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Letters to the Editor

26 October 2018

Anglophone Cameroonians, the marriage debate, and the trans debate


Plight of Anglophone Cameroonians

From Jackie Fearnley

Sir, — It is disturbing to hear that Paul Biya has been confirmed as President of Cameroon for his seventh term in office. The result is bound to be further detentions of Anglophones, unlawful, arbitrary killings, and a complete disruption of normal life. The military has been instructed to crack down more heavily than ever on any signs of resistance or dissent in the north-western and south-western regions (ex-British Southern Cameroons).

Since the protests of lawyers and teachers in these regions, there has been no attempt by the government to work on solutions, but, instead, hundreds of citizens have already been detained or killed, thousands have fled from their villages into the countryside, and thousands more have tried to find relative safety in Nigeria, finding that they are still not free from government surveillance.

There are about 200 political prisoners in the worst jail of the country, detained without trial — some for almost two years now. They are not receiving proper medical attention, and the only food that they can risk eating has to be brought in from outside. Some have died already, and others are now very weak.

One of their leaders, Ngalim Felix Safeh, has been taken 49 times to the military tribunal, where the death sentence can still be imposed, and each time the government lawyers say that they are not ready to proceed.

He, and most of the others there, are practising Anglicans, who are appealing to the wider Anglican community for support. They feel their plight is unrecognised. They ask for our prayers and for pressure to be brought to bear in every way possible for their release. This must be a precondition for any hope of a settlement of this situation, which is increasingly being described as genocidal.

Many who had hope that with good will on both sides there could be a return to a proper federation of the two countries (arbitrarily abolished in favour of one country in 1972) are now resolved that a completely separate country of Ambazonia is the only answer. One way forward might have been a referendum, but this option is now looking less achievable.

It is very painful for the Southern Cameroonians who are having to live outside their country to hear about the ongoing sufferings of relatives and friends, though, in many ways, they are the best hope of bringing about change. Now, more than ever, they do want and need support from people in the UK and other English-speaking countries.

Brereton Lodge, Goathland
Whitby, North Yorkshire YO22 5JR

Debate within the Church — and Evangelicalism — about marriage 

From the Rt Revd John Gladwin

Sir, — The letter of the 11 Evangelical bishops on the subject of marriage (News, 19 October) raises the issue how the Church is to live well with diversity. That diversity, on the issues facing our Church today, exists within the Evangelical movement. The Bishops and the Church of England Evangelical Council need to recognise and encourage that debate rather than suppress it.

The question being raised by those who are sympathetic to same-sex marriage is a call not so much to radically change the doctrine of the Church as to find a way of including these relationships within the Church’s tradition and understanding of marriage. Although that does not make the task any easier or clearer, it does involve a different approach.

We face a much deeper and even more vital agenda, however. Over the past 30 years, there have been profound social and cultural changes in the way people see and form such close personal relationships. That has led to serious changes in the way people relate, if they do at all, to the institution, law, and custom of marriage.

The demand for civil partnerships for heterosexual couples is an example of this change. People are finding life-affirming and wholesome relationships in a diversity of ways. This is presenting a considerable challenge not only to the Church but to our society, its law and customs. One size no longer fits all.

To repeat what we have said in the past on the doctrine and tradition of marriage, and to do so in the way we have said it in the past, is not going to address the issues we face.

Thankfully, the Anglican Church has a long and good history of hard work in developing its traditions, customs, and laws to ensure that the good that people experience in their lives is affirmed and included in the life of the Christian community.

The White House,
131a Marford Road
Herts AL4 8NH

From Mrs Anne Foreman

Sir, — It was with profound disappointment that I read the letter to the Bishop of Coventry from the Bishop of Blackburn, signed by 11 Evangelical bishops. In my view, the letter, both in its content and tone, undermines the work being done to produce Living in Love and Faith (LLF), and is unhelpful to those in dioceses working to live with “good disagreement”.

The view of the bishops, of course, I understand to be held with conviction, but the implication of what the lettter says is that they want more intellectual engagement in order for their interpretation of the truth to be accepted as the only truth. The Bishops must surely be aware that there are plenty of Evangelical lay people whose exploration leads them to other interpretations of what is true.

As for the veiled threat inherent in the suggestion that any change in teaching “will create major problems . . . in the wider communion”: I’m afraid it will be seen for exactly what it is: a threat. Lay people are past being threatened: this is 2018. We await that “radical new Christian inclusion in the church . . . and a proper 21st-century understanding of being human and being sexual” identified as necessary by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the General Synod in February 2017.

No one who participated in the seminars on aspects of the work on LLF at the July Synod sessions could be in any doubt about the seriousness and quality of the work in hand. Dr Eeva John expressed the view that there was a need to ensure that scholarly work made connections with lived experience. The letter clearly demonstrated that the lived experience of many LGBTIQ+ people has not been fully heard or understood.

12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX1 1TL

From the Very Revd Dr Jonathan Draper

Sir, — We can now all be grateful to 11 bishops for showing us all what it means to have “an openness to being surprised and challenged by what it means to be the body of Christ in England in the 21st century” (from the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process as outlined by the House of Bishops).

That the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, a member of the formal LLF discussions, has signed the letter means, I presume, that he has decided that he should withdraw from the process, as listening to the views of others is obviously not a part of his understanding of his task.

The “radical inclusion” proposed by Archbishop Welby (whatever it is supposed to mean) will not be served by bishops’ (however many) saying that only one kind of outcome is acceptable. This is not only to pre-empt and subvert the process: it is also a form of atheism, elevating one traditional understanding of marriage over the potential of a living God acting through the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to do a new thing.

