The Rainbow of Non-violent Advocacy

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

my-name-is-paul

Last Thursday I stood with a number of colleagues, lay and ordained, as part of the Christian Climate Action contribution to the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. We read from the book of Revelation In Trafalgar Square, standing in front of the National Gallery, surrounded by people of all faiths and none who were taking their stand together to form part of this extraordinary non-violent direct action movement.

I was not arrested, though I could have been. Some of my ordained colleagues there had been arrested the previous day, and a great many Christians have been arrested before and since, just a few of the 2600+ people (at the time of writing) who have taken their protest to the point of loss of liberty. Without violence they break the law and they face the music. And who are we to judge?

On the way to Trafalgar Square I passed Downing Street and Admiralty Arch, two of the several places where I myself had been arrested in the 1980s, over 35 years ago. At that time it was my great privilege to be a national co-chair of Christian CND, and to have been able to take a stand on the wide rainbow of non-violent advocacy which wanted to see nuclear weapons banned, within the still wider rainbow that seeks to change the world for the better in any way. That was around the time of the “Church and the Bomb” report. I spent time lobbying the General Synod and arguing with bishops, and I spent time in the cells at Cannon Row police station. All that advocacy felt like one seamless thing to me.

And the arguments used against Extinction Rebellion last week were also familiar to me, since the same things had been said to me whenever I sat in the road, or chained myself to railings, or prayed persistently outside a US base, or otherwise took action all those years ago. “Isn’t this just ridiculous middle-class posturing?” “Aren’t you just messing about?” “Do you really think that these protests will change policy – will change anything at all?”

All these are fair questions, but they miss the point. The point is that non-violent advocacy is a wide, wide rainbow, and each colour in it has its place, and it would be foolish to assume that no part of it makes or will make a difference. It’s a matter of diversity, as St Paul understood very well when he spoke of the body and its different parts.

The advocacy of Mahatma Gandhi or of Dr Martin Luther King took its place within this diverse, non-violent, world-changing rainbow. Within the rainbow some work quietly and unobtrusively to influence political and other leaders with facts, evidence, scholarship, quiet wisdom, nuance. Others will follow the advice of an editor of the Economist: “Simplify, then exaggerate”, crafting messages which motivate the heart and lead people to take a stand, and proclaiming them clearly and very loudly.

In the case of Extinction Rebellion the messages and demands are suitably loud and clear (See https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/demands/):

  • Tell the truth (and declare a climate emergency)
  • Act now (and move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025)
  • Go beyond politics (and establish a citizens’ assembly to focus the practical steps)

The details of these demands are of course open to debate, and so are some of the tactical choices made about where and how to protest and what to disrupt. But when it comes to the future of the planet the rainbow of advocacy needs XR, just as it nees Greta Thunberg and the school strikes. The urgency of the climate crisis means that nuanced debate between sophisticated grown-ups is not enough, as the famous sculpture by Isaac Cordal, “Waiting for climate change”, makes clear:

Waiting for Climate Change

All this is personal. It bears in on each one of us, as Bishop Rowan Williams knows. Writing in the afterword to the XR manual “This Is Not A Drill” [1], he has this to say:

“To put it very directly: it is worth changing our habits of consumption, the default settings for our lifestyle, the various kinds of denial and evasion of bodily reality that suit us, the fantasies of limitless growth and control, simply because there are healthy and unhealthy ways of living in this universe.

To go on determinedly playing the trumpet in a string quartet is a recipe for frustration and collapse and conflict. There are ways of learning to live better, to make peace with the world. Learn them anyway: they will limit the disease and destruction; they may even be seeds for a future we can’t imagine…

It just might work.”

And as a person of faith he says:

“In the Book of Proverbs, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the divine wisdom is described as ‘filled with delight’ at the entire world which flows from that wisdom. For me as a religious believer, the denial or corruption of that delight is like spitting in the face of the life-giving Word who is to be met in all things and all people…”

And he ends by saying:

“Anger, love and joy may sound like odd bedfellows, but these are the seeds of a future that will offer life – not success, but life.”

So what? Well, with all this in mind, there is a question for you who are reading this. On this matter – the future of the planet – and indeed on any other matter of justice and peace, will you take your stand within the rainbow of non-violent advocacy? And if you will, where will be the right place, the best place, for you yourself to stand?

