Liar, liar, mitre on fire!

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.

Archbishop of York

Archbishop John Sentamu (Photo credit: York Minster)

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.


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

2 responses to “Liar, liar, mitre on fire!”

  1. malcolm macnaughton says :

    Contributors to this blog have been misled. The claims made by Professor McLean disregard the behaviour of the Lords Spiritual at the decisive final Lords vote on the Civil Partnerships Bill. The record clearly indicates support from the bishops for the legislation.

    The voting to which Professor McLean refers relates to six bishops’ support for Baroness O Cathain’s amendment at the Report Stage. They agreed with her at that stage that the provision of Civil Partnerships should be available to siblings and cohabiting mixed sex couples. The then Bishop of Worcester voted against this amendment, which was passed in the Lords but then overturned in the Commons.

    When the bill returned to the Lords on 17th Nov. 2004 Baroness O’Cathain attempted once again to broaden the provision by a further amendment, but this time bishops voted eight to two in favour of the legislation as it stood. A clear majority expressed their support for the bill introducing Civil Partnerships for same sex couples. It is to this decisive vote in support of the Bill that the Archbishop of York referred in his Telegraph interview and recent Guardian article. To read the debate please click the link below. (scroll down for vote record

  2. Derick says :

    It’s an awesome piece of writing for all the internet viewers; they will take benefit from it I am sure.

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