I always sit up and take notice when Lord Carey speaks. Admittedly, that’s because I expect him to say something I’ll want to be incredibly rude about, but I imagine he’d be pleased that he’s not being completely ignored.
His latest intervention is no exception to that rule, although his spat with David Cameron at least manages to be entertaining. The sight of the two of them blaming each other for a rising tide of secularism based on their own peculiar definitions of what secularism actually means is like two bald men fighting over a comb that doesn’t even exist.
My first instinct was to write about Carey’s belief that he’s being persecuted, but I think the people at Newsthump have dealt with that pretty effectively. Then I thought about obliterating Carey’s description of “aggressive secularism”, a concept on a par with militant fairness or angry non-discrimination, and possibly inspired by Chomsky’s nonsense sentence “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”, but Dean Burnett did it better than I could have done.
Where I think I can add something new is on his claim that two thirds of Christians feel marginalised. This claim is based on a survey commissioned by our old friends, Coalition for Marriage (C4M). That naturally raises suspicions in my mind, but isn’t sufficient reason on its own to dismiss the findings, even though previous surveys give similar results, suggesting that this isn’t a result of recent equality legislation, as is implied.
That these Christians feel marginalised doesn’t mean their perception is accurate (it could just mean they read the Mail or Telegraph), but it’s a statistic that deserves some attention. The first point to notice is that the survey sampled practising Christians. That’s an obvious approach, but it raises questions in my mind.
The church have previously been keen to emphasise their open tent, with anyone who claims the remotest degree of faith in anything hailed as further evidence that their views should be treated with due respect. We represent 59% of the country, listen to us! They’ve even objected to efforts to find out what Census Christians really believe, arguing that a self-identified label should be good enough for anyone.
So where are all those Christians in this survey? 59% of the UK’s 60m inhabitants would be 35.4mChristians, but practising Christians is a much narrower definition. Clear numbers for this are hard to come by, but even based on an old Tearfund report which probably overestimates adherence compared to the current position and using the generous estimate of attending church once a month to count as practising, that would amount to 15% of the population, or 9m.
Some reports put the figure much lower, with statistics of 6% regular church attendance and 7% considering themselves “practising Christians”. This last figure is probably the most significant, given the aim of the survey, but even assuming the most generous interpretation, somewhere along the way, Lord Carey has lost the best part of 30m Christians.
The reasons for this sudden disappearance are obvious, but they deserve to be spelt out and emphasised. Carey and C4M believe they have the right to dictate how the country should be run because (they say) they represent a significant body of opinion, but when the chips are down, they retreat to the safety of a tiny rump of true believers, point out that this rump objects to progress, and claim to be a persecuted minority. It’s simply dishonest.
Ironically, the results of this survey, which broadly show that respondents feel their beliefs should be treated with more respect, are likely to be a direct result of the cherry-picking propaganda of the likes of Carey. If Christians had a true impression of the number of people who shared their precise opinions, maybe they wouldn’t expect public policy to be dictated by the views of their own small fraction of the country.
1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
2. The practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc., contrary to one’s real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue and piety
Keith O’Brien, everyone’s favourite recently retired Scottish ex-cardinal, has issued a statement relating to the accusations made against him by four young priests, dating back many years. He admits to general failings, remaining uncommunicative on the specific allegations. While the statement is carefully worded, I think we can take that as an admission to the essence of the claims, if not the details. In his own words:
[T]here have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.
The reaction to this statement has been unsurprising. Ahead of the expected avalanche of comment, journalist and broadcaster Iain Maciver was quick to air what’s likely to be a common opinion, with a fairly pithy summary of his views:
This is proof, yet again, that the very worst religion-inspired homophobia comes from absolute hypocrites.
O’Brien would appear to be at the very least opportunistically homosexual, acting in ways that exploited his position of power in a highly dubious fashion. And he spoke out in colourful terms against gay people and any suggestion of gay rights. Add those together, and it’s easy to conclude that he’s a hypocrite, right?
