Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu March 1, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Homosexuality, House of Bishops, LGBT, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage
MY LORD BISHOPS,
Greetings in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your Lord and mine in our common journey of faith: to him be the glory for ever and ever!
I am writing this letter hesitantly because, as a member of a clergy household myself, I am aware of the immense pressure that you live under and of the immense burden of responsibility that you shoulder as the Lords Spiritual in our land: may the Lord give each and every one of you the courage, grace, strength and wisdom you need as you carry out your duties in his service.
First of all, I would like to thank you for all the time and effort that you put into so many different and often conflicting areas of life, especially on matters of injustice here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Thank you, in particular, to those who put their names to the letter recently published in the Mirror newspaper challenging the government over the impact of its welfare reforms; my thanks also for the work that went into producing the Pilgrim Course, which has been well received and appreciated in the parishes I belong to; and for all the other work you carry out, so much of it unseen and unheralded by media attention.
My further thanks for the time, consideration and careful reflection that went into your recent Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: this brings us to my main purpose in writing as I add my voice to the many others expressing concern and dismay over this matter.
I’d like to start by sharing something of my own faith journey: I was brought up as a free-church, conservative evangelical. The Bible, prayer and church were the bedrock of my early life: I read the Bible and prayed daily, more than daily; I attended the Christian Union at school and at college; and I became a Sunday School teacher and a street evangelist whilst still in my teenage years. I knew the Bible better than any of my contemporaries and was referred to as ‘the living concordance’, such was my enthusiasm; and I knew — or rather, believed I knew — what the Bible taught about sexuality. Homosexuality and Christianity were mutually exclusive: to be gay was a lifestyle choice that set a person at odds with Scripture and the revealed will of God. This did not mean that I hated gays: they were no worse sinners than anyone else and I followed the mantra of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’
I know, then, how some of you and some the churches under your care feel about homosexuality in the Church, for I too once felt that way; and in those days, not surprisingly, I had no dealings with gay people: why would any gay person want to know me, a person who would claim to offer them Christ’s unconditional love whilst simultaneously condemning that which lay at the very core of their being?
That was to change, however, not overnight or by any dramatic experience, but over time as I began to encounter gay people; and not simply gay people but gay Christians; and it became clear that God was as much at work in their lives as mine. Without any sign of repentance for their ‘lifestyle choice’, God was blessing them: the fruit and work of the Holy Spirit was as evident in the lives of gay Christians as it was in the lives of straight Christians!
What was going on? Was God a liar, saying one thing in Scripture yet doing another? Was God the ultimate hypocrite, playing games with people’s lives and sexuality? Surely not! So I revisited the Scriptures and by God’s grace my eyes were opened: it became clear that faithfulness was the key. From beginning to end, from Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden of Eden, through the Law, the Histories and the Prophets and all the way on to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus’ trust in the Garden of Gethsemane and beyond into the book of Revelation, God’s call to his people has been to be faithful: faithful to God, faithful to our neighbours and faithful to one another. God loves faithfulness!
Everything fell into place: the condemnations of same-sex activity that we see in Scripture all represent betrayals of trust. The world of the Bible, of ancient Israel and of the Early Church, was a world where heterosexual relationships formed the bedrock of society, where homosexual activity could only represent a betrayal of trust; and so homosexual behaviour was condemned in the same way as other promiscuous behaviour such as adultery. This, however, is not the world we live in today: today we find ourselves in society where long-term, faithful same-sex partnerships co-exist and thrive alongside straight relationships; and against such relationships there is neither law nor biblical prohibition. Loose living, promiscuity and adultery are out, for all of these betray both human and divine trust; faithfulness is in, for this echoes the very heart of God.
Like St Peter in prayer on the rooftop, who found himself confounded by God’s apparent change of attitude towards the things and people he believed that God had declared unclean, I too was confounded; but also like Peter, seeing God transforming the lives of those whom I once regarded as unclean, I am set free and I ask, “Who am I — who are we, the Church — to deny blessing to those whom God is blessing?”
