Thinking Anglicans

secularism: bishops attacked and responding

For the second week running, English bishops are criticised by an Observer columnist. This time, Mary Riddell has a piece titled Integrate? Tell that to the Christian church, Mr Blair. Here’s an excerpt:

…Even so, the bishops are on the prowl. The Bishop of Rochester criticises diversity legislation, while lamenting the lack of Christmas celebrations in that hotbed of Saturnalia, the nation’s SureStart schemes. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, announces that ‘illiberal atheists’ and ‘aggressive secularists’ have stolen Christmas. On a point of semantics, secularists do not wish to harm religion or deny its great cultural influence. They simply want it to know its place.

Which, in the view of many bishops, is in every corner of the public realm. In the current Times Higher Education Supplement, the Archbishop of Canterbury defends Christian campus groups which risk banishment because of their attitudes to gay sex. ‘It isn’t as though sexual activity were any different from any other conscious choice,’ writes Dr Rowan Williams, likening any threat to such groups to banning CND. Public organisations should operate within the statute. On 1 January, laws protecting gay people in Northern Ireland will be tightened. Ruth Kelly, who plans weaker, later rules for the rest of the UK, has bowed to religious leaders complaining that the pillars of Christendom will totter unless Christian adoption agencies, bookshops and hotels are allowed free rein for prejudice. Islamist extremism is obviously never to be compared to the behaviour of peaceful citizens. Even so, the harmonious society Mr Blair desires is not best served by Christian leaders passing themselves off as a persecuted minority and the whipping boy of multicultural Britain.

This is purest fallacy. The might of bishops trickles down from the House of Lords, where they sit without a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy. Cathedrals are forecasting record attendances this Christmas. In a fearful, divided country, religion is the beneficiary. Mr Blair, though recognising that shift, was too selective and too timid in his remedies. He condemned radical Muslim schools, quite rightly, but omitted to say that creationism in Christian ones is deplorable, too. He demanded that faith schools must abide by guidelines requiring tolerance and respect for other faiths…

The article by Rowan Williams to which she refers can be found in the Times Higher Education Supplement which is read largely by university academics and administrators. The article is trailed on the front page of the weekly journal this way:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has hit out at the “suppression” of Christian unions on university campuses with an impassioned defence of free speech in an exclusive article for The Times Higher.

and the background to it is summarised in a news article entitled Archbishop hits back.

Rowan Williams’ article is titled It is not a crime to hold traditional values. A couple of excerpts (but read it all, please):

…But beyond this, we sometimes seem to be unclear. Quite often in discussion of Christian attitudes to homosexuality (and this is often the presenting issue where Christian unions are concerned), it is taken for granted that any statement that a form of behaviour might be sinful is on a par with the expression of hate, so that it is impossible for a conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant or, for that matter, an orthodox Muslim to state the traditional position of their faith without being accused of something akin to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.

Yet the truth surely is that while it is wholly indefensible to deny respect to a person as such, any person’s choices are bound to be open to challenge. Any kind of behaviour or policy freely opted for by a responsible adult is likely to be challenged from somewhere; it isn’t as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice. And to challenge behaviour may be deeply unwelcome and offensive in a personal sense, but it is not a matter for legislative action…

and this:

…Christian unions, like most student associations, can be a nuisance. As a university chaplain many years ago, I was blessed with good relations with members of the Christian union, thanks to the maturity and warmth of the local leadership; but I know that not every chaplain in higher education has the same good fortune. Questions about tests for orthodoxy recur regularly in the histories of Christian unions, and every few years there is likely to be some degree of conflict and sometimes schism (as in other societies – I can also remember the ferocity of debates in the 1970s within a university Labour Club at the time leading up to the formation of the Social Democrat Party). Furthermore, there is real debate and divergence among Christians about the ethics of same-sex relationships, and some more liberal Christians will find it embarrassing that the traditional position of the Christian union can be seen by the rest of the student world as something like an unquestioned Christian line. Christian unions can appear detached from the rest of student life in some campuses (by no means all); or they can lay themselves open to charges of insensitive recruitment; and so on. But the basic question remains. Is there a straightforward right of association for people with these convictions? …

Other material relating to the current dispute over Christian Unions on British university campuses can be found in this excellent report from Ekklesia (PDF file), which was also written up in the Guardian in Christian unions warned against legal action. See also Simon Barrow here.

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drdanfee
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drdanfee

The toxic pickle in the new conservative sandwich we are always being offered as exclusive nourishment these days mostly involves the fresh rise of the militant conformed new conservative who wishes to force everybody into the only simplistic religious mould possible, his own. Her own is included in his own, traditionally speaking for such believers, and given the sense of outrage about women in leadership, this movement has minimally begun to earn its chops as a neo-patriarchal renewal movement. The louder, more militant, and more coercive the new conservative movement grows, the less we are free to occupy frames of… Read more »

badman
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badman

Simon rightly singles out from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s article the phrase: “it isn’t as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice”. I don’t accept that our sexual instincts are matters of conscious choice, or that our decision whether or not to follow them by being sexually active is no more than a conscious choice. That is why celibacy is described as a vocation: most people don’t have it and can’t manage it. In fact, religious belief is more likely to be regarded as a conscious choice than the question of whether a person does… Read more »

dave williams
Guest

What a bizarre argument form the Observer -but it’s nothing new . Only a few weeks ago, the Times ran its article about Christian Unions alongside an article about Islamic Terrorists being recruited in Universities. The message is clear -strong religious vies = fundamentalism and fundamentalism = terrorism. Christians are equally dangerous with Al Quaeda.

Neglect the fact that our education system, our legal system, our hospitals….are drawn from a Christian heritage so that to talk about religion knowing its place is sheer folly and shows both cultural and historic ignorance.

J. C. Fisher
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J. C. Fisher

“Any kind of behaviour or policy freely opted for by a responsible adult is likely to be challenged from somewhere; it isn’t as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice.” It is most distressing to hear Rowan Cantuar repeating this sort of blather. The issue ISN’T “sexual activity”, per se—due to the obvious observation that the specific flesh-on-flesh “activity” of ***heterosexuals*** is not up for discussion. Rather, what is held up to judgment is the ENTIRE LIVES of homosexuals (apart from a *fig-leaf* cover of “Oh, we don’t judge their orientation!”). It is for this… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

The universities have been organised accordong to the way that Christian Churches in this country may be organised – the real differences becoming the boundaries, rather than divisions within institutions. Of course their views should be tolerated, but a Student Union is not obliged to support it beyond a minimal provision. It can add the line that views of associations are not necessarily those of the Student Union. That might help, it it is not being done already. It seems this ‘militant secularism’ charge is all the rage at the moment, and choosing an easy apparently common enemy allows all… Read more »

dave williams
Guest

JC, The problem is that you are reading from afar. The Pure course is being very heavily misrepresented as an attack on homosexuals. That’s not what it is. It’s a course aimed at Christians -obviously it comes froma conservative point of view so maybe not all will agree with it here. In that respect it is pro marriage rather than anti everything. My suspicion is that the “It’s homophobic” charge is a very clever way of making it one of the “common enemies” that we are so fond of at the moment. University SUs thrive on selling sex as a… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Something in Dr Williams’s article made me suspect that “Christian Unions” might not just be student Unions that are Christian in some sense, so I Googled and found: http://www.uccf.org.uk/index.php Their 1928 “core” doctrines – inalterable – were a post 17th century Anselmism, narrow to the point of excluding most Christians – even quite a few evangelical Christians, I imagine – and somewhat American 20th century in flavour. Who would have thought… The Trustees is men only ;=) into money and numbers – and yes, they include a mega church “planter”. I found the advice under Resources on how the students… Read more »

Fr Joseph O'Leary
Guest

The issue isn’t really the ethics of given genital acts — these in themselves would not cause any more urgent concern than, say, masturbation or contraceptive acts. Rather it is the recognition of the human (psycho-sexual affective) identity of gays that is the sticking point.

“The ethics of same-sex relationships” is a phrase that you will never hear on the lips of Pope Benedict — it implicitly dedramatizes the debate and posits the reality and value of these relationships as a given (suggesting that one goes on from there to mull over the rightness or wrongness of specific sexual acts).

