Why the art of writing strongly worded letters to newspapers must not die out

'In this age of instant communication, Christian letter-writing should be seen as an apostolate' (PA)

Christian campaign groups often urge us to write letters to the press or to our MPs, explaining our views on, for example, abortion and euthanasia. How many of us actually sit down to write such a letter? I know I am guilty of thinking, “What’s the point? They are not going to listen anyway.” That is simply defeatism; if you don’t try, you will never know if you have made an effect or not.

These thoughts were going through my mind when I received an email from a friend, urging me and other like-minded people not to give up, however dispiriting our efforts seem to be. She cites the example of a man in America who has written to President Obama on pro-life issues every day of his presidency. This sounds a bit over the top – but why should I think so? If you believe certain widely held views or legislation are wrong, shouldn’t you point this out? My friend quotes this determined man as commenting, “Do not send me stamps to help me. Write your own letter, no matter how short, how ungrammatical, how foolish it sounds; quote other people if you like, but above all, WRITE. Somebody has to read them – you may convert that person and so it will spread.”

That gave me food for thought as well as prodding my conscience – especially as my friend then cited the case of that great pro-life champion, Alison Davis, who once received a Christmas card from a woman in the letters department of The Times, saying she had been converted to a pro-life point of view because of reading Alison’s letters – none of which had ever been printed. So they certainly had an effect on someone. It made me realise that the point of letter-writing is not so much to get into print, pleasing though that is; it is simply to explain, as briefly, clearly and courteously as possible, why you take such a position on an ethical question – and then leave it in the hands of God. In this age of instant communication, Christian letter-writing (or emailing, twittering, posting on Facebook or whatever) should be seen as an apostolate.

No-one understands this better than Ann Farmer of Woodford Green, Essex, whose short, pithy letters are often published in the press. They are hard-hitting, relevant and always make a point worth reflecting on. In a recent Letter to the Telegraph she wrote, “Philip Johnston says that David Cameron has been “bold” in his attempt to convert “Britain’s young Muslims” to “British values”, but wonders whether they are “listening” (Telegraph, July 21, 2015).

More to the point, is David Cameron listening? His “British values” are not shared by the vast majority, and now children expressing dissent from same-sex marriage may be scrutinised for extremism. Tim Farron, the new Lib Dem leader, has suffered a McCarthyesque grilling on his Christian views, in case they offend against the sacred tenets of sexual diversity.”

“Mr Johnston is right to identify the influence of the far Left on impressionable young people, leading many to embrace violent revolution – but under the same influence, now all the traditional British values are routinely subjected to the scorn of our not-so-intelligent intelligentsia,” she continued. “The conspiracy-minded Left, exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn, has inadvertently stoked the grievances on which the fire of terrorism feeds. We express horror at the killing of the innocent, but our own culture values abortion in order to preserve the ‘right to sex’. Rather than exhorting the jihadis to stop killing, we imply that they are killing the wrong people.”

We need to keep making such points in the press, or to whoever reads our letters, over and over again. That is the only way to keep the moral dimension of these debates alive. We sigh when we read the phrase “British values” touted about in the press, knowing they have been changed beyond the recognition of our parents’ generation. Take the changed meaning of the word “toleration”: I have just read an excellent article in the Family Education Trust Bulletin for July, by Professor John Haldane of St Andrews University on “The philosophical basis of the family”, in which he writes, “The word toleration has been reinterpreted. Toleration is the primary virtue in the context of disagreement or difference. It allows us to live with people with whom we disagree. But in recent years, toleration has shifted to become approbation and approbation has shifted to become celebration. Intolerance is now defined as refusing to celebrate something with which you disagree. It is a corruption of language. If we corrupt our language we corrupt our thought…”

That states in a nutshell why we must continue to write letters to the newspapers.