Sunday, 3 December 2006

Nazir-Ali criticised by Observer

Today’s Observer contains a leader and an opinion column both of which respond to the remarks of the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali as quoted last week in the Daily Mail.

First, a reminder of the Daily Mail report by Steve Doughty:

A senior Church of England bishop have warned that Anglican youth clubs, welfare projects and charities may close because of new gay rights laws.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, said that the Church of England’s charities would be “affected” by the rules, which will force them to give equal treatment to homosexuals.

He declared: “It will be the poor and disadvantaged who will be the losers….”

…Pakistani-born Dr Nazir-Ali said: “I welcome warmly what the Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham has said about the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

“In the proposed regulations there is no clear exemption for religious belief even though it is widely known that several of the faiths in this country will have serious difficulty.”

He added: “Religion affects every area of life and cannot be reduced to just worship.

“These regulations will certainly affect a great deal of charitable work done by the churches and others. It is the poor and disadvantaged who will be the losers.”

Now, today’s Observer. First, Nick Cohen in Let’s not sleepwalk with the Christian soldiers says:

…Last week, full-page adverts launched a histrionic campaign from the church’s evangelical wing against New Labour’s attempts to secure equality for homosexuals. The low point came when the Bishop of Rochester claimed ‘the poor and disadvantaged will be the losers’ if religious charities are forced to treat gays fairly.

Much can change before 25 December, but after the past fortnight, there is a fair chance that the hedonism and family quarrels of the traditional British Christmas will be overshadowed by religion, of all things.

Only the Tory press sympathised with the wild assault on equality under the law for homosexuals, but hardly anyone defended British Airways. Tellingly, only now can you see widespread anger at the failure to call Christmas by its proper name, although Birmingham City Council has been burbling about ‘Winterval’ since 1998.

The ferocity of the Church of England’s internal conflicts could make a Balkan warlord blanch. However, Ekklesia, a think-tank on the church’s left, and Anglican Mainstream, from its evangelical right, agreed on one point. They both told me that committed Christians with a sincere faith were just another minority - somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of the population. But beyond them there were millions of people who could be glad that Christians were asserting themselves under special circumstances…

and the leader column The government must not buckle over gay rights said:

…It says much about modern Britain that civil partnerships were introduced without a rumpus. The law was not forcing liberal values on a reactionary society, it was catching up with attitudes that had already changed. Prejudice still exists, but there is no doubt that Britain in 2006 is a much better place in which to be gay than it was 10 years ago…

…In the same spirit a law has been drafted that would ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Hotels, for example, would not be able to deny rooms to gay couples. Schools would not be able to deny places to gay pupils. The changes were due to be introduced earlier this year but have been postponed because of lobbying by church groups.

Last week the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols attacked the government for what he called the imposition of its moral agenda on the church. The Anglican Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, warned that church-based charities would be forced to close their doors if the government insisted they let in gay people. ‘It is the poor and disadvantaged who will be the losers,’ he said.

The churches are thus trying to depict the Sexual Orientation Regulations as an assault on their philanthropic work, including faith schools and adoption agencies. That is a tendentious argument. ‘The poor and disadvantaged’ would only lose out if the churches choose to hate homosexuality more than they like good works. Their objection to the new law is not, as they like to see it, self-defence against a meddling government. It is a threat by powerful institutions to withhold their charity out of prejudice.

Churches are free to preach that homosexuality is a sin and their followers are free to believe it in private. But the elected government of Britain does not share that view and has rightly sought to give gay citizens the same public rights as everyone else. Or at least it has done thus far. On this latest measure the cabinet is divided. Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic, is the minister responsible for the new law and is sympathetic to the idea of exempting churches. The Prime Minister is also thought to be amenable to religious petitioning…

To judge for yourself whether or not “there is no clear exemption for religious belief” read the regulations as published for Northern Ireland, from this page (which has links to the full text).

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 2:21pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

I find it very disturbing that some Christian Churches seek exemption from a law that prevents certain people from being discriminated against. We may not always agree with some of our laws but Paul tells us (Romans 13) that we must be subject to the governing authorities. And the jury is very much out as to whether homosexualty is sinful.

Posted by: Peter Elliott on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 3:09pm GMT

The Observer leader is great! Nick Cohen's argument is a little more sinewy but nonetheless important for the future of social cohesion in this country - hence his headline (Let's not sleepwalk with the Christian Soldiers).

I have however a few questions that won't go away.

