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Letters to the Editor

by
30 April 2021

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The Pensions Board’s targets

From the Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Sir, — On Earth Day, we received the devastating news that the Church of England Pensions Board had decided to side against the climate activists on behalf of Shell. Its commitment is now lagging 20 years behind the Church of England commitment to net zero (News, 23 April).

This sent a wave of disbelief, pain and anger among climate activists, young people, and indigenous peoples. I want to speak of the impact of fossil-fuel companies in my Province of Southern Africa.

Fossil-fuel companies see the future as a move from oil to gas — and they are targeting Southern Africa, where they are exploring and exploiting more gas fields.

We are currently facing two devastating issues. In Namibia, Bishop Luke Pato woke up to discover that exploratory drilling by ReconAfrica had already started. They had gained rights to drill for oil in more than 35,000km² of the Kavango Basin, an environmentally sensitive, protected area that supplies water to the Okavango Delta, a World Heritage site, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. The oil exploration violates the rights of the San and Kavango Indigenous people. The drilling threatens the groundwater of Namibia, the driest country south of the Sahara.

An even worse scenario is taking place in Northern Mozambique — one of the poorest countries on this planet. Vast gas deposits have been found, worth an estimated 60 billion dollars. The enormous projects have not benefited the local communities, people have been forced off their land, and human-rights abuses have taken place. This has created a boiling pot of resentment, where young men have been recruited into Al Shabaab. Horrific massacres have taken place, including beheadings of children as young as 11. More than half a million people have fled the area and are living in desperate straits. The diocese of Nampula is assisting hundreds of traumatised families. As Bishop Ernesto Manuel says, the violence occurs only where the drilling takes place.

For climate activists in Africa, to hear that the Pensions Board is siding with Shell is particularly painful to hear. For decades, environmentalists have been battling with Shell in Nigeria’s Delta region. Human-rights abuses and environmental degradation on an apocalyptic scale have been the result of Shell’s activities. The West Coast now has more piracy than the Horn of Africa, as young men who have lost their livelihood as fishermen owing to pollution turn to piracy, making the West Coast now the global piracy hotspot.

In South Africa, for decades, we have been fighting to stop Shell from “Fracking the Karoo”, one of the most water-scarce areas in the country, where pollution of the groundwater sources risks destroying agriculture for generations to come.

Oil companies are now targeting Southern Africa as the environmental laws are much weaker than in Europe. Sadly, politicians are often open for corruption. The local communities affected by the drilling are often hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres from the capital city. Rural and indigenous peoples often do not have land rights, the land is held by the local chief or governor who can hand those rights over to the oil companies if given incentives.

The profits that the Church of England will make over the next thirty years come at the cost of human-rights abuses, trampling of the rights of indigenous people, environmental degradation, and pollution of water sources.

RACHEL MASH
Green Anglicans’ Provincial Office
Braehead House, 1 Braehead Road
Kenilworth, Cape Town
South Africa

 

Responses to the report From Lament to Action

From the Revd Alan Crawley

Sir, — I welcome the report from the Archbishops’ Anti-racism Taskforce (News, 23 April). I do wonder, however, whether we aren’t setting ourselves up to fail with some of the recommendations: in particular, to increase representation to 15 per cent at all levels of governance. According to the Diversity UK website, in 2018, about 14 per cent of the population were BAME (their terminology), of whom half were from Asian ethnic groups, many of whom would not be Christian.

In the parish where I serve, the UKME/GMH population is about one per cent, and the electoral-roll percentage is slightly smaller. If, as reported in The Guardian, all PCCs will be required to have 15-per-cent representation, then, if I cannot recruit more UKME/BMH people to the electoral roll and find candidates among them willing to stand, I will have to reduce the size of the PCC and/or pressgang particular people to stand to meet the target.

ALAN CRAWLEY
25 Upper Hale Road
Farnham, Surrey GU9 0NX

 

From the Revd David Ford

Sir, — As someone who worked closely with Ken Leech in the early 1980s as the co-ordinator of CARAF (Christians Against Racism and Fascism), I read From Lament to Action aware of my own personal shortcomings as well as those of the Church as a whole. So little progress, if any, in 40 years. The Commission will face an enormous challenge, and it needs all our active involvement.

Two suggestions to add to the many that will be pouring in:

(1) CMD programmes for existing clergy must address not only racist attitudes and practices, but also the whiteness of the theology that we teach from our pulpits. So often, clergy will teach according to the cultural bias of their existing congregation, avoiding texts and interpretations that make white middle-class men and women deeply uncomfortable.

