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Letters to the Editor

26 January 2024


True and false in Israel-Hamas war

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — I am sure that the Revd David Haslam is right to remind us that whenever there is conflict, a battle for hearts and minds is also always in play, and we should, therefore, be wary of “blanket statements” from those engaged in the fighting (Letters, 19 January).

But the only statements that he takes issue with in the Israel/Hamas war are those put out by the Israeli authorities.

I accept that we shall not know the full truth about what happened after 7 October until the conflict is over, but I could just as easily take exception to the way in which the media keep reporting, for example, the daily count of casualties in Gaza as put out by the Ministry of Health, even though they make it clear that the ministry is Hamas-controlled.

Surely we can see that this too is propaganda — not the numbers, which may or may not be true, but the way in which they are all described as “civilians”. According to Hamas, no one who dies is a combatant: all deaths are deaths of civilians. Yet the Israeli military are expected to distinguish between civilians and combatants and will be held to account if they do not.

The tragedy for the Palestinians is that Hamas is in control; the tragedy for Israel is its current prime minister — because neither wants a two-state solution.

43 Northfield Court
Sheffield S10 1QR

From the Revd Bruce Thompson

Sir, — The Revd David Haslam infers that Israel may have exaggerated or even fabricated some of the evidence relating to the Islamist group Hamas’s attack on peace-loving kibbutzim on 7 October. Claiming that Jews are to blame for their own suffering or are devious in their tactics are anti-Semitic tropes that run through the centuries.

To imply that there may not have been mass rape conducted by the terrorists on Simchat Torah is a bold claim, when witnesses abound. We can also view for ourselves footage that Hamas recorded of the naked, 22-year-old Shani Louk on the back of a pick-up fresh from the assault, with hundreds of Gazan men jeering, and spitting on her broken body — was this not enough? Nineteen-year-old Naama Levy is dragged by her hair from the back of a vehicle by a heavily armed terrorist shouting “Allahu Akbar” and is forced into the back seat; her face has been clearly beaten, and her trousers are soaked in blood — was this not enough?

Other barbaric atrocities were sadistically live-streamed on the victims’ Facebook accounts for their families and friends to watch — are these recordings not enough?

If Hamas was prepared to broadcast these appalling war crimes openly, what is it not prepared to admit? And what is the official Hamas line? Apparently, no civilians were attacked on 7 October. So, who are the 130 hostages still held in the Hamas tunnels? If 7 October was exaggerated, why did a leading Hamas official promise another 7 October, and another, and another, until Israel is eliminated? Which Hamas evidence should we believe? The live footage? Or the claim that 7 October was just a minor attack on military posts?

50 Lydalls Close
Didcot OX11 7LA

From the Revd Dr Peter Liddell

Sir, — The Bishop of Southwark’s public statement after his visit to Israel and the Occupied West Bank is encouraging. He met, listened, shared, supported, comforted, and determined that “it is important that we listen intently . . ., uphold them in our prayers, and offer whatever practical support we can to sustain them.”

This prompts the question: what practical support is the Church of England providing? The examples below show that, in common with most Western Churches, it has a lot of ground to make up.

First, in September 2020, I wrote to all diocesan and suffragan bishops asking them to support a Day of Action after the Israeli Supreme Court’s historic ruling to defend Palestinians from settler attack and land thefts and to ensure their rights. Its headline was “Palestine Burns”. But, in June 2020, no bishop signed a cross-party petition in favour of sanctioning Israel if it annexed the West Bank (Letters, 12 June 2020).

Second, on 30 November, 68 bishops and Christian leaders called for a ceasefire in Gaza. But our Primates are not among the leaders of other Churches who signed.

The ground that Churches such as the C of E must recover is demonstrated in the devastating words of the Bethlehem Lutheran pastor Munther Isaac: “The Bible is weaponised against us”; “We will not accept your apology after the genocide”; “They send us bombs while celebrating Christmas”; and “They sing about the Prince of Peace in their own land while playing the drum of war.”

