Sunday, February 25, 2007

[01.01 GMT] Rebels without a pause Feb 25, 2007, Ekklesia. Simon Barrow celebrates the role of parliamentary troublemakers.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


A seminar: The limits of violence and nonviolence: The moral use of force?

Wednesday 28 February 2007, 7.00-9.00 pm, at St Ethelburga's Centre, 78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG.

Speakers: Bishop David Smith, former Anglican Bishop to the British Armed Forces in conversation with Simon Barrow (Co-Director, Ekklesia) on the limitations and advantages of military force and the conditions in which it may be justified - or not.

Suggested donation £5. You can reserve a place here.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

[18.36 GMT] QUOTE OF THE WEEK. (I don't normally have one of these. But this one was too good to miss.) “There was a great saint who said God was evident when bishops are silent.” Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is his full sermon on 'Amazing Grace'.

'Why Christianity is not homophobic' {MP3} - a popular talk focussing on some of the biblical material from Giles Fraser (vicar of Putney, lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College Oxford, founder of InclusiveChurch, Ekklesia associate) and another on 'Christians, equality and public provision' {MP3} by Malcolm Duncan (evangelical pastor, leader of the Faithworks movement) at this weekend's London conference on Faith, human rights and homophobia. This brought together Christians, trade unionists and NGO workers, humanists and non-believers, and a number of people from other faith traditions. Particularly moving was the talk by Ali Hilli, from the underground LGBT network in Iraq, where sexual minorities are being targetted for assassination. Thanks to LGCM for these links. The final statement from the conference is here.

What is radical about Christianity? Feb 19, 2007. Simon Barrow argues that living tradition is about change not fixity (Ekklesia).

"My experience of being a Christian is that of a surprising, continual and contested process of reformation and rediscovery. In the events and narratives concerning Jesus, which remain central to my life, everything I thought I knew about the world, myself, God and humanity turns out to be nothing like what I expected, and indeed finds itself in need of ongoing transformation.

"The social and political challenge of the Gospel flows, it seems to me, from its radical core. But ‘radical’ has become something of a dirty word, implying (for many) extremism, intolerance or violence; and (for others) an abandonment of historic commitments. These are distortions of its originating meaning.

"By radical (radix, from the Latin) I mean something like ‘rooted-to-be-routed’ – a personal, communal and intellectual re-exploration and re-expression of a deep tradition of reading, reasoning and responding to the world which propels us to its most risky frontiers. That is what is at the heart of Christianity.

"Whereas the conservative tends to be oriented to the past, and the liberal tends to regard tradition as baggage or inhibition, the radical seeks to live out of a wisdom which is malleable and resilient enough to go on changing without breaking, and which has a capacity to bring both surprise and coherence in a way that ‘starting from scratch’ cannot.

"...Call the approach I am taking a type of theological ressourcement, if you will." More.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


"It is not necessary that we should have any unexpected, extraordinary experiences in prayer and meditation. … Not only at the beginning, but repeatedly, there will be times when we feel a great spiritual dryness and apathy, an aversion, even an inability to meditate. We dare not be balked by such experiences… [W]e must not allow them to keep us from adhering to our meditation period with great patience and fidelity. ... It is here that our old vanity and our illicit claims upon God may creep in by a pious detour, as if it were our right to have nothing but elevating and fruitful experiences, and as if the discovery of our own inner poverty were quite beneath our dignity. With that attitude, we shall make no progress." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Ekklesia, along with representatives of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (who commissioned it), is the first to respond to a vital new survey conducted by the Von Hugel Institute: Catholic report shows that migration is about need not numbers.
A university-based Catholic research body at the University of Cambridge has published a report which illustrates the shocking conditions endured by many migrant workers contributing to the economic life of the UK.

“This survey shows that exploitation in an unequal world is the true story of economic migration – not scaremongering about scroungers, which is what the press and politicians often latch onto”, commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. “These are people contributing to our wealth. They deserve fair shares, but instead they face discrimination.”

Ekklesia says that though the Catholic Church, because of its demography, is especially linked with workers from the EU accession countries and beyond, the human challenge migrants pose is one which humanitarian groups of all religious persuasions and none should face up to.

“The Von Hugel report should encourage politicians, journalists and policy makers to focus on needs rather than numbers in the debate about a just immigration policy”, said Simon Barrow.

Ekklesia is also commending the 'Strangers into Citizens' campaign, which is calling for a one-off “earned amnesty” for migrants (whether asylum seekers or economic migrants) who have made new lives in the UK. The campaign, initiated and backed by citizens groups and churches, argues that migrants who have been in the UK for four years or more should be admitted to a two-year "pathway to citizenship". Ekklesia is currently researching alternative approaches to migration based on global mutuality rather than narrow national interests. {Pic: Westminster Cathedral}

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


From Brian McLaren to US Democratic hopeful Barack Obama, on the God's Politics weblog (from BeliefNet and Sojourners):

Please don't lie to us. Please forego both the repulsive, deceptive, and twisted lies and also the flattering lies we like to hear. For example, I heard a fellow candidate recently trot out the tired old line, "America is the greatest country in the history of the world." This makes Americans feel good and gets applause. Maybe it wins votes. But it is a lie. Yes, we are the richest country. Yes, we have the most weapons. Yes, we dominate in many fields, from sports to pop music to movies to pornographic websites to resource consumption and waste production. But the seductive lie of superiority is bad for any nation, including ours. Any nation that keeps telling itself that it is the greatest will become a proud nation (if it isn't already), and pride, I have it on good authority, comes before a fall. Pride makes nations, asindividuals, unpleasant and ugly neighbors, and so candidates make a bad long-term decision when they seek to coddle pride in exchange for votes. If they win, they will preside over a country that their rhetoric has made more ugly and more likely to fall.

