Monday, January 09, 2017

NCBC Leaks No. 3

Concerning inter-Christian info-wars
The eco-movement: To the conspiracy theory touting Christian-right the above reference to "Global-citizenship" is seen as the key to the ulterior agenda of the eco-movement; namely, to unite the world under one oppressive world government!

My Norwich church has an enthusiastic eco-committee, a committee who are working hard to work out the implications of the big eco-issues for our church. Recently I received an email providing an end of year summary of all that had been achieved on the eco front by the committee. Now, although the anti-eco sentiments of the allegedly "born-again" Christian Donald Trump  were alluded to in the email I wanted to find out just how much the eco-committee appreciated the deep world view divisions which exist within the broad Christian scene. So, I sent a probing email. To be frank I had no great expectation of a reply (& didn't get one) as I don't have a strong rapport or synergy with these people in spite of supporting their work (my support is based on the sentiment that wise and economic use of resources is a good protestant business ethic!). However, as one of my favorite sayings by George Bernard Shaw goes "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." So being loathe to do nothing I just couldn't stand idly by and let this eco-church email pass without attempting to draw attention to what (to me) is a very pressing issue; namely, the problem of vicious Christian infighting which revolves round the eco-issue (among many others!). Here's my reply:


Dear All,

Thanks very much for the effort and work that's gone into all this. I'll do what I can to help on the premises front. Although that won't be very much, every little helps (I'm actually much more of an arm chair theorist in temperament than I am a practical man).

Now, I guess, or at least I am hoping, that some of you are aware of the sharp world-view conflicts within the Christian scene: Viz: Perhaps some of you know that across the Atlantic evangelico-fundamentalist Christianity is organically joined to the republican-ultra right; so much so, in fact, that in some quarters the eco-movement is thought of as one of Satan's many end-time deceptions (See for example christian right-wing conspiracy theorist Tim Lahaye etc).

Now, you may be aware of all this, but it might seem a long way away over the pond. However, given that social networks follow "small world" structures I'm sure that it wouldn't take much local defective work to find out where eco-scepticism and the much more strident anti-eco conspiracy theorism has close links with Norwich Churches and Belief Communities and thus concomitantly all the inevitable potential for sharp controversy and polarisation.

Just thought I'd bring this issue to the fore and add it to the mix of thought; it may have a bearing as per the allusion to Trumpkinism in the notes below.

Tim

Polarisation passion feeds. Passion polarisation breeds. Polarisation is passion's cause, for crusade and holy wars.


To be fair I suppose it is really difficult to know how to respond positively to Christian infighting, infighting which signifies fundamental world view differences (See herehere and here); after all, this infighting compromises the faith, or at least raises big questions over it; ignoring these question is the easiest response.

The holy wars between Christians are passionate, very passionate. Consider, for example, the following: 

The August 2016 edition of Premier Christianity magazine carries a news item on page 13 entitled "Trump has made a commitment to Christ, says Dr James Dobson". The article reports that Dobson  claims televangelist Paula White had 'personally led him (Trump) to Christ'. Dobson is a right-wing  Christian who, according to the article, sits on Trump's evangelical advisory board.

Let us now turn to the November 2016 edition of Premier Christianity. This edition contains an interview with Tony Campolo  a "red-letter" evangelical who supports Hilary Clinton and says "She (Clinton) wanted to use politics to do what her Christian faith had led her to do". Campolo, as an evangelical who accepts gay marriage, would likely be considered as at best a very substandard and untrustworthy Christian by the Christian right who have more tolerance towards Trump's sleaziness than they do toward the conscientious acceptance of gays. In fact, as a rule the Christian conservative right is far less accepting of the authenticity of  the faith of the 'Christian left' (such as Campolo) than the 'Christian left' is accepting of the Christian right. 

However, the point under scrutiny here is that the documentary evidence suggests that both Clinton and Trump identify as Christians. In short the Trump vs. Clinton presidential campaigns were effectively a Christian-on-Christian celebrity 'death match'. The Christian conservative right are likely to attempt to solve the paradox that this introduces by claiming that Clinton isn't a Christian - they may even claim she's demonically inspired! (See video below). To me, as an outside observer, that just doesn't ring true! Every sectarian division of Christianity between here and Salt Lake city have these exclusives opinions of their standing before God; it just smacks all too much of typically human conceits and self-deceits for me to believe any of it!

