A hard winter for benefits claimants and the homeless
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — The Charity Commission told Oxfam in December 2014 that, as a charity, it “should have done more to avoid a misperception of political bias”. Oxfam had tweeted a poster of “A Perfect Storm” to describe the impact on benefit claimants of the Government’s welfare reforms. A Member of Parliament had complained under the Charities Act 2011. That put a warning shot across the bows of all charities fighting poverty, particularly those funded by the Government, such as Christian Aid, and the Church of England, with its government-funded schools.
Clearly, Archbishop Makgoba felt no such restraint in his Christmas sermon in Cape Town (News, 5 January): “Anything that robs the poor of their dignity, that prevents them from realising their potential, any act of corruption, no matter by whom it is carried out, is an act of theft from the poor, and . . . any infraction of the principles of good governance perpetuates the enslavement of the marginalised.”
As you say (Leader comment, 5 January), his words have wider application. Christmas 2017 in the UK was the worst on record for families and individuals who have experienced a benefit sanction, a zero-hours contract, or the transfer from Jobseeker’s Allowance to Universal Credit. They all left households without income for weeks and sometimes months over the “festive season”. Debts had piled up, to be enforced against low-benefit incomes, when the Jobcentre re-starts payments. Foodbanks have had the highest demand on record.
Hunger, debt, homelessness, ill-health, and an early death are the price low-income citizens and their children are made to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. I hope that readers of this paragraph have no misperception of political bias, because it is deliberately theologically and politically biased with, and for, our poorest fellow citizens. Taxpayers Against Poverty is not a charity. But are the Christmas sermons of the Church of England corrupted by the Charity Commission?
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF
From Mr Max Nottingham
Sir, — Homelessness is admitted to be growing across the country. People are in tents and in shop doorways in all towns and cities. This is a disgrace in winter, and especially at Christmas time. Yet Theresa May’s Tory Government can only make vague promises about dealing with what they call “rough-sleepers”.
The tragic situation needs to be given greater priority by the Government. Charities and sympathetic individuals are doing wonderful work.
19 St Faith’s Street
Lincoln LN1 1DJ
New-use faculty process need not be complex
From the Dean of the Arches and Auditor
Sir, — In his perceptive critique of the Taylor review, the Revd Christopher Robinson (Letters, 5 January), speaking from experience of rural ministry, rightly points to the “unrealistic expectation on churches and clergy to use their buildings in ways that there is simply no demand for”. Where there is such demand, he then goes on to refer to “the complexities and costs involved in negotiating the faculty system”.
In 2013, the faculty rules were re-drafted in an attempt to be more user-friendly; and, in 2015, there were further changes that removed the need for a faculty in respect of many items, but not, it is true, in respect of the introduction of new secular uses, which can often be satisfactorily accommodated without adversely affecting either the principal purpose of a church as a place of mission and worship or the building’s architectural and historic character.
In 2018/19, the Faculty Rule Committee, of which I am chairman, will be considering what more can be done to simplify the system. I am not, however, aware of any instance in which a well-thought-through proposal for new uses has been refused a faculty. “Negotiating the faculty system” in conjunction with the DAC need not and should not be a complex or costly matter.
Francis Taylor Building
Inner Temple, London EC4Y 7BY
Bishop Mullally’s translation to London defended
From Mrs Mary P. Roe
Sir, — I don’t want to comment on the nomination of the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally to the diocese of London, and the Revd Mark Madeley’s suspicions concerning the factors that influenced her nomination may or may not be justified (Letters, 5 January), but his complaint that she has neither considerable parish experience nor long service is puzzling.
When my husband was consecrated a suffragan bishop, it was generally acknowledged that his wide parish experience (19 years) was one of his assets. This was because at that time — and I don’t know how much has changed — many diocesan bishops had little or no ministerial experience: some had been ordained for only a few years, and their time before and after ordination had been spent in the academic world, and not always in the theology faculty.
The work of many suffragans was to be a bridge from the diocesan, who steered the diocese, through his archdeacons, the DBF, etc., in practical matters, and, from his study, spiritually and doctrinally, to the parish priests who rang doorbells, addressed the Mothers’ Union, and did the countless other jobs that invariably need to be done by an incumbent.
An exception to this general pattern was Michael Scott-Joynt, the late Bishop of Winchester, whose understanding of the joys and sorrows of parochial ministry was much appreciated by his clergy of all churchmanships. I now live in a vibrant parish where many of the seeds that he sowed are still bearing fruit.
