Sunday, July 14, 2013

The church of England is now led by a genuine man of God

Most unusual

'It’s such a lovely day, let’s go into the garden,” says the Archbishop of Canterbury. Carrying a tray heavy with coffee cups, he leads us down the wide steps of Lambeth Palace round to its wider lawns. Justin Welby is the fourth Archbishop I have met in this place; though new in the job, he is by far the most relaxed.

He answers everything with the same directness. Since he is an evangelical, I ask him whether he can speak “in tongues” – the “charismatic” spiritual gift recorded in the New Testament. Oh yes, he says, almost as if he had been asked if he plays tennis, “It’s just a routine part of spiritual discipline – you choose to speak and you speak a language that you don’t know. It just comes. Bramble! Go and find Peter [the Welbys’ second son, one of five living children, and brother of Johanna, who died in a car crash as a baby], you idiot!” The last bit of these remarks is addressed to his exuberant six-month-old Clumber spaniel who has rushed up to him.

I am amazed. I first saw this man 40 years ago, when we were both pupils at Eton. Later, I was with him at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the shyest, most unhappy-looking boy you could imagine. Now he is 105th in the line that began with St Augustine. He seems to be loving it. I remark on the change, and he agrees. “That’s something to do with the Christian faith,” he says.

Is it necessary, I ask, for a true Christian to have had a personal conversion experience? “Absolutely not. There is an incredible range of ways in which the Spirit works. It doesn’t matter how you get there. It really does quite matter where you are.”

Is it like suddenly realising that you love someone and want to marry that person? The Archbishop laughs: “That’s not what happened with Caroline [his wife] and me! And it’s not what happened with Peter, who got engaged to a lovely girl two days ago. That’s been a gradual thing.”

But it did happen to him, in New Court, Trinity College, during the evening of October 12, 1975. At Eton, he had “vaguely assumed there was a God. But I didn’t believe. I wasn’t interested at all.” That night in Cambridge, though, praying with a Christian friend, he suddenly felt “a clear sense of something changing, the presence of something that had not been there before in my life. I said to my friend, 'Please don’t tell anyone about this’, because I was desperately embarrassed that this had happened to me, like getting measles.”

Since then, there have been long periods with “no sense of any presence at all’’, but he has never gone back on that night’s “decision to follow Christ’’. This is not his doing: “It’s grace. Grace is a reality: feelings are ephemeral.”

To understand the change in Justin Welby’s life, you need to know what happened before. His father, Gavin Welby, was a fantasist and a fraud. Justin was an only child. His parents separated when he was a little boy. In his teens, he lived mainly with his father in rented London flats. He was never in one place, except school, for more than a week at a time. Life was “utterly insecure’’.

Money came and went, mostly went. In his last two years at Eton, the school waived the fees. Once, living in a flat so small that Justin had to camp in the sitting room, “We did a moonlight flit’’, probably, he guesses, to escape creditors. “I still use the cheap suitcases from Woolworth in which we packed our things.”

His father had a stroke when Justin was in his mid-teens, and was an alcoholic. “Living with someone who is severely abusing alcohol is very unpredictable indeed. You never know what might happen next. The letters he wrote me could be very affectionate or immensely abusive.”

His father died when Justin was 21. Then he found his passport and discovered that Gavin was 11 years older than he had claimed. It was only after he had become Archbishop that he learnt that his father was not really called Welby, but Weiler, of Jewish descent. “When I went to the Holy Land last month, I discovered that I’ve got enough Jewish blood to have been picked up in Hitler’s Germany.”

Of his strange and lonely youth he says: “At the time, it felt horrible. Now it feels hugely valuable. God doesn’t waste stuff.” Out of the insecurity has come the confidence of his faith. Does he know Jesus? “Yes. I do. He’s both someone one knows and someone one scarcely knows at all, an utterly intimate friend and yet with indescribable majesty.”

And when he talks to God, is he speaking to Jesus or God the Father? “I don’t ask for his passport,” says the Archbishop, unconsciously echoing what he has told me about his father’s age. “I haven’t quite done the theology of this, but I think such communication is the work of the Spirit of God.”

Because he came to faith dramatically, he has few prejudices about which tradition to inhabit. “I am a spiritual magpie,” he says. As well as speaking in tongues (a Protestant practice), he adores the sacrament of the eucharist (a Catholic one). He also says the morning and evening office, Book of Common Prayer version, in the chapel of the palace, every day. “Today it was Psalm 51, which is penitential. If you come in thinking how brilliant you are, it’s good to say that psalm.”

