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Letters to the Editor

09 June 2023


‘Religious cleansing’ in Manipur

From Mr Ram Gidoomal, Professor Prabhu Guptara, Mr Kailean Khongsai, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Bishop of Truro, and Mr Mervyn Thomas

Sir, — We, the undersigned, refer to Professor John Parratt’s letter (2 June), “Causes of violence in the state of Manipur”.

While we have the greatest respect for his scholarship on theology, society, and politics, his dismissal of the religious factor in the conflict in Manipur between the majority Meitei and minority tribals cannot be accepted.

Some of his statements fly in the face of the facts, specifically that “the supposed religious persecution of Christians in Manipur” is “seriously misleading”, and that it is “quite wrong to regard the Meitei Hindu population of Manipur as sharing in the aggressive Hindutva ideology that characterises the Modi government elsewhere in India”.

Perhaps he has an entirely different explanation of the fact that (so far as can be determined) every single church among the Meiteis has been burnt, bulldozed, vandalised, or desecrated. If there is no significant religious dimension to the violence, why have (at the current count) 317 church buildings and 70 church administrative or educational buildings been so evidently and specifically targeted?

The list of these, with full details (names, addresses, date attacked, etc.), has been cross-checked and is available in a continuously updated form (available here).

The organisation responsible for maintaining that list has described what is taking place among the majority Hindu Meiteis as “a new model of ‘religious cleansing’”.

We are also in possession of much first-hand evidence to confirm this.

Is it at all possible that any destruction on that scale could be accomplished without Hindutva ideology’s local supporters’ being assured by people very high up in government that the police and the army would not intervene in their attacks on all these churches?

We accept that the reasons for this violence are complex and involve a number of inter-related factors. But it also seems to us to fly in the face of the evidence to suggest that religion does not play a significant part. Indeed, we regard these actions as a blatant violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, furthermore, a clear demonstration of the persecution of Christians.

We are conscious, and very concerned, that Muslims and the vast majority of ordinary dissenting Hindus are also being oppressed and targeted by Hindutvans.

RAM GIDOOMAL, Chair, South Asian Development Partnership; PRABHU GUPTARA, Hindu Follower of Jesus the Lord; KAILEAN KHONGSAI, Chair of Unau Welfare UK (Manipur Tribal Welfare UK) and Church of England ordinand; ALTON; PHILIP TRURO; MERVYN THOMAS, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

c/o 9 Tudor Close, Cheam
Sutton SM3 8QS

Different views of Truro’s On the Way process

From Mr Neil Wallis

Sir, — The fundamental deceit at the heart of the devastating reorganisation of church life in Cornwall by the Bishops of the diocese of Truro is revealed in their highlighted claim that “It is not a top-down process” (News, 2 June).

The very first sentence says that “Truro’s On the Way [OtW] deanery planning process began . . . when advisers were allocated to each deanery to work closely with the rural dean.” The truth is that those well-briefed “advisers” and the already on-message rural deans then carefully hand-picked the teams that would deliver exactly what the Bishops wanted.

At every stage thereafter, the deanery OtW teams had to give detailed reports to — and receive specific direction from — bishops, archdeacons, and other senior diocesan appointees.
There is a myriad of examples from across Cornwall of deanery teams’ being sent away from meetings with their tails between their legs after offering up proposals that were not sufficiently radical or on-message. They were both micro- and macro-managed, as published emails have repeatedly demonstrated.

Carnmarth North, the deanery that I come under, is mentioned several times in the article in ways that reflect this: for instance, where Ms Davies writes that “an initial draft of Carnmarth North’s plan went unapproved last year because of the extent of its projected MMF budget deficit.”

Unapproved by the Bishop’s Council, that is: the Truro diocesan body where all thoughts and ideas had to be signed off before they could proceed.

As the article details, that led directly to the iniquitous inequality whereby the ratio of stipendiary priest to parishioner in Carnmarth North, one of the poorest in Truro diocese, is of one per 14,000 souls, compared with one priest to 5500 in wealthier areas.

As the Bishop of St Germans, the Rt Revd Hugh Nelson, admitted recently on BBC Politics South West, these plans are ideologically driven — not triggered by economic necessity, as was originally stated by the Bishop of Truro.

