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Progressive Christianity Network AGM

This weekend I enjoyed a train trip up to Birmingham to attend the AGM of the Progressive Christianity Network.  It’s the first time I had been to this event and didn’t really know what to expect, apart from previous experiences of other AGMs leaning towards the tedious.

In fact this was a very enjoyable afternoon. 65 people in attendance with a chance to make some new friends over lunch before starting the proceedings.  The business part of the meeting took place first: Election of officers, finances, reports etc. Once that was all out of the way we split into sub groups to discuss a variety of subjects and I found myself in a small group discussing how PCN members can make better use of social media platforms.  As an avid tweeter this was home ground for me, but a couple of our other members were quite new to the whole concept.

The whole group reconvened for a plenary session to discuss issues raised by the various groups and it was a good opportunity to hear from a broad selection of the members.

It was great to meet Adrian Alker at last. I picked up a copy of his book ‘Is A Radical Church Possible‘ and added it to my already too large pile of books to be read.  I’ll get round to it. Adrian also expressed an interest in coming to address our PCN group at Cardiff so we’ll be fixing up a date soon.

I brought home a box of resources for our group. PCN have recently released a set of four leaflets to be given to friends or used in churches.  These are titled ‘An Introduction To The PCN Groups Network’, ‘An Introduction To Our Eight Points’, ‘Helping Churches To Share A Progressive Faith’ and ‘Helping You To Live A Progressive Christian Faith’. These are an excellent little series of leaflets, I’ll be distributing them to our group, if you’d like a set please get in touch and I’l be happy to send them.

I’ve been grateful for the friends at PCN over the last twelve months or so and look forward to future events.  Next major conference is with Robin Meyers in Bristol on May 13th. Details here.

Thoughts about Trump and ‘the ban’

atheistEarlier today I was having a little mooch through Twitter, like I do most days (OK every day!). One of the authors that I follow there is Frank Schaeffer. Frank is the author of the book ‘Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God’, a book which I found quite profound. Frank has also had quite a lot to say on Twitter about President Trump. This morning I read one of his tweets about the ‘Muslim Ban’, I found myself in agreement with the content of the tweet, so (as is the trait of the Twitter user) I hit the ‘retweet’ button.

Another of my Twitter friends is a man that I met a few years ago, a man with whom I share a set of interests and values, however politics is an area where we differ quite radically. On a few occasions we have exchanged views on Twitter, sometimes these exchanges have been a bit ‘testy’.

Today this friend responded to my retweet with the question ‘how can it be “Muslim Ban” when India, with 172m Muslims’ isn’t on the list of banned nations?’ My initial response, to be fair, was a little sharp.

The problem with Twitter is that it’s very difficult to have a proper discussion on any subject in 140 characters, hence these discussions can quickly descend into arguments. So I thought I’d take a look at the question and put some thoughts down, I’m no expert in this matter, these are just a few musings.

So, as my Twitter friend pointed out 172m Muslims is a lot to ignore, so I decided to take a look at some stats.

There are indeed 172 million people in India identifying as adherents of Islam. According to the 2011 census this equates to 14.2% of the population.

Let’s have a look at each of the seven countries that are listed in Trump’s 90 day ban.

The population of Iran is 77.45 million. 99.4% of the population are Muslim

The population of Iraq is 33.42 million. 95% of the population are Muslim

The population of Libya is 6.2 million. 97% of the population are Sunni Muslim

The population of Somalia is 12.3 million. 99.8% of the population are Sunni.

The population of Sudan is 38 million. 97% of the population are Muslim

The population of Syria is 22.85 million. 90% of the population are Muslim

The population of Yemen is 24.4 million. More than 99% of the population are Muslim.

So no, Trump’s ban does not exclude all Muslims, just those from these seven countries that are almost exclusively Muslim. It’s hardly surprising, is it, that this has been widely interpreted across the world as a ‘Muslim Ban’?

The people who will suffer most from Mr Trump’s actions are the people who have had to flee from their own countries in fear of their lives. Often leaving everything they own behind and being separated from their families. In short the people who will suffer most are the refugees.

America has long called itself a Christian country. The American Evangelical Christians were major supporters of Trump’s campaign. Trump stated categorically in one of his election addresses that the Bible was his ‘favourite book’.

deuteronomy-10-19It’s a pity then that neither he, nor apparently any of his supporters, have read, for instance, Deuteronomy 10:19, or any of the countless other references in the Bible in which God reminds his people how they were once exiles, refugees and strangers in a foreign land and instructs his people to show compassion to the refugee.

