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Letters to the Editor

08 April 2022

Please send letters intended for the Maundy Thursday edition by 1 p.m on Monday 11 April


Lack of nuclear ban failed Ukraine

From Cdr Robert Forsyth RN (Rtd)

Sir, — As a former RN submariner, I am, of course, pleased that Dr J. T. Hardy (Letters, 1 April) recognises that it is the Royal Navy “on which the safety . . . of this realm [does] chiefly depend”; but if there is one thing that the terrible events in Ukraine have taught us, it is that we should not depend on nuclear weapons. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was viewed by us all as the exit route from the Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction — MAD, indeed; but for too long since its parties have argued the case for continuing to retain them.

NATO is holding back from direct military support in Ukraine because it knows that its nuclear weapons may not deter President Putin from using his Hiroshima-sized tactical nuclear weapons if it crosses the border. The deterrence boot is, therefore, on the Putin, not NATO, foot.

Fifty years after my first patrol as second-in-command of a Polaris missile-equipped submarine, and an older and wiser man, I have to say that, had a similar amount of political and financial effort been expended on nuclear disarmament and devising ways of banning nuclear weapons of mass destruction as has been internationally agreed for chemical and biological ones — and on strengthening our conventional forces, then we might be better placed to stand up to Mr Putin. Over-investment in nuclear, and under-investment in conventional, forces has severely impaired the ability of all three services to ensure “the safety of this realm”.

I can do no better than quote from a public tweet on 4 March by Dr Patricia Lewis, research director at Chatham House: “We had a chance in the ’90s to go much further to abolish nuclear weapons & dragged our feet. Let’s use whatever opportunity that comes after this dreadful war to just get rid of them.” I agree.

The Stile House, Deddington

From Mr Bruce Kent

Sir, — Dr J. T. Hardy’s letter about the Royal Navy and nuclear weapons is a bit of a surprise. He suggests that President Putin will be “disinclined” from ever launching an attack on Britain or other NATO countries because of our nuclear weapons. If this is a justification for possessing weapons of mass murder, it is a rather thin one. Our security depends on Mr Putin’s rationality? Accidents don’t happen?

It also relies on Naval personnel being willing, at all times, to commit mass murder if appropriate orders come. At least, from a Christian point of view, this is not acceptable. It also seems to suggest that if nuclear weapons do provide genuine security, then every country that can afford them ought to acquire a few.

Yet most countries now want them entirely eliminated and have signed up to a draft treaty with that aim.

Is not nuclear-weapon abolition a better, safer, and cheaper road for us to take?

Vice-President, CND
11 Venetia Road
London N41EJ


Credit union makes its offer in straitened times

From the Archdeacon of Dorset

Sir, — We are grateful to the Church Times for giving a mention (News, 25 March) to Churches Mutual’s decision to hold down new loan rates at our credit union in spite of the increases in bank rate. Most employee-based credit unions enjoy strong endorsement from their employer organisations, but the diffuse structures of our sponsoring denominations make this difficult for Churches Mutual; so may I draw the attention of your readers to a couple of other features that could be of interest and benefit to some?

First, for newly ordained clergy, we offer what we call a First Post loan to help with the expenses of moving, e.g. into a first-curacy situation. With a three-month window before the first repayment starts, this would suit, for example, those due to be ordained at Petertide, who will move to their first post over the summer.

Second, as we face the impending cost-of-living crisis — from which, sadly, clergy, too, are not exempt — we can sometimes help with restructuring loans. These can replace high-cost credit at a fairer rate of interest and so enable clergy households to get back in control of their finances and get out of debt much sooner. We also work closely, in specific cases, with the Clergy Support Trust.

While Churches Mutual is fully and resolutely ecumenical (my successor as president and our current treasurer are both from the United Reformed Church), we do have a strong existing membership among Church of England clergy. This dates back to Churches Mutual’s replacing the Church Commissioners’ former car-loan scheme.

And we are well set up to collect loan repayments and savings by payroll deduction for most Anglican clergy. (I should also make clear that Churches Mutual’s membership goes wider than clergy and is open to lay church employees and office-holders across all the participating Churches.)

I am sure that we will continue to serve the Church in this modest way, through the impending difficulties.

Founder and past President, Churches Mutual Credit Union
Sherborne Office
Dairy Barn
Ash Farm Courtyard
Stourpaine DT11 8PW


Royal wheelchair would be an icon of the gospel

From the Revd Zoe Heming

Sir, — I have huge empathy with the Queen’s reluctance to be seen using a wheelchair in public (News, 1 April): I still find it hard even after 12 years. Being so conspicuously “weak” feels incompatible with what life has taught us about dignity, especially in our culture of heroic and strong leadership. Like her, I had never seen myself as “one of them”, but, without mobility aids, I wouldn’t have made it even to my first day of ordination training, let alone follow my calling to priesthood.

Since then, I have learned that the wheelchair, combined with the power (and uniform) given to those with public office, is a vivid, shocking, and prophetic icon of the Good News of Christianity: to be human is to be limited. In stark contrast to the championing of “independent living”, something that Covid has revealed to be an oxymoron, we have, as children of God through baptism, a new dignity, to be found most fully through interdependence, with God and with one another as communities. Our scriptures, liturgies, and hymns are full of this explicit Christian doctrine, but few live it in the flesh — and usually only if we have no choice.

The opportunity to embody that message, not as someone “other” to be either pitied or heroised, arises more frequently than you might imagine, and yet is so rarely taken by those in positions of power, because it is costly in all sorts of ways.