Bishops and senior clergy are driving through these plans for oversight ministers and commissioned lay leaders despite considerable local opposition. Voices of dissent have been simply ignored or erased in best 1984 tradition.

Address supplied (Crowan, Camborne, Cornwall)

From Mr Robert Perry and the Revd Chris McQuillen-Wright

Sir, — We were pleased to see the plans for the church in Cornwall receiving attention in the Church Times. After two years of careful consultation, prayer, and shared decision-making, every one of our 12 deaneries has a clear plan for a hopeful future.

We were both closely involved in the On the Way process in our own deaneries, and can testify that this was not a top-down process. The plans that were drawn up subsequently were entirely developed locally. That explains why the plans you outline in your piece are so very diverse.

Of course the diocese set parameters within which the conversation should take place. It would have been irresponsible of it to do otherwise. Furthermore, these plans were all approved by our properly constituted and elected deanery synods. The consequent Diocesan Plan for Change and Renewal was adopted unanimously by the Bishop’s Council and noted by the diocesan synod by a margin of 42 to three.

The deanery and diocesan plans of the diocese of Truro have been tested locally and more widely; they are for a hopeful future and have the clear and overwhelming support of the diocese. We are now all committed to turning these plans into reality, and to seeing them bear fruit.

Chair of the House of Laity, Truro diocesan synod
Chair of the House of Clergy, Truro diocesan synod
c/o 11 Trevaylor Close
Truro TR1 1RP

Denial by accused man
omitted from statement

Sir, — We are the parents of Nick Leger, the young man named in your report “London congregation told of rape” (News, 26 May).

Nick strenuously denied the allegation, and he is now unable to defend himself, as, tragically, he took his own life in February.

We appreciate that safeguarding issues are tricky to handle, but are aggrieved by the way in which he was treated. Although we agreed that a statement could be made in St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, we certainly do not support, as the diocese of London maintains, the statement that remains on its website and that makes no mention of Nick’s insistence on his innocence.

We are utterly devastated to lose our beautiful, creative, talented, and gentle son. Our hope and prayer is that this never happens to any one else.


Further debate on Lord Sentamu’s safeguarding

From the Revd Tim Edwards

Sir, — I was surprised by the response (Letters, 2 June) to the Revd Dr Ian Paul’s letter about Lord Sentamu (26 May), since he makes a point that many of us might have thought to be relatively uncontroversial: that the findings of independent investigations into safeguarding ought to be respected.

Lord Sentamu’s former communications director, the Bishop of Kirkstall (who oddly omits to mention that link), engages in whataboutery in invoking the ISB’s criticism of the Archbishops’ Council. Perhaps he missed the part where Dr Paul committed himself “to helping to ensure that we have the independent safeguarding that we have so far failed to deliver, and which is long overdue”?

Bishop David Wilbourne oddly sees this as a question whether we will welcome the refugee in our midst — claiming that Dr Paul asked “that we bishops distance ourselves from him”: perhaps he misread Dr Paul’s hope that bishops would “distance themselves from his comments” rather than from his person.

And the Ven. John Barton’s claim to discern “veiled promotion for his own idiosyncratic agenda” is clearly misplaced: there is nothing idiosyncratic in believing that all ministers (from former archbishops to the lowliest of parish clergy) should put consideration of their reputations a distant second to actioning the recommendations of safeguarding reviews.

More importantly, however, the closing of ranks among those in positions of power shows how far we still have to go before we have a convincing culture of safeguarding, and highlights the urgency of the need for there to be properly independent safeguarding.

General Synod member
The Rectory, Halstead
Kent TN14 7HQ

From Mr Michael Hall

Sir, — Thank you for your leader comment about the disciplinary action taken by the Bishop of Newcastle against Lord Sentamu for failing to accept the criticism of the investigator Jane Humphries in her Independent Learning Lessons Review.

I note that under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 s. 8, disciplinary proceedings are necessary before a person who is licensed to officiate in a diocese can have his or her licence revoked. No doubt the Bishop of Newcastle would say that she has not revoked Lord Sentemu’s licence to officiate, but merely “required him to step back from ministry”. It is implied that this is only for an interim period, but no end date is specified; so, in effect, it is likely to continue until some other decision is taken, which, as matters stand, is unlikely to occur.