The routine of regular prayer is immensely important in overcoming the ups and downs of human moods, he thinks. For his own spiritual discipline, Justin Welby uses Catholic models – the contemplation and stability of Benedictines, and the rigorous self-examination of St Ignatius. And, in a choice that could not possibly have been made since the 16th century – until now – the Archbishop’s spiritual director is Fr Nicolas Buttet, a Roman Catholic priest.

The Archbishop recently visited the new Pope, Francis, and was thrilled. “I think he is extraordinary. Unpredictable. He’s not John XXIII or anyone else. He’s Francis. He has deep humility and a consciousness of the complexity of things. He has Ignatian and Franciscan spirituality.”

It is spirituality that the two men share, and it is overcoming the divisions of 500 years: “One of the most exciting trends in western Christianity is that the Sprit of God is drawing Christians together.”

Where will his discussions with the Pope lead? “I haven’t a clue,” he says, disarmingly. He thinks that the ordination of women bishops, though he vigorously supports it, is the biggest obstacle to unity with Rome, but he also believes that both Churches now accept that they must “walk together’’. Besides, “Rome is semper eadem [always the same], but infinitely flexible when it needs to be.”

Fr Buttet is a Swiss former lawyer and politician, who became a hermit. He founded a community that helps life’s “wounded’’, especially those in long-term psychiatric care. I ask the Archbishop whether, given his own family history, he too is wounded. He pauses for a very long time, and sighs, as if the question hurts. At last he says: “I assume that I am, but I also assume that the grace of God is extraordinarily powerful in the healing of one’s wounds.”

The other half of Justin Welby’s background is quite different. His mother, Jane Portal, was Winston Churchill’s secretary, and he remembers going to tea, as a small boy, with the great man. Now she is married to the banker, historian and Labour peer, Charles Williams.

His grandmother, Iris Portal, was the sister of the Conservative statesman “RAB” Butler, and herself a biographer. At home in Norfolk, she provided the young Justin with the only security he knew, and a liberal acceptance of different people and traditions. He listened rapt to her tales of life in British India, where she nursed Indian soldiers during the Second World War. “She always said that India was civilised when we were running around painting ourselves blue.”

From this background, the Archbishop has developed a non-partisan fascination with politics. (''I am a classic floating voter – and now I don’t vote.’’) He speaks almost like the practical executive he once was: “What interests me is what makes things work. Why, for example, was Mrs Thatcher so transformative?”

What does he think of her? “Genuinely, I don’t know the answer. When I was in the oil industry in the Eighties, I thought she was brilliant. When I was a clergyman in the North [Liverpool and Durham], I had a different view. But I think she had a discontent with drift which is really important, and an optimism about this country.” He feels the same: “The more I travel, the happier I am to come back.”

But hasn’t the credit crunch made everything gloomy? He does not see it that way, although he agrees that it has done terrible damage. He sees it as producing spiritual hunger, which will lead to spiritual wealth. “A society which has built its life on the material will sooner or later be deceived by the gods in whose hands it has put itself. That’s what we did.” Now, with “the toppling of the idols’’, there is an opportunity. It’s not that prosperity and growth are not good things: “It is a matter of what you put your ultimate security in.”

I object that the Church of England, even under him, still seems to mouth the secular platitudes of the post-1945 settlement. He half-acknowledges the criticism, and doesn’t want welfare dependency either, but he thinks “the worst financial crisis since 1947… is a bad time to be cutting the bills significantly’’. Lots of people are trapped by lack of opportunity and there is a “severe imbalance between the richest and the poorest parts’’.

The Church, I say, is good at talking, but not at actually doing things to improve the social order.

“RUBBISH!” shouts the Archbishop, genially. “It is one of the most powerful forces of social cohesion. Did you know that each month all the Churches – roughly half of the numbers being Anglican – contribute 23 million hours of voluntary work, outside what they do in church? And it’s growing. There are now between 1,200 and 2,000 food banks in which the Church is involved. Ten years ago, there were none. There are vicars living in every impoverished area in the country. This springs out of genuine spirituality. We’re not just Rotary with a pointy roof.”

The Church of England, of course, cares also for the mighty. The Established Church underpins the monarchy. Any day, the heir to the heir to the heir will appear, the eventual Supreme Governor of his Church. “I respect and admire the monarchy more than I can say. Many leaders would do well to learn from the Queen’s sophisticated and thoughtful approach.”

He loves the integration of the spiritual and the constitutional. Recently he preached the sermon for the 60th anniversary of the Coronation. “I felt almost surprise, reading the order of service for 1953, that it opened with her own private prayer. Extraordinary. Her own allegiance to God was given ahead of our own allegiance to her.”

