Tuesday, 30 October 2012

After Sandy- American And European Religion

There have been two big events in North America the past few days- first the earthquake in Canada that triggered a tsunami in Hawai'i and now the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Only a couple of weeks ago some of us Brits shared on Facebook our memories of the great storm of October 1987. I wonder what went through the minds of people elsewhere reading it.

Let's face it- Europe is the geographically comfortable continent. Yes, there are floods sometimes. The occasional earthquake. But I can go on holiday 100% confident that I won't come home to a Southampton in ruins after a natural catastrophe.

Tomorrow is Hallow-e'en. Gone is the old superstitious fears of ghosts and witches (and a good thing too) and instead a jolly celebration as Guy Fawkes Night gets eclipsed.

So we tell ourselves modern ghost stories and scares, such as the Mayan calendar ending. We choose to be scared by things that deep-down we know aren't happening.

Surely it's that time of year when the media decide which plague is going to kill loads of us.

Humans are bad at risk.

For example, I used to be scared of flying. I quite like flying now, although my preference within Europe is to go by train. A few years back I chose to fly to Dublin rather than take the ferry from Holyhead, due to time constraints. And when I mentioned that flying is one of the safest forms of travelling, one lady suggested I tell that to people who'd lost relatives in a plane crash.

We worry about plane crashes. Yet happily hop in a car or on a train.

I gather you are more likely to die in an asteroid or comet impact that in a plane crash, as an event like that- although rare- causes devastation on a wide scale.

I visited the USA this spring. The flight from Reykjavík to Minneapolis/Saint Paul suddenly got diverted as we approach Sault Ste Marie, and instead of flying in over upper Michigan and Wisconsin (I was so tired when I got in, that I ended up referring to a state called "Wichigan") we went across the Canadian side of Lake Superior and near Thunder Bay and Duluth. The reason for the diversion was "storms". When I landed I learned it was due to a tornado.

Yes, we do get tornados here. But this was different. The Sunday we were in a restaurant and it came over really dark and as we were going home there was wind, rain, thunder, lightning. And I was sitting by the TV, watching as tornado warnings were given across parts of Minnesota.

And herein lies the difference between the two continents. We live in a fairly comfortable continent. Maybe the decline in religious faith is because we seem to have it all under control, with scientific progress solving all our problems.

North America seems to be more of a frontier place. I'm not talking about the Wild West and wagon trains. But a frontier between the comfortable what-we-can-control scientific world and nature (and even much of European nature is tame and cozy- let's face it, unlike in the USA, I've never walked anywhere in the United Kingdom where there might be wolves or brown bears around). Nature cannot be placated, cannot be reasoned with. The US Senate cannot ratify a treaty made with it. Congress cannot declare war on it. You can build cities and civilisation knowing that one day it will be destroyed and there is nothing you can do to stop that day coming.

And having that deep in the psyche has got to have an impact on religious faith.

Should There Be A By-Election After Crossing The Floor?

Mr Smith was elected for our party and people should expect him to stick with the party. As he has left, he should resign his seat and seek re-election as he is now serving under false pretences.

We are glad that Ms Jones has done the best thing for her constituents and her nation by joining us.

After not getting a position in last night's reshuffle, Mr White has resigned the whip.

Ms Brown shrugged off calls to resign, saying that she has not left the party, the party left her.

The party leadership said that Mr Whatsisname is a high-profile highly-respected politician who would be an asset to his new party.

From time to time, a politician crosses the floor, changing their party allegiances, and there can be many reasons- both those given and those cynically assumed- for it. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, failing to get that government job they know they deserved, or simply finding themselves out-of-step with their party.

There was the old joke in the 1980s that Her Majesty's Opposition was really the House of Lords- dominated by Conservatives. There is some truth in this. Although the emphasis these days is on working peers being created, peerages were often used to kick MPs upstairs- in particular former Cabinet ministers- although the trend is moving away from this. Indeed, among Prime Ministers of the last half-century, Ted Heath, John Major and Tony Blair did not enter the House of Lords (it is possible that Major and/or Blair will do so at some point in the future).

The little joke has a serious point. Those given peerages in the Honours Lists were the older generation making way for the new, formed in a different set of circumstances. There was the massive creation of life peerages under Blair- which, despite criticism, was fair enough as Labour was way behind the Conservatives- and this leaves a Blairite group in the House of Lords who will, unless there is radical reform (now kicked into the long grass), become increasingly out-of-step with Labour if the party moves to the left.

Why do an older generation of peers disagree with the younger generation of MPs? Because they formed their opinions in a different era. A change in leadership can be a change in policy. The Labour that Blair led to victory at the May 1997 general election had different policies to the one that Neil Kinnock led to defeat at the April 1992 one. When Blair was first elected an MP at the June 1983 general election, it was on a platform of nationalising everything that moved (as well as everything that didn't), abolishing the House of Lords and withdrawing from the European Communities. As leader, he got rid of Clause 4, did the biggest peerage creation on record and made no attempt to hide his wish to be President of the European Council.

Parties are organic beings. They change policies. What can be the old orthodoxy can become the new heresy. A long-serving MP can find themselves out of sorts with the party without changing their views.

So, in some cases it can be I didn't leave the party- the party left me.

Whenever there is a defection, there is the common call for the elected politican to resign their seat and fight a by-election. But is this fair?

At one level it is, but even then you have to define what you mean.

Someone who resigns the party whip has left their party. So. as they are no longer with the party they were elected under, should they resign their seat? But, did they jump or were they pushed? If they jumped, then does that mean that if they stuck their heels in and waited to lose the whip then they don't have to resign their seat? Would we end up with courts having to put MPs (especially whips) in the witness box to determine exactly the cirucmstances of resigning the whip?

OK, you might say, allow MPs who lose the whip, or resign it to stay, and let's only worry about those who change party.

But even here there are definitions. Define "party". What if a coalition has a single whipping system? Are they one party or two? In the House of Commons, the third party is effectively the Demoratic Unionist Party now. And if you take a coalition to be functioning as a single party in Parliament (but two distinct parties in the country) then if a Labour/Liberal Democrat government were formed, then that too would be a single party for Parliamentary purposes.

So, picture legislation requiring a by-election to take place. And the Liberal Democrats decide to form a coalition with Labour.

It could then be argued that- if in Parliament a coalition is treated as a single party- the Liberal Democrat MPs have left one party and joined another. So, all of them face by-elections? And if effectively a new Labour/Liberal Democrat parliamentary grouping is a new party, does that mean it's distinct from the Labour one that existed, and therefore Labour MPs should all face by-elections?

And if you say that losing/resigning the whip is not a cause for an automatic by-election, but joining a new party is, then what happens when someone is an MP for a party in everything but name, for example Jim Kilfedder, who was MP for Down North from the June 1970 general election to his death in March 1995- sitting as an Ulster Unionist initially, then an Independent Unionist from October 1975 until forming the Ulster Popular Unionist Party in January 1980- and voted quite frequently with the Conservatives.

How often does someone have to vote with a party to be defined an MP for that party? Consider a hypothetical Liberal Democrat MP who chooses to become an Independent but keeps in contact with the Labour Whips Office and votes with the Labour leadership more frequently than many Labour MPs. Would they be considered a Labour MP? If not, could someone get round an "automatic by-election if you change parties" rule this way?

Some Governments have faced major rebellions which led to several MPs losing the whip- Conservatives over Suez in May 1957, Labour over post-devaluation economic reform in February 1968.

But the one which is most recent is the Maastricht one. This was over the Treaty of Maastricht which had been signed in February 1992. Traditionally treaties were ratified by the Royal Prerogative, although the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act 2010 now gives Parliament a role. However, a piece of legislation- which became the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 was needed to introduce some changes into national law as a result of Maastricht.

One part of the Treaty was the Social Chapter, which the United Kingdom had an opt-out on. In July 1993 Labour added an amendment which had the purpose of adding the Social Chapter to the legislation. This amemdnemt led to a tie (317 votes each) and the then Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, ruled that she could not create a majority where none existed and gave her casting vote with the Government.

Interestingly enough, one Conservative MP who voted with the Government was Roger Knapman, who was Conservative MP for Stroud from the June 1987 general election until being defeated by Labour at the 1997 election. In June 2004 he made a return as a Parliamentarian- but this time as a UK Independence Party Member of the European Parliament for South West England & Gibraltar.

One Conservative MP who ended up abstaining was Rupert Allason, the MP for Torbay, who lost the whip, but got it back in July 1994.

The next major event was a vote in November 1994 on what was to become the European Communities (Finance) Act 1995. And at this, 8 MPs lost the whip- Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton South West), Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth), Christopher Gill (Ludlow), Teresa Gorman (Billericay), Tony Marlow (Northampton North), Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills), Teddy Taylor (Southend East) and John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood). As a result, Richard Body (Holland with Boston) resigned the whip.

Now, the Whipless Nine acted as a group- the joint-fourth largest in the House of Commons. So, should they have been made to face by-elections as they had effectively formed a new parliamentary party in all but name?

The idea that if someone changes party they should face a by-election sounds simple and logical, but then scratch the surface and there are difficulties.

