Defending Philippa Stroud

May 20, 2010

During the election campaign I met Robin Miller, the Conservative candidate for Arfon. It was during the Church’s hustings it became clear that Robin was a Christian and a pentecostal one at that. A lot of what he said struck a chord with me so after the hustings ended I made sure I got a chat with him before leaving. First of all I told him straight away that I wouldn’t be voting for him because he held unionist views and he politely told me that he respected that but that he still wished to discuss things with me. He told me that he was working at the Centre for Social Justice, a’n independent (but Conservative leaning) think tank researching and developing policies on poverty.

It all sounded very interesting so after I got home I turned to Google and went to the CSJ’s website and found that Robin’s boss and CSJ Director was the now famous Philippa Stroud. Over the past few weeks the name Philippa Stroud became a swear word for the liberal-secularists and although she didn’t get elected as MP her appointment by Ian Duncan Smith as special advisor sugests that she’ll be a punch bag for some time to come. Google her name and you’ll see what I mean. Basically she was involved with a Church that, allegedly, prayed over to ‘cure’ gay people. I say allegedly because Philippa Stroud denies the allegations and The Guardian has now pulled the story sighting unreliable sources.

This is, of course, a very sensitive issue but I feel compelled to contribute to the very public discussion about Philippa Stroud. First of all let me dare to defend the practice of praying with gay people who ask you to do so. For people who believe the Bible one can’t deny that gay sex is seen as sin, if you do not believe this I respect that, but you must recognise that this is what the Bible teaches even if you don’t believe that yourself. So, if a gay Christian (note, I believe that a gay person can be Christian) want’s to turn his or her back on gay sex in order to walk in the light of the word and asks me to pray with them about it I see no problem with that. It wouldn’t be any different to praying over any Christian who struggles with any other temptation.

But let us put the specific issue to the side at the moment because I think the witch hunt Philippa Stroud’s had to endure is a sign of a deeper shift in society. Her view of homosexuality isn’t the true bone of contention I don’t think, but rather the fact that she publicly confesses faith in Jesus and membership of his Church. The tone of most articles, reports and blogs about Philippa Stroud suggest that people who hold a faith perspective are essentially unfit to hold public office. This view is symptomatic of the anti-Christian liberalism which is rampant throughout society today. Secular society needs to understand that Christians give to God what is God’s and give to Cesar what is Cesars and that we, nonconformists with pentecostals included, strongly believe in the split between state and church. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that I, Robin Miller or Philippa Stroud or whoever else have any intention to enforce our Christian values on society through the secular state if we ever get to hold it’s rains of power.

Finally, what is rather ironic about Philippa Stroud is that she is rather left-wing by Conservative party standards. There’s no denying that the work of the Centre for Social Justice under her leadership has been responsible for putting forward a Conservative vision of social justice that is much more progressive and to the left than what we would expect of the party.

Now, I don’t know why I’ve felt a need to defend Philippa Stroud? I’ve never met her and it is quite possible that she is a rather unpleasant person! But I feel that I have to defend her as she, whatever her personal quirks are, is a fellow follower of Jesus and her track record of working with the poorest people on the margins of society suggests that her attitude towards social justice policy will be beneficial and a salt like influence to any future Conservative government. The primary role of the church is to save souls, state and government has a different role to play and I trust Philippa Stroud knows this.

Tory Manifesto

April 13, 2010

This post in Welsh / Y cyfnod yma yn Gymraeg

I watched the Conservatives’ manifesto launch today. Their inherent mistrust of the State came across as a central theme again. Here are two graphics taken from the manifesto:

I have real sympathy with this doctrine of this State. To me the state is just a modern political-administrative system which makes it different from many other organic entities within our society such the family, community, nation and faith communities. The role of the state should be to serve these other entities and not to control them so in this respect I can support the Conservatives vision to some extent.

Although R. Tudur Jones was definitely not a Tory, when it comes to the doctrine of the state one could argue that he would have some sympathy with the Conservatives critique of big government. I base my argument on this vision he spelled out in a letter to Gwynfor Evans around 1980:

To me, the old emphasis on cooperation, strengthening neighbourhood and local responsibility, to strive to create a poly-central society, with the State taking its place as one social form among many others, and together through it all enabling people to live free and prosperous – for me, this doctrine is still relevant. And this is also a doctrine which, in my view, lies most comfortable on the conscience of the Christian.

