Sunday, 24 April 2011


I am really pleased to be heading off later this morning to preach and preside at the Easter Communion Service of a local Methodist Church in a neighbouring circuit. One of the disadvantages of not being in Parish or Circuit ministry is that it is easy to end up not preaching and presiding at Easter. The last few years have seen me either running the biannual inter faith studies Easter residential at Queens or celebrating Easter whilst taking a holiday break. The local Methodists asked me some months ago if I would step in and preach on Easter Sunday as their own minister will be on Sabbatical. It wasn't until I started reflecting on what I wanted to say that I realised I hadn't led an Easter Sunday service since I left All Hallows in 2007!

As part of my preparation I reviewed what I had said in the last two years of my Easter preaching. All Hallows has a web site and at that time rudimentary recordings were made of sermons and posted for people to listen to. So I revisited them and rediscovered that in 2006 I had preached an Easter series on 1 Corinthians 15 called 'Paul and Resurrection Faith.' The series was part of a wider series on 'Reclaiming Paul' based on some study on Paul that I had been engaged upon and the sermons drew heavily upon the work of Neil Elliot in his Liberating Paul, Richard Horsley's Commentary on 1 Corinthians and his work on Paul and Empire and John Dominic Crossan's book In Search of Paul all of which had been part of my exploration.

The semons can be listened to here.

Friday, 22 April 2011


Marc Chagalls 'White Crucifixion' read an excellent reflection on this at The Spiritual Drawing Board

I am leading the Good Friday reflections at the foot of the cross at St Paul's Church Balsall Heath this afternoon between 2-3pm. The following is my introduction to the service

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church year as we come together to reflect on the death of Jesus. Over the centuries, Good Friday and the other holy days of this week leading up to and including Easter, have seen terrible vilification of and violence towards Jews, as Christians carried along by the gospel narratives, pinned blame for Jesus’s death not on the Romans who tortured and killed him, but on his own people.

The gospel writers, remember, were writing at a politically sensitive and dangerous time, when the Roman empire had already destroyed Jerusalem and seemed poised ready to stamp out a fragile Christianity, a time when Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism were forming their own separate identities with all the relationship tensions of close siblings – tensions aired for all to see in the writings of the New Testament.

This was not a clever time to flag up the fact of the Roman execution of Jesus – we will hear today what great lengths the gentile writer Luke goes to exonerate the Roman. But a while later, in a more secure environment - for Christians at least - the Apostles Creed, that anchor of our faith, is formulated to declare that Christ died ‘under Pontius Pilate,’ a military governor in a cruel empire, who was eventually removed by that empire from office for being too cruel.

In this post-Holocaust world, we know to our shame that the violence inflicted upon Jews by Christians down the ages is something for which we Christians need to repent. We who are called to love our neighbour need to learn to love ever more deeply, the people who gave us Jesus and the Scriptures.

Roman Catholic theologian John Pawlikowski has written

'The Jewish historian Ellis Rivkin has often said that the question "who crucified Jesus?" should be replaced by "what crucified Jesus?" The change in emphasis is crucial, because what crucified Jesus were certain entrenched political forces that always want to rid society of those who present new ideas, question entrenched power that has gone awry and denounce exploitation.

It is wrong to present the events of Good Friday as involving wholesale Jewish opposition to Jesus. At best, Jesus' struggle was against the entrenched occupying powers which some Jewish leaders in the Temple aided and abetted for personal gain. So despite the history of Good Friday in terms of Christian-Jewish relations, I believe it is possible to understand it as a time for reconciliation between the two faith communities. For Jesus on Calvary symbolizes not only the sufferings of all humankind but, in particular, the sufferings which his brother and sister Jews were experiencing in occupied Palestine. Jesus' death represents the suffering, the trials, the aspirations of many ordinary Jewish people of the time. Certainly there is a long history to overcome in transforming Good Friday into a period of Christian-Jewish reconciliation. But if we better understand the concrete political dynamics that brought Jesus to Calvary, we will be well under way towards beginning that process of transformation.' (1)

So my sisters and brothers in focussing our attention on 'What Killed Jesus' we draw alongside this story not as distant observers pointing the finger at protagonists of the past but as open pilgrims longing to become more whole and holy, longing to be people who act and live the gospel values of love, justice and truth. We come alongside this story bringing our story and allowing it through the conviction of the Holy Spirit to challenge us and comfort us as we allow the paschal mystery to penetrate our own lives.

So we bring the realities of our own experience of and participation in betrayal, our compliance with or oppression by, unjust structures, our experiences of awe and wonder and of brokenness and despair and in the silence and the moment let ourselves be open to experience God touching us with healing love - for as the Apostolic Witness attests by his wounds we shall be healed (2)

(1) From Developments in the liturgy of Holy Week by John Pawlikowski at

(2) 1 Peter 2: 24b

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

FAITH HOPE & LOVE CONFERENCE - 'A real milestone on the ecumenical & inter faith journey'

Particpants listening to Bishop Joe Aldred of the Church of God of Prophecy & Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley opening the conference with a plenary on 'Sharing our Stories'
Nearly 100 Christians (and one Sikh) poured into Mount Zion Community Church in Aston on Saturday for the Faith Hope & Love - Christian Witness in a Multi Faith Society Conference. Pentecostals, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and Anglicans provided a real ecumenical flaviour to the conference ; which was also diverse in its theological representation with charismatics and evangelicals sitting alongside liberals and radicals as we explored together the meaning of living faithfully, hopefully and lovingly as Christians in todays multi faith world.
A workshop on Evangelicals and Inter faith Dialogue

Celia Blackden Inter faith Officer for Churches Together in England described the conference as 'a real milestone on the ecumenical and inter faith journey'. Whilst visiting workshop leader Richard Reddie said 'I really enjoyed the conference which was stimulating, educational and challenging'.

Natasha Griffith of The Feast leading a workshop on inter faith work with young people

The organising team will be meeting in early May and looking in detail at feedback from participants and where we may go forward from this initial success. Meanwhile Christians in Birmingham and elsewhere in the country who came to the conference will be considering how to engage in fresh and creative ways within their own multi faith contexts, encouraged by a conference that has resourced and inspired them to more faithfully, hopefully and lovingly walk as people of the way of Christ in a multi faith society.

A group from Aston churches action planning in the final session of the day

Thursday, 7 April 2011


At the Birmingham District Synod of the Methodist Church last weekend we were presented with a motion in support of the UK UNCUT protestors who were arrested at the TUC demonstration the other week. The motion wanted to make a distinction between the nonviolent direct action of the UK UNCUT group and the violent activities of a smaller number of protesters and to condemn the mistreatment of the former by the police and courts. The motion was carried by a significant majority.

The most interesting part of the discussion was perhaps unrelated to the motion’s subject. The only 'objection' raised was by one of our brethren of the Hauerwasian persuasion who chided the motion’s proposers because of its lack of theological content. We needed, he said, to proclaim as the Barmen Declaration had done 'the Lordship of Christ'in our resistance. Whilst I agreed with the sentiment and the frustration - that much of what passes for liberation theology on the Christian Left in the UK is unfortunately often indistinguishable from a secular left wing opinion column in the Guardian, Peace News or the Socialist Worker - I was not so enamoured with my brother's recruiting of the founding statement of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany to this cause.

This is often done in Church circles and the idea of both the declaration and the Confessing Church as a model of theological resistance to the Nazis is a myth that lives strongly, particularly in post evangelical and counter cultural Christian movements as well as some more fundamentalist reactionary tendencies with whom I have less sympathy. However, the truth about Barmen and the Confessing Church is not so noble.

The Barmen Declaration was solely concerned with the Church's right to control its own polity and to protect the right of baptised 'Jewish Christians' within it. As Alice Eckardt has pointed out in her analysis of what is often termed 'the Church Struggle' in Nazi Germany,

Essentially it was a struggle by the institutional churches to preserve for themselves an area that was separate from the state and national life, an area in the sacraments, and care for those in need of solace...The churches and their hierarchies did not raise objections…to the government's repudiation of democracy, persecution of Communists and Socialists, the concentration camps, the multitude of anti-Jewish decrees and violent actions, the wars of aggression, oppressive occupation policies, use of foreign slave labour or the "Final Solution" itself. (1)

The Barmen Declaration and the Confessing Church were deeply problematic for two reasons.

Firstly a Lutheran two kingdoms theology dominated the churches and had led to a deep subservience to the political authority of the state and the church's submission to it as long as it had authority in things 'spiritual'.

