Peter Tatchell on Outing Bishops

I was in conversation with Peter Tatchell yesterday in St Mary’s after the Sung Eucharist yesterday morning. The whole of the conversation was recorded and can be seen on the cathedral website.

One of the things that I wanted to ask him about was whether he still thought it was appropriate to out gay bishops, something that he has done in the past. I wasn’t too surprised to hear him justifying the outing of gay public figures who use their own influence to inhibit the lives of other gay people.

I was interested to hear him say that he and those whom he works with are currently considering outing bishops again.

The whole of the segment on outing people is in the video extract above. The particularly relevant bit comes at the end:

Kelvin Holdsworth: For what it is worth, I find myself very often wondering these days whether we are heading back in that direction [of outing], with bishops in England directly preventing their clergy from marrying at the moment in a way that is not likely to happen in Scotland. And some of them perceived to be in partnerships. And that seems to me to be back in that territory.
Peter Tatchell: You are absolutely right, and we are amassing the evidence right now. I’m not saying that we will use it, but we are certainly thinking about it – because people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it. If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.

My own view that it is perfectly justifiable to out those who are gay who use their authority to inhibit the lives of those gay people in their care. It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for anyone with concrete evidence of a bishop who has supported an anti-gay policy such as the recent pastoral statement in the Church of England and who is in a same-sex partnership, to draw attention to that hypocrisy in public.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to out bishops who are themselves gay and in partnerships who are supportive of policies which would inhibit their gay and lesbian clergy from marrying?

Why we sang a lament today

It has been a pretty depressing week on the news front. The downing of the plane in the Ukraine, the continued terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the invasion of Gaza and the oppression of the Christians (and other religious groups) in Iraq by ISIS have been a huge amount of negative events that feel terrible.

As I was preparing to take the worship this morning, I saw a picture of an 1800 year old church burning in Mosul in Iraq.

Now, burning churches are just buildings but this seemed to represent the organised oppression of a whole communion. The Christians of Mosul have been told to convert to Islam, pay an infidel’s tax or be slaughtered. They are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and thousands of them have now fled for their life, their homes being marked by ISIS with a symbol indicating that Christians live there allowing particular buildings to be targeted.

I decided this morning that our worship needed to include something that had not previously been planned for. I decided to include a lament. Given that the city of Mosul sits astride one of the rivers of Iraq (ie Babylon) it seemed appropriate to sing from Psalm 137 – by the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.

Now the context from when it was first sung to our present age is different but the sense of lament is the same. Lament is what happens when anger and sadness meet and start to sing in harmony, creating a song that suggests that the singer is not happy to let the world rest in its current state.

And so we sang the simple round, “By the waters, the waters of Babylon” during our worship at St Mary’s this morning.

[You can hear others having a go at singing it over on Youtube]

It wasn’t the most dramatic or glorious music we’ve had in St Mary’s recently. However, it was some of the most heartfelt.

When we meet on Sunday’s our songs are generally songs of praise and rightly so. However, we have other songs in our repertoire. Today was a day for lament. And in lamenting to claim that a better world is possible.

Peter Tatchell in Glasgow


You’re invited to come and hear Peter Tatchell give a human rights lecture on Saturday 19 July 2014 at 6.30 pm in St Mary’s.

He’s also going to be doing a forum after the 10.30 am service on Sunday.

Prayer for Flight MH17

It would appear from news report that are still breaking that there is a very strong likelihood that the Malaysian plane which has crashed in the Ukraine has been brought down deliberately by someone as yet unknown but connected with the conflict that rages in that part of the world.

It is one of those moments where the world looks on with horror at something utterly terrible.

I find myself struggling to know how to pray in circumstances like this but prayer must be found somehow. How to form a prayer for Flight MH17? Something prompts me to think of St Adamnan of Iona – one of those saints whom more people should know about. He is most famous for writing a biography of St Columba but should be far better known for his Law of the Innocents. It was one of the first attempts to lessen the savagery of warfare by getting those fighting to commit to leave the innocent untouched by conflict. Adamnan’s witness shines like a beacon from the Celtic lands. A product of what we now know are Ireland and Scotland, his influence is with us today and his message is entwined with modern diplomacy, concepts of human rights and the work of all who strive for peace.

So Adamnan of Iona, prompt our prayers….

