There is an uncharacteristically bad article in the Economist this week. It has clearly been written by a social conservative whose agenda is to bemoan the "decline" of marriage. There's no intrinsic problem, of course, with a social conservative writing for The Economist, any more than there's a problem with a social libertarian doing so. The problem is that, because the newspaper fails either to attribute its articles or, in this case, properly to acknowledge the biases within it, the reader must try to discover these biases by reading between the lines. Here such biases are evident, as they are so often, in the unnecessary use of evaluative adjectives. For example, "Less titillating are revelations about the sorry state of marriage across the United States".
Unacknowledged bias is one way in which this article is bad. Another is its handling of statistics. Case in point #1:
In every state the numbers of unmarried couples, childless households and single-person households are growing faster than those comprised of married people with children, finds the 2010 census. The latter accounted for 43% of households in 1950; they now account for just 20%.
The article goes on to connect this to the "decline" of marriage previously claimed. However, it fails to take into account certain factors. For example, young adults now tend to move out of the parental home at an earlier age, and to marry at a later age. This results in a decrease in the number of "traditional households". However, this doesn't necessarily tell us anything about marriage; only that people are living longer and have the wherewithal to live in their own house before marriage. Case in point #2:
And the trend has a potent class dimension. Traditional marriage has evolved from a near-universal rite to a luxury for the educated and affluent.
Here the varying value of marriage is overlooked. Historically, rich people have tended to marry and stay married out of choice. Poor people have tended to marry and stay married out of necessity. Millions are the women who were unable to seek divorce from their dysfunctional or violent marriages because 1) the law stood in their way and 2) the sole means of financial support for themselves and their children was through their husband. Is a marriage like this of the same value as a marriage made and sustained out of choice? In short, The Economist fails to see that "traditional" marriage was underpinned by a division of labour which no longer exists. I, for one, am glad that this sexist, involuntary division of labour is at an end. Case in point #3:
“Less marriage means less income and more poverty,” reckons Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She and other researchers have linked as much as half of the income inequality in America to changes in family composition: single-parent families (mostly those with a high-school degree or less) are getting poorer while married couples (with educations and dual incomes) are increasingly well-off. “This is a striking gap that is not well understood by the public,” she says.
This is a non sequitur. It does not follow that less marriage means less income and more poverty. Cohabiting couples are capable of materially providing for their children in exactly the same way as married couples (notwithstanding tax breaks for married couples, but to rely on this in a defence of marriage is simple question-begging). Sawhill also makes a connection, apparently, to the education level associated with different marital arrangements. This runs the risk of confusing cause and correlation -- a basic statistical fallacy. If fewer poor parents than rich parents are married, and fewer poor people reach a good level of education, it does not follow that it is poor parents' failure to marry that causes low educational attainment. It could be that a lower rate of marriage and a lower level of education are both caused by low background income.
A shame. I've come to expect better from The Economist. I would think more highly of them if they'd just attribute their bleedin' articles rather than persisting with this quasi-Communistic first person. (thx SC)
Mancunians may be interested to see this Freedom of Information request made to Manchester City Council. It confirms that the Council, while claiming that it is being forced into frontline cuts, continues to spend annually £500,000 of taxpayer money making direct contributions to union activity within the Council. (This on top of a £250K CEO and many millions in the bank.)
Meanwhile, they haven't collected rubbish on our street for three weeks. Right on!
[...] There have always been gays and lesbians in our house, serving, building, leading, and contributing to what and who we are. We Anglicans seldom talk about our diversity, including sexuality, so it’s been easy to ignore the faithful and continuous presence of gays and lesbians who are seen but not seen, here but not heard.
This de facto policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has allowed the foul weather of prejudice to get in and rot our house of hospitality. We have a leaky building. It needs fixing.
The rot has so eaten away at our ethos that ‘Jane’, a chalice bearer in her parish, can no longer offer the cup of hope because her Civil Union is not mentioned in the rulebook, and according to her bishop only what’s in the rulebook is allowed.
