Street movement, Political party or ...

In January this year street protest movement / political party Britain First went on a so-called "Christian Patrol" in Bury Park Luton. They documented their visit in a highly edited video (deliberately not linked here) which showed both their own provocative action, particularly the abuse if a young woman and her four children, and the response of local Muslims. Their visit was condemned by the churches of Luton, and as a result by churches around the nation. I documented the coverage of it in a blog post here. 

On that occasion Britain First activists wore their uniform fleeces and beanie hats, both bearing their insignia. Three weeks after the demonstration Bedfordshire Police arrested BF leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen on the charge of 'Wearing uniform with political objective.' Paul Golding And Deputy Jayda Fransen Arrested Following Luton ‘Christian Patrol’

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Police bail banned them from Luton as well as requiring them to sleep at a set address and report every Saturday. In recent weeks that reporting has been required every day. Last week Golding appealed his bail conditions, and appeared in court in Luton yesterday, 29th July. It appears his solicitor told the court he intended to plead guilty, and in the interests of saving court time with a bail hearing this week and case heard next it was decided to proceed direct to a plea of guilty alnd sentencing. Golding subsequently pleaded guilty, and was fined a total of £580 - paid up front. Speaking to me outside the court, as well as on video from just outside nearby Harpenden, Golding claimed he was the victor as he now had no bail to keep, and no case hanging over him. Perhaps more importantly  he threatened to be back in Luton now he had no restrictions. He said to me, "Tell your friends in Bury Park we'll be back next weekend."  And on video he said to the police "Let the fun and games begin." 

Britain First Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen still has her case to come next week, with the same charge and a more serious charge.  Unlike Golding she has not kept her bail conditions me failing to sign on (after tearing up her papers on video), so she is unlikely to be so leniently treated even if she pleads guilty. 

Probably the most significant thing about Golding's case was the district judge's statement prior to announcement of sentence.  He noted that the legislation that forbids political parties to wear uniform, the Public Order Act of 1936  emerges at a time when sensitive issues threatened stability of society. The Jewish people, especially in the East End of London were threatened by the rise of Nazi Germany, and similar forces sought to bring influence here.  He compared the situation with the diversity of Bury Park, that a large number of people there are of Muslim religion, and the presence there of Britain First in uniform was gong to appear threatening.  He told Golding that as leader of this organisation he had responsibility to consider this impact.. He said, "Your activity there was not benign. A significant no of you were in uniform. Your action upset locals. That was predictable." 

Golding's solicitor had sought in his statement to the judge to claim that their purpose in Bury Park was normal political campaigning.  So normal political parties parade in uniform through a diverse area with many Muslims carrying crosses, calling themselves a Christian Patrol? 

I see the judges words as a pretty damning statement for Britain First. It says their style of activity  looking for all the world like paramilitaries is not acceptable political behaviour. A political party in uniform, campaigning against Muslims, going into majority Muslim areas intimidating and abusing  people, claiming they are exercising their legitimate free speech  is not acceptable in our nation.  That is exactly what the British Union of Fascists did in the mid 1930's and why their actions were limillted. And it needs to remain illegal now. 

 

 

 

We face a choice.

 

Yesterday, in response to the Rouen murder of a Christian priest by 2 men claiming allegiance to ISIS or Da'esh, Paul Weston, leader of far right political party Liberty GB posted a blog piece titled " Can multicultural Europe avoid World War 3?"   He concluded:

  "Civil war, world war, will not start tomorrow. But it will start within a decade or two. And we are only in 2016…..what will Europe look like in 2050? 2075? 2100? A faithless, decadent, demographically dying people who believe in nothing but tolerance and diversity is up against a fanatically faithful, demographically exploding, austere, supremacist people who believe the West must submit before them…."

i disagree with him totally, as I made clear in a Twitter post to which Weston and others have responded in significant volume.

Lets be clear. Weston and many others of what is sometimes called the counter-jihad community are not just concerned at civil war or worse, but are as actively committed to stir it as are the terrorists claiming to represent Islam.  They need calling out on that, and their narrative must be challenged at every turn. 

