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Letters to the Editor

17 January 2020

Ethics of drone warfare, religious freedom, closing colleges, and the Primates’ Meeting


US Middle East policy and the ethics of drone warfare

From Canon Alan Billings

Sir, — I usually find Paul Vallely persuasive, but when he writes that President Donald Trump’s Middle Eastern policy is “incoherent” and without a clear strategy (Comment, 10 January), I am not sure that he is right.

There is an overarching strategy, despite some curious twists and turns. The President has iterated it often enough. It goes like this.

In foreign policy generally, the overarching aim is always to do what is in the best interests of the United States (“America first”) — even if that means on occasion showing little concern for the opinion, or even interests, of an ally.

Then there are four priorities for Iran and the Middle East. First, Iran must be denied nuclear weapons — which is why the President walked away from the Obama deal (JCPOA), which delayed but would not have stopped Iran’s ambition.

Second, Iran must be prevented from extending its influence in other states and conducting terrorist activities there or from there — hence the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind of such activity, and the imposition of further sanctions.

The third aim is to support Israel, which was also opposed to the JCPOA; and the fourth is to support those Iranians who want to see a democratic state rather than a theocracy in Iran.

The carefully targeted strike against Soleimani — no Iraqis were killed — took Iran and Europe by surprise, but left no one in any doubt that the Trump administration will pursue these priorities.

As I write this, Iraqis are protesting against Iranian influence in their country, and Iranians are protesting against the Supreme Ruler. The strategy is working.

43 Northfield Court
Sheffield S10 1QR


From the Revd Dr David L. Gosling

Sir, — Your correspondent Dr P. W. L. Clough raised important questions about the use of armed drones, after the assassination of General Qasam Soleimani in Iraq (Letters, 10 January).

Shortly after my arrival some years ago to work in the North-West Frontier region of Pakistan, a visit by the Prince of Wales had to be called off on account of a United States drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, which killed 80 boys at a madrassa. This strike has never been admitted by the US, and there have been many more, particularly during Barack Obama’s presidency. We now know from Wikileaks that on two occasions the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, urged President Obama to cancel the drone programme on the grounds that it was counter-productive, but he took no notice.

Nobody knows how many innocent tribespeople in the borderlands of Pakistan have been killed by these chilling examples of remote warfare — as Dr Clough describes them — but, thankfully, Imran Khan made opposition to them a central part of the election strategy that swept him to power.

Advocates of the use of armed drones try to kid us that they are so precise that they produce hardly any collateral damage, but from my time in Pakistan I can vouch for the fact that this is not true. The issue is not about technical precision, but about the accuracy of the information guiding operational decisions. People who press computer buttons in Nevada can never know enough to rule out disastrous mistakes, which are never admitted.

An international debate on the use of armed drones is long overdue, and Churches must urge their governments to undertake this.

2 St Luke’s Mews
Cambridge CB4 3DF


Recommendation to FCO on religious freedom 

From the Bishop of Truro

Sir, — Lest your readers be lulled into thinking otherwise, it is not only your argument that “support for believers of all faiths is the proper work not only of the Government but the Church” (Leader comment, 3 January).

That was precisely the argument of the report that I was commissioned to write for the Government on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the persecution of Christians (which can be found at christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/report/).

I was very clear on exactly the point you make: “To argue for special pleading for one group over another would be antithetical to the Christian tradition. It would also, ironically, expose that group to greater risk. We must seek [Freedom of Religious Belief] for all, without fear or favour.”

It is precisely that approach that the Government, in undertaking to implement my recommendations, has committed itself to taking. It behoves us all to ensure they do.

Lis Escop, Feock
Truro TR3 6QQ


Aspects of closing college’s work to be continued 

From the Revd Dr John Tomlinson

Sir, — In response to Peter Lewis’s letter (3 January), St John’s College, Nottingham, may be closing, but much of the valuable work that we do is continuing.

Distance Learning, formerly Extension Studies, which currently has around 200 students training as Readers and for other lay ministries, is likely to be taken into The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, and will be developed still further. The Midlands Institute for Children, Youth and Mission is moving to Leicester and will merge with iCYM (Institute for Children, Youth and Mission) to continue its vital work. Both of these important and long-standing features of St John’s will live on and be made readily available to churches and dioceses across the East Midlands and far beyond.

Furthermore, most of the library at St John’s will be transferred to a new location in Nottingham and, we hope, be made available to external readers, as it is now (News, 6 December).

Ever since St John’s ceased to train ordinands, there has been a tendency by some to disregard the other important work that the college does. As lay training becomes a greater priority, we are well placed to provide resources and training for this in the wider Church for years to come. We will continue to have the expertise and the effective teaching and learning, in both face-to-face and distance learning, for which St John’s has been renowned for decades.

There is a no reason that those who want to explore the opportunities to enhance their discipleship and ministry should not contact us now here at Bramcote or in our new settings after the summer.

Director of Studies and Registrar
St John’s College
Nottingham NG9 3DS


The original remit of Anglican Primates’ Meeting 

From Dr Colin Podmore

Sir, – It was disappointing to see the frequently made, but false, claim that the Primates’ Meeting’s “original purpose under Archbishop Donald Coggan was to meet for ‘prayer and fellowship’” repeated in the Church Times (“Fellowship, not an executive”, News, 3 January).

