Comments: Opinion - 14 April 2018

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 used them for major decision-making.
A couple of years ago I moved heaven and earth to get on the Cambridge mini-MBA for deans, thinking I’d come away knowing what I was doing. There turned out to be a last-minute vacancy because an English dean had to drop out and the money could not be recovered. I was immensely grateful chiefly because of what I learned about what I did and did not need to know.
This week, as changes have been approved to my cathedral’s governance, 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.
It may course be a different ball game if you are called to be dean if a great cathedral. The danger then is of having it turn into what I once heard described as a ‘National Trust religious theme park’. God bless those people called to that challenge.

I’m sorry if people take offence at any of the above - in the usual way of TA - but I couldn’t resist entering the bear pit for once. I won’t necessarily respond to comments but wanted to thank Bishop Paul for his very encouraging words to this amateur but senior (66!) cleric.

Posted by Lister Tonge at Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 8:59pm BST

"...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 outsider, suspected.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 9:26pm BST

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 bizarre. Anyone with pastoral experience of this tradition knows that the struggle is always to feel we have confessed enough. The Puritan’s anxious search was for that ‘Assurance’. Taking sin lightly was not an option. To take the Gordon Ridout as an example of cheap theology at work is likewise questionable. The quote offered is someone else’s opinion of him. We have no knowledge of whether he ever spoke to anyone about his behaviour and what ministry he received. He would not have gone to sacramental confession! The deep patterns of deceit and concealment in abusing behaviour means that abusers can actually hide the reality of their behaviour from themselves. They split off. The problem is not theology but psychology.
We might also note that in this same cluster of articles Colin Coward argues we are stressing sin and guilt ‘too much’. And in a concurrent discussion thread Janet Fife (with her own story of being abused and with evangelical roots to her faith) urges that ‘we talk too much about sin’. All of which suggest this discussion is important but needs a great deal more exploring before we agree how it is to be addressed.

Posted by David Runcorn at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 11:15am BST

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."

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 11:56am BST

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 claims are to be taken seriously, professor Woodhead needs to show the method by which she has reached these conclusions.

Posted by Graham Hardy at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 2:17pm BST

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.

Posted by Evan McWilliams at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 2:28pm BST

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 many, this has nothing to do with clinical "triggers," but simply hijacks psychology as an excuse to censor expression and speech they dislike, as the Soviets used to haul dissidents off to the asylum for the sickness of missing the self-evident wonders of Marxism in action. This isn't about the overreactions of so-called snowflakes: it's a lot more sinister.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 4:32pm BST

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 also important to be well read, to study up on the various issues, to be able to make an informed argument for a particular remedy. Very often one is confronted with 'consciousness raising' that is largely contentless.

Hobson probably ought not to have been surprised that the vicar had the art work removed based on a single complaint. We all know how the great commission is modified in church land: "Go forth and make disciples of all people. But for God's sake do not make any one upset."

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 5:20pm BST

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.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 12:44am BST

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 in the abstract. He's not saying people are rejecting great art; he's saying they are rejecting _his_ art. He isn't complaining they are rejecting the writings of great thinkers; he's saying they are complaining about his (I would argue inappropriate) comments to students. They laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Coco the Clown, and he is _desperate_ to be a martyr.

Moreover, he appears to be operating without any self-reflection. Christians should be robust and not hide from difficult ideas? Absolutely. 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? I suspect he's a sauce for the millennial goose most certainly not being sauce for the elderly gander kind of guy, although I'd be happy to be shown to be wrong.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 7:48am BST

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.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 1:52pm BST

"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.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 3:18pm BST

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 Manchester gallery, where not only was John William Waterhouse's painting 'Hylas and the Nymphs' taken down to "start a conversation," but its reproductions were scrubbed from the gallery shop with Stalinist efficiency, censoring art on these grounds isn't some fringe concern restricted to nervous vicars.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 3:47pm BST

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. ( :

I should be allowed to see Hobson's art and make my own decision about its message without someone else deciding for me what its singular and fanciful interpretation must be.

