Remembrance, Inclusion & Identity

by Lord Ian Blair of Broughton, cross bench peer, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner and parishioner in the Diocese of Oxford

Ian Blair

In this period of remembrance, I have been reflecting on the time-limited nature of memory. I was born after World War II in 1953 but my childhood was dominated by it, with poppies and remembrance services being as absolute a fixed part of the year as Christmas. My childhood games and comics were all about Gerries, Nazis and Brits.

This last decade has seen an outpouring of remembrance as the 100 year anniversaries of the First World War slipped past, followed by the 75 the anniversary of D Day this year and with the 75th anniversary of VE day still to come next year.

A number of issues have been striking me this weekend, two of them very strongly. The first is the question of how long the significance of these particular acts of remembrance will continue. The second is whether we are necessarily remembering things quite right.

The industrialised slaughter of 1914-8 and the loss of so many brilliant young lives is burned into British, German and French national memories. My uncle was killed in France in 1915.

We also now pretty much understand that the Second World War was effectively a continuation of the First and its victors’ peace. But if we look ahead 30 years, will people still be remembering the bravery and the futility of these events? And what will people be remembering?

The way in which a small pebble can start an avalanche caused me to think about this when I noticed a newspaper article to the effect that a number of police forces were no longer prepared to devote manpower to all the remembrance services in their particular region and were asking village events to be subsumed into larger city ones. Where does this lead?

Soon, all those with direct memory of these titanic struggles will be dead, with all respect to those mourning losses from more recent but thankfully smaller conflicts. What then?

Who knows what future generations will do but what it made me think is that those who do survive and those of us whose lives have been was so influenced by it need to make sure that the memory of all that sacrifice is accurate and comprehensive and not able to be twisted into a narrative of British or even English exceptionalism and nationalism.

The great 1940 cartoon by David Lowe entitled ‘Very Well, Alone’ pictures a single British Tommy standing on the white cliffs of Dover, fist raised aloft against German bombers streaming in overhead. It was published after the fall of France earlier that year. It was a wonderful piece of propaganda and those who come after should not disregard its significance.


The sheer raw courage of the Churchill-led government in refusing peace terms with Nazi Germany should never be discounted.

But even when Lowe’s cartoon was published, ‘Alone’ was rapidly becoming less true. Soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa were already steaming towards our shores. Resistance movements from Holland, Poland and France fought and flew with us. Then the Americans came in and eventually Germany was to be defeated by huge Soviet sacrifice. All this is compatible with my childhood memories – these were all people recognisably like us.

But people recognisably not like us, not like anyone in my entirely white Cheshire home town, came as well. And my childhood memories do not include any understanding that those who fought alongside the British included hundreds of thousands of non-white citizens of the British Empire and Commonwealth.

This was brought home to me sharply at a Remembrance event in Hounslow in west London, which I was attending in an official capacity sometime in the 2000’s. I met an elderly Sikh, with a slew of medals across his chest. I was very surprised indeed when he told me that he had been a Squadron Leader in the Battle of Britain. Where did this story fit in to my understanding of the past? Turbans among the Few?

Ever since, I have been tracing the stories of Black and Minority Ethnic contributions to the events Remembrance Day commemorates.

I am just going to take the example of India. One million Indian soldiers served in the First World War, as the magnificent Indian War Memorial in northern France makes clear: 75000 died, while 87000 died in the Second World War.

But their contribution is scarcely remembered in most of Britain.

I always see Jesus Christ as the epitome of diversity. Christ outraged the Jewish religious authorities of his time by mingling with tax-gatherers and sinners. He enjoyed the company of women not of his family, a very unusual course of action at the time, appeared first to one of those women after His Resurrection and protected an adulteress from being attacked.

He spoke at length to a Samaritan woman – regarded as an apostate by Jews at that time – at a well and then stayed in her village.

Jesus preached at and stayed on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. This was then the site of Jerusalem’s leper colony. He was inclusive above all.

The Temple in Jerusalem was divided into concentric courts, first the court of the Gentiles into which anyone could go, then the court of the Jews open to both men and women, then one only for Jewish men, then one only for priests and then the Holy of Holies, which could be entered only by the High Priest, only on one day a year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The deeds and words of Jesus challenge this exclusivity, as did His early followers in taking Christ’s teaching to the ends of the earth, offering Christianity to all the world.

