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Letters to the Editor

10 March 2023


Anglican and Evangelical divisions

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has never claimed to speak for “all” Evangelicals (Letters, 3 March), only the majority who continue to believe in the Church’s doctrine of marriage — as reaffirmed by the Bishops in their proposals to the General Synod. As such, we are not being “conservative”, but simply Anglican as historically understood.

The reasons for continuing to use the terms “orthodox” and “biblical” are rooted in the reality of the Church globally, not in polemics. As Darrin Snyder Belousek has noted (in Marriage, Scripture and the Church), “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.”

In relation to scripture, Luke Timothy Johnson represents the strong consensus of liberal, critical scholarship when he notes: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture [which prohibit any form of same-sex sexual relationship], and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good.”

There is some irony in the letter-writers’ citing the abolitionists as a precedent. It was abolitionists who wanted to return to “biblical” and “orthodox” teaching, against the “revisionists” who claimed that scripture allowed for slavery.

All our churches, including “liberal” ones, are mixed, with congregation members taking a different view from the leadership. That is why failing to offer confident teaching about the doctrine of the Church on marriage has been such a massive missed opportunity.

CEEC, General Synod, and Archbishops’ Council member
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

From the Revd James Paice

Sir, — I read with interest your account (News, 3 March) of the meeting of London clergy with the Bishop of London. Given the numbers attending, it sounds like it was an epoch-making evening.

It was strange, therefore, to read of the Bishop’s recorded response of offering Bishop Rob Munro, when it was made clear by many there (and elsewhere) that only a structural solution would suffice. One wonders: has the listening process of LLF now broken down?

Founder of the Good Stewards Trust
28 Farquhar Road
London SW19 8DA

From the Revd Gareth Wardell

Sir, — I hope those churches who so proudly declare that they will withhold parish share for the sake of their stance against the blessing of LGBT relationships will make their position equally clear on their websites, so that gay Christians will know that those churches are neither welcoming to them nor a safe space.

I served as an Evangelical mission partner in the global South for many years and trained at All Nations Christian College and Ridley Hall. In recent times, I have been contacted by people I studied and served with. In the intervening years, each experienced having one of their children come out to them and wished to talk about this. In some instances, their children were articulating suicidal thoughts.

The unity of the global Church is often cited as a reason for resisting change. I believe passionately in the value of the global Anglican Communion, but in many countries LGBT+ people live in daily fear for their lives. When I served in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the penalty for those found in same-sex relationships was, as it now again is, to be thrown off a high building and, if still alive after that, stoned to death. Surely Christians should be standing up for the human rights of marginalised people, as the late Archbishop Tutu always did, rather than making common cause with their oppressors?

No one should be compelled to use the Prayers of Love and Faith. But, in the interests of transparency, churches should be required to indicate on their websites what their approach is. As someone who was raised in the 1970s and suffered frequent homophobic abuse as a teenager, including violent abuse at school, I find it shocking to realise that, some fifty years later, the Church appears to be the last hold-out of such views, fuelled by a toxic theology that has led young vulnerable people, such as Lizzie Lowe, to take their own lives.

This is a safeguarding issue. Parents have a right to know whether their children will be subjected to teaching on human sexuality which is rejected by all mainstream medical and psychotherapeutic professional bodies, and which could place them at serious risk of harm.

Member of the Bishop of London’s LGBT+ Advisory Group
St Clement and St James Parish Office
95 Sirdar Road
London W11 4EQ

From Mr Philip Belben

Sir, — I find the Primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches to be disingenuous in the extreme in declaring a breach of communion (News, 24 February).

They assert that the Church of England has “chosen” to break communion; but they are the only ones saying that there is a breach, and it seems to be predicated on criteria they have set, after the fact. The criterion seems to be that the Church of England is not submitting to their interpretation of scripture; and yet a cornerstone (arguably the cornerstone) of the Reformation is the notion that no church body has a right to impose an interpretation of scripture on anyone.

As in so many of these debates, I am left wondering why it should be sexuality that precipitates such a declaration rather than (say) attitudes to money, or warfare. There is a long tradition in the Church that usury is a sin.

The Chapel, Maitlands Close
Nettlebridge, Radstock BA3 5AA

Arguing about forgiveness in international affairs

From Dr Audrey Wells

Sir, — Sir Malcolm Evans (Books, 24 February) rebuts my arguments not with facts, but with such comments as “Oh dear!” and “Really?”

My book The Importance of Forgiveness and the Futility of Revenge: Case Studies in Contemporary International Politics argues that forgiveness in international affairs is important as it can save thousands of lives. Forgiveness here means a non-vengeful response involving empathy and legality. I never mention “turning the other cheek”, which could be misconstrued in this context.

In the first chapter, I consider the concept of forgiveness, specifically that of Jesus of Nazareth as discussed by Hannah Arendt. It was she who argued that no one before Jesus had so emphasised the importance of forgiveness in human affairs. Arendt’s idea of the lethal chain reaction of revenge can be seen in the United States-led invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Officially Christian countries should surely set an example of forgiveness There is more emphasis on it in the Christian faith, to which it is pivotal, than in others. Indeed, for some Muslims, revenge is a matter of honour.

The chapter on Russia and Ukraine was written and published, as Evans acknowledges, before the present conflict in Ukraine and refers to that of 2014. The US showed no understanding of Russia’s fears of NATO encirclement, or of the importance of Crimea to Russia, which needed its Black Sea ports, or the effects of the Svoboda party’s attempt in 2014 to ban the use of the Russian language in Ukraine.

