positively affirm women in the church whilst the institution tries to find a way forward.
See on www.ekklesia.co.uk
The top story on the news this morning is still the story about the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that Sharia law in the UK is ‘unavoidable’. Needless to say you actually need read beyond the hysterical headlines as what Rowan Williams is saying is a lot more complicated, and a lot less cut and dry than some of the news reports may imply.
For a start, you have to bear in mind that his audience was an audience of lawyers, so it’s not exactly pitched for the man on the street. Also the idea that religions have their own legal courts in the UK is not new – an Orthodox Jewish Beth Din (meaning House of Judgement) is based in London and can be used for legal matters relating to the Jewish faith.
Bishop Alan has produced a good overview under the title Abdul the Bogeyman, which first off highlights that as with most events, this isn’t the first time it has happened. Back in 1829 the English had much the same hysteria over whether Catholics could live under English law, and that the English are great at getting worked up into an unfounded massive hysteria. Bishop Alan highlights the hysteria in 2000 when paediatricians were hounded from their homes by vigilantes who didn’t understand the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile.
Recently, Ekklesia ran a thought provoking article discussing how people can often be distracted from the shortcomings in their modern societies by quick-fix solutions that target particularly easy to define groups – you need look no further than this weeks headline grabbing attack on people in social housing who don’t work, which fails to address the real, and much more complex long-term issues highlighted by Shelter in their response. Indeed I highlighted the spectacular difference between the perception and the reality of youth crime in the UK earlier in the week – it doesn’t take much to realise the effect that these perceptions have in demonising large numbers of our young people.
The Muslim takeover hysteria has been around for a while, indeed I’ve had arguments with people at Church who at times seem convinced that it’s only a matter of weeks before Muslims turn up wanting to turn the Church into a mosque. The reality of course is somewhat different, and moving past the hysteria, as with so many things the facts really don’t match up to the hype.
Bishop Alan finishes up with a great statement, that really about sums it all up:
Hysteria about Bogeymen is a great British Tradition. It gets people talking. But when they do, historically, they usually talk rubbish.
The daily e-mail from Ekklesia made me sit up and take notice this morning – the Methodist Church in the UK is launching a credit card…
This seemed somewhat ironic considering the discussion I was having with a Christian friend yesterday about her feelings now that she didn’t work in the finance industry, as she had always felt uncomfortable with some of the things that went on. For example something I’ve fallen foul of, processing all the debits against an account before the credits, which of course generates an overdrawn charge if money in the account is tight, or the brewing concerns over mis-sold home loans – as she said, the industry seems to make most of it’s money from those who can least afford to pay. I can think of numerous other examples from my own experience, for example energy companies who charge those using key meters – generally those on low incomes – more than those on regular meters. Just reading the headline, the question of whether a Church should be getting involved in the finance industry is definitely foremost…
Of course, the Methodist Church isn’t getting into the finance business, as the card won’t allow you to spend any money at all. The launch is part of their Lent campaign, which is aiming to get people to consider before they spend, looking to address the soaring levels of consumer debt in the UK, and refocus participants in the campaign as to their priorities. The idea of the ‘credit card’ is that participants will keep it in their wallet, and be reminded whenever they reach for one of their real cards, and maybe think twice about whether they really need what they are about to buy. The concerns about consumer debt aren’t just restricted to the Methodist Church – the Church of England has recently added an entire new section to their website dealing with the same issue.
The Methodist Church are keen to point out that this isn’t about not spending anything:
“When we take time to think about the things we buy and why we buy them, it can help us to reconsider our priorities. I may well want to buy something, but does that mean that I need it?”
“However, Buy Less: Live More isnâ€™t about depriving yourself of those things you want; itâ€™s about looking at life in a new way, trying different things and taking a few risks. So as well as reducing your carbon footprint by getting off the consumer treadmill, you can live life in all its fullness.”
Bad news for Church Schools – Ekklesia is highlighting a survey that reveals some worrying large groups concerned about aspects of having Church backed state schools. Almost half of the people questioned said that they believed the entrance policies favoured pupils from better off backgrounds, and similar numbers believed that Church schools would discourage open discussion of important topics, or present skewed information rather than use a balanced approach when talking about other religions. Needless to say the Church of England is putting a positive spin on things…
As I’ve said before, it will be interesting to see where this ends, as some of the same arguments that could be applied to Christian Unions can be applied to a number of other potential university societies.
Having said that, the Bishops letter does seem to be exaggerating the issue somewhat, particularly with the statement:
“Christian students at many of our universities are facing considerable opposition and discrimination in violation of their rights of freedom of expression, freedom of belief and freedom of association”
Firstly, it’s not ‘Christian Students’ as a whole – bear in mind that at Exeter a key element in the story were other Christians who were not allowed to be part of the Christian Union because they wouldn’t sign the doctrinal basis that helped get the name change through. Secondly, there also isn’t any effort to stop the Christian Unions meeting, banning their beliefs or anything like that, it is primarily that the Student Unions are withdrawing support as they believe the CU’s are contravening the Student Union rules, which state that the union ‘shall not harass, intimidate or threaten any member or group’. The issue is one of a conflict between the rules of the Student Union, and the way the Christian Unions want to operate – if they were operating independently of the Student Union, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Ironically, this is exactly what the UCCF has previously done, having pursued a policy to discourage Christian Unions from becoming University Societies. I suspect that this will be the ultimate result of the latest round of arguments. I’m sure there would be local Churches willing to support the groups and provide meeting rooms and the like instead of using the Student Union. Assuming good relations with them (which a number of Universities don’t have), they could even affiliate with the University Chaplaincy, as suggested by the Anglican Chaplain of Southampton University – although I suspect that may cause problems as they’d probably require the Chaplain to sign their doctrinal statement…
Update: Not surprisingly there is a load of comment on this across the blogsphere – Dave has a growing list which I won’t bother to repeat. The text of the actual letter is available online here, and having read the whole thing, it certainly re-enforces my opinion that they don’t really understand the issue. For example the comment about the SU imposing leaders on the CU is wrong – one of the current issues is that some CU’s operate by each committee appointing the next years committee contrary to the democratic principles of the SU, the SU’s are requiring that the CU committees be appointed democratically under the same rules as other societies, free and open elections. The bishops also seem to have confused meeting attendance with joining the CU – for example as happened at Exeter, some CU’s are excluding Christians from joining who won’t sign their doctrinal basis. Also, whilst some invite a range of speakers to meetings there are apparently others that won’t allow anyone who hasn’t signed their doctrinal basis from speaking. Really there is a lot more going on, and I suspect a number of people who have signed their names to the letter haven’t really taken the time to investigate, and have just listened to the hype.
Anyway, on a happier note I was quite pleased to see a couple of postings on the subject reporting that a while ago Reading University Student Union and Christian Union managed to sort things out without resorting to the courts. See also words of explanation from the RUSU President. It is interesting to note that at Reading the two organisations are quite happily co-existing, and the Christian Union is not affiliated with the Student Union for exactly the reasons that Exeter and others are de-affiliating their Student Unions. More to the point, both sides seem happy, and understand the situation. The CU can run their own affairs how they wish, and because they are separate the SU don’t have issues over their discrimination policy, indeed relations are so good that the RUSU President has even hosted an event for the CU.
“That process allowed us to agree that for the CU membership in the SU was not vital, and that the SU could nevertheless provide some facilities to the CU because of the two organisations’ friendship (given certain provisos).”
Perhaps a lesson for those CU’s resorting to the courts, over hyping media, and the letter writing bishops?