Well, actually, that’s where it gets complicated. We know nothing about his private opinions, which makes it surprisingly difficult to pin this charge on him. We know that his behaviour has not always been in line with the doctrine he espoused from the pulpit, but this doesn’t mean that he didn’t genuinely believe in what he said. As Samuel Johnson argued in Rambler 14:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.
It’s possible to hold and profess beliefs that you yourself struggle to live by, without being a hypocrite. I believe that people should be patient and considerate towards each other, and generally not be jerks, but I can’t claim that I always manage to live by that ideal. I don’t think that makes me a hypocrite, but then, I don’t campaign to have impatient people disadvantaged and condemned by society.
O’Brien’s meddling in the political process certainly makes the picture more complicated, but I’m not aware that he’s ever campaigned for a position that would have caused him problems in the past, such as legal penalties for homosexual acts. His condemnation of gay sex is extreme, but while his manner falls short of what might be considered sensitive and pastoral, it may also be a genuine reflection of his views, despite (or even because of) his own personal weakness.
This probably looks like a desperate defence, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As my history shows, I have no love for O’Brien or his views, and if you want to call him a hypocrite you’re welcome to do so, but to me, the charge looks arguable at best on the available evidence, and makes the debate personal while letting both him and church off the hook.
If he’s a hypocrite on this evidence, so are just about all of us, but few of us have abused and exploited our positions for sexual gain, which makes hypocrisy pale in comparison. More importantly, the church as a whole is unrivalled for bigotry and heavy tax-exempt lobbying against basic civil equality legislation, and I think they’re more important than throwing names at an old, retired and disgraced man, however accurate they might be.
O’Brien is gone, but like Breech in The Outer Limits, another will take his place, and if you’re expecting to see any significant change in tone, you’ll be disappointed. The church’s teaching isn’t about to move a single inch, and you don’t become a cardinal without knowing how to toe the line. So why focus on the personal failings of one man, when the rest of the edifice (including a disciplinary system that warns whistleblowers they’ll damage the church) will stay rock solid?
The problem is still the church, and if that’s going to change, it’s the unwarranted influence of sectarian interests in public life that needs to be challenged, not one man’s failings. It may even be that Keith O’Brien was screwed up by the church’s teachings just as much as anyone else. Despite his position, and without diminishing the impact of the bad things he did, he can still be a victim.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien isn’t exactly one of my favourite religious thinkers, so it was a pleasant surprise yesterday to discover that he is capable of independent thought. I thought his statement that Catholic priests should be allowed to marry was a welcome burst of common sense, even if it was hedged about with caveats.
But the more I thought about what he said, the more irritated I became.
An obvious objection to his view is that he claims the church’s positions on certain issues (such as abortion and euthanasia) are “basic dogmatic beliefs” of “divine origin”. Even when advocating change, he’s bolstering the church’s right to interfere with civil legislation based on nothing more than “because we say so”.
There’s also the fact that he claims it’s fine for priests to marry because Jesus didn’t say they couldn’t. In fact, Jesus isn’t recorded as approving of the existence of priests in any way, and nor did he have anything to say about the topics of abortion, euthanasia or O’Brien’s current favourite hobby horse, same-sex marriage.
(How would that have gone? “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage, unless they have the wrong dangly bits”, possibly. Or maybe at the wedding at Cana, Jesus would have refused to turn water into wine until he’d checked that the happy couple were definitely of opposite sexes. But I digress.)
It’s clear that O’Brien’s own arguments show him to be woefully inconsistent, entertaining the idea of dropping one belief based on a particular reason, but clinging resolutely to other beliefs even though exactly the same reasoning could be applied to call them into question. But that still isn’t what’s really got under my skin.
What annoys me most about this is the effect of these beliefs, and how they’re targeted. However bizarre enforced priestly celibacy might seem, no one’s forced to become a priest – it’s a choice people make knowing what it entails. On the other hand, same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia are all issues on which the Roman Catholic Church believes it has the right to tell everyone what to do, aggressively campaigning to align the state’s position with their own.
So despite the identical outcome of the Cardinal’s own argument, the only one of these issues he thinks warrants a second glance is the one which affects a small group of priests like him, and he positively endorses the status quo in the others, expecting people to be compelled to act in line with his views whatever their own moral or religious beliefs. I’m struggling to find a generous interpretation of these facts.
Unfortunately, I suspect this inconsistency is a product of personal influences. A Cardinal will know and speak to many priests, and will sympathise and identify with them and their struggles even if he himself has little interest in marrying. The other acts are all committed by “the other”, people who can easily be dismissed as sinners without further engagement, perpetuating the same pattern of thought that first created the doctrine.
And so the pattern continues. I say I’m annoyed, but maybe saddened would be a better word.
Ever get the feeling you can’t win?
In the latest episode in the long-running saga of same-sex marriage, the government have published their proposed legislation, and a particular section has attracted a huge amount of attention. Religious bodies will be permitted to act as they wish, with two exceptions: the Church of England (CofE) and the Church in Wales (CinW) will be specifically banned from conducting same-sex marriages.
The immediate reaction to this peculiar clause has been interesting. Some have called it ridiculous, some have complained that it restricts religious freedoms, and some have even seen it as revenge for the CofE’s rejection of female bishops a few weeks ago. No conspiracy has been left unvoiced, but the reality is a little more complicated than it appears.
The position of the CofE as the established church (and to a large extent the CinW as a historic offshoot of the CofE) is constitutionally quite complicated. The state and the church are intertwined, and that throws up some oddities, the most important being that their clergy are entitled to register marriages on their own, while other religions and denominations perform services under licence. That may appear to be an administrative detail, but it has significant consequences.
In most cases, a minister of religion could refuse to marry a couple on grounds of conscience without a fuss. They could still be married by the state, and all this would have no more practical impact on the couple than if they were denied communion. But the CofE and CinW act as agents of the state in performing both religious and civil functions. If they were to say no to a couple, the freedom of religion would be tangled up with the civil function, and that’s where the problems come in.
One of the fears that was raised in the consultation process was that once same-sex marriage was legal, it would be possible to take legal action against the church if they refused to marry a couple, especially if they would have gone ahead had the couple been a man and a woman. That wouldn’t stand a chance in most cases, as religious freedom would win out, but where the claimed discrimination was on behalf of the state, it’s conceivable that the courts would have upheld the case. Explicitly banning the church from carrying out such an act protects them from that risk.
Nor is the ban likely to be permanent. In the event that the churches decide that they wish to permit same-sex marriage, it would be as simple as striking out a clause in the legislation in recognition of the decision taken by General Synod. And given the church’s recent behaviour, that could easily be arranged by the time they catch up in a couple of centuries.
This proposal ensures that in line with the wishes of the CofE and CinW, they can’t be forced to conduct marriages against their will, so you’d think that everyone would be happy. But you’d be wrong. Some supporters of same-sex marriage are unhappy that too much ground is being conceded, even though the CofE and CinW have no intention of marrying same-sex couples anyway, and forcing them to do so would enter very dangerous territory. And opponents are unhappy because… actually, I’m not sure why.
As far as I can see, all the genuine fears and concerns that were raised by religious groups have been addressed, religious freedoms have been protected, and anyone opposing same-sex marriage shouldn’t be bothered at being told not to do something they didn’t want to do anyway.
I suppose you just can’t please some people.
No one likes to be called a bigot. Lord Carey certainly doesn’t, and nor would I. It’s an uncomfortable judgement on someone’s impartiality and openness to persuasion. Above all, it suggests that they’re not just interested in holding or opposing a position, but actual hatred of a group. Unfortunately, it’s often an accurate description.
