COI Gazette – 10th July 2015

Calling suicide bombers martyrs is ‘blasphemous’,
says Syrian Orthodox Patriarch

Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Aphrem II

Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Aphrem II

In an interview with Gianni Valente of Vatican Insider, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Aphrem II, has said that suicide bombers cannot be martyrs, declaring that martyrdom was not “a sacrifice offered to God, like those sacrifices which are offered to pagan gods”.

He continued: “Christian martyrs do not seek martyrdom to demonstrate their faith and they do not wilfully shed their blood in order to obtain God’s favour or some other prize, like Paradise. Hence, the most blasphemous thing one can do is to call suicide bombers ‘martyrs’.”

Patriarch Aphrem said that Islamic State was “certainly not the Islam we learnt about and have lived alongside for hundreds of years”.

He said there were forces that fuelled it with arms and money but that this drew on “a perverse religious ideology that claims to be inspired by the Quran”.



In recent days, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis have all spoken out on the vital issue of climate change. It is vital, because the long-term future of the Earth and its inhabitants is at stake. It is no less a matter than that.

The issue of climate change led to the landmark Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which set out a framework for action aimed at stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system. What is termed the Conference of Parties (COP) regularly reviews the implementation of the Rio action programme. The next COP will be held next December in Paris and, for the first time in two decades of UN negotiations, will seek to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, aiming to keep global warming below 2°C.

In an article which Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Bartholomew wrote jointly in The New York Times (19th June), looking ahead to this important event, they stated: “As representatives of two major Christian communions, we appeal to the world’s governments to act decisively and conscientiously by signing an ambitious and hopeful agreement in Paris during COP 21 at the end of this year.” They said they hoped and prayed that there would be agreement on “a clear and convincing long-term goal that will chart the course of de-carbonization in the coming years”, adding that only in that way could there be a reduction in the “inequality that flows directly from climate injustice within and between countries”.

Archbishop Welby has also committed himself to fasting and praying for the success of negotiations of a universal climate agreement at the Paris meeting and has joined with other faith leaders in signing the Lambeth Declaration, calling on faith communities to act on the urgent need to protect the environment. In addition, in his widely welcomed Encyclical of last month, Laudato Si (Gazette report, 26th June), Pope Francis reflected on the urgent need for action on climate change and on how attacks on the environment impact most gravely upon the poorest. He wrote: “Today we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

The Chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, expressed his appreciation of Pope Francis’s emphasis on “the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems”, adding: “The values of dignity and fairness are at the heart of how we respond to the crisis. How we look after the environment is at its core about how we value our fellow human beings.”

The Anglican Alliance, which brings together Anglicans across the Communion on justice, poverty and climate issues, is joining with other faith groups in the coalition, ‘Our Voices’, to bring a distinctly religious perspective to the Paris climate talks. Such determined and organised action, along with the faith leaders’ statements which have highlighted the importance of the summit in December, show that people of faith are truly outward looking – and forward looking.


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Letters to the Editor

Same-sex marriage controversy

I write to express my appreciation of the letters of Drs John Wilson and David Capper as published in the Gazette of 26th June on the subject of same-sex marriage. Their biblical and orthodox views contrast sharply with earlier articles and correspondence over the past two to three months.

First, we had the ‘Doctrine of Development’ propounded by Bishop Michael Burrows in commending same-sex marriage, while, at the same time, being a signatory to the Archbishops’ and Bishops’ statement repeating that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

Second, we had the ‘Doctrine of Division’, proposed by Dean Tom Gordon, suggesting the Church should divide, North and South, on the issue of sexuality, although Jesus’ concern is unity on spiritual grounds, i.e. according to Scripture. Third, we had the ‘Doctrine of Denial’, with the reported outcry against the Archbishops and Bishops who dared to publish insensitively the Church’s doctrine and discipline on the meaning of marriage!

Altogether an entirely new doctrinal basis for doing Church in our modern ‘with it’ world today.

