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Letters to the Editor

20 April 2018

CNC elections, IICSA, atonement and the Church Society-Reform merger


What really matters about the CNC elections

From Mrs Anne Foreman

Sir, — As a member of General Synod and an elector in the Crown Nominations Commission election last summer, I read last week’s news story “Panel rejects conflict-of-interest case” (News, 13 April) with great interest.

If there was an omission, it was that, after Sir Philip Mawer had exonerated Miss Patterson in relation to her remaining on the CNC which nominated the bishop for her own diocese, Professor Oliver O’ Donovan, chairman of the theological review of the CNC, took a very different view. This was that such a member should stand aside because “no one should wear two hats.”

What is not spelled out in this article, in the judgment itself, or in the two reports referred to, is the underlying issue of crucial importance to electors for members of the CNC. This concerns Guiding Principle 1 of the Five Guiding Principles, which sets out that “the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open to all, without reference to gender.”

All the other Guiding Principles are designed to facilitate our life together and to ensure “pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority”, but in no way to detract from Guiding Principle 1, which is, as it says, “unequivocal”.

If an elector for CNC members knew that a candidate was not only a member of a “conservative Evangelical parish” but was instrumental in setting up congregations outside the Church of England, presumably, in part, because the Bishop of Maidstone was not conservative enough, she might be concerned.

If she knew that these congregations impinged on neighbouring parishes, some of whom have women incumbents, she might wonder whether it was at all possible for such a candidate to consider nominations for diocesan bishops “without reference to gender”.

Electors who were fully aware of such matters might have concluded that herein lies the reason why so few women have been nominated as diocesan bishops up to now.

They might also find here a reason for the CNC’s failure to appoint some of the most talented and senior potential women candidates. Such reasoning might have affected electors’ voting choices had disclosure requirements been more “onerous”, as they would be in almost any other area of life.

Professor O’Donovan, as quoted in the article, is very disobliging about the CNC election process, and his report effectively suggests, among other things, that there should be hustings. I hope a new procedure for CNC elections is in place for the 2022 elections.

12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX1 1TL

IICSA: the theology and the law

From the Bishop of Coventry

Sir, — I am grateful to Professor Linda Woodhead for underlining the need for focused theological work as an integral part of the Church’s response to the serious failings highlighted by the IICSA hearings (Comment, 6 April).

The Faith and Order Commission was asked to undertake some substantial study in this area in 2014, leading to the publication of two documents, The Gospel, Sexual Abuse and the Church: A theological resource for the local church in 2016, and Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse in 2017. The latter text deals directly with questions around the Christian understanding of forgiveness that Professor Woodhead describes as the “urgent place to start”.

While it was never intended that these documents should be an exhaustive contribution to theological thinking about preventing and responding well to abuse, we hope they can provide much-needed guidance in the present and useful foundations for further work.

Chair, Faith and Order Commission
Bishop’s House, 23 Davenport Road
Coventry CV5 6PW

From Emeritus Professor James H. Grayson

Sir, — the Bishop of Chichester in his reflections on the IICSA enquiry (Comment, 6 April) rightly considers the failure of procedures and prevalent attitudes in preventing victims of clerical sexual abuse from receiving justice.

In the light of the Carlile report, however, which reviewed the way in which the diocese handled the case of the late Bishop George Bell (News, 26 January), we can see that there is an even larger issue: the right of anyone accused of wrongdoing to be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. I personally know of two people who were accused of sexual abuse and shown in law to be innocent. Both were psychologically damaged by these false accusations. Safeguarding procedures must be implemented on the basis of justice and equity.

25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ

The atonement debate continues

From Canon Paul Brett

Sir, — The Revd Adrian Alker thinks that Jesus was crucified because of our sins, rather than for our sins (Letters, 6 April). This is a refreshing interpretation of the event. But could it be that Jesus was put to death because of his own sins — or, rather, those attributed to him by people at the time?

