This is the basic text of a sermon I preached this morning to the judges, magistrates and diverse lawyers of Bradford at the so-called Legal Service at Bradford Cathedral. Not many jokes. And, to those on Twitter who asked if all the other services I do are illegal, I just call for a moment’s silence…

LEGAL SERVICE BRADFORD

You don’t have to be a Christian or a Jew to recognise that the English legal system is based on and derived from the Judeao-Christian tradition seen in the Scriptures. Justice lies at the heart of God’s character and is measured by how the powerful and the powerless are treated in society.

If you break justice, you are left with just ice. So says Scouse poet and Radio 4 presenter Stewart Henderson. I am glad he has come to that realisation as one of my earliest memories of him was being beaten up by him and Billy Mason when I was nine. Not that it still hurts, you understand…

wpid-Photo-17-Aug-2011-2351.jpgThe point he makes in his poem is a suggestive one: it is a cold world where justice is a commodity to be bought and sold, or where lip service is paid to justice, but it has become a means of privilege to those who either are powerful or have the skill to manipulate it.

I speak here from experience – not here in Bradford, I hasten to add, or even in England. In my previous post as Bishop of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark I had a close link with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Some years ago the then Bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, tried to take control of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, was deposed from his post – and no longer recognised by the Anglican Communion as a bishop in the church – and, declaring UDI from the wider church, took possession of all the assets and finances of the Diocese of Harare. Of course, he didn’t do it alone: he used armed henchmen to attack anyone who tried to gain access to churches, threw out clergy and their families from their homes if they had not supported him, and, with unchallengeable hubris, declared war on the province, the Archbishop of Canterbury, all colonialism (which was defined as disagreeing with him) and anyone who stood in his way.

The problem with Dr Kunonga, however, was that he was backed by Robert Mugabe, who rewarded his faithfulness by awarding him expropriated white-owned farms and full support in the public sphere. And the public sphere included the system of law. Even when the courts found against Kunonga, the police and security services simply ignored the courts and defended the status quo.

It was evident, in all the complexities of my engagement with Zimbabwe, that no progress would or could be made in rebuilding the economy or renewing politics until the rule of law was re-established and allowed to stand at the heart of Zimbabwean life. To twist the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Where there is no justice, the people perish.”

wpid-Photo-15-Jan-2013-1056.jpgHaving moved from Croydon and a link with Zimbabwe, I am now in Bradford where our diocesan link is with the five dioceses of Sudan. I had hoped for somewhere like the Bahamas this time round, but Sudan is now beginning to make Zimbabwe look tame. My wife and I spent just over a week there this month. I discovered a couple of days ago that immediately after we had left the guesthouse where we had been staying in Khartoum – at one o’clock in the morning – the place was raided and everyone taken in for interrogation by the security services. The building has now, apparently, been held by the security services.

The rule of law, impartially administered, is clearly fundamental to any free society or system of justice. Both Zimbabwe and Sudan – where indigenous people are now being disappeared and foreigners expelled – demonstrate clearly what happens not only when justice is corrupted by the fear and greed of the powerful, but also when any anthropological undergirding of human value is diminished to the point of tyranny.

While in Sudan I was reflecting on a line written to Katkov by Fyodr Dostoyevsky: “Juridical punishment for crime scares a criminal far less than law-makers think, partly because the criminal himself requires it morally.” Isn’t that interesting? Dostoyevsky doesn’t see the need for justice and juridical punishment simply in terms of society’s need to keep the peace, deter the wrong-doers or fulfil a bureaucratic requirement in order to keep elected politicians happy with their harshness. Rather, he appeals to something far more fundamental: criminals require justice because only this takes seriously their humanity, their moral accountability, their very being as moral agents who have both rights and responsibilities in a human community of mutual obligation.

Now, in one sense, this shouldn’t need to be spelled out. But, in a society which is shaped by media headlines that scream for the blood of ‘people not like us’ – who remove criminals from the moral page by categorising them as ‘monsters’ – we have to keep reminding ourselves of the anthropological assumptions that underlie our practice of justice. What is a human being and why does anyone matter? Why, ultimately, does it matter that some people break the law and put themselves beyond the reach of mutual or civil society?

