Saturday 17 December 2011

Rewriting the bible: Mrs Angry on God

Michael Gove: not God yet, but he's getting there

God is very popular with politicians at the moment, have you noticed?

Especially the stern faced old fashioned God, who looks and sounds like Michael Gove: or ... no, Mrs Angry thinks perhaps Michael Gove is God, because after all he has just updated the bible, hasn't he? Rewritten it. Produced a new foreword for the King James version being sent to all schools. Wonder what it says? We can only speculate: a revision of the Sermon on the Mount, possibly, with Jesus bigging up the Big society, and supporting the encouragement of business backed free schools in middle class areas.

And now David Cameron has remembered that he is a sort of member of the Church of England, just in time for Christmas, and is suddenly keen to uphold Christian values. For other people of course, and in terms of vague, historical and cultural influence, rather than on a personal basis. Good, good. Right wing politicians have always been fond of promoting religious observance by the masses for the purpose of social control, haven't they? No need to observe the basic tenets of the faith themselves, or to involve one's individual conscience on matters of political policy making.

Here in Barnet, you know, we have senior council officers who like to claim, via the devil's network of social media, that they are doing God's work in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. Yes: really. Certainly there is need of an evangelical mission to reclaim the lost souls of our Tory councillors and the senior management team, but Mrs Angry is mindful of the fact that Old Nick Walkley is in charge of the London Borough of Broken Barnet and all its works, (public works, not policy), rather than the Almighty.

Some local authorities are becoming very keen to do the work of the Lord, too, or at least keen to appear keen to do the work of the Lord, if it persuades religious organisations to take over council functions and help with budget limitations.

You may remember the story from South Wales, featuring Camarthenshire County Council, an authority unofficially twinned with Broken Barnet, as we have so much in common. This local authority is dominated by 'independent' party groupings: as you might imagine, as in most former mining areas, Tory polititicians are still not awfully popular in South Wales, and councillors with conservative tendencies are required to hide their allegiances behind an alias.

CCCouncil was responsible earlier this year for calling police to a council meeting to arrest Jacqui Thompson, the blogger Caebrwyn, for the dreadful crime of sitting in the public gallery, quietly using her phone to film some of the proceedings. The Camarthenshire authority's obsessive secrecy and fear of scrutiny is very much of the same nature as our own home grown tyrants here in Broken Barnet, produced in different circumstances by the same primitive reaction of elected representatives who do not wish to be accountable to their electorate, and senior council officers who have forgotten that they are the servants of the community which pays their salaries.

One of the extraordinary recent decisions of Camarthenshire County Council has been, at a time of severe economic hardship, and oft quoted need for financial restraint, to award the loan of a huge sum of money, on very favourable terms, to a controversial evangelical Christian organisation, the Towy Community church. The council has also given warm approval to the church's planning application for a 500 hundred seat 'auditorium' which would seem likely to be used in effect as a church, with other unspecified amenities on the site. Read Y Cneifiwr's post here:

The reason this church is so controversial is that it has, until recently, included on its website a link to the 'Mercy Mission' organisation, a movement based on very extreme fundamentalist views, allegedly including the belief that demonic possession could make young women vulnerable to eating disorders and sexual 'promiscuity'( ie being sexually active, and sinfully, tut tut, enjoying themselves). Says Y Cneifiwr:

"At the recent council meeting which approved the latest funding package for the church, many councillors justified their support on the basis that it would enable Towy Community Church to offer services including a food bank, furniture recycling centre and debt counselling service (run on "Christian principles" of course). A brief glance at the church's website says that the food bank and debt counselling service are up and running and have apparently been operational for some time. The furniture recycling service, which one councillor claimed to have used personally, is not mentioned until you turn to the Xcel project itself where it is described in the future tense. All very confusing."

It seems that there are councillors on Camarthenshire County Council who are naturally disposed to Christian values being upheld in the context of council policy in action. According to Cneifiwr:

Two weeks ago Cllr Gwynne Wooldridge, whose portfolio includes education, stood up to tell councillors that in his view there was only one book that mattered: the Bible.

