Friday, 27 May 2011

Being Saved by Faith,Hope & Love exploring Reinhold Niebuhr

I was listening last night to an excellent Public Broadcast Channel programme from the US called Speaking of Faith. The particular episode was a programme exploring the contemporary relevance of the twentieth century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. We are off for a few days away in the van over the bank holiday week and while away I was hoping to read Elisabeth Sifton's reflection on her father, the said theologian, called 'The Serenity Prayer - Faith and Politics in Times of Peace & War'  and so was getting myself in the mood. The Serenity Prayer is well known and was made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Some see Niebuhrs' 'Christian Realism' as eclipsed by liberationist theologies or as simply a Christian endorsement of liberal democracy and are suspicious of its potential for conservative interpretation or preventing distinctive Christian witness. However a glance at Niebuhrs actions - support for Union organisation, early support for the Jewish people against Hitler, support for civil rights and speaking out against the Vietnam war, make it difficult to claim him for the right even though he supported nuclear deterrance and was anti-communist in post war US. It could be argued that his anti communism was for good reasons as a resistance to despotic Stalinism and that he was proved right on this against for instance fellow theologian  Karl Barth  who believed in a moral equivalence between the USA and USSR that ignored the gulags. But Niebuhr also cast a strongly critical eye on  US imperialism, influenced the young Martin Luther King and has been radically interpreted  by both  James Cone and Cornel West, hardly therefore a conservative thinker. The argument about Christian distinctiveness is at root an argument about what the church is called to be and further work needs to be done on the implications of Christian realism for contemporary explorations of the relationship between a changing church and wider society.

I find myself increasingly intrigued by Niebuhr's call to embrace in our activism ambiguity, nuance and complexity. Living  a faith based activism that acts in humility, recognises the sinfulness of all our human constructions and is open to change whilst engaging positively in a struggle for social justice. A Niebuhrian influenced activism also requires a neccessarily reflective approach to be aware of when we deceive ourselves into thinking that a particular cause is the true cause and descend into self righteousness. Perhaps Niebuhr may be a good resource for negotiating a more creative North American and European Christian engagement with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict beyond the increasingly unself-critical voices of  'Christian Zionism' and 'Palestinian Solidarity'

As Niebuhr said

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

“Old Habits Die Hard: A Critique of Recent Christian Statements on Israel”

This paper was given by Professor Amy Jill Levine at the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge earlier this month. I have posted on A J Levine's work before  and have personally found her work very helpful and challenging. Levine is a Jewish Feminist Scholar of the New Testament someone long involved in Christian – Jewish Dialogue and an active supporter of the Israeli Peace Movement. I think her critique of the Methodist Report and other Christian perspectives on Israel & Palestine needs to be engaged with. As you can see from the paper she offers them in a spirit of dialogue and is NOT saying that we shouldn't critique Israel or the Occupation – something she herself campaigns on. Two quotes below from the beginning and end of the document give you a flavour of the piece. You may not agree with her on everything or anything but it will certainly help to sharpen your thinking, her work has certainly had that effect on me. She is a great dialogue partner. I've also put a link to the paper on a previous posting  RESOURCES FOR REFLECTING UPON 'JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE & ISRAEL' REPORT & INTER FAITH RELATIONS

Our concern today is not with these positions in general. Our concern is with rhetoric and example. We shall explore how churches might preclude critique from Jewish groups and promote cooperation by attending not only to what is said, but also to how it is said, and to what is not said. To often rhetoric becomes the stumbling block to understanding, and so to strategic alliance……

The Methodist (2010) statement concludes that “a greater understanding of the theology needs developing to inform responses to differing attitudes and actions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, in order that theological reflection and conversations may form the basis of the attitude of the Methodist Church and Methodist people” and it recommends that “wherever possible, the work of the Methodist Church and Methodists on this issue should be done in partnership with Christians of all denominations, with inter-faith groups and with the Jewish and Muslim communities” – Amen. If we can hear with each other’s ears, and avoid stumbling blocks that prevent alliances, we are all in a better position to work for the peace that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all so highly value. I’ve listed several areas where caution is advised. There are no doubt more. I thank you for travelling with me on this difficult subject. The floor is now yours for comment and critique.

Also check out her forthcoming Rabbi Tann Memorial lecture here in Birmingham

Project Champion Cameras Going at Last

We recently  had  a leaflet posted through our door from the West Midlands Police telling us that the cameras, locally known as 'spy-cams', installed under Project Champion were now actually being removed. This final move announced at the beginning of the month is a great victory for local community action. The police agreed last December to remove them following a critical review. There was a great local campaign last year to get rid of the cameras that had been installed without consultation and were aimed not at tackling street crime but about monitoring the local Muslim community for 'security' purposes. I blogged about this campaign earlier here and here. A notable absence in the leaflet that came through our door was any reference to an apology made to the local community. I am aware that such an apology was made by senior police following the critical review - it would have been good to have had it published in the leaflets.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Islamophobia Watch have a good analysis of the BBC's Big Questions programme on Sunday

They say

"The Big Questions on BBC TV was devoted to the issue "Does Britain have a problem with Muslims?" The very title illustrates how Islamophobic discourse has entered the mainstream. Can anyone imagine the BBC broadcasting a programme that addressed the question "Does Britain have a problem with Jews?" or "Does Britain have a problem with Blacks?" Read more


Just heard from an old friend of mine Veronica Whitty about a great initiative in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Check out

Monday, 16 May 2011

Rabbi Tann Memorial Lecture 2011 - Jesus & Judaism - Why the Connection Matters

One certainly worth putting in the diary..........

