Churches Letter to Prime Minister2
Conservative Party

This government ignores the advice of churches at its peril

 

Anyone with any sense who wants to achieve anything in life will know that accountability is crucial. Having some form of moderation to prevent us going off the rails or making rash and badly-judged decisions is key to building a legacy that will stand the test of time. We all have our own internal warning systems in the form of our consciousnesses that heighten our sense of moral responsibility. But being the flawed and often selfish individuals that we are, relying on these alone is a dangerous game: we need outside checks and interventions to guide and enhance our moral compasses. The potential for horrific outcomes when those in power with weak consciences and no interest in listening to wise advice is all too apparent throughout history.

For Christians, choosing to follow God’s will and accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit over and above our sinful desires is fully part of the deal. The Bible sets out vast amounts of teaching on the matter, both in the form of encouragement and warnings. There is plenty about seeking to do the right thing and holding each other to account for the benefit of us as individuals, the body of God’s people in the form of the Church, and beyond. There are also numerous examples from Israel’s history where both leaders and the nation paid a heavy price for straying from the paths of righteousness. Time after time God would send his prophets to speak directly into situations when the people turned their back on Him, and disdain His justice and mercy.

Such clear precedents give good reason for the churches in this nation to follow the prophetic example and publicly criticise our politicians and government – criticism in this case being defined in its truest sense; of drawing attention to both merits and faults.

In a recent article I wrote for Christian Today, I discussed the benefits of coalition where the government, by nature of a two-party arrangement, is forced to self-regulate as both factions work together in exercising a degree of compromise. Now that we are back to the more familiar situation of single-party government, I argued, with the decimation of the LibDems and Labour in disarray, that for the foreseeable future at least, the Church will provide the most effective form of opposition, providing a level of external conscience watching over the new Conservative Government.

To prove the point, within two days three such examples had arisen. In an open letter from a United Reformed Church minister, David Cameron has been challenged to spend a week living on the minimum wage, or to volunteer in a foodbank for a whole day. The letter has gone viral. The Rev’d Mike Walsh’s Facebook post has been shared over 100,000 times and has made it into the newspapers. The Bishop of Sheffield, Steven Croft, has also written to the Prime Minister to remind him of the story in 1 Kings of King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who, following his father’s death, consulted two sets of advisors. The first group, his father’s counsellors, advised him to listen to the people; to be their servant; to reach out to the disaffected and lead from this foundation. The second group, his peers and close confidants, advised him to meet discontent with harshness. Rehoboam chose to listen to his younger advisors with their harsher and more strident voices.  A few years later the kingdom was divided, at war, impoverished and in chaos.

Although this message was directed to the Prime Minister, it was actually prophetic for Ukip: the following day, Patrick O’Flynn, the party’s economics spokesman, claimed Nigel Farage had become a “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive” man, having fallen under the influence of “inexperienced” advisors, two of whom subsequently stepped down from their positions.

Such episodes serve as a reminder that when Church leaders are keen to enter the political fray, they should look to aim their corrections and rebukes at all parties, and not just exclusively at whichever one is in government.

The third intervention comes from the leaders of four of the largest denominations: the Baptist Union, the United Reformed Church, the Methodists and the Church of Scotland. If anyone thought that the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter issued before the election was left-wing, then this is likely to be considered even more so. It calls on David Cameron to scrap Trident, and demands that proposals for the transfer of additional powers to Scotland which followed the referendum be enacted. These, along with a reminder of the election result in Scotland, give a decidedly pro-SNP flavour to the letter, and somewhat detracts from the rest of the content which is considerably more gracious and even-handed. It offers congratulations on the Conservatives’ election success, with a reminder of some of their great achievements over the last five years, along with an assurance of prayer.

In fact, to the credit of all of the writers, they express a good deal of grace and support: their respect and submission to the authorities (Rom 13:1ff) is apparent and unambiguous. Also key themes emerge: a deep concern for truth, justice, peace and the wellbeing of each and every person, including the weak and vulnerable. The need to review benefits sanctions and the ‘bedroom tax’ is repeatedly made, along with increasing fears for those living on the wrong side of the poverty line.

The Church is dealing out these concerns not because it wishes to humiliate and demonise this Government, but because it wants it to be the best government that it can be for all people, which is why these pronouncements should be taken as a form of encouragement as opposed to the typical partisan opposition which can be destructive and intrinsically detrimental. The Church’s task is to speak truth to power, and a government ignores it at its peril. It may not be perfect in its expression of truth, and may occasionally direct its ire toward the wrong power, but David Cameron would be prudent to heed the collective wisdom of the churches and discern the spirit, test motives and weigh words, for within there will be wisdom. ‘Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Prov 13:10).

  • Anton

    Hold on Gillan! You are assuming that Patrick O’Flynn’s criticism of Nigel Farage was accurate rather than private score-settling, and you can’t know that.

    • magnolia

      I cannot help thinking that it is much easier to call someone else thin-skinned when they are taking all the flak than it is to be thick-skinned, on and on, when taking heaps of it oneself.

    • CliveM

      Maybe, but at the very least it seems indisputable that there are splits in the senior ranks of UKIP. It would appear the Farage tried to pressurise its MP Carswell into claiming £650k of taxpayers money to fund staff. Not really in keeping with it’s stated claims to not be just another Westminster party. Leading donors are calling on Farage to stand down. It’s only MP has failed to support him. Where are the stories coming from, if not from within UKIP ranks?

      I predict a split.

      • Anton

        I thought Farage agreed with the MP and it was others in UKIP’s backroom who wanted the dosh.

        I doubt that they’ll split but I like Farage’s reply to reporters asking whether there was open difference of opinion – “big time”. you still wouldn’t get that kind of human honesty from the clones in the big parties.

        In any case if Cameron really does call a referendum then that’s UKIP’s principal job done, although their other policies struck me as better too.

  • Merchantman

    Thank you Gillan; I have read the 4 churches letter and hope one of the congregation will be able to provide an easy reference thread.
    I believe the Gospel shows Jesus was heavily predisposed towards the disadvantaged and we should be likewise. However he did teach the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel. He started with being the New Adam who provides Salvation from the original sin that got us into the spot we all are in in the first place. Every poor and disadvantaged person probably has their own story as to how and why they are in the situation they are in.
    I hope that if there is false propaganda (for want of another word) being used to stigmatize a group en masse, it will stop. However the churches must also seek to mend the whole man and not just shout back against outrageous fortune and the authorities. For goodness sakes they have the means to go to the heart of the matter at both extremes of the equation. Rightly they have gone for the supply side; will they go the other mile and change minds at every level?

  • Graham Wood

    Gillan your piece today is yet another example of mis-placed zeal and mis- understood biblical priorities. The church collectively is NOT called to initiate social change in the form of gimmicks such as ‘hug a hoodie’ sessions, or love-ins at food banks etc, but rather to place a priority on its primary role of preaching/teaching the Gospel of Christ as it has been mandated by Christ as head of the church.
    The old ‘social gospel’ is as outdated and irrelevant as ever and is no substitute for the much higher and vastly more urgent call for repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ – the clear and unambiguous message of the Apostles, the early church, and Christian evangelists who God has owned and used in times past.
    Properly understood that priority will demand all the church’s energies, gifts, and resources. I suggest therefore it is that vision and obedience to her mandate which will in reality fulfil what you refer to as “choosing to follow God’s will and accepting the guidance of the Holy Spirit”

  • Busy Mum

    This letter is simply the respectable face of Charlotte Church ‘I’m mad as hell’ and those two ‘useful idiots’ pictured in yesterday’s post, denouncing the ‘tory scum’ about which they are so ignorant.

    Cameron is the piggy-in-the-middle, being tugged to the right by the election results(many who voted ‘Conservative’ must have done so in the belief that they would get ‘conservative’) and being tugged to the left by everybody who believes that the voters got it wrong and are therefore waging a confident campaign in the full knowledge that Cameron is with them in heart and mind.

    If this letter claims to speak for more than 800,000 Christians, the writers need to acknowledge that there are many more Christians for whom it does not.

  • len

    I think probably all Government ministers should spent at least a month on the minimum wage or even worse on a zero hours contract (which has firmly placed countless people in the poverty trap) or perhaps spend a week in a wheelchair and try and remain mobile?. I know a few people who cannot accept a job because it would be on a zero hours contract and they would not be able to pay their rent as they were offered at best 4 -10 hours a week and possibly no hours per week.

    Those on benefits have been demonized by governments and this has been promoted by programmes such as’ benefits street’ The benefits system has been undoubtedly abused by those who have no desire to work and these people are a drain on society but lets not just lump all those on benefits together. The problem with immigrants is also open to abuse and has been abused to the cost of those genuinely seeking refuge from persecution such as the Christians being butchered by IS.

    It is a true indicator of the moral condition of a society by the way it treats the poor the disadvantaged whether they are the unborn in the womb or the aged in need of care in their twilight years.

    I might add that I am not on benefits and was made redundant at the age of 66 after working for 50 years continuously.

    • Busy Mum

      “Those on benefits have been demonized by governments…..”

      Really? Governments love people on benefits – it’s those of us who keep working out of principle, even if we would be financially better off on benefits, whom they hate from the bottom of their totalitarian hearts.

      • len

        Do not understand your comment?.

        If the government really wanted to settle the enormous debt this country has accrued then their are more realistic ways of achieving this.

        “All fraud is wrong and should be tackled, but
        benefit fraud accounts for less than 1 per cent of benefit spending and
        is dwarfed by the amount lost to tax evasion. If the government is
        serious about raising revenue it should put more resources into tackling
        tax evasion rather than using benefit fraud as a cover for swingeing
        cuts to genuine claimants.“

        TUC Spokesman – Referenced on TaxResearch.org.uk

  • Orwell Ian

    “It calls on David Cameron to scrap Trident”

    Not quite. They only ask him to consider deferral of a decision on Trident in 2016 to enable the UK to play a full part in new multilateral disarmament initiatives.

    I am more concerned with their failure to recognise that freedom of religion is not solely a matter of foreign policy but a domestic issue that is likely to come to the fore given the Home Secretary’s vagueness over definitions of extremism and British Values. Who will fall within the expanded definition of extremism? Only the Islam that is “nothing to do with Islam”? Patriotic social conservatives redefined as “Neo Nazis”? Fundamentalist Christians because they “take the Bible too literally”? Sufferers of so-called “phobias” that upset Offendotrons of every persausion?

    By what process is somebody to be defined as an extremist and how intrusive will the proposed restrictions be? The Government may be well meaning in its intention to prevent terrorist radicalisation in a certain community but one cannot discriminate in these times of supposed equality so where will the inevitable requirement for even handedness take us? Suppression of free speech to the point that whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth?

    • Busy Mum

      Peter Hitchens is good on this – check his blog for yesterday.

      • Orwell Ian

        Thanks.
        I thought this bit was right on the money:

        The moment we are having our speeches and articles scanned for
        ‘extremism’ by policemen we are out of the world of freedom and
        deep in the territory of tyranny ( Social Democrat public meetings in
        19th century Germany could only be held in the presence of a
        uniformed police officer monitoring the speeches – do you want
        this?).

        How long before His Grace + sheep and assorted goats are under internet surveillance if not already.

        • Busy Mum

          Already, I guess!
          And the Germany reference is apposite, especially as the way history is taught in schools nowadays is to blame the whole business on Hitler, as if there was no such thing as fascism before him, and as if it is impossible that there could be such a thing ever again.

    • Anton

      Until the government has the guts to call the “poisonous extremism” it clearly means by its name then laws like this will catch gospel Christians too. Mr Cameron, you say you are Christian; please now show it.

    • You say “one cannot discriminate in these times of supposed
      equality”, but we are going to HAVE to because for a start Islam
      is not equal to Christianity at all. Christians are not the ones
      going round brewing up hatred and spouting violent vitriol at folks
      whilst demanding their own backward laws. Christians aren’t the
      fifth column in this country. Muslims are.

      The culture difference is a vast chasm between Muslims and Christians and
      if we are to have peace here Muslims need to be named and tamed with
      British law whilst they live in our country otherwise go to an
      Islamic country.

      As a Christian, I am offended to be lumped in the same bracket as the
      Muslim extremists.

      • Orwell Ian

        I was merely indicating that slavishly following equality dogma is the norm not advocating that we continue to do so. I do not disagree with your sentiments but would emphasise that there are already calls for the even handedness I mentioned above. This from Baroness Warsi for instance: “The test will be whether this is a genuine attempt to deal with extremism in all its forms, as opposed to the current perception that it is a Cold War against British Muslims”. Full article here:

        http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/05/15/baroness-warsi-claims-the-government-is-waging-a-cold-war-against-british-muslims/

        I fear that the govt will demonise organisations who oppose Islamification and those whose beliefs not only conflict with Islam but are also politcally incorrect (eg Evangelical Christians but not LGBT groups) Thus they will diffuse allegations that they are picking on the Muslim community and advance the PC agenda to the delight of their EU puppet masters.

        • This has nothing to do with Evangelical Christians evangelising on street corners, They are not the ones who advocating hatred and threatening violence.

          Interesting article from Breitbart you link to Orwell Ian, but the wicked Warsi woman would say this
          wouldn’t she. She’s drumming up fear and is threatening us with
          violence in an underhand roundabout way to stop the new laws.

          Look where acceptance, tolerance, appeasement even have got us with
          Muslims, they simply take over and demand more all the time, mega
          mosques, sharia law and that we become an Islamic state now.

          They won’t have anything to worry about if they behave and value the
          British way of life.

  • IanCad

    Gillan,
    Any chance of a link to the letter?

    • Busy Mum

      Click on where it says ‘The third intervention’, third para up from end.

      • IanCad

        Thanks Busy Mum.
        Short, sweet and shallow; just about what’s to be expected from the Spiritual Team of the Labour Party.

        • Busy Mum

          …..aka wolves in sheep’s clothing 🙂

  • preacher

    The letter is fine. But the results depend on David Cameron’s response to it. Just like Rehoboam, he must choose his direction & if past records are anything to go by, it does not bode well.
    The decision should not be taken lightly, as Proverbs 14 verse 12 warns ” There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death “.

  • Malcolm Smith

    Come on! Anyone can live on the minimum wage for a week, but no-one can live a PM’s lifestyle on the minimum wage. This is because people adjust their lifestyle to their income. They end up with bills which no minimum wage could cover, but which could be avoided if they had to rein in their expenses. This is not to say that it is easy on the minimum wage. But if the PM wants to know what it is like living on it, he would be better examining the budget of someone who is on it, rather than trying to live on it himself.
    Exactly what would be the point of it is another matter. Raising the minimum wage is likely to increase unemployment, and that is even harder to live on. Also, there is the obvious point that the minimum wage means one thing to the sole breadwinner of a family, and another to (say) a retiree attempting to add to his pension, or a former invalid trying to get back into the workforce, a youngster starting his career, or a housewife trying to supplement the family income.

  • carl jacobs

    One must wonder at the level of accountability these churches would have demanded from a Labour Gov’t. No, actually not.

  • grutchyngfysch

    I have lived on that kind of lifestyle, and I’ve lived on the dole. It wasn’t pretty, I didn’t have any spare money, but it was a damn-sight more workable than absolute destitution. We cut everything – and I mean everything – non-necessary back.

    What caused me to despair more than anything, however, was the fact that when an opportunity to work in a shop for 16 hours came up on the road I lived on, I notified the Benefits Office that I would go for it, only to be told that if I did so, pretty much all of my benefits would be withdrawn. For 16 hours, on the minimum wage.

    At that time, those benefits couldn’t have been replaced in value by that amount of income. It was functionally more worth my while to stay dependent than it was to get employment. The store owner knew that, and even raised the fact that he would be willing to pay cash in hand to avoid notifying the authorities (so it must have impacted on his ability to hire employees). I told him that I would be happy to work extra hours, but that I would prefer not to do cash-in-hand. I am many things, but not a fraud. I didn’t get that job.

    Ultimately, thanks to God, I was able to get a good full-time post which opened up other doors. Since then, I have got to know lots of different people – some in similar positions to the one I had been in, others functionally homeless, the most desperate of whom have been immigrants (of varying statuses of legality). Frankly, if anyone thinks the UK benefits system is miserly, they should try living on the provision for non-UK citizens who are not yet classified in the system. It’s a £10 food voucher a week and £15 for electric and gas every two. That’s real destitution.

    You may have already seen the connection I am about to make. For those desperate immigrants, 16 hours cash-in-hand is an enormous step up, and not remotely disincentivised. This is why I cannot condone any more the cultured dependency of our own citizens, or the implicit encouragement of mass immigration. It is a system that sustains our native poor and actively makes work less attractive than remaining on benefits (and of course, then needing Labour to protect those benefits), and one which implicitly assumes that the grey economy will be staffed by those too desperate to be able to work anywhere else. Not surprisingly this depresses working conditions for everyone.

    Cranmer posted a thread previously about why conservatives are hated. I am a conservative because I cannot in conscience accept the systems that socialists are so eager to use as a prop for their own virtue. I am a conservative because I have lived in poverty, live alongside poverty, and wish to see no man or woman entrapped within it. I no longer care if questioning the impact of immigration makes me racist in the eyes of others, or if questioning the sanity of our benefits system makes me heartless. The moral urgency of these questions overrides any social stigma they wish to attach.

  • grutchyngfysch

    Sorry for a second post – but this subject really hits a nerve with me.

    Unless your parish is Elmbridge, Surrey, it’s virtually impossible to be a minister of religion and not meet people in need – so I don’t doubt that every signatory has the faces and situations of real souls in mind when they make this call on the government. But where is the call to their congregations? Again and again we read about clerics berating the authorities for not caring, but rarely do I see a cleric writing an open letter to the church asking where they have been when their brother was in need.

    For the government to supply shelter to someone tonight there are forms that need to be filled in and permissions gained. We can (and should) argue about the relative weight of that bureaucracy, but ultimately, that is as it should be: governments need to be accountable for how they use public funds. For an individual, there is no paperwork, only what you are willing to supply.

    Governments don’t dispense compassion. They don’t forge social bonds. Governments cannot witness with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to those in need. Governments can only sustain people’s material needs and write cheques.

    Man is more than the sum of his economic needs and output. He is a soul.

  • Johnny Rottenborough

    The Church’s task is to speak truth to power

    I’m no expert in these matters but I would have thought that the greatest truth the Church should be delivering into power’s shell-like is that salvation is through Christ alone and that England must at all costs remain a Christian land, but the Church gave up such quaint notions when it embraced multiculturalism. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s quite extraordinary admission that he would not want to live in a Christian country—Archbishop Justin told his audience that he did not want to live in a ‘monocultural’ society—is the icing on the cake of the Church’s betrayal of the English.

    Lord Carey said in 2010: ‘I simply cannot imagine any Prime Minister of England saying that his major concern is that Britain remains a Christian nation. And that reticence is a scandal and a disgrace.’ Simply substitute ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ for ‘Prime Minister of England’.

  • Anton

    I was glad that the letter mentioned persecution of Christians worldwide. It also spoke of offering the “greatest support to those of our neighbours who are the weakest, the most vulnerable and the most in need of our help.” As a Christian I heartily agree, but the letter ducked the key issue – who these are.

    Also,

    We applaud the way that during the last government you showed strong leadership in meeting your commitment to achieve spending equivalent to 0.7% of GDP in overseas aid… We welcome your commitment… to continue to combat the impact of climate change especially on the poorest…

    I do not applaud the use of tax receipts for the nationalisation of charity, and I do not welcome that commitment. First, the essence of charity is that it is voluntary, and all tax monies represent less money that private citizens have available to give to charities. The proper purpose of tax levied on UK citizens is the governance of the UK. I want my 0.7% back, and I am not ashamed to say so to any government or church minister; in fact to the latter I would agree that it is a moral issue.

    As for “climate change”, it hasn’t got warmer for some 15 years now even though China and India continue to industrialise and the West maintains its industries, so that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has continued to rise. Science trumps politics, and in science the data trump the theories. Let us not fall for what the Australian PM called “Socialism disguised as environmentalism”.

    • avi barzel

      Actually, 18 years and counting. But it’s only a glich of a pause, because the models were checked and are fine. The missing heat is in the troposphere. No, can’t find it there, so it must be deep in the Atlantic. No? Meant to say the Pacific…deep in trenches we havent’t found yet and when it bubbles up, watch out, it will be bumper crops all over the world and even lemon trees in England again.

      • Linus

        The missing heat has all been stored in Christian bloodstreams, which have been at boiling point for some years now.

        A more efficient heat sink is unknown to man, although all “systèmes caloporteurs” have their limit. I expect to see the first Christians starting to spontaneously combust around about the time the first same-sex parent children start to appear. Should be about 5 years away.

        Let’s hope it happens in winter. Smart street vendors will use the resulting flames to chargrill chestnuts and a Merry Winter Solstice will be had by all.

        • Anton

          We’re ultracool, Linus. And I would agree with you that there is zilch evidence that Jesus was born near midwinter.

          • Linus

            I doubt that Jesus ever lived, let alone that he was born. So the date of his putative birth is pretty irrelevant.

            Christmas is no more or less than a pagan festival annexed by the Church for its own purposes. Now that Christianity no longer has a stranglehold on society, Christmas is reverting to the seasonal celebration it always used to be.

            Call it Christmas, or Winter Solstice, or Yule, or whatever you like. Just have a pleasant time and dream that an imaginary Santa (or God if you prefer that name) will bring you whatever consumer trinket your heart desires.

          • Anton

            Your second paragraph is accurate. Pope Gregory advocated taking over pagan festivals in a letter to his missionaries in England early in the 7th century (included in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, book I, chapter 30), although it stokes syncretism.

            To doubt that Jesus is divine in the same sense as the creator is one thing; to doubt that he existed is (or should be) an embarrassment, for the secular evidence documentary evidence is stronger than for most figures of antiquity whom you won’t doubt exist.

          • Linus

            The only “sort of” contemporary evidence (i.e. at least one generation removed from the events related) of Jesus’s existence is contained in the Gospels. There is not a single corroborating mention of him anywhere else. No inscriptions, no coins bearing his effigy, no reports of him in the annals of neighbouring cultures, nothing…

            The historical evidence for Jesus is very poor in comparison to, let’s say, the evidence for a particular Roman emperor, which relies on multiple independent sources.

            Of course the standard Christian response is to say “there are 4 Gospels”. But none of them are based on documents dating from Jesus’s lifetime and all of them were compiled and more or less heavily edited by a single source: the early Church. What transformations did they undergo, how heavily embroidered are they, and do they even speak of a single historical figure, or of a composite personality, or even of someone completely fictional?

            I can’t say for sure that someone known as Jesus of Nazareth didn’t exist, but you can’t say for sure he did. There are grounds for reasonable doubt that can cut either way.

          • Anton

            I don’t know of a serious scholar, ie one who knows how to verify and make inference from ancient documents (nothing to do with faith), who doubts it. The earliest copy we have of Caesar’s Gallic Wars is from about 11 centuries ago yet you don’t say Julius Caesar was invented by mediaeval minds, do you? The earliest copy of Tacitus is from 9 centuries ago and of Thucydides (who speaks of people several centuries before Christ) is from 11 centuries ago. The earliest scraps of the gospel we have date from about AD130 and full manuscripts from the 4th century.

            The church went into a polytheistic Greek world
            in which philosophers imputed word and deed to Jesus according to their own ideas or what would impress. Such large-scale ‘Chinese whispers’ are how the Greek myths grew around real events, but the church needed the truth and froze the process by collecting the early writings into the New Testament. The gospels were written by men of faith who dare not make it up, and we have more copies of New Testament passages, from nearer the events they describe, than of other ancient (and undisputed) writings. Of the Old Testament, a copy dating from Jesus’ time of Isaiah’s prophecies (one of the ‘Dead Sea scrolls’) is almost identical to modern copies. None of the “fathers” of the early and persecuted church speaks of any redaction.

          • Linus

            “The gospels were written by men of faith who dare not make it up…” is exactly the kind of credulous nonsense that religions rely on to transform myth into fact.

            They were writing down second or third hand stories that none of them had witnessed. Their own faith in the stories is neither here nor there … just because they believed what they were hearing doesn’t mean that what they were hearing was true.

            Legend builds on itself and people transform and add to stories with layer after layer of embroidered detail. The end result is exactly like a game of Chinese whispers until the written word puts a stop to it, and even then details can be changed and whole sections interleaved into the myth until it bears little relation to what actually happened.

            The Gospels are NOT historically reliable documents. There may (and I repeat MAY) be the kernel of a true story in them, but as a totally accurate blow by blow eyewitness account of what happened (or what the early Church wants us to think happened) they leave a great deal to be desired. I’m certainly not prepared to put much if any faith in them. They just aren’t convincing.

          • Anton

            “Legend builds on itself and people transform and add to stories with layer after layer of embroidered detail. The end result is exactly like a game of Chinese whispers until the written word puts a stop to it”

            Yes, I said that too! The question is whether the gospels were frozen into print at an early date before this process could take place starting from eyewitnesses. You wrote: “They were writing down second or third hand stories that none of them had witnessed.” Can you prove that?

          • Linus

            Scholars agree that the gospels date at earliest from the last quarter of the 1st century. That’s a generation removed from the events at best, more probably two.

            So who wrote them? The apostles themselves when they were old men? Why wait so long before making a written record? Were they even literate or were they recounting their tall and highly embellished tales to scribes, whose work was then reworked by other scribes?

            I have personal experience of just how romanticized and embroidered an old man’s story-telling can become. My own grandfather (the English one) would regale me with tales of his bravery and derring-do in the trenches during the Great War. I was convinced he was a hero … until I read the official accounts, which were significantly less complimentary about his war record than he was.

            There was no act of cowardice to reproach my grandfather with. Indeed he served his country perfectly diligently. But he certainly wasn’t the action hero he made himself out to be. Age, a failing memory and a very high opinion of his own general worth had made him recall events in a way that didn’t have much to do with the reality of what happened. That’s what happens when the aged and infirm start telling the younger generation about their exploits. Truth is obscured by a layer of stage make-up. And that’s how the gospels read. Not so much self-aggrandizement as boasting by association. “Look at me and how amazing my discernment is, because I followed Christ and only those as smart as me were able to figure out he was a living god … everyone else thought he was a madman. So listen to me because I know it all…”

          • Anton

            The gospels of Luke and John state who their authors are and Luke at least how he got eyewitness accounts. None of the gospels mentions the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and they undoubtedly would if it had taken place, as it was a huge event and a fulfilment of a prophecy of Jesus (spoken on the Mount of Olives). So, dated before then. What should also be kept in mind is the tradition in Judaism of preserving the words of a great rabbi unchanged.

          • Linus

            Play a game of Chinese Whispers and you’ll soon understand just how impossible it is to transmit complex oral information without each individual altering and adding to the narrative in his own fashion.

            You can transmit slogans and nursery rhymes more or less verbatim because the brevity and metre serve as aids to stabilise the language. You cannot transmit complex stories intact and unaltered. Each generation adds, subtracts and modifies the story according to their own agenda. And the agenda of the early Church is plain enough to see. They had a new religion to promote, and a new god whose claim of divinity had to be placed beyond doubt.

            “Bring out the needles and thread, we have some serious embroidery to be getting on with” they might quite easily have said to each other…

          • Anton

            I have but it’s a different culture.

            With what motive do you believe they did this? Please remember that the church had negative political power at the time, ie it was persecuted.

          • chiefofsinners

            You wrote: The only “sort of” contemporary evidence (i.e. at least one generation removed from the events related) of Jesus’s existence is contained in the Gospels. There is not a single corroborating mention of him anywhere else. No inscriptions, no coins bearing his effigy, no reports of him in the annals of neighbouring cultures, nothing…
            Google Flavius Josephus.

          • Linus

            Josephus’ writings date from 60 years after the events are supposed to have happened.

            In the early 1980s before I had found out the details of my grandfather’s war record, had I repeated his tall stories to an historian, and had he written them down and claimed them as history, he’d look pretty silly today now that we know that Grandpapa wasn’t exactly the cross between Rambo and Dan Dare that he claimed to be, wouldn’t he?

            Josephus’s second (third? fourth?) hand stories are NOT contemporary to the events they’re supposed to relate. They’re a breathless “he said, she said, so it must be true!” exercise in the dangers of superstitious credulity written down more than two generations after the “fact”.

          • chiefofsinners

            Yes, it’s annoying that history books are written several years after the events that they describe. This obviously makes everything in them untrue.
            It’s also disappointing that Pontius Pilate was experiencing broadband connectivity issues on the morning of the crucifixion, which is why his Twitter feed doesn’t give us a contemporary account of that day’s events.

          • Linus

            Reliable history books draw on contemporary sources. The bible does not.

            Unfunny remarks about broadband can’t conceal the bible’s essential weakness as an historical document. It’s all hearsay dating from a couple of generations after the story is supposed to have taken place and, crucially, there isn’t a single shred of corroborating evidence from an independent source to back it all up.

            None of this proves that Christ didn’t live, but if he did, he left no traces behind himself. If he really was the son of god and belief in his existence really is what determines whether you’ll be “saved” after death, it seems clear enough to me that God must be looking for dim, gullible and easily biddable souls to spend eternity with. Who else could swallow such a wild story without any proof whatsoever?

