The truth will set you free

As I followed the proceedings of General Synod this week, I became aware that the acronym MACSAS appears to have become part of our language. MACSAS is “Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors”. Having found their website, I have been browsing the stories on it. These are not comfortable stories to read as they tell of serious crimes and deep betrayal of trust by clergy and the subsequent failures of the church to pursue justice in response. The stories are not comfortable, but we need to hear them and respond with humility and honesty. A common significant pain point in the stories of abuse “survivors” (a much better word than “victim”) is that they have all in one way or another been disbelieved. Continue reading

Free will (vs God’s sovereignty)

@TomPettinger and I have been discussing free will and God’s sovereignty on twitter, resulting in an agreement that Tom (Pettinger – we’ll take his surname as read from now on) would write a blog post about sovereignty and I would write one about free will. Tom has beaten me to it with his offering, which is here, and should be read as a counterpart to this post. Reading it myself, I kept thinking “that’s not fair, he keeps using all those Biblical passages I don’t entirely know how to handle”, which is about the best comment I can make on why Tom’s post really must be read alongside this one.

Tom begins his post by defining some broad boundaries, i.e. the meaning of “free will”, approach to Biblical interpretation and scope of argument. As the second poster, I will add one further constraint: in this post I will attempt not to reply to Tom’s post, but rather just to make the case I promised to make. So, within these constraints, my task is to argue from the Bible for the existence of human free will. Or, put differently, to argue that God is, in some way, constrained by choices we human beings make.

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Letter to my MP about Iraq

Here is the text of a letter I sent to my MP this morning:

I tweeted you yesterday concerning the fate of the victims of persecution in Iraq. I am now writing more formally. I am hoping that the UK might be able to help those who are being systematically slaughtered by ISIS in several ways:

1. Airdropping supplies. We are, thankfully, already doing this and should be encouraged to continue doing so.

2. Providing sactuary to refugees. As a clergyman, I am aware that the UK treats asylum seekers poorly. The refugees in Iraq need immediate and widespread help. Is there anything our government can do to assist those fleeing the massacre and to welcome them into the UK?

3. Providing military aid. I know this is a frought area and anything we do commits us to long-term involvement. I have not been overly keen on military intervention in the past, but this case seems more simple than most: ISIS has nothing to recommend it and its actions are simply (in the words of Archbishop Justin Welby) “evil”. Can we stand by and allow people to be systematically slaughtered?

Yours sincerely,
Rev Tom Brazier (curate at Holy Trinity, Washington)

Mark Harper’s cleaner

Yesterday’s news was that Mark Harper has resigned as minister for immigration after learning that his cleaner was not permitted to work in the UK. Before saying anything else, we should applaud Mr Harper’s courage and honesty in holding himself accountable to the laws over which he presides.

But I believe Mr Harper does not go nearly far enough. This event must also call into question the very immigration laws by which Mr Harper finds himself accused. If even the minister for immigration is unable to comply with the immigration laws, something is wrong. We should be asking ourselves whether it is really the minister who should go. Or is it, perhaps, the laws which need to be removed? Continue reading

Food banks

Food banks are all high profile now with the today’s debate in parliament and the news that the government didn’t seem to take the debate seriously. There is a lot of criticism of the government. This bothers me, not because the Tories are in any way innocent, but because it is distracting us from more important truths. Here follows some of the things we ought to be saying in response to the rise of food banks.

(This, by the way, is a rant. I am currently writing a book on the subject which goes into more depth, and more calmly. But the points in this post need to be made now.) Continue reading

Hitchens vs Perry

For editors of TV panel programs, Peter Hitchens is through-and-though good value for money. Whatever the subject is, he is guaranteed to say at least one thing which almost everyone will find objectionable and at least one thing which almost everyone will find absurd. And he’ll do both with wit, eloquence and deep conviction. Let’s face it, righteous indignation sells TV and Hitchens generates bucket-loads of it; presenter, panel, studio audience and home audience are all engaged to the deepest fibre of their being.

I do wonder whether anyone had prepared Matthew Perry for this. Whatever the case, it certainly made entertaining TV and the Guardian reported on it with enthusiasm. Naturally, we find ourselves very much in sympathy with Perry as he openly admits on television that he suffers from alcoholism, only to be pilloried by Hitchens, in whose view there is no such thing as addition to alcohol – just bad choices. Continue reading

Archbishop Antje Jackeléns & orthodoxy: everyone is wrong

I’ve been peripherally involved in a twitter conversation about the theology of Antje Jackeléns, the new archbishop of Uppsala. Being a new archbishop, her life and calling are now obviously open to the scrutiny and criticism of any stranger who happens to have an axe to grind. I want to say two things in response to this.