laurence
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laurence

Rowan has (conveniently?) forgotten his Freud, and psychological insight of late. Yet he writes convincingly of transference in his book Lost Icons. His poetry too, has insight into human being, which makes his current naivete questionable. (e.g. his poem about teenage single mothers at the bus stop, in a Valleys town). His theology of relationship & sexuality too, as evinced in his Michael Harding Memorial Lecture, given to LGCM, some years ago, is deep, sensitive, and has poetic sensibility. Also, more recently,in his talk to Lesbian & Gay Clergy at their regular consultation, in London. But now he seems to… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Objecting to a ‘Pure’ course (precisely what is needed in this day and age, one would have thought?) and not to the wider amoralities on campus. Surely some topsy-turvy priorities here? Ekklesia’s report is said to be balanced. But: (1) I do not think that it is as independent as it claims. After all, how many people wrote it? And is it helpful that it is anonymous? (2) When it claims that CUs ocasionally have been troublesome to chaplains, it must also surely admit that this necessitates that the reverse is also true. There is no justification for seeing the… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Dave Williams (one of them) wrote: “The Pure course is being very heavily misrepresented as an attack on homosexuals. That’s not what it is. It’s a course aimed at Christians – obviously it comes from a conservative point of view so maybe not all will agree with it here. In that respect it is pro marriage rather than anti everything.” Why this language of “conservative” versus “liberal”? Because all this Anglican nastiness really is about a political fight for power? For very little of this is traditional in a theological sense. Traditional 2nd Millennium theology on human sexuality was not… Read more »

Gerry Lynch
Guest

There are two different issues here, and I think it’s important not to confuse the two. The first is indeed attempts to exclude Christian Unions from Students’ Union premises, and this does indeed stem from an aggressive new left, secularist agenda long associated with Students’ Unions. And yes, those trendy lefty students are indeed intolerant of those who disagree with them and often only to willing to shut down divergent opinion. No matter how much I loathe the Christian Unions and all they stand for (and yes, I really do loathe their repugnant abortion of Christianity), in a free society… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

For many years UCCF advised their member CU’s NOT to affiliate to Student Unions. Many still do not.

It is not unreasonable for CU’s to agree to sign up to the equality statement of the SU.If they do not wish to, that is their choice, but then the SU is at will not to accept them as affiliates.

Note that this does not affect the individual student or their membership of the NUS.Purely whether the CU as a group is an affiliate or not.

dave williams
Guest

Goran,

Once again I’m not sure what your point is. Maybe it’s because you were so eager to get your comment in that you didn’t bother to read and respond to the point I was making?

Steve Watson.
Guest
Steve Watson.

Goran, do you have student Christian groups in Sweden? I wondered that you may not know of any, given this account of the Church of Sweden by a Swedish pastor, Folke T. Olofsson:

http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-09-032-f

dave williams
Guest

Merseymike,

What is your source for this UCCF advise that CUs should not affiliate to their Student Unions? All I can find is Ekklesia’s anecdotal evidence. It is news to me!

Cheryl Clough
Guest

I was thinking about this thread overnight (thanks again Simon for bringing things to the fore). A few things that have me cogitating and/or chuckling. Firstly, the Lutherans are probably singing praises to God that this happened in the CoE as they recently voted to divest themselves of State sponsorship so that their government is truly secular (recognising the idolatry of power and statehood). Secondly, some of these comments are made by leaders who do not have strong sex drives. They remind me of a friend of mine who found herself unexpectedly pregnant; it took me several years to appreciate… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

I said ‘used to’, Dave, and I know, because I spent 2 and a half years as an evangelical, and knew the policy from the inside.

It worked well, simply because the CU didn’t want to be compromised by having to sign up to SU policies

Which, of course, they are not forced to do, but if they don’t , then they cannot expect the same privileges.

dave williams
Guest

Cheryl,

The problem is that the victory probably was a Cof E one -seems that shareholder power talks loudest!

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Yes Steve Watson, there are student Christian Groups at all Universities and what we call High Schools, which are university standard, but do not have the 4 Faculties. There are 2 Church of Sweden student associations: Credo or SESG Sweden’s Evangelical Movement for Students http://www.credo.nu This is Evangelical, that is historically Pietist/Bohemian brothers. Calvinism in Sweden (apart from regional and social pockets influenced by the 1686/1687 Calvinist State Church of the Absolutist Kings) is mainly found outside the Church in the Free churches. Credo is the result of a break in 1924 with SKS, the 1907 Swedish Christian Student Movement,… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Do people remember the word “graciousness”? IF we are serious about world peace and fighting terrorism, then we are going to need to learn the higher social skills. Other players contributed to the protection of Christians right to wear crosses with their uniform. Spoilt “look at me” children demand the attention and forgot the others who cheered them on. They are the horrible children who demand presents and then sneer that they are not expensive or pure enough. What the world needs is not self absorbed bullies. The world needs leaders who are looking to build alliances and hospitable communities,… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest
Eric MacDonald

