Workplace dignity and Oxford dons
From Professors Gordon Lynch, Stephen Pattison, and Linda Woodhead, and 21 others
Sir, — We write as academics working in the field of theology and religious studies to express our concern about ongoing events at Christ Church, Oxford, in which several of our colleagues are involved.
We affirm the basic principle of dignity in the workplace and note the importance of upholding that principle in relation to all parties involved in investigatory and disciplinary processes. Unless used efficiently and humanely, such processes themselves cause harm. The previous disproportionate actions by the College against the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, have contributed to a current situation in which no one is well served.
We welcome the Charity Commission’s interest in this case. We also believe that senior figures in the University of Oxford, such as the Vice-Chancellor, as well as senior leaders in the Church of England, have a responsibility for upholding the basic principle of dignity for all in the workplace, and should not merely remain silent.
We call upon them, and all colleagues directly involved, to help achieve a just and speedy resolution.
NICK ADAMS, JOHN BARCLAY, SYLVIA COLLINS-MAYO, ABBY DAY, G. R. EVANS, GORDON LYNCH, DIARMAID MacCULLOCH, ELAINE GRAHAM, MATHEW J. GUEST, GERARD LOUGHLIN, WALTER MOBERLY, RACHEL MUERS, CHRISTOPHER PARTRIDGE, STEPHEN PATTISON, ALEC RYRIE, NICOLA SLEE, GRAEME SMITH, ROBERT SONG, JOHANNA STIEBERT, IAIN TORRANCE, HEATHER WALTON, PETE WARD, LINDA WOODHEAD, JAMES WOODWARD
c/o Department of Philosophy, Politics and Religion
Lancaster LA1 4YD
Archbishop of Canterbury on political standards
From Don Manley
Sir, — The Old Testament obviously misreported the prophets. Isaiah really said something like this: “It’s a pity about the drunkards of Ephraim, but there you go — one or two of them always liked a drink too many. ’Twas ever thus.’’ And what Amos actually said was ‘‘Yes, alas! there are a few rotten shepherds, but there’s nothing much we can do about it.” In making allowances for our Prime Minister (News, 30 April), the Archbishop of Canterbury is surely following what we now understand to be the prophets’ authentic messages.
26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW
From Mr Bob Thomas
Sir, — What hope is there for a Church whose leaders cannot promote integrity in public life? It is any surprise that more and more people find the Church irrelevant, when it does not even stand up for the truth? What relevance can the people see in a Church that sets the moral bar so low that honesty counts for nothing?
Ted Hastings recently asked in Line of Duty: “When did we stop caring about honesty?” Perhaps society at large does not care for truth any more, but whose fault is that, when church leaders do not seem to care either?
Church attendance continues to fall at an increasing rate. If there is no Church left in 50 years’ time, it will not be due to styles of worship or the quality of the coffee served on a Sunday morning, but because the Church’s leaders have preferred to bolster the political status quo rather than speak truth to power.
BOB THOMAS (Reader Emeritus)
31 Lodge Road
Locks Heath SO31 6QY
Elections to the General Synod’s House of Clergy
From Prebendary Sarah Schofield
Sir, — As the time for elections to the General Synod draws near, I would like to offer some reflections on my five years, which ended this year, spent on the Archbishops’ Council as an elected member. Attention has rightly been drawn to the part played by those at the highest levels in transforming the leadership of the Church of England; but there is, I believe, a risk that ordinary electors let themselves off the hook. My concern arises out of the 2020 elections from the House of Clergy to the Archbishops’ Council.
Despite #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and a Church-wide concern about the involvement of young people in governance, the House of Clergy nominees to Archbishops’ Council elections were all male, white, and aged 50 or above — worse than in 2015, when there was one female priest and a smattering of people under 50. In contrast, over my five-year term, vacant places for Archbishops’ appointments were advertised and interviews were held. These resulted in young, female, and UKME candidates’ being proposed to the Synod by the Archbishops, whereas in 2020 the House of Clergy narrowed the range of people it considered for election in almost every area, visible disability being a notable exception.
There is not much democracy in the Church of England, but, where there is, it must be used to hold the institution to account. Not to vote or not to nominate people for election is simply to increase the influence of those who do. If we are going to transform the Church, that means transforming its democratic institutions. Fellow Synod members often tell me, and I have said it myself, that they “speak up for others”; but how much better to have “the others” in the Synod chamber!
