Sunday, September 30, 2007


"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it...

"Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions, courage that could be described as 'grace under pressure' - grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure.

"A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve [humanity]'s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear.

"Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again..."

Aung San Suu Kyi's essay "Freedom from Fear" was first released for publication to commemorate the European Parliament's awarding to her of the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award ceremony took place in her absence at Strasbourg on 10 July 1991.

The Burma Campaign UK said an estimated 3,000 people attended a march in London, which was the biggest protest for Burma in the UK so far. Gatherings were also held in cities such as Newcastle and Brighton.

The protests happened as UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari met detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the Burmese city of Rangoon.

The London demonstration, which was organised by the Burmese Democratic Movement Association, followed a call for action on social networking website Facebook. The march was led from Trafalgar Square by a Buddhist monk while various members of the UK's Burmese community carried banners, flags and large portraits of Ms Suu Kyi.

Burma Campaign UK's founding member John Jackson called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to ensure the EU presented a united front as he hoped continuing international pressure would make its mark. Full BBC report. And Indymedia UK reports here and here. There will be a bloggers' day for Burma on 4 October 2007 and an international day of solidarity on 6 October.

The eyes of the world focus on the violence in Myanmar, France - Sep 29, 2007
A Similar demonstration of support for the Myanmar people took place in Bangkok.

Protesters demand end to Burma regime
Indian Muslims, CA

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Andrew Harding for the BBC in Bangkok: Burma hurtling into the unknown. Also: How should the world react? (Beeb vox pop); A prayer for Burma (Philippines); Oil companies look to exploit Burma (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia); Protesters urge Olympic boycott over Chinese support for Burma (San Francisco Chronicle, USA); Hope Wanes Among Protesters in Myanmar (Associated Press)... and more on the rumour front Junta head's family said to have fled from capital (Electric New Paper, Singapore).

The question about whether there is dissent or the possibility of mutiny was briefly mentioned during a BBC Radio 4 Profile expert analysis of the situation in Burma a few minutes ago (19.15 GMT). The programme is hosted by Evan Williams. A regional commentator said that there are some in the military who fear vengeance from within and without if the continue on the same path. But it is difficult to assess the extent of such feeling or its possible impact on the current situation. Overall the programme left one under no illusion about the extent of the regime's determination to maintain its grip on the arms, the money and the power, portraying a junta fatally out of touch with the world, the interests of the country - and therefore tone deaf to international resonances. It wasn't an encouraging picture. But the scale of resistance and its network of global support is also stronger than ever before. Meanwhile, there's a good article on Guardian Comment-is-Free (with less stupid than usual responses to it, as well) entitled Burma's true leaders [September 29, 2007 12:00 AM] The monks have bravely filled the vacuum created by the decapitation of the opposition movement. It's by Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile, is the editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine.

In London today protestors demanding an end to the military crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in the country officially called Myanmar - by the dictatorship - gathered outside the country's embassy to voice their concern (picture). Dozens of similar vigils and marches have been taking place around the world.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Myanmar on Saturday 29 September 2007 and headed straight to the capital, Naypyidaw, for talks with government leaders, diplomatic sources report. Details here on Channel News Asia. News summary on Ekklesia. Hourly News and Photos on The Irrawaddy – Independent Burma / South East Asia News | Daily Protest Synopsis | UN Security Council Expresses Concern over Crackdown | FPIF - Monks Versus the Military | Singapore Police Target Local Burmese Demonstrators | EU should boycott Olympics | Free Burma Corporate Boycott 2 | Online Petition Stand with the Burmese Protesters | National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma – exile government | Free Burma 2 | Burma net

