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Letters to the Editor

17 February 2023


Earthquake has been weaponised

From Professor Bob White and Dr Roger Abbott

Sir, — The Ecuadorian theologian Fr Jon Sobrino wrote that an earthquake “is an X-ray of the country in its many dimensions: physical, economic, social, political, cultural and religious. . . It reveals the truth that people would rather keep hidden.”

We found this to be so when we responded to and then researched the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Memories of that catastrophic event are etched into our hearts and minds, as are the many lessons — lessons that should have been implemented by all nations since. After that event, the geoscientist Roger Bilham wrote: “In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction.”

In view of the indisputable evidence of blatant human complicity in the already catastrophic death toll of the recent Turkey/Syria earthquake (News, 10 February), and the reported comment of President Erdogan that “What happens, happens, this is part of fate’s plan,” we identify a very different cause from fate.

Applying the aforementioned X-ray metaphor to the Turkey/Syria disaster, it is clear that there was a lack of preparedness, despite the warnings from Izmit, in 1999, and widespread corruption, in ignoring building codes, which led to so many building collapses, even those involving very new constructions. To add in the additional factors of a brutal war and the geopolitics involved is to confirm that there was very little about this tragedy which was natural or fateful.

After collaborative work as a geophysicist and a theologian, reading the X-ray unites us in our diagnosis of this tragedy. Once more, an earthquake stands to be accused of mass destruction, when all the evidence points to an earthquake just doing what earthquakes do, and then being weaponised to prevent “the truth that people would rather keep hidden”.

c/o The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion
Woolf Building, Westminster College
Cambridge CB3 0UB

Blessing gay unions: debate in and beyond Synod

From Mr Gordon James

Sir, — The Church of England is not “the creation of Parliament”, as claimed by Sir Tony Baldry MP (News, 10 February). This common misunderstanding is not even the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which, in Apostolicae Curae, cited and confirmed the stance taken in correspondence between Cardinal Pole and Pope Paul IV that, after the break with Rome under Henry VIII, the Church of England was the historical Church of the land, in a state of temporary schism.

The Act of Supremacy was passed on 3 November 1534, and, the following Sunday, in parish churches all over England, the same priests celebrated the same mass with the same congregations as on the previous Sunday. Nothing had been created by Parliament. It is true that, briefly under Edward VI, and then again, beginning under Elizabeth I, the Church of England moved in a Protestant direction, a movement that Rome regards as nullifying its nature as a true Church; but at no point was some new entity created. The British Methodist Church also has a status in secular law under an Act of Parliament, but nobody claims that Parliament founded the Methodist Church.

A wonderful friend and colleague of mine was married to her wife in a ceremony conducted by a rebellious friar. I would be delighted if the Church of England approved such ceremonies, but it is for the Church, not Parliament, to make this decision. This is not the 16th century. If Parliament starts dictating what Anglicans must believe, then the time will have come to reclaim the freedom promised in Magna Carta: “Anglicana ecclesia libera sit.”

28 Trencherfield Mill
Heritage Way
Wigan WN3 4DU

From Mr Glyn Fussell

Sir, — I am a happily married man in my fifties. I grew up in the Anglican Church, and, as a younger man, was subjected to exorcisms, abuse, and eventually, gay conversion therapy — all as a move by Anglican clergy and laity to expunge my sexuality. This treatment did me enormous harm. I came to realise that God and the Church were separate and unrelated in any meaningful way.

In the end, I felt that I had no choice other than to leave the Church and to turn my back on my faith. If I hadn’t taken this painful step, I would not have survived. Much of my life since then has been focused on rebuilding my sense of self-worth.

At this point in my life, I am craving a deeper and more affiliated relationship with faith and God. Returning to the Anglican Church, now more than ever, feels like reapproaching a wound. Unlike others, I do not see the Synod’s latest obfuscation around same-sex relationships as a step forward. The message to people like me and my lovely partner has not changed: “You are not acceptable here as you are.”

I am not interested in hand-wringing apologies or antiseptic blessings. To be truly welcome, as a whole person, would require equality. I will remain outside of the Church; it is safer and kinder there.

Address supplied

From Mr Nic Tall

Sir, — The Bishops’ proposals for greater LGBTQIA+ inclusion were supported in the General Synod by 57 per cent, with 41 per cent opposed and two per cent abstaining. A majority for change was achieved in all three Houses.

In the aftermath of the vote, it will be argued that the 41 per cent opposed will need to be catered for. That is only right: the Church should not have a “winner takes all” culture. In the drafting of pastoral guidance and the refinement of prayers, the deep divisions that persist will need to be acknowledged.

The numerical weight of the 57-per-cent vote in favour makes it clear, however, that the inclusive will of the Church should be the senior partner in shaping future directions, and that advancing LGBTQIA+ inclusion is the top priority.

Synod member for Bath & Wells
2 The Orchard, Dowell Close
Taunton, Somerset TA2 6BN

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — Stephen Hofmeyr KC suggested that bishops should abstain in votes by Houses so as not to frustrate majority votes in the other Houses. When the ordination of women was referred to the dioceses, a diocesan bishop, who alone comprised the House of Bishops in his diocese and opposed the Measure, chose to abstain so as not to frustrate the other Houses, only to discover that the Measure needed to be carried in all three Houses. His abstention counted as a tie in his House, and thus a vote to keep the status quo.

