A Tale of Two Kitties

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

Jayne Ozanne new

I have recently been adopted by two kittens – brothers born on September 27th.  I decided to resist the temptation of calling them Boris and Jeremy – to be fair, neither are good names for a cat – and have instead called them Oscar and Louie. One after my paternal grandfather, in memory of my late father who died in September, and the other after a giant LGBT+ hero of the faith, Louie Crew Clay, who died on November 27th – the day I brought them home.

Despite being born just minutes apart they are strikingly different – just as I’m sure both Oscar Ozanne and Louie Crew Clay would have found themselves to be.  These two kittens may be brothers, but that’s where the similarities end.  They play with different toys, rest in different places, like different food.  They chase each other endlessly around the house, lie in wait for each other, fight and go for each other’s jugulars.  And then, when it’s all over, they lie down together, snuggle up and go to sleep. They won’t be separated – you see, they’re brothers.

Curled up together

Of course, it’s got me thinking.

They each seem to see the world very differently.  Louie – who was taken away from his mother a little too early and was then returned because the owner decided she wanted a female rather than a male cat – is very cautious.  He spent his first few days finding the best places to hide and wouldn’t let me anywhere near him.  He’s come around, of course, as it’s amazing what love can do – along with a continual supply of his favourite cat food.  Oscar on the other hand couldn’t have felt more at home from the moment he came out of the cat box – confident, strong and with a sense of entitled privilege, he immediately requisitioned my armchair and pillow.

So why am I sharing all this?

It strikes me that after a week which has torn so many within our nation apart, which has shocked and scared and wounded and surprised so many, it’s time we learnt how to live with each other a bit better – especially those who see things rather differently to the way we do.

It may be too soon to be reflecting on all of this, but I for one have been saddened at the way that people have jumped to see the worst rather than the best in each other.  They have been quick to pass judgement, to impugn the motives of those they hardly know – on all sides.  They have gone for the jugular, bitten deep and hard, with a hope that it would wound and hurt – and frequently it does.  They have lain in wait ready to jump and pounce, but without the expectation that at the end of the day they will curl up together, finding support from each other as they share the same bed, our nation.

As it happens this is the first time in a long time that I’ve found myself in a mothering role, otherwise known as the “responsible adult”.  I have reflected that it’s impossible to choose who I prefer between my two little men – I love them both equally.  Yes, they show their love and affection to me in very differing ways – one will sit on my lap, the other will show me his tummy – but love me they undoubtedly do.  To be honest, I don’t really mind how they choose to express this, the important thing is that it is completely natural and not forced – for the moment I try and make them do something they are unhappy with is the moment their purring ceases. The connection is lost.

Just like us – from Stanford in C to Matt Redmond’s Heart of Worship – we each connect differently with the way we seek to worship our Creator God.  We all know this, but why are we so (excuse the pun) catty about it?  Why do we take it out on those who prefer a different way of expressing their love and adoration for our God?

Wouldn’t it make life so much easier if we could just learn to accept that we are intrinsically different?  That we see the world differently.  That we interact with the world differently. That we worship and express our love for our Creator differently.

Could we not find a way of recognising the good in those around us, rather than lying in wait to jump on those who hold – in all good conscience – a different understanding of how we can each just “be”?  Yes, we can of course disagree, we can argue, we can even go for the jugular at times. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t it be so much more peaceful if we all just could curl up together and go to sleep?

For we’ve brothers (well, and sisters of course) – born of the same flesh and sharing the same lineage.

And perhaps most importantly, loved equally and unconditionally by our Father/Mother God.

 

Posted in Brexit, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne, Politics | 3 Comments

Wellbeing, Leadership and ‘The Other’

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury

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How well are the clergy you know? If they weren’t at their best, would they feel able to tell you?

During the past two years, I’ve been involved in the Working Group which produced The Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing. We’ve been at pains to point out that addressing clergy wellbeing is not a case of special pleading, but that when clergy are well congregations tend to be healthier.