The Bishops of the Church of England come to look more and more like the Conservative Party discussing Europe, with so many “red lines” being drawn all over the place. Perhaps this is an issue too important to be left in the hands of the Bishops, and the rest of the people of God should be given their say.

General Secretary, Modern Church
121 Admiral Way
Exeter EX2 7GT

Fears about gender-recognition are misplaced 

From Dr Susannah Cornwall

Sir, — The reform or otherwise of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will have no effect on the possibility of Canon Angela Tilby’s having to “share public loos with people who have male genitalia” (Comment, 19 October). She undoubtedly already does. There is currently no requirement for anyone, trans or otherwise, to have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to use female, male, or any other toilet facilities, and reforms to the GRA to allow self-determination of gender (a system already in place in Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Malta, and Argentina, among other jurisdictions) would not change that.

There is also currently no requirement that one must either have undergone genital surgery in the past, or intend to undergo it in future, to receive a GRC. This makes the necessity of a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria rather odd, and many trans people also experience it as intrusive. If the Gender Recognition Act is reformed in the direction that many trans people and their supporters would like, a significant difference is that trans people would no longer need an external medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before it was possible to receive a GRC.

In all likelihood, however, the requirement of a sworn statement to the effect that one intended to live in one’s “acquired gender” for the rest of one’s life, as at present, would, for better or worse, remain. Canon Tilby’s suggestion that reforms to the GRA mean that “the right to safety and privacy that most women expect will be compromised” is insulting and disingenuous scaremongering.

Plenty of trans women already go quietly about their lives, which include using female-designated loos: some have had genital surgery, and others have not, but this is no more anyone else’s business (and has no more effect on the person in the neighbouring cubicle) than whether someone has had a mastectomy, colostomy, or prostatectomy.

Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies and Director of EXCEPT (Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology)
Department of Theology and Religion
University of Exeter
Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter, Devon EX4 4RJ

From Alice Watson

Sir, — I was concerned to read Canon Angela Tilby’s “worries about the trans lobby”, which played on many of the tropes of trans-exclusionary radical feminism.

The “feminist” argument presented by Canon Tilby, that trans women are not real women, is a line that is not held by the majority of feminists, but by a smaller group who see trans women as hidden predatory men, determined to attack women, often reduced, as Canon Tilby herself does, to their genitalia. This was evident in Canon Tilby’s fears about public loos.

Those men who desire to attack women do not need to disguise themselves to be able to do so. The article also ignores the fact that it is trans women themselves who face the highest risk of violence and abuse, including sexual attack.

The view that it is somehow more Christian to require a medical endorsement to prove trans status seems at odd with the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels as one who so often ignores social convention, and sees people for who they are, instead of who society, or authorities, has decided them to be.

Take the haemorrhaging woman, for example — most probably an outcast by society, unclean, her “womanhood” questioned owing to her lack of childbearing ability for 12 years. To Jesus, she is a beloved daughter. The woman with the ointment marked as a “sinner” by polite society is seen as she truly is by Jesus.

I pray that our trans siblings in Christ are also treated in the same way.

Ripon College, Cuddesdon
Oxford OX44 9HD

From Sally Prendergast

Sir, — May I reassure Canon Angela Tilby that her age-old, out-of-date, and scientifically inaccurate definition of transgender identity will protect her from any actual risk of assault in a public toilet. Her assertion that personal identity is “created by an act of individual will . . . or has . . .to be negotiated socially” is wholly wrong.

As the mother of two trans children, both now adult, one male-to-female and one female-to-male, I can assure her that gender identity is evidence of a creator God far more loving and generous than she appreciates.

It is beyond the “choice” of the individual involved, and far beyond social negotiation, which often inhibits expression of the true nature of the individual and causes such low self-esteem that self-harm and suicide are a real, appalling risk. It is this bigoted and ill-informed approach that reinforces the prejudiced opinion of binary-oriented individuals who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have yet to engage with those who do not conform to societal criteria.

Cradle my son in your arms as he weeps with period pain, Canon Tilby, or pluck the hairs from my daughter’s face, and then revisit your opinion.

Wylderne, Bridge Street
Great Kimble
Bucks HP17 9TW

Heythrop has closed, but how about Leuven?

From Fr Allan R. Jones, Can. Reg.

Sir, — I quite agree with every word expressed in Canon Angela Tilby’s column (Comment, 28 September) in which she referred to the great gap left by the closure of Heythrop College, of which I am a graduate. There is, however, a light across the sea at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain), Belgium.

As a doctoral student at Cardiff University, I am now registered for a joint degree with KU Leuven and Cardiff University, being supported this year through the Erasmus Programme. Having arrived for induction week, I met students from across the world, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Orthodox, and others all engaged in the study of theology and religious studies. A considerable number of students are from the UK.

It is not only a prestigious university: costs here are much lower than those of university courses in the UK. For 50 years now, the faculty of Theology and Religious Studies has offered the full range of courses through both Dutch and English.

Heythrop’s loss may, perhaps, be KU Leuven’s gain. Brussels is but a two-hour train journey from London, Leuven a further half-hour on. It may be further away, but for excellence in theology, in an international and ecumenical setting, it would be hard to find anywhere as good as KU Leuven.

Abdij Keizersberg,
Mechelsestraat 202,
3000 Leuven, Belgium

It’s lonely at the top

From Prebendary Julian Laurence

Sir, — It was so good to see on the front page of the Church Times (19 October) a headline, “no friends? isolated?”, with a picture of Theresa May and an elderly lady, drawing attention to new programmes to tackle loneliness. It’s also good to see that it is already happening. God bless that lady for taking the PM under her wing.

Holy Trinity Vicarage
15 The Square, Hillyfields
Taunton TA1 2LU

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