First, I am deeply uncomfortable with this habit we have of parading new archbishops before the world and judging them on the basis of oversimplified issues. I remember clearly some of the horror which greeted the appointment of ++Rowan: he went overnight from someone we’d never heard of to a well-known hippy-liberal who represented all that was wrong about the Church of England. (At least in the circles where I moved at the time. For all I know other circles heralded him as a well-know hippy liberal who would be the saviour of the CoE or, perhaps, far too conservative, too evangelical, too charismatic, too, well “too”). History has shown him to have been a deep, wise and gentle man under whose archiepiscopate (I think that’s a word but my spell-checker doesn’t – you know what I mean) the CoE weathered many storms. Likewise, when ++Justin was appointed, the world and its dog suddenly knew all about him and had opinions. This time, Justin was not unknown to me and I was in a position to see (at a distance) how unjust this whole process was towards him. Continue reading

Sunday’s sermon: the dishonest manager

Amos 8:4-7; Luke 16:1-13.

You’ve probably, like me, had phone calls from personal injury lawyers asking if you’ve ever been in an accident. One person who received such a call had been in an accident – a minor fender-bender. He told them he was fine, he hadn’t been injured. But the lawyers were insistent – was he sure? Sometimes it takes time for an injury to become apparent. Has he ever had neck pain since the accident? They kept calling back and one day his neck was sore – probably due to stress. They said he should sue. No need to second-guess himself – let the court to decide. There was no downside: no win no fee. Come on, they urged, you have nothing to lose and you might get something out of it. Give it a go.

It was the promise of money that swung it, and he agreed. After all, it would only be an insurance company that suffered – and they could afford it. The process ground on over months and months, and eventually a court date was set. No need to go along to court, the lawyers said, but he felt he should. Come the day, he stood trembling in the courtroom, feeling like everyone could see right through him. His lawyer laid it on thick (which is okay – “this is expected in court” – “don’t worry, just let me do the talking”). The defendant’s lawyer slung it back equally as strongly – “the claimant is lying through his teeth” – “this is an egregious abuse of the system, insurance fraud”. The atmosphere was thick with recrimination.

Eventually the arguments concluded and the court awarded compensation of £300 (plus, of course, £1000 on top of that to cover the legal costs). Our not-so-hero just wanted to run away but to his terror he saw the defendant’s lawyer approaching. “Here it comes”, he thought, “this man knows I have just cheated his company out of £1300”. The lawyer marched up and began to speak to the man’s own lawyer, “Nicely played – I’m off to the pub – fancy a pint?” Continue reading

Christian Charity CEO Salaries

The Church Times recently (9 Aug) published an article discussing salaries of CEOs of Christian Charities. This follows a Daily Telegraph article and comments by William Shawcross, the director of the Charity Commission. The Church Times article reported that Loretta Minghella, Christian Aid’s chief exec, is paid £126,206 a year, Justin Byworth of World Vision gets £95,000, Matthew Frost of Tearfund, £92,000 and Chris Bain of CAFOD, £87,567.

Christian Aid has responded to the criticism by saying that they need “the best people possible to lead what is a large and complex organisation”. World Vision, similarly, said, “we need to attract the right person with the right skills and experience”. Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations is quoted as saying that executive pay “simply isn’t an issue for donors”. He also repeats the mantra, “To keep talent, really strong people, at the top of these organisations, they need to be paid properly”.

Well, Sir Stephen, you’re mistaken. I am a charity donor and was, until reading the Church Times article, on the verge of becoming a financial supporter, specifically, of Tearfund. Now, though, I am not so sure. This is not to say I no longer believe in Tearfund’s work – it is amazing – but that I am having serious second thoughts about the charity’s culture and, particularly, about the character of their leadership. Is this a sign of rot at the core, which will slowly consume the entire enterprise? Continue reading

My speech to general synod

I am not a member of general synod, but if I were and if I were called to speak about women in the episcopate, this is what I would have said:

My brothers and sister, how can we even have this conversation? Because we aren’t really talking about women bishops are we? We’re really still, to some degree, back in 1992 talking about whether women can even be priests. And yet here, all around us are our sisters in Christ, whose entire understanding of the person God is most truly calling them to be, is the identity of a priest. How can we calmly discuss this matter when so much weighs upon it for these sisters we love?

Then again, how can we have this conversation when the room contains brothers and sisters whose entire concept of the church, the body of Christ, so foundational to our identity as disciples of the Lord, is that it cannot have women in certain orders of ministry? Continue reading