By Archbishop John Sentamu
Wherever I am in the world, my day begins with prayer. It was Dom Helder Camara, after Martin Luther, who said: 'I find these days that I am so busy I have to spend at least four hours each morning in prayer.' While I cannot claim to have the discipline of Camara, I understand what he means. Prayer is important. At its best, it ushers us into the very presence of God. We come before him in our frail humanity with our worries, hopes and fears as well as our requests. Sometimes our prayer is silence, perhaps awed by the majestic and mystical nature of God, or perhaps because we have been silenced by the incomprehensible suffering of the innocent and we no longer know how or what to say.
In recent days, prayer has found its way into the headlines for other reasons altogether. Last week, community nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended as a result of offering to pray for a patient's recovery. Yesterday, Jennie Cain, a primary school receptionist, was facing disciplinary action as a consequence of sending out an email asking friends to pray for her daughter. The facts of the cases differ in their contexts and circumstances, but at their heart is a seeming intolerance and illiberality about faith in God which is being reflected in the higher echelons of our public services. In neither case was the woman in question seeking to convince others of the rightness or doctrinal purity of her religion. They were not waving placards or burning books. In their actions, they were as far away as it is possible to be from the caricature of a proselytising fundamentalism that seems to lie behind the views of those seeking to discipline them.
However, the suspension of one of these women and the continued disciplinary action faced by the other leads us to questions about how it is that those who share or express a trust in God - or more precisely, in these cases, in the Christian faith - are deemed worthy of discipline.
I am grateful that in Caroline Petrie's case her employer has seen sense and has reinstated her, and that the North Somerset Primary Care Trust said that it recognised she had been acting in the 'best interests of her patients' and that nurses did not have to 'set aside their faith' in the workplace. I am hoping that Jennie Cain's employers may take a similarly enlightened view.
Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office. Faith in God is not an add-on or optional extra. For me, my trust in God is part of my DNA; it is central to who I am and defines my place in the world. It informs my whole life, not just a weekly service on a Sunday. It is the failure to grasp this basic understanding of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ that lies at the heart of the problem of which these two cases are just symptoms.
There is a deep irony at work here, and not simply because the first free schools and hospitals operating in this nation were run by the churches in our land. Those who display intolerance and ignorance, and would relegate the Christian faith to just another disposable lifestyle choice, argue that they operate in pursuit of policies based on the twin aims of 'diversity and equality'.
Yet in the minds of those charged with implementing such policies, 'diversity' apparently means every colour and creed except Christianity, the nominal religion of the white majority; and 'equality' seemingly excludes anyone, black or white, with a Christian belief in God.
This was strikingly illustrated in the recent case of the dedicated foster mother who had cared for foster children for more than 20 years, but who was recently struck off by her local council. What was her crime? Did she harm or allow harm to be caused to her ward? No. Rather because her 16-year-old foster daughter decided - of her own volition - to convert from Islam to Christianity, the local authority struck the foster mother from its list of approved carers.
Of course, as a modern, forward-looking nation, we should be able to work and live together, black and white, male and female, without fear of harassment or indignity based on gender, ethnicity or disability. However, such policies also rightly point to the fact that neither should a person's religion be the basis upon which they are subjected to any prejudice.
Why then, while our children are encouraged to celebrate the religious festivals of all the major faiths, are there those in public office who seem to be ignorant of how this country's established religion gave birth to this nation?
In the 8th century, the Venerable Bede, the father of English history, wrote not only of how the English were converted to Christianity, but how the Gospel played a major social and civilising role in this country by uniting a group of warring tribes and conferring English nationhood upon them.
The opening clause of Magna Carta in 1215 acknowledged the importance of the Church and its right to propagate its views. Christianity has been at the heart of the history of this nation. British history, customs and ethos have been gradually shaped by Christianity. A recent correspondent suggested that, like it or not, Britishness is rooted in the Christian religion. Consider our national anthem beginning with the word 'God'; consider the English flag: designed using the Christian cross. Its red colour symbolising the blood of Christ shows it is not simply a cruciform by chance.
