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Letters to the Editor

09 February 2024


Investment ethics and Israeli policy

From Charlotte Marshall and Rod Sharpe

Sir, — We write from Sabeel-Kairos UK, a small Christian charity campaigning for equal rights for Palestinians, and raising awareness of the plight of Palestinian Christians. We wholeheartedly support the application of Christian principles in making investment decisions.

As the C of E’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group states in their 2021 policy for national investing bodies such as the Church Commissioners: “‘Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms of all human beings and are based on the values of dignity, fairness, respect and justice for all, regardless of nationality, gender, ethnicity, colour, religion, language or other status.”

We would like to make three points.

First, the Church Commissioners profess to invest ethically in line with the above policy, but make publicly available for scrutiny only their “Top 20 Holdings”. According to the report Integrating Human Rights into Responsible Investment, quoted in your story (News, 26 January), there are 382 companies that the Commissioners invest in on their watchlist for human rights alone; so their full holdings list must be considerably more.

This demonstrates a lack of transparency which is of concern, and seems to go against other investment funds, for example, the Central Board of Finance funds managed by CCLA, for which all companies are declared in annual reports.

Second, even within those Top 20, there are some companies that the ethical portfolios of many investment houses will not touch: for example, Amazon, owing to its human-rights record. Amazon is on a global-standards-screening Watchlist for being at risk of violating Principles 1 and 3 of the UN Global Compact (Human Rights and Labour Rights). This begs the question of how effective the screening criteria are that are being used to determine whether the Commissioners will or will not invest in a company.

Last, you report that “no disinvestments had been made so far,” and that “this is not a disinvestment initiative.” So, if companies do not comply with the human-rights policy, the Commissioners do not disinvest, but engage with them, and use voting rights to try to change their policies.

Disinvestment makes a clear moral statement that investors are not willing for money to be used unethically, and can also generate significant momentum if other investors follow suit and disinvest. We can take the example of the French waste company Veolia, which lost $20 billion-worth of contracts for its complicity in Israel’s human-rights violations, eventually withdrawing from all Israeli contracts, owing to the loss in investments.

Disinvestment is not a tactic that should be dismissed without consideration, as it seems to have been here by the Commissioners.

Director, Sabeel-Kairos UK
Sabeel-Kairos C of E Campaign Group member
Sabeel-Kairos UK
PO Box 18336
Birmingham B31 9FY

From Mr Andy Lie

Sir, — Contrary to last week’s letter from Olivia Marks-Waldman and Laura Marks, I commend the Revd Richard Spencer for his careful and heartfelt reflection published on the eve (Comment, 26 January) of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). I applaud the brave editorial decision to publish such a timely piece.

Is there ever such a “right” time to ask critical questions? There’s always an opportune time — kairos — for a radical introspection and, I hope, expressing genuine remorse for the humanitarian catastrophe in Israel’s current war on Palestine. What seemed initially collective punishment has now degenerated into collective insanity.

Where the phrase “Never forget, never again” is echoed in annual HMD commemoration, it now seems that “never enough” is determining the outcome of the Gazan conflict, let alone the daily Israeli Defense Force incursions in the West Bank, alongside violent settler terrorism.

Consequently, I found it extremely difficult to attend any commemorative events this year, even though I had conducted related church services and had completed an intensive ten-day seminar at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem) a few years ago, after an earlier placement with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel. “Never again” must mean for all humanity, not for some.

Mr Spencer’s piece was juxtaposed with Paul Vallely’s raising of serious concerns about the Chief Rabbi’s remark of “a perverse moral inversion” in relation to the ICJ initial ruling against Israel. While Hamas’s rhetoric cannot be condoned — let’s not forget that the war didn’t start on 7 October, but is another stage in the unending and unequal conflict — the vile fascism expressed by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir in Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition should surely expose the emotional, spiritual, and political blind spot of the Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis — who does not represent the diversity of opinion that, thankfully, exists within British Jewry. But there is the danger that his stated position will reinforce the growing corpus of anti-Palestinian tropes.

I am often encouraged by Miroslav Volf’s hitherto unheeded words from his The End of Memory (Eerdmans, 2006): “To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.” When will we ever learn?

Ecumenical and Inter-Faith Officer
Northern Synod, United Reformed Church
4 College Lane
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8JJ

Fiducia Supplicans
and developments in the C of E

From the Revd Dr Nicholas Sagovsky

Sir, — In the General Synod debate on the use of Prayers of Love and Faith, the Archbishops of Perth and of Central Africa reminded members of the significance of their decisions for the unity of the whole Anglican Communion. In your report of the debate (Synod, 24 November 2023), the impact on ecumenical relations was not mentioned.

I hope that Synod members, when they discuss the pastoral guidance associated with Living in Love and Faith, will bear in mind the pastorally sensitive and biblically based teaching authorised by the Bishop of Rome in Fiducia Supplicans (News, 22/29 December 2023).

