Comments: Opinion - 25 November 2017

I thought Justin's talk was coherent, though mostly about principles, laid down as a platform for later, more detailed dialogue about ethics.

I thought this passage was interesting: "Our communion with other Christians is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of gift. We are connected to one another as brothers and sisters not because we choose to be but because we are all children of God. In the same way the children of human parents cannot choose who their brothers and sisters are. It is a given."

Our Christian Unity is not something we simply choose: it is who we are in God. Indeed, in eternal terms, we only ever find true unity within the relationships of the Trinity and the eternal household of God, which God longs to welcome us to and share with us - longing also for us, through grace, to open and share it with others.

When people talk dogmatically about being 'out of communion' with other Christians because of disgreements of belief (for example, female priests, or gay and lesbian sexuality), I think in a way that is presumptious and a step away from the reality of God's eternal household and communion.

Our challenge, surely, is to work out ways of living out our Unity in Christ: recognising that (as Justin says later in his talk) we are each unique and different, and that "there are many different ways of loving and serving God".

That being so, and our eternal unity being found in Christ, not in our uniformity, perhaps a part of our challenge and need for grace lies in how we co-exist, and the quality of love for one another, recognising difference, but also recognising a common call to open our hearts to the love - and what Julian refers to as the "friendship" - of God.

In the context of current tensions about LGBT issues in the Church of England, that could compute to allowing and mandating 'space' for "different ways of loving and serving God", but recognising even in our differences and unique callings we are One in Christ, and in Communion with the eternal household, and therefore with one another.

The challenge - whether in the context of Anglican/Orthodox differences, or in the context of Anglican differences of view on sexuality - is to open our hearts to the grace, and gift, of relationship.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 25 November 2017 at 12:36pm GMT

The interview with Andrew Hammond is lovely. I appreciate the way he's championed inclusion, and offered an alternative voice for Christianity at Cambridge University.

The problematic theological conservativism of the Cambridge Christian Unions is reflected in Christian Unions in many universities across the country.

On the one hand, as he is keen to affirm, most members of CU's are kind and well-meaning people. On the other hand, they project to the wider student body a version of Christianity that puts off so many people - notably on issues of human sexuality. In this sense, I have observed, and worry, that they give Christianity a bad name. Yes, they provide 'home away from home' for a small number of students with conservative Christian upbringings. But they also often project a dogmatic discrimination against LGBT lives, and in a sense their conservatism can be a kind of theological 'vilification' of lesbian, gay, bi, trans people... which I think genuinely appals and alienates many other students, quite possibly truth-seekers, but very turned off by the kind of Christianity that CUs represent.

I recall the tension and uncomfortableness my own daughter felt, during her time at university. She has a liberal Christian faith. She is open-minded and reflective. But the CU at her university simply didn't sit comfortably for her, with her values (and probably also her outspokenness!)

When I returned to university as a mature student to train as a nurse, obviously I attended the CU to meet people and see what the only official Christian group on campus was like. I'm afraid the fact that I was transgender made the members and leaders - admittedly much younger than me - what I can only really describe as 'alarmed'. I was openly Christian, but - from their theological viewpoint - committing sin and upsetting God's order. I think the leaders felt my liberalism was a threat to their authority, and presented a risk of subverting their members. To be honest, I felt more comfortable and welcomed in Islamic Soc, which I also used to attend (I was attending East London Mosque at the time, to learn about Islam and make friends).

So I don't know if others would agree, but I think some of these CU's on campuses have a negative effect, both on secular peers who think CU's confirm their anti-Christian prejudices, and on LGBT young people seeking welcome and acceptance.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 25 November 2017 at 1:29pm GMT

Susannah Clark: In 1969 as a naïve and initially lonely lad from rural Cumberland I went to CU meetings at Queens’ Cambridge (men only of course at that time) in the hope of finding friends, familiarity, and maybe even intellectual fun, though I couldn’t have put it like that then. Instead I was—and this is not too strong a word—repelled. Thank God I had enough something or other to be appalled rather than sucked into what seemed like a manipulative cult. I am grateful to the Queens’ CU members for showing me what I didn‘t wish to become. I wasn’t aware of their attracting anyone, and I know they repelled many. But maybe, just maybe, some of those they repelled found a home elsewhere in Christianity, as I did, and for that too I’m grateful. (In a similar way I’m now grateful for a neighbouring Reform church, for their rejects come to us). The CU lunches were good though—I remember them.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Saturday, 25 November 2017 at 7:25pm GMT

Susannah: The same problem exists on the Western side of the Atlantic, unfortunately.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 25 November 2017 at 8:58pm GMT

CICCU hasn't changed I see :(

There always is, however, a good college chapel somewhere in Cambridge. In my day it was Selwyn and I had sufficient confidence to attend chapel in a college other than mine. Hopefully students across Cambridge will read Hammond's piece and be drawn to the services in Kings.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 12:30am GMT

"Your Eminence"
"His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew"
By "The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby"

Then we have Rachel Mann talking of negative attitudes to the institutional church. Given the arrogance of Welby and other senior figures with their pompous, agrandising titles, is this surprising?


