Letters to the Editor

by
17 February 2017

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Sparing the rod: the Iwerne Trust scandal and biblical interpretation

 

From Mr Stephen Parsons
Sir, — The accounts of physical abuse of young men who were part of the Iwerne camp network raise a variety of concerns. Among these is the issue of theology. Was John Smyth following a biblical agenda?

The Bible, especially the Old Testament, certainly does have things to say on the raising of children. Parental responsibility in biblical times would routinely have involved the use of a “rod” to enforce obedience. A cluster of texts, notably from Proverbs, would appear to support any parent who believes that physical chastisement of children is necessary.

Although Jesus seems to have had nothing to do with this rhetoric (indeed, the opposite), beating children has always been an option for many conservative parents, even if only occasionally. There is an entire genre of mainly American Evangelical literature encouraging potentially violent sanctions against children, with titles such as Dare to Discipline and How to Rear Children.

Christian violence against children is powerfully represented in Ingmar Bergman’s last film, Fanny and Alexander. There is a terrifying scene in which the stepfather, a Protestant bishop, beats ten-year-old Alexander. Simultaneously, the bishop is quoting the Bible and professing paternal love. Bergman, the son of a Protestant minister, is believed to have wanted to communicate something of his own trauma caused by religiously inspired violence.

In the United States, a 23-month-old boy, Joseph Green, was beaten or “paddled” to death by his parents in 1982. The leader of the fundamentalist community, Dorothy McClellan, in whose house the incident took place, was sent to prison for the death, as she was deemed to have influenced the parents’ behaviour by teaching them to practise “biblical” methods of childrearing.

Violence against young people is deplored by all right-minded Christians. But, if it is to be stamped out, we need to recognise collusion in such beliefs, and need responsible interpretation of the scriptural passages that appear to condone violence against the young.

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It is still a cause of shame that the group who lobbied hardest against the abolishing of corporal punishment in schools was a network of headmasters of independent Christian schools. If more Christians can recognise the need to outlaw such dark and harmful practices from their traditions, then some good can yet emerge from this sad event.

 

STEPHEN PARSONS
19 South Gables, Haydon Bridge
Northumberland NE47 6EQ

 

From the Revd Jonathan Frais
Sir, — The BCP service for the Visitation of the Sick “is extremely clear about the godliness of beating boys,” writes Andrew Brown (Press, 10 January). He refers us to words it uses from Hebrew 12, and these include “our heavenly Father’s correction”, which makes us “like unto Christ”, which is a call to spiritual self-examination. Should it be proved that abusers such as John Smyth were motivated by this teaching, then the texts themselves would have been subject to abuse.

 

JONATHAN FRAIS
The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY

 

From the Revd Paul Greenland
Sir, — Andrew Brown seems to link the beating of boys by John Smyth as being (in some sense) an outworking of Evangelical theology. Was the beating of young men by Bishop Peter Ball an outworking of Anglo-Catholic theology? My experience of abusers with a church background, from 16 years’ ordained ministry, is that they come in all shapes and sizes, and from all shades of churchmanship.

 

PAUL GREENLAND
The Vicarage, 88 Chignal Road
Chelmsford
Essex CM1 2JB

 

Episcopal appointments in England and Wales

 

From the Revd Sue Hammersley
Sir, — As the Vicar of St Mark’s, Sheffield, a vibrant inclusive church serving the parish of Broomhill and Broomhall, I am writing to express my deepest concerns at the nomination of a diocesan Bishop who would be unable to ordain the women in his diocese.

I am not questioning the nominee’s credentials, but, if he is unwilling to ordain women as priests, surely this renders him unable to fulfil the ministry of chief pastor and focus of unity in a diocese that is already divided.

The five guiding principles state that the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all ministerial orders’ being open equally to all. Pastoral and sacramental provision is made for “the minority who are unable to receive the ministry of women”. The implicit assumption is that the diocesan bishop should be willing to oversee the sacramental ministry of the whole clergy, but that he or she would be prepared to delegate this responsibility to accommodate those who feel unable to accept it. No such provision is possible when it is the majority who feel undermined by the theological conviction of their diocesan bishop.

The Church of England and the diocese of Sheffield need to recognise that there are significant flaws in a structure that can present a nomination to a diocese without reference to the issue of gender, an issue that is of fundamental significance within Sheffield.

 

SUE HAMMERSLEY
4 St Mark’s Crescent
Sheffield, S10 2SG

 

From Michael and Pauline Miller
Sir, — We are very concerned that a bishop has been appointed to Sheffield who, apparently, despite the official stance of the Church of England, would not ordain women as priests.

It is not acceptable to treat women as second-class citizens within the C of E. We write as members of a parish that has an excellent all-female team of clergy, and whose congregation accepts the equality of all people, whether male or female, white or black, citizen or newcomer, heterosexual or LGBT — as we believe Jesus would do.

Would Bishop North refuse to accept communion when visiting our church? In our opinion, the appointment of a Bishop with such a stance cannot help but be divisive, and, importantly, both undermines the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and sends out a detrimental message to non-churchgoers that the Church of England is stuck in an ancient past that treats women as inferior and legitimises this.

 

MICHAEL MILLER and PAULINE MILLER
23 Alexandra Gardens
Sheffield S11 9DQ

 

From the Dean of Hereford
Sir, — A diocesan history, written in 1888, ends with the following rather charming summary: “The diocese of Hereford has seldom held, and is never likely to hold, a very conspicuous place among the dioceses of the Church of England. . .” That may be so, but, on at least two occasions, it has sent a clear message to the national Church.

In both 1847 and 1917, the diocese of Hereford was at the centre of a storm concerning the appointment of a new diocesan bishop. On both occasions, the bishops appointed were thought to have suspect doctrinal and theological views. In 1847, it was Renn Dickson Hampden, and in 1917, it was Hensley Henson. In both cases, there was national and diocesan uproar, so much so, in the case of Henson, that Archbishop Randall Davidson was brought to the verge of resignation.

In both cases, at the election of the bishop, prebendaries voted against or absented themselves, and in neither case could there have been said to be an amicable start to the new episcopate. And yet each was nevertheless appointed, and each seems to have turned out well and won over concern and opposition.

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Hampden did a huge amount for the educational work of the diocese, and Henson, though he stayed only two years before being translated to Durham, proved himself a kindly and assiduous pastoral bishop in this deeply rural area.

I just wonder whether history may repeat itself in concerns expressed at present over the appointment of Bishop Philip North to Sheffield.

 

MICHAEL TAVINOR
The Deanery, College Cloisters
Hereford HR1 2NG

 

From Mr Gareth James
Sir, — It was enormously encouraging to many of us in Wales to read of the appointment of Philip North as the Bishop of Sheffield (News, 3 February), especially so as the same edition carried the claim by our retiring Archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, that the Church in Wales was now a more welcoming place. Since when — and for whom?

The truth is that, since Dr Morgan became Archbishop, we have seen nothing of the commitment to mutual flourishing that is now, evidently, a reality in the Church of England. For those of us who hold to a traditional understanding of Catholic faith and order, it feels as if we are strangers in our own Church: a problem minority to be pushed to the very edges.

Dr Morgan’s persistent refusal to allow this minority to receive episcopal ministry from a bishop in whom we have sacramental assurance has been, frankly, mean. It has also given rise to the frequency of “trips across the border” to receive the ministry of the Church of England’s PEVs.

Would it be too much to expect that the Welsh Bishops, now free of Dr Morgan’s dominance over the past decade and more, will have the vision and generosity to follow the Church of England’s example, and allow a bishop to minister to a minority who represent the Christian majority world-view?

Such a move would present no threat to the majority view in Wales, which Dr Morgan has devoted his ministry to championing. It would also show a divided world what living with difference can mean in practice.

 

GARETH JAMES
Harlech, Gwynedd
(Full address supplied)

 

Cathedrals need the freedom to be annoying

 

From the Very Revd Christopher Lewis
Sir, — Bishop Michael Turnbull writes an eirenic letter (10 February) about bishops and power, which accords with my happy experience in three very different cathedrals.

Sadly, however, it does not tell the whole story. The simple rule of thumb is: “The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop but he or she does not run it.” If the Bishop gets angry letters about the horrific things being done by “his” or “her” cathedral (usually aimed at an adventurous work of art, or at services in which Christians consort with local Muslims), he or she sends it on to the Dean, without comment, or perhaps with a supportive note.

The other side of the story goes back to the early 1990s and beyond. In 1991, Salisbury received a visitation charge that referred to the cathedral as both “hyperactive” and a “paradisal prison”, while saying: “we must begin urgently to dismantle the tradition that cathedrals are independent entities.” More recently, bishops have intervened and used visitations to try to impose their views.

If a cathedral is in financial or personnel trouble, there is a clear procedure: the Cathedral Council (an oversight body in which the Bishop has a part) should step in and help.

It is natural for bishops occasionally to feel angry about cathedrals. Cathedrals are annoying; for they tend to be a bit liberal, and they inhabit the boundary between Church and world. Criteria of success are hard to arrive at for a Church that follows Jesus Christ, but cathedrals have been startling in their ability to be adventurous, and to engage in a form of mission more profound than that practised by much of the Church.

To do that, they need separation from the systems of their diocese, somewhat in the manner of monasteries.

 

CHRISTOPHER LEWIS
16 Victoria Road, Aldeburgh
Suffolk IP15 5ED

 

Raking over the Troubles: it’s time to stop the legacy investigations

 

From the Revd Dr John Cameron
Sir, — Four decades ago, soldier members of my extended family were traumatised by fighting for their lives against enemies of the Queen on streets and in fields of the UK. Young servicemen tried to hold the ring between Catholics and Protestants, but inevitably were soon battling IRA terrorists who were determined to murder soldiers and policemen.

Some squaddies died in street firefights, others in rural ambushes, and others at the hands of terrorists who vanished after firing a single shot, or after detonating hidden booby traps. For all the attention lavished on tragic blunders such as Derry’s Bloody Sunday in 1972, our young men did a thankless job with exemplary courage, devotion, and good humour.

I hoped it was over with all sides’ accepting, as is necessary to close any civil war, that a line had to be drawn and a shroud pulled over past misdeeds; but that is not the case. The 3000 deaths caused by Republican or Loyalist terrorists are largely set aside, but the 300 caused by UK soldiers are being picked over by the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch.

Lawyers, as well as an alarming number of judges and coroners, act as if firefights can be subjected to forensic investigations similar to those that follow aircraft crashes. But it is one thing to uphold the rule of law by punishing government servants guilty of crimes, and quite another to hound geriatric men for their service to the Crown 40 years ago.

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Our sanctimonious judiciary has done serious damage to military effectiveness and morale by creating an obsessive preoccupation with legal sanctions at the expense of operations. It is time to put an end to this farrago at home and abroad, to whip in the greedy legal hounds, and to derogate from the European Court of Human Rights during military conflicts.

 

JOHN CAMERON
10 Howard Place
St Andrews KY16 9HL

 

Charity statements on inequality and poverty

 

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield
Sir, — The over-politicisation of some charities was evidenced recently by ill-judged Red Cross claims that the difficulties in the NHS constituted a “humanitarian crisis” — a term more appropriately used for gross situations of war and famine.

Another illustration of this trend, this time from Oxfam, is the claim (News, 20 January) that the eight richest people have wealth equivalent to the poorest 3.6 billion, which appears to take no account of what they do.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, at least, aside from the beneficial impact that they have on the world economy, are using large amounts of their personal wealth to tackle disease and relieve poverty.

Oxfam International’s Executive Director says that “Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty.” As, for the past century at least, we have not lived in a zero-sum economy, this is clearly untrue: inequality does not cause poverty. She goes on to call differences in wealth “obscene”, and claims that “one in ten people survive on less than $2 a day.”

While this is of concern, measures of absolute poverty, as the great transgender economist Deirdre McCloskey points out, are measured by $1 a day, and their numbers have been continuing to fall for decades, with a fall by three-quarters from 26.8 per cent in 1970 to 5.4 per cent in 2006 (Bourgeois Equality).

When charities over-politicise, diverting time, energy, and money from their core business of providing direct help and relief to those in need, charitable donors need to be wary.

 

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

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