As documented in my chapter in vol. 4 of The Oxford History of Anglicanism, the Primates’ Meeting re-created a Consultative Body, consisting of the senior bishop of each of the Communion’s other Churches, whose abolition in 1968 in favour of the new Anglican Consultative Council had by 1978 come to be regarded as a mistake.

The subject of the address in which Coggan informed the 1978 Lambeth Conference about the new structure was where “Authority in our Anglican Communion” was to be found. His answer was twofold: “meetings of the primates of the Communion reasonably often, for leisurely thought, prayer, and deep consultation” (they would be “channels through which the voice of the member Churches would be heard”), and that “the body of primates, as they meet, should be in the very closest and most intimate contact with the Anglican Consultative Council.”

The Primates met four times during the 1978 Conference to take “major decisions”. If the purpose of their first freestanding meeting in 1979 had been merely spiritual and social (“prayer and fellowship”), its agenda would hardly have consisted of 16 items (one of which had 13 sub-items), and its minutes would not have filled 19 pages, with a further 16 pages of appendices.

16 Isla Road
London SE18 3AA


Sins of omission since the Fletcher revelations 

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — Your article about the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (News, 3 January) begs important questions. An independent review has been commissioned by Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, where he was minister for 30 years. Why has no inquiry has been announced by the diocese of Southwark, or by the National Safeguarding Team on behalf of the Church of England?

Mr Fletcher enjoyed a national and international ministry, almost exclusively in Anglican settings. He exercised extensive patronage in numerous Anglican churches and at least one training college. His friends and his protégés are scattered throughout the Church. Yet neither the Archbishop nor the national Church has made any public comment since his abuses were made public in July 2019. It seems that as usual, it is being left to the victims to make all the running.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG


Padres under pressure 

From the Revd Dr John Cameron

Sir, — I was appalled to read over the weekend that Service padres from the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England were compelled to disclose professional conversations that they had with gay Servicemen and -women until the end of the 20th century.

I was a Church of Scotland RNR padre at the time and, though not one of the three COs I had would ever have asked me to do such a thing, I had a word with Admiral Sir David Williams, who was then the Second Sea Lord and whom I knew privately.

I said that I would resign before betraying everything I stood for as a pastor. After using salty language to describe his witch-hunting colleagues, he said that it was a disgrace that we had been placed in such a position and that I was to follow my conscience in all matters.

10 Howard Place
St Andrews KY16 9HL


Climate-change scepticism could prove fatal 

From the Revd Mark Coleman

Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Duffield (Letters, 10 January) dismisses the climate emergency, arguing that we are experiencing only usual weather patterns. He thinks it “unwise to overreact” and takes issue with those who predict the climate heating by 4ºC by 2100.

As a one-time student at the Urban Theology Union, I have reason to be grateful to Ian for his academic discipline. Of course, facts matter. But, if we wait for hard evidence on whether those who are alive in 2100 will experience 2º or 4º of global heating, then it will probably be too late.

We are becoming aware of the human cost of 1º increase, 2-4º will be much worse.

Ian and I will both be dead in 2100. But for the sake of future generations, I commend that we act according to the “precautionary principle”; taking urgent and radical action now to reduce carbon emissions is both rational and hopeful. This is not the time to overdo academic suspicion, rather time to seek to preserve the possibility of precious life for those who come after.

St Edmund’s Vicarage
89 Clement Royds Street
Rochdale OL12 6PL


C of E slogan isn’t a patch on Conservative one 

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — You report that the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, speaking in the House of Lords, said that the Government should “go beyond easy slogans” such as “Get Brexit done” and consider “how actual policy is to be worked out with real people” (News, 10 January).

The Government is not alone in using slogans, however. The slogan of the Bishop’s own diocese is “Loving, Living, Learning”, which, without further amplification, might be thought somewhat anodyne and uninspiring. “Get Brexit done”, on the other hand, is focused and certainly seems to have appealed to “real people” to the extent that they returned the Tory Party with a large working majority.

In 2018, Sunday attendance in the Church of England is estimated to have been just over 700,000 each week, of which 87 per cent were adults, and 13 per cent were children under 16 years. That is just over one per cent of the English population.

Slogans will not, of course, reverse this situation. But slogans should be a compact and focused way of summing up a distinctive message, a message that reaches out to people, catches their imagination, and inspires them. It is the slogan that depends on the message.

The Church is very good at advocating support for environmental causes, relieving poverty, and criticising the Government over policies that it considers to be misconceived. But all that can, and is, done by people outside the Church. The question must be what the core and distinctive message of the Church is, and how that can be made relevant and compelling so that people respond to it. That should be the Church’s focus and mission. And I am not sure that it is.

The Manor House, Thurloxton
Taunton TA2 8RH


A hidden fire? 

From Mrs Vivien Moores

Sir, — With reference to the cover of last week’s issue (10­ January), I hope that the people pictured with Donald Trump were praying that he would not be elected for a second term.

4 Redwing Road
Bury, Lancashire

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