Ranters of Mow Cop

Ranters of Mow Cop

Friday, 30 May 2014

The new racism and today's church

This week three news stories have flagged up the issue of racism in the UK.
  1. The high number of votes and the disproportionate media coverage for UKIP in European and Local elections, and for other extreme right wing parties in some countries in the EU.
  2. the comments of Belfast pastor James MacConnell about Islam which were endorsed by Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, and are being investigated as a potential “hate crime” - at the same time as the UK's only politician of Chinese heritage announces she is leaving politics for fear of her personal safety.
  3. A survey which finds increasing levels of self confessed racism in Britain

So what does racism mean in Britain today, and how is the Christian church involved, and how should Christians respond?

The phenomenon of votes for UKIP is real, and has been extensively analysed in the political press. It may be a blip of a protest vote, it may be overplayed by the media and there a various political strategies on offer to counter it such as that of Stephen Beer of Christians on the Left or Owen Jones What is clear is that such votes are concentrated in areas where a solidly white "British" (do I mean English, Welsh, Scottish? ) predominantly working class group has become segregated from the mainstream of urban diversity, in communities where there is a nostalgia for old certainties, which is linked with an ideology of the blokeish whiteness that Nigel Farage embodies. These are the places where migration and the effects of globalisation came late. In London and the urban north west for example UKIP did pretty badly. In Essex which is full of white flight ex cockneys, in the small towns and villages of the East Anglia and the Midlands, and in some ex mining areas they harvested loads of votes.

It's fairly obvious that however we define it there is an element of xenophobia in this political tide. It may have specific local dynamics, and it's a more slippery kind of racism than the cruder earlier forms espoused by the BNP. In the current cultural climate it may be even counterproductive to describe such attitudes as racism, even more so to demonise such voters as racists. Yet it needs to be opposed from a Christian value base. Undoubtedly it is alarming that a proportion of conservative evangelical Christians seem to be turning to UKIP, on the basis that David Cameron and the Tories have betrayed the nation's Christian foundation by bringing in the legislation on same sex marriage, without weighing the fundamentally un-Christian ideology that drives the party.

Of course there is also distrust of the Westminster political elites....and will be as long as parliamentary candidates of all the main parties are Oxbridge / London types are parachuted in and accepted because there is such low levels of local participation in politics. This and the feeling that no party is really offering radical alternatives, let alone policies based on Christian values that makes many of us despair, or look to the Greens or just get on with the business of life and the work of the Kingdom in our own small corner. From Northumbria to Hodge Hill Birmingham there are Christian voices struggling with the choices before them yet knowing that saying or doing nothing will not be adequate for the present Kairos moment. Others write of The Contemporary Condition: The Dilemma of Electoral Politics and advise that Apathy, not rage, is the EU’s biggest threat

The controversy in Belfast highlights that is evident throughout western Europe at the moment that there is a widespread feeling that national cultures still matter and are seriously threatened. Northern Ireland is perhaps the extreme case in that religious identities allied with cultural nationalisms remain stronger there than perhaps anywhere else on the continent. Indeed it may be that it is only now after sixteen years of relative peace and reconciliation that the people of Ulster have had time to realise that Muslims are among them, and have different beliefs and cultures to both Catholics and Protestants. While Pastor MacConnell does not speak for all evangelical Christians in the province he certainly articulates a commonly held orthodox belief about the eternal destiny of Muslims and others who do not accept Christ. While he speaks tactlessly and perhaps offensively the suggestion that such words require police actionseems dangerously destructive of cherished rights to freedom of speech. One suspects that the attacks come more from secularist fundamentalists than from Muslims, who in my experience are well able to handle robust theological debate and controversy, often more graciously than many Christian leaders from Belfast.

