Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why I Won't Sign Westminster 2010 & Why You Should Read it Carefully Before You Sign

Now that Ol' Gordy has formalised what we've all known for months and set a date for the General Election we can expect nothing but political madness for the next month or so. Until recently all I have been worrying about is who to vote for. Do I stick with the status quo and vote Labour? Do I risk the all-new, shiny, fluffy, friendly Tories? Or will I be wondering if my bum looks big in the Lib Dems? Do I don my fairtrade yak hair shirt and vote Green again?

However, now things aren't that simple. The Westminster 2010: Declaration of Christian Conscience has muddied the waters. Apparently, what I should do is vote for the candidate who will do the most to ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.
35 Christian leaders ranging from the well known (Ex Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey) to the completely obscure (Jonathan Oloyede or Dennis Wrigley anyone?) have released a document of conscience that they are encouraging Christians of all denominations to sign.

On the surface, this isn't a bad idea at all. The segments about core historical beliefs, support of the poor and a commitment to social justice are all aims that we can all applaud. However, once you start to read the document itself in more detail there are some problematic areas.

Take the section on Marriage (follow the link for the full text). I realise that as a Christian at the more liberal end of the scale I know that my views on marriage are not necessarily those articulated in the declaration. However, the following sentence has disturbing and contradictory implications.

"We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage"

So unless 'marriage' is what the declaration says it is, Christians should refuse to submit to other interpretations? Even if those interpretations are legal? Like, for example, same sex civil partnerships. We don't have to agree with our nation's laws, but we do need to obey them, particularly if they do not lead us to do anything immoral. Simply accepting other viewpoints does not equate to an immoral act. This statement on marriage is even worse when juxtaposed with one from the section on Conscience.

"We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities."

What about the freedom of people who disagree with evangelical Christian teaching? Is it referring merely to religious freedoms and conscience or is it referring to all freedoms and the conscience of all people? What about the freedom of those who believe its OK for two people of the same sex to get married? Will it uphold their freedom of conscience too?

Many Christians that I know have already signed the declaration, but I'm struggling to understand the ultimate purpose of the document. It's mildly militant language reflects the partisan rhetoric of the US Christian right and is directly influenced by the recent Manhattan Declaration. However, the UK doesn't have a political party gunning for the Christian vote like the US Republicans. In the end, it seems like a high-concept equivalent of a Facebook campaign/group. And like those campaigns, it does not represent the views of all those that it claims to.

Franklyn ***
Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull **
tHE Spiderwick Chronicles ****
Gran Torino ****
Let the Right One In *****
Titan AE ***
Hellboy 2 ****
In The Loop *****
Alien 3 **
Forgetting Sarah Marshall **
City of Ember ***
Jaws *****
Three Kings ***
Revolution **
Dead Snow ***

Monday, April 05, 2010

Church leader makes sense. Media spins it every which way but loose.

I have a confession to make. I'm not proud of it. It's one of my dirty little secrets.

I'm an Anglican. There I said it, it's out in the open now. I feel much better.

The Anglican Church has been trying to tear itself apart over the last 10 years in a self-destructive streak a mile wide. The man charged with trying to lead this unruly worldwide band of Christians that encompasses fanatical evangelicals to fervent liberals is Archbishop Rowan Williams.His Easter message is one of the few occasions when the media will actually listen to something he's saying. (Although his admirably frank comments about the Catholic abuse scandal got some attention). This year he chose to devote part of his sermon to the 'persecution' of Christians. He asserted that "wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness" combined with a "well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians" should not be mistaken for persecution.

Quite right too. Christians in Britain are not at risk of violence or imprisonment simply because of their faith. A quick look at Amnesty International's website shows that there are many people round the world who face actual threats to their freedom and safety. Set against the genuine suffering that many face elsewhere, the hand-wringing of the evangelical right as personified by Westminster 2010 is tasteless in the extreme.

However, one of the most interesting elements of this story is how it has been covered by the news media. Contrast these two headlines for the same story:

Rowan Williams condemns 'overheated language' used to describe Christian suffering
. The Guardian

Hallelujah! Archbishop speaks up for Christians: This bias against us must stop, says Dr Rowan Williams.
The Daily Mail

Now, the Guardian headline underplays the overall context of the sermon. However, the Daily Mail seems completely oblivious to the irony of using exactly the type of overheated language that Williams is criticising. But it isn't the Mail's irony that I have a problem with. Rather, it is their ongoing attempt to fanaticise issues in a way that is very reminiscent of the hysterical partisan language used by the US media.

The 'shining' example is the use of people like Peter Hitchens (a cut price Glenn Beck if you can imagine such a thing) to spout petty, spiteful and narrow-minded opinion pieces. It pains me to do this, but read this article about Rowan Williams in which Hitchens brands him
'Nice, furry, mild and useless'. Williams is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he has many qualities lost on the partisan extremists. He is intelligent, reasoned and diplomatic. This of course, is abhorrent to the likes of Hitchens who exist simply to provoke fury. This they accomplish as they push more and more of us out of the centre and towards the extremes of Right and Left.