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Letters to the Editor

09 September 2022


Reluctant criticism of the BBC

From Mr Rupert Shortt

Sir, — Paul Vallely (Comment, 2 September) underplays legitimate concerns about BBC impartiality felt by centrists and small-c conservatives. Don’t take my word for it alone. No less a figure than John Humphrys has contributed several articles to national dailies deploring a fall in journalistic standards at the Corporation over the past two decades. Another veteran correspondent, Martin Bell, wrote to The Times last year, describing the Six O’Clock News as little more than a rehearsal of sectional interests appended to a health bulletin.

I know Guardian readers — let alone others — who have stopped listening to a flagship arts programme such as Front Row on Radio 4 because of its unremitting focus on identity politics. And, as a Christian, I am weary of hearing my world-view mocked or misinterpreted in influential arenas such as Start the Week, usually without any airing of the case for the defence.

These examples could be multiplied (for expert guidance, I recommend another former BBC insider, such as Roger Mosey, whose recently published book 20 Things That Would Make the News Better radiates good sense). The core point is this. Those of us who fear that much BBC output does indeed reflect a secular and Left-leaning metropolitan mindset very often do so with heavy hearts, not through any malicious intent.

Paul Vallely is, of course, on strong ground in excoriating “post-truth” fantasists in the United States — though others are not wrong to lament liberal bias in the American print media as well. The New York Times and other publications are now shadows of their former selves. We are seeing polarisation across the board. This is the wider background against which calls for objectivity matter so much.

A final memo to the BBC. More religious-affairs coverage and foreign news, please. Though religion is the pre-eminent expression of human culture, one would never think so on the basis of the Corporation’s output overall.

St Edmund’s College
Cambridge CB3 0BN

Questionable findings
of ComRes survey

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — I am concerned about the uncritical way in which the recent ComRes survey of prayer and attendance at public worship (News, 30 August) is being reported. Like the similar poll commissioned last year by the Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer, some of the findings are so out of line with what we know from other larger and more carefully conducted surveys that the only reasonable conclusion is that something has gone badly wrong with the research.

The high percentage of young people attending public worship at least once a month (an astonishing 49 per cent in the 2021 poll) is so out of line with church-attendance statistics, and with more reliable data such as those in the British Social Attitudes Survey, that it cannot be right. The same is true of the finding that young people are attending church more than older. We have less good data from other sources on personal prayer, and it is possible that people pray more than the decline in levels of religious attendance would suggest.

Nevertheless, the fact that some of the ComRes Data is completely unbelievable casts doubt on all the findings. The samples are small, and they are obviously unrepresentative of the population as a whole. With religious polling, as with political opinion polls, there can be rogue polls that just get things completely wrong.

There are dangers in the Church’s basing its strategy on unreliable findings. Misleading data can encourage church leaders to live in a fantasy world about the current missionary challenges. There is also reputational risk in disseminating poor-quality data in a completely uncritical way. It makes the Church look incompetent, and easy prey to the kind of criticisms that Humanists UK are making of this research.

It is disheartening that the Church is not adhering to accepted scientific research criteria, and is not making use of the research expertise that is available within it.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

Anglican disagreement on sexuality after Lambeth

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — I am quite surprised to read the call from the Revd Marcus Green and Canon Richard Peers (Letters, 26 August) for the Church of England to follow the example of the Lambeth Conference on differences in our understanding of sexuality (a call echoed by some bishops in ad clerums to their dioceses) on the basis of what the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated.

This approach seems to assume that the Archbishop of Canterbury is an “Anglican pope”, who can declare by fiat that a view is theologically valid — or, perhaps, that a theological issue is a “thing indifferent” — and avoid any further process of discussion. The Archbishop claimed that those Churches that have changed their position have done so “by a process of reception”, which is manifestly untrue. Instead, the Communion appears to have now become a federation of independent Churches, already autonomous canonically, and now autonomous theologically, too.

To bring this approach to the Church of England would mean dioceses’ declaring theological autonomy from one another — or, in reality, no longer having a single Church of England. Is that really what they are asking for?

Darrin Belousek (in Marriage, Scripture and the Church, page 52) notes that “The creational-covenant pattern of marriage . . . is a consensus doctrine of the church catholic. Until the present generation, all Christians everywhere have believed, and every branch of the Christian tradition has taught, that marriage is man-woman monogamy.”

If the Church of England is to remain part of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, we are going to need a better process than that at Lambeth.

Member of the General Synod and the Archbishops’ Council
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

Bishop Bell and the World Council of Churches

From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

Sir, — While I was glad to see a reference to the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester in Canon Jeremy Morris’s article on the World Council of Churches (Comment, 2 September), I was surprised that there was no reference to Bell’s having been a founding member of this movement in its embryonic stages before its establishment in 1948, and serving as its president and chair of its central committee from 1950 until 1958, the year of his death.

There was also no reference to his seeing its immediate and most urgent task as not so much promoting understanding and cooperation between the many branches of the Christian Church worldwide — important though this was to him, as illustrated by his own work with members of the Confessing Church in Germany during the Nazi era — as addressing the appalling suffering of the victims of war, especially displaced persons and refugees, as, in his own words, “a matter of life and death”.

