Sunday 13 April 2014

Super dioceses, modern slavery, Catholic matters, art, COPEC, Trojan Horse, has Christianity lost its way?, Feminism and Orthodox Judaism & party politics on 'Sunday'

Good morning. Here's this week's review on Radio 4's hip 'n' happening Sunday.

1. A new Anglican dioceseNick Baines, first Bishop of the new "super-diocese" of West Yorkshire and the Dales talks to Ed Stourton about his vision and mission for the future.

Sunday's favourite bishop (if his number of appearances is anything to go by), the Rt Revd Nick Baines, the present Bishop of Bradford, is about to become the Bishop of Leeds because of the creation of a new diocese - the first for 80 years. Regular listeners to Sunday have been hearing about the row over this re-organisation for a good couple of years now, but the row is now over and the new diocese is about to be born.

The new diocese, the Diocese of Leeds, will include four cities - Ripon, Wakefield, Bradford and Leeds - as well as huge swathes of the Yorkshire countryside.

Bishop Nick wasn't best pleased with what he'd just been hearing on the news from the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott, saying it's wrong to say it's all about saving money (as Robert Pigott must have done) and that no matter how many times you say it's not about saving money reporters (like Robert Pigott) will keep repeating that it is! He says the new 'super-diocese' was created to "relate better to the region", to "get the benefit of scale" and the "benefit of the local".

Edward Stourton raised the mix of urban & rural, "the very poor and the very rich" and also asked him (in a sad voice) about the closure of a coalmine in the area.

2. Vatican conference on human trafficking

This is a major campaigning issue for Sunday, and they cover the story on a regular basis

Cardinal Nichols, the Pope and the Metropolitan Police chief were in Rome this week discussing "the modern slave trade". The BBC's David Willey reported from there.

We heard stories from three women - one Czech, one Hungarian, one Chilean - who had been trafficked to Britain before being rescued by a Catholic charity. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the Met is already working closely with the Catholic Bishops' Conference and Catholic charities. Only 1% of those trafficked come forward for help though, noted David Willey. 80% are believed to be involved in prostitution.

It was mentioned in passing that Theresa May was there too, but her involvement or views on the matter didn't seem to be of much interest to Sunday.

3. Catholic matters

David Willey then came on the line to talk directly to Ed Stourton about two new Catholic stories. Catholic stories are of prime importance for Sunday and its Catholic host. It's quite astonishing, when you think about it, how much time - week in and week out - Sunday actually devotes to Catholic matters. You might take it for the broadcast version of The Tablet.

The two stories concerned (1) priestly abuse and (2) the role of women in the Catholic Church.

On the former, Pope Francis has given what Edward called a "very powerful apology" over priestly abuse to a French NGO . David, describing him as  "a very smart person", speculated that he adds words to his speeches as the Vatican's speechwriters fail to word them strongly enough.

On the latter, a British sociologist, Margaret Archer, has been appointed to a position in the Vatican. David Willey said it was "wishful thinking" though to expect a woman to be appointed to a senior Vatican department.

4. ArtSculptor Joseph Hillier talks to Ed Stourton as he puts the finishing touches to his re-interpretation of the '12th Station of the Cross', destined for a shipping container in South Shields, as part of the BBC's 'Great North Passion'.

This was a catch-up with someone they'd spoken to at the start of Lent, and another plug for a forthcoming BBC event.

Joseph Hillier says he's crated a figure lying on its side, made of steel, with sunlight coming through it. "It's almost like the contours of a map", "very industrial looking", "very digitally made", he said. He remains "not a believing Christian."

5. Christian social actionFrank Field reflects on the 90th Anniversary of what many regard as the greatest conference on social, political and economic questions in the history of British Christianity

Labour MP Frank Field (another Sunday favourite) discussed the establishment of the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship (COPEC) in 1924 by Bishop (Later Archbishop of Canterbury) William Temple. COPEC came about, Mr Field said, as a result of a 70 years build-up of Christian social concern, something Mr Field says continues today in response to hunger, with churches being behind  food banks. Ed Stourton said 1924 was when the Anglican church came out of its "sleepy rectories" and "really engaged with the reality of life in 20th Century Britain". Frank Field admired its spirit and sweep, saying that through William Temple, it led to the creation of the welfare state. Its importance was  that it helped set the debate, he said. Now, the Church is blown by the wind of other forces, making very precise statements on specific things (like pay day loans) but not making powerful God-driven arguments for action.

6. Trojan HorseA Muslim-majority academy in Birmingham has been at the centre of a row over alleged Islamic fundamentalism. Ed Stourton speaks to the school Governor who claims the school has been the victim of a "witch hunt" and Liam Byrne MP who raised concerns about the school with Michael Gove. Plus analysis from BBC Midland's Correspondent Phil Mackie.

Well, the BBC is continuing to cover this story, which is good, but Sunday's coverage here was much less open about the specific allegations being made against hardline Muslim cliques in Birmingham. Unlike on Today, these were rather danced around here.

