Who should I vote for?

Thanks to clayboy (Doug Chaplin) for the link to this quiz. In the light of his recent past attacks on the Liberal Democrats I was surprised to see that he came out as a recommended Lib Dem voter. I was less surprised to find the same for myself. The following are my results as copied from their site:

Take the Who Should You Vote For? England quiz

You expected: LIB

Your recommendation: Liberal Democrat

Click here for more details about these results

Update 2: Solved the formatting problem, I think, by replacing the problematic HTML with an image.

Women as Bishops: The Recording

Now available at my church’s website: an audio recording of last Saturday’s Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association meeting about Women as Bishops, together with Lis Goddard’s PowerPoint presentation.

The main speakers are Rev Lis Goddard and Bishop Wallace Benn, with Gordon Simmonds, a lay member of General Synod, in the chair. During the question session I was carrying around the roving microphone, so my apologies for any imperfections. I also asked the question about the meaning of “statutory” – a rare chance to hear my voice.

See also my reflections about this meeting.

N.T. Wright to retire? Not really

Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, quoting the Durham Times, announces that

THE Bishop of Durham is to retire.

But that is in fact a misleading way to put it; the Church Times Blog is more accurate in its headline Bishop of Durham to step down. The truth (at least I assume it is the truth – here quoting the Church Times post but the Durham Times confirms it) is that Bishop N.T. Wright “will be moving to the University of St Andrews to take up an academic post”. Maybe, at age 62, he is able to collect his pension from the Church of England, but he can supplement it with an academic salary. Of course that won’t make him rich, and he will have to vacate the mediaeval castle which is his official home as Bishop.

The bad news is that he is leaving not just the Church of England but also England itself, for the remote but prestigious small Scottish town of St Andrews. The good news is that, in his new appointment as a research professor, he will have more time to give to his important academic work.

Meanwhile this will leave a vacancy in the Church of England’s third most important diocese. I can already suggest a candidate for this post: Archbishop Rowan Williams. He would make an excellent Bishop of Durham, traditionally a post for a top theologian as the diocesan responsibilities are relatively light. By accepting this move Rowan can set aside with honour the political bits he doesn’t like of being Archbishop of Canterbury, and spend the last decade of his working life (until retirement at 70, in 2020) in a post more suitable for his skills.

Elvis gives Gordon Brown tips on life after death

Opinion poll results currently suggest that the Labour party might come third in this election in terms of votes cast but still have the largest number of seats in Parliament. So Gordon Brown might try to continue as Prime Minister despite being thoroughly rejected by the voters – although he can’t expect help with this from the Lib Dems.

Perhaps that is why Gordon has turned to Elvis – for advice on how to live on after being declared dead!

Picture from The Mirror.

Women as Bishops: Reflections

The meeting Women as Bishops which I advertised in my last post here was very interesting. We were pleased to have about 60 people present for the discussion led by the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, and Rev Lis Goddard of AWESOME. At the request of several people on this blog and elsewhere, the meeting was recorded. The recording, over two hours long, and Lis Goddard’s PowerPoint presentation will soon be available on my church’s website, for convenience as our building was the venue. As soon as I can give you a URL I will post it here.

What follows is not intended as a summary of the meeting (I’m afraid you will have to wait then listen to the recording for that), but as my personal reflections following it.

Lis Goddard is known as a proponent of the ordination of women, although AWESOME of which she is the Chair is not a campaigning organisation and has no official position on the issue. Indeed the ordained evangelical women it supports include “permanent deacons” who have chosen not to be ordained as priests. She made clear that some of what she said was her personal position.

By contrast, Bishop Benn is a council member of Reform which takes a clear stand against women in church leadership. At the meeting he outlined briefly why he believes this: he holds a complementarian position on the role of women, as equal but different.

But the point of yesterday’s meeting was not to debate the main issue of whether women should be made bishops. It was to explore how evangelicals in the Church of England can remain united in a situation where their Church is clearly moving towards having women as bishops. On this there was a surprising and welcome unity of opinion between these people who disagree fundamentally on the underlying issue.

Benn and Goddard agreed that definite special arrangements should be made for those in the Church who cannot fully accept women as bishops – against the radical egalitarians who would make no concessions and might privately welcome the defection of conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. They also agreed in rejecting arrangements like a separate diocese for traditionalists, which would tend to divide the Church into separate camps, and would have some serious practical and financial consequences.

