Vocational choices and God’s will
From Canon Brian Davis
Sir, — I hope I am not alone in finding Kevin DeYoung’s article very odd (Vocations, 10 November). Although the title is “The Almighty isn’t going to make our decisions for us”, he goes on to describe a God totally in charge of everything. “Everything that comes to pass is according to God’s sovereign decree. And all that he decrees will ultimately come to pass,” and, again, “God micromanages our lives. . .”
As a young curate, I struggled with the idea of a God who is in total control of everything, including our own lives. I was greatly helped by Bishop John V. Taylor: in his Weep Not for Me: Meditations on the Cross and the resurrection (1986).
He describes a visit to a young couple whose two-year-old daughter had been found dead in her cot. “I said to them . . . that their child’s death was a tragic accident, an unforeseeable failure in the functioning of the little body; so far from being willed and planned by God, it was for him a disaster and a frustration of his will for life and fulfilment, just as it was for them, that God shared their pain and loss and was with them in it.”
I, too, had a son who died suddenly at the age of 29. I could not believe that his death was planned by an all-loving God. The Bishop continued: “God is not a potentate ordering this or that to happen, but that the world is full of chance and accident and God has let it be so because that is the only sort of world in which freedom, development, responsibility and love could come into being.”
He goes on to emphasise that God was committed to our world in love and to every person in it. He was with this young couple in this tragedy, “giving himself to them in fortitude and healing and faith to help them through. And their child was held in that same caring, suffering love.”
It would help, I believe, if, in our prayers, we substituted “All-loving God” for “Almighty God”, which seems everywhere in Common Worship, as, for instance, in the blessing at the end of every service. Surely, the most significant attribute of the God whom Jesus revealed is not being Almighty, but being All-loving. As St John writes: “God is love.” And we pray in the name and the Spirit of the God who is love.
62 Lubenham Hill
From the Revd Dr Wim Kuiper
Sir, — “Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.” With this one-liner, Kevin DeYoung dismisses a huge amount of testimonies of Christians who have done just that, and continue to do so. I am one of them.
Using good methods of prayerful discernment, such as those developed by the Jesuits, has been particularly helpful for me when it came to important decisions related to my own vocation. This was by no means a source of disappointment or indecision. Nor have I felt diminished in my own freedom and responsibility. I know that God is always able to bring good out of any of my decisions.
DeYoung is completely wrong when he calls a preoccupation with looking for God’s direction in making major life choices as “bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification”, and “more folly than freedom”.
I would be interested to see how a Bishops’ Advisory Panel would react if a candidate came up with any of his views on this. The fact that this article has been given such a prominent place in the Church Times in a section on “Vocations” is, therefore, to me incomprehensible.
Sunderland SR3 2NX
The House of Bishops statement and Gaza’s future
From Charlotte Marshall, Miranda Pinch, and Lynn McAllister
Sir, — Several readers have commented in the past two weeks on the statement by the House of Bishops concerning Gaza. We commend Dr Jonathan Chaplin’s critical analysis (Letters, 10 November) of the Bishops’ failure to condemn the attacks on civilians by Israel as violations of international law, and potential war crimes, and the total lack of contextual analysis by the Bishops regarding 75 years of historical injustices against the Palestinian people.
Another question that has not been openly addressed by the Church, and barely the media, is what happens to Gaza once Israel feels satisfied that it has fulfilled its goals? Even were the physical manifestation of Hamas to be obliterated, it must be remembered that Hamas is based on an ideology formed through a long injustice towards the Palestinian people. Israel has openly denied Palestinians a state of their own and seems intent on annexing the whole of the West Bank, as it has already done in East Jerusalem. We are now told that Israel wants to take military control of Gaza as it has done in Area C of the West Bank.
In forming the current government, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition agreement, although not legally binding, stated that “the Jewish people have an exclusive right on all the land” between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It doesn’t mention the Palestinians. The Israeli government rhetoric concerning Gaza has been equally damning. Pictures of Israeli soldiers celebrating their “retaking” of Gaza beaches have been widely circulated.
It is hard to imagine any child who survives what some are calling “genocide” to hold any but feelings of hatred toward those who have blockaded, imprisoned, and bombed them over the past 16 years. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, fear is palpable amongst Palestinians, as Jewish Israeli settlers (not specifically labelled as such in the Bishops’ statement, lending itself to confusion over who “inhabitants of settlements” really are) run rampage. People without hope become the most dangerous, as we learn from history. As in Iraq, the danger is that an even more dangerous entity will be created.
It is time that the Church of England recognised the disparity in its attitude toward the rights and lives of Israelis and Palestinians and called for a solution that includes the recognition that all are equal in the eyes of God. If it continues in its current trajectory, it is serving only itself with its balanced and careful words that do not speak truth to power or hold the lives of Palestinians as sacred as Israelis’.
We would refer readers to “A Call for Repentance: An Open Letter from Palestinian Christians to Western Church Leaders and Theologians”, in which they say in the last paragraph: “Finally, and we say it with a broken heart, we hold western church leaders and theologians who rally behind Israel’s wars accountable for their theological and political complicity in the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, which have been committed over the last 75 years. We call upon them to reexamine their positions and to change their direction, remembering that God ‘will judge the world in justice’ (Acts 17:31).”
CHARLOTTE MARSHALL, Director of Sabeel-Kairos UK; MIRANDA PINCH, LYNN McALLISTER, representing the Sabeel-Kairos C of E campaign group
PO Box 18336
Birmingham B31 9FY
The Oxford case of the churchwarden’s plaque
From Mr Malcolm Dixon
Sir, — Not for the first time, I have been reduced to spluttering incomprehension by a report in your columns of a consistory-court judgment, in this instance the anonymised case in the diocese of Oxford concerning a plaque commemorating a very long-serving churchwarden who, it had recently been discovered, had been convicted of multiple child sexual abuse early in his term of office (News, 27 October).
