Religion on the BBC: Radio 3, good; TV, poor
From Mr Andrew Smith
Sir, — There may be much wrong with the BBC’s religious strategy, as Roger Bolton writes (Comment, 7 April), but it seems fair to point out one area where it works well.
I refer to Radio 3, which, necessarily because of its classical-music remit, broadcasts a great deal of religious music. This is not just done at random. Today (Palm Sunday), we have music for Holy Week broadcast from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. At Christmas, there is a wealth of seasonal music, including the highly successful Christmas-carol competition.
Attentive listeners, whether believers or not, can hardly fail to be aware of the Church’s year, which is frequently marked by appropriate music, and not just at major festivals. Choral Evensong, the world’s longest-running outside broadcast, attracts many listeners as a means both of devotion and of aesthetics.
Among spoken-word programmes, Joan Bakewell’s Belief is perhaps outstanding for its serious, if not uncritical, consideration of religion. And I have frequently heard interviewees, when asked to choose music themselves for broadcast, select and discuss religious music that means much to them, again whether or not they are believers.
Floreat Radio 3!
28 Boroughbridge Road,
Knaresborough HG5 0NJ
From Mr John Forrest
Sir, — I was pleased to read Roger Bolton’s article on the importance of public-service religious television, and agree that the BBC urgently needs a strategy for this genre, backed by proper resources.
I was a producer with the BBC TV’s religious unit for much of my broadcasting career and know at first hand that, for many years, the department’s staff were encouraged to engage in ongoing debates with religious groups about the genre.
More recently, however, TV producers were noticeably discouraged from such engagement. Theological literacy among programme-makers was devalued, while theologically articulate heads of department were dismissed with gagging clauses preventing their commenting in the public arena.
It is, then, not surprising to find BBC Television management out of touch, lacking in understanding of religion, and unable to grasp the importance and vitality of faith.
Faith leaders must, however, take some responsibility for the present lie of the land. While strongly critical motions on religious broadcasting in the General Synod in 2000 and 2010 caused widespread interest and achieved overwhelming support, church leaders still appear to have let the BBC off lightly. I was astonished to notice only scant comment from Churches after announcements of the Department’s demise last year. A question posed at the General Synod in February received merely a cursory reply. Religious leaders should, like OFCOM, publicly challenge the BBC.
Public-service religious television has a vital part to play in the health and development of our nation, especially in uncertain times. Religious programmes are able to build rather than lose audiences when properly resourced and considered.
What the BBC now needs as a matter of urgency is a creative leader with a track record in TV production, a developed interest in and knowledge of religion and empathy with worshipping and diverse faith communities.
Christians would do well to respond to OFCOM’s current consultation on BBC performance by asking for better coverage and sensitivity to faith matters. See -
51 Temple Road
Sale M33 2FQ
Episcopal appointments and the system’s flaws
From Mr Robert Calkin
Sir, —The non-appointment of the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, to a bishopric is again tearing the Church of England apart on the subject of homosexuality. Will it never end?
Although a Christian, I do not regard myself as a full member of the Anglican Communion. As a gay person myself, however, I happen to be a strong supporter of Dr John and would welcome his appointment.
But this is not just in the context of the gay-rights movement. There are many considerations to be taken into account: historical, biblical, theological, doctrinal, and even evolutionary science. The Church and, indeed, its congregations are entitled to their deeply held beliefs, which need to be respected. This is not just about homophobia; and the vicious and often personal attacks on the Church by gay activists, of which I am ashamed, can do nothing to bring about change; indeed, they can only harden attitudes.
Change must come from within.
3 Knights Orchard, Verulam Road,
Hertfordshire AL3 4DJ
From the Rt Revd John Gladwin
Sir, — The difficulties and distress surrounding the recent appointments of bishops in both the Church in Wales and the Church of England raise inescapable questions about the adequacy of the present systems for senior appointments.
The Churches may be exempt from the provisions of the 2010 Equality Act. They are not, however, exempt from ensuring that their policies and practice in all appointments rigorously uphold the equality of all irrespective of matters concerning their personal identity.
Having chaired a number of national charitable agencies in recent years, I have overseen a range of appointments of both staff and trustees. Equal opportunities required that, at no point in any process of appointment, should a candidate’s gender, age, disability, sexuality, or ethnic identity be considered. If the chair of the appointing panel allowed any such discussion to take place, that would fatally compromise the procedure and potentially open the door to formal complaints.