Their preferred solutions were almost the same. Goddard preferred a statutory code of practice whereby women bishops would be obliged to delegate their authority to male colleagues under certain circumstances. Benn’s preference was for Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) whereby this delegation would be more formalised, but would also accept a statutory code of practice.

The decision on what arrangements will be made is likely to be taken at the General Synod in July this year. It seems likely that some kind of statutory code of practice will be proposed by the committee working on this, but this solution will meet opposition from those who reject any formal concessions. So, to avoid massive divisions in the Church of England and especially in the evangelical part of it, we should hope and pray that something like a statutory code of practice will be accepted. I say this although I object to the “statutory” aspect of this, as I explained in this post.

I think it was Wallace Benn who suggested that a wrong decision on this matter might lead to the Church of England losing both its evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings. I couldn’t help thinking of the Church as an airliner in the air – a slight change from last week’s image of flying like wild ducks. The airliner has lost power, perhaps from flying through an ash cloud, and is gradually losing height. If it wants to continue to fly it needs to restart its engines – and it can do that only by turning to God. But the worst decision it could make is to cut off both its wings. Without them it cannot even glide to a relatively soft crash landing; its only hope is to plunge straight to disaster. So please, Church, let’s avoid that, stop bickering about side issues, and look to God to regain the power to fly.

Women as Bishops

This post is not more of my own thoughts. It is an announcement of an opportunity to hear some other thoughts on the subject “Women as Bishops: what next for Evangelicals, what
do we need from each other?” (Here “Evangelicals” should be understood as “Evangelicals in the Church of England”.) This is a meeting of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association, like the last one I advertised here, and will be held at the same venue, which is my home church, on this coming Saturday morning.

Again this will be a chance for you, my readers, to meet me. It will also be a chance to meet two leading activists for and against women bishops. But the intention is not so much a debate on the issues as a discussion of how evangelicals can remain united on the fundamental issues while being divided on this one.

Flying like wild ducks

I thank Donald Haynes and John Meunier for this wonderful little story which tells us so much about church life today. Apparently (although I can’t find a reliable source to confirm this) it originally comes from a sermon by the famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:

Once upon a time there was a village called Ducktown. The entire population was made up of barnyard ducks. They built little duck houses and slept in feather beds of duck down, and gobbled up duck food and quacked in duck talk. On Sundays the females put on little hats and sashes, the males put on little neckties and the duck families waddled down to Duck Church, quacking all the way.

One week they called a new duck preacher, and were very excited to hear his first sermon. He told them that God had endowed all ducks with three great gifts—webbed feet for swimming, beaks for gobbling food and wings for flying.

However, they had lost the talent to use their wings. If they looked into the sky, the preacher said, they could see flocks of wild ducks flying in perfect “V” formations. But they were content to eat, quack and waddle around Ducktown, and couldn’t even swim much.

“I am here to tell you that you can fly,” he said. “Your wings can still lift your bodies into the air and you can soar like the wild ducks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to leave the church this morning and take a short flight over the village?”

He was so persuasive that suddenly there was a loud “Quaaack” from the back of the church, and one of the young adult ducks was in the air, circling over the congregation. Some of the other ducks were so excited that they joined in the fun, and soon you could hardly see for all the flying feathers. Their lives would be changed forever. They would no longer be confined to the ground; now they could claim their God-given endowment as masters of the skies.

Then it happened. One loud duck waddled down to the front and quacked out a protest: “Stop this nonsense! We are domesticated, not wild. We are civilized ducks. We have houses with beds, yards with gates, a village with streets and a church with walls. Flying is what our ancestors did, but we don’t fly.”

One by one the ducks flew back down to their perches, feeling a bit foolish for what they had done and holding up their heads with quiet dignity. The chastised new preacher pronounced the benediction and they all waddled home, never to fly again.

Are we just waddling like “civilized” ducks, or are we flying like free as God made us?


Could a Facebook campaign swing the election?

I’m not going to discuss election policies here. But as long time readers of this blog know, I am an active member of the Liberal Democrat party and a former local election candidate. For some time I have been a member of the Facebook group I’m voting for the Liberal Democrats in 2010. And today, as a member of that group, I received an invitation to join a new group with the interesting name We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office! I joined, and my Facebook frends who are UK voters (or I think they are – and they are not already group members) will by now have received from me an invitation to join this group.

Late last year a Facebook campaign to get the Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name” to number 1 in the UK singles chart. According to Wikipedia, at one time “the Facebook group membership stood at over 950,000”, and the song took the Christmas number 1 slot almost certainly because of this campaign.

