Melvyn, David and Willie

06b27c0f9f2824fcb5d1d7e5d1431b8aa6e958fdI’m enjoying reading Lord Melvyn Bragg’s book on the King James Version of the Bible, The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011.

In the opening chapter he says that two of the greatest speeches in the House of Commons were by Christians and rifted with the King James Bible. Those were by Winston Churchill in 1940 just after the outbreak of the Second World War, and by William Wilberforce when he made his first speech  for the ending of the slave trade in 1789.

But significantly Lord Bragg goes on to report that this parliamentary tradition is not dead, by quoting the contribution of two Northern Ireland MPs. He says that on 9 December 2009, my local MP, David Simpson, demanded a debate, calling on the government to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible. Mr Simpson said,

“The great Winston Churchill noted that the scholars who produced it had forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world. It is not only our literature and language that has been influenced by the King James Bible. It has had an extraordinary beneficial influence upon political and constitutional affairs. It was the Bible of Milton and the Protectorate, later it was the Bible of the Glorious Revolution, which gave us constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. It was the Bible of Whitefield and the Wesleys, that saved the realm from the brutality and blood of the French Revolution. It was the Bible carried by the founding fathers of the United States that helped to force that land and give the world that great democratic powerhouse ….

Hospitals were built and charities created as a result of its influence. The hungry were fed, the sick nursed, the poor given shelter … lives that lay in ruins were made whole and souls that were held in bondage were set at liberty.”

Bragg says that the anthem was taken up by other speakers, most notably Dr William McCrea, MP for South Antrim, who quoted from John Wesley:

“Oh, give me that Book! At any price give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book.”

Dr McCrea continued,

“It has been burned but there is not the smell of fire about it. It has been buried but no man has ever kept it in the grave …This book sets men free…”

One wouldn’t have expected Lord Bragg to be quoting David Simpson and William McCrea, or even for those three gentlemen to be in agreement on many matters. But that in itself proves the worth of the Book which they all admire and commend.

On being thankful

Even though there was a huge vote in favour of accepting the PMS rescue package, I have received some emails and phone calls from those who continue to be unhappy about the resolution. The more I think about it, the more thankful I am for what has been achieved. Other savers in Ireland have lost 80% and 90% of their savings, as this story from the Irish Times illustrates.

BANK OF Ireland, Irish Life & Permanent and EBS have joined AIB in announcing plans to impose losses of as much as 90 per cent on junior bondholders.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said the move to “burn” the junior, or subordinated, bondholders was in line with Government policy to achieve “appropriate” contributions to the recapitalisation of the banks from investors.

“These financial institutions are remaining solvent due to the ongoing overwhelming financial support of the State. Without this support, subordinated bondholders’ entire investment would have been irrecoverable,” he said.

The offers propose bigger haircuts on bondholders than had been expected by market analysts. Continue reading “On being thankful”

The Church of Scotland General Assembly

vcAfter several hours of debate yesterday, commissioners at the Church of Scotland General Assembly voted by 351 to 294 to adopt a proposal which means a move towards the acceptance for training, induction and ordination of those in same-sex relationships for the ministry. The Assembly also voted by 393 to 252 to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex relationships ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges.

A theological commission will be set up to bring recommendations to the 2013 General Assembly, as well as considering whether ministers should have freedom of conscience to bless civil partnerships and possible liturgy for such occasions.  As nothing has been formally enacted, the proposals do not need to consult the Kirk’s 46 presbyteries under the Barrier Act, but it does mark a significant departure from the Church’s traditional teaching, as acknowledged by the Commission’s report.

In presenting the report of the Special Commission, the convenor, Lord Patrick Hodge, reported that the commission had received a letter from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland confirming that their position was that sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are sinful. The PCI Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, spoke in the debate yesterday and affirmed the position of the Irish Presbyterian Church.

