Human Rights and the Crucifix

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Andrew Brown on the Guardian Comment is Free website has posted an interesting piece on the use (or abuse) of human rights in political struggle over religious symbolism.

Commenting on the recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights to continue allowing Italian schools to display the crucifix, he says that “the idea that human rights legislation should be used to prevent children from being exposed to a crucifix is a profoundly totalitarian and superstitious perversion of one of our civilisation’s best inventions.”

Procedural secularism – the neutrality of the state towards religious (un)belief – is not the same as promoting atheism.  Andrew Brown suggests that trying to use human rights legislation to advance a political (or indeed religious) agenda risks undermining the broad popular support on which human rights, which are essentially artifical constructs, depend.

Blue Labour on the BBC

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The BBC has trailed tonight’s edition of Radio 4’s Analysis which looks at Blue Labour, the left’s response to the Big Society.  The programme will examine the tensions in Labour between a liberal wing which emphasises equality and diversity and a conservative strand, newly resurgent, which emphasises instead solidarity, mutuality and community.

As the BBC article makes clear, the “intellectual godfather” of Blue Labour is the Labour peer and academic Maurice Glasman who is a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre.

The Big Society in Context

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The Jubilee Centre in Cambridge has recently published a new report entitled The Big Society in Context: A Means to What End?.  The report by Dr Guy Brandon examines how the Conservative idea of the ‘Big Society’ is intended to be an answer to the problem of ‘broken Britain’ which was so talked about in David Cameron’s early years as party leader.  The report argues that the vision of the ‘Big Society’ is highly unlikely to succeed without input from churches.  This is a point made by the director of the Jubilee Centre, John Haywood, who also contends that the government needs to be clearer about its support for the involvement of religious groups in building the Big Society.

Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, Angus Ritchie, commended the Jubilee Centre report saying, “This report is essential reading for Christians who want to engage faithfully and wisely with the Coalition’s flagship policy.  It identifies the contribution Christian thought has made to the vision of the ‘Big Society’ – and it asks important and searching questions about what would constitute success in its application.”

This month’s prayer requests

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Each month, we post prayer requests for the work of our Jellicoe Interns, and the wider life of the Contextual Theology Centre

Please pray for…

– the Christians in East London who have just begun Building a People of Power, a four-week course on faith and community organising.  Pray for all the organising work already going on in these churches – particularly on street safety, affordable housing and the Living Wage.  Pray for the course leaders, and ask that the process will yield a deeper engagement with Biblical teaching on social justice, and stronger relationships between the very different congregations who are involved.

– all those who are trapped in a cycle of debt, particularly those who have fallen victim to irresponsible and exploitative lending.  Give thanks for churches involved in the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – a Biblical call for a more just financial system, with a cap on interest rates and a responsible banking code. 

– all those involved in the planning and delivery of the Near Neighbours programme – especially Susanne Mitchell, Angus Ritchie and Michael Ipgrave in eastern London.  Pray that it will build and deepen relationships across faiths and cultures here and in Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester

– the first dozen students chosen to be Jellicoe Interns this July, and the partner churches in which they will be placed

– plans for a Day for Civil Society on 2nd May – that it will be an opportunity to link prayer, reflection and action in a way that deepens our Christian engagement with community organising, and achieves real progress in the struggle for a living wage and responsible banking

– next week’s events in Shadwell, including a relationship building event at Dar-ul-Ummah Mosque (with members of our partner churches, including CTC Manager Ian Bhullar) and the Queen’s visit to the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (home of the Jellicoe Community and of several of our staff and interns)

Jellicoe Review published

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The Jellicoe Review 2010/11 is now online – with testimony from, and articles by, many of our interns and staff.  It also contains articles by Bishop Richard Chartres and Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch on Fr Basil Jellicoe, and the ways he has inspired the Jellicoe Community’s ongoing work, and Bishop Doug Miles’ Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen College.

It’s an excellent way to get a sense of what the Jellicoe Community is and does, and what our internships involve.

Bishop Stephen to preach at Jellicoe service

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Pastor Peter Nembhard’s powerful sermon launched what is going to be a termly act of worship – in East London and also in Oxford – for the wider Jellicoe Community.  
We will soon be announcing dates and venues for our summer term services, but in the meantime we are delighted to confirm that the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell will preach at our autumn act of worship in East London.  This will be on the evening of Tuesday 11th October, at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine.

Cameron and Multiculturalism

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David Cameron made a speech recently in Munich on the subject of state multiculturalism and religious radicalisation.  You can read the speech in full on the Number 10 website.

Amidst the flurry of public reaction to it, a great deal of which relied on misrepresentation of what was actually said, it is worth drawing attention to several different responses from the Christian blogosphere.

First, John Milbank, a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre, wrote a response to Cameron’s speech on the Respublica blog which argued for a more communitarian understanding of multiculturalism.