As you rightly say, this appears to be a punishment for failing to “tick the right boxes” as regards being willing to act as a scapegoat for the alleged failure to take action in respect of the alleged abuse by the Revd Trevor Devamanikkam. There is a whole list of other bishops and senior clergy to whom similar reports were made and against whom no criticism is being levelled. We all know that persons who are members of ethnic minorities are unfairly treated by the justice system; so this is nothing new.

110 Charterhouse Road
Orpington, Kent BR6 9ER

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — The decision of the organisers of the Greenbelt Festival to disinvite Lord Sentamu (News, 2 June) is disheartening for several reasons. It has nowhere been contended that he is a threat to anyone’s safety, contrary to what they imply. No one who attends the festival is threatened by him.

Second, as you imply, he was to have been given a platform to talk about something else entirely.

Third, the purity principle by which the organisation is operating is dangerous, unchristian, and in danger of being hypocritical. We have become rather good at dismissing the fact of human sinfulness and the need to engage with flawed human beings, not to mention the common-law presumption of innocence.

The Church is under pressure from outside; it appears to be suffering from a lack of conviction within. This is sad indeed.

10 Marsh Lane
Norfolk NR23 1EG

Mistaken assumptions about Parish Buying

From the Chief Operating Officer of the National Church Institutions

Sir, — The letter “Parish Buying contracts with Total” (2 June) rests on a series of mistaken assumptions and does not accurately reflect reality.

First, the energy is not generated by Total. The energy basket that our members sign up to is Pure Green renewable energy, which is sourced from the Hornsea 1 wind farm, loc­ated in the North Sea and managed by Ørsted, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power. This is the greenest possible electricity available. Total simply has an agreement with Ørsted to distrib­ute on their behalf.

Second, of course green energy costs more than non-green energy — precisely because it is so environmentally sound. But, comparing like for like, our churches could not get Pure Green cheaper elsewhere.

Our aim is to source the greenest possible energy at the lowest possible price, and that is exactly what Parish Buying does.

By letting individual churches club together, we help them to fight the climate crisis while keeping the lights on — and, at the same time, pay as little as possible.

Finally, the letter-writers’ stated “assumption” that there is a “significant financial benefit to Parish Buying” from these arrangements is simply incorrect. Church of England entities are not profit-making bodies, and neither is the Parish Buying unit, which is part of the national church institutions. The cost of administering the Parish Buying schemes is passed on to the churches that choose to take part — no more, and no less.

Any savings beyond that go to the churches themselves; and those savings are considerable.

Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Today’s anti-LGBT law and the Ugandan martyrs

From the Revd Dr Kevin Ward

Sir, — Your remarks on the Archbishop of Uganda’s endorsement of the recent anti-homosexuality legislation are well judged (Leader comment, 2 June). I question, however, the explanations that you offer for this state of affairs: “the brand of Christianity received . . . from European missionaries” and the story of the Buganda martyrs.

Uganda’s Evangelical Anglican tradition was, in fact, distinctively enlightened and progressive: it encouraged local leadership well in advance of other parts of the Anglican world. Its theological educators included John Jones (later Bishop of Bangor), and Bishop John V Taylor, whose writings on Christianity, the arts, and culture are among the gems of theological and missiological literature. Archdeacon Owen was a formidable advocate for human rights both in Uganda and, later, in Kenya.

Nor, until recently, has the annual commemoration of the Ugandan martyrs been used as a justification for anti-LGBT legislation. It is true that the refusal of King Mwanga’s sexual advances by a young Roman Catholic pageboy in 1886 triggered the attack on the Christian community, but the vast majority of those who were killed were executed for refusing to deny their Christian faith, not because they had resisted sexual predation.

Mwanga, himself a very young man, was much more concerned about threats from European colonial predators, and fears that Christian missions and their converts might erode the independence of his kingdom. During the dark days of Amin’s dictatorship and the subsequent civil war in the 1970s and 1980s, the Ugandan martyrs were lauded for their resistance to political oppression and their bravery, as a vulnerable minority, in the face of persecution.

The contemporary Ugandan LGBT community, another highly vulnerable minority, has every reason to see the Ugandan martyrs as defenders of their cause.