The survey findings are also cause for alarm as they seem to indicate that levels of racism are rising, and that using racist language and discourse is becoming more acceptable. So how do we start to map the contours of racism in society and church in Britain today. Thirty years ago when I alongside other Christians, black, white, and of South Asian and mixed heritage were working together in Evangelical Christians for Racial justice we had a fairly simple message. God had made all people equal and racism, prejudice and discrimination was sinful. Christ had broken down the barriers, made shalom between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free so that we could all be one new humanity in Him. Today the context is more complex and confusing for a number of reasons. The key ones would seem to be the intersections in society where a number of overlapping social categories and a changing and slippery structure of discourse make it harder to navigate a single path. They are:
  • white immigration from Europe – which means it is easier for people to say “I am against immigration, but I'm not racist”, and which no political party finds easy to challenge. There is also a new emphasis on national citizenship which confers entitlement to social and economic benefits, but which excludes and limits the rights of people from much of the world.
  • the turn to religion .. especially the interaction with Islam. Across the world the shock of the attacks in New York in 2001 led to a polarisation between the West and the Muslim ummah in which a simplistic conflation of Islam with terrorism and barbaric feudalism was set against Western democracy and “Christian civilisation”. Although many faithful Christian and Muslims refused to be taken in by these definitions, and opposed the warmongers on both sides, it made it extremely difficult to articulate opposing theological views without getting drawn into the opposing camps which are largely determined by the correlation between faith, ethnicity and culture and which express themselves in racialised neo-colonialist discourses and their Islamic mirror image.
  • hybridity of cultures and the mixed heritage younger generation.. In our post-modern culture with rapid global communications, and pick and mix consumer choice fusion of cultures, in music, food, sport and tourism sometimes give the impression that the world is one big happy family. There are enough young people of mixed ethnic heritage to sustain the myth of the liberal melting pot, but which may obscure persistent racialised and structural disadvantage.
  • the breakthrough of an ethnic minority elite... the election of President Obama, and the emergence of BME voices in politics, the professions, the media and entertainment, and even as an Archbishop of the church of England, give the impression that there are no longer any racial glass ceilings to be broken through, and that talent will always rise. While these success stories are welcome they do not tell the whole story – in some spheres such as football, business and the police there remains much ambivalence and much work to be done in the struggle for equal opportunity and racial justice. Yasmin Alibhai Brown argues that if Stephen Lawrence if he were alive today, would be living in both a better and worse world and I think her case is persuasive.
  • gender politics and the new mysogyny.. The mood music for the rise of UKIP, who seemed somewhat more attractive to “blokes” than to women, includes a melodic theme which is a reaction to the perceived march of feminism. The outrageous style of Jeremy Clarkson (recently lambasted, but comfortably surviving after his use of the taboo “N” word), epitomises this culture. At its extreme there is a growing objectification and demeaning of woman, a rise in mysogyny and the persistence and toleration of domestic violence and rape. The church in Britain is not immune, as despite the numerical majority of females in its pews, it has struggled to come to terms with women in ministry and leadership, and in some sections continues to view them as second class and subordinate persons. The intersections of racial and gender disadvantage remain problematic in society and church.
  • growing economic inequality and the demonisation of the poor. In a context of growing inequality and significant destitution that is driving millions of people towards food banks and soup kitchens provided largely by generous Christians, it is not surprising that voters swing to the right and find scapegoats among outsiders. UKIP backed as it is by wealthy capitalists who have benefited from from three decades of neo-liberal economic policy, are happy to see this happen. Government and the right wing media have persistently focussed on themes of welfare dependency, scroungers and benefit fraud and the notion of broken Britain. Blame has been heaped on the failures and sins of individuals while structural causes of economic and social change have been denied. The culture of the CHAV has been stereotyped, mocked and vilified, while the churches, never strong among the white working class, have mostly fled to the suburbs, or at best gone on fishing trips and rescued a few souls. There is an implicit racial dimension here too in that the vast majority of such people live on social housing estates which are mono-cultural white working class enclaves, on the edges of provincial towns and cities. Such people and such estates have huge needs, but have been given little voice. It is no surprise if many of them turn against the “others” who are newcomers and seem to be competing for their jobs and homes and services, despite the fact that such others may be facing similar injustice originating from the same sources.
  • globalisation and the London effect.. The failure of UKIP to make inroads in the capital underline the fact that London is different. Prosperous and booming when the rest of Britain remains in economic struggle, well connected as a global political, financial and communications hub, when other parts of the country such as Cornwall and Cumbria remain in isolated poverty. And above all super-diverse, where the global diaspora of myriad tongues jostle together on the tube, while most of the rest of the UK is 95% white British or split into increasingly segregated ghetto communities. The church in London is different too, with thriving and growing Christian communities of every conceivable variety, some as mixed as their local population, others fragmented into ethnic enclaves. Although some people lament that they rarely hear English spoken in London, the majority of Londoners revel in the diverse vibrancy of the city, go about the business of making their fortunes, and even see it as a foretaste of the heavenly city that is to come. While poverty and racism is by no means absent there, the grand narrative, which is told and retold by the powerful discourse manufacturers who are based there, is one of a proud and flourishing metropolis. This perhaps more than anything else is the basis of the resentment and disconnect that is felt by many in the North of England, and the peripheral nations of the UK, especially Scotland. And doubly so by people who are marginalised on account of their ethnicity, their religion or their poverty.