Good news, then. Sorry. Good News, then, for everyone - whether they like it or not.
Since I wrote the first draft of this post, Caebrwyn has written the following in regard to the Towy decision and the declaration of interests by councillors:

"Towy Community Church - Declarations of Interest

Just a brief post relating again to the decision made at the last full council meeting to 'fill' the latest gap in the funding for the Towy Community Church's 'bowling alley' project. The Minutes were published today and I note that two County Councillors, G Thomas and T Davies had declared an interest in this item as they were 'Christians'. Clearly they felt their religious beliefs possibly precluded them from making an impartial decision. I suppose the same could also be said for any atheists, agnostics etc amongst them all. Taken to the nth degree, there would be no one left in the Chamber. A couple of Executive Board Members professed their general faith including Gwynne Wooldridge stating that the most important book was the Bible, and Cllr Pat Jones claimed she saw her 'role' as carrying out 'God's work' in the community. Another became almost emotional as he mentioned how he had contacted the Towy Community Church to give them some furniture and had been hugged by an extremely grateful recipient. Officers also spoke in support of the project. As the 'financial' and 'faith' aspects of this partnership seem to have become blurred, one could almost reach the conclusion that the Council's involvement with the Towy Community Church was entirely inappropriate altogether, particularly given the intention of building a church and the link to the Mercy Ministries (removed last month).

In my opinion, for the Council to have been able to consider this matter in even a remotely impartial manner, and avoid any potential conflict of interest, there was only one correct option; Members and senior officers who belong to, or have faith in, any similarly styled Evangelical church or organisation, should have declared an interest well over a year ago."

The same local authority has suddenly decided, rather late in the day, that it might be necessary to consider whether it ought to have some sort of consideration for equalities issues:

"The County Council's Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee will turn its attention in the New Year to its draft "Strategic Equality Plan" and consider the responses received after the completion of a consultation in 2011. This is needed to bring the council in line with the Equalities Act 2010, the aim of which is to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex; race; sexual orientation; religion; age; disability; gender reassignment and pregnancy and maternity."

Hmm. Perhaps they might have thought about this issue when accepting a proposal of partnership from a religious body which has extreme views on these very matters. Evangelical Christians have very intolerant views on the subject of the role of women, homosexuality, sex out of marriage: will such an organisation be prepared to provide services without discrimination and without the imposition of their interpretation of Christian values on such services? If the future of local authorities is going to be pushed, Big Society style, in the direction of low cost partnership with willing voluntary bodies and religious organisations, how can we prevent the risk of intolerance and injustice for minority groups or others whose lifestyles or beliefs are not in accordance with those of the new service provider?

Equalities: oh dear. Sticky subject for conservative minded councillors everywhere.

Not so long ago, Mrs Angry was present at a council meeting where Councillor Brian Gordon, who is a member of the orthodox Jewish/charedi community, questioned an officer speaking to a committee about fostering issues as to whether children are being cared for by same sex couples, and he asked if the authority did not make sure such children had 'a mother and a father'. The embarrassed officer had to remind the councillor of the requirement to comply with statutory equalities legislation. Councillor Gordon did not ask if anyone ensured that the needs of these children were being addressed, that these children were well cared for, or happy: morality, in his view, would appear to be a matter of approving the sexual inclinations of prospective foster parents rather than protecting the well being of the children.

Not so long ago, Mrs Angry was present at another council meeting where Councillor Brian Coleman, who claims to be an 'active' Methodist, declared that he would prefer it if Barnet did not have to provide free transport for children with special needs, the disabled, and vulnerable adults, or 'these people' as he contemptuously described them. The senior officer from Social Services who was present kept quiet, and failed to remind Councillor Coleman of the need to comply with equalities legislation, and also failed to remind Councillor Coleman that free taxi transport and parking is provided for Tory councillors, and that his remarks are completely objectionable.

