Monthly Archives: May 2016

Where are the disciples?

For a very long time, I have felt a disconnect between the church I see when I go to Mass and the church I see in the news.

At Mass, you see normal people with normal lives coming together in a shared act of worship. What we do for worship may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and there are Christians who would swear blind that we are worshipping statues and rending a human corpse with out teeth. Mass might be a bit more interesting if we did, but that’s not normally what we get up to on a Saturday evening. That said, what we do do on a Saturday evening is gather as a community and turn our eyes towards God for a moment.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. I read a book last week that suggests that 95% of Catholics are at the “infant” level of faith and drift in and drift out without ever actually engaging with the thing that is going on there. I’ve got some ideas on that front, and only time will tell if they are going to work.

But, back to the point, we gather for worship  and, afterwards, a decent number stay to drink tea, eat biscuits and talk to each other. In other circles, that would be called fellowship (some even turn it into a verb). To me, that is where church happens, when people come and relate to each other.

I guess that is where the church you see in the news falls down. It doesn’t relate to anybody. As an example, take a look at the diocese’s newspaper for this month. If you can’t be bothered to download the pdf, this sums it up in a single image: just imagine a newspaper with a photograph, smack in the middle of the front page, of a bunch of grown men dressed as Santa’s little helpers. It must have been a cold afternoon in Norwich that day with the guys all dressed in matching fur-trimmed, bright magenta shrugs. Very fetching. Now, I am certain that this particular ceremony marks an important moment in the life of the cathedral (the guys in pink get to advise the pope’s advisor when it comes to choosing a new bishop), but I am struggling to see how this actually affects anybody’s relationship with anybody. To me, at least, when I see that picture, all I can see is yet another example of how very disconnected the institutional Catholic church is from… well, reality.

When Jesus walked the earth, he went around doing good for people and teaching people to be good to each other. He constantly criticised the priestly class of the time (the Pharisees) for their ostentatious garments and their tendency to draw  attention to themselves and their own devoutness whilst judging others for being “sinners”, less devout than them, and apt to get their hands dirty with actual hard work from time to time. It is worth noting that Jesus never sought official recognition from the religious authorities of the time and was never particularly specific about what is the best form of worship. In addition, when he encountered people, he met them where they were and never demanded anything of them before coming to them. His method was to meet them, love them, and let that love do the work within them.

Jesus ate with tax collectors (hated then as now: not only did they work for the Romans, but they were frequently corrupt as well, and took more than was due in order to line their own pockets), prostitutes and sinners. He went out of Jewish areas and met with gentiles. He even had such a profound conversation with a Samaritan woman that she converted her whole town to be followers of his (the Jews hated the Samaritans and vice versa, and we’re still having the debate about women in the church even now).

The institutional church waves its big stick about, and it usually waves it in order to hurt someone. This theologian is suppressed, that movement is declared to be in error, that entire group of people is deemed intrinsically disordered. And, of late, there are Catholic priests and bishops joining in with the haters on the great American bathroom debate. It’s funny that the church is utterly silent on the issue in the UK where it is illegal to prevent a transgender person from entering the public toilet of their choice.

Enter the New Ways Ministry, a group within the church dedicated to making the lives of LGBT people a little more bearable. Jesus came to gather everyone into God’s love. At no point in his entire recorded ministry did he say “love the sinner, hate the sin” and at no point did he tell anyone who had been pushed to the margins of society that there was no place for them in God’s kingdom. In fact, he said exactly the opposite: that those deemed most acceptable in society would get the lowest places at the banquet in his father’s kingdom. He said that to be great in the kingdom of Heaven, a person must make themselves the servant of all, the lowest of the low.

Needless to say, New Ways Ministry is not popular amongst the movers and shakers in the church but, when I compare them to the guys in their little matching pink capes, I know which of the groups I would rather associate with, and I am fairly sure which group Jesus would hang out with.

We’re still talking (about) wee

I was going to give the subject of the transgender bathroom/toilet issue a rest this week, but I have changed my mind because I wanted to celebrate some people who have decided to stand up and talk about it.

First up, Loretta Lynch, US attorney general, announced that the US is taking legal action against the State of North Carolina (also covered by The Guardian) in response to its passing of House Bill 2 (also known as the Bathroom Bill), which sought to force transgender men into the women’s toilets and to force the transgender women into the men’s toilets (where, incidentally, they are at greatly elevated risk of physical and/or sexual assault), all in the name of protecting our daughters from men dressed as women. Surely, it would be easier just to make sexual assault illegal and not worry too much about what equipment is being used by the person in the cubicle next to yours to empty their bladder. Maybe you think that the situation is ridiculous (I certainly do). If you do, you have that much in common with Congressman Alan Grayson, who made this speech to the House of Representatives in the US on this very issue.

Then, there is the story of transgender advocate Gina Duncan, who drove for an hour to attend a Christian Citizenship in Action meeting just to find out what that particular group was saying about her. The pastor hosting the meeting in his church recognised her, so she didn’t get the anonymity she was hoping for, but he did invite her to speak to the assembled gathering. From the article she wrote on HuffPost about it, she did her best and was greeted with, at worst, hostile silence. She returned to her life unmolested and did, at least, give the people in that church a human face to think of when they are pondering transgendered individuals.

I’ve said it before, the people who stand under the banner “Christian” and yet seek to exclude, alienate and demonise God’s children are missing a great big chunk of Jesus Christ’s central message of God’s love for every one of his children.