While the debate was well managed by the Moderator, Dr David Arnott, some of the speeches confirmed my worst fears about the views of many within the Church of Scotland. “We know better than the Bible” was the tone of one speech, and, as one speaker said, since the Bible had got it wrong on slavery, the role of women, and the death penalty for adultery, we should not be afraid to discard what it says about homosexuality. The speaker insisted that current scientific evidence makes it clear that homosexuality is perfectly natural and not sinful, and therefore homosexuals should not be barred from leadership in the church. Another speaker referred to the pastoral and prophetic insights of bisexual and transgender people.

One feels for the many conservative and evangelical people within the Church of Scotland who must be very hurt and depressed by their Assembly’s decision. The conservative voice was not prominent in the debate and an amendment by Rev Martin Allen was overwhelmingly rejected. What the response of the conservative wing of the Church of Scotland will be is unclear, but if ministers, elders and congregations withdraw in numbers as a result of this decision, it may seriously damage the Kirk. The evidence is that this kind of schism has not happened in the recent past, and may not happen now.

Undoubtedly this decision will affect how Irish Presbyterians view their Scottish counterparts, and the links with both the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) following their recent decisions may become an issue for debate and discussion within PCI.

A bonus point win for the PMS!

pmslogo_smallA letter today from Mr Arthur Boyd, the Administrator of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, reports that over 99% of the PMS members and creditors voted in favour of the rescue package which was proposed to them. This package means that no saver with the PMS will have less than 77% of their savings returned to them immediately, and many will receive substantially more than that. The rescue package also allows for the possibility that, given favourable economic conditions in the next number of years, all savers will get 100% of their money back.

I have to say that this is a great outcome for everyone who has been involved in seeking a resolution to this crisis since it first began in October 2008. I pay tribute to my colleague, Rev Dr Donald Patton, who got the campaign going, to the Lobby Group under the leadership of Ian McGimpsey and Isobel White, to those who advised and supported me, and to our representatives in both Houses at Westminster who lobbied and campaigned for us. Particular thanks are due to members of the Northern Ireland Executive and especially to the former DETI Minister, Arlene Foster, and her officials for putting the details of the package together. And of course, Arthur Boyd, has played a leading role in getting us to this outcome. A big thank you to everyone who has worked so hard and so effectively.

What makes this a “bonus point win” is the fact that Mr Boyd reports that 33% of the PMS savers have voted to make an additional voluntary deferment, thereby raising the Church’s contribution to over £2 million and thus ensuring that all smaller savers with less than £20,000 in the Society will get all their money back. That gives me particular pleasure since the needs of the smaller savers have been our primary motivation in seeking a solution to this crisis.

Above all, we give thanks to Almighty God for answered prayer.

PMS update

The Administrator has given an update on the current state of play with regard to the Presbyterian Mutual Society. This is what he said:

I am pleased to be able to tell members and creditors that the Court has approved the process by which I will put a proposed Scheme of Arrangement to a vote. The proposed scheme is designed to facilitate the pay out of those sums provided by the Government and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland by way of financial assistance. I expect to be able to send the proposed scheme and voting papers to members and creditors next week. They will receive all the information necessary on which to make a decision to accept or reject the proposed scheme. If it is accepted, it will require to be sanctioned by the Court before payments can be made. At this stage it is not possible to be precise about timings, but all being well I hope to be in a position – if the scheme is approved – to process payments in late June/early July.

This should come as good news to all PMS savers. Once the details of the Scheme of Arrangement are unveiled, there will be a number of information and clarification meetings around the country to explain it, so that creditors will have a clear idea of exactly what they are being asked to approve. It may also need to be pointed out to them what the implications will be if they give a thumbs-down to the Scheme. The details, times and venues of those meetings will be sent out out to all savers by the Administrator.

It is my hope that creditors will vote in favour of the Scheme and that those congregations and individuals who are in a position to leave a small percentage of their money in the PMS for a few more years will do so. In that way, smaller savers will stand to get all their money back immediately. Throughout this campaign, that has been our goal, and with good co-operation all round, it can be achieved.