The Church must not embrace same-sex marriage by giving in to state legislation and the vocal clamour of today’s immense cultural pressure – “We must obey God rather than men.” (1 Peter 5: 29) Finally, two questions were posed at the end of the General Synod debate on the report of the Select Committee set up to consider ‘Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief’. The questions were:

1. Is there a biblical narrative for same-sex marriage?

2. Is there a Church narrative for same-sex marriage?

We await with interest the Select Committee’s response to these two questions. May God’s wisdom and will prevail in their continued deliberations.

B.T. Blacoe (Canon)

Tandragee Co. Armagh

After the marriage referendum result, it might be worth reading the 1989 landmark essay in The New Republic by Andrew Sullivan (author, influential blogger and former editor of The New Republic) making a conservative case for gay marriage.

Sullivan argues that legalizing same-sex marriages will give gays the same benefits that traditional marriages have always enjoyed. Whereas civil partnerships are a second best, designed to deal mostly with money rights, students, for instance, are using civil partnerships to obtain social benefits and not a union.

There is a much stronger legal benefit to marriage, with its common symbol of commitment to another human being, and gays simply want to join in.

This joining in the benefits of marriage does not cast any aspersions on traditional marriages, for it is a fallacy that gay marriage will somehow undermine them. Heterosexual men and women will only choose to marry in the traditional way.

Perhaps some people have been spooked by the result of the referendum as a radical event and have reacted in fear. However, Sullivan explains that this change may not be radical at all but conservative in its best sense.

Given that gay relationships will always exist, what social goal is advanced by denying gays the fulfilment of faithfulness, development and security to be found in traditional marriage?

Men and women in a traditional marriage might well feel that gay marriage cannot be compared with their own union, but there is no doubt that many gays wish to achieve such long-lasting love and the same security of a full marriage recognised by the state and society. Have we the right to deny them this? There have always been examples of lesbian relationships that were carried on without fuss as if they were perfectly married couples.

When marriage is officially available to gays, the stridency of ‘in your face’ campaigning will in time become unnecessary and the cohesion of society will be enhanced. Gays have always been, and always will be, a minority in society and there is no danger to the numbers of traditional marriages or to their status.

Also, since gay couples can now adopt or parent children by surrogacy, society should offer the stable union of marriage in which to bring up children.

As a member of the Church of Ireland, I take it our bishops are saying to our gay citizens: ‘You cannot have marriage and its benefits’ or ‘You shouldn’t have it’ or – even more negatively – ‘You think you have it, but you haven’t, you know’.

It’s about fairness and justice, and those threads run throughout the entire Bible.

Robin Glendinning Comber, Co. Down

Learned doctors within the Church were at the time easily able to dismiss the speculations of Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, et al, by quoting a few biblical verses.

It has to be admitted that Scripture knows nothing of a heliocentric universe or the age of the Earth and its evolution. There was, therefore, it seemed, nothing to argue about; the Bible had spoken.

Nor had the doctors any problem rubbishing the eccentric view of William Wilberforce who doubted the godliness of the buying and selling of slaves: “Why should he as a Christian presume to condemn a universally accepted and traditional practice like trading in slaves? Neither Jesus nor anyone else in the Bible did.”

The same authoritative voices similarly criticized Wilberforce’s more recent radical spiritual equivalents, such as Martin Luther King and Trevor Huddleston.

Even today, let us not forget that the Ku Klux Klan is a selfproclaimed, Bible-based, Christian Protestant organisation. There are occasions when the scriptural text is not enough, as Jesus himself indicated. We need a possible nudge from the Holy Spirit, which is often triggered by events outside the Church’s world, from what one of your correspondents calls “the spirit of now”.

I appreciate that liberals or radicals can get it wrong; but there are many examples of traditionalists or conservatives (especially ‘fundamentalists’) making the mistakes of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s day.

I cannot think of anyone at all in the Bible who understood Genesis 2: 24 in the way in which your correspondents (Gazette, 26th June) and frequent Church spokesmen and women now understand it.

