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Letters to the Editor

22 September 2023


Archbishop’s Middle East lecture

From the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth

Sir, — The central objection to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Middle East lecture seems to be his refusal to describe the Israeli state as an “apartheid” state (Letters, 15 September). Despite his condemning policies such as house demolitions and the building of settlements in the Occupied Territories, it seems that Linda Ramsden and Jonathan Coulter are focusing all their attention on this refusal.

It is important to note that the Israeli Declaration of Independence affirms the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”. One of the country’s Basic Laws protects human dignity and liberty. The Archbishop’s lecture described how these freedoms were being gradually eroded by government policies in recent years (namely, the nation-state law in 2018 and Netanyahu’s overhaul of the Supreme Court’s power). These interventions and the professed commitments of some of the racist partners to the Israeli government, as the Archbishop asserted, genuinely threaten these values.

Yes, there is much in the aggression of settlement growth and in the punitive treatment of Palestinians at border cross-points that is akin to apartheid. But, right now, to demand the judgement that “Israel is an apartheid state” as an existential statement is to ask that Israel be seen as a state without moral validity, ab initio. In the process, it ignores the many voices of Israeli Jews expressing their own concerns at the gloomy prospects for democracy and equality for our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has a particular duty to weigh the impact of language in ways that advocacy groups do not have, because of the reach of his audience. In this instance, it is judged that the use of word “apartheid” would have the result that fewer people heard the challenge for justice, beyond those already convinced. We can speak out against injustices without having to corral language that ends up with our losing potential partners in the same cause.

Secretary for Inter-Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter-Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England
Lambeth Palace
London SE1 7JU

C of E is failing to plan for future of establishment

From Dr Jonathan Chaplin

Sir, — In his fine analysis of the 2003 Aston Cantlow ruling and its implications for the established status of the Church of England (Comment, 15 September), Professor Mark Hill reminds us of several factors currently putting pressure on that status. Another would be the widespread indifference to or bewilderment with an English Protestant Church’s exclusive part in presiding over the inauguration of the head of state of a religiously plural and multi-national country. Professor Hill rightly warns that the “historic nexus” between Church and State could be “completely lost within a generation”, and predicts that “some form of re-establishment seems inevitable in the next decade.”

Any such “re-establishment” is likely to mean not any consolidation of the Church’s existing status, but a possibly far-reaching reconfiguration of religion-state relations generally, in the light of advancing secularisation and religious pluralism.

This prompts the question whether the Church’s leadership has any interest in and capacity for influencing the shape of that reconfiguration. There is currently no evidence that is has either. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently declared, astonishingly and without argument, that disestablishment “is a matter for Parliament”. But, by refusing to engage publicly with the question and adopting a default — and increasingly threadbare — defence of the status quo, the leadership is leaving itself and the wider Church wholly unprepared to respond to the next pressures for reform.

If the Church could muster sufficient courage and creativity, it could seize the initiative, articulate a new, missionally compelling and constitutionally equitable theology of church-state relations in a context of deepening pluralism. It should then offer to lay down its unsustainable inherited privileges while defending the equal public status of faith for all: a “kenotic” gesture that might even win it new support.

Or it could maintain its current posture of supine, unreflective passivity in the face of ongoing disestablishment-by-salami-slicing, benefiting from the advantages of establishment while taking no responsibility for the eventual destination of a process that might adversely affect not only itself, but faith communities generally.

19 Coles Lane, Oakington
Cambridge CB24 3AF

Falkland Islanders’ views on sovereignty matter

From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, — Paul Vallely writes about the question of Falkland Islands sovereignty (Comment, 15 September) almost in terms that this is something to be decided by the big boys of the international community, and that the views of 99.8 per cent of Falkland Islanders themselves could reasonably be disregarded for the greater good, whatever that might be.

Much could be written about the history of the Falkland Islands and the reasons for the Argentinian invasion, along with that of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but my reading is that ownership of a few rocky and windswept islands in the South Atlantic had little to do with it, or the British Government’s desire to recapture them.

That had much more to do with natural resources and the control, or potential control thereof. The simple aspects of these are the very rich fish stocks in that area of the South Atlantic, along with the seabed oil reserves around the Falklands.

More complex is the question what would happen should the Antarctic Treaty fail. This currently bans exploration of the mineral and other resources of Antarctica. Maps clearly show the claims of responsibility for segments of that continent which are based on a mixture of historic exploration and geographic proximity. These overlap, not least those of Argentina and the areas claimed by Britain in part by virtue of its ownership of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. Ownership of those islands carries with it so much unknown potential that both Argentina and Britain were prepared to go to war over them.