In the past week this work has been added to by the publication of the latest longitudinal survey in the Living Ministry Project of the Church of England, and the focus of this research has been on Ministerial Effectiveness and Wellbeing. The survey shows pretty high levels of wellbeing among clergy, although there is a dip when clergy move from curacy into incumbency. The Project Report bears careful study, although there should be one word of warning: it is heavily weighted to younger clergy and the period when clergy experience their lowest sense of being well is in their early fifties (something I appreciate in myself). Things may not be quite as rosy as they appear to be…

At the same time as reading this report I’ve also been watching a brilliant documentary series – referenced just last week in Via Media by Peterson Feital – called Why We Hate. It should be compulsory viewing: it shows how physiologically, psychologically and sociologically we learn to hate. We are not born to hate, we are taught to hate, and we can be taught not to hate too. I was particularly struck by a famous psychological experiment called the Stanford Prison Experimentof 1973. In it, a group of volunteer students were divided into prisoners and guards and, over the period of days which the experiment ran, the guards slowly treated the prisoners in increasingly dehumanising ways and with increasing cruelty. The BBC attempted to repeat the experiment about 18 years ago, but curiously the guards proved very reluctant to act with cruelty. The researchers tried to explain this difference, and recent archival discovery of some of the supervision tapes of the original experiment show that, in fact, the maltreatment only began when one of the psychologists involved began to encourage and lead the ‘guard’ students into treating the ‘prisoner’ students more harshly and with less care. From that moment the experiment deteriorated into abusive and dehumanising chaos, which only stopped when the girlfriend of the lead researcher arrived and brought everyone – including the psychologists themselves – out of their nightmarish attraction to what was happening in front of their eyes.

The experiment has become famous as an example of how leadership is crucial to the encouragement or discouragement of good treatment. Whatever your politics, and whatever the outcome of the election, the subtle or not-so-subtle scapegoating of groups by those in leadership in the country – Jews, Muslims, refugees – without doubt leads to the gradual dehumanising of attitudes towards ‘the other’.

We’re not immune from this in the Church of course. Many of us have been the victim of it at some stage in our lives. Women, LGBTI people, minority ethnic members all report such treatment, subtle or sometimes extreme. I would also caution about the scapegoating of Conservative Evangelicals too, who are among progressive Christians often singled out in an unhealthy way. The evidence shows that compassionate engagement works far better than scapegoating. Megan Phelps-Roper of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church has spoken movingly about how attitudes change when we engage with compassion.

To do such demanding work, and to bear with patience, requires a degree of personal security and wellbeing. Our ordained (and lay) leaders have a responsibility to avoid the temptation to allow such objectifying and scapegoating to be normalised. Encouraging healthy living in our physical and mental selves, practising good habits of work, rest and recreation, being aware of the shadow side of our nature – all the things that make us well and contribute to our wellbeing – these are indispensable factors in ensuring that our inner struggles are not projected out onto others, even if, maybe especially if, we disagree profoundly with them. Improved wellbeing leads to better attitudes to those who are different.

To those who are clergy, looking after yourself is an inclusive and necessary virtue; to those who are senior clergy (without scapegoating you!), we need to see you looking after yourselves too. We don’t always see you doing that well. How do the people you serve see you doing this?

Being well and leading well are two sides of the same coin. Ask your clergy friends how they are doing after Christmas – it might be even better a Christmas gift than the bottle of something nice that you usually give.

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, Racism, Simon Butler | Leave a comment

Does the Church have a Problem with Institutional Racism?

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

Peterson Feital

I was thrilled when Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle. However, I was not prepared for the undercurrent of racism in British society that would soon become a tsunami, nor the torrent of racial abuse that Meghan was about to endure.

These tsunamis – created by the media – more often than not severely damage a person’s reputation and when it comes to race, Meghan is sadly an obvious target. Whats more, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Brexit does not help any immigrant to feel safe – even if you are a royal.  Indeed, many of us from different ethnic and religious backgrounds are now feeling a tangible and palpable fear.