And yet in this complex and confusing society that we have tried to map - across the country it is clear that people who are “other” than White British continue to have poorer life chances, and are more likely to encounter hostility, suspicion and violence. Communities are geographically segregated from each other and friendships and meaningful communication between them are relatively rare. Christian churches remain to a large extent selective by culture, social class and ethnicity, and Black and minority Christians, despite their evident faithfulness often remain marginal to the decision making bodies. And there are few Christian voices, Black or White, who are willing to make clear prophetic statements that God is not pleased with the directions our society is going. Too many voices are willing as in the time of Jeremiah to say “peace, peace where there is no Shalom”.

So what should Christians be doing?

In 1993 when the first BNP councillor was elected on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets, the churches were in the forefront of a political mobilisation of the local community, Bengali and white which ensured that he was not re-elected. In South Africa during the 27 years Mandela was in jail it was (some of) the churches led by Desmond Tutu that carried forward the struggle against apartheid. In the USA in the 1950's and 1960s it was (some of) the Christian believers under the leadership of Martin Luther King who staged the boycotts and the marches that led to desegregation and civil rights for all.

Does the resurgent racism in politics in the UK today present a similar kairos moment for the church? And if so where is the public leadership fitted for “such a time as this”?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Faith in Foodbanks?

 Issues Team has today launched 'Faith in Foodbanks?' – a resource for churches to explore issues raised by foodbanks and to make connections between the work of these foodbanks and the life, worship and witness of local churches and fellowships.

The resource pack contains information on the rise in the use of foodbanks and practical actions as well as ideas to incorporate foodbanks in the worship of the Church and 'Signs of the Times?', a six part bible study exploring the biblical foundations for being involved in foodbank ministry.

'Faith in Foodbanks?' can be downloaded from www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/faithinfoodbanks

Your contact with us about the work of foodbanks in your area has helped us to shape these resources.

I hope this resource will be useful for you to use in your local context. If you do make use of the resources, please let us know how it went – email enquiries@jointpublicissues.org.uk

Best wishes

Matt Collins | JPIT Intern |
Joint Public Issues Team | The Mission and Advocacy Cluster
020 7467 5223 [direct line]

The Methodist Church, 25 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5JR | 020 7486 5502 [Helpdesk]
Registered charity no. 1132208.

The Joint Public Issues Team: Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches working together


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fwd: Fw: New website, new brand & announcing a high-profile conference

From: William Temple Foundation <info@williamtemplefoundation.org.uk>;
To: <gregcity3@yahoo.co.uk>;
Subject: New website, new brand & announcing a high-profile conference
Sent: Wed, May 14, 2014 10:12:49 AM

New brand, new website, and announcing our high-profile conference
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Hello & welcome...

... to the first edition of the William Temple Foundation quarterly newsletter.

There have been a number of exciting changes at the Foundation over the past few months. You've probably already seen our brand new website and noticed our bright and bold new branding -- and we hope that you like it!