For some time, comments on episcopal appointments have appeared to be based on secular standards of political expediency. I believe that the Holy Spirit is invoked at all stages of the process, and I feel that we are called upon to accept, in that light, whoever is chosen (after all, God moves in a mysterious way, sometimes more mysterious to us than others), and pray for all our bishops, diocesan and suffragan, that their individual talents and experiences may combine to bring in the Kingdom.
MARY P. ROE
1 The North Lodge
Bicester OX26 6NT
From Canon Jonathan Triffitt
Sir, — For those who have expressed some dismay or criticism at the nomination of the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally as the next Bishop of London, particularly those who question her “theological rigour”, may they be reminded that, throughout the whole of scripture, God has a fantastic record of calling and appointing those whom the world may deem to be the least qualified in terms of earthly criteria? And on the whole they haven’t done a bad job.
The Rectory, 2 Portman Place
Dorset DT11 7DG
Accounting for US President’s Christian backing
From Mr Robert Leach
Sir, — You report that the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot understand why Evangelical Christians support President Donald Trump (News, 27 November, 5 January). I can. For starters, he had taken a clear line on abortion, something that our church leaders have shamefully ignored.
During 2017, the American economy grew by four per cent, the Dow Jones index reached a new high, illegal immigration was slashed, 1.5 million new jobs were created, and the country had no external terrorist attack. President Trump took decisive action in Afghanistan that helped to stop Islamic State. He took similar action in Syria, showing Presidents Assad and Putin that they did not have a free run in Syria.
His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shows the Palestinians that they do not have their own way, and puts pressure on them to negotiate a peace settlement. His hellfire rhetoric about North Korea has finally forced China and Russia to agree effective sanctions. This already seems to be encouraging that regime to work collaboratively.
Yes, Trump is not great on diplomacy. But, as diplomacy is often a form of dishonesty, his frank speaking is refreshing.
Compare this with the Church’s record for 2017. We see a further decline in attendance. Twice last year, the Church showed itself breathtakingly incompetent in dealing with child-abuse cases.
In the glare of public scrutiny for 18 months, Mr Trump beat 16 credible candidates to become Republican candidate, and then beat the Democrat candidate who thought that the presidency was hers for the asking. I wonder how our church leaders would fare under such scrutiny.
19 Chestnut Avenue, Ewell
Epsom, Surrey KT19 0SY
Council of Christians and Jews’ stance on Jerusalem
From Mr Robert Cohen
Sir, — Rob Thompson’s piece on President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem (Comment, 15 December) makes me question what use the Council of Christians and Jews now is.
For decades, CCJ played an important part in radically revising Christian understanding of Judaism and building an entirely new relationship with the Jewish community after the Holocaust. But now it’s stuck. What was once an enlightened, liberal, respectful, and tolerant organisation finds itself unable to offer anything remotely interesting, let alone ethical, as a response to President Trump’s blatant pro-Israeli bias and disregard for Palestinian rights or international law.
Mr Thompson gives the game away when he writes: “But it is essential, for the sake of our own ecumenical, interfaith, and community relations that we do not allow conflict in the Middle East to create further conflict here in the UK.” This is followed by a string of patronising platitudes about creating “space for true dialogue”. Anyone that follows the ever deteriorating Israel/Palestine situation knows how hollow this rhetoric sounds.
It’s the kind of talk that gives liberalism such a bad name, and it makes CCJ look like nothing more than a safe place for Christians who can’t stand conflict and Jewish leaders who want to give Israel a free pass in the halls of interfaith dialogue.
If CCJ wants to be relevant in the 21st century, it needs to climb down from the ecumenical fence and face the challenge to interfaith relations created by Israel.
1 Moons Acre, Bentham
North Yorkshire LA2 7BL
From Mr C. J. Ryecart
Sir, — The Law of Occupation as contained within and endorsed by the Hague Convention of 1907 is based on the tenet that the use of foreign military force “cannot lead to or cause a change of sovereignty”.