Whilst this sense of not belonging in the UK is not new, especially for BAME individuals, it now seems that the issue of racism can no longer be avoided. However, what is terrifying is that the media is re-enforcing behaviour and language that is unfortunately prevalent in society at large. It is normalising racist bullying against individuals and communities throughout the UK and is affecting our view of “the other”.

Since the 1970’s, sociologists, media psychologists and other researchers have been looking at ways of measuring the impact of the media opinion on public attitudes, especially with regards to race.  One of the most influential research studies in this field was conducted by The European Research Centre on Migration, and is entitled “Ethnic Relations, ‘Racism and Cultural Diversity in the Mass Media”. The research investigated how narratives regarding race were presented, and then measured the rise in levels of racism instigated afterwards in the public and in large institutions. In Britain, it looked particularly at how institutions deal mostly negatively with race and fail in securing inclusion.

Last October Steven Spielberg released a documentary, “Why We Hate” in which he explores with scientists, sociologists and historians how the media creates destructive narratives that feed on people’s fear of ‘the other’, leading to devastating consequences. It raised for me the question: “who holds the media accountable?” and led me to conclude that institutional and public racism has not been challenged nearly enough.

Unfortunately, not all of us have the letter of solidarity that Meghan had from seventy-two female MP’s supporting her in her suing of British tabloids for their misleading news and colonial undertone. This support for her is reassuring for us, but most of us are just anonymous faces in the crowd and so more needs to be done – we need to start calling out on racism ourselves, in our own communities and workplaces.

The truth is that we foreigners are easily treated as a commodity.

It feels as though we are a visible ‘good thing’ when institutions choose to display our faces for the purpose of displaying ‘diversity’. But, this is the issue: “diversity” only means “one can have a seat at the table”, whereas “belonging,” means “one who has a voice that is listened to and respected”. Belonging means being allowed to be who we are individually and being respected with our differences.

I have come to realise that people think that diversity and inclusion are the same. I saw this drawing on social media, illustrating what diversity (here marked ‘integration’) and inclusion look like. I think, at best, most people believe that integration is the same as inclusion, which it clearly is not:

Inclusion picture

This narrative that “Britain will be overrun by migrants” who are “ready to steal jobs, drain the system, and stretch the waiting time for doctor’s appointments” needs to challenged. The truth looks very different. A simple search on the Global Citizen website gives some facts on immigration and migrants. We each have different stories, journey and scars. It isn’t true to say that every foreigner is draining UK’s resources.   It would seem that individuals, organisations and institutions need to learn how to listen without bias.

I for example, failed to listen to the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson–Wilkin, to whom I owe an apology. In 2016, Rose went on record in an interview for the BBC reporting institutional racism in the Church of England; I refuted that on twitter saying that I did not agree. I am ashamed of myself for doing this. I now realise I was in denial because I had never experienced racism until I moved to Britain. It took me time to realise that what I was experiencing was in fact institutional racism.

I did not want to believe that the country that gave William Wilberforce to the world, whose faith was the catalyst to set many slaves free, had forgotten his legacy.

So, what are the media and the Church institutions doing about such instances of racism? For the Church of England’s part, when I spoke to senior leaders and managers I was told to just “keep my head down”, and reminded that I did not want to get on the “wrong side of those who would ultimately write a report that would impact my future”.

I appreciate that to report racism when you are talking about it in the form of a one-to-one scenario with your boss is hard to quantify. But what is not right is that after disclosing this information through the appropriate channels, no one seemed to care. In common with other victims of abuse I was led to believe that it was my fault, and that it was a personality issue, which to this day I believe was unfair and biased. The structure and safeguarding for people like me need to change because by not having someone to report to and to dialogue with just caused me even more pain.

