Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Charles Henderson writes in with news about CrossCurrents, one of the most interesting journals in the field of religion and applied theology across the spectrum:

'As we normally do, we reach beyond the news of the day to explore the currents that lie beneath the surface. For example, behind today's debate about the war in Iraq lies the long history of US foreign policy and how it has been influenced by various strains within American civil religion. Gary Dorrien's "Imperial Designs" traces that history up to the present, and lays out the options for the future.

'Likewise, beyond the present debate about gay marriage lies the under-reported story of polygyny. Debra Mubashshir Majeed explores the possible connections between the two. Similarly, ahead of politicized debate about strengthening education systems lies the untapped potential of service learning.

'Angela Leonard reports from the front lines of change and innovation. Many of the articles in the summer issue have been contributed by the scholars who attended our 20th anniversary research colloquium last year. Contributing editor, Stephanie Mitchem, frames the conversation in her Anniversary of Ideas.

'If you like what you find in this issue, but have not yet taken advantage of our offer of up to six complimentary back issues, why not subscribe now?'

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety


Christian leaders from across the world have supplied short, broadcast messages for a website (www.overcomingviolence.org/peace2004) to promote the International Day of Prayer for Peace, which takes place today.

Millions of Christians from all traditions – evangelical, ecumenical, Pentecostal and Catholic – will join in, says the World Council of Churches, which is coordinating the event.

"God weeps over God's world, aching because of conflict in Darfur, in Beslan, in Harare, in Colombia, in Jerusalem, in Belfast," says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his personal message. He adds: "God - Emmanuel, God with us, with you - has no one but you to help God make this world hospitable to peace and justice."

The inspiring two-minute video messages are also an affirmation of the churches' and faith communities' work for change in the midst of the world’s current turmoil. They are in both webcast and broadcast quality.

This WCC initiative links to the International Day of Peace declared by the United Nations General Assembly, a world-wide effort intended as a day of global cease-fire and non-violence, and as an opportunity for education and raising public awareness on the issues involved. (From Ekklesia)

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Arriving home late from London last night, I found myself leafing through the September '04 newsletter of Catholic Womens Ordination. (Carla Roth - my wife - and I joined a few years ago, partly through personal contacts, and partly to express some Anglican/Mennonite support.)

And, lo and behold, we discovered from the 'members update' section that our immediate next door neighbours, Liz and Diana, are involved too! Looked at another way, it's alarming what you still don't dicover for almost a year...

It also reminds me to add CWO to my permanent links.

Catholic Womens Ordination is a movement campaigning within the Roman Catholic Church for inclusivity and for the radical transformation of kyriarchal institutional Church structures. It calls for women's perspectives to enrich the Church's thinking and for women's gifts to enrich its ministry and mission.

Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, the American biblical scholar, uses the word kyriarchy taken from the Greek kyros, denoting 'master', to express the interlocking of oppressions within a hierachical system (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) in contrast to the liberating dynamic of the Gospel.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

US election campaign mail with a return address for the Republican National Committee in Washington DC has been issued in West Virginia warning voters that the Bible will be prohibited if liberal candidates win in November.

The Democrats are not named and there is no direct reference to Presidential candidate John Kerry, but the implication seems clear.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "banned" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "allowed." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and to defeat the "liberal agenda."

Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie would neither confirm nor deny the origins of the mailing when he was interviewed by the Associated Press agency which broke the story.

The tactic has been condemned as “scare mongering” by lobby groups and moderate church leaders.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Friday, September 17, 2004


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was interviewed by John Humphreys on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme recently, following the terrorist killing of around 350 people, mostly children, in Beslan.

He faced sharp questions on the meaning of belief in God in the light of such horrors. These excerpts were reproduced by the Church Times:

Where was God yesterday morning?
Where was God? Where was God in the Aberfan disaster? Where was God on 9/11? The short answer is that God is where God always is, that is, with those who are trying to comfort and bring light in any such situation. I would guess in such a situation - and how could one begin to imagine the nightmare in the school - there must have been older children putting arms around younger children. You might see God there.

But, in a world in which human decisions are free - even free for the most appalling evil like this - God does not dictate and intervene.

I suppose we all have the sense that some kind of line has been crossed here: that people can not only calculate that the death of children will serve their purpose, but actually sit with suffering children for days, watching in a calculating way. That is the kind of decision which, yes, you have to call evil.

