Author Archives: AD

Press release: Trident protesters in High Court as UN votes to ban Nuclear Weapons

11th July 2017

Appeal against Conviction 

The High Court will today consider an appeal by a group of Christian activists who were convicted in January by Reading Magistrates Court of Wilful Obstruction of the Highway during a protest. The group, named Put Down the Sword joined others from the Trident Ploughshares network in attempting to stop the building of new Trident nuclear missiles replacing old stock. They were arrested after successfully blocking all vehicle access to the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment in June 2016, which the MoD said hindered activity on the site where the missiles are built.

Obstructing traffic?

The appeal today will centre around details of what was actually obstructed. The protesters claim they were careful not to block the public from using any roads around Burghfield, and were only blocking entry to the site – a private road where the stated offence is impossible. 

What’s illegal? Obstructing Trident or Trident itself

The Judge at Reading Magistrates (DJ Khan) had already rejected the argument that blocking Trident counted as Prevention of Crime when considering a previous case – since he concluded that UK law does not ban the production of nuclear missiles.
Last Friday however 122 countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years. Although the UK and other nuclear weapons states did not support this process and weren’t present, the treaty will come into force in September. Once it receives 50 state ratifications it enters into International Law in the same way as the ban on biological weapons did 45 years ago, and the ban on chemical weapons did 25 years ago regardless of whether the UK ratifies it.
Angie Zelter of Trident Ploughshares said ” Trident Ploughshares actions have always been within the law. It is a crime to threaten mass destruction and this treaty strengthens pressure on the UK government to finally obey International Law.”

Opposing Nuclear Weapons – intrinsic to Christianity?

In their trial, the defendants testified to how they felt compelled by their Christian faith to take action for peace and justice, even where this lead them into conflict with the law or the authorities.
They presented evidence from Father Peter Hunter, dominican friar and lecturer in philospophy at Oxford about the intrinsic link between Christian belief and opposing weapons of mass destruction. He wrote:
 “The argument against nuclear weapons is about as simple as it is possible for a moral argument to be.
If it is never justifiable to do something, it is never justifiable to threaten to do it. It is never justifiable to kill cities full of people indiscriminately…so the nuclear deterrence is never justifiable. ..Christians draw from Romans 3:8 the principle, “You cannot do evil that good may come” (or, more prosaically, ends do not justify means.) Christians therefore will not accept that any end, no matter how good, could make the indiscriminate killing of a whole city justifiable.”


Defendant Angela Ditchfield, 38 from Cambridge said: “Sometimes political leaders like to claim they follow Christian values. Well, Christian values include not using fear to control others, especially the threat of annihilation. They include caring for the poor and the sick, for children, migrants and the elderly – spending money on things to help people not on threats of destruction. For me actions like this are as intrinsic to being a Christian as going to church and praying. I’d urge all Christians to join in! And also people of all faiths or none – I don’t know any religious or humanitarian value system which would endorse such widespread loss of life & environmental destruction.”

Appeal verdict

The verdict is due to be given around mid afternoon today.
ENDS

Notes:

1. Put Down the Sword is a small group of Christians who take nonviolent direct action together against the causes of war, nuclear weapons, and climate change in the UK. We are from a wide-range of different theological and faith backgrounds, but all feel it is important that our faith is reflected in our actions, and that our faith leads us to intervene in the causes of death and violence in our world.(www.putdownthesword.wordpress.com)
2. Those convicted were: Nina Carter-Brown, Nick Cooper, Angela Ditchfield, Joanna Frew, Alison Parker
They are represented in court by Jo Buckley of Matrix Chambers, and Adam Payter of 6KBW
3. The five activists used superglue and lock-on tubes (with messages painted on eg ‘Jesus said love your enemies don’t bomb them’) to enable them to block an entrance to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Burghfield, Berkshire on 27th June 2016. Along with 2 other groups blocking 2 other entrances, vehicle access to the whole site was blocked for about 2 hours.
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No Faith in Trident

This morning, five members of Put Down the Sword helped to shut down  Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment. Other affinity groups – a group of Quakers, and a group from London Catholic Worker – were also involved, and between the three groups all entrances to the base were blockaded. Eight people were arrested, five members of PDtS and three from the Quaker group. The day was part of a whole month of action organised by Trident Ploughshares. As well as the blockades different faith groups held vigil outside the site.

Burghfield AWE is the final assembly site for the warheads used in the Trident nuclear weapons system. It was recently reported that the site could be being used to develop even more powerful warheads, and has seen upgrades costing billions of pounds, despite no final decision being made in parliament on whether or not Trident replacement should go ahead.

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#Breakfree from fossil fuels

By Maya

It’s 6:40 in the morning. We are warm and toasty in our sleeping bag, but the air is cold, and I can tell that outside the ground is frosty. The police helicopter went overhead about 40 minutes ago and the air horn to wake us all up followed half an hour later, but my son is still sleeping next to me. It feels strange to be awake before him; at six months old he is normally the first one up in our household.

I hear the excited chatter of people getting ready for an adventure outside the tent, and think about what will happen that day, as I build up the energy for the unknown challenge of joining a protest as a family.

We have been at the Reclaim the Power camp for the past two days. We have heard the history of radical land rights, taken part in meetings of 300+ coming to consensus decisions, had legal briefings, attended action planning meetings, and painted banners – all ready for the day of action.

And it has arrived. Today we will be shutting down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine. Over 250 people will enter the mine from three different directions while we, alongside others, will be outside the gates with music and banners having a visible presence to those that pass by.

As my son wakes for the day I think about why I am there, up a cold mountain in Wales. We should not be mining new coal, but investing in renewable energy. I am here for climate justice. I am here in solidarity with those locally whose economy is disproportionally tied to the mine, and whose surrounding landscape is becoming scarred by a great black hole. And I am here in solidarity with communities around the world who are also being affected by fossil fuel extraction, and those who are already being affected by climate change while world leaders fail to make decisions on emissions and ‘acceptable levels’ for the global temperature to rise. I am here for change.

My son is up and we head out of the tent. Everyone is wearing red and there is a palpable sense of anticipation as the final preparations. My son looks around, confused and excited about such an unusual start to the day. We join our friends, ready to set off, and hear the news that action teams have already shut down the mine!

And the action starts. I watch as 300 people, with banners and music, head off over the hills towards the mine. I know that this is where I have to be; up a cold mountain in Wales, ready to spend the day as part of the global shift to #Breakfree from fossil fuels and towards climate justice.

maya and andrew and robin

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We are nature defending herself

We gathered in the foyer of the British Museum, underneath a banner for the latest exhibition; Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds. We weren’t queueing for tickets; we stood in silence, in a circle, as an act of witness to the destruction being caused in the pursuit of profit by the company sponsoring that exhibition – BP.

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Holding a Quaker Meeting is a very simple protest – if that is what it even is – that means space is gently occupied by a group of peaceful people, whose presence draws attention to something everyone would be able to see anyway, if they were to look. Not just BP’s logo – that’s obvious – but casting a light on the all of the systemic violence that has brought that corporation into one of our museums in the first place. BP are not sponsoring our museums and art galleries because they have a great love of art, culture and history – they are there because they need to sanitise their image, and to ensure their view of their world remains hegemonic.

Normally in Quaker Meeting I flit between letting my mind wander wherever it goes, and gently bringing my attention back to my breath, to the flowers or water on the table, to the light coming through the window, to the week I’ve had or the week coming, or to the most recent piece of ministry. In the British Museum, I found my mind settled on the words written on a banner held aloft at the COP 21 protests in Paris:

nous-sommes-la-nature

“We are not fighting for nature – we are nature defending herself.”

In these words there is a sense of hope and interconnection that startles, baffles, and comforts. “We are nature defending herself” speaks of a radical break with the status quo – capitalism’s constant thirst for more resources and ever expanding growth, that is so often achieved to the detriment of societies and cultures, and the destruction of forests, deserts, rivers, lakes, seas, air, animals, birds, insects, fish. Deeper though, those words act as a break with the standard rhetoric of many environmental campaigns and activists; that system tweaks are all that are needed, not systemic and cultural change. I’m convinced we need a radical change in how we use the earth’s resources, and that that has to be nurtured within a radical shift in our relationship with nature, of how we see ourselves in relation to nature.

Stepping back a little, it seems violence is made possible when we are able to effectively distance ourselves from the victim. At a talk I attended recently, a member of Veterans for Peace described the psychological reconditioning that takes place in military training as as important as the physical preparation for war. In his book ‘On Killing’, David Grossman described how in the First World War many soldiers – physically prepared but not mentally reconditioned – ended up not firing their weapons, but by the Vietnam War and onwards the military had ‘successfully’ raised the kill rate, by training soldiers differently. The VfP member described being taught to ‘shoot at the mass’ (rather than the ‘body’, or ‘person’) from distances that made it harder to relate to the target.

Is it trite to suggest a similar reconditioning in terms of our relationship with ‘nature’? Have we been taught to see ourselves as inherently separate from the rest of the earth, to see the earth as an object? Has this allowed us to accept and participate in ecocide?

Have we been conditioned to see nature as an object to meet our own ends, rather than something we have an inherent, deep connection with, something (everything?!) that has value in and of itself? Do we know how to look at a tree, an animal, a river, an insect, a whole ecosystem, as something inherently valuable, regardless of whether we manage to extract resources from it, consume it, even visit it to ‘enjoy’ it? How would we (re)learn how to do that? Could we?

George Monbiot explored some of these themes in ‘Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, a fascinating account of how areas of the Earth’s lands and seas might be allowed to return to wild forest and ocean. He dares us to imagine hundreds of acres of forest, with wolves roaming free in Scotland and wild boar in the south of England, and at the same time imagine what rewilding ourselves would mean; indeed, he suggests it would take a degree of rewilding our hearts and minds to find the idea of boars and wolves palatable. For this to be possible, for this healing of our planet to take place, it feels like we need new stories (or to remind ourselves of old ones) about what a healthy relationship with nature is about; relearning this will be deeply spiritual, as we redetermine what and how we value, how we understand our roles and relationships. It will be a grand shift, away from capitalism, growth, extraction, and profit.

And so when corporations like BP look at our world and only see oil to be extracted and profit squeezed from the very rocks, we should balk. And when corporations invade our cultural spaces to legitimise their worldview, we should act to expose them.

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The hammer blow

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I’ve just finished reading a book called “The Hammer Blow”, by Andrea Needham. Andrea was one of the women who participated in the Seeds of Hope action 20 years ago. Seeds of Hope famously campaigned against the shipment of Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia, where they would be used to attack the people of East Timor. After a long campaign, the group decided to take direct action against this shipment, entering a British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) factory and disarming one of the jets, hammering on it’s side and control panels. Four of the women spent six months in prison, before being found not guilty by a jury.

The book itself is very well written, and a powerful tale of the power of nonviolent intervention. I was wary when I picked it up, because it is easy to read stories like these, and end up putting the people who did them up on a pedestal, as hero figures, and project onto them idealised images of the fearless activist. The book is a relief, because the writer has dared challenge these stereotypes, and the book is rich with humanity.

There is a particular moment when the writer describes a simple ritual they participated in, just a few days before they took their action; each woman wrote on a piece of paper the fears and worries they had about the action, and these were collected up and burnt without being read out loud. A tray of seeds was then passed around, and each participant took some of the seeds and told the group what their hopes and dreams were for the action – as these were said, the seeds were mixed up into the ash. When all the fears and all the hopes had been collected up together, each woman took a pinch of seed-ash mixture, which they scattered in the days leading up to the action.

hammer (2)_optFor me, this simple ritual is an illustration that in our activism, we have to hold our whole being in the light as we take part. It seems that the women in this story weren’t without fears – I assume they all wrote something on those bits of paper! But what is beautiful is that they refused to let their fears be the only thing that dictated their decision-making, they were able to be guided by something else.

We all might have different understandings of what that ‘something’ is; one of the women had the words “choose life!” painted on her hammer, which maybe illustrates this ‘choosing something else’. Maybe a way of being that ‘fearless’ activist is not hiding our fears away, but owning them and refusing to be co-opted by them, and finding new things to be guided by.

War Starts Here

In a month’s time, the DSEi arms fair will take place in London. Once again, our capital will play host to arms dealers and military personnel – the arms dealers there to sell their wares, the military there to browse the weapons and other equipment that will be used in the wars of the future. The global arms trade is worth billions of pound20130910_090118s – in 2013, global military expenditure was $1.75 trillion, and DSEi is one of the biggest events of it’s kind.

The scale – of DSEi, of the arms trade, of the sums being spent – is almost beyond comprehension. The economic and political interests behind the global trade in weapons can seem insurmountable. Yet, what this industry is really, really reliant on is our acquiescence, our sense of powerlessness  – as soon as people refuse to allow such an industry to take place in their own backyard, it runs into trouble. Like in 2008, when the Australian government cancelled the APDSE arms fair due to the massive opposition mobilised against it, or kayakers set off into the Thames to slow down advancing war ships, or protesters sit down in the gates and hinder access to the arms fair. The arms trade relies, more than anything, on our silent complicity – as soon as we decide to get in it’s way, it slows and falters, we see it vulnerable, and we can imagine new futures, a different way, something new, vibrant, light, and beautiful.

In September, members of Put Down the Sword will be praying for peace outside the DSEi arms fair – come and join us!

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Easter week actions

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem not as a conquering king, but humbly on a donkey. He never used violence, yet 300 years later the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and 2000 years later 2 billion people follow him. Instead of a traditional Palm Sunday procession we walked around the perimeter of Aldermaston, a site that plays a key role in developing and building Britain’s nuclear warheads. We believe that nuclear war is a particularly horrific form of warfare. It is also vastly expensive at a time when services to the poorest are being cut. As we walked, we marked the fourteen Stations of the Cross with prayers for different people affected by nuclear war. We tied crosses to the fence at each station, leaving a lasting reminder of our visit and God’s love for everyone who worked there.

We were delighted to be joined by 21 Christians and Buddhists and we received a lot of support from passing cars beeping their horns as they saw our banners. The walk took nearly 3 hours which really highlighted the vastness of the operation – meting many people, so much concrete dedicated to the most abhorrent of tasks. Protesting for nuclear disarmament is particularly timely as the vote to renew Trident will happen early in the next Parliament and election candidates need to be reminded of the strength of feeling against Trident renewal.

The following day parliament was dissolved before the general election, but we were up much earlier than David Cameron! By 6.30am seven of us were lying across the entrance to tIMG_3592he construction gate with arms locked together, together with six people in support. As we stared up at the beautiful sunrise, we felt a strong sense that despite the bizarre reality of the situation, this was where we were called to be as Christians at that moment in time. This feeling was mixed with relief at actually being there. We has been warned that following a concerted month of action the police had set up roadblocks on the approaches to the site and they were likely to stop a minibus full of people with lock-on tubes. But we encountered none of that – we just drove up, piled out of the van as practised and had fully blocked the gateway by the time the MoD Police came over to say “good morning”!

Twenty minutes later they reappeared in their vans and started making clanking noises as they moved around equipment inside. It was at this point we realised they intended to cut us out. The eventual appearance of the Thames Valley Police did nothing to dissuade theme of this plan and 45 mins later we were donned in protective gear (goggles, ear defenders and Kevlar blankets) and they were flexing their power tools. It took them over two hours to cut us all out, thanks to the cunning construction of the tubes which were all different – providing five different puzzles for the police to solve. The cutting was accompanied by readings from the Quaker Advices and Queries, moments of silence, requests to approaching vehicles that they would need to find another entrance and a morning chorus of tweets and to let the rest of the world know what we were doing. Once we had all been moved to the verge we had a short reflection with prayers and songs. We decided to leave then as the police were doing a good job of blockading the gate themselves with four vehicles! We offered all the police the sign of the peace before we left. We did reflect that we are lucky to live in a country where the police meet our non-violent actions with a non-violent response.

