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Letters to the Editor

05 November 2021

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Christians’ plight in the Holy Land

From Dr Jane Clements

Sir, — The call for “churches and governments around the world” to understand and support Christians in the Holy Land (News, 29 October) is a desperate plea, but, alas, is by no means the first desperate plea coming from the region. The dwindling Christian population is in terminal crisis. If things do not change, the only Christians left in the Land will be foreign custodians, Western immigrants, and a few congregations of Messianic Jews.

Gerald Butt outlines the main reasons for the rapid decline. Once upon a time, Palestinian Christians led the field in journalism, education, and social welfare, enjoying excellent relations with their Muslim neighbours and able to travel and study widely. Now, Arab Christians in Israel feel marginalised and undervalued as citizens, constantly treading on eggshells. Those living under occupation in the West Bank, isolated in Gaza or hemmed in by restrictions around Jerusalem, are justified in believing that Christians elsewhere neither know nor care about their daily lives.

Many of the problems cannot be addressed by those of us so far removed, especially during the current situation. They require changes in perceptions and political policy by others. But we can at the very least educate ourselves both about the plight of our brothers and sisters and about how best to support them and those working for a just solution. (The photo of Silwan is a case in point, as pilgrims often visit excavations near by without realising what is going on around them.) In my experience, our knowledge about Palestinian Christians, especially our own Anglican congregations, and Palestinians in general is woefully inadequate.

Simply shouting at those who need to bring about the changes remains counter-productive. Prayer is vital, but surely in this digital age we can, as a Church, also allow for creative ideas to offer much-needed solidarity and, perhaps to help to ensure a Christian presence in the Land from which our own faith exploded two thousand years ago.

Co-Chair of FODIP (The Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine)
4 Church Street
Bicester OX26 6AZ


Bleeding for Jesus and the issues Smyth raises

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — The Round Church churchwardens’ concerns about the treatment of the Revd Alasdair Paine in Bleeding for Jesus (Letters, 29 October) are, if anything, understated. Andrew Graystone in the Church Times podcast defended his “outing” of Mr Paine on these grounds: first, his victimhood was already in the public domain; and second, it was common knowledge in “Evangelical circles”.

As for the first point, who put it there in the public domain? The Investigative Report on John Smyth posted on the web, which “outed” Mr Paine, is not independent of Mr Graystone’s own researches anyway. As for the second point, who can get a purchase on something so huge as what is or is not widely known in “Evangelical circles”? “Evangelical” is a huge term.

All we can know is what we hear from the self-selected few to whom we ourselves speak. In any case, what those few know they may know either as a result of the aforementioned website (making the argument circular) or as a result of their own victimhood, which in their case, unlike Mr Paine’s or indeed William Taylor’s, is allowed to be kept strictly secret.

The “cover-up” dimension is being pressed single-mindedly and in a context-free manner; I would be more impressed by it if numerous other important dimensions received even a mention.

First, the need for victim confidentiality, which remained acute — and cause for huge spending by the Titus Trust — in the 2013-17 period.

Second, the victims’ apparent wish for confidentiality: for three whole decades not one, unsurprisingly, revisited such horrors in public — apart from, ironically, Mr Paine himself in the Coltart report.

Third, the hindsight brought about by the new post-Savile norms.

Fourth, the expressed wishes of such parents as were consulted that the matter be left in the past — as was both normal, logical, and compassionate.

Fifth, the relationship of these wishes to the tabloids’ known “sledgehammer” tendencies, which would probably (given the fame of several parents) have led to outing of those young men who wanted anonymity (preventing the smooth progress of their lives) and also to a facile tarring of the whole ministry (or denomination, or Church) with the same brush.

Sixth, Mr Graystone himself mentions that even the Iwerne leadership itself had no knowledge of Smyth’s beatings at the time; the horrific one-off post-camp secret beating one mile away could have been a thousand miles away, for all its connection to the camp programme. This has implications for the leadership’s culpability or otherwise.