This law clearly annuls any right of Israel to annex de facto the Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the sovereign state of Israel. The notion that sovereignty cannot be acquired by military conquest, as in Israel’s Six-Day War of 1967, applies even where the conquest of land by force is “allegedly” done in self-defence, pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Not only is the annexation of East Jerusalem as an outcome of the 1967 war illegal. Equally illegal are the numerous domestic laws adopted by the Supreme Court in Israel to secure Israeli control over East Jerusalem and to impose Jewish demographic dominance there by forcefully expelling Palestinians from their homes by allowing the revocation of residency rights, confiscation of property, building restrictions, and house demolitions. These all contravene Geneva Convention article 49.1, to which Israel is a signatory.
If President Trump had restricted his use of the term “US recognition of Israel’s capital” to West Jerusalem, he would have shown US respect for the international legal status of East Jerusalem and avoided the international outrage caused by his uninformed choice of words. The President might also have shown that the US was still a credible honest broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict by equally endorsing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN RYECART
Weinberg 4, Kefermarkt 4292
Upper Austria, Austria
Many years of campaigning on BBC have paid off
From Mr Nigel Holmes
Sir, — Having kept the decline of religious television in the public eye for two decades, I felt that modesty precluded yet another letter to the press. After reading the article by the Bishop of Repton (Comment, 5 January), however, I could resist the temptation no longer.
The Sandford St Martin Trust, which Bishop McFarlane chairs, and the “media bishops” to whom she grants plaudits, are by no means the only people to have ploughed this furrow, some for many years.
Last week (2 January), the Daily Service celebrated its 90th anniversary, making it the longest-running daily radio programme in the world. It was not the idea of a bishop, nor of John Reith, BBC Director-General, but of Miss Kathleen Cordeux, who collected thousands of signatures in support.
Likewise, many Christians, prompted by letters in their denominational newspapers, have lobbied both the BBC and OFCOM during their recent online consultations. Last April, the Government gave OFCOM power to impose public-service obligations on the BBC. In its “operating licence” published in October, it demanded more religious television programmes, and that they be broadcast in peak time. The BBC gave the impression just before Christmas in its Religion and Ethics Review — a truly remarkable volte-face — that it had seen the light independently, giving no credit to OFCOM. Bishop McFarlane’s article also omitted the OFCOM dimension.
In 2000, I secured a General Synod debate on a private member’s motion on religious broadcasting, which led to my book Losing Faith in the BBC. Then, and around the debate ten years later, there was much publicity, including, in 2010, the prime 8.15 a.m. slot on Radio 4’s Today.
Over the years, I have received much support from the staff of the Church House Communications Unit, though back in 2000 most bishops were wary of challenging the BBC. The one who deserves particular mention for putting his head above the parapet, both in Church House and in the House of Lords, is Bishop Nigel McCulloch. As a member of the Committee for Communications, I valued his encouragement from the chair during those dispiriting years. We monitored the broadcasters and publicised the unrelenting reduction in religious television output; so it is gratifying that, at long last, persistence appears to have paid off.
Woodside, Great Corby
Carlisle CA4 8LL
What’s wrong with asking for a cleric who drives?
From the Revd George Davies
Sir, — In a recent conversation with a retired NSM serving in a town-centre parish in Southwell & Nottingham diocese, mention was made of their parish profile, which had been, for want of a better word, vetted. The fact that they had required the next incumbent to hold a current driving licence received the blue-pencil treatment. They were informed that “you cannot include that in the profile.”
The vacant vicarage is nearly two miles from the parish church, and the nearest general hospital is more than four miles. It is a busy parish. I served my title there from 1985 to 1989, and was doing more than 8500 miles a year on parochial duties.
Are the parishioners now expected to run a 24-hour taxi service for their new Vicar/Priest-in-Charge? Is this a diocesan policy, or has inclusiveness for clerical appointments gone mad?
106 Kirklington Road
Nottinghamshire NG21 0JX
Here comes the maths bit
From Canon Jonathan Kimber
Sir, — Thank you to your team and contributors for a Christmas edition overflowing with illumination and insight (22/29 December). I particularly enjoyed Canon Andrew Davison’s theological consideration around possible extra-terrestrial life, and am grateful for his emphasis on God’s response as being “fitting”.
I wonder, however, whether, in the history of the Church Times, the omission of a single character has had such a significant impact on the meaning of a sentence? There is a universe of difference between a cosmos containing 10 to the power of 24 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars, and a cosmos containing one to the power of 24 (one) star. It is not good for a star to be alone.
4, Silverdale Avenue
Worcester WR5 1PY