This, then, has been my journey of understanding and this is why I support equal marriage; this too is why I believe the Church of England should support equal marriage; and this is why I now find myself dismayed by your Lordships’ Pastoral Guidance on the matter when I see you making such a prohibition. Gentlemen, you are the Lords Spiritual: you yourselves commissioned the Pilling Report, which included the following amongst its recommendations:
… we believe that parishes and clergy, who conscientiously believe that celebrating faithful same sex relationships would be pastorally and missiologically the right thing to do, should be supported in doing so. [...] Consultation and agreement between clergy and PCC on the policy would be essential, although the decision whether to conduct such a service in individual cases should be for the priest alone. (Pilling, paras 391-2, p.112)
Yet rather than accept that recommendation, rather than offer priests that support, rather than allowing them to follow their conscience, you advise that any prayer with a same-sex married couple should “be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” then state unequivocally that “Services of blessing should not be provided.” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 21).
How did this come to pass? How have you managed to turn that which is supposed to provide pastoral support into a blunt instrument that can only serve to drive a further wedge between the Church of England and LGBT people? How has welcoming a same-sex couple to prayer for their ongoing relationship become an opportunity to berate them for departing from church teaching? For make no mistake about it, that is how such a so-called “pastoral discussion” — no matter how sensitively broached — will be perceived by those on the receiving end. This approach, your Lordships, is a betrayal of trust that flies in the face of all that has gone before, that undermines almost all of your introductory remarks about gay people being children of God, loved and valued as full members of the body of Christ.
In your early paragraphs you cite Part 6 of the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, stating that “The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us” — but then you go on to do precisely that very thing, victimising and diminishing LGBT people by excluding their relationships from the possibility of affirmation or formal recognition by the Church, even going so far as to declare that “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 27).
So you place both gay clergy and gay laity in a double-bind, in a Catch-22 situation, caught out by the Church’s proper teaching that sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage but, when presented by the State with a lawful opportunity to marry, either denied that opportunity altogether (clergy) or denied the opportunity to celebrate that relationship (laity) by the Church.
You cite the Canons in support of your position; but you cite them selectively, for the Church’s Canons in the Thirty Nine Articles (Article XXXII) stipulate quite clearly that the call to the Priesthood within the Anglican tradition is not a call to celibacy: the clergy are free to marry at their discretion. So as the law of the land changes, you override one canon at the expense of another, making that canon which describes marriage as being between a man and woman more important than that which grants clergy freedom to marry, at the same time as denying the validity of state-sanctioned marriage in any case.
Which is it to be, your Lordships? Is the state sanctioned marriage in fact valid, such that it carries sufficient weight to threaten canon law? Or is it invalid, in which case it carries no weight whatsoever and is no different to a civil partnership?
As so often happens in theological disputes, your Lordships, you are right in what you affirm, but wrong in what you deny. You affirm the sanctity of marriage, but deny it to gay people. You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!”
You are right when you say that Jesus affirmed male/female relationships; but you are wrong when you say that by that affirmation he denied same-sex relationships: for you know full well that Jesus did not say a word either for or against such relationships. He did, however, speak of the sanctity of marriage and declared that anyone who divorces and remarries, except in the case of their partner’s unfaithfulness, commits adultery — yet you allow priests discretion over whom they will remarry. Thus you not only pick and choose which aspects of Christ’s teachings you follow, but you make an area in which he gave no specific teaching more important than one in which his teaching is clear. If a priest’s discretion is permitted over remarriage of divorcees, upon what basis is it not permitted over a public act of worship which recognises a same-sex marriage?
A song from Boy George/Culture Club comes to mind and I’ve rewritten the lyrics for you:
You are men of deep conviction,
You are men who surely know
How to tell a contradiction?
You surely know, you surely know!