We need to follow His example and ensure that, for future generations, the message of Remembrance Sunday is not only about – although certainly including – a British (Scottish, Welsh, Irish as well as English) triumph and sacrifice but a wonderful diverse achievement by all faiths and none against all the odds, against world-wide evil and brutality.

At the going down of the sun, we need to remember all of them. And that inclusive memory will help future generations combat the evils to come in their day, rather than allowing such a glorious moment in our national history to dwindle into a little Englander motif.

Posted in Brexit, Human Sexuality, International Relations, Jeremy Morris, Lord Blair of Boughton, Politics | 1 Comment

Remembering – An Active Choice?

by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight,  Chair of One Body One Faith and Member of General Synod

peter leonard

Shortly after the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union I had the privilege of attending a conference in Brussels. It was a gathering of clergy working in Cathedrals and focused a lot on the European Union and the church’s work with it.

We heard from a number of speakers who were connected with the European Parliament, but the highlight was a day spent in the Parliament buildings themselves. What struck us all very powerfully was the fact that everything we saw, heard and experienced that day had nothing to do with economics or farming and fishing quotas. It had nothing to do with European regulations or the movement of people. It was clearly, loudly and obviously about peace.

The European Union traces its origins to the 1950s with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. From 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. And within the European Union that peace was achieved, and this success was clearly celebrated and seen as important and significant in Brussels.

As the UK continues in the uncertainty around Brexit, as we fast approach what will be a significant General Election, preceded I suspect by what will be a nasty, unpleasant and anything but peaceful campaign by all involved, I wonder where that vision of peace has gone? This seems an even more important question to ask as we approach the 11th November. A day each year when we fall silent and remember. A day when we wear poppies and lay wreaths and remember.

My earliest memory of Remembrance is as a child being vaguely aware that we were remembering people who had fought in wars which seemed an impossibly long time ago to me.

I remember standing as still and as silent as I possibly could for what seemed like an eternity but in reality, of course was only two minutes.

I remember growing older and understanding a little more of the seriousness and importance of what I was doing. Trying to keep my mind focused on what I was remembering whilst my brain seemed to be firing off in all directions, distracting me from the purpose of standing still and silent.

A simple act of respectful silence, full of meaning and importance and yet it is clear to me that this remembering is not a passive activity but something very dynamic, very active.

Remembering is an act of respect – I can only begin to imagine what those who have fought in active service saw and experienced. I can only begin to imagine what a soldier in the First World War or the Second World War saw and experienced. Or a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq or any number of wars that have occurred and still occur around the world today. I cannot even begin to know what it is like to return from fighting for your country with missing limbs, or no sight or severe mental health issues. I don’t know what it is like for the person you love most in the world to never return home because they paid the ultimate price in defending their friends and family, their country. Remembering is actively respecting their commitment, doing something to acknowledge their skill and expertise and their willingness to do a job that very many of us would balk at.

Remembering is an act of thanksgiving – A need to show our gratitude for all that these people have done and that our armed forces still do for us. This act brings together a whole nation to say ‘thank you’. Not in some trite, tokenistic nod but in real and heartfelt thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to those who died, those who have been injured and those who have lost loved worlds around the world and throughout time.

Remembering is an act of defiance – an act which says we will not give in to the state of the world around us but that we will seek justice and peace. We will challenge evil in all its forms wherever it is found. We won’t stand by while other peoples and nations are oppressed but will act.

Remembering is an act of hope – hope that the sacrifices made were not in vain. Hope that the world is in fact a better place than it was and it will be better yet one day. For the Christian this act of hope is not some vague philosophical airy-fairy thing but concrete and optimistic.

The prophet Isaiah writes  – For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

We are clearly not in that place yet but the Christian hope is that God’s Kingdom is among us and wherever peace and justice is found that Kingdom is established. And those who bring about that peace and justice bring about God’s Kingdom.

For the Christian Church this hope is based on a God who doesn’t abandon us to our own devices despite how the world looks sometimes but enters our world, supremely in the person of Jesus Christ but in all times and in all places.

