law that is under consideration, still less the detail. If the problem remained within Parliament it would be bad enough, yet much uncertainty and sometimes even inconsistency is then passed on to individuals, public authorities and companies, who must understand, comply, and adjust to it. A whole raft of advisers, trainers, supervisors and monitors have to be engaged to work out what this might all mean and all of this must be paid for by the end-user.

In times of austerity, when economies have to be made, our Parliamentarians surely owe a duty to be accurate, targeted and clear in the obligations and associated costs which they impose upon us. Our Lord Chief Justice plainly believes that this is not currently the case.

Few of us can imagine the problems within the complex structures of the financial services industry, but Brother Ivo recently came across of a more immediately accessible example of legislative folly when he posed the problem of excessive and poorly drawn legislation to Zac Goldmith MP at a public meeting.

Mr Goldsmith promptly acknowledged the problem, and referenced the Government's policy of restoring single-sex wards in hospitals. The MP was proud of a good and popular reform until nurses at his local hospital drew to his attention the absence of an age limit in the Act, which obliged them, under threat of fine, to rig up wholly unnecessary curtains in their neo-natal wards to separate infants in their incubators. One might wish we lived in a country where enforcement of such stupidity would be unthinkable, but evidently that train of thought left the station several years ago.

We need simple examples like this to encourage us to think about the scale of the problem across the board. Laws are routinely passed with inadequate thought and understanding, still less intelligent scrutiny, and it is good to hear a senior judge flagging up the problem, albeit in a low key erudite fashion.

Brother Ivo can be a little less constrained. We need to call our members of Parliament to account for posturing too much, being lazy and too complacent about that which they alone initiate, and for which they alone owe a public duty of quality control.

The Legislative Chamber is frequently poorly attended during committee stages of bills, when early errors are supposed to be identified and eliminated. Instead of attending to their primary task of holding the Executive to account and scrutinising its plans to further interfere in our lives, they are too busy acting as surrogate social workers or part-time spin doctors regurgitating the party line in the studios of Millbank.

It would be a great contribution to our democracy if every broadcaster agreed to open every policy-scrutiny interview with this simple question addressed to the politician: "Have you read this Bill in its entirety?" One suspects the number answering in the affirmative would be extremely low, if one could be sure of an honest answer. Yet if that is not their job, whose is it?

One recalls the late Ronald Reagan instructing his staff: "Don't just do something, stand there." It is not bad advice in an age where a government's zeal and success is sometimes measured by the length of its legislative programme. It is when one hears informed words of caution from men such as Lord Neuberger that we are encouraged to stop and think.

Perhaps if we required our legislators to do much less but do it much better, we might be better governed. There was once a criticism of Parliament that it contained too many lawyers. There is still a high proportion, yet we do not see that translating into a keenness to read and critique the legislative output that continues to emerge with varying degrees of coherence.

Brother Ivo does not know how we begin to tackle this problem; he only knows it needs to happen. The tide of legislation rolls out relentlessly. He senses that if more parliamentarians spent more time in the Chamber studying the text, there might be more of them joining ordinary folk up and down the country contemplating their output, with their heads in their hands, muttering "Please make it stop".

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of Lawyers

Monday, October 21, 2013

Welby wades in on economic policy

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is putting a bit of stick about, and rather impressively scoring some direct hits. Yesterday in the Mail on Sunday he took a swipe at the energy companies for their excessive price-hikes; today in The Daily Telegraph he's going for growth. Not in quite the same way as the Chancellor of the Exchequer might; more after the fashion Thomas Becket, meddling in matters of political policy where his interventions certainly won't be universally welcomed.

If his predecessor at Lambeth Palace suffered from being aloof and, at times, spouting utterly incomprehensible expressions of muffled theological verbiage which said nothing to no one, Archbishop Justin is laser-like in his precision, and catholic in the appeal of his message.

The latest wave of hikes on the price of gas and electricity by SSE and British Gas does indeed look "inexplicable". And he takes his traditional theme of the moral obligation to act justly rather than simply maximising profit. "The impact on people, particularly on low incomes, is going to be really severe in this, and the companies have to justify fully what they are doing," the Archbishop said.

