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Letters to the editor

22 January 2016


The Primates’ ‘consequences’ for the Episcopal Church in the United States


From Mr Simon Sarmiento, the Revd Guy Elsmore, and the Revd Adrian Alker

Sir, — In the statement following their meeting, the Primates of the Anglican Communion have expressed their profound sorrow for the deep hurt caused within the Church towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and they affirm that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality.

Our organisations are committed to working with people and parishes all over the country to affirm and support the faith, life, and ministry of LGBTI people. We now call for tangible signs of the sorrow expressed by the Primates for the way the Communion has acted towards people on the basis of their sexuality; for an acknowledgement of those actions that give the impression that human beings are not the same; and for an unequivocal statement of repudiation every inference that leads to destructive beliefs about LGBTI people.

In the light of the sorrow expressed by the Primates, we will redouble our efforts to reach out to and lift up all who are marginalised in the life of the Church because of the institutionalised homophobia that has stood between so many and the Good News of God’s love for all people. We call for such proactivity on the part of the Bishops of the Church of England in reaffirming that God’s love, call, and gifting is the same for all people.

SIMON SARMIENTO, Secretary, Inclusive Church trustees
GUY ELSMORE, General Secretary, Modern Church
ADRIAN ALKER, Chair, Progressive Christianity Network
c/o 23 Meadowhead
Sheffield S8 7UA

From Canon Mark Oakley

Sir, — In the storm of commentary since the Anglican Primates’ recent communiqué, something important is in danger of being lost. The communiqué states that “the Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex-attracted people.”

In the past, the Primates have tended to reject violence against LGBTI people, but last week they clearly articulated their opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuality which is currently in place in 78 nations around the world.

Following this, we now look to the Primates to take a lead in arguing for decriminalisation in their respective countries — something that has, sadly, not happened much. Indeed, some have supported anti-gay legislation.

Their united belief has now been made clear. When home, if the Primates do not voice their opposition to this criminalisation that leads to violence, misery, suicide, and murder, what “consequences” will there be for them, I wonder.

6 Amen Court
London EC4M 7BU


From the Revd Dr C. J.-B. Hammond

Sir, — I read in my newspaper last Saturday that the Archbishop of Canterbury and leaders of other Churches have united in agreeing that the date of Easter should be fixed to make it more convenient.

I can hardly believe what I’m reading. I gave the toughest of assents to the supremacy of unity as a gospel imperative. I struggled with how to interweave this with what I regard as the imperative of recognising homosexuality as part of God’s created order, and like the rest of it, “very good” (Genesis 1.31).

And now I discover that those same church leaders who either rant and fulminate about homosexuality, or ignore it as an issue, or wring their hands in mealy-mouthed cowardice lest they offend the members of their flocks they do care about — these same church leaders apparently see no problem at all about changing a fundamental of Christian practice enshrined (after rigorous debate) in the canons of the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (AD 325), as if it were a matter of indifference, something all “right-thinking people” will see as a self-evident good. Words fail me.

Dean and Director of Studies in Theology
Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA


From the Revd Toddy Hoare

Sir, — The Archbishop appears not only to disenfranchise the more enlightened spectrum of the Anglican Communion and pander to the opposite sector, who seem not to have entered the New Testament from the Old, but then goes on to apologise to those ostracised by the Primates’ decisions.

He is like the headmaster who is about to beat a boy and says: “This is going to hurt me more than it will you.” Where is the acceptance and consideration for people as people which is at the heart of the Christian gospel?

Pond Farm House, Holton
Oxford OX33 1PY


From Mr Malcolm Dixon

Sir, — The distress caused to some of us by the Primates’ decision to apply “consequences” to the Episcopal Church in the United States is as nothing compared with the threat, contained later in the same communiqué, that they intend to use the same process to deal with future disputes.

This implies that some at least of the Primates are suffering from the monstrous delusion that they collectively have some power or influence to determine the polity or practice of the autonomous provinces within the Communion. There is no Anglican equivalent of the Magisterium within the Church of Rome, and a misguided attempt to create one, by means of the so-called Anglican Covenant, was decisively defeated only four years ago. What was denied then must not be allowed to be put in place now by stealth.

The notion that our Church, by law established within this realm, should be dictated to by a group of ultra-conservative Primates in GAFCON and the Global South is anathema to me. I hope that the General Synod will take the opportunity next month to reassert its authority. If not, Parliament needs to do so.

26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington, Kent BR6 9PA


From Canon Peter Brett

Sir, — The decision of the Primates to suspend the Episcopal Church in the United States from certain functions in the Anglican Communion for a period of three years concerns me greatly.

My understanding of Anglicanism is that it is a loving and tolerant Church, characterised by inclusiveness and respect for differing theological convictions. The Primates’ action smacks of authoritarianism.

I recognise that the Archbishop called the conference in an attempt to maintain the unity of the Church. It seems that the final decision had to be made between “consequences” — albeit temporary, none the less insulting to the Episcopal Church — or acceptance of the secession of a dissident element — however large a proportion that might be. It was a large tail, perhaps, but it was certainly wagging the dog. The decision was political, and the result, sadly, is to drive us further into a sectarian corner.

We are now left with a Communion characterised by extreme views that are not only alien to the central and balanced position that Anglicanism should represent, but which aggravate the impression of an increasingly ring-fenced and beleaguered Church, turning in on itself and de-skilling itself for a proper engagement with a fast-moving and rapidly changing world.

Surely, the lesson of the incarnation is one of sallying forth, not hunkering down.

3 Appledore Road
Tenterden TN30 7AY


Science and pseudo-science on sex and sexuality


From the Revd Dr David de Pomerai

Sir, — Paul Vallely (Comment, 15 January) is right to plead for a theology of human sexuality informed by sound science, but he is too gung-ho in his apparent conviction that the scientific debate around homosexuality is all but settled.

Having reviewed the relevant biological evidence in 2008 (in The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality, SPCK) and kept abreast of the literature since, I regretfully beg to differ.

A contrasting pair of recent papers exemplify my point. Last year brought the publication of the biggest ever genetic screening study (Sanders et al., 2015, Psychological Medicine 45, 1379-88), demonstrating two genetic loci that show clear links to homosexuality — albeit within a limited study group of 400 male homosexuals with at least one homosexual brother.

Conversely, in 2014, Neil Whitehead could claim — on the basis of eight published studies of concordance for homosexuality among identical twins — that the influence of genes on homosexuality was negligible — perhaps as low as ten per cent.

Although this appears to be an online review (hence not peer-reviewed?) and is widely quoted in conservative Evangelical circles, the original studies cited do suggest low concordance for homosexuality between identical twins. So, how can two such diametrically opposite conclusions both reflect reality?

The answer lies in an unstated assumption that this small ten-per-cent-genetic influence applies equally to all homosexuals. But why should that be the case? The same overall concordance figure would emerge if the contributory factors were 100 per cent genetic for one in ten homosexuals, so long as there was no genetic influence whatsoever for the other nine out of ten.

This second scenario is consistent with the evidence presented in both studies, but strongly questions the conclusions inferred. A parallel might be drawn with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which is usually sporadic and most probably caused by environmental risk factors, but can also be inherited through mutations in one or other of a small set of genes. Very different causes can underlie the same condition.

Homosexuals are not a uniform category of people, nor is there any good evidence for a single underlying “cause” or “explanation”. For some, the causative factors may indeed be genetic (cf. Sanders et al., above), while for others they may be hormonal, or psychosocial, or a matter of choice. What we can assert as a Church, surely, is that each and every one of them is precious to God.

141/1 Comely Bank Road
Edinburgh EH4 1BH


From Dr Ian M. Jessiman

Sir, — I do not think Paul Vallely has been quite fair to St Thomas Aquinas (Comment, 15 January).

St Thomas’s understanding of reproduction was more complex than the idea of a homunculus, a term that came into use only some centuries after his death (16th or 17th century). It certainly seems that he believed that something “miraculous” happened at the moment of ejaculation (a new creation?), and, therefore, that to prevent implantation meant simultaneously calling upon God to create a new being and at the same time frustrating his doing so. His conclusions from this were, nevertheless, much as Mr Vallely says.

On the matter of sexuality, it does not seem that science has yet got all the answers. Current evidence might suggest that our sexual orientation results from a combination of innate and environmental factors, as well as some degree of choice. Even then, the resulting sexuality is not always clear cut, and would seem to remain changeable.

17 Grange Drive, Chislehurst
Kent BR7 5ES


Worshippers, not foodbank users, keep C of E afloat


From the Revd David Keighley

Sir, — It may well be true that 2013 church “attendance statistics did not tell the whole truth” (the Bishop of Norwich, News, 15 January). What the Bishop (with others who proclaim we are not “managing decline”) appears not to appreciate, however, is that it is our weekly congregations that supply the cash, not those using homelessness services or foodbanks, or the lost in our society.

At what point will there be an abundance of worthy services, but no money?

The Vicarage, The Dene
Hurstbourne Tarrant
Andover, Hampshire SP11 0AH


Cana: lectionary omits a significant detail


From the Revd Michael Crow

Sir, — It is not just disappointing but negligent that the compilers of the Lectionary omitted the first four words from the Gospel for Epiphany 2: John 2.1-11. To have done so gives the erroneous impression that those words, “On the third day”, have little or no significance, whereas anyone who has studied St John’s Gospel, albeit superficially, can see that such an assumption is false.

Briefly, those four words link the sign of the marriage at Cana in Galilee with all its rich imagery both to what has gone before and to the greatest of all the signs, the resurrection of Jesus, which, as we all know, occurred “On the third day”.

If this is ignored, the reader can easily be hooked on the water-to-wine incident in the story, which, although an integral part of a coherent whole, does not, as the opening four words do, emphasise that this sign is all about New Life right across the board, which lies at the very heart of the Christian story.

I would be most interested to see an explanation of the omission.

216 Pinhoe Road
Exeter EX4 7HH

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