Your Lordships, you surely know! You surely know how Jesus responded to those whose lives were riddled with such contradiction, the religious leaders of his own day, men who swallowed camels whilst straining at gnats. I appeal to you, do not be like them! Do not say of LGBT people that the Church welcomes them as equals but deny that welcome in what you permit or prohibit!
You speak of ‘facilitated conversations’ but rather than pave the way for them, you make such conversations futile by issuing a statement that reinforces barricades instead of taking them down. You say, “[...] we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.” What, then, is the point of these conversations when you have unanimously predetermined their outcome? Forgive me, my Lords, but I find it difficult to believe your declaration that you are all in agreement on this: was there truly not even one dissenting voice, not one person open to the possibility of change?
More than this, gentlemen, I find your choice of words here less than helpful: the Christian understanding… — what? Is there but one definitive Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage? Do you really set your understanding over and above that of other Christian churches? By all means speak of the Church of England’s traditional understanding, but please do not presume to speak for the entire Christian community!
Your approach to this matter, your analysis of it and your response to it are not the way of Christ, the living door, who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all who will come in. I appeal to you, as a fellow pilgrim on the way: do not close the doors that Christ is opening. Do not seek the way of the law when we are saved by grace: heed the warnings of St Paul, that those who choose to live under the law are obliged to obey the whole law — do not return to slavery but accept the freedom Christ offers!
Listen also to the wisdom of Gamaliel: if what is happening here is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it — in which case you may even find yourselves fighting against God!
At the beginning of this letter, I thanked those of you who spoke out recently about the disastrous impact of the government’s welfare reforms: you protest injustice on the one hand whilst you practice it on the other, for that issue and this are both matters of injustice. Thus we have a government that is pro-equality in one arena but blind to its obligations to the poor, whilst we have a Church leadership that has a clear vision of its obligations to the poor but appears blind to injustice here: can you not see, then, why the media cry out and people castigate the Church as a haven for hypocrites?
May the Lord grant you, the leaders of his Church, the vision of our government to see that equal rights require equal rites; and may the Lord grant our government, the leaders of our nation, the compassion for the poor that you see so clearly.
And may he further grant you, as Bishops in his Church, grace and wisdom to facilitate conversations — as some of you are doing — rather than close them down, and so ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news for all people in all times and situations.
As I draw to a close, the sun is shining in our garden, the sky is no longer weeping; but heaven is weeping, weeping over every lost sheep driven away from the Church by this failure of love. You are the Chief Shepherds appointed over Christ’s Church: I urge you, then, to behave as the Good Shepherd himself and follow where his Spirit is leading to help bring heaven’s tears to an end.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
- Don’t want to comment here? Join the conversation on facebook.
For further reading, reflection and information
There is, of course, much more out there: these are simply a few links to material that I personally have found most helpful and interesting…
- Accepting Evangelicals
- An Evangelical Apology, The Revd Kevin Ellis
- Changing Attitude facebook group
- Generalizations, Just-So Stories and Marriage Law and Doctrine, Scott M Peterson
- My reflections on the Pilling report, Bishop David Gillett
- Plucking blackberries, The Blog of Kevin
- Posts on Marriage Equality by Bishop Alan Wilson
- Thinking Anglicans posts referring to marriage
- Why Christians should accept gay marriage, Peter Kirk’s Gentle Wisdom
What matters to the Tories: somebody fetch me a sick bag, quick! February 14, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Life, Watching.
Tags: Floods, Money is no object, Tory Priorities
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I HOPE THIS makes you feel as angry and sick as it makes me…
So, here we are. Disabled people clearly don’t matter. Poor people clearly don’t matter. Older people matter a bit, but not enough to ensure social care is properly funded. But suddenly, after lots of people and communities have been suffering from dreadful flooding for many weeks, the Thames breaks its banks. As if by magic, the Prime Minister tells us “Money is no object. We are a wealthy country”. I feel sick.
When disabled people can’t get suitable housing, we have no money.
When we need accessible public transport, we have no money.
When poor families can’t afford both food and heating, we have no money.