Some of the regional and on-the-spot citizen journalism is summarised and linked in the post Bad Times in Burma, by Dave Lucas. There are pictures of recent street scenes in the confrontation between citizens and the military here. The Burma News Cbox says there is little emerging at the moment. The response of the Japanese is noted (they are meeting to discuss the situation). Which way China jumps, and whether dissent in the army proves substantial, will be critical factors in deciding the outcome of the struggle between democracy and dictatorship. The junta evidently realises that it is in a life-and-death conflict - with the eyes of a watching world trained on it. Last night, at Sanchaung lann, the army reportedly went into a monastery to arrest the monks. When the people in the area tried to prevent them from going into the building, the soldiers threatened that they would shoot at the people, but did not immediately do so. It is believed that the military (SPDC) is trying to trick the United Nations envoy by asking their followers to carry out a 'set-up' protest - rallying against the genuine demonstrations. SPDC followers will force civilians to join in this action at gunpoint. This highlights the scale of the propaganda war going on. News just (13.45) in suggests that the army are wanting to use sniper tactics rather than mass killings against their civil and substantially nonviolent opponents, recognising their isolation in a global setting.

This post was updated at 02.44 GMT, 29 Sep 07.

As yet unconfirmed reports from military sources in Burma say that there is significant unrest in the army, with reports of mutinying in some areas and claims that a coup is taking place. Meanwhile the death toll of protesters has been growing significantly.

Also: (BBC)

US strengthens sanctions on Burma

Friday, September 28, 2007


Bradford church blockades Total garage over Burma crisis | Ekklesia

A progressive church in Bradford is calling on all churches to advocate a boycott on Total garages during the present crisis in Burma - because the company is seen as an important prop to the murderous regime there.

Via Cbox:
Go to this link for more details
29 Sep 07, 01:43
Military sources in Rangoon are claiming that the regime's number two, General Maung Aye has staged a coup against Than Shwe, and that his troops are now guarding Aung San Suu Kyi's home. A meeting between him and Suu Kyi is expected. Maung Aye is army commander-in-chief and a renowned pragmatist.
29 Sep 07, 01:18
URGENT : From internal source: It is heard that the junta has set a plot to assassinate the most senior venerable monks (Sanga Maha Naryaka) tonight as if it is done by the monks involved in the protest.
28 Sep 07, 23:30
Army is currently entering almost all the monasteries in Yangon now and shooting the people. (

Some reports on Guardian News blog that the Burmese military are divided: "4.15pm - The Irrawaddy is suggesting that the army disquiet about how to handle the protests goes right to the top. Unconfirmed reports say there are unusual troop movements underway in Rangoon, amid reports that Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the junta's chief, and Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, his second in command and the commander in chief of the army, have disagreed over the response to the recent demonstrations. Maung Aye is planning to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and is disturbed by the bloody crackdown, diplomatic sources have told the Irrawaddy. It adds that Suu Kyi has been taken to Yemon Military Camp on the outskirts of Rangoon."

Also, a 21.03 ( local time) report on Cbox say the cadets wanted to come to Mandalay to stand by the monks and the people but had their weapons confiscated. [Hat tip again to Nigel Rogers]

The CBox Burma News 'twitter' is here:

JustChurch in Bradford are urging a consumer boycott of Total, the largest investor in the dictatorship - which was blockaded yesterday. There will be more on Ekklesia this evening. In the meantime here is some information from the Burma Campaign - the 'dirty list' of companies backing the regime.

Many people are also wearing red clothing today, in solidarity with the monks and other civil society protesters risking their lives on the streets of Ragoon.

My friend Nigel Rogers writes: "West Country friends may care to note the entry for Britannic Garden Furniture Limited Costers Close Quarry Road Alveston Bristol BS35 3HZ. Britannic Garden Furniture is the West Country’s leading British manufacturer of “genuine” (Burmese) teak garden furniture. Their furniture can be found in such prestigious places as Hyde Park and the Tower of London. The Burmese regime owns all teak plantations in Burma and teak sales earn the regime millions of pounds every year.

The company has said (check your glasses here): "As for Aung San Suu Kyi, admitted her party had won the election on a very small turnout. We note that she seems to be very comfortable and well looked after in her bungalow and seems easily to communicate with the outside world. Burma's human rights, admitted, are not very good and probably fifty percent of the rest of the world are not either."

