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After the PMS crisis

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William Crawley | 08:06 UK time, Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thousands of people across Northern Ireland received cheques in the post this week from the failed Presbyterian Mutual Society. A rescue package underwritten by the Westminster government and the Stormont executive allowed those who invested less than 20 thousand pounds to get all their money back. Larger investers have received 85 per cent of their money, with final settlements dependent on the sale of PMS assets. That's the pay out. But what about the fall-out for the Presbyterian Church itself?

On today's Sunday Sequence, some PMS savers tells us why they fely betrayed by their own church as this crisis unfolded. Former Presbyterian Moderator Dr John Dunlop responds to their criticisms of the church's handling of the crisis. And we also hear from Mark Orr QC, the former chair of the PMS board of directors about what he has discovered, through Freedom of Information requests, about the Administrator's report and the Lord Chancellor's unwillingness to support his own application to become a high court judge.

What do you think? Is this now the end of the PMS crisis as we know it? What are the lessons that need to be learned by both the government and the Presbyterian Church?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I do not think Mark Orr gave a a good answer to the question that the PMS saw dollar signs and loaned too much money to property speculators. He talked about income from certain investments being the same now as it was before the collapse - but this was not the question asked.

    It was interesting to hear that when times were good praise was heaped on the Presbyterian Church, but once things went belly-up it was all very different! It reminded me a bit of the preacher who recently predicted the end of the world - some people gave him their life savings, but when the world didn't end and people asked about what happened to all the money he said that his church does not give financial advice!

  • Comment number 2.

    During a previous General Assembly it was proposed by a minister that all the Presbyterian clergy should forgo their annual bonus, and give it to a hardship fund for those in most need, due to the collapse of PMS

    Like many others I was unaware the such a bonus was ever given.

    I think it should be made known that each year, each Presbyterian minister receives £1500.00 as a bonus from a central ministerial fund. at Church House.

    Consequently it was proposed by one of their colleagues, that they should all put their bonus into a hardship fund for PMS savers in need. It was thought that about £400000.00 would have been raised.

    You would naturally assume that such a "Christian" approach would have been readily accepted by professional Christians. Indeed during a previous Sunday Sequence programme, concerning PMS, John Dunlop said " the love of money is a terrible thing", and " lets have some Christian charity here " He obviously was not including the ministerial session of the General Assembly in his thoughts. Because the Presbyterian ministers rejected the idea of giving up their annual bonus for the sake of the needy in the PMS

    I do not think you need any better example of betrayal than that.




  • Comment number 3.

    B-Stevenson

    A very good point. I am not a Christian and although I am surprised that ministers receive a £1,500 bonus every year, I am not surprised that they chose not to forego it. Many devoted churchgoers on reading your post may think back to prayers said by their ministers for the victims of the PMS, and to a great many sermons condemning materialism. Now they know the truth about their grasping ministers and their hollow words.

  • Comment number 4.

    This emotional call for Ministers to give up their bonus seems to be the usual baying for blood and the blame game which always goes on when something goes wrong.

    I am not a member of PCI but would like people to consider what this payment is actually for. It may be to allow these ministers to top up their pensions which may not be included in their salary. Also the ministers may have nothing whatsoever to do with this Society.

    What about asking some of the jittery investors who caused the collapse by starting the run on the PMS in the first place to hand over some of their 100% of their money that they retrieved. I am sure there were some large investors there who would not miss a few quid! But then I am forgetting the principle that that is how some of these rich folks have money by not letting go.

    So let us not go getting another cheap, unfair dig at Christians Ministers and christians in general out of this unfortunate affair.

  • Comment number 5.

    LuxFuit

    You are completely wrong in your comments about the ministers bonus. The bonus has nothing to do with their pensions.

    For information purposes-I can tell you that each Presbyterian congregation pays a substantial sum each year to a pension fund for their minister. As an example I know of a Presbyterian congregation in Newtownards that pays their retired minister
    £16000.00 each year, on top of any other pensions he may have.

    Obviously there are large congregations who give their minister a salary of about £50000.00 ( this is not a typing error ), a year. Smaller congregations pay a salary of £25000 to £30000 per year. And many, many other congregations pay a figure higher than this.

    Further to this, the ministers get a very nice property ( the Ministers Union make sure of this ). All property and car expenses etc. are paid for them, also a pension plan is paid for them, many more perks could be listed.

    While it is nobody's business but their own- many ministers wives also have jobs, many of them in very professional positions, while living in a very nice rent free house.

    The point being that they were asked to give up their bonus for one year only, but they refused to do so! Please do not imply that they could not easily afford this.

    LuxFuit- you talk of "this emotional call"-"baying of blood"-"the blame game"

    You should remember who actually asked the ministers to do this "Christian" gesture,
    it was one of their own! When it became obvious during the Assembly meeting that the ministers would not forgo this bonus for one year, another minister asked his colleagues, how is this refusal going to look to our people? But they obviously weren't too worried.


    Yet they would expect their own congregations to put even more money on the collection plate, to help the hardship of others, while they refuse to give up their "holiday" money- yes another perk is a months holiday.

    This is surely a horrible act of betrayal

    The fact that Presbyterian ministers can be so comfortably off, again is nobody's business but their own-and the best of luck to them.

    But from those who have so much, much should be expected, (we would have been satisfied with a little), but they were not even prepared to give that.

    There is no point in John Dunlop saying on Sunday Sequence (as he has in the past), that the Presbyterian Church has no money to help these hardship cases, there is no point at all in him wringing his hands, when the church can afford to give her comfortably well off ministers over £400000.00 per year, as a little extra.

  • Comment number 6.

    B-Stevenson and newlach are completely right.

    John Dunlop goes on about the High Court and Presbyterian Church governances, and about how their hands were tied, yet there was and is no law stopping Presbyterian ministers showing compassion by actually giving up their bonus for one year. I too was very surprised to learn that they receive this at all, and as a member of the PCI, I am disgusted to learn through this blog that the ministers refused to do this. I am asking them through this blog-how can they possibly justify their actions.

    Will some of them please do so-Thank you

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm sure that a lot of people are understandably hurt by this whole process. The way so much of it has been played out in the media with partial truths flying about hasn't helped matters and I fear that misunderstandings have to a certain extent caused problems, so I wonder if I might be able to add something helpful.

    I suspect that there won't be too many replies from Presbyterian ministers here, so I suspect that better answers and better conversations would be had if those who have been hurt sat down with their minister and asked them the hard questions. Private, face-to-face conversations are often more fruitful than public discourse over the Internet. I would hope that any PCI minister would take the time to sit down and listen to members of their flock who are hurt. Having said all that, I hope that some of what I write below might be of help.

    The average stipend of a Presbyterian minister is pretty well in the middle of the 25-30,000 figure that has been mentioned, according to my calculations, however that is for the whole church, not just smaller congregations. For many ministers, it will be significantly less and under the Tyrone Memorial, many of the higher end stipends are coming down. Last I checked, there were no congregation paying a 50,000 stipend, and only 3 paying more than 40,000. Knock used to have the highest stipend, at over 50,000, but it was the only one, is now vacant and I doubt that a new minister will be getting the old stipend.

    Average (mean, as opposed to median) expenses are somewhere in the region of 7-8,000, much of which goes to cover the cost of travel, car parking, printing, and hosting regular church events. Anecdotally, ministers in the country are more likely than those in the city to find that that their expenses don't actually cover the cost of petrol etc.

    Ministers are, I suspect, more likely to have wives who do not work than the rest of society because the idea of the wife staying at home to look after the house and children is associated more with conservative or traditional forms of Christianity, which are more likely to be found in PCI than society in general.

    Some ministers also had money invested in PMS and were victims of the crisis.

    Most ministers will have spend 3 years training with minimal income and a few years as an assistant, again with relatively little income. This is after already having done a degree in many cases, or else entering ministry later in life, with a mortgage to pay and family to feed.

    There is no Ministers' Union.

    When it comes to the issue of the regium donum (what some people have been calling 'the bonus), it's therefore not as simplistic as 'ministers earn 40,000, have lavish expenses, and generally have a second income.' In fact quite a few ministers would be reliant on not just the regium donum, but the goodwill and charity of neighbours to help ends meet. There are of course those at the other end of the spectrum who are very well off, but they are a minority.

    Even if the regium donut had been given to the PMS ('m not saying that it would have been a good thing or a bad thing, just that it isn't simplistic), it would have been no difference to the issue. The rescue package was over 200 million. The entire PCI income is a fraction of that. I'm not sure how much is paid for the regium donut at the moment, or to how many, but there are only about 600 ministers (active and retired) total, so it would be less than 1 million – in other words a drop in the bucket. Even if you took the entire congregational income of PCI for a year, you'd still only have a fraction of what was needed for the rescue package.

    I don't say this to make excuses for ministers or say that there aren't reasons to feel aggrieved by PCI's handling of affairs, but I hope that a truer reflection of the income of a typical minister might alleviate some of the animosity people may feel.

    The reality is that there was little that the church could do on a financial level to make a real difference. Outside intervention was needed and that is what Stafford Carson, Arthur Boyd, and others managed to get. Without question, the church could have done more to demonstrate compassion, but in terms of materially benefitting people, the resources just weren't there. They certainly weren't in the hands of ministers. Nobody goes into the ministry to get rich and very few would describe themselves as comfortably off compared to what they could be in another career.

    I can't speak for the ministers who were against giving up the regium donum and wasn't present for those discussions, but it would have been patently unfair to have forced such a decision on those who may not have been able to afford it. Whether those who could afford it made donations to help those in need, we won't know.

    Disclaimer: I write this as an assistant minister who earns relatively little, doesn't receive the regium donum, will have a rather modest pension, doesn't have a manse, has a pregnant wife who doesn't work. I think that some stipends are higher than they should be and that pay should be more even, so I'm pleased that the Tyrone Memorial will have some impact on this.

  • Comment number 8.

    Gosh this all sounds so Wall Street. A religion that is a bank, who knew? As it goes with any investment portfolio, when the client is making money then happiness shines but as soon as the markets tumbles the lawsuits begin.

    Don't be so darn greedy folks.

  • Comment number 9.

    To Jonathan Boyd

    I do not want to go on and on about this subject, this is my last post ( if accepted by the moderator ).

    Thank you for your contribution, and best wishes to you and your wife with regard to the forthcoming addition to your family.

    With respect you will not always be an assistant minister! But even in your current position you would have received a letter from your current congregation part of which would have said " we promise...to provide for your livelihood and residence", so while you may not have a manse now, you would receive a housing allowance now.

    You say that you will have a modest pension, well, I suppose what does one describes as modest?. I can safely say that for an individual to receive a pension of £9000.00 per year, they would have to have built up a private pension pot of over£300,000.00. Such a pension pot is far out of the reach of most working people. Yet the vast majority of retired Presbyterian ministers receive at least £10,000.00 per year plus their state pension etc.. and good luck to them. I know of a retired minister who receives £21,000.00 per year from his congregation.

    There is a Union Commission.

    The majority of whose members are ministers themselves, it only needs an attendance of nine to make a decision.

    No congregation can call a minister until they accept the pay and conditions that are agreed with the Union Commission. The manse must have at least four bedrooms one en-suite. If it does not meet the Commissions high specifications, the rules state it should either be extended or rebuilt! And lets be fair, there are many very beautiful Presbyterian manses, and they are very comfortable.

    I think the Union Commission would be amazed to see your comments that some ministers depend on charity and neighbours to make ends meet. I doubt they would accept that any Presbyterian minister is in such a situation. According to the Directory+Statistics of the Presbyterian Church the minister of the Knock congregation that you mentioned actually received a stipend of £51,438.00. As you look through the list of stipends the amounts are breathtaking, especially with all the extras.
    There are a good number of smaller Presbyterian congregations who find it difficult to get a minister In comparison to the pay and conditions of ministers in other denominations, Presbyterian clergy do very very well.

