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Why prohibiting a religious act will preserve religious freedom

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. Read More…

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A Horseshoe Theory of Religion

Theological beliefs are very often understood as resting on a liberal-conservative axis. Over here [gestures] are the head-bangers who take everything literally as a strict rule for how we ought to behave, and believe in a personal God, eternal heaven and hell, miracles, and even Adam, Eve and a young Earth. Over there [waves] are the beard-strokers who embrace metaphor, reject supernatural claims, and regard the Bible as just an account of humanity’s attempts to understand the world we live in.

That more or less works, but there are other characteristics of theology that are relevant, one of the most visible being the divide between high and low church. Broadly, this is a distinction between an emphasis on process and ritual on one hand, and a rejection of ostentatious outward forms in favour of inward attitudes on the other. There are lots of different ways of modelling it, and the Church of England’s recent troubles made me wonder if I was looking at it the wrong way. Read More…

Beware simplistic narratives on the CofE’s Synod vote

It’s been a week since the Church of England voted on the draft legislation which would have created female bishops, and in that time, two dominant narratives have emerged. On the one hand, the church (or at least those who voted against the measure) stand accused of backwardness and sexism. On the other, the claim is that this wasn’t a vote against women being bishops so much as a vote against the details of how it was being implemented.

VoteHaving written about it at length, I’d intended to leave this subject well alone, at least for now. But then the details of how people voted were published, and I just had to write a bit more, because the picture painted is a long way from the way it’s being presented by the two sides of the argument. Read More…

Why are the laity so conservative?

This is the last I’m going to write about female bishops for a while, I promise.

I would have thought that the laity in the Church of England would be more liberal and progressive than the clergy and bishops, and I’ve previously posted about how it’s the church hierarchy that perpetuates the same old beliefs, but from Tuesday’s vote on consecrating women as bishops, the opposite seems to be the case. The further up the hierarchy of the church you go, the stronger the support for the draft legislation. That seems totally counterintuitive to me, but it seems the same thing happened over the ordination of women, so what’s going on? Read More…

A bluffer’s guide to the opponents of female bishops and a proposed solution

One of the peculiar aspects of the opposition within the Church of England (CofE) to women becoming bishops is that it comes from two distinct groups with almost nothing in common. In the red corner, there are the conservative evangelicals. They believe (more or less) that the Bible says women shouldn’t have authority over men. In the blue corner, there are the anglo-catholics. Their objection, by contrast, is that women can’t perform the functions of a bishop.

In terms of winning them over and ensuring that these groups won’t scupper any legislation making women bishops, the evangelicals are mostly quite easy to deal with. Give them some sort of alternative line of command that doesn’t include any women, and they’ll be pretty content. It’s an awkward compromise, but it would smooth the path until they came to terms with reality, or at least caught up with the 20th century, never mind the 21st. Read More…

Do the CofE actually hate women?

That’s a pretty extraordinary question to be asking, but honestly, when the church’s General Synod votes to deny women the opportunity to be bishops, even 20 years after finally allowing them to be ordained, it’s also a natural one. There are reasons, though, to question the narrative that paints the church as a bunch of misogynists.

English: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding ...

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, it should be noted that to pass the draft legislation, Synod would have needed a two-thirds majority in each of three “houses” – among bishops, clergy and the laity. The bishops and clergy passed it overwhelmingly, with the bishops voting 44-3 in favour and the clergy voting 148-45. The majority of the laity also voted in favour, but fell just short of the two-thirds required, only winning 132-74. It’s intriguing that the laity appear to be the most conservative, and I wonder if this says something about the sort of people who take enough of an interest to be lay members of General Synod. Read More…

My letter to Rowan

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

Dear Archbishop,

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. Read More…

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