I may be corrected, but I am not aware of anyone at all in the Bible who required of all godly people monogamy or who even thought about it.

So, I see this switch from normative polygamy to monogamy as a change prompted by the Holy Spirit (God alone knows from where), despite the Bible’s silence on this issue – and no less wise or less welcome for that. The Holy Spirit does not confine himself to the words of Scripture.

Charles Kenny (Canon) Belfast

As Christ went forth to sow the word of God, so clerical and lay ministers are to do the same work.

Today, as of old, the essential truths of God’s word are set aside for human theories and explanations.

Many professed ministers, including bishops of the Gospel, do not seem to accept the whole Bible as the inspired word of God. One scholarly man rejects one portion; another questions another part. They set up their judgement as superior to God’s word. The Scripture which they preach rests on their own authority and opinions.

As in all preceding centuries, the plain teaching of God condemned certain practices. So today, some ministers try to explain away God’s teaching; it is made to appear mysterious and open to all different interpretations.

God pointed to the Scriptures as of unquestionable authority and we should do the same. God’s word is the foundation of all faith.

Increasingly, the Bible is being robbed of its power and truth and the results are visible in the lowering of spiritual life and standards. The opinions and theories of man are of no value; God’ love is abundant, but it is tempered by discipline and an expectation of obedience. Let God speak to the people: “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” (Jeremiah 23: 28).

Patricia H. Smyth Cootehill Co. Cavan

Church investments and climate change

I thank God for Ron Elsdon. About 20 years ago, he visited our midweek Bible study and spoke passionately about global warming; I have vivid memories of images of melting glaciers.

So I was delighted to read his article, ‘An immense pile of filth’ (Gazette, 3rd July), in which he wrote again with passion about the need for every parish and parishioner to respond to the moral problem of climate change.

In particular, he highlighted the Environmental Charter passed at General Synod in May.

On 25th June last, the Down and Dromore Synod voted to pass unanimously a motion on climate change that endorsed the Environmental Charter. It is a call to action for Christians and churches within the Church of Ireland. I hope other diocesan synods may soon vote on similar motions. For convenience, the text of the motion is online ( Another interesting article in the same edition of the Gazette was by Christian Aid’s Head of Advocacy and Policy, Sorley McCaughey.

In the article, he highlights the intervention by Pope Francis with his Encyclical on climate change. Mr McCaughey writes: “We’ve heard from the scientists, economists and the politicians; it’s now time for faith leaders to speak up.”

The synod members of Down and Dromore spoke up, for in the motion on climate change, they called upon the Church of Ireland Representative Body to act in a significant way – to divest from fossil fuels.

The RB General Unit Trust funds are worth £44.70m (NI) and €187.68m (RI). Four of the top 10 investments, and at least 5% of the General Unit Trust funds, are invested in fossil fuel companies. The speech to propose the motion noted that Bishops’ Appeal gave £71,499 and €149,720 in 2014 to help millions of Filipinos suffering as a result of Super Typhoon Haiyan. A recent scientific paper in Nature Climate Change journal concluded that natural disasters like Haiyan are increasing in severity and frequency because of global warming. The link between severe weather events and suffering populations is clear.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, wrote in The New York Times last week that “we have reached a critical turning point”. He added that we must choose charity over greed to demonstrate a moral commitment to our neighbour and respect for the Earth.

There are signs that the Church of Ireland is genuine about its commitment to our worldwide neighbours and to the Earth. The RB has invested £6m in UK solar farms and €8.5m in the Irish Energy Efficiency Fund.

As I’ve said before, I am very impressed with the staff in the RB – they are sincere people who do listen and they have a real desire to invest ethically.

These investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency are to be commended, but the question must be asked: Is it still ethical to invest in fossil fuels when so many around the world are suffering because of climate change?

Stephen Trew Lurgan Co. Armagh


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Notice to readers Due to printers’ holidays, there will be no issue of the Gazette on Friday 17th July.