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Letters to the Editor

03 November 2023


C of E and the Middle East crisis

From Mrs Basma Chitham

Sir, — Jesus said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Archbishop Welby’s mouth and heart is always with Israel. Earlier, he was not prepared to call Israel an “apartheid state”, preferring to believe Israel’s constitution rather than its actions. In the present conflict, he is “not prepared to point the finger at Israel”, because it is not “useful”, but he will point the finger at Hamas. He refuses to use “genocide” (News, 27 October). So, let me help him. How about massacre? barbaric? ethnic cleansing?

He forgets utterly that what is happening now is within our history that goes back 75 years. I am a Palestinian Christian, married to an Anglican priest. We Christian Palestinians are the loyal first Christians who are still trying to survive in the land that Jesus called home. We were and are proud people with a rich culture, amazing cuisine, and beautiful art and music. My mother always told me how they lived at peace with their Jewish neighbours before 1948.

On top of the Archbishop’s position, none of my own bishops, archdeacon, or area dean have had the decency to get in touch and check how I am doing. Therefore, sadly, I will resign from the PCC and take my name from the electoral roll. I no longer see the Church of England as my Church.

The Vicarage, Kents Lane
Standon SG11 1PJ

Sir, — I received a message last week from a Palestinian friend in the West Bank, who complains that Gaza is being “annihilated” by the Israelis, and that no Western or Arab country is moving to save it. “Where is international law for us? The whole world conspires against our people.” My friend knows the horrors of occupation: a few years ago, close relatives of theirs, a young family, died when Israeli settlers rampaged through their town and petrol-bombed the family home.

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has condemned the awful attacks on communities in southern Israel by Hamas gunmen, but has rightly pointed out that they did not happen in a vacuum.

I am a priest who has, since the 1980s worked, studied, travelled, and led pilgrim groups to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Over the decades, we have watched the grip of Israeli control ratcheted up, with arrests, imprisonment, blockades, severe restriction of movement, seizure of land and natural resources, demolition of property, and settlement expansion, to the point that the Palestinian people are strangulated. Israel has ensured by its oppressive occupation and settlement programme that a viable Palestinian state in the land of the West Bank is now impossible. World leaders and, by association, the majority of Western church leaders, seem willing to collude.

As Palestinian Christian leaders (see the Kairos statement) plead with their colleagues around the world and Palestinian Anglicans (News, 25 October) express their anger with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lily-livered response to the war, it is clear that the deep pain of the Palestinian people — stretching back more than 75 years — is not being heard. Does a Christian call to pursue justice exclude justice for our Palestinian sisters and brothers?

A few weeks ago, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa courageously and clearly explained their decision to declare Israel “an apartheid state”. The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, said: “When black South Africans who have lived under apartheid visit Israel, the parallels to apartheid are impossible to ignore. If we stand by and keep quiet, we will be complicit in the continuing oppression of the Palestinians.”

It prompts the question: why are the Archbishop of Canterbury and the C of E’s senior leadership not willing to name the occupation openly for what it truly is, and call Israel to account? Whom and what are they afraid of?


From Canon Daniel O’Connor

Sir, — Prime Minister Netanyahu described the Hamas attackers as “animals”. Is there not, to use William Blake’s words, a “fearful symmetry” in what is happening to the little flock of Palestinian Christians and others in Gaza? One is reminded of C. F. Andrews’s prophetic words in 1932: “Human life would slip back incredibly far and beyond all recovery whatsoever if it were not for the supreme miracle of grace which Christ’s presence has brought to mankind.”

15 School Road, Balmullo
St Andrews, Fife KY16 0BA

Mission and ministry in a ‘managerial’ Church

From the Revd Louise R. Collins

Sir, — I am saddened that Canon Alison Milbank (Feature, 27 October) is so down on mission action planning, and I invite her to come and visit our urban parish of 40,000 souls. In the past five years, mission action planning has helped us open a Welcome Cafe, offer Warm Spaces, serve thousands of free meals, reach out to the isolated, throw parties, confirm new disciples, hold a World Environment Day, host a Climate Hustings, celebrate open-air services, plant trees, teach the young, support our chosen charities, study the word of God, and mourn our losses.

