Anglicans and Christian doctrine
From the Revd Paul Hunt
Sir, — Canon Andrew Davison’s excellent review article about What Do Anglicans Believe? (Comment, 14 August) makes clear the classical Anglican emphasis on theological method rather than distinctive Anglican theology.
That Anglicans have no doctrines of their own other than those of the undivided Church has been our standard apologetic since the Reformation (although the late Bishop Stephen Sykes, a former chairman of the Doctrine Commission, saw this as a primarily 19th- and 20th-century claim).
William Temple in his introduction to the 1938 report of the Doctrine Commission Doctrine in the Church of England wrote: “There are systems of Catholic Theology and of Protestant Theology. . . But there is not, and the majority of us do not desire that there should be, a system of distinctively Anglican Theology. The Anglican Churches have received and hold the faith of Catholic Christendom, but they have exhibited a rich variety in methods both of approach and of interpretation.”
An unkind person might, of course, suggest that this explains the internal theological incoherence in the current Church of England.
I’m clearly getting long in the theological tooth in my increasing grumpiness with a Church in which doctrinal content and theology seem less important than mission strategies and action plans. As any commercial or political strategist will tell you, all the communications strategies in the world are of no lasting value unless they convey a clear message. Improving the theological literacy of our churches — in terms of both content and method — is surely the essential prerequisite of a successful and healthy mission strategy.
The Anglican Communion Office is to be commended for producing its course, even though its emphasis is more on method than content, Canon Davison’s suggestion of a catechism to complement the course is well-made.
Back in 1978, Stephen Sykes published an important but now largely forgotten book The Integrity of Anglicanism, in which he called for a more positive engagement with Anglican doctrine and theology if the Church was to maintain its integrity. He quoted the character Jan Coggan in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, who said: “There’s this to be said for the Church, a man can belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about doctrine at all.”
That does not sound like a recipe for church growth.
Flat 3, 49 West Hill Road,
St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0NA
The virtue of forbearance in Christian comment
From Mrs Anne Foreman
Sir, — The Church of England’s national online services reflect the rich diet that its range of traditions offers us to feast on, and I am glad that the Revd Tom Brown (Letters, 14 August) felt encouraged by the one led by the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss. That Mr Brown found it a wonderful pastoral mix of joy, hope, and gospel truths is praiseworthy indeed.
That Dr Gatiss has been subject to “vitriolic” comments on social media is sad, but unsurprising, however, given that his own comments court controversy when received by anyone with an understanding and interpretation of those gospel truths different from his own.
Specifically, I refer to his response to Ely Cathedral flying the Rainbow Flag in July 2018, in which he included the words “pride comes before destruction.” Given that Dr Gatiss is the Director of Church Society, whose aim is “to help shape the Church of England now and for the future”, the tone of his comments is unhelpful to that “shaping”.
That Dr Gatiss has the right to uphold and defend his conservative position on sexuality is unquestionable; would that he could couch his pronouncements with the kindness and mercy that he spoke of in his sermon. Instead, his comments can be interpreted as homophobic and at odds with the statement by the College of Bishops (2014) in which they affirmed the need to “stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is found”.
I do wonder quite what the College of Bishops meant by their statement, and how many examples they can offer where they have stood firm against homophobia.
General Synod member
12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX1 1TL
Chinese persecution of Christians and Uighurs
From Mr Martin Mills
Sir, — The treatment being meted out to the Uighur people by the Chinese authorities is truly horrific, and it is heartening to see the issue gaining attention. Bishops Chessun and Baines are to be applauded for encouraging our government to take firmer steps, and to link action to trade (News, 31 July).
The attitude of the Chinese ambassador, when confronted with evidence of the “re-education” camps on a recent BBC news programme, made clear that something more than conversation might be required to alleviate the plight of the Uighurs. The huge power of China in trade is, of course, the main reason that many nations have remained quiet on the issue.
Canon Mark Oakley (Letters, 31 July) is right to draw us back to a Christian understanding of human dignity, and why that means we should be supporting abused minorities of all faiths and none. His letter and your comment in the same issue, however, imply that the reason Christian leaders in Hong Kong and elsewhere have been silent, or worse, in the face of Chinese government oppression is to prevent Christians’ becoming the next victims. That ship, I am afraid, has well and truly sailed.
