“The Synod navel-gazes while the nation burns”
From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, — Reading your General Synod report (12 July) leaves me close to despair. While England is in a state of social, political, and moral disintegration, crying out for healing and reconciliation, our still would-be National Church seems very largely occupied with its own affairs and its own guilt. Oblivious to the mortal dangers, we are busy doing repairs on our leaky vessel, as Britain runs on to the rocks, come Hallowe’en.
Allow me an interpolation from the year of my birth, in a small middle-class German town, in 1931. I know history never quite repeats itself, but the analogies are frightening. The mainly middle-class citizenry felt insecure, disillusioned with self-seeking party politicians at war with each other, and drawn towards a charismatic power-hungry unconventional leader, promising them whatever they wanted to hear.
In my region, his Brown Shirts were easily elected (think the Brexit Party) by those on right and left and by most churchgoers (the promised new order, a godsend), just as I was born. Two years later, Hitler took absolute power. Dissenters were traitors, (think Daily Mail). Who was to blame for all that was wrong? The Jews, of course, and bankers or Communists (think immigrants or Islam or Brussels).
Brexit is not, as — with some exceptions — our hierarchy leaves us free to think, a matter of personal opinion but a national tragedy. Brazen lies have traduced a small majority of citizens into seeking a divorce from the admittedly imperfect peace project that is the European Union.
To leave should, from the start, have been recognised as an economic, social, political, and not least spiritual disaster. See the rise in hate crimes. “Great Britain First” is a surrender of the values we have claimed to cherish, an open and welcoming society, tolerant of difference, committed to human rights, protecting minorities and cherishing the natural environment that sustains us.
To turn our back on Europe’s soul is to abandon a great part of our own heritage; for everything that is good and bad about Europe is good and bad about us. The self-centred cliques that are in the process of wrecking both of the political parties that have been the mainstay of British tradition is a calamity for which others cannot be blamed.
Last weekend, concerned citizens, alas without a recognisable church component, demonstrated against the imposition of an untrustworthy Prime Minister. The German churches failed to warn in time. Could not the small minority that the Church of England now is, still help to turn the tide?
I was born in 1931 in the small German town of Meiningen, famous for its theatre, much like Stratford-upon-Avon. Its mainly middle-class citizens were deeply disillusioned, tired of the infighting of the political parties. Germany seemed to be in a state of social and moral disintegration, crying out for healing and reconciliation. People were drawn to a charismatic, unconventional power-hungry leader who read their minds and promised what they wanted to hear. I know history never quite repeats itself, but the analogies are frightening.
The single issue was the exceptionalism (Opinion, 29 July), the superiority of the German race. The good, mainly churchgoing citizens easily voted his Brown Shirts onto the regional council (think the Brexit party). Two years later they voted nationally in sufficient numbers to enable Hitler to seize total power. It was all perfectly legal, too late to effectively protest. Dissent was now treason (think the Daily Mail). My father’s parents were Jews. Outcasts now (think our non-Brits), a few years later we had no choice but to flee and my grandmother to take poison. I pray for our PM and hope that I am needlessly crying wolf.
Canon Dr Paul Oestreicher
The Church of England’s ecumenical legacy in Europe is being airbrushed out of history by the totalitarian mindset of Brexiteers.Dr Dorothea Greiner, German Bishop of Bayreuth and Chichester Cathedral’s Canon of Honour, is determined that legacy is not side-lined within the Diocese of Chichester and beyond.The next Coburg Conference will be taking place in the Cathedral City this October, and the European delegates – including the Cathedral Chapter – will focus on the ecumenical vision of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and wartime Bishop of Chichester George Bell, in the light of today’s political situation.Richard W. SymondsThe Bell Society