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Newsline 9 November 2012

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An important lesson that politicians can learn from the American election

An important lesson that politicians can learn from the American election

Opinion | Wed, 07 Nov 2012

"The Religious Right is dead" announced the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday morning after the defeat of the Republican Party in the US election.

The headline was over a blog by the paper's rather wacky blogs editor Damian Thompson, but Mr Thompson seems to be first to have acknowledged that for all the hype about the power and influence of America's religious conservatives, in the end they failed dismally to swing the election.

And this should give a message to all politicians in the West who imagine that there is some kind of all-powerful "faith constituency" that can be delivered at the polling booths by the arrogant and demanding "faith leaders". The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the latest to fall into this trap, trying to court religion by telling churches that she doesn't support strict separation of religion from the state. Mitt Romney's experience should tell her that there is little value in pursuing that line – it alienates as many as it impresses.

The US election shows once and for all that there are at least as many liberal, good-hearted people in the world as there are hate-filled, small-minded religious bigots.

And so the Catholic Church — which has become much more overtly political over the past few years — has failed dismally to push its adherents behind Mitt Romney. The angry, spiteful rhetoric that informs the Catholic bishops' campaigns against abortion, contraception and gay rights repels the people it is supposed to influence. The Church hierarchy will eventually have to come to terms with that, and if they want the Church to have influence in the world, they will have to cool it and urgently re-examine their unpopular, outmoded ideas.

As Dominic Holden wrote in Salon: "The Catholic laity's 77 million members — who represent the largest religious denomination in the U.S. — largely support civil marriage for gay partners. A Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted last year found that 71 percent of American Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples when they are assured that it's marriage "like you get at City Hall." Nonetheless, in all four states, where polls show voters supporting gay marriage by narrow margins, the Catholic hierarchy is helping lead the opposition to marriage equality."

It seems these 77 million people are not Catholics when they get to the polling station – they are US citizens. And that was proved by the fact that in the four states that had gay marriage as an issue on the voting paper, all four voted to support reform.

If this election has told politicians one thing, it should be that they should listen to the voters and not to the religious lobbyists who are trying to write their doctrines into law.

Because when the curtain is pulled back — as it has been at this election — you will not find the awesome, vengeful religious voting bloc that was promised, but just a collection of wizened old men with a media megaphone that makes them seem much bigger than they really are.

Mr Cameron, the Big Society and the fundamentalists

Mr Cameron, the Big Society and the fundamentalists

Opinion | Mon, 05 Nov 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron last week attempted to revive the idea of the Big Society – in which charities and religious organisations run public services – at a reception at 10 Downing Street for the Council of Christians and Jews.

Mr Cameron said: "There is hope for the future, particularly if people can follow the example of charities like your own. This government is trying to put charities, charitable groups, and charitable giving on a whole different footing. Right across the board you can see that we are saying you're not the third sector – we believe charities have a huge role in delivering great public services.

"It's what I call the Big Society – the idea that there's a huge space between government and the individual that can be filled by organisations, faith-based organisations perhaps in particular, that can deliver great public services, that can do great things in terms of tackling some of the problems of our time."

Perhaps the Prime Minister doesn't read Private Eye, but in this week's issue he could have seen the report below, which illustrates just how undesirable it would be to hand out public money to religious groups without strong controls in place:

A year ago we reported concerns from Carmarthenshire about the council's close links with an evangelical church associated with the US Christian fundamentalist Mercy Missions, which runs homes where emotionally disturbed young women are "treated" with techniques such as intensive Bible study and the casting out of demons. Two homes in Australia were closed in 2008 after the Sydney Morning Herald exposed their "emotionally cruel and medically unproven techniques".

Now more details have emerged of the Towy Community Church's ambitious plan for a community centre in Carmarthen, which will be built with the aid of £1.4 million of public money from the council, the Welsh Government and the National Lottery. The complex, featuring a bowling alley, auditorium, conference centre and community cafe, will also feature a debt counselling service. Welcome news in an area where the council has just taken away £32,000 funding from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Yet help with keeping the bailiffs at bay comes with a catch: clients of the advice service will be "invited to pray" with their counsellors. And if the hard-up folk refuse to go down on their knees? The Towy church states that those who reject Christ face "eternal conscious punishment". Can't say they weren't warned.

Win tickets to see On Religion and to question AC Grayling about the play

Win tickets to see On Religion and to question AC Grayling about the play

News | Thu, 08 Nov 2012

We have two tickets to give away for the new production of AC Grayling and Mick Gordon's stimulating play "On Religion" being staged at the Tower Theatre in London.

The Church of England should act now if it wants to save its hospital chaplaincy service

The Church of England should act now if it wants to save its hospital chaplaincy service

Opinion | Tue, 06 Nov 2012

The following message appeared recently on the social networking site Gransnet:

"Went with a friend for her Chemo session. A chap who was a spiritual healer, wearing a chaplaincy badge, was approaching, one by one, everyone who was having chemo treatment, asking if they wanted a session with him (there and then) saying: 'It'll only take 10 minutes, what have you got to lose?' Am I being unreasonable in thinking that people having Chemo are at their most vulnerable, and should not be approached in this way?"

There was no indication at which hospital this occurred or whether the man involved was actually anything to do with the hospital or whether he was just someone who had walked in off the street and was falsely using a hospital chaplain's badge. Either way, his activities point up the need for hospitals to keep a more careful eye on what chaplains are doing in their name.

But it is becoming clear, as the financial noose tightens on the NHS, that chaplains are, at last, taking their share of the pain. The BBC reports that the Diocese of Lichfield is appealing for volunteers to replace a chaplain's post.

The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital Telford used to have two chaplains, now, due to retirement, they have only one. The hospital cannot afford to fill the vacant post, the Diocese claims that it doesn't have the resources to fund it and hence the search for volunteers.

The Venerable Paul Thomas said:

"Hospital chaplaincy is still a very valued ministry in the hospitals, not just for patients but the families and the staff. Even if we can't afford a full-time chaplain we can get volunteers who, if properly trained, could actually assist and work with him [the chaplain]. As long as a person's got the sensitivity that's needed to get alongside people and give them the support they need then the work of the chaplaincy can be expanded. We're inviting people who may feel they have something to offer to come and hear more about the situation in the hospital. We're also looking for people who could help with the administration because when you're in two sites and you're one chaplain you need help to organise everything properly."

Only when push comes to shove will the Church of England admit that the chaplaincy service could be run without putting such a financial burden on the struggling NHS. Volunteer chaplains are already commonplace throughout the hospital service and their contributions could be much expanded – eradicating the need for public funds to be used to finance clergypeople.

In the light of the worsening economic climate, the CofE should think seriously about completely reinventing the chaplaincy provision in hospitals so that it becomes a voluntary, charity funded service, rather like the WRVS which does such a magnificent job without proving a strain on badly needed health service funding. This is the Big Society in action and the Church should follow the WRVS lead.

This is becoming an urgent problem for the Church and if it wants its chaplaincy services to survive the horrendous job cuts that are rampant throughout the NHS, it should start planning now.

It might also stop renegade people, such as the 'healer' mentioned on Gransnet, using hospitals as platforms for their highly dubious promises.

Britons becoming more tolerant

Britons becoming more tolerant

News | Thu, 08 Nov 2012

A Yougov poll of 1,637 people shows that in several respects, Britain has become more tolerant and less prejudiced during the past four decades.

NSS Speaks Out

NSS President Terry Sanderson was quoted by the BBC in its analysis of what the new Archbishop of Canterbury's priorities should be.

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