Which, I guess, is what unites us here today. Lawyers, magistrates, judges – all those involved or employed in the justice system assume certain fundamental things: that a good society is one that is properly ordered; that law is not sufficient of itself in securing an ordered society, but is indispensible to it; that the common good demands a common legal system that shows no favour and cannot be manipulated by those who would gain personal advantage at the cost of social integrity or coherence. However we might articulate it, we believe that good law is essential to justice and that justice does more than simply ‘keep things on the rails’. Justice demands more than mere pragmatism – it rests on an assumption about virtue being essential to human and societal character.

wpid-Photo-30-Oct-2012-1057.jpgI haven’t time – and this isn’t the place – to go into contemporary debates about what is called ‘virtue ethics’, but it starts from an understanding that rules and regulations are not enough to shape or guarantee ethics; virtue has to do with the making of character, and it is character that shapes behaviour and ethics… whatever the rules and regulations might actually be. I am assuming here that good ethics require just such virtue, if they are to be more than ‘rules of engagement’.

Perhaps surprising, then, that the reading from Job 28 speaks not of justice, but of wisdom. And, perhaps, surprising that a question asked three thousand years ago in a context of abject suffering in an obscure place in the Middle East should cry out to be heard even in Bradford in 2013: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” This man, Job, whose world has fallen apart in every aspect, cries out here not for mere practical solutions to his problems, not for a quick way out of his predicament, not for an anaesthetic to dull the pain of apparent hopelessness, and not for a panacea imbued with the complexion of fantasy. No, he cries out for wisdom and understanding.

Now, I realise that this sounds weird to a generation brought up on instant gratification, fast knowledge, bewildering amounts of information and the wallpaper-like surroundings of immediate judgement and dramatic analysis. Why wait? Why dwell in a space of indeterminate questioning or unsatisfying waiting? Why not, as the credit card advert once tempted us, “take the waiting out of wanting”?

Well, wisdom is learned, not bought. And it is learned by paying attention to what makes the world what it is, what makes people who they are, what gives meaning to what appears to be formless and void, what makes sense of lived experience in community with others, many of whom have no interest in becoming wise at any price. Wisdom – which is more than the product of information plus knowledge plus judgement – lies at the heart of any consideration of justice… precisely because justice can never be subject to whim or trend or fashion or even mere popularity. If Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said, “Justice is truth in action”, then it must be truth driving the action and not simply action defining what is deemed to be true.

I am sorry if all this sounds a bit abstract or academic, but justice is not a simple thing which can be claimed without examination and argument. Justice has to be seen to have a deeper foundational rationale, rooted in and emanating from a clearly understood anthropology… which knows why it thinks people matter essentially. And I’d like to say briefly what this looks like in a Judaeo-Christian narrative – indeed, the very narrative which gave birth to and has shaped the system of justice developed in England over the centuries.

To do this I need to tell a story. Way back in the Hebrew Bible the people who saw themselves as God’s people lost the plot – in more senses than one. First they lost sight of the story that had shaped – and was intended to motivate – their common life and relationships. Then, second, they lost their place in the land they took for granted as their own, and found themselves learning the lessons that can only be learned in the desert of exile.

Yet, right at the outset of their settlement of the so-called Land of Promise, they had been instructed to actively and religiously re-tell the story of their liberation from oppression in Egypt. The year and the seasons were dotted with festivals during which the community and its constituent families would rehearse story-telling and ritual, all bound up in the production of food and the economics of trade. The point of these was not to make life miserable for them, trapping them in a dour-but-romanticised myth of past generations – a sort of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen, vying with each other for how bad their childhoods had been. Rather, this active and costly re-telling was designed to hold the people to truths that wisdom depended upon: they themselves had been dispossessed and landless slaves – and so should treat the poor and destitute with kindness and generosity; they themselves had been captive and unable to save themselves – and so should set people free and give undeserved grace; that they themselves had had nothing to call their own – and so should never forget that the accumulation of stuff, the acquisition of status and the appropriation of land must never be ends in themselves, but a means of generous and wise common flourishing.

Bradford CathedralIn fact, one of the most vivid of these festivals is described (or perhaps prescribed) in Deuteronomy 26 where the first ten per cent of your harvested produce should be brought to the priest whereupon you would recite a creed. How exciting is that? And the creed would begin: “My father was a wandering peasant…” In other words, the opening line of the story is a blunt articulated reminder that none of us can simply depend on the very things we think give us meaning. (We behave differently towards the homeless if we remember that once we were homeless.) In other words, regularly check that you are building the foundations of your life on something durable and not the shifting sands of material stuff.

Now, the point of this is simple. What unites both judge and accused, advocate and prisoner, is a common humanity which, if morality is to mean anything and justice is to have any currency beyond the pragmatic, not only imbues the legal process with dignity – building toward the common good – but also establishes the moral value of every human being. Justice takes people seriously, refuses to make excuses, but sees the dignity beneath the flawed and often appalling surface of greed, cruelty or selfishness.

