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Letters to the Editor

15 September 2023


Disagreement at Archbishop’s Middle East lecture

From Linda Ramsden

Sir, — I am writing in response to your item “Embrace complexity, urges Archbishop Welby in Middle East lecture” (Online news, 7 September). I attended the Embrace the Middle East annual lecture at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 6 September.

When the Archbishop spoke, he said that peace in the Middle East could come only from within the region, with the stronger party (Israel) making the first move. When Daniel Munayer, CEO of Musalaha and resident of Jerusalem spoke, he addressed how reconciliation works on the ground, and emphasised that more and more scholars defined what was happening there as settler colonialism, Israel practising apartheid.

He also graciously corrected the Archbishop on many points. He said that we couldn’t wait for the change in Israel’s moral consciousness to happen first. Examples in history show us that those oppressed speak up. There must be a call for equal human rights and justice for all, and that the Palestinians can take the lead on this. It was clear that the Archbishop was out of his depth and comfort zone.

During the Q&A session, I asked the Archbishop whether, in the light of the important work that the Church did during the apartheid years in South Africa, he would re-examine his position on Israel’s apartheid, mentioned by Daniel and in reports from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and others. In his reply, he refused to do so, rejecting the evidence that Israel is practising apartheid, and he referred to Israel’s constitution.

Within Daniel’s measured response, he stated that Israel didn’t have a constitution: it has laws — thus yet another correction to statements from the Archbishop. The Revd Su McClellan, representing Embrace the Middle East, was gentle and even diplomatic when she provided several examples of Israel’s apartheid policies on the ground.

During the reception that followed, I spoke to the Archbishop and asked whether he would meet Dr Jeff Halper when he is in London this autumn, because, as an Israeli Jew, he has spent nearly 30 years specifically working in support of Palestinians. I was shocked and embarrassed by the Archbishop’s response. The Archbishop drew near to my face, looked directly into my eyes, and said: “No. I have no time in my diary.” He then turned away.

During the Archbishop’s speech earlier that evening, he emphasised that there were two keys to reconciliation: listening to one another and making sacrifices. Yet, he would not wait for even another minute with me so that I could explain that Dr Halper, a former anthropology professor, in his younger days participated in the civil-rights movement and was arrested for doing so. In his demonstration of solidarity with Palestinians, he has stood in front of bulldozers trying to prevent Israeli authorities’ demolishing Palestinian homes in violation of international law. He was even thrown into an Israeli prison after being invited by Palestinians to join internationals to sail into Gaza to break the siege. And he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service (the Quakers), together with the Palestinian academic Professor Ghassan Andoni. It seems that Dr Halper, this Israeli Jew, has something to teach the Archbishop. As a Christian in the Anglican Communion, I certainly have learned from him.

Director, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions UK
London WC1N 3XX

From Mr Jonathan Coulter

Sir, — Like millions brought up to the words of Jesus, I look to the Church of England for leadership on important moral issues. I found Archbishop Welby’s talk on 6 September about reconciliation in the Middle East appalling, however.

He meandered at length without addressing the central issues that prevent reconciliation, notably Israel’s settler-colonial project. Daniel Munayer brought the Archbishop’s omissions into sharp relief. When the Archbishop spoke of Israel’s current far-Right government as if it were a regrettable aberration, Mr Munayer had to point out that this was business as usual for the Palestinians, albeit a bit worse.

Archbishop Welby correctly stated that the more powerful party should lead any reconciliation process, but he failed to follow through. He could have said that this put the onus on Israel, and the powerful Western governments that have doggedly supported it, to start by showing contrition. The C of E, with its 24 seats in the House of Lords, could take the lead by endorsing the late Archbishop Tutu in calling out apartheid in Israel, and by advocating that the Government sanction Israel and refer it to the International Criminal Court. By failing to do these things, Archbishop Welby is placing himself on the wrong side of history.

When Welby said that there could be “no ready-made solutions from outside the region”, I felt that he let the UK and the C of E off the hook. While local parties certainly need to negotiate any solution, outside parties such as the UK, the United States, and the Western Churches need to be part of that solution. Israel’s politics is so extreme that it is likely to change only if it feels pressure from the UK and other Western powers that have given it a carte blanche.

The Archbishop’s inability or unwillingness to grasp this point caused much dismay among the audience, coming to a head when David Cannon, who chairs the Jewish Network for Palestine, walked out of the church with the words: “You have the power!” I felt the same: the Archbishop seemed to be washing his hands of a conflict in the Holy Land for which Britain and the Established Church share responsibility.

Archbishop Welby described “listening” as a vital ingredient in the process of reconciliation, but he himself seems to be failing in this regard. My own experience to date (in correspondence, and in the Q&A session after his talk) is that he will not engage in face-to-face discussion with those who query his own position. For example, I have asked him to consider hard evidence bearing on his condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to the 2019 General Election, but all I got was a blank “Je ne regrette rien.” Britain and the C of E need something better than this.