A similar breach of the principles and practice of equal opportunities would have occurred if, for example, women candidates were excluded from a short list on the grounds that “the diocese is not ready to appoint a woman as its Bishop”.
It is not helpful to blame individuals when things go wrong. In the absence of transparent, open, and just structures of appointment, and of clear procedures for carrying them out, the whole system of appointments is open to abuse.
The negative impact of recent events on the witness of members of the Church who in their professional lives seek to uphold these values, and the undermining of the morale of many clergy, should not be underestimated.
It is surely time to have a thorough review of all appointments, policies, and procedures. It has been distressing to witness the pain that good people have been put through in recent events.
131A Marford Road
St Albans AL4 8NH
The European Union’s part in keeping peace
From Mr J. Alan Smith
Sir, — Paul Vallely writes of “the EU — which, for all its flaws, has maintained peace for 90 [sic] years on a continent plagued by wars for centuries” (Comment, 7 April).
Up to a point, Lord Copper. There is an apparently little-known organisation that has a better claim to have maintained peace in Europe since 1945: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was NATO, strongly supported by US forces in Europe, that defended the nations of Western Europe, and it was the US under President Reagan, by raising the ante on defence spending, that brought about the end of the Soviet Union and its control over its former satellites which enabled many of those satellites and the Baltic States to join the EU.
J. ALAN SMITH
40 Albany Court
Essex CM16 5ED
From Mr John Littler
Sir, — Paul Vallely castigates the lack of preparation for leaving the EU before the referendum with the apparent wisdom of hindsight, when the result was a great surprise to most pundits, and was probably largely influenced by the last-minute obduracy shown to David Cameron by the EU bureaucracy.
But surely Mr Vallely’s hindsight doesn’t extend to a claim that the EU has been a peacekeeper for the past 90 years, i.e. since the 1927 Nazi Rally at Nuremburg?
As for its peacekeeping record, don’t forget the failure of the EU to respond adequately to the Bosnian war, and its tweaking of the tail of the Russian bear.
18 Hillside Road
Portishead BS20 8EW
School holidays and the travel industry’s profits
From Mr Greg Warren
Sir, — After the recent High Court judgment regarding parents’ taking children on holiday during term time, why is everyone ignoring the elephant in the room, which is that it is blatantly immoral profiteering for tour companies and airlines to put up their prices during the school holidays?
Were it not for this unjustifiable exploitation of families with children, there would not be an issue.
Yew Tree Lane
Harrogate HG 2 9JS
Parish vacancies and archidiaconal ones
From Mr Malcolm Dixon
Sir, — Your issue of 3 March carried the announcement of the retirement of the Archdeacon of Tonbridge on 31July. Your previous issue (24 February) carried a large advertisement seeking his successor.
As churchwarden of a parish in the same diocese, whose Vicar is also to retire on 31 July, I cannot help but note, with regret and some envy, that, while it is possible to advertise for a new archdeacon five months before the present one retires, allowing for a timely appointment, a smooth and efficient handover, and little if any gap, no such facility is possible in the case of an incumbent, where canon law precludes any significant happening until the post is actually vacant. I wonder why this should be so.
I have heard it said, not entirely in jest, that a parish needs to be allowed to recover from one incumbent before being subjected to the next. But I have also heard that the average length of an interregnum is increasing, and that anything under nine months is seen as quite an achievement nowadays.
There is also credible evidence that congregations tend to decline during an interregnum, and do not always recover to their previous level afterwards; so the present arrangements are probably not helping to grow the Kingdom.
Is this another opportunity for reform and renewal?
26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington, Kent BR6 9PA
The couples who aren’t there to hear their banns
From Mr Edward Mynors
Sir, — The reading of banns of marriage is indeed a wonderful opportunity to pray for the bride and groom (Letters, 17 March) and may bring them to church — but only if they are present to hear them.
In many rural churches, this is, sadly, not the case, as the couple actually live in far-away places such as London.
But we should no longer pretend that it is a way to collect reasons why they may not be married, when all too often the congregation have never heard the names before.
Barn Owls, Cooks Lane
West Sussex PO18 9QB