We minister in partnership with local groups and people from all backgrounds. We follow the Five Marks of Anglican Mission. We have no budget for mission. We rely on externally sourced grant funding and the grace of God. Sacramentally nourished mission in the service of God is one of the greatest sources of renewable energy in the universe.

Team Vicar, St Michael and All Angels, parish of Elstree and Borehamwood; Chaplain, RAF Air Cadets 1372 Squadron
St Michael’s Vicarage
142 Brook Road
Borehamwood WD6 5EQ

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — I recently attended a brief re-hallowing of the grave of the last police officer in my force area to be murdered in the line of duty. PC John Kew died in 1900, and the grave in Swinton, Rotherham, which had become derelict, has been restored and the story of John Kew has been recovered for local people.

The ceremony was attended by the Mayor of Rotherham, district councillors, members of the local National Association of Retired Police Officers, the neighbourhood police team, two police chaplains, local residents, members of the congregation of St Margaret’s, and me.

It soon became apparent that the Vicar knew almost everyone present and was able to introduce people to one another at a small reception in the church afterwards. This is how community is built, and this is how a parish church fulfills its mission.

Canon Alison Milbank was quite right in her recent article to point out that this is what is being lost as the Church moves to a different, non-parochial, model. What I witnessed at that graveside is only possible where parish churches exist and see those who live locally as parishioners, not simply potential disciples.

Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire
Police Headquarters
Carbrook Hall Road
Sheffield S9 2EH

From Canon John Brown

Sir, — Many, I hope, will want to write in response to Canon Milbank’s article on Church, vision, and mission. Formerly, I was the Bishop of Chelmsford’s Rural Adviser and ACORA (Archbishops’ Commission on Rural Areas) officer (Faith in the Countryside, 1990). The expression that I found so valuable and have since endeavoured to hold to is “mission through ministry”, instead of speaking of “mission and ministry” as though the two were separate tasks and objectives.

The claim is often made that ministry in rural settings is very different from that in urban and suburban. I do not agree. The enormous benefit and challenge of the Anglican parish model is, of course, that all who are the potential recipients of “mission through ministry” are all who live and work within a defined geographical area. Mission is not an occasional intentionally devised activity, but the constant expression of the local church building and all who identify themselves as members of the local church community, lay and ordained. We are the constant living presence of “God in the midst”.

10 Ayletts
Chelmsford CM1 7LE

From Julian Mann

Sir, — Did Canon Alison Milbank, in her superb exposé of the damage that secular managerialism is doing to the Church, intend to reject the idea that parishioners can also be disciples? She points out: “The parish is a form of organic life with its own local specificities and a porosity that is resistant to targets. Its laity are primarily parishioners, not disciples, the term now preferred by the hierarchy because this is to involve the ‘employees’ in the success of the business operation.”

Could it not be argued that parishioners act as faithful disciples of Christ when they intentionally reject the idol of managerialism and instead devote themselves to self-sacrificial obedience to God and to love and good deeds in their communities?

Address supplied (Heysham, Lancs)

Challenges of making law on assisted dying

From Dr Robert Twycross

Sir, — The Danish Ethical Council’s opinion on euthanasia (Det Etiske Råds udtalelse om dødshjælp, 2023) is a “must read” for those interested in the ongoing debate about assisted dying (Comment, 13 October; Letters, 20 October). It is long (90 pages), but is a mine of information about the enormous challenges that need to be faced up to when considering legalising either medically assisted suicide (AS) or euthanasia (the administration of a lethal overdose of drugs by a doctor), or both, as an option for certain patients — typically those who are “terminally ill”.

The Danish Council emphasised the importance of focusing on specific models of assisted dying (AD), because the inevitable societal consequences are likely to differ. Their deliberations were limited to Oregon (United States) and the Netherlands. The former allows only AS and limits access to patients with a terminal illness, whereas the Dutch model allows both AS and euthanasia, and has more open access for patients who are suffering unbearably, whatever the prognosis. It extends to minors, and to people with psychiatric disorders.

The Ethical Council found that the Oregon and Dutch models were not “sufficiently clear in their delineations, fair in their justifications for access, or sound in terms of control mechanism”. Because AD risks causing unacceptable changes to basic norms for society, the healthcare system, and the human outlook, “the only thing that will protect the lives of those most vulnerable in society is a total ban.” The very existence of an offer of AD will decisively change ideas about old age, the coming of death, and quality of life. If AD becomes an option, there is too great a risk that it will become an expectation aimed at certain groups in society.