Secretary of CAMPAIN (Campaign against Misrepresentation in Public Affairs, Information and the News)
21 Stanstead Close
Bromley BR2 9DS

Reviewing the débâcle of Dr Dakin’s ministry as Bishop of Winchester

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — You published a letter from me two years ago (13 August 2021) regarding the situation in the diocese of Winchester after the resignation of Dr Tim Dakin as diocesan Bishop. I was, therefore, very interested to read the report by Madeleine Davies on life in the diocese over the past two years (News, 8 September). She quotes the Revd Ben Sargent, who “observes that he is ‘convinced’ that an independent review may have been needed nearer the time”. This was one of the points made in my letter.

In addition, I also asked whether Caroline Boddington, the then Archbishops’ appointments adviser, would be questioned regarding the research that she undertook into Dr Dakin’s background before the meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission, and how much information the Commission was given regarding Dr Dakin. Did she approach the Church Army, of whose college in Nairobi had had been Principal, or CMS, where he was at the time General Secretary?

I mention this, as it does raise the wider question how much independent research takes place regarding possible candidates to be diocesan bishops. While Winchester was an extreme situation, there are rumblings under the surface in other dioceses.

Several people contacted me, following up on my letter. I was encouraged to pursue the questions that I had raised. I therefore wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury on 23 August 2021, asking who might be chairing a review group, so that I and others might contribute. Eventually, on 12 October, I received a response from the then Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton.

In Bishop Thornton’s letter to me he stated: “I can assure you there will be a lessons learnt review in due course. I know that Bishop Sarah who has been leading on these matters on behalf of the Archbishop will want to set up a review and am sure there will be opportunity for you to feed into that.”

Two years on, and I have never heard another word about a review, and from the comment by Ben Sargent it would appear that one has not taken place.

As the article suggests, “the exact causes of this breakdown in trust, and the resignation of Dr Dakin, remain unclear for many outside — and some within — the diocese. There has been no official public account of the events that prompted it.” Some have suggested that it was Dr Dakin’s style of leadership — for example, imposing a plan on the diocese. This is a charge that some people in the diocese of Truro have made about the current Bishop soon to be translated to Winchester (News, 2 June).

One final comment: last week’s article states that Bishop Frith’s task was to help the diocese “to move forward from the events of the recent past, to enable a process of reconciliation and healing”. Is that reconciliation within the diocese alone, or does it include reconciliation between people in the diocese and Dr Dakin — or is he to be forgotten about?

10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth, Dorset

From Professor Joy Carter, Canon Professor Peter Neil, and the Revd Dr John Gay

Sir, — Further to your article about the diocese of Winchester and Dr Tim Dakin: in the educational realm, where he was the first diocesan bishop to hold additionally the national portfolio for higher and further education, his involvement can be cast in a more positive light.

As one of the trustee governors of the University of Winchester, he made an excellent contribution, which was much valued. At a national level, he strongly supported the Cathedrals Group of church-related universities, and also the international grouping of the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC).

He was responsible for the Church of England’s production of national vision statements both for higher and further education, and encouraged research work to help the Church’s universities plan for their futures.

When any reputational assessment is made, we hope that these positive aspects will be included in the mix.

JOY CARTER (Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester 2006-21); PETER NEIL (Vice Chancellor of Bishop Grosseteste University Lincoln 2013-23 and Chair of CUAC); John Gay (Hon. Research Fellow in Education, University of Oxford

c/o 43A Bulmershe Road
Reading RG1 5RH

No ‘assault on theology’ in diocese of Leicester

From the Bishops of Leicester and Loughborough

Sir, — In a column about the need for care with words (Comment, 8 September), we were concerned that Canon Angela Tilby spoke so disparagingly about not only our diocese, but the thousands of people involved in pioneering ministries and fresh expressions. To speak of these faithful and creative initiatives, often led by volunteers, as an “assault on theology” is unjust and unmerited.

As for what we are doing in Leicester, perhaps Canon Tilby would like to come to visit, so that we can talk theology and discuss what language is appropriate when we are trying to serve not only the 16,000 people who regularly attend our churches, but also the one million who live in Leicester and Leicestershire, and have little if any contact with our churches, and certainly don’t speak “our language”. She is welcome any time.

c/oBishop’s Lodge
12 Springfield Road
Leicester LE2 3BD

Difference in orders

From Mr Derek Wellman

Sir, — I liked the photo from September 1963 of Bishop Mervyn Stockwood with some of his first “worker priests” (Feature, 8 September). It particularly caught my eye that, while the newly ordained are all downing their pints, the Bishop is drinking from a wine glass.

52 Nettleham Road
Lincoln LN2 1RH

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