What do British Muslims actually believe?

A report by Policy Exchange notes that the majority of British Muslims (55%) prefer not to use sharia banking.  Only 4% actually use this alternative finance model, which is considered “a striking statistic, given how much emphasis elements of the banking sector have placed on the provision of Sharia banking facilities. It is surely worth considering whether the huge investment of resources diverted to this sector is entirely warranted.”

Note how certain aspects of Christian faith have been de-prioritised (i.e. keeping Sunday special) and not protected by law, unlike Sharia finance..  The argument for refusing to protect those individuals who refused to work on the “Sabbath” was to recast this as a preference, not actually mandated by any major Christian denomination, or with a widespread following.  I’m sure, however, more than 4% of Christians refuse to work in commercial settings on Sundays and certainly almost all of us would prefer that the whole day was considered to be a protected “rest day”.

I’m unfortunately forced to conclude that successive governments pick and choose what they would like people to believe, and this selection of “kosher” religious practices is ruled by business interests.

Then, there’s the publication of Dame Louise Casey‘s year-long review into integration, which cites claims that some sharia councils have supported the values of extremists, condoning wife-beating, ignoring marital rape and allowing forced marriages.   Of crucial importance is that the facts demonstrate communities becoming more divided and segregated, despite the passage of time.  Casey joins many others in warning society that we must be able to discuss these issues without fear of being labelled “racist” or “Islamophobic”.

An example of how this debate is being shut-down is found in the fascinating account of an anonymous someone who flirted with “alt-right” viewpoints online.  He describes being initially convinced by the videos and articles he discovers online, despite having deeply ingrained liberal or left-leaning tendencies.  Clearly, to disturb this viewpoint, the arguments that certain interpretations of Islam were a “threat to western civilisation” must have been persuasive.  What turned him away from what he describes as “indoctrination” was a reference to being “red-pilled” and suddenly thinking that this all sounded too much like a “cult”.

Whilst so much of what the “alt-right” says is abhorrent and panders to our worst tendencies, are we in danger of failing to engage with this discussion because we’re worried about being “politically correct”?  Mr Anonymous gave no indication that he was rationally persuaded that Islam was harmless and I’ve never seen any evidence of this much-repeated assertion.

In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary:

– wherever Sharia law is embraced by an Islamic nation, oppression of women, religious minorities and ex-Muslims follows.  For example, principles derived from the Koran were used to justify repeated violence against Nissar Hussain in Bradford.

violent Jihad is unique to Islam: whilst only practised by a small minority of Muslims, the devastation they have caused is truly shocking. Their ferocity, ruthlessness and inhumanity is unparalleled – just look at the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris 2015 or IS in Syria-Iraq.

– the prophet Mohammed, revered by millions of Muslims around the world, is the only founder of a major religion to also be a warrior and military leader.  Islamic biographers describe how he fought with neighbouring tribes, killed PoWs, exploited women and children, blessed violent, religious Jihad and made people slaves.

What is shocking about liberal Western attitudes to Islam is the complacent lack of scrutiny.  So few people understand the actual origins of the world’s second largest religion. This ignorance allows extremists to spread their messages of hate and entice individuals, like Rasheed Benyahia, into committing terrorist outrages.

We must hope and pray that everyone learns the truth about Islam and recognises the superiority of Christ Jesus who came not to be served and to slaughter, but to serve and be sacrificed for our sins.

 

 

How can a £14 million pay packet ever be justified?

From the murmurings emerging from No. 10 this week, the UK government appears to be backtracking on PM May’s pre-coronation pledge to tackle grossly excessive executive pay.

Twenty years ago the average UK chief executive made 40 times as much as the average worker – now that ratio is 130 according to the High Pay Centre. In the case of BP, the company lost £3.5bn the year Bob Dudley picked up £14m in pay and bonus. Shareholders were completely unable to rein in his ridiculous remuneration package. This bonanza for the richest is happening at a time when wages for everyone else are stagnating, living standards are falling and too many people are struggling just to get by.

In particular, PM May should stick by her pledge to make it compulsory for actual workers to be on companies’ top boards, disrupting the cosy club that leads to pension funds being raided and poverty wages for those who actually generate profits for the business. It is unacceptable that she can say one thing before her assumption to power and then do a screeching U-turn a few months later.

Additionally, don’t believe the corporate spin that seeks to cast doubt on the efficacy of reasonable measures to restrain greed.  According to the apologists for Dudley & co, publishing pay ratios will “throw out some odd results. Under this test, Goldman Sachs will look like a more equitable company than John Lewis thanks to the very high pay of the average banker… It’s also unclear what companies will do. Massively reduce the chief executive’s pay or massively increase the average worker’s pay? It’s worth being clear that although shareholders sometimes balk at chief executive pay, they would rather overpay one person than see profits redirected into the pockets of the rank and file.”

