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Letters to the Editor

by
31 January 2020

Civil partnerships, Hungary’s Christian values, and the new Second Commissioner

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House of Bishops’ statement about civil partnerships

From Mr David Lamming

The statement, dated December 2019 and issued by the Church of England on 22 January in response to the recent change in the law to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples has, understandably, prompted a storm of protest. Much of the furore concerns the timing of the statement and how it came to be agreed.

The actual position is disclosed in one of the papers circulated to General Synod members on 17 January in preparation for next month’s meeting of the Synod in London. GS Misc 1238, a “Summary of decisions by the House of Bishops and its delegated committees,” states that it includes “a summary of decisions made by the House and by committees delegated under standing orders to handle business on its behalf”. One such committee is the House of Bishops Delegation Committee (HBDC), which met on 22 November 2019. Para. 22 reports: “HBDC agreed the Civil Partnerships (Opposite and Same Sex) Pastoral Guidance as deemed business for the House with a minor amendment.”

So, although the statement was issued by the House of Bishops, only the nine members of the delegation committee (five diocesans and four suffragans) considered its contents, and, seemingly, none of the other bishops who read it thought to challenge dealing with it as deemed business. It was, in effect, just “nodded through”. No bishop, apparently, made the connection between the statement and the “latest iteration under Living in Love and Faith”, to which, the GS Misc paper reveals, the House gave “further extensive consideration”.

This unhappy story highlights, I suggest, the urgent need for consideration of how the House of Bishops conducts its business and for greater transparency. One diocesan bishop has tweeted in response to the issue, “I’m frustrated by the process which led to the publication of a House of Bishops statement on civil partnerships, not least because it was deemed business and not discussed and debated by the House.” The question must be: what action will those like-minded bishops now do about it?

DAVID LAMMING
Member of General Synod
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

 

From the Revd Clive Gardner

Sir, — Much of the logic of the House of Bishops statement released on 23 January hinges on a precarious distinction between a marriage and a civil partnership: the former has to involve vows, whereas the latter does not.

Apart from the fact that most civil partnerships do include vows (albeit voluntary ones), a solemn promise is a solemn promise, whether made by vows or a signature — there is no material difference between the two. Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for the teachers of the law who kept the letter of the law but ignored the spirit (“You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”).

If the Bishops want to tell the Anglican flock that a civil partnership is a second-class alternative to marriage and that “proper” Christians shouldn’t participate in it, then they should say that; but using flimsy arguments about words doesn’t help the debate. Or maybe it is time for the Bishops to acknowledge that this particular barrel of special pleading is empty, and there is no point scraping it any more.

CLIVE GARDNER
55 Alwyne Road
London SW19 7AE

 

Hungary’s credibility in terms of Christian values 

From Dr Abby Innes

Sir, — Contrary to the Hungarian Ambassador’s assertions (Letters, 24 January), the Revd Alexander Faludy is on solid empirical ground when he states that the Hungarian government’s contribution to the cause of supporting persecuted Christians internationally is modest compared to its rhetoric on that point (Comment, 10 January).

The financial support is arguably limited in raw numbers. It is certainly meagre in comparison to the sums that the Fidesz government routinely misappropriates from EU funds.

The Ambassador’s “quote” from the EU Commission in highly misleading: he implies that the Commission spokesman referred to Hungary’s deployment of EU funding when (at the cited press conference in Brussels on 4 November 2019) he said that the Court of Auditors determined “the error rate in direct payment expenditure was below two per cent, regarded as insignificant”. However, that two-per-cent figure referred to the allocation of central EU funds via members states across the entire European Union for the financial year 2018, not those remitted to Hungary specifically.

His Excellency also fails to mention that, a week after that same press conference, Hungary conceded a massive financial penalty for its misuse of EU resources. Moreover, the Hungarian government chose a ten-per-cent flat-rate loss of future funds — potentially as much as $1.65 billion in funding foregone (Reuters) — rather than challenge the EU’s findings about past misappropriation project by project. Evidently this is a government that would rather take an almighty hit to Hungary’s wider public finances than risk exposure of the organised corruption in its governance of EU subventions.

What multiple political economists, investigative journalists, and international NGOs have demonstrated is that corruption in Hungary has been strongly centralised and intensified under the governments of Viktor Orbán. It has been vertically integrated to form an organised crony capitalist system, modelled on Putin’s Russia, in which the authority of the state is manipulated for private economic gain. In the mean time, the Government has reverted to the nationalist, anti-Semitic travesty of Christianity deployed in the pre-war period — but now with added Islamophobia — as part of the culture war that it cries up to justify its monologue of power.

In September 2019, Hungary topped the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) rankings for misuse of funds for the period 2014-18. In 2009, the year before Fidesz achieved its fateful super-majority, Hungary ranked 46th in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Under Mr Orbán’s vocally “Christian” government, it has fallen to 70th. This steep deterioration in the rule of law is matched in the World Bank’s more comprehensive Control of Corruption indicators.

If Hungary under Mr Orbán’s leadership is what passes for a beacon of fundamental Christian values in today’s Europe, then we are all in very deep trouble indeed.

