THE letters to the editor that appear in the Anglican Journal are a representative sample of those received over the weeks leading up to publication. The tenet behind publishing letters to the editor is simply that if people are going to invest the time and energy required to read the newspaper, then they ought to have a voice within its pages. Letters appear as they are written, with some editing so they will conform to Journal style and, sometimes, some cutting of the longer letters in order to accommodate as many correspondents as possible in a limited amount of space.
At a recent meeting, the Information Resources Committee of General Synod (the body that effectively acts as publisher of this newspaper) considered possible answers to the question “Who speaks for the church?” It is a fascinating question, with many possible answers, and the discussion that flowed at IRC after a presentation by Bishop Andrew Hutchison of Montreal, was itself fascinating. As the editor of this newspaper (and a champion of letters to the editor) I was surprised and delighted to hear posited as one possible answer to that question the premise that in a sense, the voice of the church is reflected in the Anglican Journal’s letters page. What an enlightened response! Here, after all, on this page, is a true microcosm of the church: lay, ordained and episcopal voices join in a lovely and frequently discordant song. We hear from the right wing of the church, from the left, from the far-out fringe at both ends, and from the vast middle. Sometimes we get humor and sometimes we get bathos. Sometimes, appalling ignorance and just plain ‘wrongness’ is displayed and at other times, wisdom and insight that makes one gasp.
And yet, how obvious a response. The Anglican Journal is distributed church-wide. If its readership is not, at one level in any event, the voice of the church, then the church itself becomes a voice crying in the wilderness or worse still, an institution that in fact has no voice at all.
The accepted wisdom in receiving letters to the editor is that only a very small number of people who approve of an article strongly can be expected to voice their opinions. Likewise, some, but few among the majority who are ambivalent about an article, or who merely find it interesting, will write the newspaper. Many of the letters we receive from this group seek to add to the story or to offer a correction or another point of view. Most of our letters tend to come from those who are disaffected to a degree that can range from a mild discomfort to hurt to anger – sometimes quite vitriolic anger.
We attempt to select a representative sampling of letters, both from the groups mentioned above, and to cover the range of topics that, in any given month, have evoked the most, strongest or most interesting responses. Sometimes, responses keep coming in for much longer than most readers can be expected to recall what they refer to, and sometimes, though rarely, an arbitrary halt to the discussion is imposed by the editor for that reason.
It is in this context that readers of this newspaper are invited to ponder the letters that appear on the page that follows.
The statement on Israel and Palestine made in April by the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, and published first on General Synod’s Web site and, last month, in the Anglican Journal, has evoked a response that is rare – certainly for the number of letters received – but also for the tone of them. Letters to the Journal, in fact, started coming in before the newspaper was even published, in response to coverage of the statement on the Web.
Archbishop Peers’ statement cannot, whatever else is said about it, be described as light in content.
Turn now, to the page that follows. The authors of these letters, and of many more that were not published, express views in the strongest terms. There is an anomaly in the normal way in which the Journal selects letters to the editor this month, in that the following letters are not entirely representative of those received.
The ones you will read are publishable. Many, although not all of those that are not published, contained attacks on the Anglican church and on the primate, both in his office and personally, that are both appalling and sad. A small number of letters the Journal received were libelous, and an even smaller number transgressed in words or tone the standards that would make them acceptable for publication. That topics surrounding the Middle East are volatile is axiomatic. That the primate’s statement and point of view, controversial but tenable, should evoke this kind of response should make at least some of our writers pause and reflect on what it means to be a Christian and on how Christians respond to those with whom they disagree.
This, nonetheless, is the voice of the church as reflected in the Letters to the Editor of the Anglican Journal this month. The concept of letters to the editor being a voice of the church is beautiful for its egalitarianism, its democracy, its grassroots reachings through the oftentimes Byzantine complexities of church bureaucracy to find and touch the heart of what really matters. And then the primate speaks on the Middle East, and the voice of the church assumes another tone that gives one pause for deep reflection and for sorrow.
Our correspondents are entitled to sing their discordant song, indeed heartily encouraged to do so. Christianity and its primary virtues are their own song. But when so many are so out of tune, the result can seem uncomfortably more like a kind of evil thing passing by than like a response with the charm of dissonance.