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Letters to the Editor

by
07 April 2017

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Responses to the Welsh Bench of Bishops and Legal Sub-Committee

 

 

From the Revd Aidan Coleman
Sir, — As a supporter of Changing Attitude Wales (Trawsnewid Ag­­wedd Cymru), though writing here in a personal capacity, I was de­­lighted that the Bishops of the Church in Wales made mention of us in their letter last week. I think that I am right in believing that, in the three years since Changing At­­titude Wales was formed, this is the first time that the Bench has ac­­know­­ledged and recognised publicly the contribution of Changing Atti­tude towards fostering greater understanding and acceptance of LGBT+ people in our Church.

The Welsh Bishops’ letter makes much of the two-thirds majority that any candidate requires within a college formed to elect a new bishop in Wales, and states that “failure to secure such a majority is the only bar to preferment.” This appears to me to be obviously disingenuous, as the Bishops must surely recognise; for it ignores the power dynamics that are bound to be at play.

In the face of five bishops who, by their own admission, work in a “col­legial and friendly way, harmoni­ously and without rancour”, it would be a very determined and well-organised body of electors in­­deed who could outvote the Bishops on the choice of a fellow bishop. In a college of 49 electors, the opinions and views of the hierarchy will al­­ways carry disproportional weight on such significant matters. For the Bishops to suggest that “nothing more, nothing less” than the se­cur­ing of a two-thirds majority is the issue here is an attempt to draw a veil over the real concerns raised by Changing Attitude Wales, One Body One Faith, and others.

The questions, to my mind, that continue to require an answer in this case, and which are not ad­­dressed in the Bishops’ letter, are these.

First, what were the exact circum­stances in which the sexuality of Dr John was raised as an issue within the Electoral College?

Second, is there a precedent in the Church in Wales, as claimed, of taking forward a candid­ate for the position of a bishop who fails to win a two-thirds majority on to a short list for consideration by the Bishops? If so, why was this option excluded on this occasion?

Third, members of the Church in Wales and the wider public in Wales are informed that the three com­plaints raised concerning the pro­cess undertaken by the Electoral College are deemed to be “without merit”. How has this judgment on these complaints been reached?

Finally, the Bishops have written that, “in matters of same-sex rela­tionships, we strive towards inclus­iveness and equality.” When the Church in Wales is exempt from the 2010 Equality Act, how can it poss­ibly avoid having future and further accusations of discrimination levelled against it in these matters?

So, I am hoping that the Bishops will now work with Changing Atti­tude Wales and members of the Governing Body to bring an end to the exemptions of the Church in Wales from the Equality Act 2010, and to change the Church’s regula­tions, so that the celebration and blessing of civil-partnerships and marriages is permitted.

 

AIDAN COLEMAN
The Vicarage, 1 Llys Bychan
The Ridings, Holywell CH8 7SX

 

From the Revd Martin Reynolds
Sir, — I was amazed to see a letter from the five remaining Welsh bishops defending our episcopal electoral process and attacking the Church Times for pointing out the failure of my Church’s institutions.

Particularly galling was the appeal to the importance of confidentiality in a week when the presiding bishop revealed happenings at the Electoral College during a Radio 4 interview on the Sunday programme. I have made a formal complaint about his breach of the confidentiality re­­quired of electors.

That interview was symptomatic of a Bench that has ridden rough­shod over the wishes and aspirations of so many in the Church and coun­try. The deadlock at the Electoral Col­lege could have been broken if the Bishops had acted well and judged the candidates on their merits.

I am sorry to say that there was a petty-mindedness that came into play when Llandaff’s 12 electors stuck to their guns and pressed for the candidate they had spent months selecting to be appointed. Everyone acknowledges that the front runner was head and shoul­ders ahead of all the other candid­ates on the slate and was resisted because of the “baggage” he came with.

It was the complete lack of appro­priate leadership and the failure of the Bishops to recognise the im­­mense groundswell of good wishes from all quarters that supported the man who consistently gained more than 50 per cent of the vote.

But all that is as nothing com­pared with the total catastrophe that followed when the right to nominate moved to the Bishops after the inability of the college to elect.

There was a genuine sense of gratitude and a real belief that people would be listened to when the presiding bishop announced a national consultation on who the next Bishop of Llandaff should be.

During that process, the presiding bishop toured the diocese and talked to electors, area deans, and the standing committee, among others. At no time was it suggested to them that all candidates previously con­sidered would be ruled out.

The result of the consultation was a large majority in favour of the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John. Even the diocese hosting Dr John’s closest rival at the election turned in a 55­­­-per-cent approval for Jeffrey.

I can hardly describe the fury that emerged when the Bishops an­­nounced that all candidates con­sidered at the college would be deemed to have been rejected and only candidates nobody had thought worth mentioning before were now eligible. Many, if not most, in the diocese of Llandaff and way beyond felt that they had been misled, and that the consultation had been a farce.

