On rights, draw the veil of ignorance

Some thoughts about religious freedom vs. LGBTQ rights. [Read more…]

Youth fireside on the Paris attacks

I was asked to give a fireside for the youth on Sunday. Believing that the gospel provides a way for us to understand the world around us and help deal with its ills, I decided to discuss the Paris attacks. They had no doubt been discussed at home and at school that week and so I felt it important to have them discussed at church too, for “church” should not be detached from the world.

I had an agenda but did not want to force it. I mostly wanted the youth to think about and discuss various issues. I showed them the following pictures and asked them questions in order to prompt the discussion.

[Read more…]

Religious violence in Paris, 1988 edition

On October 22, 1988, Christian fundamentalists associated with the French National Front launched a Molotov cocktail attack inside the Saint Michel theatre in Paris. In the subsequent fire, thirteen people were injured, four with serious burns.

The attack was the result of the theatre’s screening of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The Archbishop of Paris condemned the attack but also condemned the film saying, “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.”

The Minister of Culture at the time said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”

Similar attacks in France in protest of the film included graffiti, the use of tear-gas and stink bombs, and assault.

Why Oxfam?

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Great Malvern Oxfam shop

On Mondays during the school holidays, my son joins his grandfather as a volunteer at our local Oxfam shop. His reasons for doing so are several: he’s a good boy who likes doing good things (when not killing grunts on the Xbox), he likes spending time with his grandpa, it’s his first experience of a “job,” and it counts towards a community service programme in which he is active.

[Read more…]

Holy Innocents

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents

Jeremiah 31:15-17Revelation 21:1-7Matthew 2:13-18Psalm 124, Moses 7:28

The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Let us not deceive ourselves: The collect is wholly at odds with the narrative in Matthew 2:13-18. We pray, of course, that “innocent victims” be received into God’s eternal love, but we sadly wonder why God’s “great might” does not actually seem to turn very often to the “designs of evil tyrants” despite our prayers. As I write this I am thinking of the recent slaughter of the innocents in a school in Pakistan. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Peshawar, an angel would have warned his parents to flee before the bullets started to fly. No matter that the murder of so many children in Bethlehem by Herod is historically questionable; the fact remains that innocents do die “among wailing and loud lamentation” every single day. Could not God have saved all of the children of Bethlehem, helped them all “escape . . . the snare of the fowler” (Psalm 124)? [Read more…]

Christmas and Sacred Time

Every year the same thing happens. Once Christmas week arrives, the profane calendar stops. No more Wednesday or Thursday, just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yesterday was Sunday but didn’t feel like it, just Christmas + 3. The effect lasts until about New Year before we return again to the rhythms of the sun and the times and seasons bequeathed to us by the Romans. This is why marking sacred time is so important, not because we are fundamentalists who despise the secular calendar but because we are Christians who need to find some way to extricate ourselves from its utter dominance. Christmastime offers a glimpse of how this works. [Read more…]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Advent

Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Nephi 11:16-22

The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger, for there is room for him with us.

[Read more…]

God (by RJH)

I was asked a lot of questions on John’s Trinity post and will answer some of them here. Let me state from the outset that I do not claim certainties in matters of theology, and would have no authority to proclaim them anyway. I think my beliefs are genuinely Mormon but perhaps expressed in unusual ways; we can certainly disagree and remain fellows. Systematic theologies are impossible to fully attain, especially in Mormonism. Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.

Q: Are you a monotheist? [Read more…]

Bible Videos

downloadDear readers,

Let me wholeheartedly recommend The Lumo Project, “a ground breaking, multi-language biblical film resource” (their words, but true). They have made four feature-length films, one for each Gospel account. The Gospel of John is now available on Netflix.

I first came upon the project while watching the BBC’s The Story of Jesus documentary, which uses visuals from the films alongside scholarly commentary, including from BYU’s Andrew Skinner.

Why I like it: [Read more…]

Why the church should practise financial transparency

Two initial points lest this post evoke all manner of silliness:

1. There is absolutely no evidence that the Mormon Church’s reluctance to disclose details about its finances are the result of any corruption. All evidence points to an honest stewardship.

