Religion & Theology

Category Archives: Religion & Theology

Religion & Theology

Westminster attacks, Lone Wolf Home Grown Terrorism or ISIS Radicalisation?

Adrian Ajao/Elms aka Khalid Masood

The EDL, UKIP, Britain First etc blame Muslim immigration for last week’s Westminster terrorist attack. Yet Adrian/Khalid was middle-class Kent-born, with a white British mother, well schooled, popular, sporty until he turned violent down the local pub – you know that breeding ground of foreign national terrorism – the British pub. His parents live on a farm in Wales, and his mum runs a craft business. 

Actually, it seems he was radicalised after custody for a violent knife attack when imprisoned at HMP Wayland, Norfolk.

Violence is the problem, not nationality.

Immigration

Masood was not Syrian, nor a migrant or refugee; not on Trump’s country flight ban list. Nor were all the perpetrators of the 7/7 London terrorist attack, they all grew up in diverse liberal Britain. Even in America, just 0.0006% of refugees have been convicted over the last 40 years or terrorist attacks.

Extremism is the problem, not immigration.

“We fret, rightly, that Isil is at war with Western civilisation. It is. But it is also at war with Muslim civilisation.” – Daily Telegraph

Islamist Terrorism

Adrian Elms’ conversion to Islam in a rural category C British prison was probably further narrowed in ideology during 4 trips to Saudi Arabia and its Sharia-supporting Wahhabism

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list.

A disproportionate number of terrorists are adult converts to extremist Islam. 2-3x more likely. Zealotry, “evangelism”, recruitment, conversion.

“In the UK between 2001 and 2013, 12% of “homegrown jihadis” were converts, but less than 4% of the overall Muslim population were. In the US, the total in 2015 was 40%, against an overall level of 23%.” – The Guardian

Fundamentalism is the problem, not flags of origin.

Homophobia

Listening to BBC Any Questions and Douglas Murray, a Spectator editor and regular newspaper writer, talking about British Muslims wanting homosexuality to be illegal, ignores the facts that so too do a minority of British Christians. Whilst surveys point to something a shade over 50% of Muslims opposing homosexuality and just 20% having no problem with it, those proportions were equally true of Christianity a few decades back. Indeed, surveys of Anglicans showed that 50% opposed homosexuality until around the year 2000.

Hate and fear are the problem, not faith

I don’t support any religious opposition to LGBT freedoms. I also know LGBT Muslims and Christians. They are not incompatible, it depends upon your interpretation and ideology. I will always challenge the ideology that is homophobic but not the person with peaceful, inclusive views. The fewer exemptions for Faith Schools from experiencing and encountering diverse, liberal cultures and education the better.

As we are not born with hate, it is clearly taught and caught, it stands to reason that it can be untaught and uncaught. 

Education is the answer, not bigotry.

Not in my name

Among those of religious affiliation, even Muslims, #notinmyname is the more likely response to terrorism. Again, surveys point to around 1-4% of Muslims supporting terrorism. The actions of one person or even one per cent do not a majority ideology make. The more moderates, however, that do stand up and say “Not in my name” the better. You only have to listen to a range of news sources, rather than just right wing tabloids and far right political parties to realise that British Muslims were just as condemning of last week’s terrorist incident as the non-Muslim population. Indeed, surveys point to a majority of Muslims feeling more British than other indigenous or immigrant populations here. 

Religion & Theology

Church of England’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on LGBT sexuality

CofE Marriage and Same Sex Relationships Report

It was National Chocolate Cake Day on Friday and the Church of England celebrated it by issuing a fudge of a report on LGBTI acceptance in the Anglican Church. The 15-page report published today called for “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people” – well, so long as you are celibate and don’t want to get married. 

Bishop Graham James of Norwich led the CofE report into LGBTI people in the Church and concluded that there should be no change, some repentance, maximum freedom within existing prejudice – I mean doctrine, and called for more reports to conclude that there should be no future change either.

Okay, that last bit was me being cynical and pessimistic, but whilst history has seen the addition and change of women in not only leadership but the episcopacy, I find it hard to imagine ecclesiastical change on the position of gay and lesbian Christians any time soon, not to mention the very binary gendered position on marriage when even the Bible acknowledges the existence of people outside of binary male and female.

I was defriended by evangelical Christian friends and told by my Prayer Book church that it was easier for them to believe that I’d committed adultery (I hadn’t) than for them to understand my being transgender. Upon being asked to leave, and I used to deliver sermons there during an interregnum, I was offered the sickly salve of “I can put you in touch with more affirming churches”.

