Grow up?


A few days ago a lovely young non-Christian girlfriend of mine messaged me on Facebook. “Would you ever consider getting a nine to five job?” she asked. “Sure”, was my response, “I’ll need to get a job at some point, but probably not until all of the children are at school”.

“Aren’t you worried” she said, “that your views on gay marriage will hurt you?”. Very telling from someone who has been, if not an advocate of “gay marriage”,  has certainly openly supported it, seeing no problem with gay marriage in a civil context, but vehemently disagreeing with those who would wish to have it imposed on religious institutions.

She has a good point. The two professions which I have oscillated over entering over the past few years, namely midwifery and teaching, I have to accept are no longer avenues that would likely be open to me on account of my views.

Recently there has been a ridiculous furore amongst Catholics (who should frankly have better things to do with their time) on Twitter over the use of pseudonymous tweeting and blogging. One tweeter, whom I shall decline to name, has been leading something of a one-man crusade against “sock-puppets”,  demanding that every new pseudonymous account provides him with their name and address and some form of credentials in order to prove that they are not in fact, a ‘fake’. Anyone who declines to do so, is instantly decried and publicly denigrated as a fraud,  pseudonymous tweeters should, in his humble opinion, be banned, either one should tweet in one’s own name or not at all. If you have something to hide, then you should not be on Twitter,  Catholics should be out and proud, happy to be derided and martyred for their views along with the likes of St Thomas More.

Which is all very well, but what when those views could seriously interfere with one’s job prospects, or result in your being sacked? I can well imagine that if I was still in some of my former jobs, this blog would result in my dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct. Not that I have said or done anything scandalous, but simply being ‘out there’ as an opponent of things like abortion, surrogacy, IVF and gay marriage, would cause colleagues to feel uncomfortable, as though they were being ‘judged’ and an employer may consider that their reputation could well be damaged as a result of having an employee who held such scandalous and counter-cultural views.

It cannot be much of a surprise that the majority of non-clerical Catholic tweeters and bloggers employ pseudonyms which they zealously guard; being considered up there with St Thomas More is wonderful, the consequences of which may not be martyrdom, they could certainly impact on others such as vulnerable young family members. While losing your job may do wonders for one’s Catholic credentials, it doesn’t exactly put bread on the table for your children and certainly will affect one’s future job prospects. I wonder whether even a company like Tescos, former sponsors of Gay Pride, would give you a job stacking shelves in these days where one’s name and entire history can be easily googled?

Clearly, unless one has a ‘Catholic’ or even ‘Christian’ job, it’s inadvisable to be open about one’s faith on the internet. It’s not the same as being shot at in Eygpt or beheaded in Syria, but free-speech is limited for serious Christians, like it or not, which is in itself a form of persecution. Should Adrian Smith, the housing officer who was demoted over comments made about gay marriage on his personal Facebook page, have simply shrugged his shoulders and “grown up” as the former Archbishop of Canterbury would appear to suggest?

What about the pro-life GP hounded off Twitter by the Irish pro-abort crowd who reported him to the GMC and NHS because using his real name, he expressed pro-life views? Should he too just accept that his beliefs are incompatible with his profession (to save lives not take them) and therefore his freedom of expression is limited and he should just ‘man-up’?

Freedom of expression, is clearly not as serious as threats to livelihood, but it is very much tied up with freedom of association and the right to earn a decent wage in the profession of one’s choice.

Being a Christian is not just a ‘hobby’, it’s not like being a Stars Wars fan, or doing the odd bit of voluntary work, we are compelled to live our faith, which is more than simply going to Church on a Sunday or holy days of obligation and keeping our mouths firmly shut the rest of the time. Faith is not simply that funny habit which mummy and daddy have that we take out of a box and parade as necessary before putting back, but something that needs to be lived, daily, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions. Faith is not something we leave in the pews on a Sunday. We are commanded to evangelise, and part of that has to be, at some stage, expressing our views, grounded as they are in compassion, hope and charity, not keeping our mouths shut out of fear. Obviously there is a time and a place to do that, no-one wants to be pounced on by fierce evangelisation, a colleague quoting Revelation and fire and brimstone at 9am round the water-cooler on a Monday morning, but neither should we be afraid to put forward or propose our views in the public square, as appropriate.