Thus, for many — including the vast majority of palliative care doctors — opposition to the legalisation of AD is based predominantly on utilitarian grounds: more people will be harmed by it than helped, with a particularly big negative impact on palliative care.

In their article, Lord Carey and Rabbi Jonathan Romain focus on AS. They incorrectly claim, however, that the safety of Oregon’s model is so well-proved that the statute has been replicated not only in other parts of the US, but also in “every state in Australia and the entirety of New Zealand”. No, Sir! The statutes in Australasia are so distinct from Oregon’s that it is impossible to summarise the differences in just a few lines. For example: in Australia, although the emphasis is on AS, it is possible to opt for euthanasia; and, in New Zealand, the patient can choose either AS or euthanasia — the latter illegal in Oregon.

Further, although the British Medical Association and several royal medical colleges have moved to a neutral position about AD, most doctors don’t want to be involved in its delivery. In Victoria, Australia, only around 300 doctors are currently licensed to administer AD — about one per cent of the total medical workforce. Given the disquiet felt by most doctors, a law with minimal medical involvement would be the most equitable.

This makes particularly good sense, given that the three most frequently reported end-of-life concerns behind the request for AS in Oregon are existential rather than medical, namely a decreasing ability to participate in enjoyable activities (90 per cent), loss of autonomy (90 per cent), and loss of dignity (72 per cent).

The challenge for legislators is to find the “least worse” option. A lack of readily available high-quality palliative care will always be coercive, there will always be abuse, the boundaries of the law will always be stretched, and a wrong diagnosis will mean that some people will die unnecessarily. Judging by experience in Benelux and Canada, an incremental widening of eligibility criteria over time will be unavoidable.

It is, however, probably necessary to accept that inevitable misuse and abuse of an AD law should not be used as the “trump card” for opposing a change in the law — but certainly the need for considerable caution. (In Victoria, the state government claims that, with 68 safeguards, their law is the safest in the world. Not all safeguards are aimed at patient safety; those relating to conscientious objection are labelled “practitioner protections”).

It is imperative that conscientious objection by doctors and other healthcare professionals is fully guaranteed and respected, and that AS is not seen as part of healthcare provision. The best way to achieve this would be for AS to be delegated to a stand-alone Department for Assisted Dying, completely separate from the NHS and with its own budget. It could be overseen by lawyers or judges and operated by trained technicians. Doctors would be required only to confirm that a patient was medically eligible. Requests would be carefully processed without interfering in clinical care, and in a way that would not undermine suicide-prevention policies.

Further, alongside a de-medicalised model of AD, there is an urgent need to improve the provision of care for all terminally ill patients, whether or not they apply for AD. In this connection, it is encouraging to note that the website of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying states that “As well as campaigning to change the law on assisted dying we also support better end-of-life care which is accessible to all.”

Emeritus Clinical Reader in Palliative Medicine, University of Oxford
Tewsfield, Netherwoods Road
Oxford OX3 8HF

Craft and Reason

From Mr Charles Clark

Sir, — I have to challenge Canon Angela Tilby’s categorisation (Comment, 13 October) of Freemasonry as being of “the occult”, and that, by extension, its members during the Enlightenment disregarded “the primacy of reason”.

On the contrary, the growth of Freemasonry was a product of the Age of Reason. You will find today, in many C of E churches, orthodox Christians for whom membership of the Craft is a useful aid to living out our faith in God.

14 Lubbock Court
Lubbock Road
Chislehurst BR7 5JW

Something overheard

From Canon Roger Clifton

Sir, — I expect many of us have shared Canon Malcolm Guite’s experience on Paddington Station (Poet’s Corner, 27 October).

We also pick up random snippets of conversations in the same way. My own favourite was when I passed two young businesswomen, both very smartly dressed in dark suits, and heard one say, in a strong Bristol accent, “. . . Well, what could I do? I had to get him another cheese and onion sandwich.”

I have often wondered what happened to the first one.

20 Southcot Place
Bath BA2 4PE

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