The current of society is flowing forward faster than the Church can even tread water mid-stream. As a result, it is like dead wood somehow anchored and stuck by a pseudo-theological/traditional snag whilst open-minded thinkers float on by. If the truth will set us free, then the Church needs to wake up to the risk of its own demise, ageing population and irrelevance to this generation. I was once a young person in a church, going on to become a missionary and theologian until my identity was rejected by the Church. It seems the Church is not interested in the truth of authenticity, something that has truly set me free.

The Church is not adaptable

Bishop James said that the church should not:

“adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time…I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.” – Bishop James

The bishop and the report also used language such as “culture of our times” and “lifestyle” questions, inadvertently suggesting that LGBT lives were temporary cultural lifestyle choices that would perhaps go out of fashion whilst the Church’s doctrine remained written in stone, essentially.

Any student of ecclesiology and patristics well knows how Christian theology and church practice have been hammered out at councils, and been at the whim of political and personal beliefs of the time.

Not to mention, the dubious concept of biblical marriage given how many types of marriage there were in the Bible, only one of which is between “one man and one woman”. Two women or hundreds more were also options, as were sisters, slaves, prostitutes, and eunuchs. Sexual relations often began before marriage – even defined it, sometimes. 

Clergy & Laity Double Standards

It was concluded that there was no double standard in denying gay clergy active sexual relationships and yet allowing homosexual lay people to express their love physically since canonical law demanded “an exemplary position of the clergy”. Yet, the double standard is that the same celibacy is not required of heterosexual clergy except in the Roman Catholic Church. 

“some bishops who would like to see the sinfulness of any
sexually active relationship outside heterosexual marriage more consistently upheld.”

So, going forward, heterosexual clergy may be asked similar questions or homosexual clergy not asked and “trusted”, so as to bring in an equality of ordinand interrogation. Bishop James said this is “Not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in any shape or form.” Sounds like it to me and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude open letter today now terms it “official policy”.

“No Change” – the way forward is backward thinking

“There is no change in theology, no meaningful change in practice and no change in discipline.” – LGCM & Changing Attitude open letter

Whilst canonical interpretations were described as “a latitude with boundaries” it seems the Church has butted up against those boundaries and finds little room for present or future movement.

“what they’ve announced is the most incredibly painful policy which offers zero change after 6 years of false reassurance and asking us to be patient and wait and see. We waited, some of us very unwillingly and they’ve dished out a load of shit.” – Rev Colin Coward

A painful policy indeed, exacerbated by the dangled signs of hope, now effectively withdrawn. Another priest drew attention to the bishops’ asking for sympathy for their plight:

“The report is at pains to emphasise just how difficult and painful all this has been – FOR THE BISHOPS! – and begs us to sympathise with them.” – Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Whilst Bishop James says it’s not the “last word on this subject”, it sounds like it is the last nail in the coffin for LGCM & Changing Attitude members who are “not prepared any longer to wait for the bishops to act collectively in this matter”. Their grace and patience have been stretched too far.

Whether it’s the Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), Pilling Report (2013) or the current statement (2017) it seems the Church of England is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition – of the past.

A muddled Church lacking in Love

The Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report opens early with the words:

“If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated.”

Sadly, that is the way the report is most likely to be heard by LGBTI Christians and LGBT-affirming society as a whole.

Bishop James said this was not the end of the process but left the Church “somewhere in the middle”. I think that is a typo for “muddle”.

 

Religion & Theology

Britain’s first openly gay Rabbi Lionel Blue hitchhikes to heaven

Rabbi Lionel Blue, 1930-2016

2016 is racing to lay claim to as many great names as possible, Zsa Zsa Gabor, who died yesterday, had a great 99-year 9-marriage innings, and Rabbi Lionel Blue at 86 has just downed his pen and mic. He fell in love with Judaism, Marxism and even Christianity, but will be remembered for his love of life and for being the first British rabbi to admit to his love of men. The grandson of Jewish Russian immigrants he grew up in the East End of London during the racism and hatred of Oswald Mosley and Adolf Hitler.

Lionel Blue, Hitchhiking to Heaven (on Amazon)
Lionel Blue, Hitchhiking to Heaven (on Amazon)

One of his several autobiographical books was titled “Hitchhiking to Heaven” and with grace and good humour he’s finally arrived there, if and wherever that is. A question he himself asked having explored doubt and faiths extensively in life. Another book of his was entitled “My Affair with Christianity“. It was not his only flirtation with other beliefs and ideologies, and his home testified to many stops along the journey in Hinduism, Islam and more.

“I began to discover that heaven was my true home and also that it was here and now, woven into this life.”

Judaism and Homosexuality

When he came out as gay, people were more interested in the affairs of his heart, not his soul. He’d been open about his homosexuality since the late 1960s and many knew about his private life through the 1970s, but it was in 1980 that he officially confirmed it, so becoming the UK’s first openly gay rabbi. He did so partly out of shame at not having supported a troubled gay contact of the manager of the sauna he frequented, nor having attended her funeral, for fear of a spilling over between his spiritual and sexual, sacred and secular, separated lives.