In a pastoral and theological sense, the Bible is very clear what the treatment of the “foreigner” is to be like. I could not put this in better words than the Associate Professor Jarvis J. Williams, who asserts in an article written for Christian Today entitled “Jesus, Deliver Us from this Racist Evil Age” that:

‘We believe in a Savior who redeems, a Spirit who reconciles, and a gospel that is the antithesis of white supremacy.”

The article articulates that in Christ, every human has value, everyone is called to belong, and racism must be fought against.

The power to fight racism lies in the Christian community being able to model and shape acceptance and inclusion. Christ’s example is clear; Jesus never placed institutions above people. He confronted and challenged religious structures that didn’t offer a place for people to belong, regardless of their race. Therefore, this must be our measurement.

We must be a Church that operates like a family who welcomes, blesses and supports its members; which does not accept racism; and who calls out those who perpetrate it, providing a safe place for all to belong.

Peterson Feital sqr

Posted in Peterson Feital, Racism | 1 Comment

Pondering “the Bump” of Posada

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

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I’ve had a couple of visitors staying with me for the start of Advent. I met them at a hotel near Crewe. I’d been there to give a guest lecture to around 80 women and men, candidates studying part time for ordination, or as Readers, with the All Saints Training Centre. The pair I picked up needed somewhere to stay just until the middle of the week. After that one of the students had space for them for the next few nights. I was informed that they had no special dietary needs, and would be happy for me to take them along to anything I was attending that felt appropriate. If I add that one of them was quite visibly well on in pregnancy, that they are both about 8 inches high, and fashioned from some sort of unglazed material you may guess that these were no normal guests.

Possada - David Walker

What I’ve been doing is taking part in the Advent tradition known as ‘Posada‘. It has become quite popular in many schools in recent years. The central ritual is that figures of Mary and Joseph are passed on each day from one person to the next, symbolising the journey towards Bethlehem. In an age of social media, it’s no problem to circulate photographs of the couple, so that others can join in the journey. It also brings a clear reminder of what this season is about into homes that may otherwise be decorated with entirely secular symbols.

It was unusual to have such an obviously expectant mother-to-be.

Most Posada couples are simply extracted from nativity sets, and only feature Mary after the birth of her son, her gaze directed to the one she has brought into the world. As the infant is not part of the Posada journey, the connection to the child is quite lost.

Being accompanied through my round of engagements always helps me look at what I do in a fresh light. Can I explain what I’m up to and why to my observer? Do my words and actions make any sense from where they are sitting?

Most often, I’m being shadowed by a talented cleric who has been invited to spend time discerning whether they have any sort of call to being a bishop. I can safely assume a level of understanding of Anglican lore and Church of England culture. But this couple were very different.

What does the life of a 21st century diocesan bishop look like to a nine months pregnant young woman and her partner? What does it say to her about the world into which her child is so soon to be born?

Posada will help me ponder on those questions. I’d expected that.

But what has surprised me is how this “Mary with the bump” has helped me glimpse into her world. Her hands are placed on her stomach, tenderly caressing the child within her. The very posture of her body gives a sense of how powerful is her expectation of his arrival. She longs to hold him in her arms and love him. And I’ve found myself caught up into that anticipation and excitement too.

I long for his coming even as she does. And now there’s not long to wait!

Posted in Bishop of Manchester | 4 Comments

Who Tells Our Story – and How?

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

Helen King

I’m a great fan of the musical Hamilton, particularly (as a historian), its final song: ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’, sung by Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Eliza. Earlier in the story, she’d removed herself from his story by burning his letters to her. After his death, she ‘puts herself back in the narrative’, taking centre stage to tell his story. She then asks the audience ‘Have I done enough/Will they tell my story?’

This is the time of year when ‘The Christmas Story’ is told again.

