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Letters to the Editor

19 April 2024


Rajkumar on Biggar’s Colonialism

From Mr Adrian Roberts

Sir, — I am writing to challenge Canon Peniel Rajkumar’s review of the Revd Professor Nigel Biggar’s book Colonialism: A moral reckoning (Books, 12 April). Canon Rajkumar condemns the book as “morally and historically vacuous”, accuses Professor Biggar of “weaponising prejudice”, and finds his arguments preposterous, tedious, and lacking in any understanding. I believe these accusations to be unfair, since the review did not really engage with what Professor Biggar actually says, and the claim that he is seeking to defend colonialism tout court is simply wrong.

One of Biggar’s strategies early in the book is to look at the moral attitudes of past ages, assessing those forms of behaviour which were compliant with these attitudes, but which might be rejected today, and those that should have been considered reprehensible, even according to the values of the time.

On this basis, the practice of slavery in the Christian West should always have been rejected, but came to be so only under the pressure of various forms of abolitionism. In contrast, the colonialist or imperialist principle of thinking it acceptable for a dominant power to control other people’s territory was widely and openly accepted in the past in the Christian West, however much of a problem we might have with it in the UK today (though clearly such acceptance is still widespread in the United States, Russia, and China).

Biggar goes on to consider the effects of British rule across the world, and, while he does claim that some of these were good, he does not at all downplay the cruelties and atrocities committed by agents of the British Empire, nor the appalling rise of racism.

On the positive side, he makes the interesting claim, that, in the 19th century, the financial costs of abolition and of attempting to stamp out slavery in areas under British influence over the years were far greater than any of the profits formerly gained from the slave trade. Where British attempts failed, it was often due to the intransigence of local rulers who considered slavery a natural component of human society.

Whether or not these arguments are sound, a critical review should surely at least have tried to address and rebut them rather than simply resort to accusations of moral and intellectual vacuity.

West Farmhouse, Kexmoor
Ringbeck Road
Kirkby Malzeard
Ripon HG4 3QQ

From Charles Wide 

Sir, — The Revd Dr Peniel Rajkumar’s review of Colonialism: A moral reckoning is the epitome of how discussion of this fraught subject should not be conducted. He accuses Professor Biggar of intentional bias (that is what “tendentious” means), “astutely” (therefore, deliberately) “weaponising prejudice”, and selecting a “moral lens” that results in a “morally and historically vacuous” work that “mimics colonialism itself” — an intemperate ad hominem attack on the motives of a distinguished ethicist which is unworthy of a fellow Christian minister.

His criticism of the breadth of Professor Biggar’s reading is contradicted by a 32-page bibliography, with more than 600 references, including numerous sources sharply critical of colonialism (in the circumstances, the complaint that this list should have included work by the provocative Kehinde Andrews seems bizarre). His summary that “Empire emerges from this scrutiny exonerated and even extolled” ignores the many “evils of British colonialism” (Professor Biggar’s words) which are specifically identified and analysed.

The only way of satisfactorily resolving the heated disputes concerning colonialism is the rigorous exercise of empiricism. That is what the fair-minded reader of Professor Biggar’s book will find. If either his painstaking review of the historical evidence, or his reasoning as applied to that evidence, is at fault, by all means explore those errors. Emotive, personal attack and sweeping assertion are harmfully divisive, making differences harder to reconcile. Dr Rajkumar should know better.

Address supplied (Glapthorn, Northamptonshire)

From Professor Lawrence Goldman

Sir, — In recent years, Professor Biggar’s scholarly reassessment of the history of the British Empire has met with numerous attempts to obstruct and silence him. Yet the issue that he is pursuing — how to weigh up the moral record of colonialism — is a perfectly sound academic project and one that has captured the public’s interest, as the reception of his book, Colonialism: A moral reckoning attests.

It is dispiriting that Canon Rajkumar’s review is another invective against Professor Biggar’s evidence and reasoning, which fails to engage with his arguments. Dr Rajkumar is a theologian for United Society Partners in the Gospel, which is the direct descendant of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, founded in 1701 by Royal Charter in the reign of Queen Anne.

Probably no organisation was more dependent on the expansion of the British Empire for the success of its work than the SPG, which has spread Anglicanism around the globe. That’s the sort of fact in favour of colonialism which Professor Biggar has tried to discuss, and which Dr Rajkumar, as a “global theologian”, might care to ponder.

Editor, historyreclaimed.co.uk
Emeritus Fellow, St Peter’s College, Oxford
Gun Hill House, Gun Hill,
Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HF

Funding from the State for church buildings

From Mr Keith Porteous Wood

Sir, — Lee Coley’s article “State support is needed to keep churches open” claims that “the State would need to take responsibility for some of the maintenance costs of church buildings, akin to what was done in 1944 with education” (Comment, 12 April). This analogy is deeply flawed: in the latter case, the state benefited by having children educated, and that education had to be paid for whether in church or secular settings.

Clearly many, but by no means all, churches have architectural, historical and cultural value, and there may be some case for maintaining them. The most obvious source of further funds was, however, omitted: the Church Commissioners for England, who manage the C of E’s funds. Its assets are valued at £10.3 billion. One of the reasons that this figure is so high is the Commissioners’ parsimony over the years in allocations of funds to parishes.

The Government’s coffers are all but empty; so further burdens on them need to be avoided, particularly where those seeking funds have assets that they could deploy themselves.

National Secular Society
307-308 High Holborn
London WC1V 7LL

From Ms Claire Walker

Sir, — The UK’s 38,550 churches are a crucially important national asset, as Lee Coley makes clear in his article.

