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A dam is bursting beneath the CofE

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

You may think that the CofE is an immovable monolith that follows an unhealthy agenda set by the Israel lobby. Some of Archbishops Welby’s statements tend to convey this impression.

You will recall how he took Israel’s side in the run-up to the 2019 General Election, backing Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s warning about Jeremy Corbyn on grounds of “antisemitism”. CAMPAIN sought to debate the evidence upon which Welby based this position but found him unwilling to engage.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu (1931-2021), former Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, noted pacifist and a leading figure in the successful fight against apartheid

This July, he told a meeting organised by Jewish Board of Deputies (BoD) that “antisemitism is the root of all racism and the absolute foundation of all racism in our societies”. It is clearly absurd to imply that hundreds of years of slavery and mistreatment of Africans are rooted in antisemitism, but this is how the BoD reported his words. And of course, on September 6th, Welby denied – against all evidence – that Israel was an apartheid state.

It appears that Archbishop Welby is unwilling to examine evidence but is firing off assertions that he cannot or will not defend. Notwithstanding, two things suggest that we are likely to see movement in the Anglican Communion and that statements like the above will soon be exposed as indefensible.

Firstly, the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa has just declared Israel an Apartheid State, echoing the words of the late Desmond Tutu. The testimony of an overwhelmingly black African establishment that knows all about apartheid will prove embarrassing for Archbishop Welby as he doggedly insists that it is not. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba observed in a subsequent statement: “When black South Africans who have lived under apartheid visit Israel, the parallels to apartheid are impossible to ignore. If we stand by and keep quiet, we will be complicit in the continuing oppression of the Palestinians”.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba

Secondly, the Anglican newspaper Church Times, has been faithfully reporting both sides of the argument. After publishing a favourable report on Welby’s speech of 6th September, its 15th September edition carried critical letters by Linda Ramsden of ICAHD-UK and Jonathan Coulter of CAMPAIN. The following 22nd September, we got a defence from Revd Sudworth, Welby’s right-hand man. Then Dr. Jonathan Chaplin took the Church to task for failing to plan for the future of Church-state relations and adopting a posture of “supine, unreflective passivity”.

Now, on 29th September, Church Times has published two highly critical and interesting letters. The first is from an Anglican churchman, Rev. Dr. Peter Liddell, who describes Welby’s talk of “Reconciliation” as lulling “the faithful into believing that someone is looking after things, and that everything will be all right”. The second is from Dr. Jim Sikorski who reminded us that “truth matters”. Sudworth had made an extraordinary argument against using the word apartheid, as if self-censorship would advance the cause of justice, but Sikorski countered that it is important to call things by their name, i.e. apartheid.

You can read below the letters by Liddell, Sikorski, Sudworth and Chaplin. Please provide your comments at the bottom.

And many thanks to the Church Times for reporting this important debate.

Middle East lecture and use of the word ‘apartheid’, Church Times, Sept 29th

1. From the Revd Dr Peter Liddell, Hon. Canon Emeritus, St. Albans

Revd. Dr Peter Liddell
Revd. Dr. Peter Liddell

In his professional life, Peter has practiced as a psychotherapist in New York and London. As Director of Pastoral Counselling for St. Albans Diocese from 1980 to 2005, he was responsible for a pastoral foundation which provided a low-cost counselling service sponsored by the Diocese and funded by the National Lottery, the EU Social Fund, NHS, charitable trusts and client fees. Now in retirement and within an hour of the British Library, he is picking up on his writing. In his first paper of recent years, he moves from the daily conversation of the client world to the timeless conversation between St. Luke and Rembrandt: “A Sabbath Day’s Walk with Two Companions”, published by Liverpool University Press in Modern Believing, Autumn 2019.

Sir, — The letters of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s adviser the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth and Dr Jonathan Chaplin (22 September) are to be taken together.

It is not surprising that the Archbishop’s adviser feels the need to defend the Archbishop’s stance. In doing so, he shows the same distance from daily reality. “Yes, there is much in the aggression of settlement growth and in the punitive treatment of Palestinians at border crossings.” Is that it, then? What about the deliberate contamination of a village well; untreated settlement sewage flowing on to olive groves; attacks on village school buildings, teachers, parents, and children; wanton destruction of educational projects; nightly burning of olive groves; assaults on farmers and my friends accompanying them, who were chased and injured; families bereaved; children imprisoned?

Dr. Sudworth asserts that “apartheid” is the central concern of the previous week’s correspondents. Jonathan Coulter does not mention it. Dr. Sudworth ignores Daniel Munayer, who said that settlers live under civil and Palestinians under military rule.

“Advocacy groups”: this description downgrades. Protests are personally courageous and given with total commitment of heart, mind and body.

“Reconciliation”: the Archbishop’s grand vision of an end in time may be a theological and missionary necessity, but it cuts no ice with those who don’t know what he is talking about and some who do. It lulls the faithful into believing that someone is looking after things, and that everything will be all right.

