Sunday, 25 November 2012

Entwistle and the BBC

Well I did promise a non-church post, but had to post about the Synod decision. Anyhow, a few weeks ago, George Entwistle resigned as the Director General of the BBC, in the wake of the Savile enquiry and the Newsnight programme. This raises some interesting questions.

Firstly, while it did seem initially that this was an acceptance of failings within his area, the financial settlement does cast suspicion on his motives. He has server a few weeks and been rewarded by half a million quid. It seems that he had other motives, and his resignation becomes blurred, with his motives being rather more flexible.

However, the real problem is the negativity attached to the BBC in all of this. Let me make clear, the poor journalistic decisions of one program are serious and need addressing: what is more, the possibility of the BBC having covered up the Savile scandals is problematic. There is some badness, some rot in parts of the organisation. As there is in all organisations.

The other side of this is that the BBC has produced over time some remarkable material. The dramas that they have produced in that last 2 years are a testament to the creative minds that exist in some parts of the organisation. The BBC website is a testament to what can be done with vision and imagination. The news output is also, as a rule, something we can be proud of, a source of largely independent information provision, that is highly regarded across the globe. Of course it is not without bias, but it does tend to be less so than many other news organisations. In many areas, it is the news source most trusted.

The danger is of tarring the entire corporation with one brush. No it is not perfect, but if we lose the BBC, we lose something extraordinary, something that is core to our culture. We lose something that is critical to the wider world too, the place that we, as a nation, hold in many other cultures. Yes it is critical to identify and root out the problems, the areas that threaten to tarnish this great organisation. But we must not lose the BBC, and all it stands for. If we do, we lose everything.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

General Synods rejection of Women Bishops

This is just a quick post noting that the General Synod has again rejected the measure to allow Women Bishops.

Some part of me is astounded that they cannot sort this out. The problem is that the church is being shown to be so far behind the times - there is no other area in life where this would be a matter of debate.

Of course, as some people have pointed out, it is not that Synod have rejected the principle of women bishops - they have accepted this. What they cannot do is agree the measure to allow it. Which does not make things any better.

I have tended to ignore this subject, for the simple reason that it is a pointless and meaningless debate. There is no reason for not having women bishops. I am all for it happening, if - a matter for debate itself - you have to have bishops. I just have no time for all of the stupidity that has surrounded the topic of late.

The impression this gives is that the church is not a place that has any relevance to the 21st century. That is my problem with this - I might not have a lot of time for the church as a whole, but when it insists on making Christianity seem stupid, I have a problem.

I also accept that for some people, women bishops is a problem. I accept and understand that, but I cannot see how that position has a place today. What is more, it does not have any real biblical support - the matter is not as simple as people seem to argue. And it is very damaging to women to constantly tell them that they are second class citizens - especially at a time when they constitute the majority of the church members.

There is a part of me, however, that thinks it is a good think that this has passed, because I suspect that Parliament may feel that they have to step in, and enforce equality legislation, and push the matter. I think it may, in the end, serve to give the Church of England the kick it needs.

On the other hand, it might be the final death knell of the Church of England. That is a real possibility.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Where are new Christians coming from?

It is a strange question, but one that I believe is a critical one for the church and the wider Christian community to address.

Now there was a report that church attendance figures had increased by 2% - I have searched for confirmation of this, but have not found it. There is some suggestion that there have been increases during the recession, which may well be the case. I am glad that some people, i a time or hardship, find some degree of solace in returning to the church - because that is what is happening, people who have attended churches in the past are returning for a while in a difficult time. These are not new people, and this does not change the overall trend, consistent over nearly a century, of decreasing church attendance.

What is more, church attendance figures are not the same as numbers of Christians.Not everyone who attends church would count themselves as Christian, and not everyone who would consider themselves a Christian goes to church. It is dangerous to equate these, or, for that matter, to equate either of these with a "more Christian country" and similar phrases, because to change the "Christian-ness" of the country requires influential and powerful people to be Christians, something that may happen and may be a result of less influential ad powerful people attending church, or may not. In all honestly, I do not see the power structures of the UK showing any signs of a more Christian approach.

But this is not the core question here, which is, where do we expect new people to encounter, engage with, and accept Christianity from? The days of big rallies with well known speakers like Billy Graham are past - and quite rightly, not because they were wrong, but because they are no longer appropriate or relevant. Churches, which used to do some work in the public gathering places, have tended to reduce this work for a range of reasons, not least because these public gathering places are not the same as they were. There are no places where everyone goes any more, that make sense to focus attention in that way. The world is a different place, the places of meeting, the means of making decisions and choices are different.

This presents an interesting challenge, which some Christian groups are trying to address, but many others are not looking at all - there is, I think, an unfortunate tendency for many groups to simply try the same things they have always done, just louder. The worry I have is that the Christian community is failing to bring new people in. Any new people are family members of existing people, or, as mentioned above, people returning to their faith in times of trouble. People will always leave, and often take their families - and definitely their family connections - with them.

So the question here is, how does the Christian community - church and non-church - bring new people into an engagement with God? People who are not part of any faith community at all - some of the hardest people to reach. How do we actually enable people to engage with God in the 21st century? The problem is that if we don't address this urgently, the community that can make this happen is shrinking, and the opportunities will slip away. The longer we leave it, the more family groups have no contact with the Christian faith at all, and the harder the job becomes.