He continued: "I do understand when people feel that this is inexplicable, and I can understand people being angry about it, because having spent years on a low income as a clergyman I know what it is like when your household budget is blown apart by a significant extra fuel bill and your anxiety levels become very high. That is the reality of it."

Indeed. Heating the very draughty Lambeth Palace was hard enough when His Grace was there: being obliged now to maintain minimum working temperatures for an entire staff must be a considerable financial burden.

Like all good CofE clergy, Archbishop Justin grasps the social dimension: energy companies must be "conscious of their social obligations" and obliged to "behave with generosity and not merely to maximise opportunity" because "they have control because they sell something everyone has to buy. We have no choice about buying it."

But he also grasps the ethics of corporatism and the market: "It is not like some other sectors of business where people can walk away from you if they don't want to buy your product and you are entitled to seek to maximise your profit. The social licence to operate of the energy companies is something they have to take very, very seriously indeed."

And he veers toward Ed Miliband's narrative, asserting that fuel poverty is "a very severe issue.. because real incomes are flat or declining and the cost of energy has gone up". This, "ties in with the food banks and the debt. They are all part of the reality of life for many people today."

All this sounds as though the Archbishop would support Labour's proposal to freeze fuel prices for 20 months should they win the 2015 general election. The proposal is popular, and CofE bishops like to jump on social-justice bandwagons, especially where the harsh 'Thatcherite' free market of the capitalist 'Tory Right' is pitched against the Socialist gospel of compassion. It isn't all about profit, but when a company that makes £2.7 billion for its shareholders decides to burden its customers with a 9.2% hike, there's more than a whiff of fleecing.

Of course, the fact that the the Church of England is itself a shareholder in Centrica (to the tune of £7 million) and SSE (£6 million) gives the Archbishop some clout for ‘active engagement’ with company boards. But the Church itself invests in these companies in the hope of healthy profits in order to meet its own financial obligations. Any bishop who believes these profits should be diminished is ultimately volunteering for a reduced pension (not to mention further impoverishing many elderly parishioners).

“A deep spiritual base in the Christian tradition enables (society) to shape its way of life and care for each other in accordance with the teachings of Christ,” the Archbishop says. But what irks slightly is the fact that he spares the politicians - in this case the hypocrisy of Ed Miliband who, as Energy Secretary, set the course for those very Green taxes which are now adding £100s to people's fuel bills. Government taxes - especially those introduced by the EU - are beyond the control of companies. If we are to have the “healthy society” the Archbishop desires, then the overall tax burden must be decreased, which is a moral pursuit. Of course wealth generation is not the be all and end all of human existence, but no true Conservative believes that it is. Economic growth is to be celebrated because it produces confidence, and that confidence provides jobs, and jobs give people security, and security leads to happiness and induces acts of philanthropy.

A righteous government will house the homeless, feed the starving, heal the sick and educate the ignorant. It will also decrease the deficit and pay down debt because you cannot morally share with the poor that which you borrow from your children and grandchildren without their consent.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Imprisoned for suffering a miscarriage?

From Sister Tiberia:

Those regular communicants to His Grace's blog will know this isn't the first time I've written on the subject of abortion here. I'm a Roman Catholic woman and I believe that life is sacred from conception to death. Today I'm looking at the other side of the coin: a country where the abortion laws are so stringent that a woman can be imprisoned for having a miscarriage.

El Salvador is a country where abortion is illegal in all circumstances. Prior to 1998, there were some limited circumstances where it was permitted - if there was danger of death to the woman and termination of the pregnancy was the only way to preserve her life; if the pregnancy was the result of rape; or if a serious congenital abnormality was found in the unborn baby. These exemptions were removed in 1998.

According to Wikipedia, the situation is now as follows:
On April 20, 1998 the new Penal Code was enacted, removing the exceptions that had been instituted in 1973, including the provision for the pregnant woman's life. Under this Code, a person who performs an abortion with the woman's consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for two to eight years. A person who performs an abortion to which the woman has not consented can be sentenced to four to ten years in jail; if the person is a physician, pharmacist, or other health care worker, he or she is instead subject to between six to 12 years.
The results have been catastrophic. Unsafe abortion has become the second highest cause of maternal mortality in the country (and health care in general is poor because of the very limited funding available). If you can bear to, click on the Wikipedia article on abortion in El Salvador. It's heartbreaking reading.

