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Letters to the Editor

by
01 March 2024

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Israel and Gaza, and Dr Isaac’s visit

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — I was surprised not to see a letter in last week’s issue concerning the Bishops’ statement on the war in Gaza (News, 16 February). The high jinks in Parliament last week reveal how complicated and contested the issue of a ceasefire is; but how different is the Bishops’ intervention from that of the SNP, the Lib Dems, or Labour?

The Bishop interviewed on Radio 4, the following Sunday, claimed that their statement was based on just-war thinking, hence its argument that Israel’s prosecution of the war “cannot be morally justified”. Hamas, unlike Israel, however, fails on every single criterion of just-war theory. Indeed, it would fail even on any just-revolution or -resistance theory, if only because — as its foundational charter makes abundantly clear — it is committed to the eradication of the Jewish State of Israel.

Certainly, a reasonable case can be made that Israel strives to abide by such criteria and goes to greater lengths than most to do so. This is why, for example, the attacks on Hamas brigades have not been immediate. Whether it is wise, therefore, for the Bishops to trespass on to highly contested politicised turf is a moot point. The Bishops, in joining with others in advocating an “immediate ceasefire”, can be accused of siding with Hamas, a terrorist entity engaging in jihad, over a functioning democratic state — and unwittingly, therefore, of supporting terrorism.

IAN K. DUFFIELD
Urban Theology Union
Victoria Methodist Hall
Norfolk Street, Sheffield S1 2JB


From the Revd Sam Fletcher,
the Revd Grey Collier, and the Revd Mo Budd

Sir, — We write from Christians for Palestine — UK, a grass-roots movement calling for peace and justice in Gaza, and seeking to mobilise Christian solidarity with Palestinians.

We were appalled to learn of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s shameful decision to cancel his meeting with the Revd Dr Munther Isaac, during Dr Isaac’s recent visit to the UK from Bethlehem (News, 23 February).

The people of Gaza are being mercilessly slaughtered and intentionally starved; meanwhile, our Archbishop shuns a Palestinian pastor for addressing British crowds alongside the former Labour leader. Jesus was frequently accused of guilt by association for keeping company with tax collectors and sinners, and yet our Archbishop will not meet Dr Isaac merely because he has associated with an elected British MP.

Dr Isaac speaks prophetically, with moral authority and clarity. In contrast, the Church of England’s position on Gaza has been equivocal and misguided. The House of Bishops’ most recent statement, for example, persists in treating the situation in Gaza as if it were a conflict between two equal sides rather than — as is becoming clearer every day — a genocidal assault on a whole population.

Jesus lived and died in solidarity with the suffering and oppressed. As politicians continue to prevaricate on the issue of a ceasefire, and as another vote in Parliament is expected soon, the Church must act with courage. We urge the Bishops to use their influence to put pressure on the Government, calling for an end to UK arms exports to Israel. This genocide must stop now.

SAM FLETCHER, GREY COLLIER, MO BUDD
Christians for Palestine – UK
Address supplied


Cathedrals as night-clubs? A desecration

From Dr Hugh Burling

Sir, — I noted the article by the Revd Ruth Dowson concerning the growing use of our ancient cathedrals as night-club venues (Comment, 23 February).

I think that it sells the Church of England’s rich theological tradition short to cast the view that cathedral naves are sacred spaces as “Catholic”, and the denial of this as “Protestant”.

The Church of England officially teaches that the eucharist brings about the Real Presence of Christ’s body, soul, and divinity, at least during the mass. This was certainly the view of everyone involved in building our ancient cathedrals. Christians have always understood the shedding, and hence drinking, of Christ’s blood to be the perfection of not just eucharistic or Passover sacrifices, but also of the atoning sacrifices celebrated in the Temple of Jerusalem.

As such, the nave of a church, whether built on to the house of an ancient Roman or by generations of loving masons in the medieval era, is at least as sacred as a court of the Second Temple. Given the way the Temple’s outer courts were treated by Jesus and his Apostles, the frivolousness of the current treatment of cathedrals does not seem consistent with the biblical witness.

Another salient consideration arises from the juxtaposition between “Catholic” and “Protestant” sensibilities regarding the sanctity of ancient cathedrals: who built them, for whom, and for what; and what has happened in them between being built and coming under the custody of the Church of England. It is a historical fact that English Catholics can do nothing about that some of their greatest pilgrimage sites are out of their control. But it is a historical fact that should not be ignored by the cathedrals’ current custodians that they were not built to be all-purpose “community” event spaces. One would think cathedral deans would show more respect to the love and convictions of their ancestors in the faith, and of their separated brethren.

The appeal to medieval practice in profaning naves is never substantiated with any examples. Even if it were, it makes a difference that virtually everyone in a medieval city was a baptised communicant; and that English cities are now full of night clubs and covered markets, where once the cathedral may have been the only large indoor space for Christians to convene. Caesar has plenty of coins for himself these days.