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The answer to the age-old question about whether religious engagement in politics is a good or bad thing is inevitably, "well, it depends what kind of religion involved in what kind of politics you are talking about". Collaborative action to model alternatives or to stand up for justice and peace through civil society and the political process is one thing; sectarian, Christendom or fundamentalist attempts to manipulate governance for self-interest is quite another. Not that everything can be neatly tidyed into those two baskets, of course. But much discourse at the moment nevertheless seems to suppose that it is simply a matter of choosing between domineering religion or privatized religion - which is pretty silly, when you look at the complex reality and consider different frameworks.

For this reason, many people (and not just 'religious people') will welcome Madeleine Bunting's balanced comments in The Guardian today (sadly and instantly dismissed as 'cynical opportunism' by the angry brigade at the National Secular Society). Her piece is entitled An enlightened politics, and references the role of monks in the attempt at nonviolent resistance to dictatorship in Burma.

"[On]ne cannot help but wonder quite how the batch of critics of religion will interpret the role of the Buddhist monks. Christopher Hitchens has recently argued that religion poisons everything and goes on to insist that no progressive political movement has had any religious influence. He insists that a figure like Martin Luther King Jr was in no real sense a Christian. How will he explain the Burmese monks? Will Richard Dawkins accuse these monks of child abuse for encouraging young boys to join their monasteries? It would be sophistry to argue that Buddhism does not talk of a God and that it is not a "real" religion (an old and tired debate).

"It's not that we should regard Buddhism as having a uniquely positive contribution to make to politics. Things aren't so clear cut - it plays a positive role in some places, and not others. Burma's Buddhist traditions are closely linked to those of Sri Lanka. Both are Theravada, but in Sri Lanka, the sangha have played a reprehensible role in Sinhalese nationalism.

"The point is that you cannot generalise about the role of religion in politics [my emphasis]. At some points in human history it has been a malign and terrible influence, at others, it has been critical to the development of progress and challenging injustice, as Tristram Hunt wrote on this site recently. In recent years, we have seen a lot of the former which is what makes these images of monks and nuns so powerful. They are reminding us all that faith can inspire great courage, dignity and compassion."

They key question of course, is what makes the difference. This is something we are constantly working on at Ekklesia.

Incidentally, the claim that MLK wasn't really a Christian beggars belief - if you'll forgive the pun - and shows astonishing disregard for the evidence. Which is really very depressing. Whether we are Christians, atheists or people of other life-convictions and stances, we need a much better encounter/dialogue between those of faith and those of no faith (or "good faith", as Peter Challen well puts it). The fine (humanist) people at The O Project are among those trying to promote this - and to highlight the positive social justice work done by non-believers; something that is as equally lost on the institutionally religious as the inspiration of faith is to Hitchens et al.

Pic: Madeleine Bunting

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


This is from eyewitness accounts of the recent clashes in Burma, relayed to Time magazine reporters. Read the whole report here.

The battle for Shwedagon began in ferocious noonday heat ... By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes ... An 80-year-old monk stood with the student, bleeding from a baton gash on his shaven head ... A pause came upon the battle. The monks regrouped at a nearby monastery to march downtown. But first came a chilling display of the people's anger — and the monks' moral influence.

"A man on a motorcycle rode up. Motorcycles have been banned in Rangoon for years, ever since — the story goes — the paranoid generals fear being shot by assassins riding one of them. Most people on motorcycles are therefore assumed to be spies. Thus sensing an enemy, the mob pounced. The man was pulled off his bike and set upon by students and people armed with wooden sticks. "Beat him!" they cried. "Kill him!" Quickly, the monks intervened and ushered him away to the safety of a nearby monastery. The mob, however, set upon his motorbike with clubs and rocks, smashing it to bits."

"The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear." - Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Here is the latest information I have about protests in support of the nonviolent uprising against dictatorship in Burma.

March from Trafalgar Square to the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar.
Please arrive at 11:30 am on Sunday 30th September; the march will begin at 12:00 pm.

