Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 14 April 2018

In Christian Today Paul Richardson writes Senior clergy don’t need MBAs to deal with abuse
and Linda Woodhead responds Yes, theologies of forgiveness and confession have played a role in Church abuse and cover up

David Walker ViaMedia.News Challenging APCMs?

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Too much sin and guilt, not enough forgiveness?

John Thomson Church Times Rural churches are open and here to stay
“Mission matters in the countryside — and the Church’s efforts can have a greater impact there than in the city”

The Hobson The Spectator Holy snowflakes: why young believers need to accept faith is controversial
“Are millennial churchgoers trying to make the church a safe space?”

Jonathan Draper Afterthoughts Doing theology in La La Land

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Lister Tonge
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Lister Tonge

I want to thank Bishop Paul for eloquently expressing something of what I have learned since becoming dean of a very modest cathedral in need of transformation for mission. My background is spirituality and I have never run a parish until now. I was terrified and felt massively out of my depth, not least because my usual modes of operation could not fit the new role and I needed to adapt. And that’s to say nothing about my non-existent management experience and ever having ‘run’ anything. So I preached and taught people to pray, talked about skills for discernment and… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“…the penny has dropped for me that the principal role of a dean is something I might call contagious vision. This is what leadership is in our context. It is not management or administration. Others will do that if they see the purpose and sense of direction. The priest’s job is to enable people to know God’s love in Christ and so to live it in daily life. Getting that right (enough) seems to attract the people prepared to step up to much of the rest.” Lister, thank you for saying this. You have confirmed what I, as a lay… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

I too have struggled with Linda Woodhead’s original article and response here. She claims the problem in the Church of England lies in a ‘faulty’ understanding and practice of forgiveness (and confession). She points her finger at the Calvinist evangelical tradition and ‘the Catholic end (?).’ Her own Liberal tradition has no mention. Are they getting it right then? The irony of her two targets is that they have always treated the subject of human sin and forgiveness with great seriousness, often against the prevailing fashion. The claim that the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity leads to cheap forgiveness is… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Theo Hobson: “as a privately educated white man with a PhD, a long list of published books and a regular gig in major magazines, I cannot understand why anyone needs to feel marginalised by what I say. They should pull themselves together and accept that I am brighter than them, richer than them, but mean them no harm.”

Graham Hardy
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Graham Hardy

Linda Woodhead is our leading sociologist of religion. She is someone whose view I take extremely seriously. But where is the evidence for what she says from the Diocese of Chichester? Many of those clergy convicted of abuse were evangelicals and have never been near sacramental confession in their lives. If she were writing about Ireland or Belgium, then I would get it. But this seems a little bit too broad-brush. Yes, indeed, we do need some theological rigour around ‘cheap grace’ – but that task needs to be undertaken by specialists in systematic and sacramental theology. And, if her… Read more »

Evan McWilliams
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Evan McWilliams

As one of those young people who are all meant to be snowflakes, I find Hobson’s observations pretty spot on and welcome his critique of secular-minded offended-ness. Christianity is tough stuff, particularly if you’ve been raised on a diet of mealy-mouthed ‘self-esteem’ embedded in an overall philosophy of ‘nice’ but that’s what makes it believable and worth believing. Life is tough stuff and if the Church can’t handle talking about reality, it ought not to expect to be relevant to that reality or the concerns of any who live in it.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Theo Hobson’s personal circumstances are utterly irrelevant to the truth or otherwise of what he says. If he’s wrong, it’s because the evidence doesn’t back him. Making it a question of his background isn’t just an ad hom: in putting all the weight in a person’s subjective interpretation, it’s authoritarianism. AFAIK, psychologists consider continually avoiding the source of trauma to be the worst thing, allowing it to fester, and recommend gradual, clinically-supervised exposure. If a person’s traumatized by a religious painting, it’s neither realistic nor fair to expect all such paintings to be censored at their say-so. Of course, for… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re: the Theo Hobson article, while the title could have done without the ‘snowflake’ appellation, Hobson has a solid point. His piece is largely anecdotal which makes it difficult to know exactly what was going on; but part of the reaction to his art work, with the demand that it be removed, (not a behaviour unique to millennials I suggest) may be grounded in a lack of erudition on the part of the complainants. It is fine to be passionate about one’s causes and issues. It is important to reflect upon, and articulate to others, one’s experience. However, it is… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I disagree with people about Hobson. I think he is wrong. Church art is the equivalent of pre-watershed TV. It should be inoffensive and accessible without supervision of particular study.