Weston's thoughts are not new. He and his fellow travellers including EDL Founder Stephen Lennon had plans to use an exhibition of cartoons of the prophet exposed almost exactly a year ago by Hope not Hate  The exhibition mercifully didn't come off, but their overarching narrative clearly remains, and their commitment to it as strong as ever. 

 The counter jihad movement anticipate an inevitable clash of civilisations, especially expecting war between Muslims and Christian cultures and faiths. The Clash of Civilizations theory was proposed in 1993 by Samuel Huntigdon. (See the article in Wikipedia here or read the 1993 paper by Samuel Huntingdon.). Huntingdon suggested that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. It became not only a theory but the game plan of many of the neo-conservatives that guided the foreign policy during George W Bush’s US presidency (2000-2008), and especially the thinking behind the “war on terror.” 

The consistent message of the counter-jihadists is that Islam is inconsistent with Western culture, or its Christian foundations. That the type of Islam reresented by ISIS Da'esh is the true Islam. That violent Jihad is the only legitimate interaction of Islam with the west. That Christians together with the secular western culture, need to open their eyes, wake up and get real.  That the only legitimate response is war with all Islam. That to do anything else is to give away all that is legitimately ours. (All ideas represented by Weston and friends twitter responses to me in the 24 hours after my tweet.) 

i disagree with their understanding of Islam.  It is not the faith of the Muslims I encounter day by day in Luton. I've met a few -who would echo those views, but they were members of the banned group al-Muhajiroun when a number of them used to frequent our streets. Their presence, and their understanding has been consistently opposed by the Luton Muslim community and the rest of us for many many years. No, the overwhelming majority of Muslims here, or anywhere else for that matter oppose hatred and violence in the name of their faith as much as I do. I find it odd that the counter-jihadist expect me to believe their understanding of Islam and the Qu'ran more than that of Muslims. I go to a person of faith to learn of their faith!. I'd expect that of People wanting to understand Christianity, and I see no reason to expect differently of Muslims. **

But actually, while that is all important, I disagree with them primarily because as a Christiam I'm not told to go out to fight and kill those who disagree with me. I wrote of that a little yesterday, in a transcript of my reflections at a service of peace and reconciliation at St Mary's Luton where I'm based.   I talk about a way of living and working I've been working at here for the past seven and more years. All I can say is it works. It wins me friends, not because I've sold out my faith, but precisely because I'm living my faith!  Acts of kindness to my Muslim friends are responded to by acts of kindness from them to me. We are drawn closer together. And as others do the same things change.  

As the violence and death sponsored by ISIS Da'esh and their followers increases we face a choice. Will we allow the narrative of the inevitable conflict of Islam and Christianity, of the western lifestyle with Islam, push us further and further apart? Or will we respond as Jesus told us to, and seek to find the grace and strength to love our enemies? 

My choice is clear. I oppose Paul Westons model of unavoidable civil.war. Totally.  

 

** The typical argument here us to claim that Islam allows unfettered  taqiyya ,  lying in order to promote their faith.  This is regularly paraded as a reason not to believe anything they say. However the  idea  of taqiyya is very limited in Islam and unknown by most. 

 

 

 

An invitation to a Banquet.

I don't often publish sermons I've given online. But I gave a short reflection at St Mary's Luton monthly service of peace and reconciliation yesterday that says what I most wanted to say about the Rouens terror attack,

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In a week when we are yet again facing multiple accounts of terror, indiscriminate mass killing and other horrors, we are going to listen to Jesus talking about banquets and parties.

“When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  (Luke 14.7-14)

We set up this monthly service for peace and reconciliation aware that we would occasionally need to respond to atrocities, terror, hatred In our world. We want to do that today after the events of past days.  I asked myself last evening whether it was still appropriate to today's reading from scripture about a banquet, a party?   I concluded It was. You will see my connection.

Parables can focus truth with incredible intensity. Look at the first few verses of our passage. Imagine yourself hearing the words: ‘Could you give up your seat please for this person, he’s more important than you’.  "Ouch!"

Instead wait to be asked: "Come up higher!".  That’s Gods way.  Humble yourself. Greatness in God's Kingdom is about our humility.

Humility? An important part of that is not insisting on your way. Indeed not even expecting things to be done what you think is Gods way.