Posted by Kate at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 11:29am GMT

I am sorry I feel I need to be anonymous in this post, but I hope you will understand why. I am responding to Andrew Hammond and delighted he is doing what he is doing in Cambridge. But I want to tell you how grateful I am to CICCU. Yes, it comes from a particular evangelical stable, but in my experience in the early 1960's it was friendly, loving and accepting. I first 'joined' CICCU when I was 17. I was desperate for friends and terrified of any 'sexual' overtures. 6 years earlier when I was 11 I was raped by two young men, brought home by my sister for that express purpose. I told nobody for 35 years partly because obviously it was my fault (or so I thought). In the membership of CICCU I found the friends, men and women, I so desperately needed. Many of them are still my friends 50 and more years later. At last I was in a group of people where it was possible to be friends, real friends, with men whose one idea was not to get me into bed. (In those days I was rather slim and good looking..... ) I am more grateful than I can ever say for the welcome I received in CICCU, especially the Trinity CICCU group, where I was loved and cherished and looked after and welcomed to join in all sorts of events both fun and serious, never having to worry that anything untoward would happen. They accepted me absolutely as I was and loved me towards wholeness. Thank you CICCU.

Posted by Anon at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 12:53pm GMT

I remember in 1969 attending a service at King's College London for the new term for the Faculty of Theology. A Christian Union member invited us all to join his CU group to enable us to "become Christians". Since we were training for the CofE ministry, a reasonable person might have assumed we already were.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 1:25pm GMT

I am so glad that Anon had that experience, and just when needed.

Life can turnout so surprisingly good, in so many unexpected ways !

Some people, groups, individuals, & organisations seem so unpromising / unprepossessing -- but come up trumps for us !

Thank goodness.


I guess some of the gospel parables, and other utterances & doings of Jesus seem to be pointing this way too, and also some of the surprising tales of the unexpected, and the unlikely contained in the Lotus Sutra.*


* the Reeves translation is beautiful.

Posted by Laurie Roberts at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 5:36pm GMT

"In the same way the children of human parents cannot choose who their brothers and sisters are. It is a given."

Well, that's all that complicated stuff about adoption, estrangement, IVF, AID, step-parenting all solved. It's a given. Easy!

Of course, one might gently suggest that the current strained relationships between various churches is precisely like the complex, messy and all too human nature of relationships in real families, as opposed to the idealised ones being proposed by Justin Welby.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 9:33pm GMT

Thanks for the link to Jonathan Bartley, What Should upset Christians. What a timely reflection for the feast of The Reign of Christ (The King).

His article inspired me to pull William Temple's Christianity and the Social Order off the shelf for a refresher. ( The Shepheard-Walwyn/SPCK edition with the Introduction by Ronald Preston, 1976).

Temple's chapter iii, Has the Church Claimed to Intervene Before, is timely and consistent with Bartley's view point.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 26 November 2017 at 10:38pm GMT

Like Laurie I am grateful Anon found support in that CU community. Without experiencing his harrowed story it was a CU that was there for me in a difficult time. They befriended me and listened, taught me to pray, to read my bible - and they walked the talk - and this gave me a foundation for life I have built on ever since (without feeling bound by their theological assumptions). The chapel at the time simply could not have done that for me. But I have known good and bad in CU and chapel worlds - on both sides. Narrowness is not only found in one side of the church. It is just that we find it easier to identify in 'them' rather than 'us'.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 9:11am GMT

Thank you anon for your witness to the reality of true love and friendship you received from members of the Christian Union. May God continue to bless you in your healing and recovery.

Posted by William at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 12:50pm GMT

I'm glad people have spoken up about the good things CU's can do, because that helps provide balance to my own negative experiences. And when I first experienced personal relationship with God in my life, similarly, it was a group of evangelical, charismatic Christians who provided me with a gracious and strong platform for my developing faith. I don't want to come across as 'narrow' as David puts it.

In addition, in my own experience of a CU at university, to play fair, they were mostly 20-year-olds and I was in my 50's, and I assure you I was aware of that, and my own responsibilities. I felt protective towards them. I never engaged in any doctrinal challenge. I was simply a transgender Christian who'd hoped for welcome, friendship and a place to feel comfortable to express my Christian faith.

Sadly, in my three years at Uni training to be a nurse, the CU encounters were the *only* occasions where I felt awkward, judged, and not really welcome. The group had a mature woman from a local church, who seemed to act as a minder and mentor, overseeing the CU (I don't know if that is common) and she - and her church when I attended it - were frankly offhand and barely responsive to me. There was no welcome. I just think it's sad that doctrinal conservatism can mean failing LGBT people when, in my experience, the Islamic Soc for example, was nothing but welcoming, and the local mosque were enthusiastic, kind, and eager to signal welcome.

Playing fair, these young CU students almost certainly had no ill intents, and yes, they were young, and earnestly trying to live their faith in what has become a rather secular world on campus. God bless them.

My concern is that - while CU groups can obviously offer precious support (as reported in this thread), that doesn't factor in how many young people on campus are put off or disgusted by the conservative views they hold or promote. I simply question the validity and risks of CUs if they become the focal Christian group at uni, and whether alternatives ought to be promoted. In my view some CU's (as reported by my daughter too) can represent a version of Christianity more likely to put 100 students off, for every 20 they attract. Personally I think there's a problem for LGBT people.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 1:06pm GMT

Interesting to recall the Crockford preface Anglo-Catholic concerned about anglican catholic uniformity and continuity across the global Communion. The LGBTI cause has altered that 30-year ago landscape. Now the term 'catholic' can even be used by some to mean diversity and independence in a federation of national entities.

Posted by CRS at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 3:06pm GMT

Indeed so, IO. Christians are made, not born. Baptism is precisely a form of adoption into a non-genetic family. The real challenge for the various Christian bodies lies in accepting that baptism as the fundamental marker of the family, rather than the various layers of institution and authority that have emerged over the centuries. If all of the varied Christian churches could accept that basic principle of adoption through "one Baptism" we might then be able to work more profitably on the other dividing lines.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 4:07pm GMT

The CU at Surrey when I was there was not a place where a liberal Anglican would be at home, so most joined CathSoc or MethSoc depending on where you where on the candle. A warm welcome to be found in either. Interestingly the LGBT group and the Islamic Soc met on the same evening on adjacent rooms on campus we often steered each others slightly bemused new members to the correct group understanding that we existed to provide support and a community to our members - this included sharing a samosa/mince pies and orange juice at each others respective festivals.
I know that many people have found compassion and healing within CU's but I have also had to deal with the psychological fall out from others.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Monday, 27 November 2017 at 8:49pm GMT

Re: CRS on alleged Anglocatholic uniformity
Strange. Sounds as if you're unfamiliar with "Gin and Old Lace," amongst many other things.

Posted by Garry Lovatt at Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 1:45am GMT

The Church of England's list of scandals has now moved on, thirty years later, from Gareth Bennett and the notorious Crockford's Preface to Bishop George Bell and the Carlile report whose publication we still keenly await! I'm not sure, as Philip Jones suggests, that John Habgood's over-reaction to the Crockford's Preface and the following "tragic denouement" was the actual reason why he wasn't elevated to the see of Canterbury. The reason surely was THATCHER and her dislike of liberally-minded churchmen. She failed successively to recommend Habgood, the man Clifford Longley described as "the outstanding churchman of his generation", to the sees of London and Canterbury and championed the disastrous Carey to lead the Established Church; an evangelical after her own ilk. Although the Iron Lady transferred her religious allegiance to the C of E her early years in Grantham not only influenced her politics but also her religion. You can take the girl out of Methodism, but you can't take Methodism out of the girl!

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 6:34am GMT

Susannah and others, I know this to be a tradition to be capable of frightening certainties and vulnerable wrestling, of dogmatic judgments and hospitable compassion, of fierce stubbornness and reflective adaptability. And living with these contradictory qualities means it is a tradition always in difficult dialogue with itself (a fact easily missed by those outside it). But these are all authentic qualities of faith expressed through whatever tradition. The weaving of them together in love and truth for any age and context is always the challenge - and we are hearing here that this has been a complex and often painful mix of guilt and grace. Well here, in a broader more open place than some, this is still the church I belong to.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 6:42am GMT

Father David writes: "You can take the girl out of Methodism, but you can't take Methodism out of the girl!" I am glad of a Methodist, Wesleyan, childhood. I was taught Bible stories. I was exposed to a huge variety of hymnody (the Methodists themselves seem to have ditched that). I learnt to treasure the Eucharist as special. And perhaps more than anything else I treasure the down to earth goodness and straigtforwardness of Cumbrian village Methodists. The C of E was for people with pretensions, and certainly a local accent was much rarer in church than in chapel. Are you sure, Fr David, that it was Methodism that was at the root of Mrs Thatcher's antipathy to Habgood?

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 11:35am GMT

Stanley, the formative years are so important and influential, as you yourself espouse, and have a great effect upon later life. No, Methodism wasn't at the root of Mrs. Thatcher's antipathy towards Archbishop Habgood but her ingrained conservatism was greatly at odds with his liberalism; although the title of one of his books was "Confessions of a Conservative Liberal"

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 3:24pm GMT
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