The rot has so eaten away at our ethos that ‘Sam’, called by his Shared Ministry Unit, could not answer that call because his Civil Union is not mentioned in the rulebook, and his bishop was worried other rulebook bishops will be upset.
The rot is eating away the grace until only the rules are left. Now, alas, homosexuality and Civil Unions, not mentioned in our rulebook, are purported to be ‘illegal’ by church law. Since when did we ask lawyers to hold our ethos of hospitality and grace? That’s the vocation of bishops.
Our big old rambling Anglican house has weathered many storms and leaks. Hopefully it will do so again. I am not gay but I am diminished when we discriminate against gay and lesbian Anglicans.
Such discrimination is wrong. And we know it. And it’s rotting our house.
Oh dear, Russell T Davies. Thanks for the brilliant Queer As Folk -- a masterpiece in so many ways. But Cameron and Clegg are "evil" for reducing the BBC's budget a bit? That seems to leave our moral vocabulary somewhat exhausted when it comes to things like... you know, genocide. "The Holocaust sure was bad, but freezing the licence fee? That's just evil!" And how ironic that QAF was commercially funded.
I'm not quite clear what Field's views are on some of the things he mentions. For instance, he points out that
voters reject the idea that the right to welfare should be decided on grounds of need. A vast majority insists that welfare should instead be earned. Voters are deeply uneasy with the direction of policy, begun in the early Sixties, that has seen Britain move away from its insurance-based system, where benefits were awarded only to those who had paid in, to a means-tested system that gives a universal right to benefits to anyone whose income is below a certain level.
Is Field insinuating that we should abandon the principle of need in welfare distribution? I'm uneasy with this view. Whatever the bad side-effects, guaranteeing all citizens a basic income is, I think, one of the hallmarks of a civilized society. Welfare should indeed be provided on the basis of needs and not contributions.
But this is not the same as saying that welfare should be provided unconditionally. A basic income could be guaranteed to everyone in times of need, but this entitlement could become conditional after, say, six months out of work. After six months on jobseekers' allowance, people could be compelled to accept a public-sector work placement in exchange for welfare payments. The government has moved towards this policy recently, with its introduction of mandatory short-term community work placements for those claiming jobseekers' allowance.
I suppose a big problem with expanding this policy is that the government would have to provide quite a lot of these placements. It would be hard to provide, say, a million public sector placements in a manner that would not intervene negatively in the commercial job market. And such an intervention could, counter-productively, worsen unemployment.
Supposing that problem could be worked around, making people work in return for welfare solves the need vs. contributions dilemma. Nobody would be prevented from receiving welfare payments when they need them, but those payments would not be tied to people's employment history or any other measure of historic contributions.
A person's sexual orientation is in itself irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry [but the Equality Act] allows churches and religious organisations to impose a requirement that someone should not be in a civil partnership or impose a requirement related to sexual orientation ... to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers.
There is nothing here NOT to disagree with. 1) The Equality Act 2010 does indeed allow the Church to be excepted from its general provisions. If the Equality Act is to deserve its name, it should not allow this. Principles of justice must override religious convictions.
2) Even though the Equality Act does allow these exceptions, it does not compel them. So this legal advice can in no way serve as guidance for the church's policy on the matter. Deciding whether to impose special restrictions on gay priests remains a question of moral substance that must be settled independently of legal provisions pertaining to it.
3) That this guidance has been sought at all implies that such a judgement has in fact already been made. The Church does not demand celibacy of its straight clergy; neither is the matter up for debate. So demanding celibacy of its gay clergy is already to place them in a different moral class, and hold them to a different standard of personal conduct. This is, whaddayaknow, unequal and unfair.
4) I love "to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers". This sentence must be the Ground Zero of moral cowardice. So not only should people of a minority identity or a minority opinion refrain from living their lives, expressing their opinion, or challenging others about theirs. They must also be excluded from their vocations for the sake of "avoiding conflict". Matthew 10:34 springs to mind: "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword."
