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Letters to the editor

21 September 2018

Divorce law, Stockport parsonage, and anti-semitism 


Consultation on divorce-law reform

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — I notice that the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, describes the current law of divorce as “archaic”. I wish that our legislators were better informed, and less eager to make changes without sufficient reflection.

The current law came into effect in 1968. I used to teach the subject before then. Fault was then really at the root of the subject. “Collusion” was a bar to divorce actions, which really had to be a fight. They were bread and butter to young barristers. No longer. Under the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Michael Ramsey, a report was produced, Putting Asunder, which made irretrievable breakdown of marriage the basis of divorce. Had I not left the law in 1968, I would have had to rewrite the course I taught.

Divorce by consent became possible while still requiring a degree of reflection. Far from being archaic, it was a great step forward, while still recognising the importance of marriage as a building-block of society. Since then, marriage has ceased to be the basis of all adult relationships, even when children are the product. Much else has changed, but hard cases make bad law.

That there are difficult people who make complicated any system in place there is no doubt. Five years may be too long a time to wait for divorce without consent. But marriage is more than a consensual arrangement, and, just as there will usually be financial matters to sort out, and the care of children to be arranged (where the parties may disagree and make life difficult for each other and for the children), it behoves us to undertake the same kind of reflective exercise as led to Putting Asunder rather than react with scorn for the past, as seems now to be proposed.

10 Marsh Lane, Wells-next-the-Sea
Norfolk NR23 1EG

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — Divorce on a whim, or by fiat? Normally, unilateral imposition is associated with immaturity, temper, or control: things we discourage. Where compulsion is equal on both sides, which is better? Is it compulsion to be married to the person you have already chosen, or compulsion to be irrevocably torn from them? Compulsion to break, or to keep, promises?

The State already sides with the more divisive, and deserts the more peaceful; will it intensify that? Reward immaturity, and what society would we get? The one we would all least want.

186 Ellerdine Road
Hounslow TW3 2PX

Stockport parsonage: diocese not at fault

From Canon Alan J. Bell

Sir, — I was the Vicar of St George’s, Stockport, responsible for vacating the vicarage in 2001 when the building (with nine bedrooms and three large rooms downstairs, one of which was called the ballroom and unused since the 1930s) had a simple unsustainable history of 22 burglaries in the previous 11 years (News, 14 September).

Very soon afterwards, the head teacher of the church school developed a vision of a new building on the site to replace the present school, which is in three buildings, two of them Victorian. The school always had brilliant OFSTED reports about every aspect of its life except the building, about which the inspectors were damning.

A large group of professionals worked on plans that would have created a modern building of stunning appearance, which would have been of national importance, to complement the equally stunning St George’s Church next door, Paley and Austin’s masterpiece.

Any such plan was repeatedly thwarted by the Conservation Department of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC), despite the enthusiastic support of its own Education Department.

As various options swung around, the Conservation Department would not permit even sympathetic redevelopment of the existing school building, which was once considered as an alternative. I was reminded of Khrushchev’s temper tantrum at the UN when he banged the desk with his shoe. The professional embarrassment around the table was obvious, and much discussed outside the meetings.

This civil war within the local authority was still continuing when I retired in 2012. During the past ten years of my ministry in the parish, the Chester Diocesan Board of Education, who became the owners of the vicarage site for the purpose of building the new school, spent several hundred thousand pounds securing the house and site while at the same time applying for its ultimate demolition. This continued to be frustrated by the Borough’s Conservation Department, abetted by a small group of voluble local residents whose real concerns were never very clear.

The diocese has nothing whatsoever to apologise for. Its focus was on the children. I’m afraid Stockport MBC has. Its focus was elsewhere.

If the present plans go ahead, a small number of people will have a new home, those who focus on niche interests of Victorian architectural concern will fold their arms, smiling in satisfaction, and the educational needs of 350 children per annum for the next several generations will remain unmet, every other option for the school seeming to be closed.

The stranglehold of the conservation lobby was addressed in Parliament some years ago by Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, when the St George’s case was specifically mentioned; but nothing changed. I hope all involved with the present plans sleep well. I confess that, whenever I think about the situation in the wee small hours, I do not.

24 Hall Road,
Kings Lynn
PE34 4AT

The Bishops and the anti-Semitism definition 

From Jane Henson

Sir, — I was shocked and deeply disappointed to read that the Bishops have signed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism (News, 14 September), when at the same time not making any mention of the atrocities and devastating actions, illegal under international law, which the Israeli government, through its army, is inflicting on the Palestinians.