2. It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.

Having established those principles, I would like to suggest that the church be open about its finances as a way of modelling wise and ethical stewardship for the benefit of its members. [Read more…]

The Markan Nativity

On my first New Testament quiz of the year I always set the same question: “Outline Mark’s version of the Nativity story.” Without fail one or two students fall for it and quickly learn that their assumptions about the gospels will not always withstand the scrutiny of actually reading them. The absence of the traditional birth narrative in Mark then becomes a running joke in class in the run up to Christmas, with hilarious gags such as

“Who will win the Turner (modern art) Prize this year? The empty space entitled ‘Christmas according to St. Mark!'”

doing the rounds.

All of this, of course, does not do justice to the Markan account, whose account of the nativity of Christ is rather profound. True, there is no star, no shepherds, no Christmas card scene, but the theology of Jesus’ (re-)birth is no less interesting for all that. In Mark 1, Jesus is born in four ways:
[Read more…]

Canterbury 2015

CanterburyCathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.

Herewith find yourself invited to the Mormon Society of St. James’s 2015 pilgrimage to Canterbury.

As you will see below, this will be a slightly different pilgrimage from recent years (Santiago 2013, Trondheim 2014), mostly because of the difficulty in finding reliable accommodation for what, we hope, will be a relatively large party of pilgrims.

The most important thing at this stage is for you to take note of the accommodation options and book them early. Even if you’re not certain you can come, there won’t be any harm booking hotels now and cancelling later. [Read more…]

Christ triumphant at the end of the year

Genesis 1 is probably a liturgical text from the ancient temple that celebrated God’s enthronement as lord of the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day he comes to rest, his work done, his Person triumphant. This is the king of kings, lord of lords. Such a notion — God’s royal prerogative — is not on the face of it particularly difficult for Christians, but we ought still give attention to two issues, one theological and one practical: how is it that it is Christ who is the King, and what difference ought that belief make in our lives?

[Read more…]

Sunday thought: Family history

2nd Sunday before Advent

In five days I have gone from little interest in family history (or better put, feeling I had no time to prioritise it) to burning the midnight oil trawling through old censuses and BMD records. Tolkien once said that all cosmic music — even the bad — will eventually bend to God’s harmony; in the case of the evils of the Great War it seems that one small positive is a renewed interest in family history in Britain. This was my conversion: I went to a talk on Remembrance Day about the battle of Gheluvelt fought in 1914 by my local regiment (the Worcestershires). My interest piqued — and being a Worcestershire man — I typed some family names into Family Search and became aware of the service of a number of g-grand uncles.  One was badly injured at Ypres in 1917 and reading his medical records was a grim experience. My aunt remembers he had a dent in his skull; now we know why. It’s compelling stuff.

Why do we do family history? [Read more…]

Sunday thought: Remembrance and reconciliation

3rd Sunday before Advent; Remembrance Sunday

Amos 5:18-24

Today marks Remembrance Sunday across the Commonwealth, the Sunday before Armistice Day. The focal point of the commemoration is London’s Whitehall, where the Queen and other senior royal, political, and military figures laid wreaths at the Cenotaph. For the first time since 1946, the Republic of Ireland has played an official role, with the Irish ambassador laying a wreath in memory of the 30,000 Irish who died in the Great War. [Read more…]

Your Friday Firestorm: Is a Fetus a Person?

In England there is something called the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). If I am injured as a result of a criminal act I can claim for compensation from CICA. This is possible because I am classified as a “person” according to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

A girl is currently seeking compensation from CICA because of what her lawyers believe were criminal injuries inflicted on her by her mother . . . when she was a foetus. Her mother drank half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day during pregnancy. The girl’s injuries are on the spectrum of foetal alcohol disorder.

The High Court is currently having to decide whether:

A. A fetus is a person; and

B. Whether drinking excessive alcohol in pregnancy constitutes a criminal act.

The ramifications for the legal status of a foetus (and its implications for abortion law) and the potential criminalisation of pregnant woman who abuse alcohol or drugs are potentially very interesting. How would you rule?

Bonfire Night on the Church Farm

I grew up in the golden age of British Mormonism. Young families with lots of kids enjoyed everything the church had to offer: three hours on a Sunday morning, back again in the evening for a “fireside” (a less formal meeting), Monday night with family doing Mormon-y things (scripture reading mingled with Scrabble), Friday night youth club, Saturday camps and other fun. Mormonism was our religious and social life. We were truly a “congregation of faithful men (and women, girls and boys)” to adapt Cranmer’s vision of the visible Church. Above all, church was fun. No event in the calendar better proved this than Bonfire Night at the church farm.
[Read more…]

How the Church calendar works: The Case of St. Jerome, whom no-one really likes

Followers of the Mormon Lectionary Project may have an inkling that our base calendar comes from the Anglican tradition, which we then adapt in Mormon-y ways. The Anglican calendar itself closely follows Roman Catholic tradition but in ways more acceptable to our WASPish aesthetics (no Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God for us, thank you very much Pius IX). If we ever have an MLP entry for St. Jerome, we might find ourselves ahead of the Church of England whose liturgical commissioners remain unmoved by a campaign to reinstate him in the calendar.