One question is who does an MP represent? There is the old idea that an MP owes their conscience to their constituents. And we ultimately elect people not parties, although party affiliation will play a large part.

An MP is not a delegate- as Joseph Grimond, Liberal MP for Orkney & Shetland from the February 1950 general election until retiring at the 1983 one, noted, the two great issues he supported was membership of the European Communities and the creation of a Scottish Assembly, but these were rejected by his constituents in referendums (June 1975 and March 1979 respectively). Does that mean he was failing to represent his constituents?

There are, of course, occasional high-sounding calls that on "moral issues", MPs should leave their opinions at the dooe to the Palace of Westminster and simply vote, as delegates, following whatever opinion poll a particular organisation had commissioned. Except, of course, sometimes MPs are expected to be in the vanguard, making ptogressive legislation and waiting for public opinion to catch up, or other times public opinion is so wrong and reactionary that MPs have a duty to ignore it. MPs can never win.

But there are now devolved legislatures using the Additional Members System, which brings me to an article in The Scotsman by Brian Monteith, who was elected as a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament on the Mid Scotland & Fife list at the May 1999 election, re-elected at the May 2003 election and lost the Conservative whip in November 2005.

The Scottish National Party has changed its policy on NATO, and as a result, 2 SNP MSPs for Highlands & Islands- John Finnie and Jean Urquhart- have resigned the SNP whip, and have faced calls from within their old party to resign and for Mhairi Will and Drew Hendry to take their places.

Monteith makes an interesting point about list members- they are there because of their parties, and in the SNP's case by members who opposed NATO membership.

On a purely practical level they cannot be removed and it is for them to decide whether to remain as members or not. That has been the rule that our professedly democratic parties, including the SNP, signed up to and have operated under at every election since the parliament was created. There have been ample opportunities for these parties to demonstrate their unhappiness at the arrangement that, once elected on the list, a member should resign from parliament if he or she leaves the party, by calling for a change in the legislation governing the elected status of MSPs. I am unaware of any such proposal. Furthermore, any covenant that candidates would be required to enter into before election that would force MSPs to resign has as much value or force as the SNP manifesto has for [Scottish First Minister} Alex Salmond.

By throwing away one of the SNP’s most fundamental policies the conference threw away any hold it had on Finnie and Urquhart.

Precisely. Finnie and Urquhart were elected on a platform of leaving NATO. They haven't changed their policies- the SNP has.

The thing is, parties change opinions. There are often battles for the souls of parties- someone has to win and someone lose. A change in leader can be a change of course. Some MPs might find that the party is not what they joined.

There is one form of victor's justice which involves either removing the whip or constructive resignation of the whip, pushing an MP to decide enough is enough. What is more dishonest- staying and mouthing support for something that was not party policy when they were elected or resigning the whip (with potentially joining another party)?

I worry that any legislation that forces floor-crossers to face a by-election has unintended consequences. Do we want the Whips Offices to be able to threaten MPs with a mandatory by-election? Is that justice or victor's justice?

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Twas The 9 Before Christmas

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? I did some in June- well I was in Hawai'i and have a principle that if you know someone wants something, then buy it when you see it.

But Christmas preparations come earlier each year it seems. Already there are the cards in the shops. At least when I lived in Leicester they waited till Diwali- although it was amusing to see that Woolworth (shows how long ago this was) would have its Diwali tinsel advertised and then suddenly it would be advertised as Christmas tinsel.

I was surprised a couple of yeara back to hear a radio station do a competition for the 12 days of Christmas- starting on 13 December.

Then this time of year brings out the devout followers of Christmasianity, those who if you tell them that you celebrate Christmas as a quiet religious festival wave tinsel at you and shout "Bah! Humbug! Humbug!" because you are not celebrating the Christmas of tinsel and mince pies and EastEnders that they think you should celebrate.

A line I often take is that Christmas is at heart a religious festival- and we can argue whether it was hijacked from a pagan festival or not till the cows come home- and that New Year is the secular festival which we can, of all religions and none, unite around. One year I am going to open my presents on New Year's Day.

On one level, when I get home from church at lunchtime on Christmas Day, Christmas is over. Liturgically, of course, Christmastide runs to Epiphany on 6 January.

Normally there will be the complaints from the Church of England that Christmas is commericalised and that we are ignoring Advent.

At home I have a copy of the 1980 Alternative Service Book, which was authorised for use in the Church of England from 1980 to the end of the 20th century (31 December 2000). There was still a fair bit of controversy about it when I became a Christian in 1990, and I could not follow all these discussions and arguments about "Series 1", "Series 2" and "Series 3".

But where did the ASB start the liturgical year? With the 9th Sunday before Christmas, which in the Common Worship calendar is the Last Sunday after Trinity. And is today.

Interesting that for about 20 years the Church of England bought into the common idea that this time of year is simply the run-up to Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Scotland And The European Union- It's Complicated

So, the Scottish Government did not seek legal advice over whether Scotland would be part of the European Union if it became independent.

For Scottish Nationalists, there has been one argument on this- Scotland is currently a member of the EU, and will remain so. And even if Scotland left the EU, then so would the rump state left, comprised of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have been in a similar situation before. The United Kingdom of today is not the United Kingdom of 80 years ago. Well, it is, nnd it isn't.

So, here follows a (quite lengthy) look at history.

In December 1921, London and Dublin signed what is often called the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the following March, the Westminster Parliament passed the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922. There was a significant provision- it stated that when the legislation for ratifying the Treaty was passed, then Northern Ireland would have a right to opt out. In December, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 was passed, and the devolved regions of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland formed the Irish Free State- the day after this, the Parliament of Northern Ireland exercised its right to opt-out of the Irish Free State.

Under the Royal & Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland chamged its name to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The thing is, no-one says that one nation ceased to exist and two new nations took its place. If Scotland became independent, surely it would be like the Irish Free State situation- one devolved area of the United Kingdom leaves, and the bulk of the United Kingdom carries on.

As to the name of the rump nation, a bit of history- there used to be a sovereign nation called the Kingdom of England (or England for short), and this term included Wales. In July 1706, England and Scotland- which had had a common Head of State since March 1603 (when James VI, King of Scots, had become James I of England) signed a Treaty, and the English and Scottish Parliaments each passed an Act of Union the following year and in May 1707 the new nation of Great Britain was formed.

Ireland had its own Parliament, which, under the Crown In Ireland Act 1542 legislated that the English monarch would be Ireland's Head of State.

In the summer of 1800, the Parliaments of Ireland and Great Britain each passed an Act of Union, and on 1 January 1801, the first day of the 19th century and the day that Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the dwarf planet Ceres, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed.

Looking at how Great Britain and then the United Kingdom were formed, a name could be the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland, drawing its name from the two Kingdoms (well, one Kingdom and part of an old Kingdom) that would form the remaining country.

In one part of the nation, such a name would not go down well! The Wales & Berwick Act 1746 made clear than any references to "England" in legislation (and this was applied retrospectively) would include Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was ground-breaking in that it applied only to Wales (by tha way, the legislation simply closed pubs on Sundays- from the title you might think that one couldn't visit Wales on a Sunday as it was closed).

Hidden away in the Welah Language Act 1967 is the crucial legislative change that references to England in future legislation did not include Wales. So, the post-1881 system whereby Wales was considered a part of England which might sometimes have special legislation applied to it was replaced by one where Wales was not considered part of England. Note that this legislation was passed the year after Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen by-election (July 1966) to become Plaid Cymru's first MP.

The Local Government Act 1972 (in a clause that curiously was repealed by the Local Government Act 1992) settles Monmouthshire's status by placing it firmly in Wales- although not everyone agrees, given that at the May 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly, the English Democrats contested Monmouth.

So, with history lesson behind us, the logical name for the remaining nation would be "the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland", which would be shortened to "the United Kingdom", although most English people will shorten it to "England".

The House of Commons Library produced a research briefing paper entitled Scotland, Independence and the EU which I am having a read of.

Three models are identified:

  • Continuation & Secession
  • Separation
  • Dissolution
  • In the first model, Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom and forms a new state. In the third model, the United Kingdom ceases to exist and is replaced by two new states (in which case, the United Kingdom would have to re-apply for United Nations membership and perhaps have to wait its turn to be voted a temporary member of the Security Council, although it could argue that Russia simply took over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's place).

    But, 1706 and all that. What I am thinking is that it would be the second model. England didn't occupy Scotland, or vice versa. Two independent nations had Parliaments that voted to unite. Now, some Scots might argue that the Scottish Parliament was bribed or blackmailed into voting for Union- but surely it is a case that two nations united voluntarily and then- if the Scots vote for independence- voluntarily separated. And therefore, the United Kingdom is in a unique position among EU member nations.

    If this model is accepted- and we have history on our side to argue it- then Scotland becomes the EU's 29th member upon independence.

    Now, either way, if Scotland does vote for independence, then the EU question has to be finally settled. The current deal is for the Scots to have just one question on the ballot paper, but surely there is space for a second referendum question alongside it, on a seperate ballot paper- If Scotland becomes an independent nation, do you believe it should be a member of the European Union?.

