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Letters to the Editor

10 May 2024


The BBC’s religious broadcasting

From Mr Arun Kataria

Sir, — Tim Pemberton and Daisy Scalchi’s assurance that religious broadcasting will not be moved from television and radio into a solely digital space is at once both re-assuring and a matter for concern (News, 3 May).

Such ad-hoc promises are welcome, but, if they do not follow legislation, like commitments to genres of public-service broadcasting made in the Communications Act 2003, they may be subject to various kinds of pressure to be casually reduced.

One heartening bit in your report is Ofcom’s commitment to hours broadcast. But I, for one, think that legislation influences how many hours are considered sufficient, and that a lack of express commitments to named genres could set the tone for what broadcasters think is expected of them. It felt like a concrete achievement for the commitment to religious broadcasting to be made so explicitly in 2003. Let us hope it was not a high-water mark.

There is no need for it to be. The even more heartening thing in your report is Daisy Scalchi’s view that programmes can actually bring a religious perspective to viewers “under the wire”. People who wouldn’t watch a discussion programme about religious and non-religious views of death might very well have watched Stacey Dooley’s programme and found themselves reflecting on their own views as a result.

Some take the view that counting such programmes in the hours’ output dilutes the obligation to religious content, but, where there are distinct faith views offered, I cannot see that. I am more of the view that they are an enhancement, recalling Michael Wakelin’s view when he became BBC Head of Religion and Ethics in 2006 that religious programmes, besides bringing worship and prayer to our eyes and ears, can be places where we are unexpectedly provoked, making us confront the big moral questions of life, and leading us to think about what is most important to us and what our lives are for (I paraphrase).

This kind of response from the viewing public is one of the essences of public-service broadcasting: encountering the unexpected. The more people who are led to reflect on whether there is more to life than a “tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, the better.

Head of Broadcasting in the Church of England Communications Office (2001-08)
Address supplied (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Comments about the WATCH conference

From Mrs Anne Foreman

Sir, — There is much to ponder in the Bishop of Dover’s “stamping on eggshells” address to the WATCH Conference (News, 26 April), not least the irony that her episcopal ministry was enabled by the very Guiding Principles that she calls “an error of judgement”. As a longstanding supporter of the ordination of women and member of WATCH, I wish the implementation of the Five Guiding Principles to continue, to ensure, as was promised, the flourishing of that small but significant part of the Church of England.

For Bishop Hudson-Wilkin to state “when we elect CNCs . . .who are diametrically opposed to women in leadership” is inaccurate and misleading. The central members of the Crown Nominations Commission are elected by the General Synod, and the six diocesan representatives are elected by the relevant diocesan vacancy-in-see committee. By no means do such elections result in a Commission collectively diametrically opposed to women in leadership. Members of the CNC conduct their work with the expressed interests of the diocese in question in mind.

Where good judgement is required is when the election of members of the General Synod itself takes place. Not by any stretch of the imagination can the current membership be considered representative of the parishes. We get the Synod that we deserve, since those who put the work in get elected. So, your readers need to start thinking now about who should represent their diocese when election time comes round.

12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX11TL

From the Revd Martine Oborne

Sir, — In response to the concerns expressed (Letters, 3 May) about the recent Not Equal Yet campaign, which calls for the Church of England to treat women and men equally, I write to make some clarifications.

First, WATCH is calling for a generous way to bring the 2014 arrangements to an end: arrangements that permit churches to say “no” to female priests applying to be their vicars; to say “no” to female priests; and to say “no” to female bishops (and bishops who have ordained women) and request a special male bishop.

We are not suggesting that anyone should be driven out of the Church, or that changes should be “overnight”. A first step might be to stop ordaining more men as priests each year who do not fully accept the orders of women or their roles as church leaders.

Two hundred and fifty women and men attended the Not Equal Yet Conference either in person or online, and 100 per cent of the 92 who participated in feedback said that they agreed or strongly agreed that it was time for the 2014 arrangements to come to an end. Furthermore, a recent survey of 1500 clergy conducted by The Times showed that two-thirds of the participating clergy wanted the arrangements to come to an end.

Second, WATCH is not saying that we cannot or should not live with differences of theological opinion. But it is only (so far) over female priests and bishops that churches have the right to require a special bishop.

For ten years, we have observed the outworking of the 2014 arrangements and highlighted concerns about their operation and the continuing discrimination and sexism that women experience in the Church. We have repeatedly called for transparency from churches that limit women’s ministry, and almost nothing has been done in response. We have been surprised and disappointed by the lack of compliance with the terms of the arrangements and other areas of discrimination and sexism which seem to be legitimised by the arrangements.

We are now saying that it is time to be one Church, where we all recognise each other’s orders and fully accept the bishop appointed to our diocese. No other Church in the Anglican Communion that ordains women as priests and bishops has institutionalised discrimination against women in the way that the Church of England has.

Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church)
c/o 14 Ashford Close
Hampshire SP6 1DH

Image of God ‘out there’ which still hasn’t gone

From Canon Stephen Mitchell

Sir, — How disappointing to read that the late Hugh Dawes’s attempt, in his 1992 book Freeing the Faith, to find a new story of God which did not rely on supernatural assumptions, found little support from his bishop (Gazette, 3 May). But has anything changed?

It is now more than 60 years since Bishop John Robinson came clean and declared that he no longer found it possible to believe in an almighty God “out there” who intervened in human affairs, and exactly 40 years since Don Cupitt charted the gradual erosion of this belief in The Sea of Faith, broadcast on the BBC.

While both of them met with the same unsupportive attitude at the time, the evidence now is that all bishops and archbishops in the Church of England agree with John Robinson.

Prayers in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still authorised for use) ask God to “send us rain and showers”, “confound [our enemies’] devices”, and “withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness”. Yet during the recent droughts, no bishop or archbishop beseeched God to send rain; nor have one asked God to confound Russian tanks or withdraw the Covid-19 plague from us. While they called for a ceasefire in the Middle East, they did not ask God to bring it.

Until our bishops acknowledge that they do not believe in a God who will send rain, confound war-makers, and take away plagues, the Church will never be the open, liberal, and inclusive community that Hugh so desired.

Such an admission by the Bishops would help to liberate faith and free us from an image of God which many find oppressive and abusive. It would help us to take responsibility for our talk of God, and encourage us to make our theology true to experience and explore the rich diversity of ways in which God has been spoken about in the Bible and in history.

Trustee, Sea of Faith Network
93 Bantocks Road
Great Waldingfield
Sudbury CO10 0XT

Further thoughts on Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — The Revd Professor Nigel Biggar (Letters, 3 May) names five historians who endorse his views on colonialism. We must not forget that many others have expressed reservations. In December 2017, more than 50 Oxford academics supported an open letter expressing their concerns about Professor Biggar’s Ethics and Empire project (theconversation.com). Almost immediately, more than 170 scholars from around the world criticised Oxford University for backing the project.

Now, after publication of Professor Biggar’s book, Canon Peniel Rajkumar (Books, 12 April) and the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor of USPG (Letters, 26 April) have added their strong criticisms, suggesting that Professor Biggar’s writing reveals an underlying attitude of superiority. Their critique is rooted in insights gained through USPG’s partnerships throughout the Anglican Communion. This brings them into contact with people who are experiencing at first hand the negative legacies of colonialism.

242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

From Dr E. S. Kempson

Sir, — Several letters (19 April) have criticised Canon Peniel Rajkumar’s review of Professor Biggar’s book, Colonialism, for not engaging with what Professor Biggar actually says, not addressing and rebutting his arguments, and not identifying specific faults with his historical evidence and reasoning.

Those wishing for a such a rich, thorough, and scholarly engagement with Biggar’s work (for which there is not space in the Church Times) should read Professor Alan Lester’s review “The British Empire in the Culture War: Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning” in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. This academic article is accessible to non-academics and freely available online (tandfonline.com).

Lecturer in Theology and Ministry, Durham University
Abbey House, Palace Green
Durham DH1 3RS

Mothers finding cover

Sir, — It would appear that no provision is made in a parish when maternity leave is taken by a curate mother: one just relies on friends to help. If she was a teacher or in business, an immediate replacement would be found. Is it that there is simply not the help or lack of funds for this to happen? Do the mothers-to-be feel they are letting down their flock? No wonder some clerics fold under the strain of lack of help.


Liturgical interpolations

From the Revd Richard Horner

Sir, — Like Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 3 May), I deplore officiants’ personal changes to liturgical texts. Except my own, of course.

Chaplain, Rugby School
Tudor House
Rugby CV22 5DL

From the Revd Allan Sheath

Sir, — Canon Tilby rails against the liturgical tinkerers; yet there is hope amid the ruins. A curate, indignant at her rector’s efforts at placing restrictions on God’s activity, altered his usual blessing embolism from “and all those whom you love and pray for” to “and all those you find hard to love and rarely pray for”. Amen.

108 Mustoe Road
Filton, Bristol BS16 2NP

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — I fear that Canon Tilby may find me a worthy recipient of my own occasional liturgical innovation: “May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be upon you and all those you hate, now and evermore.” Luke 10.6 is fulfilled.

8 Bielby Close
Scarborough YO12 6UU

Theory about a textual puzzle in St John’s Gospel

From Drs. Christopher Rigg

Sir, — In Sunday’s Readings (Faith, 26 April), the Revd Dr Cally Hammond puzzles over the abrupt switch in St John’s Gospel from 14.31 (not 14.32 in my Bibles) to 15.1. Try flipping over to 18.1, and the story continues smoothly.

A former Anglican chaplain in Utrecht, Stephen Twycross (d. 2005), suggested to me that the Aramaic precursor of the Gospel was a codex (book format, not a roll), which was already falling apart when it was taken to Ephesus and was translated from Aramaic into Greek. Someone dropped it, and the pages scattered. Each page contained about 18 verses. The first page of the Gospel ended in 1.17 with a bit of 1.18, which had to be reconstructed. The Song of the Word continues in 3.13, where the comparison between Moses and Jesus continues.

This could also explain the “appendix” of John 21.1-14, an expanded version of the event at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry (Matthew 4.18-22, Mark 1.16-20 and Luke 5.1-11). Yes, in many ways “John’s Gospel is more unified than . . . the Synoptics,” but there are some strange breaks along the way.

Langhoven 57
6721 SL Bennekom, Netherlands

National conscience?

From the Revd Mike Plunkett

Sir, — Quite a few years ago, people often said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. When you think of the party led by Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath, and consider the ethics of today’s Tories, then the contrast is extreme: in relation to immigration, no disciple of Jesus could accept current activity.

When the party in power is producing so much unnecessary suffering, then the Established Church must be the conscience of the nation. This does not mean speeches: it means leadership that enables congregations throughout the land to be aware of the realities that we are part of, the realities and suffering of the world that is the concern of our God: to be aware, and then suggest actions.

1 The Ridge, Bishop’s Castle
Shropshire SY9 5AB

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