Of course some approaches stand outside any non-violent advocacy rainbow. On one side is the assumption that no advocacy is necessary at all, or perhaps that advocating is so naïve as to be pointless, or perhaps that we can’t be bothered – that other people will engage with it and so we won’t have to. And on the other side, the assumption that only violence will change things, or that if we feel we must break the law, then having broken the law, no consequences should or must be faced.

Neither of these approaches was taken by Mahatma Gandhi, or by Dr King. As they engaged with the issues of justice that lay before them, each one understood the spectrum of advocacy and operated across it; at times pragmatic, at times prophetic. Jesus too spoke highly of the law and also acted in ways that challenged it, reaching out to the excluded. In words of the Lutheran Gordon Lathrop that so often speak to my own heart, “…we are speaking of the biblical, historic Christ who eats with sinners and outsiders, who is made a curse and sin itself for us, who justifies the ungodly, and who is himself the hole in any system”.

Jesus lived with urgency, for the times were urgent. The times for us too are urgent, as indeed they have always been.

If you’re a Christian then, in matters of the future of the planet, in all matters of justice and peace, will you listen for the voice of the triune God who loves you, the voice of the Holy Spirit within you who comforts and provokes you? Will you take your stand within the rainbow of non-violent advocacy? And if you will, where will you stand?

my-name-is-paul

Paul Bayes is Bishop of Liverpool

[1] Extinction Rebellion, “This Is Not A Drill”, Penguin Books 2019

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Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Climate Change, Social Justice | 1 Comment

Toxic Masculinity and the Church

by the Revd Peterson Feital, Founder of The Haven+ London and Missioner to the Creative Industries for the Diocese of London (aka the ‘Showbiz Rev’)

Peterson Feital

When Gillette released a short film, We Believe to mark the 30th Anniversary of the famous company slogan: “The best a man can get!” it took the social media by storm.

The two minute video is a reflection on cultural shifts about what a “real man” is expected to be in the twenty-first century.  Real men don’t bully others; they are not macho guys objectifying women, they don’t stand for sexual harassment. Real men (especially fathers) do not encourage retaliation between boys in a playground.

The film builds to a point where men start to look at themselves in a mirror, whilst news reports of #MeToo and toxic masculinity play in the background. A voiceover asks, “Is this the best a man can get?” The answer is “no” and the film then shows how men can do better by actively pointing out toxic behaviour.

The campaign was loved and hated – however, whatever people’s reaction, it began to show something far more critical: signs of real change.

In my work with The Haven+ London, a charity that provides emotional, spiritual and mental well-being support to creatives in London, I found myself supporting individuals working on the controversial film The Untouchable, the rise and the fall of Harvey Weinstein”.

I sobbed throughout the screening – these were angry tears.  I couldn’t help but see the dichotomy between men who knew Weinstein to be a predator and either choose to keep their heads down for fear of losing their jobs or alternatively chose to go along with his behaviour as they saw it as “normal” for Hollywood.

Interestingly, the baton has been picked up by the Italian fashion label, Emergenildo Zegna, launching their own campaign #WhatMakesaMan. It’s a challenge to toxic masculinity. They show that the tired image of the stereotypical macho man – virile, leading, decisive, strong, white and middle class – is no longer viewed as the right expression of masculinity.

The campaign worked.  As I looked at one of the billboards in London tears, again, rolled down my face.  It seemed a movie of my life filled with painful flashbacks was being replayed, and as I watched it I was forced to acknowledge the toxic masculinity that has deeply affected me ever since I was a kid.

More importantly, I realised that it was the Church that had endorsed and participated in it.  For the Church is definitely not immune to toxic masculinity.

My life has been marked by domestic violence and sexual abuse, which led me to attempt to commit suicide at the age five years old, initiated panic attacks and the outset of an eating disorder.   My relationship with my father was volatile and filled with rejection; I wasn’t the normal boy he expected; I hated football, which is a cardinal sin in Brazil for a boy. Instead, I love the arts and preferred hanging out with the girls, and I was never ashamed of my tears.

