The Bishop of Blackburn’s contribution to the sexuality discussions
From Mr Richard Wharton
Sir, — It is with a similar reluctance to that expressed by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, (Comment, 8 July) that I feel compelled to offer a response to his contribution to the debate on human sexuality — not because I am a strident campaigner on the opposite side of the debate, but because I am shocked by the theological poverty of Bishop Henderson’s arguments.
An elementary study of the Bible will quickly reveal that it cannot function as a “Haynes manual for life”; it was never intended to be used in this way, and literalistic attempts to do so are a relatively recent innovation in Christian history. Our understanding of how to live a Christian life must grow out of our faithful study of the Bible within the tradition of the Church and in light of our unfolding human experience.
This is not wishy-washy accommodation to the norms of society: it is mainstream Anglican theology. If Bishop Henderson is so sure that “the teaching of scripture” can stand alone as a failsafe frame of reference for our Christian lives, then I assume that he will be seeing to it that his bishop’s palace is put up for sale and the proceeds are lavished on the poor (see Matthew 19.21-23).
I would suggest that most Christians who hold contrary views on the sexuality debate to those of Bishop Henderson do so on the basis of “faithfulness to scripture”. Their faithfulness stems, however, from the revelation of the God of peace, justice, and love, whose will is disclosed through the broad sweep of its pages rather than from a small handful of isolated verses.
To inform someone “with same-sex attraction” (to use Bishop Henderson’s preferred terminology) that they must live a life of painful loneliness and frustration, because those are the rules according to scripture, makes little sense in terms of the God whom scripture reveals. Indeed, to place such cruel and manipulative intent into the mind of God on the basis of a handful of “proof texts” would seem to be committing the critical error of “thrusting into scripture what we want to find there”, which Bishop Henderson so assiduously warns against.
To imply that those on the other side of the debate have nothing but pastoral and anthropological arguments, and to fail to engage with the multitude of careful theological re-evaluations of the biblical witness around sexuality, is disingenuous in the extreme.
I completely agree with Bishop Henderson that truth must precede the imperative of mission. Nevertheless, in the face of a rising tide of programmatic secularism, if “a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel” is to amount to nothing more than facile “because the Bible tells us so” arguments, then I fear that the future for the Church of England may be a bleak one.
26 Bleriot Crescent
Hampshire PO15 7JD
From the Revd F. Gerald Downing
Sir, — Bishop Julian Henderson, characteristically careful and eirenic, objects to arguments on sexuality that “come from outside scripture”. But taking the Christian canon as somehow inherently definitive and binding on issues of sexuality or of anything else is itself a stance from outside such a very diverse collection.
It has no editorial insisting on a particular reading. The rabbis whose predecessors shaped the short Jewish canon have engaged in centuries of cut-and-thrust debate (Mishnah and Talmud and ongoing), permitted and encouraged by that canon’s openness.
Presented with a diverse collection (diverse on static temples, roast meat for God, royalty, genocide, women’s rights, fulfilments of prophecy, divine justice . . .), one might ignore it, or use it as an agenda for debate, a shared vocabulary for discussion, with or without input from experience or contemporary mores. But none of these uses, or any other, is inherent in the collection.
Any decision on its use, simple or augmented, can itself only “come from outside” the collection.
F. GERALD DOWNING
33 Westhoughton Road
Lancashire PR7 4EU
From the Revd Andrew Tweedy
Sir, — The Rt Revd Julian Henderson is a decent and sincere Evangelical, and he is clearly trying to be fair to revisionists. But his assertion that “[The Bible’s] authority must not be superseded by pastoral, anthropological, and missional arguments, if we are to maintain a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel” surely pits him against St Peter and the Judaean apostles (Acts 10.28, 11.18), and against our Lord himself, who frequently broke with scriptural Law and tradition for these very reasons (e.g. Luke 14.3, John 9.16).
From Mr David Soward
Sir, — If the Bible doesn’t work, for “pastoral, anthropological, and missional” reasons, isn’t it time the Bishop of Blackburn attributed less authority to it — let alone John Stott’s interpretation of it? And does he have some reason for elevating “great personal cost” and “the pain of this” to such a level of virtue? I thought the “call of Jesus” was precisely to go out and be pastoral and missional, and — who knows? — maybe just faintly anthropological, too.
15 Poplar Farm Close
Milton under Wychwood
Chipping Norton OX7 6LX
The idea of progression should be for all clerics
From the Revd Karen Kousseff
Sir, — I am glad for Canon Alison Adams that her position as self-supporting Canon Pastor is “the new normal” (Features, 8 July); but her comment that it took “a lot of work on [her] own to get there” is telling.
For many self-supporting ministers (SSMs) in parish ministry, I think the frustration is less about ambition to high office than about a simple desire that their vocation should be enabled to develop and flourish to its real potential where they are.