Bell’s personal concern and involvement with refugees to this country in the 1930s and 1940s provides an example that more church leaders here and elsewhere could emulate. There can, I think, be little doubt that, were he president of the WCC now, he would be encouraging that organisation to take a much more proactive and outspoken stance on the current refugee crisis facing the entire world, challenging not only national Churches of all denominations, but national governments, too, to do more to address and resolve the situation.

It is all very well to write, as Canon Morris does here, that “the ecumenical movement . . . has been a great conduit for inspiration and ideas that have shaped church life by cross-fertilising ecclesiastical cultures” and that “Christian unity is a long, long journey of mutual learning.” I think that Bell would be challenging the WCC to demonstrate that unity in tangible ways by focusing much more on the relief of humanitarian crises in the first instance than it appears to be doing at present.

It is through working together, as much as through worshipping together, that Churches throughout the world could make a very real difference and thus begin to shorten that “long, long journey”.

A Bishop George Bell Memorial Fund for refugees has been set up under the auspices of the Christian charity Barnabas Aid.

25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ

Holiday cover and obstacles to help by the retired

From the Revd Malcolm Liles

Sir, — As secretary of the Retired Clergy Association of the Church of England, I often receive correspondence and emails from retired clergy who now feel forgotten in the Church of England; and the absence of any mention of retired clergy in diocesan strategy and development plans that I have seen reflects this.

Many dioceses have ceased publishing directories; so their stipendiary clergy may not even know of the existence of retired clergy or non-stipendiary clergy in their area, unless these attend their particular church.

As a result, I have every sympathy with the stipendiary clergy who have such difficulty in finding cover during holidays, illness, etc (Leader comment, 26 August; Letter, 2 September).

Also, unfortunately, in some dioceses, the Church of England has shot itself in the foot by requiring retired clergy to undertake the “leadership” safeguarding course instead of offering the “PTO pathway” safeguarding course.

This has been in existence for the past 18 months but not yet implemented universally, and relates much more to the actual work that they might be expected to undertake. As a result of this action, many retired clergy have decided not to renew their PTO (permission to officiate) over the past couple of years.

There is also the issue that retired clergy often take services on behalf of absent incumbents but never receive any fee or even travelling costs. Surely, the labourer is worthy of her/his hire? Diocesan fee scales, often set at around £25/35, do not reflect the time spent in preparing worship or taking the service, probably amounting to six to seven hours. The fee is well below the living wage for the time spent.

There should be no need to close churches during the summer for lack of trained and authorised clergy. What is lacking is the ability to identify who and where they are. Until the National Clergy Register proves itself to be an accurate source of information, maybe dioceses could circulate lists of clergy with PTO to their area deans? This should happen, but my experience tells me that such information is often lacking.

473 City Road
Sheffield S2 1GF

Cri de cœur for Church of England young people

From Lucy Moore

Sir, — The letter “Lack of Church of England provision for young people” (19 August) gives us an insight into a young adult who loves God, the Church, and the Church of England in particular — and who has the courage to express their sadness and fear.

They are rightly anxious about what the C of E might become if we don’t include people of all ages as equally valuable members of the body of Christ.

The local church community can be a counter-cultural force for phenomenal good, bringing generations together to grow more Christlike, old and young learning from and with each other, transforming their local community and growing the Kingdom.

If any generation is missing, we’re not all we could be. We must engage with and listen to the voices of the missing generations with an attitude of humility to find out what unique wisdom they can offer. And we should act wisely, imaginatively, and courageously on what we hear.

The Church of England has an ambitious target of doubling the numbers of children and young people, and through the Growing Faith Foundation, we want to help every community — church, school, homes — play their part in making space for the writer of that letter and others their age and younger to help shape the Church of today so it can become an even more mind-boggling force for good.

Head of the Growing Faith Foundation
Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Hearing loops affected by new lighting systems

From the Revd Martin King

Sir, — I note with interest Canon Cecil Heatley’s comment (Letters, 2 September) on installed loop systems that are “not working”. I am aware of two different church loop systems whose working has been seriously compromised by the installation of a new, all-singing, all-dancing church lighting system.

The technology of loop systems is simplistic, and consequently unable to exclude electromagnetic emission from a lighting system. In contrast, lighting equipment meeting standards limiting electromagnetic radiation is readily available. A competent electrical engineer should be capable of designing suitably configured and shielded wiring circuits, though perhaps at extra cost.

It is, therefore, essential that a church obtaining quotations for a lighting system specify protection of the integrity of any installed loop system, and any subsequent contract should include tests involving a hearing-aid-loop user as a condition of acceptance.

Diocesan advisory committees should make these precautions a condition of any new lighting-system faculty.

29 Parkfields
Welwyn Garden City
Hertfordshire AL8 6EE

Not a junior choice

From Carolyn Jay

Sir, — Were there no speakers under the age of 50 at Greenbelt this year (News, Feature, 2 September)?

48 Lynch Hill Park, Whitchurch
Hampshire RG28 7NF

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