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Letters to the Editor

05 April 2024


Further reflections after Holy Week and Easter Day

From Canon Kenneth Padley

Sir, — Dr Jonathan Rowlands (Faith, 28 March) reads the Letter to the Hebrews to argue that Jesus’s eternal life and high priesthood come through his resurrection, and that it is by this means, not the cross, that he deals with the problem of sin.

Seventeenth-century Socinians sounded similar notes in their exegesis of the epistle. Their commentary on Hebrews understood Christ’s priestly activity to be in heaven, breaking the link between the cross and Christ’s atonement, thus supporting their denials of the incarnation and Trinity. This led to the supersessionism that Dr Rowlands is keen to avoid, because Socinians emphasised Christ’s present-day celestial activity, not his fulfilment of the old dispensation through concepts such as covenant and typology.

Socinianism was strongly resisted by the mainstream Reformed. Pre-eminent among these in England was John Owen, whose commentary on Hebrews is still the longest ever written on the epistle. Owen insisted that it was only after Christ had made purgation that he was exalted (Hebrews 1.3) and that the world into which the Father brought the Son to do his work (1.6) was not the world above, but this earth.

Jesus’s death is not a mere overture to the resurrection. Rather, the resurrection is the triumphant celebration of the victory of Good Friday.

Wyndham House
65 The Close
Salisbury SP1 2EN

From Symon Hill

Sir, — I was taken aback to read Dr Charles Moseley’s reflection on Pontius Pilate (Faith, 22 March). I thought that we had moved on from the days when Pilate was exonerated of responsibility for Jesus’s death in order to put the blame on the Jews. Sadly, Dr Moseley ignores several decades of scholarship and repeats tired old claims that Pilate executed Jesus only for the sake of Jewish public opinion.

It is well established by historians that crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, generally used for political troublemakers and rebellious slaves. The “Jewish Establishment” were those Jewish leaders to whom the Roman authorities had given their approval, because of their willingness to collaborate with Roman imperial rule. Like many empires, the Roman Empire co-opted local elites.

On a positive note, Dr Moseley’s article reminds us of the benefit of trying to understand the motivations of people with whose words and actions we profoundly disagree — such as the man who sentenced Jesus to death. Nevertheless, while I am not suggesting that Dr Moseley is anti-Semitic, he seems completely to overlook the way in which defences of Pilate have for centuries been used to promote anti-Semitic claims that blame “the Jews” for Jesus’s death.

It is vital to be aware of this context at a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise and when some are wrongly blaming Jews as a whole for the horrific Israeli assaults on the people of Gaza.

Aston University
Birmingham B4 7ET

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — I was grateful for Canon Angela Tilby’s admission of the widespread confusion about the nature of the risen body of Jesus (Comment, 28 March). It is presumably not a body of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15.50), but what is it? Most of those who work on the interface between science and theology are conspicuously silent, but I find helpful pointers in the great Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance; the visionary Jesuit evolutionist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; and the Austrian polymath and spiritual guru Rudolf Steiner (though they might each be surprised at being linked in this way).

I believe the way forward is to recognise that the resurrection brings about fundamental changes in the natural order, objective changes that go deeper than personal faith, changes of which the risen Jesus is the first manifestation. I suggest that the resurrection changes how space and time should be understood, and changes the general relationship between matter and spirit, between inner and outer, and between goodness and evil. It is an approach that I began to explore in my Plea for Embodied Spirituality.

The risen body is so central to the Easter story (1 Corinthians 15.14) that a lack of clarity about it leads to confusion about exactly what is being celebrated at Easter services. Without such clarity, the relentless cheerfulness of the Easter celebration can seem out of touch with reality, as it sits uneasily with the observable state of the world. Unalloyed celebration is also discordant with the Gospel narrative about the resurrection, which starts with Mary in tears at the empty tomb, and ends with the disciples holed up for fear of their lives. Greater faithfulness to the Gospel story would enable a far greater number of people to join in the Easter celebration with authenticity.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

Deconstructing Whiteness and what it means

From the Revd David Haslam

Sir, — In response to John Wilson (Letter, 28 March): it is true that academic language is not always the best means of communication. It can, however, tell us important truths. Because of the history and culture of white people, “whiteness” inevitably imbues a sense of superiority and entitlement, which, in my experience, is extremely difficult to escape. My US colleague the Revd Joe Agne used to talk about those tapes that play inside our heads as white people whenever we come into contact with black people, especially if in numbers. “Deconstructing”, or freeing ourselves from this, needs help and advice, often from people who themselves are not white, but perhaps also from those of us struggling with our own racism.

Eleven years of working for the then Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice, in Churches Together for Britain and Ireland, brought me to the belief that all white people are racist: the best that we can describe ourselves is as “recovering racists”, borrowing the concept from the Twelve Step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous. As soon as any white person begins “I’m not racist . . .”, they give themselves away.

I plead with white people, including Mr Wilson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, indeed, the white person in the pew, to accept our culture of complacency and our history of oppression, which are our inheritance, and continually to struggle with what will always be a part of us. It’s for the good of our souls.

59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG

From Mr Robert Barbour

Sir, — It is not long since our Archbishop, quite correctly, diagnosed the Church of England as institutionally racist. Dealing with such racism requires more than assuring a level playing field for church appointments, as the Archbishop is reported as saying (News, 28 March).

Racism arises in part from the pervasive attitudes and prejudices that white people are born into in a society still imbued with a colonial mind-set. It is one part of original sin. Original sin is not our fault, but it is a stain, and, if we are to be sanctified, it must be dealt with.