    What if an independent Scotland wants to be part of the EU, but Brussels rules that it isn't and it has to join the queue? Well, I can see three options:

  • Scotland just has to accept it is outside the EU
  • Independence is postponed until it can join the EU
  • The United Kingdom has a complicated system of overseas territories and dependencies, which rely on us for the foreign affairs and defence. Why not come up with a similar model, whereby an independent Scotland is considered part of the United Kingdom for EU purposes and no other?
  • So, that third option could mean that the Parliament of an independent Scotland authorises British minister- after consultation with Scotland's Foreign Secretary- to represent them in Europe for the interim period, and conversely, British ministers make themselves available for questioning by Scotland's Parliament.

    Friday, 19 October 2012

    When A Constituency Name Dies

    One thing that the Boundary Commissions have to deal with is naming constituencies.

    I have been going through the proposed new constituencies and when I look at the ward breakdown, I see the names of old constituencies.

    One thing that has happened over the latter half of the 20th century is that the population seems to have become less concentrated in the big cities, and more in the suburban areas.

    If you go back to the October 1951 general election, one which the Conservatives won narrowly (and where Labour got its highest ever share of the vote- there is the irony that Labour did better in defeat than it has ever done in victory), the big cities are:

  • Birmingham- 14 seats (Labour 9, Conservative 5)
  • Glasgow- 15 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 7)
  • Liverpool- 9 seats (Conservative 5, Labour 4)
  • Manchester- 9 seats (Labour 5, Conservative 4)
  • The situation now for them is:

  • Birmingham- 10 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 1, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • Glasgow- 7 seats (all Labour)
  • Liverpool- 4 seats and one shared (all Labour)
  • Manchester- 3 seats and 2 shared ones (Labour 4, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • The decline can be explained, in part, by constituencies now crossing boundaries (such as Blackley & Broughton crossing the border between Manchester City and Salford City; Garston & Halewood crossing the border between Liverpool City and Knowsley Borough; and Wythenshawe & Sale East crossing the border between Manchester City and Trafford Borough). But that is only part of it.

    One thing to note about that era is that there were Conservative MPs in these cities. In Glasgow, the last Conservative was Tam Galbraith, who was MP for Glasgow Hillhead and died in January 1982- the by-election in March 1982 saw the former Labour Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, elected as a Social Democrat, with support from the Liberals.

    Liverpool is interesting- the last Conservative seat to fall was Liverpool Broadgreen to Labour at the June 1983 general election. However, there had been boundary changes, and the last Conservative MP was Malcolm Thornton, for Liverpool Garston, who won Crosby in 1983 (this was a seat which had been Conservative at the May 1979 general election, the sitting MP Graham Page had died in October 1981, and the by-election in November 1981 was won by the former Labour Education & Science Secretary, Shirley Williams, elected as a Social Democrat with support from the Liberals).

    It seems that at the 1983 election, boundary changes sent Garston notionally Labour and created a new notionally Conservative seat, Broadgreen.

    Manchester was slightly better for the Conservatives, with Fred Silvester losing Manchester Withington to Labour at the June 1987 general election.

    However, this is a side track. As these cities see their representation fall, then we see historic names abolished. Sure, sometimes a seat will be created that draws heavily from 2 old ones and will be City Name X & Y. As time goes on. names vanish.

    In the review that led to the current constituencies, the Boundary Commission suggested a Plymouth North and a Plymouth South. Plymouth historically had 3 constituencies- Plymouth Devonport, Plymouth Drake (whose name vanished at the May 1997 general election) and Plymouth Sutton. To keep the historic names, the Boundary Commission settled on Plymouth Sutton & Devonport for the southern seat.

    Their latest proposals bring back a Devonport/Sutton split, but the only suggestion I have made so far is renaming their proposed Plymouth Sutton as Plymouth Sutton & Drake.

    [Added 20 October- in line with bringing back names of historic constituencies, I have also suggested renaming the proposed Manchester Central as Manchester Ardwick & Moss Side]

    Southampton is an unusual one, as the Boundary Commission avoid the bland points-of-the-compass approach and take the names of the rivers to give us Southampton Test and Southampton Itchen- there is part of the city in Romsey & Southampton North.

    One of the original proposals was a Hedge End & Hamble taking part of Southampton Itchen along with the southern bit of Eastleigh and the western bit of Fareham, crossing the river Hamble. I never got round to suggesting Southampton Hamble for this one- which would have been in keeping with the "Southampton river-name" approach.

    Thursday, 11 October 2012

    Show Me Heaven

    Oh dear. If we're Christians please do not get all excited over a neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander, saying that he knows Heaven is real as he's been there.

    OK, at first we might think, whoop-whoop, a scientist- and a doctor at that- has come up with firm evidence for an afterlife.

    I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.

    Notice his attitude- people want to believe that there is a deity who loves them unconditionally. They have his sympathy- and it sounds a condescending sympathy at that- but he envies them as well. But as a scientist he doesn't believe them.

    Why not? Why should he deny their testimony and expect us to accept uncritically his?

    Because it is clear he doesn't think they have a testimony- just a wish fulfilment. So, why shouldn't we dismiss his testimony as a wish fulfilment?

    Here I need to look at feelology. This has two meanings. The first is the term used by a Sarf Londoner when they're trying to say "theology". That isn't the meaning I'm interested in.

    The other meaning is a thinking about God and spiritual issues which takes as its basis feelings. Now, I have to admit something here- and some evangelicals have problems with this. In the spring of 1995 I was diagnosed with depression (by an evangelical doctor) and that summer and autumn it was bad. You think depression is feeling low? Feeling a bit blue? Well a deep depression is like that- on the good days.

    And you learn something spiritually. Firstly, that nothing- not depression- can separate us from the love of God shown in Christ (Rom 8:31-39). Period. However bad it gets, God has not stopped loving you. Secondly, there is the old story of facts, faith and feelings walking along a wall. As long as faith was keeping his eyes on facts he was walking the right way. The moment he turned round to look at feelings, he lost his footing and fell off.

    The human heart- our feelings- is deceitful (Jer 17:9) and, as such, isn't the source of our hope, or our theology. In depression you learn that instead of trusting on this, you trust in God and His promises, knowing that, unlike our feelings, He does not change. Our faith should be built on rock, not sand (Matt 7:24-27).

    Wish fulfilment is feelology. Believing something is true doesn't make it true. We should not believe because we want it to be true- we should believe because it is true.

    Let's have a look at what Alexander says:

    Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky.

    Pink fluffy clouds.

    Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place where I now was. I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of those scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang. It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it—without joining with it in some mysterious way. Again, from my present perspective, I would suggest that you couldn’t look at anything in that world at all, for the word “at” itself implies a separation that did not exist there. Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet ... or a butterfly’s wing.

    It gets stranger still. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face. When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us—vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again. It was a river of life and color, moving through the air. The woman’s outfit was simple, like a peasant’s, but its colors—powder blue, indigo, and pastel orange-peach—had the same overwhelming, super-vivid aliveness that everything else had. She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for five seconds, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far. It was not a romantic look. It was not a look of friendship. It was a look that was somehow beyond all these, beyond all the different compartments of love we have down here on earth. It was something higher, holding all those other kinds of love within itself while at the same time being much bigger than all of them.

    Sorry- he and a lady were flying in the wings of a butterfly?

    This is a vision of the afterlife which chimes in well with modern thought. The pink fluffly clouds. All nice, and sweet.

    We hear this in the modern world's comments about death:

    She's gone to a better place.

    He is at peace.

    She is now with her late husband forever.

    And you will probably want to put your fingers down your throat with this one:

    Diana, Princess of Wales died because God wanted another angel

    Though, to be honest, it really grates whenever anyone young dies, there will be the mawkish newspaper article mentioning that grieving relatives have explained that "Mummy has gone to be an angel in Heaven" etc. accompanied by how at the local Anglican church prayers will have been said for whoever dies.

    That is poor theology, and the Church shouldn't go along with it. No, it's not being harsh - we help no-one by playing along with mawkish views of the afterlife.

    Walk around any graveyard and look at the inscriptions. Paul told the Thessalonians that they should not grieve like those without hope (I Thess 4:13), but what we see in modern graveyards is not relatives with no hope, but with a false hope. The hope that everyone- apart from the occasional Hitler or Stalin- makes it there.

    In the Bible, it is clear that all will be judged and those whose names are not in the Book of Life (Rev 20:15)- later called the Lamb's (i.e. Jesus') Book of Life (Rev 21:27) are not there (keep Revelation 21 open, as we come back to this later).

    The mawkishness about death, so that any person who dies young "becomes an Angel in Heaven" is not Biblical.

    Angels. No place in modern feelology for the ones with flaming swords (Gen 3:24), or one who fights (Isa 37:29). No place for "macho angels". No concept of angels ministering for the Church (Heb 1:14). No, modern angels' main task is to spread a little soppiness.

    What is our hope? Is it to go to a place where we ride with ladies on the wings of butterflies?

    What is missing from Alexander's vision? No God. No Jesus. No judgement.

    This is not a vision we should be jumping up and down over and claiming "scientific proof of heaven".

    But is our hope Heaven? A sort of pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die?