I agree with Tudur Jones on this matter, I do not believe in a big state. And that explains why I have some sympathy with the Conservatives position on the state.

However there are plenty of things in the Conservatives manifesto I’m not so comfortable with. For example, there is no mention at all about the Welsh language. Unfortunately there remains some responsibility over the language in London, so they have some responsibility over it. It is also clear from the manifesto that the Conservatives, on the whole, continue to be opposed to devolution.They go out of the way to clearly state they are a unionist party. I have respect for Welsh nationalists who say that they’re on the right, people like Simon Brooks. But I don’t have much respect for nationalists who have joined the Conservative Party (or the Labour Party for that matter) because it makes no sense for a Welsh nationalist to belong to a British unionist party.

Finally, to my knowledge the manifesto is not available in Welsh. This is not acceptable at all.

Download Manifesto (PDF)

MPs expenses scandal – Nehemiah shows a better way

April 13, 2010

This post in Welsh | Y cyfnod yma yn Gymraeg

This morning I was listening to Victoria Derbyshire’s show on BBC 5 Live. On the program today she lead a discussion live from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire discussing people’s trust in the political system. The main focus of the program, as expected, were MPs expenses scandal. Everyone in the audience was still absolutely furious about the whole scandal.

It seems that the expenses scandal will impact heavily on this election. I’m not quite sure who will benefit from this. Unfortunately it seems that none of the parties will benefit but rather even more people will decide not to vote at all; this is very unfortunate. But from a Christian perspective it is interesting to note that the Bible has something to say about the expenses scandal.

One of my political heroes throughout history is Nehemiah, the genius who led the rebuilding of Jerusalem around 445 BC. Many things could be said about the integrity of Nehemiah as a leader but the little story below is very relevant to us in light of the current expenses scandal.

The practice at the time of Nehemiah was that the governors took from the people as they pleased to look after themselves. Something fairly similar to what many members of Parliament today did through their abuse of the expenses system. But unlike many of his contemporaries Nehemiah refused the temptation to make personal luxury at the expense of the people. The story starts here in Chapter 5, verse 14 of the book of Nehemiah in the Bible.

14 For the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah—from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes —neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance.
15 The former governors, in contrast, had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides forty pieces of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because I feared God, I did not act that way.
16 I also devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my servants to spend time working on the wall.
17 I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands!
18 The provisions I paid for each day included one ox, six choice sheep or goats, and a large number of poultry. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people already carried a heavy burden.
19 Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it.

In Nehemiah we see a political leader full of integrity and humility because he lived to serve and worship God. All politicians facing constituents over the next few weeks would benefit greatly if they following this pattern of leadership Nehemiah laid out.

Tory married couples tax brakes and the Christian concept of marriage

April 11, 2010

I had intended to blog about this before hearing about the engagement of my sister! So the news has added a personal touch to the subject today! What drew my attention yesterday was the Conservatives‘ plan to give tax breaks to married couples and people in civil partnerships.

The concept of marriage is a contested concept that means so many different things to different people in society today. On one hand I have friends in their thirties who have married after living together for almost ten years and on the other hand I have friends who have married in their early twenties, after courting for only one year and they didn’t live together before getting married. On one hand I have friends who are of Christian persuasion who see their wedding as a three-way relationship with God in the middle. And on the other hand I have friends who are atheists who are unmarried but they’ve lived together for years as if they were married to some extent. And of course I have friends who are also in civil partnerships with a partner of the same sex. In short, contemporary society makes any kind of generally accepted definition of “marriage” nearly impossible.

However, people who follow Jesus can still offer a fairly clear definition of marriage. The Bible teaches that marriage is a’n union between a boy and a girl in the eyes of God. The union and the relationship is supposed to reflect the relationship between Jesus and his people – Jesus is the bridegroom and his people represents the bride. Some theologians believe that God created the institution of marriage as an image so that we can get a sneak peep of the love Jesus has shown to his people. Joshua Harris in his book ‘Stop Dating the Church’ (Multnomah, 2004) says:

God invented romance and pursuit and the promise of undying love between a man and a woman so that throughout our lives we could catch a faint glimmer of the intense love Christ has for those He died to save. What passion He has for His Church! Even if you’ve never studied the Bible, you’ve heard echoes of this amazing love throughout your life. Every true love story has hinted at it. Every groom weakened at the sight of his radiant bride has whispered of it. Every faithful, committed, and loving marriage has pointed to it. Each is an imperfect echo of the perfect song of heaven.

I remember discussing with some friends, who also followed Jesus, some weeks ago if there was any purpose and value for people who did not follow Jesus to get married? One of my friends didn’t see the point because their lifestyle did not reflect the pattern of marriage shown in the Bible and because of that marriage would be pointless to them. To put it in a different context – what would be the point of Eric Clapton doing grade eight on the guitar now? The whole process would mean nothing to him, he would just be going through the motions.

But I disagree because I think that God has ordained marriage as a social institution to the whole of humanity not only to people who follow Jesus. Obviously, only people who follow Jesus and have come to realize the depth of his love for us can fully appreciate the depth and significance of marriage, but the institution of marriage is for everyone. It is similar to the nation if you like, one of the other social forms which God has ordained for humanity. Everyone can appreciate the process and see value and purpose of their nation and other nations, but as I’ve argued before on the blog a deeper understanding of the nation comes to people who follow Jesus because they see it all as part of His plan.

I also think that there is a’n important difference between marriage in the eyes of God and the Church and marriage before the State. If I ever get the privilege to marry I won’t sign the marriage register as part of the Church service to show that I’m getting married in the eyes of God and his people and not in the eyes of the State. Obviously, I’ll have to sign the register eventually, because I’m no anarchist. But I’ll sign the register in private without it being part of the service, perhaps I’ll do it after returning from the honeymoon! I’ll be doing this to show that the State’s recognition of my marriage is of secondary importance, the most important element is doing it in God’s eyes in the presence of God’s people in Church.

Although i believe that the state is a’n institution ordained by God I also think that the state should be neutral and secular. Therefore, at state level I have no objections to civil partnerships between persons of the same sex. But it is a different matter when considering marriage within the Christian church because the Christian doctrine of marriage sates that it is something between a boy and a girl before God. But the state, as a neutral institution rather than an instrument of the Christian church, should not necessarily have to follow the Christian doctrine of marriage. The rights of same sex couples should be recognized by the state; but the rights of faith communities to follow and practice their traditional understanding of what marriage is should be assured also.

This bring us back to the election ahead of us and particularly to the issue of tax brakes the Conservatives have pledged to married couples. I’m sure that you have gathered by now that I see marriage as something important that should be guarded in society. At first glance I thought that the Conservatives intend to reflect this through their policies.

But then after closer scrutiny it became increasingly clear that all of this was only a stunt and a gimmick. Some married families could be up to £150 better off because of the tax brakes throughout a year. That is less than £3 a week, the price of a pint in the pub or a coffee at Starbucks.

Marriage is important, but its value to society surly is worth more than the price of a large coffee? And where does this leave single mothers, widows, those women Jesus cared for?

It’s election time…

April 9, 2010

I’ve just returned from Llanw, a Welsh Language Christian festival, the closest thing we have in Welsh speaking Wales to Spring Harvest. One of the seminars was lead by Arfon Jones, the faithful servant who’s working on beibl.net a sort of Welsh on-line Youth Bible. Arfon has a great passion for the Bible as a whole (obviously) but he’s at his best when he talks about what the Bible teaches us about justice; so I looked forward to his seminar on ‘A bias towards the poor’. He said a lot of challenging things but one thing that stood out to me was his warning that we as Christians, evangelicals included, tended to be selective in our Bible reading with regard to the poor and justice issues. The Bible does not compromise as politicians today do on these issues.

He said that we have a tendency to over spiritualize verses of the Bible. For example, we tend to claim that Jesus was talking about spiritual poverty when in reality he was really talking about real poverty etc… In other words we like to read the Bible through the eyes of our own lifestyle and our own political and social values instead of letting the Bible steer out lifestyle and our political and social values.

In this election climate I think Arfon’s challenge is especially important. As Christians we must not let our politics govern our faith but let our faith govern our politics. Over the next few weeks in the build up to election day I hope, time willing, to discuss what this means in practise.