And for this to flourish – for people in a community to flourish – those who frame justice need to remember their story, the story of mortal human beings in a contingent world, and to look wisely and deeply into the assumptions that make us think the whole justice project is worth investing in in the first place.

In other words, we need to think deeply about what we believe makes justice matter, and not allow justice to be shaped by political whim, economic pressure or media fashion.

Now, you, like those of us who serve through the church, are often on the receiving end of the media’s ‘wisdom’ (which, being meant ironically, I put in inverted commas) – usually in those unusual cases where fine judgements are hard to explain in simple language. You, too, are subject to a public that doesn’t understand legal process and shows little consideration of the consequences of their opinions. For example, if we did lock ‘em up and throw away the key, someone somewhere will have to pay. Not seeking rehabilitation or re-education will probably end in recidivism where there is no incentive or opportunity for changing one’s life or company. But, like bishops – who apparently do nothing all day other than dress up and argue about sex – you have to press on with your vocation whether you are understood, respected or liked… or not.

This service is evidence of the value placed by both church and civic authorities on the work you do and the way you exercise wise judgement on behalf of the rest of us. We thank you for the service you do.

And I would join those who wish to remind you of the seriousness of your task, the import of maintaining and securing a system of justice that is never capricious, and the essential need to dig deep into our corporate memory where we find the foundational narratives that give our justice system its very meaning.

I also hope, of course, that the bloke we caught on CCTV burgling my house and nicking my car and computer last August will one day appear before you in order to discover afresh that wise lawyers and judges have a responsibility on behalf of the rest of us to give him his full moral value as a human being.

May God bless you and us as we serve the common good, rooted in a conviction that justice goes to the heart of the character of God himself and should, in one sense, be (pace Disraeli) God’s character in action.

The utterly corrupt and very ex-Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, has described the Archbishop of Canterbury as “an irrelevance” as Rowan Williams begins his visit to Zimbabwe. Just how deluded do you have to be to come out with something like that in the face of Zimbabwe’s madness?

Having had very close involvement with Zimbabwe over the last decade, it is hard let go. This beautiful country, with it’s wonderful people and its heroic Anglican Church, deserves so much more than the rape and pillage it has suffered during the last twenty years of Mugabe’s tyranny. The Dioceses of Southwark and Rochester continue to work hard to support, sustain and encourage the Anglicans who are now suffering oppression at the hands of a Mugabe-backed renegade bishop in a country devoid of the rule of law.

This morning the Archbishop of Canterbury preached to thousands of people in an outdoor stadium in Harare. The Cathedral has been stolen by Kunonga with the backing of the judiciary and the police.

Is Dr Williams an irrelevance? Or is he a brave man who, trusting in the God who is on the side of the oppressed, is walking into the lion’s den in order to demonstrate that however loud the roar, the lion’s teeth are blunt and will one day soon fall out? His attempt to meet Mugabe might fail; his plea for justice might be to no avail; he might even be humiliated by the despot. But, by being there he will have shown the regime its moral nakedness and challenged its legitimacy. The cry for justice and mercy will not ultimately be silenced.

Because this is part of our problem. It is not only that some refuse the invitation of God to share his abundant love and generosity. It is all too easy for us human beings to try and block that love and prevent it from reaching others. You know very well, dear brothers and sisters, what it means to have doors locked in your faces by those who claim the name of Christians and Anglicans. You know how those who by their greed and violence have refused the grace of God try to silence your worship and frustrate your witness in the churches and schools and hospitals of this country. But you also know what Jesus’ parable teaches us so powerfully – that the will of God to invite people to his feast is so strong that it can triumph even over these mindless and Godless assaults. Just as the Risen Jesus breaks through the locked doors of fear and suspicion, so he continues to call you and empower you in spite of all efforts to defeat you. And in the Revelation to John, the Lord proclaims that he has set before us an open door that no-one can shut. It is the door of his promise, the door of his mercy, the door into the feast of his Kingdom.

In your faith and endurance, you have kept your eyes on that open door when the doors of your own churches have been shut against you. You have discovered that it is not the buildings that make a true church but the spiritual foundations on which your lives are built. And as we together give thanks for the open door that God puts before us, we may even find the strength to say to our enemies and persecutors, ‘The door is open for you! Accept what God offers and turn away from the death-dealing folly of violence.’

While I was the Bishop of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark I was heavily engaged with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, particularly with the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. I have posted frequently on Zimbabwe and what is happening there. (However, I cannot embed links on this iPad, so type ‘Zimbabwe’ into the search box and you will find them.)