With over 65 years of history behind us, our past is essential to the Foundation's mission and aims, but we are also looking towards the future as we aim to grow and reach new audiences. Read more about our rebranding here.  
New website home page

Reclaiming the Public Space: Archbishop William Temple 70th Anniversary Conference 

We are very pleased to announce that on Monday 10 November we will host an exciting, high-profile conference featuring prominent speakers from a diverse range of disciplines and backgrounds.

Featuring Prof Craig Calhoun, Lord Raymond Plant, Prof Linda Woodhead and many more, the conference marks the 70th anniversary of Archbishop William Temple's death. 

Exploring the role of religion in contemporary public life, as well as looking at the legacy of William Temple's visionary thinking, the conference aims to bring together academics, clergy, community activists, and policy makers to learn from one another. 

Full details and ticket information can be found on our website.


A very warm welcome to our new trustee, the Venerable Paul Thomas, Archdeacon of Salop. 
Read more about Paul and our other Trustees.

Research, Events and Activities
Our staff and Associate Research Fellows have had a busy few months undertaking research, presenting at conferences, delivering training and joining discussion groups and networks to share ideas on the role of religion in public life. Here are some of the highlights and details of what's coming-up:

Director of Research Chris Baker will speak at numerous academic, public policy and interfaith events. On 4 June Chris will offer the keynote address at the Church of England's 'Faith in Research' conference. 

John Atherton is currently completing a book titled, 'The Wealth, Wellbeing and Inequalities of Nations: Challenging Religious Studies'. John's book will be launched at our November conference.

John Reader is completing a book titled 'A Philosophy of Christian Materialism' written with Chris Baker and Tom James. As a member of the advisory group for the Philosophy and Religious Practices Network, John reported back from their recent conference.

On 12 June Greg Smith will present at the ground-breaking multi-disciplinary conference 'Missio Dei? Evangelicalism and the New Politics'. Greg has recently published a number of very well received blogs including on his own website and on the William Temple Foundation blog

Ian Steedman's latest book 'Full Industry Equilibrium: A Theory of the Industrial Long-Run' written with Arrigo Opocher, has been accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press. Ian will visit the University of Graz, Austria, as an external examiner in June.

Charlotte Dando is contributing towards a project led by the Dialogue Society cumulating in a conference and a book on dialogue theories. Charlotte's recent magazine article 'The interfaith movement: learning to see difference differently' was published by Islam Today

On the Blog

One of the most interactive and engaging elements of the William Temple Foundation website is our new blog. Here you will find up-to-date commentary and debate on the role of religion in public life, as well as previews and discussion on our latest research. Be sure to check regularly for new posts, and join the discussion by adding to the comments section.

Recent highlights:

Charlotte Dando suggests how the media might reveal Christianity's relevance.

John Reader asks if it is time for a climate of change in political theology?
A hub of ideas

The Foundation has dropped the former moniker of 'research institute' now describing ourselves more accurately as a research and ideas hub. Whilst our staff and Associate Research Fellows continue to produce in-depth, innovative empirical research, there is so much more to the Foundation.

Beyond publications we connect clergy, church workers, community activists and academics, understanding that they can learn from one another. We believe that creative academic work is improved by interaction with everyday activities. Likewise grassroots activists may benefit from engagement with academic theory and empirical research. In this way, we seek to build a bridge between high-level theory and research, and everyday application and practice.

To truly be a hub of ideas we need lots of interested people, just like you, to get involved -- join the conversation on our blog, or better still, suggest a topic for your own guest blog; join us at our November conference; read and share our research; and if you enjoyed reading this email, why not forward it to a friend and invite them to sign-up to the newsletter.
Thanks for reading, see you next time! 
Send feedback, comments or ideas to info@williamtemplefoundation.org.uk

- New brand & website

- 70th Anniversary conference announced

- Welcome to new Trustee

- Our latest activities

- On the blog

- An ideas hub
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Friday, 2 May 2014

Food-banks - seeking an alternative way

Across the UK over the last few years food bank projects, the vast majority of them linked to Christian churches have grown at an amazing rate. The Trussell Trust alone has at least 420 outlets and has helped over 900,000 people in the last year. In Lancashire we have identified 29 food banks, only three of which are affiliated to Trussell Trust and estimate 30,000 parcels a year are being distributed to households in need.

There are signs of further expansion and funding programmes that suggest food bank provision is becoming a major and possibly permanent feature of the welfare safety net. Big Lottery is funding expansion in Scotland. over a five year programme. Local authorities have formed or are negotiating partnerships with food banks. Blackpool Food Partnership is a partnership consisting of local churches, community groups, charities and individuals and works with and is funded through Blackpool Council's Discretionary Support Scheme. Lancashire County Council's Care and urgent needs support scheme is currently inviting local food banks to apply for funding.

A parliamentary all party group on Hunger and Food Poverty, headed by Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro announced in February 2014 that it was commissioning a Parliamentary Inquiry into hunger and food poverty in Britain. You can follow the work of the Inquiry by visiting www.foodpovertyinquiry.org. Earlier in September 2013, Frank had written to the Prime Minister expressing his concern that food banks were becoming "an institutional part of our welfare state" Food banks have become a hot and controversial political issue which implicitly receive government praise as evidence of the Big Society in action, at the same time as being lambasted by the DWP when they have made the link with welfare reform and benefit sanctions. More outrageously, but in the end counter-productively the Mail on Sunday tried to rubbish their work with an agent provocateur reporter

This week Together Lancashire called together people working in local church linked food-banks to review their current work and shape a co-ordinated submission of evidence to the Parliamentary Enquiry. Numerous common experiences and concerns were shared but these were the most prominent:

  • anger at the scandal of food poverty and the large number of referrals that arise from harsh decisions or administrative delays over benefits

  • a general reluctance especially from the smaller local, and church supported food-banks to enter into a contractual relationship with local authority benefit schemes.

  • A shared desire to offer a person centred, relationship based holistic service to people in need, that would begin at least to address the underlying, economic, social, educational, health and spiritual needs of the people they served.

  • A strong desire to work themselves out of a job – to see the closure of food banks rather than the opening of new ones.

So in an ideal – or at least a better society – how might arrangements to address persistent food (and other aspects of poverty be configured and what role could churches and Christian organisations most usefully play? The ideas that follow are my personal reflections following this group discussion but come out of several years experience of working in development and support of food-banks across Lancashire

The State and Food Banks

Despite all the protests and denials coming out of Whitehall it is clear to me that central government bears much of the responsibility for the growth of food poverty and the increasing role of food banks in the thankless task of repairing the welfare safety net. This is not a party political point, for inequality was growing and food poverty was emerging under the previous government and the Labour Party shows little enthusiasm for restoring benefits to decent levels or abolishing the sanctions regime which penalises those with least ability to support themselves by their labours. The media assault on the undeserving poor, often orchestrated by government with an eye to electoral advantage, through pandering to the perceptions of those who are striving if struggling, is an unfortunate backdrop that prevents a restoration of a generous regime of support for people in poverty. There seems little real hope in the near to medium term of better economic prospects for the poor (or indeed the majority of us) let alone radical policies such as income redistribution, progressive taxation, and a basic income guarantee that might abolish food poverty in the UK. Since as Keynes once said, "in the long term we are all dead" and even his medium term policies are out of favour, it is likely that direct food aid to the destitute, through charitable food banks or some food voucher scheme is likely to be in place for many years.

Local Government and Food Aid

Since April 2014 local government has been given responsibility for the allocation and distribution of emergency welfare payments which were formerly processed by the DWP as crisis loans and community care grants. However, there are strict budget limits, and it seems likely that the funding for this will end in 2015. Different Councils have set up various schemes, which were often designed in haste, and prone to administrative problems and low take-up because of poor publicity, complex application procedures and a presumption among officials to be sceptical about the accounts of applicants. A reluctance to dispense cash has meant that in kind help such as vouchers for food, fuel and furniture are often preferred. Charitable food-banks, usually managed by churches have often been approached as partners or suppliers.

