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Thank you for supporting Equal Marriage: The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP responds February 6, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Watching and Waiting.
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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

Dear Phil

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.

Kind regards
Alistair Burt

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, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Watching and Waiting.
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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,

Phil Groom

Phil Groom
http://philgroom.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/philgroom
http://twitter.com/notbovvered

CC. Colin Coward, Changing Attitude; Freedom to Marry.

Marriage: Defined for the 21st Century January 19, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Watching and Waiting.
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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:

Marriage, as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Marriage, as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc., via Apple’s Dictionary.app, Version 2.1.3 (80.4)

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.

If God does not withhold blessing from gay people, upon what basis does the church? January 18, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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3 comments
The Blog of Kevin, 17/1/2013: Plucking Blackberries

The Blog of Kevin, 17/1/2013: Plucking Blackberries

FROM THE BLOG OF KEVIN, Plucking Blackberries:

Where I see genuine love, commitment, and a desire for a covenant relationship, I see God. Where I see people who love God, who serve God, who God speaks to and through as much as the next person, I see God. And to deny them equal status, to keep them at the edge like women at the synagogue, is wrong. If God does not withhold his Holy Spirit from gay Christians, how can we withhold anything?

It’s the same question the early church faced when the challenge was whether or not Gentiles could be baptised:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

— Acts 10: 44-48, NRSV

Who amongst us dares argue with the Holy Spirit? Wake up, O Christians!

Women Bishops: Over 13,000 petition signatures call for action whilst Synod dithers November 26, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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HOW LONG, O LORD?

As of this morning, across the four petitions noted over the weekend by Thinking Anglicans — Women Bishops: online petitions — there are now more than 13,000 signatures calling for action in response to General Synod’s failure to ratify its draft legislation for women bishops:

And the official response of the Church of England? Silence and Synod deferred. Yes, a number of bishops have blogged their dismay, but as yet, only silence from those who are in a position to move things along.

To quote Sir Tony Baldry, Second Church Estates Commissioner, from his session answering questions in parliament, this issue “cannot be parked, and work needs to be done urgently to try to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible.”

On Saturday the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, described the decision to delay Synod as “extraordinary”, resembling “a bad case of loss of nerve”:

In Tuesday’s backwash, there was an ominous symptom of attitude in the church that needs examining. We were told that General Synod will not now meet in February but only in July 2013. This is extraordinary. When the nation is in crisis, Parliament is summoned within days to consider it and guide those who have to make rapid decisions in life-threatening situations. When the Church of England is in its gravest crisis for decades, the Synod postpones its next meeting and decides that it will be sufficient to meet in 8 months’ time.

This looks like a bad case of loss of nerve. It’s as if we are in denial that the situation is as serious and urgent as it is. This is how it’s being perceived in the nation. Most significant at a time of trial, it looks like a failure of governance. There is a big reputational risk here. Just when you want your governing body to be there and exercise its proper authority, it vanishes like the Cheshire Cat into the thicket not to be seen again till the sun comes out next summer. I urge the Synod to meet in the next few weeks to show both church and nation that it has noticed what is happening and is doing something about it.

— Female Bishops: on not letting it go

And today, news has emerged of a strong warning to the Archbishops from William Fittall, General Synod’s Secretary General, in which he is reported to state:

Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.

— Failure to vote in women Bishops risks ‘constitutional crisis’ in Church

Enough dithering, my Lord Bishops: Synod must be recalled sooner not later. Please do not keep us hanging in limbo; the period for quiet reflection is over: it’s now time for action. Failure to respond will only result in further pressure as those campaigning for Bishops to removed from the House of Lords grow in number and measures to enforce equality legislation become increasingly likely. Please don’t wait to be pushed: take a lead.

Thank you.

Dear Bishops, Synod is broken: have you got the message yet? November 23, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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THANK YOU to everyone who has signed my petition, No Confidence in General Synod: Calling for an Urgent Review: 50 signatures in the first 24 hours and still gathering momentum, approaching 90 as I write. I’m aiming for 500+.

All the distress notwithstanding, the more I reflect on this situation, the more I think the way things have panned out is actually for the best. Daron Medway hits the nail on the head in this twitter exchange:

Not so much a tragedy, then, as an opportunity; but in the meantime, Synod is broken and thousands of people, men and women alike, feel severely bruised and battered by that discovery. We have a voting system that is not fit for purpose — but which can be fixed very simply without compromising on the two-thirds majority principle: 2/3 majority overall backed by a simple majority in all three houses. This retains the 2/3 majority protocol but ensures that a minority can’t hold the whole of Synod hostage yet still allows a majority objection in any single house to veto a motion.

All we need, Right Reverend gentlemen — yes, that’s you I’m speaking to, your Bishopnesses — is for you to make it happen. Call an emergency session or whatever it is you have to do, and fix it. Don’t faff about: just “get with the programme” as a certain other gentleman has expressed it, and mend the broken pipe before it floods us all with despair. In the meantime, I look forward to the day I can address a paragraph such as this to “Right Reverend ladies and gentlemen.”

If my little petition isn’t enough to persuade you that urgent action is needed, please see these other petitions:

Thank you.