Seventh, the initial optimism about being able to control Smyth’s expatriate initiatives, given the “on-side” personnel who could report back from Africa (Messrs Cassidy, Hingley, et al.) — optimism that, owing to his egotism, slyness, and support, proved tragically misplaced.

7 Markway
Sunbury TW16 5NS


From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — The churchwardens of St Andrew the Great suggest that, in my book Bleeding for Jesus, I was the first to reveal that their Vicar was a victim of John Smyth. That is not the case.

In my substantial research, it became clear to me that his involvement was already widely known, not least because he had spoken about it to journalists, church leaders, and others.

As the book makes clear, the responsibility for failing to stop Smyth’s abuse is shared by the scores of clergy, at least half a dozen bishops, and many lay people who knew about it. All victims of abuse deserve our utmost sympathy, but the fact that a church leader is a victim does not exempt them from the basic duties and disciplines of safeguarding and pastoral care.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG


Military and the target for greenhouse gases

From Sue Claydon

Sir, — As we all watch and pray for those at COP26 to make the right decisions and commitments for saving our planet, there is one area missing from the calculations that each country is using. Military emissions have been left out of the greenhouse-gas calculations.

During the negotiations of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, military greenhouse-gas emissions were exempted, and that tradition has continued. At the 2015 Paris Agreement, cutting military greenhouse-gas emissions was left to the discretion of individual countries.

The links between the environment and violence/war are being cited by many, including the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Today programme (on 1 November).

A significant factor in the outcomes of COP26 will be the agreements on reducing a country’s carbon footprint. To reflect a “real” goal, the gas emissions of the military must be included.

Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
112 Whittlesey Road, March
Cambridgeshire PE15 0AH


House of Bishops on communion in both kinds

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — A report on the C of E website of the recent meeting of the House of Bishops includes this paragraph: “The Bishop of Lichfield gave an update on behalf of the working group concerning Holy Communion and the Reception of the Elements. The House agreed that there should be further discussion of this issue, while confirming that it did not wish to propose a change to canon law in this area.”

Especially given the current coronavirus infection figures, it is likely that many in the Church of England will be understandably cautious about a return to use of a shared chalice at holy communion, even though this is now permissible, and regardless of whatever precautions are taken to prevent the passing-on of any infection. As a result, there are many lay people who will continue to be deprived of communion in both kinds.

Canon law does not proscribe the use of individual cups to distribute the consecrated wine, as a legal opinion of six barristers has made clear (News, 28 August 2020); so no “change to canon law” is required to permit their use. (“Remote” consecration is a separate issue.) In contrast, the clear injunction in the Thirty-Nine Articles (referred to at every priest’s licensing service) is that “The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.” (Men, of course, includes women.)

The Bishops’ position, I suggest, is untenable, and should be challenged by questions at this month’s General Synod. One obvious solution is for the Bishops to accept the barristers’ opinion and leave it to the local decision of each parish whether to use individual cups, as some are already doing. To kick the can down the road while the Bishops engage in further discussion is not an acceptable option.

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


Readers at funerals

From Julie Berrow

Sir, — I read with interest the two articles on the importance of funeral ministry and the place of the church and priests in reaching out to the bereaved (Features, 29 October).

They did not, however, mention the significant contribution to this ministry of many Readers or licensed lay ministers in the Church of England, who, appropriately trained, are licensed to conduct funerals and pastoral visits.

LLM in Training
Woodbury House
32 Livingstone Street
Worcester WR5 2ES


End the agreed syllabus

From Mr Keith Porteous Wood

Sir, — Martyn Whittock argued in “Stop the sex-education opt-out” (Comment, 29 October) for “a national RS curriculum . . . [to] cover all the world faiths . . . [with] no right to opt out”.

All pupils should be entitled to an impartial religion and belief curriculum, covering a range of religious and non-religious world-views. This should be a national entitlement, and no longer locally determined by special interest groups. And only then should there be no right to opt out.

National Secular Society
307 High Holborn
London WC1V 7LL

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