Alex Jones: You won't want for a moonshine if you believe him!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

NCBC Leaks No. 2

Concerning Fundamentalist John MacKay
Flying into the teeth of the evidence: Many fundamentalists believe that less than 6000 years ago 
people lived with carnivorous dinosaurs - except that they weren't carnivores at that time, they tell us!

I thought I had better publish the following item which I added as a comment to this post* on Network Norwich and Norfolk. It is topical because the main sanctuary of Norwich Central Baptist Church is currently being rented by John MacKay's fundamentalist Young Earth publicity and teaching organisation.

***

Yes, this article doesn’t make it clear that John MacKay is part of a fringe fundamentalist group who do not reflect the opinions of the majority of Christian scientists, evangelical and otherwise. 

But I would like to draw attention to some back ground on John MacKay. In the late 1970s John Mackay was a business partner of Ken Ham; they ran a business selling YEC literature. But according to the documentation I link to below there was a complex three way schism starting in the late 1980s triggered by the accusations MacKay made about Ken Ham’s secretary Margaret Buchanan. As a result MacKay fell out acrimoniously with his own organisation, now called Creation Ministries International (CMI). It seems that even today there is considerable rancour between CMI and MacKay. Also, CMI remain bitter about the way they were treated in the early 2000s by Ken Ham's start up, Answers in Genesis-USA. I needn’t go into details as those details are provided in the documentation I link to below. The revelations in this documentation are disquieting to say the least, quite apart from one’s opinion on Young Earth Creationism. As far as I'm aware the troubling questions surrounding this affair have never been satisfactorily cleared up

The British Centre for Science Education had a web article that is probably best read first as an introduction to the affair. My copy of it can be obtained here:


Some of the links in this article are orphaned but that doesn’t matter as I supply links to the requisite documentation below.

Creation Ministries International at the time of writing still have a web page on the affair. My copy of this page can be found here:


The original, if it is still available, can be found here:

hxxp://creation.com/regarding-john-mackay

Supporting documentation can be found at these links:



Answers in Genesis’ theme park manager, Ken Ham, has, it seems, come out on the side of MacKay. See this link:



Footnote:  * This post has gone as of 2 May so I have now linked to my own copy of the article

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Baptist Aristocracy

1840-1912

The picture above is of George White; that is, Sir George White to you and I.  White takes his place with the names of other establishment grandees who were once part of Norwich Central Baptist Church (then known as St Mary’s Baptist Church). If you are local to Norwich you may recognise some of those names: e.g. The Coleman’s, The Jewson’s and, Sir Samuel Morton Peto. These men were the pillars of a protestant society: They were MPs, Sheriffs, Mayors, business magnates and - this is very ironic - knights and baronets. George White was an MP as well as director of the Norvic shoe factory which can still be seen on St. George's today. Norwich had lost its position in the textile business as textile production moved to the power rich north; it might also have lost out in the shoe trade were it not for White who introduced mass production to shoe making. In fact the St George's works was the largest shoe factory in Gt. Britain under one roof.


White attended St Mary's Baptist Church in Duke Street for many years and was a Deacon there for 29 of them. The church was a fashionable place of worship for prominent Liberal businessman and provided a forum for debate on the moral and political issues of the day under the ministration of George Gould and his successor J H Shakespeare.

How is it, then, that a small Anabaptist* sect of 1669 inclined to fanaticism (as are marginalised groups in general) and oppressed by government and state church should eventually become a major and respected player in politics and business? That, no doubt, is a long story; the result of the confluence of many causes lost in the mists of time: One factor may have been the increasing confidence of an industrial nation growing in power as it left behind the paranoid days of pervasive fear about plots against the state by malign conspirators.  Moreover, after the repeal of the Test Act in 1823 (an act barring non-conformists from civic office) the way was clear for non-conformists to take up public appointment. The progressive Whiggish ethos at NCBC favoured an involvement in liberal politics and business.

The English Baptists had their origins in 17th century republicanism and this was not conducive to them viewing the aristocracy and the concentration of power in a monarch with any great favour. Ironically, however, by the 20th century these Baptists had become gentlemen and they were starting to ape the aristocracy of a former era. They were building churches that looked suspiciously like the worship houses of their well-to-do state church brethren. Moreover, the ruling influential families of the church now had their own coats arms and these can still be seen today in the stained glass windows of the main worship space of Norwich Central Baptist Church.  Viz:


In the left window the coat of arms with pictorial references to whelks is an echo of the family name of “Wilkin”. A notable member was Simon Wilkin: Although he had rather mixed business fortunes he was successful as a publisher and literary scholar.

