Responses to recent terrorist attacks in the UK
From Dr John Herbert
Sir, — I was confirmed in 1937, and have tried to follow my Christian faith ever since. I have a towering respect for Archbishop Welby and his predecessor, who have reinforced my belief in the universality of love. But is this unconditional?
I was called up in the war and found myself in the Normandy bocage as a highly trained gunner, a constantly terrified young man, in a Sherman tank.
In one incident, and ordered by my tank commander, I fired my machine gun on a group of German soldiers and cut them to pieces. In a short lull afterwards, we dismounted to brew up some tea near by. I went over to look at the mangled remains of the Germans. I fumbled in the breast pocket of one (not an unusual practice) and pulled out a New Testament. I had no remorse for killing a fellow Christian. He had been trained to kill me and my mates.
We are at war today with a murderous and merciless enemy. We have to put aside our liberal beliefs and adopt the same attitude towards a vicious enemy as we did in the war. Regrettably, the innocent sometimes have to suffer for the evil committed by the guilty.
As we recall the horror of the atrocities in recent weeks, and those lovely young girls and boys enjoying a peaceful night out, my mind returns to Normandy and that ineffable duty to safeguard the well-being of our citizens.
Pendyffryn, 17 Gelli Avenue
Risca, Gwent NP11 6QF
From Revd Richard and Ruth Tetlow
Sir, — Many of us are fortunate to know the comfort and support of family and friends on the death of someone dear to us. We ourselves have been greatly upheld by family, friends, and church well-wishers. Over the New Year, our younger son took his own life. He was clever, stimulating, dual-heritage, studying Politics and Philosophy at Glasgow in his fourth year, musical, aged 39, troubled deeply and sometimes paranoid.
On 22 May, some good Muslim friends invited us to a prayer meeting in his memory, in their mosque. We were asked to invite a few other friends. We gathered in a circle and our prayers were introduced by a senior woman. There were about 30 of us present, two-thirds Muslim, women, men, and children, most of whom had never known Duncan.
His photo was surrounded by candles amid a mass of white roses. As parents, we both spoke about him, our friends who knew him contributed, and a senior Muslim gentleman read from the Qur’an. Our son had no association with Islam. We all shared spontaneous inclusive prayers and silence. The atmosphere was serene, accepting, and beautiful. Carefully prepared food followed.
As we left, we were presented with the roses, each with a prayer attached. Everyone left with a small packet of forget-me-not seeds.
At this time of Muslim/Christian uncertainty, it seems our gift and responsibility to write to you of this deeply moving experience.
26 Sovereign Way
Birmingham B13 8AT
From the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland
Sir, — It is a truism that an ingredient of Islamist radicalisation is a fundamentalist reading of Caliphate, Jihadist, and paradisal texts in the Qur’an. Understandably, discussion of this issue is one that is most often avoided.
Yet, in a democracy, every concern should be openly discussed and debated. An important question that, therefore, needs to be asked is how the imams and mosques in this country, such as the one attended by the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, understand and teach sacred texts that urge believers to strive to bring each nation under sharia law, which then urges them to treat unbelievers as the enemy, and promises paradise for those who die fighting for the cause of Allah.
Unless such holy scripture is conceived and taught as figurative and poetic, there is, unfortunately, always going to be a basis for tribalists to claim that the violence that they perpetrate is done in the name of Islam.
8 The Rowans, Woodmancote
Cheltenham, Glos. GL52 9RL
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — What happened in Manchester on Monday 22 May was murder. But it cannot be wrong to ask why young people born in the UK feel so alienated that they start plotting such wicked acts.
Among the reasons might be the warped preaching of a great faith. Another might be a sharing, with many of us in the UK, of a horror and anger at the “collateral damage” in the slaughter of civilians in what might be the homeland of their ancestors. Another might be the dire social and economic circumstances of the poorest families in the UK, which leave so many young people with little to live on or to hope for.
Suicide rates in young adults have gone up every year, and by 13 per cent since 2010, and are continuing to rise, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown. It is common knowledge that the incomes of the poorest families and individuals have been cut, while housing costs have increased since 2010, creating a squeeze on the purchase of food, fuel, water, and other necessities, leading to mental and physical illness.
