"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A church within a church.

I have concluded that I belong to a church within a church and it makes me feel quite proud. I like the image above because the juxtaposition of the two churches in their different states of repair sums up my sense of where it's all at.

A week or so back, accompanied by my beloved's vicar, I went to a meeting of Changing Attitude, an Anglican based organisation which exists to challenge the received wisdom and orthodoxy of the "traitional Christian" view on human sexuality. It was quite well attended by a mixture of the lay and the ordained, straight and gay and was chaired by our patron the Rt. Revd. John Packer, Bishop of the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds.

We did not plan the overthrow of the church, (although we did talk about organising a joint social with the group from a neighbouring diocese). Our discussions were not behind closed doors with secret knocks and people leaving at different times to avoid being followed with the consequent risk of the door being broken down at 3.00am. The following day no one was arrested, no one was threatened with the loss of a job or college place or was harassed in the street with attendant threats to family members, or beaten. No one experienced "corrective" rape.

I mentioned my having been to this meeting to one of my colleagues the next day and, as ever, there was a combination of a lack of interest and a general sense of perplexity about what all the fuss was about. In this country at least, as far as the unchurched go, homosexuality is pretty much a non issue outside the orbit of the usual right-wing hate suspects. Even within the church my observation is that many members of many congregations are off message in relation to their Conservative Evangelical leaderships' stance and I know of a couple of clergy who, free from their Conservative Evangelical former placements, are reevaluating the whole issue. Outside Conservative Evangelicalism I sense even less interest in issues of human sexuality within the church but I do sense a fear of the reaction of other churches abroad. One small denomination in Britain - I won't say British denomination, was all set to be very proactive and forward looking over the gay issue but quietly let it drop for fear of alienating and losing its African and Asian congregations which seemed to me to be an acknowledgement that the tail does, indeed, wag the dog.

It isn't as if the theology on human sexuality was questionable. It isn't - even though some who should know better still argue that it is and lead those who do not know better astray, but the long standing scholarly disciplines of Biblical Criticism and its understanding of the subtleties of the ancient writings of the Bible and their cultural and political influences and compromises can be sacrificed on the altar of .. well I'm struggling for the phrase here. Any suggestions?

I was pondering this afresh when I read in this week's Guardain the inspiring story of Cameroon gay rights lawyer Alice Nkom, who is leading the fight to overturn anti-gay laws in the 80 or so nations which still have them, 42 of which are member states of the British Commonwealth. I was equally surprised (and gratified) to discover that criminalising homosexuality is illegal under international law, according to Jonathan Cooper, a human rights barrister who is the chief executive of The Human Dignity Trust. Among the legal authorities establishing that precedent is a 1994 ruling by the UN's human rights committee based on a case in Australia.

H.D.T's first legal challenge is against section 53 of Belize's criminal code, which states that: "Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years." What has so upset and shocked me is the discovery that Belize's evangelical, Anglican and Catholic churches have united to oppose the challenge. They are expected to set out their objections in a pre-hearing review on Friday and seek to introduce evidence that homosexuality can be "cured".

Really? That old argument is still doing the rounds? Dear God!

In a joint statement earlier this summer, the churches in Belize declared: "In every country that has granted a new 'right' to homosexual behaviour, activists have promoted and steadily expanded this 'right' to trump universally recognised rights to religious freedom and expression. The people of Belize will not surrender our constitution, our moral foundations, and our way of life to predatory foreign interests." No scaremongering there then. These leaders have very un-Latin American names. They are: Catholic bishop Dorick Wright, the Anglican bishop Philip Wright and the evangelical Rev Eugene Crawford. Would I be cynical in suspecting the hand of American or Australian GAFCON types at play here?

And yet I am in the same church and it depresses and upsets me that this is so. Can I repent on behalf of others? I think not but I want to. I belong to a church within a church I have concluded: a minority who seek to put into practice the teachings of its founder in terms of inclusivity and care of the marginalised rather than the tendentious teachings of the Old Testament. I have long had a term for such Old Testament Christians - LEVITICITES. Their teaching seems to me to be as far from the essence of the the teaching of the carpenter from Nazareth as it is possible to be.

I sat in church this morning and listened to the Gospel:

Matthew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Could it be much clearer? Well, seemingly so. It doesn't mention homosexuals, you see, so clearly an application to them within the spirit of this teaching is clearly a non-starter.

"There are none so blind as them who will not see."

Read Alice's story here

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lauren, the immovable force.

I've had that lot again this week.

I groan inwardly as I read my timetable.

They pour in like an overflowing drain, their hormones and mouths on overdrive.

When I teach Science and Religion I am used to individuals expressing doubt or cynicism about the traditional Genesis account. This lot, counterculturally, have a problem with the science. No matter how many times I say The Big Bang Theory is currently the most widely held explanation for the creation of the universe and if you don't accept it, it is up to you to convince the examiner that you have a credible alternative. Good luck with that they still argue.

"But the scientists could of (sic) made it up."

Why. WHY?

"For the money." (They know the price of everything but the value of nothing.)

Are you serious?

They are.

You must be careful when you answer the questions that are evaluative.

"What does that mean?"

The ones that ask for your opinion.


Because you can be marked down for going off on a rant and spouting rubbish.

"But if it's our opinion...."

No. It doesn't work like that. Your opinion has to a common-sense opinion and based on factual accuracy. You can't ague black's white and expect the examiner to throw marks at you at GCSE because it won't happen. You could end up with no marks for that section.

"But its our opinion."

And you still won't get any marks.

"But if it's my opinion it can't be wrong."

Yes it can.

"But it's my opinion."