Notably, what did the Lawyers Christian Fellowship have to do with the Times ad on the 28th November?

- its electronic title is LCFAdvert.pdf (possibly a bit of a giveaway)
- it's only hosted in one location on the internet - a website of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (called 'Christian Concern for Our Nation' - http://www.christianconcernforournation.co.uk/sor/docs/LCFAdvert.pdf
- the only other reference I have found to the organisation 'Coherent and Cohesive Voice' (Orwellian name if ever there was one) is of a mass lobby organised by them and posted on the LCF's CCFON website.

One wonders if it is proper for LCF, given its charitable status, to pay for such an ad (if indeed they did). Even if they didn't their other activities raise the same concerns. I imagine a large amount of LCF's income will be gift aid.

One must also raise a few eyebrows at the President of such an organisation being Justice Hedley - a High Court Judge. Is it normal for a High Court Judge to actually preside over an overtly political lobbying organisation which has actively apposed major planks of recent social legislation and through its web site still does?

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 5:03pm GMT

This member of the jury has already voted not guilty. Not to convict. Rather the opposite.

I wear mixed fabrics, so that source is out, and I haven't as yet participated in any orgies, so that reasoning is out (I'm not gay, but I'm considering via empathy towards sexual conduct) but on the other hand some of the tougher ethics about looking and desiring aren't put into my empty sainthood drawer, but when the Kingdom has come it might be possible. The Bible says nothing about nuclear power and multinationsals, nor stable homosexual relationships, but the government told me to get married (wife being foreign at that time, you have to) so that's like Paul said, "Oh if you must," and I've pretty much rejected polygamy (or polyandry) though I suppose we might visit Tibet and see how polyandry keeps scarce resources distributed. No children, so I have never considered how to sell a daughter into slavery.

Sort of asking myself, through all the Biblical detail, what is it asking that is transferable, it seems to be something like honesty and faithfulness, loyalty, fidelity, accepting faults and your own reciprocally and working through problems, some awful, sticking together when times are rough. I reckon this includes stable homosexual relationships too, and it might even include unstable honest ones too.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 5:30pm GMT

I hope I'm reading +Nazir-Ali wrong, but it sounds like he intends to hold charities for the poor hostage to compliance on the gay issue. furthermore, it sounds like he is implying that CoE charities are discriminating against gay people when they provide services ... I'm not clear on exactly how, but if a poor gay person shows up and gets turned down, perhaps it would be better if +Nazir-Ali gets struck by lightning.

I would hope, of course, for the UK government to clarify if the proposed laws would not force clergy to do such things as bless same-sex marriages, or to open church property to meetings by gay rights groups (some of the things that have been said sound positively outlandish).

the Mad Priest (revpjh.blogspot.com) tells us that the church has flagrantly and repeatedly violated the disability law, especially in its treatment of people with mental illness.

Posted by: Weiwen Ng on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 7:10pm GMT

"‘The poor and disadvantaged’ would only lose out if the churches choose to hate homosexuality more than they like good works. Their objection to the new law is not, as they like to see it, self-defence against a meddling government. It is a threat by powerful institutions to withhold their charity out of prejudice."

Well said. Bravo!

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 8:44pm GMT

The church has already been given a partial exemption - as the NI regs explain. What Nazirali and Co. want is a total exemption and the freedom to discriminate carte blanche. It is that which they do not like.

I wonder if they realise how this makes Christians appear, particularly to young people?

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 8:52pm GMT

So sad. Again, yet again,the church lags behind the rest of society when it should lead to greater respect for the dignity of all persons and acknowledge that God is always challenging our little, narrow, box-building. But, as a woman priest I've lived with it for years -- and still do.
Columba Gilliss

Posted by: Columba Gilliss on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 9:36pm GMT

I believe that once upon a time, the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship was just that - a meeting place for those in the legal profession who were Christian. There seems to be a sudden militancy about them that simply has to alienate the majority, if not the vast majority, of Christian legal practitioners.

Since two of the four statements of 'fact' on the CCV advert are demonstrably untrue, and the other two are so full of hyperbole that they would be struck down in court, I'm left wondering what on Earth is going on? Where is the LCF getting its legal advice? Do ordinary LCF members endorse this advert? Who wrote it, who paid for it? Have the LCF offices been taken over by stealth, or have they always been like this and no one noticed?

So what do we end up with? Another opportunity for Christians to end up looking like bare-faced liars and (stealing the quote from the Observer's leader) those who hate homosexuality more than they like good works.