Empire is sin incarnated

February 26, 2010

The highlight of sin in this world is empire and imperialism, both shown by force and subtle political leanings against the oppressed. Politicians and individuals who don’t see the sin of empire in their beliefs and actions are as blind as we all are to our own sin, if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit to have opened our eyes. Empire does damage but it always looses in the end because it’s master lost the greater battle and the King of Kings won – Jesus. Thats why I live in hope despite current evil attitudes towards Welsh, Scottish and Irish freedom aspirations from English centric politicians both in London and from within the Celtic nations.

Raised With Christ – online launch

January 7, 2010

As I was going to bed last night I checked my coms (email/facebook/twitter) as I always do before going to sleep and I came across a link to a live webcast on Adrian Warnocks blog. It was, of sorts, an on-line launch of his book Raised With Christ – How The Resurrection Changes everything. Upon my arrival on the site I soon realised that this was not the sort of webcast you can just browse to and listen in – rather, when you entered the site it logged you in and you were instantaneously a part of the discussion – it asked you to turn your mic and webcam on. Me, being on the way to bed, didn’t want to share my webcam (!) but eventually I got my mic working. This webcast therefore was more of a seminar than anything with a chance for everyone to ask question to Adrian.

Having stumbled upon the webcast on twitter rather than purposely planed to be part of it I didn’t really know what to say to start off with! Since I follow Adrians blog I knew a little about what the book was about and so I went for it and asked him a question. From my own experiences in the reformed evangelical world I was bought up in here in Wales I saw that Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, was somewhat relegated to second position of importance behind Good Friday the day we remember the death of Christ on the Cross. Perhaps this becomes even more apparent when we look at David Bebbington’s summary of classic evangelicalism: biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages); crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross; conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted and activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort. Emphasis is put on the Cross and no mention, in Bebbington’s summary at least, to the resurrection.

I put it to Adrian in the webcast that both events and both days we remember and celebrate today as a consequence should not be seen as if they are in tension but rather both stem from each other. Both events are as of important in the history of our salvation and the scheme of God’s restoration of the World.

Adrian agreed with me, and so I slept quietly through the night.

Diarmaid MacCulloch

December 27, 2009

I enjoyed Diarmaid MacCulloch’s History of Christianity series on BBC 4. Apparently, and presumably because of it’s positive reviews, the series is being re-run soon, this time on BBC 1. So make sure you tune in if you missed it on BBC 4 first time round.

MacCulloch isn’t a Church Historian working from within the Church itself, but he isn’t a secular historian who’s just taken an interest in Church History either. Rather, he counts himself as a ‘friend of the Christian faith’ rather than a committed Christian or a committed Atheist – he’s a rare agnostic I suppose. This perspective is interesting and unique and it comes over in the programmes. Because he stands at arms length from the Christian Church itself he is willing to ask the questions and scratch the surface of subjects some Church Historians would avoid. And because he’s not just another Marxist or other kind of secular Historian he doesn’t just explain deep religious and spiritual movements in history through socio-economic paradigms – he’s willing to see spiritual power at work in history although he himself, at present time, hasn’t found peace in the spiritual sphere.

The television series is a spin off of his recently published magnus opus A History of Christianity. The witty George Pitcher made a good job of pointing out the absurdity of the book when he said in the Telegraph:

I haven’t read this book – but please don’t turn this page yet, because I’m going to provide you with a critique of sorts in a moment. First let me say that I don’t think anyone is going to read this book. It’s 1,161 pages long, for goodness sake. If you missed out the “begat” bits, you could read the Bible in less time.

So just watch the series when it gets repeated on BBC 1 some time soon.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (MP3)

November 30, 2009

I was kindly invited to speak at Penrallt’s Youth service on Saturday night. The theme of the talk was ‘Will the real Jesus please stand up?’. Most of the material, as faithfull Driscoll listeners will know, is taken from the first chapter of Vintage Jesus.

Unfortunately the first few minutes are missing from the recording but you can pick the thread of the message fine from where the recording starts.

Download MP3 (PC: Right Click+’Save File As…’, MAC: Ctrl+Click+’Download Linked file…’)

Extremist

November 28, 2009

Quote of the day from Martin Luther King. Most famous for leading the civil rights movement but also a Minister of the Gospel.

The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?

Martin Luther King page on RE:Jesus


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