Sexuality, the C of E and the myth of Christian unity

c-of-e-sexuality-debateAnother week has passed with painful and damaging arguments within the Church of England. The Church’s governing body, the General Synod, voted against ‘taking note’ of the Bishop’s recent report on sexuality. The report followed three years of ‘shared conversations’ about how the church views gay relationships.

The argument between influential blogger Ian Paul and the Prolocutor of Synod, Simon Butler, is a sad microcosm of the dispute.  Butler, a gay clergyman, told Paul of his sexual orientation many years ago when they were at college together.  Now in positions of influence on either side of the polarised stand-off, they have been trading public accusations and counter-accusations on social media.

It reminded me of the bitter dispute in the film Ben Hur between Judah and his former childhood friend Masala. Personal relationships, broken by conviction, ambition and tribal loyalty, have led to bitter enmity.

What is clear is that the whole church is diminished by such public conflict.

Toxic deceit

I have previously written on the need for honesty in these discussions because, alongside the disagreement, there has also been such widespread deceit. The accusations of lies add a bitter toxicity (and irony) to discussions about human and divine love.

After yet more talks and meetings, the Bishops have come up with a report which angered liberals and concerned many conservatives. The divides are deeper than ever and I believe are institutionally unbridgeable.

The myth of unity

Of course, everyone knows that the different denominations and traditions have different perspectives on all kinds of theological and pastoral matters. What makes the disputes in the C of E so painful is the denomination’s lingering ambition for national unity – or the pretence of national unity on this issue.

Anglican ecclesiology has ambitions beyond what is possible. It would be more honest to accept that much of the church believes one thing about gay relationships and another part of the church believes something else. Conformity to one approach will not be possible.

But I don’t believe that conformity on this issue has ever really existed. There have always been many, many gay clergy whatever the institution was decreeing from the centre.  And many Bishops have been complicit in maintaining the deceit that has made it all worse.

Pyrrhic victories

The sexuality debates flow from fundamentally different theological traditions which have always deeply divided the C of E. Many conservative evangelical congregations have little to do with more liberal churches, despite them both having ‘Church of England’ on the noticeboard outside.

But the ambition for conformity on a matter like this leads to deeply unpleasant politics. Genuinely held convictions are fused with the desire to control resources in an unholy alliance.

There will be no winners from these conflicts. It will lead to many more years of bitterness with occasional Pyrrhic victory for one side or the other.

Unity in action

My dislike of a false myth of unity is because I have experienced such a different form of unity which can cross the divisions in the church.  Being involved in initiatives which bring congregations together in local mission such as Love Streatham has been a fantastic experience. In my previous job with the Shaftesbury Society, I worked with similar initiatives in Bradford, Eastbourne, Leeds, Brighton, Southampton and many parts of London.

In my work now with West London Mission, I Chair the Westminster Churches Night Shelter which brings together 13 local churches (plus a synagogue) to help homeless people come off the streets. The generosity and enterprise shown by these vastly different churches shows the power of Christian unity.

Focus on outreach

A focus on outreach and mission helps our perspective.  Often the local community are neither interested or understand the theological differences between the congregations. But they are interested when they see churches working together to make a difference they understand.

And it is not that theology is not important. But these forms of unity in action accept the kind of diversity that will always exist and allow people of different views to make a distinctive contribution.

And through working together on the frontline, they appreciate and understand each other better. Quite the opposite of how things have looked in the C of E this past week.

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It is nice when religion and politics are kept apart…

It is nice when issues of religion and politics can be kept apart.

Religion is unsullied by worldly concerns. Going to church can be an inspiring escape from reality.  We can focus purely on God and listening to the Holy Spirit. We can reflect on our future hope in heaven.  We can think really theologically. We can have a deep personal experience which leaves us feeling uplifted.

But when religion and politics are mixed, things become difficult.

Fellow Christians start arguing on facebook about Brexit or Trump. Sermons become controversial, people who pray and sing together easily feel tension. Arguments break out about all-sorts of non-religious subjects like money, tax, justice, refugees, poverty and power. Religion gets messy.