An article in The Guardian on the El Salvador abortion controversy highlighted this situation several months ago. The BBC report quotes cases where women who suffered miscarriages were reported by medical staff to the authorities as having attempted abortions, and in one case a woman was imprisoned for eight years before being released on appeal. The predictable result is that women - especially poor women - are afraid to approach doctors if they fear they may be miscarrying because of the risk that they will be arrested and prosecuted.

An attempt was made to challenge the law with the assistance of Amnesty International - Voices from El Salvador - which ultimately resulted in failure.

The life of the woman involved was ultimately saved through a legal loophole. She was one of the lucky ones. Many more are not as lucky.

Esther Major, Amnesty International's El Salvador expert, describes the country's abortion law as "cruel and discriminatory": "Women and girls end up in prison for being unwilling, or simply tragically unable, to carry the pregnancy to term," she says."It makes seeking hospital treatment for complications during pregnancy, including a miscarriage, a dangerous lottery. It cannot be in the interests of society to criminalise women and girls in this way."

I'm a married woman. I have a child. In the years after my son was born, I suffered three consecutive miscarriages, all of them devastating, one of them life threatening. It was the most terrible time of my life, and the only thing that could possibly have made it worse would have been if I had been too afraid to seek medical help because of the possible consequences. That is the choice facing the women of El Salvador.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The triumph of the Wonga Economy

From Brother Ivo:

Students of irony must have enjoyed listening to the news on Thursday as "Credit Union Day" stories sat back-to-back with reports of "sanity breaking out on Capitol Hill".

The iniquity of escalating debt was recognised in the context of individuals and families falling into the clutches of payday loan companies like the much derided Wonga, and Brother Ivo will be supporting his local credit union to do his bit for Archbishop Justin's plan to offer a better alternative. What was odd was the apparent inability of news editors to scale up that mode of thought and to apply exactly the same principles on the macro level when reviewing the American "moderate" Republicans' emulation of the Grand Old Duke of York.

It is worth recalling that the United States adopted legislation to control public debt in an attempt to constrain the spending proclivities of politicians, and to impose some degree of discipline, making the Government live within its means. It is very easy to buy popularity today with tomorrow's money, especially if you bequeath that debt to your successors. You leave them to grapple with the problem and you dissolve the potency of the debt you inherited by degrading the currency.

Here Brother Ivo's love of paradox returns.

Two groups of people benefit from this. In the first group there are those who depend upon the state, either as supplicants or contracting parties. Such people can lobby for inflation-proof rises, and as they are a significant voting block, they will be listened to.

In the second group we find the investment community and their dependent infrastructure. If you can talk up "market confidence", the fear (and certainty) of inflation will encourage market activity. If you can make 5% against 4% inflation you will be able to afford next year's BMW.

So far, this political three-card-trick seems to make everyone a winner. Except it doesn't. The saver, the pensioner, the trader and his employees in a market sector whose customers are not blessed to be within reach of the magic porridge pot, are the folk who are not able to join the party, so they form their own - the Tea Party.

Their "insanity" - as the media frequently describe it - lies in an awareness of historical precedent, and taking seriously the iniquity of unpayable debt.

Inflation ultimately destroys economies and countries, as the Weimar Republic demonstrated. Borrowing more eventually breaks the imprudent individual Wonga borrower, and even if a nation state does not borrow at those catastrophic rates of interest, it follows the same path when the increased borrowing has been spent but the proportion of future income servicing the debt has increased.

The US legislation to require the Government to at least look at the problem before raising the debt ceiling was not ignoble. Unfortunately for the USA, its friends and dependants, the progressive movement has, for now, captured the legislators and the media narrative. Anyone suggesting that the passing of the last "debt ceiling" is problematic is portrayed as reckless, which raises a simple, perhaps naive question.

If the debt ceiling is to be routinely and unhesitatingly increased, why have it? Why not repeal it? Why not go to the voters and simply say, "We can borrow, print money and spend indefinitely, my friends, because tomorrow never comes"?

There are, of course, the inconvenient examples of Greece, Portugal and Spain to demonstrate what happens to economies, unemployment and public services when such an approach is adopted, yet still, it is the sceptics of progressive economics who receive the bad press and not the proponents of Wonga Economics - on Capitol Hill or within the Westminster bubble.

We in the UK are in no position to gloat. We have not yet balanced our budget, still less begun to pay down our debt. Although Brother Ivo may sound US-fixated, it is the contemplation of their woes that leads him to warn of our own.

The BBC spoke of the US Government being "paralysed" by the debate. In truth, 85% of government continued: in its own language, it was the "non-essential" workers who were laid off. Tellingly, those on the public payroll will have their lost wages made up - they always do. It is the little folk in the private sector who will have lost - they always do.

Contrary to the rhetoric, the US was never going to default on its bond repayments. The US takes in something like $250bn a month in tax. The IRS was still working. The debt interest is currently running at approximately $20bn per month. That would have been paid. It was other expenditure which would have come under scrutiny - and that was the point of the exercise. If you are in deficit on current expenditure, is this really the best time to take on the additional massive unfunded debt that is Obamacare?

Whether one scales down the problem from US debt to payday loan, or scales up from the worker imprudently succumbing to the temptation to live-now-pay-later, the issues are much the same.

We have heard our bishops raising their voices against the payday loan culture and calling for a more sensible approach to debt. Please God, we shall hear one or two speaking out against the Wonga Economics of those entrusted - or hoping to be entrusted - with the government and future economic security of our country.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of Lawyers

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury joins Instagram for International Credit Union Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined Instagram with a message urging churches and communities to support their local credit union on International Credit Union (ICU) Day (, His Grace had no idea either..) tomorrow, 17th October. The @lambethpalace Instagram account was launched on Monday (no, His Grace had no foreknowledge of that, either)  - the latest addition to Lambeth Palace’s social media channels. The account will publish pictures of the Archbishop’s ministry along with scenes of daily life and worship at Lambeth Palace. It will also feature video messages and prayers from Archbishop Justin, and will be used to document some of his UK and foreign visits. You can follow the account HERE.

Speaking ahead of ICU Day (which is an unfortunate acronym, shared, as it is, with Intensive Care Unit), Archbishop Justin said in his first Instagram message: "Let’s begin to make a difference to how families can finance themselves in this country – join and support a credit union."

In a personal letter being sent to all clergy, the Archbishop underlines this message saying that the one million families who take out payday loans every month can end up in a crippling spiral of debt: "Our faith in Christ calls us to love the poor and vulnerable with our actions," he says. "That is why the Church must be actively involved in supporting the development of real lending alternatives, such as credit unions."

Churches the length and breadth of of the country will be supporting ICU Day, with bishops taking the lead signing up to and supporting local credit unions, including a community credit union pop-up session in London. The Rev'd Dr Malcolm Brown, director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Division said: "The credit union sector is extremely well placed to offer real choice about how people manage their money. Credit unions aren’t just for hard pressed communities – all sorts of people could use credit unions to save and to take out loans at manageable interest rates. Archbishop Justin is calling on churches all over the country to work with their local credit unions – and the Church of England is working with the Church of Scotland so that our response runs, literally, from Lands End to John O’Groats."

Mark Lyonette, Chief Executive of the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL), said: "We welcome the continuing support of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England for credit unions. With the wide community reach of the organisation, and the skills within its congregations, the Church can help raise awareness of the benefits of credit unions and help them to grow."

Lambeth Palace have helpfully provided His Grace with the following:

Canterbury – the Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott, is hosting an event with Kent Savers CU, including launch of new community investment account and training of volunteers. More information HERE

Oxford – three bishops will putting their money where their mouth is by investing in the Oxford Credit Union. The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, the Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher and the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson will be signing on the dotted line on October 17. More information HERE

Southwell & Nottingham diocese is launching ‘25 x 5k’, an ethical saving initiative which allows organisations to join in local credit unions by opening a corporate savings account. The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham will visit Nottingham Credit Union on the 17th to pay in a cheque for £5k, which is not a donation but capital to enable them to lend more in the future. Then later he is in Worksop at 2 Shires Credit Union showing support for the 25x5k campaign, by opening a 2 shires savings account with a further £5k. More information HERE

And it seems all bishops have been activated, with:

Birmingham – Bishop of Aston, Andrew Watson, joining Citysave CU at the new Citysave kiosk in the Café of St Martin in the Bullring
Canterbury – Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott, hosting an event with Kent Savers CU, including launch of new community investment account and training of volunteers
Chichester – Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, hosting launch of West Sussex CU capital-raising appeal at end of month
Coventry – Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, to join Central CU
Durham – the new Bishop of Durham Designate recently underlined his commitment to the fight against poverty and he said that during his tenure he will support initiatives including food banks and credit unions
Exeter: Bishop of Crediton, Nicholas McKinnel, did interview on credit unions on Radio Devon. All four Archdeacons are visiting local credit unions. Diocese is running awareness-raising sessions for clergy.
Guildford – Bishop of Dorking, Ian Brackley, visiting SurreySave
Hereford – Bishop of Ludlow, Alistair Magowan, visiting Sutton Hill CU, Telford
Lichfield: Bishop of Stafford, Geoff Annas, is opening new branch of Staffordshire CU. Diocese is convening regular meetings with local CUs
London – Bishop of Kensington, Paul Williams, attending community pop-up session with clergy and Chief Exec of Your Credit Union. Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, joining CUBE (Brent & Ealing) alongside council leaders
Manchester – Bishop of Bolton, Christopher Edmondson, joining Hoot CU
Oxford – Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard and Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher joining Oxford CU
Ripon and Leeds – Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, John Packer, co-hosting an even wth Leeds CU in city centre for clergy and church members to sign up
St Albans – Bishop of Hertford, Paul Bayes visiting Hertsavers CU
Salisbury – Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam, visiting South Wiltshire CU, Bishop of Ramsbury, Edward Condry, visiting West Wiltshire CU
Sheffield – Bishop of Doncaster, Peter Burrows, joining South Yorkshire CU
Southwark – Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, visiting London Mutual CU. Bishop of Kingston, Richard Cheetham, is launching SurreySave – London SW, and Bishop of Woolwich, Michael Ipgrave, is visiting Lewisham Plus CU and Greenwich & Bexley CU
Southwell & Notts – Diocese launching own corporate savings scheme and relaunching 100 x 100 scheme
Worcester – the Diocese is opening a corporate account with Castle & Crystal CU

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Educating Muslims

If you were to believe the myopic mainstream media (and, let's face it, most people do), Michael Gove's free school programme is spawning a wave of taxpayer-funded madrasahs, each one covertly indoctrinating the next generation of murderous Islamists by inculcating a hatred of British history, culture and Christian traditions through 'creeping sharia'. These schools are a manifest hindrance to social cohesion, pose an existential threat to our peace and security, and constitute a menace to liberal democracy itself.

As Exhibit A, they hold up the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, where female non-Muslim staff  are obliged to dress 'decently', which apparently includes wearing a hijab. No staff or students - whatever their beliefs - may eat 'non-halal' (ie haram) foodstuffs; girls are forced to sit at the back of the class behind the socially superior boys (and they are segregated for lunch as well); staff do not appear to be required to undertake DBS (CRB) checks; and in lessons all "sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous material with be censored or removed completely. If and when teachers are required by the curriculum to convey teachings that are totally against Islam, the Director of Islamic Studies will brief the relevant teachers and advise accordingly".

They define 'against Islam' as 'Darwinism'.

This school, its critics aver, is a law unto itself, and the law is most concerningly that of Allah. This has no place in the state system of education, and has caused even reasoned and intelligent politicians like Labour's Tom Harris MP to come out against faith-based education altogether. Yes, just because of one failing Muslim school in 3,500 state secondary schools, Mr Harris advocates closing all Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish voluntary aided or voluntary controlled schools as well, just in case one of them were to become subversively cultic and coercively authoritarian.  

Two points are worth making. Firstly, for Christians, all people are our neighbour and we are commanded to love them, and that includes Muslims. A school is not some utilitarian instrument for the manufacture of cyborgs for the amelioration of the state's GDP: it is a community of people - each one of whom has feelings, hurts and needs - concerned with the development of future mothers, fathers, employees and benevolent citizens. The closure of the Al-Madinah school inflicts suffering upon the children whose education is being disrupted, and worry upon hundreds of parents as they look anxiously around for alternatives. The Christian response should be one of understanding and compassion, not scorn and judgment. 

