Thursday, 1 February 2007

SORs: more from Faithworks

Ekklesia reports in Evangelical leader welcomes UK equalities legislation that:

A prominent evangelical Christian, the Rev Malcolm Duncan, who heads up the Faithworks movement – which is involved in public service provision – has welcomed the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) that some Catholic and Anglican leaders have described as compromising their consciences.

In a statement on the Faithworks site and in an extended article, Mr Duncan declared: “Much of the mainstream media has portrayed this as a defeat for the Church. We strongly believe this is not the case.”

The extended article can be found here: Wrong debate, wrong language by Malcolm Duncan.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 1 February 2007 at 11:38pm GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

It is the difference, isn't it, between power and influence. Reform and friends want to evangelise the nation by conversion, which misreads the situation and it isn't going to happen. The alternative is service and example, and leads to a good reputation and influence - something like the Quakers have achieved. However, the tone of this piece is service despite having a different point of view from society, whereas perhaps Christianity should change its point of view. Or at least some Christians will.

Posted by: Pluralist on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 1:35am GMT

"Wrong debate, wrong language" -- yes, if the language is that of "the rights of the Church" but not if it is "the defence of freedom of conscience against State steamrolling of it".

Of course, as the combox of a recent Scotsman article showed, there is a wider debate in which ignorance and hatred still seems massively to prevail. The churches should never say anything about any gay-related issue without at the same time striking out against this climate of hatred, for which the churches are themselves largely responsible.

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 3:13am GMT

The reactions to the Archbishops' letter seem to me to be for the most part based on not reading the letter at all. Here is the central part of the letter:

"Many in the voluntary sector are dedicated to public service because of the dictates of their conscience. In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights to have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk. The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.
On numerous occasions in the past proper consideration has been given to the requirements of consciences... As you approach the final phase of what has, until very recently, been a careful and respectful consideration of the best way in which to introduce and administer new protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in England and Wales, we hope you, and cabinet colleagues, will do justice to the interests of the much wider grouping of interests within the nation that will be affected. It is vitally important that... conditions are not inadvertently created which make the claims of conscience an obstacle to, rather than the inspiration for, the invaluable public service rendered by parts of the voluntary sector."

As to the allegation that the Archbishops only intervened at the very tailend of the debate, note that their intervention is in response to what they saw as the sudden closing of a debate that had been proceeding quite satisfactorily until then.

Please not the use of the word "conscience" throughout.

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 3:50am GMT

It's becoming clearer by the day that some consultation would not have damaged the 3 Archbishops, whereas lack of it did.

To think that it's only a couple a weeks since the Reform/Mainstream crowd Worked the same Error...

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 8:28am GMT

Have the 3 archbishops been damaged, really?

Would consultation have changed what they wanted to say on the issue of State and conscience?

Must they way to have every statement they make vetted before they open their mouths? And how wide a consultation would satisfy everyone?

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 8:59am GMT

Fr Joseph O'Leary wrote: "Wrong debate, wrong language" – yes, if the language is that of "the rights of the Church" but not if it is "the defence of freedom of conscience against State steamrolling of it".

Indeed. Even, the “language” was “of This church”, not any principle in sight.

But now, post the 3 Archbishop’s disastrous letters, no one will ever be able to hear the words “defence of freedom of conscience” without thinking “spin master”, WH press conferences.

(but Please! people have both read and heard. Don’t “assume” otherwise)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 9:46am GMT

"A prominent evangelical..."
should read "a little known...."

Seriously, your making a fuss of the views of someone with v little influence or authority

Posted by: NP on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 10:38am GMT

I don't think there was a closing of the debate - but it had to reach a conclusion

And ultimately it left a choice. Do we allow the claims of conscience inspired by religion to permit legal discrimination against gays and lesbians- because that is what was being asked for, no matter how much the RC's want to make out that they do not want to discriminate.

I think it was wise to simply set out that principle - and I do not feel that the religious conscience is an acceptable excuse for discrimination in the civil law and in the public sphere.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 10:47am GMT

Merseymike wrote: "...no matter how much the RC's want to make out that they do not want to discriminate."