There is a demonstration outside the Burmese Embassy in London every day from 12-1pm
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
19 a Charles Street
London W1J 5DX
Nearest tube Green Park
More information here

Thursday, Sept. 27 at 6:00 pm, City Hall (Bay and Queen)

In Front of Melbourne State Library
6.30 pm Thursday 27 September 2007
Please bring candles if you are able
For enquiries contact or 0412 071 935

Amnesty International is organizing various protests :
Please email any other details of protest and solidarity action to:

[From the Ekklesia media centre. See also the full news brief and updated press release]. And hat tip to Glenn Branch and the excellent National Center for Science Education in the USA]

"Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia, has welcomed the government's new guidelines which prohibit teaching creationism and 'Intelligent Design' in science classrooms, but say pupils in RE need to understand how such ideas arise, as “an important step forward”.

He commented: “Creationism and Intelligent Design are not legitimate scientific theories. They are constructs based on discredited ideas about biblical texts, a misunderstanding of the idea of creation (which is an understanding of the world process as gift, not a theory of origins in competition with evolution) and a god-of-the-gaps approach rejected by serious theologians.”

Ekklesia argues that creationism is a well-funded political movement primarily orchestrated by the religious right in the USA as a response to its wider loss of power and influence.

“Pupils seeking to acquire an understanding of religious and other life stances need to understand how and why fundamentalist world views emerge”, said Barrow. “But they also need to know why they are rejected by mainstream theologians and scientists. Likewise, as the government rightly says, creationism and ID have no place in school science classrooms.”

In order to stress that opposition to creationism and ID are not matters that need divide religious and non-religious people when it comes to the classroom, Ekklesia has made joint appeals to the government for clarification with the British Humanist Association (BHA).

Archbishop of canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has described creationism as "a category mistake" in religious thought.

The guidance to teachers can be viewed here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Keeping Faith Simon Barrow Guardian Comment-is-Free Sep 25 07, 08:00pm: Labour 07: One of the more intriguing aspects of Gordon Brown's first Labour party conference speech as serving prime minister was his decision to use consciously biblical language as part of his argument against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy. [Cont'd]

This has led to an interesting point of discussion on the Ekklesia Facebook page [register to access] about whether Gordon Brown sees the enabling state as some kind of surrogate church. Which in turn raises a host of issues about the theology of statehood and the polity of ecclesial practice. But these were not at the forefront of my mind here. The point I was making in The Guardian was simply that, while it is desirable to have a clear distinction between religion and state, it is good to have the exclusionary rhetoric of the religious right challenged on its own terms - as part of the necessary willingness of those operating in the public square to countenance and deal with a plurality of moral languages emanating from different traditions. Rather than privileging one.

I don't think a PM can ever do proper justice to biblical language, however, because its alternative power - which looks very like powerlessness in a worldly context - resides in sources other than the kind of authority he (in this case) is properly mandated, able and willing to deploy in a democratic arena. By contrast, the vision of the kin-dom of God as an invitation to the politics of radical forgiveness, peacemaking and common life is what church needs to be about, in action not just rhetoric. I guess I should have made that point. But I stuck to the civic dimension, as I don't imagine CIF readers would care about the theological side of the equation (though many of them don't seem to care about diversity in civics either, preferring merely to wish for the elimination of what they don't want to hear, namely anything formed in proximity to 'religion').

As a footnote, I should add that back in May 2007, Johan Hari - who often displays a rather monochrome antipathy toward religion - wrote an interesting and balanced piece on Brown's God for The Independent. Likewise, Matthew Parris (the Times columnist, ex-Tory MP and secularist) appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, pointing out that the tenor and substance of GB's use of biblical phrases was quite different to that of Tony Blair - who often spoke them as if they were his own words, eliding the realm they came from with his own far too readily.

None of this, by the way, should be read as some uncritical endorsement of Brown - or an indication that I am uncynical about politicians quoting scripture for their own ends. I think GB is a definite improvement on TB. But that is not saying I favour New Labour, whose rise has been facilitated by an enseemly accommodation of the neoliberal agenda that has homogenized nearly all mainstream party politics in recent years.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Yup, changing the terms of failed engagements, challenging over-vested interests and reaching out for new non-confrontational paradigms. That ought to be a desirable thing. And in this case I'm not just talking about Richard Dawkins and his acolytes, he says with a smile (I've been away for ten days, so those expecting comments and response on that one will have to wait a wee while longer - though they might read this, inter alia, in the meantime).

