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Letters to the Editor

by
10 September 2021

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Reactions to Andrew Graystone’s book on Smyth

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — A book exploring the facts and context of John Smyth’s and others’ abuse in relation to the Christian camps at Iwerne was always going to ignite controversy (News, Press, 3 September). Having just completed reading Andrew Graystone’s book Bleeding for Jesus, I think that there are one “red flag” and consequent actions that need to be considered.

All manipulative abusers work to exploit the vulnerabilities of the context in which they operate. Iwerne’s context included the structured encouragement of ongoing off-camp relationships between an older man and an adolescent youth. Often these are innocuous, but when the man has attitudes towards his own sexuality and women which are complicated, that is a potentially dangerous situation.

Smyth, Fletcher, and others were able to develop such relationships in plain sight for their personal gratification. Discipling may legitimately involve the intimacy of sharing personal reflections about belief and prayer life: curiosity about masturbation, and getting naked are not the marks of a Christian mentor. Such intrusion was known and scandalously ignored

What should be done in consequence of the book?

The Archbishop of Canterbury should set an example to everyone whose actions will be scrutinised by Keith Makin by volunteering a comprehensive timeline and account to answer the three questions “What did you know, when did you know it and what did you do about it?” It will save time and money if they do. He should urge all to do so promptly. Claimed amnesia should be viewed with concern.

We should be urgently looking at the early identification and compensation of Smyth’s African victims by the C of E and Titus Trust jointly. The fact they have been ignored completely is itself a scandal and, frankly, racist. The policy of catch-and-release in Africa was a disgrace.

The Church has been suspending people of late on the slightest of rumours and allegations. If those who aided the suppression of this scandal remain in uninterrupted ministry pending the delays of the Makin report, it will further damage the reputation of the Church. There is cogent evidence already in the book, the public record, and in their own published admissions to ask leading actors in the story to stand back for a while or be suspended. There comes a point on the leadership ladder when, if you know an abuser’s identity and that he is out there working with minors, your primary duty is the protection of the young. There must be no equivocation or favouritism.

The Makin review should be better resourced and project-managed to ensure that there are no more delays. A lot of the work has been done by survivors and Mr Graystone in compiling the facts and the agenda. Now it needs to be independently scrutinised; but much of the heavy lifting has already been done.

The Archbishops’ Council should report to the next General Synod on the structural failings of the Church’s management of this 40-year scandal. There will be many new Synod members who will need to be brought up to speed before reform can be properly scrutinised: the Smyth scandal is as a good a case study as any for assessing our continuing weaknesses.

Finally, the book is attracting criticism. Good: nobody should be above scrutiny; but it is important to examine things in the right order. It is not the inaccuracies that worry me: rather, it is what is plainly true, as we hear the story directly from the victims, witnesses such as Smyth’s son, and the public and private records in both the UK and Southern Africa. Nothing must distract from the core virtue of the book, which is that it makes further delay and obfuscation impossible, individuals and institutions alike

MARTIN SEWELL
(Former General Synod member)
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend DA11 7PB

 

Revision of church teaching on sex and sexuality

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — The Revd Brunel James writes of the need for a revolution in the Church’s sexual understanding comparable with that which took place when the theory of evolution was accepted as overturning the biblical account of creation (Books, 3 September).

In truth, the earlier dispute turned on an acceptance of the literal accuracy of the Bible which not all Christians, even Protestants, held to. Luther famously distinguished those parts of holy writ which were as worthless as straw. The issue of the theology of creation was one on which even Bishop Wilberforce at the height of the Darwinian controversy was agnostic. He was willing to defer to the evidence, believing in the dependence of the created order on God, however it could be explained.

As for our present state of affairs, Darwin may seem an unlikely ally. Heterosexual reproduction is at the heart of the continuation of the species, and has been for millennia. So long as humans take 15 and more years to come to maturity, their long-term nurture by their parents makes biological, social, and theological sense. I wish that I could hear more mention of marriage as the institution that has long protected that process — a creation ordinance. it was once called.

Human beings are various: not all marry; not all can have children; some are deeply unhappy about their sexuality; some are comfortable as I am, a married man of 40 years. I remain agnostic about the claims of gender fluidity; it is not a social construct. My current view is that no one should make or have made irreversible decisions about their sexuality until they are of the age of maturity.