8 North Grange Mews
Leeds LS6 2EW

From Helen Goodman

Sir, — The debate about the treatment of LGBT members of the Church — most recently, whether they should be married in church — has usually been framed as a debate between the interests of two groups: the LGBT community in the UK and other Western countries and the interests of the Church in Africa. What this has ignored is the interests of the LGBT community in Africa.

This error is now made painfully clear by the new anti-gay law in Uganda, which toughens the penalties to include life imprisonment and even the death penalty for some “offences”. Archbishop Kaziimba has expressed gratitude for the law, albeit he disagrees with the death penalty. Surely, rather than provide succour to those seeking to institutionalise prejudice, the Anglican Communion should be standing alongside those who are being oppressed?

16 Thorngate Place
Barnard Castle
Co. Durham DL12 8GP

Recollections of Dorothy L. Sayers and her mind

From Kerstin Lewis

Sir, — My mother, Barbara Reynolds, who was commissioned to complete the unfinished translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy for Penguin, first met Dorothy L. Sayers (Feature, 2 June) at an Italian Summer School that she helped to organise at Cambridge University in 1946. Of Sayers’s lecture on that occasion, she wrote: “Reading her lecture now, I can see in it all the signs of a critical response which was to make Dante come alive for millions of readers. . . At the time I only knew I was listening to the most enjoyable lecture I had ever heard” (The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers’s encounter with Dante, Kent State University Press, 1989).

My mother was brought to faith through her collaboration with Sayers, who responded to the news of her decision to be baptised with: “I am very glad you have decided to become a Christian. . . Mind you, being inside can be very exasperating. . . Nothing is so disillusioning as the company of one’s fellow-Christians. The Church is not the City of God on Earth — far from it: it’s only the people of this world trying in a feeble, inexpert way, to become the City of God. . .” (The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, Volume Four 1951-1957: In the midst of life, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000).

In December 1957, Sayers was one of Barbara’s godparents at her baptism in the Round Church in Cambridge, writing a letter of thanks “from your loving Godmother” only a couple of days before her own unexpected death.

From my childhood I remember her frequent visits to our Cambridge home very well. I have an enduring memory of her ability to communicate with young children, and I treasure the books that she shared with me to help to develop my own burgeoning faith. She would, I feel, have an instinctive reaction to the suggestion that she was one of the saints of the Church, and yet, in her works, both popular and theological, she showed herself as one who both lived and taught the faith.

Moorgate House
Advent, Camelford
Cornwall PL32 9QH

From the Revd Simon Buckley

Sir, — I would endorse Canon Rachel Mann’s suggestion in the Church Times last week that the theologian, religious dramatist, and crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers be added to the names of those commemorated in the lectionary of the Church of England. As the Rector of a church in which she was churchwarden and in which her ashes are interred, I have successfully petitioned for her inclusion in the London Kalendar. From this year, she will be remembered on 16 December — the eve of her death.

One can only hope that the rest of the C of E will catch up with the diocese of London, in this regard, after the example of the Episcopal Church in the United States, which, as in other matters, is ahead of us.

St Anne’s Church
55 Dean Street
London W1D 6AF

From Beryl Elliott

Sir, — I enjoyed renewing acquaintance with Dorothy Sayers’s theological writing, but was sorry to find no mention of The Mind of the Maker. In a rather condescending review of this later work, C. S. Lewis wrote that Sayers’s purpose here had been to throw light both on the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and on the process whereby a work of art (specially of literature) is produced.

72 Swindon Lane, Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL50 4PA

From Mr Colin McDowall

Sir, — I was delighted to be reminded by Canon Rachel Mann of Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Man Born to be King.

I could only have been seven years old when the BBC first broadcast these plays during the spring of 1941. Now, in my 90th year, I still remember the production very well. Perhaps I also listened to its repeat the following spring, because I well remember its haunting music and always associate the broadcast with Easter and wonder why the BBC have never (as far as I know) repeated it.

Imagine my delight, when I consulted Google, to find that a recording of the original production is readily available on an app called Amazon Audible. I have now listened to the first episode and can’t wait to hear the other 11.

I am very grateful to Canon Mann for jogging my memory. When I finish listening to these broadcasts, I think I shall reread all those Lord Peter Wimsey classics.

54 Bridgetown Road
Stratford upon Avon CV37 7JA

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