Limitations on freedom of speech
From the Ven. Norman Russell
Sir, — The dismissal of the Revd Dr Bernard Randall from the chaplaincy at Trent College which was widely reported in the press (News, 14 May) brings into focus the concerns of many clergy, teachers, and others about freedom of speech and thought.
Over recent years, we have heard a lot in the Church about speaking truth to power, which, in practice, usually means offering free advice, welcome or not, to political and business leaders.
One does not have to be brave as a bishop or priest to go with the flow and declare from a pulpit or platform that climate change is an urgent issue requiring attention, but what Dr Randall has done has been personally costly. He has spoken truth about a culture that is becoming increasingly oppressive and is quick to victimise its critics. There are many Christians and others who share Dr Randall’s views and are afraid to say so publicly, fearing that they will be pilloried, find themselves in court, or even lose their livelihood.
Readers of the Church Times may be generally aware of Critical Theory, with its roots in Marxism and Freudian pseudo-science, and aware of how that has shaped the politics of race, gender, and identity, but it is probably not at the forefront of the thinking of the average Christian in the pews, mystified by why what Christians have traditionally believed is changing.
If Dr Randall’s decision to unmask the unseen powers that are becoming mainstream in our culture were to become the catalyst for serious engagement across the Church with these issues, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise. Moreover, it is highly relevant to the upcoming debates on Living in Love and Faith.
Living in Love and Faith has been meticulous in endeavouring to give a voice to those in our Church who have found traditional church teaching and practice difficult or even oppressive. It has also sought to represent biblical teaching fairly, and it offers a variety of views on how the Bible should be read. What, in my view, needs to be added to the LLF resources is a biblical and theological analysis of Critical Theory with respect to gender and identity.
Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, 2005-10
47A Theobalds Way, Frimley
Camberley, Surrey GU16 9RF
From the Revd Dr Stephen Laird
Sir, — Your news headlines last week included “Priest who supported lesbian faces CDM process for posts on Twitter” and “Former chaplain who warned about ‘LGBT activists’ sues Trent College”. (It was reported that, after a sermon in a school chapel, this individual had been referred to the police under the Prevent counter-extremism programme.)
This is a clear indication that the Living in Love and Faith listening and exploration process is timely and well-intentioned, but it makes it more than understandable if potential participants who have particularly strong feelings and opinions about these matters (either way) are arriving at the realisation that the wisest course of action is to remain silent.
University Chaplain and Hon. Lecturer
University of Kent CT2 7NX
Jews, Israel, and the treatment of the Palestinians
From Mr John Levy
Sir, — This week, we mark Pentecost in the Jewish calendar, traditionally the anniversary of Sinai and receipt of the Ten Commandments and the moral imperatives of the Torah.
The Revd Alison Askew (Letters, 14 May) should know that no body of believers is more self-critical or morally self-lacerating than Jewry. We recognise our strengths and our failings — not least in the governance of modern Israel. The sheer plethora of rights groups within domestic Israel more than reflects that self-critical reality.
But her suggestion that Israel is somehow shielded from external criticism internationally because of unconditional pro-Israel bias is simply risible; and her “mantra” charge that Palestinians are the innocent victims of this conflict totally fails to acknowledge the ongoing rejectionist stance of the Palestinian leadership.
Before penning such inflammatory letters, she might consider their rejection of a two-state solution in 1947, the continuing declarations by Hamas and other militants that there will never be acceptance of Israel as the nation state of the Jews, a theme heard this week again with crowds screaming “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!”
Their diversion of scarce resources into weapon-manufacturing, the building of sophisticated attack tunnels into Israel, and the firing of thousands of missiles at urban population centres in Israel is both an existential threat to Israel and nothing short of a war crime both against Israel and the domestic population of Gaza itself.
From Mr Bill Risebero
Sir, — The Revd Alison J. Askew is right (Letters, 14 May) about the biased coverage of Israeli/Palestinian violence. Gerald Butt’s report (News, same issue) pointed the finger several times at Hamas, but not at all at Benjamin Netanyahu or the United States.
Palestinians, like all of us, wish to live peaceful lives in the land of their birth. They do not want to be killed, imprisoned, un-housed, expelled, or, if they remain, deprived of their citizenship and human rights. Yet Mr Netanyahu’s government and his power base are set on creating a Jewish-only state from the sea to the Jordan and beyond. This involves taking all repressive measures that are necessary.