The problem, as I see it, is that there’s a tendency for both the people who use the word and their targets to view it as a boo-word, rather than a factual description or something to be considered and corrected. So it’s time for a confession – I used to be a bigot.
I didn’t mean to be, and I didn’t think I was, but there’s no denying it. I was a bigot.
Say it yourself – that’s what the word’s for. Shout it at me. Bigot!
Once upon a time – it feels like a lifetime ago, but it was more like 15 years – I became a young, enthusiastic and frankly naive evangelical at university. I’d never given gay rights much thought, but if I’m honest, I found the idea of gay sex a little unsettling, a result of my same-sex education and straight orientation.
So when I got involved with a Christian Union that told me gay sex was a sin, I had no difficulty in accepting that. And to my shame, I shared that view loud and long. I didn’t go out of my way to tell anyone of my views, but nor did I do anything to conceal them. The best I can say is that I tried to sugar-coat it.
I wish that made it better. Unfortunately, I think it makes me more guilty. The fact that I was trying to sweeten the pill clearly shows that I knew there was something very wrong about what I was saying. At the very least, I knew it wasn’t a view that was generally acceptable. I knew it sounded unpleasant and judgemental – and looking back, I realise that’s because it was – but I continued to say it because my beliefs mattered more to me than the people I was hurting.
One of the most ironic aspects of those years is that I knew more gay people then than at any time before or since, and they accepted me as a friend, even though they knew I politely considered them to be perverted sinners. Above all, I remember my inability to understand why they might feel offended by what I was saying.
I tried to “hate the sin, love the sinner“. It’s not just a cliche, I really did, and I said so. And if I told them I thought they were sinning, so what? We’re all sinners, so what’s the big deal? I even once compared homosexuality to murder to demonstrate that God could forgive anything. Really! I just didn’t get it.
Looking back, the one moment that sticks in my mind more than anything else is when one of these long-suffering friends described me, with a smile, as the friendly face of bigotry. I laughed. I was used to religion being an object of derision, and I’d learnt to shrug off critical comments and treat them as part of the game. But this sticks with me. It may have come with a smile, but that comment was uncomfortably close to the truth.
Just take a look at what I was doing. I was lecturing to people, given the least opportunity, about what they did in the privacy of their bedrooms. I didn’t do that for everyone – it was a special service for the same-sex attracted. I really thought I was helping, and it made perfect sense to me at the time, but there’s no doubt that I was a bigot.
Maybe I still am a bigot. I’m sure I have plenty of beliefs that I haven’t examined recently or thoroughly enough to be confident that I’m not simply knee-jerking my way into hating an out-group. If that’s the case, I want to know, so that I can change it. What I don’t want is for people to feel unable to point out my bigotry or to politely ignore it.
Maybe that’s what separates me from Lord Carey.
Photo by Trinidad-News.com, used under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0
Have a guess.
Barely a day seems to go by without another unpleasant and disingenuous attempt to deny same-sex couples the same right to have their relationship recognised as is enjoyed by heterosexuals. I usually think it’s best not to dignify them with a response, but the Torygraph’s latest report that teachers could be forced to promote gay marriage or face the sack caught my attention.
It seems that the story comes from a legal opinion provided by Aidan O’Neill QC to the Catholic Church in Scotland, having been commissioned by either (depending on the report) the church themselves or our old friends the Coalition for Marriage. This immediately makes me suspicious that it’s rather less than objective, but let’s look at the facts.
First, notice the article’s efforts to paint a picture with creative and rather cunning juxtaposition of unconnected statements. Take this example:
Aidan O’Neill QC has provided the Catholic Church with a legal opinion stating that equality laws mean teachers will be forced to emphasise the validity of same-sex marriages.
Mothers and fathers with “traditional and often religiously-based views” will be “hard pressed” to insist that their offspring are educated in line with their convictions, he said.
The Catholic Church in Scotland, which commissioned the opinion, said it raised the prospect of classrooms being “flooded” with teaching materials promoting gay marriage.
Notice that a mild opinion that teachers would be expected to recognise same-sex marriages as legally valid (because in this hypothetical case, they would be by definition) moves into a superficially similar statement about children being educated in line with parents’ convictions, and is finally topped off with an alarmist prediction with no legal or factual standing, in the form of the opinion of a church representative. The last paragraph obviously stands out, but the first and second are just as unconnected.
By a neat sleight of hand, the report attempts to suggest that children will be indoctrinated with homosexual propaganda (whatever that is), when the reality is far more prosaic. Broken down by paragraph, the quoted passage says that if same-sex marriage is legal, teachers (and I’d hope everyone else) would be expected to accept and acknowledge that fact; that you’re unlikely to get the state to teach everything in accordance with your personal whims; and that all-male institutions are quite capable of being hysterical.
Once you look at what’s being said, rather than what’s being implied and spun, the story’s very different.
Having established that there was a lot of spin but very little substance to the claims, I went looking for O’Neill’s actual opinion. I haven’t found it, and to be fair, the people who commissioned it are free to do what they want with it, but I did find a document which claims to summarise the opinion. Again, the source is somewhat partial, so caution is advisable, especially as it’s only a summary, but I found it quite revealing. On a number of points, the concerns are obviously either baseless or trivial when clearly stated.
The summary suggests that a teacher could be sacked for refusing to use a storybook dealing with gay marriage – quite right too. Use of such a book does not require a teacher to personally approve of every relationship in the book, or the teaching of English Literature would be a farce.
Similarly, the opinion states that parents could not insist on withdrawing their child from lessons on the history of gay marriage – again, why should they? Pacifist parents couldn’t expect to withdraw their child from any history lessons dealing with war (which, in all honesty, would be just about all of them). Interestingly, this section contains a very similar statement to the “hard-pressed” one quoted above.
Foster couples and marriage registrars, we’re told, could both be discriminated against if they oppose gay marriage, which is interesting. I thought they were trying to promote the narrative that both foster couples and registrars already were. The arguments advanced are nonsense for the same reasons as why the Johns and Lilian Ladele weren’t being persecuted.
Most bizarrely, the opinion expresses fears that it will be compulsory to learn about gay marriage in sex education classes. This is not only entirely uncontroversial unless you can’t tell the difference between learning about something and being forced to approve and participate in it, but children can be withdrawn from sex education classes by their parents.
I lack the time and expertise to thoroughly debunk every point. I strongly suspect, for example, that the risk of a church being refused council facilities because of its beliefs would be just as great now as in the hypothetical world where same-sex marriage was legal. And the arguments around the church’s freedom and establishment are fairly complex, but have already been dissected in some detail and found wanting.
This is a good example of news creation – on this evidence, to claim that anyone would be forced to “promote” gay marriage is only remotely plausible if you have no idea what the word means. But campaigners and kneejerk reactionaries have conspired to spin the story in just that way. Only when you carefully examine the facts do the claims melt away.
Don’t be taken in.
Photo by mensatic, used under morgueFile License
I’m not generally the sort of person who goes quietly into the night, but more than that, I care about what the church is doing to gay people. So I wasn’t about to leave without making my point to the church hierarchy. Having already been in discussion with both my vicar and my bishop, I finally went right to the top to express my feelings. I don’t have any real hope that it will change anything, but I feel that it needs to be said, so I’ve said it. Here’s my letter.
To: Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
I write this letter in some sorrow. I was brought up, baptised, confirmed and married in the Church of England, continue to be a member of the church, and have always considered the CofE as a whole to be a reasonable, thoughtful body, even if the broadness of the church meant that some of its individual members could be very wrong. Unfortunately, in the light of the church’s statement on same-sex marriage, I can no longer sustain such a belief, and feel I have no choice but to leave the church.