    Paul gives the Corinthians teaching about our future resurrection (I Cor 15). But there is more. Revelation 21 talks about the new Heaven and the new Earth. It's about a new creation (II Cor 5:17).

    Let's not shortchange people by offering them a future of flying on butterfly's wings. Let's instead proclaim the Biblical teaching about life beyond death.

    Wednesday, 10 October 2012

    Is Your Evangelism Half-Full Or Half-Empty?

    I saw this photo yesterday, and that got me thinking:
    When I was about to start my PhD, I got an email from a guy I knew from when I lived in Leicester. And he suggested I meet a friend of his, Christa.

    Christa is a Brethren, and she tracts.

    She tracts in the morning and the afternoon. She tracts when it's sunny and when it's raining. She tracts when it's summer and when it's winter.

    Do you know when we should share Christ? In season and out of season (II Tom 4:2).

    Some might snigger at Christa's methods, and I wish I had the cojones to say to them-

    When you are out in all weathers making an attempt to proclaim Christ, when you are facing ridicule day-in day-out, then, and only then, can you snigger at Christa.

    Ultimately, Christa is an evangelistic opportunist. No strategic planning, just sees an opportunity and whoosh, she is in there with her tracts talking about God.

    Now, there is a place for strategic planning, don't get me wrong, after all the arrival of the Gospel in England involved missionaries bringing Christianity to the influential people- especially Kings- first. But be careful when it turns into a numbers game- if we target X because she has influence, but don't worry about telling Y as she doesn't, then there is a danger when we concentrate on the people who the world says are important. Whenever I hear the comment that we should share the Gospel with international students as they can go on to hold positions of influence in their own countries, part of me wants to scream "Nooooo! We should share the Gospel with them as they're humans made in the image of God."

    Who are we to decide who is influential in God's eyes anyway? Who led Billy Graham to Christ? Who led to Christ the person who led him to Christ? Who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led him to Christ? Who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led him to Christ? Who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led to Christ the person who led him to Christ?

    Well, somebody had to. An unbroken chain of evangelism, of sharing the Gospel, which dates back to the Apostles. This is our Apostolic succession- not men in pointy hats laying hands on men who are about to be given pointy hats.

    A long list of names forgotten, the unimportant people, but people who mattered to God and who served Him, who might one day, when Jesus returns, be told about those great evangelistic rallies and events such as Mission England and learn what part they played in making them happen, even though they had been dead for centuries.

    That cleaning lady you didn't bother to share Christ with because she's not important- maybe her grandson would have been the pastor of a church which raised up and sent out one of the great evangelists of the 22nd century. You never know what impact sharing the Gospel will have.

    Don't neglect sharing Christ because you're not sure whether it'll work, or whether there are better methods. Just Do It.

    Monday, 8 October 2012

    Does The Prime Minister Have To Be A Party Leader?

    There is an interesting artiole in The Independent today about Conservative party members wanting the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to stand down as leader if he fails to win the May 2015 general election. According to the opinion poll from Conservative Home that is quoted, the favourites to succeed him are:

  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London- 37%
  • William Hague, First Secretary of State/Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary- 22%
  • Michael Gove, Education Secretary- 16%
  • Of course, to become party leader, Johnson has to be am MP. His second term as Mayor ends in May 2016. At the moment there is nothing to stop him holding two posts- if I were Cameron I would note that under the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act 2011 anyone who is a Police & Crime Commissioner is barred from being an MP, note that the Mayor of London is effectively the Police & Crime Commissioner for Greater London, and so have a quick one-line Bill amending the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 to add Mayor of London to the positions that leads to disqualification from the House of Commons.

    Purely to clear up a little anomaly of course.

    This leads to one question- if Cameron were removed as party leader, could he remain Prime Minister?

    Until July 1965, the Conservatives didn't elect a leader- one simply emerged as a result of questions like "Wab or Hawold?" being asked. Indeed, until October 1922 there wasn't a formal leader when the party was in Opposition- there would be separate leaders in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

    One important thing to note is that we have a coalition, and so we need to look at our last experience of a coalition- one that lasted, in various permutations, from August 1931 to May 1945.

    In August 1931, realising he would have to introduce an austerity programme (sound familiar?), and would not have support from his Labour colleagues, Ramsay MacDonald formed a new Government with support from Conservatives and Liberals. When the Government was formed, the party leaders were:

  • Conservative- Stanley Baldwin, Lord President of the Council
  • Liberal- David Lloyd-George, outside the Government
  • There was a general election in October 1931, and the Liberals had split. After the election, the leaders were:

  • Conservative- Baldwin, Lord President of the Council
  • Liberal- Herbert Samuel, Home Secretary
  • National Liberal- John Simon, Foreign Secretary
  • So, the party leaders were holding quite senior positions- Lord President of the Council is the post held by the current Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.

    The next change was the withdrawal of the Liberals in September 1932, leading to the final split between the Liberals and National Liberals. This neccesitated a Cabinet rehsuffle, with the party leaders being:

  • Conservative- Baldwin, Lord President of the Council/Lord Privy Seal
  • National Liberal- Simon, Foreign Secretary
  • There is a little reshuffle in December 1933, when Anthony Eden replaced Baldwin as Lord Privy Seal (which ceases to be a Cabinet position- similar to today's situation).

    Then there is MacDonald's resignation as Prime Minister in June 1935- just 5 months before a general election in which he would be defeated in Seaham by Labour's Emmanuel Shinwell- and the party leaders are then:

  • Conservative- Baldwin, Prime Minister
  • National Liberal- Simon, Home Secretary
  • Note that MacDonald became Lord President of the Council, which he kept even after losing his seat (he was returned in the Combined Scottish Universities by-election in January 1936 caused by the death of the Scottish Unionist Noel Skelton, who had died just 8 days after the general election. In this by-election the runner-up was Andrew Gibb, of the Scottish National Party, which had emerged on the scene in the 1935 election). MacDonald resigned fron the Government in May 1937 and died 6 months later.

    In May 1937, Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, and the party leaders were:

  • Conservative- Baldwin, outside the Government
  • National Liberal- Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer (replacing Chamberlain)
  • Chamberlain replaced Baldwin as party leader 3 days after becoming Prime Minister- a reversal of current normal practice.

    May 1940 saw the radical change of Government, with Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister, and Simon becoming Lord Chancellor. The party leaders were:

  • Conservative- Chamberlain, Lord President of the Council
  • Labour- Clement Attlee, Lord Privy Seal
  • National Liberal- Ernest Brown, Scottish Secretary
  • In October 1940, Chamberlain resigned both as Conservative leader (being replaced by Churchill) and Lord President, dying the following month. Attlee and Brown both remained in the Government until the end of the coalition in May 1945.

    What does this tell us? There is no requirement that the leader of a coalition party has to be in the Government. And, as the Chamberlain/Churchill example shows, there is nothing wrong with having the situation where the Prime Minister is from a party, but its leader is holding another position.

    Consider this scenario. It is October 2014, and it is time for Cameron to announce his choice of European Commissioner to take office the following month. No-one is surprised when Clegg is chosen, and he resigns as party leader, from the Cabinet and is given an Office of Profit under the Crown which leads to the good people of Sheffield Hallam going out to vote in one of the last (and maybe the actual last) by-election of this Parliament.

    As has happened when previous Liberal Democrat leaders have resigned/been knifed in the back, the deputy leader takes over until a by-election is held. In this case, this would be Simon Hughes, the MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark.

    So, should Hughes then enter the Cabinet? What if he doesn't want to?

    In this case, someone had to take Clegg's position as number 2 in the Cabinet. The choice would be between Vince Cable, the Business & Innovation Secretary; Ed Davey, the Energy & Climate Change Secretary; and Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary. Although, depending on the outcome of the Scottish referendum, Moore would either be on a roll (and hence ideal to take the number 2 place on a short-term basis?) or else seen as a poltiical loser, the man who lost Scotland on his watch.

    Would Hague have to be moved slightly? Cable, Davey and Moore are all Secretaries of State, and you cannot have one of them senior to the First Secretary of State. Either whoever Cameron chooses to take over as number 2 for a short-term basis is moved to replace Clegg at the Cabinet Office (but wouldn't that imply he wished them to become leader?) or they become First Secretary of State and Hague is given a title like Lord Privy Seal or Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and a Conservative is moved to the Cabinet Office and becomes Lord President of the Council.

    And if Cameron appoints someone as number 2 on a short-term basis, he would appear to be giving an opinion on another party's leadership election. The sensible thing would be for one of the 3- Cable, Davey and Moore- to rule himself out as a leadership contender, and then he can be promoted by Cameron without it coming across as interfering by Cameron in an internal Liberal Democrat matter.

    And if Hughes would enter the Cabinet, then he would have to be First Secretary of State if he were given a department (other than the Cabinet Office or Treasury) to run, for reasons given above.

    Now consider a second scenario- it is May 2015, and the election result is similar to the one 5 years earlier. The Government continues, but the Conservatives want to remove Cameron.

    That takes time, though. 15% of Conservative MPs have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to ask for a no-confidence motion. And then if a majority of Conservative MPs vote to remove Cameron, he is out and a new leadership election is held- and if the MPs choose more than one candidate then a leadership election takes about 3 months.

