Where is the humanity? Where is the mercy? October 6, 2015Posted by Phil Groom in 5 Quid for Life, Mental Health.
Tags: Daleks, Davros, Department for Work and Pensions, Doctor Who, DWP, Employment Support Allowance, ESA, Iain Duncan Smith, WCA, Work Capability Assessment
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EVEN DALEKS UNDERSTAND MERCY. But not, it seems, the DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions.
That’s the conclusion I reached this week as I signed yet another cheque from 5 Quid for Life for someone whose benefits have been axed after a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). No matter that they’ve been diagnosed with mental health difficulties which affect their ability to hold down a job: the DWP’s decision makers decided that they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid Employment and Support Allowance, ESA:
No matter that they’re out of work with no job prospects on the horizon: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.
No matter that this leaves them without enough income to live, without enough to cover the basics of rent, heating, utilities or even food: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.
No matter that finding work is hard enough for those who are fit let alone for someone being starved by the state: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.
Nothing matters, it seems, except the points scored on the WCA scorecard: score less than 15 and you may as well be facing a Dalek repeating its mindless mantra: Exterminate — or as pronounced by the DWP, ESAterminate.
This, my friends, is wrong. Worse than wrong, it’s evil. It dehumanises and degrades. It turns human lives into number crunching exercises — and for those whose lives are already blighted by mental illness, it drives them even further into depression and despair. It’s no wonder that ESA has been described as “the most bewildering, unfair and badly designed benefit since the abolition of the workhouse.” (Benefits and Work)
But it’s not only the victims it dehumanises: it also dehumanises the decision makers, turning them from fellow human beings into nothing more than DWP Daleks. Any compassion or care they may feel for their victims is overridden by the system as all discretion is taken away: the numbers are all that count. Like Clara Oswald locked inside that Dalek shell screaming, “I love you,” only to find her words translated by the Dalek interface into that nightmare word Exterminate, all they can do is fill in the blanks on their form letter and say, ESAterminate!
It’s strange: when I first started composing this post in my head, I was angry, more angry than words can express, angry at the DWP decision makers destroying people’s lives. But now, reflecting back over what I’ve said, that anger’s been ablated to something more like pity, pity for these DWP workers: I find myself wondering what it must be like for them at the end of their working day, knowing that they’ve successfully trashed yet another vulnerable person’s dignity? What kind of job satisfaction can there be in the knowledge that you’ve driven yet another person to the foodbanks? Or to suicide?
But more than the DWP Daleks endlessly repeating ESAterminate! ESAterminate! I pity their Davros, Iain Duncan Smith, and wonder what it must be like to be so lacking in the human graces of compassion and care? To have no understanding of mercy? To be responsible for so much destruction of hope and so many lives laid waste?
For in this, the real world, there is no time traveling Time Lord who can go back and show him mercy: there is only the dissolution of the present and the bleak landscape of a future in which there are no more benefit claimants to process because they’ve all been ESAterminated. Would that be the DWP’s final utopia, I wonder: a nation without people in need, created not by meeting their needs but by destroying the people?
Yes, I know there’s an appeals process: the ESAterminate letter says so. But the need is now, not in ten weeks time or however long that torturous process may happen to take (although if you’ve been ESAterminated, it’s definitely worth lodging an appeal).
The need is now — and that, my friends, is where you come in, lights in the darkness, driving back the despair to bring hope and life: as one of those 5 Quid for Life has helped recently expressed it, “You’ve restored my faith in humanity.”
Whether you’re supporting 5 Quid for Life financially or by sharing the word that the project is there, you’re making a difference. Please: keep that support coming and keep on sharing so that when the DWP strip away their support, the people who need a mental health safety net can find the help they need.
Tags: #GE2015, #VoteGreen2015, Every Vote Counts, Hope is possible, Politics of Hope
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And the song in my heart?
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and shame,
My hand will save…
That’s the version in my head, anyway. In the official version, that third line ends with the word “sin” but as I’ve approached this General Election, it’s not sin that’s been bothering me: it’s shame. The shame imposed on so many people by the Tory government whose reign of abject terror for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable is about, I hope, to come to and end.
