African Anglican views challenged
From Serena Lancaster
Sir, — The new Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, which is presently at odds over issues of sexuality, should be able to draw on his experience as a bridge between the Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria.
While he rejects the myth of the “godless West”, he still assumes, however, that all social progressives “despise the Bible” (Features, 31 August). This fails to acknowledge that some internally revisionist teaching was hotly disputed for a time: eunuchs, sabbath observance, and the inclusion of Gentiles spring to mind. A cautious Christian might want to say not “for now”, but, if open to the Holy Spirit, should hesitate to say “never”.
Unlike other African church leaders, Dr Idowu-Fearon denounces violence against the gay community and criminalisation of homoerotic acts; and yet he still expects all gay Christians to accept a sacrificial celibacy to please the God who made them that way. He likens this requirement to the covenantal restraint of a heterosexual, who refuses to take a second wife as a possible solution for infertility: this is hardly a like-for-like situation, and is also unacceptably anthropocentric. The childless, married man can still enjoy the wife of his youth, whereas his gay brother or sister are never to seek a helper “after their own kind”.
Too often, the Church has silenced voices that need to be heard, and today we are hearing sustained protests from fellow Christians who have long been considered “unclean” because their sexuality is not mainstream, although their longing for a long-lasting and loving relationship to be recognised and blessed most certainly is.
Now that “Go forth and multiply” is understood as more permissive than obligatory, are there any godly reasons that marriage should not be extended to allow them to share in its goods? Even St Paul conceded that it was better to marry than to burn.
The Archbishop of Kenya is commended for his desire that his ministry should be relevant in his own backyard; the Sitz im Leben elsewhere may be very different, and this also needs to be taken into account, if the essential gospel is to be heard.
Respecting each other’s conscience should enable us to continue to walk together; for what we share is more important than what divides us.
The Gables, Broadwell
Gloucestershire GL56 0UF
Prison problems require prophetic courage
From the Revd Barry Collins
Sir, — With regard to your report “Aitken: Jails in desperate need of support” (News, 24 August), I have some regard for Jonathan Aitken, though perhaps less confidence in the breadth and depth of his insight at this early stage of his ordained ministry, a previous seven-month prison sentence notwithstanding. Likewise, reference to lurking “powder kegs” by the Bishop to Prisons is hardly analytic, together with the observation that: “There is a lot of good that flows in prisons . . . but also a lot of evil which flows,” and “Prison chaplains are key in times of pressure.” Presumably, “some chaplains can be key.” I have worked with good, ordinary, and dangerous chaplains, as is to be expected. The Strangeways riot of some years ago began in the chapel!
It is right to be concerned about the reduced number of staff, an unnecessary shortage brought about for purely financial reasons (what else?) and executed with a complete lack of foresight. But what about the number of prisoners?
In my years as a prison governor (1979-98), the prisoner population was always between 40,000 and 50,000. It is now 83,000. At any one time, eight to ten per cent of that number are serving a sentence of 12 months or less, that is 6000-8000 prisoners. This is a completely pointless sentence, gaining nothing for the prisoner and producing dislocation and hardship for his family, which is made even worse in time, money, and hassle if they visit him, and worse still if children are involved.
If, for whatever reason, the prisoner has no home to return to, he may well be released as homeless and have to live on the streets. Sentences of one year or less (and arguably up to 18 months) should be scrapped and some kind of community service, education, or training be imposed instead.
The problem, of course, is that no government wants to be seen as soft on crime — overcrowding, “powder kegs”, suicide rates, and family dislocation notwithstanding.
The calling of the Church is to be caring and prophetic. Caring, or at least the appearance of caring, is the relatively easy bit, if at times arduous. Prison chaplains are not best placed to achieve being prophetic.
Parishes like to pray for prisons and prisoners, mostly from a safe distance. Prisons Week is now a tame and feel-good jamboree. Prison Visitors, often members of a local congregation, supply a very important ministry to individual prisoners and give much of themselves in the process. But prophecy is hard, unpopular, messy, and occasionally dangerous, though not as dangerous as being a prisoner.