No, I'm thinking of Israel-Palestine. My friend Michael Marten, who is an extremely well-resourced academic and commentator in this area, has a good piece on this for Ekklesia - (Transformational diplomacy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) which has gone up in advance of next week's Quartet powers (UN, Russia, Europe and USA) meeting.

There is an increasing body of opinion voicing serious concern at government policy in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the International Crisis Group, several of the major churches, and the UK parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee. All are calling at different levels for a recognition that having urged the Palestinians to hold elections despite the ongoing occupation, it behoves the West to ‘urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements’ within Hamas (FASC).

Not communicating with those who do not share our world view will not lead to peaceful resolution of conflicts, but rather empower those who already feel that the West is neither trustworthy nor sincere in its desire for democratic and peaceful change.

The potential transformation of relationships that can come about through open and honest meetings with (supposed) opponents is something that many within the churches, involved for example with ecumenical and interfaith groups, will be able to bear witness to. It is the activities of ordinary people, involved in what are often extraordinary acts of rapprochement and reconciliation, that can be used as examples in exercising pressure on those in positions of authority, as demonstrated on a very public level by the recent involvement of South African and Northern Irish politicians in helping Iraqi politicians meet and discuss issues between them.

Those who take an interest in the situation in the Middle East should take heart from the fact that the renewed prominence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not due solely to weariness with the disastrous everyday toll of death and destruction emerging from Iraq, but is also due to the continued pressure from the countless people who are working hard to change attitudes to the conflict. Some of these actions, such as the growing boycott of Israeli goods, are almost certainly completely ineffective in direct power-political or economic terms, but are a tremendous tool for communicating the issues to those unaware of them, as well as empowering those involved.

Civil society can effect change – it is already doing so – and the churches need to continue to play their part in this. As non-party political participants in the wider political scene in this country they occupy an important role, but they do that often through the work, not of the church hierarchies, but through the engagement and dedication of ordinary members – the civil society of the churches, one might say.

Encouraging the government to listen to advice from regional experts rather than partisan envoys, engaging with ‘the enemy’ (as a certain Palestinian Jew encouraged us to do 2000 years ago), treating Occupier and Occupied as such and working towards enabling a just resolution of the conflict between them – these and more are things that the churches and its members, together with the other elements of our wider civil society (Muslim, secular and so on), can continue to pursue and involve others in.

Now that really would be ‘transformational diplomacy’.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


My friend Richard Skinner has written a thoughtful general piece on why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously, in spite of the deficiencies of many of his lines of reasoning on 'religion'. There's no doubt that The God Delusion has found a dedicated and often vociferous following. We live in an unsettled age where many people crave certainty. And if they can't find it in particular types of belief they will find it in particular types of non-belief which share an equal irritation with careful interpretation that recognises the unavoidability of ambiguity, plurality and complexity. As Richard Skinner says, this stuff may lack subtlety, but it is a rightful electric shock for the churches -- whose failure to take their intellectual task seriously has produced a culture (both within and without) which is radically ignorant of even the basic tools of intelligent discourse about religion. I'm also reading John Cornwell's playful and wry riposte, Darwin's Angel, at the moment. I'll be reviewing it in due course. Cornwell is director of the Science and the Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge. See also his Guardian article, The importance of doubt, which ends with this important comment:

''It was only to be expected that a bold thesis that condemned religion en masse would have profound socio-political implications. Dawkins is a brilliant natural historian, whose science books I have celebrated in a string of reviews. The God Delusion has been criticised for trespassing clumsily in the realms of theology; but my own objections are more in the ambit of socio-politics. Put bluntly, The God Delusion is liable to persuade religious fundamentalists that a pluralist secular society is every bit as hostile to the practice of faith as they ever thought it to be. By urging the elimination of religion in the name of all that civil society holds dear, Dawkins is inviting fundamentalists to be even more fundamentalist. His book, then, is a counsel of despair as well as an incitement to the very thing he deplores and seeks to remedy.''

Thursday, September 13, 2007


One would think that peace, a term that occurs as many as one hundred times in the New Testament alone, would enjoy a prominent place in theology and ethics textbooks. Yet it is surprisingly absent. (By contrast, three contested texts about same-sex relations - written out of the context of ancient pederasty, idolatry and cultic prostitution, rather than modern faithful partnerships, are used to divide whole churches these days.)