All the time, this active, wounded, happy man is trying to find new ways in which this country, despite the secular age, can give its allegiance to God again.


Carnival committee accused of 'political correctness gone mad' after scrapping bonny baby contest because parents of those who lose might become upset

A carnival committee has been accused of 'political correctness gone mad' after scrapping the traditional 'bonny baby' contest because it is unfair to judge kids on their looks.

The organisers of Devizes Carnival, in Wiltshire, ruled that the baby and toddler pageant is 'no longer an appropriate item' to include in a contemporary carnival programme.

But some mothers are so furious at the decision they have organised their own 'unofficial' bonny baby contest instead.

The alternative pageant has even won the backing of Devizes Mayor Pete Smith, who said the event brings the community together.

He said: 'The mums said it was political correctness gone mad and I agree - it's bloody stupid.  'I will always agree with the mums - they always know best after all. What's better than a beautiful little baby? It is just marvellous.  'It brings the community together and I don't think we should lose it.'

Stephanie Gale, 28, of Market Lavington, whose son Toby was the winner of last year's carnival baby show, said: 'It's a bit of fun and everybody likes looking at pictures of babies.'

The full-time mother is already planning to enter son Teddy, six months, in this year's event.  She said: 'I suppose I can see how some people don't think it should go ahead, but it is just a bit of fun.

'Devizes is quite a quaint little town. It's not the most modern and metropolitan place - so the baby show fits in quite well with a traditional market town.

'I entered Toby because some of my friends had entered in previous years, and of course like all mums I think my baby is beautiful.  'It was really exciting to see him win and in the paper and things, and it was just a bit of fun.

'Seeing as it is a baby competition, and I think the oldest the child can be is 18 months, the children won't get upset if they don't win - they won't know. It is just nice for them to play with the other little ones.

'And as for worries mums will get upset, I think that if you think you would get upset if your baby didn't win, you should just not enter.  'To give that as a reason not to run the competition is a bit of a cop out. Everyone knows their own baby is the most beautiful anyway.

'The decision to cancel was just a bit silly and I am glad it has been rescued.'

But Dave Buxton, artistic director of Devizes Outdoor Celebratory Arts which organises the carnival, said committee members were unanimously against the bonny baby contest.

He said: 'Devizes Carnival is a really modern carnival with hundreds of people taking part.

'Do you really think it is a good idea to judge babies and decide which ones are the best? The whole committee felt that.  'We are a community arts organisation and it is not really appropriate. There are some people that want it, but it is a handful of people.

'If you look at the carnival over the years, all sorts of things have come and gone - fashions change.

'It just doesn't seem a very nice thing to do. Everyone believes that their baby is the best baby. How do you feel if your baby isn't the one that has won? I think you would walk out not feeling very good.'

Committee members have also abolished the role of Carnival Queen as it does not 'fit with the ethos' of the event.

The carnival procession will be held on Saturday August 31 but the unofficial 'Mayor's Baby Show' will now take place on August 27.

Former Devizes Carnival chairman Jeanette Von Berg has organised the alternative pageant after seeing a demand from parents.  She said: 'I was really upset when it was cancelled. I asked mums in the town if they wanted a baby show and they did.  'They said they didn't agree with the carnival committee's decision. I am pleased the mayor Pete Smith agreed to put his name to it.'

Mayor Smith added: 'There are certain people on the carnival committee who want to change things I don't think for the better.  'That's why I have stepped in to call it the Mayor's Baby Show.

'The committee are doing a good job and that, but people like the old fashioned stuff. They like to take their kids along and say "Granny did this when she was a little girl".'


Groups Say Religious Liberty in U.S. Military is in Danger

There is a clear and present danger to religious liberty within the military, says a coalition of groups who believe the Obama Administration is pushing a secular, anti-religious culture on the nation’s armed forces.

“Christians who choose to live out their faith find themselves incompatible with the secular view of this administration,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “We’re establishing a beach head for religious liberty and the evidence points to a very deliberate attack.”

Representatives of 14 groups concerned about religious liberty joined Reps. John Fleming R-La., Jim Bridenstine R-Okla., and Louie Gohmert R-Tex. on Capitol Hill to urge support for Fleming’s military religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

The amendment protects the rights of servicemembers to not only hold religious beliefs but to act on them and speak about them. Fleming’s amendment has bipartisan support but the Obama Administration issued a statement “strongly objecting” to the legislation.

The amendment comes as more than 170,000 Americans signed petitions calling for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to protect the religious liberties of military personnel through policies that guarantee those liberties.