I was introduced to Levine's work last year by Rabbi Debbie Young- Somers and love her engaging style and challenging dialogical approach

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 University of Birmingham in European Research Institute Room G51 followed by a Drinks Reception. Her books include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. 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

An earlier posting on Prof Levine can be found here

Check out a short interview with Prof Levine below

Friday, 13 May 2011


Nice recommendation from Kingston University Chaplaincy where PULTA is 'Website of the Week'

Blogspot of Ray Gaston, a very remarkable Christain interfaith, peace and justice activisit. Ray's book on experiencing Christian - Muslim relationships "A Heart Broken Open" is important and highly recomended reading for anyone involved in interfaith relationships.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Last week I blogged about a meeting I was speaking at in Stafford on 'Children of Abraham' below The Curate of St Mary's Stafford Revd Mandy Walker offers us her reflections on the meeting.

On Tuesday 3 May seventy or so of us from Stafford and the surrounding area gathered at the Collegiate Church of St Mary’s in Stafford, hosted by Rev Prebendary Graham Fowell. We were people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith. The programme was entitled, “The Children of Abraham Common Beliefs, Common Values”

The evening was introduced by Hisfa Haroon-Iqbal, Chair of Stafford and District Friends of Faith based at Staffordshire University. Each of the four speakers was asked to address the following three questions; what is the core belief of your religious tradition? What about Abraham then? And how can you uphold your core beliefs, without undermining the distinction of your own tradition?

First to speak was Rachel Berkson from the Jewish Faith, a leader in the Hebrew Congregation of Stoke on Trent, Rev Ray Gaston from the Queen’s Foundation followed representing Christianity, Dr Musharaf Hussain from the Karimia Institute Nottingham represented Islam. Finally Heather Farr, an educationalist spoke on the importance of Religious Education in a secular society. A lively question and answer session followed and concluded with each faith leader leading a short prayer.

Some reflections: There was a great richness in bringing together people of faith, common to all was a desire to be faithful and wholly committed to God and to work out what their faith means in their lives, seeking to be distinct form those around them. Each faith pointed to a life of prayer to a monotheistic God who loved and cared for creation. I found it very moving and helpful be lead in prayer by those who hold a faith different to mine.

Abraham is figure shared by Jewish, Islamic and Christian people; each upheld Abraham as a man of faith who sought to follow God in his daily life. Differences in faith focussed on the personal nature of faith in God and whilst each faith recognises the historical Jesus, the answer to who Jesus is the key difference for each faith.

Common to each speaker was a sense of journeying in faith, this raises the possibility and hope for all people of faith to learn and grow both in their own faith and of others. I was reminded of the picture in the Christian scriptures in Luke 24 of the two disciples bewildered and disillusioned after Jesus’ death; who were met on the road by a stranger who walked with them, listened and then opened up and explained the scriptures.

Heather Farr spoke convincingly of the importance of educating our young people in all faiths so that we can journey together in life without prejudice and fear of difference. Two people from the audience, both over 60, admitted they knew very little about other faiths and would like to learn more about the people they share their community with. This struck me as being very important; an openness to travel together, to celebrate difference whilst still being free and able to speak and act confidently in our faith. As Ray reminded us; it is in acting out our faith in love that we draw nearer to God as God journeys with us.

The picture above is Abraham by Louis S. Glanzman

Monday, 9 May 2011

4 Mandirs, a Gurdwara and 4 churches - a day with the Faith Encounter Programme in Walsall

I had a lovely day on Saturday examining for the Faith Encounter Programme's Faith Guide programme in Walsall. You can read about FEP's work here and here.

It was lovely for me because with 4 of the guides being from different Mandirs it gave me an opportunity to reaquaint myself with the traditions of Hinduism that I first engaged with when I studied in my first degree at Leeds University. Alongside the Hindu guides and places of worship we had a Sikh guide and therefore the opportunity to visit a Gurdwara in Smethwick and four Christian guides including Anglicans, a Baptist and a Methodist - a real ecumenical variety and some interesting church stories.

All in all a great day and a lovely way to spend my birthday!

Monday, 2 May 2011


I am speaking at a meeting tomorrow evening in Stafford with Musharaf Hussain former Chair of the Christian - Muslim Forum and Rachel Berkson of Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire Hebrew Congregation on Children of Abraham Common Beliefs Common Values. It has been organised by an alliance of The University of Staffordshire, St Mary's Church Stafford and Stafford and District Friends of Faith. Details can be found here

Each of the speakers has been asked to address the following questions in their 15 minutes allotted time

I. What is the core belief of your religious tradition?

II. What about Abraham then?

III. How can you uphold your core beliefs whilst at the same time value and respect the traditions of the other two religions, without undermining the distinction of your own tradition?

Quite a challenge!

On the killing of Osama bin Laden

Three thoughtful responses to the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Rabbi Debbie Young - Somers finds inspiration from the Talmud to help her reflect on people's reactions in Mourning and Celebrating.

Whilst Revd Angela Shier Jones is horrified by the jubilation over his death and questions whether justice has been done

And Councillor Salma Yaqoob offers a political analysis and a view on the 'war on terror' that is unlikely to be expressed on our TV news screens today.