Yes, Christianity can be hard but the more difficult stuff is best handled in safe spaces where people can be helped to understand. A painting of an exorcism which will look just like conversion therapy has no place in a church.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

OK, let’s engage with Hobson’s “argument” (I think that flatters it, but anyway). He’s saying it’s terrible that millennial snowflakes claiming to be triggered by things in mainstream Christianity are behaving ridiculously, and should be instead something something something; I’m not quite sure what the “something” is – told to pull themselves together, perhaps. It’s an argument I’m not unsympathetic to; as a STEM academic I don’t see a lot of these problems, but I have both children and friends on both sides of the lectern in the humanities and there’s a lot of it about. However, Hobson isn’t complaining… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re Kate: “A painting of an exorcism which will look just like conversion therapy has no place in a church.” Eye of the beholder.

Re: Interested observer, “So I wonder what he would think about special snowflakes who can’t cope with the idea of gay people staying in their B&B?” Apples and oranges.

Censorship is an ugly thing.

By the by, Check out Maureen Dowd’s column, We Need An Exorcist, in yesterday’s New York Times.

Kate
Guest
Kate

“Eye of the beholder” – exactly, you put it very succinctly, he should be thinking (as both a Christian and as an artist) about what it might look to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’ than what he sees.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Ever since Duchamp got away with dumping a urinal on a pedestal and called it art, the question of art’s intrinsic merits has been murky, at best. Conceptual art, dominant today, proudly rejects it. In any case, the general principle I noted above can be easily taken from Hobson’s piece: art shouldn’t be censored on the grounds that it “triggers,” or more broadly, offends someone. (Compelling businesses to provide goods and services regardless of sexuality is a separate issue: I’m in favor, don’t know Hobson’s position, although he’s previously defended equal marriage.) As seen by the recent furore at a… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Kate, by those standards no one could place any kind of art anywhere. It would be removed from display at the whim of the most overactive imagination. Odd criterion for an organization that has as its primary symbol a dead man hanging virtually naked on a cross with an antisemitic epithet above his head, no? I say we should make sure that the images of crucifixion in any visual medium be taken down. It’s too upsetting. Certainly churches have a responsibility to make sure that minors are not allowed in buildings where that type of thing is displayed. (… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“I say we should make sure that the images of crucifixion in any visual medium be taken down.”

I agree. Save them for study groups. For churches, pictures, of the risen Christ are vastly superior.

“As seen by the recent furore at a Manchester gallery…”

I fully support hanging his piece in any gallery, it it is good enough;but what is appropriate for a gallery might not be suitable for a church.

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

i am somewhat baffled by the responses to Theo Hobson’s piece. IO posts what purports to be a quotation by Hobson, source unidentified but not a quotation included in his article and I don’t think that, pace IO’s second posting, he is complaining about his art being removed. I am very much in agreement with Rod Gillis and what he says in his post of 16th April at 3.52pm. Hobson finishes his piece with this comment: ‘Instead of tiptoeing away from their tradition, Christians should embrace it. Neither faith nor creativity is compatible with running scared. The church should be… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