But…

…authentic faith cannot be never be neatly separated from politics. In reality there is no sacred-secular divide. God is concerned for the whole of his creation.

And this includes subjects like money, tax, justice, refugees, poverty and power.

Is it not wrong to disagree with those we worship with: a common faith should not lead to political conformity.  The resources of faith should actually help us disagree – but do so with grace and respect.

Check out this short film from Christians on the Left about the thorny issue of tax evasion, a ‘non-religious’ subject that Jesus was specifically asked about…

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Jesus did not write a book but formed a community

Last year I spoke at a weekend away for St Mary’s Church in Islington.  When I arrived in my room at the conference centre, there was an envelope on my bed with a card welcoming me. And inside the card was a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

The card asked me to bring the jigsaw piece to the main room where we later met as a group. And at the back of the room was the frame of an empty jigsaw. Each of us had to find the place where our piece fitted.  Gradually, through working together, the picture below emerged, formed from the different pieces which we brought.

Both the picture that was made and the way it which was created was a beautiful and powerful illustration of the Church:

church-crown

Diversity

Almost all urban churches are highly diverse communities. Diversity is one of those issues that is easy to write and speak about as an ideal, but far harder to live out in reality.  Sharing life with people who do and see things differently is never easy.

Yet it is in its diversity that the beauty of any community is most evident. The Church should never be a social club of like-minded people. It is a place where the walls which divide people come down because they have found a focus for unity which transcends all other boundaries.

Community

I see this in the Sunday services in my church where people from over 50 different countries worship together each week. I see it in my diverse mid-week home-group which meets in my house where we gather to share our lives, troubles and hopes and try to help each other to keep following Jesus.

I see this in the Winter Night Shelter run by 13 different churches (and a synagogue) coordinated by the West London Mission. Instead of arguing over theological differences, these churches work together with generosity and kindness to help homeless people come off the streets.

I see this in the Lee Abbey youth camp that I am part of every summer where 150 people come together to form a community and to help young people find hope and identity in Jesus. The simple beauty of the place and the warmth of community makes it my favourite week of the year.

As Lesslie Newbigin wrote “Jesus did not write a book but formed a community.”

Abuse

Of course the church gets things wrong. Only this week we have seen the terrible examples of abuse being exposed within Christian youth camps.  Trust and faith can make church cultures vulnerable to those who want to abuse others.

We should never flinch from complete honesty about the failings of the Church. As the Bible makes clear, weakness and treachery were part of the church from the very start.

The root

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I believe the church should be deeply engaged in the struggle for social justice.  But, this fruit does not grow without healthy roots. Ultimately, the social and political impact of the church is dependent on the way it forms communities of those who are committed to following Jesus.

And alongside all the social and community projects I have been involved in, some of the biggest joy in my life has come from seeing close friends make their own steps of faith. To discover for themselves the meaning and transformation the gospel brings. For me, this will always remain the radical core from which all else flows.

Individuals within a collective

The jigsaw puzzle is a brilliant picture of the Church: a collective enterprise made up of many different individual pieces. Each one with a part to play to create something beautiful.

At its best, the Church is a ‘beloved community’.  A place where each of us can find our own true identity in God’s love and forgiveness and find a vital role to play in sharing that love.

Posted in Theology & Church | Tagged | 5 Comments

The political naivety of evangelical Christians – by Matthew Rhodes

President Donald Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 2

‘Just watched and listened to President Trump speaking at the USA National Prayer Breakfast – has he become a Christian? Very God centred. Impressive. While some have been ranting – maybe others have fulfilled what is required of Christians – to pray for those in authority?’  Gerald Coates

Thus the charismatic church leader Gerald Coates commented on facebook. It provoked a torrent of responses – both in support and to disagree with the assumptions behind his comment.  He seemed genuinely shocked and surprised by the response. It reminded me of something Rev. Ken Leech once wrote:

‘All Christians are political, whether they recognize it or not. But especially when they don’t recognise it.’

I think this is something that Gerald hasn’t truly grasped.

Like Gerald, I too am an evangelical  Christian. But I found his comments on politics deeply troubling and I think they illustrate the political naivety which is being shown by so many Christians in response to Donald Trump.