    You show no evidence to support your statement about ministers wives not working.
    You mention the "Tyrone Memorial"- what you did not mention is that "The proposals include arrangements to PROTECT ministers currently remunerated above the proposed levels" and also in money terms "There would not be a saving as these proposals include provision to PROTECT the stipends of ministers in excess of the proposed scales"

    With reference to the proposal by one of your colleagues asking his brethren to forgo their annual bonus £1,518.00 for one year only.

    Please do not say that he or I am simplistic in our outlook.

    Nobody was saying that your figure of £1,000,000.00 was going to cover everybody's saving in PMS. It was a proposal to try and help the Church show compassion to those in real hardship, whose saving were tied up in PMS, that is all your colleague was proposing with his Christian gesture. What you call a drop in the bucket, would have been able to help
    members of your own Presbyterian Church who had to go into debt to pay the funeral expenses of a loved one, due to their savings being tied up in the unregulated PMS. Such people are your flock, the good shepherd lays down his life for his flock, your colleagues wouldn't even lay down their bonus for one year for the
    needy in their flock.

    Christianity can be costly, and that cost can invade many areas of life-even money.
    I do agree with you though on this, I also doubt that we will hear from many ministers, they don't have a leg to stand on, and they know it.
    Nobody begrudges Presbyterian ministers their pay and conditions, but in the issue of the PMS their refusal to agree on forgoing their bonus to help their flock will have reverberations for quite sometime.




  • Comment number 10.

    9. B-Stevenson:

    I missed my vocation. Drat.

    All I had to do was pretend I also saw the emperor's clothes, and I could have been on £21K a year at retirement.

    It puts the poor Catholic Priest, living in poverty (with a house and maid) into perspective.

    Religion seems to be a 'free meal' ticket, if you have the whatnots to pander to the delusions of the masses.

  • Comment number 11.

    newdwr54 -

    Religion seems to be a 'free meal' ticket, if you have the whatnots to pander to the delusions of the masses.


    I bet that made you feel better, newdwr! Perhaps I'll pretend to be a "you know what" for a week, and bluster on about fairy stories, bronze age myths, delusions blah blah blah. I'm sure it will feel remarkably cathartic (I could do with some catharsis at the moment, as it happens). It's certainly good to get things out of one's system, although a bit of sparring at the boxing club or a good run round the block might be more useful.

    Now back to the real world...

    Is 'religion' a 'free meal' ticket? Errm, nope. OK, yes for some people, it certainly is. But speaking as someone who knows what it's like to have a full time job in the "Christian world" (although I no longer have that job, as it happens), I can say with some authority that the pay is low, and I had to make my own arrangements re accommodation and transport etc. (I suppose some of the ways we, as a family, managed to cope could be explained "naturalistically", but I tend to think that the more "delusional" explanation actually seems far more plausible.) No expenses for me. No bonuses (no, that's a porkie - I had one small bonus of £500 one year, but that was it). As for joining a union.... ha ha ha ha!!!

    But please do carry on with your "analysis" of all things Christian. I do so enjoy the study in human psychology.



  • Comment number 12.

    Reading about how comfortably well-off Presbyterian ministers are I cannot help but think of the poor parishioners who every week put money on the collection plate. The price of electric and gas has recently shot up in price and although pensioners receive some extra money in December, I still think that many pensioners will be in dire straits this winter: but they will still do without to keep the minister comfortable.

    The thought of these ministers squeezing every penny they can out of the poor is sickening.

  • Comment number 13.

    @newlach

    I’m curious about which church you’ve been to recently where ministers have been hounding pensioners for money. We might rail occasionally against the rich and greedy, but I don’t recall anyone bullying a widow for their heating money.

  • Comment number 14.

    @B_Stevenson

    I'm afraid I'll have to break my reply into several comments as the system seems to choke on the size of my reply.

    I get the impression from your posts that you have been greatly hurt by the PMS issue and have been left feeling quite bitter. I can’t help but think that it would be of greater benefit to sit down with your minister and talk about these issues with him, rather than vent in public. It would be worth remembering that active ministers earning more than 40,000 and retired ministers on 20,000 are the exception, not the norm, and many other ministers on half that amount who ma be reading this, could be deeply hurt by the suggestion that they are miserly or lacking in compassion when they are in fact struggling to meet ends meet.

    Pensions now are less than what they used to be. In this regard, the church is like the rest of society. Pensions are worse than they were a few years ago and more money has to go towards paying for the old pension schemes that aren’t as affordable as they used to look. Again, if you are concerned that the church is making bad decisions about its pensions, it may be better to speak to your church treasurer or even speak to someone at church house. You may know a guy who receives 21,000 from his congregation, but there are over 200 retired ministers, so that doesn’t really tell you much about the big picture.

    There is indeed a Union Commission, praise the Lord. It’s a hard job, a stressful job a painful ob even, but an absolutely necessary one in the church and I thank God that there are people willing to do it, knowing that it won’t make them many friends. Somebody has to make decisions about which congregations it’s worth maintaining with use the scarce resources of the church and someone has to make decisions about whether a church is fit to receive a new minister.

    It could possibly do with a better name so that people don’t think that it is the equivalent of a trade union.

    From a quick look at this years nominations, the vast majority of people on the commission are presbytery appointees, of which there is one teaching elder and one ruling elder appointed by each Presbytery, if I’m reading it right. The group isn’t an attempt to get perks for ministers or scheme to close congregations that ministers don’t want to minister to. If you’re concerned about the decisions being taken by Union Commission, why not get in touch with your Presbytery representatives and speak to them?

    There are indeed many comfortable, beautiful manses, however there are also quite a few that are not for for purpose. One of the things I’m not sure you’re allowing for here, is that there is huge variety within PCI. Hugh variety in pay, in standard of living and in condition of manses. Some manses are great and some ministers are blessed to be in the manses they have, but some also struggle with accommodation that is too small, falling down around them, and slow to be repaired by the property committee.

    It’s worth remembering that while a manse of four bedrooms may look excessive for a single minister, a manse stays with a church for a long time and the next person along may be married with six children. It’s also worth remembering that while most people expect privacy ad a break from work in their home, ministers often use manses to host church functions, to meet people in pastorally and to study in. There are good reasons for manse requirements.

    I would hope that members of Union Commission are not so far from reality as to think that the ministers on stipends of less than 25,000 who have stay at home wives and large families, never struggle financially. I’ve heard enough stories from ministers about times of hardship to know that that is the reality for many, even if only for a few years.

    Again, when it comes to Knock, that was the only church with a stipend of over 50,000 and it is currently vacant, so it’s not paying any stipend and the new stipend will be lower. There are only 3 congregations I’m aware of with stipends of over 40,000. I fail to see what is breathtaking about an average stipend of 25-30,000. Again, if that figure troubles you it may be worth sitting down with your minister or someone in Presbytery to explain why you think that’s a breathtaking amount to pay someone who works 6 days a week, is on call 24 hours a day, has considerably reduced privacy, and has committed his or her life to proclaiming the gospel for the benefit of their congregation and the community they are located within.

    As for extras, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. If you’re referring to expenses, they are exactly that: business expenses. You wouldn’t expect an ambulance driver to pay for petrol for the ambulance, or a secretary to pay for the ink for their printer, would you? There is some additional pay for ministers who take on extra responsibilities such as convening vacancies and chairing committees, but the amounts are small and the total one can earn this way is limited. It’s also pay in exchange for work, not a bonus for doing nothing.

  • Comment number 15.

    @B_Stevenson (part 2)

    A cashier in Tesco does pretty well compared to a doctor in Kenya. That doesn’t mean they’re well paid or comfortably off on any sort of absolute scale. PCI ministers do well in comparison to ministers in other denominations, but that’s simply because ministers in other denominations are generally very poorly paid. I could work 30 years and still be getting paid less than my wife’s starting salary was (she no longer works).

    It is true I didn’t show any evidence about minister’s wives not working, however neither did you provide any evidence for your original claim that they bring in a substantial income. What I did offer was some reasoning about why it is likely that they bring in less than the average wife in wider society. Again, that sort of reasoning was absent from your original claim.

    The Tyrone Memorial of course protects existing stipends - to do otherwise would be patently unjust and a betrayal of those who took jobs on with the promise that they would be paid a certain amount. But over time, ministers will move on to new charges or retire and eventually all stipends will change. I’m not sure what profession you’re in, but if you were assured that you would have a certain income for the next ten or twenty years, then five years later someone came along and said “We’ve changed our minds, we’re slashing your salary by twenty percent,” how would you feel?

    I’m concerned that when it comes to the issue of the regium donum, you’re painting a picture of “us” and “them,” with PCI ministers as the “them” who withhold their riches, leaving widows to go into debt. Not only is that simplistic, but it’s terribly damaging to the body of Christ.

    These are the words of Paul in the letter to the Philippians:
    So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

    If we are one in Christ, then why are ministers singled out as the ones who haven’t shown compassion, as the ones who should have given up over a thousand pounds, regardless of their personal financial situation, as the ones who leave widows to go into debt?

    The reality is that the best PCI could do was get the government to help – that’s what happened. As far as compassion goes, you don’t know what the 600-odd ministers did to comfort and help those who lost out for a time, so is it really charitable or Christ like to accuse them of a lack of compassion? As far as giving goes, who was in a real position to help? Do you know the financial situation of those 600-odd ministers to be able to say that they could all afford to give up that money? Were there people in a better position to give generously and help those in need? As for debt, was it PCI ministers who withheld money from savers? Were PCI ministers beneficiaries of PMS going down, or did they in fact lose out in some cases?

    It may be worth noting that if the entire regium donum had gone to PMS, it would have been equivalent to 0.37% of the current rescue deal. Legally, that money would have had to go to the investors first of all, so the savers would have got nothing. If the investors and ben remarkably generous and allowed all the money to go to the savers, then even those who had saved 20,000 would have got less than £100 back. As a gesture of compassion, it would have been empty, doing nothing for saver, but potentially causing a great deal of hardship for the givers. Much more was achieved by getting the government rescue package and showing compassion in other ways.

    The reason you won’t hear much from ministers is that most have more sense than me and realise that discussions on the internet rarely go anywhere fruitful. My advice, as it has always been, is go and speak to your minister or someone in Presbytery. When I read you say that ministers don’t have a leg to stand on, as if they’re all rolling in it, and think of the ministers I know who are overworking, exhausted and getting by financially, I think that you need to put a human face on the monstrous figure of the PCI minister that you have created.

  • Comment number 16.

    £25000 to £30000 - That is not much money but did you include perks like mileage and other sundry expense account details? What do the executive priests, bishops take home? Was that career path chosen as it offered a steady paycheck in a depressed area where other forms of employment had dried up?

    Do the clerics pay income tax?

    @ Will - Why no thread on the Ethics of organ donation?

    The suggested price of a kidney of £28000 is way too low. Offering that to students is cruel.

    I didn't hear the rest of the sentence about Spain. A few years ago the nation switched to an 'opt out' system hence the increase in available material. This plan should be implemented everywhere.

  • Comment number 17.

    @Jonathan Boyd

    I feel compelled to answer some points in your post.

    I can assure you that there was no legal barrier stopping Presbyterian clergy from setting up a HARDSHIP fund by using their bonus. This has nothing to do with trying to give savers back their money as you imply. Ministers were not legally constrained, the proposal was not to give up the bonus in order to give money to all savers.
    You say that we don't know what ministers did to comfort and help-but we certainly know what they didn't do, with their bonus.

    Also we heard on Sunday Sequence "that the Church tried to divorce itself from the PMS"-"While at the same time it was praised every year at the General Assembly"

    From Sunday Sequence we also know that-hundreds of delegates to the General Assembly walked right passed concerned savers without as much as a word of compassion

    While I am happy that the savers in PMS have had money returned, one suspects that this had more to do with politics, than fairness and justice. This would seem to be the case when you consider the plight of those who had money and pensions in the collapsed Equitable Life.
    For over ten years these people have had nothing, even though Equitable Life was a regulated company, and authorised by various authorities. But for PMS ( which we know was unregulated ), it was politically expedient that something was done, if it were not so, PMS savers would still have nothing, because the authorities had no legal duty to bail out a Society that was basically illegal.