In the right window are the coat of arms of the Jewson family: A notable member was Percy Jewson whose memorial can be seen in the church. He served as a Lord Mayor of Norwich and a liberal MP. 

In the middle window we have the coat of arms of the Colman family of Coleman’s Mustard fame. Notably Jeremiah James Colman attended the church (See also here). He was another Baptist who was a scholar, businessmen and politician. He became Liberal MP for Norwich in 1871.

Of course, those days have long since gone and a Baptist community well connected to the establishment has waned to be replaced by a congregation who from the outset take it for granted they are not so well enfranchised with power and influence and must cope with that fact. The ego nourishing self-image of Baptists has changed from establishment movers and shakers to that of the holy heroic remnant. There are opportunities and dangers for both types of congregation. The Baptist “aristocracy” of the past had the opportunity to bring a Christian influence to the corridors of power but a sense of having arrived might tempt them to put down roots in this world and lose that restless pilgrim striving which should always be the lot of the Christian. On the other hand the socially marginalised congregations of today are spiritually honed by their more humble status as they identify with the common people, but they may succumb to alienation and be plagued by separatist and sectarian paranoia. However, the underlying spiritual challenges of both types of Christian community remain the same:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God……..  (Philippians 2:3-6)


Footnote
* Baptists of that time were called Anabaptist which means “Re-baptise”. This appellation would have had a subversive connotation as the state churches of the day endeavored to baptise all infants thus bringing them into the fold of state religion. Re-baptising was therefore likely to be read as a rejection of that religion.

Relevant Links:

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Midnight Eucharist at Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral: Romanesque and Gothic
The liturgy at Norwich Cathedral for the Xmas midnight service is, in my opinion, inspiring. It picks out all the positive aspects of the faith which we associate with Xmas and explains why Christmas brings light, hope and faith to millions of souls who have otherwise lost their way or are oppressed by darkness. Below I reproduce a few of the highlights from the order of service:

Prayers of penitence before the crib
Deacon: Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. Let us turn to the light and confess our sins.
All: Amen
Deacon: God our father you sent your Son full of grace and truth; forgive our failure to receive him.
All: Amen
Deacon: Jesus our saviour you were born in poverty and laid in a manger; forgive our greed and rejection of your ways.
All: Amen

The Collect:
Bishop: Eternal God who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness or your true light..bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on Earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
All: Amen.

A Christmas proclamation
Choir: God is with us. Hear ye people. Even to the uttermost end of the earth. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. The people that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them the light has shined. For unto us a child is born! For unto us a son is given! And the government shall be upon his shoulder; And his name shall be called Wonderful! Counsellor! The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. Hear ye people. Even to the uttermost end of the earth. God is with us. Christ is born!

Hymn: It came upon a midnight clear
All: For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.









Prayers of intercession
Bishop: Father, in this holy night angels and shepherds worshiped at the manger throne. Receive the worship we offer in fellowship with Mary, Joseph and all the saints through him who is your Word made flesh, our saviour Jesus Christ. 
All: Amen.

The distribution
Bishop: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those who are called to his supper.
All: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.


My Comment
A humble stable, a helpless new born, a manger throne, worshiping ouctast shepherds, gentile astrologers, a mother of humble birth,... and above all the lamb of God who was to give himself to the uttermost.....who would have thought that these were to be the means by which in these last days God has spoken. Whoever, except from a divine perspective, would be able to say of those who viewed such an apparently prosiac scene: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!

The stable throne isn't the natural revelatory expectations of guilt and angst ridden human religion, religion which likely majors in one or more of: high and mighty patriarchal rulers, power, authoritarianism, sectarianism. judgement, condemnation, rule driven salvation, punishment by torture, vengeance, fear, hell and hamnation for the infidel, gnosticism for the spiritual elite etc....... this clustered complex fills the heads of those who have yet to see a vision of the God of grace for themselves or who think the gospel is only for their very bespoke religious community with its proprietary practices and beliefs.  

