Dismissal of Dr Aaron Edwards
From Professor Fraser Watts
Sir, — Last week, you carried a report (News) about Dr Aaron Edwards’s being dismissed from his teaching post at Cliff College for Tweeting that homosexuality is sinful. I don’t share his view of homosexuality at all, but I defend his right to express it.
He is a gifted young theologian, a person of integrity, and delightful company. When he applied to Cliff College (a Methodist college), I prayed that he would be appointed. I am shocked that the commitment to inclusivity at Cliff should be used to clamp down on legitimate theological discussion.
I defend Dr Edwards’s right to his viewpoint, but Evangelicals like him should not get away with arguing that their view of homosexuality is the only legitimate theological view. He is also wrong to see it as necessarily a conflict between truth and wokery. I take a more positive theological view of homosexuality than he does, not from wokery, but from a different (and less essentialist) theological hermeneutic.
One of the weaknesses of Living in Love and Faith is that it ducks theological and ethical issues. The Church of England’s view presumably remains that sex is sinful unless it occurs in marriage between a man and a woman. It doesn’t work just to keep quiet about that. People like Dr Edwards can reasonably complain that Churches are prioritising inclusivity over truth. And you can’t really pray a blessing on same-sex relationships if the official view is that they are sinful.
A theological way forward can be found in the report of the Doctrine Commission Being Human. The chapter on sex briefly sets out the biblical view of sexuality and argues that people can legitimately reach different conclusions about homosexuality, depending on what they emphasise.
The Churches urgently need to adopt that “two integrities” position if there is not to be further damage to fine Christian people on both sides of the debate. Something has gone badly wrong if people are sacked for their views on homosexuality in the name of inclusivity. On this occasion, it was the Methodist Church, but it should be a wake-up call to the Church of England.
2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL
Age and youth in the nation’s priorities
From Mr Barry Jones
Sir, — I notice that intergenerational fairness is not featured in the article by Stephen Hammersley, chief executive of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society (Comment, 24 March).
We have recently been given the OBR March 2023 Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which provides estimates for public-sector revenues and expenditure 2023-24. Of the £1189-billion total expenditure, £341 billion is for social protection, and £245 billion for health, together that is 49 per cent of the total government budget from taxes for the financial year. Education gets £131 billion, while debit interest will be £116 billion.
A new report from the YMCA, Generation-cut, reports on the massive cuts to youth services in England since the 2010/11 financial year of some 73 per cent overall in real terms. Apparently, my county council, Worcestershire, now spends just £5.30 per young person on youth services. Where is the balance and fairness in this?
I have no doubt that, overall, the younger generation of adults is being treated very badly by older generations. Very many of this young generation and those to follow seem likely to have declining well-being futures, if current trends continue.
It is self-evident that the financial load on many working people is getting far too big and simply cannot be allowed to continue without a much fairer taxation system, including bigger tax take-up from the very rich, and some of these are older people who fail to properly invest in the country. Wealth creation is stumbling and any increase has of course to be by sustainable means — very difficult with the current diminishing human-resources base.
I do wish British Christians would face “brutal realities” and make better choices and priorities, as did the real Jesus.
38 Moorlands Road
Malvern WR14 2UA
Discussion about the gender of God-language
From the Revd Dr David Wheeler
Sir, — I wish to add a few points to the discussion about the gender of God (Features, 17 February; News, 24 February; Letters, 3 March).
First, there’s a problem: when we say “God”, are we referring to God the Father or God the Trinity? If the Trinity, then if we see the Holy Spirit as more feminine than masculine (as in Hebrew), then using the word “God” should include an inherent femininity.
Second, take away from a human person everything that contributes to their gender and, to me, you don’t have much left. Gender is the first thing that we notice about people, whether they are six months or 90 years old. To me, God is both (not neither) male and female. That, then, includes all rather than just a part of the richness of all humanity.
Also, when I was training for ordination (30 years ago), I did a survey that aimed at looking at how the way we see God changes with age. Part of that was to ask people to select, from a list of nearly 300 words describing God (undefined — words gathered from collects, the Bible, and hymns), those that they related to and those that they said God was not. The analysis that I undertook looked at both individual words and words with similar meanings (e.g. shepherd, guide, friend).
The teenagers related to God as Father, and so did those over 40, but those between 25 and 40 did not — probably because that’s when you are working out for yourself what being a father means. That also illustrates a danger in seeing God as “Our Father in heaven”: children will couple the fatherhood of God with the fatherhood of their earthly father: that is all they know of what being a father means. For a child with an abusive father, that is really dangerous.
Another factor that came out from the survey was the marked difference between how women and men saw God (tapering off in the over-40s). Women were hugely more likely to see God as “loving” and as “creating” (i.e. in the present, not in the past) than men. Creating would, of course, for women, be linked with their experience of giving birth. Men linked a little more than women with the idea of God’s being King, Lord, and powerful. I would suggest that we associate loving and creating with femininity, kingship, etc., with masculinity. From that, I would suggest that women give God qualities that we associate with feminine characteristics, men with masculine.
Hence, unless we believe that men have a better understanding of God than women, and if we believe that God is both loving and powerful (i.e. has characteristics that we tend to associate with both masculinity and femininity), we need to see God (the Trinity) as both male and female.
Finally: our liturgy. Most of our theology has come through men. From the language, it is very evident that our liturgy, especially the collects, is written by men over the age of 50. Do we really believe that they tell the truth about God better than anyone else?
