Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Church reaction to parliamentary votes

Once again Dave Walker has a roundup of reactions to the voting in the House of Commons, see Abortion vote: blog responses.

If you want to know what the numeric outcomes of all the abortion votes were, Louise Ashworth has them summarised here (these figures appear in the deadtree Guardian but I can’t find them on the website). The IVF votes (there were two of these) are reported by the BBC here.

It appears that somebody (or maybe more than one person) has been giving out reaction quotes on behalf of the Church of England. See these reports:

Martin Revis Ecumenical News International via Episcopal News Service Religious leaders critical of vote to allow embryo research

Dr. Malcom Brown, director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Church of England, said, “Any erosion of the unique moral status of the human embryo opens the door — if only a crack — at the top of a ‘slippery slope’ to treating human beings as less than ends in themselves.”

Robert Pigott BBC Churches unhappy over father figures

But the Church of England has reserved its greatest ire for the decision of MPs to allow single women and lesbian couples to seek IVF treatment without having to consider the need for a father for their children.

Its verdict is stark.

“This vote sends a signal that fathers don’t matter,” it said.

“The Church holds that a child’s right not to be deliberately deprived of having a father is greater than any ‘right’ to a child through IVF.

“We are extremely disappointed that the important role of fathers was not recognised in the bill, and that we now have a situation where the perceived ‘right’ to have a child trumps the right for a child to be given the best possible start in life.”

…The Church of England focuses on how children end up without a father.

“There is a huge difference between a child who finds themselves in a single-parent family through bereavement or breakdown of parental relationship, and those who find themselves in this situation by design, for which this bill allows.”

By comparison the Church’s official reaction to the defeat of several attempts to cut the limit for abortion of 24 weeks’ gestation was mild.

A spokesman said that “abortion is used too freely”, but added that “the upper limit should be considered sympathetically on the basis of medical advances”.

The problem for the Church of England - a large organisation lacking strong top-down authority - is the wide range of strong views on abortion held by its members.

Update Thursday morning

The Bishop of Bradford has expressed his personal opinions see Bishop critical of abortion decision in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.

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CofE members? Having to endure those who presume to "speak for" you?

You have my sympathies.

Seriously: is there no room anymore, for "Scripture, Tradition and REASON" among CofE talking heads? What's wrong w/ the Church? :-/

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 4:26am BST

"is there no room anymore, for "Scripture, Tradition and REASON" among CofE talking heads? What's wrong w/ the Church? :-/"

I think you know the answer to that one. Scripture is the source of authority. Tradition only extends back 500 years, and, like Scripture, only the parts with which one agrees are to be cited. Of course, one's opponents are to be accused of doing exactly that. Reason? Well, reason's dangerous. Someone used reason once to claim that God actually took more than 7 days to make the world, and us. And you know where that got us!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 1:43pm BST

I am a strong supporter of gay rights, of Bishop Robinson, of the right to gay people to marry...but in this instance I am whole-hearted with the stand of the Church of England. Deliberately creating children who will never know their fathers is wrong. It has been shown that these children can suffer feelings of missing identity, of not knowing a part of themselves. Children should not be brought into the world for our own selfish motives (okay, yes, to some extent all planned children come from such motives) in such a situation. Children are not just cute, cuddly little toys. They grow up to be people with questions about who they are.

I am with the CofE on this one.

Posted by: Uriel on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 2:15pm BST

Reading the BBC's Have your Say discussion on this, what is significant is the increase in the number of people in the UK who are saying that it's time church leaders stopped attempting to interfere with the legislative process. There is obviously an important underlying change in public mood going on in Britain now: a few years ago, the right of bishops to come out with strong interventions in public moral debate was virtually unchallenged. Now, there is a sense that they are on borrowed time when it comes to assuming a place in the public eye.

