Bishop of Tuam highlights secularism as the ‘real enemy’ of society
The Bishop of Tuam, the Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, has expressed forthright criticism of secular trends in society.
Speaking at an ecumenical ceremony in St Thomas’, Dugort, Achill, on 24th September remembering the 190 people buried during the Achill Mission, founded by the Revd Edward Nangle in 1831, Bishop Rooke said: “The real enemy for all of us gathered here is the secular society of which we are part. There is no escaping it and we have seen in recent times what happens when the greed it encourages is allowed to fester and get out of hand. Whether we like it or not, secularism is growing rapidly in this country and others and to a large extent we only have ourselves to blame.
THE CHURCH IN CHINA
The results of a survey conducted this year by the leading research agency, Millward brown, showed that as many as twelve Chinese companies ranked among the top 100 globally. Yet, it is not only business that has been booming in China – so too is the Church. While for decades the Church suffered stark repression, a new if still qualified openness to religion has become a striking feature in the country.
In fact, what is happening in China is more than the communist régime’s relative openness to religion – the government is actually helping recognised Churches to grow. It has been assisting them even to build their own premises. Last year, a special investigation by the bbC revealed that the State was aiding the construction of a 5,000-capacity church on the outskirts of the city of Nanjing, in the easterm Jiangsu province, by providing the land and 20% of the building costs.
The top official in charge of the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuo An, has said that there are now at least 20 million Protestants in China, indicating that “Christianity is enjoying its best period of growth in China”. He explained that the State was investing in religious faith, including funding support for the construction of ‘national’ Protestant and Catholic seminaries (the official Catholic Church in China – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association – is not permitted to be ‘Roman’, a worrying and complex situation for adherents). The fact that the Communist Party is officially atheist does not deter such investment because the government recognises that the Church has not only a special spiritual appeal, compared with the less developed indigenous religions, but also is both associated with Western economic prosperity and eager to be of service in the community.
Against such a backdrop, it was striking that the Anglican Primates of the Global South chose to hold a meeting last month in China (report, Gazette, last week), a visit that signalled a developing relationship with Protestant leaders in the world’s most populous country. However, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong found the move disturbing, as the Hong Kong dioceses survived from the former Chinese Anglican Church and the Hong Kong Primate is not a member of the Global South grouping.
The high hopes for mission in China so clearly seen at the edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference were not that long afterwards dashed by the 1931 Revolution under Mao Zedong, but now that the political climate has changed so much, there is not only hope for the Christian future in China, but also confidence. Religious freedom in China is not yet complete, and Christians who want to be independent of the State approved Churches must meet and worship in private ‘house churches’. Yet, despite the remaining elements of State control, religious times, thankfully, are changing in China – and changing quite dramatically.
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INTERVIEWS WITH THE NEW BISHOPS
Bishops for the whole Church
The Church of Ireland Press Officer, Dr Paul Harron, interviews Bishop Patrick Rooke and Bishop John McDowell following their recent consecrations as Bishops of Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Clogher respectively.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
IF we are to have healthy debate over human sexuality, can we first dismiss any notion of a Church divided on geo- political lines? This betrays many individuals and parishes on both sides of the border who hold their views in all good conscience, and runs the risk of people thinking they must think a certain way because they fall into one label or another.
Second, it is simply not fair, on the one hand, to allege that individuals knew about same- sex relationships for years and never said a word, and then, on the other, to tell them that it is none of their business when they do speak. It may be that some could have pressed for more facts sooner, but many did not out of fear of being, rather ironically, accused of being an accuser. It also fails to recognise that those engaged in same- sex relationships have perhaps done so for years knowing this was not in line with the life and teaching of the Church.
Third, a plea that we do not dismiss discussion on the grounds that sexuality is a protected, private matter or is irrelevant compared to issues of social injustice and poverty. Personal life, behaviour and morality, together with a passion for social justice, are all part of a holistic Gospel. A privatised faith is divorced from the public realm, leaving it without moderation on personal morality, and without a voice on the corporate and public ills that our world faces.
Fourth, broad-brush analogous reasoning with issues such as the role of women or slavery ignores the internal complexity of both subject matters, the time taken to reason with them, and the manner in which change, particularly on the role of women, was embraced by consensus and consent. The current civil partnership fait accompli is unfortunately and regrettably lacking in both grace and charity towards the wider Church and those who simply wish to affirm its received life and teaching.
Fifth, there are many on both sides of the argument who view the matter as bring critical to the mission of the Church and its message to the world. It would be healthier to recognize this rather than simply demonize those who hold one perspective or the other.
We face huge questions that will need addressed: our theology of human sexuality; what has happened to the collegiality of our bishops; the implications for our life within the Anglican Communion; the impact on our island of ecumenical relations with other denominations and faith groups; how we engage in dialogue over difference; the role of Church and State in private lives – all of these issues are brought to the fore.
They deserve not just articulate words but intelligent discourse, otherwise we will lose one another long before we win or lose any argument or point.
Barry Forde (The Revd) Elmwood Avenue Belfast BT9 6AY
CANON CECIL MILLS made some very ambiguous comments in his letter of 30th September.
He asserts that we have no record of what Jesus may have thought on the matter of sexual practice and he is right in that Jesus does not mention homosexuality. Perhaps Canon Mills has failed to notice, however, the support Jesus had for marriage as between one man and one woman and his upholding of the Law of Moses.
While Canon Mills has missed these things, would it be possible for him to explain what he terms the “Jesus-based” concept of “live-and-let-live”? Did Jesus teach that we should let everyone else live their lives as they want to? Not to challenge or get involved? As Canon Mills states that this is a key concept of what the Church of Ireland believes. can he point us to the relevant passages? Can he also point to where this concept lies at the centre of our Church teaching?
Finally, Canon Mills’ assertion that Scripture, in a few obscure places, views homosexuality as inherently wrong, is itself inherently wrong. The bible teaches that the practice of homosexual behaviour is wrong – and it does so alongside condemning the practice of heterosexual behaviour outside marriage.
Biblical teaching on this issue is clear and consistent and any obscurity to be found is surely in the notion of ‘Jesus-based concepts’.
David Brown, Doagh, Co. Antrim
I REFER to Canon Cecil Mills’ attempt to enlighten me regarding the beliefs of the Church of Ireland (letter, 30th September; my letter, 16th September). He offers no comfort whatsoever. I venture to suggest that our Lord did not endure the scorn of man, the humiliation and affliction of Calvary and the pains of death, to leave us with a few “Jesus-based concepts”. For any leading representative of our Church to give credence to civil partnership arrangements amongst clergy flies in the face of our established Christian inheritance, such that society’s ethos becomes the standard for the Church.
It would certainly appear that Changing Attitude Ireland and those who share its creed attempt to circumvent and warp the plain teaching of Scripture by accusing their opposites of lacking love, grace, peace and respect, as if somehow the idea of truth had expired in the Christian domain. They also contend that evangelicals and traditionalists unfairly single out this issue for attack. Of course, there are plenty of other areas of human failing, but to address them amidst this debate does not make clergy in civil partnerships any more palatable, and in the end would only serve to complicate matters.
Canon Mills cites “live- and-let-live” as a Jesus-based concept. Highly suspect theology. Taken to its limit, such a view makes a mockery of confession – ‘live-and-let-live’ does not allow for correctives. The bedroom goings on of those who lead in our Church are very much our concern, when they are plastered across the media and where they detract from godly living and example and lead the faithful into angst and confusion. Forgive me for thinking that the accepted canon of Scripture is in essence a call to transformation, restoration and a ‘renewing of the mind’ in the fashion of Christ.
I am not sure from what platform Canon Mills’ thinking operates, but I certainly offer no apology for holding Holy Scripture, the word of God, as my first and last point of reference in matters of faith and conduct. Regrettably, this debate has revealed how far some clergy in our Church have abandoned first principles, if they ever accepted them, and the question put to me on more than one occasion by parishioners is ‘why are they still in a pulpit?’ Pretty good question, I would say.
M.W.J. Loney (The Revd) The Rectory, Church Street, Ahoghill Co. Antrim
CANON PATRICK COMERFORD does appear “outspoken” in the report (Gazette, 30th September) on the use by Martin McGuinness of the term ‘west brit’.
I myself first encountered the term in the late 1950s as a Protestant student at TCD. I did not then think it applied to me or to my cricket- and rugby-playing fellow students. Rather, then and now, it applied as a political term applied to an anti-Irish resident of Ireland who favoured the maintenance or return of british rule and influence.
Admittedly, as a member of Sinn Féin, I do sometimes sense a lack of warmth (shall we say) towards me in the local party, but is this because I am paranoid or Protestant or just not born in Limerick?
Certainly no one has ever openly expressed any antagonism for the reasons given by Canon Comerford – accent or race or Rathmines or Ranelagh or cricket or rugby. when Martin McGuinness says, “west brit”, I must assume he is using it in a purely political sense.
Indeed, I have heard the term applied (in a political sense) to Martin himself. That is, when he is being described by republicans as ‘the man who helps administer british rule in the six counties’.
Courthouse Cottage Limerick
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