It all reminds me of that great vacillator, Jim Hacker. "I am their leader," he once said, "I must follow them!" I think Rowan Williams (who commissioned this legal advice) may have been watching a bit too much Yes, Prime Minister. Oh, for the Archbishop to make a "courageous decision"!
“Marriage, as a permanent, exclusive commitment between this man and this woman was welcomed, applauded,” the archbishop said in a homily at a Mass for married couples in Westminster Cathedral.
“There was rejoicing in what the newlyweds had just done,” he said. “Marriage, then, is a public good.
“Marriage is not simply something done in church by a few. Marriage is not a private arrangement,” he said.
“Rather marriage expresses our deepest longings and expectations for ourselves, for our children and for our society,” he continued.
“Marriage is of our nature. It is not created by the Church, but blessed by her. Christian marriage is a sacrament,” he added. “In celebrating marriage, in "defending" marriage, the Church seeks to promote that which is good for us human beings, for our human nature and for our society.”
[...] “When relationships are provisional, with an understanding that each can walk away, there is a sense in which each of the partners is always on probation,” Archbishop Nichols said. “They are never fully accepted.”
I find nothing to disagree with here. My only curiosity is this. If marriage is such a good thing -- for society, for the persons who commit to one another by it, for the children who are raised in it -- why would we want to perpetuate the barriers that prevent a significant minority of the population from making such a commitment? Nichols' answer, of course, must have nothing to do with marriage, but rather with his view that homosexual relationships are of an inferior quality.
Since that is the presupposition of his argument in "defence" of "traditional" marriage, it would be nice for him to explain exactly why he thinks homosexual relationships are indeed inferior ones. My guess is that it might have something to do with their perceived instability and superficiality. In this we see the absurdity of Nichols' conservative position, since it relies on ambivalent claims:
1. Marriage is a social and personal good because it allows people to commit to one another and deepen their relationship.
2. Gay people should be excluded from the institution of marriage because their relationships are short-lived and shallow.
Nichols may of course have other reasons to oppose gay marriage too. But if he does he should spell them out, since the argument he suggests here in "defence" of "traditional" marriage is... well, pretty thick.
Today the shadow chancellor Ed Balls calls for emergency tax cut to stimulate consumer spending. My understanding of the Keynesian argument underpinning Balls's proposal is as follows. In an economic downturn, consumer spending reduces, which causes lower growth, which in turn reduces consumer spending further, etc. The result is that a recession gets much worse before it starts getting better. To avoid this, the state, which is the biggest actor in an economy, can inject more capital into an economy, stimulating consumer spending and promoting growth. Now, I'm no economist, and even if my summary is accurate, it is no doubt a criminally simplified version of J.M. Keynes's economic theory.
I understand that the Keynesian theoretical view is a respectable one to hold, although it is not one that fiscal conservatives share. But as a layman, I imagine that for a stimulus like a VAT cut to be effective, there must be general confidence in the nation's fiscal situation. In other words, if the state is going to inject large amounts of stimulus capital into an economy during the lean years, that must be financed by money put away during the fat years. I'm pretty sure that Keynes would agree with this.
But it is here, of course, that Balls's plan comes unstuck. Because Labour let spending run out of control for years before the banking crisis, any stimulus package now would have to be funded by further borrowing. (Bear in mind that the amount of UK borrowing is still growing now, in spite of the allegedly "savage" cuts.) This would likely give businesses and homeowners the heebie-jeebies, as well as threaten the UK's credit rating, which could in turn make the stimulus ineffective anyway.
For these reasons, I find Labour's argument -- that the depth and speed of cuts is ideologically driven -- to be empty. Labour's post-2005 economic policy in government was not Keynesian; it was simply profligate. If the government followed Keynesian principles now, there would still be the problem of reducing the deficit (as David Miliband, Alistair Darling, and Tony Blair all openly admit), and the only way of reducing the deficit in the medium to long term is to cut spending.