(2) Besides re-examining the place of items of contested heritage because of slavery, can we also now, please, be encouraged and supported to challenge the continuing presence of images of a white Jesus, so common in so many of our churches, thanks, especially, to our Victorian predecessors?

In the spirit of radical and swift change, I hope the removal of such items might be eligible under List B.

DAVID FORD
The Vicarage, 15 Finstall Road
Bromsgrove B60 2EA

 

From Canon Ian Gomersall

Sir, — Approximately 80 per cent of the holy people listed in the Common Worship Calendar are men. Most are clergy, and only five per cent are married.

More startling is the fact that of the more than 325 observances, only 0.02 per cent can be unequivocally named as black saints, and they are all male.

One of these observances is to the “Ugandan Martyrs”; but no black people are specifically named, in contrast with the equivalent Roman Catholic observance. The white colonial Bishop James Hannington, martyred in the 19th-century Ugandan persecutions is named, however, Indeed, he is even given a separate day for his commemoration.

Several parishes and some dioceses do work to address this outrageous imbalance. The time is long overdue for others to do the same and for the Church of England to produce a much more inclusive and balanced calendar of holy people.

IAN GOMERSALL
St Chrysostom’s Rectory
38 Park Range
Manchester M14 5HQ

 

From the Revd John Chitham

Sir, — The key recommendations of the Taskforce are to be applauded, but they ignore entirely another most racist attitude in the Church: the lack of desire to present the claims of our Lord Jesus to UK minority-ethnic (UKME) people. In particular, this includes more than four million British Asians of other religions.

There is abundant evidence for this racism in the applications for Strategic Development Funding (SDF). In all the many applications for SDF, there is only one diocese that has applied for a grant for UKME (Leicester), and even that has a large inter-ethnic worship component.

Past SDF grants major on almost everything except specific witness to UKME. (There is a bright light in interfaith witness with the Mahabba network; but that is interdenominational.) The recommendations of the Taskforce are needed, but are also entirely inward-looking, namely, seeking justice within the Church. There will never be a Panorama report lamenting lack of witness to other faiths; nor will there be complaints from those outside the Church. But the words of Jesus have not changed: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Can we expect a quota of SDF grants to go towards UKME, to match the new UKME quotas in every other area of church life?

JOHN CHITHAM
The Vicarage, Kents Lane
Standon SG11 1PJ

 

From the Revd Dr Al Barrett

Sir, — St Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church’s earliest African theologians, reminds us that all our thinking, speaking, and acting are rooted in our desires. From Lament to Action asks the C of E corporately: do we desire more UK minority-ethnic or global-majority-heritage people and voices in our churches, clergy, leadership, decision-making structures, theological-education institutions, and curricula?

Given some of the pushback against the report so far, it seems, tragically, that the answer to that question, from some quarters of the Church, is No. We in the Church of England, corporately — but most especially those of us who are white — face a choice. Will this be one more moment of rejection, rooted in fears, anxieties, and a sense of threat? Or can this be a moment of commitment to non-defensive, pro-active desire for one another? “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4.18).

AL BARRETT
The Vicarage, 8 Dreghorn Road
Hodge Hill, Birmingham B36 8LJ

 

From the Revd Simon Douglas Lane

Sir, — That From Lament to Action is the 40th report over decades with an accumulated total of more than 160 recommendations on the issue of racism within the C of E means that either there was never the will to put the matter right, or it was being addressed in the wrong way.

The prospect of the problem being dealt with in a managerial manner fills me with horror. Monitoring bodies and recruiting those who will see that the Church implements the action points (a stronger word than “recommendations”) all comes at a time when the parishes are facing huge financial pressures.

Let us, therefore, be really radical and attack this problem from a biblical and spiritual angle: the identity-politics approach is one that divides and disunites and brings in tokenism and quotas, which is in itself an insult to those who are already blatantly disadvantaged.

If we could embrace the universality of human creation such that all whom we meet are just like us, made in the image of our Creator, differences vanish: as long as we go on fostering differences rather than our unity in Christ, we will never solve it, and a whole panoply of compliance officers to monitor how we are doing is not the way of Christ.

The solution to this problem is in our hearts, our souls, and our love for one another in Christ Jesus: we need to be educated, not “managed” into getting this right: if we adopt a different approach, I believe there is every hope that we can at last get this matter irrevocably resolved. We will then be spared yet another report five years down the road which will just go over old ground to the intense disappointment of all of us.