Leading Mennonite biblical scholar Willard Swartley’s superb Covenant of Peace remedies this deficiency, restoring to New Testament theology and ethics the peace that the great majority of evaulative and confessional works have missed. In this comprehensive yet accessible book Swartley explicates virtually all of the New Testament, relating peace — and the associated emphases of love for enemies and reconciliation — to core Christian theological themes such as soteriology, eschatology, Christology, and the reign of God. No other work in English makes such a contribution. Well worth an investment of time and money. Incidentally, Willard has also made some eirenic contributions to the sexuality debate himself. We don't quite see eye-to-eye on that one, but he lives out the peace he preaches and exposits in the way he converses.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


This is the wonderful and evocative title of the second volume in a series of books called The Church and Postmodern Culture (Baker Academic Press), edited by James K.A. Smith of Calvin College, an interesting philosopher writing from a Reformed Christian perspective. John D. Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct (foreword by Brian McLaren), is due for release in the US on 1 November 2007. The first volume in the series, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, by Smith himself, was released in 2006. Conversation related to the series is available in blog form at Church and po-mo.

Planned forthcoming volumes include: Daniel M. Bell Jr. on desire and economy, featuring Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault; Carl Raschke on the impact of globalization on Christian practice and mission; and Merold Westphal on transcendence, community, interpretation in conversation with Kierkegaard and Levinas; Graham Ward on contextual theology and political discipleship; and Bruce Ellis Benson on improvisation as a paradigm for thinking about worship and the arts. Looks very promising, though some more women's voices are badly needed in the midst of this male pontificating.

As regular readers of FaithInSociety will know, I'm a definite appreciator of Caputo and Westphal's work. Also Graham Ward, who has been described by some as "the acceptable face of Radical Orthodoxy" - by which I think is meant "less prone to build huge trenches between his own stance and those of others" than some of the other Cambridge schooled RO thinkers.

Caputo, along with Richard Kearney, (whose The God Who May Be is fabulous) are the featured interlocutors at the 2007 Emergent Theological Philosophical Conversation, for which there's still time to register.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today we remember the terrible events in New York and elsewhere in 2001. But also the bloody coup in Chile in 1973, earlier purges against the Jews in Europe, and myriad other examples of human waywardness - and the opportunity (some would say call) to move in new directions. John M. BuchananThe National Council of Churches USA hosted a communications commission meeting assessing the lasting legacy of 9/11 in terms of faith, media, and American society. Their guests included the prominent Muslim multimedia producer Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid (right), chair of the 400,000-member Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago; and John M. Buchanan (left), editor and publisher of The Christian Century and nationally-known pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Michael Livingston, president of the National Council of Churches, was the moderator.

[From the Ekklesia press room] Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, said today that the best way to honour the memory of Anita Roddick - who died on 10 September 2007 - was to take forward the case for corporate responsibility as a human obligation, not a luxury option.

"It is easy to be cynical and 'ethical business' now that it has become mainstream and trendy", he commented. "Of course there is a lot of hot air around it. But developing alternative practices for doing business as if people and the planet matters is a tough call. Roddick recognised that massive injustice in trade, corporate greed and unfair debt often confounded efforts to take the world in a different direction. But she wasn't daunted or deceived. Nor should we be."

Ekklesia has also praised Roddick for bringing people together from different belief and non-belief backgrounds to work for a better world in spite of their differences.

"She didn't feel easy with 'religion' and she was highly critical of a lot of established religious institutions", said Barrow. "But Anita Roddick also saw the value of spiritual development bringing about material change to the way we live and act - and she was surprised and delighted by her experience of the annual Greenbelt festival, commenting that its practical vitality and intellectual energy was far from the stereotypes of Christianity she had often met, and the stuffiness of the church she had personally encountered."

