Monthly Archives: October 2010

Responding to David Hallam, Methodist Preacher

My friend Richard Hall is doing a fine job responding to the very strange situation of a Methodist Local Preacher threatening so sue his own Church. See Responding to David Hallam, Methodist Preacher | connexions.

There are a number of issues around here that I want to address.

Threat for publicity or reality?
So far it seems that all we have is a threat made in the Sunday Telegraph and repeated on David Hallam's own blog. It has been picked up by a number of news agencies focused on Israel. However, it does not seem to have resulted in an actual legal challenge as yet. So is this simply the machinations of someone who works in PR trying to get a publicity storm and bully the Church into submission or is it going to actually be a full legal challenge?
Using a Legal Process 
From the various posts and comments by David Hallam it seems that there is a fundamental disagreement between us about the process David is using to challenge the decision of the Methodist Conference.
When Richard questioned whether this approach is compatible with 1 Corinthians 6  David said "The first thing that strikes me is that there is a procedure to go through laid out in Matthew 18. This was exhausted BEFORE I sought any legal advice and the General Secretary of Conference will confirm this."
I do not believe that the David Hallam's process meets 1 Corinthians 6 or Matthew 18 and it is most certainly not compatible with the laid down procedures within the Methodist Church. Taking these in turn.
1 Corinthians 6 is very explicit "If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people?". David has in the past been scathing regarding "liberals" within the Church who do not take Scripture seriously. Yet here Paul is very clear indeed. This contradiction between how David has said he understands Scripture and this action is one thing that does make me wonder if the legal action is a threat rather than a reality.
Matthew 18 also does not seem to me to be compatible with the process David has taken although it would be good to have some light on what has been done. Firstly, this passage is about disagreeing with an individual who has sinned. In this situation it appears that David has not singled out an individual but instead is in dispute with the Methodist Conference. Directly applying this passage will therefore be tricky. David seems to have been in direct contact with Martyn Atkins our General Secretary but where are the witnesses that Matthew 18 requires? More significantly where is the "tell it to the Church". In this case the first "the Church" heard about this was in the Sunday Telegraph. I cannot see how that is compatible with the process in Matthew 18. To "tell it to the whole church" in this context surely requires telling it to the Methodist Conference and there are mechanisms in place to allow that (two I know of would be via a memorial or a notice of motion). Finally with the structures of the Methodist Church it is not possible for Martyn to change this policy, he just does not have this power. That authority lies only with the Methodist Conference (or perhaps in some way with the Methodist Council that acts as the Methodist Conference between conferences). I do not believe David Hallam can claim to have exhausted the Matthew 18 process when nothing has gone to Conference or to Council.
Finally, in the Methodist Church the top authority is the Methodist Conference where elected representatives democratically decide our policies (at least mostly directly elected, District Chairs are one exception although their appointments are confirmed by an elected Synod). We have policies and procedures laid down through which challenges to Conference decisions can be made. I find it very problematical that David has chosen not to pursue (or even to mention) the ways that exist within the Church for challenging the decision of conference.
Style
I struggle a great deal with David's style of doing things. In his latest post (warning there are browser security warnings when you visit his site, I have adjusted my firewall to block rpc.blogrolling.com to protect myself) he fans the flames right from the title "From the Methodist morning hate mail….." yet all he can point to is the comments on Richards posts which I find odd, unless you count disagreeing with David as hate itself, the description he uses of "a torrent of hatred within Methodism on blog sites and personal email" does not seem justified. Obviously I don't know what mail he has received as he does not give any details but theConnexion blog seems a long way from a torrent of hatred to me.
David's style is to be very aggressive to others and then claim that he is being victimized if they challenge him or disagree. This one sided approach where David believes he can be as nasty to others as he wants while complaining when anyone disagrees with his actions just winds me up. Phrases like if you can't stand the heat then stop trying to burn down the kitchen spring to mind.
A side notes related to the style issue is one that Richard has also commented on. David Hallam is the one threatening to sue the Methodist Church. The same David Hallam writes the blog methodistpreacher.blogspot.com yet on that he keeps not naming himself as the one threatening the Church. For example he writes:
Sunday's story about the Methodist preacher who is mounting a legal action against the Methodist churches' discriminatory campaign against the Jewish community in Israel
Fortunately, we appear to only have one David Hallam who is threatening to sue the Church. I support Richard's challenge to ask why the coyness.