[On the question of freedom of choice] Freedom is a word thrown around. It is a word that has big and dramatic resonances, but it often means very, very small things, a very small gesture.

But choice is denied to people who are victims?
That is what it is to be a victim: your choice is restricted; you are imprisoned.

That is what God allows; so he doesn't give us a choice, does he?
It is a fact that people exercise different levels of freedom. One person's freedom interferes with another's. That is why I do not believe that freedom is the essence of Christianity. It is one of those crucial aspects of it, but I would still come back to the question: what is it, in a situation of this dreadful captivity, that an ordinary child can still do with mind and heart?

Does the Church not preach that God is merciful?
Of course, this is nothing to do with God's mercy, it has to do with the kind of reality that the created world is in, which we make our futures in relation to God.

God calls us to co-operate with what he longs for; what he wishes to see, which is justice, which is love, and we are free to resist. Sometimes people resist violently and horribly, as in this case.

So what do you say to people who say: 'I simply can't believe any longer; this is not a good world.'
What I want to ask is: what is it that makes you find the torture and death of children so appalling? What is it that makes you value human beings?The faith that Christians hold, and other religious people, is that each person has that absolute value in the eyes of God, which means that it is impossible to treat them as a means to your own ends. It requires of us the most self-forgetful respect, the most generous, the most outgoing engagement with other persons.

If there is no eternal love focused on each and every individual, including the most vulnerable, including the most unimportant, then it is possible for persons to be used as tools, as objects. More.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

There was a slightly odd discussion about science and public policy on BBC Radio 4 this morning. In the wake of public health panics over matters such as the MMR triple-vaccine, the 'Today' programme asked how the confidence of the general public could be regained by the scientific community, which was sometimes seen to be too influenced by corporate and commercial interests.

This, of course, is an important and valid question. The marketisation of society, and with it of scientific endeavour, raises profoundly problematic moral issues. How can control and accountability be maintained in an era of weakening states and boundary-defiant technology?

Unfortunately, the axis of the exchange between Kathy Sykes, Collier Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, and Tracey Brown, spokesperson for the lobbying organisation Sense About Science, turned on a naive fact-value distinction - not helped by the interviewer, who seemed to think people wanted scientists to be "desiccated fact machines". It was as if Kantian and (more importantly) post-Kantian theory had never really happened.

In fairness, Sykes was well aware of this. But Brown's advocacy of evidence-based science as 'opinion free' seemed monological. Empiricism is an important tool, and rightly used can help guard against extending ideas beyond the explanatory territory where they first emerged. But wrongly used (that is, when it denies non-empirical factors) it can do the opposite. Seeing it as the only form of rationality is therefore dangerous. What we 'find' when we investigate analytically is conditioned by a range of social, cultural and political factors. One does not have to be a raving philosophical anti-realist to recognize this.

As Kathy Sykes rightly said, in the debate about the application of science and technology we need to hear from scientists about the evidence they are weighing, and also about how they see that evidence shaping (or being shaped by) wider public concerns. And we also need to engage with other perspectives on the same issues.

Mary Midgely has some thought-provoking and trenchant observations to make about over-reductive approaches to the public role of science in her new book The Myths We Live By. She has also made some useful interventions in the discussion about the different languages of religion and the social and material sciences, of course.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Thursday, September 16, 2004


As the argument within the churches about human sexuality rages on, it is always good to see people who refuse to play 'the tribal game' and whose inclusivity is rooted in (no doubt painful) theological wrestling. I'm thinking of the recently formed Accepting Evangelicals who, along with Courage and the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, give the lie to the idea that this is some kind of simple war between 'liberals' and 'conservatives'.

Given the vituperative climate, AE are a brave bunch of people, too. But no-one who has worked with Benny Hazlehurst (as I was fortunate enough to do in Southwark Diocese in the mid-90s) could doubt his faith or integrity. Not being an evangelical I can't join. But I certainly send AE my best wishes and prayers. Their self-explanation is as follows:

Accepting Evangelicals is a new network of Evangelical Christians who believe that it is ok to be both Evangelical and open to accepting or affirming views on homosexuality.

It is both national and ecumenical and welcomes anyone who would call themselves an Evangelical. Among its founders are Benny Hazlehurst and Paul Roberts, both Anglican vicars & members of General Synod, and Jeremy & Bren Marks, founders of ‘Courage’.

"We want to create a space for Evangelicals to be able to sign up to an accepting or affirming position on the gay issue without having to stop being Evangelicals!” said Benny Hazlehurst. “We are passionate about the Gospel, and believe in the authority of Scripture, but are prepared to accept that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible on this issue.”

Accepting Evangelicals believe that many Evangelicals are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some of the hard-line statements that are being issued on their behalf. The network also wants to engage constructively with those who are opposed to the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships.

Membership of the network is free, and both people and churches can join up via the web site www.acceptingevangelicals.org/membership info.htm We need to break the myth that being a pro-gay Evangelical is a contradiction in terms so if you call yourself Evangelical, come and visit the web site, join up, and give us your feed back.”

My own musings on Christian faith and sexuality are here.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

From Embodying Forgiveness, by L. Gregory Jones, published in 2002 by ECONI:

"Easter is not about un-crucifying Christ. It's not about forgetting the past. It's about redeeming the past. There is a crucial difference between worshipping Christ un-crucified and worshipping Christ crucified and risen. He comes bearing the mark of nails. The risen Christ returns with a judgment that does not condemn but offers grace, offers forgiveness, even to those who crucified him. And so it is that God's definitive word - even in the face of being rejected by humanity - is 'Yes'."

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

It was a great pleasure to meet Johan Maurer earlier this year - both in Birmingham, where he was based at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre for a number of months, and briefly in Exeter, where I live. Johan has recently entered the blogosphere with Can you believe...?. I shall add him to my regular reads. His current research revolves around the important link between the Quaker testimonies and evangelism. We enjoyed some wonderful conversations about the state of the world, the nature of Christian belief and the centrality of peace witness to the Gospel.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Rowan Williams delivered a remarkable speech at the al-Azhar al-Sharif Mosque in Cairo last week. The full text is here and my Ekklesia news item includes excerpts. First, the Archbishop issued an unambiguous statement of the incompatibility between acts of violence and terror on the one hand, and the practice of true faith on the other. Second, and with great humility, he drew attention to the differences as well as the convergences between Christian and Muslim understandings of God, seeking to explain the significance of Trinitarian thought and to expound its deeper meaning in the context of the offence it occasions. In a climate in which Christian leaders are tempted towards either intemperance or avoidance, Williams' explicit but contextually (and humanly) sensitive approach provides a useful model for the congruence between testimony and dialogue in an otherwise dangerously polarised environment.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Monday, September 13, 2004


This from Bill Wiser in 'For the sake of the children' on the Bruderhof site:

"Beslan is a call to America to remember the candles, the flowers, and the grief that united us in the aftermath of 9/11. On this day, if we turn down the volume, our ears will catch an echo of that still, small voice once again. We may not know where the road will take us, but we owe it to the world’s children to return to the starting point before we have gone so far that we can’t turn back."

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Hundreds of churches of all shapes and sizes have marked Racial Justice Sunday today, and initiative promoted and supported by the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the official ecumenical body.

The aim is to:

* raise awareness of each other's cultures and experiences
* understand ourselves, our own roots and identity
* understand the feelings of people from different cultures
* become more inclusive and outward-looking
* become more welcoming
* encourage all members to contribute to the service of the community
* remember that whatever our skin colour, ethnicity or culture we are all children of God
* deepen our understanding of being ‘one in Christ’
* face up to the challenge of living this out in practice
* tackle injustice, not ignore it

See also my news item about RJS on Ekklesia.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

20-21 October 2004
High Leigh Conference Centre
Hoddesdon Herts EN11 8SG, UK

THEME: "Sharing Christian Faith & Values in a Post-Christendom Context"
with Dr Stuart Murray-Williams
Conference Accompanier: Dr Helen Cameron

* How do we share Christian faith in a post-Christian climate?
* How do we share faith respectfully and with integrity?
* How do we share faith with people of different and no faith?

The Conference is inter-active with speakers, accompanier reflections, question time and some buzz groups. Expect an inter-generational, multi-cultural approach with British and Irish input.