Whatever the reasons for the alienation of young people, our rulers, whoever those are after today, will have to seek and then face the truth.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF
ExxonMobil resolution and its implications
From Mr Mark Letcher
Sir, — We commend the work of the Church Commissioners and other investors who have succeeded in getting the resolution on climate change passed by shareholders at ExxonMobil’s AGM. This was positive news during a week in which Donald Trump recklessly pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement.
It is important, however, to remember that ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors urged shareholders to vote against the resolution again this year, showing that Exxon — like President Trump — is still in denial about the realities of climate change. In addition, Exxon is still under investigation by Attorneys General in New York and Massachusetts for misleading the public and investors on the dangers and potential risks of climate change.
Furthermore, the resolution does not require the company to reduce its carbon emissions, but only to report on the impact of climate policies on its business. BP and Shell passed similar resolutions in 2015, and yet are pursuing business strategies that take us towards a dangerous 3°C of global average temperature rises.
To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, global carbon emissions must start declining by 2020, according to former UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres. Given the increasing urgency of the situation, the speed of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy must accelerate dramatically.
This means that the Church of England and other investors need to shift investments out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy much more quickly than they are already doing. The Church’s current engagement policy will continue to be tenable only if fossil-fuel companies now take swift action to align their operations with the Paris Agreement targets. Otherwise, the Church must carry out its threat to disinvest.
Vice Chair, Operation Noah
40 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UD
CESA’s position during the apartheid struggle
From the Rt Revd John D. Davies
Sir, — Your correspondents (Letters, 26 May and 2 June) have been giving information about the origins of the Church of England in South Africa (CESA) which is historically correct; but it was not its Evangelical commitment that made that Church distinct from the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA): there were faithful Evangelical clergy serving committedly in the CPSA.
The CESA kept separate not only from the CPSA, but from the whole ecumenical fellowship of Churches. With its handful of congregations in white areas of the Western Cape, it kept aloof from the problems of poverty and injustice which oppressed the majority of South Africa’s people during the apartheid years; in both theology and practice it was content to be part of the white-supremacy culture.
Dr Hendrik Verwoerd was the theoretical architect of the apartheid ideology, and, as Prime Minister, was uncompromising in its application. When, in September 1966, he was assassinated, three ministers officiated at his funeral. Two of these, very appropriately, represented the churches of the powerful Afrikaans-speaking Dutch Reformed communities; the third was Bishop Stephen Bradley, of the CESA, the one English-language church leader who was acceptable to the apartheid administration.
As a priest in CPSA, I had far more in common with Methodists and Roman Catholics, Disciples of Christ, and Quakers than I had with Anglicans of the Church of England in South Africa.
JOHN D. DAVIES
Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG
Commentary on Europe
From Mr Jonathan Luxmoore
Sir, — The Rt Revd Christopher Hill urges Christians “to make the best Brexit we are able” (sic) (Comment, 26 May). He suggests that the way to do this “is to witness to the profoundly Christian origins of the European project; to remind our fellow Europeans in the EU that Europe is wider than the EU; and to invite our Churches to witness to the profoundly human and Christian virtues of both hospitality and justice”.
Has the President of the Conference of European Churches really nothing more incisive, prescriptive, or far-reaching to say on the subject? If Europe’s church leaders merely rehearse the same banal platitudes, and repeat the same one-sided stereotypes — “the debate has been either Remain for solely economic reasons, or Brexit for reasons tantamount to xenophobia” — they cannot and should not expect to play any meaningful part in coming public debates.
Nor does Bishop Hill’s muddled attempt at a “penitential analysis” bode well for CEC’s 2018 Novi Sad assembly. We deserve better than this.
Aleja Solidarnosci 65
00-240 Warsaw, Poland
Anorexia and misogyny
From Canon Christa Pumfrey
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 2 June) shocked and angered me by her sheer ignorance in linking the serious mental illness of anorexia nervosa to misogyny and sufferers’ “not respecting their female human nature”.