SIMON DOUGLAS LANE
30a Belgrade Road, Hampton
Middlesex TW12 2AZ

 

Redundancies in TRS at University of Chester

From Professor Nicola Slee and seven others

Sir, — As the Chair and Committee of the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology, we wish to add our voices to those urging the University of Chester to halt its threatened cuts to the Theology and Religious Studies (TRS) department.

These cuts are symptomatic of a broader undermining of the arts and humanities across the university sector. Such trends represent a severe threat to theological provision at tertiary level in a number of respects.

First, disciplines such as practical theology offer vital opportunities for clergy and lay church leaders to engage in innovative research and professional development, as Chester’s own Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology has demonstrated. While the focus in higher education is often on the financial benefits of undergraduate-fee income, universities should not discount the value of its professional, often mid-career and practice-based, postgraduate constituency.

Second, the Churches can ill afford to lose the ground-breaking and often challenging insights of various kinds of contextual, practical, and liberation theologies offered by many of our university departments and theological-education institutions. It is in their best interests to support continued investment in such open and independent inquiry, and universities such as Chester with a historic Anglican foundation should be at the forefront of upholding the provision of high-quality theological teaching and research as part of their mission to church and society.

NICOLA SLEE (Chair of BIAPT and Visiting Professor at the University of Chester); OWEN GRIFFITHS; MARK BENNET, SARAH BRUSH, R. DAVID MUIR, SANJEE PERERA, JAYSON RHODES, CHRISSIE THWAITES
c/o Flat 2/13a Minster Yard
Lincoln LN2 1PW

 

Israel’s alleged war crimes; why Gaza isn’t Solihull

From Jane Henson

Sir, — I read with disbelief the letter (23 April) from Frances Waddams and feel a need to respond. Unlike Ms Waddams, I have been to Gaza, four times — the first just after the 2014 war, when my husband and I spent two years volunteering at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.

Unless you have seen the situation at first hand you would not believe the level of devastation: we saw countless homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, factories, warehouses, shops, graveyards, and play areas bombed to destruction. In that war, 2251 Palestinians were killed, including 850 women and children. We have also been to some of the Israeli towns outside the wall surrounding Gaza. All of them had bomb shelters; some had many. The fear that they had of the homemade rockets coming over their towns must have been real, but they did not have to experience 54 uninterrupted days of bombardment.

We saw evidence of precision bombing — for example, of a single vehicle or one flat in a block — but also of wider, seemingly indiscriminate bombing destroying a wider cross-section of buildings, which must have been terrifying for the civilian population. We met individuals whose parents or children had been killed in front of them, and who had to pick up their body parts to bury them.

In the eyes of many people around the world, Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Certainly, it has a militant wing, but what the majority of Gazans want most is the chance to lead a normal life. We met thinking and educated people, including Christians, who had voted for Hamas because they were seen as the key organisation providing medical, educational, and caring support for local communities. The word “terrorist” can be used too loosely when, for example, some in our own government label Extinction Rebellion as a terrorist organisation.

As Christians, we are called on to speak out against injustice. The situation in Israel/ Palestine is one of occupier and occupied. It is completely asymmetric, and, thankfully, there are countless thousands of Jews both in Israel and around the world who are speaking out about its injustice. The International Criminal Court have to be given the power properly to investigate the crimes committed on both sides (News, same issue), if justice to be served.

JANE HENSON
6 Ganton Close
Mapperley
Nottingham NG3 3ET

 

From the Revd Huw Thomas

Sir, — In response to a call to hold Gaza in our prayers, Frances Waddams asks us to imagine that Israel is Birmingham and Gaza is a Hamas-run Solihull (she apologises to Solihull). This is supposedly a way of contextualising Israel’s oppression of Gaza.

The analogy overlooks some simple facts. Solihull is not populated by a people thrown out of Birmingham and kettled into the word’s largest open-air prison. Solihull has adequate utilities and sewerage and is not a place in which around 40 per cent of the population are unemployed, and a similar proportion food-deprived.

And, I believe, residents of Solihull can still travel freely up and down the A41, and return to Birmingham. I believe they are even allowed into Dorridge!

Without a nuanced contextualising of why Hamas thrives, and the oppression of Gaza, this unbalanced analogy is probably best sent to Coventry (with apologies to Coventry).

HUW THOMAS
140 Abbeyfield Rd
Sheffield S4 7AY

 

Correction: the words “an anaesthetically archaic register” were misprinted in the Revd Wealands Bell’s letter last week. Our apologies.

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