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Letters to the Editor

01 July 2016


Aftermath of the Leave decision in the EU-membership referendum

From the Very Revd Richard Lewis

Sir, — The Church of England could have spoken to our nation in a time of crisis; it might have helped to avoid a catastrophe. The voice of our Church in the debate on the European Union has been most notable for its absence. I wonder whether this places the Church of England in the same category as Tesco or Sainsbury, companies who chose to remain silent lest they offend some of their customers. We could have helped: we did not.

I did not look for the Church to pronounce on the economic arguments; those waters were clouded with lies and damned lies; nor indeed about migration; for this issue can and will be resolved. Underlying the debate about migrants and refugees, however, is thinly veiled xenophobia; and the Church surely has something to say about that. It could speak, too, of the dangers of the barely concealed attempted coup in one particular political party; that coup now looks likely to succeed; and this at a time when other parties are weak. This is a warning for our democracy, for which, through the centuries, many have paid a high price.

More importantly, the Church could have spoken about the soul of Europe; of history; of duty; of responsibility; of sacrifice. Isn’t it that which is at stake? The pulpit in the nave of Wells Cathedral is where the good news of the Kingdom is proclaimed as the inscription round it says “in season and out of season”. It is a memorial from the mid-1500s to the Bishop of Bath & Wells William Knight, who was sent by Henry VIII to negotiate terms that would keep England within Catholic Europe.

He failed, and time and tide have flowed. Armies have moved across the face of Europe in naked aggression, or for freedom or for dreams of power or wealth. Tens upon tens of thousands have been slaughtered and lie in fields all over Europe — my own uncle among them; blown to pieces 100 years ago this year.

Was it not, therefore, our destiny, our sacred duty, to have a place and voice at the table of Europe? Are we not willing to make a sacrifice for that? Does the blood of the millions of the slain not call out “You are your brother’s keeper”?

Who, then, has authority to speak for us? So I ask if there is any backbone in the House of Bishops, or any spine in the forest of deans. On the day of the referendum, the Old Testament reading at Morning Prayer was of Samson, who brought the whole edifice down on the Philistines because they could not read the signs plainly standing before them. Is that to be our fate. too? The contribution of the Church of England has been, in one word, pathetic.

1 Monmouth Court, Union Street
Wells, Somerset BA5 2PX


From the Revd Mark Bailey

Sir, — With the collapse of Westminster and England’s football team as symbols of strength and well-being, it is perhaps time to look to more enduring icons on which to project our battered sense of national self. Without colluding with romanticism or xenophobic nationalism, might I suggest two possibilities: the land — it is still green and pleasant — and monarchy — at 90, the Queen embodies an on-going sense of duty and of service, whatever the trials of life.

I would like to be able to suggest the National Church at this time of crisis, but I fear that we have not been helped by our Archbishops, both of whom declared for Remain. On reflection, it might have been better to stay silent and thus uncompromised. They are now less able than they might have been to facilitate healing conversations at the highest level.

The loss of internal objects on which to orientate ourselves is, indeed, a painful business, as anyone who has suffered mental breakdown will tell you. In consequence, the absence of the adult in the room — we are not helped by politicians crying on national television — more often than not results in the infant acting out dysfunctional behaviour: note the rise in hate crimes since the referendum.

The urgent need now is for good pastoring at the local level and especially in small rural communities, where neighbours’ views are often more exposed.

The Rectory, 6 Green Close
South Wonston
Winchester SO21 3EE


From the Revd Paul Seaton-Burn

Sir, — Your front cover (24 June) showing the Union flag at half-mast at Westminster, was all too apt for the events of last week.

In these days, when the divided state of our nation has become painfully apparent, the anger felt by many of us — including those young people not allowed to vote — remains raw. Many find it incredulous that those who voted “to make Britain great again” are surprised that they have made the break-up of the UK much more likely. I won’t be the first of your readers to recall Proverbs 29.18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Now is the time for our churches to make more spaces for dialogue and hospitality for those of different ages and cultures, and to provide sanctuary for those who have been vilified by UKIP & Co. Perhaps in learning how to do this, we’ll become a more inclusive and generous Church in the process.

In these days of political vacuum and disillusionment, it is only right that we lament the causes that resulted in the EU vote. But, looking ahead, I hold on to the (difficult) words given to Jeremiah in exile: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29.7). If we truly follow the Prince of Peace, our divided nation needs us to show it now more than ever.

The Rectory, Chagford
Devon TQ13 8BW


From the Rt Revd Michael Bourke

Sir, — I can understand the Governor of the Bank of England having to reassure the markets in the aftermath of the referendum. That church leaders, however, should also issue reassuring calls to “draw together in the confidence that our history is in the hands of God” seems to me to be theologically more questionable.

It lacks the biblical sense that God acts in history in wrath and chastisement as well as in deliverance: “What with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust.” There will undoubtedly be evil and unforeseen consequences from the English people’s decision to turn their backs on the EU’s fragile and, no doubt, fallible attempts to build structures of peace and prosperity over half a century.

We cannot, therefore, just call people to pull together and carry on religiously with business as usual. “God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own.” That call requires our nation to stand under God’s judgement, and pray that the damage will fall not on our European neighbours, not on Scotland, and least of all on Northern Ireland, but on ourselves.

The Maltings, Little Stretton
Shropshire SY6 6AP


From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir, — Britain’s vote to leave the EU is a clear rejection of the EU’s principle of free movement of labour. It is important to clarify our thinking, as Christians, about that principle.

Some Christians seem to think that the principle has a humanitarian basis, akin to Christian principles of loving our neighbours and concern for the needy. It doesn’t. It is a purely economic principle, which the EU regards as a necessary part of the free market. For the sake of an efficient and growing economy, people must be able to move to wherever the work is or wherever they can earn most. This is why EU leaders are so insistent that the principle cannot be compromised. It is why the EU insists that even countries that want to be part of the single market without joining the EU must sign up to the free movement of labour.

The problem is that the principle treats people merely as economic units in the market system. It is blind to other aspects of the human good, such as community, culture, place, and the environment. It appeals to the young and enterprising, who relish new experiences and thrive on the challenges they offer. It is less kind to the older, to the less talented, to those who find it harder to adapt and to many who remain attached to the places and communities of their birth.

Culturally, freedom of movement may enrich, but it may also disrupt. Finally, it conflicts with the limits to growth which care for specific natural environments requires. In a small island, it is reasonable to be concerned about the relentless expansion of cities and the loss of countryside.

As an inflexible principle, freedom of movement makes sense only to free-market fundamentalists for whom economic goals must always trump other considerations. The EU is fast becoming a fortress that protects freedom of movement within it, but pulls up the drawbridge to keep everyone else out.

So it is not racist or xenophobic to want governments to be able to manage immigration with a view to wider aspects of the common good. We should value everyone who lives here now and welcome others. But for the future we need an immigration policy that does not privilege EU citizens over other migrants. My hope is that, if migration from the EU is limited, it will be easier to get public support for a much more generous policy of welcoming refugees from the Middle East, Eritrea, and other places. Those are the people who most need to come here.

11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB3 9LW


From the Revd Nick Smeeton

Sir, — As a parish priest in a deprived area, I have long been concerned that, while sharing the riches of this country with others is a wonderful and proper thing, employers and politicians can choose the ease and relative cheapness of importing foreign labour rather than face up to their social responsibility to develop the ability and capacity for work in some of our most vulnerable communities.

As we move — for good or for ill — into our post-Brexit world, let us pray that it may be a world in which we continue to welcome newcomers, but that those who come to work in this country are not exploited for profit, while those who are born here into poverty are given every chance to partake fully in our national economic life.

13 Brooklands Court
Rochdale OL11 4EJ


Creeds have little to do with secularisation


From the Revd Professor David Martin

Sir, — The Revd Adrian Alker (Letters, 24 June) claims the condition of the churches admirably analysed by Canon Alan Billings (Comment, 17 June) is due to doctrinal incredibility. Does he mean the incarnation, the saving efficacy of the cross, the resurrection, the Trinity, the sacramental understanding of baptism and the eucharist, and the notion of divine Providence? Let him specify.

There is, in any case, scant empirical evidence for his contention. There have been generational shifts over moral issues such as homosexuality, where conservative attitudes have undermined ecclesiastical moral authority, but that tells us nothing about central doctrines, supposing people even understand the issues at stake.

I have been centrally involved in the study of secularisation over more than 50 years, and have recently reviewed the debate and the current evidence in “the West” and globally. The “incredibility” of central doctrines is largely irrelevant. The consensus points to social and historical factors, including resistance to foreign oppression and levels of existential well-being.

Religion in Poland is vigorous and doctrinally conservative, while religion in the neighbouring former DDR and Estonia is chronically weak, owing to very different histories. Religion in Romania is orthodox and popular, whereas religion in Holland has shifted to an unanchored spirituality, such as Mr Alker seemingly admires, and is institutionally extremely weak.

Globally, Islam and Pentecostalism are supernaturalist. The causes of their success are complex: for example, a post-colonial resistance to Western secularisation, and, in the case of Pentecostalism, a capacity to pick up ancient impulses of spiritual empowerment, a desire for a share in the world’s goods, and autonomous control of institutions of mutual self-help.

174 St John’s Road
Woking GU21 7PQ


Dementia: the carers from abroad; and resources


From Mrs Margaret Duggan

Sir, — Inevitably, because of space restrictions, my account last week of my husband’s dementia (“The closest I’ve come to hysteria”, Features) needed to be shortened. My one regret about what was omitted was the fact that almost all his carers, most of whom have been so good to him, have been first-generation immigrants: mostly Africans, but also Filipino, Caribbean, and Iraqi.

I learned a lot about African family relationships, and the domestic details of their lives; the struggles of a lot of African wives with wayward husbands, and their determination to bring up educated children. In particular, I think of two Somali Muslims, one a mother of five, the other a student, who regularly came for two years. The older one has become a personal friend.

Seeing them twice observe the month’s fast of Ramadan at the height of the summer, taking nothing, not even water, between 3.30 a. m. and 9.30 p. m., made our attempts at a Lenten fast look so feeble. Yet they carried on as normal, only the younger one struggling a bit during the last week. They were both strictly observant, and yet, when our Vicar came to bring communion to John and me, they liked to sit in with us, joining in Christian prayers where they could. They convinced me we had so much in common.

This has been one positive part for me of the difficulties of recent years, and has made me realise that without these immigrants the south-east of England — at least — would be quite unable to provide the care for the elderly which is so desperately needed. The other positive experience has been the instinctive kindness of so many people, known and unknown: the answers to prayers even when we haven’t been able to pray ourselves.

23 York Mansions
Prince of Wales Drive
London SW11 4DL


From the Revd Dr David Primrose

Sir, — Last week’s excellent features on dementia were replete with powerful stories and useful information. This May, representatives from 27 dioceses met at Church House to consider how best to promote dementia-friendly churches (News, 3 June).

Good practice from around the Church, and much useful information, was collated into a Dementia Handbook, downloadable from http://bit.ly/28RC7pW. I can provide contact details in (almost) all dioceses.

The Prime Minister’s Champion Group, of which I am the Communities member, is developing guidelines to grant dementia-friendly status to faith communities. I hope many churches will also be applying for the 2016 Dementia Awards.

Lichfield Diocesan Director of Transforming Communities
1A Small Street
Walsall WS1 3PR


Pride and prejudice


From the Dean of Chelmsford

Sir, — My daughter went off to the Pride Festival in London last Saturday and had a fantastic day with a large group of friends. When we talked that evening, she said the only blot on the day was a group of Christians yelling at them that they were all on a fast track to hell.

She was up bright and early for mass at the cathedral the following morning, and we reflected together that Jesus does, indeed, strongly suggest that people who don’t feed the hungry, don’t give drink to the thirsty, don’t clothe the naked, and don’t visit the sick or those in prison are indeed on a fast track to hell (Matthew 25.31-46).

But Jesus signally fails to mention gay people at all in any of the Gospels. I have always taken it that the words and deeds of Jesus are definitive for Christians. Am I simply being obtuse and naïvely fundamentalist?

Cathedral Office, New Street
Chelmsford CM1 1TY

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