It's a bit like seeing Shankara's one-sided Dualism presented as "Shankara's Monism" ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 11:34am GMT

NP ; I don't agree with you.

Faithworks are one of the key organisations who are progressing the faith communities agenda with regard to social exclusion and Christian involvement in faith-based activities.

What I find interesting is the way that those involved have significantly shifted their approach - given that most are certainly from very conservative backgrounds, Malcolm Duncan included.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 2:32pm GMT

NP dismissed Malcolm Duncan with
"A prominent evangelical..." should read "a little known...."

Seriously, your making a fuss of the views of someone with v little influence or authority

You missed a trick there, NP. What you could have said was that by maintaining such views as his, he could NEVER be regarded as an authentic evangelical, and therefore that he and his allies are not faithful Christians but rebels to be resisted by the loyal soldiery of....

If it's any help I always find a cook's blowtorch a good way of starting the auto-da-fe bonfire.

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Friday, 2 February 2007 at 2:34pm GMT

"Indeed. Even, the “language” was “of This church”, not any principle in sight."

I cannot see how this statement squares with the two archbishops' actual language, which stressed conscience over and over again: "dedicated to public service because of the dictates of their conscience." "the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk. The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning." "the requirements of consciences"

They also stressed the rights of gays in warm references: "to protect and promote the rights of particular groups", "the best way in which to introduce and administer new protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in England and Wales".

But as bishops they cannot focus on one set of values to the exclusion of others.

"Do we allow the claims of conscience inspired by religion to permit legal discrimination against gays and lesbians - because that is what was being asked for, no matter how much the RC's want to make out that they do not want to discriminate."

Again, it is not so clear. The RC Church (on paper at least) refuses homosexual applicants for seminaries -- simply because they are homosexual. Is that discrimination? Yes, but not necessarily of an unjust kind that could be a matter for legal proceedings. Should the State force seminaries to accept homosexual candidates?


Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 1:03am GMT

It is interesting to read NP's dismissal of Duncan as someone with very little influence or authority.

I am unaware of NP’s status in all this, but it may well be that in the world NP inhabits Duncan is perceived as such.

From our perspective Duncan and Faithworks have spent the last few years engaging with an enormous range of groups across the UK. Wherever we go, Duncan and Faithworks have been there before us and are engaged in a dialogue. Their achievement is quite breathtaking.

The width and depth of their consultations have earned the Faithworks team (and the evangelical Christian ethos they represent) a profound respect and, I would guess, considerable influence.

There appears to be no door they are unwilling to knock and bridges have been built in the most extraordinary places.

At a time of polarisation, Duncan and Faithworks would seem to be making a singularly successful attempt to improve communications and resist the fragmentation of our society.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 8:21am GMT

Joseph ; again, you are confusing the issue of conscience WITHIN the church - which is fine - and conscience OUTSIDE the church in the public/civil sphere.

I am very clear that they are different things, and that the State is completely justified in intervening and regulating the public sphere, but that the Church must make its own decision within its own organisation, as long as no-one outside is detrimentally affected.

Its the hypocrisy, though - the RC church certainly does accept gay men for training in the priesthood! It says one thing, does another, and those benefiting keep schtum. Its just utterly corrupt and unacceptable.

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 10:51am GMT

"Conscience" seems now to be a universal cloak so that when an individual (to quote legislation) "does an act" and then declares it to be part of their conscience, it can't be part of the common rules for living which should protect all citizens equally.

If "conscience" means that faith groups have an upper hand on the state (which represents the interests and well being of all people not just the religious) then that means we have two classes of citizens and so we see what this is really all about - a desire for social supremacy.

The conscience theory is so extreme and would to such entrenched discrimination that I think the only valid alternative is to adhere to the European Convention definition of freedom of religion, conscience and expression, which does allow for limits to be placed on this (in order to protect the rights of others).

No-one should be forced to something against their conscience but then again no-one is forced against their wishes to provide goods or services or indeed to accept public money for doing so.

