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Letters to the Editor

16 November 2018

Data fears, anti-Semitism definitions, wage levels, housing, and church posts, asylum for Asia Bibi, and Remembrance services


Data fears limit Christmas comfort

Sir, — For a number of years, our parish has organised a much appreciated “Blue Christmas” service for those who have been recently bereaved. It is a chance to celebrate the promise of Christ’s coming, set in the context of the sorrow at the loss of relatives or friends, and their absence at the forthcoming Christmastide.

In the past, and in many parishes including our own, undertakers have communicated with those for whom they have organised funerals in the year to let them know about the Blue Christmas service. Just as funerals themselves do, this has drawn in many who are only loosely connected with church. That the church still cares, sometimes months on from a bereavement, has been widely appreciated and has provided a welcome relief from the dread of the first Christmas season without a loved one.

Sadly, over-reaction to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has put much of this at risk. Over-cautious interpretation of the rules about marketing from individual dioceses, together with poor guidance to undertakers from the National Association of Funeral Directors, means that many — perhaps most — undertakers are no longer willing to send a mailing about the service to those who have been recently bereaved. GDPR does not require this reaction: an appropriate balance between rights contained in the new law and the reasonable desire to send someone an invitation could have been found.

While individual churches could send invitations themselves, not all churches organise such a service, and so the list of funerals conducted in the church where Blue Christmas will take place is not the full list of those who might wish to attend. Only the undertakers have this.

Thus it looks as if an invitation from the church to come and offer to God the exquisite pain and sadness of bereavement at Christmas will be sacrificed on the altar of privacy rights, and for the protection of professional advisers whose interest was to mitigate advisory risk to themselves rather than engage with the actual privacy issues at hand.


Anti-Semitism and the question of definitions 

From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — The Revd Patrick Moriarty makes many valid points in warning us (Comment, 9 November) that anti-Semitism lives on. The Church has a shameful history resulting from misinterpretation of the New Testament. Preachers particularly need to avoid quoting references to “the Jews” without caveat. Otherwise, we can so easily walk into the progressive prejudice that Paul Vallely describes in the same issue.

Mr Moriarty refers to the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, of which I am a member. While specific incidents have come to my notice, and the language used in some social-media platforms is not helpful, I don’t hear much in these allegations that is specific. As for the Labour leader’s “unrepentant history of contact with organisations that are hostile to Israel”, Jeremy Corbyn’s habitual way of dealing with people and groups he disagrees with is to talk to them.

Whether this is always a wise approach for a party leader, his past contact with, e.g. Hamas, does not imply that he has any sympathy with either their violent ideology or their ideological hostility to Israel.

The experience in the Jewish community of anti-Semitism appears to involve a lot of misunderstanding. I understand Lord Sachs, for whom I have much respect, to have said on the radio that every Jewish person knows that the term “anti-Zionism” is a cloak for anti-Semitism. I for one have used the term “anti-Zionism” to mean condemnation of Israeli aggression towards Palestinians, and it is widely used in this way on the Left. I have stopped using the term altogether now, because I am aware that it means something else to Jewish people.

This country, and the world generally, is witnessing an alarming increase in prejudice and hatred towards peoples who are “different from us”, stirred up by sowing rumour on social media, and encouraged inexcusably by some politicians.

Anti-Semitism takes its place among racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and persecution suffered by all faiths and ideologies, and the list goes on. God created all human beings in his image, and we need to recover respect for everybody for who they are and what they believe.

12 Abbott Road
Folkestone CT20 1NG

From Mr Philip Belben

Sir, — You have published several articles reporting that some group or other has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Aliiance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, or calling on other groups to do so, without once (that I have seen) saying what that definition is.

Patrick Moriarty seems to justify this on the grounds that what is important is not its content, but “its symbolism as the Jewish community’s own definition”, because of “the right of minorities to name their own experience”.

By saying this, he displays a subtle but important fallacy: he allows attributes that belong to a particular concept to be attached to the name we give the concept, and thence be transferred to any other concept to which the name is subsequently given.

In this instance, there are certain attitudes towards the Jews — and I agree that the IHRA definition is the best definition of them available — that we consider to be wrong. We call those attitudes anti-Semitism. But the right of any other group to define how a name is used cannot legitimately be invoked to tell us what is right or wrong, which is the issue when Mr Moriarty criticises the Labour Party for failing to adopt this definition.

Having read the IHRA’s definition on its website, I have no hesitation in adding my voice to those calling for its adoption. But a fallacious argument for this should not pass unchallenged.

The Chapel, Maitlands Close
Nettlebridge, Radstock BA3 5AA

We have linked to the definition online and will do so more often.

Wage levels, housing, and church posts

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — It is not enough to campaign for the real living wage without also campaigning for truly affordable housing (News, 9 November). It is sometimes assumed that to pay no more than one third of an income as rent is a suitable standard. For the health and well-being of low-income tenants, the other two-thirds must, therefore, be capable of buying a healthy diet, water, fuel, clothes, transport, some participation in the community, and other necessities after the rent, council, and income taxes are paid.