Post-curacy, little attention seems to be paid to how an SSM might develop in his or her ministry and find new ways of expressing vocational gifts, while stipendiary peers expect, and are expected to, change ministries every five to seven years.
The latter can scour the job adverts in the Church Times. For SSMs, the possibilities are less evident, unless they discern a move to a house-for-duty post. With some creative thinking and discernment within deaneries, it ought to be possible for SSMs to enjoy similar progression without having to sell their home and move.
Here in the Winchester diocese, for example, we have SSMs in a few deanery leadership roles, which means making the most of their skills and flexibility while enabling stipendiary clergy to deal with the increasing demands of primary parochial leadership. A more strategic use of self-supporting ministry can only be a good thing, for the flourishing of both the individual and the wider Church.
I suggest that how it needs to start is that the idea of progression becomes an expectation, in the minds of both SSMs and those responsible for the good stewardship of ministry resources in the diocese.
15 Long Barrow Close
Winchester SO21 3ED
Lord Williams was spot-on about Iraq War
From the Revd Martin Reynolds
Sir, — As one who was a critic of Lord Williams’s attempt to bring peace to Anglican affairs by sacrificing gay people, leaving us in a worse position than ever within the Communion at the end of his time at Canterbury, I have to acknowledge that he showed no such lack of determination to follow his principles over the Iraq War.
His clear challenge to the Government as it prepared for war is now thoroughly vindicated, and his sermon at St Paul’s marking the end of the war reads like a summary of the Chilcot inquiry.
In this, he served those who died needlessly, our faith, and our whole nation very well.
Newport NP20 4EA
‘C of E plc’ is discouraging to left-behind Britain
From Trixie Latter
Sir, — I was very surprised that there had been no response to the article by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North (Comment, 1 July), on the disappearance of church and priests on the estates and poorer areas of “left behind” Britain. There is a growing gulf between the Church and whole communities in this country, allowing UKIP and others to prey on people’s fears.
I agree with much that was written, and, after more than 40 years in the pews, I would like to add my observations. A Church that now acts more like “C of E plc”, a big-business corporation, majority-led by white, public-school-educated men — with the elitism of fast-tracking to positions of authority by high-flying “suitable” priests — is not a Church that is likely to attract to its ranks candidates whose first-hand experience of those very areas could revitalise it.
I would also add the hike in fees, a lost chance for ministry; poor parish support; the growth in admin (often with no secretarial help); and no time for essential visiting or activities in the community which raises the profile of the local church.
Yes, there are difficulties for a priest and his family, such as poor housing and schools, vandalism, etc.; but I cannot believe that there are not men and women out there with a vocation and a desire to speak the language of hope with a bias to the poor. They just need the support and, importantly, the financial help — money that is being spent elsewhere.
10 Brightfield Road
London SE12 8QF
Flint: upside of East Anglian sermons in stone
From Dr Richard Crockett
Sir, — As a chartered geologist, I must take gentle issue with Dr Ronald Blythe (Word from Wormingford, 1 July) that flint is calcified lime.
The material arises where, for one reason and another, a limestone matrix — such as chalk — has been replaced by hard silica. Sometimes when cracking open a flint nodule, one may find a perfectly preserved marine fossil whose original shell will have been calcium carbonate but, aeons on, has been completely replaced by a form of silicon dioxide. Subsequent weathering will have removed much lime, but leave the resistant flint detritus to blunt East Anglian garden tools.
Many years ago, I served as a churchwarden for a medieval church on the edge of Dr Blythe’s area. The flint facings on the outside walls certainly kept out the wind and the rain, but the 14th-century parish was unable to afford good building-stone imported from a distance. Therefore, the hard but spongy chalk known locally as “clunch” had to be used for the main construction, and continued to give us a chronic problem of rising damp centuries later.
3 Holmehill Court, Dunblane
Perthshire FK15 0AF
What a priest wears on duty isn’t all about ‘me’
From the Revd Liz Brown
Sir, — The Revd Brenda Wallace applauds female clergy who adopt “more feminine clerical wear” (Letters, 8 July). I have always thought of clerical dress as something that reflects my calling rather than my personality, and, while I don’t suppose what an ordinand wears under her cassock is of deep significance, I wonder if we will soon be treated to the “fit and flare” chasuble, or perhaps the dalmatic cut on the bias?
I remember the instructions of my training incumbent, who told me that I should always wear black until somebody invented a darker colour.
21 Ferriby Road,Barton-on-Humber
North Lincs DN18 5LE
From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir, — Canon Gwilym Morgan met female priests in New York in the 1980s. He urged them not to adopt the male Victorian clerical collar, and wear something more feminine.
One responded who had two outfits: a loose jumper and jeans, or a black sweater, skirt, and clerical collar. She said: “G’william, I make it a point of principle: when I put on my collar, I leave off my pants.”
Two nations divided by a common language.
Banbury OX15 0TB