My reading of the Gospels has Jesus challenging people to live – including, but not restricted to, those most damaged by the social conventions and prejudices of their day. On the whole, it was the most damaged who seem to have responded best to the challenge. Certainly some of their stories are told positively in the Gospels. There are two faults possible for the church – to duck the challenge, or to fail to offer life. There is no evidence, however, that every damaged person Jesus met responded to the challenge. How does it sound this way – “Jesus did… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Kate, “I agree. Save them [crucifixion depictions]for study groups.” Why stop there? I can be even more sardonic. Here is a list of scenes that local parochial soviets might want to remove and save for ‘study groups’ under the leadership of those who are properly ‘credentialed’ I’m sure. (1) The annunciation. After all, God impregnates Mary without asking her first. Probably too close to the notion of sexual assault. (2) Madonna and Child. Too suggestive of approval of ‘unwed mothers’. (3) The nativity. Too sensitive to conventional families. After all, it’s mom, and dad ( or is it step… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

While accepting the general tenor of Fr. Colin Coward’s thesis about sin and forgiveness – in its suggestion that too much time is spent on ‘sin’ and not enough on ‘forgiveness – I would demur at his suggestion that the regular ‘confession’ and ‘absolution’ content of our Eucharistic liturgies may be overdoing it. In fact, if our understanding of our relationship to the theology of creation and redemption is to be at all helpful to other people as well as ourselves as clergy; we all need to understand the reality of our personal as well as corporate contribution to the… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

As usual, someone using the term “snowflake” while throwing ashes over himself and crying to everyone who will listen and is just as selfish as he is that life is just sooooo unfair, because there are other people and they exist and feel, and those *say* they were called to ministry have to be aware of that. The Church deserves to be laughed at.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Exactly, Mark Brunson. “someone using the term “snowflake” while throwing ashes over himself and crying to everyone who will listen” It’s not censorship for a private organisation to curate what it hangs on its walls, or the speech that it deems appropriate within its buildings. If I turned up to a church and asked them to hang Robert Mapplethorpe photographs of a man using a bull whip in an unusual way (to cite an example which actually _did_ result in the state flexing its muscles against a university some years ago) they would probably refuse, and that is entirely their… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“Most of the no platforming … is about trying to protect the weak from the powerful, and even if sometimes it has perverse outcomes, it is usually being done by people with good in their hearts.” Ah, good intentions, the very best of paving. A church taking down a painting in response to a person’s complaint of being triggered may not be “censorship” in some hyper-technical sense (e.g., not government censorship; though in a country with a state church, even that’s arguable), but the underlying rationale of protecting the public from wrongthink is identical, and I use “censorship” in its… Read more »

Colin Coward
Guest

Father Ron Smith says that “Even the best of us is ‘guilty’ of imperfection.” I disagree strongly. We are not guilty of imperfection. Imperfection is a fact of life, a characteristic of creation, God’s creation if you like. People are guilty of things they do wrong, consciously or unconsciously. They may or may not feel guilty. Guilt is complex. The church ‘made’ me feel guilty about being gay. I am not ‘guilty’ of being gay. There is far too much confused, lazy, habitual thinking about sin and guilt in the church and that’s but one reason why I don’t need… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Mornington Crescent

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re: Interested Observer. I’m generally on side regarding your ‘observations’ on the term snowflake. Note that in my initial post I indicated his title could have done without the term. Notwithstanding, there are a couple of observations in your recent post I contest. “It’s not censorship for a private organisation to curate what it hangs on its wall…” In the case at hand the “private institution” is a church. The decision seems to have been made arbitrarily by the vicar based on a single dubious complaint. Hardly a thoughtful and coherent editorial decision based on actual harm. Just a very… Read more »

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

I agree with much of what Interested Observer says about the term ‘Snowflakes’ and its use by the Right and I agree that many young people are disempowered. However I am with James Byron and Rod Gillis when they point out that we are not, in fact, talking about a ‘private institution’ but a church; moreover, a church which is part of the established church. It must be thought of as a public building. Of course it is right that such a body should control what it hangs on its walls – but only after proper discussion within the congregation,… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“In fact, if our understanding of our relationship to the theology of creation and redemption is to be at all helpful to other people as well as ourselves as clergy; we all need to understand the reality of our personal as well as corporate contribution to the ‘sins of the world’ for which Christ has already offered his own special remedy.” – Ron Smith When I read the Gospels, Christ is teaching us very strongly to move our focus from a negative concentration on the Law and sin to adopt a positive focus on concentrating on what is pleasing to… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