The feast of St. Jerome is currently a “Commemoration” according to Common Worship, whereas his fellow Doctors of the Church enjoy “Lesser Festivals” — a higher rung on the ladder (Principal Holy Days enjoy top spot). Jerome used to share their position in the Book of Common Prayer but was demoted in 1980. The importance of St. Jerome’s scholarship is not doubted — cf. the Vulgate! — but he was, according to Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, “an extremely disagreeable man.” It seems that Jerome, whatever his God-given intellectual talents, was seen by many as less than saintly.

What say you? VOTE: [Read more…]

Top Ten Christian Books

Some reading inspiration for the weekend. [Read more…]

The Christian Disciplines: Submission

I’ve been a little . . . ill disciplined in continuing this series (sorry, Melody), but the next one seems very appropriate. 

Of all the Spiritual Disciplines, none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission (Richard Foster).

The recent LDS General Conference has served another reminder that Mormons greatly value submission to God through his prophets, which submission is admitted to sometimes be difficult but always right. As the Lectures on Faith suggest, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

One does not need to look far, however, to see the evils to which religious submission can be bent. Foster is probably right: “Nothing can be put people into bondage like religion, and nothing in religion has done more to manipulate and destroy people than a deficient teaching on submission.” Let us be careful. [Read more…]

Just War

I have two memories of war as a child. The first was during the Falkland’s Conflict in 1982. We were on holiday in France and my father would listen to BBC World Service Radio to hear reports about the battle to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentina.

The second was in 1991 when the First Gulf War against Iraq began. School stopped as we watched images of the air war on the TV.

In both memories, war was a very big deal. [Read more…]

The Church and Ordain Women: Three Months On

It has been about three months since the disciplinary process that eventually led to Kate Kelly’s excommunication from the Mormon church for “apostasy” began. Now that the initial furore over that act has died down, it is worth spending a moment to see where the Church now stands regarding Kelly and OW in particular, and women’s issues in general. A recent piece by BBC World Service radio offers a fascinating glimpse into the Church’s current mindset. In the report, Head of Public Affairs Michael Otterson and Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew offer their thoughts on the affair and women in the Church generally.

Given the chronological distance from the excommunication (affording plenty of time to take stock), the setting of the interviews (a very fair BBC report), and the people involved (Otterson — who has reminded us he speaks with the Brethren’s approval; Dew — the senior female conservative voice in the Church), I believe it is fair to assume that what was said represents a good indication of current Church opinion on the issue.

Before I summarise what I believe that opinion to be, two things need stating: 1. Obviously, we don’t have the transcript of the full interviews. The Church is welcome to correct anything here that is not properly representative of what was said. 2. A sensible discussion of the conclusions I am going to draw can only really happen if you listen to the piece.

So here, in no particular order, is what the Church most likely thinks about Kelly, Ordain Women, and the current and future state of women in Mormonism:
[Read more…]

Transfiguration

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Umm Qais, Jordan, looking out over the Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mt Tabor. A military bunker can be seen in the foreground.

I have not been to the Mount of Transfiguration, but I have seen it. The view from the ruins of the ancient church at Umm Qais in Jordan (ancient Gedara) is of Tabor some twenty miles away in Israel. At Umm Qais, the connection with the miracle of the Gedarane swine is most prominent, but as I visited I found that my attention kept turning to Tabor and that strange event we call the Transfiguration. [Read more…]

My patron saint: St. James

I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be. [Read more…]

“Meet the Mormons”

The UK’s Channel 4 aired a documentary last night called “Meet the Mormons” which followed the life of a British missionary on the streets of Leeds. I haven’t yet watched it, and if I do, I’ll say something more. In the meantime, here are some Press reviews: [Read more…]

Meanwhile in Iraq . . .

