Tuesday 18 February 2014

Anger and sadness at bishops stance on same sex marriage.

Having just come back from the SCM conference, I've been a little slow to react to the news from the Bishops regarding forthcoming legislation on same sex marriage. To pre-empt changes in the law, the Bishops have issued guidelines that effectively do three things:

1) ensure that no priest or church, regardless of how much they might be in favour of same sex marriage, are allowed to bless such a union.

2) to say that no-one will be allowed to enter the church and serve as deacon, priest or bishop if they have had a legal same sex marriage.

3) to warn that anyone who is already ordained is forbidden from entering such a marriage. If they do, will face risk of sanctions (even expulsion from ordained ministry)

The new Archbishop has made a disappointing error of judgement in pushing the bishops in this direction for a number of reasons:

1) The Church of England, slowly recovering from the shame of its slow acceptance of women bishops, now looks even deeper out of touch with issues of equality and justice.

2) The church hierarchy has now officially adopted not a pastoral stance on this issue (as one would expect from bishops) but an authoritarian one. Effectively, it has said that it will not tolerate any other position, whilst trying to make out that it is in some sort of 'dialogue'.

3) The bishops are making it much harder for many of us involved in mission, especially those of us who work with young people. The youth of today seem to have a much better moral compass than the church does, and they ask themselves, 'why would anyone want to be part of an institutionally homophobic organisation?'

4) They have broken the hearts of many faithful and committed clergy, many of whom long for the opportunity to express themselves through marriage.

5) The Church of England will face the public humiliation every time it now seeks to punish clergy and exclude people from ministry because of their sexuality and legal marital status.

It is such a shame. The Bishops could have adopted a more pastoral role, and also allowed for the diversity of opinion within the church. Many clergy, churches and even some bishops (quietly) want the freedom to bless the marriages of faithful LGBT Christians in their congregations and dioceses. Most of us understand that not all Christians and Churches accept same sex marriage, and nobody should be forced to do a blessing or have a Gay married priest if their congregation does not accept it. But refusing to allow those of us that do accept LGBT couples the chance of acknowledging that is a denial of our calling and ministry. It is quite simply wrong, in the same way that all discriminatory practice is wrong.

Like the vote not to allow women bishops last year, I hope that the error of this guidance will quickly be rectified. But I suspect it will be a much longer and tougher battle. Let us be compassionate in our debates, but also determined to point out when our leadership is wounding the body of Christ, and needs to repent.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Looting and heartbreak in the floodlands

I've just come off the phone to my Mum down near the Thames, and the news is just getting worse and worse regarding the flooding. The council estate that I grew up in near Staines, is now mostly flooded. People have been evacuated in boats and there is chaos everywhere.

My Dad and brother have been trying to buy sandbags to protect our house, but they are tackling a problem not much noted in the press. If they leave them for any period of time, they just keep being nicked. My mum reports white vans cruising the worst affected areas, with homes being looted when left abandoned.

The worst flooding the area have ever experienced, almost certainly caused by global warming, is being dealt with by a government of climate change sceptics. The political intervention is too little to late.

And while politicians wade through the leafy parts of the South East/West - I've yet to see them in the council estates of the South, and mention how they intend to stop the poorest and most vulnerable communities from suffering from looting and having their water defences stolen.

First things first, help the most vulnerable - but that is almost impossible when the public sector has been almost decimated in the South. We have destroyed our own defence systems, from privatised utilities to policing.

These floods force us to realise that not only is our planet fragile and needs taking care of, but so to are our communities - made sick by the processes of our 'market led' economy.

Friday 7 February 2014

Singing for freedom

Yesterday I attended a singing workshop run by my good friend Clare Hunt (from the band Hyldas, a celtic/spiritual ensemble.) It was for Sanctuary seekers and refugees, and let those of all abilities have a go at the art of singing.

Clare led us through South African protest songs, songs of joy and hope - and at the end all of us, even poor singers like me, really felt like we'd achieved a lot. It was magical hearing the harmonies kick in, and very moving to see one women with tears of joy on her cheeks during one moving song based on Julian of Norwich's line 'All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well'

I just wanted to say how wonderful it was, and how grateful I am to those who use music to heal wounds and bring unity to people who are often isolated by society.

Peter Seeger's death suddenly reminded me of how important music is to our journey of liberation and hope - and it was good and timely to be reminded of that yesterday amongst friends.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

How 'The Jump' legitimises the illegal occupation of Palestine

'The Jump' is pretty trashy television, and is part of the inevitable build up to what looks like the most repressive and homophobic Winter Olympics imaginable.

But it is not the poor quality television or even the lack of will to address Russia's vicious discriminatory policies that bother me most about Chanel 4s latest 'reality TV' offering.

It is the shows sponsorship by 'SodaStream'. Many of us thought that SodaStream had been eradicated at the end of the eighties on the grounds that each supposedly different flavour of carbonated water tasted exactly the same. It turns out though that they are still going strong, producing their machines in parts of occupied Palestine.

The Israeli fizzy drinks machine-maker has a factory in the industrial zone of Maale Adumim - a Jewish settlement built on occupied land to the east of Jerusalem.

Under most interpretations of international law - although not Israel's - building homes and businesses on such territory is illegal.

I only found out that SodaStream were such a toxic company when Oxfam announced that Scarlet Johansson was no longer able to continue as one of their ambassadors because of her advertising deal with the company. Oxfam quite rightly could not endorse an ambassador who openly supported the breaking UN resolutions concerning the illegal settlements.

So another reason to hate 'The Jump'. I can now only think of one thing that could be worse: 'Splash' sponsored by Wonga.com

Now's the time to put the arms trade on trial!

Yesterdays decision in a Stratford Court to acquit 5 Christian peace activists, is a huge blow for the way the police deal with the biannual DSEi arms fair.

Throughout the two day trial, activists constantly reminded the courts that whilst they were being prosecuted for trying to prevent a crime during the London arms fair, none of the companies who had been expelled the same day for trying to sell illegal torture equipment, faced any threat of prosecution.

These five brave activists had blocked the entrance to the Excel centre where the fair was being held in September last year. Myself and several others had acted as decoys, and had been escorted away by the police while the smartly dressed activists were able to get close enough to the security gates and joined themselves together in prayer.

They conducted themselves with great dignity, and the judge remarked during the hearing that their behaviour had been exemplary.

The police had however not behaved as well as could be hoped, barking out contradictory orders to the protesters, and failing to be aware of the criminal activities that were taking place in the conference centre behind them.

But these 5 lovely folk should never had had to go through this ordeal in the first place. It is a system that allows and encourages the sale of arms to dodgy dictatorships that ought to be prosecuted. The police ought to send as many officers as it uses to arrest peaceful protesters into the exhibition halls to monitor which companies are selling illegal weapons, and to arrest those responsible. For the last 10 years at this exhibition, companies have be found to have been conducting illegal activity, yet no one has been dealt with in the courts.

Its time for the government to stop harassing peaceful protesters and wasting tax payers money on ridiculous cases, and start spending its time and money putting the real criminals on trial.