And sorry that there have been a lot of church-specific posts of late. It is just that I have been made to think about church issues again of late. I tend to post whatever I want to explore, so it goes in cycles. This happens to be one of my current cycles, but I will return to other matters next post.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Why Justin Welby is irrelevant

I have some concerns about the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. To some extent, the problem is not with him, but with the role, but it is personified in Justin. I want to explore them here.

My first problem is that he has only been a bishop for a year. I am reminded of George Carey. Now I should say that I likes George Carey, and I think he made a good archbishop, in a difficult situation. It is significant that he saw through the ordination of women, which is a massive achievement, even though the agreement that they came to was and is extremely flawed - it is a start. I compare this with Rowan Williams, who is leaving before women bishops come into effect, and has skirted around the problem of gay relationships. This is not intended to sum up either of their archepiscopacies, just to note some differences.

The problem that Lord Carey had is that he never realised in his early days how to be an archbishop, because he had not yet learnt how to be a bishop - I have been told that it takes at least 2 years to learn the job. He struggled with the challenges of the role, and, I suspect, struggled especially with the 9/11 attacks, and the world change that was focused around that event.

Justin Welby has only been a bishop for a year. Now he has come from a senior position in an oil company, but there is nothing quite like the very public role of Canterbury, and I wonder whether he is up to that. I very much hope that he is, and I very much hope that he can use his skills and learn very quickly. Let me make it clear - I do wish him well.

However the biggest problem is that the role of Archbishop of Canterbury is becoming an anachronism. The process of choosing Welby has come in for some significant criticism - it is secretive and then the result was leaked early. It is not clear how the decision was made, what the basis of the decision was, why Welby was chosen. That opacity is, today, a problem. It reflects an opacity across much of the church, where the requirements for ministry - in any form - are not clear, defined or even consistent.

What it tells me is that the church actually does not know what is required for ministry. Being able and willing to tow the line, to fit in and conform, to provide appropriate theological insight and challenge, but only within the right constraints and framework. Not rocking the boat is, it would appear, the only clear requirement.

The problem I have is that Jesus rocked the boat. As did Paul, Peter - in fact most of the early church. I don't think anyone from the biblical writings we have would have made it into ministry today, and I don't think that most of the church leaders today would be leaders in the early church.

That is my problem with Justin Welby - that we are appointing people to a role in the church that is dying on its feet. Unfortunately, I don't believe that anyone in the role of Archbishop could make a real difference to that. And that is, at core, the biggest problem facing the church today. There is a real danger that either Welby or his successor will have to accept and preside over the death of hte church. I am not sure he is up to that.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The stages of church engagement

1. I'm a Christian, therefore I go to church
2. I am a Christian because I go to church
3. I am a Christian. I go to church because I find church is a helpful aspect of my faith
4. I am a Christian. I don't go to church because it is not helpful to me

These are not "growth stages" or anything like that. Some people - many people - will not go through all of them. Stage 1 may be very short. But what is interesting is what happens when the church is damaging and negative, and a person becomes disillusioned with it.

At stage 1, the response is liable to be "Maybe I don't understand this Christian lark. Forget it"

At stage 2, the response is liable to be "I no longer go to church, so I am probably no longer a Christian"

At stage 3, the response may be a move to stage 4.

The point here is that it is very difficult to move to stage 4 - to maintain a faith, and grow and develop your faith, if you have not reached stage 3, where church is helpful and positive, but your faith is not defined by church. Of course, defining and expressing your faith externally to the church, in fact, making church an optional extra to your faith, is extremely challenging to the power structures of the church.

The thing is, Jesus did not come to start a "church". He came to bring people to God. There was already a religious system and structure in place, so if his purpose was to produce another one, he would probably have started with the existing one. And probably not been so outspoken in his comments about it. The truth is that stage 3 is the point of maturity, where faith is something that may find church helpful, but is not dependent on it.

The church is helpful for some people, and not for others, in their Christian development. The important thing is that we engage with God, that our relationship or experience of God is important. Some things are helpful, others are not. We need to work out which is which, and not be told by others.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

We need to talk

"Step one you say we need to talk he walks you say sit down it's just a talk" - Lyrics from "How to save a life" by The Fray. These words "we need to talk" are enough to send a chill down the spine of most men - it is women who say it mostly, although not entirely.

The thing is, different people deal with issues and problems differently. Some people want to talk through the problems, whereas others don't - they appear to want to ignore them. However, this might not be the case - it might be that they don't see a problem, it might be that they are doing what they can to resolve it anyway. Talking it through is not always the best or right way to resolve problems.

I want to consider whether there is a biblical response to trying to resolve disputes or problems between people. The first place that most people refer to is "do not let the sun go down on your anger" - taken as a reasonable injunction to deal with things immediately. However, there are other issues involved. There is also a sense from the bible that considering others before yourself is important. Maybe we should look at St Paul who says "do not cause your brother to stumble".

There is, I think, a strong indicator towards just not saying anything, not saying anything, and just accepting the problems.

Then there is the bit about "if your brother sins, talk to him". Of course this relates to sin, not relationship problems. In particular, it relates to sins that are impacting the church. There is nothing in this that relates to how to handle someone who annoys you, somebody who doesn't behave as you expect or want.

I may be wrong, but my reading of the biblical approach is that you have to just accept that things are not perfect, and lump it. Change yourself, don't expect others to change. Maybe rant and rage about it in some other environment - not gossiping, just expressing your irritation - but in the end, the Christian way is to deal with it. People are not perfect, and we have to accept and work with them as they are.

I think that if we all did this, it would make life a whole lot easier.