Of Judaism’s attitude to homosexuality, Rabbi Blue said in a 2004 interview:

”Well, the Orthodox Jewish tradition used to regard homosexuality as a terrible sin, but now it’s looked on as a sickness. Progressive Jews, though, accept it as a reality in varying degrees and most try to find a blessing ceremony for couples which is inclusive.”

So, has he never been threatened with excommunication? ”No. But for 15 years I ran the religious court for the Synagogues of Great Britain which meant that I would have to be part of any excommunication machinery, and I’ve never been so masochistic as to excommunicate myself.” – Sunday Herald, 2004

As a student at Oxford, his hidden homosexuality had led to loneliness, depression, and a suicide attempt. Possible refuge in Christianity had led to his mother threatening to do the same!

“‘Lionel, you’re doing this to spite us. I’ll kill myself and your father will kill himself too.’ I realised that I wasn’t quite up for murdering my mother and father, so I backed out.” – Independent

Later, he’d visited Amsterdam and found sexual freedom there, but it was his third faithful relationship with Jim, a former undertaker, that became his longest lasting of over 30 years until his death in 2014.

He combined the sacred and the secular, with a pan-spiritual, homosexually inclusive, here-and-now society, syncretic faith that in a way, he once said, was his own made up religion. Indeed, he irreverently addressed his God or guardian angel as “Fred”

Thought for the Day

Described by Radio 4’s presenters and book reviewers alike as “engagingly meandering”, Blue was down to earth in his search for heaven and happiness. On the introduction of same-sex marriage debate in 2012 the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, described it as “grotesque” and immoral on Radio 4, even akin to slavery. Rabbi Blue had the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot not long after and used it to poke gentle fun at heterosexual marriage as “mixed marriage”! On Twitter, he was regarded as having disarmed the Cardinal’s comments and having countered “bigotry with a gentle dignity that you just can’t beat”.

On another ‘Thought for the Day’ he spoke to students about success and failure, stress and faith:

“I remember asking a God I didn’t quite believe in to turn my failure into goodness. To my surprise my worldly failure opened a spiritual door in me. It’s when you lose your footing in life and your false pride goes down the drain that you learn mercy and compassion and what it’s like at the wrong end of the stick. My advice to my students and you dear listeners is Make friends with your failures – they may be the best teachers you’ve got.”

“I had the mother of breakdowns in my second year. Being gay was criminal so I rejected my body, and as a Marxist I no longer believed in my soul. So my mind had to bear life’s burden alone and it cracked. I even toyed with religion, asking a friendly prior what I needed to become a monk and forsake the world. A low sex drive he said frankly and another fantasy hit the dust.” – BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 6 June 2011 

Fears for the Future

Despite growing up in the 1930s and witnessing anti-Semitism, he remained hopeful, and yet “frightened”, of what he saw as recent echoes of those times now.

“I see the same signs that accompanied the end of the Weimar republic and the rise of the dictators. Currencies in trouble. Swastikas at football matches. Massacre at Srebrenica. The search for scapegoats, the rise of media demagoguery. Loving ourselves but not our neighbours as ourselves. The endemic problems of European tribalism, economic and spiritual. Heaven and hell are very close, and the devil is in the detail.” – BBC Radio 4, ‘Thought for the Day’, 10 June 2012

He finished that particular ‘Thought for the Day’ with a joke and a “foody spiritual note” with a misquoted saying from Lao Tzu:

“Govern a state as you would make an omelette, with care.” 

The Chinese Taoist philosopher actually referenced a “small fish“, but the point is well made, and perhaps enhanced by Blue’s updated version.

Humour and Scripture

Having once taught classes on humour in the Hebrew Bible I know full well how much satire, sarcasm, innuendo, and punning, there is in Jewish scripture. Blue saw humour as a way to counter economic and personal depression. In a 2010 interview he told the Jewish Chronicle:

“Humour is the unofficial scripture of Jewish life. It takes away the anger and bitterness and replaces it with kindness and charity. That was the scripture my audience could accept”

He joked about death as brushes with mortality, and he had a fair number of those from suicide, to two cancers, and a couple of heart attacks. He described himself in old age as “crumbling nicely”.

“God comes closest to me in the comedy and tragedy of human life.” – Independent

He will be best remembered for his gentle honesty and genial humour.

Religion & Theology

Pope Francis says lots on Joy of Love but changes little in Amoris Laetitia

Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love”

Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis on the Joy of Love
Amoris Laetitia – Pope Francis on the ‘Joy of Love’

After two years in the making, the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis‘ publishing of a “landmark papal document“, Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love“, actually says a lot (around 260 pages) but very little that’s new. How could it, when innovation or theological development is anathema to tradition, dogma, and infallibility? The exhortation seeks to be compassionate, merciful and pragmatic, rather than legalistic or judgmental, yet in reality is no less rigidly orthodox in terms of doctrine and offers little prospect or hope of change for LGBT inclusivity or other alternative relationship realities.