Conjecture based accusations
The Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church has been instructed to "to undertake further work on the theological issues, including Christian Zionism". This will be a stitch up. Only those who can be trusted to draw the pre-ordained conclusion will be allowed anywhere near it's preparation. It will conclude that the Jews have no Biblical authority to live in Israel.
Imagine, a mainstream denomination concluding that the people of Israel have no place in the Holy Land. That is the trajectory that we are now on as a denomination.
When challenged, members of the working party  will doubtless say "we were just obeying orders", sorry….slip of the tongue…. "we were doing conference's bidding".
I just find this incredible. How can David justify this conclusion? Is there any evidence at all that the Faith and Order Committee is totally corrupt as he alleges? How does this differ from the worst of tabloid journalism? 
Misrepresentation
It seems to me that in his posts David continually misrepresents what Conference actually did and what other people have said and done. Let me give a couple of examples. 
In a comment David wrote 
"John, no one is suggesting that the Connexion wastes money in fighting an expensive legal case."
As I pointed out, in fact, David is in fact forcing the Methodist Church to do exactly this if he actually takes the Church to court. Either he is going to waste our money by taking us to court or he has misled the Sunday Telegraph and the rest of us. For the record my Superintendent is part of the Faith and Order Network (although to my shame I am not quite sure which bit of it) and I am confident that Rachel would not support a stitch-up of any kind.
In his latest post David writes:
However,  few people seem to have read the very first line of the resolution passed at conference. It says:"The Methodist Conference receives the report Justice for Palestine and Israel".
The conference didn't pass a nice pink and fluffy resolution about a few extremists building settlements where they shouldn't be.  The report actively questions the right of the Jewish people to settle in Israel at all with a half baked analysis of nineteenth century Zionism.
Surely if you are a committed member of the Church, a former MEP and someone who has a career in PR you would check what you are writing about. For Conference to "receive" a report means something technical, so far as I know it simply means that conference formally recognises that the report has been presented. It does not mean that Conference accepts or adopts every point in the report as policy. Surely someone with David's experience and knowledge is fully aware of this.
The actual accusations
I have actually read two draft forms of the whole report as they were presented to Methodist Council meetings prior to conference (as a side note David Hallam chose to comment extensively on a report that went to Methodist Council but not this one). That was a while ago. We also discussed this in small groups as well as the whole council.
It is still quite unclear to me what the actual nature of the legal accusation might be. According to the Sunday Telegraph:
Mr Diamond will argue that the Methodist resolution passed in the summer is in breach of European human rights law and a wide-ranging European Union directive on racism.By singling out Israel, rather than other countries with often worse human rights records, Mr Diamond will claim the church is being deliberately prejudiced against the Jewish state.
I struggle to see how this can be the case. As the FAQ produced by the Methodist Church points out the Church has passed a resolution about goods produced produced in settlements that are illegal according to the European Union and the British Government. The nearest example I can think of is if the Church had passed a resolution about banning goods from Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation. Neither this resolution nor the report support David claiming
"The report actively questions the right of the Jewish people to settle in Israel at all"
Indeed the FAQ reminds us that "The Methodist Church fully recognizes the right of Israel to exist as an independent state within secure borders. "
It is not clear to me whether David's statement from the Sunday Telegraph
Mr Hallam, 62, a former labour MEP, said: "What I object to is money which I am putting on the collection plate on a Sunday being used to fund a political campaign against the Jewish state. This is both discriminatory and a misuse of a charity's funds
is part of his legal threat. Nor does anyone seem to have any idea what he means by "fund a political campaign", so far there might be the cost of a few letters and stamps as all I can find is:
In December 2009, Defra (the UK Government department responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs) introduced new advice on labelling, recommending that packaging of products imported from the West Bank should distinguish between Palestinian areas and Israeli settlements. The Methodist Church has written to major supermarkets to ask whether they are complying with this guidance.
I will happily pay for these stamps and letters, asking Supermarkets to follow the advice of our Government, as that is clearly very contentious.
Summary
David Hallam has clearly found in his bonnet all the bees missing from hives all over the country. He appears to be trying to kick up a huge media storm and yet so far has not delivered a legal challenge, nor has he shown why a legal challenge is appropriate, nor does he seem to have any evidence.
I wonder why PR does not always have a good name?