Co-option

For many “evangelicals”, especially in the US, right wing politics is a default position. But the irony is that Donald Trump isn’t even a conservative. He has co-opted the Republican Party in the same way that “his” party has co-opted the evangelical church over the last 3 decades.

And  given his tendency to duplicity and irascibility it is extraordinary that many Christian leaders are cosying up to him. It seems incredible to me that Christians who “take the Bible seriously” and love the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount are so supportive of someone like Trump.

An over-emphasis on personal belief

The strength of evangelical Christianity is its emphasis on a personal faith – this is where it draws it dynamism and power. But when it comes to politics, this emphasis becomes a weakness. As with Coates’s comment ‘Has he become a Christian?’ there is an obsession with whether someone has ‘prayed the prayer’ of commitment or not – as if this makes all the difference in and of itself.

It is overly personalized emphasis to judge what is a public role. When faith is claimed there has to be at least some concomitant evidence of true repentance.

Trump is man who has said that he has no need of forgiveness – from anyone. His speech at the National Prayer Breakfast showed no sign of Christian doctrine whatsoever. I fear that his “conversion” is instrumentally convenient as he seeks to bed down his core support in his first year as President.

Cheap grace

I make no judgment on the man’s justification before God – that’s not my job.  But we must remember that although God’s grace is freely given, it is not in any way cheap. As US Christian, Ron Sider wrote:

“Cheap grace results when we reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins; limit salvation to personal fire insurance against hell; misunderstand persons as primarily souls; at best, grasp only half of what the Bible says about sin; embrace the individualism, materialism and relativism of our current culture; lack a biblical understanding and practice of the church; and fail to teach a biblical worldview.”

So praying a simple prayer is never enough.  God’s salvation is both as simple as accepting Christ’s sacrifice and as complex as seeing a whole life utterly transformed. So the idea that we do not critique Trump, or treat him more generously on the basis of a prayer he may or may not have prayed is naïve and depressing. In fact, if we do believe that his Christian faith is real then we hold him to a higher standard.  His faith will be evidenced by the fruits of what he does.

Speaking truth to power

Gerald Coates is right – the Bible is clear that we should prayer for our leaders. But, it also contains many examples of people who stood up and spoke truth to political power (Moses, Nathan, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist, Peter).  We should never limit our political engagement to an uncritical commitment to pray.

We live in dangerous times. All Christians, and especially Church leaders, need to think carefully about the role our faith is playing in our turbulent political context. What is the approach that Jesus would advocate? He came as the Servant King – and we need his commitment to speak and display God’s justice, love and compassion more than ever.

Matthew Rhodes is a Streatham-based Leeds United fan. Follow him on twitter @MatthewRhodes

Related on R&R: What Evangelicals have done to sin

Posted in Politics | Tagged | 9 Comments

‘I Didn’t Meme to Hurt You’: disagreeing better online

trump-memeI am facebook friends with people with a very wide range of views: rabid right-wingers and loony lefties and everything in-between. Raving charismatics, fluffy liberals and hard-bitten atheists.  Millie Tants, Chardonnay Socialists and Gary Lagers.

Our on-line followers represent to some extent the worlds we move in. And for many of us, these worlds vary greatly.

Unprecedented times

And we live in momentous times.  The election of Donald Trump and the series of executive orders he has issued are genuinely unprecedented.  For the record, I am strongly opposed to him and what he stands for. I believe its essential that people are engaged in what is happening in the world and that we raise our voice for what we believe.  It is one of the reasons why I bother to blog.

But as my dad said to me when I was 16 after an argument I got into: ‘Son, sometimes its better to lose an argument and keep a friend’. (Note: I added the word ‘son’ to make it sound deeper).

Seven ways to agree better

So, whilst online disagreement is both inevitable and important, I think it is something that we can do better. So here is my top tips:

1. Recognise that disagreement is a good thing. Having a wide range of friends with different views (even just Facebook friends) is a good thing. Sure I get nervous when one of my hardcore ‘prayer-warrior’ type evangelical friends gets into a tussle with a die-hard atheist – but at least they are in contact. One of the shocks from the Brexit vote for many was that too many people did not know anyone who disagreed with them.