[Pic: Anita Roddick at Greenbelt in 2004]

Monday, September 10, 2007


Getting Iraq’s war surge to trickle towards peace (Ekklesia, 10 September 2007) Talk of the efficacy or otherwise of the US 'surge' is a smokescreen, says Simon Barrow. There is no long-term military solution to Iraq’s nightmare. But behind the scenes viable alternatives are being sought within civil society - and in conversation with those who have faced the uphill tasks of peace and justice in Ireland and South Africa.

The Daily Star in Lebanon adds: Ironically, Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces some of the same dilemmas as coalition forces in Iraq, though there is certainly no moral equivalency between the two. Both are driven by ideologies that are for the most part alien particularly to Sunni tribal sheikhs. Neither advocates of Western-style democracy nor the champions of strict Islamic orthodoxy offer an appealing vision for Iraq's future. Both sides are led by foreigners and viewed by a majority of Iraqis as occupiers, not liberators. Both are condemned for what is viewed by locals as the indiscriminate killing and brutalization of a civilian population caught in the crossfire of a conflict over which they have little say. Both are well financed and view Iraq as the battlefield for a global struggle that leaves no room for compromise.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


It's crunch time in Washington DC and Baghdad. On Monday 10 September 2007, General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker will begin two days of testimony on Capitol Hill about the progress made by President Bush’s “surge” strategy in Iraq.

Nevertheless, in the quest to develop necessary alternatives to war as an instrument of policy, we should not delude ourselves about what is actually going on, as US Friends minister, commentator an writer Johan Maurer rightly argues. But then he adds, by way of exposition:

"[B]arring the use of wholesale slaughter and massive increases in imprisonment, the surge can, in the long run, only succeed in pushing opposition forces into a waiting mode. Even a new Iraqi military and police force will be no stronger or more stable than the political forces controlling them, and there is no guarantee that those forces will embrace values congenial to today's White House. In any case, that White House has not demonstrated:
  • any willingness to be candid with us critics, or do anything other than talk down to us
  • readiness to submit to public accountability for the disastrous deployment of precious national resources or the compromise of Constitutional values
  • the capacity to assess conditions in Iraq competently or even to argue intelligently (depending for that mostly on pro-administration pundits);
and therefore, any continuation of the surge, or of the occupation generally, that depends on the President's good judgment, should be rejected.

"Don't blame the surge; blame the surgeon. (And all those who've abdicated civilian oversight of the military, congressional oversight over the executive, and the people's oversight over the whole show...)"

[Photo: Christian Peace Witness for Iraq]

"What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war." (Simone Weil)

"To call war the soil of courage and virtue is like calling debauchery the soil of love." (German proverb)

Friday, September 07, 2007


Things can still only get better Simon Barrow Guardian Comment-is-Free, Sep 07 07, 12:00pm: Talk of moral decline shows that people still refuse to give up on the idea of a better world.

[I should point out that my original title did NOT have that 'only' in it (which is patently absurd -- things can get worse too, and nothing in my argument suggests otherwise). But that's modern headline writing for you. I requested at least a question mark, but it was rejected. Ah well. It chimes in on the that nauseating 1997 New Labour anthem, and therefore makes a catchy title. Who cares if it isn't at all what the author intends or means? See, things can't only get better... :) ]

A good footnote c/o Miskatonic University:

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." - Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

This piece [below] will only appear on the Ekklesia front page for a short while, as it is really designed for the immediately upcoming issue of Third Way. I curate my TW articles here, usually a while after they have appeared in print form. But because of the topicality issue, I need to run concurrently on this one. At least it should prove that (astonishing) accusations that I'm Nu Labour as a result of my Guardian piece on Gordon Brown's dual messages are pretty far off the mark. Gosh, today is a bumper day, huh? And there's another Guardian article due at midday, responding to the 'moral decline' BBC opinion survey. Anyway, here it is:

Moving towards post-democracy? There is a growing disconnect with the aspirations of people whose concerns are not adequately mapped by the narrow economic, political and social assumptions of the main political parties, says Simon Barrow. Are we moving into a form of post-democracy?