And this is what is so important for us today. So much of the evil in our world comes as men and women seek to violently foist their way on others.

How do we respond? God’s way. Gently. Patiently. Humbly. Peaceably.  Not with revenge. Paul considers the impact if this in Romans 12:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Don’t respond angrily, aggressively. Let God deal with it. It seems ridiculous, many say. Naïve. But it's Gods way. There's nothing like burning coals on the head to concentrate the mind. It works.

See how Jesus went on to illustrate this as he developed the banquet theme in the second part of the story.

Jesus calls us to reach out in generosity and grace to the poor, marginalised, excluded, the hurting and wounded.

And the enemy.  

"Love your neighbour" and "Love your enemy." By my reckoning that excludes no one.

Can we at this time, with the news pictures fresh in our mind of the atrocities of yesterday in Rouen, the weekend in Ansbach Germany, Friday in Munich, the massacre in Japan, at another nightclub in Florida USA, and all going on in Turkey; can we ask Jesus for humble, gentle peaceable grace-loaded responses?

It doesn't come naturally. As we worship, as we hear the word of God and meditate upon it, we can seek to cultivate new habits that are God inspired ones. And we can ask for Gods help where we just find it impossible.

Jesus invites us and our friends and neighbours, along with all the poor, suffering, alienated in our world, and along with all our enemies, to a banquet. To a party.

It's a banquet where he is. Where God is.  And all peoples!  Where grace and healing flow like rivers of champagne. Isaiah speaks of that banquet in Isaiah 25. He speaks of the best of meats and the finest of wines.  At that banquet he promises to wipe away all tears. He will remove our disgrace. He banishes death.

Come join me as I make my way there.  Along the way we will gather up all who he invites, including our enemies!

© Peter  G M  Adams   2016

Standing against extremism. That means all of us.

Since the UK vote to leave the European Union (#Brexit) there has been a horrific unleashing of racist and Islamophobic attacks around the nation. There are numerous reports of racist abuse against Polish people and other Eastern Europeans, and on Monday the Muslim Council of Britain compiled a list of over one hundred attacks on Muslims. The vote to leave, which was widely promoted as the way to stem immigration, seems to have legitimised open expression of bigotry and hatred to anyone of “foreign” extraction. I am frankly horrified at the hatred that emerged since the vote confirmed #Brexit. In a word my work as a Christian seeking to build bridges in a conflicted town and challenge division and hatred just got much harder.

It is significant that that work has just been highlighted today in a prominent Christian prayer guide for the Muslim World. 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is published yearly to guide Christians in praying for Muslims over the month of the Ramadan fast. I said there:

“In a time where many are convinced that Islam and Christianity / western democracy will only ever clash, and images of modern day crusaders are called to mind, I’m determined to point to another way. Sadly, often Christian voices are quoted in support of a clash of civilisations. We must find another way? My Muslim friends know I am passionate about my faith, and respect me for it. They know I’d love to see them come to faith in Jesus Christ. But Christ will be the loser if Christians are known for hatred and fear.”

The decision to write a piece for a prayer guide that unapologetically calls for prayer for conversion of Muslims was hard but in the end clear. I wanted the work I do to challenge Christian attitudes to Muslims. How else to influence Christians than speak in a place they read and a language they understand, and in a topic they spend time on in prayer? As we now face such an outpouring of hatred I am sure that decision was right, even though some, I am sure, will misunderstand it.

Back to the UK’s #Brexit vote for a moment. We cannot accuse the official Leave campaign of being essentially racist, just as we cannot say concern about immigration is necessarily racist, but the campaign drew to itself all the racist and Islamophobic sentiment in the nation, not least through the work of Nigel Farage and UKIP as the alternative Leave campaign. The role of far right groups in the ferment of debate and trading of lies and accusations was clear. I know their voice, having been following it and challenging it for the past nine years, and I have seen way too much of it in the campaign over recent weeks.

Official Leave may not be responsible for this outburst of racism, but we must require that they denounce it, and take action to ensure anyone giving space to such views is given no space as they somehow set about governing the nation.

