Letters to the Editor

by
06 September 2019

Archbishop’s Indian visit, Call for sexual reformation, and the Dean of Christ Church

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Kashmiri friends and Archbishop’s Indian visit

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting India (News, 31 July) at a time there, as here, of immense change and concern.

I write as former Principal of the Biscoe School in Srinagar. During much of our quarter-century as CMS mission partners there, I was also Hon. Consul for Kashmir to the UK High Commission in New Delhi. From 1980 to 1986, I was secretary of the Amritsar Diocesan Council of the Church of North India (CNI).

My wife and I keep in regular touch both with old students, mainly Muslim, and also with the Church in Kashmir and with CNI.

Its synodical General Secretary, Alwan Masih, was sent as a teacher to our school by our Bishop of Amritsar at that time. The Most Revd Anand Chandu Lal told me to “take him up a few mountains and throw him in the Dal Lake”, as leadership training for a bright lad from a poor Punjabi family. The Bishop then removed him and sent him to Germany for youth-work training.

We next met Alwan as a very senior civil servant while we were staying in the Delhi Brotherhood in 2005. His minister in the first BJP government had said to him: “Your religion is no concern of mine. I have heard you are strictly honest; you will report direct to me.” On a later visit in 2012, we had the privilege of staying with Alwan and Nina in their modest home, a flat in CNI Bhavan, New Delhi. Surely he will have found work for a Church scattered across the immense distances from Amritsar to Assam no less testing than government service.

We also had the joy of staying with Bishop Samantaroy, the present Moderator of CNI, besides continuing in Amritsar diocese. He is a Baptist from Orissa, whereas his predecessor was an Anglican. In India, denomination is not only irrelevant: it is a clear offence to the gospel. Lesslie Newbigin writes, in his Unfinished Agenda, on the consecration service at the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947, Catholic and Evangelical together, “the tide of the Spirit just rose and blotted out the old boundaries.”

Kashmir! Our well-travelled Archbishop will be unable to meet people, political leadership, or Church, there. As I hear from close family in England, Farooq Abdullah, a Congress MP and former Minister, and his son Umar, the former Kashmir Chief Minister, are, like everyone else in Srinagar, unable even to telephone for a whole month.

A popular Prime Minister in Delhi rides the crest of wide public acclaim. Familiar? But there, too, the Church of Christ, in some situations hidden from view, grows. The internet, for good as for ill, knows few boundaries.

For some of this, see my Twenty Five Years in Kashmir, to be published in the UK next month.

JOHN RAY
2 Birchfield, Hook
Goole DN14 5NJ

 

Call for sexual reformation is a prosperity gospel 

From the Revd David Baker

Sir, — The Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber’s call for a sexual reformation (Features, 30 August) may be sincere and spring from a moving personal back story, but, tragically, it is simply another form of the prosperity gospel. This time what is on offer is prosperity in the sexual rather than financial sphere.

In her book Shameless, she calls for all people to experience “the fullness of their erotic selves”; but this is not something that I can see promised anywhere in the New Testament. To offer it is to set people up for as much disappointment and disillusion as any other culturally corrupted form of Christianity, however alluring in our current Zeitgeist it might seem.

DAVID BAKER
The Rectory, Gilberts Drive
East Dean, Eastbourne
East Sussex BN20 0DL

 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber has struck a ringing chord in her rejection of “purity” legalism as an approach to sexuality. But it is not at all clear that her sexual prosperity gospel is offering a better alternative.

One of the goals of the Church of England is to form and make disciples of Jesus Christ, and ‘Christians’ are committed to following in the steps of one who fully enjoyed the fulness of his bodily life — yet without sex. In all our debates about sexuality, we still find it difficult to understand thism let alone follow his example, and so struggle to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”.

Ms Bolz-Weber’s approach is the theological equivalent of running into a china shop and smashing everything up because we dislike the designs we have found there. Her popularity is not a solution to the poverty of our theological thinking in this area: it is a symptom of it.

IAN PAUL
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

 

Future of Christ Church, Oxford, and its Dean 

From the Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Sir, — The decision of the Smith tribunal to reject all the complaints against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy (News, 30 August), is a very welcome outcome to what has obviously been a long period of personal anxiety and stress for Dr Percy and his family. His friends and supporters rightly will breathe a sigh of relief, and wish him well as he takes up active duties again.

Dr Percy has, characteristically, observed a dignified silence on the matter. But there have already been some voices on social media calling for more information or for some sort of retribution. I can only offer a personal view from a partly similar position, but I should have thought that what was needed at this time was space for the college and cathedral to consider the implications of the tribunal, without the external criticism and rancour that it might be tempting to launch from a distance.

Any self-governing institution would be wary of comment from those outside who cannot possibly know all its internal complexities. Those complexities will, I am sure, be very much uppermost in the Dean’s mind in the months to come, and no one is better placed to appreciate them than he is.

A head of house is not a CEO, but a chair and servant of the governing body, elected or appointed by it, and accountable to it. College governance requires negotiation, and frequently the reconciliation of strongly opposed opinions. Little can be achieved without a high degree of consensus.

It’s likely that many relationships at Christ Church have been strained and fractured. Now there must surely be a time of internal reflection as both college and cathedral consider what lessons are to be learnt from this episode and how things can move forward constructively.