Secondly, Conservatives believe in the inalienable right of parents to be the primary educators of their children. We tend to respect the rights to freedom of belief and to education in accordance with that belief where it coheres with the common good, the advancement of enlightenment and the development of social wellbeing. Conservatives acknowledge and understand the desire of parents to bring up their children within a framework of belief, and support the state (ie publicly funded schools) where the instilling of religious faith and a moral worldview is a virtue in itself. Conservatives ought not to favour the abolition of state-funded faith schools, and certainly not with any appeal to Article 2 of the Human Rights Act. That countries such as France and the United States have secular state education is immaterial: our history, traditions, institutions and democratic development are different.

It is the Socialist instinct to destroy the ethos of faith schools and force them to conform to a simplistic, illiberal and ultimately totalitarian politically-correct ‘equality’ agenda which has no space for the religious conscience. Secular bodies are increasingly interfering in the admissions policies of faith schools, thereby presuming to discern who does and does not subscribe to a particular basis of faith. If these schools no longer have the power to select children on religious grounds, it is difficult to discern how their distinct ethos can be maintained.

Schools and colleges have to cope with increasing ‘social engineering’ legislation which seeks to impose secular values on their distinct curriculum and ethos. Michael Gove understands this, and is broadening the tolerance of the state that was so constrained by New Labour. All that faith-based schools wish to do is educate children in accordance with their worldview - placing God at the centre of the formative process, teaching morals and spiritual values, with (for example) purity outside of marriage and fidelity within, providing a framework of discipline, imparting respect and tolerance, instilling obedience to scripture and to orthodoxy.

One failing Muslim school does not undermine the case for fundamental religious liberty in education. Conservatives do not want to go down a route of secular reasoning, the logical consequence of which would be the closure of all church schools. Remember the words of Labour's Barry Sheerman MP, who revealingly once observed: “It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all.”

You may object to taxpayers' money funding the Al-Madinah school, but the alternative would be to drive this and other such schools into the private sector. It would then be beyond the reach of summary Ofsted inspection, free to impose its own unscrutinised curriculum, and would be vastly more unaccountable than any maintained academy or free school. Don't be persuaded by crass journalism and superficial reporting that the manifest failures of one Muslim school are somehow representative of all Muslim schools; or that the cultic practices of one faith school somehow justify the total separation of religion and education. They do not.

Monday, October 14, 2013

“Where do you find God in the House of Commons?”

In answer to this question, the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin, responded:
“We have an amazing chapel in Parliament called the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, which is the base from which I lead worship, so to speak – two Eucharistic services each week there. But, you know, I think I find God in people: in Members, in staff who are living the Faith, because in a sense the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is a “house”, but God isn’t locked up there, you know. At the end of each Eucharistic prayer, we say, “Send us out into the world.” And so I see Members and staff all trying – those of faith – trying to work out their faith in their parties; in various policies; in living. And I think I can identify, recognise God in them.

"Being here, you actually get to see a completely different side to what the press tries to sell you about MPs. So, for example, we’ve just had the summer. And you hear the press, or you read in the press, O, you know, they’re on this long holiday. No, most of them would probably have two weeks out of the summer. They are mostly in their constituencies. I see MPs who are working very, very hard. I really do. Sometimes to the detriment of their families, too. The face that I see are people who genuinely entered Parliament because they wanted to make a difference. And I think the press very often sometimes treats them like celebrity and then knocks them over or hounds them in a way that can be quite harmful to the soul. And I really would like sometimes for the press – the people behind those stories – to step back and think about the human in terms of what they’re doing.
That's nice.

But His Grace would simply like to point out that some of these Members create and nurture their own cults of celebrity, and they thoroughly deserve knocking over and hounding for their lies, deceit, hypocrisy, and the contempt they sometimes show for the people they purport to represent and the Faith they claim to profess.

Not all, of course. But no doubt when Parliament once again controls the press through the proposed Royal Charter, we can expect lots of stories of how righteous, virtuous and industrious our MPs really are.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Feminists fight like girls when it comes to sex-selective abortion

From Brother Ivo:

Let us not kid one another. Although the approach of the DPP toward sex-selective abortion is equally applicable to boys or girls - and to the gay or transgendered too, in the unlikely event of a genetic component being identified - the vast majority of the children butchered and sent down the sluice will be little girls.