Jesus is always in the business of re:membering –  bringing together those members of the human race who have become separated from one another because of political or geographical or religious disputes and differences.

Re:membering people of every tribe and nation and language and tongue.

Re:membering the people of the past and the present and the future.

The world remains divided. The nation is divided. The Church is divided.

And yet Jesus is in the business of re:membering. A bringing together of divided members. That doesn’t mean that disagreements don’t still exist or that we all have to live as a harmonious blob of identical people with identical views and no personality but it does mean that we come together and listen, that we seek to understand and that we choose to want the very best for others whether they are like us or different.

This is what is means to love your neighbour. Not some fluffy warm feeling but an active choice to want the very best for the other person.

Re:membering something we choose to do.

Seeking justice and peace is something we choose to do.

Loving is something we choose to do.

Will it be our choice?

Posted in Brexit, Human Sexuality, Peter Leonard, Social Justice | 1 Comment

The All-Seeing Eye

by Jayne Ozanne, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Editor of Via Media

Jayne Ozanne new

Some call it the ultimate Hunger Monster – the creature with the insatiable appetite.

Others liken it euphemistically to the apocalyptic beast depicted in Ezekiel and Revelation, whose multiple eyes look in all directions at the same time.

I myself just call it the “all-seeing eye” – the giant eye of Horus which hardly ever blinks, and certainly never sleeps.

I speak of course of our 24-hour media – the “free press”, that is a prize mark of a free democracy.

I’m beginning to fear however that history will show that this beast has shaped our culture and most certainly our political landscape far more than anything or anyone else over the past decade.

We all know the game by now.

Ambitious media outlet wants a scoop.  It invites its prey (enter stage left a celebrity or a politician) into its lair where it tries to prize out of said prey a soundbite that can become the next major headline.  Triumphantly, the outlet then claims they are “the first with the news”, that they can “exclusively reveal”, and that only they can be trusted to bring “the true story” to the public.

To achieve such a coup, an army of backroom researchers trawl through years of social media posts, or better still they find a soundbite from a speech (nearly always taken out of context) from a fellow politician, so as to try and find that precious proof that their latest victim is not to be trusted, that they don’t really mean what they say, or that there has now been some “major U-turn” in policy.

And so the dance begins…or should we say, the bear-baiting starts. The only contestants that survive are those who can win a near-perfect score in some virtual reality version of “Strictly Come Dancing”.

And I for one am sick of it.

I’m sick of the games.  I’m sick of the tap dancing – which seems to come straight from a scene in Chicago, where lawyer Billy (one smooth fast-footed Richard Gere) deftly dances around (ie manipulates) the media to save his guilty client.  It’s the ultimate dance-off in which some will survive, and others sadly don’t.

We now know the tune, inside out, and I myself know hardly anyone who wants to dance to it anymore, let alone listen to it.

It reminds me of Jesus saying that this generation is like children crying out: “We piped a tune for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge for you and your did not mourn” (Matt 11:16-17)

You see, we’ve all seen through it now.  We don’t trust it anymore.  Indeed, we don’t seem to trust anyone at all anymore.  It all seems so pointless.  Mud-slinging, name calling, fact twisting, cat calling – it’s all there, and no one comes out of it with much dignity.

The 24-hour news service, which is meant to help us maintain our freedom has I fear begun to sew seeds that risk fundamentally undermining it.  For we now take everything we hear with a very large pinch of salt, and we see the dance for the staged theatre that it is.  The news frequently leaves us none the wiser, and more often than not results in us feeling even more frustrated and in the dark.

However, there is Good News afoot.

For there is one All-Seeing Eye, who knows all truth, and sees all truth.  God knows what is going to happen.  Quite literally. The source of truth can reveal all truth, and with the help of the Holy Spirit brings witness to that truth.

You see I believe that thanks to Holy Spirit, we can recognise when we hear truth spoken – even from those we disagree with politically.  And when we recognise the integrity of what is being said, when there is a “witness in our spirit” to the voice of truth that seeks to cut through all the political posturing and point scoring, then we start to tentatively take steps towards rebuilding some trust and with it, some hope.

Such as when the new Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle spoke this week about the need to reform politics and remove the tarnish that has become such a stain on everybody.