Let me be absolutely clear that this decision is not down to my disagreement with the church’s position on same-sex marriage, or even the fact that the church statement effectively claimed to speak for me, although both of these have made me very unhappy. What has finally convinced me that I have no place in the church is what seems to me to be a spiteful and disingenuous justification of an attempt by the church’s leadership to use controversial theological views to deny people rights in a civil context.
The claim that permitting same-sex marriage in some way affects existing marriages and the scaremongering with unjustified fears that the church could be compelled to conduct marriages against its will are both very disappointing. Most of all, I was astonished at the misleading claim that the church supported civil partnerships, when in truth, the Lords Spiritual mostly spoke and voted against the bill at the first reading, before a majority eventually supported it at the second time of asking, and the church continues to forbid its clergy from blessing civil partnerships.
I fully accept that my perception is subjective, and may be inaccurate or even unfair – I can’t claim to be infallible. If my perception is correct, I would feel unable in good conscience to remain within the church responsible for the statement. If I’m wrong, however, my alienation from and distrust of the church’s leadership still seems to me to make my continued involvement with the church unhelpful and divisive. For the sake of my conscience and/or the wellbeing of the church, I feel I must leave.
Since the statement came out on 12th June, I have taken some time to consider my position and the issues, to see if there was any revision or challenge to the statement, and to allow my initial emotional reaction to subside, to ensure that my decision was made soberly and carefully. In that vein, I also feel it would be unwise, as well as offering a hostage to fortune, to say that I will never return to the church. What I can say is that my view of the church has been very badly damaged, and I suspect it will be a long time before that changes.
I can understand and agree with certain criticisms of the consultation. I suspect if the statement and response to the consultation had expressed these criticisms moderately, with consideration for the people who wish to marry their partners, and requested assurances about areas of concern rather than asserting that the church’s worst fears would inevitably be realised if civil same-sex marriage were to be permitted, I would have been content to remain within the church. As it is, I cannot understand how these extreme reactions can be necessary or justified when people’s rights are in question.
My parents are divorced and remarried. This puts them outside the definition of marriage given in your statement as “a lifelong union of one man and one woman”, and the sterility of both subsequent marriages also means there was no possibility of procreation. Nevertheless, their current marriages were both blessed and recognised by the church, and continue to be regarded as true marriages, despite the church’s claim that such details disqualify couples from being married.
The church exercised its freedom of conscience in refusing on religious grounds to conduct their perfectly legal remarriages, so they had civil ceremonies. Already, this clearly indicates a meaningful distinction between religious and civil marriage. No one in the church has ever been compelled to marry divorcees against their will, nor has the church ever claimed that their legal remarriage has any effect on existing marriages. Indeed, the church was happy to bless those marriages, something it continues to refuse for the civil partnerships it claims to support.
I say this not to carry on an argument on either divorce or same-sex marriage, but to illustrate why I find the church’s position so disingenuous. I have no desire to see my parents ostracised by the church, but nor do I see why their remarriages are treated more favourably than same-sex relationships, when both fall some way short of your own stated criteria for marriage. The fact that this distinction is made makes it clear that the arguments given do not fully explain the church’s opposition, which consequently looks unpleasant and prejudiced.
I can only hope that this letter will make you aware of the damage your words and actions are doing to the lives of other people, and indeed to the reputation of the church. One day, possibly quite soon, I believe the church will look back at its behaviour on this subject with shame and regret. The longer it is before that happens, the more people will be hurt and the more unpleasant and backward the church will look in the eyes of many people.
Photo by @boetter, used under Attribution License
I’m fuming. Absolutely fuming.
I grew up in the Church of England and I remain a member of the church – well, as much as I’m a member of any church. I know there are plenty of strange and extreme views in the CofE, as a natural consequence of being a very broad church, but despite some high-profile missteps, I always believed that it was a basically sane, reasonable institution. After today’s press release opposing every aspect of the proposals for same-sex marriage, it looks like I’m going to have to revise that view.
