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Letters to the Editor

19 January 2018


Spiritual abuse is a pitfall for would-be evangelists

From Susan Stead

Sir, — Thank you for the full page on spiritual abuse (News, 12 January). It raises a wider question: how we “evangelise”. When is it sharing Good News, when is it emotional manipulation, and when is it spiritual abuse?

Respect for another person’s integrity and spiritual autonomy is crucial, as far as I’m concerned. Problems arise when we “know what’s best” for another person and back it up with God-language. It seems then that certainty has replaced faith, and dogma masquerades as love.

The difficulty, as I see it, is when we place the authority of our particular interpretation of the Bible, tradition, or divine revelation beyond question and above the gospel imperative to love. Threats of eternal damnation and/or exile from the church community tend to follow.

A friend of mine who has suffered a lifetime of serious mental illness has been traumatised by Christians’ telling him that he will go to hell because he refuses to forgive the staff who physically abused him on a psychiatric ward.

In different circumstances, one of my sons, when he was about 13, briefly attended a youth group at a city-centre Anglican church because a friend invited him and said that it was mostly games. After one evening, I asked him how it had gone. “The games were great. Then at the end they gave a talk and told us that if we didn’t believe in Jesus, we’d go to hell.”

Spiritual abuse of the young and vulnerable? Emotional manipulation? It certainly isn’t Good News.

46 Quarry Road
Oxford OX3 8NU


From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, — Those investigating spiritual abuse should explore whether the perpetrators’ picture of God is one who is manipulative and abusive rather than one who blesses the poor in spirit.

39 St Michaels Road
Liverpool L17 7AN


Closure of bookshop is blow to thoughtful faith

From Dr David Winston

Sir, — The report “Sadness at St Denys’s closure” (News, 12 January) makes sad reading. I have had a long and fruitful association with Manchester Cathedral through its Theological Society, an association enriched by being able to use the St Denys Bookshop.

This combination has been very good at providing me with a resource “to think with”, besides offering opportunities for informal discussion. The Theological Society seems, however, to be withering on the vine; and the bookshop is closing.

I wonder how the cathedral sees its future part in this kind of theological activity.

24 Longton Road
Salford M6 7QW


Trump apologia fails to address moral issues

From Canon John Halkes

Sir, — Mr Robert Leach’s letter (12 January) accounting for the backing of President Donald Trump by Evangelical Christians in the United States is less an explanation of the phenomenon than an apologia, in which he conflates economic and moral arguments to make a partisan point.

He suggests that Evangelicals were attracted to vote for Mr Trump because of his clear line against abortion. I haven’t seen any data to support this claim, but it does raise the matter of a twice-divorced President and a misogynist in the White House. Presumably, US Evangelicals don’t mind this distortion of his moral compass.

Mr Leach goes on to argue that the US economy’s improved performance in 2017 is attributable alone to Trump. It was, however, the Obama presidency that stabilised the economy after the 2007-09 crisis and gave the US its current economic tail-wind. Even so, US economic growth is still dwarfed by the rising global markets.

The President’s recent tax cuts for the big corporations and the ultra-wealthy will, no doubt, give a surge to the Dow Jones, but the gap between the poor and the rich is likely to widen. Just before Christmas, the President boasted to his incredibly wealthy guests at Mar-a-Lago that his tax reforms had just made them a whole lot richer. This is surely a concern for all Christians.

On the international scene, Mr Leach argues that President Trump’s decisiveness and belligerence have brought diplomatic rewards. But, while China may well have taken sanctions against North Korea more seriously, might it not have done so without the Strangelove rhetoric that has destabilised relationships with the US’s old allies of South Korea and Japan? And the crude threats to withdraw from the North American Trade Agreement have similarly curdled relationships with Canada and Mexico.

As for the quixotic move to position the US Embassy in Jerusalem, against the advice of the members of the United Nations who have striven patiently for years to broker a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, one can only assume that the 50 million US hard-Right Evangelicals with their eschatological obsessions are in the driving seat of President Trump’s ambitions.