The Church of England and Women Bishops: Is General Synod fit for purpose? November 21, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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AFTER THIS WEEK’S DEBACLE in General Synod in which a minority within the House of Laity were allowed to hold sway over the proceedings by blocking draft legislation for women bishops in the Church of England, I find myself asking, quite simply, is General Synod fit for purpose?

How can a governing body that repeatedly fails to ratify the clear wishes of the vast majority of its members be regarded as fit for purpose? Upon what basis does the Church of England continue to allow the tail to wag the dog?

To the majority in the House of Laity who voted in favour of the legislation: I salute you – thank you. But I must nonetheless ask how we have reached the point where the wishes of that majority are so easily undermined? The decision of the House of Laity does not represent the laity at large, and this is fundamentally wrong: a vociferous minority have infiltrated the House and thus done away with the possibility of true lay representation within Synod itself.

I therefore, as a lay member of the Church of England, hereby lodge a vote of no confidence in General Synod until such time as it can bring its affairs into order by effecting a genuinely democratic voting system that gives a fair and proper representation to its members in place of the current inequitable system.

I call upon the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops to conduct an urgent review into the rules of governance in Synod to correct this grossly unfair system; and if the matter is not resolved before his enthronement, I further call upon Archbishop Designate the Rt Revd Justin Welby to make addressing this inequitable situation one of his first priorities following his installation at Canterbury.

If you are with me on this, please sign this petition:

Thank you.

Dr Sizer is cleared – Church Times; and a public call to @CCJUK to acknowledge the truth of the CPS findings May 4, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Watching and Waiting.
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SO READS THE HEADLINE in Ed Thornton’s report in today’s Church Times (News, p.8) of the debacle in which the Council of Christians and Jews, CCJ, made allegations of antisemitism and inciting racial hatred against the Revd Stephen Sizer.

Unfortunately the article is subscriber only content, but Google have kindly provided a teaser:

Church Times – Dr Sizer is cleared
www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=128025
THE Crown Prosecution Service has decided that a cleric who was accused of posting anti-Semitic content online did not commit any criminal offence.

The article goes on to cite the statement issued by Surrey Police previously noted here, Crown Prosecution Service decision on @CCJUK v/s Stephen Sizer finds no offence committed:

Surrey detectives carried out a thorough and extensive review of the material in question and following liaison with the Crown Prosecution Service it has been determined that no criminal offences have been committed. The matter has now been closed and no further action is being taken.

Stephen posted the following response on his blog last week, The Ugly Truth Exposed:

My support for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based on international law and recognised borders, achieved by peaceful and democratic means, has unfortunately left me open to what can only be described as an unbalanced and targeted campaign from certain quarters, a situation which is deeply regrettable.

I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people. I repudiate racism, anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia. I would not have posted a link to a website I knew to be anti-Semitic. Having consulted a number of Jewish friends, I now keep a small list of websites to avoid in future. I will be more careful about the origin of material I post on my blog and Facebook, and welcome opportunities for discussion with members of the Jewish community to move forwards in a spirit of mutual respect.

Sadly, however, CCJ appear to be unwilling to acknowledge the truth of the matter and have thus far only issued a brief acknowledgment that they have

received the advice of the Surrey Police, together with that of the appropriate legal authorities

with no indication of what that advice consists of.

As a member of CCJ I find this response from CCJ disappointing, to say the least, if not thoroughly disingenuous. I can see no reason why CCJ should hide the truth of the matter like this and I now call upon them to issue a full and honest statement, acknowledging the CPS findings.

The police have declared the matter closed. Stephen has said that he wishes to see a line drawn under the matter. I call upon CCJ to do likewise. To fail to do so is a thoroughly reprehensible  act of moral cowardice.

… and an apology to Stephen for the distress caused by an unnecessary investigation would not go amiss either.

Voting for Change: YES to AV! May 5, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Campaigns, Current Affairs, Life, Watching and Waiting.
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YES to Fairer Votes

YES to Fairer Votes

TODAY’S THE DAY when we, the British people, get a chance to make a difference to British politics.

The YES campaign tell us it’s now or never, and in that they’re as guilty as the NO campaign in laying things on a bit thick. If we say no to change now, it doesn’t mean that the opportunity will never come around again: it may or may not; but I’m sure of this much — if we say no now, the chance for change is unlikely to come around again in my lifetime.

This year I turn 50. Just over three decades since I was given my first opportunity to vote — and in all that time my votes have been ignored, despite that fact that I’ve always voted with the majority against the party that’s ended up in power.

Yes, you read that right: I’ve always voted with the majority; and every time, a minority party, a party that most citizens in the UK didn’t want in power, has ended up in power. Because we’ve got a twisted, fundamentally unfair voting system called ‘First Past the Post’ that treats the majority of the British electorate as if we were, quite literally, runners in a race; and as a result of that, most of us get left behind. Our votes simply don’t count. Sure, they’re counted: but we’re the losers: goodbye. Imagine the ‘Weakest Link’ with only one round, where everyone except the first-round winner gets sent off first: we are the weakest link. Wouldn’t make much of a show, would it? So why do we allow it in politics?