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We hope our action demonstrated God’s love for the whole world, and gave everyone whose day was disrupted a chance to think about the real consequences of their work. In the Christian family everyone has different gifts and our action was the result of thirteen people who all brought something different – driving, media, observing and the constant replacement of errant hats(!), as well as lying in the road. Our prayers are now with those who will take the decision about Trident replacement, may you choose the Way of Peace.

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New earth

I went for a walk the other day, down Regent’s Canal. It was one of those times, spent alone, where your mind is free to wander, take in what’s going on around you, make little connections you didn’t expect. I like those kinds of environments, where grey, angular urban meets the less predictable water, plants and animals. As I walked, big grey clouds blew over and it started to rain, rippling the canal water. A break in the clouds ahead let golden sunlight shine through. Mallards and moorhens got on with their day.

A bit of a preoccupation of mine at the moment is what it means to be connected to the environment we are a part of, and how far it feels we have managed to isolate ourselves from everything we’re surrounded by (even in our language – we talk about ‘the natural environment’ as if it’s something distinctly different from ourselves). I was half-thinking about this, while I enjoyed the rain. As I walked, I was surprised to find my mind had settled on some words of scripture;

“You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

(Actually, it’s not a huge surprise that these words came to mind; they’re one of the few bits of the Bible I’ seem to have memorised, and the few words I’ve underlined in my beaten up copy of the book.)

Though not one of the obvious references to the environment (in my ‘green’ bible, which highlights references to the environment in green ink, these words remain resolutely black…) I think there’s something important in those words that can help us to shape an understanding of our current relationship with the earth.

I find a sense of presence of the divine in the natural world – I don’t know if I believe in any God that exists beyond the material world we live in; that doesn’t seem very important. For me, there is as much of God in the connections and inter-reliance between beings in the biosphere as there is anywhere; our sense and relationship with God could be derived from how well we participate and live in relationship with the other living things on this planet, the utter complexity of it all, in the material and the mundane. I don’t want to look beyond or away for God, I want to look to the very here and now.

It seems at the moment though, we’re often making choices which amount to serving money and finance, not an earthly and present God, and that’s because we’re on a trajectory – kick-started in the industrial revolution with the advent of the fossil-fuel powered engines – which has led us far, far away from any sense of interdependency with our environment.

In her new book ‘This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein talks about the ‘sacrificial zones’ created for tar sand extraction (vast landscapes negated to hold the waste of this utterly polluting form of fossil fuel extraction); a more recent example of how capitalism has pushed ‘nature’ further and further into a corner. “If it doesn’t turn a profit, then it has no value” is the mantra of modern-day, hyper-capitalism. If we can’t extract vast amounts of minerals, or oil, or wood from a landscape, then it’s future is of little consequence, it has no inherent worth beyond our own financial valuation. We’ve spent a long time teaching ourselves to believe that we’re on the top of the pile, that things only make sense through their utility to us. Our economy has become ever more reliant on the extraction of fossil fuels and ever increasing levels of consumption. To my mind, we spend a lot of time serving money, not God.

However, we know this doesn’t fit well, that we’re running on borrowed time. We know that the Amazon and other rainforests are the lungs of our planet. We know that our plants and animals rely on each other. We know that the wonder of creation isn’t just the individual species, but even more the vast tapestry of connections and interdependency that exists in the biosphere.

A few years ago Friends of the Earth ran a publicity campaign to promote bees and to stop activity threatening their future, with the tagline “Bees: they need us almost as much as we need them.” This did a beautiful job of reminding us that we are reliant on the ability of these little creatures to pollinate plants, that we need them more than they need us, that we have a relationship. Of course, it’s our brutal attitude towards nature that has meant that bees are finding it hard to survive; our extractivist mindset finds it hard to understand the value of a wildflower meadow on it’s own terms, and at the same time the extractivist culture takes all the honey, leaving the bees just sugar water to survive on. Take everything, fuel the economy, return nothing.