According to the records in the Gospels, Jesus was certain to run into serious trouble: turfing money-changers out of the Temple, breaking sabbath rules, attracting huge crowds, and criticising in his parables current practices in agriculture, business, finance, property, and relationships. People thought that he was the Messiah, a political figure. He hardly denied the claim that he was a king proclaiming a kingdom rather different from the prevailing one. If people were calling him a son of God, or even the son of God, a title already given to the Roman emperors, including Tiberius, at the time, this would be little less than treason. It is no wonder that he put to death.

23 Stothert Avenue, Bath BA2 3FF

From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — The Revd Adrian Alker criticises Dr Ben Pugh’s account of atone­ment theories (Features, 29 March), and particularly the implication of “the wrath of God” in the doctrine of substitution.

Dr Pugh did not refer to some of the key biblical references. Close study of Romans 1.18 reveals that God’s wrath is revealed, not primarily against us, but against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”. It is God’s wrath against sin, which other references show falls on us if we persist in our sin. The verse 1 Thessalonians 5.9 is important: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mr Alker is rightly concerned about people getting the impression of a “wrathful, punishing God”. It needs to be made clear to them that God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

12 Abbott Road, Folkestone
Kent CT20 1NG

Concerns about the Church Society-Reform merger

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — As a long-standing member of the Church Society, I am perplexed not to have any answer to my concerns regarding the proposed merger of the Church Society, Reform, and the Fellowship of Word & Spirit (News, 23 February).

I would have thought that the clergy would be alert to the same words in a different context taking on a significantly different meaning. There is a fundamental difference in how the constitution of a limited company such as the Church Society must be interpreted, and how one may interpret the contract between the private subscribers to the Reform Covenant as a private agreement.

The former is a public contract, and must be taken as any member of the public would read it, and any special meanings or caveats must be explicit on the face of the constitution. The same is not true of a private agreement, which may silently import the special meanings and caveats of the group.

As part of the proposed merger, the Church Society proposes to adopt the wording of the Reform Covenant as a subsidiary standard for its Council without any reference to the origin of this wording. At the heart of this standard is an adherence to the C of E’s Canon A5, which defines “the doctrine of the Church of England” as being “grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.” It then goes on, however, to assert “In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”

Let us be clear: without any relevant caveat, Canon A5 defines the doctrine of the Church of England as it currently is, and not as the Church Society would like it to be. On the face of it, this is an acceptance of the teaching of the Ordinal as it is currently taken to be, as affirming and approving of the ordination and consecration of women. This is due to the authoritative instruction to take words of the Ordinal applying to the male gender to also include the female gender.

That is what the Church Society Council will be committed to, should the amendments pass in their current form. This is significantly different to how these same words are currently taken in the context of the Reform Fellowship, which may quietly import its understanding that Canon A5 is to be taken as it was understood before any move to a gender-neutral Church of England.

17 Francis Road, Greenford

The benefits of a life of chastity and celibacy

From Revd Professor Martin Henig

Sir, — I was very moved by the article about Canon Kate Wharton’s vow to a life of chastity and celibacy (Features, 16 March; Letters, 29 March). In so many ways it matches my own experience and, I am sure, that of many others in a silent minority of Christians.

When I felt called by Christ to baptism, and subsequently to ordination, I knew that for me to reflect that overwhelming love, it was important to be totally open to others, and, indeed, to the whole of creation, and not constrained by any exclusive human relationship. Presumably that is how Roman Catholic priests are supposed to operate, and I feel close to this concept of ordination of a single consecrated life.

It does not, however, seem to be very widespread in the Anglican Church today, in which marriage is surely the norm, and is certainly not fashionable in wider society. There is so often a real lack of understanding of the seriousness of undertaking the single life, unless perhaps it is constrained by a monastic order or a community of some other sort.

I hope that, by standing outside marriage as a priest, I can give something to sustain marriage relationships, and, by being totally detached, that position also provides a source of consolation to people who separate, if things go wrong. At the very least, one is a witness to another way of living life and serving God.

16 Alexandra Road
Oxford OX2 0DB

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