But increasingly, that is what we are having to accept and what the likes of the National Secular Society are wanting to impose upon us as well as removing our rights to educate our children in accordance with our faith.

I have to accept that even if I were to delete this entire blog tomorrow, due to my Catholic Voices work and my writing for the Catholic press, any future employment prospects outside of the Catholic or pro-life sphere, are limited.

Rowan Williams misses the point when he tells Christians to grow up if they are made to feel uncomfortable or made fun of.  When you look at my most persistent trolls and aggressive interlocutors, the verbal violence has stemmed from the fact that they are made uncomfortable by my writing. By rejecting their views and offering an alternative, I am, by their logic, rejecting them, rejecting their lifestyle decisions and by not unconditionally agreeing that abortion, gay marriage, promiscuity or whatever else is perfectly acceptable, I cause enormous amounts of anger and hate to be directed at me.

Surely it is those who cannot accept that everyone will approve of their choices, who should grow up, instead of seeking to silence opponents?

Whatever the answer the fact that Christians are increasingly afraid to speak out under their real names on the internet (my mother is terribly anxious as a result of my writing), the fact that some feel silenced at work and that faith can prove a barrier to gainful employment in a chosen profession, is in itself a form of persecution. Whilst it’s helpful to keep this in perspective and remember that the situation is not as dire as in other parts of the world, we should not succumb to victim top-trumps, but neither should we deny that this is happening, turn a blind eye, shrug our shoulders and giggle whilst people are losing their livelihoods or are too scared to speak their minds.

Injustice is injustice, regardless of the semantics that one wishes to employ to describe the situation, but to try to pretend it is not happening, in a vain attempt to shore up our existing position and win popularity, is to co-operate in our own persecution. Losing your job for refusing to teach secular sex ed or gay ‘marriage’ might not be up there with getting one’s head cut off for apostasy. But that’s scant comfort to those who are in the firing line. Being disbarred from a job is more than feeling ‘mildly uncomfortable’.

Next time someone tries to smear my mental health or imply that my children are at risk and should be removed as a result of my ‘homophobic’ and pro-life views, as has happened frequently in the past, I’ll just giggle. I’ll accept that we could never be considered as suitable foster parents and give some temporary stability to needy children later on in life, due to our faith. Next time I see a job advertised that I could do with my hands tied behind my back in a local authority or a non-Catholic institution in Brighton, I’ll accept that it’s pointless to put in an application. It’s all my own fault for expounding my Catholic views in public, in today’s tolerant society.

If being grown up is about accepting, condoning, ignoring and laughing at inequality of opportunity as a result of faith, I’d rather be an idealistic child. Of course, when one’s entire ministry has consisted of serving God, when one’s religious views have led to positions within the highest echelons of academia at one of the country’s most prestigious universities and indeed when one as risen to the highest possible rank within one’s church, it is naturally very difficult to conceive of what persecution might look like for your rank and file Christian countryman.

Mad as a box of frogs

Nadine Dorries added her voice to the chorus condemning the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury on her blog. Very often I have some sympathy with Mrs Dorries, she is the UK’s answer to Sarah Palin, the politician that everyone loves to deride, her personal reputation meaning that her detractors often don’t take the time to see beyond the muddled, emotive rhetoric, designed for maximum impact, but often with minimum thought or nuance. Today’s blog is a perfect example, with Dorries taking issue on both the content of the Archbishop’s remarks and also that he dared to speak on the ‘wrong’ topic.

She starts by trying to call the Primate of the Church of England’s Christian faith into doubt:

only weeks ago he proclaimed how uncomfortable he had been with the shooting of the mass murderer and most wanted man in the world, Osama Bin Laden. In 2008 we had Sharia Gate. A speech given by the Archbishop which must have deeply offended every practicing Christian in the UK.

Many people were uncomfortable with the execution of Bin Laden. The fifth commandment states “thou shalt not kill” which is why, as Dorries should undoubtedly be aware, many Christians don’t condone either abortion or the death penalty. Dorries certainly seems to support the latter. In any event being uncomfortable with the death of an unarmed man, is not indicative of a lack of Christian faith. Dorries seems to be rather un-subtly implying that Dr Williams is more concerned with Islam than he is his own religion by rather unfairly linking Sharia Gate (when Dr Williams made some equally ill-judged comments stating that Sharia would become unavoidable in this country) with his concern regarding the execution of Bin Laden. The Roman Catholic Church also stated that the death of a man was no cause for celebration.