[Williams] adds that bit about the government needing to know how frightened people are, and that:
It isn't enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, "This is the last government's legacy," and, "We'd like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit."
In case we missed the inference, a New Statesman blog helpfully provides the gloss that this last swipe is "an implicit criticism of The Chancellor, George Osborne".
This is Mr Osborne dressed up as Aunt Sally, though (an unfortunate vision, sorry). The coalition does talk a lot about the financial mess left by the previous government, it is true. But that is not their one and only response to questions about child poverty, poor literacy or helping more children to enjoy educational excellence. You can disagree or agree with the reforms being proposed by the coalition on this front—Mr Duncan Smith's universal credit which he hopes will encourage millions back to work by freeing them from the unemployment traps which currently imprison them, the school reforms and so on. But it is plain sneaky to pretend that these policies do not exist, and that the coalition only ever talks about its lack of money.
Mohammad Hasnath has been convicted under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which prohibits causing "harassment, alarm or distress". Peter Tatchell responds, excellently as ever, by condemning the use of the Public Order Act 1986, which he rightly describes as "a discredited, authoritarian law". Tatchell also asks why it is Hasnath's relatively minor offence that has provoked a response from LGBT rights campaigners, when they have let many more serious incidents pass without comment:
Moreover, why did the Hasnath stickers provoke howls of rage from the LGBT community, when far worse homophobia in the same area of East London stirred hardly a murmur of protest? I don't recall any campaigns by LGBT groups or anti-fascist organisations in response to the wave of horrific queer-bashing attacks in the East End. Surely this actual physical violence - which left at least one gay man permanently disabled - is much more deserving of protests than a few stickers? Where is the LGBT outcry over homophobic assaults?
Nor can I remember any protests when the East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre hosted a series of virulently homophobic speakers, including Uthman Lateef and Abdul Karim Hattim. The latter gave lecturers in which he invited young Muslims to "Spot the Fag." Watch here.
The East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre helped create the atmosphere of hatred that has poisoned the minds of many Muslim youths, probably including Hasnath who worshipped there. They have never apologised for hosting homophobic hate preachers and have never given any assurances that they will not host them again in the future. Apart from OutRage!, no LGBT groups have publicly demanded that they do so. Why the silence from LGBT organisations that are supposedly dedicated to fighting homophobia?
Equally, there were no protests when Abdul Muhid openly incited the murder of gay people in East London and when the Crown Prosecution Service refused to bring him to trial. In my opinion, encouraging murder is many times more serious and dangerous than calling for a Gay Free Zone. Again, no protests by LGBT groups.
When OutRage! stood alone in challenging Muhid and the East London Mosque /London Muslim Centre we were denounced by some people as racists and Islamophobes. This is nonsense. We never attacked anyone because of their race or religion. We condemned their homophobia, in the same way that we condemn the homophobic bigotry of fundamentalists of all faiths.
Many LGBT campaigners are now terrified of similar false, malicious allegations of racism or Islamophobia. To avoid such smears, they shy away from robust responses to homophobia when it comes from religious and racial minorities. This inaction is de facto collusion with homophobia.
I cannot agree with Tatchell more. Homophobia is homophobia regardless of who the bigotry afflicts. Yet another reason why liberals must at all times uphold the primacy of the law over religious doctrine, and campaign against exemptions for religious organisations from equality and incitement laws.
Glynn Cardy preaches today on why Christians should support equal rights for LGBT people. You can also sign St Matthew-in-the-City's petition to NZ bishops to end their discrimination against LGBT priests.
If only this kind of moral coherence was more than an occasional surprise amongst Christian congregations. Again we are reminded of how superior liberal society is to the church on this issue.