It seems that the Anglican Church is more concerned to not be anti-Semitic (even though I am certain that many of the Bishops and others are not really sure what being anti-Semitic means) than to speak out about the appalling actions that are seriously destroying the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim.

The IHRA’s statement is not internationally recognised, but is being used to silence any criticism of what is happening in Palestine. The Anglican Church is one of the few Churches that have not issued any statement about the killings and maiming of thousands of people in Gaza; the destruction to hospitals and medical facilities as a result of the funding cuts from the United States, which are endorsed by the Israeli government; and the destruction of homes and whole villages.

Where is the call for justice and human rights?


From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — The call from the College of Bishops — that everyone should “reject all language and activity that leads to prejudice, stigma, or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, culture, origins, identity, or belief” — merely aligns the Church with secular society. It looks like an exercise in virtue-signalling to prove that we’re not out of step.

This fashionable moral paternalism continues to develop, ironically, within our demoralised culture. Where is there any Christian analysis and critique of it, so that the Church can avoid parroting our culture and be ahead of the game, rather than merely attempting to play catch-up?

Urban Theology Union
Victoria Hall Methodist Church
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

Archbishop of Canterbury’s views on inequality 

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury’s article in the Daily Mail on 5 September, advocating greater wealth redistribution (News, 7 September), fails to address the sources of inequality. Inequality may reflect the rape and pillage of conquerors, but it also reflects God’s providential distribution and good stewardship: an effect that, like sin, is amplified over the generations.

The Decalogue’s commandment not to steal recognises and protects the right to private property. This includes the abuse of state power, such as King Ahab’s taking of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Thus Welby’s “purposeful and active state” is St Augustine’s the state becoming a band of robbers.

Not only did our Lord say that his Kingdom was not of this world: he explicitly denied that it could be promoted by use of state force (John 18.36). He predicted that we would never make poverty history (Matthew 26.11, Mark 14.7, John 12.8). Further, when asked to intervene so that wealth was shared between two brothers, he responded: “Who made me a judge or a divider over you?” and added: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12.14-15).

If conversion brings the Holy Spirit, it imparts wisdom and brings stewardship. Thus it lifts out of poverty and creates inequality. The Church can best do its part through conversions, and by opposing the infantalising of people as state dependants; discipling people as answerable to God; investing in the future, not squandering on frivolities; and teaching us to avoid promiscuity, single-parenthood, divorce, drug dependency, and other social evils.

Archbishop Welby ought to oppose the mission creep of social justice advocated by Romans 13. This authorises state taxation to fund only the state’s God-given functions of providing basic security and justice.

People spend their own money more carefully than that of others: for example, politicians throwing money at problems for short-term results to impress the electorate. In isolating “the many” from economic realities by state socialism, we encourage the myth of the “magic money tree” that can provide unlimited benefits and prosperity. while weak politicians plunge our nation into ever deepening indebtedness that will have real-world consequences when other nations finally insist that we pay our way and repay our debts.

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

From Dr Stephen Pacey

Sir, — It used to be said that the Church of England was the Conservative Party at prayer. If Tory politicians still pray, and say “Thy Kingdom come,” I wonder what they think it means, and whether, for example, they think that it means the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth — a Kingdom that must surely include social justice and fairness.

With such thoughts in mind, it is difficult to see how any Tory politician could reasonably criticise the Archbishop. How appropriate, also, that the appointed psalm for the day on which I read of the Conservative criticisms included reference to the wicked casting down the poor and needy.

3 Dickinson Way
North Muskham NG23 6FF

Over-60s have much to offer in ministry 

From Captain Michael Collyer CA

Sir, — I was incensed at Elizabeth Baxter’s appalling assessment of the abilities of older adults (Letters, 14 September). The majority of retired ministers in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties do not suffer from diminishing energy, and health and mobility problems. She is merely reflecting society’s institutionally ageist attitudes that devalue older people.

I, for one, retired from 33 years of non-ordained stipendary ministry in 2009. I am still very active in ministry, receiving a church pension and living in a Church of England Pensions Board house. I would gladly welcome the opportunity of being ordained, especially as I am no longer required to surrender my Church Army Commission.

30 Westfield Avenue
Sheffield S12 4LL

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