Labour divisions call for more searching analysis
From the Bishop of Wolverhampton
Sir, — With the greatest of respect to Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 29 July), I would suggest that her depiction of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as brick-wielding insurrectionists in hock to demagoguery is, at best, a journalistic flight of fancy and, at worst, a lazy and ill-informed caricature.
The “ruthlessness” that she attributes to them surely more accurately describes the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party in its unconstitutional attempt to dispense with the services of its democratically elected leader, or the ruthlessness of the press in its systematic vilification (according to the findings of the recent London School of Economics report) of Corbyn and those who support him.
It is disappointing to find a Church Times column acting as an echo chamber for such media misrepresentation. Seismic shifts are taking place in our political landscape, and we would all do well to pay serious attention to the forces underlying and shaping them. That includes listening, whether to the voices of young people running phone banks for Jeremy Corbyn or to members of “left behind Britain” voting for Brexit. If we listened better, we might understand more fully and judge less hastily.
61 Richmond Road
Wolverhampton WV3 9JH
From Mr T. A. Gabbott
Sir, — The attempt to overthrow the Labour Party is being brought about not by the stone-throwers or by demagoguery but by members of the PLP who can’t work with the democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Although the arguments of the Left may be flawed in Canon Tilby’s vision, they are surely understood by millions now living in our deeply unequal society — a vision not given by demagoguery, but prompted by poverty wages, zero-hour contracts, benefits sanctions, and being driven to foodbanks while seeing billions lost to tax fraud.
If Canon Tilby could move to an inner-city church, she would then live alongside the poor, recognise the suffering, and ask herself whether this was a fair and just society.
THOMAS ARNOLD GABBOTT
Flat 2, Stenning Court
Leatherhead KT22 8BG
So, why did the English Church lose the people?
From Professor Nigel Bastin
Sir, — It is out at last: That Was the Church That Was has been published to howls of protest and indignant rage (Books, 29 July). The institutional Church has been portrayed as something akin to the Tudor court, with the opening scene taking place on the battlements of Windsor Castle.
The book gives the impression that the Church “lost the English people” because of the power struggles and internecine warfare over the ordination of women and homosexuality in the past 30 years. While both these issues are important in the public perception of the Church, however, the decline had begun long before and no one really knows why.
While the Church spends its time and energy devising mission statements, setting goals, and devising strategies to achieve those goals, it refuses to ask the basic “business” question: why are the people no longer interested in our product? The book recounts a meeting between Professor Woodhead and the then Archbishop to discuss the Kendal Project, which identified high levels of spiritual activities outside the Church in the area surveyed. “The shutter came down,” we are told. “He just did not want to know.”
He was not alone in his hostility to this type of research: even the then Bishop of Ely went as far as to suggest that spirituality “belongs to the Church”. Clearly it does not. The Church needs to finds ways of linking into this inherent spirituality in the English people just as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17.23). If it does not do so, its decline will continue and gain pace.
55 Green End
Bedford MK44 2BU
Starting-point for better Holy Land discussions
From Mr Robert Cohen
Sir, — I welcomed much of Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner’s article on Israel-Palestine, “A better way to discuss the land” (Comment, 29 July). The conflict is indeed “emotive”, and we need to see “beyond tribal approaches” and “embrace complexities”.
It is true that much British debate about Israel, especially online, can be “incendiary, accusatory, and simplistic”. Hearing stories of how individual Palestinians and Israeli Jews are finding ways to break down barriers is indeed heartening and inspiring.
But, in finding a better way to discuss the land of Israel-Palestine, we also need to disrupt the narrative that presents the dispute as if it is simply a matter of getting two peoples to learn to get along with each other.
This is not a conflict between equals: far from it. Neither is it a religious conflict, although some Jews and Christians like to think it is. It is not even a nationalist conflict, at least not since 1948. Over the past 70 years, Israel-Palestine has become a conflict over human and civil rights: those that have them, and those that haven’t.
In Israel, there are citizens with full rights (Israeli Jews) and those with less than full rights (non-Jews). It is a democracy, but only a partial one. On the West Bank, there are those who occupy (Israeli Jews) and those who are occupied (Palestinians). In Gaza, there are those who besiege (the Israeli Defence Forces) and those who are under siege (Palestinians). And around the world there is a Palestinian diaspora stopped by Israel from returning to its actual homeland, and a Jewish diaspora whose members could “return” to their ancestral land tomorrow if they wished.
Both Jews and Christians need to acknowledge these facts before meaningful dialogue about the future can begin. While Palestinian terrorism, or incitement to terror, should not be condoned, taking it out of this wider historical and current political context displays either ignorance or dishonesty.
A just future for Israel-Palestine will be one where all (Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others) who live in the land are treated equally, having equal rights to express their culture and religion, and honour their heritage. Nothing else will honour God’s creation. Let’s start our better discussions there.
1 Moons Acre, Bentham
Moral affront at the result of the Trident debate
From Jenny Paton-Williams
Sir, — Now that the ink on the vellum of Hansard has dried, we suppose the future for the UK’s nuclear defence (News and Comment, 22 July) is settled for another generation. I find myself with some lingering questions, however.
Was that parliamentary debate tabled with unseemly haste, designed only to embarrass Labour in its time of weakness and to cut off debate throughout the country, still reeling from the referendum?
Three years ago, Conservative front-benchers were so outraged by President Assad’s using chemical weapons that they proposed intervening — militarily, of course. Now the new Prime Minister announces unapologetically that she is prepared to employ weapons of mass destruction, and thus to send vastly greater numbers of civilians to a horrible death. I don’t understand the morality on display.
Third, why do British politicians deplore nuclear proliferation in other countries? Why should anyone take any notice, unless the UK leads by example?
I can assume only that the thinking behind these viewpoints is something along the lines of “We’re British, and therefore we’re always right.”
There remains one prospect, though, of reopening the debate: Scottish plans for Faslane may yet have their day.
28 Castle Terrace
Edinburgh EH1 2EL
From the Revd Richard Tetlow
Sir, — On being asked in Parliament at the Trident debate on 18 July whether she would “press the button”, our new Prime Minister, Mrs May, said “Yes” with the confidence of a lady asked if she needed a holiday. The first question requires follow-up such as this:
When would you press the button? Before the other party? If so, you would become the first-strike aggressor. Would it be after the other party? In which case, you might agree that your destruction of, metaphorically, the other half of the world might at least be just a rather pointless act of revenge. Or simultaneously?
For heaven’s sake, let us still try to think Trident through.
26 Sovereign Way, Moseley
Birmingham B13 8AT
Don’t miss the joy behind the knuckle-bashing
From the Revd Tim Storey
Sir, — Canon Roger Clifton’s cynical response to the way some ordinands were pictured in the Church Times (Letters, 22 July) says much about the depressingly negative expectations of certain parts of the Church.
At a time of division and uncertainty in the Church — let alone the nation — it should warm the hearts of old lags (including me) to see new deacons entering ministry with a sense of excitement. I am not sure that St Paul would have included knuckle-bashing, high fives, and manic grins in his contemporary understanding of the word “joy”, but it would certainly connect with the generation that these new ordinands are seeking to reach.
I am saddened that Canon Clifton cannot see that, and, in doing so, fails to see real hope for the future.
20 Burlington Close
Telford TF4 3TD
Drones and conductors
From the Revd Christopher Miles
Sir, — In your item about steeples and drones (News, 29 July), you question whether Amazon has reckoned with the Church of England’s faculty rules or the UK’s listing system for protected buildings. May I add a third requirement that can pose significant technical difficulty, namely, proper integration with a church’s lightning protection system?
Many electrical and electronic equipments are already being installed without any awareness of such matters as providing adequate separation from lightning conductors or, if this cannot be achieved, then appropriate bonding and surge protection. If attention is not paid to these requirements, then the result could be just as serious as Noel Ford’s nice cartoon: the church being set on fire.
Lightning Protection Consultant, Dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester
2 Spa Close, Hadlow
Tonbridge TN11 0JX
Just-war theory is better than no theory at all
From Canon Rob Kelsey
Sir, — I am dismayed by the apparent complacency of the Revd Dr Ian Duffield and Canon Alan Billings in their reflections on the Iraq War (Letters, 22 July).
Dr Duffield cites Canon Angela Tilby’s view (Comment, 8 July) that the aims of the Iraq War were not “dishonourable”, and he concludes that “Chilcot cannot help us . . . to know how to handle the next political crisis that invites military involvement.”
But Chilcot has confirmed what was clear at the time, that the decision to go to war was, rather than an honest response to a genuine provocation, a policy looking for a pretext. The pretexts adopted in the run-up to the war were Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, and links with global terror networks. It was only after these had been proved false that the murderous nature of his regime (which had been known about for years) was used as a post-event justification for the war.
Canon Billings states that Christian just-war principles “offer limited guidance on whether a war should be waged or not”, and asks: “How do you ever know that you have reached [the] point of last resort?”
But limited guidance is better than no guidance. The principle that a decision should be taken by a competent authority, and the failure to obtain a second UN resolution, suggest that it was wrong to go to war. And it is obvious that, when the UN weapons inspector says that he needs more time to complete his work, then the point of last resort has not been reached.
Chilcot has demonstrated, with analytical precision, that the Iraq War was a monumental mistake in many respects, and it doesn’t help to portray the war and its aftermath as the unfortunate combination of good intentions and unforeseeable circumstances. So long as we think that there is nothing to be learned from the past, then history will keep on repeating itself.
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Northumberland TD15 2LF
Denunciation? Not by Christian Concern
From the Revd Andrew Symes
Sir, — In his Press column (22 July), Andrew Brown retells the Guardian story of St Mark’s, Shelton, where some Muslims are converting to Christianity, and all refugees are cared for, regardless of faith. He then says: “I would be very surprised if this act of Christian concern is not denounced by Christian Concern or some such right-wing group.”
Did Mr Brown think to contact Christian Concern to find out what their opinion actually is? If not, is this not an example of extremely lazy journalism, as well as mean-spirited and inaccurate?
I found that a simple email to Christian Concern resulted in this response: “We are encouraged to hear that a C of E church is caring for the needy and vulnerable, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslims and seeing people come to faith, and we support these initiatives wholeheartedly.
“Indeed, as many will already be aware, we have been pleased through our Safe Haven initiative to provide practical help and support to a number of people from Muslim backgrounds and those ministering to them.”
21 High Street
Eynsham OX29 4HE
From the Revd James Oakley
Sir — Thank you for Professor Adrian Thatcher’s review of Satisfaction Guaranteed by Jonathan Berry with Rob Wood (Books, 22 July). It was interesting. It seems to me, however, that its breezy levity and naïvety would appeal to readers eager to evade the deep moral and theological problems that Dr Thatcher’s tradition of Christianity struggles to refuse to face, while its hubris disables it from recognising the harm that it too often causes.
High Street, Kemsing
Sevenoaks TN15 6NA