Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Of God and the politicians

Yesterday, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debated the matter of whether it was prepared to accept ministers in same-sex relationships.   According to the Scotsman ,  it "voted to affirm its 'current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality', which stops gay people becoming ministers.  However, under a compromise hammered out during the debate, liberal congregations will be able to opt out of that and appoint gay clergy if they wish."  (The official wording of what the General Assembly agreed is here.)

What happened is interesting, but so is the way it happened.  Initially, the Assembly was presented with two options, set out in a report prepared by a Theological Commission.  One of these options would have had the Church holding to the traditional view, that homosexual activity was, per se, immoral; the other option (described as 'revisionist') would have had the church moving to accept the view that there was nothing wrong with homosexual activity.  The Assembly was given the opportunity to vote on whether it wanted one of these options, or the compromise proposal that was eventually agreed.  According to the Scotsman, 163 people voted for the traditional position, 270 voted for the 'revisionist' position, and 191 voted for the compromise.  Using the mechanism of the alternative vote, the traditional position was eliminated and the Assembly voted again and chose the compromise proposal over the 'revisionist' proposal by 340 votes to 282.

But, perhaps more interesting than what happened, or the way it happened, has been the reaction.  The decision has been described as "theologically incoherent" by Kelvin Holdsworth of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and as "confused and inconsistent" by David Robertson of the Free Church of Scotland.  It seems to me that they are both quite correct.

The official reaction, from the Church of Scotland, is, of course, rather different.   The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lorna Hood said: “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the Church.”    John Chalmers, the Church of Scotland's principal clerk, said:  "This has been one way or another, a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church."   Curious that they both used the same words, isn't it?

What strikes me is that Lorna Hood and John Chalmers sound much like party managers.  The Church of Scotland is, in many ways, like the Conservative Party.  Both have seen sharp declines in membership in recent years, both are much divided over certain issues, both are seeing members defecting to other organisations.   And the Church of Scotland seems to be acting increasingly like a political party.  The all important thing is to maintain unity and keep people who disagree sharply together within one institution - for the good of the institution.

The point is that the church is not supposed to behave like a political party.  It is supposed to be focused on listening to God.  The report of the Theological Commission asked the church to listen to God.  Some of its members (the 'revisionists') suggested that God was a loving God who wanted the church to accept that loving same-sex relationships were good things.  Others of its members (the traditionalists) suggested that God was a God who had spoken and made clear in his word that same-sex relationships were sinful and should not be treated as acceptable in the church.  Whatever their disagreements, the 'revisionists' and the traditionalists on the Theological Commission both agreed that the focus should be on God.

Yesterday, at the General Assembly, the politicians came to the fore.  A political compromise was worked out that said "Yes, God doesn't approve of this - but that doesn't really matter.  We'll allow it anyway."   The politicians won the day.  And politically, it was brilliant.  One felt that Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Milliband could have learned a thing or two from the sheer political brilliance of the decision.   This was in the league of Mr. Blair - the true master of the art.   Of course, Tony Blair didn't do God.  The politicians of the Church of Scotland do.  But one gets the impression that yesterday, God was largely left out of the decision.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

More new criminal offences . . .

In September 2008, it was reported that some 3,600 new criminal offences had been created under Labour.  At the time, the Independent noted that "Critics blamed the frenzy of law-making on "posturing" by an administration keen to win easy headlines and addicted to pushing complicated legislation through Parliament."

Five years later, the desire to create new criminal offences seems to continue unabated.  (Well, perhaps slightly abated.)   According the Telegraph (behind a sort of paywall), "The Prime Minister said he will urgently look at “extending criminal offences” to cover market manipulation in the energy sector, after BP and Shell were raided by European authorities on suspicion of rigging oil prices."  And by extend criminal offences, the Telegraph is referring to a new criminal offence that the government created after the Libor controversy.  "Following that scandal the Government created new laws which made it an offence to manipulate the benchmark mortgage interest rate."

And now we have the astonishing spectacle of an esteemed blogger of apparently libertarian outlook suggesting that we might consider new laws making some marriages between cousins illegal.