This pattern continued into adulthood, as male vicars in the Church supported my dad’s views and made me know that I was not fit for ministry. For them, I was too effeminate, flamboyant and sensitive.  I was told I behaved like a butterfly, and “God doesn’t like butterfly man!”

I learned to reject myself, I became aggressive, arrogant and domineering.  I started to objectify women. And whenever I met another man who was effeminate I bullied him. Fortunately God showed me some time ago now how terrible it was that my heart was once filled with so much hate, which had never come from Him.

In coming to the UK I hoped for a better life in a Church which I thought wasn’t rooted in the same macho culture – one I hoped would be more accepting and less judgemental.  Instead I was faced with the same deep prejudice.  Some vicars in the charismatic evangelical tribe made it very clear to me that they too found me to be excessively happy, too flamboyant and camp.  Some went as far as miming my gesticulation back at me, to mimic my voice at staff meetings and weekends away.   I was shamed again.

But this is what I have learned from God; there isn’t anything wrong with masculinity. However, there is something terribly wrong with toxic masculinity and how men can often behave.

God himself held King David’s behaviour accountable when he used his power to possess Bathsheba and kill her husband. God held David’s behaviour accountable for being an absent father to his children, which took Absalom to a bitter place. God held David accountable when he didn’t act accordingly to protect his daughter Tamar.  God does hold men accountable and we need to learn the art to do the same for each other and for one another, in love.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 we find a Father who displays all the traits of what I believe a “real man” should show – he runs to his son to celebrate him, he hugs his son, kisses his son, he lavishes love on his son.  This is the true measure of a healthy masculinity – one that embraces other men in spite of their failures.  Here we find a father who is willing to build up his son – he doesn’t reject him, he doesn’t shame him, and he doesn’t turn him away emotionally.

Many people think of themselves as the prodigals in the parable and so miss a vital point – that the challenge here is for us all to become like the Father. Power must be exercised in the context of love, always.  Powerful men should look into the eyes of other men with respect and affirmation, and so celebrate all.  Especially those who do not conform to the stereotypical male image.

The shift for men like myself is to learn to love ourselves truly – to hug ourselves and celebrate ourselves for making it through another day, for being different, for acting differently, and to hold and challenge other men who say we don’t measure up.  The key is to be free and to have the courage to be ourselves and own our own story.

As Henri Nouwen, beautifully wrote, it is ‘to look not with the eyes of my low self –esteem, but with the eyes of God’s love’.

Peterson Feital

Posted in Peterson Feital, Sexism, Social Justice | 7 Comments

Identity, Depression & the Church’s Culpability

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

Jayne Ozanne new

“Your sexuality does not define who you are, Jayne” is a phrase I’m becoming increasingly familiar with – which I tend to hear most often from my evangelical friends who then (always) go on to say, “for your identity is actually in Christ” (as if I somehow I must doubt or negate that).

“Amen to that!” I will always reply.

But then I also always go on to add that my sexuality is actually an integral and important part of me, and that it is something that I should never ever have to hide or be ashamed of.  Indeed, it is something I believe that I am called to celebrate and own – especially as I have spent so much of my life hating it and trying to change it.

And there lies the difference between us.

Of course our identity is “in Christ”. But if we truly mean that, then we need to own and celebrate who Christ has uniquely made us each to be. Tall, short, black, white, large, small, blond, bald, straight, gay. No shame. No jealousy. No comparisons. Just me in the body God has chosen to give me – or as the psalmist so beautifully says, the way I have been wonderfully ‘knit together in my mother’s womb’.

But there are times when I fear a new form of Aryanism has somehow crept into certain parts of the Church.

The one that expects us all (silently) to meet certain standards, dress in certain ways – where we need to have 2.2 children and all smile with gleaming white teeth!  You know, those churches that are led by “muscular men with their beautiful wives” – who when they get up on stage (sorry, pulpit) immediately introduce us to their family so that we all know that they are without a doubt ‘good heterosexuals’.

Now, they’re the ones who I want to remind that their identity is in Christ, and that in fact our identity as a Church is made up by the fact we are the body of Christ.  A body made up of unique and differing parts.

Accepting these differences and therefore who we each individually are is one of the most challenging journeys that most of us will ever face.

Young people wanting to be brighter, thinner, faster, more popular. Older people wanting to be younger, thinner, slower. Those on one side of the garden fence always wanting to be on the other side – where they perceive the grass to be far greener.