OK, so reading the above text back I’ve realised that I’m coming across as a self-righteous, lefty, liberal twat. Honestly that wasn’t my intention. I’m no politician and it’s a simple task to Google ‘how many Muslims in XXX?’.

People, please feel free to vote for whoever you want and support the policies of whoever you want, that is democracy. When you live in a democratic country the vote doesn’t always go the way that you wanted it to go, sometimes you have to accept that the majority of people (or sometimes not the majority, depending upon how your electoral system works), feel differently than you do about how the world should work. But at least you can have the freedom to disagree openly, you may not always agree, even with your family and friends, that is fine, just please don’t stop standing up for what you believe to be right.

To my Twitter friends. Frank Schaeffer, thank you for your insight and wisdom, please keep doing what you do, and to the other friend mentioned above, whose name I purposely left out, please keep challenging me too and let’s try not to shout at each other too much. I’ve got the feeling that you might feel differently about some of Mr Trump’s other ideas.

 

 

My book list to start off 2017

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I’ve got a bookshelf near my bed and I generally buy more books than I’ve got time to read. At the start of the year I sorted out this pile that led reading, once I’ve finished the three or four that I’m already reading at the same time.

Looking at the titles I guess this is a clear indication of the way my spiritual life has been going for several years now.  My Christian faith has always been important to me, but in recent years has become much more liberal and progressive and I find myself reading authors like those above.

Peter Enns books ‘The Sin Of Certainty’, ‘The Evolution Of Adam’ and ‘The Bible Tells Me So’ have been a welcome refuge for me so I’m looking forward to ‘Inspiration And Incarnation’.

I recently finished ‘Falling Upward’ by Richard Rohr and have just bought ‘The Divine Dance’ an examination of the nature of God from his uniquely mystical stance.

There are a couple of C.S. Lewis books in there which  my nephew bought for me in Hay On Wye. I’ve read much of Lewis’ work before and will enjoy revisiting these.

The books on sexuality and gender are of interest because of the passion that I have to see all people welcomed into the body of Christ. Inclusion and equality are Christlike traits that we need to pursue.  Equal marriage is only one of the issues that the church needs to address in this area, but it’s a big one.

No doubt more titles will be added soon and some of these books will still be on the pile next year, but I’m getting there.

Progressive Christianity Network, Cardiff

pcnA year or so ago I was invited to a small group that meets regularly in Cardiff. The group is part of the Progressive Christianity Network of Britain, a small organisation of people who are seeking an open and contemporary approach to their faith.

The Cardiff group meets twice a month in a church in Pontprennau. There are usually around 8-10 of us at the meeting which is centred around a visiting speaker, video presentation or discussion idea.

It’s been a refreshing and thought provoking time for me at the group. I don’t always agree with the ideas that come out of it, but I think that’s kind of the point, all the members have come to progressive thought via a different path.  In my own church I’m a raging liberal with funny ideas, whilst at PCN I feel more like a conservative trying to hold on to the reins.

At the start off 2017 I will be taking over as the convenor of the group, which sounds very grand, but really just means that I will be facilitating the evenings and booking speakers.

I’ve lined up a few interesting speakers already, here are some of the forthcoming evenings

17th January – Fair Trade In Wales: Aled Pickard and John Mathias

21st February – Some Christians are trans, what does that mean?: Elaine Sommers

21st March – The Dategrove Group: John Henson

Other speakers have yet to confirm topics and I have a few video evenings lined up too.

The group meets at 7:30pm on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Pontprennau Community Church. If you would like to come or want to be added to the mailing list please email me

 

 

A random act of kindness idea.

Do with this whatever you like, it’s just an idea

We often see homeless people in and around the streets of our town, and pretty much anywhere we go in the country.  We’re always reluctant to give them money when we don’t know the back story and there isn’t always time to get to know them, but we like to help them out with some food when possible, so that at least for that day they have had something to eat.

Recently we were in a well known bakery chain, buying a coffee and snack for a guy for breakfast. We noticed that this particular bakery chain sells plastic gift cards that you can preload with some money.

*light bulb moment*

Bought one for a fiver, gave it to the bloke, now he’s fed for the day.

We’re not naive enough to believe that this solved all his problems and we are involved in other ways of helping the homeless, such as a local night shelter. But for this one bloke, on this one day, for an affordable amount, we made a small difference.