They are central to Christian worship and belief, are some of our most important heritage (with more than half listed as architecturally significant), and are essential community hubs, providing foodbanks, youth clubs, and an increasing number of other services that support local people.

Our report The House of Good calculates that the economic and social value provided by the UK’s churches is at least £55 billion each year, a figure that is based on HM Treasury Green Book-approved methodology. This means that for every £1 invested in church buildings, there is a return of around £16.

Of course, this national figure is made up of the value of individual churches throughout the UK. So, later this year, with the support of the Benefact Trust, we will be launching a local version of The House of Good. This will allow all churches, from any denomination, to calculate their own social and economic benefit and show, in monetary value, their contribution to the welfare of local people and to the community they serve.

Being able to make the case in this way will allow local stakeholders, such as councils, the NHS, and even, dare I say, dioceses to understand more fully the importance of their churches. Right now, the backlog for repairs to church buildings belonging to the Church of England alone is at least £1 billion. Demonstrating the social and economic benefit of churches can also help to show Government, funders such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, philanthropic trusts, and private donors why church buildings should be financially supported.

Chief Executive
National Churches Trust
7 Tufton Street
London SW1P 3QB

Debate about the nature of an LLF settlement

From the Bishop of Dorchester

Sir, — Unless you are living in Alice’s Wonderland, simply calling something by a certain name does not make it a reality. Ed Shaw, in his article “Settlement would be good for all” (Comment, 12 April) ,argues repeatedly for what he terms “A uniting settlement”. Mr Shaw’s call is, in reality, however, a call for enshrined, structural division, and so the very opposite of “uniting”.

It seems to me that a far better and more godly solution to our current tensions would be for us to renew our commitment to respectful, loving fellowship with one another across and, where necessary, despite our differences of convictions on sexuality and on other issues. As a bishop, my calling and my commitment is to doing all that I can to support, enable, and cherish the flourishing of the whole of that part of the Church of God which has been entrusted to my care, including every congregation and every minister, be they Evangelical, liberal, or Anglo-Catholic.

For me to give up my responsibility for any one section of the Church for reasons of theological differences would be both a failure in my living out of my calling, and a diminishing of the precious unity of the Church which was Jesus’s prayer and which is surely his ongoing desire.

Unity must never mean uniformity: if we think we can have fellowship with, or receive pastoral care and wisdom from, only those who see the world exactly as we do, then I would suggest that our view of God’s grace and of God’s Church is far, far too small.

Arran House, 12 Sandy Lane
Yarnton, Oxon. OX5 1PB

From Canon James Mustard

Sir, — Ed Shaw makes a compelling argument for a “uniting settlement” to break the current impasse on the introduction of Prayers of Love and Faith and create a level playing field for the introduction or withholding of same-sex blessing.

Any “uniting settlement” will need clear pastoral guidance, not least in the areas of conversion therapy, prayer, and coercion.

It is notable that nowhere does he mention the “red line” of same-sex blessing as a “first-order” doctrinal issue and hindrance to unity. So, to my delight, Mr Shaw’s proposal for a “uniting settlement” offers a real possibility that at last we might be able to reappropriate the term “orthodoxy” to mean assent to the Creeds — the original “uniting settlement” — rather than anything narrower. For that, thanks be to the Triune God!

1 The Cloisters
Exeter EX1 1HS

Swinson report and the Not Equal Yet Conference

From the Revd Martine Oborne

Sir, — Like the video assistant referee at a football match, the Church was quick to tell us, on the recent publication of the Swinson report on the appointment of a diocesan bishop who does not ordain women as priests, that the check was complete and no laws had been broken when the Rt Revd Philip North was appointed as Bishop of Blackburn last year. Play could resume.

Nothing was said about how the Church would respond to the criticisms and recommendations that Swinson made in the report. In particular, when will the Church do the work — that both Maggie Swinson as Independent Reviewer has now asked for, and her predecessor, Sir Philip Mawer, called for seven years ago — of considering the consequences for women in the Church, if they have a diocesan bishop who does not believe women should be ordained?

When will the Church recognise the one-sidedness of the 2014 Declaration of the House of Bishops and make it reciprocal, as Ms Swinson suggests, so that the Independent Reviewer can hear grievances from those who fully support women’s ministry as well as those who don’t? And when will the Church apologise to the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry (NADAWM) for dismissing it as a “campaigning organisation” (which it is not) and not consulting it on these important matters?

There are many flags raised in the Swinson report, just as there were in the reports of previous Independent Reviewers. And they are in danger of being ignored, again.

Chair, Women and the Church (WATCH)
60 Elmwood Road
London W4C 3DZ

From Jan Allen

Sir, — I was surprised to hear of the Not Equal Yet Conference, as it is my understanding that there are now higher numbers of women than men training for ordination. Women (I believe) are currently one third of active C of E clergy, not bad at all, considering how long they have been able to train.

The way things are currently going within the Church, we will need incentives for men to join the Church in the next 20 years.

It is also vital that churches be allowed to continue to discern whether they wish to employ a female priest. This was part of the initial agreement when women were first ordained. If the Church now goes back on this, where does that leave the agreement currently being discussed with regard to the Living in Love and Faith process?

The Lindens, Halstead
Essex CO9 1WT

Interfaith dialogue?

From the Revd Professor Ian Bradley

Sir, — I share the Revd Gillean Craig’s enthusiasm for the latest Pilgrimage series on BBC2 (Television, 12 April). What struck me most forcibly in it was not so much that an Old Etonian should think that Jesus Christ was fictitious, but, rather, that it was a lapsed Muslim who disabused him of this misconception.

4 Donaldson Gardens,
St Andrews,
Fife KY16 9DN

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