Eternal God
for all those killed this day,
for those killed in warfare,
for those who work for peace,
for those killed on flight MH17,
for those who work for justice,
for those who are innocent who are killed in the conflicts of others,
for diplomats, peacemakers, politicians and opinion formers in all places of danger.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Pride Meeting Point – A Correction

This coming Saturday there will be a Pride march in Glasgow. There will be a gathering of Scottish Episcopalians (and friends) marching together in glad array.

Last week I announced that we would meet at the southern end of the Wiggly Bridge (which is the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge), which is not the Squinty Bridge (which is in fact the Clyde Arc).

However, it has since been pointed out to me that there is no Wiggly Bridge (which is the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge) in Glasgow. The bridge that we will meet by is the Squiggly Bridge and it is in fact called the Tradeston Bridge, not the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge.

We will continue not to meet anywhere near the Squinty Bridge.

Is that clear?

The muster time is 0915.

[Photo from David Brossard - (c) Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic]

Mixed feelings about the Church of England vote on bishops

I’ve very mixed feelings about the vote that has just taken place in the Church of England Synod regarding the question of whether that church should allow women to be able to made bishops.

On the one hand, I know some of the women who are likely to be made bishops and I know the joy and the thrill that will be theirs in taking on this role which previously was denied them. They will make fantastic leaders.

However I also know that the C of E has fallen a long way short of equality. It will still be the case that people will be able to behave in that church as though women are not really bishops at all.

Here in Scotland we’ve been able to have women as candidates in Episcopal elections for some years now however we’ve not elected anyone who happens to be a woman yet.

However if a bishop is ordained in Scotland then she is a bishop. Should someone not accept that, she may take whatever action she needs to take in order to facilitate the governance of the diocese. (She might invite another bishop to work with her or she might not, as she judges appropriately). In England, it will still be possible for someone unable to accept that a women can be a bishop (or even a priest) to simply request a male one.

It is a profoundly different state of affairs and this will embed into the Church of England the notion that the ordination that women receive, whether to the presbyterate or the episcopate can be accepted or rejected by anyone who choses to do so. The same doesn’t apply to men who are ordained.

For that reason, whilst wanting to get all excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead for friends down south who will make brilliant leaders, my fear is that in due course, women and men alike will regret the decisions that led to women being appointed as bishops on these terms.

A single measure clause which simply allowed women to be candidates for the Episcopate would have been just and right. This solution feels far from that.

I know women and men in England who know that this is a vote in favour of allowing women to become second-class bishops.

I have to admit that my sympathies largely lie with them today.

Sermon – the parable of the sower


The church is completely obsessed with one topic.

Whenever you go to church meetings there is one thing that dominates everything and has done so for at least the last 15 or 20 years.

We talk about it endlessly. Whether it is local regional chapters, diocesan synod, General Synod or even the meetings of the Anglican Communion such as the Lambeth Conference which gathers all the bishops of the communion together every 10 years, there is sure to be this one item on the agenda.

Reports are written.

Debates are had.

Motions are passed.

Decisions are made.

All in relation to this topic which has seemed to dominate absolutely everything we do.

People (by which I mean me) are bored to the back teeth of hearing about it and yet still we go over and over it all again at every meeting.

Bishops and archbishops make statements about it. And our concern is matched by similar conversations in other denominations.

Who would like to hazard a guess at what that topic is?

Is it wonga?

Is it assisted dying that Lord Carey has been highlighting rather unhelpfully this weekend?

Is it sex in general and homosexuality in particular?

Well, [Read more...]

Lord Carey is wrong (and not for the first time)

The ability of Lord Carey to dominate the headlines during the synod of the Church of England is something that is a wonder of modern ecclesiastical communications. If I were working in the communications machine of the C of E, I’d despair of the former archbishop’s ability to step into the limelight just when one would be trying to get some kind of coherent message across.

Lord Carey makes me feel sympathy for the Church of England, its synod and its communication team. Such is his impact. He is not to be underestimated.

So, what are we to make of his statement that he is now in favour of Assisted Suicide, having been against it previously?

I’ve not written much about this topic. It is a sensitive one and one which divides people in unpredictable ways. Working in the church, you kind of get used to the way we divide on many issues. (Those who are most antagonistic to women clergy are often the most antagonistic to gay men living lives of openness etc). However in this case, I think that we divide differently and unpredictably.

I’m not persuaded by Lord Carey’s argument and don’t favour any change to the law.

I’m familiar with the argument that we must do all we can to eliminate suffering and that sometimes life has just become intolerable. I have every sympathy with those who have seen someone die in pain and distress and would do anything to have made it easier. Of course I would.