I think the causes of this are clear: the Church's continued failure to deal squarely with equality issues within its own ranks has left it without credibility in the wider society. No-one is going to listen to us on any topic until we get our own house in order, and quite rightly so. We don't have a right to lecture other people while conveniently shelving or by-passing our own difficult ethical issues, such as women bishops or homosexuality. We need to get our ethical act together, and soon!

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 2:16pm BST

I don't support the Church of England on any of these issues. It does not speak for me. Of course IVF should be made available for single women and lesbians. I'm more concerned about males who become fathers and then run off in that there they break a relationship and escape responsibility. It has to be said, though, that some of these mothers and their offspring are better off without.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 5:12pm BST

"Deliberately creating children who will never know their fathers is wrong. It has been shown that these children can suffer feelings of missing identity, of not knowing a part of themselves."

Malarkey, uriel.

Does a child come into the world thinking

"Parental love? Check. Caring? Check. Feeding? Check. Shelter? Check. . . . Great, up to this point---now, loving, caring, sheltering, feeding parent, SHOW ME YOUR PENIS!"

It's the loving, caring, feeding and sheltering by the parent(s)---in a household which is STABLE, which is why the number '2' of parents seems to be best---that matters.

Not the parental plumbing.

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 7:32pm BST

Of course, Jesus did have a loving and supportive foster father, but did not have a "known biological male father" in any real sense -- or so the church teaches. How is it that a church that holds as central a doctrine that perforce commends foster parenthood -- as part of divine design -- suddenly forgets this when it comes to making an informed decision on similar matters?

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 10:53pm BST


Please tell that to the billions of children, past, present, future who have been and are being brought up in homes with a male father, a female mother, and siblings. It may be difficult sometimes, but look how our human race survived.

I cannot shake off the feeling, to be honest, that while gay and lesbian couples, or single parents, provide the same love and care that heterosexual couples have done. It may be that I live in a socially/politically conservative society with the trappings of "liberalism" and modern technology just to show we are a modern society. But it may be that my experience, and that of many others I know, whether rich or poor or otherwise, of the traditional extended family has been positive. And I hope people in the West understand that.

Posted by: Ren Aguila on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 1:04am BST

Well if people are accumulating negative feelings and experiences with fathers - including those big talking head fathers we hear speaking so loudly all around us in church life - maybe it has something to do with just, exactly those fathers?

Ah, the traditional magic of penis. Will it ever really go away? Will it ever really lead to anything except tribalism, domination, and such?

More importantly, how many possessors of modern penises have heart and empathy and reason and serenity and reliable inner strength for peace mongering or for fairness?

Compared to these intangibles, the tangible body part is by far the lesser.

Solomon's dilemma: get a really bad father (left, middle, or rightwing?) or get no father at all? Or is the real squeak the likelihood that often it takes quite a bit of a man to be better than no man at all?

Posted by: drdanfee on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 1:25am BST

But fathers don't matter. Well, mine certainly doesn't. And I turned out just.... oh.

Well, at least we've got the Bishop of Bradford to act as a terrifying Oedipal father-figure for us. Him and his monstrous patriarchal storm-god.

Posted by: MRG on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 2:55am BST

The emasculated Church of England is rendered impotent to resist secularism's advance. Sadly, Rowan has compromised his office so, that his objection is ignored.

Posted by: robroy on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 4:05am BST

you make it sound as though allowing a tiny number of people to have children without a father suddenly eradicates all traditional families in the world.
Traditional families are not threatened by this at all, just as same sex marriages do not threaten heterosexual ones.

Sharing a blessing you already enjoy does not take anything away from you.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 10:43am BST

(1) Every child ever born had precisely one father. Not more. Not less.
(2) Every child ever born had precisely one mother. Not more. Not less.
(3) The above incredibly simple (and incredibly true) facts, incidentally, give the lie to those fundamentalists who believe that everything but everything is incredibly complex and full of grey areas.
(4) Parliament believes that the ideologies of their little cliques within one nation at one time in history are a greater and more far-reaching reality than these universal, international realities which have been in place since the human race began.
(5) They also think it is right to respect the wise decision of many dads to walk away from their babies and live a life of hedonism instead. Perish the thought that they should be pointed in another direction. Perish the thought that ladies should consider a person whom they would even go to the ultimate lengths of having sex with to be a suitable ongoing father for their child. Perish the thought that the Government should wish to reduce, rather than increase, the escalating crime of fatherless youngsters, arising particularly from those communities where people turn a blind eye to absent fathers. Perish the thought that men should be given a challenge to achieve something (which conoisseurs of male psychology know is the best way of getting them off their backsides) rather than stay on their backsides.

After prolonged and wise consideration, the mass of male humanity, when faced with the choices either (1) to have their cake and eat it or (2) not to have their cake and eat it sensationally plumps for the former. We are all amazed at this decision, which analysts could never have predicted. Gasp, gasp. Faint, faint.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 1:09pm BST

"impotent to resist secularism's advance"

Yet again, the idea of attack. We are Christians. Christ giveth us the victory. Why are "secularism's advances" such a threat to you? We are citizens of the kingdom of God, and even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Why does it bother you that values you think are contrary to the Gospel seem to be prominent in society? I agree with you when it comes to abortion and such, but that's immaterial. The question is: given that you believe that God loves His Creation, redeemed it Himself by actually becoming part of that Creation and suffering the worst it has to offer, and promises us He will never leave us, why are you such an alarmist? Why is it that the prospect of every family in the world having same sex parents or only one parent at all, fills you with such alarm? By your expressed attitudes towards the actions of TEC, you seem to think She is not merely wrong, but something even worse than wrong. Yet your fear of, what, change(?), loss of power(?) is so great that just this week you actually used the possibility of the demise of TEC as a warning. Why should you care if a Church you believe is eggregiously in error, leading people to damnation, and controlled by faithless heathens who are trying to destroy it, withers away and dies? I'd think you'd be rejoicing at the prospect, not warning others of its dire consequences. It isn't really about that, is it? It's not that we're somehow allowing society to destroy itself, it's that we don't have the power any more to force society to behave as we think it should, that's the issue. That's why you, who after all are held in the palm of the Creator of all that is and who treasures you as a jewel in His crown(another reference to the hymns of my childhood) are so fussed up and venomy. You're not actually scared, you're just angry that the rest of the world has no intention of doing what you say. Was it in the 60s people used to say "Let go and let God"? Well, give it a thought. I see you still haven't followed my advice and read the Psalms. You really need to. Be still, and know the He is God, b'y. Sorry to get dialectal on you, but frustration does that to me.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 1:16pm BST

JCF: It is not about penises. Actually, I would be against surrogate mothering, etc., which might leave a man with his own biological child but the child without its biological mother, on purpose. I would also be against artificial insemination of the wife of a couple where the husband is infertile.

Children, as children, are no doubt pretty well off if the things you list are provided. But they grow up, and many of them grow up to ask questions about their origins - where did I get my blue eyes, or my big jaw, or .... who is a part of me? I do not think it is right to bring children intentionally into this world hampered in this way.


Posted by: Uriel on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 2:52pm BST

World poverty and the degradation of our global environments/ecologies - our mass extinction of too many species to count? - plus the ODC and other similar genetic pool degradations? - do far, far, far, far more to harm the children of our planet than having two moms or two daddies.

Than having just one mom or one daddy - could ever do? The African saying is, if I recall, It takes a village to raise a child. With far, far, far more tangible and lifelong consequences.

The narrative that hedonisms are the main interrupt of fathering, traditional or otherwise, is simply not born out by the empirical facts of social, economic, and real world family life. Can't easily lay that one at the feet of the fav not button target groups, though goodness knows the sound bite narratives which preach it so still play on among us.