When people who appeal an incorrect “fit for work” decision need money to live on while their decision is “reconsidered”, we have no money.
When those who care 24/7 for family members are penalised financially, simply to remain in their homes, we have no money.
When A & E departments are under severe strain and sick people are waiting hours even to get into the hospital, we have no money.
BUT, when homes in middle England are flooded, money’s no object and we’re suddenly a wealthy country. Sorry, but as I said, I feel sick
Now we know. The shrinking of the welfare state is ideological. We ARE a wealthy country, and we need to make the right choices in 2015. Flooding is awful – but extreme poverty, isolation, freezing cold homes and hunger are as well.
Health Scare Alert: Be afraid, be very afraid February 6, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Knockabout.
Tags: Become a zombie, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Do the right thing, George Osborne, Health Scare, Iain Duncan Smith, Stop breathing, Support the Conservative Party
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GOVERNMENT MEDICAL EXPERTS have today identified the number one cause of death amongst the human population: breathing. In short, the advice is: breathing kills and should be avoided wherever possible.
The evidence that breathing kills is said to be irrefutable: NHS health records show that every person who has died since records began used to breathe and research indicates that every person who died before records were kept also used to breathe. Observers have further noted that zombies, who don’t breathe, don’t die and in fact cannot be killed.
Responding to the news, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has pledged to take whatever action may be required to minimise risk to the general public: ”The police, the military and all emergency services are on standby to offer whatever support the public need,” he said. “We have reviewed government policy on this matter and we will ensure that people who do the right thing, hardworking families and Conservative Party supporters, will be protected.”
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, threw his weight behind the Prime Minister’s stance: “People should be in no doubt about this,” he said. “Breathing kills and zombies are real. Look at me, look at the people around you next time you travel on the London Underground. Many may appear to be breathing but for most of us it’s an act as we attempt to blend in with the rest of the human race. If you’re not sure, look us in the eye and you’ll see that dead look as we stare past you and through you. This is the reason we need to close down all the ticket offices: they force people to talk, talking requires breathing, and people who breathe, die.”
George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, explained the Treasury’s response: “We are bringing in a new, fairer, tax regime and people who insist on breathing will pay the price through increased taxes and further benefit cuts. We are raising the age at which Housing Benefit can be claimed to 125 to ensure that no one who breathes can claim it. Furthermore, VAT and fuel duty will be levied at 200% on all purchases made by people who breathe.”
Iain Duncan-Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, added his support: ”We will protect those who do the right thing, who work hard for low pay or no pay. We will also protect the wealthy and the wealth creators to ensure that they can carry on receiving their bonuses. But if you insist on breathing, if you do the wrong thing, you will be penalised. Alongside the Treasury’s actions outlined by my Right Honourable friend, the age at which the State Pension becomes available to people who breathe will also be increased to 125 and anyone who carries on breathing after this age will be automatically excluded from receiving the winter heating allowance. Disabled people or those who suffer with mental health problems, however, will be given all the help they need to stop breathing at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Business leaders applauded the government’s response: “Breathing kills. The medical evidence is clear: people who breathe take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide, using up their bodies’ resources. This forces them to eat, and to eat, they have to buy food, which means we have to pay them. Zombies, however, do not breathe and do not need to eat, which means they don’t have to be paid. This means that we don’t have to pay National Insurance and can keep all the money for ourselves instead of most of it.”
The Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to support those who do the right thing: “Do the right thing,” he said. “Stop breathing. Become a zombie. Support the Conservative Party.”
- Inspired in part by I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Conservative
Epiphany: At the hour of our death… January 6, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Life, Theological Reflection.
Tags: Epiphany, Failure, Jesus, Judgement, Salvation, Success, Wounds
SOMETIMES the truth hits you right between the eyes and leaves you reeling. That’s epiphany, I guess, and this was one of those moments for me, especially in this year of 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
From the funeral service of an old soldier:
At the hour of our death, it is to Jesus alone that we have to justify our life. He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour. No one is so lost that they cannot be redeemed by Christ.