Further details here. Book early, says organiser Terry Tennens.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Saturday, September 11, 2004

[68.1] REMEMBERING 9/11

"Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself" remarks the poet Carol Ann Duffy. It's an echo of Paul's discourse in Romans 8, whereby the Spirit articulates the unarticulatable on our behalf. No doubt this is how many will be feeling today - both those effected by the terrible events in New York in 2001, and those throughout the world whose lives have been torn apart by the war and terror that has been its tragic continuation. Whatever the rhetoric of the White House and Downing Street to justify their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world most certainly does not feel a safer place. The questions about where we are and where we are going as global societies only deepen. But we can continue to strive for justice amidst the mess. And we can remember and pray.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


In the wake of the horrors of Beslan prayer and silence feels the best course... But as the tragedy unfolded I was working on a long-overdue column for the Ekklesia site. It's called 'Making peace on terrorism?'...

' “To clutch at everything or to throw away everything is the reaction of those who [whether they know it or not] believe fanatically in death.”

'So declared Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who faced the horrors of Nazism without ducking or diving – and who paid the price with his life.

'Sadly, ‘clutching’ and ‘throwing’ seems almost all we are habituated to do as the latest example of the awful logic of terrorism stares cruelly out of our TV screens in those unforgiving scenes of carnage from Beslan.

'When upwards of 350 people, many children, are killed through a school hostage stand-off in a once obscure border town, no-one knows quite what to think anymore.

'The numbing heartlessness of tactics like this also anaesthetises rational thought among politicians and sensible debate in the popular media.' More here.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

I Came across Maggi Dawn's superb weblog recently. And I noticed, inter alia, this moving poem by Rosie Mills. Some of you will recognise 'Texts of Terror' as the title of a marvellous book by biblical scholar Phylis Trible - published in the US by Fortress Press in the Overtures to Biblical Theology series, at the end of the 1980s IIRC...

For all the Godawful Bits of the Bible

(For Sara Maitland)

For the texts of terror:
For the rape and the pillage and the shame
Of these sanctified words;
For the whatthefuckdowedowiththis verses
That make no sense at all
To us, now;
For their endurance in our lives;
For the utter brokenness
Of God's human words;
For knowing how these words have
Prevented love,
Stifled life,
Stunted growth;
For still somehow reading on.

And yet,
In spite, or even because of all this,
There are theologies
Or irreverence and mischief
Winking their way into our lives;
Playful theologies of craft
Weaving the weft against the warp,
Shuttling untold designs
Into new patterns;
Theologies of art and lies
Telling us stories we never knew.

These painful words will endure,
Or maybe be forgotten.
How we inhabit their shadowIs no longer a question
For those who think they know,
But for the loving potters,
the waiting poets,
the holy clowns.

(c) Rosie Miles

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Monday, September 06, 2004


The tragedy of Beslan is part of a long cycle of violence and horror. This from the London Free Press in an article yesterday:

'President Vladimir Putin faces the same dilemma that earlier led czars and Communist commissars to seek "solutions" to the Chechen problem that were as brutal as any in the annals of warfare. ...

'Gen. Mikhail Yermolov, who led Russian forces in a ruthless 30-year campaign to conquer the Caucasus region in the 19th century, called the Chechens "congenital rebels." ...

'Yermolov eventually subdued Chechnya by incinerating its forests to deny cover to the guerrillas, and by executing dozens of Chechen hostages for every Russian soldier he lost.

'In 1944 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin accused the Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis and had the entire nation -- half a million people -- deported to Central Asia. An estimated 150,000 Chechens died during the forced winter march.

' "Deportation and the exile that followed united the Chechens, in bitterness, sorrow and rage," says Vladimir Dimitryev, an expert with the Russian Institute of Ethnology. "We are reaping the harvest today." '

CTBI offers the following prayers from its new Remembrance material, Beyond Our Tears.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Saturday, September 04, 2004


"To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfish­ness…The only alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers, all the perturbations of love is hell." (C. S. Lewis)

I have a distinctly ambivalent relationship to C. S. Lewis. His children's novels passed me by, I confess. And his Christian writings mainly came upon me when I was working in adult theological education, trying gently to wean people off some of the faux apologetic strategies that seemed a by-product of their encounter with his brilliant but narrowly scholastic mind.

What is more remarkable about Lewis than his allegorical accounts of faith, in my fragile opinion, is the depth of insightful feeling that can emerge (in quotations like this) from one so evidently steeped in moralism. It's like a breaking free, much as Kierkegaard's disturbing inner repression gave rise to flights of hopeful imagination. God is no respecter of our constraints.

This quotation seems particularly apt in an age of obsessive consumption - the new moralism for the post-moral.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

Sorry to have been away for so long. Other issues, other priorities. I aim to update the blog a couple of times a week from herein. We'll see how it goes.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety