Chilcot: the right action in the right order?
From Mrs Mary P. Roe
Sir, — Reading the Revd Dr Ian Duffield’s views on the implications of the Chilcot enquiry into the origins of the Iraq War (Letters, 22 July), I was reminded of the often quoted sketch in which Eric Morecambe refutes the accusation by André Previn that he was playing “all the wrong notes” in his rendering of Grieg’s piano concerto. Morecambe said that he was playing “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”.
Dr Duffield speaks of the situations in Iraq and Syria as two separate examples: one of intervention, and the other of non-intervention, whereas they are both part of a historic continuum.
Of course, no one can say with any certainty what would be happening in Syria and surrounding countries today if Tony Blair had decided, for whatever reason, not to intervene. It is quite possible that, not having been scared off intervention, we would have gone into Syria with every weapon at our command. And then what? How different would the world look today? Not very, probably.
On the other hand, if all Christians had found the strength and the faith to obey our Lord’s command, and to act upon the constantly repeated affirmation by successive Lambeth Conferences and other denominational bodies that “armed conflict as a means of settling international disputes is not compatible with the Christian faith,” we could, possibly, be living in a world of peace and prosperity beyond our wildest dreams. (Imagine what we could have done with the millions of pounds per day which the Iraq war cost Western countries.)
Why are articulate, educated human beings so ready to abandon verbal negotiation, and rush (to send others) to violent mutual destruction? As to the future, now that Chilcot has sorted out the past (?) we can only pray, most fervently, “Give peace in our time, O Lord,” and design our future actions accordingly.
MARY P. ROE
1 The North Lodge, Kings End
Bicester OX26 6NT
Joyful, and despairing, at colourful vesture
From Karen Gooding
Sir, — With the Revd Brenda Wallace (Letters, 8 July), I applaud colleagues who have the “courage and flair” to break out from traditional (male) clerical dress. It seem to me that responses to this reflects some of the disparity within ourselves regarding women’s ministry.
When I was appointed to serve as chaplain in a secondary school, my work was described by the head teacher as “bringing a different dimension to school life”. Reflecting on the John 10.10 motto of another C of E academy, I decided that “life in its fullness” included bright, colourful clothes that reflected my understanding of the “different dimension” that Christianity brings to the world. I believe this was a true witness to authentic ministry.
Since returning to mainstream parish life, I have believed that the same principle applies; so I stick with it, joyfully celebrating my place in the Kingdom in which we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God”.
110 Lowther Drive
Enfield EN2 7JR
From Miss Primrose Peacock
Sir, — In his excellent articles on clerical vesture (Features, 10 and 17 June), I feel Canon Robin Ward slightly underestimated the depth and length of the opposition during the mid-1950s by Evangelicals to what they described as “popish garments”.
My father and other ordained relatives took a leading part in this, aided by publicity in The English Churchman, and the Fellowship of Evangelical Clergy. They maintained that they were responsible for concessions made at the time.
In my grandfather’s day, a similar battle ensued regarding a black felt wide-brimmed hat known as a “wideawake”, which was being largely abandoned for a trilby, usually with a curly brim. Times change: we now have female clergy who arrive for service in skinny jeans and Dr Martens, and only elderly ladies in congregations wearing hats — except at weddings or some funerals. Oh dear!
4 Crescent Rise
Truro TR1 3ER
Sexuality debate appears as a new slavery fight
From Dr Stephen Barclay and the Revd Sue Barclay
Sir, — The articles by “David” (Features, 8 July) and Dr Charlie Bell (Comment, 24 June) are deeply troubling. As parents of a gay son who came very close to suicide a few years ago, we have some understanding of the pain caused by the present attitude of the Church. As a medical doctor and a priest, we long for the Church to demonstrate the unconditional love of God by celebrating committed same-sex relationships.
During the biblical period, homosexuality was associated with temple-cult prostitution and abuse of prisoners of war: the concept of loving, committed same-sex relationships was unknown to the biblical writers. It was not until the late 19th century that homosexuality first began to be recognised by a few to be as normal as left-handedness: it has taken a century since for this to be reflected in widespread social acceptance and marriage legislation.
The analogy with Christian attitudes to slavery is striking. For centuries, the Church followed the biblical texts that view slavery as part of God’s ordering of society. It took Wilberforce, my ancestor Thomas Fowell-Buxton, and members of the Clapham Sect to recognise the greater biblical meta-narrative of the equality of all people. With the motto “Am I not a man and a brother?” they achieved the abolition of the slave trade and subsequently slavery itself against fierce opposition from those arguing that scripture clearly stated that slavery was ordained by God. Sadly, the Church had misunderstood scripture and the mind of God for centuries.
We wept when two young men wrote to us on their honeymoon to thank us for helping them to see that their love for each other was of God: we knew something of the years of pain that had marked their journeys.
42 Greystoke Road
Cambridge CB1 8DS
Replies to Russia; Church and anti-terrorism law
From Bishop Christopher Hill
Sir, — About the Orthodox Council, Michael Bordeaux asks what is the real agenda of the Russian Orthodox Church (Comment, 22 July). This is a legitimate but complicated question, and he is right to point to the significance of the Russian Church for not only Orthodoxy, but all Christians and indeed for global politics (the Ukraine and Syria).
While the old tensions between Constantinople and Moscow (Second and Third Rome) are still relevant, current analysis will also need to include the important fact that the Patriarchate of Moscow formally agreed to the Council and its convocation by Constantinople as late as January this year, at a meeting of the Orthodox Primates (the Synaxis).
Why, then, the last-minute withdrawal to which the Council responded in surprise rather than anger? One reason may be that the draft texts, all carefully agreed beforehand by earlier meetings of the Synaxis, were later criticised by more conservative groups within the absentee Churches. Indeed, the Council openly spoke about fundamentalism within Orthodoxy.
The Council, and the debate about it within Orthodoxy, is a manifestation of a plurality that Anglicans are only too familiar with, but which is new for many Orthodox. So also the Council’s debate as to the meaning of consensus: unanimity or qualified majority as voiced by Patriarch Anastasios of Albania, who pointedly asked for the latter.
I should add a purely technical point, I was present not as an Anglican Observer (this was the Bishop of Ebbsfleet), but as President of the Conference of European Churches, in which the Russian Orthodox Church has (suspended) membership.
Gloucestershire GL17 9TP
From Stephen R. Beet
Sir, — The article on Russia’s anti-terrorism laws (News, 22 July) is misleading and inaccurate, making several unsubstantiated claims and assumptions about the consequences of the proposed Russian legislation.
I have lived and worked in Novosibirsk for more than ten years, and know the background to this proposed legislation, which is aimed not at bona fide Evangelical Christians going about their lawful business, but at dangerous and persistent groups who are operating in Russia with the aim of the aggressive proselytising of young people and the destruction of the official Russian Orthodox Church.
I have witnessed the methods of these people, and can confirm reports of their gaining the trust of ordinary Russians before luring them into their sects. Many of these groups are financed from the United States, especially those professing the beliefs of the Mormons.
These groups work mainly by targeting young children in ways that would not be tolerated in the UK. In fact, if they went about their business in a like manner in the UK, they would be arrested.
I have noted on several occasions the tactics of these “missionaries” — mainly young men who operate in small groups. They are sent to Russia (on student visas) with the specific purpose of evangelising young people, and they work under the cover of teaching English in small private language-schools, of which there are very many, thus gaining access to children and young people.
In the summer, these young men easily get work in children’s language-camps, where they can have longer and unsupervised access to children, and ample opportunity to impart their message.
Other cults are operating in Russia, and there have been several reports of children taking their own lives after becoming involved.
This is the background to the new proposed legislation which, if passed in its present form, is designed to limit and perhaps ban the activity of these non-Christian sects and to protect unsuspecting persons. If bona fide Evangelical Christians are also engaging in these underhand ways of “evangelizing’, it would seem fair to say that they deserve to have their activities similarly limited.
STEPHEN R. BEET