Israeli hegemony ties in well with US foreign policy for the region, despite all the human agony that it causes on both sides. It will be far from easy for them to accept, for example, the undeniable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land, or for democratic principles to be applied to this multi-cultural society; but only by stepping back from the brink can Israel and the US prevent a slide into perpetual and violent pariah-statehood.
123 High Street
Burford OX18 4RG
Conversion therapy and the ‘coercion’ loophole
From Dr Angus Goudie
Sir, — As a member of the General Synod and the Royal College of GPs, I was concerned that the Bishop of London, in her statement on sexuality conversion therapy, added the qualifier “coercive” (News, 14 May). The Synod voted by a large margin in 2017 to call for a ban, and also to sign up to the 2015 memorandum of understanding issued by several bodies, including the RCGP, psychiatry, and counselling. Neither of these documents included the word “coercive”. Why is this a problem?
Call the Midwife (9 May) handled this topic excellently. A young lad in 1966, of his “own decision”, went to a centre specialising in homosexual conversion therapy, if of a more extreme variety.
Despite taking the step himself and signing consent, he was acting under severe mental coercion: from his parents (think of the parallel of church leadership), the current law (think of church tradition and quoted biblical verses). He was rescued by his GP, Dr Turner, and Midwife Crane. (Think of the enlightened opinion in view of science, and re-reading scripture without 19/20th-century cultural assumptions.)
Coercion is hard to prove. There is a power status gap for young church members struggling to understand themselves and yet be fully part of their churches, and more so in more conservative churches, where they may be excluded from using their gifts in music, reading, etc. In this situation, when they are feeling isolated and vulnerable, spoken or written consent is, therefore, to be doubted.
If coercion has to be proved — as bodies such as the Evangelical Alliance imply — it will be a licence to continue to pray and give “pastoral support” in a directive way rather than start with acceptance of a person’s sexuality and recognise the danger of seeking to change it. As a GP, I would have been horrified to use that approach.
General Synod member
Durham DH1 1QN
C of E guidelines for monuments review
From Mr Michael Winterbottom
Sir, — In a widely reported interview last June, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for a survey of funerary monuments in our churches and the removal of some of those celebrating individuals with links to the slave trade.
In the ensuing silence, I lived in the hope that the whole nonsense had died a timely death. So it was with a sinking heart that I read (News, 14 May) that the Church Building Council and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England have issued guidance on “what to do about plaques, statues, inscriptions and other monuments . . . which are dedicated in memory of people who have been associated with slavery and the slave trade”.
It must be said that the report’s tone and content are, thankfully, less strident than His Grace’s comments last June; but it still singularly fails to appreciate the variety, quality, and interest of our funerary monuments. These monuments are a source of endless fascination and give a unique ability to connect with the past and show an insight into lives and life as lived in another age. Some are works of art and some are just downright quirky, but cumulatively they contribute enormously to the distinctive character of our churches and graveyards.
I can see the efficacy in the report’s suggestion of explaining and placing monuments in an historical context, but there still looms throughout the threat of removal and a failure to grasp that the removal of monuments does not in any way address or rectify a past injustice. As the President of the Church Monuments Society rightly said, “To remove monuments is to consign history to obscurity and deny the cue that such works can provide for reflection.”
Our heritage in all its various forms is non-negotiable and is not something to be turned into a politically correct version of itself to suit modern tastes. By all means, interpret and explain our tombs, statues, and plaques, but neither censorship nor vengeance should play a part in it.
Lancashire OL6 6LR
For this (light) relief . . .
From Mrs Wendy Prendergast
Sir, — A big thank-you to the Caption Competition contributors, particularly in your 14 May edition. They were an answer to prayer. My husband was approaching “end-of-life” care in hospital, and I was having a down day. Many friends and family were praying for us.
As I waited for my solitary lunch to cook, I picked up that day’s delivery of the Church Times and turned to that page. It had me laughing aloud! One of the best sets of captions I’ve ever enjoyed. Some weeks are better than others, but I missed the competition in lockdown, and this week it changed my day. Thank you.
5 Lime Garth, Upper Poppleton
York YO26 6DN