Some authorities such as Blackpool have made a genuine effort to work in partnership with a broad range of charities, have funded them generously and developed schemes aimed at ensuring that recipients of food aid are encouraged, even required, to engage with other statutory or voluntary agencies, through which there is a decent chance that underlying problems can be addressed. There is a genuine attempt to explore working together for the common good in which charities and churches can decide to play a valuable part, and holistic person centred approaches can be offered. . Even here there can be administrative and practical issues that prevent help getting to the neediest people in good time, and there appears to be a residual demand that only churches and charities seem willing to meet, among people whose lives are too chaotic to engage with officialdom, or who have found that they are not eligible for publicly funded support.

Other schemes such as Lancashire's seem more problematic, and sometimes produce a postcode lottery in different districts within the two tier authority. In 2013-14 there was some provision for cash payments, but low take-up led to significant underspend. Now in 2014 food banks around the county have been invited to tender to deliver specified parcels of shopping to eligible households at a rate of £26 per parcel.. Most of the charitable food-banks in our network simply do not have the capacity to expand their services, or the logistics to do home deliveries, or the administrative backup to deal with monitoring or other paperwork, and mostly prefer to operate according to their own ethos and policies. If the Council is unwilling to give people money and the dignity of being able to choose how to spend it, and the contract is simply to supply and deliver packs of groceries why does the Council not give the contract to Tesco, Asda, Iceland or even Ocado. The supermarkets have the supplies, the delivery vans and ordering and monitoring software to make the process cost effective. The option of a voucher system where beneficiaries could opt to collect and select, with minimal stigma at the supermarket checkout, could also be useful. Churches and charities mostly have more valuable things they could be attempting with the time and resources they have at their disposal.

How Churches can Tackle Food Poverty?

Christians, and many others who share values of decency and humanity, will always be moved towards generosity when they see people in dire need, and will wish to share (at least) their surplus with those who have little or nothing to eat. While there remains an adequate and relatively cheap food (over)supply in our communities, sandwiches or meals or bags of groceries will be given away in church halls, at vicarage doors or in the streets to people who are in evident need and are not too proud to ask. These actions of grace, which tend to err on the side of generosity rather than establishing genuine need, ("for through hospitality some have entertained angels unawares") do not need to be organised into a formal food-bank service. If in recent years they have been, it has been from fear that we will be overwhelmed by the extent of need, an outrage that something has to be done about the scandal of destitution, a sense that the service needs to be properly managed and regulated, and often because we feel good in ourselves that we have put our faith into action.

However, a few moments of reflection with some mining of theological and Biblical resources will suggest that we can do better than food banks in building a distinctively Christian ethos in our responses to food poverty. Five key values would be

  • generous hospitality

  • person centred listening and engagement

  • offering holistic approaches

  • collaborative working

  • long term sustainable community development (rather than instant charitable aid)

The implication of the first two is that Christian food ministries should move away from the ethos of the food depot or shop, towards that of the banqueting table. At the very least we should have simple cafe facilities, with at the least a brew and a butty available to all, and with volunteers with the time and listening skills to explore people's life situations and feelings about them. Holistic approaches mean that concerns with money, with housing, with family and relationships, with benefits, with employment or the lack of it, with health and with spirituality can also come to the table. Underlying issues can thus be identified and begin to be addressed. There can be a place for prayer and worship, as long as it is facilitated via open explorations rather than presented as a pre-packaged gospel demand. Collaborative working means that volunteers need to be well informed about local services, and trained to offer appropriate signposting or advocacy. Community development means a commitment to empowerment of individuals, working in groups and in relationships of mutuality with other people, helping them to identify issues and test out ways of tackling them. Some of this might translate into businesses and social enterprises, local food production schemes, co-operatives, or discount shops such as Goldthorpe Community Shop offering cheap nutritious food sourced from surplus supplies through schemes such as Fareshare

The best Christian and community food banks already are seeking to apply these principles – the rest should be thinking hard about how they can implement them. Our churches should forget about the role the government would like them to take up – the replacement of a society which shares its burdens and risks with some degree of equity and justice by a charitable welfare safety net with gaping holes that will only be plugged by our generosity and goodwill.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

A significant contribution on the theology of charity and poverty from Stanley Hauweras

How to Remember the Poor

"They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do."  Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2: 10)

This is well worth reading and pondering over.