In the USA we face the possibility of a Trump presidency with way too many accepting the polarity of the bipartisan American system as justification for endorsing him. Many church leaders are accepting this, some seem to even love it. The evils of his campaign it seems are just accepted as par for the course.

As a Christian though I want to address and challenge another source of intolerance that has fuelling division in our nation's. That was the reason I agreed to write for 30 Days. The voice of significant numbers of Christian leaders, many in the USA but to be found everywhere, so often finds its way into the rhetoric of the far right and Islamophobes. I find it deeply upsetting to hear the name of Christ identified with their ugly words and evil actions. To see Christian leaders being quoted by leading voices on the far right, and even at times those same leaders endorsing far right activity, makes me very very sad. To find the name of Jesus Christ, whose self sacrificing love was poured out for all, associated with hatred is unfathomable. To see Christian leaders labelled islamophobes, labelled extremist hate preachers, saddens me deeply. Yet I understand why it's done.

I'm not accusing the majority of Christian leaders of hatred. Most speak from a passion for their faith, a deeply faithful view of the scripture, and a desire to see those who are not Christian discover the love of Christ.  I understand, admire and share that. Yet somehow some allow that passion for their Christian faith to express itself in a view of Islam, and often of Muslims, that is deeply unloving. I won't go here into the intricacies of “Is the Biblical God the same as Allah?” or examine the way Muslims come to faith in Christ. All important but they don't actually matter when we are addressing hatred. In a nutshell, when Christians say they love Muslims it is surely reasonable to expect what they say sounds like love for Muslims, and perhaps more importantly for it to be associated with actions that show it. And that's the problem. It so often doesn't. And when people of evil intent pick up those Christian voices they have ready fuel for their fires of hateful bigoted words, and worse, their actions. The preaching of love somehow finds itself associated with hatred.

Some will say I'm being naïve in my approach to Christian leaders.  I know I’m not. For a long time that was my world.  Many who work with me now will not know that for some 25 years, until 2007, I was a missionary, working with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). YWAM is an international evangelical and charismatic missionary organisation working in most places around the world, including the Muslim world.  For some years I gave international leadership to some areas of training, including language and culture and intercultural relations. I stepped down from that leadership role in 2002-3 to focus on peacemaking and reconciliation, a journey that led to my leaving the mission a few years later. There is much I could say of that journey, some for another time perhaps, but for now my focus is primarily the voice of Christian leaders towards Muslims. I know about it because it was my world. I know their love and commitment to sharing the love of Christ, but I know also how their voice can so easily sound very different.

I’ve always been sensitive to the mismatch that is evident too often between the intention of the messenger and the perception of the hearer. Voices in the Christian and missionary community often rang alarm bells in my head, but I sought to do all I could toward changing that from within. For a while I was convinced change could happen. For several years in the mid to late 1990’s I supported and occasionally participated in a project called The Reconciliation Walk. It took a message of apology for the crusades to the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East over the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade, ending in Jerusalem in July 1999. Very simply in the crusades the cross of Christ was turned upside down and became a sword. The symbol of the love of Christ became a weapon of hatred and death. How that happened is one of the great tragedies of Church history, and has left a legacy to this day. Too many times Muslim leaders greeted our message with the words, “What's taken you so long? We knew love was the message of Jesus Christ, we just didn't understand what had become of Christians.” I remember one leader of a radical Islamic political party saying to me with tears in his eyes, “Truly you are a son of God.” I looked puzzled. He said it again. He then said, “The trouble with you Christians is you forgot the words of Jesus. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

That was a part of my journey to refocusing my work, as I saw the impact peacemaking could have. The journey of reconciliation changed me. I saw a different way of relating to Muslims. That was true for many. I had hope that the way of reconciliation could change the approach many evangelical and charismatic Christians had to Muslims. But sadly the attack on the Twin Towers on 9.11 changed all that. It was not long before strident angry attitudes  towards the Muslim world became more dominant. Yet personally my only desire the day after those horrible events was to go with friends for a meal in Bury Park, Luton, surrounded by Muslims, and treat them like the friends I knew them to be.

