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Letters to the Editor

29 November 2019

Empty chair at Churches Together, facts for the housing commission to consider, and domestic abuse


Empty chair at Churches Together

From Jayne Ozanne

Sir, — My foundation’s trustees and I write to express our deep concern about the decision, taken, we understand, back in September, to block the appointment of Hannah Brock Womack as the fourth President of Churches Together in England because she is in a same-sex marriage (News, 22 November).

Quite apart from the obvious impact that this decision must have on Mrs Womack, her wife, and those who she was appointed to represent, the decision has major reverberations on our ecumenical understanding of and commitment to “good disagreement”.

Throughout our own “shared conversations” within the Church of England, we have constantly been urged to respect the integrity of those with whom we disagree. To now ban certain people from the table, so silencing their voice and negating the validity of their faith, is a draconian move that should concern us all.

The Archbishops in their Advent Election message have pleaded with us all to “leave our echo chambers and make a conscious effort to listen to people and ideas we disagree with” (News, same issue). It would be good if all those involved in this painful business would put this excellent advice into practice.

Director, Ozanne Foundation
1 The Sanctuary
London SW1P 3JT

From Canon Priscilla White

Sir, — I write in huge disappointment to respond to the news that the fourth Presidency of Churches Together in England (CTE) is to be an empty chair, owing to the nominee’s being in a same-sex marriage.

Your report quotes CTE as saying that there continues to be a lack of agreement regarding human sexuality, and that the empty chair represents “the reality that this dimension of the churches’ pilgrimage together is not yet complete”.

Why do the member Churches of CTE feel that this issue merits an empty-chair approach when we disagree on so many other issues? Our pilgrimage together is not complete, nor anywhere near it on sacraments, on the position of women, and on the nature of the Church, to name but a few.

The fourth-chair group duly appointed Ms Brock Womack as their representative, and this should be respected. They are being asked to show “restraint”; but those who are in opposition to the appointment are not being required to show restraint and respect in return. I weep for us all.

St Faith and St Laurence Vicarage
115 Balden Road
Harborne B32 2EL

From Mr Phil Gardner

Sir, — I was sad to read that Churches Together in England has blocked Hannah Brock Womack from taking up her co-presidency of CTE because she is married to another woman. CTE’s statement adds confusion to this by referring to “Hannah’s recent equal marriage”.

“Equal marriage” doesn’t mean “same-sex marriage”: it means the state of affairs when all marriages are recognised and treated as equal. It doesn’t apply to a particular marriage.

I hope and pray for the day when all the Churches will come to accept and, indeed, celebrate all marriages without distinction, as some already do. May it come soon.

1 Gledhow Park Grove
Leeds LS7 4JW

Facts for the housing commission to consider 

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — I hope that the theological work of the Archbishop’s Commission on Housing, the Church and Community will take a comprehensive view of universal human needs and of the actions of governments to deprive the poorest citizens of them.

Does social housing pay, the Commission asks (News, 8 November). The answer would be yes if statutory minimum incomes were high enough and housing benefit actually covered the social-housing rents; but that is no longer the case. Working with the late and much lamented Professor Peter Ambrose on the 2005 Z2K Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housing, we held that land existed for the common good to provide a just share of shelter. food, fuel, and clothes for all. We went on to define affordable housing: after rent, income, and council taxes had been paid, the remaining amount must be enough to sustain the health and well-being of the tenant or mortgagee.

That is not currently possible for single adults being moved from Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) to Universal Credit (UC). The outgoing single adult JSA of £73.10 a week equates to the incoming UC of £317 a month. It has been losing value since 1979; increases were frozen at one per cent from 2011 to 2015, and then totally frozen. It is required to pay a proportion of the council tax, because council-tax benefit has been cut by 277 out of 326 English councils; and rent, because of the cuts in housing benefit brought about by the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, and the local housing allowance.

