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Letters to the Editor

29 October 2021

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Range of Christian opinion on Assisted Dying Bill

From the Ven. J. H. C. Laurence

Sir, — My friend was horrified to witness at close quarters the indignities suffered by her lover in a long and painful death. When faced by the same prospect for herself, she took herself off to Switzerland, where she was expertly helped to die happily, peacefully, and with dignity.

She had been a brilliant horsewoman, and, at her funeral, when I described how she had gone out alone to face her last and highest fence and had cleared it beautifully, there was a spontaneous burst of applause from the crowded congregation.

Views have changed from the days that I remember when suicides could be refused burial in consecrated ground. Since then, many liberalising laws have been passed that have reflected a greater toleration for a range of human difference. They have all been opposed with the “thin end of the wedge” argument adduced by Lord Harries (Comment, 22 October).

He comes near to declaring that suffering is good for you. It is true, indeed, that what does not kill you makes you stronger; but suffering that does actually kill you is not redemptive, as I saw in another dear friend, a Christian doctor who wanted only to die as Alzheimer’s ate away her brain. Why should I be able to “officiously keep alive” a person without greater respect for what she herself actually wishes?

I have great respect for the wisdom and erudition of Lord Harries, but in this I think he is wrong. Abusus non tollit usum.

5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP


From the Very Revd Charles Tyrrell

Sir, — I have just read the article by Lord Harries concerning assisted dying. I hope and pray that leaders in the UK, both spiritual and temporal, will heed his words.

I live in a most secular nation, where the parliament has agreed to an assisted-dying Bill, sponsored by a minority party. Our House of Representatives and the majority government based their decision on the result of a referendum taken at the same time as the last General Election in 2020. Those in favour were 65 per cent of voters. The Bill comes into force on 7 November.

In a salutary piece of information recently, I learned that doctors assisting the death of pertinent patients in New Zealand would receive the sum of $1087.20 (that is £564.74 at today’s rates) to bring about the death of these people. I was shocked.

Before I trained as a priest in UK in the 1970s, I completed my registration as a State Registered Nurse and district nurse. Many times in my hospital days, I was asked to administer drugs to extremely ill people. I had no qualms about the fact that the drug would expedite the death of the critically ill patient while offering pain relief and comfort.

That seems to be light years away from today, when people demand the right to end their own lives, owing to pain and debilitation, principally because they believe that they have the authority to deal with their own body as they would wish. This is a matter that some theologians have failed to address, in my opinion.

I have been thinking a lot about the suffering of Christ on the cross recently. because, inspired by your review (Books, 23 July), I bought When Did We See You Naked? (SCM Press). Our Lord refused anything that may have ameliorated his suffering; nor did he pray to his heavenly Father to end his salvific act even when he felt abandoned. The end was expedited by further brutality and shame, but, ultimately, when the Lord committed his spirit into God’s hands.

The advances in modern medicine mean that most people in extremis may be helped by powerful drugs and other therapies. These medicines have been developed by the skills of human beings who employ God-given intelligence to help them to respond to human need. They are a gift.

Why then, do we need the State-sanctioned slaughter, when assistance is generally available? I pray that the UK will not follow the way taken by New Zealand.

17 Westley Place
Bishopdale, Nelson 7011
New Zealand


Andrew Brown’s review of Bleeding for Jesus

From Messrs P. Jani, M. Byatt, and U. Akuwudike

Sir, — We have been very saddened to learn of John Smyth’s beatings and can only imagine the deep hurt caused by the abuse.

Sadly, however, Andrew Brown, in his review of Andrew Graystone’s book (Books, 1 October), misdirects his ire at some of Smyth’s victims rather than at Smyth himself. The main targets of his review are the victims, whom he describes as “willing” participants and who as later “involved in the cover-up”.

Imagine a victim of sexual or domestic abuse being described, as Mr Brown describes Smyth’s victims, as “in some sense willing”: “all of them walked to the shed . . . knowing what would happen”, and later, “none of them squealed” or “complained”, and they. Imagine your columnist engaging in macabre speculation about victims of such abuse: “Did they scream while he was beating them?” The very idea is abhorrent and unthinkable.

Every victim of abuse has a permanent right to anonymity. Yet the Revd Alasdair Paine was outed in the book without his consent. He was forced into making a personal statement. Graystone’s claim that it was widely known for a long time that Alasdair Paine was a survivor of Smyth is misleading. There is surely a difference between Alasdair’s name appearing in an obscure corner of the internet and being outed so publicly in a book.

Messrs Graystone and Brown also imply that Alasdair was part of a cover-up. In fact, Smyth’s abuse first came to light only because Alasdair reported the abuse that he experienced on 12 February 1982. In 1993, Alasdair wrote an account for the Revd David Fletcher, who sent it to David Coltart in Zimbabwe. It was also Alasdair who first reported the matter to Ely diocesan safeguarding in 2013, as the Bishop of Ely’s letter dated 9 September 2021 acknowledges. Alasdair’s statement gives details of this time line. It is, therefore, cruelly inaccurate to imply that Alasdair was involved in a cover-up.

Mr Brown’s review also implies that, when Alasdair reported to the diocesan safeguarding adviser, he concealed the fact that there were other victims. On the contrary, he told her that there were other victims, though he did not know how many. He did not know there were at least 20 other victims. While Mr Brown also claims that there were 20 victims in the Round Church’s congregation in 1982, we do not think that this is true.

