Sunday, 23 February 2014

Meddling Bishops or Freedom of Expression?

I have to say that it was so encouraging to hear Church Leaders speaking out against poverty and, in particular, Government and media attacks on the poor. I don’t intend to get involved in that particular debate here. I fully endorse the comments of Giles Fraser in his Guardian comment –

But this also raised a more fundamental issue. Should Church leaders ‘meddle’ in these matters and should the media give them a platform?

On the BBC’s  Big Question, Evan Harris of the National Secular Society asked why Bishops should have that platform just because of their religion. Although, presumably he was on the programme because of his non religious views.

But it is a fair question and I would actually agree with him, in part.

I certainly do not think that Church leaders should have a privileged position solely on the basis that we are a Christian nation or because Christianity is our state religion. I have said before that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. The bible neither mentions it nor even hints at it. We are culturally and religiously diverse society and long may that continue.

So where there is a genuine conflict of views about issues, is it acceptable for anybody to claim that they are right because of their religious beliefs? At the extreme end there was the recent outburst by UKIP Councillor that we were experiencing extreme weather because of gay marriage.

But what about those who claim the right to discriminate and that equality legislation attacks their beliefs. It as if some Christians feel that they are more equal than others.

But this does not mean that bishops should keep quiet. Poverty is an issue which concerns people across the religious and secular divide – and what a divisive word that is! So all of us, including bishops have the right to speak out. Their status might give them a wider audience but what is wrong with that?

If David Beckham spoke out against government policy it would make headlines. He may only be a sportsman but he has the right to be heard and the fact that he can reach a wide audience is not his fault! You should not be deprived of a right to free speech because you are too prominent.

The same applies to church leaders. Politics affects all of us. Poverty should offend all of us. So I for one congratulate them for standing up and the more people who listen, the better.

There may be a genuine debate about the continuing presence of bishops on the House of Lords. And I certainly question any right to preferential media access to promote a particular religious belief. But that is a discussion for another day.  

In the meantime let’s hear it for the Bishops – the louder the better…

Sunday, 16 February 2014

So am I a Christian or not?

Have you noticed that many Social Media sites, including Facebook, invite us to share our religious beliefs?

I have begun to struggle with what to put! In reality it should be the easiest question in the world. I was baptised at a font as a baby, I was baptised as a teenager by full immersion, I was confirmed in my forties – belt and braces or what? Just don’t ask me to be circumcised! I have been a Church of England Reader for 17 years.

So surely I should confidently say that I am Christian and get on with it.

So why is it a problem? It is because that particular badge has come to be associated with intolerance. When we were young we sang a song that included the line – “..and they’ll know we are Christians by our love..’ In some respects that has been replaced by – “..and they’ll know we are Christians by our disapproval..”

I’m not the only one who has hit this problem. The novelist Anne Rice announced a few years ago, that she was no longer able to call herself by this title. She posted on her Facebook page –

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen,"

There are so many ‘antis’ in there. I know what she means. How often do we encounter angry Christians complaining that they are under threat or even persecuted when what they have lost is political or social power that has more to do with Constantine than Jesus –

Many of these negative views are based on selected quotes from the bible. So Gay marriage is wrong because of some obscure verses in the book of Leviticus about priestly conduct or comments by St. Paul in the book of Romans about orgies; none of which were ever intended to have any application to a form of relationship that was completely unknown. Those same people would never go to the story of Joshua and say that we should massacre our enemies – men women and children (Joshua 8 v 24).

It is almost as if some Christians feel the need to decide who they dislike and then look for some biblical justification, often based on nothing more than word association.

So what are my ‘religious views’? Is religion the problem? Jesus did not mention anything about establishing a new religion. He did not say anything about going to heaven when you die if you ask him into your heart to be your own ‘personal saviour’. He didn’t say anyone was an abomination.

In fact when asked a direct question about what was needed to inherit eternal life, he talked about giving everything away to the poor.  He was far more concerned about the Kingdom. This was not something in the future but something for now. He told us to pray the words – ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth..’

He was interested in loving your neighbour, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others. He talked about a kingdom where the meek will inherit the earth, where the merciful will be shown mercy and where the peacemakers will be called children of God.  The only time he voiced disapproval was when he encountered hypocrisy, particularly from religious people.

He never ever said – ‘love the sinner hate the sin!!’, with all of the judgmentalism that that barbed comment contains.

That is the Jesus that I am proud to be identified with.

So am I a Christian or not?

It is of course only a badge. But is one that has become tarnished. Maybe under religious views I should simply put ‘none’ which is possible nearest the truth!