Mrs Angry is unsure of the way in which active Methodism and a belief in Christian values manifest themselves in the life of Brian Coleman. When constituent and single mother Sharada Osman contacted him recently, for example, with worries about an enormous increase in her rent, his reaction was not one of Christian compassion and offers of assistance, but to inform her abruptly that she should 'live in the real world'. As we know, in the real world, Councillor Coleman lives in accommodation owned by his local Methodist church, and enjoys a fixed rent level at approximately half the market rate. In the next world, of course, Mrs Angry suspects Brian's accommodation may be less well appointed, and rather warmer than he might have expected.

Every full council meeting in the London Borough of Broken Barnet is begun with an address by the Mayor's chaplain: all Tory councillors stand piously in the chamber with heads bowed, solemn faced, listening to the prayers and exhortations of the minister. What a shame that without fail they then turn away and resort to the same old behaviour - immersing themselves in petty squabbles, pointless point scoring against the opposition, refusing all opportunities for debate, obstructing the processes of transparency and scrutiny, and greedily awarding themselves over generous allowances without any open system of appraisal, or public record of attendance at meetings. A minority of senior members take all decisions in secret and bully the rest of their party into agreeing with their policies, backbench councillors being quite content to take their allowances and keep silent when they disagree with their own party's actions, and all of them are complicit in the shameless One Barnet plot to sell off every public service and every council owned asset worth flogging to the highest bidder - or the bidder which has the most influence.

In Barnet we have even incorporated moral judgement into that thing we are not allowed to mention in public gatherings, or to criticise: ssh ... yes: policy. Housing policy is now based on a system whereby families whose parents have shown 'a positive contribution' to the community will be fast tracked to the top of the list for council accommodation. The children of the undeserving poor, through no fault of their own, and with no consideration for their needs, will be punished for having feckless parents by being kicked to the bottom of the pile.

Michael Gove, with similar retro Victorian missionary zeal, wants to send out an army of bibles to the schools of the United Kingdom - not it would seem, reading about his proposals, so much to spread the dangerous radical message of Jesus Christ, which is frankly, Michael, not awfully compatible with your line of Conservatism, but for cultural reasons, the beauty of the language and the historical importance: typically again, a right wing politician using a religious pretext for a political rather than a spiritual purpose.

God is making a comeback in politics in Britain, but this second coming is really a blasphemous inversion of true religious morality: it is black magic, the dark arts: the use of ritual for personal gain.

Faith should be a private matter, a personal morality which might indirectly influence and support the integrity of public life, but should not be something that is imposed on other people.

As we begin the festive season of Christmas, and Chanukah, Mrs Angry would suggest that politicians of all parties, and all faiths, or none, whether in Westminster or the Town Hall, or even, God help us, and them, on the London Assembly, might like to look within the depths of their own dark souls and pledge to live a life that more actively reflects the private morality and the political ideals that they claim to hold so dear, not in a way which judges the actions of those they are supposed to represent, but so as to restore some sense of conscience and service to the community to the public roles with which they have been entrusted.

Mrs Angry, eternal optimist: urbi et orbi.


Mrs Angry has been reminded that Barnet has announced a grant of £50,000 to the Jesus House church as part of its 'Big Society Innovation Bank', to be shared with an organisation called 'Elevation Networks', in a project aimed at supporting young unemployed people.

Whatever the good intentions of the individuals involved in such enterprises, the question must be asked - will the support offered be extended unconditionally, to all eligible beneficiaries, of all backgrounds, without judgement or discrimination, or will it be offered within the context of an opportunity for missionary outreach work?

And oh dear: the Jesus House charity, in its core values, tells us not only that it receives direction and motivation from God (and now the London Borough of Broken Barnet), it is associated with the Evangelical Alliance, whose views on 'homoerotic sexual practice' (how much practice are you allowed before you have to take the exam?) are explained in a 12 point statement here:

let's pose that question again, then - is the money invested in the Innovation Bank - your money and mine -being used in a way that is fully compatible with equalities legislation?


baarnett said...