Firstly, the public are not daft. We can understand John Lewis’ excellent structure where the staff are shareholders and properly rewarded for their work. Secondly, if shareholders are not willing to look after the workers who are paying their dividends, then they deserve nothing back from the company. To be honest, whether they reduce CEO pay or increase poverty wages at the other end, either outcome would be welcome. If they decide to outsource jobs to distort these ratios, then that should be published and exposed as well.

Transparency is badly needed in our boardrooms.  There must be no hiding places in society for individuals to amass ludicrous amounts of wealth by exploiting those who slave away to make their money.  We MUST tackle the ridiculous inequality that is blighting our society where a lucky few sail around blissfully on super-yachts and millions barely even manage from month-to-month, relying on Food Banks and sinking deeper into debt.  Our democracy depends on basic justice.

Just answering questions honestly…

I received news about this shocking case from UK group, Christian Concern.  Yet again, we see a tragic example of how same-sex legislation and equality fascism is stifling discussion and penalising those who hold views once unthinkingly accepted as mainstream, and now deemed beyond the pale.  I hope and pray that this poor lady receive justice and the government acts to provide clearer guidelines for these kinds of cases.

A Christian teaching assistant who was disciplined for expressing her beliefs about sexual ethics and the meaning of the rainbow, will today ask an Employment Tribunal to overturn the action taken against her.

Last year, Vicky Allen, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was asked by a pupil with special educational needs whether she thought that same sex relationships were “OK”.

Minutes later, the 14-year-old asked whether Vicky thought that the meaning of the rainbow symbol had changed.

Vicky answered both questions in line with her Christian beliefs, but was later investigated by school authorities and given a 12-month written warning.

“He asked me what I believed, so I told him my biblical beliefs. He asked me out of the blue,” Vicky explains.

Commenting on the effect of the action taken against her, she says: “I felt like a criminal – it was unbelievable. It’s taken away any trust I had.”

Vicky says that she is challenging the school’s behaviour so that other Christians will not be penalised simply for answering questions based on their biblical beliefs.

Andrea Williams (of Christian Concern) commented: “This is another example of a Christian being penalised for expressing Christian beliefs in the context of their work. It’s important for the future of gospel freedoms, that we challenge such censorship.

“Imagine if those who voted ‘remain’ in the recent referendum were told that they could no longer express their viewpoint because the referendum favoured ‘Brexit!'”

Direct Questions

Vicky who has extensive experience of working with special educational needs students, says that she is used to receiving direct, and sometimes personal, questions from the students. These have included, for example, questions about her Christian faith and how she spends her weekends.

She says that answering such questions is an important part of building good relationships with the students, which in turn helps them to learn.

The student, with whom Vicky had worked for four years, asked about same-sex relationships during an English class. He had asked her about the issue in the past, and Vicky explained that she believes what the Bible teaches about relationships between men and women, and doesn’t think that same-sex relationships are right.

A few minutes later, in another direct question, the pupil asked whether the meaning of the rainbow symbol had changed, given what they had been discussing.  Incidentally, this is a very perceptive question and something a connection I’d never made before.

Vicky replied, explaining her own belief that the rainbow speaks of God’s promise that he will not flood the earth again but that some people have given it a different meaning, reflecting their own message.

The student also asked whether she believed what the pope believes. Vicky, who attends a Pentecostal church, said that she did not.

The pupil then apologised for asking the questions and the lesson continued.

Vicky detected no sign that the boy was upset or distressed by the answers that she gave.

Opposition to equal opportunities?

That evening, however, his mother reported the conversation to the school. She did not make a formal complaint but asked that the matter be investigated.

In an interview with Vicky and the student, the boy said that he did not feel “offended” by Vicky’s answers, but agreed with a teacher’s suggestion that he may have felt “uneasy”.

Following the investigation, the head teacher started disciplinary action against Vicky, which resulted in a 12-month written warning for “acting in opposition to the school’s expectations with regard to equal opportunities” and for comments that “were not in line with both the policies and ethos of a member of staff”. Vicky appealed the warning but in December last year, the school’s governors upheld the decision.

Vicky, who has spent her career in education, says that she felt ostracised and let down by staff, and that her morale and motivation has suffered.

Although the warning has now expired, Vicky is challenging the school’s decision so as to help protect Christians in similar situations.

