Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Creation Time

Creation Time is a church season which runs from 1 September to 4 October each year, and is designed to help churches and Christians think, pray and act on issues to do with caring for the earth.

This year the General Assembly passed a Deliverance which said: Commend Creation Time and encourage all congregations and presbyteries to take advantage of the season of Creation Time and to use the related resources that have been produced.

The resources are available from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and the theme this year is Our Daily Bread.

This prayer is taken from the CTBI resources:

O God, as the reality of what we have done to the earth and seas, which provide us with our daily bread, dawns on us, grant us the grace to do what is necessary to cooperate with your redeeming care of the cosmos. Give us the generosity and the courage to do without those things that destroy earth, air, water and all that sustains us. Bless us anew, that we may bless the earth with healing care, God – Creator, Word and Holy Spirit. Amen

This theme ties in well with our current work which is looking into food sustainability and farming. We are seeking views on a range of questions, please get in touch.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Assisted dying debate - what does it mean for sharing life in all its fullness?

I've been reflecting on this story about assisted suicide.

It has been well said that modern society knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Perhaps one of the most distressing aspects of the way our society has developed recently is the way in which we deal with those who are coming towards the end of their lives. Where in the past Granny having a bed in the living room might have been a common scenario, now we seem much less able (or willing?) to care for those who cared for us, to hold the hands that held ours.

Of course, there are many reasons for this: dislocated and busy families, people living longer, the provision of supported housing which allows older people the choice of living independently. However, sometimes I think that society feels that, if a person is not contributing financially, they are of little value to our community- indeed, they are seen as a burden.

Perhaps nowhere is this more starkly portrayed than in the debate around assisted dying. while I recognise that those who advocate assisted dying are seeking a way to respond to suffering, I cannot accept that legislating in this way adequately takes into account the effects of such provision on our society as a whole. Nor does it affirm other responses to suffering or the experiences of many who struggle for fullness of life through the limitations of a range of debilitating illness and disability. Without a comprehensive approach to the end of life, and a full exploration of our interdependence with one another, I continue to represent the Church's current opposition to such a change in the law

We need to learn again to value what really matters.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ex-Chancellor on the Purposes of Economic Activity

The Kirk’s Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity met yesterday morning with Alistair Darling MP, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Alistair reflected on a number of key issues he faced at the time of the credit crunch and global slowdown, and made some points about the situation facing the country and the world economy today.

The Commission is made up of a range of heavyweights; bankers, theologians, economists, poverty campaigners and people who have had real life experience of what it means to be poor.

It is good that senior politicians like Alistair Darling are willing to engage with us as we work out what the Church might say to a world where inequality and greed seem to be ever-present.

The conversation ranged from the banking crisis, global leadership (and the current lack thereof), the rate at which the Coalition is cutting the deficit, the problems in several European countries, the false assumptions people made about the permanence of consumer-led growth, the ongoing role of banks and financial services in the UK economy, the successes of the Labour Government in reducing child and pensioner poverty, bank bonuses and the culture that rewarding risky activity without consequences for the individuals that are taking the actions has on the industry.

When asked about creating a more equal society, Alistair Darling said that this should not be the focus of Government efforts; rather he pointed out that employment is the best way to tackle poverty, and to create jobs the economy needs to grow.

We also asked him about using something other than GDP to indicate social progress or purpose – there has been quite a lot of discussion about General Well-Being. He didn’t seem convinced about this, asking how can you define ‘well-being’ – at least GDP is quantifiable.

No doubt some of these opinions will cause a stir. The Commission continues to meet and will report in the new year.  You can submit your views to the Commission by answering some of their key questions.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Libya's future

The eyes of the world turn again to Libya. In the chaos and confusion I hope that what emerges from the current conflict is an open and tolerant society that has the best interests of all Libyan people at the heart of its decision making.

Now, as many believe the end is in sight for the old regime, our thoughts and prayers are turning to what will be the future for Libya, both in the short term but also for the months and years ahead. I recognise that the shape of this will probably not be Western in style or content.
I will be praying for the Libyan people and trying to remain positive and hopeful. The next few months will not be easy, but with faith and perseverance the grim predictions for the country might be avoided. The Libyan people have the potential, and the spirit, to do something great with their country, joining citizens in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt in beginning to explore what freedom from dictatorship can mean for them.
I am also aware that there is a possibility that a new government in Libya might publish information that can shed on the Lockerbie bombing. With new questions about the confidence of the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, and the second anniversary of his release from prison on compassionate grounds, this is something I would look forward to, particularly for the sake of families of those who died.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Tesco Supermarkets and Labelling of products from Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territory

In May the General Assembly repeated a call clear labelling of products from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The purpose behind this is so that consumers in Britain can shop with confidence and the knowledge that the products come from either illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, Israel, or from Palestinians in the West Bank.
An informed consumer can then make a choice not to support the economy of a political reality which they do not agree with.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Science and Religion

I was struck by this story in yesterday’s Daily Mail.

John Schneider quit his post as a teacher in a Christian college after pressure from critics who were opposed to his views that science suggests that the Bible’s creation stories may not be literally true.

Science and religion are both, in their own way, a search for truth. There is nothing in science which has to contradict Christian tradition; indeed God revealed in the world is as incredible and amazing as God revealed in scripture.

Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6: 25-33).

Darwin’s ideas needn’t be a threat to Christian faith – I find it terribly sad that in some Church cultures a response to evolution or creationism is now a litmus test to determine whether an individual is fit to hold office.

Our own Society Religion and Technology Project has been exploring issues of ethics, theology and scince for more than 40 years and remains at the forefront of international debate about science and religion.

Far better, surely, to acknowledge that despite our best efforts we can never fully know and understand God, and to realise that however fervently we hold our beliefs, there may always be doubt, questioning and the possibility that we are wrong.

My friend Maclolm Brown from the Church of England has written more about this subject here.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Death Penalty

The UK Government’s new e-petitions website has attracted some attention by sparking the debate about capital punishment.

There are petitions supporting the current ban on executions while others call for hanging to be brought back.

The Church of Scotland opposes capital punishment for three main reasons:
Firstly, revenge or retribution is not a moral position for an enlightened and civilised society.

Secondly, the chance of a miscarriage of justice may mean that an innocent person is killed. Would you like to be hanged by mistake?

Thirdly, it is for the supporters of the death penalty to prove beyond doubt that bringing back hanging will deter crime. They have to show why the status quo is not working. There is no statistical evidence to suggest that having the death penalty deters terrorists or murderers.

The Church reported on the death penalty in 2008. The report concluded:

“No system of justice devised and operated by humans is free from error or arbitrariness. The death penalty conflicts with the right to life enshrined in the European Convention in Human Rights, and the possibility of the death penalty has manifestly failed to deter murder, war crimes and genocide. The death penalty brutalises the society which practices it, and alternative sentences for serious crimes exist through which restitution and rehabilitation may be achieved. Inflicting death as a punishment limits the redemptive work of God in this life, work modelled by Jesus in his life of God’s compassion and mercy, and in his teaching of non-violence.

“Therefore the Church of Scotland affirms that capital punishment is always and wholly unacceptable and does not provide an answer even to the most heinous of crimes; and commits itself to work with other churches and agencies to advance this understanding, oppose death sentences and executions and promote the cause of abolition of the death penalty worldwide.”