The Localism Act gives local authorities the flexibility to choose to end their housing duty to homeless families with an offer of one private rented-sector permanent home, without requiring the tenant’s consent and with no other option. They can, therefore, force low-income homeless families to move from council rents of £90 a week for a two-bedroom home into the private rented sector, where the lowest rents will be around £300 a week or more in London.

The living wage will be £10.55 an hour in London and £9 an hour in the rest of the UK from April 2019. The excellent research at Loughborough University, on which the Living Wage Foundation bases its annual decision about the levels of the living wage, assumes a £90 weekly rent for a two-bedroom home. It does not allow for the forced move into private renting at £300 a week or more.

If a family takes on housing benefit simultaneously with being forced into the private sector, then the higher rent can push the family’s total benefits over the Government’s London benefit cap of £442.31 a week, leaving rent unpaid, which has to be paid out of that vital remaining income needed for essentials.

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

From Dr Richard Austen-Baker

Sir, — You report that “church leaders . . . have urged the Government to adopt a more generous, voluntary ‘real living wage’” in place of the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage. The “real living wage” rose last Monday to £9 an hour (£10.55 in London). The Bishop of Barking urged that it would be far better to stop people falling into poverty, by paying them adequately, than to pick up the pieces afterwards with foodbanks.

I could not agree more. Underpayment forces people to rely on in-work benefits, by which the whole body of taxpayers effectively subsidises employers by allowing them to get away with paying their workers less than it costs them to live — a system that is essentially the same as the Speenhamland system, identified by generations of social and economic historians as a disastrous policy that disincentivised work and pauperised a huge portion of the working poor.

It is only a pity that the Bishop has apparently not been talking to the Dean of Coventry, who is advertising (same issue) an organ scholarship paying £2500 for 364 hours’ work, which works out at £6.87 an hour.

Gallows Clough, Abbeystead
Lancaster LA2 9BE

Asylum for Asia Bibi 

From Mr John P. Duffy

Sir, — Saturday 10 November: morning, at church helping with preparations for civic service the next day; lunchtime: hear on radio that the Home Office rejects application from Asia Bibi for asylum. Might create unrest here. I thought we were a Christian country.

Now looking for a supplier of white feathers.

4 Pearman Drive
Andover SP10 2SB

Remembrance services 

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire

Sir, — I and many others have noticed that the service at the end of the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall has changed dramatically over the past few years.

It used to be a very dignified and colourful service: robed servers carried the processional cross; acolytes accompanied with candles; and there were a banner and a robed church choir.

First, however, the banner disappeared, and then the two acolytes; and then the processional cross was carried not by a server, but by a soldier, and now that, too, has disappeared, as has the robed church choir. Keen observers will also note that this year the sign of the cross was missing from the episcopal blessing.

What is going on? Is it gradually giving way to the forces of secularism, or has it been subject to a takeover by extreme Protestants?

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR

From the Revd Andrew Furlong

Sir, — I am appalled that on Remembrance Sunday the hymn “O God, our help in ages past”, which has the line “They fly, forgotten as a dream,” is sung.

12 Tubbermore Road,
Dalkey A96 W9D0, Ireland

Baby steps or infantilisation? Debate continues

Sir, — I am saddened that some feel that they have to criticise informal all-age worship (Comment, 2 November; Letters, 9 November). This month, I was at the national Fresh Expressions Conference, where we were encouraged to celebrate the wisdom and beauty of older forms of church alongside promoting the new. It often seems that those who like more traditional church do not return the compliment.

To say that such things as action choruses and craft-based responses are “childish parodies of church” is neither fair nor gracious. They feed some, and are a step into other forms of church for others. The Church, like the owner of the house in St Matthew’s Gospel, should bring out from its storeroom new treasures as well as old — even if a proportion of the Church prefers, to quote another parable, the old wine. Without the new wine, there will be no old in the future.

I rejoice that choral evensong (Canon Tilby, Comment, same issue) is growing, and I am not particularly keen on action choruses myself. In terms of numbers, however, informal services are growing much faster than more formal ones (alongside other new forms such as Messy Church, Café Church, more recently Forest Church, and others besides).

Ines Hands, and the following week’s correspondents, may not appreciate those forms of church either, but can they not find churches more suitable to their tastes — and rejoice in all forms of church that are attracting people and meeting their spiritual needs?


From Mr Stephen Dunhill

Sir, — Apropos of the article and letters deploring the infantilisation of worship: such an approach is nothing new.

My father, in his first curacy in the early 1950s, fresh from Cuddesdon and brimful with New Testament Greek and St Augustine, having preached his first sermon, was admonished by his vicar with the words: “Fr Robin, please remember when preaching in my pulpit: ten minutes to ten-year-olds.”

Son of the Revd Robin Arnold Dunhill (1915-2005)
3 Seaview Cottages, Spittal
Berwick upon Tweed TD15 2QS

From Mr Andrew Melling

Sir, — In naming “The scriptures are read in dignified English” as one of the qualities of evensong, Canon Angela Tilby implies that the English of the NRSV is not dignified. This is hugely insulting to the modern translators and those of us who do not find 16th-century English helpful.

39 Salisbury Road
Bexley, Kent DA5 3QE

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