I’m thinking of people like my friend Ros Bayes, whose Open letter to George Osborne posted back in April has had more than 800 facebook shares, more than 150 tweets and whose petition to Jeremy Hunt to stop asking families of disabled young people to discuss Do Not Resuscitate directives has attracted almost 1,000 signatures — but neither has received any response from its intended recipient.
I’m thinking of people like my friend Kimmie who writes at Stuck in Scared of the fear she feels for herself, her family and so many of her friends who dread the next WCA (Work Capability Assessment) coming around:
Many disabled people have had their lives turned upside down over the past five years – some have not survived the onslaught.
Vulnerable people, who (and I should know) are desperately afraid – deeply affected by right wing ‘scrounger’ propaganda, and increasingly concerned about their future.
People who’s symptoms of illness/disability (in many cases, including my own) have been greatly exacerbated by an overwhelming fear of the next WCA (Work capability Assessment)
An assessment interrogation that often ignores their own doctors opinion in a deliberate attempt to strip them of benefits.
Mentally ill people who are terrified by even the idea of having to expose themselves (face to face) at a ten minute (tick box) assessment (to a complete stranger) who is unlikely to be qualified to assess Mental Illness, and even less likely to empathise.
People who are despairingly aware, that even if they are lucky enough to pass the assessment, it won’t be long before the process begins again.
Many are self-harming, some feel/or have felt that suicide may be a better option than continuing to battle both debilitating mental illness/disability, and the ‘powers that be’.
I’m thinking of the people who find themselves depending on food banks, people hit by the bedroom tax who find themselves unable to pay their rent, who find themselves homeless and out on the streets, people who find themselves forced into underpaid part-time or zero-hours jobs. I’m thinking of some of my former supermarket colleagues recently made redundant with their livelihoods stolen by bosses who keep themselves on with multi-million-pound packages. I’m thinking of the mentally ill people who ask, desperately, for help from 5 Quid for Life as they’re hit by benefit sanctions that are supposed to motivate them into work but instead drive them into even deeper despair.
This is the reality behind the spin the Tories put out about their so-called “Welfare Reforms” and their much-vaunted support for “hard working people” — ordinary people, hard-working people doing their best to take care of themselves and their families, having the support they need stripped away, layer by layer, until nothing is left except desolation, despair and the possibility of a shame-filled death at their own hands.
So I went out this morning and I cast my vote. I voted Green because I believe in Britain, because I believe in the British people, because I believe in the politics of hope rather than the politics of despair, because I believe that a society in which proper care and support for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable is possible, because I believe that it’s possible to live in harmony with the world rather than rip it apart for selfish gain — because I believe in sharing and in the common good.
As I approach the end of this post, there’s another song playing in the background, this one from Coldplay via my iPad:
My song is love
Love to the loveless shown
And it goes up
You don’t have to be alone…
It gets to the heart of what this post is about, the message that I’d like to see our nation sending out to its most vulnerable people: you don’t have to be alone. The shame this government tries to impose upon you is a lie: hope is possible.
Whether that message gets home to the people who need to hear it is, of course, is down to you and me, the voters, as we cast our votes today. Please don’t waste the opportunity you have today by not voting. Get out and vote for what you believe in too; and when you do, I hope that afterwards, like me, you’ll feel a lightness in your step and a song in your heart — because every vote counts before the God who hears our cry.
This Generation January 24, 2015Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
Tags: 5 Quid for Life, Climbing the Ladder, Love, Strength, Strength in Weakness, Time for Change, Weakness
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TO WHAT shall I compare this generation?
To what shall I compare the strong of our nation?
They are like clowns, clambering to reach the top of a ladder, heedless of whom they trample in their race to the top; and when they reach the top — look out! The ladder falls! For those who should have been holding it up are gone, bleeding, wounded, dead, trampled to death by the very ones who needed them.
And then they do it all over again.
