Sunday, 21 June 2015

What Would A Reformed House of Lords Have Looked Like?

Last month, we had a general election to determine the new House of Commons.

If things had turned out differently, then that would not have been the only election to Parliament. Go back 3 years and - as I looked at then - there was the House of Lords Reform Bill (subsequently dropped) to bring in a part-elected element to the House of Lords.

May 2015 would have seen the first "transitional" House of Lords. We would have elected 120 peers on party lists, and the House of Lords Appointment Commission would have appointed 30 Crossbenchers. These 150 new peers would have been elected/appointed to serve until May 2030.

From the Church of England, the number of Lords Spiritual would have reduced from 26 to 21 - while the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester would have been entitled to remain as "Named Lords Spiritual", the number of "Ordinary Lords Spiritual" would fall from 21 to 16. The Bill was unclear how this would be done, leaving it up to the General Synod's Secretary-General to inform the Clerk of the Crown, with the Bill explicitly repealing the Bishoprics Act 1878, which introduced the seniority rule to determine who the Lords Spiritual would be.

If the Church decided to use the seniority rule to allocate, then under "last-in, first-out", Nicholas Baines (Bishop of Leeds), Christopher Chessun (Bishop of Southwark), Stephen Conway (Bishop of Ely), Nicholas Holtam (Bishop of Salisbury), and James Langstaff (Bishop of Rochester) would lose their seats.

In addition, there would be 510 "transitional" members, and my guesstimate was:

  • Labour - 156
  • Conservative - 147
  • Crossbench & Others - 145
  • Liberal Democrat - 62

I shall take a generous view, and assume that all the minor party peers were elected to be "transitional" members:

  • Democratic Unionist Party - 4 (Wallace Browne, William Hay, Maurice Morrow, Eileen Paisley)
  • UK Independence Party - 3 (Malcolm Pearson, David Stevens, Leopold Verney)
  • Plaid Cymru - 2 (Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Dafydd Wigley)
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 2 (Reg Empey, Dennis Rogan)
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1 (Jenny Jones)
  • Independent Labour - 1 (David Stoddart)
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 1 (Jenny Tonge)
  • Independent Ulster Unionist - 1 (Ken Maginnis)
  • Independent Social Democrat - 1 (David Owen)

When it comes to the non-affiliated peers, and I shall assume that Tim Boswell (Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees), Lawrence Collins (former Supreme Court Justice), Frances D'Souza (Speaker of the House of Lords), John Sewel (Chairman of Committees) and Chris Smith (former Culture, Media & Sport Secretary) all remained.

So that gives the "transitional" members as being (roughly):

  • Labour - 156
  • Conservative - 147
  • Crossbench - 124
  • Liberal Democrat - 62
  • Non-affiliated - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 4
  • UK Independence Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 2
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 1
  • Independent Ulster Unionist - 1
  • Independent Social Democrat - 1

The Bill also set out the number of peers to be elected in each region. This would be the same for the May 2020 and May 2025 elections as well, although the Electoral Commission needs to produce a report by the end of April 2026 outlining what changes in allocation might be needed for the May 2030 (and May 2035 and May 2040) elections:

  • South East England - 16
  • London - 14
  • North West England - 14
  • Eastern England - 11
  • South West England - 11
  • West Midlands - 11
  • Scotland - 10
  • Yorkshire & Humberside - 10
  • East Midlands - 9
  • Wales - 6
  • North East England - 5
  • Northern Ireland - 3

The electoral systems would be identical to the European Parliament.