“We want to make this the first key battle to restore religious liberty back to the American people,” Fleming told Fox News. “It sets the tone for a broader war to fight back against this government that is infringing on our religious liberty.”

Perkins and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, the FRC’s executive vice president, released a nine-page document detailing anti-religious behavior in the military.

“Unfortunately, pressures to impose a secular, anti-religious culture on our nation’s military services have intensified tremendously during the Obama Administration,” the FRC report states.

“We will stand with servicemembers who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights of religious liberty,” Boykin said. ‘We must do all we can to ensure that our servicemembers have the right to practice the very freedoms that they risk their lives to defend.”

The Family Research Council said it is evidence of an attempt to “scrub the military of religious expression, through which the chilling effect of punishment and potential career destruction lie at the back of everyone’s mind.”

The document, titled, “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military,” dates back to 2005 when Mikey Weinstein became a major critic of the United States Air Force Academy.

Among the incidents:

In 2010 Perkins, a Marine veteran and ordained minister was disinvited to address the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base after he publicly spoke in opposition to the administration’s effort to repeal the ban on open homosexuality in the military.

In May, 2010, Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, was disinvited to the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service by the Army because of his comments about Islam.

In July 2011, Christian prayers were banned at military funerals. Rep. John Culbertson R-Tex. said he had “witnessed volunteer members of the honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars being prohibited from using any references to God.”

On Sept. 1, 2011 the Air Force Chief of Staff sent a service-wide memorandum chilling religious speech. “Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” wrote Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

On Sept. 14, 2011 Walter Reed National Military Medical Center issued an official patient and visitor policy banning Bibles. The policy was later revoked after a political firestorm erupted in the House of Representatives.

On Jan. 29, 2012 Catholic chaplains were told not to read a letter from the Archdiocese of Military Services urging them to resist implementation of the HHS contraceptive and sterilization mandate in Obamacare. Instead, chaplains were instructed to read a version edited by an Obama Administration official.

The Family Research Council’s evidence includes the Army labeling Evangelical Christians and Catholics as extremists and banning the sale of military-themed Bibles. The Army ordered a cross and steeple removed from a chapel in Afghanistan and an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee told a gathering in Washington, D.C. that religious liberty was being threatened by Pentagon lawyers and service members were being told to “hide their faith in Christ.”

“As one general so aptly put it – they expect us to check our religion in at the door – don’t bring that here,” Lee said. “Your armed forces, the sons and daughters of the men and women like you – are being told to hide that light under a basket.”

Perkins told Fox News their plan is to let the American public know what’s happening in the military.

“Members of the military are coming to us confidentially with further reports of attacks on religious liberty,” he said. “This is just a sampling of the cases that have been made public.”

Among the groups aligning with the Family Research Council are the American Family Association, Center for Security Policy, Media Research Center, Liberty Counsel Action, Center for Military Readiness, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Judicial Watch, American Values, Family-Pac, Ohio faith and Freedom Coalition and the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers.


Why does the "impartial" BBC not tell the story of the great majority?

Our self-righteous national broadcaster is woefully detached from voters’ real lives

Stuart Prebble, ex-BBC, has this month produced a report for the BBC Trust on “Breadth of Opinion Reflected in the BBC’s Output”. Explaining his approach, he says that most attacks on the impartiality of the BBC are “based on the notion that it is largely run by a group with similar backgrounds and attitudes, loosely describable as 'liberal progressives’ – and, of course, I am one”.

Why “of course”? Is it unimaginable that the BBC would commission anyone other than one of their own sort to write a report on their own impartiality? Well, yes, perhaps it is.

But Mr Prebble goes on to reassure the doubters. “… in common with the overwhelming number of journalists within the BBC…, I leave my personal politics at home when I go to work”.

What does it mean to leave one’s “personal politics” at home? It might be relatively easy to put aside a particular party allegiance at work, but what is the point of forming knowledgeable views about politics, holding a job as a broadcaster in the political sphere, and then ignoring one’s own views? It is like a doctor saying “I never take my medical views to the surgery”. It is comical.

It also raises a question. If the place of “personal politics” is to be kept firmly in the home like the Eastern European au pairs on whom so many media power couples depend, why is that most of the people behaving in this way are, to use Mr Prebble’s terminology, “liberal progressives”? If personal politics are irrelevant, why do people with the same personal politics keep getting chosen to work for the BBC?