Those same attacks simply underlined the need for making peace in the name of Christ. However I often felt very out of place. YWAM often has a very strong American culture and presence, and too often I found that the simple way of peace at the heart of the teaching of Jesus was lost in the clamour that was driven by fear and that so easily looked like revenge. As my journey continued it opened up new tensions, and I knew I had to step down from leadership which I did finally in early 2003. My decision was confirmed for me at my last leadership team meeting. I mentioned to a minibus full of leaders that I'd been on the million person March in London against the Iraq war. The silence was deafening.

I sought to forge a path for peace and reconciliation in the mission, but it soon became clear it wouldn't work.  Put very simply, too often my colleagues were doing things, saying things I quite honestly felt I had to apologise for. I left YWAM positively in early 2007 to pursue that same call based at St Mary's Luton, the town centre church where we already worshipped. I've been there ever since, and that's where my work in Luton has developed from. It's been an amazing journey, and when it began I honestly had no idea what would happen!

I want to underline how in many ways it saddens me to write like this about this journey. As difficult as I found YWAM leaders voice to be on some matters, I had and still have dear friends among them, and I owe them much. I spent much of my working life with them. I grew up in Christian ministry there. I was believed in, encouraged, and given a wealth of opportunity. There were challenges but that would be true anywhere. On leaving I made a commitment to myself and close friends not to speak ill of them. That still stands. I've often not spoken of my past because I don’t want to be associated with criticism of them. I only speak today because I want people to know them to be people of integrity. And I want them to think over what I have learned.

These past nine years, and especially the seven years in a town deeply impacted by the rise of the far right English Defence League, with all its associated hatred and evil, have deeply impacted the way I think about life and my faith. That is the basis for what I write in 30 Days. I've seen how working like that has broken down barriers, and I can be passionate about my faith, share it freely with Muslims, even long for them to know it themselves – and still be at the forefront of challenging hatred towards them!

In a day when the evils of hatred and bigotry are proving so destructive, it is time for Church leaders and leaders in mission to live and work in ways that bring peace to our conflicted communities. It is time for the voice of Christian leaders to clear up the ambiguity that is there in their statements about Islam and let love and grace look just like love and grace. In the UK,  for the sake of our nation, we must  walk forward into an unknown future we personally didn't choose, along with people we profoundly disagree with. And while doing so we must confront the evils present on the fringes of the #Brexit campaign, and champion a truly just and fair inclusive multicultural society.

My American friends, especially Christians, I challenge you most strongly to confront the evils of intolerance, hatred, bigotry that are foundational to the Trump presidential campaign, and disarm the fear that drives it. They are not worthy of being associated with the Prince of Peace.

In conclusion, our world post the #Brexit decision and facing a possible Trump presidency needs a lot of love to challenge the evil that is being unleashed. Christians must be a key part of that. I'm signed up for that, and I hope more are after reading my piece in 30 Days.

Can you ever return to Greatness?

There is I believe a great fallacy in the idea that British exit from the EU can restore our independence and the suggestion that it's the way back to putting the GREAT in Great Britain. It's the idea that you can return to greatness. 

Its a fallacy that also lies behind the argument in so much of Trump's  campaign in the USA. its more than sad then that the populism of both the #Brexit campaign and Trump's primary campaign was so centred on the folly of such a quest. 

It of course brings into question the nature of the greatness that once was. if it was to do with having ruled much of the world then I reject it, and dont even want to think about going back there. If it's to do with military power then I reject it even more strongly. If it's to do with economic strength then that greatness never really benefited most of those who chose #Brexit.  If however the greatness was in moral greatness I'm interested. Of course that greatness was only ever even then relative, maybe we were a bit less horrible than the other colonial powers. If it was even to do with God's blessings then the same, since the Biblical pattern is that one is blessed in order to be a blessing ** - and whatever blessing we brought was sadly mixed with less than good. These same questions would apply to whatever greatness is wrapped up in the US story. 

if greatness is about moral goodness or God's blessing, can you ever go back there? No, you seek that goodness once again. You get on blessing others so you might be blessed. You don't get that greatness by "independence" alone. Or big armies. Or business. 

No, a return to greatness is a fallacy. And the meaness of spirit, the self centredness, the nationalism and worse, so evident in much of the campaign was no more than a dream. 

