Letters to the Editor

by
06 July 2018

Oxford amendment to fossil-fuels, Trident, cathedrals report, safeguarding transparency, and civil partnerships

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Oxford amendment to fossil-fuels motion is crucial

From the Bishops of Swaziland, Dorchester, Reading, Buckingham, Wolverhampton, Dunwich, and Taunton, and 84 others

Sir, — This Sunday, the Church of England’s General Synod will debate future investments in oil and gas companies. This will provide a crucial opportunity for the Church to demonstrate credible leadership on one of the most important moral issues of our time.

While the Church of England disinvested from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands in 2015, it is seeking to bring about change through “engagement” with oil and gas companies. Yet, as companies such as Shell and BP are still pursuing business plans that would lead to 3-5+°C of global warming, there is little sign that notice is being taken.

At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5 per cent of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

The diocese of Oxford is proposing an amendment at the Synod calling on the Church of England to disinvest from any fossil-fuel company “which is not on an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2°C”. This goes further than the weaker motion proposed by church investors.

We urge Synod members to vote in favour of this amendment, which reflects the urgency of action required to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. It gives oil and gas companies time to bring their business investment plans in line with the Paris Agreement. It also sets robust and clear criteria for disinvestment by the Church, beginning in 2020, thus intensifying the Church’s engagement efforts.

By passing this amendment, the Synod will play its part in accelerating the clean-energy transition. It will show true leadership on the urgent issue of climate change both within the UK and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

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ELLINAH SWAZILAND, COLIN DORCHESTER, ANDREW READING, ALAN BUCKINGHAM, CLIVE WOLVERHAMPTON, MICHAEL DUNWICH, RUTH TAUNTON, DAVID ATKINSON, GRAHAM CRAY, MICHAEL DOE, ROBERT PATERSON, APILEMEKI QILIHO, MAURICE SINCLAIR (bishops); RACHEL MASH (Environmental Coordinator of Anglican Church of Southern Africa); TIM STRATFORD, JOHN HAWKINS, OIIVIA GRAHAM, MALCOLM CHAMBERLAIN (archdeacons); MARTIN WEBSTER (retired archdeacon); and of the other clergy: JANE HASLAM, MIKE HASLAM, PHILIP HAWTHORN, JULIA HICKS, JONATHAN MORRIS, GRAHAM OWEN, ROSALIND SELLERS, CATHERINE SOURBUT (Bath & Wells), DEBBIE COLLINS, JOHN NIGHTINGALE, AL BARRETT, ANDREW LENOX-CONYNGHAM, PETER SELLICK (Birmingham), DEREK FRENCH, JOHN RODWELL, ED SAVILLE (Blackburn), STEPHEN SAXBY (Chelmsford), DEBBIE BEER, MARK BETSON, DAVID FAREY, PETER OWEN-JONES, ADAM RANSOM (Chichester), GRAHAM COLES (Coventry), TOM AMBROSE (Ely), ELIZABETH BUSSMAN (Europe), SIMON HOLLAND, SIMON HOWARD (Exeter), VAL THORNE (Gloucester), SUSAN BOLAN, LESLEY CRAWLEY, ALAN CRAWLEY, STUART THOMAS (Guildford), JOHN BENNETT, ANN BROXHAM, DEBBY PLUMMER (Leeds), KEITH HEBDEN, ANDREW QUIGLEY (Leicester), GILLIAN STRAINE (London), JOHN HUGHES (Manchester), JANET APPLEBY (Newcastle), HELEN BUDD, GRAHAM KIRK-SPRIGGS, JAMES RIDGE (Norwich), HILARY CAMPBELL, BARBARA DOUBTFIRE, CHRISTOPHER EVANS, GRAEME FANCOURT, DARRELL HANNAH, MARGOT HODSON, MARK LAYNESMITH, HUGH LEE, TINA MOLYNEUX, AINSLEY SWIFT, JO WILLIAMS, TERENCE WINROW (Oxford), JIMMY HOLDEN, MIKE PERRY, RUTH SCHOFIELD (Salisbury), MICHAEL BAYLEY, DAVID GOSS, NICHOLAS JOWETT, MALCOLM LILES, MARK NEWITT (Sheffield), AARON KENNEDY (Southwark), RACHEL PENNANT (St Albans), CHERYL COLLINS, STEPHEN MORLEY (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), CLAIRE McILROY (Truro), BEN CHASE (Winchester), DAVID T. N. PARRY (Llandaff), FRANCIS BUXTON (Monmouth)

c/o 19 Berberry Close, Birmingham B30 1TB

From the Revd Hugh Lee

Sir, — The National Investing Bodies (NIBs) of the Church of England are to be commended for all that they are doing in engaging with the oil and gas companies on their contribution to climate change. They have, however, a long way to go.