Oh dear.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Liberalism, classical and modern.

It is always nice to see a theologian who has some understanding of politics, and in particular, a concern for freedom.

I recently came across this sentence in an article by Dr. Carl Trueman on the distinction between classical liberalism and modern liberalism: "Their approach was, after all, not that of classical liberalism, where one respects the right of another to be wrong; this is that of modern liberalism, where one is free only to conform to the dominant ideology."

The full article is here, and is worth reading.

The fact that Dr. Trueman, who appears to approve of classical liberalism, is a professor at the institution founded by J. Gresham Machen, a notable Christian libertarian of the early 20th century, is an interesting coincidence.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Multiculturalists for UKIP

The last few days have seen stories in the press about UKIP local council candidates who have controversial views.  In particular, a few candidates hold views described as "extremist", "racist", and "antisemitic".  The leader of the party, Nigel Farage, apparently dislikes their views, and has disassociated himself from such candidates, and the party has suspended them.

There is, apparently, evidence that another political party has been going out of its way to discover UKIP candidates who have "extremist" opinions, who who have been associated with "extremist" organisations.  The reason for this is that they believe that decent voters who do not like the views of the the BNP, the EDL, and such bodies, will see UKIP as being a somehow unsavoury party, and, as a consequence, be less likely to vote for it.

(By the way, am I the only person who thinks that if this is true, it is not very clever?  Every time a candidate with dubious opinions is discovered, UKIP suspends him or her, thereby showing that UKIP are not a "racist party".  However the party which has been working on finding dirt on UKIP in order to paint UKIP as unsavoury comes over as being a rather, well, er, "nasty party.")

What is a bear to do?  More specifically, what is a bear from Darkest Peru, who arrived in England as a stowaway - and who has no time for the BNP and the EDL - to do?

In particular, what is this immigrant bear, who loves freedom and liberty, and is basically in favour of immigration and multiculturalism, to do?

In practice, it seems to me that people of libertarian outlook in British politics are found in three of the major parties - the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP.  (If there are any in the Labour Party, the Greens, or the BNP, I have not noticed them.)  This is not to say that the Conservatives, the LibDems or UKIP are actually libertarian parties - but they do have libertarians in their midst.  When it comes to voting, most libertarians who vote for a major party will probably vote for one of these parties.  Which one?  In my opinion, UKIP is the best of a bad lot the bunch, because, it seems to me, UKIP is more committed to freedom of speech and freedom of association than the others.

What then of UKIP's generally anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism tone - not to mention the rather "extreme" people in their ranks?  Do I really want to be associated with racists?  Do they not put me off voting UKIP?

On the contrary, they don't worry me at all, for the following reasons.

1. As the stories appeared, UKIP has made it clear that it rejected the candidates with "extremist" backgrounds.  While UKIP may contain people with views that I, as a Christian, do not like, UKIP does not like those views either.

2. Racism is treated by progressives as the worst of political sins.   It isn't.  It is just one mistaken belief among many.  It just happens to be the one that in the last 60 or 70 years, the west has had a particular fear of.  UKIP has racists in its midst?  So what.  Other parties contain plenty of people who believe that it is OK for the state to use its power to take money from some people in order to give it to others.

3. In a time when freedom of speech is not valued as much as it should be, the fact that UKIP contains plenty of people who hold politically incorrect views (views which I disagree with) means that they have a vested interest in supporting freedom of speech.

I must confess that even if UKIP were not suspending these people, but simply tolerating them as an eccentric minority, I wouldn't be too worried.  Lack of respect for freedom of speech and freedom of association is a much more serious problem in British politics than racism.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

If you really want a small state . . .

From Ed West in the Telegraph:

"Libertarians think they can get a Victorian-sized state without Victorian attitudes, but they’re deluded. If you really want a small state that doesn’t tell you what to do and gobble up half your income then start going to church, get involved in voluntary activities, tell the vicar or priest to stop droning on about the cuts and climate change and tell him to start shouting about sin and fornication. Repress yourself, you’ll find it’s good for your wallet."

So, if you are serious about libertarianism, you'll start going to church.  

Or continue to do so.