There is ‘hatred’ in Anglican divisions, Communion’s Secretary-General tells Gazette
In an exclusive interview with the Gazette editor at the Anglican Communion Of ce in London last week, the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu- Fearon (pictured), said he had been drawn to apply for the post, which he took up last year, because there was “so much disagreement and even hatred” among Anglicans and because of his commitment to reconciliation.
He said he had come across “hatred, vilification [and] character assassination”, but he saw his role as Secretary- General as a reconciling one, and recalled his earlier role as a bridge-builder between Christians and Muslims in his native Nigeria and in Africa as a whole.
FIGURES IN CHURCH HISTORY – 55 WILLIAM WILBERFORCE (1759-1833)
“God almighty has set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” With these words, one of the truly great Christians of the 18th and 19th centuries, William Wilberforce, summed up his life’s work.
Born in Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, into a life of wealth and ease, as a young man he engaged in a hedonistic lifestyle while a student in Cambridge, enjoying cards, gambling and late-night drinking sessions, and this continued in the form of attendance at gentlemen’s gambling clubs even after he entered Parliament, encouraged to make this commitment by William Pitt, who was destined to become one of the United Kingdom’s great wartime prime ministers.
In due course, Wilberforce’s mind began to turn towards more serious things and he underwent an evangelical conversion, resulting in a complete change in his lifestyle. His political views, though socially conservative, were to an ever greater extent informed by, and a reflection of, his theological convictions.
He already had some knowledge of the evils of the slave trade and, under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he was encouraged to commit himself to work in Parliament for its abolition; it was at this period in his life that he made the declaration given above.
Something of the passion of his commitment is indicated by a speech he made before the House of Commons in 1791, in which he said: “Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.”
He was assisted in his work and witness by his membership of the so-called ‘Clapham Sect’, an association of friends who were also evangelical Christians, dedicated to the practical application of their faith and to an opposition to slavery. The struggle was long and hard and was strongly opposed by those who had a vested interest in slavery. Bill after Bill failed, even though some of the greatest orators in public life, including Pitt himself and Charles James Fox, supported the cause.
The abolition of the slave trade (though not of the institution of slavery itself) was carried in 1807. This, however, was by no means the end of the matter and the campaign for the total abolition of slavery in the British Empire went on for the remainder of Wilberforce’s life. He heard of government concessions ensuring the passing of the relevant Bill a month before his death.
Wilberforce’s other great cause was the ‘Reformation of Manners’, meaning an improvement in morals, education and religion. He was criticised at the time – and has been criticised since – for his very conservative views on what might today be called ‘law and order’ issues; he opposed the formation of trade unions and upheld some very oppressive pieces of government legislation. He was not a supporter of women’s rights and initially was against Catholic emancipation. However, it may be said that he did strongly favour improvement of some working conditions, for example for chimney sweeps and textile workers, and sought to restrict capital punishment.
In his private life, Wilberforce gave many thousands of pounds to charity. His zeal for the spread of the Christian faith embraced a number of initiatives, including his being a founder member of the Church Missionary (later Mission) Society.
This editorial is one in a series of occasional reflections on figures in Church history, following a chronological sequence as they appear.
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Letters to the Editor
Stephen Neill – Apology
I AM writing in response to comments made in ‘Letters to the Editor’ (Gazette, 2nd December) and specifically those made by Richard Balmer and Robert Stinson.
Both men took exception to comments in my column of 18th November regarding Brexit, in which I described it as “a symptom of the very same malaise which has brought Donald J. Trump to the presidency”.
I further commented that: “It too was rooted in fear and division, suspicion of the stranger, the foreigner and those who are different from us”.
While I would still hold that the above were factors in Brexit and the election of Trump, I do, on rereading my column, acknowledge that it was unfair in that it suggested that these were the only motives for voting for Brexit and that I effectively tarred all those who voted in this way with the same brush.
This was, of course, inaccurate and I am happy to apologise unreservedly for what was a sweeping statement.
I am sorry, too, that Richard Balmer finds me “self- righteous” and frankly very unhappy that Robert Stinson feels that I make those who disagree with me out to be “bigots”. That is certainly not my intention.
However, writing columns on a regular basis is hazardous and one of the widely acknowledged hazards is that the columnist can develop a certain arrogance and hubris. Behind that is the basic assumption that what the columnist is writing is something the reader will want to read but it is only a small step from that to the assumption that the reader ‘needs’ to read what the columnist is writing.
I may well have crossed that line on occasion and welcome such criticism and certainly do not consider those who criticise me to be “bigots”.
Stephen Neill (The Revd) Celbridge, Co. Kildare
I HAVE previously indicated that the first I heard of the O’Brien case was when Kerry Lawless approached me in 2004. However, I now know that this was incorrect.
The then Cathedral administrator, Dr Kerry Houston, tells me that he informed me immediately after my Installation in 1999.
I then at once removed O’Brien from the list of volunteers.
Dr Houston had previously contacted my predecessor, Dean Stewart, about the matter but Dean Stewart did nothing. Robert McCarthy (The Very Revd)
Clonmel Co. Tipperary.
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