We can only be great if we show ourselves worthy of greatness. 

But I don't write this now to moan. I write it in the reality that we are setting off on a new path and whatever I like or dislike as someone called to peacebuilding and reconciliation my vocation is more needed than ever.  We can forge greatness out of the chaos of this hour. But we need to know that greatness does not lie in the #Brexit camp. ( Addendum:  Nor of course for all the same reasons does it lie in #Remain.) 

Greatness lies in all of as people of good will pulling together and saying we will make this work. For the sake of our all in our nation, whatever their identity, ethnicity or religion. For the sake of Europe. And the sake of the world. 

 

** Based in Gods promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.2-3

  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

What did you do that for? And other useless questions in the face of the reality of #Brexit

While my children were coming into the age of responsibility I found myself asking them a question when they did something stupid. "What did you do that for?" After a while they decided to tell me my question was not very helpful!  It took a while but I began to understand why,  

i staggered into wakefulness this morning with the same question in my mind. "What the heck did you do that for?" In the face of a deeply divided nation, a hugely devalued pound, a plummeting stock market, and massive international incredulity it seems a reasonable question to ask. Why would people do something that seemed so obvious to me to be an act of self harm to everyone, let alone the poor, marginalised and vulnerable who will be most hit by the potential financial crisis? 

But reasonable as that questions was, and indeed is today, I realise I didn't ask it to understand. It was asked to deflect, to criticise, to cast blame. And it was never a fruitful question to ask. 

Struggling to make sense of what I personally feel to be a disaster, but to do that peaceably and draw people forward into a place of hope and healing, my question was as deeply unhelpful as it ever was. 

I go into the day wth a tumult of emtions, questions, fears and uncertainties. But I also go in with the   certainty of hope in Christ. And praying the prayer Jesus taught. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." When I pray that I'm standing amidst all the divisions, the brokenness, the pain, the crap that the world can throw at me. But I'm looking to a future world of healing, hope, freedom, justice and peace. It's not just pie in the sky. When Jesus taught us to pray that way he was telling us to pray for that future to become our reality on this earth here and now. I pray that a little of the hope of Gods future be here in our world today. 

I choose today not to ask the reasonable question, to seek to blame others, but to seek to walk along with them into a world I didn't vote for, but which I share with them. There will be things I personally don't like but  I'll need to get over that. I'll need to save my angst for the things I cannot agree with on ethical grounds and which I have to oppose. 

 

 

A Defining Moment in Multicultural Britain?

Always hard to identify defining moments on a journey at the time, but I reckon the London Mayoral elections are one. Especially our response now they're over. Will we recognise the implications of the horrible displays of hatred we've seen in Zac Goldsmiths campaign, commit to make the vibrant reality of multicultural Britain a success, and embrace Sadiq Khan as mayor, or will we do as Paul Golding of Britain First did, did, turn your back in him, and allow the bigotry hatred and intolerance to grow further. It's not just relevant to Londoners, we are one nation, and we need to embrace our multicultural reality. I made my decision a long time ago, and ever since have been fighting for us to live well in our diversity.

 

Christians can carry the cross in Luton!

Around the nation in towns and villages churches often join together on Good Friday to carry a cross around their neighbourhood. In Luton things are no different – despite the common story that it is a no-go zone for Christians.  Britain First's recent visits brandishing crosses as they verbally abused and threatened local Muslims however made some of us think again about that tradition. There was no question of our stopping our practice. But rather we wanted to ensure that our presence with a large cross would be very obviously different to that of those who came full of hate.

Our Muslim friends and colleagues with whom we work closely in building peaceful community relations in the town were equally keen to ensure the no-go zone myth was busted. As a result in Bury Park today today  there was a new twist to the traditional Good Friday Walk of Witness by local churches . As the large group of Christians passed Central Mosque on Westbourne Road members of that mosque and others in Luton gathered to greet them and pass out gifts of candles carrying the message of peace in both English and Arabic. A number of them then walked in solidarity with their Christian neighbours up the hill to the Holy Ghost Catholic Church.

 Bury Park Churches begin their Good Friday walk of witness. 

Bury Park Churches begin their Good Friday walk of witness. 

