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Letters to the Editor

30 June 2017


Sexuality: Chelmsford protest, Farron resignation, and gay marriage

From the Revd Andrew Grey and five others

Sir, — We support the Revd Steven Hanna and the Revd Simon Smallwood and their congregations in their protest (News and Letters, 23 June) at current developments in the diocese of Chelmsford.

There have been many gracious individual and group conversations with our Bishops, urging clarity and a commitment to the teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles regarding marriage between one male and one female (Matthew 19.1-10), at every level of synodical government.

This has not been forthcoming, and the unbiblical trajectory continues. Clergy are conducting services of prayer for same-sex couples which are “blessings” in all but name. Clergy are teaching that there is nothing wrong in God’s sight with active same-sex relationships, and that the Bible no longer has the words to guide us on this issue. Calls to our Bishops to maintain orthodoxy publicly have not been heard. Rather, the line of “plural truth” (being the denial of biblical truth) has been pursued in practice, so denying the definition of marriage by Jesus Christ.

It is not, therefore, surprising that some congregations are already going public with votes of “no confidence”. If our Bishops sound such an unclear note in their letters and/or addresses to the diocese, and continuously fail to clarify that they are indeed upholding the present teaching and practice of the Church, let alone the scriptures, then they must not be surprised if they disappoint clergy and their congregations who do wish for the truth of the scriptures to be taught and error refuted.

This is expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, Prayer Book, and Ordinal, in which the authority of scripture is affirmed and the eucharist offered to repentant believers.

We do not think that anyone should be surprised when these actions and words provoke those faithful clergy into good and necessary protest. In an episcopal Church, it is the primary responsibility of bishops to hold and guard the faith. As Titus 1.9 says: “[A bishop] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

A bishop who departs from the orthodox faith defined in scripture contradicts the very basis on which he is a bishop. The order of bishops emerged to maintain apostolic faith and order after the death of the apostles. This unique and historic ministry of bishops in guarding the faith and order of the Church is a governing principle in the canon law of the Churches of the Anglican Communion. Therefore, the ministry of a bishop who does not guard and teach the apostolic faith and apostolic order of the Church is a contradiction in terms.


c/o Fordham Hall, Church Road
Fordham, Colchester CO6 3NL


From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — Tim Farron confessed in his resignation speech that he could have presented his case (on sexual ethics) better. But how would he have presented it better? Probably by a defence of his support of equal rights, along with a refusal to talk about sin. “All have sinned” (Romans 3), and a politician’s job is to serve all of us, sinners that we are. So sin is an irrelevance to the political task.

Greg Smith’s article (Comment, 23 June) appears to be critically supportive of Mr Farron; but he muddies the water in his reference to some whose “literal reading of the Bible in this area is not merely an issue of conscience or personal ethics for the believer, but a gospel-defining issue, marking the boundary between the saved and the unsaved”.

Leaving aside the usual derogatory nuance of the word “literal” in this context, this is, indeed, an issue of conscience and personal ethics for some of us, because it raises questions of serious biblical interpretation.

Some may go on to see it as a gospel-defining issue, marking the boundary between the saved and the unsaved, but it is a clear Evangelical principle that salvation means we are under grace not law.

We are saved by what Jesus has done for us, not by what we should or shouldn’t do. That is why Christian ethics have always had a certain fluidity in each generation compared with the truths of Christian doctrine. For that reason, I welcome the primacy of doctrine in the questions that the Revd Dr Andrew Davison and Simon Sarmiento have worked out (Comment, same issue).

I don’t know how the Church will eventually settle these sexuality issues, but I hope everybody will recognise that those who conclude with a traditional interpretation of the relevant biblical passages will be given more respect than being dismissed as having had their day.

12 Abbott Road, Folkestone
Kent CT20 1NG


From Mr Philip Belben

Sir, — I see that one feature of the debate in your pages on homosexual marriage is that anyone who takes an evangelical approach, looking to the Bible alone for guidance, seems to look only at the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. I should like to take a step back from this, and look instead at biblical teaching on how to solve issues of this kind.

The first lesson comes from the so-called Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Here the topic for discussion was formal conversion to Judaism, symbolised by circumcision, as a requirement for Gentile Christians.

St Peter and St Paul both argued on the basis that if grace alone is sufficient for salvation, additional rules cannot be necessary; the outcome was a letter to the church at Antioch, setting forth a four-point moral code forbidding food offered to idols, the consumption of blood, meat incorrectly slaughtered, and “porneias” — some kind of sexual restriction.

This letter did not end the debate, and Paul had to make the point many times. Of particular interest is his teaching in Romans 14, where he gives two examples, vegetarianism and sabbath observance. He concludes that those whose assurance of salvation is strong enough that they can put aside a legalistic interpretation of dietary rules or sabbath observance need not be bound by the rules, but they should not despise those who feel the need for rules. Those whose faith finds expression in following rules should not force their rules on those who do not feel the need for them. The important things are to live out one’s faith — not to do anything that one believes is wrong — and avoid passing judgement on other Christians, leading them astray, or damaging their faith by insisting that a particular form of response to Christ is the only valid response.

Even the four-point code of Acts 15 was not to last. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul applies to it the same principles as he expresses in Romans, concluding that the only reason not to eat food offered to idols is for appearances: to avoid leading people astray by appearing blasé about idolatry.

Moving to times a little more recent, we can see the process still at work in the Church, when the prohibition on readmission of apostates (based on Hebrews 10) was lifted.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take from these debates is that the Early Church never gave in to dogma. Wherever there was a conflict between an established set of rules and the liberating power of Christ, it was the liberating power that won, no matter how well-established or how well-attested by scripture the rules may have been.

In other words, to use the language of today’s conservatives, revisionism has been a divinely ordained part of the Church’s life since New Testament times, and to condemn reformers for such an attitude today is no more biblical than the reforms that the conservatives so strongly resist.

Maitlands Close, Nettlebridge
Radstock, Somerset BA3 5AA


From Canon Simon Mackenzie

Sir, — I don’t know whether Christian ethics must be eternally and exclusively based on Aristotle, as Selina McGeoch asserts (Letters, 16 June). It is pertinent to recall that, in Aristotle’s time, erotic male same-sex relationships were customary, and were believed to instil the virtue of courage, Aristotle’s most famous pupil, Alexander the Great, and his lover Hephaistion being notable examplars. The then prevalent norm of approved male relationships would these days result in lengthy incarceration.

Ethical discussion sometimes gives the impression that Mr and Mrs Aristotle received holy communion at the hands of St Thomas Aquinas. They didn’t.

The intrusion of the filioque into the Latin Creed was, of course, long resisted by the popes, not having been agreed by an ecumenical council. Its dropping by the Scottish Episcopal Church represents the one thing needful in ecumenical discussions: charity.

And episcopacy itself is not an administrative hierarchy, but the sacrament of the love commanded at the Last Supper, which is the unity of the Son in the Father, and the Church in the Son. So the notion of alternative episcopal oversight is a chimera.

Bishopton House
Bishopton Road
Argyll PA31 8PY


Commissioners and intergenerational equity

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, — The Church Commissioners’ Annual Report 2016 (News, 26 May) has highlighted their outstanding investment performance. This is a total return of 17.1 per cent across 2016 from their asset portfolio, which has been well in excess of their target return of Retail Prices Index (RPI) plus five per cent. This makes 2.5 per cent plus five per cent for 2016.

But the report has been less forthcoming on the principles of how they plan to spend any surplus to target; and the RPI measure of inflation used is technically defective. Both matter, because decisions about intergenerational equity made by the Commissioners depend on both the amount of above-target return and the measure of inflation. In 2016, the judgement is uniquely complicated because of Brexit, which boosted the end-of-year sterling values of the US dollar assets as the pound has declined.

If an overly cautious view is taken of intergenerational transfers, the amounts spent now will be lower, and unapplied total returns will boost assets held. Or, in simple terms, employment in mission (ordained and non-ordained) in the C of E will probably be lower than if a looser hold on assets were taken.

What needs to happen now in the General Synod is more discussion and eliciting of how surpluses can be used now and not built up. Brexit may well have boosted the precautionary assets held by the Commissioners.

Finally, the Commissioners should stop using the RPI. Since 2013, it has not been a national statistic, as it overestimates the amount of inflation. The “political” triple-lock guarantee on pensions does not use the RPI: it uses the consumer price index (CPI). Using the RPI, which is usually higher than the CPI, gives the Commissioners more reason to hold a higher precautionary level of assets.

I hope that the General Synod will push action on intergenerational equity higher up the agenda.

Retired public-sector economist (General Synod 2010-15)
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU


After Gibb: need for independent safeguarding

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — I have just ploughed through the Gibb report, which considered the Church’s poor practice in responding to victims. We shall soon receive the Carlile report, which will consider our sub-optimal approach towards those accused of historic abuse.

The Gibb report confirms that we have just spent more than £1 million addressing the historic failures of bishop-led safeguarding, to say nothing of the multiple human costs.

I hope that all members of the General Synod will read these reports and then ask themselves a single question: “What exactly is the objection to having these matters handled by an independent professional outside body in which the victims and public alike may have confidence?”

Synod member for Rochester
8 Appleshaw Close, Gravesend
Kent DA11 7 PB


Grenfell Tower: housing crisis; spiritual provision

From the Rt Revd John D. Davies

Sir, — The Revd Paul Nicolson (Letters, 23 June) has, once again, clearly identified the fundamental issue that lies behind the Grenfell Tower disaster, namely the system of tenure which enables a few powerful people to dominate access to the land.

Nearly 70 years ago, Archbishop William Temple argued that “there is no reason why we should pay certain citizens large sums of money for merely owning the land on which our cities are built.” In these days, we hear colleagues demanding biblical leadership from our church leaders. They would do well to advocate Temple’s kind of biblical leadership.

In 2005, in Tony Blair’s time, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, of which Fr Nicolson was convener, produced an authoritative and thoroughly researched “Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housing”. Among its many recommendations, it drew attention to the value of land-value taxation. I thought that this had sunk without trace. But this year, in its manifesto, the Labour Party at last suggested that it might consider instituting a land-value tax; it’s not a main theme, and you have to look carefully for its place in the manifesto. But at least it’s there, and clear enough for it to draw a yelp of disapproval from Boris Johnson.

It would be good if the Zacchaeus memorandum could be updated, reissued, and made required reading for all who are concerned about biblical ethics; for, as Fr Nicolson has affirmed, our biblical obedience recognises that the earth is the Lord’s, and it is not a marketable commodity for the benefit of the highest bidder.

Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — There is obviously some great pastoral and caring work being done by the churches in the area of the tower-block disaster (News, 23 June), but what of those people’s spiritual needs?

I, via Youthlink, received a telephone call from a young man from east London whose sister’s boyfriend was “missing, presumed dead”. All three were committed Anglican communicant Christians.

When they saw the high-profile television coverage of the RC requiem mass in Westminster Cathedral on the Saturday morning after the fire, they decided to locate an Anglican requiem that they could attend. They tried to discover whether there was to be a “national” Anglican requiem, but were unsuccessful; and then they tried to contact the parish churches in the area, but found most were on answerphone.

Of course, it may be that their clergy and people were dealing with matters such as people’s need of food, clothes, and housing; but that is not the whole answer.

Particularly distressing was a vicar’s wife’s comment: “Most in that tower are immigrants; so I doubt if they were Christians.”

Little Cross, Goodleigh
Barnstaple, Devon EX32 7NR


Blessings counted at Norwich church-plant

From Mr Richard Calton and 13 others

Sir, — We write as people who were part of the small remaining group worshipping at St Thomas’s, Heigham (Features, 21 April; Letters, 26 May and 2 June) when the new priest-in-charge was appointed (after the usual consultations by the Bishop) in 2013. We represent many years and family generations of attendance at, and involvement with, this parish church, and ages range from those in their twenties to those in their eighties.

We are still fully involved in all that is going on at St Thomas’s, and are very happy to be part of this flourishing Christian community worshipping and serving Jesus Christ.

We all take part in the wide range of Sunday services and sharing the love of Christ as his family. We are encouraged now to see the church full with so many younger people enthusiastic about Jesus. There are now many more people from the local parish attending worship at St Thomas’s.

Many of us are involved not only in the running of the church, but also sharing the resources that God has given us to meet people’s needs in Norfolk and around the world, following Jesus’s example in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

There are many challenges to Christian mission in the 21st century. But we are enjoying the journey of following Jesus together, and we are blessed by the vision, sensitivity, and forbearance of our clergy.


c/o 61 Turner Road
Norwich NR2 4HB

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