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Should a hymn writer’s scandals warrant the banning of a hymn?

Should a hymn writer’s scandals warrant the banning of a hymn?

In a guest post on the blog Law & Religion UK, 27 October 2015, Michael Ainsworth raises the question over whether the Church should continue to use hymns when their writers have been discovered to have created scandals or committed crimes:

The Diocese of Chichester’s settlement to an unnamed child abuse victim, over 60 years ago, of Bishop George Bell raises the question not only of whether he should retain his place in the Anglican calendar on 3 October – which the Church of England Liturgical Commission has ‘parked’ for future consideration, meanwhile pointing out that this is an optional commemoration which no-one is obliged to keep – but more immediately, whether we should sing his hymn Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice, which many churches will have chosen for Christ the King Sunday as well as for other occasions.

Ainsworth looks at the grey areas of the specific case:

The hymn is fine, and much-loved – as was George Bell himself, until (and even now perhaps despite) these revelations: politically he was progressive and courageous, probably forfeiting promotion to Canterbury because of his principled pacifist stance. Peter Hitchens (who has his own agenda) notes in “Shameful slur on a Christian hero” [scroll down] that because no allegations were made until 37 years after Bell’s death no trial was possible or details made public; and while he has no doubt that the C of E has a lot of apologising to do, queries whether George Bell’s reputation is being too readily sacrificed to save the skin of the Church of England today.

as well as exploring the history of hymn writing and revising in the past based on questions of doctrine, theology, language, politics or parish personality.

Ainsworth’s conclusion:

So to conclude these discursive ramblings: I suggest that the main reason for not singing hymns is the text rather than the author. The same is true of liturgical texts and prayers, and indeed of those who lead worship, as Article XXVI, Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament, shows – while making clear that in the latter case discipline should take its course:

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and, Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in the receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally being found guilty, by just judgement be

What do you think?





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Please follow the comment policy of posting with your first & last names for all future posts. – editor

George Bell was never charged , trialed or convicted of anything and must be regarded as an innocent man and no amount of persons in or out of authority saying he is guilty changes that. Whether they like it or not Britain has a system of law that declares a man is innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law after being judged by his peers.
Whatever financial arrangement the The Diocese of Chichester may make with a claimant is their business but the Diocese’s decision to declare Bell guilty (on so-called secret evidence) should outrage every decent person particularly as they have appropriated the power to decide innocence & guilt. Talk about a slippery slope, it gets worse by the year.

Anne Bay

If we start banning music from musicians with a “past” , there is going to be a lot less of beautiful and great music!! As a classically trained pianist, former church organist, and a lifelong student of liturgical music, I think it’s safe to say musicians all have different backgrounds and life history. One of my favourite composers, musicians, and interesting people is Mozart. Suffice it to say, he had a rough life and unfortunately didn’t have the advantage of getting in rehab for his horrendous drug and alcohol problems, and died all too soon. In spite of all his problems, he wrote music that is truly great. Music should stand on its own for its quality and well-written composition. And also as a true fan of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Eddie Mercury, Steven Tyler, and a whole group of Japanese rock groups-X Japan, Luna Sea, Dir En Grey, and on, to start taking a personal background check, I’m sure would be “easy pickins” to not honor their place in the music world.

David Streever

I would ask:
Does the hymn offer something wholesome and sacred, irrelevant of the author? Or, does it cause real harm and further abuse?

If the answers are “yes and no”, I would look at the Historical Documents in the back of the BCP (XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments), and consider this hymn to be akin to a sacrament, and the unworthiness of the writer to be akin to the unworthiness of a minister; just because the hymn writer was unworthy, does not make the hymn unworthy. (Or, Ainsworth’s conclusion)

Paul Woodrum

Not intended to be dismissive but to ask why each generation picks, chooses and ranks sexual purity codes so differently. Adultery, fornication and divorce seem to have fallen to one star sins while age differential, set by state legislatures between 16 and 18 as the age of consent, now gets a near obsessive five star sin rank. It’s also to raise the question of context. Should the departed be judged by the standards of their age or of ours?

JC Fisher

FWIW, I’m not familiar w/ the hymn.

Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism was *disgusting*, yet we still sing Ein feste Burg/”A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. If this hymn is worthy, neither should its author disqualify it either.

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