In the above liturgy, however, we see divine self-revelation. In all its facets the Gospel is beyond human creative spiritual thought; the evidence of that is seen in the fact that just about every doctrinaire religious sectarian I have met, I have found they do all they can to de-legitimize and undermine the means by which the liturgy above is commended to one's heart, namely, the Spirit of Adoption which cries out "Abba, Father!"

In humble circumstances we find The Unexpected Revelation

Monday, September 07, 2015

Seventy Years Ago

The following picture is a scan taken from the post-VE day edition of St Mary's Baptist Church's magazine, The Messenger,  dated June 1945. The scan shows the lead article written by the then minister Gilbert Laws. It takes the view that God was clearly on the side of the British. There is some justification for that view: For a militarily ill prepared country things hung in the balance for a while and when against the odds victory came about such evil was uncovered  that it seemed impossible for God to have been on the side of the enemy. One other thing which comes out is that St Mary's Baptist Church clearly felt very much part of the British establishment Christian scene; an ironic fact considering their origins in a strongly dissenting out-on-a-limb nonconformity (See my NCBC History walk for more details)

(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ten Years Ago, Sixty Years Ago & Eighty Years Ago

Our Oldest Church Magazine: August 1922

St Mary's Baptist Church (Now  called "Norwich Central Baptist Church") used to have a monthly church magazine called "The Messenger".  Copies of the magazine going back to 1922 exist in the church records and form a valuable historical resource. But The Messenger was axed at a church meeting circa 2005 after well over eighty years of distribution; the reasons for this were probably to do with a combination of a lack of interest, support and resources. 

The Messenger gave me an opportunity to contribute and so I wrote a few articles for it (four in all) entitled "Fifty Years Ago" (although one article was actually called "Sixty Years Ago"). In these articles I would quote text taken from a Messenger published fifty years previously but of the same month. I wrote these articles between 2004 and 2005, just before the magazine got axed. Below I reproduce an article I wrote for the April 2005 Messenger which harked back to April 1955. It tells us something very different about the state of the church and the youth work of that day: See if you can spot the difference.


***
From The Messenger of April 2005:
Fifty Years Ago

The Messenger of April 1955 records a membership at St Mary’s Baptist church of 513 and Sunday school with 319 “scholars” served by 63 teachers. And yet, twenty years before this date, the April 1935 Messenger reports a membership of 704, and a Sunday school in 1933 of nearly 700 “scholars” and 137 teachers. If by 1955 they were getting a little worried about decaying numbers they need not have done because the US cavalry were coming over the hill! The April 1955 takes up the story:

The telephones in the pressrooms are ringing impatiently, there is the whirr and click and flash of cameras. Hundreds of people have gathered at the quayside to give him a welcome. Eyes are goggly and mouths are agape. He is not from Hollywood, he is Dr. Billy Graham….. “Phenomenal” is the word for the way in which the secular Press have dealt with his return to this country …..
            …. In conjunction with the Dr Graham relays from Glasgow to Norwich, St. Mary’s is arranging for the training of counselors. The lectures will be available for all committed Christians and will continue on Thursday evenings at 7.30 in the Shakespeare room until 14th April.
            Now to prayer for all these ventures and a humble trust in God whose harvest we seek to reap.

A year later the tone of the May 1956 Messenger is upbeat. In an article headed “It Grows and Grows” we read:

One of the most encouraging sights on Sunday evening is to look up into the gallery of St. Mary’s to where the young people, the church of the future, are sitting. A few weeks back there was only one vacant seat.

It’s just as well we haven’t got these numbers in youth church – if we did then when the young people go to their classes on Sunday morning, all the teachers would have to go with them, leaving the Rev. James East looking out on ……. an empty church.

***

Church attendance on a national level rallied somewhat during the austere fifties. But the sixties were yet to come and that decade broke many intellectual and social molds, putting church attendance under pressure and helping to create an embattled marginalized community conducive to the growth of fundamentalist attitudes. However, it's probably true to say that many parents of the fifties and early sixties, although still respecting the church as an institution, sent their children to Sunday school just to get a bit of Sunday peace and did not attend church themselves. Hence, the inflated ratio of Sunday school numbers to church membership that we see above. But I don't think anyone was complaining; it was a nice problem to have!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

NCBC History Walk Version 5


Norwich started as a cluster of Saxon thatched huts in a river valley; after nearly a 1000 years the cathedral still dominates that valley.

A new version of my Norwich Churches and Belief Communities history walk can be downloaded from here.