This prompted alarmed Russian-speakers there to ask to join Russia. Instead of attempting to understand the situation and demand a UN-monitored referendum to determine the wishes of the people of Crimea, Western countries forgot their own chequered histories, took the moral high ground, and imposed unconstructive sanctions on Russia.

For my own condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 2022, you will recall my article “Kirill Fails to Hold Evil to Account” (Comment, 17 March 2022).

Regarding China, it should be given credit for its colossal achievement in lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty. This should raise a query in the minds of those who condemn it for genocide. A greater effort should be made to understand what is going in Xinjiang, where Islamic extremism and an independence movement, probably fostered by Han chauvinism, present problems that the West well knows.

My book begins with a consideration of the vindictive Versailles Treaty which aided the rise of Hitler. It was the French Foreign minister, Robert Schuman, a devout Christian expressly believing in the power of forgiveness, who ended the age-long revenge cycle between Germany and France, persuading both countries to work together in the European Coal and Steel Community, which he founded, and which grew into the present EU.

Today, we need another statesman like Schuman to end the tragic war between Russia and Ukraine, bringing both countries to work together in an organisation such as NATO, for which they could be invited to apply, provided they became more democratic and far less corrupt. Had Russia been encouraged to join NATO much earlier (Putin did raise the matter with the then Secretary-General of NATO, George Robertson), there would probably be no war in Ukraine today (see “Ex-NATO head says Putin wanted to join alliance early on in his rule”, Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian, 4 November 2021).

2 Cleve Road
London NW6 3RR

Lambeth Palace and safeguarding failures

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — The deeply worrying Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) report on safeguarding at Lambeth Palace (News, 3 March) was in the possession of the Archbishops in advance of the February meeting of the General Synod, at which they sat on their hands and refused to permit a debate of a simple motion designed to ensure that proper time was made available to discuss such matters in depth at the next group of sessions in July.

Simultaneously, nobody in leadership seems to have foreseen that Bishop David Urquhart was about to be shown to be unsuited to be given oversight of safeguarding within his temporary role as Bishop at Lambeth. Last week, The Times disclosed that he has had to be relieved of those duties after entirely predictable controversy about his poor record in this field while Bishop of Birmingham.

In an increasingly “perfect storm”, members of the so called Independent Safeguarding Board were acknowledging that “the current position of the ISB in the Church’s infrastructure is unsustainable,” and that “The ISB does not consider that it is sufficiently independent from those it is responsible for scrutinising”.

This raised two legitimate questions, first: who was responsible for designing the constitutional architecture of this failed system? and, second, would any sensible person really trust those responsible to have another crack at it without first having an external audit of what went wrong? Surely not.

The SCIE report confirms that that Church is a multiple repeat offender; we read that “Record-keeping arrangements have historically been poor, reflecting an inadequate understanding of both legal requirements and good practice.” That might be forgivable — if one were completely unaware that the Elliott review had made precisely the same point in 2017. Nobody learned, nobody remembered.

General Synod member for Rochester diocese
8 Appleshaw Close
Kent DA11 7PB

Tensions behind vitriolic attacks on church leaders

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — The pseudonymous article by Pen Withcare (Comment, 3 March), pleading for less vitriol in attacks on church leaders, is moving and poignant. There has been a serious breakdown in trust and confidence in church leaders, unknown in living memory. How did we get here?

There are strains caused by diminishing financial and human resources, which expose a lack of consensus. There is also a growing lack of respect for authority in all areas of life. But there are more deep-seated problems of “role strain” surrounding church leaders. Under canon law, bishops do not actually have the power to do many of the things that they feel they need to do for the well-being of the Church, or which are expected of them.

This is illustrated in the recent report on safeguarding at Lambeth Palace, which notes the discrepancy between the actual powers of the Archbishop and the safeguarding role that is expected of him. Equally, the Archbishop may have believed that he had a duty to close churches during Covid, but later had to admit that he didn’t actually have the power to do so.

Bishops often exceed their formal powers, acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the Church. This, however, can be seen as bullying, or improper interference. Equally, resistance to extensions of episcopal powers may look like obstruction or antagonism.

There is also a perceived lack of transparency, despite a rhetoric of travelling together. Many dioceses have strategies of growth or mission, while planning for decline. General Synod members feel they have been denied proper opportunity to debate Vision and Strategy (Rebecca Chapman, Comment, 20 January). Pastoral reorganisation schemes are sometimes pushed through without proper consultation or due process.

As Pen Withcare says, the episcopate needs to rebuild trust and confidence. The ability of leaders to bring about change in the Church depends largely not on formal powers, but on winning hearts and minds. There is not much good literature on these issues, but I value The Assault on Authority (1971) by the Jesuit psychoanalyst William Meissner.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

Wee Frees v. the Jedi

From Alistair McBay

Sir, — Amid the contrived controversy in the SNP leadership contest surrounding the religious beliefs of the MSP Kate Forbes (Quotes of the Week, 24 February), it is worth remembering that, in the 2011 Scottish Census, 11746 Scots identified the religion to which they belonged as “Jedi Knights” while fewer, 10986, identified the religion to which they belonged as that of Ms Forbes, namely the Free Church of Scotland denomination.

Sadly, the office of the National Records of Scotland chose to classify Jediism as “no religion”, displaying, in my view, both religious prejudice and a lack of cultural sensitivity.

Whichever candidate wins the SNP leadership election, may the Force be with them!

Lawmuirview, Methven
Perth PH1 3SZ

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