The tactless remarks of cathedral deans and their subordinates in replying to complaints about running cathedrals as night clubs shows that persuasion is not a project likely to succeed. Fortunately, we know that the Church’s real battle isn’t with them, but one that will be won through prayer.

Lent is a great time to take on tough new spiritual practices, and I would highly recommend a couple of hours’ singing the Psalms outside a cathedral on a cool spring night. Readers can find a cathedral being desecrated near them at sacredmatters.carrd.co, and write to cathedralvigils@gmail.com to ask for help in organising their own prayer vigil.

HUGH BURLING
7 Woodlands View
Sevenoaks TN14 7AR


Churches as sanctuaries

From Mr Stephen Parsons

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 16 February) is right to point out that the church is a building no less than a congregation. Indeed, for the solitary Christian, as for those more generally sensitive to their spiritual dimension, the part played by the church as sanctuary, functionally represented by a physical structure, is paramount (there are obvious parallels with foodbanks and warm-banks here, too).

This is how the Church, as the Church of England, can offer service to all the country’s spiritually aware (an English spirituality perhaps justifying state financial support for church buildings as infrastructure).

STEPHEN PARSONS
Wickets, Beercrocombe
Somerset TA3 6AG


Responding to the Jay and Wilkinson reports

From Professor Helen King

Sir, — In his speech in the General Synod last Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury described safeguarding in our Church as “a long drawn-out, terrible disaster”. Hopes that this disaster may be coming to an end are, sadly, not supported by the failure to share with the Synod before the safeguarding debate a document with the terms of reference and membership of the Response Group to the Wilkinson and Jay reports.

A paper dated 20 February, setting out these terms of reference, at www.churchofengland.org, was — for no clear reason — not included in those papers issued to the Synod, even though there was an assumption that Synod members would have read the Jay report, published the day after these terms of reference were drawn up.

This Response Group, tasked “to oversee wider engagement and further reflection regarding both Reports in order to brief the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) and then advise the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council”, is apparently in the process of being set up, but with little transparency.

Only those on its Executive Group will have voting rights, and this group of ten includes people deeply enmeshed in the previous safeguarding structures — and in the ISB debacle detailed in Dr Wilkinson’s report — such as the lead safeguarding bishop and the chair of the House of Laity. The secretary general and the national director of safeguarding will be on the wider Response Group, as advisers.

While the existence of this Response Group was referred to several times in the debate, the lead safeguarding bishop did not explain or even refer to the document in her concluding remarks. Both the composition and the process for the Response Group suggest that the “independence” of safeguarding will begin with a terrible sense of familiarity.

HELEN KING
General Synod representative for the diocese of Oxford
35 Croft Road, Wallingford
Oxfordshire OX10 0HN


From the Very Revd Dr Christopher Lewis

Sir, — There is a particular breed of the clergy which is likely to welcome Professor Jay’s enlightened proposals for safeguarding. It is the “retireds” on whom rural areas are increasingly dependent.

The recommendations would lead to greater consistency across dioceses and, probably, to better training. At the moment, we are trained for safeguarding according to local policy, and DBS-checked according to diverse rules. I happened to be DBS-checked recently, to become a volunteer with Suffolk Refugee Support, and then was DBS-checked again immediately afterwards (at some expense to the diocese) to renew my permission to officiate (PTO).

What is more, there is currently a strange rule, traced to the House of Bishops, which says that those aged 80 or above must go through the whole PTO procedure every year. That is odd, when our sanity and suitability may be best judged by the parish priest who actually sees us at work.

CHRISTOPHER LEWIS
16 Victoria Road
Aldeburgh IP15 5ED


Fr Coles: Deception about our relationship was the lesser of two evils

From the Revd Richard Coles

Sir, — May I offer couple of clarifications after Andrew Brown’s comments (Press, 23 February) on my recent interview in The Times?

I don’t think it is ever OK to lie, but it may be a lesser evil. I did not want to deceive anyone about my relationship with my late partner, which was happily and guiltlessly sexual, but I felt that I had no choice. I did not do it to “get on in the instution”, but to survive in it. If we had been honest, we would have risked our vocations, our livelihoods, and our homes. If we were Anglicans in some other Provinces, it would not have been a problem; but in others, let us not forget, it could have resulted in arrest, criminal prosecution, violence, and possibly death.

The greater evil, in my view, would have been to deny ourselves the intimate relationship that others in the random distribution of sexual orientation take for granted, and to decline the offer of godly love and grace which came with it.

RICHARD COLES
Address supplied


Pride-frontal judgment

From Canon Cecil Heatley

Sir, — With regard to the Pride frontal (News, 23 February), would it be too simple to suggest a frontal with a rainbow on it and possibly a cross? Then people could interpret it as they wish.

CECIL HEATLEY
Flat 37, Bromley and Sheppard’s Colleges
Bromley
Kent BR1 1PE

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