The word of God
Sir: Douglas Murray complains that the C of E has embraced the ‘new religion’ of anti-racism (‘The C of E’s new religion’, 20 March). But the truth, which neither he nor the church seems to have realised, is that the ‘anti-racist’ agenda is a secular attempt to plug a long-standing gap in western Christianity. The answer is to recover the full message, not to bolt on new ideologies.
The earliest Christian writings insist that in the Messiah ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’. The book of Revelation envisages Jesus’s followers as an uncountable family from every nation, tribe, people and language. At the climax of his greatest letter, St Paul urges Christians to ‘welcome one another’ across all social and ethnic barriers, insisting that the church will thereby function as the advance sign of God’s coming renewal of all creation.
This is the three-dimensional meaning of ‘justification by faith’: all those who believe in Jesus, rescued by his cross and resurrection and enlivened by his Spirit, are part of the new family. This was and is central, not peripheral. The church was the original multicultural project, with Jesus as its only point of identity. It was known, and was for this reason seen as both attractive and dangerous, as a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, chastity-celebrating, socially responsible fictive kinship group, gender-blind in leadership, generous to the poor and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless.
If this had been celebrated, taught and practised, the church would early on have recognised ecclesial racism for what it is: the ugly side-effect of splitting the church into language-groups and thence into national ‘churches’, preparing the way for, and disarming the church against, the self-serving ‘racial’ theories of social Darwinism. If it has taken modern secular movements to jolt the church into recognising a long-standing problem, shame on us. But the answer is not to capitulate to the current ‘identity agenda’, and then to enforce it with breast-beating, finger-wagging neo-moralism. Douglas Murray doesn’t like that and neither do I. The answer is teaching and practising the whole biblical gospel.
Rt Revd Prof N.T. Wright (former bishop of Durham)
Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
Sir: James Forsyth argues that Keir Starmer has decided ‘to suspend normal political combat’ because ‘voters have simply not viewed the virus as political’ (‘Opposites detract’, 20 March).
Surely the reverse is the case. Because no prominent political party has questioned the government’s lockdown policy, voters have been frightened into believing that it is the only way. Had the opposition advocated an alternative approach, or even required the government to justify its own, the weaknesses in the case for lockdowns would have been exposed, public opinion might have been very different, and some of the damage that has been done, quite possibly to no purpose, might have been prevented. Starmer has failed his country, and I predict that he will pay a heavy price.
Sir: James Forsyth states that ‘Hartlepool has never elected a Tory’ — but Hartlepools, its predecessor constituency, did. In 1959 John Kerans, bona-fide war hero, retired Royal Navy commander and at the time a management trainee at the South Durham Steel and Iron Company won the Hartlepools for the Tories by 184 votes. The contribution to Kerans’s victory made by the manager of one of the local cinemas cannot be underestimated. The 1957 film The Yangtze Incident — in which Richard Todd played Kerans as he defied the might of the PLA whilst steering his ship HMS Amethyst to safety down the Yangtze River — played for a couple of weeks immediately before the election, and after seeing it the good people of Hartlepool reacted with appropriate gratitude at the polls. I have a faint memory of myself as a nine-year-old meeting the great man at a fundraiser in our home in the seaside suburb of Seaton Carew.
Henley on Thames
Sir: Olenka Hamilton writes that Poles’ suspicion of authority is the result of centuries of foreign oppression (‘Why the Polish community doesn’t want the vaccine,’ 13 March). I would argue the opposite is also true. Sadly, that attitude has been a key Polish characteristic since late medieval times and the reason Poland failed to develop the strong institutions necessary to protect its citizens — resulting in those centuries of foreign oppression.
A Far East fleet
Sir: Francis Pike tells us that in two months time the Royal Navy will send a battle fleet to Asia for the first time since the start of the Korean War in 1950 (‘Strait lines’, 20 March). In 1968 and 1969 I was a midshipman in the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. We were based in Singapore and cruised between Sydney and Hong Kong, occasionally flying the flag of Flag Officer Far East Fleet. In January 1969 we took a weekend break from fleet exercises and anchored off Langkawi on the coast of Malaysia. As a duty midshipman, I had the task of taking a ship’s boat to distribute mail to the other members of the fleet. According to the diagram in my midshipman’s journal, we had with us four destroyers (including two RAN), seven frigates (including one RNZN), two submarines, two RFA stores ships and three RFA tankers. My memory tells me that the commando carrier HMS Albion and the assault ship HMS Intrepid were also in the area.
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