This dissatisfaction with who we are can be the root cause of so much unhappiness and more often than not leads us into dark places, which as the Archbishop of Canterbury has himself shared this week, can result in us becoming depressed.

This week we marked (I don’t really feel I can say ‘celebrated’) World Mental Health Day.  It is both encouraging and refreshing to see leaders – especially men – being so open about their struggles with their ‘black dog’ as one famous male world leader, Sir Winston Churchill, called it.

I’m particularly glad that we are talking about it within the Church as there has in the past been a dangerous tendency of believing that mental health issues can easily be ‘cured’ by a few well-meaning prayers and a nice cup of tea.

Somehow we have also at times embraced a teaching that we are not being very good Christians if we aren’t happy and positive all the time…as if God is somehow ‘let down’ by our periods of sorrow and despair.  This false teaching has caused more damage than nearly anything else I know and has been like salt in a wound to so many brothers and sisters who have already been hurt enough.

The truth is though that there are still many teachings and actions that the Church itself promotes that lead, I believe, to increased mental health issues for some of the most vulnerable in our midst.

Many within the Church know this to be true but don’t want the responsibility of admitting it. It’s as if they would be ‘letting the side down’ if they did, so instead we are all encouraged to carry on with the charade – and therefore we are never in a position to let the truth set us free!

I myself long for the day when we can have the equivalent of our very own ‘Truth & Reconciliation Commission’ in the Church, and where those in authority – that’s to say those who wear purple – sit and listen to the stories of those of us who have been so badly hurt, abused and/or traumatised by the Church. Would it be too much to hope that tears might be shed, that inadequate apologies offered – and meant – and that hearts would at last be changed?

For then the healing journey – for both sides – might finally start.

And then we would fully be able to grasp that our identity as a Church is indeed in Christ – a beautiful body made up of unique and disparate individuals.  The whole body – especially the parts that some of us would rather not recognise and would perhaps like to disown or change.

And of course that goes for those on both sides of the argument!

Posted in Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 1 Comment

On Brexit, Becket and Signs of the Times

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

Ian Blair

As a newcomer to this site, my task in writing a first post has not been made much easier by looking over some of the recent posts. I could not agree more with the Bishop of Manchester on the extraordinary outburst of unpleasant language in the Commons after the Supreme Court Verdict on prorogation. Then I found a fellow traveller in the post before that by Helen King, quoting from my favourite hymn, Faber’s ‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy’.

These posts cover just the kind of subject about which I thought I would be writing: pleas for decency and tolerance in a country more deeply divided than I have ever known it to be.

I am going to cover some of the same ground but thought I would do so perhaps from a slightly different and hopeful angle, although I particularly want to commend the Bishops and Archbishops for writing their letter of protest. I have no truck with any suggestion that the Church should not have a voice in politics in ordinary times, let alone these Brexit-filled days.

I want to reflect a bit on the nature of time, dividing it into those two Greek words, Chronos and KairosChronos is what we think of as sequential time, with Kairos being a moment of indeterminate time in which something momentous happens.

These last few years have seen the breakup of many old certainties, whether of standards of behaviour in public life or the questioning of multi-national entities from the United Nations to the EU to NATO, together with the rise of populist leaders, irrespective of and sometimes not corresponding to left or right. Who would have dreamed of ministers of the Crown musing as to whether the Government needs to obey the Rule of Law: who would have dreamed of a US president allegedly pursuing a domestic political rival through the intervention of a foreign government?

And yet and yet, the Supreme Court did rule, unanimously, that the Prorogation was null and void, effectively had not happened. Impeachment proceedings against a sitting President have begun. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party has lost the election and fallen out of government: ditto, Matteo Salvini and the Northern League in Italy. The refugee boats are landing again.

We live in Chronos but maybe, just maybe, there is some hope that a tide begins to turn. Maybe Kairos is just around the corner. This is a thought that has been growing on me since a visit my wife and I made to Canterbury Cathedral in August. We went to Morning Prayer at 8 am and then had a wonderful half hour, almost alone in the Cathedral, before the general public came in.

The Precentor very kindly guided us to the memorial altar to Thomas a Becket. I had not been there for years and it was a revelation – here is a photograph, with its crucifixes made of swords.