(His article) was a derogation of his responsibility to lead and unite his flock

Calm down dear. He guest edited a magazine and made some political comments, that is all. It is the role of the Church to offer moral comment on government policy, no matter how unpalatable that may be to those who are of a different political persuasion.

and the most transparent expose yet of the fact that at the top, the Church of England is almost wholly infiltrated and run by people who would regard The New Statesman as their own particular gospel.

Watch out, there’s a communist in every cassock! This is ridiculous paranoia and untrue to boot. The Labour party have somehow managed to infiltrate the Church of England by sending party activists off to theological college and then ordination and then managed to get them elected onto the Synod. That takes some doing. Clergymen are more concerned with the New Statesmen than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? They are all hypocrites and liars, who don’t put the Gospel at the centre of their lives? Rightyho. Whatever you say dear…

There are areas of policy where politics and the church overlap, where debate should be robust and where the church and its Archbishops could speak with authority and have real influence and effect.

Such as those which might involve the poor and disenfranchised. But here’s the nub of the issue. Dr Williams did not speak about those issues which Nadine Dorries would have endorsed and supported her agenda. That’s hardly surprising, Dorries already mentioned the readership of the New Statesmen, so all the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to do was reach and engage with the readership who would not be inclined to purchase an issue with a heavy pro-life agenda.

MPs and congregations want to know, what does Rowan Williams think of our over sexualised society, or the teaching of abstinence in schools?

Do they? Is that the most pressing issue on the minds of congregations when it comes to what Rowan Williams thinks? Are congregations actually that concerned about what Rowan Williams thinks? With the greatest of respect, church-goers will obviously pay attention to his remarks, but as they aren’t doctrine, they are simply his opinion, there to be noted and thought about, but not infallible pronouncements. I would argue that most people don’t really care about what Rowan Williams thinks about our over-sexualised society, having already come to their own conclusions. Same with abstinence, and in fact never mind most congregations, most members of the population seem to have focussed on the most negative interpretation as to how abstinence may be taught and thus don’t really care what the Archbishop thinks. Are most MPs most concerned about abstinence and the over sexualisation of society? If only.

What words does he have for his congregations on abortion or assisted suicide? What does he have to say about the screening of the documentary to be shown which next week which will shows us a man’s dying moments at a Dignistas clinic in Switzerland? What does he think of embryology research? Silence. Nothing, nada, not a word.

OK I get this and understand the point she’s making. The Church of England’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia is clear, they are pretty much against these practices, although with some room for interpretative hand-wringing. The Church leaders do need to speak more loudly and more frequently against these practices. It is nothing short of a tragedy that the leaders of Christ’s Church remain silent on the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our society. In some ways this is something of a veiled advert for the Catholic Church, although we would like our priests, bishops and archbishops to be more vocal in their defence of the elderly and unborn, often shying away from these uncomfortable topics, at least we have the authority of the magisterium, which is crystal clear on these issues.

Abstinence, abortion and euthanasia are issues that dovetail perfectly with Christian teaching, which is what Dorries is getting at. These issues are however, entirely logical stances to support, which do not require a belief in God. The support of the Church is vital, but the problem is that by linking them with the Church, Dorries makes clear her agenda is predominantly a Christian one, which gives fuel to the idea that abstinence teaching in schools is motivated purely by Christian morality, as opposed to being a good idea in itself. Abstinence makes sense and does not need to be taught within a Christian framework, as might be inferred. If Dorries is serious about getting a decent SRE programme in place, she needs to appeal to more than just the Christian vote or agenda. All these issues are rational ones, reinforced by religious faith, but not necessitating it.

I wonder if Nadine Dorries is interested in the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury on adultery? I know of some who are screaming out for guidance on this issue also.

the retreat of the church from our communities into its own ivory alters, is what has left a void within communities.

Rambling hyperbole. How precisely has the church withdrawn from communities?

A void the Big Society initiative is trying desperately to fill. The coalition, Archbishop, is trying to do the job in which your church has failed and is that maybe what has irked? That the Big Society policy has shone a light over the lazy failings of a rather wealthy established church?