There may be a handful of radical feminists who would reject a male child, but it is the values of several significant ethnic or religiously-defined cultures which will be driving the decisions of the majority of those seeking sex-selected terminations, and within those cultures, the girl child is regarded as of distinctly lesser value.

Under such value systems, girls need not be educated; they need to be covered; they present a constant threat to one's honour by their weakness, ignorance, or loose morals; and they cost more than boys because you have to pay a dowry to get them off your hands. Who needs a fourth?

Could there be anything more offensive to Feminism? Is there anything that confronts its declared assertion of indistinguishable existential equality greater than the notion that a child's potential may be calmly snuffed out as soon as the female sex is discovered, for it affronts one's expectation?

By making sex-selective abortion routinely possible, the decision will make mothers within male-dominated communities more vulnerable to male bullying, and less empowered to protect the baby toward whom they may harbour perfectly ordinary maternal feelings and acceptance. That, however, is not enough: such mothers live within cultures which are alien and impenetrable to the progressive mind which gave rise to Feminism. Those cultures are antithetical to its ideals, yet our feminists seem content to make common cause with their ideological opponents.

Brother Ivo has had the benefit of a wide and varied circle of friends and associates from which he has learnt much. He vividly recalls a friend from one of those communities as he patiently explained that those outside his culture can never fully appreciate the power structure. He explained that even he, a professional of 40 years, a sophisticated British-educated man of independent means, was utterly unable to act against the will of his father and that would remain the case until his father died. That is a real Patriarchy.

Only when the power of that cultural influence is understood does the full impact of the DPP's misjudgement come into focus, and with it the appalling betrayal of their cause by the silence of British feminists.

Within the communities where sex selection will largely take place, an assertion of "the woman's right to choose" is, frankly, risible. Those who cannot choose what they wear, where they go, what they believe, or whom they may meet or even marry, are not going to afforded the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies. A significant number could testify to this by referring to their own genital mutilation - another instance where the DPP and Britain's progressives have signally failed to use the law and to apply it to the protection of the truly vulnerable.

What we shall have is pressure on mothers applied deep within these communities. Physical abuse may occur, but its implied threat will probably be enough. The mere contemplation of the consequences of non-compliance may induce enough stress to meet whatever criteria may be prescribed as sufficient, be they devised by the DPP or the BMA.

Regardless of how high the bar may be set, one may be assured that some, within such communities or outside, will always be happy to sign away lives in return for a ready supply of patients seeking the service.

The women will not come as confident or free-minded, but as supplicants to a second patriarchal system, for most of the doctors benefitting and judging will be men. Their say so is needed, but the process will have started with the husbands, fathers and other male members of the community who set these standards.

This, we are to believe, 'empowers' women.

Those who protest the inequalities within the House of Bishops, those who are affronted by Miss World contests or all-male Morris Dancing sides, have become supine and contemptible on this issue. Where is their outrage at this casual downgrading of equality? Where is their assertion of sisterly support to mothers and girl children alike? Who amongst them is saying that these value judgments are simply offensive to our Western notions of equality?

When those of the mindset of the Taliban reflect upon this and hear Britain's feminists agreeing that femaleness can indeed be regarded as reasonably inducing emotional angst and mental illness, they surely will welcome the support of such women who are now explicitly agreeing with them that femaleness in a child can be distasteful, disappointing, an unnecessary drain on the family, and so best avoided.

This is utterly intellectually absurd, but it will keep the real misogynists happy.

British feminists may talk a good fight - but when it comes down to it, they fight like girls.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of Lawyers

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Malala Yousafzai didn't need to win Nobel Peace Prize

And this video shows why (though she would undoubtedly have been a more worthy Nobel laureate than some recent recipients - like Al Gore, Barack Obama and the European Union).

In the West, Malala's words about hitting a Taliban assassin with her shoe would be interpreted as a (rather hysterical) act of self defence, hence the laughter of the audience. In Islam, however, showing the sole of your shoe or throwing a shoe at someone is a sign of great disrespect, as President George W Bush once discovered. In that religio-cultural context, Malala is declaring that she would let the Taliban know that she did not disrespect them before they proceeded to kill her.

There is, in that remarkable gesture, more than a hint of "forgive them, for they know not what they do".

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
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