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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Remembrance Day blues

Watching the events over the last week or so unfold have reminded me why I hate what has become of Remembrance Day: The virtually one sided slaughter in Gaza (130 Palestinians and 3 Israelis dead): The failure of UN peacekeepers to prevent horror in the Democratic Republic of Congo: In Durham Cathedral, another funeral of a British soldier dying needlessly in Afghanistan.

War is wrong, war is never a solution. The red poppy, which I cherished as a child, taught me to remember the dead of 2 world wars, in the hope that the horror would never happen again. Since the Iraq war, increasingly, it has taken on a more sinister role, and as become somehow connected to patriotism and a glorification of current conflicts.

In Sunderland, which holds the biggest remembrance day parade outside of London, my decision to wear a white poppy was met with shouts on the streets, even though I wore it with a red poppy intertwined.  The Military flyby at 11am was met by gasps of joy from the crowds, but I couldn't help but feel the terror of those being bombed by such jets around the world.

The white poppy has been around since 1933. It is a symbol that says that we need to strive for peace, not glorify war. In the age of relentless bombing of civilians in Gaza, and of butchering in 22 wars around the world - it is imperative that we all work for peace and put behind us the symbols of war. We need to reclaim the red poppy as a true act of remembrance - never again should we endorse the evils of war. We also need to assert the white poppy, so that we all oppose conflicts, and oppose all those who profit from such conflicts.

White and Red worn together should not be a problem for Sunderland. After all, the city's footballers model on the fields of honour every week!

Supporting the NUS demo for free and fair education!

The impact of the fees increase is obvious for all to see. Mature students are priced out. Poor students are discriminated against. Everyone loses from the uncertainty that universities are faced with. At my university, there is a growing stream of students needing financial support, or feeling terrified by the debts they are amassing.

To get to a London demo from the city of Sunderland is not an easy journey. We are leaving at 3.30am to make sure we arrive in time. I feel far too old for these kinds of shenanigans! But we cannot let this government feel they can get off the hook. They have destroyed any vestige of fairness in higher education, and have created a debt timebomb which will ruin the lives of millions of people.

The Labour Party cannot just complain - they have colluded and allowed this to happen. As for the LibDems, well, they are beyond contempt at the way they have let down students. With all of the political parties being responsible for the problem, we must take to the streets, we must lobby our MPs and force the parties to take education seriously again. I'm dreading the coach journey down, but I cannot sleep well in my bed when there is such a need for a shout for justice.

Come and join me!

The C of E has failed to stand up to sexism in its ranks.

The decision to deny women the right to be bishops is a horrific blow to the Church of England. It is a cruel and even harsher blow to the gifted women in the Church. For 20 years women have been changing the structures of the Church of England from within, doing a remarkable job despite structures that have often devalued them.

The ordination of women to the priesthood has been simply the best thing that has happened to Anglicanism in the last 400 years. Quite simply, it saved the church from irrelevance and terminal decline. But the legislation passed on the 11th November 1992 contained an awful mistake. It allowed a section of the church to exist without having to even experience the difference that women could make.

Most decent people outside the church are perhaps unaware that 'flying bishops' exist, and there are churches that forbid women from 'tainting' the altar by presiding at the Eucharist (bread and wine bit). The flawed legislation 20 years ago allowed Bishops to openly discriminate and refuse to ordain women.

Not dealing with the inherent sexism in these situations and theological stances, has allowed discrimination to be perpetuated and has ultimately got us into the mess we are in today.

Here is the good news; the backlash against this decision by decent people will mean that the days of the sexist church are numbered. Those in the 25% of Synod who have blocked the legislation will find it harder to be re-elected to synod as reaction in the dioceses becomes clear. It is also clear that the vast majority of Bishops and Clergy, and most of the laity want women bishops. Perhaps also it will see an end to bishops and archbishops trying to 'appease' sexists within the church. They are a blight amongst us - they will not compromise, they are entrenched sexists.