A brief visit to the websites of Open Doors and the Barnabas Fund will show the severity of persecution, but it includes: (1) churches monitored, attacked, closed down, or even demolished, and Christian symbols replaced with Communist party slogans; (2) church leaders regularly detained, and children banned from church attendance; (3) the online sale of Bibles banned since 2018; and (4) the authorities’ ramping up the withdrawal of welfare benefits from elderly Christians who refuse to renounce their faith. This commenced in three provinces, and is now being extended to the wider Christian population in other provinces.
And China is only 23rd in Open Doors’ “Top 50” list of nations where Christians are most persecuted! Why are we still largely silent or uninformed about such matters?
You invited Archbishop Kwong to consider whether patriotism in China was compatible with Christianity. From the above, it is clear that the Chinese government have already decided that Christianity (and all religious faith) is incompatible with their version of patriotism.
St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells us that we have a special responsibility for the welfare of our fellow Christians. Our Chinese sisters and brothers are those with whom we shall sit down and eat in the new Kingdom. They are those who gather with us at the Lord’s table, Sunday by Sunday. It behoves us to notice that they are battered and hungry, to give them aid, and to pray for them and their persecutors.
19 Honeywood Road
W. Sussex RH13 6AE
Farewell to the C of E, now too legalistic
From Mrs Rosemary Bowden
Sir, — It is with a heavy heart and after much prayerful thought that my 74-year-old association with the C of E has come to an end.
I acknowledge that the Covid-19 crisis has possibly accelerated my decision, as my level of disappointment at the invisibility and inflexibility of C of E leaders throughout this entire period is profound. Not only has there been no leadership or spiritual guidance, but there has been no lateral thinking or relaxation of the “rules”. Whose rules? Certainly not Jesus’s.
It is entirely clear to me that the C of E has become a top-heavy, bureaucratic, and politicised organisation that has scant regard for the parishes, the bedrock of Christianity. Diocesan and deanery posts are always kept filled, but not so with parishes, where interregnums are ensured — to save money. This unrelenting need by the hierachy to draw in money has been further evidenced by the fact that, unlike the banks and building societies and other lenders who have instigated payment holidays, the C of E has not entertained the idea of one for the Parish Share, insisting on full payment even when churches are shut and opportunities for fund-raising events are not possible. Tiny parishes are expected to keep the diocesan coffers topped up regardless.
The final straw was the Archbishop’s suggestion that some statues should be taken down in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. History cannot be reinvented: it can be learned from. It would be far more fitting for the Church to be foremost in standing up against the wave of modern slavery, happening now, in this country, than for it to be tearing down historical statues of people who were engaged in that dreadful custom all those years ago. Tearing down a statue does nothing to help a trafficked teenage sex slave.
The C of E is now so far removed from how Jesus taught us to live that I can no longer be associated with it. My faith is undimmed, but I can practise it more genuinely when not within the regulations of an organisation that has, to my mind, completely lost its way.
2 Warwick Road
Northants NN11 6DH
National co-ordinator’s work was indispensable
From the Revd Jeremy Fletcher
Sir, — One of the Community Sponsorship projects featured in “A quiet act of welcome” (Features, 24 July) is at Hampstead Parish Church. We would not have been able to do this without the superb work of, and ongoing support from, the National Refugee Welcome Coordinator.
Such projects take time, resources, and expertise. We had two of these, and needed expertise from other people. Nadine Daniel, the Church of England’s postholder, was magnificent in assisting with the practicalities of the complex application process, and it its ongoing application. The family we support may not know it, but we wouldn’t have been able to get so far so quickly without the work of the Church of England at this national level.
I confess to being shocked, after putting the Church Times in contact with Nadine, to hear that her post had been discontinued, as external funding had run out. It seemed to me that the post was a forward-thinking and practical application of the mission imperative to welcome the stranger. The refugee crisis is pressing. It is staggering that the Church of England does not have a dedicated officer to help dioceses and parishes respond.
I ask that the National Church Institutions do all they can to find funding to enable the post to be re-established.
14 Church Row
London NW3 6UU