Ian's photo

Murdered beside his altar, the death of Becket must have been the darkest of dark times for the Church and for people of good will. And yet. Thomas a Becket’s canonisation was one of the fastest in Christian history. Within two years, King Henry II, apparently responsible for Becket’s murder, had had to choose to walk barefoot into Canterbury and to suffer public and physical humiliation. The name of the saint was one of the most famous in Europe.

I am making no parallel between Becket and Brexit (probably the first time those two words have been put together!) but some parallel emerges between the feeling of helplessness in the 12th century and now, as bad events and unpleasant behaviours seem to gather unrelentingly. However, we do not know what the future holds and what God’s purpose might be.

It seems to me that we need people of good will, including churchmen and churchwomen to be outspoken, not necessarily in support of one or other of Remain and Leave, but for the common weal, the common good, in support of decency and truthfulness and respect between us all. And that is on both sides.

In the great Commission at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that he is with them until the end of time. I know that he is in both chronological time and eternal time and that the outcome of our difficult issues may surprise us all. I can certainly conceive of it being surprisingly less bad than the outcomes to which the chronological sequence of events seems to be pointing. Pandora may emerge out of the box. The long history of British decency may prevail.

And those who appear ready to sacrifice decency in public life and language, may themselves not succeed. In the same chapel as the Becket memorial altar, the Dean and Chapter have placed four large ceramics, shaped rather like vases, to represent the four knights/tempters, who appear in TS Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’.  What transpired after the murder was the complete opposite of what the king hoped and the knights sought to accomplish. In that chapel, I noticed was it was difficult to tell whether the ceramics depicted knights or pawns. Who knows?

Ian Blair

Posted in Brexit, Lord Blair of Boughton, Politics | 1 Comment

Power, Men & Politics

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

peter leonard

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” So said Plato.

I have been reflecting on this statement a lot over the past week of so as I have watched the news. As I have seen politicians behaving like football hooligans and as I have seen grown men write disparaging tweets about a 16 year old girl attempting to do something about our climate emergency I have been wondering what it says about these particular men.

And it is men generally isn’t it?

I was going to start by excusing Plato’s blatant patriarchal approach to the world but on reflection is it mainly white middle-aged men in positions of power and privilege who have behaved in this way and been the reasons for my shock and reflection.

But why?

Why does any member of the UK government feel the need to use aggressive confrontational words? Words which they know will encourage others to behave in a similar fashion and indeed the threats against other members of Parliament is evidence of this. Why would any educated public servant think that sneering and laughing at another whilst lounging about in their place of work appropriate? What are these members of Parliament, usually white middle-aged men very keen on shouting down the women MPs, doing with their power? How are they displaying it to others?

I referred to them as public servants earlier on and indeed that is what they should be, but it occurs to me that there was very little going on in the Palace of Westminster which served the public. It seemed to be a fight about who had the real power, who was really in charge and pushing the boundaries as to how untouchable that power made them.

So back to my question why? It seems to be something about being challenged, about having the power questioned, or at least what they are doing with the power. And what happens when we are challenged? We react, we summon all the power we have to reassert ourselves as the powerful one. We shout, we’re rude, we use aggressive language. We try our very best to maintain our alpha male status like so many apes in a pack.

Alongside the scenes in Parliament we have seen the outrageous comments made on social media about Greta Thunberg. A 16 year old girl who is taking seriously the climate emergency facing us and trying to do something about it. That includes challenging others. It includes challenging the ‘adults’ who are in charge, leaders of nations, CEOs of multinationals and those of us who are so ingrained into the consumer society we can’t see what our actions are doing to the planet.

Once again those who hold power and privilege are challenged and they don’t like it. So they post criticisms, insults, sarcastic and unkind comments to try and reassert their power and regain their dominance. To ridicule the person making the challenge so that they are not taken seriously and written off by the masses.

When power is challenged it fights back, or rather those with the power fight back.

This is a story as old as humanity itself and we only have to read the Gospels to see that Jesus encountered it as well.

Jesus challenged those in positions of power, the Scribes and Pharisees and, much like those in the Houses of Parliament or venting on social media this last week, they didn’t like it. They argued back, they shouted, they ridiculed and attempted to make Jesus look stupid and eventually they incited others to do the same, ultimately convincing them to shout “Crucify, Crucify”.