    On a small point, I know of many Presbyterian ministers, whose wives AND husbands work, many of whom met each other at university, and the ministers spouses have good jobs.

    You said in your first post "the idea of the wife at home....is associated more with conservative or traditional forms of Christianity which is more likely to be found in PCI" You should try preaching a sermon on this to your congregation, and see what reaction you get. It would be interesting to know what your female clergy colleagues think of this view.
    .

    You agree that Presbyterian clergy get more than other denominations- yet you still are not satisfied, you want even more.

    To finish with, you would know far better than me that anybody can use the Bible to say whatever they wish, but since you align yourself with "conservative and traditional Christianity", you would presumably believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Yet in Mark Chapter 13, and in other Gospels copied from Mark, we read of Jesus telling the people of all the terrible things that were going to happen. One of these things was his own Second Coming

    "they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory, and he shall send his angels and shall gather together his elect from the four winds"

    Yet we read in Mark 13:30 " Verily, I say unto you, that THIS generation shall not pass, until ALL these things be done"-

    Well, many many generations have passed. Indeed the whole tenor of the New Testament with regard to the return of Jesus, is that it was just around the corner. Everybody arguing about the rights and wrongs of Christianity is really a mute point, because the words of Jesus did not prove to be true, he did not return before the end of that generation. Whoever wrote Mark is wrong.

    I know that you would argue that Jesus did not actually mean that etc. and quote other verses-but when do we take the Bibles words at face value, without actually saying that it actually means this that or the other?

    Why not "count others MORE significant than yourselves"?

  • Comment number 18.

    Jonathan Boyd

    I seldom enter a church. If a minister can convince poor parishioners of an afterlife, I think fleecing them of them of the few pounds they have would be child's play.

    Lucy Q raises a number of important questions. I do not know the situation concerning income tax, but I understand that no rates are paid on churches and church-owned homes inhabited by ministers receive a 50 per cent discount. Increasingly, ministers are home-owners and would ordinarily not qualify for a discount, however, by hosting a few church functions in their properties they can qualify for the generous discount available. Taxpayers could be forgiven for thinking that church ministers are in it for every penny they can get.


  • Comment number 19.

    This is getting quite bizarre and reminds me why I stopped posting here in the first place.

    @LucyQ

    Ministers pay tax like anyone else. I can't comprehend why you would think otherwise.

    If an ambulance driver filled up his ambulance with petrol, would you count the money spent on petrol as a perk? Expenses exist to reimburse ministers for costs incurred in performing their duties; they aren't perks.

    There are no executive priests; in fact there are no priests at all. Neither are there any bishops.

    I can't speak for the other 600 odd active and retired ministers, but I consider the ministry to be a calling rather than a vocation. Any Minster I have spoken to feels likewise and many are financially much worse off as ministers than they were in their previous jobs. Additionally, there is no guarantee of a job.

    Rather than all this scaremongering, why not get to know a Minster in the flesh and see if they're driven by greed or genuinely care about people.


    @newlach

    So you've never sen a minister trying to fleece his parishioners and are just making wild accusations?

    Ministers don't own manses; churches do. If a minister lives in his own house, then he is responsible for it.

    Readers would be forgiven for thinking that some commenters would like to spread a load of fear, uncertainty and doubt about ministers rather than get to know them as human beings.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Steven Todd

    I wasn't present at the general assembly for the events you describe, so I can't comment on them.

    You have misinterpreted some things I said. My comments about conservative and traditional Christinaity were statements of fact, rather then endorsements. I wasn't making any sort of polemical point about the role of women, but rather stating that it's more likely to find wives as homemakers in the church than in society. That's hardly controversial. I fear that you may be so mistrustful of ministers that finding things to argue about that don't exist.

    I'm also mystified by your comments about not being satisfied and wanting more. Perhaps you could point out where I was complaining about pay? As I've pointed out, ministers don't go into the ministry for the money. Your comments are deeply uncharitable and hurtful.

    The issue of Mark 13 is hardly a new or uncommon question. Anyone with a genuine interest in the issue could read a commentary on Mark or speak to a minister in person. I have no interest in getting into the issue now.

    What I'm more interested in is this desire to paint ministers as money-grabbing, uncompassionate misers. There is a strange fixation on what they should have cone with the regium donut, so let's actually work think through the morals, rather than making assertions.

    Were ministers culpable for what happened to the PMS? No, they didn't bring on the crisis.
    Do ministers have a special responsibility for the material wellbeing of their congregation? No more so than any other Christian. We are one in Christ and have a common concern for one another. Other Christians have no less of a bind with one-another than ministers.
    Are ministers particularly privileged so that they could offer more help? No. There is nothing impressive about their income.
    Would it have been fair to mandate that all ministers give up the regium donum? No. While some could afford it easily, others could not, so creating a hardship fund could have created more hardship.
    Was setting up a hardship fund the only way to show compassion? No. Ministers could still act as individuals, organise other schemes to help and continue to petition the government for the help that was really needed.
    Is there anything special about the PMS situation that means ministers should have set up a hardship fund for it, but not for other people in needs such as victims of the Tsunami a few years ago? Not that I've heard anyone suggest. In fact, I'm not aware of anyone suggesting that ministers should ever have done this in the past. People have only suggested it when it would benefit themselves.
    Would setting up a hardship fund have made any real difference? No. There would have been less than 900,000 available. Take into account administration of a fund and it becomes even less.

    So were ministers morally obliged to give up the regium donum? No.
    Did not giving prevent them from being compassionate? No.
    Would it have helped? Not in any meaningful way.

    The church could have been more visibly compassionate, it made foolish mistakes with regard to the PMS, owing more to naiveté than malice, and lessons must be learnt from this, but what I've read here looks more like a witch hunt than anything else. I would take some comments more seriously if people had suggested that ministers set up a hardship fund for other debtors or victims of tragedies, or if there was a call for other Christians to set up a hardship fund - particularly those investors who managed to get their money out immediately before the crisis. There is little sense of us being one in Christ. If we have a responsibility to one another, then we all share in that responsibility, not just ministers, and all deserve help, not just victims of the PMS. Making it all about ministers and PMS savers does little except deny the unity Christ bought at a much greater price than 232 million.

  • Comment number 21.

    @Jonathan Boyd

    Like some others this will my last post-if it is allowed by the moderator.

    You use emotive and harsh phrases that I have not used.

    You complained about pay when you said "that pay should be even more" in your first post, I reckon that many people would be happy to have the pay and conditions of even the lowest stipend paid.

    You ask "Is there anything special about the PMS situation, that means ministers should have set up a hardship fund?"-well actually, they are YOUR flock. No they were not obliged to, it would just have been a good and Christian thing to do, for their OWN people.

    It was some of your OWN ministerial colleagues who proposed this act of compassion, and as one of them asked at the time, what will our people think if we do not do this? I really think that your answers have done no favours to the reputation of the Presbyterian Church. Indeed Dr John Dunlop couldn't even bring himself to utter the word "sorry", when invited to do so by William Crawley. John Dunlop disdainfully talked about Gordon Brown as" a so called son of the manse as he calls himself"- you folks ARE the manse!

    I am sorry to say that while the Presbyterian Church may have many faults-naivety certainly isn't one of them. I never said there was malice etc. it is unfair of you to deflect the argument with such words or phrases.

    As for Mark 13, I mentioned it to illustrate the fact that it demonstrates a huge problem for Christian thinking. And it proves that so much discussion about Christianity is irrelevant, it proves that Christianity is simply a state of mind.

    When I look at commentaries, most ignore the the problem, and when I ask ministers, the standard answer is -that it is hard to understand, but all will be revealed in the next life. A standard answer given to all the hard questions.

    The Presbyterian Church has many hard questions to answer, but we are told we will have to wait for the sweet bye and bye

  • Comment number 22.

    I can't see that it's anyone's business here what a congregation pays it's minister.

    Yet we read in Mark 13:30 " Verily, I say unto you, that THIS generation shall not pass, until ALL these things be done"...Well, many many generations have passed...I know that you would argue that Jesus did not actually mean that etc. and quote other verses-but when do we take the Bibles words at face value, without actually saying that it actually means this that or the other?

    This assumes you're taking the words at face value, this is something you OUGHT to DEMONSTRATE RATHER than ASSERT.

    Caps lock does make all the difference.

    When I look at commentaries, most ignore the the problem

    I often find it's more useful to read commentaries than just to look at them. That's just a personal view.

    I'll grant you that some of the covers are good. The BECNT series has pictures of the Apostles, which is nice. They don't have eyes to see or ears to hear though, perhaps that's where you've gone wrong?

  • Comment number 23.

    I wonder if I should?

    Some general comments first.

    For the sake of clarity I am a member of PCI, but not a member of the PMS. I am not a minister, an elder or a member of a church committee - I am what one might call a reasonably regular attender. (Although sometimes coffee and a long breakfast win out on a Sunday morning.) I also think that the PMS wasn't ever a good idea, but that’s another matter.

    Something does, and has concerned me though - while I can understand the concern that the refusal to forgo a ‘bonus’ may have added to the perception that the church was distant from those in need there is a real danger in the conversation that we are creating an unnecessary and unhelpful ‘clergy/laity’ distinction; no such distinction exists - the ‘church’ is all of us - and the various references to ‘the church’ as if it were someone other than me, is a touch worrying.

    Helping those in need is the responsibility of all church members, and, on the basis of the figures given here, a £10 donation from 150 church members would have equated to a single ministerial ‘bonus’ - this could easily have been achieved.

    Perhaps one of the lessons we all need to learn is that of collective compassion and collective responsibility. Yes, *we* have hard questions to answer.


    Steven

    You comments about the ‘failed prophecy’ of Mark interest me; the issue of biblical interpretation and authority has been debated many times on this blog, and I don’t see how the ‘problem’ of the ‘Apocalyptic Discourse’ in Mark 13 is any more of a problem than any other biblical ‘problem’. Certainly when one looks outside of the popular dispensationalist evangelical end times theology prevalent in many of our churches the ‘problem’ is diminished. At the risk of causing Andrew to roll his eyes and mutter, ‘not again’ (!) you might consider looking at NT Wright’s understanding of ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory’, and it’s link with Daniel 7:13

  • Comment number 24.

    Peter

    Almost anything is better than dispensationalist evangelical end times theology (that's quite a mouthful). Even N.T. Wright.

    Actually, I do quite like some of Wright's insights in this area. No matter, you can't reference him for a whole month! *waits*

  • Comment number 25.

    Is tax paid on this ministerial "bonus"?

  • Comment number 26.

    @ Steven Todd

    In your haste to condemn ministers, you seem to have completely misread me.

    My exact words in the first post I made were "I think that some stipends are higher than they should be and that pay should be more even, so I'm pleased that the Tyrone Memorial will have some impact on this." Perhaps you can explain how that equates to complaining about pay and wanting more.

    The assertion that you haven't used harsh or emotive language is nonsense. You spoke bluntly, condemning the actions, attitudes and motivations of PCI ministers. I took from that that you were looking for robust debate, rather than complaining when people don't agree with you.

    You haven't engaged with anything I've said about the strange attitude of singling out ministers as responsible for other Christians more than others, singling out PMS as a unique crisis that should have extra attention from ministers compared to the suffering in Haiti for instance, and singling out PMS savers as particularly deserving debtors. You say that PCI has hard questions to answer, but y refuse to engage with the big questions yourself.

    What you say about malice and naivite makes little sense: what alternative motivation are you ascribing to ministers? And why is it unfair of me to say that many ministers were naive when it came to PMS, whereas it's perfectly fair for you to say that PCi ministers don't have a leg to stand on? Double standards?