But I am also aware that people don’t die in a neat predictable way. Nor do they die isolated from the values and needs of those who are left behind. The relationship between those whose life is coming to an end is inevitably bound up with the lives of those who seek to care for them and those who perhaps should care for them but who don’t find themselves able to do so.

Offering the choice to die inevitably puts new burdens on those who are dying as well as on those who are around them. I’m unpersuaded at this time that it is in the best interests of society as a whole for the moral right of one individual within that complex of relationships to automatically trump every other consideration.

Now that’s a hard position for me to take because of two things. Firstly, I believe that we should seek to relieve suffering and act to reduce pain. I don’t believe that there is anything good about pain and unlike many religious people I think that it has no redemptive quality at all. Secondly because I think we need to give as much autonomy to the individual as we can.

How can I come to the view that I do then that Lord Carey is wrong?

Well, it isn’t just the dying person who suffers pain at the time of a death.  Nor is all pain caused by purely physical causes. I’m simply unpersuaded on pragmatic grounds that allowing Assisted Suicide will lead to an overall reduction in pain to humanity. Secondly, I don’t believe that a patient has absolute autonomy if there is an economic or emotional factor in their dying that can benefit others. When people die these things are all around.

My objection to Assisted Suicide is not a particularly religious one. At least I don’t think so.

The only religious reason that I can think of which supports my position is that I think it is incumbent on the Christian to care for the vulnerable. The dying are incredibly vulnerable. They are vulnerable to those who would like them to get on with it. Those can be relatives but equally they can be doctors and health service managers too.

I can’t see any protections that could remove that vulnerability.

The reality is, not everyone dies in a middle class way with articulate, caring people around them who stand to gain nothing from their death.

For these practical, emotional and probably inconsistent reasons, I can’t support a change in the law.

Though I know many good people who will agree with him, I have to admit that, not for the first time, I think Lord Carey is wrong.

Why we shouldn’t ban the Orange Order from Glasgow’s streets

When I moved back to Glasgow about eight years ago, one of the first things that I remember hearing from my flat was a sound that was both familiar and horrible at the same time. It was the sound of the fifes and drums of the Orange Order as they paraded through the streets. I had forgotten that this was still a reality on the streets of this city and rather shocked to hear it from my window.

Now few people sing Glasgow’s praises more loudly than I do but the regular Orange Walks are one of the things that I like least about this place.

For those from out of town, the Orange Walks are perceived by many to be sectarian demonstrations – on the one hand they affirm a certain protestant identity – one that I wouldn’t want to affirm for myself. On the other hand they are perceived by very many as being anti-Roman Catholic events which stir up trouble. This last weekend was one of the bigger parades and a young girl was injured by someone throwing a glass bottle. It is often said that it isn’t those parading themselves who cause the trouble – they are fairly well-disciplined – more those who follow the marches as supporters.

Many members of my own congregation were in the centre of the city last Saturday doing a history walk and a number of them said afterwards that they had never experienced anything like it. They felt frightened and appalled by what they saw. (They meant the Orange Walk, not Roger’s history walk….)

As sometimes happens at this time of the year, there is now a petition going around suggesting that the council should ban the Orange Walks in future. It is a fairly easy argument – the majority of the city’s citizens are fed up to the back teeth of this and neither want the city to be known for it nor do they want to pay to police it, therefore it should be banned.

Notwithstanding my own dislike of the Walks themselves, I find myself unable to sign a petition calling for them to be banned.

I think the reality of the Orange Walks is grim and unwelcome in the streets in which I live. I happen also to think that taking away freedom of assembly to silence those with whom we disagree is worse.

In a couple of week’s time, I will be taking to the streets in glad array to join Pride Glasgow’s march through the centre of the city affirming all that is good about LGBT people. There are, undoubtedly, those who would rather that parade did not take place. No doubt there are fewer people who want to stop such marches than there used to be but there are significant numbers of people who would rather not see me in a dog-collar larking around under a rainbow umbrella making it plain to all who encounter me that I want the good news that God loves everyone to be blatantly paraded in people’s faces.

Should that march not be allowed because others don’t want it to happen?

I can’t say that I think it should be banned on that basis. If I want the right to march in the face of opposition, I’ve no choice but to stand up for the rights of other people to do the same.

The truth is, people have the right to express views that others find noxious. Putting them on the streets where they can be held up to ridicule by others who equally have the right to express their opinions may ultimately be part of the way to deal with them.

In my view it is all too easy to sign a petition against something these days without thinking about one’s own personal involvement in the problem.

The root problem that makes the Orange Walks feel so horrible is the reality that we all know in Glasgow – that some people are deeply prejudiced against others because of their religion. And there are personal responsibilities that ought to weigh heavily upon those of us in this city who are religious whenever we hear the beating of those drums.

When I came back to Glasgow and heard the marches, my first instinct was to go that evening to a local Roman Catholic mass. Something told me I needed to attend, show solidarity, simply be there as a witness to something different from what was happening in the streets.

I regret the fact that I’ve not invited others to do the same during the Walking season since. When we hear that noise it should prompt us to respond.

Even thinking about it today, I was reminded me of an outstanding ecumenical meeting with a Roman Catholic fellow priest in the city that I’ll follow up and make sure happens.

There are other things that we should be much more organised about doing in the churches too.

  • I prayed about the streets of the city on Sunday in our worship and I think a bit more public prayer and preaching against sectarianism wouldn’t go amiss.
  • Individuals need sometimes to take risks and say surprising things to challenge the presumptions of a deeply engrained sectarian reality in this part of the world.
  • There is a role for dioceses, presbyteries and other such bodies in providing appropriate anti-sectarian material for Christians to use during the marching season.
  • If the ecumenical movement stands a chance of survival then difficult topics have to be faced within it. This should be urgent business for local and national ecumenical bodies which are in grave danger right now of becoming utterly irrelevant. The banality of much of what passes for local ecumenism is thankfully dying out as those promoting it get older. If there is to be anything in its place afterwards then tough topics need to be tackled by people in the churches who are decision makers. We need to remember that an ecumenism that doesn’t deal with sectarianism contributes to it.

Outside the life of the churches there is also much to do.

  • Education authorities need to keep under constant review the question whether there is more that should be done in schools to directly tackle sectarianism.
  • Public figures need support in making anti-sectarian statements and rather than what amounts to a news blackout, there needs to be much more of an effort to get anti-sectarian voices heard in the media. We need to make it deeply uncool to march in or support those parades.
  • How these events are managed and policed needs constant review.

Those drums are supposed to prompt us to action.

We should make sure that they do.

Banning marches is far too easy and ultimately too dangerous.

People need to be free to hold and express views that I think are obnoxious.

When we hear those drums we should be prompted to do far more than sign a petition calling for them to be banned.



Where to get started with the Bible

Reading the Bible isn’t optional for Christians – it is part of what makes us who we are. However, there’s no doubt that some people find it daunting and don’t know where to start.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend starting at the beginning and working through to the end. It starts OK with some interesting and apparently familiar stories about creation and a load of stories about Abraham but soon veers off into purity codes and punishments and what can seem like interminable records of who gave birth to whom.

Better to begin somewhere else.

Start with one of the Gospels

I’d suggest starting with one of the gospel books – that means one of the following books – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

(By the way, I recommend the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Get one of the ones with the Apocrypha and look for one with British rather than American spellings if that matters to you).

You’ve got the idea that the Bible is really a library of books written by different people at different times and in different places, right? Well the gospels are four different accounts of the life of Jesus told by different writers for different audiences. If you look carefully you’ll see that there are what appear to  be discrepancies between them but essentially they all clearly tell you about the life and death of a man who told stories, healed people and befriended an unlikely crew before being killed in Jerusalem. These books were all written after Jesus’s death and crucially after those who knew him best spread the story that death had not been the end of Jesus but that in some way they were still encountering him in a way which changed the world.

If you want a short one to start with I’d suggest Mark – just 16 rushing chapters where we find Jesus portrayed as a healing holy man. Note how the action flows from the desert to the city. Note also that there’s nothing much about Jesus’s birth in this one. It is all about his life and teaching. If you want to find the Christmas stories you need to look in Matthew’s gospel for the story of the Magi (aka the Wise Men) from the East or in Luke’s gospel for most of the stuff about Mary, Joseph and Bethlehem. Matthew was trying to relate Jesus’s life to a community who were working out the relationship between their Jewishness and the rest of the world which is perhaps why he presents the Magi coming from outside the holy land to worship at the crib. Luke, traditionally thought of as a doctor has more about Jesus’s relationships with women and the amazing song of Mary that teaches us that spirituality and justice are inherrently bound together.

John’s gospel, meanwhile was written after the others and the big theme is to try to explain what it all means rather than simply to tell a story. Symbols are hugely significant to John and whoever wrote it (no, we don’t really know) plays around with time in order to make his point.