Therefore, as a Reader in an overwhelmingly white parish in one of the six West Midlands dioceses, I welcome unreservedly that an officer is to be appointed to help to “deconstruct Whiteness”. I am grateful for the correspondent who provided the full definition of the term “deconstructing Whiteness” prepared for the Lichfield diocesan synod. It is a full and good definition.

If it is viewed as too deep for the person in the pew, then it falls to clergy and my fellow Readers to explain it to their congregations. I am sure that they already do this for that other technical term “sanctification”. Our very purpose is surely to become holy, even as Christ is holy. Eradicating racism is one more step on the path towards holiness.

10 Valley View
Bewdley DY12 2JX

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury wants simple English rather than “Deconstructing Whiteness” to describe an “Anti-Racism Practice Officer”, and John Wilson provides an explanation offered at a synod which made matters worse.

The jargon is incomprehensible and would be rejected if ordinary people understood it, because it’s a destructive “con”. “Deconstructing Whiteness” is about “de-con-struction”; and we know what happens if you de-construct a building.

This anti-racist approach embraces a Marxist reading of the world. It replaces class with race. So “deconstructing Whiteness” is about fostering discontent in the West. This is evident in the Black Lives Matter Movement founded by “avowed Marxists”, who sanctioned looting and violence as a response to George Floyd’s murder, and advocated de-funding the police.

It is a matter of great concern that the Church is uncritically embracing anti-racist ideology, which is manifestly unchristian in origin and in effect, viewing white people as irredeemably racist. There is no salvation for whites in such thought, because they are endlessly guilty, whatever they do.

In simple English: we should not be spending any money to roll out this prejudicial and dangerous nonsense that will harm both the Church and society.

Director of Research
Urban Theology Union
Urban Theology Unit
Victoria Methodist Hall
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

Bounty study misunderstood nature of annuities

From Professor Richard Dale

Sir, — As a follow-up to my article “Slavery did not benefit Bounty” (Comment, 22 March), I should like to clarify further the financial status of the South Sea annuities that the Church’s Bounty invested in. By Act of Parliament, the capital that supported the annuity side of the South Sea Company’s business was separated from the Company’s trading activities (“The Joint Stock of South Sea annuities to be quite exempt from concern with the Company’s debts, bonds, trade etc. and to be an entire unencumbered stock, redeemable by Parliament. . .”). In other words, money raised by issuing annuities could not be used to finance the Company’s commercial business.

The Grant Thornton report on the Church’s links to slavery ignores the above and asserts that all purchasers of South Sea annuities were conscious that they were investing in slave-trading voyages. The truth is the precise opposite: the Bounty managers, by investing in South Sea annuities, could be absolutely sure that they were not investing in slaving activities. Indeed, as one expert has recently put it: “for all practical purposes, the annuities, both old (created in 1723) and new (created in 1733), were government debt . . . managed (that is interest paid and transfers registered) by the South Sea Company” (François Velde, “Winners and Losers in Britain’s 1722 Debt Restructuring”, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 14 December 2022).

Since Grant Thornton have evidently misunderstood the status of the Bounty’s South Sea annuity investments they should surely withdraw their report and apologise to the Church Commissioners for making false connections between the Bounty’s investments and the slave trade based on inadequate economic research.

Address supplied

Carbon ‘indulgences’

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — The Salisbury Consistory Court has made accredited carbon offsetting a condition for a parish to install a new oil-fired boiler (News, 15 March). The Oxford Martin School on 27 February streamed a seminar on offsetting. A speaker drew parallels between carbon offsetting and medieval indulgences.

There is no guarantee that it works. There is no regulatory system to assure consumers that it works. Do those who write the cheques do so out of invincible ignorance that their money is wasted? Just like medieval indulgences, carbon offsetting postpones the effort to address the root cause of the threatened punishment. No less than a radical reformation in lifestyles and business plans is required.

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

Parish givers who are keeping pace with inflation

From Grant Forrest

Sir, — While, undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected giving for many charitable organisations, it is important to recognise that a large proportion of church members continue to give regularly (“Inflation hits parish income”, News, 22 March). Critically, approximately half of those who give via the Parish Giving Scheme (PGS) choose to increase their gift in line with inflation, some going even higher.

PGS serves all Anglican churches, providing a regular giving service at no cost to the parish. As such, PGS is proving to be a lifeline in providing resilient giving to some 5000 churches, besides easing the administrative burden on treasurers. We invite all churches to join PGS so that they can benefit from regular giving, crucially keeping pace with inflation.

On behalf of the churches that use PGS, we want to say a huge thank-you to everyone who gives through our service and recognise with gratitude those that are choosing to give, despite the hardships faced by many.

CEO, Parish Giving Scheme
76 Kingsholm Road
Gloucester GL1 3BD

Richard III’s reputation

From Mr A. C. Porter

Sir, — Neither your Paul Vallely (Comment, 22 March) nor Philippa Gregory chose to mention Josephine Tey, whose detective novel The Daughter of Time said everything said by Ms Gregory’s play Richard, My Richard (and more) 73 years ago.

It is obviously pointless to blame Shakespeare for following Tudor lines, and he was, in any case, following up his own interest in evil — Iago, Iachimo, Don John, et al.

It is clear that King Richard was quite suddenly differently described once Queen Elizabeth I had died.

21 Saddington Road
Leicester LE8 8AX

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