Wealth does not trickle down: it topples — again and again and they never learn.
What then can we do?
We can start again.
Those who are poor, those who are weak, those whom the wealthy have trampled: look not to the ladder but to one another. The ladder is a fool’s game: let it lie where it has fallen. Start again.
How, you ask? I say it again: look to one another. Behold the angel’s face in your brother, in your sister, in those weaker than yourself — for in their weakness lies your strength: lend them your strength and your strength will grow.
How, you ask?
Start small. £5 per month. Less than many spend in coffee shops each week: even you, perhaps?
You know my chosen cause: 5 Quid for Life, a mental health safety net. It saves lives. It provides crisis support for people who’ve had everything stripped away: finance, dignity, hope. Everything stripped away by a government so wrapped up in its austerity measures and so lacking in imagination that the only way they can see to offset the crimes of the rich is to punish the poor. If you’re not in that place, you’re only a hair’s breadth from it: do you think that if the company you work for falls, that if your business fails, this government will care, will help you to pick up the pieces of your broken life?
Not so, my friend, not so. Go read my friend Boudicca Rising’s latest 5 Quid for Life blog post: Where we are. As you read, reflect: it could be you.
The time has come. Time to get down off that ladder. Time to let it lie. Time to stop scrambling and fighting and trampling. Time, rather, to love. To give. To stand alongside the poor, the vulnerable, the weak and the outcast.
Lend the weak your strength and your strength will grow. Trample them underfoot and you will land face down, a fallen clown.
Which is it to be?
Choose wisely: choose life.
Finally: I understand that 5 Quid for Life may not be for you. There are many, many other worthy causes. If 5 Quid for Life is not for you, choose one of them. If you can, choose several; for the more you give, the more your strength will grow.
May God grant you grace and the wisdom you need.
GroomNews Christmas 2014 December 20, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Family, Life.
Tags: Christmas, GroomNews, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, Sue Groom
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WELCOME to another edition of our infamous annual newsletter, in which we shall attempt to entertain, inform and perhaps even enlighten you rather than bore you too much with the minutiae of our lives…
Don’t Shoot: Sue made a Canon!
That, beloved reader, is Canon spelt with a single ‘n’ in the middle and it’s essentially the Church of England’s equivalent of a New Year’s Honour, which Sue received from the Bishop of St Albans in March this year. Read the churchwardens’ announcement here: Revd Sue to become an Honorary Canon
Research Update: Paper delivered in Durham
Sue’s write-up of her research is proceeding in fits and starts as she struggles to balance it with the demands of her work as a parish priest and DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands). In June, however, she was able to give a paper at a research conference in Durham outlining some of her findings. It’s all about the use of the language of formation in ordination training: feel free to ask her if you want the details!
Almost passes Hull Survey
Last year it was the cabin sides and roof that received lots of TLC; this year it was the hull — and we’re delighted to report that after 25 years the deepest pitting in Almost’s 6mm steel plate proved to be only 0.6mm, so at this rate she should easily outlast us. Here she is in dry dock:
The weather was much kinder to us this year for yet another cruise along the Nene to Peterborough and back — and we even managed to fit in a day-trip on the Nene Valley Steam Railway: whoooo-whooooooooooo! Here’s Phil’s video:
Groom Family Weddings
It’s been another year of wedding bells ringing amongst our nephews and nieces: congratulations to Ben & Laura, Catherine & Pete and Andrew & Cheryl.
Online and Interactive
In between stacking the supermarket shelves, Phil’s been as busy as ever with his various online projects, including revamping our own church website (links below) and keeping the UK Christian Bookshops Directory updated, christianbookshops.org.uk. Find him on twitter @notbovvered or on facebook at facebook.com/philgroom if you’re incurably curious.
With our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in the coming year,
Do I look sane to you? June 11, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Mental Health, Music, Short Story.
Tags: Creative Writing, Inside Phil's Head, Trigger Warning, Workplace Music
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DO I LOOK SANE TO YOU?
No, don’t turn away: look me in the eye and tell me. Do I look sane to you?