Of course, the King James bible has given us a lot of everyday phrases:

"let there be light",
"am I my brother's keeper?",
"be fruitful and multiply",
"pillar of salt",
"let my people go",
"we'll treat that as an FoI request",
"by the skin of my teeth",
"tender mercies",
"the face of the deep",
"the spirit is willing",
"a man after his own heart",
"vanity of vanities",
"sign of the times",
"forums are not to discuss policy",
"wages of sin",
"all things to all men",
"eat, drink and be merry",
"fight the good fight",
"through a glass darkly",
"of course Metpro has a contract",
"grave, where is thy victory?",
"the powers that be", and
"have you gritted my road yet?"

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks for the puff, Mrs A. I have to admit that since I started looking at the church bowling alley story here in Wales, I have developed a mild obsession with evangelicals infiltrating government at all levels.

All parties are to some extent affected, but the Tories are more prone than most, presumably because of what the Guardian calls the "socially conservative" views of these religious groups - i.e. a view of the world not far removed from that of the Taliban.

One of the prime movers in this is an organisation called CARE (Christian Action Research Education) which has quite a presence on the Tory benches at Westminster - plus a lot of interns being groomed as future Nadine Dorries's. CARE has set up organisations to work away at devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, as well as local government. They have also spawned quite a few "spin-off" groups dedicated to getting creationism and intelligent design into schools; changing the sex education curriculum; "advising" pregnant women on abortion; targetting senior council officials who share their beliefs to ensure favourable "outcomes", etc., etc.

They are also very keen on Dave's Big Society thing as a way of gaining a hold on service delivery.

CARE is by no means the only organisation doing this. Who knows what they may be up to with your Brian?

Mr Mustard said...

Looks like a load of toss to me Mrs A

Mrs Angry said...

Growing up in a Catholic household, baarnett, or at least one under the rule of my Catholic mother, the King James bible belonging to my CoE father was kept firmly out of sight in a drawer and treated by my mother as an object of evil influence, so I cannot really comment ...

Cneifiwr: you have it exactly so - the danger is that any fundamentalist religion, of any faith, tries to take advantage of the Big Society balls for their own agenda. I have nothing but admiration for bodies like the Salvation Army who quietly give such fantastic support to vulnerable people in a genuine Christian way, without question, and doing it as commanded, I seem to remember, by 'preaching' through example, rather than imposing their values on others, but I cannot abide fundamentalism of any religious tendency and think it really is the cause of so much trouble, and certainly such groups should not be given over responsibilty for the provision of social care.

Mr Mustard: you may well be right, but then again you are clearly a sinner in need of repentence. Perhaps the nice people at Jesus House might like to start a mission to support middle aged ne'er do wells who have fallen into the sinful practice of unlicensed blogging and the vexatious repetition of FOI requests?

baarnett said...

It is to be hoped that if the Jesus House wishes to supply a list of days when they do not want parking penalty notices to be issued, the council will treat it with the same co-operation as others have been shown (see Mr M's blog).

In fact, if faith groups expanded across Barnet enough, there would no longer be ANYWHERE that had its CPZ policed.

Maybe if the "United Retail Praise-Be (Early Closing Thursday) Believers" sent in a list that applied to North Finchley, they could save their businesses from 30% drops in trade.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm, not a bad idea, baarnett ... I must say I like the idea of wanted posters of Tory councillors being given to shopkeepers so that an automatic 30% surcharge is applied to any of the scoundrels who dare to show their faces in a local shop ...

caebrwyn said...

Thanks for the mention...things are definitely getting weirder in Carms, if that's possible. Feel as though I should say something profound but it's all been said. Spot on as ever Mrs A. Is that a real picture of Gove?? eek. Grateful not to have become an Evans, although it would have it's advantages here, especially with the planning department...

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, I have a framed copy of the same picture next to my bedside table. It glows in the dark.

I wish you would consider marrying Evans the planning department man, then I won't have to keep correcting your name. Not too much to ask, is it?

Citizen Barnet said...

Hello, Mrs A. I clocked that Jesus House lot had got some money. I'd be interested knowing more about them as well. Even without knowing much about them, the idea that such an outfit could spend money more wisely than an inhouse service seems ludicrous to me.