    So, if Cameron refused to resign as party leader, we are looking at August 2015 before his replacement is chosen.

    And there is a little trump card he has.

    Curiously for a monarchist party, the Conservatives have removed one of the Queen's personal prerogatives- under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 she no longer dissolves Parliament on the Prime Minister's request.

    In theory, if Cameron were ousted as Conservative leader, and a 3 month long leadership election is triggered, then he could present the following motion to the House of Commons- This House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.

    If it does have confidence, then he can tell his party that Parliament has confidence in the Government he leads. If it doesn't, then the House of Commons has 14 days to pass a confidence motion in someone else (or in him)- and if it doesn't he can ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament.

    There is a solution, and it involves removing the Queen's other personal prerogative- choosing a Prime Minister.

    Under the Scotland Act 1998 the Queen appoints the Scottish First Minister- but she appoints the person whom the Presiding Officer tells her has been chosen by the Scottish Parliament.

    Could this be done at a Westminster level? Normally, the House of Commons meets for the first time the Wednesday after the general election. Then there a couple of days of swearing in.

    So, with appropriate legislation passed, the Speaker of the House of Commons would, after the swearing in of MPs, announce that he or she would be meeting the Queen the following week and will be advising her of who to appoint as Prime Minister or whether the current Prime Minister should stay in office- and he or she can only advise her to appoint whoever the House of Commons chooses, in a series of exhaustative ballots, with the lowest placed candidate dropping out each round.

    If there is a hung Parliament, then this gives the parties a couple of weeks to sort out a coalition- but also provides a deadline, namely the day of the meeting between the Queen and the Speaker.

    And if someone is elected by the House of Commons, then it can be deemed to have confidence in a Government led by them, regardless of whether this is just after a general election or mid-term as a result of a Prime Minister dying or resigning, or losing a no-confidence motion.

    In Germany, the Bundestag elects the Chancellor, but the person it elects need not be a perty leader (e.g. Gerhard Schroder in September 1998).

    Why not follow this system?

    Now, there is one practical matter. Consider the scenario where Cameron is elected Prime Minister by the House of Commons, but is removed from the party leadership and replaced.

    At the moment, Clegg decides on which Liberal Democrats hold the posts in Government allocated to his party. But surely, if Cameron were to be Prime Minister without being party leader, shouldn't the Conservative leader be deciding who the Conservative minister should be? In that case, the Prime Minister's only say in the Government composition is which posts go to which party.

    One solution would be for the Prime Minister to draw up the Government, and only be advised by the leaders of the parties in the Government.

    In short, there is nothing to say that the Prime Minister has to be a party leader, and the situation where he or she wasn't would put us in interesting constitutional waters (decide for yourself if that's a euphemism for "all at sea")

    Sunday, 7 October 2012

    Can We Renegotiate Our European Union Membership?

    Back in the 1990s there were voices from the Conservative end of politics, with a little message, which goes something like this:

    Of course, we're not talking about leaving the European Union. All we're talking about is renegotiation. If the other nations do not agree with our modest and reasonable requests then we will be have to look at withdrawal

    As I saw noted often at the time, "renegotiate" was a code for "withdrawal"- make demands which force us out of the European Union.

    Sometimes Eurosceptics will talk about neverendums, where a country like Denmark or the Irish Republic give tbe "wrong" answer to a referendum and so Brussels makes them vote again until they give the "right" answer.

    Let's look at this. The Treaty of Maastricht was signed in February 1992, and in June the people of Denmark narrowly rejected it in a referendum. So, did "Brussels" make them vote again?

    In July 1992 the presidency of the European Communities (as it was then) went from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, so it was up to John Major, then the Conservative Prime Minister, as de facto President of the European Council, to find a solution.

    Major had had his own problems during the presidency. In September 1992, he had taken the decision to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (which he had taken us into as Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 1990) as interest rates were hitting 15% briefly (Labour make a song-and-dance routine about this, but firstly membership of the ERM was a policy they fully supported, and secondly they had hit similar levels under the March 1974- May 1979 Labour government).

    Yes, the Conservative party's record of ecomomic competence was shattered (unfairly really as it recovered. As I sometimes say, if you want to blame someone for the length of time Labour were in office, blame Ken Clarke, the Minister without Portfolio, as he was such a good Chancellor of the Exchequer that Labour inherited such a strong economy it took them three terms to destroy the economy rather than the usual one or two), but Major was willing to risk personal and political unpopularity for putting the national interests first.

    And Major had also found the solution to the Danish question.

    The clear message of Black/White* Wednesday [*delete as applicable] was that ERM wasn't for everyone, and so surely the € wouldn't be best for every nation. Maybe for the majority of nations, but not all of them.

    So, at Edinburgh in December 1992, the European Council decided that Denmark could negotiate opt-out, in particular, it wouldn't have to replace the krone with the €. Major had already negotiated the UK's opt-outs from the € and the Social Chapter, so why should we be a special case? Why not let other nations do what we had done?

    Due to Major, the European Communities had accepted that 99.9% of a loaf is better than no loaf at all. Yes, let the bulk of Maastricht be binding on every member nation, but accept that if you're going to get it through every nation's ratification procedure, then there are parts that other nations have to be allowed to opt out of to get it through. A multi-speed Europe had been born.

    It was not a case that Brussels had made Denmark vote again and again until it gave the "right" result. Instead:

  • The Danish government had signed Maastricht
  • The Danish people said no in a referendum
  • The Danish government listened to the people and brought the objections to Edinburgh
  • Maastricht was not renegotiated- but Denmark was given opt-outs
  • The Danish people said yes in a referendum- to a slightly different deal

    The next example is of the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, who at a European Council meeting in December 2011 (at which the Accession Treaty with Croatia was signed) decided that the United Kingdom would not join the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, and vetoed its introduction as a European Union treaty.

    And this was the nub- Cameron wasn't saying the other nations couldn't go ahead with it, just that if they did, then it would have to be as effectively a private treaty outside the EU's competence and jurisdiction, and therefore the EU insitutions such as the European Court of Justice, couldn't be involved in it.

    In January 2012, the Czech Republic- the only other country with an Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists-led government- decided it would not be part of the Treaty, and in March 2012, 25 of the EU's member nations signed the Treaty.

    This raises an important issue. Sometimes we hear the more enthusiastic Eurosceptics saying that the EU has become a single country. However, the Major-Cameron approach gives us:

  • There can be EU treaties which contain opt outs so are not binding in their entirety on all member nations
  • Nations can make treaties amongst themselves without the EU
  • And the other important thing is that treaties have to be ratified by all member nations. If you want to look at a "federal superstate" look across the Atlantic to the USA, where amendments to the Constitution can be ratified in the face of opposition from up to 12 state legislatures (and are binding on them, as well as the District of Columbia). The Supreme Court would give short shrift to any plea based on "this amendment cannot apply to us as our state legislature never ratified it."

    So, treaties are not simple one-rule-for-everyone affairs. They can, and are, ratified with opt-outs. But this is opting out during the negotiation and ratification process. Surely once a treaty is signed it is a done deal, never to be renegotiated or opted out of.

    Is it?

    In January 1973 we became a member of the European Communities (the collective name for the European Economic Community, the European Coal & Steel Community, and the European Atomic Energy Community).

    Labour returned to power in March 1974, following the previous month's general election, promising to renegotiate the terms of our membership. In March 1975, they did just that, and in June 1975 the people voted in a referendum.

    Notice the word referendum again. Notice that it's the countries which hold referendums- and the ones which vote no- who seem to hsve the power during the ratification process to go back and ask for opt-outs. And under the European Union Act 2011 we have joined that select group of countries.

    From our own history the answer is yes, we can renegotiate our EU membership.

    Friday, 5 October 2012

    I'll Take My Hat Off To People Who Eat Shellfish

    At primary school, I was a first. One day I turned up with this black and yellow piece of headgear. It had "Township of Sullivan" on it and was a present from indirectly distant relatives in Canada (my great-aunt's husband had a sister in British Columbia).

    So, I amazed the other children by wearing a baseball cap, something they'd only seen on TV shows imported from North America.

    I lost it in the summer of 1995 on an Operation Mobilisation Love Europe team in Linz. If you ever see someone in Linz wearing it, whip it off their head and run off and then contact me.

    I quite like wearing baseball caps. But there is one place I won't wear them. That is in church, or even a building (or a big tent) that is being used at some point for worship. My thinking comes from I Cor 11:2-16 and in line with this I try to ensure I have short hair as well.

    I know that in this modern 21st century Christianity we are all supposed to accept that teachings on gender differences in Corinth were just due to local circumstances. Now, I have some problems with this. We are often told, as fact, that there was synagogue-style gender separation in worship, and that there was a group of noisy women, so controversial passages such as I Cor 14:26-40 are simply not relevant, and we can ignore bits where Paul says "As in all the churches of the saints..." (v. 33) and "If anyone thinks he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord." (v. 37).

    Quite strong there- hard to reconcile with it just being about a little local difficulty. And hard to reconcile with it just not being relevant in today's church.

