How extraordinary?

This morning the BBC Today programme brought together a bishop and a politician to discuss the pastoral letter to be published later today by the House of Bishops. The Daily Telegraph and others tell the bishops to stay out of politics because they are “left-leaning”.

Two problems here: (a) Nadine Dorries began her interview by saying she had not seen or read the document, but would comment and criticise anyway; and (b) the “church stay out of politics” line is so ridiculously silly – at so many levels – that it is heard simply as a tired cliche. If we are going to be criticised, let it be on the basis of fact, and let it be at least remotely intelligent and a little original.

The pastoral letter issued later today does not trot out a party line. It attempts to encourage engagement with politics by Christians and voting by them in the General Election. It specifically states that it is not telling people how to vote, and illustrates how fragile some political judgements can be.

Isn't it remarkable that a politician will admit to not having read something, have no idea what is in it, but still be confident enough to go ahead and comment on it?

And, pace the Telegraph, if bishops and other Christians are to keep out of politics, who else is to be excluded? Politics are about life and the stuff of life – which isn't the concern of Jesus or the Bible or ethics or relationships?

Verily, the mind boggleth.

When I got tweeted the other day from the BBC to ask for a comment about an article in the Church of England Newspaper, I hadn’t read the piece and didn’t comment (other than to ask if they know anyone who actually reads or takes seriously the CEN).

I have now read the piece in question and can’t believe (a) that it ever got written and (b) that the CEN actually published it. The editor claims he didn’t actually read the article, but would have asked for the language to be toned down if he had. Leave aside the question of an editor not reading what goes into his (very short) organ, but how did such an article ever get published anywhere?

Basically, it compares the gay lobby in the UK with the advance of the Nazis in the 1930s. It speaks of the ‘gay Wehrmacht’ and the ‘Gaystapo’. This sort of nonsense clearly doesn’t take seriously a rational, theological or humane argument about sexuality, but merely shocks by its sheer awful ineptitude.

You would have to be brain dead to write this stuff and think that anyone in their right mind would not think it outrageously stupid. What did the CEN think it was publishing it for? Or, for whom? It is less Allo Allo and more a mockery of the gruesome bits of Schindler’s List.

Alan Wilson has done a good piece on it, so I won’t repeat or rehearse it. This sort of thing needs to be ridiculed, not argued with. But, I will shine a light on it from a different angle.

World War Two ended in May 1945. British people haven’t moved on. Our sole point of reference for anything to do with Germany is that war. History teaching has been dominated for decades by Hitler and the rise of fascism from 1933-45. Our tabloids still invoke stereotypes from war comics every time we play Germany at anything sporting. The mocking chants at international football matches of ‘two world wars and one world cup – na na na na na’ demonstrate the poverty of our understanding and the puerility of our cultural references. This is not something we should be proud of.

It is why some of us are concerned to promote the learning and effective teaching of modern languages in the UK – and to urge a history curriculum that moves beyond the easy dramatics of the Nazi period and allows Germany to grow up. I wonder what any young Brits might understand of the thinking going on in Berlin about the Euro and the EU this week – incomprehensible without some understanding of German post-war development, economic structure, political sensibilities and cultural engagement.

When Alan Craig wrote his ridiculous article he obviously didn’t consider the reality of the Nazi experience in Europe or think about how his spurious and offensive comparison might be interpreted. Or maybe he did – which is far more worrying.

Suffice it to say, despite its name, the Church of England Newspaper does not reflect the Church of England most of us know. It should apologise.

I’m a bit rushed, but Bishop Alan Wilson (the original and best blogging bishop) has posted some excellent stuff in the last week or so. I just want to link them so they get a (hopefully) wider audience:

On Good Friday as well as quoting a poem he posed some questions about how we think of the Jesus who was crucified.

On Saturday he reviewed Philip Pullman’s new book under the title The Goodman Philip and the Scoundrel Pullman? In this post he takes seriously Pullman’s challenge to the institutional Church, but refuses to let the writer get away with easy correlations – commenting up as follows:

This is, culturally, a rather “C of E” style of ecclesiology. The Church is anything but perfect, but always in need of necessary reformation. This comes from its interaction with the society it serves, not some infallible magisterium. Its teaching is found to be authoritative insofar as it is authentic and recognizably transmits the story and values of Jesus as fully as possible. The Church is authentic insofar as it allows its every activity to be judged by the Carpenter of Nazareth. Infallibilism, along with other fundamentalisms, neutralizes this discipline to vanishing point, weakens accountability, and thus becomes compelling but dangerous fantasy — a mere playing at Church-by-numbers.

Then on Monday he posted a wonderful reflection on what needs to be termed ‘Dead Horse Theology‘ – bringing together questions about the institution of the Church in the light of Easter and the real Jesus for whom Pullman is waving a flag.

Today he has gone further and quoted chunks of the conversation on Start the Week between Pullman, the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Baddiel and Mona Siddiqui. Holding it up as a great example of intelligent discussion, he picks up the particular question of how the Jesus of the ‘Story’ can survive the ‘institution’ – precisely the point Pullman is questioning in his new book. He concludes:

The measure of its success is not that it swells into a mighty institutional empire, but that it is still possible, even after all the refractive and corrupting influence of the human beings who make up the transmission chain, to distinguish Jesus’ message from its original context, and to attempt to live it in another. The story continues to judge the medium through which it is transmitted. This is the key insight of the Reformation, and the essence a Reformed Catholic Church, to hold that the Church is always accountable to the Word and its original founder.

I make no further comment other than to commend these posts for your perusal.