22 Glamis Avenue
Bournemouth BH10 6DP
Traits in Evangelicalism have been addressed
From Mr Andrew Collie
Sir, — Yes, those of us involved in Evangelical circles over some decades recognise the traits that Olivia Jackson (book extract, Features, 10 March) describes, but they are some years in the past, for the author and, I think, for mainstream organisations.
The negative foci of some Evangelical truths has been counterbalanced by the focus on God’s love and his redemptive power. The demand to behave before you can believe or belong has been reversed. Confidentiality expectations in the workplace have seeped into the prayer meeting.
So, come on, recognise the good that the Evangelical Church is doing today as part of the wider Church in reaching into society, and meeting both spiritual and physical need.
2 The Orchards, Elham
Canterbury, Kent CT4 6TR
Opinion on asylum and ‘economic migration’
From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir, — Today’s received wisdom seems to be that, whereas asylum-seekers may deserve sympathy, economic migrants are to be summarily rejected. Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book is an informative and challenging Lenten read. Taikan Oki, an IPCC lead author, is one of the 100 international specialists who have contributed to her encyclopaedic volume. His essay reports the UN forecast that “with current warming trends 1.2 billion people could be forced to migrate by 2050.” Such people would be economic migrants seeking survival.
In 1990, Bishop John V. Taylor was prophetic when he wrote in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity: “In the absence of a keener moral imperative than appears to prevail at present no prediction can rule out the possibility of a future which one writer depicted as ‘an affluent lifeboat on a sea of poverty’ from which the survivors beat back the multitudes of unwanted people who are desperately struggling to clamber on board.” Which slogan will harvest votes: “Stop the boats” or “Curb climate change”?
The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB
Convicted sexual offender has right to worship
Sir, — I should like to make something crystal clear about what happens when a member of a church congregation returns after a prison sentence. He/she must be readmitted, if that is what the person wants, to the parish church.
It is against the law of this country and against Church of England policy to ban someone from worshipping at their parish church. My own husband was convicted (as it happens wrongly) of sexual assault of a minor five years ago. On his return to our parish church, where he had been a prominent member, the Vicar and PCC said he was banned.
Nonsense! I checked with the diocesan safeguarding officer and was told that this was completely out of order. Not only had the PCC broken confidentiality by even discussing my husband’s case at an open PCC meeting (which the parish safeguarding officer should have known, but she was new to the job and not up to speed), but this is not something that is decided at parish level.
The correct procedure is for the diocesan safeguarding officer to meet the relevant incumbent (and possibly the parish safeguarding officer as well) and write up a safeguarding worship agreement in which the returning offender will sign up to not having anything to do with children, e.g. not sing in the choir, if there are children involved, not run the youth group. He or she might also agree not to attend the coffee get-together after the service, and to sit only with a designated other person, usually a spouse. But it is a basic human right to worship, and this cannot be compromised.
I have heard of at least three other cases in which an offender has been “prohibited” from rejoining his or her own church after a conviction, and I am utterly bemused by the attitude. How can people call themselves a Christian community if they behave this way? Of course, precautions must be taken to prevent repeat offending. But you can’t cast someone out: remember all that lovely teaching of a certain Jesus Christ, talking about him who is without sin?
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED
C of E’s love for 1662
From the Revd David Keighley
Sir, — So, Canon Angela Tilby finds the Prayer Book “gives her all she needs” (Comment, 24 March). I suspect the King feels the same, as do, probably, the Bishops and certainly the congregations (average age 61 years) of our parish churches. I wonder whether the missing generation of our Church feel the same?
Canon Tilby delights in the prospect of a “long-term vision to ensure the Prayer Book remains available for generations to come”. Is she thinking of the millennial generation, I wonder? If the rate of decline in the Church continues at its current rate, by 2067, a mere 44 years, there will be no Church of England left for the Prayer Book to work its magic on “generations to come”. What will King William, who will hopefully be 85, do as Supreme Governor of the Church of England then?
Canon Tilby’s “Thank you, Prayer Book Society” may yet turn out to look a little ill-judged.
Drokensford, Chapel Road
Southampton SO32 3NJ
Lady Casey’s report
From Margaret Wilkinson
Sir, — I listened with concern to Baroness Casey’s report on the Metropolitan Police and its systems (Comment, 24 March). Like many others, I was shocked, but I also found myself asking what she would have to say about the structure and systems of the Church of England, were she to report on it.
Chair, Broken Rites
27 River Grove Park
Kent BR3 1HX
Public house or God’s?
From Canon Derek Twine
Sir, — The photo used to illustrate the article “Beginning Lent from scratch” (Features, 24 March) reminded me of a sign in a Surrey pub that is located next to the parish church: “’Tis far more worthy to be sitting in the pub thinking about Church than sitting in Church thinking of the pub”.
14 Rose Bank
Ilkley LS29 7PQ
Even in the CT . . .
From the Revd Jonathan Page
Sir, — You report (News, 24 March) that the Rt Revd James Jones will host a Radio 4 programme, The Day When God is Dead, focused on Easter Saturday.
May I respectfully suggest that, with such a title, the programme would be more appropriately focused on Holy Saturday, a week earlier?
Christ Church Vicarage
Bridge Street, Belper
Derbyshire DE56 1BA
Our apologies. The report should, of course, have said Holy Saturday or Easter Eve(n). Editor