The irony is that, in my experience, I don’t know of a more powerful way to express our faith in a Wounded Healer. The Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a Queen, a widow, a mother, and a dignified disciple of Christ, who embodies her frailty without fear or shame, may never have a better opportunity to share such an icon of Good News with the terrified world this Easter.

The Vicarage
Stafford ST19 9PQ


Rustat case: don’t blame a judge for doing his job

From the Revd Dr Philip Murray

Sir, — Theological arguments about monuments to people connected with the slave trade are complex. But the letter (1 April) on the case concerning Jesus College, Cambridge, fails to meet the court’s judgment on its own terms.

As a matter of law, the reason for the judge’s decision was a simple one: the college had insufficient evidence that the pastoral and missional needs of the chapel required complete removal of Tobias Rustat’s memorial.

The college seemed to be relying on what was, in effect, a hypothetical case: that, even if certain false narratives about the extent of Rustat’s profiting from slavery had been corrected, the fact that he had invested and was involved in slave-trading companies per se created a barrier to mission and pastoral care, one so significant that no explanatory plaque or contextualisation could hope to overcome.

But courts of law cannot allow cases to succeed on hypotheticals. Judges are there to determine the facts and apply the law to those facts. That is what the judge did in this case. The rule of law requires judges to apply the law as it currently is, not as they, or anyone else, might wish it to be. If a different outcome was desired, it is substantive law reform itself to which we should look, not individual judgments of consistory courts.

3 Tennis Court Terrace
Cambridge CB2 1QX

From Catherine Ward

Sir, — The stance of the Archbishops (present and past) and others with regard to the Rustat memorial is disappointing. Surely its removal would open the floodgates for other churches to remove such memorials or artefacts that a group of people think unsuitable.

We are setting ourselves up as judges. Where does forgiveness and redemption figure in all this? “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” History cannot be rewritten.

4 Framland Drive
Melton Mowbray
Leicestershire LE13 1HY

From Mr Richard Sharp

Sir, — Having stated that “this judgment may have far-reaching consequences,” your correspondents ask, rhetorically, whether “if memorials to the likes of Rustat will not be removed or repositioned, will any?”

Writing simultaneously in the Press column, Stephen Bates draws timely attention to an application yet to be determined by the Chancellor of Salisbury diocese regarding a plaque to John Gordon in St Peter’s, Dorchester.

It is far from evident that these two cases can justly be compared. The evidence for Gordon’s enrichment from the proceeds of slavery and his active part in suppressing a slave rebellion is beyond dispute. In contrast, as your correspondents themselves admit, Tobias Rustat “was yet to profit at the time of his benefactions to the college”, while recent research has indicated that his investments in slave-trading companies probably even made a loss.

By carelessly dismissing such facts as irrelevant, your correspondents seem prepared to set the bar for future convictions alarmingly low, taking in all who invested in such ventures at some point. What, then, would be done about Samuel Pepys? Or John Locke?

The densely argued and finely nuanced judgment of 108 pages makes heavy demands on attention and time, but readers who have the opportunity to study it should do so. They will find that the ruling scrupulously follows the guidelines on Contested Heritage in Churches and Cathedrals set forth in May 2021 by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission.

(Chapel Secretary, Jesus College, Cambridge, 1975-76)
16 Front Street, Glanton
Northumberland NE66 4AJ


Be prepared for advent of churchyard weddings

From the Revd Christopher Miles

Sir, — You report (News, 25 March) that legislation has now been passed to permit outdoor weddings, but that it will still require a separate Act of Parliament before weddings can take place in Church of England churchyards. I suggest that now is the time to start preparing at national, diocesan, and even parish level for such weddings, so that we are not caught unawares.

There are many aspects that need to be considered, with adequate guidelines. Just to name a few aspects:

What will be considered a suitable area of the churchyard and at what level will a decision be made, at diocesan level (by faculty?) or at parish level, on the basis on diocesan guidelines?

What training will be given to ordinands and clergy in voice production out of doors? Some clergy, at all levels, seem to think that because they have got a microphone they can “chat” as if they were in someone’s sitting room (thus says a grumpy old man who is hard of hearing).

What fees and charges will be made? The basic fee may be the same, but presumably there will be extras such as outdoor public-address systems and suitable outdoor seating (and where will all of this be stored?).

I would enjoin the Scout motto: “Be prepared”.

2 Spa Close, Hadlow
Tonbridge TN11 0JX


Institutional bullying is like institutional racism

From the Revd Dr Philip Goggins

Sir, — The Revd Paul Skirrow (Comment, 1 April) crystallises much that has already been written about shortcomings in the way in which hierarchical church structures and procedures may constitute a form of embedded/institutionalised bullying of serving clergy. It is clear to many in the Church that this message needs to be heard loud and clear.

A culture of institutional bullying normalises the processes that cause the pain. It distorts leaders’ judgements and anaesthetises any discomfort that they might otherwise feel.

A comparison with institutional racism is instructive. An individual may not have racist intent, but his or her action may still be racist in its effect. Thus, racism “exists in the minds and actions of fair-minded, explicitly anti-racist individuals, and can tarnish otherwise non-discriminatory policies” (Holroyd, 2015, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies).

Apply this to institutional bullying in the Church. For the bullied victims, there is the grim reality. Pain for them is visceral. But at least they have the saving grace of seeing and understanding the injustice. Those, however, who were responsible for setting up the processes, and those who now operate them, have embedded a culture that dulls their own Christian consciences. Many scriptural passages would be apposite.

4 Valley Road
Crewe CW2 8JU

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