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Letters to the Editor

30 November 2018

Intersex people and C of E project, mandatory reporting and the seal of confession, domestic violence, and Anti-Zionism in context


Intersex people and C of E project

From Sara Gillingham

Sir, — I welcome the invitation to be a participant in the Living in Love and Faith project, as someone born intersex (having variations in sex characteristics) and as a survivor of non-medically necessary surgeries.

I remain deeply concerned, however, that people with intersex variations are being instrumentalised. It is important that the Church does not overlook the specific needs and lived experience of intersex people and their families rather than just explore the theological implications for our understanding of gender and sexuality.

Unfortunately, there remains a huge knowledge gap a year into the process, at a time when we need to see better education of clergy and staff, as well as improved safeguards against discrimination.

I hope that the House of Bishops will appoint an intersex person to one of the working groups rather than keep us at arm’s length through the wider participation phase of the project. It is important that intersex people are not spoken about without our presence at the same table.

There are many gifts that ordinary lay members bring to church, and I hope that the Church makes the most of them in the months to come.

Address supplied


Mandatory reporting and the seal of confession 

From Mr Keith Porteous Wood

Sir, — Survivors/victims, most with ruined lives, deserve better than Forward in Faith’s call for the Bishops to reaffirm the seal of the confessional (News, 23 November).

The Australian abuse commission recommended that “there be no exemption . . . granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession” and the UN similarly. Even Ireland’s mandatory reporting law does not exempt the confessional. And Dr M. Keenan of University College, Dublin, explains why the very process of the confessional allowed the abuse to continue.

Anyone who has despaired at the impotent hand-wringing at the IICSA Inquiry of the hierarchy that has covered up clerical abuse for decades cannot but conclude that the Churches cannot be trusted to police themselves.

When Archbishop Welby told IICSA that he was “appalled” and “ashamed” of the Church, his apology to survivors would have carried some weight if he had offered to back mandatory reporting of institutional abuse (MR), which — even outside the confessional — his Church appears to have abandoned.

MR, without exceptions, is recommended by MandateNow! and is in force in numerous countries. Victims/Survivors would think more of Archbishops Welby and Nichols were they to back it for England and Wales.

National Secular Society
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL


Domestic violence and the sex of its victims

From J. A. A. Johnson

Sir, — I wholeheartedly endorse Natalie Collins’s call (Comment, 23 November) for the churches to give support to the victims of domestic violence, but they would be wise to be sceptical of her promotion of the feminist gender stereotype that men are the abusers and women are the victims.

A simple Google search on “domestic violence against men” will provide plenty of evidence to invalidate this stereotype, such as an article in The Independent on 13 March 2017, “Male victims of domestic violence are being failed by the system”, which refers to a study by the organisation Parity in 2010 which found that 40 per cent of victims of domestic violence were male.

The comments on the Independent article give confirmatory eye-witness accounts of such violence. Surely a gender-justice specialist, as Ms Collins describes herself, should want care and comfort to be given to all victims of domestic violence, irrespective of gender; so the last sentence of her article should be fully gender-neutralised to read: “safe communities in which abusers are challenged, and all victims are given the resources and support they need”.

6 Burns Crescent
Tonbridge, Kent


From the Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping

Sir, — Natalie Collins rightly notes that an abused clergy spouse has no pastor; nor, from my own multi-country research among Christians, have abused female parishioners of an abusing pastor, such women being adept at “smelling out” and avoiding such church-supported sinners.

From Kenya comes the comment: “You can’t go to a pastor who beats his wife to complain about your own: even if he seems nice, you know he is a liar because you’ve heard her scream”; and from Korea: “If a pastor hits his wife then gives a sermon to young people on proper behaviour between the sexes, he is a hypocrite, and they will not follow what he says.”

Among England-based Church Times readers will be vicars who systematically abuse their wives with the knowledge of at least some in the parish; bishops who are fully aware of abusing clergy in their charge and yet choose to call it “an anger-management problem”, or blame common tenure or freehold for their colluding cowardice; and parishioners whose priest’s prayers (1 Peter 3.7) God does not hear.

Blenheim Cottage, The Slade
Charlbury, Oxfordshire OX73SJ


Row over Jenkins work

From Mr Barry Marsden

Sir, — I was a little surprised to see the report “No consent for prayer” (News, 23 November). I am not sure how there can be any argument that the Call to Prayer was performed without consent, since it is an integral part of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man. Presumably, consent was given for a performance of the work to take place in Blackburn Cathedral. Therefore, by implication, that consent extends to all sections of the work.

If an objection is raised to section 2, Call to Prayer, on the grounds of its being from a non-Christian tradition, why was there not also an objection to section 9, Torches, which is derived from the Mahābhārata — unless I am very much mistaken, a Hindu text?

A performance without the Call to Prayer would be as incomplete as a performance without Torches, or, for that matter, any other part of the work.

34 St Peters Close, Burnham
Bucks SL1 7HT


Anti-Zionism in context

From the Revd Patrick Morrow

Sir, — The Revd Martin Jewitt (Letters, 16 November) tells us he used to speak of anti-Zionism as “condemnation of Israeli aggression towards Palestinians”, but now declines to use the term at all. That is regrettable. There is nothing to stop him taking the term “Zionism” to mean the belief that the Jewish people, like all other peoples, has the right to self-determination. including through the form of a nation state. That is all that “Zionism” has, in truth, ever meant.

What follows from that has always been up for discussion — passionate, discordant debate (it is what Jews do). Christians have historically had problems with “Jewish self-determination”, because we have thought that Jews had to be powerless, within God’s plan. Claims to be “anti-Zionist” without further context risk being seen as within that tradition.

The Froud Centre
1 Toronto Avenue
London E12 5JF


Data rules needn’t bring on the blues

From Dr Matthew Vernon

Sir, — The correspondent (who, ironically, chose to remain anonymous) who complains that GDPR advisers fail to engage with the actual privacy issues at hand (Letters, 16 November) may have a point in the general case, but I cannot agree that he or she is right in this instance.

First, funeral directors are surely right not to hand out contact details of the bereaved without consent: while some bereaved families would welcome the approach from a local church, others may have good reasons to want to avoid the church entirely at a difficult time.

Second, the GDPR doesn’t prevent the organisation of such a “blue Christmas” service: local funeral directors could be asked to mention it to their clients and/or incorporate a question about being contacted by local churches into their paperwork; leaflets could be left a local crematorium; the service could be advertised locally, and so on.

The GDPR, rightly, gives people more control over what is done with their personal data: if I buy a product or service from someone, that person can’t just pass my details on to third parties (however well-meaning) willy-nilly.

The new Regulation needn’t stop church activities: it just means that churches have to think about how they are using people’s personal data.

45 Fairway, Girton
Cambridge CB3 0QF


Steeled against theft?

From Mr Stephen York

Sir, — I was saddened to read of yet more vandalism by lead-thieves at Houghton Conquest (News, 26 October). Our benefice in Ely diocese has suffered twice in this way in the past few years. I note that English Heritage may be prepared to permit the substitution of stainless steel, and that the increase in this type of theft matches the rising value of lead.

When discussing this with my wife, we wondered whether the answer might be found by turning the situation on its head. What if parishes stripped off their own lead roofs and replaced them with stainless-steel roofing (with permission from the authorities, of course)? The lead is more valuable than the stainless steel; so, even taking into account the cost of re-roofing, the operation might well be self-financing and even generate a profit to the PCC.

Better still, if the idea were adopted nationally in an orchestrated way, the sudden dumping of so much lead on the market might even bring its price down. This could lessen the attractiveness to thieves of church lead, to the benefit of churches that had decided to retain their lead roofs.

Hawthorn Cottage, Holywell
St Ives, Cambridgeshire PE27 4TQ


Resources reserved

From Canon Alison Joyce

Sir, — St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, does not permit its clergy or laity to pray with fellow members of the Church of England in its deanery, nor to take part in any activities that “imply partnership in the gospel” (News, 15 December 2017).

St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, has just been designated a national resource church for . . . er . . . the Church of England (News, 23 November). Really?

St Bride’s Church
Fleet Street
London EC4Y 8AU

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