Another example of government betrayal

During the hearing, Vicky is expected to highlight assurances given by the Education Secretary during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act through Parliament.

In response to questioning during a Public Bill Committee hearing in February 2013, the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “But any teacher, if asked direct or invited to share his view by a parent or a student, is perfectly at liberty to say, with equal marriage—as with adultery, divorce or abortion—what their own moral view might be.”

Update

I’m very pleased to report that there has been progress for Vicky Allen and that a settlement has been reached.  The school’s statement is as follows:

“Victoria Allen and the Governing Body of Brannel School are pleased to announce that the employment dispute between Victoria Allen and Brannel School is now concluded.

The parties accept that some people have deeply held views about the nature of marriage, and that every individual has the freedom to express these in accordance with the law. The School also respects that Victoria Allen’s view that marriage should be between a man and a woman is sincerely held and shared by many others.

Andy Edmonds, the Head teacher, has recognised Victoria Allen’s right to share her Christian beliefs with students and has apologised for any upset that Victoria Allen may have felt during the disciplinary process.

Victoria Allen has accepted that it is reasonable for the school to request that staff share balanced views with students when asked questions of their personal beliefs and opinion under the requirements of equalities legislation including the Equality Act 2010 and the Education Act 1996.

The parties uphold the rights and freedoms of other members of society based on the principles of a democratic society.

Both parties reaffirm their commitment to the long-standing British values of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association with mutual respect for the dignity and rights and freedoms of others, including the right of Victoria Allen to express her views.

Both parties are happy to work with each other going forward to secure a continuing healthy working environment in the School.”

Britain’s Brexit Business

I’ve been ruminating a lot recently over the shape of any possible future Brexit deal for the UK.  I’m a staunch “Remainer”: hoping that the EU strikes just the right stance in their negotiations to warn us about the dangers of recklessly leaving, whilst enticing us back into the fold.  As a second best alternative, maybe we can have a bespoke deal which does not turn other EU countries green with envy, but provides key, strategic long-term benefits for our nation and preserves amicable ties, particularly in areas like the Erasmus programme, space exploration, visa-free tourism and, of course, trade in goods/services.

However, I’m also a realist, so take the time to consider other options.

The central problem is that the EU can only really survive if the first country that exits the club serves as an example to the rest.  In 10 years, a prospering Britain would undoubtedly be too much of a distraction for the continent to handle, an easy focus for the internal dissent of each remaining member state to coalesce around.  Why stick with the rules, if you could be like the UK?  Marine le Pen would have a field day!

I always wonder why there was so little attention or discussion about the parallel of Greece before the British  vote.  They thought that with their country on its knees, they could extract debt relief from the EU and escape the painful fiscal medicine they were being forced to drink by threatening to crash out of the Euro.  Poised on the precipice, nevertheless, they balked and turned back when the rest of the EU refused to budge.

Whilst I would love to think that the EU will do Britain a few favours for old times sake, when I examine the horrendous politics of this divorce, I am forced to conclude this has all the makings of a economic bloodbath.

All I can do is pray for God’s will to be done, His kingdom to come, on earth as in heaven.

Is the Bible guilty of promoting abortions?

Recently, I was discussing abortion with someone who cited Numbers 5:11-31 as an example of a Bible passage that seems to condone the deliberate termination of life in the womb by a jealous husband.

Firstly, try to read the passage in the English Standard Version as the 2011 NIV translation is the only one of hundreds that uses the loaded word “miscarriage”, casting significant doubt that this passage is even referring to a practice that might threaten an unborn child. The verses seem to be describing how an unfaithful woman will suffer future problems with childbirth, which  would have been a very serious punishment in Biblical times.  They also seem to imply that the LORD causes the curse, not the symbolic “water of bitterness” (which only contains literal “dust from the floor of the tabernacle”) and was clearly not some concoction designed to induce an abortion.

The focus is on members of her body with which she may have sinned – “womb shall swell” and “thigh fall away”, not a condemnation of any life that may already have been conceived.  This is another example of the notorious difficulty in translating archaic Hebrew phrases, especially as no-one is alive today who actually spoke the language, or even witnessed this practice.

Reading and reflecting more on what’s written, I believe it’s important not to over-state the issues raised, or give the impression that, to use the word in our original discussion, Scripture’s “capaciousness” is actually a sign of any divine capriciousness. Consider the context of Numbers: no phone/text message records, or DNA analysis, no other way to determine guilt if an extra-marital affair was suspected. Notice how the stipulations prevent a husband (in that time and place) from taking the law into his hands – similar to the oft-misrepresented “an eye for an eye”, which in fact places limits on vengeance and ensures justice is proportionate.