In brief, the former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, went bad and eventually was ousted as Bishop of Harare seven or eight years ago. He is no longer regarded as an Anglican, let alone a bishop. He was specifically not invited to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

However, he has continued to use the favour of Robert Mugabe, the courts and the police to pursue ownership and possession of the churches, houses and assets of the Church in Zimbabwe. All this despite the fact that the properties belong in law to the Province of the Church of Central Africa – to which Kunonga does not belong.

The bishops in Zimbabwe have long trusted that their very expensive counter-claims would be upheld by the courts on the obvious grounds that Kunonga has no case in law. However, in the upside-down world of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the rule of law is now finally and incontrovertibly dead. A few days ago the courts ruled in favour of Kunonga and Kunonga has now started to evict families of non-loyal (to him, that is) priests from their houses and churches. He and his violent henchmen are now moving across Zimbabwe claiming land and property. They are backed by the police who have shown themselves ready to use violence.

This is not a church issue – especially not simply an ‘Anglican’ issue. Nor is it a religious matter. It is a human rights matter and concerns the rule of law. I have observed many times before that until the rule of law is established in Zimbabwe nothing is sacred and nothing is secure.

Anyone who wishes to might email their MP or the Foreign Secretary to ask what the British Government is doing to object to the Zimbabwean Government or to consult other governments or bodies such as SADC as to a response.

Here follows the text of a communique issued last week by the Anglican Communion Office:

Posted On : August 16, 2011 9:30 AM | Posted By : Admin ACO
ACNS: http://www.aco.org/acns/news.cfm/2011/8/16/ACNS4925
Related Categories: Zimbabwe

An Anglican priest in Zimbabwe and his family have been evicted from their home by priests loyal to excommunicated bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga. Others across the diocese have also been ordered to leave.

The Revd Dzikamai Mudenda at Mabvuku, his wife and their extended family, were forced to leave St James Mabvuku in Harare in the wake of a High Court judgement that Dr Kunonga had interim custody of church properties.

Other priests living in parish rectories have received stamped copies of the High Court judgment from supporters of Dr Kunonga who, in one case, were accompanied by the police. The priests, including Friar Joshua from Bishop Gaul College, have all been told to move out.

The Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, said yesterday that alternative accommodation has been found for Revd Mudenda and are preparing for the eviction of their other priests.

“Our parishes are busy finding alternative accommodation for them,” he said. “We don’t know who he is going to put in these houses. This is not going to be easy at all. It will disrupt their family life and ministry. I have been busy this evening getting in touch with my priests and encouraging them.”

A recent judgment in Zimbabwe’s High Court that upheld Bishop Chad appointment as Harare’s bishop also gave Dr Kunonga custodianship of all church properties—ones that actually belong to the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

“Kunonga was given custodianship of CPCA properties when he no longer a member of our church and province and he is now evicting CPCA priests and we don’t know who he is going to put in these houses. God help us.”

The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been under attack from the excommunicated bishop, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, since 2007. Kunonga, with the support of police and henchmen, has seized CPCA church property and used violence and to break up church services. In a recent media interview Dr Kunonga was quoted as saying he aimed to control the 3,000 Anglican churches, schools, hospitals and other properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi.

ENDS

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA

I’ve always thought that if there is nothing to say, then there is no point trying to say it. So, I won’t go looking for things to blog about just for the sake of blogging something or anything.

Even watching the wonderful Kop singing again as Liverpool beat Lille at Anfield doesn’t merit too many words – just relieved admiration.

I can’t even be bothered to write about any of the things that are filling my days – from visiting great clergy to creative meetings and lots of speaking engagements via writing commitments. Boredom is not something with which I am threatened.

But I will write about Bob Stumbles. I have never met him, but I have read him and followed him for the last seven years since I came to Croydon and joined the link with the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. Everything in Zimbabwe was coloured by the shameful betrayal of the Anglican Church by the appalling Nolbert Kunonga, the now-ousted Bishop of Harare.

Kunonga, supported by Robert Mugabe and his self-preserving henchmen, expropriated white farms, supported violence against opponents of Mugabe, saw his diocese as his personal possession, attempted to grab the Province of Central Africa for himself and has spent the last few years intimidating those who no longer recognise him as a bishop.

Kunonga (now followed by the ousted bishop of Manicaland, Elson Jakazi), illegally protected and defended by a craven police force, continues to defy the courts – claiming churches and church property for himself. His supporters intimidate and beat those faithful Anglicans who try to worship in their own churches or communities.