Posted by: drdanfee on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 3:13pm BST

I am amused no end at the pompous conservatives who go on and on about the "nuclear family" as though it is some sort of holy thing. It is not. Even in Scripture we do not find nuclear families as we understand them today. I grew up in a more traditional culture where people were not so mobile as they are now. As result, my family was mother, father, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. To me the nuclear family is a small and sad little thing, a stunted characature of the extended family model in which I was raised, where numerous adults have responsibility for the kids, and which has been the normal model of family since we have had families. Whether it was expressed in matriarchal or patriarchal terms, whether polygamous, polyandrous, or monogamous, most human beings have grown up in families where several adults were in charge, though some might have a little more authority than others, though in my experience not much more. This idea of one father, one mother, and children is a modern construct, made necessary by industrialization and our worship of the market economy that demand that things like family take second place to the demands of the marketplace. So, Christopher, you can take your stunted deformed litte nuclear family in which there are only, at most, two adults in charge, if that's what you want, but don't try to pretend it's normal.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 6:14pm BST

As far as I am concerned, the issue is *intentionally* creating a child who will not have or even know one of his or her (inevitably existing) biological parents. The make-up of the family is not the issue. It is the intentionality.


Posted by: Uriel on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 9:32pm BST

robroy: "The emasculated Church of England is rendered impotent to resist secularism's advance." You are an American, aren't you? The USA was founded as the first secular Western society, wasn't it? What on earth qualifies you to tell us anything about the relationship of the C of E to the state? Are you supposing a policy of state religious establishment is good for the UK (or, more precisely, a section of it, viz. England), though your compatriots would never deem it wise for their own society?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 9:45pm BST

Why the "Cult of Intentionality", uriel?

Billions upon billions of human beings, have come into the world w/ LESS than perfect intentionality (perhaps the majority of those EVER born?).

Unless you plan to legislate against ALL "unintended pregnancies" (requiring a "license to procreate", as in some Sci Fi distopias?), then why hypocritically outlaw just this ONE type of . . . very-much intended pregnancy? WTF?

This sounds particularly strange on the left side of The Pond. All the paranoid "What Ifs?" about something which is just status quo, here.

One of my closest (straight) friends, is a single mother, who had to get BOTH her sperm AND egg from a clinic (she has reproductive difficulties, obviously). And yet the result of this (so-called) "fatherless" (and "motherless"!) pregnancy---and w/o the benefit of another partner/co-parent, of either gender---is a little boy who's loved, provided for, and THRIVING.

So, uriel, when I hear you say "I would also be against artificial insemination...", I hear you saying "It was wrong to bring (my friend's son) I**** into the world."

And them's fightin' words! ;-/

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 23 May 2008 at 11:28pm BST

"As far as I am concerned, the issue is *intentionally* creating a child who will not have or even know one of his or her (inevitably existing) biological parents."


Then I presume you'll be lobbying to close down all sperm banks, because all of the children born via sperm donation - including those born into a family headed by one man and one woman - are created this way. (And BTW: many of these children do eventually meet their biological parents, as do many adopted children today.)

Posted by: bls on Saturday, 24 May 2008 at 2:23am BST

Hi Ford

I have 3 questions:

(1) How many times did I mention 'nuclear family'? (Clue: the answer I am looking for is 'zero'.)

(2) How can I be opposed to extended families when I deliberately married into one (the Patels, who are about as 'extended' as you can get), and as a matter of fact think them significantly better than nuclear families? Cousins hooray. Grandparents hooray. 'It takes a whole village to raise a child' - yes it does. Why not check before writing?

(3) There is a false dichotomy made between nuclear and non-nuclear. Non-nuclear is a hodge-podge ranging from the very good (extended families) to the very bad (unplanned shacking up, multiple serial relationships, unstructured and therefore depression-causing societies etc.).

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 24 May 2008 at 1:12pm BST

JCF - I have read your postings here and, if I'm right, elsewhere (Father Jake?) and always with sympathy and agreement.