While the Bishops’ letter deals in detail with the Electoral College, they fail to acknowledge that the crisis has deepened to a disaster since the matter was placed in their hands, that fair dealing and proper process, which actually means dealing with candidates purely on the merits, was totally lacking. It is they who have brought the Church into disrepute.

One of the saddest things for those of us who love our Church and the diocese of Llandaff has been the blindness of our bishops, who, locked into process and a very poor decision, cannot now see a way for­ward, and keep on digging them­selves into a deeper hole.

What has alarmed me most, how­ever, is the way people have re­­sponded since this matter was brought into the light by Dr John. Here we see writ large the same pro­cess that the abused and whistle­blowers have to face the world over: they are blamed, and their charac­ters are impugned, for revealing sys­tematic failures and abuses.

Finally, it is good to read from Dr Barry Morgan that he did not intend to stop the nomination of Dr John to the sees of Bangor or St Asaph in the past, although we read in many places in social media that electors were under the impression that he had ruled out candidates in civil partnerships at these elections.

The electoral system is broken. If the process suggested by Lord Harries had been in place, there is no doubt that we would be looking forward to the ordination of Dr John as the next Bishop of Llandaff, and why? Because he is by a long way the best person for the job. That’s it.

 

MARTIN REYNOLDS
The Orchards, Stow Hill
Newport NP20 4EA

 

From Canon Adrian Copping
Sir, — Although the Bishops in Wales rightly point to positive de­­velopments in matters of same-sex relationships in some parts of the Province, their response to your leader comment of the previous week fails to address the issue that surrounds the appointment of the Bishop of Llandaff.

A few years ago, as a serving Church in Wales cleric, I asked two then Electoral College members to consider nominating the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John for a particular va­­cant see. The suggestion was de­­clined as was their right. There was, however, no conversation about his gifts or suitability. Instead, I recall the strong suggestion that the Church in Wales was too small to deal with the publicity and pressure that would result.

My earlier experience seems to echo in the experience claimed by Dr John himself. The positive devel­opments cited by the Bishops have not all come without hard work and campaigning by organisations such as Changing Attitude Cymru. Un­­less a way can be found to address openly what has actually happened in this latest appointment process, then questions will remain about fairness, justice, and inclusivity.

 

ADRIAN COPPING
57 Briar Hill, Woolpit
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP30 9SD

 

From H. Raine
Sir, — The most disturbing aspect of the Legal Sub-Committee’s self-serving advice on the election pro­cess for the Bishop of Llandaff comes in paragraph 31, where the committee argues, with examples, that it was both relevant and proper for the Electoral College to consider the candidates’ sexuality. This is shockingly wrong.

The only real guide to a candid­ate’s future behaviour is his or her past behaviour. It is, of course, ab­­solutely right and proper to ask whether the candidate would pro­mote equality and diversity or be a centre for unity, but the answer needs to be drawn from real evid­ence in his or her portfolio, CV, and references. To draw conclusions to these questions based on a candidate’s sexuality is unfair, unsound, and discriminatory.

In the real world, such question­ing by an interview panel would be rightly challengeable under the Equality Act 2010. The Church in Wales claims that being a homosex­ual is not a bar to the episcopate, and yet is prepared to endorse un­­fair and prejudicial assumptions about candidates based on their sexuality.

The Church’s exemption on reli­gious grounds from aspects of the Equality Act is being abused, as evid­­enced in this sad case, and should be reviewed. I am writing to the Government to urge such a review.

 

H. RAINE
25 Glenferrie Road
St Albans, Herts

 

From Dr Christopher Wilkinson
Sir, — Advertising sign, recently seen outside a South Wales garden centre: “Dahlias. Bishop of Llandaff. Buy one, get one free.”

 

CHRISTOPHER WILKINSON
3 The Terrace, Rhymney
Tredegar NP22 5LY

 

European ruling on religious signs in workplaces

 

From Dr Will Jones
Sir, — Keith Porteous Wood (Let­ters, 31 March) misunderstands the problematic nature of the European Court of Justice ruling on religious signs in the workplace. The prob­lem, highlighted by the Bishop of Leeds, was that it deter­mined that to ban all religious signs was not dis­criminatory on grounds of religion because it was a neutral policy that treated all religions equally.

The premise is that the enforced absence of religion is a neutral ap­­proach towards religion and is not discriminatory towards religious people because it treats them all equally. But, of course, an outright ban on religion is not at all neutral towards religion, since it is actively hostile towards religion, and bur­dens the consciences of religious people far more than those of non-religious people.