Gah, my morning started badly listening to Colin Hart on Radio 4 repeating this same nonsense (presumably hoping that if it's repeated enough, people will start to believe it). It hasn't got much better :(

Posted by: Simon Morden on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 10:49pm GMT

I lost all respect for +Michael Nazir-Ali when he began meddling in the affairs of the 2006 General Convention in support of the schismatic Network bishops.

Now the Diocese of San Joaquin has taken the first step to leave the Episcopal Church and become a diocese of the Anglican Communion. Dioceses are part of a province rather than the Anglican Communion. +John-David Schofield, with whom +Rochester aligned himself at GC 2006, was raving, in his Convention address on December 1, 2006, against middle-of-the-road Anglican theologians who don't affirm the Virgin Birth as a gynocological/biological miracle. In fact, he was raving against some of the top CofE theologians, such as Keith Ward, Anthony and Richard Hanson et al. Does +Michael Nazir-Ali want to shut down the theological faculties of Oxbridge? Does he want to establish an Index of Forbidden Books? Does he want to reinstitute the Inquisition and the burning of heretics at the stake?

May the good Lord deliver us from zealots like him!

Posted by: John Henry on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 1:00am GMT

Boy, everytime I get depressed about the latest antics from one of our infamous princes-in-purple like +Iker or +Schofield, it helps to be reminded that my co-religionists in the Mother Country have their own cross to bear from the likes of +Nazir-Ali.

At least I know you can "feel my pain" ;)

Posted by: David Huff on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 1:20am GMT

Why is it that a bishop of the church would even consider harming all of the children under his care to stop them from being exposed to gay youths? (Not that he can stop the exposure. These kids go to school together.) Where are his values? Where is Christ in this kind of threat?

Posted by: ruidh on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 3:28am GMT

People want to discriminate in their private grounds? Fine. Just be honest about it so that funding and alternative providers can be found for those who are not worthy of holy servicing.

Fears of being caught out being actively abusive? May God bless and long live the secular state. That is the only thing that has stopped some of the overt forms of abuse, and exposed the degree to which corrupted priesthoods' will go to preserve their reputations.

The only people who will lose are the poor and oppressed? No. Civilised people will step in to fill the vacuum left by corrupted coteries. Ultimately, the only souls who will lose are those abusers who would dare to use the poor and oppressed as hostages or for emotional blackmail or as intimidation of examples of how their god will punish us if we don't tithe and flatter them. Good riddance.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 9:40am GMT

A bit more news on the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship here:
http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/article2035183.ece

Posted by: Jimbo on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 1:21pm GMT

Religions were persecuted
now religions persecute Gays and lesbians /
thanks for your religions good thinking .
you are a joke , what is a religion.
I have a new religion ! it forbids religions !
religions are not above the law !

Posted by: john sharp on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 10:05am GMT

The question of whether there is an exemption for 'religious belief' (whatever that is; on what basis does it claim to be in a different category from any other kind of evidence-based belief?) is less important than...
...the question of whether there is an exemption on the grounds of statistically-grounded belief. It is a sad day but it looks like honest people who try to come to accurate statistically-based conclusions, which may often go against their own natural instincts (as opposed to 'believing' what they want to believe according to preexisting ideologies and wishful thinking) are a minority, and treated as such.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 12:44pm GMT

The last two posts raise an interestng thought, which is whether there should be any kind of exemption at all in this area.

Human rights law entails freedom of religion - but in point of fact it is debatable if discriminating against others has to be tolerated by the government under the guise of religious freedom.

On balance I think having religious freedom is important from a human rights point of view, but when it comes to harming others I think there needs to be a much more careful approach.

You can set up any religion you want, so logically you can have a religion that says black people are inferior, that you are required to beat your children or enslave people.

Obviously belief and the manifestation of belief have to be tolerated (even then only up to a point - what if I have a religion that says suicide bombers are a good thing and insist on preaching that?)

We have to develop an anylsis of ways in which religious belief and its manisfestation is objectively harmful and place some limits onto that, provided it is consistent with human rights laws and instruments.

Interestingly, isn't the denial of same sex marriage by religious groups a denial of freedom of religion for those faith groups that believe they ought to practice it?

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 4:43pm GMT

During my reading week, I came across some interesting mainstream material from the late 18th/early 19th where Christians who sought to oppose slavery and capital punishment were portrayed as holding views incompatible with Scripture and infringing the rights of the individual....

