Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Persecution or privilege: the Church Defensive

Not PersecutedDuring Holy Week, I had a couple of episcopal moments. On Palm Sunday, six bishops signed a letter in the Sunday Torygraph that didn’t use the word ‘persecution’, but the resulting headlines did, and one sermon I’ve heard since has. Archbishop Rowan felt it necessary to say publically that they should get things in perspective in his Easter Letter: hear, hear!

The next day, on Maundy Thursday, the Bishop of London felt it necessary refute ‘persecution’ claims in his chrism sermon, but then he went on to talk about how Christians have to fight against the discrimination aimed at us and battle the tide of secularism (this clunkily segued into the twice-repeated materialist motto ‘love is not an emotion’).

On Easter Sunday evening, Nicky Campbell brought out a TV documentary asking whether Christians are persecuted. The show gave fairly free reign to those who wanted to ramp up the persecution fears, but also got the sane voices of the Bishop of Oxford and Theos think-tank in there. I quite liked the clear outline of why the persecution fear exists: that it is based on

  1. the complex secularising of hegemony,
  2. increased non-Christian immigration
  3. and human-rights legislation.

Whereas the fearmongers, like Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, would point to the secularisation of society as the cause, and crusade for the re-Christianisation of our public spaces, the documentary’s outline gives us more substantial handles for what is happening.

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Meals with Jesus III: Living on the Edge

This article is the third in a series on Meals with Jesus which formed part of this year’s Lent course. This third is on the pericope of the Gleaning in the Wheat Fields, Luke 6·1–5.

Ruth gleaning

Ruth gleaning.

It’d be wrong to think that it was a whirlwind of dinner invitations that sustained these thirteen vagabonds over their years of wandering hither and thither. Sometimes you must eat what the Lord provides and be thankful for what you can get. Sabbath prayers were over, and the thirteen were on the road again, and their sustenance was the wheat growing at the edge of the fields — plucked, rubbed between the palms of the hands and eaten raw.

The Pharisees saw them, and saw they had committed the serious sin of letting the world of work, politics, poverty and foreign occupation into the sacred time of the sabbath. “By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

Blinded by the need to protect the sabbath from all worldly intrusion, they forgot that it should be a day for the satisfaction of good and right. For the hungry vagabonds on the road, the leftover ears of grain, left in observance to the commandments, was an answer to the sabbath prayers — no more fishers of the seas, but gleaners of what could be found, and reliant of God’s good provision each day.

“Give us today our daily bread” — each day just enough for the day, like the manna in the desert.

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Sympathy for the Taliban? Sympathy for the bishop?

Bishop Stephen Venner

Bishop Stephen Venner

The habit of being given a pulpit from which to speak one’s mind, and receiving “Nice sermon, vicar!” as the only for of constructive criticism gives clergy little understanding of our communication skills. This becomes painfully obvious when we speak to the media; under pressure, drivel and nonsense utters forth. Perhaps, clergy are the worst people from whom to expect a carefully nuanced response to sensitive issues in the media.

I don’t know about sympathy for the Taliban, but I have sympathy for Bishop Stephen Venner. He has retired from being Bishop of Dover, which entails looking after the C of E in East Kent on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is far too busy wrestling with lesbian bishops and Ugandan homophobes), and has become Bishop to the Forces, which entails looking after the spiritual needs of the British armed forces on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is far too busy…). For the last couple of years Bishop Venner has also added Bishop for the Falkland Islands to his pointy hats, a role he performs on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is far too busy…). You do get the impression of someone who has always been in the shadows, keeping the church running while his boss pontificates. As Bishop to the Forces, Venner succeeds Bishop David Connor, who remains at his rather pointless job of head polisher of the second great shrine of royalist pomp that is Windsor Chapel. Continue reading


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Traditionalists welcome change

The news is that Pope Benedict has opened a path for ‘traditionalist’ Anglicans (read ‘misogynists’) to join the Catholic Church without getting too Catholic about it (read priests keeping their wives and their ‘Anglo-Tridentine’ liturgy). He has issued an Apostolic Constitution to provide for Personal Ordinariates for disaffected Anglicans. These mean that Anglicans can join the Catholic Church while retaining their rites and uses, much in the same way Eastern Catholics retain various Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian liturgies).

My first reaction is: please go, we’ve had enough! The Church of England has done all it can and more than it should to keep discontents happy. A few of them have even been gainfully employed as flying bishops. The move towards recognising the equality of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in women has been painfully slow due to the foot dragging of these old boys. Their arguments are roadblocks rather than litanies of reason, their actions are Pharisaic rather than Christlike. Just like the last Anglican exodus, I’m sure the Catholic parishes will not be best pleased with the quality of the new intake. So, if you would like to leave, please form an orderly queue. Continue reading