Prince Charles speaks on religious persecution, calls for tolerance, encourages hope
In a message supporting those persecuted for their faith, the Prince of Wales has spoken of “mounting despair”, of the need for interfaith respect and tolerance and of the biblical call to hope.
The message marked the publication of the resource, Religious Freedom in the World – Report 2014, by the international charity, Aid to the Church in Need.
The Prince said: “The horrendous and heartbreaking events in Iraq and Syria have brought the subject of religious freedom and persecution to the forefront of the world’s news. “We have learnt with mounting despair of the expulsion of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis from towns and cities that their ancestors have occupied for centuries. Sadly, incidents of violence in Iraq and Syria are not isolated. They are found throughout some, though not all, of the Middle East, in some African nations and in many countries across Asia.”
Growing the church – by love
As has been widely quoted, the results of the Church of Ireland census of last year suggest that, on any given Sunday, approximately 15.5% of people who claim allegiance to the Church of Ireland actually are in church. While no doubt there are many who go to church less frequently than every Sunday, the figure is a huge embarrassment to the Church.
One naturally asks why this should be the situation and who is responsible for it. The General Synod? The bishops? The clergy? The liturgy? The people themselves?
The fact is that we are all responsible for the decline and every single one of us needs to be doing something about bringing others into the fellowship of the Church – not just thinking about doing so, but actively going about the task, today and every day. This is not a matter for clergy only, but for everyone. In fact, it must be accepted by every Christian person as his or her responsibility.
Parallel to all of this comes a recent warning from the Bishop of Blackburn, reported in The Daily Telegraph.
Launching a 12-year plan to attract younger people to the Church, he said he feared that unless the Church reinvented itself in his own diocese, it would disappear like the region’s textile industry. His archdeacon bluntly said that if the decline continued at the present rate, there would be no Church of England in Lancashire by 2050.
Writing on the Archbishop Cranmer website, Gillian Scott has pointed out that the recently published 2015 British Election Study, which includes a religious affiliation section, shows that, while the number of Roman Catholics has remained steady over the last 50 years, the number of Anglicans has halved and other Christian denominations have reduced even more. The number of Roman Catholics has been kept up in recent years due to considerable immigration from Eastern Europe, she indicates as being widely acknowledged.
Ms Scott makes the basic observation that the main reason that Church numbers are falling away rapidly is that older people are dying and younger people are not joining or are choosing to leave without returning, and goes on to warn: “No matter how hard you try to put on an interesting service, whether that be through contemporary music, making them more interactive or producing well-delivered sermons, it will not be enough to attract and keep people, and the younger they are, the more this will be the case.”
So what is to be done? Ms Scott says that “Jesus did not have a good relationship with religious services” and she encourages the Church to think outside that particular ‘box’. She quotes Alan Scott, Lead Pastor of the growing Causeway Coast Vineyard in Coleraine, as saying: “The move of God we are experiencing is happening beyond the building. It is not a movement in the Church, it is a movement of the Church.”
There is an important challenge here if the Church of Ireland is to grow in numbers: we must be more outward looking from our churches – and we must actually go out more from our churches into the community with a ministry of true concern and compassion. It will not mean abandoning all that we love and cherish about our particular ways of worshipping, whether traditional or more informal, but it will mean a fundamental change in ‘Church-set’. It is the quality of our love that matters, more than which kind of worship we prefer.
NI Equality Commission ‘heavy-handed’ over Ashers ‘gay cake’ controversy – C. of I. spokesman
The Chair of the Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission (CASC), the Revd Adrian Dorrian, has told the Gazette that the announcement last week by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission that it intends taking legal action against Ashers Baking Company – unless the company acknowledged that it had breached the equality laws and offered recompense – is “heavy-handed”, but nonetheless said that CASC would encourage “gracious and sensitive dialogue” on the matter.
Ashers had refused a customer’s order for a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage because, the company said, the request was “at odds” with its Christian beliefs. Mr Dorrian was speaking to us on behalf of CASC, while acknowledging that the Commission had not met in the short time since the cake controversy had started.
He said: “Two key issues form part of the debate: discrimination and freedom of religious conscience. The Church of Ireland recognises and commends efforts to combat discrimination. In 2012, the General Synod affirmed ‘[a] continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective’.
“The Church is also currently actively engaged in constructive dialogue through its Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. “What is not at all apparent in the Ashers case, however, is that there is a charge of discrimination to answer. It seems clear that the service was declined, not because of the sexual orientation of the customer, but because of the particular political message requested upon the cake.
“It is a serious concern that the freedom of religious conscience that the law affords to all people has also been challenged by the Equality Commission’s decision. The owners of the baking company were upholding their adherence to the traditional Christian view on marriage as being between one man and one woman.
“In fact, this position was affirmed by a majority of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 2012 and is the legal position in Northern Ireland. It is of real concern that a conscientious choice made by the owners of a small business, which reflects such a position, has been branded discriminatory and made the subject of heavy-handed legal action.”
Daniel McArthur, general manager of the family baking company, which has six shops in Northern Ireland and employs around 60 people, was quoted as saying that the order clashed with the ethos of the business and that his family would not be forced to promote a cause that went against their conscientious view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
‘BIZARRE’ SITUATION – METHODIST STATEMENT
The Methodist Church’s Council on Social Responsibility issued a statement saying that the Council was “deeply concerned” about the Equality Commission’s decision and describing the dispute as a “matter of conscience” for Ashers.
The statement added: “We commend the company for their willingness to take a stance for the sake of conscience. If Ashers Bakery should suffer as a consequence of taking this stand, how bizarre that the Commission action would have been in the name of ‘equality’.”
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH’S ‘DEEP CONCERN’
The Convener of the Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Very Revd Dr Norman Hamilton, expressed the Presbyterian Church’s “deep concern” at the decision of the Equality Commission which, he said, showed “a deeply regrettable failure of civic leadership”.
Dr Hamilton’s statement continued: “In a situation where a business has clearly stated that it is willing to serve any customer irrespective of religion, sexual orientation or political belief, it surely is totally unjust to attempt to compel it to be involved in promoting causes which in conscience are against the owners’ strongly held Christian beliefs.”
The statement indicated that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland believed there was a need to “think through what a God-honouring and biblicallyfaithful approach to equality, human rights and freedom should look like in our everchanging society”.
ROMAN CATHOLIC REACTION
The prominent Roman Catholic priest, Fr Tim Bartlett – a member of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs and who served on the panel of this year’s Belfast Pride event – announced in a statement to BBC Radio Ulster (on Thursday 6th November): “I will be writing today to those groups from the gay community, with whom I have had a very constructive and ongoing engagement in recent years, to say that I am withdrawing my engagement until the right of all people, in this case Christians, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected by the Equality Commission and the gay community.
“I also want to know why the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission talked quite openly about the Ashers case during the Gay Pride debate in Belfast but has since claimed he is not free to talk about it in public debate.”
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