The then Bishop of Rochester had some particularly 'enlightened' contributions to make during a Lords debate, and, as we all know:-), early C19 proposals drastically to reduce the number of capital offences were lost in the Upper House because of the opposition of a number of bishops and one archbishop.

Looks to me as though the Church needs to keep its mouth shut given its track record in meddling in legislation....

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 7:58pm GMT

Well mynsterpreost, I don't think we all did know any of that and I am glad you took the trouble to post it onto this website - it's a realy good reference fromn history about people who take very seriously the view "I've got a book written by God and my job is to tell you what to do".

I think that future generations will probably forget the current debates and wonder why ever so much energy got spent on them.

Very apposite for today's situation.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 12:13am GMT

I keep worrying at the central concern in all this: why would Christians want to oppose a law that forbade discrimination and harrassment of homosexuals?

I have to assume it's because they believe decriminalising homosexual behaviour was in the first place wrong, and in the second, the start of a slippery slope that would lead to the point where they would be forced to have them in their own churches.

It seems to me that every action taken by government to extend rights to homosexuals has been opposed by Christian groups on the basis of these two objections.

These are objections I can understand, even if I don't share them. To the first, that something that can be seen as deeply sinful is now no longer illegal. To the second, to be forced to accept something that can be seen as deeply sinful no longer requires repentance.

Having said that: Craig and mynsterpreost have both mentioned that not only have Christians changed their minds on moral issues, but they have often spoken out against that change. Can we find it scarcely believable that bishops in the House of Lords once supported slavery and capital punishment?

I would hope, then as now, those who oppose changes in the law act soley out of a sense of what is right and just. But much of the language, the way the debate is framed, the use of contentious examples and deliberate misinformation leads me to believe the opposition has more to do with the retention, consolidation and application of power than it does with any issue connected to practicing faith.

To borrow the words of an early blogger: J'accuse.

Posted by: Simon Morden on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 10:14am GMT

The above posts are very constructive and helpful to me. Thank you. I like the feeling of real dialogue, real attempts to understand or go forward, without polemic or snide remarks thrown in.

mynsterpreost wrote :
'During my reading week, I came across some interesting mainstream material from the late 18th/early 19th where Christians who sought to oppose slavery and capital punishment were portrayed as holding views incompatible with Scripture and infringing the rights of the individual.... '
If you didnt mind and have time I'd love to know the reference(s) for this in the literature, or on-line. It is interesting, salutory and gives needed historical perspective. Thanks if you are able.

Christianity, integrity, spirituality and ethics are far too important to leave to professional believers or experts ! Then and now.......

Posted by: laurence on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 12:12pm GMT

"Can we find it scarcely believable that bishops in the House of Lords once supported slavery and capital punishment?"

Just in case anyone from the Wesleyan tradition is feeling smug, there were interesting quotations from him as well, one particularly when he refused a request to intercede for someone condemned to hang on theological grounds.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 1:43pm GMT

Laurence:
A place to start is "God's Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation" (Cambridge Studies in Ideology & Religion) by Timothy Gorringe, Duncan B. Forrester, and Alistair Kee,a work which takes issue with recent writing by Swinburne and Gunton, and also is taken further in 'The Nonviolent Atonement' by J.Denny Weaver.

Tracking down the material online is more tricky, but if you have access to academic social history sites you'll find it easier. If I get any good urls, I'll let you know perhaps you could email me blessedgodric@aol.com with your address

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 7:44pm GMT

Laurence: Another good place to start is with Samuel Romilly, and also the work of William Law and (to some degree) Blake.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 8:27pm GMT

Many thanks mynsterpreost for these two posts and the reading recommendations.Much obliged. I'll see if I an gain access to them.
Perhaps Friends House Library, Euston may be able to oblige.

*********************************************

I was very sorry to read your post on John Wesley-- one of my heroes. Alas. (I must try and grow up!...)

Posted by: laurence on Thursday, 7 December 2006 at 7:22pm GMT

Laurence mourned:
I was very sorry to read your post on John Wesley

But he was surrounded by a particular culture, and even the great saints cannot easily speak apart from it without becoming unintelligible to their audience. Wesley got it wrong, but so did nearly everyone else. It would only be shameful if someone felt that, to honour Wesley, one had to agree with his every opinion despite not sharing his cultural context.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Thursday, 7 December 2006 at 11:01pm GMT
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