Put this item together with the article in the Telegraph about the evangelical backlash and you see a primate wedged between the devil and a hotplace. Poor old Rowan doesn’t seem able to stand up and tell us what he really believes. Instead he shifts and turns with every political twist from left or right. He seems to be coming down most firmly on the right of late, wagering that the right will win out in the end, and that the left will fall by the wayside. I hope he is wrong, but it is quite clear that the breadth… Read more »

Stephen Smith
Guest
Stephen Smith

This website has failed to engage with the Christian Union issue until now. Given it headlined the front page of the Times on 18th November, and was followed by open letters signed by senior CofE bishops, why has the issue not been engaged with?

Due to the above, I have not been surprised that the current coverage of the Bishop of Southwark has also been completely ignored.

Are there some issues on which TA just doesn’t know how to respond?

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

Cheryl observed some of these comments are made by leaders who do not have strong sex drives I offer two quotations, given that church leaders are not usually in their first fluxh of youth: Peter de Rosa’s character Father Doddleswell, commenting on obsessing about sexual sin: “Father Neil; if you wait long enough you don’t have to leave the sins of the flesh alone. They leave you alone.” And Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Trial by Jury’ “Oh I was like that when a lad/ a shocking young scamp of a rover. I behaved like a regular cad, / but that sort… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

David It’s not just an age thing (though that can make a difference). There are some people for example who should never aspire to be a celibate priest or nun. And history demonstrates that they often come to realise the error of their ways. Similarly, some only come to priesthood after the first flush of youth has passed. I loved the poems. I still keep thinking of the Victorian ages where women were told to “lie back and think of England”. Nowadays, I chuckle, because the AIDS pandemic is causing nations to have to choose effective strategies versus text book… Read more »

David Huff
Guest
David Huff

The ABC complains that it’s difficult for “conservatives”, “…to state the traditional position of their faith without being accused of something akin to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.”

Well, Your Grace, that’s because it *IS* akin to racial bigotry.

I grew up in the American South during the Civil Rights struggles there, and heard all the religious justifications for keeping non-whites “in their place.” And this stuff smells JUST the same…

Dave
Guest
Dave

Dear David Huff, I think your sense of smell needs checking.. Racial bigotry is about treating people of other races inferior. I don’t know of any conservatives in the CofE who treat other people as inferior, whoever they are, whatever they believe, and however they define themselves… What I (and they) do is believe that God has moral views on our choices. If you think about this you will realise that you do too. The only real difference is the exact grounds on which you and I decide whether something is immoral. You would be very upset (I guess) if… Read more »

Craig Nelson
Guest
Craig Nelson

The CU is a free association of people and is therefore free to form its own views on membership. The Student Union is a free association of people and is equally free to determine the criteria on which other associations for students can be affiliated as part of the SU. Having a non-discrimination criteria is democratic (if voted for by the SU), reasonable and moral as well as being only fair if the SU represents all members why should it grant financial support to organisations that treat some members less favourably? As has been pointed out, this doesn’t bar the… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Dave dear,

1) There is only o n e human race.

Not seldom in-human.

2) Polygamy has n e v e r been the “personal choice” of the women. Even less of “love”, certainly not of “big love orientation” – whatever that is supposed to mean.

Polygamy is a question of an in-balance in social, legal and economic powers.

Nor do I think that you are privy to God’s “views”, moral or otherwise.

Gerry Lynch
Guest

The Student Union is a free association of people No it isn’t, because students at most, if not all, UK universities must belong to one. One doesn’t get a choice in the matter. And even if it were, there’s a difference between what it legally must do and what it should ideally do. There’s a nasty strain of intolerance among the academic/student left – look at the repeated attempts in NATHFE/AUT, pre-amalgamation, to boycott Israeli academics. Free speech is at something of a premium. Personally I think the views of UCCF and its members on homosexuality are repellent, but I… Read more »

Dave
Guest
Dave

Göran asserted. “Polygamy has n e v e r been the “personal choice” of the women.”

Dear Göran, are you claiming omniscience, or just asserting that you have perfect perception of every choice ever made by a woman throughtout time and space ?

ps For more liberally acceptable forms of “big love” try reading up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyamory

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Dear David,

Since “Polygamy is a question of an in-balance in social, legal and economic powers”

there is no “choice” involved, personal or otherwise (except stayng un-polygamed ;=)

Do try to be serious!