King's Evangelical Divinity School

13 September 2010

KEDS Question Time

I've previously posted here concerning a joint King's-CPM conference, to be held at London School of Theology on 8-9 October, entitled Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and Uncertain Future. Recently, myself and Mitch Glaser were discussing how we might encourage those attending to raise some thoughtful and probing questions so that all of us - speakers, attendees and several attending members of the Christian press - get the very most out of this aspect of the conference. I, for one, genuinely believe this conference, which seeks to take a somewhat fresh approach to the whole Israel-Church-Middle East issue, will raise all manner of questions, and therefore we want to maximise the time and importance given to the Question/Answer aspect of the event.

As such, we're adjusting the timetable slightly so that an extra session will be added at the very end of the second day (Saturday 9th October), so that we have a panel of all the speakers to answer questions fielded by those attending the conference. The aim is to make this aspect of the conference very similar to the BBC's Question Time in order to encourage wider debate and offer something not always found at similar academic conferences. I will chair the event (though I admit, after attending several Question Time events and meeting David Dimbleby, I can't promise to be quite as slim, elegant and fluid as he), while speakers will take turns responding to questions fielded by those attending the conference (we'll even have introductory music to make it feel like the real thing, composed by our very own Chris Lazenby, B.Th. worship modules tutor!).

Cards will be issued at Registration for people to write their questions down, and we will try to get through as many questions as possible (panel members will not see questions beforehand). Questions which are brief, to the point and interesting (regardless of the ideological/theological stance they take) will likely go to the top of the pile, and each panel member will be asked to respond in turn. Where relevant, we will come back to panel members and the person asking the question to widen the debate. This will be a great way to end the paper aspect of the conference.

It's not too late to book for the event. Full details can be found here, and we really hope you can join us. (For King's students, so far I can confirm Andy Cheung, Chris Lazenby and myself will be there throughout the entire event and we'd love to catch up with you.)

9 September 2010

Burning the Koran: What It Tells Us

A story quickly moving up the news agenda in recent days is how a small church in Florida plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The church's pastor maintains the event is designed as a protest against extreme Islam (rather than Islam as a whole), as well as drawing attention to how the U.S. is in danger of appeasing extremists within its own borders. However, the pastor and church have come under intense pressure to cancel the event, notably from world leaders and other high profile figures, but at a press conference yesterday the church maintained the event would go ahead as planned.

This is a fascinating story because it tells us all sorts of things - both explicit and implicit - about the world we live in. First, it demonstrates the power of 24-hour rolling news which has ensured pretty well everyone across the globe knows about it, together with how capturing the media's attention has in itself now become a valuable form of currency which if exploited efficiently through a stunt can command massive media attention. Thus, however you view them, a small, relatively insignificant group has played the media card masterfully, capturing media attention across the world. Ironically, many of the world leaders who condemn the proposed burning ceremony have only themselves to blame, contributing by their involvement in pushing the story to the very top of the news agenda. After all, when the likes of President Obama, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, the Secretary General of the UN, and even the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, condemn the proposed ceremony, describing it as abhorrent and urging for it to be cancelled, it is inevitable the rest of us wil hear about it pretty quickly.

4 September 2010

Is Britain An Increasingly Secular Society?

I was one of those unfortunate people up and about at 7 am on a Saturday morning today. The plus side, however, was catching an interesting article on BBC Radio 4's Today news programme which coincidentally featured one of my two Ph.D. supervisors, Hugh McLeod, who is Professor of Church History at the University of Birmingham. Also taking part in the discussion, led by John Humphrys, was a Catholic commentator. Actually Professor McLeod didn't get much of an opportunity to contribute, while the somewhat articulate Catholic guest made some interesting and valid points in what was a thoroughly interesting discussion for those interested in the relationship between Church and State, covering questions such as the difference different meanings of secularism, the difference between secularism and pluralism, and whether state relegation of religion to the private sphere does in fact makes a country more secular after all. Anyway, given that most of you were snuggly tucked up in bed at that time I feel pretty confident you didn't hear the discussion, so I thought I'd let you know it can be found here (scroll in to around 33 minutes into the programme). I believe the link will be replaced when the next edition of Today is broadcast on Monday morning, so if you're interested you should listen to it before the end of the week.

1 September 2010

A Thoroughly Theological Conflict

Yesterday four Israeli settlers (including a pregnant woman) were gunned down by Hamas gunmen in the West Bank. Naturally, the world has focused on how the atrocity is likely timed to derail US-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the current stalemate. A few commentators have gone on to dwell upon the significance of a Hamas attack in Fatah-controlled West Bank (the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a major faultline running through Palestinian politics). Yet once again we hear very little about another major feature of this crisis, namely its thoroughly theological nature. I don't know much about the settlers who were murdered, but we do know they come from the Hebron area, which has attracted some of the most religious of Jewish settlers seeking to reclaim land for theological reasons. Meanwhile, just several days ago Rabbia Ovadia Josef, the spiritual leader of the Sephardic political party Shas, expressed the hope in a sermon that the Palestinian president and any Palestinian who persecutes Israel would be struck down by God. For their part, the perpetrators of the slaughter of the four settlers - Hamas - are likewise driven by a strong theological agenda: the total annihilation of the Jewish state and recapture of Muslim land. Israel's northern neighbour Hezbollah, of course, takes a similar line, as does Iran's presient Ahmadinejad.

In short, despite the views of secularists such as Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama, Cameron and the EU that they can somehow make a difference, this is a thoroughly theological conflict for which there can surely be no wholly secular solution. At a conference exploring the conference last year I made precisely this point, only to be told confidently by a civil servant that once politics and diplomacy could get a foothold , once the necessary bait had been dangled and suitably pragmatic agenda (together with ensuing benefits and pay-offs) set out, the conflict could eventually be solved. I'm not so sure. Indeed, I think such a view is as short-sighted as that expressed by some Christians, who seem to think that a purely ethically-driven approach (much like the materialist, this-worldly views espoused by liberal Protestants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) will somehow yield results and bring the conflict to an end. Perhaps, with the diammetrically-opposed theological views of major players on all sides, the pragmatic approach is to concede there may never really be a full resolution of this conflict after all.