Perhaps those characterizing those hurt and traumatized by such displays as “dumbed-down” and “oversensitive” could make a list of both the academic and emotional requirements necessary before entering *your* churches, which, at the same time, you claim aren’t *your* churches because they’re public, but not public, because they are Christian, but still not just Christian because Established, yet, we can’t allow the unwashed masses to make the choice about what *you* do in *your* churches, that aren’t really yours but are. Exactly these comments are why the conservative complaints about ivory towers and “intellectual elitism” have ground and, indeed, some… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

There is a big problem with priests saying, “Your sins are forgiven only after certain steps in a service, or after confession. At the worst, it risks some people believing that either the priest himself is forgiving sin or, at best but still very bad, believing that the priest is an agent with authority to say whether sins are forgiven or not. Our sins were forgiven either in the instant of Christ’s death or the instant of His resurrection. (Which seems obscure.) They are *not* forgiven during Communion or in Absolution. Christ died to release us from sin. Forgiveness in… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

What Theo Hobson doesn’t give us are the precise circumstances of his snowflake. Theory is one thing. But if a truly traumatised person came to my church and said they really could not cope with the associations of one particular piece of art, I would hope that my church would remove it and help this “snowflake” to work through their problems. Who knows – within 12 months that pieces of art might be back on the wall and the “snowflake” might still be with us. For lgbti+ people the trigger to PSTD could be an image of exorcism, for a… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

Kate You write – ‘There is a big problem with priests saying, “Your sins are forgiven only after certain steps in a service, or after confession”. I don’t know any that do. I never have.

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

While clearly Mark Brunson’s spirited post is primarily aimed at Theo Hobson who can answer for himself, he is also aiming at some of those who have commented. I would be grateful if he would read what I actually said. I did not accuse the person objecting to the painting of being ‘dumbed down’, I was objecting to a dumbed-down theology which is not the same thing. Nor was I claiming that the churches were ‘my’ churches or that a there should be an entry requirement. My point is that because all churches are public places used by different people,… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

David, sorry, I was thinking mainly of this comment by Father Ron Smith: “This is why now, for me, there is a need to use the word ‘us’ (the gathered community, including one’s-self) as the recipients of the ‘Absolution’ at the Eucharist, is absolutely necessary. One is, after all, invoking the absolution of God rather than that of the ministering priest. (Otherwise, the congregation might be fooled into thinking that the priest is the originator rather than the instrument of forgiveness – thus immune to sin rather than being a fellow sinner).” I take strong issue with his claim that… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re Erika Baker, “When we put abstract theology above the pastoral care of a real person among us….” One may distinguish between caring for people and catering to their unreasonable demands or expectations. Any experienced pastor knows the difference between the two. Additionally, theory is often a prerequisite to good decision making, especially in community. In the instance stated by Hobson it looks like ad hoc decision making and not theory is the problem. Re: MarkBrunson, “The whole issue still comes down to a man making a plaster martyr of himself…” And yet, the tone of your post is suggestive… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Offense’s subjectivity is the biggest stumbling block to that suggestion, Erika. Say you have a homeschooled fundie girl who, thanks to the lies she’s been told about LGBT people, is genuinely distressed by a mural celebrating Pride: do we take it down? Of course not, we cry, it’s not the same! No, it isn’t, since her trauma’s rooted in prejudice, and that’s the point: if distress isn’t the only criterion used, this isn’t a content-neutral clinical decision; it’s first and foremost about politics. Or say you did take it down: you’ve just caused great distress to LGBT people and their… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Thank you Rod, that’s a perfect example of art which is challenging and not dumbed down at all but avoids the mistakes in Hobson’s piece

David Runcorn
Guest

Thanks for clarifying Kate – but actually I think the priest does have that ministry. It is explicit in the ordination service. (though I probably would not use the word ‘instrument’ and nor do I think they are the only means by which God’s forgiveness is made known and received). But I have received it from others too often to deny it – and I trust I have been such a means of grace myself.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