The other thing that interests me is how fast religious bodies have caught on to the 'rights culture' and are dressing up a desire to have freedom to hurt others by discriminating against them as a core part of their rights and identity.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 12:06pm GMT

But it is a core part of what they believe and what they stand for. Traditional Christianity is intrinsically and institutionally homophobic.

It must change, and if it does not, it must be resisted.

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 4:56pm GMT

Fr Joseph O'Leary wrote: "But as bishops they cannot focus on one set of values to the exclusion of others.“

Now… this was precisely what I was trying to tell you. Because they did and do.

I repeat: IF they had had any intention whatsoever to speak up against the imposition of one set of values to the exclusion of all others, they would have done so.

They did not.

They defended the “right” of THIS church (meaning y o u r church) to discriminate, calling for her to be exempt from the law of the land, whenever she so pleased = a virtual Concordat.

You may call the specific discrimination in question “just” if you please – but until you are able to present convincing grounds why this should be done, it won’t fly.

Again, if they had had any intention whatsoever to speak up against the deceit and dishonesty of this government in (and out of) Parliament, they would have done so.

For the past dozen or so years, they have had not so few occasions. Remember 2 of them actually sit in Parliament along with some 20 others!

They could have done this the first time Process was undermined. Taken aback, they might conceivably have decided doing it in retrospect – BUT then they would have cited a l l examples of manipulation in Parliamentary process from day 1!

They didn’t. They chose the 1 urgent urge of you know who wears Prada.

The name for this is Opportunism, grasping at whatever straw comes floating by. It is not speaking on Principle.

Indeed the time is past for them ever to do that.

Hopefully their eventual, but perhaps not immediate, successors will be able to venture it with some credibility, some day in the unforeseeable future.

Nothing you say can alter this – it’s beyond you as it is beyond me.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 9:51pm GMT

"From our perspective Duncan and Faithworks have spent the last few years engaging with an enormous range of groups across the UK. Wherever we go, Duncan and Faithworks have been there before us and are engaged in a dialogue."

This is very disturbing news.

"At a time of polarisation, Duncan and Faithworks would seem to be making a singularly successful attempt to improve communications and resist the fragmentation of our society."

I'm sorry. Did you mean to write this? It seems to me that Duncan is in the forefront of fragmentation in the church and in society. He is funded by think tanks that seek to promote the Culture Wars. Fragmentation increases, not decreases.

Posted by: ruidh on Saturday, 3 February 2007 at 11:26pm GMT

"They defended the “right” of THIS church (meaning y o u r church) to discriminate, calling for her to be exempt from the law of the land, whenever she so pleased = a virtual Concordat. You may call the specific discrimination in question “just” if you please – but until you are able to present convincing grounds why this should be done, it won't fly."

Not correct. The two archbishops spoke of the rights of conscience, not of any other exemptions. A Concordat would entail far more than that.

The State has determined that gay couples have the same rights where adoption is concerned as heterosexual married couples. This legal and moral determination is about one year old. It is indeed a new morality.

The trouble is that this creates a real problem of conscience for Catholics, whose Catechism, Pope and traditions firmly assert that the State's position is profoundly wrong and immoral. The State is saying that all Catholics who work for adoption agencies can just forget about the Pope and ignore him, since he is so clearly wrong.

Personally I believe a development in Roman Catholic teaching here is long overdue, though I claim no certitude. See:
http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/11/neocaths_and_ga.html
http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/06/mother_church_a.html
http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/06/the_flesh_and_t.html

But remember Saint Paul's teaching on respecting the conscience of the less advanced brethren.

Even if the Church modernizes its views, it would be likely at the very most to see gay unions as analogous to marriage rather than fully equal to marriage and would privilege heterosexual married couples over same-sex ones when there is a choice. The zealots would still rant about the Church's power-lust and homophobia. Those who reject the Church's protests today may regret it tomorrow when they are exposed to other abuses stemming from the State's usurpation of a monopoly on moral authority.

Puritanical rigour in the interpretation of "discrimination" could lead to absurdities, such as forcing same-sex establishments of all sorts to open to the other sex (this may already be the law!) thus abolishing at a stroke the "gay scene".

Even if the onus is on the Church,

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 5:45am GMT

"No-one should be forced to something against their conscience but then again no-one is forced against their wishes to provide goods or services or indeed to accept public money for doing so."

It is true that the Govt is not forcing the Church to act against their conscience, but it is forcing the Church to close down its adoption agencies.

If the State ruled that all pharmacists must sell condoms and some strict Catholics refused, the State would be forcing them to close down their businesses.

"You may call the specific discrimination in question “just” if you please – but until you are able to present convincing grounds why this should be done, it won’t fly."

Is the onus probandi always on the conscientious objector? Most conscientious objectors point to a vast body of argument in support of their position -- be it pacifism, opposition to abortion, or whatever. But the State's respect for conscience is not contingent on the objector proving his case, surely?


At some point this steamrolling of conscience would become actual persecution.

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 5:55am GMT

An awful lot of the argumentation above is predicated on the presumption that the churches are in bad faith or have concealed motives. This inability to argue the case on its own grounds is surely a sign that the indignation at the churches is poorly thought out. I see very little engagement with what was actually said in the letter of the 2 archbishops for example.

Posted by: Fr Joseph O'Leary on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 5:58am GMT

No, Joseph - you still don't get it.

There is no place for the sort of 'conscience' which allows discrimination against a minority who are protected by law.

Its as simple as that. I think the 'conscience' of Catholics should be no more respected than the conscience of BNP members to dislike black people.It has no more moral value, simply because it is attached to 'religion'.

That is why Christian traditions must change or be resisted.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 11:16am GMT

"I'm sorry. Did you mean to write this? It seems to me that Duncan is in the forefront of fragmentation in the church and in society."

I would be interested to have any evidence of this ruidh.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 5:33pm GMT

Ruidh - this isn't Bishop Duncan of Pennsylvania!

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 7:34pm GMT

I think there may be 2 different Duncans ;=)

But only 1 Macbeth...

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 4 February 2007 at 8:52pm GMT

chaps - I was not being dismissive - just honest - never heard of this chap or "Faithworks"

get +Tom Wright to agree with you - that would be news!

Posted by: NP on Monday, 5 February 2007 at 10:45am GMT

Just come back from a few days in Ireland to catch some of the blog! How interesting. NP - I am not in the slightest bit upset that you haven't heard of me or that you haven't heard of Faithworks. I am sure you are much the better for it! There is info about who we are and what we do at the website www.faithworks.info if you would like to know more about what we get up to.

We only seek to engage with 'powers' and 'government' on behalf of our membership (a free service for churches and individuals) and we work with several thousand churches, projects and individuals in the UK. Happy to chat more with you if you'd like to know more.

Ruidh, we don't receive funding from any think tank, and it might help you to know that about 90% of our funding comes from individuals and voluntary donations.

I'm not seeking to fracture the church, but I am committed to highlighting the fact that there are alternative views of issues which are so often represented as monochrome. I'm not so convinced that there is 'a Christian view' on so much of what we discuss, rather just lots of Christians with views.

By the way, you can catch Tom Wright and I speaking together in London on the 6th March or again on 7th - 9th June in Newcastle upon Tyne. We don't agree on everything, but I think he is a superb scholar and deeply committed to the purposes of God in our world and it is an honour to work alongside him.

I continue to follow this dialogue with interest

Malcolm Duncan

Posted by: Malcolm Duncan on Tuesday, 6 February 2007 at 10:30am GMT

Malcolm - Sorry, I was not meaning to be rude about you. Thanks for the website ref. I confess that I was being a bit rude to some who seemed to me to be crowing as if they had got someone like +Tom Wright to support TEC's unilateral actions in 2003.

I am not totally clear where you stand. In a nutshell, where do you disagree with +Tom (if you do)?

Posted by: NP on Tuesday, 6 February 2007 at 11:31am GMT
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