On the same subject, Nicole Maines is at it again. My admiration for this young woman grows every time I encounter her. I first read her name in the Boston.com article that described her family’s struggles to cope with a child who was not quite the same as her identical-twin brother. In spite of being genetically identical to Jonas, she always knew that she was a girl. Over the last five years, I have looked her up periodically to find out if she’s been up to much. She has. She successfully sued her school district for barring her from the girls’ toilets in her school, and even stretched her acting muscles in a small part on America’s Royal Pains, playing a transgender character (small scene here). Her family was awarded the Spirit of Matthew award by the Matthew Shepard Foundation (acceptance speeches here).

I’m a big fan.

And now, she’s taken to the TEDx stage to speak, first hand, of her experiences of how bathroom laws affect people, and of the need for people who are not transgender themselves to be educated about those who are, so we learn that transgender people are human just like us, and that they sometimes just need a friend to allow them to blossom into amazing and happy people (HuffPost).

The way God intended them to be.

And for those of you who are looking for a special somebody, here are some tips about dating a transgender person.

Unrelated, but I couldn’t let this week pass without a reference to the Twitter campaign to get Disney to give Elsa a girlfriend in the sequel to Frozen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did?

Islamophobia hasn’t taken over yet

So, there were various local elections last week in the UK, as well as elections for the devolved Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament. Things went this way and that, as they do, but the big news is that London, that small village in the South East corner of our great nation, chose a new mayor. Boris Johnson was stepping down, and it was a head-to-head between Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith.

The campaign, at least on Goldsmith’s side, was dirty, with leaflets sent to various places of worship warning that Khan was dangerous (without quite mentioning that he’s a Muslim). Well done, Tories. You can’t win the argument, so resort to fear and division to undermine your opponent,

On the upside, the villagers of London decided that they weren’t remotely interested in a smear campaign and chose Khan anyway. Maybe, in politics, someone’s policies are more important than rumours about their religion. Mr Khan is a Muslim and, as such, is likely to visit a mosque on Fridays. And hate all women. And blow up churches. And fill the Underground with Sarin. Or something. Actually, he’s a politician, so it’s more likely that he will promise more than he can deliver, spend much of his time trying to get policies past assembly members who oppose him on party grounds, regardless of how sensible his policy is, and end up with a mixed legacy of moderate failure and luke-warm achievement. And Londoners will probably be reasonably happy with him, at least as happy as anyone is with their elected representatives. And good luck to him.

As for the Tories… well, they have proven themselves, once again, to be beneath contempt. There seems to be no depth that they will not plumb, and no argument so important that ad hominem attacks are off limits.

I was taught at school that parliament is a place where people propose laws and policies and debate them with each other in order to improve the legislation and pass good laws that are sensible and are well-considered. That, of course, is a bare-faced lie. What actually happens in the UK, as a rule, is that one party ends up with an absolute majority in the House and it doesn’t matter how awful the legislation is, or how well the other side argues in the debate, the Government side always wins because it has the numbers. There are some rare occasions when the Government loses a vote, but that is so rare that it makes the news headlines.

What Parliament is reduced to is a big room where grown adults jeer at one another like a particularly acrimonious play-time at a nursery birthday party where two crowds of three-year-olds high on sugar and sleep deprivation fight over access to the best toys. And it’s an embarrassment to us as a nation.

But I digress.

Well done, Sadiq Khan, on being the first elected London Mayor who has a foreign-sounding name and who is actually an adherent of a non-Christian religion.

Isn’t it great that we live in such a pluralistic society? Isn’t it wonderful that our nation’s leaders can come from any religion on the planet? What modern democracy would have laws that would only allow adherents of one specific religion to become Head of State?

Oh yeah. Ours.

Those hateful Christians again

As Douglas Adams summed it up, Jesus Christ’s central message was one of being nice to each other. Jesus himself said that people would be able to recognise his followers by the love they had for each other. Before leaving his followers to found a church, he said “Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give to you: a peace that the world cannot give.” Nowhere did he say that we should go around hating people and oppressing them.

And so it is with a familiar sinking feeling that I learn that the American Family Association have decided that it would be a fun thing for their men to go into the women’s loos in Target. Now, Target are doing their best to rise above the slew of anti-transgender “bathroom bills” that are sweeping state legislatures in the US at the moment (North Carolina’s was the first to pass into law) by explicitly stating that people can use whichever loo they choose. This should not pose too many problems, as toilet cubicles have doors.

Enter the theory that transgender women are simply men in dresses who want to abuse young girls in public toilets. Quite how anyone would reach that conclusion is beyond me, but it does seem to have a fair bit of traction at the moment.

Once this theory has become lodged in one’s psyche, the solution is obvious: legislate to enforce strict segregation based on the “definitive” sex of each person. Problems abound, of course. The legislation refers to birth certificate sex, ignoring the fact that trans* people have been able to alter their birth certificates for some considerable time now. Some would suggest examining the genitals of people who don’t look right, which is fraught with problems, not least privacy, dignity and respect of everyone concerned.

But that doesn’t bother the AFA. They are so upset by the existence of transwomen that they want to drive them out of society. It’s not about toilets, of course. The toilet issue is simply a stick used to beat people they don’t much like.

Because they are Christians.

People who follow a guy who suggested that we be nice to each other for a change.

So they nailed him to a tree.