Go back a century or more and the church will be found at the centre of English village life. The definition of a city was that it had a cathedral. People were born, married and buried in a Christian setting. Then there are the British architects, artists, explorers and scientists whose faith gave them a basis. Christianity is the tapestry upon which our country's heritage was woven. All of this is lost to those who would deny Christianity any place in our nation today.
Those employed as public servants and charged with running our local services, be they schools, hospitals or councils, receive their public authority only under a system of governance which is constitutionally established from the 'Queen in Parliament under God'. For public servants to use their authority to deny the legitimacy of the Christian faith, when they receive such authority only through the operation of that same faith, is not only unacceptable but an affront.
For the millions of people in this country who profess a trust in God, these recent stories represent not only an insult to their common sensibility but also a sign of a growing gap between the mindset of the governing and the governed. The requirement of common consent that underpins any operation of the democratic contract is being placed under strain by those who, with the best of motives, are making the worst of mistakes.
My challenge, then, to the 72 per cent of this nation who marked themselves as 'Christian' in response to the census of 2001 is that if they wish to safeguard that same Christian tradition, they must renew their faith and become actively involved in their local church. For those who despair at the treatment meted out to these Christian women, the message is clear: wake up, Christian England!
Modern Segregation Has an Islamist Face
In the twentieth century, minority groups such as African-Americans struggled and sacrificed to achieve integration with the societies that had excluded them. In the twenty-first century, some Muslims hope to run history in reverse, demanding separation from their Western neighbors. Three news items highlight different stages and aspects of this phenomenon.
First, it has been revealed that a primary school in Sheffield, England, holds weekly Muslim-only assemblies. The arrangement became known due to the head mistress being forced out after she insisted on mixed gatherings instead:
A teacher, who asked not to be named, said: "The head inherited the separate assemblies and she took careful advice on what to do. "But when she tried to stop them, she was accused of being a racist. She wanted to hold assemblies for all the pupils. That is what happens in most schools but some parents wanted things to stay as they were."Accommodating separatism only serves to encourage the adherents of Islam described in the second article.
Based on a new poll, many UK Muslims "want to create their own communities and remain segregated from British society," with 44% believing that "they should be free to develop along separate lines." The numbers are similar to those of previous surveys indicating that four in ten British Muslims would prefer to be governed by Shari'a law. Responding to the revelation, English Democrats' chairman Robin Tilbrook said, "If people don't want to integrate, they shouldn't be here. It's not at all right to have what's really a sort of ghetto situation developing - it's going to lead to trouble."
The third story illustrates the "trouble" stemming from one such "ghetto situation." Specifically, a study has found that "radical Islamists have a stranglehold" on a section of Malmo, Sweden:
"Families who have just moved into the neighborhood and who have never been particularly religious or traditional claim that they led freer lives in their home country than in Rosengaard," the report said. Muslim women who did not wear the veil in their home country were, for example, obliged to don it, according to the study. The authors also singled out "cellar mosques" whose members serve as a kind of "thought police."Abraham Lincoln warned that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." A century and a half later, the West must relearn this lesson - or risk similarly catastrophic results.
Why, instead of chasing criminals, are British police asking children to write essays about 'gay pride'?
It takes pride in its reputation as one of the most gay-friendly employers in the country. But the Kent Police force has been accused of going too far after inviting children under the age of 14 to write about their feelings on homosexuality and transsexuality as part of a competition. The force is offering a 25 pound prize to the child who submits the best 200-word essay on the subject. Its website says: 'Join us to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history month.'
Children are told the essay title must be 'All Different, Same Respect' - the slogan for a series of events being organised by the force to mark LGBT history month. There is also a dinner dance with a gay or transsexual 'artiste', a gay quiz night and a seminar dubbed 'From Outcast To Out'.
But it is the essay-writing competition that has provoked the ire of campaigners, who accuse the force of demonstrating a blind obsession with the politically-correct agenda. Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, said: 'I would have thought the police had other things to worry about, like catching burglars. 'Why don't they get kids to write an essay on combating crime? It strikes me as an extraordinary waste of police resources.'