I urge existing members to act as mentors, encouragers, and nominators, even if you are standing again and this might risk your losing to someone else. The tradition of losing something to gain something is well established in Christian theology: why should it not be applied to a Synod election?
On the basis of the House of Clergy elections to the Archbishops’ Council, I fear that the older white men of the Church of England, some of whom have the best of intentions on behalf of “the outsider”, will continue to crowd the powerful “insider” places. If we do not have a far wider range of people on our ballot papers in the Synod elections, it will be an indictment of the depth of genuine commitment among the clergy to a more diverse leadership.
The Chaplaincy, Molineux Street
University of Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton WV1 1DT
From Lorna Dorrinton
Sir, — It was with great sadness that I read of the campaign to raise 2.3 million to build a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate those who have died of Covd-19. I am sure that within this wonderful building a quiet place could be found and set aside for people to pray, reflect, and lament about the events of 2020-21. If desired, a small plaque could be designed and produced by one of the cathedral’s stonemasons.
Surely, the past year has highlighted so many of the areas of need within our society and the world — not least poverty, the hungry, homelessness, care of the vulnerable, the lonely, and those suffering with mental-heath challenges. I can think of far better uses for this vast sum of money, and ones that will help to build God’s Kingdom on earth. Matthew 25 comes to mind.
3 Richmond Terrace, Appledore
Devon EX39 1PG
The C of E and Shell
From Dr Robin Rowles
Sir, — It is certainly disconcerting to read the comments in Canon Rachel Mash’s letter (30 April) about the destruction caused by what Shell is doing in Africa. I do hope this doesn’t mean that Canon Mash is implying that we abandon “big oil” and turn our thoughts, for instance, to electric vehicles (EVs) and their obvious environmental advantages, because I have bad news.
Lithium mining (for EV and other batteries) is as big an environmental disaster as oil exploration, if not bigger, if the reports coming out of northern Portugal are to be believed. Indeed, it is seen as such a disaster that the Portuguese government has cancelled the licence of the mining company involved!
The C of E’s engagement with Shell is being led by the Pensions Board, not the Church Commissioners, as stated in last week’s letter. We apologise for the error. Editor
Black and Tans and the brutality in Ireland, 1921
From Mr P. C. Thompson
Sir, — I refer to the piece in the 100 Years Ago spot (23 April). The headline “Police ‘excesses’ in Ireland” betrays a lamentable ignorance of the situation in Ireland at the time.
The “corps” that Lloyd George referred to cannot possibly have been the police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary: it is inconceivable that more than 300 men of the RIC should have been found “unsuitable as members of the police force”. Lloyd George’s “corps” must be the auxiliary force known as the Black and Tans, whose members often behaved disgracefully.
As an Irish friend has written to me, “It is a tragedy that the reputation of the RIC has been sullied — irrevocably for some people — by association with the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans.”
P. C. THOMPSON
16 Edgar Street
Worcester WR1 2LR
Prisoner in Iran
From Mr David Wang
Sir, — When will our Government stop the ridiculous political posturing over the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (News, 30 April)? It is gross hypocrisy, when we have the means to end the dispute and the hostage situation, which for some time has been known to be about a historic arms deal, and is acknowledged to be so by Iran.
This family has suffered enough. I am surprised that the Church is not speaking out loudly to our Government on the importance of acting justly. I can see no moral justification for not expeditiously paying back the financial debt and interest owed, regardless of anything else, or we are in danger being the ones holding this dear family hostage.
121 East Acton Lane
London W3 7HB
From Mr John J. C. Freeman
Sir, — Things are not as dire as Canon Gomersall stated (Letters, 30 April). In the lectionary, we remember the seven Melanesian Martyrs on 24 April. Out of his total of 325 this comes to 2.15 per cent. They were citizens of either Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, or the Solomon Islands, and I can assure Canon Gomersall that they would be fairly classified as black members of the Church. I acknowledge that they were all men, but they were not clergy, and, as members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, they were celibate.
JOHN J. C. FREEMAN
20a Leigh Way, Weaverham
Northwich CW8 3PR
Why speak of power?
From the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane
Sir, — I was pleased to hear of the new report to support clergy through each stage of our working lives, but am alarmed at the title, Moving in Power (News, 23 April). In power? Don’t we “move in service”?
19a The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD