Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Random questions

 Q1. Would we want as our prime minister someone who can be as easily bullied as Keir Starmer? One day he is, rightly, celebrating the contribution of Jesus House in London to overcoming vaccine scepticism within the ethnic minority community, along with their food and other relief programmes. Then following a complaint from a Labour LGBTI+ pressure group he disowns them and pulls a video complementing their work. It seems that, no matter what you do, if you don't hold to a particular line on sexuality then nothing else really matters, including saving black lives. 

Q2. Can we come up with a better title for the founder of Islam? Coverage of the latest school cartoon protests in Batley, in the mainstream media outlets, had universal references to 'the Prophet Mohammed' with a capital 'P'. I'm not sure how many people outside Islam would accept the title, let alone the capitalisation. He claimed to be a prophet, and many believe him to be so, but an even larger number believe him to be mistaken, to put it kindly. The Quran flatly contradicts both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, if Mohammed is who he claims he is, then Jesus isn't, and if Jesus is who he claims he is, Mohammed isn't. And if the Prophet Mohammed, then why not the Lord Jesus - a title absent from the BBC and elsewhere even at Easter. Mohammed of Mecca? The so-called Prophet Mohammed? Mohammed the founder of Islam? Any other suggestions? 

Q3. Has anyone actually read the racism report in full? There are over 250 pages in the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Nearly all of the quotes and media coverage on the day of publication can be traced to pages 6-8, the Foreword by the Chair of the Commission. Dr Sewells careless comment about a 'positive story' emerging from slavery wasn't very clever, and unfortunately it's spared lots of people the effort of engaging with the report. The report recognises both the reality of racism, and the progress made in the UK over the last 50 years. It repeats in several places a warning against a victim mentality - of low outcomes becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because ethnic minorities believe the system is more stacked against them than it actually is. That's not to say the system isn't stacked at all, it is, but incidents of racism and race conflict/protest make the news more often than instances of harmony and progress, so its easy to internalise a pessimistic story because that's the story we're regularly told. The dropping of the BAME catch-all definition makes sense as soon as you see the data broken down at a deeper level: with high educational achievement and wage levels relative to white people within certain ethnic groups, whilst other groups (e.g. Black Carribbean, but not Black African) faring amongst the worst. That leads to questions about culture (e.g. culturally, Bangladeshi women tend not to go out to work, which depresses average household income relative to other groups), family structure (fatherless families much more common among Black Caribbean, but very rare amongst Indian extraction families), and geography - members of the same ethnic minority communities do better if they live in London than in the North. 

(Intermission: here's a very different view of the CRED report)

The late Hans Rosling spent his life trying to educate Western audiences out of an outdated view of poverty, which saw the world split in two: the prosperous West and the poor. He argued it was both more complicated, and more hopeful than that, and that too many of us were still living off a picture of the world that was true in 1970 but way off the mark by 2010. Despite its flaws, perhaps the Commission report is trying to do the same on race. Unlike Sam Tyler, we are not stuck in 1973. Those guys kneeling on the football pitch just before kick off, a lot of them are millionaires. 40% of NHS consultants are from an ethnic minority background, as is the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer and shadow Foreign Secretary. 65 ethnic minority MPs were elected in 2019, in 2001 it was 12. Rosling never pretended poverty wasn't a problem, but he wanted people to see that things were getting better, to motivate them to see how things could be better for everyone. And if you see yourself as a victim of circumstance and irreversible institutional prejudice, how high will your aspirations be? Schoolteachers will testify that one of the biggest factors in educational achievement is expectations and standards - and the higher the horizons both for the teachers and for the students, the higher the attainment tends to be. Twitter makes it easy to a) simplify and b) scapegoat. What if reality is a bit more complex? What if its important to listen to voices we might disagree with, and data which might challenge our worldview? 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday - Still Happening

 In the 2000 years since the crucifixion of Jesus, the human capacity for inflicting unspeakable pain hasn't dimmed. We are still as broken and fallen as we ever were. David Alton writes powerfully of how the fake trial and sadistic torture and death of Jesus are duplicated across the world right now:

Last weekend, on Palm Sunday, radicals acting, not for the first time, in the name of religion, laid bombs in a church – this time in Makassar in eastern Indonesia, injuring twenty people.

This week, the most important in the Christian calendar, is a favourite target of jihadists. Recall the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, and the Easter murders of church goers in Lahore’s Gulsha-i-Iqbal Park, picnicking after their Service.

But for many the agonies of Good Friday are a daily occurrence.

Think of Northern Nigeria where Leah Sharibu, a young schoolgirl, remains in the hands of Boko Haram, having been abducted, raped, forcibly converted, and married. Since last Easter, more than 3,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria – a country which last year received an average of £800,000 in UK aid every single day.

In Pakistan, another Commonwealth country, Maria Shahbaz is just one of around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, who are abducted annually – with impunity. Ten years ago, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister for Minorities, was assassinated. No one has been brought to justice. During the same period, Pakistan has been in receipt of £3 billion of UK aid, little of which reaches beleaguered minorities.

Think, too, of the personal Calvaries of China’s religious minorities: the genocide against Uyghur Muslims; the incarceration of Christians in Hong Kong;  Tibet’s suffering Buddhists;  murdered Falun Gong practitioners ; bulldozed churches and arrested pastors – such as Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church, now serving nine years in prison.

In neighbouring North Korea, another atheistic regime has created  what a UN report describes as “a State without parallel” .  A North Korean escapee from one of the concentration camps was a witness at a hearing I chaired in Westminster. She told us: “They tortured the Christians the most”.

There are twitchings of recognition from the UK government towards being part of the solution, the Truro Report into global persecution of Christians reported to the government in July 2019. Hunts successor Dominic Raab is saying something about China, rather than nothing. But as with most issues, covid has taken up most of our effort, thinking and priorities over the last 2 years. 

One of my favourite movie lines (bear with me) is from The Negotiator, "You have no idea what I'm capable of", from Kevin Spacey's character. In the case of Spacey himself, it turns out we didn't. Good Friday shows us both what we are capable of, and what God is capable of. It faces us with the dark heart of human evil and violence - everything from sadism at school to genocide - and the astonishing hope of a God who can reach into all of it and redeem it. The Lord of the Flies meets the Lord of Glory.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Easter Playlist

 Derri Daughtery & friends 'Beautiful Scandalous Night' Mark Heard 'Lonely Road' Iona 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross'

The Choir 'Enough to Love' Newsboys 'God's Not Dead'

Sorry about the ads, can't even escape them at Easter!