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Letters to the Editor

by
14 October 2016

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The size of parliamentary constituencies

 

From the Revd Alan Fraser
Sir, — The Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan, in his highly tendentious article on electoral reform (Comment, 7 October), assumes that his opponents are motivated solely by the lowest of motives, his supporters solely by the loftiest, and everyone else has been hoodwinked. Needless to say, there is another interpretation of the facts.

In 2009, after the financial crash and at the height of the expenses scandal, David Cameron said that it was important for the public to see that MPs were also bearing the costs of public spending cuts. Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy, clearly stated in their 2010 manifestos, was to cut the number of seats in Parliament to 600. In addition, the Conservatives pledged to equalise the size of constituencies. This commitment was repeated prominently in their 2015 manifesto; so people have voted for it — and some people have voted for it twice.

The boundary changes may, as Dr Buchanan alleges, be to the Conservatives’ advantage, but the other fact that he signally fails to acknowledge is that the existing unequal size of constituencies was clearly to the Labour Party’s advantage and was arranged by them (while in government) to be so.

It was acknowledged by most psephologists as recently as the 2015 election that the Labour Party could probably have won an overall majority with as little as 35 per cent of the popular vote, whereas the Conservatives were expected to need closer to 40 per cent to do the same. The fact that they managed to squeeze an overall majority with just 37 per cent of the vote (still more than Labour would have required for the same majority) highlights the second problem with Dr Buchanan’s argument.

He suggests that the changes now proposed by the Conservatives will usher in an era of effective one-party government. He does this on the basis of current voting patterns. But this ignores the fact that people can and do change the way they vote. In 2015, the SNP vote surged and they all but wiped out the Labour Party in Scotland.

Labour had relied on their dominance in the much smaller constituencies in Scotland, which allowed them to secure more seats in Westminster with fewer votes than the Tories had to secure to win seats in England. So a collapse in the Labour vote in Scotland allowed the Tories to secure a majority with fewer votes than previously assumed.

In future, changes in voting patterns will have a similar effect on the Conservatives’ supposed advantage now. To suggest, therefore, that having constituencies of a broadly equal size is somehow inherently iniquitous seems both unfair and contrary to any objective assessment. Surely anyone setting up a constituency system now would look to give all votes equal weight by creating equally sized constituencies. You cannot create a fair system by sizing constituencies on the basis of current voting patterns.

Dr Buchanan concludes his piece with an impassioned advocacy of electoral reform. But he does this without ever acknowledging that the British people were given an opportunity to vote in favour of electoral reform in 2011, and they decisively — indeed crushingly — rejected it. All of the arguments in favour of “fair votes” were exhaustively rehearsed throughout the campaign.

All of the evidence suggests that people fully understood the trade-off between “fairer votes” and “stable government”, and they opted overwhelmingly for the latter. So Dr Buchanan simply cannot claim that the Conservative Party’s ability to govern with a majority despite only securing 37 per cent of the vote is some kind of affront to democracy: it is the product of an electoral system that the British people democratically chose very deliberately, accepting that it would produce just that kind of anomaly.

Of course, it is true that the Alternative Vote (AV) system that featured in the 2011 referendum is not the same as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system favoured by Dr Buchanan. He advocates Anglicanism as a trailblazer in electoral justice on the grounds that this is the system that has been used in our synodical elections for almost 100 years.

Is it, perhaps, too uncharitable to suggest that the independent committee charged with selecting the alternative electoral system for the referendum may have taken one look at the functionality of the General Synod at that time and decided that it did not wish to see it replicated in the country at large?
ALAN FRASER
41 Hobhouse Close, Great Barr
Birmingham B42 1HB

 

Confirmation requirement in the Church in Wales

 

From Mr Terry Sylvester
Sir, — The statement by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, that confirmation is no longer required for holy communion (Welsh Governing Body, 23 September) is, I believe, an appalling decision that shows no understanding of what the confirmation service has meant, and can continue to mean, to all those who take part in this sacred and joyous event.

To believe that baptism is remotely the same experience to the great majority who have been, and will be, baptised suggests that the Archbishop and other senior members of the Church in Wales do not seem to be aware that the great majority of baptisms take place when those who are baptised are young children — many, probably most, too young to be able to remember any part of it.

Confirmation services are glorious occasions, and those being confirmed usually have the support of a happy gathering, at the service, of family and friends. Then after their confirmation is the joyful and sacred experience of a first communion.

I hope that on Archbishop Morgan’s retirement in January 2017 a new Archbishop may lead a reversal of the decision, which is just one more example of the destruction of the glorious and sacred ceremonies of our Church.
TERRY SYLVESTER
(People’s Warden, St Paul’s Ministry Area, Barry)
31 Romilly Park
Barry CF62 6RQ

 

Complementarians and C of E church-planting

 

From the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss
Sir, — I am not a member of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE). Indeed, I spend quite a lot of time and energy persuading Anglican Evangelicals of the gospel imperatives for staying and serving within the Church of England. But I have been disappointed by some of the reactions to your report on AMiE’s church-planting initiatives (News, 30 September; Letters, 7 October).

It is nice that the “Five Guiding Principles” assure loyal Anglicans like me that we have an honoured place in the Church, and that it wants us to flourish in its life and structures. But I have heard far too many stories of complementarian Evangelicals’ trying without success to get posts in the Church over the past few years that this becomes a somewhat problematic claim.

We have our token “special” bishop in Maidstone, of course, but still no representation among the other 100-plus “ordinary” bishops, despite several very qualified candidates, the 1997 Pilling report, and numerous “assurances”. Some of our brightest young ministers have left Anglican ministry disheartened, to pursue careers where their gifts and gusto are better appreciated. Several others have given up resisting the open arms of other denominations that are crying out for their vision and enthusiasm, and some have reluctantly left the country to find employment after scores and scores of rejected applications here.

I know of several church-plants and church-planters around the country who were extremely keen to work within the Church that nourished them, and which, by conviction, they chose to serve, but who have been repulsed by dioceses which seem unable to embrace new life when it is offered to them on a plate. Even some bishops who choose to call themselves Evangelical seem incapable at times of making these people feel at home; one boasts that no conservative Evangelical will ever be permitted in his area. With broad-minded friends like these to help us flourish, who needs enemies?

Despite these difficulties, I hope and pray for more in our number to be (and remain) resilient reformers like Thomas Cranmer and courageous evangelists like Nicholas Ridley — within the Church of England. The calibre of men and women coming through our Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference (JAEC) is most encouraging in this regard. But I am not sure that anyone can blame those starting out from scratch with AMiE, when we can all see a lamentable credibility gap between the rhetoric of careful synodical statements and the incessant official frowns (and worse) that many of us have had to endure.

Sensitive and insecure critics within the Establishment may like to keep that in mind when they struggle to tolerate these enterprising souls, some of whom are labouring in places where less than one per cent of people currently go to church.
LEE GATISS
Director, Church Society
Ground Floor, Centre Block
Hille Business Estate
132 St Albans Road
Watford WD24 4AE

 

Abuse allegations against British forces in Iraq

 

From the Revd N. J. Mercer
Sir, — As readers will be aware, there has been much debate over the past few days over the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) and alleged “ambulance-chasing” lawyers.

As the former senior military legal adviser in Iraq and now an Anglican priest, I can assure any sceptical members of the public that British forces were abusing prisoners of war and civilians in Iraq and, as a result, the MOD has settled 326 cases and paid out £20 million in compensation.

The allegations are many, but we have been subjecting our prisoners to the banned five techniques (hooding, stress positions, food and sleep deprivation, white noise) and possibly to physical, sexual, and religious denigration in interrogation. Matthew 25 makes our responsibility clear with regard to the treatment of prisoners, but there is little or no voice from the Church.

While there may be some spurious cases (as with all litigation), there are plenty of genuine cases, and the Church should be showing its concern. It is right that we side with the prisoner and also seek a society, both civil and military, which treats its prisoners with humanity and dignity at all times. Prisoners of War are simply incarcerated because they are on the “wrong” side of a conflict.

Could I seek prayers across the country for all those we have abused in times of war and seek a prophetic voice in challenging those who seek to cover up such offences?
N. J. MERCER
Sherborne School
Abbey Road, Sherborne
Dorset DT9 3LF

 

Anglican woman bishop and her RC counterpart

 

From the Bishop of Waikato
Sir, — “Roman Catholics and Anglicans pair up for Rome visit” declares the headline (News, 7 October). The accompanying story does not mention the obvious absence of any women bishops.

I am pleased to report that in my own diocese in the North Island of New Zealand, I enjoy collegiality with my Roman Catholic colleague whose diocese shares much of the same territory as my own. Not only do we collaborate on issues of social justice, such as the sale of social housing to the private market, but also on matters of ethical imperative such as the current debate around Assisted Dying.

Furthermore, our cathedral communities share services on Ash Wednesday and during Advent. We have preached in each other’s cathedral pulpits, and have shared in giving prayers of blessing. That we are able to do so is largely the result of the close working relationship between our predecessors, Bishop Denis Brown and Archbishop David Moxon, built up over two decades of ministry.

While I am not naïve about the challenges we all face in our ecumenical journeys, it is not the case that gender in episcopal ministry necessarily creates a barrier to mission. I give thanks for our co-working for God’s mission in the places and communities under our care and look forward joyfully to all that lies ahead.
HELEN-ANN WAIKATO
Charlotte Brown House
Te Ara Hou Village
Hamilton 3240
New Zealand

 

English cathedrals and the Green-report training

 

From Canon Stephen Fielding
Sir, — Your report on the implementation of the Green proposals (Renewal and Reform, 7 October) coincided with news of the obviously very difficult situations at Peterborough and Exeter Cathedrals. No one can say for certain whether these situations would have been avoided had mini-MBAs and other leadership training been in place some years earlier, but even the severest critics of Green can hardly think it would have been worse.

What is certain, however, is that most cathedrals, which are exceptionally complex places to run, are seriously impeded in their mission by a lack of sufficient permanent capital endowment, with consequences not merely financial but often pastoral as well.

In my opinion, as a former Canon Treasurer (Coventry 2014-16), only a serious injection of permanent capital can relieve deans of the daily stresses of generating sufficient cashflow. And the outstanding real growth in the capital assets of the Church of England over the past 20 years or more provides the obvious source for such a transfer of capital.

It is a radical suggestion, but at a stroke it would seriously address the great weakness of many our cathedrals. In return, it would be reasonable for cathedrals to be subject to a regular external audit of their performance, to include such indicators as staff turnover, a sound measure of organisational health.

External reviews might also limit the need for Bishops’ Visitations, which plainly represent the last straw for all concerned.
STEPHEN FIELDING
4 Kensington Church Court
Kensington W8 4SP

 

From Mr Peter Bolton
Sir, — I was surprised by the comments by some of those who took part in the training provided through the Reform and Renewal programme. One dean found it useful “how to understand a balance sheet to see long-term trends”. Surely all PCC treasurers could provide this information to incumbents, and at no cost?

A bishop had learnt to ask “whether he was ‘adding value’ or ‘destroying value’ in what he did”. It may be illuminating to apply metaphors from one area of life to another, but I doubt whether clergy need an expensive course to learn how to do this.

Another bishop “could not see how his episcopal colleagues had managed without such training in the past”. Well, manage they did, and I am sure that the main reason that they and all Christians “manage” is simply the grace of God, which, while not cheap, is, by definition, free.
PETER BOLTON
3 Stakesby Manor, Manor Close
Whitby YO21 1HG

 

Democracy in Israel and under Palestinian rule

 

From Mr J. D. A. Levy
Sir, — Mary Goodson’s letter on Israeli democracy (7 October) is an inaccurate comment on the politics of the Holy Land.

Israel remains constitutionally firmly in the Social Democratic tradition which we recognise and cherish in the UK. In Israel, the country’s Arab citizens enjoy the same rights as their Jewish counterparts, and this is recognised by Freedom House, the independent monitor of freedoms, which ranks Israel as the only free nation in the Middle East.

Democratic governance embraces regular electoral opportunities for all citizens over the age of 18, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion, to effect change through the ballot box. Democracy enshrines freedom for parties of any leaning to stand for office, freedom of speech by both individual citizens and by the the media, freedom for trade unions to represent the employed, respect for religious diversity and religious differences, the supremacy of the courts over the elected executive, with the rights of all citizens to seek hearings before the judiciary.

Arab citizens of Israel, now more than 20 per cent of the population of eight million, most Muslim, a minority Christian, Anglicans a minority within that Christian minority, consistently play an energetic part in Israeli public life, casting votes for the full spectrum of party choices — from the hard Left to the Islamist parties, from Labour to the Likud Party of the Right — and attaining high office in absolutely all spheres of Israeli public life, from the Supreme Court down.

Where and when the system breaks down — as in every democratic polity — the multiplicity of indigenous Israeli agencies and rights groups rigorously publicise and seek to correct such infractions. The suggestion that any distinction is drawn between Jews and Arabs in the application of the rule of law is bunkum.

What a marked contrast prevails, though, in Gaza and the West Bank, now under the jurisdiction of two rival Palestinian factions.

No elections have been held in Gaza since Hamas staged a coup d’état in 2006; and the Palestine National Councilhas not held elections in more than ten years. Literally within the past few days, local elections scheduled for this month have been postponed yet again by President Abbas.

There has been no democratic validation of Palestinian governance in years. Autocratic rule prevails. Corruption and the misappropriation of foreign aid is widespread, and the freedoms listed above are singularly absent.

As Palestinian security services menacingly silence debate and discussion on domestic Palestinian affairs, the contrast with the vibrancy of public debate and openness on rights issues in Israel grows ever more striking.
JOHN LEVY
Director, Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East
PO Box 42763
London N2 0YJ

 

‘Citizens of nowhere’

 

From the Revd Dr John Cameron
Sir, — In her attack on the values of Enlightenment, in particular its cosmopolitanism, Theresa May thundered: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”

This poisonous view first appeared in modern Europe in the vile Protocols of the Elders of Zion, where the “rootless Jew” is seen as a “cosmopolitan” citizen from “nowhere”.

I had not thought to hear such xenophobia outside the cesspit of the Levant, and certainly not from the mouth of a leading European politician and child of an English vicarage.
JOHN CAMERON
10 Howard Place
St Andrews KY16 9HL

 

Assistance for debtors

 

From Mrs Anne Sear
Sir, — Jayne Green of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) (Back Page Interview, 7 October) includes Citizens Advice among the “good free agencies who help people with debt”. She is, however, mistaken in claiming that CAP is “unique in the way in which we negotiate with creditors on the client’s behalf”.

At Citizens Advice Mendip, where I am a volunteer adviser, we most definitely do negotiate with creditors on behalf of clients. We offer face-to-face support at our offices, and clients may also be visited at home if circumstances require it. Church Times readers who encounter people with debt problems should not hesitate to signpost them to Citizens Advice for help and support.
ANNE SEAR
1 Rodmore Road, Evercreech
Somerset BA4 6JL

 

Overcoming fears about mental-health issues

 

From Margaret Coombs
Sir, — At Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on World Mental Health Day, we are exploring appropriate responses by church communities to people experiencing mental distress, emphasising the theme of dignity. David Bell’s sad story (Comment, 7 October) about the young man left to pray alone for several hours on the steps of a closed church until night fell sadly illustrates the fears engendered in people by odd or unexpected behaviour.

Did someone not think of kneeling quietly beside him to encourage him to talk in due time? While every effort must be made to mitigate anxieties engendered by threatening voices, people with direct experience of mental-health services have told me how upsetting they find it to be told that an impelling and glorious vision is to be dismissed as a symptom of schizophrenia. How do we know that these experiences are qualitatively different from the recorded visions of the saints?

People in mental distress need to find ways of making sense of powerful voices or visions in terms of their religious life. Here the Church community can offer sensitive support by quiet listening.
MARGARET A. COOMBS
54 Divinity Road
Oxford OX4 1LJ

 

Faith and fashion

 

From the Revd Brian Prothero
Sir, — Does Canon Angela Tilby actually intend to offend with her reference to “a well-orchestrated high mass” and Vogue magazine as occupying identical worlds (Comment, 7 October)? A high mass will take you to heaven — and back — if you let it. Vogue is La-la Land for posh people, and will take you to a place of no return.
BRIAN PROTHERO
3 Churchfields Avenue
Weybridge KT13 9YA

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