Letters to the Editor

by
21 December 2017

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Inadequate episcopal response to Carlile report

From the Revd Professor David Brown and Professor Ann Loades

Sir, — As we all know, bishops (including archbishops) have in the past treated as innocent (or forgiven) those whom competent legal authority deemed very likely to be convicted in a court of law. Now, however, in his most recent declaration, we find the Archbishop of Canterbury treating as guilty someone whom competent legal authority would very probably have acquitted in a court of law.

Have the Church and the Bishops really learnt nothing from their errors? The present approach in the Bell case is surely just the mirror image of past episcopal behaviour, and apparently with the same confusion in motives: partly, acting with compassion for one person, but to the great detriment of another; and partly continuing the attempt to preserve the reputation of the Church.

Legal justice has, no doubt, its limitations, but, in securing rights for all, it is infinitely preferable to an episcopate that thinks it knows better.

DAVID BROWN, ANN LOADES
School of Divinity
St Mary’s College, South Street
St Andrews KY16 9JU

 

From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

Sir, — Further to my letter of 17 November, my delight at the findings of the newly published Carlile report on the Bishop George Bell case was quickly dampened by the Church’s reaction to it.

Both the Bishop of Chichester and the Archbishop of Canterbury have stopped short of acknowledging the late Bishop’s innocence. Archbishop Welby has instead stated that, “while Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero, good acts do not diminish evil ones.”

This is an unacceptable response from one who presides over the House of Bishops, which earlier this year produced a policy statement on safeguarding which I quoted in my earlier letter: “A legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes.”

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There was no statutory process in this case, and the church processes have been found by Lord Carlile to have been totally inadequate. The Church now has no excuse for not declaring the late Bishop Bell to be innocent of the charge against him, for not apologising to all surviving relatives, and for hesitating to make restitution in Chichester and beyond.

Anything less, in these circumstances, is hypocritical. The Church must be seen to practise what it preaches.

RUTH HILDEBRANDT GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ

 

‘Our God’ in choruses is a problem of balance

From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir, — The Revd Neil Patterson (Comment, 8 December) correctly points out that the phrase “our God” is rare in the New Testament, though he misses a few instances (1 Corinthians 6.7; Galatians1.4; Philippians 4.20; Hebrews 12.29). But the reason for this difference between Old and New Testaments needs more attention.

(1) If Jesus in John 8.54 is critical of the claim of the Jewish authorities that God “is our God”, this must be understood in connection with John 20.17, which clearly implies that Jesus’s disciples, by contrast, do have the right to say “our God”. There the risen Christ speaks of “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God”.

(2) But that same text illustrates the main reason why “our God” is rare in the New Testament. The writers prefer to express the special relationship of God to his people by the phrase “our Father”, which is frequent (the many places where Jesus in the Gospels says “your Father” to the disciples must be included in the count). So Paul often refers to “God our Father” (Romans 1.7 etc.) and means much the same as when, less often, he says “our God and Father” (Galatians 1.4; Philippians 4.20; 1 Thessalonians 1.3; 3.11, 13).

(3) The special vocation of Israel as God’s own covenant people was for the sake of all people, and this becomes more apparent when, in the New Testament, the covenant people includes Gentiles on equal terms with Jews. But there is still a distinct people, the church, who say “our Father” — not to exclude, but to invite, all others into that privileged relationship.

(4) The point is actually made strikingly by Revelation, which, exceptionally in the New Testament, as Patterson notes, uses “our God” quite often, though always in the mouths of angels or the redeemed in heaven. But, in Revelation’s vision of the new creation, the Old Testament’s covenant formula (“Israel shall be his people”) is expanded: “God will dwell with them and they shall be his peoples” (21.3). The church in Revelation is the people of God drawn from all nations for the sake of witnessing to all nations, with the genuine hope that all will become God’s peoples.

(5) It is also worth noticing that Paul often says “my God”, especially in referring to his prayers (Romans 1.8, 2 Corinthians 12.21; Philippians 1.3; 4.19; Philemon 4; and see 1 Thessalonians 2.2; 3.9; 2 Thessalonians 1.11, 12, where “our” is probably an authorial plural). He is not claiming an exclusive relationship, but an intimately personal one.