It isn’t that I disagree (although I do), and it isn’t that the church is presuming to speak for me (although it pretty much is), it’s that the arguments are so distorted, disingenuous and outright false that it’s hard to believe they’re made in good faith. Worse, this statement on behalf of the church has been made anonymously, with no open consultation or discussion. I can’t even tell who I should be complaining to.
The statement attempts to establish the church’s gay-friendly credentials and head off charges of bigotry by repeating the claim that the church supported civil partnerships. That might be quite persuasive but for the fact that bishops spoke mainly against the legislation in the Lords, before voting 6-1 in favour of a wrecking amendment. That they eventually conceded the inevitable and voted the bill through at the second time of asking against a virtually identical amendment (8-2 this time) doesn’t make it reasonable to describe this as support from the church.
That blatant deceit is already sufficient to get my back up, but then there’s the scaremongering over the prospect of the church being forced to conduct gay marriages against its will (current total of marriages of divorcees the church has been forced to conduct: 0), and the bizarre assertion that same-sex marriage will devalue existing marriages, because it adds a new feature to an existing term. That’s like saying that new brands of car are acceptable, but only as long as they’re known by new brand names, and if they’re known as cars, it would harm existing car-drivers in some way.
And then there are the constant attempts to value “complementarity” in marriage. I feel moved to recommend Rachel Held Evans’ excellent blog at this point, as she’s been covering mutuality in exhaustive depth recently. Complementarians claim to believe in “separate but equal” partnerships, but the practical outworking of that principle always seems to be men in charge, women doing what they’re told. And now the CofE has officially embraced this vile doctrine, in an attempt to prevent basic equality in a different area. Well done, guys.
But what gets my goat above all is the sheer nerve of the attempt to claim ownership of a clear, consistent and unbroken tradition of marriage. Every single part of this claim is wronger than wrong, but the assertion is made nevertheless. This sort of laughable squirming, dissembling and special pleading makes the whole statement into a very bad joke.
The church does have a point on the flaws in the idea of retaining civil partnerships, but only for same-sex couples, and arguably on the sloppy and prejudged way the consultation has been carried out, but the hysterical overreaction has obscured those points. I’d also have a lot more sympathy if the response had simply said that the church was unable to agree on the morality of same-sex partnerships, and was unable to endorse the proposals for that reason. But instead, it resorted to the sort of crude strawmen and scaremongering that I thought were the preserve of Rome.
I’m seriously considering whether I want to have anything to do with an institution that produces such a statement. It’s rather ironic that for all my doubts about the church’s metaphysical claims, my final exit could be prompted by a simple issue of equality and decency.
No sooner had I posted my latest satirical comment on gay marriage than John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, issued another statement on why he opposed same-sex marriage. That statement was full of specious reasoning and special pleading, but I’ve done enough on that subject for the time being. However, he also called attention to a previous interview with the Daily Telegraph, in which he made the following claim (text from transcript on his website):
We supported Civil Partnerships (the bishops in the House of Lords), because we believe that friendships are good for everybody.
It’s insulting and grossly misleading to describe a Civil Partnership as “friendship”, but it’s a powerful response to criticism that he (and the church in general) is simply prejudiced and unwilling to give any ground at all. It gives weight to his argument that this isn’t about rights, but about a particular feature of marriage that he doesn’t think should be changed. You may disagree with him, but his position’s clearly more nuanced than simple knee-jerk opposition. Or at least it would be if it were true.
Iain MacLean has examined Hansard, and discovered that this claim is simply false. He marks the bishops’ contributions to the debate (with a very slight possibility of subjective bias) as 5-3 against Civil Partnerships, but more damningly, the record shows that they voted 6-1 against, supporting an unworkable amendment instead. It should be acknowledged that there are 26 bishops in the House of Lords, but when the majority make no contribution to either debate or vote, there’s simply no justification for claiming them as supporters of the bill. In practice, despite Sentamu’s bold claim, just a single bishop actually supported the legislation.