Assume that at the first House of Lords election, people cast their votes the same way as they did at the contemporaneous general election. This gives us:

South East England 9 3 2 1 0 1 0 0 0
London 5 7 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
North West England 4 7 2 1 0 0 0 0 0
Eastern England 6 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0
South West England 6 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
West Midlands 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 1 3 0 0 6 0 0 0 0
Yorkshire & Humberside 4 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
East Midlands 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 2 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
North East England 1 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Northern Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
Total 48 41 15 6 6 1 1 1 1

The Bill also allowed for up to 8 ministerial peers, who could serve for 3 terms. One feature of this was that no new ministerial peers could be appointed until a vacancy arose. While this might sound logical, if the Bill had come into force then David Cameron, the Prime Minister, could appoint 8 Conservatives to be ministerial peers - and they would be there until May 2030, unless death or resignation brought their terms to a premature end. They would still be there if there were a Labour Government in office. A future Labour Prime Minister would - prior to 2030 - be unable to appoint anyone to be a ministerial peer until a vacancy arose.

So, what would the reformed House of Lords look like? We are looking at a House with 510 transitional members, 150 elected/appointed for 15 years, 21 episcopal and 8 ministerial - a total of 689, with 345 peers needed for a majority:

Party/Group Lords Temporal Lords Spiritual Total
Transitional Elected/appointed in 2015 Ministerial
Conservative 147 48 8 0 203
Labour 156 41 0 0 197
Crossbench 124 30 0 0 154
Liberal Democrat 62 6 0 0 68
Archbishops & Bishops 0 0 0 21 21
UK Independence Party 3 15 0 0 18
Scottish National Party 0 6 0 0 6
Democratic Unionist Party 4 1 0 0 5
Non-affiliated 5 0 0 0 5
Ulster Unionist Party 2 1 0 0 3
Plaid Cymru 2 0 0 0 2
Green Party of England & Wales 1 1 0 0 2
Sinn Féin 0 1 0 0 1
Independent Labour 1 0 0 0 1
Independent Liberal Democrat 1 0 0 0 1
Independent Ulster Unionist 1 0 0 0 1
Independent Social Democrat 1 0 0 0 1

With Sinn Féin not taking their seat, and D'Souza, Sewel and Boswell exercising the Speaker's neutrality, there would be 685 voting peers in such a House of Lords. To get the 343 peers needed for a majority, the Conservatives would need the support of 140 other peers - reaching out to the Liberal Democrats and the various Unionists would only provide 77 of them, hence there would be the need for a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government to obtain the support of 63 of the other peers.

How Many New Conservative Peers Should There Be?

In the next few months, there should be a Dissolution Honours List and a list of working peers, while the Conservatives have already been adding new peers who have become Government ministers - such as Ros Altmann as Minister for Pensions, Richard Keen as Advocate-General and Francis Maude as Minister for Trade & Investment.

One accusation that the former Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government had to face from Labour was that it was somehow packing the House of Lords, with Labour coming up with concepts as "de facto majority" and "political peers".

If the number of peers is supposed to reflect the votes cast as the previous general election, then how many peers should there be?

The current list at the Parliament website gives:

  • Conservative - 228
  • Labour - 212
  • Crossbench - 178
  • Liberal Democrat - 102
  • Bishops - 26
  • Non-affiliated - 24
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 4
  • UK Independence Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 2
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 1
  • Independent Ulster Unionist - 1
  • Independent Social Democrat - 1

Please note that I am using how peers self-identify, rather than how they vote. I am not getting into games that Lord X is Crossbench but votes with party Y z% of the time so is "really" one of party Y's peers.

This gives the Conservatives a little over 29% of the House of Lords.

We can look at the result of the May 2015 general election and compare the number of votes to the number of peers a party has:

Party Votes Peers Votes per peer
Conservative 11,334,576 228 49,713
Labour 9,347,304 212 44,091
Liberal Democrat 2,415,862 102 23,685
Democratic Unionist Party 184,260 4 46,065
UK Independence Party 3,881,099 3 1,293,700
Plaid Cymru 181,704 2 90,852
Ulster Unionist Party 114,935 2 57,468
Green Party of England & Wales 1,111,586 1 1,111,586

The party that gets the worst deal from this is the UK Independence Party, closely followed by the Green Party of England & Wales. The collapse of Liberal Democrat support means that they have the best votes-per-peer result.

