What’s missing from the Christian creed

Christmas is behind us and the last leftovers have made their way from fridge to waist. Which means it is another 11 ½ months until we get to hear that festive wonder – of believers, agnostics and atheists belting out Charles Wesley’s exuberant Hark the Herald-Angels Sing: “Hail! the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings…”

Such lines have for me cast a shadow over other familiar words that inhabit our churches – the Creed. Every time I recite it, I feel more frustrated by it.

The Creed is clearly important in marking in stone the edges of Christian belief – what it is, and what it is not. Like a thick wall, it serves to safeguard the flock from non-Christian beliefs and distinguish Christianity from other belief systems.

But in all the times I have listened to Christians explaining their journey to faith, I have never heard anyone say, misty-eyed, they were attracted by Jesus’ being “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”. Instead they often talk about the help, comfort and hope they derive from their relationship with Him.

The Nicene Creed, adopted in the fourth century, or the older Apostles’ Creed, make sense when situated in the bustling marketplace of pagan and polytheistic beliefs of their day, and the Arian heresy that claimed Christ was effectively lesser than God the Father. But after centuries of monotheistic belief, our Western default setting hovers between Christianity and atheism, and the arguments against religion have changed.

As Rupert Shortt points out in his new book Outgrowing Dawkins, “by far the strongest argument against faith in a benign, all-powerful providence [is] the problem of evil and suffering.” Sometimes, underneath sophisticated arguments against the existence of God are highly personal ones about unmet expectations or unanswered prayers, leading to a conclusion that God either does not care or does not exist.

Another recent challenge to the idea of a loving God – possibly also borne out of grievance – has come from fundamentalist Islam. Muslims are the first to say that violent jihadists distort their religion; Christians likewise do well to reiterate that portraying God as murderous and petty is a modern-day heresy.

It is these cris de coeur I wish the Creed would address. My problem isn’t so much with what it contains as what it leaves out. God is creator, we are told, but his character – of mercy and generosity – are not mentioned. Much is implicit in a short phrase such as “for us men, and for our salvation, [He] came down from heaven,” but today that benefits from being unpacked. Could it not spell out that Christ came to bind up the broken-hearted, forgive sins, redeem mankind and destroy evil?

The Creed may have been written to fend off heresies but today its adversaries come in different forms. Maybe a new millennium warrants a revised version. I know we’re 20 years in already, but there are 980 left and these things can take a few centuries to agree. So I argue for a revision that is pastoral and poetic as well as didactic, to inspire and encourage, to engage heart and well as mind. The stone wall, if you like, muralled in enticing full colour interrupted only by a welcoming open door.

Is secularisation fuelling violence and threats against Christian clergy?

My story for the Sunday Telegraph:

Growing secularisation is leading to an increase in violence and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, experts fear.

Priests told of experiences including discovering a witchcraft symbol sprayed on a church door and being followed home as academics launched a mass survey of priests to find out the scale of the problem.

There are also concerns that sex abuse scandals and a growing number of female clergy is contributing to a growth in threats and violence against priests.

Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, are to survey around 7,000 Church of England clergy using £5,000 in funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The survey, which is to be circulated online this month, will ask clergy whether they have experienced verbal abuse, threats or physical violence in the last two years, and how often church property is damaged.

Read the full story here:

‘It has felt like a house under siege’

 

My piece published in the Church Times, 1 June:

Abigail Frymann Rouch speaks to clergy victims of stalking, and asks whether enough is being done to support them

IT WAS trauma that brought the Revd Graham Sawyer into closer contact with one of his female parishioners: she witnessed her husband killing himself, in front of their children.

“I then exercised the pastoral care that would be expected of any priest,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, she became very dependent on me, and it became a sort of infatuated obsession. . . Her demands on me became impossible for me to meet, which gave her a pseudo-legitimacy to turn her obsession into hate.”

Continue reading “‘It has felt like a house under siege’”

Barry Humphries, the Nazis and the revealing generation gap

Every so often you start on a project believing to be about one thing, and end up miles past your original destination having discovered a totally different story. I had that pleasure when I saw advertised a programme of music that had been banned by the Nazis. Continue reading “Barry Humphries, the Nazis and the revealing generation gap”

ISIS and the Reformation

This morning’s Times contains a heartening piece that reports that a statue smashed up by members of ISIS at the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria has been reconstructed using laser technology. The same wizardry, which has been pioneered by the Oxford-based Institute of Digital Archaeology means that reconstruction of other artefacts destroyed by the group can be “done in an afternoon, while a traditional reconstruction can involve years of research, academic argument and highly skilled craftsmanship”.

And, the Times article continues, the technique is being used to recreate buildings and religious objects smashed during the English Reformation, including Newstead Abbey, ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron.

Ron Inglis, of Nottingham city council, said: “The destruction during the Reformation has parallels to how Isis dealt with religious monuments. What we want to do is to try to recreate what the interior of the priory church would have been like.”

Continue reading “ISIS and the Reformation”