None of this will be a consolation to the first generation of women priests who are being denied the right to serve as bishops. This is also a terrible blow to those involved in mission, especially to all of us who are demanding that the Church be at the forefront of the battle for equality and fairness.

The church has to ask itself, is it better off without the sexists, or without women bishops? The answer is clear. For the sake of God's reign of justice and equality, let this be the last day the church panders to the sexists at the expense of the gifted women of God.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Hopes for the new Archbishop elect

Justin Welby came to Sunderland Minster for his first appointment following the announcement that he is to be the New Archbishop of Canterbury. It was quite a treat for us, and a real boost for the projects 'Sunderland Winter Night Shelter' and 'One for the Basket' Appeals which we were launching at the minster.

Superficially, he looks on paper to be the kind of Archbishop I might have some problems with: Eton educated, oil business financier; 'conservative' evangelical etc etc. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he is going to be a lot more promising than people imagine.

He is a genuinely good man with the ability to listen and to change his mind. He is also very funny. He came up to me at the Minster, shook my hand, and said with a big smile; 'I just want you to know Chris, I'm not leaving because you have arrived in the Diocese!'

In fact, I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. When some questions were raised about my appointment because I had been arrested on several demonstrations, a call to Justin made it clear that he backed priests who make such a stand out of conviction. I got this great job and permission to continue experimenting with liberation theology with the backing of Bishop Justin and Bishop Mark of Jarrow.

In note of this, I gave Justin a book about the life of Archbishop Romero, another Bishop who was though of as too conservative by radical priests upon his appointment in 1977. He went on to become one of the most inspirational and courageous archbishops ever. He never failed to speak out for the poor and against the human rights abuses he saw all around him in Central America. Archbishop Romero is the example par excellence of those who use their power and influence humbly but decisively  to work for the reign of God's love.

In the light of the sort of cuts that this government is imposing on our country, Justin Welby is going to have to face up to the challenge of increasing poverty coupled to an uncaring rich elite. Today in Sunderland, He chose to start off by supporting those who are practically engaged in acts of solidarity with the most vulnerable, whilst saying that reliance on food banks and homelessness should not be acceptable in the UK.

Let us prayerfully support Justin, and not jump to conclusions based on his past. He is capable, likable and prayerful - and I have a feeling he is going to pleasantly surprise many progressive people as well as more traditional churches in the years to come.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

"4 more years"

The first thing to do is to congratulate Barack Obama for his success. Let's face it, with the prospect of a dangerous right wing hawk such as Romney in the wings, we needed him to win.

If Romney had won, we would see an inevitable march towards war in Iran, and an Israeli State that would have increasingly felt able to bomb whomever it wanted. Romney would have taken us back to the right wing fundamentalism of the Bush era, and that would have had terrible Global consequences.

Now Obama is promising us that the 'best is yet to come' and we have reason to have scepticism about what that means. I remember the hope of the early days of his first victory; a vague hope of the elimination of nuclear weapons; the promise to close Guantanamo torture centre; an end to the 'mistakes' of the war on terror; a fairer economic climate favouring the poorer rather than the richer; greater emphasis on the environment.

On all of these counts, Obama failed to deliver. He could blame the Republican dominated Senate for some of it, but there was also a clear a failure of passion, and a collusion with the banking and military establishment that cannot be understated.

It had not taken long for my optimism on his election to die down. In Obama's first 100 days, more people were killed by his foreign policy decisions, than in the last 100 days of Bush's presidency. The excessive use of 'drone' technology did not live up to 'the hope for peace' that he talked about.

We expect more from Barack Obama, not out of naivety, but out of necessity. The world needs a different economic approach that genuinely tackles and transforms the evils of capitalism. The world needs all of us working for non-violence. The world needs us to turn from the environmentally destructive path that we are on.

As the most powerful nation on earth,The US needs to leads the way in all of those battles, and Barack Obama is going to have to do much more than just deliver a great victory speech.