If we were to treat all the parties to the same votes-per-peer result, then we would get:

Party Current peers Entitlement New peers needed
Conservative 228 479 251
Labour 212 395 183
UK Independence Party 3 164 161
Liberal Democrat 102 102 0
Scottish National Party 0 61 61*
Green Party of England & Wales 1 47 46
Democratic Unionist Party 4 8 4
Plaid Cymru 2 8 6
Sinn Féin 0 7 7**
Ulster Unionist Party 2 5 3
Total 554 1,276 722

[* Unlikely to accept any peerages offered]

[** Very unlikely to accept any peerages offered]

Even when we ignore the Scottish National Party's and Sinn Féin's entitlements, that is still 654 new peers needed to keep the House of Lords proportional.

And it gets worse. The Crossbench peers and the Non-affiliated make up 202 of the membership of the House of Lords - which is 25.7%. To keep this ratio, there would need to be 428 - hence the creation of 226 new Crossbench peers.

So, a proportional House of Lords would need 880 new peers created - bringing it to an unmanageable and bloated membership of 1,666.

One way round this is to just accept that the Liberal Democrats will be over-represented. While the aim of a proportional House of Lords is laudable, there is no fixed end-term for membership - members, unless expelled or resigning, serve until death. So a party which has seen its support collapse will end up over-represented due to peers appointed during the good times remaining.

The Guardian reports that several defeated Liberal Democrat ministers (Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and David Laws) have turned down peerages - although it is silent on whether Ed Davey (who, along with Alexander and Cable, was one of 3 Cabinet ministers to lose their seats) has refused. Or indeed, whether he was even offered one.

In my opinion, there should be a small number of peerages granted to Liberal Democrats who retired (Annette Brooke, former deputy leader Malcolm Bruce and former leader Ming Campbell) and Ministers of State who were defeated (Lynne Featherstone, Steve Webb), former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, and - along the lines of the peerages given to Clementine Churchill, Dora Gaitskell and Elizabeth Smith - a peerage for Carole MacDonald. And for the Liberal Democrats, that's that - maybe a few after the May 2020 general election, but nothing like the large numbers created since the late 1990s.

When we ignore the Liberal Democrats, the best votes-per-peer result is Labour's. If we give every party (except for the Liberal Democrats) the same ratio, then we get:

Party Current peers Entitlement New peers needed
Conservative 228 257 29
Labour 212 212 0
UK Independence Party 3 88 85
Scottish National Party 0 33 33
Green Party of England & Wales 1 25 24
Democratic Unionist Party 4 4 0
Plaid Cymru 2 4 2
Sinn Féin 0 4 4
Ulster Unionist Party 2 3 1
Total 452 630 178

From this, it is clear that - until the House of Lords is reformed - there can only be very limited peerage creations.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Church Discipline

Just because a church is meant to be a place of love and fellowship, doesn't mean that there should not be church discipline:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by Him.
For the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
and chastises every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12: 5-11)

The writer to Hebrews is clear that God's discipline is an act of love.

Writing to Titus, the Apostle Paul informs him:

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.(Titus 3: 10-11)

With regards to the Corinthian church, Paul gives strong instructions:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (I Corinthians 5)

There is a place for church discipline. This is quite strong, and not language you'd hear in church these days - "deliver this man to Satan".

Basically, put him outside the church and the spiritual protection it provides. Let him follow the life he wants and see where it leads. Such exclusion is reserved for serious matters which will damage the church. Things not given in the New Testament as grounds for exclusion include not being cool, not being financially successful, being working-class, not being sporty, being in poor health etc.

But the aim is shown in Paul's follow-up letter to Corinth:

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure — not to put it too severely — to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (II Corinthians 2: 5-11)

Church discipline should have the endpoint of repentance, restoration and reconciliation.

There are two ways church discipline is done. One is the formal, Biblical model, which meets the standards of justice, and provides excommunication (e.g. the Book of Common Prayer's rubrics do outline when someone should not be allowed to share in the Lord's Table) with the aim of reconciliation. The other is church discipline by a spiritual kangaroo court, with its whispers and gossip, with the target not being able to respond, and its excommunication by a thousand cuts, with the aim that the person gossipped about leaves and never comes back.