So…

I went back to the well known bakery chain and bought four of them. We’ve now got two each in  our wallet/purse. Prepared for the next such occassion. In fact I gave another one away today.

We’re only writing this to suggest it as an idea, not for any praise (or criticism), it’s not a perfect idea by any means, just a random act of kindness.

Matthew 25:40

Thoughts on Abigail Austen’s documentary

This week my wife and I watched Abigail Austen’s Channel 4 documentary ‘My Trans American Road Trip’, an hour-long journey into some disturbing territory.

The primary focus of the documentary was the controversial ‘bathroom bill’ that has been passed into legislation in certain parts of the USA. The law states that transgender people, when out and about in public buildings, are only allowed to use a public toilet for the gender that they were born with. It is a tragic abuse of the human rights of a group of people who have suffered prejudice and harassment from all avenues during their whole of their lives.

The bill has caused huge amounts of controversy across America and has become a key factor in the current electoral atmosphere, with both leading parties having much to say on the subject.

If you don’t already know, Abigail Austen is a transgender journalist, the first British army officer to undergo full gender reassignment. During the show she interviewed many outspoken proponents of the bill, graciously trying to understand their point of view, whilst challenging their preconceptions. She visited churches, businesses and was even interviewed on a radio chat show.

At this stage let me reiterate the fact that I’m a Christian, I’ve been involved with the church for the whole of my life, ‘became’ a Christian (in the sense that many Christians would understand) aged eighteen (1982) and was baptized in 1985. My wife has been a Christian for even longer than me and we wrote this post together.

Unlike much of the Christian church, we passionately believe in the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people to equality, inclusion, equal marriage, equal employment and the freedom to live without fear. We also sincerely believe that this is a Christ-like approach; Jesus is all about inclusion, love and compassion.

As such it appalled us to see the hatred and fear that was being expressed during this broadcast by so much of evangelical, conservative, right wing America. Pulpit thumping preachers shouting about the evils of transgender people and exhorting their congregation to punish their children physically if they expressed homosexual tendencies, Christian businessmen pontificating about how ‘God cannot compromise himself’ and using such vague statements to reinforce their standpoint of prejudice. Christian parents feeling the need to ‘guard’ the doors of public lavatories whilst their children are using them, just in case a transgender person tries to use them at the same time with the motive of accessing and sexually abusing the child. Thus assuming that transgender people are sexual predators. Surely if a transgender lady were to use a male toilet they would be in serious danger of being sexually abused themselves.

All of this behaviour is extremely frustrating to us. We are part of a group that is campaigning for equal marriage in churches in the UK, and there is still much opposition to that move.

We grew up in the Baptist tradition, which encourages its members to study the scriptures personally and prayerfully in context, where disagreement takes place we should seek to respect the others point of view, however the extremist point of view expressed by these supposedly Christian people is well beyond the pale.

It is exactly for reasons like this that I cannot apply the label ‘evangelical’ or ‘conservative’ to my Christianity. These words carry so much negative baggage with them. This is not true Christianity; the hand of Jesus reaches out and offers unconditional love. A fundamentalist approach is dangerous; it breeds contempt, segregation and a superiority complex. It lacks love, peace and understanding and in no way reflects the real ethos of Jesus.

Thank God for the progressive Christian movement, with all its flaws, uncertainties, doubts and scrabbling for direction, we are at least seeking positive ways forward based on a more inclusive understanding of the world.

If you want to watch Abigail’s documentary it’s at

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-trans-american-road-trip

Be warned you may find the ideals and attitudes of the church leaders represented upsetting. We do not want you, or anyone to believe these people represent the real Jesus or us as Christians. They claim that LGBT people will be judged and condemned, we truly believe anyone who preaches this prejudice and poison is not representative of the Bible or Jesus.

Your comments welcome below, I welcome all input, but please don’t tell me I’m going to Hell, because I’m getting sick of being told that all the time!

 

Christian Aid Week 2016

Once again this year our home church, St Julians Baptist in Newport, took part in Christian Aid week. I’ve been the Christian Aid Rep for quite a few years now and every year we run a series of events for people in the church and in the local community.

This year we ran some old favourites and tried a couple of new things too. As always we had a team quiz, accompanied by tea and cake (pretty much everything is accompanied by tea and cake). Other events included a plant sale, a sponsored walk across the old Severn Bridge and a Handbell recital at a local garden centre.