All human life is found in the Psalms

After reading one of the gospels, I’d suggest that someone heads over into the Psalms and starts to dip in and out. All human life is there. These are spiritual songs which form a collection of spiritual writing which goes from anger to joy, from despair to compassion. Most people already know Psalm 23 because of the comfort that it has brought through many centuries to those being bereaved. But check out Psalm 121 for inspiration, Psalm 139 for a meditation on what it means to be human and the final psalms at the end of the book for fabulous images of praise and worship.

People still read the psalms as a bedrock for prayer and they form the core of Daily Prayer in just about any Christian tradition. We sing them every week on a Sunday at St Mary’s and recite them every other day at Morning Prayer.

Maybe now it is time for Genesis and a bit of Job

Remember the first book of the Bible that we glossed over at the beginning  – well maybe it is time to give it a go now. Start with the creation stories at the beginning and remind yourself that there’s two quite different accounts in the first two chapters. They are obviously not worth reading if you think that they are either a replacement for a scientific understanding of the world and nor if you think they are irrelevant now we have a scientific understanding of the world. They are a good deal more subtle than that – they are attempts to prompt reflection about the way humans experience the world. It is the big – “what are we doing here?” question turned into stories and pictures. These texts still provoke a response even now.

Whilst we are on the “What are we doing here?” question, you might like to take a leap into the book of Job – a story of someone who is trying to work out precisely that. He does what he thinks is right in the world and ends up leading a miserable life. A bunch of friends come along who say, “well, that sucks, God’s been horrible to you” and from somewhere inside himself, Job seems to conclude that this is just the way it is and that God is to be blessed and praised anyway. It is a good one for psychologists (amateur or otherwise) is Job.

Back in Genesis, you’ll find the sagas of Abraham and of Joseph taking up a good deal of the space. Worth a go, not least as they start to establish the theme that God blesses unlikely people. (Abraham sells off his wife to save his own skin not once but twice and you already know the story and the songs from the Joseph stuff from a certain musical).

A bit of prophecy now – Isaiah but start in the middle

Take a leap into the prophets now by reading a few chapters from the book of Isaiah. But don’t start at the beginning, start at chapter 40. Isaiah was written by at least two people at different times. Pick it up in the middle where there’s this soaring and wonderful prose which will again sound familiar but this time it is Handel who is giving you the tunes to hum over as you read rather than Andrew Lloyd Webber – we are in Messiah territory here.

Read some tricky stuff

Oh, don’t neglect the tricky stuff. You know fine well that this was written a long time ago and that our culture and society has moved on now, right? Well, it is still worth reading about Sodom and Gomorrah and that pesky verse in Leviticus 18 about men not lying with men and having a think about the sexual morality of godly people has changed and is still changing. Nowadays, we tend to think of the Sodom stuff as being about the crime of being inhospitable rather than an injunction against faithful, stable gay lives. Similarly, you want to read a few verses either side of the Leviticus verse and you’ll find that eating shellfish is condemned with as much ferocity as gay sex. The day an evangelical church launches a campaign against prawn cocktails is a day to take them more seriously in wanting to limit the human rights of gay people today.

Don’t miss the stuff about women and men either. We’ve already encountered some of it in the second chapter of Genesis but you want to take a look at St Paul’s stuff about women being quiet in church (1 Corinthians 14) and keeping their heads covered (1 Corinthians 11). Again, we have to see this in its historical context and murmur to ourselves that even in its historical context it was wrong, it kept women silenced and recognise that not everything in religion is good.

But don’t miss the best bits of Paul

Oh heavens, right in the middle of all that stuff about women you get one of the best bits of St Paul’s writings – 1 Corinthians 13. It is such a fabulous celebration of love that it still gets read frequently (and often very badly) at weddings.

Love is patient and love is kind, but if you want something a bit erotic you need to dip back into the Hebrew scriptures and read the sexy Song of Songs.

And end up with Revelation

The last book of the Bible is the Revelation of St John. It is a wacky read at first sight. You’ll find yourself asking “what was he on?” Is this drug induced writing or something that comes from a mystical state. Whatever it is, you find, amidst some rather gory stuff which is probably an allegory of how people thought the world was ending at the time it was written, some glorious images of what heaven is like – fabulous food, music and sex are the basic images of heaven that run through a lot of biblical thinking.

Then start reading it systematically

Once you’ve got a basic idea of what’s in it, reading a few short passages a day is a good idea.

Any member of the clergy in any church in any part of the world is delighted when someone asks for suggestions on how to read the Bible. Go on, if you are short of ideas yourself, make their day complete.