At BP’s presentation of its “Statistical Review of World Energy” on 13 June, I asked the CEO and Chief Economist why BP had not yet aligned its business plans to the Paris targets. The answer was that they thought it very unlikely that governments would change their policies enough to meet the Paris targets, and so BP would lose a great deal of money if it aligned its business plans to them.

Engagement still has a chance if Loretta Minghella meets the CEO of each oil and gas company and, using her eloquent descriptions of her visits to Christian Aid projects, explains to them how climate change is affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people now, and is not some distant threat to future generations. Life as we know it on this planet will not wait for more government action: the oil and gas companies must start changing their investment plans in the next two years.

It is, therefore, essential that the Synod pass the Oxford diocesan amendment to the NIBs’ motion so that it includes: “beginning in 2020 to divest from any fossil fuel company which is not on an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plans with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2ºC”. We hope that increased engagement by the NIBs will be effective, so that the fossil-fuel companies change their plans; but, if not, the Church must not continue to profiteer from their immoral activities.

HUGH LEE
(Energy economist)
64 Observatory Street
Oxford OX2 6EP
 

General Synod should give a firm ‘No’ to Trident  

From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — In 1982, the General Synod working party chaired by Bishop John Austin Baker, one of our Church’s most astute and circumspect theologians, published its report The Church and the Bomb.

Within a wide theological and ethical framework, the report to the Synod came to the unanimous conclusion that the possession and conditional readiness to use nuclear weapons was incompatible with Christian discipleship. Both pacifists, a minority, and the majority of non-pacifists in the working party, including Bishop Baker himself, were convinced that there was no moral or even political case for Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons.

The Synod agreed with that in principle, but in practice decided that temporarily, in the Cold War stand off, the threat of MAD (mutually assured destruction) through these weapons on both sides might just avert the outbreak of a disastrous war. The Cold War has long become part of history.

The Synod is about to go over the same ground. In principle, nothing has changed. There is now no comparable balance of power. Only the threat of more nations’ acquiring nuclear weapons presents a huge risk. The Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the UK to working against any more nations’ acquiring these weapons and to working towards eliminating our own.

Now, the UN draft treaty supported by a majority of nations, although not the UK, declares these weapons to be illegal. British policy, in contrast, is to retain the Trident submarine weapons for at least 40 years. If we maintain that our national security justifies that, then there is no reason at all that any other nation should not claim the same right.

We have long since ceased to be a great power with the self-righteous claim to be a global policeman. Abandoning Trident would not not only be right in principle: while it would not guarantee world peace, it just might help others not to join in the race to human oblivion.

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Might the Synod find the courage, on a host of essential grounds, to say a firm “No” to Trident rather than pass a benign resolution, as proposed by the management, gently hoping that the UK will choose a more peaceful path while avoiding the hard choice of saying, in the name of humanity and for the sake of the Prince of Peace: “The Established Church of England turns its back on the right of our nation, whatever the circumstances, to commit mass murder”?

Anything less than that would be a spiritual and theological scandal.

PAUL OESTREICHER
Vice-President, CND
Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Vanunu House
162 Holloway Road
London N7 8DQ

Proposal on cathedrals will deprive them of gifts

From the Very Revd Michael Higgins

Sir, — In the monastic system of government which undergirds both cathedral and Oxbridge colleges, each senior member is of equal standing, with the abbot, master, or dean simply “the first among equals”, primus inter pares, charged through skilled leadership with the delicate task of arriving at consensus in the Governing Body.

The Cathedrals report (News, 15 June; Comment, 29 June) loses this principle, with the dean “overseeing” the canons, who are accountable to him or her. This is a great loss, and will deter many gifted priests from accepting residentiary canonries. In the monastic system, it is also the senior members who work and worship together daily who govern, guided by professional advice. This is also lost in the report, where the dean and canons become a minority on the Chapter.