In my view, this makes his political contributions all the more disappointing. Like most Anglican attacks on modern social and economic policy since the war, his are conservative in the bad sense of that word: they refuse to contemplate how things have changed. Even keen believers in the welfare state should acknowledge that it is not working. In the New Statesman, Dr Williams dismisses the "seductive language" of the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, and speaks of "alleged abuses" of the system. Surely he should recognise that abuses are not merely alleged but actual, on a huge scale, and that this undermines not only the cost but also the virtue of the system. As Iain Duncan Smith said in response, a system of benefits that encourages families for generation after generation never to work is wrong.
Churchmen should be leading these inquiries, not obstructing them. Many of David Cameron’s Big Society ideas are, in origin, religious. One of the historic glories of the Church of England is its parish system. This enabled it to be close to all communities and to minister to all. Out of this ministry grew other public benefits – building societies, mutual associations, youth clubs, visiting the sick and old, and, above all, education.
Nowadays, the parish system is much decayed and Dr Williams’s church is top-heavy with diocesan bureaucrats and thin on the ground in the parishes. If Dr Williams is right that the term "Big Society" is already "painfully stale", shouldn’t he be refreshing it with action in every diocese and parish in the land?
I share Moore's frustration with the church's contemporary priorities. Most churches in this country are now permanently locked, apart from two hours on a Sunday (and, if you're lucky, the occasional midweek service). A business which operated in this way would expect to go into liquidation. Until we in the church realise again that it is our availability and attentiveness to the lives and needs of real people that counts -- and not the bits of metal in our church buildings, or the pervasive, spurious, and theologically dubious moralising about people's gender and sexuality -- it will remain on that road to receivership.
Here's the text of Rowan Williams's leader in the New Statesman. Thankfully it's not as partisan as I'd feared, but I hold to the criticism I implied yesterday: namely, the curious way Williams bemoans the lack of public argument concerning education and health reform (in spite of there being vigorous public argument which has resulted in policy shifts from the government), while systematically failing to deliver anything resembling this kind of public argument or procedural transparency in his own church. Indeed, according to Colin Slee it is Williams leading the moral obfuscation over issues such as gay bishops.
Other than this, my response to Williams's article is as follows. I think religious leaders contributing to political debate is a Good Thing. For a start, it is their duty to speak truth to political power; in the case of Williams's faith, quiet complicity in an unjust status quo is not defensible within Christian norms. But Williams is too uncharitable towards government policy. Making work pay, reducing long-term benefit dependency, raising the personal tax allowance, establishing a more diverse school system allowing pupil mobility: these policies are not plausibly accounted for by the "deserving and undeserving poor" trope that Williams cynically invokes. They are at least partly inspired by a vision of empowerment for the poor, and it would have been nice for Williams to acknowledge that there is authentic moral reasoning underpinning these policies as well as the policies of the left.
Is it just me, or does Julie Burchill get more unhinged by the week? Today half her article is in capital letters (you'd never catch me DOING THAT.) After saying something incomprehensible about Sandi Toksvig, she moves on to this:
Last week in Brighton, 200 people attended the funeral of Tony Magdi, a local shopkeeper killed by a cyclist after Mr Magdi had accidentally knocked another cyclist off his bike while opening his car door. The killer – a paranoid schizophrenic who saw fit not to take his medication – was sentenced to 18 months and will probably serve only half that due to the Government's curious, almost kinky policy of forgive and forget – forgive the criminal, forget the victim.
Exactly how many stereotypes does Burchill manage to name-check here? There's plenty of people out there doing idiotic things while riding bikes, and I've been one of them more times than I should. But it still feels a little unfair to take the actions of a paranoid schizophrenic as representative of all us mere idiots.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s highly politicised and biased criticisms of the Coalition lessen the dignity of his office. But here’s the key point. This is displacement therapy, designed to take Dr Williams’s mind off the shocking crisis of morale in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
He can’t hold his Church together. His authority diminishes by the day. So what does he do? He retreats to the comfort zone of guest editing the New Statesman and Left-wing scaremongering over the Government’s modest reductions in planned spending.