If a church feels that the Biblical method of church discipline is somehow unworthy and unloving, then its discipline will be exercised by the other method. And the people who will end up being disciplined won't be the ones that the New Testament says should be disciplined.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

My Encounter With The Most Illiberal, Nannying Act On The Statute Book

While I am not a fully sold-out libertarian, I do have leanings that way. And one of them is that people have to take responsibility for their actions. Call me a Victorian Thatcherite, but I believe that this country has gone downhill because people no longer take responsibility, but instead think that everything that is self-inflicted is the fault of an individual called Someone Else.

This is such a peculiar stance to take that the NHS assumes anyone holding this view must be mentally ill and needs nanny to step in.

On Tuesday I was on my way in to work by train and I was starting to get strong chest pains and feeling dizzy. Now, anyone who knows me knows that this happens, and I have to make a judgment call on whether to seek help (as I do if it feels different to normal) or carry on. This time I decided to seek help so got off the train at the next stop, spoke to a member of the platform staff, who got a first aider. First aider called 999, first responder came, and an ambulance followed.

This is fairly routine. My blood pressure was very high - 205/135 - and I was asked by the paramedics whether I had taken my tablets for this. I explained that I had been disorganised and had not got round to sending off my repeat prescription. The tests in the ambulance - the ECG and blood pressure test - simply showed that the only problem was my blood pressure being so high.

So, when we got to A&E I had made the decision not to go in:

  • My being ill that day was self-inflicted. While not intentionally, it was still self-inflicted as I could have taken the steps not to have such high blood pressure but had not done so
  • We had established the cause - the NHS's resources are limited and I am not willing for NHS time and NHS money to be spent on unnecessary tests on me
  • I could go home, phone my GP surgery, get a "sit and wait" appointment that afternoon, and have new sets of tablets by the evening

I explained this, and started to leave, when the paramedics blocked me and started pushing me to towards the A&E entrance, while I was protesting that I wanted to leave. Then another healthcare worker came out, and he joined them in blocking me and pushing me. When he heard why I did not want to go in, he did something that shocked me and sums up the nanny state.

Because I was refusing to go in, he diagnosed me as lacking "capacity" under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

I was reaching my shirt pocket to get my mobile, deciding I was going to phone the police. Even if diagnosing me as lacking "capacity" now gave them huge legal powers over my body, these powers did not apply prior to that point. As far as I was concerned this was both false imprisonment and assault.

So, why didn't I phone the police? It's because it would have taken them several minutes to get there, and I had a feeling that the healthcare worker was looking for a reason to section me. So, if the police were to find a healthcare worker and a couple of paramedics detaining someone who has been sectioned, who would they listen to? Precisely.

After I was forced in, I had to sit down and another blood pressure test was done against my wishes, and then taken to a side room. The healthcare worker told me he was going to do an ECG and ordered me to take my shirt off for that. He then left to get the ECG machine, and a few minutes later came back to find me sitting there, still shirted. I informed him that I did not trust him - he had been constantly speaking to me as if I were retarded, he had physically bullied me, he had abused his position, he was acting with no respect for my wishes and showing me no dignity - and walked out. A nurse outside the door asked me if I could allow him to do the ECG instead, but I said no, and that I just wanted to get away from that healthcare worker.

I was walking out, the nurse asking me to stop, and the healthcare worker behind him. Near the exit of A&E, as I passed the security guard, I pointed out the healthcare worker to the security guard and asked him to keep that man away from me. After I left the nurse followed and asked me to come back, but I kept walking and got the next train home.

When I got home, I made a doctor's appointment. My GP was quite surprised at all this, and mentioned that on my notes it is emphasised that I don't like needles - of course, if I had stayed, then there is no doubt that a blood test would have been forced on me against my will. He changed my prescription slightly, and so I got new tablets. End of.

It could all have been avoided if I had been better organised.

The whole experience is quite concerning.

