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Letters to the Editor

27 September 2019

Brexit and the Bishops, climate change, Judaism at GCSE, and right-to-buy


On Brexit, to whom should the Bishops be listening?

From the Revd Bob Kenway

Sir, — In his article “Are the bishops really listening to Leavers?” (Comment, 20 September), the Revd Sam Norton makes an important point about the importance of listening. He clearly doubts, however, that the bishops are listening to Leavers, and considers that their open letter published in August demonstrates this. He complains that any attempt to discern what “lies behind the vote for Brexit” is “to disparage the desire for Brexit in and of itself, and thus is an exercise of disempowerment”.

There is an inherent difficulty in “talking about the vote for Brexit” as though the 17.4-plus million votes can be characterised in such a univocal way. The same is equally true of the 16-plus million who voted Remain. In my conversations with people who voted either Leave or Remain, I’ve discovered that they did so for a wide range of reasons. Mr Norton implies that the bishops have reduced the debate to matters of economics and in saying that the Church must listen to the poor, he seems to indicate that the “Brexit vote” is essentially a working-class vote or a vote of the poor. Recent analysis from the LSE of the profile of those who voted Leave indicates that they comprised mainly what Theresa May termed “the squeezed middle”.

There is, undoubtedly, a need for national reconciliation; but reconciliation can take place only on the basis of truth-seeking. Over the past four years, we have been living through an ugly culture war of Leave and Remain presented as a zero-sum game. However Brexit pans out over the coming months, the crucial truth is that Leavers and Remainers need each other for the flourishing of this nation. And we can flourish as a nation only if we do so working alongside all other nations at a time when a real existential crisis confronts us all, i.e. the effects of climate change, etc.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury put it in this year’s annual William Temple Foundation lecture, “As Christians, we must recognise that it is not in our independence but in our interdependence that our strength and humanity is found.”

The Vicarage
4 Vicarage Close
Calne SN11 8DD

From Mr Chris Oakes-Monger

Sir, — The Revd Sam Norton says that that it is an abuse of power when a bishop says to a “normal voter that the voter does not know what he or she really wants” and that “Leavers have become accustomed to being slighted in this way, to having their understanding and integrity impugned.” But is this a fair characterisation of the situation if we listen carefully to what many Leave voters say about themselves?

Suppose that I am in conversation with a fellow traveller on the train to York, and he tells me that he has been told by people he believes to be trustworthy that this is the train for Brighton. He clearly knows where he wants to go. If I point out to him that he has been misinformed by his advisers, I am not impugning his integrity or his understanding: I am simply pointing out that he has been lied to. I do not need to discuss false consciousness or “make a window into his soul” to know that he has been misled. Nor do I need to “question his motives”. He wants to go to Brighton, and he got on the train because he was told it was going to Brighton.

I have listened carefully in many conversations with Leave voters who are in exactly this position; their decision to vote Leave was based on falsehoods. I do not disparage them in any way. If anyone deserves criticism, it is not those who have been misled, but those who have misrepresented the facts. Responsibility lies with those like the Prime Minister, whose serial dishonesty is now trumpeted by some as a virtue, and with some journalists who distort the facts for a living, and with other journalists, particularly at the BBC, who now deal with many issues as if there are no longer any objective facts — just claims and counter-claims.

It is, undoubtedly, an abuse of power to lie to people to persuade them into a course of action which you know to be against their best interest. On the other hand, tactfully pointing out that someone has been lied to, and telling them the truth, far from being an abuse of power, is potentially exactly the opposite, because the truth sets us free.

26 Blackberry Lane
Four Marks, Alton
Hampshire GU34 5BP

From the Revd Dru Brooke-Taylor

Sir, — The Revd Sam Norton, prospective Brexit Party parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean, accuses those of us who not agree with him of not really listening to Brexit voters, or to the poor, and of imputing to them reasons that are neither his nor theirs. That he condemns as “false consciousness”.

It is three and three-quarter years since the referendum. I have asked Brexit advocates repeatedly why they want Brexit. If that is the future, it is clearly their duty to persuade me to agree with them, to win me over. As yet, I have got no answer. None has even responded to the challenge, yet alone succeeded. Mr Norton is the same. He tells us that we should listen. Yet, given the opportunity to persuade us, all he can say is that we’ve got it wrong, and that “To say that there is something that ‘lies behind the vote for Brexit’ is to disparage the desire for Brexit in and of itself.”

So, whatever Mrs May meant by “Brexit means Brexit,” because that is what quite a lot of people want, they should have it. The rest of us should agree with them, irrespective of never having been told why. Anything else is, in his words, “an exercise in disempowerment”.

We are supposed to listen, not guess or, as he puts it, “impute’. What are we supposed to be listening to?

He also says, “We desperately need a theologically informed conversation about the nature of Englishness. . .”

Perhaps the reason might quite simply be that there is, and can be, no such thing as a theology of Englishness. Since the resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, does God see national identities? He may bear with them because he became incarnate. That is how human beings like to organise ourselves. There are sound pragmatic reasons for saying that subsidiarity is a good thing. What evidence is there, though, from the New Testament that God is interested in nations?

2 Oldfield Road
Bristol BS8 4QQ

From Fr Kevin Crinks CFC

Sir, — The Revd Sam Norton makes some interesting points about the statements from bishops regarding Brexit. What he fails to appreciate is that many bishops are involved in conversations with those in commerce and industry who believe that Brexit will adversely affect the livelihoods of many ordinary people. The bishops do speak from a perspective of knowledge and understanding, and seek to offer a theological critique of the situation in which our nation finds itself.

Mr Norton writes: “The Church must truly listen to the poor.” I agree; and yet it seems that, if the Brexit Party and Eurosceptic Conservatives and others have their way, it will be the poor who will be most affected by the economic downturn and job losses. The Church will then have to listen to those making increased use of foodbanks and pay-day-loan companies, about which those promoting a Leave agenda are conspicuously silent.

34 Vicarage Square
Leigh, Wigan WN7 1YD

From Dr Declan C. Murphy

Sir, — As an American, I seldom express an opinion about the internal debates of the Church of England, about which I know little. But I thought I would make an exception in the case of the Revd Sam Norton’s article on whether the British bishops are listening to Leavers.

I have often observed that the EU has become a kind of religion for the secularised in much of Europe. In Italy, for example, students who choose to forgo traditional Roman Catholic religious instruction in school can opt instead to use the time to immerse themselves in courses devoted to the idea of Europe.

If I am correct that for many adherence to the idea of Europe is a kind of religious faith, perhaps the copious research documenting why people secularise from traditional churches could offer some insight into the current disenchantment with the EU in many parts of Europe.

Some of the themes from that research would seem applicable, e.g., a hierarchy that has become too distant and disconnected from the laity; a tendency to be judgemental regarding those who dissent from particular church doctrines; irrelevance to the concerns of daily life; and general scepticism regarding notions of the transcendent.

It might be a useful exercise for bishops who fail to listen to Leavers to reflect upon their own empty churches in search of answers.

201 Burnet Street
Virginia 22902, USA

‘Brainwashing of children’ about climate change 

From Mr Jon Payne

Sir, — I wonder whether I was the only person to be appalled and horrified by Greta Thunberg’s (cover photo, 20 September) recent speech to the United Nations. The level of stress and distress that she was clearly experiencing is quite unnatural in someone of her age, nor good for any of us.

Climate change (News and Leader comment, same issue) is already being addressed by well-read, well-qualified, and experienced scientists, businesspeople, and politicians, most of whom are in agreement that our approach must change. It is changing. Behind the headlines, the work undertaken in the UK in recent years has made us practically the world leaders in mitigating the effects of climate change.

There is more to be done, but we are slow to recognise or celebrate the clear progress that has been made by the Conservative Government in recent years: days without coal-fired power; renewable electricity generation at a record high, with £52 billion invested so far; greenhouse-gas emissions reduced by 23 per cent since 2010; a commitment to “net zero” emissions within our lifetimes.

The greater threat today is the hijacking of the debate by a regressive, ultra-socialist agenda that, while it may hook into fears about climate change and stoke them, has little to do with the central issue. Those who saw Owen Jones spitting fury from the top of a London bus this week will recognise that “climate change” is no longer about progressive policies to make our world cleaner and safer, but about dragging humanity back to the Dark Ages through acts of opportunistic political hubris and malice.

The brainwashing of children; the imposition of pressure on a vulnerable young woman to become the poster girl for their movement; the ridiculous stunts whereby people glue themselves to motorways, fly drones around airports (threatening the safety of thousands of air passengers); the legitimised truanting of thousands of children — this is the darker side of environmentalism, and should be challenged.

Today’s children are tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. It is they, not we, who will make carbon capture work on an industrial scale; they who will make hydrogen power an efficient and safe reality; they who will deliver nuclear fusion in such a way it produces more energy than it requires. But only if they are in school, learning the maths, science, politics, and engineering skills required.

Greta Thunberg and her young supporters should be applauded for caring about climate change. But caring is not enough. Action is what is required — something that neither she nor her contemporaries are yet truly able to offer. Meanwhile, an issue that should concern us all, regardless of party politics or allegiances, is increasingly being manipulated as the next student-protest cause célèbre, which, ironically, currently seems to be producing more hot air than light.

It is through dialogue, diplomacy, and persuasion these problems will be solved, not through fury, civil unrest, and class envy.

