So, what should the Church say about the General Election?
From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby complains that church leaders say little about political issues which is not better said elsewhere (Comment, 12 May).
But Canon Tilby’s appeal to “the art of the possible”, and her depiction of church utterances as “a manifesto on behalf of all good causes”, leave open the question what we are trying to do in the first place. Politics is not just about strategy and tactics: it’s also about where we are trying to go, what kind of society we believe in.
The division between Left and Right in modern politics largely echoes the distinction between biblical ethics and the polytheistic societies surrounding ancient Israel. Big empires such as Assyria and Babylon taught that humanity existed not for its own sake, but to serve the gods. Empires were run hierarchically, and resources were dedicated to imperial bling and annual wars.
In contrast, the Hebrew scriptures describe a single God who needs nothing from us. We were created not to provide labour for God, but for our own sakes, as an act of blessing.
On one account, individual humans are created for work. The biggest contributors are the most important, and non-contributors are a waste of space. Let them die. On the other account, all have been created for their own sakes in a world designed to be good for us. What remains to be done is to celebrate God’s goodness and look after each other.
The Welfare State, though it had atheist support, would never have been set up without the biblical and Christian belief that everybody matters.
Unfortunately, over the past four decades, neo-liberal economic theory has revived ancient polytheism. The god who now enslaves us goes by the name of The Economy. Politicians and the media constantly talk about the economy as though the purpose of human beings were to serve it.
So, one of the richest countries in the world can apparently afford less and less. Wages are reduced, public services are cut, and ever-increasing numbers are starving or homeless, all in the name of the economy. We are like frogs in slowly warming water, year after year getting used to the latest deterioration, and forgetting that things could be any different.
It doesn’t have to be like this. To paraphrase Jesus: the economy was made for people, not people for the economy.
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE
From the Revd Donald Stevenson
Sir, — Elections can easily become so much about personalities that policies are thought to be of secondary importance. Over the past few years, Britain has experienced a rise in the RPI which consistently outstrips wages, let alone benefits, so that living standards for the poorest are falling.
Taxation has been restructured towards indirect taxes such as VAT, which are more burdensome to the poor than to the rich. At the same time, negative interest rates have robbed savers of any real return.
The Tories have claimed that economic austerity was essential, owing to the burden of the National Debt. They conveniently forgot that the sharp increase in debt was caused by the almost total collapse of the banking sector, which had to be bailed out.
The great windbag David Cameron proclaimed “We’re all in this together.” We never were. Austerity has affected only the poor, while the rich have become richer.
The policy of monetary “easing” which has been in vogue over the past seven years really means that the Government has increased the money supply as their main policy to support the economy and stave off the demon of recession.
The newly created money had to go somewhere. It did not go into government spending for essential services or to support those in need. It went into the financial institutions, and boosted the value of capital assets and stockmarket funds, some by as much as 30 or 40 per cent in the past few years.
The rich have become a very great deal richer, because government policies have made them richer. There are, and always have been, alternative policies.
Politicians and even voters might one day say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Matthew 25.44)
94 Curlew Crescent
Bedford MK41 7HZ
From Yemmi Agbebi
Sir, — I was rather surprised at the unfortunate timing and choice of words used by the Archbishops in their pastoral letter concerning the forthcoming General Election on 8 June (News, 12 May). At best, the Archbishops’ communiqué was thoughtless, and, at worst, it was tantamount to a tacit and underhand endorsement of the Conservative Party and its broad range of austerity programmes targeted chiefly at the poor and the disabled, and the NHS.
The overall tone and tenor of the communication was vacuous and without compassion for the socially disadvantaged and least able in society. This is especially concerning at a time of great social and economic upheaval precipitated by Brexit.
It is fair to state that the Archbishops’ banality did not go unnoticed by sections of the media, including The Guardian.
As a practising Christian and Anglican layman, I was both disappointed and angry that, at a time of such uncertainty and suffering in our country, the Archbishops lacked compassion and failed to show leadership and courage to speak out for the homeless, the old, the vulnerable, and anxious EU residents.
9 Austin Way,
The Parks, Bracknell
Berkshire RG12 9HQ
From the Revd Dr Jeyan Anketell
Sir, — I have been astonished by Canon Angela Tilby’s partisan support for Theresa May’s Conservative party. First she describes Mrs May’s cynical calling of a general election as a bold choice (Comment, 21 April), going on to praise her Christian values; then she launches a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (Comment, 28 April) worthy of the ultra-right-wing Daily Mail; and, last week, she finds herself wearied by the Archbishops’ plea for us to consider Christian values before voting on 8 June.
I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn would call himself a Christian, but his policies seem to chime well with Jesus’s own teaching about society. Consider the parables of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37); the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31); the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20.1-16); the expulsion of the financiers from the Temple (Matthew 21.12-17); and, finally, the sheep and the goats/the Last Judgement (Matthew 25.31-46).
After Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation, just days after the 2016 budget, he pointed out both the economic incompetence and the hypocrisy of the Conservative Government’s budget (fully supported by Mrs May) in taking from the poor and vulnerable in order to give to the better off.
I leave you to judge whether Mr Corbyn or Mrs May is more deserving of your support.
Trustee, Modern Church
7 Wissage Lane, Lichfield
Staffordshire WS13 6DQ
From Mr Malcolm Dixon
Sir, — I read with interest the letter from Fr Paul Butler and others (Letters, 12 May) criticising the column by Angela Tilby in the previous issue, and having a persistently anti-capitalist trope.
While there can be no doubt that our faith requires us to have a bias to the poor, I think that Christians are entitled to have a range of views on how this might best be achieved, and not confine themselves to socialism as the best, or indeed only, economic system capable of doing it, as Fr Butler’s letter implies.
There can be little doubt that capitalism has lifted far more people out of poverty than all the other economic systems put together. Socialism, on the other hand, counter-intuitively, and despite the best of intentions, usually has the opposite effect.
In its most extreme form, Communism, it has plunged more people into destitution than any other modern economic system: look at Russia, or China under Mao. Venezuela post-Chavez — a socialist leader and regime positively venerated by the Labour leaders that Canon Tilby so disparages — is in dire straits.
Capitalism is far from perfect, and requires regulation to control its failings. There will always be debate about what level of regulation is appropriate. But capitalism will always be superior in my view, because, by rewarding success, it works with the grain of fallen human nature rather than against it.
Come the parousia, when all are made new, socialism may well be the best system. Until then, we are all (including the poor) better off with a system based on capitalism. Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” One could say much the same about capitalism.
26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington BR6 9PA
From Mr Martin Jewitt
Sir, — Canon James Walters puts the balance of clergy’s pastoral and political responsibilities well (Comment, 12 May). As Christians, we have to love our neighbours; so we all have political responsibilities, and our different callings will range from simply exercising our vote to commitment to a political party, and, for some, standing for election. The motivation, for a Christian, has to be the common good.
Clergy called to active political involvement clearly need to ensure that our congregations understand that this is not a matter of tribalism, and our preaching has to be motivated purely by the word of God as we receive it. In my experience, it can sometimes be a tricky tightrope to walk, but not impossible. But we have to follow what the Kingdom is demanding of us.
12 Abbott Road
Folkestone CT20 1NG
From Mr Mervyn Cox
Sir, — James Walters’s article “Should clergy disclose their political allegiances” reminds me of the story about the vicar who was asked for whom he would be voting in an upcoming General Election.
He replied that it would be inappropriate for someone in his position to disclose his political allegiances, but would say that, should the Tories be victorious, the hymn at matins on the following Sunday would be “Now thank we all our God”; if Labour won, it would be “O God, our help in ages past”; and if the Liberals were successful, the congregation would sing “God moves in a mysterious way”.