The European Court of Human Rights has a guide to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Now, the Convention guide is clear that detention of "a person of unsound mind" (as I now legally was, having been diagnosed as lacking "capacity") is acceptable in certain circumstances:

An individual cannot be deprived of his liberty as being of “unsound mind” unless the following three minimum conditions are satisfied....

  • the individual must be reliably shown, by objective medical expertise, to be of unsound mind, unless emergency detention is required;
  • the individual’s mental disorder must be of a kind to warrant compulsory confinement. The deprivation of liberty must be shown to have been necessary in the circumstances;
  • the mental disorder, verified by objective medical evidence, must persist throughout the period of detention.

This is followed by:

No deprivation of liberty of a person considered to be of unsound mind may be deemed in conformity with Article 5§1(e) of the Convention if it has been ordered without seeking the opinion of a medical expert

It is hard to see how my belief in self-responsibility was a serious enough mental disorder for these exemptions on Article 5 to apply.

The ironically-named NHS Choices site, with its laughable tagline of "Your health, your choices", asks "Do I have the right to refuse treatment?", with the emphasis that:

Under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, all adults are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there is significant evidence to suggest otherwise.

The link states:

If someone makes a decision about treatment that other people would consider to be irrational, it does not necessarily mean they have a lack of capacity, as long as they understand the reality of their situation. For example, a person who refuses to have a blood transfusion because it is against their religious beliefs would not be thought to lack capacity. They still understand the reality of their situation and the consequences of their actions.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence website notes that the principles of the Act include:

Adults at risk have the right to make decisions that others might regard as being unwise or eccentric and a person cannot be treated as lacking capacity for these reasons. (emphasis mine)

The healthcare worker might indeed believe that my decision was irrational. but he was wrong to treat this as meaning I lacked "capacity".

For that reason - and the fact he was acting in violation of Article 5 when he diagnosed me - I do not accept his diagnosis as having any legal, medical or moral validity.

The experience is deeply worrying, as it seems that if you refuse medical tests then it doesn't matter what the reason is - you will automatically be diagnosed as lacking "capacity" giving medical persons the right to carry them out.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Your Theology When The Music Stops - Why I Am Now Uncomfortable Calling Myself An Evangelical

When I was on holiday in Scotland last September, I bought the book The Blunders of our Government to read. And one thing that struck me was the idea of "cultural disconnect". You can draw up policies which sound good on paper, but fail to understand the culture of the people in the United Kingdom that will be affected by it. You take for granted that your upbringing and lifestyle will be the template for other people's. You assume that if someone can't pay their Poll Tax they could always sell a painting.

Cultural disconnect can lead to asking questions that are completely irrelevant - but the asker cannot understand why they are irrelevant. I once had a temp job where I was in the minority of people from a state school background. Asking me whether I hated Saturday morning detentions as well, or whether I still keep in contact with my "dorm mates" is simply asking me questions that do not apply to my background.

Cultural disconnect is something that can affect the church too. We can assume that everyone out there had a church upbringing, and that Bible stories will be familiar from Sunday School.

Indeed, when I became a Christian as an undergraduate (from a non-Christian background) this was one thing I had to battle against. There was the standard conversion story - brought up in a Christian household, church, Sunday school, boarding school chapel, Scripture Union/CYFA camp. That's fine - if that is your background. But don't assume everyone else is going to have the same.

Don't become so sheltered and stuck in the evangelical bubble that you cannot understand other people.

I have to say the worst Christian Union talk I heard was from a vicar who had a very odd view of the Parable of the Sower. For him, when Jesus spoke about the seed sown on rocky ground, which had no root, well "root" meant the sort of upbringing I mentioned above. It was people like me, from non-Christian backgrounds, who didn't have the "root" and would fall away. The message came across that evangelism should really be a sort of mop-up exercise, focussed on people who went to church as children.

A bit of context - this was the era of the Church of England's Decade of Evangelism, with the talking about what the Church tweely called "lapsed communicants".

And you can see why the focus is on overseas - rather than home - mission. If we live in a Cozychristianland, only associating with Christians, then it is easy to see why some assume that, within the UK at least, the Great Commission is complete.