It’s one thing to dismiss the Big Society as a meaningless slogan (though I don’t think it is). It’s quite another to suggest that it’s an “opportunistic” excuse for spending cuts. Do you remember Dr Williams protesting when Gordon Brown was hosing down the public sector with money, fundamentally weakening the economy – and the weakest people in it? Me neither.
To speak bare truth would try a faith that was not weak.
Francis Quarles (1592-1644), "Sighs"
"God is not a Christian" -- that's the title of Desmond Tutu's new book. And here are some of Tutu's characteristically incisive words:
if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.
That's a great way of putting it. But I must challenge the next passage a little:
Our conduct far too often contradicts our profession, however. We are supposed to proclaim the God of love, but we have been guilty as Christians of sowing hatred and suspicion; we commend the one whom we call the Prince of Peace, and yet as Christians we have fought more wars than we care to remember. We have claimed to be a fellowship of compassion and caring and sharing, but as Christians we often sanctify sociopolitical systems that belie this, where the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer, where we seem to sanctify a furious competitiveness, ruthless as can only be appropriate to the jungle.
First, let's deal with the simple claim. It is not true that "the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer" in liberal societies, and indeed in the world generally (since this is clearly Tutu's implication). It is in economically liberal societies that the lot of the poor has, historically speaking, been most dramatically improved. It is true that the rich are growing richer at a faster rate than the poor; but according to long-term trends, and in real terms, the poor are indeed getting richer. A retired Anglican priest -- an authority on Christian socialism -- once said to me that "nothing has done so much to end poverty as the free movement of capital".
Second, Tutu quite rightly criticises the sowing of hatred and suspicion. However, I am myself suspicious of what some people would want to count as "hatred and suspicion". There are many in the church, Archbishops being the most senior culprits, who think that the way to avoid sowing hatred and suspicion is to say nothing substantive about any moral question whatsoever: fence-sitting is thought to be a virtuous, "peaceful" thing to do. But if there are those in our midst, in the name of the Christian faith, sowing hatred and suspicion (for example, against gay people in Uganda), is it not the duty of the compassionate Christian majority to actually CHALLENGE those sowing hatred and suspicion? It seems to me that this aversity to challenging others is an even more serious problem than the minority who indulge in hatred and slander. Indeed, it is only because we fail to challenge these marginal voices that they get any airtime at all.
Third, he implies that the fighting of all wars is a Bad Thing. There's a nice moral hygiene to that position, I suppose, but it is surely an illusory one. If the foreseeable consequences of your not going to war are far worse than your going to war, for example to fight a tyrannical or genocidal enemy, how is not-going-to-war a morally admissible course of action, let alone a morally optimal one? I have not heard a cogent answer to this problem from any pacifist. That leads me to the conclusion that absolute pacifism is ultimately morally bankrupt, as it would have us abandon our neighbours in the world to violence and murder at the hand of tyrants, even when it is within our power to protect them.
The thing that stops poor students from getting into Oxbridge is that they don't get good enough grades at school. They don't get good enough grades at school because they don't have access to the best schools, all of which are fee-paying, and none of which the poor can afford to attend.
Jones picks the wrong target. I say: undertake a radical overhaul of the schools system, and let the government pay private school fees (on a means-tested basis) for anyone who can get a place. We'd need to pass some legislation mandating that private schools take these government-sponsored pupils, and we'd need a powerful regulator to prevent artificial fee inflation. But these are considerably more practical and non-insane proposals than Jones's. He would take away the best thing in the education sector in order to bring everyone down to the same level, rather than abolish the thing that is holding the poor back -- namely, state education -- and allow everyone a more equal chance to excel.
Slee also in effect charges the church with hypocrisy, stating that there are several gay bishops "who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions". The memo warns: "This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear."
Slee said of the meeting: "We had two very horrible days in which I would say both archbishops behaved very badly. The meeting was not a fair consideration at all; they were intent on wrecking both Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam equally, despite the fact that their CVs were startlingly in an entirely different and better league than the other two candidates …
The House of Bishops sought legal advice to discover whether it would be illegal to deny John a job. A briefing in December from the Church House legal department appears to state that though it would be illegal to discriminate against him because he is a celibate gay person, it was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people.