Universities are full of young people who think that outrage is an acceptable substitute for dialogue and difference of opinion. We do individuals and the common good a great disservice by allowing emotional bullying to shut down debate. In this case, looks like the church missed an opportunity to challenge people. But then, courage is not what one associates with churches anywhere across the spectrum from genuine controversy to a tempest in a tea pot.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 3:52pm BST

"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.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 7:16pm BST

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 a refuge but it can’t be a safe space.' which I think is spot on, though I think the final sentence needs to be unpacked.

This was an act of censorship and as such is very dangerous. People are being prevented from seeing the painting and forming their own judgement by the application of what seems ill-thought out criteria. Like James Byron, the Manchester Art Gallery Furore came to my mind. I have followed it closely and the comments on the blog - all 919 of them- repay reading in the light of Hobson's experience. The last thing that we should be doing is colluding in censorship - churches have done enough of that in the past. The vicar in question, instead of removing the painting should have met with he complainant and discussed her objections. In these circumstances, I always think of Milton's comment - no liberal he - when defending freedom of speech in the seventeenth century: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat".

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 7:19pm BST

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 not want people defined by their damage"? The resurrection seems to me to be the ultimate statement that "your damage does not define you".

People are different, and the challenge is received in different ways. No challenge is received the same way by all who encounter it. A work of art, for example, cannot speak in individual relationship to each person who encounters it, though each has a personal response. My prayer is that each will receive a challenge to life they can own.

As a pastoral minister, I can have a conversation with the one person who thinks the Judgment of Solomon in the window by our childrens area is inappropriate - most don't notice, and the few who do generally take no offence. But if there is a social change in my community which means that this presents a challenge which is not, on the whole, life-giving, I do have a pastoral issue. Not to remove the challenge, but rather to replace it with a challenge which can be received as life-giving. And to find an appropriate place for the original.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 9:26pm BST

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 dad?) and a child--which of course has to be male. (4) Suffer the little Children depictions of Jesus. Not on, given issues of child abuse in the church. (5) Resurrection appearances. Too traumatic for the recently bereaved. Plus, they tend to dismiss the work of grief counselors and the 'hard work' of grief. ( :

Re: Mark Bennet, "I do have a pastoral issue. Not to remove the challenge, but rather to replace it with a challenge which can be received as life-giving. And to find an appropriate place for the original." Hmm, sounds bit like a very churchland censorship by subterfuge; but I would have to know more.

Based on Hobson's article, both the reaction to the Exorcism piece and its removal trivialize the consideration of genuine issues of church art and architecture, wherein one could talk about art and the gospel's core message, community standards within the entire congregation, and a kind of editorial prerogative of the local church regarding its art work.

Two examples come to mind from my visit to St. Paul's Cathedral London. I was moved by the exhibit Bill Viola, Martyrs. I was taken as well with The American Memorial Chapel and how its presence raises questions about the gospel and the commemoration of military force.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 11:53pm BST

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 'sins of the world' for which Christ has already offered his own special remedy. ("While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" we are still 'sinners' after all)

Even the best of us is 'guilty' of imperfection, and to admit that - especially before receiving the restorative medicine of the Eucharist - is, for me personally, an important key to accepting acknowledging Christ's redeeming and transforming grace, power and love to live another day.

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 am a sinner, but not without hope of salvation.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 12:41am BST

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.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 6:10am BST

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 right.

I probably agree with Hobson more than I disagree about speech codes in universities, but even then (as someone who spends his every working day in a university which has been at the centre of one of the larger recent rows) I think that the claims by the right about "snowflakes" have been wildly overplayed, in bad faith. Most of the no platforming - which has a history going back at least to the early 1980s - 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. The right identify the cases where it goes wrong, but then use those cases in bad faith to further bully the weak, because the right identify with the strong.

"Snowflakes" is extraordinarily charged language, and almost always used to demean and harass. How do people want political discourse to happen? If I have to choose between "no platforming" in private spaces and (say) the ALF or the IRA - and, I'm sorry, but I think that _is_ the choice - I'll take the petty disputes over blowing stuff up. And when people airily dismiss entire groups of people as "snowflakes" I think they should have some insight into who they are attacking - usually young, disempowered people trying to do good, no matter how imperfectly - and who they are siding with - power. There's a Christian message in there, somewhere.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 10:05am BST

"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 colloquial sense.

I've no doubt that no-platformers have good intentions: just like those who prosecuted the dissemination of birth control literature; prosecuted novels; jailed gay people; burned heretics; murdered Kulaks; or starved millions of Chinese in a "great leap forawrd." An escalating scale of tyranny's underpinned by noble intent.

No-platforming isn't about banning members of terrorist groups from campus: it's the belief that a self-appointed censor's justified in silenceing their political opponents. That people can't be trusted to reject dangerous speech, but must be protected from themselves. In no time, it's moved from banning terrorists to beating Republicans about the head with bicycle locks, because once you've marked your opponents as evil incarnate, there's no end to the force that's justified in stopping them.

I find this totalitarian mindset infinitely more terrifying than calling its advocates snowflakes.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 11:00am BST

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 a formal sin and guilt reminder at every service.

Posted by Colin Coward at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 11:24am BST

Mornington Crescent

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 1:49pm BST

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 churchland attempt at conflict avoidance.

"...no platforming ...is about trying to protect the weak from the powerful...." This is a censorious argument advanced by the left who think themseleves the public square policeman. You might review the difficulties that iconic leftist theologian Dorothy Soelle had in Europe with both the church and the academy and the attempts by the right to censor her because she was a woman and an activist.

Attempts to censure in any context are almost always politcal.

Complaints against churches are often grounded in some sort of politcal beef. The church's emphasis on 'pastoral' considerations often makes it an easy target for wily activists.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 2:16pm BST

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, not on the basis of a complaint by one person relayed by a second party to the Vicar who takes unilateral action. In effect this person has single-handedly censored this painting and prevented others from seeing it and forming their own conclusions. The complainant certainly needs support but removing a painting becauses of claims that it causes distress is not the best way of doing it. To come back to Hobson's final point: what we don't want or need is a bland dumbed down Christianity with a thinned-out theology. My experience of many years as a University teacher of the Humanities is that the best way to empower young people is to enter into discussion with them, help them to see and learn new things and help them to see fmailiar things in a new light, and not to be afraid of encouraging them to tackle something difficult. Unfortunately our current marketised system of mass higher education does not make this easy. because there is little room for discussion in small groups.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Tuesday, 17 April 2018 at 6:27pm BST

"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 the Lord. He then sealed this teaching which His death and resurrection, permanently dealing with sin. If we value His sacrifice, then we will accept that He dealt with sin and move our focus as He taught us.

Does that change in focus mean a change in behavior? Not really. The Law was a compendium of things not pleasing to the Lord so both approaches get to the same point in terms of behavior. But a concentration on doing what is pleasing to the Lord means we can place our absolute trust in Christ; if we concentrate on sin and absolution, then we risk people trusting in priests to provide that absolution rather than places our trust entirely on Christ. And again, if we read the Gospels, we find Christ taught us the importance of placing our trust in Him, not in priests.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 8:18am BST

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 merit. However craftily you try to deny it, the message here, over and over, is "I have the degrees, I'm the artist, you don't explain as well as I do, having not had the courses in philosophy I have, so you *don't count*, and I can write your arguments off as irrelevant, secure in the knowledge that I can just as easily parse and rationalize my way around any response you give."

The whole issue still comes down to a man making a plaster martyr of himself (with plenty of false humility thrown in!) in public because his precious painting was taken down. The fact that self-identifies liberals are exercised over this, as if a sermon led to an arrest or a private art gallery was closed by police order, smacks of hypocrisy, arrogance and a full exposure of the emptiness of their concern for the damaged and traumatized. The same people who tut-tutted and pontificated at *me* because I disliked the changes in liturgical language - acrobatics designed to eliminate any reference to gender which also destroy elegance and imagery for no purpose - are the same ones outraged at such "censorship" of a painting by a *private* individual in a *public* space! But, then, I don't have a Master's nor a doctorate, so, I'm just too stupid to understand how, really, at heart, in all *real* terms, that isn't sheer, repulsive hypocrisy.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 8:25am BST

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 this context means release.

