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Letters to the Editor

by
03 February 2017

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Responses to the Bishops’ conclusions after the Shared Conversations

 

From the Revd Adrian Alker

Sir, — Despite two years of Shared Conversations across the dioceses, the Bishops of the Church of Eng­land, in this latest report on mar­riage and same-sex relationships, have underscored again how a con­servative and Evangelical hierarchy can effectively dig in its heels, repro­ducing the same set of arguments as has been rehearsed many times.

Although the report acknow­ledges the “contested tradition” of Anglicanism, it is clear that “faith­fulness to God’s word” is seen to be understood as lying within the Evangelical position. For “others”, the imperative to read scripture dif­ferently stems from a “parallel con­viction”, left unspecified!

The report, as with the long de­­bate over women’s ordination, speaks of the need to take account of widely differing cultures in the Anglican Communion, as if the attitudes towards gay and lesbian Christians in the Churches of Uganda and Nigeria and elsewhere are to really influence how the Church of England serves this nation.

Do the Bishops see nothing posi­tive about the freedoms granted in law to same-sex couples to celebrate their union through marriage equal­ity? Is there such a limit to love that even such legal partnerships cannot be blessed in church? Were the more progressive members of the House of Bishops not even willing to consider a minority report, one that might at least have counten­anced the blessing of same-sex unions in our churches?

The Bishops say again that a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” must be shown to lesbian and gay people, and the Church of England must work in mutual love and understanding on “these issues”. Gay and lesbian people are still, evidently, “an
issue”.

The report says that there must be boundaries about what the clergy may or may not do if their prayers are sought by a couple choosing to prepare for or celebrate a civil mar­riage. In other words, they are in­­structing the clergy not to allow such a couple to feel that their re­la­tionship is in any way equal to the heterosexual couple who have been able to be married in the church.

I have served as a priest in the Church of England for 37 years, and this latest salvo from the House of Bishops leaves me ashamed of the continuing hypocrisy of an institu­tion loyally staffed by many gay and lesbian clergy, an institution domin­ated by a hierarchy who have such a slender appreciation of Anglican theological and biblical scholarship.

I fear that this hardening of the heart, which is unwilling to sanctify in marriage the love held by two people of the same gender, will fur­ther diminish the place of the Church of England in our society, and only add to the number of church alumni who join organisa­tions such as my own for mutual respect and support.

ADRIAN ALKER

Chair, Progressive Christianity
Network Britain

23 Meadowhead

Sheffield S8 7UA

 

From the Revd Dr Catherine Shelley

Sir, — I am sure that much will be written in various media over the next few weeks about the House of Bishops’ latest statement concerning human sexuality and in particular homosexuality. The statement and its recommendations yet again preserve the status quo and fail to offer any clear guidance on what can be done, all in the commendable spirit of mutual discernment and unity.

What the statement fails to recog­nise is the hurt and injustice that continue to be perpetuated. Clergy seeking to minister to parishioners, friends, and family in same-sex re­­lationships are forced to preface their ministry with what to most recipients seem like irritating sem­antics (”It’s only prayers: I can’t bless you”) that simply highlight the Church’s lack of welcome and differential treatment.

Alternatively, they find them­selves facing Clergy Discipline Measure proceedings because they are deemed to have overstepped the mark. Both are unjust. Guidance and something more positive are urgently needed.

CATHERINE SHELLEY

24a Queens Mansions

Brighton Road

Croydon CR2 6AA

 

From the Revd Steven Young

Sir, — As someone who has suffered the spiritual and psychological abuse of “gay-cure” therapy as a teenager in Evangelical churches in the 1990s, I would say that what the group Living Out is doing today has the potential to be even more de­­structive to LGBTI people. Why? Because it has successfully intro­duced the terminology of “same-sex attraction” into the official rhetoric of the Church of England.

The term “same-sex attraction” is included multiple times in the House of Bishops’ report. Encourag­ing Lesbian and gay people to define themselves as “experiencing same-sex attraction” is very clever, be­­cause it quietly changes a category of being into a desire, inclination, tendency, and, ultimately, a weak­ness to be overcome.

The Living Out website includes testimony-style videos of men
who are described as “same-sex at­­tracted”, but have got married to women, or have chosen to leave be­­hind their “gay identity” with a life partner of the same sex to live as single celibate men who experience “same-sex attraction”.

Would even a sexually celibate civil partnership between two people of the same gender be dis­couraged by Living Out, because it might lead to sex or stop your being open to the possibility of meeting a heterosexual life partner?

This is the old wolf of “gay cure” dressed up in the lamb’s clothing of “same-sex attraction”. If this group gains influence, as it appears to be doing, we will be in a worse state as a Church than we have been for decades.

Living Out? I call you out.

STEVEN YOUNG

Address supplied

 

From the Revd Andrew Allen

Sir, — The timing of the publication of the House of Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relation­ships After the Shared Conversations could not have been worse.

Throughout Europe and much of the world, 27 January is set apart as a day of reflection on humankind’s inhumanity, with especial regard to genocides and the Holocaust.

Surely the House of Bishops isn’t so far removed from society to have chosen Holocaust Memorial Day as the date to reaffirm its discrimina­tion and inequalities?

ANDREW ALLEN

Exeter College

Oxford OX1 3DP

 

Proposed scheme for clergy risk-assessment

 

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — The Church of England’s present systems for safeguarding and clergy risk-assessment are de­­vised and managed by a combina­tion of bishops, safeguarding of­­ficers, and diocesan registrars, guided by our National Safeguard­ing Team. All have skills and im­­portant contributions, but it is worth noting that each of our safeguarding “car crashes” last year were devised and managed by pre­cisely this combination of skill sets.

They are now bringing a new scheme for clergy risk-assessment, which again places responsibility for managing the selection, instruction, management, and evaluation of risk assessors upon 42 bishops and maybe 80 safeguarding officers and registrars of varying experience and professional background and spe­cialism.

This scheme is to be approved by General Synod members, few of whom have any knowledge of how risk-assessment works. What could possibly go wrong?

There is a cohort of people rou­tinely entrusted by the Courts with instructing, managing, and critically evaluating experts’ opinions, hand­ling exactly this kind of assessment daily. I refer to those accredited by the Law Society to act as lawyers in children’s proceedings.

Across the country, there are ap­­proximately 2000 of these special­ists, all subject to professional stand­ards and independently monitored; they cross-examine risk-assessors and experts, and they network, sharing information about who is reliable and whose opinions have been recently rejected by a judge. They are also not expensive lawyers.

The problem is that these skills are mainly exercised away from the public gaze. More specifically, our registrars have real and important experience across a variety of discip­lines, but I have been looking at re­­gistrars’ firms and cross-checking with the list of accredited Law Society Children Lawyers. I have yet to find a single such specialist in a registrar’s firm. The reason is simple: our registrars tend to come from commercial firms that do not have Legal Aid contracts.

This is not, of course, to say that non-specialist lawyers cannot handle such matters, but if you were “playing the percentage game”, where would you start? I am not sure that this has even been con­sidered; that is probably why we have a tweaked model that has delivered failures instead of a radical rethink.

Only a few of our safeguarding officers have been consulted about these changes. I have contacted a selection of safeguarding officers to ask for their opinions in confidence, and already have had interesting responses. This is an HR and pas­toral issue. One called the new pro­posals “an impossible imposition on an already beleaguered section of the Church workforce”. Another said: “they want me to manage training — I am not a trainer, now it’s assessments — I’m not an asses­sor; they just want to make sure, if it all goes wrong it doesn’t have a clerical collar attached.”

It must be horrible to be in the eye of the storm when something goes wrong, whether one is the Bishop, Safeguarding Officer, or Registrar. We owe them all the best support possible and our sympath­etic critical judgement when a new system is under construction.

I hope that the General Synod does not routinely pass these changes. The guidelines have not yet been drafted; the list of assessors is under construction; the safeguard­ing officers have not yet been fully consulted or trained; and we do not know the criteria for the selection of assessors, or the costs that will ap­­parently fall on dioceses. The devil is in the detail. We are at an early stage: there is no hurry to pass them now.

When all the ducks are in a row, let us have some cases studies pub­lished, so that we can under­stand how it is proposed that we will man­age an assessment of the stressed priest, the bullied depressed curate, or the dean with a drink problem: only then can we pass a system, con­fident that it is fit for purpose.

MARTIN SEWELL

General Synod representative
for Rochester diocese

8 Appleshaw Close

Gravesend

Kent DA11 7PB

 

Church-and-world work of distinctive deacons

 

From the Revd Terry Drummond

Sir, — The correspondence on the question of the ministry of the dis­tinctive deacon (Letters, 27 January) would seem to be missing an important element, in that if this ministry is to be distinctive, it is important that there is an understanding of what this means in relation to the whole min­istry of the Church.

In the light of the publication of Setting God’s People Free (News and Comment, same issue), this would seem to be even more im­­port­ant.

On 10 December, the Bishop of Southwark ordained three distinct­ive deacons, of whom I was one. In addressing the question of the focus of the ministry, he pointed to Matthew 25 and the parable of the King­dom.

The expectation in the light of this text was that the distinctive dea­con brings a focus to ministry in the world, sent by, and rooted in the life of, the Church, with a ministry that addresses the needs of the excluded in society — a ministry that, draw­ing on that experience, can speak truth to power both in the Church and the world.

In the light of this call, it is im­­portant to recognise that the dis­tinctive deacon is someone who is rooted in the wider ministry of the people of God, with a responsibility of service that contributes, in part­nership with other both ordained and lay Christians, to working out together how the Christian faith speaks to the wider issues of what might be described as public policy.

TERRY DRUMMOND

29 Orchard Rise

Croydon CR0 7QZ

 

Interfaith questions for the close-quartered

 

From Suzanne Fletcher

Sir, — While discussion continues about the reading of the Qur’an in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow (Letters, 20 January), and there is the helpful theologically based article “Leaving disagreements on the table” on different faiths (Comment, 27 January), life is going on.

Few people know that when asylum-seekers are housed in the UK, single people share houses, and more than half of them share a room to sleep in. They are allocated places to live with no thought for common language, culture, or faith. There are, of course, issues around, such as sharing cooking equipment in a house, but it is common for a Christian and a Muslim to be shar­ing a bedroom when they cannot even talk to each other about their prayer needs and practices.

Their willingness to tolerate and try to understand each other is an example for many, but, of course, it does create ongoing tensions as the situation goes on for years.

Has any thought at all been given by the Churches to how we can best help?

SUZANNE FLETCHER

3 Hoylake Way, Eaglescliffe

Stockton on Tees TS16 9EU

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