A Framework for Faith

I have followed the discussions and comments between Catholic Adoption Agencies and Government Figures over the weekend in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations. I have today posted a response we have made on the Faithworks website at www.faithworks.info/latestnews and would be happy to make comment on it here as the debate continues. You will see it is both a maintaining of the Distinctive Position we have held on this issue and a pragamtic attempt to help and support practitioners and activists on the ground through the establishment of a new and innovative way forward. It is time for a new Framewrok for Faith.

21 comments

  1. I’m not entirely clear what a new ‘Framework for Faith’ will look like but from what I can gather it takes for granted a lot of goodwill and willingness to work with Christian groups on the part of government that, in the light of today’s news of the government rejecting the joint plea by the Catholic Church and the Church of England for exemptions from equality regulation, may well not be there in reality.
    Further to the government’s apparent humiliation of the two largest Christian denominations in this country, is this something Faithworks would celebrate given that, ‘one of the obstacles to reaching a solution are the limitations of the institutional Church’?

  2. Chris
    We would never celebrate the humiliation of anything or anyone. It is clear, however, that we need a better understanding of ourselves and our role in the world than one which revolves around rights and demands. I am working on an extended piece for this at the moment, which will be available soon.
    The Framework for Faith proposal does assume goodwill – and perhaps that is niaive and apparently impossible. But surely a constructive dialogue and an attempt to keep bridges open and help all parties in this increasingly fractured discussion to hear and understand one another is welcome?
    Would love to know whether you think the church should just withdraw from the world and from society en masse or what you think the way forward should be?
    Thanks

  3. Far from withdrawing I think the church should engage much more closely and have much more confidence in its message, whether expressed through words or deeds. I am in favour of a church that expresses itself in terms and on issues that are understandable and of concern to all and avoids using either the terminology or causes of the individualist right or the secular left. I support a church that expresses itself in love but understands that truthfully and faithfully doing so will sometimes, perhaps even often, put the church at odds with those who otherwise express themselves in language that might ostensibly suggest love and concern for justice. I think Faithworks’ desire to engage with society and government in their terms and in their language is laudable and intelligent, but not if it drives a wedge between the established churches and whatever the ‘Faithworks movement’ ends up representing (I understand it’s still growing and hope this continues). I also would like to see a church that does not, conciously or unconciously, adopt the terminology, and as a result, the ideology of ideas that in our times express themselves in the concepts of ‘diversity’, ‘equality’, ‘human rights’, even ‘social justice’. These are all ideas and terms which the Bible has some strong things to say about, but I don’t think when others talk about them we are talking about the same things although surface similarities may at first be strong. AInd these differences I would argue go right to the centre of opposing world views. I’m not just having a pop at Faithworks;this is something that in my view affects most of the church except those churches where they talk a spritual language so divorced from most people’s experience as to make them incomprehensible. I look for Christians to speak in a measured,loving yet impassioned way to the society of today on the issues of importance but while maintaining a true distinctiveness that not just informs their personal relationships,actions and organisations but their world view in the fullest sense. What prevents this is not institutionalised relationships or the lack of them, but the presence within individuals and churches of the real love of Christ and the conviction and courage that that requires.

  4. Chris
    I agree with almost everything you say here except that the very institutionalisation of relationships between government and church means that the former are viewed in one ‘monochrome’ lump. There is surely no doubt that the holding of ‘political’ power is not congruous with the New Testament. The church’s power, our power as followers of Christ must and only springs from our relationship with God and only remains with us as long as we do the work to which he has called us. I think we are saying the same thing on this, in slightly different ways.
    Where I disagree is in your suggestion that we should avoid using words like diversity, equality, social justice etc (unless I am misunderstanding you here, in which case, help me out!) These are strong concepts in Christian and Jewish spirituality and Scripture. I actually think the divergence of our view of them from society is a great opportunity for us to develop a strong and clear apologetic about what diversity actually is, wat equality actually means and what social justice actually entails. I am not borrowing the clothes of a post modern culture to dress the gospel and make it more pallatible (although I think that such an approach is entirely biblical and correct. cf Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17, his words to the Galatians and the way in which he stole the words and poetry of contemporary thinks as starting points for a dialogue of thoughts and life with those not yet Christians. Also cf the way in which the church has for its entire history replaced pagan and non Christian festivals with its own ) What I trying to do is maintain a commitment to a gospel which is more than words and more than preaching as well as being more than a social service and more than helping people.
    We have over-emphasised both sides of the Good News far too often, and in so doing have often become the sops of political gainsayers and power brokers. We have also allowed a non Christian view of power, diversity, justice etc shape the way we think about ourselves and our relationships with the world. An authentic expression of Christian spirituality has a very different approach to the issues of diversity, equality, influence, conscience and identity than is often articulated by instituitionalised religion (by the way I do not mean ‘Anglicanism, Catholicism or any other particular ‘ism’ when I use the word institutionalised, rather I mean the spirituality that tries to purely exist in terms of codifying its practise and legitamizing its distrinctive allegiance to God in order to protect itself)
    Any way, just a few rambling thoughts on a Friday morning. I am about to post a statement around those five issues – identity, equality, influence, conscience and diversity – on our website and it may well be carried in some press next week.
    Cheers

