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Letters to the Editor

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24 February 2017

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Outcome of the take-note debate on the Bishops’ report on sexuality

 

From the Revd Chris Strain
Sir, — While articles and blogs have helped us to understand more of the nuances of General Synod’s difficult debate on Wednesday of last week, most of us can only feel very sad about the whole episode. The decision and manner of that debate feel deeply discouraging and sap­­ping of the best endeavours of Anglicans throughout the country seeking to commend with clarity the gospel of Jesus Christ and his Church. As the nation looks on with confusion at our incoherence, dis­unity, and quite bad disagre­ement, we are left looking foolish, and our witness is undermined.

How sad that a long-awaited Bishops’ report was voted down by the clergy. Maybe some good points were made and the report could have been more perfect, but in what was a “take-note” debate, surely the complexity of the task, the prov­isionality of the document, and the good attempts of our senior leaders should be acknowledged. They were never going to get full approval, but they tried to get the theology and tone right, and could have been better supported.

Where does this leave us? Some will feel that it is good that the matter cannot easily be brought back in the lifetime of this Synod, but, on the other hand, the issues will not go away. For many, a trad­itional understanding of the nature of marriage and the place for the full expression of sexual love is so fundamental, unlike women bishops, that begging to differ is not going to be possible in the one Church of England in the way in which it can be possible in the country with its liberal democracy.

Thus, should we not look to our bishops and clergy to support positively the present official posi­tion, even if they have some per­sonal reservations? At the same time, there should, of course, be an affirmation of the value of all of us fallen human beings, and the inclus­ivity of God’s love and grace, with­out endorsing all practice.

Some will feel hurt and misun­der­stood, and, of course, no one is wanting that, but greater clarity in the Church’s view and honouring of our Bishops’ thinking and reporting could be a good step forwards.

 

CHRIS STRAIN
(General Synod 2005-15)
St Luke’s Vicarage
2 Birchwood Road
Parkstone, Poole BH14 9NP

 

From Prebendary Desmond Tillyer
Sir, — Further to the vote in the General Synod on marriage and same-gender relationships last week, what is remarkable is the discipline of the House of Bishops, while 19 retired bishops all came out in favour of change. This extraordinary phenomenon needs an explanation.

As was said in the debate last week, Archbishop Carey turned a discussion document, Issues in Human Sexuality, into a doctrinal document without the consent of the Synod, and required every person recommended for episcopal preferment to assent to it.

Also produced for him was a booklet, Bishops in Communion: Collegiality in the service of the koinonia of the Church, as the means of strengthening his position as Archbishop. In effect, it proposes that the Archbishop of Canterbury becomes the Anglican Pope and sets out a centralising ecclesiology in which diocesan bishops lose their independence.

This booklet never came to the General Synod, and is hardly known outside the circle of bishops, but Rowan Williams recognised its importance in changing the trad­itional relationship between the Archbishop and the diocesan bishops from primus inter pares, first among equals, to a much more elevated position for the Archbishop of Canterbury both in England and the Anglican Communion.

It provided the theology behind the ill-fated attempt to set up an Anglican Covenant, sunk on that occasion by the intervention of retired bishops.

Nevertheless, it seems that, for some time, those recommended for episcopal preferment now have had to assent to both these documents, Issues and Bishops in Communion. Hence the unanimous vote in the House of Bishops and the strong opposition from retired bishops, who freed from their stipendiary ministry could now speak out.

The requirement for preferment nowadays seems to be the sup­­­pres­sion of conscience, a totally un-­Anglican idea that is eating into the integrity of the episcopal bench.

Before anything more can be done, it is time to release all bishops from their assent to these two documents so that a fair and free debate can take place.

 

D. B. TILLYER
85 Claremont House
London NW9 5NW

 

From Mr Leslie King
Sir, — I believe the best way to make genuine progress on the “LGBTI issue” is for the Bishops to be humble enough and wise enough to show real leadership (in the sense of doing what is right) by unequivoc­ally stating that the six or so pas­sages in the Bible often used so vir­ulently to condemn the LGBTI community are not “clear” at all.

They need to accept, acknow­ledge, and broadcast widely a recog­nition that hermeneutical, historical, exegetical, contextual, advances, and those in scientific understanding and knowledge, render those pas­­sages anything but “clear” and def­initive. The Bishops need to state clearly that any “clobbering” of those who argue for full inclusion of LGBTI Christians into God’s Church by stating that “God’s word is clear on this issue” are simply wrong.

In the light of that, and at the same time, they need to acknow­ledge that Genesis 2 and Matthew 19 that marriage can only be between one man and one woman simply cannot bear the weight of being called a “Creation Ord­inance”, and that lov­ing, stable, covenanted, mono­gamous, long-term relation­ships between same-sex couples can readily be accepted as of God.

Obviously, Christian brothers and sisters will continue to interpret the passages differently. But perhaps we can then be grown up enough to live with those differences rather than continue getting nowhere by just closing down any possible way forward by saying no difference can be allowed because God’s word is plain and clear on this issue, when all sensible people know that it really is not plain and clear at all.

 

LESLIE KING
129 Holmwood Road
Cheam
Surrey

 

Drawing conclusions from the Iwerne scandal

 

From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan
Sir, — I have not, of course, read Canon Mark Ruston’s report of 1982, but I have had more than 60 years’ experience of living and working alongside fine Christian leaders who have emerged from the Iwerne activities or been closely associated with it. Quite apart from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Guildford, we are talking of the seedbed of John Stott, David Sheppard, Michael Green, and a host of others.

Much of the post-war resurgence of Anglican Evangelicalism can be attributed to the leadership given by those formed at and by Iwerne. Against this background, how justified is the broadside against the whole constituency occasioned by the one man’s appalling behaviour and launched by Professor Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown (Comment, 17 February)?

(a) Not one other deviant person is named by your contributors from the 80-plus years of operation, though “The Church of England is being forced to face the full reality of abuse in the Iwerne Trust and other institutions.”

(b) The paragraphs they give to the quite separate publication, The Returns of Love, appear to have no connection with Iwerne at all, or John Smyth’s activities.

(c) I have never, in 63 years, heard any Evangelical, whether from Iwerne or not, cite the Hebrews 12 passage about fathers’ chastising their children as some kind of example or warrant for Christian leaders’ beating disciples, nor encountered nor heard rumoured any practice that might have developed from such exegesis.

(d) It seems that even John Smyth did not attempt to relate his beatings to the sufferings of Christ, though I have heard that linkage made by a critic on the radio.

(e) The whole of Iwerne history has been staked upon the doctrine that “there is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, who became human,” and that this has been a safeguard against too priestly a role being taken by human leaders and guides.

(f) It is true, though wholly irrelevant to the Smyth case, that Evangelicals (and not only “Bash campers”) eschewed controversy in the 1950s and 1960s. It is, in fact, the common stance of persecuted minorities. It is difficult now to recapture how Anglican Evangelicalism had been ghettoised in those years, and how difficult it was to break out of it. But it is ludicrous to cite that stance to suggest that there was a widescale concealing of abuse.

John Smyth must be treated as a perverse and secretive exploiter of the trust in leaders which was well developed at Iwerne. Widening the allegations against him into an attack on the whole constituency surely requires serious widespread evidence. This is completing lacking in your contributors’ vacuous article, which reads as though they think that any stick would do with which to beat their opponents.

 

COLIN BUCHANAN
21 The Drive, Alwoodley
Leeds LS17 7QB

 

From the Revd Robert Torrens
Sir, — As an octogenarian survivor of a top public school and Bash Camp, I appreciated the per­­­ceptive analysis of the Iwerne Trust by Pro­fessor Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown. I experienced “Camp” in the 1940s and ’50s when Bash himself was in charge, well before the Smyth era. Bash was a refined and gentle man who would have been horrified by the activities of his successor. But he was also a strong supporter of the class system and a narrow-minded protagonist of an extreme version of Evangelical Christianity.

Public-school religion at that time was predominantly dry, low-church Anglican with Pelagian tendencies. There were exceptions, but these were few. When I was beaten at school, I made no con­­nect­ion between corporal punish­ment and compulsory chapel, and I doubt that any one else did, no matter what Professor Woodhead and Mr Brown may think.

Bash saw in the public schools an ideal opportunity for him to promote his agenda, which was the eventual conversion of the entire Church of England to conservative Evangelicalism. So much for the idea that Iwerne had nothing to do with the Church: it had everything to do with it. He would invite boys to Camp, where they would be introduced to the “gospel”, put on the conveyor belt to “conversion”, and sent back to school to invite other boys.

After school, many of us were funnelled into the Christian Unions at Oxford and Cambridge, which were powerful agents of spiritual manipulation and control. From this growing elite group, “Leaders” would emerge, who would infiltrate the Church and society in general.

It worked up to a point. But it also left behind a trail of severely damaged young men, who in the course of their preparation had experienced perhaps not physical but certainly spiritual bullying.

Whether or not this paved the way for Smyth’s perverted be­­­haviour is for others to judge, but many of us suffered spiritual abuse as defined by the Church’s Child Protection Advisory Service: “Spiritual abuse is coercion and control of one person by another in a spiritual context. The target ex­­periences spiritual abuse as a deeply emotional personal attack. This abuse may include man­ipulation and exploitation, enforced account­ability, censorship of decision-making, requirements of secrecy and silence, pressure to conform, misuse of scripture or the pulpit to control behaviour, require­ment of obedience to the abuser, the suggestion that the abuser has a divine position, and isolation from others, especially those external to the abuser’s context.”

It would be difficult to find a better description of “Bash Camp” as I knew it. What activities today might pose similar dangers?

 

ROBERT TORRENS
68 Barons Road
Bury St Edmunds IP33 2LW

 

From the Principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews
Sir, — The brush with which Pro­­fessor Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown tar public-­school theology is altogether too broad. To connect “compulsory chapel” and “compulsory beating” as means of character formation is facile and inaccurate.

Those of us who attended independent schools in the 1960s generally accepted the former (I even remember writing an editorial in the Tonbridge School magazine defending it). Beating was seldom if ever resorted to, by either prefects or masters, and was certainly not “compulsory” in the sense that either chapel or membership of the Combined Cadet Force (a much more contentious matter) were.

Nor was it the case that “power and deference were the context of all social relations”. My memories of public-school life are of good friend­ships, some of them certainly intense, and several of them across year groups and, indeed, with masters, based on shared interests and mutual respect and affinity.

Public-school Christianity, modelled by gentle, caring chaplains and staff, brought me to faith and helped me grow in it. It also, I would dare to say, nurtured some of the greatest figures in 20th-century Anglicanism, William Temple, David Sheppard and Robert Runcie, to name but three.

Of course, there have been, and continue to be, shameful cases of abuse and bullying in boarding schools, as in many other institu­tions both public and private, but it is quite wrong to insinuate, as Pro­fessor Woodhead and Mr Brown do, that somehow the whole ethos of mid-20th-century public schools is responsible for the appalling physical abuse allegedly committed by John Smyth. That dishonours the work and witness of many quiet and unostentatious Christian masters and boys whose example is still before me 50 or more years on.

 

IAN BRADLEY
St Mary’s College, South Street
St Andrews KY16 9JU

 

Gambling addiction: the situation on the ground

 

From Dr Phillip Rice
Sir, — The report “Synod united for action against gambling machines” (News, 17 February) brings most welcome news of totally unanimous support in the General Synod for action. As a member of the London diocesan synod, I was active in getting the original motion started and in presenting facts on gambling addiction in areas of high unemployment such as my deanery, Tower Hamlets.

I used information requests to discover that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets estimates that there are 3000 problem gamblers using fixed-odds betting terminals with casino software. Problems arise from siting these terminals in some 80-plus betting shops close to borough areas with concentrations of unemployment.

In one crucial aspect, however, this picture does differ from the Synod report: the problem gamblers are not characterised by rolling £100 every 20 seconds, £18,000 per hour: they are gambling £15, as they are going for the £500 maximum win per roll. The addiction comes in sessions of typically 30 minutes on machines that are set up with an average return to the gambler of £97 for every £100 wager; £3 goes to the betting shop.

The maths are that, on average, a gambler on £15 per roll will lose £100 in just over an hour. It is addictive in occasional big wins, but losing £100 per session is the sad outcome for many thousands of gamblers. Problem gamblers are losing their week’s wages too easily. Action is needed in Parliament this session, as the Synod has so clearly signalled. (More details available on request).

 

PHILLIP RICE
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU

 

Grants to promote the science-faith conversation

 

From the Revd Dr Kathryn Pritchard
Sir, — We were pleased to read the article “Grants for science work ripple through C of E” (News, 10 February), and valued the opportunity for other churches to learn about the innovative projects being launched by the Scientists in Congregations scheme.

We would, however, like to clarify one point. The grants for the projects are for up to £10,000, and many who contacted us applied for significantly less. “Sing of God and Science”, for example, working with primary schools in Ely diocese and highlighted in your report, received £3685 and an additional £1000 suggested by us.

There are currently 18 Scientists in Congregations projects at various stages of development and we look forward to fostering a better understanding of faith and science within congregations across the mainstream denominations and in the communities they serve.

Our ultimate aim is to promote a confident and informed science-faith conversation in this country. We are delighted with the welcome that this project has received in Church of England parishes and dioceses, and look forward to reporting on developments, achievements, and the lessons learned in this process.

 

KATHRYN PRITCHARD
Project Leader, Scientists in Congregations; Project Manager and Research Fellow, Equipping Religious Leaders in an Age of Science, Mission and Public Affairs, and St John’s College, University of Durham
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3NZ

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