Archive for March, 2014

Clergy should defy Church’s ‘morally outrageous’ gay marriage ban, says bishop

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

By John Bingham, Telegraph

Gay clergy should follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage, a prominent bishop has said as the most radical change ever made to the legal definition of marriage in Britain comes into force.

The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, said priests should be “creative” to get around restrictions on blessings for same-sex couples and that gay clergy who wish to marry should do so in defiance of the official line.

He also claimed that several current serving bishops are themselves in gay partnerships, and urged them to publicly acknowledge their status for the sake of “honesty and truthfulness” and even consider marrying.

Joined by an alliance of seven retired bishops, he condemned the Church’s position on gay marriage as “morally outrageous” and said it made him “ashamed”.

His outspoken intervention comes as the Church braces itself for rebellion from some gay priests but pressure from overseas not to soften its stance or risk breaking up an 80 million-strong global church.

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Dismantling traditional marriage: a regressive step for society

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

By Andrea Minichiello Williams

 

Continuous attack over five decades has left marriage as little more than a bombed-out shell, says the Chief Executive of Christian Concern, Andrea Williams, on the eve of the first legalised same-sex ‘weddings’ taking place in the UK.

 

“The label remains but the substance has gone . God’s blueprint for marriage and family has been ripped up by our society and every day we see and feel all around us, the huge emotional, economic and spiritual pain that results,” says Andrea.

 

She says the first same-sex ‘weddings’ which will take place from midnight onwards are just another step along a familiar path.

 

“Five decades of campaigning by the enemies of the nuclear family has obliterated marriage. The dismantling and destruction of marriage between one man and one woman for life, has produced a State marriage which is a mirage – an illusory reflection of the real thing.”

 

Andrea, who is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England, says the expectation of costly commitment and the recognition of the unique contribution of male and female to the upbringing of children have all gone.

 

“This is yet another regressive step and we see the pain of family and relational breakdown all around us.”

 

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How the Bible has shaped the West

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Lord SacksBy Michael Cook, MercatorNet

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks detects seven key ideas in Judaeo-Christian culture which explain why the West is unique.

 

One of the most interesting minds in Britain today is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom. A philosopher and public intellectual as well as a scholar of Judaism, he was recently appointed Professor of Law, Ethics & the Bible at King’s College London.

 

His inaugural lecture dealt with the relevance of the Bible for law and ethics in society today. Speaking to a packed lecture theatre, Lord Sacks highlighted seven propositions drawn from Biblical ethics which help to understand why the West developed market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society.

 

‘The historian Niall Ferguson quotes the verdict of a member of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, tasked with finding an explanation for why the West overtook China in the sixteenth century and went on to industrial and scientific greatness. At first, he said, we thought it was because you had better guns than we had. Then we thought it was your political system. Next we thought it was your economic system. But for the past twenty years we have had no doubt: it was your religion.’

 

The first three characteristics he identified were: human dignity; freedom and responsibility; and the sanctity of life – a central principle because human beings are in the image of God, therefore human life human life itself is sacred.

 

Citing American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, Lord Sacks said the fourth aspect was the concept of guilt as opposed to shame. Articulating the difference between a guilt culture and shame culture, he drew on Sir Bernard Williams’ observation that shame cultures are visual cultures; whereas a guilt culture is a hearing culture. Giving the example of the story of Adam and Eve, he said:

 

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Aborted babies are being used to heat UK hospitals. This is the culture of death

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

 

By Tim Stanley, Telegraph

 

Abortion stories read like dispatches from the frontline of a war. The Telegraph reports:

 

The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found. Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.

 

That’s right – institutions created to protect life are being fuelled by burning the remains of the dead. Some bureaucrat somewhere obviously regarded this as “efficient recycling”. It’s more akin to cannibalism.

 

We pride ourselves in the West on being more civilized that the rest. We have a free press, jury trials, human rights and relative peace. And our TV screens are filled with images of brutality in the developing world that reinforce our sense of superiority. I’ve just finish reading Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, Jason Stearn’s account of the Congo wars that depicts savagery committed wantonly and in the open. Its crimes are visceral – “something foreigners do”, not us.

 

But what we actually do in Europe and America is to tuck our social evils away into spaces that we can’t see. Elderly homes full of neglect, children’s homes where unspeakable things occur, and medical facilities in which patients are abandoned or abused with the catch-all excuse of underfunding or targets that override the priority of human compassion. The latest story, of light bulbs lit by human remains, is the purest example of the banality of evil, because it is the kind of evil that is motivated by the desire to keep things quiet and tidy. Consider this:

 

One of the country’s leading hospitals, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks gestation at their own ‘waste to energy’ plant. The mothers were told the remains had been ‘cremated.’

 

“You Can’t Judge Me”

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

In an age where relativism and subjectivism reign, and moral absolutes and universal truths are deplored and denied, then the greatest evil becomes “judgmentalism” and “intolerance”. If there are no objective moral absolutes, then to make a moral judgment is seen as the height of intolerance and bigotry.

