Points welcomed in bishop’s Hillsborough report
From the Revd Andrew McLuskey
Sir, — Bishop James Jones’s magisterial report regarding the experience of families bereaved after the Hillsborough disaster (News, 3 November) will surely have wide ramifications for those involved in similar incidents. In particular, it must be hoped that it will help rectify injustices pertaining to the case of Zane Gbangbola, a young boy from my own area who died in the 2014 floods.
Two, in particular, of Bishop Jones’s key points will resonate here. First and foremost will surely be what is described as the “pressing need” for proper participation of bereaved families at inquests. It was quite scandalous that at the inquest into Zane’s death his family had to rely on public charity to employ counsel. In contrast, the sums involved in so many of the corporate participants’ employing “top gun” legal representation must have been huge.
Second, local councils and other public bodies should be strongly encouraged to sign up to, and take to heart, the Charter for Families Bereaved recommended in the report. A change in culture relating to the aftermath of tragedies such as Hillsborough, Zane, and quite possibly Grenfell is badly needed.
17 Diamedes Avenue
Stanwell, Staines TW19 7JE
On balance, abuse apologies are worth the risk
From the Revd Tom Brazier
Sir, — The Revd Clifford Hall (Letters, 3 November) criticises bishops for prematurely apologising to alleged victims of abuse by now deceased clergy and insists on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. In so far as it goes, this is a critically important point. Nevertheless, I think it is too simplistic.
When the alleged perpetrator is dead, there is often little likelihood that the truth will be discovered. In these cases, we need to recognise the difference between knowledge and action.
Knowledge is not constrained by the binary categories of “innocent” or “guilty”. There is also the possibility that we just do not know the truth. Action, on the other hand is binary: we either apologise or do not. Even when knowledge is uncertain, we must still choose a course of action. So, we have to take a gamble in which we may get it wrong; and so we must evaluate the risks and the stakes.
The risks are generally difficult to judge — other than knowing that some allegations will be well-grounded and other won’t. The stakes, however, are known and quite unbalanced. If the allegations are false, and we apologise, we do an injustice to the name of someone who has died, but do no further harm: the deceased has been entrusted to the Father, and our next interaction with him or her will be on the day of judgement, when the truth will be known anyway.
If the allegations are true, and we fail to apologise, we do a grievous injustice, making the claimant out to be a liar and heaping character assassination on top of abuse. This will have lasting consequences in the life of this person and will make the Church an agent of harm, which directly opposes God’s purposes of healing and grace.
In the absence of absolute knowledge, which we will not have before judgement day, we still have to decide how to act and, given the choices above, I think that I, too, would risk erring on the side of apologising.
St John’s Vicarage, Greenside
Tyne & Wear NE40 4AA
Thought for the Day: the Today presenters and their religious interruption
From Mr Ken Franklin
Sir, — The newspapers have been full of the thoughts of John Humphrys and Justin Webb (Comment and Press, 3 November). The target of their aim has not been the peccadilloes and misdemeanours of the political class — well, not entirely — but, rather, the Today programme’s own Thought for the Day.
It was they claimed, “deeply, deeply boring” and regularly offered the view that, “Jesus was really nice”. There was a need to hear the views of agnostics and atheists. Webb’s deep-seated analysis claimed that all the sermons were “roughly the same — ‘If everyone were nicer to everyone else, it would be fine.’ But from my cursory glance around the world, I think a lot of religious people don’t want to be nice to each other. . . It really annoys me.”
I am all in favour of free speech, but these people hold a privileged position, and there is little opportunity for their superficial and offensive comments to be challenged in the way that they regularly challenge the views of others on Today.
It all amounts to yet another media attack on the Christian faith. Thought for the Day does not have a specifically Christian focus; regular contributors include Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs; but it’s clear that the target for Humphrys’s and Webb’s assault is Christianity.
There is a strong current that would like to see radio and television recast as a religion-free zone. This latest outburst from two of the programme’s leading presenters raises questions about their judgement, while showing clearly just where they stand. Who, for example, would conclude that a three-hour programme cannot justify three minutes of reflection on the key issues that lie at the heart of all religions?
25 Storrs Road
Chesterfield S40 3QA
From Mr Noel Fryer
Sir, — I try to listen to Thought for the Day whenever the opportunity arises, and over the years one thing becomes crystal-clear. Whether the presenter be Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or anything or nothing, the piece concentrates not on “Jesus was really nice” but on the fact that we are all rather better for following certain tenets of decency, fairness and honesty than we are in abandoning them — which much of the Today programme seems to delight in reporting.
I might find Mr Humphrys’s approach too adversarial, too condescending, too abrasive. That choice is his. He should perhaps remember that our choice is to turn him off.
12 Shrewsbury Street
Hodnet, Market Drayton
Shropshire TF9 3NP
From the Revd Stephen Terry
Sir, — In the midst of the mass of correspondence I have read recently on Thought for the Day, none of it makes what I should have thought was a rather obvious point, which is that its title nowhere mentions religion of any sort. It is (or should be) a “thought” that can come from anybody, from any point of the human compass, sacred or secular.
It is surely time to include secular approaches and responses to the hot topics and current issues of the day in this slot. I believe that we would all learn something from such an inclusive approach — and surely it is a Christian duty to try to cheer John Humphrys up a bit.
36 Church Mead, Keymer
Hassocks, West Sussex BN6 8BN
Offshore and onshore
From Dr Phillip Rice
Sir, — The offshore world is all around you. Last April, after the Panama papers were uncovered, the chief executives of 17 charities and campaign groups wrote to the Prime Minister to urge a stop to UK overseas territories’ and Crown dependencies’ being secretive about their use as tax havens and for money-laundering.
This week, the Appleby papers should indicate the need for more pressure from the Christian conscience to reinforce this call of the group of 17 for public registers of beneficial ownership in these offshore sites for which the UK has authority.
Tax economist (retired)
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU
The law on abortion
From Mr Alan Bartley
Sir, — Before the Vatican’s 19th-century revision, Christians distinguished abortion as sinful before quickening and as murder thereafter. While all human life is precious and ought to be protected from conception, without getting into debates about ensoulment, I think this is still a useful distinction.
Today science can demonstrate the slow formation of the foetus until it is fully functioning and alive as a human being. This point gives a natural, philosophic, and scientific rational for even unbelievers and secular governments to treat foetuses as unborn children with human rights from this point.
Before this point, abortion is still an evil, and civil government should not allow it for frivolous reasons, and certainly should discourage it as an alternative to contraception.
17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD
Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate
From Mr John McHugo
Sir, — Terry Philpot (Letters, 3 November) takes issue with the Balfour Project’s claim that the Balfour Declaration’s legacy “left Palestinians ‘stateless, living under occupation in their own land, in refugee camps or scattered throughout the world’”. He describes this as “a skewed history, lacking context and fairness”.
Mr Philpot seems unaware that Britain’s Mandate over Palestine constituted “a sacred trust of civilisation” (Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations) to secure the well-being and development of its indigenous people. This sacred trust of civilisation was a commitment to leading them to independence, as well as the yardstick against which Britain’s implementation of its Mandate should have been measured.
Yet, because of the Balfour Declaration, Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was the only mandated territory in the Arab Middle East not to be granted a democratically elected parliament as a step on the road to independence.
Britain’s failure to prepare Palestine for democracy and independence was thus nothing less than a betrayal. It was also a breach of the promise in the Balfour Declaration to safeguard the civil rights of the indigenous, non-Jewish population. In 1947-48, Britain basically ran away, and left the Palestinian people who were meant to be under her “tutelage” to their fate. All this, I am afraid, is an integral part of Balfour’s legacy.
Celebrating the Declaration after 100 years is premature. Instead, let’s work for the time when both peoples between the Mediterranean and the Jordan live in full equality and security, which is not so today.
Adviser to the Steering Committee of the Balfour Project
26 Sefton Street
London SW15 1LZ
From Mr David Cannon
Sir, — Mr Terry Philpot’s letter rehearses well-known “alternative facts”.
Had he been at the Balfour Project’s packed event “Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach” at Westminster Central Hall on 31 October, he would have heard a panel of speakers challenge these “facts”. They ranged from prominent Parliamentarians to church leaders, rabbis, imams, and others, including Sir Vincent Fean (our former Consul General in Jerusalem).
They overwhelmingly endorsed the need for UK recognition of a Palestinian state, and also pledged support for Palestinians and Israelis in building a peaceful future based on equal rights, justice, and security for all who call the Holy Land their home.
As one person said afterwards, “I have never before heard so many wise words from such a diverse group of contributors.”
88 Colney Lane, Cringleford
Norwich NR4 7RG
Lost in quotation
From the Revd Dr Elizabeth Jordan
Sir, — “Of gods and men” (Features, 3 November)? And there was I, thinking that an exhibition about human beings’ interaction with notions of divinity would have been of interest to me.
Rawreth SS11 8SH