And the right of self-determination for the population? It may be convenient to say that it doesn’t really matter, or that it is worth fighting to defend, but these are all too often the decisions of politicians who have no personal skin in the game of continuing a way of life and home that has, for many Falkland Islanders, been theirs for generations. Notwithstanding all the bigger geopolitical questions, that right of self-determination is not something that should be abandoned, whether in the Falkland Islands, at Brexit, in Scotland, or simply at the ballot box. We may not like the outcome, and it may be inconvenient; but the outcome matters.

7 St Mary’s Street
Clitheroe BB7 2HH

Winchester story: don’t forget Channel Islands

From Mrs Terri Bond

Sir, — I was surprised to see that no mention was made of the Channel Islands in your look back (News, 8 September) at the problems caused by the former Bishop of Winchester. Dr Tim Dakin’s behaviour and actions caused great hurt and offence to the Dean, the clergy, the people, and the States of Jersey.

As a result, the Channel Islands made the momentous decision to move to the Diocese of Salisbury, where we have been welcomed with great generosity of spirit. As, however, the report on Dr Dakin’s dealings with Jersey has never been released, some of us who were directly involved wonder whether the truth of this débâcle will ever come to light.

If the new Bishop really wants to promote reconciliation and healing, then releasing Dame Heather Steele’s report would at least be an acknowledgement of the appalling mistreatment that led to this unprecedented move of diocese by the Channel Islands. Of course, the emphasis of the article was quite rightly focused on the abuse of power and the mismanagement that Winchester’s clergy and staff endured; but do we no longer count?

St Brelade’s Rectory
Jersey JE3 8EP

Importance of title curacies for avoiding scandals

From the Revd Dr Paul Roberts

Sir, — There are certain aspects of the Soul Survivor abuse (News, 15 September) which bear a sad resemblance to the Nine O’Clock Service abuse, which was revealed in 1995. In the wake of that situation, the House of Bishops did a review of mistakes made, which was verbally summarised for me by one bishop present at that meeting.

One of the principal failures identified by the bishops in the case of Chris Brain was that he had been allowed to take responsibility for a church congregation without having first served a title curacy under supervision by a training incumbent who was not part of his original context. This normally acts as an independent check on the integrity and character of a priest before they are given sole charge of a congregation, and has important safeguarding ramifications. Another failure identified was that Brain had not fully engaged in the training leading up to his ordination, and that corners were cut.

In the case of Mike Pilavachi, were these two principles abided by before he was given senior responsibility for Soul Survivor as an Anglican priest?

1 Ardern Close
Bristol BS9 2QT

Mullally on Letby case

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — Speaking in the House of Lords about the appalling crimes of Lucy Letby, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, asked why “policies, procedures, and bodies that are already in place, with the aspiration of improving patient safety and enabling people to whistle-blow, were not enough to prevent this” (News, 15 September). She also asked: “What was the culture that enabled this to happen? How might we recognise it and prevent it happening again?” Those are very good questions, but the Church of England needs to take the beam out of its own eye before it seeks to de-splinter anyone else.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

Men and women of the world — then and now

From the Revd Dr Peter Hayler

Sir, — Thank you for including Hugh Williamson’s account (Features, 8 September) to mark the 60th anniversary of the Southwark Ordination Course. The author did not shy away from articulating the many ironies within the complex story of the Church’s struggle to relate to the industrial world in post-war England, but one in particular was missed. At the point when the first Southwark cohort came to be ordained, canon law still required them to serve a parish or collegiate chapel title.

In his doctoral thesis, Non-stipendiary Ministry in the Church of England: A history of the development of an idea (Mellen, 1990), Patrick Vaughan noted that this episode was crucial in establishing the key “cognitive dissonance” behind the outworking of the Southwark story. I experienced the same thing personally in 2000 as I made the transition from Church Army evangelist to deacon in the Church in Wales, while remaining in the post of industrial chaplain, and was, therefore, made assistant curate of a parish, too. The Church, it seems, continues to struggle with how to order a diverse ministry for both core and peripheral context. For me, this is precisely what the diaconate is about.

The Rectory, The Street
Plaxtol TN15 0QG

From the Revd Dr Brenda Wallace

Sir, — The valuable article celebrating 60 years since the Southwark Ordination Course was introduced seems to suggest that women were not admitted until 1994. Since I completed my training on the course (at that time, for deaconess ministry) in the late 1970s, as one of the first female students, perhaps this needs a correction.

Highfield, Church Road
Rawreth SS11 8SH

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