C’mon, it’s not that hard a question… ah, I get it: you need another drink. Don’t worry, this one’s on me — waiter, over here please! What will it be? Really? Sure, no worries: iced water for my friend here, please; another Guinness for me. Thanks.
So c’mon: whaddaya reckon? Ah, I see: you’re scared. Scared in case you give the wrong answer and I react badly. Well there’s no need to be, that ain’t gonna happen. It’s a long time since I killed anyone, 2,000 years give or take, another life, might as well have been another world too, y’know, and anyway it was perfectly legal. Horrible way for someone to die, though.
Look, it’s OK: even if I did pull a gun, it wouldn’t be you on the wrong end of it, it’d be me. At least it would silence the voices. There are at least three of us in here so yeah, it’s kinda crowded, but apart from when we argue we get on OK, and that’s the only time the gun ever comes out.
Huh? Yes, yes, I have got a gun. Well no, not me: she has; but she’s not in control right now, I am, so we’re safe. No, I haven’t got it with me right now, we left it at home: if ever she does use it, it won’t be somewhere public like this, we never bring it out. She’s laughing now: says she wouldn’t use the gun, she’d use a knife. Nothing wrong with this body, she says, that she couldn’t put right with a sharp knife. Yeah, I wince when she says that too, you’ve got the idea.
Her name? Seriously? You want to know her name? Sorry, mate, but if I tell you that, odds are you’ll start talking to her instead of me, then she’ll be in control. That’s where it starts, y’know: get control of the voice and you’ve got control of the whole body. Scary. Best if you let me stay in control, I’m the sensible one.
Yeah, you’re right, never get lonely. Chance’d be a fine thing. It’s the music that did it, tipped the balance I mean. I was perfectly happy bashing away at things, as y’do, getting on with the job, just the usual background noises of the factory and other workers down the assembly line. Then they decided we needed music to cheer us on so they started piping it over the PA: a repetitive mix of noisy, thumping rock and mind-numbing pop with the odd bit of hip-hop/rap stuff thrown in, same tracks over and over and over, day in, day out.
How many days? Four’s the regular shift — four on, three off, round and round, week after week. Long shifts, yeah: ten hours plus. Works well for the business, though, means they can keep it going 24/7. Kinda dull but a good crew, friendly, mostly part-timers; easy-going management too, long as we hit our targets. Ha! That’s a laugh: hit our targets! That’s what made us think of the gun: shoot out the PA system, restore the silence. “Go on,” she said, “do it.”
“No way,” I said. “Yeah, we’ll get the silence back, but they’ll throw us out. Then what’ll we do? Not many jobs around here; and pull a stunt like that and no one will take us on.”
“So what?” she said. “We’ve been saving for years, can live off that.”
“Live where?” I said. That shut her up, for a few minutes anyway. Coz if we did that, we’d be out of a home as well as a job. So we didn’t. But hell, yeah: would’ve loved to’ve done it, would’ve showed the management a thing or too. Thing is, it’s not the music itself: we love music, we’ve got our songs that we sing. But we sing them in here, and this stuff, it was pushing them out, taking over. Earworms, y’know? Intrusive at work, invasive after. Relentless, stealing our minds. Yeah, minds. Don’t look at me like that, I’ve seen that look too often: “Got a right one here, haven’t we?” That’s what you’re thinking, innit?
*Sigh* … well, I guess you’re right. Question now is, what do we do? The gun’s a no-no, I know that: don’t want to get locked away. We’re thinking maybe give them a recording studio. No, the songs: if we can build a space for them in here, shut them away in their own soundproof space, then they can get on with it without disturbing us. That’s the dead guy’s idea. Yeah, he’s in here too, the guy I killed. Says he used a similar sort of technique when we killed him, was the only way he could manage the pain. He’s OK with that now, says shit happens, death comes to us all, life and death. Lord, let me die while I’m alive, not when I’m already dead. That’s the thing, innit? To die while you’re alive. Like I said, three of us, plus the visiting band now. Nah, nah, it’s OK — don’t need another, but you go ahead.
