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With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Gold RingsFresh from his trip to Africa to persuade Johnny Foreigner to be a bit less nasty to those awful gays, Justin Welby’s been hard at work demonstrating exactly how it should be done, issuing a “pastoral letter” which combines woolly “oh, it’s all so complicated” blather with incongruously bald, dogmatic statements that marriage is our special word, not for the likes of you, all backed up with some staggeringly backward views from the House of Bishops.

We all know that the church doesn’t easily shift its position, but it’s notable how often this statement – even more conservative than the ridiculous Pilling Report – supports its arguments with variations on “we’ve always done it this way”, including frequent reference to current Canon Law and multiple appeals to the Book of Common Prayer, a document that dates back over 350 years. Reconsidering your position: You’re doing it wrong!

The church’s position has been messy for a long time, riddled with fudges and contradictions, but this takes it to a new level. The church “should not exclude” gay married couples or enquire about their sex lives, and it is recognised that those marriages can embody crucial social virtues, but there will be no formal liturgy to affirm those acknowledged virtues, and any informal prayer must be accompanied by “pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” – how welcoming!

WeddingIf you think that’s bad, the clergy’s situation will make your head spin. They can be civilly partnered, but only if they remain celibate. However, they can’t enter a same-sex marriage whatever they get up to in bed, because that would be “at variance with the teaching of the Church of England” on account of using their copyrighted word. Clergy can freely disagree with that teaching in good conscience, because the church is a broad one, but may not live in accordance with that conscience. Makes sense.

The church is very good at saying that everyone is loved by God, and how bad homophobia is, as it does again here, but actions speak louder than words. When considered alongside their actions, the message is rather less friendly. “Homosexual persons… are loved by God” – yes, God even loves them! Condemning “irrational fear of homosexuals” – we prefer rational hatred, discrimination and marginalisation.

It seems incredible, but in the time since I had enough of being associated with this ridiculous bigotry, the church seems to have started talking a better game while acting even worse. A few more years of this, and the CofE will be a reactionary rump, left behind by the rest of society.

Images courtesy of ollycb and costi, used with permission

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Who’s your ugly friend, Justin?

Justin WelbyI used to think that it was just a student cliché to go on the pull with an ugly friend to make yourself seem more attractive in comparison. But it seems that Justin Welby’s pulling the same trick on behalf of the Church of England, during his tour of Africa, standing next to outrageous homophobes to invite flattering comparisons.

Let’s be clear – despite occasional flashes of self-awareness and a few woolly compromises, the CofE is no friend to gay people. Even last year’s Pilling Report, the latest in a long history of attempts to restate the church’s position on sexuality in more palatable terms, makes that starkly obvious. More on that another time, perhaps. But despite that, they end up looking like the rational, tolerant ones. Read More…

Welby’s self-awareness is too little, too late

Gold RingsOn Wednesday, Justin Welby “came out” in his own way. And what a very strange and inconsistent way it was. Speaking to the Evangelical Alliance, a group with little sympathy for gay rights even if evangelical laity are now pretty much evenly split on the issue, the Archbishop accepted that his opposition to the new same-sex legislation was alienating the church from the younger generation, who see it as “wicked”. He could have chosen a less ambiguous word in the context, but the overall message was clear.

Later, Welby went on to explain that the old man who lives in the Vatican turns out to be a Catholic, and that bears continue to shun modern flushing toilet facilities which fundamentally redefine the act, preferring the traditional, divinely approved form of a bush in the woods. Read More…

The church speaks about moral issues

MicrophoneThe Church of England has been wading into all sorts of issues recently that seem to be a little outside what might be considered their area of expertise. I’ve been puzzled by that, and I’m very privileged and deeply honoured to have been granted an interview with George Parr, spokesman for Justin Welby, on the subject of these recent political and moral pronouncements.

NB: This may not actually be true. No guarantee is given that the person I spoke to has anything to do with the Church of England, is called George, or even exists at all. Read More…

How not to persevere: a case study from the Church of England

Wedding RingsThe Church of England has hardly been shy of expressing an opinion on same-sex marriage, having fought against it tooth and nail, describing the very idea as an outrageous imposition which destroys marriage as we know it. But this week, having been soundly defeated in the Lords despite some outspoken criticisms of the bill, the good old CofE has suddenly started to make rather more accommodating noises.

Obviously, I welcome the fact that the church has belatedly recognised that they’re fighting a losing battle, and that the will of both houses is clearly in favour of the legislation. But if it’s a vital issue of morality and fundamental definitions of terms they believe are Christian ones (as they’ve consistently argued), it would be utterly bizarre to relax your opinion and stop fighting based on a simple matter of popularity. It makes me wonder what Bible they’re reading. Read More…

Why even the non-religious should regret the church’s backwardness

Cricket LordsOnce, many years ago when I was younger and even more stupid, I found myself hoping that an England cricketer would fail. The year was 1995, and Robin Smith, who I quite admired as a middle-order batsman, had been recalled to open the batting against the West Indies. I thought he was being misused, and that the selectors were most likely to realise their mistake if he suffered a series of low scores, so every run he scored was an irritation.

Maybe I was right about the selectors’ mistakes, but I missed the point, as my friends pointed out to me. What I wanted was to see England perform well, but I’d allowed my personal view of how that should be achieved to take over. I’d missed the obvious truth that if Smith did well, that was good for England. My focus was my preferred means, rather than the end.

My mistake there was glaringly, embarrassingly obvious, but a lot of people fall into a very similar error in relation to the church. Read More…

Secularists need to tread carefully on female bishops

When the Church of England’s General Synod vote on permitting female clergy to become bishops fell short of the necessary majority (as discussed ad nauseam in previous posts), a number of people asked why an apparently sexist and discriminatory organisation should hold a privileged place at the heart of our society, even being granted a substantial presence in the House of Lords.

Bishops

Who honestly expects people like this to believe in absolute equality?

That’s a fair question, and a useful way of highlighting the constitutional peculiarities of having an established church, but it would be very easy to take that line of argument too far. There is a campaign at the moment to drum up further support for a petition calling for the removal of the CofE’s presence in the Lords on the basis of the church’s (current) position, in a push towards 100,000 signatures, but I think this is a mistake. Read More…

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