I believe there’s a response though, and I don’t think we need to overly ‘spiritualise’ it – I think we need to take concrete action to rebuild our relationship with the earth, to live more interdependent lives with each other and other non-human living things, to recognise and love those relationships. It’s not about what happens in a church building – it’s about having mud under your fingernails. It’s about making compost, growing plants, eating the produce (and making compost out of the bits we don’t eat or digest). Taking what we need, leaving the rest. Growing flowers that bees and other animals love, even if we would never eat them outselves. Not digging the soil. Remembering – when we harvest – to say thank you for what we have been served. Not looking up for heaven, but looking down.

Peter Rollins’ interpretation of the film Wall-e (which I love) is a lovely illustration of this process – of alienation, of separation, and of a more genuine return. In case you haven’t seen it, the film is a bit of a dystopian future, where humanity has had to abandon planet earth because of the un-Godly mess they’ve made of it. The humans managed to create an entirely synthetic environment – a huge space ship that is literally disconnected from the earth, where all their needs are met. Wall-E is the last surviving robot tasked with cleaning up after the human’s ancestors mess. You can’t help but feel sorry as the fat blobs float around, being endlessly fed with crap food and mindless entertainment, all because they’re ancestors were so horrifically violent to the planet they had to leave, because their consumerist, hyper-capitalist society couldn’t be contained in the closed biosphere, because those generations before them chose to live lives of such complete disconnect (so maybe I’m extending the metaphor…) For much of the film, they’ve entirely forgotten what it means to have a relationship with the earth.

The film ends hopefully though, with the humans returning to the earth, and they begin planting plants; there’s a sense that they’re taking the first tiny steps of reconnection with what should actually sustain them. From where I’m sat, the last scene, in which the captain of humanity’s alienation-ship plants one of those first plants back in the ground – looks a little bit like a vow to serve God, not money.

We need to train to wage peace

I heard this read from the Quakers’ ‘Faith and Practice’ yesterday (which I recently found out was all online, here), and was very moved by how it describes what a life committed to peace might look like, especially that last sentence – ‘we need to train to wage peace’. It’s taken from Chapter 24, paragraph 11.

The peace testimony is about deeds not creeds; not a form of words but a way of living. It is the cumulative lived witness of generations of Quakers… The peace testimony is not about being nice to people and living so that everyone likes us. It will remain a stumbling block and will itself cause conflict and disagreement. The peace testimony is a tough demand that we should not automatically accept the categories, definitions and priorities of the world. We look to the Spirit, rather than to prescriptive hypothetical statements. The peace testimony, today, is seen in what we do, severally and together, with our lives. We pray for the involvement of the Spirit with us, that we may work for a more just world. We need to train to wage peace.

What we should be learning from children’s stories

(by Alison)
I’ve been struck recently by how many children’s stories are about a small group of enlightened individuals battling against a greater power who has popular support.   For example, in the Lego Movie, Emmet, Wildstyle and the crew opt out of an extremely regimented society, and through their own creativity try to stop Lord Business deploying his weapon, the Kragle.  The crux scene is a super example on non violence with Emmet trying to appeal to Lord Business not to deploy the Kragle.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, Harry and his friends act in secret to defeat Lord* Voldemort, despite the Ministry of Magic denying he has returned.   It later turns out that key figures in the Ministry of Magic are in league with Voldemort.
The bible has similar themes.   Senior rabbis worked in league with the oppressing Roman government to ensure the execution of Jesus.   The early church (and of course the church in some countries today) tried to spread the truth of Jesus despite persecution.

So why are we happy for out children’s heroes to be seeking truth in a world which constantly tells them to conform to the status quo, yet in our own lives we wordlessly accept the rhetoric our government feeds us without lifting a finger to object?   We’re happy to protect big business’s “rights” to make profit at any expense – workers conditions, the environment our children will grow up in and the peaceful life of civilian’s abroad.   Look again at the name of the baddy in the Lego Movie!!

Jesus reminds us to respect our children as the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them (Matthew 19:14), I think it’s time we should listen properly to what we’re teaching our children!

*I’ve just noticed that both baddies are called “Lord”.   I think there’s a whole other post somewhere about whether non-democratically elected Lords can be a force for good but I’ll leave that for another day.