Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Laughing Stock

The Church of England advice to itself about gay bishops remains convoluted as with the original leak (via Thinking Anglicans). The law allows a religious body to discriminate on the basis not of its doctrines but on what a significant number of its followers think:

because of the nature or context of the [office], the requirement is applied so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.

The C of E itself, however, concentrates on whether anyone is doing nookie or not outside of marriage. So there is no restriction on a bishop being in a Civil Partnership as such. However, some people then believe things about the Civil Partnership even if a bishop in one said no nookie is taking place. Perhaps in his diocesan magazine, he and 'Fred' can declare that they are not playing with each other under the bedsheets.

26. It is clearly the case that a significant number of Anglicans, on grounds of strongly held religious conviction believe that a Christian leader should not enter into a civil partnership, even if celibate, because it involves forming an exclusive, lifelong bond with someone of the same sex, creates family ties and is generally viewed in wider society as akin to same-sex marriage. It is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships, even though the discipline of the church requires them to remain sexually abstinent.

It is this 'division of opinion' that means a gay man in a Civil Partnership is unlikely ever to become a bishop! This of course is exactly how the Anglican Covenant will operate - the division of opinion serves the more conservative outcome, and indeed providing the Archbishop of Canterbury as a regulative instrument to this Covenant will mean the Church of England in particular will be duty bound to maintain the most conservative of outcomes.

• 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 in the case of diocesan appointments and for the diocesan bishop, in consultation with the relevant archbishop, in relation to suffragan appointments, to come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity because of these matters.

The answer surely is always going to be "no", because there are always enough people to make a fuss. It is why, when a diocese might suggest a gay man as a bishop, Archbishops might make some people cry or change their vote during a visit to the urinals or leak matters and hold an enquiry where the findings themselves are held in secret.

There are few objective measures in this: it is just opinion at the time (that's like the Covenant too). But one matter that might be made almost objective is what the person concerned states. Never mind what he thinks, but what does he state:

29. Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account include:
• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;...
• whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship;
• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity;...

In other words, whilst the diocesan rag might state that the bishop was having no nookie, he would also have to say that if he used to have nookie that it was wrong and indeed no one should have nookie outside of heterosexual marriage. The fact that he used to offer some of his flesh to Fred for a bit of bonding was, he now realises, mistaken and should Fred approach him he will slap his hand. Meanwhile, Bishop Jim next door says nothing about when he ran through a string of female relationships before he hitched up with Jane.

So he says - but as we know with this Archbishop of Canterbury, there are things you state publically and things you might think privately.

Put simply, the Church of England on this matter is a laughing stock. Reform says the Civil Partnership compromises a bishop. It does, given the silly rules to begin with.

The only relevant opinion surely about lifestyle is that someone is faithful to someone else. The rest - the focus on the body bits - is irrelevant. Marriage is not some magical act. What happens before it, even after it with separation, is about faithfulness offered, taken, reciprocated and observed regarding the other person. To allow a Civil Partnership should be enough. Indeed, marriage and partnership should be available to all, so that orientations can enjoy stronger and weaker forms of partnering for equal civil benefits. The Church of England ought to be capable of showing its discrimination with more clarity.


Yewtree said...

I just don't understand why sexual activity is so important to the Church. As long as people are treating each other with respect and not lying or cheating, that's the important thing. There are other far more important issues in society than people's sexual relationships.

I think the latest mealy-mouthed pronouncement from the C of E was despicable. They should accept gay sexual partnerships and move on.

Anonymous said...

Would Unitarians also say 'you should' to our Muslim, Hindu, Jewish brothers & sisters? Is this within the remit of interfaith dialogue?

Or is it a case of dual personality - on the one hand deciding we are definitely not Christian ('post-Christian', yet continuing to try engage in a conversation taking place within Christianity.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Matt, Given the unfortunate fact that the Church of England is established, just about everyone is negatively impacted by its doctrines. LGBTs in England, whether they go to C of E services or not, have suffered from C of E policies. Marriage equality is still not a reality in England because the Church of England used its influence in Parliament to persuade members of parliament to come up with a separate and unequal institution called the civil partnership, which, unlike marriage, makes no reference to sexuality. Civil partnerships were not be celebrated on religious sites because the C of E did not want to compete with Quakers, Unitarians, Reform Jews and other more enlightened religious bodies. This recently was changed but it still took a lot of work to go against the silly established church.

The C of E also has a negative influence on the Episcopal Church, of which I am a member. So even though it is increasingly unpopular, it still does harm way beyond its numbers. Some of its bishops still sit in the House of Lords, something we Americans simply cannot being to understand.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that, Gary.

I would like to see the C of E disestablish - and moves towards a more secular, more democratic state.

But there is a trend within Unitarianism to point the finger at Christianity, claiming no part of it yet wanting to be part of what is on a wider level, an internal dialogue within Christianity.

Just as Christianity worked through slavery and racial equality, so I believe it will work through gender equality and sexual equality.

But these are not just C of E issues, these are issues for religion, and for society as a whole. And I just wonder whether Unitarians will demonstate the same passion & bravery to stand up also to other groups who have regressive views on these issues?

Erika Baker said...

You say "equality is still not a reality in England because the Church of England used its influence in Parliament to persuade members of parliament to come up with a separate and unequal institution called the civil partnership, which, unlike marriage, makes no reference to sexuality."

Actually, unlike in the US, where there are a number of legal differences between marriage and domestic partnerships, there is no single legal difference between marriage and civil partnerships in the UK. At first, there were some differences, I believe in the area of pension rights, but by the time I got civil partnered, they had been ironed out. The only difference is the name. And the fact that, according to law, for am marriage to be legal it has to be consumated, whereas no-one gives a fig about civil partnerships.
That they are not a-sexual and that sex is an implicit part of them is shown by the fact that relatives and close friends cannot enter into a civil partnership.

There's a lot wrong with the church's position. British Civil Partnership legislation isn't part of it - thankfully, the church didn't prevail there.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Erika, Separate is still unequal. Being denied the word "marriage" makes it harder for a same-sex couple from the United Kingdom to be respected elsewhere. Spain, for example, doesn't recognize civil partnerships. Only marriage.

Yes, civil partnerships provide almost all the same rights as civil marriage. So why not have marriage for everyone? There is no rationale for separating same-sex couples from sex-discordant couples other than religious prejudice. Canada has a much better system.

Case law in England will show eventually if civil partnerships do indeed provide the same rights. There has not been enough time to test them. Marriage for all couples would not have required a test because civil marriage is already a proven institution.

All to please the Church of England because civil partnerships make no mention of sex.

Putting same-sex couples into a separate category is a recipe for disaster. Transgender, for example, is not included because if a spouse in an opposite-sex married couple in England changes their legal sex they must divorce and, if the couple wants to stay together, get a civil partnership. This is completely stupid. In Canada the couple would remain married.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

I agree with you, Matt, that Unitarianism has traces of Christianity, just like the word "secular." It is not simply outside Christianity. Criticism of Judaism would be easier, certainly in the United States, because Reform Judaism has embraced marriage equality. Liberals within different traditions may have more in common than they do with some fellow co-religionists.

Gary Paul Gilbert