When a benefit sanction stops JSA or UC, for up to three months, debts cannot be paid, which leads to threats of eviction for rent arrears from landlords and of prison for council-tax arrears. Diminishing incomes and ever rising rents are a toxic mixture. Hunger and homelessness are inevitable and rising. The Church’s commitment to working with and for the poorest people requires a well-directed prophetic statement from the Commission about these serial abuses of power by British governments.

Taxpayers Against Poverty, partnered with Compassion in Politics
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

Domestic abuse: call for unblinkered awareness 

From Canon Doug Chaplin

Sir, — Your article (Features, 22 November) on domestic abuse is a useful contribution to raising awareness of this as a problem within the Church, as within every sector of society.

All the examples in the article, however, were of men abusing women, and that within marriages and partnerships. All the voices heard in the article are female ones.

This compounds the problems caused by the Church of England’s basing its own training package on material provided by a charity that works only with female victims of domestic abuse. While it is true that women are more likely to suffer domestic abuse, and that it is more likely to be severe, the picture that your article gives is too one-sided.

The ONS’s figures for the year ending in March 2018 estimate that there were 1.3 million female victims and 695,000 male victims in that year. Very roughly, this equates to one male victim for every two female victims. Nearly 700,000 male victims is too large a number simply to be airbrushed from the picture.

We also need to bear in mind that a growing number of reported incidents of domestic abuse come from same-sex relationships. That rising number almost certainly corresponds to the acceptability of same-sex partnerships and marriages, and LGBT+ people’s newfound trust in the police.

It is not just that men, straight and gay, as well as lesbians are missing from your article, but that adult parental and filial abuse, along with other family settings, are also missing. Any relationship can be dysfunctional, controlling, and coercive.

Yes, male abuse of women needs particular attention for the scale of the issue and the severity of violence often involved. None the less, if we are truly going to address the issue, we need to be alert to a much more complex picture. We must keep our eyes and ears open for the many others who may struggle to get the support that they need, because it is less expected or acceptable for them to admit they, too, are victims.

Diocesan Office
The Old Palace, Deansway
Worcester WR1 2JE

Accord Coalition’s position on faith schools 

From the Revd Stephen Terry

Sir, — The Revd Nigel Genders misrepresents the Accord Coalition’s position on faith schools (News, 22 November). We are not, and never have been, against such schools.

We campaign for a system of admission to all schools which is open and inclusive of all, regardless of belief or cultural heritage. Faith schools currently enjoy a privileged position in this respect which is both unfair and outdated.

We also argue for education about religion and belief in all schools which is non-prescriptive and recognises the diversity of views in modern Britain. Interestingly, so does the Commission on Religious Education, chaired by the former Dean of Westminster, which reported recently.

If Mr Genders thinks that our approach supports “an ideologically driven prejudice against church schools”, then we are happy to plead guilty as charged.

Chair, The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
36 Church Mead
Keymer, Hassocks
West Sussex BN6 8BN

Discord over review

From the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold

Sir, — Having read the review of my book Music and Faith: Conversations in a post-secular age (Books, 22 November), I was rather surprised to find the extent to which the reviewer had misrepresented both the argument and large amounts of the content of the book as whole.

I welcome constructive criticism, but I wish the reviewer had criticised the book that I wrote. I can only hope that Church Times readers will not be deterred from reading the book for themselves and reaching their own conclusions.

Director of Communities and Partnerships, Diocese of Canterbury
The Old Palace, The Precincts
Canterbury CT1 2EE

Crematorium and car 

From Mr Michael Gear

Sir, — Further to the letters (22 November) about the PCC’s no longer receiving any fee for cremations: who is going to reimburse the parish when it pays the incumbent’s car mileage? In rural parishes, the crematorium can be many miles away, with a round trip of 50 miles or more.

The answer seems to be that the parish charges it to the diocesan board of finance by deducting it from the parish share. All this will make it more time-consuming for the incumbent, splitting car-mileage claims between the purposes of a journey. Let the Church take pity on PCC treasurers: they have a hard-enough job already.

Crosslands, Hatherton
Nantwich CW5 7QY

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