2. Try and be as specific as possible about actual events. The most powerful thing I read this week about Trump’s travel ban was from a local friend who posted about the impact it had on a work colleague whose trip to the US was suddenly cancelled. It brought it home and made it real.  Labels like ‘bigot’ and ‘fascist’ don’t help anyone to change their mind and statistics are rarely effective. But genuine stories about real people do move people.

3. Try not to pass on dodgy information. It is so tempting to share a funny meme with a fake quote or a graph that purports to show something shocking.  I posted something this week which quickly proved to not be quite accurate. I have learnt my lesson – we need to spend a few more seconds to verify that something we share is reliable. We cannot combat post truth culture by sharing things that are not actually true.

4. Recognise when its time to bail out. Online debates which get aggressive are generally dysfunctional and pointless.   Recently, two friends of mine got into a heated exchange about Trump with accusation and counter-accusation about whether one was calling the other ‘a Nazi’. Ironically both are deeply committed Christians who both do loads to help others. Neither is remotely a Nazi so it was a shame to see things descend like this. In debate, you have to know when its time to fish or cut bait – and its best to bail out before things get this pear-shaped (there was a lot of metaphors in that last sentence).

5. Unfollow but don’t de-friend.  The fact that facebook have appropriated the word ‘friend’ means that we have to think carefully about how we manage the arguments we can get into.  So if someone you know is winding you up, it is far better to ‘unfollow’ them so you don’t see their feed and so don’t get wound up anymore. I am sure lots of people have done this to me especially with all the blogs I post. Think carefully before ‘unfriending’ because it is a bit terminal.

6. Try and inject a bit of humour.  Those perceived as liberal lefties like me will always be in danger of sounding a bit pious and we have to admit it is hard to be right-wing on social media.  A bit of humour, self-depreciation and humility (not to mention the odd emoji) often oils the machinery of a healthy argument. ;]

7. Remember how inconsequential arguments on social media are.  As I have experienced sometimes social media can change the world a bit but mainly it doesn’t. Online rows can easily take up a whole evening that could be spent far more productively. Talking, debating, protesting (and praying) in real, live situations will always more worthwhile.

Feel free to disagree – but please do it nicely!

Posted in Social commentary | Tagged | 3 Comments

Contemplation in a world of reaction – by Ian Geary

contemplative-prayer‘There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.’  Thomas Merton

Political disorientation

2016 saw disorientating changes in the political realm. We may want to respond by being active.  However, paradoxically, prayer and contemplation might be a better place to start. A retreat might be more fruitful than going to a conference or a march; campaigning is good, but what if it is an actually an empty act? Or even an act of ‘violence’ as Thomas Merton, warns if we become subsumed by thoughtless and prayer less activism?

Political activity is a positively biblical thing, yet without from rest and reflection we can detach ourselves from the source of love and justice – and burn out.  

Doing nothing is an option

Some in the political world say ‘Doing nothing is not an option’. Well, actually doing nothing outwardly – for a time – is an option. The monastic lifestyle is not passive and other-worldly – many riches can be gleaned from contemplative disciplines and practices. They will become ever more important in our uncertain future.  

Silence, solitude and actively listening to those with whom we disagree don’t happen naturally in our culture. Yet, they are an essential spiritual disciplines. Let’s be contemplative and not instantly get sucked into 47 ways to change the world via the click of a mouse. Real change is harder than that.  

Contemplative disciplines

This passage from Job 11 speaks to our modern predicament. Job is exhorted by his friend ‘prepare your heart’ and ‘pray’.  We see the promise of the tremendous transformation and a new perspective that is rooted in a life of prayer.