Cneifiwr said...

Oh, the Evangelical Alliance again. If you can bear it, their website is worth having a look at for their reaction to equalities legislation. For what they really think about gay people, advice given on the treatment of volunteers is quite interesting.

You can find one such piece here:

Basically a man who was doing voluntary work for a Christian charity and receiving food and accommodation in return was chucked out when they suspected he might be in a gay relationship.

The Alliance commentator approvingly noted that the charity was successful in an ensuing court case.

Lots more of the same to be found on the same website.

Churches and other religious groups lobbied very hard during the passage of the Equalities Act with the result that they have negotiated exemptions from certain key aspects of the Sermon on the Mount.

As for the Jesus House venture, anyone above a certain age (cough, Mrs A) may have noticed how memory in public life is nowadays measured in days rather than decades. Why else would the government and councils react to all of the abuse scandals in religious homes, schools, etc. by giving money to open more of them?

Mrs Angry said...

Greetings, Citizen Barnet. Yes: the question that must be asked is if the charity has formally agreed to be compliant with the equalities policies of the authority?

Perhaps the Barnet bloggers, as a voluntary body, should put in a bid to deliver oh, I don't know, maybe communications services, for Barnet Council? They could part company with Mr Chris Palmer and his comms team: think of the savings! Of course I could not sign an undertaking to abide by the policies of the authority, but theat should present no problem.

Jaybird said...

I agree with the comments above about fundamentalists of any faith. I do not think it wise to support them.

In addition to strong views on homosexuality, churches belonging to the Evangelical Alliance have strong views on abortion.

Being evangelical means that the Church members believe it is central to their faith to convert people. In fact, not to do so, to stand back & let someone go to Hell, is a sin in their view. See the link to Jesus House here

The second of their core values is "We are committed to winning souls for the kingdom of God and sharing His love with others."

To suggest that they cannot use community work, such as the project funded by the Council, to convert people would be totally incompatible with their faith.

Mrs Angry said...

Good morning Cneifiwr: you were up early this morning: were the sheep in need of urgent shearing? Here in Broken Barnet bloggers get up much later.

I am not sure what you mean by 'above a certain age', you cheeky man. Mrs Angry is less than two years old, in fact.

But your great age has given you much wisdom: your point about the exemption of religious groups from aspects of the Equalities Act is particularly worrying in this context, and also the enthusiasm for government and councils to throw money at such bodies when as you say, there has been a history of abuse in so many situations where vulnerable members of society have been given into their care.

My problem with fundamental religious groups is that they are inherently judgemental. My personal interpretation of Chritianity is that love and tolerance is the over riding commandment, but then I am only a (very) sinful Catholic, so what do I know?

Cneifiwr said...

I've just checked out the Jesus House core values link. A picture of a man who is in dire need of a strict diet yelling into a microphone, and some truly manic guff - one sentence manages to use the word 'exceptional' three times.

Who apart from a council would think for more than a nano-second about giving them money?

Mrs A - two years old? Or did the finger hit the delete button on the preceding word? I suspect that we could have spent our formative years together had fate not intervened. Frightening thought.

By the way - don't ever shear sheep in winter. You will have mass and terminal hypothermia on your hands.

Mrs Angry said...

Cneifiwr: it's not too late, you know ... although Mrs Angry is still in her infancy, she is open to all suggestions. Sheep shearing is low on the list of temptations, however.

Mrs Angry said...

Jaybird: I do know someone, a lovely woman in many respects, but a convert to evangelical Christianity, who has given me an insight into the attitudes of this form of belief. In fact, I have had several arguments in my own kitchen on the subject of St Paul, and his views on the subjugation of wives to their husbands, ha - and the awkward issue of the devil, about whom ev xtians seem very concerned. Mrs Angry pointed out that St Paul was also keen to suggest that slaves do what their masters commanded, and that women should shave their heads and keep quiet in church. Not sure if this is still required, but the devil is certainly alive and well, and still wreaking havoc in Broken Barnet.