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Letters to the Editor

22 March 2019

Religion in BBC hands, New Zealand, and the appetite for theological debate



Religion in BBC hands

From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, — David Ensor (Letters, 15 March) may well be happy to time-shift Songs of Praise. Its new home on the periphery of the BBC 1 schedule, however, not only removes it from the consciousness of the less committed viewer, but also reflects a disturbing mindset, in relation to religion, among those in power at the BBC.

As a former Head of BBC Religious Broadcasting, the Revd Ernie Rea, once put it, “Media culture can be so anti-religious that it takes a brave media person to reveal his or her true beliefs” (Manchester, 3 November 1999).

Mr Rea had employed adventurous producers who moved Songs of Praise to new creative heights; on occasion, it became event television, with audiences to match. The programme is now produced independently on a minimal budget. What’s more, there is no longer an in-house BBC Television religious department and, therefore, no Head to fight the corner.

It is reported that the BBC’s Director of Strategy and Digital and former Labour Cabinet minister, James Purnell, is seeking to remove resources from Radio 4 in his desire to promote podcasts and BBC Sounds to attract a younger audience. He describes himself as “the disrupter” and is seeking 50 redundancies from within BBC Radio.

It was encouraging that a single question asked in the General Synod about Songs of Praise generated so much mainstream press interest. Those with influence in the Churches, however, may soon need to defend that last bastion of what remains of religious broadcasting in this country: Radio 4.

Woodside, Great Corby
Carlisle CA4 8LL

From Cllr Kate Smith

Sir, — Philip Johanson (Letters, 8 March) makes good points about the poor choice of broadcast time for Songs of Praise; the BBC seems to have swapped one set of unsatisfactory factors (constant buffeting at the mercy of sports events, equally persistent changes of channel) for another: lunchtimes, especially for the housebound. A pity, since the quality of the programme has improved over the past year or so.

I would add that it isn’t only elderly people who can’t make it to church who may like to watch; we regularly attend two services on a Sunday as choristers, getting home just before 1300 and leaving for evensong around 1700. The 1315 or 1305 recent timings mean that we have to delay our lunch or miss the programme. A 1530 or 1600 timing would not only suit us better: it would also improve the viewing chances of those elderly people who take a nap after their midday meal.

Most importantly of all, it is not only your readers who need to hear these points; the BBC schedulers should take heed of them too. Mass contribution to Points of View, anyone?

1 Hillcrest, Crich
Derbyshire DE4 5DH


Future of the Anglican Consultative Council

From the Ven. John Barton

Sir, — The Revd Dr Jesse Zink’s fear that the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is being marginalised (Comment, 15 March) is understandable.

He belongs to the Anglican Church of Canada, which leans towards a congregational form of government and defines three orders of ministry as Bishops, Clergy, and Laity. The Primate is elected by the General Synod and becomes its Chief Executive, as well as President. So, the ACC, which comprises laity as well as bishops and other clergy, feels more like home to Canadians than the other Instruments of Communion located in the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Primates’ Meeting, and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Although Provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, they tend to adopt the (secular) form of government which is best known to them, ranging from autocracy to democracy. Small wonder that, when Anglicans from around the world meet each other, underlying tectonic plates threaten upheaval. The definition of what makes an Anglican Church, which has been a work in progress for more than a century, now needs urgent scrutiny.

7 The Spires
Canterbury CT2 8SD


Not suffering the children who came to protest  

From the Revd Professor Timothy Gorringe

Sir, — Last Friday, 300 to 400 children gathered outside Exeter Cathedral, in what is known in the city as “the Beach”, to protest against government inaction on climate change. The gates of the cathedral were ostentatiously locked, and a policeman stood guard, presumably to prevent any attempt to force an entry.

What an appalling witness to the gospel! It says, in the most outright terms, first, that the Church of England is unconcerned about climate change; second, that it does not welcome the presence of young people.

Mind you, this is the cathedral that closed the peace chapel and turned it into a chapel for the Marines; so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. A building for the upper-middle class to come to on Sundays, when there is no chance of intrusion by riff raff, and sing praises to the god of the status quo.

A study by the University of London last year noted that at present rates of decline the Church of England would be extinct by 2033. If this is what it stands for, and how it conducts itself, this is not a moment too soon.

Venbridge House
Cheriton Bishop
Devon EX6 6HD


New Zealand and the challenge of the outsider

From Mrs Mary P. Roe

Sir, — The people of New Zealand are expressing their genuine horror at the killing of Muslim citizens attending Friday prayers in their mosque, and we all share their dismay and send our sympathy.

Many of them have explained that until now, they have felt themselves to be at some distance from the threat of terror, from either Islamist or right-wing extremists, and that such actions are, therefore, hitherto unknown there.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, I believe. It is actually one more manifestation of the effect of a threat or perceived threat from outside. Almost a century ago, my parents lived in Dunedin, South Island, and my mother was warned not to go out on a particular day (I forget which day she said it was, but it was some British festival such as Empire Day, which was still celebrated with pageants and a holiday when I was in primary school).

She did pop out very briefly, and saw a lot of shops being boarded up with solid shutters and iron bars. When she asked her friends what was happening, she was told that all the shopkeepers of Oriental origin would need to barricade themselves in, or they and their shops would be attacked by their patriotic neighbours “to discourage the ‘yellow peril’ from coming into the country and trying to colonise it for China”.

When she went out on the following day, she saw a Chinese shopkeeper sitting on the threshold of his demolished shop. Everything breakable had been smashed, including the shop window, and all his stock had been looted. The man was in tears, as he was now destitute. When my mother said that she supposed that he would be insured, she was told that no insurance company would touch the property of an Oriental.

At that time, the people of New Zealand perceived a threat from the East and responded to that fear in an all-too-human way. I think we shall rise above this primary gut reaction to fear only when we heed our Lord’s teaching that “perfect love casts out fear,” and regard loving one’s neighbour as oneself as the hallmark of anyone, regular churchgoer or not, who claims to be a Christian.

1 The North Lodge, Kings End
Bicester OX26 6NT


The Church and heterosexual civil partnerships 

From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, — Once the legislation to extend the law on civil partnerships to include heterosexual couples, which has passed through all its parliamentary stages, receives royal assent, will we be allowed to hold such heterosexual civil-partnership ceremonies in church, or at least be allowed to bless them?

And, if we are to be allowed either to hold or bless them, what theological hoops will I need to jump through, and which ecclesiological cartwheels will I have to turn, to explain in pastoral situations the Church of England’s institutional prejudice against LGBTQI+ people when I turn down, as I am required to do, their requests to be similarly supported in their human flourishing, made in the image of God and seeking to live that out in faithful, loving, and committed covenant relationships?

The Vicarage, Goosnargh Lane
Goosnargh, Lancashire PR3 2BN


‘Huge popular appetite’ for theological debate 

From Mr A. C. Porter

Sir, — Rosie Dawson’s piece on the Revd Don Cupitt (Features, 15 March) took me back to a packed Great St Mary’s in 1977, when he was debating The Myth of God Incarnate with the Revd Dr Brian Hebblethwaite, one of the contributors to The Truth of God Incarnate, Michael Green’s riposte to John Hick.

At one point, Mr Cupitt said that Jesus never claimed to be God. I was squeezed into the gallery, and from the nave a voice rang out: “What about Mark 14.62?” The cry was taken up by other voices, “Yes, what about Mark 14.62?”

Mr Cupitt responded with phrases like “variant texts” and “issues of translation”, but there was no doubt that it was a body blow in the debate. “The huge popular appetite” for theological debate which Ms Dawson records was never more clearly shown, nor the issue between liberal and orthodox theology.

21 Saddington Road, Fleckney
Leicestershire LE8 8AX


Discipline for prisoners? 

From Felicity Cawthra

Sir, — I have visited a prison chapel, monthly on a Sunday, with a group, for more than a decade, going to two services and taking prayer requests from prisoners. A magistrate friend of mine told me that it was very rare for anyone to come before the Bench who had not had a horrific childhood.

Many prisoners are inadequate, insecure, have low self-esteem, and can be rather pathetic. Some can’t read. They are not remotely like recruits for the SAS. Short-term prison sentences achieve nothing, because, given their problems, time is too short, and, given the financial cuts, there is a shortage of staff and resources, and there is chronic overcrowding.

Smoking is now banned in prisons, but drugs are plentiful: some are sent in sprayed on letters, or in cakes; and mobile phones are easily supplied, some by drones, some prisoners hide them up their backsides. I was informed one Sunday that, the day before, prisoners were making alcohol using Marmite and orange juice. Supervision is costly.

The Revd Stephen Collier (Letters, 8 March) was unfair to Canon Angela Tilby. In her column (Comment, 1 March) about discipline, she did not mention prisons, but referred only to the army and the SAS. I suggest that he might like to contact a prison chaplain in his area and ask to visit a prison.

Address supplied


The talk about a personal relationship with Jesus 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The Revd Andrew Hunt comments (Letters, 15 March) that “If I remember rightly, the only people about whom it can be reliably said that they had ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ are his mother and father, Mary and Joseph, his brothers (and sisters?), his cousins, the disciples, and a few other people.” Unfortunately, his memory lets him down.

In Matthew 12.48-50, Jesus responds to a request from his earthly family: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” This is no mere rhetorical device: it is a major theological move to reconfigure kinship identity away from ethnic identifiers and around discipleship following Jesus. The ultimate result of that is the gentile mission, but it also puts relationship at the heart of what it means to call oneself a “Christian”.

This move is reflected in the description of Jesus’s disciples as those who are to be “with him” in relationship (Mark 3.14), and the consistent extension of this beyond the Twelve to all who profess faith. It is reflected in the New Testament language of “believing”, which always includes the notion of personal trust in another, and not mere assent to doctrine (though it includes that). It finds articulation in the remarkable affective language in Paul of the “love of God poured into our hearts” (Romans 5.5) and the disciple’s cry to God as “Abba, Father” (Romans 8.15).

It finds expression in the central rite of holy communion, which has its origins in the table fellowship of Jesus with his friends. And its clearest theological exposition is in St Paul’s central metaphor for the work of God in Christ of “reconciliation”, meaning the turning of enemies into friends (phraseology found in some English translations).

Christian faith might include much more besides “personal relationship” with Jesus— but it cannot be anything less than that.

102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB


Fund for abuse victims 

From Mr Andrew Graystone
Sir, — Manchester City FC has set up a fund to provide support to victims of sexual abuse at the club. Meanwhile, the Church fights every victim tooth and nail to avoid taking responsibility and minimise reparations. The contrast is stark. It is a matter of shame that the House of Bishops has ceded moral leadership in this matter to a Premier League football club.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

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