“If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away. Your life will be brighter than the noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help. But the wicked will be blinded. They will have no escape. Their only hope is death.” Job 11: 13-20 (Holy Bible, NLT)

These verses contain sound principles and clear promises:

  • We are urged to pray and repent (v13-14)
  • Visible manifestations of transformation and a new perspective are granted to the one who prays, repents and leaves the past behind (v15-19)
  • You will forget your misery’ (v16) you don’t need to be bound to the imminent i.e. the state of the Labour Party, Brexit, Trump. We care about our world, but without an encounter with God these things can stifle us.
  • Many will look to you for help’ (v19) we aren’t the only one God will bless, others can be blessed too.
  • This path of prayer not just a ‘nice to have’ it is the only path, as the alternative is destruction. (v20)

This passage reminds us to get our heart and devotion right. As a Christian I believe that lifting up our hands in prayer means that our heart remains attached to a holy goal. I want to cultivate good habits of the heart such as worship, prayer and solitude. If we don’t develop such spiritual disciplines, it will secular liturgies that will shape our desires.

A radically different view

This is no call to passivity.  The good news of Jesus calls us to action. Yet we must resist social and political activism detached from prayer and reflection. Just as Jesus retreated in solitude from the crowds to pray his Father, our action will bear fruit if it attends to the heart beat of the one who created us and loves us. 

So in 2017, let’s not get sucked into hyper-activity. Pay close attention to these verses in Job and orientate your life on a different track. Take a radically different view of what it means to be political.

Ian Geary works in public affairs, is a member of the Christians on the Left and lives in South East London with his wife and their three young children.

A longer version of this article is also available on R&R

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Taking a break from Fakebook – by Jill Rowe

funny-social-media-man-jailI have not been here.

Over the past little while I took a break from Facebook. I’ve not ‘photo-ed’ for Instagram and my tweeting volume has been close to zero.  I have not been here.

Why? Because I know that sometimes being here stops me being here, where I should be or where I need to be.

Distance and falsehood

The virtual world is just what it says it is. Virtual and not real.  And if you’re not careful, it creates distance and a whole heap of falsehood. Many close to me will have heard me call it ‘Fakebook’. I’m conscious that it builds thrones and platforms that can be built on nothing more than sand.

We forget that the things we are fed and the things we feed are always highly filtered, if not by us then by the logarithms that sit behind the machine. Sooner or later we have to pull the curtain back and face what is real and what is reality.

Knocked and dented

For some of us, we are strong but for some of us we are not and we create our worth as we create our online profile. For others, our worth is knocked and dented by the profile of others.

And if any of us thinks that our value as human beings is based on our ‘likes’ – the momentary online click of approval – if we constantly check how many likes we have, or compare our likes to those of others, if we take our posts down when we’ve not got what we wanted, if we think or do any of these thing then I’m telling you it is a pile of BS. Honestly.

Keep believing that this is where worth resides and you, me, we, we will all lose the plot. What happens ‘here’ is not always the truth or the whole truth and sadly sometimes nothing like the truth – so help us God.

A resource not a master

So my recommendation to us all is that we learn how to take a break sometimes.
Learn how to not be here so that we really can be here.
Learn how to see social media as resource and do not let it be our master.
Learn how to be with the people we are with and practice putting our phones down.
Learn how to speak again – one to one and do not do not do not pick up our phones to check or measure our profile ratings.
Learn how to look up and around at the world we are in.
Learn how to give thanks for what we have and not to be jealous of the show-reel of others (remember it’s not a real reel).
Learn that we don’t need to show off because we’re not sure if we have enough to show.
Learn how less really can be more.
Learn how to be real again and again and again.

And when we return – let’s tell one another what we’ve have learnt as well.
Help us all to remember how to not be here.

Jill Rowe is Ethos & Formation Director for Oasis 

Posted in Social commentary | 2 Comments

Poverty is many things…

povertyPoverty is not entertainment, it’s not noble or romantic.
Poverty is… heavy.
It’s heavy hearts and heavy legs.
It’s sore skin and hollow eyes.
It’s upset and downhearted.
It’s hunger. Malnourishment. It’s always thinking about the next meal.
Poverty is bailiffs, it’s food banks, it’s queues and lists,
it’s never being told what you’re entitled to but always being told.
Poverty is being shown up then put down.
It’s missed payments and mistrust.
It’s always answering questions but never answering the door.
Poverty is hiding in plain view. It’s hiding.
Poverty is high bills and low pay.
It’s higher costs and lower self-esteem.
It’s invisible scars and visible pain.
Poverty is living nextdoor, it’s living on your nerves, it’s not living, it’s… barely surviving.