It was amidst this, admittedly rather sad process of reflection, that I saw the following advert for The Guardian newspaper:

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Change is possible. Hope is power.

In the gospels we see that the real power lay with the one who could not be defeated even by death. That real power lay in washing the feet of others, of riding on a donkey rather than in a grand parade, of a simple supper with friends and prayers in a garden, of a seemingly helpless man condemned to die yet forgives others as he does. Real power lays in the hope of making the world a better place and that change is possible.

Perhaps when it comes to the climate emergency the real power lays in the hands of a 16 year old Swedish girl who is persistent in raising the issue and taking action despite the resistance she encounters; perhaps the real power is not in the hands of the adults but in the hands of the school children who go on strike to highlight the crisis we find ourselves in which us adults seem to be doing so little about?

Real power lays in the hope of making the world a better place and that change is possible.

In Parliament maybe the real power lays in the hands of the many Members of Parliament who are fighting for a better world, who truly are public servants and who faithfully serve their constituents day by day? Does the real power exist in those who don’t resort to shouting and name calling, who retain their dignity rather than stoop to the lowest comment denominator? Is the power in those who believe change is possible and hope to play a part in making the world a better place?

For those of us who profess to be Christians we need to take Philippians 2:5-11 seriously:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

We need to consider carefully how people could measure us by what we do with power, as individuals and as Church institutions. Who challenges us and how do we react when they do? Are we on the right side of the power struggle? Do we believe change is possible?

Is our hope in Christ our real power?

peter leonard

Posted in Brexit, Peter Leonard, Politics, Social Justice | 1 Comment

Rhetoric of a Playground Bully or Political Discourse?

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

At the heart of Britain’s, largely unwritten, constitution lies the principle that those charged with making decisions should do so free of improper influence or pressure.  Members of governing bodies, whether they are responsible for a multi-million pound business or a tiny local charity, must act not in personal interest but in the best interest of whatever body they are appointed to serve.

At the top of the agenda of many of the meetings I attend or chair, just after “Welcomes and Apologies”, comes another standard item, “Declarations of Interest”. Members are required to let colleagues know if any matter for consideration impacts on them personally, especially if it might appear to a fair minded observer that their views might be biased in consequence. Sometimes that leads to me having to withdraw from part of a meeting, for example when the Housing Association I chair was considering buying some property from my diocese. Some public bodies, such as the House of Commons, maintain a public “Register of Interests”, to improve our chance of knowing if a member might be taking a particular position in order to feather their own nest.

Good decisions are hard to make in a climate of corruption. But they are perhaps even harder to make in an atmosphere of fear and threat.

My own diocese is twinned with one in Pakistan, where the Christian community lives in constant fear that any accusation of blasphemy will not be met with a fair trial. They have good reason, and not only because they are personally at risk of lynch law. Reputable lawyers are frightened to defend them, because of the enormous personal risk to their own lives. Judges who acquit them may also suffer death threats. The same has been the case for politicians who even suggest that the law be changed. Some such threats have been carried out. For many Christians the fear of unjust accusation and unfair trial is more debilitating than living with the perennial risk of terrorism.

And yet how can the nation move forward, whilst it retains an atmosphere where debate is stifled by threat, and decisions are hemmed in by the risk of extreme violence, even death?

I’d never thought that the lessons I have learned from my Diocesan link would be ones that had direct implication for the UK. But in these most recent months, and especially this last week, I’ve had to revise my opinion. Good and gracious politicians, men and women who have served their constituents and nation with integrity and courage, are making it known that they will not stand for election again. They cite the direct personal threats being made to them, their staff, and their families.

The contrast between the clear and calm way in which the unanimous decision by eleven Supreme Court judges was handed down, and the words spoken by some in Parliament a day or so later, could hardly be greater. Careful argument, and attention to the letter and spirit of our law, gave way to words likely, and possibly even by some calculated, to raise the emotional temperature beyond boiling point. When a powerful individual suggests that the way to reduce the threat of personal harm is for his opponents to give up their cause, this is the rhetoric of the playground bully, not of political discourse.