Instead of telling us this lie of American superiority, please tell us the truths that we need to hear. Tell us, as you just did in your campaign-launch speech, inconvenient truths – that we and our leaders have a habit of making mistakes and blaming others – whether it's in New Orleans or Baghdad. Tell us the truth about our past – from our own original genocide and ongoing apartheid regarding the Native peoples of this land, to our profoundly unacknowledged and unhealed legacy of slavery and racism, to our failure to care properly for this beautiful part of God's green earth, to our desperate and shameful violations of our own principles and ideals around the world, from Congo to Chile, and from Central America to the Middle East. Those who say, "Those things are in the past, we should just move on," would never say that about, say, September 11, 2001. More.

See also: Barack Obama's faith challenge, by Jerome Eric Copulsky. Official site:

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

[10.17.AM] Independent Jewish Voices today seek a fresh perpective on Israel-Palestine and raise the question of 'who speaks for whom?' - an important issues facing in many religiously defined or shaped communities. It has parallels with with the New Generation Network's stance, and the theological and political issues raised by Christians taking a post-Christendom perspective.

Monday, February 05, 2007


"Fundamentalism has suddenly become a matter of concern for everyone, whether or not they are personally religious. It affects education in science and history; it affects political elections in some countries, and through this it affects international relations; it may affect the question of whether [hu]mankind survives [far] into the twenty-first century. Therefore, if people want to understand the world in which they live, they may find it necessary to understand something about fundamentalism." ~ James Barr, former Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Scripture at the University of Oxford

"I have come to believe that the Bible's multiple voices, far from undermining its importance, actually help to justify its prominence in the Christian faith. For through them we discover the story of an authentic [dialogic] relationship between God and humanity." ~ Susannah Rudge, student leader

From 16-18 February 2007 the Student Christian Movement in the UK are holding their annual gathering near Kidderminster on the theme of 'reading the Bible' in plural and contested contexts. There are a number of significant theologians contributing - including Morna Hooker, Lisa Isherwood and John Vincent. Given both the growth of the fundamentalist mentality on campuses and the relative neglect of mature approaches to the the Bible in the mainstream culture and the churches, this is an important theme.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007


Giles Fraser has penned a trenchant review of a new book on US Christian fundamentalism for The New Statesman. Inter-alia, in the resulting article, Blind Faith, he touches on the important question of cathartic imagination (which is deeply embedded in both religious and cultural expression), noting:

'Nietzsche famously argued that Christianity is driven by hate. The experience of persecution and slavery incubated a deep hatred towards oppressors that came to be sublimated into the notion of the Judaeo-Christian concept of the divine. The Christian God thus became a vehicle for fantasies of violence. So, for example: Psalm 137 begins with the experience of oppression by the rivers of Babylon where "we sat down and wept". It concludes: "Happy shall be he who takes your children and dashes their heads against the rocks."

'As it happens, I think Christianity has deep resources for the containment of what Nietzsche came to call ressentiment. Indeed, theologians like René Girard argue that ressentiment is an unfortunate but unavoidable by-product of the Christian commitment not to answer violence with violence. For, in reality, turning the other cheek, and not indulging in the satisfaction of returning violence in kind, is always going to result in a world of emotional complexity, of nightly dreams of revenge. And bad dreams may be a price worth paying for a commitment to peacemaking. But Girardian theology is a world away from a fundamentalism that manipulates the explosive power of ressentiment. '

Quite. We should acknowledge, and not suppress, our dark fantasies. But we should also recognise them for what they are, as with the Book of Revelation (which I have always argued is part redemption-song and part revenge fantasy). And we should seek the collective moral and spiritual strength to think and act otherwise in the cold light of day - and in the disturbingly warm ray of divine love. {Pic: (c) New Statesman and Society}

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Saturday, February 03, 2007


"Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and [water] tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving in to all those things we can't control; it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched." ~ Anne Lamott, Travelling Mercies.

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Friday, February 02, 2007


On the day the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its report on climate change and global sustainability, welcomed by the world churches, a reflection about the nourishment of Christian movement based on qulaity and relationship - rather than size and conquest. The same ground-up principles that feed the planet produce the kind of moral communities that make environmental action an urgent priority. The IPCC report chapter summary is here (*.PDF), incidentally.

"A church that is concerned about its own sustainability must have strategies other than the growth paradigm, which openly assess its impact and accountability in local and global terms. Sustainability thinking points us to the future; our action or inaction now has consequences for communities and congregations yet to come. Resilient communities are developed with a belief that our future patterns of life can be different if a distinct approach to change is initiated based on a renewed theological understanding of justice, stewardship, and inclusion." ~ Andrew Davey, Urban Christianity and Global Order: Theological Resources for an Urban Future

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


This is a paper I prepared for a consultation convened by the Church of England, and conducted under Chatham House rules. It is now available on Ekklesia: Facing up to fundamentalism (Feb 01, 2007) ~ A description, analysis and response for the perplexed. The fact that ‘fundamentalism’ is used as a general, often indiscriminate and imprecise form of abuse, does not mean that there is not a real problem behind it. But getting to the nub of the issue in the context of media and public policy debate – where the desire for shorthand often overcomes the demands of clarity – is not easy. In this paper I am addressing primarily the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism in Anglo-American contexts, but with an awareness of global concerns and plural/secular pressures. More.

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