Phil Mackie outlined the story first - the claim that people with "ultra-orthodox Islamic views" are conspiring to take over schools in Birmingham and Islamise them. He said there's a "febrile atmosphere" there, with large numbers of people coming forward to express their concerns to Birmingham City Council. He didn't go into much detail about the specific allegations though. 

Edward Stourton then interviewed David Hughes, an Anglican governor at the school, Park View Academy. At least Ed did [gently] tackle him over some of the issues, if only to allow Mr Hughes to dismiss them and denounce the whole investigation as a "witch hunt". Ed says Mr Hughes "takes a dim view of the allegations". He said there's no conspiracy, that boys and girls are seated separately "by choice", that it's untrue that Christmas isn't celebrated or that Arabic has been made compulsory. He claimed the former teachers who complained left under a cloud, and may have had another agenda. He criticised the school's anonymous whistleblowers. Ed invited him to restate his claim that it's a "witch hunt", which he did, saying "the Establishment" are hunting them.

Next came Labour MP Liam Byrne. He began by saying there were "errors" in Phil Mackie's commentary [prompting the usual panicked clucking from Ed!], though beyond saying that describing the atmosphere in Birmingham as "febrile" was "provocative" and "wrong", Mr Byrne didn't spell out Phil's  other "errors" though. Liam Byrne also skirted around the allegations at the heart of the story, but he did say that the serious allegations by former and current members of staff shouldn't be ignored and that literally hundreds of such allegations have now been made. He attacked Ofsted's "gracial" investigations, the damaging leaks, thee uncertainty and the "media circus". He wants a joint advisor-led review. He also attacked Michael Gove. [Does Michael Gove listen to Sunday? He keeps getting attacked on it!]

Ed then invited Phil Mackie back to defend himself, not that he seemed to have much to defend given Liam Byrne's vagueness. He cited three direct messages from anonymous teachers, one saying 'I'm scared', the second saying 'I can't talk & you're only getting one side of  the story' and the third saying 'it's a nightmare'. He said they are "quite high-ranking" teachers.

A Department of Education statement was then read out denying Mr Hughes's claim of a witch hunt.

All in all, remarkably vague coverage of the story. Sunday just cannot help treading very gingerly over issues like this. 

7. Has Christianity lost its way?: Has Christianity lost its way in the East End of London? Trevor Barnes investigates claims by London Imam Ajmal Masroor that Christianity is becoming obsolete there.

And talking about Muslims...

Imam Ajmal Masroor wrote a piece for the London Evening Standard saying that Christianity is being irrelevant in the East End of London. He puts that down to Christianity's failure to offer a clear, coherent message about God and man's relationship with God, unlike Islam. He cites mosque attendance in London as evidence that Islam is replacing Christianity. 

Trevor Barnes's report interviewed various people who disagree with the imam. We heard from Denise Bentley, from the Tower Hamlets food bank. She says the church is very relevant, saving people from suicide - people like Jackie, an East Ender, who says she's got lots of bills, has come to the food bank and says everyone's "really nice", and the daughter of a Sri Lankan immigrant who says they just have bread at home. The Bishop of Stepney also says the imam is wrong, that the church is growing by 14% in his area and is busy working below the radar. Rev. Alan Green of the Interfaith Forum also disagrees with him saying that Christianity is about "being confident about our doubts, being confident about our questions". Then the director of the East London Mosque said he is "cautious" about reading too much into mosque attendance, praising the church's involvement in social work and saying that Muslims aren't doing enough in that respect.

Doubt and social work then: The winning Christian formula. Typical Sunday!

8. Feminism and Orthodox JudaismFollowing the reversal of a bid to give women a greater role during services in a Synagogue Ed Stourton debates gender, faith and Orthodox Judaism with Dina Brawer and Rabbi Alan Plancey.

This was a debate between Dina Brawer of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and Rabbi Alan Plancey, representing contrasting points of view on the role of women within Orthodox Judaism. It was a balanced discussion, though Edward Stourton - as so often when such issues arise - didn't entirely hide his own sympathies, interrupting and expressing his own confusion about Rabbi Plancey's remarks and encouraging Dina Brawer. Typical Sunday!


Incidentally, I made one of those unsubstantiated assertions that bloggers like me must guard against a couple of weeks ago, when I wrote:
It's rare that you get a Conservative MP on Sunday - it's usually Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs who appear on the programme.
Just looking back though over this year's editions of the programme, that assertion can be backed up. Here's a list of all the politicians who have appeared on Sunday so far this year:
13/4 Liam Byrne, Labour; Frank Field, Labour
30/3 Conor Burns, Con
16/3 Stephen Lloyd, LD; Hazel Blears, Labour; Lord Griffiths, Labour
2/3 Stephen Lloyd, LD
23/2 Mary Honeyball, Labour; John Battle, Labour
9/2 Nick Clegg, LD
2/2 Sarah Teather, LD
19/1 Simon Hughes, LD; Sir Edward Leigh, Con
12/1 David Blunkett, Lab
5/1 Liam Fox, Con
That produces the following totals:
Labour = 7
Liberal Democrats = 5
Conservatives = 3
Of course, that's still a majority for the governing parties. It's also a left-right ratio of 12:3. 

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