Offensive piffle. How has the Church failed? Is it the Church’s job to prop up the government’s economic policies, to provide social care if the government won’t? Actually the Church provides an enormous amount of community support, from volunteers who visit the elderly and sick, to fund-raising for local causes such as hospices. David Cameron wants to emulate and build upon the model of community support that churches provide, recognising that this is all organised at a local level. The Church of England does not work from the top down; though it is governed by a mixture of episcopal, synodical and also parliamentary authority, it is also highly congregational, in short a unique structure that is very different to that of the Catholic Church. To state that the Church of England has somehow failed, without defining how, is erroneous and to call it lazy, is deeply offensive to all the members of the congregations and clergy that comprise the Church of England. What have these lazy priests, many of whom work longer hours and for considerably less pay, despite being easily as qualified as a city executive, failed to do? What else should the members of the Church of England be doing, other than what they are doing already? The only laziness here is Dorries’ statement of wealth of the Church of England. The Church of England is not some centralised organisation sitting on piles of cash, far from it. Churches cost thousands a week in upkeep, clergy salaries, pensions and houses need to be provided and maintained, not to mention the church schools. Many parishes are desperately struggling financially. To accuse the Church of England of lazily sitting back and doing nothing to tackle the problems of social exclusion whilst wallowing in money is the statement that surely must offend very single member. I’m not one, but I am offended nonetheless, having seen firsthand the selfless dedication and generosity of members of church communities.

church goers across the country scream out for guidance.

Why? How very patronising. They don’t know what to think and need the Archbishop of Canterbury to direct his scattered flock? Is the Bible and the guidance of their local priests and clergy not enough for them?

A church to lead and one they can follow. They want and need continuity and conformity, basic tenants upon which the church is based. That’s why they attend church because otherwise, they may as well stay at home and pray in isolation.

People attend Church because they want an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, which is not available at home. They want to share in the fellowship of Christ as he commanded.

They want their church leader to reflect the teaching of Jesus and to spread his word into the wider community. To influence policy in the way Jesus would do if he were here today. What people don’t want is an Archbishop hijacking their church as a platform for his own Sharia friendly, socialist, personal political views.

Ah nice, another smear on Dr Williams’ agenda. I’m always wary of the “what would Jesus do” debates. What we do know is that Jesus Christ was the most revolutionary radical person ever to walk this planet. In terms of policy he would amongst other things demand that individuals, corporations and governments do everything possible to ensure that the poor have access to nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, decent housing, good schools, adequate employment and health care. So Dr Williams was well within his remit.

Their Church? The one that is lazy and wealthy? How can the Archbishop of Canterbury “hijack” something that he is already in charge of? Isn’t this something of a contradiction in terms? Which is it, thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury the church is failing, lazy and wealthy and now he’s taking it over? Surely if the former is true, perhaps his sudden hijack might improve matters? Is every member of the Church of England right-wing? Bit of a sweeping statement. I thought the Church of England had been infiltrated and was being run by socialists already according to her opening statements. Presumably they are very happy to see Dr Williams use it as a platform for his socialist views. In any event anything that any Archbishop of Canterbury says will always be his personal views. He is not a direct sovereign of the Church, he word is not binding law.

The buzz word around Westminster is ‘Who will rid us of this troublesome priest’. The answer is ultimately his flock, as they stay at home week after week. The Archbishop is feeling the effect of true democracy as they let him know what they think of his ridiculous uttering’s, with their feet.

If congregations are down, it is for reasons far more prosaic than folk disagree with Rowan Williams. Most genuine Christians, would not let a leader with whom they may have divergences of opinion, affect their encounter with the divine. Just because one might have some personal disagreement with the political views of a bishop or archbishop, will not affect our desire to deepen in spirituality. Another nonsense banality.

The last time “who will rid us of this turbulent priest was uttered” it resulted in sainthood. Dorries should think on.

I have been loathe to write this because Dorries is one of the few pro-life MPs who we have in Parliament. There is a glimmer of sense and rationality behind some of the rhetoric, once you manage to unpick it. When she comes out with tripe like this, you just want to put your head in your hands and groan. Surely we can do better – we have to. The thought that she is the sole voice of the unborn, terminally ill and elderly in Parliament is profoundly depressing.