My favourite event this year was the Scalextric Rally, four fantastic practice circuits and a digital timed track with prizes for the best times.

Christian Aid Week actually lasts about six weeks for us usually by the time we get all our events in and this year we raised over £1200.

I’ve included a few action shots from the Scalextric. Looking forward to next year

IMG_0985 scalextric - 1 (2) scalextric - 1 scalextric - 1 (1)

 

 

Scalextric Challenge for Christian Aid Week

CA-RED-RGBEvery year at our church we host a series of events for Christian Aid Week. We’ve had quizzes, sponsored walks, games, plant sales, cake sales, and loads of other stuff too.

This year we’ve got what is potentially my favourite ever event for Christian Aid Week.

Our HUGE Scalextric Challenge.

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On June 11th at the church we are hosting an afternoon of fun and competition with a MASSIVE Scalextric challenge.

We’re going to build a replica of Brands Hatch. There will be a separate practice circuit and the official track will be digitally timed with prizes for the overall winner.

brands-hatch-map

Full details at the official Scalextric Challenge site. Please come along and support it, the more the merrier.

 

The Baptist Union and Same Sex Marriage

For a few years now I have been concerned with equal rights and inclusivity for LGBT people in the church. I was very happy to see the legalisation of same sex marriage in the UK in 2014 and since that time I have been actively interested in pursuing the acceptance of the LGBT community in churches, and the willingness of churches to register for same sex marriage and put right the prejudices that have been practiced for centuries.

I’ve spent most of my life as part of the Baptist church in the UK. For the most part a traditional denomination that holds quite conservative views on the matter. There are a small number of Baptist churches in the UK that have chosen to register their premises for same sex marriage, and a slightly larger number that would call themselves ‘inclusive’ in the sense that they welcome LGBT people as equal and active members of the church and embrace their sexuality as a natural and God-given part of their individuality.

It’s been hard work for me to be a part of the Baptist church with the views that I hold. In our own church there are some others who share my views, some who certainly don’t and a lot of people floating about in the middle somewhere. I’ve had a few disagreements with the leadership at the church over this issue and for the last few years have felt very uncomfortable there. I’ve wanted to leave on several occassions but have stuck around most of the time for the sake of friendships and because my wife didn’t want to move to a new church and start again.

On the subject of same sex marriage, the position of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in recent years could be summed up like this:

1. They hold to what they call a “Biblical Understanding” of marriage as a union between one man and one woman and call Baptists to live in the light of it.

2. As Baptist churches are governed by their individual church meeting and not by the Union itself, any Baptist church whose members vote in favour of registering the premises for same sex marriage is free to do so, with the understanding that the union itself holds to the principle as shown above.

3. Similarly any minister who wishes to do so, may carry out same sex marriage in accordance with the wishes of their church ‘where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.’ (that is genuinely what they have published)

4. However, any Baptist minister who enters into a same sex marriage as a partner themselves will be deemed to subject to discipline as this is considered ‘conduct unbecoming for a minister’. If you want to see how seriously they take this, take a look at the list of other offences considered ‘unbecoming conduct’. You can find it on page 13 of the Ministerial Recognition Rules published in June 2015. 

I have been hoping that in light of recent conversations at Baptist Assembly and taking into account the 2013 legislation that the Baptist church would begin to take a more progressive line. However a statement issued in March 2016 appears to negate any immediate hope of that.

The Council statement reaffirms the commitment to the “Biblical Position” as outlined previously. Whilst the tension of diversity of opinions is recognised the statement goes on to ‘humbly urge churches who are considering conducting same sex marriages to refrain from doing so out of mutual respect’.

I failed to see the humility in this statement, in fact I was furious when I read it. It seems to be a giant leap backwards rather than even a small step forwards.  It is wrapped up in nicety but reading betwen the lines I can’t find any hope in it at all. The statement calls for affirming churches to act out of mutual respect, but no such respect is being shown to them in return.

It has left me wondering whether I can continue to be a part of the Baptist movement at all. In all good conscience, can I support an organisation that I believe is acting unjustly towards people who have historically been marginalised and have only recently started to achieve respect and equality. Surely we should be holding out a welcoming and inclusive hand to all.

I hope that I can stay at my local church and continue to be an advocate for equality, it’s difficult and I’m not someone who makes dramatic gestures or shouts his mouth off in the church meeting. I just hope to be a quiet and consistent voice for progress.

Andy

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