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Letters to the Editor

28 June 2024


More responses to Gareth Mostyn on impact fund

From the Revd Professor Nigel Biggar, Lord Sewell of Sanderstead, Professor Robert Tombs, Charles Wide KC, Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert, and the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — It is very disappointing that the Chief Executive of the Church Commissioners, Gareth Mostyn, should dismiss so superficially the careful, evidence-based critique of the Commissioners’ plans to create the Fund for Healing, Repair, and Justice (Comment, 14 June), and to allocate £100 million in the first instance.

This contentious project has been based on flawed research, and has been distorted by the involvement of activists. No attempt has been made to engage with alternative points of view, including the historical evidence of Professor Richard Dale. There has been no adequate theological case made for reparations, and, in an extraordinary move, the Oversight Group report argues that we should repent for taking the gospel to Africa.

The project appears to be outside of the Commissioners’ charitable aims — and at a time when dioceses are cutting clergy posts because of lack of resources, and parishes are denied the ministry that they need.

If the cause of racial justice in the Church of England is to gain its needed credibility, this project must be put on hold until a plausible historical, theological, and practical case has been properly made.

102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

From Professor Richard Dale

Sir, — Gareth Mostyn expresses his revulsion at the transatlantic slave trade, sentiment that we all share. My article (Comment, 22 March) and letter (5 April), however, addressed the drier subject of historical evidence. I pointed out that two key Acts of Parliament, in 1723 and 1733, split the South Sea Company and established a new class of asset (South Sea Annuities), legally separated from the original South Sea Company and invested exclusively in government debt.

The report Church Commissioners’ Research into Historic Links to Transatlantic Chattel Slavery ignores this crucial fact and suggests that the Bounty’s annuities (“by far and away [its] most significant investment”) supported the slave trade. Returns on the annuities allegedly derived in some way from the South Sea Company’s trading activities, to which end the report includes elaborate calculations of the profits earned from these supposedly slavery-linked assets.

(Mr Mostyn insists that “the degree of ‘profitability’ is not the issue,” whereas the report’s foreword states that the whole purpose of the investigation is to “research into our endowment fund’s history and whether it profited from transatlantic slavery”.)

There is a clue to all this muddle in the report’s use throughout of the descriptor “South Sea Company Annuities”. That is not the legally correct term. The annuities were designated in the relevant statutes as well as in Chancery proceedings, Bank of England ledgers, and the annuity certificates themselves as “South Sea Annuities”, reflecting the fact that the South Sea Company was something different.

As the parliamentarian and banker John Brocklehurst explained to the House of Commons in 1834, the South Sea annuities “had nothing to do with the South Sea Company beyond receiving at their hands the dividends as they became due from the government”. By conflating the operations of two entirely separate companies, and building a case around the annuities’ alleged links to slavery, the report’s authors are guilty of a glaring error. Tellingly, the exhibit (page 30) recording a sale of “Old South Sea Annuities” is wrongly transcribed as “Old South Sea Company Annuities”, as if the two entities were the same.

Having earlier exposed this flaw at the heart of the Commissioners’ report, I expected one of two reactions: either the Commissioners would seek to rebut my specific charges with contrary evidence or else they would gracefully acknowledge their fault, apologise, and correct the record. Mr Mostyn’s generalities do neither, stating merely that the Commissioners stand by their research. Perhaps a panel of lawyers should now adjudicate on the matter.

As for causing offence, in the search for historical truth we must go to wherever the evidence leads, even if the findings are hurtful to some. To suggest otherwise might be viewed as patronising.

By comparison with the annuities, the Bounty’s one-off investment in South Sea Company shares was “minor” in the same way as the report itself describes a larger purchase of lottery orders as “relatively minor” (page 32). After the South Sea Company split in 1723, the Bounty’s shares, disposed of in 1728-30, represented less than four per cent of its purchases of annuities during the Asiento period. This shareholding, though limited in amount and duration, is nevertheless a stain on the Bounty managers.

Address supplied

From Mr Andrew Gray

Sir, — I have sympathy with Gareth Mostyn’s standpoint that an investment in a morally corrupt entity is wrong, despite its being ring-fenced. If that was wrong 200 years ago, why does the Commissioners’ practice with some of its current portfolio appear to be so entirely inconsistent with this principle?

In the General Synod last November, I asked the First Estates Commissioner why the Church Commissioners thought it was unacceptable to buy Chinese government bonds, but continued to invest in China, knowing that it was committing genocide against the Uyghurs. His response was that this example showed “how disciplined we are in our approach to investing in our ethical processes. So through our controversies policy at a very granular level, we screen all the companies that we invest in across all jurisdictions in particular China.”

In other words, it is acceptable to invest in a country that is practising modern-day slavery, provided each individual business entity is screened and is not itself directly associated with any controversy. Not only is this an echo of the same argument so roundly rejected by Mr Mostyn, but it is also naïve. China is a one-party state. Any investments in that country will enrich the regime.

In April 2023, the US Congressional Executive Committee on China convened a hearing on the impact on global supply chains after the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act: US legislation enacted with the aim of ensuring that goods made with forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China did not enter the United States market.

One of the speakers, Elfidar Iltebir, gave the following testimony: “the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has transformed our homeland into a totalitarian surveillance state; detained millions of people in detention camps, forced labor camps, and formal prisons; and subjected Uyghur people to such inhumane conditions, including torture, sexual abuse, forced sterilization, forced labor, and forced separation of families. . . [T]he Chinese government’s campaign of forced labor targeting Uyghurs is not purely an economic exploitation that benefits the Chinese companies. It is a critical part of China’s systematic oppression of the Uyghur people and the ongoing genocide in the Uyghur homeland.”

It is not only in the US that such stories have been relayed. In June 2021, a “Uyghur Tribunal” held in Church House, Westminster, heard equally harrowing testimonies. In a statement quoted by Al-Jazeera, Beijing denounced the hearings as a “machine producing lies”.

The Commissioners have not directly invested in any company practising modern-day slavery, but they are benefiting from investments in a country that is carrying out that vile practice. If we follow Mr Mostyn’s approach to the Bounty, then “any financial involvement is too much.” In that case, should not the Commissioners disinvest from China with immediate effect? Otherwise, we hold our forebears guilty by standards which we ourselves are failing to meet.

General Synod member, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich diocese
9 Cemetery Road
Ipswich IP4 2ER

Concerns about leadership style at Church Army

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — There have been so many mixed messages coming from the leadership of Church Army in recent weeks, it raises the question whether the proposed conversations will be genuine listening exercises and be taken seriously (News, 14 June). The upset is not because of safeguarding. Everyone agrees about the importance of safeguarding. The upset has been caused by the authoritarian approach to implementing it by the Revd Dr Peter Rouch, the outgoing CEO, and the Revd Jude Davis, the interim CEO.

It is further interesting to note that the day before your report was published, and two weeks after Peter’s departure, an email from Jude was sent out to say that plans have now been put on hold although the conversations will still take place. A working group will now be set up in September to consider the way forward.

The original letter that has caused all the unrest, sent out on 12 February by Peter and Jude, said that the changes set out in the letter must be made. The letter came as a complete surprise, without any consultation or discussion with all members of the mission community. I know people contacted Peter and Jude expressing their concern that there had not been any consultation. The standard response was “Consultation is invariably a good thing, but when something is presented as being a “consultation” when in fact there is nothing about which a meaningful consultation can in fact take place, it serves only to misrepresent and frustrate.”

Peter and Jude have consistently said that there isn’t any other option, when clearly there is, as the Church Mission Society has demonstrated. It now appears, however, that conversations will take place. It is not clear if conversations and consultations amount to the same thing; and what are the conversations about, bearing in mind previous comments that there are no options? A letter was sent out on 23 May saying that meetings would be arranged for a series of conversations. Jude said in that letter “that there might be things we can adjust in our plans and the Bishop of Chelmsford who chairs the Board of Trustees said in the same letter, ‘Whilst many of the changes proposed must be made.” So, what are the conversations about?

The original letter of 12 February stated in relation to retired people that the National Safeguarding Team was initially “unwilling for their association with the Church Army to be acknowledged publicly”. But, in response to “protest” from Church Army, the NST had agreed that those who had a Commission from Church Army but were no longer in a position to exercise active licensed ministry could style themselves “CA Emeritus”. Then, in a letter dated 3 April, the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote: “We continue to affirm your calling, and those of you who have retained your uniform, and the use of the titles Sister or Captain can continue to wear that uniform and use those titles when attending Church Army events, and in contexts where they are not indicating to others an active commission. Earlier advice contradicted this final sentence, and I’m pleased to be able to correct it by confirming that titles and uniforms can be retained in those circumstances.”

One could go on with confusing messages that, to quote the letter, might be “distressing for some people, and perhaps deeply so”. Having caused the unrest, along with Jude Davis, Peter Rouch has now left others to sort things out.

10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Dorset BH6 3PN

NDAs in the SEC

From Penelope Rose

Sir, — I refer to your report “Scots found to be using NDAs” (News, 21 June) and the Primus’s podcast on the Scottish Episcopal Church’s website, in which he says: “I don’t think anyone should be silenced.” I do not pretend to have followed this sad debate over the years. Instead, I ask simply and possibly naïvely, whether, if the Primus doesn’t believe that “anyone should be silenced”, he and the College of Bishops might free those they have silenced through the use of NDAs so that they can speak for themselves.

I challenge the Bishops to publish a letter to this effect, and to stop hiding behind bureaucracy and institutional protection. They should let what is hidden come to the light and be healed. For me, without such honesty the College of Bishops loses its claim to moral authority. Recent experience with various scandals shows that cover-ups eventually find the light.

21 Gourlay Wynd
St Andrews KY16 8HP

Review of a review

From Professor Paul Seabright

Sir, — Andrew Brown is, of course, right that “using economics to explain religion has its limits” (Press, 7 June). Reviewing a review of a book rather than the book, however, has its limits, too. For example, it increases the risk of reporting the author’s name as Paul Seagate, when, in fact, the author of The Divine Economy (Princeton University Press), which some of your readers might prefer to discover in the original, has the honour to be

Professor of Economics
Toulouse School of Economics
Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse
Université Toulouse Capitole
1 Esplanade de l’Université
F-31080 Toulouse Cedex 6, France

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