TODAY we get the chance to ditch that system for ever … well, for as long as we don’t have another referendum and turn it all upside down again, but hopefully between us we’ve got enough sense not to do that. Today, we get a chance to bring in a fair voting system in which the losers lose but instead of having their votes swept away like writing in the sand when the tide comes in, their votes are picked up and recycled.

I like that: recycling. No wasted votes: everyone’s voice heard until, at last, a genuine winner emerges with more than 50% of the vote.

So today, I’m voting YES to AV … and hoping and praying that you will too, in this two-horse race, the only context where first past the post actually does make sense…

Broken Britain, Broken People: Less than One Month Before Heartbreak January 21, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health, Watching and Waiting.
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6 comments
One Month Before Heartbreak

One Month Before Heartbreak

BRITAIN IS BROKEN. Broken from top to bottom, by the people at the top trampling over the people at the bottom. Broken by a government so obsessed with its programme of cuts that they’ve become blind to the effect those cuts are having on people’s lives. Stampeding cattle panicked by the wolves of their predecessors’ incompetence, trampling the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable underfoot as they charge headlong towards only God knows where, rewarding failed bankers and ignoring the cries of the poor.

We are a nation betrayed, betrayed by those we pay to serve us. Taxed when we earn, taxed when we spend, taxed when we travel, taxed when we die — and for some that death may well come sooner than it should, death by a thousand cuts from an axe-wielding government which takes and takes … a voracious leech, sucking the very life from its host, the British people…

Purple Noise: The beginning of the end

Purple Noise - The beginning of the end

I suppose I could go on with the purple prose, but instead I’ll give you another pointer to Purple Noise, Ali Quant‘s blog, where Ali describes the living nightmare of battling with mental illness whilst contending with the changes to Britain’s benefits system: The beginning of the end. Perhaps you’ve already read it after my earlier post: then go read it again; if you haven’t read it, prepare to be shaken; and when you’ve been shaken, I hope you’ll be stirred to action. Because Ali is just one amongst many for whom this government’s mandatory reassessment for benefits entitlement is simply too much to bear, one amongst many who have a plan to ‘delete’ themselves, as Ali has expressed it: to commit suicide rather than face the horror of having the minutiae of their lives (re)examined by people whose only interest is in number crunching and balancing the books of a failed administration.

Let’s get this straight: mental illness is real; and it debilitates. It prevents people from working not because they are unwilling to work but, as much as anything, because many employers are unwilling, unable or are simply ill-equipped to deal with the effects of mental illness in their workforce (technically, of course, employers cannot discriminate; but how is a mentally ill person going to fight suspected discrimination?). It’s not the mentally ill person’s fault that they’re unable to work any more than it’s any other ill person’s fault; and contrary to some perceptions, mentally ill people are not malingerers or skivers. Diseases of the mind are every bit as real as diseases of the body, and just as physical illness often affects our ability to think, mental illness often affects the ability to do things, even basic things such as wash yourself, get dressed or respond to a hug. Body and mind, mind and body: the two cannot be separated.

Mentally ill people need their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) every bit as much as people whose illnesses or disabilities are physically plain to see. It’s not something they should have to fight for any more than we’d expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and fight for their wheelchair. But in just three weeks’ time, that’s exactly what’s going to be expected of them as the government’s consultation about DLA reform comes to an end halfway through February: on 14th February 2011, Valentines Day, to be precise. Courtesy of the UK Government, a day for lovers to celebrate has become a day of despair, a day of fear, darkness and heartbreak for thousands of people. It seems that as a nation we can afford to maintain a nuclear arsenal big enough to ravage the planet but we can’t — or rather, under the current regime, won’t — commit to providing for some of our most vulnerable people.

So what can ordinary people like you and me do? First, it seems to me, we need to make our views known to the government: although the consultation is aimed primarily at disability organisations and disabled people, the DWP have indicated that they would like to hear from anybody who is interested. Then let’s let them know! Let’s let them know that we’re not merely “interested” — we’re outraged! Outraged at the trauma this consultation is causing amongst the Broken of Britain, amongst Britain’s disabled people. Let’s let them know that they cannot, must not, discriminate like this, that we stand in solidarity with our disabled brothers and sisters!

Another example of the trauma: DLA, Danni, and Me – By Vicky Biggs.

Second: if you, like me, don’t trust this government to listen, we need to start setting up our own safety nets for people such as Ali who may drop out of the benefits system. That’s what my ‘200 People’ campaign is about, providing a safety net, in this case specifically for mentally ill people. I say ‘my’ campaign but I am thrilled to say that it is no longer mine: I kicked it off but others have seized the initiative and we’re now well on the way to setting up an official organisation, name to be announced shortly.

Will you stand with us? Will you stand with some of Britain’s most broken people? Will you join me in enabling the mentally ill community, in helping to erase the stigma of mental illness, in what is, for many, quite literally a fight for life?

The time is now: if you’re on facebook, please join our facebook group today. Although the group is still called ‘200 People to Save Ali Quant’ its remit has grown and it should be renamed and given a new description within the next few days: please watch this space for more info.

Thank you.

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