Its popular version mixes the accounts of Matthew and Luke, with some later accretions from tradition. Hamilton reminds us that the power of stories depends on who tells them: ‘You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story’. That gives us a far richer understanding of the traditional Christmas story. Back in 1992, Richard A. Burridge wrote What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, reprinted with an extra chapter in 2004. Burridge, trained in Classics, used his knowledge of how ancient Greek and Roman ‘lives’ really worked to argue that the gospels were nothing like ‘biographies’ in the modern sense. Each gospel focuses on a different aspect of Jesus’s identity, so who ‘tells the story’ affects what we’re told. Understanding the focus of each gospel writer helps us see Jesus more clearly.

The power of stories is strong in Christian traditions which foreground the ‘testimony’, a story of ‘how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result’, as one of the websites on how to structure one describes it here. Such first-hand stories also form part of the ‘wider participation’ aspect of the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith process, which has been collecting the experiences of different individuals, aiming to present some of these in the final document or as videos. The LLF website states: ‘Our hope is that the stories that are entrusted to us are a means of conveying something of the wisdom we crave for exploring and discovering the mind of Christ regarding these fundamental aspects of our human existence.’ (my italics)

Who tells the story, here?

But I’m still uneasy about the authority that can be invested in such stories. ‘Entrust’ is an interesting choice of word, suggesting that the story is fixed and can be given to someone else to hold. I think a better model would be ‘construct’. We co-construct our stories with those to whom we speak. Someone has to select which stories to include. A video is a first-hand account, but directed, and edited.

I had some experience of this on my twenties, when I shared my own story with Shelagh Brown, a priest in my former diocese of Guildford. She probably found me through my General Synod membership; I spoke in a debate about sexuality, although not in the 1987 ‘Higton debate’. The result of our very enjoyable co-construction chat in her garden, on a sunny day over a huge bowl of cherries, was published in her book The Art of Being a Single Woman(1989). Shelagh wrote several other books, including Single (1971) and the edited Married to the Church? (1983). She also edited BRF’s New Daylight Bible reading notes – the first to include the Bible passage as well. She died in 1997 after falling downstairs as she ran to open the door to guests. When I think of her story, those cherries and the circumstances of her death combine to create a clear picture of a life focused on hospitality, but I’ve no idea how accurate that picture is.

What was my story, as told in that book?

Reading it now, it makes me cringe; although I’m sure Shelagh would have run the whole draft chapter past me. So, at that point, it was ‘true’ for me. But now, I don’t recognise that person I was, who was so positive about virginity and so keen to tie contemporary attitudes to sex to her academic research on the ancient Greek view that virginity damaged women’s health. From where I am now, I am sure that my enthusiasm for virginity reflected the unease I felt at that time about my body, not least because of severe endometriosis. 30 years on, married for 15 years, I just don’t recognise that upbeat person who apparently said, ‘I like the freedom to think about who I am, without having to support someone else who doesn’t know who he is!’  and ‘I don’t think that the person I’m looking for is ever going to turn up!’, although to be fair I have married a man who is very comfortable being himself. I don’t recognise that person who claimed that one thing she’d worked out about herself was that she was strong, but that it wasn’t always something she admitted because that is a masculine quality. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m strong, nor would I gender strength in that way.

The story I told isn’t one I would tell now.

Even when told by the person whose story it is, a story is told to a particular audience and to a particular end, and it represents just one moment in time. Giving stories weight, and fixing them in print or on video, risks missing the point that stories shift even if it’s you ‘Who tells your story’. Hearing a testimony may be powerful, but it is not all of a person’s story. ‘You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story’.

We are all works in progress.

Posted in Helen King, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | Leave a comment

Nationalism, Patriotism and Glory…

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

‘Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism is when hate of people other than your own comes first.’

So wrote the Lithuanian and French Jewish novelist Romain Gary, who knew about nationalism and being an outsider.  We can patriotically love and support our country without hating or dominating others; which means that in times of election fever and division we can put the demands or promises of parties and leaders in their places.