The Archdeacon had asked the PCC to consider removing the plaque, which would require a faculty. The Chancellor had granted the petition, but appeared to have gone out of his way in his judgment to encourage the PCC not to implement it, on the grounds that the deceased churchwarden had pleaded guilty and served his probation, that there was no evidence that he had offended again, and that “nobody was beyond redemption.” With all possible respect to the Chancellor’s legal eminence, what on earth was he thinking of?
Apart from the absurdity that it is necessary to obtain a faculty to remove something that had been illegally installed without a faculty, the case exposes the unbridgeable gulf between the approach to safeguarding in the 1950s and now. But we are where we are, and, given the C of E’s appalling record with regard to safeguarding, caused by persistent failure properly to implement recommendations for improvement, and given a stream of past and present cases still coming to light, it must be unthinkable to retain a plaque commemorating a convicted abuser, however long and worthy his service as a churchwarden.
The Chancellor’s thinking about redemption appears to be very similar to that advanced to Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) by Bishop Wallace Benn and Lord Carey to excuse their failure to act over cases of abuse drawn to their attention. IICSA gave that very short shrift indeed, and so should the Chancellor have done in this case. The deceased churchwarden may well have repented and been redeemed, but that is between him and his Maker, and absolutely not, I would suggest, within the purview of the Chancellor.
26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington BR6 9PA
The Dyson offer of £6 million to a church school
From Dr Robin C. Richmond
Sir, — Government austerity policies have reduced many state schools to a parlous state, with maintenance backlogs and some buildings dangerous because of autoclaved aerated concrete used in their construction. In such circumstances, which school would not accept a £6-million donation for additional buildings (News, 3 November)?
The diocesan board of education appears to be dithering, but the Department for Education and the local authority have rejected the £6-million gift to Malmesbury C of E Primary School, an academy, from James Dyson, because the proposed extension would threaten the future of community primary schools in the surrounding villages. The government policy of academisation of state schools removed local-authority oversight, however, to create autonomous schools, competing for pupils in a quasi-market in which community interests have little sway; but, in a market, the weakest schools go to the wall.
The £6 million comes with conditions that influence the nature of the curriculum in this state school. The school is close to James Dyson’s “technology campus”, and Sir James has clearly stated that the money is to build a dedicated science and technology centre involving seven new classrooms and a school hall “hopefully creating [youngsters with] long lives as engineers”. Clearly, Dyson is introducing career and utilitarian purposes into state education for very young children at the primary level, where the legal requirement is to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.
Although the head teacher reportedly seems to think that the Victorian approach to education had much to be commended, the facilities at individual state schools cannot be dependent on wealthy benefactors creating inequality between schools. The 1870 Education Act, in response to patchy voluntary provision, was the first to establish a system of school boards, locally elected, drawing funding from local rates to deal specifically with the provision of state education across England and Wales. Today, state schools, some of which are C of E schools, funded by taxpayers, provide equal access, for all children, to similar curricular and learning across the country.
Sir James Dyson, reputed to be worth £23 billion, has not been free of controversy over his UK tax status. He was a strong Brexit supporter, but moved his manufacturing overseas. His tax residency and corporate tax business is now registered back in the UK. His letter to the school recognises that Britain’s schools are desperate for investment.
If he has £6 million to give away, he should give it to the UK Treasury and recognise that he, along with the many other very, very wealthy people in the UK today, should be paying proportionately far more tax, to the benefit of all state schools.
ROBIN C. RICHMOND
Providence Cottage, The Downs
Bromyard HR7 4NY
How a priest visited London to mark Armistice Day
From the Revd Tim Daplyn
Sir, — Having inflicted my visage (Sunday Express front page, 12 November) and personal views on the general public via BBC News coverage of the Armistice Day Service of Remembrance at the National Cenotaph on Saturday 11 November, I crave the indulgence of your letters column to give a little more of the story behind the story.
For me, as for many military veterans, Armistice and Remembrance Sunday are a tough time, and particularly so in this year of wars and rumours of war. At the last minute, I made a decision to go up to London, to keep a personal vigil for friends and family.
At Westminster Abbey, I was able to place poppy crosses at the Field of Remembrance for military friends who did not survive their service. At the Cenotaph (in between unforeseen media interruptions and noises off from Mr Robinson’s Merry Men), I prayed for peace and the deeper commitment of shalom which is the duty of us all.
My objective in going to Hyde Park, where the so-called “Hate March” was gathering, was two-fold: to support actively the cause of an immediate armistice on Armistice Day, and also to visit the 7/7 Memorial, where my niece, Liz, is remembered alongside the other victims of terrorist bombings on the London transport system in 2005. There, I was able to pray for Liz and also for Germaine Lindsay (Abdullah Shaheed Jamal), who was the young man who, in killing her, also destroyed himself.
The area around the 7/7 monument was a quiet(er) corner on a very noisy day (we older soldiers don’t do loud noises very well), and I found families and children were using it for prayer, picnics, and play, before starting the walk. Liz, who spent some of her childhood in Pakistan (her late father was an agricultural economist), would have loved to see them, and, I’m sure, she would have smiled, just as I did.
The unfettered laughter of children in autumn sunshine is certainly a most fitting monument to all those who gave, and still give, their tomorrows that we might have our todays. Securing and preserving Peace for all of God’s creation (animal, vegetable and mineral) must remain foremost in our hearts and minds as we struggle through the troubled silences of our times.
1 New Park House, Old Park Road
Clevedon, Somerset BS21 7HU