    By this stage Christianity could not be dismissed as a Jewish sect. There had been the arguments over how much Jewish practice there should be, but issues like circumcision and the Levitical dietary laws had been settled. Yes, there were Jews in Corinth, but also Greeks and Romans.

    When I hear the church-was-like-a-synagogue line, the image in my mind is the typical English parish church- but one where the menfolk have to be one side of the aisle and the womenfolk the other.

    But, whenever we read of a church meeting in the New Testament- after the Jerusalem church (which appeared to meet in part of the Temple)- got scattered- the only examples seem to be groups meeting in people's homes. We do not come across New Testament church fellowships meeting in synagogues. Why would they when mainstream Judaism was so opposed?

    Now, I'll admit it is possible that church fellowship meetings might have gender separation. The Jewish Christians might have expected that. But the Graeco-Roman ones? And in something like a large homegroup setting, wouldn't it be possible that families were sitting/standing together?

    The problem I have with the whole "the Corinthian church practiced synagogue-style gender separation and so Paul gave teaching that could not apply today" is that it relies on a set of assumptions.

    This is Corinth we are talking about. The place where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla. Later that chapter, they take Apollos into their home and give him a basic Chriatianity Explored course. In the past I have had it put to me that Priscilla was a preacher based on this- there is no difference between the couple taking a man into their home and explaining the Gospel to him and her getting in the pulpit to the shouts of "Preach sister, preach!"

    Suppose Priscilla were a preacher. Don't you think the Corinthian church would be going "Er, Paul, we know you're an Apostle and all that. But how do you reconcile telling our women to be silent here when you don't mind one of ours going round cburch to church preaching?", hmm?

    But churches do make the distinction in practice. Do they insist that only the preachers can run Bible study groups in their homes, or that only preachers can give the talks at small groups for new believers? Of course not! We all accept that there are preachers, and then there are people (who might include the preachers) who run Bible study groups or explain the Bible to small groups outside of the weekly congregational worship- so why refuse to draw a distinction in the early church?

    Another area of controversy is I Tim 2:11-3:13. Dealing with chapter 3, there is one interesting thing- Paul talks about presbyters (vv. 1- 7), then deacons (vv. 8- 10 & 12- 13). What's the gap? Well, verse 11 is about deacons' wives- or is it?

    Why have a verse dealing with deacons' wives, and not one for presbyters' wives? Could it be translated "women deacons" instead?

    As I look and meditate on it, the conclusion I draw (and I appreciate others may draw different ones) is that Paul is outlining an all-male presbyterate and a mixed-gender diaconatte.

    There is one issue I now need to tackle- presiding at the Lord's Table. Now, I don't believe that it is a conjuring trick involving a priest saying a magic incantation over bread and wine, much less that the magic wouldn't work if the person saying it doesn't have a certain something between their legs.

    The same thing happens to the bread and wine if a man or a woman says the words of the communion service- i.e. nothing. Christ is present in the service, His Body is the Church. So, on one level I don't have a problem with a woman presiding at the Lord's Table. Yet, if I am at an Anglican service and a woman is presiding I stay in my seat but don't stop anyone else going up, nor do I rush to the Lord's Table and shout "Jezebel, stop it. You cow of Bashan!".

    Now, in the New Testament I find nothing to say that only a presbyter can preside at a celebration of the Lord's Supper. Church of England policy is simply a matter of church order, not Scripture, and in line with Article XX (an Article I'll return to later as it's important) it has the right to draw up ceremonies as long as they don't contradict Scripture. Having a presbyter-only-can-preside rule is not in the Bible, but neither is it contradictory to the Bible. The Bible is silent on who can preside, so it is up to individual churches and denominations to draw up their own policy.

    So, if I were in a church where the policy was that a deacon or layperson could preside, and there was a woman presiding at the Lord's Table, then I would have no issue going up and receiving the bread and wine. The problem with the Anglican system is that by going up and receiving the bread and wine you are recognising the person presiding as a presbyter- which I cannot do with a clear conscience.

    Going back to I Timothy, I now turn to chapter 2. I once outlined my concerns about the ordination of women to the presbyterate, and one lady I know emailed me back to point out that I cannot explain what v. 15 means, and until I can explain it I shouldn't really be relying on anything else there.

    Yes, there are parts of the Bible that are unclear. But there is much of the Bible that is crystal clear.

    When we say that a passage is "hard to understand" when it is crystal clear, do we really mean "hard to accept"?

    We sometimes come across the idea that Paul and the other Apostles were somehow culturally bound. This meant that men who Jesus chose to be His Apostles still had their blinkers on, while us, with two millennia of progress, have taken the blinkers off and can see where they went wrong.

    Could it not be a case that we are the ones who are culturally bound and wearing blinkers? That where there is an Apostolic teaching which we find hard to accept the Apostles could be right and the problem lies with us rather than with their ignorance?

    One of the most controversial parts of chapter 2 is verses 11 and 12. Sometimes this is explained that there were peculiar religious practices in Ephesus. One argument I've heard is that the other religions did not have priestesses, so Christianity would seem peculiar (just in Ephesus) if it allowed women to hold ministry positions, so Paul imposed a local ban. Another is that the other religions did have priestesses, so Paul banned women from ministry in Ephesus (and nowehere else) to ensure that Christianity remained distinctive.

    As a side issue on this, I would be careful of any exegesis which has Paul flitting back and forth between something binding on today's church and something that only applied to a local circumstance. If you use v.8 to argue we should be raising our hands in worship, what's the logic in assuming the rest of the chapter doesn't apply to us?

    The other argument is that Paul is barring undeducated women from the pulpit. Women just didn't have the education to be able to preach. But neither would most of the menfolk. Surely, if Paul wanted to say that uneducated people shouldn't preach then he could, well, you know, say "I do not permit anyone without at least 5 A*-C's at GCSE to preach- and I'm not including Mickey Mouse subjects like Media Studies among the 5." And if he did ban uneducated people from the pulpit, surely that would include Peter and John (Acts 4:13).

    Years ago I was attending an Anglican church and the vicar's wife wrote a little bit about the book of Romans, and for her the key part was chapter 16. And the important thing there was that right at the start of that chapter we have a woman called Phoebe, who is taken to be a deacon. And then perfect circular logic which can be summarised as:

    • Phoebe is a deacon
    • What is a deacon?
    • Well, a deacon is someone serving his or her diaconal year before being ordained to the presbyterate
    • Ergo this shows that the early church had women presbyters, which groups like Reform or Forward in Faith ignore

    The problem is two-fold. Firstly, many Protestant denominations and free churches outside the Church of England have no concept of the peculiarly Anglican "diaconal year". Secondly, it only makes sense in a church which ordains women to the presbyterate. So, starting from the assumption that there were women presbyters in Apostolic times she has shown that there were women presbyters in Apostolic times.

    I remember hearing a sermon a few years back where an interesting point was made. When the first women were ordained to the diaconate in the Church of England in 1986, something new was happening. For probably the only time in its existence, the Church of England was ordaining deacons who were not going into their diaconal year. Instead it was ordaining deacons which it had no legal power to subsequently ordain to the presbyterate. His point was that suddenly there were these ladies who, without guide book or precedent, had to define and work out what exactly does a second-, third-, fourth- etc year deacon do. Rather than being a staging-post to the next order of ministry, the diaconate could have become an important ministry in its own right.

    There is one confusing thing sbout concentrating on Phoebe. Why concentrate on the lady in her diaconal year when you have Priscilla the preacher (v. 3) and better than a deacon, better than a preacher, you have an apostle herself? Step forward Junia (v. 7).

    Now, some texts give Junia as Junias. And it is unclear what Junia(s) was. Yes, some translations say (s)he was "well known among the Apostles", others simply "well known to the Apostles".

    There is one thing I have heard about Junia(s), which is that (s)he was identical to Joanna, who is one of the women who accompanied Jesus (Luke 8:3), someone who found Jesus's tomb was empty (Luke 24:10), and, given that, is probably someone on whom the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost (Acts 1:14-2:13). So, definitely someone who, if you mentioned her name to one of the Apostles, would lead to the comment "Oh, yes, I remember Joanna", perhaps followed by "how are she and Andronicus getting on?"

    Although one would have to wonder what had happened to Chuza in the interevening years.

    By the way, although many translations will describe Joanna in Luke 8 along the lines of "the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager", it is a step too far to assume that it was Joanna who was the household manager.

    Junia/Junias relies on a lot of maybes and vagaries. Hard to draw any conclusion from him/her to be honest.

    And this brings me on to Jesus Himself. A common defence for an all-male presbyterate was that when Jesus chose the 12 Apostles (Matt 10:1-4), He chose 12 men. And one comeback is that He chose 12 Jews, so shouldn't we restrict the presbyterate to Jews?

    No, as there were few Gentiles around. There were oodles of women - around half the population - around.

    So, why 12 men? I have little time for the idea that He didn't want to antagonise the religious leaders by appointing women apostles- "Sorry, Joanna. Sorry, Susanna. I really wanted to make you Apostles, but you know, the Pharisees would get narked about that"- when He spends His ministry challenging them? Jesus does what is right, and isn't cowed by the Pharisees- so why assume He was on this issue and no other?

