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Letters to the Editor

26 April 2024


Religious Studies at Canterbury

From Mr Robin Lunn

Sir, — I was very pleased to read your coverage of the sad and unwarranted removal of theology and religious-studies courses at the University of Kent at Canterbury (UKC) (News, 28 March).

First, I must declare an interest, as a theology and religious-studies graduate of UKC and a member for the past 30 years of the ceremonial University Court. While I accept that the funding model of universities in the UK has become severely compromised in the past 14 years, with an emphasis away from humanities subjects and a freezing of fees which has hit all universities without large historic endowments, the closure of this subject at this university appears particularly short-sighted and wrong.

A significant reason that I chose Kent was the fact that it looks from the top of the hill on to Canterbury Cathedral. That you can visit and worship regularly is a huge attraction if you are studying theology. Students of all Christian traditions would be drawn to this historic centre, and, for many years, the courses were run in concert with the Franciscan Centre in Giles Lane. Sadly, the closure of this nearly ten years ago has also undermined the survival of the course.

Why I would urge the University of Kent very carefully against this removal of the theology and religious-studies course is that it has an advantage that other universities do not have in being based in such an advantageous and historic place for Christianity. This is something that the university surely could make more of. The university and the cathedral work very well together on the staging of degree ceremonies and the carol service; so I wonder whether they could not explore working together to preserve the local theological degree course?

On a personal note, I think the late Dr John Court, who was a regular contributor to the Church Times, would have been very sad at the removal of the subject that he taught and researched for many years with distinction. So I urge the University of Kent: think again!

General Synod representative, diocese of Worcester
Little Hambledon
10 Malthouse Crescent
Worcestershire WR7 4EF

Pressure for settlement has skewed LLF debate

From Mr Nic Tall

Sir, — Your publishing of a response to a conservative opposing LGBT+ equality (Ed Shaw, Comment, 12 April) from another conservative opposed to LGBT+ equality (the Revd Dr Christopher Landau, Comment, 19 April) showed a disappointing lack of balance. It reflects how the Church has permitted an internal obsession over sexuality among a conservative minority to dominate the national discourse.

The feedback from the pews on Living in Love and Faith (LLF) was clear. People want greater affirmation of same-sex relationships, the Church to stay together, and a clear decision, so that we can move on. The LLF process has, instead, become a conservative discussion about whether to reshape the Church, debating internal division rather than unity, and, instead of moving on, the process drags on for ever.

The Synod has voted for the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) to be commended, and new pastoral guidance for those in ministry to replace Issues in Human Sexuality. More than a year has passed, and most of this has not been implemented.

There are already sufficient protections for the overwhelming majority of the Church who want to get on with mission and ministry in their parishes. No priest opposing the use of the PLF will ever have to use them. No priest will be compelled to have a civil marriage with someone of the same sex. The LLF process permits greater LGBT+ inclusion for those who wish, and those who don’t can carry on as they are. If a church wants to differentiate itself on these matters, it can put something up on its noticeboard or website, so that everyone is clear where they stand. Major ecclesiological surgery to carve up the Church because a minority are obsessed with gay sex is neither necessary nor desirable.
The Synod could be talking about mission and evangelism, about resourcing our parishes and serving our community. Instead, conservatives such as the Church of England Evangelical Council are dragging out LLF, wanting to divide the Church rather than build it up. I hope that the Bishops will see sense and move to a quick resolution of LLF, making the PLF available to those who wish, and allowing clergy the freedom to marry.

National Co-ordinator of Together for the Church of England
2 The Orchard
Dowell Close
Taunton TA2 6BN

From Dr Theo Hobson

Sir, — The Revd Dr Christopher Landau’s proposal is simply an echo of the Church’s current official position, such as it is. Let’s stick with the doctrine of marriage, but allow certain innovations, including same-sex blessings. The problem with this is that conservative Evangelicals sense that the doctrine of marriage is not secure: if it is not tightly defended, it will fall. It is probably time for liberals to admit that they want it to fall, in its old form. We need a new doctrine of sex and marriage.

72 Leghorn Road
London NW10 4PJ

Cost of reorganisation of English dioceses

From Mr John Radford

Sir, — The article “Leeds: a superdiocese comes of age” (News, 19 April) was informative about how the Church of England’s newest diocese came into being ten years ago. As someone who grew up in the historic diocese of Wakefield, I followed the process with interest (from a safe distance).

It appears to me that this was the largest example of a pastoral reorganisation ever undertaken by the C of E, with a level of incompetency which, after ten years, is incredible. That “the diocese began with no infrastructure, no governance, no area bishops in three of of the episcopal areas, no diocesan bishop in post, and four remote offices” beggars belief. It speaks volumes of the “Yorkshire grit” that folk in the three dioceses rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job.