9 Holbrook Avenue
Rugby CV21 2QG
Cheltenham ruling and amenity societies
From Mr Peter Howell
Sir, — Andrew Brown’s comments (Press, 24 August) about the judgment by the Chancellor of Gloucester diocese, the Worshipful June Rodgers QC, in the case of St Philip and St James, Cheltenham, claims that it is “not true” that “the churches the conservationists will fight to protect are in fact aesthetically striking”.
Not only is this a ridiculous generalisation: it presupposes that Mr Brown’s opinion in such matters is superior to that of the national amenity societies.
He needs to be reminded that the ecclesiastical-exemption procedure is intended to be parallel to the listed-building system, in which the amenity societies receive grants from the Government so that they can use their expertise to comment on applications.
He adds a comment that, as a practising Roman Catholic, I find most offensive. He writes: “Still, God is not mocked. The ultimate destination of most fogeys is the Roman Catholic Church, where they must suffer through folk masses in plain red-brick barns.” This foolish jibe is unworthy of your publication.
127 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 6JX
Poor handling of issue of rural loneliness
From Canon Dan O’Connor
Sir, — I followed the 45-minute The Fix, broadcast (Radio 4) on 28 August, on rural loneliness, with particular interest. It was an utterly pathetic response to the issues, by a large assemblage of “experts” who, after wittering round the question for 40 minutes, came up with quite fatuous proposals that will surely never be implemented.
Focused on Tetbury in Gloucestershire, which has had a church for more than 1000 years, the St Mary’s Day Centre — serving people with Alzheimer’s and their carers — had a representative on the broadcast who was not allowed to get one word in; nor was there any reference to any of the other programmes that the churches provide, according to the website Tetbury Cares.
No doubt, the Church in rural Gloucestershire, as elsewhere in rural Britain, is struggling these days, but the BBC’s handling of this burning issue of loneliness had a sense and sensitivity reminiscent of the social awareness of Albania fifty years ago.
15 School Road
Balmullo, St Andrews
Fife KY16 0BA
Nagasaki and the UN’s nuclear-ban treaty
From the Rt Revd John D. Davies
Sir, — Clearly, the debate continues on whether the killing of 150,000 civilians in Hiroshima was justified by its effect in swiftly terminating the Second World War and so saving even more lives (Letters, 24 and 31 August). But can there be any justification for the second, bigger, bomb three days later?
This happened to be at Nagasaki, but the mission was so imprecise that it was left to the bomber crew themselves to choose which of several possible sites should be targeted. No wonder that President Mandela was convinced that the real target was not Japan, but the Soviet Union, a show of strength at the cost of another multitude of civilians.
It has taken more than 70 years for this kind of weapon to be declared to be illegal. But last year, the United Nations established a Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This could be a real new beginning. A majority of member-states have signed their approval of this Treaty. But Her Majesty’s Government has not yet done so.
United Nations Day is on 24 October. On that day, can we have thousands of UK citizens sending a message to our Government, urging that we join this initiative, and sign up to the Treaty?
JOHN D. DAVIES
Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG
My news moment
From the Revd Jeremy Fletcher
Sir, — Richard Watt (Features, 31 August), writing about photographing the Church Times Cricket Cup, modestly neglects to mention one of his great skills. Talking to me before the 1994 final, he said that he liked to snap the exact moment a batsman was clean bowled.
Somehow, a slow one from me went through Bruce Gillingham’s guard and hit middle stump. My first thought was to run to Richard and ask “Did you get that?” He hoped so, but it would be film in those days and he couldn’t tell.
Andrew Wingfield-Digby came in at three. He hit us to all parts of the ground and scored his century. We lost. Gloom was dispelled when I saw the Church Times report, featuring Richard’s shot of my wicket. I’m looking at the photo now. Batsman in mid shot. Ball in flight, bails in the air. Nothing better for a retired bowler to look at.
Thank you to the Church Times for the competition, and Richard for his brilliant photography. Long may both continue.
14 Church Row
London NW3 6UU
A matter of opinion
From the Revd Stephen Terry
Sir, — Pace Robert Leach (Letters, 24 August), religious belief is merely opinion. It cannot be objectively proved to be true — unlike the empirical observations available to counter those who believe in a flat earth or in alchemy. It is important that our children and young people continue to be made aware of the variety of beliefs, religious and non-religious, that give meaning and purpose to human lives.
36 Church Mead
West Sussex BN6 8BN