As I mentioned in my previous post today, a similar Facebook campaign on behalf of a Christian song attracted over 70,000 members, and the song reached number 4 in the charts.

If campaigns like this can swing the pop charts, can they swing a general election? I think it is quite likely that they can. After all Barack Obama’s success in the USA is widely attributed in part to his successful use of modern media.

Now of course in principle such a campaign could benefit any party who made good use of this technique. But there are several reasons why this is likely to benefit the Liberal Democrats most, even if expertly copied by other parties – and the new group is deliberately making use of them.

One reason is that many LibDem policies appeal especially to students and other young people – especially the pledge to abolish tuition fees, which is highlighted on the group’s info page (although sadly the pledged change would be too late to help the current generation of students). But these same young people are perhaps the least likely group to vote. So a Facebook appeal targeted at young people, and fans of Rage Against the Machine (a group which also opposes two party politics – but I am not endorsing them), is likely to attract a disproportionate number of LibDem voters.

Another important factor is the bandwagon effect. Although the group claims “This is NOT a bandwagon!”, in some ways it is. One aim is to increase confidence that a vote for the LibDems is not wasted, so that people don’t vote tactically for one of the main parties. Doug Chaplin seems to take it for granted that the LibDems are only interested in tactical votes, but he is wrong: they want people to vote for them on principle. Indeed, they are confident that a majority of the country agrees in general with their principles, and in this way they are aiming to win.

So will this Facebook campaign be effective? First it needs to grow considerably beyond its current 30,000 members, but it has three weeks to do so. But I think it has the potential to be highly effective – dare I say far more effective than tonight’s TV debate, which I will not be watching? Will the campaign get the Nick Clegg into Downing Street? Well, three weeks are a long time in politics, and anything is possible!

Apologies if the image or any of these links work only for Facebook members.

The Faithworks Declaration

Last week I wrote about the Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience, and expressed mixed feelings about it. This week I can commend a different Christian declaration relating to the General Election: The Faithworks 2010 Declaration. Thanks to The Simple Pastor for the link – the first I had seen highlighting the declaration, although others including David Keen had linked to other election-related material from Faithworks.

Faithworks is the Christian campaigning group founded by Steve Chalke, who intends to present the Declaration in person to the incoming Prime Minister. Steve has already interviewed the three main contenders, and David Keen has embedded the video, which deserves a lot more than the 1081 views it has received so far.

Here is the text of the Declaration:

This is why we are calling on the incoming Prime Minister to:

  1. Recognise the important contribution that local churches and Christian charities have made historically, and can make in the coming years in providing services within local communities across the UK.
  2. Acknowledge the indispensible role that faith in Christ plays in the motivation and effectiveness of welfare programs developed by churches and Christian charities.
  3. Encourage and promote further initiatives and deeper partnership underpinned by legislation, which assess services based on best value and contribution to the whole community, without discriminating against the faith that is vital to the success of the work of churches and faith-based organisations.

Now some might consider me hypocritical for rejecting the Westminster 2010 Declaration as not comprehensive enough but accepting this Faithworks Declaration which is much less comprehensive. The difference is that the Westminster Declaration seems to claim to be comprehensive, whereas the Faithworks one is explicitly about one particular area of concern to Christians – one which has been ignored by the Westminster group.

Incidentally the Westminster Declaration has attracted so far only 22,403 signatures – not very impressive beside the 71,127 currently signed up for the Facebook campaign to get Christian music topping the UK Charts!

Somehow I can’t see the Westminster Declaration, however well supported, having much effect on British political life. But, if it gets good support, the Faithworks Declaration, presented by a man who clearly already has the respect of our political leaders (although sadly not of some Christian leaders), has a real chance of affecting how our next government, of whatever colour, relates to Christian and other faith-based groups working for the good of this country’s community. Go ahead and sign up!

Open content licensing and the NET Bible

I came across Russell Allen at the Bible Translation mailing list (the site linked to is rather out of date). Russell wrote to the list to announce that he is working on a new open source Bible translation called the Open English Bible. The project is

intended to create an English translation of the Bible that is:

  • under a licence enabling the maximum reuse, remixing and sharing without requiring the payment of royalties or the obtaining of permission from copyright holders; and
  • a translation reflecting modern English usage and Biblical scholarship

This sounds good. But the purpose of this post is not to comment on Russell’s project (I’ll leave others to do that), but to repost here what he wrote to that list about licensing of Bible translations. I have Russell’s permission to do this under a Creative Commons attribution license (US version). This means that I have to attribute the material to Russell Allen, and so does anyone else who copies this material – which they are free to do with this one condition.