ABBY INNES
European Institute
London School of Economics
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

 

Canon Inman’s plea for the theological colleges 

From Canon Stephen Spencer

Sir, — Canon Daniel Inman has made a passionate and powerful plea for the Church of England to support its residential colleges, and especially those colleges offering the space and time for deep and prayerful formation for holiness (Comment, 17 January). It is hard to imagine anyone wanting to argue with this, and yet some residential colleges that provide such formation are struggling to recruit enough students to make ends meet. What can be done?

In my travels around the Anglican Communion and its theological colleges and seminaries, it has become clear that it is those institutions that offer formation in discipleship and the Christian life (along with ordination training) through accessible courses and programmes which then develop a constituency out of which come students who enrol for their full-time programmes. New Christians formed into disciples through the study, prayer, and encouragement of nurture courses will often develop vocations, some to ordained ministry. These then naturally look to the institution that has helped them get to this point.

A good example comes from this country, St Mellitus, mentioned by Inman, which is part of the network of Holy Trinity, Brompton, which developed the Alpha course, and which has promoted it very effectively over the years.

St Mellitus has been able to draw from a large body of new Christians who have tasted and enjoyed reflective study through Alpha and other courses, and who have then wanted to learn more though the network’s own college, St Mellitus. If other theological colleges can broaden their aims, from a concern just with priestly formation to a broader commitment to theological education of the whole people of God — which means helping to foster discipleship and holiness at local level with parishes of their own ecclesial tradition, generating participation and excitement in and a thirst for theological learning — they are likely to reap great benefits for their full-time programmes in the years ahead.

Theological education is not only about the formation of priests, but is a wonderful calling and empowerment for all God’s people. Theological institutions need to have this mission at the heart of their life.

STEPHEN SPENCER
Director for Theological Education
Anglican Communion Office
St Andrew’s House
16 Tavistock Crescent
London W11 1AP

 

From Mr Ben Cahill-Nichols

Sir, — Canon Daniel Inman rightly lauds benefits of residential training, but fails to acknowledge sufficiently the manifold merits of other pathways.

First, residential training, whatever its advantages, is simply not practical for many. By stating that such a model “limits disruption for ordinands’ families”, Canon Inman suggests that it is a matter of mere convenience, failing to acknowledge the parents, carers, sole earners, and others whose gifts our Church desperately needs — and for whom training must cater.

Second, residential training is inappropriate preparation for worker-priest ministry. Those of us in that category are still seen as second-rate by many in the Church; I was recently — and mind-bogglingly — told by a senior clergyman that there was “no theological model” for such ministry. Those called to be fully “Church in World” rather than “World at Church” are critical to our growth; training routes must reflect that.

Third, there are spiritual and theological implications of non-residential training, as for residential. It is, for example, a powerful experience to say the Office on a crowded commuter train, surrounded by the many who do not agree or engage with us, rather than in a peaceful college chapel, surrounded by the few who do.

In a Church often seen as elitist and out of touch, training routes need to represent the joyful diversity of God’s world, and to ensure a clergy family with breadth of experience and call.

BEN CAHILL-NICHOLLS, Ordinand
c/o St Augustine’s College
Trinity House, Chapel Court
London SE1 1HW

 

From the Revd Andrew Hunt

Sir, — It seems strange that, on the one hand, theological-education institutions such as Westcott House are struggling financially while, on the other, millions of pounds are available to be spent on resource churches and church-plants, etc. It doesn’t seem to add up.

ANDREW HUNT
58a Cowl Street, Shepton Mallet
Somerset BA4 5EP

 

Views of the new Second Commissioner 

From Jayne Ozanne

Sir, — I congratulate Andrew Selous MP on his appointment as Second Church Estates Commissioner (News, 17 January). Like him, I have “long been passionate about bolstering marriage” and believe that “the Church has an important part to play.” I agree that “if you have strong marriages and strong relationships, they act as a bulwark against poverty, and can offer resilience when people come across difficult points in their lives.” We both “like and admire the work of churches and their care for marriages of parishioners [and] wish that could be extended further”.

Our significant point of difference is how we wish to see these “extended further”. Sadly, it appears, he does not believe that I should be afforded the same benefits as he has, given that he has voted against extending these rights to lesbian women (or, indeed, to gay men). I hope and pray that he will seek to represent the Church of England in all its diversity, and look forward to working with him in doing so.

JAYNE OZANNE

Address supplied

 

From Dr Stephen Pacey

Sir, — The new Second Commissioner is surely right in praising strong relationships as a “bulwark against poverty”. Having spent the vast part of my 31 years in the judiciary hearing benefit appeals, I am well aware of the appalling difficulties faced by those in poverty, some of which stem from a draconian and impenetrable benefits system.

A paradigm example of this might reasonably be thought to be universal credit. I am surprised to read that Andrew Selous thinks that there is evidence that this is working successfully. I am not aware of any such evidence. The overwhelming opinion of informed and disinterested commentators is that universal credit has been anything but successful. I am reminded of Matthew 7.16 (“Ye shall know them by their fruits”).

STEPHEN PACEY
3 Dickinson Way
North Muskham NG23 6FF

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