In answer to a question, the Archbishop said, almost as an aside, but spoken with steel and finality, that things would change only when people got tired of killing, as happened at the British withdrawal from Palestine and India. The inevitable conclusion is that we are all not yet tired of the killing and thereby complicit in it.

Dr. Chaplin draws attention to the widespread indifference and bewilderment felt towards the Church and its apparent lack of interest in reconfiguring itself, and its ability to do so. He points to the conviction that we shall find new friends along the way. If we lose some, which is not inevitable, in what way were they friends?


2. From Dr. Jim Sikorski

Sir, — The Revd Dr Richard Sudworth is concerned that it is necessary to avoid using the word “apartheid” in reference to the current situation in Israel/Palestine, to avoid losing potential partners in the struggle against injustice and the search for reconciliation.

One vital element in the process of achieving peace and justice for all is the recognition of the truth as it exists on the ground today. If we listen to the voice of the most extensive Palestinian Christian ecumenical movement (A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid: A Pressing Call to churches around the World, Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice, 2022), we are reminded that truth matters, and it matters most when it is named.

They point out that partners will be lost: “We can expect that taking a prophetic stance will be disruptive to the dynamic of traditional dialogues.” We are, however, called to trust that new partnerships will develop and that “former partners may be fruitfully challenged.”

To use the word “apartheid” is not, as Dr Sudworth suggests, “to corral language”, but to be concerned with the people who are corralled and oppressed by the current regime. Apartheid is a crime against humanity.

The Churches in this country are being challenged by our Palestinian sisters and brothers to respond in creative non-violent ways. “We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back?”


Archbishop’s Middle East lecture, Church Times, Sept 22

From the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth

Sir, — The central objection to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Middle East lecture seems to be his refusal to describe the Israeli state as an “apartheid” state (Letters, 15 September). Despite his condemning policies such as house demolitions and the building of settlements in the Occupied Territories, it seems that Linda Ramsden and Jonathan Coulter are focusing all their attention on this refusal.

It is important to note that the Israeli Declaration of Independence affirms the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”. One of the country’s Basic Laws protects human dignity and liberty. The Archbishop’s lecture described how these freedoms were being gradually eroded by government policies in recent years (namely, the nation-state law in 2018 and Netanyahu’s overhaul of the Supreme Court’s power). These interventions and the professed commitments of some of the racist partners to the Israeli government, as the Archbishop asserted, genuinely threaten these values.

Yes, there is much in the aggression of settlement growth and in the punitive treatment of Palestinians at border cross-points that is akin to apartheid. But, right now, to demand the judgment that “Israel is an apartheid state” as an existential statement is to ask that Israel be seen as a state without moral validity, ab initio. In the process, it ignores the many voices of Israeli Jews expressing their own concerns at the gloomy prospects for democracy and equality for our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has a particular duty to weigh the impact of language in ways that advocacy groups do not have, because of the reach of his audience. In this instance, it is judged that the use of the word “apartheid” would have the result that fewer people heard the challenge for justice, beyond those already convinced. We can speak out against injustices without having to corral language that ends up with our losing potential partners in the same cause.


Secretary for Inter-Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter-Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England

Lambeth Palace

London SE1 7JU

C of E is failing to plan for future of establishment, Church Times Sept 22

From Dr Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

Sir, — In his fine analysis of the 2003 Aston Cantlow ruling and its implications for the established status of the Church of England (Comment, 15 September), Professor Mark Hill reminds us of several factors currently putting pressure on that status. Another would be the widespread indifference to or bewilderment with an English Protestant Church’s exclusive part in presiding over the inauguration of the head of state of a religiously plural and multi-national country. Professor Hill rightly warns that the “historic nexus” between Church and State could be “completely lost within a generation”, and predicts that “some form of re-establishment seems inevitable in the next decade.”

Any such “re-establishment” is likely to mean not any consolidation of the Church’s existing status, but a possibly far-reaching reconfiguration of religion-state relations generally, in the light of advancing secularisation and religious pluralism.

This prompts the question of whether the Church’s leadership has any interest in and capacity for influencing the shape of that reconfiguration. There is currently no evidence that it has either. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently declared, astonishingly and without argument, that disestablishment “is a matter for Parliament”. But, by refusing to engage publicly with the question and adopting a default — and increasingly threadbare — defence of the status quo, the leadership is leaving itself and the wider Church wholly unprepared to respond to the next pressures for reform.

If the Church could muster sufficient courage and creativity, it could seize the initiative, articulate a new, missionally compelling and constitutionally equitable theology of church-state relations in a context of deepening pluralism. It should then offer to lay down its unsustainable inherited privileges while defending the equal public status of faith for all: a “kenotic” gesture that might even win it new support.

Or it could maintain its current posture of supine, unreflective passivity in the face of ongoing disestablishment-by-salami-slicing, benefiting from the advantages of establishment while taking no responsibility for the eventual destination of a process that might adversely affect not only itself, but faith communities generally.



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