5 Suffolk Road
Norfolk NR26 8HL

From Mr Geoffrey Locke

Sir, — Was it mere coincidence that in your list of “New titles just published” (Books, 20 September) This?: How Christians respond to climate change was followed by An Introduction to the Desert Fathers?

Narnia II, 88 Ravenscliffe Road
Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent
Staffordshire ST7 4HX

Judaism without stories made for GCSE disaster 

From April Alexander

Sir, — It was interesting to see that numbers continue to decline in candidates for Religious Studies at GCSE level (News, 30 August), and several reasons are offered.

I have another reason to advance, and that is that the subject is unutterably boring and very difficult for 15-year-olds. I have had the opportunity in recent weeks to look at the work involved, with a candidate for 2020. This candidate did exceptionally well in History and very well in English, and so is more than capable in the humanities; but the result in RS was little short of disastrous. The topic was Judaism.

The textbook dealt in concepts and ideas, as well as accounts of services and traditions, but where were the stories? There were a few (very few) quotations from the Old Testament, and they were extremely short. My young friend, however, had not even grasped that these references were to the Old Testament, and that this is part of the Holy Bible as seen and heard in church over many years. There had been no tuition in looking up the few references to the Bible which occur in the textbook. No one had explained that there were cracking good stories in the OT, or that the Jews’ stories were our stories, too.

There were a few topics for discussion, but those that were offered would have been much enhanced if the background to them consisted of the stories, the prophets, the psalms, and what we could learn from them. Work on the services, festivals, and rituals would be massively more accessible to a teenager if that teenager could see how the ancient texts were reflected in them. The fact that those texts are so readily to hand makes it all the more frustrating.

When those ancient texts are replaced entirely by a textbook, pretty well all is lost, as far as I can see. What a wasted opportunity! I cannot see younger siblings and their friends entertaining the idea of doing RS at GCSE, and the number of entries will be further reduced.

General Synod member
59 High Street
Redhill RH1 4PB

If St Paul didn’t write the epistles, why remain a Christian? 

From Dr Henk Carpentier Alting

Sir, — Canon Rachel Mann (Comment, 30 August) asks: “What happens to the authority of St Paul’s Letters to Timothy, for example, when we accept that he didn’t write them?” This question is part of her wider point on “being properly honest about the Bible’s complexity and contradictions”, and the consequent effect on preaching and teaching.

St Paul was aware that writings were being falsely attributed to him, and more pseudepigrapha circulated later; so, unsurprisingly, the Early Church was careful about what it accepted as authoritative. It accepted the Pauline authorship of all 13 epistles, including all the pastorals, but, if we now know better, I conclude that the Church was deceived and the writers were lying. For example, if some advanced their agenda on church government in the pastorals by using St Paul’s name as more persuasive than their own, that is deceit.

Given the success of this subterfuge, I would next question other matters, such as the nature miracles, the ascension, and the Virgin birth. Was the Church deceived with these? Then comes the resurrection, where the event as historical is also disputed, with the historical confined to the faith of the disciples.

I go no further, since, instead of hearing the followers of Jesus, who declares himself to be the truth, I would find a vindication of Pilate’s words “What is truth?” His words resonate with our post-modern world, in which Canon Mann wants to help more people live their Christian faith. For myself, I would leave the Christian faith with anger, having been deceived for the past 50 or so years.

If Canon Mann accepts that St Paul didn’t write these letters, why does she still teach and preach? By all means, disabuse a congregation of their “childish take on the Bible”, but where is the “proper honesty” in building faith and hope on what we now know are lies? Or is altering our understanding of scripture an essential precursor to establishing other agendas in the Church?

30 Buckingham Road West
Heaton Moor
Stockport SK4 4BA

Fears for rental income if right-to-buy policy is realised 

From the Revd Philip Robinson

Sir, — In 2006, I was ordained deacon, and, after a three-year non-stipendiary curacy, I accepted the offer of a house-for-duty post in a rural parish. My wife and I decided against selling our home in favour of renting it out through an agency.

Our intention was that when we decided to retire we could either move back into our home or sell it to fund the purchase of another property. In December 2015, I was licensed as Priest-in-Charge to a further two adjoining parishes and became part-stipendiary, but the rental income from our home continues to subsidise our ministry.

I now understand that the Labour Party has announced, among other measures, that, if returned to government, it proposes to give tenants in privately owned property the right to purchase that property at a discount. If that were to happen, my wife and I would not only lose lose our home, but find ourselves severely disadvantaged in our ability to purchase another.

I suspect that many other clergy may find themselves in the same position, victims of the collateral damage of a worthy intention to re-balance wealth in this country.

The Vicarage, Rostherne Lane
Rostherne Village
Knutsford WA16 6RZ

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