Sleep? Nah, not getting much at the moment, not with all this stuff going around and around. It’s like a cross between musical chairs and the Magic Roundabout in here, round and round, up and down, wheeeeeee! You have to love it, I guess. Makes it hard to focus, though. Yeah, went to see the GP; no appointments available when I called. Then I got this email from the gaffer, said they’d turn the music off or turn down the volume, that was a relief. Was dreading going back in next week.
Counselling? Well there’s an organisation we can refer to, but they said they couldn’t help with this one, suggested I try ACAS. Emailed Mind too, but got no reply. I think they like people to phone, but I hate phones, you’d think they’d understand that. So we’re gonna go with the dead guy’s idea, build them their own little space. I’m picturing it now, complete with a stage, but behind soundproof glass. Yeah, reckon that’s gonna work.
Really? You think so too? And you think I’m perfectly sane? After all this? Straight up, no kidding? OK, thanks for that. It’s been good. See you again sometime. Dead guy thinks you’re OK by the way. So does she. Hell, yeah, so do I, so apart from the band, that’s more or less all of us. Cool, man. Enjoy the rest of your evening.
Epitaph for an Archbishop? For fear of sailing over the edge of the world, he never put out to sea April 7, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
Tags: Africa, Archbishop of Canterbury, Equal Marriage, Fear, Homophobia, Justin Welby, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage
NO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY hasn’t died; but he does seem to be doing a remarkably good job at digging his own grave, at least insofar as establishing good relations with the LGBTI community is concerned. In February — on St Valentine’s Day, to be precise — together with the Archbishop of York he signed off the House of Bishops’ now notorious Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage; last month he appeared to signal an end to the Church of England’s opposition to same sex marriage but offered no lessening or withdrawal of the restrictions placed upon clergy in that Pastoral Guidance; and now this month, in a phone-in on LBC radio (full transcript), he has outlined some of the thinking behind his own resistance to change: if the Church of England recognises same sex marriage, Christians in Africa will die.
This is flat earth thinking at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view), refusing to put out to sea for fear of sailing off the edge of the world — in this case, the refusal to put out to sea being the Archbishop’s resistance to same sex marriage in the Church of England and the edge of the world being Africa and the fear of further atrocities by extremist homophobes.
It’s the kind of slippery slope reasoning typified by the so-called Coalition for Marriage, C4M, driven by their fear of unintended consequences, and the moral equivalent of refusing to offer sanctuary to Jews during the Second World War for fear of Nazi reprisals; of refusing to take a stand against racism in apartheid South Africa for fear of worse oppression; of arguing that women ought not to be educated in the UK for fear of Taliban reprisals in India; or refusing to speak out for Palestinian land rights for fear of Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes — the list could go on and on, as the atrocities surely will, for those whose hearts are full of hate will always find reasons to justify their evil.
The dangers are real: all of these fears have at least some validity, but allowing them to hold sway over our decisions is not the way of Christ, who gave his own life rather than capitulate to prejudice and hate; more than that, who called his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That Christians will die is a given, given by Christ himself, but that does not make the scenes the Archbishop has witnessed any less a tragedy.
Archbishop Justin Welby is a man with a massive heart, a heart for the poor, for the oppressed and the underdog, evidenced most recently by the launch of the Listen to God: Hear the Poor initiative with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. As I noted with reference to the House of Bishops, he is right in what he affirms, but wrong in what he denies: he is right to be appalled and he is right to call us to awareness of possible global consequences; but he is wrong to allow fear of those consequences to counter right action. Refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong paves the way for evildoers to continue with their evil and it can never be the way of Christian thinking or living: to quote Kes (aka Rebel Rev), the priest who asked the question that led to the Archbishop’s remarks, “What Justin said put the power in the hands of the oppressors and those who wield violence.” (Rebel Rev lives up to her name).