So, to call God “our God” or “our Father” is certainly not, in the Bible, a claim to have God in our pocket. To use this language to justify our own ideas or interests is to abuse it. To belong to God’s people who may call him our Father is God’s generous gift to us, a gift that is also a vocation to live out the love of God for all people and all creation.

What about the worship songs that focus on “our God”, then? The language comes mostly from the Psalms, which the Church has always prayed as its own hymn book. Yet I share Neil Patterson’s misgivings about the excessively repetitive focus on a few phrases. Maybe, as so often, we need some balance.

RICHARD BAUCKHAM
11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB3 9LW

 

Continuing work of mission schools in Zimbabwe

From the Revd Melusi Sibanda

Sir, — A few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of people came together to celebrate the resignation of the former President Robert Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, first as Prime Minister, from 1980 to 1987, and then as the country’s executive President thereafter (News, 24 November). The rapture of joy that enveloped the country’s larger cities could be compared only to the euphoria of independence which ushered in the “new” Zimbabwe of 1980. It seemed as if another kind of newness — a second new Zimbabwe — had arrived on 21 November, when Mugabe finally agreed to step down under pressure from a civil society emboldened by the army’s intervention.

There is great interest in the future direction of the country, particularly regarding the more emotive issues of land use and mineral-resource development. Questions are also starting to emerge about the way in which Mr Mugabe’s long rule suddenly came to an end; but Zimbabweans will have to live with that and concentrate on re-engaging creatively with various international organisations and other key players in the global community.

One of Mr Mugabe’s last public acts as President was to preside at a graduation ceremony in Harare. The event exemplified a real parable by pointing people back to the early days of a leader who, as a young man, fed the minds of many children and young people as an ordinary schoolteacher and college lecturer. As a young person, he had benefited from mission education in which the fundamentals of the Christian faith became integrated into the traditional African human values of ubuntu, or hunhuism — humaneness. As his presidency ended abruptly several weeks ago, it became clear to many people that possessions and power can never trump one’s purpose in life. The traditional Zimbabwean, and indeed African, notion of ubuntu or hunhuism suggests that we all benefit from educating our young people well and treating everyone with respect.

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In the second new Zimbabwe which is seeking a fresh start, mission schools will carry on playing a key part in the educational and moral development of pupils. The Church in Great Britain and other developed countries can, and is being asked to, continue playing a part in supporting the work of these educational institutions, especially those catering for the needs of economically disadvantaged students.

MELUSI SIBANDA
St George’s Rectory
14 Alanta Elbow
Dunsborough WA 6281
Australia

 

Renewable-energy subsidies may affect poor

From Professor Peter Davies

Sir, — Matthew Stemp (Comment, 15 December) laments the decision of the Government to provide no new subsidies for renewable energy until 2025.

When we installed solar panels on our house five years ago, though we could have installed more than 40, we were allowed only 16, because of the subsided tariff that we would receive for electricity sold back to the grid. The trouble with subsidies is that someone else is paying for what we do.

It is unclear how much this country’s energy bills have had to be increased to subsidise renewables, but some of the energy poverty and perhaps excess winter deaths may have been the result of such subsidisation.

Now is the time for the Green lobby to come of age and persuade by argument for increased use of renewables rather than hope that others will pay for the eventual financial gain that each of us receives by employing renewables, such as solar panels, ground-source heating, and reverse-refrigeration water-heating in our own homes.

PETER DAVIES (Reader)
11 Croft Drive West
Caldy, Wirral CH48 2JQ

 

Conservative Evangelical views and strategy

From the Revd Robin Paterson

Sir, — The Revd William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopgate, has preached that he will lead his congregation into a process of “unavoidable avoidance” (News, 15 December). Obedience to his call will separate St Helen’s from partnership in the gospel, and create a schism with those who do not hold to what Mr Taylor interprets as a traditional view of same-sex relationships.