JEREMY MORRIS
Trinity Hall
Cambridge CB2 1TJ

 

Brexit ‘whingeing’ and expectations of 31 October

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — It is encouraging that the Archbishop of Canterbury has now proposed that all should accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum, irrespective of how they voted. It would be even more encouraging if the Archbishop of York and other bishops were to support him in this.

I understand the bishops’ concern that leaving the EU without a deal will impact most directly on the poor in their dioceses. They might reflect, however, that there are poor people in developing counties who are permanently disadvantaged by the EU’s Custom Union and Single Market.

Tariffs are placed on their products to render them uncompetitive, and the cost of meeting the regulatory requirements of the Single Market again disadvantages them. The net result is that their poor are denied a market for their goods, while closer to home those who are the focus of the bishops’ concern have to pay artificially inflated prices. This is not an economic arrangement that should commend itself to those with a concern for justice and the relief of poverty.

MICHAEL CAVAGHAN-PACK
The Manor House, Thurloxton
Taunton TA2 8RH

 

From the Revd Paul Hunt

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury’s plea to those of us who wish to remain the European Union (now a majority, if the opinion polls are correct) to “stop whingeing” is sadly misjudged.

Archbishop Welby has previously called on politicians to “tone down their language” and move to reconciliation (Andrew Marr Show, December 2018). The Church of England website currently advertises the Archbishop’s new course entitled — wait for it — “Reconciliation”, about which he writes: “Reconciliation is not to be the ending of all difference but the transformation of how we deal with difference.”

I fear the Archbishop has failed his own course.

PAUL HUNT
Flat 3, 49 West Hill Road
St Leonards-on-Sea
East Sussex TN38 0NA

 

From Mr William Gale

Sir, — Your coverage of the reaction to the prorogation of Parliament (News, 30 August) gave plenty of space to the gloomy reaction of a number of the bishops and mostly opposition voices. Despite the clear majority in the referendum, and the overwhelming vote to invoke Article 50, MPs have endlessly debated Brexit without coming to a conclusion. Yet the decisive action of the Prime Minister in limiting the ability to go on debating and delaying Brexit is derided by the bishops as “cavalier” and “perverse”.

The prize for hostility, however, goes to your puzzling choice of Professor Danny Dorling, not known for his constitutional expertise. But he has plenty of bile for the PM. It is shameful that such arrogance, malice, and, worst of all, contempt for the memory of John Profumo is reported at length in your newspaper.

Those of us who voted “Leave” voted for freedom from Brussels-imposed regulations, trade restrictions, and much more, and to leave a European Union led by its unelected and over-mighty Commission. We do not know our MEPs, and they have little influence. We voted to be governed by those we know, who are accessible, and whom we elect, rightly or wrongly, to do what they say they will do if they form a majority in the House of Commons.

We expect now to leave on 31 October either with a deal acceptable to Parliament or without a deal if necessary. The UK Government will then have fulfilled the electorate’s mandate, for which I and perhaps many others who do not often find a voice in the Church Times will be profoundly thankful.

WILLIAM GALE
19 Albatross Gardens
South Croydon CR2 8QW

 

Marriage registration and church wedding fees 

From the Revd Stephen Buckman

Sir, — All three letters (30 August) seem to miss the point in their own ways.

The cost of church weddings is statutory, and the local church has no discretion over the basic cost. I do appreciate that additional charges are made for the optional extras, however, I know of no church that adds a surcharge because it is a “pretty rural church”.

As for the plight of impoverished Christian couples — a PCC can choose to waive its own element of the statutory fee, but it has no right to take the same course of action in respect of the fee due to the diocese. In some cases of extreme need, however, I have known the finance departments of two dioceses to forgo their own fees in respect of both marriages and funerals.

Regarding the new procedures for marriage registration, I am concerned that none of the most important issues are being addressed. How will the integrity of the marriage document be assured? Handing over the document and all responsibility for it leaves no check in place against fraudulent alteration. How will the registration service deal with the inevitable loss and/or damage of such documents? There has been no mention of the advisability (or legality) of keeping a second copy until the registration process is satisfactorily completed.

Will there be a two-tier system that provides an “immediate” marriage certificate at civil marriages or at marriages conducted with a registrar in attendance? If this proves to be the case, there will be many couples who will be forced into ruling out a church wedding because their “honeymoon deals” demand the production of a marriage certificate as proof that their discounts are legitimate.

Within which registration district is the registration to take place? Marriage ministry is flourishing in my benefice, but many of the young couples I marry do not live locally. Thanks to earlier changes in marriage law, many young couples travel considerable distances to be married in the places where they grew up. Unless some form of declaration process is put in place, as has long been the case with the registration of births and deaths, such a restriction could present yet another serious obstacle to a church wedding.

Finally, I note that press coverage has described the changes to marriage registration as “proposed”. At a recent meeting, it was made clear by a senior member of the Archbishops’ staff that these procedures would be coming into force on 2 December 2019, and that there was very little chance that that date would be changed. How will clergy be prepared for these new procedures in time, and how will couples be informed of this extra burden that is being laid on their shoulders?

STEPHEN BUCKMAN
14 Mussons Close, Corby Glen
Lincolnshire NG33 4NY

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