Self-esteem and ‘positive regard’
From the Revd Richard Worsley.
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s column is always for me a source of stimulation. Her column (Comment, 26 March) left me feeling ambivalent about its message. She is right that self-indulgent and uncritical self-regard is bad, and perhaps characteristic of aspects of our age. She links this, however, to the work of Carl Rogers.
Rogers’s thought, and its theological implications, has occupied me for a long while, as I have been a priest, a therapist, and a teacher of therapy. The phrase “high self-esteem” is not one that crops up regularly in his writing, and with good reason. It is not a coherent idea, varying from a very healthy view of the self through to a self-obsessed version of self. We, therefore, must stick with his own term of “unconditional positive regard” to make a psychological or theological assessment of Rogerian thought.
The origin of his theory in his own life is important here. As a young therapist and teacher at Rochester, New York, he was given a group of students who were seen as a bad bet for the expensive offer of psychodynamic therapy. He sat with them in a group for several weeks. He was astonished when his group were assessed to have made better progress than the more promising group. His theory was simply one of his attempts to express the reason for this event.
He does not speak of high self-regard as healthy. Rather, he looks at the relationship between three core conditions. The relationship matters. (The three core conditions are in fact a simplification of his actual theory, but useful for us.) Positive regard is unconditional. Some forms of high self-esteem flow from highly conditional relationships. Unconditional positive regard does not — should not — lead us to conclude that we are wonderful, but, rather, that, however fallible, we do not need to fulfil others’ conditions for us.
Alongside this, there is an interaction with the other two core conditions. Empathy leads us to see that we are worth understanding, not least by ourselves. There is a complex interaction here of the content of our mental processes and the actual process of experiencing our selfhood. But congruence is the key. I need to experience in myself and from others an emotional honesty with insight. Sometimes the most useful congruence provides tough news. It is not comfortable. No high but false self-esteem in this. Rather, the truth about ourselves, for ourselves, is just friendly enough to allow growth.
So, where does this cut in theologically? Rogers’s theory is not as simple as some may suppose, and certainly does not claim that we are basically “good”. UPR is a nourishing but tough route to growth. When Jesus cites the second commandment, he reminds us that we must, as children of God, love our neighbours as ourselves. We must love ourselves. We do so not out of a high view of ourselves but out of God’s — if you will forgive the phrase — unconditional positive regard for us.
11 Oberon Way
Bingley BD16 1WH
Policing of Clapham Common event examined
From Mr John M. Edwards
Sir, — You reported (News, 19 March) that the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, was critical of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common.
She was, of course, not alone in voicing criticism of the police’s handling of the vigil. Many leading politicians were quick to call for the resignation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, on the basis largely of what they viewed on television from the comfort of their living rooms.
Within days, however, a different picture was emerging. The police had done everything to disperse the crowd in a peaceful manner; they had allowed people to lay flowers, pausing for a few moments before leaving. It was only when some of the crowd refused to comply with Covid-19 legislation that the police were faced with the difficulty of some who declined to provide their names and addresses, and arrests followed, using an assigned technique of one officer to each limb so as to enforce the law without injury.
Scotland Yard was exonerated over its policing in last week’s report by the independent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescues. The report also condemned the “chorus” of public figures who attacked the Met after the arrest of female protesters at Clapham Common.
I trust that, with the benefit of hindsight, Bishop Treweek will have the grace to acknowledge that, without the complete picture, the timing of her remarks was ill-judged and also that they were incorrect.
JOHN M. EDWARDS
32 King Edward Avenue
Lytham St Anne’s FY8 1DP
Disparities between religious beliefs and conduct
From Canon David Primrose
Sir, — We should not be surprised that religious faith remains important for one in three people who are embarking on marital infidelity, half of the 3650 participants in Ashley Madison research (News, 1 April) holding that their faith should still teach adultery to be wrong. There is an elusive aspect to sin, as St Paul teaches in Romans 9.17ff.
