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Letters to the Editor

06 May 2022


Steve Baker either naïve or callous

From the Revd Richard Stainer

Sir, — I read with growing concern Huw Spanner’s interview with Steve Baker (Features, 29 April). I would disagree with him over many things, but some of what he said surprised me. I struggle, for example to understand how anyone could have been unaware of Boris Johnson’s propensity for lying until he was elected as Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, Mr Baker’s views on the climate crisis show a remarkable degree of either naïvety or callousness. Like many whose arguments are weak, he makes statements about what the other side is saying which are just untrue. I know of no climate campaigners who are claiming that the world is going to end. Many are saying that increasingly large parts of the world will become unproductive and impossible to live in and we can already see that that is the case.

Two hundred years or more of unbridled capitalism in the West has resulted in carbon-dioxide levels that have warmed the planet so that sea levels are rising, making many island and coastal regions uninhabitable. Climate in many parts of Africa has become so unpredictable that farmers can no longer grow enough food to feed their families.

I wish Mr Baker could have accompanied me to southern Ethiopia back in 2019, when I spoke to farmers who are experiencing severe droughts every couple of years, five times more frequently than they used to. Christian Aid, with whom we travelled, are helping to mitigate some of the worst effects in some communities, but the problem is vast. We are seeing similar difficulties in our link diocese of Kagera in Tanzania.

Mr Baker says that he doesn’t want to “adopt policies that make people poorer and colder”, but seems quite content to continue with a situation that makes many people poorer, hungrier, and hotter. Could it be that Mr Baker’s Christian value of loving your neighbour does not extend to anywhere overseas? Many people around the world have had their way of life threatened, and in many cases ruined, by the climate crisis, and yet he is unwilling to adopt policies that, he says, will threaten the way we live in the UK. In fact, he is making a false assumption.

Our move to net zero carbon as a country, if carefully managed by government, could create jobs and improve the lives of many. For example, if his government had decided to invest money in insulating people’s homes rather than supporting the fossil-fuel industry, then many in the UK would be less cold and less poor.

Mr Baker is right though. Jesus’s big challenge is to love one another, and that includes those beyond our shores who are suffering now as a result of the climate crisis. Such love requires us to change our ways now, and that will require the intervention of the state.

High Hedges, Felsham Road
Bradfield St George
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP30 0AD

From Mr Cameron Conant

Sir, — I was more than a little disheartened to see a double-page interview with the Conservative MP Steve Baker, given Mr Baker’s history of making unhelpful statements about the climate crisis.

Mr Baker claimed: “We’re being bullshitted by people who want to get their own way. Children are being terrified, and young people are having fewer children because they think the world’s going to end; and it isn’t what the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]’s own science says. . . what I’m not willing to do is adopt (climate) policies that make people poorer and colder, and which will therefore not survive contact with the political system, in order to try and address a problem where the worst scenarios actually aren’t now likely.”

I’m at a loss to understand what Mr Baker is even talking about here, but it certainly isn’t anything that the IPCC has said. The IPCC has been clear that unless we nearly cut global greenhouse emissions in half by 2030, we will surpass 1.5°C warming above pre-industrial levels and will incur many of the most severe effects of the climate crisis.

The future costs of failing to decarbonise our energy systems now are astronomical, and, as I write, global greenhouse emissions are still going up. According to UNICEF, one billion children are currently at extreme risk from the effects of the climate.

Despite this desperate situation, the Government is pushing new North Sea oil and gas fields against the explicit warnings of the UN and the International Energy Agency (who say we have more oil and gas from existing developments than we can safely burn) and against the wishes of 500-plus Christian leaders and 68 bishops, who in March wrote to the Government, calling for an end to new oil and gas exploration.

The interview made me think of something that Pope Francis has written: “realities are more important than ideas.” Mr Baker clearly has a lot of ideas; what he could use a great deal more of is reality.

Trustee, Operation Noah
c/o The Neighbourhood Office
40 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UD

From Mr Ian Marchant

Sir, — Here in Wales, we have Dwr Cymru and Transport for Wales, both owned (though not managed) by the Welsh government. I naively thought this rather a good thing, but last week’s interview with Steve Baker has made me realise that “the fruit of this system is impoverishment, misery, tyranny and mass murder.”

I clearly need to think twice before running a bath or taking the train from Hereford to Newport in future.

Fold Granary, Presteigne
Powys LD8 2AG

From Mr Nigel Williams

Sir, — I hope that your readers do not need a detailed explanation of why Steve Baker’s views are wrong and dangerous. If you think that they do, I am happy also to be interviewed by Huw Spanner.

There are many better qualified people, but I have worked as a statistician and fact-checker at Church House, Westminster, and at 55 Tufton Street. If you are persuaded by his comment that “the worst scenarios actually aren’t now likely,” I am happy to lend you a thermometer and a calendar.

11 Worple Road
Epsom, Surrey KT18 5EW

The WCC, Russian Orthodoxy, and Mr Putin

From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — The Church in Wales has been wise to urge the World Council of Churches (WCC) to condemn in no uncertain terms the shameful position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The Acting General Secretary of the WCC, himself an Orthodox priest, has already done so. When the Central Committee meets in June, it will, without doubt, echo that. The Welsh Church was equally wise in not calling for the expulsion of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are powerful reasons for that.

When the Assembly of the WCC meets in Germany in August, the Russian delegation should be there, if they dare, to be faced with the righteous anger of their fellow Christians from around the world. Furthermore, exclusion would put an end to the necessary dialogue that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have tried to initiate. Without it, there can be no reconciliation.

Furthermore, expulsion would also exclude the courageous Russian Orthodox Christians who oppose the war at great cost to themselves. The Patriarch is not the Church. There is a precedent. The WCC did not expel the pro-apartheid Churches of South Africa, but waited for them to repent.

The background to this debate must remain our recognition that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

42/8 Leeds Street
Wellington 6011
New Zealand

From Canon Brian Hails

Sir, — As we look on at the horrors being unjustifiably inflicted on Ukraine, and the apparent inability to have any channel of meaningful communication with the aggressor, I am reminded of the stance that the late Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer took against Hitler during the Second World War.

After deeply serious reflection and a significant, but largely unsuccessful, struggle to engage the German Church in the war against Hitler, he came to the conclusion that Hitler represented the evil of the Antichrist. Bonhoeffer correctly struggled with the ethic of killing another, but finally concluded that, in the interests of the national good, the only way forward was to ensure that Hitler was assassinated. Bonhoeffer took an active part in this process, and, sadly, as we all know, this cost Bonhoeffer his life.

It strikes me that there are obvious parallels. It was very reassuring to discover that the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams had made the journey to challenge the Russian Orthodox Church in their support for Putin. We have not been made aware of the outcome of those talks. For now, therefore, the question remains whether Bonhoeffer’s example is one to be followed today in the pursuit of international peace.

I sometimes wish that I were a younger man with his conscience, respect, and standing.

The Coach House,
7 The Close, Church Lane
Whitburn, Sunderland SR6 7JN

From the Revd Paul King

Sir, — The long letter from Dr Marietta van der Tol (14 April) was and is splendid in its critique of what Metropolitan Kirill has got himself into in Russia. He really cannot stand up to President Putin when they have been in bed together for a long time. Obviously, the price that he would have to pay for disengagement might well be horrific. Siberia for life? Too late. . .

It has kept on happening ever since Constantine became a friend of the Church long, long ago, that the Church has snuggled up to the Establishment and lost its capacity to be prophetic. The Holy Roman Empire exemplified this very clearly and was not actually Holy or Roman. Prince Bishops in Durham must have run the same risk.