Secondly, the Barmen declaration and The Confessing Church were deeply embedded in a culture of antisemitism which Christian theology had given birth to and continued to support. Even on the theological 'Left' of the Church, in 1933 the year before the declaration - Dietrich Bonhoeffer - a modern Christian saint to many because of his later direct resistance to the Nazi regime - was writing on "The Church and The Jewish Question" in a way that has led Post Holocaust Christian theologian Clark Williamson to reflect

Hitler and Bonhoeffer were united in seeking a world without Jews. One would extinguish them physically, the other would convert them - eliminate them religiously. The choice was between spiritual and physical genocide. (2)

The Barmen Declaration does not then show us how to resist unjust powers and proclaim the 'Lordship of Christ' in our times, it demonstrates to us how deeply implicated the Church has been - and IS - in the structures of power and oppression not least the evil of anti-Semitism and anti- Judaism - which is the hatred, seeking the theological or physical obliteration or casual dismissal of the right to particularity; of the Jewish peoples.

1) Alice L Eckardt, The Holocaust, the Church Struggle, and Some Christian Reflections" in Faith and Freedom: A Tribute to Franklin H Littell Edited by Richard Libowitz ( Pergamon 1987) quoted in Stephen R Haynes, The Bonhoeffer Legacy - Post Holocaust Reflections (Fortress 2006) p13-14 (2) Clark Williamson, Has God Rejected His People? Anti-Judaism in the Christian Church (Abingdon 1983) quoted in Haynes p44

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


I have added Peter Pettit's Christian Zionism from a Perspective of Jewish-Christian Relations and his joint article with Biblical Scholar Bruce Chilton on Assessing a Moment of Truth to my earlier posting RESOURCES FOR REFLECTING UPON 'JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE & ISRAEL' REPORT & INTER FAITH RELATIONS


THE MISUNDERSTOOD JEW: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus

Amy-Jill Levine

A Book Review by Annie Heppenstall

Reading this book has the same effect as if the person you have been talking about for years, presuming you know all about them, suddenly walks into the room and catches you at it. It would be utterly disconcerting, except that Amy Levine is so likeable. She has an intimate and affectionate knowledge of Christianity, Christian scriptures and the church and communicates in a highly engaging, easy-to-read way, but does not spare us Christians from some hard truths. I thought, having ingested Geza Vermes as a Theology student at the end of the 80’s, that I was quite good on ‘Jesus the Jew.’ Levine refers reassuringly to my former hero several times, but while Vermes as a historian keeps Jesus well within the context of 1st Century CE Judaism, Levine insists on bringing him out and making him – the whole issue – relevant to today, in the uncomfortable light of Christianity’s history.

Levine seems to leave no stone unturned. The pace combined with the challenge she presents, I felt needed to be counterbalanced by pauses for breath, to consider the far-reaching implications for Christian faith and attitude, and at times enquiry from more detailed information sources to rectify my own ignorance on some subjects. In many instances I would have welcomed the opportunity to challenge her back, particularly regarding the interpretation of some Gospel texts and Christian concepts, which naturally are dear to my heart. But in wishing to do so, I find my own defensiveness exposed and my emotional maturity tested and I have to ask myself whether I could display as much good grace as she does, in our imaginary interfaith conversation. In each case her stance is valid, whether I like what she is saying or not; she is a formidable dialogue partner and if we are serious about presenting Christianity sensitively and meaningfully in this post-Holocaust world then we cannot afford to ignore her.

The book needs to be read, but let me try to summarise a key point as far as I understand it. Despite recent theological and ecclesiastical advice to the contrary, Christian spokespeople persistently present Judaism as a negative foil for Jesus and the emerging church, and this continues to be a habitual way of reading scripture, despite all protestations, however genuine, that we abhor anti-Semitism and respect Jews and Judaism. It is an unjustifiable habit stemming from ignorance, and if followed through, does result, even unintentionally, in anti-Judaic sentiments. What is troubling, is the extent of this habit – we (or most of us ) do it frequently, unconsciously, despite our best intentions. It spreads from pulpit and publication, out into Christian community and occurs largely because of a misguided assumption that we can know Judaism because we read the ‘Old Testament.’ This is, as Levine points out, as ridiculous as somebody assuming they know us 21st Century Westernised Christians, because they have read the Epistles. The only way to know someone is to spend time with them, in person, and let them talk about themselves and reveal their own humanity and their own take on life; it is a process that requires some humility and willingness to listen and have our preconceptions dismantled. In this interfaith world, there is no longer an excuse for talking about another faith tradition without inviting them in to speak for themselves, and we should welcome Amy-Jill Levine for doing just that.

By way of illustration, let me finish with a short extract where Levine points out implications in a well-known and much-used quotation from the Epistle to the Galatians. It had simply not occurred to me that this passage could cause offence, until I read the following comment, but now it stares me in the face and calls me to find a different way of hearing the scriptures, ‘with the ears of my neighbour,’ as Levine puts it.

It is [therefore] pastorally helpful to imagine how the words of some New Testament passages can sound to people who are not Christian. For example, Galatians 3:28 proclaims, ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female … in Christ Jesus.’ This verse may be very good news to the gentile men in Galatia, who now have the assurance that circumcision is neither warranted nor wanted. It might be good news to slaves …But to state that in the ideal world, or even in the purview of Christ, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek,’ sounds like the erasure of Jewish (and Greek) identity. Christian universalism thus entails the erasure of anything distinctly Jewish. Those who seek to promote multiculturalism might wish to rephrase Paul’s language to celebrate ‘both Jew and Greek, both male and female, and all, who should be free.’ (p. 114)

Ray adds I learnt recently that Amy Jill Levine is coming to Birmingham to give the Rabbi Tann Memorial Lecture in June details can be found below

The Third Annual Rabbi Tann Memorial Lecture: Jesus and Judasim - The Connection Matters Prof. Amy-Jill Levine, University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, will deliver the 3rd Annual Rabbi Tann Memorial Lecture on Thursday 2 June 2011 at 5pm in ERI Room G51 followed by a Drinks Reception. Her books include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperOne). A self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” Professor Levine combines historical-critical rigour, literary-critical sensitivity, and a frequent dash of humour with a commitment to eliminating anti-Jewish, sexist, and homophobic theologies. For information contact Charlotte Hempel at or Isabel Wollaston

Sunday, 3 April 2011


In a couple of recent talks I have been speaking about Catherine Cornille's book ' The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue.' Cornille argues for an approach to interreligious dialogue that is concerned with practising five virtues and cultivating these virtues from within the resources of one's own faith tradition in dialogue with others. The virtues of humility, commitment, interconnection, empathy and hospitality are explored in depth in her book always through engagement with the experience of finding both common ground (possibility) and the reality of radical difference (impossibility) in our engagement with the religious 'other'. In her understanding of interreligious dialogue both poles of experience are embraced as creative and dynamic realities needing to be held in tension. Cornille has also argued, elsewhere, for developing an understanding of witness based on this model. She encounters a process of 'inter-witnessing' taking place between practitioners in interreligious encounter. My talks have focussed on this through the telling of stories about being witnessed to by people of other faith traditions into a deeper engagement with the virtues that she outlines and in the process of opening myself to being 'witnessed to,' finding that I have 'witnessed' in return.

I was reminded of this when looking at material this weekend on the internet about Golden Rule Day which has been called by the United Nations for tomorrow 5th April 2011. At first glance the Golden Rule appears as one of those initiatives that too easily and quickly seeks common ground whilst eliding the realities of significant difference, failing to maintain Cornille's tension. However in incorporating the Golden Rule into her Charter of Compassion Karen Armstrong begins to engage a mass audience with a spirituality that is not unlike the practices Cornille calls for through her virtues. What is common to both approaches is a necessity to prioritise practice over doctrinal belief. This is emphasised in Cornille by her call to 'doctrinal humility' and in Armstrong with her finding compassion as a commonality that opens up a true love of the 'other' as 'other' and therefore loving them in their difference. This correlates in turn, with Cornille's perspective of being hospitable to 'difference' and 'commonality' and being empathetic in relation to the religious other and through this maintaining the creative tension outlined above.

Whilst developing 'doctrinal humility' there is also a necessity to recognise the traditioned nature of our engagement with such practices as compassion. Hence Cornille emphasises commitment to tradition and Armstrong calls for us to dig deep into our own traditions for the resources to live the compassionate life.

Despite this call to dig deep into our traditions Armstrong is always in danger with her 'independent monotheism' of pulling towards the construction of a new space outside and beyond tradition rather than a meeting point for those committed to a tradition therefore risking the construction of a bland and oppressive universalism that downplays the wonder of particularity. This is a pitfall Cornille is well aware of when she includes in her virtues the necessity of being committed to a tradition. However there is an exciting development that is being attested to by these two women's approaches that calls us all to a deeper engagement with the practices of our traditions that help to cultivate compassion. In the speech below given at the launch of the Charter of Compassion three years ago Armstrong movingly articulates such a vision

As I reflect upon Armstrong's talk and Cornille's book I find myself once more returning to those amazing words of Paul the apostle in his first letter to the Corinthians, for there I find a scriptural affirmation of doctrinal and spiritual humility and a call to a compassionate life through a commitment to the Christian understanding of the nature of Divine Love.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Saturday, 2 April 2011


Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue has initiated a joint Jewish - Christian protest against the cuts. A letter to The Times signed by 56 Rabbis and Christian ministers says

The prophet Isaiah proclaims: ‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’ We urge the Government to rethink its programme of cuts to ensure that those most able to withstand the effect of cuts bear the brunt of them and the poor and weak are cared for. This is what our faiths demand of a just society.