Moreover, the ritual would have provided closure and certainty, so the couple could move on in their relationship without jealousy becoming increasingly inflamed by nagging doubts.  Think of Othello and Desdemona – how the hero’s fatal flaw is an envy and suspicion that can never be properly allayed.  See also how God clearly promises to protect innocents – they will suffer no harm through the test, which is only designed for married women, further limiting those who could be affected.

We must ask ourselves would an adulterous woman allow herself to be subjected to this public ordeal with the very real danger of being judged guilty and punished by the LORD, rather than confess to her husband (as stipulated in Numbers 5:7) and seek mercy?   Anyone who continued to deceive the community under these circumstances is surely deserving of the sentence.  This is another reminder of how seriously God views sexual sin, any transgression that threatens the purity of male-female, monogamous marriage.

There is no reference to this passage in the New Testament – in fact, the husband would have been encouraged to forgive his wife and not subject her to any kind of retribution – judgement belonging to the LORD.  I have always read laws like this (including a ban on divorce, except possibly for marital unfaithfulness – cf. Matt. 19:8 and Deut. 24) as temporary measures to cope with the lack of a proper sin-solution, namely Jesus.  Note how Numbers 5:11-31 specifically mentions the woman holding a “grain offering of remembrance”, further evidence that this interim arrangement has been abolished by Christ’s sacrifice “once for all” as High Priest and Passover Lamb (Hebrews 10).

Of course, a wonderful counterpoint to these temporary laws is how Jesus shows great compassion and mercy towards a woman caught in adultery, challenging her bloodthirsty accusers over their own hypocrisy, “let those without sin cast the first stone”, refusing to join in the chorus of condemnation and showing incredible grace, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). This is surely the lesson God longs for us to take from the Bible – all human life is sacred, precious and should be given a chance to grow.

So, whilst I admit there is some uncertainty as to what exactly Numbers 5:11-31 entails, we should remember this is merely an interim measure, designed to meet the specific needs of an itinerant, low-tech community and superseded by the “new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood” where He died to bring us life.

What’s a pound actually worth?

I was very surprised after reflecting on all the discussion about likely consequences perceived to flow from the fall in the value of the British pound.  Whilst much was made of the corresponding rise in inflation, especially for food prices, and the potential boon for UK exporters, no-one that I’ve read online or heard on the radio/TV seems to have spotted what is surmised to be most important to 52% of the British people – a weaker pound means the UK is less attractive for migrant labour.  Anyone coming here to work from a foreign country and hoping to send back stipends to family, or save-up for a return back to their home town, will now find British jobs less alluring.  Considering that many (I believe, wrongly) expressed their dismay at “our jobs being stolen”, “our wages undercut” and “our services being put under too much strain”, surely someone should be trumpeting this benefit loudly amidst all the post-referendum gloom.

Possibly, this is another example of where the experts are out-of-tune with popular sentiment and unable to connect with the lives of real people, as implied by how their advice was roundly rejected by 52% in the referendum.

Whatever, what’s tragic is that all this misses the deeper lesson of these events.  As Christ Jesus declared, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19).  Still so relevant today, though of course we could add to the list of money-busters inflation and stock market crashes.  Thankfully, the remedy is close to hand: “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” where nothing and no-one can pilfer your reward from Christ Jesus Himself.

No room at the inn

As thoughts start to turn towards Christmas with seasonal aisles appearing in stores, discussions about where (and with whom) to celebrate the big day and planning for purchasing a panoply of presents, I was struck once again by the relevance of the old story that has launched countless celebrations.

Over 2000 years ago, a young couple were forced to leave their hometown, travel many miles across difficult terrain and trust in the kindness of strangers for their accommodation.  Yet, in Bethlehem, there was no room in any inn or house, even for a heavily pregnant woman, possibly starting to experience contractions and doubtless anxious to ensure the safe delivery of her first child.  Mary and Joseph were not foreigners, but fellow-Jews who should (according to the Torah) have been treated with compassion: “love your neighbour, as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).  Despite their knowledge of God and religion, Bethlehem closed its doors and the Saviour was born in a stable.

What a sad indictment of our society’s reluctance to welcome refugees today.  We seem to have so little time, concern or care for anyone outside our immediate circle.  Whether we label this “compassion fatigue”, or human selfishness, we need to keep remembering the real message of Christmas.  God coming down to earth, breaking into our lives, irrespective of the barriers we build, but still pleading with us to respond – to open our hearts to the outcast and the stranger.  For when we welcome even the least of these, we invite in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 25:40).

