Category Archives: religion

Benedict… A Beginner looks at the Beginner’s Rule

The idea of a Rule of Life intrigues me. Why on earth do people follow St Benedict as well as the Gospel, over 1500 years on? Find out

Homophobia, religion and a radical alternative

Pink TriangleBBC News is debating an increase in homophobic violence on Britain’s streets. The story includes a comment by Michael Cashman MEP.

Cashman played one of TV’s first gay characters when he appeared as Colin in EastEnders in 1986. He’s quoted as saying that homophobia is being reinforced by faith schools:

“Within faith schools we are still getting a message of anaesthetised hatred – ‘we don’t hate these people but they’re not equal’. If that is said enough, it softens the brains of young people and that’s so dangerous.”

Religion makes the news for all the wrong reasons: sectarian violence; hatred; war; in-fighting about gender roles; arguments about the “correct” biblical view of sexuality. You name it, religion seems to have had an unhelpful influence on it.

If you’re reading this thinking “religion’s bad and wrong”, then: Shock! Horror! – I’m very tempted to agree. You can take your dead end Sunday mornings, doing your duty by turning up to a draughty old building while your heart deadens within you, and you can – well, you can do whatever you like with them. But… (there had to be a but, didn’t there?) I don’t believe that’s what  the christian faith is about.

So what is it about? Forget the rules. Forget the religion. My faith is grounded in a relationship with a person. A person who’s an example of how to live right. A role model who offers me a way into “a rich and satisfying life.” Someone who knows me – who really knows me – and who chooses to love me anyway. Someone who has the authority – and chooses to use it –  to forgive me my biggest mistakes. Someone who keeps on giving me second chances. Someone who frees me to get up, brush myself down, and try to do better next time.

The person in Jesus.

Christians get a lot of stuff wrong, and unfortunately having a faith doesn’t prevent that. I’d say, unscientifically, that Christians mess up at least as much as (and possibly more than) other people. But the stuff-ups are our doing. They represent what’s wrong with us, not something wrong with Jesus. They’re the reason we need Jesus in the first place.

And what does this Jesus guy have to say about homophobia? Easy. He tells me it’s simple: “Love others as well as you love yourself.”

Does this sound compatible with homophobia? No.

Does it sound compatible with loving and accepting people for who they are? Yes.

Does that mean everyone (me or anyone else) always gets it right? No.  But as I’ve said, our stuff-ups are our doing, something wrong with us, not something wrong with Jesus.

The idea that “anaesthetised hatred” might be taught to our young people in the name of faith schooling is both frightening and contrary to Jesus’ way. Hatred, anaesthetised or otherwise, must very clearly be off the educational menu. But are faith schools really to be singled out for any failures here?I’m not sure. OFSTED recently published its report on faith based schools, considering whether the Regulations governing their operation are fit for purpose. The report comments on how schools nurture citizenship and community involvement in their students. According to the report, faith schools seem to be succeeding in culturally relevant education of their students:

“The provision made by all the schools visited to develop their pupils’ spiritual, moral,social and cultural understanding was at least good [and schools desired to promote] their pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and to live successfully in modern Britain.”

It seems to me that the presence or otherwise of homophobic violence on our streets is far wider than one of the teaching in faith schools. We need to look wider. How do we as a country, a society, a local community and as individuals behave towards people who are “other”? And how do we teach our children to approach “otherness”? Other faiths, other nationalities, other ethnicities, other political views, other sexual orientations… Maybe our terribly trendy liberalism (“you can do what you like; I can do what I like; just don’t threaten my space and I’ll stay out of yours”) isn’t working.

Jesus once told a story about who we should consider to be our neighbours, called the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus scandalised his listeners by casting a Samaritan man, a social outcast, as hero. The Samaritan disregarded cultural norms to help a fellow traveller (who probably wouldn’t normally have accepted) while religious leaders and pillars of the community preferred to steer clear.

I think the message is simple. We need to engage, not to disengage, with things that challenge us. When I next come across something or someone that’s different to my little world, my challenge for myself is to answer question: “This is my neighbour. How can I love this person better?”. I invite you to join me.

Cool thing.

Journeys_May06_RBGC_RedSand2Now here’s a great idea.

At Faith Journeys some folks are ingathering information about people’s experience of the Christian faith – what’s influenced them (positively or negatively) both as children and as adults, and what turned them onto (or off) all things faith-related.

I love hearing other people’s stories. It never ceases to amaze me how different people are, and how diverse our different perceptions of God are.

The plan is to collect loads of people’s experiences and stories and share them (with permission of course).

I hope it might help us see what the contemporary experience of Christianity looks like, and how church in different forms “works” or doesn’t.

I’ve just joined up. The site’s in its infancy, so it’s more about giving than receiving for now, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Why not have a look..?

Call for comment: Gay Clergy

Since my previous post “biblical sexuality”, the General Assembly has considered the the issue of the appointment of a Church of Scotland minister who’s gay and living with his boyfriend to a parish in Aberdeen. They decided to allow the appointment to go ahead, as reported in the Times. They’ve also decided to have a period of consultation for 2 years before making a decision about whether in general the Church should agree to the ordination and appointment of openly gay ministers, reported in the Scotsman yesterday.

I’ve been following the news on this with interest, but also with regret. It may be predictable but it’s certainly sad that the debate has resulted in such polemic from both sides. I’d like to blog a bit more on the whole issue, but before I do I’d be interested in your views. 

If you’d like to, please leave me your comments.

God is back.

51mgL9sKssL._SL500_AA240_God thrives in the midst of healthy competition.  Arguments and stances against God can turn out to be some of the best adverts for him. In the UK, you only have to look at the media coverage generated by arguments by people like Dawkins and the London Buses campaign against God’s existence to see people who might never otherwise have stopped to think about it pause to consider what they really believe.  Meanwhile, in countries like as China, where Christianity is outlawed, despite persecution of Jesus’ followers there’s evidence of some of the most remarkable church growth seen anywhere.

In an article published in The Scotsman today John Micklethwait says that when the Economist, of which he’s the Editor, published God’s Obituary in its Millenium issue, its prediction of faith’s demise was misguided.  Now, he says, the message is that God is Back. He’s written a book explaining why.

Not only is God back, but he suggests that the more modern our society gets (and Economist-style, he harks back to arguments between David Hume and Adam Smith to substantiate his position), the more evident it becomes that as humans we are fundamentally theocentric. Rather than killing religion, democracy and markets, technology and reason are combining to make it stronger. The crux of the argument is this: modernity provides choice; choice gives rise not to increasing secularism but to pluralism; and where there’s pluralism we’re forced to make decisions. That goes for making decisions about our belief in God as much as anything else. There’s no such thing as not making a decision about it – arguably, a failure to decide for God implicity results in a decision against him. 

The good news for God, argues Micklethwait, is that we want to believe in him. Given a chance to believe, we’ll do so.  The election of President Obama, he suggests, will be a great sales appointment for God:

“Imagine you are a young accountant in Edinburgh or a young financier in Glasgow; the picture of Obama as a young, liberally minded metrosexual walking into a church in Chicago and finding some kind of meaning in his life is … powerful…

[Religion] is something that’s going to be around and is spreading and will affect politics and public life.”

I hope so.

Living it?

practice

A minister got up to do his sermon. He said ‘love one another’ and sat back down. Some were very annoyed at this while others were perhaps delighted. The next week he did the same thing. He said ‘love one another’ and sat back down. As before, some were annoyed and others were pleased. He repeated this performance week after week, until those who were angry before were now raging and even the ones who were previously happy were somewhat perplexed.

Eventually, one week, after the rather short sermon, a furious member of the congregation piped up. ‘what sort of joke is this!? week after week the same few words… what are you playing at!?’

The minister responded calmly. ‘when I see signs that we have really grasped what it means to love one another, we’ll move on.’

Thought provoking. How often can we really say we’re living this stuff we hear? Big challenge.

 Thanks to Asbo Jesus for the cartoon and JonBirch for the story.

Biblical Sexuality

stained_glass_cross_and_rainbow_op_800x6171Is the dispute about homosexuality which has followed the church for such a long time now, and been so divisive, about to rear its ugly head in the Church of Scotland?

There was an interesting article in The Times earlier this week – read it here.

Muriel Armstrong weighs into the debate in her editorial in Life & Work, the Church of Scotland Magazine:  

“What is clear to the lay-person is that not everything Biblical is Christ-like”.

Serious, thought provoking stuff. And here’s a big question for the Church to answer. It runs the risk, as controversial questions can’t help but do, of  falling foul of  responses that lack moderation and Christ-like-ness.

I’ll follow what happens with interest. What concerns me, perhaps more than whether the stance that’s taken agrees or disagrees with my own (not necessarily correct) view, is that the church should have a view and state it – compassionately, yes, but clearly. The approach taken by Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, in The Herald this week is that Life and Work is editorially independent and that:

“The Church does not have a particular view, and there are different views within the Church of Scotland”.

How then is the church to teach on this topic – which Christians are likely to be asked about and those considering Christianity are likely to probe?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for some hard line judgment. What we need is compassionate, intelligent, biblical conversation on this sensitive issue. When the matter’s addressed by the General Assembly next month, I really hope the Church of Scotland can take the opportunity wisely to steer the conversation.