CofE attempts to abide by Equality Act 2010... ROFL!!!11.6.11
There's a story in the Church Times this week which shows just how bizarre the Church of England's priorities have become. Apparently the talents of such brilliant liturgists and leaders as Jeffrey John are to be sacrificed at the altar of "unity", and a "bad-tempered" Rowan Williams apparently doesn't see a problem with it. Increasingly I get the feeling that "unity" is coming to mean something like "national security" -- viz., nothing, but it serves as a pretext for any church practice to violate the spirit of the Gospels.
The second half of the story reports critical comments by the late great Dean of Southwark, ColinSlee. Since the article will soon disappear behind the paywall, I reproduce the entire text below. It might disappear if I get a Cease and Desist from one of the Archbishops.
It's when reading stories like this that I wonder why I go to church at all. There are good reasons, of course, about which I'll write one day. Suffice it to say that the institution would probably be better off if it had no bishops or archbishops...
A CHECKLIST has been drawn up that makes it virtually impossible for an openly gay person to become a bishop in the Church of England.
At the same time as the Church of Scotland was opening the door to gay ministers, the C of E’s House of Bishops met in secret to discuss, among other things, legal advice on how to continue to exclude homosexuals from the episcopate in the wake of the Equality Act 2010.
A press spokesman confirmed that the Bishops discussed “issues concerned with episcopal appointments this week, and commissioned further work”. It is understood that the bishops were unable to agree.
It appears that the legal advice was first requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury when the name of the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, was put forward for the see of Southwark in spring 2010. Subsequently, Dr John’s name was put forward for Salisbury and Lincoln. The House of Bishops’ debate seems to have been an attempt to justify retrospectively his effective exclusion from all three.
Dr John was nominated as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003, but had to withdraw after Lambeth Palace capitulated to conservative pressure, despite Dr John’s statement that he was in a stable, celibate partnership.
The advice, from the Church House Legal Office, warns that the body that nominates to diocesan sees, the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), is bound by the Equality Act: “It is not open to them to take into account the mere fact that someone is gay by sexual orientation.” It is also generally unlawful, it says, “to discriminate on grounds of religion and belief”.
Nevertheless, exemptions written into the Act accept that the C of E “does not draw the same distinction as most secular employers between a person’s work life and his or her private life”.
The key factor is the requirement of a bishop to act as a focus of unity. The advice states: “Where someone is in a civil partnership and/or is known to have been in a same-sex relationship, even though now celibate, it is for the CNC . . . to come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity because of these matters.”
There follows a checklist of “factors that can properly be taken into account:
• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
• whether he was in a civil partnership;
• whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex relationship;
• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
• whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.”
Under these conditions, a gay candidate must have been celibate all his life or have repented of his former lifestyle. It is not enough to live blamelessly with or without a partner. No attempt is made in the advice to equate these conditions with those required of a heterosexual candidate, particularly with reference to his sexual past.
No mention is made of expressing the view that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity — a charge that was levelled during the Reading affair. This could, none the less, be met with the objection of disunity if enough critics could be assembled.
The legal advice also considers the possibility of a candidate who has married again after divorce from a partner who is still living, or a candidate whose spouse is divorced from a former partner who is still living — a question thought to have been triggered by the listing of the
Revd Nick Holtam, Rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, alongside Dr John on the Southwark list of candidates. Mr Holtam’s wife, Helen, had been married before.
The document quotes the Bishops’ statement of 18 June (two weeks before the Southwark CNC met): “Marital history is one of many considerations which may properly be taken into account in discerning who God is calling to such office in his Church.”
Mr Holtam knew that he was being considered for Southwark, not least because he and Mrs Holtam were questioned by the Bishop of London about her previous marriage. But, he said this week, “I didn’t apply, I wasn’t interviewed, there was no debrief, and so I know nothing.”