    I have all the time in the world for honest inquirers and hurting questioners, but precious little patience for those who impune the character of others, then whinge when their reasoning is questioned. It smacks of wanting to find people to judgem condemn and blame, rather than getting into the mess of this world and trying to help.

  • Comment number 27.

    Andrew

    "dispensationalist evangelical end times theology (that's quite a mouthful)"

    I know. It sticks in my throat regularly! Sometimes I think that some people think that Jesus is a bit like King Billy. It would make for an interesting gable wall though.

    "No matter, you can't reference him for a whole month! *waits*"

    OK, wright-o.

  • Comment number 28.

    Note To Moderator: I hope it will be possible to include this post, it is all true, and comes from the heart. Although I will understand, if this post is not allowed.

    @Jonathan Boyd

    I want to say to you Jonathan that it is very difficult to accept or indeed stomach your remarks about "getting into the mess of this world and trying to help"

    May I be allowed to tell you some facts about the Presbyterian Church and "getting into the mess", and please do not say that I am trying to "impune the characters of others"

    For a period of nearly forty years a very prominent Presbyterian layman, was welcomed into many Presbyterian pulpits, and also many other denominations. I will not name him, even though he had a public trial, and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, and many Presbyterians know who he is. It is a matter of public record.
    He ran hundreds of children's camps as well, for schools, churches, scripture union, crusader classes. Through his witness hundreds of children came to follow Jesus.

    At the same time as this, he was sexually abusing boys, who were mostly between the ages of 11/12 years old.


    I was one of the victims for whom he had to stand trial.

    The trial Judge said that probably over one hundred victims had been abused, some of whom had tried to commit suicide.

    Here is another utterly true fact.

    During the trial Presbyterian clergy told us that we were liars, but we were proved to be telling the truth.

    No Presbyterian minister or layperson (since apparently we are all one), ever came to us and (and they had every opportunity to do so), and say that they were sorry, or ask if there was anything they could do to help, compassion was never extended.

    But at the abusers sentencing, the trial Judge said he had hundreds of letters of support for the abuser from clergy, moderators, bishops and laity.

    I don't know much about the pms thing, but you talk about the big question, and robust debate and getting into the mess, no your friends did no such thing for us. Many peoples lives were ruined or broken due to the above.

    What shows up Christianity to be the nonsense that it is, is the fact that a so called God was bringing hundreds into the kingdom, while at the same time allowing hundreds to be abused by the same person. I don't know of any victim who now has church connections.

    We asked Church House at the time if they would like to comment or apologise to the victims, but we were told that it had nothing to do with them, they weren't responsible for what the abuser had done.

    Some years later the local television news on the BBC carried a report about a trial that had taken place, it was the case of a young lady who had been abused by a person who was in leadership in her Presbyterian congregation (not the minister). I could name the congregation but I will not. Its all a matter of public record anyway. This lady waived her right to anonymity, so that she could tell of how dreadfully she was treated by that congregation, One of the phrases she told the reporter was "that it was like a lynch mob". Indeed although her abuser was convicted, he remained in a leadership role, until the BBC put out their report.

    I am sure you will find it hard to believe, but while we were waiting for the verdict from the jury, at our trial, a victim turned to me and said," if this goes against us, these people are going to lynch us"

    I can stand over every word of this, indeed my account is very understated. The hurt felt by many with regards to the pms, is as nothing compared to the events outlined above.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ T Kingston

    This is the kind of conversation that would ideally happen face to face, in realtime, in private, rather than screen to screen, over several hours, in full public view.

    I don't know the facts of the situation – I don't even know what incident you're referring to. To the best of my knowledge, no-one I know would have any involvement in it and certainly would have no culpability. I don't know who you are, neither does anyone I know, again to the best of my knowledge.

    Therefore anything I could say would be ill-informed and at best sound hollow. Sympathy and compassion are best expressed in person and are often rendered somewhat meaningless when filtered through the faceless anonymity of Internet comments. Without knowing the circumstances of what happened or any of the people involved, anything I could to say to you would be hollow.

    I find nothing you say hard to believe (though without specific facts I can't know if there's anything there to believe – which isn't to say that I disbelieve you). The Bible is full of stories of God's people failing to live up to their calling and sadly that continues today. That's why we so urgently need Christ. There have always been professing Christians who have done terrible things – much of the New Testament was written precisely because of that. But it's also full of followers of God who showed compassion, as is the world today. I hope you encounter some of them, and if you share this story, I hope you'll find a response of grace that comes from Christ.

    The one thing I would say is that this might contribute more to a discussion about abuse in the church, rather than a discussion about PMS. It certainly illustrates the messiness of this world and the failings of the church, however it doesn't show a failing with regard to PMS. In that sense – and I say this without any desire to cause hurt – it doesn't add to the debate. In your hurt, you feel that it disproves Christianity – that's understandable. However, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. Those who betray the trust of others, who hurt and abuse, who betray their confession of faith and turn away from love, cannot do anything to negate the resurrection. Neither can all the love in the world make the resurrection true if it didn't happen.

  • Comment number 30.

    @Jonathan

    You say you don't know the facts of the situation, the publicly convicted abuser was Dr Lindsay Brown, whose own brother is a past moderator of the General Assembly.

    The media coverage of the situation was massive.

    The congregation covered by the BBC report was Drumreagh.

    You say "Sympathy and compassion are best expressed in person"

    The Presbyterian clergy never expressed sympathy and compassion, they had many chances to do so face to face.

    The Christianity you speak of is worthless give the reaction we received.

  • Comment number 31.

    T Kingston

    This is the first time I have read about such widespread child sexual abuse occurring within the Presbyterian Church, and my deepest sympathy goes to all of the survivors.

    It is deeply, deeply disturbing to read that no Presbyterian minister of layperson offered you any help. How can an adult, especially one who claims to be doing God's work, simply try to brush under the carpet child sexual abuse on a massive scale? When these ministers and laypersons met they must surely have discussed the subject amongst themselves, and the thought that they took a decision not to help you and the others is truly sickening.

    I have checked out on the web the convicted paedophile that you have identified (Lindsay Webb). It seems that the powers that be considered him suitable for early release on parole - outrageous.

    https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/885985.stm

  • Comment number 32.

    Peter

    I know. It sticks in my throat regularly! Sometimes I think that some people think that Jesus is a bit like King Billy. It would make for an interesting gable wall though.

    Thankfully I didn't try to verbalise it.

    They could depict the white horse I'm sure but drawing Faithful and True would be tricky.

    OK, wright-o.

    Ah!

  • Comment number 33.

    As a Christian, I do wonder why so many churches seem to have a problem with child abuse. Certainly there is nothing in the idea of 'God' per se which could possibly lead someone to commit these crimes.

    I'll probably be "shot down in flames" for suggesting this, but I feel I have to air this view: I do wonder whether a certain dogma can provide a justification for abuse. The dogma I am referring to is the doctrine of "total depravity" as a result of so-called "original sin".

    The idea that even young children are "totally depraved" on account of the sin of Adam, and are therefore not "innocent" (but rather are controlled by a "sin nature"), does not, of course, cause anyone who believes it to abuse them. However, someone who is intent on abusing a child could perhaps find a perverse kind of moral justification for his actions in the idea that the person he is abusing is a little devil anyway, who deserves nothing other than eternal hell.

    Certainly I can't believe that this highly speculative, tendentious and (in my view) erroneous doctrine can help matters.

    The biblical evidence shows us that Jesus affirmed the innocence and righteousness of childhood: "Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mark 9:37) And... "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." (Mark 10:15).

    What's the Presbyterian Church's stance on the moral and soteriological status of children?

  • Comment number 34.

    newlach

    Thank you very much for your kind words, and sympathy for the survivors, although some of us are not surviving too well!

    Thank you also for the link, I never thought of that, ( on a small note, the abuser was Lindsay Brown ). There is also news stories on the BBC archive about what happened in Drumreagh congregation, proving the truth of what I said. But I do not know how to put them on this post. It was only after the victim went public, did the "Presbyterian Church hierarchy in Belfast" make a move. The victim said "My barrister said she has never seen such an outburst in all her years of court - these people are meant to be Christians," This victim was on her own, at least I had the support of others. Yet the abuser and his family got support from his Presbyterian denomination they said "The support and counselling provided by our denomination is much valued and has already been a source of restoration as we collectively help each other pick up the pieces," the abusers people also said he was "hoping to move on with his life".

    Not much comfort to the abused, who was forced to go public.

    The victim said of her abuser "He took my childhood away from me - nobody deserves to go through this". Its worth emphasizing that it was only after this became public at great cost to the victim did the "Presbyterian Church hierarchy" do something to remove the abuser from "a senior position as a committee member".

    All of the above quotes are from the archives of the BBC

    I know our group was offered no support or counselling by the denomination.

    Contrast all of this to how the congregation describes itself on its website "You will find the congregation to be warm, friendly and supportive" and "The teaching and preaching is biblical applying the word of God to the practical, social and spiritual needs of the people". Well if the above story from the BBC news shows a biblical approach, I would advise any other victim to stay well clear of them given the words of the victims barrister.

    This church is not hurting, its building itself a fantastic new church and hall.

    And yet Jonathan Boyd accuses somebody else on this blog of double standards! He asks for facts well there they are. But then he and his friends are in the clear as he says " no-one I know would have any involvement in it and certainly would have no culpability "
    If this is how they react to this dreadful factual incident, it is no wonders others feel hurt and betrayed about the pms.

  • Comment number 35.

    T Kingston

    One thing I forgot to write about was the fact that so many people from the Presbyterian Church gave the paedophile good character references. Although he received a shockingly short sentence, he was at least found guilty. It worries me that there may be paedophiles in a similar position to Webb. In Webb's case character references didn't get in the way of justice, but there may be cases where they might.

    The facts you have given might not satisfy Jonathan Boyd but no right-thinking person would dispute them.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ Jonathan Boyd

    Can I tell you few other facts about the incident

    I have in the past gone to a Presbyterian minister, and asked how can we make sense of all this. Especially my big concern about how can God allow Lindsay Brown to witness and point so many to the kingdom and and at the same time allow so many to be abused and ruined. It just does not make sense. After a cordial discussion I was told that God "tolerated" the abuse that happened to Lindsays victims. I told him that I found that very insulting. He then read to me Matthew 7:21-23 and Matthew 13:24-29. And argued that this showed that if Lindsay was false then he would be dealt with.

    I asked him if Lindsay was false who gave him the power? I got an instant reply" that it wasn't from God- thats for sure"

    Well if that is true it had to be from Satan then, but would Satan allow someone to be so effective in their work for Gods kingdom, I don't think so. Even Jesus is supposed to have said " If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?"

    Lindsays ministry was highly effective, many men have entered the Presbyterian ordained ministry, and that of many other denominations. Large numbers have gone in to full-time Christian work, indeed Jonathan, one of your own Professors in Union College is a prodigy of Lindsay Brown. I could name the Professor, but I will not, unless you want me to. Was Lindsay in Satan's power, was this all Satan's work?- I don't think so. Yet this same servant of God, who raised up many men of God, through his witness, God "tolerated" this man abusing over a hundred boys. It makes a nonsense of everything. So your answer is that I should, "find a response of grace that comes from Christ". The same Christ that "tolerated" the abuse, of so many victims.

    I also asked him, that since we hear so many stories of how God intervenes for people like, Brother Yun the "heavenly man", a Christian whom God set free from prison in China, by putting all the guards to sleep, and miraculously unlocking all the doors and gates, so that he just walked out. A remarkably true story apparently, and God does this, but "tolerates" the abuse of innocent little boys with no intervention, over a period of forty years. But at the end of the day the only answer was, that all will be revealed at the judgement seat, when we get to heaven. Little comfort to those victims taking their own lives.
    A strikingly similar answer that Christians seem to give to all the hard questions, yet Christians seem to have lots of answers for the easy questions.

    The Lindsay Brown saga proves there cannot be a God or Satan.

    You say that you "have all the time in the world for honest inquirers and hurting questioners"

    Many of us victims are hurting, and waiting for your reply.

  • Comment number 37.

    @LSV

    I haven't heard of any abusers using the doctrines of total depravity or original sin to justify their actions. Even if they have, I don't see how that makes the doctrines wrong. It simply makes the reasoning perverted. Such a justification could only come by taking a doctrine in isolation, which should never happen. I'm not sure in what way your speculation is supposed to help, particularly in regards to the PMS crisis.


    @newlach

    The facts you have given might not satisfy Jonathan Boyd but no right-thinking person would dispute them.


    Lovely straw man. In what way am I supposedly not satisfied and clearly wrong-thinking?
  • Comment number 38.

    @T Kingston

    Having read the BBC link, the events you refer to occurred 13 years ago. I was still in school at the time and few of the ministers I know whom I would be close enough to to consider friends would have been in the ministry at the time. Those who were would have been ministering quite far off, so there's really little reason for me to know anything about the incident or the circumstances surrounding it. Consequently, I'm not sure what you think I should be able to say or offer you. Your grievances would be far better dealt with by talking to people who were involved at the time, rather than someone who has studying for his GCSEs.

    I rarely consider it wise to come to conclusions about any pastoral or judicial matter having heard only one person, however compelling and convincing their words might be, so I don't think that it would be prudent for me to comment further on this. Under such circumstances, I can only see my words causing harm.

    The one thing related to those events that I will comment on is your line 'Well if the above story from the BBC news shows a biblical approach…' I don't think anyone here has tried to defend the events as having been conducted in a biblical or Christian manner. I'm certainly not in a position to say whether they were or not. So please don't assume that they are representative of a genuinely compassionate biblical approach. As I've said, professing Christians often get things tragically wrong.

    And yet Jonathan Boyd accuses somebody else on this blog of double standards!"


    I'm sorry, but I don't see the connection between the events you're referring to and the doubt standards in this thread.

    But then he and his friends are in the clear as he says" no-one I know would have any involvement in it and certainly would have no culpability "'


    I get that you're angry at some people. If events unfolded as you say, then that's understandable. But I don't see how it helps you to blame people who genuinely had nothing to do with it. If anything, do you not think that you're causing yourself more pain by seeing so many people as enemies?

    If this is how they react to this dreadful factual incident, it is no wonders others feel hurt and betrayed about the pms.


    This incident happened thirteen years ago. I've never 'reacted' to it, and I don't see what it has to do with the PMS. It's an emotive subject and a legitimate grievance against some members of the church, but it's unrelated to the PMS as far as I can see. I don't see how talking about it here can really help you with your pain, and neither do I see how it can help with the PMS crisis.

    As long as you hold Christianity responsible for what happened, rather than professing Christians, you're going to keep seeing enemies around you. Christianity is a vague term in many ways, with so many groups laying claim to the label. Even holding PCI responsible isn't helpful for you because neither the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Code of the Church are capable of doing anything to you. It was flesh and blood people who hurt you, not a label. Individuals with whom I hope reconciliation could some day be achieved (I hope that's the case of every conflict). But not everyone who carries the PCI or Christian labels is some way culpable or remotely informed about what happened to you. It may be that there are people who would love to help you and show you compassion, but don't know what has happened, or aren't able to get close because you already see them as an enemy.

    I don't know you; to my knowledge, we've never met. I was in school when you are abused, from the sound of things, and have no awareness of events. I'm an entire generation removed from what happened really. Yet I get the impression that you see me as an enemy, or in some way culpable of what happened to you. But I'm not. I don't owe you an apology for the events, and if I offered one, it would be meaningless. I haven't missed out on a chance to show you compassion, because I've never known you or your story. I'd like to think that if I had known you, I would have been compassionate, or that if we meet face to face in the future, I would be compassionate then.

    But the reality is that there have been no opportunities and by sneering at me, you're just imagining an enemy and unnecessarily adding to your grief. It's one of the tragedies of abuse that this happens to victims, that the scars destroy trust and cut people off from potential friends and help. But God didn't do it to you, Jesus didn't do it to you, Christianity didn't do it to you, and I didn't do it to you. Some day God will bring about justice and healing and I hope you end up at his side, finding your need for justice satisfied, and receiving the healing you need.
  • Comment number 39.

    @ T Kingston

    While I was writing the previous comment, I see you've written another yourself, so sorry for splitting my reply across several posts.

    It seems inconsistent for a God of justice to allow injustice to happen and a God of love to allow evil to prosper. That dilemma isn't a new one though. In an important sense, what happened to you was significant because it happened to you and you carry to scars and the hurt. In another sense though, there was nothing special about it because there were already thousands of years of evil and injustice – even, dare I say it, greater evil and injustice – to account for. In that respect, what happened to you doesn't raise questions about God – the questions were raised before Christ was born, let alone either of us. What happened brought the questions home in a personal way, or maybe raised them for the first time for you, but they've been raised and considered before.

    I would absolutely turn to the Bible and to Christ for an answer. It's in the Bible that I find people asking the same question as you – why do the wicked prosper? The Psalms and Ecclesiastes are full of those questions. The book of Exodus beings with God's people in slavery and a wicked Pharaoh prospering. A good chunk of the Old Testament is set in a period when Israel is divided and diminishing, before going off into exile. The issue of God's toleration of injustice was very much an existential question for Israel and her prophets. It's one of the key themes of the Bible.

    So when you roar your disapproval, shake your fist at God and ask how he could 'tolerate' this evil, you're actually echoing the Bible itself. For instance, the book of Habakkuk begins,

    O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
    Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
    Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
    Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
    So the law is paralysed, and justice never goes forth.
    For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.


    Sometimes God explains why he permits specific injustices to occur. Sometimes he doesn't. But some general answers are given which cover every situation. You don't find the idea of eternal justice appealing, but I find it deeply comforting – the knowledge that all injustice will end and be dealt with some day perfect justice will arrive and last forever.

    What I suspect is dissatisfying about it – what is dissatisfying about it for many people – is that it seems strange that God would wait to bring about this perfect justice. If God who describes himself as holy and love could get rid of evil, then why allow it to exist for a nanosecond longer?

    It's a good question.

    People used to ask the early church similar questions – that hopefully isn't too much of a surprise after all terrible things were happening in the early days of the church. Plenty of their members were beaten and killed and I would be surprised if there wasn't some rape and abuse in there too. That's naturally going to make people wonder why Jesus doesn't come back and sort it all out.

    But Peter gives this answer in 2 Peter 3:
    But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.


    It may seem counterintuitive, but God's slowness to deal with evil is actually patience, in fact it's a mercy for us all. The problem with asking God to deal with injustice, is that we them ask him to deal with us. All of us. Without Christ, I am an unjust, guilty sinner, condemned and hell-bound. While Jesus waits to come back, more and more people are putting their faith in him. More and more are being freed from the devil and saved from hell. That's why God waits.

    I don't imagine that's an easy thing to hear. No-one wants to hear that they're a sinner, least of all someone who has suffered abuse. I don't say it to make you out as morally equivalent to rapists and abusers. I say it because Christ calls us all sinners, but also promises us mercy, justice, and healing when we trust in him. We don't necessarily benefit from those things here and now, but we will on a new earth, in a new creation, with a new life that is eternal. I believe that to be true, I find it comforting, and I think it's the answer,in general terms, as to why God 'tolerate's abuse and abusers.

    If you want a specific answer as to why God allowed you to be abused, I can't give you one. But I don't think a specific answer would help you as much as the patience and grace of Christ can help you.
  • Comment number 40.

    @ T Kingston

    Many of us victims are hurting, and waiting for your reply.


    On a final note that I possibly should have added to my last comment, I hope that the time I'm taking to reply does demonstrate a sincere desire to listen, to talk, and to offer compassion, even if you disagree with what I'm saying.

    I'll reiterate again what I said though about flesh and blood, face to face conversation being considerably more valuable than delayed anonymous Internet conversations where there is no tone of voice, no facial expressions, no opportunity to see that a remark has been misinterpreted and hastily offer a helpful correction or explanation.

    If you ever wanted to speak face to face and it was practical (my wife is pregnant and I endeavour to put her first), I would be happy to sit down with you if you would find it helpful.
  • Comment number 41.

    T Kingston,

    I see from your profile that you've not posted on the BBC blogs before. Welcome to the Will & Testament blog. Always good to have new people come here.

    Let me offer my sympathy and regret for the things you've gone through as a child.

    I suspect you don't anyone's help to see the not very helpful nature of posts like #39 in this thread. It uses many, many words to note that the question of the existence of evil has been around for a long time, advises to turn to the bible for an explanation, which turns out to be that prolonging the existence of evil is a good thing (since people aren't exactly using the extra time to turn to christianity in droves these days, the excuse of allowing more people time to find god sounds very unconvincing to me). And there is some blaming of the victims, going on about everyone, including you, being sinners. Though he does have the good grace to note you are not on the same level as the rapists and abusers. How good and generous of him (/sarcasm ).

    Instead of going on quite a bit about the non-answers he is providing, just the one sentence "If you want a specific answer as to why God allowed you to be abused, I can't give you one. " would probably have been better. Do post here T Kingston, if writing about these things helps you deal with them. Though I would also take into consideration that the responses you get might not be very helpful at all, as you probably had noticed already. And that some might lead to higher blood pressure rather than an easing of your mind.

    All the best, whatever you decide to do.

  • Comment number 42.

    @Peter Klaver

    I find it so hard to take your posts seriously when you insist on sound bite answers to difficult problems. I'd prefer to take T Kingston a bit more seriously and give him the kind of in-depth reply he's looking for. I'll also stick to telling him what I believe to be the truth, rather than platitudes to make him feel better.

    If you've any genuine interest in engaging with the issue, rather than sniping from the side lines, perhaps you'll explain which victims I blamed for which what and where I said it. Or would that require too many words?

    Incidentally, if you look outside your Northern Irish bubble, you'll find those droves. Not that the numbers are particularly relevant, but I thought I might broaden your horizons.

  • Comment number 43.

    Jonathan Boyd

    "Lovely straw man. In what way am I supposedly not satisfied and clearly wrong-thinking?"

    T Kingston has told us his harrowing story of how he was abused by a Presbyterian paedophile and you claim no knowledge of the scandal - perhaps the greatest paedophile scandal ever to engulf the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. If you and your Church gave more consideration to people living today than to the life of someone who lived approximately 2,000 years ago our society might be better. When T Kingston wrote: "During the trial Presbyterian clergy told us that we were liars, but we were proved to be telling the truth" what did you think he meant?

    One example of wrong thinking: "It may seem counterintuitive, but God's slowness to deal with evil is actually patience, in fact it's a mercy for us all."

    I think T Kingston puts it much better: "But at the end of the day the only answer was, that all will be revealed at the judgement seat, when we get to heaven. Little comfort to those victims taking their own lives."

    Your theological claptrap serves not the interests of those traumatised by Presbyterian paedophiles. Try and look at the case of Lindsay Webb objectively and ask yourself if his few years behind bars were enough. You might think this a stupid question - if God had wanted him to serve more he would have served more!

  • Comment number 44.

    @ newlach

    So what exactly is it I was supposedly not satisfied with? Still haven't seen an answer to that.

    T Kingston has told us his harrowing story of how he was abused by a Presbyterian paedophile and you claim no knowledge of the scandal


    Are you calling me a liar? The events happened when I was at school and they had no relevance to me, so why would I remember them all these years later, even if I heard about them in the first place? Even leaving all that aside, what's the relevance of whether I remember what happened or not? Did I deny any of the events? No. What exactly would my memory of the events add?

    If you and your Church gave more consideration to people living today than to the life of someone who lived approximately 2,000 years ago our society might be better.


    It might be worse. What's the point of your speculation? If Christians paid more attention to Christ, I firmly believe that there would be more love, more grace, and more goodness in this world. But like your pointless speculation, I can't prove it.

    One example of wrong thinking: "It may seem counterintuitive, but God's slowness to deal with evil is actually patience, in fact it's a mercy for us all."


    A non-Christian calls Christian belief wrong thinking. In other news, water is wet. I thought that maybe you had something with a bit more depth to offer, but your accusation is 'wrong thinking' basically just bold down to 'I'm not a Christian, therefore all your Christian beliefs are wrong thinking.'

    Your theological claptrap serves not the interests of those traumatised by Presbyterian pedophiles.


    I'm answering questions, even as I got mocked and criticised. I'm interesting in telling him what I believe to be the truth, rather than what I think he wants to hear. All I hear from you is accusation, condemnation, and judgmentalism. Look at this objectively and ask who is actually trying to help, and who is just trying to score points.

    Try and look at the case of Lindsay Webb objectively and ask yourself if his few years behind bars were enough.


    No thanks. I'll leave that to the legal professionals who have seen the evidence. I'm going into ill-informed speculation and pass judgement on a situation I know nothing about.

    You might think this a stupid question - if God had wanted him to serve more he would have served more!


    I don't see your point. The Christian God (rather than some generic deity you may be referring to) instituted authorities to bring about justice on earth. That's fairly basic Christian doctrine supported by passages such as Romans 13. There are records of God's intervention against unjust systems, but the Bible records plenty of instances of God waiting to bring about judgement and gives assurance that all matters will eventually be brought before his judgement seat. Lindsay Webb is hardly a fresh challenge to Christianity. The Bible is full of professing followers of YHWH who sinned egregiously and it is full of people asking God why there doesn't seem to be justice on earth.

    As I've already said, I am sympathetic towards T Kingston's situation and if I have an opportunity to show him compassion in the flesh, I hope I will. If he wants to speak to me in the flesh, I will oblige him. What I won't do is offer cheap words on the Internet, give soundbite answers to difficult questions, mindlessly agree with criticisms of Christianity, or lie just to make him feel better. Criticise me all you like; I'm going to get on with taking him seriously and responding seriously.
  • Comment number 45.

    T Kingston: I am very sorry to hear about your experience -- very sorry indeed. Perhaps we can have a coffee and talk about some of this in person in the next few weeks? If you are open to that, could you send an email to: william.crawley@bbc.co.uk

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ newlach (An addendum to the previous post.)

    Having just gone back to check some earlier comments, I see that my question about 'wrong thinking' was in response to you saying that no right-thinking persons would dispute the facts of the abuse T Kingston suffered. That being so, what does your answer in post 43 have to do with the facts of the abuse T Kingston has suffered? Given that the answer you give is taken from post 39, but the original accusation came in post 35, and you presumably can't see the future, there must have been some other fact you had in mind.

    Care to share, or should I expect a retraction from you?

  • Comment number 47.

    Jonathan Boyd (@ 37) -

    I haven't heard of any abusers using the doctrines of total depravity or original sin to justify their actions. Even if they have, I don't see how that makes the doctrines wrong. It simply makes the reasoning perverted. Such a justification could only come by taking a doctrine in isolation, which should never happen. I'm not sure in what way your speculation is supposed to help, particularly in regards to the PMS crisis.


    My "speculation", as you call it, is supposed to help to answer the question as to why so many professing Christians - or perhaps I should put the word in inverted commas: "Christians" - are inclined to abuse children. I rather think that this is an exceedingly important question. There is certainly nothing in the idea of "God' - and therefore the idea that life actually has an ultimate meaning and purpose - that could possibly lead anyone to abuse a child.

    Therefore, I am inclined to look for malign "mutations in the Church's DNA" - i.e. its theology - to find some kind of cause or at least justification for these crimes.

    Certainly there are those fundamentalists who use the doctrine of original sin and total depravity as a justification for the exceedingly sadistic overuse of corporal punishment - even on babies - a thoroughly disgusting example here and here is another article on this subject.

    I realise that these articles speak of the use - or rather abuse - of discipline, which is, of course, not the same as sexual abuse, but there is a very small difference between beating a child black and blue and sexually abusing him or her. It is just abuse.

    Abuse - whether of children or adults - is often justified by means of some philosophy which dehumanises the victim. Hence we have the example of the "Untermensch" (sub-human) being applied by the Nazis to the Jews and other "undesirables" marked for extermination. Likewise, in the run-up to the Rwandan genocide the minds of the Hutus were poisoned with the belief that the Tutsis were "cockroaches", in other words, they were sub-human. This methodology serves to sear the consciences of those committing abuse with the belief that "these Untermenschen and cockroaches 'deserved' it, on account of their status of being of nil value".

    to be continued...
  • Comment number 48.

    ...continued from post #47...

    A person who - through absolutely no fault of his own - "deserves" to be tortured mercilessly for all eternity in a place of unspeakable suffering at the hands of a supposed "God of love", is someone who has no inherent value whatsoever, and therefore could be likened to a cockroach. In fact, would you torture even a cockroach in such a way that it did not die in the hope that the creature felt the suffering for as long as possible? People who delight in torturing animals - even insects - are generally regarded as having some serious mental issues and could be morally psychopathic. How much more, therefore, those who would want to do this to a human being!

    I actually believe in a certain understanding of the concept of "hell", but it is far removed from the Reformed idea, and it is based on an understanding of free will. I have explained my position on this clearly enough in the post I've linked to, so no need to repeat myself.

    I could say far more about the error of the doctrine of "original sin" - or more accurately "original damnation" - to show that the Bible does not support this concept. Perhaps I will at some point, but I have written enough for now. Certainly the link between the doctrine of "original sin" and "child abuse" needs to be further investigated.

    William, sorry this post may be a bit off-topic (re PMS), but as we've got on to the subject of child abuse in the church, I feel this is relevant, especially as the church in question subscribes to reformed theology.

  • Comment number 49.

    @LSV

    Doctrines should not be taken in isolation. Doing so perverts them. It may be that some people, in taking the doctrines of original sin or total depravity in isolation, use them to justify abuse. That doesn't make the doctrines wrong. The problem is in the perversion, and the isolation of the doctrine, not in the doctrine itself.

    Reformed Christians (theoretically) believe that that the Bible teaches that we are all sinners, even from birth. However, we also believe that God is the holy judge, not man.

    If you start taking the doctrine by itself and examining it in isolation, you're committing the same mistake (with regards to doctrine) as the abusers you're talking about.

    Now here's a question for you: are you suggesting that original sin and total depravity, as doctrines within the Reformed theological framework incline people towards child abuse, or are you saying that the doctrines when removed from their framework incline people towards child abuse? The difference is significant.

  • Comment number 50.

    Forgot to add to the previous post:

    What do you mean by "many professing Christians"?

    Proportionally more than the rest of the population?
    Many compared to some arbitrary proportion?
    Comparatively many Reformed Christians?

    And what is the basis for what you say?

  • Comment number 51.

    Jonathan Boyd,

    "………..perhaps you'll explain which victims I blamed for which what and where I said it."

    I was referring to your post #39. Specifically, the bits where you explain the persistence of misery, such as T Kingston has gone through, by the extra time needed for sinners to turn to god. And then reminding him that he is one of those sinners (in his case one who doesn't believe in god to too) who are the cause of the persistent suffering.

    "Incidentally, if you look outside your Northern Irish bubble, you'll find those droves. "

    My Northern Irish bubble? I moved away from there in 2008. I have visited the place a number of times since, but for most time since then I've lived in two different countries.

  • Comment number 52.

    Lsv, the links & posts 47 & 48 were thoughtful & insightful. Within a secular worldview there's also an impression the religious are more prone to abuse & cruelty. The links provide some answers as to how abusive attitudes can be sanctioned within a Christian context, but we're also used to seeing how human rights abuses affect the Muslim world; eg the torture of Indonesian housemaids in KSA.

    On another level, perhaps when the religious are wrapped up in belief of a personal God, their 'dialogue' can condone their certain pattern of behaviour- which can then become pathological - that if God disapproved, God would intervene, which is then regarded as tacit approval for their actions, absolving them from a certain level of responsibility for their actions. Maybe they become too self-absorbed to have empathy for anyone else. As if they're the only ones having the dialogue with God & those being abused 'in their care' aren't at the controls- just pawns in an abusers reality- not endowed with the same cognitive ability or connection to God as the abuser. This skewed perception, tied with original sin & pathological behaviour could lead to the dehumanisation of the victims at the hands of 'pious' abusers. Maybe this is an example of how someone in religious authority can carry on abusing while still preaching their religion?

    On the topic of the original thread, Peterm2 makes an interesting point as to the duty of everyone within the PCI, not just ministers, to organise a fund of some sorts to help those who've been hit hardest by the failure of PMS. There must be some people with accounting, banking, organisational experience to create some type of financial safety net for the hardest hit & in need of support within their church

  • Comment number 53.

    @Peter Klaver

    In post 39 I neither blamed anyone nor singled out victims so your comments are disingenuous.

  • Comment number 54.

    Jonathan Boyd,

    "In post 39 I neither blamed anyone nor singled out victims so your comments are disingenuous."

    You went as far as to 'reassure' T Kingston that his sinning didn't put him on the same level as rapists and abusers yet!

  • Comment number 55.

    @ Peter Klaver

    'As far,? you say that as if those words are an extreme form of assigning blame or singling someone out. They are neither.

    I never mentioned blame and singled him out no more than myself. I made no attempt to assign blame to anyone; only to say that we are all in need to the mercy of God, which he is patient to provide. I did nothing to single him out; on the contrary, I put us all in the same boat, the very opposite of singling out - I thought the words 'all of us' might have given that away.

    Your accusations are baseless.

  • Comment number 56.

    I would also like to draw attention to your use of the word 'yet' - another one of your fictions, to add to 'blame.' Two words I never used, two concepts I made no attempt to convey, and yet two accusations you would throw at me. Should I expect more such fictions, or are you done with libel?

  • Comment number 57.

    Ryan (@ 52) -

    Thanks for your post.

    I tend to think that what people think about God has a direct bearing on their own character, and therefore relationship with others.

    If "God" is an abuser, then his followers may become abusers too (even if only in subtle ways, such as displaying hardness of heart and closing ranks against legitimate criticism). If "God" has deliberately brought people into the world corrupted with a moral disease called 'original sin' (without, of course, any consent on the part of the person affected, since of course that person would just be a baby - or even a foetus - when infected), then "God" is an abuser. And this is true especially if "God" then condemns people for having a 'sin nature', when they could not help having it anyway. And it gets even worse... for some theologians, "God" decides to create some people, allows them to be infected with original sin, and then decrees that they should never even be offered a way out of their certain everlasting damnation to the fires of hell for being "sinners" (why then create these people in the first place?!). These are the so-called predestined reprobate.

    It's not surprising that some Christians whose minds are brainwashed with this kind of thinking have no qualms about abusing other people. If it's OK for their "God" to cynically manipulate and torment innocent and helpless people, then it's obviously OK for his followers to do the same.

    What's the alternative to this? Either atheism (which has its own problems, in my view) or the truth, which is that "God is love", and has not created people under any kind of damnation. Jesus clearly affirmed the innocence of childhood, and held up children as examples of the kingdom of God. If some Christians want to reject the clear words of Jesus Christ, then that is their problem. I choose not to.

    So I really do think that there must be a connection between what a Christian abuser theologically believes and his actions of abuse.

  • Comment number 58.

    @LSV

    It's very easy to criticse a view when you reduce it to caricature. And very easy to criticse a doctrine when you remove it from the context of a wider theological framework. Do you have any response to post 49 yet - in particular the question about whether you see a connection between abuse and doctrines in isolation or doctrines within a framework?

    I could very easily turn around your claims and posit that a view of God as love, with no judgement, punishment, or holiness, means that I can do what I want and not have to worry about eternal consequences. Such a theology could excuse rape, abuse, murder, genocide, etc.

  • Comment number 59.

    Jonathan Boyd (@58) -

    I could very easily turn around your claims and posit that a view of God as love, with no judgement, punishment, or holiness, means that I can do what I want and not have to worry about eternal consequences. Such a theology could excuse rape, abuse, murder, genocide, etc.


    How strange.

    A God of love who doesn't punish people? Not something that I have ever said or even insinuated. Where did you get that idea from? That seems a very curious concept of love.

    Morality is built on the foundation of love - Matthew 22:40. Love defines righteousness. It is not consistent with 'love' to rape, abuse or murder someone. So a God of love acts against that which is contrary to his nature.

    This idea that for God to be "holy" he has to be something other than love, is one of the most bizarre ideas - and insidious lies - within Christian theology. Unfortunately it's a very common error. To create a false dichotomy within the character of God is indefensible.

    However, it is also not consistent with love to punish someone for something that they cannot help doing. Please explain to me how the God of "holiness" can be personally angry with a foetus or a new-born baby. How can a belief in a God who is personally angry with a foetus possibly serve as a deterrent to prevent rape, murder and abuse?

    I would have thought that the idea of 'original sin' gives people an excuse: "It's not my fault. I can't help it. I'm just a sinner, as we all are."

    How many times have I heard Christians excusing behaviour on the basis that "we are all sinners, it's just that we Christians are forgiven sinners". The doctrine of original sin encourages personal irresponsibility.

    A genuine belief in a God of love provides no excuse for sin, because it is a theology which affirms free-will and moral responsibility. God is love, therefore we have to live in that love, which has moral implications.
  • Comment number 60.

    @LSV

    I never said you believed in such a God. I was merely pointing out that any doctrine taken in isolation can be a problem.

    I agree that the idea of separating God's love from his holiness is insidious and bizarre - in fact that has been my whole point in saying that total depravity and original sin should not be taken in isolation!

    Rather than continuing to answer your questions though, I wonder if you could answer one that I've asked twice now: are you linking abuse with doctrine in isolation or doctrines within a system? I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for that clarification; after all, this is a dialogue, not an interrogation... isn't it?

  • Comment number 61.

    @ T Kingston

    Man oh man, your suffering is yet another nail in the coffin of those who use religion as a cover to harm others. The sad reality is that while never again should a cleric ever have impunity from prosecution that the travesties continue. Turning a blind eye or giving prominence to any cleric or person promoting religious superstition is the stumbling block in moving forward.

    Shame on anyone who harms another.

    I hope you take Will up on his offer to meet and discuss the story further.

  • Comment number 62.

    Jonathan Boyd (@ 60) -

    Rather than continuing to answer your questions though, I wonder if you could answer one that I've asked twice now: are you linking abuse with doctrine in isolation or doctrines within a system?


    What I am trying to do is understand the thought processes that would lead a professing Christian to abuse children. Of course, this investigation will inevitably involve some logical deduction and measured speculation, because such abusers are unlikely to divulge their reasoning, or it is possible that their method of psychological justification is subconscious anyway.

    A false doctrine does not become legitimate simply by being placed within the context of a systematic theology. A belief that human beings are inherently sinful and therefore "deserve" the condemnation of God (i.e. "damnation by default") is an idea that is illogical, whether in a system or taken in isolation. (As an aside: I don't know why we can't have "salvation by default" - that would surely be a better reflection of the will and character of the Person running the show. Surely the default commands in any system reflect the motives and agenda of the person in control of it. It seems truly bizarre that the God who desires that "all people should be saved" should set up "damnation" as the "default command" of the human race!)

    There is evidence that the doctrine of 'original sin' has led some Christians to over-discipline their children in a way that is abusive and sadistic. This kind of violent physical abuse is only a small step from sexual abuse. If a parent or leader can justify the former, then I am sure he (or she) can easily justify the latter.

    As I have already argued, the process of abuse begins with the dehumanisation of the victim. The victim is seen as somehow less than human - less than having absolute worth and value. Any idea which diminishes the absolute worth and value of a human being has the potential to be used to justify abuse.

    to be continued...
  • Comment number 63.

    ...continued from post #62 ...

    It is a sad fact that much Christian theology tends to dehumanise people - even fellow Christians. We talk about "the lost", "the reprobate", "the unregenerate", "non-Christians", "the worldly", "the spiritually dead" etc etc. While there is some truth in all these labels (although I have problems with the concept of "reprobation" within the context of the doctrine of predestination), they are applied across the board to categorise millions - indeed billions - of fellow human beings. And then a whole set of ready-made assumptions are connected with these categories.

    Why can't we simply talk about people - different individuals - all loved by God, and all of them possessing inherent worth and value? Why do we have to categorise people ideologically? Why do we see children as merely candidates for conversion, rather than as those who manifest the kingdom of God now, as Jesus expressly stated?

    The process by which children can be slotted into some systematic theology, and judged to be degenerate or depraved on account of the theory of original sin, is a methodology of dehumanisation. Why can't we just take people as they come - as individuals, boys and girls, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters - in other words, real people - rather than as some phenomena to be understood within the context of a particular religious ideology?

    I think a denomination's systematic theology can function like a pagan idol that blinds its adherents to reality - in particular, the reality of the love of God. All the religious wars are really conflicts over whose "idol" is superior. While some kind of systematisation of ideas has its use, we must guard against any use of concepts to label and categorise - and therefore dehumanise - people.

    I can only deduce that an abuser lives in a world in which people have been reduced to impersonal concepts, and therefore, like concepts, victims can be manipulated and used for the abuser's gratification. That is why Christian theology has to put the individual above the system, and not vice versa. In fact, what we desperately need is a healthy "Christian humanism" (which, of course, has nothing to do with atheism, since atheism's anthropology is itself dehumanising, in that people are nothing more than soulless machines without any ultimate value or purpose).

  • Comment number 64.

    A lot of words, none of which answer the question. I wasn't debating with you whether total depravity or original sin are true doctrines; I was asking if you are linking abuse with the doctrine taken in isolation, or the doctrine as part of a larger theological framework. In other words, are you linking abuse with the perversion of a doctrine stripped of its context, or seeing abuse as a 'proper' application of the doctrine?

    After being asked three times (now four!), I'd have thought that you'd be able to give a clarification on what it is you're asserting.

    This is critically important because some of the attitudes you are equating with original sin and total depravity would be totally contradicted by for example a reformed theological framework. I'd even argue that the doctrines themselves do that to a certain extent. If you're talking about dehumanising people for instance, then if human beings are viewed as born into sin and totally depraved, then sinners are ordinary humans, not sub-human.

    Incidentally, there is a certain irony in the amount of question begging and straw man erecting that comes from someone with your name.


    But back to question:
    Are you linking abuse with the doctrine taken in isolation, or the doctrine as part of a larger theological framework. In other words, are you linking abuse with the perversion of a doctrine stripped of its context, or seeing abuse as a 'proper' application of the doctrine?

    If you can't answer that question, then there's no point in replying to you, because I don't know what it is that you're asserting.

  • Comment number 65.

    I must say that I am hesitant to wade into this, original sin and total depravity are not subjects which are destined (hoho) to be well discussed on this blog.

    A positive relationship between a belief in total depravity and child abuse is an unknown. Criticising the doctrine on these grounds is, therefore, unwarranted. There is certainly no logical connection in a Reformed theological system between one and the other. Moreover, total depravity is a traditionally Protestant doctrine, notwithstanding it's Augustinian heritage. The Roman Catholic Church does not teach total depravity as a dogma. Yet we have instances of child abuse by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Which raises another issue.

    The alleged connection between original sin and child abuse is it allows the abuser to look upon their victim as deserving. Both Reformed and Roman Catholics believe in original sin, of course. But for a child baptised in the Roman rite original sin is supposedly removed. So it appears your damned if you do and damned if you don't, so to speak.

  • Comment number 66.

    Jonathan Boyd (@ 64) -

    A lot of words, none of which answer the question. I wasn't debating with you whether total depravity or original sin are true doctrines; I was asking if you are linking abuse with the doctrine taken in isolation, or the doctrine as part of a larger theological framework.


    This is what I wrote: "A false doctrine does not become legitimate simply by being placed within the context of a systematic theology."

    Whether the doctrine is true or not, it has conceptual implications. I fail to see how any "larger theological framework" can somehow mitigate what this concept is saying. The doctrine of total depravity states that the human race is under the condemnation of God on account of the fall. How does a "larger theological framework" modify or temper that inherently unjust idea?

    And if theological ideas have no moral implications, then I assume that, as newdwr once memorably wrote on another thread, "theology is bunk". Angels on a pinhead etc, and of no practical use. And the same therefore would be true of the church which relies on such theology.

    to be continued...
  • Comment number 67.

    ...continued from #66...

    If you're talking about dehumanising people for instance, then if human beings are viewed as born into sin and totally depraved, then sinners are ordinary humans, not sub-human.


    Yes, sinners are "ordinary humans", if the word "human" simply describes a biological organism. But I was using the word "human" (as the basis of the term "dehumanise") to describe beings with inherent worth and value, you know, "made in the image of God". Clearly such a being has no inherent worth and value if he or she is deemed to be deserving of damnation from the moment of conception onwards (and therefore is condemned without recourse to free-will or personal moral responsibility - and at the hands of a God who is supposedly "slow to anger"!). To create something which is inherently flawed and declare it to be complete rubbish worthy only of the scrapheap from the outset, is about the greatest insult the creator could level at his creation. Thankfully such a 'creator' is a fiction, and not the true God.

    Incidentally, there is a certain irony in the amount of question begging and straw man erecting that comes from someone with your name.


    That's the sort of comment I generally expect from contributors of another ideological persuasion on this blog. Water off a duck's back, I'm afraid. I'm only interested in proper refutations, of which this is not one.

    My moniker is just a bit of fun, by the way. I can't believe people take these pseudonyms so seriously!

    Are you linking abuse with the doctrine taken in isolation, or the doctrine as part of a larger theological framework.


    You keep talking about this "larger theological framework". What is it and how does it sanitise the doctrine of total depravity? Explain that, and then I can try to answer this question you have put to me!
  • Comment number 68.

    LSV,

    I guess the inquisition is an example of the abuse and cruelty which can be engaged in when people are dehumanised through their 'sinfulness' which in turn is justified by a particularly grotesque view of what a god would want or sanction. I am not suggesting that religion is the only way in which humans have tried to enact such atrocities but it would seem to fit with some of what you are saying.

  • Comment number 69.

    @ LSV

    This is what I wrote: "A false doctrine does not become legitimate simply by being placed within the context of a systematic theology."


    Which does nothing to answer my request for clarification.

    Your original contention was not simply that total depravity and original sin are wrong; it was that they justify abuse. I haven't been debating with you whether they are right or wrong; I've been seeking clarification about whether you think justification occurs when the doctrines are taken in isolation, or when the doctrines are considered within a wider framework. Whether the doctrine is right or wrong isn't really relevant to your original claim.

    So, for the fifth time, when you claim that these doctrines have a positive link with abuse, are you claiming that the link is there when the doctrines are taken in isolation, or when they are taken as part of a larger framework? In other words, are you condemning the doctrines when taken in isolation, or condemning them as part of a larger framework e.g. Reformed theology?

    You are the one who made the original claim, so it behooves you to clarify what exactly you are claiming, otherwise how can anyone possibly dialogue with you?
  • Comment number 70.

    Jonathan Boyd,

    In post 55 you mention singling out people 3 times. I didn't say you singled out T Kingston. I noted in post 41 that you had said all are sinners, T Kingston just being in there with the rest of us (though you were so very kind to reassure him he's not on the same level as rapists). So what's with the singling out straw men?

    In your post 46 to newlach you suggest he needs to make a retraction. In post 56 you speak of fictions and libel. Your arguments from angry indignation sound rather hollow to me.

  • Comment number 71.

    @ Peter Klaver

    T Kingston is a victim of abuse. You said in post 41 that I was blaming victims of abuse. To date you have failed to justify any of that. I never talked about blame and I certainly didn't attempt to blame victims of abuse or hold them responsible for what happened to them. Accusing me of that is utterly irresponsible, not only because it's a deeply offensive lie, but because it is bound to cause pain to any victims who may be reading it and may be confused by your words into thinking they are being blamed.

    I see little point in responding to you when all you're interested in doing is having a go at Christians.

  • Comment number 72.

    Jonathan Boyd (@ 69) -

    So, for the fifth time, when you claim that these doctrines have a positive link with abuse, are you claiming that the link is there when the doctrines are taken in isolation, or when they are taken as part of a larger framework? In other words, are you condemning the doctrines when taken in isolation, or condemning them as part of a larger framework e.g. Reformed theology?


    I have to admit that I am struggling to understand the distinction you are making between "taking an idea in isolation" and "taking it as part of a larger framework". An idea is an idea.

    But let's see what the doctrine of total depravity looks like set within a Reformed framework, and decide whether it is any different from the doctrine "taken in isolation". It is used as the justification for upholding the "justice" of God in condemning the reprobate; this justification, as I am sure you are well aware, is known as 'infralapsarianism'.

    Calvin's Institutes, book 3, chapter 21 lays out clearly the doctrine of predestination including reprobation:

    "By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death."

    to be continued...
  • Comment number 73.

    ...continued from post #72 ...

    There are those like R.C. Sproul who attempt (vainly, in my view) to justify this brazen rejection of the will of God (1 Tim. 2:4, Ezek. 18:32) with reference to 'total depravity', hence:"In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves."

    Sproul then quotes Luther to underline that all human beings are naturally evil, and therefore when "left to themselves" will inescapably go to hell: "He who would understand these matters, however, should think thus: God works evil in us (that is, by means of us) not through God's own fault, but by reason of our own defect. We being evil by nature, and God being good, when He impels us to act by His own acting upon us according to the nature of His omnipotence, good though He is in Himself, He cannot but do evil by our evil instrumentality; although, according to His wisdom, He makes good use of this evil for His own glory and for our salvation." (from 'The Bondage of the Will')

    There is, of course, not a shred of difference between 'supralapsarianism' and 'infralapsarianism' other than a form of language to attempt to give the appearance of exonerating God from the charge of being the author of sin. In reality, the fact of God deliberately creating some people, knowing that they would be damned by the fall, and then wilfully refusing to even offer them any hope of escape from their absolutely certain destiny, is no different at all in practice from the supralapsarian position. Sproul is just trying to pull the wool over people's eyes to sanitise a thoroughly sadistic "God".

    to be continued...

  • Comment number 74.

    ...continued from post #73 ...

    Here are some examples - from Calvin, Luther and Sproul - of the "Reformed" framework. It doesn't make for happy reading, I'm afraid. At least some members of the human race are complete garbage according to the will of "God". I'm afraid I can't see how this theological framework sanitises or justifies a doctrine which clearly dehumanises people, and turns "God" into the most vile and sadistic tyrant, in that some people are doomed from the moment of their conception (and therefore without reference to their free-will), irrespective of when "God's decree" was made.

    As for the link between this doctrine (whether taken "in isolation" or "as part of a larger theological framework") and abuse of children, I have acknowledged that I am trying to understand the thought processes that could lead an apparently committed Christian to behave in this way.

    It is not unreasonable to use deduction to draw plausible conclusions. After all, an abuser is not likely to get up in the morning and write the following in his diary: "Today I plan to abuse a child in my care, because he is only a miserable little hell-bound sinner anyway, and deserves all that is coming to him." We need to exercise discernment in the absence of any confession on the part of the abuser (and anyway, it is likely the justification in his own mind may be subconscious).

    What we do know is this: that physical abuse (i.e. sadistic and excessive overuse of corporal punishment - even on babies) has been justified with direct reference to the doctrine of 'original sin'. I have linked to a couple of articles about that, and there is much more evidence available. It is therefore not at all unreasonable to infer (and I admit that this is 'inference' - a method science uses all the time, by the way) that if Christians can sadistically beat a child black and blue, feeling justified with reference to a particular doctrine, then they can abuse a child in other ways with reference to that doctrine. This is not illogical thinking or wild speculation.

    to be continued...

  • Comment number 75.

    ...continued from post #74 ...

    Furthermore, we know - from studies of extreme examples of abuse, such as the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide - that a certain way of dehumanising prospective victims is the precursor to abuse. I have referred to the Nazi use of the term "Untermensch" (sub-human) and the Hutu use of the term "cockroach". So therefore it stands to reason that when we see examples of apparently committed Christians (even in leadership!) abusing children (and adults) in their care, we need to look for these "precursors" - these "dehumanising" ideas - which have laid the groundwork for abuse.

    All this is entirely logical, based on substantiated facts.

    So therefore I am drawing out the implications of what is already known, and apply it to this phenomenon of child sexual abuse within the church. Clearly there must exist ways of thinking within certain churches which can serve to justify (though not necessarily cause) the dehumanisation of the victims. What more apt doctrine could there be than the idea that even children stand damned in the sight of God?

    C.S Lewis wrote: "Correct thinking will not make good men of bad ones; but a purely theoretical error may remove ordinary checks to evil and deprive good intentions of their natural support." (Christian Reflections: The Poison of Subjectivism).

    Likewise, incorrect thinking may not necessarily make bad men of good ones, but, as Lewis says, it can remove "ordinary checks to evil". That is why we need to pursue this kind of investigation.

  • Comment number 76.

    Having spent some time this morning reflecting on this discussion, I've come to the conclusion that it's not going in a helpful direction and hasn't been for a long time. I have played my part in that and apologise for becoming irritable and confrontational. That was what I wanted to avoid, but is exactly what has happened and is one of the reasons I stopped posting here a while ago. It was poor judgement on my part to comment as a cure for insomnia. It's hard enough to treat people well on the Internet, without doing so when tired and I should have known better. I'm therefore going to draw my participation to a close.

    I'm sorry if I offended or aggravated anyone. In particularly, I hope that T Kingston is able to take my words in the helpful spirit in which they were intended, rather than see them as some attempt to place blame upon his shoulders for the terrible abuse he suffered.

    One final word that relates to what LSV has just posted: sin does not rob people of their value to God. Indeed, the great news of the gospel is that while we were still enemies of God, Christ came and died for us. Jesus died for sinners. So I hope that having heard me say that we're all sinners, no-one has gone away feeling condemned or devalued – certainly that was not my intention. We are sinful people, but loved and valued none-the-less, whether we are adults or children. God's response to our sin was to suffer on our behalf, so that we would not have to sin. That is consistently held up as the model for us to follow – suffering for sinners so that they do not have to suffer; suffering to point to Christ and what he endured on our behalf. It would seem that I haven't done a very good job of that in the past week; for that I apologise. But I hope that anyone who goes and reads the Bible for themselves, free of the distractions and conflict of this discussion, will that liberating, redeeming message there.

  • Comment number 77.

    LSV - a very interesting argument. I am sure you would be aware that I think the very idea of Theology a presumption and just about all its practitioners' formulations nonsense squared. I take issue with you, however, for a different reason.

    You suggest in respect of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse within the church, in # 75, that abusers might need to justify the dehumanisation of their victims. I would suggest that such sexual predators generally feel no such need: we term their actions abuse and consider them harmful to the victims; very many predators do not see their activities in this light at all and quite simply have no need whatsoever for the type of justification of which you speak.

  • Comment number 78.

    Parrhasios

    I think the very idea of Theology a presumption and just about all its practitioners' formulations nonsense squared.

    How come?

  • Comment number 79.

    Parrhasios (@ 77) -

    You acknowledge that I have put "a very interesting argument" and yet you say that you think that the "very idea of Theology a presumption and just about all its practitioners' formulations nonsense squared."

    That sounds very strange, given that I was putting a theological argument, which you admit you found "interesting"!

    Even those who think that the idea of God is a purely human construct have to admit that it is at least worth studying why some people believe this idea, even if only to gain insight into human cognition and cultural practices. The "study of God" is called "theology" (Theos + logos). Dawkins' notorious tome "The God Delusion" is actually a theological work, since the subject being discussed is "God", never mind the fact that Dawkins seems to share your view of theology. Christopher Hitchens' even more notorious book, the title of which I will not denigrate myself to quote, is also a theological treatise due to its subject matter.

    As for your point about the self-justification of paedophiles, you may perhaps have read what I wrote in post #62:

    What I am trying to do is understand the thought processes that would lead a professing Christian to abuse children. Of course, this investigation will inevitably involve some logical deduction and measured speculation, because such abusers are unlikely to divulge their reasoning, or it is possible that their method of psychological justification is subconscious anyway.


    Of course an evil person tries to justify himself, hence the concept of the "seared conscience". But this justification may be subconscious, and hence he would simply be "following his feelings" without conceptualising them. That is why I presented evidence concerning the process of dehumanisation within propaganda that precedes, for example, genocide. It is clear therefore that a process of brainwashing precedes evil behaviour.
  • Comment number 80.

    Andrew - what did Charles Wesley say?

    "In vain the firstborn seraph tries
    To sound the depths of love divine.
    ’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
    Let angel minds inquire no more.
    ...
    Still the small inward voice I hear,
    That whispers all my sins forgiven;
    ...
    I
    feel the life His wounds impart;
    feel the Saviour in my heart."

    It's all subjective, innit? It's when you start pretending (especially to yourself) that the whole God and religion thing makes any kind of external objective intellectual sense that you get into trouble.

  • Comment number 81.

    Parrhasios (@ 80) -

    It's when you start pretending (especially to yourself) that the whole God and religion thing makes any kind of external objective intellectual sense that you get into trouble.


    Oh dear. Clearly I'm in trouble then, because I certainly do think that God makes "external objective intellectual sense". (Funny, but I don't feel particularly "in trouble" as a consequence of thinking like this. Quite the opposite! It's the answer to my troubles!)

    In fact, the concept of "external objective intellectual sense" has no validity in the absence of an objective mind behind reality.

    I'm afraid I can't see how the alternative, namely, the mindless movement of matter delivers anything worthy of the description "objective". Perhaps you think differently? I must confess that I can't see how the laws governing matter can deliver morality, consciousness or reason. But I can certainly see how God can produce these things.
  • Comment number 82.

    LSV,

    "I must confess that I can't see how the laws governing matter can deliver morality, consciousness or reason."

    You wouldn't be making an argument from incredulity here, now would you?

  • Comment number 83.

    Parrhasios

    Andrew - what did Charles Wesley say?

    Charles Wesley wrote lots of hymns, none of which can be understood without reference to the objectivity of the Christian faith. An objectivity which, of itself, is not opposed to subjectivity.

    Wesley was writing in a particular context. There are influences on his hymnody. In some sense it was a reaction against the outward severity and legalism of the holy club. That form of piety becoming foil for the increasing influence of German pietism in Britain and the colonies; the conversion experience, the inward glow, the second blessing, all of which became the bread and butter of Wesleyan Methodism.

    But it was also doctrinaire. Not to mention the ecumenical creeds, the Wesley brothers contended with the Calvinism, on issues such as free will, sovereignty, the atonement. Neither Charles nor John repudiated the objective for the subjective.

    They too believed, if Christ is not risen our faith is vain.

    It's when you start pretending (especially to yourself) that the whole God and religion thing makes any kind of external objective intellectual sense that you get into trouble.

    Right back at you.

  • Comment number 84.

    Following on from my post #81 :

    I must confess that I can't see how the laws governing matter can deliver morality, consciousness or reason.


    I forgot to add "free will" to the list.

    Peter Klaver (@ 82) -

    You wouldn't be making an argument from incredulity here, now would you?


    Correct. I am an "unbeliever".
 

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