The Knowle
Deddington OX15 0TB

From the Revd Greg Downes

Sir, — I was shocked by the theological paucity of the answer by the Archbishop of York to Ben John’s question why some bishops were not defending Anglican teaching (as they have promised), but seeking to change it.

The Archbishop misappropriates Newman’s concept of development of doctrine in a way that Newman would never have approved. Newman’s idea was that development could occur with ideas that were not explicitly in holy scripture, but not contradictory to it.

Is it too much for us to expect the Archbishop not to stray outside the limits of historic orthodoxy?

Wesley House, West End
Witney OX28 1NG

From the Revd David H. Clark

Sir, — Is the Revd Dr Andrew Davison (Comment, 3 February) unaware of Jim Cotter’s excellent The Service of My Love? The celebration and blessing of civil partnership — a pastoral and liturgical handbook. Dr Davison might have paid tribute to Jim’s clear and helpful approach.

34 Granville Avenue
Oadby, Leicester LE2 5FL

From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — The equal-marriage debate has opened up the question of establishment, like it or not. I long for the day when our Church wholeheartedly embraces the gay community and affirms same-sex marriage. I shudder, however, at Parliament’s doing what it did in 1928, dictating its views to the Church. These remnants of the Constantinian age belong in a museum.

Sexual ethics is not the only disputed area of human conduct which affects our discipleship. Those of us, for example, who believe that non-violence is fundamental to the gospel cannot live at ease with the Church’s historic embrace of our militarised culture.

Let us then, as the Body of Christ, act as though we really believe in “the glorious liberty of the children of God”.

42/8 Leeds Street, Wellington
Aotearoa New Zealand

From W. Spooner

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury tells the Anglican Consultative Council that he was “summoned” to Parliament. If he wishes to crown HM The King, he cannot complain about his other constitutional duties, politically difficult as they might be.

52D Charleville Road
London W14 9JH

VAT relief is not a question of pre-Brexit rights

From Andrea Pierce

Sir, — I groaned inwardly when I read Fay Wilson-Rudd’s letter (10 February) on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which is basically an overdue piece of legislative tidying-up.

Without apparent irony, she refers to “the rights that we enjoyed pre-Brexit, including VAT relief on repairs to listed buildings”. The “VAT relief” that she refers to is not a pre-Brexit relief at all, nor in strict terms a VAT relief, but a financial easement introduced by the British Government to mitigate the seriously damaging effect of EU legislation over which the UK had no control at all.

VAT is a broad-based EU tax with a harmonised basis of assessment. Under EU rules, repairs and maintenance are subject to tax, full stop. We are now able to remove VAT from these services, should we wish to do so. If we wish to preserve the effect of the previous beneficial regime, we should lobby the Government accordingly. And, of course, this provides an opportunity to shape a relief much better focused on what we would like to achieve.

I am not qualified to comment on the other issues that she raises, but I do know that the banning of certain substances is a live issue in agriculture. But, in principle, this is all about — to use a very hackneyed expression — taking back control. I am very disappointed that the Government has failed to take the opportunity to ban the import of certain EU foodstuffs that are produced with great cruelty.

Prospect Farm, Sithney
Cornwall TR13 0DE

Comparison to ‘infant-school headmistress’

From Tracey Cansdale

Sir, — The Revd David Ackerman’s comparison of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speaking style to “the tone and manner of an infant-school headmistress” betrays a host of outdated assumptions about our school system and its leaders (Letters, 10 February). I did not watch the live streaming of the service of consecration of the Bishop of Oswestry which provoked Fr Ackerman’s comment, as I was teaching “infants” in a church primary school that I lead as head teacher, in the county where the new Bishop will be based.

I have no idea, however, what tone or manner I am supposed to inhabit by virtue of my position. Such a comment seems to me both patronising and sexist. Head teachers are educational professionals who have no need to “scold”. Instead, we are charged with moulding young minds, inspiring young people to flourish, and helping them make a difference in their communities.

Some of us are also keen to show them that, in the Church of England, outdated cultural stereotypes are challenged and courageous advocacy is promoted. Fr Ackerman would be, I am sure, welcome into any church primary-school assembly to see how it is done.

Head teacher
Christ Church C of E Primary School
Cressage, Shrewsbury SY5 6DH

Keeping schools open and teachers’ strike votes

From Mr Simon Lemieux

Sir, — May I correct a potentially misleading comment by Michael Gosling, CEO of Trinity MAT, in Clive Price’s article (Education, 10 February)? He refers to a “higher number of staff willing to keep their schools open”.

While I do not know the exact situation with his trust, I would point out, respectfully, that unwilling might actually mean unable. The high turnout threshold using postal ballots required for strike action was not met by one of the main teacher unions. While online voting is apparently secure enough to select a new PM and, indeed, the General Synod, it is not deemed robust enough for union strike ballots.

The teacher-recruitment crisis rightly highlighted in the article is testament to why so many teachers feel that they have no alternative but to embark on industrial action. Pay is not the only issue for my state-sector colleagues.

Vice-President, NEU Portsmouth District
18 Salisbury Road, Cosham
Portsmouth PO6 2PN

Restoration of the name of George Bell House

From Mr Roy Sully

Sir, — It was good to read the reflections of the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner (Comment, 10 February), on the bravery of his predecessor at Chichester, George Bell, in speaking out against the blanket bombing of German cities during the Second World War. May I suggest that Dr Warner now go a step further and restore the name of the diocesan guest house at 4 Canon Lane, which until recently was named in honour of Bishop George Bell?

253 Shakespeare Tower
London EC2Y 8DR

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