100 years ago the Dean of St Paul’s, Dean Inge, wrote in his diary about a speech he gave in December 1917, in which he warned of the dangers of a post-war international settlement that would create ongoing conflict. His perceptive comments were met with a torrent of abusive news reports and letters; he wrote that ‘one good lady says: I am praying for your death; I have been very successful in two other cases.’ This time the lady was unsuccessful; but Dean Inge ruefully noted at the end of his diary for 1917 that ‘our people, slow and reluctant to enter the war, are now mad with rage and hatred… It is indeed a terrible time.’

Nearly every day I worship in St Paul’s Cathedral, surrounded by statues and memorials intended to focus, not on the suffering and damage of war, but on national and individual glory.  These monuments to men like Nelson, Wellington, Collingwood and Abercrombie, who lived or died ‘gloriously’ for their country, were erected at public expense so that their glory will be remembered by our nation, exalted heroes who built the Empire or defended the realm, held up as examples both of self-sacrifice for the nation and of the glory to be earned as a result.

But the lives of these heroes were more like ours than their monumental statues suggest. These were men with families, loves and betrayals, pride and anger, courage, vanity and endurance. They killed other people, and were responsible for the deaths of many under their command, as part of the human cost and moral ambiguity of war. Each one was a human being doing their duty as they understood it – but not peaceful martyrs for their faith, or humanitarians like Florence Nightingale whose memorial is downstairs in the Cathedral crypt.

Their memorials were erected by men like them who held power in uncertain and revolutionary times; men who wanted to avoid rebellion against themselves, men for whom gaining glory in the service of the nation was a useful distraction from the question of who and what the nation is for at all –  and from the cost of the pursuit of national glory, the mentally and physically battle-scarred veterans, and the victims of conflict who are so often women and children and those unlike ‘us’, airbrushed out of the nationalistic narrative.

Like a promise of glory in time of conflict, Christian faith has been used to bolster those in power and keep the discontented masses quiet by promising future rewards for present suffering, as Karl Marx recognised. But true faith is subversive, because worship of God and allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ comes first.

As Christians we have to put into their place the nation, our political or religious party, even our own self-interest, with our highest loyalties being to God and to the well-being of all humanity. Such subversion isn’t a destructive threat to a nation, but a threat to nationalism, which is the creed of those who use national loyalty in order to capture or keep hold of power. Having Christian values that can judge whether what we’re told is in truth for the good of the nation, and having a population able to reflect on politics and hold national leaders to account, is a sign of a nation’s maturity, not of disloyalty, recognising that populism and nationalism are perversions of something better.

In a febrile, binary and intolerant world we need to see ourselves from God’s perspective.

Surrounded by statues extolling human glory, I remember the words from John’s Gospel (12.23-33) where Jesus speaks about his glory and honour coming, not from victories on behalf of the nation, but from the glory God reveals in Jesus being nailed high on a cross. The glory of God is in self-giving, in loving, in dying that others might live. God’s glory doesn’t mean power for great men, but honour for those whom the world sees as weak and disposable. The glory of Christ is the cross, where Jesus carries our sorrows and suffers for us.

Empires and nations and their glories come and go, but God’s love for each one of us endures. Although some of their memorials remain, the ‘glorious dead’ are long gone; we remember their limitations, and our own, and see true glory in those who bear the mental and physical damage of conflict, whether due to war, or to the divisions and hatreds of our own society.

As Christians, we glory not in self or in power, but in loving service and working for the good of all; we long, not for glory, but for the day when war and conflict will be no more, when nations will serve each other, and love will have the final word.

 

 

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A Call to “Take Sides”!

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

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In an increasingly polarised and angry West it may seem perverse to say that we need to be clear about taking sides. Surely the work of civilised people, and in particular of those who follow the Prince of Peace, is to avoid taking sides – to work instead at bringing all sides together and seeking consensus, agreement, emollience? Surely that would be the pastoral thing to do?  And the Church is primarily a pastoral entity – isn’t it?

In “Liberating God”, his remarkable study of “Private care and public struggle”[1],  Bishop Peter Selby has wise and prophetic things to say about this understanding. He writes of the default setting of our pastoral care, which is crystallised in words such as “attentiveness”, “empathy”, “caring”, “openness”, “a non-judgemental attitude” – and of course he knows and emphasises the value of all these things, especially as they apply to individual care for the hurting. But he also says that if this is all we do, and all we think we are for, then we may be missing a vital contribution to the public square.

We may indeed be missing something of what our Scripture and our tradition calls us to. And so he regrets that:

“The minimising of pain and the reduction of tension do not appear as one side of an argument, to be balanced against the possible value that disturbance may have.”

He continues:

“…we should at least consider a new aspect of the pastoral relationship. This aspect involves making pastoral care not only listening but also a taking of sides.”

This week a new biography of one of my predecessors as Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, was published. Called “Batting for the Poor”, it is written by Professor Andrew Bradstock[2]. It tells the story of a privileged young man, a sporting hero, who was changed and indeed radicalised by his conversion to Christianity and by his immersion in Scripture and in the life of the underprivileged, first in East and South London and then here in Liverpool. In short it tells the story of a man who was led to take sides.

Despite the accusations which were laid against Bishop David of political naïveté and of flirting with Marxism, Andrew Bradstock writes: “Sheppard had carefully avoided direct involvement in party politics while in Woolwich and Liverpool…”. But he then goes on: “Sheppard said he ‘would certainly accept the label of Christian socialism – which doesn’t always mean commitment to one particular programme.’” [3]

As I read this I was led to consider how bishops speak today, how language has changed over the years since Bishop David lived in the house where I now live.

Times change.

Ours is an overheated climate in more ways than one, with every political party ready to throw accusations of partisanship at anyone who speaks into the public square. In such an election climate it’s all too easy for people to misspeak, throwing verbal fuel on a pretty hot fire, producing more heat than light.

It would be better then to look for the fruit of thought, or in another image to identify the political compass which people try to follow, and which they invite others to follow in the particular currents and channels of each person’s own life and commitments. And a powerful and relevant example is to hand.

In their excellent joint letter for the General Election, published earlier this week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York speak strongly of the need for prayer and respect for our politicians, for unity and for courtesy in public discourse, and very rightly so.

But their letter is also crystal clear as to the Christian imperative:

“…we must put the vulnerable and those on the edges of society first … That includes justice for the oppressed, protection for the persecuted, and a commitment to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It also includes a just economic system, open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition, supportive of those who struggle.”

It does not seem to me that Bishop David Sheppard would find anything here with which to disagree. Certainly I agree with it. The Church follows its Lord who took the side of the poor. Taking sides need not mean taking up labels, but it must surely mean taking Jesus seriously.

My own public statements on this election are few, and very brief, but I believe they stand in the tradition lived out by Bishop David decades ago, the tradition mapped out by our Archbishops this week.

For better or worse I have chosen to express them on Twitter, and they stretch to three tweets. They constitute a pale echo of the stand taken by Bishop David and by Archbishop Sentamu and Archbishop Justin. But here they are:

Let me say again what I say in every election: if you’re a Christian, then (after praying, reading and learning) cast your vote in the way that you believe will help the poorest most. #Election #ChooseLife

Electing: six suggestions in two tweets.

  1. Pray, read and think before you choose.
  2. Seek the truth. It can still be found, even if it is harder to find nowadays. Dig.
  3. Vote. It’s not true that they’re all a shower, not true that your vote will make no difference. Vote. 
  1. Vote in such a way as to help the poorest most.
  2. Vote for a government – it’s not a referendum, not a presidential election.
  3. Resist those everywhere who stir up fear of others, Antisemitism, Islamophobia.

I commend these simple ideas to you – in the hope that they might help you at the moment when, whatever side you choose to take, you take sides; that is, for the moment when you vote.

© 2019 +Paul Liverpool

[1] SPCK 1983

[2] SPCK 2019

[3] “Batting for the Poor”, p.274

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Brexit, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Politics | Leave a comment