There will be a final reckoning for all of us, of that I am sure: but that reckoning will not be by what we have achieved; rather by the wounds we have borne. So many lives lost, but not one wasted: by human standards, their wounds and the price they paid may well appear wasted; but to the One who sees all and knows all, those wounds are both salvation and healing. Judgement overturned, mercy in its place; or as James the Apostle put it, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”
If you look back over your life and see only a string of failings, do not be afraid: for the One to whom we must give account does not weigh us up by our successes or failures; he sees the scars inflicted along the way. Do not despair at your failings, gentle reader, and above all do not be ashamed of your wounds: they are your salvation:
He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour.
GroomNews Christmas 2013: The Year of Everyone Getting Older December 19, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Family, Life.
Tags: Christmas, Christmas Greetings, GroomNews, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, Sue Groom
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2013: The Year of Everyone Getting Older
… or, to be more precise, of us becoming more aware that everyone’s getting older! Let’s start in March, when we celebrated Sue’s 50th birthday with a stay in a Bath hotel: a wonderful few days that included sightseeing, meals out and a boat trip on the river as our hotel was conveniently situated alongside the river upstream from the city centre. Highly recommended!
Now fast forward to December, when Phil’s Dad took a tumble down the stairs and ended up in hospital: not recommended, even when you’re young. Thankfully no bones broken but plenty of bruises. The good news is Phil’s parents have agreed to have a stairlift fitted.
At the other end of the generational gap, we’ve heard wedding bells ringing and possibly angels singing as nephews & nieces have been busy announcing weddings, getting married and/or having babies, making us Great Uncle Phil & Great Aunty Sue all over again — or should that be Grand? But whether it’s great or grand, it’s making us feel older as we realise our nephews & nieces are no longer the little children they were: wholehearted congratulations to them all!
Health & Fitness
In the latter half of the year Sue’s hip became increasingly painful so in December we took a trip to Oxford’s Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital for a checkup. Conclusion: there’s been some deterioration but probably not enough to warrant a replacement just yet. She should keep up the swimming and pilates/physio exercises and return for another check next year.
As for Phil, in the middle of the year he was diagnosed with suspected glaucoma. Initial tests were inconclusive so he returns for further tests in January 2014: watch this space. Otherwise fine and still cycling to and from work.
5 Quid for Life
Remember 5 Quid for Life? It’s a project launched by Phil and a group of his friends back in 2011 to provide emergency financial support for people with mental health problems who have lost (or are in danger of losing) their benefits as a result of the government’s welfare reforms; and it’s kept Phil quite busy this year responding to enquiries and requests for help. Want to know more? Visit 5quidforlife.org.uk. Donations always welcome, but there are plenty of other ways to help too, such as sharing via facebook and twitter or by putting up a poster in your local community hall or doctor’s waiting room.
Church & Diocese
Running two churches alongside her diocesan role isn’t quite running Sue ragged, but she’s always busy meeting people, preparing to meet people or preparing and running church services and meetings. We’re grateful for all the opportunities her work brings, and we’re just as grateful when we get some breathing space; which brings us neatly to…
The job is done! Colin & Kevin at Spiderworx worked their magic and Almost looked most resplendent in her new livery for our late summer holiday, another trip along the Nene to sunny Peterborough — or not so sunny, as things turned out in September this year.
are still ongoing: it’s proving to be a long slog, longer than originally anticipated, but she hasn’t given up. She’s now in the final phase, writing up her thesis: the challenge, of course, is finding time…
for all the Christmas cards that so many of you have sent. We’re sending out a few to close family but otherwise, as in previous years, will be making a donation to WaterAid instead.
As always, this comes with our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in the coming year,
Update @5QuidForLife: Your Help Needed June 18, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Campaigns, Mental Health.
