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The great floods

25 July 2007

THE PHOTO of Tewkesbury Abbey which went round the world this week is not an exact parallel with the famous wartime image of St Paul’s Cathedral amid the blazing City of London; but the sight of the great church on its tiny island in the floodwaters of Gloucestershire is still memorable and moving. The prayers of churchpeople all over the country are with the suffering communities of this and other counties and cities affected. As we write, it is unclear whether further severe flood warnings will also turn out to be justified. But even parts of the country relatively undisrupted by the heavy rainfall that has robbed many thousands of people of their homes, and of power and water supplies, and a number of their lives, will not escape consequences of the costly commercial and agricultural devastation.

We can be sure that questions about flood defences, land drainage, housing development on flood plains, and matters of emergency planning and co-ordination will be discussed exhaustively over the coming weeks, and that the authorities will be required to explain themselves wherever they are found wanting. A few people who were blasé about climate change may be prompted to think again. But it also remains true that human beings are never able to deceive themselves for long that they are the masters of the created order. They are a vulnerable part of it — but, at their best, its crowning glory. One encouraging aspect of the crisis has been the reporting of many acts of courage, kindness, and generosity. Part of that tale is the rediscovery that the parish church, its clergy and people, can be a source of comfort to all parishioners, and a focus of cheerful co-operation by men and women of good will.

1967 and all that
ALONGSIDE the discussion about the employment tribunal at which the Bishop of Hereford has come to grief, there is value in marking the 40th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which was brought about with the votes of a number of bishops in the Lords, including the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day, and with the support of many — though, of course, not all — churchpeople. The distinction made by the Wolfenden committee in 1957 between matters involving immorality and those implying criminality has proved so useful that there are few people today, whatever their views on sex, who would not regard the abolition of the old punitive legislation as other than a victory for justice, compassion, and common sense. The principle of restricting the matters treated as criminal is still relevant in a world of ASBOs, smoking bans, and the EU. Wolfenden, in great demand as a committee man, was a churchman, involved in the early days of the Board for Social Responsibility. His example of the thoughtful and open-minded application of Christian precepts in national affairs is one to follow.

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