    Another explanation gives us the culture-bound Jesus (and remember folks, whenever we feel we can ignore something an Apostle says because he's cúlture-bound, what we mean is we're culture-bound), or asks the questions about what the "trajectory" is of His teaching on gender issues and whether he is "progressive" or "reactionary".

    Now it is true that there is a progressive revelation in the Scriptures, as God's plan of salvation unfolds. However, there is also a back cover to the Bible, and the revelation is complete.

    And, if a spacecraft is launched on a "trajectory", then there are various outcomes:

    • It can arrive safely at its destination- but that means we know what the destination is. What has been the intended destination?- different people have different aims, which I need to come on to in a bit.
    • It can go off at a fast speed, and end up racing away and be lost in outer darkness.
    • It can go round and round and round, again and again, with the friction eventually burning it up.
    • It can fall to the ground and lie in pieces.

    Is Jesus "progressive" or "reactionary"? My answer is neither- He's God. He didn't wander around first century Palestine sounding like a Guardian editorial. Nor did He sound like a Daily Mail editorial.

    Indeed to ask if He were "progressive" or "reactionary" is to ask an invalid question.

    Sometimes, after there has been an election in Europe, there will be American commentators who wonder if the people were pro-American or anti-American, sounding as if Europeans walk into the polling booths thinking "I love America. Now which are the pro-American parties?" or "I hate America. Now which are the anti-American parties?"

    I have done door-to-door campaigning, in Southampton City Council elections and general elections. Never has anyone even mentioned the USA at the door. It's a non-issue. To ask whether voters are pro-American or anti-American is projecting a framework which doesn't exist onto them.

    Is Jesus "progressive" or "reactionary"? My first response is that Jesus judges us (Acts 10:42), not vice versa.

    My second response is that such a question judges the Judge by a set of criteria that apply to the twenty-first century Western world.

    My third response is that, if we decide Jesus is a "progressive", do we follow that to its logical conclusion that He is a supporter of current progressive causes, such as euthanasia, abortion on demand or same-sex marriages?

    This brings me round to my earlier comment about the "trajectory" argument, as we really can't decide what the destination is. Remember when the Church of England was approaching the decision to ordain women to the presbyterate, and a common argument was the "just 4 paragraphs" one. That was all it was- can a woman say just 4 extra paragraphs- the Absolution, the prayers of consecration over the bread and the wine, and the Blessing? What a fuss over 4 paragraphs! Of course it wouldn't lead to women presbyters being consecrated to the episcopate. Was not the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 later clear on that?

    The thing is that different supporters had different aims of where the final destination is. Just having women ordained to the presbyterate? Just ending with women presbyters being consecrated to the episcopate? Or further changes?

    I remember being in an Anglican church when Michael Scott-Joynt, then the Bishop of Winchester, visited. And there were questions afterwards. One lady wanted to know whether, now the Church of England had accepted the Bible was wrong on slavery, and that it was wrong on women, would it now accept that the Bible was wrong on homosexuality?

    Precisely. While evangelicals who supported the ordination of women to the presbyterate might simply be saying "oops, we misinterpreted the Bible for a couple of millennia. Sorry about that", for other supporters it's a more basic "the Bible is wrong".

    I did A-level History, and one of the interesting topics was the last (so far) Liberal Government, from December 1905 to May 1915. Although the January/February 1906 election was a Liberal landslide- the January 1910 and December 1910 ones led to hung Parliaments where the Liberals were relying on Labour support- one factor in this was the "Lib/Lab pact", which played a part in Labour increasing its representation from 2 to 29.

    We saw a political cartoon (probably in Punch) which was the Edwardian gentleman walking and being joined by a labourer. I cannot remember the exact words, but the labourer was saying something like "Can I walk with you? I'm going the same way". And, then, in a whisper "An' much further".

    Did we (and I include myself, as 20 years ago I supported the ordination of women to the presbyterate) evangelicals listen to the liberals walking alongside us telling us they were going the same way, but close our ears to the whispered "An' much further"?

    Did we allow ourselves to be the liberals' useful innocents?

    In June 1965, the US Supreme Court gave its ruling in the Griswold v. Connecticut case. One key aspect was that there were rights not defined in the Constitution but were implied in its "penumbra".

    My concern is that this is an issue where too much weight is put on the penumbrae. There in the shadows is someone- they might be a man or a woman. They might be well known among the apostles or just well known to the apostles. They could be a woman apostle. This might be the situation in the Corinthian church. This could be what was happening at Ephesus. Perhaps Priscilla peripatetically preached. Maybe the elect lady to whom II John is addressed is not a church but its pastor.

    These perhaps, maybes, could bes then become are, is.

    And then you come to the trump card. The verse that supersedes all other verses. I refer, of course, to Gal 3:28. Here it is, the proof that all ministry posts are open to women- from lay preacher to Pope:

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    Well, case closed? Not quite. For this isn't a verse about ministry. It's about salvation. All Christian people- whatever race, social class or gender- are in Christ and are children of God.

    And it was written early on- probably in the fifth decade AD. Are there similar passages? Yes, there is.

    Colossians was probably written around a decade later than Galatians. And Col 3:11 is remarkably similar:

    Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, and in all.

    Hmm, so Paul is writing something similar to his words to the Galatians, but missing out the bit about gender..

    I have a problem with trump card verses. Bsck to Article XX and its wording that the Church may not "so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."

    What is being said here? Well, we should really accept that Scripture is a whole. We should not take a verse in Galatians, and wave it around, interpreting it in a way that is repugnant to other parts of Scripture. Beware of when a verse- any verse- is used to prove that another part of Scripture is wrong.

    And one dangerous attitude is that a story is worth a thousand verses. Yes, there are these verses which restrict women's ministry in the Church, but here we have Deborah whose story must overturn any verses that restrict women's ministry.

    Hmm, but the more I read it, I wonder if she were the equivalent of the Prime Minister rather than of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And I have a hunch that Paul might, just might, in all his training, have heard of her.

    Yes, we will come to different conclusions sometimes based on a different set of verses. The way to deal with this is not for group A to wave its verses around and dismiss group B's verses, but for both to ask how can these verses together be interpreted. Have they taken something out of context? Have they misunderstood?

    When Christians speak out on issues of sexual morality, there is one response you might get- namely, that if you take Leviticus seriously you should avoid shellfish. You don't follow the Levitical dietary laws, so why make a song-and-dance routine about sexual ethics? Ooh, you're struggling and are desperately trying to say that some bits of Leviticus are binding on us, others aren't. Stop digging, faith-head.

    Now, I don't have the time to go into the threefold division of the Law- there is The Threefold Division of the Law, a publication you can get from the Christian Institute which goes into more detail. Basically, from the early days of Christianity, we have had a threefold division - civil/judicial (relating to the nation of Israel), ceremonial/religious (relating to Judsism and in particular the system of Temple sacrfices) and the moral (still binding).

    And at this point, a baseball cap appears. Not the Township of Sullivan one- maybe my European Union one or Hawai'i one. For one criticism I saw of those of us who feel that the New Testament places restrictions on the role of women in ministry are being inconsistent, as we don't insist on women wearing hats.

    Well, there is something wrong with this, and something right.

    Deal with the wrong first. So, are you saying that because a church is not following every last item of New Testament teaching on how we conduct worship we are being wrong in following any of it? In which case, how much are you following?

    And yes, they are right. We all have our blinkers on. We are all culturally bound. We have to decide whether there is an equivalent of the sexual ethics/shellfish division in the New Testament. Are parts of the teaching on how we conduct worship local issues? Are they binding on us? Guidelines? We all find things in the penumbras of Scripture which get elevated above things that are crystal clear. There is always the danger of taking a viewpoint and then becoming fishers of verses- that one agrees with me, keep it; that one, nah, don't like it, throw it back.

    Wednesday, 3 October 2012

    Is The United Kingdom Fairly Represented In Europe?

    In November, across the Atlantic, there is a very important vote which could have a major impact on the USA's future.

    I am referring, of course, to the Puerto Rican vote on statehood. Could this become the first new state since Hawai'i?

    Now, there would be one effect of statehood that I want to look at. Puerto Rico would, like every other state, be entitled to 2 Senators- probably a Class 2 one (those elected in November 2008) and a Class 3 one (those elected in November 2010). The Senate would, as the Constitution requires, be enlarged to 102 members.

    The House of Representatives is limited- not by the Constitution, but by federal law- to 435 members. Puerto Rico would be entitled to 5. There are two possible ways this could be done:

  • Simply follow the method used when Alaska and Hawai'i got statehood, and enlarge the House till the next reapportionment (which comes into force at the November 2022 election)- so the House has 440 members, and the Electoral College has 545 members (up from the current 538)
  • Keep the House at 435 members (with the Electoral College having 540), with 5 states- California, New York State, North Carolina, Texas and Washington State- losing one seat and having to be redistricted to reflect this.
  • The House of Representatives uses a method to allocate the number of seats a State has, and I was looking at what would happen if we applied it to the European Parliament.

    Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament is due to have 751 Members (MEPs). The original plan was for there to be 750- however, there was a long-standing tradition that France, Italy, the United Kingdom and West Germany always had to same number of MEPs as each other. With the election of June 1994, after German reunification, this ceased to apply, as Germany had more MEPs, but the principle remained that France, Italy and the United Kingdom were equally represented.

    Under the Lisbon plans, there was going to be 750 MEPs, with an upper limit of 96 per nation (Germany elected 99 in June 2009) and a lower limit of 6 per nation. France and the United Kingdom, as the second and third largest member nations, were due to see their representation increase by 1 to 73, while Italy- the fourth largest- was to stay at 72.

    Italy objected and in the horse-trading that followed, it was decided that the Parliament would have 751 MEPs, with 73 of them being from Italy.

    Note that one complication is that Croatia is due to join the European Union in July 2013.

    There are calls for this to be put on a statutory basis rather than endless horse-trading between nations.

    Maybe this could be Eurostat producing official population figures (not electorate, as this differs from nation to nation) and there being some organisation that then produces a binding apportionment of seats.

    If we used the American House of Representatives method, then the number of MEPs (allowing a ceiling of 96 and a floor of 6) and the change from the Lisbon figures would be:

  • Germany- 96 (unchanged)
  • France- 96 (up 22)
  • United Kingdom- 92 (up 19)
  • Italy- 89 (up 16)
  • Spain- 68 (up 14)
  • Poland- 57 (up 6)
  • Romania- 28 (down 5)
  • Netherlands- 25 (down 1)
  • Greece- 17 (down 5)
  • Belgium- 16 (down 6)
  • Czech Republic- 16 (down 6)
  • Portugal- 16 (down 6)
  • Hungary- 15 (down 7)
  • Sweden- 14 (down 6)
  • Austria- 12 (down 7)
  • Bulgaria- 11 (down 7)
  • Croatia- 10 (up 10)
  • Denmark- 8 (down 5)
  • Slovakia- 8 (down 5)
  • Finland- 8 (down 5)
  • Irish Republic- 7 (down 5)
  • Lithuania- 6 (down 6)
  • Latvia- 6 (down 3)
  • Slovenia- 6 (down 2)
  • Estonia- 6 (unchanged)
  • Cyprus- 6 (unchanged)
  • Luxembourg- 6 (unchanged)
  • Malta- 6 (unchanged)
  • So, the big winner would be France, closely followed by the United Kingdom, while many of the middle-sized member nations would see their representation fall by what, for them, is significant amount- especially Lithuania seeing its representation halved.

    But fair's fair. Equalising representation involves winners and losers.

    Would there be any way to placate those nations who would see their representation slashed? There is one way, looking back to the Connecticut Compromise.

    In the early days of the USA, one question was representation. The larger states, generally, wanted a legislature where representation was based on population. The smaller states, generally, wanted one where each state had the same number of legislators.

    How to resolve the impasse? Treat it as a both-and instead of an either-or. Have two chambers.

    Would this be a way forward? One model is the German Bundesrat with a Land's delegation ranging from 3 (for the smallest, Bremen) to 6 (for the largest, Nordrhein-Westfalen). Germany has 16 Lander, and a total delegation of 69, so on the EU as a whole, such a system would have 121 delegates.

    So, would a European Senata be the way forward, with its members from each nation elected by- and drawn from- national legislatures?

    We could actually get 121 delegates by giving the 4 largest nations (Germamy, France, the United Kingdom, Italy) 6 each; the next 7 (Spain, Poland, Romania, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, the Czech Republic) 5 each, the next 11 (Portugal, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, the Irish Republic, Lithuania) 4 each and the final 6 (Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta) 3 each.

    Monday, 1 October 2012

    Yoga And The Church- Some Thoughts

    There has been a bit of media controversy over the past few weeks concerning a couple of local-ish churches which have "banned yoga." The first is at St Edmund's Roman Catholic church, where my great-grandparents got married. The second is one of the churches in Dibden Parish (I grew up in Dibden Parish, which covers most of Hythe, although I got christened at one of Hythe Parish's churches. Go back to early Victorian times and the two local parishes were Dibden and Fawley- and at some point in the mid-nineteenth century, the Hythe part of Fawley Parish was separated out and became a parish in its own right, and as the twentieth century moved on, the town of Hythe expanded southwards into the Dibden Parish).

    So, where to begin on this tricky issue? Harmless exercise like going swimming? Or religious worship?

    One criticism of St Edmund's from a local Hindu is that the church is just jumping to the wrong conclusions. Yes, yoga comes from India, and that in a bit of confusion, a Catholic priest is assuming Indian means Hindu.

    Now, to be honest, we do need to beware of any confusion between religion and nation. How often do you hear someone who would never darken the doors of a church apart from "hatch, match and dispatch" or the "Midnight Mass" describe themselves as a Christian as, well, "this is a Christian country, innit?" (sometimes followed by "the Queen is the head of the Church of England")? Or the idea that immigrants from ethnic minorities (never white immigrants) should leave their religions back in their home countries and can only truly call themselves British when they are attending church on Sundays (a point put, curiously enough, by a man who would never darken the doors of a church except for...[you can guess how that sentence finishes!]).

    I remember being on one of Operation Mobilisation's Love Europe teams and travelling back to the United Kingdom with a lady from another team. We were talking to a man, and he was heavily into martial arts. The lady explained that she used to be as well, but when she became a Christian she gave up as one cannot be a Christian and into martial arts. Yet on another team, one friend of mine recounted that there were South Koreans on her team who were into martial arts because it was just part of their culture.

    I wonder what message that guy picked up? Give up your hobby and spend your Sunday mornings listening to a man in a frock drone on and on, while sitting in a draughty church singing hymns in anachronistic English and you too could spend eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp, perhaps?

    And herein lies the danger. Do we dismiss things like judo or karate as out-of-bounds for Christians as they are from the Orient? What about yoga?

    Do we make the lazy assumption that something is Christian because it comes from the Anglo-Saxon or Celtic culture?

    And on the flip side, missionary work is not about making people in foreign lands good Westerners- not that modern missionaries do this, in general.

    Critics of the two church's stance are often taking the stand that it's just a bit of exercise. And who, in these days of an obesity epidemic, could possibly object to anything that gets people fitter?

    But is it just a bit of exercise? I saw one recent comment by one Hindu that it does improve spirituality, so surely Christians should welcome anything that improves spirituality? That is something important which I'll come back to later.

    Stepping to one side for the moment, there is a common assumption among a group of young people that I know, namely that there is a common belief system called "religion", which is held by "religious people", and has been disproved by Richard Dawkins. (Although what exactly "disproving religion" means is never clear).

    So, one religious person might call herself a Hindu. Another religious person believing the same things might call himself an evangelical Christian.

    On this logic, if yoga has Hindu roots then, well, it's all religion, isn't it? And surely the church is there to promote religion?

    Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:2) that we do not use underhand methods. If something is run by a group of Christians, then be open about it being run by Christians. Nothing which leads someone to go "I never realised it was the God Squad behind it, and now I'm in too deep". No secret language and phrases that can only be understood by those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

    So, if yoga is Hindu, then the practitioners should be open about it.

    But if yoga can be separated from Hinduism, if you can have the physical aspects of it without the religious ones, then would that be OK? A kind of secular yoga?

    Paul also outlined teaching about the "weaker brethren". Now, when two Christians hold different opinions which are Biblically based, there are two traps to avoid. The first is the contemptuous assumption that the other is a heretic, or simply doesn't love God as much as the other does. The second trap is the patronising assumption that the Christian with a different Biblically based opinion is the weaker brother whom you have to tolerate.

    For example, back in the 1990s I was reading a book on the church and gender issues. The author fully supported the idea that women could serve as presbyters while also believing that the Church of England should not have ordained women as presbyters. The logic being that she was concerned at the "weaker brethren" who were uncomfortable with this. Message between the lines- "strong Christians" have no objection to women holding any position in the church- even Archbishop of Canterbury- but have to make a concession to keep the weaker Christians in the Church of England.

    Paul's specific issue was meat- namely meat sacrificed to idols. Was eating the meat sharing in the worship of idols? Should Christians eat it? (By the way, this is not about vegetarianism per se).

    Does yoga fall under the same category, if the spiritual can be separated from the physical? What I mean is that some Christians could do it and think "I'm just doing some exercise. I'm not worshipping Hindu deities", while another could see them doing that and think "Hmm, they're good Christians and have no problem worshipping Hindu deities, so it must be OK if I have other gods alongside God".

    Earlier I mentioned the comment that yoga is spiritual and surely we should support anything which makes people more spiritual. Now, "more spiritual" is an awful term. But moving on from that, it just assumes that we're just "spiritual" people who don't really bother where the source of it comes.

    Basicslly, it's the assumption that we should be enthusiastic with a Christ-free spirituality.

    And the thing is, a focus on it makes me more spiritual is the wrong focus- we should focus on God, not ourselves. But is that any different to us saying "I go to X church as I enjoy it, it gives me fulfilment"?

    And a final point. Sometimes we get the secular movement complaining about church involvement in things like food banks, and the smart response is to ask them why haven't they set up their own. But, turn this around- yes, criticise yoga but ask when is the Church going to provide a healthy alternative?