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.
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.