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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is the Welsh Tory leader a democrat?

Today was a good day for democracy in Wales. Patrick Jones came to the Welsh Assembly to read from his controversial book of poems, ‘Darkness Is Where The Stars Are’, whilst 250 Christians sang and prayed outside.

As one of the sponsors of this reading I felt that I had a moral duty to arrange it. Patrick Jones may have sought debate with Christian Voice and others over poems that they consider to be blasphemous and obscene but that does not justify them seeking to shout him down or forcing the cancellation of the launch of his book in Waterstones.

This was never about the poems. I did not set out to upset anybody of any religion. However, I could not stand by and allow a small minority to trample over basic rights to freedom of speech and expression. The National Assembly for Wales is the home of Welsh democracy, it has responsibilities for culture and literature, so it is the ideal place to stage a reading.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to offend. Once people are allowed to apply their own subjective values to others then we are on a slippery slope to dictatorship. I very much regret that people were offended but the principles involved in putting on this event were paramount.

Update: The full article is here.

no question peter you are to be congratulated for your support for patrick jones in the face of what appears to have been a sustained campaign of intimidation by what one well known mp (bob cryer) has in the past described as 'fundamentalist thugs'.

If anyone wants to know more bout this bunch of bigoted cranks they need look no further than than the comments made by the moderator of the united reformed church the reverend david peel who described christian voice in the folowing terms
'it is as representative of Christian opinion in Britain as the Monster Raving Loony Party would be of mainstream political parties - and far less entertaining.'

Thus it would be accurate to say that this so called christian voice organisation speaks for nobody but itself, and in truth would appear to speak very largely for mr stephen green himself!

While a cursory glance at its dubious track record in recent years would demonstrate why it is shunned even by the most christians in britian.

For example it supports the death penalty. It is opposed to the marital rape law - which affords women protection from rape in marriage. While green responded to the hurricane katrina disaster in which 16000 people - mostly poor and black - died by commenting that it would 'purify' the city!

All the more astonishing then that some assembly members apparently gave their support to this hateful mob's presence outside the assembly

Leigh Richards,
Nick Bourne is a dead man walking
The hateful mob outside the assembly is democracy in action.

I fully support their right to do this; totally disagree with their religious and political philosopy though.

It's unfortunate that our electorate doesn't follow their example and march on Parliment following the police raid on Damien Green's office or the assasination of Jean Charles DM.

G. Lewis
Ogmore Lib Dems
Which of his poems did Jones actually read?
As has been said, Christian Voice is:

"as representative of Christian opinion in Britain as the Monster Raving Loony Party would be of mainstream political parties"

So, why, Peter, did you describe them in your article as just "Christian activists" which gives the impression they are just a normal bunch of Christians rather than some extremist fringe movement?

If someone writes of terrorists who are motivated by Islam as just "Muslims" without indicating they aren't typical of mainstream Islam, they are condemned as "Islamophobic". Indeed, Peter, you make just this point about Christian Voice's view on Islam in the New Statesman.

So, why Peter, the double standards? Why do you condem, those who through hatred of Islam use language which does not distinguish between unrepresentative extremists and mainstream Islam, and use precisely such language yourself when faced with some hate-filled group which call themselves "Christians" but which would be completely rejected by most mainstream Christians?

You should have been careful to describe these peope not as "Christians" but as "Supporters of the movement called Christian Voice".
I accept your point Matthew but I used that phrase because it was clear from those who contacted me and from the make-up of those who turned up to demonstrate that the vast majority were not members of Christian Voice but ordinary Christians who, rightly or wrongly, had been persuaded by CV to join this particular cause. Thus to describe them all as supporters of CV would not have been accurate whereas the fact that they were Christians and actively protesting made the description I did use more pertinent.
Peter, I would like to add my support to your stand over the Patrick Jones issue.

It was appropriate in my opinion to hold the reading at the Assembly. Not only have I read the book from cover to cover, I was among the audience at the reading and I certainly do not think that Patrick was provoking religious hatred. He is passionate about many things and this is expressed powerfully but with with great compassion in his work.

In my chaplaincy role I work closely with other religions and I am sure that Christian Voice does not reflect the views of of the many Christians I know and respect.

Brian Pearce

Chair-elect Buddhist Council of Wales, Member of WAG Faith Communities Forum.

I repeat my point - your use of the phrase just "Christian" gives the impression that this was some campaign organised by mainstream Christian denominations, rather than one organised by some unrepresentative and extremist group which may have suckered others into supporting it. I believe, therefore, that you should have found another way of expressing it, in particular so as not to further the aims of this group by letting them be seen as some sort of champion of Christianity in general rather than a fringe group with its own agenda. Had you been careful to do so, it would have made more clearer what you say, that you did not intend to stir up religious division. You use of the word "Christian" unqualified makes it look more as if you did intend to stir up Christians in general.

In a similar way, although some Muslims may get suckered into giving some support to extreme groups which support violence, we are always very careful not to use the word "Muslim" in a way that suggests all Muslims support the acts of extremist groups on the fringe of the religion.
I am sorry I do not accept that. You are attributing motives to me that I did/do not have. My motivation was to demonstrate that nobody should be able to intimidate others or take away their basic rights no matter what they call themselves.

Having said that I was contacted by Christians of many denominations, many of which were not part of Christian Voice. If this group were trying to portray themselves as champions of Christianity then many churches and ministers let them get away with it.

The fact that I am Christian myself I think illustrates that I had no intention of associating all Christians with this group.
No, I think I have made it very clear that my point is how what you wrote might be interpreted rather than an accusation that you intended it to be interpreted in this way.

I very much agree with your stand on freedom of expression. The only issue I have is that you wrote - I am not claiming you did it intentionally - in a way that made it appear Christians in general were attacking you. A very slightly different way of expressing it, and I would have had no problem. That many joined in without realising they were being used by an extremist group does not alter the issue that behind this was an extremist group with an agenda very different from mainstream Christianity, and not some united action run by mainstream Christians.

So I see this as very similar to the way that extremist groups claiming to be the epitome of Islam sucker ordinary Muslims into seeming to support them. You yourself used the word "Islamophobic" to move from this to condemn those who use wording which, even unintentionally, gives the suggestion that all Muslims are supportive of terrorism or extreme views associated with movements like Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Peter, well done for publishing this article.

You are very right to observe that many mainstream churches and ministers allow CV to get away with their horrific distortion of Christianity. Unfortunately many "well-meaning" Christians continue to be sucked in by the stance of Christian Voice.

CV plays on a set of attitudes and prejudices which persist strongly within much contemporary mainstream Christian culture.

Too many Christians are still taught to absorb church teaching uncritically and unquestioningly: partly because an uncritical and unquestioning response is perceived as a sign of "obedience" to God ... and partly due to the idea that anything outside church is "worldly", "sinful" and "corrupt" and thus "Christian" values have to be held up against a "secular" onslaught.

(I write as a Christian who engaged in that kind of mindset myself until recently.)

You write that "a number of Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs", as well as the entire Conservative group, supported Christian Voice. I'm very shocked at this stance by the AMs. Do you happen to know which Labour and Plaid AMs supported CV?
Matthew, I think I have clarified that in the comments.
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