As we have stated elsewhere, “It would be intolerable to expect any survivor to bear the responsibility to publicise their abuse or to act on behalf of other survivors. The appalling experience of being abused does not bring with it an onerous responsibility to publicise what happened or support other survivors, let alone to do so decades after the event.” Despite this, Alasdair did what he could to help the fellow survivor who contacted him and regrets that he was not able to find appropriate help.

As we have walked with Alasdair over recent years, we have witnessed at first hand the struggle that it has been for him to re-engage with this abuse and to have to face the comments made about him.

When the independent inquiry reports after its careful investigations, there will undoubtedly be wider lessons for all to learn. In the mean time, our plea is that the welfare of Smyth’s survivors be foremost in our minds.

St Andrew the Great
St Andrew’s Street
Cambridge CB2 3AX


The CICCU and Canon Tilby’s experience of it

From the Revd Keith Ranger, David Mathers, and Simon Gales

Sir, — We are Church of England clergy who are very grateful former members of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) and humbly wish to express our disappointment with Canon Angela Tilby’s article (Comment, 15 October).

We are deeply sorry, and express our sympathy with Canon Tilby, if part of the reason for her testimony of liberation from the CICCU stems from what she feels was insensitivity towards her by some of its members. It has been well said, however, that a few counterfeit coins do not devalue an entire currency, and it is the tone and content of her article which deeply disappoint us.

Even allowing for her selective and controversial use of the contribution to Christian understanding of the great theologian Irenaeus, may we respectfully point to one precious and incontrovertible fact? This is the way in which so many former members of the CICCU, without, like Canon Tilby, subsequently changing their theological stance, especially regarding “penal substitution” (perhaps better expressed as “the substitutionary atonement”), continue to rejoice in the way in which CICCU has always sought to adhere to and propagate the historic Christian faith.

Many of these former CICCU members have served the Church of England and the worldwide Church as hugely respected, much appreciated, and greatly used diocesan and suffragan bishops, clergy, missionaries, theological educators, medical professionals, and evangelists, often on the very cutting edge of the Church’s ministry of evangelism, love, and mercy, and in all continents.

This is to say nothing of the equally valued and distinguished contribution to our national and social life of former CICCU members who, while retaining the faith that they had in their university days, have served, or are now serving, at the top level of their professional skills and with compassion and competence in many different walks of life — and making a difference.

c/o 12 Dulverton Hall, Esplanade
Scarborough YO11 2AR


General Synod election results and turnout

From Mr Simon Lemieux

Sir, — Regarding the coverage and turnout figures in the recent elections for the General Synod (News, 22 October), may I add that Portsmouth diocese had a turnout among lay electors of 72 per cent. This high figure was in part driven, I suspect, as much by local factors, including planned pastoral reorganisations, as by national church issues. In General Synod elections and elsewhere, the parochial still matters greatly.

I should also mention that, while no female clergy were elected, none stood — as was the case, incidentally, in 2015. In contrast, two out of our three newly elected lay reps are women — again, the situation in 2015.

(Reader, Farlington, and lay member of diocesan synod)
18 Salisbury Road, Cosham
Hampshire PO6 2PN


C of E institutions that hold Kittel’s dictionary

From Messrs Binyomin Gilbert and Bernard Glick

Sir, — The vocation to struggle against anti-Semitism is not something that we Jews should do on our own. The history of Christian anti-Semitism is shared between Jews and Christians, and it is often Christians who can be most effective in countering past or present Christian anti-Semitism, as it is for all groups to address racism within their own communities.

In his foreword to God’s Unfailing Word, Archbishop Welby welcomes “the way that ‘God’s Unfailing Word’ is unflinching in rejecting Christian failings, while hopeful in signalling the rich promise of Christian-Jewish encounter”. Also, on his website, he suggests: “If we want to understand our friends and neighbours of different faith backgrounds, we need to listen to them and to learn from them, to be prepared to be challenged by them and to seek to work together for the common good.”

Given this, we were surprised to learn from interfaith colleagues that several teaching institutions in the Church of England still have Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on their shelves without any warning about its context and content. Gerhard Kittel and some of Kittel’s earlier contributors were committed Nazis, who contrived content to support the Nazi ideology.

Recently, Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) wrote to several theological teaching institutions asking them to place content alerts in their copy of Kittel. At the time of writing this letter, fewer than a quarter have responded, and only one, Moorlands College, agreed and immediately prepared a notice to be placed in its Kittel. This practical and considerate gesture evidences true commitment to “working together for the common good”. Moorlands College not only heard: it listened — and acted. That small, simple, and yet significant act means much.

Those others who responded claim that, for a variety of reasons, they do not consider it necessary to place such a notice and emphasised that anti-Semitism and other discrimination is not tolerated at their institution. We appreciate the words, but a reluctance to act speaks considerably louder.

This is a public request to institutions holding Kittel to place a contextual notice and advise us accordingly. CAA will praise those institutions that care enough to do the right thing; but we also will not hesitate to publicise those that do not.

Programme Manager
Outreach and Education Officer
Campaign Against Antisemitism
Address supplied


More than enthusiasts

From Mr Chris Carnall

Sir, — My response to Canon Angela Tilby’s article “Ministry that is lay-led is not Anglican” (Comment, 8 October) was just the sort of profound alienation against which she warns. Even 20 years ago, my Reader training amounted to far more than “enthusiasm, Bible knowledge, and faith”.

7 Sunningdale, Retford
Nottinghamshire DN22 7NH

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