I am reposting this to clear up some confusion about what it means to make the text of a Bible version freely available. While I commend, for example, the NET Bible team for what they have done in making their text available, it is important to remember that there remain significant restrictions on how this text may be used, which some of us consider undesirable.

Russell wrote what he did in reply to an e-mail from David Austin, Executive Director www.Bible.org which is “Home of the NETBible and over 5500 free studies”. Russell had asked David about licensing terms for the NET Bible text. As I do not have permission from David I will not reproduce his e-mail, and I will edit Russell’s reply to avoid direct quotes from David’s text. What follows, except in […], is what Russell wrote:

Hi David,

Good to hear from you.  Firstly, may I say that I greatly appreciate what the NET Bible has achieved, and I reiterate that my comments should not be read as a criticism of your licencing decisions.  The NET Bible is yours to licence as you see fit and I support your right to make that choice.

That said, I would like to respond to some of your points below. Please forgive me if I am teaching you to suck eggs 🙂

You say that you [do not think that the Bible text should be changed in response to] the ‘wisdom of crowds’ […].  I have an open mind on this, but readily concede that this is not an unreasonable judgement call.  I have seen a few desultory attempts at a Wiki Bible online, with very limited success.

The open content movement tends to use terms from the free/open source software community because that is where the concepts were first developed for modern use.  The idea of the wisdom of crowds is what I would describe as a argument for Open Source Software.  For example, the Open Source Initiative, which is as close to a widely accepted definition as you get, argue:

“Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.”[1]

This is a functional argument – open source your software/content because it will lead to better quality software.

I am coming into this discussion from more of a Free Software background.  The Free Software movement, which predates the term ‘Open Source’ argues for the opening of content on the grounds of an idealistic (as opposed to pragmatic) preference for ‘freedom’: a preference for individual control and an analysis of societal power structures. In other words, both the Free Software and Open Source communities argue for essentially the same ends, but use different arguments.

[Note by Peter Kirk: I would think that the difference here is more of rhetoric than of principle. Most Open Source advocates believe in free software, but use pragmatic rather than idealistic arguments because they are more effective with some audiences.]

The Free Software Foundation is the original home of this argument.  If I may I will quote part of their definition of free software:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission to do so.

You should also have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately in your own work or play, without even mentioning that they exist. If you do publish your changes, you should not be required to notify anyone in particular, or in any particular way.[2]

The key to this approach is the ability to ‘fork’ a project. To fork a project is to make your own derivative project outside of the control of the originators of the project. This fork may be private, or it may publically compete with the original.

On the definition above, the NET Bible is not free. I cannot take the NET Bible, make changes and redistribute my changed version without permission[3]

Please note this is orthogonal to the issue of naming. You are quite correct that a number of high profile commercial free/open source projects trademark their names. Linux actually isn’t a very good example of this, as few of the major Linux distributions use Linus’s kernel – they all use patched versions – but Red Hat and Firefox both operate this way.

Nevertheless, both Red Hat and Firefox may be forked, as long as the fork is under a different name.  Examples of such forks are IceCat[4] and Centos[5]

If Red Hat and Firefox were not able to be forked, then they would not be considered free or open source software.

It would be quite possible for the NET Bible to be put under a CC Attribution licence[6], but with the trademark retained by bible.org.  This would allow individuals and groups to have a first class translation that they could republish, alter, use as a base for retelling the stories, adjust to their local idiolects or dialects etc but they could not do this under the NET Bible name – so the reputation the NET Bible has built up would not be diminished.

As I said above, I completely support your right to make the licencing choices you have made.

I am, however, arguing that a free content licenced Bible is not so much about using the wisdom of the crowds to create a ‘better’ translation but is a good thing in itself, analogous to the initial freeing of the Bible from ecclesiastical control into the language of the people. It is about allowing individuals and groups to deal with the scriptures in accordance with their own consciences and theologies without attempting to use the power of the State – in this case via copyright law – to enforce a single Truth (with the belief that by this process a greater truth will be found).

Best wishes,


[1]: http://www.opensource.org/

[2]: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

[3]: http://bible.org/permissions

[4]: http://www.gnu.org/software/gnuzilla/

[5]: http://www.centos.org/

[6]: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/