Boycott Apple!

I’m very disappointed that Apple has reacted so negatively to demands from the European Union that they pay their fair share of tax.  The fact is that they strip money out of economies across Europe and Africa by flogging their wares and not handing over a reasonable share of their profits to cash-strapped governments from Latvia to Morocco.  Then, through a dodgy special deal with Ireland, they can squirrel away their money into offshore bank accounts and build-up huge mountains of cash that do no-one any good.  Repatriating the money to America apparently is too costly because of the 40% tax deduction.

So, £162 billion from iPhone sales and such like festers in their cash pile.  All the European Commission are asking Apple fork out is £11 billion for over 25 years of iniquitous state aid that has enabled the company to squeeze competitors by reporting racking-up ridiculous profits that they don’t even re-invest.  That’s less than 10%!  Even worse, due to a long-standing loophole in the US tax code, Apple (and many other multinationals) can continually defer federal and state taxes on these offshore earnings for as long as they are kept outside America.

These taxes pay for schools, healthcare, defence and security – all vital services that enable companies like Apple to continue operating profitability with staff who are kept well from cradle to grave, well-educated and free to do their work.

It’s time to send companies like Apple a message – the only declaration that they understand.  On the day this juggernaut launches the seventh iteration of their phone, let’s call a halt to their destructive practices.  Refuse to buy the iPhone: hit them where it hurts and maybe they will learn that we cannot be taken for granted, our money is not theirs to trifle with and our communities are too precious to be so ruthlessly exploited.

Post-Brexit

I’m still in shock after waking-up, having “forgotten” about the referendum, to hear on the radio from Chris Evans that Britain has voted to Leave the EU.

So, possibly this is a rather forlorn call, but could we have a National Government of Unity until 2020?  I’m absolutely sick of all the vitriol, back-biting, character-assassination and angst that has been caused by our politicians trying to advance their own careers, rather than serve the people of the United Kingdom.

If we go to the polls again for a General Election, we’ll just return another group of very similar politicians who’ll have spent even more time trading insults, rather than fixing the real problems this country faces.  We need a kinder, more conciliatory, responsive, mature democracy where everyone is working together for the common good.  We need more unity, not further division.

Culture shapes behaviour

Following on from the shocking murder of MP Jo Cox, we must face the facts and see how easily a toxic debate can create a poisonous culture that leads to an utterly appalling outcome.  How we discuss issues and describe those we do not agree with can have serious, life-threatening consequences.  Freedom of speech must always be exercised responsibly and with consideration for our fellow-citizens.

Imagine the situation.  You’re a lonely middle-aged man who for many years has nursed a grievance against a world that seems stacked against you.  Distressed by how quickly your country is changing, you feel adrift and helpless, increasingly sceptical of those who promise so much, yet deliver so little.  Much of your view of what is happening outside is shaped by snippets of news and complaints you consume online, divorced from context and frequently reflecting embittered, angry prejudices.  Slowly, your thinking is being warped and you start to believe that “something must be done” to fix all these problems that never seem to be sorted out.

Suddenly, a new group of mavericks and wannabe revolutionaries appears and seems to offer an answer to all your gripes – one swift, simple solution that will transform Britain for the better.  They accuse those who disagree of being liars, scaremongers and traitors.  As these rhetorical flourishes trip off their tongues, they fail to consider how others will follow through on accusations, reaching with a twisted, sickening logic, fatal conclusions.

Those who live on the edge – unbalanced and isolated from human society – need to be remembered.  Their frail mental health is all too easily shattered by seemingly respectable politicians pandering to prejudice, justifying their grievances and whipping-up their passions.  Here’s the crux of this matter:

There are those who say we must “take our country back”, who castigate those on one side of an argument as an “elite”, in the pay of an establishment, in it for themselves and detached from the real world. Those people have to realise that their aggressive words and dangerous rhetoric have consequences. If you try to light a fuse, you can’t be surprised when it catches.

The Internet enables small groups of individuals to coalesce and whip each other into a frenzy over perceived injustices.  Whilst the vast majority can sustain such passions without breaking into physical violence, there are a (mercifully) small number who cannot cope with the deluge of despair and crack.  We might breathe a similar cultural air but what mildly irritates some can infuriate others, until breaking point is reached.

We must learn to watch our words carefully and engage in civilised debate, rather than the dialectic equivalent of bare-knuckle boxing.  Life is too precious, the bonds of community too important, to be jeopardised when it feels like we’re losing the argument.  Mutual respect – treating one another as we would like to be treated – is the cornerstone of democracy and true freedom.