So Sentamu made an untrue statement. It’s just about conceivable that he made a mistake at the time of the interview, but he’s continued to refer to this interview in his recent carefully-drafted statement. He clearly took great care over his arguments and wording, and pointed to his own transcript of the interview, but has made no correction or clarification of this false claim. All things considered, this looks very much like an outright lie.
In the wider scheme of things, a lie like this isn’t a big deal – people do worse all the time, even when arguing the church’s position. But this is a man who’s considered a strong favourite to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Is this a man you’d like to see as the Primate of All England? Someone whose Bible seems to have been printed with Exodus 20:16 missing?
It’s not as if this is the only concern over Sentamu. He’s pretty much openly campaigned for the job, encouraging friends to make suggestions that racism motivates anyone who prefers another candidate; he’s courted publicity at every turn, appearing in newspapers with astonishing frequency; and his brother is a powerful and controversial “prosperity gospel” preacher in Kampala. Even leaving his actual beliefs aside, this looks like a recipe for disaster. How likely is he to stand up to the Ugandan church when they start throwing their weight around again?
If Sentamu gets the job, it may be the final nail in the Church of England’s coffin.
FAO: North Carolina Amendment 1 Campaign, Coalition for Marriage, Doctors for the Family, and other likeminded groups
Nice work on the campaigning. It’s great to see people really standing up for the traditional, Christian definition of marriage. It’s sad that polygamy and concubinage aren’t a serious prospect at the moment, but I suppose we have to be realistic about picking our battles. On that subject, I’ve noticed a few things that I think you ought to be aware of.
I was shocked to discover recently that the state is performing ceremonies that claim to marry people. There’s no vicar officiating, and religious content is explicitly banned from these perversions of the true nature of marriage. And the final insult is that they give these travesties the oxymoronic name of “civil marriages”, openly mocking our holy institution.
I know that’s bad enough, but there’s worse to come. Some of these so-called “civil marriages” are between divorcees, who (as we know from Jesus Himself) can no more marry each other than a dog and a lamppost. Yet these people are being allowed to get “married” and even to call themselves “husband” and “wife”. Can you believe that?
And I’m afraid the problem even extends to the church. I know of couples who have been “married” in church despite having absolutely no intention of having children, and some outrageous cases where one or even both parties were actually infertile. As we know, children are a vital ingredient of any true marriage, but even the church itself can’t be trusted to uphold this self-evident fact. I trust you will do everything you can to correct this appalling perversion.
However, this is academic unless we can do something about a wider problem: it seems that some partnered gay couples are in the habit of calling themselves “married” in conversation, even though that would be impossible. They actually have the nerve to use our special word for their deviant union! It would be a hollow victory if we succeeded in denying them proper marriage but they insisted on using the word anyway, so I have a suggestion: we need to trademark marriage.
I know this may seem a ridiculous suggestion, but hear me out. If we could register marriage (sorry, Marriage™) as a trademark, we’d finally be able to make sure that it was only used in approved cases. With one simple act, we’d achieve more than any number of campaigns, petitions and demonstrations – we’d finally have absolute control over Marriage™, and no future homo-loving government would be able to take that away from us.
There is a potential PR problem, though. Attempting to assert our ownership of a commonly-used word might look bad, even by the standards of the church, so it may be advisable to offer an olive branch to all those not-really-married but very noisy types. I suggest we could allow them to use our trademark, provided they acknowledge our ownership appropriately. I think the use of quotemarks should be sufficient when using the word in a non-approved context, and maybe an “air quotes” gesture when speaking.
It would be delightful to see all these various sinners and deviants forced to acknowledge their sins in these little ways, every time they refer to their shameful, godless fornication. If we adopt this strategy, I have no doubt that we will make God’s loving word known throughout the world.
Yours in Christ,
Revd George Nutter
Photo by mensatic, used under MorgueFile License