78 Marford Road, Wheathampstead
Hertfordshire AL4 8NQ
The play’s not the thing for Leicester Cathedral
From Mrs Kim Harding
Sir, — Both as a Ricardian and a Christian, I profoundly disagree with Leicester Cathedral hosting a production of Richard III, and believe an alternative venue should be found (News, 12 May).
The issue is not the play: it has its place in the English canon, though it is not a depiction of the historical Richard; nor is there any dispute over plays in churches: they are public spaces in which we can explore human stories of great depth and meaning.
However, a church has a primary Christian duty to those resting in peace in its precincts, and this is especially true of Leicester Cathedral, which in recent years has very publicly promised that it would provide “Dignity and Honour” for the remains of this anointed king.
This phrase asserts the Christian ethos and spiritual care that the cathedral places on the nature of Christian burial, and the memory and legacy of deceased individuals, not just Richard III.
Context also matters: this play does, after all, specifically and egregiously defame and monster a historic individual. In other locations, including other churches, the play remains a piece of malicious fiction, but a play that traduces a man’s character and actions, deliberately performed before his grave, exerts the authority of the Church in sanctioning the performance and lends veracity to its claims.
A performance mocking or vilifying the war dead would not be performed in front of a Cenotaph, or a play critical of King Edward VIII’s abdication in the precincts of St George’s, Windsor, or a play defaming John F. Kennedy or Bobby Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery: it is morally offensive to perform derisory or malicious fictions in the presence of the deceased.
And so a performance of Richard III held within a few metres of his grave trounces the cathedral’s promise that Richard’s remains will be held in “honour and dignity”. Leicester Cathedral should find another venue for Shakespeare’s fiction.
The Vicarage, Parson’s Lonnen
Co. Durham DL12 8ST
Jesmond consecration: surely, these are double standards over divorce
From Mr Robert Ian Williams
Sir, — The clandestine consecration as a Bishop of Jonathan Pryke (News, 12 May) raises some interesting ironies. Here we have those who are fighting the gay movement who are attempting to introduce same-sex marriage within Anglicanism, and in doing so claiming that they are following the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as regards sexuality. No less a person than Canon Chris Sugden asserted so in The Times of London on 11 May.
Yet the Bishop who performed the consecration was a member of the Church of England in South Africa, now calling itself the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church in South Africa (REACH-SA). The clerical orders of this denomination have been recognised since 1966 by the Anglican Consultative Council.
REACH-SA has a long history of loyalty to Evangelical principles, and was nurtured by Sydney diocese. A century before the US Episcopalians were embroiled in legal disputes, they had the Anglican Church of the Province of South Africa tied up in the courts. They have thrown the word “catholic” out of the creed, and any whiff of baptismal regeneration or the Real Presence has been eradicated from their revised prayer-book. They also practise lay celebration. Yet this denomination is very liberal on divorce and remarriage.
Whereas the Vicar of Jesmond, the Revd David Holloway, has been a stalwart defender of the indissolubility of Christian marriage. Contrast his writings defending the marriage bond with the liberal views of Bishop Frank Retief of REACH-SA.
From such people, having lowered the bar of morality for their own convenience, is preached the gospel of repentance to homosexuals. Conservative Evangelicals may have bolted the front door against liberalism, but the back door is wide open.
ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS
Y garreg Lwyd
From Canon John Goodchild
Sir, — The best way to counter the silliness at Jesmond is for the surrounding parishes to major on sound biblical teaching. The New Testament condemns sexual relationships that are unfaithful, promiscuous, and abusive, but Jesus didn’t say anything about same-sex marriage. Jesmond is just propagating ancient cultural traditions.
39 St Michaels Road
Liverpool L17 7AN
From the Revd Howard C. Bigg
Sir, — I was interested to read that the Revd Jonathan Pryke is associated with Jesmond Parish Church, and therefore with the Revd David Holloway, its Vicar.