          • chiefofsinners

            You are playing the slippery eel.
            You said there was no corroborating mention of Jesus anywhere else.
            When I pointed out Josephus you slid to claiming Josephus was unreliable.
            When I said Josephus was no less reliable than any other history book you say the gospels are unreliable because they are uncorroborated.
            You have completed the circle.
            But there is still a hole in your bucket.

          • Linus

            You wouldn’t be the first person in the history of the world to swallow an indigestible dish because it “tastes good”. Our sense of taste can be our worst enemy. Take a look at your fellow countrymen as they waddle along the aisles of your overstocked supermarkets. A little less “good taste” is just what they need.

            There’s nothing circular about my argument at all. It rests on pure historical fact – or the absolute lack of it. If you believe in what the Gospels say, you have to take it on faith: i.e., you believe because you want to believe, not because the historically attested facts support that belief. They don’t, because there are no historically attested facts. Everything rests on one book written and compiled by one Church. There is no impartiality in the Bible. It’s presented as fact, but unlike fact, cannot be corroborated.

            Go on swallowing your tasty dish if you want to. But don’t be surprised when it has the same effect on your mind that all your British ready-made meals packed with salt and sugar and “taste” have on your body.

          • chiefofsinners

            You’re not wrong about English cuisine. If it was just a matter of food for the body then I would be living in France. Food for the soul is something else.
            The bible is not a book, it’s 66 books written over 2000 years by 40 different authors, from fishermen to kings, living on 3 continents. They write from palaces, prisons and wildernesses, writing poetry, history, law, prophecy and proverbs. Yet these books are completely internally consistent because they have one divine author. They carry a common theme from first to last, of human rebellion and God’s love. Millions of people have found them to be a firm foundation for life and death.
            Surely monsieur would like to taste just a tiny little bit?

  • “I argued, with the decimation of the LibDems and Labour in disarray,
    that for the foreseeable future at least, the Church will provide the
    most effective form of opposition, providing a level of external
    conscience watching over the new Conservative Government.”

    This seems like grossly wishful thinking.

    Which part of “the Church” is it hoped that Mr. Cameron is going to pay any attention to?

    He’s been in open warfare with those of some sort of Christian socialist persuasion for a while. And that did him no harm at the election.

    He alienated anyone who takes the Bible seriously (and can read) by deciding to pursue “gay marriage”, a few years out from the election, believing that by election time, enough voters would have come back to make it nothing more than a storm in a tea-cup, as far as the pursuit and maintenance of power goes. Pushing secular humanist ideas under the guise of “British values” is something so unremarkable to him, he doesn’t even see a need to defend it – the steamroller continues. As an electoral calculation, has he been wrong about any of these things?

    What, exactly, are the electoral consequences for the Conservative Party of entirely ignoring any manifestation of “the Church” in the next 5 years? Were there any in the last five?

    To my mind, too many Christian commentators currently have their heads stuck in the sand. We talk to ourselves, and ignore practically everything our leaders say about their world-views and how they’re going to implement them.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Three out of the Five signatories were women. Did anyone notice? No comment.
    Somewhat self congratulatory I thought. Writing to the PM you need to be short and to the point. Should have taken advice from Prince of Wales.

  • If the Christian Church actually agreed on a consistent position on morality, public and private, it may have some influence. As an “opposition party” it is in a state of disarray.

  • Manfarang

    The House of Lords can still be a moderating influence and don’t forget this government does not have a big majority.
    I can’t forget how South Korea has transformed over the last 30 years.I wonder how the UK will change in the next 30 years.Maybe there will be no UK.

    • len

      Certainly not’ the United’ part?.
      The foundations have just about gone now the walls and roof are decidedly shaky…
      This progressive collapse can be traced back to the time when the UK reneged on the Balfour declaration.

      • Manfarang

        I didn’t get the feeling when I was in Israel that the Balfour declaration was reneged on.Maybe there was some other Balfour declaration.I think Durkheim’s insights into mass hysteria can give us some answers. Dingley produced a work on national identity in Ireland. Someone needs to do a similar work on Scotland.

  • ABlivit

    I think that the opinion of the Church, like any other minority group, should be heard, but shouldn’t be given any greater importance just because it’s the Church.