An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Here comes the bride, maybe not!

There are two conflicting stories of marriage reported in the Church Newspaper today. First, guidance for clergy on how to spot sham weddings being undertaken for immigration reasons needs to be urgently issued, said the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. Guidance has already been drawn up, following the jailing of Rev Alex Brown last year who conducted 360 sham marriages at a church in East Sussex, but hasn't been issued yet.
One wonders what the guidance could possibly contain and what the ramifications for clergy would be? Should clergy be on the look out when people of different skin colours want to get married or would it be about their different accents? This sounds rather ridiculous, I agree, but what other tell tale signs could there be? If clergy are advised to ask the couple questions to further clarify the matter then it puts clergy in a singularly difficult position because they would then be acting as de facto immigration officials. If the Vicar does find out that the couple aren't genuine in their intentions then is he/she advised to report the matter to the authorities? Where does this take the role of a Vicar?
Secondly, tax breaks for married couples is being called for by the Bishop of Chester who has received the backing of Dr Sentamu and Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi. The Bishop of Chester says that marriage may be a private choice but that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that it has public consequences on which any Government cannot ignore. Marriage is, therefore, to be promoted as an instrument of policy.
How does this glorification reside beside a situation whereby the next time a Vicar is approached he/she needs to consider whether the couple seeking to be married are lying or are being truthful about their intentions? Something makes for uncomfortable reading in all of this and I think it is the placing on a pedestal of a family model that will need to be 'policed' by people who aren't qualified to do so.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Valentine Challenge for the Church

A wonderful sermon was given at church yesterday about how Valentine's Day isn't just about romantic love. In fact, people in the East celebrate it as a day of love and wish members of their family and their friends on this day. The West has hijacked Valentine's Day as a couple's celebratory event.
When I was in church yesterday listening to this sermon I wondered about whether ordinary folk would equate the church with Valentine's Day. Using the Western concept the answer would be 'no'. However, using the Eastern concept, I still don't think ordinary people would because of the stark contrast between the streamlining of gays and women into society and the CoE's perceived hostility towards these groups. The CoE's ongoing tussles over sexual orientation and gender mobility hardly lends itself to an inclusive notion of love. This is then the Valentine challenge for the church and I suspect many more Valentine's Days will pass before a resolution is reached.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Finally-voting reform on General Synod's agenda

I stood for election to the House of Laity last year (I lost) and was appalled at the state of the voting system. Despite the best intentions of all those concerned, there were far too many barriers to the system being accessible to potential voters and to being a fair one to the candidates standing. Candidates weren't given an online platform from which to campaign. Candidates weren't able to canvass those who were eligible to vote. The link of visibility between voters and candidates was continually shrouded in mist. I mounted a mini one person campaign requesting that the voting system be changed to reflect the transparency and fairness that we seek in our electoral processes in a democratic country.
Well, a proposal has been made to General Synod by Tom Sutcliffe, one of the fine candidates I stood against, to introduce:
(a) the concept of electronic voting in elections after a consultation with the Electoral Reform Society; and
(b) to require all election addresses to be published on the candidates' own Diocesan websites.
Further to this, another proposal has been made by the London Diocese for a review to be carried out of the electoral system framework for election to the House of Laity and questioning whether persons other than lay members of the Deanery Synods ought to be given a right to vote.
There is an urgent need to demistify the process of getting into General Synod because it is the body which decides on the church's forward plan. Voter engagement is crucial to harnessing the voice of the millions who attend church every Sunday. Much of the challenges facing the Church for the next five years requires support at grassroots level (pew fillers). However, as reality stands, no ordinary church goer really feels that his or her voice is being heard at the top. Imagine if Parliament worked this way? It would be stalled democracy in action rather than a robust political system. Why then have we tolerated such an arcane system when it comes to our faith?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Why did I become an Anglican?

When David Cameron spoke about the lack of a British identity his words seem to echo what I have been feeling about the CoE. I chose to become an Anglican 8 years ago. I wasn't born into a family that actively practised religion but I felt a need and desire to seek religion all through my life. I tried Atheism. It is a lonely existence relying on yourself all the time. What drew me towards Anglicanism was how humanity seem to score far more highly than tradition and ritual in defining oneself as being a Christian. The Church seemed to be able to hold together people from different cultures and countries and there was a palpable sense of identity involved with being a Christian. Fast forward eight years on and I am wondering what has happened. I still hold my faith strongly in our CoE but as General Synod prepares to sit I pray that this is one of the questions that will be debated. Unless we forge a united alliance our brand of Anglicanism will be a perpetual question mark. I don't think the AC is the way forward either. We need to be aware of any authoritarian governance that demands compliance over human virtues and qualities.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

'The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education'-Einstein

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is planning to introduce an Engllish Baccalaureate system under which Religious Education (RE) will not be incorporated in the subjects to be tested on. The chosen subjects will be: English, Maths, Science; Foreign Language; and either History or Geography. Religious advocates of RE will be lobbying the Minister for a change of mind. Allegedly, the role of RE in our current school system is already being downgraded ahead of the change with teachers being moved from teaching RE to History and Geography as the preferred humanities options for the Baccalaureate.
Education is mightily important. However,education should not only encompass the traditionally thought of 'hard subjects' such as Maths, English etc. To do so immediately requires a counter production of what is thought to be 'soft subjects' and RE falls under this heading. Going to school is a learning experience. It ought to teach one to engage in productive thinking and debate, to learn the link between past and present and allow one to become a responsible and thoughtful member of society. Education helps to instil moral values in the learner too. At a time when our society's social fabric seems to be frayed schools ought to be enabled to do far more to produce healthy citizens of today and tomorrow.
RE is a multi-dimensional field of study. I will use a personal anecdote to illustrate this point. My daughter is only in Year 7 but I am hugely impressed by what she is doing already. In a short space of time she has drawn up a timeline of the Jewish migrations right up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. This single lesson has taught her about the Holocaust, the reason for the hostilities between the Muslim states and Israel and of Judaism itself. Out of this she has been introduced to history, religious beliefs and state warfare. She was also tasked with drawing up the differences between the Christian faith and Judaism. She has learnt how to compare and contrast, explain differences based on the bible's timeline-history and is able to read the bible with more understanding as a result. She is looking forward to learning about Hinduism, Islam and Sikihism.
However, RE isn't just about teaching religion. At macrolevel RE teaches multi-faith tolerance, values, morals and explains behaviours and practices of religious groups using the methods of philosophy, sacred texts and anthropology. Consider the interplay between social and political issues such as gay rights, marriage, cloning and female rights and religion. RE actually offers the ways and means to understand some of this better.

On Saturday we will have the English Defence League marching in Luton against Islam. For the last week the Western world has been worrying about the takeover of the currently moderate Muslim countries by fundamentalism. Christians are being killed globally. Religion is being used as a powerful weapon for hatred and strife. We in a democratic multi-faith society have a powerful way of helping to reverse some of this by teaching multi-faith religions and tolerance to young minds.