The letter now issued on behalf of the entire College of Bishops is almost unprecedented.

That in itself should indicate how gravely we view the tone of current argument. No matter how passionately any protagonist might want their own view to prevail, sincerely believing it to be in the best interest of our country, we cannot reach a good outcome by raising the threat of violence to such an extent that our opponents are cowed into submission.

We might win the battle but would have lost the war. Our nation would be immeasurably poorer in character and morality for a generation to come.

 

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Brexit, Politics | 3 Comments

Wider Still & Wider…

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

Helen King

This year we held a Last Night of the Proms party. We only decided to do this on the morning of the event and we weren’t sure how it would play out with our friends – a diverse group in terms of their nationalities as well as their faiths and sexualities, but everyone we asked said ‘yes please’.

In replying, one observed that she may need to leave the room for ‘Rule Britannia’. Another said he could be too shattered by doing the ‘Ride and Stride’ in aid of the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust – but he made it regardless. One received her first UK passport just after my invitation text reached her; the end of a long and highly frustrating process we’ve lived through with her over the last couple of years.

During the first half, we shared food, chatted in groups and half-watched the TV. We turned up the volume for the amazing Jamie Barton, particularly her sparkling, mischievous and confident take on ‘Carmen’. For the second half, we sat together, with a bit of explanation for the one Hungarian in the room, who hadn’t seen a Last Night before. People commented on the range of flags on display. We shared shrieks of pleasure as Jamie Barton appeared in the bisexual flag colours and then waved her rainbow flag. Like Bridget Christie in The Guardian, we ‘fell instantly and completely in love with her with every fibre of [our] being’. As another friend commented the day after, in the current climate to have waved a Union Jack would have been divisive.

Of the eight people in the room, only two of us were happy to sing along with ‘Rule Britannia’. I was one of those. One friend texted me the day after to say ‘Hopefully next year Brexit will have been revoked and I’ll be able to sing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia again’. Chatting about it afterwards, I said that the words ‘wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set’ matched my vision of a welcoming and inclusive place to live. Of course, I’m well aware that this wasn’t what they meant in their original context. Music by Elgar, text by A.C. Benson (son of an Archbishop of Canterbury), combined to celebrate Britain’s international role in 1902; two years after the Siege of Mafeking in which Robert Baden-Powell became a national hero, and the year when the Second Boer War ended with the Boer surrender. Writing just before this year’s Last Night, Andy Martin observed that the song ‘tapped into a nationalistic hysteria from which we have never fully recovered’.

But the choice of ‘wider still and wider’ for a 2012 Ofsted report into provision of music in schools shows that it’s not just me who has read these words in a more inclusive way.

The next morning, I was in church. One of the hymns was ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy/Like the wideness of the sea’, written by Frederick W. Faber. Here, the ‘wide’ kingdom is God’s kingdom, not an earthly polity. ‘Like the wideness of the sea’ was used for the title of a book on the debate over women bishops written by Maggi Dawn, a priest in the Church of England at that time resident in the USA. She has much to say about the theology of waiting and the damage done by deferring justice.

Frederick W. Faber was a priest in the Church of England who, like his friend John Henry Newman, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845. This was within the period when hymns – as opposed to metrical psalms – were at last entering the Anglican tradition from the Nonconformist tradition; Hymns Ancient and Modern was first published in 1861. Many Victorian hymn writers were women; gendered beliefs about their greater ‘sensibility’ encouraged this expression. Faber wrote 150 hymns after he became a Roman Catholic, often showing a clear debt to his younger days and to the evangelical tradition.

There are various versions of ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ that are used today, not least because there’s a sentimentality here which doesn’t play out well today. The one we sang omitted:

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

but included:

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

‘Wider still and wider’ because of the ‘wideness in God’s mercy’ and the breadth of his love: for me, this is why the current movement for full inclusion of those of all gender identities and sexualities is part of the same movement as the admission of women to all ministries of the church.

Of course, like Barton’s rainbow flag, what unites some will divide others, and where I see tolerance others will see hijacking by an agenda they don’t support. But our Last Night party, where some sang and others didn’t, where some had been citizens all their lives, others only recently, and others not at all, gave me some hope of glory!

Posted in Brexit, Helen King, Human Sexuality | 3 Comments