Tags: 5 Quid for Life, Benefits, Help Needed, Loss of Benefits, Mental health safety net
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REMEMBER 5 QUID FOR LIFE? Daft question — of course you do; at least, I hope you do. But for anyone who’s new here or who needs a reminder, it’s a small project I’ve been involved with for a couple of years which provides financial help for people with mental health problems who have lost their benefits due to the UK government’s welfare reforms.
It’s a situation that makes me extremely angry as our government legislates mercilessly against the poor and vulnerable but only ever issues guidelines for the rich and powerful. Consider your own situation: do you have any choice about how much tax you pay? Not the slightest: if you’re employed, tax is taken before you ever even see your wages; and when you’re out shopping, VAT is conveniently hidden behind VAT-inclusive prices. But if you’re big business, like Amazon, Apple, Google or Starbucks — to name but a few of the tax avoiders out there — you can choose where to pay your taxes, and by virtue of that choice, how much, and all the government seems willing to do is mutter imprecations and offer guidelines: big business pockets billions whilst the poor are left completely out of pocket, not even allowed a spare room for family or friends to visit!
Now throw into that mix the devastating effects of mental illness and I hope you’ll begin to understand where I’m coming from with 5 Quid for Life. When a person’s mind is dysfunctional they are at their most vulnerable: withdrawing essential support in an attempt to force them into work is more likely to be the tipping point that pushes them over the edge into even deeper despair — and the possibility of suicide — than it is ever likely to help them.
The project has kept me particularly busy over the last couple of weeks as we’ve begun to receive enquiries and applications for help. We issued our first payment last week to a person suffering with and on medication for long-term mental health difficulties, including depression. Loss of benefits had inevitably made things worse leaving them with no income and rent arrears: you can read more about it in a press release we issued on Friday: Breaking the Fall: 5 Quid for Life makes first Mental Health Safety Net payment.
Despite sending that press release directly to all the UK’s major daily newspapers, so far, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have picked up the story — and that, gentle reader, is where you come in: 5 Quid for Life needs your help to spread the love, please. What I’m asking you to do is drop a line to your local paper or radio station and tell them about it: tell them you’ve heard about this remarkable little project that wants to give money to their readers or listeners — because we do. It’s generally accepted that one in four people are affected in some way by mental illness: that’s up to 25% of their readers/listeners who could potentially be eligible for a 5 Quid for Life payout of up to £200 (subject, of course, to available funds). Our eligibility criteria are very simple: we provide crisis support for people in the UK with mental health difficulties who:
- have lost their benefits
- or are not able to apply for benefit
- or have been notified that they are going to lose their benefits
If someone meets those criteria, all they need do to start the ball rolling is contact us with brief details of their situation; if appropriate, we will then ask them to complete an online application form or, if they prefer, send them a form in the post.
Money for nothing, for people who’ve had the next-to-nothing they had taken away by a government that doesn’t govern except against its weakest people.
If you’re not up to contacting your local paper or radio station, there are plenty of other ways to spread the word:
- Online, please tell your friends on facebook; upload our logo to pinterest; tweet us; or if you’re a blogger, please consider posting a news story using our press release.
- Offline, please share the love with our brand new @5QuidForLife flyer and poster: they’re pdf downloads, A4 or 2 x A5, ready for you to print out and put up on your local community noticeboard, in your local library or anywhere else that will let you.
And last but not least: we need donors too, please. At present our regular income is less than £100 per month and whilst we have a healthy bank balance at the moment — not far short of £3,000 — that’s not going to last long now that we’ve started giving it away. Full details of how to give are on our Donate page; and for the avoidance of doubt, please note that 5 Quid for Life operates on a 100% voluntary basis: all donations go entirely to those we support: we do not make any deductions, claim expenses or charge for our services.
REPOST: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute June 3, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Mental Health.
Tags: Biggleswade Chronicle, Central Beds Council, Council Tax, Debt, Depression, Langford, Mental Illness, Peter Williams, Suicide
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I’M BRINGING THIS POST — originally published 18th Feb 2012 — back to the top because Peter’s tragic story has now made the national news as the inquest into his death is at last underway. Please spare a thought and a prayer for his friends and family as the inquest and news coverage forces them to revisit their grief.