Poverty is… everywhere. With… nowhere to turn
It’s a gut-wrenching silence, screaming.
Poverty is depressing, demotivating and dehumanising.
It’s degradation, desperation and despair.
Poverty is feeling… worthless, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling excluded,
it’s feeling rejected, it’s feeling ashamed, it’s feeling trapped, it’s feeling angry,
it’s feeling fffrustrated, poverty is…. exhausting.

It’s not feeling anything. It’s… numb.
Poverty is… crushing. Empty. Lonely.
Poverty is cold. It’s damp. It’s ill health. Bad housing. Sadness, fear and human misery.
Poverty is ignored and abandoned. It’s sanctioned and sectioned.
It’s late payments and early deaths.

Poverty is not something that happens to… “others”.
Poverty is our odd people, our young people, our sick people, our disabled people,
our mentally ill people, our homeless people.
Poverty is people seeking asylum, it’s people who are refugees,
people who are migrants. Poverty is overworked, underpaid everyday people.

Poverty is people. It’s children. Babies. Not… “them”. Us.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Poverty is growing in our country. In 2016.

Poverty is many things,
but it is not
acceptable.

This poem is re-produced with permission from Church Action on Poverty’s magazine SPARK. It was written by the Powerlines project, based in Salford, which brings together people affected by poverty with professional writers. For more information see Church Action on Poverty’s website and get involved in their brilliant work.

Posted in Poverty | Tagged | 2 Comments

It’s up to each of us to resist the cynicism of ‘post-truth’ culture

post-truthPost-truth was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016.

It’s a word which has sprung into prominence mainly due to Donald Trump’s election win. I heard a good example the other day on the radio when a US political commentator was talking about Trump’s promise to build a wall on the US/Mexico border. His view was that ‘whilst some construction might happen, essentially the wall will come to mean a metaphor for a stronger border’.

But the thing is that Trump did not just commit himself to a stronger border – he promised to build an actual wall. And the thousands who chanted ‘Build the wall, Build the wall’ at his rallies were not shouting for a metaphor.

Does it matter anymore?

In the old politics, failure to build an actual wall (or prosecute Hilary Clinton, or deport all illegal immigrants) would be a serious matter. But in a post-truth world, does this really matter anymore?

Similarly, I think of the retired couple at my church who said a key reason why they are voting for Brexit was because of the £350m a week which would be diverted to the NHS following a leave vote.  But after winning the referendum leading members of the leave campaign soon distanced themselves from this claim.

Does the power of a message now matter more than its integrity?

‘What is truth?’

Of course, this is no new problem. Pontius Pilate, the 1st century Roman governor of Palestine, knew that Jesus of Nazareth had done nothing worthy of execution.  And yet, political pressure meant he felt he had to sent him to his death.

When questioned by Pilate, Jesus puts truth at the heart of his mission and purpose:

‘ “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate replied.’

Pilate’s reply is no abstract philosophical question. It speaks to the heart of the relationship between truth and power. What does ‘truth’ even mean when Pilate had the ultimate power to kill or pardon whoever he chose?

Truth and power

The relationship between truth and power is explored brilliantly by George Orwell in 1984.  In this dystopian future, the concept of objective truth no longer exists. ‘Truth’ is simply whatever the all-powerful ruling Party dictates it to be:

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Orwell’s vision is a terrifying warning about what happens when lies and deceit end up in total control of a society and a political system. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Rejecting cynicism

This is why everyone of us needs to reject the cynicism of post-truth culture. A commitment to objective truth is vital for the health of our society. We must fight to keep key institutions – Parliament, courts, police and media – as free from corruption as possible.

Last year I had to spend 4 days in court because I had been accused of something which was wholly false and without foundation. I was completely exonerated – but I was so grateful that the UK has a system which enabled a fair hearing. As my lawyer said to me and all the witnesses: ‘You have one job: to tell the truth.’