I was an ordinand at Ridley Hall with Mr Holloway in the 1960s and have a clear recollection of his stridently expressed conservative views.
As it happens, I, too, am opposed to gay marriage for numerous reasons — not least the fact that it cannot be fully equal to heterosexual marriage for the simple reason that, in the case of men, there can be no concept of consummation or adultery, and lawyers recognise this. Gay marriage is an ill-thought-through notion driven by cultural forces, and we are right to resist it.
I ask Mr Holloway, however: is this really an adequate ground for schism when there are many other issues where it could be argued that Christians are not being faithful to scripture?
HOWARD C. BIGG
4 Pershore Road, Hardwick
Cambridge CB23 7XQ
A greener pension might be offered as an option
From Canon John Nightingale
Sir, — One suggestion in our letter of 5 May that was not addressed in Bernadette Kenny’s response last week (Letters, 12 May) is that the Pensions Board might offer an optional fund for those who want their pensions to be free from fossil fuels.
Such options are being increasingly offered by fund managers these days; in this case, the argument is strengthened by the urgency of the situation and the problems of conscience that arise. I am reminded of the debates about disinvestment in South African companies during the apartheid era, and am glad to read that, last year, the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa voted for fossil fuel disinvestment.
19 Berberry Close
Birmingham B30 1TB
The Revd Hugh Lee
Sir, — Bernadette Kenny reveals the inconsistency of the policy of the National Investing Bodies (NIBs).
She says: “Our active engagement and voting record provide greater leverage and influence than we could ever hope to achieve by acting alone or by simply selling our holdings.” And yet they have disinvested from those fossil-fuel companies that generated more than ten per cent of their revenue from thermal coal and tar sands. What are the actual criteria by which they might decide that their policy of engagement is ineffective or ineffective?
She is also somewhat disingenuous in saying that their policy was “endorsed by the General Synod by 255 votes in favour, with none against”. The July 2015 motion did indeed “affirm the policy . . . adopted by the NIBs”, but only because it was a clear improvement on their previous policy. Moreover, that motion also urged the NIBs “to use the threat of disinvestment from companies as a key lever for change”.
64 Observatory Street
Oxford OX2 6EP
Traditional crafts need to be appreciated more in our churches
From Kathleen Robertson
Sir, — “As it was in the beginning”, a very apt headline (Features, 12 May). However, it goes on “is now and ever shall be”. Unfortunately, this will not be the case in some churches, particularly those of Evangelical persuasion, as I know from personal experience.
The case in point concerns a pipe organ which was rebuilt just six-and-a-half years ago, and, through sheer neglect, now stands unloved and unusable. Maybe something will be done to replace it, but it will not be a pipe organ.
I have been an organist for 60 years, and for me nothing can replace the sound of a good pipe organ. Even the mechanical way of playing on recordings, used due to lack of organists, leaves me cold. I have said on more than one occasion that the organ has a soul, as does a good organist; combine the two, and you have a formidable instrument of worship worthy as an offering to God.
Sadly, the organ builder in your article is correct when he says that most congregations do not see the organ as a long-term investment. I know that there are many who mourn the loss of the organ, but they are outnumbered by a generation with little respect for the history of the crafts in the article.
The saying is: “What goes round comes round”; maybe this will be the case with the organ and future generations, but I will not hold my breath. I fear that the only place a pipe organ will be heard in worship will be in cathedrals, or the more traditional churches.
It is a sad reflection of the attitude of so many today, particularly when music speaks to the heart in ways that many words do not.
19 McNish Court, Eaton Socon
Cambridgeshire PE19 8PE
From Mr Howard Reeve
Sir, — Saturday’s sports section of The Daily Telegraph carried the following headline: “Jesus fit again and ready for City return.” A sermon text for Sunday’s Gospel?
100 Bishops Road
Cardiff CF14 1LY