I think we've established that and if it's not based on common-sense or factual accuracy its a wrong opinion.

"But it's my opinion. I don't believe in either of them."

I know I'm going to regret this but, somehow I can't let the moment pass.

What do you think caused the start of the universe then?

"Why should I know? I'm 14. I wasn't there."

I see my life begin to pass before my eyes. Is talking to Lauren a bit like drowning? You know, you are submerged by a more powerful, uncompromising force.

"The exam's rubbish then."

I decide to move on.

"Can I ask you a question? Sir, can I ask you a question? Why can't I ask you a question? I only want to ask a question. Sir, I want to ask a question? Can I ask a question? I only want to ask a question. Why can't I ask a question?"

Not just now Lauren.

"But you aren't doing anything just now. Can't I ask a question? I only want to ask a question. Why can't I ask a question?"

I'm waiting for quiet.

"That's what I mean. You aren't doing anything right now. I only want to ask a question. Why can't I ask a question? I only want to ask a question. Can I ask a question sir? ...

I'm waiting for you to be quiet.

"But I only want to ask a question. Why can't I ask a question? Can I ask a question? ............."


"I don't think I'm being taught to my potential when I can't even ask a question. Why can't I ask a question? I only want to ask you a question. Can I ask a question? I never get to share my opinion."

Lauren. That's all you ever do.

Later that day I have a Year 11 class I inherited from a much loved colleague who retired recently. How she kept her hands off them I'll never know.

At the recent parents' Evening a number of parents complained that the behaviour of a significant number of the boys in this group is stopping others from learning. It's a view I agree with.

"Well that's not very mature!"

What isn't Brad? The bad behaviour or the parents' complaints?

"The parents complaining."

Are you winding me up?

"No. They should mind their own business. What's it got to do with them?"

Did I die without noticing and go to Hell?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Socialising Teenagers: Is It Worth The Effort?

Ah, Friday of week 2: four periods out of five to teach - three year 9 lessons in a row on science and religion and a year 11 class on religion and prejudice.

My first observation is how different the three Yr 9 classes are. One is very focussed and hard working and, I must admit, a tad dull. The second has three key kids missing including the boy who is incredibly enthusistic and well read in scientific terms and also incredibly untidy (a boffin?) and the third has a group of formidable girls. Asma is possibly bonkers and the polar opposite of the general stereotype of an Asian girl. She is loud, earthy and all the boys are frightened of her. Lauren is like Lauren off the Telly. She doesn't know when to shut up, she's argumentative and has yet to learn that putting your hand up doesn't of itself entitle you to launch straight in to your pet conspiracy theory about aliens and God.

"No but, Sir ..."

No Lauren it's someone else's turn to talk now. (Possibly even mine, who knows?)

"No, but I've not finished talking."

But I have finished listening. It's someone else's turn now.

"No, but right Sir, If God came from another galaxy, right......"

Lalalalalalalala I can't hear you.

And then there's Deanna. Deanna's life is full of dramatic gestures and big sighs. She is a misunderstood child. She's also not used to hearing the word "no". I doubt she's ever been denied anything in her life. Everything Deanna does is a three act drama. Today she decided that her desk was wobbly. She turned folding a piece of paper to poke under the table leg into an art form which transfixed us all with her gymnastic dexterity. She is also prone to giggling.

I could slap her.



We talk of Fr. George Lemaitre, the Belgian Priest who formulated the Big Bang theory. We have previously looked at half a dozen key scientists starting with Copernicus and ending with Bell-Burnell who were Christians and I am (foolishly) at the point of congratulating myself on having conveyed the message that religion and science are not mutually exclusive.

"But that's wrong Sir. You can't be religious and believe in science."

Yes you can.

"No. Science has disproved religion."

No it hasn't.

"But lots of Christians don't believe in gravity."


"I saw this T-shirt with a woman on it arguing about gorillas and God.

I think you might mean evolution.

"No it was definately gravity. You know, Doreen."

Do you mean Darwin?

"Yeah, that's the one."

Interesting take on evolution but anyway, that's America. It doesn't count.


Look. When you hear "American" and "Christian" in the same sentence you should also hear warning bells.

"That's racist."

No. It's an observation. Trust me, its another world.

During my free period Mrs. Singh pops in from next door. She teaches Sociology and kindly agreed to teach some R.S. She rues the day. She has been bending my ear about this class all term. I've transferred one kid into my group and had another who she sent out sat at the back yesterday.

We are seven minutes into the lesson.

"These boys were late to the lesson and don't have an excuse." She gestures to a boy outside the room who shambles in. He is followed by another. And another. And another. In all there are six of them. She departs to teach her class.

Why were you late? I ask the first.

"I thought it was Maths so I went there."

Oh, an easy mistake. After all, its not as if you always have R.S. week two, Friday period three. Oh! Yes it is. I work through the group. We have one lost wallet and a friend helping him find it. Why does it take two of you?

"Well, he knew where it was."

So why didn't he pick it up and bring it to you?

At this point the boy in my own class is trying to hide behind the others. This doesn't work what with him being six inches taller.

"I needed to go to the toilet."

That's what break's for. In your own time, not Mrs. Singh's

They return to Mrs. Singh. I have no confidence that they are sufficiently chastened. I return to the office and had no sooner plugged in the kettle than Mrs. Singh is back with another boy.

"He tore up a book ..."

".... didn't"

"Then he denied it ...."

" ... didn't."

"Then he swore ......."

"I only said "fuck this". It wasn't at her."

He stays in my room for the rest of the lesson.

I return to the office and ring the pensions people.

When exactly can I retire?