Anyone who cares to investigate a dictionary definition of the word “avoid” will discover that what is proposed is just a bit more than the equivalent of avoiding a collision on the highway. In fact, St Helen’s is called to shun contact with folk like myself who are now seen by them as untouchables. They are in fact using the kind of language used to justify ethnic cleansing.

What a contrast to the message of Christmas which Canon Angela Tilby believes is contained in carol services, where there are no rebukes for failure, as God’s gift of Christ is indeed a genuine gift to all. While Jesus calls for reflection before casting the stone, the Revd Taylor encourages the application of the levitical sword of judgement.

ROBIN PATERSON
22 Manston Way
Leeds LS15 8BR

 

From Dr David R. Pearson

Sir, — I feel compelled to comment on Andrew Brown’s reporting of coverage of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) ordinations (Press, 8 December).

Whereas I acknowledge that there will be differences of opinion regarding these ordinations and the place of the AMiE within the Anglican Communion, it is surely inappropriate to label this as a sect and suggest that an ordinand who expresses orthodox views about the uniqueness of Jesus as the way of salvation should not be ordained within the Church of England.

We should take note of the fact that all ordinands in the Church of England have to declare their belief in “the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds”. I am not clear which particular aspect of the uniqueness of Christian revelation lies outside this.

Is it not, perhaps, that a loss of confidence in the Church of England’s faithfulness in holding to these beliefs might be the very reason that some who undoubtedly would have much to offer the Church are seeking ministry elsewhere?

DAVID PEARSON (Churchwarden)
27 Livingstone Road, Southsea
Hampshire PO5 1RS

 

Church cards and gifts, and dating Christ’s birth

From Mrs Mavis Jacobs

Sir, — I send and receive many Christmas cards, most of which carry a prominent Christian image, which proclaims that the sender is proud to affirm his adherence to the religious message of the incarnation. I have experienced no difficulty in persuading my local post office to sell the stamps that convey a similar message.

What a disappointment, then, to receive the official diocesan card. It is nicely printed and tasteful; it would do credit to one of the better department stores; but, in its attempt to cause no offence, it displays that the true meaning of Christmas is best explained by the secular, or even pagan, image of a festive wreath hung on a “distressed” door.

This has reminded me of my experience in the cathedral bookshop when I was attempting, and failed, to buy a present for the baptism of a baby boy. I foolishly thought that a resin reproduction of one of the roof bosses would be acceptable and available; John the Baptist perhaps, or a Nativity?

The obliging sales assistant attempted valiantly to help and suggested a nice Green Man, as they “are always popular and sell well”. I tried to explain, but she clearly had no understanding of the importance of the child’s baptism beyond the opportunity for a party and present-giving.

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Is it too much to expect that the people who presumably sit on committees and determine the style of diocesan communications, and those who stock and staff cathedral shops, are themselves people of faith who will look beyond the money-generating tourists and support Christians who are struggling to proclaim their faith in a secular world?

MAVIS JACOBS
34 St Augustine’s Gate
Norwich NR3 3BE

 

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — According to a recent History Channel survey, one in five British people don’t know that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’s birth. It is, perhaps, more astonishing that many in the media are reporting this as not knowing that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus.

Given that the church calendar was settled to celebrate his redemptive work at Easter, the rest of the church year is arranged around this settled point, and thus Christmas is only the official birthday of Jesus.

Those who pay close attention to the clues given by the medically minded St Luke will know that Christ was conceived around sixth months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist, and that the latter’s conception was around his father Zechariah’s priestly turn or course (Luke 1).

While David arranged the priests into 24 courses (cf. 1 Chronicles 24.1-4, etc.), there is some variability of Zechariah’s course, owing to the difference between our solar calendar and the Jewish solar-lunar calendar.

Nevertheless, we can know the approximate placement of the events within the our annual calendar. We can know that John the Baptist was conceived around John the Baptist’s Day or 24 June. Hence, our Lord could have been conceived or become incarnate around Christmas. This would suggest that our Lord would have been born in the autumn, perhaps around the Feast of Tabernacles.

Is St John hinting at a divinely intended coincidence when he refers to our Lord dwelling or tabernacling among us (John 1.1-18)? Is this the family secret of the actual birthday?

ALAN BARTLEY
17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

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