The splitting of the Roman Empire into two, with a fresh capital in Constantinople, helped to split the Church into Western Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, and we are only now getting our act together. Thanks be to God for a Russian-speaking scholar such as Dr Rowan Williams who can do at least something to mend fences and assist in lubricating the present state of affairs. Meanwhile, Ukraine bleeds and bleeds.

10 Rossendale Close
Chesterfield S40 3EL

The Bishop of Hertford should not be replaced

From Mr Geoffrey Hollis

Sir, — You report that the Suffragan Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, has been nominated as the next Bishop of Bath & Wells. May I suggest that the resultant vacancy should not be filled.

This post is one of two suffragan bishoprics in the St Albans diocese; the other is Bedford. The diocese also has three archdeacons, the Bishop of St Albans, and the Dean of St Albans Abbey, which means that it is amply supplied with senior clergy.

The churches in this diocese have been put under heavy pressure to meet their Parish Share in full, despite greatly reduced attendances during the pandemic. Dr Beasley threw himself into this task with gusto, personally lecturing the PCC of which I was then a member on the ills that could befall churches that failed to pay their share in full. He told us that the diocese was in dire need, and we duly paid up, despite a recurrent deficit.

Another strategy to keep dioceses afloat is to cut their central costs. A bishop does not come cheap, requiring a large house, and staff, as well as expenses. Abolishing one of the suffragan bishoprics would send a powerful signal that the diocese understands the plight of its parishes and is sharing their burden.

12 Lodge Drive
Hatfield AL9 5HN

Church activities and young people with autism

Sir, — Further to the review of the Nomad podcast (Radio, 29 April), I think that it would be a good idea if churches that feel able to could hold Christian events for young people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) who are often frightened or made anxious by loud noise.

Some of the modifications needed are quite small. These events could leave out some of the usual elements of children’s groups — such as when the leader shouts “I can’t hear you, shout louder!”, which can be upsetting for ASD children. Autism rates are increasing: some estimates state that as many as one in 50 boys may have the condition.

A young relative of ours is on the autistic spectrum. He received ABA (applied behaviour analysis): one-to-one tuition for children with autism. It is based on small rewards such as praise, and there is much fun and laughter. When he began this at the age of four, he couldn’t speak, but the ABA tutor had him talking within a month. Now aged 12, he has friends and is doing well at his secondary school.

It is so good to see people with special needs getting involved in a church and learning about Jesus. It could be amazing if any Christians who feel called to do this could learn basic techniques to help children in their church who have autism. There are now “autism-friendly” and “dementia-friendly” churches. Also Google “Centre for Autism and Theology — University of Aberdeen”.


Maurice’s theology

From the Revd Howard C. Bigg

Sir, — I enjoyed the Revd Dr Ian Bradley’s celebration of the life of F. D. Maurice (Faith, 22 April). I was, however, taken aback by his estimation of Maurice as “the greatest ever British theologian”.

Maurice’s output was indeed immense and broad in its scope, but its very breadth was not matched by its depth. His style is often breathless (much of his work was dictated at speed), and to me, at least, the overall impression is of a man in a hurry.

A comparison with John Henry Newman is perhaps inevitable. Newman surely has a better claim to be regarded as the greatest (Anglican) theologian, at least in the 19th century, with a flawless style to match. And then there’s Rowan Williams. . .

4 Pershore Road, Hardwick
Cambridge CB23 7XQ

Not just Oxford Tories

From Paula Ward

Sir, — The culture of entitlement which Paul Vallely refers to in his piece on the odious story from Westminster about Angela Rayner (Comment, 29 April) is an example in itself of the way in which entitlement is a male issue, and not confined to “Oxford Tories”; why else would he feel the need to refer to Ms Rayner’s “shapely limbs”?

Commenting on a woman’s figure in public is not a compliment. It really is high time the objectivising of women stopped.

Roughlake Cottage
Newton Wamphray
Moffat DG10 9NG

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