There is something quite surreal about the prospect of a vote, by those who happen to reside in Scotland at the moment, on whether or not the 300-year-old Union of Great Britain should continue. Despite the opinion polls, I have a sneaky feeling that it will be a fairly clear ‘No’ vote. Because of the emotive nationalism, my sense is that people are reluctant to tell anyone that they are planning to vote ‘No’, and so the pollster results are skewed towards ‘Yes.’

But whatever the result, there are going to be some serious recriminations about the way the whole process has been conducted. It is breathtaking to consider the misjudgements, incompetence and constitutional wrecking that has marked the whole process. These are the most obvious blunders:

• Cameron insisting that the vote was a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’, out of hubristic confidence that Scots would not dare to vote ‘yes’, instead of including a third option.

• Allowing the ‘better together’ position to be called ‘No.’ Not surprisingly, this looks rather negative, as does any campaign to maintain the status quo. If there had been any thought at all about this, the vote would have been cast as between ‘yes to independence’ versus ‘yes to union’—or, better still, ‘yes to union’ versus ‘no to union.’

•Putting that third option (the so-called ‘devo max’) option on the table the week before the vote, which looks to everyone like a cross between a panic measure and a bribe.

•The sloppy definition of who can vote, so that residents in Scotland with no long-term stake can vote, whereas those who have a long Scottish heritage but happen to have moved to England or another country cannot.

•The notion of making constitutional change on a mere 50% of those voting. Even a debating society has a 2/3 threshold for constitutional change—and if there is less than 100% turnout, this change could happen with a minority of the electorate voting for it, let alone a minority of all Scots.

•The idea that one part of the United Kingdom can vote itself independent regardless of the will of the rest of the Union. Scotland comprises 8% of the UK population—so why couldn’t other areas with 8% also decide to secede? At what percentage does the other half have a say?

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From Mamba Online: 30 African Theologians & Scholars Back Gay Equality More than 30 African scholars, theologians, faith leaders, activists and students have issued a powerful declaration in support of LGBT equality on the continent. The leaders from nine African…

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In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sketched out scenarios in which U.S. Special Forces might need to embed with Iraqi or Kurdish troops engaged in direct combat with Islamic State fighters.

Under questioning from lawmakers, Dempsey acknowledged that Obama has vowed not to send U.S. ground combat forces back into Iraq, less than three years after the president fulfilled a campaign promise to extricate the military from a long, costly and unpopular war there.

But the general revealed that U.S. commanders have already sought permission, on at least one occasion, to deploy small teams of U.S. advisers into battle with Iraqi troops. Dempsey also suggested that, while Obama has held firm, he might be persuaded to change his mind.

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Andrew Symes on September 16th, 2014

by Andrew Symes: Several years ago I attended a conference where one of the main speakers, a pastor from Latin America, had witnessed remarkable exponential growth in his church through people coming to faith in Christ, and community transformation as a result in the city. His main message to us (I can still remember it) was the importance of prayer, and in particular for Christian leaders to “raise an army of intercessors”. It seems that this is also in the mind of Archbishop Justin. He has spoken often of his priorities for peace (the work of reconciliation in church and society), and poverty – concern for, and practical action on behalf of and with, the disadvantaged – undergirded by prayer. But a new initiative shows he believes that prayer is too important to be left to Bishops, clergy or even busy lay people whose prayer life is often too shallow, constantly squeezed as we live as practical atheists, cramming more and more action into our day, neglecting time in God’s presence. The problems that we face are too big for us, the spiritual resources in Christ too abundant merely to skate over as a church – we need people whose main work is prayer. So, significantly on the day after he met in London with a group of Coptic and Orthodox Bishops and clergy with strong links to the churches in Syria and Iraq currently experiencing appalling persecution, the Archbishop announced a new prayer initiative – the formation of a community of prayer. Based at Lambeth Palace, the 16 full timers and 40 part timers, mostly under the age of 35, beginning next year will spend a year in prayer, study and community service                              ( ). What a great idea! – based on the recognition that the ministry of the Archbishop and his staff need prayer support, but also that a new generation needs training in the urgent task of serious intercession. The Archbishop rightly notes that such a venture “makes no sense if God does not exist”, but also that to spend long periods of prayer carries with it great risks. It is a test of faith to be sure – what if “nothing happens”? And it is a test of one’s own inner resources. Long periods of time alone in silence, reading, reflecting, talking and listening to an invisible God, then living with the same people performing the same simple tasks day after day, are a sure way to bring to the surface any unresolved issues of character and psychology. This new “order” is apparently looking for a Prior to guide the community, and this appointment will surely be the most important of the whole enterprise. Basic qualifications required are mentioned on the website, but many people will be watching with interest and hoping for a clear statement of missional intent by appointing someone with a sound Gospel heart. So, humbly and tentatively, here are some suggestions of qualifications that the ideal candidate for Prior should possess. He or she: a) should be theologically orthodox, believing that God is there and that prayer is a response to his sovereign initiative, as opposed to doubting whether God is anything other than a projection of our imagination. b) should be practised in prayer then not as mindfulness of self, achieved through breathing and posture exercises and other forms and methods, but adoration of and bringing petitions to the loving Father through the mediation of the Son by the Spirit. c) will hold to the primary authority of Scripture guiding how we understand the triune God, how people come into and develop a relationship with him, and how we should live our lives, particularly in the areas of how we deal with strong inner drives such as anger, sexual desire, pride and it’s other side, low self esteem. d) is passionate about mission, primarily in the sense of individuals coming to repentance and faith in Christ as a result of hearing the Good News, and also in the wider sense of communities and nations becoming more just and peaceful places to live as a result of the mustard seed influence of the church. e) is a battle scarred veteran of Ephesians 6 spiritual warfare, discerning and facing the unseen powers behind disunity, unbelief, rebellion, immorality, injustice, persecution, poverty; knowing that vulnerability, wisdom and humility are qualities that only come when we’ve faced the fact that we can’t do it, and then have seen God do it. f) is 100% focused as Prior on training an elite squad of serious intercessors for the church and the world, rather than having half an eye on the opportunities for preferment that such a post might bring. This project, with a good leader and the right ethos outlined above, has the potential to be powerfully used by God in renewal, and a model for other similar communities elsewhere. A ‘Gospel Prior’ at Lambeth, leading a group of disciplined, bible-based young people, committed to intercession, evangelism and social concern? A great vision, and a challenge to orthodox Anglicans, to get a good candidate to apply – but would such a person be selected?

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Please note–be warned this contains content that is very disturbing–KSH.

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Kendall Harmon on September 16th, 2014

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, has accepted the invitation of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to succeed the Bishop of London as the Church of England’s lead bishop for Environmental Affairs with immediate effect.

In his new role Bishop Nicholas will work with the Mission and Public Affairs department of the Archbishops’ Council and also with the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division on the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint campaign. He will also Chair the new Working Group on the Environment established by General Synod in February 2014.

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gay wedding1

By John Bingham, Telegraph:

An Anglican clergyman is facing opposition from parishioners over a service in his local church to bless his same-sex civil partnership.

The Rev Dominic McClean, the Rector of 13 parishes around the village of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, invited parishioners to the special service this weekend to mark his civil union with his partner, Tony Hodges.

The service, taking place in the 14th Century St Peter’s Church in Market Bosworth on Saturday next week was given a go-ahead by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, who led the Church of England’s opposition in the House of Lords to the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

But Aubrey Chalmers, a member of the Parochial Church Council in nearby Shackerstone, one of Rev McClean’s parishes, has written in protest both to Bishop Stevens and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, describing the service as “deeply divisive and repugnant to many people”.

He said several fellow parishioners had pledged to sever their links with the church and that at least one church warden planned to resign in protest to what he described as a “gay wedding in all but name” in the Church of England.

Anglican clergy are banned from marrying partners of the same sex – although a handful have done so since the law changed earlier this year, in open defiance of a ruling issued by bishops.

But gay and lesbian Anglican priest are permitted to enter civil partnerships and can also become bishops if they claim to be celibate.

The Church of England does not officially bless same-sex unions but allows parishes to offer informal prayers of dedication.

But an announcement leaflet distributed in the pews last weekend described the service as a “blessing”, according to Mr Chalmers.

“A person’s private life is entirely their own affair, provided it doesn’t cause any harm or injure other people nobody is going to interfere,” he said.

“Here we have what is effectively a high profile demonstration where the parish priest is able to use his own church for his own gay wedding in all but name and has upset a lot of people.

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Kendall Harmon on September 16th, 2014

Janna Weaver is proud she’s managed to keep her bamboo plant alive for more than a year. She’s not quite ready for a pet yet, and a child? “Definitely not anytime soon.”

“I want to know who I am before I bring someone else into the equation,” said Weaver, 25, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and moved with her boyfriend to Dallas in July. “The longer I wait and the more established I am, the more I’ll be able to provide for the family.”

More U.S. millennial women, those born after 1980, are holding off on motherhood, which bodes well for their economic and social mobility and that of their future children, according to recent research. Odds are that lower U.S. birth rates are here to stay, even if some of the recession-induced decline reverses, said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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by Josie Ensor, Telegraph

The Sudanese mother who was sentenced to hang for refusing to reject Christianity has spoken for the first time about her ordeal, saying she was resolved to keep her faith even if it meant death.

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was pregnant when she was given the death sentence for apostasy by the country’s courts under Sharia law.

She was freed in in late June after an 18-month ordeal, following after an international outcry and was helped to travel to the US, where her husband Daniel had citizenship.

Giving her first interview since she was released last month, she told Fox News she was given three days to renounce her faith by the Sudanese authorities, and when she refused to was sentenced to hang.

In prison, she said she was visited every day by imams, who recited parts of the Koran to her in an attempt to pressure her into renouncing her religion.

“While I was in prison, some people came to visit me from the Muslim Scholars Association,” she said. “These were imams that created an intervention by reciting parts of the Koran for me. I faced a tremendous amount of pressure.

“I had my trust in God,” she said. “My faith was the only weapon that I had in these confrontations with imams and Muslim scholars, because that’s what I believe.”

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by Tomas Halik, ABC Religion & Ethics:

In Western Europe, politics and the media are still dominated by the liberal mentality that prevailed among European intellectual elites for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and gave rise to various versions of the “theory of secularisation.”

Some of those theories assumed, in the light of the changing role of the major Christian churches in certain European countries, the gradual decline or even rapid extinction of religion throughout the world. Others did not go that far, and simply maintained that religion had shifted out of the public into the private sphere. Either way, the assumption was that the process was irreversible.

When religion made a global comeback on the political stage over the last three decades, many were shocked. Religion appeared to them like Samson, once blinded and chained, a laughing stock, shorn of all its strength, and yet here it stood, revived, a frenzied titan threatening the pillars of our houses and the survival of all.

It is now evident that the de-privatisation and re-politicisation of religion is a truly global phenomenon, and does not only concern the monotheistic religions. “Religious terrorism” and “fundamentalism” are its most obvious, but by no means sole, expressions.

We can find religious symbols and active religious groups nowadays across the political spectrum – from the extreme right to the extreme left; from fighters for civil liberties, human rights and social justice to supporters of authoritarian regimes; from ecological activists to extreme nationalists; from the United States and Latin America to the new states of African; from the Balkans to the Arab countries, from Israel to India or Japan.

The fundamental assumption of the theory of secularisation – that what had been happening in Europe for some time would necessarily have to happen throughout the world – is now regarded as erroneous, especially by sociologists and analysts of globalisation, who view it as one of the many prejudices of an arrogant and naive Eurocentrism. Religion has proven to be a more vital and multifarious phenomenon than it was viewed by the Enlightenment, positivism or Marxism.

In fact, the theory of secularisation had itself become a kind of ersatz religious conviction for certain social groups and political orientations; it no longer functioned as a scientific hypothesis, but instead as a ideology in the service of power politics: in its “soft” version in certain Western countries, or Nehru’s India, post-war Japan, or Egypt; and in a very “hard” version in the former Soviet empire or Communist China. Even after the fall of Communism and in the face of the current revival of religion in many parts of the world, many stereotypical views of religion dating back to the period before the present changes are proving hard to overcome.

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