image1One of the most haunting books I have read recently is William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain in which he describes and experiences the decline of Christianity in the Middle East. What makes it so arresting is that he wrote the book in 1997; the dire situation he describes has only deteriorated in the years since. Headlines such as “Christians take flight in Mosul” add to the gloom. We are fast reaching the point when Christianity may die out in much of its homeland outside of a few monasteries and expat churches. Turkish nationalism, Zionism, and Islamic fundamentalism are killing it. The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade. Here is the salient statistic: “The percentage of Christians in the Middle East was just 5% of the total population as of 2010 — down from 10% in 1900. ” A million Christian Iraqis have fled their homeland since 2003, many to Syria where, if they live under ISIS rule, life is going to look increasingly grim. The plight of all people in the Middle East is certainly a tragedy, but if even Christians in the West cannot muster any concern for their fellow believers, all hope is lost. For that reason, I support the Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. More importantly, please consider asking your elected leaders to support it.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline_Pankhurst_I_croppedThe campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it. And yet many women and men suffered, and sometimes even died, to secure something which everyone now takes for granted. This serves as a reminder that our current moral and political certainties may one day be disowned by our grandchildren.

Emmeline Pankhurst was the doyenne of the movement in England. She died on June 14, 1928 and so it seems appropriate for the Mormon Lectionary Project to mark her death this weekend.

Her speech in Hartford, Connecticut on November 13, 1913 is a remarkable thing. The rhetoric is both simple and devastating:

“Suppose the men of Hartford had a grievance, and they laid that grievance before their legislature, and the legislature obstinately refused to listen to them, or to remove their grievance, what would be the proper and the constitutional and the practical way of getting their grievance removed? Well, it is perfectly obvious at the next general election the men of Hartford would turn out that legislature and elect a new one.

“But let the men of Hartford imagine that they were not in the position of being voters at all, that they were governed without their consent being obtained, that the legislature turned an absolutely deaf ear to their demands, what would the men of Hartford do then? They couldn’t vote the legislature out. They would have to choose; they would have to make a choice of two evils: they would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up and adopt some of the antiquated means by which men in the past got their grievances remedied.”

[Read more…]

On Excommunication

In 1971, Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng published his Infallible? An Inquiry in which he declared his opposition to the doctrine of papal infallibility. This represented a very vocal apostasy from a core Catholic doctrine by a man who occupied an influential position as professor of Catholic theology at Tübingen. Küng was not excommunicated but was stripped of his missio canonica, the licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian. He was able to remain at the university as professor of ecumenical theology, however.

In 1983, the Code of Canon Law revised its statement on excommunication: no longer did it sever someone from the Church. Excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics. At no point does it cancel the sacraments — Catholics readmitted into communion are not required to be re-baptised, which is impossible anyway, given the Catholic theology of baptism. Of course, in Küng’s case this was all moot anyway. Despite his heresy, he was not excommunicated.

I point this out for two reasons. First, to remind readers that excommunication in a Mormon setting is the nuclear bomb of Christian excommunications in that it cancels the saving power of the sacraments. When you have the beating of the Catholics in the severity of your censures, it should give you pause. Second, excommunication for heresy is a rare thing in Christianity today. I do not mean to suggest that Mormonism needs to follow Catholicism in its modes of discipline, just that we should recognise the incredible significance of what is being proposed when we speak of excommunication.

[Read more…]

The Christian Disciplines: Solitude

[All posts in series]

Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon Him in yourself (Teresa of Ávila).

By “solitude”, Foster means also to include “silence” and as usual warns against excess and vanity:

“The person who views the Disciplines as laws will always turn silence into an absurdity: ‘I’ll not speak for the next forty days!'”

Finding peace in the desert places is key to hearing the voice of God, but this does not mean to literally move to the desert. For most of us, that is not our calling. [Read more…]

Ascension Day

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11Psalm 47; D&C 88:6

The Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ descended below all things and ascended above all things that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to see that he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Filmed versions of the Ascension tend to be badly done. The New Testament tells us that “as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 10-11). The literal image of Jesus ascending into the sky may well reflect what happened, but expressing this in art runs the danger of overly reifying what was essentially a mystical experience. One also runs the danger of farce: on his way to heaven, how did Jesus escape the atmosphere? Where is heaven? Is a resurrected body capable of flying? In space? How did he generate lift? Silly. The BBC/HBO Passion sensibly avoids all this by simply having the ascending Jesus disappear into a crowd in Jerusalem. He is gone but he is also all of us.  [Read more…]

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