Trust urgently needs to be re-established in our country, and that will only occur when the media start to play their part in enabling this.  When they change the music and enable people to dance a different dance. When we move away from Tarantellas focused on the feverish foot stamping of individuals to ones that provide forums to model elegance and grace.

Until we’re able to do that, our hungry 24 hour media monster will continue to eat away at some of the foundations on which our society is based, rather than helping to strengthen the main pillars of truth and trust on which our communities can all flourish and grow.

Maybe its time for some eyes to sleep, to take a rest, and to wake refreshed in the morning?





Posted in Brexit, Jayne Ozanne, Politics | 3 Comments

The Fallout from Tribal Scrums

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester


With England in a Rugby World Cup final, it’s a good weekend to allow ourselves to be a little bit tribal. I’m not intending to paint a St George’s Cross on my face, but I might allow myself a chorus of “Swing low, sweet chariot” or two. Meanwhile, I shall quite understand the majority of my Welsh, Irish and Scottish friends hoping for a Springbok victory. After all, if you can’t win yourself, at least you can hope that your nearest neighbour and closest rival doesn’t.

Tribes matter.

A good portion of my academic research has been around the concept of Belonging (quick ad – my book God’s Belongers has been reprinted ahead of my next opus You Are Mine coming out later this month), and the various tribes we belong with form a core part of who we are. Among our tribe we feel included, protected, valued, understood; apart from it we experience higher levels of loneliness, exclusion, vulnerability and mistrust. A tribe can support quite considerable levels of diversity, about all those issues that aren’t part of its defining identity; it isn’t just a fancier word for a club. The basic cost of joining, and remaining a member of the tribe, may be little more than the expectation of loyalty, even if there are many opportunities to express ones identity in more visible, audible or tangible signs – from rhymes to rituals.

The tricky issue however, is that loyalty is not a fixed or readily measurable substance.  How do we judge when standing up for our tribe has become a cost no longer worth paying? A cost greater than that which will be exacted from us for leaving.

The last few months have seen MPs leaving their parties, or having the whip removed, in numbers and across a range of traditions not seen for many decades. An even greater number have rebelled in ways that party colleagues (and even more so the world of social media)  believe amount to treachery. For many, it signals the end of their political career, at least for the foreseeable future. Whichever way they have jumped, and for whatever reason, I would want to at least applaud their bravery. Most have faced not merely harsh words but direct, personal threats of violence.

So, perhaps swimming against the tide, I think many of our politicians emerge with greater honour than do some of us in the Church.

There are too many examples of how our ecclesiastical tribes can police a loyalty fiercer than their political equivalents – not least because we often invoke God as our ultimate enforcer. Deserting the tribe is equated with heresy or apostasy, and the leaver treated accordingly. Exalting tribal loyalties so high, putting them almost on a level with God, is perhaps the single most corrupting force at work among Christians of our generation.

The evidence of that corruption is all too visible. It is deeply shameful when those trusted with responsibility in the Church sexually abuse children. But what survivors repeatedly declare to be even more shameful are the ways in which the Church then works to deny, minimise or cover up the abuse. Often it is those closest to the abuser, the members of the same tribe within the church, who work hardest to deflect scrutiny and prevent accountability, whilst whistleblowers are anathematised.

Loyalty has been permitted to grow, cancer like, to the point where the potential dishonour faced by the tribe is seen as of greater import than the lives and wellbeing of those abused. Even at a more prosaic level, I come across good missional endeavours being resisted and opposed on grounds that seem more to do with them originating from the wrong tribe than any other defect.

Like in rugby, if we can’t be victorious ourselves, we don’t want our rivals to enjoy success. St Paul spoke out against such sentiments, challenging those who wished to claim allegiance to Apollos, to Peter, or even to himself, to such an extent that it superseded loyalty to, and unity in, Jesus.

This is no way to be the Church of God.

So this weekend, let’s enjoy the rugby. Sing with, or shout at the TV set if we must, whoever we want to win. And let’s enjoy the particular qualities and strengths of our church tribe. But remember to whom it is that we ultimately belong, the only one who merits unswerving loyalty.



Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Sexual abuse, Social Justice, Spiritual Abuse | 4 Comments

Safeguarding & Sexuality – Are We Throwing Money In the Right Direction?

by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University and lay preacher in the Diocese of Oxford

Helen King

A recent invitation to take my fourth safeguarding course made me reflect on all the work that has been going on over the past few years as the Church of England tries to show that it has learned from the hideous sins of the past; most recently, through the IICSA hearings.

The question is “How we should move on?” and the answers to that are expensive ones.

In January 2019, in a widely reported interview with The Spectator, Justin Welby announced that the annual budget for safeguarding has risen from around £50,000-£100,000 to £7,000,000. As well as appointing lots of people, organising lots of groups and formulating lots of procedures, much of the money has gone into training. Lots of training. As Robin Gill wrote in the Church Times in August, some of what’s taught is ‘blindingly obvious’ and the process is ‘tedious and repetitious, but, like long security checks at airports, it is still essential’.

It’s clearly important to make sure that everyone knows what to look for and how to report it, but are we using the money in the best possible way?

Back in 2016 I went to see the movie Spotlight, about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic diocese of Boston, MA. When I blogged on this, I noted how the Boston response was not to report cases, but to move offenders around. The IICSA hearings made it clear that a culture of concealment and collusion had existed in some Church of England dioceses too. Those at the top failed to pass on information to the police, preferring to protect the institution. At the very first safeguarding course I took, not run by the Church of England, we learned that churches are perfect places for abusers to hide in plain sight, with nobody believing that ‘such a holy person’ could ever do those things. The former Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings told IICSA that he believed what Roy Cotton told him because ‘I take priests at their word’.

So the ‘we need more training’ solution has to work against that long-established culture, in which protecting the abuser as ‘one of us’, ‘part of the family’, has too often taken precedence over listening to survivors. Peter Ball produced testimonials asserting his good character from people like the Prince of Wales: graphic evidence that abusers groom authority figures too, so any concerns raised will be brushed aside. That in turn means that survivors are abused again, this time by not being taken seriously.

The best-known example here is the survivor Gilo, the response to one of his many letters to Church leaders being an offer of ‘prayers’ made by a correspondence clerk. While some survivors spoke to General Synod in July 2018, their voices are still not put in the forefront.

There’s been a huge cultural change here, including the realisation that ‘abuse’ goes beyond sexual abuse; emotional, physical and financial abuse also happen. In the case of the recently-sentenced churchwarden and murderer Benjamin Field, several of those came together. That case also involved spiritual abuse, a form of abuse recently discussed by both Rosie Harper and Jayne Ozanne but not currently covered in the safeguarding training; a new module is due next year on ‘Spiritual abuse and healthy Christian cultures’.

Nor is this only about children and young people. One of the main things I learned at my first training session was that anyone can be a vulnerable adult; people with disability or illness, or in distress of any kind, who can’t protect themselves from abuse or exploitation. And that would include people whose sexuality or gender identity are not considered acceptable in some congregations and contexts.

And it’s so important that we get it right.

Who is checking that the money invested in training is being used wisely? There’s a National Safeguarding Steering Group, which met for the first time at the end of 2016, and a National Safeguarding Panel which includes representatives from survivors’ groups. There are national and diocesan safeguarding teams; the national one has over 20 people working on it. There’s a Parish Safeguarding Handbook. Annual reports are published. From one of those, covering 2017, comments from those attending training courses included ‘Have not really been taught about abuse with vulnerable adults before’ but also ‘might put older people off volunteering’.

In May 2018, Quentin Letts wrote a typically over-the-top piece – it appeared in the Daily Mail – on the horrors of being a Church of England volunteer having to attend what he called the ‘almost meaningless’ safeguarding training. He speculated that PCC members and churchwardens would ‘quit rather than succumb to any safeguarding course’. While annual reports list how many people took each training course in that diocese, it’s not clear what happens when some refuse to be trained.

In her introduction to the IICSA enquiry into Chichester Diocese, the Lead Counsel Fiona Scolding said that the Church of England was ‘running to catch up’ with changes in the rest of society and characterised it as ‘an institution grappling with human sexuality and sexual orientation’. That links IICSA with another acronym, LLF: the Living in Love and Faith project, of which I am part. Like safeguarding, LLF has large amounts of money thrown at it. I’m not sure the figures are in the public domain, but we know from a question to the Chair of the House of Bishops at the February 2017 General Synod that the precursor – Shared Conversations – cost £384,525: of this, £300,000 came from the Church Commissioners.

