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Synod debates homelessness, discrimination of travelling communities, and the environment

01 March 2019

Several social-issue motions were carried by the Synod last week

SEVERAL social-issue motions were passed by the General Synod last week, including a call for a Church of England-led task force on homelessness, and one denouncing discrimination and racism against Roma, Gypsy, and Traveller communities in the UK.

The Synod also passed a motion to continue developing the Church’s environmental programmes, and voted overwhelmingly to call on the Government to reduce the “quantity and persuasiveness” of gambling advertising.

On Thursday of last week, a private member’s motion from Andrew Gray (Norwich) sought to “establish a task force to scale up and co-ordinate the Church’s own efforts in tandem with those of major homeless agencies to provide better support for the homeless” (Comment, 15 February). It was carried by 395 to one.

Introducing his motion, Mr Gray said that homelessness had risen by 163 per cent since 2010, and that there were 236,000 homeless people in the UK who were living on the streets or in temporary accommodation. “It is easy to become angry with the failures of politics,” he said. “But we must avoid any temptation to apportion blame.

“That is how secular politics works: it is a recipe for a repetitive, poisonous narrative. We are not an echo chamber for Westminster. We are representatives of Christ’s Kingdom, and we must lead by example.”

Speaking in support, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said that he shared his home with an elderly cat, and that, should anything happen to him, his cat would be looked after better than someone who was homeless. Homelessness had become a “desparing norm” in society.

On Saturday, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told the Synod that it was a “blasphemy” against Christ to tolerate racism and discrimination against the Roma, Gypsy, and Traveller communities in the UK.

His motion, committing the Church and its leaders to combating racism towards Travelling communities, to ministering to them, and to lobbying local authorities for more land to be made available for them, was carried almost unanimously by the Synod. Only one member out of 266 on the floor voted against.

Racism against Roma, Gypsy, and Traveller communities was still common, and — “tragically and perversely” — often tolerated, Bishop Cottrell said.

During the debate, Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) spoke of discrimination and prejudice against the Roma community as being “the last acceptable part of racism”. This had allowed the media to demonise Travellers, she said. The community well understood the “terrifying trajectory” of racism, having experienced it brutally during the Holocaust, especially on the “night of the Gypsies” at Auschwitz.

Also on Saturday, the Synod carried a motion opposing gambling advertising moved by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith.

The “huge social change” in the gambling industry in the past 15 years had crept in largely unnoticed, Dr Smith said. Gambling advertising, unlike tobacco advertising, was not previously permitted.

Today, he said, 55,000 children were so-called problem gamblers: more children gambled than drank alcohol, smoked, or took drugs.

The motion on climate change which was carried on Friday was from the London diocesan synod. In a maiden speech, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, asked: “Who are the prophets of our age sounding the clearest warning? It is not the Church: it is the schoolchildren protesting on the street. . . I do not want to patronise or chide them: I am 100 per cent with them.”

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, said: “At the moment, the world remains on course for catastrophic climate change. . . There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.” She spoke of the Synod’s request, in July, for the Commissioners to “get on with the job of persuading companies to do more”, and reported that they had “moved Shell, BP, Exxon, Glencore”.

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