He underwent two sessions of interviews for the see of Salisbury, for which, he says, he was delighted to be chosen. “I felt they took me seriously. All the literature says that bishops are supposed to be leaders, but in the old appointment system they were completely passive.”
He feels that a process that leaves a diocese without a bishop for 20 months or more is in need of more reform. “The length of time is a clue that the system isn’t working.”
THE Southwark Crown Nominations Commission, which met on 5-6 July last year, was a deeply unhappy affair, say notes made by the late Colin Slee (above), who was Dean of Southwark and a central member of the CNC.
Dean Slee records that, by the time of the final vote, “certainly two, possibly three, members of the CNC were in tears”. Dr Williams, who chaired the meeting, “made no acknowledgement of this but carried on regardless”, he writes.
Dean Slee is critical of both Archbishops. He describes Dr Williams as “bad tempered throughout. . . ++Rowan started the meeting by behaving ‘like a primary school headmaster’ (that is another member’s description). He didn’t join us for tea, and then we entered the room to silent anger.”
The cause was a report in The Sunday Telegraph the day before that Dr John and Mr Holtam had been nominated. Dr Williams told members that he had lost his temper when the leak was published.
“He then told us he had written to the lawyers at Church House about Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John,” Dean Slee writes. He infers from this: “The Archbishop himself was telling us that he was the leaker. . . He had no permission to ask the lawyers. He was a member of the CNC under oath like the rest of the membership.”
In Dean Slee’s view, the request for legal advice indicated Dr Williams’s attitude. “We were bound to conclude the Archbishop was hunting for reasons to deny them appointment.”
The CNC considered four candidates in detail: Dr John, Mr Holtam, an unknown candidate, and the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who had impressed the diocese during his four years as Area Bishop of Woolwich. His was the first name sent to the Prime Minister, though the voting appears to have been close. “At a critical point in the voting,” Dean Slee writes, “++Sentamu and three other members simultaneously went to the lavatory; after which the voting pattern changed.”
THE Very Revd Colin Slee, who died in November last year, was a champion of liberal causes, especially when Dr Jeffrey John, then one of his canons at Southwark Cathedral, was manoeuvred out of his appointment as Area Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of objections to his homosexuality.
By proposing Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam for the diocesan see in Southwark, Dean Slee knew that he was going to make the hierarchy uncomfortable. But in a letter to Dr Williams he wrote that appointing Dr John “would remove a real stain on the Church’s reputation”.
The news of the names leaked out, as did the fact that they had not been nominated, and an internal inquiry was set up under Baroness Fritchie to investigate the leak. Dean Slee was disturbed by accusations that he had been the source, especially since he felt that the leak had damaged Dr John’s chances.
He was sceptical of the terms of reference of the Fritchie inquiry, particularly the statement that it would “make any recommendations necessary to improve the confidentiality in the work of the Commission as it seeks to open up its processes”. He none the less agreed to be interviewed by Lady Fritchie, and compiled a set of notes of his recollections. It is these that the Church Times has seen.
In them, he says that he first heard of the leak when a journalist phoned him on a Saturday in June, a week before the Southwark CNC was due to meet, saying that he had had the names of Nick Holtam and Jeffrey John from “an impeccable source”. From remarks made at the CNC, Dean Slee infers that the leak came from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He is also critical of the Archbishop of York, quoting a remark he made to Dr John in St Alban’s Abbey “in the hearing of several witnesses: ‘I don’t know why your friends have leaked the fact that your name is on the list for Southwark. It won’t do you any good, you know.’”
Dean Slee writes: “Quite apart from the strange assumption within this statement, there is a manifest breach of confidentiality: he was confirming, in the hearing of others not on the CNC, that Jeffrey John’s name was on the list.”
He concludes that the problem of secrecy is “endemic: it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use.”
In answer to a question in the Synod last November, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Fritchie inquiry had been concluded. “It would not be appropriate to give this a wider circulation.”