Positive vision of Sexuality

The document fails to be the “positive vision of sexuality” that it purports to be and is critical of the so-called “obscure need to
‘find oneself'” (#153). Unless churches acclimate and accelerate, in their acceptance of modern love, their message of love and finding oneself (“in Christ”) will be increasingly left behind and irrelevant.

Theology of the Body

The current Pope reaffirms John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ (1980) teaching that sexual differentiation leads to both reproduction and the “capacity of expressing love” (#151). By continuing to root the expression of love in both reproductive capacity and dimorphic bodies, he rules out same-sex love and families.

Cultural vs Fundamental Truths

It is a shame that the Pope, in relegating some of Paul’s teaching to the cultural matrix and context of patriarchy and female submission (#154-156), does not use the opportunity to recognise the cultural moving on of society on sexuality, despite overtures to feminism and sex equality.

“I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity” (#173)

Traditional Masculinity

Although placed in the context of parenthood, he says, attitudes to gender roles remain traditional – men, particularly fathers, should be:

“possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity” (#175)

“the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child…children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems.” (#175-177)

No room for same-sex parenthood or adoption, then. Nor of alternative masculinities – female, transmasculine or effeminate.

Genetic Predisposition

In a section on the foetal child he writes that:

“all the somatic traits of the person are written in his or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage.” (#170)

That being the case, why continue to reject people on the basis of their probably mostly genetic sexuality? Why fail to condemn reparative therapy for homosexuality (‘unwanted same-sex attraction’) or gender identity? As if the genesis of our innate coded lives can be rewritten by prayer, healing and therapy, to undo that which seems to go against doctrine, but which, in fact, to do so would be to go against nature. The nature of our selves, rather than a nature seemingly defined by ancient laws.

Respected but Discriminated

On “persons who experience same-sex attraction” Pope Francis described the situation as not easy for either the parents or the children:

“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence…” (#250)

… but not discrimination in sex, love or marriage, then, that would be presumably be justified discrimination. Marriage and intimacy remain strictly heterosexual and for non-divorcees, since divorce remains “evil” and gay relationships “intrinsically disordered”.

“Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” (#250)

I wonder whether “assistance” includes the psychologically deprecated reparative therapy? It’s certainly not been condemned, whereas most international psychological, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic bodies have banned it.

Same-sex Marriage or Civil Unions

“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” (#251)

Furthermore, the Pope argues that international poverty aid should not be dependent upon countries introducing LGBT equality laws.

Curiously, at (#121) in the Papal document, he cites the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as an example of conjugal loving unity – hardly the best analogy if you want to avoid references to threesomes, same-sex relationships, or children born outside of wedlock!

Furthermore, at (#122), his concept of marriage mirroring the love of Christ for the Church fails in portraying only a narrow heterosexual conjugal union rather than that put forth in St John’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)

The world includes all people, not only married straight people who’ve never divorced.

I still find it incongruous that a celibate and single Pontiff can preach to others about marriage, love and sex.

The idea that faithful marriage for life is a “natural inclination” (#123) also seems to go against scientific and social realities. That statement, from the Pope, is followed up with a barely veiled criticism that broken marriages or relationships outside of “unto death… commitment” are, by their nature, “weak or infirm”, and “ephemeral” (#124).

Modern understandings of psychology and psychotherapy might also have an issue with the idea of complete ” surrender” of “our future entirely to the one we love”, although he is critical of past expressions of patriarchal dominance within marriage.

Sex education in schools

Safe-sex education in schools remains an oxymoron to the RC Church since the only sex that should take place is that within marriage and for the “natural procreative finality of sexuality”. Despite devoting space to the erotic dimension of love, reproduction is still seen as the end goal, not love itself – which would, of course, open up LGBT and non-marital variants.

As a result, contraception and abortion remain absolute wrongs, leaving women not in charge of their own bodies.

“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” (#83)

This puts the Pope firmly in US Republican Donald Trump’s, Poland’s, and Irish/Northern Ireland Catholic camp on the illegality of abortion at all stages of foetal growth – all places that have recently featured calls to keep or extend anti-abortion laws. Despite Pope Francis saying Donald Trump is ‘not a Christian’.

In summary, however forward thinking the Pope may seem, the language compassionate and merciful, the tone accepting and gracious, the theology remains stuck, rigid, intransigent. The words may change, the attitudes may soften, but the laws remain as seemingly writ on stone as ever before. No good news for LGBT Christians. Read the full text of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love” for yourselves.