As a real-world-research practitioner, I explored how chaotic heroin addicts in Pakistan explained their drug-related behaviour while remaining committed to their faith’s teaching with which those actions were in conflict. My doctorate, begun in parish ministry and completed as a diocesan social-responsibility officer, considered how people, held in high regard by their own church community, dealt with private memories of moral failings. This latter research focused on behaviour that might be considered of lesser moral gravity, such as failure to be a good parent or exaggerated expense claims, these not being public knowledge.
The coping strategies used to deal with these recollections were linked to the moral perspectives of virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology. They highlighted splits in an understanding of personhood based on: actual v. ideal; self v. others; and present v. past and future. This subsequently led to ideas on how preaching that includes moral exhortation could be nuanced in ways that equip people to grow as disciples, enabling personal behaviour to accord with moral aspiration.
The Chapter Office
19A The Close
Lichfield WS13 7LD
Stipend, parish share, and a new departure
From the Revd Martin Down
Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 26 February) refers to a letter of mine published in The Spectator, in which I had suggested a new relationship between the parishes and the bureaucracy of the Church of England: “stop paying the parish share; ignore everything that comes from the diocesan office; employ local tradesmen to do the repairs on the church and the parsonage house; and get on with the job that God has called you to do in the parish. Then see what happens! God is faithful and will provide for all your needs,” (though Mr Brown omitted the most important words above in italics).
Mr Brown then goes on to accuse me of writing this from the point of view of a vicar cosseted for 55 years by the Church Commissioners. On the contrary, this was written out of my own experience.
I was indeed for most of my ministry paid a stipend by the Church Commissioners. It would be tedious to rehearse the fundamental changes that have taken place over the years with regard to the payment of the clergy. By the time I was first an incumbent, we were indeed all beginning to be payed a standard stipend by the Church Commissioners, though even then that was funded from historic endowments, not from Parish Share.
In 2000, however, I faced a choice: to continue, as the vicar of two country parishes, to be paid by the Church Commissioners and housed in the parsonage, or to resign and continue as the priest-in-charge of a new congregation that we had planted in the Community Centre. I resigned as the incumbent of the parishes and committed myself to the new congregation, with no assurance that anyone would pay me, with no house to move into, and indeed a big question mark hanging over our whole future within the Church of England.
To cut a long story short, the Church of England decided it wanted to keep us, and over several years of my ministry and that of my successor, we evolved an arrangement by which, today, this new church, the Fountain of Life in Norfolk, pays and houses its own minister directly, has built and now maintains its own extensive buildings and facilities on the outskirts of the village, and — yes — voluntarily gives ten per cent of its ordinary income to the diocese of Norwich, the support and oversight of whose Bishop the church continues to enjoy; so much so, that the church is now designated a resource church for the diocese.
In my original letter to The Spectator, I was merely encouraging others to step out in faith like us: to invest their time and their money in the work of the Kingdom rather than squander so much of it on feeding that insatiable animal, the bureaucracy of the Church of England.
People might like to look out for a book, Re-digging the Wells, by my successor Stephen Mawditt, due to be published this summer, which tells this story more fully. Bishop Graham James oversaw it all, and blessed it.
Witney OX28 4JL
Scripture Union review
From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss
Sir, — From your coverage of John Smyth and the Scripture Union (News, 1 April), we learn that “One of the revelations from the SU report is that Bishop Paul Butler, at the time President of Scripture Union and Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, was told in 2015, yet appears to have done nothing.”
Failure to take action when abuse is reported is recognised as a serious matter. Can we expect Bishop Butler to be suspended while this revelation is investigated?
There is a marked contrast between this revelation of inaction and Bishop Butler’s defence, later in 2015, in the House of Lords, of what Lord Carlile has described as “a rush to judgement” on “a single unfounded allegation” against Bishop George Bell.
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER
Face masks in church
From the Revd Douglas Dales
Sir, — If people are sitting suitably spaced out in church, the effectiveness of face masks is minimal, and they promote undue fear in a place that should be a refuge of peace. Christians are bidden in scripture to worship with open faces (2 Corinthians 3.18). Now that those at risk of serious illness as a result of infection with Covid-19 have been vaccinated, it is no longer appropriate for the State to dictate something contrary to this principle.
The Glebe House, 3 Drakes Farm
Berkshire RG20 7DF