There is much that is good in this report, particularly the recommendation that cathedrals should be accountable to the Charity Commission. But hard cases make bad law. Because of disasters at Peterborough and Exeter, all cathedrals now face basic change.

Imagine the chagrin at an Oxford college when the fellows hear that the master is to be chief executive with wide powers, while the fellows will be outnumbered on the Governing Body by appointments from outside the college. This is where cathedrals will be if the General Synod adopts the provisions of this report.

MICHAEL HIGGINS
Emeritus Dean of Ely
Twin Cottage, North Street
Great Dunham
King’s Lynn PE32 2LR
 

Why this exception to safeguarding transparency? 

From Mr Richard W. Symonds

Sir, — Sir Roger Singleton’s report (News, 29 June) tells us that the Past Cases Review had particularly inadequate responses from seven dioceses, but, more surprisingly, that there was one bishop who was particularly uncooperative with the Church’s initial efforts to get to grips with the extent of its historic abuse.

Surprisingly, that bishop remains unidentified, adding weight to the accusation from victims that the Anglican Church functions as a kind of “Bishop Protection Society”.

Why should not the reputation of the anonymous, obstructive bishop — mentioned in the Singleton report — be placed “under a cloud” by a Church that says it is committed to transparency and accountability; or does this apply only to Bishop George Bell?

RICHARD W. SYMONDS
The Bell Society
2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley, West Sussex RH11 0NN
 

Maidstone v. Lichfield  

From the Bishop of Maidstone

Sir, — Sandra Newton expresses her surprise at what she believes me to have said in my letter to the Bishops of Lichfield (Letters, 29 June). I share her sense of surprise. May I urge your readers to look at the letter that I actually sent rather than rely on the abrasive reports that have appeared in various media?

ROD MAIDSTONE
The Old Vicarage
29 St John’s Meadow
Blindley Heath, Lingfield
Surrey RH7 6JU 

Our readers can find the full text of the Bishop’s letter online by following the links to it on our website. Editor

Civil partnerships and the institution of marriage

From Dr Mary Ann Lund

Sir, — The Supreme Court’s ruling of Wednesday 27 June (News, 29 June) paves the way for the introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships in the UK. Some may feel that this erodes the status of marriage. May I ask them to listen first to the voices of those, Christians among them, who wish to register a civil partnership rather than get married?

My partner and I have been in a faithful, loving union for twenty years, and have two children. When we met, marriage was not available to same-sex couples. We had no wish to express our relationship through an institution that excluded others, by recognising only the legitimacy of heterosexual love. As a feminist, I have always found the patriarchal heritage of marriage troubling, to say the least.

My own recent journey to Christian faith came at the same time as lesbian and gay couples won the right to civil marriage — a cause for rejoicing. But, as I started to worship God within a church that still refuses to welcome same-sex marriage, so my resistance to the inequalities of marriage remained.

The desire to seek formal recognition, through civil partnership, for the covenant of a loving relationship is a principled one. It is deeply rooted in the cause of equalities. For me, as a Christian, it is also a matter of conscience. I hope and pray that the Church of England may reflect on the place of civil partnerships in society with wisdom and with a listening ear. In so doing, may it pay heed to the many, rich ways in which God’s love can be made flesh through human relationships.

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MARY ANN LUND
14 Victoria Avenue
Market Harborough
Leicestershire LE16 7BQ
 

From the Revd Adrian Leak

Sir, — The Supreme Court’s judgment in upholding the Steinfeld/Keidan appeal is to be welcomed. It will encourage Parliament to tidy up an anomalous consequence of a badly drafted piece of legislation, and will allow heterosexual as well as homosexual couples to avail themselves of the opportunity to marry without making formal vows.

For this we must be grateful to Rebecca and Charles, and wish them and their children all good fortune. But it is surely wrong to characterise the current provision of civil marriage (or, indeed, marriage in church) as in any way “patriarchal”. How on earth did they get hold of that idea?

ADRIAN LEAK
14 Fisher Rowe Close, Bramley
Guildford GU5 0EH

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