There is currently a case going through the courts in Harare to secure a final judgement in favour of the Province and against the corrupt Kunonga. The recent and current Bishops of Harare (Sebastian Bakare and Chad Gandiya) have shown enormous courage in challenging Kunonga and offering strong leadership to their people in the face of overwhelming odds. The saga continues, as do the relationships with the Dioceses of Southwark and Rochester, with a strong sense of God’s justice and the guts to pray and work for it.

This is not about the church as institution. It is about an abused country, an abused people and a church that gives its own blood to serve the people who suffer under the jackboot of Mugabe’s megalomania.

But the largely unknown hero of this struggle has been a lawyer called Bob Stumbles. As Chancellor of the Diocese of Harare he has challenged Kunonga and Mugabe every step of the way – and at considerable personal cost. Fired by faith in the God of justice and inspired by love for the Anglican Church and its vocation, he has attended to the legal detail of the struggle and remained diligent in the face of all intimidation.

I heard today that Bob Stumbles died of a heart attack yesterday. This is bad news for the church’s struggle – especially while the court case proceeds. But this faithful man deserves honour, respect and love for all he has done. His work is over, but it is essential his legacy does not die with him.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. And may he never be forgotten when the history books get written.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Travel to Zimbabwe used to be so much easier: a single ten-hour flight from London Heathrow direct to Harare. Unless you want to risk flying with Zimbabwean Airlines, you now have to fly to Johannesburg, hang around waiting for the Transit Desk to get its act together (it doesn’t…) and then fly back to Harare with South African Airways. Perhaps the (forced) softening of Mugabe’s stance towards Britain and the West – seen most recently in the re-admission of the BBC and other media agencies into Zimbabwe – might eventually restore confidence in direct travel from the UK to Harare.

It is the first time I have flown with Virgin and I am hooked. Every aspect of the journey was superb; I was very impressed.

Having not slept overnight for more than 30 minutes, I was pretty tired and travel-weary by the time I got out of the airport in Harare. Bishop Ishmael (with whom I am staying – Bishop of the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe) took me for lunch in the centre of the city where we were joined by the recently-consecrated Bishop of Harare, Chad Gandiya. Chad is an old friend from London and it was great to see him in his new role and with the vision and energy to set about the hard work ahead of him.

For those new to ‘Zimbabwe’, the Diocese of Harare was taken apart by Bishop Nolbert Kunonga who was displaced two years ago and is no longer recognised as an Anglican bishop anywhere in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Sebastian Bakare (the retired Bishop of Manicaland) was brought in for a couple of years as caretaker bishop while the process began to identify the next permanent bishop. Sebastian is a brave man who challenged the Mugabe-backed Kunonga and has seen the diocese through its own internal struggles as well as the nadir in the economic and political conditions of this once-thriving country. The future now looks relatively reasonably hopeful – for the first time in many years.

We spent a long time discussing various matters to do with Zimbabwe and the Church here before we were joined by a British diplomat with whom I have communicated by phone and email since before he came out here a year ago. Again, his insights were astute and stimulatingly helpful. He observed that the country now bears no resemblance to how it was when he arrived exactly one year ago.

When I was last here in April 2007 there were constant electricity cuts, the water kept going off (sometimes for days on end), the shops were emptying and the inflation rate was an absurd 10,000%. By the time the diplomat arrived here inflation was heading towards 230,000,000% (whatever that means), the currency had become worthless, nearly 90% of the population was unable to work and the situation was appalling. Cholera was kicking in at the end of 2008 and the future looked grim – possibly violent. The stitched up re-election of Robert Mugabe as President – a shameful and scandalous travesty of justice – saw violence and intimidation on a huge scale.

Zimbabwe 1 009Zimbabwe 1 010The contrast now is remarkable. There are cars on the roads, the streets are full of people looking more optimistic and purposeful than they did in the past and the supermarkets are full of food and all the other goods you’d expect to find in them. Since Morgan Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in the Unity Government – a high-risk decision for lots of reasons – things have begun to change for the better in Zimbabwe. Despite losing his wife and grandson in two separate accidents since his appointment as Prime Minister, he has stayed on track, changing the landscape of Zimbabwean possibilities.

Zimbabwe 1 011The Zimbabwean Dollar is now dead. The national currency is de facto the US Dollar, but trading is also done in South African Rand, Sterling and the Euro. Confidence in the future can be measured by the willingness of businesses to use credit and re-boot the economy. Optimism about the future might be hedged in with cautious caveats born from past experience, but people are walking taller and there is a sense of purposefulness about the place again. It simply feels different. One professional person put it to me like this: ‘Nobody wants us to go back to where we were last year; it simply cannot happen.

These are early days in the rebuilding of the country and many struggles lie ahead. But there are signs of hope now that were not here two years ago.