You will find that oodles of non-Christians do not think they have a "God-shaped hole" in the middle of their lives and are not lying awake at night wondering if God exists or not.

We can make assumptions about why people don't go to church, and ignore the reasons they give, projecting the things we don't like onto them.

For example, a couple of years back there was the Disco-Dancing Deaconess showing off her moves at a wedding. I could not get caught up in the squeeing that Christianity had suddenly become relevant. I have non-Christian friends and I listen to what their objections are. What they need is solid apologetics that answers their questions, not the knowledge that a woman in a dog collar is busting her moves.

I remember shortly afterwards mentioning on my old Twitter account this, and one woman responding with "Oh, come off it!" She knew that the objection that people she had never met had about Christianity was that church was not "participatory" enough - which, oddly, none of my non-Christian friends has ever raised as an objection to Christianity. Sorry, Ms Participatory, none of them could actually give two hoots about whether people in dog collars and frilly robes dance round the pews or not.

I guess I was asking the sort of questions that only a miserable old git would ask - such as would it be a comfort to those in dark times wanting pastoral support to learn that the church was cool, and hip, and groovy, and above all, relevant?

So, why do I feel uncomfortable calling myself an evangelical?

I'll begin to explain what aren't the reasons - I know that in some circles it'll simply be "Hey, that Pointer says he's uncomfortable calling himself an evangelical", and people left to draw their own conclusions. It's OK; in certain circles I'm used to what I say and do being twisted, and I have given up the careful walking on eggshells where I always had to consider "if I say this, how will it be spun and what story will enthusiastically and hyperventilatingly be doing the rounds about me a few weeks down the line?".

So, here goes.

I still hold to the solid evangelical faith I adopted 25 years ago. I believe in the Trinity; I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the Cross for my sins, that He rose again, ascended into Heaven and will return as Judge at the end of time; I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, for teaching, rebuking and correcting.

I have not gone liberal.

I am not going to hide a thurible in my rucksack on Sunday morning and suddenly run round church waving incense everywhere. (Actually, on second thoughts....)

Neither is it because I fear the word "evangelical" has become too broad a term. Nor that it gets misused - for example, I remember once a vicar writing in the New Forest Post to make people aware of something that had come across the Atlantic, known as evangelicalism. His examples of evangelical groups were the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.

It's the fact that evangelicalism is a sub-culture which I struggle to identify with. I am not middle-class enough or financially well-off enough to live the evangelical lifestyle of the annual skiing holiday and a week camping at a festival. I do not conform to the stereotypical blokey image that evangelical men are expected to conform to. So much has been added on to the basic evangelicalism these days.

And I have found modern evangelicalism to be about a faith which is there to opt-out of reality, rather than engage with it. Yes, have your endless round of BBQs and church social events for the "church family", but there comes a time when the music stops, a time when disaster and tragedy comes.

I know I am going to sound like a dour Puritan, but life can be tough. And I wonder whether the modern evangelical faith prepares people for this.

The Christians I really respect are those who have walked with God through the valley of the shadow of death. Those who have cared round-the-clock for a dementia-ridden spouse or a disabled child. The Methodist couple who stayed in Singapore to minister to God's people when the Japanese moved in.

What I find with modern evangelicalism is that it seems to be about fun-fun-fun with cool, successful people, and if anyone is a loo-zer then they can be ditched. After all, didn't our Lord Himself say "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, YOLO"? No, He didn't.

One of the trickiest theological questions is that of suffering. And the modern evangelical faith doesn't say much about it - and, sorry to say this, but the way of tackling the issue of suffering is "out of sight, out of mind".

I am not calling for evangelicalism to become miserable. But what I feel is that we need to see that life is serious, that it isn't all fun and have a theology which sees where God is when everything hits the fan. And have a compassion for those on the fringes, the sick, the lonely, the hurt, the vulnerable. A real compassion which involves including them rather than treating them as outsiders and loo-zers.