But here in the Church of England in England, this leaves us with a deep seated problem: we have an Archbishop who has publicly stated his belief that sexual relations are for marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman, but who also says that there must be no predetermined outcomes to the Church’s ongoing conversations about human sexuality; who has signed off a document — the Pastoral Guidance — that denies his fellow priests the right to follow their conscience but which caters specifically to his own; and the reason the conservative conscience must take priority over the progressive conscience is fear.
Thus we have an Archbishop who perceives himself not as refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong but as refusing to sanction what he believes to be wrong and backing up that refusal for fear of possible consequences elsewhere, exacerbated further by a failure to recognise his attitude as homophobic: homophobia kills; he and the House of Bishops merely hold reservations. He most likely would not recognise this statement, but it is as if he has said, “Let us show solidarity with Africa’s homophobes in the hope that they will see that our homophobia is nicer and moderate their behaviour accordingly.” And that, of course, will never work: instead, Africa’s homophobes will — indeed, do — perceive the Church of England’s position as weakness whilst theirs is strength. Thus holding back on full equality here in England has the very opposite effect to that which ++Justin hopes for: rather than moderate their behaviour, Africa’s homophobes dig in their heels, turn up the heat and expect us to follow their lead.
There can only be one way through such a brick wall and that is enlightenment by God. That enlightenment will come, as it came for me, when those opposed to equal marriage see that their fear and prejudice are groundless. It will come not by our screaming, shouting, denouncements and ad hominem attacks against a man caught between the cliff of conservative resistance and the tide of progressive opinion but rather by our willingness to follow Christ regardless of personal cost, by our willingness to show love, to show the better way.
It will come not by calling for ++Justin Welby’s resignation but by prayerful engagement; by those in favour of equal marriage demonstrating that God is, indeed, with us; that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of LGBTI believers in exactly the same way as in the lives of all other Christians; by showing that God does not condemn but accepts all of us just the way we are, regardless of sexual orientation; and further, that God does not curse but blesses those committed to loving, faithful marital relationships, regardless of gender difference or identity.
Christ’s message is twofold: first of all, he bids us trust in God, fear not, for he is in the boat and it won’t go down; but then comes another storm and another challenge: suddenly he is not in the boat but out there in the storm, inviting us, like Peter, to risk all, to step out of the boat and walk with him among the wind and the waves of uncertainty. It is as if he says, Who dares wins — but not so, for Jesus says, Who loves wins; it is love that conquers fear, it is love that brings courage, it is love that wins.
Pray, then, with me for Archbishop Justin’s eyes to be opened. Pray that he will discover that love which drives out all fear, and in particular drives out his fear of where it might all end, his fear of sailing over the edge of the world — for the world is not flat, as some suppose, and the answer to that question of where it will all end is this: back at home, when we have circumnavigated the globe (not without some adventure, danger and yes, even death, along the way) and returned to safe harbour, to Jesus himself, the one who is Lord of the Church and who is able, more than able, to keep his Church from falling.
And pray too for our brothers and sisters in Africa…
Some Responses and Reactions Elsewhere
- Rt Revd Marc Andrus, A word on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statements
- Claire George, [Opinion] What did Justin Welby say about Africa and Gay people?
- Savi Hensman, Archbishop of Canterbury, equal marriage and safety of Africans
- Symon Hill, Welby, homophobia and the lives that are at risk
- Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, You condemn it, Archbishop
- Revd Rachel Mann, Justin Welby, Homosexuality and Unintended Consequences
- Revd Susan Russell, Archbishop of Canterbury chooses pathetic over prophetic
- Gillan Scott, Justin Welby’s debut radio phone-in was a breath of fresh air
Petition by Revd Mark Kenny to @C_of_E’s House of Bishops to rescind their opposition to equal marriage and take back their recent Pastoral Guidance March 10, 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
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- Rescind their opposition to equal marriage
- Take back their recent Pastoral Guidance
- Create a Church where all are welcomed
If you share these concerns and haven’t already signed Mark’s petition, please sign it today:
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,
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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
- Posts on Marriage Equality / Same Sex Marriage by Tobias Haller
- 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