Such a ban also fails to acknow­ledge that the belief that religion is the kind of thing which is fit to be banned is itself a form of religious belief, grounded either in atheism or in a belief in what is or is not God’s will — one cannot be wholly neutral in these matters. Religion-free secu­larism is not a religiously neutral policy, and the Court perpetuates a grave error by stating that it is.

It is, of course, necessary for there to be limits to religious freedom for the sake of the public good, and in the proportionate pursuit of legitim­ate aims. On such grounds, a person might reasonably wish to limit the use of, say, full-face coverings, even religiously inspired ones, in certain contexts. But that is quite different from the Court’s claim that one can avoid religious discrimination by banning all religious signs. That is to discriminate in favour of one reli­giously motivated belief, secularism, over against all others. And there is nothing neutral about that.

 

WILL JONES
St Matthew’s Vicarage
Duddeston Manor Road
Birmingham B7 4QD

 

Concealed growth in usual Sunday attendance

 

From Professor David Voas
Sir, — The Revd Mark Hart argues (Comment, 31 March) that aggreg­ate decline in churchgoing masks a hidden source of growth. If change in usual Sunday attendance was solely a matter of not enough young people to balance Anglican mortal­ity, the losses would be much higher. Something else must be going on.

I agree; the question is what. Mr Hart believes that it is “well-dispersed growth, the result of un­­spectacular ministry in thousands of parishes over decades”. He has a case; but the answer is more likely to be immigration.

Twenty-five years ago, fewer than four million people in the UK were foreign-born. Today, the figure is nine million. Net inflow has averaged close to a quarter of a million people per year for more than a decade. The majority of new arrivals come from Christian countries in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.

Mr Hart suggests that the contribution of immigration to church growth is small. Again, I agree: given the context, the 5000 new people attending per annum whom he is trying to account for are barely significant.

Let’s pose the problem the other way around. If all of the concealed growth in usual Sunday attendance came from the white British, then by implication the C of E would have gathered no one from the millions of new arrivals. If that’s the case, the underlying story would be one of failure, not success.

These rival interpretations are of little consequence given the large disproportion between the number of churchgoers aged 65-plus versus 25-44; but that’s another story.

 

DAVID VOAS
Professor and Head of Department
Department of Social Science
UCL Institute of Education
University College London
27 Woburn Square
London WC1H 0AA

 

Reflection on vocations among God’s people

 

From Mr Andrew Patrick
Sir, — Anne Martin may have been a little harsh to accuse the clergy of hijacking the word “vocation” (Letters, 10 March). A call to the priesthood is very special; so it is right to give that special emphasis. Nevertheless, she raises an import­ant point: everyone has a vocation.

In 1 Corinthians 7.17 and 24, St Paul explains that each of us has a place in life which we have been called to by God. Thus Calvin could say, in the Institutes, that every individual’s line of life is “a post assigned to him by the Lord”.

This understanding of vocation has been followed by many writers since. Ruskin, for example, in Unto this Last, said schools should teach each young person “the calling by which he is to live”. The manifesto produced by Churches in Britain in the 1940s believed “The sense of Divine vocation must be restored to man’s daily work.” In 1974, CLC published Larry Peabody’s book Secular Work is Full-Time Service. Thus I believe I was called to be an architect and town planner, and that is my vocation.

Walter Brueggemann appears to understand vocation as far wider and deeper than simply an occupa­tion (in The Bible Makes Sense, DLT, 2016). He sees vocation as God’s call to be in a “relationship of responsibility” with him. I see this as living in partnership with God in every aspect of human life, individ­ual and collective.

In our fallen world, the reality is a long way from such a vision, especi­ally for the many millions of the unem­ployed and under-employed. But, surely, we as a Church — both lay and ordained — need to rediscover God’s vision for vocation for our own lives, and hold out that vision as part of our mission to the world around us.

 

ANDREW PATRICK
11 Shakespeare Road
Wimborne, Dorset BH21 1NZ

 

Crucifying the poor

 

From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — Members and associates of the Iona Community were asked to contribute or write something about the crucifixion of the poor for a book of readings, reflections, and prayers for Holy Week, The Sun Slowly Rises (Wild Goose Publica­tions; www.ionabooks.com).

It includes my contribution, “Cru­cifixion 2017 Style: We have a law and by that law he ought to be in work. He isn’t? It’s his fault. He ought to be punished, have a lower income, have no income, ought to be hungry, thirsty, in debt, in prison, live in a flat with only one bedroom, pay extra rent for a spare bedroom, be homeless, meet the bailiffs; he ought to be stressed to breaking point.

”She ought not to have had a large family with high benefit in­­come. It is not fair on rich people that some women and children are poor. It is better for the rest of us that poor people die young.”

The Office of Na­­tional Statistics reports an unprecedented rise in mortality rates.

 

PAUL NICOLSON
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

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