But sin is not now what might keep us from heaven. What might keep us from heaven is not concentrating on making ourselves worthy. We should repent our sins not because we need forgiveness, that has already been given, but to make ourselves worthy of heaven. From the outside the two might look the same, but they are radically different underneath.

I am absolutely with Colin on this. In his comment, he put it very simply. "There is far too much confused, lazy, habitual thinking about sin and guilt in the church..."

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 8:35am BST

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 soldier returning from active duty it could be a battle scene. I hope we would not just dismiss them and tell them to get over themselves.

When we put abstract theology above the pastoral care of a real person among us, we've lost what church is all about.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 9:19am BST

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.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 12:43pm BST

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, the introduction or removal of something like a painting needs to be done with proper consultation. What about the existing members of the congregation? Are they not entitled to express a view? I am not aware of anyone, not even Theo Hobson, speaking of 'unwashed masses' or needing to have any kind of qualification to enter a church.
Mark Brunson does not help his argument by imputing things to people which they have not actually said or implied. I am much more sympathetic to Erica Baker's point that a church should help someone to work though their problems which is what I also said.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 2:18pm BST

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 a priest is an instrument of forgiveness.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 2:30pm BST

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 of a guy auditioning for the role of patron saint of the outraged.

What might help the discussion is to step back a little from Hobson's anecdotal example and look at some of the larger questions. Churches make decisions all the time about art and architecture, everything from whether or not to accept an artifact as a memorial to someone's dearly departed grandpa, to major projects that involve controversy over new religious art and iconography. What would a responsible and transparent process regarding changes in art and architecture look like? How would it take into account beforehand the inevitable objections of some?

Search out the 'homeless Jesus' controversy.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/beyond-the-headlines-1.3557743/homeless-jesus-sculpture-sparks-controversy-1.3557825

http://lfpress.com/2016/03/25/the-vatican-has-welcomed-the-controversial-statue/wcm/e451ce8c-98ef-eca1-e153-c70020313081


Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 2:54pm BST

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 allies. It's impossible to please all parties. Whatever you do in this situation, someone's gonna be caused distress and be made to feel unwelcome. Same goes for other, much less extreme circumstances.

On practical grounds alone, it's unworkable.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 3:41pm BST

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

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 4:13pm BST

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.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 5:04pm BST

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 intolerable burden. Some find the BAS wording more pastoral. Others find it shallow and Pollyanna.

In some ways the liturgical change may be at least a tacit nod to Colin Coward's concern, even if an unsuccessful one.

Questioning the routine use of a confession in every eucharist is a valid point. It may be problematic for the reasons Coward suggests. It may also 'ritualise' the examination of conscience letting people off the hook in terms
of repairing relationships. Routine confessions may be as unhelpful as the mandatory sermon.

However, we still need to distinguish between exploiting neurotic guilt and the appropriate demand of moral decision making and responsible action.

In a world of complicity with oppression, injustice and violence, confronting moral responsibility remains an appropriate liturgical and communal goal.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 5:22pm BST

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 but who genuinely find something unbearable.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 6:34pm BST

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 our faith if we are not alive to the need to renew and refresh its challenge, to speak differently within different cultures. We also subject our faith to censorship when we duck the challenge - I agree with that. I could say more, but it would turn into a lengthy essay.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 9:19pm BST

"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?

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 10:20pm BST

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.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Wednesday, 18 April 2018 at 11:43pm BST

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).

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 19 April 2018 at 12:25am BST

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 thirty five years of Anglican parish ministry during which, like most of my contemporaries, I had to contend with the ongoing controversy created by liturgical battles i.e. traditional BCP v. modern liturgical renewal. It may be one of the reasons I was enthusiastic about introducing the new while committed to continuing the traditional, in the best balance possible, in every single parish I served. These days I mostly worship in a contemporary rite parish; but on the 43rd anniversary of my joining the Communion I attended a BCP service that was identical to the one during which I was received in 1975.

Not sure any this has a lot to do with the capricious censoring of church art: or does it?
( :

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 19 April 2018 at 3:51am BST

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.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 April 2018 at 9:19am BST

"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?

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 19 April 2018 at 9:46pm BST

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.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 April 2018 at 9:35am BST

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

Posted by Kate at Friday, 20 April 2018 at 4:03pm BST
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