But it is the climate-sized elephant in the gold-plated rooms of Mar-a-Lago that your correspondent utterly failed to address. How could Evangelicals support tearing up the international Paris Climate Agreement, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere by mining fossil fuels, and reining back on measures to protect the environment against the ravages of big business? Is condemning future generations around the world to suffer rising sea levels, desertification, mass migration, and food poverty a Christian stance?

The Archbishop of Canterbury and many other church leaders spoke well at Christmas. Herod was back in Bethlehem again and had to be confronted. As for church growth, I am pretty sure that if we did not speak out now for the planet and the poor, our churches would become a lot emptier.

Creek Cottage, Lerryn
Cornwall PL22 0QB


You don’t magnify Mary by leaving out Elizabeth

From Susan Dowell

Sir, — I have lost count — and patience — with those who speak and write of Mary’s Magnificat as if it was her immediate response to the annunciation: the countless choirboys and even cathedral choirmasters who should know better. And now Jane Williams, a fine theologian and biblical scholar, in an otherwise excellent article “Honouring more than our fathers and mothers” (Features, 22/29 December), writes: “When Mary agrees to become the mother of the Lord, she sings out her knowledge that this will not be a private matter: in this act, God is reversing the world order to realign it with God’s order.”

But, in scripture, this understanding was voiced to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, pregnant in equally scandalous circumstances — a woman past childbearing age, married to an albeit temporarily non compos mentis husband some months after the annunciation. If we wish to affirm Jane Williams’s central contention — and I do — that Jesus “accepts ministry from women, and entrusts it to them”, then we might need to honour the fact that it is through the ministry of women to one another that the divine will is made manifest.

It was the encounter with Elizabeth that transformed Mary’s simple fiat, “Let it be,” to Magnificat, the proclamation of Christian liberation.

I hope that I am not being picky here in suggesting that we, as a Church, might need to give more equal weight than we do to the feast of the Visitation in July. Watch this space.

9 Church Street
Clun Craven Arms
Shropshire SY7 8JW


Friends contribute to the vibrancy of cathedrals

From Mrs Anne Foreman

Sir, — How good to read Lord Bourne’s positive report on the vibrancy and creativity of the teams running England’s cathedrals (News, 5 January). One of the contributing factors to this vibrancy wasn’t mentioned, however, and that is the part played by cathedrals’ Friends.

Here in Exeter, the Friends of Exeter Cathedral number some three thousand (more are always welcome) and not only support the work of the stonemasons, choral scholars, musicians, flower arrangers, library and archives, et al., by means of grant funding, but also run a well-supported programme of meetings and lectures designed to make known the cathedral’s wonderful history.

The need expressed by Lord Bourne for cathedrals to pool their bright ideas is in part met by the annual conference of Friends of English Cathedrals, last year in Ely, and this autumn in Peterborough. So let’s hear it for Friends: we all need them, after all.

5 St Leonards Road
Exeter EX2 4LA


Ringers and the clergy

From Margaret Buchanan

Sir, — There is an appeal for 1400 new bell-ringers to be found in 2018 (News, 5 January). But will the clergy actually know that they have new bell-ringers?

Our belfry is at the west end of the church, on the ground floor, with the door opening directly from the nave. This door is kept open, owing to the damp. The only clergy who acknowledge our existence are the occasional retired visiting priests.

We turn up Sunday by Sunday and are ignored. We ring for weddings, carol services, and special services at the written request of the church secretary, and are never thanked or spoken to.

A new ringer? Would the clergy know or care?

3 The Millglade
Isham NN14 1HT


Extension of suffrage: where will it end?

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — While remembering this year as the centenary of the Act allowing some women to vote in parliamentary elections, we ought to remember that those qualifying could vote in local-government elections from 1869, for single women, and 1894, for some married women.

Strange as it may seem to the modern mind, originally voting was to represent the family as the fundamental unit of society, and it was the man as the natural head of the family who had the vote.

Our abandonment of the head-of-house principle has led to more and more fragmentation of society, favouring, first, adult individuals and, then, more and more a cry to give rights, independence, and votes to ever younger and younger individuals, those who previously were classed as infants.

Whether this is wise experiment and arbitrarily where it should end only time will tell.

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

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