Greeting the group, Ashfaq Ahmed from Central Mosque said "We are gifting you with theses candles which say "Peace". This really has become the theme and strength of Luton now". (Video here)

 Asfaq Ahmed addresses the Christian pilgrims.  

Asfaq Ahmed addresses the Christian pilgrims.  

 “Today is a great example of how faith communities can live alongside each other in a spirit of mutual respect” said David kesterton, Church of England Vicar of All Saints and St Peters and whose parish covers a large part of Bury Park. “Muslims and Christians are developing closer ties of friendship and trust in our part of Luton. In the light of recent events in Brussels and elsewhere, it is important we witness together to the desire for peace that is at the heart of both our faiths.”

 

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Rehana Faisal who initiated the event said: “We have had enough of outsiders and extremists like Britain First dominating conversations around our town. Today, we wanted to highlight the good relationships that we have built in Luton and our ongoing commitment to living peaceably alongside one another"

Lots of people had heard of the initiative, and there were warm greetings as the church group made their way through the busy shopping area. Some shop keepers offered food and drinks, but church leaders explained Good Friday is a quiet and reflective part of their tradition.

 Writing about how Muslims should relate to their Christian neighbours Rehana has just been written:  "Greeting the Christian pilgrims during this morning's 'walk of witness' was a great opportunity to reaffirm the covenant made by our beloved Prophet Muhammad SWS, in which he declared to Christians that "You are in my protection and my covenant and my security from any type of despised things."

This was a pledge of peace and a promise to guard from any harm. It was a promise that we would live side by side as neighbours and that we would strive to protect your rights. We hold firm to that promise today. It is even more important during theses difficult times when there are people around us who seek to divide us. We cannot allow cycles of hate to perpetuate. We wanted to send out a message to those people that they will not succeed. This is particularly important today, as pilgrims walked to express their love for Jesus (Peace be upon him) a love which we, as Christians and Muslims share."

its with a commitment to community relations based on teaching of our faiths like this we can make Luton work. We have a long way to go but with lots of small steps like thus we can do it. 

Around the town walks took place today in Leagrave, Limbury, Farley Hill, Stopsley, Bury Park and the town centre. In the town centre six churches joined together, and the procession with the cross, accompanied by the Salvation Army band, made its way to the Town Hall and on to St Mary's Church where the cross was planted in the ground.  

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 Town centre walk at Market Hill

Town centre walk at Market Hill

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A fair view of Luton's Challenges in the Washington Post

 

If I'm honest it make me very cross to hear a place I love described as a no go zone under Shariah Law, whether that is from the mouth of "Tommy Robinson", former EDL leader, in the media or even by friends. So this article encouraged me greatly. 

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In supposed no go zone British Muslims, Christians say no to fanatics

I do have to declare an interest in that I and my colleague and friend Rehana contributed. We shared our perspective on Luton. But so too did Stephen Lennon, aka "Tommy Robinson". On several occasions the journalist Griff would say, "When I was driving around with "Tommy" he said ...."  Too many times in the past his story has been told unchallenged. We had to work to present another perspective, another narrative. Stephens stories usually have a good deal of truth in them, so I would not call him a liar, but they are drawn together with what I hold to be a distorted view of Islam into a narrative that is sometimes fair, sometimes way off. [I shall be posting a review of his book before too long I hope.]

Witte, Chief of the Washington Post's London Bureau, does a good job describing some of the tensions, and seems to agree with views expressed to him by religious leaders in the town that this is less a war of religions and more of two extremes. 

The war of religions theme stands out: 

"... as a storm of polarization and animus rages across the continent, Luton is likely to become a test case for which vision of Europe wins out: a cohesive multi­culturalism that embraces people of different faiths, however messily, or a civilizational clash that leaves no room for Muslim and non-Muslim co­existence."

The clash of civilisations thesis, first published by Samuel Huntingdon in 1993, has become a dominant paradigm in the USA's foreign policy, among neoconservatives, and on the Christian Right, and while less dominant here in the UK has considerable traction among the far right. Lennon clearly embraces that view, and along with colleagues Ann Marie Waters and Paul Weston who will join him in launching PEGIDA In the UK in Birmingham tomorrow, and Britain First, who visited Luton recently (see my post below), and they seem happy to play their part in stirring it. 