The Colin Coward article has several strands. I would like to comment on just one. “Sunday worship …routinely incorporates a form of confession and absolution ….an essential ingredient of the services… I think the inclusion of confession and absolution is questionable and potentially damaging.” The invitation to confession in the Canadian liturgy (BAS) proclaims: ” God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy. He [sic] welcomes sinners and invites them to his table. Let us confess our sins confident in God’s forgiveness.” So we have come a ways from 1662 in bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness as an… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Rod Gillis, I think my point is that these decisions always depend on the specific circumstances. There is no meaningful way of generalising. Yes, there should be no censorship. Yes, churches should be able to display any art they choose. Yes, faith is difficult and often uncomfortable. But that does not mean that these basic considerations must become cast iron rules that can never ever be waived for genuine pastoral reasons. A compassionate church should be able to be flexible if they all believe that it would really help someone who is not just complaining a bit about being uncomfortable… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

To respond to Rod Gillis on “censorship”. When I first lived in London, the Tate Gallery used to have installations which would come and go. Tate Modern has had similar displays. The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square too. To take one artwork away and replace it with another is not automatically censorship. To replace the latin mass with the vernacular was a huge cultural statement – here was both loss and gain in that, and the Church of England assumes that there was net gain in having liturgy in language that people could understand. I would say that we censor… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“My point is that because all churches are public places used by different people, the introduction or removal of something like a painting needs to be done with proper consultation.”

OK, let’s accept that for a moment. Hobson complains his picture was taken down without consultation. OK, let’s assume that’s bad. What was the consultation process before it was put up?

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

Interested Observer: Fair point. We just don’t know.

Mark Bennnet:I am not sure that you are comparing like with like. Certainly the planned circulation of art works that you describe is not censorship. The removal of a painting in an unplanned and unilateral way for political or ideological reasons could well be. This is the nub of the furore about the Waterhouse painting in Manchester.

The trouble with this discussion is that we are only working with what Theo Hobson tells us and he is addressing that to his ‘Spectator’ audience. We need more information from another source.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re Erika Baker, “…that does not mean that these basic considerations must become cast iron rules …”

Re:Interested observer, ” Hobson complains his picture was taken down without consultation. OK, let’s assume that’s bad. What was the consultation process before it was put up?” (The vicar giveth and the vicar taketh away) (:

On both points see the the last full paragraph of my comment Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 2:54pm BST (just above the reference to Homeless Jesus).

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re: Mark Bennet, “To replace the latin mass with the vernacular was a huge cultural statement …” It was. I was raised Roman Catholic, attending parochial school at the time. I’m old enough to remember the Latin mass and something of the the transition from the perspective of catholic families. There was a real sense of loss that some people of never really got past. On the other hand many catholics, like my mother who was an enthusiastic Latin student, came to love the ‘new’ English mass complete with guitars and saxophone music. That experience helped shaped my perspective during… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

James Byron,
I agree, it is impossible to please everybody.
But it is possible to apply common sense.
There’s a difference between personal discomfort and genuine trauma.
If your conservative teenager simply struggled with Pride, the posters stay up.
If you conservative teenager had been sexually assaulted at last year’s Pride event and was suffering from PTSD because they were still working it through with a therapist, we would be extremely callous if we kept the posters up.

Most of life isn’t black and white.
And the problem with Hobson’s article is that it is trying to make it look black and white.

Kate
Guest
Kate

“And the problem with Hobson’s article is that it is trying to make it look black and white.”

With his view white and opposing views black?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Kate,
I’m not sure what you’re asking.
His view lacks nuance. There are only two possible solutions to the given question and one of them, the one he opts for, should apply in all circumstances.

My view is that problems are as complex as the people who present them, and that solutions can be tailored to individual circumstances. There’s no need to be rigid.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I am suggesting that he believes he is right and snowflakes wrong. Always