Apparently we disagree on this issue. All children should be loved, and I have no reason to think your friend's child isn't - indeed, it would be inappropriate, and irrelevant, for me to express myself with regard to that at all.

I do, however, think that given that childen who do not know their biological parents frequently feel the deep need to know where they came from biologically; that governments have been pressured to pass laws allowing access to records regarding both adoption and sperm donation so that children can attempt to locate their biological parents -- given that this need is frequently deeply felt by those who do not know one or either of their biological parents -

Given these things, why deliberately create a situation saddling the child with this? I agree that perhaps the majority of people are born with "less than perfect intentionality," but when we are actually in a position to know what we are doing and decide, should we not at a minimum stop to think?

Best, Uriel

Posted by: Uriel on Saturday, 24 May 2008 at 3:22pm BST

Christopher, I inferred it from your first three points. That and the fact that I have never, till this point, heard an Evangelical who didn't accept the basic precepts of conservative American Evangelicalism. They state clearly that family is "mother, father, children". They seem to think the extended family is a product of the "it takes a village" statement from that heathen liberal demoness Hilary Clinton. I am pleased that you do not think this way, since I believe this is nothing more than conservative American Evangelicals sanctifying early 20th century American culture as Divinely granted, not unlike the traditional Byzantine attitude towards their Empire. There are many, many American Evangelicals who quite openly state that they believe America to be chosen by God, and rather blatantly imply that American culture, as they understand it to be, is God's way, kind of as though Jesus came to establish the Republic of God. It bleeds into what they think about other things. Look at how some American conservatives on this site assume, it would appear unconsciously, that the American democratic governmental system of elected representatives and "checks and balances" is the way the Church should be governed. Where do you think the unorthodox idea of parishes owning their own buildings comes from, and the vehemence with which this unorthodox idea is defended? Sorry to have misjudged your attitudes towards the family, but I've never encountered an Evangelical who did not accept unquestioningly the idea that 1950s American Ozzie and Harriet culture wasn't somehow God's will for humanity. In my experience, espousal of such attitudes would get you condemned as an unbeliever.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 26 May 2008 at 2:03pm BST

Hi Ford-
I think that is because in families where grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles are prominent, divorce is rare and the mother-father-child family unit is simultaneously strong. I mean: Cosby has an extended family, but it is not exactly known for its divorces. Asian culture likewise: extended families, low divorce rate. Conclusion: we already have the answer as to what system is best: it's just that it is an answer we don't want to look at, because in alive/crazy/chaotic families where there is blessed individualism (cf. Anne Atkins's 'Parenting for Fun') there is no hiding-place. Unlike sick native English culture, where the average number under one roof - already low -decreases annually.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 at 1:29pm BST

"it's just that it is an answer we don't want to look at"

Exactly, Christopher, my point was that those who refuse to see it are the very people who claim such high regard for the family. It is the conservatives who refuse to consider any alternative to the "nuclear family", even though that family is, as we both agree, niether traditional nor all that supportive. And that support goes far beyond divorce. Time was when a woman had a baby, she had numerous female relatives around her to help her through. Now she goes home within 24 hours of delivery, to recovery from pregnancy and childbirth, and, if she is so unfortunate, to deal with postpartum depression, on her own. That is not how to treat a recently delivered mother, much less her child. And there's lots more. I can't speak for England, but who in the US opposes such things as paternity leave, so that both parents can be around in the first months of the child's life? Who opposes extending maternity leave, or even paying mothers who go on maternity leave? Do you realize it is the religious right in the US that is most vocal in its opposition to many things that the rest of us accept as normal in terms of state support for families? That's why their oft repeated claims of supporting "family values" are so laughably hypocritical. They don't care about family values, that's just the clothes they dress their political and economic conservativism up in. Pretty words are just pretty words, after all, it's how they put those words into action that counts.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 at 7:10pm BST

Christopher: "Unlike sick native English culture" - I think you should be very careful what judgements you make here. There are very good reasons why British family life has developed the way it has, and I don't think it is right at all to write it off. There may be many things that are wrong with it, but the same can be said of the various other cultural understandings of family that have made their home in Britain recently - calling them "sick" would not be helpful.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 at 9:55pm BST

Hi Fr Mark-
I am amazed! Dumbfounded! You know as well as I do that when people have multiple offspring by different concubines, or shack up together on an impulse, or become 'stepfathers' with concomitant vast increase in danger to the children of the house, they are not doing so as a result of profound sociological thinking and comparison of different options. They are doing it because they can, and because it's easier and lazier. In societies that do not see such things as options, they do not happen. Therefore the fault lies squarely with the permissive movers and shakers. It doesn't help that even a high-up figure like our Deputy Labour Party Leader shows such an aversion to statistics and rational argument on this matter. Ideology reigns - common sense is nowhere.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 at 1:20pm BST

Hi Ford-
So let's get this straight: American Evangelicals are opposed to the family involvement of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. What material could I read on that?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 at 1:21pm BST

Christopher, all you need to do is follow American politics. They consistently oppose any government support for the family, or anything that even hints of it. Family is father, mother, kids, that's it. Repeated statements of the holiness of "the nuclear family" so called, are legion.

But I do find some common ground in your previous post, though I do not agree at all with your judgement as to the reasons for people's behaviour. I was in England in March, and I was struck by what was on the BBC. The number of kids with kids, obviously having what a teacher of mine called "doll gift syndrome": young girls having babies then giving them to others when they find out a baby isn't a doll. One show looked at three young mothers. What was obvious was lack of self esteem and yearning for someone to love who would return that love. Easy? Lazy? No. Broken people finding all the wrong answers, looking for love they have never known, and so desparate they actually feel love in the situation of having a child for someone who treats them like dirt. Their mother's responses were equally unaware. It reminded of someone I saw in Emerg once. She had attempted suicide two weeks before after a fight with her "boyfriend" who had left his wife a week before to live with this one, then had "cheated" on her by going back to his wife! She was now in Emerg again with a deliberate overdose, and her mother couldn't understand what was wrong in her life, becase "she got a boyfirend" who turned out to be the same guy she had been involved with two weeks befiore! You can judge them, Christopher, or you can feel love and compassion for them. Judge their brokenness or minister to it. WWJD?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 at 4:12pm BST

Christopher: "In societies that do not see such things as options, they do not happen." No, I don't agree: more likely, they are just more repressed and less able to articulate such things. I don't think we have much to learn from other societies' pre-modern views of marriage, I am afraid - our society has been there already, and moved on for very good reasons - and I think that is the view of most young Europeans too. Our liberal culture has come as a necessary reaction to nasty things in our past.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 at 9:42pm BST

Hi Ford-
WWJD? Of course, compassion in the short term, but would J want the situation to repeat itself or structures to be in place which would likely lead to that? This question is simpler than some like to make out. There are already numerous societies that are not in this mess. Not only that but our own society has not always been. Replicate the conditions and teachings of the societies which are getting it right in the societies that are getting it wrong.

Fr Mark, it is quite obvious that there are on average fewer instances of these things in strong family cultures such as the Jews, South-Asians, Maltese, Polish - and indeed England before the 1960s. You're not seriously suggesting that is untrue, because we both know that it is true by factors of hundreds. It is also quite obvious that they are far less perceived to be options by those cultures: hence their success in avoiding them. If one couldn't care less about present and future generations of children, then let's keep these awful stats at their all-time and increasing high. If one wants to get real and say that such things are not only avoidable but always have been and always will be avoided by some given societies at any one time, then that is tantamount to saying that we already know the answer. We just don't want to apply it - 'cos it sounds less fun. That's human nature for you.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 2:20pm BST
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