Everyone’s job

It’s a job we all have.  We can be all be committed, whether at work, with our friends and family or on social media to be more committed to telling the truth and standing up for what we think.

We should speak with grace and care, but we should not be afraid to disagree with people or say uncomfortable things. All organisations, workplaces and churches benefit from those who are willing to challenge the comfortable collusion that so easily develops in groups of people.

We need to reject the cynicism of post-truth culture. On both institutional and personal levels, reality is liberating. Lies and deceit imprison, the truth really does set us free.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ – a review by Corin Pilling

silence-posterGoing to see many films produced by Christians is a bit similar to a visit to McDonald’s. You hope that no-one sees you going in and as you indulge yourself, you try to convince yourself that the delivery of such a sugary hit must contain at least some nutrients.

Many films marketed to the faith community seem designed to offer a platitudinous pat on the back for believing, rather than providing true sustenance for the journey.

Knotted muscle

We know not to expect any such easy offerings from Martin Scorsese. Nonetheless, this film did premier at the Vatican. So, is Silence a film which seeks to court favour with the established church – perhaps even providing a justification for proselytism?

Of course, it’s not that simple. Instead of providing a comfort blanket of faith entertainment, Silence chooses to press into the most difficult areas, the knotted muscle as it were, of faith and unbelief.

It refuses to provide any resolutions and in doing so, offers rich gifts for those willing to engage with its challenges.

Unbearable horror

Adapted from the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo and thirty years in the making, Silence focuses on the journey of two 17th century Portuguese priests, Garrpe and Rodrigues, who return to Japan having received the news that their mentor Ferreira has renounced his faith.

At this stage, we have already witnessed a distraught Ferreira viewing scenes of unbearable horror, as Japanese ‘Kirishtians’ are martyred before him. The two priests embark on their mission to seek out Ferreira, bringing them into contact with communities of persecuted believers.

Counter-imperialism

The priests are initially greeted with fervour and relief by the communities. Yet as the story unfolds, we see each faced with impossible choices designed by the inquisitors to break their spirit. Each scenario offers the promise of relief of others’ suffering following the renunciation of faith.

These scenes could be read as a dark counter to the imperialism the priests represent. In daring to believe they could colonise the ‘swamp’ of Japan their faith is fed back to them by Japanese feudal powers as a choice between upholding belief or relieving human misery.

Where is God?

In turn, the question of theodicy arises: where is God in this? Did he design it?

Rodrigues asks ‘How can I explain His silence to these people?’ The priest’s own journey becomes central and invites us to reflect on our own faith and how we respond to such challenges to our deepest beliefs.

Weeks after seeing the film, I find myself considering the nature of faith, and the dynamic between our own internal journey and the external mechanisms we have to support what we believe. I was also drawn back to two specific themes I’ve unpacked below.

Awareness of our own lenses

Firstly, whilst the issue of how the Church is intertwined with imperialism is only implicit in the film, it presents the need for a continued awareness of our own lenses.  How do Christians bear witness to the truth and model this in our own lives?  How do we remember the primary need for our own conversion?

Would the priests have reached the same conclusion, and destiny, if they perceived themselves as firstly those primarily in need of conversion? Indeed, was their whole mission in the film a journey of self-discovery? What if they came looking for signs of the kingdom they would seek to nurture first? The foot we lead with becomes crucial.

A deeper invitation

Secondly, when faith seems to be reduced to a series of death-dealing choices, how do we maintain the wider perspective of the kingdom? Is there a deeper invitation, still?

Historically, many of the saints speak of suffering as invitation to encounter more expansive love. I was reminded of St. Francis’ own journey who realised that for love to be real, it had to include pain:

‘It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful; the lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.’

Magnificent and challenging

So in conclusion, if you are feeling robust, please go and see this magnificent and challenging film. Go with those of faith and with those who don’t believe. Go with some time on your hands to allow it to press into your own personal knotted muscle wherever you find it to be.

Oh, and, if you decide you deserve a burger afterwards, I would be the last to judge you.

Silence is released in UK cinemas on January 1st 2017.

Corin Pilling works for Livability, leading a team of people who help churches build community across the UK, and enjoys the occasional dirty burger.

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