This is all about financial ‘cost’, but the real, human ‘cost’ both of abuse and of the Church’s current position on sexuality is not something we can easily measure.

Janet Fife, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and also an ordained woman, edited with Gilo Letters to a Broken Church. One of its requests is for reparation. In an open letter to the Archbishops, Janet asked for ‘funds for counselling for those who have made allegations of abuse’. In the July 2018 Synod, David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, said ‘We should be making millions of pounds available to … those who have been hurt, who have been marginalised at our hands’. Is that happening?

Appointing more people, producing resources (who will use them?), running training (what if people don’t participate?): it looks good, but what about practical ways of hearing and then helping those who have survived abuse, and those whose relationships can’t currently be acknowledged by the Church?

In both safeguarding and sexuality, it seems to me that the Church needs to do far more both to listen to those who have been abused and to help those who have suffered at its hands.




Posted in Helen King, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Spiritual Abuse | 14 Comments

Unity or Truth?

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, Member of General Synod and Vice-Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

David ison 2

I was talking with a church leader the other day who lamented that they kept getting criticised by Christians who accused them of valuing Unity above Truth.

This is a variant of the ‘good disagreement is bad disagreement’ argument, which goes:

as Christians we must agree on the Truth of the Christian Gospel –

but we don’t agree on what we think are fundamental Christian truths –

therefore we cannot be in Unity, and saying that we can disagree yet live together in Unity is dishonest.

One of the subtexts of this argument is the question of how Truth is defined and who defines it? The call to believe ‘biblical truth’ is a demand to share my particular view about ‘what the Bible says’; the call to ‘believe what the Church has believed in every place and time’ begs the question of how the Church is defined and who assesses its history; the call to use reason and experience requires defining what assumptions you start with and whose experience you’re talking about.

Another subtext is the question of belonging.

To adapt Grace Davie’s sociological question about faith: do you believe first and then find a group that you agree with, or do you find a group to belong to first and adopt the views of that particular group over against others? Can you change your mind and still stay in your group? How do individuals and the group check that what they believe is Truth, compared with the views of others and the realities around them?

These are all big questions, which politicians as well as religious believers are grappling with. How far can you follow your conscience, your view of the Truth, in politics or faith, without getting expelled from the party? Do you swallow hard and vote for what you don’t like because you think Unity is more important? Or do you exit on a point of principle?

If you have a propositional view of Truth, a binary and credal approach (‘true or false, believe or not?’) then you’ll want to know that you and others are in propositional step with each other as the basis for Unity, and expel others from your party.

But in Christian thinking, Unity is not uniformity, and the joy of the Christian Gospel is that it’s not propositional, but relational. It’s not about believing all the right things about God and salvation (‘even demons believe – and shudder’, James 2.19); it’s putting your trust in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and being his disciple.

The great diversity of the Christian Church is its strength: it requires us to look at ourselves through the eyes of other disciples, to help us answer the question as to whether we follow the one who is the Truth (the Way and the Life), or follow rather the gospel according to ourselves. We need one another’s criticisms and questions, in a spirit of openness and humility, in order to be faithful to the Word who is Truth. We aren’t made to be uniform, but to be united in Christ.

That’s why the Eucharist is central to Christian faith: we share the sacrament of Jesus Christ, and we are united to one another through him. Whatever boundaries we draw around Christ’s table are provisional, because they’re our boundaries not His. Our denomination may not be ‘in communion’ with other Christians or churches, but we’re all in communion with Jesus Christ nonetheless, and therefore with each other. Like it or not. Our Unity is based on the Truth of God’s saving love for us in Jesus Christ.

Unity or Truth? It’s both, of course; not as defined by us, but by God’s love for us in Christ.

In the words of the Percy Dearmer hymn I was singing in St Paul’s the day I wrote this:

Jesus, who our sorrows bearest, all our thoughts and hopes thou sharest,

thou to us the truth declarest; help us all thy truth to hear.