The essay-writing competition has an under-14s, 15-to-17s and an 18-plus section - with the winners receiving a o25 book token and a Kent Police shield. There is also a category for Kent Police staff.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive at the TaxPayers Alliance said: 'While this initiative is no doubt well-intentioned, the job of the police is to fight crime, not run essay competitions or organise dances with a politically-correct agenda. 'It is a question of spending priorities. All available resources should go to frontline policing.'
Kent Police is ranked the fourth most gay-friendly employer in Britain by gay campaign group Stonewall. It rose 22 places this year for its 'proactive lesbian, gay and bisexual support network that meets regularly with the chief constable and other chief officers to discuss relevant issues'. On its website the force proudly displays the Stonewall logo and explains it has set up a 'new equality and diversity structure'. For the whole of this month it will be holding an exhibition of LGBT history in its training college for young recruits to study.
A spokesman for the Campaign Against Political Correctness added: 'Police can get very obsessed about this sort of thing. 'To have even one event to mark the month would be bad enough but to have a whole series is a waste of police time and resources. I am sure the people of Kent would have different priorities if they were asked how the money should be spent.'
But Stonewall last night backed the force. A spokesman said: 'One in five gay people has been a victim of homophobic hate crime in the last three years. 'Stonewall encourages the police to work with communities to drive down all crime.'
Last night Kent Police was unable to offer a convincing explanation of what the competition has to do with policing. Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Leppard said: 'This contest complements work being done in schools around diversity through the national curriculum. 'It is also part of Kent Police's wider diversity programme to raise knowledge and awareness, and increase respect and understanding of LGBT issues.'
Aftermath of the Australian fires: Eight bodies huddled to protect a baby
Adoring kids as I do, the story below was deeply upsetting to me. But I do find it redeeming as proof that normal human nature survives the constant Leftist attacks on it -- Leftists who regard the killing of babies in abortion as just another medical procedure and Leftists who try to force equality on everybody in the name of "diversity" (of all things!) and Leftists who, with their love of bureaucracy, PREVENT normal human nature from operating (See, for instance, my Charters Towers story)
Disaster victim identification teams combing Victoria have found large groups of bodies, including one with eight bodies huddled to protect a baby. Australians have been warned to brace for more bad news about the bushfire death count as more shocking details of the tragedy are revealed.
DVI experts are still combing the worst-affected areas and Det-Inspector Bob Sitlington said patience was needed to enable accurate records of victims to be collected. "It is slow but we want to positively identify victims, the last thing we would want to do is misidentify," he said.
Insp Sitlington said he had been with team members in Kinglake yesterday, where earlier in the week experts found horrific sites, including eight bodies huddled around a baby's body. "There was a multiple death in a group, and from what I understand they were trying to protect a baby," he said. "We don't know exactly what happened. Imagine what people naturally do, they tend to cuddle ... and to protect each other, and with the intensity of the fire we do find sometimes bodies are fused together."
The total death toll from the blazes that ripped through the central highlands and Gippsland last Saturday still stands at 181 but is expected to jump above 300. On Friday, police said 1831 houses had been destroyed and more than 7000 people had been made homeless.....
Victorian Premier John Brumby yesterday appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice Bernard Teague to chair the Royal Commission into the bushfires. Mr Brumby said the Royal Commission would be a central part of the "healing process" with victims and relatives of the dead from Kinglake, Marysville and the rest of the state to provide eye witness evidence about the tragic events of February 7 and its horrible aftermath. "It is so important that everybody has their say," Mr Brumby said.
Kinglake couple Joanne Jordan and Greg Holloway picked through the ruins of their property yesterday, but are just happy to have escaped with their lives. "We were so lucky, we lost everything we had, but not each other," Mr Holloway said. Ms Jordan said the significance of Valentine's Day meant little since they escaped Kinglake's raging inferno. "Every day's Valentine's Day when it's six days since you almost died," Ms Jordan said.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.