Letters to the Editor

by
22 July 2016

Regular delivery in the North Pennines: Mr Pepin on his doorstep with Clifford and Anne Bramwell

Regular delivery in the North Pennines: Mr Pepin on his doorstep with Clifford and Anne Bramwell

The Chilcot report and the morality of the Iraq War: further reflections

 

From the Revd Dr Ian K Duffield

Sir, — Popular moralising about the Iraq War abounds. Even your leader comment (8 July), uncharacteristically, perpetuates the mistaken view that the Chilcot report agreed with those who thought that the threat had been “invented”.

For the the Revd Professor Michael Northcott (Comment, 15 July), Chilcot confirms that the war was not just. In contrast, Canon Angela Tilby (Comment 8 July) does not regard the aims of the Iraq War as “dishonourable”. Indeed, there is legitimate debate among Christians about whether it was a just war or not (as there was over the Persian Gulf War and even the Second World War, for example). These are matters of moral judgement which are not resolved by Chilcot.

Certainly, a case can be made that the Iraq War was not illegal, but legitimate (backed by 40 nations and UN Resolution 1441 — especially in the context of its framing, as the former British diplomat Sir Jeremy Greenstock made clear on the BBC’s Hard Talk last week).

Of course, many have judged the war to have been unjust because they have been rightly horrified by the outcomes that followed the removal of Saddam Hussein. But would it have been better to allow him to remain? This is a crucial question, which is hard to answer. We happen, however, to be living in the middle of a historical laboratory where we may adjudge the consequences, effects, and costs of both intervention and non-intervention. If the Iraq War helps us to see the costs of intervention, Syria is providing us with the alternative scenario: the costs of non-intervention.

Again, people will make different judgements on which they perceive to be the worst, and the resultant political conclusions to draw. Chilcot cannot help us to answer such questions, or to know how to handle the next political crisis that invites military involvement. But let us hope that our politicians and our theologians will be not only sensitive to the difficulties, but also courageous in the decisions that are made in seeking a more just world.

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IAN K. DUFFIELD
Director of Research
Urban Theology Unit
Victoria Hall Methodist Church
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

 

From Canon Alan Billings

Sir, — Professor Northcott’s article about the Iraq war is inaccurate on several matters of fact. For instance, unlike Robin Cook, who opposed the war and resigned as a matter of principle, Clare Short voted for war, resigning only subsequently. Discussion of the war was not confined to the Prime Minister and his staff, as Professor Northcott alleges. It was discussed 26 times by the Cabinet. MI6 said that its intelligence was questionable only four months after the start of the war. I could go on.

But one of the more curious inaccuracies is that “Christian just-war criteria have governed our use of the military for a century.”

Christian just-war principles were not even half-remembered until at least the 1960s, and were rediscovered not by Christians, but by the American Left, which was looking for a moral vocabulary with which to criticise the US involvement in Vietnam. Since then, they have gradually become the starting-point for all discussion, secular or religious, of war.

They have limited usefulness. They can be a way of interrogating the motives of politicians and generals; but, at the end of the day, they offer limited guidance on whether a war should be waged or not.

Take the idea of “last resort”. How do you ever know that you have reached that point? In the case of Saddam Hussein, it seems to me that we had long since passed it; but that is a subjective judgement, and one on which Professor Northcott and I simply disagree. But I am not even sure that it always takes you to an ethical position. After all, there are surely Christian arguments for saying that sometimes the use of force should be a first resort — before some dictator slaughters all his ethnic minorities in an act of genocide, for example.

 

ALAN BILLINGS
43 Northfield Court
Sheffield S10 1QR

 

Ministry Bank proposed

 

From Dr Chris Sheehan

Sir, — The report on Rochester diocese’s cutting all discretionary expenditure after exhausting historic reserves (News, 15 July) strikes a chord, as I increasingly hear about ministries funded from grants or local initiatives and running deficits, owing to dwindling day-to-day income.

While I’m pleased that my training (pioneer-ministry ordinand at CMS, Oxford) is funded centrally, I am meeting many whose fundamental work with the poor and marginalised means that the worship leaders and other clergy often rely on grant and social funding. This is not a problem; but this type of recurrent form-filling to meet grant objectives distracts from the time spent in the community; and how sustainable central funding is is increasingly questionable.

A Ministry Bank, designed to attract funding from community, business, and individuals might be a way of complementing the existing model that funds the £1000 million that the Church of England spends annually. Such a bank would differ from existing credit unions, offer loans, and finance pioneer ministry and social entrepreneurial ventures underwritten by Christian assets as much as physical ones.

The challenges in establishing such a bank would be considerable, but alternative ways of meeting the need for faith leaders among the most marginalised communities will increase; so new models to achieve this should be examined.

 

CHRIS SHEEHAN
16 Fairwater Close
Evesham, Worcs. WR11 1GF

 

Shared Conversations and the sexuality debate

 

From the Revd Rob Yeomans

Sir, — As one of the delegates who attended the first of the series of Shared Conversations on sexuality, I was devastated to read the Revd Dr Ian Paul’s comments (News, 15 July) after his experience of the conversations at General Synod.

His conclusions were exactly the same as mine, despite the intervening years and considerable outlay of time and energy, not to mention money. A “badly skewed” section on the biblical issues. “A basic lack of the concerns by those responsible for the process” and “a greater concern for process rather than content on behalf of the facilitators”. As a result, Dr Paul, like me, and probably may others unwilling to rock the boat, felt infantilised.

And all to what purpose? If Synod members still have no clue about “where we go from here”, how are those of us who are deeply and personally affected by these issues to continue to maintain faith with the Church of England? Your case study of “David” (Features, 8 July) asked just that question.

To add insult to injury, one of the members of the General Synod from the diocese of Truro, in which I exercise my retirement ministry, had the audacity to absent herself from the discussions. I do not know the Jesus that Susie Leafe apparently knows. The Jesus I know is willing to converse with everyone and anyone. As Archbishop Tutu once famously said in an equally contentious situation, “I think that she must read a different Bible to mine.”

I fear that Dean Ison’s being nice and responding positively, come what may, won’t do either. Those of us whom this issue most deeply affects need to know where we stand, and for our Communion, like many other Christian Churches, to be decisive. If that means we leave the Church of England, then so be it. There are many other Christian communities that would welcome us.

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ROB YEOMANS
The White Barn
Maxworthy, Launceston
Cornwall PL15 8LY

 

From the Revd James H. Grayson

Sir, — The Bishop of Blackburn (Comment, 8 July) is absolutely right to point out the importance of maintaining the scriptural understanding of marriage. It is not based on prejudice, but is the theological reflection of the biological and sociological foundations of one of the key institutions of society. It is correct to say in the marriage rite that “it is ordained of God.”

The Church’s teaching on marriage should not change because society no longer understands it. Those promoting same-sex marriage must tell us what their definition of marriage is, and how it is clearly related to teaching in the Bible.

 

JAMES H. GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ

 

From the Revd Jonathan Fletcher

Sir, — I was saddened that Mr Richard Wharton (Letters, 15 July), in his reply to the Bishop of Blackburn’s contribution to the debate on human sexuality, made accusations concerning the theological poverty of the Bishop’s position. Surely in this very sensitive area we all ought to avoid such intemperate language.

The Bishop’s position is simply that of the Anglican Articles, namely, that scripture is our supreme authority, reason, and tradition helping to interpret it. Interpretation is always fallible, but the Bible itself is incorrigible. Neither the Bishop nor other Evangelicals like to be called literalists, but we take the Bible seriously and seek to live under it even when this is uncomfortable.

The natural reading of the biblical texts clearly affirms the beauty and wonder of sex within exclusive, heterosexual, and lifelong marriage. By the same token, both the use of “porneia” and specific references make it clear that adultery, fornication, cohabitation, and homosexual practice are unacceptable.

Mr Wharton’s appeal to pastoral and currently acceptable practices could by the same token lead one day to polygamy or even incest.

We must remember God’s goodness in all his gracious permissions and prohibitions. So even if one is called to be a “eunuch”, this is part of God’s perfect plan. Second, we are all sinners and all sexual beings. Therefore we must never talk about these things without at the same time talking about forgiveness. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

 

JONATHAN FLETCHER
11 Preston Road
London SW20 0SS

 

From Mrs. Mary P. Roe

Sir, — I have just read the sad article by “David”. It is sad, but also rather puzzling to me, as he says that he is “mainstream” (Evangelical), which makes me wonder whether he feels the same way about women bishops as so many of his friends do about homosexuals: that they are acting against God’s clearly revealed plan for humanity.

He does appear to feel that Christian organisations that have a different approach to understanding the spirit of our Lord’s teaching and example are preaching a defective gospel. Perhaps the person who asked him whether he had really thought about the issue was unintentionally on to something. The issue at the root of David’s distress may not be his homosexuality per se, but his history of thinking of himself as an Evangelical first and then as a member of the catholic Body of Christ, the Church.

I pray that he may soon discover where God is calling him to be and in what capacity his gifts are meant to be used.

 

MARY P. ROE
1 The North Lodge, Kings End
Bicester OX26 6NT

 

Striking Petertide poses

 

From Canon Roger Clifton

Sir, — Let me guess what most of the pictures were in your issue (8 July): (a) happy groups, dignified and serious (which is not the same as solemn); (b) people knuckle bashing with high fives and manic grins (which is not the same as joyful).

I think one is of ordinands with their bishop. Are the other groups lottery winners in fancy dress?

 

ROGER CLIFTON
20 Southcot Place
Bath BA2 4PE

 

Resources for the well-being of those in ministry and under stress

 

From the Revd Elizabeth Baxter and the Revd Stanley Baxter

Sir, — It was encouraging to read the article regarding the well-being of clergy (Features, 15 July). We also wish to draw attention to another invaluable resource through the work of Holy Rood House, Centre for Health and Pastoral Care, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

Working in partnership with the Guild of Health and St Raphael, and with medical and health professionals, we see the ministry of health and healing as a justice issue, and integral to the missionary mandate of the Church.

For 23 years, we have continued to provide safe, professional space for clergy, family members, and other church workers from across the UK, when life has felt unsafe owing to great stress and anxiety, childhood and clerical abuse, chronic pain, ME, chronic fatigue, breakdown, all relational and sexual issues, pre- and post-ordination support, and bewilderment of faith, focus, and vocation.

Our theological and medical consultants, highly qualified counsellors, psychotherapists, spiritual directors, and complementary therapists work alongside our residential community and hospitality staff to provide a holistic approach to well-being away from the home and church environment.

This makes it easier to “expose [our] vulnerability”, and, with professional support, which may include medical intervention, to begin to feel freed to work towards those skills and boundaries that support the ministerial and priestly life.

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In 2001, this ecumenical charity set up the Centre for the Study of Theology and Health, opened by Lord Williams of Oystermouth, our patron, in recognition of the interface between psychology, embodiment, the arts, and theology. This informed theology of health and healing informs our therapeutic work, and vice versa.

Some clergy seeking to be released from stress and fear, overwork, low self-esteem, and situations of power and control have been drawing on theologies, language, and symbolism that have perpetuated low self-image and a limited message to offer others.

It is good, therefore, to know that resources, training and good practice are becoming the norm. Alongside this, we would encourage a fresh reflection and challenge to those theologies that so often produce the pain and distress, to be added to these valuable insights.

 

ELIZABETH BAXTER
Executive Director

STANLEY BAXTER
Director of Mission
Holy Rood House
10 Sowerby Road, Thirsk
North Yorkshire YO7 1HX

 

From Mr Richard Frost

Sir, — Julia Barrett’s work in Exeter diocese is rightly to be applauded, as also is the commitment of the dioceses of Liverpool and Winchester to a Charter for Employers who are Positive About Mental Health. This voluntary and aspirational commitment is part of an NHS initiative, Mindful Employer (www.mindfulemployer.net), which provides organisations ‎with information, resources, and training to help them support the mental well-being of their staff.

The current focus on resilience is ‎helpful, but is not a quick fix when it comes to pastoring those pastors who find themselves running a marathon, not a sprint. This issue requires a long-term commitment, which also needs to include equipping those who are in senior positions with the necessary skills for supportive conversations about these often difficult aspects of ministerial life — especially when the appropriate boundaries have become blurred.

 

RICHARD FROST
(Clergy husband and Reader)
The Vicarage, Week
Dartington, Totnes TQ9 6JL

 

From the Revd Keith Thomasson

Sir, — I appreciated Pat Ashworth’s article. I would like to add an additional resource: pastoral supervision. Having a regular opportunity for this in a safe space is valuable for my well-being. It has helped me to reflect on and improve my practice as a chaplain, in a way that is, among other valuable things, theologically and pastorally informed.

Through the appropriate challenge of the supervisor, I am developing even greater self-awareness. I thoroughly recommend pastoral supervision to colleagues.

 

KEITH THOMASSON
2 Watt Road
Salisbury SP2 7UD

 

The Church plays a part in social mobility, too

 

From the Revd David Woodall

Sir, — Theresa May’s comments from her speech that “If you’re a white working-class boy you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university,” and “If you’re at state school you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately,” caused me to reflect and give thanks to Christ for his Church, and that through his body — the Church — he educates his followers.

I am white working-class, grew up on a council estate, and attended a state school. Responding to Jesus’s call, “Follow me,” led me to the Church Army and then ordination. That journey included the opportunity to be educated to degree level. Thank God that Jesus calls and teaches through his Church. A big “Thank you” to those teachers God used to teach me.

 

DAVID WOODALL
St John’s Vicarage, Studd Brow
Facit, Rochdale
Lancashire OL12 8LU

 

Christ and St Mary Magdalene

 

From Pamela Lighthill

Sir, — Paul Vallely (Comment, 24 June) right emphasises the importance of St Mary Magdalene in the accounts of the resurrection appearances, and regards her identification with the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet, or with Mary, sister of Martha, as unlikely.

I think, however, that he should have mentioned that both St Mark and St Luke describe her as a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. There is no evidence that she was a prostitute, but a strong indication that she needed both healing and help of a most dramatic kind.

We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene, but it’s clear that her life was turned around, and, as Paul Vallely suggests, she became an example and model for both women and men in the Church.

 

PAMELA LIGHTHILL (Reader)
76 Brendon Grove
London N2 8JZ

 

Christian Aid’s attitude to the situation in Gaza

 

From the Revd P. B. D. Crick

Sir, — Last month, I visited Ashqelon and Sderot, and was able to observe Gaza (News, 15 July) from close up.

Gaza’s troubles are self-generated. Ruling Hamas is driven by a pathological hatred of Israel and the Jews. They have announced many times their intention to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, and to hunt down all Jews worldwide.

Israel’s campaign two years ago was in response to salvoes of missiles being fired into Israel, launched from the rooftops of schools, hospitals, and mosques. Many more missiles were fired from the Christian area of north Gaza, so that returned counter-bombardment fire from Israel would maximise damage to these areas, to elicit condemnation of Israel by the news media.

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Very generous relief donations are being sent to Gaza to buy building materials to repair the damage sustained. But most of the materials being imported via Ashdod are used to repair and extend the underground assault tunnels that the IDF destroyed during the 2014 Protective Edge campaign, and to replenish their stocks of missiles smuggled in from Iran.

The blockade of Gaza port is to control the import of munitions by diverting all imports via Ashdod for inspection. Egypt is also blockading its land border with Gaza for the same reason, besides flooding the cross-border tunnels with sea water. The media are interested in condemning Israel only, not Egypt.

Israel provides much of Gaza’s water and electricity supply. Gaza has not paid for this service for many years; so Israel could cut off supplies for non-payment. But because of the media storm that this would provoke, Israel continues to export water and electricity to Gaza.

A quarter of Israel’s population lives below the poverty line. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Israel has the second highest poverty rate among its 34 member countries.

Christian Aid could well support the poor in Israel (Jewish, Arab, and Christian) rather than one-sidedly supporting Palestinians.

 

BEN CRICK
232 Canterbury Road
Birchington
Kent CT7 9TD

 

Don’t make your website a stumbling-block

 

From Mr Robin Walter

Sir, — I note that many churches now publish information on the internet. May I please use your good offices to ask that such information be kept accurate and up to date?

I was unable to share in the communion on a recent Sunday, in that I went to a church where on its web-page calendar a service was clearly advertised for 8 a.m., only to find the door locked shut.

There was a notice there to explain that the service was to be later in the day, but there was no reference to this on the web page, even though it had obviously not been an unexpected rearrangement.

 

ROBIN WALTER
The Laurels
Great Witley
Worcestershire WR6 6HR

 

Tribute to the CT — and its reliable purveyors

 

From Mr David Pepin

Sir, — Congratulations on 8000 weeks! We have been readers for about 2500 of them — well over 50 years. My wife, June (June Clark, pianist and church choral composer), and I have had the Church Times delivered by our newsagent, first in St Albans for half that time and now, since 1990, here at Alston in the remote North Pennines.

We would like to pay tribute to newsagents and post offices or general stores in isolated rural areas. Clifford and Anne Bramwell’s little shop and post office at Garrigill, a small village just south of Alston, has delivered newspapers, magazines, etc., faithfully in all weathers. It is one of the reasons that we have not subscribed to the Church Times and other newspapers on line. In our small way, we want to keep our friendly newsagents in business. It remains to be seen how much longer this will be possible.

In our far-off St Albans days we knew the CT Editor Rosamund Essex well. Her later column “All sorts and conditions” always gave a helpful slant on various issues — as your writers still do today.

 

DAVID PEPIN
Old Meadow Barns
Garrigill Road,
Alston CA9 3UE

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