Discussion of Abortion
ARCHIVE DIOCESAN CONFERENCE Discussion of ABORTION The Very Rev A.C. Bridge
Address and discussion given at a Diocesan Conference by the Very Rev A.C.Bridge following a Lecture at Guildford Cathedral on the subject of ABORTION by the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Professor Peter Huntingford.
I am grateful to Mr H…. for stating so openly his objections to my invitation to Professor Huntingford to give an address in the Cathedral. If the time ever comes when disagreements between Christians cannot be openly aired and discussed, things will be in a very poor way indeed. I am also grateful to him for being so courteous as to let the Bishop - and thus indirectly me too - know of his intention. I wish only that someone who was present on the occasion of Professor Huntingford’s visit and who felt similar objections would have taken the opportunity to raise them at the time.
The opportunity was specially provided; and indeed, during question time after his address I begged people to get up and voice their disagreement. No one - alas - did so. I received one letter of protest after the event, about two letters of similar protest appeared in the local press and that was all, all, that is to say, on the protest side. I received a number of letters of gratitude and thanks. So, as I say, I am grateful to Mr H. for making no bones about raising the objection publicly. That is the right way of raising objections. I hope that he will take it as a reciprocal courtesy on my part, when I say, as publicly as he does, that I disagree with his objection to my invitation to Professor Huntingford to speak on abortion in the Cathedral, and that I am unrepentant for having invited him; even if, as is certainly true I am sorry that his visit to the Cathedral caused Mr II. and others distress.
Shold I have asked a non-Christian to speak in the Cathedral? Not if I had asked him to preach atheism there; unchallenged and un-cross-examined atheism. But I did no such thing, any more than the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral or Southwark Cathedral who had both had Professor Huntingford before he came to Guildford had done so. On the contrary, I asked him to come and talk about a specific problem: abortion; and I did so for several reasons.
- I happened to know that he was deeply exercised and worried by it - unlike, as I suspect, some other members of the medical profession. 2. I could think of no one better qualified than a Professor of Gynaecology as well as a practising gynaecologist to speak from first hand experience and 3. I know him to be a man having to cope daily and increasingly with the moral problems involved in the whole business of legalised abortion; problems of life and death, compassion and principle, actual people sometimes apparently over against personal moral conviction. It seems to me - still so seems - therefore that he was the ideal person to put the moral issue involved in abortion before, so to speak, a Christian jury for their better information.
He did so, as it seemed to me and I know to very many others, with modesty, and compassion, and deep thoughtfulness. I did not agree with everything he said, and I said so at the time, though I greatly respected what he said. Others may well have disagreed, too, with some of the things he said; but they did not - alas! - say so, even though they had the chance to do so. But whether I agreed or disagreed with w hat he said - and with great respect, whether Mr H. and others agreed or disagreed with what they were Loki that he said - is not the point. I very often disagree with what I hear said in the Cathedral and, indeed, in other churches. The point is, should he have been allowed to say it? I believe he should, or I would not have invited him. During his charge to me at my installation, the Bishop said - and I quote him - that the “Cathedral has become the place and source of ….. .intelleetual research and conference. It should prove itself further in this way.”
In my own installation sermon, written before I had heard the Bishop’s words, I too said that and I quote - “We must encourage as much freedom of enquiry, summon up as much intellectual integrity, and go about our business with as much flexibility of mind in the Cathedral as our new neighbours will show in the University next door” in the pursuit of their studies. I stand by that. But how am I to encourage that kind of thing if I am to ban from the Cathedral all those with whom we, as Churchmen, are not in total and prior agreement? What would be the good of saying “Let us consider the morals of abortion” if we know the answers anyway in advance, and if we allow no one to address us on the subject who does not agree with us in every detail? If you reply - By all means have disagreement, but have it with a Christian, and not a non-Christian, I can only ask you if a single one of you dare say that in the past non-Christians have not again and again taught Christians lesson after lesson in compassion, sympathy and charity - let alone open-mindedness to the truth? I cannot believe that anyone but the owner of the most tightly closed mind would dare to say that. And I do not intend to make the Cathedral a closed shop for closed minds. There have been times in the past - all too many of them - when the Church has emulated Ezra and Nehemia: when she has, so to speak, built the high walls of Jerusalem in Order to keep all non-Churchmen out, and has initiated periods of religious apartheid and intellectual obstruction when believer and non-believer, like East and West, never shall meet. But this is not my understanding of Christ’s way. He commanded us to love our enemies, not shun them. I don’t see how we can love them if we don’t meet them, listen to them, try to understand them, and learn to respect them: and anyway, in the ease of Peter Huntingford, the very idea of him being an enemy is, to my mind, ludicrous. He may not say “Lord, Lord”, but in his compassion he certainly tries to do the will of God, I believe.
I will finish by saying one more thing, I attended a Conference of all Deans and Provosts - or nearly all of them - in Durham recently. The Bishop of Durham who is - and I say this wishing to give no offence - by far and away the most outstanding scholar on the Bench of Bishops and one of the most outstanding in the whole Church of England, addressed us on the function and job of Cathedrals. They were built, he said, not only as places in which worship was offered and the faith expounded, vastly important as these two things are, but also as places to which men of all kinds and callings: lawyers and administrators, scholars and philosophers, musicians and artists, merchants and traders - brought their daily affairs and their problems to the Church for discussion, help, and enlightenment. Some were very committed Christians, some were not, but all were welcome just because God is not the God of the faithful only but the God of all men. He encouraged us all to try and make our Cathedrals places like that, places, to qote one specific example he gave of the kind of thing he thought totally desirable, places where non-Christian scientists could feel free to come and discuss some moral problems arising out of their science with the Church. Alas! he said, they don’t always feel free to do so. They should. At the time, I felt immensely proud to be Dean of a Cathedral in which, even if there is still a long way to go to reach the Bishop of Durham’s goal, so much of what he advocates is already happening; as much as in any other Cathedral in the country, and much more than in most of them.
The Temple in Jerusalem had a Court of the Gentiles: a place where all nations - not merely Jews - might offer a prayer. Christ condemned the Jews for robbing non-Jews of their rightful place in the house of God. “Is it not written”, he said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But ye have made it a den of robbers.”
I shall do everything in my power not to rob anyone of their right to come to Guildford Cathedral with any serious, moral, intellectual, artistic or religious purpose, both to the greater glory of God, and also to the better understanding of Churchmen and non- Churchmen alike. Our job up there on Stag Hill, I believe, is of one of reconciliation, not division, of bridging gulfs, not widening them. We may not be doing it very well, I daresay we’re not. But Professor Huntingford’s visit to the Cathedral is not an example of our failure to do the job God commands us to do. It is an example of our success.