Milbanks suggests that “mere liberalism encourages a clumping into a restricted number of group-identities and so gives us, precisely multiculturalism of the most anarchic kind”.  He writes, “if Cameron could express more boldly the positive shared character of the British identity, including its peculiar religious aspect, he would far less risk offending Muslims and corroding British solidarity for the future. In order fully to reject merely liberal multiculturalism he needs to move beyond mere liberalism. But in doing so he could be kinder to a multiculturalism of a more organicist variety.”

Second, Robert Jackson wrote an insightful comment on the website of think-tank Ekklesia which sought a more nuanced understanding of the reality of a multifaith culture than the picture painted by Cameron.  In particular, Jackson argues for the importance of religious education in schools in facilitating greater understanding between religions and cultures.

Finally, the Charities Parliament blog from Faithworks has a short response from the Christian and Muslim Forum.

Of Good Character

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Character is creeping back into fashion.  One of CTC’s core research streams is looking at ‘Formation, Values and Virtue’ and it’s clear that in seeking to foster more conversation on the topic we are pushing at a door which is ready to open.

Although still muted in the main public arena, conversations about the decline of virtue and the need to address questions of personal, and social, character abound.  It is worth highlighting a few recent contributions to the field.

In 2009 the Demos produced a report entitled Building Character which examined the role of parents in bringing up children.  Confronting the liberal instinct that questions of character are best left to private individuals, the report’s authors argued that “to the extent that certain elements of character impact equality, opportunity and fairness, it ought to be a concern for policy makers interested in those outcomes” (p.12).  Policy makers lack a vocabulary for discussing the issue, however, and despite making a few suggestions around childrearing, the report is resigned to accepting that “there is no set of policy solutions that can solve such an intractable, private and complex cluster of problems” (p.57).  The formation of children, though, is identified as a legitimate focus of policy action.

The empirical grounds for doing so are provided by another recent publication by Professor James Arthur which is the book Of Good Character: Exploration of Values and Virtues in 3-25 Year Olds.  An outcome of the Learning for Life project, Professor Arthur’s book draws on extensive qualitative and quantative research to move towards a modern definition of ‘character’ and to identify its traits and formation in young people.  It is well worth engaging with, or at the very least reading the Young Foundation’s review of it.

These are just two contributions to the discussion and there are many more out there.  We will be posting more resources in the coming weeks and months.

“Meekness isn’t weakness”

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It’s been a week of action for the Jellicoe Community.  At our home, the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, a packed chapel heard Pastor Peter Nembhard’s powerful sermon on Action, Power Justice.  Pastor Peter (above) is Senior Pastor at ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate, Newham – host to three of our Jellicoe interns.  He preached on the story of Moses, drawing out the ways in which God called him to channel and discipline his anger at injustice – turning him from a violent and impetuous young man, to the leader of the Hebrew slaves in their journey of liberation.

Drawing on later examples of Biblical leaders, and in particular the leadership exercised by Jesus, Pastor Peter told us that “Meekness isn’t weakness.  It is power which is obedient to love”.

Also this week…

the first dozen Jellicoe interns for this summer were selected after interviews in Oxford.  We also hope to have interns from the Universities of East London, London and Cambridge
…Mgr John Armitage describing the roots of Catholic social teaching in historic struggles for justice in East London – and its more recent application in London Citizens’ Living Wage Campaign – at this term’s Jellicoe Seminar at St Stephen’s House, Oxford
…Contextual Theology Centre staff teaching on Citizens UK’s five-day training
…the launch of the Centre’s new booklet on Effective Organising and Congregational Development and a new four-week course on faith and organising – details online at

An eventful week…

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We’re in the midst of an exciting week of activity at the Centre:

  • We’ve just joined with community organisers and Pentecostal pastors in Citizens UK to plan the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – bringing Biblical teaching on usury to bear on today’s complex economic realities. This builds on Bishop Doug Miles’ visit to East London last November – and on our earlier publication of Crunch Time: A Call to Action
  • Today, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a £5 million programme called Near Neighbours, which will bring diverse communities together for association and social action.  The Centre is one of four hubs for this work.
  • Tomorrow (Monday 21st) we welcome Pastor Peter Nembhard from ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate to preach at a new termly service for Christians engaged in community organising – with members of our wider Jellicoe Community.
  • On Tuesday Centre Director Angus Ritchie is teaching on Citizens UK’s National Residential Training, and launching Effective Organising for Congregational Renewal – a new guide for our partner congregations, with stories from both sides of the Atlantic.  Later in the week, Assistant Director Sean Connolly will also teach on the course.
  • On Wednesday, Senior Tutor Adam Atkinson and Community Chaplain Sr Josephine Canny will interview around fifteen potential Jellicoe Interns from the University of Oxford – and Centre Fellow Mgr John Armitage will lead a Jellicoe Seminar on Catholic Social Teaching and the Living Wage Campaign at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

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