Lord, in all our doings guide us; pride and hate shall ne’er divide us;

We’ll go on with thee beside us, and with joy we’ll persevere!



Posted in Brexit, Dean of St Pauls, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Politics | 1 Comment

“Don’t Go Listening to Lies….”

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

I rather enjoy taking assembly. Our school invites the local vicar to kick off the week first thing on Monday morning. Before I am introduced they sing a song. Hymns are long gone. They sing along to an audio backing and it’s all really rather good. Catchy tunes that they are likely to keep singing during the day and a worthy message. God gets a look in, and all sorts of ideas about living in a kind and generous way. Given some of the nonsense we sing in church I think they get a pretty good deal.

This week’s song was very powerful at all sorts of levels:

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

In the context of Mental Health Awareness Week this was important stuff. Maybe children are specially vulnerable to lies getting inside their head. Lies about how much it matters what you look like, what you weigh. Lies about who is acceptable and who is to be scorned. Lies about the importance of money and fame. Lies that tell you that you are less valuable than other people, or indeed more valuable.

As adults we are also vulnerable to lies, nowhere more so than in the context of religion.

In their autobiographies both Jayne Ozanne and Vicky Beeching tell of how lies about their sexuality got inside their head and led to life threatening consequences.

The script runs throughout pretty much every religion. In order to be a cohesive community, local, national or even world-wide there needs to be a community identity. This means that the persona of the ‘true believer ‘ emerges. This can involve racial background, it can be dress code, it can be social behaviour and of course it can be adherence to a moral code. People who wish to belong are scrutinised,  and have those aspects of their lives that don’t fit in identified . They are instructed to change. The fundamental lie is that you simply being you won’t do. Despite the fact that the curtain in the temple was torn in  two at the crucifixion, religious leaders still take it upon themselves to act as mediators between individuals and God. They use the power of the religion to control and if it is a religion that does a personal God then they obviously frame that control as ‘the will of God.’

This is extraordinarily powerful stuff. Once you see this you can begin to understand why intelligent and privileged boys believed John Smythe’s cruel theology and submitted to GBH. It’s an example of the biggest lie that religion tells people and it is at the core of why so many good people reject faith. The lie is that God is cruel.

Of course no-one actually says that. They cover it up with the little word ‘but’. ‘Of course God is love, but he (in this version God is always ‘he’) is also just. ‘ Or  -‘God is love but he loves you so  much he wants you to leave the person you love most in the world and live and loveless, sexless life.’

The majority of people grow out of this form of religion. Either they realise that Jesus meant it when he said ‘love the Lord your God……and love your neighbour’ or they escape from faith altogether.

But there is a world of difference between knowing in your mind that something is not true and experiencing it. In The Times on 16.10.19 Daniel Finkelstein explores the way public lies can be exposed but it doesn’t change anything. People make up their minds on the basis of false information, but when they discover that it is false they often still stick with the original opinion. It’s too late. The emotional effect of the false information has been internalised.

So if you have been taught that God is basically judgemental and potentially cruel -that God is watching you…..then even once you’ve learnt that is far, far from the truth, it still leaves you fearful.

My mother grew up in that sort of faith community. She loved her parents deeply and in the end had to leave the country to escape the religion without hurting them. Even so she didn’t cut her hair until her mother had died because, er, God didn’t want her to have short hair. Even so she felt so guilty when she went to the cinema, although she no longer believed it was wicked.

These are trivial examples. But what about the very deepest stuff? The lie that this angry God will never fully accept you the way he created you? That it isn’t only what you do, but who you are that is wrong? This doesn’t mend overnight. If you are looking for healing it seems that God asks us to be care for one another: to be the incarnate love that Jesus demonstrated and we are now responsible for.  This is why support groups have such an important role. We all need to have the experience of being loved, not just the idea of it, and that includes the love of God. If this faith of ours is worth anything at all it must surely be evidenced in the way we treat one another.

The children’s song was indeed spot on.

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

We need to be very careful about the way we talk about God, because when we get it wrong the consequences can be very bitter indeed. Thankfully when we get it right there can be healing and freedom and life in all it’s fullness.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Social Justice | 5 Comments