In commending the blessing, outside a formal, liturgical context, of “couples in irregular situations and . . . couples of the same sex”, Pope Francis makes it clear that he does not in any way seek to change the Church’s teaching on marriage, but he does seek to offer “a positive message of comfort, care, and encouragement” to all. This, I take it, is precisely what the Church of England is also trying to do.

We are not, of course, bound to receive the teaching commended by Francis because he is the Bishop of Rome, but the discussion in the General Synod can be only enriched by our learning from teaching that is truly evangelical — and, of course, catholic.

4 Holburn Village
Northumberland TD15 2UJ

From the Vicar-General of the Province of York

Sir, — I was rather surprised that you gave the space to the Revd Dr Ian Paul (Letters, 2 February) to repeat the canard that the House of Bishops is lacking openness by not “publishing the critical advice”.

When the matter was discussed in the Synod in November, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, explained that, whereas in July there had been a specific document giving legal advice, there had been no such document in relation to the paper then before the Synod. She explained that the advice that the House had received was incorporated into the paper. From that, I conclude that the advice was, therefore, piecemeal and verbal.

I note that, since then, despite there being a number of bishops unhappy about the general direction of travel in the House, none of them has said that what Bishop Mullally said was wrong, and that there was written legal advice that could be provided. Furthermore, in the current state of play, if there had been such a document, surely by now it would have leaked into the public domain. Can we now, please, lay that canard to rest?

12 St Helen’s Road
York YO24 1HP

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — In 1961, I was just six when my gentle father hurled a china vase at the living-room wall of our Lichfield council flat, breaking it to smithereens. It was a case of ecclesiastical rather than domestic violence: he had just heard that a conservative Evangelical, a former Principal of the London College of Divinity, had been appointed Archbishop of York, his home diocese. An ordinand training at Lichfield Theological College, my dad feared that his new boss would give his radical Catholic outlook short shrift.

In the event, Donald Coggan proved the most caring of the seven archbishops under whom my dad served, taking a warm personal interest in our family and my dad’s ministry, confirming me, and firing my own vocation. This suggests that, in the tender compassion of our God, even those at the opposite end of our ecclesiastical spectrum can surprise us.

Even so, china vases in the Bishop of Newcastle’s household might be wise to keep a low profile pro tem.

8 Bielby Close, Scarborough
North Yorkshire YO12 6UU

Apology for delay in payment of stipends

From the Chief Executive of the Church Commissioners for England

Sir, — Many readers will be aware that at the start of last week an error was picked up that led to a 24-hour delay in paying clergy stipends (News, 2 February). Naturally, our first priority was to minimise the delay in making payments. We explored an urgent same-day method of payment, but this was not possible.

As soon as it became clear that a delay was inevitable, we sent an email to all affected clergy, and I sent a further email the following day, confirming that payments would appear in bank accounts on Thursday 1 February, and apologising for the delay.

I am very sorry that this happened, as are all the members of my team, and for the stress and inconvenience that this caused. We are acutely aware that any delay in payment can affect an individual’s finances, particularly where planned payments are due. We are carrying out a review of our processes and controls to ensure that all possible actions are taken to avoid this happening again in future.

We will, of course, reimburse any clergy who incur bank charges as a result of the delayed payment. Please contact us if you need to, by phone on 020 7898 1618, or by email to clergy.payments@churchofengland.org.

Thank you to all my clergy colleagues for your forbearance, and, again, please accept my apologies.

Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

From Revd Alan Clements

Sir, — Surely, one solution to ensure that the delay in stipend payment doesn’t happen again is to move the payment day earlier to the 28th of the month.

This will give a margin of up to three days for any for late insertion and solve the February and the Easter problem.

15 Carleton Road
Great Knowley
Chorley PR6 8TQ

Asylum-seeker converts

From the Revd Larry Wright

Sir, — As a priest who has assisted dozens of asylum-seekers to convert to Christianity, I have always ensured that the conversion process is rigorous and lengthy. The process involves meeting with other converts so that they, too, play a part in discerning an applicant’s motives. Better still, we have a convert who is now a licensed minister, and she acts as another assessor.

No process is perfect, and a minority of converts, like other Christians, will go on to commit crimes. Though we do our utmost to support, we must also be realistic.

81 The Green, Kings Norton
Birmingham B38 8RU

Loneliness exaggerated

From Dr John Appleby

Sir, — Age UK (News, 2 February) seem to have extended their work beyond the needs of people, in concluding that 3.83 billion are lonely in this country. Were they studying solitary bees?

38 Beech Grove
Whitley Bay NE26 3PL

We apologise for reproducing a misprint of 3.83 million from FoodCycle’s press release. — Editor

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