It is also high time the Church recognised the underlying agenda of Zionist and Israeli leaders, illustrated by the following statements: “We must expel the Arabs and take their places,” Ben Gurion, 1937; “There is no such thing as Palestinians,” Golda Meir, 1969; “Grab the hilltops. Everything we don’t grab will go to them,” Ariel Sharon, 1998. In 2023, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed divine right to destroy the Amalekites, and his henchmen called for Gazans to emigrate to Egypt.

Interestingly, Sir Vincent Feane, of the Balfour Project, has just presented the Church with a “Get-out-of-jail card”: an opportunity to start redeeming itself from past errors. He asks the House of Lords to render inoperable the Economic Activities of Public Bodies Bill. This obtuse and extreme legislation singles out Israel and its illegal settlements for exceptional protection from disinvestment or non-procurement decisions taken by public bodies. It also undermines longstanding, bipartisan British foreign policy, by treating illegal settlements as if they were part of Israel.

I appeal to the Lords Spiritual to respond to Sir Vincent’s call.

25 St Marys Court
Welwyn AL6 9AU

Christian unity and the divisions within the C of E

From the Revd Rowland Crook

Sir, — Your leader comment “Better Together” (19 January) relating to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity points up questions why. Why are political and social matters not made together? Why are investigations not jointly resourced, etc.? It seems to me that the necessary muscle to initiate such joint concerns is just not there now. Bishops and other church leaders have more than enough to cope with, confronting the many challenges of today’s secular society and overseeing the many problems of our churches and their parish life in their dioceses.

The fact is that we are a much weaker Church today than we used to be (I’m an 84-year-old with active permission to officiate). We are overburdened with matters of marriage, climate change, safeguarding, and multiple other concerns. As we Anglicans confront the demands of today’s world, we have to face up to the fact that we just cannot cope with tackling matters of ecclesiastical schemes of uniting, particularly as we have spent so much time and energy in the past, to little or no avail.

14 Bollington Avenue
Northwich CW9 8SB

From Mr Nigel Wildish

Sir, — In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I have reflected and prayed about the lack of unity within the Church of England over the proposal that we should be allowed, but are not obliged to use, prayers of blessing over same-sex relationships. This is sad, particularly when we consider the size of God’s love, as demonstrated by the story of Jesus’s first sign at Cana.

Of course, we are bidden to love one another, as fellow Christians, but I am not sure if those who believe that the majority of the Bishops are wrong on a “first-order principle” accept them as Christians. If they do, then on what terms?

I was very struck by something I read more than ten years ago in a copy of the Alpha News dated November 2010 to February 2011. It is this: “One of the things I am only just beginning to realise is that every time I say something negative about another Christian or another church, I always feel bad. Something in my spirit (and this time I think it is the Holy Spirit) is grieved by that. And even if the person or church apparently deserves to be spoken about badly, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to like it.

He doesn’t seem to want us to speak badly against one another. Because the same Holy Spirit lives in the Catholics and the Orthodox and the Pentecostals and the Holy Spirit even lives in Anglicans. And he unites us. We’re united by the fact that we are sons and daughters of God the Father; and we’re united by the fact that we love Jesus; and we’re united by the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in us. And Jesus prays that: I myself may be in them.”

The author? The Revd Nicky Gumbel. And he referred at the head of his article to John 17.20-21.

25B Ravensdale Avenue
London N12 9HP

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — The Revd George Day (Letters, 19 January) hints at the unreliability and inappropriateness of the ancient Leviticus commandments to act as the basis for opposing same-sex unions today. Even a superficial reading of chapter 18 reveals, however, that the prohibition of homosexual practice in verse 22 is surrounded by at least ten other forbidden liaisons, with which in the 21st century we would still entirely concur, for societal and medical reasons: for example, sex with close relatives. So, what right have we to pick and choose, still actively holding to all or most of them, but rejecting the single one that currently conflicts with “free thinking”, so called?