And if there are no ultimate truths, then to make any claim with certainty is to be guilty of the sin of arrogance and narrow-mindedness. But by now any rational and logical reader should be asking a few questions. That is because it is quite apparent that those relativists who are claiming there are no absolutes are of course making absolute claims.

judge 1They are absolutely sure that there are no such things as absolutes. And they will get really upset with you if you disagree! Indeed, if you dare to question the conventional wisdom on anything – be it global warming or homosexuality – all hell will break loose as you are accused of ugly judgmentalism and hate-filled bigotry.

Yet when the other side trots out their angry agendas and biased beliefs, this is not hateful or intolerant. Go figure. And of course the side that screams the most about tolerance and acceptance and diversity is in fact the side that is most intolerant, un-accepting, and opposed to real diversity.

No wonder the usual response to anything we say is a tsunami of hate, name-calling and mud-slinging. I have actually started saving all the hate-mail I get, and it could easily be turned into a rather interesting book. Hardly a day goes by when I am not subjected to a barrage of hate, bile and abuse – all in the name of tolerance of course.

Let me just offer a few examples that have come in during the past few days:

“Since you’re too scared to email me directly, why don’t you follow on from Fred Phelps and just die? It would be so much easier for both of us. Rest assured, so long as you peddle your abuse I will expose you.”

“You sick little puppy, Bill – you’re no longer a threat. you do a public service – you gather the weirdos and the freaks and the nastiest people ever to your website. Bill, most people think of you as a freak and when they think more they realise how horrible and nasty and pointless you are. Seriously, you and all who are delude like you, there is a special place in hell reserved for you.”

“Christianity is a cult, and they belong in jail for breaking the law.”

So that is the intellectual climate we now find ourselves in. It is of course to be expected from angry atheists and hot-headed homosexuals. But so pervasive is this contaminated climate that the church has taken on board far too much of this.

Many Christians today are so conned by political correctness and the spirit of the age that they buy wholesale the foolishness about not judging anyone and not criticising anything. I constantly get misguided believers assuring me that I am a lousy Christian because I am “judgmental” and “narrow-minded”.

When I seek to explain to these biblically illiterate Christians that of course we are to judge, they will get very defensive and uptight. This is especially the case if they have issues in their own lives that need attention. “You can’t judge me!” they will shout. “Who are you to judge me?”

But if they are at all open to biblical realism, you can remind them of some home truths here. We are told throughout the New Testament to judge, to test, to discern, to assess, to rebuke, to hold one another to account, to make moral distinctions, and to pronounce judgment when and where it is due.

If they do concede any of this, they will likely still carry on with strict reservations: “Well, maybe we can judge things or ideas, but we are never to judge people”. Oh yeah? Sez who? Have these folks actually even read their Bibles? There we find people are being judged all the time.

The truth is, it is pretty hard to separate what a person does or says from who he is. A person who steals is called a thief. A person who lies is called a liar. Sure, the behaviour is sinful and must stop, but the person doing the sin is of course inseparable from the actions.

Thus Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul does not just judge the activity, such as sexual immorality, but clearly judges the person doing it, such as the sexually immoral. They of necessity go together. And earlier in this epistle Paul specifically targets individuals for judgment, not just their actions.

In 5:1-5 we read, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

Paul does not just judge this horrible sin of incest; he judges the individual doing it. Of course he had to deal specifically with this sinner in the Corinthian congregation. And they should have as well. And in 6:1-5 we find Paul saying this:

“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?”

What a clarion call for believers to exercise discernment, make moral judgments, and engage in vitally important church discipline. All this is a lost art in most churches today. And Paul can be even more direct in his approach. Consider how he publicly rebuked Peter, as we read about in Galatians 2:11-14:

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’”

‘Oh, but Jesus would never do that’ some of these invertebrate believers will claim. Poor Peter knows how bogus this is. Remember the episode as found in Matthew 16 where Peter rebukes Jesus and says he will not be killed. What does Jesus say in reply in v. 23? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

As I say, the secular world has declared moral pronouncements and truth claims to be anathema. Of course they would. But why in the world should the church of Jesus Christ follow suit? We are called at all times to stand for truth – privately and publicly.

And we are also to make moral pronouncements and judgments. Failure to do so means we are refusing to act as Jesus instructed us to act. Sure, we must do all such things in a prayerful, careful and timely fashion. And we must stay on our knees in an attitude of humility, aware of our own vulnerability.

But our refusal to make moral pronouncements and stand for truth is a damning indictment on a church which has lost its way, and has blindly succumbed to the ungodly world around it. No wonder we are so ineffective, and making no real difference in the world.

Women’s ordained ministry has not stemmed CofE decline

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

 

In Westminster Hall this week the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP led a short debate on the role and contribution of women to the ordained ministry of the Church of England. The debate celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first women as priests in the CofE and looked ahead, both to the ongoing process to legislate for female bishops, as well as enabling them to sit in the House of Lords without delay.

Sir Tony Baldry MP responded in his capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and contributions were made by Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Helen Goodman MP. The Equalities Minister Helen Grant MP was also present to hear the speeches. Sir Tony’s speech is reproduced in full below:

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) for initiating the debate and providing the House with an opportunity to celebrate the contribution over the past 20 years of ordained women clergy to the Church of England. I also thank her for providing me with an opportunity to advise the House on where the Church of England now stands in respect of women bishops, which I shall do later. We are all grateful for the presence and support during the debate of the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant).

Sir Peter Bottomley: If you will allow me, Mrs Brooke, I wish to apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. I meant to rise to catch your eye after she had, and I apologise for jumping up when I did. If she had spoken, three men and three women would have spoken in the debate, which would have been the perfect balance.

Sir Tony Baldry: That is a timely intervention. For anyone reading the debate in Hansard, I should explain that, although I am effectively responding to the debate, I am not a member of the Government. I am by statute appointed by the Crown as Second Church Estates Commissioner, so I am accountable neither to the Government nor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, as the Bishop of London pointed out to me shortly after I was appointed, I am, like the Dean of Westminster, accountable only to God and the Queen—that is how he put it. This is not a ministerial response, then, but one I make in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was absolutely right to say that the ordination of women has unleashed an appetite in other women to come forward for ordination. She was also right to set out some of the many qualitative contributions that women have made to ordained ministry and, indeed, the pivotal role of many women clergy. We were also fortunate this afternoon to have heard some excellent and helpful speeches from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), all of whom are members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the Committee of both Houses that considers Church of England measures when they come to Parliament—as indeed is my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden.

The right hon. Member for Exeter was absolutely right in making clear the urgency and effectiveness with which the Archbishop of Canterbury grasped the issue of making progress towards sorting out the General Synod on the issue of women bishops after its very unhappy vote. The Archbishop clearly recognised that there was a need to get a grip on that issue and get a grip he did.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is going back to Exeter this weekend, and I hope he takes back the good news from yesterday’s Budget that, between all of us, we were able to secure from the Chancellor £20 million towards repair of cathedrals. If I may say so, that indicates that the Church of England is taken seriously by Government. There is a recognition that it is sometimes difficult to raise money to repair the electrics, or the roof or guttering. That fund is meant to be put towards such problems and will be welcome news, I hope, to cathedral cities such as Exeter.

Mr Bradshaw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his letter outlining the details of that fund—it was in my postbag this morning. I congratulate him on the successful lobbying he has clearly conducted with the Government to deliver that support.

Sir Tony Baldry: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments. It was a team effort. We also have to thank Lord Cormack in the other place, who brought all the deans together, who then made their views known to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). In due course, he made his views known to the Treasury. It was a good example, as so often happens in this place, of the House working across parties consensually and collaboratively to secure a result that we all wanted to see.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, who is the church warden of St Margaret’s, was absolutely right in his comments that we all now see women priests as normal and natural, and that we all hope to see a situation in which women as bishops will equally be seen as normal and natural.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, who has been a great supporter of women in the Church, appropriately made the point that the best realisation of the hopes of all those who had supported the ordination of women priests, way back when she had done so in the 1980s and earlier, is the work that women priests are now doing in our parishes.

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Bishops’ Speak and The Pilling Report

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

 

By Bishop Wallace Benn         

No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” 1 Corinthians 11:19
“No Church can live in integrity if it proclaims loyalty to Scripture, but then ignores Scripture when faced with new proposals for her life “ – Bishop Keith Sinclair (page 158)
“While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture…cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions” (Lambeth ’98 Section 1:10)

On Monday 27th January the College of Bishops of the Church of England met to consider the Pilling Report on human sexuality, issued in November 2013. The subsequent statement has been widely anticipated, like the Report itself, and many hoped that the Bishops would use the opportunity to seriously question the assumptions and the more controversial recommendations of the Pilling Report. They did at least openly acknowledge the deep division among them, and express their commitment to “seeking good disagreement” (this seems to imply that we can agree to disagree about God’s revealed truth, which we cannot do). In the light of their statement it seems both hard to understand why they troubled to meet and that it was an opportunity missed.
Despite paying lip service “in seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures and the tradition of the church”, a phrase that will be sincerely meant by a number of the bishops, it needs to be understood that this phrase comes from the Report itself which is anything but faithful to the Scriptures as we shall see. The bishops accept the suggestion of Pilling for a period of “facilitated conversations” in the Church and seem to accept the disastrous basis on which Pilling suggests these, but also requests the Archbishops to commission a small group “to design a process for these conversations and additional materials to support and enable them” to be approved by May this year. What this group decides is crucial, as will be how individual bishops handle these conversations in their respective dioceses. In the meantime, until after these facilitated conversations take place the Archbishops have stated that “the Pilling Report is not a new policy statement from the Church of England and we are clear that the Church of England’s pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged”. We need to be vigilant about how this might change afterwards!
What then is wrong with the Pilling Report that we should resist the direction it advocates?