The answer, I suggest, is that one of the most important elements in the creed of “liberal progressives” is that they are fair and open-minded, and the rest of us aren’t. With beautiful, circular logic, it follows that the only people who can be trusted to ensure that there is a proper breadth of opinion in BBC coverage are liberal progressives. Mr Prebble’s considered finding is that impartiality “runs through the BBC veins like Blackpool through a stick of rock”. Of course it does: the place is run by liberal progressives! QED.

This in turn means that anyone who lacks liberal progressive opinions cannot be employed by the BBC. This is not because their opinions cannot be aired – everyone, says Mr Prebble, almost no matter how bonkers, must be allowed his or her shout in what BBC jargon calls the “wagon wheel” of opinion – but because the people who hold such opinions cannot be relied upon to be impartial. If I, for instance, applied for a job in the BBC, and they knew that I was anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-hunting, climate-change-sceptical, and pro-Israel, they wouldn’t say “Oh, we can’t employ someone with such disgusting views”. They would say, “Charles has his own agenda, and therefore would undermine our impartiality”. I might not leave my repulsive opinions at home; I might bring them in to work, like someone who turns up at the office with his dirty laundry spilling out of his briefcase.

To be fair to Mr Prebble, he does note occasions where the BBC has failed to reflect breadth of opinion. He points out, for example, that not everyone in the United States who opposes gun control can be described as a “gun nut”. And he does gently reprove the impartiality section of the BBC’s College of Journalism website for including lots of clips from a former BBC environment correspondent “entirely devoted to sustaining the case that climate change is 'settled science’”. He says it “might have been helpful” to have added “a line or two” that climate change “dissenters (or even sceptics) should still occasionally be heard”. This, in an organisation wholly opposed to corporal punishment, is as close as we are ever going to get to a rap on the knuckles.

But if I am correct that the BBC is self-righteous – in the exact sense that it identifies its corporate identity with righteousness – it follows that “breadth of opinion” is not the key concept that needs examining here. It is relatively easy to rustle up people on both sides (or even four or five sides) of an argument. The BBC often tries conscientiously to do this.

It is other aspects of the programmes that need to be examined. The first question is, “Who is in the dock?” In almost all major stories, you can tell very quickly who this is. On the Today programme yesterday, for example, it was reported that the Government has decided to delay any action to ban cigarette brand packaging. The official view was duly represented by a Tory backbencher, Mark Field. The banning enthusiasts were represented by Harpal Kumar, the chief executive of the charity Cancer Research UK. Mr Kumar made some pretty extreme assertions, such as that the tobacco industry was “entirely dependent on recruiting children” to addiction. This was unchallenged by James Naughtie.

But when Mr Field made bold to suggest that the health lobby – and not just the tobacco lobby – was itself powerful and well-funded, you could almost hear Naughtie’s lips pursing, and he moved in to correct Mr Field. Mr Field’s claim was “an extraordinary comment”, said Mr Kumar. It was clear who had been convicted of being “inappropriate”.

My objection is not that Mr Field was made to squirm. It was that Mr Kumar was not, and that his kind never is. Charities and pressure groups, in the BBC’s approach to life, are to be trusted, because they do not make profits. People who do, are not.

The even more important question is, “What makes a story?” In the BBC’s view, some form of institutional validation is almost always required. The story must arise from a government report, a court judgment, a statement by the Royal College of this and the National Union of that. In religion – a subject specifically covered by Mr Prebble’s report – it cannot think about belief or prayer, but about Bishops’ Conferences, General Synods and Councils of Mosques. In politics, it can handle the indescribably dreary game of lobby journalism, but not the relation of politics to what voters need or feel.

This is because the BBC is itself a vast institution, so it is happiest speaking to other institutions, like mastodon bellowing to mastodon across the primeval swamp. Its absolute favourite is the device by which the big cheese from the big body in question – the Government, the CBI, Unite – comes on, says his bit and then departs, leaving omniscient persons like Nick Robinson, Robert Peston or Stephanie Flanders to explain to us idiots what he was really talking about.

In its great scheme of things, the BBC knows how to report clearly defined victims – pensioners cheated by PPI, formerly abused children, “whistleblowers”. What it cannot understand is the position of the great majority of the people watching it – that they pay tax, and they keep paying more of it. Seldom do they see the story in a tax rise, in energy bills or planning delays, in their own stupefying executive pay-offs. Seldom do they expose the rise in the national debt or investigate why it is that, despite “cuts” every day, government spending still grows bigger all the time. The one entity, in short, in which the BBC feels permanently uninterested is the individual citizen.

It is not surprising that the BBC takes him for granted, because it can. It takes his money by law, and without his consent, in the form of the licence fee. Until this ends, the BBC will, with the finest impartiality, refuse to tell his story.



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.



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