I'll conclude with the quote from me:

 “We’ve got two options,” said Peter Adams, who leads inter­faith efforts at St. Mary’s, the 12th-century church in Luton’s town center. “Kill each other and divide. Or get to know each other and learn to become friends.”

We need this story to go far and wide, especially in the USA. Our British story here seems to be important to justify USA policy, or those seeking to play part in creating it like Donald Trump. 

 

I am deeply concerned who speaks for England.

Who will speak for England? asks the Daily Mail. 

The front page plays the melodrama card very effectively. Replete with reference to the stand against the Nazi evil in WW2, followed by a steadfast denial that of course the EU is nothing like the Nazis, the populist rag clearly aspires to be the latter day Thunderer.  

 Today's Mail front page.  

Today's Mail front page.  

I don't want to suggest the subject of Britain's EU membership and the referendum to determine that is not important and should not be high on the nations agenda. But let's have rational sensible discussion rather than melodrama. 

Look at other headlines in the printed edition

  •   "Cameron to double aid spending on refugees fleeing Syria." p2
  • "Labour too unpatriotic to be elected."  p2
  • "What a farce. PM's EU deal unraveling as it emerges migrants from some countries will get higher child benefits than UK families. " p5
  • A Migrant City the size of Bath." p12-13
  • "Gang of thugs in train can't be deported." , p13
  • "The street of shopkeepers from 28 d!fferent nations." p18

Immigration, refugees, the war in Syria and Iraq, extremist Islam, and the benefits debate during a season of austerity, they all collide with the EU debate and create an explosive mix. 

I am deeply concerned who speaks for England.  Will it be people infused with the values that lie at the heart of our nation's culture, values that came from our Christian heritage BUT which also are to be found at the heart of Islam and other faiths. Values like generosity, graciousness, mercy, love, patience, kindness, justice for all. If it is not the future of our nation will not be redefined by "hoards of immigrants taking over" but by our own people who chose to make mean spirited self interest and bigotry central to our nation. 

Churches Challenge Britain First "Christian Patrol"

Last Saturday Britain First held one of its notorious ‘Christian Patrols’ in Luton. In typical paramilitary garb, 20 activists led by Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen marched though the heart of Bury Park, the commercial centre of the town’s Asian community.  ... 

You can read more here: Churches Challenge Britian First ""Christian Patrol"

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Britain Firsts video of their action had over 25million views on its Facebook version alone. It was taken down by FB on Sunday 31st. It still remains on YouTube. [i do not link to their material as a matter of principle as it involves highly provocative activity.  The story and our action have attracted a lot of attention.

 

Some of the coverage:

 

Added 5th February. Washington Post today posted an article on story.  Muslim group picks a fight in British Muslim neighborhood, and gets one

 Article by Bishop Richardvof Bedford from Luton on Sundat

Article by Bishop Richardvof Bedford from Luton on Sundat

Re-Launching ReconciliationTalk.com

My blog, badly neglected for some years, finally died last year. I was sick and failed to renew the domain name ReconciliationTalk.com, and around the same time my typepad subscription was not renewed. (Credit card not valid) A crying shame, as its key focus was a journey of peacemaking in Luton during the first few years we were plagued by the English Defence League. Several times recently people have asked me why I'd not written on our work here, and it never dawned on me that I had! Then a number of pieces I'd written began to show up as "on this day" memories on Facebook, and reading them I realised the hours of reflection and a search for understanding they represented.

So when a new friend who'd been reading them offered to help me get up and blogging again I jumped at it. Thanks Sam!  I have started here on Squarespace as reconciliationtalk.squarespace.com, and have now registered it as ReconciliationTalk.org. Additionally I've resurrected the typepad blog as reconciliation.typepad.com/ for now. Its a bit of a mess but I'll be planning to export all the posts and get them here - though its a bit complex as there is no direct typepad export to squarespace. If you are a friend on Facebook most posts are also there as notes.

There's a lot to comment on just now. Not sure I'll have time to write the essays I used to, but will be trying to challenge the hatred out there, and chart a way through the conflict.