My colleague Jonathan Bartley is commenting around the studios on the launch of the BBC's new belief and ethics TV programme, The Big Questions, which starts on Sunday 9 September. This morning (7 September 2007) Jonathan is due on: 6.20am BBC Breakfast TV News, 7-9.00 ten Regional Radio News programmes, 9.20 BBC News 24. Times may vary. He is also one of the panellists on the first show this weekend, talking (among other things) about the BBC-commissioned poll that indicates over 80 per cent of the population of Britain is concerned about declining moral values.

[From the Ekklesia media centre] Responding to fears expressed by some faith groups that religious freedom is being undermined by the frameworks of law and regulation leading up to proposals for a Single Equality Bill, the independent Christian think tank Ekklesia has urged churches and others to embrace equal access and rights in the public sphere with greater enthusiasm - because it is consistent with the social justice content of their own Gospel message.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "The comprehensive and integrated equalities agenda across Britain's public institutions is no threat to freedom of religion, diversity or tolerance. On the contrary, equal treatment is a cornerstone of fair access and open expression for all - including people of faith and those of non-religious outlook."

He added: "It is sad that some faith organisations seem fearful of equal rights, especially when it applies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. But there is a clear distinction to be made between the moral stipulations of a community of commitment, and the obligation on public institutions to ensure far treatment. Religious bodies do not have to take public money, run schools and work in cooperation with community and public services. But if they do so, they need to occupy the same level playing field as others."

Ekklesia argues that the churches, in particular, need to pay more attention to the "radically egalitarian" strand of the Gospel message in developing their response to public policy, rather than defending their institutional interests over against others.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Some months ago it looked as if costly and acrimonious legal action was going to be the outcome of a series of disputes between some evangelical Christian Unions and Student Unions across Britain's campuses. Exeter and Edinburgh were among those in the spotlight. Ekklesia's response was to seek to open up dialogue with both sides in the disputes - which was about freedom of speech, and who ran or had access to bodies using student society facilities and publicly funded university/college halls. Our report was called United We Stand. Now, thankfully, things have moved on - and the National Union of Students and the UCCF (which helps run Christian Unions) have reached a common set of guidelines - with the help of the Equality Challenge Unit (see: Student leaders and Christian Unions produce joint guidelines to end disputes). This is great news. And it has involved a lot of hard work for all the parties involved - which didn't include us, incidentally, so there's no trumpet-blowing in that remark. Sadly, the National Secular Society news service sniffily labelled the outcome in terms of "Christians cosy up to Student Unions." This seems unfair and unhelpful. The process by which the mutual guidance has come about is a victory for mediation over consultation, a boost to genuine pluralism (for both religious and non-religious students) and as NUS National President Gemma Tumelty says, "is in line with the law, university regulations, union regulations and the democratic principles of liberty, equality and respect for diversity." That ought, in fact, to be an example of what even-handed secularity, as distinct from an anti-religious variety, is about. My response on behalf of Ekklesia is here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


"It always seems impossible until its done" - Nelson Mandela

"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything" - Mark Twain

(Hat-tip to Gemma Tumelty)

The PM's dual messages Simon Barrow Guardian Comment-is-Free, Sep 05 07, 09:00am: There may not be much to separate Brown from Blair, but his attempts to move ground in Iraq and unlock domestic democracy are reasons to be hopeful.

Here's a further comment on this, responding to the inevitable torrents of cynicism. It's not like I'm saying "in Gordon we trust" in some naive or straightforward way. More like: "here's a door, let's push".

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

People say, "What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them...
- Dorothy Day
from Loaves and Fishes

Saturday, September 01, 2007


At the end of a rather odd piece in the Guardian, complaining that the Church of England's decline is attributable to having more committed members and being prepared to question the social status quo (I would certainly have highlighted rather different issues!), David Self, editor of the Encyclopedia of Christianity published earlier this year by Lion Hudson, ends with an apposite comment on the decidedly ambiguous implications of our new Prime Minister's decision to partially release the C of E from his control:

Ironically, by giving it authority to appoint its own bishops, Gordon Brown has actually given [the Church of England] new authority to appoint unelected members of the House of Lords. Rather than increasing the power of this particular club, we should consider severing its automatic, official links with the establishment and with government in particular.

Quite. The new Church of Ireland Primate, Alan Harper, is also a real breath of fresh air on related issues of the church in public life.