Tag Archives: Christianity

B&B case: thoughts on the bigger things

The commentary on the gay/christian thing has been done elsewhere. Instead, here are some thoughts on the bigger issues over at my other blog

These boots were made for walking

It’s been a while since I posted here. I’m writing this from the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. By chance, they’re discussing pilgrimage (not going down v  well with some of my fellow tweeters!).

I have to say the General Synod discussion has lost my interest, but the discussion is still a bit of a coincidence, because I’m in the early stages of planning a pilgrimage of my own.

Why go on a pilgrimage? Something to do with connecting the journey of faith to the journey of life in a physical way. I won’t develop that further quite yet. But I’m going to post a few wee ideas, plans and reflections on journey and pilgrimage generally, and on my own particular expression of it over the next wee while.

Are you a traveller: spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually? Maybe you’d like to share with me. Do you have ideas to share: places to go, ways and means, preparations and resources for the way? Please do get in touch.

The Equality Bill: mountain or molehill?

The Equality Bill 2009 aims to simplify and modernise UK anti – discrimination legislation. If passed, it will roll up the rules on a broad range of circumstances, currently covered by diverse legislation, into one Act. If it’s done well (which these exercises often aren’t), it’ll be handy for us lawyers.

Over the last month or so there’s been a renewed rumble of concern from within the faith community. What’s the problem? Well, bluntly, it looks like folks are worried that if the Bill is passed as it stands it will undermine the rights of Christian (and other faith) organisations to require that employees share their religious convictions.

The move has been described as a “bid from the marching band of parliamentary secularists to drive religion from the public sphere” by some, whilst one minister in the Equalities Office has admitted churches should be “lining up their lawyers”. So much for balanced discussion.

Much of the media hype around the Equality Bill focuses on concern about restrictions over  the selection criteria religious bodies can impose when recruiting employees. It seems to be being suggested that this will be the first time significant constraints will have been introduced. In fact, however, for the most part the Bill restates principles already in operation in the UK allowing religious organisations to place restrictions on those whom they employ or desist from employing, on grounds of religious conviction.

Under the The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, an employer can restrict applications for a job if they can show that a religious belief is a “genuine occupational requirement” of a role – i.e. that one needs to be of that faith to carry out the actual duties required by the individual position. They must also have regard to  “proportionality” – i.e. the extent to which that is the case. The effect is that for a job to be protected, faith must be central to the particular duties required for its fulfillment. It’s easy to ensure the job description of a minister is safeguarded, but harder to justify the position for, for example, a church office administrator.

Under the proposed legislation, it would remain the case that organisations could, on grounds of religion, continue to impose restrictions, for example on employing those who don’t share their faith, or on employing women.

So what’s the problem? The Christian Institute in one of a number of concerned bodies. It has (to its credit) taken advice from a QC. The matter of greatest concern relates to the wording of the part of the Bill intended to protect individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is feared that in proposing new, enhanced protection for individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Bill may erode a church’s freedom not to employ someone on those grounds.

Under the proposed wording of paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9, the Bill, if passed, will prevent churches from refusing to employ someone on grounds of sexual orientation unless the job in question “wholly or mainly” involves leading worship or teaching doctrine. Churches fear that, for example, were a minister to be asked to leave their post because they were in a gay sexual relationship, then unless the church could show that at least 51% of their time was spent in conducting worship or teaching doctrine, they would be prevented from dismissing him, or from refusing to hire him in the first place.

However, what most people seem to miss is that because religious employers already benefit from protection similar to that under the 2003 Regulations, this would only ever arise in a very small subset of situations. The nub of the issue is a very short point indeed: that a religious body might be prevented from refusing employment to a professing member of their religion solely on the basis of sexual orientation or conduct, unless that person’s main job was to lead worship or teach doctrine.

Viewed in that light, perhaps the sting is taken out of the religious campaigners’ tail?

What I will say is this. Having spent hours getting my head around a long and very complicated Bill, I can vouch for one thing: it is not straight forward. Therefore it is understandable that there are misleading rumours making the rounds. In my view, those on all sides would be well advised to be rather cautious about jumping in at the deep end before ensuring they understand the nature and extent of the issues involved. Maybe I’m dismissing the rumpus too hastily…perhaps this is all, indeed, all very worrying and I have myself misunderstood the legislation – in which case I hope you’ll correct me. As an evangelical christian I am, as you might expect, interested to preserve my freedom to exercise my faith, and my church’s freedom to employ only those who share it. That said, I remain unconvinced that this Act is a serious threat to that. If you think differently, I’d be interested to read why. Comments welcome.

Epiphany: a process

Once Hogmanay is over (or, depending on your “bah, humbug” factor, maybe even earlier), the celebration of Christmas easily starts to feel dead and buried.

However, fellow-sufferers of the “January blues” may care to join me in reflecting instead on Epiphany, in which some solace is to be found. Although it’s primarily marked on 6th January, it goes goes on being celebrated in the Anglican church’s calender for 4 Sundays.

Epiphany translates, roughly, as “revealing”. It’s about God revealing himself to us, and at this time of year we’re encouraged to reflect on the way in which Jesus’ coming heralded salvation for “outsiders” as well as Jews. We remember how the Magi recognised, gave gifts to and worshipped the Christ child.

What, though, was their experience like? Not a “moment” I think. Rather, in their story we see God’s revelation to humans as a journey.

Matthew (chapter 2) recounts that wise men travelled to Jerusalem having seen a bright star. These were Magi: learned advisors, men to whom others looked for guidance, wisdom and discernment. On Jesus’ birth, they looked into the sky and saw something extraordinary: a star that wasn’t normally there, which didn’t fit the map of the skies they knew.  Perhaps they knew something of Jewish culture, that a Messiah was predicted to come. Maybe they had even read Jewish scripture and had it suggested that a star would star signalling his arrival. But these were Gentile men, not Jews. Even if they knew what the Jews believed, why would they take off on a journey to search out a God who wasn’t theirs?

We don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it something pretty powerful must have  motivated men to leave their homes and travel at short notice to Jerusalem. Think about it – setting out on a journey because you saw a star?!  The story goes even further. Not only did they make a physical pilgrimage, but somehow, somewhere along the way they became convinced that what they were seeking was something with more than physical significance. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they said. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  They wanted to worship. Their journey had became spiritual.

The Magi who arrive in Jerusalem are changed people; not men who changed themselves, for there is no suggestion they had become, or sought to become, Jews. Rather, they are a people who have been changed. They are thirsty for God – a God who seems already to have revealed something of himself to them, and who invites them to follow his lead. So they continue to seek after him, following the unlikely leading of a star, and in time, after yet more journeying, they find him. A defenseless baby.

In Jesus, God is revealed. In the most unlikely form, in the most unlikely place, by the most unlikely means. Their epiphany – and maybe ours – is not only a moment, but rather it is also a mysterious, time consuming, captivating process.

Trudging through the January blues, let’s remember that we journey with God, and that as we follow his lead, he shows up where we least expect to find him.

Jesus killed my political apathy

Politics. The mere presence of the header was enough. My right forefinger twitched: “click”. Previous page, please. I don’t want to read political garbage. Life’s too short. I’m not interested in stupid games.

That’s how I used to approach things: apathetic.

It’s not that I didn’t care about the world: homelessness, poverty, famine, the environment, war. But  these are huge, complex problems, aren’t they? I doubted they could be solved. I doubted that politicians could see beyond their personal career aspirations to want to solve them. Therefore engaging with politics seemed pointless. I was busy enough, after all, taking care of my own happiness: building a career, financial security and success. Other people and “bigger” issues came second.

Perhaps that sounds callous. Or maybe you and I have a common thread of experience.

Now fast forward 3 years. It’s 2010.

Things have changed – or at least have started changing. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t excitedly leap out of bed each morning to scour the headlines for the latest political heist, and I don’t much care about whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron is having the better week. Nevertheless, issues that politicians get involved in catch my attention now. Why?

My faith has started to have an impact on this part, as on other parts, of my life. There are over 8000 verses in the New Testament. At least 718 of them deal with issues of poverty and justice. That’s nearly 10% of the whole thing, and the proportion is similar when you include Old Testament references. Jesus is recorded as talking about these issues at on at least 290 different occasions (The Poverty and Justice Bible). Perhaps, then, it’s unsurprising that as I read more about God’s plan for the world, what he’s doing in it, I find myself challenged to get involved.

Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

That’s what Jesus did – not by becoming an MP or a high flying executive, but instead by understanding the political world around him and then engaging it in God’s way, on God’s terms. His actions were both profoundly political and profoundly simple. He got stuck right in, loving people without compromise and refusing to allow love’s expression to be limited by state politics. It was a love so radical as to see him tortured and killed.

As I look at pictures of the injured and bereaved of Haiti, I don’t know what to do to help.  I’m disappointed with myself for my lack of knowledge of these peoples’ plight; with my lack of concern about how they might be helped; for my lack of knowledge about the political system of which I’m a part. I’m frustrated: as I read of responses by governments and charities, the power of nations like the USA and the UK over Haiti is obvious, and though there’s huge potential to help, there are even bigger questions about how best to do so, and a huge risk of entrapment for the Haitians of the future if the wrong approach is adopted.

Do we really know the best ways to go about helping Haiti in the long term? Of seeing the Haitians liberated?  And do we honestly desire to identify them? Naomi Klein spells out the dangers. Bill Quigley suggests positive actions.

I have no idea exactly how the biblical principles I believe should be worked out in the world in this instance. Politics are so complicated. Thank God for the aid agencies working round the clock to bring relief, for the people who have chosen to give sacrificially of themselves to help.

Even while I’m so aware of my inadequacy, though, I see that something has changed in me. I thank God that he gives me a desire, nowadays, to love others: that I am affected by these events in a way I never was “before”, so that thoughts translate into action. I thank him that he loves the people of Haiti as he loves me, and that we have an opportunity to see positive change start as the Hatian people, over the enxt months and years, begin to rebuild.

So here’s my resolve: to get informed, at least a little, and take an interest, armed with what little knowledge I glean, in the actions of my state and of NGO’s. Which means that even I, the most apathetic non-politician I ever knew, am going to have to engage.

How about you?

An American messed with my head…

Shane Claiborne’s first book, The Irresistible Revolution, messed with my head. I don’t agree with his every word, but this man talks a lot of sense about faith. Here’s a letter he wrote at the invitation of Esquire magazine, to people who don’t share his faith: Letter to Unbelievers.

What’s wrong with church? Have your say in OU Christianity survey

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“Would you call yourself a Christian? You’re not alone. In the 2001 Census, 71.6% of people in the UK described themselves as Christians, but only about 15% of these said they belonged to, or were active members of, a church.

So, what does it mean to be a Christian without a church? What exactly do people mean nowadays when they describe themselves as Christian?” (www.open2.net)

The Open University is carrying out an anonymous online survey to gather views. They especially want to hear from you if you don’t go to church. Share your views, and learn about other people’s, here.

As a “nosey parker” bonus (!), once you’ve completed it you can view snapshot analyses of the responses so far…

The survey ties into a BBC series called the History of Christianity, kicking off at 9pm tonight.