  5. Just a few quick things:
    1. Holding of power is incongruous with the NT view of the Church. Not sure that’s the case. The early church was not in a position to hold power, quite the opposite so it’s not really talked about. But as I mentioned before, the church came to political power when secular powers had collapsed and society was threatened with chaos and disintegration. The church stepped in, as it has done in many other instances both at local and national levels, to aid society. This is a service to society.
    2. When thinking about identity and diversity I hope you also address what actually makes these things possible. That is, to my mind, a nurturing environment something similar to what Paul talks about in Acts 17. There is a problem in that diversity comes from real identity. Real identity comes from an awareness of who you are in an individual, familial and cultural context (Spritual identity, the most important, is bound up in all of those). We talk of people needing space and time to grow as individuals and also the importance of time together as a family but we neglect the last part as not important, or at least not important for some and important for others. This is relevant to the diversity issue as diversity as something to be celebrated is to a large extent driven by the desire to recognise different cultures. But if we overemphasise diversity we undermine the very thing that makes cultural diversity possible which is, I think, alluded to in Acts 17:26-27. To illustrate in a clumsy way, I once heard Steve use the analogy of 1000 flowers blooming as a picture of diversity. As most gardeners know, flowers generally bloom much better when they don’t share the ground with many other plants. In fact, 1000 flowers do bloom in a garden; it’s called the world and they bloom (or not) as they seek for God, ‘…and perhaps reach out for him and find him.’ This is not a racial argument, by the way, but a plea to understand what makes for true diversity, that diversity must have limits and that the diversity called for today might ultimately diminish real diversity and identity.

  6. Chris
    Thanks for the comments. Not sure I agree with all of the reasoning, particularly around 1 and 3, although I understand the point in 3 quite clearly. I think a view of the church stepping into to save society in the collapse of secular / temporal power is rather rosey-eyed. But I agree strongly that the need for rooting as an individual, in a family and in the world are all very important – and think you are right to highlight the lack of emphasis given to family and the most basic building block of community. I don;t think the way to strengthen diversity is by segregating, though, and I am sure that is not what you are suggesting. If the multicultural age is coming to an end, what do you think replaces it? I’m think this through and would love to hear your thoughts

  7. Chris
    Thanks for the comments. Not sure I agree with all of the reasoning, particularly around 1 and 3, although I understand the point in 3 quite clearly. I think a view of the church stepping into to save society in the collapse of secular / temporal power is rather rosey-eyed. But I agree strongly that the need for rooting as an individual, in a family and in the world are all very important – and think you are right to highlight the lack of emphasis given to family and the most basic building block of community. I don;t think the way to strengthen diversity is by segregating, though, and I am sure that is not what you are suggesting. If the multicultural age is coming to an end, what do you think replaces it? I’m think this through and would love to hear your thoughts

  8. ‘The Multicultural Age’ perhaps dignifies the concept more than it deserves. What replaces it is a true respect by all for cultural and national difference, both by immigrant and indigenous person, to use two rather ill defined terms. On the one hand I wouldn’t dream of saying that national identity is based on race or blood, not in a British context anyway. It is open to all and history shows this. On the other, I would be extremely disappointed with myself if I went to live in another country, with the intention of staying and my children growing up there, and I did not make the effort to align my sense of community and future with the national culture that was there. The onus would be on me to change and redirect my commitment and emotional attachment. Not easy but nobody ever said being an immigrant was. Otherwise it’s just colonisation and not the C19 kind where people leave after a generation or two.
    Some people might think this is all about uniformity and conformity and not diversity. I go back to what I said about where true diversity comes from rather than the ‘We all love Chicken Tikka’ variety. But again, if we take the analogy outside of our situation and try and imagine if it is acceptable to go to another society, culture or nation and say,’You’re a bit dull. You need to be enriched and improve your diversity.’ It would be farcical and insulting and shows ignorance of the fact that every culture has enough diversity in and of itself.
    But I don’t want to go on about this too much. I need to think things through a little more clearly but a do sense a void and reluctance to think things through in Christian circles and this frustrates me. In the wider secular world, this is changing though as more and more work is done on the matter (Roger Scruton,Billy Bragg, Michael Burleigh, Rodney Stark, Trevor Philips etc.). Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much from a Christian perspective except by a chap called Wale Babatunde who wrote something called ‘Great Britain has Fallen’ which I haven’t read and doesn’t sound encouraging but was endorsed by Baroness Cox. John Sentamu has also said some things from a Christian perspective. It is instructive that these two are from African backgrounds, and had the confidence and conviction to say things others felt they couldn’t. As I say, I think it is an important part of identity (though not an overiding part which would make me a Fascist) and as such Christians should have something positive to say about it.

  9. In what he called a “sensible compromise”, the Prime Minister said faith-run agencies would be given nearly two years to adjust to the new rules – due to be voted on by MPs next month. All “reasonable people” would be able to accept the compromise, he said, adding: “There is no place in our society for discrimination.”
    Is our faith something that can be adjusted to suit government rules? And should christians be regarded as ‘reasonable people’?

  10. Steve
    I think the next 21 months will see a great deal of dialogue behind the scenes about right understanding of diversity – both for service receivers and service providers. The actual text of the PM’s statement is not as black and white as the press report, although the reality is that the 21 month deadline is active.
    I think the challenge for us as the Christian communities in the UK is to work out what it is that is nn negotiable for us and it is that is just our preference, and then make the hard choices of conscience and commitment that we need to make.
    I don’t think Christians are unreasonable people and I think we should be clear, concise and humble in our responses to others and in our engagement with the world (Always be ready to give an answer etc from Peter) but I also think that we have a biblical commandment to be true to God above and beyond everything else. How we do that is the interesting question…

  11. On the subject of a true understanding of diversity with particular reference tothe adoptio issue, I wonder what people make of this perspective from a recent article by Roger Scruton (sorry it’s a bit long!):
    ‘On the whole we have accepted that laws against discrimination might be needed, in order to protect those who have suffered in the past from hostile prejudice. Every now and then, however, we wake up to the fact that, although homosexuality has been normalised, it is not normal. Our acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, of same-sex couples, and of the gay scene has not eliminated our sense that these are alternatives to something, and that it is the other thing that is normal. This other thing is not heterosexual desire, conceived as an “orientation”. It is heterosexual union: the joining of man and woman, in an act which leads in the natural course of things not just to mutual commitment but to the bearing of children, the raising of a family and the self-sacrificing habits on which, when all is said and done, the future of society depends. The propaganda that has tried to rewrite heterosexuality as an “orientation” is really an attempt to persuade us to overlook the real truth about sexual union, which is that it is, in its normal form, the way in which one generation gives way to the next.
    This truth is recognised by all the great religions, and is endorsed in the Christian view of marriage as a union created by God. This explains, to a great extent, the reluctance of religious people to endorse gay marriage, which they see as an attempt to rewrite in merely human terms the eternal contract of society. To put it in another way, they see gay marriage as the desecration of a sacrament. Hence the growing conflict between the gay agenda and traditional religion, of which the current dispute over “adoption rights” is the latest sign. According to the Christian perspective — and it is one that is shared, I believe, by Muslims and Jews – adoption means receiving a child as a member of the family, as one to whom you are committed in the way that a father and mother are committed to children of their own. It is an act of sacrifice, performed for the benefit of the child, and with a view to providing that child with the normal comforts of home. Its purpose is not to gratify the parents, but to foster the child, by making him part of a family. For religious people that means providing the child with a father and a mother. Anything else would be an injustice to the child and an abuse of his innocence. Hence there are no such things as “adoption rights”. Adoption is the assumption of a duty, and the only rights involved are the rights of the child.
    Against that argument the appeal to “anti-discrimination” laws is surely irrelevant. The purpose of adoption is not to gratify the foster parents but to help the child. And since, on the religious view, the only help that can be offered is the provision of a real family, it is no more an act of discrimination to exclude gay couples than it is to exclude incestuous liaisons or communes of promiscuous “swingers”. Indeed, the implication that adoption is entirely a matter of the “rights” of the prospective parents shows the moral inversion that is infecting modern society. Instead of regarding the family as the present generation’s way of sacrificing itself for the next, we are being asked to create families in which the next generation is sacrificed for the pleasure of the present one. We are being asked to overlook all that we know about the fragility of homosexual partnerships, about the psychological needs of children, and about the norms that still prevail in our schools and communities, for the sake of an ideological fantasy.
    To oppose homosexual adoption is not to believe that homosexuals should have no dealings with children. From Plato to Britten, homosexuals have distinguished themselves as teachers, often sublimating their erotic feelings as those two great men did, through nurturing the minds and souls of the young. But it was Plato who, in The Laws, pointed out that homosexuals, like heterosexuals, must learn the way of sacrifice, that it is not present desires that should govern them, but the long-term interests of the community. And it is surely not implausible to think that those long-term interests are more likely to be protected by religion than by the political ideologies that govern the Labour Party.’

  12. Hello Malcolm,
    Just read your statement on FWs news and Tony Blair’s statement. If I accept your view that this is a positive reply dressed up as a rebuff, should I read this to mean that excemptions will in the end be made (once the political temperature has suitably reduced) and justified along the lines that it would be impossible ‘to maintain the existing body of expertise’ in the adoption sector without exemptions, thereby putting at jeopardy the interests of children?

  13. I think what we may end up trying to work out is an approach that allows for a diversity and mosaic of service delivery that in the round allows for non-discrimination and inclusion but also highlights the distinctiveness of service providers – but it is too early to say at the moment.

  14. I believe that the current situation that believers find themselves in with regard to ‘the rock’ of staying true to Godly spiritual principles and the ‘hard place’ of giving ourselves to selfless servanthood in the secular arena is down to ‘situational ethics’. I do believe that much of the vitriol that has been evident is down to the difference between those believers who have imbibed ‘situational ethics’ with their mother’s milk and those believers who have no idea what ‘situational ethics’ means.
    From a background of 5 years voluntary work experience in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau where discrimination was unnacceptable (and rightly so) I found that I was also distinctly discouraged from empathising with the client – so different from the ‘faith’ perspective. Having had a father who died from Alzheimer’s Disease, it was this discouragement which caused me to leave the CAB (after a client with whom I’d empathised wrote in to say how they’d been blessed by it).
    However, despite having read your book, Malcolm, I have not yet found a ‘via media’ between ‘turning the other cheek’ in servanthood and becoming a ‘doormat’ for discrimination and judgement.

  15. I believe that the current situation that believers find themselves in with regard to ‘the rock’ of staying true to Godly spiritual principles and the ‘hard place’ of giving ourselves to selfless servanthood in the secular arena is down to ‘situational ethics’. I do believe that much of the vitriol that has been evident is down to the difference between those believers who have imbibed ‘situational ethics’ with their mother’s milk and those believers who have no idea what ‘situational ethics’ means.
    From a background of 5 years voluntary work experience in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau where discrimination was unnacceptable (and rightly so) I found that I was also distinctly discouraged from empathising with the client – so different from the ‘faith’ perspective. Having had a father who died from Alzheimer’s Disease, it was this discouragement which caused me to leave the CAB (after a client with whom I’d empathised wrote in to say how they’d been blessed by it).
    However, despite having read your book, Malcolm, I have not yet found a ‘via media’ between ‘turning the other cheek’ in servanthood and becoming a ‘doormat’ for discrimination and judgement.

  16. Beryl
    Thanks for the comments. I think we are committed to service – and remain committed to service no matter what. That is the point that I make in BUILDING A BETTER WORLD.
    The reason you can’t find a via media is because I do not think one exists. We either serve – because it is what Jesus did, and we keep serving even if it kills us, or we choose to withdraw our service on whatever ground we think important.
    I do think you are right to raise the question os a situational ethic – but wonder whether many people would even stop to think about that. The traditional theology of much of orthodoxy has been either absolutism or graded absolutism. What if there is an absolute of love? What if the absolute is lay down your life for others? What if the grades of our moral choices are entirely drawn from what isd best and right for others instead of what is best and right for our own interests?
    We never stop tunrning the other cheek. We never stop serving and we never stop loving. Even if it kills us. The Gospel is a message of love, hospitality, embrace, service and acceptance. It is these attitudes that lead to the deepest challenge and the profoundest change in the lives of others, as they have in our own lives

  17. Dear Malcolm
    Much, indeed most, of the content of your paper I would fully endorse and I support the view that we should engage in dialogue rather than ‘shouting’. However, the position that you are adopting seems far too gentle and trusting since the governement and its agencies, especially those in N.Ireland, are already making their position clear as being against traditional Christian views on sexual orientation. Already faith based organisations in the caring services are being challenged by such as the Equality Commission to ensure that services are not denied to those with a homosexual orientation (e.g. where a gay couple want a place in a care home)and it won’t be long before the governemnt applies the same principles to employment. I fully accept that in general services should not be denied on the grounds of sexuality but in some cases such as care homes we can’t compromise what we believe about homosexual practice just as we wouldn’t about sexual practice outside of wedlock. Yes, of course, as Christians, we should accept the consequences of taking a moral stand e.g. not receiving funds, but do we just stand by and let care services be denied to the needy as a result of government officials insisting that organisations either change their stance or lose their right to exist – such actions are already threatened on some.

  18. Arthur
    Thanks for taking the time to post your comments. I think the issue of consequences work both ways and I agree with you that there are some issues upon which we have to say no. In a strange but not unexpected way, the consequences we face as Christians are being willing to be on the edge, not receive funding etc, but on the part of service commissioners and government and statutory bodies, I think they will realise that the consequence of their choices are the impact on services, often to the hardest to reach and most vulnerable and needy people, where faith groups are proven to be so effective. That is a pianful thing for us to watch, but if we have said all we can etc, we must then stand by our conscience, and be willing to pick up the pieces when government and other statutory bodies realise that some of the current approach is less than ideal.
    We are actively encouragign a dialogue and debate behind the scenes about equality and diversity – not just for service receivers, but also for service providers, which I think will navigate a way through the challenges that we face at the moment. This involves a sub contracting operation for service providers and an approach to service delivery that ensures across an area of provision or even geographic area there is a mosaic of service providers, that taken in the whole, provide services to everyone in society. I believe that is the way forward – diversity and equality in service receipt as per the SOR’s and in service delivery through appropriate contracting, agreement and if needed, legislation.

  19. Chris,
    I wonder how you would define normal? Without wanting to debate hom-sexuality here (or anywhere really – I feel there are more important things), normal simply means the norm, not even ‘the majority’, but somethign which is a regular thing.
    The Multiculturalism comment facinates me. I’ve just recently read a lot of ‘Discipling nations’ which makes the same point.
    Your comment on what replaces it though confuses me, as it seems to be the same as it would replace. I’m assuming I’ve not understood something, and would like to hear more.
    I wonder if you are saying that our identity comes out of many things, and is co-created within our environment, so that part of multi-cultrualism means holding onto our heritage and beliefs as well as connecting with and encountering other’s culture and identities? Make any sense?
    I am begining to believe that part of the difficulties we are having, stems from the fact that we have been intentional in recognising our differences, but that recognising what we have in common, from our common person-hood to much more detailed things, has happened almost as a side effect.
    I wonder then if when the diversity and difference in our society comes under pressure, we remember only the differences.
    My preference is to be clear about our distinctives, but to be intentional about connecting and encountering another. To see us all as individualy ditinctive, and in a part of our communities, but that we care a part of more than one community, and can can be a part of a wider community as well.
    Ultimatly though when we truly encounter someone – we are all changed. I think that’s great – I call it the beauty life!
    Be very interested to hear your or anyone’s comments.
    Warmly
    Steve

  20. The ‘normal’ comment is a quote from an article from Roger Scruton. He would say, and so would I, that normal in this sense relates to not just what is the majority or large minority practise of the here and now, but also takes into account the practise of the overwhelming majority of people in the overwhelming majority of cultures for the last x,xxx number of years. That to me confirms the sense I get from the Bible as a whole and would constitute ‘normal’ to an almost unassailable degree.
    As to the multiculturalism comments my point is that national identities (or in the broadest sense, tribal or even civic identities, but primarily in Britain it is national identity) cannot be manufactured nor can they flourish without a deep attachment which multiculturalism acts against because it trivialises deep attachments. In a nutshell, true identity at this level demands a degree of uniformity within the limits imposed by geography that makes the idea of multiple or layered identities opposed to true idendity.
    If it helps, we are born into a series of relationships with obligations that we did not choose and we don’t understand fully. These would be with God, our family and a wider community and culture. We don’t understand them in that, as Christians,we understand them as God’s pattern for humans but we don’t know fully why. We do know that the latter two show us something of God’s character and will therefore be, in a fallen world, of a infinate variety of diversity. However, you will note that diersity comes second to the obligations to which we are born into and therefore this celebration of diversity as an aim in itself seriously devalues these relationships. In thinking about this it suddenly dawned on me that these two things are linked together in the 4th. commandment. It always puzzled me;’Why are obligations to one’s parents and family linked with blessing in the land?’ I think it is because the two things are linked. They talk about two types of ‘communities’ into which God places all of us.

  21. Hi Chris,
    I missed your reply – apols.
    Does Jesus teaching indicate that our responsibility to others is as big as our responsibility to our family?
    Around unity and multi-culturalism. I think I understand. I would agree that emphasising difference isn’t always helpful. Perhaps though what’s needed isn’t to seek a narrower definition of who we are, but to change the premise – to re-examine the basis of our many identities?
    Steve

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