Of course, in the current debate within the Church, Christians conservative about sexuality will rarely turn to Leviticus as their main authority or first port of call, believing that certain passages in the New Testament (e.g. St Paul’s letters) spell out even more clearly that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not sanction any kind of homosexual union.

7 Bluebell Close
Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 9PW

From Mr Ken Petrie

Sir, — While the Revd Nick Henshall (Letters, 12 January) is surely correct in pointing out that much of conservatives’ understanding of marriage is better-informed by secular (mostly Victorian, I suspect) legal definitions than by biblical witness, I doubt we can go so far as to claim, as he does, that there is no thematically developed theology of the same in scripture.

Marriage, or to be more accurate, the nature of intended relations between men and women, is defined at the end of Genesis 2, and it is to this text that our Lord himself refers when challenged on his views on the matter. There, it is clear that the purpose of marriage is not primarily to express how much two individuals might care about each other, but to work out and discover the unity of humanity (cf. “bone of my bone”) across the divide of sex. This is an aspect of a recurrent theme running through Christian theology of unity in diversity, as expressed in the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and Pauline ecclesiology, to highlight three other examples.

I believe that is likely to be why Archbishop Cranmer, when writing his service, did not call it “the making of marriages” but the “Solemnization of Matrimony” — in other words, formalising what already existed and qualifying the terms wife and husband with the prefix “lawful wedded”. From that, I infer that Cranmer did not view a wedding as creating a marriage, so much as putting it on a formal legal footing.

I suspect we have got ourselves into a terrible muddle because we have lost sight of this important theological perspective.

87 Longway Avenue
Whitchurch Park
Bristol BS14 0DW

The Post Office scandal; industry and priesthood

From the Revd Martin King

Sir, — Mr Edward Bevin (Letters, 19 January) repeats his previous attempt (Letters, 13 May 2022) to declare the Revd Paula Vennells guilty and pronounce sentence. I hope that readers of the Church Times may still prefer to abide by the established principle of justice that no one should be found guilty without the proper opportunity to hear and challenge the evidence against them.

Those who have been following the progress of the Horizon inquiry will know that, besides hearing the evidence of the sufferings of the sub-postmasters, it has now heard evidence from Fujitsu of the company’s concealment and denial of the serious faults in the Horizon software. Indeed, Fujitsu’s current CEO has admitted its moral culpability in this respect.

Unless and until Ms Vennells is the subject of specific allegations of responsibility and is given the opportunity to defend herself against them, any condemnation remains premature.

29 Parkfields
Welwyn Garden City
Hertfordshire AL8 6EE

From the Revd John M. Overton

Sir, — While agreeing with much of what Canon Michael Kingston has to say (Letters, 19 January), I would like to take issue with his statement: “The vocations of a captain of industry and parish priest are fundamentally incompatible.” In any large institution, managers have three priorities: (1) the well-being and flourishing of the institution; (2) the well-being and flourishing of their part of the institution; and (3) themselves.

Where managers have their priorities in this order, it is more likely that everyone in the organisation flourishes. Workers at the lowest positions trust that managers have their best interests at heart.

Problems arise when managers put themselves as first or second priority. If they place themselves above the well-being and flourishing of their part of the institution, people whom they manage tend to see their style of management as “Kiss up, kick down.” They are seen to pander to those above them in the institution and not to care about those below them.

Top managers have nearly always been junior or middle managers on their way to the top. They will have had time and opportunity to decide how they order these three priorities. Anyone who orders them as above will have had considerable experience of pastoral ministry, in looking after those below them, including representing the needs of those below them to those above them. For an institution to thrive, financially and in every other way, it needs best performance from all levels of its people.

While I was working in industry, I had neither time nor energy to seek ordination. For the Church, the pastoral must surely always take priority over any other aspect of managerial experience.

6 Brown Edge Close, Buxton
Derbyshire SK17 7AS

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