Suffering from anorexia, or any other mental illness, is not a lifestyle choice. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with misogyny. Anorexia has the highest death rate among all mental illnesses. My daughter suffered in her teenage years from anorexia, and, thankfully, survived.
Maybe Canon Tilby could talk to Professor Rebecca Park at Oxford, or Professor Janet Treasure of the Maudsley, in London, who research eating disorders, their causes, and related changes in the brain.
The New Rectory
7a Northampton Road
Lavendon MK46 4EY
Relation of Shakespeare’s Richard III to history
From Dr Phil Stone
Sir, — Professor Nicholas Orme rightly points out that some of the events reconstructed in Shakespeare’s Richard III (Letters, 26 May) “accord with the conclusions of all reputable professional historians”. Not all the events cited, however, fit that description. If we take the relevant entries in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) as an indicator of such historians’ opinions, it would be fair to point out that the majority would hold Edward IV wholly responsible for Henry VI’s death and some would contest the notion that the execution of Lord Hastings was “murder”.
C. S. L. Davies went as far as to say that “It may be that Buckingham ordered the princes’ deaths, with or without Richard’s knowledge.” (Admittedly, Davies added a caveat about the quality of the evidence for this).
More significantly, the motive for Professor Orme’s letter was to contest Mrs Kim Harding’s assertion that the play was “not a description of the historical Richard” (Letters, 19 May). Determining “the historical Richard” is, of course, no easy task; but Dr Rosemary Horrox’s ODNB entry on Richard is clear that “there is no evidence that Richard had ambitions to seize the crown before Edward [IV]’s death and no evidence that he enjoyed violence for its own sake.”
As regards Richard’s treatment of Edward V, she argues that “he may very well have justified it to himself as a way of averting unrest.” This is very different from the character portrayed by Shakespeare.
No reputable professional historian today would use Shakespeare’s play as a source for understanding the historical Richard III. Professor Orme aptly refers to it as “a parable of a man overwrought by ambition and the country unlucky to be ruled by him”. The historical names used in constructing that parable are almost incidental to the deeper purpose of the story told and its relevance in our own time.
Chairman, Richard III Society
181 Rock Avenue
Gillingham, Kent ME7 5PY
The ‘men’s breakfast’ is past its use-by date
From Mr Don Manley
Sir, — Canon David Winter (Diary, 2 June), in stating that the men’s breakfast “has to face up to the challenges of the modern world”, because “it is no longer acceptable to expect some of the church ladies to turn up and cook the bacon and eggs,” is only halfway to modernity, I fear.
My wife, as a scientist, once particularly wanted to hear a fellow scientist speak at one of these men-only affairs, and was told that she could have a special dispensation to attend. Quite rightly, she refused the offer, and argued that the parish should switch to “parish breakfasts”.
When this idea was mooted more publicly at a church meeting, only one other person dared to suggest that was a good idea in a world of equal opportunities. Sadly, he was talked down by other men, who said they would not attend a parish breakfast, and were sure that male breakfasters would undoubtedly operate a similar boycott. The opposition was overwhelming.
Surely, in an age of women bishops, we should move on. As for Canon Winter, I suggest he finds a helpful local pub, a selection of good speakers, and extends a welcome to both men and women.
26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW
From the Revd James Oakley
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby focused on the Acts account of the ascension (Comment, 26 May). She expresses frustration at the “sheer vividness of the account”, which is “so literal that it gets in the way” of the “extraordinarily rich” theological message.
The author of Luke-Acts tells us that his purpose was to give us certainty as to the things we’ve been taught, and that his method was meticulously to check everything with the eyewitnesses themselves. Surely, such a writer would not make foundational mistakes in the dramatic event with which he chooses to open his second volume.
Luke’s account is dismissed by Canon Tilby as akin to an eight-year-old’s view “that Jesus had gone up like a rocket and might even now be orbiting the earth”. May I suggest that one could accept the historicity of Acts 1 without adopting such a simplistic cosmology?
Sunnybank Cottage, West End
Kemsing TN15 6PX