The letter and the list of signatories - including myself - is reproduced below along with a recently produced False Economy/TUC video on an alternative to cuts.

Dear Editor,

We have become increasingly concerned about the nature of the cuts proposed by the Government and now having to be implemented by local authorities. Our religious traditions teach that we should care for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. Yet these are the people who are being disproportionately affected by the cuts. The Government is making it harder to claim sickness and unemployment benefits. Local authority savings, forced on them by reduced Government funding, have resulted in, for example, the closure of a brain injury rehabilitation unit in Edgware, care homes in the Wirral and a crime prevention project for young people in Cornwall and severe cutbacks in a rape crisis centre in Glasgow. These are just a few of many examples of the most vulnerable members of society being denied the support they rely on. On the other hand, the wealthiest members of our society are relatively unaffected.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims: ‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’ We urge the Government to rethink its programme of cuts to ensure that those most able to withstand the effect of cuts bear the brunt of them and the poor and weak are cared for. This is what our faiths demand of a just society.

We call on all like-minded people, of all religions and none, to join in monitoring the effect of the cuts and raising awareness of how they are affecting the most vulnerable in our society.

Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi Birmingham Progressive Synagogue
Rabbi Danny Rich Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism
Neville Kenyon President, the Unitarian General Assembly
Rabbi Pete Tobias Chairman, Liberal Judaism Rabbinic Conference.
Revd. Toby Howarth Interfaith Advisor to the Bishop of Birmingham

Rabbi Mark Solomon Interfaith Consultant, Liberal Judaism
Sue Amer Deanery Reader, Kidderminster
Rabbi Hillel Athias-Robles
Rabbi Charley Baginsky
Revd. Stephen Barton
Rabbi Francis Ronald Berry
Rabbi Barbara Borts Newcastle Reform Synagogue
The Rev Andy Braunston Metropolitan Community Church

Rabbi Douglas Charing Jewish Education Bureau
Rabbi Howard Cooper
Revd. Diana Cullum-Hall United Reformed Church
Rabbi Janet Darley
Revd. Bob Day United Reformed Church
Revd. Jonathan Dean United Reformed Minister, Hampstead
Geoffrey Duncan Thames North Synod, United Reformed Church
Rabbi Colin Eimer Sha’arei Tzedek, North London Reform Synagogue
Rabbi Warren Elf Southend and District Reform Synagogue
Rabbi Paul Freedman Radlett & Bushey Reform Synagogue
Rabbi Ariel J. Friedlander
Revd. Ray Gaston Inter Faith Tutor & Enabler Queens Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
Lee Gerrard
Revd Gary P Hall
 Methodist Tutor (Practical Theology) The Queens Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
Rabbi Michael Hilton Kol Chai Hatch End Jewish Community
Rev'd Mandy Hodgson

Father Jeremy Howard Roman Catholic Chaplain
Revd Henrietta Howarth
Rabbi Richard Jacobi
Paul Keeble, BD Urban Presence
Rev Charles Kwaku-Odoi
Rabbi Professor Jonathan Magonet
Rabbi Monique Mayer Liverpool Reform Synagogue
Rabbi Maurice Michaels Senior Rabbi, SWESRS
Rabbi David Mitchell Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue
Revd. Peter Neale Clarence Road Baptist Church and Chairman of Southend Faith's Forum
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman
PastorWerner Oder Tuckton Christian Centre
Revd. Shaun O'Rourke
Rabbi Rebecca Qassin
Dr. David Rees Catholic lay minister
Rabbi Judith Rosen-Berry
Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire Vice Principal, Leo Baeck College
Rabbi Sheila Shulman
Ailsa Smith The Monastery, Manchester
Revd. Richard Tetlow
Rabbi Daniela Thau
Revd Andrew Wakefield
Rabbi Alexandra Wright
Rabbi Roderick Young
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers West London Synagogue

(56 signatories)

Cuts Are Not The Cure from Unionfilms on Vimeo.