Here are some of the reports:
- BBC News, Beds, Herts & Bucks: Bedfordshire inquest hears eviction threat led to death
- Daily Mail: Council accused of hounding Dragons’ Den inventor to his death by relatives after it made him bankrupt and sent in bailiffs over unpaid tax
- Hertfordshire Advertiser: ‘Council hounded ‘brilliant’ Langford inventor to his death’
- Huffington Post UK: Peter Williams Killed Himself After Battling Missed Council Tax Payments
- Lynn News: Railway death engineer ‘confused’
- Telegraph: Railway death engineer told friends he was going to kill himself after council tax battle
THIS IS THE STORY that ran on the front cover of our local paper, The Biggleswade Chronicle, yesterday, and it’s a story that’s as tragic as it gets: in short, Peter Williams, who was clinically depressed and lived here in Langford, didn’t pay his council tax for several years around the turn of the millennium, was made bankrupt and eventually, faced with the threat of eviction from his home, killed himself on the railway at Biggleswade last week.
I’ll let one of his friends take up the story, as published in the Chronicle:
His friend, Richard Harris, who assisted Peter in his legal battles, said: “His council pursued him relentlessly and aggressively over a period of some 16 years without helping him. It culminated in them bankrupting him over a £1,350 debt in 2006, seeking to evict him from his home, which was worth in excess of £200,000, that he owned outright.”
The report goes on to quote a Central Beds Council spokesman explaining that the unpaid £1,350 represented legal costs incurred by the council and its solicitors in pursuing Mr Williams — but, if you’ll forgive me colloquialising, “it ain’t our fault, guv, honest” because the debt had been handed over to Grant Thornton, acting as bankruptcy trustees, and apparently they were the ones behind the eviction proceedings as part of the debt recovery process.
The council, on the other hand, were right there supporting Mr Williams:
[The spokesman] added that the council’s emergency duty team was in touch with Peter earlier this month and referred him for an urgent mental health assessment.
Last year the Local Government Ombudsman investigated the council’s relationship with Peter and said there were no grounds on which to criticise the council.
So where does that leave us? A man with known mental health problems, hounded to death over a council tax dispute, and a blameless council. Maybe I’m missing something here: I never knew Peter, even though he lived in the same village as me, and unlike the Local Government Ombudsman, I’m not privy to the ins and outs of Peter’s story and have only the Chronicle report to go on; but assuming the accuracy of that report, I have a couple of simple questions for Central Beds Council:
- Who let the dogs out?
- Since you knew about Peter’s mental health problems, why didn’t you call them off?
Seems to me that transferring a debt to a third party, then denying all responsibility when that third party’s pursuit of that debt results in a tragedy such as this, simply doesn’t wash, any more than Pontius Pilate washing his hands absolved him of responsibility for the death of Jesus.
No one should be hounded by debt collectors to the point where they can see no way forward beyond taking their own life; and when a person has a known record of mental health difficulties, even more caution is called for.
Which begs the question: was it suicide, or murder?
- Read Part 1: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder
A shortened version of this post has been sent as a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle.
Tags: Alistair Burt, Equal Marriage, Equality, Freedom to Marry, Marriage, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Same-sex marriage
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TODAY, as those of us who support equal marriage rejoice at the outcome of yesterday’s vote — 400:175 in favour — it gives me great pleasure to be able to follow up my last post with the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP‘s response, and I thank Mr Burt for his prompt, courteous and carefully considered reply, received within a matter of minutes of my message to him:
From: BURT, Alistair
Subject: RE: Thank you for supporting Equal Marriage: An Open Letter
Date: 5 February 2013 12:21:28 GMT
To: Phil Groom
Cc: Colin Coward, Changing Attitude; Freedom to Marry
Thank you for your email on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill coming before the House today.