I want to see no one vilified for the way they conduct faithful relationships, but I am appalled at the notion of sex solely as recreation. I grieve over the 25 per cent of pregnancies that are terminated each year. I regret deeply the unwillingness of the Church to proclaim its traditional teaching of what I am now bound to call heterosexual marriage as a fundamental building-block of society.

There are times when abstaining from marriage is important, as St Paul noted, but I don’t think that those who disvalue it think that we are living in end times, or that, if we are, that is the reason for their advocacy.

R. H. W. ARGUILE
10 Marsh Lane
Wells-next-the-Sea
Norfolk NR23 1EG

 

Boxing parsons

From Mrs Alison Rollin

Sir, — The Revd Steve Morris’s plea for more Anglican muscular Christianity (Faith, 27 August) reminded me of an elderly priest who had once been a good boxer. Turning 18 in August 1944, he was called up, but there was a hitch: he went to sign on, but failed the medical. He explained why: “I was over six foot tall, and weighed just eight stone. But then I went again, and saw another chap. He put a bit of string round my middle, and said I had an excellent physique!”

Once in the Army, he took up boxing and loved it, particularly for its discipline. He was classed as a featherweight, and the unusual disparity between his weight and height gave him an extra-long reach, which allowed him to out-box his opponents with ease. They used to beg him to go up a weight, but he steadfastly refused.

After becoming a parish priest, he continued boxing: When I ran a Scout group in Paddington, I used to teach the boys — the older ones — to fight. But then they got too good for me. They were taller, and quite strong, and they began hitting me more than I liked! And sometimes I got headaches. I was in my thirties then; so I stopped.”

This boxing priest was one of the kindest, gentlest, and most prayerful priests I have known.

ALISON ROLLIN
149 Bury Street
Ruislip HA4 7TQ

 

Climate protest must not ‘move to the transepts’

From the Revd Brother Alasdair Kay CFC

Sir, — I watched aghast the live-stream of my Church’s calling the police to arrest clergy and lay people upholding the fifth mark of mission (News, Letters, 3 September). This completely contravenes 1 Corinthians 6.

I also observed the “offer” by the Cathedral Chapter of St Paul’s to move the protest to the transepts. I believe for too long we have moved the issue of ecology to the transepts of the Church. For 30 years, we have made it a bolt-on to our mission, and action is still not being taken quick enough to amend our ways and to repent of our sins against the sacred creation.

As we move through the present pandemic, it is now time to put the climate crisis right at the heart of the Church’s mission and ministry. It is time to put the safety of the planet in front of the altar, not in the transepts. The purpose of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action is in its essence to disrupt. As a species, we need to be disrupted.

The Church of England needs urgently to hear the cry of the earth, and to disinvest from fossil fuels. My other hope is that my Church would laud these brave people who took a path of prayerful, graceful, and sorrowful protest.

ALASDAIR KAY
The Rectory, 1 Portland Road
Wyke Regis, Weymouth
Dorset DT4 9ES

 

From Mr David Eldridge

Sir, — With the climate crisis upon us, I cannot accompany that lovely harvest hymn Wir Pflügen without baulking at its first line. Perhaps someone in the farming community could say whether low-energy conservation tillage and other biodynamic farming methods are being increasingly used, particularly on Church-owned land?

DAVID ELDRIDGE
4 Ock Drive, Berinsfield
Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 7PR

 

Support received for efforts to provide a priest

From Mr Simon Hoar

Sir, — My thanks to the Rt Revd David Wilbourne for his very supportive letter (3 September) regarding the Six Pilgrims in Somerset. We have been inundated with messages of support as we seek diocesan permission to fill our vacancy.

As churchwardens, we pointed out to our diocese that some areas, like Chelmsford and Salisbury, are shedding clergy posts, and we thought perhaps one of these priests might jump at the chance of a part-time house-for-duty post in a lovely rural area, and pressed the diocese for permission to grab the opportunity and advertise. Sadly, this was not forthcoming.

The last of our glebe lands were sold off by the diocese a few years ago and we never saw a penny of the proceeds. We’ve not a had a stipendiary priest now for over 28 years, but the Common Fund remains the same (or, rather, goes up each year), but we can’t “save the parishes” with an eternal vacancy.

SIMON HOAR
Chairman of the Six Pilgrims
The Shieling, Babcary
Somerset TA11 7EA

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