The shocking cost of the whole process forecast at £1.4 million (bad enough), which actually cost the Church a staggering £10 million (including the revival of a dormant bishopric, when the whole scheme had been sold to the Church on the strength that there would be no more senior posts than already existed in the three historic dioceses), is a very hard pill to swallow.

I recall the edition of the Church Times in which the Revd Gareth Miller set out proposals for smaller dioceses: there was a rather attractive map (Feature, 28 March 2003). Had those proposals come to pass, I would now be writing to you from the Diocese of Wimborne (rather than Salisbury). I suspect, however, that the Church of England would have completely bankrupted itself in the process of doing so.

Church Lodge
Wimborne St Giles
Dorset BH21 5LZ

Irreconcilable perspectives on the British Empire?

From the Revd Dr Susan Durber

Sir, — I write in response to the letters (19 April) criticising Canon Peniel Rajkumar’s review (Books, 12 April) of the Revd Professor Nigel Biggar’s book Colonialism: A moral reckoning. Their critique helped me to identify just why, like Canon Rajkumar, I find Professor Biggar’s book so repugnant.

Not long ago, I was part of a World Council of Churches (WCC) conversation with indigenous people from Winnipeg, Canada. I heard first-hand testimony of the impact of the residential schools, of the racism that justified them, the suffering that many experienced there, and the trauma that lingers on. Then came the news that more than 200 bodies of babies and children had been discovered in former school grounds.

Such a revelation makes a sentence like this by Professor Biggar impossible to take seriously: “The wholesale damnation of the residential school system in Canada is overwrought and unfair” (p. 135). His repeated strategy of seeking to be “reasonable”, fair, and balanced does not seem adequate in the face of such suffering. A 32-page bibliography doesn’t impress me, in itself, or persuade me to be more “moderate”.

Professor Biggar draws up “a tally of the evils of British colonialism” (on p. 276, for example), but only to conclude his paragraph by saying that it wasn’t as bad as Nazism or the Soviet Gulags. The trivialising word “tally” combines with his conclusion to imply that, on balance, it wasn’t so bad after all.

In the face of what we are still discovering about colonialism, I believe that it is an intemperate, passionate response that is justified. An “interesting academic argument” just doesn’t, in its cool distance, match the horror or catch the truth.

Canon Rajkumar can do reason well, but he also writes with soul, with feeling, from a place of identifying with those who suffered. I want to hear every voice, but I know that I need most to hear the voices of those who challenge my own British world and history. I am grateful to those I have met and heard within the fellowship of the international ecumenical movement.

WCC President from Europe
64 Tasker Way
Haverfordwest SA61 1FE

From the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor

Sir, — Readers may be unsurprised to read that I write in robust support of my colleague Canon Rajkumar and his review of Professor Biggar’s Colonialism.

Over the past decade, there has been a wonderful outpouring of careful, detailed scholarship on the British Empire. Much of that work has focused on the “underside of Empire”, giving voice to those who experienced colonialisation and laying out some of the political, economic, and social forces involved. This has led to an important reframing of how we think and talk about the British Empire, and raised some profound moral questions (including reparations for chattel slavery).

Accusations of a conspiracy to silence Biggar (Letters, 19 April) are significantly overstated (see also the review in Private Eye). Sadly, the truth is more mundane: his methodology and argumentation fall short of the rigorous standards expected in academia, and he has ducked serious engagement with the issues and fellow scholars in favour of taking a stance in the so-called “culture wars”. His book is a work of polemic, and Rajkumar is simply “calling him out”.

As the General Secretary of USPG (formerly SPG), I lead an organisation that seeks to wrestle with the historic entanglements of Christian mission and British imperialism, in all their complexity, daily. The theological and ethical legacies generated by this history cannot be reduced to the sort of crude utilitarian calculus that Professor Biggar appears to advocate. Nor, as Christians, part of a community that is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”, can we regard our viewing lens or sense of solidarity as ending at the white cliffs of Dover.

Indeed, there are well-documented examples of Anglican missionaries (e. g. C. F. Andrews and A. S. Cripps) who articulated a fierce moral critique of British rule and lived lives of deeply expressed solidarity for others — at significant personal cost. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, neither their names nor their internationalist perspectives receive a mention in Colonialism.

General Secretary
United Society Partners in the Gospel
5 Trinity Street
London SE1 1DB

Rwanda and a psalm

From the Revd James Dwyer

Sir, — The morning after the Government callously forced through its shameful Bill to send migrants to Rwanda, many will have read these words in Morning Prayer: “The Lord watches over the stranger in the land; he upholds the orphan and the widow; but the way of the wicked he turns upside down” (Psalm 146.9). Not for the first time, the scriptures give us a prophetic warning about what happens when we fail to love our neighbours as ourselves. Lord, have mercy.

The Vicarage, Chapel Road
Flackwell Heath HP10 9AA

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