As you would expect I have given a great deal of thought and consideration to my position.
I will support the Bill being put forward by the Government because I believe fundamentally in the equality of all UK citizens before the civil law. I also believe that Churches and those of all faiths should be able to make their own decisions over who is blessed by marriage as a religious rite.
I do not believe the Bill interferes with that rite, and indeed every effort is being made to ensure that it is protected.
On the issue itself I do not agree with arguments which suggest that marriage is being devalued. Marriage is not threatened by extending the right to two consenting adults who wish to make a commitment to long term stability. Marriage is more threatened by the prevalence of break up and separation which society should be trying so hard to avoid.
As a Christian, I believe that God created us all equal, and whilst I fully understand the issues of interpretation in the Bible, this is not a matter which should require Parliament and Civil Law to comply with. This is even more the case when issues of interpretation are challenged and where there are many other Biblical instructions which are not part of the law of the land.
I have given this very careful and serious thought and I trust that in time we will all appreciate the opportunity for individuals to experience what marriage means to so many.
I hope you have a clear sense of my opinions on such an important issue, and I am very grateful for your supportive email. I am very happy for it to be published on your blog.
Office of Alistair Burt | Member of Parliament for NE Bedfordshire | Minister for the Middle East, North Africa & South Asia | Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Thank you for supporting Equal Marriage: An Open Letter to the Rt Hon Alistair Burt, MP February 5, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Alistair Burt, Church of England, Equal Marriage, Freedom to Marry, Letter to MP, LGBT, Marriage, Same-sex marriage
Dear Mr Burt,
Thank you for supporting equal marriage.
I was delighted to discover recently that you are one of the signatories to the Freedom to Marry launch letter, a letter which I, as one of your constituents, wholeheartedly endorse.
No doubt you have received many messages urging you to reconsider your position. I, however, would like to encourage you to stand firm and vote in favour of the legislation, to ensure that LGBT people are recognised as equal members of our society and allowed to share the same freedom to marry as everyone else.
As you are no doubt aware, there are many Christians and members of the Church of England such as myself who support this measure despite the official opposition of the Church, which we say does not speak in our name: allowing gay couples to marry does not undermine the institution of marriage; to the contrary, it can only help to strengthen society and marriage itself as more people commit to lifelong, faithful relationships.
I will be publishing this letter on my blog (address below) and, with your permission, please, would also like to publish your response.
Thank you once again for your support; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
With all good wishes,
CC. Colin Coward, Changing Attitude; Freedom to Marry.
Marriage: Defined for the 21st Century January 19, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Equal Marriage, Marriage, Same-sex marriage
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I BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE. It is one of the most wonderful institutions developed by the human race, in which two people can commit to one another, in a faithful, loving partnership, for life. There are few things in life more beautiful than an old married couple still seen together, holding hands, smiling, on their gold or diamond wedding anniversary: it’s like watching a glorious sunset lighting up the entire sky with its glow.
It is precisely because I believe in marriage that I believe the right to marry should be extended to all people, irrespective of gender or orientation: I believe in Equal Marriage; and I was delighted to discover this definition of marriage in my computer’s dictionary yesterday:
The significance of this can hardly be overstated as it reveals the fallacy of those who argue that marriage cannot be “redefined” — it not only can be: it has been; not so much redefined, however, as its definition extended. The old definition of “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife” still stands, but it stands alongside a further definition: “a similar long-term relationship between partners of the same sex.”
The arguments of the so-called “Coalition for Marriage” (C4M) — which seeks to restrict marriage to heterosexual relationships on the grounds of supposed “profound consequences” that “those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined” — are thus exposed as the folly they truly are. The recognition of equal marriage does not sideline the “traditional” view of marriage, but simply acknowledges both.
This is not, as one of my facebook friends wrongly assumed, an appeal to authority; it is, rather, a recognition of reality. Equal rights require equal rites, and I look forward to when that day comes here in the UK.